Halloween II-1981

Halloween II-1981

Director-Rick Rosenthal

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence

Scott’s Review #505

569099

Reviewed October 31, 2016

Grade: A

The follow-up to the surprise 1978 cult classic, independently made Halloween- directed by legend John Carpenter,  Halloween II was made in 1981. In real life it is three years later, but in the film picking up immediately where the original left off in a chronological sense- the infamous night Michael Myers came home to brutalize the town where he killed his sister years earlier. This is an excellent plot point that makes this film successful as it takes the viewer immediately back to that infamous night. Halloween II is one of my personal favorite film sequels.

Despite not directing Halloween II, John Carpenter, along with Debra Hill, both wrote the script so that they are, thankfully, heavily involved in the production of this film, giving it authenticity and familiarity. So much so that Halloween and Halloween II can be watched back to back- like one long film.

Michael Myers path of destruction continues in the sleepy, suburban town of Haddonfield, Illinois. This point looms large in this fantastic sequel and we are treated to a direct transition from original to sequel. The events switch from babysitter territory to the community hospital as new characters- mostly doctors, nurses, and ambulance people are introduced to the story, Laurie’s friends are sadly deceased.  Certainly, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence) are the main stars of the film and by the climax take center stage.

As a recap- the determined Loomis shot Michael Myers several times as he tumbled off of a balcony to his presumed death. In spectacular fashion, the original Halloween brilliantly set the stage for a sequel, as Myers survives and disappears into the night-whereabouts unknown. Now hours later, Laurie is transported to Haddonfield hospital for treatment.  While there, the hospital staff do their best to protect her, but are subsequently offed one by one by the crazed killer, who finds his way into the (conveniently!) deserted hospital.

A great quality to Halloween II is that it is gorier than it’s predecessor. More characters are sliced and diced in unceremoniously brutal fashion. One has her blood drained, another is stabbed in the eye with a syringe. Yet another is repeatedly dunked into scalding water. And then there is the traditional knife in the back.

In contrast to many other slasher films, the supporting cast of characters are quite likable and they are given little back stories of their own- a great touch. Bud- the wise cracking ambulance driver is dating Nurse Karen. Jimmy, a handsome orderly, takes a shine to Laurie. Mixed in with the clearly heavy horror are nice comic moments, as when Nurse Janet ineptly tries to assist the hospital security guard- the bumbling Mr. Garrett, with a walkie-talkie, or when Head Nurse Mrs. Alves scolds the staff for being tardy. We grow to care for these characters, in their little night-shift family, so that their inevitable demises hit home.

The chilling music- so instrumental to the success of the original- is slightly modernized into more of a keyboard style sound. This gives a slicker, more commercial appeal. Not to take away from the brilliance of the original score, but it is nice to hear a change- giving a fresher, more contemporary sound, rather than simply copying the same music.

Admittedly, Halloween II is not quite on par with Halloween, but that is asking the impossible. Halloween is a masterpiece, but Halloween II holds its own and is more than adequate as a sequel having large shoes to fill. Thanks to many of the same creators involved, it does not lose its edge nor its relevance all these years later.

Halloween: H2O-1998

Halloween: H2O-1998

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin

Scott’s Review #504

16915002

Reviewed October 30, 2016

Grade: B

Halloween: H2O is the seventh installment of the Halloween franchise, though only associated story-wise with Halloween and Halloween II. Made in 1998, the film capitalized on the twenty year anniversary of the original classic horror film. To measure up to that masterpiece would be an impossibility, but the film is not bad on its own merits and nice odes to the past are peppered into the story making for a film franchise pleaser. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role that made her famous.

Before we are even re-introduced to Curtis’s character, we are treated to a nostalgic scene involving chain smoking Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) from parts I and II. Her house is vandalized by Michael Myers as he steals a file she has kept on Laurie Strode. How nice to see this character back in the fray- though her screen time is limited. She is pivotal to the kick-off of the new story.

Laurie (Curtis) has faked her death and is now living life anew in California- running a prep school as its headmistress. Her son John (Josh Hartnett) attends the school and her boyfriend Will (Adam Arkin) teaches there.  John’s girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), a poetic security guard (LL Cool J), and a dizzy secretary, Mrs. Watson,(Janet Leigh) round out the cast.

For the past twenty years, Laurie has been troubled by the notion of Michael Myers returning to kill her and clearly her fears come to fruition. The film has an interesting slant- no longer is Laurie the victim, cowering in cars and corners. Now, she is intent on exacting her own revenge on Michael- her brother. She wants this long chapter in her life finally closed.

What nods to history this film contains!  And is really the best part of it. Otherwise, without the history, it would be a run of the mill slasher film. Besides the obvious Michael/Laurie connection, what a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis’s real-life mother (and original scream queen herself), Janet Leigh. Furthermore, her character’s car is the exact make and model, and same license plate, from 1960’s Psycho, in which she starred- a brilliant treat for horror and classic film fans.

