Sisters-2015

Sisters-2015

Director-Jason Moore

Starring-Tina Fey, Amy Poehler

Scott’s Review #458

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Reviewed July 31, 2016

Grade: B-

Slapstick comedy is admittedly not my genre of choice, though I will watch some for light entertainment purposes or to see just how bad (or good) current offerings are. Nonetheless, I have tried to put myself in a mindset of having low expectations for these types of films that are by and large fluff and plot driven. In the case of Sisters, the film is pretty much as one would expect: vulgar, crass, and raunchy. Yet, due to the chemistry between the leads (Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) and a few light, heartfelt romantic moments, there is something that works about this film- it is not as mean as one might think. This is not to say that Sisters is a great film- hardly- but not as bad as I feared.

Poehler and Fey play Maura and Kate Ellis, respectively, two late thirties sisters, living in other areas of the country, who return home to Orlando, Florida, when their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) sell their childhood home. Maura and Kate have been tasked with cleaning out their bedrooms in time for the sale. The sisters come up with an idea to throw one final bash and invite their high school classmates, who all conveniently still live in the same town. Obviously, events go awry and the party gets way out of hand. Mixed in with the main plot are sub-plots consisting of a romantic interest for Maura, and a rival for Kate, played by Maya Rudolph.

The best part of the film is the chemistry between Poehler and Fey. They simply “have it” whether it is a Saturday Night Live sketch, hosting the Golden Globe awards, or starring in Sisters. The banter and the jokes work well because the two comics work well together and it shows on-screen. They are believable as sisters despite looking nothing alike.

Otherwise, Sisters is a traditional vulgar comedy. One irksome recent trend in this style of film (now more female driven than in years past) is the leading ladies being class-less and this must be an attempt at female empowerment or the assumption that since adult comedies were once a man’s world, female characters should be written like men. Do we really need Kate and Maura swearing like sailors, making poop jokes, and being so raunchy? Behaving like ladies would now be the exception not the norm (Bridesmaids set this precedent).

Not surprisingly, the supporting characters are all caricatures as is typically the case in films of this genre. The parents are a bit clueless, have kinky sex much to the girls chagrin, Brinda, bitchy, judgmental, yet insecure, the Korean (big stereotype) nail technician who cannot properly pronounce English words, the new owners of the house are snobbish, uptight, and clueless, and finally, James, the guy next door, who is Mr. Fix-it and the straight man in the high-jinks. He is sugar sweet and the male hero.

The romantic scenes between Maura and James are rather sweet and sentimental, nicely balancing the vulgarity and raunchiness that the rest of the film encompasses. They are a nice couple and have a rich rooting value.

Most of the action takes place at Kate and Maura’s childhood home where posters of such 1980’s films as E.T. and Out of Africa, as well as a poster of heartthrob Tom Cruise hang on the walls. This and many other references that Generation X’ers will take delight from in this film are pointed out, so that is a treat and a positive of the film.

As the party gets off to a slow start and the thirty and forty something’s appear dull and either talking about their kids or their various maladies, and suddenly, after being fed drugs, are back to their college party days, is both dumb and cute at the same time.

Sisters (hopefully) knows what it is. It is a late Saturday night, raunchy comedy affair, meant as fluff and as escapist fun. It is not a masterpiece nor does it intend to be one. Rather, a full length SNL sketch including many alumni. It is harmless fun.

The Tall Man-2012

The Tall Man-2012

Director-Pascal Laugier

Starring-Jessica Biel

Scott’s Review #457

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Reviewed July 30, 2016

Grade: B-

The Tall Man is a cross between a horror/thriller/message movie that stars Jessica Biel as a nurse named Julia Denning, living in rural Washington, where the town’s children begin disappearing and abducted by a mysterious creature named “The Tall Man”. Is he a legend or a reality? When Julia’s son is the next victim, she sets out to solve the mystery.

The aging mining town of Cold Rock is the setting for the films events and it is perfect- containing all the necessary elements. The remote, secluded location, the various creepy townspeople. Additionally, The Tall Man has an interesting premise, and the ending is somewhat of a surprise, though rushed, so it’s an interesting experience. The plot is so far fetched and convoluted at times that it is tough to follow and take seriously.

I am not a fan of Jessica Biel’s, in fact I find her acting to be subpar, but she is adequate in her starring turn and gives a compelling performance as a haggard mom. Given the actresses good looks, I didn’t totally buy her as a blue-collar, small town type.

Overall, throughout the film I found something missing, but could not put my finger on it. A decent thriller, but nothing more.

