Tag: Musical

Dear Evan Hansen

Have you ever wanted a musical to come to film?
Have you waited for a casting and a release date to announce?
Have you ever jumped so much you could shout?
Like you could sing, and everyone would hear?

Okay, to leave the lyric land. Maybe you also found yourself super pumped because Dear Evan Hansen was being directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also directed Rent, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and more. And you were excited that Ben Platt was reprising the role!

And then you saw the trailer and were like, wait, what, no.

That is a big thing going on for this musical. People really hated the trailer because of how much Ben Platt stuck out in it. He looked so old and uncomfortable. He played a high school senior just two years ago in The Politician and it didn’t look that terrible. Why is it so uncomfortable?

Ehhh, most people would probably blame it on the hair. The very awkward curls to make him seem, I don’t know, younger? But in reality, well, it is definitely the hair and it does not work. But something else seemed amiss too, and it was hard to tell, I had to see it to believe it.

awkward
I already planned on being uncomfortable the whole time

For those who don’t know why this musical, is really awkward, then hold on to your butts. Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), he has a lot of anxiety and depression issues. It is hard for him to talk to anyone. His mom (Julianne Moore) is a nurse working extra hard so they can live an okay life, still kind of poor, and his dad is away and out of the life. His therapist wants him to start writing letters to himself, from himself, about his life so they can help with strategies during sessions.

Well, Evan prints it out in the library and is waiting to get it, when another student, Connor (Colton Ryan) who is addicted to drugs and a little off, signs his cast as an apology for yelling at him earlier. But when Connor sees the letter, and it mentions Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), Connor’s sister and a girl Evan likes, he takes the note and storms out, assuming Evan was just another student trying to mess with him.

Evan’s big worry is that the note will be posted on the social medias and he will be made fun of. But Connor doesn’t come back to school. Later, Evan is brought to the principal to talk to Connor’s parents (Amy Adams, Danny Pino), where they tell him that Connor killed himself. And the only note he seemed to leave behind was a note to Evan, since it began Dear Evan Hansen and was signed by “Me”.

He originally tries to deny it, but they also see CONNOR written on his cast, and its big and the only name. They must have been friends. He is uncomfortable, but doesn’t want to disappoint these nice people, so he tells some lies about their friendship to help their grieving. But these lies also make Evan feel like he is gaining a family in their grief. And these lies begin to snowball, until eventually, the truth has to come out.

Also starring Amandla Stenberg and Nik Dodani.

sign
Signing casts are bigger deals than promposals I have heard.

Will you be found enjoying this musical? Maybe. It might depend on your experiences and love of the Broadway version. At least five songs are cut from the musical and reprises of others. And if you ever listened to the musical, you will find it feeling a bit sparse on music already. Or maybe it is just me, since it came out the year after Hamilton which is to the brim with music so it is hard to really compare it. But this movie at 2 hours and 17 minutes feels musical-lite. Most of the songs are slow and sad ones too.

We open with a famous song (different than Broadway) and then it takes almost another 20 minutes before we get another song. Musicals not having enough songs is a big issue. Its the sort of issue some Disney musicals have where they have only like five or six songs and most of them are in the first half. If you are a musical, commit to it, and give more songs, you know? Two of the songs in here are also original, trying to get that Oscar nomination. I appreciate them actually including them instead of just stamping them on the credits at least. But neither might secure a nom either, unfortunately.

Did I cry? Surprisingly only once. It was with Moore singing So Big / So Small, and I honestly figured that would be cut too, since they cut her other song that would have been a duet with Amy Adams.

I knew going into this movie that the plot was all sorts of fucked up, and just like I thought with the musical (Which I hadn’t seen, just heard the songs from and read outlines), I don’t think it really dealt with the consequences enough. It just filters out near the end. Life moves on, that is fair point, but this is a movie and I would like some better closure.

I appreciate the movie/story dealing with some really awkward and uncomfortable circumstances. Usually if things are uncomfortable, there is a clear solution and way to handle it all, but after the ball was rolling it was hard to find both what should be done and what should happen when it starts to fix. And complications in life and film can be a good thing.

Ben Platt was a good idea to still be the lead, but I don’t know why short haired one from the musical and The Politician wouldn’t have seemed to fit in better. Or maybe just casting a lot of other older high schoolers, confuse us that way you know? Halfway through it, I did forget the weirdness of the look, I will say and let the story better consume me. I think it gets better.

And on that note, a better Dear Evan Hansen musical should have existed, and now won’t.

2 out of 4.

Everybody’s Talking About Jaime

In 2011, a short documentary came out of Great Britain. It was called Jaime: Drag Queen at 16. It was about a boy, who by 16, knew he wanted to be a drag queen and went for it, despite living in a conservative place, and not even being an adult yet. He had a mom who helped encouraged him to follow his dreams, and follow his dreams he did, damn it.

