Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!-1965

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!- 1965

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Tura Satana, Haji

Top 100 Films-#85

Scott’s Review #406

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Reviewed May 28, 2016

Grade: A

Shamefully, this cult masterpiece from 1965 has somehow alluded me for many years- largely due to its unavailability on Netflix- head shaking for sure. Finally, I decided to simply buy the newly released Blu-Ray edition, and I have immediately become a huge fan of this Russ Meyer work of art. Influential and intriguing, it is no surprise it is a camp classic. Several famous directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, have paid homage to this film in their own later works- most notably, Death Proof. Fast cars, sexy women, and murder represent this unique film.

In comparison to other famous Meyer works, specifically the gregarious yet brilliant Supervixens (1975), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is almost understated and quiet. He also directed the well known Beyond The Valley of the Dolls from 1970. Shot in black and white, several notable comparisons to Supervixens must be pointed out: a hot California desert, large breasted women, and gas stations are prevalent throughout. Unlike Supervixens, though, there is little or no nudity.

Three go-go dancers race through the desert in their sports cars. They have murder and kidnapping on their minds. The ring-leader, Varla (Tura Satana) is a vicious, sexy, Asian woman. Her two side-kicks are Billie (Lori Williams), and Rosie (Haji). While Billie and Rosie squabble and fight in a juvenile fashion, Varla is the serious one. The trio enjoy racing their cars and engaging in the game “chicken”. When they meet all-American couple, Tommy and Linda, out for a romantic drive, they have a dispute, and end up killing Tommy- drugging and kidnapping Linda. After stopping for gas, Varla hatches a plot to steal money from a crazy old man, his muscular-yet dimwitted son (known as the Vegetable), and the old man’s seemingly normal son, Kirk.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a groundbreaking film as it is gender bending. The women are hardly written as sex objects like most in films of that day were-far from it. They are ferocious, specifically Varla, as they do typically masculine things- race cars, fight, kill, yet do not sacrifice any of their femininity. All three women are sexy, busty, and wear stylish make-up. They are not trying to be like men, but are tough girls. This is part of what makes the film so wonderful to watch. Usually in Hollywood, these characters would be molls to even rougher men, or supporting the men in some way. These female characters are the film.

My favorite character is Varla. Sexy, fierce, and a minority, how often is a female villain this charismatic?  Perhaps in Bond films, but then she would be a conquest of Bond and not her own person. Varla makes up her own rules. The fact that she is Asian is superb and breaks many barriers in the way Asians are portrayed in film. Varla is more devious than the others characters- willing to kill anyone who stands in her way- even her own friends.  She is a character written very well by Russ Meyer, and pure femme fatale.

The male supporting characters are interesting. The old man, actor Stuart Lancaster, would later appear in Supervixens. He is a cripple, wacky, and as diabolical as the women. He has designs on innocent Linda and makes no bones about it. The Vegetable is hunky and fresh faced- an innocent victim of his father’s evil ways, so he is a character we root for. I enjoyed the brief romance between he and Billie. Lastly, Kirk is the “normal” son, also a victim of his father. When he and Linda run across the desert while being chased by Varla, we root for them to survive.

The black and white style, chosen in order to save money, actually adds to the unique cinematography,  with sharp edits, and gives the  film mystique. The 1960’s jazzy score adds to the film as well. In color, I wonder if the film would have had a more cartoonish quality. The black and white moves Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! into art film territory.

The debate over the film is, “Is the film exploiting women or empowering them”? To me, the film is answering the question of whether women can be tough, sexy, and complicated with a resounding yes. All three principal characters are layered- each develops feelings for other characters, and at one point Rosie’s sexuality is questioned by Billie. Still, the female characters are not monsters nor are they caricatures. They are complex with real emotions.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is an influential art film/exploitation film that empowers female characters, questions gender categorizations, and takes hold of the viewer, never letting go.  A miraculous representation of the changing times in cinema during the 1960’s. It is brilliant.

Legend-2015

Legend-2015

Director-Brian Helgeland

Starring-Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #405

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Reviewed May 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Tom Hardy is one of my favorite modern film actors (he should have won the 2015 Oscar for his riveting performance in The Revenant, in my humble opinion) and in Legend fans are treated to a dual role by the handsome Brit. Hardy portrays Reggie and Ronald Kray, two of London’s most feared and brutal gangsters. The film absolutely belongs to Hardy in every way, shape, and form, the locales of London are fantastic, and more than one scene is jaw-dropping violent, but the film meanders quite a bit and the vocals of Ron Kray are quite difficult to understand. Still, an impressive effort as a whole.

