The High Note Review

The High Note movie posterSynopsis
Maggie is an assistant to singer Grace, a dream job that makes her life hell. As Maggie looks for her big break to be a music producer, Grace seeks her next challenge. (via Amazon)

Review
With theaters shut down right now, I have been eager to watch a new 2020 film release. Some of the other films released digitally earlier in the year weren’t any that I was interested in seeing. I’ll admit that The High Note probably wouldn’t have been one of my must-see films in May 2020 if things were normal in the world. However, I’m glad that I was able to catch The High Note on digital release because I would have been sorry to have missed it otherwise.

Dakota Johnson carries this film with ease. Maggie is a woman who has a goal and his working hard and tirelessly to achieve that goal and Johnson brings the right amount of strength, vulnerability, sass, tenacity, and likability to her character. Also, her chemistry with the other members of the cast is wonderful. Her scenes with Tracee Ellis Ross are some of the most emotional of the whole movie. And that’s saying something considering how well she paired with Kelvin Harrison Jr. Harrison and Johnson together really drove the heart of the film so it’s a good their relationship was believable on screen.

Being a movie about the music business, you would hope that the soundtrack is up to par. The soundtrack for The High Note is absolutely fantastic. Every song is different and memorable. I’ve been playing it on near repeat since watching this film. Ross is someone I recognize more as an actress than as a singer. Let me tell you, this. Woman. Can. Sing! Her voice is a show stopper. This comes as no surprise after learning she is the daughter of Diana Ross. Her song “Stop For A Minute” is hands-down my favorite song in the film. However, each of her songs stand out in their own right. I hope Ross takes the momentum from working on this soundtrack to record more music because her voice is worth hearing more of. I know I’ve talked a lot about Ross a bit but Harrison also has a great singing voice. His voice is so smooth and full of soul. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite song of his off the soundtrack because I like them all but “Let’s Stay Together” might, might, inch past the rest. Ross and Harris have a duet together that is pure magic. No matter how you feel about this film, chances are you will find a song to enjoy on the soundtrack.

If you watched the trailers, you might have a different idea of what the film is about than what it actually is as I feel the trailers are a bit misleading. Grace’s desire to create a new album, which seems to be the focus of the trailers, is more of the B-story. This movie’s focus is actually Maggie working towards her dream of becoming a music producer. Maggie’s story is very much intertwined with Grace’s story but a good portion of The High Note is devoted towards Maggie, which seems contradictory to what the trailers portray. Not a big deal but if you are reading this to decide to watch the film or not I just wanted you to have the correct expectations.

I thought The High Note was GOOD 🙂 You won’t find anything plot-wise that is too surprising or mold-breaking but it sticks to a tried-and-true formula that is easy to get behind. The solid cast, centered around Dakota Johnson, brings so much heart and soul to the film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a soundtrack to listen to.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Nisha Ganatra – Director
Flora Greeson – Writer
Amie Doherty – Composer

Dakota Johnson – Maggie Sherwoode
Tracee Ellis Ross – Grace Davis
Kelvin Harrison Jr. – David Cliff
Ice Cube – Jack Robertson
June Diane Raphael – Gail
Zoe Chao – Katie
Eugene Cordero – Seth
Bill Pullman – Max
Jonathan Freeman – Martin
Eddie Izzard – Dan Deakins

Rocketman Review

Rocketman movie posterSynopsis
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. (via IMDb)

Review
It must be the time of the musical biopic. Last year saw the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Freddy Mercury, and now we have Rocketman, the story of Elton John. Both are about prolific rock singers and both are directed by Dexter Fletcher. Despite their similar subjects and shared director, Rocketman doesn’t feel like a BR clone. It takes a different approach to its story telling and takes advantage of its rating.

One of the highlights of the film was Taron Egerton as Elton John. Egerton captures a wide range emotions. He’s charismatic when he needs to be, he’s vulnerable when he needs to be, and he’s dour when he needs to be. It’s clear that Egerton is putting everything he can into the part and it really elevates the film, especially since it fails or succeeds on his performance. This movie doesn’t shy away from the darker moments of Elton John’s life and Egerton embraces it head first.

While this film has been touted as a “musical fantasy,” it leaned more heavily into the “fantasy” part than I expected. Montage-like sequences, often coupled with an Elton John hit, were used to move the story along. These sequences didn’t explicitly explain what was going on but rather implied it. At first I thought these were just ways to inject Elton John’s songs into the film. Not until after the montage finished and the next scene began did I realize the story was moving along during the previous sequence. It’s a rather unique implementation of a non-unique story-telling device.

