Category Archives: Science Fiction Films

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Director-Gordon Hessler

Starring-Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #899

Reviewed May 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Any film that features horror heavyweights and great actors like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is well worth the price of admission for the name status alone. Each is a mainstay attraction in his own right and combined, results in an orgy of riches. Scream and Scream Again (1969) sputters by limiting the on-screen interaction between the actors but after a reflective pause I realize the picture is to be revered for its creativity and use of intersecting plot lines into a thrashing crescendo of a surprise ending.

The audience is offered three segments of story, each periodically revisited as stand-alone segments that culminate into overlapping components. An athletic runner trots along the streets of London suddenly suffering from an attack only to awaken in the hospital with no legs. Elsewhere, a deadly intelligence operative reports back to his repressed Eastern European country only to murder his commanding officer with a deadly paralyzing hold. Finally, a London detective investigates the brutal deaths of several young women in metropolitan nightclubs.

Cushing, reduced to merely a cameo sized role as the ill-fated officer, is barely worth mentioning and adds little to the film besides appearing in it. Lee, as Fremont, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, plays a straight role with not much zest. Price, with the meatiest role as a mysterious doctor specializing in limb replacement, can give anyone the creeps with his scowling and eerie mannerisms, but the film strikes out by wasting the talents of the other legendary actors.

The film is not at all what a fan of Hammer horror will expect especially based on the horror familiar cast and the gory sounding title. Heaping buckets of blood or ghoulish vampires are what was on the anticipated menu but that does not mean the film fails to deliver. It may not please a fan of traditional horror films since the genres of political espionage and science-fiction come heavily into play. The fantastic and peculiar nightclub serial killer story line will satisfy fans eager for a good kill or two.

My initial reaction to Scream and Scream Again was that of over-complicated writing and too much going on simultaneously especially for a film of said horror genre. After the film concludes and the surprise ending is revealed I realized that the numerous tidbits are necessary to achieve the desired result and events will make the viewer ponder when the film ends.  Not to ruin the big reveal but the film makers borrow a healthy dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) in a more macabre way, naturally.

Fans of the 1960’s British television series The Avengers will be pleased with Scream and Scream Again as a similar tone exists with both. The distinctive musical soundtrack, trendy for the 1960’s time-period works well, and the nightclub sequences and some of the detectives feel reminiscent of the show. The feel of the film is not limited to an episodic television story but contains a similar style. High British 1960’s fashion is also prevalent and pleasing to the eye.

A couple of supporting characters strike a fascination in small and almost entirely non-verbal performances. A sexy red-headed hospital nurse with superhuman powers and a penchant for removing limbs, combined with a brooding and mysterious serial killer provide dubious intrigue as to who the true characters are. What is their motivation? Do they work for someone or something sinister? Questions like these will keep the viewer occupied and thirsty for an explanation.

In bizarre fashion, British film and television director Gordon Hessler crafts an implausible yet fascinating story that keeps the viewer guessing. Featuring horror superstars Price, Cushing, and Lee would seem like an assured horror masterpiece but due to the stars limited time on-screen brings the overall project down a notch. Scream and Scream Again (1969) still achieves a good measure of worthy entertainment.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter

Scott’s Review #895

Reviewed May 8, 2019

Grade: B+

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), released during the mid-1950’s, a time of post War World II unity and prosperity in America where neighborhoods snuggled cheerily by the fireplaces with nary a care in the world, sought to make the public paranoid and it worked. Thanks to a foreboding premise audiences got to ponder the possibilities of pod people cloning human beings and invading the planet, scaring the daylights out of the masses and resonating with critics.

Playing like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, and to the film’s credit it preceded the television series, at a brief one hour and twenty-minute running time the film is successful at achieving thought-provoking post film dialogue and has been crowned with cult-classic status along with similar creepy themed genre films that blossomed during the 1950’s.

Set in the fictional sunny California town of Santa Mira, the film gets off to an exciting start as we witness a screaming man in an emergency room attempting to be calmed by staff. The harried man claims to be a doctor and recounts, via flashbacks, the events leading up to present day. Our main character, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) team up after several of his patients report relatives acting robotic and downright strange.

When half created bodies in pods are soon discovered, Miles and Becky know there is something amiss in their town and race to figure out the mystery of the “pod people” while most of the town turns into emotionless human-like beings. The big revelation is that the epidemic is caused by an extraterrestrial life form. Their intention they explain, is for humanity to lose all emotions and sense of individuality, creating a simplistic, stress-free world.

An interesting facet of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how time has changed the reaction to the film. In 1956 the thought of aliens taking over the world seemed plausible and frightening since man had not yet walked on the moon and astronomy was a just new venture. The peaceful tranquility of the United States of America was in danger of being overtaken, the film exclaimed, and viewers fell for the scare tactics. Clearly the film was created to be a political allegory and boy did this sure work.

Decades later, the vibe of the United States is more integrated and flourished with more diversity and acceptance for other cultures and beings. The country is also more chaotic, so the invasion of the “pod people” is less scary and perhaps even more embraced to those living in malcontent. Invasion of the Body Snatchers therefore suffers from some poor aging and a message rethink and teeters on feeling dated.

The acting is marginally good if not spectacular, but it does not need to be Oscar-worthy to have the desired effect. The actors deliver their lines with a dramatic gusto successful in providing the troubled paranoia of the suburban American to audiences sure to be on the edge of their seats as the drama unfolds. The characters never think outside the box; only in straightforward terms so the motivations are earnest.

The black and white cinematography is palpable yet subdued, the lack of colors providing mystique that was ample for the times. The 1950’s while a wonderful time for film was also a less edgy time for cinema. The 1960’s brought less restrictions and therefore more shocking elements but Invasion of the Body Snatchers is compartmentalized, feeling more like a long episodic television thriller.

Double-billed with the equally frightening The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would make for delicious 1950’s science-fiction viewing. I remain partial to the stunning vibrantly colored 1978 remake, superior film-making and more layered production values, but the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds its own and is a recommended watch.

Downsizing-2017

Downsizing-2017

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring-Matt Damon, Hong Chau

Scott’s Review #842

Reviewed December 14, 2018

Grade: B

Downsizing (2017) is a film that appeared on many critic’s top ten lists for the year, but that to the average viewers did not resonate well. Part of this discrepancy could have been the way the film was marketed. Despite having Kristen Wiig among its cast, the film is NOT a comedy but rather a social commentary with some science-fiction and dramatic elements mixed in.

Downsizing contains a wonderful and thought-provoking premise, but ultimately does not piece together all parts in a completely satisfying way leaving an erratic and disjointed result. The elements are all there- a charismatic lead actor (Damon), an inventive, socially relevant premise, and a humanistic and beautiful message. Within the film are some gorgeous cinematic treats of picturesque Norway that will make one melt if watched on the big screen. The film has enough positives to recommend without it being truly great.

The story begins as a Norwegian scientist discovers a way to solve the world overpopulation state and global warming problems with a discovery that shrinks people causing them to use few resources. Paul and Audrey Safranek (Damon and Wiig) decide to undergo the procedure and begin a new life in a gorgeous community designed for small people. When Audrey bails at the last-minute leaving Paul on his own, he must forge ahead with a lonely life anyway, unable to be transformed from small to large. He meets Ngoc Lan (Chau), a Vietnamese activist who changes his life forever due to her selflessness. Paul realizes he does have a purpose after all.

