Friday, June 21, 2019

"Ma" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Ma" as well as DVDs "Never Look Away" and "Destroyer."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Man of Iron."]



Ma


 "Is there life after high school?" 

According to this film, the teen bullies and baddies grow up to be adult bullies and baddies, and worse, some turn into psychos.


Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mom, Erica (Juliette Lewis), have moved back to Erica's hometown. Things haven't worked out that well for Erica since she left town, so she is back picking up the pieces and working in the local casino. Maggie is struggling with the usual teen stuff when new in town, but she is a pretty young teenager so quickly finds a social circle with the popular Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and Haley (McKaley Miller) and their friends.  Maggie is a good kid - we know this because she is the only one who helps a young girl in a wheelchair at school and actually gets along with her mother - but Erica isn't around much so Maggie and her new friends do what teens do, get in a van, try to go score some alcohol, and then go drink it out at a remote spot called "the rocks."


After not having much luck standing around the local liquor store trying to find an adult who will buy them some booze, the teens finally encounter Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a forty-something, out walking her dog.  They approach her, and at first she says no, but eventually she relents and buys them the alcohol.  Seems like she has taken a shine to Andy.  As time goes by, the kids rely on Sue Ann for this more and more, and eventually Sue Ann invites them to party at her house in her basement under the pretense that they are safer drinking at her place than out "at the rocks" or driving around.  The only caveat is that they are to stay down in the basement and never go upstairs.  


On the very first night, Sue Ann inexplicably pulls a gun on one of the crew, Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and tells him to strip, which he does, and then Sue Ann laughs it off like she was just kidding!  Hahaha...yeah, right. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them while watching a film, but I have to say, that if that had ever happened to me as a teen, I would have given old Sue Ann a wide berth.  But not these kids.  In fact, they not only keep coming back, they give her an affectionate nickname - "Ma."  They are not very smart.

Ok, so what's Sue Ann's deal?  


Well, she has a lot of issues.  She is mistreated by her boss at the vet's clinic where she works; she appears to live alone so is lonely; but more importantly we discover that she has some deep-seated resentments about her high school classmates. And that's another thing about "life after high school."  Apparently, none of Sue Ann's classmates, except Erica, moved away.  They are all still in the small town, and guess what?  Some of these kids who are now hanging out in Ma's basement are the kids of those very same classmates who Ma resents. Da-da-da-dum...Revenge.

We come to find out just what happened to young Sue Ann, why she is so taken with Andy, why the kids aren't supposed to go upstairs and just how deep Sue Ann's resentments run.


This film has the usual "gotcha" moments we have come to expect in thrillers and some gruesome moments, like when Sue Ann sews Haley's eyes shut (ew), but all-in-all, this film is pretty tame and just screams "Lifetime Movie." 


I get why Silvers is in this film.  She is a young actress noticable in "Booksmart (though I didn't mention her in my review because she was involved in very much a side story)," so she's on her way up. And I get why Lewis is in this film. She hasn't been around much since she made a splash in the 90's so I would say her career is on the way down so she needs some gigs. But Octavia Spencer is one of our most gifted and acclaimed actresses so I couldn't help but wonder how she ended up in this thing.  Perhaps since she is mostly a character actress, she probably saw this as her only chance to star in a film.  The one thing that defies explanation, though, is the presence of Allison Janey.  Not only is this not the kind of vehicle we expect to see her in, but she is on screen for about three minutes total, just long enough for Sue Ann to kill her.

Written by Scotty Landes and directed by Tate Taylor, this film lacks originality and suspense, and verges on camp.  But it's not even camp enough to be campy. 


So...Is there life after high school? Apparently not!

Rosy the Reviewer says...by the time you read this review, "Ma" will probably already be out of the theatres so it's a moot point if I say you can skip this one, though it might be fun to see at a drive-in (and yes, there are still some drive-ins out there).



***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


On DVD



Never Look Away (2018)


A German artist who escaped East Germany is still haunted by his childhood spent under Nazi rule.

