Tag Archives: movie musicals

Yesterday

The inconceivable has happened. Struggling singer-songwriter Jack (Himesh Patel) has a terrific fan and manager in Ellie (Lily James), but nothing else. His dismal track record and the complete lack of interest from absolutely everyone else on earth has inspired his recent retirement from the scene. He’s done. Ellie isn’t totally keen on his giving up, but there you have it.

And then a bus hits him. And when he wakes up, the world is a slightly (enormously) different place: The Beatles never existed. They’ve been completely erased from history, and it seems Jack is the only one who remembers them. So he gets down to the business of recalling as many of the songs and lyrics as he can, and starts performing them as his own. And he’s lauded as a hero! Even poor Ed Sheeran feels inadequate in his presence.

He blows up. Turns out, some of those songs still hold up, can still impress our jaded 2019 ears. Yesterday, Hey Jude, Let It Be, Here Comes the Sun. Director Danny Boyle secured the rights to so many Beatles songs that it was easier for Sean and I to name the ones that weren’t included than were – you could make a pretty comprehensive Bingo game out of this if you were so inclined.

But the movie doesn’t touch on other important aspects. Wiping out The Beatles would do much more than negate their own catalogue. They’ve had a profound and immeasurable impact on all the music that’s come after them; pop music simply would not have evolved as it has without their contribution. And yet the movie features Ed Sheeran as himself, a singer-songwriter who names The Beatles as his own primary influence.

Himesh Patel is quite exceptional and an excellent choice for Jack. His voice is velvety and buttery – not an imitation of John or Paul, but one that does them justice, allowing the songs to feel familiar while still letting us hear them again for the first time. Still, despite the film’s obvious charm, it doesn’t quite explore all the juiciest nooks and crannies, nor can it reasonably reach the expectations set by the world’s most important and significant band. The film is a strange mash-up of parallel universe and a rom-com. It makes some strange and distracting choices. But it’s still worth a watch, because let’s face it: it’s hard to go wrong with The Beatles.

Advertisements

Rocketman

Elton John has had a life full enough to fill many biopics, but Rocketman shines its spotlight on his most troubled years, as he shot to success and earned the world’s respect and adoration but struggled to know and love himself.

Little Reggie Dwight was a brilliant but shy piano player. His parents were by times abusive and neglectful in their own unique ways, and he retreated into the safe space created by music. As a young man, the self-styled Elton (Taron Egerton) could compose music easily but the lyrics came hard. So his meeting Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) was a special gift from the universe – together, they wrote pop songs that would change and infect the world with catchy, raucous tunes.

Elton developed an on-stage persona that was larger than life: in costume he could be brave, and better still, he could be merry. He could play for thousands despite being torn up inside by grief and self-doubt. He was tormented by the possibility that he would never truly be loved – this, even as he continued to seek the approval from parents who could never give it to him, and affection from a man who would use and abuse him.

Rocketman chronicles both the highs and lows of Elton’s life, whether plumbing the depths of his despair in group therapy or lifting an entire audience off its feet – this latter shown quite literally through the magic of cinema. These fantastical elements really elevate the material beyond the standard biopic and help establish a sense of the unreal. In other parts, the film’s a little draggy, and though his unhappiness is obviously a recurrent theme in his life, I wish it was a little less returned to in the film.

The monstrously successful, deeply conflicted, young, gay addict Elton is brought to life on the big screen by Taron Egerton, doing all his own singing, dancing, wallowing, and dazzling. He may not be his physical twin, but he embodies his spirit and he nails his tight-lipped grin. He manages both the bravura and the pathos, and nails them both.

Director Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman is a bedazzled piece of inventiveness and daring. The movie truly thrills when he embraces his creative vision, translating the highest of emotions into visual delights that pair amazingly well with songs we still want to sing along to. While it’s by no means an exhaustive list of his hits, the movie folds them into itself with purpose and delight. It’s easy to get swept along by this engaging, vulnerable, triumphant story.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island is a comedy trio consisting of childhood friends Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. They became known for their popular digital shorts on SNL, many of which, like Lazy Sunday, went viral, for comedic songs like Jack Sparrow, featuring THE Michael Bolton, and for movies like Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. If you like them, you probably love them, and if you love them, you’re in for a treat. Especially if you also have a soft spot for late-1980s-era major league baseball.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is a 30 minute short streaming now on Netflix that’s the supposed never before seen\heard rap collaboration between steroid bash brothers Jose Canseco (Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Schaffer) of the Oakland Athletics. I don’t give two shits about baseball (especially not historical baseball from another century), but Sean did and does and had an especially appreciative chuckle for all the references they got right.

The rap album consists of many memorable musical numbers, literally something for everyone, between such hits as Bikini Babe Workout, IHOP Parking Lot (featuring Maya Rudolph), Oakland Nights (featuring Sia, who looks an awful lot like Sterling K. Brown in a a wig unworthy of the real Sia), and my favourite, Daddy, which explores the mountainous daddy issues behind the Canseco-McGwire shenanigans.

