Category Archives: 2011 Movie reviews

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.

Bridesmaids-2011

Bridesmaids-2011

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.

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.

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

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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.

Bernie-2011

Bernie-2011

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #472

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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.

Killer Joe-2011

Killer Joe-2011

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch

Scott’s Review #450

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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.

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Director-Lynn Shelton

Starring-Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #448

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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.

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

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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.

Pina-2011

Pina-2011

Director-Wim Wenders

Starring-Pina Bausch

Scott’s Review #426

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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.

Bully-2011

Bully-2011

Director-Lee Hirsch

Scott’s Review #419

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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

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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.

Tower Heist-2011

Tower Heist-2011

Director-Brett Ratner

Starring-Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy

Scott’s Review #160

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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

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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.

The Intouchables-2011

The Intouchables-2011

Director-Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano,

Starring-Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy

Scott’s Review #135

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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.

Undefeated-2011

Undefeated-2011

Director-Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Starring-Montrail “Money” Brown

Scott’s Review #134

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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.

The Loneliest Planet-2011

The Loneliest Planet-2011

Director-Julia Loktev

Starring-Hani Furstenberg, Gael Garcia Bernal

Scott’s Review #131

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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.