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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 GIRL ON THE TRAIN (India 2021) ***
Directed by Ribhu Dasgupta

The GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a Netflix original movie that releases on Netflix, the day of the review writing, Feb 26th 2021.  If the title of the film sounds familiar, it should as it is the remake of the 2016 Hollywood film starring Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett, directed by Tate Taylor.  Both films are based on the British novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins and weirdly enough both films are adapted to suit different target audiences - the original for American (the train travels along the Hudson) and the latter (though set in London) for Indian (or Hindi) audiences, though the latter version is also available in Tamil and other Indian dialects.

Tate Taylor’s film was told in three chapters and was confusing.  Dasgupta’s film is also confusing especially in the change of setting fro India to the United Kingdom.  The confusion arises from two factors - the main character’s amnesia, which means that her thoughts and actions are not always clear and the other is the non-chronological unfolding of the events.  One assumes both directors must have followed the novel’s original writing style.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (India) benefits from the performance of the lead, Parineeti Chopra who plays Mira.  When the film opens, it looks as if Mira has chased Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) into the woods killing her. 

Mira suffers from amnesia and is an alcoholic.  Mira, a lawyer had prosecuted a criminal who had crashed into their car thus killing her dream husband and her yet-to-be born child.  She suffers trauma leading to amnesia.  What the mind cannot forget, amnesia erases, the audience is told.  At this time, the audience is also told that Mira’s dream husband had been cheating on her, resulting in a divorce.  It is quite confusing at this point. The confusion or mystery if one wants to call it that is heightened when Mira sees a girl on the train.  The girl is Nusrat, who appears to be having the perfect life with her husband, the kind offie Mira drams of, but is unable to have.  Until one day, when she notices, while travelling on the train that Nusrat has another man in the house.  This cannot be, as her dream girl is having an affair thus jolting her into disarray.

The aim of director Dasupta is to adapt the film to Indian audiences.  This is clear from the film’s beginning which shows how Mira met her husband during their friend’s wedding.  There is a lively Bollywood style dance - updated with current western dance moves with lyrics crooned in the style of Bollywood musicals.  In the United Kingdom, it seems too coincidental that the majority of thee people seen on screen are Indians.  The two detectives assigned to solve the missing girl (Nusrat) case are both Indian.  Most of the extras in the filmier also Indians with a few whites pushed on to the front of the camera.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is entertaining enough, achieving the director’s goal of adapting the original film and book to an Indian audience.  After all, everything including filmmaking is all about making money.

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…an indie film darling… The film has a nice, smooth and easy flow 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)

 

LUCKY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Natasha Kermani

In the new horror outing that premiered at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, LUCKY finds its debut on Shudder March the 4th.  The film is almost a one-hander in which a suburban woman, called May (Brea Grant) fights to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she cannot get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

The film begins with the home invasion of an intruder (Hunter C. Smith) wearing a mask, while May and her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) confront him.  Ted’s remarks surprise May.  “He is here again, we better go down before he kills us.”  Ted implies that the home invasion is a recurring thing nightly but May does not appear to recall it.  The police arrive but the unconscious man disappears.  After an argument the next morning, Ted leaves abruptly only to return many days later after the intruder keeps attacking May every night despite a police watch.  May is angry and wonders, like the audience, what is going on.

LUCKY depends fully on the performance of its lead actress Brea Grant as she is in almost every scene.  She has to show both the strength of a female self-help book author as well as vulnerability as the victim of a serial slasher.

Though advertised as a thriller/horror, LUCKY comes off more as a neat little satire thriller on female issues.  During the book signing segment of the film, a reader asks May whether there is a difference at the way males and females deal with a big threat in their lives.  The answer is forwarded that females usually huddle together compared to their male counterparts.  In the  story, May tries her best not to seek outside help but to solve the recurring problem on her own.  The irony is that she does not seem able to deal with the problem on her own.  Perhaps women need to work together, if not huddling together, which could be the hidden message.  In the marriage, one had committed infidelity, and it is the woman and not the man for a good change.  May is sorry and takes responsibility but it is a problem that is difficult to resolve for them or for any couple.

The script is written by actress Brea Grant.  To her credit, it is quite an ingenious story, that few can guess where it would lead.  Commercial filmgoers expecting the typical horror slasher flick will be disappointed at the somewhat open ending.  It is odd that there is hardly any humour in LUCKY.  After this outing, Grant went on to write and direct another horror little satire called 12 HOUR SHIFT which she does not act in.  I have seen 12 HOUR SHIFT during the Fantasia 2020 Film Festival and that movie is a hilarious send up on the medial system and the opioid epidemic.  LUCKY is not too bad but watch for the upcoming 12 HOUR SHIFT where Grant proves her worth as a writer and director.

Trailer:   

 

 

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:  

 

MOXIE (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Amy Poehler

MOXIE is a Netflix original teen comedy set in a school.  The film shows promise being directed by an actress, this time around Amy Poehler.  The last time this happened, the hit success and acclaimed BOOKSMART astounded critics and audiences alike.

Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old, Vivian (Hadley Robinson) finds inspiration from her mother's (played by director Poehler) rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution.  Strong stuff sometimes makes for good comedy and director Poehler pulls it off admirably.

“Reflect on a cause you feel passionate about.  Explain its significance to you and what steps you took to make a change.”  Personal insight:  Personal question and Answer.”  The words above appear twice during the  beginning of the film.  One would guess that producer, director and actress Poehler had herself  committed the words to action in realization of her first directorial debut.  MOXIE would be as expected, a comedy with a cause - and a message that should affect the audience by the time the film ends.

` One of my favourite actresses who I do not see enough of is Marcia Gay Harden.  Immediately when I saw her name on the opening credits, I knew that she would be playing the role of the school principal.  This she does playing Principal Shelly, adding humour, proving that she can also do comedy and drama.  The other noticeable actor in the cast is Nico Haraga who plays Seth in the film.  With his skateboard antics, he is immediately recognizable from Olivia Cooke’s BOOKSMART where he also played another skateboarding teen.  His character Seth is the most lovable one found in a teen film in a long time.  Patrick Schwarzenegger, quite the good-looker and son of Arnold, plays the football team captain who has a major attitude problem and who harasses Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) in the movie.

The film contains a few excellent moments.  The best of these is the first romantic scene in which Seth tells Viv how he noticed her in class years back when they were younger.  When everyone else in the class wanted to smash the spiders, Viv would want to take them outside.  Viv says she recalls none of these.  Seth spreads his hand out like a spider.  It is a wonderful moment of intimacy and emotion. 

One thing noticeable in Poehler’s film is the eclectic cast of blacks, asians, hispanic and other races, not to mention the strong female presence.  There is a good debate in a segment set in class where a black girl, Lisa, questions the relevance of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY.  The argument is a bit biased as the answer should be not the theme but the writing of the prose that should be brought up.

The film’s climax shows the film trying too hard at being a feel-good movie.  Still, MOXIE works as a coming-of-age comedy while effectively tackling key feminine and minority issues in a setting of romance and true friendship.  And all this being entertaining as well.

Trailer: 

 

PANDEMIC (ALONE) (USA 2020) *

Directed by Johnny Martin

Do not be fooled by the title.  PANDEMIC originally entitled ALONE is another low-budget zombie movie made at an estimated cost of $4 million.  The title of the film has been changed to PANDEMIC for obvious reasons - to bank on the Covid-19 Pandemic that is currently crippling the world.  But this film is less about lockdown or quarantine than another take-off of another zombie film, and a very bad one at that.

When an outbreak hits, Aidan (Tyler Posey) barricades himself inside his apartment and starts rationing food.  His complex is overrun by infected Screamers, and with the world falling apart into chaos, he is left completely alone fighting for his life.  He has lots of water from stashing bottled water but is running out of food.   The film is quick to inform through voiceover that humans can survive three days without water and three weeks without food.  So, Aidan has to leave his apartment in order to get food.  The plan is to live it out till the zombies starve to death before he does.

The zombie genre is a well worn one and there are hardly any surprises in this film.  How the outbreak began is little explained.  When the film starts, Aidan has just woken up from what appears to be a one-night stand when he discovers the zombie apocalypse. 

In PANDEMIC, the zombies are different from the ones in the George Romero’s films.  Here, they make a lot of loud noises, enough to make the audience jump out of their seats (this is really annoying) and they move, not slowly but at breakneck speed like the ones in WORLD WAR Z.  One zombie knows parkour as he scales the apartment building from one floor to another in order to reach Aidan’s balcony.  As in the typical zombie films, the action sequences are quite violent.  Aidan goes about for a fair amount of time carrying a baseball bat and crushing the heads of the zombies he encounters.

The film is a modest, low budget production with most of the action taking place in one building and with one main character, Aidan.  The action segments are well orchestrated with some thrills but it is hard to care for the protagonist in a zombie film.  Not much background is given on what Aidan does, but there is a moment where he speaks to his parents on the phone.

The story takes a turn when Aidan finds a girl survivor, Eva (Summer in the apartment opposite from his.  Aidan also finds another civilian played by Donald Sutherland.   It is a mystery how the filmmakers got veteran actor Sutherland to do a guest role in this film.

Tyler Posey (SCARY MOVIE) is a teen hunk who can look quite dishevelled with a full beard, which he has kept after a few weeks.  His meeting of the girl Eva opposite his building inspires him to shave it off, thus looking more decent as the film’s main hero.

With Aidan being almost alone in his apartment building and with zombies - dozens of them - moving about at breakneck speed, Aidan does not stand a chance.  Worse still when he has to get out after running out of food and water.

A title change from ALONE to PANDEMIC to hone in on Covid-19 pandemic does not say much for this sorry zombie movie.

Trailer: https://www.traileraddict.com/alone-lionsgate-2020/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 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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