Shirley is a spellbinding experience, full of continuous camera techniques, an impressive cast, and a story that will fester under people's skin.
Shirley is not a movie for everyone, but it's an intriguing film and one that you cannot shake afterward. Upheld by the talented cast (Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman), Shirley's boundary bending mechanisms will rattle your bones. This approach was uncanny, yet all the more mesmerizing. Understandably, this approach may not be for every viewer — leaving one in a hypnotic state of mind. Shirley feels dreamlike frame after frame, as we unravel the mind of the great horror writer, Shirley Jackson. Directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline's Madeline), we feel the chills of this film's inner self shiver through our soul. Shirley follows a young, newlywed couple (a powerful Young and a persuasive Lerman) who are invited to stay with the Jackson's — in hopes of starting a new life and to be mentored by them. Shirley Jackson (a masterclass Moss) is a renowned horror author, who's at the start of writing a new novel. Jackson was known for her short story extravaganza — including powerful pieces like "Charles," Mademoiselle, July 1948, or "The Lottery," The New Yorker, June 26, 1948.
Where to begin with Mrs. Jackson, a kingpin for horror, mystery, and Gothic writing — she was also an inspiration to many future writers, like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Claire Fuller, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson. Mrs. Jackson was married to an American literary critic named Stanley Edgar Hyman (a never better Stuhlbarg). Hyman taught at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and did not believe in a monogamous relationship. During their marriage, Hyman was adulterous, notably with his students, and Jackson reluctantly agreed to his proposition of maintaining an open relationship. I cannot imagine the emotional toll this must have caused Mrs. Jackson — Decker perfectly executes this tension between Jackson and Hyman in the film. We see Hyman make advances to Rose (Young), as she deflects and retreats to Jackson for sanctuary. Jackson's physical and emotional health spirals in and out throughout the movie, as she desperately tries to finish her new novel. Hyman's verbal cues don't help either, as he's critiquing her on everything thing she does — written and non-written.
Like Shirley's mind, the film's camerawork is a continuous motion, zigzagging throughout every scene. To me, this was a representation of Shirley's emotional health. There's one still shot at the very end of the film where Shirley has finally completed her novel. The stillness in this shot represented Shirley finally being at peace with herself. The cinematography is shot like a dreamlike sequence — exemplified through bright outside colors and hazy inside colors. Shirley is a biopic that forgoes normal film structures, keeping the audience on edge. I would not say I loved Shirley, but I deeply admire this kind of filmmaking. On top of all this, we are granted with another superb performance by Elisabeth Moss — through rage, fearlessness, and acute attention to detail, Moss delivers another Oscar-worthy performance. She's at the top of her game and nothing will stop her. While Stuhlbarg delivers another flawless supporting role. Known for films like Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, Arrival, and Hugo, Stuhlbarg continues his impressive film resume. Shirley is a wild film about a legendary writer, who composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories over a period of two decades. Shirley is a movie that will creep inside your bones and stay there until the end of time.
Shirley is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, nudity, language and brief disturbing images.
Directed by Josephine Decker
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman.
Available to watch on Hulu.
Tigertail is a beautiful love letter to America's immigration experience. This slow-burning family saga flourishes frame after frame — leaving our viewer's with a gracious cinematic wonder.
Tigertail is a wonderful-little film, shedding light on the Asian-American journey and one family's pursuit of immigrating to America. Directed by Alan Yang (Co-creator, Master of None), Tigertail is a deeply personal film that will resonate with your soul. This film marks as Yang's directorial debut — upheld by a thoughtful script, three-dimensional characters, and a love story that will break you. Tigertail is 'loosely' based on Yang's dad's own immigration journey from the shores of Taiwan to the skyscrapers of the United States. A poignant film that's superbly acted and glowing with green and yellow tints. Yang's script is a compassionate story that blossoms throughout the film — uplifted by talented actors and gorgeous cinematography. Cinematographer Nigel Bluck adds layers and depth with a skill vision of warm color palettes. A moving picture that sticks with you long after the credits are done.
