Musical

REVIEW: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

NETFLIX
Rated: PG
Run Time: 122 minutes
Director: David E. Talbert

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a 2020 Christmas musical fantasy film written and directed by David E. Talbert. It stars Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Davina Phillip, Ricky Martin, and Madalen Mills.

This Netflix original checks off every box for a cheerful Christmas movie. There’s a character who has lost all happiness and a young cheerful kid to bring back cheer into their life right in time for the holidays. The grump is Jeronicus Jangle (Whitaker) who used to be a brilliant inventor extraordinaire and loving family man. His life changed when his wife died and his apprentice, Gustafson (Key), “borrows indefinitely,” the plans for Jangle’s most brilliant work for mass production. He sends off his only daughter, Jessica (Rose), so he can live alone in his misery. It seems all is lost until Jessica sends his granddaughter Journey (Mills) to his store to stay with him. She’s smiling all the way with a head full of dreams and a belief in the impossible that would make Disney consider replacing Mickey Mouse. The film then progresses as a normal Christmas film would. However, the difference here between other typical Christmas films is the cast. The cast is superb all round, but newcomer Madalen Mills as Journey, and Lisa Davina Phillip as Ms. Johnston steal the scene when they appear. The ENTIRE cast is truly outstanding and that makes the typical Christmas story fun and moving.

The catchy music was mostly penned by Philip Lawerence, Michael Diskint and Davy Nathan (John Legend writing one song, “Make it Work”), though inspired from prior musicals from Disney otherwise. The song writer’s embed elements of the blues, jazz, and Afrobeats into these songs that make them feel fresh. There’s even a moment where James Brown’s iconic cape routine is emulated. The music is supported by fantastic dance numbers. Each big number feels fun and will get the audience moving. The costumes are also phenomenal, putting this film in right in the middle Victorian England and gives the feeling as if the story was from a Charles Dickens novel. It’s as if one combined “A Christmas Carol,” The Wiz (1978) with a twist of Disney magic from Mary Poppins (1964) and they produced this film.

Madalen Mills as Journey appears in a scene of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey | NETFLIX (2020).

The most important part of this film is it’s message. Though Journey may have some of the cliche optimistic child qualities one would find in a Christmas movie, she also has important differences. Unlike a lot of the child protagonists in these kinds of movies, she is not gullible and easily outmaneuvered by the antagonist. She is also interested in the fantasy version of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The film shines a light on these fields of study in hopes to encourage children in their academic pursuits. Bringing more people to the STEM field is important for our country to grow and be able to compete with other countries who prioritize these fields of study. This film shows that it’s good to be interested in these areas using real life properties but with a twist of fantasy, e.g. “Square Root of Possible.”

The only flaws are that it is a fairly predictable film, and there are a few plot holes too. Also, Christmas does not really have much of an impact in the film. It takes place around the holidays and it provides hope, but it does not really apply outside of that. While the majority of the singing is great, not everyone is on key and some seemed more talk-singing than singing. Then the ones who really could sing, they weren’t on screen. When they were there, they were phenomenal, such as Rose who voiced the Disney character, Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Overall, this film is one of Netflix’s best original movies. Don’t be surprised if this story finds its way onto a theatre stage once the pandemic is over. This film has the ability to become a Holiday classic, but if not, it will be memorable for the music alone. Definitely check this movie out, and be ready to dance and feel the music!

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Who Tells Your Story: The Legacy of Hamilton

The original cast of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015).

If you asked me who Alexander Hamilton was five years ago, I would’ve maybe remembered that he was the guy on the ten dollar bill. If you asked me what he did with his life, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much at all. My interest in Hamilton: An American Musical began when I was on vacation in New York City. We were walking through Broadway, trying to find the specific theater our show was being performed in, when we passed the Richard Rodgers Theater that was housing Hamilton. I thought that the outside of the theater looked really cool; it was something I had never seen before. However, I didn’t feel the need to look anything up about the musical until later.

