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Review: “The Greatest Showman” is a Musical Most Mild

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A big mistake was made with The Greatest Showman in how the posters came billed with music by the lyricists of La La Land, last year’s musical Oscar-contender. The excellent use of jazz and classic Hollywood dance numbers gave La La Land a splash of original energy and wonder. By comparison, The Greatest Showman is a mere fizzle of that talent with music better suited for the radio than your collection. Strangely, it’s fitting for the selling of a biopic on P.T. Barnum, a man that made a professional living out huckstering and placing butts in seats.

Hugh Jackman plays Barnum with a giddy smile and adventurous spirit. He’s inspired early in his life to make a name for himself, desiring to be a big success in the eyes of his lovely wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and her snobbish wealthy parents. Sure, he brought about two beautiful little girls, but it’s not enough; not when he loses his job and needs the money. Through his brand of slick-talking and fast-fingers, he opens up a museum of oddities. Only a mind so imaginative could conceive something so weird. And when the public doesn’t warm up to his strange doodads and taxidermied animals, he gets even weirder to bring himself out of debt.

It isn’t long before his museum turns into a show, starring the most unlikely of attractions. Figures big and small, hairy and scaly, colorful and colorless, are all hired on as entertainers for his grand show. They’re naturally hesitant to perform; Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) is shy about others looking more at her beard than hearing her voice and Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) doesn’t feel like being a spectacle as a dwarf. But with some more of that Barnum negotiating, he’ll get Lettie belting out tunes and Charles in a General outfit while riding around the ring. His exploits will reach further to hire playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) as his partner and famous singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) as a traveling act. And the circus only gets crazier with public opposition, dissension in the ranks, and problems at homes.

A story so chaotic and astonishing as Barnum’s could be wonderfully weird but director Michael Gracey takes a surprisingly timid take to hit that PG rating. He manages to avoid the most bitter of drama in Barnum’s clouded actions for fame by loading the film up with so much. Aspects such as his wife’s unease of his decisions, his daughters disapproving of his status, and Barnum’s desires to be one-up his father-in-law is diced up with the antics of the show. Okay, then let’s get into the characters of the show. There’s plenty to explore with Lettie coming into her own as a confident singer and the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) forming a romance with Carlyle. But like a circus with too many acts, I never felt like I had gotten more than the necessary theatrics, leaving me eager for certain performances to come back to the stage. The film is expediently cut that you won’t have time to appreciate much in its bouncy jumps from scene to scene.

Zendaya MovieSpoon

Zendaya as trapeze artist Anne Wheeler

Despite the incredible vocal talents and superb choreography, most of the songs are not all that memorable. This is mostly the fault of its style which comes in the form of a contemporary Broadway, music that is meant more for volume and pulse than style and distinction. Jenny Lind sang some fantastic opera in real life but the movie swaps that for what sounds like a pop idol, fitting with the film’s modernizing tone. It’s a style built for Broadway and radio play, but when a soundtrack feels more built than crafted, it’s nothing worth downloading immediately.

There’s a part of me that wants to buy into the Barnum cavalcade of amazement, treating his life as a musical journey of excitement and playfulness. And yet there’s a part that knows I’m being deceived when the drama comes so easy, the songs so ho-hum, and the story so sporadic in its mad dash editing. It’s a film that indeed moves and never fails to deliver on the song, and dance one has come to expect with musicals, but the expectations are what kept holding the film back. I could see the obligatory moment coming where Barnum’s troupe try to pull him out of his bottle with a song and took this as an opportunity to step out for the restroom. I returned to, as I expected, the troupe dancing on bar tables as Barnum’s spirit lifts. I wish I had trusted my instincts enough to duck out for popcorn when the Barnum museum burns down, and the oddity collective repeats the process.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: Pleasing Heists and Nagging Winks in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

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Solo is a prequel that teeters between pointless backstory and rousing world exploration. By its very conception, it is an unneeded movie, tracing origins I didn’t need to see of Han Solo acquiring his blaster, ship, and Wookie. But when the story can pull itself away from its tiring foreshadowing of the Star Wars trilogy, the film nears its more engaging aspect of the swashbuckling nature a Han Solo movie should be.

