“Hamilton" stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Jonathan Groff. Released on Disney+ on July 3, 2020, the film chronicles the life of Alexander Hamilton.
The film is directed by Thomas Kail, who is known for directing Broadway productions and television shows like “2 Broke Girls” and “Fosse/Verdon”. It is a recording of Miranda’s 2015 Broadway musical of the same name, which is inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. This weekend is Independence Day, which means it’s time for us to once again celebrate our independence, crank out the fireworks, and explore some American history. Just because you’re out of school doesn’t mean you can’t learn some history, am I right? “Hamilton” is considered to be one of the best Broadway musicals of all time as it earned rave reviews, received numerous awards, and played to sold-out shows. With Lin-Manuel Miranda’s infectious music and a story that combines the old with the new and respects the importance of America, the musical has become an American treasure that everyone should experience for themselves, especially on Independence Day. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to wait until the Broadway theaters reopen to see it because Disney is releasing the live recording of the 2016 performance of “Hamilton” on its streaming service so that everyone can see it without wasting their money on some expensive Broadway tickets. It was originally set to hit theaters next fall, but due to the pandemic affecting the performing arts, Disney decided to just release it on Disney+ during this year's 4th of July weekend. I’m honestly glad that they made this decision. We get to celebrate the performing arts in our living room and celebrate the American nation. I call this a win-win. I’m one of the few people who have not seen “Hamilton” since it was first released, so this review will be my very first experience with the Broadway musical. With that said, let’s dive into some history.
Divided into two acts and filmed from the Richard Rodgers Theatre performance in June 2016, the story depicts the life and career of Alexander Hamilton (Miranda), an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Throughout the span of his life, he works as General George Washington’s (Jackson) aide-de-camp, marries Eliza Schuyler (Soo), becomes the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and engages in a duel with his friend turned rival Aaron Burr (Odom Jr.). What makes this musical unique compared to the other representations of American history is its perspective. The depiction of America in the past is told through the use of modern music that draws from certain genres like hip hop and pop and a diverse cast, making it accessible to…well, everyone. But do these things alone make a great musical? Honestly, they absolutely do. You can argue that the story in “Hamilton” isn’t 100% accurate to the history books, but when you look at the bigger picture, it’s actually a one-of-a-kind experience that brilliantly captures the spirit of Broadway and represents the rise and fall of the title character in its own way. From its relatable political themes to the show-stopping musical numbers, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is a music-driven and captivating drama that’s full of energy, pizzazz, and more importantly, heart. I was a bit concerned going into this one, considering the fact that the film is basically people singing or rapping for over two and a half hours. However, I was generally surprised to see how highly entertaining (and important) it was to watch history come alive from a different perspective. Sure, the runtime can be a bit problematic for those who aren’t into the performing arts, but the pacing and the music were suitable enough to keep things moving along. The entire cast of the film consists of Miranda and the original principal cast of the musical, and, unsurprisingly, they were all fantastic, especially Miranda, who performed his heart and soul out as the title character. Jonathan Groff as King George III has to be one of my favorite highlights of the film. Not just because of his musical numbers, but also because of his humorous and enjoyable delivery of his lines (or lyrics). The film’s music by Miranda is also my personal highlight. “Hamilton” is best described as either a story-driven concert or a song-driven historical drama, whichever one works for you. What could’ve been an off-putting and derivative storytelling tool turned out to be something more than that. Not only were the musical numbers filled with stellar lyrics, catchy music, and stunning choreography, but they also play an important role in representing the film’s events and the characters’ emotions through modern eyes. The result is a visual soundtrack that’ll get you to either dance along with its upbeat score or feel emotionally moved by its lyrics. From a Broadway perspective, the production design and the costumes were simplistic, yet well-crafted enough to depict America from the 1700s and the 1800s.
