Category Archives: Fantasy Films

Excalibur-1981

Excalibur-1981

Director-John Boorman

Starring-Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,108

Reviewed February 4, 2021

Grade: B+

John Boorman, most famous for directing a 1972 disturbing classic film Deliverance returns to the fold with steamy fantasy rich with lavish sets, visual treats, and an incredible atmosphere. This is where the film really succeeds. We are taken to a medieval world where we escape to jealousy, sex, and schemes. Boorman not only directs but produces and co-writes the project along with the screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg.

Excalibur (1981) retells the legend of King Arthur, a British leader from the fifth and sixth centuries mostly told by folklore, and the knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th-century Arthurian romance Le Morte d’Arthur, at behemoth length, by Thomas Malory. The table is symbolic because it implies that there is no head and therefore a democratic forum.

This telling is quite adult and not suitable or comprehensible for children.

Famous legends like Merlin (Nicol Williamson), Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi), and Morgana (Helen Mirren) appear alongside Arthur (Nigel Terry) in a furious battle for control.

In a flurry of handsome European actors who would later become famous, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson both appear.

In fact, most of the male cast are masculine, hunky, and very handsome. These traits cascade to how good they look in full body armor, shields, and swords doing bloody battle with each other. Homoerotic scenes exist just as they did in Deliverance. Lest we only focus on the male cast, Helen Mirren is delightful as an evil seductress who oozes sex appeal.

The magical sword of Excalibur actually starts in the hands of a British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years later, finds its way to his bastard son, Arthur, who is destined to become king but doesn’t realize why. Merlin helps Arthur fulfill his fate by bringing together the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot and unifying the country.

Years later Arthur faces greater tests ahead in pursuit of love, the Holy Grail, and his nation’s survival as some attempt to steal the treasure for their own advantages.

Excalibur had me with the visuals and I was able to immerse myself in the spectacular style and artistic set design with gorgeous sequences. Several creative and glimmering shots of someone either emerging from or submerged underwater are featured. They are startlingly beautiful. I pretended I had been whisked away to an otherworld of enchantment that I could sit back and enjoy.

The knowledge that the entire film was shot in Ireland captured and enraptured me. The breathtaking greenery and waterfalls are dreamlike. When Lancelot beds Guenevere in the forest they both appear nude. Their pale white flesh against the green is both magical and seductive. And a treat for one’s curious eyes.

The story is overly complicated with reality mixed with either dreams or fantasy and some of the plots confused me. I finally got to a point where the intricacies became too much for me to comprehend especially against the stunning backdrops. The plot became too jumbled and messy so it is advisable to drift off and take it all in rather than trying to make sense of everything.

A visual marvel Excalibur (1981) will delight the apt film fan. I fantasize about how the picture would look and feel on the big screen but I wasn’t that lucky. The story is obviously far-fetched and ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t matter and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. I was treated to good-looking people in armor, unique costumes, and various states of undress. And that’s just fine with me.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Director-Jaromil Jires

Starring-Jaroslava Schallerova

Scott’s Review #1,076

Reviewed October 30, 2020

Grade: B+

One of the oddest films I’ve ever laid eyes on, the best way to view a film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970) is to absorb it and let it either pull you in or turn you off. The cadence is to feel the film and then search for any semblance of meaning or interpretation later, or perhaps never.

The genre or genres best to categorize the film art cinema meets fantasy meets horror meets fairy tale. Is it ever a bizarre experience. If one is to take hallucinogens first, this film is a recommended watch. The production is Czech and is translated to Valerie a týden divů in its native language. 

The story involves a week in the life of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and the weird and sexual thoughts and desires she encounters while blossoming. She encounters witchcraft, vampires, and a bizarre Constable, who wears a mask. Valerie is raised by the strangest grandmother (Helena Anýžová) imaginable, who morphs into other characters named Mother and Redhead. Valerie does not live a boring life. One poster for the film is of a blooming flower with splotches of blood that can be interpreted as a girl losing her virginity.

