Posts Tagged ‘jurnee smolett’

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has just broken up with the Joker.  The two problems with that are that no one believes her, and she loses the protection that comes with being the Joker’s girlfriend.  So she does what any right-thinking woman would do, she publicly and explosively demonstrates that she and Mr. J. are no longer an item.  This move also announces to enemies that she is alone and unprotected.  Roman Slonis (Ewan McGregor) is a stone-cold killer who runs a club in Gotham City.  Roman wants to find the Bertinelli diamond, the diamond has a secret within it, and with that diamond in his possession, he can buy off every judge and policeman in Gotham, and rule that town. 

At first, Roman wants to kill Harley, but then he offers her protection in exchange for Harley finding the diamond.  He also asks hired muscle Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) and singer at his club, Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smolett) to keep an eye on Harley and get the diamond if Harley gets any funny ideas.  Soon, everyone has an interest in finding that diamond. Police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and a woman who dubs herself the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and kills her victims with a crossbow, but only a 14-year-old girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) knows where the diamond is, and she’s not telling anyone.  Can Harley find the diamond?  And what will she do with it if she finds it? 

This is a surprisingly good script.  There is very good character development, an engaging plot, and even some atypical mentorship between Harley and teenaged Cassandra.  This film is a throwback to the 1960’s Batman television series lots of campy laughs, and more cartoonish violence than blood and gore.  Despite the broad comedic strokes, Birds of Prey really does try to be a woman’s empowerment film.   There are serious moments, where Harley and other women in the film are threatened with harassment and worse.   There is also scant mention of the Joker, and all the protagonists are women, and the antagonists are men, maybe that’s too simplistic, but sometimes the most effective ideas are expressed simply. Of course, the women’s empowerment theme is somewhat diminished by having a protagonist running around in shorts and a tee-shirt, but blame that on the guys who designed Harley Quinn as a comic book character, not the writer of this film. 

Where this film goes awry is the acting.  Margot Robbie is a good actress.  But she lays on the New York accent really thick and sound like a dime store version of Cyndi Lauper.  She can do better than that.  She undercuts any credibility the character has with that awful accent.  Rosie Perez who has a real New York accent, is very good in this movie, she mixes comedy and drama expertly, where has she been all these years?  Ewan McGregor, usually a fine actor, goes way over the top with this role.  His scenery chewing goes above and beyond the spirit of this role.  And he mixes up his American and Scottish accents into a muddle. Jurnee Smolett is not up to the task of playing both a serious and funny role, and her dye job is reminiscent of Elizabeth Berkley, and that is never a good thing.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good in an understated performance as the Huntress.  And Ella Jay Basco is a precocious teen playing a precocious teen, but she has good chemistry with Margot Robbie. 

The direction is not as good as it should be either.   the fight scenes seem very choreographed, like each villain takes a punch at Harley and backs off, and then another goon comes in and fights for a while.  The dream sequence with Harley as Marilyn Monroe really backfires.  If the director, Cathy Yan, wants little girls to emulate Harley in some positive way, does she want to use a song popularized by a 1960’s sex symbol with essential the same costume and setting?  That said, the director gives plenty of time for backstories and good plot development, without the usual barrage of special effects. 

Birds of Prey: Don’t call these birds chicks.

Episode 1 Sundown:
After returning home from the Korean War, to search for his missing father, Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) receives a letter saying that his father is in Ardham Massachusetts. Tic, as his friends know him, takes his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Leti Lewis. (Jurnee Smolett) Leti is a down on her luck singer who needs a place to stay and as a rocky relationship with her half-sister, Ruby. (Wunmi Mosaku) Tic, Leti, and Uncle George encounter family drama and racism as they enter Ardham County, where the racism doesn’t end. Ardham is what’s known as a sundown county, meaning black people aren’t welcome after sundown. The sheriff and his deputies threaten to shoot Tic, Leti and Uncle George unless they leave Ardham County in minutes. What happens to Tic, Leti and George?

