Category Archives: Romantic Drama Films

Love Story-1970

Love Story-1970

Director-Arthur Hiller

Starring-Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw

Scott’s Review #950

Reviewed October 23, 2019

Grade: B+

Love Story (1970) was an enormous blockbuster hit at the time of release with two good-looking stars of the day immersed in a tragic romance. Almost fifty years later the story feels contrived and watered down with a “been there seen that” result. While reviewing the film one must be mindful of the time-period in which the film was made (before similar films hit the circuit) and the chemistry between the leads holds up quite well. Perhaps the film works best having seen it decades ago as it now feels dated.

Handsome Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) is a star ice hockey player attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is heir to the wealthy Barrett family led by father Oliver Barrett III (Ray Milland). While at school he meets the blue-collar Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw), who attends neighboring Radcliffe College and studies classical music. The couple fall madly in love becoming inseparable.

Oliver is met with anger after he proposes to Jenny, she accepts, and they travel to the Barrett mansion so that she can meet Oliver’s parents. They are judgmental and unimpressed with her thinking she is nice, but hardly a companion for their son. Later Oliver’s father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny. After graduation Oliver and Jenny marry nonetheless and begin a life of financial struggle but filled with happiness. When they attempt to conceive they learn that Jenny is terminally ill and has weeks to live.

The prime appeal of the film is the romance between Oliver and Jenny which feels primal and honest. They are the cliched rich boy and poor girl equation, but in this film the dynamic works. O’Neal and MacGraw are good-looking and were on the cusp of Hollywood A-list classification so the stars aligned in the casting. They ebb and flow in the beginning of the film with Jenny’s sarcasm and Oliver’s quiet arrogance, but there is never a doubt the pair will fall madly in love and we, the audience, are hooked from the start.

On an atmospheric level, the icy northeastern climate and the myriad of exterior scenes throughout Massachusetts give the film a proper ambiance. For anyone who has studied at a university in this area or has interest, the film succeeds, and it adds a robust flavor to the surrounding events. The youthful wonder and the promise of a bright future is of paramount importance to the story being told and the foreshadowing is effective.

The film lacks guts in the pacing area though. Most of Love Story is spent focusing on the newness of Oliver and Jenny’s romance and their hurdles surrounding family members and a brief nod to class and societal roles. At a brief one hour and thirty-five minutes there is very little time left for the shocking turn of events surrounding Jenny’s illness. Coming out of nowhere, the character is alive and well, has a brief fainting spell, and is then seen lying on a gurney before dying off-screen.

There is no bedside death scene, no suffering nor deteriorating health, and the entire tragedy is glossed over. Hence the title, the focus is on the “love story” but this seems like a scam. So much is invested in the couple that the loss seems skimmed over. How can one die from leukemia (blood cancer) within a few days anyway? The film makers clear attempts at playing it safe is at the expense of the overall film experience.

Love Story (1970) deserves praise for being one of the first of its kind- the romantic tearjerker. The genre would soon become soaked with imitators so cliched that they bring the original down a notch because it now feels trite. The chick flick contains good acting and nice scenery but lacks the emotional depth I was hoping for. Melodramatic to a fault the appeal of the leads surges the overall effort way more than it should.

The Sandpiper-1965

The Sandpiper-1965

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor

Scott’s Review #897

Reviewed May 12, 2019

Grade: B+

The Sandpiper (1965) is a film that stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, released at the very height of their fame.  It capitalized on their notoriety as one of the world’s most famous couples and their well-known romantic tribulations. Although they portrayed adulterous lovers, they were married shortly before filming began. The film’s theme of adultery closely mirrored their own personal lives at the time, as each very publicly conducted an affair with each other while married to other spouses.

The film is a lavish and sweeping production, one of the very few major studio pictures ever filmed in Big Sur, and the story is specifically set there. Big Sur is a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It is frequently praised for its dramatic scenery and is the perfect location for a film with romance.

The Sandpiper is a romantic drama perfectly showcasing the two stars chemistry in a pure case of art mimicking real life, at least in some way. Fascinating is to watch the actors work off one another and think in wonderment what life would have been like on the set amidst the dreamlike and steamy locale and the fresh romance. The story is not a dynamic piece and quite sudsy and melodramatic and a case of the actors being the main reason to watch.

Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, a bohemian, free-spirited single mother who lives in Big Sur, California with her young son, Danny. Laura makes a living as an artist while home schooling her son, who has gotten into trouble with the law. When Danny is sent to an Episcopal boarding school, Laura meets the headmaster, Dr. Edward Hewitt (Burton) and the duo falls madly in love despite Edward being married to teacher Claire (Eva Marie Saint). The melodrama only escalates as those close to the pair catch on to their infidelity.

The gorgeous locale of Big Sur is second to none and exudes romance and sexual tension with the crashing waves against the mountainous terrain symbolic to the passionate love affair. As the characters capitulate to each other the lavish weather only infuses the titillating experience. Taylor is lovely to look at throughout the film and an erotic nude chest of the character plays a major role. I did have to wonder if the inclusion had the desired effect or resulted in unintended humor as the endowed sculpture is quite busty.

The film belongs to Taylor and Burton, but the supporting cast is deserving of mention creating robust characters that add flavor. Eva Marie Saint plays the amicable wife, at first distraught by her husband’s infidelity but later coming to an understanding. Charles Bronson plays Cos Erickson, the protective friend of Laura’s who despises Edward’s hypocrisy. Finally, Robert Webber is effective as Ward Hendricks, former beau of Laura, eager for another chance with the violet-eyed bombshell.

The title of the film represents a sandpiper with a broken wing that Laura nurses, as Edward looks on. The bird lives in her home until it is healed and then flies free, though it comes back occasionally. This sandpiper is used as a central symbol in the movie, illustrating the themes of growth and freedom. The element is sweet and true to the love story between Laura and Edward.

The Sandpiper is an entertaining film, not a great film. It suffers from mediocre writing and cliched storytelling, but a starring vehicle for Taylor and Burton. The fascination is watching the actors not for a great cinematic experience and the film is not remembered very well but for fans of the super-couple.

Amazing that the film was made only one year prior to the dreary yet brilliant Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) starring the same husband and wife duo as does The Sandpiper (1965). The roles of Laura and Edward are worlds apart from George and Martha and watched in close sequence to each other one can marvel at the acting chops of each star in comparison. The film won the coveted Academy Award for Best Original Song for the sentimental “The Shadow of Your Smile”.

The Great Lie-1941

The Great Lie-1941

Director-Edmund Goulding

Starring-Bette Davis, Mary Astor

Scott’s Review #891

Reviewed April 28, 2019

Grade: B+

Clearly breezing into her heyday of films at this point, Hollywood starlet Bette Davis had become an expert at portraying tarts and bitches in most of her films. Desiring to turn left of center and play a more sympathetic character the actress jumped at the chance to play an ingenue. The Great Lie (1941) is the perfect showcase for her talents in a gripping, dramatic film that is pure predictable soap-opera, but lovely escapism done well.

Maggie Patterson (Davis) is a demure and sensitive southern socialite vying for the affections of former beau, aviator Peter Van Allen (George Brent). Peter has impulsively married sophisticated concert pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) and both are startled to learn their marriage is invalid. Confused, Peter decides to marry Maggie and is quickly sent off to Brazil on business when his airplane crashes into the jungle leaving him presumed dead.

When Sandra realizes she is pregnant, Maggie proposes she be allowed to raise the child as her own in exchange for taking care of Sandra financially. The two women go to Arizona to await the birth, and Sandra delivers a boy who is named after his father. The women face a quandary when Peter shows up alive and well and Sandra bitterly announces to Maggie that she intends to ride off into the sunset with both Peter and her son. The women scratch and claw at each other, metaphorically speaking, for the remainder of the picture.

The story line, despite being perfectly melodramatic and stellar for an afternoon daytime drama, is rather engaging throughout, never suffering from too much contrivance. The reason for this is that both Maggie and Sandra have appeal and both women are likable- or at least the film does its best not to make one woman the clear villain. Sandra, dripping with gorgeous fashion and a sturdy poise is confident, pairing well with Maggie’s southern charm and sensibilities- to say nothing of her wealth. Peter would do well with either woman and I found my allegiances shifting throughout the film.