Overall, “Hamilton” is a joyous and heartfelt musical that respectfully celebrates both America then and America now. Thanks to its incredible cast, Miranda’s unforgettable music, its well-portrayed narrative, and Thomas Kail’s successful attempt to bring the musical to life for newcomers, the film marks another reason why you should subscribe to Disney+, other than to watch all of your favorite Disney classics. It would’ve been nice to see the musical in person, but with everything that’s going on right now, I guess this will have to do for now. For people who are unfamiliar with the musical and people who are fans of Broadway, it’s definitely worth checking out.
“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” stars Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, and Demi Lovato. Released on Netflix on June 26, 2020, the film has two Icelandic singers representing their country at an international song competition.
The film is directed by David Dobkin, who also directed films such as “Clay Pigeons”, “Wedding Crashers”, “The Change-Up”, and “The Judge”. Now here’s something that left me completely mind-boggled. We have a film that’s centered on a singing competition that some of us aren’t familiar with. Fancy that. I did some research on it and here’s what I learn from it. Apparently, the film is based on the “Eurovision Song Contest”, which is an annual international song competition that features participants representing their European countries by performing their original songs. So, think of it as Europe’s version of “American Idol”, but instead of doing cover songs, you have to come up with your own song. This latest comedy was originally planned for a May 2020 release to coincide with the 65th annual Eurovision Song Contest, but the competition was sadly cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that didn’t stop the film from being released. The show must go on, I guess. This is a pretty neat opportunity for me to experience a singing competition that doesn’t have “American Idol” in the title. But aside from that, is it able to blow me away with its talent?
The story follows Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (McAdams), two small-town friends who form a musical duo known as Fire Saga. When they are chosen to compete in a singing competition called Eurovision Song Contest, the duo must face multiple obstacles in order to come out on top and impress Lars’ disapproving father (Brosnan) as well as their hometown. The film is best described as both a tale about chasing one’s dreams and proving the naysayers wrong and an introduction to the Eurovision Song Contest for the newcomers. They can always look back at the competitions from the past if that’s an option, but if not, I would say that this is a suitable choice for those who are curious. As for the film itself, there’s nothing really special about this one due to its formulaic storyline, but aside from that, it’s a mildly entertaining comedy that’s backed up by its amusing, yet strange, humor and David Dobkin’s handling of its inspiring message. Yeah, that’s right. This is another Will Ferrell movie that I actually enjoy. Come at me, bro! On second thought, please don’t. Ferrell and McAdams did a pretty decent job carrying the film together when it comes to their performances and the chemistry between the two. While the film doesn’t offer any surprises in its storytelling, it immediately makes up for it by having the two main actors sing their hearts out and letting the sparks fly in the process. Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan were also decent in their roles as Alexander Lemtov and Erick Erickssong respectively, and Demi Lovato…well, she’s not in the film that much, but her singing is still top-notch in my book. The film’s humor wasn’t all that bad either. Sure, it’s got a couple of shenanigans that Ferrell is known for, but there were actually some humorous parts that worked quite well for me. It’s not going to win everybody over because humor is subjective, but in my eyes, it’s funny enough to keep me entertained. I also have to give the film credit for its soundtrack. Despite a few jukebox songs thrown in there, the soundtrack has enough enjoyable moments to make me tap my feet with glee and fill my ears with happiness and good cheer. What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of soundtracks. My personal highlight of the soundtrack would have to be the songs that were performed by Ferrell, McAdams, and Swedish singer Molly Sandén, such as “Double Trouble” and “Volcano Man”. By the way, it was actually Sandén singing for McAdams and not McAdams herself. As I mentioned before, the plot has that “been there, done that” scenario even though Dobkin’s execution on its formula was fairly acceptable. The film also has this issue where a simplistic story that could’ve been 90 minutes long got a bit too stretched out. Its two-hour runtime is indeed questionable for something like this. Fortunately, it didn’t distract me long enough to ruin my experience. I think I would’ve liked it a bit more if they either remove or shorten a couple of scenes that were too dumb or too surreal for its intended tone.
