Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives-1986

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives-1986

Director-Tom McLoughlin

Starring-Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke

Scott’s Review #1,074

Reviewed October 26, 2020

Grade: B-

Due to the fan outrage that surrounded Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), a film I thought was decent, the powers that be decided that a return to form was in order, quickly resurrecting Jason in the corniest of ways. Re-discovering the “real Jason” is not the worst idea in the world but the execution is not there and I’m not crazy about the introduction of “superhuman” Jason. How is anyone supposed to ever kill him?

Adding comedy and children is okay with me but both ideas largely fall flat when paired with inadequate acting and gimmicky sitcom situations with no character development. There is no time invested in getting to know any of the characters. The heavy metal soundtrack, featuring the music of Alice Cooper, is the best part. The film isn’t helped by a slicker 1980’s visual look though this does come with better production values. Not the greatest of all the Fridays.

The chapter gets off to a compelling start when Tommy (Thom Mathews) and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo- yes, Horshack from the Welcome Back Kotter television series) trudge through the rain and mud back to Camp Crystal Lake to finally bury Tommy’s demons. Fans of the series will recall that Tommy did a stint in Pinehurst Halfway House where a pretend Jason went on a killing spree to avenge his son’s death. The friends dig up the grave of Jason. The murderer is struck by lightning and magically comes back to life, killing Allen. Tommy spends the rest of the film trying to warn the town that Jason is alive and well and back on a deadly rampage.

The camp has been renamed to the more pleasant-sounding Forest Green to make people forget that numerous killings have ever taken place. This seems to have worked as a bus load of kid’s flock to the camp for a summer of fun along with the usual batch of camp counselors in tow. To the film’s credit, like with its predecessor, there is a black character, this time a counselor named Sissy Baker (Renee Jones) and some of the child characters offer different ethnicities. The diversity and inclusiveness are to be admired, but unfortunately for Sissy, she is dragged through a window and savagely beheaded. Jason kindly spares the kids.

I like how there is consistency in keeping the main character Tommy Jarvis, albeit with a different actor. We’ll probably never know why it was decided to recast John Shepherd with Thom Mathews, but the actors look enough alike to avoid too much confusion. Like Shepherd, Mathews possesses a wounded look which makes the casting adequate. There is a rooting quality to Tommy especially as he faces adversity with the police department. Sheriff Garris and Deputy Rick are played purely as foils and are a roadblock to capturing Jason.

Any attempt at romantic chemistry between Tommy and Megan (Jennifer Cooke) falls flat because there simply isn’t any between the actors, try as they might. Neither are the best actors in the world (not a requirement for the horror genre) but have the right, fresh-faced look warranted to be cast. Megan is the only person who believes Tommy as they race to the camp to stop and kill Jason.

The rest of the film is more of the same and offers no surprises except for more humor. A coked-up pair having sex in a motorhome and a group of corporate types on a paintball outing are examples of this. The four “suits” beheaded by a machete is the best part of the otherwise campy and obnoxious sequence. The rest of the characters are killed off systematically with nothing especially interesting to add to the film.

Writer and director Tom McLoughlin attempts to revitalize the aging series and genre with more special effects and techniques and does little else to freshen his characters. It would have been nice to get to know some of them better. By 1986 the slasher film needed a rest and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is a dull entry in the series catalog. There is nothing terrible about the film, nor is there anything memorable either.

The Boys in the Band-2020

The Boys in the Band-2020

Director-Joe Mantello

Starring-Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer

Scott’s Review #1,073

Reviewed October 21, 2020

Grade: A-

One may ask themselves why bother checking out the 2020 version of the legendary (and dark!) 1970 stage turned cinematic rendition of the sniping and vicious gay drama The Boys in the Band? Mostly because of the wonderful cast- a cast featuring the troupe who starred in the recent 2018 stage revival. But more than that the film feels surprisingly modern and relevant and provides a message of hope that the original did not contain.

Crucial and historical to point out is that every principle actor is openly gay and their characters are gay, or bisexual. My, how much progress has been made for actors when not too long ago an “out” actor risked both reputation and career for the price of his truth. This is monumental.

The remake wisely keeps to the crucial time-period of 1968, and really, how could a modern setting work at all? Being gay in 1968 is nothing like being gay in 2020, I don’t care if it is the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To bring this film to any other time would diminish its power and importance. If anything, it makes one proud how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, though there are further advancements left to make.

Alas, the Vietnam era is safely intact, during a time when a strip of gay bars and a group of gay friends were the only thing to keep a gay man from going crazy regardless of how abusive they were. This will hopefully teach young gay viewers, or anyone else, what being a gay male was like over 50 years ago. When the rest of the world was deemed “normal” and you were cast aside as either a sexual deviant or a head case this is powerful. Self-hatred, denial, or the closet were commonalities.

The Boys in the Band has no females save for a blink and you’ll miss it moment featuring a snooty neighbor. Important to realize is that the film is pre A.I.D.S epidemic in a time of carefree love and endless hookups, where booze and drugs were a necessary escape and usual was to feel out of sorts on a regular basis.

A few characters are effeminate. One is presumably bisexual and closeted, and one is masculine and recently divorced from a woman, now cohabiting with a male lover, one is black, and one is an escort. Each character comes from a different walk of life but are bonded. The running of the gamut of unique types and personalities is part of why I love this story.

