All posts by scottmet99

Lean on Pete-2018

Lean on Pete-2018

Director-Andrew Haigh

Starring-Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi

Scott’s Review #747

Reviewed April 24, 2018

Grade: B+

Lean on Pete (2018) is a heartbreaking and emotional slice of life film written and directed by British director, Andrew Haigh. The film centers on the relationship between a boy and a horse so the heart strings will receive a good tugging as the viewer is taken on a journey as the protagonist struggles through both pain and triumph. While slow moving and matter-of-fact, the film is a celebration of wonderful writing and good story chapters, perfectly nestled into the independent drama genre.

Based upon the novel of the same name- reportedly a much darker experience, actor Charlie Plummer portrays Charley Thompson, a fifteen year old boy living outside of Portland, Oregon, with his troubled father- his mother has taken off for parts unknown. As his already complicated life turns upside down after a violent attack, Charley finds himself increasingly attracted to the world of local horse racing as he becomes involved with a shady horse trainer, Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi). There he befriends and falls in love with an aging horse named Lean on Pete, who sadly is destined for the slaughterhouse in Mexico.

The film is really about Charley’s journey and determination to survive while facing seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles. The intriguing aspect of Lean on Pete is watching what Charley experiences and hoping against hope that he will come out unscathed and undamaged. The youngsters aspiration is to reach his estranged aunt, who he only knows to have been living in Wyoming as a waitress. How on earth will he be able to find her? If he does reach her will she welcome him with open arms as he hopes or will he suffer more defeat?

Several key aspects struck me as I watched this film- As Charley embarks on his travels to find his beloved aunt, with Lean on Pete in tow, he encounters many individuals who either aid or hinder his intentions. However, the common theme of waitresses continue to be portrayed- for starters, his aunt is referenced to be working as a waitress at a bar, when Del gives Charley some fatherly advice he implores to him that the best women have always worked as a waitress. On the road, he is treated kindly by two different waitresses- one of whom gives him free dessert, the other gives him a major break. I am not sure why Haigh chose to add this to the film, but it is a nice touch and effectively gives a warm, blue collar sensibility to the story.

Another intelligent decision Haigh makes is to keep the focus on Plummer and Charley’s facial expressions and reactions during pivotal scenes- for example, a scene where Charley is painting a house for extra money is important. As he hears a jovial father and son playing outside, Haigh shoots Charley’s reactions to this poignant scene rather than deciding to show the father and son. Hearing their pleasure is enough to elicit a look of pain on Charley’s face rather than a blatant scene of said father and son shoved down the viewers throat.

Enough praise cannot be given to young talent, Plummer, as he gives a layered performance that will surely make him a star in years to come. The actor possesses an earnest, trustworthy, sensibility which makes him a likely hero in any film he appears in down the road. Furthermore, he quietly gives Charley depth with a range of emotions including disappointment, fear, and anger at his predicament.

The supporting cast members give well-acted performances that add to the overall meat of the story. As grizzled, yet responsible Del, Buscemi sinks his teeth into a role that allows his sarcastic humor and wit to take center stage and he is perfect in the role. Chloe Sevigny, as Bonnie, a female jockey who befriends Charley, yet also gives it to him straight with lessons on life’s hard knocks, gives a fine performance.

Lean on Pete is a quiet film that elicits an emotional response from its intended audience by giving firm texture to the story and wonderful cinematography of the western United States landscape. Viewing a likable young adult in constant turmoil seems to be a difficult subject, but instead is rather beautiful and inspiring as captured by Haigh’s piece, instead of a complete downer as it might have been. The film is a tale of journey and struggle that successfully accomplishes what it sets out to achieve.

Do the Right Thing-1989

Do the Right Thing-1989

Director-Spike Lee

Starring-Danny Aiello, Spike Lee

Scott’s Review #746

Reviewed April 21, 2018

Grade: A

Do the Right Thing is one of the few great films to come out of the year 1989, not remembered as a fantastic year in cinema, when most mainstream films were as glossy as tin foil- and barren on quality substance. Here we have a small, independent gem that made people have discussions about current race relations in the United States and also became a monumental, influential film. Film maker (and star) Spike Lee carves a controversial story of racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood one hot summer day.

Beginning rather light and comedic, then turning violent and dark, the action is set in a largely black neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where twenty-five year old, Mookie (Spike Lee) works delivering pizzas at an Italian pizzeria owned by Sal (Danny Aiello). With a toddler at home and a nagging girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) always in his face, Mookie is unmotivated yet still a decent guy and loyal friend.  Sal has two sons who work at the pizza place- Pino (John Turturro), who is angry and racist and nice guy Vito, who is a friend of Mookie’s. When conflicts erupt over whether Sal’s restaurant should celebrate black celebrities as well as white on a wall in the dining room, tensions reach their breaking point as the intense heat wave makes matters much worse.

What makes Do the Right Thing a marvel are both the overall tone of the film and the atmosphere relayed by Spike Lee, who does an incredible job of writing, producing, and starring in the film. The elements having little to do with the actual story immediately impress as big, bright colors, in comic book style scream at the big screen in bold fashion, eliciting both a warm, inviting feeling and an angry, contemptuous vibe. The loud rap and hip hop beats are exceptionally instrumental at portraying a certain feeling and emotion to the film. Made independently, with little budget, the film feels raw and intense from the get go.

Brooklyn, and New York City in particular, is the perfect setting as Sal and his family are white folks living in a predominantly black neighborhood, so in turn are the minorities in the story. Additionally, the viewer sees the friendly neighborhood and feels a sense of belonging regardless of race- the humorous drunk, the kindly, grandmotherly type people watching from her stoop, and the boombox music kid all form a sense of community and togetherness. This point is tremendously important to the overall plot of the film.

