Full disclosure: I have not seen the Tony-winning stage version of "Dear Evan Hansen." But judging by the movie version, I now have no desire to.
A 27-year-old Ben Platt - playing a high school senior and reprising his original role from the play - is the least of the film's problems. There isn't a note of truth in this misguided adaptation, so without ever having seen the play, I can plainly tell you that this film does not do the original material any justice.
One of the most delightful, impressive, heart-warming and optimistic productions you will ever witness comes to Apple TV+ this weekend. "Come From Away" is a Tony-winning musical that was filmed and made into a movie (just like "Hamilton" was for Disney+ in 2020), and it comes just in time for the 20-year anniversary of 9/11.
Yes, the "feel good" movie of the year centers around one of the worst, horrific tragedies in American history, and if there was ever something that this divided nation should be able to agree on, it's that "Come From Away" is an absolute treasure and should be seen by every American...despite it taking place in Newfoundland, Canada.
Surprisingly, the key to understanding the ambitious rock opera, "Annette," might be found in a documentary that came out earlier this year. That doc, "The Sparks Brothers," was about the 80s rock band Sparks, made up of brothers Russell and Ron Mael, whose quirky lyrics, music videos and rhythms led them to becoming one of the most influential bands of that decade, despite having never existed in the mainstream.
To call them and their music "eccentric" doesn't quite describe it. But their documentary is a good primer to trying to understand "Annette" - music and script by the Mael brothers - which is a film that by-and-large will not connect with most common movie-goers, and is even so bonkers and "out there" that it hasn't even been a sure-thing with critics either (as of this writing, it's clinging to a "Fresh" score of 70% on RottenTomatoes).
If you've seen "The Sparks Brothers," it may help get you close to the wavelength in which "Annette" exists, but even then, it's an over-long, showy and mostly hollow musical, kept interesting in spite of the Maels, not because of them. That's because one of the finest actors of his generation, Adam Driver, delivers one of the most boldly dedicated performances of his career, giving us an anchor of emotion in a sea of lunacy.
A play like "Hamilton" is a one-in-a-million sort of production. From the original cast to the costumes and choreography, to the unprecedented word-play and unforgettable lyrics from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, to its cultural significance, "Hamilton" was lightning in a bottle...the stage play of our time and one of the few creations in the history of the stage or cinema that cannot be over-hyped regardless of how much praise is heaped upon it. It really is that good.
But before "Hamilton," there was "In the Heights," the debut production from Miranda that he originally wrote his sophomore year in college back in 1999. The play finally reached Broadway, from 2008 to 2011, scoring 13 Tony nominations (winning four, including Best Original Score for Miranda, the youngest recipient ever to win the category).
Now after a full year of postponements due to COVID-19, the big-screen adaptation of "In the Heights" reaches theaters (it is also available to stream on HBO Max). If you're familiar with "Hamilton," you know that "In the Heights" is a lesser overall production...how could it not be? But on its own it's a rich celebration of the immigrant experience in America, and one of the most joyous, unapologetic and optimistic films in quite some time.
"In the Heights" is no "Hamilton," but that is just fine.
There's no denying that "The Prom" is fun, bright and colorful. But while the celebration is in full-swing, one too many missteps leave this dance falling flat.
While their motto of "be excellent to each other" couldn't come at a better time for our country, Bill & Ted's latest adventure/journey/romp is so awful, so painful and so inexplicable, it only makes sense that it is being released in 2020.
I'll start with the headline: I have COVID-19. I tested positive along with my wife and three-year-old son, and life has been brutal, scary and exhausting ever since.
Even still, watching movies from bed has been a saving grace...a much-needed therapeutic that has granted me some level of sanity and feelings of normalcy. My wife and son - thanks be to God or whatever other guiding forces willing to listen - have reacted much more mildly than me thus far...I have definitely gotten the worst of it. And whether this is a momentary plateau, or a sign that I am turning the corner, I wanted to catch up on some of the films that I've been able to view over the past few weeks but haven't quite had the chance to review.
Instead of "full reviews" of each of these films, all with separate articles, I've instead consolidated more shallow dives than usual into each recent film and have lumped them all together into this one piece. I wish I could do more, and give each movie the same thoughtful consideration that I try to bring to all of my written reviews. But I needed to write, for my own sake. And this is hopefully better than nothing.
I hope to be back on track soon, fully invested into this dream job of mine. But in the meantime, please bear with me as I give you a few "drive-by" reactions to some of the latest movies that are seeing release this weekend, or may have been released on past weekends. Here goes it. And thanks for your continued support.
If you're still buzzing from watching "Hamilton" on Disney+, HULU has answered your prayers. The new documentary called "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is a necessary watch for any fan of "Hamilton," and because I've yet to encounter anyone who has seen it and ISN'T a fan, then that means that this documentary is for us all.
