“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries had created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel hit the movie theaters back in February 2020.

I had been even more thrilled that this new movie turned out to be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This 2020 adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release last year, film critics and moviegoers had been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie was so high on the critical list that I was surprised it failed to end up receiving major film award nominations during the 2020/2021 award season. A great deal of this praise was focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there had been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

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I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” had received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many had claimed it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television miniseries of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – I think not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to the idea of being Mrs. Elton? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused on even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative, other than coming off as uncharacteristically supercilious. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . positive. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whelen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that had acquired a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given the opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that has struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

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“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

Ever since its release in movie theaters back in December 2019, many moviegoers have been in rapture over “LITTLE WOMEN”, filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel. The movie did acquire several acclaims, including Oscar nominations for two of the film’s actresses, Best Adapted Screenplay and an actual Oscar for costume design. I never got the chance to see it in theaters. I finally managed to see it on the HULU streaming service.

Anyone familiar with Alcott’s novel knows that it conveyed the tale of four sisters from a Massachusetts family and their development from adolescence and childhood to adulthood during the 1860s. The first half of Alcott’s tale covered the March sisters’ experiences during the U.S. Civil War. In fact, Alcott had based the March family on herself and her three sisters. Unlike previous adaptations, Gerwig incorporated a nonlinear timeline for this version of “LITTLE WOMEN”.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” I truly admired. I did enjoy most of the performances. Or some of them. I thought Saoirse Ronan gave an excellent performance as the movie’s leading character Josephine “Jo” March. I thought she did a pretty good job of recapturing Jo’s extroverted personality and artistic ambitions. I do wish that Gerwig had allowed Jo to convey some of the less pleasant sides to her personality. Do I believe she deserved her Oscar nomination? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Although I thought she gave an excellent performance, I do not know if I would have considered her for an acting nomination.

But I was more than impressed by Eliza Scanlen, who portrayed third sister Elizabeth “Beth” March. Although her story more or less played out in a series of vignettes that switched back and forth between the period in which she first caught the scarlet fever and her death a few years later; Scanlen did a superb job in recapturing the pathos and barely submerged emotions of Beth’s fate. It seemed a pity that she had failed to acquire any acting nominations. One last performance that really impressed me came from Meryl Streep. I have always regarded the temperamental Aunt March as a difficult role for any actress. And although I do not regard Streep’s interpretation of the aging matriarch as the best I have seen, I must admit that for me, she gave one of the best performances in the film. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk and Florence Pugh, who also received an Oscar nomination for her performance as the youngest March sister, Amy. About the latter . . . I really admired her portrayal of the older Amy March. But I found her performance as the younger Amy rather exaggerated. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why she had received an Oscar nomination in the first place.

Jacqueline Durran won the film’s only Academy Award – namely for Best Costume Design. Did she deserve it? I honestly do not believe she did. I did enjoy some of her designs, especially for the older Amy March, as shown below:

I found the costumes worn by Pugh, Streep and many extras in the Paris sequences very attractive and an elegant expression of fashion from the late 1860s. Otherwise, I found Durran’s costumes for this film rather questionable. I realize both she and Gerwig were attempting to portray the March family as some kind of 19th century version of “hippies”. But even non-traditional types like the Marches would not wear their clothing in such a slap-dash manner with petticoat hems hanging below the skirts, along with bloomers showing, cuts and styles in clothing that almost seemed anachronistic, and wearing no corsets. The latter would be the equivalent of not wearing bras underneath one’s clothing in the 20th and 21st centuries. Someone had pointed out that many of today’s costume designers try to put a “modern twist” to their work in period dramas in order to appeal to modern moviegoers and television viewers. I really wish they would not. The attempt tends to come off as lazy costuming in my eyes. And this tactic usually draws a good deal of criticism from fans of period dramas. So . . . how on earth did Durran win an Oscar for her work in the first place?

I understand that “LITTLE WOMEN” was filmed in various locations around Massachusetts, including Boston and Cambridge. A part of me felt a sense of satisfaction by this news, considering the story’s setting of Concord, Massachusetts. I was surprised to learn that even the Paris sequences were filmed in Ipswich, Massachusetts. However, I must admit that I was not particularly blown away by Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography. Then again, I can say that for just about every adaptation of Alcott’s novel I have ever seen.

There were scenes from “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found memorable. Those include Jo March’s initial meeting with her publisher Mr. Dashwood; Amy March’s conflict with Theodore “Laurie” Laurence over his behavior in Paris; Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s marriage proposal, and especially the montage featuring Beth March’s bout with scarlet fever and its consequences. However . . . I had some problems with Gerwig’s screenplay.

As I have stated earlier, “LITTLE WOMEN” is not the first movie I have seen that utilized the non-linear plot technique. I have seen at least two adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. Two more famous examples of this plot device were the 1995 film, “12 MONKEYS” and two of Christopher Nolan’s movies – 2000’s “MEMENTO” and 2017’s “DUNKIRK”. How can I put this? I feel that Greta Gerwig’s use of non-linear writing had failed the film’s narrative. It simply did not work for me. Except for the brilliant montage featuring Beth’s fate, it seemed as if Gerwig’s writing had scattered all over the place without any real semblance of following Alcott’s plot. If I had not been already familiar with Alcott’s story, I would have found “LITTLE WOMEN” totally confusing.

I also feel that because of Gerwig’s use of the non-linear technique, she managed to inflict a little damage on Alcott’s plot. Despite the excellent scene featuring Laurie’s marriage proposal, I felt that Gerwig had robbed the development of his relationship with Jo. I also believe that Gerwig had diminished Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer. In the film, Bhaer had expressed harsh criticism of Jo’s earlier writing . . . without explaining his opinion. But he never added that Jo had the potential to write better stories than her usual melodrama crap. Why did Gerwig deleted this aspect of Professor Bhaer’s criticism? In order to make him look bad? To set up the idea of Jo ending the story as a single woman, because that was Alcott’s original intent? Did Gerwig consider the original version of this scene a detriment to feminist empowerment? I am also confused as to why Gerwig allowed the March family to push her into considering Professor Bhaer as a potential mate for Jo? This never happened in the novel. Jo had come to her decision to marry the professor on her own perogative. She did not have to be pushed into this decision. Come to think of it, exactly how did Jo’s fate end in the movie? I am confused. Did she marry Bhaer after rushing to the train station in order to stop him from leaving for California? Or did she remain single? Whatever.

And why on earth did she position Amy and Laurie’s first meeting after the former’s hand had been caned by her school teacher? Gerwig had transformed an incident that had taught Amy a lesson about self-respect and generated the Marches’ righteous anger against a schoolteacher’s abuse to one of comic relief and a cute rom.com meet for Amy and Laurie. What the hell? Someone had once complained that Gerwig may have assumed that everyone was familiar with Alcott’s story when she wrote this screenplay. And I agree with that person. Earlier I had questioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to award the Best Costume Design statuette to Jacqueline Durran and nominate Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress. But I also have to question the organization’s decision to nominate Gerwig’s writing for Best Adapted Screenplay. I honestly believe she did not deserve it.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found admirable. I was certainly impressed by some of the film’s dramatic moments. And there were a handful of performances from the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen and Meryl Streep that truly impressed me. But I cannot deny that the other members of the cast gave either first-rate or solid performances. In the end, I did not like the movie.

I believe “LITTLE WOMEN” should have never been nominated for Best Picture. Greta Gerwig’s use of the nonlinear technique did not serve Louisa May Alcott’s plot very well. If I had not been familiar with the novel’s plot, I would have found this movie confusing. Aside from Ronan’s Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, I feel that the other nominations and Best Costume Design win were undeserved. And a part of me feels a sense of relief that Gerwig had never received a nomination for Best Director.

“TAP ROOTS” (1948) Review

“TAP ROOT” (1948) Review

I am sure that many are aware of Mississippi-born Confederate soldier-turned-Unionist Newton Knight and his formation of the “Free State of Jones”, which opposed Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War. I first heard about Knight and his men while watching Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, “THE CIVIL WAR”. But I had no idea that knowledge of this little corner of Civil War history went back even further.

Recently, Hollywood released a movie version about Knight and his followers in the 2016 historical drama, “FREE STATE OF JONES”. However . . . some seventy-four years earlier, a novel titled “Tap Roots”, which had been written by James H. Street, hit the bookstores. It told the story of a cotton planter, his family and a newspaper publisher; who had decided to remain neutral during the first year of the Civil War. Unfortunately, their decision to remain neutral led to disastrous consequences for the planter and his family, along with other local men who decided to follow them. Six years later in 1948, Universal Pictures made a movie adaptation of Street’s novel.

