The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Movie Review

TL;DR – A film with one of the best individual performances I have seen in a long time, bolstered by an amazing supporting cast but ultimately held back by some odd stylistic choices.    

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene.

Warning – Depicts scenes of abuse.

Disclosure – I was invited to a screening of this film.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday Review

Billie Holiday has one of those voices that you can instantly pick out. It has this uncanny ability to be soft and harsh all at once. When writing this review, I wondered when the first time was I had heard a recording of her performing? And it could have been off one of my grandfather’s records as he always had Jazz and Big Band playing. Or at the very least, it was on one of the radio stations in Fallout. But knowing about her voice, I realised before watching this film that I did not know much about her life at all. Well, today, I help fix that with a movie that charts some of the struggles she faced.

So to set the scene, we open with an older Billie (Andra Day) as she and her manager Miss Freddy (Miss Lawrence), sits down with interviewer Reginald Lord Devine (Leslie Jordan) to chart her life and explore why the government is so opposed to her. Well, we flashback in time to 1947, as a young soldier Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) makes his way to a jazz club in New York City where Billie is about to perform a complete set, including the one song no one but the audience wants her to sing Strange Fruit. Someone who especially wants her to stop the song is Agent Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

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Judas and the Black Messiah – Movie Review

TL;DR – This is a film that continues to show that Daniel Kaluuya is one of his generations best actors      

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.

Judas and the Black Messiah. Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Judas and the Black Messiah Review

There are moments when a film is perfectly timed with what the world is going through, and after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest movement, it was the perfect time to take a look back in time at the Black Panther movement. This film delves into a difficult time and explores the intersection of revolution and government control in America.

So to set the scene, we open in the FBI’s halls as its Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), who is railing against a Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) of Chicago who has the power and charisma to unite many of the different anti-government movements across the country. FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) is looking for a way to get a mole into the local Black Panther organisation that Hampton leads when William “Bill” O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) falls into his lap after being caught impersonating a federal officer, and now they have their Judas.    

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Penguin Bloom – Movie Review

TL;DR – A beautifully charming film that will make you feel a lot of emotions    

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Disclosure – I paid to see this film.

Penguin Bloom. Image Credit: Roadshow Films.

Penguin Bloom Review

You may have many fears, some might be more obvious like spiders or heights, but others are deeper down like what if you were in a crash and became paralysed. This fear is at the heart of the film we are looking at today as we see the aftereffects of this profound change.

So to set the scene, we open with Noah Bloom (Griffin Murray-Johnston) giving a rundown of his life. It is full of living on the beach, going for a surf, and making honey as a family. However, on a fateful trip to Thailand, Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts), her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), and their three kids Noah, Rueben (Felix Cameron), and Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) were climbing up to the top of a building to get a look of the view. However, when Sam leans on a fence, some rotten wood gives way, and she falls over the edge to the concrete below. Back at home, Sam is trying to adjust to her life in a wheelchair, but as Noah is down the beach, he finds a magpie chick that had fallen out of a nest who they take home and call Penguin.

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Rose Island (L’incredibile Storia Dell’isola Delle Rose) – Movie Review

TL;DR – A strangely completing story if a bit flawed in its execution   

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Rose Island (L'incredibile Storia Dell'isola Delle Rose). Image Credit: Netflix.

Rose Island Review

One of the things about getting to watch a story based on a true story is that reality is often weirder than fiction. One of the more bizarre parts of world history has been the drive to create micro-states that have popped up across the world. Today we look at a story about one that was built off the coast of Italy.

So to set the scene, we open in Strasburg in 1969 at the Council of Europe. Here a sick Giorgio Rosa (Elio Germano) is waiting to be heard. After working out a scheme to get rid of him, the officials actually read his brief and become compelled to hear him out, for they want to hear about the Island that Rosa built. We then flashback over a year to when he was still a student in Bologna and crooning for Gabriella (Matilda De Angelis) who broke off their relationship three years earlier. After another run-in with the authorities, the eccentric builder tries to find a way to get away from the retractions of government, and international waters seemed like a good start.    

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The Black Emperor of Broadway – Movie Review

TL;DR – A look at a revolutionary figure in Broadway’s past and the layers of oppression he had to go through to get where he did.     

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Warning – Extensive use of blackface

The Black Emperor of Broadway. Image Credit: Vision Films.

Review

If there is one large blind spot in my art history, it is Broadway. I didn’t come from a musical theatre background, so any introduction to this world is welcome. Today we look at a film that explores this through the life of Charles Sidney Gilpin one of its first Black stars. I should say that before we dive in as a bit of a warning that this is a film very much set in the 1920s and the language and depictions used in the movie are consistent with that time which may be difficult for some viewers.

So to set the scene, Charles Sidney Gilpin (Shaun Parkes) is working in a blackface minstrel show that goes around entertaining white people at parties. He hates the work and tries to get a job a legitimate actor which is difficult in a time when few roles are written for black men, and white people in blackface perform most of them. That chance finally comes when noted play write Eugene O’Neill (John Hensley) writes his newest play The Emperor Jones about a leader of Haiti and he wants Charles for the role.

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Escape From Pretoria – Movie Review

TL;DR – A exploration of tension when one wrong step can be fatal.    