In this potent multi-generational drama, Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee) is a young Taiwanese factory worker, who makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland, seeking a better opportunity in America. But, this comes with a difficult price, Pin-Jui must leave the woman he loves behind, Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang). Pin-Jui is allowed to make it to America through an arranged marriage with Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li). After Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen get into a car for the airport, he sees a woman who looks like Yuan in a crowded market as they drive by. She glances back at him and in the blink of an eye, she's gone. Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen make it to New York City — the couple move into a small rundown apartment. Pin-Jui gets a job at a local grocery store, where a works tirelessly to provide for his new family. Zhenzhen meets another Taiwanese woman at the local laundromat and they become friends. Overtime, Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen begin growing apart as a couple, only staying together because of their children. Jump to the present: we see an older Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) arriving back home from his mother's funeral in Taiwan.
Pin-Jui is greeted by his daughter Angela (Christine Ko). Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen have been divorced for a while now and his relationship with his daughter is fragmented. Yang constructively jumps back and forth between the past and present in Pin-Jui's life. Pin-Jui must reconnect with his daughter and move towards finally building the life he once dreamed of having. Tigertail is a beautiful story of family, loss, and reconnection. It's also a powerful bond for the Asian-American experience and multi-generational love. There's a scene towards the end where Pin-Jui takes his daughter to visit Taiwan with him. It's a gentle moment between the film's father-daughter relationship. Tigertail is a little movie that resonates deep inside your heart, flourishing frame after frame.
Tigertail is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For some thematic elements, language, smoking and brief sensuality.
Directed by Alan Yang
Starring Hong-Chi Lee, Tzi Ma, Yo-Hsing Fang, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Fiona Fu, and Joan Chen.
Michelle Obama's Becoming is a fairly intimate journey with the former First Lady, as we travel with her through public life. Uplifting, Becoming embodies the best in Mrs. Obama and her mission to help our youth.
Netflix's Becoming is a delightful documentary that unveils how far our country has come during the Obama years and how far our country still needs to go. The doc offers an up-close look at Mrs. Obama's life, taking viewers behind the scenes, as she embarks on a 34-city tour promoting her memoir, Becoming. Director Nadia Hallgren highlights the power of our nation's community to help bridge our partisan divide. Through the lens, we see the spirit of relationships that open up when we honestly share our stories. Published in 2018: Mrs. Obama's memoir describes a deeply personal experience that led her to become our country's first Black First Lady. Becoming talks about Mrs. Obama's Southside roots, how she found her voice, as well as her time in the White House. Here, Mrs. Obama had to balance both her role as the First Lady — like her public health campaign (Let's Move!) — and her role as a mother to her daughters Malia and Sasha. One million copies of Becoming were also donated to First Book, an American nonprofit organization, which provides books to children.
Through grace and multi-city conversations, Mrs. Obama gently shines her presence into leadership for our youth. Becoming also recalls moments of profound change and progress during the Obama years — the historic 2009 presidential inauguration and 2015's legalization of same-sex marriage (LGBT rights) by the Supreme Court. Yet, Mrs. Obama doesn't hold back on talking about the racial inequalities, police brutality, and gun violence that still ravage through our country. We talk about Black and Brown communities that are still disproportioned. We talk about the mass shootings that still persist in our country with no gun control laws insight — specifically the 2015 Charleston church massacre. And we talk about the Black men and women who continue to be killed by police brutality — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice — honing in on the importance of Black Lives Matter. We also see how Mrs. Obama interacts with our youth, encouraging them to vote — this is how change starts. Productive activism and voting are how we, as a country, will move forward towards a brighter future.
