FlixChatter Review – HARRIET (2019)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons

When I first heard a movie about Harriet Tubman had been greenlit, I was both excited and apprehensive. With the casting of Cynthia Erivo in the titular role, with Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn and Leslie Odom Jr. supporting, I knew we would be in for powerful performances. This is the first biopic of an enslaved woman and thus I had a lot of high hopes.

Cynthia Erivo with Leslie Odom Jr.

The film portrays Harriet as the brave, selfless person our history books tell us she was. However, it delves deeper by sharing her backstory. Born in Maryland in 1820, Araminta “Minty” Ross grew up in slavery. She married a free man named John Tubman and assumed she would earn her freedom. When it became clear she would never be emancipated, she had no choice but to flee.

Upon arriving in Pennsylvania, Araminta chose the new name Harriet and befriends a woman Marie (Monae), a free-born African American woman who runs a boarding house for women who were former slaves. There is a somewhat uncomfortable confrontation scene upon Harriet’s arrival where she calls out Marie on her privilege, for not knowing what it is like being a slave.

Janelle Monae as Marie

At a later point she also confronts the leaders of the Underground Railroad who are wavering in the wake of heavy crackdowns on runaway slaves. She gives a very moving speech decreeing she will “give every last drop of blood in my veins to free them.”

This is a unique look at privilege and its many layers. Harriet Tubman is a person many might not suspect of having privilege, yet she feels a God given call to the service of those still enslaved. This commitment inspires others (seemingly more fortunate) to recommit themselves to the cause. This very timely message to look inward and reflect upon the gifts in our lives and the privileges we have. In a time of police brutality and political unrest, this call to accountability and service of others could not be more relevant.

Cynthia Erivo with Vondie Curtis-Hall as Rev. Green

This film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery as many past films have done. However, it  falls into an all too familiar linear slant that many educational or biopics take, which greatly impacted the narrative flow and my viewing enjoyment.

Another aspect that impacted its watchability, was the characterization of Gideon (a character added purely for movie drama). He is the son of Harriet’s former owner and upon her escape embarks on a ceaseless hunt to reclaim her. The humanity and conflict portrayed by Alwyn is stupendous. It creates some compassion and understanding of the complex dynamic and confusing feelings the master/slave relationship must have brought about. The producers tried to romanticize this pursuit, which was an unfortunate and ultimately ineffective choice.

Joe Alwyn as Gideon

The films slow pace and attempt to capture Harriets lifelong achievements are its undoing as it leaves the end feeling rushed. But overall, this film does an amazing job highlighting a figure whose full historical impact has been eclipsed by others such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen HARRIET? Well, what did you think? 

Trailers Spotlight: HARRIET and JOJO RABBIT

Happy [almost] Friday, folks! Today we have a set of trailers I think are worth checking out, and per tradition, I always like to mix the tone/genre/style when posting trailers. Both of these films deal with the horrifying injustices befallen our humanity, slavery and the holocaust, but done in two very different ways. One is a biopic drama and the other an anti-hate satire, both to be released this Fall.

HARRIET

Based on the story of iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.

I first saw Cynthia Erivo in Steve McQueen’s extremely-underrated thriller WIDOWS (one of my top 10 of 2018). I was so impressed with her performance, her feature film debut no less, that I’m thrilled to see her leading this overdue biopic. I’m surprised there hasn’t been any film made about Harriet Tubman, a real-life hero who’s become an icon of courage and freedom.

Glad to see a black, female director at the helm of this important film. This is Kasi Lemmons‘ fifth feature film, the last one she directed was Black Nativity (2013). Looks like we can expect a thrilling, intense and gut-wrenching biopic, I’m already tearing up watching the trailer. Of course some people surely have issues with Erivo’s casting, given that she’s British. Originally her Widows‘ co-star Viola Davis was supposed to play Tubman for HBO but not sure what happened to that project. But then again, a bunch of other Brits have played iconic American heroes, i.e. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln and David Oyelowo portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. Erivo may not be an American, but she does have African heritage (Nigerian) and who’s to say she won’t be able to do Harriet Tubman justice if she wasn’t born in the US? Apparently there are calls for boycotts which I think is just sad.

Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr. and Joe Alwyn also star in this film, and it’ll have its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens in theaters on November 1st. Fingers crossed it will also make the TCFF lineup this year!


A young boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.

Anything by visionistical (apparently he coined a new term) filmmaker Taika Waititi always intrigues me. Described as an anti-hate satire by the filmmaker, it’s based on a book called Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, a US-born novelist who lives in New Zealand. It’s worthy of note not only because Waititi is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, but here he also plays the imaginary friend, that is Hitler himself. Per IMDb, when Taika who is Jewish, was asked about why he chose to play the role of [a plumb] Adolf Hitler he said “The answer’s simple, what better f***you to the guy” Ha! You gotta love his zany brand of humor.

I’m thrilled to see Thomasin McKenzie amongst the cast, the NZ breakout star of Leave No Trace, another movie on my Top 10 list of last year. She plays the young Jewish girl hiding in the German boy’s (Roman Griffin Davis) attic. Scarlett Johansson plays his mother and the rest of the star-studded cast include Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, and Sam Rockwell. 

