What I’m Living For

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To close off the month of May, I’d like to share a very important Scripture that I read this morning. It was perfect with things that have been on my mind lately. The gist: our worldly troubles & anxieties < God’s glory when this life is over. There’s one good way to get a piece of that peace while we’re still on earth waiting for the day.

Thank you, Lord.

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.”
-Romans 8:18-30

BB2

BB2 Monthly Assessment: May

Heavens

As I sit here writing my self-assessment for the month of May, I realize two things.

The first is that I continue to slowly become more and more comfortable with myself, especially since my quarter-life-crisis last year. With the aid of being around family, returning to school, becoming more active with my church choir, and in general many other people/places/activities that have been good for me, I can strongly say that I am surrounded by what I consider many “safe places” right now. By “safe place”, I mean people, environments, activities, etc. which bring out the best in me, keep me productive in a positive & constructive way, bring me joy, and make me want to be a better person. In these safe places, I can find love, laughter, and other things I need to grow constructively as a person. So yes, my family is a safe place. School is a safe place. The part-time jobs I have while school are safe places. Singing with the church choir is a safe place. Certain close friends who are good to see, talk to, trust and laugh with are safe places. Certain adults I respect, enjoy talking to and might aspire to be like are safe places. Most importantly, staying connected to God in prayer and seeking to do things both for and because of Him is the safest place there can possibly be.

Now, the second thing is how my past plays a role in the forward direction I’ve been moving in. Of course, I’ve been a firm believer for years in not letting yesterday bother you to the point of keeping you from doing what you need to today – rather you should learn from the good and the bad, then prepare for tomorrow with that in mind. However, there traces of my past that haunt me regularly, frequently shifting my judgement as to whether the things I am preparing for tomorrow are worth it. “This didn’t work the first time around so well, what makes you think you can do better this time?” “You won’t be any different.” “You’ll never get these chances again. May well try something else.” “You aren’t that great anyway.” “How long must this go on?” These are all just a few of the thoughts that float around my mind in regards to how my past could possibly affect my future. Chances are, it will always be an issue in the back of my mind just because of the roller coaster of emotions and situations it all took me through. But can I survive with these thoughts in the back of my mind forever? How will it affect me emotionally or spiritually? Will it affect trying to find a wife & start a family carrying emotional baggage? Will it affect me professionally when I’m trying to accomplish various goals of mine? Will it have a downward spiral on my relationship with God or come back tenfold as I approach my midlife crisis on 20 years?

The answer to these questions, and so many more, is that there is definitely a chance of these things. A chance. But how far everything goes is really up to me. When my past comes knocking on the door (and I’ll admit, I have peeked in the peephole for a couple seconds), I’ve had to train myself to leave the door closed. Re-opening what had already been closed only allows those things to re-enter your house, which I’ve already suffered from. Last time I let them in, I indulged in things that were selfishly unhealthy for me because I blinded myself to that which was good for me, thinking that I needed something to be happy about. I let my emotions get the best of my thoughts, actions, words, and judgement. Eventually I had to tear myself away from these things and that environment in order to survive – to continue to dwell in my emotional curveball, I’m convinced, would only have led to a demise I can’t begin to imagine.

As dark as that may sound, I can guarantee it’s the truth. This is why I say, I’m more than grateful for my “safe places” today. I won’t sit here and try to convince you, the reader, that I’m a “good guy.” That is for you to decide upon knowing me well enough. I will say that I was raised to know right vs. wrong on many things, with values rooted strongly in faith with God. So my entire quarter-life-crisis was a long hauled left-of-center kind of deal.

HOWEVER.

What I can say now is this: My past is not who I am. It doesn’t define me. Anyone who ever has something in their past that they aren’t proud of or wish didn’t happen deserves to be judged by who they are today and who they are on there way to becoming. Some of you may have read previous posts about my aspirations and other thoughts as I acknowledged things about myself in order to help my personal growth. Now that I’ve gotten through the “learning from acknowledgement” phase and have put the pieces of my confidence back together, my goals now for the next month are not to let my past tear down the progress I’ve made. If I continue to do that, I will only set myself back into square one. I plan to use a lot of prayer, further reflection, plans for my future, and my “safe places” to keep me guided on the right track.