A War-2015

A War-2015

Director-Tobias Lindholm

Starring-Pilou Asbaek, Tuva Novotny

Scott’s Review #456

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Reviewed July 29, 2016

Grade: B+

A War, a 2015 film, made in Denmark, is a thought provoking story that one might think is a standard “war film” on the surface, but as the film moves along, it turns into something much deeper and rather cerebral. A slow mover, but necessary to the nature of the films message,  the viewer questions what he or she might do in a similar predicament as the main character faces a moral dilemma.

The action begins in Afghanistan as we meet a company of Danish soldiers assigned to protect civilians from the evil Taliban. They are young, good-looking and of varying ethnic groups (a nice touch by the film).  One female soldier seems to be thrown in for good measure, though we never see her in combat. Their leader is Commander Claus Pedersen, a good, decent man, well liked by his troop. They have all seen death and destruction, and Pedersen frequents the middle of the action on the front lines. He is one of the guys.

When one of his men is wounded during an attack, Pedersen makes a controversial decision, resulting in the deaths of civilians, some children.  Pedersen is then charged with a war crime and sent home to Denmark to be tried. His wife and three small children are happy he is home, but distraught and opinionated on how he should testify.

The thing I found interesting about A War is how the film shifts gears around the mid-way point.  The camaraderie between the soldiers in the field, and their bond with Afghan civilians are mixed with dangerous threats from the Taliban. I kept waiting for an attack to occur and in these ways the film is a standard war film. Mixed in are snippets of “home life” involving Pedersen’s wife- she appears a typical military wife- struggling to raise her three kids, one of whom has recently developed behavioral problems. It is clear they miss Pedersen.

The latter half of the film is largely set inside a courtroom as Pedersen is interrogated by a female prosecutor. While she sympathizes with Pedersen’s anguish, she is looking for a conviction. After all, children were killed because of his actions. The filmmakers are on Pedersen’s side, but the entire conflict makes for great analysis. Should he be held accountable for deaths in a war zone? The viewer will ask him or herself- “would I lie to stay out of jail and with my family who needs me”? Interesting stuff to ponder.

A War, ironic to the title, is a calm, subdued film- very much impressive to me.  To compare, a film of this nature, targeted as a “blockbuster” would likely have technical enhancers- dramatic music, undoubtedly would play to cue action in the war zone. The climax of the film, when Pedersen’s verdict is read aloud in the courtroom, would contain some jarring camera shots, or an intense musical score. A War has none of those and that brings a certain reality to it- this could be everyday life. A decision is made and life quietly goes on.

Some complain of A War being a tad boring. I see their point, but it is an atypical war film. It is understated and character driven, rather than a shoot ’em up, overwrought with testosterone action, or laced with artillery or explosions. A War is not that mainstream a film- much to its credit. Rather it is methodical and fraught with interesting thinking points.

To Catch A Thief-1955

To Catch A Thief-1955

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #455

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Reviewed July 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Cary Grant starred in a resounding five Alfred Hitchcock films in his day and 1955’s To Catch A Thief is smack in the middle of Hitchcock’s prime period of masterful pictures. Grace Kelly (her third and final Hitchcock film) co-stars making this film a marquee treat as both actors were top notch in their heyday and had much chemistry in this film. While not my all time favorite of Hitchcock films, To Catch a Thief has mystery, a whodunit, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera. In fact, the breathtaking surroundings are my favorite part of this film.

Grant plays John Robie, aka. “The Cat”, an infamous jewel thief who has now gone clean. He currently spends his days quietly atop the French Riviera growing grapes and flowers and keeping out of trouble. When a new jewel thief begins to strike wealthy tourists, Robie is immediately under suspicion by the police. He is forced to prove his innocence by catching the real thief in the act as the thief uses the same style to steal as Robie once did. In the midst of this drama, Robie meets the beautiful heiress Frances (Kelly) and her interfering mother Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), leading to romance.

Despite the fact that Grant could be old enough to be Kelly’s father, we immediately accept Robie and Frances as the perfect couple- she sophisticated, stylish, and rich, he equally sophisticated and cool, with a bad boy edge. In this way, To Catch A Thief has a strong romantic element, and a glamorous and wealthy tone. After all, the subject matter at hand- jewels- equates to lavish set decorations, women dripping in expensive jewelry, and a posh resort among the gorgeous French waters.

