The People’s Critic Heads to Broadway (in Chicago)

Hamilton-banner-e1512821797362Obviously, those of you who read my reviews have come to expect film reviews mostly, with a few books thrown in the mix. Today, I’m going to shake things up a bit with The People’s Critic’s first review of live theatre: Hamilton![1]

Since the first cadence of the Hamilton soundtrack for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, I was obsessed. For those of you who know my wife and me, I am not the one you’d say is the musical-theatre one in the relationship, but that all changed when a bastard, orphan son-of-a-whore and a Scotsman came on the stage.

Hamilton is the musical-spectacular from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that hit Broadway in 2015 and subsequently won 11 Tonys. It is a sung and rapped through musical about the American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, and while it may be too soon to say definitively, it is one of the most revolutionary musicals to hit the main-stream with its broad musical style and what they call “color-conscious” casting of all non-white actors as many of the historical figures.

Jeanette and I had a trip to Chicago planned with our friends Eric and Pam, and we were able to get tickets to the Chicago production of the show that has been running at the CIBC theatre since 2016. Suffice it to say, it “blew us all away.”

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Having high expectations is often a recipe for disaster when it comes to entertainment. That coupled with the pricey ticket cost, the value of time spent as parents of toddlers, and the village of grandparents and babysitters it takes for us to “take a break” without the kids prompts the highest of expectations. That being said, the show is that good.

Hamilton opens on a relatively open stage with some wood scaffolding that remains on stage the entire play. The floor is equipped with a rotating platform that enhances some of the drama involving the duels, the dancing, and several other key points, but overall for a musical so highly regarded, the set is fairly simple.

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The casting was also surprisingly minimal. After listening to the soundtrack so many times, I expected quite the ensemble of actors; however, it turns out it is typical for the actors to play several parts, even several main parts, since with the way the play develops some characters do not share scenes (or even acts for that matter). Our Alexander Hamilton was actually the understudy (Philip Johnson-Richardson), who was standing in for Miguel Cervantes who usually plays the role. I will admit, I was nervous to see an understudy and an understudy for the title role at that. Johnson also looked a little nervous at first when he took the stage after the now famous introduction by Aaron Burr (Akron Watson) in the opening number. However, those nerves were fleeting because Johnson came through in spades for our audience. In fact, the cast was truly outstanding. Now that I’ve seen this play live, one of the major revelations I had was that while the play is called Hamilton, the character of Alexander Hamilton is not who carries the show. Aaron Burr is really the power and presence of the show, singularly taking the stage multiple times and demonstrating a much broader range of emotion than any other character. Watson was dynamite as Burr in the production we saw, so much so that I think he would give Leslie Odom Jr. a run for his money on some of these songs. Furthermore, if I had to select a song that I would consider the best in the entire play, I would pick, “Wait for It,” a song which only involves Burr.

While “Wait for It” may be my favorite song to listen to and appreciate, upon seeing the play, my favorite scene to see was definitely the backward/forward combination stunner of “Helpless” and “Satisfied” where we see Angelica Schuyler introduce Alexander Hamilton to her sister Eliza but then rewind the action and lament her reasoning and decision to not pursue him herself. It’s a powerful combo of perspectives and song styles, but also a whimsical staging that surpasses even the imagination.

The play overall, told in two acts, is truly a roller coaster of emotion. Act I takes us along on Hamilton’s rise and subversion of barriers preventing our young country from taking shape and eventually flourishing, and Act II takes us on the emotional journey through his tragic fall from grace, a fall that no knowledge of history can truly prepare us to experience. The play is very much a tragedy. That being said fun, humor, and romance are all critical elements to the play, but like the best of Shakespeare’s works, the tragedy is what Miranda’s masterpiece leaves us pondering. Most importantly, the impact of this tragedy is not just because of our attachment to these characters, but because of the subtexts for how cruel political ideology, racism, and gun violence are damaging and yet also a seemingly permanent thread of the American fabric. It’s hard not to feel “helpless,” and that we may never be “satisfied.” Still we are also left with the inert optimism of the human condition to not throw away our shot when the time comes to act. With that, tragedy begets inspiration, which I believe is the most empowering feeling art can impart on us. #Voting #VoterReg2018 A+

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[1] My apologies to the other ThePeoplesCritic, whom I know is a theatre reviewer. You can rest assured my access to quality theatre is abysmal, so your namesake is secure. This is but a singular overlap of our People’s Criticism.

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2018 Golden Globes Prediction Ballot

golden-globes-2018-logoThe 75th annual Golden Globe Awards will air Sunday January 7th at 8:00 EST on NBC with host Seth Meyers. With the climate as it is in Hollywood regarding the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, it will be interesting to see how much these recent events will overshadow the show. This is even more fascinating given that Ridley Scott’s film, All the Money in the World, now starring Christopher Plummer who famously replaced Kevin Spacey, is up for three awards including one for Plummer!

