Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Review

For a movie about The Voice, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody strains to find its own. While undeniably long on title (in case you forgot who sang one of her signature bops), it’s sadly short on actual substance.

We first meet Ms. Houston (Naomi Ackie) in the church choir alongside mother Cissy (Tamara Tunie). She comes from notable musical lineage in that Cissy was a successful backup singer (who never quite broke out on her own) and Dionne Warwick is a first cousin. The pipes of Whitney are clearly a precious commodity as Cissy and business conscious and stern father John (Clarke Peters) prod her into the biz. Famed record exec Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) takes Whitney under his wing and she rises to unheard of stardom for a female solo artist beginning in the mid 80s.

There are potential controversies immediately. Whitney’s romance with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) is jettisoned since it won’t match the girl next door image. While Robyn becomes her trusted assistant, Whitney’s (or Nippy as the family and close friends call her) entanglements are a frequent source of consternation. This briefly applies to Jermaine Jackson, but especially when her and R&B bad boy Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders) get serious.

Jumping from career and personal highlights to lowlights, the screenplay from Andrew McCarten can feel as erratic as the title subject’s increasingly worrisome behavior. The writer penned Bohemian Rhapsody and it closely follows that hit pic’s playbook. It shows us the troubled aspects of the singer followed in quick succession by an iconic moment in their discography.

There are obviously lots of them in Houston’s orbit. From seven #1 hits in a row to her soaring rendition of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl to the cinematic and soundtrack phenomenon that was The Bodyguard, what’s disappointing is how glossed over and rushed they feel. For a feature with a two and half hour runtime (and you feel it), McCarten’s script never focuses on anything with more than a surface level “Behind the Music” energy.

Some of the same criticisms were deservedly pointed at Bohemian Rhapsody. I’d rank Rhapsody higher because its musical interludes like Wembley packed more of a stylistically directed punch. The behind the camera work from Kasi Lemmons never reaches that level.

As for the performances, Ackie doesn’t much resemble Whitney. Yet by the conclusion, she manages to embody her spirit in the performance pieces passably. Tucci is given a couple scenes to flesh out Davis’s character into a sympathetic figure (it probably doesn’t hurt that the actual Davis is a coproducer). Same goes for Tunie’s Cissy. Other roles are of the one-note variety like John’s scheming manager who forgets to be a father and Bobby’s constant companion who fails to be a good husband. Just as the family tries to ignore Robyn’s presence, the screenplay eventually does too.

The music itself occasionally saves the mediocrity of where this broken biopic goes. Sadly that’s not enough to save it. In other words, it’s often doesn’t feel right and it’s just OK.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

On the eve of its premiere, the embargo for Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody finally lifted. For those not familiar, waiting until December 21st for critics to weigh in is not a good sign for awards possibilities. The biopic comes from Kasi Lemmons, who last directed Cynthia Erivo to a Best Actress nod for 2019’s Harriet. Then there’s the screenwriter Anthony McCarten. He’s a bit of an awards whisperer. His screenplays for 2014’s The Theory of Everything, 2017’s Darkest Hour, and 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody resulted in Best Actor victories for (respectively) Eddie Redmayne, Gary Oldman, and Rami Malek.

That’s why I was a tad surprised that Somebody was MIA at film festivals and that there were no early reviews to generate buzz. Now it makes more sense. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a mere 41%. That said, some write-ups are singing the praises of Naomi Ackie as the iconic and troubled legend. I don’t think it would’ve been impossible for Ackie to make the five in Best Actress. At this juncture, only Cate Blanchett (Tár) and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) have guaranteed spots in my opinion. Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans and Danielle Deadwyler for Till are probably in as well. The fifth slot could be Margot Robbie (Babylon), Viola Davis (The Woman King), Olivia Colman (Empire of Light), or a surprise.