“And we know that all things work to the good for them that love God” – Romans 8:28

“Clear the bar…raise the standard.” – Pastor Ronald J. Fowler

“Be kind to your present so your past can’t make a liar out of your future.” – BB2

Yours in the journey,
-BB2

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Does “Pitch Perfect” Deserve a Sequel?

Can we handle another pitch-slapping?

Can we handle another pitch-slapping?

Pitch Perfect (2012) is without a doubt one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s also a very important movie – too often, singing solo and in groups (especially a capella) has been portrayed as easy, or in same vein as a Glee type of experience intermixed with unnecessary drama. However, Pitch Perfect shows not only a movie which incorporates humor that will get your attention (for better or worse), it also gives us genuine musical execution! These actors are not doing the fake Hollywood thing where someone else is singing for most of them – all of them, whether at the forefront soloing or just in the ensemble, had to endure an ‘a capalla boot camp’ in which they rigorously learned the songs, how to harmonize, how to capture an authentic sound within each group, and extensive choreography. Combined with a familiar, yet risk-taking story and memorable characters, Pitch Perfect gave us something very important indeed: a movie with effort, laughs, and heart.

That being said, does this movie merit the upcoming sequel that Elizabeth Banks is spearheading to be released in 2015? Should we leave well-enough alone? Is it too soon? Or is this timing just right while the iron is hot? Well, let’s take a look at what makes Pitch Perfect either great enough to warrant this sequel, or reasons why we should let it be.

**What Makes Pitch Perfect Great**

  1. The Music – Now, I know just a few people who said this movie isn’t their cup of tea, and that’s just because the “edgy” humor used by college students in the movie. That’s subjectively fine. However, the quality of the music in this movie is objectively undeniable. Nothing about this is phoned in, and the work put in here restores the hope in a positive image of a capella music being fantastic, fun, and a disciplined art form at the same time (my favorite part). Christophe Beck did the score for the film, and it just kills. The actors, no matter how much or how little experience they had singing before put a lot of great work in what Beck and other music staff gave them, and it really shines. Adam Devine (Bumper) even stated what he felt nowhere near qualified as a singer before filming; but with all he learned in the process, he was now “an a capella whiz kid!” And look at him there, charming his way into your heart as the lead singer at the start of the movie!
  2. Music Upgrade: The covers of popular songs from the last two decades are the BEST renditions of some of these songs, putting the originals to shame just because of their great combo of creativity, effort, arrangement & talent. (FloRida’s Right Round, Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music, Miley Cyrus’ Party in the U.S.A….they even have a bonus feature on the DVD there of cast members & fans singing Nicki Minaj’s Starships that kicks butt)
  3. Characters – These guys make you laugh. They make you think. They might make you cry. They make this story beyond great. Here are my standouts:
    1. Beca – Her journey to getting over herself and letting her guard down while getting out of her comfort zone with these girls works as the chief plot. We’ve seen this character before, but get a different edge with Beca as an aspiring DJ.

      "If we want to win, we have to try some new things!"

      “If we want to win, we have to try some new things!”

    2. Aubrey takes the entire film to get past herself as well, but for different reasons – she feels all the pressure of taking the lead and doesn’t want to screw anything up while she’s in charge, so why not just stick to tradition since it works? The only problem is their new Bellas group is very different, which ruins Aubrey’s plans immediately. But like Beca, when she finally opens up, it opens the door for her to finally be the comfortable person she’s been hiding underneath.
      pp lady dancing
    3. Chloe, the goofy buy loyal redhead is so much fun. Nodes has never been such fun a life-traumatizing saga. And that shower scene? Who else could make that funny?
    4. Jesse: What I love about this guy is that when you meet him, you think he’ll be the goofy guy who somehow turns into the “male romantic lead” and you don’t know why. But he’s so much more than that! He has a heart. He genuinely cares about Beca and getting her to stop being so rocky until it really does test his limits. He’s got great pipes and loves using them for good. He’s not really like the other competitive Treblemakers – he just wants to sing & have a good time. He’s a problem solver. He’s enough to keep various plot points going in the story, as well as provide some great times & songs along the way.