The events commence one evening when Michael (Jim Parsons) throws a birthday party for friend Harold (Zachary Quinto) at his apartment. They are joined by other friends Donald (Matt Bomer), Hank (Tuc Watkins), Larry (Andrew Rannalls), Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), Emory (Robin de Jesus).  Guests include Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a “birthday present” for Harold, and Alan (Brian Hutchison), a college friend of Michael’s. As the booze flows talk gets vicious and the claws come out.

The men, prompted by a drunken Michael, play a daring game of “telephone”. Each guest is dared to call the one person he truly believes he has loved. With each call, past scars and present anxieties are revealed in tortuous fashion. This is when the film really gets interesting. Bernard and Emory bear the brunt the hardest as their phone calls take a tremendous toll on each.

Parsons and Quinto are the standouts. As the lead, the character of Michael seems stable at first. He is stylish, well-dressed, and lives in a reputable apartment. Though unemployed, he once traveled the world. Parsons slowly unleashes the vicious fury contained within Michael the more he drinks. He enjoys hurting others just as he has been hurt. The catalyst to his character is Alan. Are they in love? Is Michael in love with Alan? Alan takes a fancy to masculine Hank.

Quinto, as Harold the self-professed “ugly, pock-marked Jew fairy”, is becoming increasingly morose about losing his youthful looks and his ability to attract cute young men. The catalyst to his character is Cowboy, who has those qualities that Harold lacks. Strangely, Harold and Michael are best friends, both loving and hating each other. After brutalizing each other with words, Harold exits the apartment announcing he will call Michael tomorrow. They’ve been through this before and probably will again.

No, The Boys in the Band circa 2020 is not quite on par with The Boys in the Band circa 1970, but this is merely because brilliance is a tough act to replicate. The modern telling is an absolute joy and will hopefully recruit fresh audiences to the perils and brutality is was to be gay in another time.

Thanks to Ryan Murphy for adapting this project to Netflix as part of his United States $300 million deal with the streaming platform.

Airport ’77-1977

Airport ’77-1977

Director-Jerry Jameson

Starring-Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #1,072

Reviewed October 20, 2020

Grade: B+

The word that springs to mind following a viewing of the disaster flick Airport ’77 (1977) is entertaining. Whether this is positive or negative depends on the viewer and what that viewer wants out of a film. As a huge fan of the disaster genre I was one satisfied customer though there is little to distinguish the film from other efforts. It is a more cohesive and professional feeling effort than its predecessor, Airport ’75. The fun is watching the cast, the grandiose list of who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights gracing the opening credits. We wonder who will survive and who will not.

The star is the airplane. Showcased by way of both interiors and exteriors, the luxurious privately-owned Boeing 747-100 is a great highlight of the picture. Owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart), the plane is packed with VIPs and priceless art traveling to his Florida estate for a party. The wealthy travelers are drugged, and the aircraft is subsequently hijacked before crashing into the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle and sinking 100 feet, prompting the survivors to undertake a desperate struggle to live.

The airplane set is a feast for the eyes. A double-deck plane (naturally!) the plush green carpets and the spiral staircase complete with a robust bar stocked with every type of liquor imaginable is wonderful trimming. It allows the viewer to forget all about the typical in-flight treats like their seat being kicked, a screaming baby, or a fat man snoring, and escape to the pleasures of champagne, caviar and slippers. Seriously, the sets are tremendous and worthy of their accolades.

Jerry Jameson, primarily a television director, sticks to a formulaic approach which makes the film look like a long television series. Think Murder, She Wrote, Dallas or Dynasty at 30,000 feet. I say this because the melodrama is sky high (no pun intended) and situations arise between flight crew and passengers to create more tension than the crash itself. The juiciest drama exists between husband and wife Martin (Christopher Lee) and Karen Wallace (Lee Grant). He flirts with women at the bar, she drinks too much, and gets jealous. They squabble. You get the idea.

What a joy it is to see some of the stars on-screen together, specifically Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten. As Nicholas, Cotten is a romantic match for de Havilland’s Emily Livingston, and they appear to be old friends. Fans of classic cinema will undoubtedly associate he with Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and she with Gone with the Wind (1939) and to see the legendary stars side by side is darling, nearly worth the price of admission. Stewart is perfectly cast as the rich and distinguished man eager to see the impending arrival of his estranged daughter and her son, hopeful of a happy reunion. These delights are why I love this genre.

The actors teeter back and forth between phoning in their lines and enthusiastically having a ball with their respective roles. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. I’ll bet the set was tension free as everyone was earning a bundle of cash. And why not? The budget is plentiful and filled with overabundance.

The plot is generally ludicrous as is to be expected. The thought that anyone, let alone nearly everyone, could survive a crash into the ocean and remain unscathed as it sinks to the depths of the water is beyond silly. Suddenly, when all passengers conveniently emerge from their drug-induced stupor simultaneously, hysterics erupt which is quite humorous. As water slowly begins to seep into the plane a frenzied effort to find a way out commences. The last portion of the film involving a rescue crew coming to save the passengers is a disappointment, lacking much captivation.

Airport ’77 (1977) has all the elements its target viewer expects it to have. If the well-known cast were instead unknowns and the crash peril and its following adventure were not danger personified, and the dramatic and romantic tensions left out, the film would be a disappointment. The film is like sinking your teeth into a fattening, highly caloric Whopper from your favorite Burger King. It’s a guilty pleasure that you wouldn’t necessarily tell your health-conscious friends you get so much enjoyment from. But, it’s fun, so why not indulge from time to time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

Thieves Like Us-1974

Thieves Like Us-1974

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,071

Reviewed October 16, 2020

Grade: A

The first time I saw Thieves Like Us (1974) I was not blown away. I have forgotten what my original gripe was, but my lackluster star rating on Netflix years ago is confirmation of such. All is now forgiven and like a fine wine this film gets better and better with each viewing. It’s basically a gangster film, but a heart-wrenching story containing one of the sweetest romances in cinema history.

Based on the novel of the same name by Edward Anderson, director Robert Altman, famous for allowing his actors to ad-lib their lines to their hearts content and peppering his films with overlapping, “real-life” dialogue, limits this technique this time around. His stars, Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall, regular fixtures in his films, are the main attraction, but supporting players like Louise Fletcher, Bert Remsen, and John Schuck give tremendous performances.

Set in 1930’s United States, Deep South Mississippi, the time-period and location are key elements to the success of the film. Having never have set foot in this geographical area, I nonetheless found myself escaping there and ruminating what it would have been like to live there in the Great Depression era. The many outdoor sequences with trees, forests, country roads, and home-cooked meals provide luminous atmosphere and texture. Small town living never felt so good and cozy.

Wisely, Altman steers clear of any racial overtones or dialogue within the film. The film is not about that. There appear many black characters mostly in background, townspeople scenes or as prisoners which add flavor. But they are represented as living among other folks without any aggression or stereotypes. They simply are and it feels like the South. Altman crafts an experience of understated, good storytelling, proving a quality film can be quiet and proud, not needing explosive bells and whistles to prove showy. The dialogue crackles on its own and is smart.

The plot is compelling. Bowie (Carradine) is an escaped convict who embarks on a crime spree with fellow former prisoners Chicamaw (John Schuck) and T-Dub (Bert Remsen). While in hiding between bank robberies, Bowie meets a young woman named Keechie (Duvall), and the two quickly fall in love. A life of crime doesn’t sit well with Keechie, however, so she and Bowie try to settle down, but the law is determined to bring him to justice.

The fun is in watching romance blossom between Bowie and Keechie. Despite Bowie being a criminal, his character contains a sweetness and purity that matches like a glove with the whimsical truth and simplicity of Keechie. Throughout the length of the film I compared the characters to the legendary icons Bonnie and Clyde from the self-titled cinema masterpiece. They are similar but different. The pair sit quietly on the front porch talking about life and the future, optimistically planning their lives together unaware of what fate has in store for them. Their innocence and their goofy humor made me fall in love with them.

The relationship between the three men is apt. They have each other’s backs and are loyal to a fault. The men are convicts and cause death and injury, but there is a humanity that Altman gives to each character. We do not think of them as derelicts. When Bowie poses as a sheriff to break Chickamaw from prison, we root for the escape and not for the warden. Bowie kills the warden, shocking Chickamaw. Even with dispute comes caring between the men.

It does take patience to get into this film, probably I did not give the film its due on my first watch. Once the film ends I was left with a feeling of having experienced something of value and an artistic cinematic visionary story. The homespun characters eating a feast of meat and southern biscuits and discussing the days event are rich and atmospheric.

Carradine and Duvall would reunite a year later in another Altman masterpiece, Nashville (1975) playing vastly different characters, both unlikable, so a recommendation is to watch both films back to back to appreciate the dizzying morphed characterization. Thieves Like Us (1974) is no mere opening act for Nashville, but of a different ilk.

The film is a treasure.

Mad Max-1979

Mad Max-1979

Director-George Miller

Starring-Mel Gibson

Scott’s Review #1,070

Reviewed October 15, 2020

Grade: A-

Mad Max (1979) is a gritty and dirty film that is nothing like any other film coming before it. There’s an edginess and an “off the beaten track” quality that sucks you in and pummels you into submission with its energy and ferocity. The film is raw and not slick and hats off for that. This is all done with fun intentions and it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the film has a brutality and power that must be experienced to be believed. The plot is not the most important quality, nor is it the most believable, but it’s the trimmings that make Mad Max unforgettable.

I haven’t seen the two follow-up sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981) or Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but my understanding is they are more family friendly films, disappointing to hear after viewing the raw power of the original. The undesirable Fury Road (2015), an enormous critical and commercial success, but the appeal lost on me, is to be skipped in favor of the first. I disliked that film. But alas, a treasure such as the original can never be duplicated. The revenge themed, fast car driving, lewd masterpiece, is a must-see cult classic. It stands the test of time.

In a post-apocalyptic future, an angry cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is looking forward to retiring, having had enough of the derelicts who populate his region. One day, his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation, forcing a devastated Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance. As he travels the Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway, he tours the bloodstained battlegrounds ruled by low-life bikers who feed on violence.

Mad Max made Mel Gibson a star. His breakthrough role, it led to future work in the action and buddy genres, specifically the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998) with tepid success from any artistic standpoint until he bravely took on more creative and challenging roles. Max is his finest action character and most authentic feeling. He mixes a blend of rage, sentimentality, and humanity, perfectly, never missing a beat. And his youthful looks are enchanting to see.

The multitude of scenes featuring super fast-cars, motor bike gangs, and leather clad creatures with colorful tattoos and missing teeth are just the icing on the cake of the fun lying ahead. Names like Toecutter and Bubba give you an idea here. These are all great add-ons, but the revenge seeking Max is the one to watch. The scene is immediately set when the grizzled Nightrider is killed by Max in a chaotic police chase. His gang goes rampant and loots and destroys shops and businesses, raping both women and men. All hell breaks loose.

The best sequence is also the most horrific. Taking place on the open road, naturally, a sweet vacation by Max, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and son Sprog begins with a pleasant drive, only to result in a chase scene climaxing with Sprog’s death and Jessie languishing in intensive care. The image of Sprog and Jessie lying on the open road, tattered and torn, is memorable and sticks with you.

The film is intelligent, if studied thoroughly enough, and a study in film school is recommended. Credit must be given to director George Miller who knows his way around a camera. The cinematography lends much to the film and a feeling of being there is the desirous result. The editors deserve a special prize for their brilliant efforts.

Undoubtedly influencing countless action genre selections of the 1980’s and 1990’s, most running the gamut between only marginally fun (the Terminator franchise-1984-present) or downright atrocious (The Running Man-1987), Mad Max (1979) breathes life into the genre. Action films are categorically known to be one-dimensional but by adding a cool Australian locale, characters who are filled with cartoon bombast and punky zest, and a futuristic mystique, Miller crafts well.

It’s a low-budget flick, destined for underground viewership and appreciation, that is somehow nearly flawless.

After Hours-1985

After Hours-1985

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette

Scott’s Review #1,069

Reviewed October 9, 2020

Grade: A-

After Hours (1985) is a gem of a film. When thoughts of director Martin Scorsese are conjured, usually Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), or Goodfellas (1993) are his films that immediately spring to mind. Scorsese’s decision to create a pared down independent film was met with enormous success and accolades for the very first Best Feature indie film victory and Best Director honors. The experience is a black comedy set within the gritty and unpredictable underbelly of Soho-New York City in the 1980’s.

Mixing comedy with satire, Scorsese leapfrogs from similar content in The King of Comedy (1983) to this film made only two years later. Any fan of New York City will cheer with joy at the authenticity achieved since the film was shot on location there. The Big Apple in the 1980’s was a notoriously violent cesspool so the genuine setting and the use of dark streets and alleys is an immeasurable treat and adds much zest to this unusual film.

Yuppie nice guy, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), works hard as a computer data entry worker by day and shares an encounter with a quirky young woman named Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in a Manhattan coffee shop. After she gives him her number and leaves, he is unable to stop thinking about her and embarks on a late-night adventure to go and see her at her apartment. The night does not end how he thinks it will. Not by a long shot, as he spends the rest of the long night meeting various women and other strange characters as he traverses around the city attempting to get back home. He has lost his money and is broke.

The great aspects to After Hours are its bizarre characters and the cinematography that offers a tantalizing view of downtown Manhattan. The film is atmospheric and zany in its gloomy and steamy side streets and odd locales sprinkled with color. A dingy bar, a sophisticated artist’s apartment and a man sculpture that follows Paul everywhere are usurped by the film’s strangest and most interesting set, Club Berlin, an “after hours” club inhabited by punks who want to shave Paul’s head into a mohawk.

I enjoyed this film as a sort of “a day in the life of Paul” adventure story, albeit a gothic one. The film concludes wonderfully as the sun begins to rise just as the film ends and thus Paul’s wild night finally ends. I was chomping at the bit with the thought of what a new morning would bring and the possibilities of reuniting with any of the women he encountered the night before, either dead or alive.

Particularly charming to me while watching After Hours, the decade of decadence well into the past, are the relics once commonplace in everyday life. A phone booth, the traditional yellow cabs, and desktop personal computers are heavily featured. These items, relevant when the film was made, now seem like throwback niceties that make the film endearing and like a glimpse into someone’s time capsule.

I did not pick up on much authentic romance between Paul or any of the female characters- Marcy, June, Gail (Catherine O’Hara), or Julie (Teri Garr), but maybe that’s the point. While one winds up dead, not one, but two of them pursuit him, and not in a good way. The film is mystical, weird, and energetic. The inclusion of Cheech & Chong only adds to the revelry.

Sadly, underappreciated and too often forgotten, After Hours (1985) is a Scorsese treat worth dusting off now and then. The birth of the Independent Spirit Awards has a lot to owe to this film for grabbing top honors and the admiration works both ways. For a glimpse at the creative genius that is Martin Scorsese, this film gets an enormous recommendation.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Martin Scorsese (won), Best Female Lead-Rosanna Arquette, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography

Clemency-2019

Clemency-2019

Director-Chinonye Chukwu

Starring-Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff

Scott’s Review #1,068

Reviewed October 7, 2020

Grade: A-

I will be candid. Clemency (2019) is not a film that will be everybody’s cup of tea. The topics of prison, execution, and psychological conflict among its characters are quite the heavies. After a long day of work and the desire to snuggle on a comfy couch with a tall glass of wine, this film may not be recommended. But, for those seeking a thought-provoking experience about timely and serious social issues, with racial overtones, Clemency is a riveting and powerful story. This film is written well, and it matters.

Haggard, prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) trudges along day after day managing the multitude of tasks that her job requires of her. She is committed to overseeing the prison executions and experiences her twelfth at the start of the film. The procedure is botched causing the prisoner excess pain and an investigation is launched. Bernadine is conflicted and consumed by her job causing her marriage to Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) to deteriorate and her visits to a local watering hole to increase.

When Bernadine takes interest in Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) a prisoner slated for execution in a case receiving national media attention and prison protests, her conflict escalates. Anthony’s ex-girlfriend (Danielle Brooks) and attorney (Richard Schiff) play vital roles, especially when the convicted cop killer’s innocence is called into question. Will he or won’t he receive a last-minute pardon from the governor sparing his life?

Chinonye Chukwu, a rookie director, is a black, Nigerian, female with lots of interesting things to say and a bright future ahead of her. She also penned the screenplay and tackles a weighty issue of great controversy in the United States. The age-old debate of whether capital punishment is inhumane or even thwarts crime in the film’s subconscious, but neither is the film about that per se. The fact that Chukwu and her characters of Bernadine and Anthony are both black introduces an additional racial element. In the time of “Black Lives Matter”, this is a powerful statement.

To say that Clemency is a downer is an understatement, though it leaves the viewer with some sense of hope amid an ambiguous ending. I won’t spoil the film, but we wonder what will become of Bernadine. Has she had enough of the prison lifestyle and decide to fly off in a new direction or is she so consumed by her work that she is trapped for life, too forgone for any growth?

The final sequence is brilliant. An impending execution, emotional goodbyes are said, and a full minute or so of a closeup scene focused on Woodard’s face taps a range of emotions that includes compassion, disgust, and unbridled sadness. The gloomy and stark atmosphere that Chukwu presents fills the film with a bleakness that is eclipsed ever slightly by the possibility of change.

A common theme, and not only with Bernadine, is the need to be heard and the frightening perception of being invisible. Jonathan, in a strong supporting role by Pierce, is the perfect husband. A teacher, he is responsible, loyal, and even prepares a surprise dinner on their anniversary. He feels diminished by Bernadine and resides in a motel after he has had too much. Anthony’s attorney and a priest, both plan to soon retire, feeling their jobs are pointless, they are not heard, and their work neither appreciated nor noticed.

Interesting that Chukwu does not reveal which state within the United States the twelve or thirteen executions take place in, though we can only guess it’s somewhere in the south, Clemency (2019) is a bold offering fraught with debate, questions, and character conflict. A slow build, there is much to savor and mull over, and the story feels personal. Woodard gives a soaring performance with exceptional work by all the supporting players.

I cannot wait to see what Chukwu comes up with next.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Female Lead-Alfre Woodard, Best Screenplay

Adventures in Babysitting-1987

Adventures in Babysitting-1987

Director-Chris Columbus

Starring-Elisabeth Shue

Scott’s Review #1,067

Reviewed October 5, 2020

Grade: B

Swimming in the myriad of teen comedies that were all the rage in the 1980’s, a few good, most bad, Adventures in Babysitting (1987) is one of the “okay” ones. It’s lightweight, yet fun. I like the female centered character who drives the story, likeable, personable, but also strong and bold, capable of handling tough situations without the saving hands of a man. The antics throughout the city of Chicago are also a major draw as I loved seeing the landscape and sites. The film is formulaic but works better than most.

The premise is quite far-fetched, bordering on absurd, masking in no sort of reality whatsoever. The plot points are gimmicky, silly, predictable and filled with urban, inner-city stereotypes, playing on the timely feeling of terror at the thought of being lost and in danger amid a major city. The reality of this decade was of crime ridden United States cities and the idea is brilliant for a mostly suburban audience safely nestled in their homes away from any real trouble. They can securely escape to the cinema where pretend danger awaits.

Elisabeth Shue, a near novice fresh off her debut film role in The Karate Kid (1984), takes center stage as the cool, pretty girl who is everyone’s best friend, not the least bit snobby. She plays Chris Parker, the fresh-faced, perky, seventeen-year-old high school senior, who is ditched by her boyfriend on their anniversary and is convinced by her mother to spend the evening babysitting the two Anderson kids, Brad (Keith Coogan) and Sara (Maia Brewton). Naturally, trouble ensues, and a planned dull evening of popcorn and a movie goes awry.

The gags must not be taken seriously. Beginning in the friendliness of Oak Park, Illinois, the action quickly spells out danger as a dirty, downtown bus station becomes the next set. Teenagers and youngsters being left alone in a metropolis is most parent’s worst nightmare and the film uses this angle to create one perilous situation after another. The gang even dangles from a skyscraper!

Adventures in Babysitting is director Chris Columbus’s first film and a worthy debut. Soon to hit the big time with the Home Alone film and its sequel (1990-1992) it’s easy to see how those films are patterned after Adventures. The tone is similar, and the antics of a young adult are explored. Columbus then moved to success with Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) before taking on the Harry Potter films. So, he adopts stories with a youthful or a young person’s point of view.

While watching Adventures in Babysitting the viewer needs to suspend all disbelief and just go into the experience for the enjoyment value. I vividly recall seeing this film in a theater on a hot summer night with popcorn and soda in tow, eager for a nice, light-hearted experience. This film delivered then, and still does.

The best parts are witnessing Chris and the gang driving a station wagon throughout downtown Chicago. Could this particular car be any more obvious a symbol of the ‘burbs? Does anyone in a city drive a station wagon ever? The image conjures up a boatload of kids, the shopping mall, and McDonalds. Chris is so out of place in the city and the situations so preposterous that we should be annoyed by the hijinks. But, somehow the film works! Of course, the film is riddled with banalities like car thieves, gangs, a dirty blues club, and as many criminals as one can imagine.

For viewers aching for a carefree trip down memory lane 1980’s style, the typical bunch of offerings from John Hughes- the trio of Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) usually come to mind first.  But lest not forget a fine and fun film, Adventures in Babysitting (1987) with a subtle message of a young woman taking charge and taking control, albeit with every other stereotype in the book contained in glaring fashion.

Enjoy the ride.

Adventureland-2009

Adventureland-2009

Director-Greg Mottola

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Scott’s Review #1,066

Reviewed October 1, 2020

Grade: B-

Adventureland (2009) is a cute film. That may seem like a compliment, but it’s not. There is nothing wrong with this film, but it’s a rather safe experience. In a word, it is fine, nothing more, nothing less. It plays as a romantic comedy and is mixed with a coming-of-age theme about two young adults merging from kid to adulthood. It’s a story that most of us can appreciate though it’s been done too many times in cinema for this film to do much more with. The selling point is the excellent acting.

The theme park (aka Adventureland) and the nostalgic 1980’s time period is a nice touch though it feels like a 2009 film with the actors fitted into retro costumes and hairstyles. Greg Mottola directed Superbad in 2007 so you can see the influence. He has a knack for directing films with a light comedic touch that will appeal to young adults going through some angst or young, blossoming feelings of love.

The stars of the film, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, terrific actors in their own regard, have little chemistry together and that weakens the picture. They are helped immensely by a talented supporting cast, who pick up the slack and improve the film. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Wendie Malick, and Ryan Reynolds give a comic boost to the events. Unfortunately, despite positive trimmings the film feels like your standard, every day, independent comedy with little left to separate it from other contemporaries. It just has big stars.

Likeable James Brennan (Eisenberg) anticipates a fabulous trip to Europe after graduating from Oberlin college, having earned it for his achievements. Unfortunately, his parents Mr. and Mrs. Brennan (Jack Gilpin and Malick) break bad news to him. They are in dire financial straits and can no longer support him. He must get a part-time job immediately. The disappointing news disappointed me as well. I was savoring a nice adventure in London, Paris, and Rome. Sadly, the rest of the film takes place in an amusement park in Pennsylvania.

Predictably, Mottola, who wrote the screenplay as well, offers banal and stereotypical characters such as Mike Connell (Reynolds), the resident mechanic, who is a rival for the affections of Em (Stewart), the love interest of James. Thrown into the mix are various characters who are a bitch, a sarcastic college student, and a nerd. And, for good measure, James is a virgin. Naturally. The film nosedives with some slapstick humor and misunderstandings worthy of American Pie (1999).

When Adventureland was made Eisenberg was on the brink of breaking out into a fantastic role in The Social Network (2010) that garnered him an Oscar nomination and credibility. Stewart, meanwhile, was in the middle of her Twilight (2008-2012) years which made her a household name but was undoubtedly creatively very unfulfilling. This film is a reminder that actors need to work and make the best of the material they are given.

Truth be told, the main attraction of watching Adventureland is to sit back and admire what was to become of Stewart and Eisenberg. Since the film’s release in 2009 they have traversed meatier and better projects. Eisenberg has a Tom Hanks or a James Stewart likeability. His is someone who the average young male can relate to and the problems that James must face could easily be challenges the viewer might also have.

In the case of Stewart, what a star this girl is with the right roles. Since 2012 she has declined roles in big-budget films in favor of independent productions for the next few years. She took on a terrific supporting role in the drama Still Alice (2014) as a troubled daughter. Still young, the future looks very bright for the talented actress.

But, back to Adventureland (2009). This film is only suggested for a glimpse at the early work of Eisenberg and Stewart. Two young stars who went on to enormous critical cinematic success.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun-1982

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun-1982

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Peter Ustinov, Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #1,065

Reviewed September 29, 2020

Grade: B+

Following the success of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982) is of similar formula and is an entertaining yarn. The experience is like savoring a favorite meal- we know what we will get, and we dive in with pleasure.

Director Guy Hamilton, famous for directing four James Bond films, takes the director’s chair and keeps the action moving quickly crafting an enjoyable effort with a bit more humor than Christie’s novel in which it is based. Nearly on par with the two films save more predictability, this one nonetheless is a fine and joyous offering.

The setup remains the same, only the setting changed, as the affluent characters flock to a swanky resort area for fun and frolicking amid the Adriatic island with a saucer full of secrets and enough intrigue to last a lifetime. Peter Ustinov returns as detective Poirot in a very good effort. The man sleuths his way to a final revelation common in these films as the whodunit culminates in unmasking the murderer or murderers and bringing them to justice. Spoiler alert- there are two killers. The juicy reveal takes place as all suspects are gathered and nervously fret possible accusations.

I found it easy to figure out the culprits since they are written as the most secretive, but it’s fun watching the unraveling and the explanation of their motivations. Also enjoyable is how each character has a specific axe to grind with the victim. Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun is a solid, classic, whodunit done very well, and the characters are rather well-written and the acting stellar.