Alden Ehrenreich plays the young Han Solo with a certain swagger that doesn’t seem quite there yet. In many ways, this works for the benefit of an origin story by not starting off the outlaw as such. His story begins as that of a slave who escapes a nasty overlord, smuggling his way off a manufacturing planet with his thieving and piloting skills. But he needs to go back for his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), giving him more of a purpose besides scoring the biggest take. This aspect sends Han down many paths, from working for the Empire in the battlefields, to snatching loot from gravity-shifting train cars, to staging a rebellion on a mining planet.

Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. (Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures)

As with any prequel, there’s a problem with care for the characters when we know more or less what will happen to them. We know the dashing romance between Han and Q’ira won’t go anywhere and that Han’s new acquaintance of the gambler Lando (Donald Glover) will make it out of this film alive. Han’s questionable ally of Becket (Woody Harrelson) and his bitter crime boss Vos (Paul Bettany) probably don’t have a chance of surviving this ordeal. While I’d like to set the original Star Wars trilogy aside to enjoy Han’s heist film, I can’t help bringing it up when there are so many knowing nudges and winks to forming the character. As if we really needed to see where Han first picked up his iconic blastr or hear a variation on the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

When the film does decide to put down the callbacks, however, it does start to become the fast and adventurous caper that can exist on its own. There’s real zip to scenes of high-speed chases through snowy mountains and dangerous maelstroms. There’s a multitude of romances and twists that always keeps the blood pumping, even if it feels more like gas churning through an engine, seeming more exciting by design than delivery. And per the Star Wars design is lots of color in the settings with creative alien designs. It just wouldn’t be a gangster bar in the Star Wars universe if there wasn’t a singer in strange attire singing next to a crooning blob in a jar.

The cast is sufficient enough, particularly Donald Glover embodying a smirking scoundrel and Paul Bettany as a sinister force, even if his facial makeup makes him look as though a cat scratched him. Alden Ehrenreich does a decent job at trying to match the cocky nature and boastful posture of a Han Solo in the making, but there’s not much time for him to fit into the role. The film is in such a rush to zoom towards a robot rebellion or a fighting an octopus near a black hole that the charisma never simmers enough to the point where Ehrenreich makes the character his own. The most unique character, despite being overtly bold in its message, is the droid of L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a supposed female droid that is more infatuated with droid rights than piloting for Lando. She has a romantic attraction to Lando which opens up a whole new can of worms for the Star Wars universe.

Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. (Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures)

Much like the Millenium Falcon, which appears in the film as a less dirty spaceship before Han got his hands on the controls, this is a film that stops and starts, making me want to kick the projector every few minutes. When slowing down for its underwhelming conversations of how Han met Chewy, the film stalls in easy and unnecessary nostalgia. Just before it grows tedious with references, the action kicks back in and there’s a glee to Han’s adventure of thieving, blasting, and deceiving. And I really wished the film kept up its own pep of being its own thing so the fate of Solo doesn’t loom over the picture with a depressing realization that it’s not going to end well for him. It’s such a rusty movie that struggles to be fun and daring you can almost hear director Ron Howard muttering that old Han Solo line “Here me baby, hold together.” Solo does hold together, but crashes towards the finish line in such a broken and battered state you wonder how it even took off.


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Deadpool Dethrones Avengers With Triple-Digit Debut

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The first film to knock down Marvel Studio’s towering juggernaut of Avengers: Infinity War from the #1 slot has arrived. It’s no surprise that it would indeed be another superhero movie, but it is surprising by how much it overtook. Deadpool 2, Fox’s Marvel property of a fourth-wall breaking anti-hero that satirizes comic book movies, premiered to a huge first weekend of $125 million domestic. Despite being just a few million dollars short of its previous film, it’s still an impressive achievement for an R-rated Marvel movie that keeps the momentum going both in comedy and box office. Even more impressive is it’s worldwide gross that is currently sitting at a beefy $301 million. Expect it to stick around for such a successful first weekend.

