Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Director-Matt Tyrnauer

Starring-Scotty Bowers

Scott’s Review #1,048

Reviewed August 3, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tin Drum-1979

The Tin Drum-1979

Director-Volker Schlöndorff

Starring-David Bennent, Angela Winkler

Scott’s Review #1,047

Reviewed July 31, 2020

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

When a Stranger Calls-1979

When a Stranger Calls-1979

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Tony Beckley

Scott’s Review #1,046

Reviewed July 29, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honeyland-2019

Honeyland-2019

Director-Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Starring-Hatidze Muratova

Scott’s Review #1,045

Reviewed July 27, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

For Sama-2019

For Sama-2019

Director-Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Starring-Waad al-Kateab, Hanza al-Kateab

Scott’s Review #1,044

Reviewed July 25, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

Frozen II-2019

Frozen II-2019

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

Scott’s Review #1,043

Reviewed July 22, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain and Glory-2019

Pain and Glory-2019

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,042

Reviewed July 20, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Ford v Ferrari-2019

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Matt Damon, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #1,041

Reviewed July 18, 2020

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready or Not-2019

Ready or Not-2019

Director-Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

Starring-Samara Weaving, Adam Brody

Scott’s Review #1,040

Reviewed July 16, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Vault of Horror-1973

Vault of Horror-1973

Director-Roy Ward Baker

Starring-Curd Jurgens, Daniel Massey

Scott’s Review #1,038

Reviewed June 26, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

Framing Story- A

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

Midnight Mess- A

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

The Neat Job- A

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

The Trick’ll Kill You- A-

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

Bargain in Death- B+

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

Drawn and Quartered- A

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

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

Night of the Demon-1957

Night of the Demon-1957

Director-Jacques Tourneur 

Starring-Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins

Scott’s Review #1,037

Reviewed June 25, 2020

Grade: B+

There is something very soothing about 1950’s British horror films. Whether it’s the intelligence, the accents, or the elements, they differ from American horror films of the decade. Arguably, they are just better. The horror genre, already existing in cinema for decades, creates a clever story about a curse. Night of the Demon (1957) provides great visual effects within its black and white cinematography that are effective and make the look work well. That said, the hype surrounding this film as one of the greatest horror films of all time is unwarranted.

When I think of the greatest of all horror films, selections such as Halloween (1978), The Shining (1980), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) come to the forefront on the American front while Peeping Tom (1960) and Frenzy (1972) must be mentioned as for British films. Night of the Demon, while above average and having risen to prominence and rediscovery as a cult classic doesn’t completely deliver the goods.

To provide a bit of contextual background, the film was plagued with issues and differences of opinion that are plausible proof of messiness upon dissection. The original ninety-five-minute British feature was trimmed down to eighty-three minutes and re-titled Curse of the Demon for the United States market, playing there in 1958 as the second half of a double feature. Additionally, there was a dispute between director and producer whether to show the creature on-screen. Producer edited footage before release which results in continuity issues. Night of the Demon is the pure British version.

Dana Andrews, best known for The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, stars as Doctor John Holden, an American psychology professor who visits Britain to attend a conference led by the deceased Professor Harrington. Harrington is killed by electrocution after seeing a creature emerge from the trees. His niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) also arrives to attend her uncle’s funeral and teams with Holden to determine a connection between Harrington and satanic cultist, Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). The cultist lives with his mother in a lavish stately manner. 

Let’s outline what works best in Night of the Demon. The visual aspects are superb and deserving of accolades. During a party at the Karswell home, the cultist wills a swirling windstorm to develop that is as frightening as it is realistic. Of curiosity is whether Alfred Hitchcock studied this scene to a similar one in The Birds (1963) where the female star shuffles a group of children at a party in from danger. The scene is professional and authentic.

The climax of the film, amid a dark train track, is one of the best. The ambiance is frightful and well-paced, just what a finale to a film is supposed to be. Karswell, eventually followed by a piece of parchment with runic writing on it, supposedly part of an ancient curse, is terrifying. It’s like he is being chased and pursued. Holden can pass the curse (meant for him) back to Karswell, who is inevitably ripped to ribbons by a speeding train. Why is a scene of peril amid a train always so compelling? The sense of adventure, dread, horror, and the macabre, all reconvene in this important scene. Naturally, the creature reappears.

The romance between Holden and Joanna is mediocre at best and unnecessary to the main plot of the film. It’s as if someone decided a romance was needed between the male and female principles and Holden and Joanna were it. There is little chemistry nor do the duo need to be romantically intertwined- it serves little purpose other than providing them with a reason to sleuth together. The decision seems more like a measure of cinematic tradition of that time than any real story purpose. It’s not an irritant, nor is it a positive.

