All posts by scottmet99

A Dangerous Method-2011

A Dangerous Method-2011

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #1,009

Reviewed April 9, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Director-Gary Dauberman

Starring-Mckenna Grace, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Scott’s Review #1,008

Reviewed April 7, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Confess-1953

I Confess-1953

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter

Scott’s Review #1,007

Reviewed April 2, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director-Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring-Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus-1960

Exodus-1960

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #1,005

Reviewed March 30, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Better Life-2011

A Better Life-2011

Director-Chris Weitz

Starring-Demian Bichir, Jose Julian

Scott’s Review #1,004

Reviewed March 26, 2020

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful Mind-2001

A Beautiful Mind-2001

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,003

Reviewed March 25, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(500) Days of Summer-2009

(500) Days of Summer-2009

Director-Marc Webb

Starring-Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Scott’s Review #1,002

Reviewed March 20, 2020

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50/50-2011

50/50-2011

Director-Jonathan Levine

Starring-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #1,001

Reviewed March 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The subject matter of cancer is an incredibly tricky one to portray in film. Especially tough when any comedic bits are incorporated- the risk lies in jokes not going over well or being misinterpreted. With 50/50, director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser craft and intelligent and genuine story, based on a true one, led by upstart actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, shining in the lead role. Comic actor Seth Rogan is on board cementing the comedy elements.

Otherwise healthy twenty-something Seattle resident, Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) experiences severe back pain and is shocked to learn he has a malignant tumor in his spine. Devastated, his world is turned upside down. He is usually accompanied by best friend Kyle (Rogan). While Kyle is brash and outspoken, Adam is reserved and mild-mannered. They are opposites, but inseparable friends. Adam is dating artist Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), whom Kyle despises adding conflict to the story.

The screenplay and Gordon-Levitt’s performance are the superior aspects of 50/50. The title of the film is poignant because Adam is given the dubious news that he has only a 50/50 chance of surviving his cancer. The young actor provides heart and soul to his challenging role and his acting is such that scenes do not feel cliched or manufactured. This, naturally, is due to the excellent writing by Will Reiser. He crafts a sincere script that is straightforward, avoiding razzle-dazzle, but one that is also heartfelt.

My only criticism with 50/50 is that I would have liked a bit more darkness. As we all know, real-life cancer patients must endure the ravages that the brutal disease inflict. The film never really goes there and shows how devious the disease is and what happens to the human body. I get that the film tows the line carefully, but despite shaving his head, Adam does not lose much weight or suffer other visible indignities. The toned-down approach feels PG- rated rather than R-rated as it might have been.

This can largely be forgiven because the main message of the film supersedes this point. The film shows that love and friendship can be the best healers and the root of good, kind, humanity. This is something every viewer can take and learn from and it makes the film lovely and worthy to witness. The romantic comedy elements do not work, and I am not even sure they are necessary. The main draw is the undying friendship between Adam and Kyle and Adam’s experiences with other cancer patients along his journey.

Combining comedy and cancer are not easy tasks, but thanks to exceptional writing and a talented cast, 50/50 (2011) succeeds in its achievements. The film and Gordon-Levitt were rewarded with Golden Globe nominations but missed out on any Oscar nominations. If the intended result of the film, to ease cancer patient’s minds about their situations, and provide some meaningful entertainment, the film is a major win.

Giant Little Ones-2019

Giant Little Ones-2019

Director-Keith Behrman

Starring-Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann

Scott’s Review #1,000

Reviewed March 13, 2020

Grade: B+

Giant Little Ones (2019) is an independent LGBTQ film about both coming to terms with one’s own sexuality and accepting and embracing other people for whom they love, and how they wish to spend their life. It’s an honest and resilient coming-of-age story, most reminiscent (but rawer) of the recent Love, Simon (2018), told from a teenager’s perspective and the pressures and emotions of youth. The subject matter has been done to death at this point in cinema but there is still something fresh and meaningful that is offered.

High school chums Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas Kohl (Darren Mann) have been best friends since diapers. They joke around, go bike-riding, and knock back a six-pack together. They are handsome, integral parts of the swim team, and popular with girls. Each has a steady girlfriend who they anticipate soon going all the way with. Any teenage miscast would love to trade their lives with the boys.

On the night of Franky’s seventeenth birthday party, Franky and Ballas get drunk together and spend the night crashing in the same bed. An unclear incident, sexual in nature, occurs, changing and damaging their friendship. Each boy has one sister and a set of parents, but Franky’s are more prominent, with a story of their own. His father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan) divorced Franky’s mother, Carly (Mario Bello) after coming to terms with being gay.

While the focal point is on the teen set, and on Franky more than Ballas, it is nice to see parents in these types of films with more to do than pour coffee or dole out unheeded advice. MacLachlan and Bello are fascinating to watch, carefully distant from each other, but also having a mutual respect. Both character’s struggles are pointed out- Carly angrily lashing out that Ray was certainly not gay when she married him; Ray experiencing guilt at wounding Franky emotionally.

The film is careful, admiringly so, to include two high school students who are already outwardly gay. The characters are not ridiculed or repressed, and one, Franky’s best friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson) is assumed to be slowly coming to terms with being transgender. The other is a popular boy on the swim team. These representations are strong, though both characters face some level of opposition, so their plights are not easy.

The best and most heartfelt scene is when Franky and Ray reconnect as father and son in treasured dialogue where Ray explains how he met his partner. The beautiful moment blossoms because it’s Franky who asks Ray how he and his partner met. Any LGBTQ person can attest to the powerful and heartwarming moment when they are asked about their significant other. The proud look in Ray’s eyes and the quiet cadence in which he carefully warns Franky not to label himself, but rather stick with those he connects to, is lovely and sentimental.

I like how Giant Little Ones is not a love story between the two boys and ambiguous is not only whether their friendship can be fixed, but whether one or both is gay, bi-sexual, curious, or merely experimenting with their individual sexuality. The film avoids labels or boasting a clear-cut angle avoiding anything too preachy or defined. This supports its overall point.

A small criticism is that, despite the boys being best friend’s and on equal footing, Franky becomes the central character and Ballas is not explored very well. Ballas borders on sociopathic behavior and has a ton of anger, but why? Is it only his sexuality? The character remains mostly a mystery and I was dying to know more about him and what makes him tick.

Giant Little Ones (2019) is a heartfelt and intimate coming-of-age story about friendship, self-discovery, and the power of love without labels. The young actors are both natural, believable, and earnest, and the seasoned supporting cast lends credibility to a very small, low-budget picture. The LGBTQ community will embrace this film while anyone else will be touched by its honesty and poignancy.