Sean wondered how – not if, but how – high they were when they wrote this stuff. And the answer can only be: extremely. So high. And yet I was sober when I watched it and I still dissolved into fits of giggles (a credit cameo featuring “Joe Montana” had me gasping for breath). It’s light-hearted and doesn’t dare take itself serious for a single split second. The narrow theme of the “visual poem” (a la Beyonce’s Lemonade?) ensures that the songs are punchy and topical, if not always sensical. But you didn’t come for the sense. You came for the nonsense, and they’re flooding the diamond with it.

Samberg and Schaffer are both hilarious in their terrible mullet wigs, but it seems like everyone who pops up in these videos are having a riotously good time. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience offers locker room injections of satire and parody, and they will PUMP YOU UP.

Guava Island

Donald Glover dropped a 55 minute short film this weekend – it streamed on Amazon Prime, and at Coachella. Music, TV, movies: there seems to be nothing he can’t do, and do extremely well, at that. His multi-facetedness might be annoying if he wasn’t so actually talented.

MV5BYWVhMGViNzEtMjRiZC00ZmRlLWEzZTUtYTVlYjAwYzBlMDYxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAxMTcwMTEz._V1_The film, Guava Island, is hard to describe. It’s really more a parable than a traditional narrative, so don’t get hung up on that. And all praise to Childish Gambino: do not be surprised when a LOT of his music inevitably pops up.

He plays Deni, just a dude on this fictional island who is about to bring his music to an all-night music festival that’s super frowned upon by the island’s big boss, Red Cargo. Red can’t tolerate a music festival that might mean the island’s factory workers call in sick for the work the next day, a Sunday, including Deni’s girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) and friend Yara (Letitia Wright).

It’s the perfect setting to talk about corruption, and the influence of art, its ability to unite a people. But it’s not the perfect medium. It’s not that the film is too short, it’s that the idea is both half-baked and heavy-handed. It made me wish it was less of a movie and more of a visual album, like Beyonce’s Lemonade, because that’s when the movie truly came live for me, when Glover lets his music take over and the reasons we love him and frequent collaborator/director Hiro Murai are allowed to shine down upon the island.

Rihanna and Wright are criminally underused; their main purpose is to smile admiringly at Glover. Rightly so, perhaps, but to have both of these women on hand and not give them something to do seems wasteful, and a tease. Maybe this concept works better for a Coachella audience. Few are likely to have stood in place to watch the film straight through, but maybe just standing under its shadow is enough.

Vox Lux

There are two acts to Vox Lux, and they’re both not great, but the first is at least sort of watchable.

13 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) barely survives a school shooting in 1999. Unable to translate her feelings into words for the memorial, she, accompanied by her sister El (Stacy Martin), instead perform a song, which launches a pop career. Somehow. Guided by The Manager (Jude Law), the girls grow up way too fast, but Celeste manages to translate the song into a video and the video into an album, which comes out more or less around 9/11 and manages to tap into a country’s, and in fact the world’s, collective grief. Celeste is a star, mostly because she was the one shot in the throat that fateful day, and her sister, the more talented of the two, had stayed home sick.

Fast forward to present day. Celeste is now 31 (and played by Natalie Portman), mother to a teenage daughter, Albertine (unfortunately played by Cassidy, again, in a performance not at all distinguished from the above). Celeste is as global a superstar as you can be, complete with a recent meltdown and nearly career-ending swerve. But she’s counting on this new album to get things on the right path again. She’s still drunk, though, and still perved on by the same greasy manager. And as luck would have it, just as she’s about to kick off her world tour, there’s another mass shooting wherein the terrorists wear masks from her first music video. And just like that she’s relevant again. But it’s a tragedy, right? Not a cancel the tour tragedy of course, because it happens overseas.

Anyway, the first bit reminded me a bit of Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique – by which I mean, it’s gritty and eerie and atmospheric. But it’s a copy, and not a great one. And that’s the absolute highlight of the film. It’s steeply downhill with rollerskates and a highly motivated dog from there.

Natalie Portman’s grown-up Celeste has no redeeming features whatsoever. She’s shrill and vacuous and we don’t see any of what happened to her in the interim to possibly explain away this complete and horrid transformation.

Clearly writer-director Brady Corbet means to say something about celebrity culture at the very least. But what is it? It’s tempting to say that the second half loses the MV5BMTkzNzAwOTYyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY5MjQ4NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_thread, but the truth is, the first half is boring enough that I don’t care about a lost thread because the whole damn sweater is garbage and a waste of good yarn. You know? Like, Sia worked hard on these songs. And the movie is slick looking, with cinematography just dripping its luridness all over the screen. But damn is it pretentious in a deflated, empty kind of way. And then the last 20 minutes or so are just concert footage, just full on Natalie Portman in a spandex body suit not quite nailing her choreography all over a stage full of unconvincing dancers. Was my jaw completely unhinged watching this or did it just feel that way? I can’t be sure. Sean tried to watch this with me, but it wouldn’t play when we rented it initially and he was gone off to work by the time I went back to it, and bully for him. I’m the one who watched it, aghast. This is Natalie Portman’s follow-up to what probably should have been an Oscar-winning performance in Jackie?

