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The United States vs. Billie Holiday | Review

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Lee Daniels returns to the director’s chair with another emotionless, shamelessly manipulative biopic containing lots of style and very little substance. His latest film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, attempts to chronicle the true story of jazz pioneer Billie Holiday (Andra Day), whose political song “Strange Fruit” makes her the target of a Federal Investigation, led by Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund). Anslinger is trying to silence Holiday’s voice as a black artist denouncing the cruel act of Lynching by using her heroin addiction as the source of her problems. He hires Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), who will, at first, arrest Holiday and try to pin her down but will soon develop great affection for her and start to get involved in a relationship. If the film solely focused on Holiday’s career as an artist and the moral anguish she had to face as a drug addict and survivor of abuse, it might’ve worked. However, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is an overlong and terribly pretentious slog that tells absolutely nothing worth mentioning on the life of one of the greatest jazz artists that ever lived.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday' review: Andra Day delivers the high  notes in Lee Daniels' disjointed biography - CNN

Right from its opening framing device, where Holiday tells her life story to overzealous journalist Reginald Lord Devine (played by the always immaculate Leslie Jordan), the film already has no idea what it wants to say about Holiday’s life and portray in her fight against systemic injustice from the FBI. Most of the runtime is filled with tedious sequences that don’t amount to much. Holiday is searched and arrested by the FBI multiple times. None of these sequences have any particular meaning to the story aside from pointing to the audience that the Federal Government targeted her due to her drug addiction, Holiday talks to her supplier multiple times about how much she needs heroin, Jimmy Fletcher plays a game of will I/won’t I persecute Holiday or have a relationship with her, without any moments of character growth.

One of the more interesting aspects of a biopic is to see an iconic figure’s journey and see how their life experiences changed their emotional state and way of thinking. None of that is found in this movie, save for a few wonderful sequences where Andra Day brilliantly covers Holiday’s songs, particularly the one where she sings Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do. However, those sequences are permeated with endless cross-fades instead of crafting aesthetically remarkable scenes that uplift the audience while hearing Andra Day sing. Day gives the film’s only memorable performance, mainly due to her incredible singing skills, as the quieter moments are filled with endless melodrama and a saccharine script. None of the drama particularly “hits” since most of the supporting characters (particularly the FBI agents) is highly caricatured through a silly performance from Garrett Hedlund.

United States vs. Billie Holiday: Fact vs. Fiction in Lee Daniels' New Movie

At the end of the film, Daniels didn’t need to paint Anslinger as the “evil white federal agent,” archival footage does it for him, showing the federal government’s blatant hypocrisy when John F. Kennedy awards Anslinger an Outstanding Record Citation. At the same time, his entire career was based on systemic racism, prosecuting African-Americans by planting drugs only because of their race. It feels like the only moment where Daniels wants to say something about injustice and racism. The only time, in fact, where his message comes through is extremely clear to the audience. Billie Holiday died while being handcuffed on a bed by a racist federal agent whose sole goal was to persecute black people to preserve the white race’s domination by any means necessary, using the war on drugs as an excuse to arrest them after planting drugs on their property. It’s a timely message, particularly after a year filled with racial tensions in the United States, a country rooted in systemic racism and injustice for marginalized communities.

This is, however, the only moment where The United States vs. Billie Holiday soars past its terrible script, filled with endless clichés and underdeveloped ideas. Nothing interesting is explicitly (or implicitly) told about Billie Holiday’s life as an artist. She’s a “lady” and a “drug addict” are the only elements we’ll ever know about her life, in a film with a runtime of TWO HOURS AND TEN MINUTES! There was no excuse for Lee Daniels and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks to write a truly compelling and timely biopic on the tumultuous life of one of jazz’s greatest artists, yet, we have a completely wasted movie that could’ve definitely worked if it was made by a better filmmaker (and screenwriter). Billie Holiday deserved better. That’s all.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is now available to stream on Hulu.