Countdown-2019

Countdown-2019

Director-Justin Dec

Starring-Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway

Scott’s Review #999

Reviewed March 12, 2020

Grade: B

Countdown (2019) is a modern horror film that accomplishes what it intends to do- it entertains the audience. With jumps, frights, and some comedic elements, it borrows heavily from the Final Destination (2000-2011) and Happy Death Day (2017-2019) franchises. The film does not reinvent the wheel, steering the course in a conventional way. The superstitious elements become hokey and unbelievable, but the film has enough momentum to offer a solid product, especially pleasing to genre fans.

When a young nurse (Elizabeth Lail) downloads an app that claims to predict exactly when a person is going to die, it tells her she only has three days to live. With time ticking away and death closing in, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out. She struggles to figure out how to delete the app while putting together the pieces of the puzzle to figure out how to break a curse and ruin a threatening demonic spirit. Her sister is also threatened.

Director, Justin Dec, a newcomer to cinema, does not waste any time beginning the action, as events debut at a college keg party. A group of revelers decide to play a drinking game after downloading the new Countdown app which is supposed to determine how long you have left to live. Thinking the app is a joke, unlucky Courtney (Anne Winters) is startled to see that she has only three hours to live. After refusing to drive home with her drunken boyfriend, Ethan, she is murdered at home by an evil spirit, while Ethan crashes his car, a tree spearing through the seat that Courtney would have been sitting in.

With this sequence the audience is hooked as the pacing is well maintained. With the app clock ticking down dangerously towards zero, a theme heavily promoted throughout the film, we can’t wait to see how or if Courtney is killed. Red herrings, like a man following her or a shower curtain that moves, are presented for good suspense. Assumed to be the “main girl”, Courtney’s death is surprising, and the main title then appears, fooling the audience. There is more to come.

Carrying a horror film is not easy, but actor Lail rises to the occasion. Resembling a young Christina Applegate, Quinn is strong and independent. Many of the scenes take place at the hospital she works at, though she also makes time to see her father and sister. Quinn’s mother has recently died, and Quinn blames herself. She connects with Matt (Jordan Calloway), who lost his brother after stealing his toy. Quinn is a character that viewers can admire and emulate.

Countdown deserves credit for adding a plethora of diversity. Matt is black, making his romance with Quinn interracial. Several Asian, Latino, or Black characters can be seen in many scenes, showcasing a hefty dose of multi-culturalism. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, no LGBTQ characters are featured. Comic relief store owner, Derek (Tom Segura) would have been the perfect character to make gay, but this was not to be.

To build on this, a timely and progressive Me-Too side-story is added, when a well-respected doctor at the hospital comes on to Quinn. He reports the incident to Human Resources when she rebuffs his advances. She is suspended, without an investigation, until other women come forward throughout the film. While this would be an important message in another type of film, the relevance does not work, or fit the rest of the story.

The ninety minutes running time is a splendid approach, so the film never drags or dulls. The final twenty minutes or so is a letdown as Quinn and a priest realize that to break the curse one must trick it by someone else dying out of sequence. This is all too like Final Destination, but not as good, as Quinn ends up fighting with the spirit, killing herself with an overdose of morphine, while drawing a circle on her arm where she can subsequently be revived by a syringe with Naloxone.

For a new director eager to break into the horror genre, Justin Dec borrows heavily from previous films and presents a copycat story that is paced perfectly. It provides enough interest and good casting to warrant a follow-up. Due to low box-office returns I doubt Countdown (2019) will become a mainstay franchise, but Dec may have a good future ahead of himself.

5 Against the House-1955

5 Against the House-1955

Director-Phil Karlson

Starring-Brian Keith, Kim Novak

Scott’s Review #998

Reviewed March 11, 2020

Grade: C-

5 Against the House (1955) is a film that may have influenced heist films such as the Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 (1960) or countless other films featuring groups of young men holding up an establishment for money. The film is mediocre and lacks much that is memorable as nothing distinguishes it from other similar themed genre films. Star Brian Keith is charismatic in the lead, but chemistry with the ravishing Kim Novak goes nowhere with any of the actors. The film is mildly interesting with a few tense moments, but little more. 

Four Midwestern University college pals, Brick (Keith), Al (Guy Madison), Ronnie, and Roy, devise a grand casino heist while drunk and partying one weekend in Reno. The idea is to go through with their plan and then return the cash, just to prove they can get away with the high-stakes prank. But when one of the group betrays the others and plots to keep the money for himself, he imperils them all. Novak plays Kaye, girlfriend of Al, who recently has become a singer at a local nightclub.

The standouts from the cast are Keith and William Conrad and this might be more because the then unknown actors became television stars in later years, for Family Affair and Jake and the Fat Man, respectively. Keith is great in the lead role of Brick, the tormented and conflicted ex-veteran of the Korean War, unable to forget tragedies he saw while abroad. He is a cool every man with an edge, angry and out to prove something to the world. He also needs the money that the heist will provide him. The character is interesting and empathetic.

Conrad is gruff and memorable in the role of a cart operator, who plays an important role in the film’s finale. Sent to retrieve cash from the money room, using the prerecorded message to make him believe that there is a desperate man with a gun in the cart who will shoot him if he does not cooperate, Conrad does wonders with his eyes and facial expressions.

The luscious Novak, soon to be a household name in the stunning and cerebral Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo (1958), is not very compelling as Kaye. The main reason is that she has little to do but stand around and serve as window dressing. This is too bad as the actress has talent and charisma for miles, but this work is beneath her. Not her debut, but one of her early films, what’s a girl to do? To add insult to injury, her voice was dubbed by another singer. Novak clearly needed the paycheck.

Director, Phil Karlson is unsuccessful at bringing the picture full- circle but does pepper in some nice exterior night scenes of Reno. The casino sequences are also commendable with proper zesty and flashy set pieces when appropriate. But trimmings never make a film complete and 5 Against the House needs more meat on the bone than it serves up.

The heist is the main attraction as it always is in these types of films. Some tension does exist but not enough, and the finale is a letdown. After the robbery, which is unspectacular, Brick leaves the others behind and escapes with the money, and a pursuit ensues. Kaye, having alerted police, follows them, and a tepid standoff follows. Ultimately, Brick changes his mind while Al and Kaye embrace on a crowded street. The feeble final scene is meant as a romantic sendoff between Al and Kaye, who didn’t have chemistry to begin with.

5 Against the House (1955) contains an adequate cast and a few positive tidbits worth mentioning, but the story is way too predictable, the conclusion, which should be the high-point disappoints, and the actors are too old to be believable as college-aged students. Many other film noir or heist films released before or after this film are superior and better crafted.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-2019

Director-Andre Ovredal

Starring-Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza

Scott’s Review #997

Reviewed March 10, 2020

Grade: C+

Admittedly not having read the series of books that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) is based upon, nor not knowing the books even existed may have influenced me, but the film is lackluster at best, serving up some creative moments, but more silly ones. The film is too polished, uneven, and feels too alike to modern projects like It (2017) or the television series Stranger Things to have its own individuality. A few interesting moments or sequences exist, but not enough to recommend.