The relationship between Mookie and Sal and his sons is very important and the centerpiece to the entire film, which I found quite interesting as a character study. Clearly open minded, Sal is a decent man and fine with the diversity in his neighborhood- yet still true to his Italian roots. Aiello does a fantastic job of portraying this complex, conflicted character. His two sons could not be more different from each other- Vito, who is a close friend of Mookie’s, is sympathetic and sweet- with nary a racist bone in his body. Pino, on the other hand, is angry and resentful of the black community taking over what he feels is his territory. Finally, Mookie, while lazy, is also a sympathetic character as he is conflicted once tension reach their boiling point. These diverse characters make the film so dynamic.

Revered director Spike Lee carves out a story and brings it to the big screen telling of an important topic that is as vital in modern times as it was when Do the Right Thing was released in 1989. The film is intelligent and timely without being condescending to either black or white races, nor preachy- instead telling a poignant story that is angry and sometimes painful to watch, but more importantly is empathetic and real.

No Country for Old Men-2007

No Country for Old Men-2007

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #745

Reviewed April 19, 2018

Grade: A

No Country for Old Men, made in 2007,  is arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s greatest work save for the amazing Fargo (1996). Achieving the Best Picture Academy Award and appearing on numerous Top Ten lists for its year of release, the film is clearly one of their most celebrated. Containing dark humor, offbeat characters, and fantastic storytelling, adding in some of the most gorgeous cinematography in film history, No Country for Old Men is one of the decades great films.

The time is 1980 and the setting western Texas as we follow dangerous hitman, Anton Chigurh, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem. He escapes jail by strangling a deputy and is subsequently hired to find Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hunter who has accidentally stumbled onto two million dollars in a suitcase that Mexican smugglers are desperate to find. In the mix is Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is pursuing both men. Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) in turn becomes an important character as she is instrumental in the web of deceit the chain of events creates. The film subsequently turns into an exciting cat and mouse chase with a dramatic climax.

The crux of the story and its plethora of possibilities is what make the events so exciting to watch. As characters are in constant pursuit of each other the viewer wonders who will catch up to whom and when.  One quality that makes the film unique with an identity all its own is that the three principal characters (Moss, Bell, and Chigurh) almost never appear in the same scene adding a layer of mystery and intrigue. The hero and most well liked of all the characters is, of course, Sheriff Bell- a proponent of honesty and truth while the other two characters are less than  savory types, especially the despicable Chigurh.

My personal favorite character in the story is Chigurh as he is the most interesting and Bardem plays him to the hilt with a calm malevolence- anger just bubbling under the surface. One wonders when he will strike next or if he will spare a life- as he intimidates his prey by offering to play a game of chance- the toss of a coin to determine life or death- he is one of cinema’s most vicious villains. With his bob cut hairstyle and his sunken brown eyes, he is a force to be reckoned with by looks alone.

True to many other Ethan and Joel Coen films the supporting or even the glorified extras are perfectly cast and filled with interesting quirkiness. Examples of this are the kindly gas station owner who successfully guesses a coin toss correctly and is spared his life. My favorite is the matter of fact woman at the hotel front desk, with her permed hair, she gives as good as she gets, and her monotone voice is great. It is these smaller intricacies that truly make No Country for Old Men shine and are a staple of Coen Brother films in general.

Many similarities abound between Fargo and No Country for Old Men, not the least of which is the main protagonist being an older and wiser police chief (Marge Gunderson and Tom Bell, respectively). Add to this a series of brutal murders and the protagonist being from elsewhere and stumbling upon a small, bleak town. Of course, the extreme violence depicted in both must be mentioned as a comparable.

Having shamefully only seen this epic thriller two times, No Country for Old Men is a dynamic film, reminiscent of the best of Sam Peckinpah classics such as The Getaway or The Wild Bunch. The Coen brothers cross film genres to include thriller, western, and suspense that would rival the greatest in Hitchcock films. I cannot wait to see it again.

Milk-2008

Milk-2008

Director-Gus Van Sant

Starring-Sean Penn, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #744

Reviewed April 18, 2018

Grade: A

Milk is a 2008 film that successfully teaches its viewers both a valuable history lesson about the introduction of gay rights into the United States culture, as well as to the prolific leader associated with this , Harvey Milk. The film really belongs to Sean Penn, who portrays Milk, but is also a fantastic biopic and learned experience  appreciating his wonderful journey through the 1970’s- mainly in San Francisco and New York City. Moreover, Milk portrays a gay character not played for laughs as many films do, but portrayed as a hero.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person ever to be elected to any political office, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The film however, opens in 1978, after a stunning announcement of Harvey Milk’s assassination along with the Mayor of the city, which was met with much heartbreak. The film then returns to 1970 as we meet Penn as Milk and follow his decade long battles and prosperity of changing the gay culture.

Having seen actual footage of Harvey Milk, Penn perfects the mannerisms and the speech patterns  of Milk giving him an immediate passionate and likable persona. The political figure had such a whimsical and innocent style all his own that Penn perfectly captures. His determination for honesty and fairness is admirable and inspiring and Milk seems like he was an innately good person.

Particularly heartbreaking is Penn’s facial reactions during his assassination scene-a scene that director Gus Van Sant brilliantly shoots as a follow-up to a joyous scene when Proposition 6 is defeated.  As troubled colleague, Dan White (Brolin), (rumored to be himself closeted and struggling with self identity), fires several shots into Harvey at City Hall, the scene is filmed in slow motion for additional dramatic effect and poignancy. The look of pain and sadness on Milk’s face will undoubtedly bring tears to even the most hard-hearted viewer.

The film shows the many close relationships which Milk formed throughout the 1970’s, including his steady lover Scott Smith, played by James Franco. The two actors share a solid chemistry together as they are both fun-loving and driven in what they hope to achieve. Sadly, Milk’s drive eventually outweighs Smith’s as they ultimately drift apart, but retain a special bond. Emile Hirsch is nearly unrecognizable as Cleve Jones, a young man who Harvey inspires and mentor throughout the pivotal decade.