Overall, as an introduction to the annual singing competition from Europe, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” has enough moments to get newcomers interested. As a comedy with a heartfelt message, it’s a formulaic, but watchable, Netflix film that hits most of the high notes. The story is indeed predictable and its narrative structure can be a bit overlong, but despite those flaws, the film was able to earn second place due to the likable chemistry between Ferrell and McAdams, some decent humor, and its soundtrack. It’s not the type of film that’s going to win a lot of Grammys or a lot of Academy Awards, but if you’re still interested in it regardless, it’s worth a watch.
“My Spy” stars Dave Bautista, Kristen Schaal, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Chloe Coleman, and Ken Jeong. Released on June 26, 2020, the film is about a CIA operative who is assigned to protect a young girl’s family.
The film is directed by Peter Segal, who also directed films such as “Tommy Boy”, “Anger Management”, “Get Smart”, and “Second Act”. It’s been a long time coming, but after months and months of waiting, it’s finally here. The latest “action star meets cute kid” comedy has arrived to satisfy our humorous needs this weekend. Yeah, I know that everyone’s not excited to see it because of the trailers that they’ve seen a bunch of times, but for fans of the genre, it’s hard not to get ecstatic for its arrival. I have a soft spot for these types of films, whether they’re good or not, so it’s no surprise that I was looking forward to it. The film was made no more than two years ago, and it didn’t see its release until this year. This is due to the amount of release date changes that it faced. Originally distributed by STX Entertainment, the film was supposed to be released in theaters last August, but its release has been changed numerous times due to some competition and, of course, the pandemic. After months of impatience and insanity from seeing the same trailer in theaters over and over again, the film has finally decided to skip the theatrical release in favor of a digital release. Its distribution rights were handed over to Amazon Studios, which released it digitally on Prime Video for free (with an Amazon Prime subscription, of course). Now that it has finally arrived, was it worth the wait?
The story centers on JJ (Bautista), a former US Special Forces soldier turned CIA operative. He, along with tech operator Bobbi (Schaal), is assigned by his boss (Jeong) to keep a close eye on the in-law family of Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk), an illegal arms dealer who’s searching for the nuclear bomb plans that were hidden by his brother. JJ and Bobbi move into the apartment building where Victor’s brother’s family resides, which consists of single mother Kate (Fitz-Henley) and 9-year-old Sophie (Coleman). During their surveillance, they are unfortunately exposed by Sophie, who blackmails JJ into keeping her company and training her how to be a spy. It’s undoubtedly obvious that the film has the “tough guy meets cute kid” formula that was seen in the other family comedies like “The Game Plan” and last year’s “Playing with Fire”. You can easily see it just by looking at the film’s poster. However, as the film went on, it became less of that and more of a family spy drama that features the "new-kid-at-school" trope and the “child attempting to hook up their single parent with a nice person” plot. While certain fans of the “tough guy meets cute kid” films may feel a bit disappointed or a bit bored depending on the age group, I actually didn’t mind this approach. After watching John Cena making an absolute fool of himself in “Playing with Fire”, it’s quite nice to see a film that doesn’t always rely on kid-friendly jokes, pratfalls, yelling, and disastrous comedic incidents to deliver an enjoyable and cute family comedy, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting it off the hook that easily. To Peter Segal’s credit, he did his best to keep its charming antics consistent, which is one of the most important things that the directors must do with these types of films. However, his attempt at combining the three different elements together was pretty mediocre, mostly due to the film’s unoriginal plot and the lack of strong dramatic elements. There were actually some moments that made the film highly watchable for me, including the cast. Dave Bautista was very likable in terms of his performance as JJ, which proves that he can work pretty well in both comedy and drama. Chloe Coleman also did a nice job playing Sophie, a character who has the right amount of cuteness and tolerance to pass off as the main character’s young companion. Kristen Schaal had a couple of good moments as Bobbi despite not being as irresistible as the chemistry between Bautista and Coleman, and Ken Jeong was probably here for the paycheck. The film’s humor was a hit-and-miss. On the one hand, it had a proper balance that won’t annoy a lot of adults with its childish tomfoolery. On the other hand, there wasn’t a lot of memorable jokes that would make some people want to watch it over and over again. There were some humorous moments that made me laugh, and there were some humorous moments that either felt flat or were forgettable. In other words, the film is 50% funny, which in my mind is better than 0%.
