Music Break – The fabulous songs from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Happy mid December, everyone! It’s less than two weeks until Christmas so I’ve been watching more holiday-themed movies than usual… naturally.

So this weekend I decided to watch one new Christmas movie and my hubby + I debated whether to watch The Christmas Chronicles or Jingle Jangle on Netflix. We decided on the latter because of the great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Well, it did not disappoint! Though my hubby isn’t a huge fan of musicals (and I could sense a slight ‘oh no’ expression when the characters suddenly burst into song in its opening number), he ended up enjoying the movie, yay!

I have to say I really enjoyed the movie! The story has a Dickens-an vibe to it, one can’t help but think this is A Christmas Carol with an all-black cast. Writer/director David E. Talbert has created a new sumptuous holiday classic that’s perfect for the whole family. I was ooh-aahing at the spectacular set pieces, beautiful costumes (by Michael Wilkinson, natch!) and simply magical look of the movie.

The songs by EGOT-winner John Legend are fused with fun and sweet holiday spirit, while some of the songs are emotionally-tinged as the characters deal with loss and betrayal. The score itself is by John Debney, who’s no stranger to working on musical/animated features (The Greatest Showman, The Jungle Book), though I also admire his work for The Passion of the Christ.

Here’s the trailer if you haven’t watched it already:

Well, in lieu of a full review, I thought I’d do a Music Break post instead, since I haven’t done one in months! I think we could all use a huge dose of holiday cheer these days, and these songs certainly did that for me. 

I LOVE this opening number sung by young Jeronicus Jangle (what a fabulous name!) played by Justin Cornwell. The set design of the Jangles & Things store that seemed to have been meticulously designed. The choreography is astounding! It’s no surprise that Ashley Wallen is the same choreographer behind The Greatest Showman.

Can I just say I adore Mrs ooops, Miss Johnston (played wonderfully by Lisa Davina Phillip). Her crushing on Mr. Jangle is such a hoot, she’s such a delightful comic relief and more! I wish she had more scenes in the movie but I’m glad she ended up having a bit more to do towards the end. The trio singers add even more whimsy to an already merry musical number!

I’m glad that Jingle Jangle isn’t just all about pretty visuals and phenomenal set design. The movie is filled with memorable characters of all ages. Madalen Mills is such a joy to watch, a bundle of sunshine everywhere she goes. Though the film is set in the Winter, there’s not a drab mood in sight! What an inspiration to young girls everywhere that Journey is a brilliant kid inventor and she’s singing a song about math. Her enthusiasm and jubilant spirit is infectious, and this song is definitely her calling card that this amazingly-talented young performer is ready to be a star!

I should’ve known Forest Whitaker could sing… somehow I always see him as a serious actor, and he did direct one of my favorite dramas starring one of the greatest singers of all time, Whitney Houston in Waiting To Exhale. But according to IMDb, Mr. Whitaker went to USC where he majored in music and earned two more scholarships training as an operatic tenor. In any case, this one is such a sad but beautiful song.

Last but definitely NOT least, Tony-award winner Anika Noni Rose absolutely killed this powerful song that’s truly the heart of soul of the movie. The loss and redemption theme is wonderfully realized here… Make It Work Again might as well be an anthem for 2020 as we all hope we can make things work again after this pandemic!

I’m not including Borrow Indefinitely song by the Don Juan toy – I initially thought was voiced by Antonio Banderas, but turns out it’s Ricky Martin. Though at first I thought he was a hoot, the character actually gives me the creeps and I find it quite irritating (sorry Ricky!).

Now, who else saw this movie and thought, man this could totally be a Broadway musical! Well, when we can finally go see live theater again, I could totally see this one become a musical hit. I mean, the set pieces would work nicely on stage and the musical numbers already have a theatrical-feel to it. It would be a fun alternative to White Christmas, Scrooge, Elf, etc. while giving performers of color a chance to star in a new + fabulous Christmas classic.


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. If you’ve seen Jingle Jangle, which song(s) is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: Black Panther (2018)

I had been looking forward to write a review of this film since I saw it a week ago. By now practically everyone has seen this film, as it broke all kinds of box office records. Normally I don’t really care for numbers for a big tentpole films like this one, but I am thrilled for the success of Black Panther because simply it’s a terrific film that deserved to be seen on the big screen.

