Category Archives: Top 100 Films

The Boys in the Band-1970

The Boys in the Band-1970

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs

Top 100 Films-#80

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A

An excellent counterpart to the equally brilliant, and equally unpleasant, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band is also a stage production made into a feature film. As such, shot very much like a play and seemingly in one long take, the film is highly effective and delicious in wit and dark humor. With a macabre and bitter element, the characters snipe and ridicule each other during a birthday party.

The Boys in the Band is a groundbreaking film on many levels as it is one of the first LGBT films to feature gay characters in prominent roles. Furthermore, it has the dubious honor of being the first film to use the word “cu##”. Regardless, the film is fantastic and a must see for anyone intrigued by LGBT film history. All of the actors appeared in the stage production and reprise their roles for the film version.

The setting is the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the late 1960’s. Michael, a writer, is hosting a birthday party for his good friend, Harold. When Michael receives an urgent call from his straight and married college chum, Alan, he begrudgingly invites him over at the risk of having his lifestyle exposed. One by one, the guests arrive for the party. Emory is quite effeminate and loud, Hank and Larry and straight-acting and a couple, but with monogamy issues and Hank’s marriage as obstacles. Bernard, a black bookstore clerk is an amiable, nice guy. “Cowboy”, a dim-witted hustler, and Harold, the sarcastic, bitter, guest of honor, round out the attendees.

As the night wears on, the party turns into a free for all of insults, bad feelings, and vicious conversation. Alan and Emory get into a fistfight, and later a hurtful telephone game forces everyone to call the one person they have truly loved which results in anxieties and sadness for most of the guests.

The key aspect to The Boys in the Band is that it is shot like a play would be, with a highly effective result. In this way, especially mid-way through the film when the guests are all in the same closed room, the action becomes suffocating and stifling as the fangs are bared by a few of the guests. Director, Friedkin, uses many close-ups of his characters to further portray their raw emotions.

My favorite characters are Alan and Hank as these characters are the most complex. Both are married, and both hit it off famously, although Alan’s sexuality is never completely revealed. He is married, but clearly troubled, and the audience never learns why, although we could wager a guess that he is, indeed, conflicted by his sexuality. What will become of him? Will he accept his sexuality or live a repressed existence?

Hank, in the midst of a divorce from his wife, lives with Larry as a couple. Hank is complex because he is transitioning from a straight life to a gay lifestyle and that must have been very difficult in the late 1960’s- for this reason I find the character of Hank quite brave. The film does not explore this angle as much as it could have, but a character such as Hank fleshes out the cast in a positive way. Alan and Hank are multi-dimensional characters whereas some of the others contain gay stereotypes.

I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into the personal lives of some of the characters, but the film is really about the emotions many of the characters possess and feelings of love, some unrequited, and there are too many characters for each to receive his due focus. Plus, the main focus of the film is the back and forth banter between the characters.

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Top 100 Films-#99

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Reviewed February 12, 2013

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

Dirty Harry-1971

Dirty Harry-1971

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino

Top 100 Films-#86

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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”.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!- 1965

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Tura Satana, Haji

Top 100 Films-#85

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Reviewed May 28, 2016

Grade: A

Shamefully, this cult masterpiece from 1965 has somehow alluded me for many years- largely due to its unavailability on Netflix- head shaking for sure. Finally, I decided to simply buy the newly released Blu-Ray edition, and I have immediately become a huge fan of this Russ Meyer work of art. Influential and intriguing, it is no surprise it is a camp classic. Several famous directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, have paid homage to this film in their own later works- most notably, Death Proof. Fast cars, sexy women, and murder represent this unique film.

In comparison to other famous Meyer works, specifically the gregarious yet brilliant Supervixens (1975), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is almost understated and quiet. He also directed the well known Beyond The Valley of the Dolls from 1970. Shot in black and white, several notable comparisons to Supervixens must be pointed out: a hot California desert, large breasted women, and gas stations are prevalent throughout. Unlike Supervixens, though, there is little or no nudity.

Three go-go dancers race through the desert in their sports cars. They have murder and kidnapping on their minds. The ring-leader, Varla (Tura Satana) is a vicious, sexy, Asian woman. Her two side-kicks are Billie (Lori Williams), and Rosie (Haji). While Billie and Rosie squabble and fight in a juvenile fashion, Varla is the serious one. The trio enjoy racing their cars and engaging in the game “chicken”. When they meet all-American couple, Tommy and Linda, out for a romantic drive, they have a dispute, and end up killing Tommy- drugging and kidnapping Linda. After stopping for gas, Varla hatches a plot to steal money from a crazy old man, his muscular-yet dimwitted son (known as the Vegetable), and the old man’s seemingly normal son, Kirk.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a groundbreaking film as it is gender bending. The women are hardly written as sex objects like most in films of that day were-far from it. They are ferocious, specifically Varla, as they do typically masculine things- race cars, fight, kill, yet do not sacrifice any of their femininity. All three women are sexy, busty, and wear stylish make-up. They are not trying to be like men, but are tough girls. This is part of what makes the film so wonderful to watch. Usually in Hollywood, these characters would be molls to even rougher men, or supporting the men in some way. These female characters are the film.

