The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974

Director-Tobe Hooper

Starring-Marilyn Burns

Top 100 Films-#35 

Top 20 Horror Films-#10

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#5    

Scott’s Review #209                                                      

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Reviewed December 31, 2014

Grade: A

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the grittiest, raw, frightening horror films that I have ever seen and still holds up incredibly well in present times. Containing a documentary-like look it is incredibly scary in its grainy, visual, real-life feel. It is not psychological horror- it is in your face, brutal horror. The perception of an incredibly hot, sticky, backwoods Texas summer is incredibly well done and only adds to the terror.

A group of five teenagers travel to the vast fields of Texas- aka- the middle of nowhere, presumably on a road trip. On their drive they pick up a strange hitchhiker who ends up stabbing one of the teens and cutting his own arm. Spooked by this odd occurrence, they stop for gas and directions, but veer off course and accidentally wind up at a slaughterhouse owned by cannibals. The group of teens is led by Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns.

As the teens are chopped off in grotesque fashion, similar to a slew of similar fashioned, but less interesting horror films to follow, Sally winds up the lone survivor of the group. Burns plays the first “final girl”, a title made famous in horror films as the last female remaining alive- it was almost always a female- to take on the maniacal killer.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre features one of the horror genre’s best villains- Leatherface. The viewer knows little about him as he does not speak- is he mentally disabled? Is he an intelligent man? He is disguised behind a mask made of strewn together human skin and wields a scary chain saw. We know nothing about him- only that he loves to kill. The ambiguity is immeasurable.

Besides the way that the film is shot, another shocking element is the reality of the story. Could this really happen to the viewer? The answer is yes of course it could. How many times have we been driving and gotten lost in surroundings unfamiliar to us? There are no supernatural beings or CGI effects in this film- only a group of youngsters crossing paths with maniacs and this could happen in real-life. This realization adds to the fright.

The famous- or infamous- dinner scene is revolutionary in disgust and distaste. The family attempts to serve Sally as dessert to the elderly patriarch and as he begins to suck blood from Sally’s finger, it will force the squeamish to turn away.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a short film, running at only 84 minutes, but the breathtaking finale- Sally running through the endless woods followed by Leatherface, seems interminable. Will he catch her? How can she possibly escape?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is dirty, ugly, and intense. It is no-holds barred brutality. It is one of the best horror films ever made.

Harold and Maude-1971

Harold and Maude-1971

Director-Hal Ashby

Starring-Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon

Top 100 Films-#59

Scott’s Review #208

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Reviewed December 30, 2014

Grade: A

Harold and Maude is one of the bravest and most left of center films that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. A subject matter so taboo that it had never before been explored in cinema and, to my knowledge, has not since. The film challenges so many mainstream views of aging, sex, and relationships. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort give performances of a lifetime.

The film tells the story of an unhappy, wealthy teenager named Harold (Cort) whose mother- hilariously played by Vivian Pickles- is a cold socialite attempting to reform Harold of his rebellious adolescent behavior. Harold frequently plays suicide pranks on her and the numerous females she tries to set him up with, reducing them to tearful exits from the family mansion in frightened hysterics. Obsessed with attending funerals for fun, one day Harold meets Maude (Gordon), an elderly woman, at a funeral, and it turns out that both share the same fascination, but for vastly different reasons as the story shows. They embark on a tender romance despite their age difference of over sixty years.

In many ways Maude is the real adolescent of the film, which I love. It is a role reversal of sorts. On the cusp of age eighty she has a pure zest for life, living each minute as if it was her last, unconcerned with the consequences of her actions- she is a true free spirit. She gleefully steals cars that happen to be parked on the street and her erratic driving is comically brilliant. Harold becomes the more responsible one despite being the tender age of only nineteen. He cares for Maude and her shocking revelation towards the end of the film floors Harold. It will also shock the audience. Harold and Maude deals with death, but is far from a downer. In fact, it is hilarious at times, brilliantly written, and Maude, a Nazi prison camp survivor, does not fear death- she has seen her share of it and almost embraces it. Harold is just beginning his life and the contrast of the characters and their growing bond is what works best in this film.

