Movie Review ~ Whitney


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An in-depth look at the life and music of Whitney Houston.

Stars: Whitney Houston

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: When I was young and MTV was just starting, I remember asking a friend’s sister to record this one video from an artist I just loved because I wanted to be able to watch it whenever I wanted. I even used a tape recorder to nab a sound recording so I could listen to it on the go. The song? How Will I Know. The artist? Whitney Houston. It was the start of a life-long devotion to the singer and sometimes actress, one that didn’t end with her tragic death at 48 on February 11, 2012.  Before she died and even after she was gone, rumors about drug use, sexual abuse, and destructive behavior swirled around the artist leaving many to believe the lies without knowing the truth.

In the new documentary Whitney, director Kevin Macdonald (How I Live Now) explores Houston’s meteoric rise and untimely fall through an introspective lens. Though he’s become more well known for Hollywood films, Macdonald got his start with documentary filmmaking and has kept to his roots throughout the years. It’s Macdonald’s experience with this genre and his piqued interest in the subject that propels Whitney from being a standard biography to an electric showcase of the dark side of fame.  Seeing the previews for Whitney I expected to come out of the film sad but never expected to come out as mad as I did. Here’s another tale of a talent surrounded by people that loved her for what she gave them but turned a blind eye to her cries for help. Not wanting to upset their meal ticket, it’s clear that family, friends, and co-workers were unwilling to tell the troubled performer no and largely sat idly by as she imploded.

An interesting technique Macdonald uses is to give viewers a snapshot of what was going on in the world at various points throughout Houston’s career. Interspersed with family photos and videos are television ads of the day and news clips from key events. It’s not exactly a revolutionary method but it helps set the scene quickly and distinctly. Through the years we get a better idea of what kind of impact Houston had on pop culture and how, after her public battle with drugs, she eventually became a joke to the very people that once sang her praises.

As she was growing up in New Jersey, Macdonald interviews those that knew Nippy (Houston’s nickname) and could tell at an early age that she possessed something special. Raised by her civil servant father and groomed by her famous mother (Cissy Houston, a singer), Houston was exactly the kind of fresh face and powerful voice that the music industry didn’t even know they needed. Shepherded by Clive Davis at Arista records, Macdonald boldly moves the action far forward, jumping from the popularity of her first album and skipping over the next several years as Houston cements herself as a gigantic star.  Going beyond the music, Macdonald shins a light on secrets within the Houston family and goes into uncomfortable detail in how everything in Houston’s upbringing wasn’t as rosy as her PR team made it out to be.

A telling sign of how fame can affect family and friends, many of the subjects interviewed get “employee” added to their onscreen relationship credit over time. Eventually, everyone that she was close to got on her payroll which caused great conflicts of interest between the star and those she trusted. Were they giving her advice as a friend or as an employee? Did they have her best interest as a person in mind or were they just looking the other way to keep getting a paycheck.  Thankfully, Macdonald doesn’t fall on either side of this issue but keeps Whitney as objective as possible. This viewer surely made his own conclusions but the filmmaker lets the words of Houston and those that knew her tell the story…and lets some of them dig their own grave. In frank and honest interviews, people admit to, among other things, providing Houston with drugs, knowing about sexual abuse within Houston’s extended family, and worrying about her parenting of daughter Bobbi Kristina. Houston’s notorious ex-husband Bobby Brown pops up and does himself no favors while the brief time we sepnd with Houston’s mother tells us all we need to know about the fire in their bellies that fueled their dreams of success.

While Macdonald covers a lot of bases (including the rumors about Houston’s sexuality) he never fully ties up any loose ends. There are several items that are introduced but never truly explored, a sign the film could have been a lot longer had Macdonald been free from the constraints of a theatrical running length. My hope is that any excised footage or interviews are made available on a home release or that a longer version is compiled at a later time. There’s just too much to cover in two hours and, while it’s all fascinating, too many of the fairly important pieces to  a much deeper puzzle are left in the box.

Let’s just face facts, Whitney Houston was one of the best singers in history and to lose her so early was an outright tragedy. Could her death have been prevented? Was there something more someone could have done? Sadly, the answer is yes and while Whitney doesn’t try to answer all the questions audiences may come with, it does provide stunning evidence that many people let her down.

