Marriage Story-2019

Marriage Story-2019

Director-Noah Baumbach

Starring-Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #959

Reviewed November 14, 2019

Grade: A

Marriage Story (2019) is a film that could have been generic, melodramatic, or contrived. Before it was released it was described as a “really good” version of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) or Terms of Endearment (1983). Those are excellent films but marginally sappy and overwrought. Marriage Story excels at being a smart, powerful, and realistic portrayal of a marriage disintegrating, painting a picture of how good people can turn ugly under certain circumstances. Believe the hype of how good this film is.

Taking place in both New York City and Los Angeles, we meet Charlie and Nicole Barber (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson), a theater director and his wife, an actress who stars in his plays. They fill notebook paper of what they love most about each other, and the list is lengthy. Appearing to be madly in love, the audience soon realizes that the couple is amid an amicable separation, the writings a result of an assignment by a “separations counselor”, hired to make things easier.

Charlie and Nicole share an eight-year-old son named Henry. Nicole returns to Los Angeles to resume her acting career and spend time with her mother (Julie Hagerty) and sister (Merritt Wever). Adam, successful in New York City, plans to stay and reside with his son. Nicole hires a tough lawyer, Nora (Laura Dern), while Charlie begrudgingly hires semi-retired attorney Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), and later Jay (Ray Liotta). Nicole and Charlie are sensible, planning to work things out by themselves, only needing representation for formalities, or so they think.

The situation escalates, spinning out of control as their divorce becomes increasingly hostile as custody of their young son ups the ante. Qualities they once loved about each other become hate filled arguments as the couple fights and feuds as their attorney’s scramble for a leg up. Can the couple save themselves as secrets bubble to the surface and situations are used against each other?

The film is a lengthy two-hours and sixteen minutes, so the plot takes time to capture its viewer. When it eventually takes grip it never let’s go, forcefully enrapturing the watcher. We care for both Charlie and Nicole and while sympathizing with each at different times, both characters are written as benevolent. There is no villain except the divorce itself.

The key to the success is in the writing. Director, Noah Baumbach, known for The Squid and the Whale (2005), and Frances Ha (2012) knows how to craft witty and clever dialogue, weaving comedy and drama intricately together. He can make the viewer laugh and cry within the same scene. The screenplay is the best part of the film because it is laden with crackling words and interesting situations.

Marriage Story reminds me of a Woody Allen film. Feeling improvised, unknown if any of the dialogue is, the characters speak long soliloquies and endless chatter between each other or themselves. This results in a powerful medium of self-expression and a “talkie” movie. The banter between characters is not drivel nor gibberish, but contains important, emotionally rich meaning and flavor.

The film belongs to Driver and Johansson, each delivering a home run. Driver is the stronger of the two but not by much and this is only because his emotional scenes feel rawer than hers do. When the actors have a knock-down drag-out fight the scene is long and exceptionally acted, each taking turns verbally attacking the other. Vicious rage and emotional fury come to the forefront. This is the best scene in the film.

Dern, Alda, and Liotta are wonderful, bringing respect to the film. Each has been on the Hollywood scene for forever and each plays an attorney. While Dern’s and Liotta’s characters are sharks, Alda’s is a reasonable and realistic older man who has seen it all. Burt lays down the facts for Charlie and makes his realize how much is at stake. Dern shines as the sexy blonde attorney who wears revealing clothes and legs for miles. Grizzled Liotta plans to win at all costs. What a delight to see these veterans bring electricity to each scene.

Lastly, I adore the bi-coastal locales of New York City and Los Angeles. The big cities burst with meaning and are as different as day and night as the film explains. Charlie is a New Yorker and Nicole a California girl at heart. is L.A. The plentiful scenes of both cities on location gives the film richness and texture.

With Marriage Story (2019), Baumbach creates his best and most personal film.  Rumored to be partly autobiographical he takes a subject matter most assume has already been exhausted and spins the story in a different direction that makes it feel fresh. The aspects all come together in an experience that is emotional, powerful, and intelligent. The film is a treasure and an example to young film makers that good writing always wins the day.

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Peter Sellers, George C. Scott

Scott’s Review #958

Reviewed November 13, 2019

Grade: A

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War and fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film, timely in the 1960’s, is as relevant decades later amid the chaos that ensued during the 2016 United States Presidential election, and the tumultuous years to follow. The film is powerful, brave, and important.

The story centers around an unhinged United States Air Force general (Sterling Hayden) who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The plot then follows the President of the United States, (Peter Sellers), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. The film also follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was fresh in viewers minds when this film was released, and President John F. Kennedy was recently assassinated. The United States and the Soviet Union were hardly best buddies. The film was a robust offering not just for the timing but also because political satire in film was fresh. Unintentionally clever is the ironic controversy that exists between the two leaders of the nation’s nearly sixty years after the film was released.

The acting is great. Peter Sellers plays three prominent roles, and each is quite different from the others. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer, President Merkin Muffley (what a name!) , the President of the United States, and Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-using nuclear war expert and former Nazi. Each glistens with goodness as the actor chomps at the bit, making them precise and unique, careful never to stray too far overboard into ridiculousness.

Director Stanley Kubrick wisely chooses black and white cinematography with stellar results and prominent film making techniques. The film, creative and progressive as many 1960’s films started to become as the decade blossomed, feels like it could have been made in the 1940’s. Kubrick, well known for masterpieces such as The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) delivers perhaps his oddest film in his catalog with Dr. Strangelove.

The story does not feel dated and the dialogue remains crisp and razor-sharp in its delivery and meaning. With fast dialogue delivery and a monotone vocal style, the film is entertaining and humorous, not taking itself too seriously, yet offering a poignant and important idea come to life. The film keeps gnawing at the viewers that as far-fetched as events seem, the possibility they could become real is more than a bit scary.

Who can possibly forget the final sequence of the looming nightmare of the mushroom clouds, set to Vera Lynn’s hopeful We’ll Meet Again?  Since the film has hints of 1940’s cinema style, the rude awakening that the 1960’s produced in terms of nuclear weapons and insecurity, hits home in this sequence.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) is pure satire but frightening in its realism and the uncertainty that one crazy leader could lead an entire nation to detrimental results. The film highly influenced later satires and unique styles in film making- Wes Anderson creations immediately spring to mind. One can ruminate in the differing possibilities the film offers- in a way the absurdity of the situation, and the unthinkable way the situation could easily become reality.

Midsommar-2019

Midsommar-2019

Director-Ari Aster

Starring-Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor

Scott’s Review #957

Reviewed November 11, 2019

Grade: B+

Director Ari Aster made a splash with his feature length directorial debut, the horror-drama film, Hereditary in 2018. The film received enormous accolades, even considered for an Oscar nomination, and was quite bizarre and horrific. Aster follows up with Midsommar (2019), a film arguably even more freaky and ambitious. The film is very slow-moving and foreboding, but finally reaches a macabre and perplexing climax. My initial reaction is the film is a fine wine with additional richness upon subsequent viewings.

The film quickly gets off to a creepy start in the United States as college student Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) receives a cryptic email from her troubled sister. Her sister soon kills herself and her parents by filling the house with carbon monoxide fumes. Dani is devastated and needs support from her distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), an anthropology student. The couple continue to feel disconnected from each other as months go by.

Dani and Christian decide to join some friends at a midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. One friend has relatives in the village and another decides to work on his thesis. What begins as a carefree holiday takes a devious turn when the villagers invite the group to partake in festivities that grow increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing. Strange events begin to occur as the subsequent series of celebrations gets underway.

Any horror film that mixes pagan cults, folklore and religion easily provides the creeps and Midsommar successfully hybrids American culture with Swedish culture in frightening form. Much of the film takes place in a remote area, with sprawling sunny lands, and a deathly silent atmosphere. The cheery locale has a peculiar California vibe and the Charles Manson era hairstyles are adorn by the Swedish women. Uncertain is whether this was Aster’s intent or not.

I love how the students are intelligent and worldly, using their time in the village to learn and study. The traditional horror stereotype involving high school or college students is their desire to guzzle beer, party, have sex, and do little else. Aster wisely makes his group intellectual and more studious than the norm. The students do partake in drugs, but this has more to do with the villagers having healing remedies and other sorts of herbal delicacies.

Midsommar contains many lengthy nude scenes, both male and female, the actors readily baring both their fronts and their rears. This is almost unheard of in American film, but Midsommar is a co-production between the United States and Sweden, providing more leeway in the nudity department. When Christian is given a strong psychedelic and beds a virginal villager eager to mate, the poor chap winds up chased around the village in the buff. This occurs after he inseminates the girl as they are surrounded by nude female villagers cheering them on.

Confusing and left unclear is the motivations of the villagers. The point is made that nine human sacrifices must be made to rid the village of evil, but why is the evil there to begin with? During a ritual it is revealed, in gruesome form, that elderly folks commit suicide at age seventy-two and their names given to newborns. The handsome Christian is a prime candidate to provide life, but why are the others killed? Were they lured intentionally and does their being American have anything to do with it? Was the intent all along to crown Dani May Queen or did she win the dancing competition?

The climax of the film ties back to the beginning portion only in terms of Dani’s and Christian’s relationship and her family’s deaths seem to have little to do with anything. Does Dani intend revenge on Christian or is she so drugged she knows not what she is doing? Will she remain in the village?

A film heavily influenced by The Wicker Man (1973), Midsommar (2019) has divided audiences based on common reviews. Some despise the film, calling it one of the worst ever seen. Others herald it as a work of art, an unsettling offering that provokes thought and provides a sinister feel. I found an enormous amount of questions left unanswered and this may be a good thing. It only makes me want to see the film again or peel back the onion post-film to dissect the many layers Aster creates.

Dawn of the Dead-2004

Dawn of the Dead-2004

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames

Scott’s Review #956

Reviewed November 8, 2019

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a remake of the original horror-comedy-satire film by legendary George Romero. What the original provided in intrigue and concept is lacking in the much bloodier remake- the freshness is not there. The film was made pre-television phenomenon The Walking Dead but watching it now with the zombie obsession at a steady decline, the film, while entertaining, feels tired and dated. The film feels patterned after the successful and fresh 28 Days Later (2002).

