[#2020oscardeathrace] Honeyland (2019)

Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov

Cast: Hatidze Muratova

86 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [PENDING]

 

Fun little bit of Oscars trivia for you. No film has ever gotten nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature…until Honeyland. There, you learned something reading this review.

Honeyland was filmed over the course of three years, chronicling the story of Hatidze Muratova, a women living in the wild mountains of Macedonia and operating an ancient beekeeping lifestyle, one that seems to be based on a symbiotic relationship between humans and bees. By not taking more than is necessary, she is able to successfully maintain an almost endless supply of honey, but when a family moves into the area nearby and attempts to get in on the honey money, Hatidze finds her world forever changed.

Honeyland is a powerful view of a world I’ve never seen. Hatidze’s world at the beginning is nicely juxtaposed with her world after the moving in of the new family, who seem to not understand this symbiotic relationship with the bees that Hatidze gains from. It features some of the most incredible real footage of her world in Macedonia.

Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov spent three years recording footage and molding it to fit this fairly-tight narrative, and that intimate closeness between the directors and their subjects creates a truly in-depth and emotion-laden story. It was heartbreaking to see Hatidze dealing with her ailing mother while simultaneously striving to survive her work and the competing work of the new family.

Honeyland is very worth watching. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year and also one of the best international films of the year. I highly suggest you take this spiritual journey of a woman and nature and check the film out as soon as possible.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

Nigerian Oscar Submission Lionheart Disqualified for Award Contention

So here’s another frustrating story of the Oscars. Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart, which was the submitted entry for Nigeria, has now been disqualified from contention for having too much English. Somewhere around ten percent of the film is in the Igbo language, while the rest of the run time uses English. Lionheart was set to be Nigeria’s first Oscar entry, but it was apparently not vetted by the time the officially listing was revealed.

Selma director Ava DuVernay had this to say:

What’s interesting is that this is the first year in which the Academy has named the category International Feature Film from the previously-titled Foreign-Language Film. Even though the title was changed, it would appear the eligibility did not. We won’t hear of the official longlist until December 16, but I would assume this ruling won’t change at that time.

I personally think that it’s bullshit, especially after the title change, to disqualify this film. I’m not sure of all the rules that a film needs to have to qualify for International Feature Film, but changing the title seems to indicate that Foreign-Language is not an issue. This is film, and you are punishing them for using English when Nigeria has some English in with the many other languages around.

So what do you think? Should Lionheart be allowed to compete for Best International Feature Film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Bradley Cooper Takes a Stroll Down del Toro’s Nightmare Alley

So it appears that Bradley Cooper is in heavy talks to join Guillermo del Toro’s next project, Nightmare Alley. Originally, it was reported that Leonardo DiCaprio was set to lead, but a deal was not reached and he ultimately left the project.

Del Toro will direct from a script co-written by himself and Kim Morgan, which is itself based on William Lindsay Gresham novel.

Not much else is known, and a get from Cooper would be a significant win for the auteur director who most recently directed The Shape of Water, which of course won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Cooper, coming off a rather big win himself for A Star is Born, is looking to star in and direct the Leonard Bernstein biopic Bernstein, but he could easily make room for Nightmare Alley while that project develops.

So what do you think? Is Bradley Cooper the right fit for Guillermo del Toro’s next project, Nightmare Alley? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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.

Green Book Award People’s Choice Award at Toronto Film Festival

I didn’t know much about Green Book until I saw the trailer and found myself quite invested in it. The film recently screened at the Toronto Film Festival and was awarded the prize of People’s Choice Award. The award, which has been given to five future Best Picture winners at the Oscars, was given last year to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a major Oscar contender which was nominated for Best Picture.

A lot of reviews out of Toronto have been for the chemistry between its two leads, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, and the way these two give standout performances that never take away from each other.

As I said above, I’ve been more than a little excited for this film since seeing the trailer, and learning that Peter Farrelly of the Dumb and Dumber Farrelly brothers was behind the wheel made me more and more curious. Green Book winning the People’s Choice Award only furthers that excitement. This is such a drastic departure from what Farrelly is known for.

