Monday, July 19, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 19, 2021

Gretel & Hansel (2020) – Oz Perkins, who also directed the excellent 2015 film The Blackcoat’s Daughter, breathes new life into a beloved fairy tale, with visuals that accentuate the movie’s foreboding tone. Turned away by their mother (Fiona O’Shaughnessey), Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her younger brother Hansel (Samuel J. Leakey) make their way through a dark forest in the hopes of finding a new life for themselves. Their journey is interrupted, however, when they stumble upon a small house in the middle of nowhere, owned by an elderly woman (Alice Krige), who invites the siblings to stay for as long as they want. But Gretel quickly realizes their host is not who she seems to be, and that she and Hansel may be in very great danger. The performances are exceptional; Lillis and Leakey do a fine job as the title characters, and Krige is especially strong as the witch. Yet what makes Gretel & Hansel as engaging as it is are the visuals (a series of dream sequences, in which Gretel roams through the old woman’s house, are both mesmerizing and profoundly creepy), as well as the movie’s overall tone (from start to finish, it maintains the vibe of a very dark fairy tale). Not to be missed! Rating: 9 out of 10

November (2017) – Director Rainer Sarnet’s November is a film that demands to be seen more than once. Set in a 19th century Estonian village, this black and white film is steeped in fantasy, so much so that you might not take it all in on a single viewing. Liina (Rea Lest-Liik) is in love with Hans (Jorgan Liik). To win his affections, she seeks the help of Minna (Klara Eighorn), a witch, but the question remains: can true love survive in a place inhabited by demons and monsters alike? Despite its occasionally bleak tone (as well as one or two frightening scenes), November works as both a dark comedy and an engaging fairy tale (the locals use Kratts, man-made automatons brought to life via black magic – to help them steal from their neighbors). It may not be the easiest film to comprehend (again, a second viewing will probably help), but I can guarantee that, with so many fantastical elements, November will never once bore you! Rating: 8 out of 10

Spitfire (1942) – Leslie Howard not only starred but also produced and directed Spitfire (aka The First of the Few), a WWII propaganda film about the life of R.J. Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire fighter plane. For years, Mitchell’s specialty was high-speed planes that competed for the Schneider Trophy (an annual competition for seaplanes and flying boats). That all changed in 1930, however, when he and his wife Diana (Rosamund John), along with good friend, pilot Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), vacationed in Germany, where, during a meeting with fellow designer Willy Messerschmidt (Erik Freund), Mitchell was shocked to discover Germany had broken the Versailles Treaty and was building warplanes. Using a brand new engine provided by auto maker Henry Royce (George Skillan), Mitchell ignores the warnings of his doctor and works long hours designing what would become the Spitfire, a fighter plane that played a major role in Britain’s fight against the Nazis. Howard does a fine job portraying Mitchell as a mild-mannered aeronautical expert (though the real Mitchell was supposedly much more volatile), and Niven is equally strong as his favorite test pilot. Spitfire also boasts some energetic action scenes (the early race sequences are fairly exciting), and while the melodramatic ending might feel a bit overdone, it’s not nearly as over-the-top as what you’d find in other propaganda movies from this era. In a sad yet ironic twist, this was Leslie Howard’s last film; he was killed in June 1943 when a plane he was traveling in was shot down by Nazi fighters over the Bay of Biscay. Rating: 7 out of 10

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