Category Archives: Thriller Films

Death On The Nile-1978

Death On The Nile-1978

Director-John Guillermen

Starring-Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis

Scott’s Review #714

Reviewed January 14, 2018

Grade: B+

Death On The Nile is a 1978 British thriller that follows up the successful 1974 offering, Murder On The Orient Express- both films based on the fabulous Agatha Christie novels of the 1930’s. This time around, Belgian detective Hercules Poirot (Peter Ustinov) investigates a string of deaths aboard a luxurious steamer carrying the lavishly wealthy and their servants. The film is a good, old-fashioned whodunit, perhaps not on the level of storytelling as its predecessor-the murder mystery contains not the oomph expected-but features exquisite Egyptian historical locales-worth its weight in gold.

Featuring a who’s who of famous stars and tremendous actors of the day, Death On The Nile carves a neat story right off the bat in such a way that the murder victim is fairly obvious right away- most of the characters have reason to celebrate her demise. Rich and reviled heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), has stolen best friend Jacqueline’s (Mia Farrow) beau, Simon, sparking a bitter feud between the women. While honeymooning in Egypt, the newlyweds are continually taunted by angry Jacqueline. Once the cruise ship departs with all on board, Jackie is the prime suspect when Linnet is murdered. Poirot must find the killer as numerous other suspects all with grudges against Linnet, begin to emerge.

Death On The Nile serves up a stellar cast including legendary Bette Davis in the role of Marie Van Shuyler- eccentric American socialite with an eye for Linnet’s necklace. The casting of Davis is reason enough to watch the film, though the character is not center stage and rather a supporting role. The lead female honor is held for Farrow, who has the meatiest and most complex role in the film. Jackie’s unstable actions makes her the most likely to commit the deed, but the fun is to figure out the “whys” and the “hows” of the murder. Is there more than one killer? Are they working in cahoots or independently? As the body count increases these questions begin to resonate more and more.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous and it is no wonder the film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. At a ball the women are dripping with jewels and gorgeous gowns. Along with Davis, boozy author Salome Otterbourne, hilariously played by Angela Lansbury, is granted the prize of wearing the most luxurious and interesting of all the costumes. She drips with jewels and, with a cocktail always in hand, is the films comic relief.

Director John Guillermin makes the film an overall light and fun experience and, despite the murderous drama, does not take matters too seriously. Offering humorous moments, this balances nicely with the inevitable murders. The fun for the audience is deducing whodunit- most of the characters have motive and the cast of characters is hefty. I had memories of the famous board game Clue- Was it Jackie in the ballroom with the revolver? You get the idea. In this way the film makes for a good, solid game of mystery.

Comparisons to 1974’s Murder On The Orient Express cannot help but be drawn, especially in the lead casting of Hercules Poirot. Truth be told, Albert Finney’s portrayal in “Murder” is superior to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in “Death” and I am not sure what purpose Colonel Race (David Niven) as Poirot’s friend offers other than to be a loyal sidekick and present a character that Poirot can explain events to- think what Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Regardless, Finney is the superior Poirot as he musters more strength and charisma than Ustinov does.

How lovely and historic to witness the wonderful Egyptian locales- the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids are featured amid an attempt on the life of the romantic pair by way of falling rocks- this sets the tone for the perilous cruise about to be embarked upon.

Perhaps a perfect film for a Saturday stay at home evening with friends, complete with a serving of a quality wine and cheese, Death On The Nile is a sophisticated, yet fun, British mystery film, fantastic to watch in a party setting where the audience can be kept guessing until the nice conclusion and the big reveal of who killed whom and why.

Murder on the Orient Express-2017

Murder On The Orient Express-2017

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring-Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer

Scott’s Review #698

Reviewed November 25, 2017

Grade: B+

Kenneth Branagh leads an all-star cast as well as directs them in a 2017 remake of the 1974 thriller, Murder On The Orient Express. The film was, of course, based on the famous 1934 Agatha Christie novel of the same name. With a ritzy cast including Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, and Willem Defoe, top-notch acting is assured. The cinematography is tremendous as the film looks gorgeous from start to finish and the story is an effective, good, old-fashioned whodunit that will satisfy audiences.

We meet our hero, Hercule Poirot (Branagh), in Jerusalem as he has recently solved a murder mystery and is anticipating a good rest. Poirot is invited by a friend to travel back to his homeland of London via the lavish Orient Express. Amid a group of thirteen strangers, all inhabiting the luxurious first-class accommodations, one of them is savagely murdered in the middle of the night, as a blustery blizzard and subsequent avalanche, derails the train atop mountainous terrain. The strangers are trapped together with a murderer on the loose. Poirot must deduce who has committed the crime and why.

Murder On The Orient Express has all the trimmings for a good, solid murder mystery, and director Branagh sets all of these elements in motion with a good flow. Paced quite nicely, each of the principle characters is introduced in intriguing fashion, so much so that each contains a measure of juicy intrigue. The film gives a brief background of each character as he or she boards the grandiose train. Judi Dench broods as rich and powerful Princess Dragomiroff oozing with jewels and a chip on her shoulder. Corrupt American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is suave and shady as he seems destined to cause trouble. Finally, Penelope Cruz gives her character of repressed Pilar Estravados enough shame and guilt that we cannot think something may be off with her motivations. The details to the characters are rich and compelling.

With actors such as Dench and Depp the acting playing field is set very high, and all of the actors play their parts with gusto. Wonderful to experience with Murder On The Orient Express is the true nature of an ensemble casteach character is relevant in his or her own way, regardless of screen time, and the casting works well. Evident is how the cast must have enjoyed working together on this nice project. Each character is written in a way that the individual actor can sink his or her teeth into the role and the wonderful reveal at the end of the film allows for each a chance to shine so that equal weight is given to each part.

After the actual murder is committed the story really takes off as each character is interviewed by Poirot and given a glance of suspicion. The first half of the film is really just the buildup and, at times, the story slightly lags, but this is fixed when the film kicks into high gear mid-way through. Sometimes a climactic conclusion makes up for any slight lag time suffered in the first portion of the film and Murder On The Orient Express is a great example of this.

The standouts for me are Branagh himself as Poirot and Pfeiffer as the sexy Caroline Hubbard, an American man-crazed older woman.  How wonderful to see Pfeiffer back in the game in 2017- with wonderful roles in both Murder On The Orient Express and Mother! She has the acting chops to pull off sex-appeal, vulnerability, and toughness.  In the case of Branagh, the actor never disappoints in any film he appears in, but seeing him in a leading role is fantastic and he has the ability to carry a film with such a dynamic cast. Branagh’s Poirot is classy, intelligent, and charismatic.

