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: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There are films you’d readily see just for the cast and this is one such a film. I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s work though I can’t claim I’ve actually finished even one of her books from start to finish. I did however, see the episode from British ITV production of the Agatha Christie series starring David Suchet a couple of years ago, so the plot is still quite fresh in my mind. The latest adaptation featured Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian super detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh also served as director, based on a script by Michael Green (who’s had quite a year as he also wrote Logan and Blade Runner 2049).

The opening sequence in Jerusalem seemed too whimsical and decidedly over-the-top, and I’m not just talking about Poirot’s outlandish mustache. I read in a review somewhere that Branagh can’t decide which fake mustache given to him from the makeup department so he basically just wore them all in a row. I think that enormous mustache probably has its own trailer, too! That establishing scene introduced us to a god-like figure who’s an absolute genius in cracking criminal cases. It also revealed his quirky OCD personality, so obsessed he is with balance that when he stepped one foot on manure, he immediately had to do the same with the other foot.

For a story famous for being set on a train, the film took its time to finally get there. But once there, the train set pieces is really quite glorious, filled with lavish set pieces and even more gorgeous passengers decked in 1930s costumes. Despite the rather sluggish pacing, I enjoyed myself thanks to the amazing cast. A movie with Dame Judi Dench is an automatic must-see in my book, though sadly she didn’t get to do anything in this film. But to be fair, most of the actors here seemed to have spent more time in costumes than learning their lines. She’s still memorable here, as is Olivia Colman as Dench’s German maid.

It’s tough to be memorable in a large ensemble cast as this one, but I’d say the film’s MVPs are Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot. Oh, and hello Tom Bateman as train director Bouc (never seen this tall, dark and handsome Brit before but I sure hope I’ll see more of him!) It’s interesting casting to have Johnny Depp as Ratchett given his dire reputation of late. Branagh’s performance is often borderline over the top as well which in itself can be distracting. But I thought his monologue after the big reveal is pretty good and provides the high emotional point of the film. I love La Pfeiffer in this scene too, I’ve missed seeing her in movies. She’s one of those veteran actresses I wish would still get many intriguing roles.

I’m not going to talk about the plot here, but Branagh took some interesting creative licenses with how the story came to the big reveal. He also tried to vary the scenes of each passenger interrogation as to not bore the viewers, some work better than others. I love Branagh’s direction in Cinderella but here he seems too preoccupied with camera work (esp. the bird’s eye view angle) that the film feels rather haphazard at times. The dynamic camera angles adds energy to an otherwise stuffy whodunnit drama, but at times can be quite distracting as well.

Overall it’s a decent adaptation, but I’m not sure if it’s really all that necessary. I feel like the rich story would’ve been better served as a miniseries. There are parts that feel emotional, especially as we get to know who the passengers really are, but I think the film lacks any real suspense. That said, I still enjoyed it thanks to the committed cast, the stunning set pieces and the gorgeous score from one of my fave composers (and Branagh’s regular collaborator) Patrick Doyle. The ending seems to hint at ‘Poirot will return’ a la another titular character James Bond. Not sure I’d be so eager to return to another Poirot adaptation from Branagh though. I guess I’d recommend this if you like the cast, though if you’re a Christie fan you’d probably be more satisfied with re-reading the novel.


Have you seen the latest adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’? Well, what did you think?