Doctor Sleep-2019

Doctor Sleep-2019

Director-Mike Flanagan

Starring-Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson

Scott’s Review #1,026

Reviewed May 22, 2020

Grade: B

Based on the 2013 novel of the same name written by Stephen King, a sequel to his own 1977 novel The Shining, Doctor Sleep (2019) is also a direct sequel to the film adaptation of The Shining (1980). Events are set several decades after the events of the original and combines elements of the 1977 novel as well. A fun-fact is that King hated the film version of The Shining but approved of the script for Doctor Sleep.

The first and last part of the film are superior to the rest, succeeding mostly when elements of The Shining are incorporated. The rest meanders and teeters too much into supernatural and computer- generated imagery territory, taking away from the haunting ghost story elements that made the original The Shining such a frightening treasure.

Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, the little kid scarred from the trauma he suffered when his father Jack went mad at the looming Overlook hotel decades earlier. Danny, now a grown man and a suffering alcoholic, lives a life that is out of control, suppressing his “shining” gifts that allow him to possess psychic abilities. Hitting rock bottom, Dan moves to a tiny town in New Hampshire and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who sponsors him in AA. Dan is regularly visited by the spirit of Dick Hallorann, the deceased chef from the hotel who teaches Dan how to contain his demons.

Meanwhile, the True Knot, a cult of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), extend their lifespans by consuming “steam”, a psychic essence released as they torture and kill those who have the shining. They mostly feed on young children and pursue Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose shining is even more powerful than Dan’s. She communicates telepathically with him and form a pact to destroy Rose and her cronies.

Let’s take the good with the bad. The film gets off to a very good start with the recreation of scenes from The Shining, when Danny rides his big wheel throughout the winding 1970’s style hallways of The Overlook and gazes at the forbidden Room 237. The synth musical score that made The Shining atmospheric and unforgettable are also included as the bass infused heartbeat is showcased amid overhead camera angles, a clear ode to The Shining.

The finale of Doctor Sleep comes full circle as Dan and Abra travel from New Hampshire to snowy Colorado and revisit the Overlook, now tattered and ill-forgotten from decades of abandonment. The showdown between Dan, Abra, and Rose treats fans to clips of Jack Nicholson and Shelly DuVall. Visits from familiar characters and sets like the ghostly bartender, the conjoined twins, the wrinkled old naked woman, the gushing elevator blood, and the hedge maze make their returns providing a lovely feeling of nostalgia.

Unfortunately, betwixt the first thirty minutes and final thirty minutes sits another ninety minutes of screen time that doesn’t always work. For starters, a running time of two hours and thirty-two minutes feels too long for a horror film and the filler lying in between is that much more obvious. The action meanders especially given the anticipated final battle which is inevitable.

Taking nothing away from either Ferguson or Curran, who are fine in their respective roles of Rose and Abra, neither are they the most interesting aspects of Doctor Sleep either. They are new characters in the novel and therefore the film but are secondary to Dan and his intricate relationships with Jack, Wendy, and Dick. The only story parts that were interesting to me were the connections and thoughts that Dan had to experiences forty years earlier.

The battle scenes between Rose, Abra, and other characters do nothing for the story and take the film too far in the direction of the supernatural and slick technological aspects that The Shining didn’t need. Since Doctor Sleep was made based on successful recent King adaptations of It Chapter Two (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019) perhaps this is the reason for the modern add-ons.

If Doctor Sleep (2019) could be sliced and diced to eliminate the guts and keep the bookends of the beginning and finale the result would have paid proper homage to The Shining (1980), instead we get only halfway there. The film has some nice elements and stays true to its history but contains a few unnecessary tidbits to make it not great. And how can a film ever compare to the greatness of The Shining (1980)?

Prom Night-1980

Prom Night-1980

Director-Paul Lynch

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen

Scott’s Review #1,025

Reviewed May 21, 2020

Grade: B

Released in the summer of 1980, Prom Night feels much more like a late 1970’s styled film than the plethora of carbon copy products that were churned out in the early part of its decade. To be clear, the film is a conventional slasher whodunit and does not reinvent the wheel, but small tidbits of stylized cinematography are nestled within its formulaic confines during what could be considered throwaway scenes. Prom Night might be forgotten if not for the casting of “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis who leads the charge, carrying the story.

The film is heavily influenced by two very popular motion pictures that preceded it. The most obvious comparison, also in the horror genre, is Carrie (1976), that has a gruesome finale set in the usually cheerful late spring high school gymnasium event, known as prom night. Surprisingly, Prom Night also capitalizes on the enormous success of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 vehicle that made John Travolta and discotheque’s household names, to say nothing of making teenage girls swoon. Prom Night even copies a cheesy disco dance sequence.

The story begins, like many horror films do, with an incident that took place many years ago, paving the way for the current events. Youngsters, Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick play hide-and-seek in an abandoned convent. When little Robin Hammond tries to join them, the group starts teasing her, repeating “Kill! Kill! Kill!”, over and over again, frightening her and causing her to accidentally fall to her death through a second story window. The children make a pact not to tell anyone what happened and keep the incident a secret. The shadow of an unseen person who witnessed Robin’s death emerges.

Flash-forward to present day when the children are now in high school and eagerly await a night of dancing, drinking and perhaps getting lucky, as they flirt and plan their partners for the night. Robin’s family, led by the stoic Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) memorializes her on the anniversary of her death as sister Kim (Curtis) and brother Alex (Michael Tough) ready themselves for the prom that night.

Meanwhile, Kelly, Nick, Jude, and Wendy begin to receive menacing phone calls. Could Mr. Hammond, Kim, or Alex be behind the calls, perhaps seeking to avenge Robin’s death, or is this too obvious an approach? As nightfall draws near the teenagers and their friends begin to fall victim to throat slitting’s, a decapitation, and a chase with an ax by crazed killer wearing a ski mask and black clothing. An ode to the Halloween franchise in the final act is delicious, but may or may not have been intentional.

The best part of Prom Night is the whodunit factor and most of the fun is trying to figure out who is offing the kids. We know the motivation but not the who. Red herrings are thrown directly to the audience like bones to a hungry dog. The creepy, alcoholic janitor, Sykes, leers at the teens and even witnesses one of the murders (spoiler alert- he is not the killer!) but his claims are dismissed as drunken rants. An escaped sex offender thought to be Robin’s killer, and an enemy of Kim’s are also thrown in to distract the viewer.

There is little character development (surprise, surprise) as standard stock character’s are on display. There is the jokester, the bitchy rich girl, the virginal girl, and the obnoxious boy, so diversity is not the ingredient of this film. A formula is clearly followed and we know the final reveal will be the be all, end all of a film like this. Despite being formulaic Prom Night is still enjoyable, never feeling mediocre. There is enough going on to please horror fans seeking thrills.

Not a bad effort, Prom Night (1980) captures the viewers attention immediately and never is dull. The one-hour and twenty-nine minutes of running time is a smart move as quick and easy can be described of the film. The surprise reveal genuinely does surprise when the masked killer is revealed. This is not Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) or Black Christmas (1974), the cream of the crop in slasher films, but is worth the watch.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

Director-Jack Sholder

Starring-Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,024

Reviewed May 18, 2020

Grade: B

While producing a surprising and tantalizing sexual subtext to a standard story and including a male protagonist instead of the generic female, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) sometimes feels overwrought with stock characters and not enough scary moments to satisfy bloodthirsty appetites, but the effort and aching for something a bit different is apparent, if viewers are sharp enough to take a curious peek.

The glossy 1980’s cinematic look is cringe-worthy and very “of the time” which usurps the creative tidbits nestled beneath the surface, as deserving of their merits as they are. Nonetheless, the film is not at all bad, almost feeling fresh by today’s standards, and the familiar villain is worth the price of admission. Once again Freddy baits and taunts his victims, who never stand a chance, with his trademark sneer and razor-sharp nails.

Five years following the events of the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, a new family arrives on the cursed block, happily anticipating a new life filled with baked cookies and warm fires. Parents Ken and Cheryl Walsh (film legend Hope Lange) raise two kids, Angela and Jesse (Mark Patton). The latter is haunted in his dreams by a killer driving a school bus. Jesse is joined by his friend and romantic interest, Lisa (Kim Meyers), school chum Grady (Robert Rusler), and Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell), who may or may not be gay.

An obvious comparison to the similar themed Friday the 13th franchise, a hot ticket during the 1980’s, is the return to a familiar setting. Elm Street is to A Nightmare on Elm Street what Camp Crystal Lake is to Friday the 13th. The locale is a character itself and knowing that bad stuff will occur there is pleasing to the viewer. Elm Street is supposed to be a quiet and safe place for families to snuggle in their beds with pets, dreaming the nights away, not worrying about an evil force turning their pleasant dreams into nightmares come to life.

A clever homoerotic tidbit, lost on most viewers, emerges nonetheless, especially in hindsight. Let’s remind ourselves that 1985 was not a hotbed of LGBTQ cinematic activity, especially as the horrific A.I.D.S epidemic was front-page news. Gay-themed films were not the norm, not even in the independent film circuit yet, so any mention of a gay character was a win for the community. A riveting scene has Jesse dreaming of indulging in a drink at a gay bar and is caught by Schneider, who sends him to the showers. The sexual overtones, obvious now, were not then.

Sadly, this is as far as the film goes with this subject. The remainder of the story is mostly standard fare, featuring a lively teenage pool party, aqua-net infused hairstyles, up-tempo pop music, and familiar written characters, most of whom turned up with different faces in the droves of horror films that peppered suburban movie theaters in those days. Not daring to make Jesse a gay character, though someone humorously made the character’s name androgynous, Jesse and Lisa share a tender kiss in her cabana.

Most sequels pale in comparison to their originals. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) is an adequate follow-up that dares to incorporate as much diversity and inclusiveness as could be mustered in a mainstream film during the mid-1980’s. Let’s not kid ourselves that the studios did not have profit on the mind over credibility and creativity, but the stakes are not exactly played safe which is to its credit. There were far worse sequels in this franchise yet to come!

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

Director-Samuel Bayer

Starring-Jackie Earle Haley

Scott’s Review #1,023

Reviewed May 14, 2020

Grade: C-

Rather a pointless remake, but unsurprising given the speedy attempts at re-doing almost every successful horror franchise in recent memory, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) offers nothing that the original did not provide better. Any film that is considered a dud with the word “nightmare” in the title is ripe for the picking as far as jokes and mockery go. The film is not too terrible but is rather mediocre and average to the taste. There is no reason to watch this offering over the 1984 original, besides perhaps a moment of curiosity.

A quick recap or re-introduction. Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a serial killer who crosses the worlds of dreams and reality to slice and dice his victims with his razor-sharp blade-fingered glove, is on the loose in small town America. As Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her pals fight for their lives, they also uncover clues to a shocking secret from their past. Freddy was a known child molester decades earlier and was tracked down and burned alive by angry parents seeking revenge after he escaped prison. He has vowed to destroy the children of those parents who all conveniently still live in the same town.

Capitalizing on the box-office success of a commercially successful yet critically sub-par 2009 offering of Friday the 13th, the light bulb went off and A Nightmare on Elm Street was green lit and born. The intention was to make Freddy and the film harsher and scarier than the 1984 original. This is a severe misstep as what made the original so good was the character of Freddy. What 1980’s teenager doesn’t fondly recall oozing with delight at Freddy’s one-liners and quips as he playfully toys with his pray before slitting their throats? New-Freddy is sinister, violent, and banal. Boring!

Earle Haley, a character actor known for 1977’s Breaking Away and finding a well-deserved career resurgence with the brilliant Little Children (2006) is cast as the brutal villain, sans any of the humor. The actor, small in stature, is cast well on paper, and doesn’t purposely ruin the role. It’s just that he is not Robert Englund and therefore never has a chance. While admittedly Earle Haley is menacing, he lacks the charisma and charm to do very much with the role except try to recreate something that is not his to begin with.

The rest of the teens in the cast are decent but hardly spectacular. The “final girl” is Nancy Thompson (Rooney Mara) changed to Nancy Holbrook in this version in another eye-rolling mistake since no reason is explained for the name change. It’s like changing Freddy Krueger’s name to Freddy Kelly. Regardless, Mara champions on in a role she is way too good for. The actress, about to reach stardom for gems like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Carol (2015) clearly needed the paycheck and a start. Fair enough.

From a visual standpoint, the film has some jump scares and frights that are stock fare for slick, mainstream horror films, almost now becoming clichés. The sets are decent with some of the houses and, a church, worthy of mention. Darkness is the main ingredient of this film- it is horror after all, and the filming has a very dark texture even during bright scenes. Some nice kills flesh out the rest of the experience.

If there is money to be made in Hollywood, it will be made. The true motivator of remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was profit over art. This is a reality and not so much a criticism, after all it’s called the entertainment biz for a reason. The changes made to the script do it no favors and if a remake had to be done, it was better left alone and not fooled with. Jackie Earle Haley does his best, but he is not and never will be the real Freddy Krueger. Robert Englund has that dubious honor.

Funny Girl-1968

Funny Girl-1968

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif

Scott’s Review #1,022

Reviewed May 11, 2020

Grade: B+

Barbra Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her outstanding portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968). She reprises a role that she made famous on the Broadway stage, bringing her to the big-screen. The role is vitally important and presents a great message, teaching viewers that an unconventional woman with great talents can succeed in show biz, leaving prim and proper starlets salivating with jealousy. Features the classic tunes “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as well as the title track.

Fanny (Streisand) is an unhappy Jewish New Yorker, living in semi-poverty and dreaming of the big time. Her mother (Kay Medford) and others in the community try to persuade Fanny to live a normal life far from the hot and judgmental lights of the stage, but she will have none of it. Finding success on her own terms in Ziegfeld Follies throughout World War I, she also finds love and passion with the suave Nick Arnstein (Sharif) following her debut performance. The story is loosely based on the life and career of the real Fanny and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler, Nick.

Taking nothing away from Sharif, who is more than adequate, the film belongs to Streisand. Despite being a novice, producers wanted nobody other than Streisand in the role since she had hit a home run in the stage version. A brief consideration to have Shirley MacLaine star in hindsight seems laughable and unimaginable. Sharif’s suave and dangerous swarthy characterization balances perfectly with Streisand’s naivety and innocence. The Jewish female and the Muslim male also must have raised an eyebrow or two at the time.

Streisand is a breath of fresh air in a role that could be said to mimic real life and reflects film in 1968 and beyond. Glamour girls were the height of fashion throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s where looks sometimes usurped talent. By the lifting of the Hollywood Code, grittier and dirtier roles were to be found for women. Streisand, as Fanny, proves that a self-proclaimed ugly duckling can rise to the top of the cream. Refusing to get a nose job or otherwise alter her appearance or name, she mirrors Fanny in many ways, inspiring both women and men to be yourself to achieve truth.

Director William Wyler, no stranger to Hollywood success with pictures such as Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) knows how to pace and balance a film nicely and how to present a cheery and splendid offering in a nice way, careful not to make the film too lightweight either. Comic scenes such as when Fanny upstages everyone and prances around stage as a pregnant newlywed becoming the talk of the town are the best ones. The film succeeds when it is fun.

Sharif does his best with a small role, surprising given the importance of the character, but the dramatic moments are not the best scenes. They are okay and certainly not overacted by the stars, but do not work as well as when Streisand belts out “People” on a lonely sidewalk. The issue is that Streisand is Funny Girl and even prominent actors like Sharif never had a chance. The one exception is Medford who goes toe to toe with Streisand in every scene with gusto and humor.

Funny Girl (1968) may suffer from a few overly melodramatic moments that slow it down, especially concerning the main romance, but the prominent message is one of staying true to one’s own colors. Refusing to be influenced by elders or even her beau, Fanny is to be heralded as an inspiration to all viewers. With delightful musical numbers and zesty wardrobe pieces, the film has a cheery and fun veneer, but more lies beneath the surface.  Whether the intention is a sing-along experience or a deeper meaning, the film has something for everyone.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress-Barbra Streisand (won), Best Supporting Actress-Kay Medford, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation, Best Song Original for the Picture-“Funny Girl”, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980’s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman. The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters. As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids. Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye. Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender bending this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.  For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980’s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface. This point kept returning to me over the course of the film and imagining how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice. Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama. Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects. Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensue with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferable would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order. For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters the title is bland, banal and tough to remember.

For those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending. Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as 1970’s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same sex desire, to cheesy 1980’s synth laden beats, adds some confusion. Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Lifeboat-1944

Lifeboat-1944

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak

Scott’s Review #1,020

Reviewed May 6, 2020

Grade: A-

Alfred Hitchcock, well-known for big, bouncy, suspenseful productions, creates a stripped-down, intimate story of adventures while adrift on a survival boat, leaving plenty of tension and peril. Lifeboat (1944), now teetering on extinction from memory save for fans of the director, deserves appreciation and respect for the brilliant direction and wonderful cinematography alone. The film was met with controversy and some derision for sympathetic depictions of a German U-boat captain (Walter Slezak) amid the horrors of World War II.

Events begin in the middle of calm Atlantic Oceanic waters after a dastardly battle results in a German U-boat and a British/American ship sinking each other, leaving fewer than a dozen civilians and service members to survive in one lifeboat. The snooty and glamorous columnist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), clad in the finest fur coat around, is irritated by a run in her stocking, a travesty in her mind. She is slowly joined by other survivors including a young British woman with a dead baby, a steward, a U.S. Army nurse (Mary Anderson), a wealthy entrepreneur, and other people from most walks of life.

Lifeboat plays out like a more cerebral version of a disaster film. Think- a smart man’s version of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which is said with love since it’s one of my favorite films. But with Lifeboat, there is a darkness and a sadness missing from 1970’s disaster films that were more lightweight. The black-and-white camerawork helps tremendously as does the mist, the rain, and even the strong beating sun. The weather elements play an important role and are characters themselves.

Speaking of characters, the individuals are plentiful and diverse, ranging from British, American, Black, German, wealthy and working-class, to eventually dead and alive with a gruesome leg amputation taking place mid-stream. Each is well-written, exhibiting fear, bravery, and suspicion of the other’s motivations, especially the German captain who communicates in native tongue with Connie, causing conjecture among the other survivors.

Events would hardly be complete without a good melodramatic romance and such is the treat to see two formulate. Connie and handsome John (John Hodiak) share a love/hate relationship, clearly from opposite backgrounds, while the more stable Alice and Stanley (Hume Cronyn) even decide to marry! Genteel Alice reveals a marriage and an affair to Stanley uncovering layers and a complexity to the character.

My favorite character is Connie, and Bankhead is a pure delight in the bitchy, no-nonsense role. She enshrouds the camera from the first scene. Reminiscent of Bette Davis, the actress has a similar composure, stance, and trademark cigarette, but slowly reveals her insecurities and desperation. What fun she is to watch!

A tender and poignant scene occurs at the end of the film and is lovely to witness especially given the tumultuous time of the mid 1940’s. A drifting young German soldier attempts to board and shoot at the survivors but is apprehended. Disputes occur, but instead of shooting or casting the lad over board to drown, he is saved and presumably provided food and water. He inquires why they don’t kill him? The message is powerful and anti-war.

The direction methods are brilliant, looking as realistic as anything could in 1940’s cinema where CGI was decades away. Hitchcock had me fooled as I bought lock, stock, and barrel that the lifeboat was in the middle of rough and murky waters instead of a Hollywood studio tub. The creative method of getting so many characters into one shot wonderfully and effectively provides a claustrophobic feel as the lack of food and drinking water causes hysteria and emotion. The one-set approach is marvelous and perfect for the film’s specific story line.

After decades of underexposure and playing second or third fiddle to other Hitchcock masterpieces, Lifeboat (1944) is finally getting a bit of notice and acclaim. Here’s to hoping the trend will continue as the film contains enough frights and perils to keep anyone guessing which characters will sink and which will swim. Perhaps not the best watch on a cruise ship or other watery surfaces, the escapade will delight most fans of classic black-and-white thrill cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director- Alfred Hitchcock, Best Original Story, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon

Scott’s Review #1,019

Reviewed May 4, 2020

Grade: A-

Pioneer horror director Wes Craven, famous for reinvigorating the slasher genre with humor, wit, and satirically ponderous situations, created the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which introduced the legendary character of Freddie Kruger (Robert Englund) to audiences. Followed by eight sequels or re-introductions, the debut is a clever affair and a breath of fresh air in the too often formulaic world of slashers. And who could deny the satisfaction of seeing future Hollywood royalty, Johnny Depp, succumb to the villainous Kruger.

A group of unsuspecting teenagers are tortured both consciously and unconsciously as they dream the nights away, by a hideously disfigured man clad in a striped shirt and a gloved hand with razors. He taunts and teases the teens unmercifully as they reside, party, and have sex in small-town America, mainly spending their time in high school or on the cursed Elm Street. The main girl to experience Freddie’s devious wrath is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langankamp), who uses caffeine and more drastic measures to stay awake and alive!

To review A Nightmare on Elm Street without mentioning the Friday the 13th or Halloween franchises would be foolhardy since, combined, they make up the “Big three” of the entertaining slasher genre, each living on in infamy. To provide a quick chronology, A Nightmare on Elm Street ran from (1984-1994) adding a crossover with Friday the 13th in 2003, and an unnecessary remake in 2010. Friday the 13th hit cinemas in 1980, never looking back until the uninspired remake in 2009. Finally, Halloween debuted in 1978 and is still churning out relevant chapters.

Whereas Friday the 13th and Halloween chose to stick with a more realistic formula- a crazed killer wielding a butcher knife or an ax, the brief foray into outer space with Jason X (2002) notwithstanding, A Nightmare on Elm Street is the more cerebral of the three, mixing dreams and reality so the viewer is left perplexed and filled with thoughtful questions and is scared. As each victim is gleefully toyed with, invaded and killed in their dreams, and thus killed, by the burnt killer, more complexities exist.

Released right smack in the middle of the 1980’s- the decade of decadence, where a snug suburban life meant safety and sweet dreams, the target audience is the teenage crowd. In the height of the Reagan years where everyone and their neighbor had a vacation house, boat or BMW, this film scared the daylights out of most viewers. Sleep did not come easy for those who took Freddie’s taunts to heart.

While frightening, A Nightmare on Elm Street does not take itself as seriously as Friday the 13th or Halloween does. Infusing humor and snickering fun is a great recipe to differentiate itself from its brethren taking on straight-ahead horror. The film can blur the boundaries between the imaginary and the real, toying with audience perceptions at every turn and making them think.

Imaginative, this is not always the film’s key to success. Craven needs to be careful that his story does not teeter off into the absurd or the outlandish, which it did in later installments. Credit must be given to Englund, who takes crazy Freddie off to orbit with dizzying rapidity, going too over-the-top only once or twice. And who can ever forget the frightening child’s rhyming song featured in the film.

Story always eclipses effects, and Craven is wise to craft a backstory for Kruger to enjoy almost making him sympathetic, but then harshly bringing reality back and making the killer a child murderer. Still, the parents who took their own brand of vengeance and burned Freddie alive are not saints but sinners. This allows Kruger just enough empathy to keep audiences engaged. He’s a fun villain!

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a timeless classic that introduced the world to one of the horror genres best villains. Unlike Jason and Michael Myers, who are faceless, Freddie Kruger was played by one actor, Robert Englund, who gave him energy, zest, and charm. He will forever live on in the hearts of slasher fans everywhere.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

Director-Joe Talbot

Starring-Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors

Scott’s Review #1,018

Reviewed May 1, 2020

Grade: A

The brilliance of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) is multi-fold. The immediate call-out is that the work is the creation of up-and-coming director, Joe Talbot, an artist with a great eye for both the visual and humanistic aspects of cinema. Whomever influenced this young man deserves props for he has a great future ahead of him. Being this is his film debut and he also co-wrote it, the future is bright indeed. The film is loosely based on the life of his childhood best friend, Jimmie Fails, who also stars.

A24 is arguably the new “it” film studio for independent entertainment offerings and this is to be celebrated. Indie films provide creative artists with the means and the time to develop their product and tell stories that are fraught with meaning and in many cases dare to go where other films have not ventured to at risk of turning a mainstream audience off. This is to be celebrated and championed and has resulted in many great and unique films. Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019), and The Lighthouse (2019) immediately spring to mind.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco gets off to an interesting start as two young black men, Jimmie (Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) wait for the bus as men clad in protective gear appear to clean polluted waters. The implication is clear that residents are not protected while the men are. Protesters chant while images of the changes San Francisco has experienced over the years are shown. The two then skateboard to a Victorian house in the city’s Fillmore District that Jimmie grew up in and says was built by his grandfather in 1946. Their skateboard trip is cerebral and surrealistic and ten glorious cinematic moments.

Evident is that Talbot is channeling either an autobiographic story or one of a friend- it proves to be the latter. Unclear is if Mont is supposed to be Talbot, but my guess would be in the affirmative. Jimmie and Mont are inseparable, residing both at Mont’s grandfather’s house (played by a startlingly elderly Danny Glover) and the house that Jimmie’s grandfather built. The friends trudge along their daily life by enduring insults hurled at them by a neighborhood gang and fixing up the Victorian house whose owners neglect it and are subsequently are evicted.

Jimmie and Mont are fantastically nuanced, rich characters, each for different reasons. Jimmie is pained that his city has forgotten his grandfather and his legacy, cast aside for progress and wealth. His father (Rob Morgan) is angry, his mother, a recovering drug addict is barely in his life, as they run into each other by chance on the city bus. Jimmie’s Aunt (Tichina Arnold) resides outside the city and serves as his confidante.

Mont is a creative, yearning to write a play based on the local gang, but struggles to create the words or authentically express his voice. He works in a fish shop and frequently acts out his thoughts of others down by the water. Considered odd, he is a good guy and loyal to his grandfather. Since a female love interest is never mentioned (another high point of the film) neither Jimmie’s nor Mont’s sexuality is ever discussed, nor is a potential relationship between the two ever mentioned. The ambiguity works amazingly well and conjures up comparisons to the groundbreaking Moonlight (2016).

When a sudden death erupts the proceedings, Mont finally finds his voice and composes an improvised stage play which he stars in as a dedication for the fallen victim. He elicits responses from the people in attendance (including all principal cast members) as a shocking secret erupts resulting in disarray. This takes the already layered film into a new direction as all Jimmie thought to be true is suddenly shattered.

In a word, the film feels fresh, both visually and from a story perspective. Fails and Majors are top young talent with bright futures who add a patient climb with their characters amid a film that paces slowly but steadily, letting the events marinate to a frenzy in a thought-provoking way.

I eagerly await the next project by the talented Talbot. In a film industry hungry for new ideas, the creator of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offers a journey into the minds of two black men written not as stereotypes, but as interesting and intelligent individuals sadly not looking forward but looking backwards. The film provides characters who are not standard but are so much more than that.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature, Best Supporting Male (Jonathan Majors)

My Darling Clementine-1946

My Darling Clementine-1946

Director-John Ford

Starring-Henry Fonda, Victor Mature

Scott’s Review #1,017

Reviewed April 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Esteemed director John Ford, mostly known for crafting the very best in the western genre for four decades creates a timeless story that is character driven and unpredictable. My Darling Clementine (1946) provides superb atmosphere amid a depressing ambiance led by Henry Fonda, the appealing leading man of the day. The iconic American western folk ballad, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” makes an appearance during the opening and closing credits to book end the classic.