The positives of the film are mostly in the individual components. How true that the modern world suffers from overpopulation and director Alexander Payne paints a dire picture of the eventual result. This gives the film a left-leaning environmental opinion that I relish. I was immediately engaged in the humanistic approach Payne relays and the possibilities of a new world with no suffering and riches for all. Of course, this is not sustainable nor realistic as the film shows

The romantic dynamic is also a major win.  The first half features Paul and Audrey as the romantic couple; a likable pair who struggles with bills and cares for planet earth.  Suddenly, this changes and Audrey is discounted from the equation in favor of Paul and Ngoc Lan. An unexpected item, their romance is a slow build, seemingly opposite types of people. He is laid back and thoughtful, she brash and outspoken, yet they work wonderfully as a couple. As a viewer I became wholly invested in them by the closing credits.

Newcomer Huang Chau (Ngoc Lan) is the standout and nearly upstages Damon. The young actress garnered a Golden Globe nomination for this role and deservedly so. Far too few good roles for Asian actors Chau hits the jackpot with this part. Her character is sympathetic yet tough, once an outspoken advocate, she has endured prison only to lose a leg and be reduced to a house cleaner in her new world.

Payne makes the point that a new society does not equate to joy, and this is the crux of the film. At first the community is lavish with luxurious homes and idyllic surroundings, but when Paul meets Ngoc Lan and sees her world of pain, starvation, and neglect he is dumbfounded. This is a sad reality and leads him to make rash decisions about himself and his future.

Where Downsizing misses the boat is with the execution. As strong as the premise is, the story meanders. From Paul and Audrey’s mundane life in Nebraska to the new society to the slums to the introduction of the world ceasing to exist and finally another world being created, there is too much going on. The dots never connect leaving the overall experience of Downsizing erratic.

Christoph Walz deserves a better role than Dusan, an aging Serbian party boy. The character is annoying and a weak attempt at portraying spoiled white men having all the advantages. His character is unnecessary and does not work.

Downsizing (2017) is quite the brave effort holding an ingenious premise and a worthwhile message. I recommend the film for these reasons as Payne attempts to tell a story never told before and that is to be championed. The elements do not add up and the film is missing a solid structure, but as a whole the film is to be admired for what it intends to do.

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Director-James Whale

Starring-Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester

Scott’s Review #825

Reviewed October 31, 2018

Grade: A-

After four long years director James Whale finally agreed to follow-up, and resurrect, his character of The Monster. Fortunately, Boris Karloff also returned to the role he made famous. In this installment he meets a mate played by the gorgeous Elsa Manchester. Critics argue that the sequel is superior to the original, but I am not so sure of that, slightly preferring Frankenstein. Still, the aptly titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a fantastic effort and a memorable classic in and of itself.

The plot picks up where the original Frankenstein ended and includes a sub-plot from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Having learned his lesson about the drawbacks of creating life, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female mate for the Monster. Much of the action follows the Monster, who is on the run from hunters as he encounters both devious and kindly individuals. In clever form, Manchester plays both the “Bride” and Mary Shelley, who is heralded for her masterful writing.

The main difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is that the Monster is more developed from a character perspective. Even more empathetic and now uttering some dialogue, the pained character contains deeper moments and a damaged quality. Karloff reportedly despised this aspect preferring that his character be more ambivalent, using grunts and facial expressions more than words, but to me the development works well.

As the Monster traverses the forest looking for shelter while being pursued witch hunt style, a lovely sequence occurs between the Monster and a lonely blind man. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of a violin playing “Ave Maria”, the blind hermit befriends the Monster and teaches him a few words like “friend”. Harboring no ill-will towards the creature, the old hermit instead feels blessed and thanks god for sending him a friend. The tender moment is then shattered when a fire burns down the cottage.

Continuing what Frankenstein did and more in line with Shelley’s novel is the constant theme of loneliness and despair. The Creature is a tortured soul, yearning for love and affection, yet suffering from a temper. He is childlike and struggles to know the difference between right and wrong.

Like Frankenstein, the sequel contains high quality special effects and ambiance. With a storm raging (naturally), the thunder and lightning qualities add so much to a horror film such as this, filling it with suspense and a certain science fiction element. When the Bride is hoisted to the sky and struck by lightning, the scene is both campy and terrifying.

How delicious a character is Manchester as The Monster’s Bride? With her statuesque seven-foot height (the actress used stilts), white streaked hairdo, macabre white gown, and jerky, animal-like head movements, the character is forever recognizable in pop culture. Timeless in characterization, the beautiful woman possesses a macabre yet humorous quality. When she becomes alert, sees the Monster, and shrieks, it is a memorable moment in film history.

Throughout cinematic history, few sequels ever live up to their predecessors, but Bride comes close. Easily able to be watched in tandem with Frankenstein, and in fact perfect for a bit of Saturday afternoon nostalgia, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a wonderful trip down memory lane to a time when horror was as thrilling in simple black and white as it is with all the frills added. Thanks to Whale’s brilliant direction, both films are legendary in their inspiration and achievements.

12 Monkeys-1995

12 Monkeys-1995

Director-Terry Gilliam

Starring-Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #804

Reviewed August 21, 2018

Grade: B+

Bruce Willis stars in a 1995 science-fiction thriller named 12 Monkeys that is sure to confuse even the keenest of viewers. Containing a plot that is impossible to follow (at least with only one watch), the film is quite novel and filled with edge nonetheless. With this film Willis came into his own and proved to some naysayers that he is more versatile than a one-note action hero. He would even develop more as the years passed- think Sixth Sense (1999).

If I may begin to summarize the complex plot, 12 Monkeys is a film about time-travel (confusing enough), that traverses from the year 2035, to the year 1990, to the year 1996, with a bevy of dreams or memories thrown in, but I am still not crystal clear on that. The time periods involved threw me for a loop and I was not able to comprehend where things shifted to……or was part of it a memory possessed by Willis’s character as a little boy?

Nonetheless, in 2035 James Cole (Willis) is a prisoner who is selected by “the powers that be” to go back in time in order to find a cure for a deadly virus that has wiped out a large part of the world. He is transported to the year 1990 instead of 1996 and lands in a psychiatric hospital, where he meets fanatical Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) appears in both the 1990 and 1996 stories as a respected psychiatrist and author. Both she and Goines become central to the main plot and story twists and turns as events move along.

The intention to make Willis and Stowe a romantic couple did not seem to quite work at first, but their chemistry grew on me. The duo never received a “happily ever after” finale as they deserved nor was their troubled romance ever fully realized to say nothing of consummated.  The flirtation and bond they shared felt more like a tease than anything else, or rather, having two Hollywood heavyweights forge some sort of romance. Regardless, “romance” did not seem the point of this film.

