Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Murray Head

Scott’s Review #1,062

Reviewed September 15, 2020

Grade: A

Whether it’s the late 1960’s style or the British sophistication or the ahead of its time subject matter, John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) is a brazen and mature piece of film making. With fantastic acting mostly on the part of Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch, the film is subdued enough to contain the drama while letting the underlying plot marinate and flourish rather than being forced or overdone.

That’s not to say Sunday Bloody Sunday is an easy watch. The main characters stew and simmer rather than explode as the audience comes to grips with their feelings, emotions, and motivations as painful as they can be. Schlesinger offers the complexities of the characters as we get inside their heads during multiple scenes as cameras carefully pan in on their facial expressions. The intention is to read their minds or think we know what they are thinking.

The three characters featured are Alex (Glenda Jackson), a divorced and restless recruitment worker, a young, free-spirited artist, Bob (Murray Head), and a gay, Jewish, doctor named Daniel (Peter Finch). Bob openly dates both Alex and Daniel, who are aware of the others existence and even have common friends. Instead of scheming against the other in hopes of poisoning their character with Bob, they deal with acceptance and a host of other emotions.

A triangle ensues, though not one with a clear couple to root for, nor is it clear who we want to root for. Sunday Bloody Sunday is not that trite or simplistic and this is the beauty of the film. Each character can be analyzed for individual motivations, peculiarities, and desires that sometimes overlap. The added perk of one character being straight, one character being bisexual, and one character being gay only adds flavor and lustful desire. Sunday Bloody Sunday is a character study if ever there was one.

Screenwriter, Penelope Gilliatt, writes a piece so bristling with unpredictability that the characters and situations are deep and troubling. My favorite character is Daniel, the most adjusted of the three, but a character who would typically be written as the most maladjusted. Schlesinger had directed the brilliant Midnight Cowboy (1969) two mere years earlier, a film which depicted gay characters as troubled and self-hating. Gilliatt crafts Daniel as confident, successful, and masculine, avoiding all stereotypes.

I immediately had thoughts of Ken Russell’s masterpiece, Women in Love, made only one year earlier in 1970, and starring Jackson. Featuring four characters rather than only three, both films are British and feature the complexities of sexual orientation, jealousy, and loneliness. Women in Love is a slightly better film, but only by a small margin, probably because there is one additional character to consider. Both charter then barely touched territory when it was still taboo to explore homosexuality in film.

Adorable is a scene at a Bar Mitzvah given to Daniel’s nephew. As the merriment commences several women are bound to be interested in Daniel, what with him being a successful doctor. He doesn’t have any interest naturally, but politely makes small talk with one woman. The scene is so natural and at ease that it is wonderful and reaffirming to see a gay character treated with such dignity and richness, his problems not being a result of being gay but of being a human being.

Daniel and Alex compete for Bob’s affections but in a polite way. Instead of hating each other they hate the situation. Bob is not the nicest guy in the world so the question can we raised as to why they both feel the way they do about him. But this hardly matters when the heart wants what it wants. The most interesting and realistic scenes occur when each couple lie in bed together or make small talk over a meal. This offers a glimpse of what day to day treasures they each could enjoy.

For those in the mood for a film rife with emotion and psychologically complex feelings wrapped inside a good drama will find Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) a pure treat. Trimmings like glimpses of the gorgeous city of London lend themselves to added nuances. Each time this film is viewed it could easily be watched from the perspective of either Alex, Bob, or Daniel.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-John Schlesinger, Best Actor-Peter Finch, Best Actress-Glenda Jackson, Best Original Screenplay

They Call Her One Eye-1973

They Call Her One Eye-1973

Director-Bo Arne Vibenius

Starring-Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf

Scott’s Review #1,061

Reviewed September 14, 2020

Grade: A-

They Call Her One Eye (1973) is a marvelously wicked revenge film that is a must-see for any Quentin Tarantino fans since it’s a blueprint for his works to come. The famous director worked as a clerk at a video store (back when they had video stores) and stumbled upon many odd and wonderful obscure, independent films. Through the guidance of his stepfather he was encouraged to pursue his love of film by visiting art theaters and such. Undoubtedly, They Call Her One Eye was one of his findings.

A young woman (Christina Lindberg) struggles to overcome her tortured past but runs into more trouble when she gets mixed up with a seemingly wonderful man (Heinz Hopf), who ends up being the exact opposite. After she misses her bus to her job at a farm, the man picks her up and soon has her working as a prostitute and addicted to drugs. Her only chance to escape will be to learn martial arts and exact revenge on her pimp. She spends her time off learning to fight and plotting a day of reckoning.

Impossible not to conjure images of Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), the film is told from a female perspective and revenge is the recipe of the day. The main character also wears an eye-patch, following a horrific scene when her eyeball is removed as punishment for being defiant. Any fan of Tarantino knows that the character of villainous Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in Kill Bill also wears an eye patch and is a force to be reckoned with.

The film is clearly focused on the 1970’s female revenge genre so the fun is witnessing how bad Madeleine is treated by her pimp and her myriad of clients because we know they will soon be dead. Director, Bo Arne Vibenius makes no bones about what type of film this is and as a good measure of gender equality, throws in a female client who abuses Madeleine. They Call Her One Eye is also reminiscent of I Spit on Your Grave, a disturbing 1978 American film with a similar story and more fanfare.

Those with even the slightest hint of prudishness must be forewarned. There is not only extreme nudity (the film is Swedish after all!),but contained within are several pornographic sequences of both vaginal and anal sex. The scenes are tough to watch, and unknown is whether the actors appeared in these moments themselves since their faces cannot be seen. Only, well, you know. My hunch is that these scenes were spliced in from real pornographic films of the day, but are not necessary or relevant to the rest of the film.

The Swedish locales are lovely especially those of the countryside or farmland and the subtitles are a nice to have. The film loses a point because my copy of the DVD is dubbed in English rather than authentically Swedish speaking. I personally found this a slight detraction but there are other viewers who may find this just fine.

The fight scenes are mostly done in slow-motion which is another Tarantino stamp. This adds some flavor as the slowed down scenes become more effective as blood and saliva spattering is at a maximum level. Madeleine is the clear heroine (no pun intended) of the story so the film doesn’t contain any other good characters except for Madeleine’s parents who quickly commit suicide after receiving hateful letters they think are from their daughter. Her plight is lofty since she is raped at a young age by a filthy derelict which leaves her mute. The girl has little luck.

Her pimp Tony is dastardly and when he picks her up on the roadside we know there is terror in store even though he benevolently takes her for dinner. They Call Her One Eye is so low budget that it almost feels like someone walked around with a camcorder and videotaped the sequences. Of course, this only lends credence to the grit the film produces and works exceptionally well for offering a seedy, dirty delight. Rumor has it that during the eye-slicing scene, recommended for only those with steel lined stomachs, a real corpse was used. Whether or not this is an urban legend is anyone’s guess.

Fans of Tarantino or those of experimental, artsy, horror meets thriller lined productions will adore They Call Her One Eye (1973) as it is plagued with richness, disturbing story lines and much blood. However, the result will leave feminists or anyone championing women with a small smile on their face after the dramatic conclusion.

Airport 1975-1974

Airport 1975-1974

Director-Jack Smight

Starring-Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,060

Reviewed September 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Possessing all the disaster film genre schmaltz, proper trimmings and then some, Airport 1975 (1974) is good, hammy entertainment that gleefully satisfies, though artistic types will be embarrassed to admit how much they like it. In parallel with The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974), the three were some of the highest grossing films of the year and it is little wonder why. The offering has enough adventure and peril to satisfy the entire family. I watched this film practically in tandem with Airport (1970) and it feels a letdown by comparison, but that hardly matters. Both are very good.

With juicy anticipation the film makers paid a ton of cash to secure a bevy of Hollywood stars of yesteryear assuring they could rake in the box office receipts. Most past their prime but still marketable, what a treat to see legendary silent film star Gloria Swanson playing herself as a passenger. The unequivocal star and hero of the film is Charlton Heston, as he also was in Earthquake. Karen Black, Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Susan Clark, Nancy Olson, and George Kennedy (reprising his role from the first Airport) round out the stellar cast. Worth its price of admission is watching the opening credits to see who is in the cast.

Unlike Airport, which wisely spent much of its time inside the actual airport setting up the events and stories, Airport 1975 takes flight right away and crafts its trials and tribulations within the aisles and cockpit of the plane. We learn right off the bat that the main romantic couple is Heston and Black. Captain Alan Murdock (Heston) apparently cannot commit to Chief Stewardess Nancy Pryor (Black) and they plan to meet up in Los Angeles to discuss the drama further. We know they will have more to do with each other as her flight takes off for La La Land.

Quickly, a small plane flown by businessman Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) is diverted to Salt Lake City airport and he suffers a massive heart attack while descending. His plane naturally crashes into the cockpit of the enormous Boeing 747 killing two pilots and blinding the other. With nobody able to fly the plane, Nancy must figure out how to divert disaster while cascading over mountains and contending with a fuel leak. Murdock and crew try to land the plane remotely or get somebody up there to save the day. Predictably, Murdock is that man.

If Airport 1975 weren’t so damned fun it would be offensive since it’s riddled with gender stereotypes. Screenwriter, Don Ingalls, composes a project so fraught with machismo and masculinity, the female characters have little chance to do much of anything without being saved by a man. Let’s cite a couple of examples. Nancy is left alone in the open cockpit to navigate the plane. Worthy of mention is that her hair remains perfect throughout. Anyway, Murdock must explain to her how to check various controls which he does as if she were a five-year-old learning the alphabet, referring to a picture of the “little airplane” and calling her “dear”. She rattles off a puzzled “what?” before figuring out where or what the “little airplane” is.

Secondary Stewardess Bette (Christopher Norris) is boy crazy, asking Nancy if the flight crew is “sexy” before making googly eyes at Latin pilot, Julio (Erik Estrada). He is married but that doesn’t seem to bother either of them. They flirt while he orders her to bring him a cup of coffee. In fact, the male characters telling the female characters to get them drinks is a common theme in Airport 1975. Naturally, Murdock eventually makes it on board to take over the controls and land the plane. We imagine Nancy’s character thinking, “Good Heavens, thank goodness a man arrived just in the nick of time to save all of us!”. She promptly is sent to get Murdock a drink and fluff pillows.

But these are gripes that I can look past with the knowledge that if this film were made in 2020 Nancy would either land the plane or Murdock would be a female character and Nancy a male character. Imagine that! The real treats are the peril and drama associated with the events on the flight. A sick kid (Linda Blair) must reach land quickly so that she can be provided medical assistance while a crack in the airplane ceiling could burst at any moment killing everyone on board. Etc. Etc. Etc.

For popcorn fueled entertainment sure to please any viewer Airport 1975 (1974) is a perfect late-afternoon, rainy day suggestion. Advisable is to not look too deeply into the stereotypes and contrived setups or this will ruin the fun. Instead, hop aboard and enjoy the bumpy flight from the comfy cushions of your living room with the assurance that you will land safe and sound.

