[REVIEW] ‘Summer of Soul’ or Sing Out Harlem!

There’s nothing like a live concert! This is especially true when you get multiple artists playing together in a musical festival or celebration. The combined energy from the performers and the audience is intoxicating and something I adore.

Imagine adding more to that with the historical and musical significance of the Harlem Cultural Festival that occurred in Harlem in 1969. After over 50 years the footage from this landmark concert has been released in the new documentary Summer of Soul, which you can watch in theaters today or on hulu streaming. It is one of the best films of 2021. No question.

One of the challenges of a documentary like Summer of Soul is how much of the music to show while also providing cultural and political context to the songs, performers and festival itself. Some may wish for just music but director Ahmir ”Questlove” Thompson does a great job balancing these demands. I particularly loved the first-hand accounts of both performers like Gladys Knight and The 5th Dimension singers, and concert attendees who witnessed the events. It really gave a feel for the full concert experience and how important it was to all involved.

“You put memories away and sometimes you don’t even know if they are real” is the closing thought of the documentary by one of the concert attendees and it captures the power of this type of film. It not only chronicles what happened with amazing music but it reminds of the impact it had on real people, on their lives and how it made the world a better place. In doing so it hopefully encourages us all to listen, celebrate and sing out as much as we can today.

And even if you don’t care about any of the historical or cultural importance watch Summer of Soul for the amazing music. Everything from Motown, R&B, gospel, blues and more is featured and some of my favorites are Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Family Stone and more. It’s absolutely incredible and you won’t regret checking it out.

Turn on Summer of Soul for a documentary that combines history, music, soul and the Black experience perfectly.

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Over the Moon’: in a Word Enchanting!

So I don’t know if you knew, but I love animated films. LOL. Obviously not all animated films but I love the medium and all it can offer the filmgoer. I love being swept away by the artistry and characters and it is even better when it is also a musical! So, I was primed to love the new animated musical Over the Moon, and fortunately it did not disappoint. What a beautiful hope-filled animated musical. I loved it and can’t wait to watch it again!

Over the Moon is the first feature film from famed animator Glen Keane who created such memorable characters like Ariel, Aladdin, and Beast. Here he is taking us to China with the help of China’s Pearl Studio (who did last year’s Abominable with DreamWorks, which I also really enjoyed). It is a retelling of the classic Chinese myth of the mysterious moon goddess Chang’e.

Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo of Hamilton fame and our young heroine Fei Fei goes after her on a quest to find her Mother who has passed away. Voiced by Cathy Ang, Fei Fei sings about her desire to find answers for her grief:

The music is written by Steven Price, and while I could have used even more songs, what we get is enchanting. I loved Fei Fei as a character and ‘Rocket to the Moon’ is probably the best ‘I want’ song we’ve gotten from a studio since ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen.

I also really enjoyed the sense of family in Over the Moon. Fei Fei’s mother makes mooncakes, which are then sold at the market. When the family has meals together it feels warm and authentic, all sitting together talking. Eventually Fei Fei must learn to get along with a new energetic step-brother Chin (Robert G Chiu) and that is sweet and challenging. A lot of kids will be able to relate to these family dynamics as they felt real and authentic.

When Fei Fei gets to the moon things get a little convoluted, but I still found it charming. I really liked the characters and the heart. It’s the kind of film the entire family can watch together and enjoy. Plus, the animation is completely stunning. What a treat to watch! We even get some 2D animation in sequences!!

I still think Tomm Moore’s Wolfwalkers is the best animated film of the year but Over the Moon is a complete delight. If you are an animation fan and/or a musical fan you will love it!

What do you think of Over the Moon? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section

8.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Trolls World Tour’ or Isn’t All Music Fun?

If you’ve been a fan  of this blog for some time you know that I tend to be a tough sale when it comes to DreamWorks and in particular their comedies. For every Mr Peabody and Sherman that’s hilarious there are tons that fall flat. 2016’s Trolls is an interesting entry in their canon because while it didn’t work for me as a whole it did have a number of elements. I particularly loved the animation and music including the very catchy song by Justin Timberlake ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’.

What I didn’t like in Trolls is the annoying characters and the oddly fascist message. Everyone in the land of the trolls must be the same. They must all like the same activities, music, colors etc. They are all even forced to hug at the same time every day. If they refuse to participate they are pronounced Scrooges and exiled. It seemed bizarre to me in this day and age to send a message about conforming to fit a crowd rather than increasing tolerance of all.


