The Tin Drum-1979

The Tin Drum-1979

Director-Volker Schlöndorff

Starring-David Bennent, Angela Winkler

Scott’s Review #1,047

Reviewed July 31, 2020

Grade: A

A fantastic and mesmerizing film experience that goes deeper than most films do the longer you stick with it, The Tin Drum (1979) takes a brutal point in world history and completes a layered production. The film brings humor morphing into tragedy and back again in the most original of ways seen through the eyes of a young boy named Oskar (David Bennent), who decides to physically grow no further than three-years-old in an allegory of political turmoil amid World War II. The film is riddled with thought provocation and historical meaning resulting in brilliance.

The film begins in 1899 and ends in the early 1940’s. The story starts hilariously in Polish lands when Oskar’s grandfather meets his grandmother while fleeing police. Their tryst in a potato field produces Oskar’s mother, Agnes (Angela Winkler). She is then later torn between two men, her cousin Jan (Daniel Olbrychski) and Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf), whom she marries. Oskar is born with his parentage in question since Agnes carries on an affair with Jan throughout the years. Oskar’s grandfather flees to America and becomes rich sans family.

When Oskar turns three, he is given a tin drum as a present that he adores and refuses to part with. He throws himself down the cellar stairs much to his family’s chagrin and develops the uncanny ability to shatter glass by screaming at a high pitch. As the 1930’s become the 1940’s Oskar witnesses his mother’s affair, her tragic death, his father’s and uncle’s deaths, and a beloved Jewish man committing suicide rather than being caught by the Nazis. He finds love with a sixteen-year-old shop girl named Maria and may or may not father her baby.

The Tin Drum is not always an easy watch and teeters between fun and frightening. Oskar is not the lovable kid next door that everyone adores. He is creepy looking and unattractive at first glance, almost demonic in nature. Actor David Bennent is perfectly cast and has a way of offering moments where he stands transfixed, mouth dropped open, taking in the action and making gazing observations. Oskar goes from three years old when the film begins to a grown man when it ends but never changes appearance.

Some viewers may be bothered by certain scenes. Bennent was only eleven years old and suffered from a growth defect in real-life. More prudish viewers may find the youngster’s intimacy a bit shocking since he appears nude and beds a woman in full view. I found it in no way gratuitous or exploitative and would argue that it is vital to show the growth and maturation of little Oskar. Foreign language films typically get away with more sex and nudity than American films, but the scenes are artistic and beautiful.

The pacing in The Tin Drum is terrific. At two hours and forty-three minutes there is plenty of time to explore relevant scenes and sequences slowly letting them brew and marinate. The comedy of Oskar’s grandparent’s sexual appetites taking place under her big dress are hilarious and reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s best films. The intriguing dwarf characters that Oskar meets and befriends bring life and zest to the film as they embrace their peculiarities and profit from them encouraging them to do the same.

The second half of The Tin Drum turns dark. Agnes, now pregnant, vomits after witnessing eel being collected on the beach. When they are prepared for dinner, she at first resists then embarks on a fish-eating obsession resulting in her untimely death. Is this an example of showing German’s stuffing themselves with Nazism? The deaths of Jan, Alfred, and others follow in rapid succession as clips of the Nazi occupation are featured.

A valuable history lesson is offered when The Tin Drum incorporates real-life footage of Adolph Hitler. Most frightening is a clip of him outside of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. How he overtook this magical city and almost destroyed it is unfathomable. This perfectly counterbalances the fairy-tale or ridiculousness of other scenes bringing home the terrible message that much of what the film explores are true events.

