Bernie-2011

Bernie-2011

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #472

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Reviewed August 30, 2016

Grade: C-

Bernie is a film that, surprisingly, received critical acclaim, as well as Golden Globe and Independent Spirit award nominations, but that I was left quite disappointed in. Categorized a dark comedy, it contains a morbid premise, which is not the issue, I just did not find it very good overall.

Despite being a true story of Bernie marrying and murdering millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Texas, the film was not compelling and was written too over the top. Inexplicably, the townspeople refused to believe Bernie’s obvious guilt.

To be fair, the film does contain a few funny and interesting moments and was based on factual events, but I didn’t feel connected to this movie as I expected and honestly found it a bit dull.

Jack Black is impressive as the title character- Bernie,  but only because it is a departure from his usual slapstick film roles. I don’t get the accolades being reaped on him for his performance. Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey are capable with the parts written for them, but one-note characters. Meh.

Results-2015

Results-2015

Director-Andrew Bujalski

Starring-Guy Pearce, Kevin Corrigan

Scott’s Review #471

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Reviewed August 29, 2016

Grade: C-

Other than one fantastic supporting performance by Kevin Corrigan, who should have been the star of this film, Results is an independent romantic comedy that lacks any real identity. The film has trouble deciding which couple the audience is meant to root for leaving me to root for none of them, and frankly, a bit bored with the overall script. Still, Corrigan and to some degree Guy Pearce make it a tolerable watch.

Corrigan plays Danny, a newly wealthy average joe type, who joins a gym presumably to achieve a supportive network of friends, as he is new in town- Austin, Texas.  He meets Trevor (Pearce), who owns a local gym, and is trained by the moody Kat (Cobie Smulders). The three individuals lives intersect as a triangle of sorts develops.

Kevin Corrigan, who has appeared in numerous independent films over his decades long career, as well as blockbusters such as Goodfellas, completely steals the show and is the main reason to tune in. His acting is effortless as he plays a lonely, rich man looking for human connections. He is troubled, but has a comic , sardonic wit that shines and gives him needed vulnerability. We want him to find happiness despite being unlikable. Speaking of unlikable, Smulders as Kat is a frigid iceberg with attitude for miles. Why anyone- let alone two men- would have interest in her is beyond me.

Pearce is appealing as the good natured, aspiring to be successful businessman named Trevor, who is buff beyond belief- to enormous credit since Pearce is no spring chicken. Otherwise, we know little about his character. He is not in love with Kat, then suddenly seems to be. Kat warms to Danny, but then is in love with Trevor. The entire romantic entanglement is quite silly and no chemistry exists among any of the principles. The casting of Giovanni Ribisi as a stoner lawyer and Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club from the 1980’s) as a fitness guru are pointless.

The fitness/gym angle is sort of cool if one- as I am- is a fan of physical fitness. It is a nice little lesson as Kat teaches Danny basic core exercises. But after too many scenes of Kat drinking kale shakes and jogging incessantly, or Trevor eating egg white omelets and body strengthening, the message is overkill. They are fitness buffs- we get it.

The biggest fail is how the film begins focusing on Danny and Kat as a potential romantic couple, then suddenly shifts gears, making Kat and Trevor the main couple, with Danny on the outside looking in. It really makes little sense, and by that point I was rather bored anyway and the film just petered out for me.

Results has shreds of potential with better structured story-telling, but the film misses good potential in many areas- underdeveloped characters and a meandering plot are a couple of major problem points.

Glass Chin-2015

Glass Chin-2015

Director-Noah Buschel

Starring-Corey Stoll, Marin Ireland

Scott’s Review #470

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Reviewed August 28, 2016

Grade: B-

Glass Chin is an independent drama film from 2015 with some positive qualities as well as some negative qualities. The film has two rather intriguing central characters, a working class appeal, and some fun moments of Quentin Tarantino style influence, but the villains are unappealing and downright annoying-so much so that these elements detract from the main story. Still, a solid effort.

The premise is straightforward and comfortable- Corey Stoll plays Bud Gordon, a former New York boxer with a level of one time success. He now lives in a basic, small apartment in New Jersey with his girlfriend Ellen (Marin Ireland). Yearning to get back into the game, he aligns with crooked businessman, JJ Cook, played by Billy Crudup. Along for the ride is JJ’s odd henchman, Robert. Framed for a murder so that he is now “owned” by JJ, Bud must struggle to escape the mess he has gotten himself into.

The interesting parts of Glass Chin belong to Stoll and Ireland as they make Bud and Gordon both likable and genuine. They are a great team, once having success, now struggling to pay the rent. They encompass blue-collar appeal. They are nice people, happy to dine at cheap diners, clip coupons, but also wanting a comfortable life. When Ellen tries caviar for the first time at a fancy hotel, she dislikes it. She is a happy working class girl, comfortable in her own skin. Bud misses the boxing lifestyle, not for the glamour, but for a purpose. Having owned a failed restaurant, he is now forced to take a job with a shady character in order to make ends meet.

I would have preferred the focus remain only on Bud and Ellen and their life struggles, perhaps more emphasis on their aspirations, his feelings of failure, and more story involving his training of young boxer, Kid Sunshine, but sadly these aspects are secondary to the emergence of villains JJ and Robert.

I am not sure why the film makers decided to make both JJ and Robert so weird, and I assume they were going for a Quentin Tarantino influence, but this did not work and, in fact, led the film to lose some continuity. Both characters, especially Robert, meander with monologues of nonsense dialogue and downright crazy talk that is rather over the top. It adds nothing to the story. They are high class thugs- the point comes across. The female characters, besides Ellen, are Tarantino influenced as far as their left of center actions (the wedding dress outfit, the statuesque model who beds Bud), but we know almost nothing about them.

As a side note, I loved the constant outdoor locales of New York City and New Jersey, which added authenticity to the film. When Bud drives around in his beat up 1980’s Country Squire station wagon in the snowy New York weather, it adds great atmosphere.

More of Bud and Ellen would have been preferred and less of JJ and Robert would have helped Glass Chin be a better film. Still, there is something about it that appeals, but overall Glass Chin is quite uneven.

Anomalisa-2015

Anomalisa-2015

Director-Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Starring-Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Scott’s Review #469

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Reviewed August 27, 2016

Grade: A-

Anomalisa is one of the most creative offerings I have seen of late. As animation is not my forte- typically I find them much too nicey nice, and the old “family friendly” tags makes me cringe- but Anomalisa has received heaps of buzz so I decided to check it out. I am glad I did. The stop motion film is quite adult themed, though not the slightest bit raunchy. Rather it is an intelligent tale about loneliness and human beings connecting with each other through this loneliness. It is a bit of a melancholy film too. Anomalisa is based on a 2005 play.

The central character of the story is Michael Stone, a depressed customer service expert, who travels to Cincinnati to deliver a seminar on his area of expertise. Michael is riddled with anxiety and his life is rather mundane though he checks into a stylish hotel that is presumably hosting his convention. He is a bit of a big name within his industry. Oddly, every person he encounters looks and sounds the same- that of a white man- even his wife and son. He is haunted by the memory of an old flame, Bella, who it is revealed he jilted years ago and now lives in Cincinnati.

The story gets interesting when Michael hears a woman’s voice singing- up until now all voices are male, remember- and he is desperate to find the voice. He meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), an insecure, rather dowdy woman, who he becomes infatuated with. A customer service representative at the hotel to witness Michael’s seminar, Lisa is instantly smitten, though wary of Michael’s intentions. They bond and the film tells of their romance and insecurities.

The film is highly creative and unique. It is also mysterious. My first wonder was attempting to figure out why all of the character’s- regardless of gender- share the same voice. Clearly Michael is lonely and sees everyone else in his life as monotonous or meaningless- until he meets Lisa, that is. The film is not clear as to what Michael sees in Lisa- perhaps her realness in a world of phoniness. She is an ordinary girl, but perhaps that is the point? I am still not sure of this.

I did not find the character of Michael to be likable and certainly not one to root for. He is dismissive of some characters, a bit condescending, but despite this, is not a hated character either. He and Lisa as a duo are to root for.

Anomalisa has some humor too- albeit dark humor. When Michael mistakes an adult toy store for a traditional toy store and purchases a Japanese sex doll for his son, Michael’s wife hilariously wonders about some foreign substance around the doll’s mouth. A nervous male passenger on Michael’s flight clutches Michael’s hand, even after landing safely.

