Show Boat-1951

Show Boat-1951

Director-George Sidney

Starring-Ava Gardner, Robert Sterling, Kathryn Grayson

Scott’s Review #1,177

Reviewed September 14, 2021

Grade: A-

Show Boat (1951) is a liberal-slanted musical centering around racism. It mixes comedy and drama well while remembering it is meant to entertain audiences. But it never loses sight of the important message it’s portraying.

Ava Gardner, who stars, never looked more beautiful.

The picture is based on the 1927 stage musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and the 1926 novel by Edna Ferber. The vibrant colors and sentimental songs combined with a very southern flair make it a winner.

In fact, Kern and Hammerstein provide the score for this adaptation of their Broadway hit which adds oodles of authenticity.

My favorite song is the devastatingly poignant and haunting tune, “Ol’ Man River” which is reprised at the end of Show Boat.

Julie LaVerne (Gardner) and Steve Baker (Sterling) are successfully married entertainers who are forced to leave the showboat Cotton Blossom when it becomes known that Julie is of mixed race. Meanwhile, the captain’s daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) and gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) take over the act, fall in love, marry and leave the boat for Chicago.

There, they live off his gambling earnings, which dry up fast. The ending of the film is not happy.

I love the tone of the film. It is a very big budget production and it shows. Each number is belted out with gusto at the risk of feeling too uptight or stagey but regardless I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The grandness of the numbers was what got me and never so evident is it with Julie’s big number “Bill”, a very emotional song.

Her other famous number, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” isn’t so bad either.

In a perfect world the powers that be would have cast a black actress for authenticity’s sake. Someone like Dorothy Dandridge comes to mind and as wonderful as Gardner is this point gnawed at me throughout. The actress is clearly caucasian though it could almost be the belief that she is of mixed race.

Nonetheless, Gardner also doesn’t sing her own songs. Instead, they are sung by Annette Warren. I’m betting this is why she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

But, Show Boat isn’t all about Gardner. Showcasing a spectacular cast of black and white actors leads like Grayson and Keel are fabulous. I cared about their character’s trials and tribulations the most and ruminated how much I found Grayson to resemble legendary Judy Garland.

Supporting players like William Warfield as Joe simply must be mentioned. His rendition of “Ol’ Man River” moved me. A bass-baritone singer and actor he makes the number quite simply and by far the best moment, both musically and pictorially, in the film.

I could watch this scene on replay.

And Agnes Moorehead as Parthy Hawks or the resident bitch provides delicious comedy, intended or unintended.

Some are critical that the 1936 film version is superior and provides a grittier feel and I am conscious of that. I’ve never seen it but the 1951 version does have that Technicolor grandness. Maybe I’ll check it out for a one-day comparison.

For now, for a slice of southern flavored showboatin’ check out Show Boat (1951). With a summery flavor, dancing, and superior photography, it is a good old time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Director-Shaka King

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,176

Reviewed September 9, 2021

Grade: B+

I really wanted to love Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). I still champion the importance of the story, however, and the timeliness of its release. The film has some moments of glory where a bombastic scene occurs that immediately reigns the viewer back into the fold. But other parts drag and feel fragmented or otherwise confusing so much so that the film bored me sometimes and I hate admitting that.

I teetered back and forth between a B+ grade and a B grade and, perhaps channeling my political side, I finally settled on a very generous B+ determination. Before I watched the film I would have bet on an A or an A-. Alas, it was not to be.

That the film was made and exposed a mass audience to the trials and tribulations of the late 1960s Chicago racial tensions that helped created the Black Panthers organization is of course a huge win.

But, I wanted more. Much more.

A major gripe is that the song from the film and winner of the Best Original Song Oscar only appears over the end credits and has nothing to do with the film. Having a tacked-on feel, the song, performed by H.E.R. and others is not particularly memorable either.

The title is “Fight for You”, possessing images of battle and courage which fits the theme of the film but the song itself is quite lackluster.

The plotline is a challenge to follow but goes something like this. The FBI ropes small-time Chicago thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) into infiltrating the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

At first, O’Neal enjoys the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his FBI main contact, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Plemons). Hampton’s political power grows as he falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). To complicate matters she becomes pregnant.

Meanwhile, O’Neal becomes conflicted. Does he align with The Panthers and where his heart lies or thwart Hampton’s efforts by any means necessary, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?

The acting is fantastic and along with the message is the best part of the film. Justified controversy ensued over the placement of Kaluuya and Stanfield in the Supporting Actor category at the Oscars- both received nominations and Kaluuya was victorious.

It’s obvious to me that Stanfield is the lead character so it’s a shame he wasn’t awarded a Best Actor nomination. With Chadwick Boseman positioned to be the clear winner for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) and shockingly losing to Anthony Hopkins for The Father (2020) was the thought that another black actor in the category might ruin Boseman’s chances?

We’ll probably never know.

Kaluuya and Stanfield are both mesmerizing and I am looking forward to their subsequent projects, especially Kaluuya who I fell in love with after his turn in Get Out (2017).

A heavily made-up Martin Sheen is a treat to see in a woefully too-small role as J. Edgar Hoover.

The rest of the film is pretty good. The climax is thrilling and almost bumped the film up a grade for me. Without giving too much away it involves a bloody shoot-out and real-life interview and highlight footage. I love the reality the latter provides.

But then I remembered the snail’s pace it took to get to this point and how the other good scenes paled in comparison with a plodding pace.

I adored the characters and fell in love with the sweet though the doomed romance between Hampton and Deborah. I yearned for them to live happily ever even after my hunch told me this was not in the cards for them. My hunch was right.

The intent was to make the audience outraged at the unfairness people of color endured in the late 1960s.  I was angrier still at the realization that they are still being treated unfairly in the time of George Floyd and others.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) get hands down major praise for the intent and acting but disappoints as far as delivery and final product. It is not equal to the sum of all its parts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Daniel Kaluuya (won), Lakeith Stanfield, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Fight for You” (won)

Deathdream-1972

Deathdream-1972

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynn Carlin

Scott’s Review #1,175

Reviewed September 3, 2021

Grade: B+

Deathdream (also known in some circles as Dead of Night) is a 1972 horror offering directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby that plays out like a very good science-fiction meets gruesome horror type of The Twilight Zone episode.

This is not to say it’s amateurish though in certain ways it is and mostly just it’s that the dialogue is spotty. Rather, it has the feel of an episodic adventure more than an actual film. This makes perfect sense since it was inspired by the W. W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw”.

The film was shot in a town named Brooksville, Florida which is unusual in itself and provides a genuine southern quality like when the family sits down for a hearty meal.

Usually, horror films stick to Hollywood studio locales or cheaper areas like Canada to film.

Deathdream stars Richard Backus, John Marley, and Lynn Carlin.

The premise immediately intrigues me. A middle-aged married couple, Charles and Christine,  (Marley and Carlin) receives the devastating news that their son Andy (Backus) has died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. They’re overcome with grief, to say the least. Before the news, Christine seems overly chatty and a bit peculiar while Charles is much older than his wife.

Soon after, Andy, very much alive, hitches a ride with a truck driver whom he then murders. He arrives home and is clearly not the same, seeming to be zombie-like and in a trance, not the same boy who left for Vietnam a year earlier.

As a classic film lover, I was immediately tickled pink by actor John Marley’s appearance onscreen. Associated with Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972) with the latter forever etched in my memory as the film director who is made “an offer he can’t refuse” by way of his gorgeous horse Khartoum, it was a treat to see him in a horror film.

I noticed facets of Deathdream that reminded me of one of my favorite horror films, Black Christmas (1974) not realizing that they were both directed by Bob Clark himself. Deathdream serves as the perfect opening act to that most influential horror film.

An organ/synthesizer effect immediately caught my ear with more than a tad of fright. I instantly recognized it as the spooky noise emitting from the Black Christmas musical score. And both use a rocking chair prop with fantastic results. The creaking sound brought chills up and down my spine.

Can you believe this guy also made Porky’s (1981) and A Christmas Story (1983)? Talk about versatility.

It’s clear the film was made on a shoestring budget but proves in a mighty form that, similar to British Hammer horror pictures, creativity can ooze out of a small budget. Terrific is what the crew does with the special effects. Instead of cheesy or campy they are thrilling.

The story could be construed as silly or ridiculous. Andy is some kind of vampire or zombie who needs the blood of others to reinvigorate his decaying body which on paper makes little sense. The only reason he comes back from the dead (we see him killed in combat on-screen) is because he promised his mother he’d return home.

Beyond that, under the surface is a message about the war that I found powerful and that usurped the horror genre where the film lies. It’s not just another horror film- it has deeper subtext.

Though Clark is never overt about it, Andy obviously suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, something not yet realized in the early 1970s and certainly not talked about. Clark’s message is clear.  Andy is a young man whose life has been ruined unnecessarily.

Despite being a film aficionado I had not heard of Deathdream (1972) until quite recently. It’s an overlooked gem like so many others in the horror genre, but this one can be appreciated by horror fans, fans of message films, and those looking for a good scare.

It deserves some love.

O Lucky Man!-1973

O Lucky Man! -1973

Director-Lindsay Anderson

Starring-Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,174

Reviewed September 1, 2021

Grade: A-

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a satirical black comedy that mixes musical songs with a message of capitalism by the driven protagonist. Like a great fine wine, the film has aged well and is still relevant decades later. The film is a slow build but by the end of the lengthy running time of nearly three hours, I was enamored and hummed the title song repeatedly.

In fact, I’m still humming it as I write this review.

Suggested is to watch O Lucky Man! in two or three segments for full appreciation. One sitting would be incredibly tough since some of the events require some level of reflection and thought.

An ambitious young British man, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is determined to be successful at all costs. Debuting as a coffee salesman, Mick is quickly promoted within his company. Events take a series of bizarre turns when Mick is abducted by a military agency.

Later, he becomes smitten with the gorgeous Patricia (Helen Mirren) and winds up working for her father, sinister executive Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). As Mick’s tale continues, his experiences get progressively stranger.

The clever aspect is that just when you think Mick’s life is dour and drab he rebounds more successful than ever. Hence the title of the film. So, there is an element of adventure and romance amid the capitalist plot.

Lindsay Anderson, who directed O Lucky Man! re-casts McDowell again in the same role he first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson’s film If… (1968). I did not realize this at the time I watched O Lucky Man! and I think this knowledge would have made me catch on to the events and the sub texture even more.

Now, I need to rewatch If…

I did however ruminate constantly on McDowell’s other iconic role in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex. The characters are quite similar save for Alex being a juvenile delinquent instead of a rising corporate guy like Mick is. This is in large part due to McDowell’s looks and acting style. His trademark sneer and bright blue eyes make him mesmerizing in both roles.

I even spotted an actor who played one of the infamous droogs!

A plus to the film is that several actors appear in multiple roles, some difficult to distinguish. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who’s who.

There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between McDowell and Mirren but it’s interesting the shifting characteristics of the characters. And Patricia is fascinating. When she inquires why people work so hard for things instead of just taking them we realize that she places no value in things because she’s never had to work for them. She’s a rich, daddy’s girl.

There are reasons not to like her but I still did. When she winds up in a homeless lot it’s shocking. And I also loved the character of Mick and his epic journey. He is imprisoned and then reformed in a humanistic way just like Alex was in A Clockwork Orange.

But the best part of O Lucky Man! is absolutely the music. Anderson takes periodic breaks from the drama to simply treat his audience to a musical number all performed by Alan Price. It’s comforting to sit back and enjoy the unforgettable tunes that pepper the film. One could argue that the songs almost usurp the main action but I found them, great companions, to the other.

As if there was any doubt, the soundtrack was widely lauded and was a huge financial success.

A surreal effort, sometimes happy or tragic but always insightful and oftentimes delightful, McDowell, Price, and Anderson are at the top of their respective games. O Lucky Man! (1973) is a terrific watch brimming with good juices if one just has the patience to let events marinate.

Hot Summer-1968

Hot Summer-1968

Director-Joachim Hasler

Starring-Chris Doerk, Frank Schobel

Scott’s Review #1,173

Reviewed August 27, 2021

Grade: B

One of the strangest films I’ve ever watched Hot Summer (1968) deserves enormous accolades for even being filmed, produced, and in existence. You see, it’s the only film (that I know of) to come out of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989 and unity garnered. This is astounding in itself despite some warts the film contains.

The starkness and seriousness that envelope the German stereotype is shattered by the bubblegum musical nature of the film. This is an oddity in itself.

It’s clearly patterned after the trite, summery United States beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s when teenage characters flocked to the sandy beaches looking for romance with their contemporaries. In this film, they do so within song and dance numbers led by two East German pop idols of the time, Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel.

The genre of the film pretty much sucks and is not at all my favorite style of film but Hot Summer contains a liberal helping of sun, perfect smiles, and beach bodies to keep viewers at least interested.

The acting is not great nor is it expected to be.

As goofy as possible the musical comedy follows a group of teenage girls heading to the Baltic coast together for their summer vacation. Naturally, they wind up meeting a similar group of amorous teenage guys, giving way to quarrels and flirtatious competitions that are played out in lively song-and-dance numbers as the individuals hook up with each other.

Despite that the film was made during the Cold War period there are no political or like messages to be found which surprised me. If there were any subliminal intentions related to this, like the groups sticking together, they didn’t register with me. I think this is a positive. Hot Summer is pure summer fun- nothing more and nothing less.

The songs are a major win and rather hummable especially the title track. It stuck in my head for some time after the film had ended. One character performs a lovely ballad amid a campfire that is quite beautiful and incredibly atmospheric.

The numbers are professional largely because real-life pop stars Doerk and Schobel do the bulk of them.

Still, Hot Summer has a couple of negatives to mention. Why the decision was made to pattern a film, especially one as groundbreaking as being the sole East German film during the Cold War, by using a subject matter as hokey as the summer beach theme is beyond me? Certainly, better genres exist to borrow from.

My hunch is that Joachim Hasler, who directed the film, desired a release from the bleakness of his own culture and saw America as the land of freedom and fun.

The choreography is a bit stiff, if not downright amateurish which adds to the bizarre nature of the overall product. Certainly nothing like the exceptional choreography of say Oklahoma (1955) or West Side Story (1961) instead we get rigid dance numbers.

Kudos to the film for being made at all Hot Summer (1968) is hardly a great film but it does hold the viewer’s interest. It contains enough fun and frolics and good-looking young people to avoid being a snore.

Soul-2020

Soul-2020

Director-Pete Docter

Voices-Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey

Scott’s Review #1,172

Reviewed August 18, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s quite reassuring when a magical animated feature comes down the pike. Too often, the mainstream multiplex summer offerings are trite or too ‘kiddish’ for my tastes. Soul (2020) is creative, colorful, sentimental, with a terrific musical score composed by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).

The writing is fresh and inventive with gorgeous animation that feels magical. I did not see the film on the big screen and bet it would have made the experience even more delightful.

Soul is not too dark nor is it too trivial. It contains the perfect balance of humanism, darkness, and hope. In fact, the title can be construed with a double meaning. Based on the musical angle, the lead character is a piano player, the soul could mean rhythm, but I’m only half right. An out-of-body or celestial experience and the essence of a living being are also part of his soul.

While watching the film I kept ruminating over how lovely and inspirational a film like Soul is during a crushing pandemic. It has heart and magic.

Unfulfilled music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finally lands the gig of a lifetime at the best jazz club in town supporting legendary Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). But his excitement gets the best of him and he stumbles into a manhole on a New York City street.

Lying comatose, Joe enters a fantastical place: The Great Before. There, he teams up with soul 22 (Tina Fey), and together they find the answers to some of life’s biggest questions while embarking on a journey in the switched bodies of Joe and a therapy cat.

Set in the massive Big Apple itself the film offers so much hustle, bustle, and life. I adored the setting. The smokey jazz club with sultry set design and creative music made me immersed in the wonderful surroundings.

The story itself slightly confused me when Joe arrives in the “Great Beyond” as a soul. Assuming this meant death I was relieved when he backtracked to the “Great Before” and met with counselors all named Jerry. The counselors, I realized, prepare unborn souls for life with the help of mentor souls. This didn’t grip me as much as other characteristics of the film.

Foxx and Fey are fine doing the voices for Joe and 22 respectively but they are not the highlight either. I never really thought of either of them throughout the duration. There were better aspects to focus on.

Disney/Pixar featuring a black central character is worthy of mention and it is about time. Obviously, Joe’s family is black adding a wonderful mother figure and supporting characters of ethnicity to the fold.

The music, the music, the music! This makes Soul as good a film as it is. Trent Reznor’s collaboration alone made me eager to see it. His creative use of keyboards and partnership with fellow Nine Inch Nails bandmate Atticus Ross provides proper ambiance to the metaphysical sequences. A hallucinogenic trance-like musical beat is unique and trippy.

Younger children may be perplexed or bewildered by much of the activity so I’m not sure I’d recommend that demographic but music fans and admirers of rich stories with a subtext of life will enjoy the experience and subsequent message that Soul (2020) provides.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound

Jack and Jill-2011

Jack and Jill-2011

Director-Dennis Dugan

Starring-Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes

Scott’s Review #1,171

Reviewed August 16, 2021

Grade: F

Typically, an actor playing a dual role is a challenging and rewarding experience for the actor and leads to accolades for a challenge well met. While Adam Sandler may have been challenged, it’s the audience who suffers tremendously. I can think of no redeeming qualities to mention during this review.

Anyone who watches Jack and Jill (2011) will be made to ache for the duration of the running time or either scramble for the theater exit or pound the stop button on the remote control.

Jack and Jill (2011) is the worst film Sandler has ever made with a screeching over-the-top performance and terrible writing. The additions of New York and Jewish stereotypes and every other stereotype in the book meant for laughs instead exude annoyance and disrespect.

To make matters worse, Al Pacino appears in a supporting role well beneath him and plays himself. And reaching an assured low, the actor is forced to rap. How embarrassing for him. Poor Katie Holmes has little to do since she is trapped in the one-dimensional ‘wife role’.

Bad decision-making by writers, producers, actors. Perhaps the makeup people enjoyed themselves.

To be fair, the premise offers the possibility that the film could be hysterical or at least partially amusing. Well-known actors dressing in drag and put in uncompromisingly awkward situations is nothing new and has been met with success. Some Like it Hot (1959) and Tootsie (1982) are classics resulting in kudos for Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Dustin Hoffman respectively.

The main issue with Jack and Jill is that the writing stinks.

