As we reflect on this year’s Academy Awards and look ahead to Valentine’s Day, I have compiled a few new reviews, but am including a few of the film reviews that were nominated and won.
This week includes “The Photograph” starring Issa Rae and Laketh Stanfield, and “Harriet” starring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman.
I am also including links and the #NativeNerd scores to many of the films I reviewed that made it to the Academy Awards that aired on Sunday.
A note about my #NativeNerd scoring system
Here is a bit of a side note before moving forward. I have decided to refine my scores just a little bit for my own sense of critical thinking. For the past year, I have been rating movies and shows based on a total achievable score of 10 stars. Ten stars being the highest score a film can get and 1 star being the worst. I have felt that I was a bit limited with only 10 stars, so I am going to employ the decimal system to a tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of ten. Some movies aren’t an eight but deserve a little more than a seven.
So that’s that.
7.9 out of 10
My quick quote: “Issa Rae and Laketh Stanfield do a masterful job in ‘The Photograph’ but I found their relationship struggling to have any essence of fun. I found myself a bit more drawn to the supporting characters’ relationships such as the intern and the hilarious Kyle and his wife.”
Synopsis: When famed photographer Christina Eames unexpectedly dies, she leaves her estranged daughter Mae Morton (Issa Rae) hurt, angry and full of questions. When a photograph tucked away in a safe-deposit box is found, Mae finds herself on a journey delving into her mother's early life and ignites a powerful, unexpected romance with a rising-star journalist, Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield).
I really enjoyed this movie to a certain point. I love the work of Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Knives Out) and Issa Rae was also a great asset to this film.
The film itself did an excellent job of creating moods as each new musical score hit the theater walls. I reveled in the relationships and the traveling back and forth between present-day and the past. All of the movement within the movie was seamless, and I enjoyed the ride.
Chante’ Adams is a wonderful actress and I really enjoyed the agony of the relationship that could never be between her character and the love interest played by Y’lan Noel.
The hidden gem and veritable star of this movie is the playfully sarcastic Lil Rel Howery, who plays a married friend of journalist Michael Block, portrayed by Stanfield. His banter is flawless. In my view, he made the movie. I earnestly hope to see him again very soon.
But here's the rub.
“The Photograph” was a great movie and the lead characters did a masterful job. However, I found myself lingering more on the welfare of the relationships that weren't the main story. I cared more about the funny brother and his wife, and the intern and his new love interest more so than the main characters.
So the question I asked myself more than anything else was, “Why wasn't there more fun in the lead actors' relationship than the others?” One example is when Mae dances playfully and Michael dismisses her playfulness. That was a big bummer for me.
I think things were just a little too serious and as a result, I was less invested in the relationship between Mae and Michael.
I would have cared more if the intern and his new love interest had broken up than the others.
Overall I really enjoyed the film, but I really wish there had been playfulness within every character.
“The Photograph” hits theaters on Valentine’s Day. A perfect romantic movie.
9.2 out of 10
My quick quote: “Harriet is a beautiful movie within all of its historic pain. But the one question I have, 'Did Harriet need to be some sort of psychic to outsmart the horribly racist slave-owners?' I question that choice.”
Synopsis: From her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman is told.
I really enjoyed “Harriet” even though the history of slavery makes me sick. I agonize over the families torn apart or how human beings could not love each other because horrible slave owners did everything possible to tear them apart or completely destroy their morale.
Cynthia Erivo plays Araminta “Minty” Tubman, a former slave that escapes to freedom then turns back to help her own family members escape. She is one the most famous figures in the effort known as the Underground Railroad, in which anti-slavery activists assisted slaves in traveling to states that had outlawed slavery.
I loved that she was so intelligent as to outsmart her would-be captors, who if they had caught her, most likely would have killed her.
The one odd issue I had with this movie was Harriet’s “spells” she fell under. Now keep in mind I am a student of American history. I literally don’t recall ever learning about Harriet Tubman other than a passing mention, so maybe she did have spells in which she nearly lost consciousness and saw into the future as to be able to avoid capture.
But is this really the reason she could evade slave owners? I would suspect she was just a lot smarter than those who sought to enslave her. I don’t think seeing into the future was the reason she was able to gain an edge.
Again. I don’t know her personal story.
All I know is that I loved this movie, and was glad to see her continually outsmart slave owners as more and more slaves escaped to freedom.
I loved every agonizing face that expressed losing their livelihood that was resting on the backs of the labor of others.
The movie was a living and breathing catharsis.
Now streaming on several platforms.
Oscar nominees and winner’s reviews
7.0 out of 10
My quick quote: “Holy cultural appropriation. Between the family that takes money under false pretenses or the family that appropriates everything Indian, I question who the real parasite is.”
7.9 out of 10
My quick quote: “Renée Zellweger deserves a nomination nod for best actress, but I wish ‘Judy’ would have delved a bit further into the life of Judy Garland”
9 out of 10
My quick quote: “I LOVED it. An amazing cast of characters led flawlessly by Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas. The moment I thought I knew what was happening, a twist threw me. One of my year’s favorite films.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
6 out of 10
My quick quote: “A great film showcasing the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers, however, I never bought Tom Hanks was anyone else but Tom Hanks. Disappointingly, the movie focused more on the journalists’ story than Mr. Rogers.”
7.5 out of 10
My quick quote: “I sincerely appreciated the respect paid toward the Northuldra. The fictional Indigenous tribe based on Sámi culture. A fun and magical film, but way too many songs.”
8.9 out of 10
My quick quote: “Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver deliver a real and unflinching look into the theatrics of a struggling marriage. A tragedy, a comedy, and well-written portal into two souls reality ”
9 out of 10
My quick quote: “1917 is a brilliantly filmed World War I movie, that showcases a wide range of atrocities of war outside of the spectrum of one-note bloody violence. This film is agonizing, believable and unapologetic in telling a real-time story.”
8 out of 10
My quick quote:“De Niro is great as the blue-eyed Irishman Frank Sheeran, Al Pacino, in his over the top obnoxiousness, wasn't annoying as Jimmy Hoffa and all said, Joe Pesci steals the show as mob boss Russell Bufalino.”
6 out of 10
My quick quote: “As is Taika Watiti’s style, Jojo Rabbit is a strange and quirky film highlighting the deranged narrative of Adolf Hitler as seen through the eyes of German youth. The comedy lies a bit too close to the tragedy.”
Joaquin Phoenix succeeded in delivering what may be the most emotionally-taxing and anxiety-inducing delves into the mental darkness that is one of DC’s most celebrated and evil minds to stand against Batman. But I wish this movie hadn’t been about the Joker.
Follow the #NativeNerd, Vincent Schilling, associate editor for Indian Country Today and a proud movie reviewer.
Also, follow my Indian Country Today #NativeNerd account on Twitter at @ICTNativeNerd