Nearly upstaging Davis is Mary Astor giving a terrific performance as Sandra. Combined, the women are the reason for The Great Lie’s grit and gusto. They play the hell out of their roles and according to legend, both hated the script and vowed together to turn the project into gold. They nearly succeed as the best sequence is when the women travel to deserted Arizona to spend the remainder of Sandra’s pregnancy. Cooped up together, how delicious to see Davis’s Maggie play caretaker to a whiny and spoiled Sandra- typically Davis would play the Sandra character, so the scenes are a treat to watch.

Suspension of disbelief must be achieved as the major plot point of the film is jarring in incomprehension. Maggie offers to provide Sandra with a large sum of money to ensure her security. I did not buy this point as Sandra appears to be well-off, touring the world with incredible success and living a lavish lifestyle including a staff of servants and gorgeous apartment in New York City. The character hardly appears to need a handout despite the incorporated dialogue of Sandra’s success predicted to wane as she ages.

Another oddity is the location of Maggie’s estate. Set in Maryland, hardly a southern mecca, the location has all the trimmings of the deep south, perhaps Mississippi. With an all-black staff, magnolia trees, and southern style cuisine, the Maryland backdrop is quite perplexing and a misfire. More relevant would have been if the location were Mississippi, Louisiana, or Alabama. Finally, remiss would it be not to mention appearances by Hattie McDaniel and brother Sam as Violet and Jefferson, employed by Maggie, always a treat.

With high drama and terrific acting The Great Lie (1941) offers tremendous chemistry between the female leads resulting in a deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Astor. The dialogue may be silly and superfluous with plot gimmicks and obvious set ups, but the film does work. Viewers can let loose and enjoy a sudsy drama with enjoyable trimmings.

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii. The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the story-telling. With great acting and compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel are stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled. They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored in dramatic fashion prior to the devastating incident set to take place.

The perspective of the film is centered around the male characters which risks the film being classified as a “guy’s movie” but it really isn’t. There exists enough melodrama and romance to offset the testosterone and masculinity and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives a broader canvas is painted. This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people effected by and soon to be affected by the war. The characters co-exist peacefully in their own little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, but the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the stars torrid love affair and need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be pure myth but have never been dis-proven either. Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may very well cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are nonetheless powerful and dims the mood of the film. Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends in a sad way with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters. At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from any phony false patriotism. With a dash of romance and sexuality the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

Director-Barry Jenkins 

Starring-Kiki Layne, Stephan James

Scott’s Review #854

Reviewed January 8, 2019

Grade: A

2018 proved to be a year where film makers of color prided themselves in telling stories of diversity, inclusion, social injustice, and the never-ending challenges of minorities. One of the best films of the year is If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), a lovely piece of storytelling by director Barry Jenkins. His other major work, Moonlight (2016) is a similarly poignant and melancholy experience. The film is based on a novel by James Baldwin.

The title is explained in the first dialogue of the film. Beale Street exists in New Orleans, but thousands of streets exist in other cities and is a metaphor for discrimination and unnecessary struggles that black folks continue to endure. Right away the audience knows that an important story is to be told. The wonderful part of If Beale Street Could Talk are all of the combined elements that lead to brilliance.

Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) have known each other since childhood. Growing up in a Harlem neighborhood their families are interconnected and community centered. Events begin in 1973 as Tish realizes she is pregnant. Ordinarily a happy occasion, the situation contains a major challenge because Fonny is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. A woman has accused him of rape and a corrupt policeman has positively identified Fonny as the rapist despite this being a logistical impossibility. Tish is determined to prove his innocence before the baby arrives with the assistance of her family.

The story in non-linear as Jenkins begins the film in present day with Tish breaking the news of her pregnancy to him then notifying her family.  As the film progresses more of the Fonny and Tish love story is explored. The couple fall in love, have romantic dinners, and nervously make love for the first time. In this way the film becomes a tender story of young love. The social injustice and family drama situations are carefully mixed in amid the central romance.

The film impresses with warm touches and ingenious cinematography and musical score. These left me resounding with pleasure at the intricate and intimate details. The frequent use of jazz music over dinner or as the Rivers family sips celebratory wine adds sophistication to many scenes. The texture of the film is muted and warm giving it a subdued look that is genuine and true to the quiet and timeless nature of the production.

The plume of cigarette smoke can be seen in nearly every scene as most of the character’s smokes. Since the time-period is the 1970’s the authenticity is there, and a glamorous image is portrayed. The smoking enhances the sophistication of the character’s and adds to the tremendous cinematography.

Several scenes of simple dialogue crackle with authenticity and passion. In one of the best scenes Fonny’s friend Daniel, a recent parolee, stays for dinner and the friends share a conversation over beer and cigarettes. The lengthy scene is poignant and tremendous with meaning. Daniel recounts his experience in prison and how black men are victims of the whims of white men and the terror involved in that. The scene is powerful in its thoughtfulness and a foreshadowing of Fonny’s impending trauma.

The supporting characters are stellar and add to the bravura acting troupe. Regina King as Sharon Rivers gives a rave performance when she bravely travels to Puerto Rico and confronts Fonny’s accuser in hopes of getting her to modify her story. The scene is laden with emotion and honest dialogue. The other notable actors are Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris as Tish’s father and sister, respectively. Both do wonders with fleshing out the Rivers family as strong and kind people.

Jenkins is careful to add white characters who are benevolent to offset the other dastardly white characters. Examples are the kindly old woman who comes to the rescue of Fonny and Tish and berates the cop. The Jewish landlord who agrees to rent a flat to the pair is portrayed as decent and helpful, and finally the young lawyer who takes Fonny’s case is earnest and understanding.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) continues talented director Barry Jenkins plunge into the depths of being one of the modern greats. With a beautifully visual and narrative film he creates an experience sure to win more and more fans. The ending is moving yet unsatisfying as so many more miles are to go in the race for prison justice. Adapting an important story of race and repression based on skin color is a powerful and detailed affair.  I cannot wait to see what Jenkins comes up with next.

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon

Scott’s Review #841

Reviewed December 13, 2018

Grade: A-

Released in 1942 amid the horrific World War II, Mrs. Miniver (1942) was a smash hit, winning over audiences concerned with the troubled and uncertain times. Decades later the film does not age as well as other similar themed films, but nonetheless still entertains and tells a good story with an important theme. The film is nestled in the war drama genre with a bit of romance thrown in. The film won numerous Oscars the year of its release including Best Picture and star Greer Garson winning for Best Actress.

The story is told from the perspective of an affluent British family and the struggles they face to keep things together during growing peril. The focus mostly remains squarely on unassuming housewife, Kay Miniver (Garson). The supporting players do much to flesh out the film with wonderful performances by Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, and Henry Travers as Clem Miniver, Carol Beldon, and Mr. Ballard, respectively. The direction by William Wyler is astounding and adds to the perfectly crafted ambiance and homey details.

The Miniver’s live a comfortable life in a whimsical village outside of London. Quite idealized, they own a large garden and a motorboat on the river Thames. Along with Kay and Clem, their three children of varying ages and their housekeeper and cook reside with them. Besides the parents, the central couple are son Vin (Richard Ney) and the prominent Carol (Wright), the pair initially disagreeing on politics, but finally falling madly in love. As the soap-opera style family situations continue to occur the war grows closer and closer to their house.

As Mrs. Miniver progresses, Vin enlists in the army to assist with war efforts, a German Nazi breaks into the Miniver house, a central character dies, and bombs and planes crash. Through it all, Kay remains stoic and takes the family through challenging situations adding much melodrama to the film. The woman’s journey and resolve to keep everything and everyone intact is the core of the film.

The film is mainly a family drama with both the Miniver’s and the townspeople experiencing trials and tribulations. In this way Mrs. Miniver risks being a one trick pony, albeit an emotional and teary-eyed one.  The rich characteristics and the polished nature make the film more than it ought to be and the superlative cast and production values as well as the timeliness of the film’s release undoubtedly made it what is was in 1942.

In present times, however, Mrs. Miniver seems diminished in importance and relevance with a sappy and overly sentimental feel, World War II in the distant past and several other wars come and gone. Apparent is that Wyler carefully packaged the film to hit every emotion from the bombastic musical score to the proper English characters, to the comic relief housekeeper. The film is a giant Hollywood production, but perhaps a bit too perfect to age with any zest or reason to watch more than once?