The creature is not scary, and the film would have been better leaving it out. Sometimes, especially in horror, what is not seen is scarier than what is scene. The creature is preliminary and amateurish at best and provides no fright value. It appears to be made of clay or plastic.

Night of the Demon (1957) is a horror film that I would like to see again and perhaps study deeper. It contains rich special effects and wonderful black and white cinematography that enrich the visual treats. The story of an ancient curse and a riveting speeding train climax that would make Hitchcock take notice are praiseworthy. But I still do not understand the greatest of the horror greats categorization.

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural-1973

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural-1973

Director-Richard Blackburn

Starring-Cheryl Smith. Leslie Gilb

Scott’s Review #1,036

Reviewed June 22, 2020

Grade: A-

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) is a bizarre and fascinating horror film and a great example of 1970’s experimental cinema. At the risk of stating that there may be a tad too much exploration going on since aspects go in many directions, the film is the perfect watch for a late weekend night extravaganza of the weird and wild and is a joy to view. The fact that I am still thinking about the film days after watching is a tremendous sign. Vampires, creepy clown-like figures, a reverend, a blood-thirsty woman, and a thirteen-year-old girl make up the cast of unusual characters to feast ones’ eyes upon in delight.

During the Prohibition-era of southern United States of America, a young, angelic girl named Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) slips out one night to look for her gangster father after an anonymous and cryptic tip. Lila is someone of note in her small town, envied by many in the church where she preaches with the local Reverend (Richard Blackburn). She treks along swampy territory to the strange town, Astaroth where her father is being held. After Lila is attacked by vampires a strange woman named Lemora (Lesley Gilb) helps her and gives her a place to reside, but Lila soon begins to wonder if Lemora is a friend or a foe.

For such a low-budget affair the visual details are superb. The photography and the use of lighting are particularly honorable. Many characters ooze with glowing fright especially Lemora. The ghostly white color enhances her blood red lips offering a pasty and haunting image that is ghastly to the eyes. If done at a sloppy level the result could easily have been juvenile or comedic (not in a good way), but the elements fall together in an easy flow that combines horrific details that fascinate.

The best characters are Lila and Lemora and their scenes together are immense. Gilb is the standout and brings a monotone, wide-eyed performance reminiscent of a talking Bride of Frankenstein. She frightens the audience, to say nothing of Lila, and is a fantastic villain. Beautiful and erotic, her sexuality is in question. Lila, young, fresh-faced, and developing, is ripe for the picking by Lemora, but I was perplexed if Lemora wanted her blood, or her other parts. The vague, but suggested lesbianism and sexual abuse of a child only enhances the mystique and macabre qualities. When Lemora bathes Lila this is where it’s most evident.

I adore films that challenge the norm and attempt to break the mold of your typical carbon copy film or a formulaic script, but there is none to be had in Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural and it keeps the viewer guessing. Comparisons to the brilliant The Night of the Hunter (1955) have been made and while I don’t quite see that, a chilling fairy tale concept exists. Think Hansel and Gretel, the Brothers Grimms German fairy tale, sans Hansel. Lila’s pigtails and little girl dress give her a child’s vulnerability and appearance.

While deserving of credit for bravery and letting loose from a story perspective, there is a measure of disorder and confusion as to what is really going on that perplexed me. Blackburn, who also plays the Reverend, offers many creatures who are on the attack, coming out of nowhere to scare Lila. Unclear is who they are (or were!) and what their motivations are. Why does Lemora like to feed on children? Is she holding Lila’s father captive to lure her into her clutches? Is Lila’s blood more desirable then other children’s? The plot points are uneven but maybe that doesn’t really matter.

A suggestion, if plausible, is to check out the uncut version of the film. I saw the cut version which was trimmed by nearly forty minutes and released theatrically in late 1974. Tough to find, I wonder if this would provide more clarity to several plot items. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) was heavily criticized by the Catholic Legion of Decency who deemed it “anti-Catholic”, which is more than enough reason to give it a whirl.

Richard Jewell-2019

Richard Jewell-2019

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates

Scott’s Review #1,035

Reviewed June 19, 2020

Grade: B

With most Clint Eastwood films, especially in the latter part of his career, one should expect a mainstream story with a conservative edge. The man has lost his touch with age, unlike greats like Martin Scorsese. This may not always make for the most cutting-edge cinematic experience, but the results can still be compelling. Richard Jewell (2019) was not on my radar but for the last minute, surprising Oscar nomination for Kathy Bates. I am still smarting that she presumably took the last spot over the snubbed Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers-2019). But I digress.

As anticipated, the project has a predictable edge and a safe feel, Eastwood clearly sending a nasty note to the media and to the FBI shaming them for their corruption and ineptness. The biography, centering around the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and its aftermath during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, tells the story in a nicely paced way but feels light, pulling too much of a right-wing slant. Lead actor Paul Walter Hauser is the best part of the film, providing empathy and heroism to his character, the one and only Richard Jewell.

Our title character is an overweight, average-looking man who lives with his mother in a modest apartment in Georgia. He works as a supply clerk in a small law firm where he meets arrogant attorney Watson Bryant (Rockwell). They bond over video games and become fast friends. The time is 1986. Jewell, aspiring to become a police officer, lands a job as a security guard at Piedmont College, where he is subsequently fired for overstepping his grounds. Finally, he begins a job running security for a concert series near the Olympic games. He has a keen eye for law enforcement and is passionate about doing his job well.

Hauser, who had supporting roles in I, Tonya (2017) and in BlacKkKlansman (2018), has reached his breakout role.  Hauser makes the character likable and loyal. Law and order are his passions and he eat, sleeps, and breathes the life. The actor makes the audience know that Richard is not dumb. He is highly intelligent but has not been handed an easy life. The relationship with his mother is touching and he genuinely wants to protect those who he serves.

As far as the supporting roles go, Rockwell is fantastic as Watson, who ultimately defends Richard against the FBI. With wit, sarcasm, and outrage, his passion comes across on screen as a gruff but loyal friend. Other big-name stars are not as lucky with their roles. Jon Hamm plays FBI Agent Tom Shaw, a made-up character who wants to railroad Richard at all costs. He tricks Richard into stating a confession that he records. Olivia Wilde is Kathy Scruggs, an unpleasant journalist who will trade sex for stories. The character is unlikable, and rumors abound that the writing is sharply embellished. Both Hamm and Wilde suffer from one-note characters.

Let’s discuss Kathy Bates’s performance. Bates is a legendary actress and well-regarded. In film, her best role is of the maniacal Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990). Throughout recent years she has brightened the small screen with daring and unique roles on American Horror Story. Her role as the sympathetic and kindly Bobi Jewell is not one of her best. There is nothing wrong with her performance, but the character never has a big memorable scene.

Unclear is the historical accuracy of the story and my hunch is that liberties could offer good drama. Inexplicable is the omission of anything related to the real bomber, who is never mentioned. What were his motivations? Whatever happened to him? Viewers can do their own research, but a real miss is to not include this. The story only centers around Richard’s accusers and attempted railroading simply because he fits the profile of a bomber. The film could have gone further.

Also, viewers are left with no knowledge that Richard traditionally put a rose on one of the bombing victims grave or other niceties that could have been included. Why did Eastwood need to hammer home the point that Richard was fretting about the perception that he may have been gay? True or false the point feels like a homophobic tidbit thrown in to appeal to a likely redneck audience.

Richard Jewell (2019) will not appear on Eastwood’s “greatest hits” of top films or even top 10 lists. Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) would get my votes for “best of”. The film is only a slightly above average biography of a falsely accused man eventually gaining justice. The spin is a politically conservative one of a main character portrayed as a hero meeting unfortunate circumstances.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Kathy Bates

A Prophet-2009

A Prophet-2009

Director-Jacques Audiard

Starring-Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #1,034

Reviewed June 18, 2020

Grade: A-

A Prophet (2009), known as Un prophète in the French language, is a prison drama/crime thriller made exceptionally well and told from a character perspective rather than a plot angle. Skirting any traditional genre prison characteristics, the film instead crafts a character study with the conflicting emotions of its main character taking center stage. The result is a layered, complex experience led by a brilliant acting turn by actor Tahar Rahim.

Malik (Rahim) is a nineteen-year-old French youth of Algerian descent imprisoned for six years for attacking police officers. Friendless and unable to read, he is vulnerable and coaxed into murdering a witness involved in a crucial trial. He becomes embroiled in tensions between the Corsicans and Muslims who populate much of the prison. Malik cannot forget his participation in a murder, tortures himself, and has frequent nightmares of the incident. He slowly rises the ranks of power within the prison community becoming involved in dangerous events and pivoting from meek to feared.

Largely avoided are overused prison elements common in many films of similar ilk. In other films, humor or standard dramatic situations occur that make a watered-down experience. A Prophet breathes fresh life into the prison film, albeit grisly and violent life. The film is not for everyone and is extremely dark, even brutal at times. During murder scenes, blood and guts are spilled at an alarming rate, and there ceases to exist many characters to sympathize with. Malik is the main character but is an opportunist, readily doing what he must to gain power and control. Can we blame him? No.

Malik is a complex and nuanced character who is a joy to watch and dissect. He starts his prison tenure as a naive and timid boy, illiterate and easily manipulated. Over time, he grows into a seasoned gangster becoming involved in intricate plots and messy situations. Actor Tahar Rahim successfully makes the character both likable and detestable, fleshing him out so the audience will love and hate him. This is the mark of a wonderful actor who can give complicated dynamics to the character.