Airport-1970

Airport-1970

Director-George Seaton

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes

Scott’s Review #1,059

Reviewed September 2, 2020

Grade: A

The film that triggered the popular disaster genre that captivated much of 1970’s cinema, Airport (1970) led the pack in innovation and entertained the masses with a large cast of A-list Hollywood stars suffering peril. What fun! The blueprint continued with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974). Interestingly, Airport contains little death, unlike the others who systematically killed off cast members in a reverse whodunit, more like “who gets it”. It holds up quite well.

Airport is pure bliss for me. An enormous fan of the disaster epic to begin with, this one satisfies my obsessions with airports and airplanes, adding late 1960’s sophistication and style, and a healthy dose of sub-plots. From a romantic triangle, to mental illness, to an elderly stowaway named Ada (Helen Hayes), the story lines mesh so that there’s never a dull moment. Events occur amid a twenty-four- hour time-period, and a busy and snowy Chicago airport is the backdrop.

The cinematic spectacle was based on a little-known novel of the same name written by Arthur Hailey and turned into a screenplay written by George Seaton, who also directs the flick. I love when a director also writes the dialogue because a better experience often prevails. Seaton directed Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and a slew of other films, so he knows a thing or two about pulling the heart strings while offering adventure. The film was rated “G” so it’s a family friendly affair.

A cold and snowy winter night in Chicago results in flight delays and a 707-plane getting stuck on the runway in snow and mud. As crews attempt to dig out the plane, Airport manager Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) is forced to work overtime. His furious wife Cindy (Dana Wynter) demands a divorce. He’s in love with Tanya anyway, a pretty customer relations agent for the airline, Trans Global Airlines, a clever play on Trans World Airlines. Other characters emerge like a high-spirited chief mechanic (George Kennedy), and married man Vernon, who is a captain of TGA and having an affair with stewardess Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), who is pregnant with his child.

The heavy is a mentally disturbed man named D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) who is so down on his luck that he desperately crafts a handmade bomb and takes out an insurance policy that his struggling wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton) will receive upon his death. He boards a plane to Rome with most of the other characters, intent on detonating the bomb, killing himself, and leaving Inez with some financial relief. When she catches on she hurries to the airport, desperate to stop the flight from departing. Of course, things don’t go so well.

The Guerrero’s are my favorite characters. D.O. could have easily been written as a villain, one-note and dastardly, but he isn’t. He is a sympathetic character, pained and wounded, his troubles the result of war, and he oozes compassion. Stapleton is tremendous as Inez, the suffering wife who loves her husband and desperately wants them to have a nice life. The actress gives a gut-wrenching performance that should have won her the Oscar. Instead, it went to the comic talents of Hayes.

The main appeal of these stories is that the audience slowly gets to know, and falls in love, with the characters. They become like good friends. The pacing is so good that it’s only the last forty-five minutes of the film where the real action takes place. Strong characters and rich stories are offered as the buildup, and we know that peril is eventually coming, and indeed it does.

The special effects and the airplane set are fantastic for 1970. The luxury airline with its plush seats and catered meals are on display and the entire length of the plane, and the cockpit, are used heavily. Characters walk up and down the aisles frequently, so the illusion is a vast and stylish airliner, even though a small set was probably used.

The stewardesses and pilots offer a glimpse of what a luxury it used to be to fly in style without the annoyances of long security lines, check-ins, and constant hassles. Hell, D.O. casually walks on the plane with a bomb and Ada gets on without a second glance when she claims to be giving a passenger their dropped wallet!

Airport (1970) set the tone for other similar films to follow and successfully mixes sudsy dramatic stories of its character’s lives with the thrills and plights of those same characters in danger. I don’t consider it the fluff that many others do, but a satisfying, well- constructed film that still holds up well. Followed by three sequels and heavily spoofed in a hilarious way by the comedy Airplane! (1980).

It bears repeated viewings.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Helen Hayes (won), Maureen Stapleton, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

The Mackintosh Man-1973

The Mackintosh Man-1973

Director-John Huston

Starring-Paul Newman, James Mason, Dominique Sanda

Scott’s Review #1,058

Reviewed August 31, 2020

Grade: B

The Mackintosh Man (1973) is not one of legendary director John Huston’s best films. Known for well-remembered titles like The African Queen (1951), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and The Misfits (1961) that all movie historians and fan buffs are familiar with (or should be), this project is rather lackluster, only picking up at the very end to offer a riveting ending. The rest is mediocre, suffering from a terribly weighted down plot, a lacking romance, and little in the way of answers or good wrap-up.

If this sounds too harsh I will say that anything starring Paul Newman is worth seeing. Huston hit the jackpot in the casting department and the actor provides enough to raise The Mackintosh Man’s status to an adequate “B” ranking. I hate the title as it took days for it to stay in my memory. Huston attempts to make the film a taut thriller which at times is achieved especially during the climax, and mix humor, but the funnies rarely come, only getting in the way of what would have been better in a darker vein. It feels like a weak attempt to turn Paul Newman into James Bond.

Back to Newman. With his handsome face and icy blue eyes, he makes any film compelling, but I never really bought him in the role. This could be because of how the character is written. Newman is an American actor who plays a British secret agent pretending (sometimes) to be Australian. This is a busy ask even for an actor of Newman’s caliber. He was much better in Alfred Hitchcock’s critically panned, but well-aged, Cold War thriller, Torn Curtain (1966) in a similar role. Dominique Sanda, brilliant in The Conformist (1969), has little screen time until the finale at which time her character finally shows depth.

Newman plays Joseph Rearden, a British intelligence agent tasked with bringing down a communist spy ring. After purposely getting himself tossed in a high-security prison, he breaks out of the joint in an escape arranged by a mysterious organization. Rearden then tries to track the group’s activities and unmask its shadowy leader played by James Mason. On paper, the premise sounds quite appealing and with Newman, Mason, and Sanda in pocket my expectations were lofty, but not met.

I am not painting the film as bad by any means, just not as good as I anticipated. Certainly, there are aspects that work. Reardon’s time in the prison is appealing and might have influenced the not yet made Escape from Alcatraz (1979). When a male prisoner makes a pass at Reardon on the lunch line asking Reardon if he’d like to dance with him, he is kindly rebuffed. The prisoner cleverly responds with “maybe in a year or two”? The scene is played for laughs, but also contains an innocence that is sweet. The Mackintosh Man is not a film where a scene like this can be interpreted as anything more than re-affirming Reardon (and Newman’s) masculinity, though.

From there, we get back to business.  He meets a convicted Russian spy and the two conceive a successful prison break. How they escape so easily is hard to swallow, but they apparently have help from an organization.  After the breakout, Reardon finds himself drugged and sent to Ireland. It turns out that the escapade was organized by Mackintosh in the hopes Reardon could infiltrate the Scarperers and gather information on the group’s leader, Sir George Wheeler (James Mason), and prove him to be a Russian spy. Just writing this out feels too confusing which is the film’s main problem.

Reardon has a flirtation with an eccentric tall, bad girl straight out of a Kubrick film before connecting better with Mrs. Smith (Sanda) and culminating in a harrowing climax aboard a luxury yacht with the gorgeous backdrop of Malta. The sequence almost makes the rest of the film forgivable as a lot of action suddenly develops and the landscape is gorgeous. A deadly an unexpected shooting occurs after an incident involving drugged champagne or white wine.

I advise watching The Mackintosh Man (1973) with the knowledge that the slowness and the confusion of most of the film is worth watching for the fantastic finish. Events and plot points may not necessarily all be spelled out, but the yacht scene and Malta locales are tremendous. Newman clearly carries the film with good acting from Mason and Sanda supporting the star.

Across the Universe-2007

Across the Universe-2007

Director-Julie Taymor

Starring-Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess

Scott’s Review #1,057

Reviewed August 27, 2020

Grade: A

Across the Universe (2007) is a film that some will deem sappy or trite or classify as a cliched love story, and admittedly some of those elements exist. But the film offers so much more. Truthfully, the romance genre is not usually for me, for those very reasons. Somehow the inclusion of The Beatles songs and the psychedelic backdrop of musical compositions makes the film beautiful, lovely, and charismatic. The war effects and the healthy dose of chemistry by the lead actors make this a winner in my book.

I adore the pairing of lovebirds Lucy and Jude, played by Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess. The chemistry between them sizzles from the moment they appear together, though this takes a while to happen. When it does, over a savory Thanksgiving meal and while bowling, I was hooked, and most audiences were too. The beauty is that we experience the characters separately first and get to know them well. The love story is the meat and potatoes of Across the Universe. If the connection between Jude and Lucy were not there the film would not work.

This is far from merely a love story, though. That is only one facet. A hefty thirty-four Beatles compositions are included throughout the film, all strategically placed in clever fashion to match the scene. For example, when Jude is working in a Liverpool shipyard in the 1960’s, he reminisces about a girl he has loved and lost to the tune of “Girl”. In a matching sequence Lucy frets about her current boyfriend heading off to the Vietnam War while singing “Hold Me Tight”.

The 1960’s time-period is brilliantly placed to add not only a clear juxtaposition to when the Beatles ruled the world, but during a frightening time in world history when many young soldiers died needlessly during the ravaging war. The mixture of the war, the songs, and the hybrid of live action and animation provides a magical, other-worldly quality that is perfect. It provides a feeling of escapism to the deadly war. The visuals and the gorgeous colors are a complete contrast to the grey and dark war elements.

Julie Taymor takes an anti-war, activist stance created through the main characters when Jude and Lucy proclaim themselves revolutionaries. This occurs when the war hits home after Lucy’s brother is drafted. They sadly realize they may never see Daniel again, and they are right. Taymor gives a personal touch to the characters and a political decision is made that shapes the film. I found the stance perfectly logical given the characters and their viewpoints, but some audience members could be turned off or feel slighted depending on their beliefs. I love the point she makes that war is bad.

Twenty-five of the vocal tracks are performed by one or more of the six lead cast members. My favorite treasures are the new takes on classic songs, especially “Come Together” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” which are unusual and elegant. When Daniel is killed in Vietnam, and in Detroit a young boy is killed in the 1967 riot (combined “Let It Be”), the moment is sentimental and powerful. A dry eye will not be left.

Locales such as Greenwich Village, New York City show the creative artists who inhabit those streets. The riot-fueled streets of Detroit, Michigan are featured, and finally the dirty and jungle killing fields of Vietnam provide a diverse slate of experiences. The love story and musical soundtrack provide exceptional emotion to an important and timeless film. Across the Universe (2007) is artistic and inspirational.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Westworld-1973

Westworld-1973

Director-Michael Crichton

Starring-Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner

Scott’s Review #1,056

Reviewed August 25, 2020

Grade: A-

I have seen the film version of Westworld (1973) before and after having watched the current hit HBO television series, brilliant in its complexities. Many are not even aware that the series is based on a film and that is a pity because the film is good stuff with lots to digest in a short time. Admittedly, watching it in present times given the extreme psychology that the series offers, the film has so much more it could have offered but it’s still a great watch. One must always remember the time-period a film is made for proper context and comparison.

