2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

Top 100 Films-#16

Scott’s Review #314

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Reviewed December 31, 2015

Grade: A

In my mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece, pure and simple, and simply must be seen repeatedly to let the message and the experience sink in. It is one of those films that is comparable to a fine wine- it just gets better and better with age and is palpable with deep-thought and allows the viewer to experience good taste in film art. The delicious quality is meant to be savored and enjoyed- the slow pace and odd elements only enrich the film. Needless to say, it is one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films. Simply an epic journey through space.

Made in 1968, and the year 2001 way off, the film challenges and breaks down barriers and film, as Kubrick simply makes a film that he wants to make and the results are genius. The film contains no dialogue during the first twenty or the last twenty minutes.

The film begins in the African desert millions of years ago as the evolution of man is apparent- two tribes of ape men dispute over a watering hole. A black monolith appears and one of the tribes is guided to use bones as weapons.

Millions of years later, we meet a team of scientists- led by Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole- as they embark on a mission aboard the United States spacecraft, Discovery One, on a mission to Jupiter. The ship is mainly controlled by an intelligent talking computer named HAL 9000- nicknamed “Hal”. Hal boasts that he is “foolproof and incapable of error”. As events unfold, the film dives into a study of humans versus technology in a cerebral game of mental chess.

The film is very tough to review in an analytical way as it is so intelligent and visually stimulating- it must be experienced. It challenges the viewer to think and absorb the events occurring.

Visually it is breathtaking and still holds up shockingly well from this perspective. The use of classical music throughout- especially in dramatic scenes is effective.

The stunning scene where David and Frank converse about their suspicions regarding “Hal”, as the intelligent computer system looks on, simply an orange light, but seemingly displaying a myriad of emotions (surprise, rage) in the viewers mind, is incredibly compelling.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an enduring masterpiece.

The Shining-1980

The Shining-1980

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall

Top 100 Films-#20     Top 20 Horror Films-#7

Scott’s Review #313

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Reviewed December 31, 2015

Grade: A

The Shining is one of the great horror masterpieces of all time. Released in 1980 and atypical of the slasher craze that was running rampant at that time, the film is a psychological ghost story with frightening elements including musical score, long camera shots, and a haunting grandiose hotel in a deserted locale. Without the brilliant direction of Stanley Kubrick, The Shining would not be the masterpiece that it is- to say nothing of the talents of Nicholson and Duvall in the lead roles. Based on the popular horror novel by Stephen King.

Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an author and alcoholic, who takes his wife Wendy (Duvall) and son Danny to serve as caretakers at the vast Overlook hotel- for the winter in snowy Colorado. The lavish hotel will be deserted for the season and Jack looks forward to months of peace and quite which will enable him to complete his novel. Unfortunately, the hotel is haunted by spirits of the past, and the added burden of the previous caretaker going mad and chopping his family to bits with an ax.

The real success of The Shining is that the hotel itself is really a character and has nuances of its own. The hotel is deathly quiet as the Torrances take over for the season as long hallways are featured and the forbidden Room 237 takes on a life of its own. Creepy images of two young girls and red blood gushing from the elevators take over. Young Danny is able to communicate with the chef without speaking to each other. Jack imagines a gorgeous nude woman in the bathtub only to discover she is really a shriveled old hag.

The films cinematography coupled with the looming, morose, musical score perfectly go hand in and hand and, in my opinion, are the reasons for the films success. Throughout the film there is a sense of dread and a forbidden presence that works beautifully. The very first scene is an aerial shot of the Torrances driving along a mountainous road to be interviewed for the caretaker position. The vast land and mountains as we eventually see the Overlook immediately reveal to us the feeling of isolation, which is really what the film is about. These exterior scenes are also gorgeous to marvel at.

The crisp, gloomy, winter scenes and the endless maze of animal shrubbery come into play during the films final act as Jack, now completely mad, chases Danny throughout the snowy paths that seemingly lead to nowhere. The catch phrase, “Here’s Johnny!”, that is uttered from an ax wielding Nicholson, is permanently ensconced in the relics of pop culture.

Nicholson and Duvall have such dynamic and palpable on-screen chemistry that makes the film work from a character perspective. There is something slightly off with each of the characters, readily apparent from the outset, but that is more to do with each actor being rather non-traditional in appearance. I can imagine no other actors in these roles.

Author, Stephen King, who reportedly despised the film version of his novel, has since grown to respect the film and Kubrick’s direction, a great deal. The Shining is one of my favorite horror films in addition to being one of my favorite films of all time.

Boogie Nights-1997

Boogie Nights-1997

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds

Top 100 Films-#21

Scott’s Review #312

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Reviewed December 31, 2015

Grade: A

Boogie Nights is a fantastic film about the pornography industry (The Golden Age of Porn) of the 1970’s and 1980’s and does a wonderful job of portraying the characters as human beings with feelings and emotions, rather than as nymphomaniacs or perverts. They bond with one another as a family- a group of misfits striving to survive. This and many other reasons is why Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films of all time.

Written, produced, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), he is a champion at exploring the underbelly of society and flawed and desperate characters-Boogie Nights is no different. In fact, the dysfunctional family is the common theme of the film. Most of his characters are not happy people, but they are survivors and desperately look for a piece of happiness. Many in his cast of Boogie Nights also appear in Magnolia. Mark Wahlberg (Eddie/Dirk Diggler), Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner), Julianne Moore (Maggie), Don Cheadle (Buck), William H. Macy (Little Bill), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty), Malora Walters (Jessie) , and Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson), round out the large cast.

The setting of the film is Los Angeles and the time period runs from 1977-1984. Though only seven years take place, much happens to most of the characters during this time and we experience their trials and tribulations. The unique thing about Boogie Nights is that I care about each and every character, thanks to great writing and fantastic acting. They succeed in obtaining my empathy for them. Boogie Nights is an extremely character driven film, which is an enormous part of its brilliance.

The cast is an ensemble one, but the main character is Eddie Adams, a high school dropout, who we meet working as a dishwasher at a nightclub. He has an abusive mother who kicks him out of the house, leading him to audition for, and move in with Jack Horner. Jack is a patriarch type, who shares a house with Maggie, the matriarch of the household, and rollergirl, a fellow high school dropout always wearing roller skates. Eddie’s talent is his large “manhood”. We watch Eddie, at first shy and polite, rise to superstardom in the porn industry, becoming rich and living a lavish, drug fueled, lifestyle, where his ego gets the best of him. He, like many of the characters, hit rough times as the early 1980’s shift to videotape was the death of many 1970’s porn actors careers.

The musical soundtrack is very important to the success of Boogie Nights. Many scenes contains songs that were hits of the time or prior, including “Sister Christian”, “Jessie’s Girl”, “God Only Knows”, “Got to Give it Up”, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, and countless others- so much so that the soundtrack is almost a character of the film and we look forward to hearing what song might be featured next.

At one point later in the film, circa 1983, as things begin to spiral out of control for many of the characters- the musical score turns ominous with low bass music, a nighttime setting, the lighting becomes darker, and several stories begin to intersect on one late L.A. night on the streets- Jack, filming a scene in a limousine starring Rollergirl and a young college jock they pick up off the streets, Dirk-forced to prostitute himself for $10 to a young man in a pickup truck, and Buck-who innocently stops to buy doughnuts for his very pregnant wife Jessie. Each of these stories ends in brutal violence and the tone is crucial to the success of the scenes. This lengthy scene reminds me quite a bit of a Quentin Tarantino scene in its macabre tone.

Particular favorite scenes include the heartbreaking scene when Maggie loses custody of her son, the New Years Eve party at Jack’s house, and the ill-fated drug sale at Rahad Jackson’s. Each are heartbreaking, powerful, fraught with tension, or otherwise empathetic to the characters, which makes them each quite powerful in different ways. Induced in the drug sale scene is some black comedy- Rahad’s presumed Chinese houseboy has a fetish for firecrackers, which startle Dirk, Reed, and Todd, as the fear of possible gunshots fills the air. Maggie’s sob scene elicits viewer emotion as we cry with her, and the New Years Eve turn of events involving Scotty and Little Bill are tragic.

Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films because it contains brilliant writing, characters who are fleshed out, damaged, and human, a killer soundtrack, and a dark, mysterious industry (porn) that is both misunderstood and categorized. Thanks to director, Anderson, we see the people within this lifestyle as real people, with issues, but also with full hearts and kindness.

Horror Express-1974

Horror Express-1974

Director-Eugenio Martin

Starring-Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #311

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Reviewed December 30, 2015

Grade: B

Horror Express is a fun 1970’s Spanish/British horror film starring legendary horror actor’s Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. A sort of horror version of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express with a bit of camp thrown in, it is an entertaining late night experience, certainly on a low budget level.

It is the early 1900’s, and while traveling from Shanghai to Moscow, via the Trans-Siberian Express, a British anthropologist named Professor Alexander Saxton (Lee) brings an enormous,  mysterious crate on board that contains a creature he discovered in a cave. What we know is it has something to do with human evolution. A fellow passenger, Doctor Wells (Cushing), and various other passengers, become suspicious of the crate and demand to have it opened.  Things go awry and victims begin to be murdered by the creature (an ape-like monster) and left with eyes completely white with missing pupils and irises.

The best part of Horror Express is the setting. The cozy train is a perfect backdrop for the events taking place and it makes the film exciting as the different cars are set-decorated in a nice way. This lends itself to a sense of entrapment and being unable to escape the creature as it roams freely from car to car. For being a low-budget film,  the train sets are quite believable, as are the sounds of the train. It feels like the actors actually are on a real train as the tooting horns and the sounds of the tracks are authentic.

Certainly, having stars as big as Lee and Cushing give the film respect in horror circles and both actors do believable work. This film would not have been as good without the talents (and name recognition) of both. There are also interesting supporting characters and I did not find the acting to be too over-the-top as is known to occur in similar type horror films. Specifically, the countess role and the appearance of Telly Savalas as a Cossack officer investigating events are interesting.

Fans of this genre of horror will understand that suspension of disbelief is necessary as the plot gets a bit goofy- something about the creature taking the information from the victims brain and the victims subsequently turning into zombies- it does not make a whole lot of sense at times, especially towards the end, as some drunken Russians, and some weird resurrections happen, but that is somehow okay. For a late night viewing with some spirits, you can’t ask too many questions and Horror Express is a decent flick.

The Danish Girl-2015

The Danish Girl-2015

Director-Tom Hooper

Starring-Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander

Scott’s Review #310

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Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A-

The Danish Girl tells the loosely based story of Danish painters and married couple Lili Ebe and Gerda Wegener and recounts Lili’s struggles as the first known recipient of sex reassignment surgery, unheard of at the time that it was (1930). The film is a showcase in terrific acting (Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander especially) and a journey of one person’s struggle with gender identity. The subject matter is quite important and timely as the recent transgender movement has emerged to the forefront in social issues today.

A happy, young couple living in Copenhagen, and married for six years, Gerda and Einar are inseparable and madly in love. They are best friends and help each other with their art. In a pinch because of a female models tardiness, Gerda convinces Einar to stand in for the model, wearing female clothes. This event triggers a lifelong identification as a female named Lili Elbe. Apparently Lili has emerged sporadically since childhood. Through painful self assessment and encouragement from progressive loved ones, Lili decides to go through with a highly experimental and risky sex change operation.

Gushing with sensitivity and tenderness and groundbreaking in a sense, though I bet even moreso if made ten years ago, one feels for both lead characters as it is important to note that they both go through emotional turmoil. It would be easy to lessen Gerda’s emotions and, perhaps with a lesser actress this might have happened, but Vikander (unknown to me before seeing this film) gives an emotional performance that is raw and exudes empathy. One can imagine how they would feel if their spouse identified as the opposite sex. Confusion, blame, anger, sorrow, would all be common reactions. Gerda is strong, brave, and helpful, all the while crumbling beneath the surface. Vikander brings all of this to the screen flawlessly.

Similarly, Redmayne brings depth and empathy to his role.  Redmayne’s Einar is masculine, but there is something sensitive and slightly feminine to him from the start. Was this purposely done to soften the blow? He also appears to be very slightly built. Clearly, Redmayne lost a bit of weight to portray this role and have a softer appearance. Actors can easily dress up in drag, but the emotional investment needs to be there and Redmayne makes the viewer care about Lili a great deal. One is teary-eyed along with Lili as she sees no other choice, but to undergo the risky operation. We see the desperation in Lili’s eyes and this is thanks to Redmayne’s acting skills.

I loved how supportive the characters are in the film. Granted, Einar/Lili and Gerda travel in liberal and progressive circles, but for 1930, this was wonderful to see. Of course, Copenhagen and Paris are open minded cities, but Lili’s childhood friend Hans, a sophisticated, macho guy, offers nothing but support. Same goes for the Doctor taking on Lili’s surgery. These aspects lend to a delicate, peaceful film of encouragement.

To be clear, Lili is not gay, and this is made crystal clear during the film as she meets a gay man and the distinction between them is made. She does, however, identify and feel that she is a woman. She was simply born with the wrong parts.

The greatest aspect of The Danish Girl is its powerhouse acting and compelling subject matter. One’s gender is a given for most, but watching a riveting drama about someone who is at unrest with their gender is eye-opening and still rather taboo. 2015 was a year of progressive transgender films and The Danish Girl is towards the top in its class and gracefulness in dealing with the subject matter in a calm non judgmental way.

 

Black Christmas-1974

Black Christmas-1974

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder

Top 100 Films-#36     Top 20 Horror Films-#11

Scott’s Review #309

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Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A

Black Christmas is one of my favorite horror films of all time and, in my opinion, an under-appreciated classic.  Somehow it is just not the first, second, or third film mentioned when most discuss the influential horror films of years past. I make sure to watch it each holiday season. It largely influenced Halloween (another love of mine) from the killer point of view camera shots to the seasonal element. It is quite horrifying in several key scenes, in fact, and I am proud to list it as one of favorite films. Black Christmas is a must-see for fans of the horror genre.

The setting (a cold and snowy Christmas) is perfect and the film is shot quite dark. There are Christmas lights and carolers for a great winter holiday effect. Most of the film takes place at night and the location is primarily inside a huge, rather creepy, sorority house. The ambiance is well thought out.

Several sorority girls, led by boozy Barb (Margot Kidder) and sweet-natured Jess (Olivia Hussey), prepare to depart for the holiday season by having a small farewell Christmas party. Recently, the girls have been harassed by a prank caller spouting nonsensical gibberish on a daily basis. As in true horror fashion, the girls are systematically offed one by one as events turn dire. Two sub-plots which ultimately merge with the central plot include Jess’s pregnancy by suspicious boyfriend Peter, and the search in the park for a missing young girl.

The best part of Black Christmas is that it is an honest, raw film, made on a small budget, that does not include gimmicks or contrivances. It has authenticity. A disturbing film for sure,  one victim being posed in a rocking chair continuously rocking back and forth next to the attic window, while said victim is bound in plastic wrap, holding a doll, mouth and eyes wide, is one of the most chilling in horror film history. The nuances of the killer also scare and the brilliance of this is that his motivations are mysterious and unclear (in large part the success of Michael Meyers as well). We never fully see the killer except his shape and eyes, and that is the brilliance of the film.