The film also uses some impressive stylistic choices- the use of mirrors and reflections are used successfully, as well as events occurring in the background- seen by the audience, but not the other characters are well used.

Halloween: H2O contains several young, up and coming stars, who, years later, would be big stars (Hartnett, Williams, and a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Who new these talents got their starts in one of the greatest horror franchises?

Let’s be clear- Halloween: H2O is not a masterpiece- far from it. The horror clichés run rampant- the silly, supporting characters (friends of John and Molly’s) eager to drink and party and clearly meant for comic relief, in addition to the LL Cool J character. These characters are stock types. Predictably, we more than once think that Michael Myers is finally dead- only to resurface- perfectly timed to the plot.

The inevitable standoff between Laurie and Michael Myers is well done and a satisfying conclusion to a fantastic franchise. Laurie gets her revenge while Myers gets his just desserts in dramatic fashion.

Night Catches Us-2010

Night Catches Us-2010

Director-Tanya Hamilton

Starring-Kerry Washington, Anthony Mackie

Scott’s Review #503

70129370

Reviewed October 29, 2016

Grade: B+

Night Catches Us, as a film, has some very good qualities and is quite captivating and interesting to watch. Largely, it is set during the 1970’s in Philadelphia and encompasses racial tensions during that time. Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie star and do a very nice job with the material given.

The film tells the story of a former 1960s Black Panther (Mackie) who returns home after a decade to start his life over- or so he hopes. Night Catches Us is a combination love story and political/social commentary and is an important film to watch.

The leads, along with Wendell Pierce are great and the real life 1960s Black panther rally footage is interesting to see from a historical perspective. My only criticism is I wanted a bit more.

Certain events seemed plot driven and forced- slightly clichéd in the romance department, but overall I enjoyed the film very much, especially for Mackie and Washington’s performances. Great acting and socially relevant story.

Sweetgrass-2010

Sweetgrass-2010

Director-Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Scott’s Review #502

70128353

Reviewed October 28, 2016

Grade: F

While generally I am an advocate and champion of the film documentary- I always love to learn something new- Sweetgrass had a strange effect on me- simply put-I despised the film. Even if the subject matter is such that it does not particularly interest me, it will usually garner at least some recognition and praise for what it is.

Sweetgrass is a documentary about a group of sheepherders from Montana transporting their herd to another location- it was unclear to me why the sheep were being transported or where to, but I assume rather close by. The documentary contains no narrative and little dialogue except one of the sheepherders ranting and raving about how tough it is to be a sheepherder, all the while smoking incessantly.

Most of the time is spent literally watching sheep and sheep and sheep and sheep- and still more sheep wandering about and drifting down a mountain range.  Then we see still more sheep moving about. As my mind began to wander, I began to wonder if the sheep were a metaphor of some kind. Then some dogs and horses were thrown in for good measure.

The location scenes are nothing special and after a brief five minutes of appreciation of the gorgeous landscape I was over it.

At 1 hour and 45 minutes in length- way too long for a documentary that moves along at a snail’s pace- it is about an hour too long for my tastes.

After pondering the film, my only determination is that the film makers were hoping to give the viewers a real-life slice of what it is like to be a sheep herder- snore! I would have much rather experienced interviews and commentary with some merit on the subject.

Worse than the redundancy of the pacing, the constant mistreatment of some of the sheep is inexcusable and really has no bearing on the topic at hand- which I confess to being unsure what the point of the documentary even was- other than as a cure for insomnia. Sweetgrass is a complete waste of time.

Machete-2010

Machete-2010

Director-Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba

Scott’s Review #501

70125125

Reviewed October 28, 2016

Grade: B

Machete is a clear, fun homage to exploitation films of the 1970’s movies. directed by Robert Rodriguez (a protege of Quentin Tarantino) and quite heavily influenced by his mentor. In fact, it very much resembles a Tarantino film- the comic, over-the-top elements, the violence, but is somewhat less compelling in the story department, and lacks the crisp, rich storytelling.

It tells the story of a Mexican ex Federale (named Machete) involved in a plot to kill a horribly corrupt United States Senator (played by Robert De Niro). He attempts to flee Mexico for Texas, is shot, and spends the remainder of the film vowing revenge on his assailants.

Machete contains many celebrity cameos and is fun to watch- in a light way. The film is not intended to be looked upon in a serious way. For the interested, you also get to see Lindsay Lohan topless.

The film is a fun, violent, popcorn flick,with a nice political message, but if interested in these types of movies, rent Grindhouse: Planet Terror, which is a better experience.

