Category Archives: Crime Drama Films

On the Waterfront-1954

On the Waterfront-1954

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #876

Reviewed March 9, 2019

Grade: A

Led by one of the best acting performances of all time, On the Waterfront (1954) was an important and relevant film when made and is still powerful in the modern era. Director Elia Kazan and newly minted Hollywood star Marlon Brando join forces for a film spectacle that is as much a character study as a tale of morality and social injustice. The musical soundtrack score composed by Leonard Bernstein only enhances an already astounding picture that is deservedly referenced as a masterpiece.

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a washed-up former local boxer who now spends his days slaving away as a dockworker on the dingy waterfronts of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) works for a vicious mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who has complete control over the area. The police are aware of the ongoing corruption but are limited by the lack of evidence and witnesses to regular crimes. When a fellow dockworker is killed, Terry falls for the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), leading him to rethink his priorities.

The positive aspects of On the Waterfront are enumerable. Enshrined in the rich story and flawless acting are marvelous cinematography and location sequences. The film was shot almost entirely on location in New York and New Jersey using real docks and outdoor sequences that give the film authenticity. The dingy and water-soaked locales are riddled with secrets and dark violence that reach new levels by using realism and grittiness.

Never looking more masculine or more handsome, though his portrayal of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a close second, Marlon Brando achieves riches in the world of stellar acting. He is rugged and compassionate, macho yet tender, and pours his heart into the role of Terry, and one cannot help wondering if the self- professed method actor became Terry during filming. With both vulnerability and strength Brando embodies the character so well that he becomes my favorite of all the film roles he has undertaken.

The supporting players dutifully flesh out the resounding cast with gusto. Special mentions go to both Karl Malden as Father Barry and to Steiger as Charley. As Barry, Malden brings a warm character who is patient and benevolent in a world of crime and deceit. He attempts to console and mentor the folks in his world and is eventually beaten for his honesty and earnestness. Charley is a different story, selling his soul to the devil and accepting the cards he has been handed, making a choice to join with Friendly. At a crucial moment he makes another devastating choice that changes his life forever.

Few films can proudly boast a scene or dialogue that remains timeless and imprinted on cinematic history, but On the Waterfront contains a scene of this caliber. During a tremendously important moment in the film Terry has a conversation with Charley and makes an impassioned statement-“I coulda’ been somebody. I coulda’ been a contender”, laments Terry to his brother, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it.” This line is a historic piece of writing and true to the heart of the character.

The film reaches further in its power and truth because it is representative of Elia Kazan’s real-life plight. During the early 1950’s the director famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee while many of his colleagues chose to go to prison rather than name names. Many Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted for decades to come. On the Waterfront is frequently deemed as an allegory to the director’s plight and therefore is a very personal story.

On the Waterfront (1954) is sometimes violent and all-times realistic, painting a portrait of one man’s struggle to overcome the lousy life that has been given to him to do the right thing. Thanks to gorgeous direction, an explosive lead performance by Brando, and all the pieces fitting perfectly in unison together, the film is one of the greats and hopefully will remain one that generations will come to discover.

Double Indemnity-1944

Double Indemnity-1944

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck

Scott’s Review #847

Reviewed December 26, 2018

Grade: A

Double Indemnity (1944) epitomizes the classic film noir genre in perfect fashion. All the necessary elements exist, from intrigue, suspense and unpredictable thrills, to schemes and dastardly deeds by the major players. The on-screen chemistry between leads MacMurray and Stanwyck provide enough romantic flair and provocative moments to entertain all as developments progress when a smitten man meets a femme fatale and a devious plot is hatched.

Director Billy Wilder was one of the most influential directors of his day with this picture being his first effort resulting in fabulous critical acclaim. The accolades put him firmly on the map for years to come culminating in an Oscar win in 1950 for The Apartment. Wilder uses a clever insurance “double indemnity” clause as its title making it one of the best and most influential crime dramas of the 1940’s staking ground for other similarly themed films.

The story is told via flashbacks as a wounded Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) scrambles to record a confession to his colleague and best friend, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). The action rewinds to an average, ordinary day when Neff makes a routine stop to sell insurance and meets flirtatious Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). She brazenly inquires how she ought to go about taking out an insurance policy on her husband’s life without his knowledge. When Neff deduces Phyllis intends to kill her husband he declines any further help but cannot forget the ravishing beauty and her charms. He ultimately succumbs to her whims and aids her in a wicked crime.

The adventure that the audience is taken on is the most fun aspect of the film. We already deduce that Neff is involved in shenanigans but most of the fun occurs after the murder has been committed and Phyllis and Neff’s scheme begins to unravel. The added component of Neff’s colleague and close friend, Keyes, being in the mix as he starts to suspect foul play is equally compelling. Will he finally figure out that Neff is involved in the plot? Will Keyes cover for Neff if discovered? Will Phyllis’s past-history catch up with her and twist events in a different direction? These questions make the film a great picture.

A debate among viewers can ensue as to whether Neff is sympathetic or not as this point continues to cross my mind with each viewing. One can safely say that he is seduced by the charms of an eager and aggressive woman, but if he is to blame for the crimes is she not even more to blame? As events unfold sides can be drawn and defenses of character’s can be more focused particularly after Double Indemnity’s startling conclusion.

Neff is not a strong, heroic character and is rather weak, easily being manipulated by the cagey Phyllis. Interesting is how little time it takes for him to succumb to her plot and willingly do the crime for her. In the final act Neff does show some needed muscle, but this is only because his “goose is cooked” and he finally realizes the dire nature of Phyllis’s character, but shouldn’t he have discovered this sooner?

MacMurray and Stanwyck have smoldering chemistry and this is a major success of the film keeping the audience invested in the plot. The added measure of the murder victim being rather unknown to the audience adds a macabre rooting value to the pair. Wilder never presents the plot as a romantic triangle or Neff and Phyllis having any other romantic entanglements, so the only roadblock is the insurance company and their suspicions surrounding Phyllis.

Wilder adapted the screenplay from James M. Cain’s novella of the same name and spins a potent film noir from these pages. Double Indemnity (1944) is intelligent, sexy, and mysterious mixing in as much sultry poise as witty dialogue. Thanks to the allure of fine actors and a stunning adventure on a train, the film is a measured success and a highly influential cinematic story.

BlacKkKlansman-2018

BlacKkKlansman-2018

Director-Spike Lee

Starring-John David Washington, Adam Driver

Scott’s Review #802

Reviewed August 14, 2018

Grade: A

Spike Lee’s latest offering, BlacKkKlansman (2018) is a brilliant effort and oh so timely in the tumultuous political climate in the United States circa 2018. Despite the film being set in the early 1970’s, the racial issues and tensions that Lee examines are sadly still an enormous problem in present times. Lee infuses some humor and even romance into the drama so the film is not too preachy or heavy. A grand and relevant effort that should be watched by all.

As the film commences, we are treated to a clip from the 1939 classic film Gone With the Wind and BlacKkKlansman concludes with prominent clips of racial tensions circa 2017. The timeline is extremely important and powerful as the point of the film is made abundantly clear that racism is still alive and well. Lee, a known liberal, puts a clear left spin on his work- BlacKkKlansman will likely not be seen by conservative film goers and this is sad as valuable lessons learned can be achieved by viewing this piece.

The story is based on a true story memoir written by Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer to be hired by the Colorado Springs police department. He successfully infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with startling results. The film begins with a speech by a doctor (Alec Baldwin) offering a “scientific explanation” of white superiority in 1957. Fast-forward to the early 1970’s where the rest of the film takes place. Ron is initially hired by the police force as a progressive initiative for diversity, but quickly moves into a detective role as he manages to pose as a KKK member via telephone while another detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) goes to meetings in person.