The time period is the late 1950’s London. Reggie Kray, the more mainstream of the Kray brothers, is a feared member of the organized crime community.  He is coddled by his mother and can do no wrong in her mind. This makes any relationships difficult as his mum disapproves of his mates. He falls in love with Frances Shea, a young woman who narrates most of the film, so it is told from an outsiders perspective. Reggie’s brother Ron, has recently been released from a mental hospital and, if off of his medications, is certifiably crazy, and very volatile. He is also gay and makes no bones about it.

Ron and Reggie have a love/hate relationship to say the least and this dynamic is the most interesting aspect of the film. Thanks to Hardy, as the writing is not Legend’s strongest suit, we see two very different characters, despite the fact that they obviously look alike. In the myriad of scenes shared between the brothers, it appears as though two different actors are playing the roles and that is to Hardy’s credit.

An important scene emphasizes the relationship between the two. When a rival dares to mention Reggie’s wife’s name in a disparaging fashion, he points a gun and fires at the man’s head. Fortunately, the gun is not loaded, so the audience breathes a sigh of relief. Yet, a worse fate awaits the victim. After the deed is done, Reggie whispers in Ron’s ear that he killed the man “because I can’t kill you”. This clearly means that Reggie would kill Ron if he could- shocking since they are brothers. To add to this, it is implied that he would kill his brother with the same savageness as his victim. This makes the audience ponder.

Impressive is the sexuality of Ron, and especially since he is not written in a stereotypical way. He is brutal, masculine, and hardcore. The fact that Ron Kray was a real figure is important to note. His entourage of boyfriends follow him around in dedication. Who can blame them as his charisma oozes- think an unstable James Bond.

The twins relationship is the best part of the film, but as a mob film, Legend really meanders quite a bit, so much so that it becomes tough to identify what the point of the film is, if not for Hardy. Save for Frances, none of the supporting characters are written with any interest and they are all rather forgettable. The wonderful Chazz Palminteri is wasted in the role of Angelo Bruno, head of a Philadelphia crime family and friend of the Krays. There is little of meaning or interest to his role.

A mediocre story, but with leading characters with depth, make Legend an interesting film that flies under the radar and received little notice. Hopefully, if nothing else, it continues the success that Tom Hardy is currently achieving in modern film.

The Girls-1968

The Girls-1968

Director-Mai Zetterling

Starring-Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson

Scott’s Review #404

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Reviewed May 11, 2016

Grade: B+

The Girls is a 1968 political leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film. The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me. Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film clearly is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling and powerful one-women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.

In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain a boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom). The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons. Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt.  All of the women are very friendly with each other.

All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them have appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.

The women go on tour and have various surreal experiences based on the play in which they are star. The film, made in black and white, has very overexposed cinematography. The blacks and the whites are very sharp in look and this is no doubt purposely done.

On the surface it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play? How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps  a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.

We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest. The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?

Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punch and kick each other in the streets. These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point? I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.

Fantastic to see are the exterior scenes shot in Stockholm, Sweden, which reminds us what a liberal, democratic city it is. Yet the women are clearly repressed. Made in 1968, during the sexual revolution, the timing of the film is perfect.

The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings in order for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, the film is the kind of film that requires further viewings to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Director-S. Craig Zahler

Starring-Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #403

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Reviewed May 10, 2016

Grade: B+

Bone Tomahawk, unfortunately a film from 2015 that almost nobody saw or heard of, is a unique independent horror/western hybrid, that has strong influences of Quentin Tarantino, and contains an impressive cast for such a low profile film. Bone Tomahawk is the proverbial diamond in the rough and is worth seeing for film fans with patience enough to sit through the slow moving pace in order to get to the good stuff, which largely comes in the final thirty minutes of the film.

Notably, the film was recognized by the Independent film committee and received two spirit awards, that for Best Supporting Male (Richard Jenkins), and for Best Screenplay- it won neither.

The film really does not have a “star”, but rather a myriad of heavy hitters in a clear ensemble. Kurt Russell plays Franklin Hunt, sheriff of a tiny town named Bright Hope, presumably somewhere in the west (Wyoming?) circa 1890. His deputy sheriff, Chicory,  is played by Jenkins.

When drifters kill some travelers, they accidentally stumble upon a mysterious Native American burial ground and taint its contents, leaving one brutally murdered by the tribe. The other (played by David Arquette) stumbles into Bright Hope and is immediately deemed suspicious. When he, a female Doctor’s assistant, and a young local man disappear, it is realized that they have been abducted by the owners of the burial ground, who are feared to be cannibalistic savages. Hunt, Chicory, a foreman named Arthur (the doctor’s assistants wife), played by Patrick Wilson, along with a local playboy played by Matthew Fox, decide to trek long terrain to find and rescue the missing.