When I returned to college for the Spring semester, I was browsing Pinterest when I saw someone had animated Hamilton as a traditional hand-drawn Disney film. I was intrigued that a musical about the Revolutionary War had gotten so popular; not only that, but a hip-hop and rap musical had gotten so popular. I downloaded the soundtrack, looked up the lyrics on Google so I could understand what they were actually singing/rapping, and prepared to see what the hype was all about. I was completely captivated by the musical genius and the story of Hamilton. Thus began my obsession with everything Lin-Manuel Miranda has done. In the process of learning about how and why he created Hamilton, I began to understand how influential Hamilton was—not only as a small glimpse into a lesser known narrative of the Revolutionary War, but celebrating diversity. As Miranda so eloquently puts it, “Hamilton is the story of America then told by America now.”

Who Lives

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

One of the main criticisms of Hamilton is that while almost all of the characters are played by people of color (POC), there are actually no POC characters in the story. There is one throw away line about Sally Hemmings (a slave that Thomas Jefferson owned and had a relationship with) but that character is played by an ensemble dancer and has no significant involvement in the story aside from taking a letter from Thomas Jefferson. Other than this three second sequence in the song “What Did I Miss?” there are no characters of color in Hamilton.

The phrase, “History is written by the victors” is commonplace now in this age, but no less true. Right now, especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, we are more focused on scrutinizing our media and the way we view and understand history. Many films about race have come under fire for being “White savior movies.” Historical accounts of people of color have been coming forward to highlight how significant their role was in the history of our country—it seems as though diversity has never been more important, analyzed, and talked about. So why did Miranda choose not to include POC characters in the story? After all, In the Heights (Miranda’s first musical) was entirely about POC characters. Couldn’t he find a Revolutionary War story from a perspective of a person of color?

Who Dies

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

Before Hamilton, my knowledge of Revolutionary War history was very minimal: the British were taxing the colonies without allowing the colonies to have representation in Parliament, we protested, revolutionary sentiment spread , we went to war, George Washington was awesome, and somewhere in between Ben Franklin discovered electricity. That was pretty much it. I had no idea what Alexander Hamilton contributed, or who he even was. Even the lyrics of the opening number of Hamilton acknowledges this: “His enemies destroyed his rep/ America forgot him.”

Hamilton’s first act focuses on a group of revolutionaries that not many people are aware of: Hamilton himself, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan. We are given a very basic story of what they contributed to the war effort, all under the legendary George Washington. The second act takes historical figures we know (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and deconstructs them into more antagonistic roles while still respecting all that they did for the founding of America.

While Hamilton may be historical fiction and has taken creative liberties, it is a brilliant introduction (and it really is only an introduction) into the complex nature of the founding of our nation. However, I think the historical backdrop is secondary to the actual message of Hamilton.

Who Tells Your Story

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) take a bow at the end of the show | Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Ultimately, Hamilton is a tragedy. The character even refers to himself as “another Scottish tragedy,” comparing his life to Macbeth’s. Hamilton was so caught up in his legacy (a constant theme of the show); he spent a plentitude of time dedicated to his writing and securing that legacy at the cost of his wife and children. He was even willing to die in order to be remembered—and eventually, he did die over an argument about his reputation with Aaron Burr.

The truly ironic thing about Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy is that he would’ve been forgotten if not for Eliza—the wife he neglected for so long. In an earlier draft of the song “Burn” Eliza sings, “And when the time comes//Explain to the children//The pain and embarrassment//You put their mother through//When will you learn//That they are your legacy?//We are your legacy.” The final shot of the musical is Miranda leading Eliza up to the front of the stage, and she sees the audience, realizing that Hamilton’s legacy exists because of her.

