All posts by scottmet99

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 s 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.

Angels of Sex-2012

Angels of Sex-2012

Director-Xavier Villaverde

Starring-Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Alvaro Cervantes, Llorenc Gonzalez

Scott’s Review #934

Reviewed August 23, 2019

Grade: C

Angels of Sex (2012) is a Spanish LGBT drama that attempts to create an intriguing romantic relationship between its characters, but slowly teeters into a plot driven soap opera mess, leaving the viewer unsatisfied.  Casting good-looking actors and showing plenty of skin only goes so far before one’s attention span begins to wane and start yearning for more depth, which never comes in this film. The film-makers do get some props for crafting a diversity film, but the story ultimately sucks.

The urban setting of Barcelona, Spain is the backdrop of the film as student, Bruno (Llorenc Gonzalez), is saved by karate instructor, Rai (Alvaro Cerventes), and begins to question his sexuality as the men grow attracted to one another. Throwing a hurtle into their blissful affair is Bruno’s girlfriend, Carla (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is drawn to both men while shunning their romantic attraction to one another. The three characters interact and carry on affairs with each other leading to a series of emotions that influence their decisions.

The premise is intriguing, at the beginning of the story anyway, as a “straight man meets gay man” moment immediately occurs, and sparks fly between the men.  When Bruno accepts his attraction to Rai while also continuing his attraction to Carla a unique bisexual premise is offered. Why can’t Bruno spend equal time with Rai and Carla? Which one will he decide to choose or will choose him? Will each of the three be okay with the arrangement? These are the sorts of interesting questions offered by the film until it slips about halfway through.

Each character begins to crumble and become banal and wishy-washy, especially Carla. She accepts the “time-sharing” relationship, but then gets mad when she sees Rai and Bruno kiss, finally falling for Rai and having an affair with him. Huh? This is character assassination 101. Bruno’s motivations become unclear as he hedges on nearly every decision, while Rai becomes more brooding and indecisive. It’s as if the writers did not know which direction to take the characters in or thought their good looks would carry the film.

Other gripes include the title of the film having nothing meaningful to do with the story, and rather seems like a weak effort at gaining some attention (and viewers) by incorporating such a title. Another irritant was the constant inclusion of unknown characters break-dancing to song. Was this necessary? Rai has an interest in the genre, we get that, but the needless scenes seem like attempts to fill time.

A better use of time might have been additional scenes of Carla and her mother. A passing scene or two and an alluded to situation involving Carla’s father cheating on the mother is limiting and could have been an interested sub-plot, perhaps even figuring in to the main story. Carla’s group of friends add little to the film especially her slutty friend bedding two others in the group. The situation seems more like an add-on or a time filler more than rich writing.

Props go to any film with the desire to showcase an LGBT themed story as, despite the film being made in 2012, most LGBT films are still indie projects. I hoped for and expected more from the film especially the culturally interesting location of a European hotbed of sexuality and parties.

Angels of Sex (2012) starts off well until disintegrating into a bad LGBT episode of “As the World Turns” or “Days of our Lives” with poor character writing, unnecessary supporting characters and a feeble attempt at a twist ending that merely turns into a red herring and thereby a disappointment.

Hitchcock/Truffaut-2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut -2015

Director-Kent Jones

Starring-Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher

Scott’s Review #933

Reviewed August 21, 2019

Grade: B+

A documentary about film and film-making is a worthy watch for any rabid lover of cinema, and when the subject at hand is Alfred Hitchcock, any fan must certainly chomp. I remember Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) appearing at my local independent theater at the time of release but missed my chance to see it. The misstep having been undone, the work is fine, and the result is an abundance of riches, serving as a fly on the wall for those wishing to listen to two geniuses speak, or merely observe the clips of great films and revel in the creativity.

Already possessing a hefty knowledge of Hitchcock does not dull my perspective a bit, nor do I take for granted the appreciation served. For an entry level fan of the director, or of French film director, Francois Truffaut, the title is a must to add to one’s “to see” list. The documentary serves as inspiration and fulfillment for cinema lovers. Billed as side-by-side directors in the title, the documentary treats Hitchcock as the teacher and Truffaut as the student, especially given the age difference between the two men.

Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock in 1962 during a lengthy week-long discussion that took place in a windowless Hollywood office, where the former soaked up the latter’s knowledge and points of view like a sponge. Truffaut was already a well-regarded film-maker at the mere age of thirty-two, with gems such as The 400 Blows (1959) already under his belt. Truffaut then wrote a book about the conversations with Hitchcock, and director Kent Jones brings it to life in documentary form, telling his audience why the book had a tremendous impact on cinema, as well as teaching the audience a thing or two about the movies.