Kisses-2008

Kisses-2008

Director-Lance Daly

Starring-Kelly O’Neill, Shane Curry

Scott’s Review #500

70109157

Reviewed October 28, 2016

Grade: B+

Kisses is an Irish film that tells the story of two pre-teenage kids (Dylan and Kylie), who run away to Dublin on Christmas to escape their dysfunctional families and their small town, morose life, instead being attracted to the “big city” and the hope of finding Dylan’s older brother, himself having run away to escape the oppressive environment.

At first Dylan and Kylie barely know each other, neighbors, but far from close. Gradually they become best friends and form an unbreakable bond. While in Dublin, they face terror and charming moments of wonderment as they traverse the city, mainly at nighttime.

Great acting and chemistry from the two leads, especially being untrained actors. Kylie- an extrovert and full of life, successfully brings out the best in Dylan, who is reserved and withdrawn, so the pair compliment each other as they experience their adventures.

The cinematography is fantastic as one gets to experience the hustle and bustle of Dublin, and the quiet countryside of a small Irish town, which is an immense treat, and a contradiction in lifestyles.

What Happened, Miss Simone?-2015

What Happened, Miss Simone?-2015

Director-Liz Garbus

Starring-Nina Simone

Scott’s Review #499

70308063

Reviewed October 25, 2016

Grade: B+

Nina Simone, who died in 2003 at the age of seventy, was an iconic singer and pianist with a musical style all her own. As important as her soulful musical creativity, Simone was also a civil rights activist during the restless 1960’s, and was outspoken about black power and racial discrimination- leading to much controversy. What Happened, Miss Simone tells her story in a thorough, rich fashion.

Executive produced by her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, who is interviewed throughout the documentary, the piece is standard fare, using a multitude of interviews and performances by Simone. We experience her upbringing in North Carolina, her acceptance into the prestigious Juilliard, her families reliance on her for money, and her years of struggle performing in dingy night clubs.

I loved seeing the old clips of her performances- they are raw, gritty, and full of something special- poetic almost. Simone had trouble relaxing as she gave every ounce of energy in her shows and knew no other way to be.

Simone is like no other and the documentary does not need to explain this point- her performances tell it all. Not one to phone in a performance and arguably not really “performing” at all, Simone was as real as they come- immersing herself into her music – and often times seeming to drift off into another reality.

As an activist, Nina Simone is shown to be controversial- not against supporting violence by blacks against whites in the name of freedom. Simone had tumultuous relationships with both her husband and daughter- having claimed to have been beaten repeatedly and forced to work.

Clear comparisons to other singers such as Aretha Franklin are explored, but there is an edgy element to Simone that others singers of that day did not have- she had a style all her own and did not “play the game” to achieve her success- instead choosing to only be true to herself. This is not a slight against Franklin, but the documentary states that if Simone had been happier, she might have had more commercial appeal, but would she have been satisfied with that? I doubt it as she was an intense soul.

Shocking to me are claims of physical abuse vocalized by her daughter, but this is explained away as a result of her mental illness and not herself at times. Prescription drugs and diagnoses were not what they are now in those days.

From a critical perspective, the documentary delivers what it is supposed to- an overview of this amazing talent- warts and all. We basically see her from child until retiree, and cannot help but pity her in a way because of her apparent mental illness, which caused her not always to be the charming celebrity we would want her to be. What Happened, Miss Simone helped me to learn something fresh about an artist I was unfamiliar with and that is what a documentary should do.

April Fool’s Day-1986

April Fool’s Day-1986

Director-Fred Walton

Starring-Amy Steel, Jay Baker

Scott’s Review #498

60024022

Reviewed October 24, 2016

Grade: B-

Emerging at the tale end of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s slasher film craze that encompassed that period in cinema (for better or worse), April Fool’s Day capitalized on the “holiday theme” marketing tool that escalated Halloween and Black Christmas to superstar ranks.

Unfortunately, for this film, it is not a traditional horror flick, in that is has plenty of comic elements, but also contains the standard slasher characteristics, thereby making it a blockbuster failure. Is does not know what its identity truly is. From a story perspective, the film has one great twist, but otherwise suffers from mediocre writing and unmemorable characters that nobody cares about.

We are treated to an ensemble of actors, mostly of the unknown variety, except for horror maven Amy Steel, (Friday the 13th Part 2), who portrays Kit, arguably the most relatable of the female characters . A clever facet, weaved by director Fred Walton, is the casting of eight principals in April Fool’s Day, all with similar amounts of screen time, rather than one obvious “final girl” surrounded by minor characters, who we know will be offed.

The set-up is all too familiar in the slasher genre- the group of college-aged kids escapes mundane life for a spring break weekend getaway at their wealthy classmates, Muffy St. John’s, island estate. Conveniently, her family is away- leaving the friends to have the run of the mansion, with a dinner party as part of the plan. Even more convenient is that the ferry the group takes does not run on weekends, so once they are dropped off at the island, there they stay until Monday. This sense of foreshadowing gets the anticipated peril and dread going.