Brad Pitt was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar award for the film. While he provides a quirky, showy style role (actually multiple roles or personalities), complete with tics resembling a Tourette syndrome patient, the role is not one of his best. At this time (1995), Pitt was a rising star and the recognition helped him tremendously. But he seems slightly to over act and make the character too over-the-top. I much preferred his more subdued work in Seven (released the same year), or future roles in Babel (2006) and Moneyball (2011).

Appealing in parts are the frequent exterior shots of the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, where the film is set. Treats include the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Pennsylvania Convention Center, and Eastern State Penitentiary filming locations as well as numerous highway and bridge shots, which adds tons of authenticity.

A major score for the film, and for Alfred Hitchcock fans everywhere, is the incorporation of classic film clips, specifically the mysterious Vertigo (1958) into the story. As Kathryn and James camp out in a rustic movie theater and disguise themselves as different people, they watch a marathon of Hitchcock films (as evidenced by the many titles on the marquee). Clever is that the characters of James and Kathryn begin to mirror the actions of Vertigo characters Scottie and Judy. Blondes anyone?

12 Monkeys (1995) does sort of come together at the conclusion of the film as the dreams/memories are laid out pretty clearly. As we have witnessed these sequences throughout, it leads to a semi-satisfying conclusion. A bit of a beautiful mess, the film has clever tidbits and is well-acted, and the baring of both Willis’s and Pitt’s butts might get some additional viewers. I think I need to watch the film again to perhaps understand and connect all of the dots better.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a wonderful, magical film that will succeed in melting the hearts of anyone with even a tad of cynicism. The film is otherworldly (quite literally) and contains a message of acceptance and appreciation of other beings. Mixing many humorous moments with tender drama and tears, the film becomes part fantasy, science-fiction, and humanistic story. The film still feels fresh and relevant today with a bevy of forever remembered scenes and references- a wonderful story of friendship.

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their far away planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind. When ten year old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm really shines through in this very personal story. The film contains an overall innocence that is pure benevolence- E.T. teaches Elliott as much as Elliott teaches E.T. Who can ever forget the pairs initial interaction as the use of Reese’s Pieces candy became a huge cultural phenomenon? The lovely quote of “E.T. phone home!” is still as poignant and teary eyed as it was in 1982.

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the film makers were careful not to make him too frightening. Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980’s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time. From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this common place. If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure have had two happy parents and a white picket fence. Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, as Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we buy the two as connected friends. The duo especially shine during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like. Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience super stardom throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five year old.

At its core and what makes E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creatures desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus. In this way, only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid of an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can this be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations, but lost out on the big prize to the epic Ghandi that year.

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.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #648

Reviewed June 4, 2017

Grade: B

Having watched The Faculty, a  teenage horror/science fiction flick,  at the time of release in 1998 (now almost twenty years ago!), I fondly remember sitting in the movie theater watching this soon to be cult classic take hold of its audience. Despite some now dated (in 2017) special effects, the story holds up well, and what a treat to see some “stars of tomorrow” mixed in with some venerable veterans, take center stage. The Faculty stirs up a strange hybrid of classic films (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and The Breakfast Club) to create a fun, and gory, horror film.

The action takes place in a small town said to be somewhere in Ohio, though the film is actually shot in Texas. A football town, and home of the Hornets, sports are central to Herrington High school- both to students and faculty. It becomes immediately evident that some of the staff is not “right” after two of the teachers stab Principal Valerie Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) with a pencil and scissors and flee with no emotions late one night after a faculty meeting.

Later, student Casey Connors (Elijah Wood) confesses to his group of friends that he believes the teachers are being controlled by aliens. Naturally, they are skeptical until strange events among the staff begin to take shape once the students watch the staff’s activities closely. The film then turns into a clever whodunit as one student after another is revealed to be infected and therefore an alien.

A highlight of The Faculty is its stellar casting- there is the younger set of actors, who share great chemistry together- Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Wood (Casey), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Clea Duvall (Stokes), Laura Harris (Marybeth), and Shawn Hatosy (Stan) all make up the troupe of characters thrown together due to unlikely circumstances to figure out the big mystery- who amongst the staff is an alien and where they come from? All of the students are from different social classes, which make their antics unique- Zeke, the rebel, Stan, the jock, Stokes, the “weirdo”, and Casey, the nerd. In this way the film reminds me of The Breakfast Club, a mid-1980’s “coming of age” high school film.

Additionally, the staff comprise some of the best in the business- stalwart Piper Laurie appears as the drama teacher, luscious Salma Hayek as the sexy school nurse, comic Jon Stewart as the science teacher, and rugged Robert Patrick as Coach Willis. What a treat for film fans to watch a film such as The Faculty to see a bevy of popular film and television stars amongst the cast.

Director, Robert Rodriguez, most notably known for creative left of center works such as Machete and Sin City and for being a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino in his edgy collection of films, helms a rather mainstream piece of work in The Faculty. Clearly, the film is targeted for your typical, mainstream audience, but with the right blend of clever quirks added in.

Delicious is the ode to the classic science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only set in a suburban high school. Clever still is the revelation of the teachers as the robotic “pod people” or aliens from outer space. This cute reference, in 1998, and still today, is an innocent knock on authority figures as the high school kids slowly get their comeuppance against some of the staff.

There comes a point in the film where nearly everyone is an alien and the film runs out of gas. However, the final scene is wonderfully constructed as the film ends as just another day in the life of a small town high school- life goes on and all is well. The Faculty is a treat to watch in present times as a “trip down memory” lane experience.

Arrival-2016

Arrival-2016

Director-Denis Villeneuve

Starring-Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Scott’s Review #642

Reviewed May 9, 2017

Grade: B-

Arrival is the latest entry into what has become a recent trend of science fiction themed films to garner Academy Award praise, either by way of technical achievements or in the case of Arrival, a surprising Best Picture nomination in addition to the more traditional awards notice for categories like sound effects and editing. Traditionally, science fiction fare tends to get little or no recognition in major categories, all the more surprising is the films under the radar style inclusion with the big guns.

Similar in style to recent films such as Interstellar and Gravity, Arrival ultimately proves a disappointment as a complete film, succeeding only in specific avenues like its musical score and a sort of surprise twist ending that the film presents, but at times is downright to say nothing of its tedious moments. Needless to say, I disagree with its Best Picture nomination wholeheartedly.

Not claiming to be the world’s greatest science fiction fan either, at times Arrival does have glimmers of success (mainly in the first act) and some high points in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the greatest of the greats in the genre), but the good moments ultimately fade as the story lumbers on only to show a brief resurgence in the final act. Sadly, the rest of film is rather middling.

In a role seemingly written just for her, Amy Adams stars as Louise banks, a linguist professor living and teaching in Massachusetts.  When one day a series of twelve extraterrestrial aircraft appear across the world, Louise is summoned by an Army Colonel (Forest Whitaker) to travel to a remote area of Montana where one aircraft has taken up residence, and assist a physicist,Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in communicating with the aliens. Their goal is to determine why they have come to planet Earth. Interspersed with the main story are strange flashbacks of a life Louise briefly spent with her daughter, who appears to have died of cancer as a teenager.

The premise of the film is reminiscent of another film named Contact, made in 1997, and starring Jodie Foster. In fact, the film seems to borrow aspects from several other famous science fiction films such as the creepy, ominous score that harkens back to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its mysteriousness, to the oddity of The Day the Earth Stood Still. So much so that the film reminds me  too much of other films, it therefore has little identity of its own, especially throughout the mid-section of the film.