Mrs. Obama doesn't hold back on her criticism towards the Democratic voters who didn't turn out in 2016 — "The day I left the White House, I write about how painful it was to sit on that stage — a lot of our folks didn't vote, so it was almost like, a slap in the face." Sadly, there's a lot of progress that's been overturned from the Obama years, which is why this November is highly critical that we get out and vote. As of now, our country is heading in a terrible direction, making the 2020 election more dire than 2016. This election will affect generations to come — so please make sure you get out and vote, vote, vote. In the end, Becoming is flawed in certain areas, yet Mrs. Obama's compassion and grace help guide this documentary in the right direction. “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” — former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Becoming is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For some thematic elements and brief language.
Directed by Nadia Hallgren
Starring Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Gayle King, Craig Robinson, Marian Shields Robinson, Phoebe Robinson, and Oprah Winfrey.
Available to watch on Netflix.
There's a lot to unpack in Netflix's Athlete A — a harrowing documentary that unveils the horrors of sexual abuse and a culture that allowed it to persist for years.
Athlete A is a challenging documentary by its nature, but it is necessary to hear from these brave women — their stories are vital. USA Gymnastics' toxic culture needs to change — in light of the reporting, the trials, and this documentary, we see an organization whose main priority was to protect the brand and not the girls. Filmmakers, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power), grapple with the corrupt system inside USAG and the culture of predatory behavior that allowed Dr. Larry Nassar to prey on young girls and to continue doing so unprosecuted. Athlete A also shows us the power of journalism, its importance for holding others accountable, and the virtue of knowing the truth. The name, "Athlete A," refers to a then-anonymous gymnast whose complaint led to the first public disclosure of decades of abuse by Nassar. We would later find out "Athlete A" is gymnast Maggie Nichols, whose complaint was buried for more than a year, until 2016. By then, a team of reporters (Steve Berta, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, and Tim Evans) from The Indianapolis Star were already investigating other abuse claims from the nation's most well-known Olympic organization.
The IndyStar had also spoken to other survivors, like former gymnasts Rachael Denhollander and Jamie Dantzscher. The abuse and change in this organization date back to the dynamic shift of the sport during the 1976 Olympics, when Nadia Comăneci ushered in a new era of gymnasts. After 1976, the competitors got younger and smaller — guiding a path for body and mind manipulation, and a system of fear and intimidation from adults. Within this new structure, coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi carved out a method of systemic verbal and physical abuse as the only model for achieving gold medals. During the '90s, Nassar had propelled himself deep into the organization, while he was commonly known as "the only nice adult" to these female gymnasts. It was here, where Nassar would gain trust — often passing out candy and making jokes to the children. When he was left alone in one-on-one interactions with them, this is where the abuse started. Nassar even strategically abused some of the girls when their parents were in the same room. He would position his body in ways to block what he was actually doing, leaving these girls traumatized for the years that followed.
The investigation by The IndyStar expanded over a period of nine months and found that the abuses were widespread because "predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms." These discoveries were downplayed and covered up by USAG's former CEO, Steve Penny. In October of 2018, Penny was arrested on the charge of evidence tampering in the Nassar case and was also accused of removing documents linked to the Nassar sexual abuse case from the Karolyi Ranch, the gymnastics training facility in Texas. Also in 2018, Lou Anna Simon (former Michigan State University president) and Kathie Klages (former MSU gymnastics coach) were both arrested with felonies and misdemeanor counts for lying to police about knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar and a disregard to the Title IX complaint against him from 2014. After explosive revelations came out in 2015 about Nassar — two years later, he would be sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. Additionally, in January 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. Finally, in February 2018, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to an additional three counts of sexual assault — assuring that he will die behind bars. Over two decades, more than 368 persons alleged that they were sexually assaulted "by gym owners, coaches, and staff working for gymnastics programs across the country."