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Escape From Pretoria. Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Review

One of the things I like the most about cinema is when they let me know of stories that I have previously been unaware of. As well as this, I have seen a lot of prison break films in my time, some fictional, some real, some ‘we think this is how they did it’, and I have always found them fascinating. Well, today we get to explore both of these with Escape From Pretoria.

So to set the scene, we open in the heart of apartheid South Africa with accrual footage of the time. It is here where we are introduced to Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) who work setting up leaflet bombs for the African National Congress or ANC. One day after a successful campaign, they are captured by the police and sentenced to twelve and eight years in the all-white political prisoner’s prison in Pretoria. While in Pretoria jail they meet Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) who was put on trial with Nelson Mandela and fellow prisoner Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter). They dream of escaping, but how do you do that when you are locked behind several feet of steel?    

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Movie Review – The Windermere Children

TL;DR – A deeply emotional and confronting film that looks at the aftermath of trauma and how you can walk back from it.   

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Awards:

Nominated: The Emotion.

The Windermere Children. Image Credit: Fremantle.

Review

There are those moments in life where we get to see the full depths of human cruelty and few moments have exemplified it more than the Holocaust. It was a moment where human depravity was industrialised and weaponised in the endeavour to exterminate an entire race. Today we explore a film that deals with the aftermath and trauma through the eyes of the children that survived it.     

So to set the scene, we open in on a bus full of children as they make their way through the British countryside at night. The bus is full of children refugees rescued from Holocaust camps. One thousand children brought from the camps to Brittan and 300 of them came to Calgarth Estate on the shores of Lake Windermere. As they arrive, there is a real fear that they have swapped one camp of despair for another. Their families are likely all dead, and all of them have suffered travesties that make every dog a threat and food something you hide when you can. They only have funding for four months to help them with their trauma, which is not enough time given everything they had gone through.

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TV Review – The Great: Season 1

TL;DR – This is a truly bizarre but entirely compelling show, that blends fiction and reality with a deft hand   

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

The Great. Image Credit: Stan.

Review

A couple of years ago there was this odd film that exploded into the world out of nowhere, it was an exploration of Queen Anne full of intrigue and irreverence. When something like that blasts out into the world you try to find out what the creators will do next, so when I heard the latest series around Catherine the Great was writing by Tony McNamara one of the writers of The Favourite I had to give it a watch and it was a good choice.    

So to set the scene, Catherine (Elle Fanning) is a starry-eyed young noble who has had the fortune to be matched with the current Emperor of Russia, Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). She brings him a branch as a present of her love, living in this world of fantasy right up until the local archbishop ‘Archie’ (Adam Godley) checked to see if she was still a virgin. The realities of the Russian court were nothing like she had thought, with violence and bitterness at every turn. Still, she found comfort in her maid Marial (Phoebe Fox), the odd wisdom of Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow), and the books of Orlo (Sacha Dhawan). Maybe she could find a place here in this strange land … or maybe yet, could not this strange land bend to her will. Now we will be looking at the series as a whole and as such there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.  

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Movie Review – Dark Waters

TL;DR – A film that comes at you like the rising tide, slow at first and then before you know it you have become overwhelmed     

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Dark Waters. Image Credit: Universal Studios.

Review


Having grown up in the era of Erin Brockovich, I am hard-wired to like a good biopic, especially one where someone takes down a major corporation that should have known better. Well, today we get to see a film that does pretty much all of that and does it very well indeed.

So to set the scene, we open back in the 1970s as a bunch of kids go skinny dipping in a lake in Parkersburg, West Virginia only to get shoed away from the site by men from the DuPont Corporation in a boat firing foam at a residue building up on the surface. Sometime later, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) has just been made a partner in the Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm when he is interrupted in a meeting by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) an old friend of Robert’s grandmother. He has a problem with his farm, ever since DuPont built a rubbish tip next door to his property all of his cattle have been dying of odd diseases. Robert is reluctant to intercede but he makes a trip out to Parkersburg and finds things are not what they seem.

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Movie Review – Official Secrets

TL;DR – A powerful exploration of what happens when all the institutions that are meant to protect us from abuse of power fail   

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Official Secrets. Image Credit: Universal.

Review

There are films that are perfectly timed in their release, sometimes it is the world shifting around you, sometimes you get lucky and just so happen to be shining a light on something that is about to come to the foreground, and sometimes it is always good to be reminded of speaking truth to power. Well, today we get a film that does all three of those as it explores the absolute mess that was the justifications for the Iraq War. A mess that America, UK, Australia, and others found themselves in through no one’s fault but their own.

So to set the scene, in 2003 the world was on the cusp of war as America in the wake of September 11 has set its sights on a new foe Iraq. Not happy to just sit and wait for the weapon inspectors to do their jobs, they were placing enormous pressure on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution allowing the war. As this is happening, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) was working in the UK’s signal intelligence agency GCHQ as a translator, when she receives a memo from her superiors asking them to support NSA efforts to pressure UNSC diplomates to vote for the war. As this goes against her job and is quite possibly illegal, she takes a copy of the memo and gives it to a trusted friend to see if it is as bad as she thought it was, and well it was.

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