Prison life is portrayed exceptionally well by director Jacques Audiard, who relays an authentic representation. It was good enough to make me never want to be imprisoned anyway. He wisely hired former convicts as both extras and advisors to flesh out the experience. Life in prison, Audiard style, is not a rosy picture, but one filled with pain, fright, and violence. The Arab population, woefully underrepresented in cinema, is given a voice.

Another subject matter, homosexuality, a popular addition in prison films is not explored. Mostly played either for laughs or providing a conveniently situational plot device, A Prophet does not need the inclusion, too much else is going on. Although a titillating prospect for many, the subject may have added a sexual or romantic angle taking away from the main point of the film, which is one man’s journey within the prison system.

Told from one man’s viewpoint, A Prophet (2009) is a triumphant French film that deservedly received accolades for its courage and realistic feel. Starring a young actor with great potential and a brave director unafraid to develop logical storytelling and avoid typical traits, one wonders what their next project will be. Violent gangs, corrupt guards, and impressionable prisoners would be a good way to continue.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Foreign Film

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,033

Reviewed June 16, 2020

Grade: B

The final film by legendary and influential director Robert Altman is not his greatest work. If I were to compare A Prairie Home Companion (2006) to another of Altman’s pictures it would be Nashville (1975) both having grassroots entertainment similarities. The latter combines satire amid a political rally in a southern city while the former celebrates behind the scenes events at a long-running radio show in Minneapolis.

Difficult to criticize anything a genius does, my expectation was much more than was given. The film plods along with little excitement or juiciness ever happening so the experience is to enjoy the standard Altman fixtures like a huge cast, overlapping dialogue, and witty chatter. A melancholy effort since no new material will ever be released by the cinema great, but a chance to celebrate his achievements all the same.

Set in present times, events take place in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a chilly city in the United States mid-west. A long-running live radio variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, prepares for its final broadcast. The radio station’s new parent company has scheduled the show’s home, the storied Fitzgerald Theater, for demolition and dispatched “the Axeman” (Tommy Lee Jones) to judge whether to save the show. Prospects are grim as radio shows are deemed a thing of the past and irrelevant.

The many radio stars revel and reminisce in memories as they prepare for cancellation. Led by the singing Johnson Girls, Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and sister Rhonda (Lily Tomlin), and daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) who are most prominent, other characters include cowboy duo Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly); pregnant PA Molly (Maya Rudolph) and the show’s creator and host, Garrison Keillor. A spirit known as “Dangerous Woman” (Virginia Madsen) also joins the group.

Star-power is not the issue here and pleasing is to witness a bevy of A-list Hollywood stars duke it out for screen-time. Anyone possessing knowledge of Altman knows that he was an actor’s director, meaning he let his actors truly shine and interpret what the motivations of the characters were. Garrison Keillor, who wrote the piece, follows Altman’s lead in this area letting the cast try and bring to life what is on the written page. Unfortunately, they fail.

While meandering greatly, A Prairie Home Companion has an earthy and humanistic theater troupe quality. The stars of the radio show are like family and cling to each other for moral support during uncertainty. This feels nice to the viewer as a common compassion is endearing, many of the individuals have spent decades together. Their stories and experiences resonate warmly, and one can’t help but being sucked into their lives.

The problem with this is that the stories go on and on and quickly seem pointless. There is little doubt whether the show will close. While the people are enamoring nothing much really happens in the film and it becomes a bore. The character interactions lack any energy and do not carry the film in any direction. They merely are what they are.

I can appreciate a slow build if there eventually is a pay-off. A Prairie Home Companion (2006) never achieves full-throttle or hits the gas petal so that the film exists but doesn’t shine. With masterpieces such as The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975), and 3 Women (1977) my expectations were soaring so that may be a part of my let down. Prairie Home is not included in my go-to catalog of Altman greats and would teeter at the bottom of a master ranking of his films.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

Director-Stephen Hopkins

Starring-Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,032

Reviewed June 12, 2020

Grade: C+

When one compares A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) to the first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), made merely five years prior, the latter is shockingly bad, but rated on its own merits it is okay with both creative and silly moments. The franchise feels exhausted at this point, a long rest recommended, as too many cheesy and doltish moments make this installment more of a comic failure with rarely any scary or sinister moments. A watered down and forgettable entry in a series once blooming with potential. Sadly, it would only be two years before another Nightmare was released.

With a mother theme complete, nearly all the parents and children involved in Freddy Krueger’s original story-line dead and buried, a dream sequence double-shot contained within parts 3 and 4, the logical next idea is to utilize a child story. This is not a bad idea given that Freddy was accused of child molestation, but the intention to produce a spawn of Freddy is less than marvelous. The Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019) took this cue with Seed of Chucky in 2004.