Now set in Wisconsin (the original was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Ana (Sarah Polley), returns from a shift at the local hospital, where she works as a nurse. She soon learns that massive bulletins alert sudden zombie plague, where former human beings have turned into cannibalistic corpses. Her husband a victim, Ana joins a small group of survivors at the local shopping mall and attempts to stay alive while being encircled by the creatures, and other not so nice people.

The main group includes a grizzled police sergeant, Kenneth (Ving Rhames), electronics salesman Michael, petty criminal Andre and his pregnant wife, Luda, and three guards, C.J., Bart, and Terry.  They are later joined by others who arrive via delivery truck. The large group befriends another survivor, Andy, who is stranded in his gun store across the zombie-infested parking lot. The rest of the film offs the characters one by one in traditional horror style, while the remaining few try to figure out an escape route.

The main problem with Dawn of the Dead is that the characters are not written well, making them either one note or not particularly interesting, and quite stereotypical. Examples of this are the angry and defiant guards, who make trouble for the rest of the group for no other reason than as a weak plot device to create drama other than from the zombies. Kenneth is an angry cop, a lone wolf type of character, who frequently postures and preaches. Again, there is no interesting reason behind his personality. Finally, Steve is an oversexed playboy who keeps recordings of his sexual shenanigans for repeated viewings.

The character meant to root for is Ana. We sympathize with her for her husband’s gruesome death and her struggle to stay alive, so she is the films hero. Her character is likable and Polley is a worthy actress, but I wonder if a name star would have been better in this circumstance. Polley did not last very long in the Hollywood world and this only makes the film feel more dated than it already does. Many viewers will not know who the actress is.

Another irritant is the decision to make the zombies move faster. Part of the beauty of the zombies is that they are slow and brooding, unable to think, just existing in a mummy-like haze. Suddenly, they are fast, making them tougher to flee from. This attempt at a modern approach by changing things up too much does not work at all.

Dawn of the Dead is not all dour. Props must be given to the mall setting, updated for 2004 shopping inclusiveness. Trendy and timely stores are added, and it feels like a mall of its time. This is one aspect of the film that works and feels interesting. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot some of their favorite stores from this decade.

The strongest part of an otherwise mediocre film is the brilliant incorporation of the heavy-metal band Disturbed’s aggressive song “Down with the Sickness” from 1999. The song is incorporated over the stylistic end credits and a summary of what happens to the survivors is provided over the lyrically brutal song. Unfortunately, it is the very ending of the film where it finally hits a home run.

Since this is a remake it is impossible not to compare it to the 1978 version in many ways. The characters in the original had more salt and a romance added a bit of complexity. The original also felt fun whereas the 2004 version seems hardened and angry. The originality that made the original fresh is lacking in this retread, which limits the unique social context and thought provocation that the original contained.

With little reason to watch Dawn of the Dead (2004) unless it was still 2004, the original 1978 Romero version is far superior. A fun tip might be to watch them in sequence (I did!) to notice differences in style and pacing and for general comparison sake. The final musical score is a win, but much of the rest is dull and dated.

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Director-Taika Waititi

Starring-Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #955

Reviewed November 6, 2019

Grade: A

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is quite simply put, a satire. This type of film, and this style of film making, is not intended for all pallets. The subject of Nazis and Adolf Hitler will hit too close to home for some viewers, especially considering this film is being classified as a comedy, albeit a dark one. With this risk in mind, the film has a fabulous message, is quirky, well-acted, and a marvelous piece of work. But it is a gradual, acquired taste, and not everyone will leave theaters feeling satisfied. I sure did.

Director, Taika Waititi, a Jewish man, is careful to toe the line with his story, teetering close to the edge, but never going too far overboard. He is careful not to offend those who may have close ties to World War II, the horrific events that took place, or disrespect the scars that remain. Rather, he teaches a lesson of acceptance, humanity, and pathos. A laugh one moment leads to tragedy and tears the next, making Jojo Rabbit quite the robust emotional experience.

The time is the 1940’s, the setting Germany, as Roman Griffin Davis portrays the title character, a Hitler Youth who finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa, (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Energetic and excitable, he joins a training camp where he is unable to kill a defenseless rabbit, hence given his new nickname. Jojo slowly comes to question his beliefs, while dealing with the intervention of his imaginary friend, an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). He eventually forges a close bond with Elsa.

As the film kicks off it immediately reminds me of a Wes Anderson style of storytelling. Think The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) or Moonrise Kingdom (2012). With quick editing and fast monotone dialogue the characters initially appear silly and trite, with witty responses to weird situations. As the relationships deepen the audience comes to fall in love with them. Davis is a wonderful child actor and the heart of the film.

Johansson’s Rosie, the mother, is secretly anti-Nazi. She’s got flair, pizzazz, and a good pair of shoes. She states that to dance is to be alive, words of wisdom she provides to Jojo. They come upon a few dangling bodies perched in the center of town for all to see. They have been caught aiding Jewish people and are a deathly symbol to present. Rosie tells Jojo not to look away for these people did what little they could do. This scene is a poignant one.

Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a Nazi captain who runs the youth camp, initially seems to be a buffoon, and a one-note character. He deepens as not just his patriotism, but his sexuality is called into question. The LGBTQ angle is implied, but only skirted over so that the point is vague and mysterious. The Captain stands very close by his second-in-command, Finkel, and a scene at the pool will make many wonder the true relationship between the men.

Finally, Yorki, Jojo’s best friend, is just adorable, providing a sweetness and genuine quality that is undeniably benevolent. McKenzie, as the frightened yet strong Elsa, is courageous to a fault. Stubborn and tough, she softens to Jojo as they get to know each other. Her mysterious boyfriend, Nathan, never seen on-screen, plays a prominent role and is a key to the relationship between she and Jojo. The characters are an integral part of the film.

Made in 2019, a volatile time on planet earth, and especially in the United States, the film breathes fresh air into the world of inclusion and acceptance. Much of this is slowly revealed as events transpire to a crescendo. As the war ends, several lives are forever changed, some good, others tragic, but each connected to the others, enriching their respective lives. Waititi celebrates the gift, joys and heartbreaks of life.

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is a film that makes the viewer think and challenges him or her to soak in innocence and evil. Despite the subject matter, the film is not cold or harsh, nor does it disrespect history. Incorporated are death and tragedy mixed with learning and strong relationships. The film is a great experience and an important find among many routine and mainstream projects. Jojo Rabbit perks up cinema, and hopefully the viewer, with a beautiful message.

Don’t Look in the Basement-1973

Don’t Look in the Basement-1973

Director-S.F. Brownrigg

Starring-Anne MacAdams, Rosie Holotik

Scott’s Review #954

Reviewed November 5, 2019

Grade: B

A film that is so low-budget that it strongly resembles the quality of independent master John Waters films, Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) has very low production values. In fact, it half makes Waters films look like grandiose budget-fests. It contains a campy and cheap quality that adds to the fun of watching. With a video-taped look and marginal acting, the film is perfect for a late-night indulgence, but little more.

Director S.F. Brownrigg, with screenwriter, Tim Pope, brought this project to life. Also named The Forgotten and Death Ward #13, Don’t Look in the Basement is the title that works best and conjures up the most intrigue. The story revolves around a collection of odd hospital inmates running the asylum while a series of mishaps occur.

Stephens Sanitarium is a secluded mental health facility in a remote area run by the quirky Dr. Stephens. The good doctor believes that the secret to curing his crazy group of loons is to allow them to express themselves, acting out their own realities in hopes of solving their problems. Stephens and an elderly nurse are both killed separately, he accidentally hacked to bits by an ax, and she having her head crushed by a female patient who thinks her baby (a doll) is being taken from her.

Dr. Geraldine Masters (Anne MacAdams) is left to run the facility and greets a new nurse, the sexy Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) when she arrives from out of town expecting a job. Charlotte encounters all the inmates before strange events begin to occur like an older patient having her tongue cut out, and a visiting telephone repairman being murdered.

One could speculate that Don’t Look in the Basement influenced independent treats such as Supervixens (1975), High Anxiety (1977) or the plethora of slasher films soon to be on the horizon, but this may be wishful thinking. A few choice scenes seem like quick blueprints for these films to follow, but in an amateurish way.

Despite the film being of the horror genre category, several scenes, mostly of Charlotte and Geraldine talking in an office, seem carved from a daytime soap-opera, which were popular in those days. The long dialogue, almost throwaway scenes, do not further the plot much, and it’s really the occasional macabre death scene that achieves the most reaction.

Don’t Look in the Basement adds a big twist that is really not difficult to figure out once all the pieces are presented to the viewer. The foreboding title ultimately underwhelms as this anticipated big secret barely comes to fruition. As the players are offed one by one the implausible conclusion reaches a climax and the viewer will ruminate that the early stages of the film are superior to the ending. The poor pacing and meandering story made me tune out from time to time.

Still, the film is fun and a good, old-fashioned camp-goofy good time. The characters are completely over-the-top in the best possible way. A female nymphomaniac who, it is relayed, has been left by any man she has ever met and craves love and affection, is convinced that the repairman will marry her (they have only just met!) and has sex with his corpse. A lobotomized black man only eats purple lollipops and has a heart of gold, while the ugly old woman, sans tongue, attempts to convey a secret message.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) is a marginal success because it does not take itself too seriously. This is both good and bad because the project takes on a juvenile quality that sometimes seems to be going for laughs more than for frights. The acting is below par, but somehow the characters retain enough interest to warrant a recommendation, but only for those with interest in the genre.

Joker-2019

Joker-2019

Director-Todd Phillips

Starring-Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #953

Reviewed November 1, 2019

Grade: A

Joker (2019) is a film that has divided audiences. Some love it, others loathe it. The experience is not your standard fun super-hero fare with a hero’s rescue and the good triumphing over the evil.  Despite the parlay into Batman territory the film smacks the viewer across the face with its brutality, violence, and social and psychological injustices. Joaquin Phoenix pummels the audience with an angry and bitter portrayal of the title character, easily one of the best performances of the year.

