Yesterday-2019

Yesterday-2019

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Himesh Patel, Lilly James

Scott’s Review #952

Reviewed October 29, 2019

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hostel-2006

Hostel-2006

Director-Eli Roth

Starring-Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson

Scott’s Review #951

Reviewed October 24, 2019

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Story-1970

Love Story-1970

Director-Arthur Hiller

Starring-Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw

Scott’s Review #950

Reviewed October 23, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ma-2019

Ma-2019

Director-Tate Taylor

Starring-Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers

Scott’s Review #949

Reviewed October 22, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child’s Play-2019

Child’s Play-2019

Director-Lars Klevberg

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill

Scott’s Review #948

Reviewed October 17, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downton Abbey-2019

Downton Abbey-2019

Director-Michael Engler

Starring-Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #947

Reviewed October 16, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judy-2019

Judy-2019

Director-Rupert Goold

Starring-Renee Zellweger

Scott’s Review #946

Reviewed October 14, 2019

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Man & the Gun-2018

The Old Man & the Gun-2018

Director-David Lowery

Starring-Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek

Scott’s Review #945

Reviewed October 11, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Eternity’s Gate-2018

At Eternity’s Gate-2018

Director-Julian Schnabel

Starring-Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #944

Reviewed October 9, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soylent Green-1973

Soylent Green-1973

Director-Richard Fleischer

Starring-Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young

Scott’s Review #943

Reviewed October 8, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hustlers-2019

Hustlers-2019

Director-Lorene Scafaria

Starring-Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez

Scott’s Review #942

Reviewed October 3, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy-2018

Nancy-2018

Director-Christina Coe

Starring-Andrea Riseborough

Scott’s Review #941

Reviewed October 1, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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