Once again, a year has passed since the events of the previous entry as Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) cheerily date and enjoy their lives together as they graduate from high school. They are accompanied by friends Greta, Yvonne, and Mark. When Alice has a strange dream about a nun, a mental hospital, and an attack by patients, Dan stresses that she controls her own dreams. As the dreams, persist she begins to have nightmares of Freddy and a strange baby. When Alice and Dan learn they are pregnant, things become violent when Dan and the others are systematically killed off in their dreams while Alice is deemed “crazy”.

A pleasantry to mention is that at least the film offers a slight measure of consistency and continuity as we are reintroduced to Alice and Dan, familiar characters from Part 4. The film wisely keeps the same actors to avoid the jarring disruption that existed in Part 4 when a startling recast was made of its main character from Part 3. Johnson and Jordan are not the greatest actors nor are the supporting cast, but great acting ability is a nicety not a necessity in slasher films.

The visuals are also entertaining, which have habitually been good throughout each of the chapters. Some animated sequences emerge particularly within the dream sequences. The kills and attacks are also well crafted as when a comic book artist is terrorized by Freddy and when one victim, Greta, eats herself alive. There is more humor to the kills than in other installments. Greta’s death is almost revenge against her controlling mother, who is weight conscious. When Greta chokes to death (in real life) she drops dead in front of her mother and their dinner guests. The scene is macabre black humor.

Otherwise, the film is very familiar territory. The baby topic culminates in a wacky sequence that does not work well and is implausible even for a horror film. In dreams, Freddy is feeding his victims to the baby (strangely, named Jacob- wouldn’t Freddy Jr. have been cleverer?) as nourishment to make him be like Freddy. In the real world, Dan’s (now dead) parents demand the baby from Alice when it is born. This is a silly television afternoon special moment. The story concludes with Alice going to sleep to fight Freddy and save her son, which she naturally does.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, 1989 was a paltry year in cinema and specifically in the slasher genre. Quite successful during the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, it became over-saturated and riddled with carbon copies. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) is a forgettable film offering little to distinguish itself from other chapters. In its defense, how could it, being the fifth release in six years? A feeble attempt by the studio to capitalize financially on a name brand that has run out of steam.

Harriet-2019

Harriet-2019

Director-Kasi Lemmons

Starring-Cynthia Erivo

Scott’s Review #1,031

Reviewed June 10, 2020

Grade: B

The story of real-life American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, a woman who risked her life multiple times to rescue slaves from the United States of America South, pre-civil war, is a story of monumental importance to get right. An escaped slave herself, Harriet was more than an Abolitionist, she was a political activist and hero to all whose lives she touched. She was a figure that all women and men should aspire to emulate with her message of freedom and civility.

The cinematic telling of Harriet’s story, simply titled Harriet (2019), is a mild success, mostly deserving of praise for being told at all.  At well over one-hundred and fifty years post-civil war, racism still runs rampant across the United States, so the release of the film is important. A gutsy performance by Cynthia Erivo, a British singer turned actor, is the high point but unfortunately, the rest of the offering is lackluster, frighteningly modern in look and feel, with clear heroes and clear villains and nobody with muddied motivations to be found anywhere.

We first meet young Harriet (Erivo), then named “Minty” Ross, in 1840’s Maryland, then a slave state. She is to be married to her intended, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), already a free man. Minty’s father, also free, asks her owner to release her as his grandfather had promised before his demise. Refusing, his son, Gideon (Joe Alwyn) decides to sell Minty as punishment. Savvy, Minty flees for the northern states and settles in Philadelphia, a newly free woman with her life ahead of her. She risks capture and death to return to Maryland, in disguise, to rescue her family from the horrors of slavery.

Her plight was so important and so heroic that I really wanted to love this film. To be fair, it is okay, but does not do justice to the real-life Harriet, or succeed as a cinematic offering. The weakest point is the modern look that the film and the actors possess, and I think this was done intentionally. Every single actor, black and white, looks like a present day’s actor dressed in mid-nineteenth century garb and it does not work. My hunch is that film makers wanted this to add relevancy to the current racial problems and I am all for that, but the film suffers as a result.

I am all for feminism in cinema, but Harriet can be accurately accused of stomping that point into the ground. During some of the numerous action sequences when Harriet becomes a flawless sharpshooter, she nearly rivals a Marvel superhero instead of a simple woman championing a cause. And why is Harriet psychic? This is a silly addition that feels plot driven. Director Kasi Lemmons, known for films like Eve’s Bayou (1997) and Black Nativity (2013) knows her way around a picture, but Harriet will not be known as her finest achievement.

There are some positives to mention. Erivo, not known for her acting as much as her singing ability, rises to the occasion. Viola Davis nearly ended up being cast, who would have been brilliant, but Erivo nonetheless impresses. She is pretty, yet plain which humanizes Harriet and makes her relatable to many. Erivo provides both toughness and sympathy so that the audience will champion her cause without it feeling forced. Early in the year, thought to be a lock for the Best Actress Oscar, the film lost ground critically, and Erivo limped to an Oscar nod, and she was lucky to get that. She lost.

