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] Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Neil Jackson

Screenplay: Caroline Thompson, Robert Zemeckis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language.

 

I look forward to every film Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Allied) makes. The man is always a captivating storyteller who brims with ambition and pushes the boundaries with every time he steps behind a camera. Ever since I saw the first trailer for Welcome to Marwen, I felt that this was another chance he had to push himself further. The struggle for the film, based on true events, is that it can’t seem to translate to the big screen in a wholly appealing and accessible way.

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office) is struggling. He’s a man with a secret that makes some people not like him. When he is beaten within an inch of his life by some scumbags, he is unable to cope with his memory loss, his physical and emotional pain, his anxiety, and his depression. So he creates a world, Marwen, where he imagines himself as World War II Captain Mark “Hoagie” Hogancamp and all the women in his life as kick-ass soldiers, it helps. Enter new next-door neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up, Blockers), an attractive and friendly human who takes to Mark well and finds him to be a really interesting person. When Mark designs a figure in Marwen after Nicol, he finds that she helps him to be the person he needs to be to defeat his demons.

When Welcome to Marwen works, it works really well. When the film misses the mark, it misses it hard, so let’s unwrap this thing, firstly Steve Carell. Carell is becoming such a prolific and nuanced actor and he excites me with every new project he signs on for. Marwen is no different. His portrayal of Hogancamp is really incredible, and he accesses portions of anxiety and depression very nicely. His performance really highlights that sometimes, anxiety and depression manifest themselves in different ways.

Though Leslie Mann does great work as Nicol, I really don’t like where they take her character, especially with where she ends up. The ending of Nicol’s arc is really odd and it kind of thuds the movie. It feels like there isn’t anything for her character to do in the latter half of the film, but there’s a better way to wrap up her character.

The rest of the women of Marwen all have nice performance work, but I didn’t get the chance to connect with many of them. Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Darkest Minds) plays Anna, Mark’s social worker. She gets one scene, but we are asked to connect with her action-figure avatar. Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) plays Julie, his physical therapist, and it seems on the surface that we will get some time with her, but she barely plays a role outside of, again, her action-figure avatar. Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver, TV’s From Dusk Till Dawn) is Caralala, a co-worker of Mark’s at a local pub and grill, and she gets more screentime than the rest, but she isn’t a fully-realized character.

It’s too bad that we don’t have much characterization with the women of Marwen because the sequences in Marwen are really interesting and layered. Again, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The visual palate of the Marwen stuff is great. I was worried that these figures wouldn’t get the emotion and look right and the audience would be stranded with this fake-looking character that’s supposed to look fake and real. It’s an odd problem to have. Thankfully, I never stepped out of the film during these sequences outside of a really odd Back to the Future reference that crashes and burns near the end of the film.

The Marwen sequences struggle with the characterization because we don’t get to know these people in real life and therefore cannot see the portions of their Marwen personas that belong to them and the portions that belong to Mark. Each time the Nazis show up, we get a lot of gunfire but no character. I was forced to relay all the characters through Mark’s spectrum.

Welcome to Marwen is hit-and-miss. The fantasy scenes are really interesting and kind of feel like a more-improved attempt at Sucker Punch, where the fantasy is important and has stakes on the film, but the film’s screenplay skips some important moments and includes some really strange stuff. The villain of Marwen, personified by a witch named Deja (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, In the Fade) really felt out of place. I wanted to like the movie so bad, and I did enjoy myself more than most, but it’s frustrating when it stumbles. It is Carell’s intense performance that kept me going and invested throughout, and he deserves more recognition than he gets.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, click here.

 

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The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

123 mins. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

 

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a director known for his visual flair and attention to detail, but he has yet to cross the barrier into household name. His newest film, The Shape of Water, is his most deeply personal and intimate. The film is garnering some critical and festival praise right now, but is that warranted? This writer has been excited for the film since early this year, and I was overjoyed to catch a screening of it earlier this week.

The film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Godzilla) as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works overnights as a janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is perhaps too curious to discover that a strange new asset has been delivered to the facility one night, a dangerous new creature discovered in South America. As the creature is unable to communicate with sound, he quickly takes to Elisa’s use of sign language as well as the gifts of boiled eggs she brings him. When Elisa learns what the creature’s handler, Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), plans to do with him, she hatches a plan to save the amphibious being and, along the way, discovers that her affection for the creature has grown exponentially.

I’m going to say it right now: The Shape of Water is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The plot is familiar enough in its simplest terms, but del Toro proves yet again that isn’t the story you tell but rather how you tell it that makes a masterpiece, and this one might be the director’s best work to date. The story he tells is one of love, attraction, repression, and loneliness using the central relationship between Elisa and the amphibious creature, played brilliantly by del Toro favorite Doug Jones (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery).

