Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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25 years after a nanny made their lives whimsical, the Banks family has, once again, fallen on hard times. Michael, a widowed father of three, is struggling to keep the bank from repossessing his house, while his sister Jane, a labor organizer, is doing all she can to keep Michael from breaking down. Just when it seems like all hope is lost, Mary Poppins, the very same nanny who filled their lives with magic and musical numbers, descends from the heavens, intent on saving the family from despair with the power of song and dance. What else? Continue reading

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A Star Is Born (2018)

Jackson Maine is a fading rock star. He’s popular, but his severe alcoholism has limited his options. One night, while searching for booze, he stumbles into a drag bar, where Ally, a young woman with an incredible voice, but not much confidence, is performing. Taken by her talent, and raw sincerity, Jackson gets to know her, and offers to give her a way into the music industry. Ally is hesitant at first, but after getting to know, and performing with, Jackson, she agrees, and the two begin a whirlwind romance, involving world tours, awards, substance abuse, and the slow, sad realization that the music industry changes people. Continue reading

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In 1986, Eric Wright is a drug dealer, Andre Young is an aspiring DJ, and Oshea Jackson is a wannabe rapper. They’re all poor, they’re all disillusioned, and they all have a long way to go before becoming Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. But they’re talented, and driven, and have a unique voice that they know will speak to millions. So they decide, “screw it,” and form their own record label, Ruthless Records, and start their own rap group, NWA. When the first song they put out, “Boyz N The Hood,” becomes a local hit, they are approached by an agent named Jerry, who offers to “make them legit,” if only they will make him their manager. They agree, and Jerry keeps his word, giving them greater exposure, and booking them in bigger venues. But rifts quickly form within the group over payment, and it’s not long before Ice Cube breaks off, and a vicious rivalry between him and his former band mates flares up.

Straight Outta Compton is a film I don’t feel fully qualified to judge. I didn’t grow up with NWA’s music, I’m not Black, and I wasn’t alive at the time this movie is set. So I don’t really feel I can comment on the picture’s historical accuracy, or on the way it portrays Rap culture. What I can comment on is the filmmaking itself–the writing, the acting, the production design–and that is very impressive. All the actors do terrific jobs, the camerawork is smooth, and the story is consistently entertaining. From a purely technical standpoint, I have but a few complaints, and those that I do have are relatively mild. The film is almost three hours long, and there are points where the pacing does drag. There are also some scenes that never get brought up again, like one on a bus where a gang member says “remember me” to a passenger, and another one in a hotel room involving a guy looking for his girlfriend. And the film doesn’t do much in the way of female representation, with most of the women in the picture being groupies, and the others being worried moms, or supportive girlfriends. But, again, I’m not a part of that culture, so I can’t comment on the misogyny that might very well have been a huge part of that time period, and that scene.

All in all, though, I quite enjoyed Straight Outta Compton, and would recommend it to you. If your a fan of NWA, or are just looking for a good biopic, check this film out. I’m quite certain you won’t regret doing so.

La La Land (2016)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

What can I say about La La Land, the modern musical that’s won the hearts of millions? Well, I could tell you that it’s entertaining, optimistic, and very impressive when you consider all the work that went into crafting certain sequences. But I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my overall dislike for the picture, and how I honestly have no desire to ever see it again.

Hate me yet? Good. Because I’m not done.

Now before I go on, I just want you to know that I don’t despise this movie. I recognize how good the acting, cinematography and dialogue are. I’m not trying to say that I think this is a bad film. I’m saying, it’s not a movie I enjoyed. You all might, and I’m happy if you do. But, for me, this isn’t a film I think I’ll ever revisit.

Now, with all that said, La La Land tells the story of two struggling artists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who meet and fall in love in LA. And that’s really it. It’s just a movie about two people trying to get by, and their relationship. Theres no big super villain plot. The world is not at stake. There’s not even a real sense that if they were to break up, they’d be all that unhappy. And, spoilers, they do break up by the end, and are just fine. This honestly was one of the main reasons I didn’t care for this picture, the fact that it never got me invested. I never got the sense that something was at stake in this picture. If the characters broke up, I knew that they’d be fine, because the movie shows them being fine. If they got fired from their jobs, I knew they’d find other, better ones, because the movie shows them doing that. I never once believed that Emma Stone would end up selling herself just to stay alive, or that Ryan Gosling would hang himself if he couldn’t start his own jazz club. Now I’m not trying to say that the movie had to go that dark. I’m saying, at least in other Musicals, like Oliver and Miss Saigon, both of which I’ve acted in, there are real stakes. The threat of death, poverty and trauma is ever present in them. You know that these characters could, and probably will, die, or have something bad happen to them if they don’t act right. And that gets you to care more about the story. In La La Land, you know that both these characters have back up plans if they’re musical or theatrical careers go south. And while I, as an artist, don’t want anyone to give up on their dreams, as a spectator, I kept asking myself, “why should I care about you? You’ll be fine, either way. Where are the stakes?”

Another thing that bugged me about this movie was how overly nostalgic it was. Now before any of you call me a hypocrite, I had the same problem with Stranger Things, one of my favorite new shows. In that series, the creators show off their deep love for the 1980s, while never once commenting on the negative aspects of that time period. Similarly, La La Land acts as a huge love letter to both Jazz music and classic Hollywood, even going so far as to recreate whole sequences from movies like An American In Paris. And while these recreations are impressive, as are all the dance and musical numbers in this film, I found myself asking, at multiple points, “what is this doing for your story? I get that you love jazz, and old movies, but that’s not enough to support a plot. When are things with consequences going to happen?” Nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, and I honestly think there was too much of it in this picture.

But, in the end, I know that audiences won’t care about either of those things. Because this movie has made tons of money, and won even more awards. It’s actually set a record for the movie with the most Oscar nominations in history. Clearly, this film has spoken to a lot of people, and that’s fine. I’m glad that they enjoy it. I just didn’t. So, if you want to see it, go ahead. More power to you. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and you want there to be stakes in your film, don’t. It’s up to you.