The supporting characters are interesting too. A triangle of sorts emerges as Frances plays catty with a young girl, Danielle, eager for Robie’s affections. Danielle, much plainer looking than Frances, though no shrinking violet, holds her own in a match of wits with Frances as they bathe in the water one afternoon. Frances’s mother Jessie, is wonderful comic relief as she attempts to push Robie and Frances together- always searching for a handsome suitor for her daughter. Finally, insurance man H.H. Hughson also contributes to the comic relief as he begrudgingly provides Robie with a list of wealthy visitors with jewels. In their playfully awkward lunch- delicious quiche is the meal of the day- at Robie’s place, Robie proves how Hughson himself is a thief of sorts in order to accomplish what he needs to get from Hughson.

Despite all of the positive notes, there is something about To Catch A Thief that prevents it from being among my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. Perhaps it is because I never had a doubt as to Robie’s innocence and the caper- if dissected- is a bit silly. I get the sense that the audience is supposed to question all along whether Robie is truly reformed or playing a game and is really back to his dirty deeds, but I wasn’t fooled. This is a very small gripe and To Catch A Thief is a wonderful film.

The way the film is shot is almost like being in the French Riviera. Countless coastal shots of the skyline will amaze the viewer with breathtaking awe of how gorgeous the French country is and how romantic and wonderful it is. This is my favorite part of To Catch A Thief. In fact, the visuals of the film rival the story as the costumes created by costume designer and Hitchcock mainstay, Edith Head, are simply lovely. And who can forget the costume ball at the films near conclusion?

Though the story might be the weakest and lightest elements of the story,  who cares? The visuals more than make up for any of that as To Catch A Thief will please loyal fans of Hitchcock’s vast catalog.

 

Frankenweenie-2012

Frankenweenie-2012

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short

Scott’s Review #454

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Reviewed July 23, 2016

Grade: B

Frankenweenie is a very creative Tim Burton made, stop-motion film that received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Oscars. On the dark side, it is a pleasure to watch for the thought invoked, and left of center compared to many safe modern animated features.

The story revolves around a lonely young man who experiments on his recently deceased dog to bring him back to life. It is a black and white film, has nice horror references (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) and interesting characters. It is also heartwarming as the child’s love for the dog is evident.

The movie is easy to compare to 2012’s ParaNorman in multiple ways (lonely male teen, both dark films). As much as I give major props to this film for the creativity involved, somehow it did not completely connect with me (I liked ParaNorman better) and I’m not sure why, but I have great respect for the creative achievements it encompasses.

ParaNorman-2012

ParaNorman-2012

Director-Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Starring-Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick

Scott’s Review #453

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Reviewed July 23, 2016

Grade: B+

ParaNorman is a very imaginative, enjoyable, animated film that I admired a great deal. Creative colors and images are key and the film is stop-motion.

Despite being animated it is really not a kids movie, but rather geared toward the teenager or older demographic. It is among the strongest, along with Frankenweenie- a similar type film, of the five nominated films for Best Animated feature, in the year 2012.

In fact, ParaNorman is so similar to Frankenweenie that they could almost be simultaneously reviewed or be watched in the same day.  Both center around an isolated young male coping with his surroundings and both contain a light horror feel to them.

In ParaNorman, an army of zombies invades a small, suburban town, and our hero, Norman, a strange young man who can communicate with the dead, must save the day. The film contains sympathetic peers, but the adults in the film present various obstacles.

I have gone on record as being not much of an animated film fan, but I do view the best of each year and this one impressed me immensely.

5 Broken Cameras-2012

5 Broken Cameras-2012

Director-Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

Starring-Emad Burnat

Scott’s Review #452

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Reviewed July 22, 2016

Grade: B-

5 Broken Cameras is a 2012 documentary spoken in the Arabic language, which received critical acclaim upon release and heaps of award nominations.

A documentary about a Palestinian farmers- Emad Burnat- recount of Israeli soldiers overtaking his land over the span of several years, it became a Best Documentary Oscar nominee. Non political in his life, he is threatened as the Israelis build a wall through his land, which he refuses to part with.

As important as the subject matter is, it never really captures my attention and I found it to drag a bit, which pains me to say because I was hoping to be really into it given the topic.

This could simply be my opinion since it is a critically acclaimed piece. I would have definitely voted in the far superior Invisible War, from the same year, for Oscar glory.

Searching for Sugar Man-2012

Searching for Sugar Man-2012

Director-Malik Bendjelloul

Starring-Sixto Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #451

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Reviewed July 17, 2016

Grade: B

Searching for Sugar Man is a heartwarming documentary that tells the true story of a forgotten rising Detroit rock singer (Rodriguez) from the early 1970’s, rediscovered by South African DJ’s where he is a surprising legend in present times.