Never a fan of the Sandler and director Dennis Dugan slapstick collaborations let’s hope this drivel led to better acting choices for the actor. He would later star in the superb Uncut Gems (2019) and miss out on an Oscar nomination by a whisker. I hope nobody saw Jack and Jill and revoked a vote for Sandler though I couldn’t blame them if they did.

Let’s hope Sandler learned his lesson with this film. He must have since his films vastly improved after this one.

Los Angeles advertising executive Jack (Adam Sandler) dreads the Thanksgiving holiday because his overbearing twin sister, Jill (also played by Sandler), makes her annual visit from New York City. When Jack and his sister immediately butt heads Jack feels guilty and the only way to make it right is to invite her to stay through Hanukkah.

When actor Al Pacino (Al Pacino), whom Jack desperately needs to star in a commercial, becomes smitten with Jill, Jack may be forced to extend his sister’s visit even longer to get what he wants. Jack’s gardener, Felipe (Eugenio Derbez) also takes a shine to Jill.

Everything about the film is pretty bad but let’s point out the highlights…..or lowlights.

Sandler plays Jill as obnoxiously as possible and in predictable form, Jack must disguise himself as Jill. Gee, I never saw that coming. Why any man, let alone two (Al and Felipe), would become enamored with her is beyond me. Jack’s wife Erin (Holmes) and kids are as cookie-cutter as imaginable and possess every ‘neat and clean’ characteristic in the books. They are as white bread as wonder bread.

To match the stereotypes why does Felipe have to be Mexican? It’s as if Dugan and Sandler (who co-wrote the screenplay) wanted every cliche imaginable.

Jill conquers Los Angeles with appearances on The Price is Right, attendance at a Lakers game, and a cruise.  The conclusion of the film, after a myriad of expected misunderstandings between Jack and Jill, and Jill and Al, results in a silly New Years’ Eve high school reunion back in New York with classmates and bullies.

To confirm how bad Jack and Jill (2011) is at the 32nd Golden Raspberry Awards, it won all categories, a first in the thirty-two-year history of the annual parody event.

This is a film to be buried six feet under.

A Quiet Place Part II-2021

A Quiet Place Part II-2021

Director-John Krasinski

Starring-Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Scott’s Review #1,170

Reviewed August 12, 2021

Grade: B+

A Quiet Place Part II (2021) makes excellent use of sound, almost a character in itself, by featuring a deaf character and aliens who are blind and use only their acute sense of hearing to stalk and annihilate their prey.

The big sounds and the deafening silences keep the film fresh, capitalizing on its novel approach.

The film is both a sequel and a prequel that presumably allows director, writer, and actor John Krasinski the chance to reprise his ill-fated character offering a neat timeline to the events of the first film, A Quiet Place (2018).

Since that film was an enormous success a sequel was green-lit by the studio almost immediately. It offered Krasinski a great deal of freedom which he runs within this offering.

I can’t say the plot exactly comes together as tidy as I hoped and there is no explanation for the alien’s actions or motivations- what is it they want and where do they come from? The lack of explanation gnawed at me. After all, they must have been created from somewhere. The lack of motivation of a horror character like Michael Meyers is understandable but aliens?

The film is raised quite a bit above average thanks to a thrilling and fascinating opening sequence. This lengthy scene was astonishing with differing character points of view, meticulous filmmaking, and frights galore. Plus the appearance of Lee (Krasinski) killed in the first film immediately drowns us in intrigue.

I wish the rest of the film had remained as breathtaking but it’s not bad either. As a northeasterner, I was treated to some of the action taking place on a dilapidated metro-north railway train. Any commuter will appreciate this nod.

And who doesn’t enjoy numerous shots of Emily Blunt playing bad-ass with a loaded shotgun? The talented actress and wife of Krasinski add credibility to the horror genre.

I know someone who saw A Quiet Place Part II without seeing A Quiet Place and enjoyed it nonetheless but I think it’s helpful to know the material to appreciate the first scene.

We begin on Day one and the Abbott family-husband, wife, and three children, enjoy a little league game on a summer afternoon. When suddenly a cloud-like object plummets to Earth, all hell breaks loose and the town is in a terrified flee as aliens destroy all in their paths.

This plot point is interesting since viewers will know that two of the family members will not survive very long.

A year later the Abbott family-Evelyn (Blunt), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn must leave their farm with a calculated plan to reach safety. They realize through a never-ending song played on the radio that there is a sanctuary on a nearby island.

Clever Regan, who is deaf, can combine a microphone with her cochlear implant to kill the aliens.

Young actress Simmonds is quite a find and along with Jupe emerges as the star of the film. The teenagers spent much time on the run and battling the aliens. Setting events up for another sequel Kransinki and Blunt may want less to do with follow-ups.

Deaf in real life she is the standout and supports a female empowerment slant especially while possessing a disability. She is a unique character because she is unconventional-looking and authentic, lacking the typical characteristics that attempt to get moviegoers into theaters. She is my favorite character.

Geography is an issue here. Presumed to be upstate New York and shot in western New York, possibly the Utica area, the sanctuary is in Long Island Sound off the coast of Stamford, Connecticut. This would require the Abbots to travel hundreds of miles but the film makes it seem that both areas are neighboring. This mistake may not be noticed by most but since I live in the area it’s apparent.

A Quiet Place Part II feels reminiscent of the television series The Walking Dead. The additions of the family traversing the countryside, a sanctuary, and ravage humans all support this comparison.

There are some predictable plot points to endure that prevent it from straying too far from the fray but A Quiet Place Part II (2021) also offers a film about the senses that still feels unique. By part III this may become redundant but John Krasinski proves he can make a compelling sequence with enough suspense to keep his viewers engaged.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Director-Stephen Chiodo

Starring-Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder

Scott’s Review #1,169

Reviewed August 6, 2021

Grade: B-

A film surely only meant to be viewed late at night and/or in a hallucinated or otherwise drugged state for maximum pleasure, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is not to be taken seriously.

It does contain great imagination.

It’s kind of a take-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with a wretched 1980’s look. It’s a fun film but as odd and pointless as they come. There is no explanation offered for the villain’s behavior nor is one really necessary. There is also no political message or motivation.

It’s like someone thought of the weirdest possible gimmick and made a film about it.

For a horror film, the body count is very high but there is little gore. Unsurprisingly, it has found a permanent home in the genre cult classic category, forever to be dusted off when in need of the wacky or absurd.

Teenage lovebirds Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a comet crash outside their quiet, small-town one late night. They investigate and discover a pack of murderous aliens who look exactly like circus clowns. When they do the right thing and warn the local authorities, everyone assumes their story is a prank.

Meanwhile, the clowns attempt to harvest and eat as many people as they can. When they kidnap Debbie, Mike decides to set out himself to rescue her and stop the bloody rampage. This leads to an epic battle between Mike and his friends and the clowns.

The Chiodo Brothers, who wrote and directed Killer Klowns from Outer Space, are primarily known for special effects, stop motion, and clay modeling and the film uses these techniques heavily. The wonky and lumbering clowns possess sinister smiles and quirky cotton candy cocoons to keep their prey.

Hardly are they directorial or screenplay masters so the film feels extremely experimental in many regards. The storyline is basic and the villains have only one modus operandi. The character development is nill and the acting poor.

Is anyone surprised?

The key to the enjoyment of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is that it knows it is a B-movie and embraces the classification. Avoiding all seriousness is arguably what makes it a marginal success. One can sit back and laugh at it as one would rib an old friend. It is acceptable to both parties.

The clowns, or Klowns, are the real star of the film. It’s fun to view these odd creatures and admire their costumes. This is the creativity of the film coming out and the Chiodo Brothers are masterful at this. One part scary and one part goofy their lavish costumes are bright and colorful. The creatures themselves are ugly as sin, big and lumbering.

Predictably, the film writes the supporting characters as stereotypical as possible, and maybe that’s the fun in it all. Farmer Gene Green (cool name!) believes Halley’s comet is the strange glowing object falling to earth. He and his dog are quickly harvested. The police officers are curmudgeons and disbelieving of the teenagers. Various friends of Mike and Debbie are cast as one would think for a horror film.

The final climax is the best part of the film when an ice cream truck is used as a weapon against the clowns until a myriad of pies starts falling from the skies. Anyone watching the film while stoned would gleefully laugh.

Recommended for the adventurous cinema lover who wants to delve into the bizarre, late-night campy horror territory. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is mesmerizing in its absurdity and harkens back to 1950s science fiction.

The Omega Man-1971

The Omega Man-1971

Director-Boris Sagal

Starring-Charlton Heston, Rosalind Cash

Scott’s Review #1,168

Reviewed August 2, 2021

Grade: B

Watching a film in 2021 about a global pandemic that was made in 1971 conjures many interesting nuances and comparisons and brings fresh relevance to the story. Throw in vaccinated versus non-vaccinated debate and the similarities are downright eerie.

Given this relevance, I wish that I had found The Omega Man (1971) more engaging than I did. It’s not a bad watch and delivers a very progressive interracial romance and cool exterior scenes of downtown Los Angeles but the story doesn’t live up to the potential that the premise would suggest.

I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, who stars, in two of his other science fiction roles- Planet of the Apes (1968) and Soylent Green (1973), also directed by Omega Man director, Boris Sagal. Planet of the Apes is of course a classic.

In the first scene, Robert Neville (Heston) wanders the streets of Los Angeles. We quickly surmise that he is the last man left on earth. Armed with an experimental vaccine for the disease that’s turned everyone into light-averse zombies, he fights a biological war, roaming the empty streets by day and fights off the mutated creatures at night.