Other than the character of Louise, there is no character development and this is glaring among the male cast of top talents like Whitaker and Renner- in fact, the roles are glorified throwaway roles. Save for Renner’s limited involvement in the films climactic “twist”, admittedly barely raising the film above mediocrity, neither character serves much purpose and could be played by any actor.

Whitaker’s G.T. Weber has little motivation other than to convince Louise to take part in the mission. The film also seems unsure whether to delve full force into a romantic entanglement between Louise and Renner’s Ian. Certainly a flirtation exists on the surface, but the film never hits a home run with it. Couldn’t meatier story be created for these two storied actors?

The unique extraterrestrial, a hybrid of tentacles, fingers, and funny eyes,  appearing as a pair humorously nicknamed Abbott and Costello, is impressive from an artistic perspective and this does help the film. Also, the fact that the characters are unsure whether Abbott and Costello are friends or foes is slightly intriguing, but the films main negative is that nothing much really happens other than repeated attempts by Louise to communicate, whimsically staring up into the camera in wonderment, and ultimately figure out the alien’s messages and purpose.

Worthy of mention is a fantastic and ominous musical score that allows the film some climactic and dark components that feel like the highlights of the film. It adds chilling, effective components. In this way, the elements raise the film up a notch from complete blandness.

The best part of the film is its ending and I rather got a bit of chills up and down my spine with the unique and inspired big reveal. In this way Arrival saves itself from being completely lackluster, but too little too late. I would have preferred the film balance the emotions, the surprises, and the thrills a bit more rather than exist mostly as a tedious, uninteresting film. Overall, the outcome of Arrival is more of a retread rather than anything new or original.

The Fourth Kind-2009

The Fourth Kind-2009

Director-Olatunde Osunsanmi

Starring-Milla Jovovich, Will Patton

Scott’s Review #583

Reviewed January 4, 2017

Grade: B-

I went into the theater to see The Fourth Kind certainly not expecting a classic, but rather, a few frights, chills, and something compelling. I ended up completely entertained and I believed it was a pretty good movie. However, after the credits rolled, I was left with an unsatisfying and misrepresented feeling.

The premise of the film is admittedly a bit trite. An Alaskan female psychiatrist, Dr. Abigail Tyler videotapes her therapy sessions with patients, she discovers they have possibly been abducted by some sort of alien. Yes, this sounds crazy, but the film is actually well made and rather believable all along.

The look of the film is similar to the Paranormal Activity films, a craze that was happening when the film was released in 2009. The documentary look and the interviews with the actors will be looked back on as “of it’s time”, to be sure.

The style and interspersing of “real” events with fictitious events was interesting. However, I was disappointed when I read that the supposed “real” events were entirely made up, a fact the movie never admits, and, in fact, time and time again reminds the audience are real events. I enjoyed the movie, but felt duped afterwards, rendering the film trivial.

Avatar-2009

Avatar-2009

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #572

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: A

Acclaimed director James Cameron has done it again- similar to Titanic, he has created a masterpiece, but, oddly in merely one facet of the film, not the entire ball of wax. Avatar has two main factors to evaluate- the story and the visual aspect. Both are crucial, yes, but the visual experience is immeasurable, so much so, that the story is nearly irrelevant.

Futuristic in timeline and set in the Twenty-second century, human beings begin to colonize Pandora, a lush planet, filled with lavish forests and creature who flutter about. Planet earth has become depleted of resources, causing scientists to utilize Pandora for their own gain. Poisonous to humans, visitors must wear protection. Sam Worthington portrays Jake Scully, a paraplegic former Marine, who visits Pandora and falls in love with Neytiri, a native creature of the planet.

From a story perspective, Avatar is very ordinary and nothing separates the story from others that have come before it. At the center is a love story and a rather predictable one in nature, but this is not the reason to view Avatar. Jake and Neytiri are sweet together, but I had much more fun watching the film rather than caring what happened between the pair.

Visually, Avatar is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. The intricate style and the attention to detail are astounding- this is my favorite aspect of Avatar and why I feel that the story is really not the reason to see the film. Everything, from the art direction to the background pieces are perfectly made. Natives of Pandora are all CGI- blue/green in color, and are gorgeous, peaceful, and moving.

Avatar will likely go down in history as a groundbreaking film- it is a visual feast. The anti-war slant is also impressive to me, but the creative,technical achievements set this film over the top. James Cameron creates a magical, absorbing film that must be cherished.

Splice-2009

Splice-2009

Director-Vincenzo Natali

Starring-Adrien Brody

Scott’s Review #564

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B-

If you are looking for a realistic, character driven movie, this film is not for you. Rather, Splice is a science-fiction, thriller, that must be viewed while suspending all disbelief. Certainly not a work of art, and lots of plot holes, but it provides decent entertainment, bordering on fluff.

The two main characters, Elsa and Clive, while admittedly neurological-scientists, are not the brightest people in the world and their motivations change with the weather. The basic plot involves a married couple (above said scientists) who conduct an experiment to splice human and animal DNA into a new creation, a female hybrid named Dren. Predictably, things go awry, once Dren is let loose on the world.

The plot is thin and there are questionable actions, motivations, and subplots, but somehow I still found it entertaining once I simply went with it. There are cliches such as the scientists ignoring instructions, the one-dimensional supporting characters, and so on and so forth.

As a comical aside, I overheard the guy sitting behind me in the theater mutter as the closing credits rolled,  “This was the worst movie ever”. I understand where he is coming from, but did not think the film was that bad. For fans of horror or thrillers I recommend it, anyone else might want to skip this one.

Inception-2010

Inception-2010

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page

Scott’s Review #558

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A-

Inception is the type of film that will leave you astounded, baffled, confused, bewildered, and many other adjectives. To put it more simply, this film needs to be pondered after the fact. This is a high compliment as it is tough to remember such a complex (in a good way!), savory film. Inception is visionary and meant to be processed.

A highly intelligent film, of sorts,  that will leave you thinking afterwards. The story is immeasurably complex and will leave many completely confused, but just go with it.

In a nutshell, it tells the story of a man who intercepts people’s subconscious minds through dreams. Different layers of their minds are revealed as the film goes along. There are also virtual levels to each person’s mind- complex, yes.

The film reminds me quite a bit of The Matrix- but better. The film has many twists and turns throughout and will keep the viewer both perplexed and fascinated. My only slight criticism is the dream sequences do not feel like dreams at all, but highly stylized action sequences. Many props given for being so inventive, though.

Never Let Me Go-2010

Never Let Me Go-2010

Director-Mark Romanek

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Scott’s Review #555

Reviewed December 21, 2016

Grade: A-

Offering a unique experience in creative story-telling, Never Let Me Go is an excellent film that I was happy to discover. A mixture of romance and science-fiction, it tells of young love and tragedy in an interesting way- sacrifice and science can lead to dire results. Based on a 2005 novel of the same name.