Since The IndyStar first reported the scandal in September 2016, more than 265 women, including former USAG national team members Dantzscher, Nichols, Morgan White, Jeanette Antolin, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Jordyn Wieber, Sabrina Vega, Ashton Locklear, Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Amanda Jetter, Tasha Schwikert, Mattie Larson, Bailie Key, Kennedy Baker, and Alyssa Baumann, have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them — making this one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in sports history. There's a powerful scene in Athlete A, where Angela Povilaitis (former assistant AG of Michigan) had 100 women come forward to give testimony in front of Nassar. These brave women looked Nassar directly in the face, as he glances down, and begin speaking of what Nassar had taken from them — physically and emotionally. That scene is a sense of awe as we see these courageous women openly speak up. Athlete A is a devastating and inspiring documentary about survivors speaking out and a culture of cruelty thriving within the institutions of elite-gymnastics. Athlete A reveals a sense of triumph for these brave athletes of refused to be silenced by an institution that rejected their humanity and only sought for the gold.
Athlete A is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For mature thematic content including detailed descriptions of sexual abuse of minors.
Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Available to watch on Netflix.
A modern reinvention and provocation of Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is refreshing, funny, and brilliantly carried by its two leads (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti). It's also one of 2020's best romances.
You'll fall in love with Palm Springs, 2020's time-loop phenomenon that's dazzling, wild, and irresistible frame after frame. It's a romcom that smartly blends science fiction, comedy, and drama all packed into one refreshing concept of immorality. In his directorial debut, Max Barbakow digs deep into reworking the Groundhog Day formula, while also relying heavily on Leaving Las Vegas. Similar scripts have worked with this formula and expanded upon it, think Netflix's Russian Doll. Palm Springs also succeeds in expanding upon this initial approach, blossoming into a potluck of genres and messages. Writer Andy Siara cleverly started the film with Nyles (a boozin' Andy Samberg) already stuck within the time-loop, making Palm Springs feel more like "a sequel to a movie that doesn't exist." Siara then adds Sarah (a wonderful Cristin Milioti) as a second character within the loop, serving as a navigator for the audience. Our film follows a wedding in Palm Springs, CA, where Nyles meets Sarah, the maid of honor, and the family black sheep.
After Nyles rescues Sarah from a disastrous toast, Sarah becomes attracted to Nyles and his nihilistic way of life. Yet, this all becomes complicated when Nyles is hunted down by a man named Roy (a hardy JK Simmons), shooting bow-in-arrows into his leg and shoulder. Sarah screams from the shock and horror of this encounter and begins following Nyles as he crawls into a mysterious cave. Nyles mumbles back at Sarah to turn around, but curiosity killed the cat. Sarah suddenly awakes the next morning — thinking it's the day after the wedding, however, Sarah soon finds herself reliving the wedding day (November 9th) again. Nyles reveals to Sarah that he's been stuck in the time-loop for God knows how long — if he dies or falls asleep he begins the same day over again. Nyles also reveals the man, Roy (Simmons), who occasionally hunts him was anciently brought into the loop with him leaving bad blood. This surreal interruption leads Sarah to trustfully join Nyles in embracing the idea that nothing in life really matters. Our two leads begin wreaking spirited havoc on her sister's (Camila Mendes) wedding celebration and around the town of Palm Springs — day after day.
Palm Springs is a near-perfect film that studies the effects of going through the motions of life while blending multiple genres into this wild film. Samberg has proven that he can both handle emotional drama and be a romantic lead — a new side I'm excited to see him in. While Milioti was able to shed both her emotional splendor and comedic charm. Milioti and Samberg's irresistible chemistry shines frame after frame as we follow their journey through the desert of vast eternity. Through many booze and even some special mushrooms, our characters hit the repeat on living like there's no tomorrow. This provocative romcom will make you laugh until your sides hurt and simultaneously punch you in the gut with its emotional toll. Our characters grapple with the real-life struggles of depression, pessimism, and abnegation in their repeating world — something many people are experiencing now for the first time in this COVID world of ours. Yet, this doesn't stop Nyles and Sarah from finding the best in themselves and finding comfort in the presence of each other. Palm Springs is a movie one could literally watch over and over again — through dark humor and a modern message on self-reflection, Palm Springs is one of the best films to come out in 2020. You'll find solace in this rejuvenating romance, I guarantee it.
