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Sparkle Blu-ray Review

Sparkle (2012) movie poster Sparkle

Theatrical Release: August 17, 2012 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Salim Akil / Writers: Mara Brock Akil (screenplay); Joel Schumacher, Howard Rosenman (story)

Cast: Jordin Sparks (Sparkle Anderson), Whitney Houston (Emma Anderson), Derek Luke (Stix), Mike Epps (Satin Struthers), Carmen Ejogo (Tammy "Sister" Anderson), Tika Sumpter (Dolores "Dee" Anderson), Omari Hardwick (Levi), Cee Lo Green (Black), Curtis Armstrong (Larry Robinson), Terrence J (Red), Tamela Mann (Ms. Sara Waters), Michael Beach (Rev. Bryce), Bre'ly Evans (Tune Ann), Linda Boston (Sister Clora), Sidi Henderson (Mr. Bell)

Buy Sparkle from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

When Whitney Houston passed away in February, the world didn't just lose one of the best-selling pop singers of all time, it also lost an actress, albeit one that hadn't performed in fifteen years. Houston's movie stardom was short-lived and limited to the mid-1990s.
Her debut, The Bodyguard, was one of 1992's biggest blockbusters. Three years later, she followed that up with the mid-sized hit ensemble comedy Waiting to Exhale. The following Christmas brought The Preacher's Wife. And then, aside from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella for the 1997 revival of The Wonderful World of Disney, Houston's acting career ended, while her music one stalled over a number of high-profile personal problems.

Shortly before her Grammy Awards weekend death, though, Houston made one final movie, acting for the first time in a decade and a half. Featuring Houston in a supporting role, Sparkle didn't budge from its scheduled mid-August release date. But the allure of a posthumous performance that clearly factored into the strong showings of The Dark Knight and Michael Jackson's This Is It didn't draw the masses to this musical drama, which had an ordinary run in fairly wide release.

You probably haven't seen the little-known 1976 film on which this is loosely based and odds are that you didn't catch this remake in theaters. Still, you definitely have seen this movie in the sense that we all have because this is as generic as any fictional tale of a singer's rise. The original movie, co-written by '90s Batman franchise-killing director Joel Schumacher, was set in Harlem during the late 1950s and early 1960s. This version arbitrarily takes place in 1968 Detroit, presumably to set the music and story against the backdrop of Motown and make the dream of musical success a more attainable one.

Sparkle Anderson (Jordin Sparks) has the talent but not the courage to put "singer" in front of "songwriter." Herself a failed musician, Emma (Whitney Houston) wants her daughters to limit their singing to Church.

Neither the period setting nor anything else in this Sparkle provides any flavor. The film seems like an obvious vehicle for a pop star to break into acting, although that wasn't quite the case for the original's seasoned but not yet famous 16-year-old Irene Cara (an alumna of "The Electric Company", who appropriately enough would find Fame). This time around, the titular role is filled by Jordin Sparks, the 2007 "American Idol" winner with a platinum record and over 30 Wikipedia paragraphs to her (household?) name.

Sparks' Sparkle is a gifted songwriter, but lacks the confidence to put herself out there as a singer. Thus, her flashy older sister Sister (Carmen Ejogo) becomes the face of the three-sister R&B group that less focal, aspiring med student sibling Dee (Tika Sumpter) completes. Naturally, the girls' stern mother (Whitney Houston) doesn't want them trying to make their dreams come true. She spells out the three rules of her house as thus: respect, getting an education, and having a relationship with the Lord. In her eyes, waking up Sunday morning to attend Church is good, while accepting a marriage proposal from an oft-televised local stand-up comedian (Mike Epps) who degrades himself to the amusement of white audiences is bad.

Sister learns that lesson the hard way. After shrugging off her mother's disapproval, she soon plunges into a life of drugs and spousal abuse. (The movie is a hard PG-13, warranting the longest MPAA rating explanation I've ever seen.) Just as the girls are close to landing a record deal from an important producer (Curtis Armstrong, adding to his legacy of black musician films in an apparent effort to further shed his reputation as "Booger from Revenge of the Nerds"), Sister's troubled situation costs them their big break. Out of nowhere, it also costs a life and sends one sister to jail on some kind of murder charges.

The Anderson sisters (Tika Sumpter, Jordin Sparks, and Carmen Ejogo) have varying reactions to news of nearing a record deal.

Gladly, hope remains for Sparkle, with some encouragement from the now disbanded group's faintly opportunistic manager (Derek Luke). Can she find the courage to become a star?

Much of the time, Sparkle is bland and routine, supplying unremarkable music, story, and characters. When it finally does something to get your attention, it's negative attention earned by overdramatic moments and off-the-wall developments. Really, the movie just wants to fill its heroine with dreams, place surmountable adversity in her path, and allow her to shine.
It simply lacks anything to make these typical acts and the requisite music numbers stand out for viewers who aren't suckers for R&B numbers and Jordin Sparks. Houston doesn't get to do a whole lot, but she does have a song and a handful of scenes, which is more than film-opening Cee-Lo Green does to claim the "and" credit.