It is probably too late for Ackie to be a factor. The Critics Choice and Globes skipped her and the Academy is unlikely to make her queen of the night. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (12/20): I am revising my prediction from $14.5 million to $11.5 million

Sony Pictures is hoping audiences wanna run to Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody when its drops December 23rd. The biopic of the legendary late singer stars Naomi Ackie as the title character with Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Nafessa Williams, and Clarke Peters among the supporting cast. Kasi Lemmons (who last made the 2019 biopic Harriet) directs. Anthony McCarten wrote the screenplay. He’s no stranger to the genre having scripted The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Just last week, the film’s name was expanded to add “Whitney Houston” in front of one of her signature tunes. Perhaps Sony was nervous that awareness wasn’t high enough for the project. The marketing campaign doesn’t seem quite as robust as it could be. Its review embargo has yet to lift and Somebody skipped the autumn festival circuit. McCarten’s aforementioned works resulted in Oscar wins for stars Eddie Redmayne (Theory), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), and Rami Malek (Rhapsody). Ackie has yet to show up anywhere in the Academy’s precursors.

Even with the somewhat muted buzz, I still believe African-American and especially female viewers should turn out. This might result in a low teens beginning for the three-day gross.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody opening weekend prediction: $11.5 million (REVISED)

For my Puss in Boots: The Last Wish prediction, click here:

For my Babylon prediction, click here:

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

We have reached Best Actress in my deep dives of the major Oscar races. If you didn’t catch my takes on the supporting derbies and lead actor, you can access them here:

Before we get to this very competitive Actress competition, let’s see how I did at this point in the calendar from 2019-21. Three years ago, I managed to identify all 5 eventual nominees – winner Renee Zellweger (Judy), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), and Charlize Theron (Bombshell). For the late October/early November frame in 2020 and 2021, I correctly called 3 of the 5. In 2020, that was Frances McDormand (Nomadland), who won her third Oscar along with Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman). Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) were mentioned in Other Possibilities. The victor was also named last year with Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye as well as Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) and Kristen Stewart (Spencer). Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers) and Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos) were in Other Possibilities.

So if the last three years are any precursor, you should find the eventual quintet in my ten picks! Frances McDormand could have company with performers sporting a trio of gold statues. A Supporting Actress winner in 2004 for The Aviator and lead actress recipient for 2013’s Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett is drawing some career best kudos for Tár. She’s been in my #1 spot for weeks and if she wins, she’d join McDormand, Katherine Hepburn, and Ingrid Bergman as the only actresses to win more than two Oscars.

Her main competition could come from several performers. Michelle Yeoh is receiving a massive push for Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is a threat to win numerous big races including Best Picture. There’s another Michelle and it’s a surprise… Michelle Williams. As I discussed in my Supporting Actress write-up, her performance in The Fabelmans would likely be a guaranteed winner in that category. With the more competitive vibe of lead actress, it’s not even a guarantee that she makes it in.

While Till may struggle to get recognition elsewhere despite strong reviews and an A+ Cinemascore, Danielle Deadwyler looks pretty strong to make the cut. On the other hand, so-so critical reaction could prevent Olivia Colman (Empire of Light) from getting her fourth nod in five years.

There are two performances yet to be seen that could both make a splash: Margot Robbie for Babylon and Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance with Somebody. It’s easy to envision either rising up if the reactions are positive enough.

Despite solid box office, Viola Davis could face an uphill battle for The Woman King. That narrative could change if both Robbie and Ackie falter. Some intensely negative audience and critical buzz for Blonde may leave Ana de Armas out. And there’s always potential dark horses. Emma Thompson will probably get a Golden Globes nom for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, but Academy inclusion could be a reach. Women Talking‘s Rooney Mara might be ignored in favor of her supporting costars like Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley. Causeway may not draw enough attention for Jennifer Lawrence to make it and the same holds true for The Wonder‘s Florence Pugh. Decision to Leave (despite having a chance to take International Feature Film) may not see its cast be a factor. That would leave out Tang Wei.

Here’s my state of this race!

Best Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1 . Cate Blanchett, Tár (Previous Ranking: 1) (Even)

2. Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once (PR: 2) (E)

3. Danielle Deadwyler, Till (PR: 3) (E)

4. Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans (PR: 4) (E)

5. Margot Robbie, Babylon (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Olivia Colman, Empire of Light (PR: 6) (E)

7. Naomi Ackie, I Wanna Dance with Somebody (PR: 8) (+1)

8. Viola Davis, The Woman King (PR: 7) (-1)

9. Jennifer Lawrence, Causeway (PR: 9) (E)

10. Rooney Mara, Women Talking (PR: 10) (E)

Best Director is up next!