The production is an analysis in film-making from technique to style to clothing, and actors, and anything and everything in between. The main crux though is the technique Hitchcock used to create tension and suspense, manipulating the audience every step of the way. A plethora of his films are featured which is a personal joy to see, but most importantly the documentary is clever enough to build to Hitchcock’s most memorable sequence of all, the shower sequence in Psycho (1960), the director’s most recent film, and now, easily his most notorious.

Hollywood titans such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, arguably geniuses, explain the influence that Hitchcock provided them. Listening to these formidable director’s whimsically praise and dissect Hitchcock’s analysis and explain he led to their own blossoming is a wonderful aspect of the documentary.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) is a treat for die-hard fans of Hitchcock or for Truffaut- or both. Through its conversations and interviews with other famous directors it shows the heavy influence and never- ending love and appreciation for an ingenious suspense director and an equally unique French New Wave director. A thirty-two-year age difference separated the two men, but they appear as natural as close colleagues. Great minds do think alike.

You Were Never Really Here-2018

You Were Never Really Here-2018

Director-Lynne Ramsay

Starring-Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #932

Reviewed August 19, 2019

Grade: A-

You Were Never Really Here (2018) is an independent psychological thriller most reminiscent in tone and texture to the legendary Scorsese film, Taxi Driver (1976). The main characters are worlds apart, but the plot and the trimmings are clearly influenced by the classic, just amid a different time-period (the present).

A terrific and brooding performance by star Joaquin Phoenix leads the charge, as does fantastic direction by Lynne Ramsay, and the editing team, as the dark film is an unusual and impressive choice for a female director. Snippets of cinematic genius exist during a film that, with a more complete package, might have been a masterpiece.

We first meet Joe (Phoenix) somewhere in Ohio as, we learn, he is a hired gun sent to rescue underage girls from sex trafficking rings. He is brutal in his methods of rescue, resorting to gruesome murders to complete his assignments, and is paid handsomely. Back in New York City, he cares for his elderly mother whom he adores, and is contacted to rescue Nina, the daughter of a New York State Senator, Albert Votto for an enormous sum of money. When Joe rescues Nina and waits for Votto, events quickly spin out of control and a sinister web of deception is revealed.

When you look at the story that You Were Never Really There tells, it is one that has been told many times before, typically in slick Hollywood conventional standards. Angry ex-military unleashes brutality on devious criminals, rescues girl, and returns her safely to the open arms of her awaiting parents. Fortunately, the film is more thoughtful than that, adding complexity with the Joe and Nina relationship, and a stylistic, poetic quality featuring Joe’s relationship with his mother.

The plot is paced very well so that the events occur only over the course of a day or two, and the film is highly unconventional and dark. Frequent flashbacks give the film mystique as we see both Joe and his mother abused by Joe’s father, as a young Joe hides in a closet and hyperventilates. Now an adult, Joe is suicidal, frequently fantasizing or practicing his own death until he is interrupted.

As grisly as the film can be, beautiful and tender moments are laden throughout as Ramsay provides gorgeous style and humanity. A homoerotic moment occurs when Joe lies next to the man who has killed his mother. As the man is close to death at the hands of Joe, they hold hands as Joe provides comfort to the man in death. Joe then buries his mother in a pond in upstate New York, providing her with a peaceful final resting place. These are unique scenes that feel almost like an art film.

The conclusion is open-ended leaving lots of questions; Joe and Nina appear to ride off into the sunset together, but what will they do? What is to become of them? Surely, not a romantic element can be found, but where will they go from here? Both characters appear to have nothing left to hang on to other than each other, but is this sustainable? The film is not the type that is poised for a sequel, but I would be very curious what Ramsay has planned for her characters.

Joe is not portrayed as wicked, he is too complex for that. Phoenix, a tremendous actor, perfectly infuses the character with brutality and anger, but also a tenderness and a warmth. The aspects between You Were Never Really Here and Taxi Driver: the grizzled New York portrayals, the political backdrop, and the main characters saving a woeful young girl from the depths of despair, make the two film’s comparable. However, Joe and Travis Bickle are opposites, the latter having a frenetic humor that the former lacks.

Ramsay has been around for a while with We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) her most prominent film. She is successful at telling stories about deeply troubled individuals who are good people handed awful circumstances. With a tremendous actor like Phoenix on board, she crafts a solid work that has provided You Were Never Really Here (2018) with accolades, at least among the indie critics. Ramsay seems poised to break out in a big way and shake up the film industry with future works.