      "I'm one of those a capella boys and you're one of those a capella girls and we're gonna have aca-children. It's inevitable."

      “I’m one of those a capella boys and you’re one of those a capella girls and we’re gonna have aca-children. It’s inevitable.”

    5. Benji – I was so happy when this guy finally got his break at the end of the movie. I mean, we might have seen it coming…but who cares? It was very well-played, well-deserved, and well done.
    6. John & Gail – John Higgins & Elizabeth kill as the announcers & I always laugh at their lines. I’m partially curious as to what kind of music “The Menstrual Cycles” performed.
    7. Fat Amy – She singlehandedly became the most quoted character from the movie & turned into a huge phenomenon, but here’s what is truly good about Fat Amy: she is the prime example of the Bellas’ future from the time we meet her. She is nothing like the stuck-up, snooty, nasty-teeth (seriously! Look!) Bellas we met at the start of the movie. She’s not trying to be the best musician in the group, but darn it, she’s gonna give it her all every step of the way, even when it’s uncomfortable. She’s also not afraid of kicking at that line of rules over a little bit with actions and words. She’s definitely the most memorable, but if Beca is the leader of the new class of Bellas, Fat Amy is totally the embodiment of what we can expect from them – fresh, confident, different, and open-minded in all the right ways. Oh, and a hot mess.
  4. Chemistry – This cast has a tremendous chemistry on and off-set, and boy, does it show. Part of that comes from the time they had to spend in boot camp learning the songs & choreography. If you check out the behind-the-scenes stuff on this, that time really helped bond the cast and crew. When they accomplished different songs and did a show-and-tell for each other, they were SO PROUD of themselves and each other, and it truly was a group effort in which they were highly supportive of each other. THIS is what Hollywood needs to show more and more of – a cast of people who are not only talented, but can show this kind of a work ethic and support of each other behind and in front of the camera. It made the film that much stronger when they got behind the camera, Rebel Wilson started improvising, and everyone could easily work with it in the story.

    "Might not get tomorrow - let's do it tonight!"

    “Might not get tomorrow – let’s do it tonight!”

  5. Story – What’s great about this story is that it takes what has been done before and gives it different angles and twists. I can tell that a lot of creativity went into planning the twists of this story with the characters and it’s anything but one-dimensional. This leads me to my most important point:
  6. Effort – Most of the negative comments any movie critic/reviewer has to say about aspects of a film not working likely stem from a lack of effort on someone’s part. However, it’s hard to find an area of Pitch Perfect in which something wasn’t worked on very hard AND it worked! Even if a joke wasn’t for you, it wasn’t just a dumb throwaway line – it was genuinely thought-through comedy. Every single note executed in the songs, even the bits in the Riff Off that go by so quickly, are crafted to perfection. The crew who mixed the Bellas & Treblemakers sound in the studios made the quality given top-notch, getting it to sound even closer to the ideal emulated sounds in each song. Every angle of the story and the character development made it seem much more realistic/relatable, even when it was incorporating something as ridiculous as someone meeting you in the shower to harmonize, while still remaining very charming. All the extra a capella groups that cameo in the movie are good as well! One was even a real group that travelled across the country to sing Final Countdown in the movie. My point: this movie is the perfect example of something you can do for fun that still make a point, and be a blast, and feature good music, AND leave such a positive impact, because they worked very hard into knowing what would work. Plenty of experimental shock-value stuff (how long was the projectile vomitting again?), but balanced with charm and care, the effort is what drives every angle of this film.

So having said all that…does Pitch Perfect warrant a sequel this time?

In my opinion, I think it’s okay to do this. I won’t say it’s totally necessary. It would have been just fine and understandable to leave things in the good spot where we left Jessi, Beca and friends. They’ve all proved that they can build a great story, characters and legit music with strong effort as the driving force. I’m a fan of not making a sequel unless the characters have another genuine story to tell. And based on where we left these guys…I wouldn’t be surprised if they did! I don’t know what the angle is this time around, but I’m sure there could be plenty for Beca to show us as the leader of a new crew of Bellas heading in a different direction. There are plenty of avenues to head in and TONS of music they can capture, whether covers of popular songs or original music. Maybe there’s new perils Jesse has to endure this time and Beca has to be the support for him. Maybe the Bellas meet their match with another strong female a capella group. Maybe Benji strikes a record deal and gives Bumper & his “sports sandals” fame a run for his money. Maybe Fat Amy gets to actually do some mermaid dancing during the opening number of the movie. I don’t know – whatever the case, I cautiously anticipate this sequel the same way I anticipated Anchorman 2 – I look forward to it because of what they were able to accomplish the first time, but I hope they concentrate on their strengths rather than trying to simply “go bigger” the second time.