Lee’s focus is clearly on the overall content and message of the film and therefore little character development is achieved. I admittedly did yearn to know the “how’s” and the “why’s” of many of the characters, but the film is not really about the characters individually and I am okay with this. Why did Ron desire so much to become a police officer? What was his childhood like? How did Patrice become President of the black student union? What was her childhood like? What upbringings did some of the KKK members have? Certainly enough time would not have been allowed to answer all of these questions. Small gripe.

Lead actor John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, unknown to me before watching this film, is tremendous in his role. As is Driver in his supporting role of Zimmerman, but again these are not character driven roles. Washington has tremendous chemistry with his love interest, played by Laura Harrier. Ron and Patrice discuss politics and dance the night away, but she an activist and he a cop making their chances of happily ever after tough to imagine. Their romance is atypical of most films as it is based on intelligence and not silly, melodramatic aspects.

On the acting front, Topher Grace as the racist David Duke is tremendous. With a kindly demeanor mixed with a bubbling under hatred of blacks and Jewish people, Lee makes certain he is the foil. A delicious scene towards the end of the film when Duke gets his comeuppance of sorts is well done and received a thunderous roar from the theater audience.

Lee is careful to make sure the bad guys all get their just due, and are all portrayed as complete fools. With a false sense of nationalism, many hate minorities simply because they feel they are taking over their beloved country. Not to harp on this, but BlacKkKlansman will attract those who already agree with Lee’s beliefs and politics. If only those who disagree would give the film a chance. Unlikely.

The final five minutes of BlacKkKlansman arguably is the most pivotal experience of the entire film, but has nothing to do with the actual story portrayed in the rest of the production. Lee concludes the 1970’s portion of the film in satisfying fashion, then fast forwards to the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 when protesters clashed with a racist group resulting in an innocent woman’s death. The controversial remarks of President Trump- refusing to cast blame on the racist group are shown. Sitting in a crowded movie theater, these clips had the biggest reaction from the audience with some flipping Trump the finger, while others sobbed in anguish and disbelief that we have achieved so little as a nation.

Rarely ever a  more pertinent or meaningful film for the current political climate the United States is experiencing, BlacKkKlansman (2018) brilliantly ties racism spanning one hundred and fifty years and shows how it still exists. Amid this message, however, lies a great drama containing humor and importance.

Mystic River-2003

Mystic River-2003

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Sean Penn, Tim Robbins

Scott’s Review #801

Reviewed August 10, 2018

Grade: A

Mystic River (2003) is a film that I consider to be the second best offering directed by Clint Eastwood. Along with Million Dollar Baby (2004), Eastwood successfully creates two compelling back-to-back dramas, not too dissimilar from each other. He was unquestionably the “it” director of the early 2000’s, and with Mystic River, helms a gritty, mystery drama with a stellar cast, nuts and bolts storytelling, and enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing and ultimately shocked. All of these pieces result in a memorable experience.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Dennis Lehane. A tremendous element is the locale of Boston, and an Irish, blue-collar/working class theme, prevalent throughout the story. Thanks to the cinematography, illuminating a grey and stormy look, this enhances the rest of the film. I adore films shot in and around Boston as so much culture and flavor are provided. Eastwood hardly misses a beat with some cold and grizzled touches that play into the hardships and struggles of the characters everyday lives.

The story itself begins as we meet the central characters (Jimmy, Dave, and Sean) as young boys, a three musketeers type scenario where they are almost like blood brothers. After an incident occurs where Dave is accosted by men and sexually abused, he is ultimately rescued after four tortuous days, but his life is never the same. Fast forward twenty-five years and the boys are now men, still living in a working class Boston neighborhood. Each is now married, their lives having moved on, drifted away from each other and containing vastly different personality types. They reunite after a tragedy occurs.

For starters, a major win by Eastwood is the casting of each of the male characters. Sean Penn plays Jimmy, the volatile ex-con, who runs a small store, while Sean, played by Kevin Bacon, has become a Massachusetts State Police officer, putting him directly at odds with Jimmy. Sadly, Dave (Tim Robbins), now lives a quiet life, still harboring trauma, shame, and guilt from his childhood experience. When Jimmy’s daughter (Emmy Rossum) is brutally murdered, the three friends lives are intertwined as the search for the killer takes the viewers down a dark path filled with secrets, some from the past. Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden give tremendous performances as Jimmy’s and Dave’s wives, respectively.

Mystic River is a film where all of the great elements come together in perfect fashion. From the acting to the components of the story, to the whodunit involved, to the exciting twist and conclusion to the overall film are truly exceptional. But what really sets it apart from a standard drama or thriller are the characterizations and relationships among these characters. Childhood memories can last a lifetime in their monumental importance and this is evidenced many times between Jimmy, Dave, and Sean. Blood brothers, yes, but when tragedy strikes, old wounds and fresh wounds together run deep.

The themes of violence and revenge are firm staples of this film, and these are commonalities for many Eastwood films. Viewers may also find themselves conflicted with whom to sympathize with or where their allegiances should lie. Jimmy, certainly the anti-hero, will garner sympathy for the vicious loss of his daughter- pain that can never be fully healed. Did Dave, the obvious prime suspect, kill the girl? If so, was it on purpose or by accident? Are others, specifically his wife, involved in a cover up? Eastwood carves the setup in spectacular fashion, but is it a simple red herring? These events make the film unbelievably compelling.

Fabulous are the performances all around, but especially by Penn and Robbins, both awarded with Oscar wins for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Penn never delivers a poor performance, but Jimmy is one of his best characters yet. As for Robbins, he fills the character of Dave with empathy- a wounded bird, left damaged through no fault of his own, suffering a terrible fate due to circumstances, misunderstandings, and ultimately tragedy.

Mystic River (2003) watched alongside Million Dollar Baby (2004) would make for an excellent Saturday night for fans of Clint Eastwood’s directorial talents. These two are the best of the best with great character development and rich writing. The direction, however, enhances the spectacular elements and takes it a bit further providing appropriate texture and wonderful atmosphere.

Good Time-2017

Good Time-2017

Director-Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie

Starring-Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie

Scott’s Review #767

Reviewed June 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Every so often an actor who is known for either doing mainstream films or for portraying a mediocre character risks being typecast. Fortunately for actor Robert Pattinson, known mostly as the heartthrob from the trite Twilight films, he has been given the best role of his career. The actor hits the jackpot with a challenging and edgy performance in the fast-paced independent crime drama, Good Time (2017).

The film is a very good ride, and directors Ben and Joshua Safdie successfully provide excellent tension and compelling action scenes (Ben even gives a worthy supporting performance as a mentally challenged character). The overall tone of the film is that of an edge of your seat experience. As enjoyable and taut as the film is, a few minor criticisms must be mentioned below.

Good Time begins with Nick Nikas (Ben Safdie) being quizzed by a therapist. They are quickly interrupted by Nick’s brother Connie (Pattinson), who removes him from the facility so that he can assist with a bank heist. When the attempt goes awry and Nick is arrested, Connie does his best to spring his brother from jail then from the hospital following an altercation with another inmate. All the while, Connie must also evade the police as he forms a strange connection with a sixteen year old girl, Crystal (Taliah Webster).

