Straw Dogs-1971

Straw Dogs-1971

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Dustin Hoffman, Susan George

Scott’s Review #733

Reviewed March 19, 2018

Grade: A

Straw Dogs (1971) is famed director, Sam Peckinpah’s, most startling and most controversial film.  Hardly an easy watch, it will conjure up both disturbing and uneasy reactions, but is a work of art- teetering on an all-out art film. Viewers will cringe during intense scenes, but will also marvel at the film mastery of this classic, brought on a whirlwind roster coaster ride as story elements spiral out of control to a frenetic and powerful climax.

Intellectual American mathematician, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), moves with his sexy British wife, Amy (Susan George), to a Cornish countryside- the town in which she grew up in- where they proceed to encounter problems, both within their marriage, and external factors, as an angry mob of blue-collar workmen threaten their home life.  When non-violent David is pushed to the limit, questions of morality are brought to light, as Amy faces her own demons and bouts with brutality and victimization.

The film, made in 1971, pushes the envelope greatly in its display of violence. Several years earlier, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, and Peckinpah’s own The Wild Bunch (1969), really were the films that got the ball rolling, but Straw  Dogs continues the trend of the brutal violence that overtook American cinema in those days. While watching the film for the second time I was struck hard by the feeling that I was watching something important.

Amy’s rape scene is the toughest scene of all to watch for the sheer way in which it can be interpreted. Later, when Amy replays the scene in her mind, the audience is forced to endure the experience over again. Not content to only include the rape scene, Peckinpah wants the viewer to dissect the scene- the fact that Amy is assaulted by not one, but two men, and reacts differently to each of them, is the key here. The scene is complex in that, Venner, the first assailant is hunky and presumed to be a former beau, and she eventually relents to his advances, but does she enjoy the act? When Scutt enters the picture however, things turn from tender and ambiguous to violent and dirty.

Undoubtedly an influence to director Quentin Tarantino, is the final sequence of the film- a scene fraught with tension, violence, and grit. Now trapped in their house amid a mob of angry, drunk men, hell-bent on revenge, David and Amy must both bond with each other and match antics with the men. I experienced visions of 2015’s The Hateful Eight through the claustrophobic, cabin-like setting, and the quick edits that Peckinpah successfully uses throughout the entire film.

A sad scene, and at least a portion of the reason for the town folks rage, is a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein, when a hulking and  mentally challenged man accidentally harms a young girl. Not knowing his own strength and meaning to protect the girl instead of kill her, the men folk of the town respond in a nightmarish and witch hunt manner. Suddenly, David becomes defender and protector of this man.

David’s change in character is interesting and the great Hoffman adds layers and layers of complexities to the role. At first a peaceful man, due to circumstances, he soon becomes the assailant, creating traps and weapons intent on maiming his prey. Hardly a violent man, this change of character is evidenced as we earlier see David nurse a wounded bird.

In addition to Hoffman’s traditionally great acting performance, Susan George succeeds in providing the perfect mixture of bitchiness, spoiled brat tantrums, and later, guilt-ridden angst, and fear. The villains are perfectly cast and believable as bored, simple-minded, and horny, small town boys just itching for trouble.

Lush is the gorgeous United Kingdom countryside featured in Straw Dogs, as frequent exterior scenes are shot, revealing lavish and plush mountainous areas- the sweeping beauty of the landscape counterbalancing the brutality revealed in other sections of the film.

Mixing super quick editing with a dark, compelling screenplay, with underlying themes of questioning ones manhood, Straw Dogs is a provocative and edgy tale of violence and revenge in a small town, that gives new meaning to the fear of “home invasion” and feeling vulnerable. Thanks to a great cast and lots of other facets, Straw Dogs is a timeless (and brutal) treasure.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

Director-Oz Perkins

Starring-Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka

Scott’s Review #732

Reviewed March 12, 2018

Grade: B+

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an eerie 2017 independent horror film offering that combines various chilling elements to achieve its goal. Largely a fusion of the supernatural, the occult, and the psychological, the film, while slow at times, does offer a unique experience and is unpredictable in nature. Parts of the film are downright scary and spooky as religion meets satanism, always a safe bet for an unsettling experience. Writer/Director Oz Perkins, should be well on his way to a successful career in the industry with this, almost full-on artsy, film.

The action begins in a prestigious Catholic boarding school in a quiet, wintry area of upstate New York. As students (largely unseen) leave the school for a February break, Kat (Kiernan Shupka), and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are left behind when their parents do not arrive to pick them up. While the girls hunker down for the night, hoping their parents show up the next day, a third girl, Joan (Emma Roberts), who may be a psychopath, is en route towards the school, enlisting the help of a strange married couple (Bill and Linda), whose daughter had died years ago and was the same age as Joan. Also in the mix are two school nuns who are rumored to be satanists.

Little is known about the town, but the fact that nobody is around makes the setting a major plus. This may very well be due to budgetary restrictions associated with the film, but regardless, the use of very few characters or extras is a score, with the number of principle characters below ten. The cold and bleak nature of the town and the stark journey that Joan is on make the ambiance very successful. Many scenes throughout The Blackcoat’s Daughter are set during night time in relative seclusion and given the icy texture of upstate New York in the middle of winter the setting chosen by Perkins is spot on and quite atmospheric.

The overall story to The Blackcoat’s Daughter is both peculiar and mysterious and does not make complete sense a good deal of the time.  In fact, by the time the film concludes and the credits role, not a lot of the film adds up from a story perspective, which left me rather unsatisfied. Since Bill and Linda’s daughter looks identical to Rose, are we to assume that the events at the school occurred a decade before the events involving Joan? What ends up happening to Kat is perplexing- haunted by spirits and forced to kill, is she healed at the end of the film? Or is Kat really Joan? Too many loose ends are left.

The film is very heavy on the violence and the gore, and dares not hold back in showcasing the victims pain and suffering before they cease to exist. More than one character lies bleeding and immobile as the killer calmly approaches to finish the deed. Three characters are decapitated in horrific form as we later see their severed heads lined up in a boiler room. The demonic chanting of “Hail, Satan!” may turn some viewers off as would the overall story line- those who feel 1973’s The Exorcist is disturbing need not see this film as similar elements abound.

Also worthy of a quick mention is the cool, unique musical soundtrack that singer/songwriter, and brother of the director, Elvis Perkins, creates. With goth/techno elements, the score is noticed (in a good way) at various points throughout the running time, and adds to the overall feel of the film.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter succeeds as a disturbing and experimental piece of independent horror-making sure to at least pique the interests of horror aficionados. With plenty of blood-letting and squeamish parts, Oz Perkins knows what works. The story, though, would have been made better by a clear, definitive beginning, middle, and end, to avoid a confusing outcome. Still, I look forward to more works from this up and coming director.



Director-Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilifred Jackson

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Cinderella is a lovely 1950 Walt Disney production and a film that rejuvenated the animated film genre after a sluggish 1940’s period, thanks in large part to the ravages of World War II. The film glistens with goodness and bright colors, offering a charming fairy tale based story based on hope and “happily ever after”. Cinderella is enchanting on all levels.

Told largely in narration form especially to explain the history of the story, we learn that Cinderella’s parents have both died, leaving her an orphan and living with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. Her stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia are jealous of Cinderella’s natural beauty and she is abused and berated regularly, forced to work as a servant in a rundown chateau- tending to the trios needs and demands. Despite her unhappy life, Cinderella makes the most of it and befriends mice, birds, and many other animals she meets, singing and dancing in a cheery way.

Life chugs along for our heroine, until one day the King of the royal palace decides to throw a lavish Ball in order for his son, the Prince, to finally find his soulmate and marry her. The King requests that all eligible unmarried women attend. As Cinderella excitedly requests to go, Lady Tremaine cruelly grants her request, provided all of her work is done, having no intention of making things easy on her. In true fairy tale form, the Prince falls madly in love with Cinderella while many hurdles face the pair on their way to happiness.

Given the time period when Cinderella was made (1950), the timing was excellent for a lavish production, to say nothing of the fantasy that many young girls undoubtedly experienced of a handsome prince rescuing them, whisking them away from a life of doldrums to undying love. Female empowerment had not yet taken hold during the 1950’s, so the male rescuing female message was palpable and appealing to many. Dated not in the least, a story of true love overcoming hardship can always find an audience.

The colors and animations of the production are lush and powerful, oozing with perfection and drizzling with fantastic elements of romance and spectacular wealth. An example of this is the lavish ball at the palace- as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother  transforms the young girl and her transportation into a magical fantasy of horses, gowns, and carriages, it is quite extravagant in its beauty.

Engaging, with a bit of humor mixed in, are the supporting characters of the three evil ladies and the bumbling Grand Duke- interestingly voiced by the same person as does the King. As Drizella and Anastasia attempt to impress Prince Charming, their awkward and haphazard mannerisms and scowls perfectly counterbalance the charm and grace of Cinderella in sometimes comical fashion.

Comparisons must be made to 1937’s masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both films could easily be companion films to each other, being watched in sequence for better study and marveling about similarities. Both Snow White and Cinderella are purely “good” characters, singing lovely tunes, embracing animal friends and various forms of wildlife- they are both more or less also “saved” by men. In present day, instead of this being offensive or “old fashioned” , it still remains enchanting and a celebration of true love.

Cinderella is a treasure to be enjoyed after all of these years, never aging nor becoming dated or irrelevant, which is a true testament to the power of film. Carving a story of values and honesty, of hard work and of good payoff, generations of fans can appreciate this everlasting treasure.

