You Were Never Really Here-2018

You Were Never Really Here-2018

Director-Lynne Ramsay

Starring-Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #932

Reviewed August 19, 2019

Grade: A-

You Were Never Really Here (2018) is an independent psychological thriller most reminiscent in tone and texture to the legendary Scorsese film, Taxi Driver (1976). The main characters are worlds apart, but the plot and the trimmings are clearly influenced by the classic, just amid a different time-period (the present).

A terrific and brooding performance by star Joaquin Phoenix leads the charge, as does fantastic direction by Lynne Ramsay, and the editing team, as the dark film is an unusual and impressive choice for a female director. Snippets of cinematic genius exist during a film that, with a more complete package, might have been a masterpiece.

We first meet Joe (Phoenix) somewhere in Ohio as, we learn, he is a hired gun sent to rescue underage girls from sex trafficking rings. He is brutal in his methods of rescue, resorting to gruesome murders to complete his assignments, and is paid handsomely. Back in New York City, he cares for his elderly mother whom he adores, and is contacted to rescue Nina, the daughter of a New York State Senator, Albert Votto for an enormous sum of money. When Joe rescues Nina and waits for Votto, events quickly spin out of control and a sinister web of deception is revealed.

When you look at the story that You Were Never Really There tells, it is one that has been told many times before, typically in slick Hollywood conventional standards. Angry ex-military unleashes brutality on devious criminals, rescues girl, and returns her safely to the open arms of her awaiting parents. Fortunately, the film is more thoughtful than that, adding complexity with the Joe and Nina relationship, and a stylistic, poetic quality featuring Joe’s relationship with his mother.

The plot is paced very well so that the events occur only over the course of a day or two, and the film is highly unconventional and dark. Frequent flashbacks give the film mystique as we see both Joe and his mother abused by Joe’s father, as a young Joe hides in a closet and hyperventilates. Now an adult, Joe is suicidal, frequently fantasizing or practicing his own death until he is interrupted.

As grisly as the film can be, beautiful and tender moments are laden throughout as Ramsay provides gorgeous style and humanity. A homoerotic moment occurs when Joe lies next to the man who has killed his mother. As the man is close to death at the hands of Joe, they hold hands as Joe provides comfort to the man in death. Joe then buries his mother in a pond in upstate New York, providing her with a peaceful final resting place. These are unique scenes that feel almost like an art film.

The conclusion is open-ended leaving lots of questions; Joe and Nina appear to ride off into the sunset together, but what will they do? What is to become of them? Surely, not a romantic element can be found, but where will they go from here? Both characters appear to have nothing left to hang on to other than each other, but is this sustainable? The film is not the type that is poised for a sequel, but I would be very curious what Ramsay has planned for her characters.

Joe is not portrayed as wicked, he is too complex for that. Phoenix, a tremendous actor, perfectly infuses the character with brutality and anger, but also a tenderness and a warmth. The aspects between You Were Never Really Here and Taxi Driver: the grizzled New York portrayals, the political backdrop, and the main characters saving a woeful young girl from the depths of despair, make the two film’s comparable. However, Joe and Travis Bickle are opposites, the latter having a frenetic humor that the former lacks.

Ramsay has been around for a while with We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) her most prominent film. She is successful at telling stories about deeply troubled individuals who are good people handed awful circumstances. With a tremendous actor like Phoenix on board, she crafts a solid work that has provided You Were Never Really Here (2018) with accolades, at least among the indie critics. Ramsay seems poised to break out in a big way and shake up the film industry with future works.

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

Director-Howard Morris

Starring-Doris Day, Brian Keith

Scott’s Review #931

Reviewed August 15, 2019

Grade: B

A film that clearly influenced the creation of the iconic television series, The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), or the reverse depending on the timeline or who you ask, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a cute family romantic comedy, hardly exceptional fare, and becoming too silly during the final act. Featuring the merging of two families into one big blended family, the heart of the film is the romance between two middle-aged singles looking for new love despite their baggage.

Abby McClure (Doris Day) is a widow raising three boys somewhere in northern California. She dutifully runs her deceased husband’s lumberyard while feeling unfulfilled in the romance department. When her overzealous sister, Maxine (Pat Carroll) tricks her into inviting widower Jake Iverson (Brian Keith) to her dinner party, the pair do not connect, but are drawn to one other as they become better acquainted. Predictable obstacles come their way including misunderstandings and backlash from their kids.

With Six You Get Eggroll is Day’s last film and certainly not one of her best offerings but is nonetheless moderately enjoyable. The film makers intent is to showcase a romance between Abby and Jake so that the elements are setup in a way as to make the characters likable, leaving a very predictable experience. When Jake arrives to the party early and sees Abby at her disheveled worst, or after Jake makes up an excuse to leave the evening early but runs into Abby later at the supermarket, it’s the sort of film that has a happy ending.

As such, the chemistry is palpable between Day and Keith which makes the film charming. If they had no chemistry the film would be a bust, but their slow build fondness for each other works well for this genre of film. They share a spontaneous evening of champagne and small talk at Abby’s house and excitedly plan a date for the next day only for Jake to make an excuse leaving Abby perplexed.

When Abby sees him with a much younger woman, we feel her disappointment. After all, Abby is well past forty in a world where middle-aged women are not the pick of the litter anymore, as sister Maxine annoyingly reminds her. When the young woman turns out to be Jake’s daughter, we smile with relief, along with Abby, because we like the characters and want them to be together.

The children: Flip, Jason, Mitch and Stacey (a young Barbara Hershey) add little to the film and are merely necessary supporting characters. They dutifully add obstacles to their parent’s happiness by squabbling with each other over bathroom space or resenting one parent taking the other away from them. Conversely, Maxine and Abby’s housekeeper, Molly (Alice Ghostley) add wonderful comic relief, keeping the film from turning too melodramatic and providing natural humor.

The Brady Bunch comparisons are quite obvious to any viewer who has seen the television series, and who hasn’t? The blended families and the G-rated dramatic crises are the most certain and the time period and clothes are almost identical. Molly the maid could be Alice the housekeeper, and the actor (Allan Melvin) who plays Sam “the Butcher” from the television series appears as a Police Sergeant. I half-expected the musical scores to mirror each other.

The film does have some mild flaws other than the predictability factor. The introduction of a band of hippies (though cool to see M*A*S*H alums Jamie Farr and William Christopher in early acting roles) and a speeding chicken truck resulting in arrests is way too juvenile and plot driven. A much better title could have been thought up for the film; With Six You Get Eggroll doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor does it have anything to do with the story. Finally, Abby’s masculine profession is only shown in the opening scene and also has nothing to do with the story.

For a wholesome late 1960’s themed evening, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a moderate affair with cliches and a cheery tone, but also some genuine chemistry between its leads. The sets and colors lend themselves well to the times and Day is always top notch. Perhaps one could skip this film and watch a sampling of The Brady Bunch television reruns; the experience would almost be the same.

Madame Bovary-1949

Madame Bovary-1949

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Jennifer Jones, James Mason

Scott’s Review #930

Reviewed August 13, 2019

Grade: A-

Madame Bovary (1949) is a film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel of the same name. Remade a handful of times since this version, Jennifer Jones is cast in the lead role and does a fantastic job with a difficult and complicated part. The title character is central to the controversial film which will undoubtedly result in mixed opinions of her actions and motivations- she will be loved or loathed. Director Minnelli successfully mixes melodrama and glamour with pain and defeat as one woman’s attempt at happiness is told.

In clever fashion, the story is told within a story as the viewer is immediately amid a compelling and dramatic trial. Flaubert (James Mason) defends his novel depicting an adulterous woman (Jones) ruining the lives of men, deemed disgraceful to France and all womanhood. He tells the story from his perspective and, through this, Madame Bovary’s perspective. She (Emma) marries a small town, country doctor, Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) and quickly grows disappointed with his lack of status. Feeling trapped and unfulfilled, she embarks on failed romances with other men as she attempts to ascend the social ladder.

The central theme of the film, as with the novel, is either understanding or abhorring Emma’s feelings and actions, or perhaps a mixture of both emotions. Who would not forsake her for being true to her feelings and desiring her piece of the pie? Most women of her day were reduced to matronly statuses or asexual feelings, but Emma wanted satisfaction and life, at the risk of her own family.

To counter these lustful feelings, she does not treat her husband very well, resenting his passivity and disappointed at her daughter being a girl instead of her desired son. This, she feels, would have allowed her better status, so as a result her daughter is nearly shunned, preferring the affections of the housekeeper to her mother’s feeble attempts at love. Is she hellion or a sympathetic soul? Emma is one of the most complex of all female film characters.

With Madame Bovary being made in 1949 and the novel obviously earlier, the progressive slant is rich and worthy of much admiration. The female perspective and the courage to reach for the stars and grasp life is spirited and wonderful to see, especially given the time-period. A mixture of romantic drama and torrid affairs are at hand during this experience and always is the character center stage.

The film mixes in remnants of Gone with the Wind (1939) especially with the lavish dance hall sequence. The ball is the highlight of the film with gorgeous costumes, great cinematography and bombastic dances. As Emma cavorts with dashing aristocrat, Rodolphe (Louis Jourdan), Charles gets drunk and makes a fool of himself, as her true disdain for her marriage becomes clear. The smashing windows with chairs moment is ahead of its time by way of the effects used and the constant dance twirls are dizzying. So much of importance occurs in this pivotal sequence.