The documentary’s main talking point is how an icon can be idolized in one country, while living in utter poverty in another. Thought to be the next great thing in the 1970’s, his two released albums bombed and he subsequently faded into oblivion, until tracked down by the South African DJ’s, curious of his current whereabouts.

An inspiring documentary for any musician or fan of music as Rodriguez is a true artist, not in it for the money type or obsessed with attention nor fame, who finally receives some recognition for his talent. He is a free spirit, reminiscent of Bob Dylan, poet, whose story is a courageous one. Thankfully, this inspired documentary has brought some notice to Rodriguez.

Killer Joe-2011

Killer Joe-2011

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch

Scott’s Review #450

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Reviewed July 14, 2016

Grade: A-

Killer Joe is a must-see for any fan of director Quentin Tarantino and this small, independent, gem of a feature is definitely worth checking out. The film is obviously influenced by Tarantino films in style, characters, and violence. The violence mixed with humor, wit, and great writing is stamped on the film.

Surprisingly, given the influence of another director, Killer Joe is actually directed by William Friedkin- a very acclaimed filmmaker in his own right- classics such as The Exorcist and The French Connection were created by this talent.

Matthew McConaughey owns Killer Joe and he has thankfully graduated from silly, fluffy, romantic comedies in lieu of smart, delicious roles in independent films of late, and has come to be a respected Hollywood actor. His lengthy nude scene is daring for such an A-list actor.

The film itself is certainly satirical, without being too campy, and the setting of a suffocating, trailer trash, Texas town is extremely well done. Personally, I loved the violent and gruesome fried chicken dinner table scene.

I especially liked the overall food references throughout the film which adds even more macabre comedy to this dark (on the surface) film.

Trumbo-2015

Trumbo-2015

Director-Jay Roach

Starring-Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane

Scott’s Review #449

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Reviewed July 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston, who is suddenly in everything these days, is a 2015 biography drama about Dalton Trumbo, a  famed, talented Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950’s. Cranston is certainly center stage in the film, and very good. The film itself has a crisp, glossy look and excited me with its ode to old Hollywood and it’s mixture of real-life interspersed newsreels. Great stuff for a classic film buff!

The sets, costumes, and art direction travel back to the 1940’s and 1950’s, but throughout I had a constant feeling of a modern film dressed to resemble an older one and I never felt true authenticity- still, a very good effort and a well above average Hollywood film.  A treat for cinema lovers or even those folks interested in seeing some classic black and white footage- a young Ronald Reagan is seen testifying, presumably against those feared to be communists.

Following World War II there was a panic throughout the United States, including liberal Hollywood, to oust anyone with a thinking deemed “un-American”. If this sounds like a dated way of thinking now, the United States was not always as diverse as it is in 2016. The infamous “Hollywood 10”, included ten screenwriters who were Communists- or at least had communist beliefs and sympathies. The story in Trumbo obviously focuses on Dalton Trumbo, a quirky screenwriter, always with a classy cigarette, and holder, in hand. His story is told and the audience sees his passion for fairness in the United States- he sees nothing wrong with being a communist.

The supporting characters are excellent. John Goodman, in the role of Frank King, B movie director, who gives Trumbo a chance to write under a pseudonym, and Helen Mirren and David James Elliott, as villainous Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, respectively. Personally, I felt Diane Lane could have been given more to do as loyal wife of Trumbo, but sadly, Hollywood is not a woman’s world.

If I were to have any criticism of this film it is that Trumbo is mainstream fare and not high on the edgy factor, which is only a mild complaint. There is nothing wrong with that, but the film screams Hollywood branded.  For instance, throughout Trumbo’s two year prison sentence he faces no real threats, no beatings, no abuse, nothing really. He emerges from prison with a few gray hairs and life goes on. When Trumbo’s friend battles, and finally succumbs to lung cancer, there is no long suffering scenes, making the film on the soft side. Again, more an observation of the type of film Trumbo is more than a complaint.

The scenes of Trumbo with his three children as the film periodically ages the children with older actors, are touching, especially scenes with his oldest daughter, Nikola, are sweet. She grows up to be just like her father. Trumbo earnestly explains to young Nikola, why he is a communist and asks what she would do if someone else was going without- her response is to share- a simplistic and sweet scene. Ah, through the eyes of a child the world is so innocent.