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

Director-Howard Morris

Starring-Doris Day, Brian Keith

Scott’s Review #931

Reviewed August 15, 2019

Grade: B

A film that clearly influenced the creation of the iconic television series, The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), or the reverse depending on the timeline or who you ask, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a cute family romantic comedy, hardly exceptional fare, and becoming too silly during the final act. Featuring the merging of two families into one big blended family, the heart of the film is the romance between two middle-aged singles looking for new love despite their baggage.

Abby McClure (Doris Day) is a widow raising three boys somewhere in northern California. She dutifully runs her deceased husband’s lumberyard while feeling unfulfilled in the romance department. When her overzealous sister, Maxine (Pat Carroll) tricks her into inviting widower Jake Iverson (Brian Keith) to her dinner party, the pair do not connect, but are drawn to one other as they become better acquainted. Predictable obstacles come their way including misunderstandings and backlash from their kids.

With Six You Get Eggroll is Day’s last film and certainly not one of her best offerings but is nonetheless moderately enjoyable. The film makers intent is to showcase a romance between Abby and Jake so that the elements are setup in a way as to make the characters likable, leaving a very predictable experience. When Jake arrives to the party early and sees Abby at her disheveled worst, or after Jake makes up an excuse to leave the evening early but runs into Abby later at the supermarket, it’s the sort of film that has a happy ending.

As such, the chemistry is palpable between Day and Keith which makes the film charming. If they had no chemistry the film would be a bust, but their slow build fondness for each other works well for this genre of film. They share a spontaneous evening of champagne and small talk at Abby’s house and excitedly plan a date for the next day only for Jake to make an excuse leaving Abby perplexed.

When Abby sees him with a much younger woman, we feel her disappointment. After all, Abby is well past forty in a world where middle-aged women are not the pick of the litter anymore, as sister Maxine annoyingly reminds her. When the young woman turns out to be Jake’s daughter, we smile with relief, along with Abby, because we like the characters and want them to be together.

The children: Flip, Jason, Mitch and Stacey (a young Barbara Hershey) add little to the film and are merely necessary supporting characters. They dutifully add obstacles to their parent’s happiness by squabbling with each other over bathroom space or resenting one parent taking the other away from them. Conversely, Maxine and Abby’s housekeeper, Molly (Alice Ghostley) add wonderful comic relief, keeping the film from turning too melodramatic and providing natural humor.

The Brady Bunch comparisons are quite obvious to any viewer who has seen the television series, and who hasn’t? The blended families and the G-rated dramatic crises are the most certain and the time period and clothes are almost identical. Molly the maid could be Alice the housekeeper, and the actor (Allan Melvin) who plays Sam “the Butcher” from the television series appears as a Police Sergeant. I half-expected the musical scores to mirror each other.

The film does have some mild flaws other than the predictability factor. The introduction of a band of hippies (though cool to see M*A*S*H alums Jamie Farr and William Christopher in early acting roles) and a speeding chicken truck resulting in arrests is way too juvenile and plot driven. A much better title could have been thought up for the film; With Six You Get Eggroll doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor does it have anything to do with the story. Finally, Abby’s masculine profession is only shown in the opening scene and also has nothing to do with the story.

For a wholesome late 1960’s themed evening, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a moderate affair with cliches and a cheery tone, but also some genuine chemistry between its leads. The sets and colors lend themselves well to the times and Day is always top notch. Perhaps one could skip this film and watch a sampling of The Brady Bunch television reruns; the experience would almost be the same.

Madame Bovary-1949

Madame Bovary-1949

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Jennifer Jones, James Mason

Scott’s Review #930

Reviewed August 13, 2019

Grade: A-

Madame Bovary (1949) is a film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel of the same name. Remade a handful of times since this version, Jennifer Jones is cast in the lead role and does a fantastic job with a difficult and complicated part. The title character is central to the controversial film which will undoubtedly result in mixed opinions of her actions and motivations- she will be loved or loathed. Director Minnelli successfully mixes melodrama and glamour with pain and defeat as one woman’s attempt at happiness is told.

In clever fashion, the story is told within a story as the viewer is immediately amid a compelling and dramatic trial. Flaubert (James Mason) defends his novel depicting an adulterous woman (Jones) ruining the lives of men, deemed disgraceful to France and all womanhood. He tells the story from his perspective and, through this, Madame Bovary’s perspective. She (Emma) marries a small town, country doctor, Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) and quickly grows disappointed with his lack of status. Feeling trapped and unfulfilled, she embarks on failed romances with other men as she attempts to ascend the social ladder.