My favorite character is Varla. Sexy, fierce, and a minority, how often is a female villain this charismatic?  Perhaps in Bond films, but then she would be a conquest of Bond and not her own person. Varla makes up her own rules. The fact that she is Asian is superb and breaks many barriers in the way Asians are portrayed in film. Varla is more devious than the others characters- willing to kill anyone who stands in her way- even her own friends.  She is a character written very well by Russ Meyer, and pure femme fatale.

The male supporting characters are interesting. The old man, actor Stuart Lancaster, would later appear in Supervixens. He is a cripple, wacky, and as diabolical as the women. He has designs on innocent Linda and makes no bones about it. The Vegetable is hunky and fresh faced- an innocent victim of his father’s evil ways, so he is a character we root for. I enjoyed the brief romance between he and Billie. Lastly, Kirk is the “normal” son, also a victim of his father. When he and Linda run across the desert while being chased by Varla, we root for them to survive.

The black and white style, chosen in order to save money, actually adds to the unique cinematography,  with sharp edits, and gives the  film mystique. The 1960’s jazzy score adds to the film as well. In color, I wonder if the film would have had a more cartoonish quality. The black and white moves Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! into art film territory.

The debate over the film is, “Is the film exploiting women or empowering them”? To me, the film is answering the question of whether women can be tough, sexy, and complicated with a resounding yes. All three principal characters are layered- each develops feelings for other characters, and at one point Rosie’s sexuality is questioned by Billie. Still, the female characters are not monsters nor are they caricatures. They are complex with real emotions.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is an influential art film/exploitation film that empowers female characters, questions gender categorizations, and takes hold of the viewer, never letting go.  A miraculous representation of the changing times in cinema during the 1960’s. It is brilliant.

Fargo-1996

Fargo-1996

Director-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring-Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films-#79

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Reviewed January 12, 2017

Grade: A

Fargo, the film, is a treasure as far as I am concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress. The film epitomizes dark humor, zany freshness, during a time in film when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity. Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same. Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling. The introduction of a crime- initially done in an innocent manner, escalates out of control. Fargo is part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film. The fact that the time period is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work in a fantastic way.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery. All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but really brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, shaky, yet with a down home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers. Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how this film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it. Fargo is an odd, little piece of art, and remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Director-Lars von Trier

Starring-Bjork, Catherine Deneuve

Top 100 Films-#95

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Reviewed January 13, 2017

Grade: A

Dancer in the Dark is in my opinion one of the most important, inventive films of the 2000’s and proudly is one of my favorites of all time. However, the film is not pleasant to watch, and really quite painful and depressing, if truth be told. But the relevance and sheer emotion the film elicits is more than enough reason to be exposed to it- if only, but perhaps, once.

Director, Lars von Trier, is a master at creative and disturbing, dream-like films that are either odd, non-linear, or otherwise open to interpretation in some way. He has directed such gems as 2011’s Melancholia and 1996’s Breaking the Waves, to name but two. With Dancer in the Dark he uses hand held cameras which add much grit to the film so it almost feels documentary style, and a grainy, shaky look. The addition of musical numbers mostly written and performed by star, Bjork, is a wonderful touch.

Speaking of Bjork, words cannot express what a brilliant performance she gives in the film, and the raw emotion she expresses in her starring role is awe inspiring. So much was the stress of filming Dancer in the Dark, that she, to my knowledge, has never made another film. She was shamefully overlooked in the Best Actress Oscar category- an omission that is one of the biggest fails in Oscar history.

Tensions were reportedly high on the set of Dancer in the Dark, as Bjork reportedly despised her director, never missing a chance to tell him so, disappeared from the set for days on end, and spat in his face. Co-star Deneuve, a former French mega-film star, reportedly did not get along well with Bjork. Despite all the drama, the stars managed to pull together a masterpiece.

Bjork plays Selma, a Czech immigrant, living in Seattle with her young son. The year is 1964. Selma is poor, struggling to survive by working in a clothing factory along with her best friend Cvalda (Deneuve). Selma and Cvalda escape their dull lives by watching classic musical films at their local cinema. To make matters worse, Selma is suffering from a degenerative eye disease causing her to gradually lose her sight. She struggles to save enough for a surgery for her son, who is sure to suffer the same fate without it. Selma frequently imagines musical numbers in her day to day life involving friends and co-workers. When a tragic turn of events occurs and Selma is accused of a crime, the film goes in a very dark direction.

The conclusion of the film will always require handkerchiefs as it is powerful as it is gloomy.  The aspect I love most about Dancer in the Dark is that it smashes barriers about what film art is and throws all of the rules out the window. Lars von Triers is certainly famous for this and creates a dreamy, independent hybrid musical and drama, a dynamic, tragic, emotional experience all rolled up into one great film.

Planet of the Apes-1968

Planet of the Apes-1968

Director-Franklin J. Shaffner

Starring-Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall

Top 100 Films-#97

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Reviewed February 19, 2017

Grade: A

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science-fiction, message movie, that stars one the legendary greats, Charlton Heston. At the time of release the film was a great film and quite visionary- and the message still holds up well today. Since certainly everyone on the “planet” must know the “surprise” ending, the film speaks volumes on the destruction of the world we know and love. Intelligently written, Planet of the Apes is memorable and was followed by a bunch of not so compelling or strong sequels, remakes, and reboots.