The film’s storyline is set just right after the events in Captain America: Civil War (a film I also admired a lot) where T’Challa, the then heir of a fictional African country Wakanda, lost his father. The young King of Wakanda returns his technologically-advanced and supremely wealthy home. It isn’t easy to be king however, as his ascend to the throne faced many challenges. Unlike many superhero films where the villains are mostly maniacal figure hell-bent to rule/destroy the world, T’Challa’s advisory turns out to be a personal one.

I won’t go into too much details about the plot as it’s best to go into this blindly as I did. The story takes place mostly in Wakanda, but it started off in a familiar urban setting in Oakland, California. I love how relatable the story is, and you truly feel for the dilemma of the characters involved. Rich in vibranium, the indestructible metal that’s used to make Captain America’s shield, Wakanda isolated themselves from other African nations and posed as a Third World country. Run by the King’s sister Shuri, her state-of-the-art tech lab would make even Tony Stark and Bond’s Q envious! This is a country that truly can stand alone in the universe and would never need any other nation’s help in any way. Therein lies the dilemma. Why doesn’t it help other nations and fellow Africans in need? The themes of refugees and the role (and responsibility) of a powerful nation is so fitting given the current global refugee crisis.

There is even a mid-credit scene that seems to directly address the current administration with its message about building bridges instead of barriers in times of crisis. The film doesn’t shy away from the current political climate, yet somehow it isn’t preachy and the story is still organic within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s admirable in and of itself the fact that the plot fits perfectly within MCU but yet manages stands alone and in many ways, be ahead of the pack. Because the conflicts are so personal to our hero, even when the action sequences are huge and bombastic, it never overpowered the story and there are real human lives at stake.

Let’s talk about the fantastically-diverse ensemble cast that made this film so great. From its intro in Captain America: Civil War, I already loved Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but here we get to see his dramatic chops. The charismatic actor’s got an effortless regal vibe about him, plus he looks just as spectacular as a monarch as he is a superhero! He’s surrounded by a phenomenal cast, from veteran actors like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, to relatively-new-but-accomplished young stars like Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira. I have to admit I had a gleeful smile watching two of the Tolkien white guys, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, reunited in this movie. The latter had more to do here and he provided some of the comic relief along with Wright’s Shuri.

Kudos to writers Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole for writing a villain who is multi-dimensional and someone we actually empathize with. Jordan displayed a layered performance as well as a towering physical magnetism as Erik Killmonger. Both he and Boseman are such strapping [read: hot] lads that their fight scenes are quite breathtaking to behold, but the action actually mean something instead of just a gratuitous display of destructive force [*cough* Man of Steel *cough*]. The filmmakers also created a conflict that has political/cultural significance that raises the stakes, yet keeping it grounded with human emotion.

I’d say the film might pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, considering the number of female characters with a real arc instead of used merely as accessories. The real MVPs are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and a Wakandan spy, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, a Wakandan general of the all-female special forces. Gurira’s army of bad-ass women easily give Wonder Woman‘s Amazonians a run for their money. So gratifying to see SO many heroic women of color on screen who are strong in terms of physical strength as in their intellect and resolve. Nakia is an especially inspiring character worthy of the King’s love and admiration, and Nyong’o has an amazing screen presence. Forget Black Widow, I’d love to see a spinoff with Nakia and Okoye in their own standalone Marvel movie!

This is what I called ‘fun with substance’ kind of movie, which is what Marvel has excelled at by hiring indie filmmakers to helm their blockbusters. The film showed off the huge $200 mil budget in terms of visuals and action set pieces, but the best part of it is still the story and its characters. But man, what a feast for the eyes it truly is! Apparently Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige spent more $$$ on this film to get the wealthy-beyond-measure world of Wakanda just right (according to Vulture). The towering skyscrapers, the hi-tech trains/spaceships, not to mention the incredibly rich costumes that would hopefully earn Ruth E. Carter some Costume Design nominations. They look stylishly-futuristic while still honoring its tribal African roots.

I love that Black Panther has a ton of girl power both in front and behind the camera. Its cinematographer Rachel Morrison has just broke new ground as the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar (for Mudbound)! Her stunning visual work here is quite Oscar-worthy as well. There’s such colorful vibrancy in this film that’s complemented by the lively score by Coogler’s longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this film. The stakes felt real and there were moments of genuine sadness, but it also didn’t forget to have fun because hey, it’s still a superhero movie. I LOVE the exhilarating car chases that shows off Black Panther’s prowess. Basically the entire scene in Busan, South Korea is just so freaking cool! I mentioned Shuri reminds me a bit of Bond’s Q, well, some of the action scenes here at times feels like a Bond film but thankfully without the male chauvinism aspect.