The greatness that oozes from The Tin Drum (1979) is layered and dynamic. The filming is mostly in West Germany with bits shot in Poland which gives an authenticity of the experience. Other offerings are surrealistic, sometimes child-like innocence, sometimes tragic and too realistic. The picture drizzles with life, energy, synergy, and multi-faceted character relationships. One of the greats to watch more than once to grasp the numerous things going on. The film version is adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Gunter Grass.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

When a Stranger Calls-1979

When a Stranger Calls-1979

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Tony Beckley

Scott’s Review #1,046

Reviewed July 29, 2020

Grade: B+

When a Stranger Calls (1979) has the great honor of possessing one of the most frightening twenty minutes in horror film history, kicking the daylights out of the stunned and transfixed viewer from the first frame. While still a very good film, the pacing slows down and changes into a different kind of film before kicking back into high- gear again for the final twenty minutes of action. This results in some imbalance and imperfections throughout. Carol Kane, Tony Beckley, and Colleen Dewhurst make the film as good as it is and are the standouts for me.

Teenage babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) calmly walks through an affluent California neighborhood for a quiet evening of watching two children. The doctor and his wife are embarking on a night of dinner and a movie and the children will be no trouble, Jill is told, since they are recovering from colds and are already fast asleep in their beds. Shortly after they leave, Jill begins to receive odd phone calls from a man simply asking, “have you checked the children”? At first assumed to be a practical joke, the calls become more menacing prompting Jill to get the police involved.

Now terrified, Jill is told by the alarmed police to calmly get out of the house because the calls she is receiving are coming from inside the house! She flees and is met head-on by Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), who apprehends an English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), who has ripped the children to shreds with his bare hands. He is subsequently sent to an asylum only to escape seven years later prompting Clifford to hunt him down like an animal.

The film is really sectioned into two segments and multiple genres. The beginning and conclusion are standard horror sequences while the guts of the film delve into psychological thriller or crime drama territory with similarities to Dirty Harry (1971) emerging. Clifford spends much of his time trying to track down Duncan in a cat and mouse game throughout Los Angeles. Colleen Dewhurst plays a middle-aged woman who catches the eye of Duncan one night in a seedy downtown nightclub.

Director, Fred Walton, makes Clifford a hard-edged, grizzled detective who has seen it all and has no mercy for Duncan, intent on killing him dead rather than capturing him. Durning is not the best part of the film and the role might have been cast with a more charismatic actor. Perplexing is what Duncan’s motivation is for killing other than simply being crazy which is not a good enough explanation. Was he abused as a child? During some scenes he is sympathetic, more like a wounded child than a crazed killer. He simply wants a friend, whereas Clifford, the good guy, is sometimes unsympathetic and tough to root for.

With “deer caught in headlight’s eyes” expressions and emotions, Kane’s Jill is brilliant using her eyes to great benefit. The audience feels her peril, fear, and panic during her scenes. When Duncan resurfaces looking for her again (though it’s not clear why he obsesses over her), her nice life, two children, and husband’s lives are all placed in jeopardy. Dewhurst, who could have easily been cast as the lead in Gloria (1980) is tough as nails and no-nonsense, though she does feel sympathy, and some attraction for Duncan.

In 1996, when Scream was released and provided the oomph that the horror genre desperately needed, thanks was justifiably given to When a Stranger Calls for its mighty influence. The first twelve minutes of Scream are a direct homage to this film, when a stranger calls (pun intended!) and the leading ladies life spirals out of control due to a phone call and menacing voice. Parts of the opening sequence are influenced by Black Christmas (1974) a brilliant horror film instrumental in the making of so many others. The revelation that the killer is inside the house is a plot device that remains scary and satisfying.

Offering a cross genre approach that works best with the terrifying horror elements, When a Stranger Calls (1979) is a sometimes terrific and sometimes an uneven picture. Thanks to compelling acting, the slowed down middle portion does not ruin the entire experience, but what an erupting and memorable beginning and end. Followed by an unsuccessful sequel and an even more disappointing remake in 2006.

Honeyland-2019

Honeyland-2019

Director-Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Starring-Hatidze Muratova

Scott’s Review #1,045

Reviewed July 27, 2020

Grade: B+

Honeyland (2019) is an important documentary for anyone who cares a wit about the environment, or for those who don’t but should, to experience. The setting is the rural mountains of Macedonia, an area probably on nobody’s radar yet comes a terrific story, nonetheless. The key takeaways that the film makers want the audience to get are those of greed, overindulgence, and the need for conservation to be a hot topic, a worthy little something of the utmost importance.