Palm Springs is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence.
Directed by Max Barbakow
Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Chris Pang, Jacqueline Obradors, June Squibb, Tongayi Chirisa, and Dale Dickey.
Available to watch on Hulu
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is messy, narratively speaking, yet Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams' charm and chemistry keep this catchy tune full of visual fireworks and laugh-out-loud moments.
Through glamour, silliness, and high-in production numbers — Eurovision turned out to be a delightful comedy. This affectionate lampoon, directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus), delivers a goofy story chop full of pop songs and over-the-top production numbers. Ferrell and McAdams shine in the roles as Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir, aspiring musicians who are given the opportunity to represent their country (Iceland) at the world's biggest song competition, Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision's plot is preposterous, yet we are sucked in with its infectious charm and addictive songs. Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams) are best friends, born and raised in Iceland, who make music together for their band Fire Saga. Lars and Sigrit apply and are selected to take part in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Lars' dream is to win the Eurovision Song Contest and prove to his father (a bearded Pierce Brosnan), that he is a true artist. Lars and Sigrit's performance at the Söngvakeppnin is a disaster, leading them to leave the competition early. Looking out from a distance at the boat party taking place, Lars and Sigrit are sadden by their terrible performance. Suddenly ... the boat explodes killing everyone on board — even Iceland's beloved singer Katiana Lindsdóttir (Demi Lovato).
With Fire Saga being the only two surviving contestants, they automatically become Iceland's entry. A bizarre turn of events for a bizarre film — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele. Lars and Sigrit make their way to Scotland, where the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest is being held. Here we meet a variety of different singers, including Russian singer Alexander Lemtov (a hilarious Dan Stevens). Lemtov's number includes fire, lion pattern costumes, and a burning passion for seduction. Lars and Sigrit decide to perform their catchy song, "Double Trouble." Other lavishing songs include "Volcano Man," "Jaja Ding Dong," "In the Mirror," and "Husavik." These songs will get stuck in your head until the end of time: "Woke up at night/I heard floating chords/They guided me ... "Volcano Man/He's got my melting heart/Volcanic Protector Man." Several former contestants of the Eurovision Song Contest also made cameos in the film, including Swedish pop singer, Molly Sandén (2006 Junior contestant), whose voice was harmonized with McAdams' voice creating the singing voice of Sigrit. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a bit long, but it's upheld by amusing numbers and funny moments by our two leads (Ferrell and McAdams). Sigrit even believes in the old Icelandic tradition of elves, yes this is still very much a thing. Through all of the glittery costumes, infectious song numbers, and a pair of talented leads, we are given an entertaining show to waste time on. COVID may have you down right now, but Eurovision can help uplift your spirits — Viking accents and all.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language.
Directed by David Dobkin
Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Natasia Demetriou, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jamie Demetriou, and Demi Lovato.
Rejoice! Hamilton has finally arrived to Disney+, and it's better than ever. It's superior Theatre entertainment at its finest; that beautifully shines beyond Broadway's stage. This marvelous time-capsule is full of high energy and exemplifies the rap opera about our "ten-dollar Founding Father." Five-stars.
The streaming event of the year has arrived to Disney+, and it's a bonafide stage recording of musical fireworks. Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2015 phenomenon has captured America's heart and will continue to surprise you even to this day. The acclaimed show musical tells the story of an American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton — blending hip hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes. Hamilton also casts non-white actors (Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American) as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures. Miranda has described the musical as "America then, as told by America now." It's a glorious melody of our country's beginning shown through the eyes of diversity. Hamilton also went on to receive a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11 awards, including Best Musical. The pop-culture phenomenon also went on to win a Grammy (Best Musical Theater Album) and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Shot over three days in June of 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York, we are blessed to see the original cast in their respected roles.