Jones, while more than adequate, would not have been my first choice in the role. Married to influential producer David O. Selznick, it was rumored that many of the actresses’ roles were given to her. Delicious is to fantasize at what legends such as Bette Davis or Vivian Leigh might have brought to the character. Especially Leigh, given her dazzling performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, a follow-up as a similar and arguably more complex character is fun to imagine.

A film that allows for post-credits discussion is always a positive, with Madame Bovary (1949) a lengthy analysis of a character begs deliberation. Minnelli pours love and energy into a work dripping with nuances, long before his famous musicals came into fruition. A strong and vital female character suffers a lonely and despairing fate at her own hand which is tragic and sad, but she did live her life with zest which should empower us all.

The Music Man-1962

The Music Man-1962

Director-Morton DaCosta

Starring-Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Scott’s Review #929

Reviewed August 9, 2019

Grade: A

The big screen offering of The Music Man (1962) is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, written by Meredith Wilson, and one of the most upbeat and jovial of all the Hollywood renditions of stage productions. Featuring talented stars like Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, the former appearing in the stage version, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year and can be watched and re-watched whenever the mood strikes for sing-along tunes and a cheery story told from a purely Americana viewpoint.

In the summer of 1912, deceitful traveling salesman Harold Hill (Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on swindling the town folks of their money. Masquerading as a traveling music instructor, he plans to bamboozle parents into enrolling their kids into a marching band and selling them instruments. He uses scare tactics to incorporate fear into the gullible parents and romantically sets his sights on the local librarian, Marian (Jones). Marian, who is distrustful of men, slowly falls in love with Harold, as his plotting eventually is discovered resulting in a witch hunt.

Of the plethora of musical releases bombarding Hollywood throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, The Music Man arguably possesses the catchiest tunes and the most jovial spirit. Impossible not to hum along with or tap one’s foot to, the songs stick in the viewer’s heads for days after watching the addictive production. My favorites are “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” as each has distinctive melodies, rhymes and rapid-fire dialogue. The musical soundtrack always provides pleasure on the gloomiest of days which speaks volumes of the legs the musical contains.

Besides the tunes, the best aspect of The Music Man is the romantic story-line at its core. The chemistry exists in full form between Preston and Jones and each is perfectly cast. Due to the studio wanting “a big name” Preston nearly didn’t make the cut, which would have been a shame. As he infuses life and humor into a character who could be perceived as dastardly, he tips the likability scale firmly his way, making the character the hero of the film.

Jones, a treasured singer, is just as good as Preston, playing the mousy and serious Marian in a believable way. Her “slice of the mid-west” innocence and blonde hair portrays her as corn-bred, but the actress makes the character work for her and combined, the duo is sensational. The best sequence the pair appear in is the wonderful “Marian the Librarian”, a sneaky and naughty number the most adult of all the renditions. Their mutual attraction becoming evident, this is the moment when the film brings the audience to its knees.

The musical is purely a slice of Americana, which may limit its popularity across oceans, but for Americans it really works and feels authentic. This is no surprise given that composer Willson hailed from the mid-west. With an uplifting message, a nostalgic ode to a country once filled with promise and innocence, the film is arguably even more important in today’s divisive environment. The piece wisely does not celebrate small-town cliches but instead offers a wholesomeness. The townsfolk sing and dance together and celebrate life as a neighborly bunch and this nuance is refreshing to see.

The supporting cast adds flavor and comedy to the production. A very young child actor, soon to be famous director, Ron Howard, offers a heartfelt performance of “Gary, Indiana”. Character actors Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold offer delightful hysterics as Mayor Shinn and wife Eulalie.

Thematically like Oklahoma (1955) and Picnic (1955), at least from geographical and time-period perspectives, but distant relatives as far as mood and drama, all three could be watched in one marathon weekend. The Music Man (1962) provides the most warmth and will fill the most stone-faced of individuals with beaming smiles at its conclusion. The film version is a perfect example of a stage musical successfully brought to the silver screen with energy, bombast and gorgeous singing and dancing.

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #928

Reviewed August 7, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the 1934 novel of the same name written by famous author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) brings the story to the big screen with a robust and eccentric cast of characters all drizzling with suspicion. The classic whodunit of all whodunits, the film adds a Hollywood flair with rich costumes and an authentic feel to a budget-blasting extravaganza that keeps the audience guessing as to whom the killer or killers may be. The film was recognized with a slew of Oscar nominations that year.

The hero of the film is Hercules Poirot (Albert Finney), a well- respected yet bumbling Belgian detective, who is solicited to solve the mysterious death of a business tycoon aboard the famous and luxurious Orient Express train. On his way to the train’s destination, he encounters such delicious characters as the glamorous Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), the nervous Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), and his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), director of the company who owns the enormous vessel. Many other characters are introduced to the layered story.

As the complicated plot is unraveled, most of the characters have something to hide or a connection to another character or characters. The fun for the viewer is to live vicariously through Poirot and await the big final reveal at the conclusion of the film that, unless already having viewed the film or read the novel, one will not see coming. With a film of this type, a detective thriller, the audience can be assured of a resolution, like a big murder mystery dinner theater production brought to the big screen. Certainly formulaic, the film never drags nor feels dull.

Amid the first few minutes of Murder on the Orient Express, the intrigue is unleashed at full-throttle speed leaving one bedazzled and hooked. The sequence is brilliantly done and thrusts the audience into a compelling back story of plot and the wonderment of what these events have to do with a train pulling out of the Orient. Quick edited film clippings of a news story explain the mysterious Long Island, New York abduction and murder of the infant daughter of a famed pilot.

It is suggested that the Orient Express trip embarks from Istanbul, Turkey and is destined for London. This means that several countries will be included in the trek, creating possibilities for both geographical accompaniments and new cultural experiences which director Sidney Lumet offer generous amounts of. Moments following the murder, the train has the unfortunate fate of colliding with an avalanche, leaving the passengers in double peril, with a killer on the loose and cabin fever to contend with.

To the compelled viewer this is snug comfort as the atmospheric locales are gorgeous and the thought of a dozen strangers trapped together with so much to hide brings the story to a frenzy. Who did what to the murder victim are slowly revealed as several red herrings (or are they?) are revealed. Who is the mysterious woman strutting down the corridor shortly before the murder, spotted by Poirot? Is she a staged pawn or merely an innocent victim? Could she be the murderer? The wonderful part of Murder on the Orient Express is the amount of entangled possibilities.

The conclusion of the film turns the thriller into a sort of moralistic story, to its credit. The fact that the murder victim was hateful and diabolical is a key part of the story and makes the viewer wonder if the killer or killers are justified in their actions. Does the fact that Ratchett was stabbed a dozen times with varying degrees of severity play into the motivation? A very compelling, and unrecognizable Finney does a fantastic job of carrying the film among such a troupe of good actors.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) sets out to entertain and succeeds on every level, bringing the book to the silver screen with a fresh interpretation that still honors the intent that Christie had. Stylistic and thought-provoking, the film has gorgeous costumes, a good story, and fine acting. The knowledge of who the killer is does little to take away any enjoyment that a repeated viewing will provide.

The Farewell-2019

The Farewell-2019

Director-Lulu Wang

Starring-Awkwafina, Tzi Ma

Scott’s Review #927

Reviewed August 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Any film with a dark premise such as The Farewell (2019) offers runs the risk of resulting in a bleak and depressing outcome, but the film is anything but a downer. Surprising to many will be that the film is classified as both a drama and a comedy with snippets of humor and sadness prevalent throughout. Met with lots of critical buzz, the film is successful at furthering the much-needed presence of quality Asian representation in modern cinema well into the twenty-first century.

Young upstart/comedienne, Awkwafina, memorable for her humorous turn in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), returns to the big screen in a more sedate role, crafting a passionate and dramatic character, strongly leading the charge in an ensemble project exploring the family dynamic. The film succeeds extraordinarily as a multi-generational glimpse into humanity, though at times suffers from being too slow moving.

A thirty-something struggling writer, Billi (Awkwafina), lives in New York City near her parents, all expats from China. Billi is particularly close with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who still resides in her birth land as they speak regularly via telephone. When Billi is informed that her grandmother suffers from terminal lung cancer and has weeks to live, the entire family reunites and decides to hold a mock wedding as an excuse to all be together. The decision is made by the family not to tell Nai Nai she is dying preferring to let her live out her days in happiness rather than fear.

Awkwafina is the main draw of the film and much of the action is told from her perspective. One wonders if perhaps director Lulu Wang drew from personal experience when she wrote the screenplay. The audience does not know Billi’s sexuality nor is that even relevant to the film, but the vagueness was noticed. She does not date nor seem very interested in men, does her laundry at her parent’s apartment, and attempts and fails at a prestigious writing scholarship.

The supporting characters add tremendous depth so that the film is not solely Billi’s, providing unique perspectives from her mother, her father, and her aunt, as they each possess their own viewpoints in relation to Nai Nai’s illness. I adore this technique in rich storytelling as it not only fleshes out secondary characters, it also provides interesting ideas.  Nai Nai is not written as a doting old lady nor a victim; she is strong, witty, and full of life. Shuzhen, unknown to me before viewing this film, adds tremendous poise in a crucial role portraying it in just the right way.

The Farewell is a quiet film with both comic and dramatic elements, sometimes within the same scene, thereby giving relief from the dour subject matter. Wang gets the balance just right and makes sure she does not make the film too heavy. A hysterical bowing marathon takes place as the entourage decides to visit grandfather’s grave, as they prepare the necessary essentials to comfort him during the afterlife.

