MADAGASIKARA MOVIE REVIEW

MADAGASIKARA
Global Digital
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cam Cowan
Screenwriter: Cam Cowan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/7/20
Opens: June 26, 2020

Madagasikara Poster

Though Republican politicians in the U.S. don’t know or don’t care, the largest economic problem here is the inequality of income. So let’s look for places that have little inequality. Try Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world with sandy beaches and the pure waters of the Indian Ocean. If there is little inequality there perhaps it’s because 98% of the country live on less than $2 a day! And boy do they have children! Maybe those earning $2 a day are envied by those making $1.50, but it’s probably unlikely that the 2% who make money are gobbling up almost all the wealth of the island.

So how do you live on two bucks a day, supporting children, paying rent, eating mostly white rice? Not too well, and yet there are smiling faces that we see in Cam Cowan’s documentary. This is Cowan’s freshman entry, though his next feature, “Opeka” to be released in 2020, deals with a similar subject: how an Argentine priest is teaching people who live in a Madagascar landfill to build a functional city.

In this mostly Catholic island that practices traditional religions as well, Pedro Opeka, a priest with a large white beard and shocks of snow-white hair complains that when he arrived to the island in 1970, the poverty rate was thirty percent, then became worse: in 2009 the rate hit ninety percent and by now it’s even worse. So much for calling this part of the world a “developing nation.”

The name of the movie, “Madagasikara,” sound like something Disney would call it if that company were to set up a Disneyland of sorts, but instead it is simply the name that the local people of the island call their nation. Though there have been protests with populations marching on the capital city, there has been no civil war, no foreign expeditions of conquest, and no natural disasters.

Then again, maybe a Trump-like poltician is responsible for some of the starvation there as one half of the children are malnourished, affecting their growth and intellectual potential. A rich guy who assumed the office of president despite losing an election (apparently the military supported him) aimed to sell off half of the good land to South Korean businesses. President Obama hit the land with sanctions, perhaps not realizing that Madagascar desperately needs foreign aid.

However most of the film focuses on a few women, one of whom named Lin is busy raising seven children and one grandchild on, yes, under $2/day. She takes in nine batches of laundry to earn the equivalent of 28 cents, which is 1,066 MGA or Malagasy Ariary. That gets her 2 cups of white rice, hardly enough to put meat on the bones of the kids and worth virtually nothing nutritionally.

Deborah, another woman who once had to resort to sex work beginning at age 12, complains that some of the men do not even pay her and some even beat her up. And don’t forget the wives of these “men,” instead of beating the crap out of their husbands, took out their venom on the poor woman. She had determined to stay in school to become a lawyer, though I can barely think of what people would have the money to hire attorneys but had to drop out, now hoping that some of her offspring could do what she had been unable to. Not likely, though we do see one school with kids crammed on makeshift desks watching teacher put mathematical formulas on the board.

A vocation that attracts some is breaking big rocks into small ones to make gravel, a task that looks similar to what U.S. prisoners on chain gangs had to do. The folks do not even wear gloves to protect their hands, nor can they presumably even afford them.

The production team encourages people to make the long journey to what is called one of the most beautiful islands on earth, but at present there are few if any international hotels, though prices are incredibly low. The Anjiamaranco is $29 a night with free breakfast, the Sakamanga is $20. The most expensive hotel is about $350 a night. Now none of this is mentioned since the focus is on the lives of some women living without running water and presumably no toilets. Still the doc, in addition to enlightening us, may encourage us to look up most facts about this island in Wikipedia and to price hotels via Trip Advisor and Trivago. I also discovered, though not particularly dealt with, that the country provides the world with 80% of its vanilla and a majority of its cloves, while having coffee, lychees, shrimp and providing one half of the world’s sapphires plus some titanium, chromite, coal, iron cobalt, copper and nickel.

84 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

HARRIET – movie review

HARRIET
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Screenwriter: Gregory Ellen Howard, Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, Clarke Peters
Screened at: Bryant Park, NYC, 9/11/19
Opens: November 1, 2019

Harriet Movie Poster (2019)

You’ve got to hand it to Canada. They have nationwide government health coverage just like the countries of Western Europe. They welcomed Americans who did not want to serve in the immoral war with Vietnam. They welcome immigrants even now! Even Ivanka has been seen checking out their Prime Minister. And they provided a safe haven for enslaved people in the U.S. who were able to travel, say, the 600 miles from Maryland to the Canadian border, some by boat from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario where many settled and found jobs. O Canada: can you take us in today when we need you so badly?

Hundreds of thousands of people in the early 19th century would have flocked to you, O Canada, to escape their status as property, where some of the opposition refused even to consider each to be 3/5 of a person. Otherwise a slave was considered property, and Harriet Tubman wanted none of that for herself, her family, her friends, and provided the energy and spark for John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. After seeing “Harriet,” you will not wonder why President Obama proposed her image on the $20 bill. You can probably forget that for now, since Trump is a big admirer of Old Hickory, even visiting his grave. But he would “love” to see Tubman’s face on another denomination, like the $2 bill. Yes, he really said that, which is to his credit. After all, he could have suggested the $3 bill. Which gets us back to Araminta Ross, called “Minty” by the slave owners in Dorchester County, Maryland. She had been thrashed by some of the farm owners under the direction of the handsome but villainous Gideon (Joe Alwyn), who took over the family estate after the death of his mean father, and may have been responsible for particular thrashings that injured Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) in the head, causing pain and dizziness and a series of seizures that caused her to dream, to hallucinate, and as an already devout Christian to hear messages from God. Cultural appropriation of Joan of Arc?

When she is not acting, Director Kasi Lemmons has a long c.v. of TV serials, her film direction including “Eve’s Bayou,” which relates just what happens when a woman witnesses her father’s having an affair. The “Harriet” screenplay, which she co-wrote with Gregory Ellen Howard (“Remember the Titans” about a newly assigned African-American coach), plays out events in chronological order, with some hallucinations and dreams serving as an intermittent backdrop to a colorful biopic.

Determined to breathe free, she runs away from the farm that owns her chased by three bloodhounds, depending on her two legs to carry her but getting the help of a sympathetic white man in his covered wagon. She reaches Philadelphia in the free state of Pennsylvania where she connects with an anti-slavery society under the direction of William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and is eventually given room and board in a hotel owned by Marie (Janelle Monáe), a sophisticated African-American who not only accepts Harriet but also takes in several members of her family whom she picked when Harriet—get this—returned from freedom, going back to the slave state of Maryland several times to pick up others.

“Harriet” is peppered with monologues form the title character, who invokes God’s communications with her, with dialogues among farmers who want Gideon’s family to pay them since Gideon’s slave has been taking them away to freedom, with tete-a-tetes especially between Harriet and Marie. But also there is considerable melodrama each time the dogs are sent to sniff out her path and one climactic face-off between good and evil: between Harriet and Gideon. Limiting herself to 125 minutes, Lemmons does not continue with Tubman’s working for the Union Army as a cook and nurse and later—as if she needs to do another miracle to attain an informal sainthood—with guiding a raid at Combahee Ferry which liberated 700 enslaved people. And she became the first woman to lead an armed expedition of men in the Civil War. She found time later in life to lobby for women suffrage.

Harriet Tubman must be grinning widely in her grave at Auburn, New York where she died in 1913, as this is a handsome movie that shows her in such a positive light that she appears to have not a single human flaw. For her part, look for Cynthia Erivo’s nominations by a host of awards groups including the Academy and even New York Film Critics Online.

125 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+