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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 29, 2021)

20 Feb 2021

FILM REVIEWS FOR THE WEEK:

 

BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD’S A LITTLE BLURRY (USA 2021) ***

A film by R.J. Cutler

Apple TV+ Announces BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD’S A LITTL BLURRY Live Premiere Event on February 25.  The Event will include an exclusive and intimate performance and conversation with Eilish, discussion with director R.J. Cutler and other special surprises before the film debuts early on Apple TV+.   Billie Eilish releases live audio performance of her song “ilomilo,” as featured in the film.

The doc takes a deeply intimate look at extraordinary teenager Billie Eilish. Award-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler follows her journey on the road, onstage, and at home with her family as the writing and recording of her debut album changes her life. 

The film review is embargoed until Thursday Feb 25th 9pm pm ET so  check back later on the site for the review which will be included below.

(review)

Trailer: 

 

 

 

THE END OF THE STORM (UK 2020) ****
Directed by James Erskine

Director/Writer Erskine (THIS IS FOOTBALL, ONE NIGHT IN TURIN) is fortunate to be given exceptional access to Liverpool Football Club that enables him to make this excellent authentic sports documentary drama.  THE END OF THE STORM is the gripping inside story of the club’s 2019/20 Premier League winning season, despite the huge hiccup of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The doc plays as exciting as any fictional sports drama.  With archive footage of games played with Liverpool scoring the goals, director Erskine captures the euphoria of many a match., around a dozen or so exciting ones captured on camera.  Then most monumental is Jordan Henderson’s replacement of the goalie midway during the 2018 Chelsea match.   His saving of the goals is nothing short of phenomenal.  Henderson went on to become the team’s captain and was the one finally honoured to receive the trophy cup after winning the Premier League.

The film is also pretty much Jurgen Klopp’s success story.  This is the man that has devoted his entire life and love for the game - the manager of the Liverpool Football Club.  Klopp says he does nothing but football and even if they did not pay him, which they do, quite handsomely, he confesses, he would still do it.  He says his wife considers I’m a workaholic, but it is what he loves doing. With a tactical mind, he is shown analyzing every game, training and inspiring his players and blaming himself if a game is lost.  Klopp is in pretty much the majority of the film’s scenes and can always be seen on the side of the field prancing up and down , guiding his team on.  The film also focuses on a  ew of its eclectic layers like Mohamed Salleh from Egypt, Sadio Mané from Somalia and Roberto Firmino from Brazil.  But what is football without its fans?  The camera again focuses on a ew from other countries, a diehard who watches a Liverpool Club latch every week from Wuhan where the Corona Virus initially hit, an Indian father and two  football loving daughters and of course, a Liverpool fan and his young son.

The film is shot from all corners of the globe from the U.K. to New Zealand, China, Africa and Brazil.

The film is bookmarked by the club’s anthem, the beautifully rendered song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” performed by Lana Del Rey from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL, where the words END OF THE STORM form part of the lyrics and the title of the film.  The lyrics are particularly meaningful as football binds the world together as the doc filmed in many countries attest.

THE END OF THE STORM is a timely doc, that ties in the effects of Covid-19 as well as the police killing of Rodney King as can be seen with the Black Lives Matter T-shirts worn many times by fans in the film.  THE END OF THE STORM is one of the year’s most entertaining docs, even if one is not a football fan.  One can see, from the film, the reason football is the world’s most popular sport.

Trailer: 

THE INDEPENDENTS (USA 2020) ***
A Greg Naughton Deal

THE INDEPENDENTS is a musical comedy/drama about three solo-artists who collide at the same crossroads and discover harmony- 3-part, old-school harmony.  Thus is born “RGB” (at least until they come up with a better band name) and what follows is their roller-coaster-ride journey across America for a one last shot at musical glory. Actually RGB is a pretty good name as it has the initials of the first names of the band members.  Also, RGB stands for the three primary colours red, green and blue which together make up white and any other possible colour combination.