We also sense that there is something very off with Muffy- despite being everyone’s friend. When Muffy finds a jack-in-the-box stored in her attic, and has a childhood recollection, we know this is the set-up to the mystery. Is she mentally unstable? Is someone out to get Muffy for a childhood prank or event that once occurred?

Since it is April Fool’s Day weekend, the groups spends most of the film playing pranks and amateurish jokes on each other (a whoopee cushion, an exploding cigar), mixed with a dash of intrigue- someone is leaving trails of past history as part of the jokes. One girl had an abortion, so the prankster leaves an audio tape of a baby crying. In another room, heroin paraphernalia is left for someone with a former drug habit. Slowly, one by one, the college kids disappear one by one, but is it just a hoax? Or is the hoax just a hoax?

The final twenty minutes or so is really the main reason to watch this film. As Kit and boyfriend Rob are the last remaining “alive” there is suddenly a startling twist that changes the entire dynamic of the film- in one moment everything the audience thinks of the story is turned upside down-this is wise writing, but comes too late in the game.

Sadly, some parts of the film are downright silly and most of the characters are of the stock variety- the flirtatious blonde, the obnoxious jocks, the stuck-up preppy, which ruins the creative twist that is aforementioned.

With glimpses of genius and striving for something more clever than the standard, run of the mill 1980’s horror film, April Fool’s Day has some potential, but ultimately winds up with something missing and heaps of unearthed potential.

The Seventh Seal-1957

The Seventh Seal-1957

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Scott’s Review #497

70127971

Reviewed October 23, 2016

Grade: A

The Seventh Seal is an Ingmar Bergman Swedish masterpiece that, after three mere viewings, I am just beginning to fully appreciate, and fall in love with. It is not that I did not “get” the dark, artsy theme to begin with- I did, but The Seventh Seal is a savory dish meant for repeated offerings and with each, I have loved it even more. The subject matter of the plague and of the Black Death are very heavy. It is a quiet,yet powerful, dark, art film about death.

The film is shot in black and white, which does nothing but enhance the cold, stark concepts of the film. Color would have certainly made the film more cheery or bright- if that can be said given the subject matter. Instead, the filming is cold, yet illuminating, and the whites seem very white- the blacks- very dark, which is symbolic of the films concepts.

In the story, a disillusioned medieval knight-Antonius Block (Max von Sydow)  returns home from war disenchanted with life. He has fought in the Crusades and has returned home to Sweden to find it plagued by the Black Death. He begins to play a game of chess-alone- and is visited by Death- a hideous pale creature shrouded in black. Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess- his fate left up in the air so long as the game continues. Throughout the film, Antonius is the only character who can see Death- the other characters cannot, making the film open to interpretations.

The other characters in the story are a troupe of actors that Antonius meets along the way to his castle and a young, fresh-faced girl who has been branded a witch and is fated to be burned at the stake is featured. Since she is close to death, Antonius takes particular fascination with her.

Throughout the film and the trials and tribulations of the characters, Death is continuously lurking around, watching these characters, which is a fascinating part of the film. They, obviously, cannot see him, so we can only assume their time in this world is limited.

What makes The Seventh Seal so powerful is its honesty- harsh as it is. The knowledge that death is coming for these people is fascinating and many of the characters discuss god in length, pray, as religion is an enormous aspect of the film. It almost contains a good vs. evil, god vs. devil component, and again, important to stress, is highly open to interpretation. Great art films are.

Numerous scenes reverberate and are major iconic moments in film history decades later. The scene of Antonius and Death playing chess on the beach is chilling and ghost-like. Death- his pale face and black cloak would frighten anyone. This scene has been referenced numerous times over the years.

The inevitable final shot- my favorite- is a long shot of peasants being led to their fate by Death as they are pulled begrudgingly by a rope held by Death is reminiscent of the Pied Piper and is entitled “dance of death”. The individuals are dressed in black and are atop a hill surrounded by sky, making the morbid scene highly effective. The Last Supper scene is also powerful as a last meal is enjoyed by the group- unsure of what fate has in store for them the next day.

I anticipate more viewings of this brilliant piece of film making.

Show Me Love-1998

Show Me Love-1998

Director-Lukas Moodysson

Starring-Alexandra Dahlstrom, Rebecca Liljeberg

Scott’s Review #496

60000454

Reviewed October 22, 2016

Grade: B

Throughout the latter part of the 1990’s, films with more of an LGBT perspective (then simply referred to as the gay and lesbian genre) were being released more readily, though it was not until the 2000’s when mainstream offerings on the subject (Monster, Brokeback Mountain) hit the big screen to wide acclaim. Show Me Love is a Swedish coming of age story about two high school girls, polar opposites in social acceptance, who find love. Interestingly, the film was directed by a male- Lukas Moodysson.