And so then they made a British stage musical about it. It has the same name, Everybody’s Talking About Jaime. That one came out in 2017, and I guess it was loved enough, so that only three years later, here we are with a movie version of the stage musical.

A very quick turn around. Great if you love the musical, but also a little bit suspicious. Most musicals put it off as long as they can, because it usually signifies their show is almost over on its long stand, and it will help boost sales or give them an alternative revenue. For a turn around like this, I don’t know what to expect, except I am happy it came out this year. 2021 is the year of musicals, so let’s just pile them on all over me.

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Pictured: Me smothered in musicals (each light is one musical this year). 

Jaime (Max Harwood) is turning 16, and is gay, and everyone knows it. Jaime is proud of himself and isn’t trying to hide it, despite the risk of bullies that exists. But what they don’t know about Jaime is that he also dreams of being famous. Not too surprising a dream for a kid, but Jaime wants to be a famous drag queen. He love’s typical women’s fashion, wants to put on a dress, wear a wig, and lip sync to some diva hit on stage.

But he keeps that a secret. His mom (Sarah Lancashire) knows that about him, and encourages him to go for his interests. His dad (Ralph Ineson) knows he is gay, and honestly, doesn’t like that. He is basically out the door and with another woman this whole time, doesn’t care about his son. Jamie’s best friend, Pritti (Lauren Patel), also knows his dreams, while she herself wants to be a doctor.

But screw it. The year is almost over, Jamie is turning 16, he wants to start being an actual drag queen, full outfit, and he wants to come out as a drag queen at the end of the year prom! While shopping, he finds a mentor (Richard E. Grant) to help guide him on his journey, while he battles bullies (Samuel Bottomley), teachers (Sharon Horgan), and more to live life the way he has always wanted.

Also featuring Shobna Gulati.

friend
Face it kid, you’re gonna be a drag star.

I will say the same thing I say in a lot of these movies. Representation matters. There aren’t really many movies coming out, even in our modern world, about becoming a drag queen and why that is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice. Shit. In the 1990’s in a two year span, we somehow got both The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.  I can’t think of many other examples outside of them, but I am sure they exist, they just haven’t reached any level of popularity. So it is fantastic that we have a movie on this topic coming out in a popular-ish way. 

Now on this note, I am definitely saying, this movie isn’t really that great. It should be a 1 out of 4 purely on its own, but I gave bonus points for being about a topic not talked about much.

After the musical, none of the songs were stuck in my head. They have a song called Everybody’s Talking About Jaime, which might be there go to hit I guess, and the only reason it stuck with me more is because they played a different cover of it for the credits. 

Acting is average, but it felt like it could have been a made for TV movie on Freeform at the same time. The “villains” of this film started out reasonable and just turned into strange cartoon characters by the end. The math teacher really made no sense (and I am not just saying this as a math teacher myself). Outside of an art teacher once, and the principal once, she is the only teacher ever shown, and it is over and over, and apparently whatever she says is the main authority of the building.

The final scenes in front of the prom were ridiculous. Why is literally their whole class standing outside of the building instead of going in it. How many times does the teacher have to say “Everybody go inside” before it means everybody? I was confused each time she said it and the students argued with her about Jaime getting to go too, because she literally just said everyone, which should include Jaime. but apparently it doesn’t? And again, why is she this literal gatekeeper to the building and no one else? 

The film can have a great message about accepting yourself and others, but it just feels so dumb at the same time. 

For a year full of musicals, this one is not rising to the top, and it is important to point that out. It presumably couldn’t hack it on Broadway either, and that is why we have the movie now. I assume songs were cut from the musical for the movie, but it feels like it had less than ten songs overall still. Give me more musical in my musicals, damn it. 

2 out of 4.

Cinderella (2021)

Cinderella, Cinderella, there are so many movies about Cinderella. And books. And plays, I bet. Sometimes I wish things never made it to the public domain so we wouldn’t have to get new versions of the same thing a thousand times.

At the start of Disney’s “let’s make all of our old stuff into live action” phase, Cinderella was one of the first ones. It was pretty, but it was pointless.

So why now? Why another one? Well, this one isn’t Disney, so that is probably a plus. Maybe it will be more edgy. (Checks rating, it is PG). Nope, not that.

Oh, this one is a musical. And not just a musical, but a jukebox musical. It is really easy to make a jukebox musical on the most basic level, but it is pretty hard to make a GOOD jukebox musical. For every Moulin Rouge! there are ten Strange Magics.

toss
And frankly, at this point, this is a toss up.

Plot wise, you know the basics. Ella (Camila Cabello) is living with her step-mother (Idina Menzel) and two step-sisters (Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer), and isn’t having a good time. They aren’t related, they are just in a house of convenience, so she has to do a lot more chores and takes a lot more scorn. She does make dresses though. She wants to have her own dress shop one day, but women can’t own businesses due to the laws of the land. That is horsefuckery.

Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is a prince who doesn’t really want to be a prince. Fuck the responsibilities and expectations. He wants to just hang with his bros. Have fun. Live his life. He doesn’t want to be forced to be marry, and doesn’t look forward to taking over from his folks (Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver) in the future. His younger sister, Gwen (Tallulah Greive) definitely does want to lead, but she is, you know, a ~~woman~~ so she has no seat at the table. That’s a theme, damn it.

Anyways, step mother is going to be mean, there is going to be a ball, there is going to be a fabulous godmother (Billy Porter) and a clock is going to strike midnight. But does Ella or the Prince actually care about love and the old version of a happily ever after?

Also starring Romesh Ranganathan, James Acaster, James Corden, Fra Fee, Doc Brown, Rob Beckett, and Jenet Le Lacheur.

fab
Yes they say godmother damn it, and I am all here for that.

And here we are, shocked as all I can imagine, that I didn’t hate this version of Cinderella. Honestly, random themed jukebox musicals can bug the piss out of me. Even themed ones are usually disappointing. I feel like I hear a lot of the same songs in these musicals over and over again. How many times has Material Girl probably been used in other jukebox musicals? You can tell what songs have cheaper rights than others a lot of the time through this.

Another issue with these things is that the songs usually sound…the same as the originals. You can’t hear the artists actual voice, there is nothing new to it, no tempo, just here is a cover that sounds like the original. Boring. Yawn.

And yet, for Cinderella, for the most part, it seems like they definitely tried to avoid that. I would say at least half of the songs felt relatively unique, whether it be in the sound or the way it was presented. Opening up the musical with a Rhythm Nation / You Gotta Be mash up I would have never expected (but you can tell the makers loved that era of music). I was expecting to roll my eyes at Somebody to Love (I mean, we already had a medieval fantasy film use that, come on!) and then really enjoyed it in the film context for the story. Damn.

Honestly, my biggest issue with the music is unfortunately Cabello at the lead. I don’t know anything about her as a pop artist, I don’t know if I have heard of a song by her before. But a lot of her songs come across as a generic pop sound that was overly produced and autotuned. And that is unfortunate, because other moments seem to let her actual voice come out more (slower numbers with less music behind it) and it detracts from it. Similar to the problems that came across in Beauty and the Beast.

In terms of actual story, Cinderella does attempt to fix some of the problems with the Cinderella story. We don’t have a love at first sight situation between the two anymore. Ella doesn’t just work and be submissive until magic saves her. The step-sisters aren’t bad they just are more afraid of their own mother. The step-mother isn’t the worst (until she does dress stuff) and at least give us a reason for why she is that way (doesn’t redeem her, but hey, a reason). It gives us a happily ever after that came from work, and from years of effort, and not because of getting married.

Brosnan is in this film as the king, and seemingly was picked to be in this musical just because of the backlash to Mamma Mia! singing, just to have a joke about his singing. But as old angry king he is good. Porter as the godmother worked well and gave a decent enough statement to the idea of magic and its existence in this movie. And according Jenet le Lacheur, who plays a court friend of the prince, is likely the first openly trans actor to have been cast in a Hollywood musical film, which is worth noting and celebrating. A lot of these are things Disney wouldn’t have the gall to do.

Overall, I was excited with Cinderella by the time I was done with it. I went in expecting the worst, but a lot of the soundtrack worked, and the cast of characters made it a more enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I am just annoyed more that I can’t listen to the soundtrack until the films actually release date. 2021 is the year of movie musicals.

3 out of 4.

CODA

I’ve had a wonderful musical summer, how bout you? As of this moment, only two movie musicals have come out this summer. We had of course In The Heights, that has all my praise, and Vivo a cartoon film, both with the Lin-Manuel Miranda effect attached to them. We have a lot more musicals to come out this year too, so I’ve been watching a lot of old classical films I haven’t seen yet in my life.

But now I got to finally see CODA. A new musical, one that took forever to come out, after being on a festival circuit earlier in the year. Based on the description alone, I knew I wanted to see it, and almost counted down the days it would release on Apple TV.

This is also one of those perfect movie title situations, and I am big fan of perfect movie titles.

family
And is this the perfect family? We will see.

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is mostly your normal high school senior girl. She has a friend, she has interests in music, she has a job. What makes her abnormal is several things. She usually has to get up pretty early to help her father (Troy Kotsur) and her older brother (Daniel Durant) on a fishing boat. They finish their job early enough for her to then go to school, but it can take time to change and she could smell. Oh yeah, both of them and her mom (Marlee Matlin) are all deaf. Ruby was born with the ability to hear sound normally, so she is a Child of Deaf Adults, or, you know, a CODA. Boom. Perfect. (Coda is also a music term if you are less familiar with that).