Now, it’s not a perfect film as there are some pacing issues and some parts seemed to go on longer than necessary. But really, those are really small quibbles in a largely masterful work by director Ryan Coogler. He’s joined a growing number of indie filmmakers like the Russo Brothers and Taika Waititi who’ve stepped up to the task of making such quality superhero films for Marvel. I’m glad that they now have a fruitful career ahead of them, as I want to see more of their work.

Diverse representation alone doesn’t make a film automatically good. But Black Panther did the diverse cast justice by giving them something worthy to do in a well-written, thought provoking film. And THAT is definitely something worth praising about. I hope Hollywood would finally realize that racial diversity and inclusion does pay at the movies! It may not be the first black comic-book-based movie, but it certainly the biggest and best one to date.

A friend from work put it best, ‘Forget about Marvel universe, give me a Wakanda universe!’ Hey I’m down with that! #WakandaForever


So have you seen ‘Black Panther’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

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Sci-fi films involving aliens coming to earth is a dime a dozen. So it’s so refreshing to see a film that treads a familiar ground, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the premise of ARRIVAL is deceptively simple. One day, twelve alien ships land all over earth, one of them in is Montana, USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) was teaching at her college when the world came to a standstill watching the breaking news reporting the aliens arrival. Soon Louise is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, or not one I remember well anyway. Apparently director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language, which is utterly fascinating to see on film. It looks like a circular thing made out of black ink called the logograms. The alien creatures (which they dubbed ‘heptapods’) have a squid-like form with tentacles that they use to ‘write’ these logograms onto a frosty glass wall that separate them from the humans when they visit their spaceship. There’s quite a suspense the first time we saw these heptapods, but as the film progresses, it’s apparent that this film is so much more than an alien movie or stories about aliens. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival.

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The story also deals with the notion of time, which I can’t quite begin to explain. I have to admit it took me a while to grasp just what is going on, as Louise’s time decoding the alien language is interspersed with remembrance of Louise’s daughter. To say more about this might get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the mother/daughter story is an emotional one. By the end of the film, we’re not asking so much about how and why the aliens got to earth, but it makes us ponder about love, loss, and the ‘choices’ that we make in life.

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Amy Adams‘ quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. I have seen quite a few of her stellar work and this could be her best performance yet. Perhaps 2017 would be the year the 5-time Academy Award nominee is finally a ‘bride’ instead of the the ‘bridesmaids’ at the Oscar. Jeremy Renner gives a strong supporting performance here as the mathematician partner of Louise, he has a pretty effortless chemistry with Adams and was quite the comic relief in some scenes. I thought the Abbott and Costello reference was quite a hoot. Unfortunately Forest Whitaker isn’t given that much to do in this film, neither is Michael Stuhlbarg.

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I have to say that people who have little patience for slow-paced films could be potentially frustrating. In fact, the guy next to me actually dozed off and snored loudly after about a half hour, it’s too bad as he missed out on the best parts of the film. For me, it’s such a treat to see a visceral and emotionally-complex film, especially with a female protagonist at the center, so I was engrossed from start to finish. The eerie music by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds a creepy and mysterious feel to the film, it’s deliberately somber yet enigmatic. I still prefer Jóhannsson’s work in Sicario but this one is certainly excellent in its own right.

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Québec-based filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the few emerging directors (like Jeff Nichols, Taika Waititi) whose work have continued to impress me. I love his emphasis on character development instead of wham-bam action. The use of special effects here is utterly fascinating, especially in the design of the alien spaceships and the otherwordly logograms language and how they’re transmitted. I’m now even more psyched about Blade Runner 2 just on account of having Villeneuve at the helm.

Arrival is one of those films that will stay with you long after the end credits, and that’s always a good sign. It certainly has a haunting quality that is always a positive thing in my book. Whether or not this will be a sci-fi classic remains to be seen, but without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.

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What are your thoughts on ARRIVAL?

