Category Archives: 2011 Movie reviews

A Dangerous Method-2011

A Dangerous Method-2011

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #1,009

Reviewed April 9, 2020

Grade: B+

A literal psychological themed drama, if ever there was one, director David Cronenberg uses popular actors of the day to create a film based on a non-fiction book. Famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung share a tumultuous relationship when they catch the eye of the first female psychoanalyst, who was a patient of each. Thanks to a talented cast and an independent feel, the result is a compelling piece and a historical lesson in sexual titillation, jealousy, passion, and drama, among real-life elite sophisticates.

Set on the eve of World War I in Zurich, Switzerland, a young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), suffering from hysteria begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). He uses word association, dream interpretation, and other experimental methods as part of his approach to psychoanalysis and finds that Spielrein’s condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child when her father spanked her naked. They embark on a torrid affair.

Jung and friend and confidante, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) explore various psychoanalytical methods, but cracks appear in their friendship as they begin to disagree more frequently on matters of psychoanalysis. When Spielrein, now a student, meets Freud, she confides her relationship with Jung to him, which leads to animosity between the men. Spielrein embarks on other lovers as she attempts to reconcile the geniuses, to allow for their psychoanalysis studies to continue to develop with relevancy.

The film is intelligently written and for any viewer fascinated with psychology or sexual interest, a wonderful marvel. Since Freud and Jung are two of the most recognizable names in behavioral science and Spielrein one of the most influential women in the field, the production is as much a historical and biographical study as it is dramatic enjoyment. Spanking, bondage, and sexual humiliation for gratification and pleasure, strong taboos at the turn of the twentieth century, are explored and embraced in delicious and wicked style.

Of course, given that Fassbender, Mortensen, and Knightley are easy on the eyes provides further stimulation than if less attractive actors were cast. Nonetheless, what the actors provide in eye-candy is equally matched by their acting talent as each one immerses themselves into each pivotal role. In clever and unique fashion, the film is not a trite romantic triangle or giddy formulaic genre movie. Rather, the sets, costumes, and cinematography are fresh and grip the audience.

Carl Jung is the central figure here as both his personal and professional experiences are given plenty of screen time. He wrestles between remaining committed to his wife or giving in to his deepest desires with Speilrein- we can guess how this turns out! The early scenes between Fassbender and Knightley crackle with passion and will make many blush and smirk with naughtiness.

The title of the film is bold but doesn’t always live up given the subject matter. More sensual, fun, and intelligent than dangerous, the film is hardly raw or gritty, surprising given it’s an independent project. It is softer to the touch, especially during scenes between Jung and Speilrein, than hard-edged. Many early psychoanalytical ideas of approach and remedy are discussed and explored making the film more of a study than a thriller.

A Dangerous Method (2011) received stellar reviews and year-end awards consideration, but unsuccessful box-office returns. Hardly a popcorn film and deeply accepting of its indie roots, the film ought to be shown in high-school or academic psychology classes- whether in abnormal or general studies remains a question. With a fascinating story that risks making the prudish blush or turn away, the film will please those independent thinkers, sexual deviants, or those aching for an expressive and satisfying film.

A Better Life-2011

A Better Life-2011

Director-Chris Weitz

Starring-Demian Bichir, Jose Julian

Scott’s Review #1,004

Reviewed March 26, 2020

Grade: B+

A Better Life (2011) is a heartwarming and timely project that focuses and showcases the Hispanic culture, both positively and negatively. The subject matter of illegal immigration is studied amid a powerful family drama. Lead actor, Demian Bichir, deservedly received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his sensitive portrayal of a man wanting only the best for his son while having life odds stacked against him. The film is an atypical Hollywood production, told simply and with heart.

Carlos Galindo (Bichir), is a struggling Los Angeles gardener who manicures the lawns of the rich and famous in sunny California with his partner and close friend Blasco. Carlos lives a content life but is always on guard because he is an illegal immigrant and worries about his son Luis (Jose Julian) falling in with the wrong crowd. When one day Carlos’s sister loans him $12,000 to purchase a truck, he needs for his job, the man hits his stride, only to have the truck stolen. Desperate, Carlos and Luis are determined to get back the truck while avoiding trouble with the law.

The title of the film, while basic and not sexy, is powerful in its simplicity.  Bold and thought-provoking, this is merely what Carlos wants for Luis and what every father wants for his son. His trials and tribulations a constant, he strives to teach Luis to steer a positive path and avoid mistakes that Carlos has made. Regardless of the political discussion the film could have, what lies beneath is a heartwarming story of cherished love between a man and his son. In clever fashion, the film provides a hopeful final message for both major characters.

I adore the rich Mexican culture represented in the film. A battle of traditional appreciation of one’s roots versus immersing oneself in the American culture are examined. Nearly the entire cast is of Hispanic descent and the numerous scenes of ethnic flavor, from restaurants and cafes, to nightclubs and street life, the film feels authentic and fresh. Thankfully, the film makers do not try to pull off the insulting ploy of casting white actors clad in Mexican garb or a big-name actor in the role of Carlos. Many of the characters even seem like non-actors.

The setting of Los Angeles is highly successful, especially since the low-budget independent film uses eons of exterior shots. The camerawork is not exceptional but feels fresh, letting the warm climate marinate with viewers so that he or she feels implanted in the southern Californian neighborhoods. The contrast of the East Los Angeles area where Carlos lives versus where he works are a harsh reality for most landscapers.

Bichir more than deserves the accolades reaped upon him for this mesmerizing and intelligent role. He quietly portrays an empathetic man who is an unsung hero and a representative of many fathers never getting their due respect, especially if they are undocumented immigrants. When Luis denounces Mexican music, the pain is evident on the face of Carlos as he must endure what surely breaks his heart. The realism and the truth of the characters is led by Bichir.

A Better Life (2011) is a story rich with poignancy and relevance as the plight of a good man is showcased. Now almost ten years ago, the film is arguably more important than ever since immigration has become a hot ticket item in the turbulent political climate. Do hardworking, undocumented people deserve a break for being in the United States? The answer seems obvious and the film skews steadily to the left, but is there really any other strong viewpoint?

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Demian Bichir

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Male Lead-Demian Bichir



Director-Jonathan Levine

Starring-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #1,001

Reviewed March 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The subject matter of cancer is an incredibly tricky one to portray in film. Especially tough when any comedic bits are incorporated- the risk lies in jokes not going over well or being misinterpreted. With 50/50, director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser craft and intelligent and genuine story, based on a true one, led by upstart actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, shining in the lead role. Comic actor Seth Rogan is on board cementing the comedy elements.

Otherwise healthy twenty-something Seattle resident, Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) experiences severe back pain and is shocked to learn he has a malignant tumor in his spine. Devastated, his world is turned upside down. He is usually accompanied by best friend Kyle (Rogan). While Kyle is brash and outspoken, Adam is reserved and mild-mannered. They are opposites, but inseparable friends. Adam is dating artist Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), whom Kyle despises adding conflict to the story.

The screenplay and Gordon-Levitt’s performance are the superior aspects of 50/50. The title of the film is poignant because Adam is given the dubious news that he has only a 50/50 chance of surviving his cancer. The young actor provides heart and soul to his challenging role and his acting is such that scenes do not feel cliched or manufactured. This, naturally, is due to the excellent writing by Will Reiser. He crafts a sincere script that is straightforward, avoiding razzle-dazzle, but one that is also heartfelt.

My only criticism with 50/50 is that I would have liked a bit more darkness. As we all know, real-life cancer patients must endure the ravages that the brutal disease inflict. The film never really goes there and shows how devious the disease is and what happens to the human body. I get that the film tows the line carefully, but despite shaving his head, Adam does not lose much weight or suffer other visible indignities. The toned-down approach feels PG- rated rather than R-rated as it might have been.

This can largely be forgiven because the main message of the film supersedes this point. The film shows that love and friendship can be the best healers and the root of good, kind, humanity. This is something every viewer can take and learn from and it makes the film lovely and worthy to witness. The romantic comedy elements do not work, and I am not even sure they are necessary. The main draw is the undying friendship between Adam and Kyle and Adam’s experiences with other cancer patients along his journey.

Combining comedy and cancer are not easy tasks, but thanks to exceptional writing and a talented cast, 50/50 (2011) succeeds in its achievements. The film and Gordon-Levitt were rewarded with Golden Globe nominations but missed out on any Oscar nominations. If the intended result of the film, to ease cancer patient’s minds about their situations, and provide some meaningful entertainment, the film is a major win.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Supporting Female-Anjelica Huston, Best First Screenplay (won)

We Need to Talk About Kevin-2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin-2011

Director-Lynne Ramsay

Starring-Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller

Scott’s Review #785

Reviewed July 9, 2018

Grade: A

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) is a tremendously disturbing independent drama with eerie similarities to the infamous Columbine school shooting massacre. The point of view of the film is from the perspective of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a haggard, troubled mother doubting her love for her violent teen son. Swinton was shamefully overlooked for an Academy Award nomination despite her brilliant and breathtaking role. The overall film itself is equally astounding and powerful.

Adapted from a Lionel Shriver novel, the events of the film begin in present times after tragedy has occurred. Eva, once a successful, writer of affluent means, now lives alone in a rundown house near a prison where she frequently visits her son Kevin (Ezra Miller). She is now reduced to working a mundane job in a travel agency while terrorized by neighbor’s who blame her for her son’s machinations. In chilling fashion, Eva ponders the warning signs Kevin exhibited throughout his childhood and tortures herself with thoughts of what she could have done differently to prevent the shootings and the death of her loved ones.

In unique fashion, the film segues to before Kevin was even born. Eva and her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), happily welcome their baby boy, but he is immediately “not right” and difficult and cold towards her. This behavior continues over the years as Kevin is distant towards Eva, but warm and adoring towards his father, leading to mental games and the death of a pet. When Eva and Franklin have another child things get progressively worse leading to the tragic events.

The film is a pure masterpiece with riveting acting performances all around (especially Swinton) and a slow, plodding pace. This is a perfect aspect to the film because there is a continuous gloomy and moody vibe. Director, Lynne Ramsay reveals all in the beginning moments of the film so we know how events will transpire, but the pure enjoyment is the development of the characters. Dad, Franklin, and daughter, Celia, are around, but the film belongs to the characters of Eva and Kevin and their relationship with each other.

Many questions will be asked throughout the film (I know I asked myself these questions). Should any blame be cast upon Eva or is she purely innocent? How about on Franklin? Is Kevin just a “bad kid”? Was Eva wrong for breaking Kevin’s arm in anger or justified? Should Eva have never had kids because of her earlier doubts? Should she have been more proactive in getting treatment for Kevin?

Swinton delivers her career best performance and while she was recognized with a Golden Globe nomination, the ultimate gold statuette (Oscar) alluded her. I find this to be troubling especially since she won for 2007’s Michael Clayton, a performance that was very good, but certainly not on the level as Eva. Swinton is one of the great modern actresses and hopefully great roles will continue to follow this treasured star.

Almost on par with Swinton is young talent Ezra Miller. A relative newcomer in 2011 he has appeared in the indie gem The Perks of a Wallflower (2012) and in later years traversed into more mainstream fare like Trainwreck (2015) and Suicide Squad (2016). We Need to Talk About Kevin remains his best and most challenging effort.

One of the best sequences occurs during the school massacre scene. Shot at night time (and in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut!) the sequence involve flashing police lights and chaos as Eva approaches the school in horror. With no dialogue, we see Kevin enter the school and render the doors useless as an escape route. Terrified students are murdered as Kevin erupts with maniacal rage. The scene is downright chilling and incredibly effective.

2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer reminds me quite a bit of We Need to Talk About Kevin in tone and style, so much so that I wonder if the latter was watched and studied before the former. Either way, the duo could be watched subsequently for a double-dose of teenage maniacs.

With a bleak and dark tone, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) offers a story that is a clear message. Never discussing the hot topic of gun control- in fact guns are not used in the slaughter, a bow is, weapon restrictions will nevertheless be an obvious discussion point. This film is one to be observed, savored, dissected, and thought about after the finale, and is one to be remembered as a great piece of cinema.



Director-Paul Feig

Starring-Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph

Scott’s Review #784

Reviewed July 6, 2018

Grade: A

Despite the raunchy romantic comedy genre not being my favorite, and despite not being such a fan of Judd Apetow (famed producer of several of these types of films), Bridesmaids (2011) is easily the best of its kind. Influential in a multitude of female empowerment themed comedies that followed, this one is witty, genuine, and funny because of its star, Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the film. One of the best comedies (if not the best) of the decade.

Apatow is largely known for producing comedy films that mix in the standard potty humor for cheap laughs. He is responsible for This Is 40 (2012) and Trainwreck (2015), both of which I found moderately funny, but needlessly gross out and tired.  My point is that minus the talents of Wiig (both in front of and behind the camera), Bridesmaids would likely have been mediocre like these films. Instead, Bridesmaids is a wonderful, uproarious experience with a star who captures a moment. My one gnawing gripe is that shouldn’t a film about women be directed by a woman?

Annie (Wiig) has been asked to serve as the maid of honor at her best friend, Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph), upcoming wedding. Rather than be thrilled, Annie is depressed due to an ongoing string of bad luck. Her bakery business fails, she loses her unfulfilling job at a jewelry store, she is dating a jerk (Jon Hamm), and her car is about to die. She has difficult roommates and is on the verge of having to move back in with her mother at age thirty-five.

The story hilariously follows Annie’s rivalry with Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s soon to be husband’s boss’s controlling wife. Helen is intent on taking over the handling of the wedding events much to Annie’s chagrin. The ladies compete to one up each other throughout the film- Rose is perfect princess to Annie’s grit and cynicism.

Annie struggles through her personal issues, unhappy with the state of her love life, she meets police officer, Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), and they begin a tender friendship. However, their attraction is tested because of Annie’s shenanigans. Annie must then fly to Las Vegas with the other bridesmaids despite being terrified of flying.

Despite the story being nothing not seen dozens of times before in romantic comedy history (the set ups), the film is a laugh out loud riot. In addition to Wiig, Rudolph, and Byrne, the remaining cast of ladies all have tremendous chemistry with each other. Special kudos go to Melissa McCarthy in her fearless role of Megan, a tomboy misfit who somehow is part of the wedding party. With her “tell it like it is” attitude the actress sinks her teeth into this fabulous role without taking her too far across the line into ridiculousness.

In rip roaring fashion, multiple scenes are permanently etched in my mind. After Annie suggests a Brazilian steak restaurant for lunch followed by a fitting at a chic dress shop, the girls suffer from food poisoning. This results in torrents of diarrhea scenes and one unlucky character being reduced to going to the bathroom in the middle of the street. The scene while super raunchy is hilarious and fraught with perfect comic timing.

Not to be outdone, the airplane scene is equally tremendous, however the scene belongs to Wiig rather than the entire ensemble. Being forced to fly coach while everyone else is treated to first class, Annie unwisely accepts a pill from Helen to calm her during the flight. Instead, Annie becomes belligerent and wild when she mixes the sedative with alcohol.

As good as the supporting cast is, Wiig owns the film through and through. Every scene she is in and each line she utters is perfectly timed. The fact that Wiig did some improvisation (think the scene in the jewelry store) is evident and only adds to the genuine feel of the film. Subsequently, to Wiig’s credit, she has been careful to choose more complicated roles to avoid the risk of being typecast. And a sequel was wisely never made- this would have ruined the appeal.

Bridesmaids (2011) is an authentic story rich with hilarity and crisp dialogue. The film is enhanced in that it’s a female centered film written by women (though direction and producers too would have been better). Because of the tremendous cast led by Wiig, the film is blazing with humor and led a firestorm of similar “girl power” films (mostly bad) well into the decade.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Melissa McCarthy, Best Original Screenplay

A Separation-2011

A Separation-2011

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi

Scott’s Review #734

Reviewed March 21, 2018

Grade: A

A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film that was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award statuette, the first Iranian film to achieve the honor. The film is a family drama that is wonderfully complex, and weaves typical family issues (divorce and school issues) with more complicated and cultural leanings, and keeps going and going with story nuances. A Separation is directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi, who is also responsible for the brilliant screenplay- this is a top notch film.

Presumably set in Tehran, or a more progressive (by Iranian standards) city in Iran, husband and wife Nader and Simin  reside with their teenage daughter, Termeh, and Nader’s elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Frustrated by her husbands refusal to leave the country for a better life, Simin files for divorce, but her wish is rejected by male judges. When she leaves her family anyway, Nader is forced to hire a pregnant caregiver, Razieh, to tend to his ailing father. After a controversial tragedy ensues, causing Razieh to suffer a miscarriage, the film shifts directions and adds an entirely new layer to the  already fascinating story.

Farhadi is very keen with his delivery of a good story- he traditionally mixes themes of culture and social class together in an interesting way as his future, 2017, work, The Salesman, would also do. Thanks to Farhadi’s innovative storytelling, more notice is taken to Iran and Iranian culture, thereby humanizing its citizen more within the craft of film. We see Iranian people just like ourselves and not the radical or dangerous individuals we are programmed to see.

With A Separation, there are no clear cut protagonists or antagonists, and viewers allegiances may shift throughout the run of the film. Do we champion Simin for desiring a better life for herself and for Termeh or scold her for refusing to live with her family? A progressive woman for sure, she is a layered character in her ambitions and her autonomy.

Nader is also a complex character- heroic for desiring the best of care for his father, he is also fraught with anger and bad temperament, which is the main reason for the second half of the film, and leads to Razieh’s predicament. Viewers will not be certain whether Nader is a good man or a villain, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Subsequently, this is the meat of the entire story, and makes for an enthralling experience in character development.

As if the brilliant screenplay was not enough to demand a good watch, the acting across the board is wonderful. A cast including seasoned Iranian actors, Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as Simin and Nader, these are my favorites, and are quite adept at carrying along the nail-biting tension in masterful form.

Shades of Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout the film as the tension unfolds to a crescendo and the action builds and builds and builds in layers upon layers of good stuff. The quick editing and unique camera angles mirror some classic works of the famous director.