In a nutshell . . . “TAP ROOT” begins in the fall of 1860. Northern Mississippi plantation owner Big Sam Dabney and his son Hoab express concern over Abraham Lincoln’s election as the 16th president and the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union. Both men begin to consider having Levington County in Lebanon Valley, location of the family’s cotton plantation, remain neutral if a civil war breaks out. Meanwhile, Hoab’s older daughter, Morna Dabney, becomes engaged with Army officer, Clay McIvor. Younger sister Aven is jealous, due to also being in love with Clay. As for Morna, local newspaper owner Keith Alexander becomes attracted to her.

Before 1860 ends, Big Sam dies, leaving Hoab in full control of the family’s neutral stance. And poor Morna has a riding accident, leaving her physically disabled and her engagement to Clay in jeopardy. Apparently, the latter is unable to maintain interest in a disabled woman and transforms his sexual interest to Morna’s younger sister, Aven. This gives Keith the opportunity to court Morna and help her recover from Clay’s rejection. However, Mississippi secedes from the Union, driving Hoab, Keith and the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend, Tishomingo, to organize Levington County’s neutral stance and secession from Mississippi.

There are aspects of “TAP ROOTS” that I found admirable. Alexander Golitzen’s production designs for a Northern Mississippi community between 1860 and 1861 struck me as pretty admirable, if not mind blowing. I could say the same about Yvonne Wood’s costume designs. However, there were some signs of 1940s fashion getting in the way, especially in the men’s costumes. The shoulders for Van Heflin’s jackets struck me as so wide that I found myself wondering if he had portrayed a time traveler from the 1940s. On the other hand, I found Winton C. Hooch and Lionel Lindon’s photography of the Southern California and North Carolina locations rather beautiful, thanks to its sharp color. And I thought director George Marshall did an admirable job with the film’s action scenes. I was especially impressed by the final conflict between Levington County’s “rebels” and the local Confederate forces. Between Marshall’s direction, Hooch and Lindon’s photography, and Milton Carruth’s editing, that final action sequence proved to be one of the film’s finer aspects.

If I must be honest, I did not have any problems with the performances featured in “TAP ROOTS”. Well . . . with most of the performances. Van Heflin gave an entertaining, yet commanding performance as the cynical newspaper editor Keith Alexander. Susan Hayward was equally commanding as Southern belle Moana Dabney, who endured her own trials while her own personal life fell apart. I did not care for the character of Clay McIvor, who struck me as something of a jerk; but I cannot deny that Whitfield Connor did a solid job in bringing his character to life. A very young Julie London really held her own as Moana’s younger sister, Aven Dabney, who managed to win Clay’s love from Moana, following the latter’s riding accident. Russell Simpson gave a entertaining performance as Moana’s colorful grandfather, Big Sam Dabney. Ruby Dandridge, mother of Dorothy Dandridge, gave a solid performance as the Dabneys’ housekeeper, Dabby. And I can say the same about Richard Long’s portrayal of Moana’s younger brother, Bruce Dabney; Arthur Shields as Reverend Kirkland; and Sondra Rogers as Shellie Dabney.

Despite the solid performances that permeated “TAP ROOTS”, two of them proved to be problematic for me. First, there was Ward Bond’s portrayal of Hoab Dabney, the Mississippi planter who not only inherit the family’s cotton plantation following his father’s death, but also the latter’s plans for a neutral Mississippi. I might as well say it. I found Bond’s performance to be an exercise in histrionics. I found this surprising since Bond has never struck me as a hammy acting. I wish that director George Marshall had found a way to rein in his acting – especially in one scene in which Hoab came into conflict with Moana over her past relationship with Clay McIvor. Alas, I thought Bond gave his hammiest performance in that one scene. The other problematic performance came from Boris Karloff, who portrayed the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend and retainer, Tishomingo. Mind you, Karloff gave a competent and subtle performance as one of the few sensible characters in this movie. And although many may have been put off by a British actor portraying a Native American, I was surprised to discover that Karloff had possessed both English and East Indian ancestry from both of his parents. I do not know if that gave the actor a pass, considering he still lacked any Native American ancestry. But if I really had a problem with Karloff’s performance is that he had portrayed Tishomingo as if the character was an Englishman. Even if Karloff had been portraying a white American, I still would have found his performance slightly problematic.

And what about the narrative for “TAP ROOTS”? Did I like it? Honestly? No. For me, the 1948 movie had failed to impress me. And this is a pity. I believe the problem stemmed from the movie’s original source, the 1942 novel. Author James H. Street had claimed he was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, when he wrote his novel. However, out of fear that Knight’s life was too controversial – namely his common-law marriage to former slave Rachel Knight – Street changed the nature of Knight’s story. The leading characters of “TAP ROOTS” were portrayed as members of Mississippi’s planter class. They opposed slavery – at least one or two characters had claimed this – but also owned slaves. But aside from the Dabneys’ “faithful” housekeeper Dabby, all other slaves were minor characters who barely spoke. If a movie is going to have its main characters claim to be anti-slavery, why ignore the topic for the rest of the film? Newton Knight’s grandfather was a major slave owner in northern Mississippi during the early 19th century. But Knight and his father had opposed slavery and became yeoman farmers who never owned slaves. Knight had been an Army deserter and managed to successfully opposed the Confederate authority in Jones County between 1863 and 1865. The Daubey family and Keith Alexander had no such success in “TAP ROOTS”. And I never understood this. Why did Street and later, the movie’s writers did not follow Knight’s Civil War experiences? What was the point of creating this story if they were not willing to closely follow Knight’s conflict with the Confederate authorities? Why not allow the Daubey family to be yeoman farmers who opposed slavery? Street and the filmmakers could have still kept out Newton Knight’s relationship with Rachel Knight.

Instead, I found myself watching a movie in which the main protagonists claimed they opposed slavery, yet practiced it and barely touched upon the subject for most of the film. The movie literally dragged its feet between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. And although I disliked Moana Dabney’s romance with the unworthy Clay McIvor, I found Keith Alexander’s “courtship” of her rather troubling. In Keith’s attempt to get Moana to forget about Clay, he resorted to bouts of manhandling her that seemed to border on sexual assault. For some reason, this reminded me of the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler relationship from “GONE WITH THE WIND”. And not in a good way. I also had a problem with the film’s portrayal of Lebanon Valley’s citizens. I noticed that the film seemed to portray them as mindless citizens who followed the Dabneys’ anti-Confederate stance without any real explanation. Like the Dabney slaves, Hoab’s followers lacked any real agency. Did author James Street, along with the filmmakers of this movie really lacked the courage to convey a story about how a Southern-born yeoman farmer and others from his class had successfully fought against the Confederacy? Or even exploring his anti-slavery stance? Back in the 1940s?

In the end, this is my real problem with “TAP ROOTS”. James Street and producer Walter Wanger took a historical event from the Civil War and used fiction – a novel and its Hollywood adaptation – to render it toothless. Its main historical figure Newton Knight had been transformed into a borderline hysterical and controlling cotton planter and member of the elite. The story failed to explore what led many of the planter’s combatants to follow him. The story barely touched upon the topic of anti-slavery, while including slaves as minor and background characters. And the movie dumped some tepid attempt at a “GONE WITH THE WIND” clone romance to keep movie goers interested. The movie had some virtues. But in the end, the movie vague adaptation of Newton Knight’s Civil War experiences simply fell flat. I hope and pray I am never inclined to watch this film again.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

Despite its success at the box office, the second film in the Disney STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, proved to be something of a publicity disaster. Many film critics loved it. An even greater number of moviegoers disliked it. Many have attributed this schism within the STAR WARS fandom as a contributing factor to the box office failure of “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”. To regain the universal love of the fandom, Disney Studios and Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm brought back J.J. Abrams, who had directed “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”, to handled the trilogy’s third entry, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

Disney Studios and Lucasfilm heralded “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” as not only the end of the franchise’s Sequel Trilogy, but also the end of the Skywalker family saga, which began under George Lucas. The 2019 movie began a year after “THE LAST JEDI”. The Resistance under Leia Organa has been hiding from the ever growing threat of the First Order, which has been ruled by her son, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. Leia has also been training Force acolyte Rey, while orchestrating the Resistance’s attempts to rebuild the organization and form contacts with other worlds and factions throughout the Galaxy. However, the film’s opening crawl reveals that Emperor Sheev Palpatine is still alive, despite being tossed down the second Death Star’s reactor shaft by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader, while being electrocuted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Palpatine vows revenge against the Galaxy for its rejection of him and his power. Leia charges Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey to search for Palpatine and destroy him. Kylo Ren also seeks Palpatine with the intent to kill the latter and maintain his own supremacy of the First Order. Kylo Ren eventually manages to find Palpatine on the remote planet of Exegol. He learns that his former master, Snoke, had merely been a puppet of Palpatine. And the former Emperor wants him to find Rey and kill her in order to remove any possible threat to the resurgence of the Sith Order.