The fun part of Good Time is that the film is fast paced and filled with twists and turns. Largely taking place over the course of one night, we are compelled by Connie’s journey and wonder if he will outrun the cops. In a way a standard thriller, Good Time rises slightly above this ranking with its wonderful New York City setting with numerous exterior scenes- this is a major plus.

Also garnering props for the film is the look of it. With a slick yet gritty and grainy  feel, the camera angles are quick and plentiful. This is a great tool to keep the action going at lightning speed and the editing deserves kudos too. In this way the intensity and tension runs rampant throughout. A good example of this is the bank robbery scene- as the teller disappears into the vault to get the requested amount of money she takes what seems like an eternity to return, leaving the audience (and Connie) wondering if she has alerted the authorities.

Otherwise, the film is helped immensely by the acting performance of Pattinson who owns the film. Having not seen him in anything before I was surprised at how good he is. Thinking of him as more a matinee idol versus a serious actor, I was proven wrong. Grizzled, temperamental, but being a decent guy at times, Pattinson’s Connie is loyal to a fault, putting his brother first and foremost.

Fans of Captain Phillips (2013) will be delighted to see Barkhad Abdi cast in a small yet pivotal role of an amusement park security guard. Nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award for Captain Phillips, the Somali- American actor has been able to find steady work in film since his acclaimed debut performance.  In his role in Good Time, the character is instrumental in kicking off the final act that leads to the downfall of at least one other character.

Worth mentioning are a few small but notable flaws (rather unnecessary) that Good Time contains. Perplexing to me is the casting of Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role of Connie’s girlfriend Corey. Decades older than Connie, Corey is written pretty much as a nitwit- attempting to use her mother’s credit card to bail out Nick. The film does not mention the age difference nor provides much meat to the role- Jason Leigh deserves better than a throwaway role like this.

Otherwise, none of the female characters are treated especially well. Connie frequently directs or shouts at either Corey or even Crystal eliciting a “man in charge” vibe that is slightly off-putting. Also, a gay slur uttered by Connie is thrown into a scene for seemingly no reason, which in 2017 surprises me. Still, there is something that makes the audience root for Connie while we still want him to get his punishment.

Good Time (2017) provides quality entertainment in a specified genre with good acting all the way around. With a weird Ocean’s Eleven style (only with one prominent character) the bank robbery theme will satisfy those in the mood for a good heist film. The title of the film is a mystery (is it irony?) and not sure it totally works, but overall the film is a very good watch.

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Director-Arthur Penn

Starring-Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway

Scott’s Review #628

Reviewed March 25, 2017

Grade: A

Bonnie and Clyde is an excellent 1967 crime drama that is not only a great film, but successfully, and surprisingly wound up influencing an entire generation, becoming somewhat of a rallying cry for the youth generation of the time. Released in a tumultuous period in history (the Vietnam war, the Sexual Revolution, and Civil Rights), the film fits the times and also was groundbreaking in its use of violence, blood, and sex. The film holds up tremendously well to this day and is beloved by intelligent film lovers everywhere.

The film begins with snapshots of the real Bonnie and Clyde- a duo of bank robbers who rampaged the southwest during the Great Depression.  Set in steamy Texas, circa 1930’s, the film tells their story. Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meets Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) when he tries to steal her mother’s car one hot day. Instantly infatuated with each other, the steamy duo team up and become partners in crime. Over time they enlist the help of others and become more successful bank robbers with the stakes rising with each heist. Rounding out the crew of criminals are gas-station attendant, C.W. Moss, and Clyde’s older brother Buck, played by Gene Hackman, along with his wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), an innocent-minded, and sometimes hysterical, preacher’s wife.

Bonnie and Clyde is a unique film in many different ways- the quick-cut editing style influenced Sam Peckinpah in his films to come, and the film uses a fast paced rat-a- tat-tat style that symbolizes gunfire-a major element of the film. Blood spurts from victims bodies in a style never before seen on the big screen and led to many film makers comfort with using increased violence. You could say that Bonnie and Clyde took away the innocence of Hollywood films and shook all of the traditional elements inside out.

The conclusion of the film is one of the greatest in cinematic history. Far from an idyllic, happy ending, traditional with films in those days, the law finally catches up with Bonnie and Clyde with grim results for the pair, and their demise is gruesome, but true to form. We have fallen in love with the characters so their hasty exit from this world is tough to stomach and as they writhe and twitch with each gunshot wound, the bullets pummeling the bodies, the scene is a difficult one to watch.

The love story between Bonnie and Clyde is intense, yet sweet, and the casting of Beatty and Dunaway is spot on. Smoldering with sexuality- as Bonnie fondles Clyde’s gun who does not see this as a phallic symbol- their personal relationship is fraught with stamina and emotional energy. The two actors feed off of each other and fill the scenes with gusto. Their chemistry is part of what makes the film so great.

One of the best scenes is the shoot ’em up showdown at a ranch where the group of robbers is hiding out- the scene laden with intensity and violence. As Buck is mortally wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured, soon to make a grave mistake in revealing one of the others identities. Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. barely escape with their lives and their antics from this point become bloodier and bloodier. The cat and mouse play during this scene make it the most suspenseful of them all.

Amid all of the violence, a wonderful scene exists when Bonnie and Clyde meet up at a secret location with Bonnie’s mother. A local townswoman and non-actress was cast in the pivotal role of Bonnie’s mother and the scene is an emotional experience. The woman’s kindness and sensibility and the sheer “regular person” she encompasses humanizes Bonnie and Clyde, and in ominous fashion, their downfall is soon to occur.

A heavily influential film, Bonnie and Clyde is a film that is still quite relevant, especially for those who appreciate good film, and rich, intelligently written characters, who are flawed, yet humanistic, layered with complexities. This is what director, Penn, carves out, and the film is an all time Hollywood classic.

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring-John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #597

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: B-

The Grifters is a film that has witty writing and has an overall appeal to it- the film is very unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930’s and the 1940’s. Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. In fact, all three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and furthermore, feed off each other so well that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their own personal gain. The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me awhile to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended. Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me there remained something missing.

End of Watch-2012

End of Watch-2012

Director-David Ayer

Starring-Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena

Scott’s Review #447

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Reviewed July 8, 2016

Grade: B+

End of Watch impressed me much more than I was expecting. What I expected was a safe, by the numbers, buddy/action type movie, since it was rather promoted as such from the previews. It was worlds better than that and through me for a loop- in a good way.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two detectives patrolling the streets of grizzled central Los Angeles, which are riddled with drug and gang violence. The viewer is brought along for the ride as we see a day in the life, if you will, of their cop beat.

The one knock I’d give the film is the implausibility factor of a cop videotaping everything. This seems silly and unrealistic.  Wouldn’t he be incredibly distracted? That said, some of the filming was amazing, including the opening sequence. The film contains a realistic, grittiness to it, and the Los Angeles locale is very effective.

End of Watch feels painstakingly real, is not always happy, and the dynamic between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena evident and their friendship feels real.

The movie feels like a day in the life of an LA cop, sparing no edgy detail,and does not gloss over the lifestyle as many cop films choose to do.

Dirty Harry-1971

Dirty Harry-1971

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino

Top 100 Films-#86

Scott’s Review #443

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: A

Dirty Harry is a classic crime drama that became a signature role for Clint Eastwood as the title character, a character he has played four more times. Dirty Harry set the tone for the plethora of crime thrillers and police action films that filled theaters throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. This film still holds up very well and is a masterpiece of the cat and mouse/detective genre.