I adored the conclusion of the film and found the explanation and the reasoning of the murderer or murderers quite effective and believable. Through use of black and white flashback scenes, the action aboard the grandiose, yet slightly claustrophobic train scenes, are a perfect balance. Furthermore, the explanation and the motivations of the killer or killers makes perfect sense and much sympathy is evoked. In this way, the story is moralistic and certainly not a black and white subject matter.

Murder On The Orient Express succeeds as a wonderfully shot and star-studded affair. The filming is grandiose and the production values high as a caper film with a mystique and class. The film may not be a true masterpiece or necessarily remembered ten years from now, but what it does it does well. The original film from 1974 is a tad bit better, but as remakes go, the 2017 offering is quite good. A rumored sequel, Death on the Nile, is planned.

Mother!-2017

Mother!-2017

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Scott’s Review #687

Reviewed October 4, 2017

Grade: A

Mother! is an intense, disturbing, and brilliant 2017 work by acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky, having crafted left of center works such as 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, 2008’s The Wrestler, and 2010’s Black Swan- I shudder to think this film rivals the other in the insanity department. Stocked with four principal characters portrayed by mainstays in the Hollywood world, much buzz circled around this film upon release. The film is thought provoking, analytical, and surely will be discussed following the conclusion. I appreciate complex, difficult watches and Mother! succeeds in spades.

The film is set entirely within the confines of one enormous house in the middle of a vast field of land. Aronofsky never reveals the location adding mystery to the already intriguing premise. A young couple known only as Him (Javier Bardem) and mother (Jennifer Lawrence) cheerfully enjoy married life together and seem very much in love. Him is a renowned author suffering from writer’s block and mother having fixed up the house after it had burned long ago. One day Man (Ed Harris) arrives looking for a place to stay- while Him is delighted by the visitor and encourages Man to stay, mother is not as pleased. When Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, the house guests turn Him and mother’s lives upside down. This is merely the beginning of a complex puzzle.

As the plot unfolds, Mother! is oozing with one bizarre event after the other. mother witnesses unsettling images such as a beating heart within the walls and a bloodstain within the floor that will not go away. When relatives of Man and Woman’s overtake the house and a violent event occurs, events go from dark to downright chaotic.

By giving too much more of the plot points away would ruin the element of surprise, making Mother! a difficult film to review- the film is polarizing and mesmerizing and each of the principle characters can be analyzed and their motivations questioned. Why do Him and mother react differently to the visitors? What manifests the resentment each has towards mother?

Each actor gives a compelling turn and Aronofsky has admitted the character of mother is the one he related to most of all- logically one might assume that Bardem’s Him might receive that honor since the character is famous and a writer. How strange and this revelation by the director will only result in more character analysis.

How wonderful to see Michelle Pfeifer back in the forefront of a Hollywood film- it seems eons ago since we have seen her grace the silver screen, and she is back with a vengeance. Her bitchy portrayal is purely delicious and she encompasses Woman with the perfect amount of venom, toughness, and mystery. As she icily quizzes mother about her intentions of starting a family, she slowly immerses herself in mothers life without missing a beat.

The film is clearly unconventional and layered with symbolism and differing interpretations. Is Aronofsky’s message biblical? Is it political? Or could it be a reference to the obsessions everyday folk have with celebrity? After much pondering, and all three possibilities went through my mind, the biblical message seems the most solid and plausible explanation, but with Aronofsky films, the pleasure is in the analysis.

The final act of the film is particularly macabre as, until this time, the action exclusively centers on the four principal characters and the setting is largely bright.  A slow burn if you will, suddenly, all hell breaks loose as mobs, blood, fire, death and darkness takes over. The brutality and cannibalism involved will churn anyone’s stomach.

Quick to note are the lurid closeups of Jennifer Lawrence’s face during most of her scenes. Certainly, the camera loves her, but there is more going on here. Is the intention to make the viewer focus more on her character or to sympathize more with her character?

Mother! is a film that has stirred controversy among film-goers with some ravishing its elements and themes, while others have reviled and been revolted by the film. Time will tell if Mother! holds up well, but my hope and guess would be that it will become a film studied in film schools everywhere.

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood

Scott’s Review #656

Reviewed July 2, 2017

Grade: B+

Made during the heyday (the 1970’s and the early 1980’s) of a slew of action and thriller type films to star popular actor, Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz is a gritty, guy-focused film with not one single female character in sight. The film is directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Eastwood in several previous films, most notably, Dirty Harry in 1971, and contains a grittiness frequently used in this genre of film during the time period.

Reminiscent in style to 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in its authority repressing and taking advantage of  the victimized common man, the film itself is also a good historical account of one of the most famous prison escapes ever achieved, in 1962. Having recently visited the long since shut down Alcatraz prison near San Francisco, California, the film was wonderful to watch at this time as much of it was shot inside and around the actual prison grounds.

We immediately meet Frank Morris (Eastwood) as he is unceremoniously led to the infamous Alcatraz prison on a stormy, chilly night in foggy San Francisco. The dark, harsh weather perfectly sets the tone for the dreary prison experience he will face. Morris is stripped, searched, intimidated by the warden and the guards, and paraded around naked, finally taken to his tiny cell, where he will presumably spend the rest of his life. Interestingly, the film does not reveal what crimes Morris has committed to warrant his tenure in Alcatraz-in this way the character is more sympathetic.

Slowly, Morris befriends other inmates and formulates an idea to escape the impossible prison by digging through the cement walls with spoons and escaping through pipes. The other inmates featured in the film are the Anglin brothers, in for robbery, a kindly older man named Doc, who fervently paints the time away, nervous Charlie Butts, and English, an intelligent black man in for two life sentences for killing two white men in self defense. All of these men in some way aid Morris in his escape from the torturous Alcatraz.

A side story involves a bully named Wolf, who has designs on Morris from day one. Whether Wolf is actually gay or merely a menace is unknown and not explored. Throughout the film, Wolf and Morris fight and spend time in solitary confinement and their rivalry is an interesting sub-plot.

The film clearly wants the viewer to be on the side of the prisoners and I am not sure if in real life the prisoners would be as sympathetic as portrayed in the film. Most of them seem to be confined to Alcatraz for robberies or for crimes they did not do or circumstances deeming the crimes inevitable in some way. Furthering a liberal slant to the film is the friendship between Morris and English. An interracial friendship between the men reveal that our hero Morris is progressive thinking and a “good guy”.

Conversely, most of the guards and certainly the Warden (Patrick McGoohan) are written as terrible, unsympathetic people. When an inmate drops dead of a heart attack, the warden coldly remarks “some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz-alive”.  In this way, and other examples, the Warden is the clear foil of the film and in the final scene the warden gets a bit of comeuppance when a mocking souvenir is left for him . To further compare Escape from Alcatraz to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, the Warden is a similar character to the infamous Nurse Ratched in their mutual, diabolical sadism.

