Category Archives: 1997 Movie reviews

Lost Highway-1997

Lost Highway-1997

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette

Scott’s Review #868

Reviewed February 17, 2019

Grade: A-

David Lynch, forever known for his odd and mind-boggling productions, releases what might be his most bizarre offering Lost Highway (1997). Dreamlike and downright hallucinogenic the film is impossible to dissect and is open to endless interpretation. Characters morph into younger or different versions of themselves or even into different characters entirely making the film best served as an experience not to be over-analyzed. The most enjoyment comes from the fabulous atmospheric elements.

Lost Highway is set in Los Angeles as we meet saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a nightclub employee who resides with his glamorous wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) somewhere in the Hollywood hills. The couple begins receiving envelopes containing VHS tapes of footage of their house followed by more invasive tapes of them being filmed while sleeping in their bedroom. Spooked, they enlist the help of a pair of detectives who are incompetent.

The events begin to grow more complex with the introduction of a menacing mystery man (Robert Blake) and sequences involving a dismembered Renee and Fred’s subsequent incarceration for her murder. Fred suddenly morphs into a young auto mechanic named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), who is released into his parents care while being followed by the two detectives. Pete embarks on an affair with Alice Wakefield, a mirror image of Renee, who is the mistress of powerful Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). Pete and Alice plan to escape together leaving their troubled lives behind.

Any attempt to make more sense of the story than outlined above is fruitless as a torrent of questions could be raised. The obvious ones are why does Fred turn into Pete (looking completely different) and why does Renee turn into Alice (looking similar)? What do random scenes of a burning desert cabin mean? What does the bizarre and hazy lesbian sequence with Marilyn Manson have to do with anything? Discerning the logic and attempting to unravel the mystery will lead to frustration.

The best advice is to escape into the film and allow it to manifest into the viewers mind. The terms “dreamlike” and “hallucinating” are often used to describe films but are perfect adjectives to fit Lost Highway. The stories do run parallel, so the challenge is not being able to follow each of them, but rather how they connect to each other. The stories also merge in a circular fashion with a rhythmic effect and a satisfying ambiance that lured me immeasurably.

My favorite characters are Alice and Pete and this is in large part because of the actors who portray them. Not appearing until the second half Getty and Arquette infuse passion and energy into the roles. I immediately rooted for them as a couple as their tender and smoldering chemistry is immediately felt. Arquette blazes as a sexy temptress and Getty as the handsome and earnest man submitting to her prowess.

Eagle-eyed viewers may notice comparisons to Russ Meyer’s devilish sexploitation film Supervixens (1975). The most notable are the dual character representations, the auto mechanic occupation, the locales (more than a few Los Angeles roads seem identical), and various sequences featuring a weightlifter, a gas station drive-up, or other eerily similar scenes. Whether or not there is direct correlation between the films is unknown but fun to observe.

The musical score and soundtrack are high points adding both mystique and aggression with the hard rock songs featured. Marilyn Manson’s “I Put a Spell on You”, Rammstein’s “Heirate Mich”, and The Smashing Pumpkins “Eye” are used in important scenes. The soundtrack release was a huge success on modern rock radio achieving Gold record sales status.

At the time of Lost Highway’s (1997) release the film was not well regarded by critics and dismissed as not making much sense. In the decades following the film has garnered more acclaim and as with a fine wine has aged well. The beautiful cinematic tone and creative design and images have become more revered over time. For a perplexing and cerebral experience look no further than Lost Highway, a delicious companion piece to the Lynch masterpiece, Mulholland Drive (2001).

The Ice Storm-1997

The Ice Storm-1997

Director-Ang Lee

Starring-Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver

Scott’s Review #850

Reviewed January 1, 2019

Grade: A

The Ice Storm (1997) is a brilliant film directed by Ang Lee of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) fame. The film is based on a 1994 novel of the same name, written by Rick Moody. The brilliance lies in the rich way the characters are written with coldness, repression and loneliness being central themes. The film is astonishingly genuine and fresh with an authenticity rarely felt so wholly in adult family dramas.

The time-period is 1973 and the events take place in New Canaan, Connecticut, a wealthy suburban town. Two dysfunctional families, the Hoods and the Carvers, co-exist during the Thanksgiving weekend as each deal with repression and escapism amid alcohol and sexual experimentation. Both the adult’s and the children’s lives are prominently featured in the story. Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) and Jim and Janey Carver (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver) head the families.

While Ben and Janey carry on a secret affair, Elena lives an unfulfilled existence, craving more from life but not knowing how to get more and reduced to consulting self-help books for support. Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci) enjoys sexual escapades with multiple boys while Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire), home from boarding school, takes the train into New York City to see a rich classmate Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes).

The most wonderful aspect of the film is that the story is a slice of life, but with clever nuances. Since the families are rich why should the viewer feel sympathy for any of the characters let alone root for them? Ben and Janey lounge in bed after sex, he chatty about nonsense, she bored and depressed. During a holiday neighborhood gathering a kinky “key party” develops, where participants swap spouses for the night, resulting in titillation and excitement.

The bold and controversial writing is exactly why The Ice Storm scores so many points. The characters are cold and frozen, unlikable and selfish, but might that be the point? All seem unhappy and tired of their dull, small town existence and craving what little excitement they can muster. Written in similar fashion to American Beauty (1999) the films could be watched in tandem for evening of Gothic and macabre story-telling.

My favorite character is Elena as she has the most sensibility. She is lonely and ignored by her husband dutifully going about her day with little emotion. She feels temporarily excited when she develops a romantic crush on a neighbor only to quickly realize the most she can ever hope for with this man is a fling. Her character is fleshed out as she yearns for more than she has. The other characters are largely selfish and pampered.

The film’s conclusion, however, is monumental as it changes the perceptions of some characters and softens them. A tragic death brings characters together in a powerful way. Again, the writing in The Ice Storm is the most interesting and compelling appeal. The acting among the entire cast is professional, heartfelt, and brazen, but the written dialogue and interesting situations make this film rise above others of similar genre.

Lee’s direction is brilliant as the blustery winter atmosphere is central to the story- in more ways than we might originally think. The frozen power lines and slick windy country roads elicit a cozy feeling nestled between harboring family secrets and scandals. The bitter yet beautiful ambiance is a soothing and compelling aspect of the entire film and Lee portrays these elements with precision.

Of the independent drama genre, The Ice Storm (1997) has a low budget and big-name stars. The film could easily be performed as a play, but the cinematic elements and fantastic writing make it a memorable and storied piece of film-making. Ang Lee frequently incorporates astounding character development in his works and The Ice Storm has all the qualities to be considered a masterpiece.

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.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

Scott’s Review #327

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Reviewed January 6, 2016

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Boogie Nights-1997

Boogie Nights-1997

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds

Top 100 Films-#21

Scott’s Review #312

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Reviewed December 31, 2015

Grade: A

Boogie Nights is a fantastic film about the pornography industry (The Golden Age of Porn) of the 1970’s and 1980’s and does a wonderful job of portraying the characters as human beings with feelings and emotions, rather than as nymphomaniacs or perverts. They bond with one another as a family- a group of misfits striving to survive. This and many other reasons is why Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films of all time.

Written, produced, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), he is a champion at exploring the underbelly of society and flawed and desperate characters-Boogie Nights is no different. In fact, the dysfunctional family is the common theme of the film. Most of his characters are not happy people, but they are survivors and desperately look for a piece of happiness. Many in his cast of Boogie Nights also appear in Magnolia. Mark Wahlberg (Eddie/Dirk Diggler), Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner), Julianne Moore (Maggie), Don Cheadle (Buck), William H. Macy (Little Bill), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty), Malora Walters (Jessie) , and Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson), round out the large cast.

The setting of the film is Los Angeles and the time period runs from 1977-1984. Though only seven years take place, much happens to most of the characters during this time and we experience their trials and tribulations. The unique thing about Boogie Nights is that I care about each and every character, thanks to great writing and fantastic acting. They succeed in obtaining my empathy for them. Boogie Nights is an extremely character driven film, which is an enormous part of its brilliance.

The cast is an ensemble one, but the main character is Eddie Adams, a high school dropout, who we meet working as a dishwasher at a nightclub. He has an abusive mother who kicks him out of the house, leading him to audition for, and move in with Jack Horner. Jack is a patriarch type, who shares a house with Maggie, the matriarch of the household, and rollergirl, a fellow high school dropout always wearing roller skates. Eddie’s talent is his large “manhood”. We watch Eddie, at first shy and polite, rise to superstardom in the porn industry, becoming rich and living a lavish, drug fueled, lifestyle, where his ego gets the best of him. He, like many of the characters, hit rough times as the early 1980’s shift to videotape was the death of many 1970’s porn actors careers.

The musical soundtrack is very important to the success of Boogie Nights. Many scenes contains songs that were hits of the time or prior, including “Sister Christian”, “Jessie’s Girl”, “God Only Knows”, “Got to Give it Up”, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, and countless others- so much so that the soundtrack is almost a character of the film and we look forward to hearing what song might be featured next.

At one point later in the film, circa 1983, as things begin to spiral out of control for many of the characters- the musical score turns ominous with low bass music, a nighttime setting, the lighting becomes darker, and several stories begin to intersect on one late L.A. night on the streets- Jack, filming a scene in a limousine starring Rollergirl and a young college jock they pick up off the streets, Dirk-forced to prostitute himself for $10 to a young man in a pickup truck, and Buck-who innocently stops to buy doughnuts for his very pregnant wife Jessie. Each of these stories ends in brutal violence and the tone is crucial to the success of the scenes. This lengthy scene reminds me quite a bit of a Quentin Tarantino scene in its macabre tone.

Particular favorite scenes include the heartbreaking scene when Maggie loses custody of her son, the New Years Eve party at Jack’s house, and the ill-fated drug sale at Rahad Jackson’s. Each are heartbreaking, powerful, fraught with tension, or otherwise empathetic to the characters, which makes them each quite powerful in different ways. Induced in the drug sale scene is some black comedy- Rahad’s presumed Chinese houseboy has a fetish for firecrackers, which startle Dirk, Reed, and Todd, as the fear of possible gunshots fills the air. Maggie’s sob scene elicits viewer emotion as we cry with her, and the New Years Eve turn of events involving Scotty and Little Bill are tragic.

Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films because it contains brilliant writing, characters who are fleshed out, damaged, and human, a killer soundtrack, and a dark, mysterious industry (porn) that is both misunderstood and categorized. Thanks to director, Anderson, we see the people within this lifestyle as real people, with issues, but also with full hearts and kindness.