musical

REVIEW: The Last Five Years (2014)

Struggling actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and her successful novelist boyfriend Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) each tell the story of their love.

The Last Five Years is a little hard to wrap your head around at the beginning and that’s because it’s got two stories running parallel to each other. Cathy’s story is told in reverse, from when their relationship ends to the joys of falling in love, while Jamie’s is linear, going from their relationship beginning to the struggles and its end. The story bounces back and forth between the different moments of time as Cathy and Jamie take turns singing a song from their point of view. The colours of characters clothes and the general lighting helps you figure out where you are in their relationship as everything is so much brighter when they’re in love, compared to when their relationship is going downhill. Once you get used to this story technique The Last Five Years is enjoyable, it just takes a while o get settled into it.

The opening five minutes of The Last Five Years is fantastic and unfortunately the rest of the film never really lives up to that emotional performance. Anna Kendrick is just brilliant, as she sings with a broken heart, and the song “Still Hurting” is beautiful and powerful. While it’s definitely one of the saddest songs in the musical, it’s also the most powerful and memorable one. While the songs are generally nice, unfortunately for a musical, nice isn’t good enough and The Last Five Years doesn’t have a particularly memorable soundtrack. The songs are solid, but the melodies are quite similar so besides the great opener, not many of them stand out.

Kendrick and Jordan are both very charming and have great chemistry but it’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t treat it’s two lead characters the same. Cathy is sweet, supportive, and tries her best while Jamie has a whole song about how it sucks that he’s now married to Cathy as it means he can’t cheat with all the women who suddenly want to sleep with him. It makes the story unbalanced but also interesting because as the story progresses you see how Cathy and Jamie’s interests, wants, and dreams no longer line up and maybe they never really did.

The Last Five Years is a sweet musical with a very realistic take on relationships and how the two people in a relationship can feel differently about each other at different times. While the songs and performances are good, there’s little that makes this film stand out. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Chi-Raq (2015)

Fed up with the violence on the streets of her city due to the rivalry between the Spartans led by her boyfriend Demetrius (Nick Cannon) and the Trojans led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) rallies the Spartans’ and the Trojans’ lovers to withhold sex until there is peace.

Directed by Spike Lee, Chi-Raq is a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Whether because of its ancient Greek play roots, or because it’s a musical, the dialogue in Chi-raq has a rhythm to it and often rhymes. In terms of dialogue it reminds me of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in a way, but Chi-Raq is still its own unique thing.

Chi-Raq offers commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement, with names of real people who have been murdered being mentioned throughout, and Americas’ obsession with guns in general. While all the characters are affected by gun violence in some way, it is Jennifer Hudson’s Irene who is at the centre of it all when her young child is killed. She’s in mourning but with the help of Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) she takes part in their own protest against the killing of innocent bystanders.

Besides the broader social commentary, Chi-Raq also has some brilliant female characters and shows off the power of solidarity between women which was fantastic. The heart and soul of Chi-Raq is Lysistrata. She’s funny, strong and determined. She unifies people in a way that no one could’ve expected and Teyonah Parris is magnificent.

Everything about Chi-Raq is big and bold and very stylish. The music and songs are catchy, and the dance routines are often over the top but everything about it works so well. It’s message is obvious but it also manages to be a film that’s fun and full of characters with depth.

Chi-Raq is striking and as about as subtle as a brick to the face but with some incredible performances, especially by its female leads, it’s a funny yet powerful film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

As Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) prepares to open the hotel on a Greek island like her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) always dreamed of doing, she learns about how her mother as a young woman (Lily James) discovered the island and found love and heartache along the way.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the sequel to the hit 2008 film Mamma Mia! and it manages to be a sequel and a prequel at the same time. Nearly the entire cast of the original film are back, and their chemistry is just as good all these years later. There’s some fun editions too with Andy Garcia as the hotel manager and Cher as Sophie’s grandmother. The young cast all do a fantastic job of bringing their own take to the characters we already know. Lily James has big boots to fill with Donna, but she is great as a young Donna who is fun, adventurous and loving. The moment when she starts singing “Mamma Mia!” when she’s broken hearted but then turns it into a moment of strength and joy is infectious.

The songs here are a mixture of the well-known ABBA songs, a lot of which were naturally featured in the first film, and some lesser-known B-sides but they were no less enjoyable. There’s a combination of sad songs and the toe tapping feel-good songs that will have you dancing in your seat. The songs, the drama and the characters all come together to make Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just as entertaining as the first film.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a love letter to the relationship between Sophie and Donna. They have such a wonderful mother/daughter relationship and this film manages to make you cry over them. It’s beautiful to have this relationship being the heart of the film, and the story works so well because both characters don’t have to be on screen for you to see how much they mean to one another.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is also very funny. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are scene-stealers as Donna’s best friends Tanya and Rosie, and their younger counterparts Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are also brilliantly funny.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a film that plays with all your emotions. It’s surprisingly sad and touching at times but overall it is a funny and joyful film that makes you forget that the real world isn’t all blue skies and dance numbers for the moment. 5/5.

Z is for Zero to Hero from Hercules

Hercules isn’t my favourite Disney film, in fact it’s one I didn’t really watch that much when I was younger, but it’s got some great songs.

Zero to Hero is my favourite from Hercules and one of my favourite Disney songs in general. I love how up beat it is and the voices of the Muses – Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman and Vanéese Y. Thomas – are phenomenal. I’ve always had a soft spot for gospel music and having a gospel style song in a Disney film is inspired.

I love the lyrics in Zero to Hero too. They’re really fun and have a lot of jokes and references that I definitely didn’t get when I was a kid. The lyrics and the big energy choir phrases, combined with a fast-paced tempo and a rhythm you just want to clap your hands to, makes Zero to Hero a great and memorable song.

This is a song I can never get tired of listening to – I’ve even learnt all the words!

O is for The Other Side from The Greatest Showman

I adore The Greatest Showman and all its songs. It’s such a feel-good film (I know it seriously glosses over the fact that P.T. Barnum wasn’t a good guy) and I was dancing in my seat in the cinema by the end of it.

I like all of the songs – This is Me is a worthy Oscar nominee – but my favourite song from the film is The Other Side. I think the reason I love it so much is because it feels like a proper musical song. While some of the other songs from the film feel like an interlude, The Other Side actually moves the plot of the film forward and you get an insight into these two characters.

You have Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron singing together, with Jackman trying to convince Efron to join his circus and Efron saying he’s fine as he is. The scene in the film is brilliant as the two of them dance around a bar together with the choreography being some of the best in the film.

I was impressed with myself when I learnt all the words to The Other Side because some of it is a bit of a tongue twister. It’s a really fun, fast-paced song that I can’t help but tap my foot along to. I also enjoy belting out the chorus at the top of my lungs!

I can’t wait till The Greatest Showman is out on DVD so I can watch it repeatedly – this song and the dance that accompanies it will be a part a watch over and over.