I am unsure if in “real life” the distinctions between the prisoners and the authority figures were so black and white, but it sure makes for good film drama. In a sense, it is “the heroes versus the villains” but in reverse.

The inevitable escape sequence is predictable, but highly compelling as Morris and company enact their escape plot during an overnight. The usage of papier-mache dolls to fool the guards is heavily dramatic and compelling.

Escape from Alcatraz is not high art, but works as a historical account of a real-life incident in one of the most discussed prisons in United States history. The film is also a perfect starring vehicle for Eastwood as he is well cast in the gritty, yet likable role of prisoner Morris. The film is a good, solid, late 1970’s thriller.

10 Cloverfield Lane-2016

10 Cloverfield Lane-2016

Director-Dan Trachtenberg

Starring-Mary Elizabeth Winstead,  John Goodman

Scott’s Review #643

Reviewed May 11, 2017

Grade: B+

10 Cloverfield Lane is a 2016 psychological thriller that is billed as somewhat of a successor to the 2008 hit, Cloverfield, though I fail to see the apparent correlation  between the films. Furthermore, the two stories seemingly have little or nothing to do with one another. Despite these pesky details, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very good, edge of your seat type film that is unpredictable as well as thought provoking. It is a film worthy of discussion by the time the credits roll- a very good quality for a film to have.

Without any dialogue during the opening sequence (a clever move), we meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a twenty-something woman presumably on the outs with her boyfriend, who we never see. Alone, she flees their residence and drives into the night to parts unknown. The couple is metropolitan, living in central New Orleans. Now in the middle of Louisiana, and hearing radio reports of strange blackouts, Michelle is soon involved in a terrible car accident. When she awakens, she finds herself chained to a bed inside a small bunker inhabited by two men, Howard (John Goodman), and Emmitt (John Gallagher, Jr.). They insist that the outside world is no longer and all human beings are dead as a result of a catastrophic attack. Michelle, initially skeptical, slowly uncovers various clues that leave her baffled as to what the truth really is.

10 Cloverfield Lane may very well be John Goodman’s best film performance. He plays Howard with gusto and mystery and the audience is largely left baffled whether or not to trust this man. Is he a vicious abductor, creating a make believe world to keep Michelle hostage-or is he telling the truth? He plays the character as both creepy and surly, but with a tinge of vulnerability and sadness. I certainly was both fascinated and confused by Howard and could not determine his true motivations.

Winstead  also deserves credit for portraying a female character that is strong yet sympathetic and she is never reduced to playing a victim, a testament to the actresses ability. Over the years Winstead has appeared in several duds (Black Christmas and The Thing) so it is nice to see her in a film worthy of her talents. Michelle is smart and determined to deduce her true surroundings and formulate a clever escape- though in a nice twist by film makers, does she really want to leave the safety of her bunker after all?

In this way producer J.J. Abrams weaves a story layered with twists and turns, which does wonders to keep the tension and the interest at a high level throughout the course of the film. The major question that reoccurs is “what on earth lies outside of the bunker?”

I enjoy how this film is not the typical, cookie-cutter type fare where we root for the female victim to escape the clutches of a male maniac- the film is much deeper and complex than that. Most enjoyable is how events slowly unfold and we, the audience, begin to question thoughts we have harbored throughout the run of the film. A perfect example of this comes in the final chapter when events take off in an entirely different direction than the rest of the film. Feeling a bit suffocated inside the bunker, what a relief to finally have some action occur outside of this location and into fresh air. But what lurks in this new setting?

One small oddity is how the film chooses to include famous actor Bradley Cooper’s voice as Michelle’s boyfriend Ben, heard via telephone only. This went unnoticed by me until the credits rolled and seems like a silly and unnecessary inclusion. Also, we never know what the turmoil is between Michelle and Ben- is their domestic trouble simply a plot driven antic or is there further meaning?

In a nutshell, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film best watched when knowing not the first thing about the plot or circumstances surrounding events. The film was so enjoyable to me because I did not know the twist, the conclusion, or even who starred in the film. In this way, the film kept all of the elements of surprise away from me and I found the film all the more enjoyable because of this.

Nocturnal Animals-2016

Nocturnal Animals-2016

Director-Tom Ford

Starring-Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal

Scott’s Review #640

Reviewed April 30, 2017

Grade: A-

Nocturnal Animals blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in a revenge themed thriller directed by Tom Ford, in only his second directorial effort- 2009’s A Single Man was his first. While not always hitting the mark and at times very difficult to follow, the film is both unusual and mesmerizing, as well as lovely to look at from a visual perspective. Some scenes literally blur together in a splendid way so that the scenes seem interposed-a brilliant touch. The film is clearly influenced by David Lynch in tone and style.

Events are divided between “The Real World” and “The Novel”. The film begins in a strange manner as a bevy of nude, obese women prance and dance on video screens during an art exhibit opening. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful woman living a glossy life in Los Angeles. We quickly learn that Susan is involved in a loveless marriage with hunky Hutton (Armie Hammer), a businessman who is inattentive towards Susan. Before Hutton, Susan was briefly married to Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a novelist, who dedicates his latest manuscript to Susan received via mail. As Susan reads the manuscript, she is transported down a dark path of memories and fantasies concerning Edward and their past.

The locales of the film are split largely between Los Angles (the real world), and western Texas (where the novel takes place). This, in itself, is a compelling aspect to the film and really separates the two different worlds. Los Angeles is featured mainly at nighttime as Susan, presumed to be suffering from insomnia, is compelled by her reading. She also rubs shoulders with sophisticated artist types and colleagues at her studio.

Conversely, the setting of western Texas is worlds apart from the Los Angeles setting- like night and day. In Texas, we are introduced to the protagonist of the story that Susan reads. Tony, traveling through Texas with his wife, Laura, and their daughter, India, are accosted and terrorized by passing local motorists. Clearly from out of town, the family is stranded in the middle of nowhere and kept at bay by the rednecks- the story has a tragic ending. The stories intersect in an interesting way as we see the differing worlds.

I found the scenes in western Texas to be frightening and fraught with tense moments- so much so that my heart was beating very fast. I pictured myself as Tony in a situation faced with peril and danger. As the family attempts to reason with the thugs, they get deeper and deeper into trouble. The feeling of being vulnerable and unsafe with no help around is tremendously in the film.

The acting in Nocturnal Animals is excellent all around, no surprise with the tremendous cast. Adams and Gyllenhaal are especially worthy of mention. Their scenes playing via flashbacks, we find them both sympathetic and vulnerable (at first)- he a sensitive writer, she a college girl with aspirations of love and a family life. As the plot thickens both characters become more nuanced and complex- the subject of betrayal and revenge certainly comes into play, and both characters, now older and more pessimistic, intersect again as mature adults.