Is that fair?

Don’t get nodes singing along with the new trailer when it comes out, though. 🙂

Yours in horizontal running,

-BB2

P.S. These guys deserve their own sequel. Or Album. Or miniseries. ANYTHING!

Top 10 Reasons Why ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is Perfect

Disney has been a cornerstone of childhoods throughout the years, giving us film after film of memorable magic. It gave us ideas about love, memorable songs to fill our days, lessons we’d never forget, and timeless characters. However, when people strike up conversations about what was their favorite animated movie, character, morals, songs, etc., Beauty and the Beast is truly undeniable for so many reasons on what it accomplished.

Why, do you ask? Well, let’s take a look at the Top 10 Reasons why Beauty and the Beast is the perfect (or subjective best…or most wonderful…or just my favorite? Whatever) specimen of Disney! [in no particular order]

  1. The Music – I’ve talked about Alan Menken‘s purely fantastic musical writing for various soundtracks (most notably DIsney films), and this is one of the best examples of his work. Everything about this score just brings the story, emotions, and characters completely to life, and every single song works. Angela Lansbury is wonderful singing the title song, but have you really listened to the simply, yet beautiful orchestrations backing this up? And how about the intense musings behind Gaston leading the town into The Mob Song? If you buy the soundtrack, you can also hear the score for other scenes, such as Belle wondering into the West Wing, the big fight scene in the tower leading up to the Beast being stabbed, etc. I could go on and on – Menken really poured a lot of heart and soul into this music, and the result is fun, memorable, and just all around passionately beautiful music with a story to tell.
  2. GASTON. – Didn’t take long for this to show up on my list! I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this a few times on my site…but I absolutely love Gaston. He is, hands down, my favorite animated Disney movie antagonist. He’s not a true villain with a long-term plan – just a pretty boy who’s romping around singing songs about how great he is. First of all, I want his voice. Secondly, his story is interesting. The tragedy is Gaston is that he is a big fish in a little pond: everyone adores him as the ‘town hero’ because he is the handsomest, the strongest, the bravest, and also the proudest. He can have anything he want (complete with a bumbling sidekick), and any girl he wants – except for Belle, which bugs him because he’s used to getting his way. When he can’t, it’s a flaw in his little world that goes awry. (It’s not like he would have been faithful to her for long anyway, as implied more in the Broadway musical through dialogue.) It eventually drives him to a point of madness, causing him to plot danger on her family, and seeking to kill the Beast. However, he’s not the real villain in this movie, which I’ll hit on more later. He’s more of…an obstacle. But if I could play anyone in this show, I know I’d have the most fun playing this guy. Again: that voice!!!
  3. Belle vs. the Townspeople – Belle lives in a small town full of people with small-town values: They have the same routine, the same congenial idea of what happens every day, how things should be, where everyone fits in their society, they likely eat the same thing for breakfast everyday, and they are all just fine with that. Belle, however, doesn’t “fit in” because she has ideas of not just wanting more – but wanting something better for herself than what her town deems acceptable. She doesn’t give a crap about what they think, and it’s not like she’s doing anything “wrong.” The town’s ideas of what Belle “should” be is too small to contain her – so when the idea of her not hooking up with Gaston, and even further, calling him more of a Beast than Gaston, hits everybody later on, it blows everything out of proportion to them. We don’t even learn if it’s acceptable to the town in the end, because we don’t need to. What matters is that Belle accomplished what she was looking for – that happiness in something bigger than herself that she actually deserved, and found.
  4. Animation – It’s hard to talk about this without being redundant to previous comments. At the time this was released, it was truly some of Disney’s stand-out groundbreaking artistic visual art. Today, it is still gorgeous and impressive to look at – which means it really did its’ job. You can’t tell a story like this one and not go all out to make it look glamorous! That is exactly what the animators set out to do, and its adds so much heart to the movie, setting a standard for themselves ever since. Plus, it matches Menken’s music so darn well.
