Underworld music and chaos – Manila newsletter
The two films reviewed today are quality films that you should make the effort to watch. One is a musical documentary which chronicles the “Black Woodstock” of 1969; while the second is the latest from Steve Soderbergh, a film noir set in the 1950s.
Summer of Soul (Hulu) – Part concert film and part black history lesson, this multi-award-winning Sundance documentary has the opportunity to be widely watched on the popular Hulu streaming platform. And yes, for all those who love music, it will be a pleasant and indirect revelation. And if you let yourself be drawn into the history lesson, count yourself well, as it will help you understand and appreciate the struggle that the black man and woman had to endure in the United States. The mere fact that this documentary only exists today is an abject lesson from black reality. The concert recorded is the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, the same year that Woodstock took place. But images have been ignored and unwanted for fifty long years.
Spirited Nina Simone, a young Stevie Wonder, Latin music courtesy of Ray Barretto, Gladys Knight & the Pips and their sweet soulful groove, funk rock from Sly and the Family Stone – they’re all a part of this celebration. black music; and you’ll love to see how every Motown performer had to wear suits and ties even when performing in the summer heat of New York. Particularly touching is how some prominent figures like Gladys and Reverend Jesse Jackson took the stage in ’69, and are called back to view the footage and comment. Gladys explains how such a new and revolutionary act they were in 1969, and they performed Heard It Through the Grapevine. This documentary is a delicious slice of history.
No Sudden Move (HBO Max) – This is the latest in the continuing saga of Steve Soderbergh who no longer makes films for major studios. Thankfully, despite that statement, it’s actually been prolific over the past few years, and I have to say it’s a minor masterpiece, tightly coiled and traced, and with enough twists and turns to be referred to as a winding mountain road. Set in Motortown Detroit in the mid-1950s, it’s Soderbergh’s update to film noir, inhabited by petty crooks, big business shenanigans, and your usual Joe gets caught up in tough events and situations they have no business. There is some crisp action, double crossing, marital infidelity and so much more in this movie.
The cast is like a who’s who of tough, nervous heavyweights. Led by Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, we also have Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Bill Duke and an appearance by a certain Matt Damon. In roles where they are virtually unrecognizable and play against the grain, we find Brendan Fraser (yes, from the movie franchise The Mummy) and David Harbor.
Soderbergh has fun using a fisheye lens and while some may find it off-putting, it actually works by being a stylized touch and making us feel a lot closer to the action onscreen. There can be a moment halfway through the movie, where it can feel like too many balls are being juggled through the air, as the set gets bigger, and we get a succession of quick sequences. But you will be bet rewarded paying attention, as everything is well organized for a satisfying foray into the underworld of Detroit.
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