Fellini Satyricon-1969

Fellini Satyricon-1969

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Martin Potter, Hiram Keller

Scott’s Review #530

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Reviewed November 30, 2016

Grade: A

Fellini Satyricon is a fascinating experience and is a great  film, but only for the very broad minded and patient viewer- it is more of an “experience” than watching a conventional start to finish type finish. It is nothing of that nature.

I both loved the trip and was fascinated by the creativity and depth of it- dreamlike is a word that immediately springs to mind. The story does not make perfect sense, nor does it need to. The fact that it is set some two thousand years ago is fantastic in itself as the sets are filled with decadent imagination.

The film is certainly not for everyone and is a fairy tale for adults. It tells of a journey through Ancient Rome and is divided into nine chapters. A scholar (Encolpius) and his friend (Ascyltus) traverse the land in the hopes of winning the heart of a young boy (Giton). They are both in love with him and the topics of bisexuality, public sex, slavery, and brothels are explored.

I love Fellini films as they are wild, dream-like, fantasy-like, with odd characters. Is Fellini Satyricon strange? Absolutely. But that is to its credit- this film is highly imaginative, wild, and will leave one pondering its beauty afterwards.

Piranha-2010

Piranha-2010

Director-Alexandre Aja

Starring-Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames

Scott’s Review #529

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Reviewed November 29, 2016

Grade: C-

2010’s Piranha is a tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) horror comedy that saves itself from being complete drivel by having some sense of humor. Remarkably, it stars some decent talents- Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, and Elisabeth Shue. The film is pure fluff- not high art in the least, with nary a message or a purpose to be found.

The film is basically terrible, but kind of fun at the same time. It’s complete camp and not to be taken at all seriously. The plot is simplistic and standard horror fare- a school of piranhas are unleashed after an underwater earthquake, kill a fisherman, and ravage a college vacation party on a lake. The college kids come to Lake Victoria to party and lounge on the beach, and typically, are dressed precariously. They are unceremoniously ripped to shred by the angry and hungry killer fish.

Shue and Rhanes must have hit rough times, and have been in need of a paycheck to star in this. They play a Sheriff and Deputy- laughably unbelievable- as they try to protect the beach-goers from a grisly fate. Dreyfuss plays a ridiculous and unnecessary role as the aforementioned fisherman.

On a serious (and sour) note, the objectifying of women is shocking in this day and age. Haven’t we seen enough stereotypes for one lifetime? A few cool kills and humor, but basically a dumb, popcorn horror film.

The Last Exorcism-2010

The Last Exorcism-2010

Director-Daniel Stamm

Starring-Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian

Scott’s Review #528

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Reviewed November 27, 2016

Grade: B+

The Last Exorcism is a really enjoyable independent horror film. I found it unique and creative, and is shot documentary style, so there is a level of watching something new and different in the horror world, that I appreciated. Certainly the usage of either hand-held or documentary footage has been done before, this film feels fresh and not cliche driven. Horror master Eli Roth produced the film.

A doubtful preacher (Reverend Cotton Marcus) who lives in Louisiana, sets out to perform his final exorcism with a documentary crew in tow, only to find a girl who really is possessed by the devil. Cotton is assumed a con-artist, so we doubt he actually can help the girl, which is what makes the film so interesting and unpredictable. What will happen next? Could the girl or her family be frauds?

The film is really scary and contains dark, creepy, ambiance. It reminds me a bit of The Blair Witch Project with the shaky camera and dark, raw tones, and independent nature. Recommended for fans of horror.

Loving-2016

Loving-2016

Director-Jeff Nichols

Starring-Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga

Scott’s Review #527

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Reviewed November 26, 2016

Grade: A

Loving is a quiet film. Subdued and poignant, it is an important, historic story to tell, and jarring to be transported back to the 1950’s southern style, where interracial marriage was not only illegal, but children of interracial couples were barely considered human beings, to say nothing of the views of their parents, specifically by law enforcement. Sadly, circa 2016, we all should be aware that racism is still alive and well in the United States and this film is a reminder of how much further we need to go. The true story of the landmark1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court case is the basis for this film.