In 1882, events get underway when a group of men herd cattle through the Old West in route to California. The Earp brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James) encounter the sinister Clanton family, who salivate over the profit the animals could supply them. After being rebuffed for a sale, the Clanton’s kill young James and steal the cattle. Wyatt (Fonda) vows revenge and settles in at Tombstone, Arizona where he befriends the dangerous Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), the ravishing Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) and Mac, the local bartender.

The film is based on real-life western figures and events. Wyatt Earp was a lawman and gambler while Doc Holliday was a gambler, gunslinger, and dentist. Both men were participants in the famous and bloody gunfight at the OK Corral, a thirty second shootout between lawmen and outlaws, regarded as the most well-known battle in the American Wild West. This makes the film both historical and fun for viewers anticipating some truth. The rest is created story.

One can delve into other avenues of enjoyment during My Darling Clementine other than the action emitting from the screen. The rich surrounding elements are as glorious, and plentiful. Much of the events take place outdoors, a treat, and the spacious and wide-open exteriors are a marvel to lay an eye on. The exquisite clouds and sprawling lands are evident as is the black and white cinematography. This adds a measure of mystique that color film would have ruined.

Unlike other westerns there is surprisingly little racism to be found. Commonly, American Indians are classified as the enemy and subsequently mistreated. Other than one quick scene where an unnamed Indian is booted out of town, nary a racist moment can be found. Quite a few Mexican characters appear, most prominently Chihuahua, who is the apple in every man’s eye. To see Mexican culture represented and celebrated with dancing and country colors is a nice addition.

The pacing of the film is superior too, with little lag or drag time. The relatively short running-time of one hour and thirty-six minutes is a benefit as events get down and dirty quickly. The combustible energy of the saloon scenes, simply a must in this genre, is great. So much transpires within each scene as the patrons eat, drink, dance, sing, and fight. Interesting characters like the bartender and Granville Thorndyke, a stage actor who performs Shakespeare, make the film very fleshed out from a character perspective.

A minor demerit that must be aimed at the film is the awkward decision to write a perplexing and uneven ending that sours the wrap-up. When the big shootout concludes Wyatt decides to depart Tombstone, bidding adieu to a confused Clementine at the school house, wistfully promising that if he ever returns, he will look her up. This is weak and unsatisfying considering she moved to the West from the East to be with Doc, who dies. Why would she decide to stay and why would he decide to leave considering the pair was drawn to each other as the film escalates? I was expecting a “happily ever after” moment.

My Darling Clementine (1946) is an elite treasure among a genre that is commonly one-note and riddled with stereotypes and bad treatment of those that are not white, masculine men. Sure, the whiskey flows heavily as the guns are cocked and loaded at a moment’s notice. But, with arguably two main heroes (Wyatt and Doc), well-crafted supporting characters, and a stoic final fight, this film has it all, providing depth and freshness to an often-stale cinematic genre.

A History of Violence-2005

A History of Violence-2005

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris

Scott’s Review #1,016

Reviewed April 28, 2020

Grade: B+

David Cronenberg has directed films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Crash (1996), stories safely classified as “off the beaten path”. With A History of Violence (2005) he creates a film that on the surface appears conventional and even wholesome at the onset, a family drama or thriller, that turns sinister and bloody as it lumbers along. The Christian-like small Indiana town is the perfect backdrop to quietly inflict mayhem and terror on its characters. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give tremendous portrayals.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet mid-western life and owns a quaint, little diner nestled in the center of town. He is a popular man and quite neighborly, befriending the many patrons who visit his lovely eatery. At his side are his adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello), and children, Jack and Sarah. If they owned a golden retriever and resided in a house with a white picket fence, they would define the all-American family.

Late one night, two men attempt to rob the restaurant and when they attack a waitress, Tom kills both robbers with surprising ease and skill barely blinking at his violent tendencies. He is professed a hero by the townspeople and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is then visited by the frightening scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Harris), who insists that Tom is a notorious gangster from Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom is perplexed and vehemently denies the claims, but Fogarty begins to stalk the Stall family. Because of the pressure, Tom’s family life hits crisis mode.

As the film ticks along the plot becomes thicker and thicker as the puzzle pieces are rife with mystery. Is Fogarty merely a liar, holding a vendetta against the person who killed his men? Does Tom suffer from amnesia, having forgotten his past life due to an accident? Has Tom fled the criminal life seeking refuge and a new life in middle-America, safely leaving his troubles behind? Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle of these possibilities?

Bello is cast in the role of Edie, Tom’s loyal wife. Bello is a stellar actor and does a wonderful job in the complicated role. Far too often, especially in thrillers, the wife role is as lacking in challenge as it is in glamour. The ever-supportive wife must be a drag to play but certainly pays the bills. Edie is different, and as soon as the viewer has her figured out, she performs an action out of the blue that will surprise for this type of character. This has a lot to do with Bello’s pizzazz and acting chops.

I adore the setting of the film. A far cry from the bustling City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, when the action eventually flows to the city, the rural setting of Indiana becomes even more important. The quiet mornings, the imagined smell of fresh-brewed coffee, the crackling of sizzling bacon on the grill at Tom’s diner, and finally, crickets chirping in the distance, all provoke the potent atmosphere and surroundings that really work in this film.

A History of Violence (2005) is a superior film that contains excellent writing, the best aspect of the rich experience. A top-notch screenplay written by Josh Olson leaves the viewer not only with mounting tension, but the mysterious unknown as to what will happen next and what the truth is. Mortensen, commonplace in recent Cronenberg films, has found his niche playing complex yet humanistic characters, which must be a challenge for the actor and a splendid reward for the audience.

Spellbound-1945

Spellbound-1945

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

Scott’s Review #1,015

Reviewed April 24, 2020

Grade: A-

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s early American films, after his voyage from home base London to United States soil proved profitable and critically acclaimed, Spellbound (1945) followed the box office and awards success of Rebecca (1940). Probably the most spoofed of all the Hitchcock works in the 1977 Mel Brooks parody High Anxiety, Spellbound provides a psychological storyboard that uses enough vehicles like amnesia, hypnosis, and danger to impress any daytime soap opera writer. Not in the director’s top arsenal or remembered well, but a stellar effort.

Youthful Doctor Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives one day at the sprawling Green Manors Mental Asylum as the new director. After immediately falling for each other, the beautiful Doctor Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) discovers that Edwardes is not who he claims, but instead is a paranoid amnesiac impostor, more reminiscent of a patient. This literally gives new meaning to the term “the inmates are running the asylum.”

Constance becomes obsessed with answering the following questions: What happened to the real Dr. Edwardes? If Edwardes has been kidnapped or murdered who is responsible? Who is the gorgeous man that she has just fallen head over heels for? The intelligent psychoanalyst must practice what she preaches by becoming a sleuth and figuring out what is going on. The action takes place in both bustling New York City and snowy Rochester, New York.

I love the progressive nature of the story. To have a leading female character with a lofty professional status is admirable given the year of 1945 when female roles were just beginning to evolve. While most roles that Hollywood heavyweight Bette Davis portrayed in the 1930’s and 1940’s was vital and strong, this was the exception and not the norm. Bergman, quite beautiful, does not need to play sex kitten to make her character sexy. She does well with that by wearing glasses and a lab coat, using the intelligence of her character to her advantage.

In 1945 Alfred Hitchcock was still considered a “new” director to most and was only beginning to make his mark on audiences unfamiliar with his work. His cunning and masterful use of lighting and shadows to produce suspense is on display during much of Spellbound. The faces of Constance and Anthony glow with a combination of warmth and suspicion, and both are wonderful at eliciting emotion through subdued facial expressions. While Peck is slightly wooden, it does add a dimension to his uncertain character.

Atmosphere is everything with Hitchcock. Treats, like shots of the old Penn Station and Grand Central Station, monumental parts of everyday New York City life, are magnificent. They provide a glimpse of what bustling commuter life was like in the 1940’s before most of us were born. Undoubtedly, many extras and non-actors were used that enrich the scenes and offer what regular people looked like in those days.

As Constance and Anthony team up to determine what secrets lie beneath his subconscious, they board a train for the seclusion of upstate New York, where more secrets are revealed. A heavy dose of psychoanalysis and hypnotism allay the best scene of the film. Anthony sinks into a dreamlike world where he sees strange objects fraught with symbolism: a man with no face, scissors, playing cards, eyes, and curtains. What do they all mean? Fans will have fun piecing together the clues to solve the mystery.

The works of Salvador Dali, a famous surrealist artist known for bizarre and striking images, are on display during the dream sequence. Though limited, they do envelope the scene with fright and mystique and are a perfect addition to the odd sequence. Shot in black and white, the final scene adds a blood red image as a character turns a revolver on themselves and commits suicide. When Anthony drinks a glass of milk, the camera is inside the bottom of the glass, creating a hallucinogenic effect.