The film might be better remembered for its strong female lead. Told from Kay’s perspective, unusual in 1942 was for a film (especially with a war theme) not to have the story from the male point of view. Still refreshing in 2018, this quality was downright groundbreaking at the time. Kay stays strong and proud through the ravages of war that are closing in on her family with unbridled boldness and nary a simpering quality. An early champion for strong, female driven characters and in a smaller way, Wright’s Carol is also a muscled female role model.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) is a well-crafted film of its time that displays lavish production values and strong characters worthy of admiration. For a glimpse back into the 1940’s time-capsule, especially for those fans of good, solid drama, the film is a major win. There are no major flaws to harp on, but the overall piece has not aged especially well and other similar films (Casablanca, 1942) are more memorable affairs.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool-2017

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool-2017

Director-Paul McGuigan

Starring-Annette Bening, Jamie Bell

Scott’s Review #840

Reviewed December 11, 2018

Grade: B+

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) showcases a compelling performance by stalwart actress Annette Bening as she plays faded, insecure Hollywood glamour girl, Gloria Grahame. The film focuses only on Grahame’s final two years of life as she battles breast cancer and begins a relationship with a much younger man, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell).

The film is a sad yet poignant dedication to the star featuring enough performance gusto from its actors to make up for a limited span of time and too much back and forth within the timeline that complicated the film too much. As a result, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is endearing but does not hit it out of the park.

The entire film takes place between 1979 and 1981 as actress Gloria Grahame, her best days behind her, resides in a rented Liverpool room. In 1979 she has found a bit of success in local theater and befriends her much younger male neighbor. The pair become romantic partners and experience trials and tribulations as the film teeters back and forth between Grahame’s ailing final days in 1981 to happier times in Los Angeles and New York. Gloria also befriends and finally lives with Peter’s parents, who care for her unflinchingly.

The story is enveloped in sadness but is not a downer either. The film begins towards the end of Gloria’s illness though the audience is not aware yet of the seriousness of her disease. Insisting she just has painful gas, the tender relationship between the actress and Peter is explored. The story then parlays back to 1979 when Peter and Gloria first meet- he an aspiring actor unaware of who she is until a bartender makes the connection. In this way the film makes it clear this is not a story about a young man seeking the fortunes of a presumably wealthy woman. I like this point as the story is about romance not money grubbing.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool belongs to Bening. The supporting roles are well cast taking nothing away from either Bell’s performance or a nice turn by Julie Walters as Peter’s mum. Bening, however, does wonders emulating the mannerisms of Grahame with an innocent, damsel in distress nature (mirroring the roles she made famous). Bening amazes at revealing the actress’s insecurities and fear of aging and an older appearance. During a fight Peter cruelly refers to her as an “old lady” and we see the comment strike a deadly blow the same as if she had been physically slapped. Bening is so good at portraying a myriad of emotions over the course of the film.

Another high point comes towards the end of the film. I love the way the film connects an earlier argument (and breakup) between Gloria and Peter with a later sequence. As Peter assumes she was carrying on with another man when he learns she lied about her whereabouts, the haunting reality is later revealed, changing the audience’s entire perception of the turn of events. This is good writing by the screenwriters.

To counter the above point, the constant back and forth from 1981 to 1979 and everywhere in between detracts from the enjoyment of the overall film for me. Spanning only two years the film spends way too much time in multiple locations without enough explanation. Suddenly Gloria and Peter are in Los Angeles having dinner with her mother and sister at Gloria’s modest house, then they are in New York City in her lavish Park Avenue apartment. The film would have been better suited with a straightforward approach chronicling events from 1979 to 1981 in sequence.

Another negative is the omission of any scenes prior to 1979. The actress’s career thrived during the 1940’s and 1950’s so it would have been interesting to capture those earlier days. If the fear was that Bening was too old to pass for a younger Grahame, another actress could have been used for those scenes. While a clip of the real Grahame winning the Oscar and a few clips of her starring in films are nice, way more time could have been spent on more story.

Thanks to a brilliant performance by Bening and an emotional story that in large part succeeds, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) is a win. Not recognized during awards season as originally anticipated, this could have been due to the overly complex timeline and thus the limiting feeling the film produced. The production and writing are very good, but lack greatness.

Casablanca-1942

Casablanca-1942

Director-Michael Curtiz

Starring-Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #838

Reviewed December 7, 2018

Grade: A

Casablanca (1942) is a classic style Hollywood film made during a decade when big studio productions were all the rage. The film may very well be in the top ten creations of its day and a film that nearly everyone has either seen or is aware of. A grand romantic World War II drama released at the perfect time, the film contains legendary stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and is flawless in nearly every way as a lavish production ought to be.

Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an expatriate who owns a lavish nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. The time is December 1941, before the United States emerged into the vicious World War II. His clientele ranges from French and German officials to refugees attempting to flee the country, fearful of being stuck in a foreign land. Mixed in with the melee of varied characters is Ilsa (Bergman) a former flame of Rick’s, who appears with new husband Victor, a Czech leader. Ilsa begs Rick for help escaping the country and their ended romance begins to blossom once again.

Through scenes we see Rick and Ilsa together, living a perfect life in pre-war Paris. They happily co-exist, sharing a happy life unaware of the conflict and secrets that will emerge in Casablanca merely two years later. As Victor is initially presumed dead, this is cause for Ilsa’s initial freedom and romance with Rick.

Back in Casablanca, Rick is in possession of important letters that will allow the holder to escape the city and be bound for safety in another country.  While Ilsa is desperate for these letters, she is also madly in love with Rick, and vice versa, adding a strong romantic element to the film. Supporting characters are mixed into the plot as desperation and impending doom interplay.

Casablanca is a film with a myriad of things going on simultaneously which is a major part of its draw. From the obvious romance of Rick and Ilsa- the focal point of the story-part of the draw are the sub-plots weaved within. The nasty Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser encompasses the future Third Reich and the devastation this group would ultimately cause. A multitude of supporting characters and extras perfectly flesh out both the cast and the look and feel of the film.

The most interesting character is Rick. Once an idealistic and moral man he has changed becoming cynical and broken. In this way the film nearly becomes a character study. The audience sees the change in Rick and slowly realizes he has given, the war the culprit. The final sequence reveals the fate of Rick and Ilsa, their doomed romance assuredly coming as no surprise, true to the message of the film. An “unhappily ever after” result was quite rare in a big studio production in this day and this is a testament to the good written story.

The featured piano number and Casablanca’s “theme song” is the lovely yet melancholy “As Time Goes By”. Beautifully played by house pianist and close friend of Rick’s, Sam (Dooley Wilson), the number is instrumental to the plot and specifically to Rick and Ilsa’s romance. The song is a painful memory of the once idyllic life the pair shared.

Made in 1941 and released in 1942 the timing of the film is the key to its unrelenting success. American audiences undoubtedly found the film identifiable and the uncertainties of the impending war put their current freedoms at risk. In this way Casablanca was marketed wonderfully and the compelling nature of the film resonated. Especially in the case of Rick audiences undoubtedly shared his conflict and “for the greater good” perspective.

Casablanca (1942) is a film that educates, entertains, and romances without exhibiting a shred of pretension. From the crisp black and white filming and the unique use of light and shadows to reflect character’s thoughts, the film is lovely to look at and possesses a lofty budget. Immersed in the richness is a sadness and a timely message about a changed man, a failed romance, and the ravages of war that still resonate decades later.

That Hamilton Woman-1941

That Hamilton Woman-1941

Director-Alexander Korda

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh 

Scott’s Review #779

Reviewed June 27, 2018

Grade: B+

That Hamilton Woman (1941) is an obscure, black and white gem that stars legendary actors and real-life couple Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Providing a story of an old-fashioned style romance, war battles, and dazzling cinematography, the film succeeds as a classic film that should be better remembered than it is. The overall theme here is a tragic love story with a sad ending.

One of the best aspects of That Hamilton Woman is witnessing the super-couple team of Leigh and Olivier act opposite one other. The actors individual talents are reason enough, but combined make this a fascinating viewing experience. The curiosity of the pairing of big stars in their heyday is a delight, highly appealing and both actors do not disappoint. One wonders whether they were acting or otherwise enjoying the experience.