Quiet, controlled, but filled with anger below the surface (we learn his wife was killed by a drunk driver), Harry Callahan is a tough cop in San Francisco who has clearly seen it all. He is a red-blooded American good guy, though is brooding and has a mind of his own, oftentimes disagreeing with his superiors and their rules. He epitomizes good versus evil. A vicious killer named Scorpio (based on the real life Zodiac killer) is on the loose, having killed two people already. His motives are unclear, but that is rather unimportant. What is important is that he threatens to kill one person per day unless his demands of $100,000 are met. Harry is immediately assigned to the case despite his reputation for being difficult and violent. This leads to a cat and mouse game between Harry and Scorpio in Harry’s pursuit of the criminal.

Scorpio is played by Andy Robinson, who is a fantastic villain- perhaps one of the most frightening in film history. His dirty blonde locks, yet angelic face, combined with maniacal facial expressions make his portrayal quite frightening. He is a sniper so he is continually perched on rooftops seeking his next victim. As he watches a couple eating ice cream in the park or a woman swimming in a roof top pool, we feel a sense of voyeurism and dread. His disturbed sense of humor and sadistic personality make him quite scary.

The film succeeds in large part because of its grit and violence.  And it is a very masculine film. Harry is a take no prisoners kind of guy and he is hell bent on stopping Scorpio from killing- no matter what. In a very effective scene, Harry chases Scorpio to a vast football field and uses torture to elicit a confession from Scorpio. It is a bloody and intense scene, but quite necessary to who Harry is. Of course, this tactic backfires as Scorpio is released from the hospital and set free. This leads to a further feud between the two men.

An added bonus of Dirty Harry, and one aspect that gives so much authenticity, is the on location setting of San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to the illustrious mountains outside of the city and of the Pacific Ocean, these elements give a realism to an already gritty film. Chinatown and Dolores Park are also featured. Highlighting all of this is a sequence where Scorpio forces Harry to go from locale to locale on foot in part of a wicked game to save a victim.

Harry’s famous lines as he points his gun the perpetrators and mocks them by asking them if loaded five or six bullets in his gun are now legendary as is his “Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” On the surface a bit silly and gimmicky, these catchphrases somehow still work.

The school bus finale as Harry and Scorpio once again square off is great. As Scorpio hijacks a bus filled with grammer school students, he tricks the students, unaware of his intentions, by engaging them in childrens song sing alongs as the harried bus driver drives out of the city. When one child catches wind of the situation, Scorpio turns nasty, scaring the children into a frenzy.

Dirty Harry is a classic cop film that I never tire of watching. For the genre it is as good as it gets and holds up well. After all of these years, it is tough to disassociate Clint Eastwood from the role of “Dirty Harry”.

Miller’s Crossing-1990

Miller’s Crossing-1990

Director-Joel Coen

Starring-Ethan Coen, Gabriel Byrne

Scott’s Review #394

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Reviewed April 13, 2016

Grade: B+

Containing a mixture of The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas, and The Grifters- ironically all released in the same year-1990- Miller’s Crossing is an old-fashioned gangster film made fresh thanks to the direction of  Joel Coen, who bring a quirky edge to the film, throwing in a blend of film noir, black humor, and edgy characters, that make the films story-line feel fresh and alive in present time, though it has a definite late 1980’s era cinematic look (not a compliment). I could immediately tell in which decade it was made. Miller’s Crossing begins slowly, but during the second act gains steam and is the best part of the film.

The film is set somewhere in New York during the 1920’s Prohibition period- it is assumed New York City, but this is never stated. The general story involves Tom Reagan, a handsome Irish gangster, and right hand man of Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), who becomes involved in conflict with Leo, his lover Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), and her brother Bernie (John Turturro), who is wanted dead by rival Italian mobster, Johnny Caspar. Johnny’s right hand man “Dane” comes into play, as does another gangster, Mink, played by Steve Buscemi. Tom changes allegiances and plays one mob boss against the other as a web of deceit, tested loyalty, and murder ensues.

As the first half concluded I was not completely sold on the film. How many times have I seen a gangster film with all the stereotypical elements, the tough-guy shtick, and the contrivances? I was afraid I was watching a retread of similar films. I wondered what the point of the film really was- the relationship between Tom and Leo’s struggle for power and control? A triangle between Tom, Verna, and Leo? I noticed little chemistry among any of them and could not help but wonder if a female presence was required in the film, but really not all that necessary. Regardless, I was quickly bored with the character of Verna. But then the elements of the film started to come together and some rather left of center nuances presented themselves leaving me more engrossed.

A homosexual triangle (almost never seen in traditional, crime/mob films) took shape between Mink, Dane, and Bernie. Certainly all vicious killers, they had no stereotypes often seen in film, which is refreshing. Dane was even arguably the most brutal of all the characters, and the bloodletting was plenty. I found this reveal completely refreshing not to mention unexpected. However, the intricacies of the triangle were left unexplored. They simply bedded each other.

A pivotal scene set in the woods (Miller’s Crossing) is as gorgeous as it is character-driven. Tom must choose between killing Bernie and proving his loyalty to mobsters awaiting, or secretly let him live, fake his death, all in the name of his love of Verna. But will his decision come back to haunt him?  Is Tom, at his core, a good man or a bad man? The calm of the forest mixed with the brutality of the film is perfect. I was reminded of the 1970 Italian masterpiece The Conformist as I viewed this beautiful scene. Tom’s  conflict between good and evil and his earlier premonition of a tumbling hat come into play. His characters conflict reminded me of Michael Corleone in The Godfather films.

Look quickly and you will see Frances McDormand, soon to be a fixture in Coen films, as a slinky, well dressed secretary. We are reminded of great things to come by this then unknown talent.

A nice thing that I always look forward to in Coen films are the quirky, weird, fun, minor characters, and Miller’s Crossing is no different- Johnny Caspar’s overweight wife and son- an Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory lookalike- give comedy to the potentially too dark film. From Bryan to Tic-Tac, to the fat lady with the purse, all give amusing and meaningful turns that give the film a richness with an unusual cast of characters.

Miller’s Crossing proves to be a nice little film once it picks up steam  and the intertwining of stories, characters, and a bit of classic film noir mixed in, makes it a refreshing take on an age old genre of film.

Jackie Brown-1997

Jackie Brown-1997

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Pam Grier, Robert Forster

Top 100 Films-#92

Scott’s Review #356

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a fantastic film and one of the few to have a solely female lead (Kill Bill Volumes I and II are the others) and successfully re-launched star Pam Grier’s and Robert Forster’s careers after too many years on the sidelines. The film is heavily influenced by Grier’s earlier films in the 1970’s  blaxploitation genre. Jackie Brown is one of the more obscure Tarantino films, but is brilliant nonetheless and filled with slow, plodding, yet tremendous scenes.

Greir plays the title character, Jackie Brown, a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline who smuggles money into the United States from Mexico to supplement her income. When she is caught and threatened by the Feds to aid them in catching a much larger fish, she plots to use both sides to her advantage and walk away with the money. Jackie develops feelings and a sweet relationship ensues with Max Cherry, a bondsman played by Forster. Mixed in with the plot is Tarantino staple, Samuel L. Jackson, as Ordell Robbie, a crooked drug smuggler, Robert De Niro as Louis, a former cellmate of Ordell’s and Bridget Fonda as Melanie, a dizzy stoner girl.

As is always the case with Tarantino films, Jackie Brown contains a stellar cast just chomping at the bit to deliver the best performance they can with the help of rich and crackling dialogue written for them. The writing is always fantastic in Tarantino films and the number of plot twists and turns in Jackie Brown is great.