The film starts with Elisabeth May (Saskia Rosendahl) and her nephew, Kurt, attending a modern art exhibit, designated as "degenerate art" by the Nazis.  She loves her young nephew and wants to expose him to life.  She also likes to stand in front of buses and have them blow their horns at her and to play the piano naked. Okay, she is a bit strange.  But she also tries to teach Kurt to "never look away," because "everything that is true holds beauty in it." Elisabeth is a bit of a free spirit which in Nazi terms means "crazy," and it's not long before she is taken away and eventually euthanized.  The Nazis didn't like people with mental problems. And Kurt never really gets over losing his favorite aunt.

Fast forward to 1945.  The doctor who made the call that Elisabeth needed to die in order to continue the Nazi desires for "positive breeding" is Dr. Karl Seeband (Sebastian Koch). The communists have taken over East Berlin and Seeband has been called up for crimes against humanity.  However, while in prison, he saves the life of the Russian commandant's wife who is having a difficult delivery so, in thanks, the commandant releases Seeband and expunges his war crimes record.

Now it's 1951.  Kurt (Tom Schilling) has grown up and is a young art student and, wouldn't you know, Kurt meets Ellie (Paula Beer), who is studying fashion design.  She reminds him of his Aunt Elisabeth.  MAJOR IRONY!  Ellie just happens to be Seeband's daughter. Naturally they fall in love. One hour in, you can see where this is headed.  And I say one hour in because this is an epic film, "epic" being a euphemism for LONG.  It's over three hours long, in fact.

Anyway, Kurt doesn't know who Seeband is - yet - and he is having a crisis of conscious about his art.  The Russians want him to create "social realism," and he complies...for a time.  But he really wants to find his own voice and that's not what the communists have in mind.

Seeband doesn't approve of Kurt, thinking he is inferior and not the right "genetic material" for his daughter. When Ellie becomes pregnant, Seeband tells her something is wrong with her internal organs and that a pregnancy could kill her.  An operation needs to be done. Seeband not only gets rid of the baby but tells Ellie she will be incapable of having children.  He is a very, very bad guy, but despite his ruthless attempts to break Kurt and Ellie up. Ellie is a sweet girl and you can't help but wonder how someone as evil as Seeband ended up with such a wonderful daughter.

The story covers a 40-year period and goes on to follow Kurt into the West so he can express his art the way he wants to, his relationship with Ellie and we find out what happens to Seeband.

This was a wonderful film.  It was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar last year, but despite that, I still have a problem with films that are over three hours long. To me, it's a matter of a director being able to edit him or herself.  I think I need to do a tutorial on editing to help these directors who can't seem to edit themselves.

So here it is:

1.  Cut the sex scenes.  We know from experience sex never lasts longer than about two minutes anyway so why do they last so long in films?  And what ever happened to that old trope of waves crashing on rocks?

2.  Don't have the camera follow characters as they walk from place to place in real time. Let the character go out the door and then miraculously appear at his or her destination.  It's the power of film. It's called editing!

3. Having the camera linger on characters' faces as they look off into space is a huge waste of time.  We can't read their minds so why do that?  It's the actors' jobs to show us whatever emotion is needed which shouldn't take those long shots.  It's called acting!

4.  A little voice-over narration or written exposition is helpful in snipping some time off a film.  If the screen says "Ten years later," we don't have to sit through those ten years. When Kurt defects to the West and works to get his art established, we could have saved a whole hour right there by saying "Kurt defects to the West, finds his voice and gets his art established!"

5.  Sometimes I ask myself why a certain character is in a film. There are many times when characters and scenes can be cut. I am still wondering what the hell Allison Janney was doing in "Ma (see review above)."

There.  If a director just takes a few of those ideas, we won't have to endure these long "epics."

But I bet you think with my rant on the need for editing that I didn't like this film.  Well, you would be wrong.  I really, really liked this film.  Yes, there were some long, and in my opinion, extraneous sections.  The art scenes could have been shorter.  I mean, I get it. Kurt wanted to express himself and couldn't in a Communist environment where the only art considered art was in thrall to the government.  But the main hook in the story and what keeps you watching - when will Kurt find out who and what Seeband is and whether or not that will affect his relationship with Ellie - was done very effectively.  The film is also beautifully filmed and the young actors are engaging. Schilling looks like a young Leonardo di Caprio and Ellie looks like a young Olivia Coleman.  Must have been the overbite.  And Koch, who you will recognize from TVs "Homeland" and countless films is mesmorizingly good.

Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2006 for "The Lives of Others (which also starred Koch) and inspired by the life of artist Gerhard Richter, "Never Look Away" is an homage to artistic expression and a call to action to find truth no matter how difficult but it's also a reminder to never forget this terrible part of human history.

Rosy the Reviewer says...settle in for a long night. It's worth it.




Destroyer (2018)


Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) isn't looking so good.  She isn't feeling so good either.  She is an undercover agent with issues.

Yet another film film noir where an undercover cop was involved in a situation that derailed her.

The film begins with Erin arriving on a murder scene involving a John Doe. She looks like hell and they are not happy to see her.  She tells the responding officers she knows who the killer is.

Erin looks like the walking dead.  She is not a happy woman.  She has been tramatized by her past and has never gotten over it.  She struggles with her relationship with her daughter and drowns her guilt in alcohol.  So what happened?  Why is Erin such a mess?

Years before, Erin and her former partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), were undercover as gang members. They were also romantically involved. They took part in a bank robbery that went very wrong and made some personal decisions that were also very wrong. The leader of the gang was Silas (Toby Kebbell) and Erin tells her fellow cops that Silas is back and active again.  To prove that, Erin must go back and find the remaining gang members in order to find Silas and in so doing, Erin seeks redemption for the past.

T
he screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi uses a series of flashbacks to tell the real story and just what Erin's role was in that botched robbery and what she and Chris had planned.  It all comes full circle and doesn't end well for Erin.

Directed by Karyn Kusama, this is yet another film where a beautiful actress makes herself look less than beautiful so we will take her seriously. And I guess we did because she received an Best Actress Oscar nomination for this role.  But Nicole, Nicole, Nicole.  We already did take you seriously.  I think you are one of the finest actresses around.  You don't need to go to these lengths for me to say that. But all of that aside, you were once again wonderful and this is a really good film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Nicole Kidman is an amazing actress, with or without makeup.



***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***


90 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?



Man of Iron (1981)


Director Andrzej Wajda's account of the events at the Gdansk shipyard in the summer of 1980.

Winkiel (Marian Opania) is a burned out, alcoholic journalist assigned to look into the activities of Maciek Tomzyk (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), the leader of the striking shipyard workers and who is also the son of Mateusz Birkut, the former Polish worker-hero.  Hoping to find dirty laundry on Tomzyk and his detained wife, Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), Winkiel uses his own past as a youthful radical to gain entry into Tomzyk's inner circle, but when he hears what Tomzyk has been through and what happened to Tomzyk's father, Winkiel's former idealism kicks in and his allegiences change.

Watching this film was confusing until I discovered that this film continues the story started in "Man of Marble," which is also one of the "1001 Movies" we are all supposed to see but which I have not yet seen.  But the film clearly paints Tomczyk as a sort of Lech Walesa character with Walesa actually appearing in the film as himself. 
The film is markedly critical of the Communist regime and because of that was banned in Poland in 1981. It also shows how the government tries to manipulate news sources especially when they are in the hands of the state (sound familiar?). The film won the Palme d'Or and the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1981 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 
Why it's a Must See: "...a moving tribute to the Polish citizens whose struggle enabled the freedom so cherished in this part of Europe."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Wajda has created a fictional film with a documentary feel, and what was most remarkable about this film for me was the actual documentary footage of Lech Walesa's solidarity movement strikes which were happening at the time woven into the film, but other than that, can't say I really enjoyed it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...an important historical document but not my kind of film. But if you want to see it, watch "Man of Marble" first.

(In Polish with English subtitles)




Thanks for reading!





See you next Friday



for 



"Late Night"


and

The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)



as well as



the latest on



"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 




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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 


Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.








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