This has that dark comedy whimsy that’s quintessentially Taika’s… it’s wacky and irreverent yet with a touch of earnestness. What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok are all immensely watchable and highly-quotable, I have a feeling this one would be as well.

Jojo Rabbit will also have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens in theaters on October 18th. Man, I’m officially excited for Fall movies now, though no, I’m not ready for summer to be over yet.

 


Thoughts on these trailers, folks?

FlixChatter Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 minutes

Hollywood loves BOAT, that is, films Based On a True Story, and few are as overdue yet timely as Hidden Figures. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a team of African-American women who worked at NASA and their integral roles in helping the U.S. advance during the Space Race during the Cold War era. Billed as ‘human computers,’ these women are the quintessential unsung heroes with an inspirational and important story to tell.

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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe star as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively. A trifecta of massively talented Black actresses who brought wit, grace and humor to their roles. The film is at times harrowing to watch and it made me sad and angry at the appalling treatments of Black people, especially women, during a time when racial segregation was still legally enforced in the country. The fact that this happened merely 50 some years ago literally gives me chills. Yet the film never descended into somber or depressing territory, but it was brimming with a defiant but hopeful spirit throughout.

Right from the opening scene when their car broke down and they had to deal with the white cop who arrived to question them instead of offering to help, there’s a lighthearted tone to the film. It’s not that the filmmakers are making light of the situation however, in fact, this is a crowd-pleasing film that’s told with equal amusement and gravitas. Even during a key scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile one way just to go to the colored bathrooms, drink from a separate coffee kettle marked ‘colored’ and endure constant belittlement from her colleagues, the film never felt too heavy-handed or overly-sentimental. There’s also the moment Dorothy was kicked out of the Virginia public library for venturing out of the ‘colored’ section. Spencer’s Dorothy remained dignified and defiant as she rode home on the bus with her young boys.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the three female protagonists, as they’re all excellent and given an equally compelling character arc. Henson’s Katharine seemed to have the largest arc of the three and it’s such a joy to watch her in the role. She had to act several scenes writing complex mathematical formula on a board in a single long take, and she managed to do it effortlessly and believably. All three women were convincing in their roles, their portrayals felt real instead of simplistic caricatures. The memorable male characters are Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, Mahershala Ali as Katharine’s love interest and Glen Powell as John Glenn. None of them ever overshadowed the women, but adds a perspective of the gender/racial issues of the time. On a side note, this movie made me curious to check out The Right Stuff now which chronicles the space race.

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I’m glad I waited to do my top 10 list until January as this film merits a spot on there. Boasting beautiful cinematography by Mandy Walker and rousing music by Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, film also looks AND sounds great. It’s an important film to be sure, but also a well-written and well-acted piece that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining. It made me laugh and cry, with an ending that made me want to get up and cheer. I certainly don’t mind watching this again.

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Have you seen Hidden Figures? What did you think?

Five for the Fifth: DECEMBER 2016 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. We’re now on the last FFTF edition of 2016, wow! Well, just this past week, Netflix Offline was trending on Twitter and it was the biggest news on Flipboard that week. I actually haven’t been desperately wishing to download Netflix movies as even when I’m on the plane where there are no Internet, I usually just watch what’s available on the airline entertainment channel. But I could see that it’s a dream come true for many of you who’ve been wanting to watch movies anywhere on their smartphone or tablet offline. I’d also think it’d have greater appeal in international markets such as Africa and Asia, where internet service is less ubiquitous than it is in the United States.

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Now, not everything on its vast library is available to download, but surely all the Netflix Original series/movies would be available. Just don’t expect any of the Disney stuff to be downloadable anytime soon, or ever.

So which films or TV shows have you downloaded or planning on downloading straight away? 

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2. Boy, James Gunn has been quite busy lately. On top of working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, he actually had time to write the script of this action thriller. One commenter on Youtube dubbed ‘Office Space meets The Purge, yikes! The Belko Experiment isn’t exactly my cup of tea, despite the pretty good cast, but surely it’ll find an audience.

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Now, switching gear to the follow up to yet another reboot of a franchise nobody is really clamoring to see. I gotta admit though, the cast of Tom Cruise AND Russell Crowe, and the fact that Christopher McQuarrie directs it, intrigues me a bit. Behold the first trailer of The Mummy:

It might as well be titled Mission Impossible: Paranormal. Cruise is on the run once again with a pretty girl (half his age) in tow. But is Cruise the mummy?? He’s shown waking up on a morgue after a horrific plane crash with not a scratch on him! That would be a fun twist wouldn’t it? But what is Crowe supposed to be in this story?? Well I’m sure we’ll have more trailers until its June 2017 release.

Anyhoo, thoughts about either one of these trailers?

3. On Saturday mornings my hubby and I usually sleep in a bit and would watch some stuff on our iPad in bed. We ended up watching the entire episode of Variety’s Actors On Actors series featuring Taraji P. Henson and Ryan Reynolds. 

