‘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

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is Frustrating and Deeply Satisfying – It’s So Great to Be Alive!

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CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This whole review discusses plot points in detail, so … spoiler warningggggggggggg!!!

I guess J.J. Abrams isn’t the one to cure Star Wars of its reputation for clunky and/or imaginative dialogue. So many of the lines in The Rise of Skywalker are variations of “Go! Go! Go!” or “I love my friends.” Except for C-3PO. Man, that guy is golden! Does Anthony Daniels write his own dialogue? I would like to nominate 3PO for Most Consistently Charming Character in Franchise Movie History. I mean, quips like “You didn’t say my name, sir, but I’m all right” – how can one droid bless us so much?!

I liked The Rise of Skywalker more than I didn’t. But for a movie that I like (love even!), there sure are a lot of elements that drove me  batty! And some of them could have been just fine (or brilliant even) if they had been carried out a little differently. I’ll get to the big one in a bit, but first off, why is the first hour or so of this movie a hunt for a McGuffin? When characters are on the run in Star Wars, their purpose is clear and meaningful. It’s not just a hunt for a whatever device. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt so McGuffin-y if the danger weren’t dispatched so easily…

Speaking of, I’m fine with the “death” of Chewbacca turning out to be a bait and switch, but maybe give us at least five minutes to think that he might have actually died, so that it can resonate when we discover that he’s actually fine. Similarly, I think it’s perfectly okay that C-3PO’s memory wipe isn’t permanent, but let’s draw out some more mileage of the recovery of those memories. I’m sure they can easily get a tight five out of R2-D2 catching him up to speed.

Now for the big Big BIG one: I suspect that J.J. Abrams had decided that Rey was Palpatine’s granddaughter when he made The Force Awakens. But since he didn’t convey that explicitly, that left The Last Jedi free to say that her parents were nobodies. So Skywalker combines both origins, which tracks logically enough, but changes the message. Rey rejecting her Sith parentage is resonant, though it’s not as unique a message as the idea that powerful Jedi can come from anywhere. That message isn’t refuted, but it’s not underscored as much as I suspect would have been beneficial. So if JJ was married to the Palpatine-Rey connection, what if he were to instead make it a King Herod situation, wherein Palpatine senses Rey’s remarkable power and becomes dead set on hunting her down and either recruiting her or destroying her?

Hey, here’s another question I have: what did Finn need to tell Rey? My suspicion was that it was a confession of love, since he was obviously so smitten with her when they first met, and I think they’ve always been great together. But then he had possible sparks with Rose and then he has a connection with Jannah (not to mention Poe, although any romance there was only ever speculative). Meanwhile, Rey and Kylo Ben are getting ever closer to form that dyad. So maybe I misread what Finn needed to say. But whatever it was, it was clearly important to him, and it just never came up again! Why not add 30 seconds for some unburdening?

But for all those miscues, I am massively satisfied by the ending, particularly Rey declaring herself a Skywalker and the entire trilogy-wide resolution of her arc. When all those Jedi voices reach out to her, it’s transcendent. Why not have more moments like that?! But what we got is enough to leave me happy, and The Last Jedi‘s contribution of the conviction that great Jedi can come from anywhere remains intact. And the aesthetic Star Wars qualities like droids beeping and Babu Frick tinkering are as lovely as ever.

TL;DR: increase the bleep-bloops and good kind of mystical woo-doo, decrease the bad kind of mystical woo-woo.

This Is a Movie Review: It Isn’t Shakespeare, But This ‘Lady Macbeth’ Is Still Dangerous (and Sexy as Hell)

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Roadside Attractions

This review was originally published on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton, Christopher Fairbank

Director: William Oldroyd

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: R for Unapologetically Passionate Sex and Scarily Desperate Killing

Release Date: July 14, 2017 (Limited)

Sometimes you are knocked out by a supernova of an onscreen performance that you never saw coming. Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth is the latest stunner to pull it off. Logically, I can understand why I had previously never heard of her and why this film in particular snuck up on me. She is 21 and has only three previous IMDb credits, and Lady Macbeth stars English actors I have never heard of. But emotionally, it feels like her star power exists outside of time and that I should have somehow sensed her talent my whole life.

Director William Oldroyd’s film is not based on Shakespeare, but rather Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Still, the central character is a ruthlessly canny power-grabber, so the Bard’s influence is clear and intentional. This adaptation keeps it in the nineteenth century but transfers its setting to England. Katherine (Pugh) is married off to Alexander (Paul Hilton), who is either impotent or uninterested in her, or both. But he offers the security of an estate to live in, and it is not like she has any say in the matter anyway. At first, this appears like it is going to be the bleakest of tough watches. It may be true that English women suffered systemic abuses in this time period, but that does not make it any easier to endure.

Soon enough, though, control of the situation, and the narrative, shifts rapidly. With Alexander away from the estate for weeks to attend to pressing business, Katherine initiates a torrid affair with a groundskeeper (Cosmo Jarvis) and dispatches her father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank), the owner of the estate. Her handmaid (Naomi Ackie) is so shocked that she is rendered mute for the remainder of the film.

Katherine doubles down at every opportunity to procure what she desires to the point that the only possible conclusion is the most lethal of conflicts. Lady Macbeth admirably does not back down from the dangerous requirements it has thus set for itself. At first, you feel sorry for Pugh. Then suddenly you hail her as a new feminist icon. And then in a blink of an eye, you have never been more scared of anybody.

Lady Macbeth is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Mad Max: Fury Road, You’re Next, Being Aroused and Scared at the Same Time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Corsets