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Schultz reviews: 'Voyagers' and 'Sinatra: All or Nothing at All'

Schultz reviews: 'Voyagers' and 'Sinatra: All or Nothing at All'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“Voyagers”  Distributed by Lionsgate Pictures, 108 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released April 09, 2021:

We should’ve listened to the warnings.

Sent in the near future, in “Voyagers,” after years of ecological abuse ruin the earth’s atmosphere scientists discover another world where mankind can get a fresh start.  The problem--getting there requires an 86-year space voyage.  

So a plan is devised to specifically breed 30 young boys and girls for the mission.  And with a veteran astronaut (Colin Farrell) traveling with them as a sort of shepherd, the kids will gain physical maturity along the way and eventually breed among themselves--their grandchildren will become the new world’s first settlers.

Ten years into the mission the hyper-intelligent kids, now teenagers, discover that their complacent personalities--and their shortage of sexual curiosity--is the result of a medication included in their daily regimen.  As a protest, the kids collectively stop drinking the juice...and soon begin to display some troubling behavior indeed.

A moderately involving but ultimately forgettable science fiction saga, “Voyagers” is well-written but not particularly well directed.  Filmmaker Neil Burger (“Divergent”) should’ve concentrated more of his attention on basic storytelling and less on rapid-fire editing, elaborate montages, and shaky-cam photography.  Still, with a plot that’s a blend of “Village of the Damned” and “Lord of the Flies,” the audience remains invested throughout and the picture never wears out its welcome, in large part thanks to charismatic performances from its young cast.

21-year-old Lily-Rose Depp contributes a serviceable performance as a strongminded and assertive teenage Eve to two highly competitive Adams--young Depp’s acting becomes more effective as the viewer gets past the young actress’ strong resemblance to her famous dad.  Tye Sheridan is solid as the more stable of Depp’s suitors, while Fionn Whitehead resembles a walking corpse as Sheridan’s manipulative rival.  Irish actor Colin Farrell, affecting American tones, appears in the fairly thankless supporting role of the space-age Noah.  

Filmed in Romania, “Voyagers” is rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, bloody images, brief strong language, and a scene depicting sexual assault.

“Sinatra: All or Nothing at All”  Distributed by HBO Films and Netflix, 240 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released April 5 and 6, 2015:

Either you get Frank Sinatra or you don’t--there’s not a lot of middle ground on that.

Usually acknowledged as the greatest pop singer of all time, Sinatra was indisputably the most popular and influential single musical artist of the 20th century.  Also a gifted actor, producer, businessman and performer, Frank Sinatra during an astonishing sixty-year career released some 59 record albums and 297 singles, selling some 150 million recordings--a number which continues to grow to his day.

One man who “gets” Frank Sinatra is filmmaker Alex Gibney, the director of “Sinatra:  All or Nothing at All,” a 240-minutes documentary on Sinatra’s life now streaming on Netflix.  Produced by frequent Spielberg collaborators Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy with the cooperation of the Sinatra family, Gibney’s documentary was originally shown on the HBO premium streaming service, debuting in two parts on April 5 and 6, 2015.

You get the feeling from watching the film that filmmaker Gibney gained his appreciation for Sinatra through hard work, research, and viewing all existing documentary, television, and motion picture footage of the entertainer.  Concentrating on Sinatra’s recording career and live appearances over his six decades as an entertainer, much of the available footage depicting the singer’s life is here, distilled from thousands of hours of archival material...including some segments barely ever seen before, some accompanied by rare interviews with Sinatra himself.

In a way, Sinatra’s life was the story of America in the 20th century.  Born into a family of Italian immigrants in 1915 and raised in a tenement building in urban Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra was expelled from school in the tenth grade on a charge of “general rowdiness”...but eventually was the recipient of three educational degrees, four Golden Globe Awards, eleven Grammys, a Peabody Award, the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the 1954 Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, and was honored on a 2008 United States postage stamp.

Taught by an early music instructor to sing not only the notes of a song but to also read the words and give voice to the emotions behind them, Frank Sinatra as a performer became something of a Barrymore of song, the equal of the great actors of the stage and cinema--watch as he throws an imaginary set of dice while performing “Luck by a Lady,” or seemingly swims among the musical notes through the long, long crescendo of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  Actor Charlton Heston said of Sinatra, “Every song this man sings is in essence a 4-minute movie.”  Sinatra himself phrased the same sentiment more plainly: ”I can’t sing what I can’t feel.”

With recorded commentary from friends, associates, music critics, and contemporaries of the artist, “Sinatra:  All or Nothing at All” tells the singer’s story, both the good and the bad, concentrating on his primary fame as a singer.  Gaining early success as a teenage contestant on radio’s Major Bowes Amateur Hour, Sinatra began his professional career as the vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey swing band.  Later, as a solo artist, Sinatra became a sensation--the idol of millions of teenage fans, inspiring during personal appearances a screaming frenzy similar to the Beatlemania of a generation later.