As a direct contrast to a physical comedy nuance, not a dry eye can be found when Billi and her parents depart China by taxi to the airport. Nai Nai tearfully waves goodbye to them, not knowing that will certainly be her final goodbye. Any audience member with an elderly relative who they seldom see will be churning with emotion over this poignant scene. Questions such as “would you keep a loved one unaware of a terminal disease?” will gnaw at the viewer, the central theme of the story.

Influenced by the buzz and word of mouth encircling the film, I salivated at the thought of one big, powerful, emotional scene, but one clearly defined, bombastic moment never came. Rather, the film offers small tidbits, careful not to overpower the audience or risk making the film too sentimental or overwrought. I still think a pivotal teary scene might have been added for good measure. A scene where Billi breaks down in front of her parents was adequate, but never catapulted the film over the top.

The Farewell (2019) is a wonderful film rich with emotion and importance. Like Black Panther (2017) did with a completely different genre, bringing black characters to the forefront of mainstream film, this film provides exposure to the Asian population, typically relegated to doctors, Chinese takeout owners or other cliched roles. Wang delights with an independent film steam-rolling itself across Middle-America.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #926

Reviewed August 1, 2019

Grade: A

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is another brilliant offering by one of the most (deservedly) respected directors of the modern film era. This film may be his most personal as it includes many cinematic references and immerses itself in the Hollywood lifestyle. Toned down considerably from the violence standard in his other films, the first half lays the groundwork to a startlingly good second half with every detail of utmost importance. A bevy of riches await any viewer enthusiastically feasting his or her eyes on this film.

The time is 1969, as actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) struggles to reinvent himself and revitalize his career in Hollywood amid a changing cinematic landscape. Famous for a popular western television series from the 1950’s, Bounty Law, a pursued film career has not taken off, and he is reduced to guest appearances as the villain, then considered throwaway roles, in other episodic series. His stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) accompanies him almost everywhere serving as both sidekick and errand boy.

Meanwhile, famous director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have moved into the house next door which Dalton hopes will help him revitalize his career aspirations. As Tate goes about her daily life of running errands and watching her own movies in the theater, she is visited by Charles Manson one day looking for the former resident of her house. Historical viewers know how subsequent events transpired in real-life as Tarantino offers a fictional and tantalizing version of the events.

The length of the film is two hours and thirty-nine minutes, quite robust but typical for a Tarantino production. Some may complain about the bloated running time, but the film never drags; rather the director lays out all the pieces carefully like a fine chess game. By the mid-point all hell breaks loose with one of the most suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat scenes of in film history. When Cliff drives a flirtatious young hippy hitchhiker, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) to a range populated by Manson followers, he is in for the adventure of his life…..if he survives.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood contains an orgy of cinematic tidbits featuring a myriad of clips from forgotten films of the late 1960’s and popular songs from the day. This is just the tip of the iceberg in marvels as Tarantino perfectly immerses the viewer into the time-period with fury and zest. Every set piece, costume, hairstyle or car is flawlessly placed. Kraft macaroni and cheese, Velveeta cheese and popular dog food from the time-period are featured. Tarantino is a fan of cinema and makes cinema lovers fall in love with cinema all over again.

The cast is humongous but each character necessary and perfectly represented in roles large and small. The haunting troupe of Manson followers, specifically Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison), are all real-life figures. They are foreboding, dangerous and ever so important to the story. Al Pacino shines in the small but pivotal role of Schwarz (not Schwartz), Dalton’s agent, while Steve McQueen look-alike, Damian Lewis, on-screen for merely seconds, is memorable. The list of cameo performances goes on and on and on and the fun is wondering who may appear next.

Despite the incorporation of big-name stars in significant small roles, the best performances belong to Dicaprio and Pitt. Dicaprio’s best scene takes place alone in his trailer as the washed-up star botches his lines thanks to a hangover causing a delay in filming. He abuses himself into nailing the scene, receiving kudos all around while becoming teary-eyed after a compliment from a young actress. Pitt has never given a better performance than he does as Cliff, sharing his best scenes with his adorable dog Brandi, and with Dicaprio. Who can ever forget his chest baring rooftop scene?

Quentin Tarantino scores again with a bombastic and flawless picture, his ninth release. Rumored to retire after his tenth film, one can hardly fathom the reality of that statement. His films can be watched and watched again, continuously absorbing new and noteworthy details of rich texture. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) easily joins the ranks of great works, not just of the director’s own catalog, but of all time.

Lizzie-2018

Lizzie-2018

Director-Craig Macneill

Starring-Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart

Scott’s Review #925

Reviewed July 31, 2019

Grade: B+

Lizzie (2018) is an odd and macabre interpretation of the life and times of the infamous Lizzie Borden, who was accused and acquitted of hacking her father and stepmother to bits with a deadly axe. This offering is shrouded in a bit of controversy for inaccuracies and interpretations of the events, specifically Borden’s sexuality called into question. The film is quiet and a tad too slow but thunders to a grand climax more than making up for any negatives. The casting of its leads is perfect and key to success.

Thirty-two-year old Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) lives with her domineering and affluent father Andrew, (Jamey Sheridan), and rigid stepmother, Abby (Fiona Shaw). Despising both, she lives out a lonely and depressed existence with her only outlet being occasional evenings out at the theater. When an Irish immigrant, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), moves in to the Borden residence to work as a servant the women form a strong bond especially after she is abused by Andrew.

Sevigny, one of my favorite modern actresses, possesses a range that is astounding in the myriad of characters she has played in her long career. Debuting to the masses in the critically acclaimed and depressing Boys Don’t Cry (1999) she has churned out a numerous array of independent features portraying one oddball character after another and deserves the strong influence she has achieved over the years.

Director, Craig Macneill makes interesting choices with his film which may or may not please audiences expecting a by the number’s horror offering. He dives into psychological thriller territory with more of a character study approach that provides layers to the finished product. Sevigny is center stage and plenty of camera close-up shots offer an introspective analysis of what her feelings are rather than from her parents’ perspective. Instead of a crazed killer spontaneously committing the crime she is careful and calculating in her plan. Macneill presents Lizzie as the victim and Andrew and Abby the villains.

This is to assume that Borden really committed the crimes, which the film never doubts. Historically, people assume that this is the truth, but Lizzie was set free by a jury refusing to believe a woman of such means would commit such a heinous crime. I wonder if Macneill directed the film with a bit of a smirk at this ridiculous decision of the times when the woman clearly enjoyed the murders. At the end of the film it is explained what happened to Lizzie and Bridget which is a good decision and wraps the film into a nice tidy bow.

Powerful is the quiet subtext which gives a moody and foreboding quality. I adore slow moving films provided the reward is worth the wait and Lizzie sucker punches once the events begin rolling along. Another positive is the gnawing feeling of terrible things about to happen but unsure of when or how the attacks will occur. Most viewers choosing to watch this film will be aware of the context and the reported murders committed.

The atmospheric additions succeed as the late eighteenth century costumes and daily living are believable. The lavish Borden house is well-kept and brightly lit offering a nice New England feel. Finally, the creaks and noises throughout the house perfectly encompass the danger lurking behind corners and the fun is in wondering when Lizzie will strike. Since the film moves back and forth through its time-period we know that strike she will.

Where the film offers its best work is through the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget. Sevigny and Stewart dazzle together with unleashed chemistry nearly rivaling a similar dynamic seen in 2003’s Monster. As with Aline Wuornos and Selby Wall Lizzie is the dominant one and Bridget is submissive following her lead. Both sets of women share a lesbian relationship and neither pair achieves any happiness at the conclusion of the film.

A film sure to fly under the radar and likely to be forgotten before long, Lizzie (2018) is worth the effort. A spooky and controversial interpretation of the events leading up to, during, and after one of the most notorious crimes in United States history is dissected and analyzed from a human perspective. Macneill makes Borden less maniacal and more sympathetic than some may prefer. I think he does a fine job and deserves praise for a rich telling.

Gloria Bell-2019

Gloria Bell-2019

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Julianne Moore, John Turturro

Scott’s Review #924

Reviewed July 29, 2019

Grade: B+

An English remake of the successful Chilean film from 2013 simply titled Gloria, Gloria Bell (2019) stars Julianne Moore and the setting is moved to Los Angeles. The film is directed by Sebastian Lelio, fresh off a Best Foreign Language Film win for A Fantastic Woman (2017) and both films contain similar themes of oppression and loneliness. Preferring the original by only a hair Gloria Bell is nonetheless a worthy offering with Moore perfectly cast in the title role.

Middle-aged divorcee Gloria Bell (Moore) resides in Los Angeles, working an office job of some respectability but is clearly unfulfilled. She spends frequent nights at a nightclub where she is deemed a regular. The club caters to middle-aged singles who dance and drink while looking for love. When she meets Arnold (John Turturro) one evening and they share a night of passion, the pair begin dating but Gloria realizes that he still supports his ex-wife and grown daughters limiting his time and commitment to her, which leaves her frustrated.

Moore is honest and understated with her performance and the highlight of the film. With another casting choice the character might not have worked so well. She is full of life, singing in her car, attending laughter therapy, and smoking pot in her apartment. She has a warm yet limited relationship with her millennial kids and her ex-husband and his new wife. Moore gives the character an earnestness and likability that works and gets the audience on her side during her trials and tribulations.