A group of astronauts crash land on a strange planet- in the distant future. The men have no idea where they are or what time period it is. The planet is inhabited by apes, who are highly intelligent and speak and act just like human beings. They are dominant and the real humans are largely mute and incapable of doing much- they are kept imprisoned. George Taylor (played by Heston) is the lead astronaut who, the apes realize, is capable of speech and assumed to be brilliant. The ape leader wants him killed, but sympathetic scientist and archaeologist apes Cornelius and  Zira  (played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter) are curious about Taylor and wish to experiment more.

To say nothing of the story, the prosthetic makeup and costumes are dynamic. The apes are obviously played by human actors, but the creatures do not appear fake or phony in any way. Furthermore, the sets look genuine and grand and hold up well in present times, nearly fifty years later. Nothing about the film appears to be remotely dated or losing of its original appeal as some film inevitably do.

Planet of the Apes is a political film, and this message also holds up well in present times. How human beings have ruined their planet is the main point of the film, but this is wisely not revealed until the very end, with the now famous scene of an escaped Taylor, running along the beach, only to realize in terror that the submerged and tattered Statue of Liberty is there. With horror, he realizes that human beings have destroyed planet Earth and the astronauts never actually left their own planet!

Fun and serious to watch all rolled up into one, Planet of the Apes is a film for the ages, with a distinct meaning and a story that audience members everywhere can absorb and relate to.

Forrest Gump-1994

Forrest Gump-1994

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise

Top 100 Films-#94

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Reviewed January 22, 2017

Grade: A

Awarded a bevy of Academy Awards in the year 1994, Forrest Gump is a film that is engrained in many people’s memories since the film was a monster hit in the mid 1990’s. Some complained that the unrealistic nature of the film was silly, and the story too saccharine, but the film is an innocent, sweet piece about a simple-minded man’s journey through life and the insurmountable success that he achieves. I adore the film largely from a sentimental standpoint and the memories that watching the film years later, conjures up. I find the film to be a comfort.

Zemeckis, certainly a feel-good film director (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), carves a whimsical tale of a fellow, Forrest Gump (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks), slow-witted, but a gentle soul, from Alabama, and his decades long journey through life. His lifelong love is Jenny (played by Robin Wright), who is a troubled girl and relies on Forrest over the course of their friendship-spanning decades. Forrest is always in the right place at the right time and influences the events of history in his own innocent way.

Forrest Gump is unique in its clever use of editing to incorporate Forrest into real-life historical events, which is a big part of the appeal of the film. In one instance, Forrest meets with Richard Nixon and reveals the Watergate scandal. He also meets President John F. Kennedy after winning a football scholarship. And who can possibly ever forget the numerous lines made famous from the film- “Stupid is as stupid does”, and “Life is a like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”, to name just two.

What I love most about the film is that it has heart and the relationships that Forrest shares with the central characters in his life are rich. Forrest’s haggard, but kind mother (Sally Field) loves her son and they share a tender, emotional relationship.  When Forrest enlists in the Army during the Vietnam war, his grizzled commanding officer, Lt. Dan Taylor (an Oscar winning performance by Gary Sinise), surprisingly becomes one of Forrest’s closest friends. The film takes a darker turn when we begin to see a more human side to Taylor after a horrible accident, which leaves him without legs. To counterbalance this tragedy, Forrest is comically wounded in the buttocks.

I am not sure if I love or loathe the character of Jenny. Wright is perfect at giving her some vulnerability and her terrible upbringing can excuse some of her actions and taking advantage of Forrest for arguably her own gain. Still she has Forrest’s heart so she cannot be all that bad.

A favorite scene occurs in Washington as Forrest speaks at an anti-war rally. Jenny, in the crowd, recognizes Forrest and their reunion is sweet. Jenny, now a hippee and expelled from school, returns to Forrest’s life.

The fate of both Jenny and Mrs. Gump are scenes that will undoubtedly require tissues to get through as they are tender and emotional as can possibly be. Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump has emotion, sweetness, and heart, and those are nice qualities for a film to have. It is not too sappy or overwrought or manipulative, instead providing an honest story.

Supervixens-1975

Supervixens-1975

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Shari Eubank

Top 100 Films-#75

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

I first watched Supervixens in 2008 and, if I am being completely honest, did not much care for it, or rather, was very perplexed by it. I did not know what I had just viewed and was simply caught off guard and blown away- I have since realized that this is part of my love for the film. Is it a comedy? Is it too over-the-top and shameless? Is it trying to degrade women? Now, a mere eight years later, it lands firmly ensconced on my Top 100 Films list and it is similar to a fine wine- it just gets better and better with age. Never before did I think I would fall in love with a sexploitation film, but I have.

Directed by Russ Meyer, noted for his series of 1970’s sexploitation films, Supervixens, is set somewhere in the desert of eastern California. Gas station attendant, Clint Ramsey, a handsome young man, is found irresistible to a series of sexy and large breasted women, all with names beginning with “Super”.

We are introduced to his steady girlfriend, SuperAngel, a bored, horny, feisty woman played by Shari Eubank. Jealous and possessive, she demands for Clint to leave his job and come home to her immediately, which leads to hilarity as they spar outside utilizing an axe as they wrestle and fight. Their nosy neighbor looks on, both tantalized and frightened.

