HBO Spotlight: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The last review of the HBO Spotlight, is fittingly an HBO Original. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the tragic and heartbreaking story of Henrietta Lacks (the woman who’s responsible for HELA cells, everlasting cells that can take any form and grow outside the human body) and her children who desperately want their mother’s story told honestly. It focuses on a medical writer turned freelancer, Rebecca Skloot, who becomes closely involved with the family, especially the unstable Deborah Lacks, who is mentally fragile and desperately wants to honor her mother’s humanity not just her benefits to the world of science.

The story of Henrietta runs parallel to the story of her children, often flashing back and forth between the past and the present. Hamilton’s Renee Elise Goldsberry plays Henrietta brilliantly in her moments of screen time. However, the star of this movie is Oprah Winfrey in her most honest and captivating role since The Color Purple. She is emotionally heartbreaking as she spirals from extreme paranoia and anxiety to normality and back rapidly throughout the film. Her brothers serve as her protectors, but the writer played by Rose Bryne, becomes very close with her as well as the rest of the family.

I will say, the ending especially involving Oprah’s character, Deborah, is so heartbreaking I teared up in the library while writing this. It was emotionally devastating.

The overall film is okay. There some moments that feel a little dragged out and some that seem misplaced, but overall it is a decent biopic. I wish we had more of Henrietta Lacks, her flashbacks simply don’t capture her story as much as other people talking about her constantly. I wish we could see some more of her life besides a few scattered scenes and an emotional sign off. Still, the highlight of the whole film is Oprah’s performance. It’s raw and unflinching and she doesn’t fear going as far as she needs to go to convey emotional honestly. It’s a truly heartbreaking performance.

Still, this is a very important story in American science. It highlights a lot of different problems in science including race and gender and how Henrietta has been pushed aside in history as her cells are still used this day to cure an unfathomable amount of diseases. As her cells live on, so should her story, and so I think the decision to adapt her life and the creation of her biography into film is an important decision.

Amy’s Recommendation: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

HBO Spotlight: Eddie the Eagle

I didn’t want to do two biopics in a week, but stay tuned because I ended up doing three. Sorry folks. Second in my line of three is Eddie the Eagle. This is also my second Taron Egerton movie this week, and I’m sorry but I am very excited for the second Kingsman movie and you all should be too.

Anyways, Eddie the Eagle, tells the true story of Eddie Edwards, a British boy from a working class family who dreams of becoming an Olympian despite overwhelming odds.

Taron Egerton, adorable Brit he is, is unrecognizable as Eddie. He plays the darkish charm of Edwards in expert fashion. With his coke-bottle frames, his awkward smile, and bad knees he is clearly an underdog, but he has such charm and adorability that you just can’t help but hope he accomplishes everything he ever wants. Still the stakes to be an Olympian ski jumper is much higher than just accomplishing your goal. If you mess up the 90m jump, you could die.

Hugh Jackman as his coach is equally captivating as a drunken ex-jumper for America. He plays opposite to Egerton fantastically, and they form an unlikely and yet charming team.

I must say, I would never assume I could build such tension and anxiety out of a movie about white people leaping from a ski slope for no other reason besides it is an Olympic sport somehow, but let me tell you I did. It creates real tension and makes you care for this loveable little dork so much. This movie, although based on a real person, creates such a dynamic underdog character that you genuinely care about what happens to him. This Olympic game in particular was before my birth, hence why I wouldn’t know the outcome from history. A movie’s primary goal is to create characters that you care about and this movie succeeds on both fronts with Eddie and his coach, Bronson. Bronson is a character not based in historical context, he is a complete fabrication and he is just an interesting and dynamic character.

It’s a fairly straightforward story, but it feels fresh by showcasing an unknown sport and a genuinely likeable character. I really enjoyed this little movie and I thought it was an interesting story that deserved to be told. Eddie the Eagle is a charming, funny, and sweet story about a man who was constantly told he would be nothing, who pushed himself to be the best he could possibly be.

Amy’s Recommendation: 8.5/10

 

HBO Spotlight: Legend

So to preface, I love biopics. I don’t know what it is, I could just watch documentaries, but there is something about a good biopic that just gets me. I also love British movies and the 1960s so this movie should be a home run for me. I also appreciate the technical skill required to pull off a dual role, so a round of applause must go to Tom Hardy and the director for having the guts to use the same actor as twins.

