Richard Gere, Chatherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah
Maurine Dallas Watkins, Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, Bill Condon
Everyone loves a legend, but in Chicago, there's only room for one.
Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones) burns in the spotlight as a nightclub sensation. When she shoots her philandering husband, she lands on Chicago's murderess row and retains Chicago's slickest lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), seduced the city's promise of style, dreams of singing and dancing her way to stardom. When her abusive lover tries to walk out on her, she too ends up in prison.
When Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) recognizes a made-for-tabloids story, he postpones Velma's court date to take on Roxie's case. As Roxie fashions herself as America's sweetheart, Velma has more than a few surprises in store. The two women stop at nothing to outdo each other in their obsessive pursuit of fame and celebrity.
Budget $45 million.
$2.074 million on 77 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 113 min.
Release Date: 8/19/2003
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall and Screenwriter Bill Condon
• Behind the Scenes Special
• Deleted Musical Number
• Sneak Peeks
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 8, 2003)
When I heard a film version of the stage production Chicago would come out, I showed no interest. After all, I don’t like musicals. Then my Dad saw it and told me how terrific it was. This made little impact. The Old Man and I usually disagree on movies, and after all, I don’t like musicals.
Then my friend Kevin watched Chicago and also stated it was excellent. This made more of an impact, for Kevin doesn’t usually care for this sort of flick. However, I resisted his recommendation – after all, I don’t like musicals.
Because of this site, I rooted for Chicago to lose at the Oscars. Since we maintain a page devoted to the Academy’s choices for Best Picture, I knew I’d have to watch Chicago if it won, and I didn’t want to do that. After all, I don’t like musicals.
But win it did, which saddled me with this inevitable screening. Since after all, I don’t like musicals, did I dislike Chicago? Nope. While it didn’t make me rethink me opinions of the genre, I must say it’s a very effective piece of work.
The film starts with the arrival of cabaret star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) at her club. Part of a sister act, sibling Veronica won’t perform tonight; Velma killed her and her husband when she caught them cheating on her. The cops soon take away Velma.
In the meantime, we meet aspiring songstress Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger). She’s married to Amos (John C. Reilly), but he’s a dud, so she cheats with Fred Casely (Dominic West). He allegedly has connections at the club and will get her an audition. When she finds out he’s not exactly truthful, she murders him. Initially, Amos takes the rap and claims he killed the “burglar”, but when he realizes what actually happened, he spills the beans to Assistant District Attorney Harrison (Colm Feore) and Roxie gets arrested.
In prison, Roxie meets Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), the female chief of murderer’s row. She overhears a deal between Mama and Velma to get the latter work when she gets out of prison. Eventually Mama points Roxie toward lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere); a slick attorney, he’s handling Velma’s case and wants $5000 to take on Roxie. When the pathetically devoted Amos comes up with enough to attract Flynn’s attention, he works for Roxie and shapes her story into a myth. From there the movie follows what happens to Roxie and the others as they undergo public scrutiny.
Why do I find Chicago to offer a satisfying piece despite my general disdain for musicals? Quite a few factors make this occur, but primary may be the film’s basic structure. Director Rob Marshall integrates the production numbers into the story in a remarkably seamless way. In most musicals, the film comes to an abrupt halt so everyone can sing and dance. Sure, the best musicals use those songs to further the story in some way, but they still almost always feel like an excuse for a tune, and they also often go on way too long. When I look at something like Oliver! I can’t stomach the flick because the production pieces seem never-ending.
That doesn’t occur for Chicago. For one, it avoids the massive “cast of thousands” syndrome. Many musicals toss out enormous numbers that go on for days. Chicago keeps things simple. I don’t think a single performance ever really includes more than a handful of participants; the focus seems tight and intimate. In addition, the songs know when to call it a day. All of the tracks come and go reasonably quickly, so they don’t overstay their welcome. If more musicals followed that template, I might find them to be less tedious.
I also like the concept that the production numbers all reside inside the world of fantasy. This makes the movie seem more realistic since we don’t see people drop everything and dance, but it also melds with the story better. It lets us get character insight and development through the songs. Not only do we learn information, but also we get a feel for the different motives and feelings. The songs in Chicago genuinely help further the movie, and that’s extremely rare for a musical.
It also helps that Marshall stages the numbers remarkably well. Each one stands out as different from the others, and they pop and sizzle nicely. Of course, a lot of the credit goes to Bob Fosse and those behind the original stage production, but Marshall makes things his own as he creates a lively and involving performance piece.
The cast do better work than I might have expected. I don’t think of any of these folks as likely candidates for a musical. Even Queen Latifah seemed like an odd choice; her background as a rapper didn’t make me conjure images of her as a singer, especially not in this sort of flick. However, all do quite well with their roles. Zeta-Jones stands out from the pack, mostly because she demonstrates a real force-of-nature charisma. Of course, her character demands that, but Zeta-Jones lives up to her billing and allows the role to shine.
If I looked for flaws in Chicago, they’d stem from a pretty simplistic and uncomplicated plot. That’s part of the curse of musicals: they’re usually so concerned with singing and dancing that the story gets neglected. I don’t think that’s totally the case in Chicago, but the tale appears rather basic, and none of the characters ever develop as three-dimensional personalities.