That Lady Hamilton begins with a jarring scene in which the title character, also known as Emma, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) is thrown into debtor’s prison after stealing booze in France. The rest of the story is told via flashbacks as she regales her fellow prisoners with how she wound up in her current state. Her former life starkly contrasts as Emma appears as a young woman with hope, promise, and riches. It is hard to imagine how her life turned out so badly which gives the film a quality of strong intrigue.

The film then has a “riches to rags” element as the story is told in reverse. Full of energy, British Emma moves with her mother to the Kingdom of Naples where she marries the affluent (and much older) Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), presumably for his money. When handsome Admiral Horatio Nelson (Olivier) appears on the scene, the pair fall madly in love. They face tremendous hurdles, however, as the war rages on and each is unfaithful to their respective spouses.

Since the film was made scarcely two years after the epic romance Gone with the Wind (1939), one cannot help but compare Leigh’s portrayal of Emma to Scarlett O’Hara. At times Emma comes across as a British version of the southern lass, especially as she is clad in gorgeous gowns or romancing men. However, as the film develops she becomes a much more sympathetic character and certainly less of a vixen. Still, there are plenty of similarities for viewers to draw from.

The role of Lady Frances Nelson (Gladys Cooper) is completely one-note so the rooting value is never in doubt. The audience is firmly in the corner of Emma and Horatio and this is clearly the film’s intention.  With that said, Cooper does a fantastic job at making her character completely unlikable. Her icy, vengeful spirit is in perfect balance with the sympathetic lead characters. The fact that Horatio and Emma are adulterers, especially for the year the film was made, is not fully explored.

To be critical, and presumably since the film is very old, the video quality is not the greatest. If the film was in color the gorgeous Italian landscapes and Leigh’s lovely costumes would have appeared even more lavish and picturesque. But due to the age of the film not much can be done about it unless it is decided to repackage the disc or make it a Blu-ray offering. Still, the luminous mountains and lush oceans of southern Italy are frequently featured throughout the film, which is a real treat.

Purely a showcase for newlyweds Olivier and Leigh to dish their real-life romance for mainstream audiences, That Hamilton Woman (1941) must have been a big deal at the time released. While suffering a bit from lackluster film quality, the story itself is quite hearty with lots of romantic scenes combined with loud, bombastic battle scenes and a bit of British and Italian history thrown in. Sadly, this film is largely forgotten, but a good watch for fans of the legendary stars.

Vanity Fair-2004

Vanity Fair-2004

Director-Mira Nair

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy

Scott’s Review #772

Reviewed June 12, 2018

Grade: B

An adaptation of the classic 1848 novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (2004) softens the traditionally unlikable and roguish character of Becky Thatcher quite a bit. This proves not to be the smartest move as the character, now more of a heroine, is watered down and forever changed, as is this film adaptation. Reese Witherspoon (Becky) drew harsh criticism for her starring turn, but I personally do not think she is so bad; and the costumes and set designs are wonderful and quite the highlight of the resulting period piece.

In 1802 England, we meet Becky Sharp, a young woman who has just graduated from a School for Girls and been sent to work as a governess. Because her father, a talented painter, is impoverished, Becky is cast aside as lower class and deemed undesirable to anybody upper class- the men she is most interested in. Despite her reputation as a tart, Becky aspires to marry rich and frequently gets into trouble with her shenanigans and smart tongue while romance blooms with the handsome Rawdon Crawley (Purefoy).

The story is supposed to encompass Becky’s life from approximately age eighteen through her mid-thirties (though Witherspoon never appears to age), and displays her trials and tribulations, her loves and losses through the years. We follow her from rural England to London and to Belgium, eventually residing in Germany, reduced to working in a casino, where the film concludes. In this way the film is a treat as the various countries as they appeared in the nineteenth century, and the wars and battles occurring during this time period are featured making for an interesting history lesson.

The main appeal should be Becky Thatcher since the film revolves around her, and numerous criticisms were thrown around accusing the film for casting Reese Witherspoon in the important and demanding role based on her star power at the time.  In 2004 Witherspoon was experiencing enormous film success after 2001’s Legally Blonde and 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama- admittedly fluff films- but securing her box office power nonetheless. These films undoubtedly led to her being cast in the pivotal role, but I thought the star was perfectly adequate and gave Becky appropriate humor and zest.

Based on Witherspoon’s “girl next door” persona and the fact that she just looks like a good character- perplexing is the decision to cast her if film makers wanted to be true to the character.  Admittedly though, Witherspoon was delicious in 1999’s Election as villainous Tracy Flick, a role of a lifetime. But that is the exception and not the standard. But I digress- the bottom line is that while she is a capable actress, she does not give the gritty performance that many were expecting to be true to the character in the novel.

The rest of Vanity Fair is really just mediocre as far as story goes. While the antics of Becky are both humorous and dramatic, her rooting value in the romance department does not come across in the 2004 film offering- not enough chemistry exists between the leads to warrant much support. Rumors abound that other incarnations of Vanity Fair are far more superior and compelling than this film is, but I have yet to have seen any.

Compliments must be reaped on the costume department and the art direction- both are superior. Such a treat are the lavish and colorful costumes and gowns that mark the time period. From the classic style hats and highfalutin dresses featured in ball after ball, this aspect is nearly enough to recommend a watch over the dull story and immeasurably the highlight of the entire film.

Apparently, Vanity Fair (2004) is considered a messy travesty to those well-read enough to have turned the pages of the classic novel. Since I have not yet read the book, perhaps I enjoyed the film slightly more than I should have, but alas, I did not find the casting of Witherspoon as Becky nor the overall product to be drivel as many did. I recommend the film for the gorgeous visual treats if nothing else.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

UPDATED REVIEW

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed

Scott’s Review #766

Reviewed June 2, 2018

Grade: A

Women in Love (1969) is a British romantic drama film that is truly one of a kind. The film is quite cerebral and requires a bit of thought which undoubtedly will lead to good conversation with film connoisseurs everywhere following a viewing. The four central characters are complex and flawed and intersect in each other’s lives in dramatic fashion making the film a “thinking mans” feast. The film is adapted from a popular D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

In 1920, set in the Midlands section of central England, sisters Ursula (Jennie Linden) and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) attend the wedding of an acquaintance, Laura Crich. The Crich family are enormously rich and own a good portion of the mining town. During the ceremony, Gudrun and Ursula fantasize about Gerald Crich (Oliver Platt) and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates), respectively. When the foursome cross paths again at Rupert’s pretentious girlfriend’s party, attractions and conflict arise.

The film being described as “character driven” does not begin to do it justice. Each of the four principle characters are richly written with intelligence and gusto. All of them are either flawed or insecure in some way, while the fact that Gerald and Rupert share sexual attraction for each other is another nuance explored throughout the film. In fact, Rupert is confident and outspoken about his bisexuality- extremely rare for a 1969 film. In this way, Women in Love is ahead of its time.

The major themes in Women in Love are commitment and love and how each character handles these emotions-sometimes either embracing them or running away from them. Clearly, Gudrun and Gerald are in love with each other, while Rupert and Ursula are too, but one couple is unsuccessful at reaching any sort of bliss. The characters possess a bevy of emotions making their happiness almost impossible and the characters feel doomed to failure from the onset. This is an example of the tremendous writing on the part of Larry Kramer and bringing the characters to the big screen in a memorable way.

Jackson’s Gudrun and Bates’s Rupert are my favorite characters because they appear to have slightly more depth to them and feel like the standouts. Gudrun appears to have love/hate feelings toward Gerald and often is downright cruel to him. As they vacation in the Swiss Alps, Gudrun purposely and inexplicably flirts with a gay artist leaving Gerald insanely jealous and resulting in tragedy. Counter-balancing Gudrun’s anger, Rupert showers in fun and zest for life, happily bi-sexual and thinking nothing of it, enjoying his sexually charged affections for both men and women.