A minute criticism noticed while watching Milk is that, with the exception of Penn, many of the supporting characters (Hirsch, Franco, and especially Alison Pill) seem to be “dressed up” in the 1970’s costumes, giving a forced rather than authentic feel. The costume designers seem intent on making them look so realistic that it backfires and looks more like actors made up to look like they are from the 1970’s. Penn, however, looks and acts spot on and stands out from the rest of the cast by miles.

An inspired biography of a legendary political figure, Harvey Milk, led by a fine lead actor (Penn), deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he was awarded, Milk is an astounding story of both triumph and tragedy. The film successfully portrays a time when a class of people were not treated fairly and equal rights were barely a possibility, and the uprising that occurred in large part due to one man and his followers. Milk is a wonderful testament to a time gone by and the accomplishments achieved since then- a truly inspiring and tragic message.

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka

Scott’s Review #743

Reviewed April 17, 2018

Grade: A-

By 1982 the Friday the 13th installments were becoming an almost annual event, which would continue until the late 1980’s. Still popular and fresh at the time (the novelty would soon wear thin), Part III has the distinction of being released in 3-D, a highly novel concept and just perfect for a slasher film, including sharp weapons to shove at the camera at every turn. Directed once again by Steve Miner, who also directed Part II,  the film charters familiar territory that will certainly please fans of the genre. The horror gem still feels fresh to me decades after its original release.

The plot originally was intended to copy 1981’s successful Halloween II and capitalize on the return of one central character, Ginny (Amy Steel), and continue her night of terror as she is whisked away to a local hospital following her ordeal at Camp Crystal Lake. While this plot seems laden with good, gruesome “kill” possibilities (think syringes, scalpels, and other neat medical objects), unfortunately this was not to be after Steel balked at a return appearance.

Directly following the bloody events the night before, a new batch of teenagers- oblivious to the recent killings- except for tortured Chris (Dana Kimmell), who once was attacked by the crazed killer, travel to Camp Crystal Lake for a weekend of fun and partying. As Chris teeters between imagining sounds and shadows, traumatized by her past, Jason lurks nearby waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. In this installment, Chris is most certainly the “final girl”, a fact that is obvious with the immediate backstory. The other characters fall in line with traditional slasher stereotypes- the lovelorn couple, the prankster, and a stoner couple. Also, a rival biker gang is thrown in for added drama as they vow revenge on the group following an incident at a convenience store.

A few main differences between Part III and Parts I and II follow:  Part III incorporates less “point of view” camera shots from Jason’s perspective, and more from the viewpoint of the victims. The result is neither better nor worse- just different. This is the first installment in which Jason dons his trademark hockey mask giving the film a slicker feel, and more identity, than Part II did, where Jason mostly wore a burlap sack. In clever fashion, Jason steals the hockey mask from one of his victims. Finally, as evidenced by the soundtrack, Part III adds a disco/techno beat to the famous “chi chi chi” sounds, giving the music a distinct 1980’s feel that the two preceding installments do not have- those feel more like 1970’s films.

Memorable slayings include a knife shoved through a victims chest while resting on a hammock, an electrocution via a basement fuse box,  and death via a shooting spear gun. The main draw to the kills and thus the film itself is the clever use of the 3-D technology, which makes the audience feel like the center of the action. What a treat to see the implements used in the killings coming right at me!

Credit must be given to the added diversity Friday the 13th: Part III incorporates. For the first time (a glorified black extra in Part II does not count) minority characters are featured. Bikers Fox (Hispanic) and Ali (Black) as well as pretty Vera Sanchez are included giving the film more of an inclusive feel- though each of these characters is killed off.

Enjoyable also is the inclusion of a quick recap of Part II, similar to what Part II did with the original, so that the climax of the preceding film gives the viewer a good glimpse of how the action left off.  The screenwriters add a few comical characters, admittedly offed rather quickly into the mix. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of junk food eating Harold and his nagging wife Edna, for example, before they meet their maker.

Hardly high art, Friday the 13th: Part III is mostly remembered for some cool, innovative technology, a tiny bit of camp that does not overwhelm the straight-forward horror flavor, and for still seeming fresh before the franchise got old, stale, and tired. Part III, along with I and II, make for a wonderful trio in one of horror’s finest franchises.

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Amy Steel, John Furey

Scott’s Review #742

Reviewed April 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Hot on the heels of the surprising success of the low-budget slasher film, Friday the 13th, a sequel to the 1980 film was immediately ordered. The film was released merely a year later and is nearly as good as its predecessor, but not quite to the level of that horror masterpiece. Part II is a well above average sequel with a fun style all its own while wisely keeping facets that made the first Friday adored by horror fans everywhere.

Gushing fans must have undoubtedly been chomping at the bit for a follow-up film and with an opening sequence that is quite lengthy.  The heroine of the first Friday, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), takes center stage, eliciting a clever twist that must have shocked fans as she is offed less than fifteen minutes into the film- think the sequence with Drew Barrymore in 1996’s Scream for comparison. Regardless of the reasons King would not be the films star (money demands or a rumored stalker), the fact of the matter is this improves the overall film adding an immediate surprise.

After this compelling opening number, things become much more familiar and predictable as the viewer is enshrined in the antics of young and horny camp counselors rushing to sunny Camp Crystal Lake (or in this installment, a neighboring camp) to setup for the impending arrival of kids. The young adults are all very good-looking, fresh-faced, and ready to be sliced to ribbons or dismembered in some fashion as the case may be. As any horror aficionado knows, this is a major part of the appeal of slasher films and Friday the 13th: Part II follows a familiar formula.