The Golden Globes has never been a show to steer away from controversy. In fact they revel in it with booze soaked acceptance speeches, edgy hosts, and of course, some of the strangest nomination selections of any award show – I’m talking to you, 2018 nominee for Best  Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Get Out (or did I miss the hilarious song and dance number between the scenes of racially motivated torture and murder).

Anyway, my predictions have been made, so now it’s your turn to take a crack at your own predictions on the ballot below! Keep an eye on how your picks measure up to everyone else’s with this results document, or with my official Golden Globe Prediction Summary spreadsheet, which I will update with the actual winners on awards night.  

Baby Driver

BDDirector: Edgar Wright

Screenwriter: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Jamie Foxx

Baby, oh baby, I love to call you baby/

Baby, oh baby, I love for you to call me baby.

First, let me just say this damn soundtrack has been on loop in my house, work, head, car, etc. since I saw this film. That alone, makes it worth the price of admission, and if that were all there was to take away from Baby Driver, that would be ok. Fortunately, behind the soundtrack is the first truly excellent film of 2017!

The film opens explosively with the aptly named band Jon Spencer Blues Explosion playing in the earbuds of our protagonist, a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort), as he waits in his car for a team of criminals who are robbing a bank. When the song kicks in, so does the action, as Baby shepherds the gang through the streets of Atlanta pursued (hopelessly) by the police. Baby’s a “devil behind the wheel,” and in no time, the team escapes the police, abandons their car and meets up with the kingpin of the operation, a smarmy gangster named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who orchestrates these robberies. Baby’s involvement is out of obligation due to an accidental encounter that ended up costing Doc a lot of money. Baby’s driving skills and subsequent payouts are payback, and once Baby’s debt is paid, he’s out.

That’s the gist. Is it uniquely original? On paper, maybe not so much, but it’s a different story on the screen. It is hard not to discuss Baby Driver in the context of other similar predecessors about getaway drivers and/or villainous lynchpins orchestrating a series of heists. Films like Drive, The Fast and the Furious series, and even the film 21, which also stars Kevin Spacey, all share more than a handful of similarities with Baby Driver in story points. But the execution of Baby Driver is unlike any of those films. On the surface this is a heist film about a getaway driver, but on a larger scale the driving is an instrument to explore music, or more accurately, the act of listening to music.

It’s the music that helps push the narrative. Writer/Director Edgar Wright does a superb job using music, actually the act of listening to music, to drive an otherwise classical narrative structure. This film really invited me to analyze exactly what it is that makes movie narratives work, an analysis I further explored in my commentary piece, “It’s All About Choice.” Like so many classic narratives, we don’t learn much about Baby in the film, or about any of the other characters for that matter. Baby is a man of few words, denied the necessity of choice by Doc, and committed to no real set of values given his almost “island-like” existence. Like I mentioned in “It’s All About Choice,” knowing so very little about Baby actually drives the narrative because he is the ultimate individual who can form his own values and not be labeled or expected to act in any particular way.

But the one characteristic that provides dimension to Baby is his need for an almost uninterrupted stream of music flowing to his ears. It turns out this is not just a personal diversion, but an actual medical necessity as Baby has tinnitus from being in a car accident as a child, and the music drowns out the perpetual ringing. Additionally, the film is edited on several occasions so that the action pulses to the beat of the soundtrack. The use of music to engage the audience, pulsate the action, harbor the mood, develop the tone, and most importantly, develop the character is unlike anything I’ve seen in film, including movie musicals.  The film basically suggests, if the mundane can be made euphoric simply by adding some music…why not add some music?

The arrival of Debra (Lily James) as Baby’s love interest certainly complicates matters, driveand in a good way. Like the way Carey Mulligan impacted another mysterious Driver character, played by Ryan Gosling, in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive, Debra evolves Baby into a character who suddenly is faced with choice, consequences, and fear. The stark contrast in Baby before Debra and Baby after Debra is nicely achieved due to Elgort’s and James’s acting, the music, and the direction. Wright does a fantastic job using authentic sets and stunts along with some crafty camera work to capture the visual feast that is Baby Driver. This is a film not to be missed. A-

Baby Driver is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes.

The Oscars: The People’s Critic Reacts

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Image credit: Oscars.org

Well, I think we all can agree that journalists who were looking for their headline for the Oscars broadcast were handed a gift at the very end. For those of you under a rock for the past several days, let me briefly summarize the events that unfurled for the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars.

It’s 12:05 am EST; the natives are getting restless, but it’s been a relatively enjoyable Academy Awards show and while La La Land was nominated for a historic 14 awards, it’s sitting with 6 wins with Best Picture being the only award left to announce. Moonlight, a film that had gained steam all season had won Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, two big wins. Enter Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to announce the final award. A Bonnie and Clyde reunion! Only this time La La Land was about to get riddled with bullets. If you haven’t seen the awkwardness that is Envelope-gate, you need to see it immediately. Words fail to express the bazaar episode. Still, here’s my best go at it. Everything is running smoothly until Beatty opens the envelope. It’s not clear something’s wrong necessarily, but it looks like Beatty is trying some shtick. He’s delaying, the audience is laughing, Dunaway is jabbing at him in that, “he’s so incorrigible,” kind of way. Several beats pass though as Beatty just stalls and pauses as he stares at the card, and then he shows it to Dunaway, who just blurts out, “La La Land!”

