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Hot Takes: Soul

Soul made me feel better about my life, and that’s a big task for a kids’ movie.

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*** There are no spoilers about the overall plot of the movie, as in, I’m not giving away what happens to the main characters, but there are spoilers about certain aspects of the movie, because I couldn’t do hot takes without questioning some of the decisions that were made along the way.

1) A lot of Black people worked on this movie. I haven’t looked it up, but I just know they did because the hair in this movie is the best animated depiction of our textures I have ever seen!!! And the conversational beats are right. You cannot get that rhythm of a Black barbershop or that cadence of two old Black women chatting unless you are intimately familiar with the culture. Good job!

2) Props to Pixar for making Dortohea Williams a boss saxophone player as opposed to the usual Black Female Singer fronting a band. I hope more little Black girls pick up the saxophone…as opposed to the clarinet. Also, gotta mention the little girl who was a boss on the trombone. I’ve only met one female trombone player in my entire life, and I love that.

3) While we’re on gender…if you open the door for a conversation, you have to handle that conversation correctly. The world-building sets up the point, very clearly, that these souls have no gender, and yet 22 is “she” when they talk about them. It’s not something to hate the movie for, but it’s something to think about, because we are having these conversations with non-binary people about ways to make the public more receptive to they/them pronouns, and this was one of the only perfect instances I’ve ever seen in media, but Pixar dropped the ball. 22 is explicitly stated to be genderless, so why gender them? You could argue that 22 picked a white woman’s voice so she/her “makes sense” but voices have no gender, 22 can do many voices, and we don’t know who 22 will actually be once they’re born. There are far more reasons to use they/them which outweigh the one debatable reason to use she/her.

4) While we’re on opening the door…I understand the comedic effect of giving 22 a middle-aged white woman voice, a Karen if you will. They went for the slight wink-nudge-takedown because we’re in the middle of the White Women are Annoying zeitgeist and they decided to ride that wave. However, there was literally one moment of payoff, a set up for one joke, but we spend the rest of the movie with that white woman’s voice coming out of a Black man’s mouth. It didn’t make me hate the movie, but it just irked me a little because none of the plot would have been lost by having that voice be a young boy or an old Black woman or simply not pointing out that 22 has the voice of a 40-year-old white woman. It’s like Get Out, the animated version. I don’t really need a white woman riding around inside of a Black man for a whole movie.

5) Nothing I love about the movie is negated by the last two points I made, but they were casting and story decisions I wish hadn’t been made. Those two decisions don’t progress or affect the plot in any way while unnecessarily pulling you out of the movie to wonder why they went the path of least consideration as opposed to taking the more thoughtful, responsible route.

6) The little unborn souls are cute. Pixar never fails to make young tiny things adorable.

7) I love everything about the plot. I absolutely love the double-sided nature of The Zone, where such a thin line separates passion and obsession. I love what Soul has to say about purpose and life. I love the idea that a lot of our personality traits are baked in from birth, because I have literally been grumpy my entire life. I’m always teetering on the edge of Emotional Calamity, and Soul is that rare movie that made me breathe and feel better about everything. The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when we first meet 22 — the mundane, the rejection, the lack of fulfillment — is how I typically see my life.  The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when he was playing piano — the people he touched, the joys he experienced, the lasting impact he made — is how I never look at my life, but how I’m going to try looking at my life going forward.

8) Cast Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett in more animated films. I can recognize their respective voices anywhere and they instantly elevate any project.

Score: 8/10 

 

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Hot Takes: Jingle Jangle

I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed.

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1) This will be a holiday classic in my home for the rest of my life. A Black cast in fantastic costumes with fantastic hair inventing things and reveling in the joy of Christmas? A holiday classic!!

2) Buddy looks like ET and Wall-E had a baby.

3) We have to talk about the hair. For me, Black Panther is the gold standard for Black hairstyles in a movie. So much care and research went into presenting a wide range of natural styles for our textures. Jingle Jangle tackles it in a Victorianesque setting, where all of the actors are wearing their natural textures, but creatively styled into updos that would fit into the time period and it is stunning. Not a pressing comb in sight! We have no choice but to stan.

4) Ricky Martin’s character is fun. And wholly unnecessary. But fun.

5) Forrest Whitaker cannot sing. There was no need to cast Forrest Whitaker. I understand wanting to throw some high profile names into a movie, especially when it’s a Black movie with a large budget, but nobody who tunes into Jingle Jangle said “let me see this Christmas movie because Forrest Whitaker is in it.” I literally turned it on because it was a Black Christmas movie, period.

6) Lisa Davina Phillip who plays Ms. Johnston is hilarious and I fully understand why she was cast even though they had her lip sync to another singing voice. I don’t understand why they didn’t have Forrest lip sync as well.

7) Anika Noni Rose CAN sing and to put one of the preeminent actress/singers in the business in a musical and give her ONE big song that partly duets with Forrest Whitaker? Electric Chair! Forrest can hold a tune, and his lack of ability can be ignored when he’s singing alone, but they put him in a duet with Anika Noni Rose! Whose idea was that?!

8) The opening number is very The Greatest Showman in the best way. I’m bout to learn every word.