My favorite scene by far is the scene involving the transfer of money that takes place in the local Mall. Rich with flavor and atmosphere it is a marvel. Jackie and Max engage in small talk at the food court before the transfer is to take place- Jackie then goes to a fitting room where the “switch” will occur. Throughout this sequence the tension is incredibly high and the film turns into a nail biter.

Tarantino, not one to focus on a romantic story-line, gives Jackie Brown a uniqueness as the film features the respectful and delicious romance between Jackie and Max. This adds layers to the mainly bloody and crime-laden film. To counter this relationship, is the volatile relationship between Louis and Melanie, which ends in tragedy.

I love how the film is set in Los Angeles. Sunny, bright, with a stuffy and superficial element to the action, mixing the beach and the hot weather with a crime story, manipulation, and double-crossing works so well.

Giving aging Hollywood stars a deserving comeback, Tarantino weaves a complex, but adventurous and well-paced, crime drama featuring veteran actors who deliver the goods, Jackie Brown is a treasure in a world of other Tarantino treasures and is a must have for all of the director’s fans and fanatics.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films-#89

Scott’s Review #349

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Director Martin Scorsese adapts Goodfellas, a crime-mob film, from the 1986 non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi helped Scorsese write the screenplay. The film is a more matter-of-fact telling than the purely dramatic The Godfather, with more wit and humor thrown in and great editing. Featuring powerful acting by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, it is a classic mob film that is memorable and can be enjoyed via repeated viewings.  Largely ad-libbed, the film is rich in good dialogue and holds the distinction of containing one of the highest totals of curse words in film history.

The film is told from the first person narrative of the lead character, Henry Hill. Henry, now in the Witness Protection Program, recounts his years affiliated with the mob, spanning the years 1955-1980. We meet Henry as a youngster in Brooklyn, New York, half-Italian, half-Sicilian, he idolizes the “wise guys” on the streets and has every intention of one day joining their ranks. From there, the film describes the trials and tribulations of Henry’s group of miscreants. Henry meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and their tumultuous love story is explored, through tender moments and affairs.

What I love most about Goodfellas is the love of the characters and the sense that you are part of the action. The film is really a highly stylized family drama- gritty nonetheless, but the viewer feels like they are part of things and a member of the family- milestones are celebrated and meals are shared. We see Henry grow from a teenaged gullible boy- idolizing the neighborhood men, to actually being part of the group. The other characters, such as vicious and volatile Tommy DeVito (Pesci) and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (De Niro), age and mature.

Bracco’s character is an interesting one- she, unlike most of the female characters in The Godfather films, is not content to merely sit on the sidelines and look past her husbands shenanigans and torrid affairs with floozies. She is a more modern, determined woman and Bracco plays her with intelligent and a calm demeanor. She wants to be Henry’s equal instead of just some trophy wife.

Pesci, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, is brutal and filthy, but so mesmerizing a character. During a memorable scene, his character of Tommy jokingly teases Henry, but when Henry responds in a way that displeases Tommy, the scene grows tense and Tommy becomes increasingly disturbing. His famous line “What am I a clown- do I amuse you?” is both clever and haunting in its repercussions.

I adore the soundtrack that Scorsese chooses for the film- spanning decades, he chooses songs true to the times such as “Layla” (1970) or “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964) are just perfect. Worth noting is when a scene plays, sometimes the song is mixed in with the narrative so that it actually enhances the scene altogether- becoming a part of it rather than simply background music.

If one is looking for the perfect mob film, that contains music, wit, charm, and fantastic writing, Goodfellas is among the best that there is. My preference is for The Godfather and The Godfather II, but while Goodfellas has similarities to these films it is also completely different and stands on its own merits.

Traffic-2000

Traffic-2000

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio del Toro

Top 100 Films-#78

Scott’s Review #333

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Reviewed January 8, 2016

Grade: A

Simply put, I adore this film. I loved Traffic when it was first released in 2000 and I still love it in present times. During an age where the overlapping stories with hefty casts were still in the infancy stage (Crash and Babel, similar films, would not be released for several years), Traffic was groundbreaking, compelling, thought-provoking, and just a damned good drama! With drug use still a continuing problem in the United States, the film remains both relevant and important.

Featuring three main, intersecting stories with a central theme of drug trafficking, each is told from various perspectives: users, political figures, law enforcement, and criminal traffickers. Traffic also wisely shows how the drug problem knows no specific classes- affluent, middle-class, and poor are all represented in the film.

A strong political story is represented- led by conservative Ohio judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), who is appointed “drug czar” as the President’s Office of National Drug Policy leader, he vows to end all drug trafficking and is the moral center of the film. However, his prep school daughter, Caroline, (played exceptionally well by Erika Christensen) and her equally affluent friends are dabbling in cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, so much so that their lives are slowly spiraling out of control.

The Mexico story involves the riveting tale of Mexican police office Javier Rodriguez (played convincingly by Benicio del Toro). He becomes heavily involved in a web of deceit, money, and drugs. His partner, Sanchez, makes a deal with the devil and his fate is thereby sealed. Javier has moral questions to ask himself and only wants to do right by some local, neighborhood boys.

Finally, San Diego is the setting for a story of corruption involving the DEA’s investigation of a drug lord, Carl Ayala. After being arrested, his wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) faces a moral dilemma- either carry on the illegal proceedings or come clean. She,  up until this point unaware of her husbands business, faces enormous pressure, both financially and through threat of violence.

My favorite aspect of Traffic is that all of the aforementioned stories are fascinating in their own right- and could make terrific films on their own, but as the film progresses they begin to intersect and keys to the puzzle slowly unlock themselves. I love how many of the central characters (Helena, Javier, and Wakefield) begin as “good” people only to have their moral intentions challenged, and in some cases, threatened. They are each conflicted in some way.

The film poses an interesting, crucial question of what can be done about the United States drug trafficking problem? The answer at the end of the film is a disappointing and perhaps even depressing realization. Drugs will never stop being a problem and Traffic wisely explains how drugs show no barriers when it comes to either wealth or more financially challenged individuals.

How wonderful to see a stellar cast, even in smaller roles (Dennis Quaid and Amy Irving immediately come to mind) with all of the characters having a purpose in a wonderful example of how a mainstream Hollywood film can achieve a true ensemble effort that works. Great job Steven Soderbergh!

Sexy Beast-2001

Sexy Beast-2001

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #286

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Reviewed November 13, 2015

Grade: B+

Sexy Beast is an interesting little indie gem that has garnered quite  a cult following, deservedly so,  since the year of its release- 2001 and that I have recently viewed for the first time. In large part, the film belongs to Ben Kingsley as he gives a bravura, and frightening,  performance as a crime lord attempting to convince a retired hit man, now sworn to the straight and narrow, to resurrect his career for one last heist. The other principle characters are wonderful in their own right, as the film successfully mixes elements of Quentin Tarantino with Ocean’s Eleven- bank heist meets quirkiness, with smart and witty dialogue sprinkled in.

Gary Dove is happily retired and living a life of contentment with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee, and best friends Aitch and Jackie.  Having all been involved in “the biz”, they are long since removed from their respective careers. They now enjoy evening parties of wine and martinis, and days relaxing by the pool in their Spanish villas.  One day, a former criminal associate, Don Logan (Kingsley), who is also a sociopath, arrives to disrupt their peaceful lives and coordinate a bank heist in London, in hopes of luring Gary into the game once again.

