‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ is Straightforward But Powerful

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Singing about dancing (CREDIT: Emily Aragones/TriStar Pictures)

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Nafessa Williams, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Dramatized Real-Life Drug Addiction

Release Date: December 23, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: She’s been called the greatest voice of her generation. To make it even more elemental, her nickname was simply “The Voice.” Maybe this movie about her should have been called The Voice. Sure, there’s also a popular reality competition show by that name, but wouldn’t it have been the most aptly brazen decision? Instead, I Wanna Dance with Somebody opted for the typical musical biopic convention of using one of the artist’s most popular songs as the title.

I’m talking about Whitney Houston, of course. And if you’ve been paying attention at all to popular music for the last 40 years, then you surely already know the whole story. I Wanna Dance with Somebody covers the whole shebang, with every triumph and tragedy on full widescreen display.

What Made an Impression?: I Wanna Dance with Somebody has absolutely no intention of reinventing the biopic playbook. It starts with Houston’s origin story and ends with her untimely passing, covering every career highlight in between. With all the drama inherent to her story, this box-checking approach is certainly hard to resist. But also, her story has already been told plenty of times in high-profile formats, so a biopic is hardly necessary. Nevertheless, I Wanna Dance with Somebody manages to distinguish itself in a couple of ways.

First of all, Kasi Lemmons is a wonderful director of emotions. She corrals every feeling, whether big or subtle, exactly where they’re supposed to be. And there’s plenty to corral here! It certainly helps that she’s assembled a cast who know exactly where to find the moment. Naomi Ackie summons Whitney’s spirit as fervently as possible, while Stanley Tucci is basically the second coming of her mentor-producer Clive Davis. As Cissy and John Houston, Tamara Tunie and Clarke Peters bring mythological heft to parenting, while Ashton Sanders is an absolute scoundrel as Bobby Brown.

The film’s other distinguishing figure is serving as a corrective to the historical record regarding Houston’s sexuality. Before her marriage to Brown, Whitney shacked up with her longtime assistant and creative director Robyn Crawford, here played with steely loyalty by Nafessa Williams. The real Crawford detailed their relationship in her memoir, but that’s not something you’re likely to have heard in the most mainstream tellings. But for I Wanna Dance with Somebody, there was clearly no way around it, and I for one am grateful for that.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody is Recommended If You Like: Behind the Music, Juicy tell-alls, Scrolling through YouTube for classic live performances

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 #1 Hits

I Watched ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ on the Same Weekend: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 156 Minutes
Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.


‘Harriet’ is at Its Best When Emphasizing How Good Harriet Tubman Was at Her Job

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CREDIT: Glen Wilson/Focus Features

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Nettles, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Bevy of Insults and a Few Scenes of Brutal Violence

Release Date: November 1, 2019

As I began to watch Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet, the thought “Shouldn’t I be watching this in school?” passed through my mind. That is by no means an insult, but rather, it is an illustration of how my own experience (and the experience of many American schoolchildren) has primed me to feel towards a movie like this one. Tubman is an important figure in American history, so a film about her is a useful tool for history teachers to keep their students’ attention. In that sense, Harriet does not need to be a masterpiece (though bonus points if it is), it just needs to be historically accurate, or at least true to the spirit of its subject. On that count, I recommend Harriet to any teacher whose curriculum covers the era of abolition.

For everyone else who is not watching this movie in a classroom setting, you might still be excited because it has taken more than a hundred years for Tubman’s story to finally get the full-blown feature film treatment (though Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson played her in earlier TV versions). Although, that excitement might be tempered by the difficulty of having to endure yet another movie viscerally showing the brutal treatment of the enslaved (as well as free black Americans). But I think the best way to appreciate Harriet is as a story of a person who does her job very well, i.e., the sort of character that Tom Hanks often plays. Cynthia Erivo proves that a woman and a person of color is just as capable of this role (not that any proof was necessary, given the historical record).

Tubman escapes to freedom on her own, safely travelling about a hundred miles by foot despite her illiteracy and the relentlessness of her slave master. She then goes on to help secure the freedom of hundreds of more slaves while pretty much matter-of-factly never losing any of her cargo, stunning her fellow conductors on the Underground Railroad with her success rate. But as the steady, burrowingly intense eyes on Erivo’s face tell you, this is just what she does. Slavery had to end at some point, and Harriet Tubman was as up for the job as she needed to be.

Harriet is Recommended If You Like: Glory, Sully, Bridge of Spies

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rescue Missions