When going into a biopic about a musician, you can expect their songs to be featured heavily. Rocketman did just that but the way it did it was interesting. Instead of being a movie with music like I was anticipating, it was more like a musical, with the characters breaking into song at random points. As different as this was, there were times it felt forced, with songs being used at weird times to make sure the film includes all of Elton John’s biggest hits. Sometimes only a few lyrics were used from a song making it feel more awkward. While I liked the approach, the execution was spotty.

I thought Rocketman was GOOD 🙂 Not knowing much about Elton John’s life, I can’t say how historically accurate it is. However, what I can say is that it lives up to its label of “musical fantasy.” A stand-out performance from Taron Egerton and unique musical sequences make this biopic rock to new heights.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Dexter Fletcher – Director
Lee Hall – Writer
Matthew Margeson – Composer

Taron Egerton – Elton John
Jamie Bell – Bernie Taupin
Richard Madden – John Reid
Bryce Dallas Howard – Sheila
Gemma Jones – Ivy
Steven Mackintosh – Stanley
Tim Bennett – Fred
Matthew Illesley – Young REggie
Kit Connor – Older Reggie
Charlie Rowe – Ray Williams
Stephen Graham – Dick James
Sharon D. Clarke – Counselor

Disney and a Beer: Beauty and the Beast

The Beer
Palmetto Pale Ale – This is an American pale ale that I picked up in Charleston, South Carolina. The first time I tried it, I wasn’t a huge fan but I think it was the food I paired it with because very time I have drunk it after that, I have liked it more and more. It’s pretty strong on the hops but there is a little bit of orange taste to balance it out. Verdict: Enjoyed it.

The Movie

Beauty and the Beast movie posterSynopsis
Belle (Paige O’Hara (voice)) takes her father’s place as the prisoner for the Beast (Robby Benson (voice)). The Beast hopes to win Belle’s heart and break the spell that has been placed on him, his castle, and its inhabitants.

Review
I have expressed numerous times my love for the Disney Renaissance films. When I was younger, I had Beauty and the Beast on VHS but I did not watch it nearly as much as I did some of the other films from the era, like Aladdin or The Lion King. I think that was because it is a “princess” movie and I was more interested in movies with male main characters. In any case, over the years as I have watched it, I have grown to appreciate it much more.

The main reason why Beauty and the Beast is so popular is because of Belle. Her character is so well written and developed. She isn’t like any of the previous Disney princesses. A defining characteristic of the Disney Renaissance is how the princesses (or women in general) were portrayed. Starting with The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, the women are less focused on finding a husband for finding a husband’s sake and more on pursuing their dreams and passions and simply being themselves. Belle likes to read, she has a vivid imagination, she is adventurous, she helps her father with his inventions, and she has dreams of her own that do not fit in with the others in her village. She is one of the first princesses to feel fully developed and that her happily ever after came from the result of her actions, not the actions of the prince.

To go along with Belle, Gaston is not a typical antagonist, at least in appearance. He is a physical embodiment of what this movie, and Disney in general at that time, is trying to move away from. He has similar features to what you would expect from the typical Disney prince. He’s tall, muscular, has a strong chin, and is pursuing the most beautiful girl around for her hand in marriage. But this is the movie’s villain, not the apple of Belle’s eye; This is the guy we are supposed to be rooting against but he looks like the love interest we are typically used to root for. Gaston’s actions and personality part of the movie’s message about judging a person’s characteristics from their appearance. He is handsome on the outside but a beast on the inside.

On the flip side of Gaston is the Beast. Unlike Gaston, his physical appearance is hideous, more fitting of a typical villain than love interest. This is what really pushes the film’s story and message forward. Belle isn’t quick to judge the prince on his appearance or beastly attitude. Instead, she see’s the good in him and works to bring that out of him so he can see for himself that his looks do not define him.

The townsfolk and mob are a third part to the movie’s message about not keeping an open mind and judging others quickly. They follow Gaston, the towns hero despite having a narrow and nasty attitude, and fear the Beast, although they know nothing about him. There is a lyric in “The Mob Song” that perfectly sums it up: “We don’t like / What we don’t understand / In fact it scares us / And this monster is mysterious at least.” Their fear is used by Gaston to lead the crowd into attacking the Beast, using them towards killing the Beast in an effort to still try and win Belle’s heart. Their suspicions and inability to think for themselves allowed them to be easily manipulated.

Speaking of “The Mob Song,” Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman work together (in what would be Ashman’s final film before passing away) to create the score and songs. And once again, it is absolutely wonderful. My personal favorite is “Be Our Guest” but “Belle” and “Gaston” are just as catchy and do a phenomenal job of character building. Of course, you can’t talk about this movie without talking about its title song, “Beauty and the Beast,” easily one of Disney’s most popular ballads. I’ve heard it at weddings, dances, and our high school band often played it for homecoming. It is a very moving and romantic song that has become the definition of a timeless classic.

