MMT Quick Review: BABY DRIVER by contributor Darryl King

Every once in a while, a film comes along that is so original and fresh, with situations and characters painted with such vibrant colors and context, that you fall in love with movies again. Inundated with superhero movies, shared universes, rehashed sequels, forced trilogies and popular culture icons turned into movies, that it has become quite unusual when a unique idea fights its way into our entertainment spectrum. Introducing the movie, “Baby Driver.”

Acclaimed director Edgar Wright continues to show how astute he is at weaving a great narrative and creating compelling characters with impressive dialogue, that makes you want more projects from him.

“Baby Driver” is a mature, fun romp filled with plenty of action, but more importantly witty dialogue to draw you into enhanced circumstances. Under many layers of nuance comes a film that explores the age-old story about a boy finding a girl, losing her and then doing everything thing possible to keep her.

Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, is the incredibly skilled getaway driver who works for a crime boss while hampered by a hearing impediment, for which he uses music as his balm. After meeting the idealist and naïve waitress Debora (Lily James), Baby wants a different life.

Utilizing fresh and mainly unknown actors in these key roles is what makes “Baby Driver” special – allowing the audience to spend our energy engrossed and focused upon the context of the story and the budding relationship between two unique characters.

The believability of Baby, as a driver and protagonist, is the crux of the film so not being bogged down with the image of the actor works.

And director Wright smartly surrounds the young talented actors with some great seasoned actors, adding a much-needed poise to the story. Kevin Spacey (Doc) plays the crime boss with the quirky and demanding flare that has become synonymous with some of his greatest roles. Jamie Foxx seems to enjoy lately playing the over the top, streetwise bad guy that allows him to cut loose.

Oftentimes, known actors like the aforementioned have a penchant for mailing in a performance, seemingly just to collect a paycheck, but when the material is as refreshing and original as“Baby Driver” there seems to be a robust optimism within their performance, invigorated perhaps by the unique story – and reminding us just how talented and special these stars can be.

If you enjoy movies that make you think and laugh, with a musical underpinning to touch your soul, then “Baby Driver” is the film for you. Go to the theater, get your favorite snack, sit back, recline and then allow “Baby Driver” to take you on the ride of your life.

Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. Check out his reviews of Wonder Woman, The Mummy, and Alien: Covenant, right here on MMT.

 

MMT alternatives for those planning to NOT watch The Oscars and why I’m tuning in

Academy Awards Infographic

Happy Sunday MMT Fam! Unless you’ve been boycotting television, or living under a rock, you are aware of this year’s Academy Award controversy and its subsequent social media hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. There are pretty much three camps with respect to viewing tonight’s ceremony – those who are (for various reasons), those who are boycotting it all-together, and those who couldn’t care less because they’ve never watched!

Any reasonable person, who can read the above infographic or count & name persons of color who’ve won any category since the inception of the Academy Awards, knows there is great merit in the cause of those who fall in the second category. And though I mostly agree with the cause, I don’t believe boycotting the Oscars will have greatest impact implementing diversity changes within Hollywood – I’ll save that full conversation for another post, but let’s just say it involves mostly film boycotts. Hey GODS OF EGYPT, how’s that first weekend box office coming along? 😉

Anyways, I’m in that first camp this year, and not for my normal reasons of wanting to see the red-carpet fashions and if any faves will take home the gold, especially on the chance that one of my favorite films and/or actors of color are nominated – which we definitely know isn’t the case tonight. I’m watching this year solely to see Chris Rock – who’s taking his second stint as the Academy Award host, his first sting being in 2005 back when Jamie Foxx won his Best Actor for RAY (and you know that was a very black year) – and what I believe will be one remarkable opening monologue. Not only am I looking forward to his monologue, but any biting critique he shares for the remainder of the show – honestly if I can hang in that long, but I am committed to signing in for the first part!

I’m hoping Rock does what he does best – which is highlight the elephant in the room in such a way that even though you’re uncomfortable you can’t help but acknowledge, accept or be shamed by what’s spoken. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to watching some uncomfortable reactions and seeing the camera pan on faces that may or may not reflect discomfort, agreement or pure agitation.

Why would I want to witness this, some of you are asking? It’s simple. Because I want truths spoken and tea spilled to further the uncomfortable conversations that need to take place. Let’s keep tackling and bringing awareness to this diversity issue – which is impacting every person of color, not just African-Americans, and subsequently everyone because we are not seeing accurate reflections of who we are in total.

