Tag: Musical

Sing 2

Hey remember Sing? Yeah? But why do you remember Sing?

I remember Sing being an incredibly average film. The trailers definitely implied a lot more songs might be featured in it, but most of them were just used in a montage audition scene. It was a mediocre film mostly because it had a very basic plot, and pretty standard tropes when it came to the plots of the individual main characters. The lead character wasn’t someone I looked at and cheered for. They let the mouse, despite being a dick all film, have a happy ending without making amends, which is shocking for a kids movie. And then you know, it ended.

It definitely didn’t feel like the type of thing that would get a sequel. But with Illumination Entertainment, anything they make that can be franchised and soaked for money with a lowest common denominator of jokes, they will do it, I suppose.

So hey, let’s see what nonsensical reason they come up for a sequel for Sing 2.

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That button isn’t ominous enough. Needs to do something like open a trap door, or hit a bigger gong.

What’s going on with the animals, after they put on a fun little singing show for their friends and family? Well, they are still working together to put on original shows. They made a version of Alice in Wonderland, but you know, with other pop songs being song for it. They constantly sell out their show, which is impressive in their regular sized community, but alas, they want more.

Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) invited a talent scout to see the performance, but she leaves halfway through because it is not right for her employer, Mr. Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). He has a big hotel and theater in a Las Vegas like city, and he needs a new stage show. The scout didn’t think their show was good enough to even bring for an audition. Rough.

But Buster convinces his crew to head to the auditions anyways. And they will lie their way to the audition, and lie their way to a show start, by making promises he can’t guarantee, about a show that isn’t written. Good times. Follow your dreams haphazardly. Promise that you will get a big star, Clay Calloway (Bono) despite him being a recluse for 15 years.

Starring the returning voices of Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Garth Jennings, Jennifer Saunders, and Nick Offerman. And now we get voices of new characters voiced by Adam Buxton, Eric Andre, Halsey, Letitia Wright, Pharrell Williams, Chelsea Peretti, Julia Davis, and Peter Serafinowicz.

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Word a Lion eat a porcupine? Probably.

In all honesty, I went in expecting to hate Sing 2. Let’s be clear. It really doesn’t make sense to exist. The idea behind this is that now that the con-artist found some actual talent through the rubble that is his town, he wants to make them a bigger famous act, basically singing cover songs, to works as entertainers? Ehhh.

I find it hard to find the lead character charming at all. He is a guy who just constantly lies because he feels he deserves greatness? He lies about things that might not be even conceivable, like the prize money in the first film. Things worked out for him, and that is great, but ehh. Not my kind of message for kids.

A lot of the side plots are pretty trash. The plot of our Gorilla not dancing well, and needing to dance well for his scene? Whatever. It was very much not in character for the choreographer to do what he did during their final show, and that ruined that potentially cool scene for me. The Elephants plot was also extremely basic, about not knowing how to fall in love. The plot of the musical they put on was shit, because none of the planets had any actual storyline for their musical.

The heart of the film comes from the Calloway character, a famous older star, who lost his wife, and gave up his career, to live alone with his deep lion thoughts. Bringing him into their fold took them time, and his moment on the stage was a bit charged up in emotions. I did cry during it. Those bastards. And despite the terrible way for the plot to unfold, from its beginning lies, to its terrible subplots, it was a fun show they put on for the experience. It was a bad musical, but a fun show.

One final note. What is going on with the songs here? Like, as far as I can tell, all of these people are aware they are singing cover songs of someone else? There is more evidence of that given that when they sang a U2 song, they talked about it belonging to Clay, of course voiced by Bono. And in Sing, it is not like all those townsfolk just had songs they made up on the fly ready to go. So they are all covers and exist. Why the hell is everyone so bananas over people singing cover songs? Why did Ash have any level of a successful rock career just singing cover songs? This is very unrealistic. There is going to be a Sing 3 probably, because hey, money. And people like cover songs in cartoon movies. But trying to figure out why people go bananas for them in front of them is bizarre.

2 out of 4.

tick, tick…BOOM!

2021 has been a year of musicals for me. A front to bottom, left to right, back in time to now, year of goddamn musical joy. I have seen so many movies I haven’t seen before, in anticipation of all of the musicals that were coming out this year, and tick, tick…BOOM! is one of the lasts to go.

I think from this year, out of the 11 or so new musicals that came out, I have two more to go after tick, tick…BOOM!, the end is in sight, and I am sad to see it go. I also had a goal to watch at least 100 musicals throughout the decades, focusing on many musicals that were strange or famous that I never saw before.

tick, tick…BOOM! is the type of musical that one has heard of before, and never gotten a good chance of seeing or hearing before, due to the situations around that musical. And our bae Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired in his own life by the musical for people who create musicals, decided he needed to dust off the old director’s hat and give us a theatrical version of this musical as his first go around. Musical theater nerds rejoice, everyone else? Well, hopefully they also rejoice, because rejoicing is fun.

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“You love me, you really love me!”

Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) is a real person! A real guy. Who really wanted to write musicals. In fact, he did write some musicals. In this movie, we are going to see a few things. One, him living his life. Two, him putting on a musical he has created called Superbia, similar to 1984 the book, and set in the future, but different. Three, the actual musical of tick, tick…BOOM!, which is one he made about his life at the time, his feelings dealing with his failures and successes around the making of Superbia. And then his eventual death. Spoilers. But yeah, his last musical he made was RENT and he died suddenly the morning that it was to premier off-Broadway.