The cinematography is credible and another positive to the film. The green, lush landscapes are very southern and peaceful, roaring rapids, bridges, and spacious forests making for atmospheric niceties serving as backdrops for many sequences. Casting Janelle Monae as the gorgeous (and free) Marie Buchanan is fine and adds a Color Purple (1985) comparison-think Celie/Shug Avery. Ironically, the acting among the black actors is superior to the mostly over-the-top or cartoon-like white actors.

Best described as a formulaic Hollywood film with a good message, Harriet (2019) could be a launching pad for Erivos, a new name in Hollywood film. She tackles a difficult role and is the best thing about the production. The sleekness and modernism make the resulting experience less than the grittiness that a film like Harriet needs. Much better biographies of legendary figures exist, a shame since Harriet Tubman is one of the most prominent to have their stories told on the big screen.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Cynthia Erivos, Best Original Song-“Stand Up”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

Director-Renny Harlin

Starring-Robert Englund, Tuesday Knight, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,030

Reviewed June 8, 2020

Grade: B-

By 1988, a tepid year in cinema, and with the slasher genre nearly being dead on arrival, the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) had the cards stacked against it. The franchise feels tired and out of gas by this point so more comedy and humorous lines were added along with a return to a similar concept offered in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), the dream sequences. The film is so-so with not much making it stand-out as compared to the superior first three offerings. Thankfully, Robert Englund is the mainstay and main attraction.

A year after the events of the previous film, Kristen (Tuesday Knight) and her friends have been released from the stifling Westin Hills sanitarium, putting the horrific events behind them. Their attempts to resume normal teenage activities like attending class and partying are thwarted by Freddy Krueger (Englund) who begins to infiltrate Kristen’s dreams. Per usual, a fresh batch of teenagers is along for the ride as they struggle to stay awake by watching Music Television (MTV) and revisiting the lavish junkyard featured in the previous installment.

The redundancy of another franchise film using the tired “one year later” to begin events anew is feeling like a cliché. Main character Kristen being played by a different actress does not help the film only making it lack any consistency, the fact that actress Patricia Arquette had little interest in returning for a round two in the role is not the films fault, but a brand-new character instead of a recast might not have been a bad idea. Recasting prominent roles may work in daytime soap operas but not in the movies.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, while quite similar to its predecessor, Dream Warriors, so much so that they could easily be watched in tandem, has some positive qualities. I love the MTV angle, the network music channel overtaking nearly every United States teenager’s living room or bedroom throughout the 1980’s. If the film makers wanted to get teenagers who might not necessarily watch horror films, this was a perfect marketing tool. The target audience is perfectly aligned, and the film feels fresh and relevant for its time of release.

The drawback to the above point is that making a film that is timely means that decades later its risk is being referred to as “of its time”, and sadly that is what has happened with Dream Master. Nobody will scramble to watch this installment when other better chapters are out there. There may hardly be a reason to watch this one against unless a Nightmare marathon is on the docket. The junkyard set and the creepy church set are very good, so the film does well from a visual perspective.

Englund is Freddy and his familiarity cannot be dismissed, but the actor seems to be phoning in his performance by this point in the franchise. Finally receiving top billing, as he should, he shares his familiar witty remarks and playfully taunts his victims like a cat would before pouncing on a mouse. The actor adds even more humor to his one-liners, but this sacrifices the horrific moments of which there are not many. A successful horror/comedy fusion is a delicate balance and there is not enough meat on the bone.

Entertaining at best, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) is not well remembered, nor should it be. A dated affair, with emotionless teenage actors needing acting lessons and surely never to be heard from again, round out the cast led by Robert Englund. The film is a letdown because it is too much like Dream Warrior and suffers from too much predictability.

Suspicion-1941

Suspicion-1941

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Carey Grant, Joan Fontaine

Scott’s Review #1,029

Reviewed June 3, 2020

Grade: B+

An early American effort by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (1941), follows the Oscar winning Rebecca (1940) with a similar themed film. A dazzling beauty (Joan Fontaine) is manipulated by her charming husband (Carey Grant) but is he gaslighting her and plotting her death or is it all in her mind? The puzzle unfolds with a sizzling final thirty minutes that eclipses the remainder of the film, which drags and plods along slowly.

Wealthy but insecure Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine) meets handsome and irresponsible playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) on a train in England. He charms her into eloping despite the strong disapproval of her father, General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) who thinks Johnnie is after the family money. After a lavish honeymoon and return to an extravagant new home, Lina discovers that Johnnie has no job and no income, habitually lives on borrowed money, and was intending to try to sponge off her father. She talks him into getting a job, which he ends up embezzling from.