Now for those of you who aren’t watching, I do have a few alternative recommendations of what you can view today. The first selection, #JusticeForFlint, is starting at 5pm est, so those who are watching the awards can join in for a bit as well, and is live streaming at Revolt.tv. A benefit fundraiser held by filmmakers, and a couple of MMT faves, Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler, #JusticeForFlint will be hosted by comedian Hannibal Buress and feature performances by Janelle Monae, Ledisi, Andra Day, Vic Mensa, Jazmine Sullivan, Musiq Soulchild, Robert Glasper, Jesse Williams, Jussie Smollett, Jasiri X, Vic Mensa, and more.

For those of you who stream Netflix, a service that is slaying the game in terms of diversity, why not catch up on a few films or TV shows, such as Beasts of No Nation (which was tragically overlooked by Academy voters this year) or any of the Netflix Picks that this site has highlighted since October of last year.

Don’t have Netflix? That’s cool. Go online to CRACKLE, which you can also stream to your TV, and find some great selections there – including a few of my faves including The Greatest, the 1977 film which stars the GOAT himself, Muhammad Ali, portraying – who else – himself! And if you’re into thrillers, I recommend Unthinkable, a 2014 edge-of-your-seat film starring Samuel Jackson and Carrie-Ann Moss, or you’re into action/martial arts, I recommend the Spike Lee directed remake Old Boy – but be warned the latter has an ending that really is “unthinkable!”

Looking for another free option? Then head on over to Bounce TV, whose line-up today includes the classics Waiting to Exhale and He Got Game!

And for those of you who are sitting TV out this evening, but may be interacting on social media, why not log into Twitter where African Amedia is hosting “The Sidneys,” so named after legendary actor Sidney Poitier with the hashtag #SidneysSoWoke, to pay tribute to your favorite actors, directors, and films in black cinema?

Well family, if nothing more, I hope this post offers food for thought, and inspires you to think about some of the diversity challenges that exist. And I hope it also shares viewing alternatives that you were not yet aware. Please feel free to share some thoughts in the comments and, as always, I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Until next thought, Thomasena

PS – check out Chris Rock’s opening monologue from 2005 below and get your life! He better slay tonight!

 

 

 

My dream casting for NBC’s ‘The Wiz: Live TV Musical’

The Wiz (photo: Universal Pictures)

What’s new MMT Family?  So, NBC threw me for a loop with its March 30 announcement that THE WIZ would be its next live TV musical to air – with a date given of Dec. 3. “The Wiz” is an all-time favorite and, I’ll be honest, I found it very hard to come up with a list that seemed fitting and definitely struggled a bit when it came to certain characters – for instance Dorothy.

I saw several writers and bloggers posts about possible casting and came to one major conclusion about myself – I am truly old school! Now, I understand that batons need to be passed and all but there was not one mention, that I found, of the person I believe should be among the first to be cast – the première Dorothy herself, Ms. Stephanie Mills! Of course not in the role of Dorothy – no offense Ms. Mills – but I certainly think it would be cool to see her in the opposite role of Evilene and it’d be really nostalgic if she in fact was Glinda the Good. But, I’ll settle for Aunt Em NBC, so just make it happen! Now Ms. Mills is my ultimate wish, but here’s a wish list I also put together for several other key characters:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Usher – I saw a couple of writers mention him as Scarecrow and he is my first choice as well.  As a matter of fact, Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow was the first character I thought of and Usher immediately came to mind. He’s appeared in several films, and is a triple threat with the vocal chops and dancing to boot.  It’s a no-brainer NBC!
  • Jamie Foxx – would be perfect as The Wiz!  He has the comedic timing, can portray the vulnerability also needed with the role, and can sing to boot!
  • Phylicia Rashad – if not Ms. Mills, then it would be really great to see Ms. Rashad as Glinda the Good! Another nostalgic choice, Ms. Rashad was one of the original 1975 musical’s cast members – she played various roles including understudy for Glinda – and she has a magnificent voice. The uber talented Audra McDonald would also knock this role out of the park, but I really need my nostalgic fix, okay?
  • David Mann – I know many of you wouldn’t have come up with this choice, but I believe David Mann would be excellent as the Lion!!! He is a stone cold comedic fool, and can sing the phone book! Pay attention NBC, he is the truth! But if not Mr. Mann…can James Monroe Iglehart work around his Aladdin duties as Genie to film this?!?! He’d be a perfect Lion as well!
  • Keke Palmer – this beautiful young woman seems to be the favorite choice for many and, although I knew she was a great actress, I didn’t realize she could sing – yes, clearly I’d forgotten that she was Broadway’s first African-American “Cinderella!” That is until the release of the song from her latest film, Brotherly Love, and this impromptu posting to her Facebook page last week – in which she gives a pretty good rendition of The Wiz’s signature song, “Home.”