The aforementioned Vivian Pickles knocks it out of the park with her portrayal of Harold’s mother- her comic wit and timing are excellent- she callously hosts a dinner party and boasts of her travels to France to the guests while Harold sits ignored, bored, and depressed, staring at his mother is disbelief. He wants nothing to do with her or her trivial lifestyle. She makes an unimportant phone call while Harold’s dangles from the ceiling in a faux suicide attempt- clearly a cry for attention from his mother. This is total black comedy.

The implied intimacy between Harold and Maude was too much for many viewers in 1971. I find it sweet and quite tastefully done. They simply fall in love and it feels wonderful for both of them. I would be remiss for not mentioning the wonderful, lively soundtrack by Cat Stevens.

Edgy, laugh out loud, unusual, witty are words to describe Harold and Maude- one of the most intelligent comedies in film history.

Heathers-1989

Heathers-1989

Director-Michael Lehman

Starring-Winona Ryder, Christian Slater

Scott’s Review #207

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Reviewed December 25, 2014

Grade: B

My gut tells me that Heathers was quite controversial and influential upon release in 1989 and has sustained a cult following that continues to this day- 2014. Having seen the film for only the first time, in 2014, the film is good, but now suffers from a slightly dated look and feel. Still, it is a brave and unique expression in creativity. It is clearly a film that sends the message that the popular kids are bad and that the meek shall inherit the earth. The uncool kids will rise up.

To summarize the plot, Heathers is told from the perspective of high school student Veronica Sawyer, played by a young Winona Ryder. She is a second tier popular girl- she is lieutenant to the generals, if you will. The school is run by three popular girls-all named Heather. As popular as they are, they are also despised and feared by the other students, but carry great influence. They enjoy playing cruel jokes on other students and ridiculing anyone beneath them. A rebellious male student, J.D., played by Christian Slater, befriends Veronica and they hatch a plan to destroy the popular clique, including another pair of popular jocks. Shannon Doherty plays second in command Heather.

The tone of Heathers is surreal and dream-like. For example, in the opening scene all three Heathers- along with Veronica- are on a perfectly manicured lawn in the suburbs playing croquet. The hierarchy is established as Veronica seems to be buried up to her neck and is the target of the croquet balls making her, without question, the lowest of the four girls. Whether or not this is a dream or real is unclear. The film is well written and edgy. It reminds me at times of The Ice Storm and American Beauty, which Heathers preceded, and are superior in my opinion. Heathers is a teen angst film and quite dark at times- the various deaths are committed viciously (drain cleaner poisoning, concocting a setup for the jocks to appear to be having a love affair with each other and then passionately shooting each other), but with sly wit and humor. Veronica is, at heart, a good girl, albeit misguided and heavily influenced by J.D., but her intentions of having a fair, just school society are noble. The character is likeable.

All the parents are hilariously portrayed as buffoons and have no idea of the darkness that exists in their kid’s lives- Veronica’s parents in particular. Fearing that Veronica has committed or soon will attempt suicide, they fret that it is their fault stemming from childhood negligence, however their concern has more to do with themselves than with Veronica’s well-being.

Small gripes about the film are the 1980’s style outfits and hairstyles, which, since made in the 1980’s is not a particular fault of the films- though it does contain a slightly dated feel to it while watching in present times. Also, Christian Slater mimicking Jack Nicholson’s voice is odd- was this a decision by the film or by the actor himself? Either way the imitation is both distracting and confusing. What is the point?