The piece has the honor of being the first documentary to be nominated not only for the Best Documentary Oscar but also for the Best International Feature award. The need to receive dual nominations is a mystery to me as the documentary is as straight-forward as one can be minus the need for any narration. Unclear is if this is the reason for both nominations. It won neither, losing to American Factory (2019) and Parasite (2019), respectively.

The focus is on a middle-aged woman named Hatidze, who lives inside a cave in the village as caretaker to her elderly mother. Not only does she feed and bathe the bedridden matriarch, but she is the keeper of wild bees in her village. She periodically embarks on a journey into the city to sell honey that she collects from the beehives. The honey is of top quality and she can sustain a living based on good reputation. A kind man even gives her a free fan to give to her mother to help keep the flies away during the intense summer heat.

One day, a rambunctious family of seven arrives to live next door to Hatidze. They are energetic and noisy, but she bonds with them, especially one of the sons. Hatidze teaches the father how to produce honey like she does and warns him to only use half of the honey or else it will upset the bees and cause problems. Needing money, the man is pressured to produced more and succumbs to the request only to accidentally kill Hatidze’s bees causing a rift in their friendship. She is heartbroken and angry.

A few reasons to recommend Honeyland are the frequent camera shots that capture moments. Reportedly, it took three years to film and over four-hundred hours of footage used to come up with an hour and a half of running time. The best scenes are gorgeously shot and feature Hatidze in close-up moments. As she gazes into the sunset or prompts her mother to eat bananas for nourishment, the lines on her face express her myriad of emotions. She longs to be married, a missed opportunity, and wonders how her life might have been different had she.

Hatidze’s village will be a novelty to most viewers and she lives in a world which no viewer will have to experience. This is a positive reason for viewers to expose themselves to this other world. With no electric, no water, no nothing, she makes do with what little she has and bares no ill will. The neighbors finally pack up and leave, exhausting their short-lived good fortune, and Hatidze is left alone to endure a hard winter. When her mother finally dies, she succumbs to tears, the burden lifted from her but an endless feeling of grief and uncertainty.

Honeyland (2019) offers a powerful message of the temptations of greed and the ramifications this can have on others who simply wish to live in peace. It brings the viewer into a strange world unfamiliar and dire to nearly everyone. It centers on one woman’s endurance, courage, and tenacity to simply live her life the only way she knows how, one foot in front of the other. With gorgeous cinematography, the documentary is very slow-paced and not an easy watch but mirrors the pace of life in the harsh mountains of Macedonia.

Oscar Nominations: Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

For Sama-2019

For Sama-2019

Director-Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Starring-Waad al-Kateab, Hanza al-Kateab

Scott’s Review #1,044

Reviewed July 25, 2020

Grade: B+

The wonderful thing about documentaries is that a viewer can absorb and learn something they have not been exposed to and know little or nothing about. Aware via news outlets of unrest in Syria, For Sama (2019) personalizes and humanizes the battles as the film chronicles the life of a young Syrian woman and her husband, both rebels and he a doctor, with a young daughter born and raised amid the war ravaged city of Aleppo from 2011-2016.

For Sama is horrifically brutal and unkind at times, but to soften the experience would be to do an injustice to those on the front lines living with war every day. The viewer should see firsthand the inhumanity and terror imposed on innocent civilians before they are cavalier to what the effects of war really are.  The film bravely shows both human suffering and death including dead children. Waad al-Kateab wrote, produced, co-directed and stars in this brutal yet hopeful production. She also narrates it.

Waad al-Kateab focuses on a five-year span of time living in Aleppo, Syria before and during the infamous Battle of Aleppo, a major military confrontation between the Syrian government and its opposition. She is a marketing student when the documentary begins and highly intelligent. Waad al-Kateab meets and falls in love with Hamza, a skilled doctor whose wife has already fled for safety leaving him behind. Waad gives birth to her first daughter Sama and navigates motherhood all while the conflict begins to engulf the city.

