Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Beatles Eight Days 2016

Director Ron Howard commemorates and celebrates the Beatles 250 concerts from 1963 to 1966.

The sweep of this documentary in the early years in Liverpool and German to their tours of America is comprehensive, interviews with a reporter who covered the Beatles when they toured America in 1964 and 1965, interviews with an unlikely fan of the Beatles, interviews with the Beatles themselves,  both in archival footage, supplemented by  current interviews with Ringo and Paul, and lots of live concert songs, the documentary captures the excitement of the Beatles music in those early days.  The film also captures the palpable exhaustion, and growing frustration of the Beatles at the end of the 1966 tour.

Where this documentary loses points is that it comes to a grinding halt in 1966, at a time when the Beatles music was getting more creative, and less formulaic.  The documentary really gives short shrift to the alums after 1966, and that really shortchanges Beatles fans and music fans in general.  I realize that the documentary was looking at the Beatles from a touring perspective, and the archival footage and photos  of the group in Liverpool and Germany are fantastic, but with so much concentration on the early Beatles, 8 Days a Week loses what turned the Beatles from a pop band to one of the most influential rock bands in the world.  Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely  Hearts Club Band  is one of the best albums in music history, and it is put on little more than a laundry list by this documentary, and that is a shame.  It is also puzzling, because the Beatles’ movies are brought in in addition to their tours, but there is little discussion of some of the most influential music of all time,  There is sparse footage of the final rooftop concert, that plays over the credits, all of which leave the viewer with a general sense of disappointment, when there should be no disappointment from a Beatles documentary.

Thee pacing is good, the mix of archival footage, still pictures and current interviews are interspersed well.  The songs are fantastic, and still hold up very well, which all speak to the immense talents of the Fab 4, I watched it on PBS and it was constantly interrupted by pledge drives, which no doubt interrupted with Howard’s attempt to tell a cohesive story through the music and interviews. Overall, it is a good documentary and well worth watching.

8 Days A Week:  Hard to Beat

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girls trip

Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is invited to be a keynote speaker at the Essence Festival, the quintessential event celebrating black music and culture.  Ryan is going to the Essence Festival to promote her new book, with her husband Stewart.  (Mike Colter) She decides to invite her friends, because they have drifted apart in the last few years.  Ryan’s friend Sasha (Queen Latifah ) runs an internet gossip site called  Sasha’s Secrets, and she’s despite to find a story to boost clicks to her site,  Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a single mother who’s so devoted to her kids, that she doesn’t  even want to leave them alone with her mother to go on this trip with Ryan.  And there’s Dina (Tiffany Haddish) the  wild child of the  group, who will say or do anything, with no apologies. Sasha gets a compromising picture of Stuart with an Instagram model named Simone. (Deborah Ayorinde)   Does Sasha confront Ryan with this picture, possibly wrecking Ryan’s perfect marriage?  Does Sasha post the picture on her site, saving herself from financial ruin? Is the photo even real, or has it been photoshopped?

This movie tries hard to be Bridesmaids, but there are so many problems with the writing that it’s difficult to even begin to explain them.  Start with a few tried-and-true black woman stereotypes.  Dina is the stereotypical l brassy, streetwise black woman that is prevalent in most movies. Then there’s Ryan, with another black female stereotype, the Superwoman, she can do it all, juggle, husband and career, and not break a sweat.  Then there’s some bathroom humor, some Tyler Perry drama, including a bar fight, and for no particular reason, some 1990’s New Jack swing music.  So the uplifting feminist empowerment soliloquy near the end of the film, can’t make the viewer forget all the trivial nonsense that comes before it. On the positive side, there is a really good Madi Gras band in the movie, there should have been more scenes with them in it.

Regina Hall is not really convincing as the “I have it all, you can have it too” persona.  It is not until late in the movie until the writers  humanize her character, that she shows any range at all.  Queen Latifah is competent , but again, there’s little range for the character, Latifah goes between angry and indignant, and that’s not a lot of range.  I didn’t buy Jada Pinkett Smith as a dowdy  hypochondriac, single mother of 2, so the transformation was not that shocking.  Tiffany Haddish is not very funny, she tries really hard,  but she is kind of annoying.  Mike Coulter does a really good job as the roguish, cheating husband, he is a dirtbag, but he has to maintain a public persona, so he is all smiles on the outside.

