Into the Woods: A Wish Come True


Into the Woods
is one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, and in my opinion, one of the best there is. Sondheim has a special knack for crafting brilliant messages for people, wrapped in complex but genius music. This show has been beloved by many for years, especially with the release of the Original Broadway Cast featuring Bernadette Peters. So of course, this 2014 adaptation for the big screen was met with much excitement, anticipation, and “will this work?”

I’m here to tell you: yes. Yes, it does!

SUMMARY
If you don’t know the plot of Into the Woods already: it combines a few fairy tale characters together to learn a few lessons – mostly, be careful what you wish for, as there is always another side to it. An ugly Witch informs a Baker and his Wife that in order to reverse her curse upon his barren family tree, they must go to the woods to retrieve a few items in three days’ time. As they try to fulfill their wish, Cinderella wishes to go to the ball and learns that the prince is much more than she had bargained for. Red Riding Hood has a difficult time staying focused as she goes to Granny’s house and is deceived by a Wolf. Jack’s mother wishes for riches, which she gets tenfold when he stumbles upon a beanstalk that leads to a giant’s riches. All work to acquire their wishes…and learn just how careful you must be when going into the woods before and after you get them!

WHAT WORKS

  1. MERYL STREEP OWNS THIS MOVIE. Seriously, from the moment she enters, her presence literally plunges into your soul. Her depiction of the Witch seems to be truly brilliant in every way possible. The Witch definitely appears as a haggard, wretched and evil person out to bend others to her will for selfish reasons. But at the heart of it all lies a genuine passion for her [stolen/adopted?] daughter, for whom she simply wants to be a good mother (even if she doesn’t completely know how at times). Streep demonstrates the perfect balance between sincerity and evoking fear, which transcends the Witch into something closer to a mortal – which, I feel, is how Sondheim intended her to appear. Many great have done great things with this character, and Streep certainly makes her mark here in her own way with her commitment and talent. The Witch is the anchor character that holds this musical together, and Meryl Streep is DEFINITELY the strongest part of this film.

  2. The Cast – Great casting all around – there is honestly nothing but glowing things to say about everyone on screen! I loved the drama and trepidation in the Baker (James Corden), balanced by the care and reassurance from his Wife (Emily Blunt). It was fantastic to see Daniel Huttlestone as Jack here after his appearance in the 2012 Les Miserables film; he knocks it out of the park here, and gives it his all. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is great, the Princes (Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen) are fantastic and just as hammy as they ought to be (there’s a few great shots during Agony)…what more could you want? This is a stellar ensemble, which helps to makes for a stellar movie. (In other news, Johnny Depp plays a great ‘wolf-as-the-granny-he-just-ate.’)

  3. Anna Kendrick – Hey, how cool was it to see Anna in something like this? I believe musicals is a part of her background before film fame, so this seemed right up her alley. She made a nice little fit as the Cinderella princess, confused by all of her own motives and the actions around her. Pitch Perfect was a good smash hit for her amongst meager millennials & teens, but I thought seeing her in a classic theater production was a fine fit for her as well. Four for you, Anna Kendrick – you go, Anna Kendrick! Anyway.

  4. Music – Obviously, it’s a musical, so having the singing and orchestrations performed exceedingly well is desired for a film adaptation. The good news here, is, this film does not disappoint – in fact, it is tremendous. The singing is all given great emphasis and gateways into appropriate character/story development. Of high importance, everyone in the orchestra deserves the highest of paychecks for doing Mr. Sondheim proud. Seriously.

  5. Visual/Settings – Man, these are good. The woods themselves (where much of the action occurs, as you would imagine) are gorgeous, yet look plenty intimidating as the film progresses. Jack’s giant beanstalk and other things of great importance such as the Witch’s makeup are given a great amount of attention to detail, which shows very well. It’s certainly an impressive looking film, and this goes a long way to create the right atmosphere the director was going for. Speaking of which…

  6. Tone of the Adaptation – This is a big one, as it is the guiding point of this entire project. Whereas the stage production of Into the Woods had plenty of room for some light-heartedness, funny quips and even fourth-wall breaking, the film adaptation takes itself much more seriously overall. There is a stronger emphasis on the drama of everything, from the intensity in the characters to the visual atmosphere created. There is no charm in the woods here – you can only find that from the characters themselves as they take this journey. While there are big changes such as losing the visible narrator, the role of the Mysterious Man is saved only for one perfect moment, and a few others, the source material and heart of the story is still very much in tact. So while it will feel more different than one familiar with the staged version expected it to be, you will still experience the ever-important themes and morals Sondheim delivered through strong characters and timeless music.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

  1. Stiff at Times – I will say, there were times when a few individual lines felt a little stiff in terms of their delivery. This may be due to the heavy dramatic tone the movie wanted to take, which is fine, but a couple of Red Riding Hood’s and Cinderella’s lines just felt really straight forward and/or flat at times. The staged version, being a little looser, would have allowed them to be a little looser and not quite as overly serious, so perhaps this was something on the direction. It doesn’t take a lot away from the overall experience, but it does stick out.