So it turns out that Ruby has a pretty damn good voice, but she clearly has repressed it for the most part, given her upbringing and the fact that she used to “talk weird” based on her upbringing. But she finally decides to take choir despite her best friend (Amy Forsyth) judging her. Their teacher, Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), really sees something in her and wants to work with her on developing her sound and maybe even going to college for singing reasons.

Ruby didn’t imagine much of a future for herself. She has been a translator for her family her whole life, and sees her role as being on the ship after high school, even with them trying to expand their business venture because of the local market screwing them over.

Can she be a successful singer? Can she go into a hobby or career that literally her family have no good way of ever being able to appreciate or understand? Can she leave strand them of the lifeline she gives to the community? Can they survive without her?

Also starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who you will remember as the lead from Sing Street.

director
No jazz hands here. Just pure, unadulterated, choir hands.

CODA was marvelous and if you think otherwise you are the worst.

Sorry, that came out strong. What I meant to say was…

CODA is clearly one of the best movies of the year and if you don’t see that you are Britta and here is why I know this to be true.

First, of course, diversity and representation matters. Having more actual deaf people play deaf people in movies is the best, and should be a pretty good standard there. The family are all actual deaf, the issues they face on the film are real issues those in the deaf community face, and they are hilarious too. We get some R rated signs for sure. But you know what else is represented? The fishing community as a hole, as it was filmed on location in Massachusetts. The issues that they are facing with the independent fisherman getting screwed over due to market prices, and ways to help get out of their predicaments.

Jones was a very strong lead and I was surprised to find that she didn’t do vocal lessons or ASL lessons until after being cast. I figured one of those would have been their goal in casting, at least, but she felt like a natural to me (as someone who is not in anyway an ASL knowledgeable person).

I cried a couple of times in the movie. The scene of the concert was heart breaking and brilliant what the director, Sian Heder, decided to do with that scene. I didn’t expect at all, but it really hit hard. I had a pretty good prediction on how the final scene would play out as we got close, and it went for the obvious route, but it was also quite beautiful despite expecting it. Mostly because during the earlier performance, I might have been yelling at my TV “Why aren’t you doing…!?”, no spoilers.

This is definitely in the top tier roles of Derbez as well, who I didn’t know was in this movie until a week ago. (I first heard about this film in the spring of 2021). I know recently he hasn’t been in a lot of things worth noting (although, I thought he worked well in Dora and the Lost City of Gold). Instructions Not Included was the first saw him in and I fell in love with it, so I have been hoping to have great moments in his career, but I have also been told to watch Under The Same Moon for him. Although a supporting character, he is such a great and different character than what he normally plays (okay, it is just a different sort of eccentric really) and he knocks it out of the park.

CODA is great, maybe the best. It is going to stick with me for a long time, and it will stick with you once you finally get around to see it. Do it. Right now.

4 out of 4.

The Sparks Brothers

WHO ARE THE SPARKS BROTHERS?

A question I had to ask myself, and likely you did too. But it turns out, there are no The Sparks Brothers. There is a band though. It is called Sparks. And yes, the two main members of the band are indeed brothers. But they don’t go by the term The Sparks Brothers, that is some media shit.

Ron Mael and Russell Mael, the real life American brothers, saw The Beatles live in the 1960’s, and the rest was history. A history no one knows about.

Before we get into this story, I want to point out that this documentary is directed by Edgar Wright. Yes, that Edgar Wright. A dude who definitely loves music, we know that from films like Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and the fact that he has directed music videos before. But this is his first documentary, and it is over two hours long. I can only imagine the reasoning behind this film, not knowing who’s idea it was, had to partially be because Wright loved Sparks and wanted to give them a documentary they deserved based on his own nostalgia or music tastes.

mysterious
Who are these mysterious masked figures?!

The band actually started as Halfnelson and had an album produced by Todd Rundgren, but it did bad. So they changed labels and names, Sparks. It was supposed to be a play on words like the Marx Brothers and the Sparks Brothers, because they liked film and comedy, but the brothers didn’t want brothers in their name, damn it. Whether the media listened to them or not is nothing they can control.

This tells the story of them leaving America to go to Great Britain, to seem like a British Rock Band to be cooler, and it kind of working. To helping lead a synthetic revolution of music, they were one of the trend setters with a very unique sound. They got some amount of famous in the late 70’s and 80’s, changing their genre style a few times. They went into more obscurity for awhile, before coming back in the 90’s with some hits and picking up steam. Then they also did a collaboration album with Franz Ferdinand in the 2000’s, yes, that Franz Ferdinand. No, the band, not the dead guy. The album is called FFS which is a great title. And then bringing us to today, where they are still working on music, and also were working on a musical film that has been their dream from some time, Annette.

