Harriet (2019)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn

Screenplay: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons

125 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

It’s crazy to think that it’s 2019 and we still don’t have a major memorable release about the life of Harriet Tubman. Maybe I’m just not thinking about one or can’t bring one to mind, but I don’t think one exists. In fact, the film we’re talking about today almost didn’t get made at all, sitting on a shelf at Disney for years until they relinquished rights to the script. So with all that, how did it turn out?

When a young slave woman named Minty (Cynthia Erivo, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Genius) escapes and heads for the border, she takes on the new name of Harriet Tubman and joins up with William Still (Leslie Odom Jr., Murder on the Orient Express, TV’s Smash) and the Underground Railroad to become one of the most celebrated slave-rescuers in history. Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) shows Harriet’s religious views when she has visions giving her direction in saving slaves, and it shows her fearless nature in the pursuit of freedom for her fellow slaves.

Let’s talk Cynthia Erivo here. I really liked what she did with the role, and I think she almost-flawlessly plays the role of Harriet Tubman. Almost-flawlessly. My big problem with the way Harriet is portrayed is that I don’t think the visions of God that she has works very well onscreen. I think there’s a better way to put this on film. It just didn’t work for me. I really think there’s a way to get this element put to screen better, and I keep thinking how, if it were put to film better, then it could be considered a strong film about religion. I kick on religious films a lot because I don’t think they successfully convey religious tones in a strong enough manner, and I think with the strong production of a film like Harriet, this could be something really cool if it were pulled off better. Back to Erivo, though, this film proves without a doubt that Erivo is capable of carrying a lead performance.

Director Kasi Lemmons does some good work in the film, but her presentation is a little formulaic and straight-forward, and what she needed to remember while making the film is that there’s a lot of the same thing happening in the film. That’s not to knock the incredible thing that Harriet Tubman accomplished, don’t think I’m saying that. All I mean is that the notion of her moving slaves to safety could’ve been given something more visual to represent the journey. Outside of her initial escape, I don’t the length of the journey is presented extremely well. It’s serviceable, but not truly accomplished in the movie.

From the supporting cast, I really enjoyed Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still and Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, UglyDolls) as Marie Buchanon, a friend to Harriet who gets her on her feet when she makes it to the north. They are both exemplary performers who elevate the material. Joe Alwyn (The Favourite, Boy Erased) also stars as Gideon Brodess, the son of the man who owned Harriet in the south. I didn’t like the way his character was portrayed in the film didn’t make him a fleshed-out character. I think the way to make a powerful villain is more than just being menacing and violent. There are moments early on in the film where he interacts with Harriet about their past and then it is barely mentioned after her escape. I would have liked their childhood past delved further into in the film through flashback to help fuel his character arc. Again, Gideon isn’t a bad villain. He does villainous things in the film, but I don’t think he’s a realistic villain and I think the finale of the film would have been more powerful if he was given more to do than be menacing.

Harriet is a strong enough biopic on Harriet Tubman that is worth your time. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty damn powerful nonetheless. Harriet won’t be accepting any Oscars come 2020, but this is still a solid history lesson about an incredible human being and an incredible triumph of the human spirit. This is still one worth checking out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Ready or Not (2019)

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell

Screenplay: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy

95 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.

 

I won’t lie to you. I hadn’t heard or Ready or Not until about six weeks ago when the single trailer dropped for this movie. I don’t think Disney wants to market much of the Fox stuff that they don’t have faith in. The trailer looked silly and fun, and it made me very excited to see it. It could be because I love horror movies, or it could be because I love board games, but something about this one just got me in the trailer. Watching that trailer every time I went to the theater for the past six weeks rocketed this movie up into my Most Anticipated list, and it was so worth it.

It’s a beautiful day for bride Grace (Samara Weaving, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s SMILF). She’s just married the love of her life, Alex (Mark O’Brien, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire), and not even his snide and disapproving family can ruin the wedding for her. That is, until the wedding night, when she is introduced to the family’s tradition. Alex is a member of the Le Domas family, a wealthy dynasty of the board game industry, and their tradition is to play a game whenever someone new joins the family. Every wedding night, this tradition is kept, and the game for tonight is Hide and Seek, but this isn’t just a game for the Le Domas family or Grace. Their version of Hide and Seek involves crossbows, axes, shotguns, and blood. Now, Grace has to survive until dawn to win and survive, but the Le Domas family are very competitive when it comes to this game, and they will do anything to find her.