The central theme of the film, as with the novel, is either understanding or abhorring Emma’s feelings and actions, or perhaps a mixture of both emotions. Who would not forsake her for being true to her feelings and desiring her piece of the pie? Most women of her day were reduced to matronly statuses or asexual feelings, but Emma wanted satisfaction and life, at the risk of her own family.

To counter these lustful feelings, she does not treat her husband very well, resenting his passivity and disappointed at her daughter being a girl instead of her desired son. This, she feels, would have allowed her better status, so as a result her daughter is nearly shunned, preferring the affections of the housekeeper to her mother’s feeble attempts at love. Is she hellion or a sympathetic soul? Emma is one of the most complex of all female film characters.

With Madame Bovary being made in 1949 and the novel obviously earlier, the progressive slant is rich and worthy of much admiration. The female perspective and the courage to reach for the stars and grasp life is spirited and wonderful to see, especially given the time-period. A mixture of romantic drama and torrid affairs are at hand during this experience and always is the character center stage.

The film mixes in remnants of Gone with the Wind (1939) especially with the lavish dance hall sequence. The ball is the highlight of the film with gorgeous costumes, great cinematography and bombastic dances. As Emma cavorts with dashing aristocrat, Rodolphe (Louis Jourdan), Charles gets drunk and makes a fool of himself, as her true disdain for her marriage becomes clear. The smashing windows with chairs moment is ahead of its time by way of the effects used and the constant dance twirls are dizzying. So much of importance occurs in this pivotal sequence.

Jones, while more than adequate, would not have been my first choice in the role. Married to influential producer David O. Selznick, it was rumored that many of the actresses’ roles were given to her. Delicious is to fantasize at what legends such as Bette Davis or Vivian Leigh might have brought to the character. Especially Leigh, given her dazzling performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, a follow-up as a similar and arguably more complex character is fun to imagine.

A film that allows for post-credits discussion is always a positive, with Madame Bovary (1949) a lengthy analysis of a character begs deliberation. Minnelli pours love and energy into a work dripping with nuances, long before his famous musicals came into fruition. A strong and vital female character suffers a lonely and despairing fate at her own hand which is tragic and sad, but she did live her life with zest which should empower us all.

The Music Man-1962

The Music Man-1962

Director-Morton DaCosta

Starring-Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Scott’s Review #929

Reviewed August 9, 2019

Grade: A

The big screen offering of The Music Man (1962) is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, written by Meredith Wilson, and one of the most upbeat and jovial of all the Hollywood renditions of stage productions. Featuring talented stars like Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, the former appearing in the stage version, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year and can be watched and re-watched whenever the mood strikes for sing-along tunes and a cheery story told from a purely Americana viewpoint.

In the summer of 1912, deceitful traveling salesman Harold Hill (Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on swindling the town folks of their money. Masquerading as a traveling music instructor, he plans to bamboozle parents into enrolling their kids into a marching band and selling them instruments. He uses scare tactics to incorporate fear into the gullible parents and romantically sets his sights on the local librarian, Marian (Jones). Marian, who is distrustful of men, slowly falls in love with Harold, as his plotting eventually is discovered resulting in a witch hunt.

Of the plethora of musical releases bombarding Hollywood throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, The Music Man arguably possesses the catchiest tunes and the most jovial spirit. Impossible not to hum along with or tap one’s foot to, the songs stick in the viewer’s heads for days after watching the addictive production. My favorites are “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” as each has distinctive melodies, rhymes and rapid-fire dialogue. The musical soundtrack always provides pleasure on the gloomiest of days which speaks volumes of the legs the musical contains.

Besides the tunes, the best aspect of The Music Man is the romantic story-line at its core. The chemistry exists in full form between Preston and Jones and each is perfectly cast. Due to the studio wanting “a big name” Preston nearly didn’t make the cut, which would have been a shame. As he infuses life and humor into a character who could be perceived as dastardly, he tips the likability scale firmly his way, making the character the hero of the film.

Jones, a treasured singer, is just as good as Preston, playing the mousy and serious Marian in a believable way. Her “slice of the mid-west” innocence and blonde hair portrays her as corn-bred, but the actress makes the character work for her and combined, the duo is sensational. The best sequence the pair appear in is the wonderful “Marian the Librarian”, a sneaky and naughty number the most adult of all the renditions. Their mutual attraction becoming evident, this is the moment when the film brings the audience to its knees.