Show Me Love originally had a different title, a crude reference to the town the film is set in, in western Sweden, but when the film was considered for Academy award contention (it did not make the cut), filmmakers were advised to modify the title for the film to have any shot. The film contains a grainy look- using hand held cameras in parts and, of course, is in the Swedish language.

Agnes is sullen, introverted, and brooding. Known throughout the high school hallways as the angry, weird lesbian, she has few friends, and the ones who are kind to her, she shuns away. Elin, by contrast, is popular, lively, and charming- everybody loves her. However, Elin is restless in the tiny Swedish town where she lives, and yearns for excitement. When Agnes develops a crush on Elin, she confesses all to her computer, but nobody else.

The film is nicely put together and given the time period of 1998, is quite brave. Today, many years having past and progress within the LGBT community made, a film like Show Me Love is a more common occurrence. Director, Moodysson, does not go for anything gratuitous or steamy in nature, but rather spins a sweet coming of age tale, not only of teen love and hormones, but of outcasts and feelings of loneliness. It’s a film that most can relate to in some way.

The actresses portraying the leads (Dahlstrom and Liljeberg) are fantastic in their roles and play the parts with conviction and believability. Despite being opposites, we buy their attraction and chemistry. Nothing is forced or dishonest.

Favorite scenes of mine are the awkward 16th birthday party for Agnes, thrown by her well meaning yet clueless parents. When nobody except a handicapped girl show up, Agnes viciously insults her, causing her to leave. The family sits in the living room eating the food that was planned for anticipated guests. It’s a poignant moment and rather sweet. Despite Agnes’s unpopularity at school, she has a very strong, loyal family unit- that is nice to see.

Later, Elin and her sister to attend the party, but more as an excuse to avoid another one. Finally, Elin and Agnes share a kiss, but is it a mean dare or is it authentic?

A clever aspect of the film is how Moodysson distinguishes both Elin and Agnes’s sexuality. Agnes is clearly gay and is open and out. Elin is very different in this way and has boys interested in her for days. The girls could not be more different and this adds a layer of complexity as each is in a different place in self discovery. This feature also makes Show Me Love very honest in its storytelling.

The film is not a masterpiece and certainly could have dared to venture into more controversial territory. Could they be harmed for being lesbians given the town they live in? Why is Agnes so sullen? This is a stereotype (the brooding lesbian) that needs to be changed- though given the time of the film, I will give a slight pass. Why not make Agnes a happy, cheerful girl who is gay? How will Elin’s sister deal with Elin’s sexuality or is it merely a phase for her? All sorts of darker issues might have been explored, but Show Me Love is tender, sweet, and lighter fare, but still an adventurous offering.

Creed-2015

Creed-2015

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #495

80058397

Reviewed October 16, 2016

Grade: C+

Creed will certainly please die-hard fans (and there are legions) of the Rocky franchise, eager for a trip down memory lane to revisit with Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky Balboa”. For those yearning for a slice of nostalgia and a harkening back to 1976, when the first Rocky was released, Creed will be a crowd pleaser. For others expecting something new or innovative to the story will not be as satisfied. The film is predictable for sure, with all of the expected elements of a sports film.

Instead of Rocky Balboa being the main attraction- he is now a senior citizen and long since retired, now owning a modest Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, the action centers on a young fighter- bastard child of Apollo Creed- Rocky’s nemesis turned friend from the first few installments. Adonis Johnson Creed (played by up and coming star Michael B. Jordan) is his name and until rescued from a group home (he has a temper and fights a lot, naturally) by Apollo’s wife (Phylicia Rashad) he does not know fighting is truly in his blood. Determined to make it big in the boxing world, he moves to Philadelphia and convinces Rocky Balboa to train him. Along the way he meets a love interest-Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson), a musician.

The main positives for me are the nods to past history and a few sentimental moments throughout the film. How wonderful to see Rocky Balboa again- like catching up with an old friend we have not seen for years. We learn that sadly, Paulie and Adrian (Rocky’s brother-in-law and wife) have long since died and a sweet moment shows Rocky visiting their side by side graves, pulling up a chair, and reading the newspaper to them. Rocky’s son has moved far away so Rocky is left a lonely man- and Apollo’s son revives a father figure element within Rocky.

Also nice are some flashback scenes to the earlier Rocky films and we see portions of Rocky’s and Apollo’s fights. The plethora of external Philadelphia scenes do bring authenticity and familiarity to the film and this is a wise decision, instead of too many interior scenes in a studio.

Otherwise, the film is largely  a miss. The formulaic, predictability must have been intentional to make Creed an ode to fans and a film that is easy to watch.  We are served the many “inspirational” training scenes as Adonis trains and trains for the big match- with conveniently an arrogant, loud, Londoner, with an equally unlikable coach. The “good vs. bad” mentality that the film develops is contrived and completely plot driven- it makes Adonis that much more likable and gives him the rooting factor. This occurs time and time again in sports films. Why not make both fighters nice guys? But, of course, the film also gives Adonis a temper- to insure that he appeals to the testosterone driven fans expecting such.

Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson are clearly stock characters- we get the standard reaction shots from both as they wince along with the blows that Adonis receives, and Rashad gets an unintentional comic moment- when Adonis lands a flattening blow on his opponent, she proudly professes “that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”. Interesting to note however, is the clever decision to make Bianca suffer from progressive hearing loss. Having her handicapped gives her a nice humanity, though once the fight scenes begin this is never mentioned again.

A standard boxing film with the expected elements- testosterone, brutal fighting, a bit of sentimentality for good measure, and dutiful female characters with little substance, Creed is a guys movie, basic and predictable, with little edge and lots of machismo. However, it does capitalize on the Rocky franchise and offers a nice little nod to the past. Otherwise, it is a rather forgettable film with a mediocre story.

Songs My Brother Taught Me-2015

Songs My Brother Taught Me-2015

Director-Chloe Zhao

Starring-John Reddy, Jashaun St. John

Scott’s Review #494

80038286

Reviewed October 14, 2016

Grade: B+

Songs My Brother Taught me is quite the understated film experience, but despite the slow pace, I found the film of great interest. The Native American population is largely ignored in cinema (and perhaps other avenues) so what a treat it was to see a film, albeit a small, quite film, being made to represent this group of people. The film is produced by Forest Whitaker- undoubtedly the funding necessary was responsible for allowing it to be made at all.

Living on an Indian reservation in remote South Dakota, the story focuses on Lakota Sioux brother and sister Johnny and Jashaun- aged 16 and 11, respectively. When their father dies in a house fire, they are forced to ponder their future within the Indian reservation, and also their desires to escape their lives and move to Los Angeles with Johnny’s girlfriend- also an inhabitant of the land.

The film is largely a slice of life on a reservation and the trials and tribulations of the members who live there. Johnny’s mother- a kindhearted yet boozy young woman, who has another son in prison. Jashaun’s mentor- a tattooed man who is a creative and attends alcoholics anonymous meetings, only to be caught drunk by Jashaun. A rivalry between Johnny and some rival boys develops. Finally, Johnny aspires to purchase a truck from an older gentleman. The film is laced with different facets of real-life situations- trivial to some, but an entrance into a culture most know so little about.

I found the film to be quite interesting and compelling in a very subdued way. A marvel is the frequent long views of the prairie land- sweeping winds and gorgeous scenery for miles. Many shots of both Johnny and Jashaun are featured- simply gazing into the crisp air in deep thought.

We see the conflict put upon both youngsters. Johnny, quite handsome and the object of affection by more than one young lady, yearns for a more exciting life. His girlfriend will be attending college in California- pretty and smart- she is sure to move on to success, but Johnny plans to go with her. Her brother inquires how Johnny will live with no job and no money- all valid points. Will Johnny age and remain on the reservation for the rest of his life or escape to a different world?

Jashaun- quite young-is filled with quiet energy and curiosity. She is more studious and clearly wise beyond her years. What will become of her without a father and surrounded by some unsavory types that her family knows?

Certainly not an offering for those who are intent on seeing more action than thoughtfulness, but for the patient viewer, it is a fascinating introspective treat. Songs My Brother Taught Me is a lesson in good storytelling.

The Girl on the Train-2016

The Girl on the Train-2016

Director-Tate Taylor

Starring-Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux

Scott’s Review #493

80105068

Reviewed October 12, 2016

Grade: B+

The apparent must see film of fall of 2016, with seemingly everyone flocking to see the blockbuster, I happily was able to see it shortly upon release. While containing some flaws, The Girl on a Train is a very good thriller- and a great companion piece to Gone Girl- similar in style, tone, and in a way, story. A whodunit with psychological, almost Hitchcockian elements, it navigates twists and turns to an unfortunate disappointing finale. Still, a more than adequate offering that does not bore. Based on the hit novel of the same name, which I understand is superior to the film.

First and foremost, how gorgeous was the scenic eye candy of suburban New York City, where the train chugs along the Hudson river in breathtaking beauty. Affluent houses are nestled along the river banks hidden with secrets- which is really the point of the film. Beautiful neighborhoods are often riddled with affairs, drama, and back-stabbing. The setting was perfect as was the element of the train- peering through windows to witness smoldering events.

Clearly, the standout of the film is Emily Blunt, who gives a compelling, sometimes heartbreaking turn as a boozy, jobless, young woman fraught with heartbreak after heartbreak. She finds solace on the Metro North train as she peers into a particular well-to-do house, making up stories about a young woman she re-names on a daily basis, usually while inebriated to the state of blackouts. In fact, though The Girl on the Train is not the typical “Oscar type film”, I’d argue that a potential nomination is warranted for Blunt, who is brilliant on her emotional roller coaster. Rachel fantasizes about being the strangers friend, revealing her own desperation. We quickly learn her life circumstances and feel empathy.