2018: The Year of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

The buzz got loud in late summer when A Star Is Born held its first screenings across the ocean at the Venice Film Festival. The third remake of the rags to riches Hollywood story that began in 1937, the musical drama marked the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and the first headlining acting role for pop superstar Lady Gaga (after a smaller part in Machete Kills). It soon became clear that audiences and critics found the tragic romance between the pair as anything but shallow.

Star now shines with a domestic gross of $200 million and the status as a front-runner for Best Picture at the Oscars. If Mr. Cooper’s inaugural behind the camera effort manages to do that, he would follow in the footsteps of well-known actors like Robert Redford (1980’s Ordinary People) and Kevin Costner (1990’s Dances with Wolves) whose debuts won the Academy’s biggest prize. Theoretically Cooper coukd win as many as four gold statues – Picture for producing, directing, lead Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. And while he technically wouldn’t be nominated for his duet “Shallow” with Gaga since he doesn’t share writing credit, the tune will probably emerge victorious in that race. To add even more to Cooper’s dynamic year, he costars with his American Sniper director Clint Eastwood in The Mule, which is performing well.

As for Gaga, her splashy foray on the silver screen certainly rivals others such as Prince and Whitney Houston to name a couple. She stands a real shot at winning Best Actress in a competitive category. Cooper likely has an even stronger chance for his performance.

In 2018, Cooper and Gaga are responsible for creating perhaps the year’s most memorable couple. They could be generously rewarded for it.

Oscar Watch: Whitney

There’s been some high-profile documentaries as of late focused on high-profile people. This Friday, that trend continues with the release of Whitney. It covers the life of the late Whitney Houston and is directed by Kevin Macdonald. He’s known for making fictional efforts such as The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, as well as critically heralded docs Touching the Void and Marley (which covered another legendary musician).

Whitney screened in May at the Cannes Film Festival to positive notices (the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 90% right now). In order for it to be noticed by Oscar voters, it would need to get on equal footing with other recent acclaimed docs like RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This could be a challenge. My feeling is that Whitney may have trouble making the short list come nomination time as voters may save their love for other entries.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Music Biopics: The Name Game

A growing trend in movies for the past few years (and a bit beyond) is the musical biopic that incorporates one of the band or artist’s songs into the title. The latest example will come out this fall with Bohemian Rhapsody, the behind the scenes story of Queen.

2019 will bring us Rocketman with Taron Egerton as the legendary Elton John.

We’ve seen this trend in years past. For instance, the 1980s saw La Bamba about Richie Valens.

The 1990s gave us Angela Bassett in her Oscar nominated role playing Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It?

In 2005, we had Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix in his Academy nominated turn as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon winning as June.

More recent ones have been in the hip hop world with Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.) and All Eyez on Me (Tupac Shakur). There’s also Get On Up with Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

So this got me thinking. What would be some other movie/song titles if certain iconic musicians got their biopic? For this blog post’s purposes, I tried to focus on artists where I feel a big screen treatment on them is at least feasible. In other words, while Rico Suave might be a spectacular title, I don’t envision two hours on Gerardo coming anytime soon.

There is already a Madonna flick reportedly in the works and it takes its name not from a tune, but from one of her tours – Blond Ambition. I suppose Material Girl or Like a Prayer could have worked, but Blond Ambition is just about perfect.

Some choices seem obvious. You gotta call the Bon Jovi story Livin on a Prayer, after all. And My Way seems like the natural fit for Frank Sinatra. And Born to Run for Bruce Springsteen. And there’s Piano Man for Billy Joel.

It doesn’t end there. Respect (Aretha Franklin) and Fire and Rain (James Taylor).

When it comes to some recently dearly departed legends, Prince presents a challenge because you can’t call it Purple Rain. And a number of his other massive hits don’t fit. When Doves Cry is probably the name the studio would go for considering it’s his biggest hit. Personally, I rather like the thought of My Name is Prince, taken from his Love Symbol album of 1992.

With Michael Jackson, Thriller would work but it’s hard to imagine Man in the Mirror not being the choice.

For David Bowie, Starman seems like the winner, but that’s also the name of a fairly well-known 1980s science fiction effort starring Jeff Bridges. That may not matter, but if so, Space Oddity or simply calling it Ziggy Stardust might fit.