The musical is purely a slice of Americana, which may limit its popularity across oceans, but for Americans it really works and feels authentic. This is no surprise given that composer Willson hailed from the mid-west. With an uplifting message, a nostalgic ode to a country once filled with promise and innocence, the film is arguably even more important in today’s divisive environment. The piece wisely does not celebrate small-town cliches but instead offers a wholesomeness. The townsfolk sing and dance together and celebrate life as a neighborly bunch and this nuance is refreshing to see.

The supporting cast adds flavor and comedy to the production. A very young child actor, soon to be famous director, Ron Howard, offers a heartfelt performance of “Gary, Indiana”. Character actors Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold offer delightful hysterics as Mayor Shinn and wife Eulalie.

Thematically like Oklahoma (1955) and Picnic (1955), at least from geographical and time-period perspectives, but distant relatives as far as mood and drama, all three could be watched in one marathon weekend. The Music Man (1962) provides the most warmth and will fill the most stone-faced of individuals with beaming smiles at its conclusion. The film version is a perfect example of a stage musical successfully brought to the silver screen with energy, bombast and gorgeous singing and dancing.

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #928

Reviewed August 7, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the 1934 novel of the same name written by famous author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) brings the story to the big screen with a robust and eccentric cast of characters all drizzling with suspicion. The classic whodunit of all whodunits, the film adds a Hollywood flair with rich costumes and an authentic feel to a budget-blasting extravaganza that keeps the audience guessing as to whom the killer or killers may be. The film was recognized with a slew of Oscar nominations that year.

The hero of the film is Hercules Poirot (Albert Finney), a well- respected yet bumbling Belgian detective, who is solicited to solve the mysterious death of a business tycoon aboard the famous and luxurious Orient Express train. On his way to the train’s destination, he encounters such delicious characters as the glamorous Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), the nervous Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), and his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), director of the company who owns the enormous vessel. Many other characters are introduced to the layered story.

As the complicated plot is unraveled, most of the characters have something to hide or a connection to another character or characters. The fun for the viewer is to live vicariously through Poirot and await the big final reveal at the conclusion of the film that, unless already having viewed the film or read the novel, one will not see coming. With a film of this type, a detective thriller, the audience can be assured of a resolution, like a big murder mystery dinner theater production brought to the big screen. Certainly formulaic, the film never drags nor feels dull.

Amid the first few minutes of Murder on the Orient Express, the intrigue is unleashed at full-throttle speed leaving one bedazzled and hooked. The sequence is brilliantly done and thrusts the audience into a compelling back story of plot and the wonderment of what these events have to do with a train pulling out of the Orient. Quick edited film clippings of a news story explain the mysterious Long Island, New York abduction and murder of the infant daughter of a famed pilot.

It is suggested that the Orient Express trip embarks from Istanbul, Turkey and is destined for London. This means that several countries will be included in the trek, creating possibilities for both geographical accompaniments and new cultural experiences which director Sidney Lumet offer generous amounts of. Moments following the murder, the train has the unfortunate fate of colliding with an avalanche, leaving the passengers in double peril, with a killer on the loose and cabin fever to contend with.

To the compelled viewer this is snug comfort as the atmospheric locales are gorgeous and the thought of a dozen strangers trapped together with so much to hide brings the story to a frenzy. Who did what to the murder victim are slowly revealed as several red herrings (or are they?) are revealed. Who is the mysterious woman strutting down the corridor shortly before the murder, spotted by Poirot? Is she a staged pawn or merely an innocent victim? Could she be the murderer? The wonderful part of Murder on the Orient Express is the amount of entangled possibilities.

The conclusion of the film turns the thriller into a sort of moralistic story, to its credit. The fact that the murder victim was hateful and diabolical is a key part of the story and makes the viewer wonder if the killer or killers are justified in their actions. Does the fact that Ratchett was stabbed a dozen times with varying degrees of severity play into the motivation? A very compelling, and unrecognizable Finney does a fantastic job of carrying the film among such a troupe of good actors.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) sets out to entertain and succeeds on every level, bringing the book to the silver screen with a fresh interpretation that still honors the intent that Christie had. Stylistic and thought-provoking, the film has gorgeous costumes, a good story, and fine acting. The knowledge of who the killer is does little to take away any enjoyment that a repeated viewing will provide.