A small British drama about a private school where the children are raised as typical children, but at a certain point are expected to donate organs to save other lives, the concept is quite fresh and original. The film deals with both the moral and psychological effects of the chosen ones as they attempt to allude ending their lives- if they can prove they are in love.

My initial reactions were multiple in emotion-thought-provoking, touching, and sad are what I felt. This film will make you think. It is equally evocative and thought-provoking- many times I imagined myself in a similar situation. As Andrew Garfield’s character gets out of his car on the side of the road and screams up at the sky, it is the most powerful scene in the film.

Excellent acting by the three leads (Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley), with special praise for Carey Mulligan. Charlotte Rampling as the mysterious headmistress of the school is brilliant.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Director-J.J. Abrams

Starring-Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Scott’s Review #540

Reviewed December 8, 2016

Grade: B

As a youngster who grew up exposed to the original three Star Wars films (admittedly, I cannot keep track nor care enough to learn the exact chronological order of the films in the franchise), the 2016 reincarnation is very nostalgic for me. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi were magical films for a kid to enjoy and be bedazzled by. Sadly, The Phantom Menace in 1999 was a rather forgettable endeavor and did nothing to draw new fans to the franchise- nor keep existing fans engaged.

Taking center stage in this installment are beloved stalwart character’s Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a nostalgic trip down memory lane. A slight gripe is the shamefully under-use of one of these characters. The visual effects are very impressive, the main villain is okay, and the action sequences adequate, but it is the ode to past history that keeps the long-time viewer engaged  the most. In a way, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aptly title as it is a rebirth of sorts for the storied franchise.

Legendary actor Max von Sydow is shamefully under-utilized in a throwaway part in the films first sequence. Ironic is that he resembles deceased actor Alec Guinness, made famous all over again in the 1970’s when he appeared in the first Star Wars. A co-incidence?

It would seem that film makers are going for a modern reboot of episode IV (the 1977 Star Wars). The main character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is clearly meant to be the new Luke Skywalker, who is known as a Jedi hero in the land, and has been missing for years. Rey has special powers and is accompanied by her sidekick droid, BB-8, a similar character as R2-D2. The villain is Kylo-Ren, son of Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia, and reminiscent to Darth Vader. The film is a classic tale of good versus evil as the evil First Order battles the good Resistance.

I enjoyed the good storytelling most of all and prominent roles for Han Solo and Leia were good choices for the storied franchise. Newcomers Rey and her love interest, Finn, are appealing, as are fighter pilot, Poe, played by Oscar Isaac. Reportedly, this film is the start of another trio of films so we will undoubtedly see more of these characters in the films ahead.

I could not help but notice the Nazi similarities of the First Order and their soldiers- the Stormtroopers. Possessing a red quality and a Nazi- like salute to their supreme leader, they even look German in appearance. Kylo-Ren, raven haired, pale, and clad in a dark black cape, was clearly derived from Darth Vader, especially when he appeared in mask attire. He almost could have been his son.

Set thirty years since the original Star Wars, the plot is more or less similar, and I think this is a wise move in introducing the franchise to a new audience, while staying true to the rich history of the central characters and their offspring. Han Solo and Leia discuss their love affair, past adventures, and of course, their son, who has been hypnotized to the dark side. They struggle to concoct a way to rescue him and hope to persuade him that aligning with the Resistance is the only way to go.

Favorite scenes of mine include the ultimate showdown between Rey and Kylo-Ren. Set in a snowy, wintry forest, with their glistening and glowing light sabers, the scene is gorgeous from a visual perspective, as are the many scenes in one battle station or another. The re-appearance of comical C-3PO is darling.

As with the original Star Wars, humor is mixed in to lighten the mood. Han Solo and his dedicated side-kick Chewbacca, gently spar, and when Han Solo takes the group to a saloon filled with interesting creatures, the scene is light and fun. 

The real drawback for me is that the film is not all that compelling save for the nostalgia aspects. It is merely a classic battle of two wills, but otherwise, offers nothing very new and exciting. Sure there are a few new characters, but the plot is rather basic and what one would expect. 

I, personally, am not truly invested in the franchise, despite zillions of die-hard fans being fanatics of the films and their intricacies, so that is more of an opinion than a criticism of the films merits. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens  will undoubtedly please fans and introduce new ones to a world of galaxies, and the indelible “force”. Still, a satisfying trip down memory lane.

Lifeforce-1985

Lifeforce-1985

Director-Tobe Hooper

Starring-Steve Railsback, Peter Firth

Scott’s Review #516

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Reviewed November 11, 2016

Grade: F

Lifeforce, a film made in 1985, is a film that I did not enjoy at all. It tells the story of a team of astronauts who find three pods of seemingly human bodies, who eventually return the bodies back to Earth and turn said humans into zombies. That is really it in a nutshell.

The story makes no sense whatsoever and there is no rhyme or reasons for the actions of the characters except to further the plot. No mention or details at to why they are in outer space or anything that drives the characters motives. The film is way too complicated for its own good and would have been wiser in going for a straight-forward action film rather than what we are treated to (a combo sci-fi/horror mess.

The special effects are completely dated and very cheesy. Lifeforce is completely plot driven and I did not find it gripping at all. This film is a waste of time and deserves to be completely forgotten.

Ex Machina-2015

Ex Machina-2015

Director-Alex Garland

Starring-Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Scott’s Review #410

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Reviewed June 17, 2016

Grade: B+

Ex Machina reminds me of another recent science-fiction film, Her, with more of a female empowerment edge to it than the latter, which is more of a  romantic drama with undercurrents of love. In contrast, Ex Machina has a cynical tone and elements of imprisonment and psychosis, even narcissism. The film features excellent visual effects and a futuristic mystique that makes it a successful treat. Directed by first-timer Alex Garland, who could very well be a director to watch rise the ranks with subsequent projects.

Young, fresh-faced computer programmer, Caleb Smith, wins a week-long trip to remote Alaska, to spend it with his mysterious boss, Nathan Bateman, the CEO of a software company. Caleb must arrive at the luxurious, sprawling estate via helicopter as it is in a deserted area of the world and exists on mile after mile of gorgeous landscape. Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, is both charismatic and creepy. He lives alone save for a beautiful Asian servant named Kyoko, who speaks no English, and a female robot named Ava (played by rising star Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s assigned task is to study Ava, and determine whether he can relate to her as a human, while knowing she is a robot. It is soon revealed that Nathan plans to reprogram Ava, thereby killing her. Caleb schemes to rescue Ava, but is all what it really seems?

With a cast of only four principals, it is not difficult to assess each character and their relations with each other. Caleb is clearly the least complex of the four or rather, the one with motivations readily apparent. The others are shrouded in mystery. Caleb expects a fun getaway, but instead finds himself in the midst of experimentation. Is Nathan’s desire to perform psychological tests on Ava, by way of Caleb, genuine? The audience can sense immediately that there is something off about Nathan. Merely in his thirties, how could he amass such financial success so soon? Why is he, a servant, and a robot the only inhabitants of the estate? Why does the helicopter pilot refuse to venture any further than the drop-off point? Some of these questions are answered, some remain unanswered. It is part of what makes the film mysterious and complex. Could Ava be the one doing her share of experimentation or manipulation?