Wait, hold the biscuits. Annette? The musical coming out THIS YEAR with Adam Driver was made with music by Sparks? Oh fuck yeah. Is this documentary just another form of advertisement for Annette? Because I was already excited to see Adam Driver in a musical, no question about that.

These dudes have done it all. But this documentary, goes into the details of the ups and downs, their humor plays out as they narrate large chunks. We get to hear from former band members, managers, collaborators. We get to hear from a lot of musical and acting celebrities who liked the band growing up and have a bit to say in it too. There is a huge production behind a band you likely never heard about before, but who helped influence a ton of musicians. How can someone so popular be somehow be forgotten from pop culture consciousness? That is the question…

I never heard about Sparks before, but I like them now, at least as people, if not some of their songs. They definitely have to grow on you. This is a musician documentary I can get behind,

3 out of 4.

In The Heights

We were supposed to get In The Heights last June, but, you know what happened. Sad things happened. We all know that. But the only good news about it is that they ended up releasing Hamilton 15 months early or so, straight to Disney Plus, to make up for the fact that In The Heights would be pushed back. It is not a compromise I knew I would have to accept, but one I did gladly accept overall.

In The Heights the musical hit Broadway in 2008, and earned quite a few Tony nominations, putting Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist and main actor, on the map. That lead to other things as we all know.

I had only knew one song from this musical really well, called It Won’t Be Long Now, because it showed up on my Musical Pandora and no other songs from the whole show. I did give the sound track a good listen before hand the day before this screening, to get familiar with the tunes and lyrics, since I know they can sometimes be hard to hear on the screen. It made me cry once or twice on its own, so I knew there was no hope for my tears to see the whole thing in front of my eyes.

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These people are all happy, but I know I’ll end up sappy. 

We are going to check out Washington Heights, a small area in New York City, or Neuva York if you want to call it that, I won’t stop you. This is where will meet Usnavy (Anthony Ramos), owner of a bodega in this area, where almost all of the citizens stop by for his coffee that they have grown attached to. He runs it with his younger cousin Sunny (Gregory Diaz IV) who is still in high school, but politically motivated. Usnavy came from the Dominican Republic before he was 10 with his parents, but the best days of his life were back then, living on the beaches, while his dad ran a bar. Every day was paradise. And he has the chance to go back finally, buy his father’s shop (now in need of repair) and location, and start the final chapters of his life, at home.

It is also about a few other characters. Like Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at the local salon (run by Daphne Rubin-Vega), but has dreams of getting out of this area as well. Not as far as another country, but deeper into the city, to work as a fashion designer. We have Nina (Leslie Grace), the “one who got out”, a girl who was so smart and full of learning wonder that she went to Stanford! But this is the summer after getting back and she has to tell her dad (Jimmy Smits) some not great news. And there is also Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her dad, is into Nina a whole lot, and wants to become a big money maker in the future.

And of course there is the Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who never had her own kids but is like an Abuela to a lot of our characters, who wants to help everyone in the block and be a great person overall. So sweet.

In The Heights is about the dreams and aspirations of a few characters who live there, hoping to eventually find a home. And it takes place in the summer, before the hottest day and a blackout that will change all of their lives forever.

Also starring Ariana Greenblatt, Stephanie Beatriz, Chris Jackson, Dascha Polanco, Marc Anthony, Noah Catala, Olivia Perez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragua Guy.

lin manuel miranda
A man who can wear shorts to work is a man I inspire to be. 

Jon M. Chu, director of In The Heights the movie, was the perfect choice for this musical, and frankly, all musicals going forward. His name really came into my eyes when he did Crazy Rich Asians, which was gorgeously shot, and every frame seemed to pop out of the screen. From the trailers of In The Heights, you can tell a similar story. Hell, he did mostly music videos before this, some Step Up films, and even Jem and the Holograms. Say one thing about all of these, you can say they at least look nice. Fuck. He is even doing Wicked once it eventually comes out. Can not fucking wait.

This movie is a goddamn spectacle. It is the first film I saw in theaters, since things started to shut down. I went 421 days without seeing a movie in theaters, and watched 440 films in that time, on my screens at home for the most part. And at the start of the film, in the “welcome to our theater” videos, I found myself already tearing up.

Because cry I did this film, early and often. Usually for just such heartbreaking soul crushing numbers, so well sung and choreographed. I wanted to help everyone. I cried from sadness and from happiness. It will give you that full range of emotions. I did not have any rage crying though. That would be hard to pull off.

Ramos, a few years out after starring in Hamilton, has to play the role Miranda made and feels like a great passing of the torch. He oozes charisma in this role, and having this musical be told through stories from him to children brings a lot of bonus personality to it. I wanted everything to work out for his character just mere minutes into the film.

