Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Film Review: "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" (2020).


"Her voice would not be silenced." This is The United States vs. Billie Holiday. This biographical drama film directed by Lee Daniels, written by Suzan-Lori Parks and based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe. Beginning in the 1940’s in New York City, the federal government targeted Holiday in a growing effort to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial and heart-wrenching ballad, Strange Fruit.

In September 2019, it was announced that a Billie Holiday biopic was in development based on Hari's 2015 book with Lee as director. By early October, Andra Day was cast in the title role with Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Tyler James Williams, Erik LaRay Harvey and Dana Gourrier. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid December. Filming took place in Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada. The film was originally scheduled for a February 12, 2021 release date. But in November 2020, it was moved two weeks to February 26.

The film. stars Day, Rhodes, Lyonne, Hedlund, Morgan, Williams, Harvey and Gourrier. The film is a thought-provoking and beautifully acted one thanks to the performances given by the talent cast, especially a truly mesmerizing performance from Day.

While Daniels directs individually moving scenes in the film, he fails as a whole to create an integral, coherent or convincing drama. Don't think of it as a Best Picture wannabe, think of it as a socially-conscious picture book-something with a Caldecott medal on its cover to place on Barnes & Noble endcaps during Black History Month. Not the most subtle of movies overall, but does offer some valid insights into the evolution of modern race relations in America. A formidably cast epic that eclipses over a decade of a woman's life in a landsape of evolving racism, Daniels lets his material speak for itself, while history calls the shots. Though the film's tidy sentiments can be cloying, it's hard to remain unmoved-and unimpressed by the stubbornly authentic performance by Day, which will likely be remembered at Oscar time. There are missed opportunities and weak moments in the script to be sure, but not enough to discount it, and the stellar acting by Day is what will make this movie memorable long term. It's a shame that the excellent central storyline gets so obstructed and mucked up by all the noise, spectacle, and pageantry. Daniels' lack of self-awareness actually works in his favour here, letting the director's emotions run and resulting in a work that has fire in its belly beneath the shiny surface. This is a tough line to walk, being both upfront with your message and managing subtle critiques, but luckily for viewers Daniels manages to find the right balance and deliver a winning movie.

Simon says The United States vs. Billie Holiday receives:



Also, see my review for The Butler.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Film Review: "Mortal Kombat" (2021).


"Get over here." It is Mortal Kombat. This martial arts fantasy action film directed by Simon McQuoid, in his feature directorial debut, written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham and based on the video game franchise of the same name created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. The film serves as a reboot to the Mortal Kombat film series. Why has Outworld's emperor sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, to hunt down MMA fighter Cole Young? In search of answers, Cole finds his way to the temple of Lord Raiden and begins unlocking the secrets of his heritage. As Outworld’s threat to Earthrealm grows, Cole joins warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao, and Kano in a high stakes battle for the soul of the universe.

In 1997, production on a second sequel was initially scheduled to commence shortly after the release of Annihilation, but it was shelved due to Annihilation's critical and financial failure. Attempts to produce a third film since then have remained stuck in development hell. In June 2009, a bankruptcy court lawsuit saw Lawrence Kasanoff suing Midway Games while mentioning that a third film was in the works. In 2008, Warner Bros. Pictures ended up purchasing most of Midway's assets, including Mortal Kombat, when became the parent of New Line Cinema. In 2010, Kevin Tancharoen made as a pitch to Warner Bros. Pictures of a reboot of the franchise with an eight-minute short film titled Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. In September 2011, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. announced that Tancharoen was hired to direct a new film from a screenplay penned by Oren Uziel, with the intention of aiming for an R rating and a 2013 release date. However, in October 2013, the project was ultimately delayed due to budget constraints, and Tancharoen left the project. In August 2015, James Wan signed on as a producer. In November 2016, McQuoid was hired as director, marking his feature directorial debut, with Greg Russo penning the script. In May, it was announced that the film had entered pre-production and would be shot in South Australia, with a March 5, 2021 release date. By mid September, Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid December. Filming took place at Adelaide Studios and throughout South Australia.

The film stars Tan, McNamee, Lawson, Asano, Brooks, Lin, Han, Taslim and Sanada. Despite the talented cast, the characters were cardboard set ups for future instalments. Their humor was cheesy (not the good kind) and they are all so unlikable most of the way that the audience won't be able - or want - to identify with them.

The film is far too much of a mixed bag recommend to anyone of this visually stunning, cheesy and very violent adaptation of the '90s video game classic. It will possible satisfy only the core audience already hooked on video and arcade games, and even that's not a sure thing.

Simon says Mortal Kombat receives: