Tag Archives: Ellen Burstyn

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review

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Pieces of a Woman

Time: 128 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & nudity
Cast:
Vanessa Kirby as Martha Weiss
Shia LaBeouf as Sean Carson
Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Weiss
Molly Parker as Eva Woodward
Sarah Snook as Suzanne
Iliza Shlesinger as Anita Weiss
Benny Safdie as Chris
Jimmie Fails as Max
Director: Kornél Mundruczó

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), along with the publicly vilified midwife, whom she must face in court. A deeply personal, searing, and ultimately transcendent story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.

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I heard about Pieces of a Woman mainly with regards to awards hype, especially with the lead performance from Vanessa Kirby. I wasn’t really expecting much from the movie beyond that aside from some positive reactions, and that it was being released on Netflix. Pieces of a Woman is a solid enough movie. It definitely could’ve been a lot better, but there’s enough here to make it worth checking out.

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The first act is quite intense as it portraying a childbirth, and everything from the acting to the directing is outstanding in this. It’s by far the most talked about moment in the whole movie and is probably what the film would be largely known for. The movie peaks early with its 20 minute long take of childbirth, however this moment was essential to really put the audience through it and understand the depth of trauma and grief that goes on. So it was kind of inevitable that the rest of the movie wouldn’t reach those heights again, nonetheless I feel like it could’ve been a little better. The rest of the movie is about the after effects and the grief that follows that first act, it’s really a movie that you’re gonna want to watch only once, as it isn’t easy to watch. The movie has a lot of loud bombastic moments of shouting and crying, as well as monologues that not only makes the film feel overdramtised and awards baity, it feels rather hollow and doesn’t have much impact. Also, the film is very predictable, you have a good idea of where it is going, not that it’s the main issue. It’s just that the story and premise aren’t approached in a very interesting way. It could’ve explored much of the relationships between characters but it doesn’t really. The film is seemingly more of a character study centred on the lead character of Martha but it’s somewhat distant from her, so it’s in a bit of an odd spot for the narrative. I really wish the film focused more on the lead character’s individuality and really allowed her to fully explore its themes of loss and grief. For a story that is trying to be intimate, it didn’t feel intimate. Outside of Martha, there are some forgettable characterisations. I have heard some people take issue with some of the odd decisions made by the characters, but they didn’t read to me as tone-deaf or bizarre. They felt completely to real life, it’s just that the characters themselves aren’t particularly well developed or defined. Storywise it does become drawn out, and it doesn’t pick up steam until a little later in the second act. I will say that it did conclude well with the third act and the ending. I wish the middle chunk of the movie was on the same level as its beginning and ending.

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While the acting from everyone is good, this is really Vanessa Kirby’s film, and she’s outstanding in the lead role. I think that Kirby should’ve been given more moments to shine, but she nonetheless gives perhaps one of the most evocative and resonant performance of the past year. She seems to be the only character written with layers because her delivery conveys a lot of the emotions and suffering that she’s going through with a lot of nuance, where everyone else is a surface-level understanding of grief. That’s particularly impressive considering that the character is written in quite a distant way. The rest of the supporting cast are good, including Sarah Snook and Benny Safdie. Ellen Burstyn is great, she is in a somewhat one note role as Martha’s mother, but is able to deliver some powerful moments and fills the story out with her performance and definitely makes up for it.

PIECES OF A WOMAN: (L to R) Vanessa Kirby as Martha, Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth

The movie is directed by Kornél Mundruczó and I think he did a good job. It’s a tightly directed and shot film, with vital visual elements and compositions, I liked the look of the movie overall. In fact, some aspects of the direction and the editing seem to be more effective with visual moments than some of the actual writing. The long takes are particularly great, especially for the childbirth sequence in the first act. Now looking at that whole scene, it’s pretty clear that not all of it was in one shot as there are some things that happen that would be impossible to do in one complete take. With that said, most of it looks like it was in one shot, and that in itself is impressive.

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Pieces of a Woman is a good movie with great elements but also isn’t as good as it could’ve been. The attempt to look at grief is admirable, but doesn’t explore it well enough. The subject matter and the tone already make it somewhat hard to watch but it’s also hard to be invested when the approach to it isn’t particularly engaging, especially with the writing. With that said, it’s directed well, and some impressive scenes and great acting, especially a fantastic Vanessa Kirby, whose performance alone makes Pieces of a Woman worth watching.

The Wicker Man (2006) Review

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The Wicker Man (2006)

Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus
Ellen Burstyn as Sister Summersisle
Kate Beahan as Sister Willow Woodward
Leelee Sobieski as Sister Honey
Frances Conroy as Dr. T.H. Moss
Molly Parker as Sister Rose/Sister Thorn
Diane Delano as Sister Beech
Director: Neil LaBute

Police officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) reaches a private island to help his ex-fiancee (Kate Beahan) find her missing girl. The community she lives in follows an odd cult and he must locate the girl before she is killed in the name of sacrifice.

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I’ve been meaning to watch The Wicker Man remake for some time. The original starring Christopher Lee was actually quite good, and worth watching for those who like horror movies. The remake however is generally regarded as hilariously bad, even by horror remake standards, and is particularly known for Nicolas Cage going crazy (and that’s saying a lot). For the record I went in expecting the worst, and the remake certainly lived up to all the talk. It is astoundingly bad, yet as that made for an entertaining movie to watch, at least for me.

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From the very beginning you can tell that something is off about this movie. It starts with a brief scene with Nicolas Cage as a cop seeing a truck crash into a car and failing to get the people inside out before it explodes. That opening moment of the truck crash is referenced quite a bit however in both dreams and even random jumpscares. I get that Cage’s character is supposed to be haunted by that moment but there is no resolution for it, and doesn’t connect to the main story in any way outside of both that and his current investigation somewhat involving fire. There is no reason for it to be here. It doesn’t get any better from there. The writing is quite bad. The most significant change over the original is that instead of it being about Paganism vs Catholicism, it’s men vs women here, which isn’t particularly scary or disturbing. If director Neil LaBute really wanted to stick with this concept, then it would have to be a satire or actually say something about gender politics (mishandled or not). However nothing is really said, it’s just an island of all women who perform rituals, men only exist on the island as workers and are used for reproduction, and that’s the extent of it all. I have no idea what Neil LaBute was trying to do with this, because once again this concept isn’t scary in the slightest. It becomes more funny more than anything, which would be fine if it was intentional. Speaking of horror, the attempts at being scary are laughable. Scare scenes aside, it fails to build a creepy or tense atmosphere. The dialogue is quite unnatural, and none of the characters feel normal or real here, and this is even before we get onto the island of the pagan people.

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There are plenty of inconsistencies in the plot that you can pick at endlessly. For one, this movie primarily takes place on a secluded island with no technology or phone reception whatsoever, yet somehow they have a website that Cage looks up early on, that’s just one thing that’s out of place. However most important of all, once you know what’s going on and everything is revealed, it’s just doesn’t make sense. Without spoiling anything, if certain characters were smart enough, this plot would’ve been only 30 minutes long. There’s an endless amount of funny moments throughout the movie, all involving Nicolas Cage. Cage forcing someone off a bike at gunpoint, he dresses up as a bear and punching someone in the face, him screaming wanting to know how a doll got burnt, Cage getting angry in general, the list goes on. Then of course comes a certain infamous moment involving Cage and bees towards the end of the movie, which is actually a deleted scene only seen on the special edition. While I expected those moments, I was also entertained by how weird and questionable many of the writing and directing choices were.

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Nicolas Cage really is the star of the show, and as weird as much of the movie is, it wouldn’t have been even nearly as entertaining without him. His character isn’t really strange or crazy, it’s a rather typical and generic horror movie protagonist if anything, but the writing and dialogue mixed with Cage’s acting style just made it come across as bizarrely hilarious to watch. His highlight moments is when his character is just frustrated in the third act of the movie, he goes absolutely nuts and it is absolutely glorious. The rest of the cast are there but aren’t all that good. Somehow they managed to get Ellen Burstyn to play the pagan leader, and really they could’ve cast anyone in that role.

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Neil LaBute is the director of this movie, and his work in this movie isn’t that good. Apparently LaBute has made some decent movies, but you wouldn’t know this from watching his take on the Wicker Man. It’s not scary in the slightest, from the attempts at being unsettling, to the jumpscares. There are three jumpscares through the use of trucks alone. I know that bees are meant to be like a big thing for this island of cultists and is meant to be creepy, but it’s not scary in the slightest. In terms of positive things, I guess the production design is alright.

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2006’s The Wicker Man is really bad on pretty much all fronts, although if you’ve even heard of this movie you already know that from its reputation alone. If you are looking for a legitimately good horror movie about a cult and was hoping for that in this movie, skip it and go with the 70s original. If you like so-bad-it’s-good movies and/or you like seeing Nicolas Cage act over the top, this is definitely for you and you should definitely check it out.

The Tale (2018) Review

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The Tale

Time: 114 minutes
Cast:
Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox
Isabelle Nélisse as Jenny Fox, age 13
Jessica Sarah Flaum as Jenny Fox, age 15
Ellen Burstyn as Nadine “Nettie” Fox
John Heard as William P. Allens
Jason Ritter as Bill Allens
Frances Conroy as Jane Gramercy
Elizabeth Debicki as Mrs. G
Common as Martin
Director: Jennifer Fox

Jennifer (Laura Dern) has it all, with a loving boyfriend (Common) and a great career as a journalist and professor. But when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story – “The Tale” – that Jennifer wrote when she was 13, detailing a special relationship Jennifer had with two adult coaches (Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki), Jennifer returns to the Carolina horse farm where the events transpired to try to reconcile her version of events with the truth.

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I had been meaning to watch The Tale for some time. I knew that Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki were in it and that it was about the director’s own sexual abuse as a child and I heard some good things about it. The Tale isn’t by any means an easy film to watch but I do think that it is worth taking a look at.

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Handling a subject matter like abuse is definitely touchy and not an easy task for any film to have. I’m actually surprised that it was actually HBO who distributed this movie, it’s probably their most controversial movie and looking at the results, the risk definitely paid off well. This is a great examination of trauma and abuse, and something that definitely helped is that director Jennifer Fox is telling her own story, and that really added a lot. It’s a bit unconventional with the way it tells its story, mainly the flashbacks, with the time period jumping all around the place. In a way it works as it’s Fox looking back at her life, but at times it’s a little too jarring and hard to follow. I will say though that the way they ended the movie and story was great.

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One of the highlights of the movie are the performances. Laura Dern is such an talented and underrated actress and I’m glad that she finally got a lead role in a movie. Here she basically plays Jennifer Fox and this is definitely among her best performances, a powerhouse yet real performance, especially towards the end of the movie. Isabelle Nélisse also plays the younger Jennifer and she’s quite prominent throughout flashbacks and she’s quite convincing in her role. The rest of the cast is great as well. Jason Ritter and Elizbeth Debicki play the two adult coaches that the young Fox had some sort of relationship with and both were really great, especially Debicki. The older versions of the two played by John Heard and Frances Conroy were also great. Ellen Burstyn and Common were also very good as Dern’s mother and boyfriend respectively.

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Jennifer Fox’s direction was quite good and she knows how to handle her story, even if there were some aspects that didn’t work perfectly. Fox prior to filming The Tale was a documentary filmmaker and at times you can feel it, and I mean it in a good way. There are bits where people in the flashbacks where Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter and even Isabelle Nélisse (who played the younger version of Fox) are being interviewed by the younger and older versions of Fox, with the camera facing the interviewee and all that. As it is about Fox looking back at these people, it made sense and worked for what she was going for. Despite some editing decisions that made the movie a little bit jumpy at times and feeling occasionally like a tv show (given that it’s an HBO movie it’s not that surprising), Fox’s debut at a non-documentary film was quite good.

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The Tale is for sure difficult to watch, but an important look at abuse and trauma, and all around was a really good movie. The highlights were the great performances, particularly from Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki, and it was directed very well. While the subject matter is heavy, I’d say that it’s a film well worth watching.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) Review

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Ellen Burstyn as Alice Hyatt
Alfred Lutter as Tommy Hyatt
Kris Kristofferson as David
Diane Ladd as Florence Jean Castleberry
Jodie Foster as Audrey
Harvey Keitel as Ben
Director: Martin Scorsese

When Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) is suddenly widowed after years of domesticity, she decides to travel to Monterey, California with her 11-year-old son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) to resume a singing career. In Phoenix, Arizona she gets a job singing at a piano bar and begins a relationship with Ben (Harvey Keitel), who turns out to be married and a spouse abuser. In Tucson, she puts her dream of singing on hold and becomes a waitress. She meets a farmer, David (Kris Kristofferson), and begins to think about a new life of domesticity.

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Fresh off the success with Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese would take on a different kind of movie that he’s not typically known for with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. It’s a genuine family drama that’s well written and directed, with the excellent lead performance from Ellen Burstyn that ties it all together and makes it all work.

The script by Robert Getchell was really great. The plot follows Alice and her son as they go from place to place. The plot meanders for sure, and occasionally it may have the odd section not being that interesting but otherwise I was generally invested throughout. There is plenty of emotion packed into this movie, but it’s delivered in a way that feels gritty and genuinely real. The more humorous moments bar a number of gags surrounding one character also fit in well with the movie. It is a movie where you just watch the main characters live their lives, and most of it held my attention.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is really Ellen Burstyn’s movie as the titular character. She is great and although I haven’t seen a ton from her, I think it would have to be one of her best performances. The film gives Alice a ton of depth throughout the plot, and she’s very easy to like and understand over the course of the whole movie, especially given everything she has to handle and deal with. This remains the only female led Scorsese film to date, and given how well this turned out, I’d like to see him do another. Alfred Lutter is Alice’s son Tommy, and I’ll just go ahead and say that he’s one of the most annoying child characters I’ve seen, but I guess he was intentionally annoying. They are convincing as mother and son and share great chemistry together. The rest of the cast play much smaller roles but their strong and memorable and work well in the movie. Diane Ladd plays a waitress who provided a lot of effective comic relief whenever she was on screen. Harvey Keitel also has a small role as a man who Alice becomes interested in at an early point, he’s good as always and especially great and very intense in his last scene. Kris Kristofferson also added a lot to the movie when he came on screen in the latter half of the movie. You even get Jodie Foster in a minor role here before she starred in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. There are only couple of weak links when it comes to the characters. One is the husband character at the start of the movie, you don’t really like anything about him and then he just dies. I know that Scorsese originally had a longer cut where it fleshed him out more beforehand, but given that the movie is about the mother and son dynamic really, I guess maybe it’s just better how it is. There’s also another waitress character used for comedy in Valerie Curtin’s character, but she’s just used as the butt of so many jokes and it just really didn’t work. She didn’t even really feel like a character and they could’ve done without creating so many unfunny jokes scenarios surrounding her, it distracted more than anything and belonged in a way worse movie than this.

With this movie being a family drama, Martin Scorsese’s direction doesn’t really provide many opportunities to be showy, but it’s still great and fittingly restrained. There were even some shots, camera movements and editing choices at times that you really noticed and helped make the scenes even better. He really captured the story very well.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a solid family drama, with the performances being the highlights, especially from Ellen Burstyn. Now if you were starting off with the aim of watching a bunch of Martin Scorsese movies, I wouldn’t necessarily say to start with this one. However in any circumstance, I do think it’s worth watching, even just on its own. It’s one of his overlooked movies that definitely should be getting a lot more attention.

The Exorcist (1973) Review

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The Exorcist

Time: 122 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Horror, Violence, Sex Scenes and Offensive Language.
Cast:
Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil
Max von Sydow as Father Lankester Merrin
Jason Miller as Father/Dr. Damien Karras S.J.
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil
Lee J. Cobb as Lieutenant William F. Kinderman
Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings
Director: William Friedkin

An actress (Ellen Burstyn) calls upon Jesuit priests to try to end the demonic possession of her 12-year-old daughter (Linda Blair).

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I’ll just say this right now, there was never a moment during The Exorcist where I felt scared. To be fair though, there have been only two movies that have scared me (Sinister and The Babadook). I’m just mentioning this at the beginning of the review because despite Exorcist being crowned as the scariest movie of all time, I didn’t feel anything scary at all. With that said, The Exorcist is still worth the praise for the direction and acting. It took this possession story as seriously as possible and makes it seem somewhat possible (mostly), and it definitely has its place in cinematic history. It just seems like I’m one of the rare few people who don’t find The Exorcist to be that scary.

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When you go into The Exorcist, don’t expect a jumpscare kind of movie, this is more of a tension filled horror movie, at least in terms of the direction it was going in. This movie is quite drawn out, so also be prepared to be waiting for a little while before the actual possession and ‘scares’ start to happen. As I said earlier, the movie just flat out didn’t scare me. I don’t know why, it’s more tension filled horror, which I usually like more (like the Babadook) but I just didn’t really care much about this plot. It’s also not a good sign when this movie does have some laughable moments, particularly with possessed Regan. The pictures of her were honestly scarier than the actual scenes of her. Even though I wasn’t scared during them, I still maintain the scenes with possessed Regan are the best and when it cuts away from them, the movie is still interesting, they just weren’t as interesting as those other scenes.

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Despite my issues with the movie, I will say the acting does hold up quite well. Actors like Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller performed very well and took their roles very seriously. I think the show stealer however was Linda Blair, who did very well both when she was and wasn’t possessed, however it was obvisouly the latter aspect that impressed me the most. My issues with her character when she was possessed came mostly from the writing, and even in those ‘odd’ moments, Blair played her part magnificently.

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As I said earlier, this movie didn’t scare me but there’s no denying that the direction of this movie is excellent. The makeup, lighting and overall direction of the movie made the idea of a possessed girl seem somehow plausible. I think the look on possessed Regan was absolutely fantastic, it looked somehow realistic, much more so than most possession movies of today. All the scenes with her were beautifully directed, which is one of the reasons that I liked them more than the scenes without possessed Regan. After seeing this movie, I can at least appreciate and understand why this movie was such a hit, it was ahead of its time.

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If you are into horror movies and haven’t seen The Exorcist, you definitely should check it out as soon as possible. The fantastic direction and performances really make the viewing worth it, and the film had a tremendous effect on the horror genre in general. Even if this movie doesn’t hold up well as a horror movie today in my opinion, it should be seen for how well made it is. Just don’t go into it expecting the horror masterpiece that everyone claims it to be, or you might be a little disappointed like I was.