  2. JDepp’s Wolf Costume: This is entirely subjective on my part…but I just thought it was, well, an interesting choice. He had paws and the tail…why not go full throttle wolf so he doesn’t look like the wrong kind of predator? I mean, he’s great in it…it just felt like they really wanted people to know “that’s Johnny Depp, there he is!” But this very well may be just me. His song, however, definitely gave me Sweeney Todd flashbacks, so…there’s that.

CONCLUSION
Into the Woods is definitely a movie you should see as soon as you are able to! It is easily one of the best films I’ve reviewed (and seen) this year. If you’re a big fan of the stage musical like me, maybe you’ll really love what they’ve done with it, and maybe not – but still check it out and give it a chance, because it was given the effort and good attention deserved to make it great. If you’re not familiar with the stage musical, still check this one out and enjoy it as a very impressive piece of artwork.

BLACKOMETER: 9/10
Let me know what you think!
-BB2

5 Movies You Should Watch Every Christmas

Every year, there are certain movies that exemplify the tradition, entertainment, and heartwarming feelings around the most wonderful time of the year. We all have our favorites; here are mine!

  1. A Diva’s Christmas Carol

I honestly don’t know why more people talk about this movie! It’s hardly on as much as much as the others anymore; but anyway, this is one of the most creative and fun takes on the Dickens’ Christmas Carol story in American existence. Released over 10 years ago as a VH1 TV special (back when it was actually more about the music…), Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a pop diva who forces her band to cancel their Christmas plans to play in her big NYC Christmas show, because she’s all about using the holiday as a big cash-in. She’s stingy, sassy, and selfish to the core, until one of her old singing buddies (they had a Destiny’s Child thing back in the day) returns from the dead to show her the error of her ways. You know the story of course, but the things they do with it are actually pretty fun and interesting! And the writing in almost every line can be hilarious. I highly recommend you check this one out!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPPNk5rQstE

  1. Polar Express

This isn’t one of my personal favorites, but as a Christmas movie, it is rather charming & well done. A little boy is having his doubts about Santa Claus, and is picked up by a magical train ride en route to the North Pole to absolve this for many children. With Tom Hanks as the mysterious lead, an epic ride, and some great visuals, this is definitely a heartwarming Carol to enjoy with family. I do wonder, though, why this movie couldn’t have been more about the little girl instead. She’s far more interesting to watch than this clumsy kid…but whatever, we got a nice Josh Groban song out of this movie, so I’ll take it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Usl3oTsJg88

  1. The Santa Claus

I already wrote about this movie more recently, so you can check that one out for more of my thoughts about it. Really, all three are good, but this first one is the classic that started it all. My only complaint is that Bernard could’ve been consistently as cool in every movie as he is in the original, when he was more of Santa’s mysterious guide…as opposed to an overacting “match” for the Spencer Breslin elf. Anyway, this is a great movie, and Tim Allen is my favorite Santa.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t067u2Jnks0

  1. Home Alone

This is a classic movie that I think most people play in their Homs at least once a year. On the surface, it’s that really funny movie with the two idiots doing pratfalls & falling into trap after trap built by a crafty little McCulkin. The latter third is the most memorable, sure – but what makes this movie is really the heartwarming charm that the movie builds throughout the second third, as Kevin learns just how much he appreciates his family and starts to long for their return as the ultimate Christmas gift. In a world where those who have their families/friends at Christmas vs. those who may not, I think this is a great remind of why we should be grateful for those we have, even if they get on our nerves or forget to count us before the big plane trip. (Watch the first two movies…not the garbage that came afterwards.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7fqaNNXQMk

  1. A Muppet Christmas Carol

I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t love this movie. It’s the single, most charming version o the Christmas Carol that exists. People of all ages can watch it and enjoy it, especially having been created for families to watch together. It’s telling sticks mostly to the original jargon written by Dickens, while still speaking just enough Muppet for you to get plugged into it. You remember all of the songs, even that slow, sad one by Scrooge’s ex-girlfriend that made you cry. You can’t help but smile and be cheerful as Scrooge wakes up at the end and spreads Christmas joy around to everyone while singing Thankful Heart. Michael Cane is a fantastic Eboneezer Scrooge from start to finish, Gonzo and Rizzo keep things entertaining in the Dickens role, Kermit singing One More Sleep Til Christmas will always be one of my favorite things…everything about this movie is just tremendously wonderful. It’s one of the things you look can always forward to being a special part of your Christmas – it’s one of the best Muppet movies ever made, and it’s heart at the center perfectly captures this wonderful time of year.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpb9EbmvM5M

Enjoy some great Christmas movies as you wrap the season up, but more importantly, enjoy some great Christmas joy and holiday spirit with your loved ones!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!
-BB2

Peeples: A Viewing Timeline

Recently, I watched my Dad watch Peeples. As you may recall, it’s ridiculous. Seeing that it said “Tyler Perry Presents”, my Dad had bought the DVD months ago but hadn’t seen it yet – and I knew that watching him watch this movie would be priceless. SO priceless, in fact, that I took a running timeline of the events.