The supporting characters, specifically of snobbish Hermione and mentally unstable Christianna Crich are examples of perfect casting. Eleanor Bron plays Hermione as garish, mocking, and teetering on unhinged. As she psychologically bullies poor Ursula when it’s clear Rupert prefers the more innocent woman, Hermione becomes frightful. Actress Catherine Willmer takes Christianna to a new level in creepy. Already appearing psychotic, when her daughter tragically drowns the woman goes over the edge, unleashing vicious dogs on any visitors to her estate. Both actresses give unforgettable performances.

Women in Love contains a scene that may very well be the most homo-erotic scene in film history. As Rupert and Gerald decide to partake in a Japanese style wrestling match one evening, they strip completely naked and grapple in front of a roaring fire. In this lengthy sequence, both front and rear nudity is provided, leaving nothing to the imagination. When Rupert suggests they swear eternal love for each other, Gerald cannot commit to the emotional union. One wonders if this outstanding scene influenced 2007’s Eastern Promises.

1969’s Women in Love is an amazing film with terrific acting all around. Taking romantic drama to an entirely different level and setting a new standard for brilliant complexities in film, the work of art from director Ken Russell is peppered with nuances making it rich with great story telling and character development. The fact that one couple ends in bliss and the other in tragedy is sheer excellence.

Shelter-2007

Shelter-2007

Director-Jonah Markowitz

Starring-Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe

Scott’s Review #758

Reviewed May 16, 2018

Grade: B+

By the mid 2000’s independent LGBT films were coming fast and furious as the genre was still relatively new and ripe for the picking with good ideas.  With Shelter (2007) we have a sweet film that focuses on new romance between two young men, one of whom is coming to terms with his own sexuality. The lead characters are not gay stereotypes and could easily pass for straight men, a characteristic impressive in LGBT film- and other mainstream films for that matter.

Rather than focusing on discrimination the characters may face or any obstacles from other characters (family and friends), the film wisely makes the story a character study and the demons one man wrestles with while “coming out”. The small film is written intelligently save for one supporting characters plot driven decision. Also, in the modern age we are beginning to see a bevy of similar themed films emerge from the LGBT community and Shelter offers nothing we have not seen before.

Set in sunny southern California, our main protagonist is Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring artist in his early twenties. The ultimate “good guy” he is popular with friends and girls and frequently babysits his five year old nephew Cody while his sister parties and has one night stands. When Zach meets his best friends older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), the pair fall in love as Zach wrestles with his sexuality and conflict with his future plans. The sexual and family struggles of Zach are the main themes of the film.

Shelter (not sure I get the title’s meaning) is a solid slice of life story. Zach initially dates a pretty girl, Tori, who is blonde, wholesome, and a girl next door type. This is done intentionally to show that Tori is a girl any young straight man would have interest in. We never see Zach show interest in any other men besides Shaun so the film leans towards a solid romantic drama once the fellas get together. Still, we see Zach’s internal struggles and accepting himself for who he is played out. Actor Wright and director Jonah Markowitz, capture this successfully.

Shaun, arguably second fiddle to Zach, is a character that I feel is very well written. Avoiding negative stereotypes, Shaun is handsome, masculine, and charismatic. Completely confident and exuding great poise, he is a character that any gay male should look up to. He is openly gay yet “one of the guys” as he should be. He immediately connects with Cody becoming a father or cool surrogate uncle figure for the lad. A quick concern of Zach’s sister Jeanne’s of having the boy around a gay man is trivialized in quick form.

Another positive to the film are the multiple scenes showing Zach, Shaun, and Cody as a happy family and how normal this is. Examples of this are the frolicking around the beach playing football or horseplay. A quiet dinner of barbeque steaks and red wine  for the men and macaroni and cheese for Cody elicit images of a connected family unit despite some in society still poo pooing this idea. The film presents the connectivity as normal.

A tiny flaw in the character of Jeanne shows her willingness (almost eagerness) to leave Cody (and her ailing father) behind when she decides to take off to Oregon with her brand new boyfriend. This point seems rushed and out of character. While a party girl with a crappy job in a grocery store Jeanne did exhibit heart and written as sympathetic and caring all throughout the film. Surprising and unrealistic to me is that she would up and leave her life. A paltry excuse of “Oregon not allowing kids” was left unclear and unexplained.

Part coming of age story, part coming out story, Shelter (2007) is an example of the little film that could with an appreciation of independent cinema. The film tells a nice story of one man’s journey to self-discovery and the individuals he surrounds himself with.  With impressive California oceanfront and working class principles as a backdrop, the film has a calming texture and weaves a solid experience for viewers to enjoy.

Howards End-1992

Howards End-1992

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #702

Reviewed December 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Howards End is my favorite film in the collection of E.M. Forster adapted novels turned into films during the 1980’s and 1990’s (1985’s A Room with a View and 1987’s Maurice are the other two quality works). The novels were written during the early 1900’s and set during the same period, focusing on class relations  during 20th-century England. The film is lovely, picturesque, and carves an interesting story about romance and drama between the haves and the have-nots during this time period. The film was a success and received heaps of Academy Award nominations in 1993.

Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), an upper-middle class intellectual , part of London’s bourgeoisie, befriends wealthy and sophisticated, yet shockingly conservative Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). The two women strike up a powerful friendship, which results in her beloved country home being left to Margaret when an ailing Mrs. Wilcox dies. To complicate matters, Margaret falls in love with businessman (and husband of Ruth), Henry (Anthony Hopkins), while Margaret’s sister Helen, briefly becomes engaged to Paul Wilcox, Henry’s son. The two families lives further intersect when they wind up as neighbors in London and the true ownership of the beloved “Howards End” is questioned. Added in the mix are several other characters of various social backgrounds, having connections to the families.

The writing in Howards End is rich and emotional as each character is perfectly fleshed out- and this includes the supporting as well as the lead characters. Thompson and Hopkins, both sensational actors, have tremendous chemistry together, and unsurprising was Thompson’s win for Best Actress during this competitive year. She carries the film seamlessly with her upper middle class ideals- not conservative rich, but far from working class- she epitomizes poise and grace and empathy for those less fortunate than she. Hopkins, on the other hand, is calculating and confident, yet charismatic and sexy as a old-school, controlling businessman. Somehow, these two characters compliment each other exceptionally well despite their varied backgrounds

The role of Helen may very well be Helena Bonham Carter’s finest. Not being an enormous fan of the actress-overrated and too brooding in my opinion-she enjoys portraying an interesting character in Helen. Lovelorn and earnest, yet somewhat oblivious, she develops a delicious romance with young clerk, Leonard Bast, my favorite character in the film. Living with Jacky, a woman of dubious origins, he is the ultimate nice guy, and sadly winds up down on his luck after heeding terrible business advice. Bast, thanks in large part to actor Samuel West, who instills an innocent, good guy quality to his character, deserves major props.

The cinematography featured in Howards End is just beautiful with extravagant outdoor scenes- the lavish gardens of Howards End- just ravishing and wonderful. Kudos too to the art direction, set design, and costume department for making the film look so enchanting. There is something so appealing about the look of this film and director, James Ivory, undoubtedly deserves praise for pulling it all together into a suave picture. Whether the scene call for sun or rain, tranquil or bustling, each and every scene looks great.

If I were to knock any points from this fine film it would be at two hours and twenty two minutes, Howards End does drag ever so slightly, and many scenes involve the characters merely having chats with each other, without much action, but this criticism is small potatoes when compared to the exceptional writing and well-nuanced character development displayed throughout the piece.

Admittedly, and perhaps shamefully, I have not read any of the Forster novels, but Howards End appears to be the film that is most successfully adapted, gleaming with textured finesse, grace, and style. With films finest actors along for the experience, and intricate, fine story-telling, Howards End is a film well worth watching.

A Room with a View-1986

A Room with a View-1986

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands

Scott’s Review #695

Reviewed November 3, 2017

Grade: B+

A Room with a View (1986) is one of four major films to be based on famed British author E.M. Forster novels- Howards End (1992) and A Passage to India (1986), and Maurice (1987) being the other three. The foursome contain common elements such as vast English countrysides and class distinctions, leading to heartaches and passion. In the case of A Room with a View, the film traverses from artistic Florence, Italy to a cozy village in England.

The film is a period drama mixed with lots of authentic, unforced, good humor and at its core is a solid romantic drama, though if comparing with the aforementioned other films, is not quite on par, though is still an entertaining watch- given the dismal year of cinema circa 1986. The film was considered one of the best releases that particular year and was awarded a handful of Oscar nominations- winning Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, and Art Direction.