Sinatra seemed to have it all...at first.  He married his childhood sweetheart in 1939 and became the attentive if often-absent father of three children.  But a history of extramarital affairs led to scandal--a bitter divorce in 1951 and immediate remarriage that same year to the glamorous and strong minded Hollywood star Ava Gardner, a relationship that proved turbulent and sometimes even explosive.  Sinatra and Gardner’s public antics often attracted the attention of photographers and gossip columnists, leading to Sinatra’s lifelong distrust of the press.

Meanwhile the singer’s popularity dwindled.  Considered a has-been at age 38, Sinatra’s career was rekindled when he was cast as the tough-talking, chip-on-his-shoulder loser Army Private Angelo Maggio in the 1953 film adaptation of James Jones’ World War II bestseller “From Here to Eternity.”  Sinatra won the Academy Award for his performance, and the enormous popularity of the film put him back on top--a position he guarded and maintained for the rest of his life.

Tempered by age 40 by both success and failure, Frank Sinatra developed both a maturity in his singing voice and an attitude in his public persona--in a way, Sinatra never stopped playing the role of Maggio.  With a unique ability to turn a song into an American, standard copied and imitated endlessly by dozens of less-talented performers, Sinatra’s stage persona was as a streetwise hipster with an easy smile and not a shred of self-doubt, always on the lookout for a good time and an easy angle.  If an audience was willing to accept him on his own terms, Sinatra engaged them as equals--audiences paid to revel in his attitude as much as his music.

Offstage, Sinatra’s friendships and romances were legendary.  Married four times, Sinatra’s friends included both kings and commoners, presidents and fellow entertainers, entrepreneurs and businessmen...and prominent figures from organized crime.  His show business friendships with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. were the stuff of legend--the three performed in tandem for years, both onstage and in movies such as “Ocean’s 11.”  Sinatra’s anonymous generosity was legendary, as was his quiet support of charities and his fearlessness in committing his name to progressive social change.

Sinatra’s impact as both an entertainer and an humanitarian is best depicted in Gibney’s documentary in a segment from a 1966 benefit concert for the NAACP--an organization whose work was dear to Sinatra’s own heart.  Sinatra was working in California at the time, but when asked by the civic awareness organization to contribute a personal performance to their scheduled night of entertainment, he left the set of the picture he was filming, boarded a plane, and travelled across the country to New York for the show, arriving in the city barely in time for the performance. 

Sinatra drove directly from the airport to the theater, walked onstage, and delivered a performance of the American standard “Ol’ Man River.”  Originally composed for the 1927 Broadway musical “Show Boat,” “Ol’ Man River” is written from the perspective of an impoverished black laborer performing backbreaking physical labor on a waterfront dock.  Usually delivered with an operatic bravado by a black artist, for a white performer to attempt the song at all was potentially a deeply offensive gesture, particularly before a predominantly black audience...including Dr. Martin Luther King. 

But instead of performing the song’s notes in a manner to display his personal talent and enormous range as a singer, Sinatra acted the lyrics with an infinite weariness and resignation that effectively gave voice to the African experience in America--murmuring some phrases in a voice so low that the audience strained to hear, building in gradual intensity and finishing the song with a power that suggested infinite determination, continued resolve, and eventual resolution and triumph.  

Sinatra’s performance that evening was rewarded with thunderous applause from an appreciative audience, and moved Dr. King to tears.  Few performers besides Frank Sinatra could’ve performed such a delicate and risky gesture...and succeeded.  It’s to filmmaker Gibney’s enormous credit as a documentation that he’s located a rare film of Sinatra’s performance at the NAACP benefit that evening, and includes it in the documentary--presented plainly, unadorned by narration, preserved in its entirety by a single camera.

Gibney gracefully omits the ignominy of Sinatra’s final shows.  The consummate entertainer, Sinatra performed live concerts until 1995, when he was nearly 80.  A shadow of his former self, the legendary singer relied on an oversized teleprompter during his shows, and sometimes became disoriented and bewildered--a few times he even needed to be removed from the stage mid-show, in a wheelchair.  

Gibney instead closes the documentary while the legend is still at the top of his game--performing in his own indomitable way the hit songs he defined, and that became the soundtrack of generations of Americans.

Either you get Frank Sinatra or you don’t...and filmmaker Alex Gibney plainly gets him.  After viewing the terrific “Sinatra:  All or Nothing at All, “ you will too.

Shown in a pair of two-hour episodes, “Sinatra:  All or Nothing at All” is rated TV-14 for some language concerns, scenes of drinking and smoking, and some suggestive material.  The documentary is presently streaming on Netflix.

 

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