The United States vs. Billie Holiday | Review
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.
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.
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.
First Look | White Men Can’t Jump – Jack Harlow
A remake of the 1992 film about a pair of basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.
Comedy, Drama, Sport
May 19, 2023 (Hulu)
Lance Reddick, Jack Harlow, Andrew Schulz, Laura Harrier
A remake of the 1992 film about a pair of basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.
Meryl Streep Joins the Cast for Season 3 of Hulu’s ‘Only Murders in the Building
Many were surprised when the Season 2 finale of Hulu comedy, Only Murders in the Building revealed that Paul Rudd would be joining the series for its upcoming season, however, it seems his casting may have just been topped. According to a tweet from the show’s Twitter account, it appears that Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep (Out of Africa, August: Osage County) will join the cast led by Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez for Season 3 of Only Murders in the Building.
One can believe that Streep stumbled into the series similar to how she did for Season 2 of HBO’s Big Little Lies. With the latter show, Streep was a fan of the mysterious female-led drama and was written into the sophomore season. You wouldn’t be hard pressed to believe that Streep was probably a fan of the beloved comedy series and might want to join in the hijinks along with friends, Steve Martin and Martin Short. Streep will also appear in the upcoming AppleTV+ anthology series, Extrapolations in March.
The original tweet revealed that the third season of Only Murders in the Building has just begun filming. The show has been nominated for tons of awards thus far and with growing popularity as well as the additions of Streep and Rudd to the cast, anything can happen in the murder mystery program. Season 2 released back in June so we can probably expect Season 3 to begin streaming in Summer 2023.
PREY Review | A Brutal, Primeval Emotional Survival Epic
PREY is one of the best entries in the Predator franchise. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a brutal, primaeval & emotional survival epic powered by Comanche tradition which features a fierce performance from Amber Midthunder who kicks Ass as the animalistic Predator becomes her PREY!
Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, “Prey” is the story of a young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior. She has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains, so when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to prove herself a worthy hunter. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien Predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.
“Prey” stars Amber Midthunder, newcomer Dakota Beavers, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, and Dane DiLiegro as the Predator. The film is directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Patrick Aison with a story by Patrick Aison & Dan Trachtenberg based on characters created by Jim Thomas & John Thomas. It is produced by John Davis, Jhane Myers, and Marty Ewing, with Lawrence Gordon, Ben Rosenblatt, James E. Thomas, John C. Thomas, and Marc Toberoff serving as executive producers.
The Predator franchise which is now a collection on Disney+ began with the 1987 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and was directed by John McTiernan. It told the story of an elite set of mercenaries who form a team and head to the jungles of South America on a recovery mission. However, they find themselves hunted by an extraterrestrial warrior with an arsenal of high-tech weapons.
In “PREY” we witness the first time this creature comes to earth as the alien Predator lands his spacecraft in the Northern Great Plains in 1719, it’s looking to hunt for sport. The land however is inhabited by men, women, and children of the Comanche tribe, many of them skilled at hunting and are warriors themselves. What I thoroughly loved about “PREY” is that it shows how committed director Dan Trachtenberg and his crew were in creating a film that provides an accurate portrayal of the Comanche world at the height of their empire. This truly brings a level of authenticity and showcases the true experiences and the lives of its indigenous people. This phenomenal cast is comprised almost entirely of Native and First Nation talent.
Amber Midthunder brings a fierce and powerful performance to the role of Naru, a highly skilled Comanche warrior raised in the shadow of the legendary hunters who roamed the Great Plains. When danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her band and faces the supreme test when the prey she stalks and ultimately confronts turns out to be an alien Predator. Smart, confident, and resourceful, she is familiar with every inch of the surrounding landscape and its natural predators. Naru means “fight” in Comanche, which is more than appropriate for this character. She has strong ideas and opinions about things, her future, and her life. Her wants are quite different from what other people would assign to her or imagine for her, Midthunder truly leads with power.
Taabe, a young Comanche warrior played by newcomer Dakota Beavers truly shines in his debut. The leader of the band of Comanches, War Chief Kehetu is played by Julian Black Antelope. Aruka, Naru’s mother is played by Michelle Thrush. Aruka along with the rest of the older Comanche generation, wants her daughter to follow a more traditional path.
This primal David vs Goliath story also features the animalistic Predator, brought to life ferociously by Dane DiLiegro. This creature is a highly advanced alien seeking the strongest opponent. The Iconic Predator is the ultimate adversary, and one of the fiercest hunters in the universe, especially with its high-tech weaponry, cloaking, and heat-seeking abilities. This iteration of the character is more creature-like as it takes 300 years prior to the original.
“PREY is full of different kinds of Predators. The Comanches, hunt and fight for survival. Everything that they hunt is used and nothing is wasted for example they use every part of the buffalo and are also thankful for the spirit of that animal that’s able to nourish them, clothe them and ultimately is used for everything that they needed in life. Their fighting style is powerful and the costuming is traditional with authentic colours which ensures historical accuracy. They also have to be comfortable for the actors who do a good deal of horseback riding.
Principle photography on “PREY” began in June 2021 at the Stone Nakoda Nation near Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The entire production was filmed outdoors, with all the phenomenal exterior shots utilising the magnificent terrain of the Calgary landscape. The cinematography and the use of natural light were outstanding. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter has truly captured the epicness of dawn and dusk and embraces and respects nature. The earthy colours of the Comanche are black, red, and white and this colour pallet is well utilised through their face paintings. The score by Sarah Schachner is suspenseful and thrilling.
Overall It’s been 35 years since “Predator” first captivated audiences, and now fans have a chance to see the Predator in action once again. However, this particular “Predator” film truly revitalises the franchise with a deeply personal story and a thrilling hunt for survival.
Prey will be available to stream on Hulu and Disney+ Internationally on Friday, Aug. 5.
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