Chicago earns its stripes simply as a piece of cynical fun, however, so these complaints don’t really matter. I wouldn’t have called it the Best Picture of 2002, though conversely, I think Marshall probably should have gotten the Best Director award. The movie itself seems too insubstantial to merit Best Picture consideration, but Marshall makes its merits shine and diminishes its problems. After all, I don’t like musicals, but I think Chicago offers a fun and kicky little flick.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+ (DTS) B (DD)/ Bonus B-
Chicago appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the movie looked quite good, but overall it fell short of the highest levels of quality.
Sharpness always seemed solid. The film consistently came across as distinct and well defined. I noticed no issues connected to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects never presented concerns, but I did detect some mild edge enhancement periodically throughout the flick. Print flaws didn’t seem obvious. A couple of specks popped up along the way, but otherwise the movie appeared clean. At times the film took on a grainy look, but that seemed related to the fairly heavy use of smoke during many production numbers.
Colors generally were positive, though some exceptions occurred. Colored lighting caused some concerns, as those instances looked slightly heavy and hazy. Otherwise, the hues appeared nicely bright and vivid. Black levels were deep and dense, and low-light situations demonstrated good definition without becoming overly thick. For the most part, Chicago looked fine, but it never quite became a great image.
The DVD of Chicago included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Though fairly similar in general, I thought the DTS mix offered the more positive experience, so it earned a “B+” compared to the “B” of the Dolby track. I’ll first discuss the DTS piece and then relate why I preferred it to the Dolby one.
Not surprisingly, music dominated the soundfield. The showtunes demonstrated very good breadth and spread across the front channels. Stereo response seemed strong, as the songs filled the speakers nicely. They also popped up appropriately from the rears. The surround channels supported the music naturally and didn’t resort to gimmicky material. Effects played a less active role in the film, but they helped flesh out the story well, as they created a good feeling of atmosphere throughout the flick.
Audio quality came across as solid. Speech appeared distinct and natural, and I noticed no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects seemed tight and accurate. As previously noted, they didn’t play a prominent role in the proceedings, but they remained clear and concise at all times. Music sounded quite good. I thought the songs could have demonstrated slightly stronger bass response, but the tunes mostly appeared vibrant and lively, with clean highs and a nice dimensionality in general.
Why did I think the Dolby track seemed inferior to the DTS offering? Although I wasn’t wowed by the latter’s bass, the low-end appeared a bit deeper there, and dynamics were broader overall. The soundfield also opened up a little more and came across as broader and more engaging. The differences between the pair didn’t seem extreme, but the DTS mix improved upon the Dolby one enough for the increase in my grade.
Given both the critical and popular success of Chicago, the DVD’s rather limited roster of extras comes as a surprise. The main attraction offers an audio commentary with director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon. Both men sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. While not a great track, their discussion presents a generally useful examination of the film.
Not surprisingly, Marshall dominates the commentary as we learn about many facets of the film. We get notes on the challenges of making a musical these days along with information about changes made from the stage presentation, working with the actors, and general issues related to staging and budget. They also get into deleted scenes and other alterations. At times the pair devolve into simple praise for the participants, but overall they provide a fairly rich and informative chat that helps flesh out our appreciation for the movie.
A Behind the Scenes Special appears next. It runs 28 minutes and 27seconds and provides a typical mix of movie scenes, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We get remarks from director Marshall, actors Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, John C. Reilly, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christine Baranski, producer Marty Richards, executive producer Neil Meron, composer John Kander, associate choreographer Denise Faye, music supervisor Maureen Crowe, production designer John Myhre, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and lyricist Fred Ebb.
I’m not sure for what purpose this program was originally created; it clearly didn’t accompany the flick’s initial theatrical release, for it mentions its Oscar victories. However, the emphasis remains heavily promotional nonetheless. We learn a little about casting, costumes, some adaptation issues and the story’s relevance in the present day. Unfortunately, those elements fill little of the running time. Mostly we get a basic description of the characters and plot, hear about how great everyone/everything is, and see scads of film clips. Those dominate the program; in fact, the last few minutes simply shows a “music video” montage accompanied by “All That Jazz”. Some of the behind the scenes bits seem cool, like some rehearsal footage of Zeta-Jones, but mostly the show feels like a long trailer.
One annoyance about the documentary: it uses very dark lettering to identify all the participants. This is extremely tough to read much of the time, and it usually blends into the background so badly that you don’t even know the words are there.
One deleted musical number shows up on the DVD. “Class” lasts four minutes and eight seconds. This tune would have come late in the movie during Roxie’s trial, and it shows Velma and Mama Morton together. It seems out of place in the context of the rest of the flick and would have slowed down the action heavily, so it was a good omission.
“Class” can be viewed with or without commentary from Marshall and Condon. They let us know about the trials that they encountered as they attempted to make the song work within the context of the film. They also relate why they ultimately left the tune out of the movie. We already learn some of this during the main commentary, but their information here seems helpful.
Though the disc fails to include the trailer for Chicago, we get a few other ads in the Sneak Peeks area. There we locate promos for Duplex, Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Soapnet, the Chicago soundtrack, plus a general ad for the “Miramax New Golden Age”.
A cynical but lively and amusing flick, Chicago offers a musical even a dedicated foe of the genre can like. The film diminishes many of the usual flaws and offers a fun and vibrant experience. The DVD presents generally solid picture and sound with a surprisingly small roster of supplements. The latter keep Chicago from becoming a terribly impressive DVD, but the movie has enough to offer to earn my solid recommendation.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0121 Stars
| Number of Votes: 82