Cultured and often times brooding, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), goes on holiday to Florence with her rigid and conventional older cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith), who also serves as her chaperone. While enjoying the artistry of the European city, Lucy meets and falls madly in love with free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), who is also visiting Florence with his easy going father, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott). The men seem oblivious to Lucy’s (and Charlotte’s) Victorian era upbringing, which attracts Lucy and appalls Charlotte. Months later, the would-be lovers reunite in England and spend time averting obstacles thwarting their love, while admitting to themselves that their love is blossoming.

As Lucy has become engaged to snobbish Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis), a sophisticate deemed suitable by her family to marry Lucy, the pair lack the romantic connection that she shares with George. Day-Lewis, on the cusp of becoming a breakout star and brilliant talent (think Maurice a year later), gives Cecil a somewhat comical, yet endearing persona, that makes him the main foil, but also breathes sympathy into the character. This is especially evident during the Lucy/Cecil break-up scene.

The standout performance in A Room with a View is the comic brilliance of Smith as the manipulative and witty, Charlotte Bartlett, and this is evident throughout. Smith injects vigor and comic wit into her character, as Charlotte seemingly makes one blunder after the other in the self deprecating way she manages to use to her advantage to humorously manipulate other characters into doing things her way.

A risqué and quite hysterical all male frontal nudity scene occurs mid-way through the film and, while not advancing the plot in any way, steals the entire film in its homoerotic and free-spirited way. As the Reverend, young George, and Lucy’s energetic brother, Freddy, walk along a beautiful path, they decide to skinny dip in a pond where they horseplay and wrestle with each other completely in the buff. As they chase each other around the pond, grab each other, and lightly smack bottoms, one cannot help but wonder if this scene set the tone for 1987’s gay themed period piece based on another E.M. Forster novel, called Maurice. A coincidence? I think not. As the trio of rascals come upon the properly dressed girls on the path, hilarity takes over the scene.

The art direction and costumes are of major excellence to A Room with a View as the film “looks” like a 1910 time period rather than it seeming like it is 1986 with the actors donning early twentieth century styles. In fact, each and every scene is a treat from this perspective as we wonder who will wear what attire in the next scene.

As with the other aforementioned E.M. Forster films, class distinctions and expectations are a major element to A Room with a View and makes Lucy and George all the more likable as a couple. Still, from an overall standpoint there is something slightly amiss in the story department. I did not find Helena Bonham Carter, an actor I like, overall very compelling as Lucy, and I think this leads to the story being slightly less than it might have with another in the role. We may root for Lucy and George, but if the pair do not wind up together it is more of a pity rather than a travesty.

To summarize A Room with a View, the story is good, not great, and other key components to the film are much better than the central love story of Lucy and George, but are therefore secondary to the main action. Given a Charlotte romance, the films best character, now that would have catapulted this film to the exceptional grade. Imagine the possibilities? Or more of the two Miss Alan’s and their gossipy nature, or even a story to the rugged nude horseplay among men. Many of the aspects that could have made A Room with a View great, were too often on the sidelines.

My Cousin Rachel-2017

My Cousin Rachel-2017

Director-Roger Michell

Starring-Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

Scott’s Review #685

Reviewed September 25, 2017

Grade: B-

My Cousin Rachel has the advantage of providing wonderful, scenic locales of Florence, Italy and lovely scenes filmed around England that makes the film a joy to watch from a cinematic perspective. The acting, especially by seasoned veteran Rachel Weisz,  is also stellar and noteworthy. The plot, however, is a big negative to the film as My Cousin Rachel suffers from weak dramatic storytelling, an anti-climactic conclusion, and missed opportunities with the plot.

The film is based on the 1951 novel of the same name, written by Daphne du Maurier. I have yet to read the book, but I am certain the film does it no justice. The overall tone of the film contains little mystique to say nothing of lacking any sort of haunting elements as one might expect to receive with titillating anticipation.

The story begins well enough as, through narration, we learn that a young man named Philip, having been orphaned as a child and raised by his older cousin, Ambrose, returns home from school to his childhood home in lavish Cornwall. He learns, through a letter, that Ambrose has married his widowed cousin, Rachel, and has moved to Florence. He also cryptically writes that he is in fear for his life and suspects Rachel of poisoning him. The main plot kicks off after Philip finally meets Rachel and astonishingly begins to fall madly in love with her.

To be fair, the film is shot beautifully and glimmers with interesting camera angles and in a few hallucination scenes, uses a blurry, almost magical film-making style. The aforementioned locales give My Cousin Rachel a sophisticated, graceful look. On the negative side of this filming evaluation, the lighting is much too bright, appearing more like an episode of the PBS series Downton Abbey, rather than the mysterious, cryptic film that My Cousin Rachel is promoted as.

The best thing about the film, though, is the wonderful acting performance by Rachel Weisz as the title character, Rachel. While not played quite as mysterious, Weisz envelopes her character with a passionate, earnest quality that sells the character as enchanting. With a winning smile, and a polite, dutiful manner, Rachel is tough to imagine as a murderess, which helps the lackluster plot just a bit. She happily goes about making a “special” tea, or performing other household tasks in cheerful, uniform pizzazz. Without Weisz in the role, I shudder to think how bleak the end result might have been.

It is mentioned early on in the story how Philip’s wealthy family, the Kendalls, are surprised that Ambrose married, as he was never known to be in, or enjoy, the company of women. It also must be noted that in flashbacks, Ambrose is portrayed as somewhat effeminate, or at most, less than manly. This seems a blatant attempt to question the character’s sexuality, yet the film chooses never to pursue this topic again. I am unaware of how the novel handled this plot item, but it seems rather a wasted opportunity.

Chemistry, or lack there of, is also an issue with My Cousin Rachel, as no connection between Weisz and Claflin exists throughout, nor is there any between either character and Philip’s intended love interest, Louise Kendall, played by Holliday Graingier. The actress herself is fine in a role that is given little meat or substance.

Uneven at best, My Cousin Rachel is a beautiful looking period piece, but mostly is just a mediocre piece of film-making. The ending is quite sudden and answers definitively none of the main plot questions. Released in 2017, the film will likely be forgotten by 2018.

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #635

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

One thing is certain about the puzzling 2016 film, The Lobster- it is a film worthy of discussion long after the end credits roll and will leave the viewer pondering many facets of the film- a great film to dissect, if you will. This in itself is worth recognition and praise to the power of the film- so many questions abound. I was immediately struck by how heavily The Lobster contains major subject matter influences from “message novels” (and films) such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, as well as creative, stylistic recent film influences from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

The story begins somewhere outside of Dublin, where David (Colin Farrell) has recently been dumped by his wife in favor of another man. Now single, he is whisked away by authorities to a luxurious hotel in the woods, where he (and the other guests) are given forty five days to find a suitable romantic partner, or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David is accompanied by his brother, now a dog, and has decided, should he be turned, that he will become a lobster because he loves the sea and they tend to live to be over one hundred years old.

The hotel management adheres to strict rules- no masturbation, mandatory temptations by hotel employees, and a strange outdoor hunting game where the guests hunt other guests to win extra days extended to their stays. As David befriends fellow hotel guests, he is conflicted and desperate to find a mate. Events take a surprising turn when circumstances allow the rules to change for him and he becomes involved with a short-sighted woman (Weisz).

The plot of the film is strange beyond belief, yet also incredibly creative and thought provoking. The subject matter is pure dystopian- a facility, presumably controlled by the government, with a rebel group intent on ruining the “status quo”. Mixed in with all of this suddenly appears an odd little secret romance between David and Shortsighted Woman that begins only during the final act of the film.

One aspect to the film that I found interesting was the odd monotone dialogue that the characters used- almost matter-of-fact in whatever they were saying, even while expressing anger. This peculiarity perplexed me, but the more I think about it, the more this decision makes the film dark humored and dry with wry wit.

Another interesting nuance to the film are the multitude of quirky characters, many of whom are mainly referred to by their nicknames. Lisping Man, Limping Man, and Nosebleed Woman to name a few. And what viewer would not spend the duration of the film imagining which animal he or she would desire to be turned into and why?

