Category Archives: Science Fiction Films

Mad Max-1979

Mad Max-1979

Director-George Miller

Starring-Mel Gibson

Scott’s Review #1,070

Reviewed October 15, 2020

Grade: A-

Mad Max (1979) is a gritty and dirty film that is nothing like any other film coming before it. There’s an edginess and an “off the beaten track” quality that sucks you in and pummels you into submission with its energy and ferocity. The film is raw and not slick and hats off for that. This is all done with fun intentions and it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the film has a brutality and power that must be experienced to be believed. The plot is not the most important quality, nor is it the most believable, but it’s the trimmings that make Mad Max unforgettable.

I haven’t seen the two follow-up sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981) or Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but my understanding is they are more family friendly films, disappointing to hear after viewing the raw power of the original. The undesirable Fury Road (2015), an enormous critical and commercial success, but the appeal lost on me, is to be skipped in favor of the first. I disliked that film. But alas, a treasure such as the original can never be duplicated. The revenge themed, fast car driving, lewd masterpiece, is a must-see cult classic. It stands the test of time.

In a post-apocalyptic future, an angry cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is looking forward to retiring, having had enough of the derelicts who populate his region. One day, his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation, forcing a devastated Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance. As he travels the Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway, he tours the bloodstained battlegrounds ruled by low-life bikers who feed on violence.

Mad Max made Mel Gibson a star. His breakthrough role, it led to future work in the action and buddy genres, specifically the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998) with tepid success from any artistic standpoint until he bravely took on more creative and challenging roles. Max is his finest action character and most authentic feeling. He mixes a blend of rage, sentimentality, and humanity, perfectly, never missing a beat. And his youthful looks are enchanting to see.

The multitude of scenes featuring super fast-cars, motor bike gangs, and leather clad creatures with colorful tattoos and missing teeth are just the icing on the cake of the fun lying ahead. Names like Toecutter and Bubba give you an idea here. These are all great add-ons, but the revenge seeking Max is the one to watch. The scene is immediately set when the grizzled Nightrider is killed by Max in a chaotic police chase. His gang goes rampant and loots and destroys shops and businesses, raping both women and men. All hell breaks loose.

The best sequence is also the most horrific. Taking place on the open road, naturally, a sweet vacation by Max, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and son Sprog begins with a pleasant drive, only to result in a chase scene climaxing with Sprog’s death and Jessie languishing in intensive care. The image of Sprog and Jessie lying on the open road, tattered and torn, is memorable and sticks with you.

The film is intelligent, if studied thoroughly enough, and a study in film school is recommended. Credit must be given to director George Miller who knows his way around a camera. The cinematography lends much to the film and a feeling of being there is the desirous result. The editors deserve a special prize for their brilliant efforts.

Undoubtedly influencing countless action genre selections of the 1980’s and 1990’s, most running the gamut between only marginally fun (the Terminator franchise-1984-present) or downright atrocious (The Running Man-1987), Mad Max (1979) breathes life into the genre. Action films are categorically known to be one-dimensional but by adding a cool Australian locale, characters who are filled with cartoon bombast and punky zest, and a futuristic mystique, Miller crafts well.

It’s a low-budget flick, destined for underground viewership and appreciation, that is somehow nearly flawless.

Westworld-1973

Westworld-1973

Director-Michael Crichton

Starring-Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner

Scott’s Review #1,056

Reviewed August 25, 2020

Grade: A-

I have seen the film version of Westworld (1973) before and after having watched the current hit HBO television series, brilliant in its complexities. Many are not even aware that the series is based on a film and that is a pity because the film is good stuff with lots to digest in a short time. Admittedly, watching it in present times given the extreme psychology that the series offers, the film has so much more it could have offered but it’s still a great watch. One must always remember the time-period a film is made for proper context and comparison.

Yul Brynner nearly steals the film in a spectacular and creepy performance as a wide-eyed futuristic android cowboy to Richard Benjamin and James Brolin’s regular guys out for an escapist good time. Much of the film could be conceived as a buddy film with a bevy of homoerotic elements brimming beneath the surface if one is aware. These tidbits spice things up in an already escapist and futuristic world.