Lina begins to think that not only is Johnnie after her money but intends to kill her. She becomes aware of his financial schemes and motivations, feeling conflicted over her love for him and her own survival. Events kick into high gear after a friend’s death, an insurance policy, and discussions with an author friend, Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee), a writer of mystery novels, about untraceable poisons. A bizarre dinner conversation surrounding ways to get away with murder cause Lina to start unraveling.

Many suspensions of disbelief must be contained in frustrating measure throughout most of the film and a bothersome level of female mistreatment is to be endured. Gnawing at me from the very first scene is the insecurity of Lina. She is gorgeous, rich, and intelligent so why does she feel, and is perceived even by her parents, as a lonely spinster certain to become an old maid. Despite Hitchcock’s love of glasses on female characters, brandishing Lina with gawky bifocals hardly makes her an ugly duckling. Johnnie’s nicknaming her “monkeyface” is jarring and insulting.

The determination to not make Hollywood royalty Carey Grant too bad of a guy does not work. It feels like a weak effort to suddenly go in a different story direction to thwart the perception of a character as not a villain but someone to feel sympathetic towards. Unclear is if this was Hitchcock’s decision or the mighty studio’s (my best guess would be the latter since Hitchcock was not afraid to take risks). The audience hardly has a chance to let their emotions marinate as the big reveal quickly culminates in the end credits rolling and the film concluding.

A significant positive to Spellbound are the hidden tidbits brewing beneath the main saga of the Hollywood glamour boy and girl (Grant and Fontaine). A clever LGBTQ+ revelation among two supporting characters can be unearthed, decades before the terminology was even invented. Hitchcock loved his gay characters, who could not be openly gay at the time, though the director did his best to offer the now obvious idiosyncrasies. Sophisticated Isobel seems to live alone in her quaint and lovely cottage, but during a dinner party, a blonde woman wearing a suit and tie, clearly butch, joins the conversation. As Isobel asks her to pour more wine, we realize she is hardly a servant but Isobel’s lesbian lover!

The stunning yet highly subtle revelation is prominent to eagle-eyed viewers cagey enough to catch on. Besides these lovely ladies, an odd-looking male dinner guest wearing glasses and discussing murder novels is an interesting character though we see little of him. The same can be said for Lina’s sophisticated mother, Mrs. Martha McLaidlaw (Dame May Whitty), and Lina and Johnnie’s maid, Ethel (Heather Angel). Both, playing small roles, add subtle delights to the film.

Suspicion (1941) is an early Hitchcock film that flies under the radar, rarely mentioned among his best works. The film is a tough sell for its tedious pace, the inexplicable insecurity of the lead character, and an unfulfilling story conclusion. The suspense and activity in the final act (mostly the stunning edge of the cliff car drive) promotes the film to an above average rating, but grander and greater works were soon to follow in the decades ahead. The most fun is noticing the delicious peculiarities of the bevy of interesting supporting characters.

Oscar Nominations: Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Actress-Joan Fontaine (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

Director-Chuck Russell

Starring-Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,028

Reviewed May 29, 2020

Grade: B+

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is a credible effort for taking the, at this point, tired slasher genre in a new direction, using style and special effects to its advantage. The film is not a work of art and carefully does not stray too far from the norm to risk losing the target audience, but the experiment works, providing the film with a fresh feel. Thankfully, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in tow providing wit and humor and rich character history rarely seen in horror.

One year following the events of the previous chapter, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) awakens following a nightmare of being chased by Freddy Krueger, to find him in her bathroom where she is attacked again. Her mother believes that she is suicidal and sends her to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, where Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson). The rest of the events of the film mainly take place in this setting. A new intern therapist, Nancy, (Heather Langenkamp) takes an interest in Kristen’s case.

In two clever plot twists, one a bit too coincidental, Nancy reveals to the remaining patients that they are the “last of the Elm Street kids”, the surviving children of the people who banded together and burned Krueger to death many years ago. The second is more intriguing as a nun named Sister Mary Helena (Nan Martin) provides history of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger, who turn out to be one in the same. This humanizes Freddy a bit and provides layers to his story rather than just another “slice ’em and dice ’em” horror film.

The film has a way of gathering curiosity and delivering the goods with dreams and hypnosis and mental synapses, as the kids realize they have dream powers that culminate in a group adventure. Perfect for the mental hospital setting. The junkyard sequence that provides the climax with so much muscle is splendid adding creative and colorful bits of junk, littering the entire set with rusty tin trinkets and other nooks and crannies to marvel at. A feast for the eyes and a perfect backdrop for evil and killings. The set design works tremendously well in this film.