When I learned that J.J. Abrams would return to the “STAR WARS” franchise to conclude the Sequel Trilogy, my reactions were mixed. On one hand, I disliked his handling of “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. On the other hand, I completely loathed what Rian Johnson had done with “THE LAST JEDI”. And when Abrams had promised to do right by the Finn character, which had been so badly mishandled by Johnson . . . well, some part of me did not know whether to welcome Abrams’ return or be leery of it.

There were aspects of “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” that I liked. I was impressed by Dan Mindel’s cinematography for the movie, especially in scenes that featured the planet of Pasaana. I thought Mindel did an excellent job of utilizing the country of Jordan for those scenes, as shown below:

I was also impressed how Mindel shot the visual effects for the last duel between Rey and Kylo Ren among the second Death Star ruins on the Endor moon. Some of the film’s action sequences struck me as pretty memorable, thanks to Abrams’ direction, Mindel’s cinematography and stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart. I am referring to those scenes that feature the heroes’ occasional encounters with the First Order on Psaana and aboard the First Order star ship. I was also relieved to see the trilogy’s three protagonists – Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron – and Chewbacca spend a great deal of the movie together. The four characters managed to create a pretty solid dynamic, thanks to the performances of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Joonas Suotamo and it is a shame that audiences never got a chance to experience this dynamic in the trilogy’s other two films.

There was an aspect of the film’s narrative that delivered a great deal of satisfaction to me. It is a small matter, but involved Rey’s Jedi training. I am very relieved that Abrams finally allowed Rey to receive substantial training from a mentor, who happened to be Leia. A year had passed between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Rey’s first scene established that Leia had been training her during that year. The movie also established in a flashback that Leia had received her training from her brother Luke Skywalker. Why did I find this satisfying? Most of Luke’s own Jedi training had also occurred during the period of a year – between the events of “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. And during this period, he had received his training from . . . you know, I have no idea on how Luke managed to complete his training. Even after so many years. To this day, it is a mystery. And this is why I am grateful that Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio had made it clear that Leia had continued Rey’s training between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

The performances featured in the movie struck me as pretty solid, especially from the leads – Ridley, Boyega, Isaac and Adam Driver. The movie also featured solid, yet brief performances from returning cast members such as Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billie Lourd, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Carrie Fisher. Dominic Monaghan, Naomie Ackie, Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant all made nice additions to the trilogy. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian. He was one of the bright spots of this film. Hell, it was even nice to see Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles again, despite his brief appearance. But if I must be honest, I was not particularly blown away by any of them – including the usually outstanding Boyega. Actually, I take that back. There was one cast member who provided a moment of superb acting. I refer to Joonas Suotamo, who did an excellent job in conveying a true moment of grief and despair for Chewbacca’s character in the film’s second half.

But I do have a complaint about one particular performance. And it came, from all people, Ian McDiarmid who portrayed the surprisingly alive Emperor Palpatine. How can I put this? This Palpatine seemed like a ghost of his former self. No. Wait. That was phrased wrong. What I meant to say is that McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine in this film seemed like an exaggeration in compare to his performances in the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Exaggerated . . . ham-fisted. I found McDiarmid’s scenes so wince-inducing that I could barely watch them. However, aware of McDiarmid’s true skills as an actor, I finally realized that his bad performance may have been a result of J.J. Abrams’ direction. The latter’s failure as a director in Palpatine’s scenes and failure to visualize the character as a subtle and manipulative villain really impeded McDiarmid’s performance.

Unfortunately, McDiarmid’s performance was not my only problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. I had a host of others. Many film critics have bashed J.J. Abrams for trying to reject what Rian Johnson had set up in “THE LAST JEDI”. I find this criticism ironic, considering that Johnson had rejected a great deal of what Abrams had set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Not that it really matters to me. I disliked “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I disliked “THE LAST JEDI”. And if I must be brutally honest, I disliked “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Like the other two films, I thought the 2019 movie was pretty bad.

My first problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” was its main narrative. Basically, the entire story revolved around the heroes and the First Order’s search for the now alive Palpatine. The film’s opening crawl pretty much announced to movie audiences that Palpatine was alive without bothering presenting this revelation as a surprise. It is simply the old case of “tell and not show” that has hampered a great number of fictional works throughout time. I believe this narrative device especially does not suit a plot for a motion picture or a television series, because it comes off as a cheat. It is lazy writing. Worse, most of the main characters spend a great deal of the movie searching for Palpatine. And when they finally discover him, no one bothered to ask how he had escaped death after being allegedly killed by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. How did Palpatine survive being tossed to his death, while being electrocuted by Force lightning? Well, STAR WARS fans finally learned the truth in the film’s novelization written by Rae Carson. The only major character who immediately managed to find Palpatine was Kylo Ren, who used a Sith wayfinder . . . or compass. Meanwhile, Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca had to resort to following clues to lead to first a Sith dagger, and later, a Sith wayfinder – traveling from one planet to another at a dizzying speed. This whole search for a wayfinder and Palpatine struck me as unnecessarily rushed. I do not think it is a good thing when a person complains about the fast pacing of a movie with a 142 minutes running time. For me, this exposed the hollow nature of the movie’s narrative.

As I had earlier stated, the majority of the film’s narrative is centered around the protagonists’ determination to find Palpatine. A part of me wonders how did the Resistance and the First Order had planned to kill him, once he was discovered. And yes, the First Order’s leader, Kylo Ren, also wanted Palpatine’s dead. But how did any of them plan to kill him? The movie never conveyed any of the other characters’ plans. Worse, this search for Palpatine had transformed the movie into some space opera version of both the INDIANA JONES and NATIONAL TREASURE movie franchises. Was that why Abrams had decided to expose Palpatine’s return or resurrection in the film’s opening crawl? So he could have his major characters embark on this “Indiana Jones” style hunt for Palpatine from the get go? Or relive the whole “map to Luke Skywalker” search from “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that proved to be so irrelevant? Well guess what? The “Search for Palpatine” proved to be equally irrelevant. Watching Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca hunt down artifacts that would lead them to Palpatine was one of the more ridiculous aspects of this film. I felt as if I had watched a hybrid STAR WARS/INDIANA JONES/NATIONAL TREASURE movie. It was fucking exhausting.

Returning to Palpatine, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that during the thirty years he was missing, he had created a new fleet of Star Destroyers, each ship equipped with a planet-killing laser. Thirty years. Is that how long it took Palpatine (or his clone) to create a fleet of planet killing Star Destroyers? Is that why he had taken so long construct these ships? If one Star Destroyer can destroy a planet, why did he bother to wait so long to use any of them to re-take the Galaxy? Three decades? I wish I could say more, but I do not see the point. Is a Star Destroyer strong enough to be used as a “base” for a laser powerful enough to destroy a planet?

I have also noticed that the lightsaber duels featured in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” . . . well, they were bad. Quite a travesty, if I must be honest. I have never been that impressed by the lightsaber duels in the Sequel Trilogy, but even I must admit that Kylo Ren’s duels with both Finn and Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” were somewhat better than the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Darth Vader duel in “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. But after the 2015 movie . . . dear God. Rey and Kylo Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards in “THE LAST JEDI” struck me as something of a joke. But Rey and Kylo Ren’s duels in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” were simply abysmal. Dan Mindel’s cinematography and the movie’s visual effects team could do nothing to hide the laughable nature of the duels. Both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver seemed to spend a great deal of their time slashing at each with no semblance of swordsmanship whatsoever. Where is Nick Gillard when you need him?

Not surprisingly, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” revealed a number of Force abilities that appeared for the first (or second time) in the STAR WARS franchise. The Force bond between Rey and Kylo Ren, which was created by Snoke in the previous film; allowed the First Order leader to snatch a necklace from the Resistance fighter’s neck in a violent manner – despite the fact that the pair was thousands of miles from each other. And in another scene, while Rey faced Palpatine and Kylo Ren faced the Knights of the Ren, she was able to hand over a lightsaber to him – despite being miles apart. How did they do this? I have not the foggiest idea. I do not even understand how Abrams and Terrio managed to create this ability in the first place. And frankly, I find it rather stupid and implausible. Force healing. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a Force user has the ability to heal. How did this come about? I have not the foggiest idea. If this had been the case during the events of the Prequel Trilogy, chances are Anakin Skywalker would have never become a Sith Lord. The Force healing ability made its debut in the Disney Plus series, “THE MANDALORIAN” . . . I think. However, Kylo Ren had the ability to use Force healing. So did Rey. I do not know who taught them or how . . . fuck it! I will just treat this as another plot device that came out of Lucasfilm’s ass. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also revealed that the “resurrected” Palpatine had the ability to transfer one person’s essence into the body of another. How? More contrived writing.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the matter of one Leia Organa. Although a part of me still believes Lucasfilm should have killed off Leia Organa in “THE LAST JEDI”, in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death a year before the film’s release; I must admit that Abrams did an admirable job in utilizing old footage of the actress from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, digital special effects and Billie Lourd as a body double for some of Leia’s scenes. But I hated the way Leia was finally killed off. It was similar to Luke’s ludicrous death in “THE LAST JEDI”. I HATE how Disney Studios and Lucasfilm portray the Force as some kind of energy that can kill an individual if it was used too long or too hard. As if the Force user was some kind of goddamn battery. I really hate that. And this is why I dislike Leia’s death just as much as I disliked Luke’s.