Michael Shannon, though believable as Detective Bobby Andes, assigned to Tony’s case, and suffering from stage four lung cancer, is not the standout for me, and I disagree with his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Certainly a fine performance, I would have much rather Gyllenhaal or Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as one of the rednecks) be awarded the nomination.

I was reminded of David Lynch’s masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, largely during the Los Angeles scenes. The slick, night air and the trials and tribulations of the wealthy mirrored each other quite readily. There is a gothic, haunting, moody vibe that the sequences contain.

The central theme of revenge comes into play in both worlds- Tony and Bobby seek revenge on the criminals in western Texas, while revenge also is a focus on Los Angeles, though much more subtle. A hint is given a couple of times in Susan’s art gallery as a large exhibit entitled “Revenge” is a focal point. What the Los Angeles revenge is, however, is not revealed until the very last scene.

One thing is certain about Nocturnal Animals- the film is dreamy, complex, and worthy of a good conversation. Tom Ford is an up and coming director with visual sensibilities and a dream-like vision. I hope we see more from this fascinating director.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #632

Reviewed April 8, 2017

Grade: B+

The follow up film, but not a direct sequel, to the surprise hit of 1962, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a psychological thriller again directed by Robert Aldrich. The film was intended to reunite Aldrich with stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and Crawford did in fact film several scenes, but the tension between the stars proved too much and Crawford dropped out. Olivia de Havilland took her place and reportedly the film makers had to scramble to re-shoot the film nearly from scratch.

Shot in black and white, just like What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, the film is very similar in style and tone and, rather than Los Angeles as the setting, the setting is now the sprawling southern landscape of the deep south- Louisiana to be exact, and a vast estate with a lavish mansion is the featured ominous setting.

The action begins in 1927 at a grand party taking place at the well-to-do Hollis family mansion. The night is fraught with tension and secrets are harbored- most notably southern belle Charlotte (Davis) and her married beau, John (Bruce Dern), plan to elope and steal away into the night together. When John is threatened by Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), he regrettably breaks up with Charlotte, destroying her. Later, John is decapitated and his hand severed leaving all of the guests only to assume that Charlotte committed the murder after she appears wearing a blood soaked dress. Due to lack of evidence, Charlotte is set free.

The remainder of the film takes place during present times (1964) and in the same mansion- now rather decrepit and slated to be demolished by the town in favor of a highway. Charlotte, now old and haggard, has lived a life of seclusion, her father long since dead, and her only company her dedicated and faithful housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead). Frantic at the thought of leaving the safety of her estate, Charlotte asks her cousin Miriam (de Havilland) to visit. Events then become stranger and stranger as past secrets and jealousies are revealed.

Taking nothing away from the talents of Olivia de Havilland, I cannot help but imagine how much better Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would have been if Joan Crawford had settled into the role as cousin Miriam. The real-life rivalry between Crawford and Davis is in large part what made What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? such a  compelling work, and the angry emotions were so fresh and real. Interestingly, the characters are reversed in this film- Davis playing the victimized Charlotte, Crawford would have played the villainous Miriam and the results would have been delicious.

The plot of the film is decent, but yet nothing spectacular, and not nearly as splendid all around as What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? was, although certain similarities abound between the two films: a giant mansion, black and white cinematography, a mentally unstable (or assumed to be) character, a character being either drugged or victimized, and two female characters who are related. To compare the two films, which is impossible not to, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? wins out in spades. It is the more compelling of the two films.

What does set Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte well above mediocrity (with lesser actors it may have been) is the casting of one of the greatest actress ever to grace the big screen.  Bette Davis’s portrayal of the victimized Charlotte is fantastic. She encompasses vulnerability, anger, fear, and energy. Her facial expressions and those passionate eyes give so much to the character of Charlotte.

The clever resolution to the film and the plot twist at the conclusion of the film is quite well-written and surprising given that the characters assumed to be involved in the murder are not as guilty as one might think, or at least not in the way one might think, and by the time the credits role, the story has a satisfying, hopeful ending.

Another success of the film is the use of two gruesome scenes- surprising since the film pre-dates the lifting of the film censorship rules. When a severed head comes tumbling down the grand staircase of the mansion, it is frightening and not in the least campy or over-the-top. As John is hacked to death in the opening sequence, his hand is severed from his arm and it tumbles to the floor in dramatic fashion. The scenes resonate because they were rarely done in mainstream film as early as 1964.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a fantastic companion piece to the superior What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, but watched back to back, will make for a fantastic late night experience. Successful to the film are top notch talents such as de Havilland, Victor Buono, Bruce Dern, Agnes Moorehead, and the superior film queen herself, Bette Davis, which makes any film worth watching.

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.

Blow Out-1981

Blow Out-1981

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-John Travolta, Nancy Allen

Scott’s Review #574

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: A-

The follow-up to the 1980 masterpiece that was Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma carves a web of intrigue and mystery with Blow Out, a film starring some of the same cast members from Dressed to Kill and from 1976’s Carrie. Certainly comparisons can be drawn to the trio as they are all in the psychological thriller/horror vein- notwithstanding, the predecessors are the superior films. Blow Out is not quite on the level with those masterpieces, but is still a worthy effort and a must-see for fans of De Palma’s work.

John Travolta and Nancy Allen are the stars of the film-recreating their chemistry from Carrie. In that film, the pair are the clear villains, but in Blow Out they are the heroes and have a rooting value. Dennis Franz appears as a shady thug and John Lithgow is superb as the dastardly  Burke, hired to commit a crime, and enjoying it all too much.

Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound effects technician, working and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He works on low-budget horror films, and is highly respected for his craft. Alone in a remote park, recording sound and video, he records a car careening off a bridge into a creek. He saves Sally (Allen) from the sinking car and this is the point in the film where the intrigue takes off. The driver of the car is a governor and he has died- Sally was having an affair with the governor and his aides are intent on covering this up. To make matters more complicated, Jack has detected a gunshot on his recording-just before the crash, leading to obvious foul play.

I adore the beginning sequence of the film- my favorite. The film begins as a slasher film, unbeknownst to the audience. A collection of dizzy college girls dance, drink, and shower, as the cameras are placed outside of the dorms. We see all of the action through the glass windows, then the steady cam is used from the killers point of view. This is a highly effective scene and rather humorous too. Inevitably, a creepy killer appears in the shower to butcher one of the college girls until the real beginning of the film actually starts. This aspect is clever on the part of  De Palma. Why not trick the audience early and keep them guessing?