The Farewell-2019

The Farewell-2019

Director-Lulu Wang

Starring-Awkwafina, Tzi Ma

Scott’s Review #927

Reviewed August 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Any film with a dark premise such as The Farewell (2019) offers runs the risk of resulting in a bleak and depressing outcome, but the film is anything but a downer. Surprising to many will be that the film is classified as both a drama and a comedy with snippets of humor and sadness prevalent throughout. Met with lots of critical buzz, the film is successful at furthering the much-needed presence of quality Asian representation in modern cinema well into the twenty-first century.

Young upstart/comedienne, Awkwafina, memorable for her humorous turn in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), returns to the big screen in a more sedate role, crafting a passionate and dramatic character, strongly leading the charge in an ensemble project exploring the family dynamic. The film succeeds extraordinarily as a multi-generational glimpse into humanity, though at times suffers from being too slow moving.

A thirty-something struggling writer, Billi (Awkwafina), lives in New York City near her parents, all expats from China. Billi is particularly close with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who still resides in her birth land as they speak regularly via telephone. When Billi is informed that her grandmother suffers from terminal lung cancer and has weeks to live, the entire family reunites and decides to hold a mock wedding as an excuse to all be together. The decision is made by the family not to tell Nai Nai she is dying preferring to let her live out her days in happiness rather than fear.

Awkwafina is the main draw of the film and much of the action is told from her perspective. One wonders if perhaps director Lulu Wang drew from personal experience when she wrote the screenplay. The audience does not know Billi’s sexuality nor is that even relevant to the film, but the vagueness was noticed. She does not date nor seem very interested in men, does her laundry at her parent’s apartment, and attempts and fails at a prestigious writing scholarship.

The supporting characters add tremendous depth so that the film is not solely Billi’s, providing unique perspectives from her mother, her father, and her aunt, as they each possess their own viewpoints in relation to Nai Nai’s illness. I adore this technique in rich storytelling as it not only fleshes out secondary characters, it also provides interesting ideas.  Nai Nai is not written as a doting old lady nor a victim; she is strong, witty, and full of life. Shuzhen, unknown to me before viewing this film, adds tremendous poise in a crucial role portraying it in just the right way.

The Farewell is a quiet film with both comic and dramatic elements, sometimes within the same scene, thereby giving relief from the dour subject matter. Wang gets the balance just right and makes sure she does not make the film too heavy. A hysterical bowing marathon takes place as the entourage decides to visit grandfather’s grave, as they prepare the necessary essentials to comfort him during the afterlife.

As a direct contrast to a physical comedy nuance, not a dry eye can be found when Billi and her parents depart China by taxi to the airport. Nai Nai tearfully waves goodbye to them, not knowing that will certainly be her final goodbye. Any audience member with an elderly relative who they seldom see will be churning with emotion over this poignant scene. Questions such as “would you keep a loved one unaware of a terminal disease?” will gnaw at the viewer, the central theme of the story.

Influenced by the buzz and word of mouth encircling the film, I salivated at the thought of one big, powerful, emotional scene, but one clearly defined, bombastic moment never came. Rather, the film offers small tidbits, careful not to overpower the audience or risk making the film too sentimental or overwrought. I still think a pivotal teary scene might have been added for good measure. A scene where Billi breaks down in front of her parents was adequate, but never catapulted the film over the top.

The Farewell (2019) is a wonderful film rich with emotion and importance. Like Black Panther (2017) did with a completely different genre, bringing black characters to the forefront of mainstream film, this film provides exposure to the Asian population, typically relegated to doctors, Chinese takeout owners or other cliched roles. Wang delights with an independent film steam-rolling itself across Middle-America.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #926

Reviewed August 1, 2019

Grade: A

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is another brilliant offering by one of the most (deservedly) respected directors of the modern film era. This film may be his most personal as it includes many cinematic references and immerses itself in the Hollywood lifestyle. Toned down considerably from the violence standard in his other films, the first half lays the groundwork to a startlingly good second half with every detail of utmost importance. A bevy of riches await any viewer enthusiastically feasting his or her eyes on this film.

The time is 1969, as actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) struggles to reinvent himself and revitalize his career in Hollywood amid a changing cinematic landscape. Famous for a popular western television series from the 1950’s, Bounty Law, a pursued film career has not taken off, and he is reduced to guest appearances as the villain, then considered throwaway roles, in other episodic series. His stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) accompanies him almost everywhere serving as both sidekick and errand boy.

Meanwhile, famous director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have moved into the house next door which Dalton hopes will help him revitalize his career aspirations. As Tate goes about her daily life of running errands and watching her own movies in the theater, she is visited by Charles Manson one day looking for the former resident of her house. Historical viewers know how subsequent events transpired in real-life as Tarantino offers a fictional and tantalizing version of the events.