In one of the first scenes, before we even know the character, we experience a long close-up of Phoenix laughing hysterically. We wonder what is so funny, before the revelation that he, Arthur Fleck, suffers from a nervous condition that causes inappropriate outbursts. The time is 1981 and the fictional Gotham city, clearly a mirror image of New York City, is the setting. Times are tough, and crime is rampant. Arthur lives in a dumpy apartment with his sickly mother Penny (Frances Conroy) and visits a social worker regularly to receive his prescription medicine.

Arthur finds meager work as a party clown and aspires to be a stand-up comedian. After a gang attacks him in an alley, Arthur’s co-worker, Randall, encourages him to take a gun. Arthur invites his neighbor, single mother Sophie, to his stand-up comedy show, and they happily begin dating. Finally, another person understands him. Segments of the population are disenfranchised and impoverished as Thomas Wayne, a billionaire philanthropist, runs for mayor of Gotham. A strange connection develops between Arthur, Penny and Thomas becoming central to the plot.

Can we discuss the bravura performance by Phoenix for a moment? If anyone thinks that Heath Ledger was phenomenal when he portrayed the same character in 2008’s The Dark Knight will be elated by Phoenix who takes the character to a completely different level. What Phoenix adds is a strong sympathy for Arthur/the joker, and a caring for the character. We feel sorry for him but should we? He is a villain after all. One could easily debate whether his character can be considered the bad guy, or could he be deemed the hero?  Regardless of the assessment the performance is an unforgettable one.

A turn off to some, which I found tremendously powerful, is the role-reversal in the portrayal of the Wayne family/Bruce/Batman characters. Always deemed the “good guys”, in Joker, Thomas Wayne is self-centered, pompous, and embodies a sense of entitlement and snobbery. Bruce is a young boy, but the implication is that the family is unkind and what might the child grow up to believe?  Why is Batman/Bruce Wayne heralded as good and the joker evil? It turns the tradition upside down into a twisted mind warp and this is wonderfully creative and thought-provoking.

The best scene in the film, which triggers much of the subsequent violence and chaos, occurs when Arthur is invited to appear on a late- night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). A week earlier Franklin had played a humiliating clip of Arthur poorly performing stand-up. Arthur decides to appear in full “joker” attire, and the eventual discussion and words lead to tragic events. The scene is tense, intelligently written, and combative as the men spar over politics and class distinction.

Lastly, the musical score is dark, haunting, and mesmerizing without overtaking the film. Many key scenes of Arthur dancing and posturing are masterful with the inclusion of the bombastic music. He is a celebratory character, in his own mind at least, and the music fuses into the scene with gusto and power. The combination of clowns and an incredible score add an immense amount to the production.

Joker (2019) showcases a marvelous acting performance on the part of Phoenix which combines a haunting musical score in its depth. Providing a social commentary for the poor and disenfranchised, this film will divide viewers, probably based on preconceived expectations of a traditional Marvel type super-hero event. The film offers much more than safer films like Wonder Woman (2017) or Black Panther (2018) ever could- a dark and violent character study.

Yesterday-2019

Yesterday-2019

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Himesh Patel, Lilly James

Scott’s Review #952

Reviewed October 29, 2019

Grade: B-

Yesterday (2019) is a film that is silly but sentimental, oozing with a nice quality that becomes tiresome towards the conclusion. For those seeking a safe experience the film will be deemed as wonderful, but for those with an appetite for left of center grit, the film will only marginally entertain. It’s safe. Director, Danny Boyle (2008’s Slumdog Millionaire) again chooses a charismatic British-Indian actor, Himesh Patel, in the starring role, in a film any fan of the rock band The Beatles should see.

Jack Malick (Patel) is a struggling musician who resides in Lowestoft, England, a suburb of London. Unsuccessful, he is nonetheless encouraged by his manager and childhood friend, Ellie (Lilly James), to reach for the stars and never give up his dreams of achieving success. One day he is hit by a bus during a global blackout and is hospitalized with a head injury and missing teeth. When he performs the Beatles song “Yesterday” for his friends they are blown away by its genius. Jack realizes that the entire world has never heard of the legendary band and capitalizes on the stroke of luck, becoming a rock n roll superstar.

The massive song catalog of the Beatles featured in Yesterday is the best part of the film. The pleasure is in wondering which songs will appear next and in what context. Jack awkwardly “debuts” the song “Let it Be” to his parents, who continuously botch the name of the song, only showing mild interest. Next, Jack furiously attempts to remember the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby”, a difficult song lyrically. Other gorgeous classics featured are “The Long and Winding Road”, “Here Comes the Sun”, and “Something”.

A sentimental nod, and appearance of a John Lennon figure is a nice touch and a worthy dedication to the deceased legend. The key here is wondering what would have become of the assassinated star had he not been famous. The film approaches this when revealing that Lennon would today be an old man- Lennon tells Jack in a sentimental scene that he has lived happily with his wife by his side. If only this had been the case.

Patel is charming and a character to root for. As the butt of jokes made by his friends, who truly adore him, he is neither the handsome lead nor the wimpy co-star, more of a hybrid of the two. We want him to achieve musical success because he is a nice guy but are glad when he finally fesses to the phony plot, as predictable as that point is to the film. Patel’s best scenes occur on-stage when he either rocks out to the guitar or adorns us with a piano ballad.

Other than the above notes, Yesterday is only mildly entertaining mixing a musical with a romantic story that does not work. If the audience is expected to root for Jack and Ellie to get together then the idea falls flat. The pair have no chemistry nor is Ellie even remotely written as being the type who will live the rock n roll lifestyle or want to. She is an elementary school teacher and asks Jack to give up his dream and lead a simple life in the suburbs. Who would do that?

Yesterday is riddled with stock characters, some of whom may or may not exist in real-life. As much as I love actress/comedian Kate McKinnon, her overbearing character of Debra Hammer doesn’t showcase her best work. Driven and cold, the character is played for laughs with her over-the-top behavior, but it feels too much like a part written to showcase McKinnon. Jack’s parents are cliche-filled characters doting around with confused expressions and seeming to be overwhelmed by all events.

A musical film that cringes with a safe and saccharin feel saved only slightly by the bevy of mostly 1960’s hits by the Beatles, some of which lyrically are dissected and showcased. Yesterday (2019) includes pop star Ed Sheeran, who cannot act, and does nothing for the film. Way too polished and superfluous for its own good, Boyle, a worthy director, should have added some edginess rather than going for safe pop. Thank goodness the film is about the Beatles rather than the Backstreet Boys.

Hostel-2006

Hostel-2006

Director-Eli Roth

Starring-Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson

Scott’s Review #951

Reviewed October 24, 2019

Grade: A-

During the early 2000’s the traditional horror genre catapulted into a sub-genre commonly referred to as “torture porn” led by the Saw franchise, debuting in 2004. Hostel (2006) takes a note and creates a terrifying production that holds up arguably the best in the bunch. With Quentin Tarantino serving as producer and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever-2002) in the writer and director chair, one knows something memorable is in store. The film is hardly everyone’s cup of tea but a delight for horror fanatics.

American college students Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) travel across Europe seeking adventure and dalliances. They are advised to visit Slovakia, where they are told the women are beautiful, picking up a new Icelandic acquaintance, Oli, along the way. They encounter a strange Dutch businessman, a pack of rebellious street kids, two Asian girls, and two gorgeous European women, Natalya and Svetlana, as they travel.

When Oli disappears, and Paxton and Josh are drugged by the girls, events turn gruesome as the young men find themselves in a horrific remote dungeon facility where tourists are accosted and sold to willing buyers who brutalize and experiment on the victims. Paxton must figure out a way to escape his peril and try to save any of the others before it is too late.

Hostel portrays the loneliness and insecurity of traveling abroad successfully as confusion and disorientation are commonalities that anyone who has traveled to a foreign country can relate to. The country of Slovenia (as an aside the film was shot in the Czech Republic) looks eerie and desolate with a quiet and cold tone. As the group is preyed upon by a mysterious organization that tortures and kills kidnapped tourists, the thought and realism this conjures up adds to the fright.

In unique measure, Roth turns the traditional gender stereotypes upside down. Based on an unbalanced scale females are killed much more often in horror films than males are. A refreshing point is the three principles are males not females and we wonder which ones will “get theirs” and how. Similarities thereby abound with Halloween (1978) when the trio were females and audiences watched their daytime adventures while salivating at the thought of the antics that would transpire when darkness finally falls.

Hostel kicks into high gear during the final thirty minutes once the blood-letting begins to take place. The dark and dingy dungeon is laden with corpses, severed limbs, and blood. A melancholy scene occurs when one character, alive yet pretending to be dead, is affixed in a position where he must stare into the dead eyes of his friend. In another scene, one character must cut off the dangling eye ball of another so that they can escape the dungeon. The scenes have equal power in different ways.

A slight irritant to Hostel is the prevalence of homophobia throughout the film. When the guys get into a scuffle with a long-haired bar patron and use a homophobic slur or a scene in which Paxton states “that’s so gay” as a negative seem unnecessary. Is this to make the main characters less sympathetic or for the viewer to hope that they suffer a horrible fate? Or is Roth just known for homophobia? In 2006 the LGBT community was becoming prominent in film, so the inclusion is off-putting and out of line.

Hostel (2006) remains a superlative horror film that is a shock-fest and is still one of the best of its decade. The gruesome scenes still resonate well and watching the film more than a decade later it feels as fresh as when released with only the homophobic slurs needing to be removed. Influence by Tarantino is always a fine element and his stamp is all over the film. Followed by two sub-par sequels that tread the same blueprint of European travels gone deadly.

Love Story-1970

Love Story-1970

Director-Arthur Hiller

Starring-Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw

Scott’s Review #950

Reviewed October 23, 2019

Grade: B+

Love Story (1970) was an enormous blockbuster hit at the time of release with two good-looking stars of the day immersed in a tragic romance. Almost fifty years later the story feels contrived and watered down with a “been there seen that” result. While reviewing the film one must be mindful of the time-period in which the film was made (before similar films hit the circuit) and the chemistry between the leads holds up quite well. Perhaps the film works best having seen it decades ago as it now feels dated.

