Room-2015

Room-2015

Director-Lenny Abrahamson

Starring-Brie Larson

Scott’s Review #373

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Reviewed January 31, 2016

Grade: A

Room is a fantastic, compelling story of a woman’s battle in captivity, along with her five year old son in tow. The film also tells of the after-effects that occur from reclusive living as they both strive to adapt to their changed world . Receiving a slew of Academy Award nominations, the film is more than a one-dimensional story of peril or rescue, but rather, a smartly woven tale that delves into the psychological issues involved with being confined in a room for years, giving the film a deeper meaning. Room is adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Emily Donoghue.

We meet twenty-four year old Joy and her five year old son Jack, who live in squalor in a shed made into one single room. They exist from food and supplies delivered by their captor “Old Nick”, who abducted Joy seven years prior. He periodically rapes her and is obviously Jack’s father, though there is no affection on either side. Joy has attempted escape before, but has failed. She is determined to break free once and for all and allow she and Jack a normal life.

In the first half we learn about Joy and Jack and we see how they exist and forge a life together. Until the present, Joy has told Jack that only they are real and the outside world and people on television are not.  They live in a fantasy world  and Jack periodically treats objects (chair, toilet, bed) as real-life things, giving morning greetings to these objects- this is both cute and sad. His only channel to the outside world is a small sky-light, which he endlessly gazes at.

I love how the film suddenly changes course at the halfway point and shifts focus to the aftereffects taking a dark, complex, psychological turn. The first half takes place entirely in the “room”, and suddenly, a whole new world has blossomed. A monumental  event changes the course of the film. From this point, the film deals with the traumatic effects of being shut away for years. Joy suffers from depression. Jack sees a new world. We see how other characters deal with the turn of events. Joy’s parents- wonderfully played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy react in completely different ways. How have their lives changed because of Joy’s abduction? Will they see Old Nick every time they lay eyes on Jack? How will Joy’s mother’s new boyfriend react?

There is a strong theme of coping throughout the film and how all of the characters cope with life events and attempt to resume a life of normalcy. There is such a unique humanistic feel to the film that makes it deeper than I would have expected. Sure, Brie Larson gives a dynamic performance, but the film offers reflection and thought.

The direction and camera-work are a marvel. We see a blurred view of what Jack sees in “the real world”.  It is almost like the audience is reawakening to life and we see it through a child’s eyes- the sights, the sounds. Jack has heretofore created an imaginary dog in his mind and the film introduces more than one real dog that play a pivotal role in the film. We see Jack’s joy and terror at the new experiences.

Room encompasses a great deal of thought-provoking ideas and makes what might only have been a basic story  and turns it into an intricate journey into human psychology through many different nuances and facets.  What a wonderful, dark experience this is.

Showgirls-1995

Showgirls-1995

Director-Paul Verhoeven

Starring-Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan

Scott’s Review #372

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Reviewed January 31, 2016

Grade: D

Having heard much about the infamously bad reviewed Showgirls, and its ranking as one of the worst films ever made, I finally got around to watching this (twenty years after its release). Now considered something of a camp classic, I am glad I did. While I recognize the dubious distinction it holds and do not disagree with it, I also found something slightly entertaining about the film, and my thought process throughout was “this film is so bad that it might be good”, but in the end it is pretty much just a bad film.

Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) hitchhikes to Las Vegas intending to find success as a showgirl. Having her belongings stolen, she is then befriended by a kind-hearted woman named Molly, who works as a seamstress at the topless dance revue, Goddess. Molly takes her in and introduces her to the star of the show-Cristal (Gina Gershon). A rivalry immediately develops between the women as Cristal mocks Nomi’s job at another topless club. The main story centers on this rivalry, as Nomi attempts to climb the ranks and achieve success in the shady world of adult entertainment.  Along the way she becomes involved with various men, specifically entertainment director (and Cristal’s boyfriend), Zack, played by Kyle MacLachlan, leading to further tensions.

Let me be honest here- Showgirls is a bad film in every way. I observed three major flaws in the film- poor acting, poor writing, and the film being over-the-top on every level. Let’s break it down.

Within minutes, I knew the acting was sub-par, and I wonder if that is the fault of the director’s (Paul Verhoeven) directing or the actors themselves- or a combination. Known for directing Basic Instinct (a sexy, smoldering film), one wonders if he had the same success in mind for Showgirls. Berkeley gets the blunt of the mention since she is the lead character, but, wow what a bad performance. From the over dramatic delivery to the phony earnestness, I did not buy the performance for a minute and fantasized on more than one occasion on how a different actress might have tackled the role (Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts came to mind). Gershon was almost worse as her sexiness and vixen-like character was fraught with an irritating brooding pout.

The writing was clearly one-dimensional- poor girl tries to achieve success in a bad, bad world and meets challenge after challenge. Nothing new here.  The predictability was apparent almost immediately and most of the characters unlikable. When Nomi garners interest in a man, he turns into a player with another aspiring female star on the side, feeding her the same lines as he did Nomi. Even the one sympathetic character (Molly), really exists only to make Nomi more likable as is the case when Molly is attacked and Nomi races to her bedside. Forced and formulaic, this scene is a prime example of the poor and contrived writing.

Most scenes played over-the-top. Brimming with nudity and sexual excitement, the film was bawdy and party friendly. In one scene, dancers take a line of coke before hitting the stage and a feud between two of the dancers results in one sabotaging the production so that the other dancer will break her hip. The larger than life (in more than one way) x-rated, well endowed, mama dancer, while entertaining, was also silly and baffoon-like. Chaotic and pointless, each scene was hard to believe and take seriously.

You may be wondering what positives can be found in Showgirls- the answer is not many, but there is a certain charm I found to the film, but perhaps I am glutenous for punishment.  I think the film “feels” like it wants to have fun and a certain level of entertainment can be found in viewing it, but this is like trying to find a needle in the haystack to see any good in Showgirls.

I do not disagree with the distinction that Showgirls is one of the worst films ever made, but I found a sliver of charm, interest, and  fun mixed in with the more prevalent drivel, poor quality, and painfully bad acting. But perhaps that is because it is so bad.

The Revenant-2015

The Revenant-2015

Director-Alejandro Inarritu

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #371

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Reviewed January 27, 2016

Grade: A

The Revenant is a fantastic 2015 film that is filled with intensity, great visual camera work/direction, and showcases the acting talents of one of modern cinema’s dynamic performers in Leonardo DiCaprio, who shines every minute he is on-screen. Almost all of the filming takes place outdoors (the American frontier time period), and is a revenge tale, only adding to the excitement and beauty of the film.

The film is set in the 1820’s, and we are immediately introduced to a large party of hunters and trappers in remote Wyoming as the film opens.  Right off the bat I was struck by the picturesque scenery. Shortly thereafter, we are treated to a compelling (and bloody) battle between the trappers and a tribe of Native American Indians. The Louisiana Purchase has just been passed, which has lead to tensions between various parties causing both conflict and blood to spill. The hunters are decimated so the remaining group must flee on foot, hoping to return to safety hundreds of miles away. The main character, Glass  (DiCaprio),  later receives a terrible injury and the main crux of the story develops as we embark on a tale of his desperation to survive and exact revenge on the men responsible for leaving him to die.

The film is a lesson in endurance. Glass is arguably put through almost every punishment imaginable and we wonder what more he can possibly endure. The film belongs to two actors- Dicaprio and Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald- a hunter with a major rivalry with Glass. The film parlays into a revenge tale between the two characters. DiCaprio is a gem in this film- not only is he compelling from a physical standpoint- he looks broken, battered, and bruised, but DiCaprio gives a performance that I am fond of- he acts non-verbally. In one crucial scene, Glass is unable to move or speak as a violent act is committed. He is desperate yet helpless- the range of emotions that are portrayed by DiCaprio are astounding. The pain, hurt, and frustration are evident on his face and we sympathize greatly. This is a powerful performance by DiCaprio.