I anticipated an experience like Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window- Rachel Watson noticing a crime occur and somehow becomes involved in the situation. This is partly true, but different altogether. I was, however, treated to a film that never lags or waivers and the action is plenty- not in a bombs or car-chase way, but instead a circulating array of plot twists and emotions.

How wonderful to see Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow, and Justin Theroux in a big-budget, mainstream film, rather than independent small films (certainly not a knock, but good to see some wide recognition). All three knock the material they are given out of the park, and kudos to the writers for making Kudrow- in little more than a cameo- a major part of the great reveal. Arguably, Janney’s character of Detective Riley is the weakest written and seems to change motivations depending on the story shift. This is perplexing and too plot driven. In a way, the same might be said for Theroux’s character of Tom Watson, but, alas it is a thriller and this sometimes does happen in this genre.

Without giving much away, the conclusion to the film is unsatisfactory. We are given an ending that is wrapped up in a neat, tidy bow, which contradicts the rest of the film. The film is confusing, dream-like, and muddled- in a good way. We are disturbed by Rachel’s thoughts and wonder what the reality is. The climax is too clear and instead of leaving much to the imagination, we are fed a linear, straightforward, story ending, almost geared for a Hallmark television movie (gag). Wise would have been to write Rachel as still vague about her surroundings, but this does not occur.

The Girl on the Train will not re-define cinema or go down in history as fine art, but it is not intended to- it is the type of film designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, and does so. The story is above average and slick, but Blunt is worth heaps of praise and is head and shoulders above the rest of the film- and the cast- no small feat considering the talent involved. Great acting job, but the writing could have been slightly better.

I Spit on Your Grave-2010

I Spit on Your Grave-2010

Director-Steven R. Monroe

Starring-Sarah Butler

Scott’s Review #492

70138803

Reviewed October 9, 2016

Grade: B+

Too often in the horror genre, remakes of classic or cult classic gems are spewed out with high hopes, but of little worth, and more often than not, quickly forgotten, fading into oblivion. This is not the case with I Spit on Your Grave.

I Spit on Your Grave is a 2010 remake of the original film from 1978 and just as disturbing. Having seen the original and being shocked at the content, I did not expect the same of the re-telling. Much to my surprise, this version contains the same intensity and is fraught with brutality- however, not in an unnecessary way.

The film tells the story of a young writer who leaves the hustle and  bustle of New York City for a couple of months rest and relaxation in the country to work on a novel she is writing.  While there, she is brutally raped by a bunch of local men.  As terrible as this is, the victim then exacts revenge on all of them, one by one, which is the real crux of the story and we cheer on her (just as brutal) vengeance.

The rape scenes are quite intense and difficult to watch, but necessary, as the viewer wants the perpetrators tortured and maimed…which they are. This film is for horror fans who like it brutal.

Howl-2010

Howl-2010

Director-Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Starring-James Franco

Scott’s Review #491

untitled

Reviewed October 9, 2016

Grade: B+

Howl is a compelling courtroom drama/unique biopic starring James Franco (wonderfully cast). In fact, this role, despite being in a small film with little recognition, cements Franco’s talents as an edgy actor- willing to tackle challenging work- rather than sticking to mainstream, safe fare. Franco has become one of my favorite young actors. He is so diverse and believable in any role he takes on.

The story is about 1950s poet-Allen Ginsberg- and his trial to determine whether his poems were art or rather should be banned for being indecent. Much of the action transpires inside the courtroom and the film wisely mixes animation (in scenes of Ginsberg reading his poetry) in between traditional scenes.

The film allows the viewer to get to know the characteristics of Ginsberg- he was troubled (his sexuality, delusions, stints in a mental hospital), for sure, but also had a true, authentic love of writing and of poetry, which is inspiring in an age of digital technology. Sometimes good old fashioned words are the truest art. Interesting little film.

Trash-1970

Trash-1970

Director-Paul Morrissey

Starring-Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn

Scott’s Review #490

70003097

Reviewed October 7, 2016

Grade: B+

Trash is a very unique movie. It needs to be experienced firsthand to be believed. Produced by icon Andy Warhol, it is both creative and raw, and certainly not for those seeking a basic film that can easily be digested and contained in a box.  Rather, the gritty and controversial aspects percolate into something edgy and creative. In essence, it is a day in the life of a junkie.

An indie drama with documentary  aspects, made in 1970, and set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Trash tells the story of a young heroine junkie named Joe (Joe Dallesandro) along with his sidekick Holly, who wander throughout the city picking through trash in desperate need of their next heroin fix .