Alicia Vikander deserves much praise for her role of Ava and some would argue that the talented young actress should have won the Best Supporting Actress trophy for this role instead of for The Danish Girl. I’m not sure I would leap to the same conclusion, but she does amass a ton of subdued emotion as Ava. She is complex and profound. She expresses longing for exposure to the outside world and would love to cross a crowded street just to see all the faces and different types of people. Like Nathan, there is also something not right about Ava. Is she calculating or simply soulful? But how can she be, she is a robot? I found myself comparing her to another famous film robot/computer- HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Along with Vikander, Isaac steals the film in a role that mixes creep with genius. He sits around his estate in comfy clothes a blue-collar man might wear drinking beer and studying Ava. He has sexual relations with his servant and she is expressionless. He does not treat her well so we do not root for his character- at the same time his character is tough to read. Is he experimenting on Ava or Caleb?

Visually, Ex Machina has a sleek blend of modern, crisp CGI, not at all usurping the story. There is also a scene of bloodletting that chills as much as any good horror film would.

Garland was heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Altered States and made the film with as little budget as possible and without outside influences that might change his vision. I commend this and wish more filmmakers would follow suit. Ex Machina, while perhaps not perfect, could be a blueprint to what is to come from this young director.

The Martian-2015

The Martian-2015

Director-Ridley Scott

Starring-Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #379

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Reviewed February 19, 2016

Grade: C-

The latest film from heralded director Ridley Scott (notable for classics Blade Runner and Alien), The Martian is a science-fiction/space adventure involving a believed dead astronaut (Matt Damon) trapped on Mars after being thought dead by his fellow team. NASA and a crew of rescuers fervently attempt to save him as supplies run out. Extremely resourceful, Mark Watney cleverly avoids death by using his wits to survive and even prosper on the challenging planet.

Hot on the heels of several other modern science fiction, high profile offerings, such as Interstellar and Gravity, The Martian features a big Hollywood star in the lead role. Much of the action is Watney on his own, attempting to grow produce, ration food, and keep his sanity- think Tom Hanks in Castaway except on another planet, and with a “Hab”, an indoor operations station left by his abandoned crew.

The Martian has received lots of accolades- winning the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Film- though that is poor categorization in my opinion. The film has snippets of humor and a few songs in the background, but that is really it. Unless some late 1970’s disco songs constitute a musical.

I found The Martian to be a Hollywood mainstream film in every sense- to some that may be a high compliment, but to me, I expect a bit more from a film. It is not that The Martian is a bad film- it is not, but it is mediocre in my opinion and has all the elements of an average film. The film was going for an emotional experience that I did not experience- I had little doubt that the ending would be a sweet one, wrapped in a bow.

Mark Watney is the typical all-american character in a “guy film”. He hates disco and loves ketchup. The film makes him a guys guy, so therefore the average film-goer will relate to him. He is in good shape, cracks jokes, and is likable. But that is also a problem with the character specifically and The Martian as a whole. He lacks substance. We know little about him except he has parents who never appear on-screen. The way that the film touts him as the hero and is cheered and praised, while in real-life would be warranted, in the film it just feels forced and contrived. This is not a knock against Matt Damon, who does a decent job. My beef is that the character is not fleshed out.  The well-built Damon in the beginning of the film versus a scrawny Damon at the conclusion is completely a facade as clearly a body double was used in the latter scenes. This lack of authenticity disappointed me.

I expected more from the supporting cast given the talent involved- Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig all play one-note types that any actor could have played. Why were big stars cast at all? Chastain as a mission commander, Daniels as Director of NASA, Ejiofor as NASA mission commander, and Wiig as a Public Relations specialist. The casting, in particular, of Wiig in the straight-laced, stale was mysterious to me, and it was not a  particularly good portrayal….and I am a Wiig fan.

The humorous parts in The Martian border on contrived and not dissimilar to countless other films with the smart-ass remarks all containing a bland quality. Lines like “eat your heart out Neil Armstrong” seem silly and unnecessary. I expected more wit.

Let me be fair- the visual effects (it is space after all) are impressive, and it was fairly interesting to see what is supposed to be the planet of Mars, but really in this day and age of CGI effects the film is not that spectacular. I would much rather be given a compelling story than visual treats any day of the week.

My review of The Martian may seem a tad harsh, but that is only because I expected a great deal more from it than I was given. With several Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, I anticipated a top-notch film, and The Martian did not come close. Mediocrity, straightforward, and predictable describe The Martian film. I have heard, however, that the novel is fantastic. I have added it to my reading list.

Planet of the Apes-1968

Planet of the Apes-1968

Director-Franklin J. Shaffner

Starring-Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall

Top 100 Films-#97

Scott’s Review #363

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science-fiction, message movie, that stars one the legendary greats, Charlton Heston. At the time of release the film was a great film and quite visionary- and the message still holds up well today. Since certainly everyone on the “planet” must know the “surprise” ending, the film speaks volumes on the destruction of the world we know and love. Intelligently written, Planet of the Apes is memorable and was followed by a bunch of not so compelling or strong sequels, remakes, and reboots.

A group of astronauts crash land on a strange planet- in the distant future. The men have no idea where they are or what time period it is. The planet is inhabited by apes, who are highly intelligent and speak and act just like human beings. They are dominant and the real humans are largely mute and incapable of doing much- they are kept imprisoned. George Taylor (played by Heston) is the lead astronaut who, the apes realize, is capable of speech and assumed to be brilliant. The ape leader wants him killed, but sympathetic scientist and archaeologist apes Cornelius and  Zira  (played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter) are curious about Taylor and wish to experiment more.

To say nothing of the story, the prosthetic makeup and costumes are dynamic. The apes are obviously played by human actors, but the creatures do not appear fake or phony in any way. Furthermore, the sets look genuine and grand and hold up well in present times, nearly fifty years later. Nothing about the film appears to be remotely dated or losing of its original appeal as some film inevitably do.

Planet of the Apes is a political film, and this message also holds up well in present times. How human beings have ruined their planet is the main point of the film, but this is wisely not revealed until the very end, with the now famous scene of an escaped Taylor, running along the beach, only to realize in terror that the submerged and tattered Statue of Liberty is there. With horror, he realizes that human beings have destroyed planet Earth and the astronauts never actually left their own planet!

Fun and serious to watch all rolled up into one, Planet of the Apes is a film for the ages, with a distinct meaning and a story that audience members everywhere can absorb and relate to.

2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

Top 100 Films-#16

Scott’s Review #314

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Reviewed December 31, 2015

Grade: A

In my mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece, pure and simple, and simply must be seen repeatedly to let the message and the experience sink in. It is one of those films that is comparable to a fine wine- it just gets better and better with age and is palpable with deep-thought and allows the viewer to experience good taste in film art. The delicious quality is meant to be savored and enjoyed- the slow pace and odd elements only enrich the film. Needless to say, it is one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films. Simply an epic journey through space.

Made in 1968, and the year 2001 way off, the film challenges and breaks down barriers and film, as Kubrick simply makes a film that he wants to make and the results are genius. The film contains no dialogue during the first twenty or the last twenty minutes.

