Tag Archives: musical movies

Non Binary

Neptune Frost

by Hope Madden

Drawn by common dreams, individuals from all around post-war Rwanda journey to a place, time and reality they can call their own in Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams’s Afrofuturistic musical, Neptune Frost.

The nightmare of war in the recent past, the oppressive religion, and the reality of the economy take shape on the screen. What is Rwanda today?

Williams and Uzeyman use something that feels like performance art to depict Africa’s place in technology’s journey to consumers. Tech’s raw materials—from the coltan (a raw material used in electronics) characters mine to computer refuse strewn and useless across the landscape—are woven into different character costumes.

Visually stunning, the aesthetic emphasizes the story’s earthy yet techno quality. Bursts of color and texture in costume design, in particular, along with surreal, day-glo dream sequences are gorgeous.

At the same time, the filmmakers braid together varying uses for the word binary. An obvious term in relation to the lo-fi tech landscape, the word takes a more complicated meaning with the fluid presence of Motherboard, played at first by Elvis Ngabo and later by Cheryl Isheja. The word is again reexamined as Motherboard is received by Innocent (Dorcy Rugamba), and then Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse).

Traveling from one age to another, one realm to another, one gender to another, Motherboard is an agent of transformation. They tell us they see through what blinds others, they see the past and present and future altogether.

In time, the very word binary becomes meaningless, a limitation. Frequent mention of binary crime theory, a concept deepened by the line “to imagine hell is privilege,” offers stark reminder that this is a Rwandan film.

For Neptune Frost, there is not one or the other, not past or future, not good or evil, not male or female, not miner or mine. This fluidity makes the film tough to properly summarize, and the ambiguous and ambitious plot structure becomes frustrating during the middle section. But Neptune Frost is never less than fascinating.

Rich with symbolism that brings past to present and reinterprets it for the future, the film speaks of resilience and power. And it does it like no film you’ve seen before.

Crash: The Musical

Stuck

by Rachel Willis

Based on the musical of the same name, director Michael Berry’s film Stuck is the story of six strangers trapped on a subway car who change each other’s lives in meaningful ways.

Or at least, that’s what the movie tries to achieve. Unfortunately, it doesn’t accomplish its goal.

The characters are all one-note stereotypes. During their time trapped on a subway car, they reveal their own prejudices toward each other, as well as huge details of their lives. The personal stories, the elements that attempt to make each character unique, are all shared through song. However, it’s easy to guess who each character will be because they’re roles we’ve seen many times before.

As each person shares a little more of themselves with the others, the characters’ facial expressions are meant to convey internal change. There are sympathetic looks, a few words of apology, but none of it feels like true growth. The characters who enter the subway car are the same characters when they leave the subway car.

One of the most frustrating elements of the film is the “all is forgiven” attitude toward one character who has been stalking another character for several days before the events of the film. Though we learn the intentions are “innocent,” it’s angering to watch as the other characters give him a pass because he’s a good artist.

The musical aspects here are the strongest elements. The choreography, the lyrics, the musical arrangements, and the performances are all effective, with the individual character songs among the only moments where genuine emotion is conveyed. The musical styles are unique to each character, giving them more depth than the dialogue conveys.

All the actors are strong singers, which is refreshing since several movies lately have featured actors who can’t sing well, or at all, in singing roles. It’s one of the areas where Stuck succeeds. Ashanti is particularly powerful in her vocal performance, though Giancarlo Esposito also stands out as an impressive vocalist.

Though Esposito sings several of the film’s songs, his character is the least explored. He isn’t given a backstory like the others, and it’s unclear if he’s meant to be a conduit for the others to reveal themselves or a character in his own right.

In a film like Stuck, the point is to never judge a book by its cover. The people we pass on the street everyday are dealing with things about which we will mostly likely never know. Hardships in their lives may be the reason why they’re impatient or cruel, so it’s a reminder to treat everyone with kindness.

It’s not a bad message. But it’s one that’s been delivered before in more effective ways.

 

 





Say Something

A Star is Born

by George Wolf

A few weeks ago, for homework, I revisited the 3 previous versions of A Star Is Born. A friend later asked me which one was best.

I have a different answer now.

Director/co-writer/co-star Bradley Cooper brings a new depth of storytelling to the warhorse, with a greater commitment to character and the blazing star power of Lady Gaga.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a booze-swilling, pill-popping rock star who wanders into a random bar post-gig and catches Ally (Gaga) belting out “La Vie en Rose.” Jack’s entranced, and begins coaxing Ally to sing her own songs instead of covers. Everyone’s got a talent, he tells her, the real gift is having something to say.

Each previous film version represented its era well, but with the rock music setting and several recognizable homages, it’s clear Cooper has a fondness for the Streisand/Kristofferson take from ’76. His new vision carries a raw authenticity that eclipses them all.

The battered star’s instant infatuation with the young talent has never felt more understandable, the undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Gaga fueling the feeling that in Ally, Jack sees a better version of himself.

Cooper, with a lower-range speaking voice and the musical talent from nearly 2 years of tutelage, is every bit the weathered rocker, on a misplaced search for redemption. Watch him when Jack is not the focus of a scene to see a character become complete.

But then, another outstanding acting performance from Bradley Cooper is not a surprise. His remarkably instinctual directing debut here, though, must now place him among the premier talents in film.

Nearly every scene, from stadium rock concert to intimate conversation, is framed for maximum impact. His camera can be stylish but not showy, with seamless scene transitions fueling a forward momentum that will not let the film drag.

The melodramatic story has been stripped of pretense and buoyed by more layers of humanity, and not just between the two leads. Jack’s brother (Sam Elliot), his boyhood friend (Dave Chappelle) and Ally’s father (Andrew Dice Clay) emerge as important characters despite limited screen time.

And then there’s Gaga.

The voice is, well, it’s a force of nature, and the songs (some co-written with Cooper) are memorable. But if a star already shining can be born, welcome Gaga the movie star. She is electric, taking Ally from wide-eyed stage fright to SNL headliner with both tenderness and ferocity, giving this character the strength and nuance she has never had before.

This film has talent everywhere, but it also has stirring things to say about love and sacrifice, about art and commerce, ambition and fame.

I’ll say this: A Star is Born is among the very best of the year.