Waad and Hamza work at one of the few remaining hospitals in the city, facing daily agonizing decisions whether to flee to safety or stay behind to help the innocent victims of war. Despite having Sama and later becoming pregnant again, they cannot bring themselves to leave as it would be abandoning those who rely on them. The documentary features their friends who also stay on, refusing to leave the city they still love. The group tries for brief moments of pleasure, sitting around and chatting, all while the constant threat of bombings is a daily occurrence.

Intriguing is that For Sama is told from the perspective of the female. This is unusual in the war genre, whether it be a film or a documentary feature as more common is for it to be male driven. When she provides narration, Waad gives off a warmth and a kindness that is tough not to fall in love with. She cares for Sama, never knowing if today will be their last day alive. In one frightening moment, Waad quickly gives Sama to another person to hide when the bombs start hitting the hospital, determined that Sama’s life might be spared if she is thought to be an orphan, rather than the spawn of hated rebels.

Props must be given for getting this project off the ground and released, rewarded with wide acclaim and recognition. In a country as volatile as Syria, how inspiring to have someone like Edward Watts, an English film maker, able to follow through with For Sama. Amazing is how some footage especially during the bombings was spared.

Waad explains how determined she was to film as much as she possibly could, even during very personal moments. In the most heartbreaking scene, a pregnant woman is injured during a bombing and her lifeless baby is born. After minutes of real-time uncertainty, the baby finally coughs and gags and is alive. Watts and Waad go to horrific depths to show how close the baby comes to dying and the scene is fraught with sadness and finally relief. I have never seen moments as chilling as these in any documentary.

Other scenes feature young boy’s whose playmates or siblings have just been killed by bombs and their emotional exhaustion and grief. Thankfully, the documentary tries to add as many moments of human connection through what laughs and good times can possibly be mustered when fear is the main ingredient of daily life.

For an experience baring the ugliness of war, the constant fear and peril, and a humanistic story of raising one’s child during frightening times, For Sama (2019) also shows the love and dedication to one’s flesh and blood and the beauty of spirit and perseverance during tragic times. It is heartbreaking, humanistic, and inspiring.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

Frozen II-2019

Frozen II-2019

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

Scott’s Review #1,043

Reviewed July 22, 2020

Grade: B

Six years after the enormous success of Frozen (2013) comes the follow-up, Frozen II (2019). Surprising is the long gap of time between creations but the beauty of animation is that these characters do not age unless creators want them to. The adventure story is fun, incorporating a bit of history which always creates depth, but also charts familiar territory as the first installment. The film showcases lovely visuals and songs which usurp the other elements. Breeding so much familiarity, there seems little need for a third chapter though I’d bet my bottom dollar another will emerge.

We are re-introduced to Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) as little girls, when they are tucked into bed by their father King Agnarr of Arendelle one night. He relays a story about his father (their grandfather), a treaty made with a neighboring tribe, a dam, and a magical Enchanted Forest. As a youngster, Agnarr barely escapes alive after a fight erupts with the other tribe, causing his father’s death, and enraging the spiritual elements of the forest. There is also a key mention about Anna and Elsa’s parents lost ship, which is apparently how they died.

Fast-forward to present times, Elsa and Anna are adults, three years following the events of the first film. Elsa, the one with ice powers, runs her happy kingdom with Anna serving as Princess. They live in peace and harmony with familiar characters Olaf, the snowman created by Elsa, Kristoff, Anna’s boyfriend, and Sven, his reindeer. When Elsa begins hearing mysterious voices calling to her from the mountains, she pursues them only to reawaken the spirits and threaten her kingdom and her people. The group must come to the rescue to retain harmony learning the reason for Elsa’s powers in the process.

Frozen II has a “nice” feel which is a positive and a negative. Family friendly with a feminist, female perspective is good and crafts a positive and inspired message for youngsters, especially females, who see the film. Anna and Elsa control their destiny, are empowered to go after what they want, and achieve results. They also support each other, share sisterly love rather than are rivals, and treat people fairly.