Trumbo goes back to Hollywood of old- clean, glamorous, extravagant, both in the way the film is made, and also the retro use of old footage. It is a non threatening film that simply explains the story of Dalton Trumbo in a safe, yet thorough way. I enjoyed the film tremendously.

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Director-Lynn Shelton

Starring-Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #448

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Reviewed July 9, 2016

Grade: C+

Your Sister’s Sister is a small, 2011 independent film, with a central cast of only three characters- the two sisters mentioned in the title and a young man (Mark Duplass) who is a rival for their affections.

The story tells of a love triangle, of sorts, between two sisters and one man. I admire the improvisational method that is used in the dialogue, ala Robert Altman style, where the characters merely have conversations and discuss issues rather than a structured dialogue- this works well in the film.

The standout is certainly Rosemarie DeWitt (“Mad Men”). I also enjoyed the remote, cabin setting, which makes for a claustrophobic experience. Emily Blunts performance, though, seems bland to me and I did not find her character rather relatable.

The ending of the film leaves everything up in the air and no clear conclusions are drawn, something I could see coming from miles away. I admired the style of this film, but was unsatisfied with the outcome.

End of Watch-2012

End of Watch-2012

Director-David Ayer

Starring-Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena

Scott’s Review #447

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Reviewed July 8, 2016

Grade: B+

End of Watch impressed me much more than I was expecting. What I expected was a safe, by the numbers, buddy/action type movie, since it was rather promoted as such from the previews. It was worlds better than that and through me for a loop- in a good way.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two detectives patrolling the streets of grizzled central Los Angeles, which are riddled with drug and gang violence. The viewer is brought along for the ride as we see a day in the life, if you will, of their cop beat.

The one knock I’d give the film is the implausibility factor of a cop videotaping everything. This seems silly and unrealistic.  Wouldn’t he be incredibly distracted? That said, some of the filming was amazing, including the opening sequence. The film contains a realistic, grittiness to it, and the Los Angeles locale is very effective.

End of Watch feels painstakingly real, is not always happy, and the dynamic between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena evident and their friendship feels real.

The movie feels like a day in the life of an LA cop, sparing no edgy detail,and does not gloss over the lifestyle as many cop films choose to do.

The Witch-2016

The Witch-2016

Director-Robert Eggers

Starring-Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson

Scott’s Review #446

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Reviewed July 7, 2016

Grade: B+

The Witch is a slow-build 2016 horror film that plods with a sinister wickedness and left this viewer thinking well beyond the credits. Is it a message movie? Clearly good versus evil and containing a definite religious umbrella encompassing the entire film, it is god against the devil and guess which one wins out? To be transparent, this film will undoubtedly offend the staunch religious.

Set in 1600’s New England and entitled- “The Witch- A New England Folktale”, we meet a Puritan family banished from the village they inhabit. They are forced to begin a life on their own and build a farm struggling to survive by selling family heirlooms in secret. William and Katherine are the parents, followed by teenage daughter, Thomasin, son Caleb, and youngsters, Mercy and Jonas. Their recent addition to the family, Samuel, is snatched by a mysterious creature appearing in the shape of a witch. We only see her draped in red as she sneaks into the woods holding the infant. From the families perspective, they know not who (or what) has taken Samuel) and they tell themselves that it was a wolf, but soon they are not so convinced and Thomasin is assumed to be a witch.

I adore how this film is not set in modern times, undoubtedly a turn-off for some viewers. The thick English dialect is almost Shakespearean at times and challenging to follow at others, but rich in culture at the same time. The time period is unsettling for some reason as is the absolute purity of the family- too good to be true? Much of the film is shot in daytime- unlike many horror films- and this actually adds to the tension- combined with the creepy musical score- strings are used.

At one hour and thirty-two minutes, the very short film feels longer- it truly does move at a snails pace, but the final act makes up for this as something all along told me it would. It simply has a creepy feel to it and nightmarish events occur at the films finale.

Some of The Witch is open to interpretation. At times I suspected one family member or another of perhaps being evil, but the film is really not that straightforward and some complexities arise. For instance, do spirits possess the animals? When Thomasin milks a goat and blood runs out is this supposed to represent female menstruation?

A thinking man’s horror film, which is refreshing within the horror genre or any other genre for that matter, The Witch is unorthodox and thought provoking, which makes it a winner in my book.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia-2011

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia-2011

Director-Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Starring-Muhammet Uzuner

Scott’s Review #445

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: B+

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a Turkish film that, circa 2011, has  received notice and recognition during awards season. The film is very slow moving and requires some patience, but it is worth the wait and I found myself savoring the experience by the end.