The pacing of the film is extremely slow and this will undoubtedly turn off some folks seeking slicker, high-tech viewing, or even some CGI, but the payoff for patience is immense. To be fair, the groups trek through the desert in pursuit of the accosted seems endless, and I did have thoughts of what the point was, but the forthcoming turn of events makes this tedium worth it.

In defense of the long plodding journey, this aspect does make the audience get to know and begin to care about the characters- some make it out alive, others are not as lucky. The fun part is finding out who does and doesn’t.

Bone Tomahawk contains one of the most gruesome scenes that I have ever witnessed in my thousands of viewed films. A male character, nude, is brutally scalped and a spear is hammered into his throat in full view of the prisoners. As if this is not shocking enough, he is then turned upside down, split down the middle, and chopped in half, as his insides spill to the ground. The snapping sounds of his bones and the visual horror of the guts are even tough for the non-squeamish to view.

It is uncanny that Kurt Russell plays a very similar character in another 2015 film- the much higher profile, The Hateful Eight. Sure, in the latter he is a bounty hunter, but the time period, setting, and costumes are almost identical. One might wonder which was made first.

Bone Tomahawk is a guys movie, but not in the traditional sense- there are no explosions, no unnecessary machismo, or apparent clichés. But at the end of the day it is a western- the cast is mainly male- besides the Doctor’s assistant, the only other females are wives with small roles. The most glaring is Sean Young- given hardly anything to do in what amounted to a cameo appearance. Otherwise, the Native American females- blind, deaf, pregnant, and missing appendages are the only other females in sight.

A unique hybrid of film genres, Bone Tomahawk is a clever, different experience. I am a champion of independent film and this film is a good example of why I am. Evidently, with a stellar cast of A-list or former A-list stars banding together to make a piece of art, it seems others champion good film too.

Les Cousins-1959

Les Cousins-1959

Director- Claude Chabrol

Starring-Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Braily

Scott’s Review #402

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Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: A-

Les Cousins is a 1959 Claude Chabrol French language film. Made in black and white and set in Paris, the focus is on metropolitan life as seen from the perspective of one of the main characters, who is from the country and far removed from the bustle and complexities of city life. The focal point is contrasting traits- personality, background, and otherwise, as the film delves into psychological aspects that lend themselves to making the film a character driven experience, and quite thought provoking. Les Cousins is open to many interpretations. The film, therefore, has many nuances to ponder and sink ones teeth into deep thought.

Hence the title, Les Cousins is about two male cousins, Charles and Paul. They appear to be similar in age and are both law students, but opposites in almost every other way. Paul is the alpha male- self centered, quick-tempered, and forceful. Living an affluent life in the heart of Paris, he has many friends, is a social butterfly, and has no filter with his criticisms and judgments of others.

Charles, on the other hand has a completely different set of qualities. Sent by his mother to live with Paul and study for the agonizing, impending law exam, Charles is meek, quiet, and insecure. When Charles meets Florence, a beautiful friend of Paul’s, who has a reputation for “sleeping around”, Charles falls madly in love with her, almost love at first sight, unaware of her reputation. What follows is a strange triangle between Paul, Florence, and Charles that is laced with jealousy, revenge, and ultimately violence.

Each of the three principal characters and their relationship with each other is interesting to ponder and is at the heart of the film. When Paul realizes that Charles is in love with Florence is he disturbed by this turn of events? Does he feel sorry for Charles or elicit some perverse joy in bedding Florence in front of Charles? If so, why does he resent Charles?

Is Florence in love with Charles or is it a guise? Does she even realize the extent of his love for her? Clearly a sexually expressive woman, she is not outlandish in her appearance and for all intents and purposes seems quite virginal to the outside viewer. Doe she enjoy the fact that the unwitting Charles sees her as pure? Does she wish that she actually were virginal?

Finally, the complexity of Charles’ character is mysterious. We learn that he writes letters to his mother every day to give her updates on his studying habits and the exam. Does he harbor resentment towards his mother? Is he a “mama’s boy”? Is he overwhelmed in the city? Does he truly love Florence (tough to believe after one or two dates) or simply yearn for the freedom that she represents?