Miranda has taken the founding of America—a story told traditionally through the lens of White men—and recontextualizes it to fit the story of modern America. Hamilton is a story about immigration, slavery, feminism, the value of family and marriage fidelity, and the inherent worth of all people regardless of gender, race, or financial status. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr in the Broadway production, viewed the message of Hamilton as a vehicle for these themes when he addressed Vice President Pence:

“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical (2015)

Rather than telling the people of color’s story during the Revolutionary War, Miranda instead chose to correlate the struggles of the Founding Fathers then to the diverse America now. Through our own dedication and determination, we have a chance to improve our nation, and leave behind a legacy of good for our children. People of all colors, genders, sexualities, races, nationalities, and abilities have an opportunity to “rise up” and create a better world. And that is a message we so desperately need in our time.

REVIEW: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

NETFLIX
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 123 minutes
Director: David Dobkin

Do you ever find yourself dreading a movie you don’t want to watch, because deep down you know you’re not going to like it? You might be asking yourself, “Why am I even going to watch a movie I have no interest in seeing?” As a movie reviewer, I ask myself this same question far too often—specifically anything starring Will Ferrell. Enter Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (let’s just call it ‘Fire Saga‘ for short) is a 2020 film that was released June 26 on Netflix. The film is directed by David Dobkin and stars Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, two Icelandic musicians that dream of performing and winning the Eurovision Song Contest. For us uncultured Americans who might be unfamiliar with the Eurovision Song Contest, this is a real international song competition that has been held annually since 1956. Competitors from 50 different European countries (and more recently some non-European countries) compete in a sing-off where each individual country is allowed to submit one song to be performed by their representing artists. It is one of the most watched non-sporting television events in the world.

Getting back to my previous comment about dreading this movie, “dreading” might be too harsh of a word. Will Ferrell movies just aren’t my cup of tea. Like many other SNL actors that have made the jump to feature films, Ferrell has his fans and his detractors. I wouldn’t consider myself in either of those camps; his comedy style just doesn’t have that much appeal to me. I hope my review of ‘Fire Saga’ is as objectively fair as possible, admitting that I probably had made up my mind about this movie within the first five minutes.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams appear in a scene of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga | Netflix.

‘Fire Saga’ tells the story of Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir (a play on words that I am only now noticing), two Icelanders’ journey to fulfill their lifelong dream of performing at the Eurovision Song Contest. Lars has dealt with criticism and ridicule from his small Icelandic town, and the reproach of a father who has felt nothing but disappointment toward his son. Sigrit is the second member of Fire Saga, and the only faithful supporter of Lars and his dreams. Unfortunately, Sigrit is also the only one with any real singing talent. Along their journey they are helped and hindered by other performers at the Eurovision Song Contest, namely the Russian singer and favorite-to-win-the-competition, Alexander Lemtov (played by Dan Stevens); and Greek singer, Mita Xenaki (played by Melissanthi Mahut). It’s an odd sight seeing quality actors like McAdams and Stevens starring in a movie like ‘Fire Saga’. Perhaps it was the opportunity to go travel to incredibly beautiful shooting locations like Iceland, Scotland, London and Tel Aviv, Israel. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to make a quick paycheck starring in a film that required little-to-no effort on anyone’s part. Ferrell and McAdams make for an odd duo, and their chemistry, even for a movie like this, never felt like it gelled.

Will Ferrell movies have a knack for the silly and outrageous, and ‘Fire Saga’ is no exception. If you’re not a fan of Will Ferrell movies you’ll likely find your eyes becoming exhausted from all the excessive eye-rolling you’ll experience from this movie. Again, like most Will Ferrell movies, the plot is razor thin, and the occasional laughs are also mixed in with groans. There are some heartfelt moments between Lars and his disapproving father (played by Pierce Brosnan), and some very catchy pop music, which just might end up being the highlight of the movie. My Marianne performs the incredible female vocals for Sigrit, while Ferrell does his own vocals, which appear on the soundtrack too. I was surprised to see that Dan Stevens did not do his own singing. He has the ability and the talent, but for whatever reason, did not perform his iconic “Lion of Love” song.