[I mean, to be fair, it’s not. She was also in Annihilation, and quite good in that, and Song to Song, which is not worth mentioning.]

Vox Lux is a derivative piece of junk. So, not unlike a pop song I suppose.

Burlesque

Some bad movies you watch because some self-sabotaging part of your brain wonders, how bad could it really be? Some bad movies you watch because you’re too damn lazy to seek out a better one. Some bad movies you watch out of curiosity, or you’re in the mood to hate-watch something, or you don’t think the night deserves anything better. And sometimes, not often, but sometimes you’re just smart enough to avoid it. I’ve been actively choosing to not watch Burlesque since 2010, so much so that I never even realized how many of my favourite performers – Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming – are in it. How did I come to finally watch this stinker?

This is going to sound like a stretch, but it basically comes down to our traveling to Mexico over Christmas. If you’ve ever been to an all-inclusive resort, then you know there’s a prescribed set of nightly entertainment. Five years ago, every resort had some crappy version of Broadway’s The Lion King, but I think Disney put the kibosh on that. We had a Jersey Boys night, a Pirates show, and the obligatory Michael Jackson tribute. And the resort also offered a burlesque show. We’ve seen some of the best burlesque in Las Vegas (and some of the worst). We’ve seen burlesque at Crazy Horse and the Moulin Rouge in Paris. We’ve seen some good shit, but having seen what passes for “Jersey” and “Boys” in Mexico, our expectations were appropriately tempered. We thought. What we weren’t expecting was a poor imitation of a reviled movie, but with Santa hats, and even Santa Claus. Merry Christmas eve to us!

In the movie, Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a small-town waitress who moves to L.A. to become a performer. Not a big dreamer, she seems content when she settles at Tess’s (Cher’s) burlesque bar, first as a waitress who has to prove her mettle, then as a performer that everyone else (Kristen Bell in particular) is jealous of.

The script is beyond bad. Like, there’s bad, and then if you keep going beyond bad, past terrible, past horrible even, orbiting somewhere around dreadful, you’ll find the script to Burlesque. Also, in my experience, burlesque involves some form of artsy striptease. In Burlesque, it means lip-syncing in your underwear. Possibly Xtina just can’t do two things at once. And good lord, we wouldn’t want her to.

So we’ve confirmed what we always suspected but never cared enough to validate. Burlesque is bad. Not even campy bad, not even so bad it’s good. It’s surprisingly boring for a movie that features so many beautiful women in lingerie. But you could watch a Victoria’s Secret commercial with the sound off and feel more satisfied than you will at the end of this movie. So thanks, Mexico, for piquing our interest and giving us a reason to seek out a stinker. Couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) done it without you!

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Well it’s 5 years later and these jerks are ready to go again. I mean, it’s been 10 years since the last movie was released, but it’s been 5 movie years, and the gang’s all here, except not.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mother’s Greek hotel, finally. Too bad her husband Sky (no I cannot believe that’s his actual name) (Dominic Cooper) isn’t around to see it. Is there trouble in paradise?

No matter. She’s planning a huge party to unveil the new space. Everyone’s invited: the MV5BNzU2N2NkMDEtN2IxZS00NjQ3LWI5MGUtOTVmOGIzMjEwN2Y5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5MTY4MTU@._V1_three dads (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard), Mom’s best friends (Christine Baranski, Julie Walters) – even Grandma (Cher)! But because one party full of old people is pretty lame (could someone tell Sophie that?), the movie is 80% flashback. Meryl Streep’s character is now played by the lush and nubile Lily James, and we get to watch her have all the unprotected, close together sex with three different men (at least!) alluded to in the first movie, which resulted in all the daddy confusion.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably find it in your heart to like this one. If you like ABBA but not their overplayed radio hits, which all sound the same, you’re going to love this sequel, which contains all the songs that were too shitty to make the first cut, plus a couple of weak recreations of the title song, which they just can’t get enough of. Plus, who doesn’t love the spangly, bell-bottomed costumes that go along with it? This second movie is even more contrived than the first, amounting to a less satisfying story.  Basically, you’ve got a handful of unknown ABBA songs from deep in the back catalogue, and you’ve got to contort the script to make them fit (see ‘Waterloo’ for an excellent example of this).

Everyone else in the world has been swept away by the sheer joy of a second ABBA musical while I’m still not over the first. Call me grumpy cat – I don’t get the appeal.