In fact, this movie seemed to be filled with contrived writing. As for the Rebel Alli . . . I mean the Resistance, I noticed that their numbers had grown since the end of “THE LAST JEDI”. Had Leia managed to recruit new members for the Resistance’s cause during the year between the two films? If so, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” did not hint one way or the other. I mean there were barely enough Resistance members to crowd the Millennium Falcon in the last film’s finale. And the narrative for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” seemed to hint that aside from Maz Kanata, hardly anyone new had bothered to join the Resistance during that year between the two films. So . . . if this is true, why did the number of Resistance members seemed to have tripled during that year between the two movies? Among the new members is one Beaumont Kin, portrayed by “LOST” alumni Dominic Monaghan.

Speaking of characters – the arcs for the major characters have proven to be as disastrous as those featured in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and especially “THE LAST JEDI”. I was surprised to see Maz Kanata as a member of the Resistance. Her recruitment into the organization was never seen on screen. Even worse, the former smuggler and tavern owner was basically reduced to a background character with one or two lines. Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s time was certainly wasted for this film. Although I thought Rose Tico was a promising character, I never liked how Rian Johnson had used her as a very unnecessary mentor for Finn in “THE LAST JEDI”. However, my hopes that J.J. Abrams would do her character justice in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” proved to be fruitless. In this film, Rose had been reduced from supporting character to minor character, who spent most of her appearances interacting with Monaghan’s Beaumont Kin in three or four scenes. What a damn waste! Speaking of waste . . . poor Domhnall Gleeson. His character, General Armitage Hux, was another character whose presence was wasted in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Audiences learned in the film’s second half that he had become a mole for the Resistance, supplying the group information on the First Order’s movements. The problem with this scenario is that film had Hux explained that he was simply betraying his leader, Kylo Ren. But his reason for this betrayal was never fully explained, let alone developed. Harrison Ford returned in a brief cameo appearance as the ghost of Han Solo. Wait a minute. Let me re-phrase that. Ford returned as a figment of Kylo Ren’s imagination . . . as Han Solo. How was his performance? Unmemorable.

“THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also featured a good number of new characters. Probably too many. I have already mentioned Resistance fighter Beaumont Kim. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio also introduced Jannah, a former stormtrooper who had deserted from the First Order like Finn. When she was introduced, I had assumed that Finn’s background would finally be explored. Never happened. Worse, Abrams only allowed Jannah – a new character – to speculate on her background in one line spoken to Lando Calrissian. And nothing else. Next, there was Zorri Bliss, a smuggler and former paramour of Poe Dameron’s, who provided the Resistance with information on how to interpret the Sith dagger in their possession. Aside from this task, Bliss managed to miraculously survive the destruction of Kijimi, her homeworld to participate in the final battle against Palpatine and the First Order. Through her, audiences learned that Poe was a former spice smuggler . . . a drug smuggler. More on this, later. And finally, we have Allegiant General Enric Pryde, who came out of no where to become Kylo Ren’s top commander. It occurred to me that Pryde turned out to be the Sequel Trilogy’s General Grievous. I love the Prequel Trilogy, but I never liked Grievous. He should have been introduced a lot earlier than the Prequel Trilogy’s last film. And Enric Pryde should have been introduced earlier than “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It would have made his brief conflict with Hux a lot more believable.

I read somewhere that the character of Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is the most popular in the Sequel Trilogy. I am a firm admirer of actor Adam Driver and I thought he gave a solid performance as Kylo Ren. But . . . the character has never been a favorite of mine. I could complain that Kylo Ren is bad written, but I can honestly say the same about the other major (and minor) characters. Yet for some reason, Lucasfilm, a good number of the STAR WARS and media seemed to think the stars shined on Kylo Ren’s ass. I hate it when the glorification of a story or character is unearned and then shoved down the throats of the public. In “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, Kylo Ren’s character arc proved to be just as rushed and full of writing contrivances as his relationship arc in “THE LAST JEDI”. Honestly. Unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Original Trilogy, Kylo Ren’s redemption was never properly set up in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It merely sprung up in the film’s last third act so that Abrams (the unoriginal storyteller that he is) could allow him to mimic his grandfather’s arc. Looking back on Kylo Ren’s character, he should have continued his arc from the end of “THE LAST JEDI” – as the main villain. Instead, Abrams and Lucasfilm brought back Palpatine so they could have Kylo Ren repeat Anakin’s arc and avoid dying as the film’s Big Bad. This decision only brought about bad writing. And then we have Poe Dameron. In some ways, Poe proved to be the worst written character in this trilogy. It almost seemed as if Lucasfilm, Abrams and Rian Johnson did not know what to do with him. His death was initially set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and he spent most of that film off-screen, only to make a miraculous re-appearance near the end, with no real explanation how he had survived the crash on Jakku. In “THE LAST JEDI”, Johnson had transformed Poe into some hot-headed Latino stereotype, who questioned the decisions of the Resistance’s two female leaders – Leia and Admiral Holdo. And “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” made another revision to Poe’s character. The movie revealed that Poe had a past romance with the smuggler Zorri Bliss and was a spice runner (drug smuggler). How quaint. Abrams and Terrio took the only leading character in the Sequel Trilogy portrayed by a Latino actor and transformed him into a drug lord. Where the two writers watching “NARCO” or old reruns of “MIAMI VICE” when they made this decision to Poe’s character? God only knows. I do know that in my eyes, this was another mark of racism on Lucasfilm’s belt.

Speaking of racism . . . what on earth happened to Finn? Following Rian Johnson’s shoddy treatment of his character in “THE LAST JEDI”, J.J. Abrams had assured the franchise’s fans that he would do justice to Finn. And he failed. Spectacularly. Did Finn even have a character arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”? The former stormtrooper spent most of the film either participating in the search for Palpatine, while keeping one eye on the constantly distracted Rey, like some lovesick puppy. He seemed to lack his own story in this film. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” could have provided the perfect opportunity for Lucasfilm to further explore his background as a former stormtrooper. With the creation of Jannah, I thought it would finally happen. Instead, the movie focused more on Jannah’s questions about her origins. And Lucasfilm and Abrams wasted the chance to even consider at subplot regarding Finn and the First Order’s stormtroopers. Boyega also spent most of the film hinting that he had something important to tell Rey. Many believe he was trying to confess that he loved her. That is because the movie DID NOT allow him to finally make his confession. Even worse, audiences learned that he wanted to confess his suspicions that he might be Force sensitive. And Lucasfilm confirmed this. Why on earth could they NOT confirm Finn’s Force sensitivity on film? Why? What was the point in keeping this a secret until AFTER the film’s release?

I also noticed one other disturbing aspect about Finn . . . or John Boyega. I just discovered that John Boyega had been demoted by Disney Studios and Lucasfilm from leading actor to supporting actor. Only this had happened a lot sooner that I thought. In the studio’s Academy Awards campaign for “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, it pushed Boyega for a Best Actor nomination. But in both “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, the studio pushed him for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Yet, for all three movies, Lucasfilm and Disney also pushed a white actor for Best Actor. They pushed Harrison Ford (along with Boyega) “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. They pushed Mark Hamill for Best Actor in “THE LAST JEDI”. Yet, both Ford and Hamill were clearly part of the supporting cast. And they pushed Adam Driver for Best Actor for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Hmmmm . . . Driver went from supporting actor to lead actor, while Boyega was demoted from lead actor to supporting actor. A few more notches in Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. God, I am sick to my stomach. And poor John Boyega. He was poorly misused by Lucasfilm, Disney Studios, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams.

As for Rey . . . I am completely over her as a character. Although I found her Mary Sue qualities annoying, I found her arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a complete mess. The only good that came from her arc was the fact that Leia had trained her in the ways of the Force for a year. Otherwise, I had to grit my teeth and watch her behave in this chaotic manner throughout the entire film. Every time she and her friends were in the middle of some situation, she would get distracted by Kylo Ren’s presence and break away. Why? So she could kill him . . . I guess. Apparently, killing Kylo Ren was more important to her than completing a mission for the Resistance. Why? I have no idea. The movie’s narrative never explained this behavior of hers. And it gets worse. Rey eventually learns that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Granddaughter. Palpatine managed to knock up some woman years ago and conceive a son after he had become Emperor. That son conceived Rey with her mother before dying. Palpatine, who had been alive all of these years, never bothered to get his hands on Rey . . . until this movie. Why? I have no idea.