The film begins in the African desert millions of years ago as the evolution of man is apparent- two tribes of ape men dispute over a watering hole. A black monolith appears and one of the tribes is guided to use bones as weapons.

Millions of years later, we meet a team of scientists- led by Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole- as they embark on a mission aboard the United States spacecraft, Discovery One, on a mission to Jupiter. The ship is mainly controlled by an intelligent talking computer named HAL 9000- nicknamed “Hal”. Hal boasts that he is “foolproof and incapable of error”. As events unfold, the film dives into a study of humans versus technology in a cerebral game of mental chess.

The film is very tough to review in an analytical way as it is so intelligent and visually stimulating- it must be experienced. It challenges the viewer to think and absorb the events occurring.

Visually it is breathtaking and still holds up shockingly well from this perspective. The use of classical music throughout- especially in dramatic scenes is effective.

The stunning scene where David and Frank converse about their suspicions regarding “Hal”, as the intelligent computer system looks on, simply an orange light, but seemingly displaying a myriad of emotions (surprise, rage) in the viewers mind, is incredibly compelling.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an enduring masterpiece.

A Clockwork Orange-1971

A Clockwork Orange-1971

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Malcolm McDowell

Top 100 Films-#9     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#7

Scott’s Review #295

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Reviewed December 11, 2015

Grade: A

A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking Stanley Kubrick film and my personal favorite in his collection, more than one of which appears on my Top 100 Favorite Films list.  Adapted from the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel and thought to be unable to make into a film, it becomes  a psychedelic, creative, and fascinating experience from start to finish. Bizarre and extremely thought-provoking, Kubrick tells the story of a London sociopath delinquent living in futuristic London, and the strange behavior modifications performed on him after he is apprehended by the police, in an attempt to “reform” him and transition him to be a useful member of society.

The film delves into such social and insightful themes such as morality and psychology and questions these weighty topics. Interspersed with classical music and wonderful, colorful sets, A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece in bizarre artistic cinema.

Alex DeLarge loves classical music (specifically Beethoven), violence, and hanging out with friends. He constantly skips school, beats people up, and parties with his friends. His pet snake is his best friend, and his parents seem afraid of him. Finally arrested after murdering an odd lady with dozens of cats, Alex is sent away to prison where he volunteers for an experimental “Ludovico” technique, which Alex assumes is a “get out of jail free” card. What transpires next is a freakish and uncomfortable experience for Alex.

The film contains startling and disturbing scenes throughout- when Alex and his team of “droogs” become inebriated from a concoction of milk laced with drugs and embark on an evening of self proclaimed ultra violence, they drive to the country where they break in to wealthy author F. Alexander’s house and beat him, crippling him for life. They rape his wife while forcing him to watch, all the while Alex happily sings “Singin’ in the Rain” timing the beats of the song to acts of violence. The brutality and creativity of this scene is mesmerizing and certainly unforgettable.

We the audience might despise a character like Alex, however, sympathy is felt for him as his “reformation” begins. A disturbing scene, which is forever embedded in my mind, involves the attaching of a contraption forcing Alex’s eyelids wide open while he watches violent scenes and is administered a drug to make him sick, thereby associating the violence with illness. He becomes psychologically screwed up. Alex (thanks to a wonderful portrayal by Malcolm McDowell) is charismatic and humorous and, in some warped way, quite likable to audience, despite his devious ways.

A Clockwork Orange continues to disturb me after multiple viewings- who can forget the sinister grin that Alex wears and the creepy one eyelash with mascara that he possesses? The film sends an interesting message about human nature as Alex turns from predator to the hunted. We ask, “are human beings  naturally prone to violence”?

The direction of the film is breathtaking- the weird colors, the (as traditional with Stanley Kubrick)  long shot camera angles, the intense musical crescendos. And the genre of classical music is a wonderful and ominous choice- almost adding a level of sophistication to Alex and the violence. The weird supporting characters (Alex’s parents, the probation officer, and his parents roommate) and the suddenly fast-forwarded sex scenes were unheard of for its time.

Immensely creative and unconventional film making with a moral message and questions about society and mankind, A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking and fantastic, trippy experience. A masterpiece from top to bottom.

Interstellar-2014

Interstellar-2014

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #277

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Reviewed September 25, 2015

Grade: B-

Interstellar is an interesting film to review. A science fiction/futuristic epic with a run time of nearly three hours, it is complex and intricate. It is the latest offering by director Christopher Nolan. I cannot say I loved this film, however, I did appreciate and marvel at the visual and technical aspects of it, which completely usurps the convoluted plot, made difficult to follow due to changing worlds and galaxies.

The film reminds me of Inception with an obvious homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the former directed by Nolan, but not quite as compelling from a story point of view as Inception was. The complexities of different entities, worlds, and layers of worlds are featured and admittedly, mind blowing, which is the weak part of the film. By making the film arguably too intelligent, it loses the audiences attention. By too intelligent, I mean too complex. As I review the film, I see two halves to it- the story side and the visual side. In Interstellar, both are essential components and one fails and one marvels.

If I am to attempt to summarize the story it goes something like this- Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed, former space expert stuck in a small town in the mid-west, where he begrudgingly runs a farm, living out an unsatisfying existence. The Earths food and crops are slowly running out and the planet is dying. His two children, daughter Murphy and son Tom, face a bleak world. One day, a dust pattern with coordinates lead Cooper and Murphy to a secret NASA team intent on finding other worlds and thereby attempting to save Earth. The team is led by Dr. Brand, a college professor and science wizard, played by Michael Caine. Cooper, naturally, is chosen to lead the venture, which could take him away from his family for years. He accepts much to Murphy’s chagrin. Once in outer space- assisted by Amelia Brand (Dr. Brand’s daughter), the team embarks on an endless mission leading them to different planets and one strange encounter with a rebel astronaut (played wastefully by Matt Damon). Years later (on earth anyway) Murphy and Tom (now grown and played by Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck) assume their father Cooper is dead.

Critically, the story is way too much to comprehend and after awhile I found myself gradually letting go of the story altogether instead focusing on the visual spectacle I was treated to. The plot eventually meanders off track completely as the team traverses through a space wormhole created by an alien intelligence and travels fifty years or so without aging, while obviously life has gone on over planet Earth. Some characters age, others do not. To summarize, the story is convoluted and impossible to follow.

Speaking of the story side to Interstellar, the writing contained an irritating wholesomeness to it, especially in the early stages- pre outer space. McConaughey was given this tough guy, machismo side to him that screamed of Hollywood traditionalism- almost like “I am man- I save family”. Haven’t we seen this too many times in film? I also found the relationship between Cooper and young daughter Murphy incredibly saccharine and screamed of Hollywood schmaltz. To be fair, McConaughey was given, and succeeded in delivering, one great crying scene.

The visual aspect to Interstellar, however, is a spectacle and much, much better than the story, especially during the final third of the film. The sheer grandeur is astounding. When the crew lands on Miller’s planet, an ocean world, a great tidal wave topples their space ship killing one of the team. The massive look of the tidal wave is monumental in size and ferocity. Later, when the crew lands on an icy planet, the immense coldness and shape of the planet work perfectly in the film and one feels like they are really in outer space.