So now we have the sequel Trolls World Tour, and I’m happy to say they fix this problem…ALMOST! Indeed, most of the world building and lore of the first movie is abandoned for a new dynamic where they are surrounded by nations of music. Poppy’s land is of course pop music and then there is Rock, Country, Classical, Techno and Funk.

Here we have the same problem of everyone having to like the same kind of music and my hope was by the end of the journey Poppy and company would learn to enjoy different music from each land. Unfortunately they don’t go that far. There is tolerance on a macro national level but not on an individual learning to appreciate all kinds of music level. (What a good lesson that would have been for kids…)


The villain trying to take over all of trolldom is Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) and she wants everything to be rock. Her evil plan is to gather the strings of all the lands for mass musical takeover. I think there is more of a rebellious streak in punk or heavy metal but it was fine (although when the strings are played/destroyed it’s not exactly a Thanos-level moment!).

I really enjoyed the animation in each musical world with the textures of the felt and hair. There are even sequences where they use 2D animation techniques to tell stories in a scrapbook, which of course I loved.


In addition, going to see all the different musical lands was fun and well done. I can make nitpicks like why is Kelly Clarkson voicing the country troll Delta Dawn? If there was ever a part screaming for Reba McEntire this was it. She even has red hair! The funk world was particularly interesting as they have a musical montage that explains how the other music especially pop has misappropriated the work of POC songwriters for decades.


They try to make room for other types of music beyond the 6 lands with bounty hunters of regaeton, kpop and yodeling but there are still obvious omissions like blues, salsa, broadway etc.  Nevertheless, kids will have a lot of fun with the music and will be no doubt dancing along to the songs watching at home. Unfortunately It seems like most of the cover songs were outdated. For example, in the pop covers they have songs like ‘Can’t Touch This’ from MC Hammer and ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls. Surely they could have gotten something more recent?

Sadly the new songs aren’t much better. In fact, they are entirely forgettable, which is disappointing. I don’t know if they were trying too hard to match the appeal of the first film but the new songs pale in comparison.

All in all, Trolls World Tour is harmless for kids. It has some beautiful animation and sweet moments but it could have been much better. I so wish they had shown Poppy and Branch embracing all different kinds of music in the end and everyone being richer as a result. As it is, the world of Trolls ends pretty close to where it began, which is not what you want in a quest movie. The message is still you have to think like everyone else or there is a problem, and I don’t like that!

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


Favorite Villain and Forgotten Disney Songs

I just thought I would quickly share with you guys 2 videos I did this week that relate to Disney music. I participate as part of my youtube channel in a series called The Friday 5. This is where we get a topic and have to pick 5 songs for that topic.

Well, this week the topic was ‘favorite Disney villain songs’. But I got confused and thought it was wild card week so I initially posted ‘favorite forgotten Disney songs’.  Then realizing my mistake I went back and did a villain song post as well (these Friday 5 videos are pretty easy to put together).

I am trying to use songs I haven’t already used on the Friday 5 so a few were out for that reason but I think I came up with good lists. For the Forgotten Songs it is more forgotten by general masses not Disney nerds who read this blog, so keep that in mind.

Let me know what you think and enjoy!

and Forgotten Disney songs

Friday 5: Favorite Songs from Animated Films

Each Friday I get to participate in a series called the Friday Five on my youtube channel.  It is really fun where Sara Crawford gives us topics and we have to pick out 5 of our favorite songs that fit that topic.  This week she gave us a doozy with ‘favorite songs from animated films’!  To narrow it down I decided to only focus on Disney Canon and then to eliminate villain songs.  I ended up with a list of 20 songs that I will try and share with you some time.

But here are my top 5.

Some other youtubers choices you might like

Friday 5: 5 Favorite Animated TV Show Theme Songs

There is a really fun series I do over on my youtube channel that I normally post on my other blog smilingldsgirl.com called The Friday 5.  It was set up by a fellow youtuber named Sarah Crawford and each week she picks a topic and we have to choose 5 of our favorite songs that fit that topic.  Normally my other blog is more suited to music but since this one involved animation I decided to include it on this blog this week.

This week’s topic was ‘5 of your favorite themes from TV Shows” and since animation is my favorite I decided to go with that.

I think they are 5 really fun themes and 5 great shows. If you haven’t seen them you should totally check them out.  What are some of your favorite themes from TV shows, animated or not?  I would love to hear.  I do this series every week and next week is wild card so if you have any suggestions of a fun topic I could pick put in the comments section.  If any of you have youtube channels it’s a very fun series to be a part of.