The premise immediately reminded me of a famous Twilight Zone episode.

On paper, the storyline sounds fascinating with many possible directions it could go in and nuances to explore. Sadly, the direction that Sagal chooses to go in feels lackluster and dull.

Neville hunts and kills as many members of “the Family”, a cult of plague victims who were turned into nocturnal albino mutants as he can. The Family in turn seeks to destroy all technology and kill Neville, who has become a symbol of the science they blame for humanity’s downfall.

They basically try to kill each other but “the Family’s” motivations and reasoning make little sense. If they destroy technology what will they do? And why not just get the vaccination? These bits may have been explained but I didn’t take notice.

The parallels between the film and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 and perhaps onward are uncanny. Maybe the modern unvaccinated will turn into creepy-looking creatures with pale glowing eyes? One can only hope.

There is also a hokey idea of Neville believing that extending his immunity to others may be possible by creating a serum from his own blood.

I didn’t feel very engaged by the story but I was very interested in the romance between Neville and Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash. Lisa is a black woman who arrives on the scene with her infected and dying brother.

For 1971, having a mainstream interracial romance is a huge win for diversity and inclusion through the film stops short of having the pair consummate their relationship. This is quite conspicuous. There is also not a whole lot of chemistry between Heston and Cash but I was rooting for them anyway. It is thought that their kiss is the first interracial kiss in cinema history.

Suffice it to say the conclusion isn’t very satisfying but I’ll leave it right there to avoid and spoilers.

The science fiction genre is a tough one to tackle. The bar is set pretty high with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) the greatest science fiction film ever made. Too many times the story is hokey or not imaginative enough and that’s what makes The Omega Man lose some points.

Parts are inspiring and parts are goofy but the progressive slant makes The Omega Man (1971) an above par cinema experience. The unexpected parallels to a global situation some fifty years later are remarkable in themselves.

L’Avventura-1960

L’Avventura-1960

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti

Scott’s Review #1,167

Reviewed July 30, 2021

Grade: A

L’Avventura (1960) has a lot in common with the horror masterpiece Psycho (1960), released the same year, although they couldn’t be more opposite on the surface. One is an American horror film by an esteemed British director and the other an Italian art film. What could they possibly have in common?

Forgetting that the former is not at all a horror film, L’Avventura first introduces a character that the audience is certain to be the main character only to pull a switcheroo midstream and make other characters the central protagonists. Think what Janet Leighs Marion Crane was in Psycho to John Garvin and Vera Miles, Sam Loomis and Lila Crane.

Be that as it may, as an interesting if not completely odd comparison, L’Avventura is a brilliant film and not just for the story alone. Black and white cinematography of the grandest kind transplants the film viewer to a fabulous yet haunting island where a good portion of the events occur. Frequent shots of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea and its roaring waves pepper the action.

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic of Italian cinema, two beautiful young women, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna (Léa Massari) join Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), on a boat trip to a remote volcanic island. They plan to spend their time cruising, resting, and relaxing on the Mediterranean. The trio is all good-looking and resides on the outskirts of Rome. They join two wealthy couples and depart on their excursion,

When Anna suddenly goes missing on an island stop, an extensive search is launched. In the meantime, Sandro and Claudia become involved in a romance despite Anna’s disappearance, though the relationship suffers from the guilt and tension brought about by the looming mystery. Their relationship is intriguing based on the roller coaster emotions they face. Their burgeoning romance and Anna’s disappearance overlap.

Assumed to be the focal point of the film Anna eventually serves as more of a ghost character and quickly disappears from the screen. This though me for a loop.

Events do not remain on the island but return to the Italian mainland where Sandro and Claudia continue with their guilt finally becoming convinced Anna might have actually returned!

The brilliant and ambitious thing about L’Avventura is that the film changes course many times. On the surface, it appears a film about a missing girl and friends attempts to locate her. But Antonioni delves into a film about emotions and the meaning of life making the audience go deeper along with the characters.

Eventually, Sandro and Claudia chase a ghost of their own design and plod along unhappy and unfulfilled suffering paranoia.

L’Avventura is all about the characters and the cinematography and each immerses well with the other. Many characters exchange glances with each other that the audience can read into. What was the relationship between Sandro and Claudia before the cruise, if any? What is the back story of Anna and Sandro? And what’s become of Anna? Did she run off and drown or was she murdered?

The camerawork is just stunning, each shot a lovely escapade into another world. Particularly, the yacht cruise and the island sequences are astounding. I love how the characters explore different sections of the island instead of dully standing on the shore or otherwise similar types of shots.

As the title says the point of the film is of adventure and both physical and cerebral adventure.

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning of the film. Isn’t that what great art cinema does? Antonioni also made me consider comparisons to another great art film creator- the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow-2020

The Wolf of Snow Hollow-2020

Director-Jim Cummings

Starring-Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome

Scott’s Review #1,166

Reviewed July 28, 2021

Grade: B

Jim Cummings, who writes, directs, and stars in his self created horror-comedy offering about a killer werewolf, delivers a film named The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) which has sprinklings of both Fargo (1996) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) mixed in with an appropriate amount of comic moments to offset the stark horror.

While the film can be watched and enjoyed any time of year, the snowy drifts and the Christmas and New Year’s seasons are well-positioned for a holiday horror feast. Especially clever is the inclusion of the song Auld Lang Syne during the finale of the film.

The film excels at offering a compelling locale and set trimmings.

To further the point and emphasize the Fargo comparisons, the setting is wintery Utah and many of the characters resemble those found in the Coen brothers film. The kooky police force, the odd characters, and the snowy plains are a nice nod to the film.

A small-town cop, John Marshall (Jim Cummings) struggling with a failed marriage, alcoholism, a rebellious daughter, and an inept team of officers, is assigned with solving a series of brutal murders that are occurring only during a full moon. As he’s consumed by the hunt for the killer, he struggles to deal with his sick father, played by Robert Forster, who is also the acting sheriff.

Are the murders being committed by a werewolf or someone donning a disguise? Part of the fun for the audience is the guesswork. Just the premise alone of a werewolf on the loose in a small town is compelling.

The film is a bit all over the place from a plot perspective. Besides the main plot of the murders and the subsequent whodunit, that should be enough to satisfy a quick one hour and twenty-three-minute running time. The relationship between father and son is touching and is a win. Since Forster died shortly after the film was made this adds even more poignancy.

There are some loose ends however that either doesn’t add up or are too predictable. The frequent shots of an unnamed townsperson suspected of the killings, who lives with a wolf and takes drugs are way too obvious a red herring. Spoiler alert- he’s not the killer. And Marshall’s daughter sneaking out to a car to have sex with a boyfriend is an obvious plot ploy for her to be attacked.

I’m not sure why so many films present police officers as either being incompetent, unintelligent, or corrupt but The Wolf of Snow Hollow is guilty as charged with some clear cliches meant to be humorous.

The film is still enjoyable and never boring. Lots of dark comedic elements lighten things up like when John flies into rages or banters with his father or female police officer and sidekick Officer Julia, played by Riki Lindhome.

The mystery of the killer is compelling and the final sequence is enthralling. I was immediately engrossed with the first scene when a  young pair visit the snowy town and dine in a local eatery preparing to embark on a romantic weekend. The assumption is these two are the main characters but when the girl is murdered things charter in a different direction.

On a quick inclusion note when a townsperson utters an anti- LGBTQ+ slur he is railed at by a character though no gay characters actually appear.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) is an entertaining affair. It borrows from some other films but resurrects the werewolf storyline which is intriguing in itself. Since Cummings took on the bulk of this film himself I’m curious what else he will bring to the cinematic table, in the horror genre or otherwise.

Macabre-1980

Macabre-1980

Director-Lamberto Bava

Starring-Bernice Stegers

Scott’s Review #1,165

Reviewed July 26, 2021

Grade: A-

With a pedigree for horror, director Lamberto Bava has a lot to live up to. He is the son of Mario Bava deemed the “Master of Italian Horror” for creepies like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) and worked alongside Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror director.

Lamberto certainly learned his craft exceptionally well and he creates a terrific and gruesome horror film called Macabre (1980) which certainly lives up to its name. I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much but the experience of watching his film will stay with the audience long after it ends.

Nightmares anyone?

Let’s just say that one won’t look at one’s libido and the human head in the same way ever again.

Sadly, Bava wouldn’t remain very long in the feature film industry. After assisting Argento with his films throughout the 1980s Bava would move to the television industry. But what a lasting impression he makes with Macabre.

The horrific tale mixes murder, madness, and perverse (or perverted) passion. A lonely New Orleans wife and mother, Jane Baker, played by Bernice Stegers, carries on a torrid affair without her family’s knowledge. After sneaking around and causing her daughter Lucy’s (Veronica Zinny) suspicions to be aroused, a violent accident leaves her lover, Fred, dead.

Devastated, Jane does a stint in a mental institution. Supposedly cured, she leaves determined to pursue her forbidden desires and ends up moving in with her dead lover’s blind brother, Robert (Stanko Molnar). But what secret or ghastly desires does she hold dear to her heart and what oddity resides in her refrigerator?

You’re probably wondering why a director with Italian roots as strong as Bava’s would choose the cajun and gumbo-infused city of New Orleans- I was too. Why not choose a more gothic locale like Rome? The setting is even more jarring given the British and Italian actors cast in the film.