9) Holiday feelings aside, I also have to give some props to the plot for highlighting girls in STEM. Black girls in STEM. Let’s get more movies with little Black girls excelling in math and engineering. You love to see it!

10) I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed. You could’ve told this movie in about 7 minutes. But the music is delightful and the choreography was so much fun (y’all, they had a lil white girl hittin that gwara gwara and I was laid OUT!).

Score: 7/10

 

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Hot Takes: Bad Hair

Kelly Rowland almost makes this movie worth the effort. Almost.

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1) This ONE movie is trying to take on gentrification, workplace microaggressions, white corporate structure relying on Black talent, New Jack Swing, sexism, witches, colonialism, native folklore, and hair. If “biting off more than you can chew” was a moviemaker it’s Justin Simien.

2) The best hairstyle in the movie is Edna’s sisterlocks and I needed somebody to point that out.

3) Actually, for a movie called Bad Hair there isn’t a whole lot of talk about what makes hair bad or good. If a white person was watching this movie, and let’s be honest, Justin Simien definitely makes his projects with a white audience in mind, their only understanding of hair dynamics is “get a weave to get a promotion.” Spike Lee’s “Straight and Nappy” from School Daze does in less than ten minutes what Justin should have done in two hours.

4) Blair Underwood has been fine forever.

5) The lead actress, Elle Lorraine, is an obvious talent and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next. I don’t think it should be horror, because the last act of the movie was squarely outside of her wheelhouse, but I’ll watch her in any family drama or quirky rom-com.

6) Vanessa Williams’s Wilhelmina Slater is one of the all time great Office Villains. Bad Hair needed way more of that and way less of whatever they told Vanessa to do here.

7) Is Virgie getting some kind of kickback from the evil hair harvesters for using their weaves? She has to know what she’s sewing in those folks’ heads but she didn’t make it — she’s getting that hair from a white man (which is the most unreasonable plot point in the whole move because I don’t know any Black salon getting their weaves sourced by a straight white man with a farm.)

8) As a monster movie, it’s not scary enough. As a satire, it’s not smart enough to fully capitalize on the story it’s set up. As a comedy, it’s not funny enough, and it takes itself way too seriously to be camp, so I’m not sure Bad Hair actually succeeds anywhere other than the soundtrack.

9) Kelly Rowland as a knock-off Janet Jackson is the gift I didn’t know I needed!! “I Get It” is going on both my 2020 hits playlist AND my New Jack Swing playlist. Since Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” in 1995, only one other person has managed to capture the sound of New Jack Swing, and that was Bruno Mars with “Finesse.” And now Kelly Rowland with “I Get It.”

10) There’s a good story here about how hair has been used to oppress Black women and the lengths some have gone through to achieve a certain look. Justin isn’t the person to tell that story though and I’m not sure if the movie ultimately makes a mockery of the struggle or if it’s just a mediocre monster movie.

Score: 5/10

 

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Justin Timberlake jumps to “serious actor” in Palmer.

We could be seeing a lot of him during awards season.

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I do not feature Justin Timberlake in any way, shape, or form. I was a fervent NSYNC stan and I was annoyed that Justin got the star treatment as opposed to JC, who had the best voice from any boyband of the era. I will never forgive him for how he left Janet Jackson out to dry. I hated how his watered-down R&B was so palatable to a certain genre of people who compared him to Michael Jackson. I rolled my eyes when he made the pivot to being a Man in the Woods to shine a spotlight on Americana after he made all his money on Black radio.

In short, if Justin Timberlake is in a movie, I do not care. The movie can be great and I still won’t watch it because he’s in it.

Until this one.

He has a beard, he looks old and haggard, and he’s grumbling all of his lines, so that’s the three ingredients for a Serious Actor right there. I was ready to turn off the trailer because I don’t care about his character and I don’t care about the actor playing his character.

And then Sam shows up with a Barbie doll and I was hooked. I haven’t seen this story before! It could go left. It could be another Heartwarming Tale for Straight People where the queer character is basically used to teach the main character something about themselves, but I’m not getting that this time. It’s reading like a classic outcast story of two people reaching out for each other after being shunned by their community. It’s why I was a nerdy little gay kid sitting with the goths at lunchtime when I was outed.

The script is a (debut, I think) screenplay from Cheryl Guerriero, a novelist who grew up a lesbian star athlete, so I trust her to have a deft hand writing a young gender-non-conforming character. A quickdive into social media has turned up Amy Allen, the mother of the actor who plays Sam, and she very much gives me Millennial White Mom with Good Politics vibes, and the account she runs for her son has a post featuring his gay vocal coach on a gay suicide advert. I just finished Raising Dion, and the stressed out Alicia Keys mother on the show (Alisha Wainwright), plays Justin’s love interest in Palmer, so I’m very much here for that. Plus, Juno Temple is in it and she rarely picks a bad project.

So Palmer is looking like the serious heartstrings project to take Justin Timberlake into the next phase of his career, but it also looks like a fresh take on a current topic and possibly a story of acceptance that some of us need to see. Despite my JTim reservations, I’m putting this one on the list.

Still skipping his verses on No Strings Attached though.

 

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