The ending of the film is a happy and satisfying conclusion- however, different from the dark tone of the rest of the movie- rumor has it the studio had some influence in toning down the original ending. 1989 was not a stellar year for film so Heathers deserves major props for thinking outside the box and doing something dark and creative. Brave, inventive, and unique, Heathers is a cult classic worth a look.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

Scott’s Review #206

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Reviewed December 18, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five year olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby. The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like? The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entire edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening river boat. The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary river boat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually have weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” are memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Eastern Promises-2007

Eastern Promises-2007

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts

Scott’s Review #205

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Reviewed December 15, 2014

Grade: B

Eastern Promises is a 2007 Russian mafia thriller directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) that stars Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, and Vincent Cassel. The film is an uneven experience, seemingly meshing two stories together- one fascinating, one unnecessary.

Watts plays a British-Russian mid-wife named Anna, who works at a London hospital. She attempts to find the family of Tatiana, a 14 year old girl who dies during childbirth leaving a diary written in Russian along with her newborn. Anna struggles to unravel the mystery surrounding the girl which ends up involving the mafia. Mortensen plays Nikolai, mysterious chauffer to crime lord Semyon, and Cassel plays Kirill, disturbed, alcoholic son of Semyon. The plot segues into a story of a somewhat relationship between Nikolai and Anna that is not quite romantic and also a much more intriguing relationship between Nikolai and Kirill as a brotherhood of sorts develops between them. In fact, this relationship is complex- Kirill wants Nikolai to prove he is a straight male by having sex with one of several female prisoners he and his father keep as part of a sex trafficking group. During this scene, and a few others, the two men seem close, almost too close, given the sexual nature of what is happening during the scene, so this relationship is left vague, but intrigues nonetheless. The latter story holds more interest to me, whereas the former seems contrived and rather uninteresting. Was the intention of the film to imply a romantic interest between Anna and Nikolai? I found zero chemistry between the two and wondered if the audience was supposed to root for them as a couple or not.

The four principal characters in Eastern Promises are interesting to unravel. I found the characters of Nikolai and Kirill complex and interesting. Not so much with the character of Anna. Why did I not find her so compelling? Besides a skimmed over mention of how she lost a baby what vested interest did she have of mixing with the Russian mafia and putting her mother and uncle in harm’s way? Sure, anyone would want to find an orphaned babies family, but why not just call the police? This seems a large plot hole. Conversely, Nikolai is a fascinating, layered character played wonderfully by Mortensen. What are his true motivations? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? His attempts at being accepted by Semyon and the family in order to join the mob family makes him seem dangerous- but his kindness towards one of the Ukraine prostitutes is sweet. Kirill is a despicable character, but what is his sexuality? Does that make him get so drunk and angry? How does one explain his confliction over the baby shifting his character to sympathetic? Ultimately, Nikolai and Kirill are complicated- Anna and Semyon more one note.

I would have preferred the story solely revolve around the mafia family and the Godfather-type scenes, specifically the two throat slashing scenes violently done, and perhaps leave out Watts’s character and story altogether.

A gritty scene that takes place in a steam room pits Nikolai against two rival mafia men. The scene is long and intense. Mortensen performs the scene completely naked, which adds to the rawness and the brutality of the fight. It is one of the most masculine scenes I can remember watching.

At times compelling, but riddled with plot holes and requiring some suspension of disbelief, Eastern Promises is an entertaining Russian mafia film that is a decent watch.

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

Director-Cecil B. DeMille

Starring-Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart

Scott’s Review #204

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Reviewed December 14, 2014

Grade: B+

Considered by some critics to be one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, The Greatest Show on Earth is quite an impressive Hollywood spectacle and tells the story of the world’s largest railroad circus as they launch a tour and travel throughout the United States, with plenty of drama to experience throughout the film. The film stars Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, and James Stewart as general manager, acrobat, and clown of the show, respectively.

The film used over 1400 real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s people in the production as well as hundreds of animals giving it an authentic circus feel. Unfortunately, the film also has a schmaltzy quality to it and not the best acting, which surprisingly does not bother me and, strangely enough, sort of works in a melodramatic way. Various characters have affairs with each other or fall in and out of love rather quickly- it makes for good drama anyway. The main appeal is the extravagant show, of course. While the drama sometimes takes center stage, the lavish production and real circus events shine through.

My favorite, and arguably, only interesting character with any depth in The Greatest Show on Earth is Buttons the clown, played by James Stewart. Buttons wears his clown costume complete with full makeup at all times. He is kindly and mysterious. We learn that he “mercy killed” his dying wife and has joined the circus for protection from the police. A wonderful human being, he was once a Doctor, and tends to anyone in the circus troupe who needs assistance. Later in the film, he plays a very important role after a tragic accident occurs. His heartbreaking, tender conversation with his elderly mother, whom he only sees secretly once a year for seconds as she tearfully and discreetly visits him in the audience, is painfully sad to watch and is such a sweet scene.

The Greatest Show on Earth’s best scene by far though, which still impresses today, is the massive train wreck, close to the conclusion of the film. Made in 1952, the special effects and direction of Cecil B. DeMille are brilliant. The way that the train derails on a dark night is just perfect- highly effective in its enormity, crashing into an approaching train and derailing. The scene does not look silly. The way that all of the drama comes together in this scene- Harry, the crooked midway concessionaire and the vicious elephant trainer, Klaus, responsible for the accident, Buttons true identity being revealed, and a major character in peril, make this scene top notch and a satisfying conclusion to the film.

The films stories involving Brad, Holly, Sebastian, and Angel are soapy and melodramatic and the weakest point of the film- as a viewer I couldn’t care less which character lusted after which or who wound up in bed together, but the film itself is a spectacle and that is my main enjoyment of it. The brightness, the revelry, and the circus performances are all wonderful.

Oliver!-1968

Oliver!-1968

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Mark Lester, Oliver Reed

Top 100 Films-#55

Scott’s Review #203

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Reviewed December 10, 2014

Grade: A

Oliver, a 1968 film based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which was then adapted into a successful stage musical, the film surprisingly won the Academy award for Best Picture that year. Surprising, not because Oliver is poor, in fact it is magnificent, but it was not predicted to take home the honor. Telling the tale of woeful orphan Oliver, the film wonderfully comes across as a dark musical with a wholesome happy ending feel, largely due to the musical compositions which inevitably make for a cheerier tone.
When the film begins, Oliver lives in a despicable orphanage outside of London. A drawing of straws forces meek Oliver to ask for more gruel. After being deemed a problem child he is sold for cheap to an undertaker where he is bullied. Defeated, Oliver makes his way towards the big city in hopes of finding his fortunes. He then meets sinister characters such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes, as well as the sympathetic Nancy and Mr. Brownlow.

I absolutely love the musical numbers of the film and for me it is the strongest aspect of Oliver. The film would have certainly been much darker had it not been for the musical that it was. Numbers such as “Consider Yourself”, “Food, Glorious Food”, and “As Long As He Needs Me” stick with audiences for miles. The entertaining songs lighten the somber moments- as noted earlier when meek Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, the enchanting “Food Glorious Food” cannot help but be hummed along to, which lightens the mood of the scene. I also enjoy how the film contains the long ago popular trend of containing two acts with an intermission in between- very grand and classy and an aspect of film I wish would return in today’s movies. The London art direction is magnificent, revealing a cold, industrial feel, mixed in with a warm, sunny atmosphere when Oliver stays at the palatial estate of Mr. Brownlow. The bright and enchanting musical number of “Who Will Buy?” is the perfect backdrop for this setting and my personal favorite number.

Nancy is one of the most complex characters- a prostitute, she happily sings, in denial about her life, in “It’s a Fine Life”, secretly wishing her life was better than it is. Later, conflicted over helping Oliver or standing by her man she sings a melancholy number, “As Long As He Needs Me”, which cements her role as a tragic, sad character. However, as she leads a drunken bar room in a dance of “Oom-Pah-Pah”, the drama is thick as she is striving to help Oliver at the risk of putting her own life in severe jeopardy. Shani Wallis fills the character with heart and feeling.

Oliver is a much darker film than one might imagine. Curiously rated G, the film should have at least been rated PG. The films heart is of that of a children’s movie- to me personally a turn-off, but the film is much bolder than that. Certainly, some subject matters are toned down from Dickens novel, but not completely toned down. Examples- the novel made clear overtones of child abuse by the thieves by Fagin, yet there is none of that in the film. Contrasting this, the film blatantly shows the beating death of Nancy- albeit out of camera range, but the audience gets enough of a glimpse to ascertain what is happening. The shooting and swinging death of Bill Sykes borders on brutal.

A glaring flaw of the film is that the voice of Oliver is dubbed by a female singer and not voiced by actor Mark Lester. To me, this seems quite obvious that the voice is not male. The character of Bill Sykes is convincingly played by Oliver Reed, nephew of director Carol Reed.

Perfect around holiday time, Oliver is a terrific musical drama, to be enjoyed for eons to come.

Last Tango in Paris-1972

Last Tango in Paris-1972

Director-Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring-Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#8

Scott’s Review #202

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Reviewed December 5, 2014

Grade: A-

Last Tango in Paris is a very dark 1972 erotica art film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist), starring Marlon Brando as a disturbed, angry American man named Paul, whose wife has committed suicide. He is left to survive on his own in Paris lost and without her where he runs a decrepit apartment complex. Lonely and bitter, he meets a much younger Parisian woman (Maria Schneider), equally disturbed for different reasons, and they forge a relationship that is sometimes brutal, degrading, but also containing mutual affection and need. They are addicted to each other.

This film may very well be my favorite performance by Marlon Brando. He plays a hateful, unpleasant character, yet there is something appealing about him and the viewer sympathizes with his grief. That is to Brando’s credit, of course. A lesser actor would not be as effective. He is damaged, treats everyone like shit, but there is also a vulnerability to him that is mesmerizing to watch. Brando was such a great, method actor that he simply morphs into the characters he plays. Paul is certainly his most raw and emotional performance of his career.

Actress Maria Schneider is also tremendous in the film. Equally disturbed, her character Jeanne experienced a vastly different upbringing- that of wealth and pampering. She has a fiancé who loves her dearly, yet she is drawn to the power and abuse of Paul- the fact that he is an older man is sexy to her. I kept thinking, “What is wrong with this woman?” She seemingly has everything, yet she yearns for excitement. Is Paul a fling for her? Does she care about him or is she using him? Is he using her? Could they be using each other? The film raises many psychological questions. Jeanne is clearly in emotional turmoil. In fact, both Jeanne and Paul are.

Last Tango in Paris is a difficult film to watch- several scenes are unpleasant, even brutal, but it is a character study of two damaged individuals. When Paul anally penetrates Jeanne on the floor of his apartment, forcing her to recite gibberish, it is almost too much to bear. Paul wants to know nothing about Jeanne. He does not want to know her name, her past, nothing- complete anonymity. He lives for the present and their sex is animalistic, filled with lust and need.

But these examples are a testament to the power of Last Tango in Paris. It is not boring. The finale leaves you wondering what will happen to Jeanne. Will she commit suicide? Will she return to her fiancé and life of luxury, her affair with Paul over? Was the affair only a fling for her or does she really love Paul?

The film is a dark, tragic, romantic story. It is brutal, raw, and honest. It is not to be missed.

Gone With The Wind-1939

Gone With The Wind-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh

Top 100 Films-#15

Scott’s Review #201

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Reviewed December 4, 2014

Grade: A

Gone with the Wind is the grand masterpiece of the sweeping epic drama. The film is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel. Set in the south (Georgia) during the Civil War era, it centers on the life of Scarlett O’Hara, southern belle of cotton plantation Tara, and how she must struggle to keep her plantation alive after the south loses the war. Initially, Scarlett cares little about war, instead enjoying her spoiled, narcissistic lifestyle, and romances with many men in the town, all vying for her attentions. She revels in one sunny picnic and ball after another with all eyes on her. As war decimates the south, however, Scarlett must take over the plantation and survive the ravages of war. Mixed in with the war theme is a romance between Scarlett and Rhett, one of cinema’s most recognized and enduring couples. Having gone through three directors (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood), the film is as extravagant and precise in its style, attention to detail, and set design as films come.

At close to four hours in length, Gone with the Wind is a lavish production that can take an entire afternoon or evening to watch and is divided into two halves- interestingly the first half directed by Cukor, and the second primarily directed by Fleming. It is a film that can be viewed and analyzed over and over again and the set pieces and flawless perfectionism alone, marveled at. The first half is superior to the second, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon- it’s a preference of goodies. The first half is brighter, cheery, and fantastic. The wonderful Tara and neighboring plantation Twin Oaks host southern balls and parties and are filled with romance, gossip and beautiful costumes. War is coming, but it is a delightful time of merriment. The Southerners embrace going to war- they assume it will last for two weeks and they will be victorious. They party and they celebrate.

The second half has a much darker tone. By the beginning of the second half Atlanta has burned, thousands of men have died, and Tara is decimated, Scarlett’s mother dead and father gone batty. The rebuilding of the south is explored, the troubled Rhett and Scarlett marriage commences, their daughter dies, and the world famous line uttered by Rhett to Scarlett, “Frankly my dear…. I don’t give a damn”. Having been now directed by a different person (Fleming), the first and second halves almost seem like two separate films.

Vivien Leigh plays a wonderful role. In 1939 women were rarely strong characters in film, so for that reason Gone with the Wind is groundbreaking for female characters. Scarlett is selfish, yes, but she rises above, is strong, saving her plantation and succeeding as a successful businesswoman- almost unheard of in cinema for 1939. Her undying love for Ashley Wilkes, but unable to obtain him (he is married to his cousin Melanie) gives her a sympathetic vulnerability.

Clark Gable, already a huge star and the people’s choice to play Rhett, is charismatic and handsome. The fact that he and Leigh did not get along make their fights and sexual tension electric. They love each other, but also hate each other and this is transmitted on screen. Rhett is his own man- he defines himself as not a northerner, but not a southerner either. He is a vagabond and spends many nights at the local brothel in the company of Belle Watling. The character of Rhett is independent and strong.

The supporting characters are colorful, lively, and humorous. Aunt Pittypat with her dramatic worrying and smelling salts and Prissy with her insistence on expert child-birthing when in reality she knows nothing, are moments meant to lighten the mood. Mammie, a mother-figure to Scarlett, is a moral, kind, yet tough character. Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is an even sweeter character in her caring and selflessness. Lesser characters such as Dr. Meade, Suellen, Carreen, India, and Frank Kennedy all serve their purpose and are not throwaway characters.

Bothersome is that over the years Gone with the Wind has been unfairly “feminized” once it began airing as an alternative to the annual Super Bowl, the assumption being that only women would enjoy it, is silly. I do not find this film to be a female film and frankly, some of the battle scenes are quite masculine, with epic fires and guns galore. Is Gone with the Wind now considered a racist film? Perhaps so, and time has made the political incorrectness much more glaring- this point can be debated endlessly. Ashley participates in a hooded Klan organization and is a hero of the film! Certainly the slaves are portrayed as happy, kindly, and comfortable with their place in life all throughout the film, vastly different from what surely transpired. However, Hattie McDaniel (Mammie) won the first ever Oscar for a black actress so that was monumental progress and influence. Using seemingly thousands of extras, the war torn Atlanta scene where the camera rises up and up and up panning down on hundreds of wounded and dead Union soldiers as Scarlett defeatedly walks among them is still heartbreaking to watch and is a reminder of the power and destruction that war is.

Gone with the Wind is an epic masterpiece from long ago that still holds up amazingly well. The sets, the rich characters, and the costumes can be admired and still inspire today.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton

Top 100 Films-#41

Scott’s Review #200

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Reviewed December 3, 2014

Grade: A

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate), is a dark film based on the play from the early 1960’s. Thankfully, by 1966, the Production Code had been lifted, allowing for edgier, darker films to get made- think The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde from the same time period. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is dreary, bleak, and with damn good acting by all four principles.

George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) are an associate history professor and daughter of the college president respectively, living in a small New England town. They have a bitter love/hate relationship. One night they invite young newlyweds, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), a new professor and his wife, over for drinks at 2:00 in the morning. From this point, a destructive night of verbal assaults and psychological games ensue with damaging and sad results for all parties involved, as their personal lives are exposed and dissected. At the forefront are George and Martha, who have a relationship based on insults, neediness, secrets, and booze. After an evening out, they return home and have a vicious fight. When their young friends arrive, the tension is thick. Eventually the young couple becomes sucked into the older couple’s web of dysfunction, aided by endless drinks throughout the night.

The film is shot very much like a play and filmed in black and white, which I found highly effective- most scenes take place in George and Martha’s house. While all four actors are great (and were all Oscar nominated), the standouts for me are Taylor and Dennis. This role is Taylor’s finest acting performance in my opinion- she is overweight, bitter, angry, frustrated, drunk, and at times vicious to her husband. It is a different performance from many of her other films roles and it is just dynamite. As her anger flairs up, one can feel the heat and intensity oozing from the screen. She goes from vulnerable and soft one moment to a grizzled, bitter woman the next. Dennis, conversely, is a pure innocent- kind, vulnerable, impressionable, and somewhat of a ninny. Having had too much brandy and spending more than one occasion in the bathroom, Dennis successfully plays giddiness and innocence to the hilt. Both Martha and Honey harbor dark secrets, which eventually are revealed.

The ambience is just amazing- black and white cinematography, a hot, suffocating feel to the film, it feels like a quiet little college hamlet and the setting of the eerily quiet wee hours of the morning is conveyed successfully. Each story told- mainly by George and Martha- is captivating in its viciousness (both usually belittling the other) that the film becomes mesmerizing in its shock value at the insults hurled. What will they say or do next? I loved the scene where Honey does an awkward dance at a late-night bar that the four of them go to. Also, the shotgun scene where George obtains the gun from the garage during one of Martha’s insulting tales is disturbing- what will he do with the gun? The stories involving George and Martha’s son are sad and mysterious- the viewer wonders what is going on. The final reveal gives me chills.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the greatest film adaptations of a play that I have ever seen.

The Theory of Everything-2014

The Theory of Everything-2014

Director-James Marsh

Starring-Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Scott’s Review #199

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Reviewed December 2, 2014

Grade: A-

The Theory of Everything tells the uplifting true story of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) and his lifelong battle with a debilitating illness- motor neuron disease, which he was diagnosed with in college. He and his future wife, literature student Jane Wilde (played by Felicity Jones), meet in 1963 at the prestigious Cambridge University in England, and fall madly in love. From this point, the film focuses both on their life-long love affair and Stephen’s subsequent health battles.

Redmayne is wonderful in the lead role. Portraying a character with both speech and mobility deterioration is not an easy task, especially as the problems become worse and worse over time forcing the actor to portray varying levels of disability. Redmayne rises to the occasion with both believability and conviction making his portrayal as real as possible. The performance fondly reminded me of another great physical performance- that of Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot from 1989. Redmayne is certainly a rising star in Hollywood. Felicity Jones is also very good- though I personally feel many actresses could have handled the role and there is certainly not as much meat in her part as Redmayne’s. The remainder of the cast is comprised of very British actors making the film authentic feeling. Emily Watson, who plays Jane’s mother, shamefully receives only one scene- was this talented actress’s role cut? One wonders.

I get the sense that the filmmakers had Oscar on the mind as the film certainly is geared towards mainstream audiences with a wholesome slant to it. The film skims past the complex theories and mathematical aspects-sure to confuse most- and focuses more on the inspirational tale of a person overcoming an immense challenge. Furthermore, the subsequent quadrangle between Hawking, Jane, Jane’s choir leader (Jonathan), and Hawking’s nurse (Elaine) is very toned down and safe from what apparently transpired- Hawking’s family accused his nurse of abusing him which is never mentioned in the film. In fact, the film presents their relationship as wonderful, so clearly some facts have been softened or omitted altogether- another example of how the film goes for a moral feel. Apparently, the situation involving the four real-life characters was messy, but the film makes it seem sweet- presumably this is because all the characters are still alive. This is an interesting aspect of the film and is not necessarily a criticism as much as a perception- certainly many films embellish reality for entertainment value.

A few thoughts I was left pondering- the pairing of Jane and Jonathan seemed inevitable to me from the moment they laid eyes on each other- they had much in common (religion), whereas Stephen and Jane were complete opposites- she catholic, he atheist. The sexual chemistry between Stephen and Elaine was evident from the moment they laid eyes on each other. Elaine’s energetic sexiness perfectly contrasted with Jane’s-at that point in the film- haggardness and weariness.

The film is not designed to be a downer as it very well could have been- the focus might have been more downtrodden than it was. Rather, it is sentimental and empowering. The Theory of Everything is a heartwarming, conventional, human story about a man rising above adversity and at the center of the film is one dynamic performance by Eddie Redmayne.

The Normal Heart-2014

The Normal Heart-2014

Director-Ryan Murphy

Starring-Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer

Scott’s Review #198

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Reviewed December 1, 2014

Grade: B+

The Normal Heart is a 2014 HBO television movie based on the true story of Ned Weeks, an openly gay AIDS activist/writer, played by Mark Ruffalo. The film is set during the period when the epidemic first surfaced, from 1981-1984, and the challenges and frustrations faced, mostly within the gay community, to bring exposure and assistance to the disease. Weeks was famous for establishing a group of passionate members who banded together to attempt to hurdle these struggles. The film was produced by Brad Pitt- wonderful to know as films with this content (AIDS) are often tough to produce- nice that Pitt’s wealth and influenced was used effectively. Certainly a vastly different time in the country to be gay, the government did very little to assist with financing funding for treatment or researching a cure for it, which is the main point of the story.

The talented cast makes this film what it is. Matt Bomer plays Ned’s closeted gay lover, Felix Turner, one of the many casualties of the deadly disease. Bomer lost 40 pounds in preparation for the role. Julia Roberts plays polio stricken doctor, Emma Brookner, who was instrumental in helping the sick when few others within the medical community wanted to. Other actors providing support are Alfred Molina, who plays Ned’s supportive, and powerful, attorney and brother, and Joe Mantello, who has a terrific meltdown scene as his anger and anguish over the disease not being taken seriously by the government finally bubble to the surface. Finally, Mark Ruffalo plays Ned competently, but why the slight feminization of the character? The real Ned Weeks was masculine. A needless stereotype the film (or Ruffalo) chose to pursue.

The film shows the discrimination faced by the AIDS victims- from an airline pilot refusing to fly a plane carrying a sick patient, to an electrician refusing to enter a sick patient’s hospital room to fix a television set- sad when one realizes how ridiculous these unfounded fears proved to be. According to the film’s statistics, and a major point of the film, is how the United States Government, specifically President Reagan, did very little in the way of funding or even wanting to discuss the issue for years following the initial outbreak, resulting in thousands of lost lives. And why exactly is Reagan considered a great President? It makes one ponder. It was only due to beloved Hollywood star Rock Hudson acquiring and dying from the disease and Elizabeth Taylor using her star power to get people involved that finally led to the topic being discussed and action taken on a federal level.

My one slight criticism of the film is that it looks and feels like a television movie similar in texture to Behind the Candelabra, another HBO film. The colors are bright and vivid and it looks television-like and could have used darker lighting and perhaps a gloomier more dower feel, especially given the subject matter involved in the story. Otherwise, thumbs up and respect for bringing this story to millions of viewers and hopefully educating the many who were not there at the time.