Rumor has it the events in the film actually happened in New Orleans but I’m not sure I buy that.

Be that as it may, something is unsettling about this weird setting. But somehow it works as measured against the bizarre nature of the story. It’s so out there that for some reason it affects.

The running time is just right at one hour and thirty minutes and with such a low budget any longer might have felt distracting or made the pace plod too much.

Stegers is fabulous in the central role. She is controlled yet neurotic, madly in love with her beau on the brink of instability. She is also a strong, feminist woman as she brazenly carries on with her affair unconcerned of the consequences though death isn’t exactly what she expects. Regardless, Stegers does a fine job and carries the action throughout the duration.

It’s tough to measure at the time whether Bava is going for mid-level camp or complete over-the-top bizarro. He certainly knows the tricks of the trade and avoids the popular slasher effects like gore and blood. This is to his credit.

Instead, he floods Macabre with juicy atmospheric elements and a perfect mood. This mood gets creepier as the plot develops reaching a crescendo at the conclusion when Richard, Lucy, Jane, and even the deceased Fred adjourn for a savory dinner where the events will never be seen coming.

Macabre (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece that I highly recommend for any fan of Italian-style horror and those desiring a ghoulish and titillating journey into the macabre. How appropriate.

Onward-2020

Onward-2020

Director-Dan Scanlon

Starring Tom Holland, Chris Pratt

Scott’s Review #1,164

Reviewed July 23, 2021

Grade: B+

An emotionally satisfying adventure film that the whole family can enjoy Onward (2020) feels fresh and inventive while still employing some standard plot points. Pixar/Disney sure knows how to churn out animated features with a nice message and a family unit sensibility.

There is also plenty of diversity that delivers an inclusive feeling so hugely important in the modern age. Kids are impressionable and learn so much from the films they watch so this quality brought a smile to my face in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

The film also celebrates non-traditional families and shows that not having a traditional mother and father and pet dog doesn’t make you strange or unworthy of love and understanding.

Onward is not completely outside the box, however, and is careful to lure in the mainstream middle America audience but some progressive treats mix well with a robust brotherly adventure tale.

Though the title, Onward, doesn’t stick in my mind very long the film itself does.

I may have even shed a tear or two during the heartfelt finale.

Teenage elf brothers Ian and Barley (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) embark on a magical quest to spend one more day with their deceased father who loved magic. Their journey is filled with cryptic maps, overwhelming obstacles, and discoveries like any good adventure.

But when their Mom (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds out her sons are missing, she goes into mother lion mode and teams up with the legendary manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer) to bring her beloved boys back home.

The lead character, Ian, is a sixteen-year-old boy with growing pains and vulnerabilities that immediately make him likable. He is eager to make friends but awkward about doing so. It is suggested that he has no friends coming to his birthday party but it’s unclear why not. Ian is also a nervous driver, terrified of traversing a busy freeway.

Basically, he is an ordinary kid who the audience can see in themselves or a former self of years gone by.

His brother, Barley, is the opposite. He is afraid of nothing and cares not who he befriends or what people think of him. His outrageous vehicle, named Guinevere, is a rebuilt van. Think the mystery mobile from Scooby-Doo.

The crux of Onward is about relationships. At first, we assume that the big payoff will be between Ian/Barley and their father. While that sort of happens, a surprise blossoms along the way, and instead of a standard father/son dynamic we get a brother/brother one. This is a treat and manufactures a dual message. Never take for granted a loved one already in your life because one day they may be gone.

I enjoyed the adventures of Ian and Barley mostly because I just knew that some sort of reunion would occur between the boys and the father. Their gift of one day spent with their father was marred by only his bottom half being visible, but I suspected we would see all of the father eventually. Avoiding complete predictability, only one of the boys gets to interplay with his father as the other looks on longingly.

I enjoyed this element quite a bit as it avoided cliche and offered raw emotion.

Speaking of diversity, two gay female police officers appear in one scene and a suggestion that some of a motorcycle gang of pixies might be gay is also noticed. Again, this is important for child viewers to be exposed to.

Another win is the animation itself- just look at the cover art above for proof. With gorgeous purple and blue color, the nighttime scenes work especially well with a bright and luminous look that I adored.

A slight miss was that the boy’s mother never got to reunite with her dead husband and their relationship was treated as merely an afterthought. The featured plot was only that the brothers missed their Dad. A reunion between husband and wife would have been nice.

With a tender and emotionally satisfying conclusion, this cemented my appreciation for Onward (2020). There may be a tad too many car chase scenes and a couple of hokey plot ploys but the film has a lot of heart that shines through.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Director-Rob Hedden

Starring-Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves

Scott’s Review #1,163

Reviewed July 21, 2021

Grade: D+

After eight installments in only nine years of the iconic horror Friday the 13th series fans by this time know what they are in store for. The title of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten (1989) and its accompanying cover art offers a glimmer of originality and intrigue.

If this were 1989 I would be excited at the prospects of what this film could deliver.

Hell, the city of New York was dour and dirty in the late 1980s, filled with grit, grime, and seediness. What a perfect setup for our crazed killer Jason to mix and mingle with the dregs of society. I conjured up images of Jason chasing frightened teenagers through graffiti-laced subways and x-rated peep show theaters in the Times Square district.

We get a few location shots of Times Square but not much more.

Unfortunately for fans, only the final thirty minutes or so of the film is even set amid the Big Apple and for eagle-eyed viewers, much less than that is even filmed in New York City. Years later, director Rob Hedden would blame Paramount studios for severely limiting the budget allowed for on-location filming.

The result is that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten feels like a sham.

Okay, the film is a terrible, cheesy, poorly acted, jaggedly paced film, but on a late Saturday night, it provides some fun and comfort alongside the proper mood and spirits.

A few years following the events of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) multiple mass murderer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is resurrected from the bottom of Crystal Lake after an underwater electrical fire.

After he kills a passing boat’s occupants, he stows away on a cruise ship filled with a high-school graduating class excitedly bound for New York City. Strict Biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) is on board with his niece, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who has visions of Jason drowning as a child. They temporarily escape his bloody rampage, but, when Rennie and Charles reach Manhattan, Jason is hot in pursuit.

Apparently, the ten million other Manhattanites are uninteresting and Jason must kill Rennie and cohorts.

There is an unnecessary side story of Uncle Charles having pushed Rennie into Camp Crystal Lake in a sink or swim moment where she first saw glimpses of Jason. This has nothing to do with the main story nor is it needed.

The rest of the film is exactly as one might suspect with very few surprises. The character development, limited in slasher films like this, is extremely pitiful and uneven. One female character is a rocker chick who clutches her electric guitar and plays it nonstop, practically during her own death scene.

Other unintentionally laughable characters include a young black man who is an aspiring boxer and attempts to spar with Jason on the rooftop building. This proves to be a big mistake when Jason takes one punch at him and decapitates him. The popular blonde prom queen/mean girl, Tamara (Sharlene Martin) decides to throw Rennie overboard after she catches Tamara doing drugs. Apparently murdering a fellow student is a better option than being caught.

Finally, the deckhand played by Alex Diakund is a carbon copy of the Crazy Ralph character from Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) even uttering the famous “You’re all doomed” line.

The stereotypes are rampant. However, unusual in the slasher genre for 1989, diversity is apparent with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian characters. While all are supporting characters and know their purpose is to be bludgeoned, the inclusiveness is at least a slight win.

Other positives are the familiar Camp Crystal Lake setting not being completely scrapped as the title might indicate. There is something nice and familiar with Jason, a lake, darkness, and murder.

Rob Hedden’s idea to take much of the action to an unfamiliar setting like a metropolis is a good one, a city is the opposite of a lake, but the studio screwed the director over royally with their limitations. Still, a wonderful shot of Times Square can easily transplant a viewer watching the film in present times back to 1989 and experience, if only for a minute, what life was like.

That’s worth a small something.

What’s Up, Doc? -1972

What’s Up, Doc? -1972

Director-Peter Bogdanovich

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal 

Scott’s Review #1,162

Reviewed July 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Careful trepidation must be advised for filmmakers chartering into humorous or slapstick comedy waters especially if known more for dramatic films. Since we’re talking 1970s cinema here, there is only one Mel Brooks and plenty of films with physical humor and gags fail miserably.

What’s Up, Doc? (1972) is not one of them and is a refreshing success.

Brooks’s influence can easily be seen throughout the film and this is no surprise. Before doing any post-film research I immediately was reminded of the popular television sitcom Get Smart which ran from 1965-1970.  Buck Henry, a frequent Brooks collaborator, co-created Get Smart and wrote the screenplay for What’s Up Doc?

The antics and comedic moments scream Brooks. If one is unfamiliar it really is like watching a Mel Brooks film.

Director, Peter Bogdanovich, most notably known for the 1971 masterpiece, The Last Picture Show, changes course and instead goes for comedy with lots of screwball situations and physical comedy activities that are completely different from his previous works.

Speaking of Brooks, Madeline Khan, a mainstay of his films, makes an appearance as a particularly neurotic character named Eunice Burns. It is her first film role.

I must say I was thoroughly impressed by What’s Up, Doc? that oddly pairs two Hollywood superstars of the time, Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. One might be surprised to think of the duo as romantic partners, and the chemistry comes and goes throughout the film but the antics and quick dialogue is joyous and timed perfectly between the actors.

