sing movie

Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a koala bear music promotor who fell in love with live musical shows at a very young age.  Buster’s father worked very hard to buy Buster a theater, and now the theater has fallen into disrepair.  Buster has an idea, to put on a live musical competition and offer 1,000 dollars as the prize money to the winner.  But his secretary, Miss Crawley, (Garth Jennings) an elderly glass-eyed lizard misprints the fliers for the show and offers 100,000 dollars for the prize without Buster’s knowledge.  All the finalists have talent, but they also have issues.  Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is a pig songstress with 25 piglet children and an overworked husband.  Mike (Seth McFarland)  is a mouse with the voice of Frank Sinatra, who also has a gambling problem.  He’s being chased by bear gangsters.  Ash (Scarlet Johansson) is a porcupine teenage rock guitarist, whose boyfriend is cheating on her.  Johnny (Taron Edgerton) is a gorilla with a beautiful voice, but he’s part of a gang, headed up by his dad, Big Daddy, (Peter Serafinowicz) the gang robs banks, and has one last big job coming.  Meena is an elephant with a powerful voice, who is too shy to sing.

Buster has a bigger problem, he doesn’t have the prize money, but he has an idea, impress Nana Noodleman, (Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson) grandmother of his assistant, Eddie, (John C. Reilly) and Buster can have the prize money for the concert to save the theater.  So Buster makes some ill-advised repairs to the theater to impress Nana, does Buster’s plan work?  Do the performers overcome their problems in order to perform?

Sing is a movie with a lot of promise, but the script has its fair share of issues with negative racial and ethnic stereotypes   When one of the main characters is a gorilla, and a gang member, that’s got a lot of negative racial baggage attached to it.  Also the relentlessly happy Japanese J-pop group is also a stereotype, also why is the elderly secretary portrayed as a screw-up always searching for her glass eye?  Is it ok to teach kids ageism also?  Despite these stumbles, the theme of music helping people rise above their particular circumstance is a good one.  Music is the perfect vehicle to illustrate this theme because a good song can lift people emotionally, spiritually and even physically if the song is done well enough.  Great acting by all the leads, and great singing by the lead actors makes this movie better than its script.

Matthew McConaughey loses most of his Texas twang for this role and makes Buster a multi-dimensional character.  Buster loves music, he loves the theater, because the theater is symbolic of his love of music and his love of his father.  So it’s a complex performance, and McConaughey pulls it off. Thankfully, he doesn’t sing. Reese Witherspoon also does an outstanding job as a haggard wife and mother who finds a release in singing and she does do her own singing, as she did in I Walk The Line, and she has a great voice.  Her acting skills also make the overworked mom who nonetheless loves her kids convincing. Scarlet Johansson plays a rebellious teen guitarist, who has to cope with a cheating boyfriend. Johansson also has a good singing voice, and amply conveys the pain of being cheated on.  Taron Edgerton is torn between his love of singing and his love for his criminal father, and illustrates the anguish well.  Who knew he had such a good voice? Not me. Seth McFarland hams it up as the Sinatra sound alike mouse, but his voice is better than his acting.

The animation in this movie is beautiful, the first scene of the original theater is so true to life that the viewers will believe that he or she is going into a real theater.  The pacing is good, the director, Gareth Jennings is also the writer.  I would say he gets good performances from the cast, but this is an all-star cast, but this cast doesn’t need any director to shape their performances.

Sing: A few sour notes can’t spoil this film.

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the circle

Mae (Emma Watson) works as a customer service representative in a small company, when her friend Annie, (Karen Gillian) gets her an interview at the Circle, one of the most famous tech companies in San Francisco.  She aces the interview and starts work in the customer experience area.  Mae goes home her first weekend to take care of her father, Vinnie (Bill Paxon) who has MS.  That absence on the weekend earns Mae a visit from Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talal) asking Mae to fill out her personal social media page, and attend more company parties.  Eager to move up in the company, Mae does just that, at one of these parties she meets Ty (John Boyega) inventor of True You, the social media arm of The Circle.  They talk for a while and then she goes back to her residence at the campus of the Circle.   Mae is now fully devoted to her life at The Circle, she video conferences her parents, and hardly sees her childhood friend, Mercer (Eller Coltraine) who now works as a carpenter, and makes handmade chandeliers.   In an attempt to help Mercer, Mae shares a picture of a chandelier that Mercer made for Mae’s mom, but the picture causes a social media backlash, and people label Mercer a deer killer, and he disappears.