To delve much further into the plot than a quick summary is wasteful because it doesn’t really make very much sense. Such activities such as Valerie’s grandmother making a pact with vampires to keep her young forever, Valerie lying in a coffin surrounded by rotten apples, and being burned at the stake, and finally being followed and menaced by her priest, are a few of the shenanigans the film presents. This is shrouded by some of the loveliest photography and scenery you’ve ever seen.

The creativity and the experimental nature of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders are what will allure an open-eyed viewer seeking something left-of-center….very left-of-center. The story is secondary. The medieval landscape is gothic and haunting, perfect for evil-doings and strangeness. Not to harp on this point, but the look of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the money shot. All else can be left by the sidelines.

The perspective is all Valerie’s, which is nice in an early 1970’s feminist way. It feels like Valerie is changing from girl to woman and a strong one at that. She is coming into her own after facing and challenging demons. In the mix is a handsome man who titillates Valerie. I felt like I was emerging into the girl’s subconscious and experiencing her fears and desires alongside her.

Critically speaking, I would have preferred a little more logic and wrap-up, but that’s just me. Surely, not a realistic interpretation, was the girl dreaming while asleep or merely delving into fantasy one day? The more I tried to follow the story and put together the pieces like working on a puzzle, the less this did me any favors. I then decided to space out and indulge in the other lovelies included. I should have done this from the beginning.

I am unsure how many Czech films I have seen if any, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a clear example of what Czech filmmakers can do and it’s crazy what they can come up with. The mystique is likely multiplied on American audiences and a viewer used to more formulaic approaches to film. With a desire for more put-together stories and logic, I nonetheless admired this film for the magic and style offered.

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)

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect. Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist , Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris. Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumbles upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman. The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love? Of course they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized. I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy in lieu of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice. Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries is pure and utter rubbish. The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss. In fact, worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord. On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou finds love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure. Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect to the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

Oscar Nominations: Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

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)

Clash of the Titans-2010

Clash of the Titans-2010

Director-Louis Leterrier

Starring-Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Scott’s Review #566

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: B

Though I went to the theater begrudgingly to see Clash of the Titans (fantasy blockbusters are not typically my cup of tea), I have to confess to being moderately impressed by this film. I had no real expectations other than it is a tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus.

I have heard some people compare it to the original in an unfavorable way, but I have not seen the original- released in 1981 so any comparisons are a moot point. At one hour and fifty minutes the film is a perfect length and does not drag.

The plot is basic and focused. Perseus (Sam Worthington)  must save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda, as he leads a team of warriors into battle against vicious enemies. Some of the creatures they meet along the way are fascinating and interesting.

Clash of the Titans is not fine cinema, and the acting is not spectacular, but the effects are worth mentioning and the look of the film is impressive.

My only real criticisms are the way Medusa is portrayed (said to be ugly, she really is a beautiful woman with snakes on her head) and the 3-D, which really was pretty much unnecessary- this is probably an attempt by the studios to capitalize for profit.

Vampire Academy-2014

Vampire Academy-2014

Director-Mark Waters

Starring-Zoey Deutch

Scott’s Review #482

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Reviewed September 18, 2016

Grade: C

Vampire Academy is a teenage intended mixture of Harry Potter meets Heathers meets Twilight. It is escapist fare and is quite light in nature, but rather fun in an amateurish way. I am certain the target audience is of teenage, female persuasion, but when traveling one can be limited in film options. Hence, on a chilly night in Norway, this film kept me occupied.

The story features a half human-half vampire named Rose, a teenage girl, who aspires to be a guardian, who is called back to a boarding-school to uncover an hierarchical web of secrets, lies, and plots. She is accompanied by her best friend Lissa. Predictably, there is a romantic angle to the story as Rose has feelings for Dimitri, a fellow guardian.

The film itself is fine- it knows the demographic it is going for and young adults are sure to enjoy the compelling drama, likable leads, and attractive cast. From a film critique standpoint, there is really nothing wrong with the film, but it is a bit generic and slightly predictable- from the romantic perspective, though impressively the ending is a bit of a surprise- in fact it is a whodunit of sorts.