What’s Up, Doc? intends to pay homage to comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s, especially popular Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons, hence the title, but the reference doesn’t appear until the final scene. This caused me to ponder why the specific title was used.

The premise goes something like this. Doctor Howard Bannister (O’Neal) arrives in San Francisco to compete for a research grant in music. He is accompanied by his overbearing wife, Eunice (Khan).

Already nervous and on edge because of Eunice, he meets a strange yet charming woman named Judy Maxwell played by Streisand in the drug store. They are drawn to each other yet are not sure why. She both annoys and fascinates him.

In a subplot, a woman has her jewels stolen and a government whistleblower arrives with his stolen top-secret papers. Ironically, all the players have an identical red plaid bag and stay in neighboring hotel rooms, adding to the confusion and the hilarity.

My favorite moments are the screwball scenes. Especially memorable are the hilarious sequences that take place in and around the hotel guest rooms as a constant in and out of parallel rooms transpires. Each character has a particular motivation as he or she sneaks around the hallways and rooms. It is delightful fun.

When I realized that Streisand and O’Neal were the romantic leads I was skeptical at first but their chemistry is not bad. They are not the sort of couple that he and Ali MacGraw were in Love Story (1970) and certainly have no heavy drama to play but they play comedy off of each other well. In fact, the film makes a joke about the film Love Story.

Unfamiliar to me, I am glad I took the chance and watched What’s Up Doc? (1972). The film provides laughs, entertainment, and good chemistry among the cast who know how to deliver rapturous humor with perfect timing.

Rated G, the film can be enjoyed by the entire family as there is not a double entendre or otherwise offensive moment to be found. Just good, old-fashioned humor. I would argue that the film influenced the 1970s as much as paid homage to comedy films made decades earlier.

I would see it again.

Nanny McPhee-2005

Nanny McPhee-2005

Director-Kirk Jones

Starring-Emma Thompson, Colin Firth

Scott’s Review #1,161

Reviewed July 15, 2021

Grade: B

Clearly patterned after the classic family film Mary Poppins (1964), but with a slightly harder edge, Nanny McPhee (2005) attempts to recreate the iconic character with a similar storyline setup.

But a couple of other family films make their presence known.

The Sound of Music (1965) is quickly added to the mix with a well-meaning but absent daddy and a slew of siblings who terrorize former and present nannies.

A scullery maid with big dreams ala Cinderella (1950) solidifies the harkening back to 1960s cinematic family fun.

Great British actors like Emma Thompson and Colin Firth add much to the film which would be mediocre without their benefits. And the iconic Angela Lansbury hops aboard in a small yet important role. They make what would be a disposable kid’s movie into something respectable, romantic, and fairly cute.

The film tries a bit too hard with the comical moments, losing the magical moments that would have made it feel more alive. Instead, most scenarios come across as campy or family-oriented. Of course, the conclusion can be seen from the very beginning.

The effort is admirable but the story experience never feels very compelling. Thinking demographically, Nanny McPhee has much to offer the younger set. The kids will love the candy-box sets and costumes like confectionery-shop windows, the whimsy and farcical grotesqueness of it all.

The adults might be won over by the creativity and the cast.

Clearly, Thompson has fun playing ugly and getting her feet dirty, her snaggletooth almost a character itself, so prominent is it featured. In a way, she is even the anti-Mary Poppins, lacking an umbrella or the high-class pose that she had.

Each time the children learn a lesson, one of Nanny McPhee’s facial defects magically disappears.

But why not just dust off the original Mary Poppins? Nanny McPhee will inevitably be forgotten since an actual remake of the Mary Poppins film was released in 2015 all but confirming the Nanny McPhee franchise as the second tier.

And Nanny McPhee made me want to revisit Mary Poppins instead of watching Nanny McPhee again.

The premise goes something like this. Set in Victorian-era England, lonely widower Cedric Brown (Firth) hires Nanny McPhee (Thompson) to care for his seven rambunctious children, who have terrified and chased away all previous nannies. But McPhee is different and will have no such nonsense. She slowly wins over the children with magic and a bit of discipline.

And when the children’s great-aunt and benefactor, Lady Adelaide Stitch (Lansbury), threatens to separate the kids, the family pulls together under the guidance of their new leader.

Lansbury nearly steals the show. Short-sighted and domineering, the family is financially supported by her and Cedric cowers to her every request until she demands custody over one of the children. She also viciously threatens to reduce the family to poverty unless Cedric remarries within the month, meaning the family would lose the house, and be forced to separate.

She is deliciously wicked in the role and plays it to the hilt.

The sweet romance between Cedric and scullery maid Evangeline, played by Kelly McDonald, works well. They resist at first, but then realize their feelings for each other and agree to marry, satisfying Aunt Adelaide’s conditions for maintaining her financial support. Nanny McPhee (who is now fully beautiful), magically makes it snow in August, transforming the wedding scene and changing Evangeline’s clothes into a beautiful wedding dress.

This is the fairy tale ending that ultimately makes the film work and won me over.

Nanny McPhee (2005) is solid if not remarkable.

Stage Fright-1950

Stage Fright-1950

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding

Scott’s Review #1,160

Reviewed July 9, 2021

Grade: A-

Stage Fright (1950) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock right before his American invasion. The film feels like a hybrid British/American project with the leading lady, Jane Wyman, being American, but otherwise is set in London with many British actors. Hitchcock mixes plenty of film noir influences with the typical thrills and suspense creating an excellent product that flies under the radar when matched against his other films.

Wyman is cast well as an attractive aspiring actress who works on her craft by going undercover to solve a mystery. There are Nancy Drew elements and it’s fun to watch Wyman, who would become Mrs. Ronald Reagan before he entered politics and later would become President of the United States. She reportedly divorced him because she had little interest in entering the political spectrum by association.

The action gets off to a compelling start with two characters driving in a car in clear peril. Hitchcock loved driving scenes like these. It is learned that the police think actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is a murderer, and now they’re on his tail. He seeks shelter with his ex-girlfriend Eve (Wyman), who drives him to stay in hiding with her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim).

He explains that it was his lover, the famous and snobbish actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), who killed the victim (not coincidentally, her husband). Convinced Jonathan is innocent, Eve plays detective and assumes multiple disguises, slowly developing feelings for Detective Inspector, Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding). Once she becomes embroiled in a web of deception, she realizes that Shakespeare was right and that all the world is a stage.

Wyman is the Hitchcock brunette as opposed to his later fascination with the blonde bombshell. Therefore, her role is more sedate and astute than the sex appeal that would come with Hitchcock’s later characters. Eve closely resembles the character of Charlie that Teresa Wright played in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. They are both astute and investigative with a mystery to unravel. Interestingly, they both fall for detectives.

All the glasses! Hitchcock’s fetish with women wearing glasses is on full display especially with the character of Nellie, a cockney opportunist played by Kay Walsh. Look closely and one can spot several minor or background ladies sporting spectacles and even Eve dons a pair as a disguise.

Pat Hitchcock, the director’s daughter, plays a small role as she would in Strangers on a Train (1955) and Psycho (1960).

Speaking of Strangers on a Train, there are similarities to mention. Both involve a tit-for-tat exchange where one character is requested by another to kill someone in exchange for either a payoff or another form of motivation.

Marlene Dietrich is as sexy as ever in the pivotal role of Charlotte. She is self-centered, self-absorbed, and thoughtless, constantly mispronouncing Eve’s fictitious name and barely noticing that she is covering for her regular maid/dresser.

But is she evil and capable of killing her own husband?

Stage Fright has a thrilling finale. In the climax, the audience finally finds out who has been telling the truth and who has been lying and what explanations are revealed. There is a pursuit, an attempted killing, and a shocking death by way of a falling safety curtain, in the theater naturally. Just what one would expect from a Hitchcock final act.

The focus on theatrical stage actors is a nice topic and adds to the existing drama as the implication of playing various roles comes into play big time. So is the prominence very early on of the Big Ben landmark in London and other location trimmings.

Stage Fright (1950) doesn’t get the love saved for other Hitchcock masterpieces and that’s a shame because the film is excellent.

In the Name of-2013

In the Name of-2013

Director-Malgorzata Szumowska, Mateusz Kościukiewicz

Starring-Andrzej Chyra

Scott’s Review #1,159

Reviewed July 8, 2021

Grade: B+

In the Name of (2013), not to be confused with In the Name of the Father, a 1993 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a Polish independent LGBTQ+ genre film directed by a female, Malgorzata Szumowska. I point out the gender only because the subject matter skews heavily towards male homosexuality which is an interesting one for a female to tackle.

Szumowska does so with gusto providing wonderful cinematography and quiet dialogue.

She casts her own husband, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, in the central role of an outsider who stirs up the sexual feelings of a priest struggling with his long-repressed sexuality.

If one looks carefully, each character struggles with conflict and self-acceptance in some way, restless and hungry for peace of mind and satisfaction. We wonder if any of the characters will ever find this.

The priest in question is played by Andrzej Chyra. It’s revealed that Adam joined the House of God at age twenty-one to escape issues he wrestled with concerning his own sexuality. He has spent his life basically running away from his true self.

Now in his forties, he currently leads a rural parish having been transferred from the lively city of Warsaw, and is still tormented by desire. To make matters even more difficult he mentors troubled young men with lots of testosterone.