The creepy children’s books written by Alvin Schwartz are adapted into film form as the time-period of 1968 Halloween is brought to life. The small town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, is the backdrop for the historic Bellows family mansion that has loomed over the town for decades and holds a haunted mystery. Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, has turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time. After a group of impressionable teenagers discover Sarah’s terrifying home, they undercover her stories, and they become all too real.

The visual effects and images are the high point of the film. There exist several visceral and stylistic sequences which deserve admiration, and mention. When one of the panicked teenagers’ scrambles into a mental institution, he is met with a horrific, blood-red glowing image that surrounds him. As he attempts to escape, a ghastly, bloated figure slowly approaches him from all sides. Later, a freakish person known as The Jangly Man, able to reconstruct itself from separate body parts, pursues one of the teens. These scenes are credible and inventive. The look of the film is its only real success.

The late 1960’s time-period both works and doesn’t work. Getting off to a splendid start, the theme song performed by Donovan, “Season of the Witch”, also incorporated over the closing credits, is a positive and provides a nice mystique. Since the date is supposed to be Halloween, this is fitting, though too few other seasonal reminders ever exist so that the viewer soon forgets it is Halloween at all.  Attempts at making the characters look the part are feeble and result in modern actors clad in 1960’s wear, reducing the authenticity. Mentions of the Vietnam War, while politically left-leaning, are only added for story purposes, feeling staged.

Once and for all, a note to film makers- making a character wear glasses to appear intelligent is a gimmick done to death and does not work anymore! Actor Zoe Margaret Colletti is fine in the central role of Stella, and does her best delivering the material she is given, but the realism is not there, giving the performance an overwrought quality. The character feels more like a Nancy Drew type than anything deeper.

Viewers are supposed to believe the convoluted story that Sarah was abused and now resides, as an older woman, in a secret room and scripts a book of horror stories that come to life and wreak havoc on those that enter the haunted house. Stella manages to channel Sarah, as an adult, and convinces her to stop writing and cease the terror with a weak female empowerment message. Events are so far-fetched and story-line dictated that it eliminates any character development from the film.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) has difficulty deciding which target audience to focus on. Is it young-adults or an older audience seeking a Halloween themed scare? The story is way too complex and confusing for either audience, or anyone else. The visual effects are fantastic, especially the stylistic red and black end credits, but the overall context suffers from lack of continuity and becomes a forgettable experience.

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Director-Franco Brusati

Starring-Nino Manfredi

Scott’s Review #996

Reviewed March 6, 2020

Grade: B

Bread and Chocolate (1974), known as Pane e cioccolata in Italian is a mixed dramatic and comedic offering by director, Franco Brusati, a well-known Italian screenwriter and director. The film is charming and tells of one man’s trials and tribulations trying to make it as a migrant worker in a foreign country- in this case neighboring Switzerland. He is conflicted by the opportunities presented and the catastrophic way his life is screwed up at every turn. The film is meaningful and poignant but sometimes has no clear path. A commonality is the representation of differing cultures.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) is a hard-working Sicilian man who heads for Switzerland in search of a better life- the time-period is the 1960’s or the 1970’s when this was a common occurrence. Despite his best efforts to fit in with his neighbors, he never quite seems to make it, haplessly going from one situation to the next.

He befriends and is supported for a time by a Greek woman named Elena, who is a refugee and harbors secrets. He forages a career as a waiter and befriends a bus boy. As his luck dwindles, he is reduced to finding shelter with a group of Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, with the same chickens they tend to in order to survive. With bizarre gusto they frequently emulate the chickens, strangely parading around their quarters like animals.

The main character of Nino reminds me of the character that Roberto Benigni played in the 1997 gem, Life is Beautiful. In that film, Guido tries to shelter his son from the horrors of war. In Bread and Chocolate Nino has a zest for life using humor to survive and get through daily situations, slowly realizing his dire straits. Both characters are scrappy and daring; Nino humorously urinating on a tree or awkwardly finding a dead body in the woods.

The theme of the film is loaded with conflict over staying in Switzerland to find a better life or returning in shame to his homeland of Italy, assumed a failure. Nino constantly wrestles with this quandary and discusses this point with his family photos in his bedroom. In two instances he nearly gets on a train headed back to Italy but changes his mind. The film does not do a great job explaining or showing what is so awful back in Italy.

Bread and Chocolate is difficult to categorize because it is neither straight ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situation comedy moments in favor of exhibiting melancholia and sadness. I am not sure this is a great decision as we wonder many times if we should laugh with Nino or feel badly for him? Perhaps both?

The film scores big when it focuses on the comedy as evidenced by several laugh out loud restaurant scenes. Nino, clearly not knowing what he is doing, struggles to properly peel an orange to serve a guest. He emulates another waiter with hilarious results. Later he offends a snobbish, sophisticated woman after she blames him for causing her to fall to the floor.

The strangest scene occurs when the chicken people spy four gorgeous Swiss siblings bathing in a nearby river. Gorgeous and tranquil, they are the definition of stunning and lush. Charmed by the idyllic vision of the group, Nino decides to dye his hair and pass himself off as a local. The images of the cackling and dirty Italian people, with their snickering and drooling set against the peaceful family is both beautiful and odd. The scene could almost be featured in an Ingmar Bergman art film.

Bread and Chocolate (1974) is a film about a man’s journey that nearly can be classified as an adventure, drama, art film, or comedy, and sometimes crosses genres too much. The comedic antics draw rave reviews, but the film slips a bit when it goes in the dramatic territory and becomes middling and too preachy. Actor Nino Manfredi breathes all the life he can into a film that is appealing, but not quite marvelous.

Dial M for Murder-1954

Dial M for Murder-1954

Director- Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Ray Milland, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #995

Reviewed February 28, 2020

Grade: A

A fabulous offering by stylistic director Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder (1954) arrived on the scene when the cinematic genius was hitting his stride in the United States, already having found success in England. The late 1950’s and early 1960’s revealed his best offerings, but this one is no slouch either. The film mixes thrills, double-cross, and murder in a way only Hitchcock can- perfectly. It is fast-paced and shot almost like a play, using primarily one set only. Based on the Broadway hit, which came first.