During Rey and Kylo Ren’s final duel, she managed to shove her lightsaber blade into his gut. And then she used the Force to heal him. Why? Perhaps she felt guilty for nearly killing him. Who knows? Later, she is killed by Palpatine (who could not make up his mind on whether he wanted her alive or dead) before Kylo Ren Force healed her. And then she planted a big wet kiss on his pucker. Lucasfilm and Disney claimed that the kiss was an act of gratitude on her part. I did not realize that gratitude could be so sexual. Nevertheless, Lucasfilm and Disney ensured that the only leading male that Rey would exchange bodily fluids with was one who shared her white skin. Despite the fact that this . . . man had more or less abused her – mentally and physically – since “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. There was no real development that led to this sexual kiss of gratitude. But I guess Disney and Lucasfilm were determined that Rey would not exchange a kiss with the two non-white men. Another notch on Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. Oh . . . and by the way, the film or Lucasfilm had established that Rey and Kylo Ren were part of some Force dyad. What is a Force dyad? Two Force-sensitive people who had created a Force bond, making them one in the Force. And this happened because Rey and Kylo Ren were grandchildren of Sith Lords. I have never heard of anything so ludicrous in my life, especially since it was established in “THE LAST JEDI” that Snoke – a creation of Palpatine, by the way – had created their mental bond. How he did that I have no idea.

You know what? I could go on and on about “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. But I now realize it would take a goddamn essay to explain why I dislike this movie so much. I should have realized that J.J. Abrams’ promises that he would fix the problems of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” was worth shit in the wind. He, Chris Terrio, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm only made the Sequel Trilogy worse . . . as if that was possible. Not only was “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a waste of my time, so was the entire Sequel Trilogy. And it wasted the acting skills of its talented cast led by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver for so many years.

“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” (1959) Review

“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” (1959) Review

Many of the Westerns produced and/or directed by John Ford were usually set during the post-Civil War era. Yet, the topic of the 1861-1865 conflict managed to worm its way or have some kind of influence upon either those films’ narratives or its characters. However, I can only recall two films directed by Ford that were actually set during the war. And one of them is the 1959 film, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”.

Not only is “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” one of Ford’s rare Civil War productions, it is also one of his few films that is based on a historical event or figure. The 1959 movie is a loose adaptation of Harold Sinclair’s 1956 novel. And both Ford’s movie and Sinclair’s novel is a fictionalized account of then Colonel Benjamin Grierson‘s Raid through Mississippi and Northern Louisiana in 1863. The movie began with the fictional version of Grierson, Colonel John Marlowe, receiving orders from Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to lead his brigade behind Confederate lines from La Grange, Tennessee to destroy a major railroad and supply depot at Newton Station, Mississippi. Marlowe’s mission is to destroy the Confederate supply line and divert enemy’s army from Grant’s new plan to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. A cynical army doctor named Major Henry Kendall is been assigned to accompany the brigade. The brigade stops at a Mississippi plantation named Greenbriar for a brief respite. Greenbriar’s mistress, Miss Hannah Hunter,and her slave housekeeper Lukey manages to eavesdrop on a staff meeting, while Marlowe discusses his battle strategy. To protect the mission’s secrecy, Marlowe forces the two women to accompany the brigade.

Since the film is a fictionalized account of this historic event, all of the characters are fictional creations – with the exception of Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Instead of portraying Grierson, leading man John Wayne portrayed a cavalry brigade commander named John Marlowe. Like Grierson, Marlowe was a civilian before the war. Whereas Grierson was a former music teacher and band leader, the Marlowe character’s former occupation turned out to be a railroad construction engineer. Grierson had been married during the Civil War. Marlowe was a widower. More importantly, Wayne was roughly in his early 50s when he shot the film. Grierson was three months shy of his 37th birthday during the actual raid. And since this movie is a fictionalized account of the raid, there were other differences between its narrative and the actual historical event.

Most film critics tend express enjoyment of “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, but at the same time, dismiss it as one of Ford’s lesser works. How do I feel about this? I honestly do not know. Some of of Ford’s most highly acclaimed films are not particularly favorites of mine. However, I do consider “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” to be one of my favorite Ford movies. My attitude could be attributed to being a Civil War history buff. But there have been plenty of Civil War movie and television productions that I simply do not like.

Mind you, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” had its problems. I found some of the performances either slightly over-the-top . . . to the point of some characters coming off as one-note caricatures. A good example would be the two Confederate deserters that Marlowe’s brigade had encountered. I find it ironic that although African-American characters like the maid Lukey were not portrayed with any real depth, they did not strike me as one-dimensional as the Confederate deserters or the military school commandant/reverend that Marlowe and his men had also encountered. Even some of the men under Marlowe’s command nearly struck me as one-dimensional – like Deacon Clump; Major Richard Gray, who served as leader of the brigade’s scouts; and a handful of other enlisted characters. Even the film’s leading female character, Hannah Hunter, initially came off as a caricature of Scarlett O’Hara. Fortunately, her character managed to develop throughout most of the film.

There were two aspects of the plot that left me scratching my head. I understand that Marlowe had forced Hannah Hunter and her maid Lukey to accompany his forces during the raid, because they had overheard his military plans. A part of me wondered why on earth did he stop at Miss Hunter’s plantation and prematurely exposed his brigade’s presence in Confederate-held Northern Mississippi in the first place? Following the brigade’s encounter with two Confederate deserters and an elderly judge who wanted to capture them, Marlowe allowed the judge (who came from Newton Station) to take the deserters captive and return to the Mississippi town. First of all, Union authorities tend to offer amnesty and restoration of U.S. citizenship to Confederate deserters – at least by 1863. And why would Marlowe be stupid enough to allow that judge – whether he had his prisoners or not – to return to Newton Station and warn its citizens of the incoming Union forces? Throughout most of the film, Marlowe managed to project an air of professionalism, despite his lack of pre-war experience or training as an Army officer. Yet, he made these two stupid decisions regarding the brigade’s stop at Greenbriar and the two Confederate deserters. And the screenplay never acknowledge this stupidity.

Not only did Benjamin Grierson and his brigade destroyed Confederate rail tracks, trains, bridges, storehouses and warehouses, the brigade also freed slaves. And yet . . . I do not recall any slaves being emancipated by Marlowe’s forces in the film. Why Ford and the film’s two screenwriters – John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin had failed to include this in the movie, I do not know. Racism perhaps? Yet, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” did not ignore the topic, thanks to Lukey’s presence and Major Kendall’s snide comments about the South’s dependence on slavery. The film was willing to make the occasional vague reference to slavery. Yet . . . it ignored Grierson’s anti-slavery actions during the raid. And the African-Americans encountered by the fictional Marlowe’s brigade in the movie remained enslaved. Ever since I first saw Ford’s 1956 movie, “THE SEARCHERS”, some of his films have always struck me as being politically confusing – as if he could never make up his mind whether some of the messages and themes were conservative or liberal. For me, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” is another example of his political confusion.

Although I had my problems with “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, I still managed to enjoy it very much. It helped that the movie benefited from a famous historical event like “Grierson’s Raid” in the first place. This allowed screenwriters John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin to include exciting action sequences like the brigade’s occasional encounters with pursuing Confederate forces, the actual Newton Station attack, the brigade’s tension-filled effort to evade Confederate forces, while traveling through a Louisiana swamp; and an amusing battle encounter with students from a local military school. I was especially impressed with the Newton Station attack and the film’s last battle sequence that featured the brigade’s efforts to overcome a Confederate-held bridge in order to evade pursuing enemy forces and ride on to Union-held Baton Rouge. I thought Ford, along with film editor Jack Murray did an exceptional job with these two major action sequences. Not only did these two sequences managed to emphasize the heat, the blood and tragedy of war. Actually, there was two other sequences that did an excellent job of emphasizing the tragic nature of war – Major Kendall and a local doctor’s efforts to save the wounded soldiers following the Newton Station battle and Lukey’s death.

When it comes to costume designs in a John Ford movie, one can always count on them being rather mediocre – especially in one of his period films. The only Ford period film I can recall that featured eye-catching costumes was his 1936 movie, “MARY OF SCOTLAND”“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” featured one major female character and a scattering of minor ones. Yet, the women’s costumes in this film looked as if it came straight out of Hollywood warehouse. In fact, I checked the movie’s IMDB listing. Frank Beeston Jr. and Ann Peck supervised the film’s costumes. But they did not serve as costume designers. There was no costume designer for the film. Auuughhh! . . . frustrating! Come to think of it, there was no production designer for the film. I find this odd, considering a good deal of the movie was set at the Greenbriar plantation and another major setting was Newton Station. However, I should not be surprised. Aside from the natural beauties of Mississippi and Louisiana, I found nothing exceptional about the film’s production designs.