When Adam attempts to help troubled teen Lukasz (Kościukiewicz), long-suppressed feelings begin to surface as the men grow closer. A townsperson catches wind of possible shenanigans and Adam is transferred yet again to another location. This has happened before. But, will Adam and Lukasz have a chance at happiness if they play their cards right?

The obvious comparison of In the Name of is to Brokeback Mountain (2005) which set the standard and paved the way for many LGBTQ+ films to be made. All of Adam’s and Lukasz’s dalliances, and there are romantic suggestions, but nothing animalistic is secretive. Both men are repressed but are at different stages of life.

I can’t say In the Name of hits the mark in this regard because the film is less about a male romance than about the characters being unhappy. In fact, it’s not until the end of the film that any blossoming develops between Adam and Lukasz. I wanted more meat between the characters, pun intended but was left knowing almost nothing about Lukasz specifically.

I also yearned for more backstory from three supporting characters. Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska), an attractive local woman, flirts with Adam and the coach on occasion and drinks too much, later regretting her actions. How does she happen to be in the town and why is she without a man already? Is the coach gay or straight? It is suggested he is gay but this remains unclear. Finally, Blondi is a bleached blonde troubled boy played by Tomasz Schuchardt. He beds another boy and senses Adam’s sexuality filling Blondi with venom. I wanted to know more about Blondi.

Despite these slight yearnings for more the film is very good. Chyra does a terrific acting job in the main role of Adam and easily wins over the audience who will root for his happiness. During a great scene, the typically reserved Adam explodes with self-deprecating rage while on a video call with his sympathetic sister. He struggles for self-acceptance that many of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

I sense that having seen In the Name of when it was originally released in 2013 would have made the experience even more powerful. By 2021 the cinema world has been saturated with films containing similar story points and religious conflict issues so that appears a commonality rather than originality.

But I’ll never complain about too many LGBTQ+ films being made.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and recommend it to anyone seeking a quality character-driven experience.

Foreign Correspondent-1940

Foreign Correspondent-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Joel McCrea, Laraine Day

Scott’s Review #1,158

Reviewed July 2, 2021

Grade: B+

As a superfan of all films Alfred Hitchcock, I had been chomping at the bit to see some of his older selections before he took American audiences by storm throughout his 1950’s and 1960’s heyday. Many people do not realize just how many films the “Master of Suspense” actually made that are not household names.

Foreign Correspondent, made in 1940, is a black and white production and an obvious precursor for his later works. In fact, much of the fun is zeroing in on particulars that would be featured in later films. Some Hitchcock favorites like a tower, a circling airplane, an unwitting and innocent man involved in a political plot, and false identity are served up. And the director’s obsession with female characters wearing glasses is certainly part of the fun.

What Hitchcock fan doesn’t giggle with glee after discovering the director’s trademark cameo appearance in each of his films?

As an aside, I just love the cover artwork for this film.

There are reasons why Foreign Correspondent isn’t one of the best-remembered Hitchcock films because it’s only very good rather than exceptional. In 1940 the director was just getting his groove following a surprising Best Picture Oscar win for Rebecca (1940), a film that was a very early American effort. He was still finding his footing in production values.

The legendary Costume Designer, Edith Head, and Music Composer Bernard Hermann had not joined the fold yet as they would in masterpieces like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958) and it really shows. The musical score is ordinary, more or less what a picture made in 1940 sounded like. The costumes are decent but lacking the grandeur and style that Head brought to the productions.

New York City-based crime reporter John Jones, later renamed Huntley Haverstock played by Joel McCrea is reduced to producing dull copy despite the world being on the cusp of war. His editor hopes a change of scenery will be the thing Jones needs to get back on track and also to provide the juicy story.

He is re-assigned to Europe as a foreign correspondent. When he stumbles on a spy ring, he attempts to unravel the truth with the help of a politician, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), his daughter Carol (Laraine Day), and an English journalist (George Sanders). But can any or all of them be trusted or are they in cahoots with the bad guys for their own personal gain?

I immediately was reminded of Saboteur (1942) by way of the plot alone. Both involve a complicated (maybe overly?) story of government, investigations, and sabotage. They also each focus on a couple either attempting to outwit or outrun authorities. And, they are both filmed with black and white cinematography.

Foreign Correspondent contains its share of thrills and compelling moments. The best sequence is when John is nearly shoved off Westminster Cathedral tower by a hitman who is ultimately the one who plummets to his death. The obvious parallel is to Vertigo especially when the nuns give the sign of the cross after the body falls.

Other mentions are a terrific airplane finale that contains special effects astounding for such a long time ago. Also unforgettable is a windmill sequence that will remind any Hitchcock fan of the famous cropduster scene from North By Northwest. I half expected a character to exclaim, ‘the windmill is turning where there ain’t no wind”.

At two hours even in run time, Foreign Correspondent is a good fifteen minutes or so too long. The plot takes a bit of time to pick up speed and the chemistry between John and Carol is rather weak. They are certainly no Mitch and Melanie like from The Birds (1963).

Foreign Correspondent (1940) is a second-tier Alfred Hitchcock film with enough components to serve as a solid opening act for North By Northwest. This is not such a bad thing and the film holds its own against similarly patterned films of its day.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Alan Basserman, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects

Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring- George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #1,157

Reviewed June 30, 2021

Grade: B-

The casino heist gang is back together again for more action and adventure in a film that was most certainly only made because of the success of its predecessor, Ocean’s Eleven (2001). The uninspiring title of the film, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) is a letdown as compared to the fantastic and enthralling 2001 film. What felt like a purely original idea, even though it was a remake, now feels like stale bread that was fresh only yesterday.

Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh returns to the fold which adds some style and general good direction.

The story is slow to kick off and provides an implausible and unconventional ending that doesn’t work nearly negating most of the previous activity. There is something a bit irritating about watching a film with the knowledge that it was only made for one reason and the plot seems to be rushed and poorly thought out.

But that’s Hollywood, isn’t it?

Undoubtedly, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and other top talent enjoyed the hefty paychecks they received. This is also perturbing as the performances seem ho-hum and clearly inspired by the big bucks being deposited into big bank accounts for services rendered.

The inauthenticity all around is evident in lazy acting and writing.

The foil and mark, Terry Benedict, once again played by Andy Garcia realizes that the gang has robbed him of millions and demands the money back with interest. Unfortunately, much of it has already been spent. Unable to come up with the cash, the crew is forced to come together to pull off another series of heists, this time in Europe. Presumably, they are not well known there.

Being “forced” to do what the career criminals love to do is far-fetched.

Danny (George Clooney)and the gang hatch a plan to swap a Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg for a holographic recreation. Linus (Damon) comes up with a second plan involving Danny’s wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), posing as a pregnant Julia Roberts to get close to the Egg and swap it. They are foiled by Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a coincidentally present Bruce Willis, and the rest of the group are captured.

While it’s slightly clever having Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts appear as themselves especially when Julia Roberts plays another character in the film, it doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper.

The story is way too convoluted and Ocean’s Twelve quickly turns into the sort of film that you tune out of enjoying the non-story points more than the written word. In this case, that’s not a positive aspect.

The film’s successes, mainly the returning A-list cast, are also negative. While it’s fun to reconnect with familiar characters like Danny Ocean, Rusty (Pitt), and Linus, we know the characters too well and they become caricatures. Meaning, they behave exactly as one would expect them to.

Still, it is admittedly juicy and exciting to witness so many A-listers on one big screen especially when there is trickery, scheming, and just a hint of romance to be had.

I’ll also partake in just about any film that goes on location to Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, and Amsterdam. It’s an orgy of European history and goodness adding cultural trimmings to a sub-par storyline. Particularly inviting are the villa scenes in luscious Lake Como.

Ocean’s Twelve (2004) will please only those who are obsessed enough with the franchise to enjoy what is basically a retread of the 2001 film only set in various parts of Europe instead of Las Vegas. It isn’t nearly enough for me as most cleverness and bright and crisp writing are gone.

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a treasure of a film. In fact, I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone. It is not for children! The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

A clue is that Guillermo del Tor directs the film, he of well-known note for creating films such as Hell Boy (2004), Hell Boy II: The Golden Army (2008), and The Shape of Water (2017) the latter winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar Award.

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat. The frightening time period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes. The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising. Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

She is completely and utterly spellbound and intrigued all at once. Finally, she can escape the ravages of real life and immerse herself in a fantasy world all her own. She hates her stepfather, worries for her mother, and can’t wait to traverse her new world. If only life were that simple.

In a fairy tale, Princess Moanna, who Ofelia becomes, visits the human world, where the sunlight blinds her and erases her memory. She becomes mortal and eventually dies. The king believes that eventually, her spirit will return to the underworld, so he builds labyrinths, which act as portals, around the world in preparation for her return. Enter Ofelia.

About that creativity, I mentioned earlier. Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for adults, taking some similar points and adding the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable. The darkness of the forest is the best and most memorable part.

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child. So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

The story can be downright horrifying at times. Carmen eventually dies and Ofelia is taken under the wing of Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), Ofelia’s stepfather’s housekeeper, and also a revolutionary harboring dangerous secrets. Ofelia and Mercedes team up to save Ofelia’s baby brother from the hands of the dastardly.

The strange fantasy world may confuse some viewers. It’s simply not the imagination of Ofelia (or is it?) because Vidal, Mercedes, and the baby all play a part in the eerie labyrinth.