Well MMT Fam, that’s as far as I could stretch my imagination with this one. I really had a hard time coming up with a choice for Tin Man! I used Jamie Foxx for The Wiz, but he was the only person who came to mind for me with Tin Man too. Who do you think would be a good choice? What about your choices for the others?

Ooh, one more thing, I am not certain if NBC is doing a combination of the movie and musical book, or sticking with one vs. the other. But just in case, Ms. Mills could be either Miss One (movie character) or Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North (musical character) too! Yes, I’m arguing my ultimate wish to the bitter end!

Alright fam, let me know your thoughts on this one! Can’t wait to hear them. Until next thought, Thomasena

MMT Quick Review of ANNIE

ANNIE (photo: Sony Pictures)

Happy Saturday MMT Family!  I wanted to have this one up last night, because you know I have been anticipating this Annie remake for quite some time. Unlike many of the people whose critiques I’ve glimpsed, I highly enjoyed this version and then some. Let’s be clear, this is not your great-grandparents’ or grandparents’ version of the beloved Little Orphan Annie comics, and it certainly isn’t the same 1977 Broadway stage production or even my generation’s classic (1982) movie version.  And this new movie proclaims that boldly in the film’s opening classroom scene – where there’s a cute parody of the classic Annie type giving a my favorite president speech. But when Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie) steps up to the front of the class for her speech, backed by classmate participation with call-responses and hand percussion, on her favorite president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the first hat tips to the classic, it is cemented that this is something new (and really the produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter credits should have been a clue even before 😉 )

Though there was nothing simple about the “Great Depression,” the event that forms the backdrop of the original film, the times were certainly simpler when it came to our ability to impact social reach or access others socially almost instantaneously. And this is the effective update of the Annie remake – bringing the story into the era of social media & technology – with a display of how it impacts people lives, both great and small. Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is an indifferent cell-phone tycoon running for mayor of New York in contrast to Wallis’ Annie, a foster kid who manages to maintain and share the brightest outlook with everyone she interacts, despite her meager circumstances. The movie takes great care to insert current topics relevant to today’s youth – like the update to foster care vs. the term orphan and highlighting youth literacy issues.

The multicultural cast – loved seeing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Tracie Thoms, and Dorian Missick in key roles – was a beautiful reflection of what could and should happen more often with big studio productions, with lead Quvenzhane Wallis anchoring this modern version. Wallis has an unspoken, “old soul” quality with her delivery and facial expressions – and I believed her journey in this story. And her moment with new song “Opportunity” is a sweet one, despite what some callous critics are stating.

ANNIE (photo: Sony Pictures)

And let me simply ask this, why is it so hard for some to acknowledge the talent of an eleven-year-old, who by the age ten was an Academy award nominee? She sings, no one said the baby had to be Whitney Houston. And she dances, no one said she had to be Katherine Dunham.  Her job in this movie was to act primarily and make us believe she was Annie and for most fair-minded people wanting to enjoy a fun, family film this holiday season, I think she will appropriately fit the bill. And if it or she is not for you, then tough – she got the role and rocked it!

Again there were a couple of original film references I noted, like the aforementioned nod to FDR and the fictional band named “Leaping Lizards” that played in one scene.  I also wondered if the “rescue” George Washington bridge scene near the end – okay it’s not really a spoiler if you know the story MMT fam – was a nod to the scene with the late Geoffrey Holder and his character Punjab who rescues Annie in the 1982 film.

I do wish there was more of a character build for the other foster kids in Miss Hannigan’s (Cameron Diaz) care, since there were name/character changes and the beginning of this one felt a little rushed to get to the good stuff.  I also must be honest and admit that Diaz, although she’s shown her comedic timing in several other films, did not win me over as Miss Hannigan until nearly the end of film. I like her comedy wise as the sweet one (My Best Friend’s Wedding, There’s Something About Mary) versus the mean-spirited one or vixen. By contrast, Jamie Foxx was a fun Daddy Warbucks….umm, my bad, Will Stacks and we all know he can sing, so the numbers with him were really cool.  The chemistry between he and Wallis also worked well, and this film culminates in a very cute resolution to their respective characters’ journeys.