A titillating high-tech adult-themed amusement park is the backdrop of the film. Participants can choose any of three worlds to embark to: Western World, Medieval World, or Roman World. All contain lavish and realistic trimmings and ooze realism. The inhabitants are robots, not real people, so they can be shot, stabbed, or made love to depending on the personal tastes of those who wish to indulge in their wildest fantasies. The island is very exclusive, and the experience comes at a high cost.

Peter (Benjamin) and John (Brolin) are businessmen who adore the Wild West, so they select Western World. They enjoy frolicking with desperadoes, gunslingers, and dance-hall girls who appear as if they are human beings. Enjoying their adventures, the technicians notice odd behavior from the androids. Small at first, events escalate quickly when a gunslinger (Brynner) goes on a rampage with Peter and John as his targets.

Since the television series is fleshed out so well and the motivations and the stories of the androids are examined at length, it makes it easy to ask why the film does not or rather, wish it had. On the one hand, it is creepy not knowing what makes Brynner’s gunslinger tick, on the other hand, I want to know what makes him tick. I also wanted to know more about the guests. Why were they there and what are their lives in the real world like?

One way in which the film is superior to the series is the way Peter and John are written. Is it my imagination or do the pair seem a little closer than merely friends? Do they wish to escape their lives to be together? Are wives and children waiting at home for them? A scene of Peter bathing is erotic especially as he must abandon the tub mid soak to battle a foe. He is the Marlboro man personified, though Benjamin’s too recent turn as the twit father from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) ruins any masculinity he has.

The climax is riveting. Since we are unsure of the gunslinger’s motivations we are unsure what he will do. A frightening scene occurs when the gunslinger intently walks down a corridor with his expressionless eyes attentively stalking his prey. This still gives me the chills. When the android sprayed with acid his face becomes freakish and psychotic-looking this adds fright to an already frightening character. When Peter frantically traverses the park looking for help his peril is terrific as he finds dead guests and damaged robots everywhere. The severity of the situation is finally realized.

Crichton deserves much of the credit since he not only directed but wrote the screenplay, and this was his debut! The pacing is excellent and there is something going on all the time making the film feel as entertaining as it is intelligent. The dazzling cinematography of the worlds allows the viewer to see the differences. Westworld is riddled with intriguing questions that are left unanswered and this adds to the tension.

Impossible not to compare film to series as much as we might like not to, Westworld (1973) is a freakish, creative, adventure that I wanted so much more from having seen the complexities and story possibilities crafted for the series. I am not a fan of remakes but in this case a modern retelling is not a bad idea. Some accuse the film of being cheesy, over-the-top, or “too 70’s”, but I disagree. I really like the hidden trimmings and messages mixed with the good fun.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence-2001

A.I. Artificial Intelligence- 2001

Director- Steven Spielberg

Starring-Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law

Scott’s Review #1,052

Reviewed August 13, 2020

Grade: B+

A bit of a history lesson about the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).  The final cinematic version is based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, which was purchased and developed by director Stanley Kubrick in the 1970’s. Left unfinished for years, and the subsequent passing of Kubrick after he had started to collaborate with Steven Spielberg, the film was finally carved into a final project by Spielberg. Upon close study the film possesses the mark of both directors with the edge going to Spielberg.

The tone of the story contains a creepiness and oddity familiar to fans of Kubrick, like he may have been thinking along the lines of a similar theme to the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Both center around robots and a futuristic world. Spielberg adds a humanistic, sympathetic, and slightly melancholy edge like he did with E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) so that we adore the main character and want justice for him. In contrast, Kubrick made his version of an extra-terrestrial in 2001: A Space Odyssey a scary villain. The results are mostly good, but uneven in parts.

The premise is solid and grasps our attention. The time is the twenty-second century, when the polar ice caps have melted and submerged many coastal cities. It’s also a time when humans live side by side with “mechas,” or sentient robots. Henry and Monica Swinton are suffering because their son Martin has a rare disease and is placed in suspended animation. They are given a Mecha child capable of experiencing love. Henry and Monica fall in love with David and, in a plot twist worthy of a daytime soap -opera, Martin returns to life, becomes jealous of David in a plot reminiscent of The Good Son (1993), tries to frame David for monstrous deeds, and David is nearly shipped off to parts unknown.