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It was really fun to watch these tête-à-têtes as various actors get candid about their struggles and triumphs in the business. There’s quite a lineup in this year’s series, so I plan on watching a bunch of them later.

Have you watched these? Which episode and/or actor pairings are your fave?
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4. Ok, for the fourth question, let’s discuss about cinematic discoveries. It’s up for debate whether 2016 has been a good or mediocre year for movies. But every year I’m always grateful for new talent discoveries… actors who either have been acting for a while (Mahershala Ali) or those who’ve made their debut (Julian Dennison).

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As you can see, I’m eternally grateful to Moonlight for introducing me to SO many great talents! I have to mention the trio of actors portraying the protagonist as well. I might do a full post on this topic later, but for now I’d like to know…

Who’s your favorite talent(s) you discovered in 2016?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Cindy from Cindy Bruchman’s Blog! It’s about a show on Netflix I’ve been curious about… and its leading man (Alexander Dreymon) sure looks very crush-worthy 😉

So here’s Cindy’s question:

lastkingdom

While a fan of Game of Thrones, I’m impressed with ‘The Last Kingdom.’ It simulates the historical culture of Britain circa 800 A.D., and I love the authentic touches of the filming, the plot, and the acting. It doesn’t have the magical realism of GoT, but I have to say I prefer it.

So have you seen “The Last Kingdom”? What do you like about and/or who’s your favorite character?


Well, that’s it for the DECEMBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

FlixChatter Review: Moonlight (2016)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw Moonlight, yet I still constantly think about it. I had heard the buzz coming from Sundance and TIFF prior to its regional premiere at TCFF, and the premise of a coming-of-age story spanning three time periods intrigues me. The film is written and directed by Barry Jenkins, adapted from Tarell McCraney‘s unproduced play titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

In terms of story-telling, Moonlight is certainly one of the most unique as well as challenging. Some might think it’s similar to Richard Linklater Boyhood (though I haven’t seen it yet) with the protagonist played by two actors. In Moonlight, the life of black-American Chiron is portrayed by three actors, from young adolescence (Alex R. Hibbert), mid-teen (Ashton Sanders) and young adult (Trevante Rhodes). The casting is impressive as all three actors, despite not looking that much alike, somehow shares a certain quiet grace about them and ability to conveys much with so little.

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As a young boy, Chiron (called Little) lives in Miami with his single, drug-addicted mother Paula (an intense Naomie Harris), while being bullied at school and struggling with his sexual identity. It’s whilst he’s being chased by a group of kids that he meets a crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him to his girlfriend Teresa’s (Janelle Monáe) house and gives him food. I love the scenes between Little and Juan, teaching Chiron how to swim, in the water as well as in the rough waters called life.

“…you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

It’s also the first time the issue of sexuality is explored, with Little asking Juan ‘what’s a faggot?’ and Juan’s answer certainly one that’d leave a mark in the young boy’s life. Juan is definitely not the typical drug dealer, or who we often think of someone in that profession. But then again, this film never resorts to oversimplification.

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The transition between the three different periods in Chiron’s life is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. As with many young boys in their teens, this time period is crucial in shaping their lives. The scrawny teen is still bullied at school, Chiron’s only friend is his Cuban-American friend Kevin (André Holland). I honestly have never seen Black sexuality/masculinity depicted in this way and it struck me just how beautiful and nuanced the story was. Forgoing explicit scenes, Jenkins’s way of depicting the sexually-charged scenes is far from gratuitous. In fact, it’s one of the most heart-wrenching scenes that really took my breath away.

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In his adult life, Chiron now goes by the name “Black,” a nickname given by Kevin as a teen. He’s now a tough, muscular young man who now treads the same life as his childhood hero Juan, right down to the kind of car he drives. There’s an emotional exchange between him and his mother, but nothing quite as the reunion between him and Kevin. I won’t spoil it for you but that ending really hits me hard emotionally.

On top of the three actors portraying Chiron, the supporting cast is solid. Harris deglamorized to play the role of Chiron’s junkie mother, amazing that she filmed her role in between her busy press tour schedule for Spectre, a film that couldn’t be more different from this one. I love Monáe as the sympathetic mother figure to Chiron, and Holland did an affecting turn as the adult Kevin. But I’m most impressed with Mahershala Ali, I hope to see more of him in prominent roles, he’s got the screen presence and confidence of Denzel Washington. Moonlight deservedly earned the Robert Altman Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards that honor the entire ensemble cast.


Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. It won’t be a hyperbole that Barry Jenkins has created a masterpiece in his sophomore effort. I’m impressed that It made me curious to check out his debut, Medicine for Melancholy. I will be really ticked off if this film or Barry Jenkins isn’t nominated for Oscar this year. I’m so glad to have seen this in the big screen. I have to mention the music by Nicholas Britell as well as cinematography by James Laxton, excellent on both fronts that adds much to this beautifully-crafted film. I rarely give a full score but this film absolutely deserves it.

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Have you seen MOONLIGHT? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this film!

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