The direction has nothing noteworthy to speak of, other than a scene at Mardi Gras, and a scene with the marching band, the audience wouldn’t know that it was set in New Orleans at all.  The pacing is slow, the length is excessive for a comedy, and other than Mike Colter, there are no really good performances to speak of.

Girl’s Trip:  Falls flat.

baby driver

Baby  (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s a mobster.  Baby’s first job is driving Griff (Jon Bernthal) Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Elza Gonzalez) away from a bank robbery.  He does this in a red Subaru.   Baby’s second job is a Brinks truck heist featuring three different criminals, Eddie (Flea) J.D. (Lanny Joon) and Bats. (Jamie Foxx)  Once again, Baby escapes with his life.  Doc promises Baby that’s his last job and Baby is glad, because while going to the same diner every day, because his mom used to work there, he meets Debora (Lilly James)a cute waitress, and the two fall in love.  Baby is out of the getaway driving business and working as a pizza delivery boy, when Doc calls with one more job, involving money orders and the post office.  After a threat from Doc, will Baby take the big job, or forget his life of crime and run off with Debora?

Most people have heard of a mash up in music, Baby Driver is a mash-up of genres.  It’s a crime caper, it’s a drippy romance, and it’s got so much music, it might as well be a musical.  But the music and the romance divert attention from the crime drama, in ways that didn’t help this movie.  There are coincidences that would never happen in real life, like two cars looking just like the getaway car on the first getaway, there are backstory elements that only serve to garner sympathy to the Baby character, and there’s a badly mismatched cast, which makes the viewer wonder if this group of people would ever do anything together, much less plan robberies together.  It’s got that one last bank job cliché, and then it breaks that promise, because there is not enough material in the film to maintain interest. The ending would have been fine, if the movie had ended five minutes before it did. If this movie wasn’t a mash-up of genres, it would have been just another heist movie with a lot of shooting and fancy driving, so I guess the touches of style are better than nothing.

This movie features some of the strangest casting in any recent movie I’ve  seen.  Ansel Elgort is good as the innocent getaway driver, but does anyone believe that a guy like that would actually be a getaway driver?  No.  And Elgort laid that Southern accent on a bit too thick, it was noticeable.  The writers failed to give Baby any dimensions though, he was basically all good all the time, and that got boring quickly. Jon Hamm is great in Mad Men, but he is not a thug, and making him dress up in a leather jacket with stubble doesn’t exactly make him look tough, he just looks out of place, like he missed a revival of Grease or something. Casting 27 year old Elza Gonzalez as Hamm’s girlfriend when Hamm is 46, makes the idea of Hamm in this movie even more ridiculous.  The two were obviously badly mismatched, and Gonzalez was only used for eye-candy purposes.  Kevin Spacey plays what he always plays, an authority figure who everyone fears for some unknown reason.  Well I hope he enjoyed himself in this movie, because he’s finished in Hollywood. Jamie Foxx plays what he always plays, a slightly crazed, unpredictable character who makes jokes. One can argue about casting any of these people, but what are Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 70’s lounge singer Paul Williams doing in this movie?  Strange casting indeed.

The direction is not great, the pacing is uneven, it goes from a faced paced action flick to a slowly paced romance, and back and forth between the two.  The director used the beat in the music in concert with some of the action, which is unique, but hardly worth sitting through this movie for.  Watch Drive with Ryan Gosling, which also has arthouse excesses, but it’s got a better story and better acting than this movie.

Baby Driver:  Drove me to drink.

 

 

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.

beauty and the beast live

A headstrong, well-read French village girl named Belle (Emma Watson) is tired of life in her small village and can’t help but think that life has more to offer than her small town gives her.  She is relentlessly pursued by town hunk and resident harasser, Gaston, (Luke Evans) who she cleverly avoids. Belle is very close to her father, Maurice, (Kevin Kline) who raised her after Belle’s mom passed away.  When she visits Maurice, Belle asks her dad for a rose, and he promises to get her one. On a snowy night, Maurice loses his way and gets captured by a Beast (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed  by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) for his superficiality.  Belle hears that his father has been captured and rides off to save him.  She switches places with Maurice, and traps herself with the Beast.