Movie Review ~ Ant-Man and The Wasp


The Facts
:

Synopsis: As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Randall Park

Director: Peyton Reed

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Now that we’re 20 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear where every character sits in the franchise family tree. While Iron Man is the father figure, the Guardians of the Galaxy folks are the Cousin Eddie’s of the group and Spider-Man is the kid brother. Black Panther has been established as the cool uncle and that leaves Ant-Man as the fun-cle, the one all the kids run to when he arrives because they know he’ll be good for a laugh, a jolly distraction while the other relatives are busy setting the table. The problem is that fun-cles eventually have to sit at the adults table when dinner is served and that can be an awkward fit.

Same goes for Ant-Man.

Introduced in 2015 right after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man came on the scene right when we needed him most. Things were getting too serious and some levity was needed to save the superhero series from wallowing in too many apocalypse-like battle royales. Director Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd’s first outing felt a welcome deep breath of air…it may not have been totally fresh but it zapped some energy at a critical point.

What winds up being too bad about the timing of Ant-Man and The Wasp is that it’s coming on the heels of two widely (and wildly) talked about entries (Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War) and the film can’t help but feel a bit diluted by its bigger and better siblings. Make no mistake, it’s a perfectly fine bit of popcorn entertainment that works more often than not…but it doesn’t feel like a solid enough chapter in the overall story Marvel is trying to tell.

Taking place around the same time as the events in Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp opens with a flashback prologue that introduces us to Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows) and shows us how she winds up lost in the same Quantum Realm Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd, Wanderlust) escaped from at the end of the first film. We learned in that movie no one had come back from this other dimension but with Scott’s return there is a possibility of the long-last Janet being saved. Now seemingly connected to Janet, Scott has to get an S.O.S. message to her husband (Hank Pym {Michael Douglas, And So It Goes}) and their daughter (Hope van Dyne, {Evangeline Lilly, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies}) before a thin opening of escape closes forever.

Standing in the way are several roadblocks the film juggles during its economical running length. Due to his involvement in the battle featured in Captain America: Civil War, Scott is under house arrest (a clever explanation of his absence from Avengers: Infinity War) and has just three days left on his sentence. The FBI is tracking Hope and Hank as well so how can the three join together to decode Janet’s message and bring her back from the Quantum Realm? Then there’s a toothy villain played by Walton Goggins (Tomb Raider) who keeps popping up at the most inopportune time and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, Ready Player One) with her own reasons for wanting to find Janet.

With so many characters running around the film can feel a bit overstuffed, especially considering none of the villains make much of an impression. I found the original film to be a nice little burst of fun and was able to feed off the manic energy of the proceedings. Here, the sequel tries to recreate that feeling to mostly the same results, becoming a movie that’s quick on its feet, but one that has less of an impact by the time the credits roll. While the stakes are high on a personal level for these characters there’s nothing that rises to the importance of anything on a global scale so in the end your enjoyment factor becomes a matter of how invested you get in the performances.

All the actors that have retuned for the film pretty much pick up where they left off. Rudd has had the benefit of another Ant-Man appearance under his belt so he coasts along nicely. Though Rudd isn’t your typical choice for a super-hero, like Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool and Deadpool 2 he’s mined his comic talents for good and made a believer out of me. Douglas, Lilly, and Michael Pena (End of Watch) all bring individual strengths but I was left scratching my head at Laurence Fishburne (Last Flag Flying) and his drastically underwritten man-splaining role. Goggins is a bit of a bore by this point, having played this type of smarmy dude in one too many movies. He’s easily outshone by John-Kamen as a more layered foe for Ant-Man and his pals. Though she disappears after the prologue for nearly 90 minutes, when Pfeiffer returns to the screen she arrives ready to play — I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Pfeiffer and this pfranchise.

Those who have been riding a Marvel high on the two previous movies released in 2018 are best directed to lower the bar a little when approaching Ant-Man and The Wasp. I can see why Marvel positioned it as they did but with the ending of Avengers: Infinity War causing such drama and emotion I found it a bit of a tough sell to go into a movie that’s so dramatically different in theme. Here’s your frequent reminder to stay for the credits…I found the mid-credit scene to be one of the more meaty and imperative-to-see sequences yet.