The film has a very nice, smooth and easy flow, as evident by the name of the film’s main 3 characters, taking their first names from the actors’ real first names.  The actors are Greg Naughton, Rich Price and Brian Chartrand with Mr. Naughton as the director.  Naughton is actually the nephew of David Naughton, best known for John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

The film opens with Richard (Price) playing his guitar, music to the consternation of his upstairs neighbour.  Rich works as an English professor waiting for tenure if his dissertation is accepted.  His mother (never seen but only heard over the cell phone) wants him to stop his music and concentrate on his dissertation when suddenly, he meets Greg (Naughton) who inspires him to continue writing music.  They decide to perform on an almost completed song.  They take off in Greg’s van.  They meet the third independent, a strange hippie hitchhiker, Brian who they pick up.  Brian has given up on people, on making friends and taken to the guitar.  Now, here are the three independents ready to change the music world.

They are three poor musicians doing what they know best, performing their songs.  Brian and Greg have no phones while Rich still possesses and old flip phone.  But they survive.

Director Naughton’s film has a feel-good sensibility to it, as it shows the importance of following one’s dreams - whether successful or not.  But at least one has tried.  The theory can be readily applied not only for each of he three heroes in the film but for anyone else as well.

The film’s music is credited to The Sweet Remains, an American folk-rock band.  In reality, the members of the band are the singer/songwriters Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand.  Their independently released 2008 debut Laurel & Sunset (produced in collaboration with Andy Zulla) nonetheless reached a global audience when Putumayo World Music featured their single “Dance With Me” on Putumayo's popular Acoustic Cafe compilation.  This film is the story of the formation of the band The Sweet Remains originally called RGB.

THE INDEPENDENTS is an effective feel good movie with the message of never to give up despite all the shit raining down.

Following its world premiere at Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Best Feature Film win at Omaha Film Festival, indie film darling THE INDEPENDENTS is now available from Friday, February the26th, to screen at home upon request.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

 

MINARI (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

MINARI is the name of a water dropwort plant Koreans use in their food.  The plant is sowed in the film, a metaphor of what life can offer when least expected.

The film is a semi-autobiographical take on director Chung's own upbringing.  The plot follows a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in rural America during the 1980s.  The farm is in need of water - just as Claude Berri’s farm epics, JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON DES SOURCES.

The film opens with the young family of husband and wife and small son and daughter driving and arriving in Arkansas.  They have previously settled in California but now move to where they can buy cheaper land.

It soon becomes clear that Jacob (Steven Yuen) is the farm guy while his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is the city dweller.  The son David (Alan Kim) is the impressionable one and the story unfolds from his point of view.  David is also suffering a heart condition which means he cannot strain himself  physically,  A man with the divinity stick is hired to find where water is so that a well can be dug.  Jacob refuses to do that and to use his common sense to find where to dig water.  But the well eventually dries up.   Will Patton plays Paul, a hired hand who can speak Korean having served in the war before.  He is a born again Christian who imposes his faith on the family.   Patton brings in a lot of clownish humour into the story.

Jacob and Monica fight frequently, matters not helping that they being short of cash.  To make his wife happy, David agrees to move in her mother Soon-ja.  Soon-ya (Youn Yuh-jung) makes a huge impression on the family, particularly on young David.  Initially David does not like her, as he has to share his room with her.  He claims she is not the usual grandma.  She does not cook or bake, she smells and she curses.   Still like all grandmas, all grandmas love their grandchildren and the two eventually bond.  They go to a stream where she plants her MINARI seeds.

There is nothing wrong with the rather simplified telling of this tale of immigration.  Unlike other immigration dramas like Louis Malle’s ATLANTIC CITY, the Americans in the town welcome the new Korean family.   But there is nothing really exceptional about the movie either that it should go on to win coveted prizes like BEST PICTURE.  This has led to some controversy regarding the film.

MINARI has been denied the nomination for the Golden Globes Best Picture because the Foreign Press considered the film a foreign film.  This has caused a lot of anger and controversy as the film is American, set in America (Arkansas) with American actors, though Korean as well as English are spoken.  The Oscars has changed the name of the Best Foreign Film prize to Best International Feature, so this problem will likely not occur.