There were awkward moments of the musical too. Don’t worry. I don’t think the film did a great job of fully giving a good reason for the arguments that occurred during the song Blackout. Except for some reason our lead character maybe has higher levels of anxiety and fear, with a little bit of alcoholism, that don’t go fully explained or fleshed out, to make it make much sense. But in musicals, life can move fast through a song, so that also plays an element in it.

I honestly didn’t know how I would feel about In The Heights, knowing the music stylings and lyrics were not my usual fair. Maybe I liked it more because of Hamilton’s existence and getting used to the rhyming and rapping in musical fair, and the speed of the lyrics coming at me. Maybe I liked it on its own merits.

Oh, and for Hamilton fans, outside of actor cameos (of which we have just the three?), there is one other sneaky Hamilton reference that should be easy to see. Well, hear. And one other note. The Broadway songs have a reference to Donald Trump, which makes sense in there lyrically, but they definitely replaced that line in this film version. A good change overall.

4 out of 4.

A Week Away

You know what is exactly one week away from today? Whatever day it is today again! Hooray never changing cyclical weeks of 7 days!

The only thing I knew about A Week Away going into it was that it was about a troubled teen and maybe a musical. A musical I never heard about? You certainly have my attention, random movie drop on Netflix. In fact, its musicalness is why I decided to not watch it on my phone but instead at a better place/time when I could give it my full attention.

With musicals I need to pay attention to the dances, the plot, the lyric choices, how they filmed various fun scenes, all of that. I can’t just give it a listen and a half watch.

It turns out, A Week Away is exactly worth an eighth of a watch.

fists
At least they are all fans of black power. 

Will (Kevin Quinn) is some troubled kid. He is in the foster system, both parents dead, and he is just completely rambunctious. We are talking something ridiculous like, 80 schools in 2 years. That is an exaggeration on my part, but whatever they said in the movie was larger than what should be likely as well. He is about to go back to juvenile detention because no one else will take him in. Oh noooo. “Please I can change despite my arrests and saying I can change before!”

So he gets a shot. A mother (Sherri Shepherd) and a similar aged boy, George (Jahbril Cook). They aren’t taking him in, but they are going to take him to a week long camp. Will thinks that is quite dumb, but its better than Juvie, so fine. And when he gets there, he sees all the happy teenage kids his age, also wearing no branded clothing, and they sing a song together and mention…God?

“Wait, this is a Jesus camp” both Will and the audience will say together at some point. Did I misshear a lyric? Did they say God was a glorious leader? That sounds like North Korea stuff. Anyways. Not only is this a church camp that Will got sucked into. This is also a religious film that you got sucked into, and you had no idea! Me neither! At least the second song hints at the theme and the third song makes it quite damn obvious.

Anyways. Will has to do camp things, which is great, because he likes a girl Avery (Bailee Madison), and he will lie about his past, to help his team win the camp stuff against the other teams, and also help other romances.

Also starring Iain Tucker, Kat Conner Sterling, and David Koechner. Wait, Koechner? Todd Packer from The Office? And all of those crude and crass roles? Why is he in a religious film? Is he part of the trickery to swindle people into watching it?

guitar
Is there anything more dangerous than a white boy with a guitar?

I feel duped, I really do. I was excited to watch a musical about who knows what, that came in under the radar and no prior hype from me. I was ready for it. Musicals are a rare commodity. But faith films are not that rare, and generally most of the time, they are pretty darn bad. I do actively avoid most of them it turns out for that reason. Every once in awhile you can get a big movie that is faith based and not terrible, but they are huge exceptions, for many reasons. 

A Week Away is not a bad movie because it is a faith film, however, it is just a regular bad movie. I am not sure if it is going for the High School Musical crowd, if so, they are like a decade too late. That is definitely how I can describe this one, with better camera work (like from HSM3). But it turns out half of this movie is a Jukebox musical, as they take already existing songs. Did I know any of these songs before hand? No. but I know how to research and I know how many of the songs felt very shoehorned in.

Darn it. To make a good musical, the songs need to give the characters growth. It needs to express things that words cannot do on their own. It cannot just be generic music, which a lot of the songs in this film end up feeling generic. Oh we want to do a remake of a song named Dive? That mentions rivers? Let’s just have the characters sing it on the beach of the lake, because water references. Boom. Musical song made.

Jukebox musicals are easy because hey, music is already written. Jukebox musicals are hard, because you need to take something already written and it has to adapt super hard to your work in a unique way so that it isn’t just a song being sung that kind of sort of deals with the topics. What would happen in RENT if instead of La Vie Boheme, they just sang some pop song about never giving up or whatever? It would have no emotion or feeling behind it. And that is true for most of the songs in this movie. They feel like they just want to do pop (slightly elevated Kidz Bop) religious songs that don’t help the story. 

