The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris

Scott’s Review #252

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Reviewed June 30, 2015

Grade: B

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) is a musical fantasy set in a small French town outside of Paris. The story focuses on a set of gorgeous twin sisters, Delphine and Solange, played by real life sisters Catherine Denueve and Francoise Dorleac, who yearn to escape their small town for the bright lights of Paris and hopes for romance in their lives. The twins can have any man they want, but enjoy the thrill and excitement of conquests and being chased and sought after by seemingly all available French men. They spend their spare time discussing and fretting over various loves.

The film is so French and pure musical fantasy and logic is really not the main focus. Much of it does not make much sense in fact, nor does it need to. It is pure fantasy. The film excels by being dreamlike, bright, and sunny. The vivid, bursting colors and lovely sets enhance the look of the film. In particular the coffee shop set is a dream. All of the central characters gravitate to the café for drinks, gossip, and song and dance. A great deal of the action takes place here, which is a major plus to the film. The Young Girls of Rochefort, which is made in 1967, is very state of the art in terms of art direction and colors.

The loose plot, which is not at all the reason to watch this film, is silly. The twins, longing for love, meet several men, all possible suitors, but at their true motivation is to get out of Rochefort and find real excitement in the big city of Paris. One cannot help but realize that the men are a means to an end for the girls. The heartfelt part of the story belongs to that of the twin’s mother, Yvonne, who also longs for love. Yvonne runs the café and still pines for a long lost love who she jilted because of a funny last name. She now regrets her decision and the audience roots for her to find happiness. She is a wholesome character whereas Delphine and Solange are selfish and are attempting to further their careers as musical artists.

My main criticism of the film is the casting of Gene Kelly as one of the love interests for the sisters. Far too old and well past his prime at this point, the casting just doesn’t work for me. Yes, he is an amazing dancer, but the age is too great to be believable.

In the end, the main reason to watch The Young Girls of Rochefort is to escape, let loose, and enjoy a bright, cheery, fantasy film. Certainly not to be analyzed, the film succeeds in providing good escapist cultured, French fare.

Maleficent-2014

Maleficent-2014

Director-Robert Stromberg

Starring-Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #251

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Reviewed June 27, 2015

Grade: C+

Maleficent is an updated re-telling of the classic fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” told from the perspective of Maleficent, the evil godmother, who in this version, it is revealed, was not always so evil after all and, in fact, is rather sympathetic towards the beginning of the film. Later in life, becoming the antagonist of the story, she initially begins life in a world of goodness, wonder, and hope until one day she is duped by a young man she loves and is then turned wicked with hatred and revenge. The casting of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is excellent and the main reason to watch the film. Also worth noting is the wonderful, creative art direction and costumes that allow the film to look gothic and interesting. Otherwise, the film meanders a bit, is slightly watered down, and contains a sappy Disney style love story. The story itself is actually the weakest part of Maleficent.

Born Maleficent, protector of the fairies in the magical land of the Moors, as a young girl she is betrayed and is NOT a villain. Her male suitor (Stefan) is someone she trusts, loves, and respects, and she is then duped and has her wings stolen by him. He goes on to become the King of the neighboring land of humans, which is vastly different from the peaceful world that Maleficent lives in. These events lead her on a path of devastation followed by revenge as she places a vicious sleeping curse on Stefan’s first born, Aurora.

Let’s start with some positives. Jolie is simply wickedly delicious in this role- the sultry, pouty looks, and those eyes! She plays scorned, revenge-driven to the hilt without being too over the top as lesser actresses certainly would have. As the actress ages she is beginning to take on more character, villainous parts rather than sexy bad girls or heroines and I am all for that. It gives the actress something meaty to sink her teeth into. Her dark costumes perfectly give the character edge.

The art direction is magical and the difference between the two lands is distinctive. The beauty of the Moors with gushing streams, mountains, and flowers contrasts with the stark nature of the human world. The fairies symbolize peace and freedom with a life filled with treasures, whereas the human kingdom symbolizes ambition, greed, and coldness. The tiny fairies flittering around add zest and life to the film.

The silly love story, though is not believable nor compelling to me, especially the latter film romance between Stefan’s daughter- Aurora, and her wealthy suitor Phillip. hey seem manufactured to b together without having really a chance to get to know each other. This seems contrived and produced to add something young to the story. And on a storytelling note, Maleficent’s sleeping curse is set to transpire on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday when she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep that can only be remedied by love’s true kiss. Why does he send Aurora away to live in hiding when she is a newborn? Doesn’t he have sixteen years to enjoy her?

