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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TIFF20 REVIEW: Underplayed [2021]

Talent is everywhere. Opportunity isn’t. Like every industry built under the watchful eye of a global patriarchy, the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene is grossly tilted in favor of its male artists. And like many of those same industries, this fact exists despite the presence of women pioneers at the inception of electronic sound as a medium. For every Robert Moog that acknowledged their genius (he enlisted Clara Rockmore’s expertise to better the advancement of his synthesizer), there were unfortunately countless others like Don Buchla (who agreed to sponsor a…

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FANTASIA20 REVIEW: Chihuo Quan Wang [Chasing Dream] [2019]

Don’t drown yourself in mistakes from the past. We live in an era where celebrity has become more about fame than talent as those wishing for adulation do what they can to mimic the greats that came before them without ever worrying about proving whether they possess an ounce of originality. You want to impress the judges on “American Idol”? Show them you can be Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna all at once. You want to be the talk of the fighting world by unleashing your strength in the Ultimate…

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REVIEW: ウィーアーリトルゾンビーズ [Wî â Ritoru Zonbîzu] [We Are Little Zombies] [2019]

Reality is too stupid to cry over. Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) has always been a “single player.” That’s what happens when you’re raised in an affluent household by parents who substitute gifts for affection thanks to them never being around. Videogames became the boy’s only outlet. They gave him comfort when bullies at school put him in lockers and when he found himself microwaving yet another vacuum-sealed bag of spaghetti-for-one within his perpetually empty apartment. They’re also the medium by which he interprets reality’s framework for everything that happens to him…

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REVIEW: Blood Machines [2020]

She’s between life and death. When a space vessel goes rogue, fleet commander Galdor (Walter Dickerson) tasks Captain Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) and his co-pilot/mechanic Lago (Christian Erickson) with retrieving it. Shooting it down from space to crash land on an unknown planet proves this story’s beginning rather than its end as we discover the destination was hardly some random accident. No, it’s exactly where the ship was headed because it is the only place with inhabitants who know its plight. Unlike Vascan’s crude sadist who’s all too happy to destroy…

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REVIEW: Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl [2020]

There’s nothing silly about being a teenage girl. While Amy Goldstein‘s documentary Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl obviously centers upon its British rockstar subject’s unorthodox trajectory from Myspace sensation to “GLOW” actress, it also serves as an invaluably informative account of what it means to be a twenty-first century musician thanks to the industry’s ever-changing landscape. The simple fact that Kate Nash‘s career began because she had enough social media followers to turn record label heads is a product of that moment of time, but so too is her courage…

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REVIEW: Judy [2019]

What if I can’t do it again? Playwright Peter Quilter has stated that the original play (“Last Song of the Nightingale”) on which “End of the Rainbow” was modeled upon found its inspiration from an alcoholic male singer met while traveling with his partner on a cruise ship wherein the latter was also a performer. Because he changed his lead into a woman, however, everyone assumed the show was about a thinly-veiled Judy Garland. This reception led him to research the Wizard of Oz legend’s final year on earth and…

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