I took my youngest bestie, aka Jayla, and her mom with me to the Philly screening of Annie. At only two-years-old, Jayla visited my house and fell in love with the 1982 version on Netflix. We’ve watched it several times and I was excited to see how she would respond to the new version.  She watched the film very intently, wanted to dance at certain scenes, and has talked about Annie, Quvenzhane’s version, her mother says since last Sunday’s screening. I was worried that the film, unlike the ’82 film with its stage musical similarities, was a bit too much for her – since it isn’t the same sing-song model – and honestly she did require a bathroom break and missed the big “Opportunity” number. But if it’s still on my little (moody) Gemini friend’s mind, I think it works not only for the school-age kids, but also tots.  If they are not used to sitting for an extended period, the running time is 118 minutes, I’d recommend just sticking with school-age and older.  They will certainly get a lot more – especially from the positive messages shared.

Alright family, you know the drill! Stop back and share comments after you’ve seen the film.

PS – Checkout the lyric video to “Opportunity” below and let me know your thoughts as well! 🙂

Until next thought family, Thomasena

A Quick Review of ‘Rio 2’ and chat with director Carlos Saldanha

Rio 2 (photo: riomovies.com)

What’s new MMT family?  Get the kiddies ready, because opening this weekend in theaters nationwide is Rio 2, the sequel to the hit animated blockbuster, which features the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, Will.I.Am, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez and Bruno Mars to name a few! I must admit I had not seen the first film, but I was very impressed during the opening sequence, which depicts New Year’s in Rio with a magnificent CGI display of vivid color and lively sounds.  It also helped that the opening number included a fantastic song, “What is Love,” featuring soul siren Janelle Monae, and gave a really cool introduction of the main characters for us newcomers. 🙂

“Rio 2” finds the main characters Blu and Jewel, escorting their family on an adventure across the Amazon to locate others (Blue Macaws) like them.  Unknowingly, they are followed by the villain Nigel and his cohorts, who are seeking revenge against Blu, and will become instrumental in protecting the natural habitat of those closest to them.

When I asked Carlos Saldanha how he came up with the storyline and narrowed down the themes discussed he shared, “Well it’s interesting because when we start we have all these ideas.  And you put them all on the board, and you’re like this is all great.  But then you start to make the movie, and you go – the movie has to be three hours long if I want to tell all these stories!  So you start to pare down and find what’s relevant to the story. For me it always has to be (told) through the main character.”

Now MMT fam, I did ask Mr. Saldanha the signature question and he couldn’t think of a musical artist that he would write/direct a biopic about that hasn’t been done already. However he did share, “he’s not a musician, but he’s a guy from Brazil that was one of the first guys to create an airplane, during the time of the Wright Brothers.  His name is Santos Dumont, but in Brazil we call him ‘the Father of Aviation.’ And there are a lot of books written and movies made about him, but I’ve always had a fascination with that character.”

Check out more of my interview with Saldanha on Examiner here, and get more info about Rio 2 at the official website here. You can also check out the video to “What is Love,” with Janelle Monae and a few familiar faces from the Rio cast below.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

MusicMovieThoughts Quick Picks 6/29/13

Twenty Feet From Stardom

Hey Music Movie family!  I’ll admit it’s been a bit since the last post, so I have a few recommendations for you this time around!  I want to start by first saying congrats to all the contest winners from this month’s giveaways.  I received great feedback from those who attended both the Fruitvale and Twenty Feet From Stardom screenings.  My personal movie pick for this weekend is “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” which I shared the synopsis and trailer for here (“Fruitvale” opens later in July and I will definitely share more about it in the near future).

In brief, Twenty Feet chronicles the stories of several background singers, some well-known, and a few not as known to the masses.  The doc gets the audience up close and personal with amazing vocalists like Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, and Merry Clayton, among others, as they share their successes and defeats in the shadows of some of the top artists of their times.  To check release dates and theaters that will show “Twenty Feet From Stardom” in your area click here.   The film was released Friday, 6/28 at the Ritz Bourse here in the Philadelphia area.

I also have a few television picks for next week, and it so happens that each of them premieres on Tuesday, July 2.  The first is the documentary VENUS VS. directed by the superbly talented Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow).  “VENUS VS.”  highlights Venus Williams’ two-year battle advocating for pay equality for women in professional tennis.  The film will air next Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN (check local listings).

Next up is one of my guilty pleasures, and what I am sure will be a new guilty pleasure on the same channel!  I am talking about the mid-season return of The Game Tuesday, July 2 at 10 p.m. EST on BET, followed by the première of Being Mary Jane starring Gabrielle Union at 10:30 p.m.  I know some of my Game die-hards have given up after last season, but I kind of like the Blue and Kiera storyline, and would like to see where it leads.  I also want to see Pookie go off when he finds out what Tasha has been up to behind his back!