The film then dwindles to the inevitable battle finale with lots of movement and fire and a stand-off between Maleficent and Stefan that is dull and predictable. Overall, the first half of the film is the better part and the performance of Angelina Jolie is wonderful.

Getting Go-The Go Doc Project-2013

Getting Go- The Go Doc Project-2013

Director-Cory Krueckeberg

Starring-Tanner Cohen, Matthew Camp

Scott’s Review #250

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Reviewed June 23, 2015

Grade: C

Getting Go- The Go Doc Project is a small budget documentary that focuses on a shy, awkwardly gay college student named Doc, who is completing his thesis project by filming a documentary surrounding an online crush he has developed, via porn, on a New York City exotic dancer named Go. When Doc finally contacts Go and inevitably meets him, the filming of Go’s life begins. From this point a relationship forms, but at what price and what will the turnabout be? The film is okay, but is surprisingly dull as it develops and begins to quickly drag towards the predictable conclusion.

The underlying themes of this documentary are loneliness and obsession from two differing perspectives. Doc, the boring, lonely college student is enamored by the gorgeous, buff, seemingly independent Go. As the two get to know each other, more is revealed about Go, his life-past and present, his hopes, dreams, and fears. Doc is also psychologically explored and the two form an unlikely bond. In this way the film succeeds in teaching the audience that there is more to a dancer than his body and more to a nerd than his brain. Both are complex individuals.

The first half of the feature is fairly interesting. The initial courage that Doc musters up to contact and ultimately meet Go is admirable and I enjoyed seeing what transpired next. Will Go be receptive to Doc or callously treat him as another enamored gay man? When Go agrees to be filmed and his life story slowly revealed, I feel sympathy for him and am intrigued to learn more about him. What was his family life like? Was he abused or victimized as a child, I wondered? Getting Go- The Go Doc Project loosely explores matters like this, though no supporting characters are introduced. Go and Doc and their budding relationship are the only focus. The film then plods for the final 45 minutes with an uninteresting love story that is fairly lacking in the suspense department. Are we to believe the pair will live happily ever after? Not a chance.

Unfortunately, the acting is not great either, especially on the part of Go, played by Matthew Camp. Tanner Cohen is a bit better and the more interesting character of the two, with more depth. He is clearly not comfortable with himself, his body, or even with being gay. However, at this age (early twenty’s) one wonders if the character would even be comfortable with girls had he been made to be straight. The main problem with the film is that the two are mismatched. Despite the fact that they develop a fondness for each other, the audience is aware that this will not last.

Props to the filmmakers for trying something a bit different. In the end, Getting Go- The Go Doc Project starts off well, meanders, and ultimately stalls, but tries hard to present a different type of story and that is not so bad.

Wild-2014

Wild-2014

Director-Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

Scott’s Review #249

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Reviewed June 21, 2015

Grade: B+

Wild is a personal story of a young woman’s 1995 challenge to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest trail as a form of therapy from her divorce and her recovery from drug addiction. The film stars Reese Witherspoon in a thoughtful biography of real-life figure, Cheryl Strayed, and is adapted from a novel entitled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Trail. The film depicts Cheryl’s struggles to survive in the remote area of northern California throughout various weather patterns, and her interesting encounters with strangers along the way.

The film is clearly a showcase for Witherspoon as she takes center stage, appearing in almost every frame of the film. In fact, her producing the project undoubtedly has something to do with this. Regardless, it is a winning turn for Witherspoon as she is excellent. She portrays the role with vigor, emotional rawness, and vulnerability, that clearly comes across on-screen. She certainly deserved her Oscar nomination for this part. What sets her apart from other actresses who may have gotten this part is that Witherspoon is a small woman, which make her physical struggles to commandeer trails and wilderness while hauling a large backpack containing her necessities, believable.

Shot using many flashbacks of Cheryl’s life before the enormous hike, we are introduced to the character of Cheryl and her challenging life before. We know that she is a recovering addict, but we do not know what led to these events. Living in Minneapolis, she is very close to her mother Bobbi, played by Laura Dern, who tragically dies. This leads to a path of destructive behavior for Cheryl and ultimately to her divorce from her husband Paul, who is a decent man and periodically sends Cheryl care packages along her journey. The bond that Cheryl shares with her mother, a struggling woman herself, is deep. Bobbi has difficulties raising a family and striving to improve her education and her life and this is explored during the flashback scenes featuring Cheryl as a teenager.

I love the encounters that Cheryl faces along the trail and feel it adds depth to the film. Few and far between are these gems of interchange since she is mostly alone with nature, the characters are interesting. Alone in the dark and desperate for a meal, she flags down a farmer named Frank. At first it appears Frank may be dangerous and wielding a gun so Cheryl is wary as she goes home with him for dinner. Happily, Frank is married to a kindhearted woman named Annette, and the three of them enjoy a lovely, jovial feast. Later, she encounters a young boy whose mother has died. They bond as the boy sings a song to her that his mother used to sing to him, and when the boy leaves, Cheryl sobs in emotion for her own mother. These small snippets of real life conversations and togetherness make the film feel happy and we root for Cheryl to accomplish her enormous feat.

Thanks to a bravura performance by Witherspoon, Wild is much more than a woman surviving on her own in the wilderness. It is encased in quiet emotion, and understated supporting performances that give layers to a very human story.

Selma-2014

Selma-2014

Director-Ava DuVernay

Starring-David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo

Scott’s Review #248

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Reviewed June 19, 2015

Grade: A-

An Oscar nominated factual feast, set in the mid 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement, Selma is a re-telling of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggles that black Americans endured during a tumultuous period in history including dealings with then President Lyndon B. Johnson and the famous and important 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march, which led to the signing of the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This film reminded me quite a bit of 2013’s The Butler in both subject matter and style- ironic since originally Lee Daniels was slated to direct and instead signed on for The Butler. Both featured a charismatic and intelligent black man struggling with racial matters. The film, despite being an independent undertaking, looked glossy and polished and quite reflective of the time period. Similar to The Butler, Selma boasts a huge cast, historical political figures, and focuses on a tumultuous era in history.

Selma features a bevy of real life figures from George Wallis to President Johnson to the obvious leader of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and the casting was very well thought out. Tim Roth, David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, and Carmen Ejogo all portray their roles professionally and passionately. None of the above received Oscar nominations and I am okay with that. I did not feel that any were definite standouts from a crowded field of talent, though perhaps Ejogo could have been in the running with her understated though compelling performance. In fact, the drama surrounding the lack of scores of expected Oscar nominations is not shared by me. The truth is, the film was included in the Best Picture category and won Best Song. While an emotional and compelling film, neither is it a masterpiece nor will change the art of cinema, though I must stress it is a very good film.

I found Selma to be an important film- a look back on history and the shame and humiliation placed on blacks who attempted to obtain voting rights- a heartbreaking scene depicts a determined woman (played by Oprah Winfrey) being denied this right by a cold and racist authority figure as she is asked impossible and tricky questions to prove her patriotism, which of course, she cannot possibly answer correctly. Yes, the film is directed by a black, female director (Ava DuVernay) and yes, one might argue that is has a black point of view. However, the film successfully portrays several white characters in a sympathetic way and avoids the assumption that all white people were racist in this time period. Let’s face it- racism still exists, especially in the south, and in the 1960’s even more so. I did not find the message of the movie in black people vs. white people terms, but rather as a humanistic struggle for rights. And the struggles continue as the film makes abundantly clear in the films message. While King was a life changer to the black people of the United States, his life was abruptly cut short in his prime. One wonders how much more good this man could have achieved.

The song “Glory” is an emotional, powerful number featured in the film and especially during the marching and subsequent slaughter scenes is highly emotional and effective. And who will not become teary-eyed as the innocent marchers are beaten and treated like cattle, simply for taking a stand. One will gasp as the senseless bombing scene that rocks a building and takes four innocent little girls lives away with it.

Selma successfully transplanted me to a time that was before my time and made me appreciate and capture the positive and negative experiences of a race of people that was not too long ago. This film both inspired and moved me and taught me what a movement occurred in 1965.

The Babadook-2014

The Babadook-2014

Director-Jennifer Kent

Starring-Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman 

Scott’s Review #247

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Reviewed June 14, 2015

Grade: B

The Babadook is an Australian (English language) psychological horror film that tells the story of a mysterious, haunted book, which torments its owner or owners. Touted as one of the scariest films of 2014 or of all time for that matter, I kindly beg to differ, though admittedly the film does contain some genuine frights and jumps. What has happened to the horror genre in general where frightening films have not been made since the 1970’s? Exceptions like The Conjuring must be mentioned. The Babadook attempts to be scary without the use of CGI or any extravagant effects, but rather has a classic feel to it.

Amelia, the mother in the story, has tragically lost her husband, Oskar, in a terrible car crash on the way to the hospital to give birth to her son Samuel. Now six years old, Samuel begins to exhibit signs of psychological problems as he becomes terrified of an imaginary monster. After a child’s book, Mr. Babadook, mysteriously appears in their home and Amelia reads it to Samuel, even stranger events occur throughout their house.

The film has remnants of The Sixth Sense- loner, bullied kid is haunted with a disbelieving single Mom touting along as a ghost story or who is alive or who is dead questions are explored. The father, Oskar, is instrumental to the storytelling. Because of this the viewer is often confused throughout the film, but that is not necessarily a knock on The Babadook. It is not exactly clear to me if Ameila is the central character or if that honor belongs to Samuel- the interesting part of the film is the relationship between mother and son. The Babadook is a scary story. Can a book come to life and haunt? Apparently so says the film and that is worth thinking about. Oftentimes in horror, there is some ridiculous premise that is so unrealistic it cannot even be fathomed.

Where the film suffers in my view is that it is not that scary. Having something jump out at you every now and then or some other surprise is nice, but where is the terror? The exact motivations of the book also remain unclear to me.

I admire The Babadook for attempting to bring back old-school horror to modern audiences and for telling a good, solid, haunting story. However, the film did not quite measure up to all of the hype surrounding it. The great film reviews are a bit much as I do not believe The Babadook is quite on the level of one of the scariest films ever made.

St. Vincent-2014

St. Vincent-2014

Director-Theodore Melfi

Starring-Bill Murray

Scott’s Review #246

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Reviewed June 5, 2015

Grade: B-

The film St. Vincent succeeds only due to the charming, funny appeal of its star Bill Murray, who fronts this cute, mainstream comedy. Set in blue-collar Brooklyn, New York, it tells the story of a curmudgeonly old man (the title character, Vincent), who befriends a lonely young boy named Oliver, new to the neighborhood. Mixed in with the cast of characters are Oliver’s struggling mother Maggie (played by Melissa McCarthy) and Vincent’s pregnant, stripper girlfriend, Daka, played by Naomi Watts.

I found intrigue in how we get to know Vincent first and then watch him evolve from a grumpy, cutting old man to a begrudging babysitter of the neighbor boy, all the while clashing with Maggie and fighting with Daka. Murray returns to comic wit using his now legendary flawless dry, sarcastic humor and perfect timing and displays much of that in St. Vincent. Throughout all of this Vincent remains brutally honest with his snarky remarks (mainly aimed at Maggie) yet heartwarming and I loved this aspect of the film. Thanks to Murray, Vincent is lovable, making the film, which with a lesser talent, would be overly schmaltzy. As the film progresses we get to see Vincent’s struggles- his wife suffers from Alzheimers, and he is indebted to bookies (primarily Terence Howard- in a bit of a throwaway role).

The film staggers with some predictability issues, though, and is formulaic and easy to predict a warm finale. Of course, in true form, Vincent is a vietnam vet who drinks and gambles and is angry at the world, but has a heart of gold so, despite being temperamental, the audience falls in love with him (patriotism helps). The character contains every cliche in the book. Mean old man- rises to new heights and becomes a nice grandfather figure to a bullied boy is what this film is going for. The bullying of Oliver is also contrived- during one scene Oliver, after being picked on once again by the prominent bully, flies into a seething rage and breaks the bullies nose. The audience is supposed to buy that the waif-ish, shy kid triumphs over the bully. If only life were that simple. Inevitably, after both serve after school detention, they bond over bathroom cleaning and become the best of friends. Who did not see that coming?

In addition, most of the characters are one-note. Naomi Watts is brash, sexy, an aging Russian (not sure I bought that accent) stripper with a soft spot- she comes across as uptight, but is actually caring- another cliche. Melissa McCarthy is a hard-working, soon to be divorcee, trying to raise her kid right- one dimensional. Even Vincent is seemingly tough as nails, but of course, has a soft spot for the neighbor kid. The casting of Watts, McCarthy, and Howard is okay, and I surmise the film was going for casting “name” actors, but certainly these parts might have been played by unknowns and had the same effect. The gem is Murray. Murray effortlessly breaths life into a character who otherwise would have been as dull as dishwater. I found the writing of the characters to be the weakest point of the film.

In the end, a major incident occurs that brings the cast together united as one (yawn). The film closes with the family all happily eating dinner together. I do not see this as a spoiler as this ending can be seen a mile away. Despite the flaws and sentimentality of the film, it is admittedly sweet, humorous at times, and sends a nice message to the audience- be kind to one another and help each other get through life. Without Bill Murray this film would have been completely bland and unlikable. St. Vincent is a feel-good film that is perhaps too feel-good.