Saturday, October 26, 2019


On Wednesday, I screened Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom, Jr.

Minty Ross (Erivo) was a headstrong slave in Maryland who yearned for her freedom. She decided that she would risk anything to achieve that liberty, so in 1849 she left her husband, parents and siblings behind to walk alone nearly 90 miles to reach the safety of Pennsylvania. Minty Ross would transform into Harriet Tubman.

In this film chronicling her journey and what happened beyond her arrival, we learn just how awful the family was who owned hers; how she couldn't rest until she went back for her family and so many others (she did, successfully) and how she believed the visions she saw were coming directly from God.

Cynthia Erivo is painfully convincing as this tortured soul who finds the strength not only to free slaves but to continue the fight for justice in many more ways, during the war and later during the women's suffrage movement. As an American child, I studied Mrs. Tubman, but never knew the raw details of what she actually faced.

The film is brutal during several scenes, but never gratuitous—if ever there was a time where we needed to see the effects of the violence of racism, that time is now.

Go see this film and rejoice on Oscar night when it deservingly wins some major awards.


Friday, October 18, 2019


Today I saw Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro.

Arthur (Phoenix) is a working-class clown who likes to make children laugh, cares tenderly for his elderly mother (Frances Conroy) and harbors an innocent crush on his attractive neighbor (Zazie Beetz). By all accounts, Arthur is a nice person just trying to life his life.

When he's attacked by some kids who steal the sign he's holding as part of his job, then beaten up by the same crowd when he attempts to retrieve it, it's easy to brim with sadness for him. Through a brief glimpse into one of his therapy sessions, we learn he's on a cocktail of drugs to aid in his mental health and that he dreams of being a stand-up comedian.

Arthur is also obsessed with a Johnny Carson-like talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (De Niro) and watches faithfully. He finally gets the chance to perform at a local comedy club and it doesn't go so well, but Franklin picks up clips from the disaster and uses them on his program, which leads to an invitation for Arthur to appear.

Meanwhile, a colleague gives Arthur a gun for protection, which he graciously accepts. You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that a mentally ill, constantly bullied man with a firearm is a bad idea ... but that's as far as I can go without spoiling.

I must say this, however: Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of phenomenal in the role. Every expression, every ounce of pain Arthur experiences seeps from his pores onto the screen. When he aches, you ache for him, and when he rages; well—you sort of can't help but rage along with him.

It's truly an intense character study into the deterioration of the human spirit. Someone who could've had a shot at leading a decent life, but got kicked around too many times, and that coupled with other factors creates a monster, somewhat literally. The narrative got so intense I almost couldn't breathe, so I stepped into the lobby to take a moment. I can't remember the last time I film got to me in the same way.

Joker is tragic to claustrophobic proportions and more disturbing than it would be otherwise if our world wasn't presently so cruel.

Incredibly well done.


Thursday, October 17, 2019


Tonight I screened Countdown, starring Elizabeth Lail and Peter Facinelli.

A group of friends dare each other at a party to download an app that supposedly reveals your time of death and the person with the soonest fate has to drink the remaining drinks. Silly, right? Sure it is ... until that individual dies at the precise time that app said she would (and no, not from alcohol poisoning).

A story for modern times, for sure—with all of the tech nerd cheap shots they can fit–that examines our obsession with Smartphones and attempts to provide some jumps and scares in the meantime.

After one of her patients passes away, also at the time the app says he would, Quinn (Lail), a new nurse, downloads the app to her phone. She's alarmed when the time of death is just a few days away and begins seeing and hearing things that make her think there's more to it. She does what any sane person would do and attempts to delete the app from her phone, but that proves to be impossible.

She soon meets another app "victim" and they become friends, seeking ways to rid themselves of their certain fates. They enlist the help of an almost cartoonish young priest who is new to the demon-fighting trade and the film turns from wannabe-thriller to unsuccessful screwball comedy.

Did I mention there's a whole #MeToo side story in there too? I was excited to see Peter Facinelli emerge as the slimy doctor (I always loved him in a similar role on Nurse Jackie), but really as a fine actor, he deserved more.

Overall, this wasn't terribly scary, didn't ever really solve why the deaths were happening (what motivated the "demons") and gratuitously set up the sequel at the end. Thanks, but I'll pass.