Tom Hardy is certainly compelling in his own right as the scoundrel he portrays. We despise this character and all of his dirty deeds and Hardy successfully pours all of his energy into this grizzled role. Hardy, quite handsome in real-life, is transformed into a partially scalped, dirty man. His fate at the end of the film is a clever aspect of The Revenant that helps make it not a typical run-of-the-mill western, but something so much more.

The, by now, infamous “bear scene” is second to none. How this compelling scene was shot is beyond me, but the end result is a realism I have seldom witnessed in film. The scene is so prolonged and violent that one will wish it comes to a conclusion quickly. A surprise comes that rivals any horror film.

The film is directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and following a vastly different type of film (Birdman), he does a wonderful job. The Revenant is arguably a “guy’s movie”.  There are almost no women featured and the ones that are are not treated well, which is unfortunate, however, sadly most likely true of the times. Interesting to note though, is Inarritu decided to have a female victim enact revenge on her abuser in a satisfying (though squeamish moment for the male viewer).

I found The Revenant to have definite left-wing leanings- the age-old controversy of the white man taking the Indians land is explored and the film has a way of bringing this up more than once as well as not making the Indian tribes “bad”, but rather sympathetic, especially since the character of Glass marries and Indian woman and bears a son with her.

Gorgeous cinematography morphed with a wonderful and intriguing story and peppered with brutality. The Revenant succeeds on every level and sets an important precedent for a film about perseverance in the face of hopelessness.

Leviathan-2014

Leviathan-2014

Director-Andrey Zvyagintsev

Starring-Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov

Scott’s Review #370

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Reviewed January 16, 2016

Grade: B+

Nominated for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Film (Russian), Leviathan is a tale of governmental corruption at the expense of the “little man”, mixed in with a family drama- and is quite heavy at times. The film is very good- sort of a standard, tense drama, if you will, though a bit slow moving at times. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. As with many Foreign language films versus American films, there is more nudity (not in a gratuitous way) and less explosions, which is an admiration and a hats off to foreign language films as a whole. Leviathan made me think of the overall foreign language film genre in that assessment as it did not need CGI or any other “bells and whistles” commonplace in current American film.

Set in a gorgeous coastal area of Russia, and featuring a plethora of landscape-most of the film in outdoor shots, Leviathan is a story with religious overtones mixed in with the drama.  “Good vs. evil” and both sides questioning god or defending their actions for god are featured message points.

The protagonist of the story, Koyla, lives with his second wife, Lilya, and his son Roma on the coast in a fishing town. Koyla is hot-headed and expresses rage from time to time, but is a good man living a simple life as a mechanic.  The corrupt Mayor of the town is determined to take Koyla’s land and build a villa, offering Koyla an insulting sum of money to sell his land. The disputed land is currently in legal hands, and Koyla’s handsome lawyer friend, Dima, arrives from Moscow to handle the case and lend support to the family in their uneasy times.

A secondary plot involves a love triangle between Koyla/Dima/Lilya, and Roma’s hatred for Lilya that, while somewhat interesting on its own terms, did not do much to further the main plot and I am not sure how necessary it was to the film as a whole. It had nothing to do with the land dispute and was left unresolved.

The clear “hero” of the film is Koyla, but he is no saint himself. He drinks heavily, at one point smacks his son (albeit deservedly so), and has a temper. But his land is being taken from him by a corrupt figure so that makes Koyla empathetic and likable.

Leviathan is a compelling film as the clear message received is “bully vs. beleaguered working man”. The mayor is a fat, unattractive, drunken bully and the audience is clearly instructed to root against him. He has the town justice department in his back pocket and uses blackmail to achieve success. The film brings religion into the plot as a priest tells the mayor he is doing “gods work”, thereby justifying his motivations (at least in his own mind). Later, a defeated Koyla has a conversation with a religious man questioning god and gods actions.

The film has a cold feel to it- despite being set in what I believed to be the summer or fall. There is a chill in the air, it always looks windy, and the look of the film is dark. This is effective as Leviathan is a dreary film and one with an unhappy ending. Life is harsh and cruel and the film extends that message.

I did not quite understand Lilya’s motivations and not much is known about her character, despite being heavily involved in the events. What motivates her to have an affair with Dima? Why does she return to Koyla? Is she unhappy and seeking a more glamorous life? This can be assumed, but is never made clear so therefore she is a mysterious character.

Enjoyable to me most was the final thirty minutes or so of the film. When a characters sudden death occurs, I was left wondering if a particular character was responsible for the death before it was revealed what truly happened.

A cinematic treat and an interesting premise, mixed with a bit of religion and  a whodunit of sorts, make the Russian film Leviathan, a worthy viewing experience.

The Big Short-2015

The Big Short-2015

Director-Adam McKay

Starring-Christian Bale, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #369

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Reviewed January 10, 2016

Grade: A-

The Big Short is a confusing film- and that is its intention and also its genius. Throughout some of the film  I was uncertain how much I liked it (or got it), and found many of the characters unlikable, but at its conclusion I realized that is exactly what the film-makers intended-this is a clever tactic and makes The Big Short a success. On the surface the film has some humor, but is a very dark story at its core, and left me a bit depressed and terrified at the conclusion. I am very happy that the film is receiving accolades and is the “thinking man’s” hit movie of the season.

To attempt to summarize the film in a concise way, the film begins in 2005, approximately two years before the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), realizes the U.S. housing market is very unstable and predicts a crash. He attempts to profit by betting against the market, a move that is laughable to all around him- especially the banks who anticipate a windfall at Michael’s expense. Trader and fellow market manager, Jared Vennett and Mark Baum (played by Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell) catch wind of Michael’s theory and try to get in on the action. There is a sub-plot involving two younger investors also attempting to profit through the guidance of a retired banker (played by Brad Pitt).

The financial collapse is a tender subject and certainly no laughing matter, especially since it is so recent and effected so many people. The Big Short is touted as a comedy, which in a way is strange to me. I found the audience didn’t know exactly what to laugh or when. The film’s “laughs” were cynical, witty, and sometimes wicked. Many people do not get this type of humor.

In real life, people were kicked out of homes, lost their jobs, pensions, etc. and it was all the result of greed, which The Big Short hammers home.  Several scenes include frat-boy investor/trader types getting rich by enabling almost anyone to be able to afford a new house. Little did these people realize that there was a catch. The film paints a jaded picture of Wall Street. The rich get richer at the expense of the middle-class and poor. It is an age old sad tale.

Performance-wise, Carrell and Bale are the standouts. They both play characters who are damaged. Bale’s Michael is socially awkward, has a false eye, but is also a genius. Carrell’s Mark is angry, grizzled, and is in therapy as a result of his brother’s suicide. Both actors give great performances and have developed into worthy, credible acting talents. Worth mentioning are small, but meaningful roles by Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei.

The Big Short is shot in an interesting way- highly unusual, in fact. From time to time, the action will stop and a famed celebrity (Selena Gomez, a world-renowned chef, or a model in a bubble bath) will explain the events of the film, thus far, or give some sort of review. Also, more than once the actors will turn to the camera and speak directly to the audience. A nice, personal touch that I found effective.

In the end, not much in life has changed, which is the real message of the film, and a frightening one. As one character brilliantly puts it “people will go back to blaming the poor and the immigrants”, which is a sad message. After millions lost everything, not much has really changed in the world and The Big Short makes that very clear. The people responsible have gotten away with crime, the banks bailed out, and  anew scheme undoubtedly in place. It’s a sad world. The Big Short is a gritty, harsh look at reality and a terrific film.