While attending another party, Ty takes Mae to a hidden part of The Circle, where the executives keep files of everyone in The Circle and friends and enemies alike. Mae is clearly disturbed by the secrets that the executives are keeping, and by Mercer’s disappearance, she goes kayaking to clear her mind, but she experiences some rough waters and almost drowns  if not for the underwater cameras in San Francisco Bay.  After this traumatic event, and meeting the CEO of The Circle, Mr. Bailey (Tom Hanks) Mae decides to go transparent, having every aspect of her life documented on video.  Not only that but Mae also starts work on the Soul Search software program, which can find fugitives from justice or lost loves in record time.  The Soul Search finds a criminal in under 20 minutes.  The next search is for Mae’s friend, Mercer.  How does that search end up?

Imagine if Google, Amazon, Apple and Go Pro all merged and imagine what the resulting technology conglomerate would look like?  That’s what this movie imagines.  The Circle is very good at identifying  the dark side of social media, the complete lack of privacy, the cyberbullying, the group think, even the vigilantism possible with social media.  Further it explores work life balance issues at a tech company, and how much of an employee’s life belongs to the company.  The Circle as a company feels almost cult-like.  But the story becomes derivative of the Truman show, when Mae straps on a camera, and it makes Mae much dumber than she should be,  and then turns her into a victim of her own success.  The growth of the Circle’s social media software seems a little too quick to be realistic, but there are still many thought provoking ideas in this movie.  The critics panned it, but for the most part, despite some flaws, this is an interesting story.

The acting is very good.  Emma Watson is very convincing as a naïve girl, who joins a tech company, and quickly learns how much of her time belongs to the company.  The writers make her a little dumber than she should be but Watson fights through bad writing and makes the character strong, yet vulnerable.Tom Hanks does a great job playing a lovable Bill Gates type, people forget how ruthless Microsoft was in creating a monopoly for its products, but that’s how Hanks plays Bailey, all sunshine and rainbows on the outside, and ruthlessly controlling on the inside. The writers definitely did John Boyega a disservice by making his role so small, and making his character a shadowy person.  He should have been much better defined and had a bigger role. Patton Oswalt was also very good as the sinister scheming co-founder of the circle.  Oswalt is a comedian, who shows surprising range in this role.

There is nothing visually noteworthy about the direction, but the pacing is good and the story moves briskly, to a somewhat satisfactory conclusion.  James Ponsoldt hasn’t directed anything of note, but he wrote the screenplay and adapted it from the books of the same name.

The Circle:  Tom Hankering to control all of us.

 

 

kongs kull island

In 1973,Bill Randa (John Goodman) works for a government agency called Monarch, Randa and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) convince a Senator not to defund Monarch by showing him a picture of Skull Island, a heretofore undiscovered island.  Brooks says the U.S. must explore the island before the Soviets do, and that convinces the Senator to fund the trip, complete with a military escort. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) leads the military escort, and brings along a tracker from the Royal Air Force, James Conrad, (Tom Hiddleston) who is paid handsomely for his duties.  The military escort also carries with it a photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who wants to find out what the secrecy behind Monarch is all about.

The group flies through a storm and find Skull Island, they also find what Randa and Brooks are looking for, Kong, a giant ape who rules the island, and doesn’t care much for helicopters.  Kong slaps down the helicopters like flies, but miraculously, not only do Conrad, Brooks, Randa, Packard, and Weaver survive, they meet a group of natives, and Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) another American soldier, who has been stranded on the island since WWII. There are two schools of thought among the Monarch survivors, one led by Packard, wants to hunt and kill Kong for killing his men, the other, led by Marlow, wants to save Kong, because there are worse monsters on Skull Island.  Which side wins the argument?

The viewer has to suspend a lot of belief to find this movie the least bit believable.  First of all, suspend belief that the big hairy ape grounds all the helicopters and all the passengers don’t die instantaneously from impact or the conflagration that follows impact.  All sci-fi asks viewers to suspend reality to some degree, but this movie does so more than most.  The characters have no depth, even the main characters are one dimensional.  The story really adds nothing to the Kong mythology, Kong is still the protector of people, but yet he kills some people.  Kong also still has a soft spot for the ladies, a tired holdover from the Fay Wray era. And the shift in location and time period from Japan to an island off Vietnam, only sets off a faux debate on the merits of the Vietnam war.  This is hardly a topic to be discussed with sound bites in a science fiction movie about a giant ape.