Impressive also is Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), as nerdy classmate Natalie, who seems to be the brains and the keeper of gossip throughout the academy. The role is against type for the young actress and she does very well.

It is tough not to compare this film to the Harry Potter series of films since many aspects of Vampire Academy mirror Harry Potter- only with a female in the driver’s seat. The mysterious teachers and characters are also reminiscent of the fantastical Harry elements.

Unfortunately, a planned sequel was scrapped due to lack of interest, which surprised me. I would anticipate a film like this to be a hit and perhaps introduce a franchise, but not to be.

An adequate young adult film that borrows from other films and also harkens back to the days of former teen minded genres of the past, specifically the 1980’s.

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-James Franco, Mila Kunis

Scott’s Review #433

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Reviewed June 30, 2016

Grade: B

Being a huge fan of the original The Wizard of Oz epic classic from 1939, I was interested in seeing this extension of the original version. While it has its moments of charm and good old fashioned adventure, it is ultimately good, but nothing great.

James Franco is fantastic as the Wizard of Oz, the highest point of the film,  and has great charisma in the role. He brings a fun flair and is quite appealing. The witch characters are okay, but not terribly interesting or deeply explored. Further character depth might have been helpful as I did not notice much rooting value for either of them.

On a positive note, I loved the first sequence, which was in black and white, true to the original and the twister scene is impressively done. The set/art design in this sequence and once the setting was Oz were beautifully done.

Toward the end of the film, though, the story becomes more of a silly fantasy action series which drew away from the heart of the original. The first half excels, the second disappoints.

Maleficent-2014

Maleficent-2014

Director-Robert Stromberg

Starring-Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #251

Maleficent_poster

Reviewed June 27, 2015

Grade: C+

Maleficent is an updated re-telling of the classic fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” told from the perspective of Maleficent, the evil godmother, who in this version, it is revealed, was not always so evil after all and, in fact, is rather sympathetic towards the beginning of the film. Later in life, becoming the antagonist of the story, she initially begins life in a world of goodness, wonder, and hope until one day she is duped by a young man she loves and is then turned wicked with hatred and revenge. The casting of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is excellent and the main reason to watch the film. Also worth noting is the wonderful, creative art direction and costumes that allow the film to look gothic and interesting. Otherwise, the film meanders a bit, is slightly watered down, and contains a sappy Disney style love story. The story itself is actually the weakest part of Maleficent.

Born Maleficent, protector of the fairies in the magical land of the Moors, as a young girl she is betrayed and is NOT a villain. Her male suitor (Stefan) is someone she trusts, loves, and respects, and she is then duped and has her wings stolen by him. He goes on to become the King of the neighboring land of humans, which is vastly different from the peaceful world that Maleficent lives in. These events lead her on a path of devastation followed by revenge as she places a vicious sleeping curse on Stefan’s first born, Aurora.

Let’s start with some positives. Jolie is simply wickedly delicious in this role- the sultry, pouty looks, and those eyes! She plays scorned, revenge-driven to the hilt without being too over the top as lesser actresses certainly would have. As the actress ages she is beginning to take on more character, villainous parts rather than sexy bad girls or heroines and I am all for that. It gives the actress something meaty to sink her teeth into. Her dark costumes perfectly give the character edge.

The art direction is magical and the difference between the two lands is distinctive. The beauty of the Moors with gushing streams, mountains, and flowers contrasts with the stark nature of the human world. The fairies symbolize peace and freedom with a life filled with treasures, whereas the human kingdom symbolizes ambition, greed, and coldness. The tiny fairies flittering around add zest and life to the film.

The silly love story, though is not believable nor compelling to me, especially the latter film romance between Stefan’s daughter- Aurora, and her wealthy suitor Phillip. hey seem manufactured to b together without having really a chance to get to know each other. This seems contrived and produced to add something young to the story. And on a storytelling note, Maleficent’s sleeping curse is set to transpire on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday when she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep that can only be remedied by love’s true kiss. Why does he send Aurora away to live in hiding when she is a newborn? Doesn’t he have sixteen years to enjoy her?