This is Spielberg’s first crack at screenwriting in nearly twenty-five years, since Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and he does a decent job. No secret is that both films, along with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial have common themes so he clearly feels comfortable with these subjects. The humanity is there, but the screenplay is often too busy with story points coming and going at rapid pace. I wanted a deeper dive into Henry and Monica to feel more from their characters and what makes them tick. I felt their pain of having (sort of) lost a child, but not why they needed to fill the void so quickly.

Osment is insanely good in a film so complex that his performance could have easily been overshadowed by the other elements. Instead, he powers through adding complexities to a character the audience falls in love with, aching and yearning along with him. David is faced with terrible, life-changing news of not only being adopted but of not even being human. His determination to find out who he truly is takes the viewer down a path of both entertainment and adventure, but also of bitter emotion.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) has a lot going on and critically speaking, maybe too much. Spielberg fleshes out the original short story and tasks the viewer with enduring a global warming message, important, but a trite overdone, and sympathizing with David, the lonely robot boy. The story becomes an exciting adventure and the complexities between being human and being almost human are explored, but not quite satisfactory. Osment and Law are terrific with dazzling chemistry and the visuals and musical score are astounding. Osment should have received a Best Actor Oscar nomination to follow the one he got for The Sixth Sense (1999).

Oscar Nominations: Best Musical Score, Best Visual Effects

Soylent Green-1973

Soylent Green-1973

Director-Richard Fleischer

Starring-Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young

Scott’s Review #943

Reviewed October 8, 2019

Grade: B

Soylent Green (1973) is a rather obscure offering starring then big-named star Charlton Heston in a dystopian science-fiction film. The story is futuristic and eerily reminiscent of Planet of the Apes (1968), though not nearly as compelling nor as layered, but comparisons exist. The result is admirable for its progressive message, cool colors and sets, but feels dated and of its time and treats female characters more like props than characters, leaving an uneven result. It’s a one and done sort of film.

The year is 2022 and because of the Industrial Revolution, 40 million people live in New York City, suffering year-round from extreme humidity because of the greenhouse effect and shortages of water, food and housing. Only the wealthy are afforded necessities and residents of the rich (mostly female) are referred to as “furniture” and used as slaves. Detective Frank Thorn (Heston) is tasked with investigating the murder of an affluent and prominent man, which leads him to dire details surrounding Soylent Industries and the food they produce.

The film seems like someone’s visionary idea turned Hollywood. Loosely based on a 1966 novel entitled “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison, Heston is cast as the lead while his career was slowly declining, but he is still the star and quite hunky for an older gentleman. He plays the role in similar fashion to his character of George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, especially during the final climactic reveal, which will make viewers question what is really contained in what they are eating for dinner.

Heston carries the film well and mixes wonderfully with character actor Edward G. Robinson, who plays Sol Roth in his final role. The old character decides to “return to the home of the God” and seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic. The final scene between the actors is poignant and heartfelt as they say goodbye to each other. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a young Dick Van Patten in a tiny role during this scene.

Any romantic chemistry is lacking in Soylent Green as a potential love match between Frank and Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) strikes out. Mismatched and having little thunder together, the couple does not appeal well. Making matters worse is that Shirl is merely “furniture” limiting the character’s potential. She is reduced to assisting with Frank’s investigation.

The main detraction is that the film does not feel very futuristic or authentic. The characters look like actors from the 1970’s dressed up to look like they are from the future always with a tint of Hollywood thrown in. The story loses its way halfway through and teeters about between pure science-fiction and a standard detective story, seen nightly at that time on network television.

Still, the film does contain a robust amount of potential, but is not reached. The progressive slant and social commentary are admirable, and the bright green nutritious synthetic canned food is almost a character.  The final scene will shock the viewer with horror and I wish more scenes this jaw-dropping existed within the entire experience and not simply at the end.

A film that attempts to do something different or provide a provocative message is worthy of a certain amount of praise. Soylent Green (1973) carves a bit of thought provocation but seems more relevant for the 1970’s than containing much interest decades later. Heston is dazzling as the main character and the trimmings are impressive but Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) resonate more as similar genre 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Recording

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Brad Pitt, Best Costume Design

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Effects Editing (won), Best Sound (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-James Cameron, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Cinematography

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical), Best Costume Design

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Stanley Kubrick, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Art Direction, Best Special Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stanley Kubrick, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Film Editing