The film is hardcore and is what I admired most about it. Not always compelling and certainly not always story-like, it is an experience. Trash would likely not be made today, but, alas in the 1960’s and 1970’s films like this could be made.

Its rawness, explicit nudity (and I mean full frontal, folks) and blatant IV drug injections are not for the perky or conformists. It reminds me quite a bit of a John Waters cult exploitation film, but interestingly preceded John Waters. Very well made and Id like to see it again sometime.

 

Catfish-2010

Catfish-2010

Director-Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring-Henry Joost

Scott’s Review #489

70129454

Reviewed October 2, 2016

Grade: A-

I loved this movie/documentary! I know some people were disappointed with the twist towards the end, but I thought it was interesting and made the film quite compelling- a surprise ending if you will. The shaky documentary style filming adds to the intensity.

The plot revolves around a young photographer, Nev, who strikes up an online Facebook friendship with an 8 year old artist- very risky, yes, but they discuss art and paintings. They chat regularly. Nev lives in New York City, while Abby lives in Michigan. Nev’s brother Ariel is shooting a documentary and thinks it would be perfect for the pair to drive to Michigan and meet Abby. Once they do, they are in for a surprise as the web of circumstances that follows make the film creepy, eerie, and mysterious.

Obviously, I do not want to give any more away, but Catfish is an interesting, well thought out story, which apparently is a true case. The presentation of the film is wonderful.

45 Years-2015

45 Years-2015

Director-Andre Haigh

Starring-Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay

Scott’s Review #488

80040147

Reviewed October 1, 2016

Grade: B+

In the case of 45 Years, acting is the clear highlight of the film and the main reason to view it. Seasoned veterans take center stage and give tremendous performances and lessons in the craft of acting. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling carry the film. The subject of 45 Years is an enduring marriage tested by an outside revelation that escalates in importance into conflict and mixed emotions. The film moves at a very slow pace, and can be a challenge to the most patient of viewers, but the slow pace is warranted as the longevity of the characters marriage is the key to the film.

Geoff and Kate Mercer, a happy couple living in rural England, are excitedly planning their 45th wedding anniversary (the 40th having been canceled due to Geoff’s heart condition). They are a popular couple within their town, both kind and decent people, and the event will be attended by many. One day Geoff receives a letter from authorities in Switzerland- a young woman (Katya) he was once involved with, and presumed dead in 1962, has been found. Having fallen into an icy glacier, her body is preserved and she looks the same as she did then. Not knowing the extent of their relationship, Kate is riddled with multiple feelings including jealousy, curiosity, and guilt. Geoff and Kate’s marriage is tested.

45 Years is a mature film involving mature characters. Geoff and Kate are still in love after decades of relationship, but the introduction of Katya becomes unwelcome conflict. The film plays out in a slow way, but a realistic way, as marriage moves along slowly. Many scenes of Geoff and Kate’s day to day activities are shown- they walk their dog together, travel into town to shop, or simply relax and read the newspaper. Like real people do. This is an asset to the film. Real life is sometimes mundane and dull, but these little tasks are also pleasurable and soothing.

Geoff and Kate’s marriage contrasts with the relationship Geoff and Katya briefly had all those years ago (excitement, risk, youth) and one can understand Kate’s point of view. As details reveal themselves, Kate feels inferior. She is not young anymore and she thinks of Geoff and Katya and the life they may have had together if the accident had not occurred. Despite being dead, Katya becomes an obstacle in Kate’s mind.

The film wisely does not write Kate as a jealous shrew or one-dimensional. She fights her jealousy every step of the way and tries to be strong and realistic. Charlotte Rampling gives such a good, subtle, understated performance that it is easy to overlook how good she is. She does not have hysterical moments or a scene where she loses control. Rather, Rampling shows a series of complex emotions with her facial expressions.

Let’s not forget to mention Tom Courtenay. Imagine being in the golden years of your life and a long-lost lover (in spirit anyway) returns to the fold. Geoff cannot help but be transported to imagining a life with Katya had she remained alive. Kate asks Geoff if he would have married Katya- he cannot deny that he would have.

Several scenes show the couple engaging in “old people” issues- awkward lovemaking for example, which enhances the differences between when Geoff and Katya were in their prime. Geoff cannot help but be whisked back in time with thoughts and what-ifs.

A standout scene is when Kate and Geoff dance at their anniversary party. Having given a fantastic speech professing his enduring love for her, they causally dance. Kate is both touched and pained and as the scene goes along she unravels in a quite manner. She explodes internally.

Sometimes perhaps a tad too slowly paced, I get the point of pacing 45 Years in this way. After all, nearly 50 years of marriage is a long time and a multitude of similar days will pass with few important moments. Thanks to superlative acting, I was able to overlook this and be astounded at the complexities both Rampling and Courtenay bring to the table.