The explicit sex scene between Michael and Lisa is as shocking as it is tender- I think showing this graphic edge in animation really through me for a loop since this rarely happens in animated films, and I still- perhaps incorrectly- assume that animated films are for children only with their parents to endure. To be fair, Anomalisa is not true animation- felt puppets are used, which gives a great, human looking feel to the film and makes the characters more life-like.

Anomalisa is not a perfect ten, but is damn close for it’s left of center approach alone. A magical journey into the art of creativity and thought. A little far out there for most, and perhaps the sarcasm may be lost on some, but a unique experience, nonetheless.

To Kill a Mockingbird-1962

To Kill a Mockingbird-1962

Director-Robert Mulligan

Starring-Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall

Scott’s Review #468

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Reviewed August 25, 2016

Grade: A

To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1962 film based on the renowned novel penned by Harper Lee, and released only two years earlier in 1960. The novel was certainly groundbreaking and the film is equally so as race and racism are front and center in the storyline The film really still is a marvel as the story is told through the eyes of a child- in present times an adult- as she reflects on her past experience. The film is set in the 1930’s in a very small Alabama town.

We follow the lives of Atticus Finch, respected lawyer and father, and his two young children- Scout and Jem. Gregory Peck as Atticus is the moral center of the film. Scout (Mary Badham) narrates and her innocence makes the story that much more compelling and less like a preachy vehicle for a social topic, which it could have been. The Finch’s are a tight family unit as Atticus is widowed, leaving Jem and Scout motherless. A poor black man-Tom- is accused of raping and beating a white woman, also poor, coached into the accusations by her racist father. We accept that the woman had designs on Tom and when caught by her horrified father, was beaten, with Tom left to take the blame.

A good deal of the film, but not too much, takes place in the courtroom, as we hear testimony by the poor woman, her father, and Tom. Not to be missed is that every juror is a white man- a sad reminder of the racism that existed and one argues still exists, though clearly not as blatant in today’s modern world. One cringes when the black attendees are forced to sit in the upper portion of the courthouse, an obvious way to demean and lessen them, and which speaks volumes for the town- we realize Tom does not have a chance, yet we hope against hope for his acquittal.

Wisely, I do not feel the point of the film is the outcome of the trial- we know what will result. But rather, the film teaches us a lesson in reality and that life is often unfair and painful. It is the after effects of the trial that is the most interesting part of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Gregory Peck was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for 1962 as he plays the liberal, progressive, honorable man. He can do no wrong and is a wonderful example for his kids. A black maid, Calpurnia, works for him, he treats her like family, and I could not think that she really is the mother figure in Jem and Scout’s lives. Atticus does the right thing, treating everyone fairly, and living a moral life. He is a wonderful example and it is no wonder why Peck won the trophy.

A sub-plot involves a mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, feared by the town kids, but turning out to be a protector and companion to Scout and Jem. This role was the first for acclaimed actor Robert Duvall- the actor having a tiny yet important role and does a great deal of expressive acting without uttering a line. The title of the film is poignant and important to the ending.

The film is really about Jem and Scout and their quick journey into the pains and unfairness endured by adults- once innocently enjoying the summer, playing games and making friends with a visiting young boy, they are exposed to evil and a hate filled racist town, which they slowly come to realize exists.

Filmed in black and white, this quality enhances the picture as the blowing leaves and dark shadows add much to the impressive cinematography and gives the film a dark quality that color would have ruined. The time period of the 1930’s is very authentic.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless film containing an important message about the world, and is a film that ought to be viewed by children and adults of every generation for a lesson in empathy and compassion. The film is not ugly or raw, but is truthful and  still feels fresh. It will resonate with all audiences patient enough to give it a good watch.

Best of Enemies-2015

Best of Enemies-2015

Director-Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon

Starring-William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal

Scott’s Review #467

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Reviewed August 19, 2016

Grade: B

Best of Enemies is a 2015 documentary that transports the viewer back in time to the 1960’s, and specifically to 1968, during the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. I found the documentary to be a nice little history lesson for me  as 1968 was before my time and the timing of my viewing (2016) was perfect as at the time of this review we are in the midst of an intense presidential race. This is an adequate slice of political debate and rivalry- differing ideologies among the central figures.

