Tag Archives: Cynthia Erivo

Harriet (2019) Review

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Harriet

Time: 125 Minutes
Cast:
Cynthia Erivo as Araminta “Minty” Ross/Harriet Tubman
Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still
Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess
Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon
Creator: Kasi Lemmons

From her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) is told.

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I heard about Harriet because of the awards attention it was receiving, mainly for Cynthia Erivo’s performance. Although I didn’t know that much about her, I heard about how Harriet Tubman was a truly significant historical figure, so I was at least interested in the movie for that, even if it looked like awards bait. While the movie unfortunately isn’t as great as it should’ve been, it was alright and better than I thought it would be.

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Now I can’t speak as to the accuracy of the movie to real life events. I did a brief Google search and clicked on a few articles, and according to what I found, much of what’s in the movie is accurate, however there’s a lot more that the film didn’t cover. Parts of the movie feel very formulaic and a little cliched. Even if these events played in real life like they did here, they didn’t really make it feel fresh or genuine. It also feels a little rushed, while also feeling like there’s a number of things that the movie didn’t cover. From the looks of things, maybe a mini series would’ve been better for the story, but just judging it as being done as one movie, some of the plot and storytelling choices were a little odd. With that said, as someone who knew nothing about Harriet Tubman, I was somewhat interested in the movie from beginning to end in its roughly 2 hour long runtime, just not as much as I hoped I would.

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Cynthia Erivo is the star of the show as Harriet Tubman, and she is really good. I liked her work in 2018 with both Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows, and once again she has shown herself to be a great actress. If there’s a reason to watch this movie, it’s for her performance. The rest of the cast are fine, there wasn’t quite a weak link, but most of them weren’t anything special and stood out either. Out of the supporting cast, Janelle Monae stood out the most in a minor role, playing a character who was created for the movie and didn’t exist in real life.

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The direction of Harriet by Kasi Lemmons was decent. While the movie can look really good at some points (especially with some of the locations), some of the way it was shot looks like a tv movie. The costumes and productions design are good enough and fit the time period and setting. Something that occurs often in the movie is that there are some visions that Harriet has. Now to be fair to this movie, these apparently happened in real life, but the way it’s shot and edited made it come across a little silly in the film (again, like a tv movie).

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Harriet is an okay movie but unfortunately it doesn’t rise above that level, especially disappointing for a movie about such a significant figure in history. The direction is fine, the writing is mostly okay, the supporting cast is good enough, but there’s not a lot in the movie that’s better than that. The exception is Cynthia Erivo’s lead performance which was good, and really was the only reason to see the movie. Even then though, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a an absolute must see just for her work alone, as good as it was. I guess if you’re committed to watching every Oscar nominated performance, or if you’ve got 2 hours to spend, then it might be worth checking out if you’re curious about it.

Widows (2018) Review

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings
Michelle Rodriguez as Linda Perelli
Elizabeth Debicki as Alice Gunner
Cynthia Erivo as Belle
Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan
Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning
Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning
Jacki Weaver as Agnieska
Carrie Coon as Amanda Nunn
Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan
Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings
Director: Steve McQueen

A police shootout leaves four thieves dead during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago. Their widows – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) — have nothing in common except a debt left behind by their spouses’ criminal activities. Hoping to forge a future on their own terms, Veronica joins forces with the other three women to pull off a heist that her husband was planning.

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I have been waiting for Widows for a long time, it’s my most anticipated film of 2018. So many things were going for it, not only is Steve McQueen (Shame and 12 Years a Shame) directing, not only is Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects) writing the script, but it also has the biggest cast of the year: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson and more make up the talented cast. I was looking forward to seeing McQueen, Flynn and the cast tackling essentially a heist movie, there is so much potential that the combination of talent had. Thankfully it absolutely delivered and unsurprisingly ended up being one of the best films of the year.

Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen together wrote Widows and it’s a really great script overall. First thing that should be noted is that although it is a ‘heist movie’, it’s not like Heat where you get see a number of heists. The actual heist doesn’t occur until the third act and when it happens it’s actually not that long. Much of Widows consists of the 4 main characters trying to figure out how they are going to pull off the heist, while also following their personal lives following the aftermath of their dead husbands’ failed heist. Widows could’ve easily just been that, and with Flynn and McQueen working on it, and it could’ve been really good. However they go above and beyond that, making it more than just a genre movie. Knowing McQueen especially, I knew that it would be more than just a simple heist movie, and I was right (though it still is his most accessible film by far). There is a lot more going on, for example during the course of the movie, there’s an election going on and the events of the heist could very well affect things that are happening with regard to that. Widows also really takes its time following its characters and their individual plotlines, it really isn’t a fast paced thriller like the trailers have made it out to be. On top of that there’s a lot of thematic elements to the movie that I think most people won’t be expecting going in. As this is Gillian Flynn, there are going to be some twists and they all worked really well. I think there might’ve been some I could figure out but none of them were like glaringly obvious or anything. I think something that some people may take issue with is that there are some things towards the end of the movie that aren’t resolved completely. It’s not like a cliffhanger ending or anything but it doesn’t go into detail with how some plotlines are resolved, some plotlines’ endings are a little ambiguous. That can go for some of the characters as well, for example with Colin Farrell, there is sort of an end to his story but there isn’t quite as much as you’d like. Maybe with some of the characters if we got a little more than what we had it would’ve been better but it was enough. In terms of other problems, the only scene that was out of place was one with Michelle Rodriguez when she goes to try to get information out of someone, and every single person who has seen the movie knows exactly which scene I’m referring to. I’m not really sure what the point of that scene was but it’s a little random. Doesn’t break the movie or anything but it stands out as being a little odd. The movie takes place over 1 month but it feels like it takes place over 2 weeks at most, not really a big issue it’s just something I noticed. On the whole the movie runs for 2 hours and 10 minutes long and aside from that one scene, I was completely on board with everything.

One of the highlights of the movie was the immensely talented cast and no matter how small of a role their had, every single actor was at the top of their game delivering great performances, not a single performance felt miscast or weak. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are the main leads who are trying to pull off the heist. Viola Davis is really the lead of this movie and as usual she crushes it in her role, though it’s come to be expected of the powerhouse Davis. She commands a lot of presence and is really the leader of the group but at the same time she still feels very vulnerable, both the film and Viola balance it out well. I’ve really known Michelle Rodriguez just from the Fast and Furious movies but in her role in Widows (a very different kind of heist film) she really shows off a lot of talent, she was really great here. I’d actually like to see Rodriguez in more dramatic work now. Elizabeth Debicki has proved herself as a great actress in things like The Night Manager and The Great Gatsby, but she really gives an impressive performance here. Her character has a lot to deal with, having received abuse from both her husband and her mother, and she played the role very well. Cynthia Erivo made a strong impact in this year’s Bad Times at the El Royale and she’s also great here as not a widow, but someone who comes in to join the group. Something that I liked is how all 4 of them don’t feel like they are at all capable of pulling it off. They’ve never done any heists themselves and so they have to learn to get things done. They also don’t necessarily get along, they are coming together to pull a heist because they have no choice, so it’s interesting watching them work together despite all this.

The rest of the cast are all great as well, no matter how large or small of a role they are in. Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry are great as opposing politicians who are both campaigning for alderman of a prescient (the latter of whom is applying pressure to the widows to get 2 million dollars). Robert Duvall also plays his small role as Farrell’s father quite well. Liam Neeson is also great in a small but significant role as Davis’s husband who was among the criminals who died during the heist and while he’s not in a ton of the movie, he gave his best performance in a while, probably since 2012’s The Grey, he does so much with very little. Out of the supporting cast however, it’s Daniel Kaluuya who’s the standout, playing Brian Tyree Henry’s brother and enforcer. He doesn’t have a ton of scenes but he really makes an impact whenever he’s on screen. He just exudes this uncomfortable vibe in every scene he’s in, and you’re not sure of what he’ll do next, very intimidating. With his Black Mirror appearance, Sicario, Get Out, Black Panther and now Widows, Kaluuya has shown himself to be one of the most exciting actors working today, displaying a very large range. Well deserving of a lot of praise, especially for his performance here. Some actors are pretty much cameos here, like Jon Bernthal, Jacki Weaver and Carrie Coon but they were good in their roles nonetheless.