Paul (John Furey) and Ginny (Amy Steel) are the lead counselors- a bit more adult and responsible than the others, thus they ignore the authorities warnings not to re-open the camp since it has only been five years since the original massacres. As the day turns into evening, Paul teases the group with the story of the legend of Jason and how he survived his drowning only to live in the woods fending for himself and avenging the death of his mother. Little do they know that the legend is reality and Jason is lurking among the trees ready to off the group one by one.

Besides Paul and Ginny, the supporting characters include sexy Terry, known to wear skimpy attire, sly Scott, who has designs on Terry, wheelchair-bound Mark, sweet and  innocent, Vickie, jokester Ted, and, finally, madly in love, Jeff and Sandra, who are curious about the history of Camp Crystal Lake. Delightfully, the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), the comic relief of the original film, makes a heralded return to warn the youths of impending doom and gloom.

Friday the 13th: Part II mixes pranks and flirtations among many of the characters, but the audience knows full well what is in store for each of them- save for the honorable “final girl”, prevalent in these types of films. With Ginny receiving this title the others meet their fates in bloody style with interesting kills such as a throat slit by a machete while in a rope trap, a duo impaled with a spear as they engage in sex, and bludgeoning with a kitchen knife.

The final twenty minutes is quite engaging as Ginny must flee from the camp while enduring repeated obstacles preventing her safety such as a run through the woods, tripping and falling, and a failed barricade in a cabin. A wonderful touch within this sequence is the return of Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees) in a cameo appearance as Jason sees a vision of his mother. This move successfully creates a tie in to the original that works quite nicely as coupled with the opening sequence. The final “jump out of your seat” moment is highly effective as Jason, thought to be bested, leaps through a window for one final attack.

Interesting to note is what appear to be identical camera angles through much of the film, as the camera uses the point of view of the killer numerous times to elicit scares and the viewer serving as the killer- reminiscent of the first film. Additionally, camera shots of the peaceful, sunny camp and lake during the daytime are used, in contrast to the violence occurring at night.  Even the approaching vehicle the counselors drive (a truck) are shot the same way as we see them arriving at the camp in full anticipation of a fun time.

Friday the 13th: Part II is a fun follow-up to one of the most celebrated horror films of the slasher generation and is a perfect counterpart to the original. A perfect viewing tip is to watch both films in sequence on perhaps a late night horror extravaganza. Subsequently followed by a slew of not so great sequels as the franchise became dated by the late 1980’s, Part 2 serves as an excellent follow-up to the original using a similar style that will please fans.

The Lure-2015

The Lure-2015

Director-Agnieszka Smoczynska

Starring-Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek

Scott’s Review #741

Reviewed April 12, 2018

Grade: B

2015’s The Lure is as odd a film as one can imagine- dreamlike and sometimes even absurd. The story mixes a strange blend of the horror genre with musical numbers, but for the sake of classification purposes, I would teeter to the side of gothic horror. Oddly enough, some of the choreography numbers are reminiscent of 2016’s La La Land, but that is where the comparisons between those films end as the former musical numbers dark and the latter cheery. A tough film to review, The Lure is rather disjointed, but kudos for creativity and unpredictability.

Bravely directed by a female (more kudos!),  Agnieszka Smoczynska, a Polish film-maker, the story is a cross between an autobiography of her troubled youth, and a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. Besides the obvious Polish language content the film does not appear overly Polish- it might have been nice to be exposed to some of the culture.

The film immediately gets off to a mysterious start as two teenage girls- later revealed to be mermaids/vampires named Silver and Golden- emerge from the water and follow a rock band back to a tacky nightclub where the band regular performs for patrons there for the strippers- it is sometime in the 1980’s. The girls perform music and strip, becoming an act called “The Lure”. While Golden continues to thirst for blood, Silver falls in love with a bassist causing her to yearn to be a real girl and subsequently has surgery to remove her tail and grow real-girl legs. As part of the fairy tale, if her intended marries someone else Silver will turn into sea foam and die.

The story is completely perplexing and a difficult follow, yet there is something mesmerizing and escapist about it. My wonder is if Smoczynska intended the film to make total sense or left it open to a bit of interpretation- after all the film is a mix of fairy tale and real-life experience. Some portions appear to be rather dream-like, for example the nightclub singer has thoughts or visions involving Silver and Golden, but what is unclear is whether she is experiencing reality or imagination.

Props must be given to The Lure for originality alone. The film is successful at stirring up multiple genres and creating something truly unique. In particular, the characters of Silver and Golden are transfixing- at times they are sweet and kindly, but then their fangs come out at a moments notice revealing evil and a carnivorous blood thirst revealing a grotesque, haunting countenance. The way in which Smoczynska created these characters is rather awe-inspiring and the up and coming director must have a wealth of imagination deep within.

On the other hand, the plot never really comes together enough to grab hold of the viewer in a riveting way. While Silver and Golden are clever characters and we feel some level of empathy for them, I also never felt completely gripped by them either. I felt no connection to any of the supporting characters either. Any attempt at figuring out the plot will only leave the viewer frustrated. I would advise taking The Lure as an experience and not a puzzle to necessarily be unraveled.

The Lure has elements of immeasurable fascination and an enormous creative edge. Attempts to create a unique fable meshed with a disturbing central theme are successful, but the overall story is way too confusing for the average user and ultimately ends up dragging towards the final portion with the final climax a wee bit unsatisfying. Still, a brave and inventive attempt at achieving something fresh and imaginative in cinema.

High Anxiety-1977

High Anxiety-1977

Director-Mel Brooks

Starring-Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn

Scott’s Review #740

Reviewed April 11, 2018

Grade: A

For lovers of legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock (as this reviewer is a die-hard fan), the 1977 spoof/satirical feast High Anxiety is a must-see.  The film is simply a treat for the multitude (nearly twenty!) of fun references to Hitchcock classics that fans can easily point out. Such classics as 1964’s The Birds, 1945’s Spellbound, 1958’s Vertigo, and 1960’s fan-favorite Psycho are heavily parodied.

Producer, director, and star Mel Brooks abounds all expectations with a brilliant performance and a smattering of veteran Brooks ensemble players along for the ride. Featured stars Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and Cloris Leachman provide wonderful comic performances that are quite lively and memorable without ever being too zany or silly. High Anxiety is a hilarious and clever production.

Brooks plays neurotic Doctor Richard Thorndyke, who has been hired by the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very Very Nervous. His role is to replace Doctor Ashley, who has died mysteriously at the facility. Transported by his nervous driver, Brophy, he meets a bevy of peculiar characters led by Doctor Charles Montague (Korman), a man with a BDSM fetish, and Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Leachman), the grizzled head nurse. Thorndyke immediately receives death threats amid strange shenanigans seemingly following his every move.

In brilliant fashion Thorndyke suffers from “high anxiety” a witty reference to Hitchcock’s character of Scotty from 1958’s Vertigo. As he meets and falls in love with Victoria Brisbane (Kahn), a woman whose father is a patient at the facility, he becomes determined to prove the fraudulence and deceit of Montague and Diesel, while subsequently clearing himself of a murder charge orchestrated by the pair. The murder scene- occurring in a crowded lobby- with Thorndyke caught red handed holding the murder weapon as a camera snaps the shot for evidence, is a direct spoof of 1959’s North By Northwest.

To be clear, High Anxiety is not a high-brow film nor does it ever dare to take itself too seriously. It knows what it is and what it wants to achieve and that is to both entertain and please fans of Hitchcock. In fact the film is an ode and tribute to the general film-making of the director who reportedly adored the picture and the accolades that Brooks received from making it. There is hardly a better stamp of approval than that.

I adore the casting and the odd characters Brooks writes, specifically Leachman and Korman. The duo ham it up with a script laced with great comic moments for the duo to sink their teeth into. As Leachman, with her drill sergeant-like stiff posture and pointed bosom (Mrs. Danvers from 1940’s Rebecca), combined with the wimpy and snarky mannerisms of Korman’s character, they are the perfect combination of female dominant and male submissive as they play off of one another in crisp style. The sinister way that Nurse Diesel (my favorite character) utters the word “Braces”, a reference to her henchman, drizzles with dark humor and wit.

Piggybacking off of these characters, Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) gives a fine turn as the doomed straight man with a conscience,  Dr. Wentworth, who just knows something is up at the facility, but is too timid to know exactly what it is. His death scene is one of my favorites as, derived from 1976’s Family Plot, the poor man is driven to ruptured ear drums and a subsequent stroke after his car is rigged to blast rock music, trapping him inside.

Brooks and Kahn make a lovable duo as the beleaguered romantic couple forced into an adventure to prove innocence and rescue Victoria’s father from harm. A favorite moment is Brooks’s wonderful rendition of  the song “High Anxiety” at a hotel piano bar as he successfully woos Victoria is an entertaining romantic comedy moment. In predictable fashion- he gets the girl.

High Anxiety is delicious, silly, and peppered with great classic Hitchcock moments that are momentously fun to watch and pick out which movie they each reference is from. An absolute must-see for all Hitchcock fans or those who simply want a humorous, lightweight introduction to the works of the Master.

Jigsaw-2017

Jigsaw-2017

Director-Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Starring-Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell

Scott’s Review #739

Reviewed April 9, 2018

Grade: C-

As a fan of the horror genre and specifically of the Saw film franchise  that debuted in brutal form in 2004, directed by James Wan, has sadly become a lesser version of what was once clever writing mixed with wonderful, tortuous kills. Jigsaw is the eighth installment in a series that has now run out of steam- simply riding on the coat-tails of what was once its glory days. The 2017 film can only be appreciated by die-hard fans of the series, otherwise will be unsuccessful at obtaining any new fans.

Admittedly, Jigsaw does begin in strong fashion as the viewer is thrust into the midst of a compelling  rooftop police chase that results in a fleeing criminal, Edgar Munsen, being shot by detectives. Unknown if events are connected, the action shifts to a remote barn where (in typical Saw fashion) five individuals are held captive, each with a noose around their neck. Throughout the film we learn the back-stories of each victim as well as a connecting story of a pathologist, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), his sister, and the possibility that John Kramer has either returned from the grave or a copycat killer is on the loose, emulating his shenanigans.

The basic premise and tone of 2017’s Jigsaw is very similar to the preceding seven installments, however this version seems a bit watered down and glossy by comparison. My recurring thought throughout the feature was one of reminiscence of a horror version of a network episodic drama- think CBS’s Criminal Minds or the like. This is not a compliment. The camera style is of a slick production with nary a raw or authentic moment- incredibly produced with good-looking people in peril.

Fans of the previous Saw films will undoubtedly expect the now familiar twist towards the end of the film- a clever story turn making one character revealed to be not what he or she appears to be or even in cahoots with serial killer, “Jigsaw” (John Kramer). To be fair, this quality does surface in Jigsaw, but the surprise is so lame and inexplicable that it is hardly worth mentioning.  Suffice it to say the expected resurfacing of Kramer is a real sham and instead we are fed a less than satisfying riddle of one character faking his death and another sequence taking place ten years earlier. If better written this twist might be worth its salt, but the reasoning seems thrown together with little thought of staying true to the characters or history.

Other familiar elements in Jigsaw abound so that a fan of Saw or Saw II or Saw III will undoubtedly find tidbits that will satisfy them. In this way the film is like a trip to McDonald’s or a neighborhood burger joint- one will more or less get what is expected. As the barn victims are given choices via a tape recorded message by a sinister John Kramer voice, each is given a test and must ultimately confess their sins. As fans know, Saw victims are far from innocent and always harbor a neatly tucked away secret.