ABC Primetime news, at that time a floundering network, needed something to attract viewers, and something to compete with competitors, the much higher rated CBS and NBC. This was a time when audiences had merely three networks of news offerings to choose from. The documentary references this fact as the power of the medium of television in 1968 was quite intense and still new. I looked back fondly on the limited choices of networks then, compared to the oodles of offerings now, but everyone watched the same programming, which elicited better conversations the next day it could be argued.

ABC concocted a scheme to bring together two bitter rivals, ultra conservative, William F Buckley, and ultra liberal, Gore Vidal. the pair, obviously of differing opinions, reportedly despised each other and the possibilities electric.

I found the documentary to be very genuine- 1968 was before reality television and mock feuds to garner ratings eve existed. Their heated debates are now legendary and there was authenticity to them. The documentary is told in a structured way- Buckley and Vidal faced off during a total of ten primaries- five for the Republican primary in Florida- five for the Democratic primary in Chicago. Other than their blowups, the conversations crackled with intelligence- both men obviously passionate, and well-educated in their views.

Best of Enemies also gives an overview of both Vidal and Buckley and how they  each had come to achieve their respective fame. Interviews with family members, colleagues, and friends are interspersed in the documentary among the constant barbs between the two as the debates ravaged on.

A monumental moment occurs during the final democratic debate that would cement the loathing between Vidal and Buckley for decades to come. Continuing to debate with a snarky, condescending tone by both, tensions came to a head as Vidal referenced Buckley as a Nazi and Buckley, in turn, called Vidal a queer and threatened to sock him in the mouth. The hatred in the eyes of both men are the central point of the documentary as their rivalry knew no boundaries. The fact that this all took place on live television (before tape delay censors) made it all the more shocking.

Strangely, the documentary chose to use narrated voices by Kelsey Grammar and John Lithgow  as Buckley and Vidal, respectively, for a few segments. I found this rather unnecessary and even distracting. The voices were surmising what each felt at the time and really did not work at all.

A smart, intelligent toned documentary that shows the real birth of political pundits (now a dime a dozen) and the realism that television was at that time period- still rather novel. Today it is filled with outrageous people and those looking for their ten seconds of fame. Best of Enemies shows us the authenticity of television back in the early days and sadly, reminds us what it has now become.

The Purge: Anarchy-2014

The Purge: Anarchy-2014

Director-James DeMonaco

Starring-Frank Grillo

Scott’s Review #466

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Reviewed August 16, 2016

Grade: B

As a fan of the original The Purge, a creative, fresh modern horror film with a distinct message, I did not expect the sequel to match expectations nor to be as powerful as the original and I was right on both counts. As a stand alone film, though, it is a decent flick, having almost nothing to do with the original, save for the same premise. In fact, I hesitate to even call The Purge: Anarchy a horror film as it contains little blood, gore, or true horror elements- it is much more of a thriller.

The premise is simple- the Government sanctioned holiday of March 21st has come around again, meaning twelve hours of sanctioned mayhem, where murder, rape, and assault are all allowed without punishment to the criminals, and no police or rescue teams of any sort are available. The time period is 2023, though I am unsure why this is relevant, since there is nothing that distinguishes the year from the current year, 2016, in the story. Several protagonists fearfully hunker down for a night of safety holed up in their individual dwellings, but circumstances force them onto the streets. A mother and her teen daughter, a young couple, and a vigilante of sorts are the differing characters. The backstories of these folks are not really all that important or relevant to the film. They form a group and bond with each other.

Whereas the original kept the audience confined to one house, The Purge: Anarchy does anything but. As the group commences, the streets of Los Angeles serve as the backdrop for the action as they endlessly traverse the dark and mainly deserted streets, hiding in garbage dumpsters, tunnels, and other sources for protection.  The vigilante, who is revealed to be an off-duty police officer, has motivation, as his son was killed one year ago today, not as a result of the Purge, but by a drunk driver. The police officer is seeking his revenge via the freedom the annual Purge allows him.

The film is purely plot driven and little character development exists, however, the group is mostly likable, especially the mother and daughter. Interestingly, the film makers chose to feature multiple races and ethnic group, giving it a dose of diversity, which gets a big kudos from me.

I could not help but draw comparisons to the popular television series The Walking Dead, at several points of the film, as the group, brandishing weapons, continuously encounters thugs and enemies of every kind as they wander the streets.

A creative twist to The Purge: Anarchy involves a group of Anti-Purgers, all black, who have a following of people supporting them against the government’s protocol of allowing  an annual purging. It is made clear that the main victims of the purge holiday are the poor and the sick. Correlating with this, our group finds themselves kidnapped and taken to a lavish party where wealthy folks arrange a night of champagne and hunting as the victims are lured to their deaths while the onlookers cheer and feast in celebration. Think an Oscar party with gruesome results.

The Purge: Anarchy is a good, fun, Saturday night popcorn film that does contain a message that is worth pondering. Would society succumb to a fetish such as the annual purge if the government condoned it? Undoubtedly the film must have been influenced by the popularity of The Hunger Games in tone and theme. It is a decent film, no more-no less.

James White-2015

James White-2015

Director-Josh Mond

Starring-Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon

Scott’s Review #465

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Reviewed August 15, 2016

Grade: A

I am always struck with a warm feeling and my faith in film is reaffirmed when I am able to watch an interesting independent film (or mainstream studio film for that matter) that has the guts to tell a dark character driven story and tell it very well consisting of sympathetic characters written exceptionally well. 2015’s James White is an appreciative offering about life and death and how the main characters deal with the roadblocks of life and the effects of death. This film is quite dark, however.

A fantastic young actor, Christopher Abbott, plays the title character of James White. We meet James in a loud, frenetic nightclub as he wears headphones with soft music playing, mixing in an interesting way with the pounding beats of the club music. The audience immediately can tell that James is wound up, aggressive, and troubled. His estranged father has just died and while he is not too upset by his father’s death, he cares deeply for his mother, Gail, and is worried about her. No sooner than a service, hosted by the father’s new wife, is held, we learn that Gail is suffering from stage four cancer and will not live much longer.

The crux of the film is how James deals with his multitude of problems from his mother’s illness, to finding a job, a rocky relationship with a teen girl, and his reflections on his own life, all while filled with rage. The film takes place over a three month time period, culminating in the dead of winter, an obvious irony.

Abbott and Nixon give astounding performances as son and mother, the apple of each others eye, and how they each deal with Gail’s inevitable, impending death. James is bottled up with anger throughout most of the film and frequently needs to escape before losing it. In one amazing scene though, he does lose it during a drunken hotel bender with pals Nick and Jayne. The sheer emotion and desperation that Christopher Abbott gives during this scene is inspirational for any aspiring actor to emulate. One wonders if director Josh Mond allowed his actors to improvise most scenes as the compelling, raw feeling to many scenes is evident.

Nixon, since her fame on Sex And The City, has chosen daring and complex roles and this is certainly to her credit. As Gail, we see her desperate, emotional, filled with rage, and at times delusional, as she wonders what will become of her son after she is gone and how her world has spiraled out of control. We also see Nixon successfully play motherly as she coaches her son through his anger and pleads with him to take care of her. It is a powerful performance.

Two slight knocks to the film- James’s best friend Nick is gay (and black), but despite their differing sexual orientations, they are the closest of friends. While this aspect reaps heaps of praise for being incorporated into the film, we know very little about Nick, his family, or his inner feelings. James’s new girlfriend Jayne is also a mystery. She is significantly younger, is dutiful, but what are her motivations? Yet, given the very short run time of the film (1 hour and 27 minutes), I can see why the filmmakers chose to almost exclusively focus on the mother/son relationship. A very slight criticism.

A film such as James White is purely character driven and must be enormously rewarding for actors to play these two raw characters. A downer, to be sure, and too painful for anyone dealing with a loved one suffering from cancer, but a fantastic journey into the world of wonderful acting and dynamic screen writing.

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Top 100 Films-#99

Scott’s Review #464

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Reviewed August 14, 2016

Grade: A

Eyes Wide Shut is a film that I saw in theaters upon its release in 1999 and found it fascinating, to say the least. I have watched the film twice more in the years following and it is even more fascinating today- it gets better and more nuanced with each viewing. It is not an easy film to follow or explain, but is rich in mystery and psychologically challenging.

A huge Stanley Kubrick fan, this film is an eerie, plodding, cerebral psychological/sexual thriller. The creepy piano score is very effective, and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are both excellent as affluent, yet restless, thirtysomethings living in New York City. Cruise plays Bill, a successful doctor, and Kidman his gorgeous wife, both sexually restless and escaping into fantasy and otherwise real dalliances with other partners as they bicker about fidelity and jealousy as they lounge in their underwear and smoke pot.