This is not to say that Gloria doesn’t occasionally frustrate the audience. After inviting Arnold to meet the whole crew over dinner and wine at her son’s house, what begins as a meet and greet quickly turns into a reminiscing trip down memory lane and whimsical looks at Gloria and her ex’s wedding pictures. Her disregard of Arnold’s feelings is disappointing, but the bad intention is not there. Gloria has baggage and is caught up in the moment simply reliving a happier time at the expense of the current moment.

Arnold has his own demons and is both likable and unlikable to the audience. Tending to bail on Gloria when either his family requires his assistance or he feels left out, he hardly exhibits grown man behavior or anyone Gloria would want to date. The first red flag is his confessions of enamor to Gloria over their first dinner date. From there his on again off again presence makes him the odd man out. The intent by Lelio is to make Gloria the sympathetic one. It’s her movie after all.

Watched sequentially with A Fantastic Woman is a wise idea. Numerous comparisons are apparent beginning with the feelings shared by both central characters. Both are searching for happiness but unsure of how to obtain it especially given the fact that they once had it and it was snatched away from them. Scenes of both characters driving in their cars and singing songs are included, and the look of both films is the same.

Very few comparisons or contrasts can be made between Gloria of 2013 and Gloria Bell of 2019 as both are way above average other than in the former the character is slightly more vivacious than the latter. This could be attributed to the Chilean and South American free thinking and sexual gusto as compared to a more reserved American way of thinking, but this is merely a suggestion. Interesting to note is how Lelio remade his own film only six years later rather than another director putting his or her own stamp on it.

Gloria Bell (2019) paints a vivid canvas of a modern woman dealt a bad hand who struggles to find her happiness and fulfillment any way she knows how. Thanks in large part to Moore’s embracing and filling the character with kindness and care she wins over the audience. The character is written as intelligent and interesting and not desperate in any way for a man. He needs to be the right man.

Pet Sematary-2019

Pet Sematary-2019

Director-Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring-Jason Clarke, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #923

Reviewed July 26, 2019

Grade: B

In the age of the movie remake, especially within the horror genre, it was only a matter of time before Pet Sematary, first made in 1989, would resurface with its fangs bared. Paramount Pictures offers up Pet Sematary (2019), a by the numbers affair perfect for viewing on a late Saturday night. It is an improvement over the disappointing ’89 version but hardly recreates the genre, feeling more like a remake than offering much in the way of new story-telling or frightening effects. The conclusion is rather disappointing offering a hybrid of slasher meets zombie.

To compare either film to the chilling and suspenseful page-turner written by esteemed novelist Stephen King would be ridiculous. The book is a quick read that will leave its reader breathless and scared, perhaps even fearing their own pets, so the bar is set way too high for a cinematic offering to match up with. The book delves much more into the feelings and emotions of all the principle characters, something that is severely limited with the film.

The Creed family, Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and children Ellie and Gage, move from bustling Boston, Massachusetts, to rural Maine to allow Louis the opportunity to practice medicine at a university hospital. Their friendly neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) befriends Ellie after she stumbles across a funeral procession of children taking a deceased dog to a cemetery called Pet Sematary. He warns she and Rachel that the woods are dangerous. When tragedy strikes the family, the cemetery unleashes a supernatural force contained in an ancient burial ground that sits beside it.

The first half of the film is superior to the second as the build-up offers more perilous moments than when all hell breaks loose. Mysterious is when an accident victim in Louis’s care dies and begins to show up in his visions warning him of something sinister. The victim is mangled and bloody and quite frightening are these foreboding scenes. When a curious Ellie traipses throughout the woods with curious wonderment the audience is nervous about what (or who) she might stumble upon.

The film also gets props for the suspenseful birthday party scene that ends in a grisly death. The scene begins in a cheery way with lively party music and festive balloons amid a warm afternoon in summery Maine. In a clear example of foreshadowing, earlier in the film Louis curses the truck drivers that drive at reckless speed past his house. Excitedly running after their cat named Church, Ellie and Gage pay no attention to the looming truck with the texting driver until it is too late. The scene drips with good terror.

After one family member is struck down by the speeding tractor trailer the predictability surfaces. Jud has already warned Louis that “sometimes dead is better”, but we know Louis will surrender to temptation out of desperation and tempt the bad spirits. When the once dead character returns with a droopy eye and calm deviousness, the film becomes a standard slasher film and is not as compelling.

The final thirty minutes feels very rushed as if the careful pacing of the buildup is all for naught. As in most horror films, now deemed a cliche, the last sequence allows for a sequel if box-office profits are hefty enough. I do not recall a similar ending in the chilling novel or any reference to the family living out their days as a family of the undead. The obvious attempt at a zombie reference was unsatisfying and much different from what I expected.

From a casting point of view Jason Clarke (usually cast in supporting roles) gives a strong performance as the main character. He is a good father figure and provides charisma to the film. Well-mannered but also somewhat outdoorsy and a “regular joe” he is intelligent and humorous with the kids. The child actors are fine but hardly the main attraction and Seimetz as the mother, Rachel, is not the best casting choice. She plays the challenging role much too brooding and angry for my taste, especially given she is written as the most sympathetic of all the characters.

Pet Sematary (2019) is a satisfactory horror offering with a solid first half that teeters into difficult to believe territory rather quickly. A stalwart veteran like Lithgow helps immensely, giving the film some respectability, and a child actor cast in a pivotal role is enough and doesn’t ruin the experience. There is little reason to see the film a second time but advisable is to snuggle with the King novel for some good scares.

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director-Georges Franju

Starring-Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon. The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could possibly be. The film is nestled into a short one hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences. What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy. The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists. The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck. But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young women and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane. Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise. Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by doctor, assistant and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style. Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in almost tender fashion. The film is not the 1980’s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goer’s preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but nonetheless recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film. As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough. Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends. This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand

Scott’s Review #921 

Reviewed July 19, 2019

Grade: B+

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a very obscure film that deserves better than to be relegated into the unknown. Released during a time when the Hollywood musical had lost its luster, it feels like a last gasp effort to keep the genre alive, serving as a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand. The film suffers from severe editing problems with a large portion being cut, so much so that the result is a choppy and disjointed feel, tough to follow as is but left untouched the film could have been a creative masterpiece.

In a particularly convoluted plot that spans two time-periods, chain-smoking New Yorker, Daisy Gamble (Streisand) is convinced by her uptight fiancee Warren (Larry Blyden) to attend a class taught by Marc Cabot (Yves Montand), a psychiatrist. When she is accidentally hypnotized by Cabot he realizes she speaks in the voice of an early nineteenth-century woman named Melinda, as he becomes obsessed with her while she teeters between two existences.

The screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner, adapted from his book for the 1965 stage production. Film director Vincente Minnelli fuses fantasy with a musical to create an experimental piece extremely left of center- this is not your standard 1950’s or 1960’s MGM experience with merry or clap-along tunes. Some of the more memorable numbers include “On a Clear Day” which is a reprise at the end of the film, “He Isn’t You” and “Love with All the Trimmings”.

Casting Streisand is a monumental choice as she carries the film on her shoulders. Belting out numbers is the singer turned actresses forte and she never disappoints. She is fascinating to watch in the neurotic role as she smokes and prances around, usually in a tizzy or in a state of peril (self-induced). The performance impresses as a different style than many of her other films and she has never portrayed a livelier character. Streisand overcomes a few challenges of the film, winning in spades.

She shares little to no chemistry with co-star Montand who is not only too old for her, but he is not the greatest actor either. If the film’s intent, which I suspect, was to make the pair the main draw then this failed. Streisand’s chemistry with John Richardson, who plays Sir Robert Tentrees to her Melinda in the other time-period, excites. The duo smolders with passion but sadly, most of the nineteenth century scenes are the ones that are sacrificed making most of it a jumbled mess. Much more interesting would have been to leave the entire film intact.

An oddity is Jack Nicholson’s almost nonexistent role of Tad Pringle, a mostly non-described brother of Daisy’s. Is he also her neighbor?  In 1970 Nicholson was only on the cusp of super-stardom and questionable is whether some of his role was left on the cutting-room floor, but the limited character is strange and unsatisfying. In another role there would have been some possibility of a romantic entanglement.

Throughout the duration of the film I wondered how On a Clear Day You Can See Forever might have worked with someone other than Streisand in the roles. I kept ruminating how good Liza Minnelli might have been in the roles with her non-classic looks (like Streisand) and bombastic voice. Her high dramatic flair and capable New York style would have made results interesting, but Streisand hits it out of the park.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a brave attempt at something fantastical, brimming with potential that is left feeling cluttered and messy. With a delicious leading lady whom the camera adores and enough creative sets and rigorous energy to keep one guessing, the film stumbles with many problems and leaves viewers incomplete.

Free Solo-2018

Free Solo-2018

Director-Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Starring-Alex Honnold

Scott’s Review #920

Reviewed July 17, 2019

Grade: B

Free Solo (2018) is a documentary that takes a standard approach style, offering a traditional, yet informative piece about the perils and triumphs of rock climbing. More precisely, termed “free soloing”, a dangerous feat involving the lack of ropes or any safety harnesses, one false misstep can (and has) resulted in death. The film balances a nice humanistic approach of the featured daredevil with his girlfriend and camera crew’s individual perspectives.

Having personally scolded the Oscar Academy (in my own mind anyway) for omitting the wonderful Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) from the five documentary nominees, a “WTF” moment on nomination day, Free Solo would not be my choice as the winner, with RBG getting the honor from the choices provided. RBG is the more timelier and more important of the bunch, given the current state of United States political affairs, but nonetheless Free Solo was crowned the champion.

The likable young man at the forefront of the feature is Alex Honnold, a modest athlete from the west coast, United States, in his early twenties.  He has a low-key, almost morose personality and is his own person, shunning organized holidays like Halloween because he “doesn’t want someone else telling him when to have fun”. He is thoughtful and introspective and even a bit odd having sought climbing at a young age and never looking back.

Apparent is how he is not necessarily seeking the fame and fortune but has nonetheless become respected in his chosen profession, explaining that it is more a calling than any attempt to show off or boast of his achievements. As he admits to always wanting to climb the dangerously steep and world-famous rock, the 3,000 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope, he is also concerned about the pressure of performing for camera crews and the responsibility that entails. The documentary stresses this point as Alex bails from the climb on his first attempt.

Throughout the documentary, the film-makers choose to focus on tidbits of story around his loved ones, specifically his girlfriend and mother, offering their perspectives of his dangerous activities. This is a nice added touch and gives heart and layers to the story making it more humanistic than simply watching an unknown person rock climb for an hour and a half. The audience gets to know Alex throughout the piece therefore making us care more about the peril he goes through as he attempts to triumph.

The production is superlative and quite engaging especially throughout the climbing sequences. Vast shots of the amazing views from the giant rock are plentiful and astounding making the viewer feel as if he or she is also climbing the treacherous monument but breathing a sigh of relief when realizing the safety of a sofa or chair is the preferred option. Seriously though, the camera work is a huge appeal of Free Solo and undoubtedly the primary reason it won the Oscar statuette.

The negatives to Free Solo are only slight and perhaps due to my own lack of appeal of rock climbing. During the documentary I kept asking myself why on earth Alex would attempt to achieve the feat and what possible purpose it would serve. From that angle, my attention tended to wander from time to time so the people with passion for adventurous experiences would be the target audience.

Secondly, there was nary a doubt in my mind that the final moments would result in Alex successfully reaching the pinnacle of his career safely despite the concerns of the crew that he could fall to his death at any moment. Sensible reasoning assured me the project would not have been released if tragedy had occurred.

Free Solo (2018) offers a solid and conventional documentary with enough outdoor sequences amid the standard interviews to satisfy all. The finale, while predictable in showing Alex’s successful climb to Mount, is photographed exceptionally well and professional in spirit. The documentary suffers from some predictability issues and a lack of any real cliffhanger (pun intended) but feels fresh and celebrates the human spirit in a big way.

Bad Times at the El Royale-2018

Bad Times at the El Royale-2018

Director-Drew Goddard

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson

Scott’s Review #919

Reviewed July 10, 2019

Grade: A-

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018), directed by Drew Goddard, known for crafting the horror film The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is a gem crossing multiple genres with sound results. With Bad Times, he assumes writing and production duties for the thriller and steals a page from the Quentin Tarantino playbook, most notably from The Hateful Eight (2015). The resulting feature is clever, perverse and mysterious, with a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat experience, and a must-see for Tarantino fans.

Set in 1969, the film focuses on seven strangers of differing backgrounds who make their way to a seedy and remote hotel on the California/Nevada border. Each harbors his or her share of dark secrets, which culminates during a deadly and macabre showdown one dark and stormy night. In many ways each character is seeking redemption or forgiveness for a past indiscretion or is otherwise protecting someone or something else. A large sum of money is also in play for the greedier characters to tussle over.

The seven players are as follows: Jeff Bridges plays catholic priest Donald “Dock” O’Kelly, Cynthia Erivo plays struggling soul singer Darlene Sweet, and Dakota Johnson portrays Emily Summerspring, a hippie trying to save her younger sister, Rose, who is devoted to and mesmerized by sadistic cult leader Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). Finally, Jon Hamm plays Dwight Broadbeck, a vacuum salesman who may have a secret identity, and hotel clerk Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), who runs the hotel alone.

As events roll along the complexities of the characters grow and grow, which is my favorite aspect of the film. There are so many twists and turns involving the characters back stories and motivations that surprises are in store. Some characters have strange connections to each other, others meet for the first time resulting in their lives intersecting in interesting ways.

The dynamic between all the actors work tremendously well with the standouts being Bridges and Erivo, who share tremendous chemistry and are the most interesting characters, to mention get the most screen time. During their lengthy scenes together, their characters forge a bond while never completely trusting each other. Erivo, as Darlene, gets to showcase her wonderful singing voice, the grand hotel room sequence as she belts out “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You”) is the highlight. Old and maligned with memory loss Bridges is successful at granting more sympathy to his character than he deserves.

The film loses momentum towards the end with the introduction of the miscast Hemsworth, pretty but not the greatest acting talent. The actor over acts, playing Billy Lee as sinister and one-dimensional rather than infusing any complexities into the character, which doesn’t work. A better casting choice (and Tarantino mainstays) would have been Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt, either actor assuredly bringing more depth to the role.

Comparisons to both The Hateful Eight and the comedy Clue (1985) must be made. Like the former, Goddard divides the film into chapters, mostly entitled as the hotel room numbers. With each subsequent room the events going on in that room and its inhabitants are explored. As in both films he brings several mysterious characters with connections, together. Like in Clue, secret passageways which lead to various parts of a building are featured, offering layers of possibilities.

The hotel itself is styled and dressed brilliantly, nearly a character with glossy decal, shiny trimmings but with a solemn and melancholy gloominess.  The establishment has seen its share of heartbreak, schemes, and even death. Clever is the division of the hotel in either the “California” section, sunny and cheerful, or the less posh “Nevada” section, purple and costing one dollar less. The viewer is sucked into its web within the first sequence when a man is shown hiding money under the floorboards and then subsequently shot to death.

Despite justifiably being labeled as a Tarantino rip-off, this does not bother me as I was enthralled with the characters, the details, and the vast nuances offered to me. Unfortunately, the film was a box-office disappointment, suffering from lack of awards buzz and a lofty running-time. Bad Times at El Royale (2018) will entertain, intrigue, and keep one guessing up until the credits roll. Be prepared for a bloody good time!

Imitation of Life-1959

Imitation of Life-1959

Director-Douglas Sirk

Starring-Lana Turner, Annie Johnson

Scott’s Review #918

Reviewed July 9, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the original film production made in 1934, which was based on a 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life (1959) is a relevant dissection of race relations, class systems, and gender roles, all of which still feel timely decades later. The film is a fresh, progressive and brazen effort that sometimes teeters too much into soap-opera land but is nonetheless an important story to be exposed to. The dynamics between the central characters in deliciously raw scenes is the greatest part of the film.

Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widowed, stylish New York woman with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. One day she meets a lovely black woman, Annie Johnson (Moore), on the beach, and the women become fast friends, each having a daughter around the same age. The women decide to move in together for financial reasons and to further Lora’s chances for success in the entertainment industry. Lora begins a casual romance with handsome Steve Archer (John Gavin).

Eleven years pass, and Lora is now a big star, residing in a luxurious house in New York and flocking to film locales in Italy. Annie continues to live with her, serving as housekeeper and confidante. The girls are now teenagers with issues of their own. Susie (Sandra Dee) has developed feelings for her mother’s boyfriend while Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), of mixed-race ethnicity, is ashamed of her black heritage and frequently is able to pass for white. The trials and tribulations of all are played out throughout the film.

Imitation of Life has two key distinctions and focuses on each both separately. Since the timing of the story is said to be 1947 and the picture released in 1959, before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, the racial story is very poignant and truthful and the main draw of the film. Sarah Jane is embarrassed to be black and her eventual abandonment of both her life in New York and of her mother can be deemed reprehensible if not for the times. Her regrets come too little too late but Kohner nonetheless infuses much sympathy into her complex role.

The second main aspect of Imitation of Life is more mainstream and dramatic, easily more accessible to the public than the former, and a main reason why the film was misunderstood or even dismissed by some as too melodramatic. Lora is glamorous and well-dressed, always stylish and poised and soon Susie begins to grow jealous and resentful of Lora’s achievements and the attention she receives from men at every turn. This invokes a female rivalry that is pure 1950’s Hollywood glitz and seems manipulative and naughty, using bright colors, dazzling costumes and flair to promote the excess drama.

As tremendous as Kohner is, Juanita Moore knocks it out of the park and does the best acting job out of all the principal performers. Her frequent dramatic scenes are filled with emotional bombast without the actress ever going over-the-top. Rather, she keeps her composure, earning her well-earned Best Actress Oscar nomination if for no other scene than the heartbreaking mother/daughter showdown in a California hotel room.

When Moore’s Annie is mistaken for Sarah Jane’s maid instead of her own mother, the pain and worry can plainly be seen on her face as she realizes she has lost what she knew of her daughter for good. She returns to New York an old woman with a broken heart and spirit, both defeated and deflated. The last sequence is tough to watch as tragedy results and a coldness encompasses the film.

Interesting to note is the prevalence of more than one suitor for Lora, and the implication is that she could have up to three if including her agent Allen and playwright David, while Annie has none. This point is slightly irksome and a missed opportunity as a male companion for Annie, or at least the potential for one, might have changed her life forever. The film is true to the novel but how wonderful to imagine Annie being treated to a nicer life while finding true love.

Imitation of Life (1959) is a film treasure with subtle and not so subtle nuances and bold, powerful story-telling enveloping the entire experience. Suffering a bit from a sometimes too sudsy mass appeal approach, and too much focus on melodrama, the film nonetheless does not abandon its social issues theme especially given the harsh treatment of minorities during this period. No other film deals with the psychological turmoil of mixed-race like Imitation of Life does.

Do Not Disturb-1965

Do Not Disturb-1965

Director-Ralph Levy

Starring-Doris Day, Rod Taylor

Scott’s Review #917

Reviewed July 8, 2019

Grade: C+

Singer and actress Doris Day, in large part, put her stamp on the romantic comedy genre, such that it was, during the 1960’s becoming synonymous with wholesome film characters with spunk and charm but always wearing sensible shoes. Do Not Disturb (1965) is a lightweight, forgettable work that offers a silly premise and a juvenile script with meandering plot thrown in for good measure. The film is saved somewhat by the interesting locales of London and Kent England, but for those seeking better quality ought to seek out the gems The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) or Pillow Talk (1959).

Day and Rod Taylor star as Janet and Mike Harper, an American couple who relocate to England as part of a transfer for the company he works for. They immediately disagree over where to live; Mike prefers the excitement of London, but Janet favors the rustic quality of Kent. After she gets them a house thirty miles outside of London, the plan backfires when the couple grow further apart due to Mike’s need to commute to London every day. Lonesome and isolated, Janet worries incessantly that Mike is having an affair with his new secretary, Claire Hackett (Maureen McGiveney).

Prompted by her busybody landlord, Vanessa Courtwright (Hermione Baddeley), Janet meets an Italian antiques dealer, Paul Bellari (Sergio Fantoni), who she hires to redecorate her house. With Mike spending more time with Claire and Janet and Paul in equally close quarters, the hi-jinks begin. Janet and Mike may be innocent, but Paul and Claire could have designs on their potential mates especially as the foursome begin to face one compromising situation after another.

The heart of an authentic romantic comedy is good, old-fashioned chemistry between the leads and Taylor and Day exhibit adequate sparkle but hardly sizzle. Mediocrity in the setup and writing can be forgiven if other elements like crackling moments exist, but those are scarcities in Do Not Disturb. Some Like it Hot (1959) embodies a great comedy with romantic wrappings featuring fantastic leads Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, but the former does not come anywhere close to finding its footing amid cliche after cliche.

To further on the above note, the film is plot driven and heavy on story-dictated situations rather than on character development, and the ending is predictable. With most of the jokes either falling completely flat or feeling distinctly canned and cheap the laughs never catch on. During a tepid sequence, Janet and Paul go to a remote town to check out antiques where she winds up drinking too much bubbly, becoming drunk and foolhardy. In what should have been the comic high point of the film instead does very little to further the plot or flesh out the characters.

Director, Ralph Levy makes little effort to steer the film anywhere other than a slick mainstream “affair” despite the release year being 1965 when more edgy works were replacing the polished and the tried and true. Rather than dare to go to a less than cheery place and perhaps decide to have Janet or Mike cheat on their significant others, Levy chooses not to go there instead attempting to satisfy those seeking a happily-ever-after wrapping.

Not to be over-saturated with negativity, Do Not Disturb features wonderful and stunning locale sequences of bustling metropolitan London and quaint English cottages and wilderness, oozing with as much culture and sophistication as down-home comforts and rich flavor. The combination of an American couple thrust into a different setting with a new set of rules and regulations to follow makes the film fun in this regard and offers a sprinkle of good scenery.

Do Not Disturb (1965) is a mid-1960’s mainstream release buried among nests of other similar themed but better written films. Even appealing and bankable stars of the time like Taylor and Day could not succeed in spicing up tired gimmicks and plot devices. The film will forever be relegated to the romantic comedy shelves teetering on the brink of obscurity.

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

Having not seen the first two installments of the latest Spider-Man franchise nor with any prior knowledge of The Avengers franchise, or the cross-sectional connections of the characters to other films, I walked into Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) with little expectations and admittedly limited understanding of the Marvel universe altogether. The film is no better or worse than a summer popcorn flick with enough adventure and nice locales to keep a non- super-hero buff entertained for over two hours without fidgeting too much.

The film begins with a nod to a past film where apparently a mysterious “Blip” occurred erasing people for a period of five-years’ time where they then return to normalcy having not aged. Still shots of various Avengers characters including Tony Stark (Iron Man) who have died appear on the screen amid a musical tribute to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) (Tom Holland) still mourns his mentor as he embarks on a two-week European vacation with his classmates as part of a school trip. He plans to confess his love for MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower in Paris.

Peter’s Aunt May (now reduced in age and sexy with the casting of Marisa Tomei) quickly packs his Spider-Man suit as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to enlist Peter’s help on a mission and provide him with Stark’s special glasses, named E.D.I.T.H. which possess all the databases of Stark Industries. Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of Illusions is recruited to help Spider-Man and serve as a cool Uncle figure. These events all happen as Peter travels abroad.

The film is undeniably light and fun, with a bright and safe ambiance. The perilous scenes are not scary nor particularly dangerous despite characters being at the risk of death. The teen romance angle enhances this assessment as it is a main component of the film, even as much as the adventure and super-hero antics are. Even prior to the teen classmates traversing throughout Europe, a triangle between Peter, MJ and Peter’s hunky, high school football rival develops, as does love at thirty-five thousand feet between lovebirds Ned and Betty Brant.

Tom Holland is very well cast in the lead role and is charismatic and believable.  Charming with a youthful innocence, he is part nerd and part hero, but at always empathetic and benevolent without this feeling forced. As a viewer unfamiliar with the first two chapters, I was immediately catapulted into his world of teen angst, romance, and his responsibility of saving the world. The young actor could have a fine future ahead of him if he avoids any typecasting and chooses good roles.

The guts of the film, meaning the action sequences and the standard genre elements, are palpable and worthy of admiration on their own merits. The visual effects are tremendous and crowd-pleasing, especially whenever Mysterio is involved. With a twisting, tornado-like blue and green swirling motion he flies in and out of sequences with enough pizzazz to put the Wicked Witch of the West to shame. Similarly, the gusty unnatural storm, Earth Elemental, and the dangerous Fire, provide magical and atmospheric power that help the look of the film.

Comedy rather than dark and foreboding scenes are what the film-makers seem to be going for with this project. As class trip chaperones and the student’s teachers, the comic duo of Julius Dell and Roger Harrington trade barbs with themselves and the kids, part bumbling and part incompetent, always offering comic moments of relief. When Harold “Happy” Hogan becomes smitten with Aunt May, his awkwardness is cute and fresh rather than sappy and cliched. The supporting characters have stuff to do but I would have preferred a bit more darkness or gloominess.

The sequences that rise Spider-Man: Far from Home above mediocrity are the wonderful and plentiful European scenes, a feast of riches for this fan of world travel and culture. The canals of Venice and the magnificence of Prague are nearly rivaled by the sophistication of London and the history of Berlin. Sadly, the film does not culminate in Paris as I had hoped and was hinted at, causing a slight hiccup in my vicarious travel pleasures.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is a film perfectly crafted for summer and fittingly was viewed on a scorching hot July day. The film is not a masterpiece, sticking to a formula tried and true, and limiting the dangerous possibilities when one threatens to destroy the world in favor of humor. The cast is likable, the villain compelling, and the romance showcases more than just the main couple, being careful not to limit the cash cow of special effects and adventure the film heavily provides.

First Man-2018

First Man-2018

Director-Damian Chazelle

Starring-Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

Scott’s Review #915

Reviewed July 4, 2019

Grade: B+

First Man (2018) is a re-teaming of efforts by director Damian Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling, hot on the heels of the 2016 critical and commercial smash hit La La Land. The former could not be more different the latter and the direction unrecognizable for those expecting a comparison. First Man is a mainstream Hollywood production with good camerawork and an edgy quality.  The necessary full-throttle action approach is interspersed nicely with a personal family story and humanistic spin that is never too sappy nor forced.

The focus of the story is on Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and the events leading up to the historic Apollo 11 mission which resulted in the him being the first United States astronaut to walk on the moon. Buzzy Aldrin (Corey Stoll), the second man to walk on the moon is featured to a lesser degree and his character is portrayed as self-centered and difficult though screen time is limited. The overall message is of the triumphs and the costs to families, the astronauts and the country during an already tumultuous decade in history.

Events of the film begin in 1961 as we see Armstrong as a young NASA test pilot suffering mishaps due to his personal problems and culminates in 1969 after the successful mission concludes. Chazelle wisely balances human and personal scenes with the inevitable rocket take-offs and outer space problems that the astronauts face.  Both segments turn out well and keep the action moving, allowing for tender moments between the characters especially showcasing the relationship between Neil and his wife Janet (Claire Foy). Lacking (thankfully) are the scenes of machismo or “guy talk” that sometimes accompany films in this genre.

During one of the first scenes the audience quickly witnesses the couple’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Karen retching and suffering from learning disabilities only to quickly die from a brain tumor forever destroying the couple. This important aspect reoccurs as Neil imagines his daughter playing with neighborhood kids and enjoying life. In a wonderful moment he tearfully drops Karen’s tiny bracelet into a giant crater in the hopes of always keeping her memory alive. These additions give the film a character driven quality.

Worthy of analysis before and after viewing the film is the decision of the young director to tackle such a project, heartily appealing to the mainstream audience undoubtedly in mind. Legendary director Clint Eastwood was originally slated to direct and the historically rich story seems right up his alley. Interesting to wonder is if during the 1990’s Tom Hanks might have been cast in the role of Armstrong during his younger days, playing a similar role in Ron Howard’s 1995 film Apollo 13.

Well-known character actors appear in supporting roles fleshing out the production and further adding name and face recognition. Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Ciaran Hinds appear as astronauts or various NASA Chiefs. Viewers who may not be able to name the actors will certainly recognize them as actors seen in other features. This only brings First Man to the big leagues with a hearty and talented central cast.

Gosling and Foy are the main draw and both actors were mentioned as possibilities for Oscar nominations throughout awards season, but a slot in the big race did not come to fruition. While the film drew a couple of nominations for Best Editing and Best Score, a Best Picture nomination was not to be, probably due to the film not being as big a blockbuster success as expected. The film is also more brooding and less patriotic than a Howard or Eastwood production would have been.

To expand on this, First Man came under attack by Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, and President Donald Trump for Chazelle’s decision to omit any mention of the famous planting of the American Flag on the moon by Armstrong and Aldrin. Chazelle refused to admit this was any sort of political statement, instead insisting he chose to focus more on the lesser known aspects of the moon landing rather than facts that everybody already knew.

Youngster Damian Chazelle proves a multi-faceted director by changing course and creating a historic biopic much different from a story of singing and dancing in Los Angeles. He proves to be no one-trick pony and gets the job done, creating a brave and robust effort that does not limit action at the hands of humanity, successfully weaving a good dose of both. First Man (2018) may not be a classic in the making but deserves to be seen.

Touch of Evil-1958

Touch of Evil-1958

Director-Orson Welles

Starring-Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh

Scott’s Review #914

Reviewed July 2, 2019

Grade: A

Touch of Evil (1958) is a film noir directed by the legendary influential Hollywood director, Orson Welles. The film contains suspense, drama and mystery, but is to be praised largely for its use of visual treats to enhance the cinematic experience. The dark and foreboding thriller was revolutionary for the time of release and influenced many films of similar ilk in the years to come. Robust and fraught with tension, the experience is marvelous and worthy of study for its many nuances.

Welles not only directs the work but also stars in and writes the screenplay, so his entire being is invested in the production and execution. Known mostly for the legendary Citizen Kane (1940), a film that arguably changed the course of cinema with its direction and cinematography, Touch of Evil explores a different genre entirely but keeps the superlative aspects of Welles’s loftier film, including black and white, intact, resulting in a grand and dangerous crime infused classic. The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.

The tension is ample from the onset as the humidity-drenched Mexico-United States border is the focal point. A car driven by a young couple is laced with a bomb and detonates as soon as they cross the into U.S. territory. In a hint of irony, Newlyweds Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), a drug enforcement official in the Mexican government, and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh) pass the car several times on foot prior to the explosion. An investigation ensues with the introduction of other characters, including Police Chief Pete Gould (Harry Shannon), District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins) and police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), with a prime suspect being Sanchez, a young Mexican secretly married to the victim’s daughter.

Typical in the film noir genre, events are not what they seem as layers of plot slowly unravel. The heavyset and disheveled Captain nostalgically visits a brothel run by Tanya (Marlene Dietrich), who barely recognizes him because he’s gained so much weight since their last meeting.  Vargas forsakes his bride to spearhead the investigation, but soon locks horns with corpulent Quinlan and the duo begin to feud. Could Quinlan or Vargas have something to do with the car bombing, or could other supporting characters be either behind or involved in the shenanigans. This is a great part of Touch of Evil as the film leaves the viewer guessing.

Heston and Leigh smolder as the lead couple and their chemistry is apparent from the first scene in which they appear together. Sexy and mysterious, she hunkers down in a dump fraught with peril, while he attempts to solve the crime and keep his girl safe. Outside factors play heavy roles in keeping the lovers apart and although Heston playing a Mexican man is quite the stretch, the audience will nestle comfortably into the events as they reveal deeper layers.

Wells, once a handsome man, is not afraid to let it all hang out as the fat and racist Quinlan becoming one of the great and most complicated screen villains as his true colors emerge. As the film’s title boldly suggests does his character contain complexities that make him evil and keep some sympathies or does he wreak havoc on all he touches with his devious nature only the tip of the iceberg? Viewers will need to await the final act to have several questions answered as motivations are finally revealed.

Touch of Evil (1958) gave delicious and pulsating material to film makers clever enough to study its intricacies, most notably Roman Polanski for Chinatown (1974). Nuggets were also thrown the way of Alfred Hitchcock who got the idea for Leigh to appear in Psycho (1960) two years later, catapulting her character’s alone in a hotel peril, mixing in a weird hotel clerk. The power the film had to hatch other great films from its ingenuity are the most fun parts of watching it again and again.

Shanghai Express-1932

Shanghai Express-1932

Director-Josef Von Sternberg

Starring-Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook

Scott’s Review #913

Reviewed June 29, 2019

Grade: A-

A film way ahead of its time and firmly affixed to the female perspective, Shanghai Express (1932) is riddled with drama, intrigue and adventure culminating in a slightly too tidy of an ending. Forgetting that slight embrace with traditional been there, done that film climax, the story has layers of interesting tidbits and will assuredly keep audiences on their toes. Marlene Dietrich sizzles in the lead role and benefits from the film being made pre-American code, which put restrictions galore on pictures, watering down many.

With flashes of a story like Murder on the Orient Express, Shanghai Express gets off to a strong start as a group of strangers of differing backgrounds begin to board the self-titled train from Istanbul, Turkey through civil war-torn China. Causing a stir is the presence of Shanghai Lily (Dietrich), a woman of questionable morals, with her sidekick Hui Fei in tow (Anna May Wong). Lily reconnects with her former flame Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook) as passengers shun her and political matters reach the boiling point, leading Lily to prove her undying love for Donald.

Keeping in mind that the film was made in the year 1932, the plot and surrounding elements all resound to being female driven which is both courageous and forceful. Dietrich is glamorous and photographs beautifully with no better example of this than the scene when she trembles and shivers in fear as she clings to a cigarette, her character deep in thought and anxiety. The image and lighting were so powerful that it became the cover art for the promotional photograph. A promiscuous woman but never being ashamed of who she is Lily proudly proclaims the immortal line, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

Dietrich is nearly overshadowed by Anna May Wong, the mysterious and deadly Hui Fei. With her exotic demeanor the audience is perplexed by her, not knowing much about her, and longing for more exposure and reveals. Hui Fei comes full tilt during the final act but remains an elusive character. Throughout the run-time of the film-short at one hour and thirty-two minutes, I found myself thinking about Hui Fei continuously, wanting more explanation about her life, her background, and how she came to be associated with Shanghai Lily.

The film’s atmosphere is a championed success as the roaring engines of the fast-moving train mixed with the bells and dazzling, luxurious train cars make the background details tremendously important, keeping the fast-paced action ongoing and crackling. The supporting characters like judgmental Christian missionary Mr. Carmichael (Lawrence Grant), who at first condemns the two as “fallen women”, and the boarding house keeper Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale) with her strictness for discipline and cleanliness, add life and a good comic balance to the heavy drama.

Shanghai Express’s tremendous attributes with cagey female characters and perspective, so strong an appeal, ultimately lead to a glaring letdown at the end of the film. Understood is how Lily is madly in love with Donald and the physical tension they share throughout the film is palpable and noticeable.  She is willing to agree to go with the film’s villain, the dastardly Chang (Warner Oland) to his palace, presumably for sex or to become his kept woman, all in the name of her love for Donald. Lily and Donald find their way to a strong embrace as the film ends but this feels contrived given the immense other qualities.

Lovely is having the experience of viewing a film not too distant from celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary and noticing aspects highly influential to other films. Thanks to a fantastic performance by Dietrich and cleverly written characters the film is a high achievement and should be exposed to young film fans studying in film school as evidence of an early treasure. Shanghai Express (1932) is a cinematic success peppered with complexities and voracious theater.

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh Lucy!-2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Japanese culture meets American culture is the underlying component of Oh Lucy! (2017), an interesting dark comedy and the feature film debut from female director Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film was once a short but progressed into a full-length project, deservedly receiving Film Independent nominations for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature. The co-settings of Tokyo and Los Angeles and the tremendous performance by star Shinobu Terajima make this a worthy watch.

Middle-aged Setsuko (Terajima) lives an unfulfilled daily existence in Tokyo, working a drab office job and living in a cluttered one- bedroom apartment riddled with comforting junk. She wears a protective mouth cover, common in her city, to avoid breathing in bad air, but also chain smokes. She is unpopular at work and wishes to date more but is unlucky in love. One day she is convinced by her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) to take English lessons and falls for her handsome instructor John (Josh Hartnett), who nicknames her “Lucy” making her don a blonde wig and talk “American”. A fellow classmate, “Tom” (Koji Yakusho) seems interested in “Lucy”.

When Mika runs off with John to Los Angeles prompting Setsuko and her bitchy sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow suit concerned for her safety, adventure begins. Setsuko and Mika both jockey for position with John, her vacation from her dreary job and her growing obsession with him energizing her, as a rivalry between Setsuko and Ayako hits full throttle. Setsuko begins to exhibit bizarre and unbecoming behavior.

The film delves into an interesting characteristic among Japanese females; rivalry, as the subject matter is heavily female centered in nature. The trio of Setsuko, Ayako, and Mika are family, and love each other unconditionally, but do they like each other? Immediately we are made aware that long-ago Setsuko stole Ayako’s boyfriend, or so she claims. Eventually Setsuko tries to steal Ayako’s man, so there is reoccurring conflict between each of the women. Ayako has a rebellious streak, we assume just like Setsuko did at her age.

Despite the triangle/quadrangle of drama and issues, the main story and focal point belongs to Setsuko and her infatuation with John. From the first moment they embrace, as part of a teacher and student dynamic, Setsuko is hooked, longingly remaining in his arms until he insists she let go. This is a key moment an intrigue looms- does she feel more comfortable and confident with her blonde wig and new persona? Does this give her courage and the guts to flee her boring life for a chance at love in Los Angeles?

John clearly loves Mika, or more importantly, he has no feelings for Setsuko, despite her best efforts. In a pivotal and hilarious scene, John and Setsuko smoke marijuana as he teaches her how to drive in a deserted parking lot. As they feel the effects of the drug, Setsuko comes on to John and before he knows it they have sex. This only deepens her obsession with him as she decides to get the same tattoo as he has. He realizes she may not be stable as the audience, still enamored with the character, becomes to pity her.

Hirayanagi is careful not to make her film a downer and she does an amazing job in that regard. When Setsuko returns to her meager existence in Tokyo she is unceremoniously fired from the job she despises but has held for decades. Is she devastated or liberated? Perhaps a bit of each, but she has reached her breaking point and succumbs to sadness, longing for John. Fortunately, a surprise appearance by an unexpected character uplifts her spirits and the entire film.

Oh Lucy! (2017) is a great example of an independent film from an inexperienced director that is laden with good qualities. A wounded main character who is sympathetic to viewers leads a dynamic story of loneliness, melancholia, but also with witty dialogue and crackling humor, and a multi-cultural approach. A hybrid Japanese and American film with location sequences in both areas, the film will satisfy those seeking an intelligent, quick-witted experience.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Scott’s Review #911

Reviewed June 17, 2019

Grade: A

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical. But wait there’s more. The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.

The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over the course of six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story. Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.

Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Mark Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made. An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.

To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature. To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, each line of the film is sung.

Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period. Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.

The story is unequivocally a basic one of girl meets boy, boy is drafted into the army, girl becomes pregnant, girl meets another suitor, boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece. Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.

The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention. Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is both concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.

The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own. With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry. The reoccurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.

For those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat. With French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing of all that is good and cultured about French film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.

12 Angry Men-1957

12 Angry Men-1957

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb

Scott’s Review #910

Reviewed June 14, 2019

Grade: A

A fond memory of Junior High School was reading the play and then being treated to a viewing of the film version of 12 Angry Men (1957), a bristling and suffocating film that infuses progressive thought and thinking for oneself in the face of animosity. A valuable lesson for a teenager to learn, or anyone else for that matter, the film is an important one, providing life lessons and tremendous drama holding up well and still brimming with texture.

The film begins as the audience is introduced to twelve men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of a defendant based on reasonable doubt. The defendant is an eighteen-year-old Puerto Rican male living in a poor neighborhood, accused of fatally stabbing his father. The witnesses are the lady who lives across the street and an old man. The juror’s instructions are quite clear; if there is any reasonable doubt, they are to return a verdict of not guilty. If found guilty, the accused will receive a death sentence.

Henry Fonda plays Juror # Eight, who initially is the only juror to vote “not guilty” when the others assuredly vote “guilty”. He adamantly questions how reliable the two witnesses are and disagrees with the argument that the knife used in the death is an obscure brand as he produces an identical knife of his own. Juror # Eight can convince one juror to change his vote allowing discussions and analysis to reconvene much to the chagrin of a few of the men, especially Juror # 3 (Lee J. Cobb), the main antagonist.

Director Sidney Lumet provides dynamic atmosphere in his debut film with astounding results. The black and white cinematography is brilliantly mixed with the humidity of a scorching New York summer day as the one set used is claustrophobic, bringing the audience into the action and suffocating along with the men. As tensions mount and one juror attempts to kill another juror out of rage, a thunderstorm erupts outside, breaking the heat and changing the momentum in the jury room as the tide slowly turns in a different direction.

The story is wonderfully written as each juror’s backstory is slowly revealed providing insight as to why each man may think the way he does, or perhaps has preconceived notions about the accused instead of giving him a fair shake. Juror #3 is a bully who is estranged from his own son, while Juror # 7 mistrusts “foreigners”. Some of the others “go with the flow”, intimidated by conflicts and afraid to ruffle feathers.

12 Angry Man teaches a lesson of utmost importance; the power of change against all odds. By standing by his convictions, Juror # 8 is slowly able to influence each of the other jurors into seeing what they were either unable to see or refused to see. He forces them to question their morals and values. By the time the film has concluded the audience is smacked across the face with tremendous impact perhaps questioning their own views. This is an example of the power of cinema.

Just like the stage version, the plot requires the audience to think and determine along with the characters, the power of reason and strong dialogue. The fact that all the jurors are white males is never lost on me, but neither does it detract from my enjoyment. This is how things were done decades ago. Fonda is brilliant in the lead role and as charismatic as he has ever been in film.

12 Angry Men (1957) is a timeless story told and retold wonderfully on the live stage. Lumet brings the production to the big screen in a powerful and effective way by using cinematic elements to produce the proper emotions from his audience. The film holds up very well as sadly many of the stereotypes and beliefs that the jurors possess are still held by many Americans to this day. On the more positive scale, people with strong and empathetic wills, like Juror # 8 also exist and unquestionably influence more than they lose.

Midnight Lace-1960

Midnight Lace-1960

Director-David Miller

Starring-Doris Day, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #909

Reviewed June 13, 2019

Grade: B+

Midnight Lace (1960) is a straight forward psychological thriller made during a period in cinematic history when the genre was beginning to garner more popularity. The film was clearly influenced by the Alfred Hitchcock craze which was front and center at this time, and a robust departure for its lead, Doris Day, who until this time was mostly nestled securely in the romantic comedy domain. The film is a good watch and a challenging role for Day, who proves she has the acting chops to carry the film.

Day portrays Kit, an American heiress, newly married to British financier Tony (Rex Harrison), residing together in London. When she is terrorized by an odd voice in a London park one misty night, her panic is dismissed as rubbish and pranksters having their way with her. When the threats return and escalate by way of telephone calls, Tony alerts the authorities who question whether Kit may be imagining things or creating a panic to gain the attention of her husband. Tony, in turn, begins to ask the same questions.

Day, an American sweetheart and forever good girl, was brave to tackle a role that was left of center for her. Despite her fine acting and impressive range during scenes of peril though, Doris Day is still Doris Day, and it is tough to shake the image of her playing herself. Attractive, Day is not the sexpot type, so a few scenes of her being flirty by attempting to seduce Tony with sexy nighties do not work so well. To be fair, Day has never looked lovelier than she does in this picture.

The plot rolls along at a quick pace with wonderful glossy production values and I never found myself tuning out or wondering when the film would end. The drama heightens minute by minute turning into a whodunit while the film wisely never disqualifies the question of whether Kit could be staging the shenanigans herself.

Did she fall into a bus or was she pushed? Why did she hire someone to call her? Is the menacing voice disguised? The questions become more frequent as the film progresses which is what good thrillers should do. I was able to figure out only half of the big reveal, but the other half caught me off guard so that the finale was climactic and satisfying.

The film belongs to Day, but the additions of Harrison and the legendary Myrna Loy add class and flavor to a film that could have been dismissed as only cliched in lesser hands. Harrison is effective as the concerned but stoic husband and the audience is made to wonder if Tony has something to do with Kit’s stalking or if he is a caring man. Does the sub plot of a discovered embezzler in Tony’s company have anything to do with it? If so, how are the stories connected?

Handsome John Gavin, a Rock Hudson type who was made famous for Psycho (1960) is a handsome addition as contractor Brian, the man showing up at the right time to save Kit making him a prime suspect. Loy plays Kit’s Aunt Bea, who comes to town for a visit; the part is nothing special but it’s lovely to see the actress in whatever role she tackles. Finally, Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowell) adds drama as a money hungry man, and son of Kit’s maid. Characters are added to the story as potential suspects.

The viewer is treated to their share of exterior shots of London which provides the film with enough British flavor to almost forget that Day is American. With the additions of Scotland Yard and an Inspector, the British culture is firmly placed, adding a wonderful British element. Tony and Kit are rich, so their lavish home and exclusive neighborhood are placed on display in a fine way.

The title of the film, represented during a cute scene when Kit seductively holds up a sexy outfit she has purchased for Tony, seems straight out of the 1980’s slick television movie thriller genre, and primed for the lifetime television network. This is not a criticism because the title works well and holds a tantalizing darkness.

Midnight Lace (1960) is a nearly forgotten piece of film that is a fine watch and a nice tribute to the talents of Doris Day, who makes the film her own and is the main reason to watch. Though she does not sing or play the girl next door, she does turn in an above average performance, showing her range as an actress. The rest of the film’s trimmings, especially the locale and the supporting actors are additions beneficial to the viewing pleasure the film possesses.

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

Welcome to my blog! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!