  5. Lumiere, Cogsworth & Mrs. Potts – I love these guys. They’re charming, hospitable, fun, entertaining, scatter brained at times, warm, friendly – and just great side characters! My favorite part is that ever though they also have everything to lose if the Beast can’t get Belle to love him, they never let this guide their motivations so much that they lose this warmth as characters – they are always kind to Belle and understanding of the Beast, shown the best in the montage, their date, and Be Our Guest. Even when they dream about getting their human lives back, it is never done selfishly – you’ll never find them saying “I need the spell to be broken so I can be human again, cuz I gots thangs to do! Bump the rest of y’all, who care if they fall in love? I needs to get mine!” They are also central to the main theme (see next point).
  6. Accountability – I got this a little more from watching the slightly more-involved stage production than the movie, but one of the biggest takeaways is this: the Prince is changed into a Beast because of his rudeness, but the witch ALSO transforms the servants into enchanted objects around the house. Why? They didn’t do anything to the witch. There’s a brief line of dialogue in the play in which they discuss this, and someone says something to the effect of how they are just as guilty of his behavior because they had not corrected him – they were letting him get away with all of this. Now that they have an ultimatum quickly approaching, they are very involved in helping the Prince learn what it really means to love another person – both because it will affect their human status, and because you kind of get the sense that they are starting to get the value of why he needs more love in his life.
  7. Belle – I consider Belle to be the perfect Disney princess. Her aspirations and dreams are admirable and relatable. She doesn’t fit in, but she’s not making a big deal about it. Her reactions when things start going south are pretty realistic (we even get a couple songs that look further into this, yes, in the staged show). It takes time for her to fall in love with the Beast, and even though we aren’t sure of the timeline of this (poor Maurice), it feels much more natural – way more than the 3-day affair in Little Mermaid. She’s a worker, a dreamer, a bit of a realist, pretty but not arrogant with it, wants to love but guards her heart carefully (while still knowing when to let her guard down a bit), trustworthy and trusting, intelligent…what’s not to like? Some people have said that she’s too perfect in the past…but even with that, I don’t think she’s too perfect to the point of being unrelateable to anybody. She gets a life challenging situation that meets with her aesthetic needs to grow as a person, and comes through them growing all the more, even whilst facilitating the growth of others. This definitely makes her a great role model for the kids watching.
  8. Belle & Beast’s Relationship – As I mentioned, Belle does not fall in love with this angry guy right away, and she’s not supposed to. (Would have been a pretty short, contrived movie if she did.) It’s truly admirable and note-worthy at how they have to craft their relationship, given the circumstances. They were thrust into each others’ lives through the hostageship of Maurice, so of course she won’t love him right away. But even after the events following where he yells at her, she holds her own and proves to be a worthy adversary. But soon, they are able to show each other the type of warmth and love that they deserve to receive, and nothing ever feels rushed, even in movie time. We don’t get the “I love you” until the very end, only after he loved her enough to let her leave, because he cared more about her happiness than his own human restoration. It’s not the newest of things to find in a movie about a couple falling in love, but it’s definitely one of the best.
  9. Beast’s Transformation – By this, I don’t mean the end of the movie where he literally transforms, though this is the visual representation of what I’m talking about. Beast is good and angry for a good chunk of the film, still carrying on his rude, pompous ways. When he meets Belle and realizes that this might be his chance, he doesn’t just put on a happy face at first – or for a while! Even after he saves her from the wolves, he’s still yelling for a while. There’s no “come to Jesus” moment in which something as drastic as the wolves scene shakes him up and makes him just start being nice. He has to constantly work at it and let natural emotions take place over the course of time as their relationship starts to take off. Eventually, he starts to take interest in Belle and her interests, which leads into his transformation as a person overall.
  10. What it Gives Us – This movie takes itself seriously. It doesn’t pander/talk down to kids, and it balances fun and strong messages very, very well. It’s something that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It gives kids great values in a format that is enjoyable, entertaining, understandable, and highly memorable. This is a truly artistic beauty of a movie that deserves every accolade it has received since its’ 1991 (!) release. In my humble opinion, Beauty and the Beast offers us the perfect movie.