The length of the film is two hours and thirty-nine minutes, quite robust but typical for a Tarantino production. Some may complain about the bloated running time, but the film never drags; rather the director lays out all the pieces carefully like a fine chess game. By the mid-point all hell breaks loose with one of the most suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat scenes of in film history. When Cliff drives a flirtatious young hippy hitchhiker, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) to a range populated by Manson followers, he is in for the adventure of his life…..if he survives.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood contains an orgy of cinematic tidbits featuring a myriad of clips from forgotten films of the late 1960’s and popular songs from the day. This is just the tip of the iceberg in marvels as Tarantino perfectly immerses the viewer into the time-period with fury and zest. Every set piece, costume, hairstyle or car is flawlessly placed. Kraft macaroni and cheese, Velveeta cheese and popular dog food from the time-period are featured. Tarantino is a fan of cinema and makes cinema lovers fall in love with cinema all over again.

The cast is humongous but each character necessary and perfectly represented in roles large and small. The haunting troupe of Manson followers, specifically Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison), are all real-life figures. They are foreboding, dangerous and ever so important to the story. Al Pacino shines in the small but pivotal role of Schwarz (not Schwartz), Dalton’s agent, while Steve McQueen look-alike, Damian Lewis, on-screen for merely seconds, is memorable. The list of cameo performances goes on and on and on and the fun is wondering who may appear next.

Despite the incorporation of big-name stars in significant small roles, the best performances belong to Dicaprio and Pitt. Dicaprio’s best scene takes place alone in his trailer as the washed-up star botches his lines thanks to a hangover causing a delay in filming. He abuses himself into nailing the scene, receiving kudos all around while becoming teary-eyed after a compliment from a young actress. Pitt has never given a better performance than he does as Cliff, sharing his best scenes with his adorable dog Brandi, and with Dicaprio. Who can ever forget his chest baring rooftop scene?

Quentin Tarantino scores again with a bombastic and flawless picture, his ninth release. Rumored to retire after his tenth film, one can hardly fathom the reality of that statement. His films can be watched and watched again, continuously absorbing new and noteworthy details of rich texture. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) easily joins the ranks of great works, not just of the director’s own catalog, but of all time.

Lizzie-2018

Lizzie-2018

Director-Craig Macneill

Starring-Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart

Scott’s Review #925

Reviewed July 31, 2019

Grade: B+

Lizzie (2018) is an odd and macabre interpretation of the life and times of the infamous Lizzie Borden, who was accused and acquitted of hacking her father and stepmother to bits with a deadly axe. This offering is shrouded in a bit of controversy for inaccuracies and interpretations of the events, specifically Borden’s sexuality called into question. The film is quiet and a tad too slow but thunders to a grand climax more than making up for any negatives. The casting of its leads is perfect and key to success.

Thirty-two-year old Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) lives with her domineering and affluent father Andrew, (Jamey Sheridan), and rigid stepmother, Abby (Fiona Shaw). Despising both, she lives out a lonely and depressed existence with her only outlet being occasional evenings out at the theater. When an Irish immigrant, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), moves in to the Borden residence to work as a servant the women form a strong bond especially after she is abused by Andrew.

Sevigny, one of my favorite modern actresses, possesses a range that is astounding in the myriad of characters she has played in her long career. Debuting to the masses in the critically acclaimed and depressing Boys Don’t Cry (1999) she has churned out a numerous array of independent features portraying one oddball character after another and deserves the strong influence she has achieved over the years.

Director, Craig Macneill makes interesting choices with his film which may or may not please audiences expecting a by the number’s horror offering. He dives into psychological thriller territory with more of a character study approach that provides layers to the finished product. Sevigny is center stage and plenty of camera close-up shots offer an introspective analysis of what her feelings are rather than from her parents’ perspective. Instead of a crazed killer spontaneously committing the crime she is careful and calculating in her plan. Macneill presents Lizzie as the victim and Andrew and Abby the villains.

This is to assume that Borden really committed the crimes, which the film never doubts. Historically, people assume that this is the truth, but Lizzie was set free by a jury refusing to believe a woman of such means would commit such a heinous crime. I wonder if Macneill directed the film with a bit of a smirk at this ridiculous decision of the times when the woman clearly enjoyed the murders. At the end of the film it is explained what happened to Lizzie and Bridget which is a good decision and wraps the film into a nice tidy bow.