Others who make appearances during Clint’s journey’s are SuperLorna, a horny gas station customer (strangely appearing in only one scene, but gracing the film cover packaging), who sets her sights on Clint much to SuperAngel’s chagrin. SuperCherry is a buxom girl who picks up Clint hitchhiking, SuperSoul, an Austrian farmer’s wife, who seduces Clint at the farm, SuperHaji, a bartender at the local watering hole, and finally, SuperEula, who is black, deaf, and with a white father.

Supervixens, as well as a number of Russ Meyer’s films have influenced countless other famous films to come, and I continue to note the overall influence Supervixens has had on Quentin Tarantino, specifically. The bloody violence mixed with cartoonish characters, as well as Nazi references (a frequent theme of Tarantino’s) and German marching music, Supervixens has a sly sense of humor- wicked almost, but never apologetic. Tarantino uses a similarly outrageous style.

Carrie (SuperVixen bloody in the tub), The Shining (Harry breaking down the bathroom door amid a screaming SuperVixen), Friday the 13th- Part 3 (the camera angle at the top of the hayloft panning down on the approaching climber) are just a few that I have noticed during repeated viewings.

My love of the film is its outrageousness and I find the film to be empowering to women most of all- not degrading. There is also male nudity and reference to the male anatomy numerous times so it is not a one sided exploitation film. Each female is a superhero, of sorts, and despite the sexploitation aspect, the film is quite romantic in spots- the tenderness between Clint and SuperEula is one of my favorites.

I also love the romance between Clint and SuperVixen (a dual role for Eubanks), as she is a reincarnation of SuperAngel. Working side by side at a roadside gas station that she owns, they pump gas and prepare burgers together, while running through the desert in a happy, lovely way. Of course, their romance is threatened by the sinister Harry, who has returned for revenge.

Hilarious, outrageous, and in your face sexual, Supervixens is a camp classic that is so much more than that. Influential and creative, it simply must be seen to be believed. I hope it is never forgotten.

Pink Flamingos-1972

Pink Flamingos-1972

Director-John Waters

Starring-Divine, Edith Massey

Top 100 Films-#96

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Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

One of the true, and best, late night gross out films of all time, Pink Flamingos breaks down barriers I never thought possible to do in film, and contains one of the most vomit inducing scenes to ever grace the movies. The film is certainly one of a kind and will only be appreciated by a certain type of film-goer. Pink Flamingos is raw, entertaining, and must be seen to be believed. Outrageous in every way and shot documentary style, the film has weird close ups and amateurish camera angles, only adding to the fun. Personally, I love the film.

In what director John Waters famously dubbed the “Trash Trilogy”, along with similar films Desperate Living and Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos has the dubious honor of being the best of the three. Waters stalwart, Divine, plays Babs Johnson, an underground criminal who lives a meager existence in a trailer along with her mentally challenged son Crackers, and her bizarre, egg-obsessed mother, Edie (Massey). They are joined by Babs’s companion, Cotton. In an attempt to win the “Filthiest Person Alive” contest and usurp Babs from achieving this distinction. the Marbles (Mink Stole and David Lochary) set out to destroy her career.

Pink Flamingos is complete and utter over the top fare, but I have fallen in love with the film over the years. Let’s just say it is a type of the film that is an acquired taste, and one will eventually revel in the madness or be disgusted with its bad taste. Waters, a true creative,  breaks new ground in filthy behavior. On a budget of no more than $10,000, it is more than impressive how he pulled this off successfully.

The antics that Babs and the Marbles engage in are downright crude, but the extreme nature of the fun is exactly what is to love about the film. Hysterical is the character of Babs’s mother Edie. Confined to a crib and constantly inquiring about the Egg Man, she is obsessed with eggs and wants to eat nothing else. She eventually marries the Egg Man. The character is entertaining beyond belief.

The Marbles run a clinic in which they sell stolen babies to lesbian couples for cash.  When they send Babs a box of human excrement and a card that says “fatso”, the war between the two sides is on. The highlight of the film is the main sequence in which Babs holds a birthday party. A male contortionist flexes his anus in rhythm to the song “Surfin’ Bird”, which may be the only film featuring an anus. How Waters got away with some of this stuff is mind blowing.

The most disturbing scene occurs at the very end when Babs watches a dog do “its business” on the street and proceeds to pick up the excrement and eat it, revealing to the audience a toothy (and brown) smile. Reportedly Divine actually did this act. As the film ends, Babs truly is “The Filthiest Person Alive”.

Thanks to the genius of John Waters and Divine and the superlative supporting cast, Pink Flamingos is a reminder that creativity and unique humor does not have to conform to a specific style or follow a road map. Waters takes any film criteria and throws it right out the window, instead creating a masterpiece in warped fun and disgust.

Amarcord-1974

Amarcord-1974

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel

Top 100 Films-#81

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Reviewed February 13, 2017

Grade: A

Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar and Golden Globe for 1974, is a semi-autobiographical film based on the childhood of the famed director himself. Set in a small Italian village of Borgo San Giuliano, the film features quite an array of weird and eccentric characters inhabiting the village. The plot centers around young Titta, and his coming of age development as he blossoms into a young man- his sexual desires and fantasies are heavily explored in this zany film.

Since the time period is 1930’s and Fascism, led by the tyrannical Mussolini, was rearing its ugly head, Amarcord is not all light-hearted fun and games, despite how it appears on the surface- there is a serious undertone to the entire film. Still, the film lacks any sort of story that is able to be dissected very well, which both pleases and frustrates- the film is simply to be “experienced”. It can either leave your head spinning, scratching your head, or absolutely disliking the film.

That is not to say that I take issue or offence with Amarcord- in fact I adore the film, but it is not an easy watch. Scenes meander about in a dream-like fashion as we follow Titta through his sexual blossoming. In one memorable scene, Titta has a titillating experience with a buxom older female who lives in the village. Some of the other characters we meet are giddy with peculiarities: a blind accordion player and a female nymphomaniac to name but a couple.

Titta and his family are featured heavily as they eat together, fight together, and live together. When one day the family treks to visit their Uncle Teo, who is confined to an insane asylum, they take him out for a day in the country, where he climbs a tree and refuses to come down. A dwarf nun and two orderlies finally arrive and coax him down- he obediently returns to the asylum. It is a bizarre sequence, but one that sums up Amarcord perfectly.

Amarcord contains one wacky scene after another, but many of the scenes are not just to showcase outlandish behavior nor are created as fluff. Fellini has a distinct message to the film and several scenes mock Christianity or Mussolini’s crazy political ideas. The film is larger than life, but also encrusted with the fear of 1930’s Fascism and the fear that the Italians felt during this time period.

The film is also sweet and Fellini successfully adds a nostalgic feel to it- everyone feels cozy in a large sprawling town with unique characters, shenanigans, and a celebratory theme, but seriousness lurks beneath. Amarcord is a zest for life throughout a tumultuous time and Fellini successfully creates a hybrid of the two creating one fantastic film in the process.

Jackie Brown-1997

Jackie Brown-1997

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Pam Grier, Robert Forster

Top 100 Films-#92

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Reviewed February 3, 2017

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.

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Director-David Lean

Starring-Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif 

Top 100 Films-#82

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Reviewed February 12, 2017

Grade: A

Lawrence of Arabia is quite a grand film and one that must be seen on the large screen in order to fully appreciate the enormous scale of the production. Numerous shots of objects appearing in the distance are featured and the small screen dulls the experience. A wonderful film from top to bottom and groundbreaking at the time by the scope and vast proportions of the production, Lawrence of Arabia achieves its place in the annals of cinema history, and is a treat to revisit from time to time. The film is divided into two parts divided by an intermission as was the case with epics nearly four hours in length.

Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a bored British Army Lieutenant, who talks his way into a transfer to the Arabian desert. As the film opens, it is 1935, and Lawrence has just been killed in a motorcycle accident. This concept of revealing the ending of the story and working backwards, common in current films, was a novel experience in 1962, when the film was made.

While in Arabia, Lawrence successfully bands together bitter rival tribes to work together in order to unite against Turkish oppression during World War I. While there he meets two young guides, and other central characters such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). Much of the film features the many battles that occur between the rival tribes and the peace that Lawrence to achieve. Also, a multitude of location sequences of Lawrence and company traveling across the miles and miles of hot desert are featured.

Some complain that Lawrence of Arabia is too slow moving a film, but to me that is its selling point. I find the scenes of the group languishing across the desert incredibly lush and rich in meaning. The intense heat and the beating sun are fantastic in their cinematic grandeur. The film is meant to take its time- exactly how the experience in the Arabian desert would really be like and the mountainous sand dunes and swirling winds are brilliantly filmed. David Lean is the king of the sprawling epic and Lawrence of Arabia is his crown achievement.

The character of Lawrence is written well and he is a layered and complex individual- he is not easy to describe or to understand and that is also to the films credit. The sheer weight loss that O’Toole went through over the course of the two years that it took to Film Lawrence of Arabia is impressive enough, but he is also a tortured soul emotionally.

An epic film of the grandest proportions, Lawrence of Arabia required a half day of dedicated viewing, but is worth each and every minute. For a reminder of what a true, breathtaking film really looks like- sans the oversaturated CGI and quick edits, one should take a deep breath and appreciate this work of art for its majestic look.

Grease-1978

Grease-1978

Director-Randal Kleiser

Starring-John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

Top 100 Films-#70

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Reviewed January 21, 2017

Grade: A

Grease is the ultimate musical fantasy come to life and can be appreciated by anyone looking to re-live their high school days through song, or merely escape life’s stresses with a fun, bright, musical, that is very well made. Is it realistic? Absolutely not, but sometimes escapism is just what the doctor ordered, and Grease is one of my favorite films that meets that criteria. It is light-hearted and sweet, and above all contains wonderful, legendary musical numbers.

The time period is the 1950’s, and we meet Danny and Sandy on a windswept beach with cascading waves and bright sunshine. It is summer break for the two high school students, who meet in California, she vacationing from Australia, he a local boy. They say their goodbyes and return to normal lives, but cannot forget about each other. Suddenly, Sandy arrives at Rydell High in Los Angeles, coincidentally where Danny goes to school. Her parents (whom we never see) decided to stay in California.