-BB2

Music Monday: Moses Hogan

Hello all, and welcome to yet another Music Monday! In this segment, I post a song or artist I enjoy and ask you to share one of yours so we can pay homage to great music!

For today’s, I decide to go back to a very meaningful favorite of the American musical genres: the spiritual. And who else to talk about but one of the most revered spiritual arrangers in the choral world: MOSES HOGAN!

Moses Hogan was, without a doubt, one of the most important voices in the world of choral-arranged traditional spirituals in the latter two decades. His musical intelligence perfectly captured the true heart and essence of not just the simplistic/original style of old spiritual tunes, but the hope, spirit, and joy that lies within these songs. Spirituals were used for African-American slaves to communicate to each other secretly about the promise of freedom, hope, being able to see Jesus one day, being reunited with family who had either passed away in slavery or been sold away to other plantations, secret plans to run away and where to meet, etc. These things kept slaves going with uplifted spirits throughout their undeniably tragic circumstances.

Hogan, with over 70 arrangements to his name, used harmonies in his arranging/composing that both exemplified the emotions to be found in the song’s message, and challenged the singers. He started the ‘Moses Hogan Singers’ and ‘Moses Hogan Chorale’, which consisted of experienced musicians of high caliber (and a phenomenal, yet natural sound to the musical style!). Each and every voice part is challenged in his arrangements, which often consist of a divisi in all 4 voice parts – the sopranos may be taken up to high C’s & D’s over the treble clef during a descant; the 2nd sopranos & altos get the funkiest of mid-harmonies even in just a three-part female chorus; the tenors occasionally get to lead the most exciting parts of the piece, but are always challenged with higher pitches once things get going; and the low basses of course are challenged to get lower and lower, in addition to staying on ‘pedal tones’ (same note repeatedly), which would help to create what my HS choir teacher used to call the ‘machine’ – the tenors & basses would get a rhythmic pattern/harmony going to create a specific feel, while the women were doing the melody harmonized. And don’t even get me started on the power of the choir’s sound, or timely dynamic outbursts. In other words – Hogan kept things interesting. There is no other sound like that of a spiritual performed by strong choral voices that can capture the essence of their original message and ideals. Add that to what Hogan added musically, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable performance. He passed away unexpectedly at the age of 43 in 2003 due to a brain tumor, leaving behind a grand legacy of music that spoke to upcoming generations who can now only wonder what more he would have been able to give us.

So that’s today’s Music Monday! Definitely give Moses Hogan arrangements a look (I didn’t even go into his bio, education/training, singers he worked with, etc. but it’s pretty incredible) and enjoy more beautiful music. And be sure to tell me if you liked it, what other Moses Hogan tunes you enjoyed, and maybe other favorite tunes of yours! These hits me in a special way not just because of everything said above, but also because I was introduced to them by my HS choir teacher, who had us sing at least one each year. (Battle of Jericho was the first piece of his, of many, that I’ve had the privilege to sing.) The impact of these (with the right choir) is just GREAT and now I hear choirs who do them all the time – but I feel it’s been fleeting a bit lately. So here is my humble homage to a great man who found new ways to be creative with something that meant so much to him. The world is a better place when we all find our own way to do the same.

Have a great week, and sing on, my brethren!

-BB2

Madea’s Family Reunion: The Refreshingly Upgraded Movie

madea fm movie

Madea’s Family Reunion (the Movie) – 2006

The upgrade that the original play definitely needed!

SUMMARY

Lisa is engaged to Carlos (Blair Underwood), a promising young man who can offer her all the riches she wants and the brightest future imaginable…but she isn’t happy. Why? He beats her. He controls her. But her much more controlling mother (Lynn Whitfield) insists that she stay with him despite this, so he can take care of her & be the wife of a successful man. Her older sister, Vanessa, has been treated much less kindly by their mother all her life (due to her dislike of Vanessa’s father years ago), causing her to be much more protective of her two children and have difficulty loving a man (Boris Kodjoe) who wants to show her a positive relationship. Meanwhile, Madea (Tyler Perry) takes in a troubled, forgotten foster child (Keke Palmer) and manages to teach her to better herself, while also standing by Lisa & Vanessa as their family finds their way towards learning some hidden truths about why they have lived in the love, or lack thereof, surmounting from their mother.