Familiar character Nancy played once again by Langenkamp (the main girl from the first Nightmare) is a nice touch of recognition that will please fans immensely. A returning favorite in a horror franchise is always a smart move. The casting of esteemed character actress Nan Martin, who can frighten the pants off anyone if given a good part, is a divine decision. The actress even resembles legendary actress Betsy Palmer (familiar to Friday the 13th fans as the dreadful Mrs. Voorhees). The creepy mommy theme so often works well in horror films and this inclusion is no exception.

The theme song to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a pop-metal treat written and performed by the heavy metal band Dokken. This inclusion assuredly brought the teenage girls and the mullet crowd alike to movie theaters across America. The song is catchy and can easily be head-banged to as the end credits roll across the screen. Even more impressive are that the lyrics make sense from a story perspective since dreams are a huge part of the franchise and of this specific installment.

Nearly rivaling the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in originality and plot, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warrior (1987) does a fantastic job bringing energy to a fading genre, one not to be rejuvenated for another nine years when Scream (1996) debuted. Engaging and brightly lit razzle-dazzle visual sets within dreams are pulse-racing and creative, while a mother story crafts fresh air. This film is the sequel high-point to a series of duds soon to follow.

Torture Garden-1968

Torture Garden-1968

Director-Freddie Francis

Starring-Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #1,027

Reviewed May 28, 2020

Grade: B

A horror offering made up of multiple vignettes is a treat as we get numerous stories, especially with some late 1960’s British sophistication peppered in. Torture Garden (1968) contains four stories- Enoch, Terror over Hollywood, Mr. Steinway and The Man Who Collected Poe, each with some intrigue. The structure may be most comparable to The Twilight Zone television series, but in a British way. Terror over Hollywood is my personal favorite.

Burgess Meredith (yes, that Burgess Meredith of the Batman television series) stars as Doctor Diabolo, a sinister con-artist who runs an attraction at a fairground sideshow. Having shown them a handful of tepid haunted house-style gimmicks to whet their appetites, he promises them a frightening experience if they pay extra. Of course, they are immediately taken and when they follow him behind a curtain, one by one they view their fates through a transfixed female deity Atropos (Clytie Jessop). The stories commence through a hallucinogenic method.

Below is a summary and review of each vignette.

In Enoch, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) a greedy playboy with money troubles, takes advantage of his elderly uncle (Maurice Denham), by causing his death and falling under the spell of a man-eating cat. Colin is determined to find his uncle’s riches, leading him to desperation. The plot is far-fetched but the black cat with glowing green-eyes is memorable as are the be-headings of a homeless man, a nurse, and finally, the playboy himself. When the cat finally puts another person under the spell the conclusion is satisfying.

Terror over Hollywood travels across the pond to the United States and introduces a tale of jealousy, schemes, and intrigue in La La Land. The vignette most resembles Invasion of the Body Snatchers in theme and is quite compelling. Carla Hayes (Beverley Adams) is a beautiful, aspiring actress intent on clawing her way to the top by any necessary means. After she ruins her roommate’s dress and steals her date, she embarks on a strange journey that leads her to a role in a film, but there is a price to pay. Adams is a stellar star who brings life and energy to the story.

Providing the most bizarre of all the vignette’s Mr. Steinway involves a possessed grand piano by the name of Euterpe who becomes jealous of its owner Leo’s (John Standing) new lover Dorothy (Barbara Ewing) and goes on the attack seeking revenge. The story is Dorothy’s, who is one of the sideshow patrons, so the events are shown from her perspective. The story contains plenty of loopholes, but fascinating is to see the enormous and gorgeous piano come to life as a character and push Dorothy out the window plummeting to her death.

Finally, in The Man Who Collected Poe, a Poe collector (Jack Palance) murders another collector (Peter Cushing) over collectables he refuses to show him, only to find that the keepsake is the real Edgar Allan Poe (Hedger Wallace). Seeing both the esteemed real-life figure and horror legend Cushing makes this chapter enjoyable even though it is the least compelling of the bunch. Having the knowledge that Torture Garden was originally meant to star Cushing and Christopher Lee detracts from the film just a bit. One can only imagine the possibilities.

In the epilogue, which proves to be a clever twist, the mysterious fifth patron (Michael Ripper) scares the others into fleeing for their lives before revealing that he is a conspirator of Doctor Diabolo’s. The group is proven to be merely gullible rubes, left with the belief that a murder has occurred and their fates will come true. The film espouses black magic and the occult in a fun way but not a frightening way. This is both a positive and a negative since witchcraft never felt so family friendly.

Torture Garden (1968) is not the best horror anthology ever created, nor is it the worst. The plots are uneven but entertaining and never dull. The creative additions of a killer piano, a killer cat, and famed storyteller Edgar Allen Poe are worth the price of admission as is the centerpiece villain played by the great actor Burgess Meredith, who helps keep the plot moving along.

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!

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!