Yul Brynner nearly steals the film in a spectacular and creepy performance as a wide-eyed futuristic android cowboy to Richard Benjamin and James Brolin’s regular guys out for an escapist good time. Much of the film could be conceived as a buddy film with a bevy of homoerotic elements brimming beneath the surface if one is aware. These tidbits spice things up in an already escapist and futuristic world.

A titillating high-tech adult-themed amusement park is the backdrop of the film. Participants can choose any of three worlds to embark to: Western World, Medieval World, or Roman World. All contain lavish and realistic trimmings and ooze realism. The inhabitants are robots, not real people, so they can be shot, stabbed, or made love to depending on the personal tastes of those who wish to indulge in their wildest fantasies. The island is very exclusive, and the experience comes at a high cost.

Peter (Benjamin) and John (Brolin) are businessmen who adore the Wild West, so they select Western World. They enjoy frolicking with desperadoes, gunslingers, and dance-hall girls who appear as if they are human beings. Enjoying their adventures, the technicians notice odd behavior from the androids. Small at first, events escalate quickly when a gunslinger (Brynner) goes on a rampage with Peter and John as his targets.

Since the television series is fleshed out so well and the motivations and the stories of the androids are examined at length, it makes it easy to ask why the film does not or rather, wish it had. On the one hand, it is creepy not knowing what makes Brynner’s gunslinger tick, on the other hand, I want to know what makes him tick. I also wanted to know more about the guests. Why were they there and what are their lives in the real world like?

One way in which the film is superior to the series is the way Peter and John are written. Is it my imagination or do the pair seem a little closer than merely friends? Do they wish to escape their lives to be together? Are wives and children waiting at home for them? A scene of Peter bathing is erotic especially as he must abandon the tub mid soak to battle a foe. He is the Marlboro man personified, though Benjamin’s too recent turn as the twit father from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) ruins any masculinity he has.

The climax is riveting. Since we are unsure of the gunslinger’s motivations we are unsure what he will do. A frightening scene occurs when the gunslinger intently walks down a corridor with his expressionless eyes attentively stalking his prey. This still gives me the chills. When the android sprayed with acid his face becomes freakish and psychotic-looking this adds fright to an already frightening character. When Peter frantically traverses the park looking for help his peril is terrific as he finds dead guests and damaged robots everywhere. The severity of the situation is finally realized.

Crichton deserves much of the credit since he not only directed but wrote the screenplay, and this was his debut! The pacing is excellent and there is something going on all the time making the film feel as entertaining as it is intelligent. The dazzling cinematography of the worlds allows the viewer to see the differences. Westworld is riddled with intriguing questions that are left unanswered and this adds to the tension.

Impossible not to compare film to series as much as we might like not to, Westworld (1973) is a freakish, creative, adventure that I wanted so much more from having seen the complexities and story possibilities crafted for the series. I am not a fan of remakes but in this case a modern retelling is not a bad idea. Some accuse the film of being cheesy, over-the-top, or “too 70’s”, but I disagree. I really like the hidden trimmings and messages mixed with the good fun.

Absence of Malice-1981

Absence of Malice-1981

Director-Sydney Pollack

Starring-Paul Newman, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,055

Reviewed August 20, 2020

Grade: A-

Absence of Malice (1981) is a terrific, slick crime thriller that while compelling and way above average in content, feels like a studio creation and a starring vehicle for its two A-list stars. There is little wrong with this since Paul Newman and Sally Field are top notch talent and the resulting project has tension, thrills, and a relevant concept. I loved the Miami locales as the hot and steamy atmosphere helps set the proper tone tremendously with sizzling romance and intrigue. Despite feeling manipulated for the casting, the film nonetheless feels fresh and authentic.

The film compares to 1976’s magnificent All the President’s Men as far as story and look goes, though Absence of Malice is much more mainstream. The former has more grit and dirt while the latter adds some romance that may or may not have been a wise decision and the chemistry between Newman and Field is mediocre, but it’s the story that works. In rock n roll terms, Absence of Malice is the opening act to All the President’s Men’s headliner. They make a perfect double-bill.

Field plays Megan Carter, an ambitious young journalist who writes a scathing article implicating Michael Gallagher (Newman), a successful liquor wholesaler with ties to a criminal family, with the disappearance of a labor leader. When he confronts Megan, she sees his side and the duo team up to find the truth. Complicating matters is their mutual attraction which leads to romantic interludes.

The initial setup seems like a ploy to have Megan and Michael at odds and then fall madly in love. Fortunately, the story has more depth than that. Any trite 1980’s or 1990’s romantic comedy uses the same trick. No, not only do sparks fly but the characters realize that Megan was duped in order to write the article. This sets off a series of events to figure out who wants to frame Michael and why. And why Megan has been “chosen” to help see this through.

There is plenty of political espionage and other things to keep the audience engaged. Similar genre films would flood movie theaters throughout the decade becoming watered down. If Absence of Malice was released in 1988 or 1989 it would not have had the same effect as it did upon release in 1981. The soggy 1980’s style film making had not yet appeared, so I like to think of Absence as more of a 1970’s film.

Field is a Nancy Drew type, a sleuth determined to solve a mystery. She is assertive, yet feminine with a trendy hairstyle. Newman is, well, Newman. Aging handsomely with his dazzling blue eyes he can charm the pants off any woman. I didn’t quite buy the romantic element and not because he is at least twenty years older than she. He is suave and charming, and she is so strait-laced that the romance doesn’t work. The film would have been better as a buddy film with a male and a female buddy.

Supporting stars flesh the film out nicely, especially Melinda Dillon who is fabulous in the role of Teresa Perrone, the conflicted friend of Michael’s who serves as his alibi. In a nicely crafted side story, she suffers because her abortion is revealed to the public. Teresa, a devout Catholic must decide between life and death. Admirable is it to give a supporting character a good, juicy story.

Pollack is the right director for the job and he successfully crafts a thriller that is laden with liberal beliefs and serves up a message film without losing the tension. Absence of Malice has snippets of style and tone reminiscent of some of his other films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969), The Way We Were (1973), and The Electric Horseman (1979). My mind wanders thinking about a potential Robert Redford/Jane Fonda pairing instead of Field and Newman, or some combination of a Barbra Streisand/Newman/Redford/Fonda mix.

I am not sure if Absence of Malice (1981) is still on anyone’s radar, but some forty years later the message couldn’t be timelier. When journalists are regularly attacked by government officials for providing “fake news” or “alternate facts” this film is a refreshing reminder that more often what they seek is to uncover corruption and get to the truth.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actress-Melinda Dillon, Best Original Screenplay

About Schmidt-2002

About Schmidt-2002

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates

Scott’s Review #1,054

Reviewed August 18, 2020

Grade: A-

Anyone familiar with the works of director Alexander Payne knows that the man is notorious for crafting pictures with a wry humor and dark sarcasm mixed with emotion. Election-1999, Sideways-2004, and The Descendants-2011 immediately spring to mind. Interestingly, several of his projects are set in Omaha, Nebraska, not exactly a hotbed of excitement, but there is a reason for this- he embraces the every man. Payne also has a knack for casting big stars, sometimes before they are big stars, giving them meaty and clever roles to sink their teeth into.

With About Schmidt (2002) he hits the jackpot and obtains the legendary Jack Nicholson, an actor famous for turning down many roles that simply aren’t good. This already bodes well for the film which spotlights an older character and plants the spotlight firmly on him, admirable in youth obsessed Hollywood. The film is very good, sometimes adding stock characters, but an admirable, worthwhile effort with surprisingly strong emotion and sentimentality. The result was both a critical and commercial success and is highly recommended.

The film kicks off showing Walter Schmidt (Nicholson) literally staring at the clock in his office, day after day counting the minutes until his shift concludes and he goes home for dinner. He has a dull job as an actuary at a life insurance company. Finally, one day he retires and feeling useless, sponsors an African child, the two become quick pen pals. Suddenly, Walter’s wife, Helen (June Squibb), dies as they are about to embark on a cross country trip in their Winnebago. Devastated, he finally goes it alone.

About Schmidt is a film with many emotions: happy, angry, sad. Walter is a lonely, unhappy man, in a loveless marriage with Helen, though he doesn’t have the heart to tell her. She’s a nice lady, but the honeymoon ended years ago, and the spark has dulled. At the same time, he has a tough time coping with her death and can barely cook, clean, or do laundry. He uncovers a secret about his wife that both turn his life into free fall and inspires him to conjure up the nerve to live a little.

Walter is a great character and exhibits traits of many, many men. He is someone for audiences (especially male) to relate to and fall in love with. Bored with life, he is used to doing the same thing every day, no doubt eating the same meals, going to bed at the same time each night, etc. Helen really dictates what he does, reducing him to urinating sitting down. Audiences will champion his reemergence to the land of the living! The fun is witnessing his escapades.

A hilarious sequence erupts when he meets the vivacious Roberta Hertzel (Kathy Bates). She is the mother of Walter’s daughter Jeannie’s (Hope Davis) intended, Randall (Dermot Mulroney) and has a voracious sexual appetite. She immediately sets her sights on Walter and attempts to seduce the unwitting man in her hot tub. Bates is terrific in the role and her nude scene is something to always remember and major props to the actress for letting it all hang out!

The characters of Jeannie and Randall are not written especially well, and I was not a fan at all. They are “types” meant to complicate the plot or effect other characters in some way. Actors Davis and Mulroney do their best with what they are provided, but they are meant to be obstacles for Walter to overcome. He loves his daughter and doesn’t want to see her marry a jerk. Jeannie is angry because her life hasn’t turned out the way she wanted it to, so she takes it out on Walter. I did not buy or bond with Jeannie or Randall the way I did with Walter and Roberta.

Nicholson’s performance is one of the best of his career and certainly the most multi-faceted. The final scene when he returns home to find a note from his pen pal with a sentimental crayon drawing is electric with emotion, feeling authentic and is a pivotal breakthrough for Walter. The character runs the course from submissive and lost to emboldened and strong. It’s a joy to watch his progression.

I love how Payne frequently celebrates and showcases older characters who are more than providers of advice, good listeners, or some other watered-down stock characters. They have their own stories and enriched, meaningful lives. About Schmidt (2002) has it all and is one of Payne’s top films deservedly showcasing this generation in cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Jack Nicholson, Best Supporting Actress-Kathy Bates

The Great Escape-1963

The Great Escape-1963

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,053

Reviewed August 17, 2020

Grade: B

Often heralded as one of the great World War II action films of all time, there is little great about the first half of the interminable two hour and fifty-three-minute running time. With enough military silliness to make television’s Hogan’s Heroes seem like high drama, the first half of The Great Escape (1963) would be graded a mediocre C or a C- and that’s being generous.