WHAT WORKS

  1. Story – The main focus is on Lisa dealing with her fiance – but really, the true depth is Lisa vs. her mother, who is the backbone of Lisa feeling forced into this predicament. Vanessa’s story is prevalent as well, while not being too hidden but not in the limelight too much to convolute things. And the way their two stories come together in the end with Whitfield’s mother character about an hour into the film is just…wow. I really hope what Vanessa was put through as a child by her mother is not too much of a commonality within families, but it isn’t the first time Perry used the “mom gave me to dad for selfish personal reasons” story. It is, however, the most thoughtful portrayal/use of that story. None of the story feels contrived to me, but instead very focused and with a lot of heart. And intensity at the right times!
    1. There was originally a very tiny backstory by another character, Isaac, about confronting his deadbeat father that got one scene. They were wise to cut this so not to crowd the main plots.
  2. Too Many Stories? Or Nah? – In the play, the family reunion is the plot point used to get everyone together, but it comes and goes without really solving much or being memorable. In this movie, it isn’t given much mention beforehand, but it is used to tie together a message to the family and the viewing audience about this generation’s dismissal/ignorance of the past, and how it has kept them from embracing each other as a family. Now, one might argue that this doesn’t have as much to do with Lisa/Vanessa/Mom’s story for the most part, and it halts the story for a few minutes to make this point. I wouldn’t disagree…too much. However, I think it didn’t take anything away from the film. Tyler’s productions (plays especially, but some movies as well) usually have a handful of subplots and messages while putting one at the forefront. This one really focused on Lisa & Vanessa – the stuff with Madea & Nikki stayed in the background just enough to stay out of the way, but got a good amount of attention at the same time appropriately. So having this placed in the film is fine, and it’s played well by the appearances of legends Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou (!) Plus, the impact of seeing this large family all together, and then hugging after Tyson’s speech about loving each other and acknowledging their heritage, is really powerful. So while on the line, I say it just about works.
  3. Blair Underwood – I hadn’t known much about him before this film was released, but he was a great choice for this role. He’s charming when he needs to be charming. He’s intimidating when he needs to be intimidating. He almost makes you think he actually loves Lisa (which I’m still if there might be a trace of actual love vs. just plain bullying in there somewhere). The best scene he does is when Lisa tries to leave him, but doesn’t have the backbone to do it when he wakes up and catches her. He earnestly apologizes to her, and we almost buy it! But then he goes Jekyll-Hyde on her and nearly throws her off the balcony. In an interesting piece of info, Underwood voiced Jesus in the “Bible-read-on-tape” series, Bible Experience. Anyway, these two things put together is my favorite piece of trivia about Blair Underwood.

    "If you think I'm gonna let you walk out on me, well...I love you to death."

    “If you think I’m gonna let you walk out on me, well…I love you to death.”

  4. Lynn Whitfield – Great acting here. Probably the best actress in the movie from what I can tell. You might think Carlos is the film’s antagonist – nope! It’s mommy dearest! She’s conniving, evil, selfish, but you can see why – she’s clawed her way “to the top” in her mind, having crafted a life for Lisa, but ultimately by using Lisa she’s created a life for herself through her trust fund, which is overseen by Carlos. Oh yeah, and she gave Vanessa to Lisa’s father as a child because that was his condition to stay and ‘help them be comfortable.’ Whitfield puts her all in this performance to make you buy into empathizing with her, although that’s not the point – it’s to empathize with Lisa & Vanessa who are struggling because of their mother. My favorite piece of her act is the scene in which the three leading ladies are confronted with the truth about Vanessa’s childhood, and mom has to deal with it and ‘fess up for her mess up.

    "If we were going to be comfortable, I had to make some hard, hard decisions!"

    “If we were going to be comfortable, I had to make some hard, hard decisions!”