But the film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020, winning both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.  It began a limited release in the United States on December 11, 2020, prior to a wide release on February 12, 2021, by A24. The film is not eligible to compete for Best Picture at the Golden Globe Awards because it is primarily in Korean.

I liked MINARI but not as much as I had expected after reading all the rave reviews.  Though not bad, MINARI gets my vote for most overrated film of the year.

Trailer:  

 

THE VIGIL (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Keith Thomas

A vigil is similar to a wake but in this film it refers to the Jewish vigil, where a body is watched throughout the night till the wake of dawn.  The shomer is the watcher, a family member or paid person if the family member is unavailable to sit the night through with a corpse before burial to chant the evil spirits away.  One knows that there is plenty of opportunity for scares when the protagonist, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) has a bit of a mental problem, taking pills to calm himself.  Yakov is broke.  He takes the job for $300 cash of a shomer to sit with a dead body till dawn at the deceased family’s house.  Yes, there is more trouble and even more when he is greeted by the wife who suffers from dementia.  Worse still is when he soon learns that the wife and the deceased had grown mad together.

Thus, this Jewish horror seems ripe for terrorizing audiences with plenty of opportunities.  The young shomer suffers from guilt as seen in a flashback.  He had stood by, not doing anything and had  allowed a young boy, his younger brother under his watch to be bullied and then hit by a car to die.

The house where he is ‘shoming' is kept by the deceased widow who has Alzheimer’s and who expresses cryptic reservations as to the man's ability to carry out the task.   The man begins to imagine things or are the things really happening?  Yakov is a doubter of his faith, and not as pious as your ordinary Jewish neighbour, though he looks like one.  As Yakov sits through the night, alone, he hears noises in the night that ultimately lets him to go down the stairs to the basement where he sees a video informing him of a demon that must be burnt in the face before dawn or it would inhabit him like it did the corpse when it was a living being.

Yakov is beside himself, which makes for some easy laughs as he scrambles around the place.  Written and directed by Keith Thomas, THE VIGIL is a low budget two man show - the actor and filmmaker.  Dave Davis as Yakov does a solid job as the yiddish coward, forced to finally sum up some courage to survive.  Even in the beginning of the night, he is texting his girlfriend Sarah (Malky Goldmasn) asking her what to do.  The film is limited in scope and production values but given what it is, at least director Thomas keeps everything in tight control.

Director Thomas in his debut feature takes 30 minutes to set up his film before scaring the audience with the usual  THE VIGIL is a straightforward scary tale with noises in the dark, shadows in dark spaces etc. with the Orthodox Jewish setting a welcome one - the unique world of the Hasidic community of "Boro" Park, Brooklyn.

THE VIGIL had its premiere at Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and finally making tis rounds.

Trailer:  

THE UNITED STATES vs BILLIE HOLIDAY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Lee Daniels

In the 1940’s, the US government targeted beloved jazz icon Billie Holiday as part of their war on drugs, to prevent her from performing her heart-wrenching ballad “Strange Fruit,” a blatant cry against lynching.

Though the film’s title implies a courtroom drama, The film is not, containing just a few courtroom scenes but not with any where huge arguments are made on either side.  Billie Holiday, as everyone knows is a beloved jazz icon, also known to be addicted to drugs, in this case heroin.  The United States wants to silence Holiday not because of her drug use, but of her famous song entitled ‘Strange Fruit’ with graphic lyrics describing a black lynching.  In order to silence her and to prevent her from even singing the song, which clearly incites blacks to revolt, the United States employs narcotic agents to arrest Holiday on drug charges, and his silencing her.     The song was censored as it condemns racism and denounces the lynchings African Americans have endured. 

This is not the first film made on Billie Holiday.  Director Sidney J. Furie made the 1977 classic LADY SINGS THE BLUES which had Diana Ross in the title role of Holiday and other big name stars like Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams.  That film went on to win 5 Academy Award Nominations including one for Diana Ross for Best Actress, though it won none.  Furie later directed Ross again in MAHOGANY.  This time around, Holiday gets treatment from director Lee Daniels, already well known and respected for his hits like PRECIOUS and LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER.