While Peck does his best with a peculiar character, Anthony is not as interesting as Constance, Doctor Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), or Doctor Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Personally, I would have loved more scenes or back-story for Brulov and have gotten to know him better. Anthony has some light annoyances as when he inexplicably passes out whenever events become too much for him.

Spellbound (1945) is the perfect accompaniment for a snowy winter night since the film has a warm and cozy look with atmosphere and the soothing musical score. Perfect is to watch in tandem with High Anxiety (1977) for a double-punch of suspense and appreciation for the film with the humor the satire furnishes. While not the best of the best of Hitchcock films, it stands proudly on its own merits.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Alfred Hitchcock, Best Supporting Actor-Michael Chekhov, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Special Effects

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice. The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score the film provides beauty and impressionism. The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but is assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy. While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is. Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar, but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful. If Gustav dared to have approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert. Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion. The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous, but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David-since we are in Italy. But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side-story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city. In 2020, with the vicious Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s own sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterwards walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo. As Tadzio outreaches his arms towards the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly. Dyeing his grey hair black and whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made up face are meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion. The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

Director-Charles Crichton

Starring-Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis

Scott’s Review #1,013

Reviewed April 20, 2020

Grade: B

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an intelligent and witty British-American comedy that was a sleeper hit upon its release garnering critical acclaim and awards affection. The heist flavored production has good comic timing and brisk acting. I adored it not quite as much as most critics though admirable is the quick wit and energetic timing, to be respected in comedies. With some silly moments thrown in that feel staged and unnecessary the film is not as brilliant as some would say and not a memorable entry in the comedy genre.

A crooked foursome, all from shady backgrounds and manipulative tendencies, come together to commit the heist of the century. They are about to get away with it until the London police arrests one of them. Can the other three now on the lam persuade their comrade’s lawyer to reveal the stolen loot’s location? Will they double-cross each other in order to find stolen diamonds that the gang leader has secretly hidden?

The players are con artist Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto West (Kevin Kline), her lover pretending to be her sibling, George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), an animal lover with a stutter. Each has their own personal motivations while relying on the others to get what they want, presumably at the other’s expense as events escalate to dire urgency.

The film gets props for being different. Frequently, in the comedy genre, laughs are attempted at a dizzying speed so that often they do not feel fresh. They also usually contain stereotypical or stock characters who serve little purpose other than to move events along at the sake of character development. A Fish Called Wanda is quirky to say the least with some intelligently written dialogue and sequences, especially the reveal of where the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds is housed. The film’s title is a major clue.

The chemistry between the actors is the best part of the film, especially between Kline and Curtis, two actors with exceptional comic timing. As they spar and bicker and plot not just against each other but against the others they are in cahoots with, the antics get wilder and wilder. Kline was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and victory. His character of Otto is also the most developed.

The final sequence which takes place at Heathrow Airport in London is a fun wrap-up to the caper. A gun, a steamroller, and wet cement are key elements in the wacky finale as character run rampant inside the airport and on the airport tarmac as an airplane is about to take off for parts unknown. Many other scenes take place about London since that is where the film was shot.

Where the film loses me, a bit is with very little sense of meaning of the subject matter. The group are con-artists, or otherwise unsavory characters, but little more. There are no characters to root for or empathize with and the events that transpire are quite silly and superfluous. While the story is fun, what is really the point? All the characters manipulate each other but that is it.

Going against the grain in cinema is always appreciated and the comedy genre is too often stagnant and trite, rarely feeling fresh. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an encouraging project that dares to offer new and inventive gags and physical comedy. The film hits some high marks and strikes out with some portions, leaving an uneven result.

A Few Good Men-1992

A Few Good Men-1992

Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore

Scott’s Review #1,012

Reviewed April 15, 2020

Grade: B+

A Few Good Men (1992) is a film firmly ensconced in the mainstream Hollywood courtroom drama genre. If all the necessary elements had not been well- weaved the results might have been trite or even cringe-worthy. Nonetheless, with big stars and excellent acting, director Rob Reiner (yes, “Meathead” from All in the Family), lucks out with a predictable screenplay that compels and is made better by the sum of its parts. The film will never bore and is a standard edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

The drama was rewarded with several year-end niceties including several nominations for the upper-crust Academy Awards. Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and surprisingly the lofty Best Picture statuette. With no shame for the embarrassment of riches, deserved or undeserved is the real question, the film walked away empty-handed on Oscar night.

When cocky and handsome military lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and his co-counsel, Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), are assigned to a murder case, their investigation uncovers a hazing ritual that could implicate high-ranking officials. U.S. Marines Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private First Class Louden Downey (James Marshall) are facing a general court-martial, accused of murdering fellow Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Kaffee and Galloway are to determine if higher ranking officers orchestrated and forced the lower-ranking men to carry out a “code red” order: a violent extrajudicial punishment, and their own form of justice, to kill the young victim, thus silencing him forever. The questionable part of the plot is whether Base Camp Commander Jessup (Jack Nicholson) administered the order or instead ordered Santiago’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), to merely “train” Santiago to become a better Marine. This is where the courtroom drama takes center stage with gusto.

As good as Moore, Sutherland, and Marshall are in offering compelling roles, the film belongs to Cruise and Nicholson, certainly the veterans of the group. The best scenes come at the end of the film as Cruise and Nicholson spar in the courtroom with bombast and trickery. Nicholson as Jessup is brooding and traditional, clearly a lifelong military man channeling honor and dedication at any cost. Cruise as Kaffee has something to prove and wants to win at any costs. So, they tangle in a fierce machismo way. When he catches Jessup in a lie, just like a spider captures a fly, the scenes crackle and spark with grit and energy. The unforgettable line, “You can’t handle the truth!” is uttered by Nicholson.

A Few Good Men will both satisfy and dissatisfy those with a connection or a penchant for the military. On the one hand, the military is celebrated during the film as the need for efficiency in the world and the decorated appeal are to be admired. But the film also stands up and questions the hypocrisy of one of the oldest establishments and its male domination and bullying methods not so different from a classic college fraternity. The courtroom trial of a patriotic group is serious business.

While not a revolutionary film, sticking to a tried and true courtroom drama script seen in television drama series since the beginning of time, A Few Good Men (1992) provides a hefty two-hour and twenty minutes worth of pure entertainment. Powerful acting across the board make the film a superior experience and a thought-provoking message of whether blindly following orders without a thought is still a relevant approach, not just in the military, but anywhere.

A Day at the Races-1937

A Day at the Races-1937

Director-Sam Wood

Starring-Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx

Scott’s Review #1,011

Reviewed April 13, 2020

Grade: B

Spewing out a collection of successful films throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, A Day at the Races (1937) is a creation by the Marx Brothers that continues the zany adventures of the bumbling men. Not as laugh out loud funny as their earlier works, particularly the memorable Duck Soup (1933), considered to be their best achievement, the film has trademark chuckles and physical comedy for miles that celebrate their vaudeville roots. A horse and a private sanitarium are the major players in this installment.

The film suffers from a myriad of stereotypes and startling racial overtones as any apt viewer will likely need to remind themselves of the decade the film was made. These scenes are thankfully brief and not the highlight of the story. A Day at the Races belongs to the Marx Brothers as their klutzy humor and one-liners are the best parts leaving the romantic leads and the foils as standard characters. Backstage problems were prevalent leaving some continuity issues in the final product.

Judy Standish (Maureen O’Sullivan) owns the struggling Standish Sanitarium which she can barely afford to keep afloat. The devious J.D. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille) owns a nearby racetrack and nightclub and aspires to use the sanitarium space to open a successful casino. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx), a horse doctor, treats the wealthy Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), who she thinks is a “real” doctor and agrees to financially back the sanitarium, but only if Hackenbush runs it. Suspicions arise when Morgan and his business manager attempt to locate the real Hackenbush in Florida.

Meanwhile, Judy’s fiancé, singer Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), who performs in Morgan’s nightclub, has just spent his life’s savings on a racehorse named Hi-Hat. His hope is that the horse, which he purchased from Morgan, will win a big race and the money will save the sanitarium. Hi-Hat is terribly afraid of Morgan and runs away whenever he hears Morgan’s voice. All the principal players gather for a hysterical conclusion as an exciting horse race ensues with a case of mistaken identity mixed in for good measure.

The main attraction is Groucho, Harpo, and Chico as they provide a robust dose of clumsy, action-filled pranks, misunderstandings, pops and bops that keeps them fluttering about the silver screen in fast-paced fashion. The other characters serve as either foils or support for the trio of funny men, so much so that they feel like stock characters. Jones and O’Sullivan have some chemistry as the straight leads and a few tender moments, but neither is the film about them.

The running time of one-hour and fifty minutes feels awfully long for a genre film like this and several scenes meant only to balance the physical comedy could have been eliminated. The famous exchange between Hackenbush and Mrs. Upjohn where she exclaims “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” and he, without missing a beat replies, “Well, it’s early yet” is classic comedy and heartwarming to the eyes and ears as the pacing between the characters is nice.