An English former tennis champion, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) hatches a scheme to kill his wealthy but unfaithful wife Margot (Grace Kelly), who’s embroiled in a liaison with handsome writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). When Tony’s plans go awry, he attempts a second act of deceit, but events spin out of control for him when Margot, Mark, and a sly Scotland Yard inspector (John Williams) begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

The film is a popular one by way of story because it is very conventional and pure Hitchcock. The viewer immediately knows who the killer is and what his motivations are- the hunger for wealth and the jealousy of another man. The most fun is when hiccups begin to form, and Tony must fly by the seat of his pants to cover his tracks and think of another way to seal Margot’s fate. If he cannot murder her why can’t he send her to prison? Milland is perfect in the role with perfect eye shifts and head turns.

Set pieces like a key and a handbag come into play giving the film zest. When it is revealed that there are multiple keys the plot gets juicier and juicier. The flat where Tony and Margot reside is beautifully designed with state-of-the-art furniture and decorations making the set a character. Lavish curtains and French doors are utilized during the late-night attempted murder scene, which is thrilling to witness, leaving the astounded viewer with heart palpitations.

The brilliance is that the viewer is not intended to hate Tony, at least this viewer didn’t. While he is not likable his motivations can be somewhat understood. On the flip-side Margot and Mark are not the heroes of the film either and their shenanigans come back to bite them. I dare say that Grace Kelly has had better roles in Hitchcock films. To Catch a Thief (1955) immediately comes to mind. Margot is not a particularly strong character and is quite weak.

Dial M for Murder has commonalities with two other Hitchcock gems that immediately come to mind. As with Strangers on a Train (1951) the use of a tennis star is utilized as a major character and a twisted strangulation is the name of the game. Also, a tit-for-tat technique is used. Like the underappreciated Rope (1948), the one-take sequence style and a film that could be a stage play are traits that are noticed. Those films are good ones to be in the same company with.

The final thirty minutes travels by at break-neck speed as we wonder what will happen next. The cat-and-mouse activities are delightful and remind us that the film is quite basic and stripped down compared to his later films. One set, good actors, and a full-throttle story does wonders to satisfy a fan. The camera movements and techniques are key to the entire film as a shot here or a shot there are timed with flawless precision. Hitchcock used 3-D filming, inventive for this time.

Perhaps not as famous as Hitchcock delights like Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), or North by Northwest (1959), Dial M for Murder (1954) serves as much more than a warm-up act to those classics. With a fast pace, twists and turns, and good British sensibilities, the setting of a stylish London flat and good sophistication make this film one to remember.

The Two Popes-2019

The Two Popes-2019

Director-Fernando Meirelles

Starring-Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins

Scott’s Review #994

Reviewed February 27, 2020

Grade: B+

The Two Popes (2019) is a biographical drama focusing on two real-life religious figures and the close friendship they forge while sharing different ideals and viewpoints. The two men hold the highest religious office and a deep respect culminates over time while past secrets are uncovered. The film carefully balances past and present but offers too few meaty scenes between the legendary actors for my taste. Otherwise, a thought provoking and historical effort, with brilliant sequences of Italy and Argentina.

The film begins in April of 2005 during a pivotal moment in history, following the death of Pope John Paul II. The world is abuzz with the naming of new German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins), elected Pope Benedict XVI, while Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), from Argentina, receives the second-highest vote count. Ratzinger has a stiff and more traditional approach to Christianity while Bergoglio is more modern thinking and open to new ideas.

Seven years later, the Catholic Church is embroiled in the Vatican leaks scandal, which tarnishes the very concept of religion. Benedict’s tenure has been tainted by public accusations regarding his role in the cover-up, which shocks the world. Meanwhile, Bergoglio intends to retire and arrives in Rome to receive Benedict’s blessing. This is the point where the men slowly come to terms with each other and reach a mutual respect and admiration.

The Two Popes is worth the price of admission for the acting alone. With heavyweights such as Hopkins and Pryce, one can rest easy in this regard and simply enjoy the experience. The scenes between the two actors are wonderful and fraught with energy. As the religious figures confide in one another and secrets brim to the surface, the actors are believable as the real-life figures. Even good, old-fashioned small talk is fascinating to watch.

While the present-day sequences enthrall, the flashbacks of Bergoglio as a younger man and his journey into the church are explored a bit too much sometimes halting the flow. He was once engaged to be married, but instead joined the Jesuits. He was marred in scandal when the perception was that he had collaborated with the Argentine military dictatorship, exiled to serve as an ordinary parish priest to the poor for the next ten years. The balance between timelines is okay, but the flashbacks become too prevalent as the film moves along.

Director, Fernando Meirelles, seems more comfortable shooting scenes within Argentina since those are directed best using black and white filming to showcase both the ravages of a chaotic nation and the decades preceding the present. Best known for the wonderful City of God (2003), he also intersperses real-life news sequences featuring the peril of the Argentinian people. The two time-periods do not always flow naturally together, though.

A huge positive is the inclusion of the child abuse scandal that rocked the religious world and the brave decision that Meirelles made to focus on the revelation that Benedict knew about the accusations and dismissed them, clearly aiding in their continuation. Both Popes deal with the struggle between tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, and confronting one’s pasts making it a character study.

The exterior and surrounding sequences are an absolute treat. Having visited Rome and particularly Vatican City makes the showcase of the Sistine Chapel wonderful to view on a personal level. The chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, is both astounding with the lovely religious art, and the backdrop for many scenes between Benedict and the future Pope Francis (Bergoglio).

Any viewer fond of world history or religious history will enjoy The Two Popes (2019). With great acting, secrets revealed, conflict, and loyalty, the film is crafted well. Some momentum is lost in the story back and forth, and the film is hardly one that warrants repeated viewings or study in film school, but it provides a realistic look at modern religion with all its arguments and discussions to delve into.

30 Days of Night-2007

30 Days of Night-2007

Director-David Slade

Starring-Josh Hartnett, Melissa George

Scott’s Review #993

Reviewed February 25, 2020

Grade: B-

During the decade when 30 Days of Night (2007) was released, the trend leaned towards the vampire-horror genre, where bloodthirsty tyrants would do battle with the good folks of the land. The film has outstanding elements: a tiny town, total darkness, and chaos. The gritty conclusion is a predictable let down as the film spins out of control into the silly and the formulaic. Hartnett, at the time, was an A-List actor, whose film career was dwindling, reduced to the horror circuit.

In Barrow, Alaska, said to be the northernmost town in the United States, the winter sun sets and does not rise for 30 days and nights providing a full month of complete blackness. An evil force emerges from the black atmosphere and strikes terror on the town, and all hope rests on a husband-and-wife cop team, Sheriff Eben (Oleson (Hartnett) and Stella Oleson (Melissa George). The duo must protect a handful of survivors from a pack of vampires and battle the lack of communication and blizzard conditions in the frigid arctic.