  5. Madea’s & Nikki – It’s really endearing how Madea cares for Nikki (Palmer) in this movie. Yes, their first scene together consists of her tearing her up in a moving car. But after that, she defends her from other kids, teaches her to rise above the negative things people say about her, and clean up her act to embrace the diamond hidden underneath the rough. “It ain’t where you coming from that matters, but where you’re going.”
  6. A Few Other Things:
    1. Jennifer Lewis plays a professional but pretty diva’d up wedding planner, and she’s a blast as usual.
    2. Boris Kodjoe plays the guy who takes interest in Vanessa. He does a pretty good job, and you do enjoy his character as someone who shows her that it is okay to let her guard down and be loved.
    3. Lisa finally fighting and standing up to herself to Carlos – you can tell that Tyler really wanted to write a show that had Al Green syndrome taking place. But yes, when she plays “grit ball” like Madea told her too, it is worth it.
    4. Cicely Tyson & Maya Angelou are here! Rather than trying to talk about Tyson’s speech at the reunion, just watch this clip. (Sorry for the poor quality! It’s all I could find online.)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR5WbkC74Ss

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

  1. Uncle Joe – Ugh. So here’s the deal: in the first half hour, he hadn’t bothered me that much at all. He was just there, and I didn’t mind. Then, Madea & Nikki were having a pretty important scene: Madea whoops her for skipping school, gets to the heart of why this happened, and helps her start to regain her confidence slowly. And there’s Uncle Joe, giving his unwanted, untimely, and unfunny commentary about how big and fat Madea is. Then two scenes later, there he is again, keeping Boris Kodjoe company while he waits to pick up Vanessa for a date, and just farting. And farting. And farting. Then some forgettable dialogue…and the couple leaves for their date. Why did we need to see that? Granted this isn’t the most annoying he’s ever been in these films, but this is pretty much Uncle Joe in a nutshell: He’s there, he’s crass, he’s repetitively unnecessary, and he’s NOT FUNNY. I know Tyler enjoys playing this character, and some people find him relatable to people in their families. But his jokes add nothing to the films – they simply bring the movie’s action to a screeching halt, usually coming at times in which nothing funny is supposed to be occurring.
    madea fm joe
  2. Carlos & Mom – I don’t know. The scene where they face off in his office and talk about Carlos “overcompensating for what he lacks” with the consistent eye acknowledgement to what’s being discussed…I just don’t know. I mean, it’s well-acted. It’s just a little more awkward when it should be dark. Not saying it isn’t true. It’s just distracting. But, sadly, these people do exist in our world.
  3. Jokes – There’s some good jokes. But with the presence of Madea & Joe, you get the feel that it’s supposed to be another TP dramedy, not just a drama with little to no jokes. The jokes that are here, like I said, are fine – but nothing that memorable. (Better than the play, but you know.) You know what would be better? If we replaced every line of Joe’s with stronger comedy. Then I would remember what I’m supposed to be writing about right now. (In the movie’s defense, I did laugh a few times at Madea. She really doesn’t need Joe as a character to bounce off. This was best done with Brown on stage. But I digress.)
      1. Interestingly enough, I just peeked back at my review of the play, and I placed ‘Jokes’ under ‘What Doesn’t Work’ in there as well. However, the difference is that in the play, the jokes are too scattered & all over the place to work, and maybe 8% of them work. In the movie, more of them work and are better paced/placed. They still weren’t as great, but this is a subjective pass. The Joe stuff is almost reminiscent of how annoying Madea & others were in the play.

 CONCLUSION

Thank the Lord in Heaven that this is NOT the stage play – not even a trace of it. (Should it even have the same title? Whatever.) This film has a strong story, the actors are fantastic (I didn’t talk about everyone, but seriously, not a dud to be found), there’s great intensity at the right moments, and I stayed interested in what was going on the entire time. Though at times it missed a note (*cough Joe cough*) and jokes didn’t always land, it still managed to tell a good story and get a couple good points across: Love & be loved; don’t answer to something you aren’t; embrace your heritage as you walk into your future. Not bad things to think about. IT’s obvious that a lot of careful thought and heart went into this movie, and in addition to being enjoyable and fun, it’s just a great story that you can relate to and learn from.

BLACKOMETER: 8/10

Let me know what you think!

-BB2

madea fm tyson angelou