Also compelling is the villain of the film- Lithgow. Typically playing  sweet-nature characters, it was interesting to see him as a maniacal killer- and reminiscent of the crazed killer from Dirty Harry, in his harried, grotesque facial features. One particularly chilling scene involves the murder of a prostitute at the train station. I like this scene because the audience gets to know her a bit before she meets her fate- adding a level of empathy for the victim.

Enjoyable are the location sequences of Philadelphia, which give authenticity to the film. Specifically, the train station. Grizzled, dirty, and bustling, the locales set the tone of the film.

The chemistry between Travolta and Allen is decent, though I found more chemistry between them in Carrie. I did not care for Allen’s use of an accent- intended to be a Philadelphia accent, it seemed a New Jersey one to me and simply does not work at all in the film. This distraction is the only weak point of the film.

All in all, Blow Out is a very good film. It combines mystery, political intrigue, and the famed De Palma stamp- which in itself is worthwhile enough to watch. Blow Out contains a dream-like element- as Carrie and Dressed to Kill before it did, which only enhances the mystique. The not so happily ever after ending is superb.

Shutter Island-2010

Shutter Island-2010

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio

Scott’s Review #567

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: A-

Shutter Island is a great, psychological thriller, that being a Scorsese film, I had high expectations for. Lo and behold, I was not disappointed in the slightest. Scorsese has a knack for making taut films, violent certainly, and with an edge. This film does not have the gore nor the blood that some of his other films have- especially since the subject matter is not mafia related.

After Teddy Daniels, a World War II veteran, turned U.S. Marshall investigates the disappearance of a female patient at a local psychiatric hospital, the case develops layers that are unforeseen. The time period is the 1950’s.

Shutter Island is not your typical, run of the mill thriller- it is much more than that and the complexities build and build. Not to be secondary to the interesting web of plot, but the art and set designs and visual effects are quite impressive- particularly during the storm scenes.

Leonardo DiCaprio is quite the gem, carrying the film in a demanding role, and working so well with Scorsese, as proven by his being a repeat player in his films. In fact, all the performances (even tiny roles) were played with perfection- with flawless nuances- I mainly mean the hospital staff and patients.

The unpleasant violent images may upset some as well as the ending, but I found it to be an edge of your seat, extremely well made film. I hope that it is remembered for some time. Kudos.

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

Director-Juan Jose Campanella

Starring-Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin

Scott’s Review #565

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: A

The Secret in Their Eyes is a wonderful film and one of the best of the year 2009- deservedly it won the Best Foreign Language Film of that year. Argentinian, it is a multi-faceted story with twists and turns, leaving the audience guessing.

The remarkable characteristic of the film is that it crosses genres. It lies somewhere between a thriller and romantic film, and with much depth. The story concerns a criminal investigator who decides to write a memoir of a case that happened twenty-five years ago as he reflects on the present as well as the past. This story angle in itself is highly appealing.

The film contains many flashbacks- a young newlywed was raped and murdered years ago in an unsolved case, and the film is clearly influenced heavily by both Alfred Hitchcock and Dirty Harry. It has a few surprises and twists to the tale, especially as the plot moves along. I adored the use of mirrors, reflections, shadows, and eyeglasses. Hitchcock lovers will know all about that.

I was fortunate to see this film at my local art theater and at close to three hours, it can be slow moving at times, but well worth the pay off. The Secret in Their Eyes is a very, very well made film.

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.

The Bridesmaid-2004

The Bridesmaid-2004

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Benoit Magimel, Laura Smet

Scott’s Review #548

Reviewed December 14, 2016

Grade: B+

A more modern offering by Claude Chabrol, (many of his films were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s), his 2004 film entitled, The Bridesmaid, continues the tradition of compelling, macabre, story-telling immersing the viewer in strange behavior by the central characters, as they obsess over each other in one way or another. The film is in the French language.

The Bridesmaid actually contains two plots- one explored fully, the other not explored as much as might have been hoped- the latter being the more interesting of the two. Philippe is the only son of his mother, Christine, and the only male in the household- his two other sisters live there as well. Christine is divorced and works as a hairdresser. The family is a rather typical one save for a creepy incestuous bond between Philippe and Christine-very romantic in their conversations with each other, and Philippe’s penchant for carrying around a head statue carved to resemble his mother. He regularly sleeps with the statue and kisses it on the lips.

As the youngest daughter is to be married, Philippe meets and bonds with one of the bridesmaids- Senta. The two embark on a torrid love affair and become inseparable. As their love flourishes, Senta become obsessive in her undying love for Philippe and asks him to kill a stranger as a way of proving his love for her. This leads to confusion as Senta kills another character, thinking this is what Philippe wants. Philippe becomes both afraid and titillated by the young girl.

The main plot is very reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic, Strangers on a Train, as one party is bloodthirsty and the other a more innocent victim of the plot, yet in Chabrol’s film, the other party suffers from issues of their own in the emotional sense. Senta is unbalanced, and a mysterious figure from her past- Rita- described as her stepmother, appears a few times, as she dances with her much younger partner.

A local girl mysteriously disappears early on in the film, which may be a red herring to the stories, or perhaps related to all the events of the film.

Personally, I was more intrigued by the mommy/son angle, but perhaps that is Chabrol’s way of confusing the audience. Oddly, the duo has simmering chemistry, yet each character never fesses up to being obsessed with the other- it is merely implied. Philippe dislikes Christine’s beau, who figures prominently in the main story of Senta’s machinations, but I wanted more of Christine and Philippe.

Stylistically, The Bridesmaid is dreamy and builds at a slow momentum, similar to Chabrol’s earlier films- we are aware that the story will play out in strange, interesting fashion, but we do not always know just what road Chabrol might take, nor what plot points may or may not be revealed.

Perhaps less developed as some of his fantastic earlier efforts, but certainly a recommended watch for someone in the mood for a morbid, left of center, story to sink one’s teeth into.  Claude Chabrol is a director I admire greatly for his use of fascinating elements that keep the audience guessing as to what is coming next, and this is a joy in itself.

The Believers-1987

The Believers-1987

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Martin Sheen

Scott’s Review #547

Reviewed December 12, 2016

Grade: B

The Believers is a very obscure film that I had never heard of before viewing it. Combined with the fact that it was made in 1987 (not a great time for movies) I was skeptical about this one, but was pleasantly surprised. it has some edge to it, is mysterious, and is set in New York City- always a plus for me.

Martin Sheen- merely a youngster when this was made-plays a police psychologist, Cal Jamison, involved in a voodoo serial killer cult. He moves from Minnesota  to New York City following the death of his wife by electrocution, when her coffeemaker malfunctions. Is this key to the case or a red-herring?

The plot is a bit convoluted as when Cal’s son is targeted by the serial killer and  when frazzled police officer, Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits),  takes center stage. I did not find Smits all too believable in this role, and the film has a striking 1980’s feel to it.