The Florida Project-2017

The Florida Project-2017

Director-Sean Baker

Starring-Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince

Scott’s Review #730

Reviewed February 28, 2017

Grade: A

Incorporating a realism and authenticity rarely found in mainstream films, the 2017 independent drama film, The Florida Project, offers the viewer a glimpse into the underbelly of society, largely from a child’s perspective, as we meet a group of poverty stricken folks residing in a crummy hotel outside of Disney World. Shot almost entirely on location, the film is humorous, dramatic, pathetic, and compelling and also a must-see. The balance between a child’s carefree outlook and the real life adult reality is key.

Director Sean Baker, famous for the ground-breaking and brilliant transgender themed indie from 2015, does it again with a gritty flavored location shot feast of a story involving the welfare stricken, prostitute laden Floridians holing up at a cheap motel. The plot follows six year old  Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince, as she and her problem prone mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), attempt to avoid trouble and the police.  They wile away the hot summer months, pandering and stealing from tourists as Halley dabbles in prostitution after failing to get a job at a nearby Waffle House.

In addition to Moonee and Halley, other prominent characters rounding out the hotel community are Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe), who manages the Magic Castle Motel, and is the father figure and voice of reason to the others, Ashley , Halley’s friend, Jancey and Scooty, friends of Moonee’s. The group holds a special bond since they are all barely existing on limited funds in a world laden with drugs, violence, and various unsavory characters.

With initial thoughts of an R-rated Little Rascals, the early scenes involve only the children as they create juvenile pranks including car spitting, bed jumping, and more serious mischief like setting fire to abandoned condos. To my knowledge all non-actors, the child scenes are truly brilliant and enough praise cannot go to little Brooklynn Prince the sweet, yet precocious six year old central child character. The films final scene involving this treasured little girl is both heart-wrenching and poignant, as the scene is fraught with raw emotion on the part of Prince.

Dafoe is brilliant in the role of Bobby and the actor chooses a character he does not often play. Frequently playing villains, he truly shines as the heart of gold man attempting to keep things together in a bad world. On the lookout for child predators and the police ,he watches out for the kids, as he sadly knows their lives will only get worse as they grow into teenagers and adults, sure to experience misery or tragic lives.

The most successful and riveting component of The Florida Project is the honest portrayal of the characters and the gritty, realism the viewer experiences. The fact that Baker shot the film entirely on location is immeasurable and key to the story. In a slice of life way, we are brought into this world for the duration of the film and learn the inner workings of the hotel, the streets, and the hotel parking lots. We live the lives of the characters and feel their struggles, their small triumphs, and most importantly empathize with their hopelessness- they are basically stuck, with little of hope of finding a better life.

To avoid a complete downer of a film, Baker incorporates a few humorous moments-mainly the light and fun scenes between Halley and Moonee. As they dance around in their hotel room or outside on the hotel lawn as an unexpected downpour erupts, the close bond between mother and child is apparent. The boisterous trio of kids also break up the monotonous adult tension of the other characters as they frolic and play without a care in the world. The adults versus kids outlook is apparent.

Surely one of the best films of 2017, The Florida Project instills a look at a forgotten and depressing part of the American population and provides a sobering reality of the world in modern times. With the Trump era in full swing, the release of this film is at a timely point in American history and gives a sobering look at the United States in general.

A Fantastic Woman-2017

A Fantastic Woman-2017

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

Scott’s Review #729

Reviewed February 27, 2018

Grade: A

A Fantastic Woman is a 2017 Chilean film that is groundbreaking in subject matter and has rightfully received heaps of accolades including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Especially worthy of mention is the films lead actress, Daniela Vega, the first transgender woman to present an award at the Oscars and a dynamo performance in her represented film. Besides all of the cultural achievements, the film succeeds in its own right as a compelling drama.

The film gets off to a sweet and romantic start as we meet Marina (Vega), a young waitress and aspiring singer, and Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a mature, affluent man thirty years her senior. Surprising her with a lovely birthday cake, the pair are beginning to embark on a serious relationship as Marina has recently moved in with Orlando. When tragedy strikes and Orlando is rushed to the hospital after collapsing, Marina must face the harsh reality of her partners narrow minded family and suspicions from law enforcement.

What a wonderful starring vehicle for this astounding young talent that is Vega. The film shares a story that has never been told before, though the transgender genre is slowly coming into its own- think 2015’s brilliant Tangerine. With A Fantastic Woman though, the story telling is more intimate and personal and clearly from Marina’s point of view. Faced with both financial issues and losing her love, she is forced to hurdle obstacles centered around her lifestyle that she had thought had been conquered through her open life with Orlando, who loved her for who she is.

Vega expresses so much with her wide-eyed stares and introspective glazed looks. A performance that is remarkably subdued, she does not have a traditional blowup or dramatic, emotional scene. Instead, she calmly goes from scene to scene with her anger and heartbreak brimming under the surface. As she is verbally insulted and degraded by Orlando’s bitter ex-wife, Marina stands her ground and calmly accepts the verbal attack. Even when Orlando’s thuggish relatives physically assault her with tape, she is calm in her reaction. This is a testament to Vega’s talents.

Perhaps the most touching sub plot involves Marina’s struggle to retain the dog that Orlando had kindly given to her. When Orlando’s son refuses to let her keep the dog, Marina reaches her breaking point and begins to fight dirty, refusing to hand over the keys to Orlando’s flat until she gets her way. The tender affection she has for the animal is wonderful as, despite having a few people in her corner, the dog is her pride and joy and best friend.

As stellar as Vega is, and the film does clearly belong to her, credit and mention must be given to the supporting players, who are largely unknown actors to me. Though we feel no sympathy for Orlando’s ex wife or his relatives, they are competently portrayed and we do feel their anger and spite. We do not know much about the back-story, but we do know that Orlando has revealed to all his involvement with a trans woman and he is proud of Marina. Actor Reyes is a dream as Orlando and we wistfully imagine a different film centered  solely on his romance with Marina. In their short time together, the audience falls madly in love with the duo.

A Fantastic Woman succeeds as a nuanced, level headed drama with a powerful message and a timely approach. Never veering over the top or being too preachy, the film is a wonderful telling of a topical subject matter. I only hope that more stories surrounding this genre are told in the future, since it is a goldmine of uncharted story-telling with so much potential.

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack

Scott’s Review #728

Reviewed February 26, 2018

Grade: B+

Based upon the famous and fantastic classic 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451,  by Ray Bradbury, the film adaptation is futuristic and dystopian in nature. Directed by French film-maker Francois Truffaut and starring the “it” girl of the late 1960’s, Julie Christie, the film succeeds as a cool, new wave, edgy, progressive hybrid. Various elements aid in making the film seem set in the future, all with hints of the great director, Alfred Hitchcock sprinkled in the mix. Certainly the novel is superior, but Fahrenheit 451 is a worthy watch if only for Christie alone.

Christie tackles a dual role, as both Clarisse, a young schoolteacher with progressive and forbidden views, and as Linda, the vastly different spoiled wife of central character, Guy Montag, played by German actor, Oskar Werner. The trio exist in a futuristic world where a totalitarian government has banned all literature deeming it bad for society. A force called Firemen, where Guy works, has the right to search anyone at any time and burn all books as needed. Clarisse and Guy begin to question the governments motivations as Guy stashes a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, causing danger and peril for the pair.

What I think I like most about the film is the mysterious and foreboding concept, which is a downright scary notion. What if books were suddenly non-existent and forbidden? The film does, as the novel did, provide references to luscious and brilliant literary works of art, so much so that the viewer will undoubtedly feel how this reality would be a devastating one. As with similar titles such as “1984” and “Brave New World”, the futuristic world and the “big brother is watching” theme is a key to its success.

Director, Truffaut, an ardent fan of the master Hitchcock, seamlessly incorporates elements of suspense and key “Hitchcockian” moments, most specifically with the musical score. Truffaut used Bernard Hermann, the same composer that Hitchcock used in 1966’s Torn Curtain, but more importantly, the prevalence of strings is reminiscent of classics like Psycho and Vertigo. A fight scene behind frosted glass so that only shadows can be scene is a direct homage to Hitchcock’s famous style.

To go along with the Hitchcock comparisons, an interesting film anecdote is that legendary Hitchcock superstar, Tippi Hedren, was desired in the central dual role, but since at the time she and Hitchcock were embroiled in a feud, and she was under contract to him, he would allow none of it. The mind wanders with the possibilities this would have presented. But alas, Christie is no slouch as the female star of the film.

In fact major kudos are deserved by Christie as she plays both of her characters to the hilt and is one of the best aspects of the film. Anyone having read Bradbury’s novel will understand how the character of Clarisse is expanded in the film, and one wonders if this was decided in order to showcase more of Christie? Regardless, the characters of Clarisse/Linda are completely different from each other and the actress is superb. Unfortunately, this film is not front of the pack in Christie’s most remembered films.

My main detraction of Fahrenheit 451, the film, is only that, having recently read the novel, there is no comparison whatsoever, as the novel is far superior, however the film is very good and contains some wonderful visuals and imagery. So few times can a film usurp the beauties of the written word, and how ironic given the subject matter of the destruction of books.

Fahrenheit 451 is a stylistic, artistic film with a really cool vibe and featuring a tremendous performance from one of 1960’s biggest talents. The film initially received fair to middling reviews and is now largely forgotten, but is nice to take down from the dusty old shelves of the Hollywood obscure every now and then.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

Directors-Glen Keane, Florian Babikian, Dave Mullins, Ru Kuwahata, Jan Lachauer

Scott’s Review #727

Reviewed February 21, 2018

Grade: A-

Having the honor of being able to view the five short films nominated for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at my local art theater was pretty amazing. Far too often dismissed as either irrelevant or completely flying under the radar of animated offerings, it is time to champion these fine little pieces of artistic achievement. On par with or even superseding the full length animated features, each of the five offers a vastly different experience, but each offers either inspired or hopeful messages or dark, devious, and edgy stories. Below is a review of each Short.