Referred to as Hamilfilm, the recorded stage version is a feast for our eyes. My hope for the future is that we will see more live recordings of Broadway musicals. It will be a great way to introduce people to the wonders of Broadway beyond the stage. Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography inspired Miranda's Broadway musical — "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten/spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor/grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" Miranda is a first-generation Puerto Rican who puts on the blue coat as Mr. Hamilton while helping to support the revolution. Miranda's energetic presence will have you on your feet cheering him on. Hamilton proclaims, "I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot!" Miranda is powerful, yet he knows the show is more than just him — full of other grandeur artists that prevail Hamilton to another dimension. At the start of the revolution, Hamilton befriends Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan), and John Laurens (Anthony Ramos). Respectfully, Diggs, Onaodowan, and Ramos all play dual roles in the musical. In the first act, Diggs articulates his French accent as the loyal companion, Lafayette, while he fiercely captures our third President, Thomas Jefferson, in the second act.
At the start of the second act, Jefferson proudly returns from France and sings to the catchy song, “What’d I Miss?” Hamilton and Jefferson begin to engage in rap battles on the direction they believe the country should be heading. Diggs' enthusiasm in both Lafayette and Jefferson is performed brilliantly. While Diggs' transformation from one character to the next is superbly executed on the stage. Diggs trades in his French accent and blue coat for a cocky attitude and a slick maroon coat. Onaodowan's dual role is both Mulligan (first act) and James Madison (second act). Onaodowan nails the energetic and gruff performance of Mulligan, who was a spy for the Continental Army. Onaodowan then slows things down as he transforms into the calm and quiet Madison. Ramos' dual role is both Laurens (first act) and Philip Hamilton (second act). Ramos' embodies the heroicness of Laurens — an avid critique of slavery, who fought for their freedom and died trying. In the second act, Ramos entails a more cocky attitude of a young Phillip Hamilton, who was killed in a duel at the age of 19. This tragedy haunted Hamilton and his wife, Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo). Back in the first act, Hamilton is introduced to the Schuyler sisters: Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Soo), and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones). "Work!" Goldsberry beautifully engulfs the nobility of Angelica Schuyler. She chooses to past on Hamilton, introducing him to her sister Eliza (Soo) instead.
This doesn't stop Angelica from majestically performing an illuminating song, "Satisfied", at Hamilton and Eliza's wedding. We see the lights glimmer and the rotating stage reverse in direction, illustrating a break in-time. Slow-moving, our characters rappel with backward motions to embody Angelica's thoughts as she recalls how she feels about Hamilton inside her head. "But Alexander I'll never forget the first time I saw your face/I have never been the same/Intelligent eyes in a hunger pain fame/And when you said hi I forgot my dang name/You set my heart aflame, every part aflame, this is not a game." It's a captivating scene that will send goosebumps down your arms. While Soo breathlessly captures Eliza's shining presence — we hear her voice roar as she sings to the heartbreaking melody, "Burn." In the second act, Hamilton becomes entangled in an affair with Maria Reynolds (also played by Jones). Eliza burns all of the letters Hamilton wrote her and rightfully so. "I'm burning the memories/Burning the letters that might have redeemed you/You forfeit all rights to my heart/You forfeit the place in our bed/You'll sleep in your office instead/With only memories of when you were mine/I hope that you burn." Soo's pain on the stage is raw and powerful a burning passion transforms from inside her voice and blasts through the screen. Actor Christopher Jackson is the another commanding presence on the stage with a massive build and a strong voice. Jackson plays our first President, George Washington. Hamilton is Washington's "Right Hand Man" and becomes our country's first Secretary of the Treasury. One of the most profound moments during the musical is during Jackson's song "One Last Time."