The success of A Separation is the films fast-paced, nicely edited construction, in a way that, at over two hours in length, the film speeds along rather quickly, and causes those who experience it to ponder, wonder, think, and ascertain. Asghar Farhadi has quickly become a prominent director, met with obstacles from his native country, and yet surpassing these hurdles to construct great film. I look forward to many more of his works.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film (won)

The Visitor-2011

The Visitor-2011

Director-Tor Iben

Starring-Sinan Hancili, Engin Cert

Scott’s Review #630

Reviewed April 4, 2017

Grade: B-

The Visitor is a 2011 LGBT centered film that is set in Berlin, Germany, but features mainly Turkish characters. While the film tells a nice story and features some cool shots of the metropolitan city, it is rather amateurish in style,. The pieces of the film do not always come together or fit very well and there is no character development to speak of, but still, the film does have good intentions with a nice message and theme that deserves at least a few props.

The story involves a young male and female couple, Cibrial and Christine, who are dating. Cibrial works as a policeman and the pair seem to be in a happy relationship, enjoying walks and dinners together. One day, when Christine’s gay cousin, Stefan, comes to town, the relationship between Cibrail and Christine sours. The cousin is openly gay and comfortable with his own sexuality, while Cibrail secretly harbors feelings for the same sex, which he dares not tell Christine about, though she eventually catches on in dramatic fashion. Stefan is looking for action, cruising the city and parks for sex and companionship, while Cibrail is both lustful and jealous of Stefan.

Many scenes involve Cibrail looking longingly at Stefan and fantasizing about him. In that regard, the film teeters on being quite steamy and features more than one nude shower scene- this smoldering element helps the film avoid complete doldrums. Specifically, Cibrail showers alone during one scene, washing and presumably daydreaming about Stefan. But too many other scenes show a character jogging or walking around the park- too much like filler material.

The climax of the film is highly predictable as the two men find their way into each others arms, though the passion is not exactly evident to the audience. The lack of buildup is a negative aspect to the film because there is very little rooting value and too many questions. Is the film a love story? Is it supposed to be about Cibrail coming to terms with his own sexuality? Why do we not see more of a blowup scene between Cibrail and Christine? He simply moves out once she catches him in bed with Stefan and before we know it, Stefan and Cibrail passionately embrace and the film closes in celebration.

A side story involving a dead body found in the park- a park known for gay shenanigans- is included as Cibrail investigates the crime with his police partner, but this seems to have nothing to do with the main plot, unless we are to suspect one of the two men as the killer, but this is hardly focused on. Another shot of a gay pride parade in Berlin is included, but is this to make it known that The Visitor is a gay film? Apparently so. Additionally, a statue of two men is shown in several scenes for seemingly no other reason than to reinforce that the film is gay themed.

The Visitor is a simple story of two men finding each other, which is a nice message, but the film’s run time is a brief seventy minutes, hardly enough time for character development. A muted, videotaped look does not help the film seem very professional, and in fact, seems downright amateurish as an entire film, so much so that I would not be surprised if a film student might have made The Visitor.

Red Riding Hood-2011

Red Riding Hood-2011

Director-Catherine Hardwicke

Starring-Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie

Scott’s Review #477


Reviewed September 10, 2016

Grade: B-

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

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

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



Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #472


Reviewed August 30, 2016

Grade: C-

Bernie is a film that, surprisingly, received critical acclaim, as well as Golden Globe and Independent Spirit award nominations, but that I was left quite disappointed in. Categorized a dark comedy, it contains a morbid premise, which is not the issue, I just did not find it very good overall.

Despite being a true story of Bernie marrying and murdering millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Texas, the film was not compelling and was written too over the top. Inexplicably, the townspeople refused to believe Bernie’s obvious guilt.

To be fair, the film does contain a few funny and interesting moments and was based on factual events, but I didn’t feel connected to this movie as I expected and honestly found it a bit dull.

Jack Black is impressive as the title character- Bernie,  but only because it is a departure from his usual slapstick film roles. I don’t get the accolades being reaped on him for his performance. Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey are capable with the parts written for them, but one-note characters. Meh.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Male Lead-Jack Black

Killer Joe-2011

Killer Joe-2011

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch

Scott’s Review #450


Reviewed July 14, 2016

Grade: A-

Killer Joe is a must-see for any fan of director Quentin Tarantino and this small, independent, gem of a feature is definitely worth checking out. The film is obviously influenced by Tarantino films in style, characters, and violence. The violence mixed with humor, wit, and great writing is stamped on the film.

Surprisingly, given the influence of another director, Killer Joe is actually directed by William Friedkin- a very acclaimed filmmaker in his own right- classics such as The Exorcist and The French Connection were created by this talent.

Matthew McConaughey owns Killer Joe and he has thankfully graduated from silly, fluffy, romantic comedies in lieu of smart, delicious roles in independent films of late, and has come to be a respected Hollywood actor. His lengthy nude scene is daring for such an A-list actor.

The film itself is certainly satirical, without being too campy, and the setting of a suffocating, trailer trash, Texas town is extremely well done. Personally, I loved the violent and gruesome fried chicken dinner table scene.

I especially liked the overall food references throughout the film which adds even more macabre comedy to this dark (on the surface) film.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Male Lead-Matthew McConaughey

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Director-Lynn Shelton

Starring-Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #448


Reviewed July 9, 2016

Grade: C+

Your Sister’s Sister is a small, 2011 independent film, with a central cast of only three characters- the two sisters mentioned in the title and a young man (Mark Duplass) who is a rival for their affections.

The story tells of a love triangle, of sorts, between two sisters and one man. I admire the improvisational method that is used in the dialogue, ala Robert Altman style, where the characters merely have conversations and discuss issues rather than a structured dialogue- this works well in the film.

The standout is certainly Rosemarie DeWitt (“Mad Men”). I also enjoyed the remote, cabin setting, which makes for a claustrophobic experience. Emily Blunts performance, though, seems bland to me and I did not find her character rather relatable.

The ending of the film leaves everything up in the air and no clear conclusions are drawn, something I could see coming from miles away. I admired the style of this film, but was unsatisfied with the outcome.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Rosemarie DeWitt

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia-2011

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia-2011

Director-Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Starring-Muhammet Uzuner

Scott’s Review #445


Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: B+

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a Turkish film that, circa 2011, has  received notice and recognition during awards season. The film is very slow moving and requires some patience, but it is worth the wait and I found myself savoring the experience by the end.

It is a cerebral, thoughtful experience about life and human nature and is philosophical in its message. The main characters reflect on their lives while searching for a mysterious dead body in the plains of Turkey in the middle of the night. The cinematography is wonderful and some of the camerawork is amazing. It’s quite a unique film.

The only drawback is its extremely slow pace, but upon its conclusion will leave you pondering for some time. No bombs, no car chases are involved- just honest, truthful dialogue.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film



Director-Wim Wenders

Starring-Pina Bausch

Scott’s Review #426


Reviewed June 21, 2016

Grade: C-

Pina, a documentary, is a dedication to famed German choreographer Pina Bausch. The documentary and the way it is made, is a major disappointment.

I respect that Pina is a tribute to an obviously talented artist, but as a documentary itself it is a complete bore. I learned nothing about the art of dance or Pina Bausch herself, as the entire 1 hour and 45 minutes (quite lengthy by documentary standards) consists of a troupe of dancers performing a series of numbers with little or no explanation of what they are doing or what the dances mean.

Mixed in with the dances are brief snippets of commentary from the dancers expressing how sorry they are that Pina Bausch has died.

Nice tribute, but any viewer attempting to learn about the art form or artist are left clueless.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary-Feature



Director-Lee Hirsch

Scott’s Review #419


Reviewed June 19, 2016

Grade: B+

Bully is an informative and topical 2011 documentary on the bullying problem that has plagued the United States in recent years and has thankfully received more attention as a result. Shockingly, bullying has resulted in several suicides, which the documentary addresses.

The documentary mainly deals with a handful of bullied students and tells their individual stories. Unfortunately, too often teachers and school administrators either do not take the issue seriously or attempt to squander the matter to avoid more attention, according to the documentary. This is a nationwide problem in the United States.

I only wish the producers had chosen to focus some attention on the actual bullies for accountability, but surprisingly they did not. This was almost completely glossed over and only the victims featured. It would have been interesting hearing the perspective from the bullies standpoint. Do they themselves have issues at home causing them to bully? Are they bullied by others?

Regardless of this flaw, Bully is a well made documentary that should be seen by anyone with kids and especially all teachers.

The Kid with a Bike-2011

The Kid With A Bike-2011

Director-Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring-Thomas Doret

Scott’s Review #416


Reviewed June 18, 2016

Grade: B

The Kid with a Bike is a small French film from 2011 that has received acclaim and recognition worldwide.

The film tells the story of a troublesome young boy abandoned by his struggling father and various dramas that unfold. I found the film somewhat disappointing as I expected a bit more than I was given. Throughout the very short 1 hour and 27 minute run-time the young boy broods and defies either authority or his caregivers, or fights with various people he encounters as he attempts to find his father.

The boys bond with a local hairdresser who takes him in is nice, but her motivations are not made clear other than being kind. Why would she take in a strange kid? We do not learn all that much about this character and this is a shame.

There is one element towards the end of the film that was shocking and well done, but overall I expected something a bit deeper from this movie given all of the praise surrounding it.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Tower Heist-2011

Tower Heist-2011

Director-Brett Ratner

Starring-Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy

Scott’s Review #160


Reviewed August 29, 2014

Grade: D

Tower Heist is a completely formulaic, by the numbers comedy with absolutely no surprises or, frankly, creativity. It tells the story of a luxury high rise apartment manager named Josh Kovacs, weakly played by Ben Stiller and set in New York City, whose favorite tenant, a businessman named Arthur Shaw, played by Alan Alda, is arrested for involvement in a Ponzi scheme. The entire staff’s pensions have been squandered, thanks to Josh entrusting Shaw with the funds, and he strives to return the money to the rightful owners via a team of staff and an ex-con, played by Eddie Murphy who team up and attempt to locate millions of dollars hidden in Shaw’s apartment.

If this film was a starring vehicle with Ben Stiller in mind, it was done horribly. He has been much funnier in There’s Something About Mary or Meet the Parents. Tower Heist has some similarities to the film Ocean’s Eleven- the score is recognizable and mirrors that film and the band of players are similar to that film and the look of it reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven. Murphy plays a silly, stereotypical role, there is no chemistry or anything interesting between the group striving to retain the $$, and no chemistry between Stiller and Tea Leoni, who plays an FBI agent with a phony Queens accent that I found laugh out loud bad. Nothing worked in this film as it was one tired gag after another and completely predictable. I will admit that the 2 minor positives in Tower Heist were Alan Alda- always great to see him in films, and the interesting choice of a luxurious high rise setting with cool, ritzy interiors taken from real buildings in NYC. Otherwise, this film is a complete dud.

Gun Hill Road-2011

Gun Hill Road-2011

Director-Rashaad Ernesto Green

Starring-Esai Morales, Harmony Santana

Scott’s Review #138


Reviewed July 27, 2014

Grade: A-

Gun Hill Road is a very small, independent film set in the Bronx, New York, hence the title, which is a famous street there. It tells the story of a Hispanic family, the father, Enrique, (wonderfully played by Esai Morales) being recently released from prison and adjusting to clean living. His wife Angela has moved on emotionally and physically, and his teenaged son Michael (Harmony Santana) is going through a sexual identity crisis and defines himself as a female. Each of the three characters is sympathetic and motivations well understood. The most interesting facet of the film is the father/son relationship as Enrique must eventually come to terms with Michael’s sexuality and gender definition, which is not portrayed as easy in the Latino community.

There is a rawness and realness to this film. Gun Hill Road is a dysfunctional family drama, character driven, sometimes difficult to watch, and quite captivating, though the ending slightly disappointed, as events were left open ended. Santana won the 2012 Independent Spirit award for Best Supporting Female. I only wish this film had received wider recognition and acclaim, as it’s a marvel.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Harmony Santana

The Intouchables-2011

The Intouchables-2011

Director-Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano,

Starring-Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy

Scott’s Review #135


Reviewed July 26, 2014

Grade: C

The Intouchables is a French comedy-drama that tells the story of a wealthy, intelligent quadriplegic man named Philippe, who hires a poor, angry black man, named Driss, who is uninterested in the position, as his care-giver. The film is a story of their bond and friendship and is a buddy movie. What starts as simply an employer/employee relationship turns into something much deeper.

The Intouchables received rave reviews and was a huge hit in France, but, for me, it disappointed, and I am not getting the love for this movie. I found the message and theme of the story dated- yet another film about a wealthy sophisticated white man taking a working class, volatile black man under his wing and the black man helping him achieve some sort of self- fulfillment. The Blind Side and Driving Miss Daisy have done this before along with countless other films. Yes, they become close friends, but the stereotypical racial dynamic is certainly prevalent. How many more times must this dynamic show in modern film? This is not to say that the film is poorly made. It is not. The relationship between the two men and the mixtures of each of their respective cultures is charming and, at times, heartwarming. The way that Driss helps Philippe garner courage to meet a woman he has been having a letter writing relationship with is nice. The views of Paris are lovely and plentiful. But, overall The Intouchables comes across as a stereotypical, safe, predictable film.



Director-Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Starring-Montrail “Money” Brown

Scott’s Review #134


Reviewed July 25, 2014

Grade: B

Undefeated is an emotional documentary, a true story of a high school football coach brought in to a struggling, poor, suburban Memphis area high school and leading the team to a championship title. The story of the coach taking various students under his wing, father figure style, and helping them succeed in, not only football, but scholastics as well is inspiring and heartwarming. The coach’s passion really shines through to the viewer in this story.

As wonderful a story as it is, I felt slightly let down by it is as, yet again, the slant on the story is of an affluent white family swooping in to a poor black neighborhood and saving the black kids with their mighty influence. Why can’t we see a film that is the reverse? In the 21st century this is becoming slightly offensive and one-sided. It is The Blind Side with real people! With that rant made, the documentary is pretty awe-inspiring and the coach portrayed as a fantastic, truly caring human being. I laughed, cried, and rooted for the struggling football team to victory. The portion on what has since happened to the football players is interesting to see.  Undefeated won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary-Feature (won)

The Loneliest Planet-2011

The Loneliest Planet-2011

Director-Julia Loktev

Starring-Hani Furstenberg, Gael Garcia Bernal

Scott’s Review #131


Reviewed July 24, 2014

Grade: B-

The Loneliest Planet is an independent film that contains incredibly gorgeous cinematography of the Georgian landscape (geographically, outside of Russia), where the entire movie is set. The story centers around a young couple, Alex and Nica, on a backpacking excursion through the mountains, whose relationship is tested along the way, mainly because of the existence of their camping guide, a man who comes between them as the plot slowly unfolds and a romantic triangle begins to emerge.

All three characters are complex, likeable at times, annoying at other times, so that is a satisfying part of the film. The dynamic between the three individuals is interesting, when any action takes place, which leads me to my major gripe with The Loneliest Planet. The huge negative is that the story moves at a painfully slow pace, and while I personally do not mind slow moving films, with the extremely long sequences of simply watching the three characters trek across the countryside with backpacks and absolutely no dialogue, nothing happens! When story does intermittently develop, the audience empathizes with each of the characters. The ending is abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying.

As a film with lavish footage of picturesque landscaping of a land few are fortunate enough to see, I’d give this film a solid A, but for the compelling storytelling, the film is lackluster as a whole.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Julia Loktev

Jeff, Who Lives at Home-2011

Jeff, Who Lives at Home-2011

Director-Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass

Starring-Jason Segel, Susan Sarandon

Scott’s Review #107


Reviewed July 12, 2014

Grade: B

I confess to not being a huge fan of Jason Segel. Jeff, Who Lives at Home tells the story of a slacker who lives with his mother and clearly lives in the shadows of his successful brother, played by Ed Helms. He regularly smokes pot and looks for meaning in random occurrences. One day he begins an adventure when he believes he sees meaning in a phone call and it sets up a series of mishaps involving his brother and estranged wife, played by Judy Greer. The secondary story involves the mother (Susan Sarandon), who leads a dull life working a mundane job. She suddenly develops a secret admirer at her job.

The film was much better than expected. As the movie unfolds it turns into a day in the life of a dysfunctional, yet loving family. I expected a silly, dumb comedy given the star and the premise, but the film was much better than that. It is a nicely layered, touching movie with a message and some spirituality mixed in. I loved the ending and was impressed by the heartfelt nature of this small little slice of life film.

The Theatre Bizarre-2011

The Theatre Bizarre-2011

Director-Tom Savini, Douglas Buck

Starring-Udo Kier, Lena Kliene

Scott’s Review #77


Reviewed June 28, 2014

Grade: B+

The Theatre Bizarre is a little known horror treat from 2011 that was only shown in horror festivals upon its release and is otherwise, shamefully unknown. Horror buffs must give this film a chance.

The main story centers on a young woman’s attraction to an odd theater in her neighborhood and her hesitant pursuit of the theater. Once she musters the courage to enter, she is treated to 6 stories told by the strange owner of the theater, who is a wax figure. The audience also experiences the stories in one-by-one vignettes. The stories range from the morbidly gruesome (A bitter, angry woman castrates her cheating boyfriend. An unstable woman serves her boyfriend to her friends for dinner) to poetic (a young girl and her mother discuss the process of death upon witnessing a deadly motorcycle crash).

The first vignette (Mother of Toads) was not one of the best, but the subsequent stories fascinated me. The ambiance, especially inside the theater, is dark, dream-like, and surreal, which adds much atmosphere to the film.  It reminded me quite a bit of Masters of Horror, a popular series on Showtime in the mid 2000’s. Highly recommended gem for horror fans.

The Snowtown Murders-2011

The Snowtown Murders-2011

Director-Justin Kurzel

Starring-Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall

Scott’s Review #57


Reviewed June 23, 2014

Grade: C+

The Snowtown Murders is an Australian film, based on a true story, of a charismatic, manipulative man who influences a family of misfits into following his murderous streak. The film is helped by a group of very talented actors (unknowns to me) who successfully relay a sense of bleakness and despair in their lives and some fine, emotional acting makes this film slightly above average. In fact, the entire look of the movie is dreary, raw and hopeless, from the lighting to the camera shots. The details of the film are impressive- from the confined, dismal house the family lives in, and the unhealthy meals consumed, all are filled with a sense of chaos.

The Snowtown Murders pushes the envelope with the explicitness of the murders and torture scenes, so the viewer is left feeling uncomfortable. The downside of the movie is that it drags at times and meanders along at a plodding pace adding to the discomfort. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but it had a negative effect for me.