It is a cerebral, thoughtful experience about life and human nature and is philosophical in its message. The main characters reflect on their lives while searching for a mysterious dead body in the plains of Turkey in the middle of the night. The cinematography is wonderful and some of the camerawork is amazing. It’s quite a unique film.

The only drawback is its extremely slow pace, but upon its conclusion will leave you pondering for some time. No bombs, no car chases are involved- just honest, truthful dialogue.

The Fog-2005

The Fog-2005

Director-Rupert Wainwright

Starring-Tom Welling, Maggie Grace

Scott’s Review #444

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: D

The Fog is a 2005 remake of the original The Fog from 1980 and it is overall not very good. In fact, it sucks. Why original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill had anything to do with it is completely beyond me unless they needed some fast cash. It is so modernized that it loses the mystique that the original had.

The credit that it does deserve is for a few good scares and keeping with the same characters as the original had. Otherwise, it is largely a disaster. For starters, the ending is completely changed from the original and contains some ridiculous, silly fantasy elements that simply do not work at all.

An interesting actress in the television series Lost, Maggie Grace, clearly attempting to embark on a film career, is wooden and one-dimensional. In fact, there is no good acting in the entire movie. Not that I expect great acting in a horror film, but it just adds to the mess of storytelling and writing.

A big fail.

Dirty Harry-1971

Dirty Harry-1971

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino

Top 100 Films-#86

Scott’s Review #443

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: A

Dirty Harry is a classic crime drama that became a signature role for Clint Eastwood as the title character, a character he has played four more times. Dirty Harry set the tone for the plethora of crime thrillers and police action films that filled theaters throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. This film still holds up very well and is a masterpiece of the cat and mouse/detective genre.

Quiet, controlled, but filled with anger below the surface (we learn his wife was killed by a drunk driver), Harry Callahan is a tough cop in San Francisco who has clearly seen it all. He is a red-blooded American good guy, though is brooding and has a mind of his own, oftentimes disagreeing with his superiors and their rules. He epitomizes good versus evil. A vicious killer named Scorpio (based on the real life Zodiac killer) is on the loose, having killed two people already. His motives are unclear, but that is rather unimportant. What is important is that he threatens to kill one person per day unless his demands of $100,000 are met. Harry is immediately assigned to the case despite his reputation for being difficult and violent. This leads to a cat and mouse game between Harry and Scorpio in Harry’s pursuit of the criminal.

Scorpio is played by Andy Robinson, who is a fantastic villain- perhaps one of the most frightening in film history. His dirty blonde locks, yet angelic face, combined with maniacal facial expressions make his portrayal quite frightening. He is a sniper so he is continually perched on rooftops seeking his next victim. As he watches a couple eating ice cream in the park or a woman swimming in a roof top pool, we feel a sense of voyeurism and dread. His disturbed sense of humor and sadistic personality make him quite scary.

The film succeeds in large part because of its grit and violence.  And it is a very masculine film. Harry is a take no prisoners kind of guy and he is hell bent on stopping Scorpio from killing- no matter what. In a very effective scene, Harry chases Scorpio to a vast football field and uses torture to elicit a confession from Scorpio. It is a bloody and intense scene, but quite necessary to who Harry is. Of course, this tactic backfires as Scorpio is released from the hospital and set free. This leads to a further feud between the two men.

An added bonus of Dirty Harry, and one aspect that gives so much authenticity, is the on location setting of San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to the illustrious mountains outside of the city and of the Pacific Ocean, these elements give a realism to an already gritty film. Chinatown and Dolores Park are also featured. Highlighting all of this is a sequence where Scorpio forces Harry to go from locale to locale on foot in part of a wicked game to save a victim.

Harry’s famous lines as he points his gun the perpetrators and mocks them by asking them if loaded five or six bullets in his gun are now legendary as is his “Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” On the surface a bit silly and gimmicky, these catchphrases somehow still work.

The school bus finale as Harry and Scorpio once again square off is great. As Scorpio hijacks a bus filled with grammer school students, he tricks the students, unaware of his intentions, by engaging them in childrens song sing alongs as the harried bus driver drives out of the city. When one child catches wind of the situation, Scorpio turns nasty, scaring the children into a frenzy.

Dirty Harry is a classic cop film that I never tire of watching. For the genre it is as good as it gets and holds up well. After all of these years, it is tough to disassociate Clint Eastwood from the role of “Dirty Harry”.