The story itself is weak. I don’t know why it is a religious camp with so little religious stuff going on. It seems to be just an activity camp focused entirely on sports and games between three teams. And I guess that is church camp now? They go out of there way to even call a day Sunday, and no church happens that day. There is one scene around a bonfire that is Church-y, and who knows when that is supposed to take place. It can’t even commit to its theme.

I will say, the point system doesn’t make a lot of sense for the camp. The final talent show is crap. Having every single event center on our main people, in their boring sort of romances, including every game and activity is bizarre. Why did they have moment to even have sign up for events at the beginning if ever team already did every event? Come on now.

Heed my warning. Do not be fueled into the musical that is bad, but also a faith film that even tackles the subject of faith poorly. 

0 out of 4.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Lee Daniels has never been known to be shy about the types of movies he wants to do. He did Precious, which was groundbreaking in lead and topic (which is unfortunate, because it should not have been ground breaking) and The Butler, which was like the Forrest Gump of Butlers.

And now, he wants to tackle on a bio film about Billie Holiday, famous American singer from the 30’s to the 50’s. A film about music with music but not a musical. Apparently he was reluctant to cast Andra Day in the titular role, because she is a singer not an actress, but was blown away by a quick acting real she put together. And I am so glad she did.

I hate it when bios cast purely actors who cannot sing in films as singers. You can tell the difference and it really bugs me. And yes that is still one of my issues with Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that had a lot of issues. Let singers play singers. Don’t give me recordings of the original artist someone pretending. I want someone who can sing like them too.

Now who was he going to cast as America in The United States vs. Billie Holiday?

singing
Sing like, look like, all of the above. We need perfect castings!

At this point in the movie, Billie Holiday (Andra Day) was already pretty famous. Why? Well, she was a good singer sure, but her soulful an sorrowful song Strange Fruit really got to people. It was a song about the southern states doing lynching and hangings of free black citizens, and Holiday obviously had a problem with it.

However, the people in charge, the government, the FBI, her show promoters and venue owners had a problem with the song, not with what the song was about. Weirdly mixed priorities. They wanted to put a stop to her song in whatever way they could. They couldn’t arrest her for singing or ban a song, But they could arrest her for other things.

And then began the long campaign to try and ruin Billie Holiday’s life, because they didn’t want her to sing a song or cause a revolution. So they put some moles in her close circle. They got her arrested on drug charges mostly and some conduct things. They really had it out for her and kept being pretty big jerks about it. Fucking FBI.

Also starring Tyler James Williams, Garrett Hedlund, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Rob Morgan, Leslie Jordan, Natasha Lyonne, and Trevante Rhodes.

rain
That is the tears of white upper class people feeling oppressed by a song. 

The story of Billie Holiday is not unique and unfortunately familiar, despite being a unique and fantastic individual herself.

In fact, thanks to recent films, I am learning the the US FBI was kind of huge dicks in the early and mid 1900’s. Probably after that too. Are they dicks now? I have no idea, but they were definitely more aggressive dicks then. (Although if they are being aggressive dicks now, we will have to wait until files become publicized and we might have to deal with this for decades).

Anyways, they are huge dicks confirmed. It is confirmed here. It is confirmed in Judas and the Black Messiah. It is confirmed in MLK/FBI, all movies released within a month or so of each other. Very interesting this very apparent and strong theme. Who else did they screw over? How have they negatively impacted the growth of American and our history?

Back to the movie. Day absolutely destroys it as Billie Holiday, and that is the main aspect to talk about. The voice, the singing, the swagger, she was great. She really puts it all out there for this performance, you can tell it is personal.

It is long movie, but one that will likely lose luster over time, especially due to its similar (unfortunate) themes to other recent films. I learned a lot about a musical artist who I can say I definitely didn’t know much about before. And at least we have that going for us.

3 out of 4.

Music

Hey look, its the movie Music! You know, the one recently nominated for some golden globes? It received a nomination for both Best Musical or Comedy and a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. That must be why everyone is talking about it, right? Right?

Oh wait, no. That is…anger I see and hear on the internet. Probably more anger than I have ever seen from any film nominated before. And wow, those IMDB ratings are super low. And (checks my own rating), wow, a 0 out of 4. I don’t know if I have ever given a 0 out of 4 to anything nominated for Best Film. That is pretty bizarre and rare.

What could have people (and myself) so up in arms about a simple movie, directed by Sia, our favorite wig wearing singer?

award winning
“Shhh, don’t listen to the haters, you are wonderful.” – Sia, probably.
Zu (Kate Hudson) is recently out of incarceration and living on her own. She used to do drugs (a lot of drugs) and also sell drugs (a lot of drugs) and that got her put away from some time. She is on the mend, on the rehab, and is clean, but her life is still a bit poop.