Thanks and have a Happy Friday!!

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: VMA Noms

So last minute change Nathaniel over at Film Experience has decided to switch things up for our Hit Me with Your Best Shot movie club.  Instead of our normal watch a movie and pick a shot, the assignment is to watch each of the nominees for best cinematography at the MTV Video Music Awards and pick a shot from each of them.

I have to say going into this I am really only a fan of one of the songs.  Not that they are bad just not my taste (I’m not much into hip hop).  I’m also not that up on the current music scene so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

But here goes.

1. The first video is the song Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar

Even for hip hop fans I don’t really get the appeal of the music but the video is nicely done.

This video starts out with a community grieving the loss of a boy and girl at a funeral.  But the children wake up out of the caskets and proceed to dance.  I think this is supposed to mean the exuberance which is lost to violence.  I really liked these 2 kids dancing so that’s why I picked this shot.


2. The next song is Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran- a bit of a slinky costume on the dancer on this one.  Just warning.

Not a whole lot to this video but a very pretty dance number and I like dance so that’s great.  This is actually the only song of this group I like and own.  I think Ed Sheeran has a nice tamber to his voice and the song has a very good hook.  They could have done I think a little bit more with the song, been a little more creative but it’s a nice number.

I thought this moment with the lighting and the splits of the dancer was beautiful (sorry I don’t know the technical terms).  They should get this dancer on Dancing with the Stars.  She’s great.


3. Next is Taylor Swift Bad Blood featuring Kendrick Lamar.

I actually like Taylor Swift (I know it is for some reason cool in certain circles to hate on her) but for a pop songstress I enjoy her tunes.  This song I’m not crazy about probably because of the hip hop elements but the music video is pretty cool and certainly ambitious.

There was a lot of cool shots to pick from this video but I went with a shot of the 2 boxers because I think boxing is empowering and have enjoyed doing some of it myself.  I think it is a particularly awesome trend for women- get all that angst out!


4. Next is FKA Twigs “Two Weeks”

This song I really didn’t care for and I wasn’t a big fan of the video either.  I don’t know who this singer is but I think you have to be a Beyonce or Mariah Carey to pull off this kind of diva Cleopatra kind of video.

But at the end we get an image of someone (the queen I guess?) under water and that was beautiful so that’s my shot.


5. Lastly, we have alt-J “Left Hand Free”

I have heard this song and it is an okay even if I can’t understand a single word he says. It feels very derivative of other artists like Cat Stevens but most in this genre probably does.  The video sure looks like they are having fun!  I need to hang out with these folks.

As an open water swimmer I particularly enjoyed the scenes at the river.  I wish I could be at that river floating down that gorgeous water!!  (Well I kind of was last weekend at Bear Lake!).  But it looks really fun, so that’s what led to my shot.  I wonder where this mysterious river is with the rope swing we always see in movies and TV? Looks fun!


Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Amadeus

This post marks my second entry in The Film Experiment series called Hit Me With Your Best Shot.  It’s a fun project where various bloggers all watch a movie (or pick 1 out of 3) and then have the difficult task of selecting 1 shot that in your eyes captures said film.

My first entry was the daunting Citizen Kane but today proved to be difficult in its own way. This weeks film is a different kind of masterpiece- Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus. (Which was my 1984 selection in Movies From My Life btw)

amadeusBased on the play from Peter Shaffer it tells a fictionalized version of Amadeus Mozart’s (Tom Hulce) life.  It is done through a foil and narrator Antonio Salieri (F Murray Abraham) who in his words is ‘the patron Saint of mediocrity”.  He wants to compose music so badly but he is not given the special talents by God, which he bitterly resents especially when a buffoon like Mozart seems to be so blessed.

Part of the problem is Salieri’s warped view of religion.  He thinks he can make a deal with God.  If he is a ‘model of virtue’ than God will bless him with great talent.  If this was the case then we would all be making deals with God…Salieri claims at the beginning that he works hard, prays and gives many lessons for free.  This reminds me of the rich man who asks Christ what he needs to do to make it into heaven.  “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor”.  He goes away sorrowing.  Jesus knows there is that one part of his heart which is not given to God. Salieri is much the same way.  He goes through the motions of faith without being open to God’s plan for him.  He thinks he can earn the benevolence of God and that he knows what is better for his life than God- the ultimate in pride.