This is definitely a film that you need to understand before you go in, but it’s also one I would suggest skipping the trailer for if you are interested (a lot of my favorite moments in the film are revealed in the trailer). Ready or Not is silly and goofy and gory and a hell of a good time. Now, this isn’t the type of horror film to keep you up at night, but for a brisk 95 minutes, it was so much fun. It never takes itself too seriously (because, c’mon, how could it?) and its colorful cast of eccentric characters make for quite an enjoyable experience.

Samara Weaving makes a strong case here for a new scream queen. She belts out some seriously guttural yells in this, and she makes for a compelling and accessible heroine. All she wants at the onset of the film is to be accepted by a family, something she’s been missing her whole life, and now she is thrust into the most absurd of circumstances and forced to fight her new family to save her life. You could make the argument that she gets real violent, real quick, but I would also say that she has an edge about herself from her years of living in fear of being alone that she hardened up.

The Le Domas family is full of very fun characters. Each of them has a specific role to play in the night’s events. I personally loved patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny, Mission: Impossible, TV’s Sharp Objects) as the family leader and his loving-but-firm wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day, The Last Laugh), but each member of the family has something about them that made them fun to be onscreen.

My one problem with the film is that it puts all of its cards on the table rather early on and I would have liked some of the crazier elements to be slowly unfolded as the film moves along. I think it would have felt less-forced in the narrative to slowly reveal what’s ready going on as opposed to just laying it all out so early.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, Southbound) have crafted a fun action-horror-comedy hybrid tone for their film which works so very well. I’m doubtful that the new Fox Searchlight regime would want to press forward on a sequel, but I could see a lot of ways to make this into an interesting and fun franchise. Ready or Not is the perfect palate-cleanser for a rough summer movie season. For horror fans, seek this one out. Immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Devil’s Due, click here.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

Director: Mike Mitchell

Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

106 mins. Rated PG for some rude humor.

 

Do you remember when Everything was Awesome back in 2014 when The Lego Movie surprised everyone by actually being great? Remember how it got completely snubbed at the Oscars causing complete and utter outcry and sadness? Remember Pepperidge Farm? I remember.

It’s been five years since Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) saved everyone by defeating the evil Lord Business on Taco Tuesday. Unfortunately for Emmet, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, The Happytime Murders), and the others, that victory only made way for the invasion of the Duplos, frightening beings from the Systar System. Now, Everything is Not Awesome, and Bricksburg has become the bleak and dark and brooding Apocalypseburg. Emmet has tried to make the best of it by staying positive, but his happiness is tested when the sinister General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz, Short Term 12, TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine) kidnaps Lucy and the others and takes to them to the Systar System to meet with Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History) for a royal wedding. Emmet has to join up with the dangerous and strong Rex Dangervest (also Pratt in a dual-role) in order to have a chance at saving them and avoiding “Our-Mom-Ageddon” in the process.

The Lego Movie 2 sets itself up nicely as a direct sequel to the original film and even a follow-up to The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s clear that this sequel is missing the boat a bit in terms of its ability to ignite fire in its story. It comes right out and states that this is set 5 years after the events of The Lego Movie, but it doesn’t feel like anything fresh has been conjured in those five years. While the events, scenarios, and overall message of this sequel, there’s just something in the film that doesn’t work as well, as though director Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After, Trolls) is struggling to be Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of the previous film.

Lord and Miller have crafted the screenplay here, and that’s why the overall arc of the film works, including some of the third-act twists and turns. I was surprised at myself for not getting where the film was going as it went, and I think that upped my overall enjoyment of the film. I found the screenplay’s meta-humor broadened even more so with the original film’s revelation that the Lego world is a representation of what is happening in the real world. Lord and Miller are able to use that to craft a lot of interesting humor between the real world and the Lego world that works nicely to bridge the two films.

The voice-work is pretty solid here, especially from newcomers Haddish and Beatriz. Haddish takes a lot of the heavy lifting as Wa’Nabi, and she holds her own in several musical numbers. With their inclusion, though, I felt the loss of Benny (Charlie Day, Hotel Artemis, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Parks and Recreation), and Unikitty (Alison Brie, The Post, TV’s Community), who are all relegated to tertiary-level characters in the sequel.

I think it was a bad call for Warner Bros to move the release date of this sequel to accommodate The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie. It separates this sequel from its predecessor in a way that kind of hurts it for people that haven’t watched the original recently. The Lego Movie 2 is perfectly fine and, at times, brilliant, but it mostly stands in the shadow of The Lego Movie, always being fun but never rising up to the level of its predecessor. I still found myself enjoying it, but it’s a step down.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie, click here.

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