Such horrific acts like a haggard young mother smothering her screaming baby and framing her husband for the deed, or a thief stealing a woman’s wallet and causing her to die when her asthma medicine is lost, are back stories thought of by the writers. Another character once sold a motorcycle with a faulty brake line to an innocent man who later crashed and was killed. These aspects are the fun in a film like Jigsaw in that the tortures the victims endure have elements of “serves him or her right”.

Another solid to Jigsaw are the kills, again what fans of the Saw franchise have come to know and love. In this one we delightfully witness a victim’s leg severed, another impaled with needles, and yet another gleefully attempts to shoot one of the other victims trapped in the barn to allow her freedom only to realize the gun is rigged to shoot herself instead. These are fun moments that make Jigsaw less than all bad.

Having created an eighth version of a once great franchise that introduced the world to the term “torture horror”, by 2017 has grown ultimately stale and tired with a few glimpses of former glory created in the familiarity aspects. All great things must come to an end and the Saw series has more than crumbled from its former days of glory.

Loving Vincent-2017

Loving Vincent-2017

Director-Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Voices-Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan

Scott’s Review #738

Reviewed April 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Loving Vincent (2017) is a highly unique animated feature that is quite the artistic experience and vastly different from any typical film of this genre. Being the first of its kind to be a completely painted animated feature, hopefully other films will follow suit, as the result is an exuberance in creativity. While the biography of Vincent van Gogh is interesting, I was oftentimes left wondering the accuracy of all the details as the plot is rather dramatic. Still, the film is to be celebrated for its progressive  and edgy nature.

In clever fashion the actors starring in the vehicle simply act while they are subsequently drawn so that the viewer can imagine the action as if it were a standard film, since the drawings mirror the actors involved. For example, Saoirse Ronan can clearly be distinguished as the daughter of a local boatman, who was rumored as keeping close company with van Gogh before his death. We know it is the actress, but in painting form, eliciting a surreal experience.

The action begins one year following tortured artist, Vincent van Gogh’s, tragic suicide. Postman Joseph Roulin asks his son Armand to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Suspicion surrounds the artist’s death as mere weeks earlier his mood was calm and level-headed making his death cause for alarm. From this point, Armand traverses throughout France to spend time with those who had dealings with Van Gogh during the last days of his life. Those characters include his doctor, an inn keeper, and others who may hold clues to the mystery surrounding his death.

From a story perspective, Loving Vincent is a compelling piece as mystery and suspicion is cast around the actual death of the artist. This is not so much a whodunit as we know of the resulting suicide, however, the film certainly casts some doubt about the why of that fateful night. Did someone drive Van Gogh to suddenly take his own life? What was the romantic situation between either Marguerite or perhaps even Adeline? The supposed copying of Van Gogh’s art by his doctor, Dr. Paul Gachet is an interesting point. Through all of these dramatic and intriguing facets I did begin to wonder what was factual and what was not.

The brilliant part of Loving Vincent exists in the unusual and artistic method in which the film is created. The fact that the film is about one of the most respected and appreciated artists of all time is no accident and this perfectly encases the overall tone of the film in wonderful fashion. Throughout the one hour and thirty four minute duration of the film I was continually enamored by the “look” of the film. Exquisite and quite beautiful, the film makers chose classically trained painters over traditional animators and I feel this makes all of the difference.

The use of actual Van Gogh paintings were an instrumental part of the film and modified to fit into the allotted screen room. The cast performed the film, as if a play, in front of a green screen, and then the painters created their magic- pretty incredible! Also mind blowing is the use of colors to change the time of day (brightness and darkness) that results in a highly effective tone.

By creating a visual masterpiece of cinematic beauty, Loving Vincent is a feast for the eyes. Unknown if the story is true to form or whether facts are embellished, the film succeeds as a work of art and a good glimpse into the life of one of the worlds most beloved and tortured artists.

Coco-2017

Coco-2017

Director-Lee Unkrich

Voices-Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt

Scott’s Review #737

Reviewed April 4, 2018

Grade: B+

Winner of the 2017 Best Animated Feature Academy Award, Coco is an exuberant and colorful affair filled with marvelous lights and a Mexican cultural infusion that serves the film well, making it feel robust with diversity and inclusion. The overall theme of family, traditions, and musical celebration is apparent and makes for good razzle dazzle with lots of upbeat song and dance. Mixed in is a lovely inter-generational theme, where older folks are respected, something all too lacking in today’s real world.

Miguel Rivera is a twelve year old boy living in Mexico with his extended family, including his elderly great-grandmother, Coco- sadly suffering from intermittent dementia. Through flashbacks we learn that Coco’s father, (Miguel’s great-great-grandfather), was an aspiring musician who abandoned the family for greener pastures. Subsequently, all music has been banned by the Rivera clan in favor of a modest shoe-making business.

As Miguel realizes his passion for music, he comes into conflict with his family, who have other aspirations for the young man. Miguel embarks on a fantastic journey to the magical and somewhat frightening land of his deceased ancestors, coinciding with the festive Day of the Dead celebration, a tradition of Mexican culture. There he realizes the true nature of his great-great-grandfather’s sudden departure.

Coco is a film that can really be enjoyed by all members of the family and is structured in just that way. The blatant use of multiple generations holds great appeal for blending the family unit together. Pixar successfully sets all the right elements in place for a successful film, and the well-written story only adds layers. The film is quite mainstream, yet appealing to the masses.

Perhaps very young viewers may become frightened by some of the skeleton laced faces of Miguel’s ancestors in the other world where he visits, but these images are somewhat tame and mixed with vibrant colors and wonderful production numbers. These images are undoubtedly meant to entertain rather than be scary and the creatures possess a friendly vibe.