For me, Green Book was not in the discussion as far as major awards consideration this year. Without having seen the film, I’ve heard a lot of chatter for some acting nominations, but not much more, so having this film take an award so notable for Best Picture chatter is something that elevates it for me. Now, I may just hate the film, but all signs point to good news here.

So there you have it. Green Book has just risen on my most-anticipated list. Does the news of its winning People’s Choice at the Toronto Film Festival do anything to your excitement of this film? Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe for more content.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Godzilla (2014)

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Director: Gareth Edwards.

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Straithairn, Bryan Cranston.

Screenplay: Max Borenstein.

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

Back in 2010, relatively unknown director Gareth Edwards released Monsters, a technical masterpiece of hard work, mostly completed by Edwards himself. His handling of a difficult workload in post-production proved that he was capable of controlling a film shoot. Now, he has his hands on one of the most important releases of the year: the second attempt at an American Godzilla franchise. A daunting task to be certain, but not impossible.

Edwards’ film isn’t exactly the no-holds-barred masterpiece we have hoped for, but it isn’t 1998’s Godzilla either. This film comes in somewhere in between, with both pros and cons but still capable of triggering a follow-up. In fact, it already seems like Godzilla will be the first of a (so-far) trilogy, with two sequels on the way from Edwards himself. He seems like the kind of filmmaker to learn from his mistakes, so let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, back to this film. This incarnation of the mythos is centered around the Brody family and the effect that these kaiju, have had on their lives. The patriarch, Joe (Bryan Cranston, TV’s Breaking Bad, Argo), survives an initial event back in 1999 that takes the life of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient, Cosmopolis). Flash-forward to present day Tokyo, where Joe has slowly slipped into madness by the many conspiracy theories he has pursued involving the destruction of his home. He quickly pulls his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) into the mix chasing creatures nicknamed MUTOs. Who will come to the rescue? Cough. Cough.

Godzilla. Godzilla does.

Godzilla is a far different creature than the one introduced to American audiences in our previous flimsy attempt. This Godzilla is a heroic one. Now, Godzilla has been seen as a hero in many installments of Toho’s three series (Showa, Heisei, and Millenium).  He is a protector, and pretty damn awesome.

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Let’s talk performances here, because this is where the failings begin to manifest. We have some pretty big actors here: Taylor-Johnson, Cranston, Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Straithairn. The problem? The only characters with any development are Joe Brody (who doesn’t have enough screentime to carry) and Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. The rest of these are wasted on character the screenwriter (Max Borenstein) didn’t bother to actually develop. Bryan Cranston carries a powerhouse performance with limited time. This is a character that delivered the most important moments in the film.

Ken Watanabe also delivers a unique performance here. As Dr. Serizawa, we see a character reminiscent of many previous characters in older Godzilla films. The doc is designed to create ambience around a creature who we largely don’t see until at least an hour in.

Who’s the star of this film? It certainly isn’t Godzilla. The beast itself doesn’t take up much screen time. I didn’t mind this approach, reminiscent of older monster movies, like The Wolf Man or Jaws, if the main characters were developed enough to make up for it. They weren’t.

The cinematography  here is gorgeous. The editing of the shots, though, drew me out of the film. Every time the MUTOs or Godzilla show up, they cut away to the aftermath. Now, I find reservations with this, as this is one of the big things about Godzilla: Destruction!

The visual effects are also top notch here. Godzilla being modeled after komodo dragons and bears makes for a beautiful creature.  I’m almost certain we will see Godzilla on the shortlist for Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. Quote it.

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After reviewing all the individual pieces here, I can say that this film was far from perfect, but it showed a lot of potential in creating a franchise, which I hope happens soon, as the ending was completely left open! Give us more, Gareth! More!

Have you seen Godzilla? What did you think? Was it enough Kaiju-on-Kaiju action or were you squirming in your seat? Comment below!

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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