However, there were two aspects of “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” I truly enjoyed. One of them proved to be William H. Clothier’s photography of Mississippi and Louisiana for the film. Frankly, I found his images to be quite breathtaking – beautiful, sharp and original – as shown in the images below:

If there is one thing I can say about most John Ford films – you can always count upon a first-rate score to support its narratives. “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” marked the only time composer David Buttolph worked on a Ford production. But in my personal opinion, I thought he did an excellent job in providing the film’s score. He also wrote a first-rate title song for the film titled “I Left My Love”, which I felt perfectly captured the ambiance of the U.S. Calvary during the Civil War.

Earlier, I had faulted some of the performances featured in “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, complaining that they had struck me as over-the-top and one-dimensional. Thankfully, I cannot say the same about all of the performances. There were some performances that I found either entertaining, very impressive or both. Granted, I found the performances of both Denver Pyle and Strother Martin, who portrayed the two Confederate deserters, rather broad and clichéd. Yet, I cannot deny they gave very entertaining performances. It is not surprising that the pair eventually became successful character actors. Another performance that caught my attention came from Willis Bouchey, who portrayed one of Marlowe’s regimental commanders Colonel Phil Secord. Bouchey’s Colonel Secord was an ambitious officer who hoped to use his military success for political office and second-guessed a good deal of Marlowe’s decisions. Granted, Bouchey’s performance did not strike me as clichéd as Pyle and Martin’s. But there were moments that it came dangerously close. And I must admit that he also gave a colorful performance. Another colorful performance came from Bing Russell, who portrayed the aggressive trooper Dunker. He must have been a very good actor, because the character came dangerously close to being one of those clichéd characters usually found in Western movies about the U.S. Army. But Russell managed to keep it tight and did an excellent job in conveying Dunker’s tragic fate.

Tennis champion Althea Gibson had been cast as Hannah Hunter’s personal slave, Lukey. Surprisingly, despite the role and the fact that Ms. Gibson was an experienced actress, one would think Lukey dripped with the slave/mammy cliché. I was surprised to discover that after reading Mahin and Rackin’s screenplay, she refused to portray Lukey unless they get rid of the obvious clichés and “slave dialect”. And even more surprising, Ford had capitulated to her demands, despite his past refusal to do so with other performers. Needless to say, Gibson did her best to prevent Lukey from becoming a racial stereotype and gave a pretty competent performance. She had one of the best lines in the movie. Judson Pratt gave a curious, yet very interesting performance as the brigade’s Sergeant Major Kirby. The character was a competent Army veteran, whose only major flaw proved to be his alcoholism. I cannot deny that the film’s use of Kirby’s drinking habit as comic relief was hard to watch. In fact, I found it a little distasteful. Kirby became one of those stock characters from an old Hollywood Western – the alcoholic Irish-American soldier. But Pratt did a good job in conveying Kirby’s competence. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Ken Curtis, O.Z. Whitehead, Carleton Young, Hank Worden, William Leslie, Hoot Gibson, Anna Lee, Basil Ruysdael, Ron Hagerthy and Russell Simpson.

It is a good thing the Hannah Hunter character proved to be a complex and character, because there were times when Mahin and Rackin’s screenplay came dangerously close to portraying her as a Southern belle cliché. However, the writing pair allowed the Miss Hunter to develop. Their efforts were helped by a first-class performance by Constance Towers. Mind you, the actress’ Southern accent did not strike me as convincing, especially in her early scenes. Thankfully, she rose above the “damn Yankees” cliché and gave an interesting portrait forced to rise above her privileged background and survive the turmoils of war. If I had my choice of the most sympathetic character in this film, it would be Major Henry ‘Hank’ Kendall, the brigade’s medical officer. William Holden gave an excellent performance as the observant, compassionate and uber-competent doctor, forced to endure Colonel Marlowe’s hostility and bitter comments about the medical profession. For myself, I believe the Kendall character had one flaw. He came off as a very ideal character – a Gary Stu, if I must be honest. If it was not for Holden’s wry and cynical performance, I would have regarded him as the least interesting character in this film. “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” would mark the first time that John Wayne portrayed a historical figure (or an adaptation of said figure) that was much younger than he was during the film’s setting. Even though John Marlowe could have been portrayed by a younger actor, casting Wayne in the role did not harm the film. Wayne had the good luck to portray one of the film’s most interesting characters. Superficially, Marlowe was the type many filmgoers would regard as typical in Wayne’s filmography – manly, competent and tough. But Marlowe also proved to be a complicated man haunted by the ghost of his wife, who had been killed by an incompetent doctor. Wayne not only skillfully conveyed Marlowe’s petty and ugly bullying of Major Kendall, but also gave a first-rate soliloquy that revealed the drunken officer’s tragic memories of his wife’s death at the hands of an incompetent surgeon.

I realize that “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” has its flaws. It is not regarded as one of John Ford’s best films. I am also aware that the movie had failed to make a profit. This was attributed to John Wayne and William Holden’s high salaries. But as I had stated earlier, it is still one of my favorite Ford movies. Being a Civil War history buff did not influence my opinion. I have seen a good number of Civil War movies that I either disliked or regarded as mediocre or absolute crap. I simply cannot regard “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” as absolute crap. And this is due to John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin’s screenplay, John Ford’s excellent direction and some excellent and interesting performances by a cast led by Wayne and Holden.

1970s Costumes in Movies and Television

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Below are images of fashion during the 1970s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

1970s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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“Apollo 13″ (1995)

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“Casino” (1995)

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“Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002)

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“Dreamgirls” (2006)

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“Rush” (2013)

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“American Hustle” (2013)

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)

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“The Astronaut Wives Club” (2015)

“This Is a Mistake”

“THIS IS A MISTAKE”

I have heard that in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests against police brutality, Disney Parks have decided to change the theme of its Splash Mountain attraction in all of its theme parks. Instead of an attraction based on the 1949 animated film, “SONG OF THE SOUTH” and the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, Disney Parks has decided to change the attraction’s theme to one based on the 2009 animated film, “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”. And I believe this is a big mistake.

First of all, why can Disney Parks not consider the idea of maintaining the present theme of Splash Mountain and create a new one based on “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”? What is the point of erasing the “SONG OF THE SOUTH” theme from its Splash Mountain attraction? “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” theme . . . with a mountain setting? That does not make any sense to me, considering the 2009 movie was set in late 1920s New Orleans and the swamps of Southern Louisiana. “SONG OF THE SOUTH” was set near the region of Stone Mountain, somewhere between Northern and Central Georgia.

If Disney thinks it is being politically correct in the wake of the Black Lives Matters movement, they are mistaken. The Brer Rabbit stories are basically AFRICAN-AMERICAN folklore,which served as a metaphor for the struggles of African-American slaves before and immediately after the Civil War. Three African-Americans on a Georgia plantation had told these stories to Joel Chandler Harris, a white teenager they had befriended during and after the Civil War. Harris had worked for their owner and later, employer. When he later became a journalist and a writer, Harris took those stories and had them published under the “Uncle Remus Tales” title between 1880 and 1907. The character of Uncle Remus served as a metaphor for those three slaves-turned-freedmen, whom Harris had befriended. What Disney Parks is doing is misguided lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement. If Disney Parks really want to pay tribute to the movement, it would maintain Splash Mountain’s original theme and create a new attraction based on “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”.

Now that I think about it, what is really racist about “SONG OF THE SOUTH”? The Uncle Remus character? The fact that he is a former slave? Or that he was friendly with two white kids? Or that he still lived on a plantation after the Civil War? Uncle Remus was based on the three slaves that Joel Harris had befriended on a plantation. How else does anyone thinks Harris had found out about the Brer Rabbit stories? By eavesdropping on the plantation workers? Are people upset that Uncle Remus had served as a narrator, telling these stories to white kids? I also noticed two other aspects of this situation. The 1946 movie was set during the post-Civil War era. One of the film’s main protagonists, a young Georgian white boy named Johnny, who happened to be the son of an Atlanta newspaper journalist in post-Civil War Georgia. Aside from Uncle Remus, Johnny had befriended a poor white girl and the son of a black sharecropper during his family’s visit to his grandmother’s plantation. The movie has nothing to do with reinforcing the so-called “glories” of the pre-Civil War Old South. None of the live-action characters in “SONG OF THE SOUTH” – including Uncle Remus – or the film’s actual plantation setting is featured inside Splash Mountain. So again . . . why does Disney Parks feel it needs to change the attraction’s theme?