With such a high take from Deadpool, Avengers: Infinity War naturally took a big hit. Dropping by 53%, the blockbuster made only $28.6 million in fourth weekend. It’s still standing tall with a domestic total of $595 million, but it’s doubtful at this point that it’ll reach the same heights as Marvel’s earlier 2018 blockbuster of Black Panther. Other debuts this week were not so lucky with such limited takes. The all-female comedy Book Club premiered at #3 for the weekend with a $12.5 million domestic gross. The family comedy Show Dogs placed at #6 with $6 million in its domestic take.

Returning films are weathering the Marvel storm decently with expected drops. A Quiet Place is still hanging in there with the lowest drop of the weekend, bringing in another $4 million to boost its domestic total up to $176 million, still an amazing gross for the $17 million horror movie that could. The giant monster movie Rampage is clinging to the top 10 in its #9 slot, but it’s not looking good for such expensive blockbuster still so far away from meeting its budget. And RBG, the documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsberg, remains in the #10 spot from last weekend with its domestic total now up to $3.8 million.

View the full top 10 for the weekend below.

Deadpool 2 ($125,000,000)
Avengers: Infinity War ($28,672,000)
Book Club ($12,500,000)
Life of the Party ($7,725,000)
Breaking In ($6,470,000)
Show Dogs ($6,034,770)
Overboard ($4,725,000)
A Quiet Place ($4,040,000)
Rampage ($1,500,000)
RBG ($1,280,000)

Next weekend will pit Deadpool against another anti-hero in Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Star Wars side story on Han Solo. It will indeed be interesting to see how a Star Wars movie plays in the summer as the previous three Disney Star Wars productions have all been massive blockbusters in December. For debuting in 4,200 theaters, the pressure is on to see Star Wars topple Marvel.


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Another Astounding Weekend at the Box Office for Avengers: Infinity War

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Box Office Weekend 5/4/18-5/6/18

Not the least bit surprising, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War has dominated the weekend box office with another massive gross. In its second weekend, the grandest superhero ensemble to date brought in $112.4 million. This brings its domestic total up to $450 million, and its worldwide take well over $1 billion. Time will tell if it has the legs, however, to hold its own against Marvel’s other superhero epic this year, Black Panther. Considering Black Panther is still in the top 10, and has almost passed $700 million domestic, it’ll be a close race between the two Marvel movies.

Of course, the success of the Avengers is due in no small part to this being a rather sparse weekend of premieres appearing in fewer theaters. Braving the Marvel storm to come in at #2 was the romantic comedy remake, Overboard, starring Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris, making $14.7 million domestic. And if that’s the gross of the #2 spot, you can imagine how lower the other films are. Tully, a new comedy Jason Reitman and starring Charlize Theron, came in at #6 with a domestic gross of $3.1 million. Further down at #10 is the new David Tennant starring thriller, Bad Samaritan, making $1.7 million for the weekend.

There were expected dips all around with no huge surprises, but many of the successful films that have hung around are growing a considerable gross. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place had the lowest drop and is currently sitting at a robust $159 million domestic total. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has already blazed many records, but it’s only $7 million away from clearing $700 million domestic.

See the full top 10 box office results below.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War ($112,474,000)
  2. Overboard ($14,750,000)
  3. A Quiet Place ($7,600,000)
  4. I Feel Pretty ($4,900,000)
  5. Rampage ($4,620,000)
  6. Tully ($3,186,000)
  7. Black Panther ($3,146,000)
  8. Truth or Dare ($1,885,000)
  9. Super Troopers 2 ($1,815,000)
  10. Bad Samaritan ($1,758,000)

Next weekend, Avengers will be battling against the Melissa McCarthy starring comedy Life of the Party and the Gabrielle Union starring thriller Breaking In. Considering that Life of the Party will have the most significant theater count, McCarthy has the only real shot at being the first film to knock the superhero giant down from the top 10, though it’s doubtful of the Avengers hype will have died down by then.


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