The final hour is an entirely different matter and when the actual “great escape” is launched the film kicks into high gear. Not only does the action kick-off, but the characters become more layered, emotional, and compelling. There are also killer location shots of Germany and Switzerland occurring at a zooming pace and the comedy soon turns to tragedy. Why the decision to save all the goodies for the final act instead of dispersing them around is beyond me, but I am glad this film took off like it did.

Directed by John Sturges, known for creating a similarly masculine and muscular offering from 1960, The Magnificent Seven,  he once again is lucky to cast several of Hollywood’s then hot, young stars like Steve McQueen and James Garner, and more relatable character actors like Donald Pleasence and Richard Attenborough who provide the acting grit. While not on my list of great World War II films-Schindler’s List (1993) gets top honors, the film is recommended for the gutsy and enthralling finale alone.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 nonfiction book of the same name, a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, and rather shockingly, the real events are significantly modified from the historical record, depicting a starkly fictionalized version of the escape, including Americans among the escapees.

Let’s discuss both portions, warts and all. The changes are most irritating and done to make it more “Americanized” and therefore more appealing to mainstream audiences. This manipulation gnawed at me during most of the film since it’s factually incorrect. To be fair, there is a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the film with a note basically saying the story is a work of fiction save for the escape portion, but this will inevitably be unnoticed or forgotten by the casual viewer.

Most of the first arc action is spent within the confinement of a massive, high-security, prisoner-of-war camp where the group of men are huddled, having escaped other camps or prisons. You would think the camp would be the equivalent of Alcatraz but besides some barbed wire and not so threatening German soldiers with guns they rarely use, it’s not so intimidating. Nonetheless, shortly upon arrival the group begins to plot their elaborate, mostly underground escape.

Whoever composed the musical score for the first section was going for a campy, situation comedy style tone with brassy, patriotic tunes worthy of Gilligan’s Island. This does nothing to create tension or danger nor do the Nazi soldiers. The men would be terrifying and rely on torture, but there is none of that to be found. Safe, but trying to be stern, this does not work as the German soldiers are played more like foils than those to be feared.

When the “great escape” is upon us, The Great Escape gets an A plus for its thrills, action, and emotion. A harrowing plane ride taken by Robert Hendley (Garner) and Colin Blythe (Pleasence) is juicy with tension and atmosphere. As the duo flies low across the German terrain heading over the Swiss Alps for safety the plane exhibits trouble. Meanwhile, Hilts (McQueen) steals a motorcycle and traverses the Germany/Switzerland border in a frantic chase scene while the Germans are in hot pursuit. In a third sequence, other men flee via train in a cat and mouse pursuit.

Seventy-six POW’s flee the camp and a startling fifty are killed. Twenty-three are returned to the camp and only three successfully escape. If Sturges had built around the final hour and reduced the silly comedy style, probably attempting a contrasting theme to make the drama more imbalanced, he might have had a masterpiece on hand. Instead, The Great Escape (1963) is a twofold experience. A comedy that develops into a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller, but suffers from too much historical inaccuracy to reach the depths of cinematic greatness.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

A.I. Artificial Intelligence-2001

A.I. Artificial Intelligence- 2001

Director- Steven Spielberg

Starring-Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law

Scott’s Review #1,052

Reviewed August 13, 2020

Grade: B+

A bit of a history lesson about the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).  The final cinematic version is based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, which was purchased and developed by director Stanley Kubrick in the 1970’s. Left unfinished for years, and the subsequent passing of Kubrick after he had started to collaborate with Steven Spielberg, the film was finally carved into a final project by Spielberg. Upon close study the film possesses the mark of both directors with the edge going to Spielberg.

The tone of the story contains a creepiness and oddity familiar to fans of Kubrick, like he may have been thinking along the lines of a similar theme to the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Both center around robots and a futuristic world. Spielberg adds a humanistic, sympathetic, and slightly melancholy edge like he did with E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) so that we adore the main character and want justice for him. In contrast, Kubrick made his version of an extra-terrestrial in 2001: A Space Odyssey a scary villain. The results are mostly good, but uneven in parts.

The premise is solid and grasps our attention. The time is the twenty-second century, when the polar ice caps have melted and submerged many coastal cities. It’s also a time when humans live side by side with “mechas,” or sentient robots. Henry and Monica Swinton are suffering because their son Martin has a rare disease and is placed in suspended animation. They are given a Mecha child capable of experiencing love. Henry and Monica fall in love with David and, in a plot twist worthy of a daytime soap -opera, Martin returns to life, becomes jealous of David in a plot reminiscent of The Good Son (1993), tries to frame David for monstrous deeds, and David is nearly shipped off to parts unknown.

This is Spielberg’s first crack at screenwriting in nearly twenty-five years, since Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and he does a decent job. No secret is that both films, along with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial have common themes so he clearly feels comfortable with these subjects. The humanity is there, but the screenplay is often too busy with story points coming and going at rapid pace. I wanted a deeper dive into Henry and Monica to feel more from their characters and what makes them tick. I felt their pain of having (sort of) lost a child, but not why they needed to fill the void so quickly.

Osment is insanely good in a film so complex that his performance could have easily been overshadowed by the other elements. Instead, he powers through adding complexities to a character the audience falls in love with, aching and yearning along with him. David is faced with terrible, life-changing news of not only being adopted but of not even being human. His determination to find out who he truly is takes the viewer down a path of both entertainment and adventure, but also of bitter emotion.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) has a lot going on and critically speaking, maybe too much. Spielberg fleshes out the original short story and tasks the viewer with enduring a global warming message, important, but a trite overdone, and sympathizing with David, the lonely robot boy. The story becomes an exciting adventure and the complexities between being human and being almost human are explored, but not quite satisfactory. Osment and Law are terrific with dazzling chemistry and the visuals and musical score are astounding. Osment should have received a Best Actor Oscar nomination to follow the one he got for The Sixth Sense (1999).

Oscar Nominations: Best Musical Score, Best Visual Effects

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

Director-John Cassavetes

Starring-Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk

Scott’s Review #1,051

Reviewed August 11, 2020

Grade: A

I champion films that are not necessarily easy to digest but are well-worth the struggle if the result is either a fantastic pay-off or the afterglow of watching something of worth or substance. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a grueling watch for the ferocious intensity alone that Gena Rowlands infuses into her emotionally challenged title character. Rowlands and director/writer/husband John Cassavetes changed the face of independent film forever with this project.

Critical film darling and fantastic director Cassavetes specifically wrote the screenplay of A Woman Under the Influence for Rowlands who wanted to play the character but could not take the strain of playing her eight days a week on stage as originally envisioned. Thus, the project was birthed using their own money to finance the making of it. Co-star Peter Falk also contributed financially. Each served as makeup artist, gofer, or performed other non-actor or non-director tasks to achieve the end results. A real house was used to film in rather than on a studio set.

The film was rebuffed by distributors and Cassavetes begged to have it shown at college campuses where he would discuss the film afterwards. It was the first time in the history of motion pictures that an independent film was distributed without the use of a nationwide system of sub-distributors. This is the main reason that Cassavetes is heralded as an independent film god and has a category named after him at the annual Independent Spirit Film Awards.

Rowlands parts mountains to make this role her own and she is passionate about it. Originally only seeing the legendary actress in one film, the gritty Gloria (1980), I kept a notion of her as the impatient, tough-as-nails, mobster girlfriend that she played in that excellent film (also directed by Cassavetes). In A Woman Under the Influence, made six years prior to Gloria, she plays a much more vulnerable, to say nothing of unhinged, character. This is not to say that Mabel is crazy in a psychotic sort of way. She is loving and adoring of her husband, Nick (Falk), and kids Margaret and Angelo. Rowlands puts her versatility on display.

In her desperate attempts to keep her family happy she tries to put on a brave front as she dutifully cooks dinner, puts her kids to bed, and kisses her husband. Inside though she is dying and unsure what is wrong with her. She knows she is unhappy and doesn’t know why. What she does know is that she is slowly going insane.

At the risk of making A Woman Under the Influence Rowland’s film as the title implies, it’s really not. Falk does not merely serve as a supporting player to her story but blossoms with one of his own. The story could have easily been told only from Mabel’s perspective, but we see such a range of emotions from Falk as his character tries desperately to keep it together. This is great acting. Nick thinks that inviting friends over to celebrate Mabel’s return home from the hospital is a good idea, and realizing it’s not, angrily sends them home. His emotions spiral as much as hers do, but in a different way.

The best scenes are the most emotionally taxing for all. When Mabel talks gibberish at a speed of a mile a minute, Nick tries to be patient but soon explodes with anger, sympathetic to his wife but also exhausted beyond belief. When Mabel and Nick spar fireworks explode. In pure Cassavetes genius there lies no solution to Mabel’s woes and we wonder what will happen to her. Will she eventually be institutionalized for life? Will she take her own life or someone else’s life? The vagueness is its beauty.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is one of the most realistic films ever made to focus on mental illness in a difficult and truthful way. To add boldness to the tough subject matter, especially given the time-period made when we now know more about the disease, Cassavetes and Rowlands add a feminist quality to the film while also showcasing the male point of view. 1970’s cinema oozed with creativity, richness, and experimentation. True artists emerged, who have created an important legacy on small budgeted films forever.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-John Cassavetes, Best Actress-Gena Rowlands

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

Director-Piers Haggard

Starring-Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden

Scott’s Review #1,050

Reviewed August 7, 2020

Grade: B

I am always up for a good British horror film, the creepy musical score, the satanic elements, and the eclectic, good actors. Especially embraceable are offerings from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), also released as Satan’s Skin, is very reminiscent of both Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973), the three often lumped together in a small, brief sub-genre termed folk horror.

The film is not high art nor is it intended to be. Taking itself too seriously would ruin the experience. Instead, a gruesome low-budget offering is just what the doctor ordered for a late-night sipping cocktails or doing your preferred enlightenment or sedative. The elements are all there- thunder and lightning, a perfect score, and an English countryside.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw would have been dynamite if the choice to cast horror legend Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee came to fruition, but Cushing’s wife was dying of cancer and Lee wanted too high a salary, or so the story goes. Anyway, Patrick Wymark was awarded the lead role of a village judge. The actor had a penchant for booze and had to be watched closely. Sadly, he died soon after filming wrapped.

Those expecting a concise plot will be disappointed. Reportedly, the script was changed and changed and changed in dizzying fashion before filming commenced. Some plot points and characters are introduced only to be unceremoniously dropped or forgotten. Little wonder why the story confused me to no end. Many characters have strange reaction shots as if they are reacting to different scenes. No matter though, the film is a good time despite the inconsistencies.

In a nutshell, a cute plowman Ralph (Barry Andrews) uncovers a hideously deformed skull with one gouging eye and strange fur. When he reports his finding to the local judge (Wymark), the skeptical man is disbelieving especially when the skull disappears before he lays eyes on it. The village and its inhabitants quickly succumb to a group of teenage devil-worshipers led by beautiful but fiendish Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) who begin to perform blood sacrifices to bring the skull back to life.