The adventure that the girls and friends face will end happily, that much we know. Slight peril emerges when Anna goads and then flees from gigantic earth spirits, Olaf melts and is assumed dead, and Elsa is also thought dead in the forest, but these are aspects added for dramatic effect, and the safe feel of the film ensures that all major characters will remain in happily ever after harmony. When Kristoff awkwardly attempts to propose to Anna throughout the film, we are certain he will eventually do the deed which he does.

I criticized Frozen for limiting diversity in its production, which is corrected in Frozen II. Mattias, leader of a group of Arendelle soldiers, is a strong and protective character, and is black. As an LGBTQ presence, one is only hinted at. When Kristoff befriends Ryder over their love of reindeer, Ryder admits he knows nothing about girls. Mention must be made of Elsa’s barbie doll like appearance with her bright blue eyes and long blonde hair. Does she have to look that stunning? Might impressionable girls get the idea that looks are most important? Let’s hope not.

The best parts of the film are the musical numbers, which feel increased from the first Frozen. Using the same song composers, the tunes feel slightly less poppy. The most emotional number is “Into the Unknown”, which possesses a mysterious quality and powerful, compelling lyrics. Its message is to go for it, which can be interpreted as conquering fears or trying something new. The sound is anthem-like and superior to “Let it Go”.

Frozen II (2019) is a predictable, fun affair ensconced with Scandinavian trimmings with mountains, fjords, and gorgeous landscape providing the necessary cold weather aspects and a magical quality. The visuals are lavish, bright, and sophisticated. Part II is a slightly more mature affair but on par with Frozen and wisely targets the right audience. Tastes change, so if a Part III is made film makers might want to think of a deeper plot or subsequent tidbits to retain interest.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“Into the Unknown”

Pain and Glory-2019

Pain and Glory-2019

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,042

Reviewed July 20, 2020

Grade: A-

Thought to be director Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal effort to date, Pain and Glory (2019) showcases the talents of actor Antonio Banderas, who has been appearing in Almodóvar’s films since 1982. A character study, the film poetically reflects on the life of an aging film maker (Banderas) who aches to find his lost creative soul while reminiscing about his first love. The triumphant film could have been faster paced, but above all celebrates life, regret, and pain, and is thus inspiring.

Salvador Mallo (Banderas) is a once well-known filmmaker well on the decline personally and professionally. He suffers from health maladies leaving him in chronic pain and has lost his knack for crafting good projects. When he runs into an old friend and actress, Zulema (Cecilia Roth), who barely acts anymore and is reduced to accepting any roles offered to her, he decides to visit the lead actor from his best-known film, Sabor. Salvador hasn’t spoken to Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) in thirty-years and both ruminate over the film as it is to be remastered and celebrated.

Once a subject of contention, Salvador and Alberto begin to smoke heroin prompting Salvador to revisit his childhood memories, rediscovering life. His most prominent memory is when he and his father and mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) move to a whitewashed cave to live. There he meets and befriends an older laborer, whom he teaches to read. Salvador discovers his sexuality through this young man after seeing him naked.

Years later, during the 1980’s, Salvador falls madly in love with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and the pair share a passionate love-affair that deteriorates at the end of the decade. In present times, Federico re-emerges and tracks down Salvador. They reconnect, sharing drinks and memories, nearly reigniting their passion. Federico is now married to a woman and raising kids in Argentina, but the powerful memories resurface, and the men flirt and gaze at one another longingly.

The film utterly belongs to Banderas. The actor has charisma in many other roles, but Salvador might be his crowning achievement. It’s such a personal role and written specifically for the actor by Almodóvar. He possesses the ability to grasp the viewer into his clutches and never let go. From the agonizing pain he experiences daily causing him to choke for no reason to his inability to fulfill his now elderly mother’s dying wish to die in her village after accusing him of never loving her, we empathize with him every step of the way.