With this next pick I’m definitely behind, but I really enjoyed Man of Steel.  It is probably the action film I had the most fun viewing thus far this summer.  This version delved into the psyche of young Clark Kent, and really had you vested in his journey to find out who he truly was as an adult.  The one con with the film, for me, was some of the CGI and the destruction scenes.  They were a bit much, and I could have done with a few less buildings being demolished, a few less windows being shattered, and hypothetically a few less persons dying!  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8.5.

I did also see and partly enjoyed World War Z, but I must admit I felt it was a mash-up of I Am Legend and Contagion.  If you’re a Brad Pitt and/or a zombie fan (or gamer) you’ll probably get your money’s worth, otherwise I would recommend checking out one of the former picks first.  Biggest con: there was a moment where I questioned the political correctness of one of the geographic choices and religious characterizations in the film.  But since I don’t do spoilers, I’ll just say pay attention to the Jerusalem wall scene and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below! That way if anyone dares to read the comments, it will be at their own risk. 🙂

Alright family, I believe that’s it…ooh wait!  I also saw White House Down and can sum that up in six words: Die Hard With A White House!  Was I at all entertained?  Of course, Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained, Ray) and Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street, The Vow) are in it; but I’m sorry our armed service and secret service branches are not nearly as dumb as this movie made them out to be, and I couldn’t suspend disbelief that much!

Okay, now that’s really it. 🙂  Until next thought family, Thomasena

A Quick Review of Les Miserables and Django Unchained

Les_Miserables_Hathaway

Merry Christmas Music Movie Family! I pray that your holiday is filled with good people, good music, and great food! Are you headed to the movies today to see either of the major films opening that are being lauded, à la Les Miserables or Django Unchained? I screened both within the past month and would or would not recommend both based on your personal taste and/or preferences.

Let’s start with the musical Les Miserables. I mean, the production – stellar. The cast performances amazing, well except for Russell Crowe’s singing (sorry Russell, but you know it’s true). But all the hoopla about Anne Hathaway’s (Rachel Getting Married, The Dark Knight Rises) performance is the TRUTH. She was phenomenal as Fantine, a part she said her mother was understudy for during her performance days. And Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Real Steel) astounded as Jean Valjean, wait until you see how much weight he lost for the part! If you are not familiar with the musical, it is far from being a lighthearted Mary Poppins type of story, and is not a good choice for a younger audience (it is rated PG-13). So if you need to take the kiddies with you to the theater, Les Miserables is not the choice for you. You can read more about the story or watch the trailer at http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/.

Which brings me to Django. Now I must preface this review with I was on the “I won’t go see Django Unchained” team when I first heard about the film. But a screening opportunity presented itself, and I’d read so many controversial statements and articles about, that I became intrigued and decided to check it out. I also enjoyed the Tarantino vehicles Kill Bill (Vol. 1 and 2) and Reservoir Dogs, so I went to the film expecting to see a bunch of gore, especially with the content matter. And boy does Quentin Tarantino do gore. Needless to say, Django is not the family Christmas movie, unless your hanging with a bunch of adults or older teens (it has an R rating).

Django_Unchained_PosterIf you don’t know the premise, the movie is about a former slave named Django (Jamie Foxx; Ray, Any Given Sunday) who with the help of his bounty hunter mentor Schultz (Christoph Waltz; Inglourious Basterds, Carnage) attempts to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington; Ray, The Last King of Scotland). The duo finds out that Broomhilda is on a Mississippi plantation called Candyland, owned by a brutal master named Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio; The Departed, Inception), and formulate a shady plan to gain her freedom. Now if you can go into Django Unchained with the mindset that Tarantino is an overzealous fan of 60’s and 70’s spaghetti western and blaxploitation movies, and this is his super violent mash-up of the two, you might actually enjoy this film. I enjoyed parts of the story, mostly when the bad guys received their comeuppance, but the film began to lull midway, and I felt it was too long. My biggest problem with Django is slavery is too heavy a topic for me to view intertwined with fantasy. Even though Jamie Foxx described it on a recent award show as “Kunta Kinte gets his revenge,” I don’t buy it. There was nothing fantastic about slavery and, as original as it is, Django didn’t convince me a revenge story needed to be told in this fashion. You can get more info about or watch the trailer for Django Unchained at http://unchainedmovie.com/

If you’re looking for another film to see tomorrow, and don’t have to worry about the kids, check out The Impossible with Golden Globe nominated actress Kate Winslet, which is based on a true family’s survival of the 2004 tsunami tragedy. And if you have the kiddies, why not Monsters Inc., which was re-released in 3D? Whichever film you decide to see, stop back by and let me know your thoughts.

Merry Christmas family. Until next thought, Thomasena