This is a very good opening episode of what looks to be a promising series. There is an undercurrent of paranormal or supernatural events going on, on top of the overt racism against three African American protagonists, and it’s an open debate as to which is more frightening to the main characters, the racism or the paranormal elements. The series comes in the wake of Watchman in featuring a story with black characters in the forefront at a time of overt racism. Each of the main characters, and even the ancillary characters are so well-written and acted that it makes the whole episode so much fun to watch. All the characters are multi-dimensional, well-rounded people. It’s a pleasure to see such intricate writing on television.

The acting is superb. Courtney is the steady, calm, reassuring figure of the three, Vance exudes all these qualities and adds some humor to the role. Johnathan Majors is the quiet, contemplative, bookish Tic, but he’s fresh from the Army, and has muscles, but prefers not to use them in case of trouble. Jurnee Smolett stands out as the take no prisoners Letti. She’s willing to fight anyone, friend or foe, who crosses her. Smolett brings a lot of passion to this character and carries this episode for as long as she;s on screen. Even smaller roles like Leti’s sister are well-acted. Wunmi Mosaku adds a lot of fire as Ruby, giving Leti an earful on responsibility. Mosaku also has a great singing voice.

The direction melds the fear of racism with the fear of paranormal activity into one cohesive narrative. The pacing is brisk, The special effects enhance the story, not overwhelm it. Great performances, all packed in a little over an hour.

Episode 2 Whitey’s On The Moon:

Tic, Leti, and George wake up in a lodge owned by the Braithwaite family in Ardham county. Leti and George have no memory of what happened the night before. Tic remembers the night before all too vividly, and remembers the blonde who saved his life on the road to Ardham. She is Christina Braithwaite (Abby Lee) daughter of the patriarch of the Braithwaite family, Samuel. (Tony Goldwyn) Samuel has a plan of his own, it involves Tic, but what is the plan, and how is Tic involved?

Unfortunately, both the story and the characters receded a bit since the first episode, one of the big mysteries from episode one is resolved, which makes this episode immediately less interesting, and the character of Leti, who was so string-minded in the first episode becomes a more conventional female architype. Whitey’s On The Moon was disappointing in as many ways as the opening episode was exciting. The story seemed to put forth mixed messages throughput, and was therefore not as compelling as the first episode. Hopefully, the next episode will be better

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Episode 3 Holy Ghost:
Leti buys an old mansion on the North Side of Chicago, with the intention of fixing up the house and turning it into a boarding house, and also bonding with her half-sister, Ruby. But she faces resistance to moving in, from her neighbors, and from some spirits that are restless in the house. Tic feels guilty about not telling Hipppolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) about what happened to George in Ardham.

The problem with the last two episodes is definitely the writing. The haunted house is standard issue haunted house lore with some Tuskegee type experimentation thrown in for good measure. But it’s odd that Misha Green gives the perpetrator of these experiments a Jewish surname, given the Jews own horrific experience with similar experiments during the Holocaust. The character of Leti is inconsistently written, sometimes strong and daring, sometimes overwhelmingly needy. Finally, all the exposition tying the haunted house story to the central story is saved until the final few minutes and sounds rushed and forced.

Episode 4 A History of Violence:
Leti Tic, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) Hippolyta go to a museum. Tic Leti and Montrose want to find missing pages from a book. William (Jordan Patrick Smith) makes promises to Ruby after she loses a job opportunity, can he keep those promises?

This episode feels like one of the Night at The Museum movies or maybe one of the Mummy movies, and of course black people have free run of the museum in the 1950’s, nobody’s asking questions, right? The Ruby/William storyline makes even less sense. But the central question is why would Leti, Tic and Montrose want to help Christina Braithwaite? And why do Tic, Leti, and Montrose seem to succeed where so many others have failed?