Overall, “My Spy” has some major issues that will easily expose itself to the public, but it’s tolerable enough to place itself in the “action star and young kid” film collection. Even though its unoriginality and mediocre plot elements are painfully obvious, this action comedy should impress those who are into these types of films thanks to its charming cast and its passable use of humor. It wasn’t what I expected out of something like this, to be completely honest, but I had a nice time watching it regardless of its direction. Makes me feel glad that it didn’t turn out to be Bautista’s version of “Playing with Fire”.
“The Vast of Night” stars Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, and Greg Peyton. Released on May 29, 2020, the film has two teenagers investigating a mysterious sound that came through the radio.
The film features the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson. Now it’s time to move on to something completely different. Throughout the years in filmmaking, there are two types of films that deal with extraterrestrial life: One that involves beings from another planet plotting to destroy the human race with explosions and flashy special effects, and one that has the human characters investigating something that relates to alien life. This latest sci-fi drama falls into the latter category. While it is nice to watch the humans battle alien invaders for two hours, there’s nothing more intriguing than seeing them investigate the possible existence of the creatures from beyond the stars. There’s just something about it that makes the entire situation feel more enthralling compared to seeing multiple cities being blown up by alien technology. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Contact” are the prime examples that did this concept justice, and it looks like this film has what it takes to make it onto that list. I was very late on reviewing this because I was deciding whether or not I should talk about this. If you’re reading this right now, then that means I had already made my decision. So, let’s start talking about it.
Taking place over a single night, the film follows two teenage friends: Switchboard operator Fay Crocker (McCormick) and radio DJ Everett (Horowitz). They run a radio station together in 1950s New Mexico. When a strange noise interrupts their radio broadcast, Fay and Everett decided to investigate this unordinary sound while the entire population is at the high school basketball game. What they’ll discover could change their entire lives forever. The film’s narrative is framed to resemble an episode of a fictional anthology series known as “Paradox Theatre”. If you grew up watching “The Twilight Zone”, “The Vast of Night” should definitely hit your nostalgic nerves like they were drums. This is another sci-fi film that relies more on dialogue-driven sequences instead of the big-budget special effects that usually define the science fiction blockbuster genre, so there’s bound to be a couple of dragged-out scenes that could put any casual viewer to sleep despite its 90-minute runtime. Aside from that, this is a remarkable sci-fi thriller that’s both heart-pounding and engrossing. First-time director Andrew Patterson made his first impression known by understanding the tools that made the sci-fi elements popular in the 1950s as well as the qualities that made the other sci-fi investigation films like “Close Encounters” special. Not only that, but his effective use of the tracking shots, the transitions, the lighting, and the cinematography made the film look authentic, creepy, and awe-inducing. The result is a familiar, yet stellar, tribute to the time period and the mysteries during that time that left us scratching our heads for years. McCormick and Horowitz were both riveting in their roles as Fay and Everett respectively, delivering performances that felt natural and real during this specific predicament. Gail Cronauer was also great as Mabel Blanche, one of the people that Fay and Everett went to during their investigation. She only appears in one scene, but in terms of her dialogue, she made every minute of her scene count with spectacular results. The film’s score by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer is also something to be desired as it has the right touch of eeriness to further emphasize its mysterious sci-fi elements.
Overall, “The Vast of Night” can be a bit uneven when it comes to the pacing, but it’s still a fascinating and passionate debut from Andrew Patterson. Thanks to its intriguing cast, Patterson’s direction, and its ingenious score, the film was able to leap over its similar elements and deliver a captivating piece of science fiction cinema that’ll impress almost every film enthusiast on the planet. With how good this film was, it’s hard to believe that I almost missed out on this one. Good thing I found the right time to catch it before I lost interest in it. If sci-fi investigation is your thing, then this film should definitely suit you well.
