The Lego Movie-2014

The Lego Movie-2014

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks

Scott’s Review #284

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Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: D

A child’s movie in every sense of the word, The Lego Movie is silly and amateurish. It contains a hackneyed plot and an incredibly fast pace that makes the viewing experience quite unpleasant, frankly. Computer animated and primarily created by imagery, a scene involving two human beings interspersed among all of the animation only makes the plot more sappy, overwrought, and predictable. The film is a complete dud and a waste of energy save for one lone catchy song appearing throughout the film. I am perplexed why this film received mostly positive reviews as I did not share the same sentiment.

The premise is too complex for the target audience, for starters. In a Lego universe, where all of the characters are Lego pieces, a mysterious wizard- Vitruvious, attempts to protect a super weapon (Kragle) from the evil Lord Business. While he fails, he prophesies that a person named “The Special” will one day find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle. Kragle turns out to be superglue in the human world, as a cameo with Will Ferrell reveals he is really the human version of Lord Business, and refuses to let his young son play with Dad’s Lego set, thereby threatening to permanently keep the set stationary with glue. Inevitably, this leads to a tender scene with Dad and son.

I simply did not find The Lego Movie very engaging story-wise or from a visual standpoint and was bored throughout most of the experience. Admittedly, modern animated films are not my favorite genre- I miss the days of the classic Disney drawing style films like Bambi or Dumbo. The major flaw is the frenetic pacing of the film. Did the powers that be think that all youngsters and parents dragged along to see the film suffer from attention deficit disorder? There was no time to pause and ponder what was going on in the story since immediately it was on to the next scene. In fact, during most scenes the action was non-stop so that the film seems like one long action sequence.

The main character of Emmett, a young Lego piece characterized by everyone as dull is voiced by Chris Pratt. Emmet stumbles upon a young woman named Wyldestyle looking for something at his construction site- she assumes he is The Special and they race to save the world from Lord Business. Emmet, as far as a lead character goes, is likable enough and predictably, a romance of sorts develops between he and Wyldestyle. Through their adventures we meet various creative characters like Batman and Princess Unikitty.

The film contains a sickeningly catchy song called “Everything is Awesome” that will stick in the viewers head whether desired or not and that is the strongest part of the film. It is not that the song is lyrically great or anything, but it is fun and hum along.

Overly high octane and an uninteresting plot make The Lego Movie perhaps appealing to young kids in the seven to ten range, but is a forgettable and tedious experience for this grown-up. The ending of the film leaves room for the inevitable sequel.

It Felt Like Love-2013

It Felt Like Love-2013

Director-Eliza Hittman

Starring-Gina Piersanti

Scott’s Review #283

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Reviewed October 17, 2015

Grade: B

It Felt Like Love is a small, independent film from 2013, which garnered two independent spirit awards for its efforts. A coming of age story encompassing a vulnerable and naïve fourteen year old girl, aware of her budding sexuality and developing a crush on an older rebellious boy. Quiet and subdued, the film tells an honest story of a young girls emotional struggles surrounding jealousy, loneliness, and fitting in.

Lila is a typical teenager living in New York City in what appears to be a blue collar area of Brooklyn. Lila emulates her seemingly more mature (she is turning sixteen), and much more sexually experienced best friend, Chiara. Never without a boyfriend, and very popular, Chiara gains the attention of almost every boy she is around. One day on the beach, a handsome friend of Chiara’s, named Sammy, passes by, when Chiara describes him as “sleeping with anyone”, Lila becomes fixated on him. As she pursues him relentlessly, she puts herself in precarious situations and gets in way over her head. Throughout this drama, Lila’s best male friend and neighbor, a child-like and innocent looking kid, contrasts perfectly with the rugged, older Sammy. Lila has two “men” in her life, who could not be further opposites. The neighbor kid represents her youth, and Sammy, her adulthood, and she is stuck somewhere in the middle, wrestling between the two stages of her life.

The film is the debut from acclaimed director, Eliza Hittman, who weaves an interesting and true to life premise. The feelings and emotions of a fourteen year old girl are powerful and often involves risk taking without any thoughts of repercussion. Liza is extremely vulnerable as anyone her age is, but especially since the film reveals that she has recently lost her mother to breast cancer. Her father is a caring yet no nonsense type and is written well- as a typical blue collar father would really act-.

The standout to me is the actress who plays Lila, Gina Piersanti. What a marvel! The youngster brilliantly portrays a range of emotions- gloominess, insecurity, and annoyance. She is insecure, but intelligent and savvy for her age. Her obsession for Sammy, clearly from the wrong side of the tracks, is dangerous, as he smokes pot regularly, parties, and works in a pool hall. He ultimately is not for her and I think Lila knows this deep down. But at her age she is craving attention and sexually blooming. All of the actors in the film are newcomers and do a fantastic job at relaying an honesty. Lila’s motivations are not always clear, but then again, she is a teenager- moods and motivations change with the weather.

During one powerful scene, Lila hangs out at Sammy’s apartment (where she usually can be found and is perceived as a pest). Sammy and his two friends are smoking pot and watching basketball on television. Somehow, the subject matter turns to oral sex. As Sammy’s friends eagerly accept Lila’s awkward offer to pleasure them, Sammy rebuffs her advances and says that his “privates” do not like her. This seems to bring acceptance to Lila to leave him alone. The audience hopes she musters her self-esteem and goes on with her life. The showing of full-frontal male nudity was surprising to me- very seldom is this shown in American cinema. Interestingly, we never actually see Lila engage in any sexual activity- the point of the film is that she wants to desperately, but we cringe as we fear for the worst in each dangerous sexual encounter she experiences.

Perhaps it could have been further developed or fleshed out, but, It Felt Like Love is a truthful, quiet film with powerful acting and writing from new talent sure to be around for years to come, with the wonderful skills they possess.

A Serbian Film-2010

A Serbian Film-2010

Director-Srdan Spasojevic

Starring-Sergej Trifunovic

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#6

Scott’s Review #282

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Reviewed October 13, 2015

Grade: B

A Serbian Film is a 2010 Serbian horror film that attempts, and succeeds, in breaking down every possible taboo barrier, albeit in a stylish, admirable, artistic way. The film is certainly not for the faint of heart and even die hard, gross out horror fans might find it too shocking to view. It is not so much the gore that is challenging- horror aficionados have seen this before, but rather the blatant display of the subject matter at hand, that delves full speed ahead into pornography, including rape (both sexes), necrophilia (sex with corpses), and child sexual abuse, that is both tough and sickening to watch. Priding myself in being able to take anything that is thrown my way in the world of film, I admired A Serbian Film’s bravery at going places rarely gone before in film. I felt, however, that the story was not too compelling or particularly well written and that the primary goal was to shock the audience rather than tackle a great story. Intriguing to note is A Serbian film has been banned in several countries, for the obvious controversial content.

Milos is a semi-retired porn star, now happily married to the beautiful Marija and living a peaceful existence. While they struggle financially, they share an adequate life while raising their six year old son Petar. One day Milos runs into a fellow porn star, Lejla, who suggests he contact a powerful porn producer and return to the business, citing an enormous windfall to be had since the producer is making more “artistic” films these days. Milos cannot resist the potential money and meets with the mysterious man named Vukmir. One thing leads to another and he is once again lured back into the porn industry. What he is not told is the premise or details of the film he is to appear in, only to show up at the designated filming location. Predictably this leads to disaster and the main plot of the film emerges. Milos is drugged in order to become a “stud”, bedding and beating almost anything that breathes…..or doesn’t breathe if you catch my drift.

Brazen is a polite way of describing this film. It is perverse and goes way out there. Milos, while drugged, begins to do crazy stuff, not realizing what he is doing and spirals further out of control as the drugs increase. The producer, in the film’s brief attempt at a social slant, cites child pornography is in popular demand as online viewers clamor for this new form of “art”. Two scenes stand out as gruesome to view. One involves a pregnant porn star giving birth- she does so and her counterpart proceeds to rape the screaming baby- the new mother grins in sinister pleasure. In another, Milos rapes his own son, Petar, while Milos’s brother, rapes Milos’s wife. Of course, being heavily under the influence, Milos does not realize what he is doing, but the film succeeds in shocking and disgusting the audience. Both of these horrific scenes have nothing to do with the story and are included to shock elicit a reaction from the viewer.

My criticism of the film is that the grotesque scenes have little to do with the story and are arguably not needed in order to further the plot. Shocking for the sake of being shocking, the film reminds me in a way of Salo, a brutal art film from 1975, which focuses not on horror, but on the horrific time of Nazi-ism. Salo is a masterpiece because it contains a powerful, thought provoking story.

A Serbian Film is a brave film, but ultimately the story achieves nothing more than being a disturbing film that I never need to see again.

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Director-James Gunn

Starring-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #281

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Reviewed October 9, 2015

Grade: C-

The summer blockbuster hit of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comics film popular among fans and critics alike, disappointed this viewer. Too many superhero films are overly conventional, by the numbers fare, and this one certainly contained the aforementioned characteristics. Presumably targeted for teens (I would think), the film has cute jokes and decent special effects, but a bland, mediocre screenplay that lacks any edginess.

Handsome Chris Platt plays Peter Quill, a space pilot from Earth, who is abducted as a young boy by a pirate group named the Ravagers. Now a grown man, Peter attempts to steal a mysterious and powerful Orb known for special powers, for monetary gain. The Orb is desired by many, including the evil Ronan, and his daughter Gamora. Predictably, events turn into a battle of good vs. evil as Peter and Gamora (who turns good) team up with misfits Drax (a strongman), Groot (a tree), and Rocket (a raccoon) to thwart intentions by Ronan of destroying a peaceful planet, Nova Empire. The meat of the story involves the teams journey from imprisonment and escape to their efforts saving the world. As traditional with these types of films, there is inevitable romantic chemistry between Peter and Gamora, who at first are rivals, but slowly develop a fondness for each other when it is revealed that she is plotting against Ronan, and has valiant efforts.

Strengths of the film are the 1970’s soundtrack and the incorporation of a cassette player and Walkman, unheard of in today’s modern world, to the story. I loved how this was not simply background music, but referenced throughout the film in various situations. For example, when Peter comically explains to a clueless bad guy what his treasured cassette tape consists of and how he cannot bare to part with it, this impressed me. The creative sets and bright colors are another high point of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Xander planet, specifically, is portrayed as clean, bright, and progressive, which counterbalanced the dark, dreary nature of where Ronan and his entourage live.

However, the film is too conventional and not the least bit edgy or out of the ordinary in any way story wise. Let’s take the hero for example. He is clean-cut, all American, and is humorous. But, why exactly is he the hero? He inevitably saves the world, but makes him go from a pirate who is a thief, to a golden boy leading a team to save a relatively unknown planet. There is, of course, a scene involving a backstory of his mother dying of cancer and his regret over not taking her hand one final time. This is assumed to make him kind hearted and one of the good guys. This felt forced to me and what we have seem time after time in super-hero films. The message I received from the film was basic- powerful, strong, masculine guy with a sense of humor mixed in for good measure, saves the world from the bad guys, while including a bunch of tag-alongs. This is fine, but albeit predictable.

I was left with some questions. What were Ronan’s and Tharos’s motivations? They were simply evil with not much explanation as to why. What led them down this path? Did they each want theirs to be the only planet remaining in the galaxy?

A tender moment towards the end of the film when one of the team members dies is done in a rushed way that it was a missed opportunity for more emotion.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a mediocre superhero/action film, one that might have been better if further fleshed out. This film contains a blandness that left me forgetting about it soon after the credits rolled.

Force Majeure-2014

Force Majeure-2014

Director-Ruben Ostlund

Starring-Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli

Scott’s Review #280

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Reviewed October 4, 2015

Grade: A

As a huge fan of foreign language films, I was delighted to stumble upon this inventive and thought provoking treat that is Force Majeure. A Swedish film set in the alps of eastern France, the film is a family drama that is powerful, emotional, and especially psychological. The best films leaving you absorbed in thoughtful conversation or introspection, and this film successfully did both for me.

Tomas and Ebba are an attractive couple in their mid thirties vacationing with their two young children, Vera and Harry. Everyone is excited for the holiday as Tomas is away from work for a full week. They are clearly a family of affluence and sophistication based on the luxurious mountain top hotel they stay in. However, there is a subdued level of tension among them. On the second day, they enjoy lunch at the hotel on an outdoor patio along the snowy mountainside. As a controlled avalanche begins to head their way there is suddenly a panic as everyone flees for safety. The avalanche is feared out of control, but thankfully is mist and everyone safely returns to their lunch. However, Tomas’s instinctual reaction to the terror sets off a wave of debate for the remainder of the film. The family experiences an enormous range of emotions and subsequently engage their friends in the conflict as they discuss and analyze the event. The heart of the film is Ebba’s rage and Tomas’s guilt.

What I adore most about this film is the intelligence of it. It is smart and well written. From a pacing perspective, it is admittedly slow and this may turn some viewers off. Simple scenes feature the family brushing teeth or napping- scenes in which not much happens. But the intense psychological aspect lying beneath the surface make up for these uneventful scenes. Smart dialogue between characters are my favorites- Ebba sits in the lobby sipping a drink with her friend, a sophisticated, sexually promiscuous woman, who is vacationing alone to get a break from her husband and children. She picks up men for fun and has no hang-ups about it. This particular scene is laced with interesting discussion. Ebba cannot understand her friend’s life choices and freedom and reveals that she is afraid of being left alone- she comes across as judgmental and insecure whereas the friend is confident and secure. It is a “coffee talk” moment, but reveals so much about the characters.

Later, Tomas and Ebba have a chat with their friends Matts and Fanni, over wine. When the discussion turns to the avalanche experience, the situation is analyzed by Matts, leading to tension for all. Matts sides with Tomas, whereas Fanni sympathizes with Ebba. The disagreement stays with Matts and Fanni throughout the night as they reveal their own conflict and puts themselves in the other couples shoes. Towards the end of Force Majeure events become strange as Matts and Tomas embark on a relaxing guys day out on the ski slope. As they sip drinks and listen to music an attractive female flirtatiously tells Tomas that her friend thinks he is the sexiest man she has ever seen. Tomas feels like a million bucks and the audience is happy for him- however the woman quickly returns and informs them that she was mistaken and her friend was referring to another man. This escalates into a near fight and little dialogue is used throughout the scene. Rather, expressions are wisely used. Later, a bizarre scene involves Tomas being accosted by frat boys and forced to guzzle beer- is this imagined or real? We never find out.

Force Majeure is a spectacle. Scenes of the crisp, white, cascading snow are beautiful. The avalanche scene is amazing and creepy as the snow rapidly comes into view and gets closer and closer to the diners. Will they be killed we wonder? The climactic bus scene as the departing vacationers travel by bus down a windy road are quite scary as the inept bus driver has difficulty navigating the bus. Will it crash killing everyone? Is he purposely driving recklessly on a suicide mission? The looming mountain side to the bottom is bot frightening and fascinating to look at.

Intellectual, curious, and bizarre, Force Majeure is a foreign language film worth checking out for a unique, cerebral experience.

Oliver Twist-1948

Oliver Twist-1948

Director-David Lean

Starring-Alec Guiness

Scott’s Review #279

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Reviewed October 3, 2015

Grade: A-

Oliver Twist, the 1948 film version, is vastly different from the 1968 version, which turned the classic Charles Dickens novel into a musical, albeit a dark one, with colorful sets and brilliant art direction. This version, made in black and white, is a much closer telling of the novel and contains masterful direction and cinematography. Given the enormous length of the novel, some characters and details are inevitably trimmed or modified to fit a 1 hour and 48 minute film. The film is a gorgeous cinematic treat with glowing lighting and creative camera angles, thanks to the wonderful direction of legend David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia).

The film begins on a stormy night with the birth of poor little Oliver, his mother frightened and dying in childbirth, leaving him to live a life of hardship in a workhouse. His mother possesses a beautiful locket, which is stolen by an old crone, who assists in the birth. Now a young boy, Oliver draws the shortest straw, forcing him to utter the famous line “Please Sir, I want some more”, in reference to desiring more bland gruel that the orphans are forced to eat. From this point, Oliver is deemed troublesome and sold to an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry. When this doesn’t work out, Oliver takes to the harsh streets of London to make his fortune among thieves such as Fagin, Bill Sykes, and The Artful Dodger, who become his friends, but also his enemies.

Since I have seen the musical version of Oliver so many times over, and have also read the novel, it is difficult to watch this film without comparing it to the others. Oliver Twist is a more dark, gritty experience than Oliver! and specifically and closely resembles the novel, with details surfacing such as the back story of the locket that takes on a more central role as when the old crone repents on her deathbed, revealing all to the equally crooked Mrs. Corney. Another example is the casting of less polished, or average looking actors, than Oliver! had. Fagin, for example, played by Alec Guinness, is heavily disguised, with stringy hair and a prosthetic nose, a close comparison to the illustration drawing of Fagin in the novel. Bill and Nancy have smaller, though crucial, roles to play, but are not as fleshed out as the other versions. The timing of particular events come into play- Nancy does not meet Oliver until later in the story, for instance.

The film does have light hearted moments, which balance the heavy drama perfectly. The comic shenanigans of beadle Mr. Bumble and matron Mrs. Corney, both sinister characters, but together a bickering, boorish couple who eventually marry each other, add humorous moments to the story as she becomes a domineering wife over the course of their many fights and schemes.

The fact that the group of young thieves (boys) all live with Fagin in close quarters, the suggestion of child molestation is certainly implied, but not pursued quite as much as in the novel. I do not think that film makers in 1948 would have dared to go there in a film that was arguably meant to have a wholesome feel to it in some way. The certainty that Nancy is a prostitute and primarily sleeps in the streets is also addressed, though she is still rather glamorous and clean looking. The class distinction is evident. The bleakness of the workhouse and Fagin’s quarters counterbalances the rich and lush home of Oliver’s savior, Mr. Brownlow. I love his estate and housekeeper, the kindly and sweet Mrs.Bedwin.

A close re-telling of the novel, Oliver Twist is a wonderful film that can be enjoyed by parents and children alike and can be appreciated through generations of families.