The action starts off mysteriously in the North York Moors when a hiker finds a strangled, female victim. In quick fashion Hercule Poirot is asked to examine a diamond belonging to rich industrialist, Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely). The diamond deemed a fake, Blatt’s mistress, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall (Diana Rigg) has suspicion cast upon her. Events then switch to the resort island as we are left to ponder what the dead woman at the beginning has to do with anything. In good time the audience finds out and this is ultimately satisfying.

As usual a large principal cast is introduced along with well-known stars. Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) owns the lavish hotel and caters to Arlena’s put upon husband, Kenneth (Denis Quilley) and stepdaughter, Linda (Emily Hone), while Arlena openly flirts with the yummy Patrick (Nicholas Clay), who has fun prancing and preening wearing next to nothing. Other characters are the husband and wife producers Odell and Myra Gardener (James Mason and Sylvia Miles), gay writer Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowell), and Patrick’s ailing wife, Christine (Jane Birkin). Each has an issue with Arlena, who is the intended murder victim.

Like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, the setting is a character itself. Though not a train nor a boat, the sunny and sandy island is the perfect locale. The water, a noon cannon, suntan lotion, and a watch are the items most important in the whodunit but wait there’s more! A tennis match, the cliffs, and a by the minute timeline are of utmost importance to figure out the mystery. The point of a film like this, as with the treasured Agatha Christie books, is deducing the why’s and how’s of the murder.

Delicious are the scenes featuring Daphne and Arlena going toe-to-toe and truthfully, there are just not enough of them. Bitch versus bitch, as they trade barbs and snickering insults with glee, Smith and Rigg clearly enjoy their roles and the audience is treated as such. Rigg is great as the bad girl, relishing in offending nearly everyone she encounters, and Smith speaks volumes with her eyes.

As for the male characters, Nicholas Clay gets my vote for sexiest man of the year. With his lean, toned, bronzed chest and white shorts which he confidently pulls up to reveal his bare butt cheeks as he struts near the pool, he can have any girl he wants (and possibly guys) he adds layers to the film. The biggest riddle is what he has in common with his wife, Christine, who is saddled with health issues, and simply not fun.

Staying largely true to the novel, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982) will satisfy its intended audience. A herculean author penning characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, everyman and everywoman sleuths, this film was the last to be a big-screen affair. Made for television movies would soon follow. A lavish landscape, bitchy characters, scheming characters, murder and mayhem, are the recipe of the day for a good time.

Adaptation-2002

Adaptation-2002

Director-Spike Jonze

Starring-Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Scott’s Review #1,064

Reviewed September 24, 2020

Grade: B+

Adaptation (2002) is a kooky film that is recommended for all writer’s or lovers of the written word, especially for those ever having suffered from writer’s block. The film is wonderful for people who are either curious or obsessed (me!) with how a novel is turned into a screenplay. With an A-list cast featuring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep the offering is credible and not just a bumbling indie experiment with no budget. Stars must get paid, which allows the film a mainstream audience, and awards.

The film will certainly be too weird for some. There is a measure of conceit and self-indulgence (it’s set in Los Angeles after all!) that is sometimes off-putting, but I adored the premise too much and chomped at the bit at what I was offered. It’s quite non-linear and the characters sometimes do things that are weird or out of turn. Adaptation is certainly different (in a good way) and is recommended for its oddness as I cannot think of another film like it, though Being John Malkovich (1999) would be close. Director, Spike Jonze would later create Her (2013) and, of course, directed Malkovich too.

Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay and the central character is Charlie Kaufman, played by Cage, who also plays Kaufman’s brother Donald, a mooch. Charlie is self-loathing and disheveled but somehow likeable. He struggles mightily to bring words into his head as he nervously sits at his typewriter day after day when he is tasked to adapt the novel, The Orchid Thief, into a film. The novel’s author, Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, intimidates Charlie, who decides to pay her a visit in New York City.

This film features the best work of Cage’s career. An actor that is mysteriously “not for everybody”, the performance rivals that of Leaving Las Vegas (1995), in which he won an Academy Award. A dual role is certainly tough to play, but the actor does so with bombast and confidence, making the characters very different from each other and making me forget they were Cage. Too often sinking to inferior action films like Face/Off (1997) or Con Air (1997), the actor wisely had an epiphany or something and made a wise decision. Cage does best when he goes for wacky- Raising Arizona (1987) is proof of that.

The supporting players, specifically Streep and Cooper are fantastic. Streep could fart through a film and still give a great performance and you can tell she enjoys the part of Susan, allowed to let loose. Her character loves sex and drugs and is not above devious shenanigans to get her way. Cooper, who won the Oscar, is delicious as John Laroche, a theatrical character with missing front teeth, who is the secret lover of Susan. Both provide great entertainment.

Adaptation simply feels good for a thought-provoking writer providing oodles of “writer things” to ponder and discuss with friends after the credits roll. Many scenes are rich with layered dialogue and rife with originality making the words sparkle with pizzazz. And there are enough twists and turns to keep viewers guessing.

One of the most original and kooky films you will ever see, Adaptation (2002) pairs well with Being John Malkovich (1999) for an evening of the odd and absurd, but also films not altogether hard to follow. The satirical Hollywood theme will both please and annoy but it’s all good fun and a lesson in creative art cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Nicholas Cage, Best Supporting Actor-Chris Cooper (won), Best Supporting Actress-Meryl Streep, Best Adapted Screenplay

A Hidden Life-2019

A Hidden Life-2019

Director-Terrence Malick

Starring-August Diehl, Valerie Pachner

Scott’s Review #1,063

Reviewed September 22, 2020

Grade: A

Terrence Malick returns to the big screen with A Hidden Life (2019), a lavish, sprawling beauty with a more structured plot than many of his other films. His recent offering, The Tree Of Life (2011), though marvelous, lost some viewers with its spirituality and lack of pacing. With A Hidden Life, the director offers more substantial writing and an easier to follow story. It seems we can never get enough of World War II Nazi stories and conflict in cinema, as the topic remains relevant and powerful.