For all the fine, A-list actors in this movie, the acting is only so-so.  Samuel  L. Jackson is clearly having fun playing an alpha-male bad guy, and it shows. Tom Hiddleston plays a mercenary with a heart of gold.  Has anyone ever heard of a nice guy mercenary?  Me neither, therein lies the problem.  Brie Larson won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Room, but why would Larson  go from playing such a weighty role to a do-nothing character like Mason Weaver is mystifying. Larson essentially takes still pictures for the whole movie, like a glorified tourist.  John Goodman is convincing as a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, whose conspiracy turns out to be true. John C. Reilly provides a lot of the comedy relief as an American pilot who takes a decidedly Zen approach to Kong.  If Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly were in this movie alone, Kong Skull Island would have been a lot more fun.  Hiddleston and Larson play their roles a lot more seriously than they should, and that wrecks the campy nature of the film.

In a movie with a weak script, and somewhat lackluster acting, the direction is something that stands out for being quite good. The cinematography is spectacular, and the high altitude shots of Vietnam are spectacular, I’ve seen pictures of those mountains and it was very well represented in the movie.  The CGI, which usually interferes with my enjoyment of a movie, was really well done.  Kong looked very real and moved in a realistic way, some CGI just looks like a bad video game, but this CGI seemed natural for some very unnatural creatures, and the creatures were well integrated with their backgrounds, everything seemed well-matched.  The pacing was good, for a long movie, and  director Jordan Vogt Roberts got mostly good performances from everyone involved, although this cast didn’t need much help. Vogt Roberts is mostly a TV director, so this was an extremely ambitious big screen project to take on.

Kong Skull Island:  Kong doesn’t monkey around, but the film has limited a-peel.

Beguiled

John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is a Colonel in the Union army.  He’s been shot and is losing a lot of blood.  McB is found by 12 year old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) who takes him to a Confederate Girls’ School, run by a woman named Martha.  (Geraldine Page)  Martha plans to make him well and turn him over to the Confederate troops patrolling the area immediately, but McBurney has a plan, he starts to ingratiate himself to all the women in the house, including Amy, a house slave named Hallie, (Mae Mercer) a teacher in the school, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) a 17 year old “hussy” named Carol, (JoAnn Harris) and Martha.  Martha has been deserted by her brother, Hallie responds to McBurney’s promise to find her boyfriend, Edwina has never been with a man, Amy is just starting to notice men, and Carol just wants another man to sleep with.  McBurney seems to know what button to push with each woman, but he overindulges his cravings, and Carol sees him seducing Edwina, and gets angry, how does she plan to get revenge on McBurney?  Can he keep fooling these needy women?

This is a strange movie, and a far cry from Eastwood’s Dirty Harry persona, or maybe it isn’t.  This is a revenge fantasy, but who’s getting the revenge and who gets the last laugh?  It seems to me that this story is told from the man’s point of view, and the man seems to be a chauvinist.  His first objective is survival, then McBurney wants pleasure and he doesn’t really care who gives it to him.  The women all seem to have man issues, there’s not one self-actualized one in the bunch.  The storyline is a bit redundant after a while, and the strangeness, including a very strange dream sequence,  threatens to derail the plot, but it’s still fun to see who is left standing at the end.  Call it a guilty pleasure. It’s like a Tarantino movie, with a lot less violence.

This is a departure for Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t always play the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, in fact his films are known for their lack of female roles.  But since he can’t fight his way out of this situation or shoot his way out, he has to try to charm his way out.  It’s a macho role, just a different kind of macho role.  Geraldine Page is good as Martha, the founder of the school, with a lot of baggage, and some mighty strange baggage it is.  Page still plays the role as a prim and proper Southern schoolmarm, who keeps her desires locked away.  The rest of the women are stereotypes. Mae Mercer is the “sassy” slave.  Edwina is the virginal ideal woman of that era, Carol is jaded despite her young age, and Amy is the little girl, just starting to experience womanhood.  None of the women in these roles are good enough to make their badly written roles convincing, except for perhaps Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina.  The acting from the supporting cast is not great, the script reads like a Southern soap opera, and that ultimately leads to the downfall of the film.

Not to be outdone, Don Sigel, who directed Dirty Harry overdoes the visuals, the camera spins and reels, like a dizzy schoolgirl, and the effect is claustrophobic and nauseating.  Siegel directs this movie as if it was some kind of Victorian Gothic novel, like Jane Eyre, but this is a trashy low rent Jane Eyre, complete with creepy music from Lalo Schiffrin who’s done some good stuff like Cool Hand Luke and Bullitt, but this music seemed to intrude on the movie and not enhance it. The pacing of the film is slow, the performances are not that great, and it limps to an ending.

