REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen [2021]

Just be yourself. A bad day—exacerbated by Connor Murphy’s (Colton Ryan) unchecked, diagnosed rage—has Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) leaving the motivational platitudes behind when writing a therapist-assigned letter to himself that can easily be interpreted as a suicide note. We know this because Connor fatefully steals it, folds it into a tiny square, and puts it into his pocket before killing himself. Since the self-addressed page had “Dear Evan Hansen” at the top and a non-descript “Yours, Me” at the bottom, the bereaved parents (Amy Adams‘ Cynthia and Danny Pino‘s…

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TIFF21 REVIEW: Listening to Kenny G [2021]

I don’t think I’m a personality to people. I think I’m a sound. While the premise of Penny Lane‘s Listening to Kenny G unfolds through the comedic question, “Why do so many people hate Kenny G?” it quickly reveals itself a rather intriguing tight rope walk upon the line separating art from commerce. Because this question cannot be answered without first acknowledging who the “people” are. Kenny G has fans. A lot of them. He’s sold seventy-five million records to become the best-selling instrumentalist of all-time. So, they aren’t those…

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TIFF21 REVIEW: Jagged [2021]

There’s hope even when the song is hopeless. It really is strange to look back almost thirty years later and realize just how huge and seminal Alanis Morissette‘s Jagged Little Pill was to rock music. I was only thirteen at the time of its release and therefore didn’t understand then what I can with hindsight now. “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic” were on constant rotation every time the radio was turned on, but my brain processed them as songs just like any other. When you hear…

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FANTASIA21 REVIEW: Sukutte goran [Love, Life and Goldfish] [2021]

It was uplifting to some extent. There are two types of people in this world. Those who find a ninety-minute romantic comedy musical with a ninety-second song serving as an intermission break twee and those who find it charming. Middle ground doesn’t exist in this equation and director Yukinori Makabe rightfully refuses to pretend otherwise. His film Sukutte goran [Love, Life and Goldfish] (adapted by Atsumi Tsuchi from Noriko Otani‘s manga of the same name) wears its idiosyncratic feel-good sentimentality on its sleeve to provide the dreamlike environment Makoto Kashiba…

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REVIEW: Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) [2021]

It was the ultimate Black barbecue. 1970. That was the year Michael Wadleigh‘s epic film showcasing the August 1969 Woodstock Festival debuted. Woodstock won the Oscar for best doc, was nominated for best editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), and entered the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in 1996. It took five months for this counterculture phenomenon that occurred near Bethel, New York to be seen by the world. Five months. And yet it’s taken until in 2021—50 years—to finally get the chance to see a different concert series (the…

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REVIEW: In the Heights [2021]

Little details tell the world we’re not invisible. I don’t know why the 2011 film adaptation planned for In the Heights fell through, but it’s hard not to believe the reason stemmed from Hollywood’s continued reluctance to bankroll and open movies with POC-led casts. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes‘ musical debuted on Broadway in 2008, toured the US in 2009, and won four Tony Awards—including Best Musical—and yet it still wasn’t enough to push it over the finish line. You have to wonder if anything would have ever got…

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REVIEW: The United States vs. Billie Holiday [2021]

It’s about human rights. I think a lot of what’s proven to be a lukewarm response to Lee Daniels‘ The United States vs. Billie Holiday can be understood upon discovering that this biopic about one of our country’s greatest singers was based on an English journalist’s book about the historical context and lasting impact of America’s “War on Drugs.” That right there shows that this film isn’t going to really be about Billie Holiday. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how much damage Harry Anslinger and the…

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REVIEW: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry [2021]

They’re not my friends. They’re part of me. Whether you enjoy her music or not, it’s tough to deny that there’s a story that needs to be told around Grammy-winning artist Billie Eilish. She and her brother Finneas O’Connell uploaded “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud when she was thirteen. They recorded their first full-length album in his bedroom when she was sixteen. And they’ve become worldwide sensations performing at the Oscars and writing the latest James Bond theme song all in the matter of about five years—the last two being a…

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REVIEW: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom [2020]

I got my time comin’ to me. It’s all there in the opening scene. Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) belts “Deep Moaning Blues” to a full house in Georgia as her band accompanies from the back of the stage. Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) hit their notes with feeling, keenly watching the subtle yet damning chaos about to unfold. Not only is trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman) angled to serenade young Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige)—Ma’s “girl”—while Cutler (Colman Domingo) shoots a disparaging, fatherly look of judgment, he also dares…

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OLDENBURG20 REVIEW: Buck Alamo [2020]

Pay attention to those colors and you can see the future. You have to imagine Death’s (Bruce Dern) been waiting to take Eli Cody aka Buck Alamo (Sonny Carl Davis) for quite some time. The Texas-based, self-proclaimed expert guitar picker speaks fondly of those benders on drugs and alcohol that left his life a shambles. He relates the fact he can barely remember what happened with a smile tinged by the regret of what might have been both for his career (success led to celebration and thus its dissolution) and…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: David Byrne’s American Utopia [2020]

Us and you. We open on an illuminated square with a table at its center: the stage from an overhead perspective of which the sold-out crowd at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre is never privy. That’s the appeal of a filmed performance. By setting up cameras and documenting David Byrne‘s 2019 stage show from every angle, director Spike Lee is able to present the minimalist aesthetics and artistry in a way that its original format can’t. And with a through-line message of inclusion and connection, that ability is necessary. Just look at…

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