Courtney B. Vance is a much better actor than Michael Kenneth Williams. Both his overacting and the character in general are grating. Jurnee Smolett is also chewing the scenery quite a bit in these past three episodes. Yelling is not acting.

Episode 5 Strange Case:
Ruby wakes up a whole new woman after spending the night with William, but there’s a price she has to pay for her newfound status, is she willing to pay it? Tic and Leti research the clues the found in the depths of the museum. Montrose continues to prevent Tic and Leti from finding more about the lodge and their members.
This episode tries to discuss race, gender and orientation issues using the guise of science fiction or horror as a genre. When done well, like the Watchmen series, science fiction can be the perfect vehicle to discuss thorny social issues. When done badly, like this episode, and sadly, most of this show, the writing begins to bludgeon the viewer over the head with its point of view and the episode and the show becomes unwatchable.
The producers cast an older actress to play Wummi Mosaku’s alter ego, why is that? Is it that any actress will do? That speaks more to Hollywood’s racism than racism in society. Ironic isn’t it?

Episode 6 Meet Me In Daegu:
In 1950, during the Korean War, Tic did a lot of unconscionable things, including shooting and killing a nurse, Young Ja (Prisca Kim) suspected of being a Communist spy. Tic is wounded and meets another nurse named Ji-Ah, (Jamie Chung) the two fall in love, despite Ji Ah knowing that Tic killed her friend. Ji-Ah has a secret of her own, will she tell Tic? What about her visions of Tic’s future? Do they come true?

This is perhaps the best episode since the first episode. Each of the characters are compromised and conflicted in very complex ways. Tic has killed without remorse, Young-Ja is unapologetically in love with a Communist from North Korea, and Ji Ah loves Judy Garland movies, but hides a dark secret, and knows about Tic’s horrific deeds. The story even adds some Asian horror elements, so even though its only tangentially related to the main story, this episode stands out for depicting the horrors of war simultaneously with a love story.
The acting is excellent Johnathan Majors turns in an emotionally gripping performance as a soldier trying to forget the horrors of war and let himself fall in love. Jamie Chung stands out as a tortured soul, needing to find love. She really pours all her emotion into this role and it’s a very complex performance. Prisca Kim is also very good as the nurse with Communist sympathies.

Episode 7 I Am:

Hippolyta finally finds out what happens to George in Ardham. She also has a crucial piece of the lodge’s hardware in her possession, and she’s learned how to use it. Christina tries to explain William’s fascination with Ruby to Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t seem convinced. Tic finds out something about his father, and it drives them further apart.

This is Hippolyta’s journey of self-discovery, but the writers get it wrong, they try to raise Hippolyta up by tearing others down. There seems to be a lot of repressed anger in Hippolyta’s character, and that plays into a pernicious stereotype about black women. So instead of being an uplifting journey, the narrative gets loaded down by the baggage of anger, and even self-loathing. The anger may even be justifiable, but her actions and the lessons she learns are the wrong ones. More racism is not the way to end racism, more racism only perpetuates racism. The writers also do the same with Christina storyline trying to justify the chip on her shoulder in different ways This is another tangentially related episode, but unlike Meet Me In Daegu, the writing is weak, and so is the character development.

Episode 8 Jig-a-Bobo:
Diana is upset by the death of her friend Bobo. If that isn’t bad enough, Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) puts a curse on Diana. Ji-Ah finds Tic and once again tells him about her vision. Tic asks for a favor from Christina, which she grants to Leti? Tic and Montrose bond after Tic tells Montrose something about his future.
The use of historical fiction in this episode is sloppily written, and doesn’t fit the story. If the writers used a historical figure as a plot device, that’s inappropriate. And where did Ji-Ah come from? The last time the viewer saw of Ji-Ah, she was a nurse in Korea, now she’s in Mississippi? Why is no adult helping Diana when she is clearly terrorized, and why did the writers steal a concept and a visual from Jordan Peele’s Us? Since he’s one of the executive producers of this show, the use of those scenes wasn’t a problem. Even with all these shortcomings, this episode is more like what the series should have been about fear of racism coupled with fear of the unknown. The interpersonal relations between the characters is the stuff of soap operas and seems like filler at times, finally the writers got to the heart of the theme of this show, they took a lot of detours to get here, let’s hope that the remaining episodes use the theme again.