As Gary and company nervously decide to decline Don Logan’s offer to participate in his sinister plan, a wonderful and important scene occurs early in the film. The quartet sits around the dinner table at a swanky Spanish restaurant anticipating a scrumptious meal. Jackie reveals the news that Don has contacted her and the tone of the scene immediately changes to one of dread. It is evident that all of them both fear and despise Logan. They agonize over this sudden disruption to their lives and we, the audience, fear Don Logan before he ever appears on-screen. What fantastic story-telling.

Kingsley portrays a menacing character and brilliantly so. The character contains a frightening brutality bubbling beneath his normally calm demeanor, that it makes the viewer shudder when he appears on-screen. Lest we forget, Ian McShane also gives a nuanced performance as Teddy Bass, Logan’s right-hand man, and wise business man. The cat and mouse scene towards the end as Teddy and Gary have an important discussion in a car is both chilling and important to the plot of the film. As Teddy slowly figures out certain events I was left intensely anticipating his reactions.

The film introduces  an intriguing  sub-plot involving Don’s long ago fling with Jackie and subsequent love for her which adds layers to the plot and the dynamic and tension between Don and Gary.

Upon finishing the film, I loved the effect of foreshadowing that the film contains. I found myself rewinding the events in my mind, pleasurably so.  From the pool, to the young Hispanic kid, to the thunderous boulder- all of these elements were crucial to the conclusion and fit like a puzzle.

A dark comedy of sorts, I chuckled at the conclusion of the film as the final reveal involving a double-heart insignia and a pool that gives comeuppance to the villain and pleases the viewer.

Having alluded viewing Sexy Beast over the years, I am glad that I finally found the time to witness a darkly comical gem that, admittedly, may take repeated viewings to absorb and therefore fully “get”, and I look forward to doing just that.

This Gun For Hire-1942

This Gun For Hire-1942

Director-Frank Tuttle

Starring-Veronica Lake, Robert Preston

Scott’s Review #285

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Reviewed November 3, 2015

Grade: B

This Gun for Hire is an early film noir that clearly influenced later films of a similar genre. Starring marque headliners of their day, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this film is a surprisingly violent experience for its time period. Shot in black and white, the film is wonderfully lit, adding style as well as substance to it.

The film begins with a bang…literally, as hit-man Philip Raven (Ladd) murders a chemist and blackmailer in exchange for a hefty sum of loot. His wealthy boss double-crosses him and reports him to the Los Angeles Police department. Detective Michael Crane takes the case aided by his sexy girlfriend and nightclub singer Ellen Graham (Lake). Adding a wrench to the story is the tangled love affair that ensues between Ellen and Raven, who are the films main draw.

I loved the black and white shooting of this film, as many were in 1942, and found this only enhances the tone of the picture given that it is of crime/hit-man variety. The chemistry between Lake and Ladd smolders and Lake is great as a femme fatale with her long blonde locks and sultry pout. In fact, she was the inspiration for the character conceived for L.A. Confidential as Kim Basinger portrays a Veronica Lake look-alike. Ladd is brooding in his intensity as the hit-man with the damaged childhood and ultimately sympathetic personality.

The setting of San Francisco and L.A. is wonderfully perfect and adds depth as the warm and sunny locales are mixed in with murder, corruption, and shenanigans. Who wouldn’t make comparisons to Chinatown??

A flaw I found in the film and in which I found difficult to buy into is the implausibility of Ellen falling in love with Raven as he clearly tries to murder her-unsuccessfully so. This point seems  plot-driven and  a way to incorporate a mainstream love story amid the thrilling film noir. Surely, she would find satisfaction in a romantic sense with her detective boyfriend and since the duo has no conspicuous problems, the love between she and Raven is all the more inexplicable. Still- sparks do indeed fly on-screen.

An action packed crime affair, This Gun for Hire laid a crisp blueprint for film noir and hitmen, action types films for decades to come and I admire it for this reason.

Black Mass-2015

Black Mass-2015

Director-Scott Cooper

Starring-Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton

Scott’s Review #278

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Reviewed September 28, 2015

Grade: B+

A dark tale of crime, corruption, and Irish mob ties encompass Black Mass, a crime drama based on the life and times of infamous Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger. Set primarily in Boston, with a segue to sunny Miami during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the film primarily focuses on the intricate dealings between Bulger and childhood friend John Connelly, now FBI, as he uses Bulger as an “informant” to secretly bring down an Italian mafia figure, but slowly becomes more involved in Bulger’s sinister world.

Beginning in 1975, the film is authentic in its use of the styles, cars, and look of the times in Boston during that period. Plausibility is apparent along with powerful acting from top to bottom. The stellar cast of Black Mass, and it is a hefty cast, features an array of well-known and capable actors, which adds a level of realism to the film. Led by Johnny Depp as Whitey himself, Depp gives an eerie, hypnotic performance as his bright blue eyes sparkle in a devious way. Whitey is ruthless and will do whatever is needed to keep power and control. Joel Edgerton, as Connelly, is arguably the lead character in the film, though Depp gets top billing. Edgerton, in real life quite handsome, appears frumpy, and as a regular Joe type. Supporting turns by Benedict Cumberbatch, as Whitey’s powerful Senator brother, is crafty and sleek, but corruption shrouds him. Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, and Julianne Nicholson portray smaller yet pivotal roles and all do a fine job.

The screenplay is intelligently written. The story itself is quite dark and there is nary a laugh or a light moment throughout. In fact, there are numerous deaths, the victims shot at point blank range, but also two deaths in particular, where the victims suffering is prolonged and the scenes are cringe-worthy. Needless to say the film is very violent and given the subject matter, is riddled with foul language.

One impressive aspect of Black Mass is it is a character driven tale and the fact that it is based on a real-life person obviously adds to this. But not only was Bulger fleshed out, but John Connelly was written very well. Gradually becoming immersed in the crime world as opposed to the world of law, we see Connelly sink deeper and deeper into Bulger’s world, and not so unwillingly either. He loses his wife Marianne (Nicholson) along the way as she tires of the danger and corruption surrounding her. A chilling scene occurs when Bulger confronts Marianne in her bedroom, after observing negative vibes from her, and warns her in a flirtatious way, never to cross him. As he caresses her face and slowly firms his grip, it is a rather frightening scene.

The dialogue is crisp. When Bulger is invited to a steak dinner at Connelly’s house, there is awkward tension at the dinner table. Jovial small talk over the preparation of the delicious marinated steak everyone is eating comes to the forefront as Bulger asks Connelly’s partner to reveal his family secret recipe for the steak that is favorite he has ever eaten. When the partner eagerly confesses the recipe, he is subsequently berated and coldly quizzed as to whether he would give up Bulger’s secrets as easily. This is one of the best scenes in the film.

Comparisons to Goodfellas are evident, but without the fun. I thought of The Departed throughout the viewing as well. I think director Scott Cooper goes for, and successfully achieves, good straight-forward, dark story-telling. Take the number of killings. The organized crime world is a dirty, intense, unkind world and Black Mass portrays this well.

Black Mass is a success on many levels. The superior acting coupled with smart, detailed writing, and a truthfulness creates a very good film. Just be sure to remember it is a heavy one.

Point Blank-1967

Point Blank-1967

Director-John Boorman

Starring-Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson

Scott’s Review #263

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Reviewed August 8, 2015

Grade: B+

Directed by John Boorman, (later made famous for the masterpiece Deliverance in 1974), and based on the novel The Hunter, by Donald E. Westlake, Point Blank is a tense crime drama starring Lee Marvin as a man seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. A criminal himself, and involved in the mob world of deals and drugs, he is double-crossed by his partner, who takes off with his wife. A rather obscure film, Point Blank, made in 1967, features obvious influences to classics it preceded (The Getaway, Chinatown, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry immediately spring to mind) and contains some dynamic camera work and art direction. In its day it must have been quite a groundbreaking film.