Handsome Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) is a star ice hockey player attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is heir to the wealthy Barrett family led by father Oliver Barrett III (Ray Milland). While at school he meets the blue-collar Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw), who attends neighboring Radcliffe College and studies classical music. The couple fall madly in love becoming inseparable.

Oliver is met with anger after he proposes to Jenny, she accepts, and they travel to the Barrett mansion so that she can meet Oliver’s parents. They are judgmental and unimpressed with her thinking she is nice, but hardly a companion for their son. Later Oliver’s father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny. After graduation Oliver and Jenny marry nonetheless and begin a life of financial struggle but filled with happiness. When they attempt to conceive they learn that Jenny is terminally ill and has weeks to live.

The prime appeal of the film is the romance between Oliver and Jenny which feels primal and honest. They are the cliched rich boy and poor girl equation, but in this film the dynamic works. O’Neal and MacGraw are good-looking and were on the cusp of Hollywood A-list classification so the stars aligned in the casting. They ebb and flow in the beginning of the film with Jenny’s sarcasm and Oliver’s quiet arrogance, but there is never a doubt the pair will fall madly in love and we, the audience, are hooked from the start.

On an atmospheric level, the icy northeastern climate and the myriad of exterior scenes throughout Massachusetts give the film a proper ambiance. For anyone who has studied at a university in this area or has interest, the film succeeds, and it adds a robust flavor to the surrounding events. The youthful wonder and the promise of a bright future is of paramount importance to the story being told and the foreshadowing is effective.

The film lacks guts in the pacing area though. Most of Love Story is spent focusing on the newness of Oliver and Jenny’s romance and their hurdles surrounding family members and a brief nod to class and societal roles. At a brief one hour and thirty-five minutes there is very little time left for the shocking turn of events surrounding Jenny’s illness. Coming out of nowhere, the character is alive and well, has a brief fainting spell, and is then seen lying on a gurney before dying off-screen.

There is no bedside death scene, no suffering nor deteriorating health, and the entire tragedy is glossed over. Hence the title, the focus is on the “love story” but this seems like a scam. So much is invested in the couple that the loss seems skimmed over. How can one die from leukemia (blood cancer) within a few days anyway? The film makers clear attempts at playing it safe is at the expense of the overall film experience.

Love Story (1970) deserves praise for being one of the first of its kind- the romantic tearjerker. The genre would soon become soaked with imitators so cliched that they bring the original down a notch because it now feels trite. The chick flick contains good acting and nice scenery but lacks the emotional depth I was hoping for. Melodramatic to a fault the appeal of the leads surges the overall effort way more than it should.

Ma-2019

Ma-2019

Director-Tate Taylor

Starring-Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers

Scott’s Review #949

Reviewed October 22, 2019

Grade: B+

Marketed as a slasher film based on the trailers, Ma (2019) impressed me immensely as my expectations of a standard horror film were superseded by a more complex, perfectly paced psychological thriller. A fantastic performance by Octavia Spencer, and dare I mention an Oscar worthy one if this were a different type of film, the actress effortlessly brings vulnerability to a not so easy role to play. The finale is disappointing, and the film throws in a few too many stereotypes, but nevertheless is a very good effort.

Set somewhere in remote Ohio, but looking more like the southern United States, teenager Maggie Thomson (Diana Silvers) and her mom Erica (Juliette Lewis) return to Erica’s hometown after her marriage fails. Reduced to a job as a cocktail waitress at a local casino, she encourages Maggie to make friends. Maggie falls into the popular crowd as Erica reconnects with high-school friends who are mostly the parents of Maggie’s new friends. Sue Ann (Spencer) bonds with the cool kids by purchasing them booze and holding parties in her basement much to the displeasure of the parents.

The audience soon knows that something is not right with Sue Ann. She forbids the kids from ever venturing to her upstairs and slowly develops a needy attachment to the teens. Flashbacks begin to emerge as clues to her connection to the other parents and her plot for revenge. The incorporation of a place in the house to avoid is a common horror gimmick that always works well. Inevitably, someone will venture to that area of the house and a secret is revealed. Ma is no different in this regard.

How wonderful to see more diversity, and specifically among the African-American population, represented in the horror genre. Typically, other than at best being cast as a best friend or in small supporting roles, the horror genre has been an all-white affair. Thanks to Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) horror films have recently included all black casts and have been tremendous hits. Let’s hold out hope that the Asian, Latino and LGBTQ communities will receive more inclusion and bring a freshness to a key cinematic genre.

The film belongs to Spencer. The Oscar winning actress must have had a fun time with this role and gets to let loose during many scenes. She goes from coquettish to maniacal, sometimes within the same scene, with flawless precision and gutsy acting decisions. My favorite Sue Ann is the unhinged one as she slyly threatens to cut one male character’s genitalia off. She smirks and uses her large, expression filled eyes to her advantage. Psycho has never looked so good!

The climax, so important in horror or thrillers, to follow through and capitalize on the build-up, ultimately fails in Ma. Once the big reveal surfaces and a childhood prank is exposed, the trick hardly seems worthy of a killing bonanza. A mousy Sue Ann performed fellatio on a nerd instead of her crush. Even those involved on the outskirts are blamed and waiting twenty years to exact revenge on her tormentors (most of whom have repented) doesn’t seem plausible.

Ma (2019) contains a hefty cast of stalwarts but it’s Spencer who brings the sometimes-generic material and trivial conclusion to crackling life with her brilliant portrayal of a damaged woman. Allison Janney, Lewis and others add respectability when the film teeters too close to mediocrity with its teen character cliches, but the film excels when it focuses on character rich story and unexpected plot points.

Child’s Play-2019

Child’s Play-2019

Director-Lars Klevberg

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill

Scott’s Review #948

Reviewed October 17, 2019

Grade: B

In the cinematic genre of horror, when a successful franchise has been dormant for a period it is an inevitability that sooner or later a reboot will be in the offerings. Child’s Play (2019) resurrects the series of films popular in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with a modern stamp. The film is formulaic but adds a bit of macabre dark humor that lofts it above mediocrity, but the freshness turns too silly in the final act and neither the film nor the killer is scary.

Kaslan Corporation has launched a successful new global product called Buddi, a revolutionary line of high-tech dolls designed to be human-like companions to their owners, learning from their surroundings and acting accordingly. Buddi dolls can also connect to and operate other Kaslan products, quickly becoming a phenomenon for kids worldwide. A disgruntled employee tweaks one of the dolls to turn sinister and then commits suicide.

Single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) works as a retail clerk in Chicago raising a thirteen-year-old son named Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who wears a hearing aid. New to the area he struggles to make friends, so Karen takes the defective doll from her store as a substitute friend and pick me up for her son. As Andy makes acquaintances within the building and takes a disliking to Karen’s new beau Shane (David Lewis), Buddi names himself Chucky and seeks vengeance against those surrounding Andy, eventually turning on the boy.

Child’s Play takes a modernized approach by making the new Chucky a more high-tech doll, much advanced to the original Chucky from the 1988 debut. 2019 Chucky is creepier and more life-like than original Chucky which provides the film with a fresh look rather than merely a retread of the 1980’s. Set in present times the film feels relevant and glossy. New Chucky is more human than old Chucky with more capabilities and room for thought and deduction making him more devious.

A treat for Star Wars (1977) fans and really any fan of cinema history is the inclusion of Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky. While Hamill’s voice is not sinister nor particularly distinguishable to the naked ear, the star power adds fun and familiarity, a throwback and ode to film lore. Hamill’s voice is pleasant and kind which adds a foreboding and sinister quality.

The film has some clever moments and bits of chilling dark humor that make it a fun experience. When Shane becomes the first victim of Chucky’s wrath and meets a dire fate at the hands of a tiller while hanging Christmas lights, he is beheaded and Chucky leaves the head in a disgusted Andy’s room. In hilarious and laugh out loud form, the head winds up as a wrapped Christmas present for Andy’s elderly neighbor Doreen who props it on her mantle until she can open it.

Bryan Tyree Henry, known for his prominent turns in Widows (2018) and the wonderful If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) adds comedy and a nice guy edge as Andy’s neighbor, Detective Mike Norris. Plaza, as Karen, is given limited material and unable to shine in her role, not seeming old enough nor motherly enough to add much realism. A big fan of the actress, she is more talented than this part allows her to be.

The film misfires with the cliched misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions that Andy is responsible for the deaths Chucky caused.  Andy’s two apartment buddies are caricatures, and the big finale set inside the retail store is disappointing. Chucky brilliantly hacks the Buddi toys on the shelves and chaos ensues as parents and children are massacred as a stampede tries to escape the store. The scene does not work as well as a climax should.

Sticking closely to script and offering a predictable formula film the 1988 film Child’s Play is remade in 2019 with added star power. Familiar faces (and voices) Plaza, Henry and Hamill rise the film slightly above B-movie status, though the dumb finale made me tune out a bit after the main kills were over. I doubt the film performed well enough at the box-office to secure the known actors returns and hopefully this will be a one and done project.

Downton Abbey-2019

Downton Abbey-2019

Director-Michael Engler

Starring-Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #947

Reviewed October 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Capitalizing on the tremendous success of the television series which went off the air in 2015, Downton Abbey (2019) is a British historical period drama film written by Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of the series. Beloved fans will eat the film up as the familiar formula and characters are brought to the big screen giving it an even grander feel. The film plays more like a two-hour episode arc over reinventing the wheel, but the result is a resounding crowd-pleasing affair with drama, scandals and a good dose of nostalgia.

The Crawleys and their servants reside in the lavish fictional estate of Downton Abbey during the year of 1927, a year and a half after the series ended. Little has changed and most of the characters are in similar situations, enjoying their daily lives. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), the Earl and Countess of Grantham, are notified that King George V and Queen Mary will visit their home as part of a royal tour throughout the country. The family and staff are excited yet skittish as they prepare to ensure the lavish event goes off without a hitch.