(Time = Movie time)

1:30: Dad made his first ‘WTF’ face at Craig Robinson’s Speak it, Don’t Leak it song
3:30: Nothing’s even happened yet and I’m already tired of these ‘big dick’ jokes. Moby Dick Day, though…seriously?
6:25: Robinson’s “not Dave Chapelle” brother (with the ambiguous vague hospital career) is trying so hard to make my Dad laugh. He remains unamused.
8:15: “So he just shows up at their house…unannounced? Without even letting her know? That’s wrong. Recipe for disaster.” – Dad
10:01: I still can’t stand Kerry Washington’s nervous, aloof character. She runs out of the house yelling “PEANUTS!” and then stands there awkwardly like a middle school girl trying to get attention from a 9th grade boy.
12:16: Dad’s first laugh came from Tyler James Williams’ introduction. Good, we’re on the same side here.
15:56 Dad’s first HARD laugh came from Robinson calling his job “kounseling with a K.’ It got worse from there when he went to perform his song about not keeping urinating a secret. “This was a bad idea.”
18:05: Dad noted that Daphne Peeples’ reaction to receiving the wine bottle/being in AA was “very predictable.”
20:00: The most subtle things Tyler James Williams does keeps my Dad laughing. I’ve assured him that this will be his favorite character. BTW, Williams just stole something in the store.
23:51: Some of Robinson’s improv filler is actually a lot funnier when you’re watching it with other people. I’m almost forgetting that the “you dated somebody old?!” joke is still going. Almost. Dad is still laughing at it, which is making me kind of appreciate it. (But really, I think they just let Robinson riff for a while and chose not to cut ANY of it.)
31:37: At the dinner table, Robinson has everyone exchange things they’re thankful for about each other as a setup for another proposal attempt. Meg says “I’d like to do Gloria.” I never noticed how funny of a ‘subtle’ setup joke this is by itself until Dad laughed while everyone on screen was busy reacting quietly.
43:00: Skip, the old man at the market who previously dated Washington, was her breast surgeon ages ago. Things you should never tell your future man.
45:20: It’s about now we start seeing portions of my FAVORITE scene – Williams’ “Drawers on the Floor” music video.
48:00: Dad came to the same realization I did about Williams’ Simon character: as much as the movie tries to say he’s a mess like the rest of the cast, he is the most normal person here. Especially for being a 16-year-old boy.
53:24: Hey look, it’s Mario van Peebles. Get it?
1:01:03: David Alan Grier is now accusing Robinson of stealing his wife’s watch. I know this isn’t the focus of this scene…but does Meg just live with them? How is no one else figuring out that she and Gloria are a thing?
1:05:30: Robinson’s brother. Who is this guy?! Seriously. He’s a doctor, but not really, because he appears to be a toy fixer, I guess. Robinson doesn’t have a real job, technically, but he’s happy. Both these brother’s can’t really be paying their student loan debt back successfully.
1:23:10: By now, the two biggest climaxes of the film have happened. Dad was too tired to react appropriately and he missed what initially set off Robinson’s explosion at Moby Dick Day. (By the way, the concept of Moby Dick Day could be potentially funny or something if it wasn’t just a lazy ploy for a lazy joke to be repeated.)
1:28:30: So yeah, the ending credits song is both about not holding pee in and not keeping family secrets, and some junk. Congratulations. Mazel Tov. Yeet.
1:29:00: I wonder if Tyler James Williams released Drawers on the Floor as a single in real life. If it supports his breakout career to launch him in better movies, I’d buy a copy. So would Dad.

CONCLUSION
I’ve decided that this is not a movie to view alone – you have to watch it with others for it to be even remotely tolerable or even enjoyable. Now that I’ve re-watched it a bit, a couple small things appear to be funnier than I realized. But I still think it’s just over-the-top. Thanks to my Dad for being a good sport.

Happy Moby Dick Day,
-BB2

Grown Ups: Terrible, Bland, or Charming?


Grown Ups
(2010)
Full confession: I hadn’t watched this movie until this month to review it just for the heck of it, and I went into it expecting it to be pretty stupid. I was…sort of right?

Adam Sandler and the Happy Gilmore film company have a track record of making films in the 200s that were usually filled with overly crass humor matched with no substance or likability. Grown Ups certainly isn’t as bad as other installments such as Jack and Jill – there’s actually a bit of charm to be found here! – but is it worth it?