The time is 1958 Virginia, and a sweet, working class couple-Richard and Mildred-are very much in love. Richard-white, and Mildred-black, are met with some sideways glances around town, but generally have a strong supportive family and friend structure, although both families are quite poor. They enjoy spending time with friends in bars and racing cars. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard purchases a plot of land for them and asks Mildred to marry him. Despite the challenges this will create, they are wed in Washington D.C. Once they return to Virginia, they are arrested for violating anti-miscegenation laws, prohibiting interracial marriage. The couple eventually sue the state of Virginia, leading to a unanimous Supreme Court ruling a decade later.

As a film, Loving is thoughtful and introspective. The audience questions who are we to decide who someone loves? This can apply to same sex couples as easily as interracial couples. The film, led by director Jeff Nichols, creates many quiet scenes of thoughtfulness on the faces of leads Edgerton and Negga. Furthermore, several scenes of peril encompass the film. The Loving’s are in constant threat of being discovered as they secretly return to their forbidden home state to give birth to their son- only wanting Richard’s mother to perform the birth. The tense scene where Mildred is dropped off on a deserted back road is well shot- the camera constantly focusing on the road and the threat of a car coming by at any moment.

Edgerton, a fantastic actor and director, gives a tremendous performance as a quiet, stoic, blue-collar man, madly in love with his wife and seeing nothing wrong with it, simply because it is not the norm. He is poorly educated, but Edgerton gives him underlying intelligence and a basic understanding of cherished love and more than once calmly uttering “but I love my wife.” To him it is that simple. Richard will also use any measures necessary to protect his family, as any man surely would. Edgerton’s squinting blue eyes portray suspicion, warmth, and love.

Negga is equally compelling as calm and loyal Mildred. One might expect Mildred to finally explode with rage as she has to put up with obstacle after obstacle, raising three kids in an environment she does not want, yet she never does. Negga embodies the character with sweetness and wide-eyed passion and longing for a better life. Mildred tries not to get her hopes up with each impending court date, but Negga successfully portrays the character with many different emotions and complexities. My favorite scenes of hers simply involve Mildred gazing at her husband- her eyes filled with love and pride.

Nichols wisely does not spend very much time in the courtroom and this is a positive with the film. Sure, we do get the occasional scene of Richard and Mildred facing the court, but the film does not go a different route than necessary. Despite a landmark decision coming from the Loving’s marriage, the film is really a love story between a good man and a good woman, who just happen to be of different races. What a lesson every viewer can learn from this film.

Despicable Me-2010

Despicable Me-2010

Director-Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Starring-Steve Carell, Jason Segel

Scott’s Review #526

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Reviewed November 25, 2016

Grade: B-

My immediate reaction upon seeing Despicable Me is that it is a cute film, just custom made for the masses- children and families alike. This is fine, but I was honestly hoping for something a bit edgier or of more substance, but I did enjoy it at the same time.

To be clear, the film is a fun, family style affair for all ages with a nice story. It basically tells the story of a villain, named Gru, who is in competition with other super-villains and hatches a plan to shrink and steal the moon. He is reformed through three orphans (Margo, Edith, and Agnes) he first uses in his plan, but later comes to love and eventually adopts. The orphans predictably reform Gru and bring out the nice man within him. They clearly change his life for the better.

There is nothing really wrong with this film, nor is there anything really tremendous about it either. I know some people really loved it. To me it was decent, but I wanted a bit more and perhaps a more complex or interesting plot, but that is just my personal taste.

True Grit-2010

True Grit-2010

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #525

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Reviewed November 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Having not seen the original, 1969 version of True Grit,  starring John Wayne,  I cannot compare the two, but the remake is excellent. I do not profess to being the greatest fan of the western genre as the stereotypes are usually peppered throughout and the good versus bad cliches done to death, but True Grit is a different, contemporary western. Fantastic looking with numerous big, current stars, humour, and quirkiness.

True Grit is definitely a mainstream (in camera and style) Hollywood Western (the Coen Bros. usually are more gritty in their stories), but a well made one. The odd supporting characters make this film fantastic and there is an edge to it that enamored me. The film also contains some Quentin Tarantino elements making it left of center in some ways.

It tells the story of a tomboy-like fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross, also the narrator of the film, who hires an aging U.S. Marshal to avenge her fathers death. The story is well told, the cinematography and attention to detail are great, giving off a crisp feel of really being in the Wild West.