The film is based on a comic book miniseries of the same name, but 30 Days of Night is mostly influenced by two better films; 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007), the former a groundbreaking film within the sub-genre- even the title is a copycat! The result is nothing groundbreaking and rather run-of-the-mill story wise. It seems patterned too closely after other films rather than having an identity all its own.

The best part of the film are the fantastic elements and trimmings created to provide atmosphere. Highly effective, it carries the film and intrigues the compelled audience when the story lacks. What is more frightening than a blinding whiteout, hungry vampires, or a town fraught with perilous fear? The spooky atmospheric trimmings make the lack of pay off even more jarring and makes the film adequate, but little more.

The casting is mediocre and unrealistic. I doubt any sheriff in a tiny, forgotten town would be as good-looking as Hartnett, nor is he believable as a powerful sheriff- he does not fit the part. George, as estranged wife Stella is neither good nor bad, but rather inconsistent. Little chemistry exists between the couple and both were clearly cast for their looks as they seem to be staged puppets more than fleshing out their characters. Regardless, any romantic entanglements between the characters are dull and insignificant.

The character development is not there. Ben Foster, as “The Stranger”, is a great actor, but not in this film. Subsequently appearing in grand roles in Hell or High Water (2016) and Leave No Trace (2018), this film is not his best work. The character is limited whereas he could have added much more to a better written script. We know little about any of the townspeople and unclear is the motivations of the vampires other than to wreak havoc and create terror.

30 Days of Night (2007) is a marginally good film mostly because of the way it looks, and the horror flavored ingredients sprinkled throughout. Despite some cool ways of killing off the evil vampires, the film never hits high gear, only remaining in neutral for most of the way and puttering out with a disappointing climax. Advisable is to see the much superior and similarly produced and filmed, 28 Days Later (2002).

21 Jump Street-2012

21 Jump Street-2012

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #992

Reviewed February 20, 2020

Grade: C+

21 Jump Street (2012) is a nostalgic ode to the general style of the 1980’s, more specifically a popular television series that ran from 1987 to 1991. The teen police drama launched the successful career of actor Johnny Depp. He starred as the good-looking leader of a team of young police officers who can pass for high school students, and infiltrate potential drug rings, prostitution circles, or other such shenanigans.

Let’s be clear- the film is hardly high art nor cinematic genius. The gags are silly and trite, other times not funny at all. But the film contains a freshness that feels cool, sleek, and fun and a throwback to the decade of materialism, and the film never apologizes for this. The combination of stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have nice chemistry, turning a standard buddy film into something bearable to watch. The film is formulaic, but not dull.

The film makers strive for an action-comedy hybrid even though the series was only conventional drama and taught a lesson with each episode. They also change course and focus on two characters instead of a group making it more of a guy movie. Honor roll student Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular underachieving jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) reunite seven years after graduating high school at the police academy where they are studying to be cops.

Eager to leave their juvenile problems, and their dislike for each other behind, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover at a local high school as part of a Jump Street unit. As they trade in their guns and badges for books and bagged lunches, Schmidt and Jenko risk their lives to investigate a violent and dangerous drug ring. They slowly realize that high school is nothing like they left it just a few years earlier, and they revisit the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they assumed they had left behind.

The film is only mediocre and while there is nothing wrong with the film, there is also nothing terribly outstanding about it either. As the setup clearly poises the audience for, Morton and Greg are opposites in every way and must come together to achieve a common goal. This is a standard cliche told countless times in films such as Stir Crazy (1983) and 48 Hours (1982), the clear reference being one of the 1980’s.

Speaking of the decade of excess, 21 Jump Street achieves what it sets out to in this regard with a clever nod to a revived scheme from that decade. Set in present times, the film is nonetheless a nod to teen films of the day. Wild comedy and lavish adventures are in order in every high school situation imaginable. Dating, AP chemistry class, and the senior prom are heavily promoted so that any viewer above the age of twenty-five can reminisce.

A fun, and necessary quality is the inclusion of a few of the original cast of the television series-Holly Robinson Peete, Peter DeLuise, and of course, Johnny Depp all appear in cameo roles. This is a treat for fans of the original series and a tribute to its creation, though nothing else is utilized very well and no other history ever quite measures up. Robinson Peete’s role is nice because she appears as a police officer.

While doing little to honor the television series it is based off, instead churning out more of a male cop film, the incorporation of the original cast does deserve praise. The lead actors are charismatic and clever in their roles which saves the film from being a disaster. 21 Jump Street (2012) kvetches too far into slapstick instead of sending an important message to its audience, which it could have. The box-office hit was followed in 2014 by an unnecessary remake, aptly entitled 22 Jump Street.

The Leopard-1963

The Leopard-1963

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #991

Reviewed February 18, 2020

Grade: A

One of the great works in cinematic history, I preface this review by stating that I viewed the English dubbed version of the brilliant The Leopard (1963) starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. This version is considerably shorter, at two hours and forty-one minutes, than the Italian version, which is three hours and five minutes. As grand as the former is, my hunch is that something is lost in translation put side by side with the latter. The English version has no subtitles and is available only on DVD, so the film is difficult to follow, but is still rich with texture.

An interesting tidbit is that the film surgery was performed without director Luchino Visconti’s input – the director was unhappy with the editing and the dubbing. This point is valid since some of the voices are Italian and French, sounding too American and unauthentic. Admittedly inferior, the English version is nonetheless extravagant and lovely by its own merits, though I am dying to see the original version, if available.

The time-period is during the 1860’s as the tumultuous era effects the country of Italy and more specifically, Sicily. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) is at a crossroads, torn between holding onto glory he once knew, and accepting the changing times, welcoming a more modern unity within the country. He is surrounded by a new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) who has a gorgeous daughter, Angelica (Cardinale), who intends to marry Fabrizio’s French nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon). The film dissects the changing times in Italy.

The visual treats that await the viewer are astounding and by far the best part of the film. The lovely and palatial estates are gorgeous with decorative sets, bright and zesty colors, and ravishing meals displayed during parties to make any audience member salivate with joy. The costumes are state of the art, as each frame can easily be a painting on a canvas. A tip is to periodically pause the film and study and immerse oneself in its style.

Many film comparisons, both past and yet to come, can easily be made when thought about. An Italian Gone with the Wind (1939), if you will, with Angelica as Scarlett and Tancredi as Rhett (okay, the chemistry is not quite the same, but similarities do exist), and Concetta as the long-suffering Melanie, the characters can be compared. The great ball, the costumes, and the ravaged country are more prominent comparisons.

Nine years post The Leopard, a little film entitled The Godfather (1972) would change the cinematic landscape forever. Director, Frances Ford Coppola must have studied this film, as the plentiful scenes of Italian landscape and the Italian culture are immersed in both films. Even snippets of the musical score mirror each other. What a grand film to borrow and cultivate from!