The film begins in a muddled, confusing way and catches the viewer off guard. We know nothing about any of the characters, who are suddenly introduced via flashbacks, interlaced with present and future scenes, so that immediately chaos and tension fills the story. We know that someone has stabbed someone in the back, but we do not know why or who the players are. The film is set partially at the deserted Alcatraz island (the meeting point for a money drop we later learn) and then moves to Los Angeles. Early on we realize that Marvin’s character (Walker) has been tricked, shot, and left for dead by his partner Mal (John Vernon), who takes off with Walker’s share of cash…and his troubled wife Lynne.

Hell-bent on seeking revenge (and his money) on Mal and his wife (Lynne), he attempts to track the duo down using any means necessary, leading to the introduction of pivotal and mysterious characters such as Lynne’s sister Chris (played by Angie Dickinson), and Crime Organization leaders Carter and Brewster (played by Lloyd Bochner and Carroll O’Connor, respectively).

With little blood or covert violence, the film instead uses tense action scenes, a great style, and is told in a non-linear way. One favorite scene involves Walker taking a new car for a test drive as a way of interrogating the salesman for information. As he terrorizes the salesman he repeatedly slams the car into a pole using the cars reverse and drive gears, increasing in intensity with each attempt by the salesman to avoid answering Walker’s questions.

Two other scenes that stand out to me and deserve mention are as follows- when a naked villain is non-chalantly tossed from a penthouse apartment to his death on the street and subsequently becomes wedges under a passing car the scene is as much startling as is well shot especially considering the year was only 1967. In another scene, Lynne is at the beauty salon having her makeup and hair done by a stylist. Her face is captured in the mirror and the camera allows the viewer to see a dozen or so images of the mirror layered on top of one another. This looks great, inventive, and is a good example of some superlative camera shots that occur throughout the film.

A few interesting tidbits that I pondered following the film. Was the elevator scene containing Angie Dickinson (almost meaningless to Point Blank) the inspiration for the very famous elevator scene from 1980’s Dressed to Kill? Only Dressed to Kill’s director, Brian De Palma, would know the answer to that question. How interesting to see Carroll O’Connor (later universally famous for portraying TV’s “Archie Bunker”) as a crime lord. Even though Point Blank was made before All in the Family premiered, it was tough to find him believable in this role. Finally, I loved the scenes set high atop Los Angeles, in a gorgeous high-rise apartment- the sophisticated living room furniture arrangement and colors are great visual treats.

Taut, intense, and interesting, though admittedly a plot not always made crystal clear nor easy to follow, the film came along at a time in film when edgier, more experimental films were beginning to be released, which makes Point Blank a groundbreaking and influential film that undoubtedly helped bring about other crime dramas to follow.

Inherent Vice-2014

Inherent Vice-2014

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #255

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Reviewed July 7, 2015

Grade: A-

Inherent Vice is a bizarre detective film noir type of experience, set in 1970 Los Angeles. Directed by the superb Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights and Magnolia), the film has a weirdness and incoherence that is a marvel to experience. Fans of a straightforward plot will not be thrilled with this film, but for fans of Anderson, this will not disappoint. It has a complex plot, but the payoff is grand and it is certainly a thinking man’s film.

The protagonist is Larry “Doc” Sportello, a stoner private detective, grizzled and jaded, who is contacted by his mysterious ex-girlfriend Shasta. She is worried about attempts by her boyfriend’s ex-wife and new lover’s attempts to kidnap him and have him committed. Mickey, Shasta’s boyfriend, is a wealthy real-estate developer. Doc is also hired by two other people- one a former heroin addict looking for her missing husband, and the other a former convict looking for a prison mate who owes him money and is a former henchman of Mickey’s. All of the stories clearly intersect and such oddities as a peculiar massage parlor and a ship named the Golden Fang come into play throughout the telling of the film. The intersecting stories lead to the revelation of a drug ring.

For much of the film I found myself with little idea what exactly was going on, but was still enthralled by it all the same. There is an unpredictability surrounding Inherent Vice that is so pleasing and captivating. Joaquin Phoenix is compelling as Doc, a damaged character whose past is unclear. When Doc is, by all accounts, framed for the murder of a convict and interrogated by the police, we wonder what history he has with them and what led him to branch out on his own as a private investigator. Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, wonderfully played by Josh Brolin, is a rival of Doc’s, though it is unclear why. “Bigfoot” is frequently seen with chocolate covered phallic objects in his mouth and is married to a severe, overbearing woman. In fact, most of the characters are peculiar and have strange nuances, yet are never fully fleshed out, instead remaining curious and thought provoking. Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Torro, and Owen Wilson appear in small yet pivotal roles.

Quite reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, in both the California setting and the plodding, slow-paced, magnificent storytelling, Inherent Vice is a confusing gem, but by all means a gem worth seeing and reveling among the intrigue. Just don’t try to make too much sense of it all.

Pulp Fiction-1994

Pulp Fiction-1994

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman

Top 100 Films-#22

Scott’s Review #242

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Reviewed May 12, 2015

Grade: A

Pulp Fiction is one of the most influential films of the 1990’s and single-handedly kicked the film industry in the ass. It led an entire generation of filmmakers, who were starved and determined to make more creative work after the largely dull decade of the 1980’s. The success of the film, both creatively and critically, helped ensure that edgier and more meaningful artistic expression would continue to occur. The leader of the charge, of course, was director Quentin Tarantino. With Pulp Fiction, a black comedy crime film, Tarantino mixes violence, witty dialogue, and a 1970’s cartoonish feel to achieve a filmmaking masterpiece.

The plot is non-linear and the story contains three main focuses that intersect- a new style of filmmaking that has become commonplace in commonplace in modern cinema, but at the time was a novel adventure. Set in Los Angeles, Samuel Jackson and John Travolta portray hit men named Jules and Vincent, who work for a powerful gangster, Marsellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames. We get to know them as they interrogate four college aged youths who double-crossed Marsellus, all the while discussing fast-food hamburgers and adventures in Europe. On another front, Butch (Bruce Willis) is hired by Marsellus to lose a fight to another boxer. Later, Marcellus instructs Vincent to take his wife Mia (Uma Thurmon), a former unsuccessful television actress, out for dinner and a night on the town. Finally, we meet Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (Tim Roth and Amanda Plumber), two small town robbers plotting a heist at a local diner. As the film develops these plots relate to each other in unique ways.

The film is quite stylistic, resembling a 1970’s film production in the way it looks, and use of 1970’s style sets- the diner in particular looks very of that time, and an automobile where a death occurs, is a 1970’s Chevy Nova. The film, however, is set in present times.

The dialogue throughout Pulp Fiction is immensely impressive to me. Long dialogues occur between characters, usually sitting over a meal, discuss the meaning of life, religion, fast-food burgers, and other wonderfully real conversations. I love the many food references- from Butch’s girlfriend salivating over an impending meal of blueberry pancakes to the French version of the Big Mac being discussed, to the price of a shake, these make the conversations between the characters rich and unique and oh so creative.

My favorite sequence is the one between Vincent and Mia, mostly taking place at a trendy 1950’s themed diner named Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where the staff dresses up in costume impersonating their favorite stars of the day, such as Marilyn Monroe. After winning a dance contest (and a possible homage to Saturday Night Fever) the two go back to Mia’s place where she accidentally overdoses on heroin thought to be cocaine. The song “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” by Neil Diamond, is both integral and haunting to the scene.