Danny is a “tough guy” in high school, much different from who he was on the beach with Sandy. He is the leader of the infamous T-birds, a group of boys who love their black leather jackets and cars. Torn, he continues his tough image and he and Sandy find their way back to each other through classmates, songs, and dancing, intermingling fun supporting characters who encourage each of them to find true love.

Travolta and Newton-John have magical chemistry, which really allows this film to work. Certainly, Grease has appeared on stage numerous times, but these actors are fine together. I buy them as teenagers in love, despite the fact that both were well beyond teen years. The supporting cast is excellent- specifically Stockard Channing as the lead Pink Lady, Rizzo, and Sandy’s kind-hearted friend Frenchy. Interestingly, no parents ever appear in the film as it really not about the adults. However, Rydell’s female principal, Mrs. McGee (played by Eve Arden), and her dotty Vice Principal, Blanche (Dody Goodman), are simply marvelous as comic relief.

Rizzo is an interesting character and can be argued is the only one who threatens to steal the thunder from Danny and Sandy. Containing a tough exterior, she is also vulnerable as she fears she has become pregnant mid-way through the film. Unwed and pregnant in the 1950’s was quite the scandal and Channing gives layers of emotion during her solo number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

The wonderful high school dance scene is choreographed amazingly well. The excitement of the student body at being filmed for a special television show is apparent as dance numbers and dance contests, some raunchy, follow.

The musical numbers are intrinsically memorable from “Grease”, “Greased Lightning”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Beauty School Dropout”, all of which are personal favorites of mine.

Grease is a film that is not meant to be analyzed, but rather enjoyed for the fantastic chemistry and energy in which it has. Sometimes in film all of the elements simply come together in perfect fashion and Grease is an excellent example of this.

Beaches-1988

Beaches-1988

Director-Garry Marshall

Starring-Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey

Top 100 Films-#93

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Reviewed January 23, 2017

Grade: A

Beaches is a film that can easily be described as sentimental, sappy, and a chick flick- all in derogatory fashion- but that regardless, is a treasure to me and I fall for this tearjerker every single time that I watch it. It is not necessarily a great film, not high art, nor particularly edgy, but a good, old fashioned, conventional film about friendship. Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey give the film believability where other similar films would appear contrived.

C.C. Bloom (Midler) and Hillary Whitney (Hershey) are lifelong friends from completely opposite backgrounds. In addition, they could not have more opposite personalities. C.C. blue collar, outrageous and brash, Hillary, demure, rich, and sophisticated. We meet the friends as young girls on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, C.C. hiding from her overbearing stage Mom, and Hillary, lost and wandering the boardwalk. The two become fast friends despite their vastly different upbringings and stay connected through ups and downs and life’s trials and tribulations, for over thirty years.

The chemistry between Midler and Hershey is great. I completely buy them as best friends through the years, despite having little in common. Throughout their tender, emotional scenes, and the knock-down-drag-out fight they have at the mall (a fantastic scene!), there is never a doubt at what they have. They compete over a man, which ordinarily is a lame plot device, but in Beaches it works because the two stars make it work.

Each actress puts her own mark on the individual role. Midler’s C.C is arrogant, feisty, and is interesting as she begins a “have not” and becomes a “have”. She becomes spoiled and pampered- all of the things she envied about Hillary. She does not handle wealth as well as Hillary because she lacks the education. Hillary, an attorney, is classy and graceful. These characteristics is why it is believable that the women would be at odds.

The last act is a weepy one as one of the women dies, leaving the other to pick up the pieces and move on- alone. This is a sad moment in the film, but the women’s devotion and loyalty are admirable. Beaches may not be high art, but boy will it get you reaching for the hankies.

The Night of the Hunter-1955

The Night of the Hunter-1955

Director-Charles Laughton

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#66

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Reviewed November 13, 2016

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gosford Park-2001

Gosford Park-2001

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe

Top 100 Films-#68

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Reviewed February 15, 2017

Grade: A

Somewhere between the brilliant PBS series of the 1970’s and the ultra modern cool of Downton Abbey (also PBS) lies the masterpiece that is Robert Altman’s 2001 gem, Gosford Park. Ironic, is that the creator, writer, and executive producer of Downtown Abbey, Julian Fellowes, wrote the screenplay of Gosford Park. No wonder, combined with Altman’s direction, they created genius.

The time period is 1932 and the wealthy, along with their servants, flock to the magnificent estate of Gosford Park, a grand English country home. The guests include both Americans and Brits and everyone is gathered for a shooting weekend- foreshadowing if ever there was. Following a dinner party, a murder occurs and the remainder of the film follows the subsequent police investigation, and the perspectives of the guests and the servants as a whodunit ensues. Many of the characters lives unravel as secrets are exposed.

Sir William, the murder victim, is a powerful industrialist. After he announces he will withdraw an investment, the ramifications effect many of the guests so that the set-up is spelled out for the audience. At the risk of seemingly nothing more than a plot device- it is so much more than that. During a pheasant shoot, Sir William receives a minor wound thanks to a stray birdshot- is this intentional or merely an accident? When Sir William meets his fate that evening, the potential suspects pile up.