It is an interesting story overall, as gangster culture (at least to my overall geographically ignorant American mind) is a overwhelming American dominated market. Gangsters and the mafia seem like a very Italian and American kind of deal, and I never thought of the English gangster culture before. The Krays are an interesting crime family, even if it was the just the two of them, and their story is decently entertaining. It’s a bit slow for a gangster movie, and has a lot more bare-knuckle (or on the off chance, brass knuckle) boxing than I expected. I also watched this movie with subtitles, even though they were all speaking English. The accents can get so thick at points that without the help I don’t think I would have figured out what they were saying half the time.

I will say if there is anything that really distinguishes this movie than a typical run of the mill biopic its Tom Hardy. He’s the real Legend here, as he plays the two brothers as completely opposite and intriguing characters. One smart, suave businessman and one brutish potentially schizophrenic muscle man. They really overplay the gay thing with Ron, which sometimes comes off a little clunky, but his character is so socially blunt that it somehow fits within the realm of his personality.

There is one scene where the brothers fight each other that is filmed exceptionally well, utilizing camera angle to make it possible for the same actor to fight each other. It’s interesting to watch, even if it is quite a brutal fight. It was a smart way to make it possible for the same person to just wail on another version of himself.

Still, this movie didn’t have to be 2 hours and 12 minutes long. Boys bonded by blood in the same business as one another. Business troubles almost break them apart. Then one falls in love, almost ruining the brother’s dynamic. It’ s really not a complicated story at the root of it, but they really drag it out.  Then its mostly about Reggie for a while, then its mostly about Ron. It’s just a little too much for a pretty basic story. It’s a good story, but they stretched it out, slowed it down, and made what could be a very stylized but intense gangster story seem boring. I want to know more about them together, but too often it chooses one road or the other and focuses too much on the different routes the two took the business.

Both are sometimes likeable and sometimes detestable, but Tom Hardy has the acting capability to create these two incredibly different characters and make them feel like separate people. Too often directors go for this dual character same actor shtick and it becomes the same person with a minor aesthetic difference that doesn’t create a whole new persona. This one is different. Hardy completely embodies the madness in both men, one subdued under the surface and one exploding forth, uncontrollable and violent. In the end they both reach their breaking points as the two become the same, with uncontrolled anger and ambition that sunk them both.

Amy’s Recommendation: 6/10

HBO Spotlight: Be Kind Rewind

A surprisingly honest tale about connecting to the past, Be Kind Rewind tells the tale of Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) who work under Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) and have to scramble to keep their store alive while simultaneously fighting off gentrification.

This movie takes place back in that distant past when Jack Black was an enjoyable on-screen presence. His over the top personality provided a perfect foil to his quiet-talking friend played by Mos Def. The movie is it’s own brand of quirky, but it’s a really fun time. Sometimes it gets carried away with it’s goofiness, and sometimes that can distract from the real heart of the film. The only problem I really had with the film is that the catalyst for the primary problem in the story comes from impossible circumstances. You just have to accept the situation they present and then revel in their creative way the boys try to make amends for their error. Or more specifically make up for Jerry, the lovable idiot’s error.

It’s a goofy and outlandish movie with some more ridiculous moments, but all the scenes where the team is making the new movies is incredibly entertaining. It’s comical, but at its heart it’s a movie about trying to preserve a town’s history while competing against chains that threaten family businesses. They work at a VHS thrift store, while competing with the upcoming technology of DVDs and global chains, in the film it is specifically West Coast Video. Ironic, because West Coast Video went out of business a year after the film was released. Unfortunately, this is a common narrative among little video rental stores as Netflix and video streaming became the new technology.

Throughout the movie they hatch a scheme to remake a bunch of their VHS tapes. As they gain popularity, the town gets more and more involved with their business, uniting the community. Whereas Mr. Fletcher united the two boys with an oral history of the town, the younger generation united the town with their own version of recorded history: in both VHS and DVD. In another interesting twist, both versions of history were wrong. The movies and the myth were just copies, distorted over time as nostalgia always inevitably is.

There is a tender relationship between Mr. Fletcher and Mike where he looks to him as a father and in doing so all of his motivation stems out of a desire to make him proud. The most honest parts of the film come at the end, when the town unites to make an original film to honor the myth and stories that connect them together. It’s a salute to the forgotten crevices of America, and the stories that connect that town to history, regardless if they are true or not. We need myths to survive, and this film is a really poignant look at the stories a town surrounds itself around. It’s a silly movie that has a ton of heart and I won’t lie, I cried at the end.

Amy’s Recommendation: 8/10