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Reviews

After We Fell- Review

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After We Fell is the third instalment of the “After” series, based on a series of fanfiction published on Wattpad in 2011 by Anna Todd. The film stars Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin Scott and Josephine Langford as Tessa, the leading couple. This film follows the pair as they face troubles as Tessa makes a life-changing decision, her estranged father gets back in touch, and Hardin’s family secrets begin to unravel. Check out the trailer below.

The film is laden with issues. The script is awful, you can really tell it was fan fiction from Wattpad. The dialogue makes you cringe and it really doesn’t sell that these people and their relationships are real. The direction is just about competent, the acting is barely passable, and the story is predictable and vapid. I’m sure the cast has great acting chops, but they can’t flex them here in the slightest. Every ‘twist’ is set up so badly that when the jaw-dropping reveals happen, anyone who has been paying attention has seen it coming for the last hour. The story isn’t engaging. It sets things up that don’t really go anywhere. The characters outside of the central duo are completely interchangeable and they feel superfluous to the story. Anyone who isn’t Hardin or Tessa feels like they’re there just to fill the vacuum between awfully shot sex scenes until the credits mercifully roll.

I could go on for hours about how this fails on every level as a film, but honestly, I don’t think its intended audience cares about cinematography, screenwriting, or production design etc.- which is fine, most people don’t care about those things as long as the story is engaging and enjoyable- (if they did this wouldn’t have many fans). The film clearly knows its target audience is teenagers, the type of person who reads fan fiction on Wattpad about One Direction. The film has a few, shall we say, ‘intimate’ scenes, which are cleverly edited to ensure a 15 rating. During those cleverly edited moments, there is always a shot where the camera cuts away to show Harden getting a condom and opening it, so the audience knows that even ‘bad boys’ like Harden Scott use protection. And then during one scene where they don’t show Harden getting a condom, the next morning the two mention how they didn’t use protection the night before and have a brief discussion about contraception. Which is great, encouraging safe sex is always great, regardless of how you do it. However, people should not be having sex with someone as manipulative and toxic as Harden, even if he is wearing a condom. This is a nice segue into the real problem with After We Fell.



The biggest issue with this film and the whole After series, in general, is the relationship at the centre of it. Hardin is controlling, possessive, and aggressive. One evening in After We Fell, Tessa and Hardin are enjoying a romantic time in a hot tub. After being interrogated by her boyfriend, Tessa eventually confesses to briefly having feelings for someone else while they were broken up and Hardin storms off and ignores her for the rest of the night. He disrespects a waiter who is innocently talking to Tessa, he stalks her, harasses her. In some scenes, it feels like he is only a step away from hitting her. At best their relationship is toxic and at worst it’s abusive and manipulative. And despite all of this, their relationship is presented as romantic and merely “troubled”. Hardin is dominating and proprietorial, he refuses to listen to Tessa, he lashes out at her, invades her privacy, and then someone assures Tessa: he only acts this way because he loves her. He is the way he is; he does the things he does, out of love. The writers and the characters act as though Hardin being extremely toxic and pretty much abusive is sweet and caring. It’s difficult to write a review of the film when the overarching concept and theme is just too wrong to look past. This is not a well-made film, but I’ve seen many poorly made films that are an absolute blast. This being a bad film, though, doesn’t matter because its issues run so much deeper than just below-par technicalities.

The idea of young people watching this and imagining that this kind of relationship is not only normal but romantic and passionate is genuinely concerning. If this is the standard filmmakers set for romantic relationships for young people, it is extremely worrying. This film is rated as appropriate for 15-year-olds. However, the subject matter and the type of relationship this is romanticising warrants an 18 rating. No 15-year-old girl should be watching this and thinking that it is a good relationship, that Hardin is a troubled but sweet person, which is how the film presents it. This is really one of the most irresponsible film series being made right now; it’s borderline dangerous.

After We Fell hits Amazon Prime on 22 October.

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Comic Book Movies

Venom: Let There Be Carnage A Dark Comedy Infused With Fast-paced Action

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‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ was absolutely Full of CARNAGE. It’s a dark comedy infused with fast-paced action and the relationship between Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom was like watching an old married couple. And Woody Harrelson’s performance was CHAOTIC in a good way. 