SUMMARY
Five friends learn that their school basketball coach from 30 years ago passed away, and they all bring their families to honor him at their funeral. They all spend the weekend at a lodge to revel in their childhood nostalgia while learning that times have definitely changed since they were kids. Sandler covers up parts of his wealth and success, such as his nanny and his disdain for how spoiled the children have become. Rock is a housewife who doesn’t feel respected by his wife or family. James’ 4-year-old son won’t stop breastfeeding…oh, and he’s fat. Spade…is a drunken, lonely wiseguy hiding behind jokes. And Ron Schneider is married to his new wife: a vegan old bag.

WHAT WORKS

  1. Interaction with the Kids – The scene where the kids made cup phones was the first truly touching moment in the movie, for obvious reasons. It was like something out of a commercial for “take our product so you can live a longer life and be around for your children” and I mean that in the nicest way. It was kind of neat to see a few spoiled, bratty kids turn into a few appreciative, brave, “let’s experience life a little” kids. – and this, ladies and gentlemen, was where the true charm of Grown Ups truly took place.
  2. Kevin James’ Breastfeeding Son– You know, it’s weird…I didn’t expect this kid to grow on me. For the longest in this movie, he creeped me out like no other. Yet somehow, his cute kid delivery of lines like “mommy, can I try her milk?” eventually won me over. It’s messed up, I know, but what can I say? Kids get away with the darnedest things.
  3. Steve Buscemi – Okay, I have NO idea what Steve was doing here, but boy, was he such a delight. Sometimes it’s actually pretty fun to have that one random character who’s only there to be a different type of goof than the main characters. I almost want a “Wiley’s Playhouse” series. In other news, it was nice (but almost equally random) to see Tim Meadows baldly shouting “boo-yah!” (yes, ‘baldly.’)
  4. Rob Schneider – I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to like Rob Schneider’s character. I had the mentality of “here come Rob Schendier playing another eccentric weirdo for laughs but it won’t be very funny” when the reality was, we all knew (and may have been friends with) this person in school. And yes, the person I knew like this in high school may very easily marry an older woman and make questionable performance choices at a funeral. Plus, it helps that this feels like a more understated Rob Schneider character (even with that nearly offensive Ave Maria performance).

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

  1. Action – The biggest problem, really, is just that the movie isn’t that interesting. I can barely remember the few times when I actually laughed or even came close. At least at some point, the kids became charming. There wasn’t as much shock humor as you would see in a typical 2000s Adam Sandler movie (yes, even with an arrow going through Rob Schneider’s foot), so nothing really stuck out in either a good or bad way. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to grow immune to much more memorable shenanigans in these Sandler films, but it really just felt like a lot of it was “there.” Oh hey, Rob Schneider has two oblivious attractive, daughters and one sweet, Meg Griffin-looking one. Okay. Oh look, David Spade’s naked behind. Cool. Even the breastfeeding mom accidentally hitting Maya Rudolph didn’t do much for me. (Though, don’t let me be around if this happens in real life.)
  2. Kevin James Fat Jokes – You know, Kevin James really isn’t all that big of a guy. It’s pretty lame that all of the jokes directed at this guy (who doesn’t seem to be doing that bad in life other than having a family that’s kind of…off) are simply reduced to a bunch of “oh he’s a big fat guy and he eats, see its funny” jokes. Not even the first one with him breaking the family pool was funny. It gets worse when he starts making fun of himself as if that’s all he can use to make pleasant conversation. “Let’s order 17 hamburgers and 17 fries…that’s all for me, what about the rest of you?”
  3. Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph & Suga Mama – Here’s my problem with this generally “normal” family of characters: they aren’t funny. And I know that’s subjective, but come on – you have Chris Rock, one of the funniest comedians on the planet, as a main character in a movie in which 85% of his jokes run out the door as soon as he says them. And why doesn’t the guy have a job??? And Maya Rudolph is usually either an over-the-top character for laughs (remember her Whitney Houston?) or a little more understated (Bridesmaids) but still funny. Here, a lot of her jokes don’t quite hit either. And Suga Mama (yes, that’s what I’ve named her) is more annoying than funny. It’s like Sandler took what he thought was a funny stereotype of an old black woman, gave it some bunions & farts and said it’ll work. At least she didn’t sing a negro spiritual (this is the only time I’ll ever say that.)
  4. The Jokes – Yeah, a lot of these don’t necessarily work. Or, they do, but they’re not funny enough to be memorable past a few seconds. The result is, I don’t really remember much of what I’m writing about, to be honest. It’s just sad how many genuinely funny people are involved in the main cast and how little comedy actually happened. Many of the passing one-liners felt like cutting-room floor material for a forgettable SNL sketch – not a movie.
  5. Characters – Sadly, as much as I started wanting to know these characters a little better, they either aren’t that memorable or the actors are just playing themselves. Adam Sandler is just playing Adam Sandler, but a “yeah, I’m a dad now and I’m starting to get old, but I can still have a little fun” Adam Sandler. Chris Rock is very obviously Chris Rock, but watered down and given lame jokes that should have been saved for the guy opening for his standup show. Otherwise, Sandler’s wife (Salma Hayek) isn’t very memorable, Kevin James wife is based in one joke…I was about to tell you which characters they actually want you to remember, but this movie is so forgettable, that I forgot right after I started typing that sentence.

