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 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.
Well, it has been a long, and let’s call it, interesting year, but today brings to a close our last reviewed of a film from 2020. To round out the year, it is time to look at Pixar’s next entry, and given we already had a strong movie in Onward this year. I came into Soul with some reasonably high expectations.
So to set the scene, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a high school music teacher, but his real passion is performing jazz. This puts him in conflict with his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) who wants him to have a stable job. Well, those two worlds are about to collide when he is offered a full-time position teaching while also getting the chance to perform with the famous Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). This would be a big decision for Joe if he didn’t then fall through an open manhole and wake up on the escalator to the other side.
TL;DR – The Seatbelts are doing live versions of classic Cowboy bebop songs and they slap
I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone to say that I have been finding the last few months to be quite difficult. Indeed, I think it has been hard for most people and it is only increasing as the days, weeks, and months go on. I have been trying to find something to spark my joy, and while binge-watching old shows like The Nanny and Scrubs has helped, and having a watch list that might be 90% Bon Appétit videos is just the nature of the times. Nothing has really brought that smile to my world, well nothing until now.
At the end of last year, I talked a lot about how much I loved Cowboy Bebop, an anime out of Japan that might be many of my generation’s first introduction into that art style but it is still something resonates in my heart today. One of the core components of that series that may even outlast the show is its music. It was a show that deeply wove its music into the tapestry of the show, nothing was just dumped in as filler. At the core of this musical work was composer and instrumentalist Yoko Kanno and her band the Seatbelts which has gone by シートベルツ, Shītoberutsu, Seat Belts or SEATBELTS depending on which version of the soundtrack you got. It was the smashing together of so many genres of music from jazz to pop to rock to even country and all in-between that stuck in my mind for decades.
Well in the age of COVID and Zoom meetings, shudders Zoom meetings, there has been one ray of joy, as the SEATBELTS came back together perform songs from the soundtrack and it is just a sheer delight and everyone can listen to it here.
TL;DR – Its music, story, animation, worldbuilding, and characters that you really care for even though they are all broken in some way
A while back I took a moment to write about Why I loved Star Trek DS9 and since it was a great time of writing I have been meaning to get back at it again. I had a couple of choices but with the announcement that Netflix is producing a ten-episode live-action remake of Cowboy Bebop, well I got instantly dragged back in time to my high school days when the show rippled through my life with every beat of those conga drums, and well I instantly knew what to do next. Why Cowboy Bebop? Well, there are a lot of reasons, the music, story, animation, characters, but more than anything, it was the way it shaped how I viewed television and animation as a medium and got me more and more interested with how it is all made. It is also one of the go-to shows, as well as Samurai Champloo (サムライチャンプル), that I recommend whenever someone want to start exploring animation. So with that in mind let us dive into the neo-noir space-western from Shinichirō Watanabe (渡辺 信一郎) all about trying to escape the past and then realising that you can’t, and then also Ed, hello Ed.
In the Cowboy Bebop world, the human race has expanded out into the Solar System when the first Astral Gate (a faster than light transport system) exploded next to The Moon raining down Luna debris on Earth. The world had one choice escape or die on Earth and so they expanded out terraforming the Moons of Jupiter, Venus, creating the crater cities of Mars, and also Asteroid outposts across the Solar System like Tijuana (TJ). By 2071, because the human race is spread out across such a large region of space it has meant that enforcing law and order has become a challenge, so the powers at be implemented a bounty system and so Cowboys spread out chasing bounties and bringing back criminals to face justice … for a fee of course. This is where we meet our crew of the Bebop the ship they travel around the Solar System catching criminals while trying not to have to spend all its bounty on repairs.