If there are two compelling aspects to a great film, they are a good old fashioned whodunit and an enormous cast, all potential suspects. What makes Gosford Park exceptional is that every character is interesting in some way and all are written well. Secrets abound for miles in this film and are revealed in a delicious way. Torrid affairs, sexuality secrets, and blackmail abound as revelations make their way to the surface and Altman knows exactly how to cast doubt or suspicion on many of his characters.

The compelling relationship between American film producer Morris Weissman and his valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe), along with the domineering head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) are my favorite characters and dynamics. How clever that Maggie Smith would play similar roles as stuffy aristocrats in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Rich in texture are the balancing between the haves and the have nots and how those characters mix with each other (sometimes in secret rendezvous!)

Typical of Altman films, the character dialogue commonly overlaps and the actors largely improvise the script. In addition to being an actors dream, this quality gives a realism to his films and Gosford Park is no exception. Since there are so many characters and so many plots and sub-plots going on at once, my recommendation is to watch the film at least twice to fully comprehend the layers of goings-ons. The film will become more and more appreciated.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films-#89

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Reviewed February 12, 2017

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.

Reform School Girls-1986

Reform School Girls-1986

Director-Tom DeSimone

Starring-Linda Carol, Wendy O. Williams

Top 100 Films-#100

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Reviewed January 25, 2017

Grade: A

Let’s be honest here- Reform School Girls is neither a work of cinema art nor a particularly well-acted film. In fact, from a critic’s perspective it is riddled with stereotypes and objectifies women. Still, it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures and has an offbeat charm that makes me want to watch the film over and over again. I never tire of it. I also do not think it should be reviled, but rather, revered. There is a perverse magnificence to  the film and some similarities to another cult gem-Russ Myers Faster Pussycat, Kill!…Kill! Critics be damned- not every film needs to be high art!

One of my absolute favorite cult actresses, Pat Ast, famous for another cult gem, 1972’s Heat, stars in Reform School Girls as a vicious prison guard. Alongside punk rocker turned actress, Wendy O. Williams, they make the film a guilty masterpiece as both women bring their share of odd energy and humor to the flick. Sybil Danning co-stars as the corrupt Warden Sutter.

The plot of the film is pretty straightforward and it screams late night fun. A virginal teenage girl named Jenny is sent to a reform school run by the sinister warden and her sadistic and abusive henchwoman, Edna (Ast). While there, Jenny is intimidated by Charlie (Williams), who rules the roost via bullying and threats. Jenny is accompanies by several other terrified girls, who are stripped and degraded by Edna. This leads to an attempted escape and protest scene by the girls and others as they try to remove themselves from their tormentors.

Reform School Girls is simply great fun. The poor acting is actually a strength of the film as one scantily clad female after another prances around the reform school. Wendy O. Williams regularly wears skimpy panties, bra, and heels and is laughable playing a teenager since the actress was pushing forty years old.

The culmination of the film is fantastic as a chase ends up by an enormous tower on the grounds of the prison, resulting in the deaths of Charlie and Edna in dramatic fashion. Edna’s charred remains are met by an uproar of cheers by the inmates- I half expected them to burst into a chorus of “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead”.  Reform School Girls is a perfect cult classic to enjoy on a late Saturday night.

Monster-2003

Monster-2003

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring-Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

Top 100 Films-#83

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Reviewed January 25, 2017

Grade: A

Monster may feature one of the best acting performances of all time-Charlize Theron simply embodies the role of notorious female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, in a simply astounding triumph. The mannerisms, the anger, and the charisma that Theron portrays is nothing short of brilliance. This brazen acting is simply the best aspect of Monster and the main reason to witness the film. Besides this, the film itself is also great.

The film immediately focuses on Theron- we meet the down on her luck prostitute sitting in tatters underneath an overpass. Suicidal and with five dollars to her name, she goes to a dive bar for one last beer- having blown someone for the five dollars she surmises that the money will go to waste if she does not spend it.

Her older confidante is Thomas, a grizzled man assumed to be an occasional client of hers, is played by Bruce Dern. She goes to a gay bar and meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a lesbian. Aileen insists she is not gay, but winds up spending the night with her in Selby’s family home. The two form a connection and bond immediately, spending more time together and becoming immersed in each other’s lives.

When Aileen is brutally raped and beaten by a client, she begins down a dark and murderous path, killing men she meets after she steals their money. Selby eventually catches on to this and is conflicted over whether to turn her friend in or serve as an accomplice to her crimes as the police close in on the pair.

Enough cannot be said of Theron’s performance. She simply becomes Wournos- from her walk, to her infamous manic mannerisms, and her hair flip. Theron, a gorgeous woman, gained weight, used false teeth, and became simply unrecognizable in the role as a brutal, angry, and trashy looking woman.

Ricci also deserves praise, but plays her role as a bit clueless or dimwitted, counterbalancing Theron’s manic, in your face role. It works well. Both characters are longing for love and companionship and both are clearly misfits. In a sweet scene the pair go roller skating together, hand in hand, to the famous rock song, “Don’t Stop Believin”. This is a great scene.

One can argue the fact that director, Patty Jenkins, softens the way that Wournos is written. Known as a hardened, mean woman, Jenkins writes her as much more sympathetic. This can also be attributed to the fact that Theron emits some vulnerability to the character- the woman really never knew love until she met and bonded with Selby.