The art style of Beauty and the Beast looks like something out of a picture book. The colors are bright and vivid, especially during the opening prologue. Even when the colors are more muted, like in the woods, there is still a vibrancy to them. The picture book feel reminds me a lot of Sleeping Beauty where everything just pops off the screen.

This movie is chock full of fun supporting characters. My favorite, hands down, is Lumiere and Cogsworth, voiced by Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers respectively, the first two enchanted inhabitants Belle meets after entering the castle. Although they may be animated, they are just as great as any comedy duo in other movies. Other great characters are the motherly Mrs. Potts, voiced by the sweet Angela Lansbury, and her son Chip, voiced by Bradley Pierce, and the wardrobe in Belle’s room in the castle, voice by the energetic Jo Anne Worley.

I thought Beauty and the Beast was GREAT 😀 It is not hard to see why this became the first animated film to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award. Belle is a strong heroine and the movie’s message about not judging others quickly and letting fear blind you is enduring. Often referred to as the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast is a special film that has been loved for over twenty-five years and will remain a beloved favorite for another twenty-five and more.

Favorite Quote
Beast: I’ve never felt this way about anyone. I want to do something for her! But what?
Cogsworth: Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.

Trivia
Angela Lansbury, the voice of Mrs. Potts, was unsure of her singing ability and thought that another character might be better suited to sing the song “Beauty and the Beast.” The directors convinced her to record it anyway in case nothing else worked out. She sang the version that made it into the movie in one take.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Gary Trousdale – Director
Kirk Wise – Director
Linda Woolverton – Screenplay
Brenda Chapman – Story
Chris Sanders – Story
Burny Mattinson – Story
Kevin Harkey – Story
Brian Pimental – Story
Bruce Woodside – Story
Joe Ranft – Story
Tom Ellery – Story
Kelly Asbury – Story
Robert Lence – Story
Alan Menkin – Composer
Howard Ashman – Lyricist

Paige O’Hara – Belle (voice)
Robby Benson – Beast (voice)
Richard White – Gaston (voice)
Jesse Corti – Lefou (voice)
Jerry Orbach – Lumiere (voice)
David Ogden Stiers – Cogsworth / Narrator (voice)
Angela Lansbury – Mrs. Potts (voice)
Bradley Pierce – Chip (voice)
Rex Everhart – Maurice (voice)
Tony Jay – Monsieur D’Arque (voice)

Disney and a Beer: The Little Mermaid

The Beer
Abita Christmas Ale – One of my Christmas gifts from my grandparents was a basket of holiday seasonal beers. The Abita Christmas Ale was my last one from the basket. This might be my favorite of the beers that were in the basket. It was heavier than other holiday brews that I have tried, almost like an amber or dark ale, and more flavorful than the others as well. According to Abita, the recipe changes every year, so I think I will try to check it again next holiday season. Verdict: Enjoyed it.

The Movie

The Little Mermaid movie posterSynopsis
Ariel (Jodi Benson (voice)), a mermaid princess, falls in love with Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes (voice)), a human. She strikes a deal with the sea-witch Ursula (Pat Carroll (voice)) and exchanges her voice for a pair of legs so she can be on land and win Eric’s heart.

Review
Given the 80s theme going on this blog lately, I decided to watch one of the last animated films to come out of the decade: The Little Mermaid. I received the blu-ray several months ago and just got around to watching it. I grabbed my little sister (the other ginger of the family) and we sat down to watched our favorite red-headed princess together. Apparently, it had been some time since we both had seen it. When it was finished she remarked, “that’s just good as I remember.” I simply replied, “well, yeah!”

There are two big reasons why this movie works so well: the characters and the music. The characters are charming, relatable, and simply put, so much fun. Ariel is cheerful and venturesome. She doesn’t like to stay still and is always looking for her next adventure. Flounder is the Piglet to Ariel’s Pooh Bear; he’s easily scared but will do anything for his friends. Sebastian is everyone’s favorite crustacean who acts as the buffer between Ariel’s whimsical personality and her father. King Triton is the protective father who will do anything to keep his daughters safe. Eric is the noble prince who will stop at nothing to find his perfect princess. Ursula is mystifying and magically powerful. I think most of us can find a little part of one or more of these characters we can relate to, maybe even Ursula…

Disney is well known for great musical numbers. Some of my favorite come from the era known as the Disney Renaissance and are written by the composer Alan Menken. Menken worked on many of the Renaissance-era films, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Howard Ashman was Menken’s other composing-half until Ashman’s passing in 1991. Together, they created one of Disney’s best soundtracks with instant classics like “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Kiss the Girl.” I’ve also always enjoyed “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” In standard Disney fashion, you will be singing the songs long after you have finished watching the movie.