Here, we see a President who wants to step down and let the country move on. Washington knows his time in office should be limited and that democracy should prevail. Jackson's roaring words are a beating heart that will ease your conscience. “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid/They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made/I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree/A moment alone in the shade/At home in this nation we’ve made/One last time." Let us not forget, Jonathan Groff's dazzling performance as King George III — you'll laugh until your sides hurt from Groff's buffoonish incarnation as the tyrant king. "Oceans rise, empire fall/We have seen each other through it all/And when push comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love." Finally, Aaron Burr played by the marvelous Leslie Odom Jr. will burn your soul with his profound words. "And me, I'm the damn fool that shot him" or "Love doesn't discriminate/Between the sinners/And the saints/It takes and it takes and it takes." Odom Jr. won a Tony for his moving performance, giving us a tender and stirring feat full of range.
Burr and Hamilton started out as friends in the early days and then began growing farther apart. Once, Hamilton endorsed his known foe, Thomas Jefferson, instead of Burr for the 1800 presidential election, Burr's anger grew darker. "Jefferson has my vote/I have never agreed with Jefferson once/We have fought on like seventy-five diff’rent fronts/But when all is said and all is done/Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none." This endorsement wedges a divide between Burr and Hamilton — leading them to settle their differences by duel, where Burr's political trigger is the striking blow to Hamilton's life. In addition to these splendid characters are a lively stage, dynamic lighting, a moving score, and a spirited Ensemble. Everything is meticulously calculated on the set — from the transcendent colors that brighten and darken, to the rotating sphere in the middle that keeps our actors always moving. Hamilton will continue to be a phenomenon, while also being a beacon of hope in this dark world of ours. "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" Hamilton will spark a light inside of you, as we get to watch it over and over again from the best seat in the house.
Hamilton is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For language and some suggestive material.
This masterpiece is directed by Thomas Kail
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Chris Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Jonathan Groff.
Da 5 Bloods continues to prove that director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Bamboozled, Inside Man, Chi-Raq, and BlacKkKlansman) is ahead of the game with a masterfully crafted, politically aligned, and fiercely vocal film about the injustice of Black lives in America. As of now, Da 5 Bloods is the best film to come out in 2020. Five-stars.
Da 5 Bloods was everything I wanted in a Spike Lee Joint and more. The writing was solid works of art with compelling drama, stark violence, witty humor, and fierce ambition. I got whiplash from how abruptly the tone of the storyline would change, but this was Lee’s point. Da 5 Bloods revolves around four U.S. Veteran's prior trauma on a war we should not have fought in — while also focusing on what it means to be Black in America. Da 5 Bloods is also the first Hollywood film on the Vietnam War reflected through the eyes of Black Americans. All of the actors (Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) were superb, each bringing their past wounds and conflicts to their fleshed-out characters. Lee also chose not to use CGI for the flashback war scenes on the older actors. This was a brilliant move by Lee, showing how his craft has continued to mature. The CGI-less actors demonstrated how our characters are still haunted by their time in Vietnam, making it feel like everything is happening in real-time.
There's an emotional richness to Da 5 Bloods — as with every Spike Lee Joint, we are grappled with Hollywood's blind spots on minority communities. Lee continues to critique and reexamine the way we look through the frame of movies. Lee has always had a beating heart for American films, yet that doesn't stop him from quarreling with the status quo — proving that many parts of our American history have been distorted. In 1989's Do the Right Thing, Lee examines the horrors of police brutality and with the recent death of George Floyd, sadly; not much has changed. Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, explores the beginning and end of an interracial relationship in New York City — studying the effects of racism that attacks both race and romance. While Bamboozled was a satirical comedy-drama of modern televised minstrel shows and Chi-Raq played as a modern Greek comedy with parallels on the gun violence debate. In BlacKkKlansman, Lee showed that racism in America from the '70s to the present has not changed and in some instances, we, as a country, are going backward in the age of Trump. Lee has always been ahead of the curb on topics dealing with race relations, the role of the media, crime and poverty, and political matters.
