Tag Archives: Phylicia Rashad

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Jeronicus Jangle is a magical, fantastical inventor of “jangles and things” (translation: toys). A new breakthrough that brings a toy to life seems poised to make him an incredible success but while celebrating jubilantly in the streets with his wife, daughter, and nearly the entire town of Cobbleton, the newly animated toy (a matador named Don Juan voiced by Ricky Martin) convinces Jeronicus’ apprentice Gustafson that they should steal the blueprints to all the inventions and strike out on their own.

Twenty-eight Toy Maker of the Year awards later, Gustafson (Keengan-Michael Key) is eccentric and wealthy and about to run out of stolen ideas for toys. Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker), meanwhile, is completely ruined. Gustafson didn’t just steal his blueprints, he robbed him of his self-confidence and of the magic that seemed to inspire his inventions. His wife gone, his daughter estranged, and his toy store now a rapidly failing pawnshop, Jeronicus is dejected, and not even the threat of bankruptcy can jump-start his innovations. However, the arrival of his grand-daughter Journey (Madalen Mills) changes everything. Not only does she share his mind for magic, science, and creating, she’s got something even more important: belief.

Jingle Jangle is a bit of a marvel, to be honest. It’s The Greatest Showman meets Mr. Magorium’s Magic Emporium meets Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Although I loved the film from the minute Phylicia Rashad started reading a fairytale to her grandkids, I was completely sold not two minutes later when a toy store full of whirring robotics and steampunk costumed people break out into song and dance that totally swept me away.

Writer-director David E. Talbert creates a rich fantasy land that is a pure joy to visit. Although it’s not a perfect film, there’s a lot of talent on display. In addition to a truly unique twist on a family-friendly holiday film, Forest Whitaker is a total champ and Keegan-Michael Key is having a blast. Who knew either could sing and dance – or would? Mills is the true star of course; her voice is strong and confident, but so is her soul, and she shines her novice light even opposite legendary luminaries.

From the inspired music to the brilliant production design, Jingle Jangle was a whole lot of fun and I’m both pleased to have a new classic in the holiday genre, but equally pleased that it is holiday-lite, a perfect November (or anytime) watch.

Black Box

Nolan (Black Box) just suffered a devastating car accident that took his memory and his wife’s life. Trying to piece his life back together after the trauma, Nolan’s amnesia would seem particularly problematic since he is now a single father to Ava (Amanda Christine), is far too little to have such an unreliable caregiver, never mind doing most of the caring herself.

Nolan is desperate, so he agrees to undergo an experimental treatment, the eponymous black box, which wears and looks like a VR helmet and seems to almost hypnotize patients back into their subconscious minds where Dr. Lillian (Phylicia Rashad) attempts to guide them into recovering their inaccessible memories. The process is agonizing, and while some progress is being made, it’s also further confusing Nolan, who finds that his memories aren’t quite matching up to what he’s come to expect. Thank goodness for Gary (Tosin Morohunfola) who not only provides priceless babysitting duty, but also serves as a touchstone, the only one who can confirm or deny the memories that Nolan seems to be recovering.

While I wouldn’t classify the film as a horror movie (though Amazon Prime sure does, including it in its “Welcome to the Blumhouse series), it is creepy in a way that’s hard to shake. Nolan’s memories remind me a bit of Inception in that sometimes they are hostile toward him, which doesn’t exactly do any favours to his healing. I’ve been a fan of Athie for many years now, and it’s always exciting to see Rashad pop up in things; the two together make for a well-acted and interesting film. I enjoyed the story, and the frantic search for identity, and I’ve appreciated how many of these Blumhouse films have considered parenthood from different aspects. Black Box doesn’t deliver my scares, but it’s chilling like an extended episode of Black Mirror, slightly sci-fi-ish, exploring the unintended consequences of new technologies.

See our other Blumhouse reviews here.

A Fall From Grace

Grace is a grandmother, a devout church lady, a steadfast volunteer. Also a murderer. Also a murderer? That one doesn’t fit. But she’s in jail and she confessed. So how come no one believes she did it?