His sexuality discovered and revealed at a young age, Salvador’s longing and unfulfilled passion are the most intricate and nuanced aspects of the film. As the laborer draws a picture of Salvador, which he rediscovers later, there is unspoken passion between the youngsters. In later years, his assistant nudges him to look the laborer up via Google, to see where he is, perhaps reconnecting. Salvador refuses, sinking in regret of what might have been.

To build on this, his fling with Federico as a young man, shown via flashbacks, is powerful. The scene when a teary Federico, during present times, sits in a theater weeping while watching Salvador’s play, is a testament to his love for the man. Unknown is why the relationship failed and Federico gave up men and succumbed to a traditional relationship, but we can only guess Salvador might not have been able to commit. When the men spend an evening together capped off with a passionate kiss but nothing more, we realize how they could have built a wonderful life together. Props to Sbaraglia for a tremendous performance in a small role.

Assuredly, Pain and Glory was patterned after 8 1/2, a 1963 masterpiece penned and directed by Federico Fellini. The themes of regret, writer’s block, and memories come into play throughout both films. Almodóvar even names Salvador’s lover Federico, an obvious tribute to the famous director, known for infusing stylistic touches and non-linear stories.

Like most of Almodóvar’s other projects, Pain and Glory celebrates vibrant colors, sexuality, and passion in its themes. Set in Madrid, the film has a zesty, cultured Spanish flair with blues, greens and oranges. Even though the overarching theme is loss, pain, and missed opportunities, the film is still stacked with rich energy and pizzazz. For those with a fondness for acting, cinema, or creativity there is enough to satisfy.

After decades in the spotlight crafting film after film with resounding results, Pain and Glory (2019) may be the cream of the crop for the Spanish director. Thanks in large part to the tremendous efforts of a legendary actor, the experience will please fans of the director’s and anyone with a taste for a film about zest for life, unfulfilled pleasures, and new experiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Antonio Banderas, Best International Feature Film

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Matt Damon, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #1,041

Reviewed July 18, 2020

Grade: B-

Ford v Ferrari (2019) is a film based on a real-life situation in the world of race car driving featuring two of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading men, Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Co-leads, they share equal screen time and independent story lines that merge together nicely. Bale gives the better performance and is the best part of an otherwise mediocre film. The rest is quite formulaic and traditional in plot and film making sensibilities. Receiving several Academy Award nominations, I expected more from the experience. Granted, car racing isn’t the subject I’m most intrigued by.

Carroll Shelby (Damon) is an American car designer and entrepreneur, who is hired by the Ford motor company to build a car that will beat the Italian owned Ferrari after a feud erupts between the two owners. Shelby is tasked with building the car to debut at the upcoming 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in France. Rebellious race car driver, Ken Miles (Bale) who has no fear, is chosen to drive the new car. He and his wife have money troubles and need the pay day.

Director, James Mangold, certainly adds his share of pomp and circumstance clearly making this a testosterone fueled guy’s film. Traditional styles ensue as the climactic race fills the last act of the way too long production. There is a story of loyalty and brotherhood between Carroll and Ken that feels forced and dated. Ford v Ferrari is formulaic to a tee with a clear modus operandi of providing entertainment and action.

The pieces are all in play. The Ford corporation is pissed at being tricked in a deal by a foreign country (Italy). They vow revenge with a big boy American car that can defeat the foreign car. There is a climactic finish with the American car the clear victor. But first, there are hurdles to face to increase the tension and drama. Ken’s driver door malfunctions causing him to have to gain laps to catch up to Ferrari. Ford is written as the underdog which is a tough sell.

Since the real-life events took place during the Cold War, Mangold spins a definitive Americana, good old boys’ creation that feels too patriotic to be genuine. So many other films have a similar vibe- Apollo 13 (1995), The Martian (2015), and especially the similar themed Rush (2013). The Ford guys, though cagey and gruff, are meant to be the characters the audience roots for and the Italian characters are not. And is there really a need to still show the cliched scene of a dedicated wife obediently watching television at home and cheering on her husband as he races?