Powerful is the quiet subtext which gives a moody and foreboding quality. I adore slow moving films provided the reward is worth the wait and Lizzie sucker punches once the events begin rolling along. Another positive is the gnawing feeling of terrible things about to happen but unsure of when or how the attacks will occur. Most viewers choosing to watch this film will be aware of the context and the reported murders committed.

The atmospheric additions succeed as the late eighteenth century costumes and daily living are believable. The lavish Borden house is well-kept and brightly lit offering a nice New England feel. Finally, the creaks and noises throughout the house perfectly encompass the danger lurking behind corners and the fun is in wondering when Lizzie will strike. Since the film moves back and forth through its time-period we know that strike she will.

Where the film offers its best work is through the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget. Sevigny and Stewart dazzle together with unleashed chemistry nearly rivaling a similar dynamic seen in 2003’s Monster. As with Aline Wuornos and Selby Wall Lizzie is the dominant one and Bridget is submissive following her lead. Both sets of women share a lesbian relationship and neither pair achieves any happiness at the conclusion of the film.

A film sure to fly under the radar and likely to be forgotten before long, Lizzie (2018) is worth the effort. A spooky and controversial interpretation of the events leading up to, during, and after one of the most notorious crimes in United States history is dissected and analyzed from a human perspective. Macneill makes Borden less maniacal and more sympathetic than some may prefer. I think he does a fine job and deserves praise for a rich telling.

Gloria Bell-2019

Gloria Bell-2019

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Julianne Moore, John Turturro

Scott’s Review #924

Reviewed July 29, 2019

Grade: B+

An English remake of the successful Chilean film from 2013 simply titled Gloria, Gloria Bell (2019) stars Julianne Moore and the setting is moved to Los Angeles. The film is directed by Sebastian Lelio, fresh off a Best Foreign Language Film win for A Fantastic Woman (2017) and both films contain similar themes of oppression and loneliness. Preferring the original by only a hair Gloria Bell is nonetheless a worthy offering with Moore perfectly cast in the title role.

Middle-aged divorcee Gloria Bell (Moore) resides in Los Angeles, working an office job of some respectability but is clearly unfulfilled. She spends frequent nights at a nightclub where she is deemed a regular. The club caters to middle-aged singles who dance and drink while looking for love. When she meets Arnold (John Turturro) one evening and they share a night of passion, the pair begin dating but Gloria realizes that he still supports his ex-wife and grown daughters limiting his time and commitment to her, which leaves her frustrated.

Moore is honest and understated with her performance and the highlight of the film. With another casting choice the character might not have worked so well. She is full of life, singing in her car, attending laughter therapy, and smoking pot in her apartment. She has a warm yet limited relationship with her millennial kids and her ex-husband and his new wife. Moore gives the character an earnestness and likability that works and gets the audience on her side during her trials and tribulations.

This is not to say that Gloria doesn’t occasionally frustrate the audience. After inviting Arnold to meet the whole crew over dinner and wine at her son’s house, what begins as a meet and greet quickly turns into a reminiscing trip down memory lane and whimsical looks at Gloria and her ex’s wedding pictures. Her disregard of Arnold’s feelings is disappointing, but the bad intention is not there. Gloria has baggage and is caught up in the moment simply reliving a happier time at the expense of the current moment.

Arnold has his own demons and is both likable and unlikable to the audience. Tending to bail on Gloria when either his family requires his assistance or he feels left out, he hardly exhibits grown man behavior or anyone Gloria would want to date. The first red flag is his confessions of enamor to Gloria over their first dinner date. From there his on again off again presence makes him the odd man out. The intent by Lelio is to make Gloria the sympathetic one. It’s her movie after all.

Watched sequentially with A Fantastic Woman is a wise idea. Numerous comparisons are apparent beginning with the feelings shared by both central characters. Both are searching for happiness but unsure of how to obtain it especially given the fact that they once had it and it was snatched away from them. Scenes of both characters driving in their cars and singing songs are included, and the look of both films is the same.

Very few comparisons or contrasts can be made between Gloria of 2013 and Gloria Bell of 2019 as both are way above average other than in the former the character is slightly more vivacious than the latter. This could be attributed to the Chilean and South American free thinking and sexual gusto as compared to a more reserved American way of thinking, but this is merely a suggestion. Interesting to note is how Lelio remade his own film only six years later rather than another director putting his or her own stamp on it.

Gloria Bell (2019) paints a vivid canvas of a modern woman dealt a bad hand who struggles to find her happiness and fulfillment any way she knows how. Thanks in large part to Moore’s embracing and filling the character with kindness and care she wins over the audience. The character is written as intelligent and interesting and not desperate in any way for a man. He needs to be the right man.