My favorite aspect of the film is the offbeat performance by Colin Farrell- typically a rugged, sex symbol, he goes against the grain and plays a pudgy, socially awkward, insecure man, but all the while instilling the character with enough warmth and likability to make the character work- and his chemistry with Rachel Weisz is fantastic. This turns the strange dark comedy into a strange romantic drama.

A beautiful forest becomes the backdrop for a large part of the film as does the city of Dublin itself, contrasting the film in nuanced ways. Combined with the lavish hotel, the film achieves several different settings for the action, each meaningful in its own right.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion of the film- the final scene in particular- is positively gruesome in what goes through the viewers mind, and the resolution is left very unclear. Does David do it or doesn’t he? Clearly, much of the film is open to one’s interpretation and imagination.

Black humor and cynicism are major components of The Lobster, which is a thinking man’s movie. In fact, I continue to think of this film as I write this review. The film flairs with originality and thought and this is a great positive. Confusing and mind blowing? For sure. A run of the mill film? Absolutely not. The Lobster is a film that gives no answers and is not an easy watch, but an achievement in film creativity- something sorely needed.

Holding the Man-2015

Holding the Man-2015

Director-Neil Armfield

Starring-Ryan Corr, Craig Stott

Scott’s Review #612

Reviewed January 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Holding the Man is a brave love story centering on two young men and spanning fifteen years as the men begin as high school sweethearts and progress into adulthood and sadly both contract AIDS. This is a pivotal aspect to the film as it is set during the 1970’s and 1980’s- a time when this disease was dreadful and more or less a death sentence. The film is tender and poignant, but despite these characteristics, I felt at times something with more vigor was missing from the film- I did not have the exact emotional reaction that I thought I might have, and felt a slight blandness. The film is set in Australia and adapted from a 1995 memoir of the same name.

The action begins in 1976 as we meet Tim and John- both high school students. They are from opposite social groups- Tim a theater student and John captain of his soccer team. Surprisingly, they connect romantically as Tim asks John out on a date. For the time period it was, the pair receive little hassle and are quite open with their relationship. Certainly, they face a bit of opposition from officials at the school, but this is not a main aspect that the film goes for. Instead, the main problems come from John’s family- specifically, his father, but this is certainly played safely. Tim’s family is much more accepting. Over the next fifteen years, the couple encounter death directly when they are simultaneously told they have acquired HIV.

The film is mostly told chronologically, but does go back and forth at times- specifically, we are reminded of John’s youthful good looks in flashbacks, when he is close to death-now bald and sickly looking. The main point of the film is the men’s enduring love for each other, which is a really nice message. Otherwise, the film (2015 and long since the AIDS plague), goes for a reminder of how harsh those times were for gay men, though there is a softness to the film that I felt-instead of the brutal reality.

The actors playing John and Tim (Craig Stott and Ryan Corr, respectively) have decent chemistry, but this may have been stronger than my perception was, and the reason I did not feel emotionally invested in the film. The film was nice and sweet-the romance part, but when one of the men succumbs to AIDS I should have been a puddle of tears and I just wasn’t.

I did enjoy how the film does not focus too much on the opposition by John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia). He certainly would wish his son’s sexuality differently, but is more concerned with how his son’s relationship with a male looks to Dad’s friends and neighbors. The deeper story was the love between the men that knew no barriers.

It was nice to see Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce in supporting turns as a drama teacher (Rush) and as Tim’s father, Dick (Pearce). Both do well with limited roles and I adored how the film portrayed Dick as a supportive father- even dancing a slow dance with his son at a wedding- free of embarrassment. Also notable is the sweet ending of the film where a photo of the real Tim and John is shown during a narrative from an interview the real Tim did before his death.

Holding the Man is a nice film, but does not quite have the power that other LGBT films in recent decades had- Brokeback Mountain immediately comes to mind as a similar film, but one which was more emotional and engaged me much more. A nice, honest effort, though.

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #598

Reviewed January 10, 2017

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road is an outstanding film- and what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The duo reunite in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic.

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one. Both characters are certainly flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He a successful doctor, she the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they? Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it, and Revolutionary Road is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think. It really shows the depth of DiCaprio’s  and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow moving, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

An Education-2009

An Education-2009

Director-Lone Scherfig

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard

Scott’s Review #584

Reviewed January 4, 2017

Grade: B+

An Education, a British film released in 2009, is a small, little gem of a film. The story-telling and the acting are very good. Since it is a British film, the accents can be a little distracting for some, but I enjoyed it very much.

It tells the story of an intelligent, college driven teenager, named Jenny, who falls in love with an older, charismatic man (Sarsgaard). She is faced with conflict from her family and teachers, most notably her father, played by Alfred Molina. The individuals in her life have differing opinions in which path Jenny should choose in her life. This leads to the main conflict in the film.

The setting is rainy, cold, London in 1961. Certainly headed for Oxford and a successful career (not common for a female in those days), Jenny is willing to risk it all for love, but is she being taken advantage of?

The film is romantic, comical, and serious all rolled into one. The story is nothing original, to be frank, but specifically, the excellent acting makes it worth seeing. An Education proves film makers can take a good story, told before, and make it compelling to an audience.

Carey Mulligan deservedly received an Oscar nomination for this film and made her debut as a high caliber young actress to watch.

Up in the Air-2009

Up in the Air-2009

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Scott’s Review #573

Reviewed December 30, 2016

Grade: A

Up in the Air is a fantastic film, but for some odd reason, circa its release to theaters in 2009 some reason it was categorized as a romantic comedy. While there is a bit of romance involved, the film is really a dark romantic drama. The content is absolutely perfect for this period in history- the terrible economy, and the unemployment rate rising sky high. The acting by the principles is excellent, and is worth watching, but do not expect a happy, uplifting film.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate “downsizer”, who travels the country firing employees from companies that hire him. Ryan has no qualms about what he does and enjoys traveling around the country. He mentors a young employee, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who is more sympathetic to the people whose lives she changes. Ryan meets another frequent flyer, businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an affair. He becomes a more sympathetic character as he develops real feelings for Alex, but will Alex return the affections?

The tone of the film is sarcastic and sardonic, and Clooney is dynamic in the lead role- carrying the film. He is charismatic and energetic, performing his work duties in an emotionless way. We slowly get to know him better and realize, through Alex, that he does have a heart. Alex is a more mysterious character, and Farmiga is equally as engaging in the role. When a big reveal is learned about Alex, the audience does not see it coming.

As the years go by, my hope is that Up in the Air is remembered for being a film that was released at the perfect time, given the difficulties many were going through. I love how the film carries smart dialogue- the characters questioning each others motivations and becoming intertwined. Jason Reitman and the screenwriters craft an exceptional film.

The Last Station-2009

The Last Station-2009

Director-Michael Hoffman

Starring-Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #569

Reviewed December 28, 2016

Grade: A-

The Last Station is a wonderful film. It contains many worthwhile elements- history, culture, good drama, and great acting. Starring seasoned veterans such as Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, the fantastic acting is as good as it gets.

The film tells the story of the final year in the life of famous Russian author Tolstoy and the relationship he has with his family- specifically his wife, Sofya, and his disciples. The year is 1910 and Tolstoy is ailing. He has had a stormy yet passionate relationship with his wife for decades, which is explored in the film. The film’s main point is of greed and in-fighting for control of a great literary figures legacy and money.

The main strong point of The Last Station is the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya- both characters are headstrong, opinionated, but also madly in love, which lead to many sessions of battle.

This is a film of substance. Director Michael Hoffman also mixes some humor in with heavy drama. At the conclusion you might need to use some hankies.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Scott’s Review #553

Reviewed December 20, 2016

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969. The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content actually. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each become enamored with a member of the wedding party. Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sisters individual relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other. All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion-some tender and some quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in  a gratuitous fashion. The film’s theme are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character driven, told from each of the characters perspectives, and is quite the intense experience. Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

45 Years-2015

45 Years-2015

Director-Andre Haigh

Starring-Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay

Scott’s Review #488

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Reviewed October 1, 2016

Grade: B+

In the case of 45 Years, acting is the clear highlight of the film and the main reason to view it. Seasoned veterans take center stage and give tremendous performances and lessons in the craft of acting. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling carry the film. The subject of 45 Years is an enduring marriage tested by an outside revelation that escalates in importance into conflict and mixed emotions. The film moves at a very slow pace, and can be a challenge to the most patient of viewers, but the slow pace is warranted as the longevity of the characters marriage is the key to the film.