It was nice to see Ji Ah again, but this time Jamie Chung sounds more like a Californian, which she is instead of a recent immigrant to the U.S. That detracted a little from the role, which she played very well in the Meet Me In Daegu episode. It’s nice to see that Michael K. Williams finally shows some subtlety in his acting. Montrose was becoming a one-note character. Speaking of Montrose, it was not necessary to make him dyslexic, he’s got enough on his plate.

The use of “Cruel Cruel Summer” by Bananarama seemed like an odd choice to lead this episode, it’s a pop song, it’s not about anything in particular, to give it the weight that this episode gives it is unnecessary.

Episode 9 Rewind 1921:

Tic makes a pledge to Christina that Leti doesn’t want him to keep to try to save Diana’s life. Hippolyta comes back from her journey of self-actualization just in time to send Leti, Tic, and Montrose on a mission to try to save Diana. Does it work?

This was stone cold plagiarism by the writers of Lovecraft Country, who took a script right out of Watchmen, and didn’t even blink. Well, Watchman did it first and did it better. Rewind 1921 seemed like leftovers compared to the Watchman episode, which was moving and powerful. This episode was another misuse of historical fact, and why decide on this time and place when it was already done so exquisitely before? The writers never mentioned where Montrose or George were born, so this episode has no real resonance.

Episode 10 Full Circle:


Christina has a spell, but she needs Tic’s blood to make it operational. Tic has a spell to cure Diana, but he needs Christina’s blood to make it work. Ruby’s stuck in the middle and has divided loyalties. Whose spell will work, and what does it mean for Christina and Tic?

This was the finale, so it was supposed to resolve a lot of issues, and it seemed to have resolved a lot of issues, but because magic is involved, nothing is really final. The resolution of Ji Ah’s issues with Tic was written badly, and still she’s expected to help Tic with his grand plan. The resolution of Chritina’s plot line was most disappointing, because she was made a one-dimensional character with no opportunity to evolve or grow. How she met her final fate is equally disappointing, because of who was involved. This show is marred by episode after episode of sloppy, undisciplined writing and the finale is no exception, anyone expecting an uplifting episode to cap matters will be left wanting.

My Impressions of Season One:

After getting off to a truly splendid start with the Sundown episode, the writing went slowly careening down a cliff. Sundown was a wonderful mix of mystery, elements of horror and the horrors of racism in Jim Cow America. But then, as soon as the second episode, the focus of the story changed, one of the main characters changed, and the sole focus became racism. The black characters had this seething underbelly of anger within them, which was unappealing, and the white characters were so one-dimensional that they don’t even deserve mentioning. That does a disservice to the way progress was made in America in the eras of slavery and civil rights. For every Fredrick Douglass, there is a John Brown, for every John Lewis, there is a Michael Schwerner. That’s what Lovecraft Country misses, for there to be real and lasting change in any era in America, there has to be buy-in from all races, the writers missed an opportunity to make at least one of their white characters learn and grow and evolve.