A Day at the Races (1937) feels dated during some scenes and a stark reminder that inclusion did not always exist in cinema and laughs were to be had at the expense of minority groups. Putting this aside, as a comic creation the writing is witty and entertaining and a perfect showcase for the Marx Brothers to continue their fantastic run of films. The film might be a suggestion as one in a group of a marathon or binge-watching effort rather than as a stand-alone since better chapters are to be found elsewhere.

Oscar Nominations: Best Dance Direction

Tag-2018

Tag-2018

Director-Jeff Tomsic

Starring-Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm

Scott’s Review #1,010

Reviewed April 10, 2020

Grade: D

Tag (2018), starring Ed Helms, weakly attempts to re-create some semblance of magic that The Hangover trilogy (2009-2013) initially had, in which the actor starred. The result is an over-the-top and self-indulgent mess that incorporates the standard gags that raunchy comedies always do and little more. The characters are caricatures and the film provide no character development or anything fresh to stay with the viewer after the end credits role. The most interesting part is post-credits where the real-life figures the film is based upon, appear.

The film gets off to a dumb start as Hogan Malloy (Helms), an established physician, inexplicably gets a job as a janitor at an esteemed corporation in order to go undercover and “tag” Bob Callahan (Hamm). The childhood friends, along with “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) attempt to pursue and “tag” their other buddy Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), who has alluded the “loser award” for the past thirty years, given to the member last tagged during the month of May, when their annual contest is held.

The rest of the film piggy-backs on this premise as the group pursues Jerry in tired form as adventures ensue. The specifics are running through other people’s apartments, tumbling down fire escapes, impersonating elderly women, and a continued use of back flips, stop-motion editing, and nutty situations. You get the idea.

The least appealing quality that Tag possesses is it feels forced and too derivative of other similar films. The film-makers try to create a “buddy film” and a camaraderie between the characters that never amounts to much. The reason for this is they embed each with specific qualities that define the character instead of making them fresh or creative in any way. We meet Chilli as he smokes pot with his father, revealed that he is divorced, unemployed, and a pothead. Bob is uptight, business-like, and the ladies’ man. A token black character (Kevin) is the comic relief. The characters are one-note and uninspired.

Other weak points from a character standpoint are prevalent. Hogan is written as the “straight man”, meaning the most sensible of the group. He is the main character and has a competitive streak that his wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) shares. Her character is most irritating as she has fits of rage then turns sweet. Fisher has been cast in raunchy comedies for most of her career so it would be nice to see her branch out to better roles. Finally, Hogan’s mother, the local bartender, and a fitness worker are written poorly.

As a bonus, the film chooses to add a homophobic sequence in to offend audiences. Meant for laughs, as are most offensives, the male fitness worker is lightly interrogated as the men attempt to locate Jerry. A back and forth involving presumptive oral sex is written as a joke and in addition to being unnecessary, the sequence goes on and on. Wishful thinking is for genre comedies to finally create something fresh, stereotype free, or making mockeries of groups of people.

Predictably, the conclusion is silly and trite. The film culminates in a hokey wedding scene when the friends are tricked by Jerry’s fiance who fakes a pregnancy and miscarriage in a gag-worthy effort. A moment of feigned sincerity is followed by a juvenile rapid-fire torrent of “You’re It!” that would make a ten-year-old boy roll his eyes in disbelief.

Tag is not a complete disaster. If one sticks to the entire watch, a couple of tidbits of pleasure espouse themselves. Familiar classic rock songs like Danzig’s “Mother”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”, and “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies are interspersed throughout the running time. An added romantic triangle between Bob, Cheryl (Rashida Jones), and Chilli has potential if it were not relegated to a sub-plot with no resolution. Both men have chemistry with Cheryl and possess some rooting power.

A film that will certainly wind up in the $1.99 (or less) bargain bin, Tag (2018) might have been a relaxed effort to shoot by the cast of actors, but they must have had more fun than anyone watching it will have. With big name stars and an, on paper anyway, interesting premise, the film fails to deliver the goods, embellishes a based on a true story to the max, and results in a complete waste of time.

A Dangerous Method-2011

A Dangerous Method-2011

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #1,009

Reviewed April 9, 2020

Grade: B+

A literal psychological themed drama, if ever there was one, director David Cronenberg uses popular actors of the day to create a film based on a non-fiction book. Famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung share a tumultuous relationship when they catch the eye of the first female psychoanalyst, who was a patient of each. Thanks to a talented cast and an independent feel, the result is a compelling piece and a historical lesson in sexual titillation, jealousy, passion, and drama, among real-life elite sophisticates.

Set on the eve of World War I in Zurich, Switzerland, a young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), suffering from hysteria begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). He uses word association, dream interpretation, and other experimental methods as part of his approach to psychoanalysis and finds that Spielrein’s condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child when her father spanked her naked. They embark on a torrid affair.

Jung and friend and confidante, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) explore various psychoanalytical methods, but cracks appear in their friendship as they begin to disagree more frequently on matters of psychoanalysis. When Spielrein, now a student, meets Freud, she confides her relationship with Jung to him, which leads to animosity between the men. Spielrein embarks on other lovers as she attempts to reconcile the geniuses, to allow for their psychoanalysis studies to continue to develop with relevancy.

The film is intelligently written and for any viewer fascinated with psychology or sexual interest, a wonderful marvel. Since Freud and Jung are two of the most recognizable names in behavioral science and Spielrein one of the most influential women in the field, the production is as much a historical and biographical study as it is dramatic enjoyment. Spanking, bondage, and sexual humiliation for gratification and pleasure, strong taboos at the turn of the twentieth century, are explored and embraced in delicious and wicked style.

Of course, given that Fassbender, Mortensen, and Knightley are easy on the eyes provides further stimulation than if less attractive actors were cast. Nonetheless, what the actors provide in eye-candy is equally matched by their acting talent as each one immerses themselves into each pivotal role. In clever and unique fashion, the film is not a trite romantic triangle or giddy formulaic genre movie. Rather, the sets, costumes, and cinematography are fresh and grip the audience.

Carl Jung is the central figure here as both his personal and professional experiences are given plenty of screen time. He wrestles between remaining committed to his wife or giving in to his deepest desires with Speilrein- we can guess how this turns out! The early scenes between Fassbender and Knightley crackle with passion and will make many blush and smirk with naughtiness.

The title of the film is bold but doesn’t always live up given the subject matter. More sensual, fun, and intelligent than dangerous, the film is hardly raw or gritty, surprising given it’s an independent project. It is softer to the touch, especially during scenes between Jung and Speilrein, than hard-edged. Many early psychoanalytical ideas of approach and remedy are discussed and explored making the film more of a study than a thriller.

A Dangerous Method (2011) received stellar reviews and year-end awards consideration, but unsuccessful box-office returns. Hardly a popcorn film and deeply accepting of its indie roots, the film ought to be shown in high-school or academic psychology classes- whether in abnormal or general studies remains a question. With a fascinating story that risks making the prudish blush or turn away, the film will please those independent thinkers, sexual deviants, or those aching for an expressive and satisfying film.

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Director-Gary Dauberman

Starring-Mckenna Grace, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Scott’s Review #1,008

Reviewed April 7, 2020

Grade: B

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) was made as a sequel to 2014’s Annabelle and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation, and as the seventh installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise overall. Lest we forget the uninspiring The Nun (2018) it is not necessary to view the films in sequence and with this version, it can serve as a stand-alone film just fine. At this point in the series it is getting tough to connect all the dots in previous offerings. The film is a fun, scary-light experience, which works well.

Borrowing the babysitting theme from the 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween, the film is neither dull nor formulaic either, providing some visual creativity to an otherwise B movie experience. Franchise fan favorites Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to their popular roles, but only in the beginning and end of the film, letting the younger set take center stage as they bear the brunt of angry demons.

Presumed to take place sometime after Annabelle but before Annabelle: Creation, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) are determined to stop the frightening Annabelle from wreaking further havoc and drag the possessed doll to the safety of their locked artifacts room, placing her behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing. After a curious teenage girl snoops, Annabelle is reawakened angrier than usual and unleashes a torrent of evil spirits into the Warren house. Ten-year old daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), must be savvy and outsmart the dangerous demons before it’s too late.

Annabelle herself, the doll statuesque and holding a grotesque smirk on its made-up face and possessing bright blue/green eyes, has quietly become a fixture within the horror community, now easily recognizable to mainstream audiences everywhere. That Annabelle does not speak or walk, but only stares, unless possessed by a spirit, is a big part of the fun and the scares. She tends to appear rather than move around which is part of her appeal. And the pretty red ribbons in her hair are a bonus.

The 1970’s time-period is fabulous as the set and art design teams deserve major props for authenticity. The Warren’s house, for example, is a wonderful showcase for the yellow and brown trimmings prevalent in any middle to upper-middle class residence during this decade. The flowered wallpaper enshrouding the downstairs hallway and the pink frosted birthday cake are delightful additions. The standard feathered hairstyles and plaid patterned clothes are standard trademarks and always a hoot.

From a fright perspective, the film provides a perfect balance of buildup and edge of your seat thrills. The best example of this is when nosy Daniela (Katie Sarife), already curious of the Warrens, breaks into the artifacts room determined to talk to the dead. Her motivations are believable since her father recently died in a car accident, and she is a fan favorite. Chaos ensues as she unleashes such evil forces as the Black Shuck, the Ferryman, and the Bride.