The Beguiled:  Eastwood goes South, in more ways than one.

life

A group of six astronauts from the international space station recover an alien species from a Mars probe, and try to bring it back to earth for further study. The single-celled organism, which the crew nicknames Calvin, lies dormant for a while, until one of the astronauts, Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) tries to bring the organism back to life, with electric shock.  The treatment works and the organism begins to grow, but will Hugh Derry and the rest of the crew regret their decision to bring this alien life form back to life?

This is a movie that tries to combine The Martian, Gravity, and the Aliens movies into one movie.  But it’s not as smart and funny as The Martian, it’s not as scary as any of the Aliens movies, and it’s very predictable.  The viewer knows what’s going to take place in this movie from the first minute of this movie to the last.  The movie tries to build some relationships early on in the film, but they don’t do enough character development to make the viewer care about any of these characters.  The scenes are also very redundant, the astronauts never seem to learn from their mistakes, while the alien is learning constantly. The science is junk science too, why should an alien creature respond to an electric shock to revive it?  Humans respond to electric shocks to stimulate their hearts but why should alien organisms react in the same way?  Also, later in the movie, the viewer learns that the alien needs oxygen to survive.  There is .1 percent of oxygen on Mars, how could it survive on Mars, if it needs oxygen to survive? The writers try to add a twist ending to the movie, but I had stopped caring long before this movie ended.

The acting is subpar, Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the best actor in the movie seems genuinely disinterested in giving his character any personality whatsoever.  He acts like he’s playing a supporting role through most of the movie, and when the lead role is thrust on him, it’s far too late to care. Ryan Reynolds plays the same fast-talking wise guy that he played in Deadpool.  Unfortunately, the snarkiness of this character does not play well as an astronaut.  Astronauts are serious people who need to know a lot of science or else very bad things happen.  Reynolds lack of seriousness in this role shows bad form, thankfully, it’s a small role.  Rebecca Ferguson is the poor-woman’s Emily Blunt, she also sleepwalks through the role.  Olga Dykhovichnaya  plays a generic Russian role, whose character is also a love interest for Ryan  Reynolds character. Aryon Bakare does his best Chiwetel Ejifor impression, but Bakare’s role is not as well-written as Ejiofor’s in The Martian.

The direction started off visually interesting, but soon devolved into special effects and explosions in typical Hollywood fashion.  The pacing is bad, and the director doesn’t get good performances out of his actors.  The director also did Safe House, which wasn’t that good of a thriller, and Child 44, which I have not seen.

Life:  Life-less.

L_06889.NEF

In 1957, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) told her boyfriend, Richard Loving  (Joel Edgerton) that she was pregnant.  Mildred was black and Native American, and Richard was white.  In 1958, they went to Washington DC to get married.  When they came back home to Virginia to live together as man and wife, they were arrested, because of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.  The couple moves to DC, but decides to have their child in Virginia, again facing jail time for coming to Virginia together.  So, they move back to DC, and live there.  Mildred becomes more aware of the Civil Rights movement while living in DC, and writes a letter to Robert Kennedy to ask him to look into her case.  Kennedy passes the letter to an ACLU lawyer, named Bernie Cohen  (Nick Kroll) who along with Phil Hirschkop  (Jon Bass) take the case to the Supreme Court.  Do they win?

Loving V. Virginia is one of the most important civil rights cases in legal history. But the movie Loving lacks the intensity or gravity to make the story compelling.  I find it amazing that nobody on either side of the racial divide seemed to raise any objection to the nuptials. This story takes place in Virginia, home of the capital of the Confederacy, the couple marries in 1958, before the Civil Rights movement starts in earnest, and the only people that seem to object are members of the state government.  Loving’s mother raises the slightest objection, but it’s so politely stated, that the viewer might miss it. There is one scene where Richard senses a threat to himself, but nothing comes of it. This movie covers the high points of the story, but does it so blithely, and unemotionally, that all historical and legal import is lost.  The writer seems to soft-peddle the virulent racism of the time period in order to appeal to a 2016 audience’s sensibilities.  By doing so, the movie does a disservice to all who fought and died for Civil Rights and equal rights. The Supreme Court case, which is historic, is treated almost as an afterthought.  This could have been a great movie, but it’s not even a good movie.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving as a laconic guy, maybe he didn’t speak a lot, but the quiet performance doesn’t make the movie any more interesting to watch.  Ruth Negga gives Mildred a little more of an edge, even though she is soft-spoken, and her cadence is slow, she clearly sees an injustice in her life and wants to correct it.  These two performances were central to the film, so it was vital that Negga and Edgerton have chemistry onscreen and they do.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed the movie and while his script treads lightly on racism, the visual aspect of his direction seems to concentrate on the rural landscape of Virginia, there is even a closeup of a grasshopper at one point.  The pacing is too slow, 2 hours seems like 4 hours, and the portrait of the Lovings is too intimate, the story never broadens to address the larger implications of the case or even the threats they faced for bringing the case.  By keeping the scope narrow, director and writer Nicolls misses the point.  He does get good performances from Negga and Edgerton, that is the saving grace of this film.