Ruby Sparks-2012

Ruby Sparks-2012

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Scott’s Review #442

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: B

Ruby Sparks is a smart, creative, indie film from 2012. The films theme is fantasy versus reality as the main character is a troubled writer envisioning a character he has created is real. Is she or isn’t she?

The film centers around a writer (Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine fame) with writers block who creates an imaginary dream girl (Zoe Kazan), who magically comes to life one day. This is an interesting premise and film and has some big name actors (Annette Bening, Eliot Gould, Antonio Banderas) in small roles which is a delight to see.

The chemistry is lacking between the two leads and the film delves too much into a typical romantic comedy. Additionally,the film never explains if it is going for seriousness or purely the writers imagination, but I admire its creativity and thoughtful premise.

Gayby-2012

Gayby-2012

Director-Jonathan Lisecki

Starring-Jenn Harris, Mathew Wilkas

Scott’s Review #441

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Reviewed July 3, 2016

Grade: C+

Gayby is a sketch type comedy about two best friends ( a gay man and a straight woman) who decide to have a child together. Both have reached a certain age and are unhappy to have not found the perfect mate. The story is not a novel idea in film- or television for that matter, and feels more like a Saturday Night Live sketch. The film is also playing on the success of television comedies like Will and Grace- the obvious dynamic of the central characters.

The two leads are quite appealing in a comic way and have wit (Jenn Harris in a neurotic way) and great timing. The subject matter is an interesting one, though as years go by and more LGBT topics covered,  it is becoming rather dated and not novel any longer.

The negative is the frenetic, quick pacing of the film ultimately making it rather off-putting and annoying, to say nothing of the irritating stereotypical, supporting characters- written so over-the-top that it is tough to take the film as serious as it should be taken.

Safety Not Guaranteed-2012

Safety Not Guaranteed-2012

Director-Colin Trevorrow

Starring-Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza

Scott’s Review #440

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Reviewed July 3, 2016

Grade: B-

Safety Not Guaranteed is similar in style to another 2012 independent film, Ruby Sparks, in that they pose the question of “is this fantasy or reality”? The film deals with the subject of time travel.

The story centers around a magazine journalist, who, along with two interns, follow a man convinced that he is building a time travel machine. The story then develops into a romantic comedy of sorts and the audience is unsure if the guy is actually crazy or purely a genius. It’s an interesting concept, intelligently written, and Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass are both quite likeable in the lead roles.

The one flaw for me was, at times, the movie dove into slapstick territory with a silly secondary story of a stereotypically written Indian character attempting to lose his virginity, but besides that, the film has intriguing intentions.

The Getaway-1972

The Getaway-1972

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw

Scott’s Review #439

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Reviewed July 3, 2016

Grade: A-

The Getaway is a classic action film from director Sam Peckinpah- known for works such as Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch. His films are known as “guy films” and rather violent-The Getaway is no exception, though it is not immensely brutal either. Still, there are more than one macabre scene and one dastardly villain. For fans of Peckinpah, The Getaway is a must see.

The films stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, perfectly cast as lovers Doc and Carol McCoy. Inescapable is their chemistry, and art mirrored life as the two were embroiled in a torrid love affair during shooting and later were married. We meet Doc in a Texas prison, where his parole has just been denied. Doc and Carol decide to make a deal with corrupt businessman, Jack Benyon, to ensure Doc is released. One stipulation is for Doc to participate in a bank heist with two of Jack’s men (Rudy and Frank). The heist goes off, but things go awry and Doc and Carol head for El Paso with a large sum of money, being pursued by Rudy, and a double-cross attempt by Jack. Rudy kidnaps veterinarian Harold and his young wife Fran (Sally Struthers) to aid him with his injuries, taking them along as he pursues Doc and Carol. Mixed in with the already complicated plot is a con-man, who attempts to steal Doc and Carol’s money.

Doc and Carol are clearly the heroes of the film and meant to be rooted for and the characters work very well together. Yes, they are criminals themselves, but they portrayed as nice and not hurting anyone who does not deserve it. Doc does spare Rudy’s life at one point, and I think this only reinforces his appealing anti-hero character. The love story is also a great aspect of the film making Doc and Carol likable. A few sweet, tender scenes of their romance are mixed in, adding a nice balance to the otherwise testosterone fueled events.

The Getaway contains spectacular editing as, particularly in the beginning of the film, we watch Doc in prison, going through his day to day rituals, mixed in brilliantly with other stories in the film. The musical score matches perfectly with the editing as it adds a provocative element of intrigue. These components add the necessary elements to a film like this- edge of your seat!