Director, Piers Haggard, who also did some script writing along with Robert Wynne-Simmons, does a great job with adding the appropriate elements to create a satisfactory mood. The ancient setting of early-eighteenth century England is always a juicy horror add-on since the unfamiliar time-period adds mystique. The cinematography is gorgeous with lavish fields and stone buildings. I could have done without the laughably bad wigs the male actors were forced to wear, though.

Hayden is the standout for me. A dead ringer for The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick, only British, mixes deadly with beautiful in an underappreciated role. The actress was at that time a sex symbol appearing in other horror film treats such as Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Vampira (1974). As the teenage ringleader her best scene is when she serves as temptress to the local Reverend (Anthony Ainley). She seductively disrobes and confidently walks over to the intimidated man offering full-frontal nudity and the obvious daydreams of schoolboys everywhere.

Those not turned off by witch hunts, devil fur shavings, or characters sawing off their own limbs will find The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) a real treat. The film will please those classic horror fans expecting what the expected is in British horror which is a good thing. The demonic and religious trimmings mix well with a cast that is clearly classically trained with most appearing in similar themed horror films. The story is weak and haphazard but the film is recommended to just enjoy the moment with.

Uncut Gems-2019

Uncut Gems-2019

Director-Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie

Starring-Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel

Scott’s Review #1,049

Reviewed August 5, 2020

Grade: A-

The Safdie brothers have quickly emerged as a directing force to be reckoned with, producing two “gems” in only three years. Co-writing the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein, the final product is jagged, fast-paced, and frighteningly intense. Uncut Gems (2018) follows up the similar themed Good Time (2017) giving star Adam Sandler his greatest role yet. Yes, his performance even rivals the brilliant Punch-Drunk Love (2002) persona leading him to his first Independent Spirit Award win for Best Male Lead. He was robbed of an Oscar nomination. We can’t have everything.

Playing a loud-mouthed Jew is hardly new territory for the actor. Think-most of his screwball comedies from the 1990’s and 2000’s before he delved into serious actor territory. In the dreadful Jack and Jill (2011) he played two of them! But a trip down memory lane is surely not what the actor prefers, instead undoubtedly preferring to veer off course to more mature movies for the latter part of his film career. Uncut Gems made money so let’s hope so.

We meet Howard Ratner (Sandler) following his first ever colonoscopy which leaves him anxious and irritable. On better days he is needier, and a somewhat lovable teddy bear as he carries on an affair with his employee, Julia (Julia Fox) and his estranged wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) who has agreed to a divorce after Passover. Howard runs KMH, an upscale jewelry store in the Diamond District section of New York City. How he lands and carries on with both gorgeous ladies are a mystery, but Dinah is a kept woman and Julia’s father is in the jewelry industry, thus explaining why Howard is. There is something particularly charismatic about Howard that draws other characters and the viewers to him.

As revealed in the beginning of the film, and the main story line, Howard has made a deal with Ethiopian Jewish miners somewhere in Africa to obtain a valuable black opal and sell it to him for cheap presumably so that he can make a ton of money from it in the States. It is also quickly established that Howard is a mess, owing $100,000 to his brother-in-law and loan shark. To complicate matters, his shady business associate brings basketball star Kevin Garnett into Howard’s shop. After he eyes the opal, he asks to borrow it for one night with his NBA Championship ring as collateral. This cannot end well, and it doesn’t.

The subsequent activity in Uncut Gems is crude, foul-mouthed, and off-putting to some. I have friends who watched eight or twelve minutes of it and either turned it off or left the theater in a huff. If you are expecting a comedy rife with potty jokes or other juvenile humor look elsewhere. This is the real deal with a deadly ending impossible to imagine. I loved the settings of Manhattan, Long Island, and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut the best.

The Safdie brothers have two major knacks. They can craft a tense, edge of your seat crime thriller like nobody’s business with a pulsating backdrop and a herky-jerky editing style. They can also catapult A-list actors teetering on the verge of being typecast for specific roles into the deep waters of creativity and sink or swim risk. No better example than Robert Pattinson’s risky turn as a grizzled bank robber in Good Time (2017), shedding his sterile pretty boy image that The Twilight (2008-2013) films brought him. This led to his wonderful turn in The Lighthouse (2019).

The soon to be household names directing team does not deserve all the credit though even though the men serve in a variety of key positions including acting, editing, shooting, mixing sound, and producing their films. Sandler has become an interesting and versatile actor as he forges into the drama vein. Happy to roll up his sleeves and do an indie film for little money (like he needs it!) he proves that an unlikable character can have hints of likability, black humor, and pizzazz. He completely embodies Howard and makes the audience love/hate him. He balances two women, schemes to get rich, and neglects his kid’s school play, yet he is appealing.

Let’s ceremoniously proclaim 2019 as the year that stars previously known for generic films determined to break out with challenging and fantastic roles were shunned by the Academy. Jennifer Lopez, shockingly snubbed for Hustlers (2019), clearly being punished for years of drivel such as Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Monster-in-Law (2005) joins her compadre Sandler in two of the biggest snubs of the decade with Uncut Gems (2019).

Perhaps an Oscar will be in their future if they stay the course and remain true to the work.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Male Lead-Adam Sandler (won), Best Director-Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie (won), Best Screenplay, Best Editing (won)

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Director-Matt Tyrnauer

Starring-Scotty Bowers

Scott’s Review #1,048

Reviewed August 3, 2020

Grade: B+

Based on the scandalous tell-all novel from 2012, “Full Service”, a clever play on words of the fetishist subject matter, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018) is a juicy, entertaining documentary about one man’s experiences managing the deepest and darkest secrets of Hollywood’s glamorous A-list stars.

The documentary is gossipy and dripping with saucy details and is also a titillating affair, grabbing hold of the viewer and leaving them wondering who did what with whom? Any audience member who doesn’t desire to learn the sexual appetites of greats like Katharine Hepburn and Carey Grant is either lying or repressing themselves.

Scotty Bowers, who served as an unpaid pimp from the 1940’s through the 1980’s is today a spry ninety-something-year-old who gets around like a man in his seventy’s and even climbs a ladder now and then (carefully!). He served in the United States Marines during World War II and decided to go to Hollywood directly after, landing a job at a gas station, eventually owning it. He and closeted military friends became confidantes and aids to stars preferring same sex entanglements. Scotty, clearly either bi-sexual or “gay for pay” is now married to a woman.

Before viewers pass judgment and think of Scotty as merely a pervert or sexual deviant looking for favor with the stars, a closer examination reveals the heroism of a man such as Scotty. Without him many stars and their sexual conquests would have had no outlet to express themselves or their sexuality. While hidden and contained, they were allowed some brief freedom to be themselves and explore desires otherwise left unfulfilled leading to further depression, drug use, or suicides. Closeted gays had to endure enough as it was.

The director of the project, Matt Tyrnauer, wisely segments the Hollywood portions of the documentary into two sections, the then and the now. He explains how different the industry was in the 1940’s when a scandal or an outing would have ruined a star’s career. While those in the scene were “in the know” and cavalier about the tastes of a Hepburn or a Grant, the small-town public would have cast stones.

Now, as shown, things are very different, and a bevy of entertainers are out and proud. As Scotty, yes still working at ninety-years-old, makes appearances at book signings and meet-and-greets, he occasionally skirmishes with an upset fan who feels Scotty’s revelations will hurt the star’s surviving family members. I feel that truth is truth and have no issues with the stories or any doubt that the secrets Scotty spills are true.

The personal side to Scotty is left murky. An admitted opportunist left unclear is Scotty’s true motivations. He is a humorous man and laughs at his own wise cracks, fondly driving down memory lane with former hustlers. His wife adores him but prefers not to read his book or pay much attention to his life before he met her since he never admitted this side of himself. Some tension exists between the pair but is it merely bickering or unresolved tensions bubbling beneath the surface?

The documentary lags slightly when it spends too much time and energy on Scotty’s hoarding obsession. He owns a house filled with stuff collected over the years leaving it uninhabitable. After a couple of separate occurrences related to this issue, I thought to myself, “who cares”? as it parlays too far from the delicious topic at hand.

As of July 2020, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018), the documentary, has been purchased to be developed into a feature film based on Bowers’ life. Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name-2017), is hired to direct. An acclaimed director familiar with telling a truthful and poignant LGBTQ story, will assuredly do wonders to bring honesty and delight to the silver screen. One can hardly wait.

The Tin Drum-1979

The Tin Drum-1979

Director-Volker Schlöndorff

Starring-David Bennent, Angela Winkler

Scott’s Review #1,047

Reviewed July 31, 2020

Grade: A

A fantastic and mesmerizing film experience that goes deeper than most films do the longer you stick with it, The Tin Drum (1979) takes a brutal point in world history and completes a layered production. The film brings humor morphing into tragedy and back again in the most original of ways seen through the eyes of a young boy named Oskar (David Bennent), who decides to physically grow no further than three-years-old in an allegory of political turmoil amid World War II. The film is riddled with thought provocation and historical meaning resulting in brilliance.

The film begins in 1899 and ends in the early 1940’s. The story starts hilariously in Polish lands when Oskar’s grandfather meets his grandmother while fleeing police. Their tryst in a potato field produces Oskar’s mother, Agnes (Angela Winkler). She is then later torn between two men, her cousin Jan (Daniel Olbrychski) and Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf), whom she marries. Oskar is born with his parentage in question since Agnes carries on an affair with Jan throughout the years. Oskar’s grandfather flees to America and becomes rich sans family.

When Oskar turns three, he is given a tin drum as a present that he adores and refuses to part with. He throws himself down the cellar stairs much to his family’s chagrin and develops the uncanny ability to shatter glass by screaming at a high pitch. As the 1930’s become the 1940’s Oskar witnesses his mother’s affair, her tragic death, his father’s and uncle’s deaths, and a beloved Jewish man committing suicide rather than being caught by the Nazis. He finds love with a sixteen-year-old shop girl named Maria and may or may not father her baby.

The Tin Drum is not always an easy watch and teeters between fun and frightening. Oskar is not the lovable kid next door that everyone adores. He is creepy looking and unattractive at first glance, almost demonic in nature. Actor David Bennent is perfectly cast and has a way of offering moments where he stands transfixed, mouth dropped open, taking in the action and making gazing observations. Oskar goes from three years old when the film begins to a grown man when it ends but never changes appearance.

Some viewers may be bothered by certain scenes. Bennent was only eleven years old and suffered from a growth defect in real-life. More prudish viewers may find the youngster’s intimacy a bit shocking since he appears nude and beds a woman in full view. I found it in no way gratuitous or exploitative and would argue that it is vital to show the growth and maturation of little Oskar. Foreign language films typically get away with more sex and nudity than American films, but the scenes are artistic and beautiful.

The pacing in The Tin Drum is terrific. At two hours and forty-three minutes there is plenty of time to explore relevant scenes and sequences slowly letting them brew and marinate. The comedy of Oskar’s grandparent’s sexual appetites taking place under her big dress are hilarious and reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s best films. The intriguing dwarf characters that Oskar meets and befriends bring life and zest to the film as they embrace their peculiarities and profit from them encouraging them to do the same.