Having viewed the film on an airplane traveling cross-country (admittedly not the best way to watch a film), I was entranced by the lovely and touching  musical number, “Remember Me (Lullaby)”, so much so that I was moved to tears right on the plane. How’s that for effectiveness? The emotional level reached via this song impressed me immensely about Coco, even when the story occasionally is secondary to the visual or musical elements.

In fact, for me, the story began to lag slightly until the aforementioned big musical number came into play. The song really kicked the action into high gear in an emotional way, and I became more enamored with the characters and the connections they had to one another. The love that Miguel and his relatives share became clearer to me and the conclusion is fine and satisfactory.

A slight miss to the film, corrected mid way through, is the bratty and entitled nature to Miguel. Heaving sighs when he does not get his way, this seems more apparent early on and was quite the turn off- at first I did not care for the character, yet I knew I was supposed to. Thankfully, the character becomes, naturally, the hero of the film and ultimately a sweet, likable character. I began to ponder,  “is that what kids are really like these days”?

Pixar does it again as they create a family friendly experience with a positive, yet non cliched message of belonging, forgiveness, and the importance of family connections, that feels fresh. In current times of divisiveness, especially with immigration and other cultures being attacked, how appropriate to experience a feel-good, yet not contrived project.

Carmen Jones-1954

Carmen Jones-1954

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte

Scott’s Review #736

Reviewed April 3, 2018

Grade: B+

Quite taboo at the time of release (1954) because it featured an all-black cast with not a single white cast member, Carmen Jones is to be celebrated for its contribution to film history for this groundbreaking feat alone. Directed by Otto Preminger (who  ironically is caucasian),  the film features legendary actress Dorothy Dandridge in a Marilyn Monroe style performance worthy of the stars talents. The film is a musical with inevitable tragedy at the conclusion.

The 1954 feature is based on a 1943 stage production  of the same name, which in turn is based on the music of the famous 1875 Georges Bizet production of Carmen. These facets add to the richness of the film as it is layered in good history, and the well-known tragic elements make the conclusion of unsurprising.

Brazen and beautiful, Carmen is a seductress who works in a parachute factory in North Carolina during World War II. After trading fists with a co-worker, Carmen is jailed and assigned handsome Corporal Joe (Harry Belafonte) to escort her to the authorities. While Carmen is not shy about setting her sights on the young man, his fiancee, virginal Cindy Lou, fumes with anger and schemes to keep her man. This results in a triangle, of sorts, as Carmen and Joe eventually fall madly in love, leaving poor Cindy Lou by the wayside, but their love faces hurdles.

The rather lighthearted first portion of the film, with coquettish humor mixed in, is offset by a much darker path the film then takes. As Carmen and Joe finally profess their love and share a night of passion, she leaves him in the middle of the night, unable to endure prison time. This results in Joe actually being imprisoned as the couple ultimately cannot stay away from one another despite repeated obstacles to their happiness. An additional character, a boxer named Husky, with designs on Carmen, is introduced, complicating matters.

In sad form, much like the opera Carmen, the final scene is both devastating and startling, as Joe treads down a dark and gloomy path of destruction. The character of Joe is nuanced- at first a “nice guy”, the character is an example in complexity, and what a man will do for love. The viewer is left to wonder what will become of Joe and how he could simply throw his life away performing an act in the heat of passion.

For 1954, what a profound and wonderful role for a female, let alone a black female. Typically cast in roles such as maids, waitresses, or even less glamorous parts, how wonderful for Dandridge to capture a challenging role of this caliber. As she sinks her teeth into the meaty and flirtatious Carmen, she is a vixen all the way. Her pizzazz, her flare, and her singing and dancing performances made Dandridge a star and forever known as a groundbreaking talent.

Enough cannot be said of the great importance of the casting of all black actors in Carmen Jones.  Monumental, of course given the time of the film, the result is a film of importance to the black culture, showing that no longer did they need to only appear in “white films” as supporting players, but could carry a film on their own.  How profound and remarkable this was!

My only criticism of the film is undoubtedly a result of the progress made for both black actors and the way black characters are written- though there is still plenty of more work to do. At times feeling a shade on the dated side (in present times plenty of great roles for black actors) with a slight grainy look to the filming, some of the acting from the supporting characters is also not the strongest, but nonetheless liberties must be taken as Carmen Jones is a historical film.

Thanks to the genius and the funding of Preminger, who needed to produce the film independently due to lack of interest, the results are a film that has gone down in history as being worthy, edgy, and open-minded. Wisely casting talented stars with great pipes, the film is a solid success.

Black Swan-2010

Black Swan-2010

Director- Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey

Scott’s Review #735

Reviewed March 22, 2018

Grade: A

Darren Aronofsky, the director famous for the psychological and bizarre, most notably 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, 20008’s The Wrestler, and 2017’s mother!, can easily add 2010’s Black Swan to this category as he weaves an unsettling tale involving the world of ballet centered around the Tchaikovsky work Swan Lake. The film is dark, eerie, perverse, and utterly mind-blowing in its creativity- in short, Black Swan is a masterpiece. The film reaped several Academy Award nominations including a win for Natalie Portman as Best Actress.

In the competitive New York City ballet company, art director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), is preparing to open the season with the compelling and difficult, Swan Lake. Deemed “too old”, star ballerina Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder) is forced into retirement, much to her chagrin, allowing others to audition for the coveted lead role. Aspiring talent, Nina Sayers (Portman) gives a flawless audition as the White Swan, but lacks the depth to succeed as the Black Swan. Despite this point, Nina wins the role and slowly becomes psychotic as she begins to embody the Black Swan in her quest for perfection.

Certainly center stage, Portman embodies her character with mystique as we never know if she is living her dual role or if someone is messing with her. As strange events begin to occur, Nina is insecure and on edge throughout- as she desperately wants to give testament to White Swan/Black Swan she does not feel confident in the skin of Black Swan and she eventually teeters toward the edge of insanity. Deserving the Oscar statuette she won, Portman delivers the best role of her career.