Steve McQueen’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. This film feels incredibly real, the heist scenes aren’t blown out of proportion and feel very gritty. Some of the directing choices made by McQueen particularly stood out as being fantastic, 2 immediately come to mind. The first one was circling around Kaluuya’s character in one of his intimidating scenes. The second one is in a scene where Colin Farrell and his campaign manager get into a car following a rally and instead of cutting inside, the camera stays on the exterior of the limo as it travels from a derelict urban neighbourhood to a gentrified suburb (where Farrell lives) while the two of them are having a conversation. It was just incredibly visual storytelling. Hans Zimmer’s score is of course great and while you don’t hear a ton of it in the movie, often it really amps up the tension when it’s present.

Widows is fantastic and one of the best films of the year. Everyone in this star studded cast plays their role excellently (with Davis, Debicki and Kaluuya being standouts) and Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn made what could’ve been a simple heist movie into something much more and is just all around great from start to finish. Not enough people are seeing it and I implore you to go out and see Widows in the cinema, it deserves it and you deserve it.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) Review

Time: 141 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Jeff Bridges as Daniel Flynn
Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet
Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring
Jon Hamm as Seymour ‘Laramie’ Sullivan
Cailee Spaeny as Rose Summerspring
Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller
Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee
Nick Offerman as Felix O’Kelly
Director: Drew Goddard

The El Royale is run-down hotel that sits on the border between California and Nevada. It soon becomes a seedy battleground when seven strangers — a cleric (Jeff Bridges), a soul singer (Cynthia Erivo), a traveling salesman (Jon Hamm), two sisters (Dakota Johnson, Cailee Spaeny), the manager and the mysterious Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) — converge on a fateful night for one last shot at redemption before everything goes wrong.

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I had been hearing about Bad Times at the El Royale for a while. I heard of the cast, with Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth among others. However, what really got my interested was when I heard that Drew Goddard was writing and directing this. Goddard on top of writing Cloverfield and The Martian, also directed and co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods. I was interested to see how this movie would be with this cast and director. I actually ended up liking Bad Times at the El Royale a lot more than I thought I would. With its killer cast, twisty story and writing, I really dug it and I was on board with it from start to finish.

Like with The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale is better experienced when you know as little as possible. The movie for a lot of it is split up into different sections, for example a title card saying ‘Room 1’ would come up and then it would focus on that character in that room and their backstory. Because of this structure, this will lead to some find the movie to drag and I can see why some people would feel that way. It’s just what comes from having this kind of structure, personally it didn’t bother me at all, the pacing was fine enough for me. Every character has their own story and the movie finds some way of tying it all together. There are some questions that aren’t entirely answered, some of them are purposely left ambiguous, but I feel like there are some other answers that I would’ve liked to have seen. I will say that it does get better more you think about it, as there are some connections in the movie that I didn’t pick up until the following day. Bad Times at the El Royale is a long movie at 2 hours and 20 minutes long but as I said I never felt bored throughout its running time.

As previously mentioned, this movie has a great cast and all of them bring their A game to their roles. We have Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pulman, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny and even a little bit of Nick Offerman, all great. With almost all of them we get to see things about their characters (although I would’ve liked to have seen a little more of Jon Hamm). Jeff Bridges gives a pretty great performance as a priest who doesn’t seem like much of a priest. Bad Times is Cynthia Erivo’s big screen debut and she’s a Tony Winning actress and singer, she’s really great here. She’s probably the most trustworthy and likable character out of the main cast and she does really well here. I can’t wait to see her in this year’s Widows. Lewis Pullman is also quite good, as someone who pretty much runs everything in the hotel. He doesn’t seem like much at first but he really ends up being a real surprise. You don’t see a massive amount of Chris Hemsworth till like the last act but he steals the show when he’s on screen, its quite a different role for him, with him being a cult leader and he absolutely pulls it off.

Drew Goddard’s direction is very stylish and great, really working for the movie. At the same time it’s not so stylish that it’s self indulgent or distracts from the rest of the movie, its just at the right level. The cinematography, lighting, the set design and the use of music is great, you really feel (for the most part) like you’re with these characters just around this hotel with a late 60s vibe.

I had a lot of fun with Bad Times at the El Royale. It’s an entertaining mystery thriller, with a talented cast delivering great performances and has some really nice surprises throughout. It might not end up being for everyone, it does have a slower pace and I kind of wished it had some more surprises and answers but it really worked well for me.