The gripes are not to say the film is a bad experience- it’s not. It’s just that it’s on par with good Mexican takeout from your favorite restaurant. You know exactly what you are going to get and there is some comfort and satisfaction in that. Ford v Ferrari is an easy watch and one can sink into his or her lazy-boy and enjoy the revving engines, squealing tires, and smoking mufflers. The film is machismo at its finest. Think a better version of The Fast and the Furious (2001-present) franchise.

Let’s talk Oscar nominations. There is no way Ford v Ferrari should have received a Best Picture nomination. Either Us (2019), Hustlers (2019), or A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) could have deservedly taken its spot. Warranted are nominations for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in which it won the first two. More realistic is for Christian Bale to have been awarded a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which he did not receive. Sometimes the Academy gets it right, sometimes they don’t.

Being a non-race car driving aficionado might have hindered my enjoyment of the film over a more passionate viewer. For those seeking a standard rev ’em up, male driven race car film, kick up your heels and enjoy the ride- you’ll love it. Ford v Ferrari (2019) will only marginally please those seeking deeper meaning in film or film as art. The film will certainly be remembered as one as mainstream and Hollywood produced as humanly possible.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing (won)

Ready or Not-2019

Ready or Not-2019

Director-Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

Starring-Samara Weaving, Adam Brody

Scott’s Review #1,040

Reviewed July 16, 2020

Grade: B+

A hybrid of dark comedy, horror, and whodunit, Ready or Not (2019) is a splatter of a good time. Witty and macabre, the film is patterned after Knives Out (2019), Clue (1985), and the television series Riverdale, with a dash of Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 (2003-2004) peppered in for good measure. The results are fantastic, gory and fun and the pacing is on point. The best aspect is the unpredictability factor as the conclusion cannot be drawn and the audience willingly plunges along for a thrilling ride eager to see what happens next.

The film begins with a mysterious flashback. A young boy living in a vast mansion is confronted by an injured man begging for help. The boy cries out for his family who shoots the man dead. Decades later, happier events transpire as Alex (Mark O’Brien) and Grace (Samara Weaving) enjoy a lavish wedding at the Le Domas family estate. Alex’s family is super rich, and he asks Grace if she is sure she wants to join the family. Why wouldn’t she welcome a life of pampering and all the money she can imagine? She readily tells Alex that, yes, she is sure she wants to marry him.

After the wedding, Alex and Grace are summoned by the family to partake in a game, a family tradition. Grace will choose a card, and everyone will play that game. When Grace chooses the Hide-and-Seek card the reactions are morose. When she gleefully trots off at midnight to hide, she assumes it is an innocent game. She quickly realizes that the family is determined to kill her as part of an ancient legend involving a deal to keep the family money secure. Grace spends the night being pursued by members of the family while the household staff are accidentally killed off.

Being a horror film, the rosy start to the film (the wedding) is delicious and short-lived, as any fan of the horror genre knows that dreary events are soon in store. The fun is waiting for the other shoe to drop and the body count to begin rising. Ready or Not succeeds most when Grace is being pursued and when she emerges from the dumb waiter thinking she will give up the game and enjoy a good night’s sleep are spectacular. A house-nanny is shot by a doltish family member who mistakes her for Grace, cowering behind a bed. At that moment the bride realizes she is screwed.

The final thirty minutes of Ready or Not takes a different turn as victimized Grace turns into revenge seeking Grace. Think Carrie White at the prom after being soaked with pig blood. As Grace lumbers through the mansion in her blood streak white gown, happy to kill any one of the filthy rich family members, she has the most fun pummeling Alex’s mother, Becky Le Domas (Andie MacDowell), to death with a box, which he gets to witness. Revenge Grace is like Uma Thurman’s the Bride in the Kill Bill double-feature.

Released the same year as Knives Out (2019), both films treat the wealthy characters the same, making them as shallow and unlikable as humanly possible. Insipid, money-hungry, and impolite, they treat each other as badly as those considered beneath them. Daniel (Adam Brody), may turn out to be Grace’s knight in shining armor but can he be trusted? Can Alex?