Black Swan would not have been the success that it was without the talents of the three most prominent supporting characters- Cassel, Mila Kunis (at the time unknown), as Lily/Black Swan, and legendary talent Barbara Hershey as Nina’s supportive yet haggard mother, Erica. Just as Nina grows both suspicious of and distrustful of each of these characters motivations, so does the audience. Is Lily a trusted friend? What does Nina really know of her? Is Cassel’s Thomas manipulating Nina for a great performance or does he have sexual designs on her? Is Erica a loyal confidante or a jealous bitch, vengeful about her stalled career?

The final scene of the film is a masterpiece in itself and perfectly wraps up the film in perplexing, grotesque style. As the big night finally arrives and doubt is cast on whether or not Nina will perform successfully, the entire scene is a riveting, climactic experience. One will never forget the final shot of Nina, gushing with blood, and a grimace caked in stage makeup, as she professes a perfect performance to her musical director and cast mates. With this scene we are left wondering whether she will ever recover from this performance.

The fabulous musical score is haunting and effective and each piece is perfectly placed within the appropriate scene. The heavy use of violins gives the soundtrack a frightening, almost horrific screeching quality, and the Chemical Brothers electronic songs, importantly used during Nina and Lily’s wild night out clubbing, is tremendously effective.

The 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, directed by the controversial Michael Powell, simply must have been an influence to Aronofsky. Both containing similar subject matters of ballet and dancing on the edge of sanity, I can hardly think of two better films to serve as companion pieces, watched in tandem, then these two timeless greats.

Darren Aronofsky, along with a perfectly cast company with stellar, bombastic actors, and a classical music score by the great Tchaikovsky, with electronic elements mixed in delivers a piece that works in spades. 2010’s chilling Black Swan is a modern day classic that will be discussed as much as it is remembered as an incredibly important film.

A Separation-2011

A Separation-2011

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi

Scott’s Review #734

Reviewed March 21, 2018

Grade: A

A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film that was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award statuette, the first Iranian film to achieve the honor. The film is a family drama that is wonderfully complex, and weaves typical family issues (divorce and school issues) with more complicated and cultural leanings, and keeps going and going with story nuances. A Separation is directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi, who is also responsible for the brilliant screenplay- this is a top notch film.

Presumably set in Tehran, or a more progressive (by Iranian standards) city in Iran, husband and wife Nader and Simin  reside with their teenage daughter, Termeh, and Nader’s elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Frustrated by her husbands refusal to leave the country for a better life, Simin files for divorce, but her wish is rejected by male judges. When she leaves her family anyway, Nader is forced to hire a pregnant caregiver, Razieh, to tend to his ailing father. After a controversial tragedy ensues, causing Razieh to suffer a miscarriage, the film shifts directions and adds an entirely new layer to the  already fascinating story.

Farhadi is very keen with his delivery of a good story- he traditionally mixes themes of culture and social class together in an interesting way as his future, 2017, work, The Salesman, would also do. Thanks to Farhadi’s innovative storytelling, more notice is taken to Iran and Iranian culture, thereby humanizing its citizen more within the craft of film. We see Iranian people just like ourselves and not the radical or dangerous individuals we are programmed to see.

With A Separation, there are no clear cut protagonists or antagonists, and viewers allegiances may shift throughout the run of the film. Do we champion Simin for desiring a better life for herself and for Termeh or scold her for refusing to live with her family? A progressive woman for sure, she is a layered character in her ambitions and her autonomy.

Nader is also a complex character- heroic for desiring the best of care for his father, he is also fraught with anger and bad temperament, which is the main reason for the second half of the film, and leads to Razieh’s predicament. Viewers will not be certain whether Nader is a good man or a villain, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Subsequently, this is the meat of the entire story, and makes for an enthralling experience in character development.

As if the brilliant screenplay was not enough to demand a good watch, the acting across the board is wonderful. A cast including seasoned Iranian actors, Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as Simin and Nader, these are my favorites, and are quite adept at carrying along the nail-biting tension in masterful form.

Shades of Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout the film as the tension unfolds to a crescendo and the action builds and builds and builds in layers upon layers of good stuff. The quick editing and unique camera angles mirror some classic works of the famous director.

The success of A Separation is the films fast-paced, nicely edited construction, in a way that, at over two hours in length, the film speeds along rather quickly, and causes those who experience it to ponder, wonder, think, and ascertain. Asghar Farhadi has quickly become a prominent director, met with obstacles from his native country, and yet surpassing these hurdles to construct great film. I look forward to many more of his works.

Straw Dogs-1971

Straw Dogs-1971

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Dustin Hoffman, Susan George

Scott’s Review #733

Reviewed March 19, 2018

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

Director-Oz Perkins

Starring-Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka

Scott’s Review #732

Reviewed March 12, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinderella-1950

Cinderella-1950

Director-Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilifred Jackson

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Florida Project-2017

The Florida Project-2017

Director-Sean Baker

Starring-Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince

Scott’s Review #730

Reviewed February 28, 2017

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fantastic Woman-2017

A Fantastic Woman-2017

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

Scott’s Review #729

Reviewed February 27, 2018

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack

Scott’s Review #728

Reviewed February 26, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

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

Scott’s Review #727

Reviewed February 21, 2018

Grade: A-

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

Garden Party-2016

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

Lou-2017

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

Dear Basketball-2017

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

Revolting Rhymes-2016

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

Negative Space-2017

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

Happy Death Day-2017

Happy Death Day-2017

Director-Christopher B. Landon

Starring-Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard

Scott’s Review #726

Reviewed February 20, 2018

Grade: C+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo

Scott’s Review #725

Reviewed February 15, 2018

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mudbound-2017

Mudbound-2017

Director-Dee Rees

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund

Scott’s Review #724

Reviewed February 12, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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