Geoff and Kate Mercer, a happy couple living in rural England, are excitedly planning their 45th wedding anniversary (the 40th having been canceled due to Geoff’s heart condition). They are a popular couple within their town, both kind and decent people, and the event will be attended by many. One day Geoff receives a letter from authorities in Switzerland- a young woman (Katya) he was once involved with, and presumed dead in 1962, has been found. Having fallen into an icy glacier, her body is preserved and she looks the same as she did then. Not knowing the extent of their relationship, Kate is riddled with multiple feelings including jealousy, curiosity, and guilt. Geoff and Kate’s marriage is tested.

45 Years is a mature film involving mature characters. Geoff and Kate are still in love after decades of relationship, but the introduction of Katya becomes unwelcome conflict. The film plays out in a slow way, but a realistic way, as marriage moves along slowly. Many scenes of Geoff and Kate’s day to day activities are shown- they walk their dog together, travel into town to shop, or simply relax and read the newspaper. Like real people do. This is an asset to the film. Real life is sometimes mundane and dull, but these little tasks are also pleasurable and soothing.

Geoff and Kate’s marriage contrasts with the relationship Geoff and Katya briefly had all those years ago (excitement, risk, youth) and one can understand Kate’s point of view. As details reveal themselves, Kate feels inferior. She is not young anymore and she thinks of Geoff and Katya and the life they may have had together if the accident had not occurred. Despite being dead, Katya becomes an obstacle in Kate’s mind.

The film wisely does not write Kate as a jealous shrew or one-dimensional. She fights her jealousy every step of the way and tries to be strong and realistic. Charlotte Rampling gives such a good, subtle, understated performance that it is easy to overlook how good she is. She does not have hysterical moments or a scene where she loses control. Rather, Rampling shows a series of complex emotions with her facial expressions.

Let’s not forget to mention Tom Courtenay. Imagine being in the golden years of your life and a long-lost lover (in spirit anyway) returns to the fold. Geoff cannot help but be transported to imagining a life with Katya had she remained alive. Kate asks Geoff if he would have married Katya- he cannot deny that he would have.

Several scenes show the couple engaging in “old people” issues- awkward lovemaking for example, which enhances the differences between when Geoff and Katya were in their prime. Geoff cannot help but be whisked back in time with thoughts and what-ifs.

A standout scene is when Kate and Geoff dance at their anniversary party. Having given a fantastic speech professing his enduring love for her, they causally dance. Kate is both touched and pained and as the scene goes along she unravels in a quite manner. She explodes internally.

Sometimes perhaps a tad too slowly paced, I get the point of pacing 45 Years in this way. After all, nearly 50 years of marriage is a long time and a multitude of similar days will pass with few important moments. Thanks to superlative acting, I was able to overlook this and be astounded at the complexities both Rampling and Courtenay bring to the table.

Daisy Miller-1974

Daisy Miller-1974

Director-Peter Bogdanovich

Starring-Cybill Shepard, Cloris Leachman 

Scott’s Review #383

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Reviewed March 6, 2016

Grade: B

Daisy Miller is a largely forgotten 1974 film based on a Henry James novella of the same name, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring then-girlfriend Cybil Sheperd in the title role. I admire the film in certain aspects, but ultimately rank the film as good, but not spectacular. I pondered the film afterwards and had a feeling that there was something missing from it.

The story, set in the late 1800’s, tells of a wealthy upstate New York family, led by the naïve Daisy Miller (Sheperd), visiting Europe in the hopes of becoming more cultured and worldly, but instead, are largely met with defiance and snobbery from European sophisticates. Daisy attempts to find love with her numerous potential suitors. The film is largely shot in Switzerland and Italy.

The romantic story between Daisy and upper class Frederick Winterbourne is the focal point. Daisy, a chatterbox and flirtatious, captures Winterbourne’s fancy and he gradually woos her, but is conflicted by social norms and her innocent involvement with other men, most notably dashing Italian Giovanelli. This leads to conflict. I noticed some chemistry between Daisy and Winterbourne.

Bogdanovich, who only directed a handful of films, including the masterpiece The Last Picture Show, uses a number of great actors in both films. In addition to Sheperd, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan appear in supporting roles. Leachman as Daisy’s equally chatty and naïve mother, and Brennan as the vicious socialite Mrs. Parker. Brennan, in particular shines. Outstanding at playing snobs and unique character roles, this was right up Brennan’s alley and she almost steals the show.

I adored the cinematography and the costumes featured in the production and thought both the films main strengths. The clothing that the characters were dressed in are both gorgeous and believable for the time period. The backdrop during the hotel garden scene is exquisite and picturesque as the lake, sky, and mountain are all in full view adding a unique viewing experience.

I also found the subject of cultural class distinctions quite interesting. The Millers are rich, but uneducated and unlikable- they live in Schenectady, and are considered far beneath the clever, intelligent figures of Europe. They clearly do not measure up and they lack the same breeding and class as many of the characters. Adding to this is the fact that the Millers never really seem all that interested in being in Europe, almost taking the opportunity for granted, so I was never completely captured by the Millers or found them particularly sympathetic as a group.

Given that she is the focus, I found the character of Daisy Miller a bit unlikable and this could be due to the casting of Sheperd. Daisy’s endless rants, largely about herself, teetered on annoying to say nothing of her irritant little brother. Sure, Daisy is sweet and is kindhearted, but there is something that did not compel me about me. She was a less charismatic, northern version of Scarlett O’Hara. I kept wondering if another actresses might have brought more to the character and given her more muscle. Was this role a showcase for Sheperd because of her relationship with Bogdanovich?

The conclusion of the film surprised me and features a downcast ending that I did not expect given the sunny mood of the rest of the film, and this is to Bogdanovich’s credit. He certainly did not make a mainstream film and I admire that. Daisy Miller is a mixed bag for me. I give my admiration for some aspects, but the story and the casting could have used a bit of altering.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

Scott’s Review #327

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Reviewed January 6, 2016

Grade: A

1997’s Titanic is a sweeping, gorgeous epic, directed by James Cameron, that is perfection at every level. This film has it all: romance, disaster, gorgeous art direction, and flawless attention to detail. The film will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with the characters, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. The film is based on the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 after the ship tragically collided with an iceberg. I have witnessed this film be derided for being a “chick flick” or too “sappy”, but I vehemently disagree, and feel it is a classic for the ages. Titanic successfully re-invented the Hollywood epic.

Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a penniless artist who meets high class socialite Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet) aboard the luxurious Titanic, headed from the coast of England to the United States in its maiden voyage. Rose is engaged to cagey Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Depressed, Rose contemplates diving overboard to her death, but Jack saves her and convinces her otherwise. They spend time together and he draws her portrait. As their romance blossoms, Cal catches on and plots revenge. In the mix are Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, played by Frances Fisher. A main theme of the film is social class and the difference that separate the haves from the have nots.

James Cameron desired perfection from this film and he sure got what he wanted. Every detail of Titanic is flawless and historically accurate, from the dining room silverware to the costumes to the set pieces barely visible in the background. Cameron even had a replica of the original Titanic built for filming purposes- certainly with limitations, but what a vast undertaking this must have been. That, along with the smoldering romance between Jack and Rose, are what makes Titanic one of my favorite films.

Two fantastic scenes are when Jack is taken under the wing of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. Molly is not the snob that many of the other upper class is, and lends Jack a tuxedo so that he will look dapper for Rose. She also tenderly teaches him the appropriate way to use silverware. Tragically, the other scene is more melancholy- a gorgeous classical piece plays in the background as the vast ship is engulfed in water and slowly sinks, causing many deaths.

At well over three hours in length, the conclusion of the film is quite sprawling- and one has the feeling of being aboard the ship. By this time I was invested in the characters, both lead and supporting and the tragedy that ensues is both a marvel and heart-wrenching. Titanic is a film that simply must be viewed on the big screen for full effect, and is a timeless masterpiece that has aged perfectly.