The film then dwindles to the inevitable battle finale with lots of movement and fire and a stand-off between Maleficent and Stefan that is dull and predictable. Overall, the first half of the film is the better part and the performance of Angelina Jolie is wonderful.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Into the Woods-2014

Into the Woods-2014

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring-Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #241

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Reviewed May 8, 2015

Grade: B

Based on the stage production of the same name, Into the Woods is a feature length Disney film that incorporates several different fairy tales into the main story. The film is a fantasy musical with numerous songs performed by the cast, featuring a large ensemble of seasoned actors within its ranks. The classic fairy tales are modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella.

The action mainly revolves around a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are sad and lonely because they are unable to conceive a child due to a long-ago curse put upon the baker’s family by a witch- played by Meryl Streep. Circumstances surrounding the baker’s father caused the once beautiful witch to be turned ugly. The witch offers a bargain to the baker and his wife- if they bring her four items (a white cow, a red cape, yellow hair, and a gold slipper) for a special potion, she will lift the curse, enabling them to conceive a child and live happily ever after. This prompts the couple to venture into the dark forest to obtain the requested items. From this point in the film the couple intersects with other characters from the fairy tales as all question various aspects of their lives.

Certainly there are subsequent stories- the witch is Rapunzel’s adoptive mother and keeps her locked in a tower to prevent her from being hurt by the world. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) escapes her taunting stepsisters and attends a ball only to flee when noticed by the handsome prince (Chris Pine)- Jack attempts to sell beans in order to provide food for his mother- and Little Red Riding Hood attempts to bring sweets to her Grandmother, but is confronted by the Big, Bad, Wolf (Johnny Depp), and there is a strange Woman Giant stomping through the forest searching for Jack, but all of these stories revolve around the baker and his wife’s efforts to retrieve the witches requests.

The production and art direction in the film are great. I love the dark, gloomy forest, which translates so well on the screen and gives the magical effect of a mysterious, secret forest to the viewer. I enjoyed the songs quite a bit- especially the catchy finale “Into the Woods”. However, some of the songs are quite one dimensional and bland and not discernible from each other, let alone memorable. The duet of the Prince’s, “Agony” is silly with, useless to the plot, gyrations and silly dance moves.

Meryl Streep- dynamic in anything she appears in- again steals the show as the vile witch turned beautiful in the latter stages of the film. She has a fantastic solo number mid-story, entitled “Stay with me”.

One drawback I found with the film is, at times it drags a bit and I was not sold on the casting of Anna Kendrick as Cinderella- something about her performance was lacking- perhaps she was not as sympathetic or convincing as another actress might have been. Also, I would have enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp as the Wolf been more prominently featured as well as a larger role for the Woman Giant. As integral as she is to the plot, it was tough to even get a clear glimpse of her face let alone anything more substantial.

An entertaining feast of fairy tales immersed in one film, Into the Woods has some compelling moments, but has a dull note to it and some lost opportunities that bring it far from the reaches of a masterpiece level. A good film, but not a great film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Meryl Streep, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve

Scott’s Review #227

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Reviewed March 11, 2015

Grade: B

Peau d’Ane (English-Donkey Skin) is a 1971 French musical film that is a fairy tale for adults- seemingly happy, but very dark beneath the surface. To say this film is bizarre would be an understatement. For all intents and purposes, the film is a strange retelling of the classic story of Cinderella, the film set in a peculiar medieval world and centering on a dying Queen, her husband The King, and the heroine of the story, the beautiful Princess.

The Queen is dying. Her last wish is for The King to marry the most beautiful woman in the land. Coincidentally, that is their daughter The Princess! Eager to produce an heir to the throne, he is determined to marry and reproduce with his daughter. The Princess, wanting none of it, turns herself into an ugly creature, by way of wearing the skin of a donkey and moves to a neighboring kingdom to exist in a life of exclusion and revulsion, farming pigs and being berated by those around her. A handsome Prince decides to pursue the woman who has baked him a delicious cake, but knows not who she is. Ironically enough it is the Princess.