CONCLUSION
It’s strange, because this isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it would be. It’s also not that great or memorable. Originally, my complaint halfway through the movie was that I felt more like I was watching other people joke around and have a good time from the sides, not being in on the joke, rather than enjoying the good times with them. But then the move the kids and the family started to connect, the charm of the characters started to come through and I slowly started to care about what happens to them. But other than a couple of eventually charming moments, it’s a story we’ve seen before watered down with some nuances and jokes you’ll forget about pretty soon. I do like that it was simple enough in its’ premise; I just wish that the execution would have taken things a little further. What else is there to say? It wasn’t a movie trying to be as edgy as possible; it’s just a little 90-minute thing for you to laugh at for a bit (except you might not laugh that much).

BLACKOMETER: 5/10

Let me know what you think!
-BB2

(And NO. I DO NOT feel like reviewing the unwarranted Grown Ups 2.)

Get On Up: Leaves You Wanting More

"A groove is something you feel."

“A groove is something you feel.”

Get On Up (2014)

SUMMARY
This movie shows a close look at the life of James Brown, showing the challenges he faced starting as a poor child with erratic parents and racial profiling of the 1940s South. He eventually hooked up with other friends to start a singing group and was soon discovered by producers who wanted to take him to the next level. Of course, going to the next level when your ideas are very different from anyone else’s, battling segregation, and dealing with personal scars from the past are never easy, but it is the inevitable situation when rising to stardom in this era. Get On Up uses much of what Brown encountered to show that you can face the challenges at any cost to achieve your destiny.

WHAT WORKS

  1. Chadwick Boseman – This quickly rising actor truly captures the essence of James Brown. It’s so much more than an accurate impersonation – he really embodies the man’s actions, thoughts, style and spirit! He’s tremendous while replicating the onstage performances, he is consistently charismatic, and he portrays the attitude (good and bad) that Brown had with his bandmates, employees & family behind the scenes. He really brought Brown to life in my opinion; he made me side with Brown when he would overcome something, and likewise get annoyed with him for being big-headed. Not much else I can say except, just a great, great performance. I expect to see at least a good Oscar nomination in some months.
  2. Nelsan Ellis – Ellis plays Brown’s best friend and bandmate Bobby Byrd, and man was he good. I decided that Byrd was my favorite person in the entire movie. From the moment he met James Brown, and throughout every crazy/groundbreaking idea and questionable moment when he should have left him for good (as some did), Bobby remained not just his reliable right-hand man, but a true friend. He advised him as a friend does when necessary, kept it real with him, and also understood that James was the kind of person meant to be in front, sharing his strong influence with the world. There’s a very well-done scene where he shares the latter with Craig Robinson’s character, and you can tell he captured the spirit of not only Bobby while saying this, but a good friend who supports the efforts of someone who is taking off in a seemingly bigger way than they may be.

    "Negro, what makes you think I'm leaving too? I've been here this long!"

    “Negro, what makes you think I’m leaving too? I’ve been here this long!”JB & Bobby

  3. Actors – This film has several good performances by tremendous talent, whether they are familiar faces or not. Dan Aykroyd as Brown’s longtime manager does a great job; Octavia Spencer is always stellar; her The Help partner in crime, Viola Davis is as heartwarming as ever; I thought Jill Scott, playing one of Brown’s wives, did a fantastic job as well. Oh, and it was awesome seeing Craig Robinson in something like this! And look, there’s Keith Robinson! The boy who played little James Brown (Jordan Scott) did a WONDERFUL job as well! My personal favorite, though: Brandon Smith as young Little Richard. He may. To look much like him, but I had so much fun watching this guy embody Little Richard just as he was starting to take off in his music. There’s a scene where he advises James Brown on how to start launching a career in the music world that is really great to watch, just based on the accurate performances, and the chemistry/interaction behind these row staples of music in their prime. (Plus, Little Richard is just a delight. Whoooo!)

    "Yo mama is a no-account fool. But you ain't. You're gonna be all right. You got that spirit in you."

    “Yo mama is a no-account fool. But you ain’t. You’re gonna be okay. You got that spirit in you.”