Situations arise such as the Downton Abbey servants feuding with the Buckingham Palace staff, Violet Crawley’s (Maggie Smith) dismay at Robert’s cousin Maud (Imelda Staunton) being in attendance, an attempted plot to kill the King which is thwarted by Tom (Allen Leach), a new job offer for Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) husband, Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) frustration with keeping the vast estate up and running, and potential romances for several of the characters, including a scandalous same sex relationship.

A few contemporary issues are created – among them women’s rights and the plight of gay men. And though welcome, neither changes the overall blueprint of what the series is about. Which is just what the series fans ordered. Smith is the main attraction as she chews up the scenery with her insults, sarcasm and blunt honesty. But the best scene, coming late in the film, gives Smith a chance to burst with sentimentality and limit the hammy for at least one treasured scene.

The costumes and art direction are lovely with luscious gowns, tuxedos, suits, jackets, hats and shoes found in every scene. The sprawling grounds of Downton Abbey and the ravishing interiors are front and center. The film takes a foray to the neighboring city of York to offer a more progressive and metropolitan vibe, but each scene looks perfect, which is what fans have come to expect.

Not every character is front and center, but with an unwieldy cast of close to thirty principles, some are destined to accept back-burner status. Surprising, yet agreeable, is the toned-down story for “super-couple” Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt), having enjoyed their share of trials and tribulations during the original run. Wonderful moments feature supporting characters like Carson (Jim Carter), Thomas (Robert James-Collier) and Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who nearly steals the show with his hysterical fascination with royalty.

The balance and pace of the film is nearly perfect, and every character has at least something to do. This characteristic has always helped huge ensemble casts succeed and Fellowes wisely balances humor with drama but avoids tragedy or dark situations, hoping for mainstream success with his movement to the big screen, opting to play it safe. The attempt succeeds as the film takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix” approach.

Downton Abbey (2019) is a splendid winner based solely on production values and costumes. For fans of the television series the film is a must see and offers no more or no less than expected, more than enough to please those wanting what the popular stories originally offered. Despite the drama, the film does not feel “soapy” nor contrived and the tender moments may cause the need for a hankie. If the writing can remain fresh I see no reason for another offering not to be green-lit especially due to the large box-office returns.

Judy-2019

Judy-2019

Director-Rupert Goold

Starring-Renee Zellweger

Scott’s Review #946

Reviewed October 14, 2019

Grade: A

Creating a film about an iconic figure such as Judy Garland is assuredly a difficult task. Casting the role is an even tougher one. Both points come together with perfect symmetry as director Rupert Goold provides Judy (2019) with heart, hope and a sadness. Rene Zellweger is astounding in the title role as she embodies the character. The film is greatness and an accurate telling of the real-life person.

The time-period is 1967, and we meet the adult Judy Garland (Zellwegger) well after midnight, having performed with her two young children in tow. Haggard, they are told by the Los Angeles hotel staff that their room has been given up due to lack of payment. The American singer and actress is broke due to bad marriages, drugs and alcohol. The star is forced to return to her ex-husband for shelter. The two quibble about the children.

The film does not focus solely on the late 1960’s and the final years of Garland’s life but also delves back to her debut as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). The pressures put upon the aspiring actress to perform, lose weight, and keep her energy up are shown in savage fury, so that the audience realizes how the young girl turned into a boozy, unreliable middle-aged woman. Hollywood ruined her innocence.

Zellweger is beyond brilliant. Having disappeared from the spotlight for several years, the actress is back with a vengeance having something to prove. Prove she does as she becomes Judy Garland. From her small but expression filled eyes to her nervous movements and pursing lips, she gives a flawless performance and has been rewarded with praise across the board. It is a remarkable portrayal that should go down in the history books.

Much of the film takes place in London as Garland is forced, for financial reasons, to agree to a series of concerts to bring in cash. This necessitates leaving her children behind. A wonderful scene takes place in a phone booth as Judy comes to the heartbreaking conclusion that her children would prefer the stability of living with their father. Though she understands, the star crumbles in sadness and loneliness.

A treat is the showcasing of Garland’s compassion for others deemed outcasts, as she also was. Gravitating towards gay men she spots one gay couple in the audience night after night and befriends them as they eagerly await her exit from the theater one night. She suggests dinner and the dumbfounded couple clumsily searches for a restaurant open that late, finally offering to make her scrambled eggs at their flat. Things go awry but it hardly matters in a heartfelt scene that exposes the prejudices same sex couples faced as recent as the 1960’s and the champion Garland was to the LGBTQ community.

The iconic “Over the Rainbow” is featured late in the film and perfectly placed. Judy ends her touring engagement due to hecklers but returns for a final night on stage where she asks to perform one last song. She breaks down while singing “Over the Rainbow” but recovers with the encouragement of supportive fans and can complete the performance. Judy asks, “You won’t forget me, will you?” She does not live long thereafter and dies in the summer of 1969. The scene is painful and not a dry eye is left in the house.

Judy (2019) is a wonderful tribute to the life and times of a Hollywood legend. The film is not a complete downer nor is it cheerful. What the film makers do is make clear that Garland always had hope and hope for a better life and for the happiness that alluded her. She was kind to most and loved her children beyond measure. Zellweger will likely eat up a plethora of awards throughout the season, as she should.

The Old Man & the Gun-2018

The Old Man & the Gun-2018

Director-David Lowery

Starring-Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek

Scott’s Review #945

Reviewed October 11, 2019

Grade: B

Quiet films that center on older characters are not the norm in youth obsessed Hollywood, where profits are always in fashion. The Old Man & the Gun (2018) spins a tale offering adventure and a good old-fashioned love story, with appealing stars. The film is slow-moving and not a groundbreaking piece but possesses a fine veneer and a snug plot that leaves the viewer with a nice fuzzy feeling of watching something wholesome. The script is loosely based on David Grann’s 2003 article titled “The Old Man and the Gun”, which was later collected in Grann’s 2010 book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

Career criminal Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is a wanted man for his daring escape from San Quentin State Prison in 1979, the current time-period is 1981. Addicted to petty bank robberies for relatively small dollar amounts, he is addicted to the rush. A charmer, he is unassuming and unsuspecting. As he flees the scene of a recent heist, he meets a kind widowed woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whose truck has broken down. The pair have lunch at a diner and quickly bond.

Forrest is in cahoots with two other bank robbers as the trio make their way across the southwest United States garnering a reputation. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a Dallas detective, is tasked with finding and arresting Tucker, until the FBI takes the case away from him. Hunt cannot give up the search as the duo embark on a cat and mouse chase across the area sometimes crossing paths in the local diner.

Where The Old Man & the Gun succeeds is any scene featuring Forrest and Jewel together. Their chemistry is radiant during calm scenes of the couple eating pie and sipping coffee at the diner, simply getting to know each other organically. Adding mystery to their bond is when Forrest slips her a note during their first encounter. It is unclear whether he reveals his shady career to her or not, but it is alluded to that he has confessed something that she is not sure she believes.

Redford carries the film as if he were still a leading man from his 1970’s and 1980’s blockbuster days, which is a testament to his Hollywood staying power. With his charismatic smile and still dashing good looks, it is little wonder that the bank tellers he holds up describe him as nice and polite, easily wooing the folks into his good graces. A crowning achievement for the actor, he narrowly missed an Academy Award nomination, but did score a Golden Globe nod.

The film suffers from predictability during the final act as one of his accomplices turns him into the police and a chase ensues between Forrest and Hunt. This is not the best part of the film and feels like dozens of other crime dramas. Affleck looks to be in a role he didn’t particularly enjoy, at least that is how it seems to me watching the film. The actor is an Oscar winner playing cops and robbers and clearly second fiddle to Redford. Can you blame him for looking glum?

Speaking of misses, Hunt is in an interracial relationship with Maureen, a beautiful black woman, who have a mixed-race daughter. Rural Texas in 1981 must have posed racial issues for the family but this is never mentioned. Maureen and her daughter also look straight out of 2019 with fashionable hairstyles and clothes. The relationship is progressive which is a plus, but written unrealistically.

Rumored to be retiring from the film industry (we’ll see if that happens) Robert Redford gives a terrific turn as a man who reflects upon his life and treats the audience to the same effect. A delicious role and a crowning achievement to a great career, Spacek is perfectly cast and a treasure to have along for the ride, celebrating two fantastic careers. The Old Man & the Gun (2018) is a touching, romantic bank heist film with more positives than negatives.

At Eternity’s Gate-2018

At Eternity’s Gate-2018

Director-Julian Schnabel

Starring-Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #944

Reviewed October 9, 2019

Grade: B+

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) is a journey into the mind of one of the most tortured painters of all time- Vincent van Gogh. The film focuses on only the final years of the artists life and the events leading up to his death. Inventive direction by visionary Julian Schnabel creates an isolated and majestic world amid a feeling of being inside Van Gogh’s mind. Though slow-moving, Willem Dafoe gives a brilliant performance, eliciting pathos from its viewers.

The time-period is 1888 as Van Gogh travels to Paris to meet his good friend and fellow painter, Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), an equally tortured individual. They share ideas and qualms about Paris life as Gauguin convinces Van Gogh to travel to the south of France though his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) resides in Paris. Fluctuating scenes occur of Van Gogh’s relationship with a prostitute, a woman he meets on a country road and obsesses over, and his complex relationships with both Theo and Gauguin.

Dafoe, a legendary actor recognized for this role with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, is one of the best components of At Eternity’s Gate. He engulfs Van Gogh with a constant state of emotional exhaustion and dissatisfaction. As he becomes attached to Gauguin, who ends up leaving him, Dafoe so eloquently emits his quiet depression, seeming to have nobody left in his life. As he violently chops off his ear as a show of loyalty to Gauguin, the mental hospital awaits him. All these complex emotions Dafoe carries with a calm grace and dignity.

Schnabel, known mostly for groundbreaking Oscar nominated work for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), has a beautiful technique. Providing even the darkest scenes with a lovely and sometimes dizzying camera effect, he adds frequent scenes of blurred focus with close-ups of his characters. A painter himself, the result is a magical interpretation with colors and framed scenes. Many of his films focus on a real-life study and Van Gogh is a great choice by the director.