Jasmine (Bresha Webb) is a young public defender. She’s already questioning whether the law the right career path for her, so to get throw this case as her first murder trial is a little daunting. She’s inching along cautiously but Grace (Crystal Fox) isn’t making things easy for her. She’s more concerned with protecting other people than herself.

In court, her story unravels: after a post-divorce depression, Grace meets an artist, a younger man who sweeps her off her feet. This is her alleged victim. But obviously things are not what they seem or else they wouldn’t have bothered to make a movie. Well, they hardly bothered to do even that. It’s pretty bland as courtroom dramas go, with a pedestrian script by writer-director Tyler Perry.

And yet this movie was fractionally entertaining to me, for a few reasons.

  1. The boring reason: the performances were good. Ish. If you can look past the bad wigs.
  2. It’s always fun to watch Sean, an actual real-life lawyer, squirm through what Tyler Perry (or whomever) thinks is the law. As a non-lawyer myself, there was plenty of objectionable content that even a lay person could easily point out, but yelling “I object!” from my bed hasn’t persuaded a single Netflix judge yet.
  3. Perry boasted that this film was shot in just 5 days. What he didn’t say was that he edited in just 5 minutes. At least that’s how it feels. You could play a very saucy drinking game just pointing out the plot holes, continuity errors and other fun editing mistakes of which there is a continuous parade.
  4. My grandmother, who turns 87 this week, recently received a jury summons. God bless her little heart but even IF she could drive there and then by some miracle find the right place, and let’s be clear that I do not believe she could do either of those things, she would then not hear any single thing that anyone said. Not a thing. But let’s for a minute pretend she somehow gets there, and somehow hears things. She’s still not going to understand them. Not a damn thing. My grandmother speaks a hybrid of French and English but understands neither. For the past three decades she’s been getting by on the popular “nod and smile” technique. Later she’ll ask my mom, if she remembers. Which she probably won’t. So I’m mentally inserting my grandmother into the jury box, picturing her confused scrunched up nose, picking invisible lint off her slacks, balling up kleenex and putting it in her sleeve, and if she thinks anyone’s looking, smiling vaguely and nodding uncertainly in the direction she thinks is appropriate. Wouldn’t you be pleased to have her on a jury of your peers?

But wait just a minute y’all: my daddy is sleepin and mama ain’t around. There’s a twist!

Creed II

Since Ryan Coogler was busy making Black Panther, Sylvester Stallone took back the writing responsibilities (with Juel Taylor) for the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise. As a result, Creed II is as much a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV as a sequel to 2015’s stellar Creed and as much Rocky’s story as Adonis Creed’s.

In Creed II, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has won six bouts in a row and is about to fight Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler for the world title.  Creed wins the fight and then, shortly after, proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and she says yes!  At that point, Creed should be on top of the world but he’s about to learn that creed_iithe championship belt is heavier than it looks, because he’s now the target of a bunch of wanna-be champs, including a Russian whose father killed Creed’s dad in Rocky IV. Creed will need Rocky’s help to beat the younger Drago, who so far has brutally beaten every boxer he’s gone up against.

Rocky’s part in this story is an important one.  In fact, several pivotal events that happen to Creed are shown from Rocky’s point of view, suggesting this is Rocky’s franchise again. Which makes sense when Rocky himself is writing the story.

Is that a bad thing? Kind of, which is hard for me to say  as a fan of the Rocky franchise. There’s something magical about the super cheesy and entirely predictable Rocky lovefests from Rocky II through to Rocky Balboa (Rocky is excluded because being the original, it is only predictable in retrospect). And Creed II captures that same magic at all the right moments. It’s a solid addition to this four-decade-old franchise.

But it’s a step back from Creed and that regression is further proof of Ryan Coogler’s genius (as if we needed any). With the first Creed, Coogler took the Rocky franchise in a new direction and included a ton of callbacks that riffed on the original formula without feeling derivative.

Unfortunately, Creed II doesn’t ever get to that same level because it is content to recycle the tried and true Rocky formula: a win at the outset, followed by a setback at an opponent’s hands, and then after a super-sweet training montage, a well-earned victory over that same opponent. Creed II executes that formula as well as any of the Rocky-titled films, but it never separates itself from that pack.  Rocky fans will leave Creed II satisfied, but fans of Creed may be in for a bit of a letdown.