The one slight negative to the film is the decision to make the cops appear incompetent. The desk sergeant in particular is a complete dope- one wonders how he got his job- as a sexual joke by one of the girls goes over his head while the other detectives laugh like fools. Why is this necessary? I suppose for comic relief, but isn’t that the purpose of Mrs. Mac, the overweight, boozy sorority mother?  Her constant treasure hunt for hidden booze (the toilet, inside a book) are comical and fun. And her posing and posturing in front of the mirror (she is a very frumpy, average woman) are a delight and balance the heavy drama.

The conclusion of Black Christmas is vague and fantastic and works very well. Due, once again, to the police errors, the final victims fate is left unclear as we see her in a vulnerable state, unaware that the killer is looming nearby. We only hear a ringing phone and wonder what happens next.

My admiration for Black Christmas only grows upon each viewing as I am once again compelled, noticing more and more ingenious nuances to the film. Can’t wait until next Christmas to watch it again.

Carol-2015

Carol-2015

Director-Todd Haynes

Starring-Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Top 100 Films-#90

Scott’s Review #308

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Reviewed December 27, 2015

Grade: A

My comparison would be that this film is the female version of Brokeback Mountain, if you will. Carol is a story of hidden romance and secret lives in the early 1950’s, a time in which it was very difficult to lead an alternative lifestyle openly (or even in hiding!). The film is a marvel in its honest storytelling, exquisite class, and its gracefulness, with excellent cinematography and a nice, heartwarming tale. Carol is directed by Todd Haynes, a director known for films about doomed romances faced with societal challenges. Carol is a wonderful piece of work.

The film really contains two equal female lead roles- Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is a gorgeous, sophisticated socialite.  She exudes confidence and style in everything that she does. Always perfectly dressed, well made up, perfect fingernails, her mannerisms relay confidence and control. She is married to a wealthy businessman, Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is madly in love with her, yet they are divorcing because of her “problem”. The fact that Carol is a lesbian is known to Harge and they share somewhat of an understanding…..and also a five year old daughter. The divorce they are going through is difficult.

Therese Belevit (Rooney Mara), on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Carol.  Young, naïve, she is a part time shopgirl, who is fascinated by photography. She dates men and goes to parties, living out a typical young girls life. When Carol and Therese meet at the store where Therese works, they are immediately enamored with one another and a friendship develops. Both seem to be caught off guard and the chemistry between the two actresses sizzles.

The focus of the film is the budding romance between Carol and Therese, but also the societal differences that they face, not to mention the age difference between the two women. I found the chemistry  quite evident and this is thanks to Blanchett and Mara. Worlds apart, the two women somehow find their way to each other and form a bond. Their relationship is tender, gentle, and carefully laid out for the audience. They are neither animalistic nor barbaric in a sexual way, but rather- sweet. When Therese takes a spontaneous car trip from New York to Chicago, leaving her boyfriend, Richard, perplexed, she is conflicted. He wants them to run off to Paris- Therese wants to be with Carol. He breaks up with Therese and accuses her of having a crush on Carol.

Therese and Carol’s romance is finally consummated in a mid-western hotel. It is New Year’s Eve and Todd Haynes chooses to shoot this scene in a romantic, spontaneous way. They are celebrating the holiday, but both are blue and vulnerable. It makes perfect sense that they would turn to one another in this moment.

The film delves into many different emotions that Carol and Therese face- love, glee, anger, rage, confusion, rejection, and loneliness. These adjectives and the aforementioned examples of the tone of the film are why it succeeds.

From an acting perspective, both Blanchett and Mara are great, but I am more partial to Blanchett’s performance. She embodies this character. From the way she confidently orders a martini dry with one olive, to how she brazenly approaches Therese, she is a woman in control. But faced with family issues she becomes vulnerable and we see her as a human being.

Besides the interesting story of a love faced with many challenges, the look of the film is grand. The sets, hairstyles, clothes, and makeup are all graceful and rich. To summarize- everyone looks great and it portrays a perfect picture of the 1950’s.

A progressive Hollywood tale done very well, Carol showcases glamour, great acting, and sends a powerful message of acceptance and struggle during a difficult time to be “different”,  in order to fulfill ones lives.

Jurassic World-2015

Jurassic World-2015

Director-Colin Trevorrow

Starring-Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

Scott’s Review #307

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Reviewed December 23, 2015

Grade: C

Jurassic World is a film that I expected to like much more than I did. Sure, it is a summer, blockbuster, popcorn flick, but based on the success of the earlier franchise efforts,  and, if memory serves, finding enjoyment in the 1993 original, Jurassic Park, I expected a fun ride. Unfortunately, I was treated to a formulaic, escapade with uninteresting characters and mediocre writing.

The premise is standard- a behemoth of an amusement park exists in Central America, on the island of Isla Nublar, where a dinosaur theme park has been running without incident for ten years. A genetically modified dinosaur, created because a magnificent new attraction is needed, breaks loose and runs rampant.  A silly love story exists between the two leads Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard), as well as the inclusion of two young boys (Zach and Gray) sent by their divorcing parents to be with their Aunt Claire, who works as the Operations Manager at the park. Owen is the dinosaur trainer. Predictably, there are “bad guys” who are greedy and/or desiring to advance science at the risk of human life.

The special effects are fine, albeit completely CGI laden, which is to be expected- the main stars are dinosaurs after all. I did, however, expect better writing or, at least, more of a creative attempt at coming up with something a bit edgy. The story was completely redundant. Where was the character development? There was none. We know very little about any of the principal characters except on a superficial level. One might argue that an adventure film does not necessitate this, but I disagree- I think it is important. We know that Claire is a workaholic and has none time for her nephews- why? What makes her tick?

Here is a slight complaint- Why kill off only extremely minor characters or villains? I could see this (and the ending) a mile away. The whole film just seemed forced and sloppy.

Jurassic World is also filled with clichés- Owen and Claire initially dislike each other having had one unsuccessful first day back in the day. The film tries to push the love/hate, opposites attract element and it seems contrived. How many times have we seen this in film history? Also, Chris Pratt is perfect as the hunky, muscular “hero saves the day” type, and Dallas Bryce Howard running through the forest in a tight tank top is not unintentional.

This is not to say that the film is bad. It is a decent adventure film and the special effects are kind of cool. I did enjoy the homage to the original 1993 version as the boys stumble upon the original visitor station complete with the 1992 jeep from the original Jurassic Park film. I thought this was a neat little nod to history and I love that in franchise film, but that is really it for the positives.

Yes, this film was a blockbuster smash and made oodles of money. It, however, felt forced and clichéd and quite formulaic. I was hoping for much more and deeper, stronger, material.

 

It Follows-2014

It Follows-2014

Director-David Robert Mitchell

Starring-Maika Monroe, Debbie Williams

Scott’s Review #306

It_Follows_(poster)

Reviewed December 23, 2015

Grade: A-

It Follows is a mysterious, very unique, dreamlike (or shall I say nightmarish!) independent horror film that is a pleasant throwback to old school horror films (my favorites!), with a supernatural twist thrown in. The film is directed very well by newcomer David Robert Mitchell containing wonderful cinematography, creative camera angles, etc. This film is not glossy and has a raw, almost videotaped feel, which I personally found quite wonderful. The film was shot entirely in and around Detroit giving it a cold, industrial look.

The film begins on a dramatic note leaving the viewer curious right off the bat. A young woman flees her suburban home and nervously stands on the street looking back at her house.  A neighbor asks if she needs help. She then returns to her house, collects her things and hurriedly drives to the beach. She suspects something or someone is watching her. She tearfully phones her father and tells him she loves him. The next scene appears to be the following morning and the woman is lying murdered on the beach in a grotesque position- her leg strangely bent. This is a fantastic way to begin the film.

From this point the premise is quickly revealed. The main character of the film is Jay, an attractive college-aged girl. She lives with her sister Kelly and are good friends with their next door neighbors Paul and Yara. An additional neighbor and classmate, Greg, also figures into the plot. Jay is on a date with Hugh and things are going well. They attend a classic film. They sneak into a deserted lot and have sex. Afterwards, Hugh chloroforms Jay and the weirdness begins. A strange woman appears and Hugh tells Jay that she must pass on a curse. Otherwise, an entity in the form of another person that nobody else can see but the victim will get Jay and she will be doomed.

I loved the throwback elements to 1970’s and 1980’s horror- in fact it is vague when the film is set- purposely so I imagine- as many of the cars are 1970’s and 1980’s models. Only one cell phone is used throughout the film, but mostly the time could be present or past. Even the houses appear dated.

Story-wise, It Follows is tough to figure out and open to a certain level of interpretation. Is the film anti-sex? Is the story a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases? Clearly the victims become possessed by the entity after sex and then must pass it to another unwitting victim, sexually.

I noticed some similarities to John Carpenter films- specifically the classic Halloween. Jay sits in a classroom (ironically in the back row next to the window ala Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween) and looks out to see a strange old woman slowly lumbering towards her, eyes fixed on Jay.  Later, the three principal girls casually walk around the neighborhood engaging in small talk similar to the characters of Laurie, Lynda, and Annie in Halloween.

The ending- a scene in the indoor community swimming pool where the kids try to catch the spirit is a bit hokey and unresolved. However, I did enjoy the final scene- a peaceful one  in which I was unsure if the entity has been destroyed or remained. A sequel perhaps?

I give It Follows major props for its styling, creativity, while all the while giving classic horror fans a good old fashioned treat without much CGI necessary.

Blow-Up-1966

Blow-Up-1966

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave

Scott’s Review #305

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Reviewed December 21, 2015

Grade: A

Blow-up is a mysterious and compelling 1966 (the spawn of more edgy films) thriller that undoubtedly influenced the yet to come 1974 masterpiece The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, as both films are tense tales of intrigue focusing on technology as a tool to witness a murder. This film is legendary director Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English speaking film and what  a film it is.

Set in hip London in the 1960’s, it certainly portrays the fashion world in an interesting way. The story is about a fashion photographer named Thomas, who is in high demand. He revels in bedding women so they may have their photos taken by this rock star photographer and is chased around London by gorgeous women. He aborts a photo shoot one day because he is bored. He is not the nicest guy in the world and is rather an unlikable character. But perhaps that is secondary or even intentional. While walking in Maryon Park one day, he comes upon a couple in the distance. They appear to be in the midst of a secret rendezvous, nervously kissing,   so  he begins photographing them. The woman, Jane,  (played by a very young Vanessa Redgrave) realizes they have been snapped and is furious- demanding the film. This sets off the mystery and the meat of the film.

The film is a tremendous achievement in cinematic intrigue. It is quite psychological and open to much interpretation, which is the genius of it. The main questions asked are “What exactly transpired in the park and who is responsible?”  We feel little sympathy for Thomas, which perhaps is intentional. and what about Jane? Talk about mysterious! We know little about her other than she has secrets, but is she responsible for the crime? Thomas and Jane play a sort of cat and mouse game throughout the film, both seemingly trying to outwit and outmaneuver the other. The unique aspect of the film is that the viewer will often ask questions- “was there even a crime committed”? “Are the events all in Thomas’s imagination or has he misinterpreted the series of events”? One will revel in the magnificence of these questions.

Comparisons to The Conversation were apparent to me right away- both feature one of the senses as a means to solving or realizing the crime committed- in The Conversation it is hearing, in Blow-Up it is sight. In both, the main character uses these senses for a living and both are arguably not the most likable characters. Both films feature mimes.  Both films are quite cerebral and furthermore, both are cinema gems for the “thinking man”.

Blow-Up  has weird, little intricate moments- a very tall, female, Russian model experiences an odd photo shoot with Thomas. Later,  a giggling pair of  young girls end up in a grappling match with Thomas after asking him to take their photos.  A topless (from behind) Jane prancing around Thomas’s apartment is an unusual scene.

As a first time viewer I adored this film and it is a good example of a film that really requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate and I look forward to doing just that, A fantastic creative achievement, Blow-Up is a masterpiece that can be dissected with each subsequent viewing.

The Peanuts Movie-2015

The Peanuts Movie-2015

Director-Steve Martino

Starring-Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller

Scott’s Review #304

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Reviewed December 20, 2015

Grade: B-

Having adored the Peanuts comic strips in the “funnies” papers every Sunday as a wee child, as well as the wonderful classic A Charlie Brown Christmas special that aired every holiday season, I was eager to see a full-length film released in theaters.  The Peanuts Movie commemorates the 50 year Anniversary of the Christmas special.  The Peanuts gang are so All-American and ingrained in our culture that I could not resist seeing it. I expected “cute” and that is exactly what I received. The film was nice, but quite safe and certainly predictable.

The Peanuts gang is much more than just the antics of Charlie Brown and his faithful dog Snoopy, who clearly take center stage in the film. It is the entire beloved gang and they are all featured here- Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Linus, Lucy, Frieda, Pig-Pen, and others, albeit in clearly supporting roles.

There are two main stories featured in the film- the long-suffering and (in his mind) friendless (despite actually being loved by the gang), Charlie Brown is enamored with his new neighbor- the Little Red-Haired Girl- well-known from the original comic strips as Charlie Brown’s schoolyard crush-yet never seen. The other is Snoopy’s writing of a book about the Flying Ace- in which he saves his crush, Fifi, also a pilot, from the dangerous Red Baron and his army.

Per usual, the film is really about Charlie Brown’s endless insecurities prompted by bad luck and always screwing things up- no matter that his intentions are noble. When the Little Red-Haired Girl moves in across the street from Charlie Brown, he is immediately smitten and does numerous things to impress and acquire her attention- of course with difficulties arising. A talent show in which he plays a magician goes wrong. To his delight, he is partnered with the Little Red-Haired Girl on a book report, but when she is called out of town he is forced to write the report himself, thereby foiling his attempts at getting close to her.

Per usual, all parents remain unseen and speak in garbled voices as the story is solely about the kids. An interesting element is, while the Little Red-Haired girl is seen and does indeed speak, most of this occurs towards the end. Up until this point we see her only from behind allowing an element of mystery to surround her. It would have been interesting seeing some of the supporting characters explored more- is Peppermint Patty gay and is Marcie her love interest? How about a love interest or background for some of the others? A very quick side story explored is a growing romance between Pig-Pen and Patti.

The film does a nice job with featuring the familiar settings of the original comic strip- Lucy’s psychiatrist’s booth, the wall,  and the skating pond are prominently featured, which is a treat for long-time fans.

In the end, The Peanuts Movie is a nice film. I would have preferred a bit more of an edge or more creativity as original creator Charles Schultz had, but it is nice to be reminded of a simple time in life and this film is a good time.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Bernadette Lafont

Scott’s Review #303

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Reviewed December 19, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960’s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom  happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously  look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.  The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large this way on the surface, but all throughout the film there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows or coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the worlds most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as a greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.  Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love. One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killers bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes.  The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girls heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly. This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killers next target? In the final shot we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

The Seven Year Itch-1955

The Seven Year Itch-1955

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell

Scott’s Review #302

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Reviewed December 18, 2015

Grade: B

Following a string of successful hits by director Billy Wilder (mostly famous for films in the 1940’s and 1950’s), The Seven Year Itch features Marilyn Monroe in her prime and at her finest. It is a cute film made charming by the likable legend. While certainly not high art, it is fun and an entertaining experience in classic romantic comedy cinema and it has an innocence certainly lost in today’s genre. Playing a familiar character to what she was known for (sexy, flirty, sweet blondes), it is arguably Monroe’s best role (though Some Like it Hot still wins out for me as her best film role).