Da 5 Bloods continues Lee's passionate engagement with the Black Lives Matters movement. Our film tells the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Lindo), Otis (Peters), Eddie (Lewis), and Melvin (Whitlock Jr.) — who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman). The group, known as the Bloods, are also on a journey of promised buried gold and are joined by Paul's concerned son, David (Majors). Here, our characters confront their fears, hopes, and internal conflicts in a place they have fought before. Lindo plays Paul — a MAGA-loving Vet who's been beaten and broken down by a system that suppresses him. Paul's stance on politics and Trump leaves his other Bloods disgusted with him, but that doesn't stop Paul from running his mouth. Paul exclaims that our country needs that 'wall' and the 'foreigners' are taking all of our jobs! Paul has narrowed his views of discrimination and solely focuses on his struggle — leaving us with a flawed man who only wants himself to benefit at the price of others. Lindo is a revelation in the role of Paul. His acting chops are beautifully constructed and fiercely persuasive. Lindo captivates scene after scene, giving us one of his best performances to-date. He deserves an Oscar nomination in a Leading Role for this profound accomplishment. Raw and honest, Lindo will keep you glued to your seat. One of his best scenes comes when Paul breaks the fourth wall and begins reciting monologues while he rages throughout the jungle. This scene meticulously captures the mind of a Vet who suffers from PTSD.
Next, there's Otis (Peters), who's considered the new leader of the group since Norman, (Boseman) the fallen Squad Leader, has died. While in Vietnam, Otis visits a past love of his, Tiên (Lê Y Lan), who reveals that he is the father of her grown child. Otis is introduced to his daughter, Michon (Sandy Huong Pham). Michon's subplot is a small but important role to the film's core. Within this subplot, is a heartfelt father-daughter reunion that reveals the relationship to the Black-Amerasian identity. According to Amerasians Without Borders, “it was estimated that there were about 25,000 to 30,000 Amerasians born within a 10 years period during the Vietnam War.” Lee shows the conflict that Amerasians struggle with and embraces their identity — it's a small but moving treasure the film unveils. Peter shines as Otis through compassion and zeal, while reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses. Peter is a passionate man who's looking for hope. Lewis plays Eddie, while Whitlock Jr. plays Melvin — Eddie is struggling financially but hides it through pride and Melvin helps brighten the group with his warm comic relief. Melvin is the Blood happily boozing his way through Ho Chi Minh City. Da 5 Bloods is a combination of past films, like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Apocalypse Now, and a dash of Rambo. Lee is a master in control, showing off violent urges that's underlined with statements of activism. Through it all, we follow these Bloods on their dangerous mission through the wilderness to find their fallen leader and root for them to bring home the gold — land mines and all.
Lastly, this leads us to the role of David played by Majors. David is a concerned son who follows his dad, Paul, to Ho Chi Minh City and joins them on their journey. Majors grapples with a son longing for his dad's love, while also struggling with his mom's death. David blames himself for her death because she died in childbirth when having him. Here, we see a son who only wants to be acknowledged by his dad and given a voice to speak with. Just as he was in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Major's gives us another heartfelt performance. Through blood, sweat, and tears, we feel David's pain aching from the bottom of his heart. One of the most intense scenes in the movie is when David steps on a land mine and cannot move a muscle or the mine will explode. This sequence between David and his father coaching him through will have you on the edge of your couch. Lee's intense scene is a combination of emotions and adrenaline rushing through your veins. It's one of the most heart-pounding scenes I've ever experienced on screen, even at the comfort of my home I was on edge. In the end, Da 5 Bloods is a combination of drama, trauma, grit, and activism, all piled into one hell of a movie. Like a head rush, Lee's newest Joint will seep through your bones. Da 5 Bloods is one of Lee's greatest achievements and I am excited for more to come. Through Lee's imagery, we see that Black Lives Mattered in Vietnam, too.
Da 5 Bloods is rated R (Restricted). For strong violence, grisly images, and pervasive language.
This Joint is Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lê Y Lan, Nguyen Ngọc Lâm, Sandy Huong Pham, Jean Reno, and Van Veronica Ngo.
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