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Director-Ciro Guerra

Starring-Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar

Scott’s Review #524

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Reviewed November 23, 2016

Grade: B+

Embrace of the Serpent is a cerebral experience in the art of complex storytelling, weaving two parallel stories set forty years apart from each other. It is an immensely creative film crafting a black and white cinematic expressionism into its lurid walls. Admittedly I found the stories tough to follow at times, and the film contains an impressionistic quality, but I knew I was watching something creative and brave and that is worthy of a hefty thumbs up.

The setting of the film is the Amazon jungle, along the vast Amazon river, deep in the heart of South America. The time periods are both 1909 and 1940, and both feature an Amazonian shaman who is the very last of his people and very resentful of white men. In 1909, he travels with a dying German scientist and in 1940, an American. Both are looking for a sacred healing plant, which contain magical powers.

The parallel stories both feature a Spanish Catholic Mission by the side of an Amazon tributary. In 1909, the leading priest is sadistic and abusive towards the young boys in his charge. Years later, the young boys are now hardened and grizzled. Both stories also feature the revelation of the plant, though in different ways and with vastly different outcomes.

Worth mentioning as the best part of the film, much better than the story-line, is the effective use of black and white visuals. This gives the film a mysterious, old world type of vibe that is tremendous, and really makes it feel like a film made in the 1940’s, if not earlier. In this way, it makes Embrace of the Serpent a visual spectacle, especially as countless scenes occur along the Amazon- we see the characters float, via canoe, and are treated to the beauty of the water and the surrounding luscious mountains. It appears other-worldly, a part of the remote continent that few must see or appreciate. This is my favorite aspect of the film.

The stories are, indeed, complex, sometimes not making complete sense, and I found myself a bit confused throughout, but this may have been due to the films clear art film persona, leading the film to be open to interpretation. Both white men have different experiences with the sought after plant. I was left with some questions that I still am not sure about even having read the synopsis of the film. One of the men has a dreamy, hallucinating experience with the magical plant, but what happens after this? The shaman is an interesting character as we see him as a young man and as an old man, throughout his life living as a lonely, resentful man.

Embrace of the Serpent is a perplexing, interpretative film, but contains a magical quality and, if the story is muddy, one can whisk away to a fantastic experience just watching and enjoying the cinematic treats being offered. A visual gem.

Devil-2010

Devil-2010

Director-John Erick Dowdle

Starring-Chris Messina

Scott’s Review #523

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Reviewed November 23, 2016

Grade: B

Devil is an enjoyable thriller/horror film that is deemed as the first in a trilogy, though it is unknown if the subsequent films will see the light of day since this film was not a smash success at the box office nor was it critically acclaimed. A fun fact is that the screenplay is based off of a story written by respected director, M. Night Shyamalan.

The premise is very good;  set in Philadelphia, a man suddenly jumps from a tall skyscraper to his death. We learn from a narrator that the devil takes many forms and makes his presence known by a suicide. Detective Bowden (Messina) is called to investigate the death. Eventually five people are stuck in an elevator and one is a killer, presumably the devil. The film is a whodunit of sorts and also a tale of morality, good versus evil.

Parts of the film are a bit hokey and suspension of disbelief is certainly required, but Devil is also a decent, edge of your seat thriller. Being only rated PG-13, the film tones down the gore and the death in favor of lighter, tamer activity. The revelation of the actual killer is surprising and rather enjoyable.

Salt-2010

Salt-2010

Director-Phillip Noyce

Starring-Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #522

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Reviewed November 20, 2016

Grade: B+

Salt is a very good, fast paced, political thriller starring Angelina Jolie as a woman accused of being a Russian sleeper agent, who must go on the run in order to clear her name, all the while being chased by officials attempting to accost her.

The film really offers nothing that has not been seen countless times before in movies like this, but seeing Jolie in a role typically played by a male (the role was originally written for Tom Cruise), is really cool and the makes the film unique in itself. She is great in the role.

There are some twists and surprises along the way that keeps the viewer on edge- numerous action and car chase scenes abound and will keep the action flick viewer quite pleased. It is quite fast-paced and very big budget.

On the downside, I couldn’t help but think are they really making movies about the United States vs. Russia again? Apparently they are, but I could  not help but enjoy it for what it was.

