Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu make some magic in the In the Heights trailer


Lin-Manuel Miranda brings his Hamilton magic to Washington Heights, New York. Under the direction of Crazy Rich Asians’ Jon M. Chu, In the Heights looks to be a sweet summer film. Just look at this cast:

Anthony Ramos (She’s Gotta Have it)
Melissa Barrera (Starz’ Vida)
Marc Anthony (No introduction needed)
Jimmy Smits (Come on, should I even try?)
Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Wild Things)
Dascha Polanco (The Irishman, Orange is the New Black)
Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, One Day at a Time)
Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island, Straight Outta Compton)

Of course, having directed both Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, Chu looks like he makes easy work of handling the dance numbers and musical arrangements. You couldn’t ask for a better pairing between him and Miranda.

The film is an adaptation of the Tony Award Winning Best Musical  by Miranda, based off of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ novel. If this works out, here’s hoping we get a theatrical version of Hamilton as well.

Enjoy.

 

A Halloween Film Review: Kong: Skull Island (dir by Jordan Vogt-Roberts)


You may have noticed that, in the title of this post, I specifically referred to Kong: Skull Island as being a Halloween film but not a horror film.

That was very much intentional on my part.  Kong: Skull Island is really not a horror film.  (I think you could argue that the only King Kong film that can legitimately be considered a horror film would be Peter Jackson’s version and that’s just because he tossed in a few scenes that were obviously inspired by the old Italian cannibal films.)  I watched Kong: Skull Island a few months ago and I really can’t say that there was ever a moment where I was scared or even uneasy.  It’s just not that type of film.

At the same time, it is a fantastically fun and entertaining monster movie, one that has a good sense of humor about its own absurdity.  Halloween is not just a time to get scared.  It’s also a time to have fun and, for that reason, Kong: Skull Island is a perfect movie for October.  In fact, I think that it was actually a mistake for Warner Bros. to release the film in March.  They should have released it during the first weekend of October.  It could have provided a counterbalance to all of the depressing films that have been released this month,

Kong: Skull Island is a throwback to the gleefully absurd monster movies of the past.  Just so we don’t miss that point, the film starts with a 1944 prologue before then jumping forward to 1973.  (Significantly, not a single scene takes place in the 21st Century.)  Samuel L. Jackson plays Lt. Col. Preston Packard, the tough, no-nonsense commander of the Sky Devils helicopter squadron.  The Sky Devils are finally on the verge of leaving Vietnam but they’ve been asked to carry out on more mission.  They’ve been asked to fly an expedition over a newly discovered island.  The official story is that they’re going to be mapping the island but everyone knows better than to trust the government.

Kong: Skull Island is very well-cast, which is a good thing because the majority of the characters are thinly written.  Among the civilians in the helicopters: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and John Goodman.  Of course, they’re all playing characters but, for the most part, you’ll spend the entire movie thinking of them as being Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and John Goodman.  For that matter, you never think of Samuel L. Jackson as being Preston Packard.  He simply is Samuel L. Jackson.  When they eventually discover a castaway living on the island, it doesn’t matter that the man’s “name” is supposedly Hank Marlow.  He’s played by john C. Reilly and that’s who you’ll always think of him as being.   They’re all charismatic actors so you certainly don’t mind watching them but, at the same time, the film understands that the main reason we’re all here is to see the giant gorilla.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take long for King Kong to show up.  This is not one of those films where things are dragged out in an unnecessary attempt to create suspense.  (After all, the audience already knows that King Kong’s on the island.)  Almost as soon as the helicopters breach the airspace over Skull Island, Kong shows up and starts knocking them out of the sky.  The survivors end up stranded on different parts of the island.

Of course, it’s not just Kong that they have to worry about.  In fact, from the start, the audience is smart enough to know that Kong is actually one of the good monsters.  However, Skull Island is also inhabited by bad monsters, like these giant reptiles that Kong keeps having to fight.

Early on, there’s a scene in America where, in regards to the Watergate scandal, John Goodman says that Washington, D.C. is never going to be more screwed up than it is at that moment.  That line pretty much epitomizes Kong: Skull Island.  It’s a lark with a knowing sense of humor and it is not meant to be taken at all seriously.  At it’s best, Kong: Skull Island satirizes some of the most pompous monster movies of the past.  Whenever someone says something portentous, you can be sure that the film will quickly find a way to puncture the somber mood.