The place erupts. The La La Land producers take the stage, make their speeches, and a

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Image Credit: Oscars.org

decent population of people probably turn off their televisions and go to sleep. However, what happens next is La La Land producer, Jordan Horowitz takes the stage to reveal that there’s been a mistake. It turns out, the accountants for Pricewaterhouse Coopers who handle the envelopes had mistakenly given Warren Beatty an alternative envelope (#alternativefacts) for Best Actress. This explains why he took so long to read the card; he was staring at Emma Stone’s name. When he showed it to Dunaway, likely in order to get her confirmation that something’s gone awry, she just saw La La Land and blurted it out. Once things were sorted out, Beatty grabs the mic to explain why he made the mistake, saying he was not trying to be funny, but the envelope he had said Emma Stone, La La Land. The true winner was Moonlight, and an obviously stunned group of produces for Moonlight take the stage and commence the most awkward and heartbreaking experience of literally taking Oscar statues away from other people who thought they won.

 

Anyway, this whole thing was bad for La La Land, really bad for PWC, great for Moonlight, and really great for viewers! Other than this, The People’s Critic did a fairly good job of calling the winners. La La Land did steal the show with 6 wins, but the 7th was stolen from them when Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner. I correctly predicted 15 of the 24 categories. I went the wrong way on a few of them, but in a night of several upsets, 15 ain’t bad. I was correct in predicting an upset with Lonergan winning over Chazelle for Screenplay, and my biggest lock, Viola Davis, played out as well. Her speech was highly anticipated given her intensity and her role in introducing Meryl Streep for her Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes. It was a very inspired speech, but I found a little fault in her claim that acting is, “the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” I think there are limitless creative outlets in the professional sphere where people can truly understand the value and enormity of living a life without being paid to read dialogue in front of a camera.  And then there’s that whole exhume the bodies from the graveyard thing. Anyway, that hereby ends my rant on pretentious actors saying pretentious things.

Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival did not come up empty as I had predicted; Arrival won the Sound Editing award and Hacksaw Ridge received Sound Mixing and the impressive Film Editing Oscar! I was correct in predicting Lion to leave empty handed, however. As far as the big ones, I got 5 of the big 6 awards right, and in an alternative universe, I got all 6 correct. Check out  my Awards Spotlight page if you want to see all of the results and all of my predictions.

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Image Credit: cnn.com

I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a fantastic job as host. His monologue was political, satirical, but also on point with the tone of this year’s nominees. I give him a lot of credit for not disappearing after the opening monologue like so many hosts do. He took the stage multiple times throughout the show, made plenty of good jokes, and ran some gags including one where an unsuspecting group of tourists was ushered into the Dolby Theater during the Oscars and suddenly found themselves front and center with Hollywood’s finest. I’m always a sucker for Kimmel’s relentless attacks on Matt Damon, and he did not disappoint there whatsoever.

It was a fun Oscar night, and of course The People’s Critic’s Oscar dinner did not disappoint either, as we rolled out the red carpet for all of the celebrities, and everyone enjoyed some La La Lamb. Take a look at some of the fun!redcarpet

2017 Oscar Prediction Ballot

oscars2017-1It’s Oscars Week! That’s right, this Sunday, February 26th at 8:30 PM EST, Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th Academy Awards. This is always an exciting time for The People’s Critic, and as always, I welcome you to join in on the fun by filling out an official People’s Critic Oscar Predictions ballot. I have made my predictions, so now it’s your turn.

The ballot below contains the nominees for all 24 categories! On Oscar night, feel free to review the Summary of responses page for live updates on how your picks are doing, as well as view the live analytics for each category throughout the week!

Also, to make your Oscar night as La La Lavish as possible, feel free to grab a copy of this blank, printable ballot for your Oscar party, and if you’re looking for Fantastic Feasts and Where to Find Them, please enjoy our carefully curated 2017 Oscar dinner menu (printable version). Good luck!

2017 Golden Globe Nominations Ballot

73rd-open-ceremony-golden-globes-awards-2016-live-red-carpetAnother characteristically weird collection of nominees from the Golden Globes. Evan Rachel Wood nominated for Actress in a TV drama, but Thandie Newton nominated in a supporting role on a limited series /made for television movie? How does that even work? It’s the same damn show. I mean, jockeying around categories has always been a trademark of television award shows, but now we have nominees for the same show in different classifications! Anyway, my predictions will be announced closer to the January 8th ceremony, but in the meantime, take a crack at your own predictions on the ballot below!

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!

 

  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!