Why does he write like he is running out of time?

Narratively, the plot isn’t too hard to follow, but we have musical songs both in his regular life, and in the musical he is trying to make, and the one that this movie is technically about. And we have a lot of people. Like his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) and a former roommate (Robin de Jesus) who wanted to be an actor, but sold out to make that cash.

We also get Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim, who was someone who gave Larson a lot of inspiration early in his life, believed in his work. Sondheim also left a voicemail on Larson’s real life voice mail, and he used it in his original show and it is used in this movie as well.

This is a musical of emotions, of youth, of dreams, and with the knowledge that tragedy can happen at any moment, and you should live your life like it is the only life you got.

Also starring Ben Ross, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joshua Henry, MJ Rodriguez, Richard Kind, and Vanessa Hudgens.

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Although the song and lyrics of a musical don’t pop out of his head there, you can still imagine it. 

As it is hard to describe in my plot outline, tick, tick…BOOM! is clearly a very unique and different experience. The musical itself had a few name changes, and met with various amounts of success, and had a revival decades later that was nominated for awards. Larson is such a unique and clever individual, that it makes sense a movie musical about his life needed to do it in a clever and unique way.

Garfield as the lead is absolutely wonderful. So full of energy, positive and negative. You feel his angst, sorry, and happiness the rare time he gets to experience it. His face wears his expressions so wildly, that you forget that he is imitating a real person (and those who know him say it was spot on). Because you know, biopic films, how close they were to the real person matter greatly and it is harder for people to know about this being great if not many people know about Larson.

For the movie itself, it does feel like both a performance and a musical. Sometimes people break out into songs, and it feels like it is a natural sometimes for the characters to do it, and other times, hey, a musical. We get songs, sometimes across timeline scenes. We get music, and I hope you came here for music, because there is a good chunk of it, and a lot of Broadway cameos, namely in one specific song, but also sprinkled throughout.

The angst behind our film can be applied to more than just musical writing, but any sort of creative process that is purely up to the maker and the struggles they have to overcome, even if the talent is clearly there. A lot of people can relate to these struggles, and the feelings that come with it.

I didn’t know this musical was coming out at all until I saw the first trailer release. And I am happy to say, that the trailer doesn’t oversell the film.

4 out of 4.

Encanto

Welcome to Encanto, or what I also call it, the second Disney Animated film this year. Disney has been doing an every other thing in regards to their films. One a musical and one that is not. We are at the musical one which meant I went in pretty excited despite being a bit weary about the overall plot.

But…Lin-Manuel Miranda helped make the plot of the film, and the music behind it. And I can’t not get behind a project he is involved in. Hell, watching Vivo was a surprise for me because I didn’t know he was involved with that.

If you look back at my review of Raya, you would have seen that Disney has been kicking Pixar’s ass the last few years overall. And not surprisingly that was still true. Luca was okay, Encanto was amazing. Pixar can just disband now. Before we get Cars 4.

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Don’t tell any kids I said there could be a Cars 4. They might start acting up. 

Years ago, Alma Madrigal (MarĂ­a Cecilia Botero) was on the run with her husband and three kids, with members of her community, in the Columbia mountains. They were being chased out by invaders. And in that time, she lost her husband in order for the rest of her family to be saved. She prayed and wished for help, and her magical home was born, protected in the mountains, to grow a wonderful community that looked out for each other. And her three kids were given magical powers once they hit a certain age, to help protect the community. And their kids as well.

That is, until we got to Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). The door didn’t work. No powers were granted. Something was wrong. But she is upbeat nonetheless. Who needs /powers/ in a family of superpowered individuals in a magical house to have a good time?

But her younger brother is now up for his. The first since she was denied. If his power doesn’t manifest, was it her fault? And if there starts to be visions of her breaking their magical house and tearing their family apart, will it be her fault? And should she just, like, leave, you know?

Also starring the voices of Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Adassa, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Maluma, Mauro Castillo, Alan Tudyk, the singing voice of Olga Merediz, and of course, John Leguizamo.

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You see, the house is a metaphor…for family.

A lot of these recent animated Pixar/Disney movies have had a mostly predictable plot. Frozen would end with her in control of her powers. Moana would return the heart of Te Fiti. And in Luca they would be gay, do crimes. But I found myself constantly guessing at where it would go in this movie and being wrong, and I really enjoyed that. I mean, I knew it would involve the house breaking, or not. Powers being gained, or not. But the how? The why? That was exciting and unique in the movie.

I loved the music in Encanto so much, I wished I could listen to it on my way home from the theater. But alas, at that time it wasn’t available yet. I even waited to write this review until I had a chance to re-listen to the songs. So many of them feel great, with layers and multiple voices, and different harmonies. I was surprised to find that Beatriz also sang all her own parts. She was very limited in In The Heights, so I just assumed she couldn’t sing, but she did great.

Encanto is just a beautiful movie. I think it is interesting that the main character is clearly interested in embroidery, given her clothes and what’s in her drawers, but it was never actually talked about at any point in a significant way. It is just a fact about her character. I especially liked the animation when they did the Bruno, Luisa, and Isabela songs. It was just constant visual explosion on the screen, and it left me in down right awe.

I am happy that Disney made a somewhat simple and small movie about people with gifts. I am glad they didn’t go against what they were preaching the entire film like they did in so many other classic Disney tales. And I am glad that Miranda’s genius keeps growing, and I hate him, and I love him, for it.

4 out of 4.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

finale
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.