I found the film to be quite interesting, albeit in a warped way. Unusual and tough to analyze, one must watch with an open mind. Certainly, Donkey Skin delves headfirst into the icky world of incest and makes no apologies for its controversial nature all the while interspersing the film with cheery tunes with singing roses and hatching chicks. The donkey skin that the Princess wears is obviously fake and unbelievably laughable and how nobody is aware that there is a beautiful Princess underneath is silly. And yet the film somehow works. I was transported into a magical world where nothing is normal and one surprise after another ensues.

A couple of oddities worth mentioning- some of the music from the film is a contemporary, upbeat music. Also, strangely, the final scene involves a helicopter, which is completely implausible given the time period. I get the sense that this film is going for absurd and unique and succeeds on both counts.

Visually the film is gorgeous- bright and cheerful with loads of colors. The film has awe-inspiring art direction as the set pieces within the castle are odd, interesting, and colorful. I especially enjoyed the Prince’s bedroom set.

As eccentric and seemingly dark the film is, often a character will burst into a cheerful song as evidenced by the Princess singing a happy tune while making a meal, all the while dressed in her donkey skin, almost like a scene out of Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady or any other wholesome musical.

To be sure a unique film, Donkey Skin is eccentric, lively, and interestingly perverse with a French flair. Fantasy for adults and a journey into the weird.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

Scott’s Review #206

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Reviewed December 18, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five-year-olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby.

The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since the closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like?

The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entirely edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening riverboat.

The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary riverboat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually has weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” is memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Director-Bryan Singer

Starring-Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

Scott’s Review #93

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Reviewed July 4, 2014

Grade: C

Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy, CGI laden film most likely targeted for a young audience. It tells the story of Jack, a farmhand who must rescue a beautiful princess from the world of giants after an accident causes a gateway to open to their world.

The film is loosely based on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The special effects in the land of the Giants are the most impressive aspect of the film. Otherwise, it is a love story mixed with adventure and the story is simply not very engaging and very predictable. Heavyweights Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci appear in over-the-top performances and the acting of the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is shockingly wooden.

The finale is mildly entertaining as a chase through the castle occurs, but the film is so weighted down by the effects and the lack of good story that overall it was a very middle of the road film.

The Wizard of Oz-1939

The Wizard of Oz-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Judy Garland

Top 100 Films-#11

Scott’s Review #34

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

The Wizard of Oz is a magical film and one of my all-time favorites- made in 1939 it still holds up amazingly well and the nuances continue to admire- especially given the time in which it was made. 1939 belongs to this film and Gone With the Wind- as both were and are true classics.

This film is so embedded in people’s minds that it can be tough to look at from an objective point of view. I fondly recall watching this gem annually as it aired on television each holiday season- traditionally around Thanksgiving if memory serves.

It’s a marvel from start to finish and masterfully artistic. How creative to show the first portion in black and white with dusty muted colors, not to mention the astounding twister sequence- done using a stocking. Then, we are introduced to a magical world filled with luscious colors and art direction still mind-blowing in depth. Munchkin-land, Glinda the Good Witch, and Emerald City are beautiful, lavish, and treats.

Who does not become teary-eyed during Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? The poignancy is becoming given the tragic (yet successful) life the star would lead.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch is delicious in her nastiness. As she mocks Dorothy, who whimpers in tears while missing Auntie Em, she almost sneers at the camera. One can tell she had a ball with this role.

And The Wizard of Oz is not simply a pop culture hit- it has merit and creativity. The special effects hold up tremendously well and were simplistic back then, no CGI in those days, but in many ways better than the CGI of today.

Audiences of all ages must see this film at least once, preferably on Blu-Ray. Judy Garland, later a tragic, troubled, lost figure, captured an innocence that was so sadly lost through the years. All of the characters (The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man) are perfectly cast and are uniquely created without being too over-the-top. Very few films are timeless and this is one of them.

Oscar Nominations: Outstanding Production, Best Song-“Over the Rainbow” (won), Best Art Direction, Best Special Effects