Daniels has shown his ability to show black hardship as in PRECIOUS.  Here the hardship is not so much in poverty, but more in both the abuse of blacks as in colours discrimination and  the toll due to drug use.  Holiday claims in the film that she has to be high in order to give her fans the performances they deserve.  This is a claim that many will debate but addicts will surely believe the statement.  Daniels also keeps his confrontational scenes tense as in his previous films.

Holiday is portrayed by Grammy nominated recording artist Andra Day.  Like Ross their Billie Holiday films were their first foray into films.  Day is a singer with a raspy voice.  Her rendering of the Billie Holiday songs appear authentic enough and she is apt at displaying a lot of caustic anger in her scenes.  One can see how anger and drug addiction can affect one’s behaviour for the worse.  Day has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress this year.  The film is also nominated for a Globe for Best Original song.  That should give the film sufficient publicity.

I have not seen Furie’s LADY SINGS THE BLUES as it would be good to be able to compare both films.  LADY SINGS THE BLUES was banned in Singapore when it was released because of its drug content. 

This film also emphasizes the affair between Holiday and the undercover narcotics agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) with little nods to Holiday’s husband Louis McKay.

The best thing about this otherwise depressing film about drug abuse and the downward spiral of Holiday’s life are the rendering of her songs.  Day does a marvellous job in this respect.

The film is available March 2nd VOD.

Trailer: 

THE WORLD TO COME (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Mona Fastvold

The film unfolds somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, with titles indicating the month, days and date when the events take place.  The film begins on January the 1st, clearly the New Year when things are expected to improve.  But the voiceover claims otherwise with the words: Contentment has not been a companion.

The film opens with the voiceover by Abigail (Katherine Waterston) detailing her hardship with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) and the loss of their child.  Enter a new couple Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and Finney. (Christopher Abbott).   The two neighbouring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically.

The cinematography by award winning d.p. Andre Chemetoff is to be commended.  His cinematography is a stand-out especially depicting both the severity and beauty of the land.  The bleak and cold winters can definitely be felt from the howling winds and the lack of visibility during the winter storm scenes.  The lighting, just enough for the set and characters to be seen in the dark cabins is near perfection.

Though the central theme of the film is the discovery of love between the two neglected women, THE WORLD TO COME is more than a lesbian love story.  The first kiss occurs only after the film’s 50-minute mark.  It is more one of the triumph of the human spirit of the two as they strive to make their worlds better ones to come.

Some suspense is generated with the two women sneaking around, comforting each other and occasionally making out under the noses of their husbands.  There is some but little humour.  It is remarked, for example, of the weather being so cold that the mail had to be delivered on skis.  Letters would be lost at breakneck speed is the humorous comment. 

Despite the 19th Century setting, the script makes it a point to emphasize feminine issues.  Tallie complains of her husband telling her that she is not performing her wifely duties, the husband making it worse by mentioning that a lot of men have slowly poisoned their wives.  She also says that he has not touched her since she has complained of the way she is treated.  In those times, women are treated more as servants and objects that a partner in equality.

When Tallie and her husband disappear, Abigail suspects foul play after discovering a towel soaked in blood.  This drives her to a mental state in which she is administered laudanum.  Laudanum is a reddish-brown and extremely bitter, laudanum contains almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine.   It is good to know that today, laudanum is recognized as addictive and is strictly regulated and controlled as such throughout most of the world.  Abigail when she stops taking it, becomes depressed and barely able to function.

THE WORLD TO COME, though a solid piece of filmmaking, would be a hard sell due to its depressing theme in the really depressing 19th century during these Covid-19 times.  But THE WORLD TO COME also shows that the worst can be overcome if one succumbs to one instincts despite overbearing odds.

The film had its premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival in 2020 and was released on various streaming platforms on Tuesday March the 2nd.

Trailer:  

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