June 12th was Loving Day, I hope you spent it with someone you love, watching another movie.

Loving.  Not much to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

never caught

Ona Judge was born in June 1773.  Her mother Betty was a seamstress and a spinner.  She was also a dower slave who belonged to the Custis family, Daniel Parker Custis was Martha Washington’s first husband.  When Martha married George Washington, Betty and the other slaves moved to Mount Vernon in Virginia.  Ona’s father was a white Englishman, Andrew Judge.  Andrew was an indentured servant who eventually worked through his contract and gained freedom for himself.  He could have bought freedom for Betty and Ona but did not.

Ona was a bondwoman, much like her mother, learning the same skills as Betty, becoming a seamstress and spinner, also waiting on Martha Washington, to fulfill her needs. Neither the family or the slaves could stay in Virginia could stay very long, George Washington was unanimously elected the first President of the United States in 1789, so the family and  the slaves had to move to New York, the first capital of the U.S.  Even as the Washingtons and Ona Judge moved to New York, discussions were taking place to move the capital to Washington DC, Philadelphia would serve as the capital in the interim, starting in 1790.

The move to Philadelphia had a dramatic effect on Ona Judge’s life.  The Washingtons Judge and the other slaves moved into The Predsident’s House in Philadelphia in November of 1790. Philadelphia was a hotbed for abolition.  Ona was able to see and talk to free black men and women for probably the first time in her life. In addition Pennsylvania had a law which required the emancipation of any adult slave brought into the state for longer than six months.  George Washington routinely avoided complying with this law by shifting his slaves back and forth between Virginia and Philadelphia.

Just as George Washington was trying to shield his slaves from emancipation, Martha Washington introduced another life changing event into Ona Judge’s life.  Martha Washington pledged Ona’s services to her step-granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Custis, who was about to get married.  Betsy was known to have a quick temper with violent outburst.  This was the last straw for Ona Judge, she knew she couldn’t count on loyalty from Martha Washington.  So she ran away,  where did she go?  Was she ever found?

I’m not a fan of the mythology that is routinely taught about U.S. Presidents, the mythology around  George Washington is ridiculous.  He chopped down a cherry tree, and told his parents the truth about it, saying ‘I cannot tell a lie.’  This book successfully cuts through the mythology,  and gets to the heart of a very contentious issue slavery in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

It was surprising how doggedly George Washington pursued Ona Judge and that he didn’t stop pursuing her.  I had always assumed that Washington, while not an abolitionist, was not actively involved in extending the life of the slave trade.  This book changed my mind, completely on that issue.  He signed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793, to make it easier for slaveholders to go after runaway slaves, and also to placate Southern slave holders. Washington could have easily not pursued Ona Judge, but he never stopped, so his sterling reputation is tarnished a lot in this book and rightly so. He finally emancipates his slaves in 1802 after his death, but the book de-emphasizes this fact.

The book humanizes Martha Washington a bit more, talking about the death of her children from her first marriage and how that affected her emotionally.  Martha is still portrayed as a moody taskmistress who ultimately treated her slaves like property.

More surprising was the story of Ona Judge herself, an illiterate slave when she ran away, used her wits and a network of friends and strangers alike to stay free, it is a harrowing and exciting story, one that deserves to be told, and one that should have been told many years ago.  Freedom was not an abstract philosophical or political concept or ideal for Ona Judge.  She would rather live free, or die trying.  She knew what slavery was like and she did not want to go back to that life.

This book is not flawless, the biographical details of Judge’s life in the last chapter become broader over a longer time period, and then ends abruptly.  My guess is that the author, Mrs. Dunbar ran out of documentation on Judge and couldn’t extend the book any farther than she did.  The book was done at 53% of its Kindle capacity, the rest were author’s notes and an extensive glossary.  Documentation on fugitive slaves must be hard to come by, but the last chapter and abrupt ending is disappointing for a book that is absolutely riveting before that last chapter.

Never Caught: A good book, Judge for yourself.