The locales, since it was actually shot in New York, are fantastic, and the plot contain some scares, surprises, and spooky effects along the way. I also was very impressed by the satisfying ending. The Believers isvery good thriller/horror film.

The Girl on the Train-2016

The Girl on the Train-2016

Director-Tate Taylor

Starring-Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux

Scott’s Review #493

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Reviewed October 12, 2016

Grade: B+

The apparent must see film of fall of 2016, with seemingly everyone flocking to see the blockbuster, I happily was able to see it shortly upon release. While containing some flaws, The Girl on a Train is a very good thriller- and a great companion piece to Gone Girl- similar in style, tone, and in a way, story. A whodunit with psychological, almost Hitchcockian elements, it navigates twists and turns to an unfortunate disappointing finale. Still, a more than adequate offering that does not bore. Based on the hit novel of the same name, which I understand is superior to the film.

First and foremost, how gorgeous was the scenic eye candy of suburban New York City, where the train chugs along the Hudson river in breathtaking beauty. Affluent houses are nestled along the river banks hidden with secrets- which is really the point of the film. Beautiful neighborhoods are often riddled with affairs, drama, and back-stabbing. The setting was perfect as was the element of the train- peering through windows to witness smoldering events.

Clearly, the standout of the film is Emily Blunt, who gives a compelling, sometimes heartbreaking turn as a boozy, jobless, young woman fraught with heartbreak after heartbreak. She finds solace on the Metro North train as she peers into a particular well-to-do house, making up stories about a young woman she re-names on a daily basis, usually while inebriated to the state of blackouts. In fact, though The Girl on the Train is not the typical “Oscar type film”, I’d argue that a potential nomination is warranted for Blunt, who is brilliant on her emotional roller coaster. Rachel fantasizes about being the strangers friend, revealing her own desperation. We quickly learn her life circumstances and feel empathy.

I anticipated an experience like Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window- Rachel Watson noticing a crime occur and somehow becomes involved in the situation. This is partly true, but different altogether. I was, however, treated to a film that never lags or waivers and the action is plenty- not in a bombs or car-chase way, but instead a circulating array of plot twists and emotions.

How wonderful to see Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow, and Justin Theroux in a big-budget, mainstream film, rather than independent small films (certainly not a knock, but good to see some wide recognition). All three knock the material they are given out of the park, and kudos to the writers for making Kudrow- in little more than a cameo- a major part of the great reveal. Arguably, Janney’s character of Detective Riley is the weakest written and seems to change motivations depending on the story shift. This is perplexing and too plot driven. In a way, the same might be said for Theroux’s character of Tom Watson, but, alas it is a thriller and this sometimes does happen in this genre.

Without giving much away, the conclusion to the film is unsatisfactory. We are given an ending that is wrapped up in a neat, tidy bow, which contradicts the rest of the film. The film is confusing, dream-like, and muddled- in a good way. We are disturbed by Rachel’s thoughts and wonder what the reality is. The climax is too clear and instead of leaving much to the imagination, we are fed a linear, straightforward, story ending, almost geared for a Hallmark television movie (gag). Wise would have been to write Rachel as still vague about her surroundings, but this does not occur.

The Girl on the Train will not re-define cinema or go down in history as fine art, but it is not intended to- it is the type of film designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, and does so. The story is above average and slick, but Blunt is worth heaps of praise and is head and shoulders above the rest of the film- and the cast- no small feat considering the talent involved. Great acting job, but the writing could have been slightly better.

Mother-2009

Mother-2009

Directed-Joon-Ho Bong

Starring-Hye-ja Kim

Scott’s Review #480

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Reviewed September 11, 2016

Grade: A

Mother is brilliant! I loved it and implore people to give the film a chance. It is a Korean film- made in 2009 that almost nobody has heard of-let alone seen, but it is fantastic. It’s a shame that it did not get more notice, but sadly, some of the best films do not.

The plot revolves around a mysterious murder that occurs in a small South Korean village and a poor village woman’s mission to exonerate her mentally challenged son, who is convicted of the crime in a botched case. The plot twists and turns and is compelling beyond belief. The real crux of the film is what lengths a mother will take to protect her son, a question many viewers can ask themselves.

Why Hye-ja Kim, who plays the title character was not nominated for an Oscar for this role is beyond me and quite a shame. She is a goldmine and gives a terrific, memorable performance.

The movie is stylistic and has moments that resemble Hitchcock and David Lynch combined. One does not know what will transpire from scene to scene and that is the beauty of the film- besides the wonderful acting. Once the film ends viewers will feel compelled to discuss, which is an accomplished feat. I highly recommend it.

Red Riding Hood-2011

Red Riding Hood-2011

Director-Catherine Hardwicke

Starring-Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie

Scott’s Review #477

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Reviewed September 10, 2016

Grade: B-

I was hesitant to see Red Riding Hood in the theater because it seemed like more of a rental to me. While it is far from high art, it is an above mediocre thriller riding the current popularity of the vampire-lite genre.

It tells the tale of teenage girl living in a medieval village that is being attacked by a mysterious wolf. The wolf, however is human at times. The fact that it stars young actors known in current American cinema, it is unsurprising that a love story is written.

I thought the movie is decent, but not great. The whodunit is good as we wonder who the wolf in disguise is- and the cinematography excellent- I bought the time period’s authenticity. Being treated to Julie Christie in a current film is always a treat, but at times the movie is quite sappy and Twilight-ish. (it is directed by the same director). Overall not bad.

The Purge: Anarchy-2014

The Purge: Anarchy-2014

Director-James DeMonaco

Starring-Frank Grillo

Scott’s Review #466

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Reviewed August 16, 2016

Grade: B

As a fan of the original The Purge, a creative, fresh modern horror film with a distinct message, I did not expect the sequel to match expectations nor to be as powerful as the original and I was right on both counts. As a stand alone film, though, it is a decent flick, having almost nothing to do with the original, save for the same premise. In fact, I hesitate to even call The Purge: Anarchy a horror film as it contains little blood, gore, or true horror elements- it is much more of a thriller.

The premise is simple- the Government sanctioned holiday of March 21st has come around again, meaning twelve hours of sanctioned mayhem, where murder, rape, and assault are all allowed without punishment to the criminals, and no police or rescue teams of any sort are available. The time period is 2023, though I am unsure why this is relevant, since there is nothing that distinguishes the year from the current year, 2016, in the story. Several protagonists fearfully hunker down for a night of safety holed up in their individual dwellings, but circumstances force them onto the streets. A mother and her teen daughter, a young couple, and a vigilante of sorts are the differing characters. The backstories of these folks are not really all that important or relevant to the film. They form a group and bond with each other.