Garden Party-2016

Perhaps the strangest of all the shorts,  the viewer is transported into an eerie world of amphibians. Seemingly a pair, but unclear to me if this is so, they seem to either expand or multiply as they follow their primal instincts, navigating a wealthy mansion. Containing spilled champagne, a revolver, and various items that evidence a party, the amphibians jump around and communicate from room to room. When eventually they descend on a dead and bloated fat man in a vast swimming pool, the film ends in mysterious fashion. The short was impressively a French animation school’s graduation project. Grade: A-


An impressive Pixar product, Lou is the more accessible of all the entries with a heartfelt and uplifting message. In this age of school bullying awareness, the piece is an important one. Chubby J.J. takes pleasure in snatching other kids toys on the playground, keeping them for himself. A sweet creature named Lou collects lost toys and shapes himself using the toys, returning them to various parts of the playground for the kids to find the next day. When Lou and J.J.’s worlds collide, Lou teaches J.J. a valuable lesson in goodness and fairness. Lou is a wonderful short film that must be seen by small children and adults alike to experience a humanistic, wonderful tale. Grade: A

Dear Basketball-2017

The shortest of all the entries, Dear Basketball is a piece written by NBA superstar Kobe Bryant that features a lovely narrative by a young boy (presumably Bryant himself), who develops a love for the game of basketball and his inevitable rise among the ranks of athletes. As he ages, his body wears down and he realizes his time on the court has come to an end. The storytelling in Dear Basketball is inspiring to young boys and girls everywhere and, never mind that it is a piece about basketball, can be an inspired message really about anything. My one slight gripe to this Short is its minimal length and I wonder if it could have been fleshed out slightly. Grade: B+

Revolting Rhymes-2016

By far my favorite of the bunch and also by far the longest in length, the offering based on the book of the same name by legendary author, Roald Dahl, Revolting Rhymes is a dark and disturbing collection of fairy tales, all intertwined. As a wolf engages an old woman in a coffee shop and regales her with stories of his two nephews, he incorporates the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs into his story telling until the wolf does something dire to the woman. The short is only part one of a two part collection as part one concludes with a cliffhanger assuring the viewer will see the next chapter. With a crisp written story and intelligent premise, Revolting Rhymes is the most unique and most deserving of the Oscar statuette since the complexities alone make it the most cerebral. Grade: A

Negative Space-2017

Negative Space, another wonderful French nugget, is an exemplary stop-motion story about an odd relationship between a father and son. The pair, whose psychological elements are not too heavily dissected, but with a longer piece, could be, clearly have some bonding issues. The father works as a frequently traveling businessman, and father and son strangely bond solely over packing a suitcase and the efforts to never leave an inch of suitcase space under-utilized. As the father eventually dies and lies in a coffin, the son is bothered by the leftover space the coffin leaves. A macabre and humorous Short, I was left wanting more backstory of said father and son but what a clever tale Negative Space is. Grade: A

Happy Death Day-2017

Happy Death Day-2017

Director-Christopher B. Landon

Starring-Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard

Scott’s Review #726

Reviewed February 20, 2018

Grade: C+

Happy Death Day is a 2017 horror/slasher film offering that incorporates the “groundhog day” theme into its story in clever fashion.  Oddly, the film was released in October instead of February- missed marketing opportunity? Despite a unique premise, the film is overly complicated, especially for this genre of film, and rather than succeeding as a late Friday night treat, Happy Death Day becomes tough to follow leaving too many questions and puzzled thoughts in the after effects.

We first meet snobbish and sarcastic sorority sister, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), as she awakens with a pounding headache and a bad attitude one morning in the dorm room of a handsome classmate, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). She barely remembers the drunken tryst as she haggardly goes about her morning- today is her birthday!  Irritated with the day, she proceeds to dismiss her kindly roommate, and her father, and is rude to a former one-night stand, finally going to a party, where she is followed and brutally murdered by a figure wearing a campus mascot mask. She suddenly awakens to the same morning she has just experienced!

Perplexed, Tree spends the remainder of the film on the hunt to figure out who killed her, and to unravel the mystery of putting the events to a halt by going on a continues “loop” of the same night, each time uncovering more clues. Mixed in with the events, Tree realizes she has feelings for Carter and should really become a nicer person.

Star Jessica Rothe is perfectly fine in a breakout film role- though she had a small part in the musical La La Land from 2016. Her chemistry with Broussard is adequate, though when we talk horror, romance is not at the top of the list- blood is. Unfortunately, Happy Death day offers little in true kills or scares- the film is rated PG-13 for heaven’s sake.

A nice aside and testament to the character of Tree, though, is her possession of both “good girl” and “bad girl” qualities. Trendy in slasher films  is that the girl who parties and has sex is offed before very long, but in Happy Death Day, we are served both in the same character. Tree is, in fact, butchered, but then when brought back to life, the character eventually blossomed into the clear heroine. This is a nice twist on a traditionally written character.

I enjoyed the perpetual whodunit factor that screenwriter Scott Lobdell carves into the fabric. A bevy of suspects are introduced and the tale changes direction with each loop. In this way, with each loop the story becomes a bit more complex and characters stories or motivations shift each time. Furthermore, a few more characters are introduced giving the story more layers. This is both a strength and problematic- Trees professor, Dr. Gregory Butler, her secret lover, is a suspect. Is Trees sweet roommate, Lori, who wants nothing more than to treat her friend to a lovely birthday cupcake, too good to be true?

At a certain point things spiral out of control from a story perspective. What is the point of the local serial killer, John Tombs, injured and conveniently staying at the campus hospital, other than to serve as a red herring? Who is the masked killer and why do they suddenly disappear from the story? How is Tree able to seemingly change the details of her murder so much so that it ends up never happening? The reveal of the true killer is very good, but how did we get to this point? By the big reveal at the end I had stopped trying to figure out the film.

Slightly above par, Happy Death Day, while spirited and reaching for something different, becomes muddled and senseless, leaving the viewer wondering how all the various “groundhog day” stories add up to a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, by the time the films conclusion is reached, one will likely not wish to waste the time bothering to care. Still, some props for creativity must be awarded.

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo

Scott’s Review #725

Reviewed February 15, 2018

Grade: A

A true Fellini film in every sense and perhaps his most personal film of all, 1965’s Juliet of the Spirits is a colorful and masterful experience containing fluid art direction and stunning sets and costumes. As with most of his films, the story and its intricacies are odd and do not always make perfect sense, but the film is meant to be absorbed and felt and exhibits more of a central plot than some of his other works. Juliet of the Spirits is certainly not to be missed for fans of Fellini or any novice wanting an introduction to the great director.

In a compelling tidbit of background information, lead actress Giulietta Masina, wife and muse of director Fellini, and sometimes deemed the female Charlie Chaplin, plays a true to life character. In real life the woman suffered from her own bout with a philandering husband- Fellini himself! For this reason alone the film is interesting to watch as a true to life story leading the audience to empathize with Giulietta and her life of doldrums and turmoil.

Giulietta Boldrini (Masina) is an affluent woman living in Italy with her successful and dashing husband, Giorgio (Mario Pisu). Despite wealth, two housekeepers, and free time to do whatever she pleases, she is dissatisfied with her life and her surroundings. This occurs largely after hearing her husband mutter another woman’s name in his sleep. Concerned and intrigued, Giulietta hires investigators to unravel the mystery while at the same time spawning an adventure for her.

Instead of being a cookie-cutter film with a basic plot explained above, in true Fellini form, the character of Giulietta traverses on a journey into the dream-like and odd experience, tapping into her repressed desires and innermost thoughts, while being exposed to her larger than life and sexy neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo). The oversexed Suzy enlightens Giulietta to the joys of her mansion, her tree house, and her many dazzling, weird friends, and bubbling sensuality.

Juliet of the Spirits is a joy to watch and quite a bit more linear than other complex masterpieces such as 1960’s La Dolce Vita or 1969’s Fellini Satyricon. The plot is spelled out in a direct way- Giulietta is depressed and anxious for something new and exciting in her life. Her journey into this new life while wrestling with her demons and resistance makes this film so much fun to watch.

The styles and colors that Fellini creates are brilliant and lavishly loud. Take the gaudy and glamorous nest that Suzy calls home. With a built in underground swimming pool where she bathes after lovemaking, and velvety red walls and furniture, her palace is both tawdry and sophisticated. Fellini uses gorgeous reds, greens, and blues throughout the film to create dazzle and spectacles with larger than life characters.

To further focus on Suzy for a minute, the blonde bombshell frequently visits her very own tree house complete with a swing. She flirts with handsome young men who gaze up at the scantily dressed beauty as she tosses her high-heeled shoe down to them in a suggestive manor. When they come up to the top of the tree house by way of a mechanical basket, presumably for sex, this is too much for the overwhelmed Giulietta, who returns to the safety of her own home. But clearly she is as much titillated as she is scared.

The film belongs to Masina and we cannot help but wonder if Fellini created Juliet of the Spirits as a sort of apology to the actress for his reported years of cheating. Regardless, Masina plays a middle-aged, confident on the outside- insecure on the inside, woman flawlessly. With her expressive eyes and nice smile, Masina fully encompasses the role with enthusiasm- a perfect fit for a Fellini film.

Juliet of the Spirits also is great at mixing in several forms of film genre including fantasy, drama, and light comedy and contains a bevy of interesting supporting characters. Suzy’s seemingly clairvoyant mother is a great side character as she upon meeting Giulietta immediately sees that the woman is troubled. Giulietta’s father, whom we meet when she is a little girl appearing in a religious play, is boisterous and spirited.