It’s a film about relationships, temptation, desire, and does not always make perfect sense, but boy will it leave you thinking. The supporting characters are some of the most interesting I’ve ever seen as they compel and mystify and one wonders how they fit with the main characters. The naughty Long Island orgy is as bizarre and surreal as one can imagine.

The movie reminded me somewhat of The Ice Storm, Magnolia,and Mulholland Drive, which is the ultimate compliment as the aforementioned are film masterpieces.

Trainwreck-2015

Trainwreck-2015

Director-Judd Apatow

Starring-Amy Schumer, Bill Hader

Scott’s Review #463

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Reviewed August 13, 2016

Grade: B

Trainwreck is a raunchy 2015 comedy/romantic comedy that lends its success largely to its star. Amy Schumer makes this film as good as it can be (after all, she wrote it) and despite the raunchy, brazen, girl power themes that are currently the popular trend in films of this genre, Trainwreck has some laughs and good times thrown in, thanks to Schumer. Directed by Judd Apatow, who has successfully directed a gazillion of these types of films in modern times. The film does teeter off into predictability toward the conclusion. It has it’s moments of fun and is not boring.

Unapologetic, sexually promiscuous, and boozy, Schumer plays a successful magazine writer (Amy) given an assignment she despises- interview a sports medicine doctor, named  Aaron (played by SNL alum, Bill Hader).  Amy hates sports and knows nothing about them- she also goes from man to man, nothing serious, and is currently dating a sexy bodybuilder named Steven (John Cena), who she thinks may be gay. Predictably, Amy and Aaron fall in love.

In typical fashion, Trainwreck contains many stereotypical characters or characters who are merely there to bounce off of the main action- SNL alum Vanessa Bayer, and Tilda Swinton are the most obvious examples, as the loyal best friend and rigid, type A boss, respectively. Brie Larson and Colin Quinn co-star as Amy’s family members. Both give one-note performances that are fine, but unspectacular and one surmises that Brie Larson agreed to this role before her Oscar winning turn in Room.

Despite the comedy clichés, however, I had some good fun with Trainwreck. Schumer is quite likable as the ordinary girl- think of her as the new Melissa McCarthy- that many people can relate to. I am not sure Schumer and Hader had the best chemistry, but the point was more that she found love with a “regular” guy, a tad dull, to counter-balance her big, loud personality. And they do make a charming pair.

Some scenes really work. When Amy encourages a naked Steven to “talk dirty to her” in the bedroom and he attributes everything to bodybuilding, the scene is very funny. Others, as when Amy and Steven banter with an angry couple at the movie theater, fall flat.

Certainly not high art, for the raunchy comedy genre, Trainwreck is a treat and entertaining to watch, in large part due to the comedic talents of Amy Schumer. More often than not, when the masses rave about a current comedy as being “great”, I am usually disappointed. While Trainwreck is not great, it is good, with some laughs. Otherwise, it is a rather by the numbers film.

Café Society-2016

Café Society-2016

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #462

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Reviewed August 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Having received sub-par reviews, but nonetheless wanting to see this film for myself, as it is a Woody Allen film, and I have yet to see an Allen film I did not like, I traversed to my local theater to see this flick. I was not disappointed, though others clearly did not share my opinion.

To love Woody Allen films is to love quirky characters who are either neurotic, damaged, or more often than not, both. Also notable to Café Society is the stellar cast of who’s who- many in small cameo roles, but which is a another trademark of Woody Allen films. Marisa Tomei, Daniel Radcliffe, and Anna Camp (True Blood) have very small roles as do forgotten stars such as Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks), and Tony Sirico (The Sopranos). Additionally, Woody Allen himself narrates the film- a highlight.

The main stars of Café Society, though, are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, both perfectly cast. The setting (which I adored) is 1930’s Hollywood and the action traverses between California and New York City- another common bond of Allen films. Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a Jewish son of a working class jeweler, and has many siblings. Tired of New York, he flies to Los Angeles to obtain work with his hot shot Uncle Phil, played by Steve Carrell, who knows every celebrity under the sun. There, he meets Vonnie (Stewart) and they fall in love, Bobby unaware of her on and off love affair with Phil.