  4. Soundtrack – They were wise to stick with original James Brown recordings up throughout the film. It really does give it the authentic feel it needs to come from the different points in history. Plus, I mean, come on…it’s James Brown music! Win-win situation automatically. James Brown’s music will definitely live on forever, and this movie helps to keep it that way.
  5. History/Impact – It was really great to see how James Brown and his crew responded to different national/worldwide points in history, and the impact they were able to have on these events. I personally wasn’t aware of the concert they still fought to have after Martin Luther King Jr.’s shooting to promote positive African-American representation, for example. We also witness a Battle Royale event during Brown’s childhood, and I confess to being less aware that this took place during the 1940s, as it looked reminiscent of slave cock fights held during private parties in the 1800s. Of course it’s hard to look at the lifespan of someone without at least acknowledging some of the historical events they lived through, but showing them here in relation to Brown was good historical awareness for people like me. (For the most part…)

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

  1. Timeline– This is sadly never consistent, and I tried my best to remain open-minded to it. The timeline goes ALL over the place,  literally jumping around – it starts in a 1988 scene that doesn’t set a good tone for the movie, nor does it make sense at the time (and doesn’t make complete sense when it returns there towards the end of the film). Next it jumps back and forth from the 60s to his childhood until eventually we sort of settle chronologically, with several dips back to his childhood. I know we’re typically used to chronological biopics with the occasional flashbacks, so at first I tried to open my mind to a different turn for this movie. However it was so all over the place in the first half hour that it made it much more difficult to adjust to and understand.
  2. First Person vs. Narrative – The film has a good few random moments  that go from a steady narrative to James Brown looking at the camera, talking to YOU. He even winks once that I remember. One of these turns into a big rant about how the music business works. Now, this threw me off each and every time. If you want to have someone narrate their biopic, fine – but do it the entire time (like Kevin Hart will probably do for his 2064 biopic). The randomness of this made me feel like I had just switched over to Everybody Hates Chris or something.
  3. Fact vs. Fiction – Like most Hollywood biopics, this movie has it’s fair share of fabricated stories. Because this movie gets you potentially so invested in James Brown’s story in a passionate way, this makes you all the more upset when you discover what was changed (for any reason). After you see this movie, I encourage you to research what actually occurred vs. what the movie tells you. It’s not that bad or exaggerated as a whole by any means; but I will say you’ll be disappointed by one or two things. (On the positive, it’s always good when biopics like this are well done enough to make you curious to research about the reality of what you just saw.)
  4. What is not Emphasized – I almost labeled this section “What’s glossed over” or “what’s left out”, until a good point was made to me after talking about the film. Many have left saying that major parts of Brown’s life were either left out or entirely glossed over (his drug addiction especially). On one hand, maybe this isn’t what the movie needed to be emphasized if it wanted to simply show that James Brown had to overcome a lot to get to a new level. On the other hand, these things are important and would have provided clarity on some of the hazy facts & timeline confusions in the movie as well.

CONCLUSION:
It definitely feels like James Brown is the one telling this story – and I mean that in a way to account for everything I mentioned above. In terms of quality, the movie looks and sounds fantastic, from the phenomenal music and passionate acting to the make-up crew. I was excited for this movie as soon as I saw the first trailer, and I’m still glad I saw it, and that it was made. I do wish the timeline was done in a more consistent fashion, and I’d love to wish that certain facts weren’t thrown to the wayside for dramatic movie effect, but we all know how this works in Hollywood. Despite that, I still say give this movie a watch! It’s a great look at the times, the business, memorable people in stellar performances, and of course, music that has played a very influential part on our culture. It set out to show that James Brown overcame struggles rooting back to his childhood to get to a highly acclaimed spot in music, and it did just that.

BLACKOMETER: 7/10

Let me know what you think!
Stay funky,
-BB2

Hot Tub Time Machine: As Crazy As It Sounds


Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
This movie. I just…can’t.

SUMMARY
Three buddies, Adam, Lou & Nick (John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) set out on a trip to escape their disappointing adult lives by reliving the glory days at their boyhood ski resort. They bring Adam’s lowly nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) and after a wild night in their glowing hot tub, they awaken to a very familiar and strange version of their current spot: the ’80s! Aaaah! As they go through their weekend, they must figure out how to get home before Adam’s nephew is erased from existence, and if they’ll spend this time replicating this weekend, or taking the opportunity to change how their lives became so dreary.