Having been fortunate enough to stay at the Grand Hotel in Rome, a lavish yet strange establishment where Fellini spent many a night as a guest, I fantasized while watching Juliet of the Spirits, that he drew inspiration for this film from said hotel. The grand red textures appear in both hotel and the Fellini film so I could very well have experienced a true inspiring facility.

Stalwart, creative, and masterful director Fellini once again serves up a stylish film that must be thought about following a good, solid viewing. Too much analysis, however, will ruin the enchanting experience, as Juliet of the Spirits is best served up as a treat to be mesmerized by in glamorous fashion.



Director-Dee Rees

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund

Scott’s Review #724

Reviewed February 12, 2018

Grade: B+

Mudbound is a 2017 Netflix period drama offering that transports the viewer to a time of racism and struggle as World War II ravaged through Europe. The piece is largely set in rural Mississippi, however, during the 1940’s as a vastly different way of life existed for most- especially black folks. The film depicts the hardships and struggles of two families living on the same land- one white and one black, and how their lives intersect with one another’s in dramatic fashion.

The film received several Oscar nominations including Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Song, and Cinematography. I will suffice it to say I support the latter two mentions in the group, but not the former. While the final act kicks the film into much needed high gear, and the filming detail of the rural southern terrain is quite apt, I kept waiting for a stunning scene involving the usually wonderful Mary J. Blige to erupt, but sadly nothing ever came. The writing, while inspired, would not get my vote in the screenplay category either, especially when other, more worthy films (think Mother!) were bypassed.

The mood of Mudbound is immediately impressive as we are introduced to the grizzled and muddy town of Marietta, Mississippi, a sort of farm wasteland, where brothers Henry and Jamie McAllan struggle to bury their recently deceased “Pappy” as the lands are ravaged by a driving storm. When Henry briefly leaves Jamie in the watery grave the pair has dug, Jamie is panic stricken that Henry will not return. In this way, director Dee Rees reveals a major clue to tension between the brothers as the film rewinds to some time earlier when times were happier for the brothers.

Mixed in with the trials and tribulations of brothers McAllan, is Henry’s wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), who shares a loveless marriage with him, while secretly lusting after Jamie. A poor black family resides and works on the McAllan farm, and must endure hardship and racism from the white residents of Marietta, especially when their son Ronsel returns from World War II, a celebrated hero. Old habits die hard as the Ku Klux Klan rears its ugly head- targeting the young soldier for daring to bed with a German woman abroad.

As most of the film meanders during the first hour or so with odd edits and pacing, I did not easily connect with many of the characters, though I wanted desperately to. There seemed to be not enough buildup to the ultimate drama. The film is shot in a way that you know you are watching something of substance, but it takes a long, long time to reach a crescendo. The aforementioned criticism of Mary J. Blige, who portrays long suffering matriarch Florence Jackson, is not of the part itself or her acting, but rather, I expected a gritty, meat and potatoes style performance from the talented lady. I disagree with her Oscar nomination, and instead would have chosen the brilliant Michelle Pfeiffer from Mother!

Praise must be written for Mulligan’s performance, shamefully overlooked, as the haggard, intellectually unfulfilled housewife, Laura. As she wistfully buries her nose in a novel to escape her dull life , or longingly looks at Jamie, disappointed with her loneliness, we feel every emotion that Mulligan plays. A consistent problem with Mudbound was there lacked a grand emotional scene from either Blige or Mulligan.

The film’s racist subject matter can be utterly difficult to watch as a major character sees their tongue removed and another character forced to make a difficult choice. This action leads to a deadly turn of events and the murder of another character, resulting in a lifetime of secrets. The final thirty minutes is the best part of Mudbound.

A must mention, and historical feat, is the nomination of Rachel Morrison in the cinematography category. She is the very first female to ever receive this honor and it is certainly about time. Morrison successfully fills Mudbound with the perfect mood- both picturesque greenery and a depressing, downtrodden aura. This is not as easy as one might imagine, but the creative talent achieves this effortlessly.

Mudbound is a film that has received lots of attention, but is not the masterpiece some are touting is as. Taking way too long to hit its stride, the film has good aspects and also some missed opportunities. Perhaps a better put together film might have  resulted in a brilliant experience instead of “only” a very good watch. I recommend Mudbound, but I expected and hoped for much more than I was given.



Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale  of a wooden puppets longing to become a real boy. The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy. A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film  Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in so as to not make the experience too dark or scary. This is evidenced by the , by now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches, and is a main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times. Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.  The scene is sweet, touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure, and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together. Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Crickett. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film and is still identified with the legendary film. In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual. Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. In fact, I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940’s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity. Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Phantom Thread-2017

Phantom Thread-2017

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Scott’s Review #722

Reviewed January 31, 2018

Grade: A

Phantom Thread is a 2017 gem of a film that ideally will be studied in film schools and remembered for decades to come, or at the very minimum be discussed and dissected among those fortunate enough to see it currently. Set in England during the 1950’s and centering on the dress-making industry, the film mixes romance with a bizarre psychological element that leave the viewer breathless as the final act comes to a dramatic and startling conclusion.

Daniel Day-Lewis once again does brilliant work as Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed and famous dressmaker living and working in London during the 1950’s. He creates lavish dresses for the members of high society, including the wedding gown for the famous Belgian princess. Masterful at his work, he is also controlling and demanding, requiring plenty of support and attention from his equally controlling sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). When he meets Alma Elson, a waitress from a countryside resort, the pair fall into a relationship, as she acts as his assistant, muse, and lover. Complexities develop between Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril as the plot progresses in cerebral and nail-biting fashion.

The film itself is ravishing to look at and a feast for the eyes if only for the classic costumes alone.  Each dress that Reynolds creates is exceptional and at the height of glamour. His domineering nature only makes this realistic as perfection is his modus operandi and his dresses are evidence of this. In one particularly fantastic sequence, Reynolds begrudgingly creates a dress for the boozy Barbara Rose, a rich and mature woman, who promptly falls asleep drunk at her own wedding, soiling the garment. A livid Reynolds, along with Alma, strip Barbara of the dress, rather than see her sleep in and tarnish it.

The main draw to the film, however, is the wonderful, intricate main plot involving Reynolds, Cryil, and Alma. This weaving of personalities and their nuances must be attributed to the fabulous direction of Paul Thomas Anderson,  known for edgy, dark films such as 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s Magnolia. He comes up with a masterpiece in Phantom Thread. The three principle characters are quite unlikable and viewer allegiances may change throughout the tale. Appearing to be the innocent, debutante character of the film, the character of Alma will surprise- especially in the films final act.

A successful nuance to the film is the multitude of scenes involving characters breaking bread with others as events unfold over danishes, omelettes, and crisp asparagus-in fact, sometimes the banter involves discussions and debates about the preparation of the food. This characteristic is a dream for any foodie, and the meals actually aid in the progression of the plot.  Earlier in the film, Alma is scolded by a maid for nearly picking poisonous mushrooms which later becomes a major clue and part of the films conclusion. During a  pivotal scene between Reynolds and Alma, she prepares a delicious mushroom omelette for her love as motivations, secrets, and desires come to the surface.

The grand twist that Anderson reveals at the end of the film will only leave the viewer open-mouthed and quickly reviewing the events and circumstances of the entire film.

The close-up scenes that Anderson uses are magical and each actor allowed to be very expressive- the camerawork over several breakfast scenes- Alma and Cyril gazing at each other revealing emotions that border between hatred and mutual respect, are effectively done. Manville in particular does so much with her blue eyes as she sips coffee, peering over her cup with venomous indignation at her foe. How splendid is the comparison of Cyril to the famous Hitchcock villainous Mrs. Danvers from the classic 1940 film in her cold and creepy mannerisms.

My hope is that Phantom Thread will eventually be appreciated and analyzed as a cinematic work of art. Deservedly honored with a 2017 Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Costume Academy Award nomination, the film also is a lesson in great writing, bizarre angles, and important effects. Let’s wish for this film to be recognized as the great work that it is.

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for a number of years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kindly. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality, but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girls life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. In addition, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time, and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic , feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

The Big Sick-2017

The Big Sick-2017

Director-Michael Showalter

Starring-Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan

Scott’s Review #720

Reviewed January 29, 2018

Grade: B+

The Big Sick, a 2017 independent “dramedy” film, takes what could be a standard premise and turns it upside down, instead offering a fresh perspective on a familiar tale about a prospering relationship. In this way the screenplay is the standout as the writing is intelligent and crisp. Thanks to exceptional acting by all four principle characters, The Big Sick is a success and well worth a watch.

The story follows an interracial couple, Emily and Kumail, played by Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani, who have just recently started to casually date. Kumail is a standup comic living in Chicago and meets the flirtatious Emily after a club performance one night. They share a one-night stand and mutually agree to never see one another again. As the smitten pair break their promise and form a romance, a tragedy occurs landing Emily in a coma. Kumail must handle Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who are angry with Kumail for misleading Emily and not telling her about his strict Muslim parents intentions of marrying him off by arranged marriage.

Apparently, the screenplay (nominated for a 2017 Oscar nomination) is loosely based on the relationship between actor/writer Nanjiani (who stars), and Emily Gordon (who co-wrote the screenplay). In this way, especially since Nanjiani stars, the film holds a measure of sincerity and authenticity, as if Nanjiani is living the role. A major plus to the film is the chemistry that Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan share during their many scenes in the start of the film. Before the drama really takes off, the audience will become fully invested in the pair as a couple.  Whether the couple flirt as Kumail drives Emily home, or as the couple fight when Emily learns about his Muslim cultures arranged marriage belief, the couple have a tremendous connection and it shows.

The story fabric takes an interesting turn about midway through the film when Emily is stricken with a debilitating illness and a medically induced coma is needed- as Kumail is forced to pretend to be her husband this opens up many moral and legal ramifications that the film chooses largely to ignore in lieu of dealing with the relationships between Kumail and Emily’s distraught parents. Hunter and Romano are wonderful in the parent roles- Hunter having the more showy of the two  parts with more meat, Romano holds his own and powerhouses a vital comedy club scene, in which he defends his wife from a callous heckler.

Admittedly, the film decides to go the “happily ever after” route, this is hardly a surprise given that Judd Apatow is the producer. Remember this is the same guy who produced such safe films as Superbad and Anchorman 2, but nonetheless, the story within The Big Sick is an enjoyable and character driven ride, if not unpredictable. A darker tinged affair might have set this film over the top as it contains many other credible film qualities.

The addition of comic talent in the supporting roles of Kumail’s comedy club buddies adds a good balance and nicely counterbalances the drama insomuch as the drama does not become too dour. Much of the film involves Emily coma-bound, so comic talent such as SNL’s Aidy Bryant and Comedy Central’s Kurt Braunohler are good adds.

I enjoyed the inclusion of the traditional Pakistani custom of arranged marriages, but at times this seems played for laughs rather than being a major obstacle to the couple. Kumail’s controlling mother parades one young Pakistani girl after another in front of her son as a way of encouraging him to select one of them. Kumail’s traditional family are played as stereotypes and the lighthearted foils of the film.

The Big Sick succeeds with crisp, witty dialogue, and a solid story that mixes with the intended comedy well. A few too many stereotypes and goofiness keeps the action light even when held against the more serious parts- great acting all around.

Beach Rats-2017

Beach Rats-2017

Director-Eliza Hittman

Starring-Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #719

Reviewed January 26, 2018

Grade: A-

Beach Rats is a 2017 coming of age film penned and directed by Eliza Hittman, a young female director from Brooklyn, New York, who incorporates her familiar geographical settings into only her second feature film. 2013’s It Felt Like Love was awarded two Independent Film nominations and Beach Rats has followed suit- garnering a Best Actor nomination as well as a Best Cinematography mention. The film is a very good story of conflict that its target audience will surely relate to.

The film is very low-budget, but a successful character study of a young man named Frankie, played by newcomer Harris Dickinson, wrestling with family issues while also in the midst of wrestling with his sexuality, all while hanging out with his troubled friends and dating his sometime girlfriend. Beach Rats is not a downer, but rather, an interesting glimpse into the life of a teenager and his struggle with self identity.

Mirroring It Felt Like Love, Hittman uses plenty of locales unique to Brooklyn, with the most identifiable being the watery, night time beaches of the borough, which gives the film an authentic feel. Many scenes are shot outdoors and is a strong point of the film. Similar to many independent films, Beach Rats clearly uses several “non-actors” in small roles, which also adds depth to the blue-collar, sometimes harsh, Brooklyn feel.

With only two features to her credit, Hittman is successful at having her own hand-print on her films, making them identifiable as her own. Interesting is how the director chooses a male character to write for. Similar to the female Liza in It Felt Like Love, both she and Frankie are vulnerable and coming terms with their sexual feelings and desires. The fact that Liza is straight and Frankie, at most, bisexual, is only a strength of the evidently complex writer/director.

Dickinson is perfectly cast as Frankie. Good-looking, with chiseled features and a lithe, toned body, his bright blue eyes are expressive, as the audience is empathetic to his many dilemmas. Beach Rats is much more than a traditional “gay film”, which is admirable- it is more complex than that. By 2017, the common theme of coming to terms with ones sexuality has been explored. According to Frankie, he “just has sex with men” and refuses to identify as either gay or bisexual. It is implied that because of his group of trouble-making friends, who only want to get high, he might be faced with resistance if he ever came out to them.

The supporting cast is well represented- Frankie’s mother, Donna (Kate Hodge), is faced with a tough predicament as her husband, Frankie’s father, has just died of cancer, ripping the family apart. She knows that Frankie keeps things from her- is she figuring out Frankie’s sexual secrets? Donna implies that it is okay for Frankie to tell her anything- admirable combined with her own problems. Frankie’s girlfriend, Simone, is coming into her own as Frankie is, and despite the fact that the duo share a sweet relationship, it appears doomed for failure.

The most interesting scenes that Beach Rats feature take place between Frankie and the mostly older men  he meets either virtually or in person. Though Frankie is quite nervous, Dickinson always makes the character of Frankie appear confident and well beyond his years. Being street-smart, he is never taken advantage of as is common with young men and older men. Why he mostly prefers older men is never explained, but might it have anything to do with seeking to fill the void left by his deceased father?  Or is it simply to reduce the risk of running into anyone he might know within his own age group?

Hittman is not shy about featuring nudity, yet each scene is tastefully done and never seems to be for either shock value or to elicit a gasp. Full frontal nudity is featured. as well as scenes of Frankie engaging in sexual acts with both the men and his girlfriend. Sure Dickinson has a perfect body, but his assets do not seem to be on display unnecessarily.

Independent films, more often than many “box office” films, are given much creative freedom to simply tell a good story. Thankfully, in the case of Beach Rats, the audience is lucky enough to view a quiet, introspective tale of a conflicted adolescent, and how he deals with demons and complex feelings that he is faced with. Particularly for the predominantly LGBT audience who will see the film, Beach Rats will have much to offer.

Darkest Hour-2017

Darkest Hour-2017

Director-Joe Wright

Starring-Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

Scott’s Review #718

Reviewed January 24, 2018

Grade: A-

Darkest Hour is a British historical film that showcases an astounding portrayal of Winston Churchill that legendary actor Gary Oldman gives. Certainly known for numerous other fine acting performances in films such as the Harry Potter series, JFK, and Batman Begins, this performance easily transcends all of the others as he brings perfection to a complex role-infusing humor, drama, and many idiosyncrasies of the storied historic figure. Surely, Churchill is the best role of Oldman’s  lengthy career.

Director, Joe Wright, famous for such classy European films as Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Anna Karenina (2012), traditionally offers rich, intelligent experiences with an upper-crust, often British theme, and fills his characters with wry humor and wit. In the case of Darkest Hour, a film that absolutely belongs to Oldman by the way, his Churchill is the master of gruff sarcasm and cantankerous charm.

During the tumultuous time of 1940,  with the barbaric grips of Nazi Germany settling upon both England and France (Allies in World War II), a disheveled England is frustrated with their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, for being weak. Chamberlain begrudgingly appoints Winston Churchill as his successor, amid limited support. The film discusses Churchill’s early days in charge as the war and the Nazi presence loomed larger and larger- especially as the historic Dunkirk situation comes into fruition.

Darkest Hour as a film is good quality- there exists a certain historic richness and the feeling of experiencing a film that is worthy and relevant. For those of us not in existence during the 1940’s, the film will likely serve as an educational experience into the events of the day.  Certainly, hundreds of films have been made over time that have explored the events during World War II in fantastic detail, but this film is unique in that it not only provides a perspective of the Allied countries “back against the wall” situation, but the ups and downs and pressures that Churchill, the man, faced.

Despite a few quick clips of Hitler and both very old black and white footage and newspaper headlines of the crazed leader, the focus is not on the enemy country, in fact, no actor was used to play Hitler, rather, the focus is on Churchill and the decisions he made and the influences he was faced with. Pressured to appease the militant German country and reach a “peaceful” deal, Churchill instead listened to the voices of the common, everyday, British people to reach his decision to fight the Germans and not back down.

Clever, and relevant in 2017 cinema, is the films spotlight on the famous Dunkirk situation, when British forces were trapped on the shores of Dunkirk, with German planes looming overhead. Thanks in large part to Churchill and British and French civilian boats who aided in the rescue, many men were saved. The 2017 film, aptly named Dunkirk, would make a wonderful companion piece to Darkest Hour in that the subject matters mirror one another. Not surprisingly, both films received Academy award nominations for Best Picture.

A great lesson I carried away from the film is with Churchill himself. Sure, I knew that he was the Prime Minister of England during the 1940’s and was instrumental in the events of the bloody war, but I knew little about the man himself. Thanks to Wright and, of course, Oldman, the viewer will learn the good and bad characteristics of this man. A heavy drinker, commonly downing champagne with lunch and brandy the rest of the day, he was initially not well liked, nor taken very seriously by British royalty.

With Churchill’s bumbling personality, Oldman is fantastic at filling the role with humor, frustration, and just the correct amount of empathy and concern. Despite having a temper, we can tell that he has a love of country and pride for the people living there- that is why he is adamant at conquering the enemy. So we know he is a good man despite his temper tantrums. Oldman also successfully embodies the mannerisms that this historical figure contained. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a worthy performance, albeit in a small role, as the mature and graceful wife, who can both support and match wits with her husband.

Thanks to a brilliant acting performance by Gary Oldman, who takes on a difficult role that could easily be botched by lesser talent, he makes a film that could have been dull and flat, into a worthy watch to both learn something and be amazed at a truly great acting performance. Darkest Hour is a 2017 historical drama worth seeing.



Director-Martin Campbell

Starring-Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco

Scott’s Review #717

Reviewed January 19, 2018

Grade: B

By 1995, after a record six years between films, the James Bond franchise re-emerged in an energetic manner with Pierce Brosnan assuming the role of the MI6 agent-, and breathing some fresh life into the character. The charming and suave Irish actor gave a new direction to the role last played by Timothy Dalton-an actor who gave Bond more of a brooding quality. The resulting GoldenEye offers mixed results, though the casting is a vast improvement over its predecessor.

In fact, GoldenEye sees other monumental roles recast- that of Judi Dench as M, and Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenney. The film has a slick look, a compelling story, but at times is tough to follow, and overall- despite containing all the elements- something seems missing. Or maybe I just prefer the other Bonds more? Still, the offering is far from a bad watch.

GoldenEye kicks off with, in hindsight, a major clue to the story as Bond  (Brosnan) and fellow 00 agent, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), infiltrate a Soviet facility in northern Russia during 1986, searching for chemical weapons. Alec is tragically killed by sinister Soviet General Ourumov and Bond mourns the loss of his friend.

The action resumes in present times (1995) as , now in gorgeous Monte Carlo, Bond follows the beautiful and sadistic Xenia Onatopp, a  crime syndicate member known for crushing men with her thighs. Xenia and Ourumov travel to Siberia where they destroy a bunker holding GoldenEye satellites and kill everyone except computer programmer, Boris (Alan Cumming), and lone survivor, Natalya  (Izabella Scorupco). In a clever twist, it is revealed that Alec has betrayed the British Intelligence and is, in fact, himself leading the crime syndicate.

In one of the quietest, and best scenes, Bond and M have an interesting exchange in her office as M (a woman) calls Bond out on his arrogance and chauvinism, and states that it is a new day. Dench adds a ton of female modernism into the role (about time in 1995) as Bond now reports to a woman. The scene is important as it leads the two characters to achieve a mutual respect and arguably parlays the franchise into a new, more female-empowering direction.

A great positive to GoldenEye is the setting, which I think does wonders for the film as a whole- the bitter, blustery, Siberian set gives a soothing feeling, especially while watching the film during the ravages of winter, snug with a warm blanket and heaters. Regardless, the sets are realistic, never cheesy, and loaded with atmosphere- so the film itself looks wonderful.

Issues abound with the frenetic pacing of the film- at times I found myself losing track of the action or the sequence of events. Understandably, as in many Bond films, events circle the globe and, surely London, Russia, and Monte Carlo are great locations, but especially within the film’s final climax, I suffered from sensory overload.

Furthermore, Brosnan is not one of my favorite Bonds. Sure, he has the charisma, the looks, and the charm to pull off the role, but something about him does not measure up to Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazanby, or Daniel Craig- certainly he supersedes Timothy Dalton.  Don’t get me wrong- I do not despise him as Bond, but nothing stands him out against the others either.

The villains in GoldenEye are perfectly adequate if not spectacular. Sean Bean gives Alec a sly, aww shucks appeal and defines good-looking, but his motivations for switching sides is not very exciting- something about Nazis in World War II, the Cossacks, and revenge are quickly mentioned, but it doesn’t much matter.  General  Ourumov is effective- with his sinister look he is the perfect Bond villain. Xenia is little more than a cartoon character 9with the name to boot) and her gimmick quickly wears thin. Finally, Cummings as the programmer is played only for laughs and his final chant of “I am invincible!” as he freezes into solid ice is mildly humorous.

The title theme song, “GoldenEye”, performed by Tina Turner is forgettable at best and one of the most lackluster in the illustrious musical catalog.

GoldenEye has many of the standard Bond elements within its frames and is a decent entry in the franchise. With the debut of a new Bond, the film has a fresh and very modern and technical feel to it that, along with a fantastic setting, overlooks some flaws in the storytelling.  Filled with bombast and a crowd-pleasing method, GoldenEye is hardly the best Bond film, but certainly not the worst.



Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Maud Adams

Scott’s Review #716

Reviewed January 17, 2018

Grade: A-

Hardly regarded as one of the most stellar of entries in the James Bond franchise, 1983’s Octopussy is nonetheless a guilty pleasure of mine. This is undoubtedly due to the film being the first installment that I was allowed to see in the movie theater and is filled with exciting memories. As the film stands in current days it is perfectly fine, containing all of the enjoyable elements necessary for a good Bond film- interesting villains, solid action, and gorgeous women. Perhaps at times suffering from a bit of silliness, Octopussy is still  quite the fantastic watch.

Roger Moore, admittedly looking slightly aged and sagging, returns to the fold as 007, the shaken, but not stirred action hero known as James Bond. However, he is, true to form, as witty and suave as he always is with witty one-liners and mischievous smirk. Interesting to note is how Moore ritualistically infuses the character with a measure of comedy- a wink of the eye or a raised eyebrow adds humor to the character-more so than any other actor who has portrayed Bond.

In this installment, Faberge eggs, clowns, and gorilla suits are featured. Attempting to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin, 009- dressed as a circus clown, is murdered on the estate of a British Ambassador, while attempting to deliver a fake Faberge egg. Assuming the Soviets are involved, MI6 instructs Bond to investigate the matter and a complex smuggling ring is uncovered- featuring a gorgeous female smuggler named Octopussy (Maud Adams), along with sinister Afghan exiled prince Kamal Kahn (Louis Jourdan), and his bodyguard, Gobinda.

Watching the film in 2018, and despite the fact that it was made in 1983, Octopussy does not suffer from the dreaded “1980’s look” that so many other films do, and seems surprisingly clean and fresh. The colors are vibrant- especially the prevalent circus and clown scenes, and the best two scenes- the airplane and train scenes- still bristle and crackle with good action.

As the climax to Octopussy culminates, the inevitable heroine and main Bond girl- Adams’s “Octopussy”, has been bound and gagged and taken hostage by the baddies in a fleeing airplane, Bond grabs hold of the fuselage, and begins a harried flight over the mountains of remote India, clinging for dear life. The scene climaxes with an exciting fight scene atop the rooftop of the speeding plane as Bond and Gobinda fight to the death as Kamal unsuccessfully attempts to twist and turn the plane and rid themselves of pesky Bond. The scene is still compelling and loses none of its appeal over the years, never appearing dated.

Additionally, the train sequence is still relevant, but admittedly does suffer from a small dose of silliness. The action is plentiful as Bond races against time to prevent a Russian missile from detonating and killing thousands of American citizens, and worthy of noting is the timely Cold War subject matter of the Russians versus the Americans- plentiful in American cinema during this time period. As Bond dons a phony looking gorilla outfit- embarrassing even for the comical Roger Moore- he is able to successfully take off the costume and sneak out of a train car, all before the three seconds that it takes for Gobinda to turn around and slice the head off of the gorilla thinking it is Bond. Suspension of disbelief is required.

Impressive is the female empowerment slant that is evident throughout the film. From the strong businesswoman character that Adams portrays- she is decisive, intelligent, and savvy, she is neither cowering nor impressionable and cannot be bullied or pushed around. Albeit her name, “Octopussy”, does teeter on male chauvinism.  Be that as it may, her gang of feminist followers, all wielding assault rifles, are quite inspiring and, at this point, unusual for a Bond film- certainly typically masculine leaning.

Octopussy is an overlooked, under-appreciated, too easily dismissed slice of goodness served up with a bit of comedy, plenty of action, and good solid villains- everything that makes a Bond film a Bond film. Certainly the film is worthy of a viewing.

The Post-2017

The Post-2017

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #715

Reviewed January 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Amid the current political upheaval occurring during the year 2017 comes a fresh and quite timely film named The Post, created by esteemed director, Steven Spielberg, and starring two of today’s biggest Hollywood film stars- Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The film is a political, historical thriller set during the tumultuous time of 1971, as the controversial Vietnam War raged on, and tells of the bravery of a female newspaper owner (Streep), who risked everything to publish the truth, along with her team of mostly male editors and staff.

The film is an intelligent piece of writing, with a crisp script and quick editing allowing for a believable foray into a different time, when newspapers were hot and rotary telephones, telephone booths, and polyester outfits were all the rage. Spielberg is brilliant at setting just the right mood and tone to transport the audience back to 1971- on the eve of the enormous Watergate scandal. While all of the elements are in play, and the truthful story is important, the film is very good, but not quite brilliant- falling just shy of that bombastic one or two scenes that would land it over the top.

The Post begins in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965, as military analyst Daniel Ellsberg documents the progress of military activities among the soldiers during battle. On the journey home he briefs then President Lyndon Johnson that the war is hopeless and should be stopped. As history unfortunately shows, the brutal war continued on with thousands of lives lost. The film then continues on a journey of the uncovering of top secret Pentagon papers documenting the White House’s knowledge of the useless nature of the war, but each administration chose to continue with the bleeding to avoid the United States being “humiliated”.

Streep gives her best performance in years as Katharine Graham, Washington Post newspaper heiress, a woman who struggles to be taken seriously in a man’s world- especially given the time period- many men were uncomfortable taking direction from a woman. Streep infuses the perfect amount of emotion, insecurity, and charm into the role. Despite her wealth and her control, she is frequently overruled by the all male board of directors, so much so that she often doubts her confidence.

Hanks, however, underwhelms as gruff editor in chief of the Post, Ben Bradlee. Given the enormous talents of the actor, I was expecting a meatier performance, which does not materialize. I also anticipated an equal balance of Hanks and Streep, but the film clearly belongs to Streep. Perhaps because Hanks (the ultimate nice guy) portrays Bradlee as a tough, yet family man, the performance does not quite work. Also, the chemistry between Hanks and Streep is not the specialty of the film.

Evident is the correlation between 1971’s President Nixon and 2017’s President Trump- both administrations shrouded in controversy. A neat trick Spielberg creates is to only show Nixon in shadows, wildly gesturing and threatening, similar to Trump’s mannerisms- this is no accident. In fact, the entire work of The Post seems a big call-out by Spielberg, a devout liberal, to the Trump administration. This comparison of past and present makes The Post incredibly timely and topical for 2017. Clever is the intriguing ending- as the Watergate scandal begins with a security guard catching intruders at the complex, Spielberg seems to be saying “watch out Trump!”

In 2017, the current state of the media versus the White House has never held more controversy, disdain, and even hatred as the “truth” is often tough to come by or even to distinguish. “Fake news” is now a thing and twitter rants are now a daily occurrence, making the “truth” a precious commodity. For this reason alone, The Post must be a film to celebrate and model ourselves after- how timely indeed.