Terms of Endearment-1983

Terms of Endearment-1983

Director-James L. Brooks

Starring-Shirley MacLane, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson

Scott’s Review #368

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Terms of Endearment is a sentimental favorite of mine, and while I am slightly embarrassed to include this chick-flick to end all chick-flicks on my favorites list, it is also a damned good sentimental film and makes me a bit weepy each time I see it.  It is pure Hollywood mainstream formula, but somehow Terms of Endearment works for me (romantic films are not usually at the forefront) and even won the coveted Best Picture Oscar for 1983. That must say something.

So if it is so sappy what makes it so great? For starters, it has some exceptional acting all around, especially by  leads Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger. How can you go wrong with talent of that caliber?  In the film, MacLaine and Winger play Aurora and Emma Greenway, a mother and daughter, (the father is deceased) who share a lifelong love/hate relationship, living in the mid-west in present times. Nicholson plays Garrett, a retired astronaut (and womanizer) and the object of Aurora’s affections. The chemistry among all three is apparent- I sinfully find it delicious that Winger and MacLaine apparently despised each other throughout filming, adding a layer of curiosity and intrigue to the film, and during their scenes.

Director James L. Brooks wisely balances the heavy drama with comedy so the film does not become too overwrought. For example, Garrett and Aurora  have a courtship that is humorous, constantly bickering or misunderstanding each other- he a womanizing playboy type and she a domineering, insecure woman- they end up needing each other, nonetheless. Unforgettable is the hilarious drive along the beach scene that the two share.  Even though the duo are tenuous and difficult,  I love them all the same.

The tear-jerker scenes are emotional and especially the death-bed scene at the end of the film. There is so much raw emotion going on at once and, a rarity in film, the child-actors involved  are real, believable, and flawless. The film really feels like watching a true, real-life, drama play out. The heartache feels real and the film as a whole feels very genuine.

Also interesting is Emma’s failing marriage to Flap (Jeff Daniels) and her subsequent affair with kind-hearted Sam (John Lithgow) as well as her departure from her mother’s hometown, the constant phone-calls, and being in one another’s life, just like a real mother and daughter relationship is oftentimes like.

Terms of Endearment has all of the elements that make a good, old-fashioned, dramatic tear-jerker, and I find myself a sucker for it each time that I watch it.

My Bloody Valentine-1981

My Bloody Valentine-1981

Director-George Mihalka

Starring-Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier

Top 20 Horror Films-#20

Scott’s Review #367

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Grade: A

Reviewed January 9, 2016

My Bloody Valentine is a perfect slasher film to watch on the romantic holiday of Valentine’s Day or, in fact, any day during the cold and snowy month of February. The film sort of loses something if watched during summer or any other time of the year, since the dark and harsh feeling of the film is perfect atmosphere if watched appropriately.

In my opinion, My Bloody Valentine is an underrated gem of the early 1980’s- just as Black Christmas was to the 1970’s- and both ironically are heralded so by directors such as Quentin Tarantino. Other less gritty films of this nature received greater exposure and commercial success, but I am proud to name My Bloody Valentine as one of my Top 100 favorite films. Both are also “holiday themed” films.

The plot is basic, yet layered, with a unique setting. Rather than a creepy house, a summer camp, or some other tried and true device, we have the ingenious coal mine setting- immediately fraught with great potential. Think about it- a coal mine is dark, suffocating, creepy, with countless secret passages, the fear of being lost, and running out of oxygen. It is also underground where help can easily be unobtainable. The town is aptly named Valentine Bluff (how clever) so Valentine’s Day is a major holiday. The Mayor and police chief figure prominently in the story and the use of town history makes the film engaging.

Typical for the slasher genre we have a bunch of horny teens, partying to the max, who decide that the coal mine is the perfect place to throw a Valentine’s Day party, and they do so with gusto. There are a few middle-aged characters with meaty stuff to do, and the main plot is of the whodunit sort. The killer’s get up is simply genius. He (or she) is wearing a miner’s outfit, completely dark, with an oxygen mask, which elicits a heavy breathing sound adding to the great atmosphere that My Bloody Valentine contains.

One of my favorite scenes involves the offing of Mabel Osbourne, the earnest, sweet-natured party planner, who excitedly is preparing the annual Valentine’s day town dance. She marvels at receiving a box of chocolates with a wonderful poem until she reads the poem. “Roses are red, violets are blue- two are dead and so are you”! Poor Mabel then has her heart removed and it is sent (gift wrapped naturally) to the Mayor and police chief. The scene is both horrific and comical.

My Bloody Valentine is a favorite of the genre for me and actually cascades that genre with its bloodiness, fun storytelling, and wicked charm.

Fargo-1996

Fargo-1996

Director-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring-Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films-#79

Scott’s Review #366

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Fargo, the film, is a treasure as far as I am concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress. The film epitomizes dark humor, zany freshness, during a time in film when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity. Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same. Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling. The introduction of a crime- initially done in an innocent manner, escalates out of control. Fargo is part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film. The fact that the time period is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work in a fantastic way.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery. All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but really brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, shaky, yet with a down home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers. Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how this film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it. Fargo is an odd, little piece of art, and remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Director-Lars von Trier

Starring-Bjork, Catherine Deneuve

Top 100 Films-#95

Scott’s Review #365

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Dancer in the Dark is in my opinion one of the most important, inventive films of the 2000’s and proudly is one of my favorites of all time. However, the film is not pleasant to watch, and really quite painful and depressing, if truth be told. But the relevance and sheer emotion the film elicits is more than enough reason to be exposed to it- if only, but perhaps, once.

Director, Lars von Trier, is a master at creative and disturbing, dream-like films that are either odd, non-linear, or otherwise open to interpretation in some way. He has directed such gems as 2011’s Melancholia and 1996’s Breaking the Waves, to name but two. With Dancer in the Dark he uses hand held cameras which add much grit to the film so it almost feels documentary style, and a grainy, shaky look. The addition of musical numbers mostly written and performed by star, Bjork, is a wonderful touch.

Speaking of Bjork, words cannot express what a brilliant performance she gives in the film, and the raw emotion she expresses in her starring role is awe inspiring. So much was the stress of filming Dancer in the Dark, that she, to my knowledge, has never made another film. She was shamefully overlooked in the Best Actress Oscar category- an omission that is one of the biggest fails in Oscar history.

Tensions were reportedly high on the set of Dancer in the Dark, as Bjork reportedly despised her director, never missing a chance to tell him so, disappeared from the set for days on end, and spat in his face. Co-star Deneuve, a former French mega-film star, reportedly did not get along well with Bjork. Despite all the drama, the stars managed to pull together a masterpiece.

Bjork plays Selma, a Czech immigrant, living in Seattle with her young son. The year is 1964. Selma is poor, struggling to survive by working in a clothing factory along with her best friend Cvalda (Deneuve). Selma and Cvalda escape their dull lives by watching classic musical films at their local cinema. To make matters worse, Selma is suffering from a degenerative eye disease causing her to gradually lose her sight. She struggles to save enough for a surgery for her son, who is sure to suffer the same fate without it. Selma frequently imagines musical numbers in her day to day life involving friends and co-workers. When a tragic turn of events occurs and Selma is accused of a crime, the film goes in a very dark direction.

The conclusion of the film will always require handkerchiefs as it is powerful as it is gloomy.  The aspect I love most about Dancer in the Dark is that it smashes barriers about what film art is and throws all of the rules out the window. Lars von Triers is certainly famous for this and creates a dreamy, independent hybrid musical and drama, a dynamic, tragic, emotional experience all rolled up into one great film.

Thunderball-1965

Thunderball-1965

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Claudine Auger

Scott’s Review #364

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

By 1965, the James Bond franchise was embarking on it’s fourth in the series, and the budget certainly reflected the success of the preceding films. Thunderball has the luxury of reaping the benefits of an enormous budget and as a result is a grand, epic film. The sheer lavish nature of the film make it one of my favorite Bond films simply for the look of it. The special effects are a marvel.

By this time Sean Connery had comfortably immersed himself into the role of bond with his charms and his ability to exude charisma into the role. In this story, two NATO atomic bombs have been stolen by SPECTRE and holds the world to ransom for millions in diamonds. They are threatening to detonate one of the bombs in a major city in either the United States or England. Bond must race against time to deter this from happening.

For starters, the opening sequence is one of my favorite. Bond attends the funeral of deceased SPECTRE agent (number 6) at a lavish chateau in France. The agent is disguised as his own widow, but Bond is not fooled. This sets the tone of the film as a dramatic fight scene ensues between the two “men”.

The main villain of Thunderball is Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), a handsome, suave, SPECTRE agent (number 2). He is rich and sophisticated which mirrors the whole of the film. His grand estate is set and filmed in the Bahamas giving most of the film a steamy, posh, look, with blueish-green waters, and white crispy sand the most gorgeous of backdrops. Largo is a great Bond villain and on par with Bond. He also has charm, good looks, and charisma.

The main Bond girl is Domino, played by Claudine Auger, and she is Largo’s mistress. She is typically clad in black and/or white, hence her name. Auger has the perfect balance of beautiful looks, sophistication, and intelligence, and is a perfect match for Bond. The chemistry between Connery and Auger is apparent and a major part of the success of the film.

What sets Thunderball apart from some other Bond films is the major portion of the film, mostly in the second half, taking place underwater. In a clear example of showing off modern technology of the time (1965), some complained that these sequences went on too long and did not further the plot. These points may contain some validity, but oh are they so gorgeous to look at. The exotic underwater world is majestic.

Thunderball really has it all and is one of the most gorgeous of films. The film is big, bombastic, and filled with bright colors. It contains all of the elements of a great Bond film and why it holds up incredibly well all these years later.

Planet of the Apes-1968

Planet of the Apes-1968

Director-Franklin J. Shaffner

Starring-Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall

Top 100 Films-#97

Scott’s Review #363

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science-fiction, message movie, that stars one the legendary greats, Charlton Heston. At the time of release the film was a great film and quite visionary- and the message still holds up well today. Since certainly everyone on the “planet” must know the “surprise” ending, the film speaks volumes on the destruction of the world we know and love. Intelligently written, Planet of the Apes is memorable and was followed by a bunch of not so compelling or strong sequels, remakes, and reboots.

A group of astronauts crash land on a strange planet- in the distant future. The men have no idea where they are or what time period it is. The planet is inhabited by apes, who are highly intelligent and speak and act just like human beings. They are dominant and the real humans are largely mute and incapable of doing much- they are kept imprisoned. George Taylor (played by Heston) is the lead astronaut who, the apes realize, is capable of speech and assumed to be brilliant. The ape leader wants him killed, but sympathetic scientist and archaeologist apes Cornelius and  Zira  (played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter) are curious about Taylor and wish to experiment more.

To say nothing of the story, the prosthetic makeup and costumes are dynamic. The apes are obviously played by human actors, but the creatures do not appear fake or phony in any way. Furthermore, the sets look genuine and grand and hold up well in present times, nearly fifty years later. Nothing about the film appears to be remotely dated or losing of its original appeal as some film inevitably do.

Planet of the Apes is a political film, and this message also holds up well in present times. How human beings have ruined their planet is the main point of the film, but this is wisely not revealed until the very end, with the now famous scene of an escaped Taylor, running along the beach, only to realize in terror that the submerged and tattered Statue of Liberty is there. With horror, he realizes that human beings have destroyed planet Earth and the astronauts never actually left their own planet!

Fun and serious to watch all rolled up into one, Planet of the Apes is a film for the ages, with a distinct meaning and a story that audience members everywhere can absorb and relate to.

Forrest Gump-1994

Forrest Gump-1994

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise

Top 100 Films-#94

Scott’s Review #362

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Awarded a bevy of Academy Awards in the year 1994, Forrest Gump is a film that is engrained in many people’s memories since the film was a monster hit in the mid 1990’s. Some complained that the unrealistic nature of the film was silly, and the story too saccharine, but the film is an innocent, sweet piece about a simple-minded man’s journey through life and the insurmountable success that he achieves. I adore the film largely from a sentimental standpoint and the memories that watching the film years later, conjures up. I find the film to be a comfort.

Zemeckis, certainly a feel-good film director (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), carves a whimsical tale of a fellow, Forrest Gump (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks), slow-witted, but a gentle soul, from Alabama, and his decades long journey through life. His lifelong love is Jenny (played by Robin Wright), who is a troubled girl and relies on Forrest over the course of their friendship-spanning decades. Forrest is always in the right place at the right time and influences the events of history in his own innocent way.

Forrest Gump is unique in its clever use of editing to incorporate Forrest into real-life historical events, which is a big part of the appeal of the film. In one instance, Forrest meets with Richard Nixon and reveals the Watergate scandal. He also meets President John F. Kennedy after winning a football scholarship. And who can possibly ever forget the numerous lines made famous from the film- “Stupid is as stupid does”, and “Life is a like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”, to name just two.

What I love most about the film is that it has heart and the relationships that Forrest shares with the central characters in his life are rich. Forrest’s haggard, but kind mother (Sally Field) loves her son and they share a tender, emotional relationship.  When Forrest enlists in the Army during the Vietnam war, his grizzled commanding officer, Lt. Dan Taylor (an Oscar winning performance by Gary Sinise), surprisingly becomes one of Forrest’s closest friends. The film takes a darker turn when we begin to see a more human side to Taylor after a horrible accident, which leaves him without legs. To counterbalance this tragedy, Forrest is comically wounded in the buttocks.

I am not sure if I love or loathe the character of Jenny. Wright is perfect at giving her some vulnerability and her terrible upbringing can excuse some of her actions and taking advantage of Forrest for arguably her own gain. Still she has Forrest’s heart so she cannot be all that bad.

A favorite scene occurs in Washington as Forrest speaks at an anti-war rally. Jenny, in the crowd, recognizes Forrest and their reunion is sweet. Jenny, now a hippee and expelled from school, returns to Forrest’s life.

The fate of both Jenny and Mrs. Gump are scenes that will undoubtedly require tissues to get through as they are tender and emotional as can possibly be. Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump has emotion, sweetness, and heart, and those are nice qualities for a film to have. It is not too sappy or overwrought or manipulative, instead providing an honest story.

Supervixens-1975

Supervixens-1975

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Shari Eubank

Top 100 Films-#75

Scott’s Review #361

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

I first watched Supervixens in 2008 and, if I am being completely honest, did not much care for it, or rather, was very perplexed by it. I did not know what I had just viewed and was simply caught off guard and blown away- I have since realized that this is part of my love for the film. Is it a comedy? Is it too over-the-top and shameless? Is it trying to degrade women? Now, a mere eight years later, it lands firmly ensconced on my Top 100 Films list and it is similar to a fine wine- it just gets better and better with age. Never before did I think I would fall in love with a sexploitation film, but I have.

Directed by Russ Meyer, noted for his series of 1970’s sexploitation films, Supervixens, is set somewhere in the desert of eastern California. Gas station attendant, Clint Ramsey, a handsome young man, is found irresistible to a series of sexy and large breasted women, all with names beginning with “Super”.