This is when that green-eyed monster called envy creeps in and Salieri allows it to fill his heart.  Whenever he hears Mozart’s music he is overcome by its perfection and the animosity grows stronger until it finally births a plan for revenge- not just on his rival but on God for being so foolish in his gift-giving. He even burns the cross he is so bitter.

amadeus5As is usually the case with envy Mozart is completely oblivious to the hold he has over Salieri.  He has plenty of his own demons to focus on with a father who is never happy,  substance abuse and a public that is not always accepting to his work.  In the great irony Salieri is one of the few who consistently realizes the genius of Mozart and yet that leads to his eventual death and demise.

Amadeus does a lot of things as good as any movie I’ve seen.  It looks great, the opera’s feel real and lush, music is sublime, costumes wonderful and a little surprising (for example, the pink wig is unexpected in a period piece).  But all that aside its greatest achievement to me is two-part:

1. It shows how envy will ruin your life.  Unlike last years Whiplash, Amadeus seems to say that we are either born with talent or we are mediocre. Mozart needs no Terence Fletcher to beat the talent out of him.  It’s just there.  That may be true but surely Salieri could have done better if he had not allowed his rival to overtake him? He certainly could have been happier. As an old man he is in despair, mired with guilt and all because he couldn’t be happy at the blessings of another.  No wonder envy is a deadly sin!

amadeus32. It shows the sublime beauty of a person absorbing a masterpiece better than any film I’ve seen.  That moment when Salieri first hears Mozart’s music is perfect.  He’s just looking at the notes on the page but he hears it in his mind and it almost overwhelms him, even years later he is overcome with the beauty of the music. This is why he thinks it is God speaking through Mozart because only a deity could inspire such breathtaking work.

The problem with the grandeur of music shots is you really need the whole scene to get the majesty of it.

You need to hear Salieri talking about the ‘almost comic’ start, “just a pulse” and then the wind instruments and an “oboe. A single note, hanging there unwavering.  Until a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such a delight” ‘  This is music “filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God”.

I think that’s the most beautiful description of music or art I’ve ever heard.  But like I said, you need the whole scene (a tribute I think to Shaffer’s amazing script).

So I will go with the envy shot.  I am going to pick old Salieri with very convincing makeup.  In the narrative he has just determined his plan for revenge on Mozart and God.  He describes the funeral and what a delicious day it will be for him. Pointing to himself he says “And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him!”  You can just feel the bitterness oozing out of this face. I love that he is pointing at himself because it is the envy in his heart that is the problem not God, not Mozart, not anyone else.


amadeus18But in fact, he is the only one left laughing at himself. “Mediocrities everywhere I absolve you!”

My Favorite Disney Canon Scores


Hey guys!  I think you will all enjoy this a lot.  I love a great score to a movie.  I’m a lover of classical music and when you have a story behind said music it makes it even better.

I have a little hobby of collecting scores of all types and then listening to them while I work.  This isn’t as distracting as vocal music can be but you still get the entertainment and the story.

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my favorite scores.  Some of these are part of strong movies and others are not.  So the quality of the movie doesn’t really affect the value of the score.

That said, some of these are integral in making the movie work.  Rescuers Down Under, for instance, uses the John Williamesque score to give the feeling of an Indiana Jones type adventure very effectively.

I also tried to put in some variety because I don’t only like epic scores but also the electric video game feel to Wreck It Ralph and the pop anime influence of Big Hero 6.

If I had to pick 2 favorites it would probably be Lion King and Bambi because in both films the score tells a lot of the story, especially Bambi.  Instead of having sound effects for rain, it is music.  Without the score Bambi would be a much weaker movie.

(Also I’m not counting Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 or Sleeping Beauty since those aren’t original scores. If I did they would clearly be the top)

What are some of your favorites?

This list is in no particular order

Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken

Great Mouse Detective by Henry Mancini

Black Cauldron  by Elmer Bernstein

Rescuers Down Under by Bruce Broughton

Frozen by Christophe Beck

Treasure Planet by James Newton Howard

Mulan by Jerry Goldsmith

Pocahontas by Alan Menken

Hunchback of Notre Dame by Alan Menken

Pinocchio by Leigh Harline and Paul J Smith

Bambi by Frank Churchill and Edward H Plumb

Little Mermaid by Alan Menken

Lion King by Hanz Zimmer

Snow White by Paul J Smith and Leigh Harline

Wreck it Ralph by Henry Jackman

Big Hero 6 by Henry Jackman

Alice in Wonderland by Oliver Wallace

Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman

Winnie the Pooh by Sherman Brothers and Buddy Baker

Atlantis: The Lost Empire by James Newton Howard