Lion-2016

Lion-2016

Director-Garth Davis

Starring-Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #521

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Reviewed November 19, 2016

Grade: A-

Lion is an enthralling, humanistic, drama about family, lost loved ones, and the search to find them, as seen through the eyes of the same character-as a child and as an adult. It features fantastic acting- specifically from stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Nicole Kidman, and also features lavish cinematography of the India and Australia countryside. The film is based on a non-fiction book named “A Long Way Home”.

Introduced to a poor neighborhood in India in 1986, we meet five year old Saroo, a cute, wide-eyed boy, who idolizes his big brother. Their mother, a beautiful woman, carries rocks for a living and relies on the boys to watch their younger sister- the boys steal coal to help eliminate their mother’s hardships. Their father is apparently absent. When Saroo insists on accompanying his brother on a night job, he accidentally gets on an empty train, and is transported thousands of miles away- losing his family in the process.  Twenty-five years later, and long since adopted by an Australian family, Saroo attempts to find his long-lost family, using new technology- Google Earth.

In a lesser film, this subject matter might have been a sappy affair, predictable, and contrived. But Lion soars with humanistic, emotional flair, and is heartfelt, without any manipulations. The first third of the film is focused on the five year old Saroo. We witness the boys confusion, desperation, and scrapes with potential kidnappers, child molesters, and undesirables. We also see how resilient and intelligent the young boy is- wisely outmaneuvering foes and being savvy enough to avoid monstrous people. As much as I enjoyed this segment of the film, it went on slightly too long and I was ready to see Saroo as an adult and the encompassing problems to come, but this is a very small gripe in an otherwise extraordinary film.

Lion really takes off when Saroo, now all grown up, is played by Patel. Having been adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley, he has lived a life of love, respect, and encouragement. The Brierley’s are a selfless couple, who, in addition to Saroo, have adopted another Indian boy with deep emotional issues. This has caused hardship and issues in the household. Their reasoning for adopting is poignant; rather than bring their biological children into the world, why not save two children who need to be saved?

Patel and Kidman give emotional and raw performances. Patel is quite a find as he plays conflicted and haunted very well and is quite convincing in the lead role. We witness his conflict as he struggles with not knowing what has become of his family in India- imagining their worry and the devastation of not knowing what has become of him. He also avoids telling Sue- his adoptive mother- who has her hands full with other emotional issues. Kidman, who always delivers, is raw, emotional, and sympathetic.  Her facial expressions as Sue struggles to be strong, are subtle and contained, yet dying inside with underlying pain, is exceptionally relayed by Kidman in an award worthy portrayal.

Director, Garth Davis, cleverly adds several scenes of Saroo, longingly looking out into the ocean or simply gazing in the distance, imagining and self reflective. What makes these simple scenes great is through Saroo’s imagination, he imagines being with his real mother, she still young, he now as an adult. In similar fashion, he imagines being with his brother- his brother still age ten, but Saroo now an adult. These are quiet, beautiful scenes that add layers to this film.

Lion is a wonderful experience in great storytelling, led by effective acting performances and a compelling screenplay that gives honesty in film-making to the true story that the film is based on. The film is heartwarming and can be enjoyed by anyone.

Son of Saul-2015

Son of Saul-2015

Director-Laszlo Nemes

Starring-Geza Rohrig

Scott’s Review #520

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Reviewed November 16, 2016

Grade: A

Son of Saul, arguably the deserving winner of the 2015 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is a grim yet refreshing and inventive look at a subject matter that has been covered in great length in cinema. The topic is a heavy one and to describe the film as a downer is justified, but there is also something brave and even heartwarming about this film, and the central character’s desire to do something decent in the face of death and hatred.

The film is Hungarian, and takes place in 1944, where Saul is a prisoner in a Nazi extermination camp. He is given various duties- considered a “glorified” prisoner- as he takes valuables from the belongings of those gassed, and scrubs the floors after the gassing has occurred. He later must dump the dead bodies into a pit to be incinerated. One day, after a group of Jews are gassed, a young boy is miraculously still breathing. Soon after being discovered, the boy is suffocated. Convinced the boy is his son, Saul is determined to bury the boy properly for religious purposes.