The French landscape is lovely and culturally significant to the experience. The busy and robust Parisian lifestyle juxtapositions nicely against scenes of the lavish countryside, presumably north and south of the City of Light. When Van Gogh quietly sits and paints numerous canvases of still objects- a bush or a tree, the flavorful colors come through against the landscape, and burst with natural beauty. The cinematography is excellent.

The main detraction to At Eternity’s Gate is the slow, or should I say snail’s pace. At only one hour and fifty-three minutes the entire length of the film feels much, much longer. Viewing the film on an international flight may or may not have influenced this note, but the story seems to drag on endlessly, though the beautiful aspects outweigh the boring scenes.

The mental health aspect and the encouragement Van Gogh receives to get better and heal seem a bit too modern a method for late nineteenth century. This may have been incorporated as an add-on to current and relevant issues to be given exposure, but while inspiring it does not seem to fit the film either. This is a small criticism I noticed.

Bordering on the art film genre, At Eternity’s Gate (2018) is a sad depiction of a disturbed man’s lonely existence creating art that would not be recognized as genius until after his death. A slow film, it uses gorgeous camera shots and lovely snippets of Vincent van Gogh’s works to seem poetic. The film is not for everyone and is not a mainstream Hollywood experience, but rather a quiet biography of one of the greats.

Soylent Green-1973

Soylent Green-1973

Director-Richard Fleischer

Starring-Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young

Scott’s Review #943

Reviewed October 8, 2019

Grade: B

Soylent Green (1973) is a rather obscure offering starring then big-named star Charlton Heston in a dystopian science-fiction film. The story is futuristic and eerily reminiscent of Planet of the Apes (1968), though not nearly as compelling nor as layered, but comparisons exist. The result is admirable for its progressive message, cool colors and sets, but feels dated and of its time and treats female characters more like props than characters, leaving an uneven result. It’s a one and done sort of film.

The year is 2022 and because of the Industrial Revolution, 40 million people live in New York City, suffering year-round from extreme humidity because of the greenhouse effect and shortages of water, food and housing. Only the wealthy are afforded necessities and residents of the rich (mostly female) are referred to as “furniture” and used as slaves. Detective Frank Thorn (Heston) is tasked with investigating the murder of an affluent and prominent man, which leads him to dire details surrounding Soylent Industries and the food they produce.

The film seems like someone’s visionary idea turned Hollywood. Loosely based on a 1966 novel entitled “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison, Heston is cast as the lead while his career was slowly declining, but he is still the star and quite hunky for an older gentleman. He plays the role in similar fashion to his character of George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, especially during the final climactic reveal, which will make viewers question what is really contained in what they are eating for dinner.

Heston carries the film well and mixes wonderfully with character actor Edward G. Robinson, who plays Sol Roth in his final role. The old character decides to “return to the home of the God” and seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic. The final scene between the actors is poignant and heartfelt as they say goodbye to each other. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a young Dick Van Patten in a tiny role during this scene.

Any romantic chemistry is lacking in Soylent Green as a potential love match between Frank and Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) strikes out. Mismatched and having little thunder together, the couple does not appeal well. Making matters worse is that Shirl is merely “furniture” limiting the character’s potential. She is reduced to assisting with Frank’s investigation.

The main detraction is that the film does not feel very futuristic or authentic. The characters look like actors from the 1970’s dressed up to look like they are from the future always with a tint of Hollywood thrown in. The story loses its way halfway through and teeters about between pure science-fiction and a standard detective story, seen nightly at that time on network television.

Still, the film does contain a robust amount of potential, but is not reached. The progressive slant and social commentary are admirable, and the bright green nutritious synthetic canned food is almost a character.  The final scene will shock the viewer with horror and I wish more scenes this jaw-dropping existed within the entire experience and not simply at the end.

A film that attempts to do something different or provide a provocative message is worthy of a certain amount of praise. Soylent Green (1973) carves a bit of thought provocation but seems more relevant for the 1970’s than containing much interest decades later. Heston is dazzling as the main character and the trimmings are impressive but Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) resonate more as similar genre films.

Hustlers-2019

Hustlers-2019

Director-Lorene Scafaria

Starring-Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez

Scott’s Review #942

Reviewed October 3, 2019

Grade: B+

Hustlers (2019) is a film that I had no intention of seeing. It was not on my radar and I did not know much about the film except that it was promoted as a story about a group of strippers who bamboozle Wall Street men. Yawn! The experience was better than experienced- much better in fact thanks to the critically lauded performance by Jennifer Lopez. She astounds in a role perfectly written for her as the true story champions female empowerment, and why shouldn’t it? The result is a feminist film with humor.

Constance Wu, famous for putting Asian actors on the map with Crazy Rich Asians (2018), does a complete one-eighty as the lead character in Hustlers. Unrecognizable, she plays a New York City stripper named Destiny, who works at a trendy Wall Street club named Moves, in 2007. She supports her grandmother and barely gets by on meager tips, possessing the looks but not quite the style. When she witnesses fellow dancer Ramona Vega (Lopez) perform a simmering routine, the women bond and become fast friends.

Destiny enjoys newfound wealth and a close friendship with Ramona. A year later, the financial crisis strikes, and both women find themselves struggling for cash having squandered their fortunes. Destiny becomes pregnant. Her boyfriend leaves her shortly after their daughter’s birth, and she is unable to find a new job. Destiny and Ramona, along with other girls, hatch a plot to manipulate the businessmen they have grown to know, out of desperation. The story is based on true events.

Had the elements not wholly come together in this film the result would have been dreary or at best mediocre. A current trend in modern cinema is to have a group of female characters team-up in some form of heist or crime fighting adventure- think Ocean’s Eight (2018), the Ghostbusters (2016) remake, or Widows (2018). Some results are better than others but hardly memorable as the girl-buddy genre hardly has any depth.

Two important factors stand out to me as rising Hustlers way above a mediocre or standard fare film experience. Jennifer Lopez deserves all the praise she has been showered with for her role of Ramona. From the moment Lopez, who is listed as Executive Producer, appears on screen, she is electrifying and impossible not to be mesmerized by. As she shakes her booty (and many other parts of her anatomy) and writhes on stage to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” the men in the club literally throw money at her. The scene oozes sexuality and from this moment on Lopez owns the film.

Lopez, besides Selena (1997), has largely chosen mainstream and fluff material like The Wedding Planner (2001) and Maid in Manhattan (2002) over the years. She may not be the Meryl Streep of her time, but it is always nice when an actor charters challenging and dangerous waters. May she continue to choose wisely. She powers through Hustlers with gusto and is the central draw.

Not to limit Hustlers to a conventional women using sex appeal to lure men, the film is certain to get its message across to viewers in a more sobering way. By 2008 the United States was in a financial landslide with Wall Street being hit terribly hard. The point is made that not a single person went to jail for causing the collapse or for causing tens of thousands of people to lose their homes, jobs or life savings. This makes the audience realize that what the women did pales in comparison to Wall Street types (their victims), and many of their lures got what they deserved.

The subject matter at hand being one of the world of strippers may turn off some of the prudish but delving into the emotions and aspirations of those who exist in the industry is eye-opening and quite interesting. Hustlers (2019) successfully garners empathy from its audience and champions a female empowerment movement resulting in the surprising hit of the season.

Nancy-2018

Nancy-2018

Director-Christina Coe

Starring-Andrea Riseborough

Scott’s Review #941

Reviewed October 1, 2019

Grade: B+

Part of why I love independent cinema so much is the freedom given the director to simply tell a good story of his or her choosing, usually with little studio interference or opinions. Nancy (2018) is a good example of this as Christina Choe writes and directs a film that is simply hers to share. A quiet film about loneliness, the need to belong, and connect with others are main elements in a compelling and unpredictable story.

Existing in a barren small town in upstate New York, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) bears weather that is cold, damp and bleak. Working a temporary office job where the staff barely remembers her from her previous stint, Nancy spends her down time caring for her ill mother (Ann Dowd) and playing with her cat, Pete. When an occurrence leaves her vulnerable, she sees a news report featuring a couple whose daughter disappeared thirty years ago, and looks exactly like Nancy, given the sometimes-dishonest woman an idea.

Riseborough carries the film with a strong performance, but not exactly a character the audience easily roots for. Nancy is not unkind, dutifully tending to her mother’s needs when she is not being pleasant. She pretends to be pregnant to meet an internet support group man who lost a child and seeks comfort in Nancy. Hoping for a romance or at least a human connection, the two runs into each other, and when the man realizes her scheme, he calls her psycho. We witness a range of subtle facial expressions revealing the complicated character which Riseborough provides brilliantly.

Choe tells a very humanistic story that is peppered with deep feelings and emotions easy for the audience to relate to. Conflicted views will resound between the three principle characters; Nancy, Leo Lynch (Steve Buscemi), and wife Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron). The Lynch’s, especially Ellen, are vulnerable, yearning for a glimmer of hope that their long-lost daughter, surely dead, is alive. So, the complexities that the director provides work exceptionally well with keeping the emotional level very high.

All three principle actors do a fine job, Smith-Cameron being rewarded with a Film Independent award nomination. She is the most conflicted of the three and the character audiences will ultimately fall in love with and feel much empathy for. Has Buscemi ever played a nicer man? I think not as the actor so often plays villainous or grizzled so well. With Leo, he is rationale, thoughtful and skeptical of the story Nancy spins. He adores Ellen and does not want to see her disappointed yet again, the pain apparent on both their faces. Many quiet and palpable subtleties are possessed by the cast.

The locale in the film is also a high point. Presumably January or February, the cold and angry air fills the screen, adding a measure of hopelessness that each character suffers from in a different way. Numerous scenes of the outdoors are featured, and compelling moments provided. When a pretty snowfall coats the land, this is a tease, as one character’s hopes are ultimately dashed. A cheery landscape such as California or Florida would not have worked as well in this film.

Nancy (2018) is a film that risks turning some viewers off with its unhappy nature and slow pace, but isn’t this much better than a fast-paced Hollywood popcorn film? To me the answer is obvious, and Nancy is a prime example of why little films should be celebrated and revered by the film industry and its enthusiasts. Lies and truths cross a fine line and the potent psychological thriller will leave viewers mesmerized as event progress.