An intense and shocking scene of male gay rape is extremely violent and the hillbillies involved could be straight out of Deliverance from 1972 despite being in Los Angeles. This scene is disturbing yet mesmerizing at the same time, and might I say even comedic in a dark way?

Pulp Fiction is not a mainstream affair and certainly has its share of detractors and plain old non-fans, but for filmgoers seeking a fun, entertaining, cleverly delicious work of art, influential to Hollywood and Independent filmmakers alike, Pulp Fiction is a film to watch over and over again and admire its style and creativity.

A Most Violent Year-2014

A Most Violent Year-2014

Director-J.C. Chandor

Starring-Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #239

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Reviewed May 1, 2015

Grade: B

Taking place in New York City, throughout the notoriously violent year of 1981 and clearly influenced, at least in part, by The Godfather and, in my opinion, similar in texture to the elite HBO series The Sopranos, A Most Violent Year is an attempt at weaving a tale of a “good guy” mixed up with the mafia and attempting to remain upstanding throughout the adversity and corruption that he encounters.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain portray Abel and Anna Morales, who own Standard Oil, an upstart business that they are attempting to successfully launch. Due to the violent nature of the times, several trucks are hijacked, resulting in robberies and severe beatings. In desperate need of funds to expand their business and stay ahead of competitors, Abel and Anna are forced to take out loans, leading them into a world where crime and violence run rampant. In the midst of all of this, they are under investigation for apparent price fixing and tax evasion activity by the Assistant District Attorney.

The main theme to this film is the conflict and guilt that Abel feels towards violence and the constant temptation to join the ranks of the crime world to protect his business ventures. Abel faces pressure from Anna, who herself has mob ties (her father is an influential mafia boss known around town) and is all for fighting fire with fire. Abel refuses and is determined to lead a straight and narrow life. When circumstances spin out of control, his morals are questioned.

A Most Violent Year is an interesting film yet I think I was expecting a bit more than I was given. For starters, it certainly is not in the same league as the aforementioned works of art that I compared it to. It is tough to put my finger what exactly is the issue, but there is a certain quality that is missing from the film making it lack a compelling edge. The plot moves slowly, for sure, but the film is successful as the character study that it is, however, I was left wanting more depth to the characters and a broader vision to the film itself. I did not find myself truly vested in either characters of Abel or Anna.

Chastain received heaps of praise for her performance, which I found to be adequate, but hardly a marvel. Nominated for several awards, but deemed “snubbed” for not receiving an Oscar nomination, I find this to be untrue. Her performance is not brilliant and, in fact, Oscar Isaac’s is superior.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the film overall. It takes some risks, has a rich character complexity, and is shot very well, and looks great. It has a smooth look and I completely bought the 1981 time period, rather than it appearing to be dressed up for the era. There is certainly an authenticity to it.

A mob film not on the level of The Godfather or Goodfellas, A Most Violent Year is a decent contribution to the crime-thriller era. It just does not live up to the critical acclaim heaped upon it.

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Robert De Niro, James Woods

Scott’s Review #218

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Reviewed January 19, 2015

Grade: A

An epic film, the extended directors cut at more than four hours in length, 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America is a film directed by Sergio Leone, who also directed the 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West and numerous other westerns starring Clint Eastwood. This particular film is in a different vein and not to be confused as any sort of sequel or related to the aforementioned film- this time Leone explores the crime drama genre rather than the western and does so in remarkable fashion.

The film tells the story of a group of Jewish friends who become involved in organized crime during the 1920’s in New York City. The main story is told via flashbacks as the central character, Noodles, played by Robert De Niro, returns to Brooklyn thirty years later to reunite with his former mobster friends. In this way the film is sectioned- the group of youngsters and kids and the same characters as adults.

Once Upon a Time in America has been met with much controversy since it was made. At the time of its release the film was butchered as over an hour of footage was cut by the studio heads making the film largely uneven. Fortunately, the restored version, at over three hours in length, is available for viewing. Furthermorethe directors cut clocks in at well over four hours and is the best version to watch. Due to so many cuts, other versions appear shoddy and out of order making the viewing experience difficult.

Once Upon a Time in America is largely underappreciated except for the die-hard cinema lovers most patient with the film, and deserves mention as an excellent crime epic drama. The film contains many similarities to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and the role De Niro plays is not too different from Vito Corleone in Part II. However, the greatest contrast is that Once Upon a Time in America is more visually artistic than The Godfather films.

The film centers mainly on Noodles perspective as he enjoys youth in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he meets his group of lifelong friends. The focal point is his friendship with Max, the adult character played by James Woods, and his undying love for Deborah, played by Elizabeth McGovern as an adult. As kids they are worry free, but gradually fall in with a group of older mobsters, first doing their dirty work, followed by venturing out on their own.

The themes of the film are loyalty, childhood friendship, betrayal, and greed as all of the characters change (or die) in the time span that the film takes place. When a mysterious letter forces Noodles to resurface in Brooklyn, we begin to understand the back story and the history between the friends as layers are slowly peeled back.

The film drags slightly in the middle section, but the first part and last part are very well made and absorbing. Leone has a way of pacing the film that really works- it is methodical, nuanced, with wonderful set pieces and each period of time explored- 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1960’s seem equally as authentic as the next one does. I especially enjoyed the 1920’s art direction- it revealed such a state of genuineness and felt like truly being there in that time period.

The relationship between Noodles and Deborah is an interesting one worth mentioning. Falling in love as youngsters (when Deborah was played by a very young Jennifer Connelly) they had an innocent, puppy love relationship. As adults, due to a violent, disgraceful act, their tender relationship is subsequently ruined and one might argue one of the characters turns quite unsympathetic.

Once Upon a Time in America is a sprawling epic film sure to be enjoyed by intelligent fans of the crime epic drama genre and specifically Sergio Leone fans- an under appreciated gem.

American Hustle-2013

American Hustle-2013

Director-David O. Russell

Starring-Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Scott’s Review #39

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Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: A

Having seen this film a month ago and finally getting around to reviewing it, it’s a perfect time as a slew of Oscar nominations have been reaped upon it, thus, undoubtedly more people will be seeing it in the weeks ahead. I loved this film.

I know there are some who were underwhelmed, but I found it quite authentic and stylish in every way. I loved the 1970’s time period and felt the hairstyles, clothes, props were spot on. I also felt the film had great acting and, though not a fan, Jennifer Lawrence had me enraptured. Same with Cooper, Bale, and Adams, who all deserve their Oscar nods.

I found it similar in style to “Boogie Nights”. The 70’s musical rock score was perfect. The subject matter of political corruption and cat and mouse intrigue was effective and resounding. Kudos!

The Wolf of Wall Street-2013

The Wolf of Wall Street-2013

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #33

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Reviewed June 17, 2014 

Grade: A

Martin Scorsese’s latest offering is a tale of overindulgence, chaos, and debauchery in the world of stockbroking during the 1980’s. The film is superb. It is a drug filled, sex filled, over the top, loud, testosterone fueled, frenetic extravaganza that works on so many levels. Humorous and mouth dropping scenes occur throughout the film.

The casting is flawless- Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill deserve the praise and Oscar nominations reaped on them. The supporting actors are perfect- Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler. With Scorsese you will receive an intelligent film, though very R rated. Similar in style to another of his masterpieces, Goodfellas, as it is narrated by the main character (Dicaprio). Comparisons to the 1987 film Wall Street are silly. This film is much deeper, grittier, and frankly, much better. Do not let the unfathomable running time of three hours discourage you- the time goes by very fast.