We see countless scenes of Paul and his good-looking friends engaging in various forms of merriment, usually in his modern apartment, overlooking the city. Clearly he is affluent. Is this the main reason for his popularity? The party-goers are all well-dressed and very good-looking- sort of a fraternity party for the exceptionally tailored, if you will. Interesting to note is a female couple- appearing to be a lesbian couple- featured numerous times at the parties. Is this meant to show Paul and Parisians in general as open minded and progressive?

A revolver- with only one bullet in a six chamber gun, prevalent throughout the film in a Russian roulette sequence, comes into play at the startling conclusion of the film. Without completely revealing the ending, someone is mortally wounded in the last sequence of the film and we are left to ponder what happens now. Are the survivors lives forever changed and ruined? A knock at the door just prior to the credits rolling leave us wondering who is there.

My one complaint of Les Cousins is that it takes a long time to get deep into the complexities of the film and, in fact, I was left pondering the film after it ended more than I was completely engaged throughout the actual film. I also wondered if perhaps the pompous and over-indulgences were slightly overdone to elicit more audience reaction and contrasting elements between Paul and Charles.

A French new wave experience by one of France’s best directors, Les Cousins is a character study of three interesting characters that leave the audience thinking about their lives past, present, and future, comparing their idiosyncrasies, actions, and thoughts to delve deeper into their psyches.

Spectre-2015

Spectre-2015

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #401

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Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: B+

A modern treat for James Bond fans, Spectre is a slick, very expensive production sure to please die-hard aficionados of the storied franchise. It contains rich history and nods to recent installments, wrapping the story-arc up, a fantastic villain, and fast-paced, compelling story-telling. What it does lack is an interesting lead Bond girl, a quality that detracts from the film, and what is a must for the cherished franchise. This is the only major flaw in an otherwise fantastic film.  In typical Bond fashion, his adventures take him to London, Rome, Mexico City, Austria, and Morocco.

Speeding along in what is now the twenty-fourth Bond film, and still feeling fresh and relevant, Spectre commences where its predecessor, Skyfall, left off- mainly hot on the heels of M’s (Judi Dench’s) shocking death. How wonderful to see her again, albeit in a videotape message- that turns out to be crucial to the central plot. The new M is a male character again and portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. In the films sub-plot, a new character, C, comes into play as the head of  Joint Intelligence Service, who deems the 00 section outdated. The focal point of the story is Bond’s avenging of the former M’s death by taking down Spectre, an organization not seen in a Bond film since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, but once again a strong presence.

The opening sequence in Mexico City really kicks off the energy of the film. Fast paced, and with an awesome helicopter chase/fight sequence, it is a long sequence that thrills. We watch, engaged, as the helicopter swirls and tumbles mid-air, while hundreds of spectators in a large outdoor square flee for safety. The film then forays into the inevitable Bond song- “Writing’s On The Wall”, this time written and performed by Sam Smith.  This particular song has received mixed reviews, but I am fond of it. This leaves the audience geared up for a wild adventure to come.

The return of the crime organization, Spectre, to the story, brings rich history and is the strongest, most interesting part of the film. We have a rooting value since it is a familiarity. Even more pleasing is the return of Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, known more forcefully as “Number 1”, has been played by such legendary actors as Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Max Von Sydow.  In Spectre, Christoph Waltz takes over the role and this is a major win. Waltz, a tremendous actor, plays Blofeld in a sly, wicked manner- taunting, yet with some comedic elements mixed in. In a compelling scene (and the first one containing Waltz), James Bond appears, hidden, at a Spectre summit.  He recoils as he recognized the shadowed Blofeld, realizing the detrimental repercussions this will mean. I only hope that in subsequent Bond films, Waltz will return.

Let’s discuss the Bond girls in the film- Ironically, the small role featuring the oldest Bond girl in franchise history (aged fifty and played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) is more compelling than the lead Bond girl, Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux. As Lucia Sciarra, widow of the Italian crime lord, Sciarra, there is more chemistry between Daniel Craig and Bellucci than Craig and Seydoux. I would have much rather seen Sciarra as the primary focus, but she is shamefully underused, appearing in two scenes only. Seydoux seems to lack energy and I noticed zero chemistry between she and Craig.

I am not sold on the new Moneypenny either- Bond’s labored sidekick and always suggested one-sided love interest, in earlier films it used to be a fun dynamic. She was a secretary, older, and their flirtation was charming, light, and fun- she was almost a mother figure to him. Now, there really is no flirtation or romantic hints at all as the character has clearly been modernized to fit the twenty-first century.

Despite these character misses, the film is exceptionally well-made with tons of action. Sometimes Bond films hold up well, other times they do not. Time will tell what fate holds for Spectre, but my hunch is that it will age well.