Dreamgirls/Sparkle – Blu-ray Edition

Dreamgirls directed by Bill Condon:

I am the first to admit that I love Broadway musicals! The more over-the-top and with fun sing-a-long music they are the more I love them! Love Chicago! Love The Phantom of the Opera! Love Cabaret! Love Cats! Don’t pass that last one on! So naturally I was looking forward to the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” by director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Gods and Monsters). I sat down looking forward to 2 hours of song and dance.

The musical was loosely based on a Supremes-like girl group, a Berry Gordy-like record label and all that great music from the 50s and 60s coming out of Detroit. The Dreams, comprised of Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles – The Fighting Temptations, The Pink Panther), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose – From Justin to Kelly) and lead singer Effie White (Jennifer Hudson – first film), are three young girls from Detroit, Michigan who are trying to become a famous singing all-girl group. Though they are talented they cannot seem to catch a break. That is until they catch the eye of Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx – Stealth, Ray), who becomes their manager and gets them a gig as the back-up singers for James ‘Thunder’ Early (Eddie Murphy – Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places). Once the girls get their own opportunity as headliners, Curtis and composer, C.C. White (Keith Robinson – Fat Albert) – Effie’s brother, decide that Deena should be the lead singer even though Effie has always been and has the best voice. This causes tension within the group, so much so that they begin to implode. Faced with their first conflict as a group the girls have to make some hard choices, decide what is best for the group and their careers and learn how to live with the consequences if they are going to become the stars they have always dreamt of being.

I thought that Bill Condon was an inspired choice to direct the film as he had previously made two Oscar nominated films. Then the Golden Globe nominations came out and “Dreamgirls” got a ton! Colour me excited! Now my more ‘critic’ side should have taken over and tempered my enthusiasm at this point, but it didn’t and my reaction to the film suffered as a result. I thought the film was good, but not great. I definitely was not bowled over by the music…sorry to say. The songs by supporting actress and former American Idol competitor, Jennifer Hudson were full of emotion and she without a doubt has a great voice, but were not for me. The acting was just alright except for Hudson (the only non-actor of the bunch). Surprisingly, the most flat acting came from the actor with the most experience, Jamie Foxx. His performance was quite wooden and especially during the singing scenes he looked very awkward. Despite all the buzz, even Eddie Murphy’s performance did not do it for me. Maybe my view of his performance was clouded, however, by the fact that every time he sang I wanted to cover my ears and howl! He should not ever sing again in my books! There were positives to the film. The adaptation from stage to film was seamless and I was glad to see that Condon had kept the feeling of a stage production in several scenes. It is fabulous to look at. The costumes, lighting and musical numbers are all great. A star is born in Jennifer Hudson. She steals the film right out from under everyone. Her acting is up to par with her singing and her show-stopping song “And I Am Telling You” is a real showcase of her abilities. She was deserving of her win in the Best Supporting Actress category. But in the end it was not enough for me and I left feeling empty and definitely not singing any of the songs.

Special Features:
-DVD Exclusive Jennifer Hudson Performance
-12 Extended and Alternate Scenes
-Music Video “Listen” by Beyoncé Knowles
-“Building The Dream” Feature-length documentary
-Image Gallery with over 1,100 images
-Dream Logic: Film Editing
-Dressing The Dreams: Costume Design
-Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting
-Dreamgirls – Beyoncé Knowles screen test
-Ain’t No Party – Anika Noni Rose audition
-Steppin’ To The Bad Side – Fatima Robinson choreography audition
-Previsualization Sequences

Sparkle directed by Salim Akil:

A lot of attention was heaped upon this film as it was the last for music icon Whitney Houston. She died shortly after completing the filming of Salim Akil’s (Jumping the Broom) Sparkle. After all that hoopla was looked beyond people realized that despite everyone’s best effort the film is a disaster.  It was meant to be a tale of music and family ties, but it ended up being a poorly constructed and acted mess.  Not a fitting tribute to a woman who deserved more.

Emma (Whitney Houston – The Preacher’s Wife, The Bodyguard) is a single mother in the 1960s.  A strong woman who has made a success out of the dress shop she owns, Emma as a younger woman as a singer, but it did not go exactly as she had hoped.  As such, Emma has warned her three daughters, Sister (Carmen Ejogo – Away We Go, Alex Cross), Dolores (Tika Sumpter – Salt, What’s Your Number?) and Sparkle (Jordin Sparks – first film), to stay away from the music industry.  The pull is too strong, however, and the girls sneak out at night to perform at a local club.

Sparkle is especially talented as she writes all the songs.  She does not feel comfortable in the spotlight, so Sister acts as the trio’s lead singer.  Being in the forefront due to the great songs written by Sparkle, Sister gains the attention of big shot record producer Satin (Mike Epps – The Hangover, Resident Evil: Apocalypse).  He and another up-and-coming young music manager, Stix (Derek Luke – Antwone Fisher, Captain America: The First Avenger) start the sisters off in the music world.

Unfortunately in this case mother knows best.  The spotlight begins to shine too brightly on the sisters and begins to cause jealousy, temptation and instability.  This close-knit family begins to fall apart.

Sparkle is a remake.  It was an important movie in the black community.  High hopes were placed upon the remake.  Some changes were made in the making of this version.

Whitney Houston was good as the strict and religious mother of the three girls.  It is eerie watching her knowing that she died soon after and that she is playing a character that is close to herself.  Emma’s was chewed up and spat out of the music industry and while Houston was not exactly spat out she did suffer due to her immense talent.  She was actually the perfect person to play the character.

As right as Whitney Houston was in the film is as wrong as Jordin Sparks was.  While she does have a strong voice she does not have the acting chops required to carry the role.  As a result of her weakness the film falters.  It means that the film feels like a second class version of the Hollywood success Dreamgirls.

Houston is one of the few “right” things about this film.  Though I have like most of the things that Mara Brock Akil has done.  This time however she has written a script that is totally predictable.  You know exactly what is going to happen in the end from the get go.  Also the dialogue was quite stilted.  Worse than that it was quite dull.  That plus she does not have enough pain and struggle in a film that really required it to make us care more.

Special Features:

-Theatrical Trailer

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