Sisters-1973

Sisters-1973

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt

Scott’s Review #178

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Reviewed September 29, 2014

Grade: B+

Directed by stylistic film genius Brian De Palma, Sisters is an early entry in the famed director’s repertoire and a direct homage to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The film stars Margot Kidder as a French-Canadian model named Danielle Breton, who shares a Staten Island, NY apartment with her demented twin sister Dominique. For many years Danielle and Dominique were conjoined twins and only recently surgically separated. After a romantic date with a new acquaintance, Danielle begins to feel ill and Dominique murders the new boyfriend after he surprises, who he thinks is Danielle, with a birthday cake. But is it really Dominique or is it Danielle? Meanwhile, a neighbor, Grace Collier played by Jennifer Salt, witnesses the murder from across the alley, and in a highly dramatic scene, involving the victim attempting to scrawl “help” on the window, Grace gets the police involved. The authorities are skeptical and unsympathetic to Grace’s claims since she works as a newspaper reporter and is constantly challenging the police department in her articles. Finally, when the police do search Danielle’s apartment, no dead body is found. This sets off the plot for the remainder of the film as Grace looks for the missing body on her own (in Nancy Drew style) with the help of a detective she hires, Joseph Larch, comically played by Charles Durning.

One point to mention about Sisters is that the film is a blueprint for De Palma films to come, but that does not mean it is not engaging on its own merits- it is-but pales in comparison to other De Palma gems which followed, such as Carrie and Dressed to Kill. It feels raw and slightly underdeveloped compared to those aforementioned films. Danielle’s ex-husband and doctor, Eli, while creepy and sinister, is not fully explored, and his relation to events taking place is a bit vague throughout much of the film. Techniques such as the split screen showing simultaneous action oftentimes relating to each other are introduced in this film and are a marvel to watch as so much of the plot is revealed in these sequences- activity in Grace’s apartment contrasts with and interchanges perfectly with action in Danielle’s apartment- highly effective and suspenseful. DePalma uses many Hitchcock influences, but in no way steals them- the idea of a set of conjoined twins with mental illness was taken from a real life story of Soviet twins. Viewers familiar with Psycho will smile during the murder scene as influences are apparent- Rear Window is certainly referenced as countless scenes of the camera looking into Danielle’s or Grace’s apartment or the camera looking out onto a street scene or someone with binoculars spying out of their own apartment and into someone else’s apartment across the street- very visually oriented. And the Hitchcock similarities continue with the musical score- it is composed by Bernard Hermann, a frequent collaborator of Hitchcock films- think Vertigo light.

After all of the psychological build-up throughout the first hour of the film, the final 30 minutes or so, taking place within the confines of a mental asylum, is confusing and unrealistic, as various flashbacks and dream sequences are used, even using one character taking the place of another in a dream- edgy and unique, but tough to follow and organize properly.  And Grace being assumed to be a newly admitted mental patient seemed far-fetched. What exactly transpired between Danielle and Dominique present and/or in the past? Even though events are explained, I found myself scratching my head a bit at the conclusion of the film. For fans of Brian De Palma films Sisters is a perfect movie experience to show the influence to come and not a bad film on its own either.

Go for Sisters-2013

Go for Sisters-2013

Director-John Sayles

Starring-Edward James Olmos

Scott’s Review #177

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Reviewed September 27, 2014

Grade: B-

Go for Sisters is a 2013 independent feature film about a female parole officer (Lisa Gay Hamilton) with a troubled, missing son named Rodney, feared to be mixed up with the murder of a drug dealer. The film takes place in California and Mexico. Hamilton plays Bernice, a middle-aged black woman, who has always done the right thing in life. Widowed and recently dumped by a new boyfriend, she runs into ex-convict Fontayne, played by Yolonda Ross, at her parole office.

Initially wanting nothing to do with her former high school friend, Bernice decides to use Fontayne’s criminal connections to locate Rodney. From this point, they hire retired Mexican police officer Freddy Suarez, played by Edward James Olmos, and the trio embarks on an adventure across the border of Mexico.