“The King of Staten Island” stars Pete Davidson, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley, and Maude Apatow. Released on June 12, 2020, the film has a young man attempting to move forward with his life.
The film is directed by Judd Apatow, who also directed films such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Funny People”, and “Trainwreck”. Life is full of changes. Some are good, and some are bad. How you want to live your life is whether or not you can adapt to those changes. After the success of their video-on-demand release of “Trolls World Tour”, Universal decided to continue that winning streak and release another film from their library on the digital services while ticking off several theater chains even more in the process. I hadn’t gotten into Judd Apatow’s works until I saw “Trainwreck” with my mom and sister five years ago, which I thought was decent enough for me to give it a pass despite its length. I believe I also saw parts of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” a while ago, and that’s about it. So that makes it two films I’ve watched that were directed by Apatow, which means this film should be my third. This latest comedy-drama is supposed to be inspired by Pete Davidson’s early life before he rose to fame as a comedian, and based on what I read about him, it sounded like he’s been through a lot, but how does it translate into film? Let’s find out.
The story follows Scott Carlin (Davidson), a 24-year-old high school dropout who has been stuck at home with his mother (Tomei) ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He is spending his days hanging out with his friends, smoking marijuana, and chasing his dream of becoming a tattoo artist. When his mother starts dating another firefighter named Ray Bishop (Burr), it sets off a chain reaction that forces Scott to start figuring out his future. Similar to Apatow’s other films, “The King of Staten Island” combines adult-rated comedy with dramatic elements that resemble mature themes. The film represents the journey of adolescence which sees the main character transition from a spoiled and laidback man-child to a mature and responsible adult. This is a major subject matter that could translate well into a film if done correctly, which is exactly what Judd Apatow managed to accomplish as usual. While it did have some familiar elements that were portrayed in the other coming-of-age films that came before it, its respectable script by Apatow, Pete Davidson, and Dave Sirus had enough depth in its dramatic moments to illustrate life’s challenges in a sincere and hilarious way. It didn’t poke fun of the serious situations too much, and it’s not too overly serious that it alienates its audience. It’s a remarkable balance that only Apatow can master, and boy, did he master it well. After starring in supporting roles in most of his films, Pete Davidson got a chance to shine in his main role as Scott Carlin. This was actually my first time seeing him in a major role since I hardly recognized him in his supporting roles, and I have to say, after watching the film, I’m hoping that he gets more roles like this. Davidson’s performance had the right amount of nuance and humor to display a character who’s internally struggling to the changes in his life in a way that’s highly understandable and relatable. Davidson, if you’re reading this, keep up the good work, man. Marisa Tomei was also good in her role as Scott’s mother, and Bill Burr was a sight to behold as Ray. As for its flaws, I already mentioned that the story has its familiar coming-of-age tropes, so don’t expect any new surprises in its formula. The film also suffered a bit from its bloated length. With a runtime of two hours and 16 minutes, watching the film can feel like a bit of a chore. I’m not saying that it’s entirely boring. I’m saying that this is the type of story that could’ve been told in under two hours. This is one of the common elements that Apatow’s films are known for, and this film will definitely depend on whether or not you like this element. I personally still have mixed feelings on this element. The pacing was forgivable despite being a bit uneven during a couple of scenes, but when it drags out its story constantly to fit its runtime, it can come out as a bit problematic.
Overall, “The King of Staten Island” doesn’t take its coming-of-age formula to unusual places, but it has the right mixture of comedy and heart to rule over its flaws and kickstart Davidson’s next stage in his acting career. Its running time and pacing can be a bit problematic for some people, but its strong cast (particularly Davidson), Apatow’s direction, and its heartfelt screenplay kept it from being a bloated bore. It’s not going to take home a lot of awards. However, it has the quality it needed to satisfy those who are in a mood for a feel-good film.