The set and costume designs are to die for and, being a fan of this glamorous time in history, is a wonderful treat from a visual perspective. Café Society is a prime example of a film that feels authentic and true to its time period rather than appearing staged with actors merely dressed in appropriate attire. This is tougher to achieve than one might imagine.

Despite opinions of the contrary, I enjoyed how most of the characters were wishy washy and unsure of their motivations or feelings toward other characters. Vonnie loves Phil, then she warms to Bobby, who has been in love with her since their first meeting as she innocently showed him around the palatial mansions of Hollywood.  She is real to Bobby, but then makes a decision and becomes everything that she once despised about Hollywood- a shallow trophy wife.

Ironically, back in New York, Bobby then becomes involved with a stunning new woman with the same name as his ex. The importance of this coincidence is crucial to the film’s point. He transfers his feelings to another woman, but is he really happy?

It did not bother me, though perhaps it should have, that several characters were introduced for a scene or two and then mysteriously dropped.  For instance, the novice hooker, Candy, having tried to make it as an actress and failed, has a heart of gold. But after her awkward attempt at a tryst with Bobby, the character is never seen again.

Another characteristic of the film that I enjoyed is the natural, overlapping dialogue between the characters. It makes them that much more genuine and harkens back to my fondness for Robert Altman films, who used a similar technique with his actors.

The point of Café Society is that nobody really ever gets what they want or, the film is making  a point of, nobody ever really knows what they want. Containing elements common to other Woody Allen films, Café Society is intended for fans of his lengthy body of work.

Girl, Interrupted-1999

Girl, Interrupted-1999

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #461

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Reviewed August 8, 2016

Grade: B+

Girl, Interrupted is a film that I had viewed twice when it came out (1999) and recently viewed again in 2013. The film is a star making performance for Angelina Jolie (unknown before this) and warrants a watch just for that alone. Jolie completely steals the show as she portrays a damaged mental patient during the 1960’s.

The film itself is interesting as it’s intended star is Winona Ryder, at this point in her heyday, but completely usurped by Jolie- glaringly so. Ryder was in prime form when she was the “it” girl during the 1990’s. Sadly, her star has since faded.

Besides the “who is the real star of Girl, Interrupted” saga, the film itself is very good, though it has a glossy, happily ever after, Hollywood, vibe to it. It is not as gritty as it could have been.

Throughout, the film has a very safe feel- even moments of peril, as when one girl commits suicide, or another suffers from burns, it feels light. I did not buy Whoopi Goldberg as the kindhearted nurse. Her performance was okay, but really nothing special. Ryder and Jolie are tops.

Despite the subject matter the film suffers from a chick-flick, cliché, happy ending sort of style, but despite all of this, I still immensely enjoy the film.

Holidays-2016

Holidays-2016

Director-Anthony Scott Burns, Miscellaneous

Starring-Jocelin Donohue, Sophie Traub

Scott’s Review #460

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Reviewed August 7, 2016

Grade: A-

While perusing my Netflix streaming new releases options , I stumbled upon an intriguing choice with an interesting premise. Eight varying horror vignettes all set in a holiday theme, aptly named Holidays. The description of the stories harkens back to the days of the beloved Showtime Masters of Horrors  series that featured macabre horror shorts. Not all eight offerings are spectacular, but the ones that standout are dynamic if not downright creepy.

Set in chronological order, Holidays begins with a story centered on Valentine’s Day- a clear homage to the horror classic Carrie. A taunted female teenager nicknamed “Maxi-Pad” by her cruel nemesis is encouraged to dive into the high school pool by her male coach to retrieve a brick, presumably to conquer her fear of swimming or water. The coach, who Maxi is in love with, is in need of a heart transplant, so Maxi goes to morbid lengths to assist him and exact revenge on her tormentor.

In Father’s Day, a young female teacher receives a mysterious cassette tape from her long estranged father, leading her on an adventure in an abandoned area, in an attempt to now locate her father, wonderfully voiced by actor Michael Gross. The voice tones and static sound of the audio tape lend a great deal to the intrigue and suspense of the story.