Tom Petty? How about Free Fallin or Runnin Down a Dream. George Michael? Faith or Freedom. Whitney Houston? Tough one. Perhaps a studio would want I Will Always Love You. Maybe So Emotional works as well.

Some bands have more than one title that seem appropriate. Aerosmith has three great ones: Dream On, Sweet Emotion, or Walk This Way. With AC/DC – Back in Black or Thunderstruck.

Guns n Roses is an interesting one. Welcome to the Jungle is fantastic, but it was just the subtitle for the blockbuster Jumanji reboot. In this matter, you might have to go with their album name Appetite for Destruction, which is ideal.

Metallica could have For Whom the Bell Tolls or Enter Sandman. Nirvana might have Smells Like Teen Spirit as the studio choice, but I’m a little partial to Come As You Are.

I like Runnin with the Devil for Van Halen and I suppose Stairway to Heaven would be the choice for Led Zeppelin.

Let’s move off rock. How about Britney Spears? That may depend on what direction the studio goes. It could be Toxic or Stronger. Maybe Baby One More Time instead.

Stevie Wonder? Superstition or Sir Duke are possibilities, but I like Higher Ground.

With Bob Marley, maybe Get Up, Stand Up or One Love.

Circling back to hip hop, Fight the Power is the clear pick for Public Enemy and the same may hold true for Mama Said Knock You Out with LL Cool J.

And then there’s my favorite… the Rick James biopic Super Freak. Why hasn’t this been made already?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Let’s see if any of these suggested titles end up playing out in the future. Maybe there will be surprises… Barbie Girl: The Aqua Story, anyone?

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 1987: A Look Back

As has become a summer tradition on this here blog, I’m taking you back 30 years, 20 years, and 10 years recounting the top 10 tracks of every season.

We begin today with 1987 before moving forward with 1997 and 2007 shortly. It’s a fascinating experience to relive the songs that were blaring (at least in this era) on our Walkmans and cassettes at this juncture.

Just as in years past, I will assign a scale of 1 (summer bummer) to 10 (seasonal classic) for each hit. I will also reveal whether or not said track is on my Apple Music.

As a side note, my series that will cover the summer movies of 1987, 1997, and 2007 will be coming your way soon as well.

Let’s get to it!

10. “Luka” by Suzanne Vega

OK, so you don’t usually pair “summer hit song” with a track about child abuse, but Vega’s largest hit of her career is a catchy little ditty. It earned a number of Grammy nominations. And just to slide a movie reference in, a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction reveals the character of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) may actually be a cousin of hers.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

9. “Heart and Soul” by T’Pau

Not T-Pain for you youngsters. No, this is T’Pau, a British pop song fronted by Carol Decker that had some hits in the late 80s. “Heart and Soul” is a perfectly reasonable track you’d belt out in the car alone.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

8. “Only In My Dreams” by Debbie Gibson

Teen Long Island pop princess Debbie Gibson (before she changed to her name to the more distinguished Deborah) had a huge hit with this ditty. It’s somewhat forgettable these days, but it’s an OK little pop confection.

My Rating: 5 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

7. “Who’s That Girl” by Madonna

And now for the real pop princess! This is the title track for Madonna’s 1987 box office dud that still managed to produce this hit. This has never been one of my favorite Madonna songs to be honest, but it’s decent.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

6. “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael

The late British pop sensation gave radio programmers heart palpitations with this first single from his heralded solo debut Faith. The track also served as the third single for the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II, which was the summer’s biggest hit movie. As is the case with plenty of other GM tracks, it’s terrific and so are the various remixes that followed.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music? Yes

5. “La Bamba” by Los Lobos

This is, of course, the cover of the Ritchie Valens 50s smash that served as the lead single for the movie La Bamba. Truth be told, this is a track that grates on my nerves and maybe that’s due to its omnipresence three decades ago.

My Rating: 4 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music? No

4. “Shakedown” by Bob Seger

This is Detroit legend Seger’s only #1 single and it came from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack. It was originally intended for the late Glenn Frey, who recorded “The Heat Is On” for 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Do I think it’s great? No, but I might not turn the dial if it comes on.