After the Sundown episode, Lovecraft Country almost seemed like an anthology series, there was no cental theme holding it together, so one episode would be centered on Leti, and her new house, or the museum or Hippolyta, or Ji-Ah, and there was there was the thinnest of threads tying them to the writers alleged theme, but often the narrative became obscured, and the Lovecraftian elements are almost nonexistent in some episodes. The characters vacillate between strong and brave and weak and weepy, and some episodes focus almost exclusively on who’s sleeping with whom. And by the way rape is never acceptable, whether it is a male or female being raped, and anti-Semitism is never acceptable, no matter how it’s dressed up.
There were a few standout episodes after, like Meet Me In Daegu, which is a love story with many conflicted characters, but again this story was barely tangentially related to the central character, Jig a Bobo, with its many flaws, finally gets around to what this show should have been a mixture of supernatural horror and the all-too-common horror of racism. The show that it will be compared to is Watchmen, but Watchmen was much better written, and once Watchmen came together, it was a marvel to watch. Lovecraft Country even ‘appropriated’ the Tulsa Massacre from Watchmen, which was first masterfully captured on screen in Watchmen’s first episode. It is the height of irony to use H.P. Lovecraft’s themes as a palate because Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Misha Green and her co-writers could have done a much better job of it, by not telegraphing her verbal punches, and toning down the anger of the black characters, and by not making the white characters so uniformly hive-minded.

The acting varies greatly. The good performances are very good, the not so good performances are pretty scenery-chewing bad. Johnathan Majors is excellent as Atticus Freeman, he really showed all of his emotions, but he knew how to modulate his emotions, when Tic got angry, it was through clenched teeth, when he felt sadness, the viewer felt his pain, it was a difficult role, but a wonderfully well-rounded performance. He should have a bright future in Hollywood, he’s already making a name for himself with a solid perfrmance in The Last Black Man In San Francisco. Courtney B. Vance was wonderful as the gentle, kind caring, uncle George. He was woefully underused, the writers brought him back, only to lay a guilt trip on him. Bad writing abounds with respect George’s character. The show needed more of the understated grace and charm of Vance’s performance. Michael K. Williams tried to pick up\ the slack for Courtney Vance’s absence, but he overdid his angst. It was a 10,000-decibel performance that required some subtlety.

Jurnee Smolett was terrific in the first episode, and then her character changed from stong and confident to weak and weepy, and she was not able to modulate her performance as Leti, as well as Majors did as Atticus, so she was either screaming in anger, or screaming in terror, and generally overacting. Wunmi Mosaku is a multitalented singer, actress and force to be reckoned with as Ruby, she’s not afraid to step on some toes and give half-sister Leti advice about Leti’s place in the family It’s the bold performance that this show needed. The remainder of her storyline was written badly, but she made the most of it. Abby Lee had a very difficult role, making someone like Christina Braithwaite a likeable character, and she almost succeeded, until the writers torpedoed her best efforts. Every series needs an antagonist, and Christina is this series main antagonist, but Lee does her best to make her somewhat sympathetic. Jamie Chung gave the performance of her life in three or four episodes, she ran the emotional gamut from kind innocence to anger and hatred. It was an illuminating performance and should show Hollywood that they shouldn’t typecast actors, especially female actors. The depth of emotion in her performance in Meet Me in Daegu was incredible. Again, the character’s role in the last episode was poorly written, but that’s not Chung’s fault.

There were 10 episodes mostly directed by different directors, so it’s easier to select two episodes and talk about each director’s work. Episode One was the best episode of the bunch so Yann Damange gets some of the credit for that. He perfectly blended traditional horror themes with elements of mystery and the real-life horrors of racism. He manages to balance the three elements and not let one overpower the other two. The pacing was good, and the special effects were perfectly used especially in the opening dream sequence. He gets great performances from everyone, and even stages a musical duet between Smolett and Moskau.
Episode 6 was the second-best episode, and that was directed by ex-actress Helen Shaver, who had a lot of roles in horror movies like the Amityville Horror, Poltergeist The Legacy and the Craft. Shaver uses those roles in horror well, as she blends elements of Asian horror with war movie and believe it or not Hollywood musical, and comes up with a great narrative, the special effects aren’t overpowering, the interspersing of clips from Judy Garland movies and horrible acts of war create a roller coaster of visuals that leaves the viewer as conflicted as the characters in the episode.

Lovecraft Country: Not crafted as well as it should have been.