The second half of The Tin Drum turns dark. Agnes, now pregnant, vomits after witnessing eel being collected on the beach. When they are prepared for dinner, she at first resists then embarks on a fish-eating obsession resulting in her untimely death. Is this an example of showing German’s stuffing themselves with Nazism? The deaths of Jan, Alfred, and others follow in rapid succession as clips of the Nazi occupation are featured.

A valuable history lesson is offered when The Tin Drum incorporates real-life footage of Adolph Hitler. Most frightening is a clip of him outside of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. How he overtook this magical city and almost destroyed it is unfathomable. This perfectly counterbalances the fairy-tale or ridiculousness of other scenes bringing home the terrible message that much of what the film explores are true events.

The greatness that oozes from The Tin Drum (1979) is layered and dynamic. The filming is mostly in West Germany with bits shot in Poland which gives an authenticity of the experience. Other offerings are surrealistic, sometimes child-like innocence, sometimes tragic and too realistic. The picture drizzles with life, energy, synergy, and multi-faceted character relationships. One of the greats to watch more than once to grasp the numerous things going on. The film version is adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Gunter Grass.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

When a Stranger Calls-1979

When a Stranger Calls-1979

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Tony Beckley

Scott’s Review #1,046

Reviewed July 29, 2020

Grade: B+

When a Stranger Calls (1979) has the great honor of possessing one of the most frightening twenty minutes in horror film history, kicking the daylights out of the stunned and transfixed viewer from the first frame. While still a very good film, the pacing slows down and changes into a different kind of film before kicking back into high- gear again for the final twenty minutes of action. This results in some imbalance and imperfections throughout. Carol Kane, Tony Beckley, and Colleen Dewhurst make the film as good as it is and are the standouts for me.

Teenage babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) calmly walks through an affluent California neighborhood for a quiet evening of watching two children. The doctor and his wife are embarking on a night of dinner and a movie and the children will be no trouble, Jill is told, since they are recovering from colds and are already fast asleep in their beds. Shortly after they leave, Jill begins to receive odd phone calls from a man simply asking, “have you checked the children”? At first assumed to be a practical joke, the calls become more menacing prompting Jill to get the police involved.

Now terrified, Jill is told by the alarmed police to calmly get out of the house because the calls she is receiving are coming from inside the house! She flees and is met head-on by Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), who apprehends an English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), who has ripped the children to shreds with his bare hands. He is subsequently sent to an asylum only to escape seven years later prompting Clifford to hunt him down like an animal.

The film is really sectioned into two segments and multiple genres. The beginning and conclusion are standard horror sequences while the guts of the film delve into psychological thriller or crime drama territory with similarities to Dirty Harry (1971) emerging. Clifford spends much of his time trying to track down Duncan in a cat and mouse game throughout Los Angeles. Colleen Dewhurst plays a middle-aged woman who catches the eye of Duncan one night in a seedy downtown nightclub.

Director, Fred Walton, makes Clifford a hard-edged, grizzled detective who has seen it all and has no mercy for Duncan, intent on killing him dead rather than capturing him. Durning is not the best part of the film and the role might have been cast with a more charismatic actor. Perplexing is what Duncan’s motivation is for killing other than simply being crazy which is not a good enough explanation. Was he abused as a child? During some scenes he is sympathetic, more like a wounded child than a crazed killer. He simply wants a friend, whereas Clifford, the good guy, is sometimes unsympathetic and tough to root for.

With “deer caught in headlight’s eyes” expressions and emotions, Kane’s Jill is brilliant using her eyes to great benefit. The audience feels her peril, fear, and panic during her scenes. When Duncan resurfaces looking for her again (though it’s not clear why he obsesses over her), her nice life, two children, and husband’s lives are all placed in jeopardy. Dewhurst, who could have easily been cast as the lead in Gloria (1980) is tough as nails and no-nonsense, though she does feel sympathy, and some attraction for Duncan.

In 1996, when Scream was released and provided the oomph that the horror genre desperately needed, thanks was justifiably given to When a Stranger Calls for its mighty influence. The first twelve minutes of Scream are a direct homage to this film, when a stranger calls (pun intended!) and the leading ladies life spirals out of control due to a phone call and menacing voice. Parts of the opening sequence are influenced by Black Christmas (1974) a brilliant horror film instrumental in the making of so many others. The revelation that the killer is inside the house is a plot device that remains scary and satisfying.

Offering a cross genre approach that works best with the terrifying horror elements, When a Stranger Calls (1979) is a sometimes terrific and sometimes an uneven picture. Thanks to compelling acting, the slowed down middle portion does not ruin the entire experience, but what an erupting and memorable beginning and end. Followed by an unsuccessful sequel and an even more disappointing remake in 2006.

Honeyland-2019

Honeyland-2019

Director-Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Starring-Hatidze Muratova

Scott’s Review #1,045

Reviewed July 27, 2020

Grade: B+

Honeyland (2019) is an important documentary for anyone who cares a wit about the environment, or for those who don’t but should, to experience. The setting is the rural mountains of Macedonia, an area probably on nobody’s radar yet comes a terrific story, nonetheless. The key takeaways that the film makers want the audience to get are those of greed, overindulgence, and the need for conservation to be a hot topic, a worthy little something of the utmost importance.

The piece has the honor of being the first documentary to be nominated not only for the Best Documentary Oscar but also for the Best International Feature award. The need to receive dual nominations is a mystery to me as the documentary is as straight-forward as one can be minus the need for any narration. Unclear is if this is the reason for both nominations. It won neither, losing to American Factory (2019) and Parasite (2019), respectively.

The focus is on a middle-aged woman named Hatidze, who lives inside a cave in the village as caretaker to her elderly mother. Not only does she feed and bathe the bedridden matriarch, but she is the keeper of wild bees in her village. She periodically embarks on a journey into the city to sell honey that she collects from the beehives. The honey is of top quality and she can sustain a living based on good reputation. A kind man even gives her a free fan to give to her mother to help keep the flies away during the intense summer heat.

One day, a rambunctious family of seven arrives to live next door to Hatidze. They are energetic and noisy, but she bonds with them, especially one of the sons. Hatidze teaches the father how to produce honey like she does and warns him to only use half of the honey or else it will upset the bees and cause problems. Needing money, the man is pressured to produced more and succumbs to the request only to accidentally kill Hatidze’s bees causing a rift in their friendship. She is heartbroken and angry.

A few reasons to recommend Honeyland are the frequent camera shots that capture moments. Reportedly, it took three years to film and over four-hundred hours of footage used to come up with an hour and a half of running time. The best scenes are gorgeously shot and feature Hatidze in close-up moments. As she gazes into the sunset or prompts her mother to eat bananas for nourishment, the lines on her face express her myriad of emotions. She longs to be married, a missed opportunity, and wonders how her life might have been different had she.

Hatidze’s village will be a novelty to most viewers and she lives in a world which no viewer will have to experience. This is a positive reason for viewers to expose themselves to this other world. With no electric, no water, no nothing, she makes do with what little she has and bares no ill will. The neighbors finally pack up and leave, exhausting their short-lived good fortune, and Hatidze is left alone to endure a hard winter. When her mother finally dies, she succumbs to tears, the burden lifted from her but an endless feeling of grief and uncertainty.

Honeyland (2019) offers a powerful message of the temptations of greed and the ramifications this can have on others who simply wish to live in peace. It brings the viewer into a strange world unfamiliar and dire to nearly everyone. It centers on one woman’s endurance, courage, and tenacity to simply live her life the only way she knows how, one foot in front of the other. With gorgeous cinematography, the documentary is very slow-paced and not an easy watch but mirrors the pace of life in the harsh mountains of Macedonia.

Oscar Nominations: Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

For Sama-2019

For Sama-2019

Director-Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Starring-Waad al-Kateab, Hanza al-Kateab

Scott’s Review #1,044

Reviewed July 25, 2020

Grade: B+

The wonderful thing about documentaries is that a viewer can absorb and learn something they have not been exposed to and know little or nothing about. Aware via news outlets of unrest in Syria, For Sama (2019) personalizes and humanizes the battles as the film chronicles the life of a young Syrian woman and her husband, both rebels and he a doctor, with a young daughter born and raised amid the war ravaged city of Aleppo from 2011-2016.

For Sama is horrifically brutal and unkind at times, but to soften the experience would be to do an injustice to those on the front lines living with war every day. The viewer should see firsthand the inhumanity and terror imposed on innocent civilians before they are cavalier to what the effects of war really are.  The film bravely shows both human suffering and death including dead children. Waad al-Kateab wrote, produced, co-directed and stars in this brutal yet hopeful production. She also narrates it.

Waad al-Kateab focuses on a five-year span of time living in Aleppo, Syria before and during the infamous Battle of Aleppo, a major military confrontation between the Syrian government and its opposition. She is a marketing student when the documentary begins and highly intelligent. Waad al-Kateab meets and falls in love with Hamza, a skilled doctor whose wife has already fled for safety leaving him behind. Waad gives birth to her first daughter Sama and navigates motherhood all while the conflict begins to engulf the city.

Waad and Hamza work at one of the few remaining hospitals in the city, facing daily agonizing decisions whether to flee to safety or stay behind to help the innocent victims of war. Despite having Sama and later becoming pregnant again, they cannot bring themselves to leave as it would be abandoning those who rely on them. The documentary features their friends who also stay on, refusing to leave the city they still love. The group tries for brief moments of pleasure, sitting around and chatting, all while the constant threat of bombings is a daily occurrence.

Intriguing is that For Sama is told from the perspective of the female. This is unusual in the war genre, whether it be a film or a documentary feature as more common is for it to be male driven. When she provides narration, Waad gives off a warmth and a kindness that is tough not to fall in love with. She cares for Sama, never knowing if today will be their last day alive. In one frightening moment, Waad quickly gives Sama to another person to hide when the bombs start hitting the hospital, determined that Sama’s life might be spared if she is thought to be an orphan, rather than the spawn of hated rebels.

Props must be given for getting this project off the ground and released, rewarded with wide acclaim and recognition. In a country as volatile as Syria, how inspiring to have someone like Edward Watts, an English film maker, able to follow through with For Sama. Amazing is how some footage especially during the bombings was spared.

Waad explains how determined she was to film as much as she possibly could, even during very personal moments. In the most heartbreaking scene, a pregnant woman is injured during a bombing and her lifeless baby is born. After minutes of real-time uncertainty, the baby finally coughs and gags and is alive. Watts and Waad go to horrific depths to show how close the baby comes to dying and the scene is fraught with sadness and finally relief. I have never seen moments as chilling as these in any documentary.

Other scenes feature young boy’s whose playmates or siblings have just been killed by bombs and their emotional exhaustion and grief. Thankfully, the documentary tries to add as many moments of human connection through what laughs and good times can possibly be mustered when fear is the main ingredient of daily life.