The Aftermath-2019

The Aftermath-2019

Director-James Kent

Starring-Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

Scott’s Review #940

Reviewed September 13, 2019

Grade: B-

The Aftermath (2019) is a heavily melodramatic post World War II period film riddled with cliches and proper plot set ups but is nonetheless a moderately enjoyable experience. With a marginal romantic triangle in play and good-looking stars, this can only go so far as predictability soon sets in. Exquisite to look at with a bright and lush European ambiance, the picture is easy on the eyes but lacks in good story or surprises. The film will be forgotten before long.

The time-period is 1945 and the murderous war is still fresh on the minds of all effected and animosity remains between the English and the German. Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in Hamburg during the bitter winter season to reunite with her British husband, Lewis (Clarke), who is tasked with helping to rebuild the decimated city. The Morgan’s reside with handsome German architect, Stefan, (Skarsgard) and his teenage daughter, Freda. Resentment exists between the four since the Morgan’s son was killed by a German caused explosion.

Both positives and negatives are contained within the film. The casting of Knightley, Skarsgard and Clarke bring a professionalism and A-list sensibility, so that the viewer is keen to be watching a glossy Hollywood affair. The offering of a robust romantic triangle is not fair to say since from the moment Rachael and Stefan meet they can barely take their eyes from one another. As if this is not enough, the largely absent Lewis leaves plenty of alone time for Stefan and Rachael to lustfully watch each other. Nonetheless, Knightley and Skarsgard share great chemistry.

The time and setting are also well done. The gorgeous German house in which Stefan and daughter reside feels both grand and cozy complete with a piano and enough open space to go along perfectly with the snowy and crisp exterior shots. The coldness mixes with the fresh effects of those ravaged by war. Music is played frequently, and a female servant dutifully waits on all principles during dinners and desserts adding a classic sophistication to the film. So, the look of it all is quite lovely.

Despite the elements outlined above the story is a real weak point of The Aftermath. It is riddled with cliche after cliche and seems to want to take a page out of every war romance imaginable. Rachael at first loathes Stefan simply for being German despite clearly being in lust with him. Her constant gazes into the distance (thoughtfully pondering what, we wonder?) grow stale and the product is just not very interesting.

A silly side story involving Freda’s boyfriend being involved in Werwolf, a Nazi resistance movement, seems unnecessary and merely a way to momentarily cast suspicion on Stefan. The film is plot driven rather than character driven, and this makes the characters less than compelling.

During the final sequence, set on a train platform as Rachael, Stefan and Freda eagerly decide to steal away into the sunset and begin a new life together, is standard fare. Lewis, the odd man out, is a bit too okay with the circumstances of Rachael and Stefan’s passion to be believed. The farewell scene is stolen from the superb 2002 classic Far from Heaven and nearly identical in every way.

Marvelous to look at and nurturing a slight historical lesson within its bright veneer, The Aftermath (2019) is soap opera story-telling of a romance between two individuals who are not supposed to fall in love. The film has pros and cons and is an okay watch, mainly because the talented cast rises it slightly above mediocrity, adding some measure of realism and avoiding it from being a disaster. Recommended for anyone who adores melodrama mixed with a classic period piece.

IT: Chapter Two-2019

IT: Chapter Two- 2019

Director-Andres Muschietti

Starring-James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader

Scott’s Review #939

Reviewed September 11, 2019

Grade: B+

A companion piece to the first chapter, simply named It (2017), and an adaptation of the famous and chilling 1986 novel by horror novelist, Stephen King, It: Chapter Two (2019) is a successful culmination of the vast story and will please many fans. A box-office hit mixing straight ahead horror with the supernatural, and a tad of adventure mixed in, the film is to be appreciated in many ways, though I slightly prefer the first chapter by measure.

Set in present times (2016), twenty-seven years after the first film took place, the Losers’ Club kids are now nearing middle-age, in their forties. The most prominent characters in the group, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), and Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) are summoned by childhood chum Mike Hanlon, to return to the sleepy town of Derry, Maine after a series of murders begin at the summer carnival. Each of them except for Mike has fled the small town and found success in bustling cities, living prosperous lives.

Because of a promise made as kids, the entire group reunites except for Stanley Uris, who chooses to fatally slit his wrists in a bathtub rather than return and face evil Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). The six members wrestle with their demons and past mistakes while Pennywise takes the form of human beings and objects to terrorize the group, providing imagined and frenzied scares while they scramble to perform a Native American ritual to destroy the beast.

It is difficult to write a successful review of It: Chapter Two as merely a stand-alone film since the two chapters are meant to be one cohesive long film. Filmed at the same time the pacing and the continuity are what makes the experience an enjoyable one. Key is the interspersing of many scenes as a hybrid of childhood and adult sequences which gives the film a cohesive package. This style is a treat for viewers having seen the first chapter two years ago. After the hoopla dies down, patient fans would do well to watch both chapters in sequence in back to back sittings for an undoubtedly pleasant experience.

Director Andres Muschietti wisely places focus on the characters so that the film is character driven rather than plot driven, a risk with anything in the horror genre. Each of the six adults resembles the six kids in physical appearance which makes the story believable. A major score is the focus on each character individually, both in present times and in the past. Each faces insecurity, guilt, or mistakes making them complex. At a running time of two hours and forty-nine minutes the film can take its time with character exploration and depth.

A nice add-on and deviating slightly from the King novel are a modern LGBTQ presence. It is implied (though I admittedly missed this when I saw the film) that Richie (Hader) is either gay or wrestling with his sexuality. The pivotal final scenes depict Richie’s undying love for his lifelong friend Eddie as one saves the other’s life only to sacrifice his own. The fact that the love is unrequited or unrealized is both sad and heartbreaking.

The gay-bashing opening sequence of Adrian Mellon and his boyfriend is quite the difficult watch as is the lack of any comeuppance for their perpetrators, but the scene is true to King’s novel. It is also a jarring reminder that in 2019, small towns are not always the safest place for the LGBTQ community as far too often small towns breed small minds.

The film could contain more jumps and scares than it does and teeters a bit too long in the overall running time. While the focus on character is great, the final climax and the battle with Pennywise is a slight let down and feels predictable. The film is not scary in terms of horror, but does have nice special effects and visual razzle-dazzle, especially concerning Pennywise. The creepy clown is less scary than in the first chapter but perhaps this is due to becoming more familiar with him.

A treat for eagle-eyed fans is the cameo appearance by legendary author Stephen King. As a cantankerous pawn shop owner, he sells Bill the relic bicycle he had enjoyed in his youth. For bonus points, Muschietti treats fans to a scene including filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who cameos as the director of the film based on Bill’s novel.

It: Chapter Two (2019) provides good entertainment and will please fans of the horror genre and of the famous author since the film is very true to the novel. As a modern horror experience the film is a solid win though not without slight missteps. Superior in depth and character development to most films in the same vein, it is to be enjoyed and appreciated.

My Fair Lady-1964

My Fair Lady-1964

Director-George Cukor

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #938

Reviewed September 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award (it would not have been my personal choice), My Fair Lady (1964) is a very good production that is based on the stage version, in turn based on the famous 1913 stage play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The main negative to the musical is the casting choices; Hepburn and Harrison have only mediocre chemistry, and Hepburn did not actually sing, but the film is nonetheless enchanting and filled with lavish sets, colorful costumes and earnest songs, making it an entertainment for the whole family.

The iconic Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) and Henry Higgins (Harrison) are household names to every fan of the musical genre. Set in London, sophisticated and arrogant Professor Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, is intent on proving that the tone and accent of one’s voice determines their lot in society. As an experiment, he chooses flower saleswoman Eliza, with her horrid Cockney accent, and is determined to crown her duchess of a ball. Unaware of his scheme but soon to find out she has been had, romance eventually blooms as the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” becomes important.

My Fair Lady is quite the epic at a run-time of two hours and fifty- two minutes, lofty for a film. The misty London setting adds layers of mystique and atmosphere and the cinematography drizzles with color and pizzazz, making the overall content look amazing. Because of the length of the film and the magnificent trimmings, the production looks like a spectacle and of the elegant extravagance of the 1950’s and 1960’s when musicals made into film were grand and robust. Little wonder is that this helped it win the Best Picture, Best Director and a smattering of other awards. It’s a film Hollywood loves.

When dissected and analyzed, social and class systems are a large part of the film, amid the cheery singing, dancing, and big-screen bombast. Social status and hints of socialism pepper the production rising it way above fluff that it could have been if just a “boy from good side of the tracks meets girls from wrong side of the tracks”. Eliza’s father Alfred (Stanley Holloway), a waste collector, is also an opportunist, singing his story during “With a Little Bit of Luck”. The differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” are clear.

I never bought Harrison and Hepburn as a romantic duo and the chemistry between them is limited. The teacher/student angle somewhat works though always bothersome is Henry’s self-assured behavior and superior attitude making him tough to root for. A controversy of the film includes the decision to dub nearly all of Hepburn’s singing with another singer’s voice, which devastated the actress and cost her an Academy Award nomination. Her snub is especially jarring given the dozen other nominations it received.

The story is heartwarming and in keeping with a like-minded theme of hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Hints of Cinderella (1950) and even Pretty Woman (1990) glisten with only a mere hint of male chauvinism that does not ruin the experience or reduce the film to a dated guy film, certainly as is the case with Pretty Woman. “I’m an Ordinary Man” describes how women ruin men’s lives and is not the most progressive or female friendly of all the numbers.

My Fair Lady (1964) is a film of the past that begs to be viewed on the big screen so that all the qualities can be enjoyed. Like Lawrence of Arabia (1963), best viewed on a wide-angle enormous theater setting to ensure notice and enjoyment of all aspects of the scene is recommended. It’s a Hollywood film done tremendously well. Young viewers would be wise to be exposed to this film to delight in the cinematic treats that await.