Needless to say, Monster is a dynamic, energetic film, thanks in large part to the powerful performance of Charlize Theron- a role that obviously awarded her the Best Actress Academy Award.

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland

Top 100 Films-#77

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Reviewed February 7, 2017

Grade: A

Though not typically regarded as one of the more appealing of James Bond films, and the second chapter to feature Roger Moore, Sean Connery’s replacement, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of my favorites, firmly placed in my top 5 of 007 offerings. This could be the result of the film being one of my first introductions to the world of 007 as a child. Moore seems more comfortable in the role than he did in the uneven Live and Let Die, released in 1973.

Qualities that make The Man with the Golden Gun a success in my view is the wonderful casting of Christopher Lee, a famed horror film icon, in the central role of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character, and nemesis of Bond. Who cannot think of Count Dracula while watching Lee act- his dark, swarthy looks, angular face, and his deep baritone voice make for a perfect villain. Known in large part for participation in Hammer Horror films opposite another legend, Peter Cushing, this is casting at its finest and a true high point of the film.

To summarize the story, MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” sketched in the side, a clear threat to the life of James Bond. It is assumed to have been sent by famed assassin, Scaramanga, who’s trademark is a deadly golden gun. Bond is ordered to remove himself from his current mission, but he pays no mind and sets out to find Scaramanga on his own, leading him into a mystery involving a stolen solar energy weapon feared to destroy the world. The adventure takes Bond to a bevy of gorgeous locales such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, and the South China Sea where our villain resides on a private island reached only by helicopter.

I found the main locale of the sunny deserted island and Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Nick Nack, great aspects of the film. Majestic caves, sandy beaches, and a gorgeous array of water sets the tone with gorgeous fantasy elements. Servant Nick Nack is sinister, but with a sweet smile, one almost trusts him as he serves lunch or expensive champagne to guests sure to be killed afterwards. The secret maze of mirrors that Bond finds himself in is made perfect by Nick Nack’s taunting and cackling. And the flying car that Scaramanga and Nick Nack drive in, though gimmicky, is a real hoot.

A demerit to The Man with the Golden Gun that I have always been able to look past since other factors usurp the importance of her, is the miscasting of Britt Eklund as Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight. The writers pen Goodnight as simpering, silly, and a big goof. An attempt at comic relief falls flat as the character epitomizes a blonde bubble head- constantly screwing up everything. Scaramanga’s girlfriend and co-Bond girl, Andrea Anders, played by Maud Adams is much better, though we do not get to know the character very well before she is offed. Fortunately, Adams would return to star in Octopussy in 1983.

Perhaps middling at times and suffering from some negative characteristics, The Man with the Golden Gun is a love of  mine, a trip down memory lane to a time as a child when I was first discovering my love and zest for James Bond films. This offering cemented my love of Roger Moore in the central role and I still adore watching this film.

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

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Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape from New York-1981

Escape from New York-1981

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau

Top 100 Films-#76

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Reviewed January 27, 2017

Grade: A

Escape from New York epitomizes a great action film to me. Too often, action films are filled with run of the mill characters, are plot driven, and are mediocre stories that lack creativity. I adore Escape from New York, however. The creativity and amazing direction by John Carpenter allow the film to soar high above what is typical for this genre. The unique premise sets things off immediately as we follow the mission of ex-con Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to save an important figure in peril.

In futuristic 1997, we learn that due to skyrocketing crime throughout the United States, New York City has been fenced off and turned into a maximum security prison. All of the most hardened and demonic criminals have been isolated on Manhattan island to fend for themselves- free to kill or be killed as they like. The rest of the country is presumably crime free- though we never see the rest of the country. The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is taken hostage when Air Force One crashes on Manhattan island. Snake is injected with a poison that will kill him in twenty-four hours unless he successfully rescues the president and returns him alive and well.

I love this film because it is strictly Carpenter’s vision. Due to the success of 1978’s Halloween, he was given creative freedom and a big budget to film in St. Louis (doubling for New York). The film contains eerie synthesizer music (reminiscent of Halloween and Halloween II) which sets the tone exceptionally well. The dark and abandoned sets are wonderful and capture a futuristic world oh so well.

The audience will undoubtedly become enraptured as Snake’s mission is literally do or die- if he does not save the president he dies. As Snake arrives atop the World Trade Center via glider, now post 9/11, this scene takes on a haunting quality. Snake then immerses himself into the gloomy world of Manhattan facing all sorts of dangers along the way. Punk rock looking creatures scurry around the city- many insane, and Snake meets odd character after odd character in his quest to save the president. His main ally is Cabbie, played by Ernest Borgnine.

The villain of the story is Duke, not well cast nor well developed in my opinion, but this can be overlooked because of his super rad Cadillac and his two fascinating accomplices- Maggie (Barbeau) and Brain (Harry Dean Stanton). The lavish sets include the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station- I love that there are so many iconic New York City locales featured- the fact that they are not actually shot in the genuine areas does not bother me. The art direction is done so well that I was fooled.

Escapism fare to be sure, but a unique entry in the action genre. Thanks to fantastic direction and a likable star, escape from New York succeeds.