Despite all the beautiful trimmings that make The Leopard a masterpiece, the film belongs to Lancaster, in his best role of his career. The hunk in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, as the Prince, he is aged to perfection, distinguished looking with graying sideburns. The film is an epic extravaganza and the actor leads the charge, carrying the film. He is a stoic man, but not without fault and emotion, wearing his heart on his sleeve, realizing that he must adapt to the changing times. We feel his quandary and embrace the character as a human being.

Attention paying fans must be forewarned that the plot is basic and while difficult to follow because of the absence of sub-titles, at the same time there is not a highly complex story to follow. The story is about how the Prince maneuvers his family through troubled (and changing) times to a more secure position. This is the overlying theme of the film.

Suffering from dubbing and quality control issues can do nothing to ruin a spectacular offering that is obviously a cinematic gem and testament to the power of The Leopard’s (1963) staying power. I eagerly await the day when the traditional Italian version can be located, and discovered, as this will assuredly be a treat to sink my teeth into. Until then, the film is a historical epic that can be appreciated for the dynamics and importance it so richly deserves.

21 Grams-2003

21 Grams-2003

Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu

Starring-Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro

Scott’s Review #990

Reviewed February 14, 2020

Grade: A

21 Grams (2003) is a superlative independent drama that contains crisp writing, top-notch acting, and a unique directing style by Alejandro Inarritu. An early work by the acclaimed director, he delivers a powerful exposure of the human condition using intersecting story lines. The result is a powerful emotional response that resonates among any viewer taking the time to let the story evolve and marinate. Outstanding film making and a sign of things to come for the director.

The film is the second part of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga’s and Iñárritu’s Trilogy of Death, preceded by Amores Perros (2000) and followed by Babel (2006), 21 Grams interweaves several plot lines in a nonlinear arrangement. Viewing the films in sequence is not necessary or required to appreciate and revel in the gorgeous storytelling and mood.

The story is told in non-linear fashion and focuses on three main characters, each with a “past”, a “present”, and a “future” story thread. Events culminate in a horrific automobile accident, which is the overall story. The sub-story fragments delve into the lives of the principals as the audience learns more about them. Ultimately, all three lives intersect in dramatic fashion leaving the viewer mesmerized and energized by the deep connections.

Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a successful, married college mathematics professor who desperately needs a heart transplant. He and his wife are considering having a baby in case he should die. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a recovering drug addict now living a happy suburban life with a loving husband and two young children. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is a former convict who is using his new-found religious faith to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism and live a happy existence with his wife and kids. After the car accident each life takes a shocking turn forever changing things.

The multiple time lines and back and forward story telling are an excellent part of 21 Grams, adding layers upon layers of potential entanglements among the characters. On paper this could be a confusing quality, but instead it provides mystique and endless possibility. What worked so well in the outstanding Traffic (2000) is used by Inarritu and delivers. The recipe of clever plotting, characters the audience care about, and top-notch acting is created, mixed, and served up on a silver platter.

Penn, Watts, and Del Toro are stellar actors who each give their characters strength, sympathy, and glory. Each has suffered greatly and faced (or faces) tremendous obstacles in life, soliciting feeling from viewers. All three are good characters, trying to do the right thing, and grasp hold of any sliver of happiness they can find. They have moral sensibilities without being judgmental, delicious is how each character interacts with the others, but in differing ways.

The film is not a happy one and certainly not for young kids, but the brilliant elements will leave the film lover agape at the qualities featured. The dark, muted lighting of the film is perfect for the morbid stories told throughout and the common themes of anguish, courage, and desperation. The clever title refers to an experiment in 1907 which attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the soul by recording a loss of body weight (said to represent the departure of the soul) immediately following death.

Only the second full-length film in Inarritu’s young career, 21 Grams (2003) is a brilliant film nuanced in human emotion and connections. The powerful director would go on to create Babel (2006) and The Revenant (2015), two vastly different films but with similar heart. 21 Grams is a wonderful introduction of good things to come while utilizing crafty acting and layered writing to create a gem well worth repeated viewings.

101 Dalmatians-1996

101 Dalmatians-1996

Director-Stephen Herek

Starring-Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson

Scott’s Review #989

Reviewed February 13, 2020

Grade: C+

The classic animated Disney film 101 Dalmatians (1961) is brought to life in a live-action format thirty-five years later to create a fresh spin on the revered original film. Unfortunately, the result is nothing special save for Glenn Close’s brilliant performance as the dastardly Cruella De Vil. Otherwise, the reworking is too amateurish and largely unnecessary, especially as compared to the brilliance and charm of the original.

Thankfully not modifying the London setting, American video game designer Roger Dearly (Jeff Daniels) lives with his pet dalmatian, Pong. Lonely, Roger trudges along through life without a love interest. During a walk, Pongo sets his eyes on a beautiful female dalmatian named Perdy. After a chase through the streets of London that ends in St. James’s Park, Roger discovers that Pongo likes Perdy. Her owner, Anita Campbell-Green (Joely Richardson) immediately falls in love with Roger and the duo are inseparable.

They get married along with Perdy and Pongo. Anita works as a fashion designer at the House of de Vil. Her boss, the pampered and glamorous Cruella de Vil (Close), has a passion for fur. Anita, inspired by her Dalmatian, designs a coat made with spotted fur and Cruella is intrigued by the idea of wearing Anita’s dog. She hatches a plot to steal and kill the puppies for her own lavish gain.

The scenes between the dogs are cute and work better than the intended romance relationship between the humans. What was a darling pursuit in the animated feature does not shine through with real actors. Either the chemistry between Daniels and Richardson does not exist or the scene is too forced, or perhaps both. I did not buy the love at first sight, stars aligning moments. I bet most audiences didn’t either. The result is a banal and stale connection between Roger and Anita, meant to be the core of the story.

Enough cannot be said for what Close brings to the role. The actress gives a tremendous performance and sinks her teeth into the most prominent and interesting part of the film. With a sinister sneer, a flowing red and white coat, and a token cigarette holder, she infuses Cruella with dazzling menace. Careful not to overact and result in a juvenile character, she relishes the role, providing just enough comedy without being too scary. The performance is perfect.

A negative is that, unlike the animated version, none of the animals have speaking voices. This detracts from the earnest quality of expressive, talking animals. What pet owner does not imagine what their cat or dog would sound like if they talked? Instead the puppies sniff and look cute, making themselves distracting and unclear what feelings they have. One wonders why the decision was made in this way, but it does little to provide texture.

101 Dalmatians is too cute for its own good, limiting any sophistication. The original had a British intelligence and a cultural voice, with small, yet important details, like falling rain, that live action cannot mimic. The 1996 version is kid-friendly, but brings little to the table, lacking interesting flair. Why not teach a lesson about the dalmatian dog breed rather than settle for simply an adorable slant? Rumors abound that parents adopted dalmatians for their children after seeing the film and were forced to return them, rather than invest time to study, realizing that raising a dalmatian is hard work.

The idea to remake an adorable and cozy Walt Disney classic from the 1960’s with a fresh approach is admirable. The live-action detail could add a new twist or an inventive spin that could appeal to a new generation of youngsters. Unfortunately, 101 Dalmatians (1996) does not work well, barely rising above mediocrity, with an aura of fluff and gimmicks that feel forced and trite. The saving grace is Glenn Close, a tremendous talent who gives it her all despite sub-par material. Stick to the original 1961 version.

10,000 B.C.- 2008

10,000 B.C.- 2008

Director-Roland Emmerich

Starring-Steven Strait, Camilla Belle

Scott’s Review #988

Reviewed February 11, 2020

Grade: F

10,000 B.C. (2008) is a by the numbers adventure/action hybrid film that attempts to be slick and modern with catchy visual elements and instead bottoms out resulting in an example of terrible film making. The CGI usurps all other qualities providing no historical accuracy, with a ridiculous 2008 feel rather than the time-period at hand. Those involved only had maximum box office returns in mind when the film was created. There is an irritating formulaic quality and poor acting across the board that leaves this one dead on arrival.

Fierce, masculine mammoth hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out on an impossible journey to rescue the woman he loves, Evolet, (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord and save the people of his village. While venturing into the unknown and frightening territories, D’Leh and his fellow warriors discover an amazing civilization rife with possibilities. In predictable fashion, the warriors are attacked and slaughtered, leaving the young man to protect the remaining group while winning the heart of a princess, well above his station in life.

The story is complete schmaltz and easy to predict from nearly the very beginning of the film. Powerful invaders force the hunters of D’Leh’s tribe into slavery and accost the princess in such a fashion that the setup is all put neatly in place for the viewer, providing nothing out of the ordinary. When the young and naive boy has an epiphany and realizes he is the only one who can save his tribe from extinction, it is all too much. The film is riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche.

A tough ask to lead a film with summer blockbuster written all over it, newcomers Strait and Belle do their best, which only enhances how poor their acting is. Clearly cast for their good looks, they can offer little else. Strait is costumed with a bad wig, dripping sweat, and bulging muscles, purely for audience delight. Belle is also victimized as she pouts and sulks wearing skimpy clothing. The result is a standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy becomes a man to save the girl mess. Inexplicable is how they meet and fall in love before ever speaking or getting to know each other.

If only the bad acting were the only negative the film might be fair to middling, but nothing good is ever offered. All the hunters and tribesman look like modern people dressed to look from a different time-period. The endless battle scenes borrow from the legions of action and adventure films that have come before it. The animals prance across the screen in obvious timed moments providing little in the way of authenticity.

Director, Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) has a knack for creating large epic adventures to please mainstream audiences. There is nothing wrong with a conventional film if it manages to teach the viewer something or offer something of merit. With a target audience of pubescent boys and girls yearning to learn, Emmerich misses a golden opportunity to present an imaginative prehistoric moment and provide a lesson.

Complete with bad story and bad acting, the drivel conjured up is nearly too much to take. 10,000 B.C. (2008) cannot be saved by the over stylish visuals because they are so phony one cannot even fathom any credibility out of them. The good-looking main stars look straight out of a glossy magazine and hardly from the prehistoric era presented. With little attempt at giving audiences anything of substance, this film is an epic fail and is to be missed.

The Lighthouse-2019

The Lighthouse-2019

Director-Robert Eggers

Starring-Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #987

Reviewed February 5, 2020

Grade: A-

The Lighthouse (2019) is the sophomore effort by acclaimed and novice horror director, Robert Eggers. His first, The Witch (2015) garnered praise and independent film award nominations, and his latest offering has also received many accolades across the board. This time around, he wisely secures top-notch talent casting the incredible Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson to star.

The result is a well-acted, gorgeously photographed film, that is odd beyond belief, requiring a second viewing to even attempt some understanding. The atmosphere of this film will draw some viewers in and push away others. It is that type of film experience.

Shot in startlingly good black and white, the time is the 1890’s, set somewhere off New England. The film stars Dafoe and Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers who start to lose their sanity when a storm strands them on the remote island where they are stationed. They spar, love, and play games, while imaginations run wild with bizarre images of mermaids, death, and claustrophobic storm conditions. Frequent hallucinations render the plot unclear of what is fantasy and what is reality.

The technical aspects of The Lighthouse are superior to the story elements. The gorgeous camera work, looking like either a modern film or a film from the 1940’s is superior. Almost never is a film made like this, and the black and white filming provides a cold and bleak atmosphere. The prevalent wind and driving rain buttress with flying objects and mud to create a looming and foreboding danger. The viewer can tell that sinister events are on the horizon, perfectly encrusting the increasingly dangerous storm.

The story is tough to figure out with the exception that one or both men are losing their minds. Winslow (Pattinson) is the newbie, sent to assist the elder lighthouse keeper, the elderly and cranky Thomas Wake (Dafoe). Wake forbids Winslow to ever set foot in the lantern room, insisting that task is his job alone. This piques the interest of the young man especially when Winslow observes Wake going up to the room at night and stripping naked. Winslow begins experiencing visions and dreams of tentacles in the lighthouse, tree stumps floating in the water, and distant images of a mermaid.

Peculiar scenes exist that make The Lighthouse both memorable and tough to figure out. The presence of seagulls makes the film authentically beach-like with the cawing and flying around. Their existence soon becomes an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) as a one-eyed gull begins to stalk Winslow. Told it is bad luck to ever kill a gull since they harbor the souls of sailors, Winslow finally kills the attacking one-eyed gull in a fit of rage during one of the film’s most brutal scenes. Wake seethes with rage.

The film is homoerotic in many scenes, none more so than the lovely scene when the two men begin to dance and sway to music. About to kiss, reality strikes, and the two drunk men come to blows. The scene reminds me of an important one in the groundbreaking LGBT masterpiece Brokeback Mountain (2005). The combustible pent up masculine tension explodes, and we wonder if in another time the men lovers might be. This aspect is cerebral, filling The Lighthouse with psychological mystique.

A common element is the two men’s distrust of one another. Trapped by the bad storm they frequently drink themselves into oblivion- what else is there to do? They sit and stare at each other, sometimes filled with rage, sometimes suspiciously. In a scene both jaw-dropping and hilarious, Winslow forces Wake into a collar and leash and leads him on his hands and knees into a muddy grave. Unsure if the scene is fantasy or reality, it could almost be taken from a gay leather porn film.

Eggers has a bright future ahead of him and I am eager to see his next project. I am not averse to odd or even nonsensical films if the intent is good, but I would recommend a more straight-forward approach next time to see what he comes up with. The Lighthouse (2019) successfully offers a creepy and bizarre tale of men losing their sanity in a dream-like and creative way that will assuredly divide audiences.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2019

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2019

Directors-Daria Kashcheeva, Matthew A. Cherry, Karen Ruper Toliver, Rosana Sullivan, Kathryn Hendrickson, Bruno Collet, Jean-Francois Le Corre, Siqi Song

Scott’s Review #986

Reviewed February 4, 2020

Grade: A-

Having the honor of being able to view the five short films nominated for the 2019 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at my local art theater was pretty amazing. Far too often dismissed as either irrelevant or completely flying under the radar of animated offerings, it is time to champion these fine little pieces of artistic achievement. On par with or even superseding the full-length animated features, each of the five offers a vastly different experience, but each offers either inspired or hopeful messages or dark, devious, and edgy stories. The commonality this year is relationships, and not necessarily between human beings, as one of them features a darling relationship between cat and dog. Below is a review of each of the shorts.

Memorable-2019 (France)

This offering is the most visually enticing of the five nominees. In the story, a French painter slowly falls prey to the ravages of dementia, while his wife suffers alongside him as his memory disintegrates. He sinks into a world of impressionistic shapes, vivid with gorgeous color. The film is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and not an easy watch. The swirling colors and fragmented shapes provide a lush and melancholy feel. The viewer will likely envelope the only two characters to appear (husband and wife) and relate to each of them and the misery and confusion they experience with assurance of what the result will be.  Grade: A

Sister-2019 (China)

Sister is a touching tribute to a person who does not even exist. A man thinks back to his childhood memories of growing up with an annoying little sister in China in the 1990’s. What would his life have been like if things had gone differently? Would the siblings annoy each other or be the best of friends? With political overtones, the piece describes the inhumane law that Chinese parents could only have one child, the mother forced to abort an impending birth. Traditional Chinese colors of red and black are used, and the imaginary sister is cute and energetic, a tragic realization of the terrible loss of potential life in a damaged nation. Grade: A-

Hair Love-2019 (USA)

Created by a team from the United States and strongly considered the front-runner, Hair Love feels the shortest of the bunch and is the most accessible of all the nominees, but hardly fluff either. A young black girl battles with her wild head of hair on a special day. After she unsuccessfully tries to create a gorgeous hairstyle by watching You tube videos, she desperately enlists the help of her kindly father. At first disastrous, they manage some success. The relationship is at first unclear. Is he a single dad? Is he her dad at all? Is he an older brother? The puzzle is quickly resolved with the revelation of the mother’s whereabouts in a tender and heartfelt ending. Grade: A

Kitbull-2019 (USA)

My personal favorite of the bunch, Kitbull starts off tough to watch. Any animal abuse in film makes my stomach turn and the beginning turned me off as I anticipated giving the piece a low rating. Instead, Kitbull results in a marvelous experience as a darling and compassionate story of the relationship between a kind cat and a suffering dog. The unlikely connection brought tears to my eyes as the cat, presumed to be an independent alley cat, comes to the rescue of the pit bull, presumed to be a made to dog fight. Any animal lover will watch this short with a mix of anger, empathy, and finally, joy. The sobering reality that so much animal abuse still exists in the world is both mind blowing and a cruel reality. Grade: A

Daughter-2019 (Czech Republic)

Daughter is a vague short film that is confusing to watch, but resilient and creative. The story consists of two characters- a father and daughter- both who seem to suffer from regret.  The father appears to be either sick and recovered, or to have died (unclear is if the story is told via flashbacks). The frequent pained expressions of both characters as they yearn to rewind the clock and treasure moments of the past, both of hardships and joy, are lessons that every viewer can appreciate and relate to. The misshapen ceramic figures and the facial movements, especially the blinking eyes, do much to elicit an emotional reaction from the audience. Grade: B+

May-2003

May-2003

Director-Lucky McKee

Starring-Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris

Scott’s Review #985

Reviewed January 30, 2020

Grade: B+

May (2003) is a macabre and twisted psychological horror film and the directorial film debut from Lucky McKee. Though not a box-office success, the film has become a cult favorite and is a feast for lovers of the depraved and tormented. The wicked fun is to watch the main character, already troubled at the start of the film, dissolve into complete and utter madness. The acting and the mood are exceptionally crafted.

Growing up with a lazy eye leaving her scarred with never-ending insecurity, May Canady (Angela Bettis) is a twenty-eight-year-old woman who has suffered from a troubled childhood. Having always had trouble making friends, she is finally able to befriend a lesbian colleague, Polly (Anna Faris), and a handsome mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto). Before long, she spoils the friendship when her oddities brim to the surface. May descends into utter madness and decides to build a new friend using human body parts. Will bits and pieces of her friends be used in the creation?

Bettis is a goldmine in the central role and provides a healthy dose of sympathy and creepiness. Many film characters have been outright disturbing in cinematic history, but May is wounded and victimized so we, as viewers, want to see her win out for once. All May wants is a friend and, especially with Adam, we root for her to find true love. May is like a combination of Carrie and Frankenstein.

Adam, while handsome, is also weird, and a good mate for May. He introduces her to a bizarre movie in which two characters embark on a romantic picnic and then eat each other. Adam reveals that he created the film for a college project. This impresses May- finally she has a soulmate! She quickly ruins the moment by biting his lip, turning him off and destroying her mounting confidence.

McKee is successful at making the film flow with precision and good pacing. Many rookie directors seem overwhelmed by a major motion picture undertaking, perhaps feeling more comfortable with short films. McKee proves he knows his stuff with an elegant and icy atmosphere that is just perfect for this type of film. May is a quick one hour and thirty-three minutes, which is all that is needed to make its mark.

The final thirty minutes is the best part as the proverbial s@#% hits the fan in a big way. McKee’s choice to use the holiday of Halloween night as the backdrop is both obvious and ingenious. May is not only ignored by Adam, but she learns he has a new girlfriend. To add insult to injury, Polly also finds love with new girlfriend Ambrosia. May feels isolated, finally snapping when she is ignored by her cat. She goes on a rampage and hacks up not only her friends, but her own eye.

May (2003) is a clever and atmospheric horror/thriller film with bursts of creativity and good-flowing storytelling. McKee may not always use originality and borrows heavily from other genre films, but he creates a nice blueprint of what his talents may lead to. The film leaves the viewer unnerved and aghast, but isn’t that the point of a good horror film? May could disappear over time, but provides a worthy dedication to the horror genre.