Whitney


The Queen of Pop in her salad days.

(2018) Musical Documentary (Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Whitney Houston, Cissy Houston, Bobby Brown, Kevin Costner, L.A. Reid, Michael Houston, Brad Johnson, Clive Davis, Keith Kelly, Rickey Minor, Lynne Volkman, Pat Houston, Steve Gittelman, DeForrest Soames, Donna Houston, Nicole David, Cinque Henderson, John Houston IV, Joey Arbagi, Babyface, Mary Jones. Directed by Kevin Macdonald

 

On February 11, 2012 the great pop star Whitney Houston was found floating face down in a bathtub in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was the end of an era and the end of a life, one that began with promise which was later fulfilled as she became one of the biggest stars of the 80s and early 90s. She remains the only performer to ever notch seven number one Billboard pop hits in a row – and they were her first seven singles at that. It is a feat not likely to be ever altered. She also is the biggest selling female artist of all time, and holds the biggest selling single (“I Will Always Love You”) of all time for a female artist.

In between her early days and her tragic end, Whitney Houston became a revered public figure although not without controversy. The daughter of singer Cissy Houston and the cousin of legendary pop icon Dionne Warwick, Houston had greatness in her DNA. She was impressive as a singer from an early age singing for her church choir and mentored by her mother who was, by all accounts, an often difficult taskmaster.

After being signed to a contract with Arista Records boss Clive Davis, she rocketed to fame with her debut album which in many ways defined her era. In the mid-80s you really couldn’t go very long without hearing her songs on the radio and while there was some grumbling about how she was being marketed to a white audience (as a light-skinned black girl, she had been bullied as a youngster in Newark where she grew up) she nevertheless grew up to be one of the most formidable talents of her time.

But there were pressures on her to maintain the success and the gravy train that had been created by that success. Most of her family was employed by Whitney (her estranged father who had divorced her mother when Whitney was a young girl was her manager and her brothers were road  managers) and the carefully marketed “good girl” image that had been created for her began to crumble. A marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown put further cracks in the veneer and as the 90s progressed it became apparent that Whitney was using drugs.

The documentary by veteran filmmaker Macdonald isn’t the first on Houston (Showtime aired one just last year) but it is perhaps the most personal; interviews with her family members give us a better picture of the real Whitney than her Showtime doc did. The documentary follows her life relatively chronologically although a revelation about two-thirds of the way through the movie of an incident that happened when she was much younger makes for some dramatic footage but it also throws the flow of the movie askew. There also seems to have been a reluctance on Macdonald’s part to follow up too deeply on that revelation – in fact, he seemed reluctant to follow up on any of the really unflattering aspects of her life at all.

Of course her drug use was the elephant in the room and while it is addressed, Macdonald almost regards it as a corollary to her fame and fortune, almost as predetermined as having paparazzi following her around. There is no footage from her train wreck of a reality show Inside Bobby Brown and when Brown is questioned about his ex-wife’s drug use, he says in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want to talk about it. Well, what the hell did he think that any documentary about his wife’s time with him would want to talk about him with?

The last days of Whitney’s life are particularly hard to watch. While the performance footage of her during the prime of her career is a reminder of just how powerful and beautiful her voice was – and how absolutely she had control over it – footage of her singing during the last year of her life is almost painful. Her voice is raspy and off-key and when she tries to hit the high notes…well, it’s not pretty. It acts as a cautionary tale to any aspiring performer who thinks that they can “handle” drugs.

Still, if you want to look at this as a celebration of her life the film does that quite well. Fans of the late singer can renew their affection for her. Those who weren’t particular fans of hers probably won’t end up being converted to blind admiration but if you know anything about music you absolutely have to respect her voice and her work ethic early on.

I get the sense that we get a little deeper into who Whitney Houston was and that’s a positive. There are a lot of talking heads in this picture and occasionally they go over the same territory perhaps to distraction but this is simply put essential viewing for fans of the diva and of 80s pop music in general. Bring plenty of hankies though; it’s hard to watch the highs without the thought of the lows that were to come and would lead to her end alone in a hotel room drowning in a bathtub, a fate tragically shared by her daughter just three years later.

Still, I don’t know anyone who listens to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” who isn’t instantly uplifted with the joy of being alive. Whitney Houston could do that with her voice and it is absolutely tragic that it was taken away from her – and us.

REASONS TO GO: The final days of Whitney are truly heartbreaking. Some of the performance video from when she was in her prime reiterates how powerful a singer she truly was.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit rote as documentaries go. Macdonald seemed to be unwilling to ask the tough questions.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as drug use and other drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There were a lot of interviews that were filmed but never used. Macdonald felt that they were banal and added nothing to the narrative.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Amy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Blood of Wolves

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New Releases for the Week of July 6, 2018


ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

(Disney/Marvel) Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Hannah John-Kamen. Directed by Peyton Reed

Scott Lang deals with the consequences of his decisions made during Captain America: Civil War, trying to balance his responsibilities as a father and as a superhero. When Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne come to him with an urgent mission with personal ramifications for them both, Scott wants to help but wonders how his choices will effect his relationship with his daughter.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some sci-fi action violence)

Boundaries

(Sony Classics) Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Christopher Lloyd. A struggling single mom and her precocious son are forced to drive her freewheeling, pot-dealing devil-may-care father across the country after he is kicked out of the nursing home she put him in.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches)

The First Purge

(Universal/Blumhouse) Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Marisa Tomei, Joivan Wade. This is where it all began; the New Founding Fathers’ solution to crime – let everyone get it all out of their system in one night be it looting, assault or murder. It’s a lot different than the Purge we’ve come to know.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use)

Na Band Na Baraati

(HUM) Komal Farooqi, Saram Jaffery, Ali Kazmi, Zuhair Jaffery. A Pakistani family living in Toronto has their hands full planning a wedding for both their sons. Traditions from their homeland collide with expectations in a new world that they don’t entirely understand; nor does it understand them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

No Postage Necessary

(Two Roads) George Blagden, Charleene Closshey, Robbie Kay, Raymond J. Barry. A convicted computer hacker, barred from using the Internet and not quite scraping by working minimum wage jobs, takes to stealing mail to make ends meet. He reads a letter a beautiful young woman wrote to her husband, a Marine killed in Afghanistan. Intrigued, he begins to fall in love with her. Hoping to be the man she deserves and the man he’s always thought he could be, he tries to turn his life around but the past has a way of catching up with you

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for some drug references and brief language)

Whitney

(Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Whitney Houston, Cissy Houston, Bobby Brown, Kevin Costner. She was one of the most distinctive voices of her generation and one of the greatest female vocalists ever. She had everything; a loving family, a skyrocketing career, fame and talent beyond measure. Her meteoric rise was matched by a startling fall ending in the tragedy of a life ended too soon. This is her story, buttressed by plenty of interview and performance footage.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and language)

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ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

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SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ant-Man and the Wasp
The First Purge
Whitney