I loved the story involving the two female leads (Hamilton and Ross) who share a Thelma and Louise type of bond. The characters reconnect with each other and develop independently- straight laced Bernice toughens up and breaks a few rules while Fontayne, determined to go straight, struggles to keep her head above water, resisting drugs and attempting to hold down a job. The two forge a bond based on trust, respect, and loyalty and their friendship grows throughout the film. One gripe about Fontayne’s character- she admits to being a lesbian, but then mentions she is not sure if she is or if she is not. This sexual identity crisis seems strange- why couldn’t the film just make her a lesbian? Why the hedging? The remaining aspects of the film, though, are mediocre to weak. Adding the character of Freddy to the mix is unnecessary- He adds little to the plot except helping the women get into Mexico and being, intended I’m assuming, male comic relief. Either way, I didn’t find the character very interesting or care about him and the film would have been better without Freddy. What was the reasoning behind making him have poor eyesight? What was the point of Freddy taking a young woman and her daughter to breakfast and realizing they are crossing the border to find her estranged husband? Who cares? It had nothing to do with the plot. All the audience really knows about Freddy is that he is retired due to some misunderstanding and accepts money to help Bernice and Fontayne and sort of tags along with them for the rest of the film.

The stereotypes of the film should have been eliminated- the Chinese dragon lady and the corrupt Mexican police officers have been played to death in films and at this point are rather insulting to smart and serious movie-goers.  I found the plot a bit tough to follow and I still don’t really understand how or why Rodney was involved with the Chinese mob in the first place other than to help Chinese immigrants cross the border. Was he involved for the money or truly want to help the immigrants cross into the United States? The film mentions countless times how Rodney is a decent person so what’s his motivation? The film never wholly explains why he is kidnapped and a suspect in a murder case.  Also, countless characters are introduced to help the women on their journey with some sort of connection to the kidnap victim, but are written haphazardly with no character development.

The ending of Go for Sisters is too predictable and leaves the audience not really caring about the outcome. Despite numerous negatives the heart of the film belongs to the talents of Hamilton and Ross and their characters interesting and warm friendship that develops over the course of the film.

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Doris Day

Top 100 Films-#38

Scott’s Review #176

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Reviewed September 26, 2014

Grade: A

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1956 starring James Stewart and Doris Day, who share tremendous chemistry. They play a successful married couple- Ben and Jo McKenna, he a Doctor, she a well-known singer, who travels on a lovely trip to Morocco, with their young son Hank in tow. They are a traditional American family on vacation abroad that the viewer trusts and believes in from the on-set of the film. Suddenly, they are approached by a Frenchman named Louis Bernard, who seems a bit too curious about Ben and his work. Jo is immediately suspicious of the mysterious man and this begins a series of events involving mistaken identity, an assassination attempt on England’s Prime Minister, and the couple traversing to London in an attempt to locate Hank, who has been kidnapped by criminals.

As with other Hitchcock films- think North by Northwest, the motivations of the assassins are unclear and one might argue, unnecessary. Why are they attempting to assassinate a political figure? Is there money to gain? Is there power to be obtained? These questions are never answered- the film is really not about that, but rather about Ben and Jo’s predicaments. The villains- primarily an innocent seeming English couple and a sneering, rat-like assassin, are one-dimensional characters as their motivations are not revealed. A remake of a 1934 version with the same title, but far superior, the film is a suspense/ political thriller. Some interesting comparisons to other Hitchcock films released around the same time that I continue to notice with each passing viewing; North by Northwest– the ordinary man falling into international intrigue and Vertigo– Jo is dressed in almost identical fashion to Madeleine/Judy- a classic, sophisticated grey suit with a pulled up bun hairstyle; the musical scores are extremely similar- almost identical in instances; Vertigo’s bell tower is reminiscent of Ambrose Chappel in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Stewart’s Ben climbs up the bell tower in The Man Who Knew Too Much whereas in Vertigo is terrified of heights, let alone climbing. These are fascinating tidbits to note for any Hitchcock fan. Impressive to me is Doris Day’s performance, which is her greatest. Known for lightweight, romantic comedy, fluff roles, she turns in a wonderfully emotional and dramatic role and is quite effective in her own right.

The six minute climactic final sequence, set at a musical concert at Royal Albert Hall, is among the best in film history and uses no dialogue. This technique is jaw-dropping as one realizes just how much transpires within the six minutes, solely on physical action and facial expressions alone- the entire plot of the film reaches a searing crescendo- quite literally. Day is particularly strong in this sequence. James Stewart, in his fourth turn in a Hitchcock film, is charismatic as always playing the every man tangled in a web of deceit and espionage.  He takes charge, but is identifying to the audience- he can be your friend or neighbor and we trust his character- he is a successful doctor after all. The now legendary song from the film “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” is an important part of the finale and remains with the audience in a happy yet terrifying way long after the curtain closes on the film. The Man Who Knew Too Much is exciting, suspenseful, interesting, and fun- just what a Hitchcock film should be.