The Brer Rabbit stories are metaphors about how generations black Americans had SURVIVED the horrors of American slavery, after they and their ancestors had been dragged to North American and to different parts of the South and forced to work for nothing against their will. Do many people have a problem that comedy was an element in the stories? That is how the original stories were framed. At least “SONG OF THE SOUTH” is actually based on African-American culture or folklore. Despite having an African-American woman as its leading character, “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” is not. It is a movie based on “The Frog Princess”, a 2002 novel written by E.D. Baker, a white American woman. She had based her novel on who based her story on “The Frog Prince”, the 1812 novel written by the Brothers Grimm . . . two white European men.

By replacing the “SONG OF THE SOUTH” theme inside Splash Mountain attraction at the Disney theme parks with one from “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”, Disney Parks is erasing one theme based on African-American culture and replacing it with one based on European culture. Replacing “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” lead character from a white European woman to an African-American woman does not change that fact.

“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries have created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel was due to hit the theaters.

I was even more thrilled that this new movie would be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This new adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release in February 2020, film critics and moviegoers have been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie is so high on the critical list that I would not be surprised if it ends up receiving major film award nominations next winter. A great deal of this praise has been focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there has been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” has received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many are claiming it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television adaptation of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – perhaps not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to Mr. Knightley’s company? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused upon even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . negative. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whalen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that seemed to be garnering a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen version of Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Flynn’s portrayal of the character almost reminded me of his portrayal of the William Dobbin character from the 2018 miniseries, “VANITY FAIR”. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given more opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

“STAR WARS: Memories of a Mother”

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“STAR WARS: MEMORIES OF A MOTHER”

Ever since the release of the 2005 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”, many STAR WARS have accused George Lucas of including a major blooper in the movie. In the eyes of these fans, Lucas’ major blooper was the death of Senator Padmé Amidala, wife of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader and mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa.

How did Padmé die? Well in the 2005 movie, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi had paid her a visit in order to learn the whereabouts of Anakin, his former apprentice, following the fall of the Jedi Order. Padmé learned from Obi-Wan that Anakin had become the new apprentice of Sheev Palpatine, who is a Sith Lord. She also learned from the Jedi Master that Anakin had participated in the Jedi Purge at the Order’s Temple – a purge that included the deaths of all the Order’s younglings inside the Temple. Obi-Wan had questioned Padmé about Anakin’s whereabouts, but she refused to tell him. Instead, she departed for Mustafar to question Anakin about his actions, unaware that Obi-Wan had followed her. To make a long story short, Padmé tried to talk Anakin into dropping his Sith affiliation, she failed due to Obi-Wan’s sudden appeared (he had placed a tracker on her starship), Anakin attacked Padmé with a Force choke before he ended up in a lightsaber duel against his former master. The duel ended in defeat for Anakin, who ended up slowly burning to death on a lava bank, minus his limbs. Obi-Wan transported Padmé and the couple’s droids to a medical facility on a large asteroid above Polis Massa, where she gave birth to Luke and Leia. Then she died.

Many STAR WARS fans have been in an uproar over Padmé’s death in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” for nearly sixteen years. They complained that the manner of her death – allowing her despair over Anakin and the Republic to affect her health following the twins’ deaths. I have already written one or two articles on that subject. But they also complained that her death on Polis Massa is a major blooper. A plot hole. And they claim that the discussion between Luke and Leia about Padmé in the 1983 movie, “STAR TREK: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”, is the reason why Padmé’s death is a blooper. They claim that Leia’s memories of Padmé is proof that their mother should not have died immediately after their births in “REVENGE OF THE SITH”.

What exactly did Leia say to Luke when he had first questioned her about their mother? The following is their exchange:

Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?
Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
Luke: What do you remember?
Leia: Just images, really. Feelings.
Luke: Tell me.
Leia: She was very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me all this?

Why do these fans still believe Padmé Amidala’s death in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” is a plot hole, based on her daughter Leia Organa’s memories? I never understood this. In “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, Leia had never stated that she had memories of Padme alive and with her. Not once. This is something that so many STAR WARS fans had assumed what happened without bothering to think. Leia had made it clear in her conversation with Luke that her memories of Padme were vague and mainly based on emotions and images. Which means that she may have unintentionally used the Force after she was born or had dreams of Padme via the Force. When these fans were confronted with this explanation, they immediately dismissed it. And I never understood why. Why was that explanation so hard to consider? When Luke had first arrived on Dagobah in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, Luke had stated that it looked familiar to him . . . despite having never been there. Both Luke and Leia have inherited their Force sensitivity, due to their father, Anakin Skywalker, who was regarded by many as being unusually strong in the Force. The saga’s movies have more than verified this.

And yet . . . many fans have continued to criticize “REVENGE OF THE SITH” for Padmé’s death. They also claimed that she should have survived the twins’ births in order to raise Leia for a few years on Alderaan, the homeworld of her fellow senator, Bail Organa. What in the hell? No parent in his or her right mind would give up one child and hand over another; unless he, she or both were were irresponsible parents. Nor do I recall the last half hour of “REVENGE OF THE SITH” being some remake of the 1961 Disney movie, “THE PARENT TRAP”. I do not recall Padmé and Anakin getting a divorce and deciding to split up their twins.

I cannot believe that so many fans believed (and still do) it was natural for Padmé to give up Luke and hand him over to the Lars family on Tattooine; and at the same time, keep Leia and take the latter with her to Alderaan. Are there any STAR WARS fans who understand what it means to be a parent? If Padme had survived childbirth, chances are she would have given up both Luke and Leia for their safety and disappeared to some remote location. Or . . . she would have kept the twins and disappeared to some remote location. Or . . . events would have played out like it did in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” – with Padmé’s death after the twins’ birth, followed with the twins being separated and handed over to different families.

But the idea of Padmé giving up one twin and handing over the other without Anakin being involved is just ludicrous to me. For her to do something like this would make her a callous mother who had selfishly preferred one child over the other. Yet . . . these fans seemed to believe that Leia’s memories of Padme via the Force is ludicrous. And I do not understand this. Leia Organa is Force sensitive . . . like her brother Luke Skywalker, her son Ben Solo and her father, Anakin Skywalker. Have so many STAR WARS actually forgotten this? Apparently so. Perhaps they simply wanted another excuse to criticize the Prequel Trilogy. Who knows?

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

Many people are familiar with Harriet Tubman, the former slave-turned-Underground Railroad conductor-turned-Civil War operative-turned-political activist. She has appeared as a supporting character in a handful of television productions and the leading character in two other television productions. However, a full-length feature film has finally been made about the famous historical figure. That film is called “HARRIET”.

As I had earlier stated, there have been two television productions about the famous Underground Railroad conductor. One of them was an episode from the 1963-1964 historical anthology series “THE GREAT ADVENTURE” called (1.06) “Go Down, Moses”. It starred Ruby Dee. The other television production was the 1978 miniseries “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, which starred Cicely Tyson. Following the latter, the Harriet Tubman figure appeared in a few television productions about slavery and the Underground Railroad until the release of this new film.

“HARRIET” basically covered Tubman’s life during a nine-year period between 1849 and 1850, along with a sequence set in 1858. The movie began in 1849 Maryland with Harriet (or Araminta “Minty” Ross Tubman, as she was known then), along with her husband John Tubman and father Ben Ross (both who were free) approached Harriet’s owner Edward Bodress with a promise made by the latter’s ancestor that her mother Harriet “Rit” Ross would be freed by the age of 45, along with their children (including Harriet). Bodress refused to acknowledge the promise. He also forbade Harriet from seeing her husband John. Brodess’s adult son Gideon caught Minty praying for God to take Mr. Brodess. The latter died shortly afterward. Alarmed by this, Gideon decided to sell Minty as punishment. Suffering from spells that began after she had been struck in the head as a child, Minty had a vision of her being free and decided to run away. She convinced John to remain behind, in case he got caught and punished for escaping with her. Minty eventually reached Philadelphia and freedom. She managed to acquire a job, thanks to the assistance of Underground Railroad abolitionist/writer William Still and a fashionable free black woman named Marie Buchanon. After a few months in Philadelphia, Minty (who renamed herself as Harriet Tubman) returned to Maryland to retrieve John and discovered that he had remarried, believing she was dead. Instead, Harriet decided to escort some family members north to freedom and began her career as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.

I have been aware of Harriet Tubman ever since I was a child of nine years old. My mother had purchased a copy of Marcy Heidish’s 1976 novel called “A Woman Called Moses”, the basis for the 1978 miniseries. But “HARRIET” marked the first time that Tubman was featured as the a character in a motion picture, let alone the leading character. So naturally, I had to see it. I had some problems with the movie. One, I could easily see that it was not historical accurate. This is not a real problem for me. After seeing two television productions that erroneously featured Harriet Tubman operating in the Ohio River Valley, the historical inaccuracies in this film struck me as a piece of cake.