Death On The Nile-1978

Death On The Nile-1978

Director-John Guillermen

Starring-Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis

Scott’s Review #714

Reviewed January 14, 2018

Grade: B+

Death On The Nile is a 1978 British thriller that follows up the successful 1974 offering, Murder On The Orient Express- both films based on the fabulous Agatha Christie novels of the 1930’s. This time around, Belgian detective Hercules Poirot (Peter Ustinov) investigates a string of deaths aboard a luxurious steamer carrying the lavishly wealthy and their servants. The film is a good, old-fashioned whodunit, perhaps not on the level of storytelling as its predecessor-the murder mystery contains not the oomph expected-but features exquisite Egyptian historical locales-worth its weight in gold.

Featuring a who’s who of famous stars and tremendous actors of the day, Death On The Nile carves a neat story right off the bat in such a way that the murder victim is fairly obvious right away- most of the characters have reason to celebrate her demise. Rich and reviled heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), has stolen best friend Jacqueline’s (Mia Farrow) beau, Simon, sparking a bitter feud between the women. While honeymooning in Egypt, the newlyweds are continually taunted by angry Jacqueline. Once the cruise ship departs with all on board, Jackie is the prime suspect when Linnet is murdered. Poirot must find the killer as numerous other suspects all with grudges against Linnet, begin to emerge.

Death On The Nile serves up a stellar cast including legendary Bette Davis in the role of Marie Van Shuyler- eccentric American socialite with an eye for Linnet’s necklace. The casting of Davis is reason enough to watch the film, though the character is not center stage and rather a supporting role. The lead female honor is held for Farrow, who has the meatiest and most complex role in the film. Jackie’s unstable actions makes her the most likely to commit the deed, but the fun is to figure out the “whys” and the “hows” of the murder. Is there more than one killer? Are they working in cahoots or independently? As the body count increases these questions begin to resonate more and more.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous and it is no wonder the film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. At a ball the women are dripping with jewels and gorgeous gowns. Along with Davis, boozy author Salome Otterbourne, hilariously played by Angela Lansbury, is granted the prize of wearing the most luxurious and interesting of all the costumes. She drips with jewels and, with a cocktail always in hand, is the films comic relief.

Director John Guillermin makes the film an overall light and fun experience and, despite the murderous drama, does not take matters too seriously. Offering humorous moments, this balances nicely with the inevitable murders. The fun for the audience is deducing whodunit- most of the characters have motive and the cast of characters is hefty. I had memories of the famous board game Clue- Was it Jackie in the ballroom with the revolver? You get the idea. In this way the film makes for a good, solid game of mystery.

Comparisons to 1974’s Murder On The Orient Express cannot help but be drawn, especially in the lead casting of Hercules Poirot. Truth be told, Albert Finney’s portrayal in “Murder” is superior to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in “Death” and I am not sure what purpose Colonel Race (David Niven) as Poirot’s friend offers other than to be a loyal sidekick and present a character that Poirot can explain events to- think what Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Regardless, Finney is the superior Poirot as he musters more strength and charisma than Ustinov does.

How lovely and historic to witness the wonderful Egyptian locales- the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids are featured amid an attempt on the life of the romantic pair by way of falling rocks- this sets the tone for the perilous cruise about to be embarked upon.

Perhaps a perfect film for a Saturday stay at home evening with friends, complete with a serving of a quality wine and cheese, Death On The Nile is a sophisticated, yet fun, British mystery film, fantastic to watch in a party setting where the audience can be kept guessing until the nice conclusion and the big reveal of who killed whom and why.

The Boss Baby-2017

The Boss Baby-2017

Director- Tom McGrath

Starring- Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire

Scott’s Review #713

Reviewed January 12, 2018

Grade: C

True confession- I was not expecting much from the 2017 offering of the animated film entitled The Boss Baby (a brooding, sarcastic newborn offered no appeal). However, since the film was nominated for a Golden Globe award, I decided to throw caution to the wind and settle down for a viewing. Predictably, the film fulfilled my hunch and resulted in a fair to middling experience- the attempt at a nice message was offset by cliched and silly characters and an over-produced film rather than a directed one, but yet held interesting  and sometimes even beautiful visuals.

Seven year old Tim Templeton (voiced by Tobey Maguire), as an adult, narrates a story of his childhood  days, living with his parents Ted and Janice, both busy marketing professionals, who work at Puppy Co.. One day, his parents return home with a bundle of joy in tow, Theodore Lindsey Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who immediately monopolizes their time and attention. Isolated, Tim is envious and begins a rivalry with his baby brother, who is secretly a spy named “The Boss Baby”, and who has the mind of an adult in a baby’s body. It is revealed that he is working undercover as a spy to investigate why puppies are now receiving more love than babies. The duo eventually team up and forge a bond to prevent corporate America from ruining all of the love in the world.

To be fair, The Boss Baby presents a positive, good message of love and acceptance, which is nice to see, but this message can only carry a film so far, and there is little else of substance. As with many animated films, the story here contains a “good versus evil” slant, which, in this case, renders the film rather one dimensional. We are instructed who to root for and who not to root for, and while  challenging corporate greed is certainly a cause worth championing, too often I found The Boss Baby causing my mind to wander elsewhere instead of keeping me engaged in the story- not a good sign.

Apparently the target audience for this film is quite young because many sappy or juvenile scenes continue to play out. Closeups of Theodore and whimsical shots of his bulging eyes give the film a cute, too wholesome quality, and in predictable fashion, there are the standard doody and poop jokes, which comedies do all too often to account for sloppy writing.

The character of Theodore is voiced by comedy stalwart Alec Baldwin, and this does wonders to make the baby a bit more interesting than otherwise might have been. Baldwin, fusing assertion and a sarcasm into Theodore, makes him witty and energetic, but again, this can only go so far, and by the time the film has concluded in happily ever after fashion, the once tough character has disintegrated into a hammy kid.

Older brother Timothy is perfectly fine and the idea of having Maguire narrate him as an adult is a nice touch.  The central theme of sibling rivalry between brother and brother and especially the difficulty of some kids adjusting to a newborn debuting into the family may be enough to encourage parents to make it a family outing and see The Boss Baby.

Sadly, the creative and unique sets of animations may be wasted on viewers seeking good story. What a pity that The Boss Baby does not hold both qualities, but alas the film is little more than adequate and will undoubtedly be forgotten before very long.

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

I, Tonya is a 2017 biopic telling of the life and times of the infamous American Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, notorious, of course, for her alleged involvement, along with her husband and his friend, in the attack of fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The event drew monumental media coverage after the attack with the uncertainty of Harding’s knowledge or involvement and her subsequent guilt or innocence continues to be debated.

The film itself is a dark and violent comedy, never taking itself too seriously, and immediately presents the disclaimer that the stated “facts” in the film are open to interpretation and dependent on who you ask. In this way, I, Tonya is far from preachy or directive to the viewer, but rather offers up the life and times of the skater in a story form. The film features tremendous performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya and her despicable mother, LaVona.

I, Tonya is told in chronological fashion, culminating with “the incident” in 1994. However, the story begins  back in the mid 1970’s as Tonya, just a tot at the tender age of four, is as cute as a button and shrouded with innocence. One cannot help wonder if director, Craig Gillespie, known for independent films, purposely made this wise casting choice. We see Tonya, once an innocent child, journey into a life of violence, abuse, and tumultuous living. Harding grew up cold and hard and endured an abusive, difficult relationship with her mother- the pressures to be the best skater simply never ended. Even upon achieving success Tonya never felt good enough or loved by her mother.

We then experience Tonya as a fifteen year old girl, fittingly first meeting her boyfriend and later, husband Jeff, Gillooly played well by actor Sebastian Stan. The early scenes between the two are sweet, tender, and fraught with the emotions of first love. As explained by the actors, this was a short-lived time of bliss, and the relationship soon disintegrated into abuse, rage, and chaos.

Certainly the main point of the film is to debate the guilt or innocence of Harding, which Gillespie peppers throughout, so it is never clear what to believe or how the audience should be made to think. “Interpretation” is the key here- some may see Harding as a victim of life’s circumstances and the hardships she had to endure and may place sympathy upon her. Others may view Harding as off-putting, potty-mouthed, and even icy and violent herself with a big chip on her shoulder. In one scene she publicly belittles the hoity toity judges who never cut her a break and give her less than perfect scores.

A clever technique that the film delivers is to have the actors frequently speak to the camera, and thus the audience. This is achieved by either interview style or for the action in the film to simply cease and either Robbie, Janney, Stan, or whomever, turn to the camera and express their version of the events. In this way, I, Tonya possesses a creative, edgy, indie feel.

How brilliant are the performances of both Robbie and Janney. Robbie, a gorgeous woman, portrays a “red-neck” to the hilt. Through her bright blue eyes , her face is quite expressive- relaying pain, anger, and a seldom triumph. The film often slants the scales in a sympathetic way towards Harding, but it is the talents of Robbie that make us feel this sympathy. Janney hits the jackpot with a delicious role she sinks her teeth into. A cold-hearted, vicious character, through facial expressions, we occasionally get a glimpse of LaVona, perhaps softening, but as we do, the character does something even more despicable.

A good surprise for fans who remember the real-life events and the real-life players, will be treated to a sequence of the real Tonya, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn Eckhardt, which play over the films ending credits. How similar in looks are both Robbie to Harding, with her feathered, frizzy, 1980’s style hairdo, and Janney, a dead-ringer for the boozy, chain-smoking LaVona, with her mousy brown bob haircut, complete with scruffy bangs.