WHAT WORKS

  1. Comedy – Okay, credit where credit is due. This movie is pretty funny. It’s very crass & inappropriate, and because it’s dealing with time travel, it’s very self-referential to the modern times (Lindsay Lohan, Google, etc.). That being said, a lot of the jokes used are still pretty good and I did laugh a good amount. I won’t say all the jokes work, but when they do, they really do. I still think “What color is Michael Jackson?” “…black.” “AAAAAAAH!!!!” is hilarious.
  2. Characters – These guys, for the most part, are fun to watch as characters on their on. Craig Robinson’s Nick is a pretty dry but funny token black guy held who’s loyal to his wife even if she’s cheating on him; Rob Corddry’s Lou is a boisterous, raunchy ladies man who just wants to get laid & drink; John Cusack’s Adam is a loyal guy as well who spends too much time thinking about the glory days and what got him to his current paralyzing lifestyle; then you have Clark Duke’s Jacob, the awkward big guy who doesn’t always know the right thing to say…oh shoot. I just realized who these guys are.
  3. Running Arm Gag – Poor George McFly. He plays a bellhop who lost his arm the last time they were at the ski lodge in the 80s, so there’s a big running gag in which multiple opportunities show up for the removal of his arm to take place. I’m not gonna lie…I thought this was kind of funny. He’s also the only memorable side character.
  4. Morals – I think what this movie is trying to say is that you have to stay true to who you are, and stick by your friends through thick and thin, no matter how crappy the times get. When they all finally have a chance to go back, Lou and Adam finally have a truly touching moment in which their loyalty to their friendship is established. That’s pretty good for a movie of this caliber when you think about it. I mean, it’s about a hot tub time machine. However…

WHAT’S RIDICULOUS

  1. More Questions than Answers – This is what the movie left me with from top to bottom. Okay: the title of the movie pretty much gives you what you think you’re gonna get. And maybe everything doesn’t end to be explained! Maybe it’s just fate that the hot tub kicks the door down & starts glowing. Okay. But when my brother had to pause the movie before I saw the end, saying “Whatever happens, don’t ask any questions; just accept it”, that’s not always the best sign.
  2. Line Crossing – Usually with movies like this that use boundary-crossing crude humor, it’s no surprise in 2010. We know what kind of film we’re gonna get when we read the premise and go through the first 5 minutes. Some of my favorite movies are kind of crude, so most of these didn’t really bother me that much. However there are a couple scenes in which things did go a bit too far for the sake of one joke. If you want to make a joke about losing a bet and having to perform a less-than-ideal sexual act on your friend, okay…but I think this movie started having a little too much with itself. (That was an untimely array of words.)

    "I feel pregnant."

    “I feel pregnant.”

  3. Chevy Chase – Okay, what the heck?! I’m not mad that he’s here, but…what the heck is he doing?! Hahaha. He appears to be the very vague (and I mean very vague) “spirit guide” for these guys, giving them metaphorical sayings about what they need to do and when in order to learn what they need to learn before being able to go back home. But my thing is, he’s not only extra vague (you get the point of what he’s doing immediately), but once the story is over and everything is resolved, we don’t see him anymore! He doesn’t give any final vague “all is mended” or “what have you learned” kind of deal, or even pop his head in the final shot just so we know that this was all on purpose. Is it necessary? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t know…I just feel like I’m missing some closure. Also: that’s Chevy Chase. What.
  4. RipOff? – I don’t know. Maybe because I’m so loyal to Back to the Future, but when Lou changes everything at the end of the movie to better his friends’ lives…on one hand, you see it coming in a way, so you accept how stupid it is and appreciate the fact the movie is over. On the other hand, I realized that this happened at the end of Back to the Future for the McFly family (sort of by accident since he was just trying to restore his family’s past and help his father face his fears in the past). Is this not what people would do in real life? Maybe, probably. But the ending moral about friendship gets kind of convoluted when they’re allowed to take the well-meaningness of Back to the Future’s ending with so much soon-to-be-dated ploys for how to fix their own lives. Also: Chevy Chase. What.
  5. Craig Robinson: This is a very small personal complaint: but despite how talented and good I think Craig Robinson is, I really wish he would stop playing the same guy in almost everything I see him in (other than Daddy’s Little Girls and The Office). He’s usually the nice black guy who’s down on his luck, but he’s charming, loyal, and singing. Always singing. Not that he’s bad! I just don’t want him to be pigeon-holed as this all the time. Let him do some other things, Hollywood!

CONCLUSION
It’s pretty ridiculous, and I didn’t talk about everything in it on purpose – you kind of forget some of it a few days later. It’s got good chemistry between the actors, and some good jokes, but you really have to suspend a lot of belief to let it work. It’s definitely inappropriate in many ways as well, but if you’re cool with all of this and you just want to laugh at something implausible with some fun characters for a while, I’d say this will work for you. But if you’re the type who needs an explanation (even just a small one) as to how things work in that movie’s universe…you may find yourself frustrated.

BLACKOMETER: 5.8/10
Let me know what you think!
-BB2

P.S.: By the way…WHY IS THIS THING DESERVING OF A SEQUEL. WITH CHEVY CHASE.
P.P.S.: WHAT WAS UP WITH THE SQUIRREL?!?

Top 5 Reasons Why Disney’s Pocahontas Doesn’t Work

1995.

1995.

Before we start, I want to clear the air on some things,  because I had to look it up myself.