While Elisa and the Creature are the central relationship of the film, the secondary relationships give a nice contrast, showing Elisa’s friendship with chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) and the tenderness of her friendship with neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, LBJ). The web is stretched further to show the way that Zelda behaves toward her husband and also how Giles, a closeted homosexual, pursues an attraction in an era where repression has made him self-conscious and very lonely. Then, there’s the polarized opposition of Strickland’s family dynamic and the way he treats his colleagues, specifically Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man, Arrival). The film’s near-constant unraveling of every relationship is fascinating and introspective in all the right ways.

The Shape of Water might be the best film I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot to unpack, and it feels like I need to see it again to fully connect to it, but the film, while a bit lengthy in its second act, is an exemplary look at love and attraction presented in its most unique fashion. This movie will challenge audiences and I hope you leave with as many questions as I did. That is, after all, the beauty in it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? What’s your favorite relationship in the film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

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[Early Review] The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola

93 mins. Rated R for some sexuality.

 

The Beguiled is the second adaptation of the 1966 novel A Painted Devil (rather than a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood) and features Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as a Civil War soldier taken in by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, TV’s Big Little Lies, The Hours) after he is found injured nearby. Miss Martha runs a girls’ school in Virginia, and Corporal McBurney is the first interaction many of the women have had with the war. Miss Martha is untrusting of the man and how quickly he gains the trust of teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, Hidden Figures) and the girls of the school. Miss Martha continues to remind him that he will leave as soon as he is healed and repeatedly threatens to turn him over to the Confederate Army. The house is very quickly altered by McBurney’s presence, bubbling with sexual tension and jealousy among the inhabitants until finally it takes a shocking and unexpected turn, putting them all in grave danger.

I had to really tiptoe around this synopsis as I dare not spoil the events depicted in this new film from Writer/Director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, A Very Murray Christmas). I would also advise you to avoid trailers for the film as they give away a bit too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Beguiled much more than I expected to.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the film. First, the writing of Colin Farrell’s character. I love Colin Farrell when he gets it right. Sure, he’s had stumbles in his career, but when he nails it, he really nails it. And he is great in The Beguiled, but the manner in which his character is written doesn’t feel like a fully-formed arc. His performance is top notch but there isn’t enough screen time for us as viewers to accept the journey his character takes.

I also didn’t really like the ending. It felt almost too easy, and there’s a near-horrific plot point that gets brushed away too easily that would’ve made things more interesting. Overall, the ending does linger with you, but I think there could’ve been more to it.

Everything else in the film is amazing, most notably the incredible performance from Nicole Kidman. Coming off her Oscar-nominated performance in Lion, Kidman is chillingly cold as Miss Martha, a motivated and strong woman who takes charge of her situation. There’s a beauty to her performance with an underlying uneasiness, especially when she shares the screen with Farrell. The rest of the performances are great as well, but I want to recognize Elle Fanning (Maleficent, 20th Century Women) and Angourie Rice (who you may remember from last year’s The Nice Guys, if anyone else actually saw it) for their turns as members of the school. Both of these actresses give impressive turns in every film and The Beguiled is no exception.

Sofia Coppola became the second female director ever to win Best Director at Cannes (and hopefully we won’t wait 50 years for another), and The Beguiled is a worthy film of such an award. Its tension and drama is all based around its characters , usually a win for Coppola. The film stumbles rarely, but manages to pick itself up rather quickly and recover. It’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and it is worth your time to catch it when it expands to wide release this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2017oscardeathrace] The Nominees for the 89th Academy Awards

 

Best part about the Oscars every year: the Oscar Death Race. I’m ready for it, are you?

Here are the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.

 

arrival2016a

Best Picture

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

 

Best Director

  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

 

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

elle2016a

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

 

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

 

hellorhighwater2016a

Best Original Screenplay

  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • 20th Century Women

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight

 

Best Animated Feature Film

 

landofmine2016a

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Land of Mine
  • A Man Called Ove
  • The Salesman
  • Tanna
  • Toni Erdmann

 

Best Documentary Feature

  • 13th
  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J.: Made in America

 

Best Documentary Short Film

  • 1 Miles
  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

 

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

 

Best Animated Short Film

  • Blind Vayasha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

 

jackie2016a

Best Original Score

  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers

 

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls
  • “City of Stars” from La La Land
  • “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

 

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

 

13hoursthesecretsoldiersofbenghazi2016a

Best Sound Mixing

  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 

Best Production Design

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

 

lalaland2016a

Best Cinematography

  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

 

Best Costume Design

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

 

hacksawridge2016a

Best Film Editing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight

 

Best Visual Effects

 

 

So there you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some movies to watch…

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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