I love the Texas setting. Characters are constantly traveling to get somewhere- either by train, by car, or on foot- so we see much of the Texas countryside, almost giving The Getaway a western flavor. It is certainly a hot and humid environment, though McQueen always has a sophisticated suit on and MacGraw looks stylish and put together. And from a prop perspective, I never tire of seeing those early 1970’s sedans driving at high speeds.

Unfortunately, as with most Peckinpah films, women are not portrayed in a positive light, though Carol is one of the strongest of his female film characters. Yet, in one tough scene, she is smacked around by Doc after he realizes she slept with Jack to ensure his release from prison.

The most confusing and weak character is Fran. In a strange bit of writing, she inexplicably falls madly in love with her kidnapper, Rudy, even as he abuses and humiliates her- while her husband is around. This is odd and tough to watch and not the best part of The Getaway. Her character is not developed well and it is head shaking why she feels any passion for Rudy.

The heart of the film belongs to Doc and Carol as they are on the lam for much of the time and this is a successful part of The Getaway- hence the title. Will they get caught, will they escape? The characters remind me of Bonnie and Clyde, so we wonder if Doc and Carol will meet the same fate, but of course we like them so we do not want that.

The Getaway is a fast paced, down home, red-blooded sort of action film. It is stylized, gritty, and sometimes violent. The chicken wing scene between Rudy, Fran, and Harold starts light and turns ugly, adding to the unpredictable nature of the film. A supreme offering by Peckinpah.

House at the End of the Street-2012

House at the End of the Street-2012

Director-Mark Tonderai

Starring-Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue

Scott’s Review #438

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Reviewed July 2, 2016

Grade: B

House at the End of the Street is a perfect example of a horror film that has excellent effects and great potential, but the storytelling brings it down. It is also a film starring Jennifer Lawrence, before she was the Oscar winning star. Her performance is an adequate effort, and she does what she can in the lead role. Lawrence is likeable in this role and is the clear hero of the film.

The film itself looks great. It certainly has all of the necessary horror elements: a creepy house in the woods, darkness, sudden scares. The buildup during the first half of the movie is very interesting and the audience is not quite sure what’s to come and what mysteries and secret lurk in the title house.

During the final thirty minutes, however, when the twist is revealed, the film becomes a predictable, by the numbers, thriller and disappoints at the end. The story becomes so convoluted it hardly matters anymore. First half- great; second half- fail.

I was happy to see Elisabeth Shue in this movie, as she has been out of the limelight for years, her character, though,  is quite one dimensional.

Film summary- great looking horror film, mediocre writing.

Arbitrage-2012

Arbitrage-2012

Director-Nicholas Jarecki

Starring-Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon

Scott’s Review #437

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Reviewed July 1, 2016

Grade: B+

Arbitrage is an exciting, interesting, little indie thriller starring Richard Gere as a successful, but troubled, CEO, whose life begins to unravel around him through a series of circumstances. He is billionaire, but at risk of losing everything due to shady dealings and fraudulent activity.

The film is the type that keeps the audience guessing and is never predictable. The plot slowly unravels into something of a pot-boiler. It is tense and taut. Richard Gere is clearly the standout as he gives a wonderful, believable performance. Once known as little more than a hunky Hollywood star, Gere has blossomed in recent years, taking on more compelling and complex roles.

Arbitrage contains some Hitchcock elements throughout in its complexities, though Gere’s character is an anti-hero whereas Hitchcock’s were frequently good guys in bad circumstances. The car crash scene is brilliantly done.

I wish this movie had received more attention than it has as it is a fun, thrill-ride.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present-2012

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present-2012

Director-Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre

Starring-Marina Abramovic

Scott’s Review #436

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Reviewed July 1, 2016

Grade: B+

The wonderful thing about documentary features is that they can introduce the viewer to a world of knowledge or provide an experience that you may not ordinarily be exposed to. This is certainly the case for me personally with Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.

Knowing nothing prior about this inspiring artist, I had no idea who she was going into this documentary and had no exposure to performance art. The film does a great job of telling Marina’s career history, extreme discipline, and the honesty of her work. The documentary is also a biography then, of sorts, as it gives a history lesson of who she is and various obstacles she has hurdled in her life.

Marina is portrayed as an extreme artist and it was a wonderful experience learning about her. Seeing video of The Museum of Modern Art in nearby New York City was a treat since I have been to the museum before.