A Star Is Born-1954

A Star is Born-1954

Director-George Cukor

Starring-Judy Garland, James Mason

Scott’s Review #175

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Grade: B+

Reviewed September 25, 2014

A Star Is Born was, at the time, considered Judy Garland’s much touted comeback film and was very expensive for Warner Bros. to produce . Garland delivers her finest career performance in my opinion (yes, even better than her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). The performance is multi-faceted and complex- it is comical, silly, poised, emotional, dramatic, and heartfelt.

Playing Esther Blodgett- later changed to Vicki Lester for more Hollywood potential, she is a struggling lounge singer who meets a successful actor, named Norman Maine, played wonderfully by James Mason. Esther saves Norman from public humiliation at a function where he attempts to take the stage while inebriated.  They strike up a friendship and he convinces her to pursue films and, through a series of misunderstandings, she assumes he has ditched her. Determined to become a star anyway, Esther forges her path to success on her own. Norman and Esther reconnect and Norman recognizes her talent and pursues her both professionally and romantically. They marry and she becomes a star while his career hits the skids, largely due to his alcoholism. The talented Mason and Garland are at the forefront of the film and are the reasons for its success.

A few key scenes stand out to me as powerful or important- The scene involving a musical number over a dinner of sandwiches in their posh living room is wonderfully merry and light; a delivery boy who does not know who Norman is ruins the mood and causes jealousy to come to a head in his marriage to Esther. Garland’s emotional scenes are excellent- especially the scene in her dressing room where she crumbles, realizing that Mason has hit rock bottom. And the best scene of all is the Academy awards scene where a drunken Norman causes a public spectacle as Esther receives her top honor, spoiling her night, and accidentally hitting her in the face in front of millions. What a forgiving woman Esther is for staying with him and ultimately choosing him at the risk of ruining her career.

An interesting aspect of the story is that Garland’s character is not some ugly duckling that is transformed to Hollywood royalty- she has the talent already, she just needs a break, but is not down on her luck or starving- she makes a decent living with a touring band and she is torn about leaving them. The musical numbers are inspiring and one is reminded why Garland is such a star as she belts them out of the park like nobody’s business, however they do little to further the plot. At times, more often the case in the first half, the film drags a bit, but the second half (post intermission) brilliant and the ending tragic yet heartwarming. Will Esther’s career continue to flourish?

A major, major flaw with the film is the usage of still frames with dialogue overlapping due to lost footage. This makes following the story very tough and the continuity is affected. It also looks ridiculous and for the viewer to be captured by the story only to suddenly view a discolored still shot with audio is disappointing. Surely, this can be corrected. A Star Is Born is the perfect vehicle for Garland to return to her grand position among the Hollywood treasures.

Love Is Strange-2014

Love Is Strange-2014

Director-Ira Sachs

Starring-John Lithgow, Alfred Molina

Scott’s Review #174

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Reviewed September 24, 2014

Grade: B

Love Is Strange is a sweet, though not nauseatingly sentimental, look at many different types of relationships, but at the forefront is a same sex couple, Ben and George, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina respectively. They are a successful New York City couple of a certain age, who have been together for nearly 30 years and finally legally wed in a low-key ceremony surrounded by friends and family members. George teaches music at a strict Catholic high school where the students and staff know and love both he and his new husband. The bishop, however, is not supportive of his marriage and he is unceremoniously fired. This causes Ben and George to become homeless and rely on family and friends for a roof over their heads. The film features several secondary character relationships- Ben’s nephew and his wife balance busy careers with a temperamental, rebellious, confused son; Ben’s niece from Poughkeepsie seems neurotic. Neighbors who are a gay police couple have loud parties seemingly every night. Marisa Tomei, who plays Ben’s niece by marriage, Kate, and Charlie Tahan as Joey, Ben’s great-nephew are probably the most prominently featured of the supporting cast.  Kate, while well-meaning and accommodating, oftentimes bottles her anger and comforts herself with nightly consumptions of red wine. Joey lashes out at his great Uncle in frustration criticizing his art-work and scolding him for using his teen friend in a portrait, a friend whose sexuality is unclear. Most of the other characters are not fleshed out well and simply are there to move the plot along. This is slightly disappointing. I would have preferred a bit more backstory regarding the rest of the cast.

Throughout the film, a few clues are dropped surrounding Joey and his friend’s sexuality, but never pursued further than on the surface. I was curious about the cops back story. How long have they been together? Do they face conflict at work? Numerous scenes show both cops in uniform while running errands or visiting the hospital, which seems to be the films desire to emphasize that cops can be masculine and gay- a fact I love, yet the characters are only one dimensional. Why is Ben’s niece neurotic? This is also not pursued at all. The film belongs to Lithgow and Molina. The two of them have such effortless, natural chemistry that the audience instantly believes they have been together for decades- the fact that Lithgow and Molina are lifelong friends in real-life surely adds to the realism and naturalness. Ben is the yin to George’s yang. In fact, the performances of Lithgow and Molina are so understated and calming that one might overlook how excellent they actually are since they are both low-key characters.

At its heart Love Is Strange is a film about strength, courage, loyalty, and perseverance through life’s challenges. It is a sensitive and lovely film.

The Birds-1963

The Birds-1963

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor

Top 100 Films-#2     Top 20 Horror Films-#2     

Scott’s Review #173

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Reviewed September 22, 2014

Grade: A

The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.

Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.

The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.

My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.

Requiem for a Dream-2000

Requiem for a Dream-2000

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto

Top 100 Films-#51     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#3    

Scott’s Review #172

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Reviewed September 21, 2014

Grade: A

Requiem for a Dream is a disturbing film and, at times, very difficult to watch, but it is also a brilliant masterpiece, visually as well as from a storytelling perspective, that I appreciate more and more with each painful (in a good way!) viewing experience. The film is easily on my most disturbing films ever seen list.

The subject matter is drug trafficking/addiction that effects more than one character in the cast- this subject has been tackled by a myriad of different films- think Traffic, released around the same time period as Requiem for a Dream for a comparison. At the risk of directly comparing Requiem for a Dream to Traffic, which is unfair, I will say that as gritty as Traffic is, Requiem for a Dream makes it look like a kid’s film. Director Darren Aronofsky’s direction is superb.

The story revolves around a young man (Harry) from Brooklyn, played by Jared Leto, his girlfriend Marion, played by Jennifer Connelly, Harry’s mother Sara, played by Ellen Burstyn, and Harry’s best friend Tyrone, played by Marlon Wayans. Each individual falls into a trap of drug addiction in their own way, but all are written sympathetically so that the audience cares about them and feel their sorrows intensely. Harry and Tyrone are involved in drug selling, but aspire to be successful and both love their mothers and their significant others- in Harry’s case that is Marion. Marion (Connelly) falls in over her head and is forced to turn tricks to feed her heroin habit. She is an intelligent young woman from an affluent family, which makes her downward spiral into prostitution all the more shocking. The standout among the central characters is Sara Goldfarb, who is a lonely widowed woman obsessed with a television game show. She develops delusions of grandeur of becoming a contestant and is tragically determined to lose weight in order to fit into her favorite red dress. She becomes dependent on diet pills and begins hallucinating that her refrigerator is attacking her. Aronofsky perfectly mixes in fantasy sequences showcasing Burstyn’s real attractiveness contrasted with the desperation of Sara. Sara is a sad character and Burstyn is mesmerizing in the role. How she lost the Oscar to Julia Roberts in 2000 is and always will be one of the biggest Oscar travesties in my opinion.

The special part of this film is the visual and cerebral aspects. The film is dreamlike in its texture and extreme, fast paced close-ups of the diet pills or heroin being consumed. The viewer feels the highs and lows that the characters feel and there is immediately a sense that all of the characters are doomed and hopeless. In addition, this film has one of the most effective and haunting scores I have ever experienced, right up there with John Carpenter’s Halloween. The slow motion sequences combined with frenetic images make this quite cerebral to watch. I cannot watch this film very often as it is too disturbing and upsetting, but I sure am glad it was made at all.

The Past-2013

The Past-2013

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #171

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Reviewed September 16, 2014

Grade: B+

The Past is an international film directed by acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who directed the brilliant A Separation from 2012. Despite being directed by an Iranian director the film is spoken in French and set in France. While not quite on the level of A Separation, The Past is still a very good, layered, and quite compelling film, though admittedly slow paced in spots, which is similar to real life.