The Curse of La Llorona-2019

The Curse of La Llorona-2019

Director-Michael Chaves

Starring-Linda Cardellini

Scott’s Review #937

Reviewed August 29, 2019

Grade: C+

The Curse of La Llorona (2019) is a modern-day horror flick that possesses all the standard and expected trimmings that a genre film of this ilk usually has. The story is left undeveloped with many possibilities unexplored in favor of a by the numbers experience. Linda Cardellini, a wonderful actress, above the material she is given, does her best to spin straw into gold, but comes up empty handed. It is the sixth installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise.

The film does have jumps and frights galore and a creepy ghost/spirit character that is scary, but more was expected from this film which left me ultimately disappointed. First-time director Michael Chaves is a novice, so a bit of leniency should be given as he develops a limited product, but he could have a strong future ahead of him if he works on story elements rather than focus on merely scare tactics.

In 1673 Mexico, a family happily plays in a field when one of the boys suddenly witnesses his mother drowning his brother, soon suffering the same fate. This incident becomes part of Mexican folklore and is subsequently feared by many. In present times (1973), case worker Anna (Cardellini) is sent to investigate a woman who has locked her two sons in a room. Despite the woman’s claims that she is trying to save their lives, Anna brings them into police custody. When the boys are later found drowned, the woman curses Anna, whose two young children are now in danger.

The positives are that Chaves makes a competent film. It is not bad and provides a level of familiarity, creaking doors, cracking mirrors, an evil spirit named “The Weeping Woman”, are good and provide a scare or two at just the right moments. Characters frequently see the spirit through a reflection and since the film is set almost completely at night, this tactic is successful.

Cardellini, garnering recent fame for her role in the Oscar winning film Green Book (2018), undoubtedly signed on for The Curse of La Llorona before all the Oscar wins. The actress gives it her all but can hardly save the film, though she does provide a professionalism that rises the film above a terrible experience. Not nearly enough praise will be given to the young child actor’s playing Anna’s kids. Largely one-note and lacking any evident experience, ironically, they mirror Chaves’s own inexperience. They react to the scenes as they are directed but never add any depth or authenticity to their performances.

Besides Cardellini and the horror elements The Curse of La Llorona lacks much shine or substance. The plot and characters are forgettable, and the viewer is left shrugging his or her shoulders once the film concludes, largely forgetting the production thirty minutes later. The story, based on folklore, is weak. The audience is expected to believe the spirit killed her own children and now roams the earth looking for other sacrificial pairs of children so that she may bring hers back from the dead?

In one perplexing sequence, the Weeping Woman softens when looking at Anna’s kids, her demonic face reveals how she once was a beautiful woman. She suddenly changes course and reverts to the evil spirit she had been. Granted the special effects are impressive, but this is one example of a missed opportunity. Why couldn’t we be given a meatier backstory of the motivations of the woman?

Other misses are the 1970’s Los Angeles time-period- a feathered hairstyle and tight sweater worn by Anna, a clip of an old television show, and a car or two overlooking the City of Angels hardly appreciates the decade or the metropolis. Especially laughable are the modern hairstyles and looks of the children, including the kid from the seventeenth century.  Any connection to The Conjuring (2013) or Annabelle (2014) is limited as one character (Father Perez) appearing briefly holding the Annabelle doll barely warrants mention.

The Curse of La Llorona (2019) may only be a blueprint of what director Michael Chaves can build on in his career, and a bright future for him is not out of the question. Building on The Conjuring franchise is a good place to start with a certain audience sure to see this film. He ought to take his basics and create films with more depth, character development, and twists and turns.

Charlie Says-2019

Charlie Says-2019

Director-Mary Harron

Starring-Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon

Scott’s Review #936

Reviewed August 28, 2019

Grade: B

With the very high-profile release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) centering around the sadistic Manson murders of 1969, Charlie Says (2019) is another film that delves into the same story though in a very different way. The latter takes the perspective of the followers, victimizing them, and the choices they made that affected the rest of their lives. The angle is of interest, but the production never completely takes off, resulting in an uneven experience with the need for more grit and substance.

Karlene (Merritt Wever), a female graduate student focused on women’s studies, takes an interest in three followers who viciously killed in the name of their “god”, Charles Manson. A few years after their arrests, they co-exist together in relative solitary confinement in a California penitentiary. They remain under the delusion that Manson is their leader and their deeds were all part of a grand cosmic plan, until Karlene slowly brings them out of their haze of unreality with heartbreaking results.

The casting of the real-life figures is as follows: Charles Manson (Matt Smith), Leslie Van Houton (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon). Each are prominent characters with the central figure being Leslie “Lulu” and her complex relationship with Manson. The newest to be recruited, the audience witnesses her hypnotic possession and her occasional uncertainty about the cult. For a fleeting moment she is even tempted to leave, which the film hammers home to the audience.

Murray plays the character well but does not resemble her enough for praise, though we read the conflict on her face very well. She is meant to be the thoughtful member of the Manson Family whereas Patricia and Susan are more reactionary and temperamental, especially Susan. Whether this is how things were is not known but I always had a gnawing feeling throughout the running time that historical accuracy may have been secondary to the story points and dramatic effect.

Charlie Says is bothersome because of the realization that the girls were recruited and fed lies, falling for the deceit, hook, line and sinker. The followers were certainly brainwashed into Manson’s disturbed version of reality and that fact is disturbing as the girls were not dumb people, only vulnerable young women. Decades later, it is easy to think of other victims polarized by a central or controversial figure whether it be in politics or another arena. The lesson learned is that people can be easily influenced.

The actual “murder night” and the death of Sharon Tate are featured but up close and personal gore is thankfully avoided. The actress, well known to have suffered a terrible fate, to say nothing of her unborn baby, are a small but crucial aspect of the film. When one of the girls watches one of Tate’s films in her cell, another girl clamors for her to turn off the film, beginning to feel pangs of guilt and remorse.

The film questions the girl’s responsibilities for their actions, a fact that in real-life many wrestled with, including the courts and parole boards. Were they merely duped in the cleverest of ways or do they deserve their fates? Spared of the electric chair due to a California law, a positive of the film is a current update of the happenings of each girl, now over forty years later, mature women. Lulu and Patricia remain incarcerated while Susan has died in prison.

After the film closes and a good measure of time is left to ponder the film, I was left feeling slightly less than fulfilled and desiring a bit more. Charlie Says (2019) feels safe and lacks enough grit or bombast, although it does feel well intended. The film is clearly from the feminist point of view and is an interesting watch though given the subject matter, I hoped for more meat and substance.

Eighth Grade-2018

Eighth Grade-2018

Director-Bo Burnham

Starring-Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Scott’s Review #935

Reviewed August 27, 2018

Grade: A-

Occasionally, a film rich with authenticity and pure honesty comes along, and Eighth Grade (2018) is one of those films. Bursting with a lead character who brings a genuine sincerity to a complex role, director Bo Burnham gets the best out of emerging talent, Elsie Fisher, in an autobiographical story about teenage angst and awkwardness that nearly everyone can recollect from those hated middle school years.

The coming-of-age story follows the life and struggles of an eighth-grader, Kayla Day (Fisher), during her last week of classes before graduating to high school. She struggles with severe social anxiety but produces secret YouTube videos as she provides life advice to both herself and her audience. She has a clingy relationship with her sometimes overbearing father, Mark (Josh Hamilton), who adores her but is careful to also provide Kayla with freedom and balance, her mother apparently out of the picture.

Eighth Grade feels fresh and rich with good, old-fashioned, non-cliched scenes, as audiences fall in love with Kayla and her trials and tribulations. In a lesser film, attempting to appeal to the masses, the stereotypes would abound, but this film is going for intelligent writing. The scenes range from touching to comical to frightening- a tender father and daughter talk over a campfire provides layers of character development to both Kayla and Mark as an understanding is realized.

As Kayla ogles over her classmate Aiden, voted student with the nicest eyes, to Kayla’s demoralizing win for quietest student, she bravely attempts to get to know the boy. Realizing to win his heart she must provide dirty pictures of herself or perform lewd acts, she hilariously watches oral sex tutorials and nearly practices on a banana in a scene rivaling any from the crude American Pie (1998). To expand on this, the audience will experience concern for Kayla as she winds up in the backseat of a strange boy’s car, encouraged to take off her top, going rapidly from comedy to alarm.

Enough cannot be said for the casting of Fisher as Kayla. Reportedly seen on a real-life YouTube channel, Burnham plucked the fledgling young actress from the ranks of the unknown. The bright young star is sure to be the next big thing with her innocent yet brazen teenage looks- she is only sixteen after all! With pimples and a pretty face, she admires yet despises popular kids and resorts to telling one off. Fisher gives Kayla sass and poise mixed with her anti-socialism.

Befriended by a pretty and popular high-school student assigned to be her buddy, Kayla awakens with gusto, finally seeing there may be life after middle school, and maybe, just maybe high school will not be as torturous as earlier years. A cute add-on is the adorable relationship that develops in the film’s final act between Kayla and just as awkward Gabe. They dine over chicken nuggets and bond over a nerdy television show they both love.

Deserving of accolades is Hamilton in the more difficult than one might realize role of the father of a thirteen-year-old. Smart is how the film shares his perspective on current events. He can be daring as he enters Kayla’s room to nearly catch her practicing her kissing technique, or creepy, as when he follows Kayla to the mall to see her new friends. His deep affection and admiration for her, though, provide a deep warmth seldom seen in teenage films.

Burnham is careful not to stifle the film with fluff or redundancy, instead making the film timely and relevant. The incorporation of the internet, text messaging and the never-ending use of smartphones makes any older viewer realize that over ninety percent of thirteen-year-olds use these devices and social media is the new normal. The sobering realization is that painful teenage experiences do not end when the three o’clock school bell signals the end of the day.

When the students endure a drill to practice measures to survive a school shooting attack, the reality hits home that this is now also a part of a teenager’s everyday life. American life for the young has changed immensely since most of us were of this age and Burnham does a bang-up job of reinforcing the importance of this.

Whether the viewer is elderly or middle-aged, has fond memories of middle school or cringes at the thought, yearbooks safely packed up in boxes to bury the memories, every viewer can take something away from Eighth Grade (2018). Excellent casting and an infusion of several cross genres into this film make it a fresh and memorable independent comedy/drama deserving of a watch.

Welcome to my blog! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!