Snippets of the 1985 comedy Clue emerge as secret passageways are revealed and one death is reminiscent of the singing telegram girl death, as the character leaps into the room only to be instantly killed. It’s a fun scene and not too seriously intended, which makes it enjoyable. The goth nature of series Riverdale also comes into play with the modern trimmings and dark ambiance.

Ready or Not (2019) successfully produces what it intends to. An entertaining, cleverly written horror yarn. With a clear feminist stance and oozing with wealth and glamour, the rich people are horrible and ultimately get what they deserve. This is satisfying to the viewer despite the silly motivations of the family. Played for laughs, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously despite a subdued lesson in over-indulgences and entitlement. A crackling fun late-night offering.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) is the follow-up to the 2014 film, simply named Maleficent and while not a necessary sequel, the sequel bests the original. Clearly, the intent was to create a big, studio effort that would garner lots of cash and the experiment seems to have worked. The production is not as frightening as the title would lead one to believe and kids over the age of ten would be just fine as a target audience.

While the screenplay has traditional plot trimmings and a predictable ending, the real winner is the visual and cinematic treats, which will leave viewers gasping. The lush landscapes, odd little worlds, castles and forests, blossom with vibrant colors and exquisite shapes and objects. It may mostly be CGI but marvelous all the same.

To recap, the character of Maleficent debuted in the 1959 classic animated Disney film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is an evil fairy and the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” who, after not being invited to a christening, curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. The character has since “evolved”, now portrayed as a sympathetic character, who is misunderstood in trying to protect herself and her domain from humans.

For five years Aurora (Elle Fanning) has reigned peacefully as Queen of the Moors with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) serving as teacher and protector. They have a rapturous relationship and flock and carry on with fairies and animals alike. Handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, thereby uniting her kingdom to his, which is met with caution by his parents, specifically his mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the players gather for a celebratory dinner Maleficent is mocked, causing her to fly into a rage, setting off a war between humans and fairies.

A key positive, and a story shift, is that Maleficent, a legendary film villain, is written sympathetically and the plot device works. Rather than have her sparring with daughter Aurora, the duo team up to thwart the devious efforts of the evil Queen Ingrith, who is the real villain. Jolie and Pfeiffer must have had fun playing the roles and both perform their respective parts adequately. Favorable to me is Jolie, adding just enough vulnerability to balance her fierce nature and blood-red lips. Pfeiffer plays the role straight, as a caricature, with no redeeming value. Both roles are fun.

Keeping in mind the target audience, the characters of Maleficent and Aurora are inspiring, especially to young females everywhere. The film adds more than a hint of progressive feminism as both characters are strong and no-nonsense. This does not take away from their sensitivity or their sense of fairness. Both could equally be role models of tough yet compassionate female characters.

In most Disney films there are heroes and villains and we all know and expect that. The standard story line of good revolting against evil is on display and an epic climactic battle scene gives a customary ending to the film. Likewise, the fairy tale romance between Prince and Princess is prominently featured and for my money, Dickinson and Fanning are tremendous in the roles.

The chemistry is apparent between the actors and there is a nice balance between a believable romance and strong independent characters. Queen Ingrith, barely a mention in the original animated film, is turned into an evil shrew, all completely plot driven. The story is what I expected it to be and not the high point of the film.

More impressive is how the viewer can easily escape into a world of make-believe and long to stay there forever. Especially for the younger viewers the Moors is a bevy of magical creatures and fluttering fairies rich with goodness. The comical Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, the red fairy, green fairy, and blue fairy respectively, make a return appearance, though in limited capacity. It would have been nice to give them a stronger presence providing more wisdom, more advice, and more humor, but they serve their comic relief purpose well.

Will there be a third incarnation of Maleficent? The film makers provide a strong likelihood. After Aurora and Philip wed, Maleficent returns to the Moors with the other Dark Fey, teaching the young fairies to fly. She promises to return for Aurora and Philip’s future child’s christening. This vow seems like an easy setup to build on the original story line, unlocking the next chapter in this engaging saga.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling