#FIRSTLOOK: WHAT TO WATCH FEBRUARY 2021 – “THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY”, “RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE UK”, “SELENA + CHEF”, “FIREFLY LANE”, “THE DIG”, “FINDING ‘OHANA”, “WENDY WILLIAMS: THE MOVIE”, “FLACK”, “I’M YOUR WOMAN”, “FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS”
We’re in lockdown and there has been no shortage of new releases to occupy our time with. See some of the Films, Series and Movies that we think you might be interested in February!
THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY (HULU)
Lee Daniels (Precious) directs and produces this compelling Montreal-filmed Biopic about legendary Jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, based on the Novel Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. The story follows the FBI, led by Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), and their pursuit of Holiday (Andra Day) on drug charges in their war against drugs. This was seen as an attack on Holiday in preventing her from performing live one of her signature songs “Strange Fruit” which talks to the Black community being lynched, reflecting the American government in a poor light. The Film makes no mistake about its portrayal of Holiday and her demons, tracing back to her childhood where she was forced into prostitution, to her many failed relationships and also her dependency on drugs. Daniels offers us the sympathy that Holiday got posthumously and the Film’s greatest treat is Day who embodies Holiday‘s spirit whether she is singing or taking us down her troubled path. Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) plays Jimmy Fletcher, America’s first black federal agent tasked with investigating Holiday, but also falling for her and her him. While the Film could have been told a bit more concisely exploring failed romances, ultimately its examination of the Black community being targeted unjustly by the justice system is where it leads us to and sadly something happening in the ’40s still rings true today. THE UNITED STATES vs. BILLIE HOLIDAY arrives on Hulu February 26, 2021 and it is no coincidence it was scheduled around Awards Season.
SOME KIND OF HEAVEN (MK2 | MILE END)
Lance Oppenheim debuted this first Feature at Sundance 2020 to acclaim and if Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) signing-on to produce this Documentary is any indication, he’s headed to bright places – pardon the pun. This Film is set in a sunny Florida retirement community called The Villages, dubbed a “Disneyland for Retirees”, or as one of its subjects calls it, “a waiting room to heaven”. The community is constructed to help remind its residents of a happier time in their lives and most of them appear happy on the surface, we do meet a few subjects in the Film who take us a layer deeper. We meet a couple dealing with the husband’s drug use, which lands him in legal trouble; and a widow looking for romance; and a man looking for a wealthy older women to take care of him. Oppenheim despite being a young, emerging Filmmaker is able to get his subjects to trust him and open-up a very personal level about some harsher realities these seniors are living through. Perhaps this shiny, happy community isn’t necessarily the nirvana it’s painted out to be. This is a fascinating meditation about life and love at a stage which often isn’t explored in Film. MK2 | MILE END release SOME KIND OF HEAVENFriday, February 12, 2021 in theatres and on virtual cinema.
RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE UK SEASON 2 (CRAVE)
Okay, while we admit we’re a bit spoiled by the production values and next-level costumes on the American version of this Series, the UK is now onto Season 2 of the fan favourite Series, calling BBC its home on the other side of the Atlantic. And to be honest, we are enjoying this spinoff! Among the challenges this season the Queens are tasked with, is a mock Musical called RATS – imagine a rodent-filled version of CATS – and while there is a bit of cattiness to be found among the contestants, they admittedly are a little less argumentative on this version of the Series. These Queens are quirky and campy and love some of the Celebrity Guest Judges they’ve brought on this season including Elizabeth Hurley and Graham Norton! New episodes arrives Thursday on Crave.
SELENA + CHEF SEASON 2 (CRAVE)
We initially were on the fence about this Series. I mean what could Selena Gomez teach us about cooking? But after giving this a chance, we actually loved it. Each week we follow this global Pop superstar as she learns under some of America’s top chefs. All this is recorded from her home and during the Pandemic. We share more of our thoughts on this Series here. New episodes arrive Thursdays on Crave with the HBO add-on.
FIREFLY LANE (NETFLIX)
Initially when I saw the Trailer for this I expected it maybe to be a bit safe, but this Vancouver-filmed Series starring Katherine Heigl as TV Personality Tully Hart and Sarah Chalke as Kate Mularkey, her best friend is actually great and has a bit of grit to it. Tully is the pretty, successful one who has no problem getting male attention, while Kate is recently-separated and looking to get back into the work force. Lacking confidence, Tully helps Kate land a job at work but as the Series progresses, we learn about their past through younger versions of themselves, played well by Ali Skovby (Tully) and Roan Curtis (Kate) .
Tully, though she appears to have everything, has a lot of underlying sadness and is holding some deep secrets. And gradually, we see Kate come out of her shell after heartbreak, while dealing with some challenges with her teen daughter. Love the nostalgic throwback Soundtrack and references to the ’80s, which adds to the mood. This is one-part BFF Comedy, one-part Drama (complete with love triangle) about how we are shaped by our pasts. FIREFLY LANE arrives on Netflix Wednesday, February 3, 2021.
THE DIG (NETFLIX)
Simon Stone (The Daughter) directs this Drama which takes place at the onset of World War II. Edith Perry (Carey Mulligan) is a widow who hires Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate large burial mounds on her property. Much to Basil‘s surprise, he finds what is a ship of national importance. Catching wind of this, an Archaeologist from Cambridge, Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) takes over the dig by order of the government, leaving Edith in a battle to maintain her rights to decide the fate of the find since it is on her property. Her fears are that the find will be placed in the British Museum and with an impending war, it could fall into wrongful hands. While grappling with her declining health, Edith must ensure that Basil gets due credit for his discovery and that the treasure is given its due honour. Stone does a wonderful job drawing us into this story, a slow-burning but engaging look at the process and people involved in preserving and protecting what is now known as the most impressive medieval grave to be discovered in Europe. Carey is superb whether it be asserting Edith or as a mother protecting her son from hurt as she faces her own mortality, and Fiennes is easy to root of in his humble display of Basil. THE DIG streams now on Netflix.
FINDING ‘OHANA (NETFLIX)
Jude Weng makes her Feature directorial debut here and gets beautiful Hawaii to work with as a backdrop in telling this story of two siblings, Pili (Kea Peahu) and Ioane (Alex Aiono), brought from New York City to Oahu by their mother (Kelly Hu) to take care of their grandfather (Branscombe Richmond) who faces the risk of losing the home he built. While the kids resent being there, it isn’t long before they find things to love. Ioane falls for a local girl in Hana (Lindsay Watson), while Pili finds a journal which eludes to there being a valuable treasure hidden within the island’s dangerous caves. Buddy Casper (Owen Vaccaro) joins them on this adventure where they learn themselves just how beautiful Hawaii and its culture are, but most of all, Pili and Ioane learn the importance of family after having felt distant from their mother in their time in New York as she struggles to make ends meet. While the Film veers more to a younger audience, adults might find a bit of nostalgia as the Film feels a bit like a reimagination of The Goonies, further solidified by an appearance from Ke Huy Quan who starred in that classic. FINDING ‘OHANA streams now on Netflix.
WENDY WILLIAMS: THE MOVIE (LIFETIME)
TV and Radio Personality Wendy Williams has built a brand as an outspoken girl next door and Lifetime movie WENDY WILLIAMS: THE MOVIE documents her rise, struggles and betrayals. Darren Grant (Empire, Soundtrack) directs this chaotic recounting of some of the much-publicized drama Williams has gone through. The Movie doesn’t shy from matters like ex-husband Kevin Hunter (Morocco Omari) secretly having an affair and child with another woman; her battle with drug addiction; that time she collapsed live on air dressed as the Statue of Liberty; and also her difficulty conceiving a child. This is meant to illustrate Williams as someone strong, who has overcome adversity, but the chaotic energy that dominates the Film somehow detracts from this even despite star Ciera Payton‘s best efforts to channel Williams authentically. We were hoping for something that gave us more of Williams’ vulnerability and just how exactly she overcame adversity, but unfortunately we never quite get this as this Movie, which is executive produced by Williams, is more concerned with showing than telling. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining though! WENDY WILLIAMS: THE MOVIE airs on Lifetime. Check here for showtimes.
FLACK (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
While the UK already has known about this Series, we’re just getting around to discovering the juiciness that is FLACK. The idea is original in this Anna Paquin-produced series, which also has her int he starring role as Robyn, an American Publicist who relocated to London. We are a part of her world which never has a dull moment as she navigates her famous clients’ lives, cleaning-up their sometimes catastrophic messes. We also meet those around her, including her no-nonsense boss Caroline (the brilliant Sophie Okonedo), her icy best friend and co-worker Eve (Lydia Wilson) and an intern Melody (Rebecca Benson). The Series also explores her relationship with her sister Ruth (Genevieve Anderson) as they both grieve the loss of their mother. Robyn also is dealing with her own vices and we see her power over others and also some of the destruction she causes, all while professionally helping others maintain their images. At only six episodes, we only wish there were more for us to savour. There isn’t one weak link in this Cast, some phenomenal performances take these shocking storylines and make them believable and enthralling. Season One of FLACK is available now on Amazon Prime Video.
I’M YOUR WOMAN (Amazon Prime Video)
Julia Hart co-writers and directs this fantastic flick produced by and starring Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). The ’70s-set story centers on Jean (Brosnahan), a young woman who suddenly becomes a mother and is whisked away from the life she knows, to be on the run after her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) betrays his partners-in-crime. A mysterious man named Cal (Arinzé Kene) takes her away but we realize that those in search of her husband, also are in pursuit of her. Much of the Film’s first two acts are suspenseful and engrossing, with the final act taking a different turn as some long-burning questions are uncovered and Jean begins to find her own voice. Clocking-in at over two hours, I’M YOUR WOMAN takes us on a dangerous and dark ride and we’re glad we were aboard. Brosnahan as always is superb and luckily we can enjoy this at home at Amazon Prime Video now!
FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS (Hulu/FX)
This Documentary answers at long last why Britney Spears still is stuck in a Conservatorship with her father Jamie controlling her finances still, despite being long over her meltdown. The New York Times explore in great detail the lead-up to Spears‘ need to have her father take control over her affairs, tracing the beginning of her celebrity up to her troubled past where she almost lost it all. She has been very cryptic on the matter with puzzling Social Media posts which read like a cry for help. In spite of this, we see her informed fans step-up with the #FreeBritney movement, demanding the Pop icon be able to decide her own fate, turning her finances over to Bessemer Trust according to Spears‘ wishes. And she refuses to work rightfully until the matter is resolved. The Film by Samantha Stark interviews subjects who were close to her and those who adore her, piecing together possibly how Spears might feel despite her not formally being involved with the project. This is a must-watch for fans of Spears and Pop Culture, giving us a layer of depth in a matter which has been trivialized far too often.
Some of our recent reviews including THE LITTLE THINGS, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, PALMER, JIU JITSU, PENGUIN BLOOM, MALCOLM & MARIE, THE WHITE TIGER, WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS and more here.
Coming later this month on Netflix is the highly-intriguing CRIME SCENE: THE VANISHING AT THE CECIL HOTEL which explores the Los Angeles Hotel’s history of horror, including the death of a Vancouver woman. We’re shaking.