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PCR # 383  (Vol. 8, No. 30)  This edition is for the week of July 23--29, 2007.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

"Hairspray"  by Mike Smith
A Tribute to Elizabeth Haslam: Memories of Haslam's Book Store  by Andy Lalino
Allow Me To Introduce Myself...  by Lisa Ciurro
This Week's Issue....Happy Birthday....What About The Shat?...Going To The Hall....Whatever Happened To--? Chapter 25: Joe Pantoliano  by Mike Smith
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New Line Cinema     
Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Nikki Blonsky
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Rated:PG 13
Running Time: 1 hour 57 mins

When I moved to Baltimore in September 1982, I must admit that I had no idea who John Waters was. In fact, it wasn't until a group of friends from Florida came to visit the following year that I first heard the name. A director of some very adult-content films, Waters seemed to me to be the fanboy's John Cassavetes. When I started in the theatre business, I was lucky to be put in charge of John Waters' theatre of choice in Baltimore and spoke to him many times over the years. In 1988, Waters went mainstream (or about as mainstream as John Waters can get) and released his homage' to 1960's Baltimore, "Hairspray." Years later, like "The Producers" before it, the film was turned into a Tony award winning Broadway musical. And now, the musical from the film is now a film. Did I confuse you? Sorry.

Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) is a typical Baltimore teenager. She goes to school, talks with her friends, and every afternoon rushes home to watch the Corny Collins Show. Her mother, Edna, (Travolta) is a stay home mom who, in polite circles, would be referred to as "full figured." So is Tracy. This fact keeps Tracy from ever trying to live her dream, which is to be one of the featured dancers on the show. A day in detention introduces Tracy to Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), a popular black student who dances on the Corny Collins Show once a month when his mother, record store owner Motormouth Maybelle (Latifah) host's "negro day." When one of the featured girls comes down with an undisclosed "illness" (she tells her fans she'll be gone for about nine months), an open casting call is held. Tracy auditions and, with the help of the moves she picked up from Seaweed, is added to the show. Naive about the racial troubles in Baltimore and nationwide, Tracy begins a campaign to integrate the show or, as she says, "make every day negro day!"

What a dance! "Hairspray" has taken the gauntlet from such recent films as "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls" and continues a great string of musicals not seen since the heyday of MGM in the 1950s. Ideally cast with both veterans and newcomers, "Hairspray" may actually contain the best assortment of young talent since "American Graffiti." On the veteran's side, John Travolta, twenty nine years after "Grease," finally returns to the genre that made him a star. After turning down practically every film musical offered, from "Evita" to "The Phantom of the Opera" to "Chicago" (which, along with "American Gigolo" and "An Officer and a Gentleman" makes a trifecta of roles that ended up going to Richard Gere), Travolta decided to return to his roots by playing one of the more indelible characters of stage and film. The late Divine played Edna in the original film and gravel-voiced Harvey Fierstien won a Tony for his Broadway version. Travolta, practically unrecognizable except for his blue eyes, captures the Baltimore housewife perfectly, right down to his last "hon." As bigoted station manager Velma Van Tussle, Michelle Pfeiffer is the perfect comic villainess. Queen Latifah brings a quiet dignity to Motormouth Maybelle and Christopher Walken...well, come on, he's Christopher Walken. With lines like "My heart only beats for a size 60," Walken constantly reminds Edna of his devotion. Their duet, "(You're) Timeless to Me," is a beautifully staged number which gives both song and dance men a chance to shine. Allison Janney steals her few scenes as the craziest movie mom since Mrs. White wouldn't let Carrie go to the prom!

As for the youngsters, let me get back to that "American Graffiti" reference. It's been almost 25 years since George Lucas' film introduced us to Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Candy Clark, Paul LeMat and a host of other talented newcomers. With the exception of James Marsden (best known as Cyclops in the "X-men" films), director Shankman has filled "Hairspray" with an assortment of unknowns that soon won't be. As Corny Collins, Marsden delivers a fun filled performance you wouldn't expect from the always brooding Cyclops. Blonsky, who was 18 when she won the role of Tracy, is a bubbly presence on screen. From the opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore" through her final song, "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now," Blonsky sets the tone of the film perfectly. Zac Efron, the star of the popular Disney Channel production "High School Musical," is a triple threat on screen. As I sat in the theatre and listened to the audience and their reactions I couldn't help but think this guy could turn out to be this generations John Travolta. Hopefully he'll steer clear of any talking baby movies. Kelley is just as vibrant on screen as Maybelle's son, Seaweed. I recently read that Kelley is in discussion to play the great Sammy Davis, Jr on screen and, having been a big fan of the Candy Man, I think he would be a perfect choice.

The music and sets capture the look and feel of the early 1960s and director Shankman's choreography is lively. And credit Shankman for adding cameos from 1988's Tracy, Rikki Lake, and Jerry Stiller, who played her dad in Waters' original film. And look for Waters as, what else, the local flasher during the "Good Morning Baltimore" number. A musical that doesn't miss a step, "Hairspray" will have you dancing in the aisles. But wait until the movie is over so you don't upset the people behind you.

On a scale of zero to four stars I give "Hairspray"  Four stars.

This week's movie review of "Hairspray" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2007, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.