The Little Mermaid introduces all the major characters within the first fifteen minutes or so. This gives us plenty of time to spend with them. It was much faster paced than I remember. That works well because it keeps the story moving. At the same time, it doesn’t move too fast. It does a great job of balancing character development and story progression.

Most of the film takes place underwater (as you would expect in a story about a mermaid). The animation perfectly captures this environment. None of the movements are stiff or unnatural, they were always smooth and flowing. The animators used live actors for references to sketch, much like Walt Disney used in his early films. It really paid off because characteristics, such as hair movement under water or body movement while swimming, looked and behaved exactly as you would expect it to in real life.

I would have liked to hear just a little bit more of Ursula’s back story. She mentions how she used to be in the palace but was banished. A quick few sentences about what she did in the palace and what happened that caused her banishment would have fleshed out her comments and her character. The deleted scenes contained some of this information but obviously those didn’t make it into the final cut. It doesn’t take away from her character or the story so I don’t think it is a huge deal.

I thought The Little Mermaid was GREAT :-D. There is very little to knock in this film. All the characters are well written, it moves quickly but never feels rushed, the music is infectious and the animation is beautiful. What a way to kick off one of Disney’s best periods of animation!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ron Clements – Writer / Director
John Musker – Writer / Director
Alan Menken – Composer
Howard Ashman – Composer

Jodi Benson – Ariel (voice)
Christopher Daniel Barnes – Eric (voice)
Pat Carroll – Ursula (voice)
Kenneth Mars – Triton (voice)
Samuel E. Wright – Sebastian (voice)
Jason Marin – Flounder (voice)
Buddy Hackett – Scuttle (voice)
Paddi Edwards – Flotsam & Jetsam (voice)
Ben Wright – Grimsby (voice)

Lightning Review: Footloose

Footloose (1984) movie posterSynopsis
Ren (Kevin Bacon), a teenager from Chicago, moves to the small town Beaumont to live with his aunt and uncle. In Beaumont, dancing and rock and roll music is banned, thanks to Reverend Moore (John Lighgow). Ren quickly makes friends with Willard (Chris Penn) and the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer). Ren’s rebellious spirit makes the residents uncomfortable as he tries to fight against the local laws against music and dancing.

Review
On the cover of the Footloose DVD case are the words “The film that defined a generation.” Now this was part of my parents’ generation, not mine, but I wouldn’t go as far to claim it “defined a generation.” However, I will say that it is a fun and enjoyable movie. First off, its soundtrack is deeply rooted in the 1980s (surprise, surprise), and I like it! When I was younger I had Kenny Loggins’ Greatest Hits cassette tape and “Footloose” was one of my go-to favorites (that and “Danger Zone” but I’m sure I’ll get to that one eventually). Of all the characters, John Lithgow’s Reverend Moore was the most developed, I’d say even more so than the main characters, which is highly unusual for a film’s antagonist. He had a very clear arc from when he gets introduced to where he is in the final minutes. His story and its message is almost as important (maybe even more important) a take away as Ren and his struggle.

There was something that bugged me about Lori, Ren’s love interest and daughter of Reverend Moore. I understand a teen being rebellious but I feel she was rebellious for the wrong reasons and was reckless. She is supposed to have gone through this change but honestly, I didn’t care about her all that much. Of course, I can’t talk about Footloose without mentioning Kevin Bacon, who does a terrific job as Ren, the teen thrown from a big city into a small town. Simply put, Footloose is a fun movie. Your foot is sure to be tapping and you might even find yourself doing a little dancing.

Rating
4/5

Favorite Quote
Ren: This place is too weird. Don’t you ever listen to the radio?
Willard: Nah. We got one radio at home but it’s never on.
Ren: You like Men at Work?
Willard: Which man?
Ren: Men at Work.
Willard: Where do they work?
Ren: Nah, they don’t. They’re a music group.
Willard: What do they call themselves?
Ren: Oh, no. Well what about the Police?
Willard: What about ’em?
Ren: Have you heard them?
Willard: No, but I see ’em.
Ren: What, in concert?
Willard: No, behind you.
Ren: What? [Police siren sounds] Oh, shit.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Herbert Ross – Director
Dean Pitchford – Writer

Kevin Bacon – Ren
Lori Singer – Ariel
John Lithgow – Rev. Shaw Moore
Dianne Wiest – Vi Moore
Christopher Penn – Willard
Sarah Jessica Parker – Rusty
John Laughlin – Woody
Elizabeth Gorcey – Wendy Jo
Frances Lee McCain – Ethel McCormack
Jim Youngs – Chuck Cranston
Douglas Dirkson – Burlington Cranston
Lynne Marta – Lulu Warnicker
Arthur Rosenberg – Wes Warnicker
Timothy Scott – Andy Beamis