Gaston sees an opportunity to be the hero, and rides off to save Belle with Maurice.  But Maurice refuses to let him marry Belle, and Gaston accuses Maurice of being crazy and wants to send him to an asylum.  In the castle, Belle and the Beast are becoming closer.  Lumiere, (Ewan McGregor) the candelabra Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan) the clock, Mrs. Potts, the teapot, and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) the wardrobe, are doing all they can to make the mood as romantic as possible.  They hope Bellle professes her love for the beast, because that will break the Enchantress’ spell on them too.  Things are going swimmingly until Belle checks on her father in a magic mirror, and sees that he is being taken away.  What does she do?  What happens to the Beast and his enchanted staff?

I was disappointed by Beauty and The Beast.  How could I not like a delightful movie such as this, you ask?  Easy, it was too much like its animated namesake, the live action movie followed the story of the animated movie, line for line shot for shot and scene for scene.  When Disney made a live action Jungle Book movie, they created a whole new story that was in every way better than the animated film.  That made me want to watch The Jungle Book, because I didn’t know what was coming with the next scene.  Since I had seen the animated Beauty before, not only did I know the scenes, I knew the songs, I knew the ending, I knew everything.  The few jokes that were added  for Josh Gad’s character weren’t that funny, and didn’t add much to the film.  Why is almost every actor speaking in a British accent, if the film is set in France?  Why does the Beast have blue eyes, is that important? The writers could have done a flashback and embellished the Beast’s character before the curse, and what made him such a superficial person, in the first place something to make it distinctive, anything.

The acting was good.  Emma Watson does the best she can with quite a limiting role, she is supposed to be an independent woman, headstrong, yet falling in love with a cursed Prince.  There is an inherent  contradiction in the role, but Watson is pleasant enough, and sings well enough to make Belle somewhat interesting.  Dan Stevens is pretty dull as the Beast, he doesn’t really bring much to the role.  Kevin Kline plays his role as comedy relief. Luke Evans is actually very good as Gaston, funny and evil at the same time, he put some real life into his role.  Of the Best’s household staff, only Ewan McGregor s Lumiere stands out, he infuses the role with humor and joy and a little sadness, he is truly a great actor.  Audra McDonald has a great operatic voice, I wish they gave her more songs to sing.

The direction is a mixed bag.  The visuals on some of the exteriors are visually appealing.  One of the opening scenes reminded  me very much of The Sound of Music, it was unintentionally humorous.  While the visuals were intriguing, the pacing is extremely slow, two hours seemed  more like four, and the performances were somewhat mixed.  The songs were great, just like the animated film,  but the CGI was overdone.

Beauty and The Beast:  It didn’t ring my Belle.

Band Wagon (1953) 24

Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a washed-up Hollywood song and dance man.  He comes to New York by train and is met by the only two remaining members of his fan club, Lester Martin (Oscar Levant) and his wife Lilly. (Nanette Fabray) Lester and Lilly are also screenwriters and Lester has a script for a Broadway play all set for Tony to star in.  Tony’s not sure, but Lester has a meeting set up for Tony with the hottest Broadway producer/director Jeffrey Cordova. (Jack Buchanan)  Jeffrey hears the pitch for the script, and has ideas of his own, he wants to do the play as an adaptation of Faust, the literary character who wants to make a deal with the devil to achieve success. Jeffrey also wants ballerina, Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) to be the leading lady, and after some reverse psychology on Gabrielle’s boyfriend, Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) Jeffrey gets Gabrielle to be the leading lady and Paul to be the play’s chorographer.

But as soon as the cast starts rehearsals for the play, tensions start to mount.  Tony feels like he’s being marginalized by Jeffrey.  Tony also fights with Gabrielle, he feels Gabrielle is arrogant and trying to make things more difficult for him. Even Lilly and Lester, the original writers and members of Tony’s fan club, are not even speaking to one another.  Will this play even make it to previews off Broadway or will internal dissension kill this play before people even see it?