The musical icon that is Lin-Manuel Miranda mentions a quote from Orson Welles in "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme." The quote says: "If you want to tell a story with a happy ending, it depends on where you want to end the story." For Miranda, his "happy ending" story is still being written, and you could have ended it at any point past 2015 and it would still seem like a fairy-tale. Of course that year, Miranda's "Hamilton" exploded onto the scene and the stage - and our culture - have never been the same.
Anybody who has seen "Hamilton" knows how profoundly talented Lin-Manuel Miranda is, but I'm here to say: You ain't seen nothin' yet until you see him in this doc. Miraculously, a camera was rolling waaaaay back in 2005, which was a pretty big year for the improv-hip-hop group, "Freestyle Love Supreme," a group of rag-tag, sensationally talented kids whose creative limits knew no bounds.
What is "improv-hip-hop" you might ask? Think of improvisational comedy, where a comedian doesn't work off of a script or memorized lines, and feeds off of the audience in order to create comedy right their on stage. Well, this is the same, but instead of telling a joke, this group would make up a rap. Improv by itself is an energy that cannot be bottled...it's highs of doing it successfully are only matched by the lows of bombing at it.
And Miranda wasn't the only "Hamilton" star at the center of it. Isn't it heart-warming to know that Alexander Hamilton wasn't just George Washington's "right-hand man," but that the actor who played him on-stage, Chris Jackson, also goes way back with his buddy "Lin-Man", and was also a part of Freestyle Love Supreme? And that "Hamilton" director Tommy Kail was too?
"We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" plays as a super-hero origin movie, and to see these now-legendary stars back in their unpolished youth is quite inspirational. Their trajectory towards world fame seems inevitable now, seeing just how talented this group of people was. The movie doesn't just focus on the stars we know though, but also the other players who might have missed out on the fame that "Hamilton" brought, but who remain ever a part of Miranda's life.
While it's humbling to hear Miranda discuss how he gets the same nerves in his stomach before each and every performance, or how the "Darkwing Duck" theme-song played a role in Miranda's early development, but the doc also includes an interesting side-story about one of the group's members, the uber-talented Utkarsh Ambudkar. Viewers may recognize him from movies like "Pitch Perfect" or a number of TV roles, but wait until you hear how he was almost Aaron Burr. I mean, I could never imagine Aaron Burr as anyone else that Leslie Odom Jr., but hearing how Utkarsh missed out on the role is a tragedy.
The fun of "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is not just that it works as a rags-to-riches success story, but how it deepens the meaning of some of the themes Miranda deals with in "Hamilton." This doc IS the room where it happened, and there's a million things that Miranda and crew STILL haven't done...just you wait.
Genre: Music, Documentary.
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Featuring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Jackson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Thomas Kail, Andrew Bancroft, James Monroe Iglehart.
Directed by Andrew Fried.
"We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is now streaming only on HULU.
If you've never seen "Hamilton," don't fret...you're actually not alone. While it has been an absolute phenomenon since its off-Broadway debut in 2015, the show, its music and its stars have been impossible to avoid ever since. EVERYBODY has at least heard of "Hamilton." And it seems like there aren't too many who haven't seen it.
I confess that not only had I not seen it - until now - but I had managed to avoid any spoilers over the years too. I always imagined I'd see "Hamilton," but I never thought it would be from the comfort of my own home, at least not for the first time. Now, "Hamilton" is being released July 3rd exclusively on Disney+, after the pandemic forced Disney to alter its plans of releasing it in movie theaters later this Fall.
If you're reading this review, you're probably either A), like me, a poor, unfortunate soul that has somehow never seen "Hamilton" and you're curious if this at-home version lives up to the hype, or B), you have already seen "Hamilton" in some way, shape or form, and you're checking to see if you can ever trust another review from me ever again.
Let me say this about "Hamilton": I've never entered into a film with such unbearably high expectations. And I've never left a film having felt more blown away.
If you're American, it is very possible you have never heard of Eurovision. I admittedly never had until seeing this film. But to those in Europe, this would be a fascinating detail to discover, as Eurovision is every bit a part of Europe's pop culture as, say, NASCAR is in America. You may not watch NASCAR or be a fan of it, but you know it's there. Having been around for DECADES in Europe, Eurovision is a televised international song contest (think "American Idol" or "The Voice" only bigger) that averages roughly 200 million viewers per year.
Knowing that Eurovision is something that really exists may in turn be a fun fact for Americans to discover, however this inherent disconnect with an American audience makes the new Netflix comedy "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" ("ESC:TSOFS") hard to grasp.
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