Whereas the original kept the audience confined to one house, The Purge: Anarchy does anything but. As the group commences, the streets of Los Angeles serve as the backdrop for the action as they endlessly traverse the dark and mainly deserted streets, hiding in garbage dumpsters, tunnels, and other sources for protection.  The vigilante, who is revealed to be an off-duty police officer, has motivation, as his son was killed one year ago today, not as a result of the Purge, but by a drunk driver. The police officer is seeking his revenge via the freedom the annual Purge allows him.

The film is purely plot driven and little character development exists, however, the group is mostly likable, especially the mother and daughter. Interestingly, the film makers chose to feature multiple races and ethnic group, giving it a dose of diversity, which gets a big kudos from me.

I could not help but draw comparisons to the popular television series The Walking Dead, at several points of the film, as the group, brandishing weapons, continuously encounters thugs and enemies of every kind as they wander the streets.

A creative twist to The Purge: Anarchy involves a group of Anti-Purgers, all black, who have a following of people supporting them against the government’s protocol of allowing  an annual purging. It is made clear that the main victims of the purge holiday are the poor and the sick. Correlating with this, our group finds themselves kidnapped and taken to a lavish party where wealthy folks arrange a night of champagne and hunting as the victims are lured to their deaths while the onlookers cheer and feast in celebration. Think an Oscar party with gruesome results.

The Purge: Anarchy is a good, fun, Saturday night popcorn film that does contain a message that is worth pondering. Would society succumb to a fetish such as the annual purge if the government condoned it? Undoubtedly the film must have been influenced by the popularity of The Hunger Games in tone and theme. It is a decent film, no more-no less.

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Top 100 Films-#99

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Reviewed February 12, 2013

Grade: A

Eyes Wide Shut is a film that I saw in theaters upon its release in 1999 and found it fascinating, to say the least. I have watched the film twice more in the years following and it is even more fascinating today- it gets better and more nuanced with each viewing. It is not an easy film to follow or explain, but is rich in mystery and psychologically challenging.

A huge Stanley Kubrick fan, this film is an eerie, plodding, cerebral psychological/sexual thriller. The creepy piano score is very effective, and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are both excellent as affluent, yet restless, thirtysomethings living in New York City. Cruise plays Bill, a successful doctor, and Kidman his gorgeous wife, both sexually restless and escaping into fantasy and otherwise real dalliances with other partners as they bicker about fidelity and jealousy as they lounge in their underwear and smoke pot.

It’s a film about relationships, temptation, desire, and does not always make perfect sense, but boy will it leave you thinking. The supporting characters are some of the most interesting I’ve ever seen as they compel and mystify and one wonders how they fit with the main characters. The naughty Long Island orgy is as bizarre and surreal as one can imagine.

The movie reminded me somewhat of The Ice Storm, Magnolia,and Mulholland Drive, which is the ultimate compliment as the aforementioned are film masterpieces.

The Tall Man-2012

The Tall Man-2012

Director-Pascal Laugier

Starring-Jessica Biel

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Reviewed February 25, 2013

Grade: B-

The Tall Man is a cross between a horror/thriller/message movie that stars Jessica Biel as a nurse named Julia Denning, living in rural Washington, where the town’s children begin disappearing and abducted by a mysterious creature named “The Tall Man”. Is he a legend or a reality? When Julia’s son is the next victim, she sets out to solve the mystery.

The aging mining town of Cold Rock is the setting for the films events and it is perfect- containing all the necessary elements. The remote, secluded location, the various creepy townspeople. Additionally, The Tall Man has an interesting premise, and the ending is somewhat of a surprise, though rushed, so it’s an interesting experience. The plot is so far fetched and convoluted at times that it is tough to follow and take seriously.

I am not a fan of Jessica Biel’s, in fact I find her acting to be subpar, but she is adequate in her starring turn and gives a compelling performance as a haggard mom. Given the actresses good looks, I didn’t totally buy her as a blue-collar, small town type.

Overall, throughout the film I found something missing, but could not put my finger on it. A decent thriller, but nothing more.

To Catch A Thief-1955

To Catch A Thief-1955

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Grace Kelly

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Reviewed July 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Cary Grant starred in a resounding five Alfred Hitchcock films in his day and 1955’s To Catch A Thief is smack in the middle of Hitchcock’s prime period of masterful pictures. Grace Kelly (her third and final Hitchcock film) co-stars making this film a marquee treat as both actors were top notch in their heyday and had much chemistry in this film. While not my all time favorite of Hitchcock films, To Catch a Thief has mystery, a whodunit, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera. In fact, the breathtaking surroundings are my favorite part of this film.

Grant plays John Robie, aka. “The Cat”, an infamous jewel thief who has now gone clean. He currently spends his days quietly atop the French Riviera growing grapes and flowers and keeping out of trouble. When a new jewel thief begins to strike wealthy tourists, Robie is immediately under suspicion by the police. He is forced to prove his innocence by catching the real thief in the act as the thief uses the same style to steal as Robie once did. In the midst of this drama, Robie meets the beautiful heiress Frances (Kelly) and her interfering mother Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), leading to romance.

Despite the fact that Grant could be old enough to be Kelly’s father, we immediately accept Robie and Frances as the perfect couple- she sophisticated, stylish, and rich, he equally sophisticated and cool, with a bad boy edge. In this way, To Catch A Thief has a strong romantic element, and a glamorous and wealthy tone. After all, the subject matter at hand- jewels- equates to lavish set decorations, women dripping in expensive jewelry, and a posh resort among the gorgeous French waters.

The supporting characters are interesting too. A triangle of sorts emerges as Frances plays catty with a young girl, Danielle, eager for Robie’s affections. Danielle, much plainer looking than Frances, though no shrinking violet, holds her own in a match of wits with Frances as they bathe in the water one afternoon. Frances’s mother Jessie, is wonderful comic relief as she attempts to push Robie and Frances together- always searching for a handsome suitor for her daughter. Finally, insurance man H.H. Hughson also contributes to the comic relief as he begrudgingly provides Robie with a list of wealthy visitors with jewels. In their playfully awkward lunch- delicious quiche is the meal of the day- at Robie’s place, Robie proves how Hughson himself is a thief of sorts in order to accomplish what he needs to get from Hughson.

Despite all of the positive notes, there is something about To Catch A Thief that prevents it from being among my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. Perhaps it is because I never had a doubt as to Robie’s innocence and the caper- if dissected- is a bit silly. I get the sense that the audience is supposed to question all along whether Robie is truly reformed or playing a game and is really back to his dirty deeds, but I wasn’t fooled. This is a very small gripe and To Catch A Thief is a wonderful film.

The way the film is shot is almost like being in the French Riviera. Countless coastal shots of the skyline will amaze the viewer with breathtaking awe of how gorgeous the French country is and how romantic and wonderful it is. This is my favorite part of To Catch A Thief. In fact, the visuals of the film rival the story as the costumes created by costume designer and Hitchcock mainstay, Edith Head, are simply lovely. And who can forget the costume ball at the films near conclusion?