The deciding factor for my recommendation came down to two things: whether or not you’re a fan of Will Ferrell, and the excessive run time. At 123 minutes, ‘Fire Saga’ is about 25 minutes too long. There’s only so much of this kind of comedy that I can take, and 2 hours is just too long for me. I know Ferrell has his fans out there, but I’m just not one of them. For the Ferrell fans, you’ve likely seen this movie already, but if you haven’t, go turn it on and enjoy the silly laughs that has made Ferrell’s career what it is today. For the rest of you, this is just not a movie I can recommend.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Valley Girl

United Artists Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 102 minutes
Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg

As a critic I always try to divorce my movie-watching experience from the film I am watching. For example, it is not fair to fault a film being bad if I am in an unusually bad mood, or for it to be boring if I am unusually tired, etc; however, sometimes such objectivity is impossible as I am human and my viewing experience impacts my overall experience. Such may prove to be the case with the new remake of Valley Girl—although, I will try to be as objective as possible.

Valley Girl (2020) ended up being the first new movie I have seen in a theater environment for several months since the Coronavirus quarantine began. I watched it at my local drive-in movie theater called the Redwood Drive-in Theatre. I’ve been to this theater before but it had been a while as it is a bit of a drive from my home.

There are pluses and minuses to seeing a movie at the drive-in; but as the only option available, it was refreshing to see a new movie on some kind of big screen! Since I am on a strict no-salt diet right now I didn’t have my usual popcorn, but I had snacks and turned my FM radio to the correct station, and watched my movie to my heart’s content. It was great!

So how about the actual movie: it is not perfect but overall I had a good time with Valley Girl. The original with Nicolas Cage is also a lot of fun but not a nostalgic favorite of mine. I don’t know what people who are super attached to it will think, but I think the decision to make the film a musical was inspired. Overall it was a bubbly, effervescent, fun film with a very likable leading presence from Jessica Rothe.

Chloe Bennet, Jessica Rothe, Ashleigh Murray and Jessie Ennis in a scene of Valley Girl (2020) | United Artists Releasing.

In the film Alicia Silverstone plays an older Julie Richman (Jessica Rothe), narrating her life experiences to her daughter. In particular, she tells the story of when she fell in love with the bad boy from the other side of town named Randy (Josh Whitehouse). Her preppy friends don’t understand her decision nor do her parents (played by Judy Greer and Rob Huebel).

Valley Girl is a high school love story so it plays out as you would expect, and that is fine. What sets this film apart (and what will probably be divisive) is their choice to make it a jukebox musical. In fact, the official soundtrack of Valley Girl has over 20 numbers on it. I’m a very easy sell when it comes to musicals and this had me sold. The musical numbers are bright, fun and full of energy.

The downside to Valley Girl is the acting. While Rothe is good, most of the other performances (particularly YouTuber Logan Paul as her evil ex-boyfriend) leave something to be desired. I was hoping he would only be a cameo but he has a good number of lines and he delivers them like the amateur he is. Whitehouse is also pretty bland and uninteresting as our male lead. He certainly ain’t anything close to Nicholas Cage, but who is?

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in a scene of Valley Girl (2020) | United Artists Releasing.

Mae Whitman also appears as Whitehouse’s rebellious sister Jack, and she’s great as usual. I would just like Hollywood to start casting her in more adult roles outside of these kinds of high school films—she’s a great actress and she deserves it.

Nevertheless, Valley Girl is filmed with a lot of energy and personality by director Rachel Lee Goldenberg. I enjoyed Rothe in the lead, the 80’s fashion and sensibilities, and the fun musical numbers. That’s certainly enough for me to give it a recommendation. Plus, if you can see it in a drive-in near you GO! You’ll have a blast. At least I did!

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

Here’s a look at my drive-in experience and actually seeing a new movie during the Coronavirus pandemic!

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