My Rating: 6

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

3. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2

The second single from their beloved Joshua Tree album, this is one of Irish rock band’s signature tunes and it deserves to be.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

2. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston

Ms. Whitney’s dance inducing track here served as the first single from her second album and to this day, it will get bridal parties belting out the lyrics.

My Rating: 9

Is It On My Apple Music? Yes

1. “Alone” by Heart

Yeah, very few singers have pipes like Ann Wilson and this power ballad has tested the limits of many who attempt to keep up by themselves while sitting in traffic. Many have tried.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

And there you have it! I’ll be back soon with 1997 and 2007…


Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 40-31

We’re at day six of my personal Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s. For those who wish to read my previous entries, just click on the Music category of this here blog and they’ll magically show up. Today brings us to numbers 40-31 and let’s go to it:

40. “Killing Me Softly” by The Fugees (1996)

This hip hop trio was tremendously influential in their too brief time together. This Roberta Flack cover is their one smash hit that can safely be classified as R&B with Lauryn Hill’s beautiful vocals.

39. “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men (1990)

The hit single that started it all for this trio. They may be best known for their slow jams, but this deserves its spot on the list.

38. “I Get Lonely” by Janet Jackson (1998)

Ms. Jackson’s single on her acclaimed Velvet Rope album also featured a remix with Blackstreet.

37. “My Love Is Your Love” by Whitney Houston (1999)

“I Will Always Love You” may be her signature tune from the decade (it made #50 on here), but this Wylcef Jean produced track is my personal Whitney favorite of hers from the 90s.

36. “Any Time, Any Place” by Janet Jackson (1994)

Janet’s sultry and unforgettable single from her 1993 janet album earns her yet another entry.

35. “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey (1990)

The great ballad that started it all for Mariah and was her first #1 single of many more to come.

34. “No, No, No Part 2” by Destiny’s Child (1997)

Most of their biggest singles came the following decade, but Beyoncé and company got off to their storied career with this gem from Wyclef Jean yet again.

33. “Scream” by Michael and Janet Jackson (1995)

The brother and sister finally got together for “Scream” and a fantastic song and video were the result.

32. “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men (1994)

Coming off a successful first album, the Boyz became a phenomenon with this first single from their second album… an unforgettable concoction from producer Babyface.

31. “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days” by Monica (1995)

This Dallas Austin production gave Monica her first of many hits. For Monica, her debut single is still her best.

And that’s tonight’s edition! We’ll get into the top third of the list tomorrow with numbers 30-21.


Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 50-41

We have arrived at part five of my personal Top 90 R&B songs of the 1990s and that means numbers 50-41 coming at you this evening! If you’d like to see what else has made the list, read my previous entries here:





Let’s keep on moving…

50. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)

You didn’t think I’d leave Ms. Whitney’s signature tune off here, did you? Her smash hit from The Bodyguard soundtrack is prime crank it up when you’re by yourself in the car bliss. And Dolly Parton wrote it!

49. “Lately” by Jodeci (1993)

Not many artists could pull off covering Stevie Wonder, but Jodeci managed excellently with their beautiful version of this classic.

48. “Hey Mr. D.J.” by Zhane (1993)

The group’s biggest hit is a club anthem.

47. “Jerk Out” by The Time (1990)

Prince brought this group to prominence in the 1980s, but this first single off their album Pandemonium has been a personal favorite for quite some time.

***SO, Prince doesn’t let any music he owns on YouTube. Sorry folks!

46. “At Your Best” by Aaliyah (1994)

Aaliyah’s slow jam from her debut album. Get used to seeing her on the remainder of this list.

45. “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison (1997)

Mr. Morrison might not have had other stateside hits, but this banger cements his place in history.

44. “My Way” by Usher (1998)

Usher makes his debut on the list with the title track to his fabulous 1997 album.

43. “Weak” by SWV (1993)

This #1 smash was the R&B ballad of summer 1993. This girl group isn’t done yet on the list either.

42. “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJ’s (1996)

This track would still fill up on a dance floor. If you don’t know this one, you need to.

41. “Feels Good” by Tony! Toni! Tone! (1990)

This influential group peaks here with their greatest single.

And that’s our 90s R&B edition for tonight, folks! We’ll get to the Top 40 tomorrow evening!