Richard Sherman, a successful New York publisher, finds himself alone for the summer when his wife and son leave for a vacation  in the country. Middle-aged and bored, he immediately is enamored with his gorgeous new upstairs neighbor, simply known as The Girl, played by Marilyn Monroe. The Girl is a commercial actress and former model and quite friendly and bubbly. She is conveniently staying in New York City while filming a new television ad for toothpaste. Richard finds himself awkwardly tempted by the curvaceous Girl in one situation after another.

The Seven Year Itch is pure innocence and fantasy. The Girl has no designs on Richard, whatsoever, and his flirtation with her is harmless and juvenile. Richard is nerdy and socially awkward, not to mention fearful of his wife’s stern nature, should she find out that he is even spending a moment with The Girl. Much of the film includes scenes where Richard imagines conversations with his wife or imagines her with another man, justifying his attraction for The Girl. These scenes are done in a hilarious manner as he imagines conversations with his wife and much of his thoughts are exaggerated.

Humorous scenes transpire such as the “champagne scene” in which The Girl and Richard attempt to open a champagne bottle while cooling off with Richard’s new state of the art air conditioner.  The Girl keeps her underpants in a freezer to cool off. The Girl appearing in her toothpaste commercial, in comic fashion, is also a treat. And who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s famous scene in which she appears standing over a subway grate, clad in a sexy white dress and high heels, the wind from the subway blowing her dress in the air is one of the most memorable in film history and timeless.

Some would argue that The Seven Year Itch is nothing but fluff and they in large part are correct, but in an age of crude and obnoxious films disguised as romantic comedy, with cheesy jokes and canned humor, it is refreshing to revel back to 1950’s culture, largely an innocent era, and enjoy a fun film romp with one of cinema’s forever stars.

Tangerine-2015

Tangerine-2015

Director-Sean Baker

Starring-Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #301

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Reviewed December 17, 2015

Grade: A

On the very rare occasion that I am lucky and privileged enough to stumble upon a gem like Tangerine, it reaffirms my faith in film and creative film makers in general. Here is a universal lesson- it does not take oodles of money to make a great film. This film was shot with three smartphones!! It takes talent and creativity. Tangerine is a groundbreaking film- the first (that I am aware of anyway) to feature transgender actresses at the forefront of the feature. The film has been honored with multiple Independent Spirit award nominations.

Shot documentary style, with grittiness and a frenetic pace, while mixing in unique styles of music (hip hop to classic) as the musical score (a child-like tune begins the film), Tangerine is unique from both a story perspective and a visual style. The films first scene begins with two transgender sex workers- Sin-Dee Rella  and Alexandra, having a conversation in a coffee shop. Sin-Dee has just been released from jail and learns that her boyfriend, and pimp, Chester, has been cheating on her. It is Christmas Eve. The crux of the film explores Sin-Dee’s rage and subsequent search all over Los Angeles for Chester, and the girl he has been with. She vows revenge on them both.  However, beyond this story point, the heart of the film is of loneliness and isolation that most of the characters (trans and otherwise), share, in one form or another.

Interspersed with the Sin-Dee story, are stories involving Alexandra’s feud with a “john”, and her pursuit of a singing career. Another very interesting story is that of straight male, Razmik, an Armenian cab driver who is infatuated with transgender sex workers. This may sound bizarre or too out there for some, but Razmik’s story is quite tender and compelling. He has a wife and baby at home, along with various other relatives, and is clearly the bread-winner. He is also very conflicted. He does not “use” the sex workers, but rather cares for them and admires them.

I found all three principal characters interesting in different ways- Sin-Dee and Alex are over-the-top, yet sensitive. While Sin-Dee is aggressive and vengeful, Alex is the kinder of the two and the more sensible and rational. She is a sex-worker, but aspires to more out of life. Razmik is even more interesting- does he have a fetish? is he shameful for spending money on prostitutes while supporting a wife and child?

All of the characters are victimized in one form or another and all are dysfunctional- at the same time they are all weirdly likable. I witnessed moments of Quentin Tarantino’s film style coming across the screen- most notably in the coffee-shop scenes (the beginning and final scenes) as all hell breaks loose, and the characters delve into all sorts of crazy behavior, though Tangerine is a sweet tale about friendship too. It is a memorable and powerful film experience.

In the end, all the characters are hurting, living such sad lives, and especially since the time period is present day Christmas Eve, which I guess might make this film sound depressing, but it is not. I found it almost uplifting in a way.  Tangerine is a completely original, groundbreaking film that I hope is remembered and appreciated 50 years from now.

Big Night-1996

Big Night-1996

Director-Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott

Starring-Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub

Scott’s Review #300

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Reviewed December 16, 2015

Grade: B+

Big Night is a sweet, whimsical little film that is a food lovers dream come true as that is the focal point of the story with more than one dish actually being prepared on-screen giving it a realism. It centers on the restaurant business and, specifically, how two brothers struggle to keep their failing restaurant afloat through the love and passion of food.

The story tells of two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo and Secondo, played by Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, respectively. The time period is the 1950’s and they reside in blue-collar New Jersey. Times are tough for them as they try to succeed in the difficult restaurant business- they specialize in Italian food of course. Secondo is a playboy of sorts- suave and handsome, he  dates Phyllis (Minnie Driver) while galavanting with a sophisticated older woman named Gabriela, the wife of a competitor. Primo, on the other hand, is quiet, serious, yet an all-star chef. The food he prepares is wonderful and his talent is evident. But how can they market themselves to be successful? At this point their restaurant is dying and they risk being reduced to returning to Italy, or eek out a meager existence working for someone else. An idea is announced  to have celebrity singer (Louis Prima) perform  for a one-night extravaganza at their restaurant, where they will make the meal of their lives and impress the town, thus achieving success.

The film is charming and my favorite parts are on the “big night”. As the duo prepare the liquor order and shop for flowers and other decorations in preparation, the mood and spirit left me with a warm feeling. What a sense of togetherness Primo and Secondo, along with friends, felt to achieve this challenging goal. Inevitably, there is tension between the brothers, and between Secondo and Phyllis, but truthfully, these are merely sub-plots, and the heart of the film is in the food.

The scenes that take place in the kitchen left my mouth watering. As Secondo prepares a baked pasta dish (Timpano), the meal oozes with love and tastiness.  The entire story arc is grand and magnificent. The group of diners revel in the dining room of the restaurant enjoying spirits and dancing the night away. By morning everyone is full and drunk, both with love and alcohol, but most are happy. They get merry as they eat the night away. I could almost taste the main course!

A sub-plot that really works for me is the burgeoning romance between reserved Primo and equally reserved flower shop owner, Ann. Both very timid, they finally muster the courage to admit their feelings for each other while enjoying (what else?) wine and food- what better way to begin a romance? The tenderness and chemistry between these two is very innocent and captivated me while watching the film.

The final scene of the brothers making an omelette is also wonderful and a fitting way to stress togetherness and perseverance, which is what the small film is really about. For lovers of food Big Night is definitely a shining moment.

She’s Lost Control-2014

She’s Lost Control-2014

Director-Anja Marquardt

Starring-Brooke Bloom

Scott’s Review #299

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Reviewed December 14, 2015

Grade: B+

She’s Lost Control is a dark, independent drama, and the directorial debut of Anja Marquardt. This film is one reason I proudly support independent film, as it is otherwise a film that most do not know about, and will never know about, if not for good word of mouth and award recognition- think indie spirit awards. Hopefully, Marquardt will one day be a household name. The film is heavy yet intriguing and certainly a character study.

The film is a dark and dreary experience- some might argue depressing, centering on Ronah- a young, female, college student, aspiring towards her master’s degree in psychology, who works as a sexual surrogate in Manhattan. The film explores her experiences with various clients, specifically, a disturbed, volatile man, who she takes on as a client. As she becomes better acquainted with Johnny, they forge a special bond, but will romantic feelings and jealousy get in the way of the therapy assigned to both parties involved? How each of them explores their feelings is the focal point of the tale, and clearly the feelings involved are not peaches and cream.

Ronah is not a prostitute and there is very little sex that goes on, albeit the implication is certainly there. She is nurturing and very emotionally invested and intends to become a psychiatrist one day. It is unclear whether her “boss”, a shady seeming character, is her pimp or simply employer. His role and motivations are a bit unclear.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the title and throughout my viewing of the film I wondered about the title more and more- are any of Ronah’s experiences in her mind? Is she stable or does she perhaps have some emotional or mental issues? She befriends a kind neighbor around her age and invites her for dinner- they bond. The neighbor invites her out dancing, but Ronah declines.  She also has an older female confidant- a former surrogate herself who gives Ronah tips and suggestions. Still, Ronah is lonely. Again we wonder if perhaps all is not what it seems? This is a fascinating aspect to the story. One must watch to determine the answers to questions such as these.

New York City can be a tough, unkind world and She’s Lost Control does not sugar coat an individual’s difficult existence when not blessed with family money, strings, or some other advantage. Ronah lives in a dump with holes in her shower and cramped quarters. In addition to her hardships where she lives, she is constantly kept abreast of problems concerning her brother and mother back home in upstate New York. Quite simply, Ronah is overwhelmed by her life. Might she be spinning out of control?

The dreary aspect of the film, to me, is not so much the sexual aspect. Ronah is a therapist and everything is with mutual consent.  Unfortunately, she is challenged by some of the people she encounters in her profession.

I admire She’s Lost Control quite a bit for its insight, thoughtfulness, and compelling story of a woman with a difficult life, trying to make ends meet, and aspiring to something worthwhile. She is brave, troubled, and interesting all rolled up in one fascinating lead character.

Brooklyn-2015

Brooklyn-2015

Director-Jon Crowley

Starring-Saoirse Ronan

Scott’s Review #298

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Brooklyn is a classic style Hollywood film that I adored watching. It has a genuine innocence to it with wonderful, powerful acting and perfect cinematography/art direction. The film is conventional and mainstream, but never sappy. Based on Colm Toubin’s popular novel of the same name, Brooklyn takes place in the early 1950’s and is set in both Ireland and New York City.

Eilis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan, is a young Irish girl with good morals and traditional values. She is faithful and Catholic, with a good upbringing. Not rich by any means, she is very intelligent and uses good sense, working hard on weekends in a grocery run by an unkind woman, in order to save money. Thankfully, her older sister Rose, whom Eilis adores, has scrimped and saved enough for her to go the United States and study, via a church program. Rose does not want Eilis to be trapped in the small Irish town in which they live an adequate, but not extraordinary life. While in New York City, an event occurs that necessitates Eilis’s return to Ireland. While home she develops a romantic dilemma that causes her to ponder whether to return to her new life in New York City or stay in Ireland. Eilis is conflicted, which is the main focus of the story.

On paper one might assume that Brooklyn is sappy, “chick flick” or a trite romance with predictability for miles- it isn’t. Everything about the film is perfect and it is very detail oriented.  All of the pieces somehow fit together- good direction, good camerawork, good acting, and good story-telling.

Throughout the film I found myself teetering in an emotional state. When Eilis meets the young and charming Tony, a working class Italian American, who becomes infatuated with her, I worried how their different backgrounds would be handled. Their courtship is sweet and tender and I found myself cheering  for them as their slow romance builds. From different worlds, she is taught to eat pasta correctly to impress his traditional parents. He walks her home every night. Tony and Eilis have a sweetness and purity that is tough not to fall in love with as an onlooker.

On the other hand, when dramatic events unfold, the excellent acting makes Brooklyn a delight and quite emotionally powerful. One might find themselves a flood of tears by the end of the film. Thanks to Ronan, an impressive talent to me since my discovery of her work in 2007’s Atonement, she elicits in Eilis a strength and stoicism that is tested when she breaks down at one point in the film. Important to mention are the awe-inspiring performances by Fiona Glascott as Eilis’s sister Rose, and Jane Brennan as Eilis’s mother. Unknown actresses (to me), both give highly dramatic and dynamic performances in their respective roles.

Always wonderful to see are veteran character actors Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters as Father Flood and Madge, respectively.

What a visual treat Brooklyn is! As the title reveals, most of the action does take place in this New York City borough, and the influx of Irish and Italian immigrants during this period of history is apparent with the clothing and the cinematography. In Ireland, the lush green and the vast landscape makes this simply divine to view.

A story of bravery, romance, and kindness, Brooklyn is a wholesome and feel good film, yes, but, I was immersed in the story and the look of the film from the very first shot.

Mulholland Dr.- 2001

Mulholland Dr.- 2001

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux

Top 100 Films-#14

Scott’s Review #297

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Mulholland Dr. is my favorite David Lynch film and as far as I am concerned, a pure masterpiece in experimental film making. Championed by many; hated by others for it’s non linear and very confusing storyline, to try and make sense of the mishmash of dreamlike plots is wasteful and undoubtedly headache inducing, as the film simply must be felt and appreciated for its creativity. My best analogy is Mulholland Dr. is to film what Pink Floyd is to music- it must be savored and experienced. It is a film to be interpreted and studied.

The main story, if one is attempting to summarize in a paragraph, goes something like this:

Part 1- aspiring actress Betty Elms (played by then unknown Naomi Watts) arrives in sunny Los Angeles, a perky, clean cut girl, and stays in her aunt’s gorgeous suburban apartment while, she herself an actress, is away on location shooting a film. Betty meets an amnesiac woman, the gorgeous Rita, who is hiding in the apartment. Prior to meeting Betty, we learn that Rita was involved in a car accident on Mulholland Dr. and is carrying a large sum of cash, but she does not know who she is or even her name, making up the name “Rita” from a poster of Rita Hayworth she sees on the wall while showering.

Part 2: Betty (now named Diane) and Rita (now Camilla) are lovers and Betty, no longer aspiring, now has become a neurotic, struggling actress with no work, and involved in a love triangle with Camilla and another man, who are both great successes and pity Diane. Diane and Camilla go to a club named Club Silencio, where a gorgeous singer brings them to tears with her singing only to collapse and be revealed a phony. The host warns that everything is an illusion.

Intersecting vignettes seemingly unrelated to the central part of the story- a young director forced to cast a woman after threats from the mafia, a terrified man who sees a demented man behind the dumpster of a burger joint, and a detective searching for the clues to the car accident involving Rita, all come together to relate to the main story.

Mixed in with all of these stories are recurring odd characters- the seemingly sweet elderly couple that Betty meets on the airplane, a strange cowboy who appears every so often, Coco, the landlord, played by legendary film actress Ann Miller, in her last film, Coco then doubles as a shrewish character in the alternate story, and finally, a mysterious blue key. How do all these facets of story and character add up? That is open to interpretation.

Some details support the theory that “Betty” is a figment of Diane’s imagination- she dreams of being fresh faced and ready to take on L.A., and that the woman that Betty and Rita find dead is really Diane. When the plot changes direction, the cowboy utters the line “Hey, pretty girl. Time to wake up.”, which seems to support this theory, though, as mentioned before, Mulholland Dr. is meant to be enjoyed not stressed over if the puzzle does not always come together.

Mulholland Dr. is a masterpiece pure and simple. An odd masterpiece with plots that can be discussed and dissected for ages…..and not understanding the film is not a bad thing.

Citizen Kane-1941

Citizen Kane-1941

Director-Orson Welles

Starring-Orson Welles

Top 100 Films-#19

Scott’s Review #296

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane is a technically brilliant film that introduces fantastic new elements into film never before seen and replicated for decades to come. It is a timeless masterpiece still enjoyed and marveled at in modern times.

Forget what the story is about, as one can sit back, not having any idea of what the story means (it can be a bit difficult to follow) and look at the film from a cinematic perspective. The various camera angles, shadows, and use of an actual ceiling (never seen in film before) is impossible not to appreciate for any film lover. My favorite scenes occur when director (and star) Orson Welles uses snow falling outside as the cameras look through a window to observe the winter wonderland. This quality is simply astonishing in creative technicality. I can view this scene over and over again.

The plot is a hybrid drama and mystery. The life and legacy of newspaper legend Charles Foster Kane is examined. The character, played by Welles himself, is loosely based on real life figure, William Randolph Hearst. The film is told mainly through narrated flashbacks, as a newsreel reporter attempts to solve the big mystery centered around the deceased celebrity- his dying word, uttered from his lavish Florida mansion, was “rosebud” and nobody seems to know who “rosebud” is or what the word represents.

As the story goes along we begin to learn more about the famous Kane. Jerry Thompson, the reporter, learns that Kane’s childhood in Colorado was one of poverty. His mother, discovering a gold mine on her property, sent Kane away to be educated by a famous banker, thus securing his future. Thompson also interviews Kane’s personal business manager, and Kane’s ex-wife, now a drunk who owns a night club, but neither of them can shed light on the mystery.

The mystery- never solved by Thompson nor anyone else- is revealed at the end of the film, to the viewer only, in fantastic form and Kane’s childhood is key to the entire puzzle. This angle is creative and imaginative and brilliant to the entire film.

Technically, one of the best, most creative film creations, Citizen Kane has lost none of its marvel over the years and can be watched, studied, and introduced to new generations of film lovers eager to learn what a true movie gem is all about.

A Clockwork Orange-1971

A Clockwork Orange-1971

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Malcolm McDowell

Top 100 Films-#9     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#7

Scott’s Review #295

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Reviewed December 11, 2015

Grade: A

A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking Stanley Kubrick film and my personal favorite in his collection, more than one of which appears on my Top 100 Favorite Films list.  Adapted from the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel and thought to be unable to make into a film, it becomes  a psychedelic, creative, and fascinating experience from start to finish. Bizarre and extremely thought-provoking, Kubrick tells the story of a London sociopath delinquent living in futuristic London, and the strange behavior modifications performed on him after he is apprehended by the police, in an attempt to “reform” him and transition him to be a useful member of society.

The film delves into such social and insightful themes such as morality and psychology and questions these weighty topics. Interspersed with classical music and wonderful, colorful sets, A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece in bizarre artistic cinema.

Alex DeLarge loves classical music (specifically Beethoven), violence, and hanging out with friends. He constantly skips school, beats people up, and parties with his friends. His pet snake is his best friend, and his parents seem afraid of him. Finally arrested after murdering an odd lady with dozens of cats, Alex is sent away to prison where he volunteers for an experimental “Ludovico” technique, which Alex assumes is a “get out of jail free” card. What transpires next is a freakish and uncomfortable experience for Alex.

The film contains startling and disturbing scenes throughout- when Alex and his team of “droogs” become inebriated from a concoction of milk laced with drugs and embark on an evening of self proclaimed ultra violence, they drive to the country where they break in to wealthy author F. Alexander’s house and beat him, crippling him for life. They rape his wife while forcing him to watch, all the while Alex happily sings “Singin’ in the Rain” timing the beats of the song to acts of violence. The brutality and creativity of this scene is mesmerizing and certainly unforgettable.

We the audience might despise a character like Alex, however, sympathy is felt for him as his “reformation” begins. A disturbing scene, which is forever embedded in my mind, involves the attaching of a contraption forcing Alex’s eyelids wide open while he watches violent scenes and is administered a drug to make him sick, thereby associating the violence with illness. He becomes psychologically screwed up. Alex (thanks to a wonderful portrayal by Malcolm McDowell) is charismatic and humorous and, in some warped way, quite likable to audience, despite his devious ways.

A Clockwork Orange continues to disturb me after multiple viewings- who can forget the sinister grin that Alex wears and the creepy one eyelash with mascara that he possesses? The film sends an interesting message about human nature as Alex turns from predator to the hunted. We ask, “are human beings  naturally prone to violence”?

The direction of the film is breathtaking- the weird colors, the (as traditional with Stanley Kubrick)  long shot camera angles, the intense musical crescendos. And the genre of classical music is a wonderful and ominous choice- almost adding a level of sophistication to Alex and the violence. The weird supporting characters (Alex’s parents, the probation officer, and his parents roommate) and the suddenly fast-forwarded sex scenes were unheard of for its time.

Immensely creative and unconventional film making with a moral message and questions about society and mankind, A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking and fantastic, trippy experience. A masterpiece from top to bottom.

Spotlight-2015

Spotlight-2015

Director-Thomas McCarthy

Starring-Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo

Scott’s Review #294

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Reviewed December 9, 2015

Grade: B+

Spotlight is a film with an important story to tell. A telling of true events that occurred within the Catholic Archdiocese for ages, Spotlight’s focus is specifically on the Boston scandals, as a team of reporters working for the Boston Globe uncover and expose a multitude of child molestation cases committed by priests, subsequently covered up, and leaving victims paid off to keep quiet. The number of proven cases in Boston alone is staggering.

Starring are a plethora of talents including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, who lead the pack. They make up the “Spotlight” team at the newspaper,  an investigative unit who work on special stories as they arise.  As their new boss, Marty Baron (ironically a Jewish man), played compellingly by Liev Schrieber, takes over as head of the department, he quizzically asks why the story is not already a priority. Suddenly it is a hot-burner issue and the film delves into an investigation to uncover the facts.

Spotlight is a minimalist film done very well. There is nothing cinematically unique or razzle dazzle about it, but somehow that is okay. In some aspects the film reminds me of the 1975 thriller All The Presidents Men, starring Dustin Hoffman. For instance the bleak, bare news rooms-sterile in their look, are similar- cubicle after cubicle,  harsh lighting and generic conference rooms. Clearly this is the filmmakers intent. Also, the fast, energetic pacing, successfully emitting the tight deadlines newspaper folks are faced with, transfers perfectly on film.

The sexual abuse scandal is a cold, harsh reality and the film introduces several victims, who, now as adults, are forever scarred. Some attend support groups, some take drugs, one is sadly not “all there”. Another, now a gay man, was singled out by a priest during a vulnerable period in the, then young boy’s, life. It is a heartbreaking reality that many victims in the film are based on real cases.

Let’s focus on Schrieber’s character for a minute.  He gives such an understated yet compelling performance that my fear is it will wind up being an overlooked one. He calmly, yet passionately initiates the case. It is not a showy performance, in fact rather subdued, but a compelling one if enough attention is paid to it. He is a standout.

Unfortunately, the film does not delve much into the defense (if any) of the Catholic church. Did they do anything but deny the allegations? Why were the victims paid off? Not much is noted from the church’s point of view. In real life the Catholic church did, in fact, hide the abuse that transpired- for decades in fact.

A slight negative is that the film does not delve into the characters personal lives very much. Michael Keaton’s character, Robby Robinson, is arguably the lead character, spearheading the case,  though very little is known about him. Is he married? happily? Yes, he is a workaholic, but what else? Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is separated from his wife, but little is known as to the reasons. Finally, McAdam’s Sacha is probably the most fleshed out- she is happily married and close with her religious grandmother, who is effected by the scandal. But we do not know her in depth either. I found myself wanting to know more about these people.

All in all, Spotlight is a very good film that is deserving of the recognition it is receiving. Intense, gritty and filled with honesty, it is a story that needed to be told and has been told well.

The Immigrant-2013

The Immigrant-2013

Director-James Gray

Starring-Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #293

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Reviewed December 5, 2015

Grade: A-

The Immigrant is a lovely, classic, old-style Hollywood film set in early 1920’s New York City. The film is a classic tale of a poor Polish immigrant who travels to America in hopes of a better life, only to be met with hardship, manipulation, and conflict. However, The Immigrant is not a downer. Rather, a powerful and intriguing story of life and the clichéd pursuit of happiness with a compelling love story mixed in. Nominated for Best Actress for Two Days, One Night, eligible the same year as The Immigrant, this is a good example of the Academy getting it wrong as Marion Cotillard really should have been nominated for this performance instead of the former.  The actress was, however, recognized with an Independent Spirit award nomination for Best Actress for this role. A true talent, she gives a wonderful performance.

Little is known about Ewa’s (Cotillard) life before she arrives on Ellis island with her sister Magda in tow. We meet them as they disembark a ship and wait on line on the immigration line, weary from their escape from war torn Poland. Obviously, they have escaped their native country in hopes of a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, Magda is ill and cannot hide a cough and is sent to the infirmary most likely before being sent back to Poland. Ewa desperately needs money and is told that her Aunt and Uncle have not shown up to collect her as she had originally thought. Ewa is now on her own and desperate in a land where she knows not a soul.

As the plot unfolds, Ewa encounters two men who enter her life- Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and Emil (Jeremy Renner)- brothers with a rivalry, both professionally and in regards to Ewa. They both fall in love with her- she is gorgeous and innocent after all. But can the men be trusted? Are their feelings true? We begin to get to know the men better and all may not be exactly as it seems or originally appeared to be.

The Immigrant perfectly captures the 1920’s era cinematically with gorgeous cinematography and camera work. Directed by James Gray, a director with a tendency to direct films set in New York City and feature a romantic element (Two Lovers comes to mind- also starring Joaquin Phoenix as a Jew pursuing a blonde girl). In The Immigrant, I felt like I was transported to the 1920’s with Bruno’s dark coat and bowler and the characters costumes in general. The Lower East Side, from the automobiles to the theaters, seems like that’s how it was back then- charming, artistic, and yet combustible too.

Marion Cotillard gives a soft yet tough performance as the long-suffering, heart of gold Ewa. The character’s yearning to keep her traditional catholic values while transported into a new and dangerous world filed with corruption and the need to survive is heartbreaking and Cotillard wears her heart on her sleeve. She is also tougher and more stubborn than we first think she is- she will not be taken advantage of and these aspects give the character complexity. I did not see her as a victim.

Let’s not forget the men in the film and while it borders on turning into a “woman’s movie” towards the climax, and Cotillard is certainly front and center, Phoenix and Renner are flawless. Phoenix, with the larger role, is extremely complex and it takes the audience until the final scene to entirely figure Bruno out.

I wish The Immigrant would have found a wider audience, but for fans of a traditional, classic, romantic Hollywood experience, this film is a treat. It will take you back to an earlier time in the world- in a completely authentic way.

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Stephane Audran, Jaqueline Sassard

Scott’s Review #292

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Reviewed December 3, 2015

Grade: B+

Les Biches (translated to mean Bad Girls in English) is a French-Italian film from 1968 about a peculiar relationship between two women, one a wealthy, gorgeous, sophisticate named Frederique, and the other a poor, waif-like, struggling street artist named Why. They embark on a tumultuous love affair marred by competition for handsome Paul Thomas, the local architect. At its core, the film delves into class struggle, lust, and violence.

The beginning of the film sets the tone as Frederique provides Why with a large sum of money as she stops to admire her art on the streets of Paris. She invites Why back to her lush villa in gorgeous Saint Tropez, where Frederique lets two outrageous gay men co-habitat with her. The household is a circus of sorts as the men prance around wildly, but Frederique teaches Why about high society and good living. Soon Paul is introduced to the story and takes a shine to Why. She calmly rejects him and Frederique then begins to fancy him, thereby emotionally rejecting Why and leaving her feeling out in the cold. The film then takes a psychologically dramatic turn as characters turn against one another.

I admire this film as it is an unorthodox story especially for 1968. Same-sex stories were not the norm in these days and the interesting key is that the classes are different. Frederique has control and power over Why because she has money. Paul admires Why, but he cavorts with Frederique. Is he genuinely interested in her or does he value her money most of all? The film never makes the distinction crystal clear, but one speculates it is the latter. Frederique uses her wealth (and beauty) to obtain what she wants- namely Paul to spite Why. Why is younger and fresher and has not been marred by the world…yet. The gay men are cartoon-like. It is not clear exactly who they are or why they live in the villa. In fact, little background is known about any of the characters.

Foreign-language films, especially of the 1960’s and 1970’s are fascinating to me- filled with life and interesting facets and Les Biches is a prime example of interesting film-making. A trip down bi-sexuality lane with two gorgeous women at the forefront of the story, both struggling for power over the other, though one with a clear advantage.

Interesting to note that at the time of release is the film was touted as a lesbian skin-flick and humorously miss-thought to be entitled “Les Bitches” (perhaps to get audiences in the door), but is hardly a sex romp- quite the contrary as the psychological elements overtake everything else.

Les Biches is an odd little adventure, but one to be appreciated and traveled with an open mind if the mood is right. Stylish and interesting and certainly non-mainstream, it challenges social norms of the day and provides certain Hitchcock-like elements, especially in the final chapter.

Suffragette-2015

Suffragette-2015

Director-Sarah Gavron

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #291

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Reviewed December 1, 2015

Grade: A-

Led by an excellent performance by Carey Mulligan, Suffragette is a British film that tells the true story of the fight for women’s suffragette, as a team of women fought endlessly to obtain their right to vote, a vote that today most (men and women) take for granted. Several of the characters are real-life portrayals, however, Mulligan’s central character of Maud Watts is fictional. She is assumed to be a hybrid of other real-life characters.

Perfectly shot and giving a fantastic impression of life in England in the year 1912, the film centers around a bevy of working class women- many of whom work endless and thankless hours in a sewing factory, working for and forced to tolerate a vicious, unkind man.  Clearly, their lives are bleak. A women’s movement has developed, led by the mysterious Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), both financially successful, but very passionate women, spearheading the “women’s movement”.

The main character is Maud. The film is told from her perspective. She is a hard working laundress in her early twenty’s, married to her husband, Sonny, and with a young son. Plain, yet pretty, the audience knows this is all her life will ever be. Apparently, she has worked at the same sewing shop since a young age and has been sexually abused by her boss for years. While delivering a package, she witnesses a co-worker smashing a window in protest for the women’s movement. Initially reluctant to join the movement, Maud realizes the importance of it and loses her family and job in the process because of her devotion to the cause.

When women were finally granted the right to vote in England in 1928, sixteen years after the movement began,  this took a brave group of women who risked (and lost) their families, jobs, and were imprisoned, and in one heartbreaking scene, loss of ones life, all in powerful devotion to what they felt was right and just, despite numerous powerful figures beating them down. How sad to think this really happened. The film accurately portrays the might and courage that the women possessed.

Two of the most powerful scenes in the film are as follows and one belongs to Mulligan- ostracized by her husband and community- and having been imprisoned more than once- Sonny decides to give their son away to an affluent couple. The boy is literally ripped from Maud’s arms and we realize she will likely never see the boy again. it is tragic and painful to watch and Mulligan nails it from an acting standpoint. I have always admired Carey Mulligan- she chooses wonderful and challenging parts- never succumbing to mainstream mediocrity. Think portrayals in Shame, Never Let Me Go, and An Education.

The second powerful scene comes at the end of the film. When a character sacrifices her life (a real life person, mind you) at the Epsom Derby where King George V is present, simply so that the women’s movement can get major exposure by running onto the track and wielding a sign, she is brutally trampled to death. Subsequently, a funeral parade results, finally leading the masses to take notice and realize how important an issue this was. The film makers of Suffragette wisely dedicated real-life footage of the parade that took place in the time period.

An important film with a powerful message, Suffragette is beautifully shot and led by bravura acting and a true, real-life historical story, to be appreciated for its honesty.