FlixChatter Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

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What strikes me most when I left this film was how the devastating events portrayed in this film happened not too long ago. As an immigrant living in the US, I may not be as well versed about the history of the Civil Rights movements nor the details of racial segregation that still prevailed just five decades ago. But the issue of racism is something we fellow human beings can all identify with and relate on various levels. In Lee Daniels’ The Butler, those universal themes become even more potent as it’s such a personal journey. And what a journey it was.

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) is based on a real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film opens when Cecil was a young boy in the 20s, working on a Southern Plantation in the Deep South. In one day, his mother got raped by his white owner, and his dad ended up getting killed right in front of him. The older woman of the house took pity on him and trained him to be a house servant. It soon became the key to survival for Cecil as he leaves the plantation, as he’s able to find work from that training which eventually leads to him being ‘discovered’ by a White House staff.

Whilst Cecil lives a relatively happy life, now married and able to afford a pretty nice house where he lives with his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and his two boys. He loves his job and is well-liked by both his employers and fellow staff. Presidents come and go but they’re all fond of Cecil and find him to be trustworthy. Life may seem quiet in the White House, but the country is in tumult, with dramatic changes happening during his time, most notably The Civil Rights movement and the war in Vietnam, both of which affect Cecil’s life in a personal way.

Despite the tough subject matter though, I’m glad that Daniels peppers this film with wit and humor. Cecil’s enthusiasm for his craft is endearing, and soon he gains a reputation amongst his staff for his unmistakable dedication. I love all the interaction in the kitchen with fellow service staff Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, with Cuba as the comic relief. The film shows the contrast between what happens in Cecil’s work life and at home with his family and friends. He’s a man living in two worlds, something he’s perhaps unable and unwilling to resolve. Obviously it puts a strain on his relationship with his oldest son Louis (David Oleyowo), especially as he dabbles in politics in college. Obviously the two don’t see eye to eye on how best to handle the issue of racial prejudice. The film’s tagline says: One quiet voice can ignite a revolution, which is Cecil’s motto. It’s safe to say that Louis sees his dad as a pacifist.

As with many biopics, there are a certain dose of sentimentality here, but there are genuine dramatic tensions and terrific performances to overcome it. In fact, I didn’t feel emotionally manipulated as much as I did when I saw War Horse that’s so overwhelmingly schmaltzy. That’s quite a feat considering how gut-wrenching the real historical moments were, thank goodness I packed a bunch of tissues. I think the protest scene at the diner and the burning of the Freedom Bus by the KKK would haunt me for days. It’s pretty amusing to see the historical characters portrayed in the film, though the film stray into fanciful territory with Louis hobnobbing with all the who’s who of the Civil Rights Movements, from Malcolm X to Dr. Martin Luther King. Surely the filmmaker took a lot of liberties in this area, as it gets to be too hard to believe that one person can be in every single monumental Civil Rights event in history.

I also got a kick out of seeing a myriad of actors portraying the eight presidents during Cecil’s tenure as the butler. The make up looks jarring at times, especially John Cusack as Nixon. Seeing Alan Rickman as Reagan is one of the highlights for me as I love Rickman as an actor, though he still can’t lose his inimitable diction whilst speaking with an American accent. It took me out of the movie for a bit but overall those scenes didn’t distract me from the story.

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Now, the performances. Forest Whitaker will likely garner an Oscar nomination (this is Weinsteins-produced after all) and deservedly so. For one, he seems to ‘disappear’ into his role, a sign of a great biopic to begin with, but he also didn’t overact, which in a role like this is quite a feat. There’s a great deal of restraint in his performance, a lot of times conveying emotions though his eyes. There are moments where he overhears the political talks the presidents have with their staff that literally affect his own family, and the anguish and torment Cecil must’ve been feeling comes through in subtle gestures.

Oprah Winfrey did a good job as well, though it’s a bit tough for me not to think ‘hey that’s Oprah!’ Now, my second favorite character is David Oyelowo as Louis. The 37-year-old Brit does an impressive job playing a character so believably, from the late teens into middle age, he’s absolutely convincing. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Brits, consistently delivering terrific performances just in the past few years in The Help, Rise for the Planet of the Apes and Jack Reacher. I might have to go back to the earlier episodes of BBC Spooks as he’s apparently one of the cast!