After so many potential release dates due to the film being delayed, Venom: Let There Be Carnage was officially released in Cinemas here in the UK on Friday the 15th of October. It is the sequel to Sony’s 2018 film Venom in where the Symbiote links himself with a host and used their bodies to service. Venom now lives amongst us but Eddie Brock struggles to adjust to his new life as the host of the alien symbiote. Venom grants him super-human abilities in order to be a lethal vigilante. Brock attempts to reignite his Journalism career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who becomes the host of the symbiotic Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution. 

The film wastes no time and dives straight into the storyline which dives deeper into the origin of Serial Killer Cletus Kasady. Harrelson’s performance as said earlier was Chaotic in the best way possible as his character encapsulates the rage and insanity. His performance was brilliantly matched by Tom Hardy who reprises his role as Eddie Brock, his chemistry with Venom is once again the true highlight of the film. The duo of Harrelson and Hardy work great as frenemies.

Speaking of venom this is truly where the film shines. Since this is a continuation from the first movie, Venom fells more settled inside his host and is more comfortable as Eddie’s conscience. However their rocky relationship has caused a lot of problems for Brock as both want to do different things for example, Eddie just wants to get on with his life and get his career back up and running, Venom does comply however he lusts for brains and chocolate. he feels stuck and wants to be free, but unfortunately cannot control his impulses. 

They argue, fight and trash Eddie’s apartment. This is a very venomous love affair between them both but in an interesting scene, Venom attends a rave and opens up and i’m not kidding about his love for Eddie. Director Andy Serkis opens up about this particular scene saying that it was Tom’s idea to have Venom sort of Come out and go to a party that was a ideally an LGBTQIA festival. Venom speaks for freedom of others by asking to stop this cruel treatment of aliens. 

At it’s heart this film is a love story about the extraordinary relationship between symbiote and host. 

Reprising their roles from the first film are Michelle Williams (Anne Weying) , Reid Scott (Dan Lewis) and Peggy Lu as Mrs. Chen. I felt all have less screen time during the film but these characters are vital to help Eddie’s journey and Venom’s. 

However I felt Naomi Harris was criminally underused. Her character Shriek acts more as a walking plot device than an actual character, though she does brilliantly on what the writers have given her to do. Another Character i felt that had potential but little to do was Stephen Graham, his character felt more like another plot device to tease the sequel. 

With a new director to the franchise, Andy series brings a new quality to the story and action due to his knowledge of motion capture, the VFX on the symbiote’s are outstanding and realistic.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a step up from the first film. It’s a fun 90 minutes and OMG do not miss the credits!!!!!

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Adventure

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

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Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is a deadly serious comedy film about friendship and arcade games that’ll surely put a smile on your face and tug at your heartstrings. Set at Bip Bip Bar, it tells the story of a group of unlikely heroes aka friends who help Kim Cannon Arm attempts to be the first in the world to play Gyruss an arcade machine from the early 80s for 100 consecutive hours. The film showcases these heroic outsiders with dreams about becoming legendary world record holders. 

Watching Kim and his friends embark on this quest was certainly like preparing for a marathon as Kim’s friends make him get an annual physical checkup from the doctor, It was easy to get swept up and share their excitement. Director Mads Hedegaard introduces these bunch of endearing misfits who truly make up a kind and supportive community. We learn several details about each of Kim’s friends including careers, favourite games, bands, family life and plenty more. Each are unique and the Documentary made me feel like I’d known this group my whole life. 

The film is also able to capture the gaming atmosphere as it blasts through the 80s with synths and neon lights, which created a stylised, exhilarating journey into Kim’s brain and the world of Gyruss. Montages and Iron maiden tracks also feature and “I Need a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler features, which to me represented each member and the story which was ultimately made for pure entertainment. 

Themes of achieving success is a presence in this documentary as it has scenes filled with pure joy, sentimental bliss and deep philosophical moments of the loss of a friend and acceptance. As we watch Kim make his way through hours and hours of his challenge we see his friends are always with him for comfort and to help keep track. They play Iron maiden music to boost his moral but its clear to me that with friends like this, Kim has already won. 

https://youtu.be/d-AidtIZF64

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