One example would be the scene during her own escape in which her new owner, Gideon Bodress, and a slave patrol cornered her on a bridge. Instead of surrendering, she evaded them by jumping into the river. Needless to say, no such thing happened, since her owner (Anthony Thompson), or any slave patrol were able to capture her during her journey to Philadelphia. But . . . I was able to tolerate this scene. Somewhat. I was also a bit confused about her relationship with John Tubman in this film. Director-writer Kasi Lemmons and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard portrayed Harriet or Minty’s marriage as loving and trouble free. This has not been the case in another Hollywood production I could think of. Unfortunately, no one really knows whether the Tubmans had experienced any marital strife before her flight from Maryland. So . . . I tolerated this portrayal. However, the movie indicated that Minty had suggested John not run with her so that he would not be caught aiding a runaway. This is false. According to history, John did not want her to run in the first place. They also made it clear that John had remarried because he had assumed Minty/Harriet was dead. I do not know whether this is true or not. But it seemed as if Lemmons and Howard seemed hell bent upon portraying John in a positive light as much as possible.

But there were changes in the narrative that left me scratching my head. “HARRIET” featured Minty making her escape from Maryland in the middle of the day . . . which I found odd. The movie had her working in a garden when someone warned her that Bodress had plans to sell her to the Deep South in order to alleviate family debts. No sooner had she received the warning, one of the plantation’s foremen appeared to grab her. Minty ran and . . . hid. She hid around the plantation for hours before she contacted her family and left. What made this even more odd is that Bodress did not learn of her escape from the foreman until hours later. Which I found very odd. Historically, most slave escapes began in the middle of the night, not in the middle of the day. Why did Minty wait so long to contact her family before her escape? And why did the plantation foreman wait so long to inform Bodress? Also, she made most of her journey by night and hid during the daytime. Which would have made that daytime encounter on the bridge with Bodress somewhat implausible. I can only assume Lemmons and Howard had added it for dramatic reasons.

In the movie, Minty/Harriet did not wait very long to return to Maryland and contact her family and John. After escorting several members of her family north, she returned to Maryland and helped others escape on several occasions before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Now this is ridiculous. One, Tubman returned to Maryland to help some relatives escape at least three to four months after the law’s passage. I find it very hard to believe that she had made so many trips to Maryland between her own escape in September 1849 and when the fugitive law was passed in September 1850. Another troubling aspect of the movie was the sequence featuring the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. The movie featured a scene with former slaves – including Harriet – leaving en masse from the Philadelphia docks, while God knows how many slave catchers suddenly appeared to capture these fugitives. What the hell? I had felt as if I was watching a war movie with refugees escaping from an invaded city. Yes, many fugitive slaves were forced to flee the Northern states for Canada following the law’s passage. But not like THAT. Not like a scene from “CASABLANCA” or “THE WINDS OF WAR”.

I have two more complaints. Why did Lemmons and Howard added that . . . relationship between Harriet and Bodress? Why? It was bad enough that Gideon Bodress never existed. But Tubman had never recounted having to deal with the unwanted sexual interest or assault from any white man. And I got the impression that Lemmons wanted to include some watered down version of the Patsey-Edwin Epps relationship from the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” – but without the overt violence and sex. It was obvious that Bodress had never laid a violent hand on Harriet in the film, aside from the slap on the face after he had overheard her wish for his father’s death. But I find it implausible that Gideon Bodress had never attempted to sexually assault her. Even when his father was alive. Another sequence featured Northern black and white members discussing the Fugitive Slave Act passage and whether it would be safe to continue the Underground Railroad. What I disliked about this sequence is that most of them seemed to have this attitude without the organization’s conductors appearing on Southern plantations to lead them, many slaves would not be willing to escape or would not succeed in escaping. And this was far from the truth. One could argue that this scene was a perfect example of patronization from Northern abolitionists. But Harriet did not point out that slaves were capable of escaping on their own. Instead, she simply argued for the continuation of the Underground Railroad. Which simply made her equally patronizing to me.

One would think that I disliked “HARRIET”. That person would be wrong. I actually enjoyed it very much. Despite some of the narrative choices, lightweight characterizations and historical inaccuracies; “HARRIET” was both an entertaining and interesting film. One, it is nice to see Hollywood produce a feature film about the former abolitionist. “HARRIET” is a thoughtful drama about a period in United States history about which very few Americans want to discuss, let alone contemplate. Like other Hollywood productions, the movie mainly featured Tubman’s early career as an Underground Railroad conductor. I had assumed that it would also focus on her Civil War experiences, due to some publicity stills released before the film hit the theaters. But the movie only included a coda, featuring Tubman’s participation in a raid during the war. “HARRIET” was, without a doubt, about her role with the Underground Railroady.

Due to the film’s focus on Harriet’s career as an Underground Railroad conductor, it did not focus that strongly on her family life . . . with the exceptions of her attempts to lead them to freedom. Many critics have complained about this. But I can understand why Lemmons only focused on one aspect of Harriet’s life. This was a feature-length film that ran nearly two hours, not a television miniseries. Frankly, I thought it was smart of her to focus one one aspect of Harriet’s life, considering the format she had used. And she focused on one of the former slave/abolitionist’s most famous period in her life – namely that as an Underground Railroad conductor. Only through this story arc was the movie able to somewhat focus on her connection to her family. In fact, one the most interesting arcs in this narrative proved to be a sequence that featured Tubman’s attempts to rescue her sister Rachel and the latter’s children.

This focus on Harriet’s career with the Underground Railroad allowed Lemmons and Howard to reveal Harriet as action heroine she truly was. The writers’ narrative arc also featured some well staged action sequences. Among my favorite sequences are Harriet’s initial escape from Maryland and her successful rescue of Rachel’s children in the film’s second half. Both struck me as well-shot sequences that featured a great deal of more tension and drama than action. And I thought the focus on these two aspects may have allowed the sequences to be more effective without the obvious action. I also enjoyed the movie’s final action sequence in which Harriet attempted to rescue and lead her parents to freedom in the late 1850s. Not only was this sequence filled with the usual solid action for this trope, it featured a tense-filled final confrontation between Harriet and Bodress.

I certainly did not have a problem with the film’s production values. I thought Warren Alan Young did an exceptional job in re-creating antebellum America, especially in scenes that featured the Bodress plantation, Baltimore (at least I think it is), Canada and especially Philadelphia. I believe Young was ably supported by John Troll’s sharp and colorful cinematography, Wyatt Smith’s film editing, Kevin Hardison and Christina Eunji Kim’s art direction, and Marthe Pineau’s set decorations. I also have to commend Paul Tazewell for his costume designs. I thought Tazewell did an excellent job of conveying the movie’s setting and characters through his costumes, as shown in the images below:

I have a confession to make. Aside from a handful, I was not exactly blown away by the performances featured in “HARRIET”. I am not claiming that most of the performances were terrible or even mediocre. I simply found them solid . . . or serviceable. There were a few that I found slightly above being serviceable – like Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Zackary Momoh, Tim Guinee, Henry Hunter Hall, Joseph Lee Anderson, Jennifer Nettles and Omar J. Dorsey. But like I had said, there were a few that struck me as memorable. One of them Clarke Peters, who gave a subtle, yet warm portrayal of Harriet/Minty’s father, Ben Ross. I was also impressed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, who gave an exceptional performance as the abolitionist’s emotional and slightly edgy mother, Harriet Ritt Ross. Joe Alwyn did an excellent job of portraying Gideon Bodress as a slightly complex character without transforming the character into a one-note, moustache-twirling villain. And I really enjoyed Vondie Curtis-Hall’s subtle, yet colorful portrayal of Reverend Green, the local free black minister, who also happened to be a member of the Underground Railroad.

But the performance that really counted in “HARRIET” came from leading lady Cynthia Erivo. It is almost a miracle that Erivo managed to give such an exceptional performance as Harriet Tubman. I say this, because Lemmons and Howard had failed to fully portray Tubman as a complex human being with not only virtues, but also a few flaws. Their Tubman almost struck me as a borderline Mary Sue, due to their determination to basically portray her as an action heroine. But they did provide some intimate moments between Tubman, her family and friends. And this gave Erivo the opportunity to skillfully convey the warm, yet strong-willed individual underneath the heroic facade. This was especially apparent in scenes that featured Tubman’s desperation to put as much distance between her and the Bodress plantation as possible; her determination to return to Maryland to rescue her family; and her discovery that her husband had married another woman. Thanks to her superb performance, Erivo managed to earn both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. And if I must be brutally honest, she deserved them.

Overall, I enjoyed “HARRIET”. I have always been interested in Harriet Tubman as a historical figure and was happy to see a motion picture about her. It was not the best or most compelling biopic I have ever seen. Nor was it the best biopic about Tubman I have ever seen. But I cannot deny that thanks to Kari Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard’s interesting screenplay, Lemmons’ solid direction and a first-rate cast led by Cynthia Erivo, “HARRIET” is a movie that I will be more than happy to watch on many occasions in the future.

 

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