Final Thoughts: This is the first film by Lee Daniels I saw, and I must say I’m quite impressed by his direction here. I think the filmmaker handled the crucial ‘landmark’ moments such as JFK and Dr. King’s shootings pretty well in that they always serve as a ‘background’ to the focal point that is Cecil’s life. The cinematography is beautiful, I like way he shot the details of the White House. Daniels also like to use music to highlight/dramatize certain scenes, and for the most part I quite enjoyed it. The score by Rodrigo Leao is quite pleasing to the ear as well. It’s quite an ambitious endeavor and it feels one-sided politically, but I think Daniels has crafted a charming and poignant film that I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing again.


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What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it!

FlixChatter Review: The Last Stand

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Arnold Schwarzenegger never seems to get tired of saying his iconic Terminator line. But after some petty cameos in two Expendables movies, this time he’s really back. It’s not some ubiquitous revenge thriller thankfully, but in an action comedy where he unabashedly makes fun of his old, beat-up self to great effect.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought this sounds like it could be fun, but it’s not something I’m dying to see. But the positive early reviews intrigued me, so when the screening time comes along, I was kind of looking forward to it. Well guess what, it delivered!

The story is ever so simple. A dangerous Mexican drug cartel honcho escapes from the Feds on the way to federal prison. His goal is to speed away in his ZR1 supercar to the Mexican border, but not without going through the sleepy bordertown Sommerton Junction guarded by a grizzled Sheriff Ray Owens. As Owen said in the trailer, ‘I’m not going to let that guy comes through our town without a fight.’ Corny, yes, and there’s not exactly anything new or fresh in this action flick, but I’ll be darned if I wasn’t entertained from start to finish.

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The Sheriff is taciturn but friendly. In fact, he’s revered but beloved by his townsfolk and the former LAPD deeply cares about this small town. When the time comes that the town has to face the drug cartel bandits, he only has his inexperienced deputies to rely on: Mike (the always hilarious Luis Guzmán), Jerry (Zach Gilford), Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), with the help of a village idiot who curates a weapons museum (Johnny Knoxville). Fans of Jack Ass would enjoy seeing Knoxville here who’s right in his elements with his riotous zany-ness, he’s perfectly cast in this role. The movie is filled with ludicrous action sequences, alternating between insane car chases involving a 1000-horsepowered ZR1 Corvette going 200 mph and bombastic shoot-em-ups where people don’t just get shot, they also get blown up to bits!! I’d be too busy rolling my eyes if I weren’t laughing so hard. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hysterical, but believe it or not, there’s also an emotional moment at one point that I actually got choked up a bit.

Arnie’s one liners are inherently hilarious because of the way he delivers them, but Guzmán and Knoxville are the scene stealers here, there’s riotous laughter every time they’re on screen. Guzmán’s expressive delivery is the perfect complement to Arnie’s deadpan style, too bad he didn’t have a verbal face off with the inimitable Peter Stormare who plays the villain’s henchman. As the main villain Gabriel Cortez, Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega (Open Your Eyes) displays a devilish charisma, who has a crazy mano-a-mano with the Governator… er Sheriff. I think he’d be on my next year’s list of actors I’d like to see more of 😉 Not sure what Forest Whitaker is doing here though, he’s pretty much relegated to a screaming bunch of nerves as the lead FBI agent tracking down Cortez.

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I’m quite impressed by South Korean director Jee-woon Kim‘s zippy and dynamic directing style, and for someone who reportedly doesn’t speak much English, he’s able to get the most out of his actors. The script is apparently one of the 2009’s Black List, an annual list of ‘most liked scripts’ started by a Universal exec back in 2004. The seamless mix of action and comedy makes this so entertaining to watch. It’s what I think the first Expendables should’ve been, that is, not to take things too seriously. I could tell the whole theater was having a jolly good time. It’s definitely a welcome change for me after watching something as intense as Zero Dark Thirty! I’m not saying this movie isn’t violent and bloody, but mostly it’s happens pretty quick so it keeps me from flinching too often.

So if you’re looking for a pure escapist entertainment but not quite ready to check your brain at the door, this movie should satisfy you. This ain’t gonna be the last movie you’ll see Arnie in (he’ll be seen with Sylvester Stallone again later this year in, what else, an action thriller called The Tomb), but he’s chosen a pretty good vehicle for his comeback. I’m pretty generous in my ratings here as I enjoyed it immensely, I’d be renting this one again for sure.

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Thoughts on Arnie or this film? Will you be watching it this weekend?