We are introduced to his steady girlfriend, SuperAngel, a bored, horny, feisty woman played by Shari Eubank. Jealous and possessive, she demands for Clint to leave his job and come home to her immediately, which leads to hilarity as they spar outside utilizing an axe as they wrestle and fight. Their nosy neighbor looks on, both tantalized and frightened.

Others who make appearances during Clint’s journey’s are SuperLorna, a horny gas station customer (strangely appearing in only one scene, but gracing the film cover packaging), who sets her sights on Clint much to SuperAngel’s chagrin. SuperCherry is a buxom girl who picks up Clint hitchhiking, SuperSoul, an Austrian farmer’s wife, who seduces Clint at the farm, SuperHaji, a bartender at the local watering hole, and finally, SuperEula, who is black, deaf, and with a white father.

Supervixens, as well as a number of Russ Meyer’s films have influenced countless other famous films to come, and I continue to note the overall influence Supervixens has had on Quentin Tarantino, specifically. The bloody violence mixed with cartoonish characters, as well as Nazi references (a frequent theme of Tarantino’s) and German marching music, Supervixens has a sly sense of humor- wicked almost, but never apologetic. Tarantino uses a similarly outrageous style.

Carrie (SuperVixen bloody in the tub), The Shining (Harry breaking down the bathroom door amid a screaming SuperVixen), Friday the 13th- Part 3 (the camera angle at the top of the hayloft panning down on the approaching climber) are just a few that I have noticed during repeated viewings.

My love of the film is its outrageousness and I find the film to be empowering to women most of all- not degrading. There is also male nudity and reference to the male anatomy numerous times so it is not a one sided exploitation film. Each female is a superhero, of sorts, and despite the sexploitation aspect, the film is quite romantic in spots- the tenderness between Clint and SuperEula is one of my favorites.

I also love the romance between Clint and SuperVixen (a dual role for Eubanks), as she is a reincarnation of SuperAngel. Working side by side at a roadside gas station that she owns, they pump gas and prepare burgers together, while running through the desert in a happy, lovely way. Of course, their romance is threatened by the sinister Harry, who has returned for revenge.

Hilarious, outrageous, and in your face sexual, Supervixens is a camp classic that is so much more than that. Influential and creative, it simply must be seen to be believed. I hope it is never forgotten.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle-1992

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle-1992

Director-Curtis Hanson

Starring-Rebecca De Mornay, Annabella Sciorra

Scott’s Review #360

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

One may argue that the slick 1992 thriller, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, is a direct rip-off of the 1987 blockbuster hit Fatal Attraction, which spawned countless imitators, and they may be accurate, but I simply adore this film. It contains great tension, is well-acted, but above all, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle features Rebecca De Mornay in a wonderful performance as one of the screens most memorable villains, Peyton Flanders. This is a film that will admittedly not win any awards for originality, but that I love all the same.

Peyton Flanders is very pregnant when we meet her. Her husband is creepy Dr. Mott, an obstetrician who sexually molests Claire Bartel (Sciorra) in his office during an exam. Humiliated and upset, Claire, after encouraged by her husband, Michael, files charges against Dr. Mott. He commits suicide and Peyton loses her child. Filled with vengeance, she vows to destroy Claire. The plot may sound like a tawdry daytime soap plot device, but The Hand That Rocks The Cradle somehow works like a charm.

Unlike Fatal Attraction, there is little rooting value between Petyon and Michael- we know she is a crazed lunatic- the fun is seeing how she gets hers. She manipulates him and insinuates herself into their home- she pretends to be a nanny and subsequently manipulates Michael and Claire’s daughter.

Julianne Moore- in an early role in her storied film career- is believable as Claire’s best friend, who is the only one who sees Peyton for the monster she truly is. Sadly, her screen time is limited.

Regardless of the other fine performances from the rest of the cast, this is really De Mornay’s film- she is psychotic, then sweet, and plays both to the hilt.

I suppose a film like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is not intended to be analyzed too much since its intent is to thrill, scare, make the audience uneasy, but boy is it sure fun.

Pink Flamingos-1972

Pink Flamingos-1972

Director-John Waters

Starring-Divine, Edith Massey

Top 100 Films-#96

Scott’s Review #359

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

One of the true, and best, late night gross out films of all time, Pink Flamingos breaks down barriers I never thought possible to do in film, and contains one of the most vomit inducing scenes to ever grace the movies. The film is certainly one of a kind and will only be appreciated by a certain type of film-goer. Pink Flamingos is raw, entertaining, and must be seen to be believed. Outrageous in every way and shot documentary style, the film has weird close ups and amateurish camera angles, only adding to the fun. Personally, I love the film.

In what director John Waters famously dubbed the “Trash Trilogy”, along with similar films Desperate Living and Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos has the dubious honor of being the best of the three. Waters stalwart, Divine, plays Babs Johnson, an underground criminal who lives a meager existence in a trailer along with her mentally challenged son Crackers, and her bizarre, egg-obsessed mother, Edie (Massey). They are joined by Babs’s companion, Cotton. In an attempt to win the “Filthiest Person Alive” contest and usurp Babs from achieving this distinction. the Marbles (Mink Stole and David Lochary) set out to destroy her career.

Pink Flamingos is complete and utter over the top fare, but I have fallen in love with the film over the years. Let’s just say it is a type of the film that is an acquired taste, and one will eventually revel in the madness or be disgusted with its bad taste. Waters, a true creative,  breaks new ground in filthy behavior. On a budget of no more than $10,000, it is more than impressive how he pulled this off successfully.

The antics that Babs and the Marbles engage in are downright crude, but the extreme nature of the fun is exactly what is to love about the film. Hysterical is the character of Babs’s mother Edie. Confined to a crib and constantly inquiring about the Egg Man, she is obsessed with eggs and wants to eat nothing else. She eventually marries the Egg Man. The character is entertaining beyond belief.

The Marbles run a clinic in which they sell stolen babies to lesbian couples for cash.  When they send Babs a box of human excrement and a card that says “fatso”, the war between the two sides is on. The highlight of the film is the main sequence in which Babs holds a birthday party. A male contortionist flexes his anus in rhythm to the song “Surfin’ Bird”, which may be the only film featuring an anus. How Waters got away with some of this stuff is mind blowing.

The most disturbing scene occurs at the very end when Babs watches a dog do “its business” on the street and proceeds to pick up the excrement and eat it, revealing to the audience a toothy (and brown) smile. Reportedly Divine actually did this act. As the film ends, Babs truly is “The Filthiest Person Alive”.

Thanks to the genius of John Waters and Divine and the superlative supporting cast, Pink Flamingos is a reminder that creativity and unique humor does not have to conform to a specific style or follow a road map. Waters takes any film criteria and throws it right out the window, instead creating a masterpiece in warped fun and disgust.

The Color Purple-1985

The Color Purple-1985

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey

Scott’s Review #358

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Steven Spielberg, admittedly a director who focuses more on sentimentality, mixes heartbreak with courage to blend a recipe that makes for a perfect, mainstream film from 1985. It is a different direction for him- far extreme from the summer blockbusters he was known for until this time. Exceptional acting and cinematography lends itself to The Color Purple, a film based on the much darker novel by Alice Walker. Certainly, one of the best films of the 1980’s. Relative unknown when the film was made, Whoopi Goldberg gives an astounding performance in the lead role.

The film spans approximately forty years in the early twentieth century and is set is rural Georgia. Celie Harris (Goldberg) is an oppressed black woman, her sister and best friend Nettie sent away, leaving Celie a virtual prisoner with a man, Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), she is forced to marry and care for- in addition to his children. Raped and beaten, Celie is left with little self worth until two women, rotund, feisty, Sophia (Oprah Winfrey), and Shug (Margaret Avery) inspire her to be something better.

The Color Purple is a very sentimental film filled with inspiration to anyone beaten down or otherwise abused by people or by society. The depiction of southern life for blacks, especially black women is depicted well, though softened I have no doubt. Liberties must be taken for the sake of film as black men, in particular, are not portrayed well- surely there must have been some decent black men in this time? But, despite Spielberg being a male, The Color Purple is told from a definite female perspective.

Her role of Celie is Goldberg’s finest and hers is a case of the Academy getting it all wrong; she should have won an Oscar for this performance instead of a conciliation win a few years later for her secondary (and unremarkable) role in Ghost. Goldberg never achieved any roles as great as Celie. Her expressions and mannerisms spoke volumes and her occasional wide, beaming smile would melt the coldest heart. Winfrey, equally brilliant as Sophia (and also robbed at Oscar time), is a completely different character. Angry, abrasive, and outspoken, she fills Sophia with life and energy, which makes her big scene heartbreaking to watch. Defying a white man she is beaten and arrested and reduced to living out her days as a limping maid to a white woman- who she swore she would never serve.

The cinematography and direction of The Color Purple are grand. Spielberg does a believable job of depicting the time period in an accurate way. The costumes worn by the cast and the lighting in general are bright and colorful, and I think this gives the film a flavor that is nice to watch. Again, Walker’s novel and the real life experience were undoubtedly much darker, but for film sake, this adaptation (numerous stage versions preceded and followed) makes for a wonderful film.

Amarcord-1974

Amarcord-1974

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel

Top 100 Films-#81

Scott’s Review #357

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar and Golden Globe for 1974, is a semi-autobiographical film based on the childhood of the famed director himself. Set in a small Italian village of Borgo San Giuliano, the film features quite an array of weird and eccentric characters inhabiting the village. The plot centers around young Titta, and his coming of age development as he blossoms into a young man- his sexual desires and fantasies are heavily explored in this zany film.

Since the time period is 1930’s and Fascism, led by the tyrannical Mussolini, was rearing its ugly head, Amarcord is not all light-hearted fun and games, despite how it appears on the surface- there is a serious undertone to the entire film. Still, the film lacks any sort of story that is able to be dissected very well, which both pleases and frustrates- the film is simply to be “experienced”. It can either leave your head spinning, scratching your head, or absolutely disliking the film.

That is not to say that I take issue or offence with Amarcord- in fact I adore the film, but it is not an easy watch. Scenes meander about in a dream-like fashion as we follow Titta through his sexual blossoming. In one memorable scene, Titta has a titillating experience with a buxom older female who lives in the village. Some of the other characters we meet are giddy with peculiarities: a blind accordion player and a female nymphomaniac to name but a couple.

Titta and his family are featured heavily as they eat together, fight together, and live together. When one day the family treks to visit their Uncle Teo, who is confined to an insane asylum, they take him out for a day in the country, where he climbs a tree and refuses to come down. A dwarf nun and two orderlies finally arrive and coax him down- he obediently returns to the asylum. It is a bizarre sequence, but one that sums up Amarcord perfectly.

Amarcord contains one wacky scene after another, but many of the scenes are not just to showcase outlandish behavior nor are created as fluff. Fellini has a distinct message to the film and several scenes mock Christianity or Mussolini’s crazy political ideas. The film is larger than life, but also encrusted with the fear of 1930’s Fascism and the fear that the Italians felt during this time period.

The film is also sweet and Fellini successfully adds a nostalgic feel to it- everyone feels cozy in a large sprawling town with unique characters, shenanigans, and a celebratory theme, but seriousness lurks beneath. Amarcord is a zest for life throughout a tumultuous time and Fellini successfully creates a hybrid of the two creating one fantastic film in the process.

Jackie Brown-1997

Jackie Brown-1997

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Pam Grier, Robert Forster

Top 100 Films-#92

Scott’s Review #356

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a fantastic film and one of the few to have a solely female lead (Kill Bill Volumes I and II are the others) and successfully re-launched star Pam Grier’s and Robert Forster’s careers after too many years on the sidelines. The film is heavily influenced by Grier’s earlier films in the 1970’s  blaxploitation genre. Jackie Brown is one of the more obscure Tarantino films, but is brilliant nonetheless and filled with slow, plodding, yet tremendous scenes.

Greir plays the title character, Jackie Brown, a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline who smuggles money into the United States from Mexico to supplement her income. When she is caught and threatened by the Feds to aid them in catching a much larger fish, she plots to use both sides to her advantage and walk away with the money. Jackie develops feelings and a sweet relationship ensues with Max Cherry, a bondsman played by Forster. Mixed in with the plot is Tarantino staple, Samuel L. Jackson, as Ordell Robbie, a crooked drug smuggler, Robert De Niro as Louis, a former cellmate of Ordell’s and Bridget Fonda as Melanie, a dizzy stoner girl.

As is always the case with Tarantino films, Jackie Brown contains a stellar cast just chomping at the bit to deliver the best performance they can with the help of rich and crackling dialogue written for them. The writing is always fantastic in Tarantino films and the number of plot twists and turns in Jackie Brown is great.

My favorite scene by far is the scene involving the transfer of money that takes place in the local Mall. Rich with flavor and atmosphere it is a marvel. Jackie and Max engage in small talk at the food court before the transfer is to take place- Jackie then goes to a fitting room where the “switch” will occur. Throughout this sequence the tension is incredibly high and the film turns into a nail biter.

Tarantino, not one to focus on a romantic story-line, gives Jackie Brown a uniqueness as the film features the respectful and delicious romance between Jackie and Max. This adds layers to the mainly bloody and crime-laden film. To counter this relationship, is the volatile relationship between Louis and Melanie, which ends in tragedy.

I love how the film is set in Los Angeles. Sunny, bright, with a stuffy and superficial element to the action, mixing the beach and the hot weather with a crime story, manipulation, and double-crossing works so well.

Giving aging Hollywood stars a deserving comeback, Tarantino weaves a complex, but adventurous and well-paced, crime drama featuring veteran actors who deliver the goods, Jackie Brown is a treasure in a world of other Tarantino treasures and is a must have for all of the director’s fans and fanatics.

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Director-David Lean

Starring-Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif 

Top 100 Films-#82

Scott’s Review #355

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Lawrence of Arabia is quite a grand film and one that must be seen on the large screen in order to fully appreciate the enormous scale of the production. Numerous shots of objects appearing in the distance are featured and the small screen dulls the experience. A wonderful film from top to bottom and groundbreaking at the time by the scope and vast proportions of the production, Lawrence of Arabia achieves its place in the annals of cinema history, and is a treat to revisit from time to time. The film is divided into two parts divided by an intermission as was the case with epics nearly four hours in length.

Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a bored British Army Lieutenant, who talks his way into a transfer to the Arabian desert. As the film opens, it is 1935, and Lawrence has just been killed in a motorcycle accident. This concept of revealing the ending of the story and working backwards, common in current films, was a novel experience in 1962, when the film was made.

While in Arabia, Lawrence successfully bands together bitter rival tribes to work together in order to unite against Turkish oppression during World War I. While there he meets two young guides, and other central characters such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). Much of the film features the many battles that occur between the rival tribes and the peace that Lawrence to achieve. Also, a multitude of location sequences of Lawrence and company traveling across the miles and miles of hot desert are featured.

Some complain that Lawrence of Arabia is too slow moving a film, but to me that is its selling point. I find the scenes of the group languishing across the desert incredibly lush and rich in meaning. The intense heat and the beating sun are fantastic in their cinematic grandeur. The film is meant to take its time- exactly how the experience in the Arabian desert would really be like and the mountainous sand dunes and swirling winds are brilliantly filmed. David Lean is the king of the sprawling epic and Lawrence of Arabia is his crown achievement.

The character of Lawrence is written well and he is a layered and complex individual- he is not easy to describe or to understand and that is also to the films credit. The sheer weight loss that O’Toole went through over the course of the two years that it took to Film Lawrence of Arabia is impressive enough, but he is also a tortured soul emotionally.

An epic film of the grandest proportions, Lawrence of Arabia required a half day of dedicated viewing, but is worth each and every minute. For a reminder of what a true, breathtaking film really looks like- sans the oversaturated CGI and quick edits, one should take a deep breath and appreciate this work of art for its majestic look.

Grease-1978

Grease-1978

Director-Randal Kleiser

Starring-John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

Top 100 Films-#70

Scott’s Review #354

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Grease is the ultimate musical fantasy come to life and can be appreciated by anyone looking to re-live their high school days through song, or merely escape life’s stresses with a fun, bright, musical, that is very well made. Is it realistic? Absolutely not, but sometimes escapism is just what the doctor ordered, and Grease is one of my favorite films that meets that criteria. It is light-hearted and sweet, and above all contains wonderful, legendary musical numbers.

The time period is the 1950’s, and we meet Danny and Sandy on a windswept beach with cascading waves and bright sunshine. It is summer break for the two high school students, who meet in California, she vacationing from Australia, he a local boy. They say their goodbyes and return to normal lives, but cannot forget about each other. Suddenly, Sandy arrives at Rydell High in Los Angeles, coincidentally where Danny goes to school. Her parents (whom we never see) decided to stay in California.

Danny is a “tough guy” in high school, much different from who he was on the beach with Sandy. He is the leader of the infamous T-birds, a group of boys who love their black leather jackets and cars. Torn, he continues his tough image and he and Sandy find their way back to each other through classmates, songs, and dancing, intermingling fun supporting characters who encourage each of them to find true love.

Travolta and Newton-John have magical chemistry, which really allows this film to work. Certainly, Grease has appeared on stage numerous times, but these actors are fine together. I buy them as teenagers in love, despite the fact that both were well beyond teen years. The supporting cast is excellent- specifically Stockard Channing as the lead Pink Lady, Rizzo, and Sandy’s kind-hearted friend Frenchy. Interestingly, no parents ever appear in the film as it really not about the adults. However, Rydell’s female principal, Mrs. McGee (played by Eve Arden), and her dotty Vice Principal, Blanche (Dody Goodman), are simply marvelous as comic relief.

Rizzo is an interesting character and can be argued is the only one who threatens to steal the thunder from Danny and Sandy. Containing a tough exterior, she is also vulnerable as she fears she has become pregnant mid-way through the film. Unwed and pregnant in the 1950’s was quite the scandal and Channing gives layers of emotion during her solo number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

The wonderful high school dance scene is choreographed amazingly well. The excitement of the student body at being filmed for a special television show is apparent as dance numbers and dance contests, some raunchy, follow.

The musical numbers are intrinsically memorable from “Grease”, “Greased Lightning”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Beauty School Dropout”, all of which are personal favorites of mine.

Grease is a film that is not meant to be analyzed, but rather enjoyed for the fantastic chemistry and energy in which it has. Sometimes in film all of the elements simply come together in perfect fashion and Grease is an excellent example of this.

Caddyshack-1980

Caddyshack-1980

Director-Harold Ramis

Starring-Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield

Scott’s Review #353

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Reviewed January 9,2016

Grade: A

Caddyshack is one of the funniest slapstick comedy films of the 1980’s, arguably the decade of the “mindless comedy”. Made in 1980, the cusp of the decade, it led the pack during a time when one after the other, comedy films were churned out-cookie cutter style- based largely on the success of Caddyshack.  While not every aspect of the film works, the parts that do are hysterical and its influence in film history is unquestionable. More than merely a “dumb comedy”, Caddyshack features funnymen of the day (Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield), and the talent and timing are spot on.

Clean-cut teenager Danny Noonan works as a caddy at a posh resort named Bushwood Country Club. An “underachiever”, he lacks direction in life while being pressured by his parents to attend college. While spending the summer at work pondering his future, high jinks ensue as a rivalry develops  between the club co-founder, Judge Smails (Ted Knight), and the outrageous Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), who is a nouveau riche real estate developer. Meanwhile, bordering on psychotic, Bill Murray as groundskeeper Carl Spackler, is engrossed in his own feud with a gopher running rampant on the golf course. Mixed in with all of this are the standard teen romance themes, bathroom gags, and sexual jokes.

Caddyshack is not high art nor does it need to, or intend to be. It is simply pure juvenile fun. It is not even that well written, but it works. Interestingly, the portions that work so well do not even involve the caddies featured in the film- originally set to be the focal point. Rather, the real scene stealers are the two oldest members of the cast- Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. The bickering and barbs traded between the two characters is delicious and downright funny. When Al mocks Smails hat, or dances with his snobbish wife, or crashes into his new boat, each scene is rich with goofy comic timing.

Without a doubt, my favorite scene is the “doody” scene in the resort pool. It is laugh out loud raucous as a candy bar tossed into the water is thought to be something else. The star of this scene is Lois Kibbee, who plays Judge Smails wife. Her comic mannerisms and upper-crust looks make her a perfect choice for the role and she arguably steals the show in her limited appearances. When Al jokes that she must have really been something before electricity, her facial expressions emit comic horror in a perfect way.

There are points of the film that really are unnecessary and do not work well- I have never understood Bill Murray’s character of Carl. Bordering on silly, with a stuffed animal as the gopher, Murray himself is fantastic- clearly improvising, but the role does not seem necessary to the rest of the film. More scenes between the Judge and Al, or more from Chevy Chase’s character of Ty, and of the Judge’s wife would have been preferable.

Also, the attempted teen triangle between Danny, Maggie, and Lacey is dullsville- plain Maggie cannot really compete with gorgeous and slutty Lacey.

These criticisms, however, are small gripes when compared to the hilarity and perfect timing of the rest of the film and that is why it certainly ranks among one of my favorites.

Caddyshack, along with Animal House, paved the way for the plethora of slapstick comedies to follow- a few good, most bad, but must be recognized as the influence that it was, and a must-see for fans of golf, sports, and good, clean fun. The elements of Caddyshack come together and work so well.

Beaches-1988

Beaches-1988

Director-Garry Marshall

Starring-Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey

Top 100 Films-#93

Scott’s Review #352

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Beaches is a film that can easily be described as sentimental, sappy, and a chick flick- all in derogatory fashion- but that regardless, is a treasure to me and I fall for this tearjerker every single time that I watch it. It is not necessarily a great film, not high art, nor particularly edgy, but a good, old fashioned, conventional film about friendship. Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey give the film believability where other similar films would appear contrived.

C.C. Bloom (Midler) and Hillary Whitney (Hershey) are lifelong friends from completely opposite backgrounds. In addition, they could not have more opposite personalities. C.C. blue collar, outrageous and brash, Hillary, demure, rich, and sophisticated. We meet the friends as young girls on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, C.C. hiding from her overbearing stage Mom, and Hillary, lost and wandering the boardwalk. The two become fast friends despite their vastly different upbringings and stay connected through ups and downs and life’s trials and tribulations, for over thirty years.

The chemistry between Midler and Hershey is great. I completely buy them as best friends through the years, despite having little in common. Throughout their tender, emotional scenes, and the knock-down-drag-out fight they have at the mall (a fantastic scene!), there is never a doubt at what they have. They compete over a man, which ordinarily is a lame plot device, but in Beaches it works because the two stars make it work.

Each actress puts her own mark on the individual role. Midler’s C.C is arrogant, feisty, and is interesting as she begins a “have not” and becomes a “have”. She becomes spoiled and pampered- all of the things she envied about Hillary. She does not handle wealth as well as Hillary because she lacks the education. Hillary, an attorney, is classy and graceful. These characteristics is why it is believable that the women would be at odds.

The last act is a weepy one as one of the women dies, leaving the other to pick up the pieces and move on- alone. This is a sad moment in the film, but the women’s devotion and loyalty are admirable. Beaches may not be high art, but boy will it get you reaching for the hankies.

The Night of the Hunter-1955

The Night of the Hunter-1955

Director-Charles Laughton

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#66

Scott’s Review #351

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

The way that I would classify The Night of the Hunter is by describing it as a fairy tale for adults. In fact, I categorized it as a thriller, but it certainly teeters on the edge of being a horror film. In addition to being a well-written film, it also contains breathtaking cinematography. Made in 1955, it is shot in black and white, and tells the tale of good versus evil in a small town. The film is a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.

The film is creepy, but in a highly intelligent way, and director Charles Laughton is responsible for the immeasurable success of the film, though the film was not a success upon release. It has only been as the years passed that is has finally received its due admiration. The film is way ahead of its time. It is based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb.

The time is the 1930’s in rural West Virginia, and the action takes place along the Ohio river. Ben Harper, a local family man, robs a bank and hides the stolen money inside his daughter’s doll. His son and daughter (John and Pearl) are central characters in the story. Caught, Ben is out of the picture leaving his wife, Wilma (Winters), vulnerable and alone. A serial killer, Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a misogynist, is on the loose disguised as a preacher. In prison with Ben, he knows the money is hidden and is determined to find out where. He has designs on wooing Wilma. When dire events occur, John and Pearl are left on the run along the river to seek refuge with a kindly older woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).

The film is a combination of majestic, haunting, and artistic. Each scene seemingly glows as the dark black and the white colors mix in a gorgeous way, making the film tranquil, despite the dark tone of the films subject matter.

The Night of the Hunter also has a visual dream-like quality. During one pivotal scene, we see a dead body, submerged at the bottom of the river. Obviously, it is horrific with the bulging eyes and the bloating beginning to set in, but the scene is so creatively beautiful as well. The flowing hair of the victim, the posture, is a mesmerizing scene and sticks with you for some time.

Poetic, and a sense of good versus evil, clearly laid out as Powell has two words imprinted on the knuckles of each hand- “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E”.  These words create the basis of the film as both words can be applied to the actions of the characters.

My personal favorite scene is when John and Pearl travel along the Ohio river in flight from their rival. The shapes of the trees mirrored with the flowing river is just incredible to see and I can watch this scene over and over again.

A thriller, written intelligently well, with creativity for miles, is a recipe for pure delight. Director, Laughton, only directed this one film, and encouraged creative collaboration and participation from his actors, and it shows in the resulting masterpiece. The Night of the Hunter has influenced countless directors.

Gosford Park-2001

Gosford Park-2001

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe

Top 100 Films-#68

Scott’s Review #350

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Reviewed January 9,2016

Grade: A

Somewhere between the brilliant PBS series of the 1970’s and the ultra modern cool of Downton Abbey (also PBS) lies the masterpiece that is Robert Altman’s 2001 gem, Gosford Park. Ironic, is that the creator, writer, and executive producer of Downtown Abbey, Julian Fellowes, wrote the screenplay of Gosford Park. No wonder, combined with Altman’s direction, they created genius.

The time period is 1932 and the wealthy, along with their servants, flock to the magnificent estate of Gosford Park, a grand English country home. The guests include both Americans and Brits and everyone is gathered for a shooting weekend- foreshadowing if ever there was. Following a dinner party, a murder occurs and the remainder of the film follows the subsequent police investigation, and the perspectives of the guests and the servants as a whodunit ensues. Many of the characters lives unravel as secrets are exposed.

Sir William, the murder victim, is a powerful industrialist. After he announces he will withdraw an investment, the ramifications effect many of the guests so that the set-up is spelled out for the audience. At the risk of seemingly nothing more than a plot device- it is so much more than that. During a pheasant shoot, Sir William receives a minor wound thanks to a stray birdshot- is this intentional or merely an accident? When Sir William meets his fate that evening, the potential suspects pile up.

If there are two compelling aspects to a great film, they are a good old fashioned whodunit and an enormous cast, all potential suspects. What makes Gosford Park exceptional is that every character is interesting in some way and all are written well. Secrets abound for miles in this film and are revealed in a delicious way. Torrid affairs, sexuality secrets, and blackmail abound as revelations make their way to the surface and Altman knows exactly how to cast doubt or suspicion on many of his characters.

The compelling relationship between American film producer Morris Weissman and his valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe), along with the domineering head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) are my favorite characters and dynamics. How clever that Maggie Smith would play similar roles as stuffy aristocrats in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Rich in texture are the balancing between the haves and the have nots and how those characters mix with each other (sometimes in secret rendezvous!)

Typical of Altman films, the character dialogue commonly overlaps and the actors largely improvise the script. In addition to being an actors dream, this quality gives a realism to his films and Gosford Park is no exception. Since there are so many characters and so many plots and sub-plots going on at once, my recommendation is to watch the film at least twice to fully comprehend the layers of goings-ons. The film will become more and more appreciated.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films-#89

Scott’s Review #349

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Director Martin Scorsese adapts Goodfellas, a crime-mob film, from the 1986 non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi helped Scorsese write the screenplay. The film is a more matter-of-fact telling than the purely dramatic The Godfather, with more wit and humor thrown in and great editing. Featuring powerful acting by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, it is a classic mob film that is memorable and can be enjoyed via repeated viewings.  Largely ad-libbed, the film is rich in good dialogue and holds the distinction of containing one of the highest totals of curse words in film history.

The film is told from the first person narrative of the lead character, Henry Hill. Henry, now in the Witness Protection Program, recounts his years affiliated with the mob, spanning the years 1955-1980. We meet Henry as a youngster in Brooklyn, New York, half-Italian, half-Sicilian, he idolizes the “wise guys” on the streets and has every intention of one day joining their ranks. From there, the film describes the trials and tribulations of Henry’s group of miscreants. Henry meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and their tumultuous love story is explored, through tender moments and affairs.

What I love most about Goodfellas is the love of the characters and the sense that you are part of the action. The film is really a highly stylized family drama- gritty nonetheless, but the viewer feels like they are part of things and a member of the family- milestones are celebrated and meals are shared. We see Henry grow from a teenaged gullible boy- idolizing the neighborhood men, to actually being part of the group. The other characters, such as vicious and volatile Tommy DeVito (Pesci) and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (De Niro), age and mature.

Bracco’s character is an interesting one- she, unlike most of the female characters in The Godfather films, is not content to merely sit on the sidelines and look past her husbands shenanigans and torrid affairs with floozies. She is a more modern, determined woman and Bracco plays her with intelligent and a calm demeanor. She wants to be Henry’s equal instead of just some trophy wife.

Pesci, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, is brutal and filthy, but so mesmerizing a character. During a memorable scene, his character of Tommy jokingly teases Henry, but when Henry responds in a way that displeases Tommy, the scene grows tense and Tommy becomes increasingly disturbing. His famous line “What am I a clown- do I amuse you?” is both clever and haunting in its repercussions.

I adore the soundtrack that Scorsese chooses for the film- spanning decades, he chooses songs true to the times such as “Layla” (1970) or “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964) are just perfect. Worth noting is when a scene plays, sometimes the song is mixed in with the narrative so that it actually enhances the scene altogether- becoming a part of it rather than simply background music.

If one is looking for the perfect mob film, that contains music, wit, charm, and fantastic writing, Goodfellas is among the best that there is. My preference is for The Godfather and The Godfather II, but while Goodfellas has similarities to these films it is also completely different and stands on its own merits.