Her sister’s name is Music (Maddie Ziegler) and she, in fact, loves music. She is also a mostly nonverbal autistic girl living with her mom in a small apartment. She always has headphones on and is listening to music (way to pick a good name as a baby, I guess), and able to go about her day. She can do a whole lot on her own, she can leave the home, go on walks, and all of that, no issues! Unless her life suddenly changes or something alters her schedule. Like when their mom dies.

So now Zu is brought in to take care of her sister, and gains any and all rights over her. She doesn’t think she can “handle her” and wants out of it as soon as she can, but also, family, you know. And since Zu is still very much mostly in on the drug selling game, it is not like her job is friendly towards those with “problems” they might have at home.

Also starring Hector Elizondo, Ben Schwartz, Sia, and Leslie Odom Jr.

listen
There is a Tropic Thunder reference I can’t make anymore that applies here.
Very briefly, let’s talk about the backlash this film had regardless of how the actual film was. A lot of people, especially autistic people, had a problem with Sia casting Ziegler as a nonverbal high level autistic girl, instead of actually going with an autistic actress who could better represent the community. People were quick to point this out when the trailer dropped, and Sia went totally “I am a bad director” at them and argued with people on twitter, and didn’t listen to the people affected, and changed her story several times about what is going on and just full on ape shit rude.  She has been famous for decades, so she certainly should be above any of that by now and went to the deepest levels of not giving a fuck about others.

A lot of what was said and spoken out against has points. It would be different if it is was just a low level of autism, but Ziegler went really really far into the spectrum with her acting, so the whole thing shows as mocking and uncomfortable. The entire film.

It is very clear Sia just loves working with Ziegler and wants her in every project she does, given their relationship in music videos for the last decade. This film seems to actually exist to create more fun and colorful videos to Sia songs. I lost count how many times it happens, more than five. I believe they are to represent what Music’s reality looks like, as it features the people in her life, and singing and dancing and elaborate costumes. It is all very much on Sia’s brand. I guess that is Sia stating that she pictures her music videos as an autistic girls reality fuel? I don’t know.

But back to more of the movie. We have an insulting performance by the lead, a main plot that is basically having to “deal with family members that need help” and the burden of autism, and a shit ton of Sia music videos that thematically are repetitive. She claims to be woke and trying to represent the autism community, but she is doing it by failing to represent the actual autism community. Hell, there is even a line where they decide to culturally appropriate spirit animal and no character on screen is there to correct it.

Look, this film is problematic in its obvious (and Sia agrees) ableism that is being shoved in the viewer’s faces. There are plenty of reasons to avoid it for all of that. But the film itself is also a really bad movie and completely should be blasted on that front as well. And for something like the Golden Globes to nominate it? Well, awards are usually bought anyways.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to listen to the long version of Breathe Me one last time and be annoyed that this basically puts a dark mark on the absolutely perfect ending of Six Feet Under as well.

0 out of 4.

Hamilton

I am not throwing away this review, but I am going to keep it short and sweet.

Bless Lin-Manuel Miranda, who decided in 2016 they needed to shoot their musical with the original cast. They could have held on to this for over a decade and waited and waited. They said it would come out October, 2021! And then? Then pandemic.

And now it is out much, much, much earlier. On Disney+ so most people don’t have to pay much at all to see it, versus the theaters (Which it should still go to when it is safe, I would buy that ticket).

Thank you for spending three days getting this filmed, including the off-Broadway day for all of the cast and crew, putting in extra shows to make this thing out there.


It’s Alexander Hamilton, singing on the screen for you.

Wait for it! The entire original cast and crew is in this picture!

Anthony Ramos, Chris Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Jonathan Groff, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sydney James Harcourt.

And its the Hamilton musical, damn it! This is my plot outline. It is about Alexander Hamilton and some more people. There.


The room where this whole thing happened was actually in a theater in Broadway!
A phenomenon greater than most other phenomenon, I can die happy now that this is available. I never could see it on stage, and I likely wouldn’t now anytime remotely soon thanks to pandemics. This is a blessing and we should cherish it.

This counts as a movie for the year? I’ll take it. Now I have given two 4 out of 4s so far this year.

What are you waiting for, what do you stall for? It’s available now, go see it.

One last time, this musical is love.


My wife said I needed some more review aspects to this, fine. I cried five times despite hearing this musical so many times, some of my cries were new, some where at the same time I cried during just the music.

A few songs were enhanced thanks to the visuals. Like Satisfied, and seeing King George in more scenes. The use of moving stage was used wonderfully. The ending is so much better (of an already awesome song) with the dancers and background.

I will note that Odom Jr.’s Burr uses a much more lispy voice in this recording versus the original cast recording. I assume that was done in the main show way before it, maybe it is easier to sing with that voice in the long term, maybe it is to make him seem a bit more sneaky, but it is noticeable and completely acceptable.

4 out of 4.