For an experience baring the ugliness of war, the constant fear and peril, and a humanistic story of raising one’s child during frightening times, For Sama (2019) also shows the love and dedication to one’s flesh and blood and the beauty of spirit and perseverance during tragic times. It is heartbreaking, humanistic, and inspiring.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

Frozen II-2019

Frozen II-2019

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

Scott’s Review #1,043

Reviewed July 22, 2020

Grade: B

Six years after the enormous success of Frozen (2013) comes the follow-up, Frozen II (2019). Surprising is the long gap of time between creations but the beauty of animation is that these characters do not age unless creators want them to. The adventure story is fun, incorporating a bit of history which always creates depth, but also charts familiar territory as the first installment. The film showcases lovely visuals and songs which usurp the other elements. Breeding so much familiarity, there seems little need for a third chapter though I’d bet my bottom dollar another will emerge.

We are re-introduced to Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) as little girls, when they are tucked into bed by their father King Agnarr of Arendelle one night. He relays a story about his father (their grandfather), a treaty made with a neighboring tribe, a dam, and a magical Enchanted Forest. As a youngster, Agnarr barely escapes alive after a fight erupts with the other tribe, causing his father’s death, and enraging the spiritual elements of the forest. There is also a key mention about Anna and Elsa’s parents lost ship, which is apparently how they died.

Fast-forward to present times, Elsa and Anna are adults, three years following the events of the first film. Elsa, the one with ice powers, runs her happy kingdom with Anna serving as Princess. They live in peace and harmony with familiar characters Olaf, the snowman created by Elsa, Kristoff, Anna’s boyfriend, and Sven, his reindeer. When Elsa begins hearing mysterious voices calling to her from the mountains, she pursues them only to reawaken the spirits and threaten her kingdom and her people. The group must come to the rescue to retain harmony learning the reason for Elsa’s powers in the process.

Frozen II has a “nice” feel which is a positive and a negative. Family friendly with a feminist, female perspective is good and crafts a positive and inspired message for youngsters, especially females, who see the film. Anna and Elsa control their destiny, are empowered to go after what they want, and achieve results. They also support each other, share sisterly love rather than are rivals, and treat people fairly.

The adventure that the girls and friends face will end happily, that much we know. Slight peril emerges when Anna goads and then flees from gigantic earth spirits, Olaf melts and is assumed dead, and Elsa is also thought dead in the forest, but these are aspects added for dramatic effect, and the safe feel of the film ensures that all major characters will remain in happily ever after harmony. When Kristoff awkwardly attempts to propose to Anna throughout the film, we are certain he will eventually do the deed which he does.

I criticized Frozen for limiting diversity in its production, which is corrected in Frozen II. Mattias, leader of a group of Arendelle soldiers, is a strong and protective character, and is black. As an LGBTQ presence, one is only hinted at. When Kristoff befriends Ryder over their love of reindeer, Ryder admits he knows nothing about girls. Mention must be made of Elsa’s barbie doll like appearance with her bright blue eyes and long blonde hair. Does she have to look that stunning? Might impressionable girls get the idea that looks are most important? Let’s hope not.

The best parts of the film are the musical numbers, which feel increased from the first Frozen. Using the same song composers, the tunes feel slightly less poppy. The most emotional number is “Into the Unknown”, which possesses a mysterious quality and powerful, compelling lyrics. Its message is to go for it, which can be interpreted as conquering fears or trying something new. The sound is anthem-like and superior to “Let it Go”.

Frozen II (2019) is a predictable, fun affair ensconced with Scandinavian trimmings with mountains, fjords, and gorgeous landscape providing the necessary cold weather aspects and a magical quality. The visuals are lavish, bright, and sophisticated. Part II is a slightly more mature affair but on par with Frozen and wisely targets the right audience. Tastes change, so if a Part III is made film makers might want to think of a deeper plot or subsequent tidbits to retain interest.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“Into the Unknown”

Pain and Glory-2019

Pain and Glory-2019

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,042

Reviewed July 20, 2020

Grade: A-

Thought to be director Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal effort to date, Pain and Glory (2019) showcases the talents of actor Antonio Banderas, who has been appearing in Almodóvar’s films since 1982. A character study, the film poetically reflects on the life of an aging film maker (Banderas) who aches to find his lost creative soul while reminiscing about his first love. The triumphant film could have been faster paced, but above all celebrates life, regret, and pain, and is thus inspiring.

Salvador Mallo (Banderas) is a once well-known filmmaker well on the decline personally and professionally. He suffers from health maladies leaving him in chronic pain and has lost his knack for crafting good projects. When he runs into an old friend and actress, Zulema (Cecilia Roth), who barely acts anymore and is reduced to accepting any roles offered to her, he decides to visit the lead actor from his best-known film, Sabor. Salvador hasn’t spoken to Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) in thirty-years and both ruminate over the film as it is to be remastered and celebrated.

Once a subject of contention, Salvador and Alberto begin to smoke heroin prompting Salvador to revisit his childhood memories, rediscovering life. His most prominent memory is when he and his father and mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) move to a whitewashed cave to live. There he meets and befriends an older laborer, whom he teaches to read. Salvador discovers his sexuality through this young man after seeing him naked.

Years later, during the 1980’s, Salvador falls madly in love with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and the pair share a passionate love-affair that deteriorates at the end of the decade. In present times, Federico re-emerges and tracks down Salvador. They reconnect, sharing drinks and memories, nearly reigniting their passion. Federico is now married to a woman and raising kids in Argentina, but the powerful memories resurface, and the men flirt and gaze at one another longingly.

The film utterly belongs to Banderas. The actor has charisma in many other roles, but Salvador might be his crowning achievement. It’s such a personal role and written specifically for the actor by Almodóvar. He possesses the ability to grasp the viewer into his clutches and never let go. From the agonizing pain he experiences daily causing him to choke for no reason to his inability to fulfill his now elderly mother’s dying wish to die in her village after accusing him of never loving her, we empathize with him every step of the way.

His sexuality discovered and revealed at a young age, Salvador’s longing and unfulfilled passion are the most intricate and nuanced aspects of the film. As the laborer draws a picture of Salvador, which he rediscovers later, there is unspoken passion between the youngsters. In later years, his assistant nudges him to look the laborer up via Google, to see where he is, perhaps reconnecting. Salvador refuses, sinking in regret of what might have been.

To build on this, his fling with Federico as a young man, shown via flashbacks, is powerful. The scene when a teary Federico, during present times, sits in a theater weeping while watching Salvador’s play, is a testament to his love for the man. Unknown is why the relationship failed and Federico gave up men and succumbed to a traditional relationship, but we can only guess Salvador might not have been able to commit. When the men spend an evening together capped off with a passionate kiss but nothing more, we realize how they could have built a wonderful life together. Props to Sbaraglia for a tremendous performance in a small role.

Assuredly, Pain and Glory was patterned after 8 1/2, a 1963 masterpiece penned and directed by Federico Fellini. The themes of regret, writer’s block, and memories come into play throughout both films. Almodóvar even names Salvador’s lover Federico, an obvious tribute to the famous director, known for infusing stylistic touches and non-linear stories.

Like most of Almodóvar’s other projects, Pain and Glory celebrates vibrant colors, sexuality, and passion in its themes. Set in Madrid, the film has a zesty, cultured Spanish flair with blues, greens and oranges. Even though the overarching theme is loss, pain, and missed opportunities, the film is still stacked with rich energy and pizzazz. For those with a fondness for acting, cinema, or creativity there is enough to satisfy.

After decades in the spotlight crafting film after film with resounding results, Pain and Glory (2019) may be the cream of the crop for the Spanish director. Thanks in large part to the tremendous efforts of a legendary actor, the experience will please fans of the director’s and anyone with a taste for a film about zest for life, unfulfilled pleasures, and new experiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Antonio Banderas, Best International Feature Film

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Matt Damon, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #1,041

Reviewed July 18, 2020

Grade: B-

Ford v Ferrari (2019) is a film based on a real-life situation in the world of race car driving featuring two of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading men, Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Co-leads, they share equal screen time and independent story lines that merge together nicely. Bale gives the better performance and is the best part of an otherwise mediocre film. The rest is quite formulaic and traditional in plot and film making sensibilities. Receiving several Academy Award nominations, I expected more from the experience. Granted, car racing isn’t the subject I’m most intrigued by.

Carroll Shelby (Damon) is an American car designer and entrepreneur, who is hired by the Ford motor company to build a car that will beat the Italian owned Ferrari after a feud erupts between the two owners. Shelby is tasked with building the car to debut at the upcoming 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in France. Rebellious race car driver, Ken Miles (Bale) who has no fear, is chosen to drive the new car. He and his wife have money troubles and need the pay day.

Director, James Mangold, certainly adds his share of pomp and circumstance clearly making this a testosterone fueled guy’s film. Traditional styles ensue as the climactic race fills the last act of the way too long production. There is a story of loyalty and brotherhood between Carroll and Ken that feels forced and dated. Ford v Ferrari is formulaic to a tee with a clear modus operandi of providing entertainment and action.

The pieces are all in play. The Ford corporation is pissed at being tricked in a deal by a foreign country (Italy). They vow revenge with a big boy American car that can defeat the foreign car. There is a climactic finish with the American car the clear victor. But first, there are hurdles to face to increase the tension and drama. Ken’s driver door malfunctions causing him to have to gain laps to catch up to Ferrari. Ford is written as the underdog which is a tough sell.

Since the real-life events took place during the Cold War, Mangold spins a definitive Americana, good old boys’ creation that feels too patriotic to be genuine. So many other films have a similar vibe- Apollo 13 (1995), The Martian (2015), and especially the similar themed Rush (2013). The Ford guys, though cagey and gruff, are meant to be the characters the audience roots for and the Italian characters are not. And is there really a need to still show the cliched scene of a dedicated wife obediently watching television at home and cheering on her husband as he races?

The gripes are not to say the film is a bad experience- it’s not. It’s just that it’s on par with good Mexican takeout from your favorite restaurant. You know exactly what you are going to get and there is some comfort and satisfaction in that. Ford v Ferrari is an easy watch and one can sink into his or her lazy-boy and enjoy the revving engines, squealing tires, and smoking mufflers. The film is machismo at its finest. Think a better version of The Fast and the Furious (2001-present) franchise.

Let’s talk Oscar nominations. There is no way Ford v Ferrari should have received a Best Picture nomination. Either Us (2019), Hustlers (2019), or A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) could have deservedly taken its spot. Warranted are nominations for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in which it won the first two. More realistic is for Christian Bale to have been awarded a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which he did not receive. Sometimes the Academy gets it right, sometimes they don’t.