The film tries a bit too hard to appeal to a tween or teenage audience with a silly romance between main girl, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), the perfect virginal babysitter, and high school crush, Bob (Michael Cimino). He even serenades her after an idea by the pizza delivery man and conveniently lives across the street. This portion of the story is unnecessary and feels like filler, Mary Ellen being responsible enough not to let a boy in the house she is looking after.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) is a fine horror effort, intelligently traversing both supernatural and classic horror sub-genres with ease and perfect balance. Staying true to its franchise roots and incorporating groovy production and musical score elements representing the decade it celebrates, the film holds up well in a myriad of similar films that rely on gimmicks and cheap thrills more than this one does.

I Confess-1953

I Confess-1953

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter

Scott’s Review #1,007

Reviewed April 2, 2020

Grade: A-

I Confess (1953) is an early effort by the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock with a decidedly religious slant but keeps the suspense and thrills commonplace in his other films. The picture is not one of his best remembered works and in fact is one of his least remembered projects. This is unwarranted because the film contains all the standard elements known to the director, creating an entertaining and enthralling effort. Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter, big Hollywood stars of the day, are featured.

Not a fan of exterior shoots where he couldn’t control the elements, filming was nonetheless done largely on location in Quebec City with numerous shots of the city landscape and interiors of its churches and other emblematic buildings, such as the Château Frontenac, heavily featured. This factor adds to the enjoyment as a French sophistication and culture is added and the accents provide a European influence, especially powerful during the final act.

Handsome Catholic priest, Father Michael Logan (Clift), wants nothing more than to be a good priest but his calling is made complicated after someone confesses a murder to him and he’s subsequently blamed for the death. A World War II veteran, he harbors secrets told in back story, as a strong connection to another character comes to light. An easy way to clear his name is to reveal exactly what he knows, but doing so would break his vows as a clergyman and alienate members of his community who trust he will keep their steamy secrets very private.

Ruth Grandfort (Baxter) is a respected member of society, married to husband Pierre (Roger Dann), a member of the Quebec legislature. They live a comfortable existence in a lavish house with servants and regularly throw cosmopolitan parties befitting people of their stature. Amid martinis and festive party games, Ruth keeps not one secret but two and is being blackmailed for her shenanigans. Her connection to Father Michael slowly bubbles to the surface.

Christian viewers will neither be offended nor completely embraced either. Hitchcock does not mock the religion but makes certain of the conflict and demons that can encircle even a pious or righteous man. Known as far back as 1940’s Rebecca as toying with viewers and frequently adding an LGBTQ uncertainty, this can be said of I Confess. Assumed to be in love, Father Michael offers little romantic passion or zest towards Ruth and the connections seems one-sided. Could his descent into the Catholic Church be a front to cover up his sexuality? Only Hitchcock will know the answer.

Eagle-eyed Hitchcock fans will certainly discover similarities to his other works. In the very first scene, an unknown man is strangled to death, collapsing to the floor. This is reminiscent of the 1948 masterpiece, Rope, when an identical sequence occurs. The audience knows nothing about the stranger- yet. In both films, the character, even after death, become integral to the plot twists and turns in store. The tremendous use of shadows and lighting are on careful display mirroring the look of the soon to come The Wrong Man (1956).

While the not the cream of the crop among Hitchcock’s best film entries or even a top ten offering, I Confess (1953) is certainly deserving of a viewing or two on its own merits. Clift and Baxter have excellent chemistry and there is enough mystique and plot guessing to keep audiences well occupied. The final twenty minutes provides cat and mouse revelry and a shocking death perfect for a dramatic climax to a film oozing with Hitchcock’s finest traits.

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director-Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring-Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

For any lover of all things cats or all thing’s Paris, A Cat in Paris (2010) is a double-punch winner in themes alone and a pure treat. The French made film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature along with Chico and Rita (2010), another foreign language animated feature, both considered surprise entries. This was monumental as it aided subsequent non-American features to be allowed into the mix.

The former is a moody and mysterious caper story involving a cat and a young Parisian girl and the adventures they share. The traditional ink colors and hand drawings are lovely and creative, adding to the inventive mood. The feline centered story and feminist empowerment angle provides a unique and worthy experience to be well remembered. The French language version contains native language voices while the English version has English speakers.

The main protagonist of the film is Dino, a pet cat who leads a double life. By day he lives with his friend Zoe (Lauren Weintraub), a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is a detective in the Parisian police force. He sneaks out of the window each night to work with Nico (Steve Blum), a slinky cat burglar with a heart of gold, who regularly evades captors as he glides and swishes from rooftop to rooftop with the picturesque Paris skyline serving as a backdrop.

Dino’s two worlds collide when one-night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures and falls into the dangerous hands of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), an intimidating gangster who is planning the theft of a rare statue. Now cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame. In a cute tongue-in-cheek final moment, Nico gives Jeanne a snow globe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in it as a Christmas present.

Despite the film being an animated one, this fact does not take away from the cultural and sophisticated Parisian experience. Delicious views of the distinguished Eifel Tower and the luminous, glowing skylines of the City of Lights assuredly will captivate each viewer fortunate enough to have ever visited the magical city in person, or those who have day dreamed an afternoon away imagining experiencing the grand city.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is mirrored throughout A Cat in Paris, specifically his film To Catch a Thief (1955). That film is set along the French Riviera instead of in Paris, but features a cat burglar, a thrilling rooftop climax, and enough cat and mouse thrills to last a lifetime. The director’s work is easy to spot, and the film makers are wise to adopt to his style, carefully weaving elements into an animated film with the hopes of exposing children to intelligent film making. Adults will equally love the film.

At a mere one-hour and five minutes, nearly teetering classification of a short film instead of a full-length feature, A Cat in Paris (2010) more than accomplishes what it sets out to in the limited time-period. Utilizing fantastic silhouettes and lit shapes and angles, the visual treats alone make this one exceptional. Adding tidbits of the greatest film director of all times’ work without outright stealing it is a wise choice. May more intelligent international animated films like this one receive their deserved exposure to mass audiences.

Exodus-1960

Exodus-1960

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #1,005

Reviewed March 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Creating a monumental epic about the modern state of Israel, director Otto Preminger’s vast project Exodus (1960) is a bold adaptation of the Leon Uris novel from 1958. Starring stars of the day for added Hollywood spice and a romantic element, the result is a sprawling war drama with robust proportions and a hefty running time. At times the film lags or even drags, but the enormous importance of the message and the influence of stimulating Zionism should never be forgotten.

With the treacherous World War II barely in the rear-view mirror, Israeli resistance fighter, Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), attempts to bring six-hundred European Jewish Holocaust survivors from British-blockaded Cyprus into newly developed Palestine. He meets Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), an American volunteer nurse, at the camp. The pair team-up, along with others, to attempt to liberate the survivors.

The action eventually switches to Palestine where other characters and motives come into play in a complex story. During this time, opposition to the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states is heating up, leading to tension, bombs, and death among similar types of people. Central to the main plot is a young love-story involving spirited Dov Landau (Sal Mineo), a radical Zionist resistance group member, and Karen Hansen Clement (Jill Haworth), a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for the father from whom she was separated during the war.

Exodus has so much story going on and multiple plots to follow. The main draw, besides the tense story, are the two love stories told amid the political turmoil. Newman and Saint have marginal chemistry, he is eye-candy who electrifies the screen, she seems too old for him and does not photograph well. Kitty, a widow, hedges on her romantic feelings for Ari, but they do ultimately unite. A gorgeous sequence occurs when the two share a delicious meal of fish and martinis amid a rooftop restaurant overlooking the dazzling landscape. She later dines with his parents, his mother a classic Jewish mother who in stereotypical fashion, cooks and fusses.

The fresh-faced pairing of Dov and Karen is reminiscent of Tony and Maria from West Side Story. Doomed from the start, the youngsters are opposites in many ways, he hot-headed, she sensible and resilient. He is bronze and swarthy, she is blonde and blue-eyed. I fell in love with the couple, more than Ari and Kitty, and rooted for their happily-ever-after moment, which sadly never occurred.

At nearly four hours in length, the film is best watched in segments, perhaps even four, to let the action marinate overnight. The complex drama is aided by the sweeping cinematic photography and the lush exterior sequences. A drawback was not getting to see the film on the big-screen, almost a must in hindsight, and limited by the DVD quality over Blu-Ray. Nonetheless, the film is delicious in nearly every way. Just when tedium is about to occur, an event happens that snaps the viewer back to immediate attention.

A notable fun fact is that Preminger boldly hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, on the dreaded Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for communist leanings, to write the script Together with Spartacus (1960), made the same year, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry. The importance of what is written on the blank page is arguably surpassed by the man who wrote those pages.

Exodus (1960) nearly rivals the epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in its cinematography of exotic and sacred landscapes in daring and forbidding lands. Perhaps twenty minutes or so could be carved out when the action loses momentum, but with great direction, a top tier cast, and a historical lesson in the harshness of war and generations of conflict, makes the film resonate with the realism of the subject matter.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Sal Mineo, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Color

A Better Life-2011

A Better Life-2011

Director-Chris Weitz

Starring-Demian Bichir, Jose Julian

Scott’s Review #1,004

Reviewed March 26, 2020

Grade: B+

A Better Life (2011) is a heartwarming and timely project that focuses and showcases the Hispanic culture, both positively and negatively. The subject matter of illegal immigration is studied amid a powerful family drama. Lead actor, Demian Bichir, deservedly received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his sensitive portrayal of a man wanting only the best for his son while having life odds stacked against him. The film is an atypical Hollywood production, told simply and with heart.

Carlos Galindo (Bichir), is a struggling Los Angeles gardener who manicures the lawns of the rich and famous in sunny California with his partner and close friend Blasco. Carlos lives a content life but is always on guard because he is an illegal immigrant and worries about his son Luis (Jose Julian) falling in with the wrong crowd. When one day Carlos’s sister loans him $12,000 to purchase a truck, he needs for his job, the man hits his stride, only to have the truck stolen. Desperate, Carlos and Luis are determined to get back the truck while avoiding trouble with the law.

The title of the film, while basic and not sexy, is powerful in its simplicity.  Bold and thought-provoking, this is merely what Carlos wants for Luis and what every father wants for his son. His trials and tribulations a constant, he strives to teach Luis to steer a positive path and avoid mistakes that Carlos has made. Regardless of the political discussion the film could have, what lies beneath is a heartwarming story of cherished love between a man and his son. In clever fashion, the film provides a hopeful final message for both major characters.

I adore the rich Mexican culture represented in the film. A battle of traditional appreciation of one’s roots versus immersing oneself in the American culture are examined. Nearly the entire cast is of Hispanic descent and the numerous scenes of ethnic flavor, from restaurants and cafes, to nightclubs and street life, the film feels authentic and fresh. Thankfully, the film makers do not try to pull off the insulting ploy of casting white actors clad in Mexican garb or a big-name actor in the role of Carlos. Many of the characters even seem like non-actors.

The setting of Los Angeles is highly successful, especially since the low-budget independent film uses eons of exterior shots. The camerawork is not exceptional but feels fresh, letting the warm climate marinate with viewers so that he or she feels implanted in the southern Californian neighborhoods. The contrast of the East Los Angeles area where Carlos lives versus where he works are a harsh reality for most landscapers.

Bichir more than deserves the accolades reaped upon him for this mesmerizing and intelligent role. He quietly portrays an empathetic man who is an unsung hero and a representative of many fathers never getting their due respect, especially if they are undocumented immigrants. When Luis denounces Mexican music, the pain is evident on the face of Carlos as he must endure what surely breaks his heart. The realism and the truth of the characters is led by Bichir.

A Better Life (2011) is a story rich with poignancy and relevance as the plight of a good man is showcased. Now almost ten years ago, the film is arguably more important than ever since immigration has become a hot ticket item in the turbulent political climate. Do hardworking, undocumented people deserve a break for being in the United States? The answer seems obvious and the film skews steadily to the left, but is there really any other strong viewpoint?

A Beautiful Mind-2001

A Beautiful Mind-2001

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,003

Reviewed March 25, 2020

Grade: A-

A Beautiful Mind (2001) is a superior made film based on the life and times of American mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner. The biography explores Nash’s battles with schizophrenia and the delusions he suffered, causing tremendous stress on friends and family. The film is well-written and brilliantly acted, but deserves a demerit for factual inaccuracies, especially related to Nash’s complex sexuality and family life. This leaves a gnawing paint-by-the-numbers approach for mass appeal only.

The film was an enormous success, winning four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Best Original Score. Arguably one of the best films of 2001, it cemented director Ron Howard’s reputation as a mainstream force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood world. The project was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of the same name.

Starting off in 1947, we meet Nash (Russell Crowe) as a virginal and socially awkward college scholar, studying at Princeton University. He is a whiz at science and mathematics, coming up with unique and dynamic ideas to problem-solve. Rising the ranks in respectability, he is given an important job with the United States Department of Defense, tasked with thwarting Soviet plots. He becomes increasingly obsessive about searching for hidden patterns and believes he is being followed, sinking further into depression and secrecy.

A Beautiful Mind is an important film because it brings to light the overwhelming issue of mental health and the struggles one suffering from it is forced to endure. Nash largely lives in a fantasy world and has imaginary friends who have followed him for decades by the time the film ends. Nash conquers his demons with little aid of medication causing a controversial viewpoint. Amazing that the man was able to rise above, but is this a realistic message for those suffering from hallucinations?

Russell Crowe carries the film, fresh off his Oscar win the year before for his stunning turn in Gladiator (2000). Certainly, he would have won for portraying Nash had he not recently received the coveted prize. Crowe, hunky at this point in his life, convincingly brings the brainy and nerdy character, rather than the stud, to life, adding layers of empathy and warmth to the role. We root for the man because he is as much sensitive as he is a genius.

Jennifer Connelly, in what is disparagingly usually described as the wife or the girlfriend role, does her best with the material given. My hunch is her Oscar nomination and surprising win has more to do with piggybacking off the slew of other nominations the film received. She is competent as the supportive yet strong Alicia, wife of Nash. In her best scene, she flees the house after a confused Nash leaves their infant daughter near a full bath tub, putting her life in danger.

The most heartfelt scene of the film occurs during the conclusion. After many years of struggle, Nash eventually triumphs over this tragedy, and finally, late in life, receives the Nobel Prize. This is a grand culmination of the man’s achievements and a sentimental send-off for the film. The aging makeup of all principle characters, specifically Nash and Alicia are brilliantly done.

Despite the heaps of accolades reaped on A Beautiful Mind, several factual points are reduced to non-existence. Questionable is why Howard chose not to explore Nash’s rumored bisexuality, instead passing him off as straight. Admittedly, the film is not about sexuality, but isn’t this a misrepresentation of truth? Nash had a second family, which is also never mentioned. These tidbits eliminated from the film leave a glossy feel, like Howard picked and chose what to tell and not to tell for the sake of the mainstream audience.

Bringing needed attention to a problem of epic proportions, A Beautiful Mind (2001) recognizes the issue of mental health in the United States. The methods may be questionable, and the film has an overall safe “Hollywood” vibe but must be credited for a job well-done in a film that is not only important but displays a good biography for viewers eager to learn about a genius who faced unrelenting issues.

(500) Days of Summer-2009

(500) Days of Summer-2009

Director-Marc Webb

Starring-Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Scott’s Review #1,002

Reviewed March 20, 2020

Grade: B

(500) Days of Summer (2009) is an unconventional love story that deserves props for being different, but never completely catches fire as a film effort. What it tries to do left-of-center from most conventional romantic comedies is to be admired, but I did not feel much connection to the characters and the result seemed pointless.

The independent film garnered some praise for being unique and clever, but this is out-shined by a gnawing, forced feeling, like the filmmakers are trying to be edgy for the sake of being edgy, adding in story elements that are contrived. The lead characters conveniently both like an obscure band and an obscure artist, throwing them immediately together. The film is a modest effort but will only be remembered as an indie project with a bit of unfulfilled potential.

When his girlfriend, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), unceremoniously dumps him, greeting-card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spins into a depression and begins reflecting on the year-long relationship the pair spent together, looking for clues as to what went wrong. As he rummages through the good times and the bad times, his heart reawakens to find what is most important. The Los Angeles backdrop sets the tone for the five-hundred days of Tom and Summer.

Director, Marc Webb, a first-time director at this point, now known more for The Amazing Spider-Man reboot franchise (2012-2014) steers in an experimental direction. Shown somewhat as a “year in the life” in the young lovebirds blossoming relationship, the film is presented in a nonlinear narrative, jumping between various days within the five-hundred days of Tom and Summer’s relationship. There is an on-screen timer showing the day, which is a nice addition.

Props are given for the creativity Webb infuses. The romantic comedy genre, not my favorite, is constantly saturated with formulaic films, predictable from the start. Frequently told from the female perspective, (500) Days of Summer tells the story from the male perspective, even reversing the traditional gender stereotypes. Tom is the lovesick romantic, and Summer the rough and tumble, one-night stand type. This is nuanced and throws the entire genre upside down.

The characters are questionable and the most able to relate to is Tom. There is some confusion and mystery with some motivations. The audience can understand how Tom falls head over heels for Summer, immediately smitten. His depression is deep and to be taken seriously, but he is depressed because of Summer, and any history or previous causes of depression are not mentioned. It feels like his depression is a convenient way of adding a story element.

Summer is even more perplexing and not deeply explored. Is she merely playing the field? After a song and dance scene where she explains she is not looking for anything serious and wants a casual romance, she suddenly marries another man. She hurriedly tells Tom that she discovered her husband was her true love and that she now believes in love, whereas Tom doesn’t anymore. Again, this feels more like story-line dictated writing versus anything character-rich.

Despite receiving a Best Screenplay Independent Spirit Award nomination, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and oodles of praise, (500) Days of Summer (2009) is a non-conformist piece with some nice moments but feels irrelevant. The lead actors are talented and do a decent job with the material given, but meander through the experience since it is more about the film than the acting. The result is not a pure dud, but neither is it a pedigree winner.

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