How inventive and creative was the scene where Cooper attempts to contact a character through a bookshelf. The scene was set up like a maze with different time periods, and colors and shapes, seemingly blending together was very impressive and artistic.

Visually speaking, Interstellar has some similarities to the 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Grandiose, artistic, experimental, and epic along with the obvious space theme allow the two films to be compared. However, where 2001: A Space Odyssey was about life and contains a clear and powerful message, I did not find the same with Interstellar. Instead, I did not find much of a message, but rather a confusing story, mixed with spectacular visuals.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Director-Matt Reeves

Starring-Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman

Scott’s Review #232

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Reviewed March 29, 2015

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster hit that knocks it out of the park from a visual perspective- it is magnificent to look at with creative sets and realistic images, but the story is mediocre and predictable. I think the filmmaker’s true intent was to focus on the look of this film, which is a splendid feature. The film is a slightly better than average big screen adventure with more style than substance.

Set in San Francisco- or what was once San Francisco- the film is set in futuristic times and the apes have forged a new civilization after the deadly virus has eliminated 90% of the human population. The apes are highly intelligent and manage a happy, unified existence. Then, one day, a human is encountered and, scared, shoots one of the apes. This leads to a peaceful resolution between Caesar- leader of the apes- and the humans, to each stay in their respective territories. However, the humans need access to a dam in the Apes area in order to provide electricity for themselves. Mutual distrust leads to tension, but the civilized apes and humans reach a truce. Naturally, there is further conflict as sinister humans and apes vow revenge on each other. This leads to a waging war while the peaceful apes and humans strive to work things out. A further angle of the story is the hunger for power within the ranks of the Apes which is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The human protagonists of the film- Malcolm and Ellie- played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell- are a wholesome, decent couple.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a far cry from the original 1968 masterpiece, Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston. To compare the two is unfair since, sadly, this one has nothing to do with the original. It is simply the same franchise tag. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is weaker than its predecessor- 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that one, we have a charismatic star- James Franco- and an interesting story- the apes are experimented on and their intelligence is a strong angle. With the sequel, the story if rather one note and has a machismo, us against them angle, that is not unique.

The main drawback to this film is the story limitations. All of the characters are portrayed as a) the good and sympathetic humans, b) the evil and destructive humans, c) the good and heroic apes, or finally, d) the evil, bad ape. Everyone is clearly defined for the audience and there is no ambiguity or complexities within the characters. This is a bit limiting. The evil ape Koba is purely bad and the drunken, gun-happy, humans are also purely bad.

This is not to say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not enjoyable- it is. It is a fun, entertaining flick. For what it is, it is fine and there is a somewhat message in the film, that there is a way to find peace and love between different species and types of people. Hopefully the audience gets that message.

The film is a summer blockbuster action/sci-fi flick that many will enjoy, however it is clearly plot driven extravaganza that could have been superior had it contained more layers to the story and more shape to some of the characters. It is worth seeing as a visual cinema treat, but scarcely more than that.

Under the Skin-2013

Under the Skin-2013

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #219

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Reviewed January 31, 2015

Grade: A

Under the Skin is a tough film to review- in a word it is mysterious. The general consensus is that people either love the film or hate it- it is one of those types films. I love it and it appears on many 2013 top 10 film lists. The visual creativity alone astounds me. To summarize, Scarlett Johansson plays the female alien presumably sent to Earth to meet young men and lure them, using her feminine wiles, into a pool of dark liquid where they are entrapped and subsequently peeled, their skin used for an unknown reason. The oddity of the story is as appealing as it is confusing, but somehow fascinating beyond belief.

The film is set in Glasgow, Scotland, during present times. The film has a cold, dark tone to it and the city itself seems bleak. Johansson, in an unnamed role, takes the clothes of a dead human woman and begins traversing the streets of Glasgow, picking up the men as they walk home or go to the grocery store. She carefully selects men who will not be missed- men who are loners or family-less. As the film goes along Johansson becomes more sympathetic. She yearns to become a human and to do what humans do- she goes to a diner and attempts to eat a delicious slice of cake and vomits the contents. She has a strange man on a motorcycle following her, making sure she completes her assigned tasks. Some of these conclusions are surmised as the lack of dialogue in the film adds to the mystique.

A particularly frightening scene, and my favorite in the film, involves the female alien meeting a swimmer on the beach, who is on holiday in Scotland. Her flirtation with him as she attempts to accost him is thwarted by a family in peril. A father, mother, and infant son are enjoying a day on the secluded beach. Suddenly, their dog begins to drown as the waves become too intense. The mother struggles in panic to swim to the dog and rescue it- the father then does the same. What happens next is very sad and the female alien and the motorcycle man both leave the screaming infant to die without so much as a second glance. This poses a few questions- are they aliens without emotions for human suffering? Do they not care? Do they revel in the misery? Do they simply not realize what is going on? The viewer will ponder these questions and others long after the film ends.

Later, the audience is confused further as the female alien meets a severely deformed man and they bond as she drives him to, presumably, his death. She loves his hands and is fascinated by his tenderness towards her. As they talk she shows signs of caring for a human being as they begin a sweet friendship of sorts. Why does she bond with this disfigured man instead of the more handsome men she meets? Does she in some way relate to him due to her growing feelings of being a misfit and desiring to be human? One wonders.

Visually the film is creative. Spellbinding is the sequences involving the men being submerged in the black fluid as they slowly disappear leaving only the skin. Their transformation is slow, methodical, and imaginative and one relishes in what is going on. The score is reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby in its eeriness and visually the film must have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Under the Skin is a fantastic journey through a weird, perplexing, sometimes confusing world, but at all times leaves me thinking and glued to the activity onscreen. It is an art film that breaks barriers and provokes interest and intrigue not catering to mainstream expectations. It is what art films are meant to do- challenge. More films should take risks like these.

The Day the Earth Stood Still-1951

The Day the Earth Stood Still-1951

Director-Ray Wise

Starring-Michael Rennie

Scott’s Review #155

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Reviewed August 18, 2014

Grade: B+

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the best, most credible, original, science fiction thrillers and certainly stands the test of time considering it is over 60 years old. Made in 1951, the film is a message movie that tells the tale of a spaceship that suddenly arrives on planet earth in the United States capitol of Washington D.C.

Michael Rennie is fantastic as Klaatu, the calm, poised, leader of the spaceship who, along with Gort, a 7 foot tall robot, intend to deliver a message of peace and humanity to the leaders of Earth. The arrival of the spaceship sets off a panic and Klaatu is captured, only to escape and meet local townspeople as he tries to pass himself off as human and deliver his message.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is clearly a liberal slanted, anti-war, pro tolerance and acceptance movie, but also a good, old fashioned black and white science fiction thriller rolled into one. It’s an important film. It is an edgy, questioning film that can easily still be viewed and appreciated today (sad that not much seems to have changed in the world after all of these years). It is political and the setting of Washington D.C. is wise and symbolic.

While a handful of humans are portrayed as intelligent and accepting, the majority of Earth’s human beings, especially politicians, are portrayed as war happy, foolish individuals and the viewer will question the world around him or herself, and hopefully begin to question political decisions and the horrors of war that go on and on and on.