The film centers on a couple, Marie and Ahmad, in the midst of a divorce. Marie lives in France with her two daughters from a relationship prior to Ahmad so therefore they have no children together. He lives in Iran and comes to visit and finalize the divorce proceedings. Further complicating the situation is that Marie is in a relationship with another man, Samir, who has a son by his current wife, who is a vegetable in a coma after a suicide attempt. What were the events that led her to attempt suicide? Did someone reveal something of importance to her? If so, who?

Questions such as these compel viewers to invest in the characters. The Past is an excellent family drama done right- there are no needless stereotypes and the children serve more of a purpose than being cute or attractive wallpaper like in many family dramas. Each child involved- there are 3- has real feelings and expresses themselves in a realistic way. All three principal adult characters are mature, complicated, and have depth. Nobody is the villain and the intent is not to make the audience root for one couple over the other- the film is more mysterious than that. Rather, the audience spends the film trying to figure out the secrets that each character keeps. Is Marie ready to divorce Ahmad or does she still love him? Does Samir blame Marie for his wife’s condition? Why does the oldest daughter hate Samir so much? These are questions that arise more and more as The Past unfolds.

Another interesting facet of the film is there are no red herrings introduced to manipulate the viewer. The film is simply a detailed, complex drama. All three leads (Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa) give wonderful performances, though I’m not sure why Bejo’s performance is considered the standout. Upon completion and thought, I noticed many similarities to A Separation. The Past is a good, solid, family drama, with rich writing and honest, compelling situations.

The Red Balloon-1956

The Red Balloon-1956

Director-Albert Lamorisse

Starring-Pascal Lamorisse

Scott’s Review #170

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Reviewed September 15, 2014

Grade: A

The Red Balloon is a poignant short film (34 minute running time) in its innocence and creativity. The film is directed by acclaimed French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse. It tells the story of a young Parisian boy named Pascal who befriends a special red balloon that arrives out of thin air and greets him one day. Amazingly, the balloon follows him everywhere and they become inseparable friends. The balloon has a mind of its own and acts as a protector of Pascal from schoolyard bullies and others who do not understand nor care about his bond with the balloon. The balloon does not leave his side and during school hours and sleeping hours faithfully waits outside for Pascal. Director Lamorisse’s children play Pascal and a little girl with a similar blue balloon.

The entire film is shot in Paris so many beautiful glimpses of the city are featured. The neighborhood (Belleville) where most of the adventure involving little Pascal and his balloon meandering through the streets to and from school, sadly no longer exists and was destroyed in the 1960’s due to decay. It is a bleak, melancholy neighborhood which perfectly contrasts the extreme brightness of the balloon. The Red Balloon is a thought provoking short film and effectively contains almost no dialogue. None is needed as a powerful message of friendship, heartbreak, and loyalty is portrayed. The climax of the film is heartbreaking yet uplifting. The Red Balloon is a film for all ages to enjoy and fall in love with and, in fact, for many years the film was shown to children by educators.  The Red Balloon is the only short film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom-2013

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom-2013

Director-Justin Chadwick

Starring-Idris Elba, Naomie Harris

Scott’s Review #169

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Reviewed September 13, 2014

Grade: B

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom recounts the true story of the life and times of South African leader Nelson Mandela chronicling 50 plus years of his life from 1942 to 1994, his passion for freedom and dedication to anti-apartheid, his battles with the government, and his struggles to survive in prison. The film is shot beautifully, the cinematography gorgeous, and the South African landscape is breathtaking.

I enjoyed the chemistry between Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, who play Nelson Mandela and his second wife Winnie respectively and Elba, in particular, is very well cast. He is charismatic, handsome, and calm, and perfectly encompasses the famous leader’s mannerisms. It was interesting to be exposed to a biopic that spanned such a lengthy period of time and, in a way, is a history lesson for the viewer, especially viewer’s young enough not to completely remember all the details of Mandela’s life. I was too young to know of all of Mandela’s trials and tribulations. For example, I knew he was imprisoned and released, but had no idea of how long he had actually spent in prison and away from his wife and family. I got the sense that factually, some details were either embellished or skipped over entirely. I’ve heard this criticism from some moviegoers regarding Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

A few drawbacks- this film is VERY Hollywood. It has a glossy feel to it. I would have preferred a bit more grit to it. Was there any sexual abuse while Mandela was imprisoned? Was Winnie abused while she was in prison? Why was the lack of sexuality in Mandela’s and Winnie’s marriage in later years alluded to, but never explored? This seemed to be a negative to the film. Being that the film is rated PG-13, aspects are toned down and it has a very safe feel. Also, for such a perfectly shot and designed film, the aging makeup was absolutely dreadful! It was apparent that Idris Elba was wearing a glued on, unflattering grey wig. Furthermore, the woman playing Mandela’s mother was surely the same age if not younger than Elba, with dyed grey hair. This aspect seemed poorly produced.

Overall, Mandela: A Long Walk Freedom is a good film, largely due to its acting and the look of the film, but it is not a great one.

Pit Stop-2013

Pit Stop-2013

Director-Yen Tan

Starring-Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda

Scott’s Review #168

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Reviewed September 10, 2014

Grade: B

Pit Stop is a very small independent film from 2013 centering on a group of gay men living in rural Texas, somewhere outside of either Houston or San Antonio. The plot focuses on two specific men, Gabe and Ernesto, neither of whom is acquainted with the other and tells of their series of ups and downs, mostly regarding dating and relationships. Gabe lives with his ex-wife Shannon and they share a child whom they raise together as a family. They have a warm relationship and live together as friends.  Gabe was recently dumped by a married man who wants Gabe to stop calling him. Ernesto lives with a younger man who he used to date and is trying to convince to move out and get his life together. Ernesto also has a former partner who is comatose and whom he continues to visit in the hospital.

A sub-plot of the film is Shannon’s struggles to date. She arranges a date with a co-worker and, after drinking too much, embarrasses herself by coming on too strong to him. The point of the film is that all of the characters are struggling to find love and companionship and most are quite lonely people, yet not unbalanced or neurotic folks. They reside in the middle of nowhere which dims their chances of finding love.

Interestingly, there are no villains in the film and all the characters are quite likeable. There is a rooting value to each of them especially towards Gabe and Ernesto and all along I kept hoping that they would be brought together as they seem to be a wonderful pair fraught with potential chemistry. Both are clearly caregivers in their current situations so it is interesting and appealing what transpires at the conclusion of the film.

Pit Stop is a feel good, happily-ever-after type film, mostly screened at independent film festivals and the gay festival circuit. The film is small and steady, but a nice, uplifting experience. It is worth checking out.

Gloria-2012

Gloria-2012

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Paulina Garcia

Scott’s Review #167

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Reviewed September 10, 2014

Grade: B+

The subject matter of the film Gloria is so unusual in this day and age of the clichéd, youth obsessed world of Hollywood that it is incredibly refreshing and pleasing to view. Gloria tells the story of the title character, a middle-aged (50’s) divorced woman, living in Chile, who simply lives life to the fullest. She loves and embraces new experiences. She tries smoking pot, she sings along to disco songs and dances the nights away. Certainly she is looking for love, but she is not a depressed or dowdy woman. Rather, she is stable, attractive, intelligent, and funny. She lives!! Gloria meets and begins a relationship with Rodolfo, a similar aged divorced man with a family filled with baggage whom she meets in a nightclub. His ex-wife and two daughters reside with, and are dependent on, him.

The film wisely does not feature Rodolfo’s family at all until the very end which adds to the characters mystique. Gloria and Rodolfo begin a series of trials and tribulations involving both of their families. Gloria introduces Rodolfo to her family at a birthday party in which her ex-husband and his current wife are in attendance. Her family is very close including her relationship with her ex-husband and his new wife. They take a wine-induced trip down memory lane. This is too much for Rodolfo and he bails. He is constantly barraged with phone calls from his family during alone time with Gloria. They continue to have ups and downs. The audience wonders, will they find their way to a happily ever after? Is Rodolfo really a cad? Does Gloria want to settle down? A moment of bliss at an expensive hotel is ruined by an event and the audience’s heart breaks for Gloria.

How wonderful that this film has the courage to feature more than one explicit nude scene between these two middle aged people in a classy, tender style. This is not common in American film so happily foreign language films are not as rigid or prudish in their sexuality. Why Paulina Garcia received little recognition for this role is sad to me. She certainly deserved an Oscar nomination as she relays an enormous level of complex emotions- she feels loss, she is betrayed, she is giddy, she is silly, the list goes on and on. Gloria, at times is admittedly slow paced, but what a breath of fresh air the film and the story is. The film is a character driven, tender tale centering on mature, intelligent people.

 

Gloria-1980

Gloria-1980

Director-John Cassavetes

Starring-Gena Rowlands

Top 100 Films-#23

Scott’s Review #166

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Reviewed September 9, 2014

Grade: A

Gloria is an action/thriller film which features the standard action-crime thriller elements, the shoot ‘em up, guns blazing, clichéd fare, but contains an interesting, appealing leading character, a gritty atmosphere, and smart dialogue. It is a much better film than most indistinguishable films of the action genre. Directed and written by independent film master, John Cassavetes, who clearly wanted to make a more conventional, mainstream film than was typical for him- think the very left of center, brilliant  A Woman Under the Influence, also starring Gena Rowlands, and Gloria was the perfect film for him to create with Rowlands as the focal point.

Made in 1980, Gloria perfectly portrays New York City at the time. New York City was gritty, dirty, rough, crime infested, violent, and chaotic and the film travels throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and New Jersey very often, with many scenes shot directly on the streets of New York. Several other scenes are set in dingy apartments, hotels, sleazy bars, and dumpy streets and are highly effective in portraying a gloomy atmosphere. The cinematography is perfect in the film. The heart of the film lies with Rowlands (Director Cassavetes wife) who gives a mesmerizing performance as a former mob girlfriend who, by circumstance, must protect a young Hispanic boy from execution by the mob because of an informant book he clings to for dear life. No other actress could have played this role of a tough-talking, brash New Yorker as well as Rowlands plays her. The boy’s father, played by Buck Henry, is a scared accountant with ties to a company fronted by the mob. He fears his entire family will be murdered and hands his kid over to Gloria. Julie Carmen gives a brief but effective performance as Phil’s frazzled mother. I wish Henry and Carmen had been given more screen time and fleshed out characters because both had huge potential. The film belongs to Rowlands- she is no nonsense, tough, and so convincing in the part. I also enjoyed the casting of John Adames as the kid, Phil. His performance was inexplicably panned by many critics and I’m not sure why. I also love the unique opening credits as intense folk/jazz music plays over watercolor portraits that turn into the skyline of New York City and the music has a melancholy and eeriness to it.

Amid the violence there is a sweet bond that develops between Gloria and Phil that is not too sentimental or cheesy. A great, compelling, late 1970’s/early 1980’s film that has some definite Godfather and Dirty Harry influences in texture and characters especially with some of the mobster characters. The appeal of the film is that it has heart, but never delves into schlock. Surprisingly rated only PG, it is gritty, but not lewd or harsh and seems dirtier than it actually is with barely any filthy language. The chemistry and heartfelt connection between Gloria and Phil is darling without being too sappy or safe. Gloria is a fast paced, action gem that is both appealing and tough.

Psycho-1960

Psycho-1960

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Top 100 Films-#1     Top 20 Horror Films- #1

Scott’s Review #165

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Reviewed September 6, 2015

Grade: A

Psycho is the film to end all films and not just within the horror genre- at the time of release it transcended the art of film to a new level and has influenced generations of films since, and still holds up incredibly well today. It is certainly one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock films and one of the greatest films ever made,  in my opinion. Hitchcock took a huge risk and dove from the thriller genre to the horror genre with Psycho.

The story involves a young woman named Marion Crane, superbly played by Janet Leigh. Marion lives in Phoenix, Arizona and sees her boyfriend (the dashing John Gavin) for frequent afternoon rendezvous at cheap motels when he is in town, because they are both struggling financially. She is presented with an opportunity, via her job, to steal $40,000 and flee the state to start a new life with her beau. She seizes the opportunity. On the run, she stops at a run down Bates motel where she meets owner Norman Bates, hauntingly played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins and Leigh have an amazing chemistry together and the audience picks up on it- is it romantic? Is there mysteriousness to it? Something is clearly odd about Norman. They bond over a quiet meal of sandwiches at the motel while discussing life and his ailing mother.

The famous shower scene and the shocking twist at the conclusion of the film are now almost taken for granted since most people know about them already, but I can only imagine the shock when viewers were first treated to these two delights. To this day both are still suspenseful to watch. When I saw this film for the first time I fortunately did NOT know the ending and I am glad I didn’t because my breath was taken away. To kill off the star of the film halfway through was a novel idea and mind blowing at the time of release (1960). This act literally had audience’s mouths hanging open in disbelief and saying, “what now”? “How can this be followed”? This act would later influence the original Scream film and surprise audiences all over again. Per Hitchcock, no one could enter the film after it had started and viewers were persuaded not to reveal the ending- oh how I wish that occurred these days.

A very important aspect to the success and longevity of Psycho is the chemistry between Perkins and Leigh who got along famously while shooting Psycho, and more importantly, the likability of Norman Bates. There is a rooting value for him even though he is the villain. When Marion’s car is only halfway submerged in a lake containing her dead body, we root for the car to completely sink because Norman does and the concerned look on Norman’s face has a sincerity to it that affects the audience. Norman is troubled and wounded and the audience does not know why at this point in the story.

Let’s not forget the likability of Janet Leigh. The audience sympathizes with her predicament. She is hopelessly in love with her man, steals money, is conflicted, and at her core is a nice, decent, kind woman.

Halfway through the film Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles, is introduced as well as a detective and the film becomes more of a suspense/mystery as they search for Marion and investigate the Bates hotel and Norman Bates himself. Miles then takes center stage as the lead in the film, which is intriguing in itself.

The film then returns to horror at the terrific and terrifying conclusion, which will shock first time viewers. The musical score (especially the shrill strings) is incredibly effective and was a huge influence on horror films to come (Friday the 13th immediately comes to mind). Psycho is a film that can certainly be enjoyed and studied over and over again.

Dressed to Kill-1980

Dressed to Kill-1980

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine

Top 100 Films-#13    Top 20 Horror Films-#5

Scott’s Review #164

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Reviewed September 2, 2014

Grade: A

Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma’s greatest work throughout his storied career. Set in New York City the film is essentially divided into two halves. The first half centers around Angie Dickinson, who plays a bored housewife named Kate. Kate is unhappy in her marriage and seeks therapy from a psychiatrist played by Michael Caine, whom she makes sexual advances towards. She is unfaithful to her husband, yet is a kind, intelligent, cultured woman. She adores her son, loves her husband, but is completely unfulfilled with life. Do we, the audience sympathize with her? Does she get what she deserves? Is she a victim? One powerful scene involves a wide-eyed little girl who cannot stop staring at Kate. Can she sense Kate’s shenanigans? Does she sense her conflict? Does Kate feel guilt? Kate is a complex character and brilliantly played by Dickinson who gives the character a sexiness, softness and appeal.

After a shocking event in a high rise elevator rivaled only by the shower scene in Psycho in its surprise and terror, the remainder of the film belongs to Nancy Allen, who plays a prostitute named Liz, determined to solve a mystery in order to clear her name. De Palma sets the dreamlike tone to the film with a sizzling opening shower scene sure to make the prudish blush in its explicitness, which I found deliciously sexy. A ten minute museum sequence speaks volumes without a bit of dialogue as Kate has a cat and mouse flirtation with a stranger.

The brilliance of Dressed to Kill is its versatility and complexity and contains one surprise after another from the elevator scene to the final reveal to the final scene itself. It is part horror film part thriller and always stylish. The film was surprisingly not well regarded upon its release, but over the years has achieved respect due to its creativity and excellent mood. Many scenes are shot in slow motion adding effect to them. Dressed to Kill is simply brilliant on every level.

Bachelor Party-1984

Bachelor Party-1984

Director-Neal Israel

Starring-Tom Hanks, Adrian Zmed

Scott’s Review #163

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Reviewed September 1, 2014

Grade: D

Watching Bachelor Party for the very first time circa 2014, and quite certainly the last time I plan on watching this film, I realized almost immediately how dated it is and at this point in time can only be presumably enjoyed for nostalgia purposes. I can’t fathom anyone watching Bachelor Party for the first time and thinking it is a great film- it is not. If not for Tom Hanks becoming a huge star this comedy would be forgotten as there are dozens of like-minded films from the 1980’s that resemble it- think Pretty in Pink, National Lampoon films, etc.

The premise is basic- Rick (Hanks) and Debbie (Tawny Kitaen) are engaged and Rick’s friends throw a Bachelor party while Debbie goes out with the girls. Of course, Debbie’s parents hate Rick and scheme, along with her ex, to break them up. Every decade seems to have a similar carbon copy of this party themed film- Animal House, American Pie, The Hangover though not as entertaining as the aforementioned films.

All the characters are caricatures, one note, and types. There is little back story for any of them. The plot is silly, predictable, and the 1980’s look to the film does not hold up well. The film contains every stereotype imaginable- the meddlesome parents, Debbie’s vicious ex-boyfriend who is the film’s foil, various frat boys and sorority girl types, and Rick’s inept siblings. Avoid, unless a trip down 1980’s bad film memory lane is needed.