Along with the Valentine’s Day story, the Christmas and New Year’s Eve segments are my personal favorites as each are exceptional and creative. On Christmas Eve, a young father attempts to buy the last virtual reality device for his son, but when he leaves a stranger to die in order to obtain it, he becomes haunted by the device. On New Year’s Eve, a male serial killer looks for his next victim, a lonely woman desperate for an online date, but once they return to her house for sex, who becomes the hunter and who becomes the victim?

Other holidays featured in either too bizarre to make perfect sense or less compelling stories, but still worth mentioning, are St. Patrick’s day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Halloween.

I adore the holiday theme that this film cleverly features and the wonder of which holiday will come next and exactly how it will be incorporated into the story is wonderful fun. Specifically, the Christmas story reminds me of a classic Twilight Zone episode in which betraying an unknown stranger for personal gain leads to guilt and conflict for the main character.

A few of the stories focus on the traditions of the featured holidays, like the legendary snakes of St. Patrick’s day or the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, as a frightened young girl becomes terrified of the folklore involved. This is incorporated with the  legend of the Easter bunny delivering candy as the confused girl cannot separate fairy tale from reality, which makes me wonder if the director’s point was to question the silliness of religion if one were to dissect it enough.

Other themes are revenge as in the Halloween and Valentine’s Day episodes.  Both feature bullies in one way or another, each getting their due in the end.  I wish more anthologies like Holidays were made as it was a fascinating, late night joy to watch this feature.

Theeb-2015

Theeb-2015

Director-Naji Abu Nowar

Starring-Jacir Eid

Scott’s Review #459

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Reviewed August 4 , 2016

Grade: B+

An Arabic spoken foreign language film that received a 2015 nomination for Best Foreign Language film, Theeb is an old world film set in 1916 during the time of the Ottoman empire. The event is  World War I as an Englishman battles Arabs and nobody can be trusted. The film is largely shot in the smoldering Arabian desert (in Jordan) and told from the perspective of a child- named Theeb. Despite the very slow pace of the film, it actually makes the moments of action even more important and the film has a grainy quality to it that makes it somewhat of a bizarre Arabian western.

Theeb lives in a small village run by his father and older brother, Hussein. One night a mysterious Arab man and an Englishman arrive in the village seeking a guide to take them to a Roman well, close to the Ottoman railway. The mission is feared a dangerous one, as the trail they must take is riddled with bandits, not to mention, the Englishman is in possession of a box containing gold, making him a vulnerable target. Theeb, left behind because he is so young, follows and joins them, much to the groups chagrin. Predictably, trouble ensues and Theeb must fend for himself.

What I enjoyed about this film is its unpredictability in what happens after the group faces danger. Sure, when the foursome sets out on a trail led by camels, we know bad stuff will happen. But, finally left to his own devices, I was intrigued as to how Theeb would face his new challenges, having up until now been protected by his family. In ways, Theeb reminded me of another adventure film, Life Of Pi, though Theeb is a much darker film. Both feature a young, non-American male of Indian or Middle Eastern background, forced to survive largely on his own.

The John Boorman classic, Deliverance, also came to mind during one dark scene, as Theeb and Hussein cower amongst rocky caves while their devilish pursuers taunt and whistle at them mockingly from below. The hunter vs. victim component is front and center and it is kill or be killed.

Later, an interesting bond develops between Theeb and one of the raiders (Hassan) as both are mistrustful of each other. Will they forge the bond or will one betray the other? The answer to this question emerges during the final moments of the film and the buildup is very compelling. I was aware of the father and son dynamic mixed in with the friend and enemy. When Theeb treats Hassan’s wounds there is a tenderness on the exterior, but is Theeb really fully kind to Hassan?

A slight negative for me existed in that I did not buy that the time period was the early 20th century, but rather, everyone looked and acted so modern, as if they were merely dressed up for their parts….as they were. Perhaps it had to do with the hairstyles or mannerisms.

Shot entirely in Wadi Rum, Jordan, a gorgeous part of the world, the desert and big sky lend much to the ambiance this creates. It was almost like being in the old, wild west and an ode to old western films, only set in the Arabic world.

The entire cast, save for the Englishman, are non-actors, an amazing achievement, and a measure that creates an obvious level of realism that rehearsed actors cannot always bring to the table.

Originally meant to be a short film only, Theeb emerged as a full length feature and I am glad it did, as it has enough meat to warrant a longer duration. The film is a cinematic wonder with a psychological edge.