And it’s all terrifically entertaining.  Watch, enjoy, and don’t worry too much about whether or not any of it makes sense.  A trip to Skull Island is a trip worth taking.

Playing Catch-Up: Straight Outta Compton (dir by F. Gary Gray)


Straight_Outta_Compton_poster

Let’s just start with the obvious.

I am probably the last person who would be expected to appreciate Straight Outta Compton.   In the months leading up to the film’s release last year, I doubt anyone expected me to be a part of the audience.  After all, I’m a Caucasian girl from Texas.  I may have been born in Oak Cliff but, for the most part, I’ve lived in suburbs, small towns, and a few farming communities.  When it comes to music, my taste runs that gamut from EDM to more EDM.  I was less than a year old when NWA formed and I hadn’t even heard Straight Outta Compton or Fuck tha Police until I first heard about this movie.  Going into the movie, I knew who both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were but, otherwise, I knew nothing about NWA.

And yet, with all that in mind, I was in tears by the end of Straight Outta Compton.  That’s proof of how strong a film Straight Outta Compton truly is.  I went into the film with next to zero knowledge of what I was about to see but from the very first minute, it captured my attention and my emotions. From the minute I saw Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) fleeing from a police raid at a crack house, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) dreaming of becoming a success, and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) being threatened by both gang members and police, I was totally invested in their stories.

Straight Outta Compton is a big film and director F. Gary Gray is obviously interested in a lot more than just telling a conventional musical biopic.  Instead, he uses Straight Outta Compton to explore what it’s like to grow up and live in the shadows of America.  That pre-credits raid on that crack house sets the tone for much of Straight Outta Compton, revealing a world where the only escape comes from money and where the police are essentially an invading army.

The film also deserves a lot of credit for capturing the excitement of creation.  The scene where NWA records their first album is pure exhilaration and even better are the concert scenes, all of which capture chaos in the best possible way.  Perhaps the best sequence comes when a defiant NWA performs Fuck tha Police while a similarly defiant swarm of policeman make their way through the crowd, all holding their badges in the air.  In that scene, Straight Outta Compton captures the feel of a society at war with itself.

Straight Outta Compton is an ensemble film in the best sense of the word, with Hawkins, Jackson, and Mitchell all giving excellent and charismatic performances.  Somewhat inevitably, Paul Giamatti shows up as their manipulative manager, Jerry Heller.  It’s a role that feels as if it was tailor-made for Giamatti and, needless to say, he performs the Hell out of it.

I’ve read that Straight Outta Compton takes some liberties with the historical facts and it’s true that the other two members of NWA — MC Ren and DJ Yella — are both largely portrayed as being bystanders.  (That said, Neil Brown did have some funny lines as DJ Yella.)  Towards the end of the film, whenever Eazy-E said, “I should have listened to Dre and Cube!,” I was reminded of the fact that Straight Outta Compton was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and not Jerry Heller.

But, historical liberties or not, Straight Outta Compton is an exhilarating and important film and one of the best of the year.

 

Here Are The NAACP Imagine Award Nominations!


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Awards season continues!  The 2015 NAACP Image Award nominations were announced earlier today and here they are!

Outstanding Motion Picture

“Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
“Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
• “Dope” (Open Road Films)
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture

* Abraham Attah – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
* Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)
* Michael B. Jordan – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Michael Ealy – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
* Will Smith – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture

• Lauren ‘Keke’ Palmer – “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• Sanaa Lathan – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
• Teyonah Parris – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• Zoe Saldana – “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

• Chiwetel Ejiofor – “The Martian” (20th Century Fox)
• Corey Hawkins – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Forest Whitaker – “Southpaw” (The Weinstein Company)
• Idris Elba – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• O’Shea Jackson, Jr. – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

* Angela Bassett – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
* Jennifer Hudson – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Phylicia Rashad – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Tessa Thompson – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture

• “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)
• “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)

Outstanding Documentary – (Film)

* “Amy” (A24)
* “Dreamcatcher” (Rise Films, Green Acres Films & Vixen Films in association with Impact Partners and Artemis Rising Foundation)
* “In My Fathers House” (Break Thru Films)
* “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (PBS Distribution/Firelight Films)
* “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (A Radical Media Production in Association with Moxie Firecracker for Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)

* Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
* Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson – “McFarland USA” (Walt Disney Pictures)
* Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – “Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar)
* Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
* Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Film)

• Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (Fox Searchlight Pictures / Rhode Island Ave)
• Charles Stone, III – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• F. Gary Gray – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
• Ryan Coogler – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Trailer: Straight Outta Compton (Red Band)


 

Growing up during the 1980’s meant popular music was divided between rock and pop. Yes, there were the non-friendly music genres that hundreds of millions also listened to but were seen as music of the outsider (heavy metal, punk). Yet, something happened in the latter half of the 80’s.

Rap has always been part of the music landscape since it’s early days during the 1970’s. The genre was either about partying or pushing a social awareness agenda that kept it out of mainstream audiences (with the exception of Run DMC and the Beastie Boys). Then a rap group out of South Central L.A. released an album titled Straight Outta Compton which took the world by storm.

Gangsta rap has broken through that wall which has kept most of rap from mainstream popularity.

The latest film from F. Gary Gray will tell the story of the beginnings of the group N.W.A. right up to the tumultuous events of the Rodney King riots. As most biopic go this one may just be a major hit just for the fact that N.W.A. has had such a huge impact on pop culture and the music industry that their music and influence still remain relevant today.

Straight Outta Compton is set for an August 14, 2015 release date.

A Late Film Review: Non-Stop (dir by Jaume Collet-Serra)


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With 2014 rapidly coming to a close, I am currently trying to get caught up on some of the movies that I either missed seeing or did not get a chance to review earlier this year.  After all, in just another month and a half, it’ll be time for me to make out my “Best Of the Year List” and I want to have as many options as possible.

With that in mind, I just finished watching Liam Neeson in Non-Stop, an action-suspense film that came out way back in February.

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks.  It’s interesting to note that Bill Marks has the same initials as Bryan Mills, the very specifically trained CIA agent that Neeson plays in the Taken films.  And really, Bill Marks might as well Bryan Mills because Neeson pretty much gives the exact same performance in Non-Stop that he previously gave in Taken.  That’s not necessarily a criticism.  There’s a reason why Liam keeps getting cast in these type of roles.  He’s good at them.

In fact, I would say that Liam Neeson is one of the few action stars who I can imagine actually killing someone in real life (though only if he had to).  He has a rugged, world-weary cynicism about him.  You look into the eyes of a character played by Liam Neeson and you realize that he’s had to do things that you probably don’t want to know anything about.  At the same time, Neeson also projects a certain old-fashioned decency as well.  He’s the epitome of a decent man forced to use bad methods for the good of us all.

As for Non-Stop, I imagine it was probably pitched as being “Taken on a plane.”  Bill Marks is an air marshal who is on board a non-stop flight from New York to London.  Shortly after the plane takes off, he starts to receive mysterious text messages telling him that, unless he arranges for a 150 million dollar ransom to be paid into a specific bank account, someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes.  While Bill tries to discover who is sending him the text messages and various people on the plane die, the authorities on the ground are convinced that Bill is hijacking the plane.  Why?  Well, mostly because the bank account is in Bill’s name…

That’s right!  Somebody’s trying to frame Bill Marks!  Can Bill — with the help of a passenger played by Julianne Moore — figure out who is trying to frame him and why?  I have to admit that there was a part of me that was hoping that it would turn out that Bill really was the mastermind behind the whole scheme but instead, the movie offers up a solution that is even more ludicrous and illogical.  Naturally, there’s a twist.  The hijacking is not what it originally appears to be.  Perhaps if Non-Stop itself was more fun, the total implausibility of the twist wouldn’t bother me.

Director Juame Collet-Serra (who previously directed Neeson in Unknown) manages a few good action sequence but, ultimately, Non-Stop is really saved only be the presence of Liam Neeson.  Regardless of how implausible or silly the film may get, Neeson always brings a lot of authority to his role.  He’s never more convincing than when he’s walking up and down the aisles, glaring at the passengers and barking out orders.

It’s the type of performance that leaves us assured that the world will be safe as long as Liam Neeson is around to kill people.

Liam Neeson, about to kill someone

Liam Neeson, about to kill someone