Since I saw La La Land, which was a tribute to Hollywood musicals, I wanted to see a classic Hollywood movie to see if the authentic movie musical was worth the tribute.  The Band Wagon is definitely worth watching and definitely is a classic.  Whereas Singin’ In The Rain is a satire of Hollywood in the silent movie era, the Band Wagon is a satire of Broadway, much like Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  The pompous pretentious producer Jeffrey reminds me of the Horace Hardwick character from Top Hat, pompous, pretentious, and perpetually confused.  Part of this movie reminds me of Damn Yankees, a movie that was really based on Faust, with Gwen Verdon as the temptress, instead of Cyd Charisse The only kink in the armor of The Band Wagon is that they try to push a romantic storyline, where it was really not necessary. But I’m a sucker for Fred Astaire, and even an older version of Astaire has wit, charm, and dance steps to spare.

Fred Astaire plays what he always plays, a song and dance man.  But this time, he’s an aging song and dance man who’s staring the end of his career straight in the face.  Actor Astaire conveys the frustration of being an aging Hollywood star well, in a town that tosses out older stars like most people toss their garbage.  Dancer Astaire proves that he’s still got magic in those feet, doing some of the more masculine styles popularized by Gene Kelly in his movie musicals.  Similarly, Cyd Charisse plays her role with a dual purpose as well.  Actress Charisse plays the role of a shy ballerina, while dancer Charisse plays her role with a smoky seductiveness.  Jack Buchanan plays the haughty producer to perfection, and Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray add even more comedic value to the movie.

The director is Vincente Minelli, father of Broadway star Liza.  Minelli’s film, like many other movies in that golden age of film, pops with bright almost incandescent colors.  This was a visual style aped by Darren Chazier in La La Land.   The musical numbers are expertly staged, and the choreography is excellent.  Minelli also gets very good performances from a talented cast.

The Band Wagon Jump on!

la la land

An out of work actress named Mia (Emma Stone) keeps bumping into a soon to be out of work jazz pianist named Sebastian. (Ryan Gosling)  The first time they meet they give each other “the bird” in a traffic jam.  The next time they meet is shortly after Sebastian gets fired during Christmas.  The two meet again at a party when Mia requests a cheesy 80’s song and asks Sebastian to play the keyboard portion of it.  They meet again looking for their cars during a lovely sunset.  Later, Sebastian finds out that Mia has never seen Rebel Without A Cause and asks her to come see it, but she’s got a boyfriend, and she hates jazz, and he doesn’t want a girlfriend, especially one who doesn’t like jazz.  And they’ve both got big dreams.  She wants to be an actress, he wants to open a jazz club.  Does she go to the movie?  Or are their meetings just coincidental?

There are many good things about La La Land, but the writing is for most of the film is trite.  It follows all the conventions of every romantic comedy ever made including the man and woman hating each other at first sight.  Why does this always happen in the movies?  Nobody hates someone in real life and then, poof magic.  Nothing works that way.    There is a twist near the end, and the ending itself evolves into somewhat of a mystery, which belies the happy mood of the first hour, but is still better than a conventional Hollywood ending.

Ryan Gosling has made a living playing brooding, taciturn, characters, like in Driver, or Blue Valentine, so it was anyone’s guess how he would handle the lead in a musical romantic comedy.  He handles  the comedic part of the role well, but when the script turns more dramatic, his delivery is surprisingly flat. The same can be said for Emma Stone, she couldn’t really handle the more dramatic scenes, and even the comedic scenes, she would sometimes make a  silly face.  The two didn’t seem to have any chemistry, maybe it was the age difference.  Gosling is 8 years older than Stone, maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to have any sparks.   J.K. Simmons had a small role, I wish it was bigger, he is a heck of an actor.

There is a lot of good in this film, and most of it comes from  the director’s chair.  Damien Chazelle is a very talented director, and he realizes that film is a visual medium. This film pops with color, even the scenes filmed at night are brightly lit and look as if they were painted with a brush.  This is also a love letter to classic film, movie posters are strewn all over Mia’s apartment and the cameras catch all of it.  Even when the colors don’t pop, the camera is shooting from some interesting angle or other.  This is not Top Hat or Singin in The Rain, but that it aspires to be and tries to bring back the movie musical is a laudable aspiration.   The choreography is great, the songs are great, those two elements by  themselves make the movie worth watching. There are  portions of this this movie that are told without a word being spoken, that is an incredible achievement.

La La Land:  Mostly music to my  ears.