This one stands out to me in a powerful way because it is based on a real-life figure, and although set in 1940’s Germany and Austria, shrieks of relevance in current United States history as Malick offers clear parallels to the Donald Trump era. Frightening stuff. He weaves the past with the present, so Trump and Hitler’s personalities are comparisons and the supporters of each portrayed as similar. Again, frightening stuff.

Peaceful peasant farmer, Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), lives a quiet life with his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner), in rural Austria. Over the years they welcome three daughters and exist in the idyllic village, popular and well-liked by the townspeople. Their beautiful life soon turns ugly when the German army recruits Franz for basic training. Events escalate when he refuses to take a loyalty oath to Hitler, wanting nothing to do with a war he does not support nor with those who align themselves with the dictator. This leads to much conflict for Franz and his family as they face the wrath of once kindly neighbors, and the vicious Nazis.

The artistic details are gorgeous as frequent scenes of lush landscape erupt in a frenzy. The statuesque mountains in the background, a shot of a running stream, the characters digging, planting, and growing produce, all are exquisite, adding a grandness and a spirituality. Advisable is to watch the film on the big screen, though I did not and still marvel at these sequences.

Despite the camerawork, A Hidden Life is not an easy watch, but it is an important one. The film is rich with meaning, texture, and substance. You get the feeling you are watching something of worth and that really means something. The film is not a work of fiction and the realism is quite powerful. To imagine a man like Franz sticking to his values and beliefs in the face of death and peril in real-life is astonishing and sobering. Malick does not do glossy or downplay the ordeals that Franz endures in the hideous German prisons. Treated barely better than Jews were in concentration camps, he was nonetheless mocked, humiliated, and eventually executed.

When Franz is repeatedly advised by a local priest and others to merely take the oath and not mean a word of it, Franz cannot do it. I was left wondering how many other German and Austrian people pretended to support Hitler to save off death, but really did not. I couldn’t find any studies.

The comparisons to the horrific conditions in the United States present day with a wannabee dictator in the White House is sobering. Thankfully, the United States is still the land of the brave and the free and certainly the outspoken. But we have a voice, and Franz did not nor do the Austrian people who he presumably represents. He did his best and refused to succumb to the pressures, but the question can be asked if it was worth it.

Oh, how I wish A Hidden Life had a different title, though. Not exactly one that rolls off the tongue it took me days to remember what the title was. I kept confusing it with A Better Life (2011), a completely different type of film with a similar name. Something a bit more dynamic would have been preferred though I totally get why the word “life” was included. It’s such a profound word. The correlation of titles with The Tree of Life (2011) does make sense.

Malick does it again, offering another left-of-center production that goes against the grain compared to most modern cinema. World War II films are a dime a dozen, but this film stands out for its beauty and characterization. One most likely needs to get Terrence Malick and his films to truly understand and appreciate what the man is going for here and props for adding more concise story to draw viewers. A Hidden Life (2019) is grand and fraught with meaning adding a relevance to the current United States political state.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Terrence Malick

Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Murray Head

Scott’s Review #1,062

Reviewed September 15, 2020

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Call Her One Eye-1973

They Call Her One Eye-1973

Director-Bo Arne Vibenius

Starring-Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf

Scott’s Review #1,061

Reviewed September 14, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport 1975-1974

Airport 1975-1974

Director-Jack Smight

Starring-Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,060

Reviewed September 8, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport-1970

Airport-1970

Director-George Seaton

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes

Scott’s Review #1,059

Reviewed September 2, 2020

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It bears repeated viewings.

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

The Mackintosh Man-1973

The Mackintosh Man-1973

Director-John Huston

Starring-Paul Newman, James Mason, Dominique Sanda

Scott’s Review #1,058

Reviewed August 31, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Universe-2007

Across the Universe-2007

Director-Julie Taymor

Starring-Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess

Scott’s Review #1,057

Reviewed August 27, 2020

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Westworld-1973

Westworld-1973

Director-Michael Crichton

Starring-Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner

Scott’s Review #1,056

Reviewed August 25, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absence of Malice-1981

Absence of Malice-1981

Director-Sydney Pollack

Starring-Paul Newman, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,055

Reviewed August 20, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Schmidt-2002

About Schmidt-2002

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates

Scott’s Review #1,054

Reviewed August 18, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Escape-1963

The Great Escape-1963

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,053

Reviewed August 17, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

A.I. Artificial Intelligence-2001

A.I. Artificial Intelligence- 2001

Director- Steven Spielberg

Starring-Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law

Scott’s Review #1,052

Reviewed August 13, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Musical Score, Best Visual Effects

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

Director-John Cassavetes

Starring-Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk

Scott’s Review #1,051

Reviewed August 11, 2020

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

Director-Piers Haggard

Starring-Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden

Scott’s Review #1,050

Reviewed August 7, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to my blog! Over 1,050 reviews to share! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!