Being a non-race car driving aficionado might have hindered my enjoyment of the film over a more passionate viewer. For those seeking a standard rev ’em up, male driven race car film, kick up your heels and enjoy the ride- you’ll love it. Ford v Ferrari (2019) will only marginally please those seeking deeper meaning in film or film as art. The film will certainly be remembered as one as mainstream and Hollywood produced as humanly possible.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing (won)

Ready or Not-2019

Ready or Not-2019

Director-Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

Starring-Samara Weaving, Adam Brody

Scott’s Review #1,040

Reviewed July 16, 2020

Grade: B+

A hybrid of dark comedy, horror, and whodunit, Ready or Not (2019) is a splatter of a good time. Witty and macabre, the film is patterned after Knives Out (2019), Clue (1985), and the television series Riverdale, with a dash of Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 (2003-2004) peppered in for good measure. The results are fantastic, gory and fun and the pacing is on point. The best aspect is the unpredictability factor as the conclusion cannot be drawn and the audience willingly plunges along for a thrilling ride eager to see what happens next.

The film begins with a mysterious flashback. A young boy living in a vast mansion is confronted by an injured man begging for help. The boy cries out for his family who shoots the man dead. Decades later, happier events transpire as Alex (Mark O’Brien) and Grace (Samara Weaving) enjoy a lavish wedding at the Le Domas family estate. Alex’s family is super rich, and he asks Grace if she is sure she wants to join the family. Why wouldn’t she welcome a life of pampering and all the money she can imagine? She readily tells Alex that, yes, she is sure she wants to marry him.

After the wedding, Alex and Grace are summoned by the family to partake in a game, a family tradition. Grace will choose a card, and everyone will play that game. When Grace chooses the Hide-and-Seek card the reactions are morose. When she gleefully trots off at midnight to hide, she assumes it is an innocent game. She quickly realizes that the family is determined to kill her as part of an ancient legend involving a deal to keep the family money secure. Grace spends the night being pursued by members of the family while the household staff are accidentally killed off.

Being a horror film, the rosy start to the film (the wedding) is delicious and short-lived, as any fan of the horror genre knows that dreary events are soon in store. The fun is waiting for the other shoe to drop and the body count to begin rising. Ready or Not succeeds most when Grace is being pursued and when she emerges from the dumb waiter thinking she will give up the game and enjoy a good night’s sleep are spectacular. A house-nanny is shot by a doltish family member who mistakes her for Grace, cowering behind a bed. At that moment the bride realizes she is screwed.

The final thirty minutes of Ready or Not takes a different turn as victimized Grace turns into revenge seeking Grace. Think Carrie White at the prom after being soaked with pig blood. As Grace lumbers through the mansion in her blood streak white gown, happy to kill any one of the filthy rich family members, she has the most fun pummeling Alex’s mother, Becky Le Domas (Andie MacDowell), to death with a box, which he gets to witness. Revenge Grace is like Uma Thurman’s the Bride in the Kill Bill double-feature.

Released the same year as Knives Out (2019), both films treat the wealthy characters the same, making them as shallow and unlikable as humanly possible. Insipid, money-hungry, and impolite, they treat each other as badly as those considered beneath them. Daniel (Adam Brody), may turn out to be Grace’s knight in shining armor but can he be trusted? Can Alex?

Snippets of the 1985 comedy Clue emerge as secret passageways are revealed and one death is reminiscent of the singing telegram girl death, as the character leaps into the room only to be instantly killed. It’s a fun scene and not too seriously intended, which makes it enjoyable. The goth nature of series Riverdale also comes into play with the modern trimmings and dark ambiance.

Ready or Not (2019) successfully produces what it intends to. An entertaining, cleverly written horror yarn. With a clear feminist stance and oozing with wealth and glamour, the rich people are horrible and ultimately get what they deserve. This is satisfying to the viewer despite the silly motivations of the family. Played for laughs, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously despite a subdued lesson in over-indulgences and entitlement. A crackling fun late-night offering.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) is the follow-up to the 2014 film, simply named Maleficent and while not a necessary sequel, the sequel bests the original. Clearly, the intent was to create a big, studio effort that would garner lots of cash and the experiment seems to have worked. The production is not as frightening as the title would lead one to believe and kids over the age of ten would be just fine as a target audience.

While the screenplay has traditional plot trimmings and a predictable ending, the real winner is the visual and cinematic treats, which will leave viewers gasping. The lush landscapes, odd little worlds, castles and forests, blossom with vibrant colors and exquisite shapes and objects. It may mostly be CGI but marvelous all the same.

To recap, the character of Maleficent debuted in the 1959 classic animated Disney film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is an evil fairy and the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” who, after not being invited to a christening, curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. The character has since “evolved”, now portrayed as a sympathetic character, who is misunderstood in trying to protect herself and her domain from humans.

For five years Aurora (Elle Fanning) has reigned peacefully as Queen of the Moors with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) serving as teacher and protector. They have a rapturous relationship and flock and carry on with fairies and animals alike. Handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, thereby uniting her kingdom to his, which is met with caution by his parents, specifically his mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the players gather for a celebratory dinner Maleficent is mocked, causing her to fly into a rage, setting off a war between humans and fairies.

A key positive, and a story shift, is that Maleficent, a legendary film villain, is written sympathetically and the plot device works. Rather than have her sparring with daughter Aurora, the duo team up to thwart the devious efforts of the evil Queen Ingrith, who is the real villain. Jolie and Pfeiffer must have had fun playing the roles and both perform their respective parts adequately. Favorable to me is Jolie, adding just enough vulnerability to balance her fierce nature and blood-red lips. Pfeiffer plays the role straight, as a caricature, with no redeeming value. Both roles are fun.

Keeping in mind the target audience, the characters of Maleficent and Aurora are inspiring, especially to young females everywhere. The film adds more than a hint of progressive feminism as both characters are strong and no-nonsense. This does not take away from their sensitivity or their sense of fairness. Both could equally be role models of tough yet compassionate female characters.

In most Disney films there are heroes and villains and we all know and expect that. The standard story line of good revolting against evil is on display and an epic climactic battle scene gives a customary ending to the film. Likewise, the fairy tale romance between Prince and Princess is prominently featured and for my money, Dickinson and Fanning are tremendous in the roles.

The chemistry is apparent between the actors and there is a nice balance between a believable romance and strong independent characters. Queen Ingrith, barely a mention in the original animated film, is turned into an evil shrew, all completely plot driven. The story is what I expected it to be and not the high point of the film.

More impressive is how the viewer can easily escape into a world of make-believe and long to stay there forever. Especially for the younger viewers the Moors is a bevy of magical creatures and fluttering fairies rich with goodness. The comical Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, the red fairy, green fairy, and blue fairy respectively, make a return appearance, though in limited capacity. It would have been nice to give them a stronger presence providing more wisdom, more advice, and more humor, but they serve their comic relief purpose well.

Will there be a third incarnation of Maleficent? The film makers provide a strong likelihood. After Aurora and Philip wed, Maleficent returns to the Moors with the other Dark Fey, teaching the young fairies to fly. She promises to return for Aurora and Philip’s future child’s christening. This vow seems like an easy setup to build on the original story line, unlocking the next chapter in this engaging saga.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Vault of Horror-1973

Vault of Horror-1973

Director-Roy Ward Baker

Starring-Curd Jurgens, Daniel Massey

Scott’s Review #1,038

Reviewed June 26, 2020

Grade: A-

Horror anthologies are usually a vast treat and a reminiscent memory of childhood afternoons watching Twilight Zone re-runs on television. This is hardly much of a stretch since Vault of Horror (1973) is a British anthology based on Tales from the Crypt (1972), which in turn was based on stories EC Comics series. Each chapter is superior storytelling providing bloodthirsty horror viewers with suspense, adventure, and surprise endings.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Framing Story- A

Events get off to an intriguing start as one-by-one five businessmen enter an elevator in a corporate office in downtown London. They are taken to the basement level though none of them has pressed that floor and emerge to find a gentlemen’s club. With no way to get back onto the elevator they begin to drink, each discussing a reoccurring nightmare. This segment immediately grasps the viewer as we ponder questions. Is someone holding the men there for a reason, who is behind it and why? Are the men’s nightmares nightmare’s or are they revealing deeper secrets?

Midnight Mess- A

Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) is a suave, well-dressed man who tracks down his missing sister Donna (real-life sister, Anna Massey!) in a peculiar village. He fiendishly kills her to acquire her share of their father’s inheritance. Working up an appetite he dines at a local restaurant who serves blood soup and blood clots as the main course. The village is inhabited by sophisticated vampires and his sister is one of them! This vignette is my favorite as the restaurant decor is warm and toasty, the village provides a stylish ambiance, and clever writing exists throughout. The bloody feast the eatery serves is a devilish delight in macabre humor. And the fangs are great.

The Neat Job- A

Arthur Critchit (Terry-Thomas) is an elegant man suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. He is married to Eleanor (Glynis Johns), a trophy wife, who despite wanting to please her husband, is a lousy housekeeper. Constantly berated for being incompetent, Eleanor loses it and kills Arthur with a hammer. She proudly cuts him to bits and stores his remains in glass jars, all neatly labeled. This story is simply delicious, offering elegant British furniture to salivate over and macabre, witty comedy as the viewer eagerly anticipates what Eleanor will do when she finally snaps, and we just know she will snap. Bravo!

The Trick’ll Kill You- A-

Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) is a magician on holiday in India, where he and his wife Inez (Dawn Addams) are searching for new tricks for their act. Frustrated, they encounter a girl charming a rope out of a basket with a flute. The couple persuades her to come to their hotel room where they murder her and steal the enchanted rope. They gleefully plot how to incorporate the rope into their act assuring them of riches. Inez experiments with climbing the rope only to disappear with a scream. An ominous patch of blood appears on the ceiling, and the rope coils round Sebastian’s neck and hangs him. Their smirking victim reappears alive in the bazaar. This vignette provides a good glimpse of the Far East and is culturally wonderful. The story is compelling though a let down from the earlier entries.

Bargain in Death- B+

Maitland (Michael Craig) is buried alive as part of an insurance scam concocted with his friend Alex (Edward Judd). They each plan to double-cross and kill the other to get the money. Two trainee doctors bribe a gravedigger to dig up a corpse to help with their studies. When Maitland’s coffin is opened, he jumps up gasping for air, and the gravedigger kills him. At the same time Alex’s car crashes into a tree and he dies. In humorous comedy, when trying to close the sale of the corpse the gravedigger apologizes to the doctors for the damage to the head. This segment is more comical than the others and a nice aside is that the trainee doctors are named Tom and Jerry. The plot is a bit convoluted and doesn’t succeed like the other stories.

Drawn and Quartered- A

Moore (Tom Baker) is a struggling painter living in Haiti. When he learns that his paintings have been sold for high prices by art dealers after being praised by a critic, he goes to a voodoo priest for help exacting revenge. He is instructed that whatever he paints or draws can be harmed by damaging its image. Returning to London, Moore paints portraits of the three men who cheated him and mutilates the paintings to exact his revenge. After he displays his own portrait, each one, including Moore, suffers an agonizing experience.  This story is top-notch, and the loss of the eyes and the hands are the highlights in fun.

As the film wraps, we learn the mysterious puzzle involving the five men in satisfying form. Vault of Horror (1973) is a horror anthology that hardly disappoints. I am eager to watch this one again which is a major achievement for a cinematic offering to have on a viewer.

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