Though the story might be the weakest and lightest elements of the story,  who cares? The visuals more than make up for any of that as To Catch A Thief will please loyal fans of Hitchcock’s vast catalog.

 

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle-1992

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle-1992

Director-Curtis Hanson

Starring-Rebecca De Mornay, Annabella Sciorra

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Reviewed January 18, 2017

Grade: A

One may argue that the slick 1992 thriller, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, is a direct rip-off of the 1987 blockbuster hit Fatal Attraction, which spawned countless imitators, and they may be accurate, but I simply adore this film. It contains great tension, is well-acted, but above all, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle features Rebecca De Mornay in a wonderful performance as one of the screens most memorable villains, Peyton Flanders. This is a film that will admittedly not win any awards for originality, but that I love all the same.

Peyton Flanders is very pregnant when we meet her. Her husband is creepy Dr. Mott, an obstetrician who sexually molests Claire Bartel (Sciorra) in his office during an exam. Humiliated and upset, Claire, after encouraged by her husband, Michael, files charges against Dr. Mott. He commits suicide and Peyton loses her child. Filled with vengeance, she vows to destroy Claire. The plot may sound like a tawdry daytime soap plot device, but The Hand That Rocks The Cradle somehow works like a charm.

Unlike Fatal Attraction, there is little rooting value between Petyon and Michael- we know she is a crazed lunatic- the fun is seeing how she gets hers. She manipulates him and insinuates herself into their home- she pretends to be a nanny and subsequently manipulates Michael and Claire’s daughter.

Julianne Moore- in an early role in her storied film career- is believable as Claire’s best friend, who is the only one who sees Peyton for the monster she truly is. Sadly, her screen time is limited.

Regardless of the other fine performances from the rest of the cast, this is really De Mornay’s film- she is psychotic, then sweet, and plays both to the hilt.

I suppose a film like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is not intended to be analyzed too much since its intent is to thrill, scare, make the audience uneasy, but boy is it sure fun.

The Night of the Hunter-1955

The Night of the Hunter-1955

Director-Charles Laughton

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#66

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Reviewed November 13, 2016

Grade: A

The way that I would classify The Night of the Hunter is by describing it as a fairy tale for adults. In fact, I categorized it as a thriller, but it certainly teeters on the edge of being a horror film. In addition to being a well-written film, it also contains breathtaking cinematography. Made in 1955, it is shot in black and white, and tells the tale of good versus evil in a small town. The film is a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.

The film is creepy, but in a highly intelligent way, and director Charles Laughton is responsible for the immeasurable success of the film, though the film was not a success upon release. It has only been as the years passed that is has finally received its due admiration. The film is way ahead of its time. It is based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb.

The time is the 1930’s in rural West Virginia, and the action takes place along the Ohio river. Ben Harper, a local family man, robs a bank and hides the stolen money inside his daughter’s doll. His son and daughter (John and Pearl) are central characters in the story. Caught, Ben is out of the picture leaving his wife, Wilma (Winters), vulnerable and alone. A serial killer, Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a misogynist, is on the loose disguised as a preacher. In prison with Ben, he knows the money is hidden and is determined to find out where. He has designs on wooing Wilma. When dire events occur, John and Pearl are left on the run along the river to seek refuge with a kindly older woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).

The film is a combination of majestic, haunting, and artistic. Each scene seemingly glows as the dark black and the white colors mix in a gorgeous way, making the film tranquil, despite the dark tone of the films subject matter.

The Night of the Hunter also has a visual dream-like quality. During one pivotal scene, we see a dead body, submerged at the bottom of the river. Obviously, it is horrific with the bulging eyes and the bloating beginning to set in, but the scene is so creatively beautiful as well. The flowing hair of the victim, the posture, is a mesmerizing scene and sticks with you for some time.

Poetic, and a sense of good versus evil, clearly laid out as Powell has two words imprinted on the knuckles of each hand- “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E”.  These words create the basis of the film as both words can be applied to the actions of the characters.

My personal favorite scene is when John and Pearl travel along the Ohio river in flight from their rival. The shapes of the trees mirrored with the flowing river is just incredible to see and I can watch this scene over and over again.

A thriller, written intelligently well, with creativity for miles, is a recipe for pure delight. Director, Laughton, only directed this one film, and encouraged creative collaboration and participation from his actors, and it shows in the resulting masterpiece. The Night of the Hunter has influenced countless directors.

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

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Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

The only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar trophy, Rebecca is a very early offering in the famous director’s repertoire. His heyday being well ahead of this film (the 1950’s and 1960’s saw his best works), Rebecca is a blueprint of fine things to come and on its own merits is a great film. Shot in black and white, the film is a descent into mystery, intrigue, and madness, with a gothic look to it.

Laurence Olivier stars as rich widower Maxim de Winter, whose first wife, title character Rebecca, has died some time before the story begins. In a clever twist, the character of Rebecca is never seen, but takes on a life of her own through the tellings of the rest of the cast. Joan Fontaine plays a nameless, naïve young woman who meets the sophisticated Maxim and marries him, becoming the new Mrs. de Winter. This development is met with disdain by the servants who work in the grand de Winter mansion, named Manderley, a character in its own right.

Housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in particular, is cold and distant from Maxim’s new wife, and begins to reveal an obsession with the deceased Rebecca, creating jealousy and intimidation for Fontaine’s character- so much so, that, she begins to doubt her sanity and decision making capabilities.

Rebecca is a fantastic, old style film, that provides layers of mystery and wonderment thanks to Hitchcock’s direction. The mansion that is Manderley is central to the story as is the obsession that creepy Mrs. Danvers has with Rebecca. She keeps the dead woman’s bedroom neat and tidy, a sort of shrine to her memory, so much so that, despite the time the film is made, 1940, a lesbian element is crystal clear to attention paying audiences. This aspect may have not been noticed at the time, but in more recent times, this is quite obvious.

The film is also a ghost story of sorts since the central character, Rebecca, is never seen. Could she be haunting the mansion? Is she actually dead or is this a red herring, created to throw the audience off the track? Is the new Mrs. de Winter spiraling out of control? Is she imagining the servants menacing actions? Is Maxim in on the torment or simply seeking a replacement wife to his true love? The pertinent questions not only are asked of the character, but of the audience themselves as they watch with bated breath.

The climax and finale to Rebecca is fantastic. As the arguably haunted mansion is engulfed in flames and the sinister Mrs. Danvers can be seen lurking near the raging drapes, the truth comes to the surface leaving a memorable haunting feeling to audiences watching. Rebecca is a true classic.