Months after the early English settlers arrived in Virginia, John Smith was captured by a hunting party (led presumably by Chief Powhatan’s younger brother), after months of setting up camp near the Native Americans. a young preteen Pocahontas, having not met John Smith before this capture, pleaded with her father to spare his life and let him go back to Jamestown. Throughout the rest of the English settlers’ stay in Virginia, Pocahontas continued to befriend the early settlers upon their arrival on their land, wanting to make peace between her people and the English to cease hatred, so she soon started spending days visiting the English at their camp, playing games with the boys, and having her friends bring them food from their land every few days to help them survive.

After a couple of years, Smith suffered an injury from a gunpowder and had to return to England to be treated. The English told the Powhatans that he was dead, which Pocahontas later found out was false when she travelled there herself.

Now of course, anytime history is adapted into a children’s story (especially Disney), the historical account will be…appropriately tweaked in order to gain retention, understanding and interest from the kiddies. However…skirting around the history, forgetting to give the protagonists any personality, and blowing pixie dust all over legitimate history when offered the chance to teach children something is never the best route. Especially when giving us a moral we’ve heard all but too often, but without a new way to say it. So instead of reviewing this movie, here is my Top 5 Reasons Why Disney’s Pocahontas Doesn’t Work:

  1. Pocahontas – She is a major problem in this movie, and I’ll tell you why. Pocahontas, as a character, is bland. What she does and wants isn’t that bland; but she herself is as boring as the paper she was drawn on. Why? She was never given any real character. She is portrayed more as a representation of things and emotions than an actual person. Yes, it’s great that she wants to make peace between the English & the Native Americans. Yes, it’s great that her intentions to do this seems to be not just out of her own selfish love, but for wanting the hatred to cease. But these things don’t make a character. If fact, most of the characters in this movie are pretty one-note! The guy her father wants her to marry is dull as tar, but “he’s a strong, good provider.” Her raccoon is all over this movie, doing nothing but eating & ticking people off. Her best friend at least has some personality! Why couldn’t anyone else have some?
  2. Bland Songs – There are two memorable/good songs in this movie: Savages & Colors of the Wind. Other than that, I barely remember any of these, and chances are, you won’t either. This is of no fault to the composer, the grand Alan Menken, who made a pretty good score to the movie. It has everything to do with the lyrics being too obvious & performances by the cast not being as enticing as it could have been.
  3. Clichés – From the lame father-daughter dialogue to general predictability of the storyline, we do get plenty of cheesy moments in this flick. I get it…follow your heart and some nonsense. This would be more tolerable if Disney had found a more original way to tell a story we’ve heard done to death. Hey, isn’t Pocahontas a preteen? How old are you John Smith? ………that’s what I thought. Rewind.
  4. How Does the Talking Tree Work? – Is her grandmother supposed to be something that only Pocahontas can talk to since it’s her dead relative? Oh no wait, because now John Smith can talk to her. Okay. Is he involved in her delusion because of some wind/path bullcrap? Oh wait no, because now two of his English buddies were tripped by it and SAW her branch move. This is kind of like how in Disney’s Hunchback of Notré Dame, the gargoyles were supposed to be Quasimodo’s imaginary friends, but later they are clearly fighting in the battle and hurting other people. It just doesn’t work like this unless the movie explains how things in this universe work!
  5. Disney Magic vs. Historical Accuracy – Oooookay. I call bullcrap on how their relationship gets started and ultimately “works” in this movie. The movie suggests that there is a looming sense of magic which will point Pocahontas in the right “path” for her life. When she comes face-to-face with John Smith for the first time, not only does this magic show itself via floating leaves, it also causes her to be able to speak English. Um, I’m sorry, what?! They continue to carry like this throughout the movie, then later he can see the grandmother tree, and I think she & Thomas can understand each other when Kocoum is killed. Later I think her father is able to understand them as well. Oh yeah, and I think Pocahontas’ best friend could understand John too at some point, but without the magic wind. Basically, anywhere the wind goes, insight for the characters surfaces. The movie also drives the “you must know and follow your own path” thing, making a little too obvious for the average Disney kids’ movie.

CONCLUSION
My biggest hangups in this movie are both that it’s boring and that it jacks the actual history of Pocahontas & the early settlers around, and these two things don’t warrant a decent children’s movie in my opinion. If you want kids to learn peace between people different from them, that’s fine. If you want them to learn about this corner of history, also fine. But don’t sugarcoat it up for kids so much that you change the facts, romanticize it, and forget to give any memorable personality on top of all that. The music score is pretty good, and for 1995 Disney animation, it looked pretty good. The moral had it’s heart in the right place. But other than that, it ranks lower on the food chain as a movie, representation, and historical informance for kids in my opinion.

Or maybe I just don’t want my future 14-year-old daughter jumping into her 32-year-old man crush’s arms with her free-spirited magic color-painting wind leaves and whatnot.

Read a book,
-BB2