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults. Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2008) is a visionary film and must be experienced to be believed.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Original Score

The Day of the Jackal-1973

The Day of the Jackal-1973

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring- Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale

Scott’s Review #1,155

Reviewed June 22, 2021

Grade: A

Political thrillers can run the gamut of taut plots involving espionage assassinations, and car chases all woven into the political landscape. They often run the risk of being overly complicated and losing their audience with too much wordiness and not enough meat and potatoes.

The Day of the Jackal (1973), telling the story of an assassination attempt on a world leader is perfectly paced and intriguing offering some titillating elements and nothing run of the mill. It’s not lazy and can be classified as a thinking man’s film.

I loved it.

Certain complexities and trysts experienced by the deadly title character add extra pizazz and spiciness to the already compelling plot. And the sequences of Paris and its lovely metropolis can aid any film.

A cagey and intelligent underground French paramilitary group is determined to execute President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand), but when numerous attempts on his life fail, they resort to hiring the infamous hitman known as “The Jackal” (Edward Fox). As he plots to assassinate de Gaulle, he takes out others who stand in his way. Meanwhile, Lebel (Michel Lonsdale), a Parisian police detective, begins to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity.

The film is not in French but is English speaking.

Fox is the major draw. Charismatic, handsome, and athletic, he hardly looks like a fiend.  But that’s just the point. A lesser film would have cast an actor who looks like a killer. With Fox, we get many more intricacies. He beds women…..and men. Think- a bisexual James Bond. This is enchanting to see in 1973, though the film is British and sometimes the Brits were well ahead of American filmmakers in this regard.

The director, Fred Zinneman, is actually Austrian and boy can he direct.

I wasn’t sure how engaged I would be. After all, the history books can tell us how the assassination attempt ended. It failed. What was the motivation for watching a film, especially one destined to be complicated? I quickly realized that The Day of the Jackal had that special sauce. It’s more than engaging, it’s enthralling.

Obviously, the audience is meant to root for Lebel to best Fox but there is so much more bubbling under the circumstance. The villain is mysterious and we know almost nothing about him. The ambiguity continues after the film ends. This is definitely a positive to the character and subsequently to the film.

Meanwhile, the hero of the film, the guy after the “Jackal”, is your average, every day, Joe. He is unexciting but very smart and determined to capture Fox. Lebel is quite likable for his savviness alone but I still argue many will root for Fox to escape the clutches of Lebel. I know I did.

Great scenes occur in a swanky hotel when Fox becomes intrigued by Madame de Montpellier, played by Delphine Seyrig. He picks up the rich and mysterious woman as they chat in the dining room. He later sneaks into her room and gets the girl. Whoever cast this woman must have seen the Hitchcock classic Frenzy (1972) because she’s a dead ringer for Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).

Is it an accident that both meet grisly ends?

Not to be satisfied with merely bedding rich women he goes to a Turkish bath to avoid the police and picks up a French gentleman. It is implied they have a romantic date before the gentleman catches onto Fox’s identity (he is now on the run from the police) and meets his maker in his own kitchen.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) is a meticulously crafted film that should be the blueprint for anyone intent on creating a political thriller. It avoids hokey stereotypes or predictability instead offering an edge-of-your-seat experience with nuances for miles.

It’s exceptional on all levels.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

Quarantine-2008

Quarantine-2008

Director-John Erick Dowdle

Starring-Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez

Scott’s Review #1,154

Reviewed June 18, 2021

Grade: B+

Clearly patterned after 28 Days Later (2002), Cloverfield (2008), and other horror zombie offerings popular during the 2000s, Quarantine (2008) is more of a film of its day than anything fresh or original. The funny thing is it works fairly well as an entertaining popcorn horror flick. It’s not going to be remembered very well but it provides jumps, frights, and thrills.

It’s shot like a reality television show with seemingly handheld cameras following the characters which also gives it a 2000s feel. The irony is that the story involves a reality television series (all the craze in those days).

The dark glowing lighting and Los Angeles apartment building setting provide a good amount of peril.

While suspenseful, that doesn’t mean that Quarantine is necessarily a good film. It’s not and my grade of a B+ feels awfully generous but the bottom line is that every film is not a cinematic gem and some just plain ole entertainment. Quarantine is one of those types of films.

Apparently, Quarantine is a remake of a 2007 Spanish film called REC which is set in Barcelona. The United States replaces Spain and the characters are Americanized for the mainstream masses.

Reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are doing a story on night-shift firefighters for a reality television program.  One night while filming, a late-night distress call takes them to a Los Angeles apartment building, where the police are investigating a report of horrific screams.

Angela, Scott, and firefighters Jake and Fletcher, played by Jay Hernandez and Johnathon Schaech respectively report to the building to find a loony old woman who suddenly attacks with teeth bared. Alarmed, they realize that the building has been sealed by CDC workers. Then they really start to panic.

Of course, laughably, they continue to film despite feeling desperate. Gotta keep those television ratings intact. In this way, it pairs well with The Blair Witch Project (1999) though nowhere near as fresh and inventive as that film. Instead, it feels like a copy of that film and other films with very little originality of their own.

Again, this didn’t bother me so much as I had no expectations of cinematic art when I agreed to see Quarantine. I had entertainment on my mind and that is what I received.

John Erick Dowdle writes and directs this project and creates a frenzied horror film. The action is quite quick and instantaneous amid a lightning-quick one-hour and twenty-nine-minute runtime. Interesting to note is that Quarantine features no actual musical score, using only sound effects. As a fan of background music in cinema, this wasn’t a great decision but I understand the intent.

After all, the Hitchock masterpiece The Birds (1963) featured no music.

Of course, the plot can be picked apart like a salad onion, but that’s not the point. But, for fun, why didn’t the firefighters provide the trapped residents with weapons or objects they could fight with? Why did characters try to ‘save’ characters who had been bitten only to put their own lives at risk? Hasn’t anyone ever seen Dawn of the Dead (1978)?

All events and storylines feel like some sort of setup.

I’ve seen better acting. Jennifer Carpenter, whom I have never heard of, is in a constant state of hysterics. That’s fine but her endless cowering, whimpers and hyperventilating does nothing to evoke a strong female character.

On a hot summer day, in a cold air-conditioned movie theater, is the perfect environment for a type of film like Quarantine (2008). There are worse ways to spend an hour and thirty minutes than munching on popcorn and being on the edge of your seat.

Rachel Getting Married-2008

Rachel Getting Married-2008

Director-Jonathan Demme

Starring-Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #1,153

Reviewed June 17, 2021

Grade: A-

Rachel Getting Married (2008) is the film that really put Anne Hathaway on the map as a powerful and respected actress. Deserving the heaps of praise put upon her she was congratulated with an Oscar nomination for the role and would win a few years later for Les Miserables (2012). Hathaway proves that good nuts and bolts acting never goes out of style.

Director Jonathan Demme goes for simplicity with his project. The film is a quiet family drama with members gathered for a specific event. As the film progresses we witness deep-seated emotions and history bubble to the surface through terrific scenes exposing quality acting chops by the entire cast. Pain, truth, and wry humor are explored as a naturalistic approach is possessed. Not all the characters are likable and debatable is if any of them are.

Thankfully, humorous moments are added to lighten the mood.

The screenplay was written by Jenny Lumet, the daughter of famed director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. Filming took place in Stamford, Connecticut, a small city outside of New York City.

The Buchman’s, an affluent New England family, prepares for the wedding of their daughter, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Their other daughter, Kym (Anne Hathaway), is permitted to attend the wedding despite being in the middle of a stint at rehab- she’s been there before. As Kym causes upheaval and drama, Rachel resents her sister causing family tensions to resurface.

Parents Paul and Abby, played by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger do their best to calm the flames created by the bickering siblings. Unfortunately, tensions begin to erupt between Rachel and Abby and away from Rachel.

Obviously, events come to a head-on Rachel’s wedding day, hence the title.

Under different circumstances, Rachel Getting Married could have been a standard lifetime television film. A girl with a drug addiction returning to the fold to stir up family drama is hardly a novel idea and has been told many times before in almost every medium. I cringed at first when I read the premise.

But, the film feels as fresh and energetic as a new idea. The pacing is the first notice as it moves at a brisk pace and the running time is under two hours. Kym is frenetic acting at times which also helps the allusion of a faster pace.

A dark secret is quickly revealed. Due to drunkenness, Kym caused the car she was driving in to careen off a bridge, killing her younger brother. She has harbored guilt ever since and endured the wrath of her family. It has made her struggle with addiction even worse.

I don’t think enough praise can be given to Hathaway for quite simply kicking the film’s ass. Nearly destined for wimpy romantic comedies, Kym gives the actress a role she can not only sink her teeth into but infuse with emotion and empathy.

At times the audience will hate Kym and other times will sob along with her.

DeWitt and especially Winger, returning to the cinematic spotlight after a long absence, have plenty to infuse their characters with. Anger, jealousy, and unbridled sympathy are just a few of the emotions their characters experience.

Demme creates an independent film that feels raw and is filled with naturalistic settings and emotions. He takes a basic story and ravages it completely with great acting, handheld cameras that provide a real-life approach, and a story that will leave audiences thinking about the events and perhaps their own lives after the credits roll.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Anne Hathaway

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Film, Best Director-Jonathan Demme, Best Female Lead-Anne Hathaway, Best First Screenplay, Best Supporting Female-Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger

Welcome to my blog! Over 1,150 reviews to share! 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!