There are so many movies telling a story just like this and even if they don't tell it any better, they typically at least add something (a setting, for instance) to distinguish the experience. Sparkle seems all too comfortable with being a formulaic and immediately forgotten entry to the genre. It is rarely bad but never very good. Most of the time, it just exists, meeting your expectations and serving all-you-can-take cinematic déjà vu.

Sparkle Blu-ray combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Blu-rays: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Service, French, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Chinese Traditional, French, Korean, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English and Thai
Release Date: November 30, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like just about every new Sony movie, Sparkle boasts top-notch picture and sound on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 picture is spotless, sharp, and vibrant, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio makes strong use of the soundfield and keeps volume levels consistent.

Sister (Carmen Ejogo) leads Sister and the Sisters in an extended performance of "Hooked On Your Love." Screenwriter Mara Brock Akil discusses her approach to this remake in "A Dream Come True."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by Salim Akil. It becomes clear early on that this will be a long track, with Akil not having nearly enough to say to justify being recorded on his own. Silence forms the majority of the track, both within Akil's fractured sentences and in the long gaps in between his remarks, the least relevant of which are uttered under his breath.
Though he clearly has thoughts on civilization, race, and classic film, this is one of the dullest commentaries I have ever heard. It's not even clear if this was recorded after Houston's death, which isn't explicitly addressed.

On the video side, everything is presented in HD, although as on the concurrent Men in Black 3, the sound on all of the extras appeared to be ever so slightly out of sync.

"Hooked on Your Love" is treated to an extended performance (5:04), though little of it stands out as being added content.

"A Tribute to Whitney Houston" (19:50) gathers reflections on the late icon from the cast and crew. There's a bit on her music near the end, but the interview subjects mostly stick to discussing their experiences on this film and what it meant to them. Turns out Whitney was a saint, always on task and positively wonderful to everyone on the film.

"A Dream Come True" (17:31) is a general making-of featurette led by screenwriter Mara Brock Akil, the director's wife. She discusses the long journey to make this film, the changes made from the original, and the decision to set this version in 1968 Detroit. Though another fine piece, it relies heavily on talking heads, doesn't offer much behind-the-scenes footage and it really ought to have licensed clips from the original movie, which was not a Sony production.

"A Sparkling Performance" gives us glimpses of the choreography training that went into the film. Jordin Sparks celebrates you and celebrates me in the "Celebrate" music video.

"A Sparkling Performance" (15:35) is a more technical and narrow featurette that pays notice to the choreography and costuming for the girls' musical numbers.

"Sparkle & Shine" (15:58) celebrates the cast and describes their characters.

A music video for "Celebrate" (3:45) credits Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks,
but only the latter is seen along with a number of her cast mates who join her for a house dance party.

Not included here, Sparkle's DVD contains the commentary, the tribute to Whitney Houston, and the general making-of featurette "A Dream Comes True." Seems pretty absurd that the music video and extended performance couldn't have been included, but studios like to keep their DVDs light these days.

Previews holds full individual trailers for Men in Black 3, Searching for Sugar Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Words, none of which play automatically at the start of the disc. Sparkle's own trailer is absent.

The scored menu plays screen-filling film clips with faint effects over them. disc supports bookmarks and resumes playback.

Sparkle is packaged in a slipcover that lives up to the title with its holographically bejeweled embossing of the title. Inside the side-snapped case, which features the studio's nice usual double-sided artwork, one finds inserts with directions and codes for Sony Rewards and UltraViolet.

Sister and the Sisters perform in front of primary color rectangles.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you're not a big fan of Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston or have seen enough movies to recognize this familiar mold, then Sparkle won't do much for you. It's a by-the-numbers songstress star-making tale whose music, storyline, and characters are unlikely to stay with you long after the credits roll.

Sony's Blu-ray offers strong picture and sound, a lifeless audio commentary, and a standard hour and a half of video extras. It'd be an easy disc to recommend if the movie wasn't so mundane.

Buy Sparkle from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Men in Black 3 • A Special Sesame Street Christmas • The Apparition • The Sarah Silverman Program: Season 3 • Ruby Sparks
Jordin Sparks Bonus Feautres: I Heart Jonas • African Cats • Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Salim Akil: Jumping the Broom | | Carmen Ejogo: Away We Go | Mike Epps: The Hangover • Faster
Derek Luke: Glory Road • Miracle at St. Anna • Captain America: The First Avenger | Omari Hardwick: For Colored Girls • Kick-Ass
Dreamgirls • Burlesque • Rock of Ages • The Princess and the Frog • Let It Shine • Sister Act & Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
Think Like a Man • Katy Perry: Part of Me • The Help • Doubt • Submarine

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Reviewed December 1, 2012.



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