Viewers will leave theaters confused, unsure, or perhaps just simply perplexed by what they have just seen, but will most certainly feel thoroughly entertained and may even depart chanting some upbeat 1980’s rock tunes that the film uses throughout. Thanks to wonderful acting and a strong story, I, Tonya is a success.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Director-Stanley Donen

Starring-Howard Keel, Jane Powell

Scott’s Review #711

Reviewed January 7, 2018

Grade: B-

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a 1954 musical and another in a string of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer productions, ever so present during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. The songs are not quite as memorable as similar musicals of the day, and the film has a sexist slant that is jarring in today’s gender equal standards. But given the time that the film was made, and the time period setting of the mid-nineteenth century, however, things were very different, and the film does contain one semi-strong female character at least. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a nice film, but in present times seems quite dated and irrelevant- little more than an ode to yesteryear.

Adam Pompitee (Howard Keel), is a dashing, rugged man, living in the Oregon Territory in the year of 1850. He struts into town and proclaims his desire for a wife- presumably to cook and clean for him and his six younger brothers, all living together in a cabin in the rural mountains. When he falls head over heels for tavern worker Milly (Jane Powell), they impulsively marry, but she is disappointed to learn she will be caring for seven men- not one. Milly then plots to marry off the unruly bunch to local girls. Throughout the course of the film, characters partake in song and dance and merriment as the hi-jinks play out in wild fashion.

At its core, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is meant to be a lighthearted romp, and it succeeds at that. Containing a strong romantic angle and the message of finding one’s soul-mate is palpable- Milly is the sensible female counter-part to erratic Adam, and there is good chemistry between the actors. Milly is strong-willed and eventually puts her foot down, but still accepts her role as the domestic and the caretaker.

Fun is how each of the brothers manages to find the one girl in town meant for him as the duo’s pair off in unison. This is a cute aspect of the film- and perhaps a film such as this one is not entirely meant to be over-analyzed. Humorous, if not just slightly overdone,  is the luscious red hair that each of the Pontipee brothers has- obviously dyed hair or wigs were used as needed.

The film succeeds when it sticks to the song and dancing numbers, which are far more entertaining than the story-line. MGM used actors who were classically trained singers or dancers, giving the film a more authentic choreography. Given the fourteen principle characters involved in the production, this must have been a beast to achieve without things looking ridiculous. Keel, as main character Adam, was in fact a professional singer, having appeared in a number of musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Showboat. Powell, as Milly, holds her own with a gorgeous singing voice and also appeared in other musicals.

Still, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers contains a bothersome sexist story and women are treated more as objects for men to conquer rather than real people with feelings or emotions. The overall implication within the film are that women are desperate to get married and should be flattered to be chosen by any man. This is readily apparent when the brothers accost the girls from their homes and take them unwillingly to the cabin where, predictably, the women succumb to the men’s desires and fall in love with them.

A film to be taken with a grain of salt and a trip back to olden times, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a dated picture, but a fun one containing grand production numbers such as “Lonesome Polecat”, “When You’re In Love”, and “June Bride”. These songs are light and airy and a high point of the film. For those seeking a liberal minded affair, this film will disappoint, as the film is very conservative with traditional male/female roles and expectations, as much as one could imagine.



Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, David Arquette

Scott’s Review #710

Reviewed January 5, 2018

Grade: A-

Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream is a piece that greatly assisted in bringing the horror genre back into relevance after a long drought throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when horror films suffered from both over-saturation and cliche-riddled messes. Thanks to Scream, creativity and plot twists and turns returned to the forefront of  good horror films and a clever film was birthed. Fast-forward to 2018, the film does suffer a bit from a dated “1990’s look,  but is still great fun to watch and a treat for all classic horror buffs as the references to classic greats are endless.

The film is sectioned off nicely and gets underway quickly  (in the best sequence of the film) as Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore)  receives a flirtatious phone call, while making popcorn,  from a man asking her to name her favorite horror film. The friendly game quickly turns vicious as the caller threatens to kill her boyfriend should she answer a question incorrectly. In a clever twist (think 1960’s Psycho!) Casey and her boyfriend meet deadly fates and the opening credits begin to roll. Given the huge star Barrymore was in 1996, this twist was all the more shocking and attention grabbing.

The remainder of the film centers around Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a popular California high school student, as she is pursued by an attacker known only as “Ghostface”, who dons a creepy costume and terrorizes victims via phone calls. The small town , led by police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and bitchy newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), are determined to unmask the killer and figure out his or her motivations. Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and other friends are along for the ride as a possible connected sub-plot involving Sidney’s deceased mother are introduced. A romance between Dewey and Gale is also broached.

Scream is an enormous treat for fans of the horror genre as numerous references (and film clips!) of classics such as 1978’s Halloween abound throughout the film. Other references to Friday the 13th, Prom Night, and A Nightmare On Elm Street appear during the film. Writer, Kevin Williamson, clearly a horror enthusiast, must have had a ball writing the screenplay that would become Scream. In 1996, the mega-success of the film successfully not only jump-started the entire genre, it introduced younger fans of Scream to classics that were perhaps their parents generation and got them interested in the films.

Classic horror films are not only referenced during the film, but also explained, mostly by the supporting character of Jamie, the nerdy kid who works at the video store and adores horror films. A sequence in which he explains several “rules” of the horror genre is superlative and creative, and just great fun. He schools the teenagers at a party that anyone who drinks, has sex, or says “I will be right back”, is doomed to suffer a violent fate. This clever writing makes Scream enormous fun to watch.

The climax of Scream is quite surprising in itself and the “great reveal” of the murderer (s) is also intelligent writing and quite the surprise, as several red-herrings are produced along the way, casting suspicion on other characters who may or may not be the killers. A small gripe of the writing is the motivations of the murderers- when the explanation is given for their killing spree, the reasoning is a bit convoluted and hard to fathom, but this is horror and suspension of disbelief is always a necessity.

Scream is best remembered for giving the horror genre a good, hard kick in the seat of the pants and shaking all of the elements up a bit while preserving the core ideals of a good slasher film (suspense, a whodunit, and good solid kills). True to a good mention in the film, Scream was followed by several sequels, some achieving better successes than others. In 2018 the film may not be quite as fresh as it once was, but is still a solid watch and memorable for relaunching a genre.

Wonder Wheel-2017

Wonder Wheel-2017

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Kate Winslet, James Belushi

Scott’s Review #709

Reviewed December 31, 2017

Grade: B+

Woody Allen typically churns out a new film release each year and 2017’s project is a film called Wonder Wheel. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, a seaside beach in Brooklyn, New York, the film is an authentic looking period drama, with lovely costumes and legitimate New York accents from all principal actors. The story itself is overall quite depressing, though, as a likable character is tough to find, but Wonder Wheel contains fantastic acting, mainly on the part of star Kate Winslet, whose troubled character is the films focal point.

Winslet portrays Ginny Rannell, a struggling forty year old woman living in the seaside neighborhood and working as a waitress at a dingy Clam House. She despises her life and longs for a way out of the doldrums- yearning for the life she had years ago as an aspiring actress. Her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, is an alcoholic. Together they raise Ginny’s son, Richie, a young boy who loves to start fires. When Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up on their doorstep, having provided information about her mobster husband, and subsequently “marked”, Ginny’s life slowly begins to unravel as she and Carolina pursue the same man, hunky lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake).

The New York setting of the film is an enormous plus and a standard of many Woody Allen films- the authenticity is clear. The summer mood of the beach, sand, and the sunny boardwalk and beach scenes make the viewer feel like they are transported in time. The 1950’s period works as beachwear and the amusement park sets are used to their advantage. The New York accents of the actors and the language and sayings are appropriate for the times. The apartment that the Rannells rent is a great treat to the film- the set is used with a wonderful beach landscape that is featured during daytime scenes and nighttime scenes so that the change of mood can be noticed-these are all enticing elements to Wonder Wheel.

Enough cannot be said for the talents of Winslet, who makes the character of Ginny come to life. Undoubtedly a tough role for her to play, Winslet, who can make reading the phone book sound interesting, tackles the complex part and arguably gives one of the best performances of her career- my vote would still go to her portrayal of Hannah Schmitz from 2008’s The Reader. Initially a sympathetic character, she longingly desires to return to the stage and perhaps find stardom as an actress and sees Mickey as her last chance. When events curtail her dreams, her character takes a sharp turn and does an unspeakable act.

I love the acting talents of Justin Timberlake and by 2017 he has successfully proven himself a major star in the film world as well as the music world. As the hunky, charismatic, yet studious and intelligent lifeguard, Mickey, he teeters between womanizer and earnest, love-stricken, young man. Timberlake has taken on more interesting film roles beginning with 2010’s The Social Network and let’s hope there are more to come.

Juno Temple is just perfect as the naive Carolina. With an innocent, sweet, personality, all she yearns for is love and a fresh start. Temple, largely known for quirky independent film roles, fits perfectly in a Woody Allen creation. Finally, legendary actor James Belushi fills his character of Humpty with dedication, loyalty, and alcoholic rage. He adores Ginny, but sometimes takes her for granted.

What a treat for fans of The Sopranos to see a couple of familiar faces appear as (what else?) mobsters. Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa make cameo appearances as Angelo and Nick, henchmen for the unseen husband of Carolina, who are intent on tracking down and killing her. Despite very small parts, the actors seem to have a ball reprising similar roles that made them famous.

Wonder Wheel, certainly shot in similar tone to a stage production, draws comparisons to A Streetcar Named Desire, both with four principal characters- two male and two female, Ginny, Carolina, Mickey, and Humpty, all with some similarities to and some differences with storied characters Blanche, Stella, Stanley, and Mitch. But the comparisons can easily be studied and analyzed.

Woody Allen creates a film that can be appreciated mostly for its top-notch acting talent not surprising given the actors cast, and a compelling, never boring story. The film is a downer, however, with no heroic characters to speak of. Thankfully, this is counterbalanced perfectly by a great New York setting, which is a high point of Wonder Wheel and cheers up the otherwise dour tone of the film.

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!