I was immediately struck by two aspects of Son of Saul that really separates it from the pack; the camera work, and the coloring of the film.  The character of Saul is immediately shoved in our faces from scene one-allowing us to see things from his point of view. Extreme closeups of Hungarian actor Geza Rhorig overwhelm the viewer as the message of suffocation is apparent. When closeups are not used, we are treated to the camera following Saul around as he performs his duties without emotion- clearly having done them on multiple occasions. The point is we become Saul and experience activities solely as he sees or hears them. This is understated yet compelling.

Secondly, the film contains a rustic, beige color, mixed with sickly greens and yellows- muted almost, which is highly effective given the amount of death involved. Certainly not glossy in the least, the color scheme portrays a sense of ruin and discourse without overwhelming or going for total bleakness. The style is a dusty, smoky variety, nauseating at times. I found this to separate Son of Saul from a myriad of others with the same subject matter, making it quite distinctive.

Clearly not a happy film, neither is the piece a complete downer that will leave one entirely depressed. Saul’s intentions to give his son a decent burial (and it is unclear if the boy actually is Saul’s son or simply hoped to be) is admirable and a small glimmer of goodness in a world that contains evil. Other prisoners aide Saul in his efforts, telling us that their world is not entirely without hope.

Still, despite the goodness of some of the prisoners, a couple of scenes are tough to take. Early on, dozens of people are huddled-naked, into a small room. They are promised coffee and jobs and most importantly- hope. Sadly, the viewer quickly realizes that the intention is to exterminate them, though the film wisely does not visually show this. A brilliant distinction to Son of Saul is the background sound and what is happening in the vicinity of Saul- we hear the gasping, the pleading, and the screaming of the victims, while the camera stays entirely on the character of Saul and his stoic reactions. Sadly, we realize this is a typical day in his life.

Deserving of its accolades in a year of exceptional foreign language films, Son of Saul takes a familiar subject matter and gives new and unique elements to it. The film also departs on a bit of a cliffhanger involving a second young boy- a clever moment in an already superior film.

Animal Kingdom-2010

Animal Kingdom-2010

Director-David Michod

Starring-Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton

Scott’s Review #519

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Reviewed November 15, 2016

Grade: A-

Animal Kingdom is an excellent Australian crime drama movie that is in the same vein as Goodfellas, The Godfather, or a myriad of other mafia/mob type films- only Aussie style, which in itself piques interest.

The film has an indie feel to it-is raw and not slickly produced- and is not over dramatized with explosions, CGI effects, and various other bells and whistles, making it character driven.

It is simply a well made drama about a seventeen year old boy named Joshua, who is taken in by his extended family of criminals. Staring out as an innocent, he slowly becomes entangled in the families web of corruption- similar to Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone from The Godfather. Making the plot even more compelling, is the arrival of a goodhearted detective (Guy Pearce) who tries to steer Joshua on the straight and narrow.

The acting is topnotch (Jacki Weaver in particular is amazing as the diabolical leader of the family), shocking events happen out of the blue, and operatic music mixed in with dramatic events is well done.

Animal Kingdom is a diamond in the rough.

Saw VI-2009

Saw VI-2009

Director-Kevin Greutert

Starring-Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith

Scott’s Review #518

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Reviewed November 12, 2016

Grade: B

The Saw movies are a fun experience. They are like watching a puzzle form and there is usually some sort of twist or reveal at the end of each film, making them enjoyable. John Jigsaw’s torture legacy lives on in this film.

This installment picks up where Saw V left off and there are many flashback scenes to earlier installments so things make sense and all come together. The twist, however, is not as interesting as earlier ones, but the kills are extremely gory and the reasons behind the victims are always interesting. In typical fashion, the victims deserve, in some way, their punishments, either causing someone else’s death, or ripping someone off in their past, so the brutality is not exacted on the innocent.

Deaths and torturous methods such as a severed arm, busting temples, cages, hydrofluoric acid, and needles are all used in ready fashion.

For any Scream Queens reality show fans, Taneadra Howard has a role in this one. Decent movie, but not as good as other Saws.

Straight Outta Compton-2015

Straight Outta Compton-2015

Director-F. Gary Gray

Starring-O’Shea Jackson Jr., Paul Giamatti

Scott’s Review #517

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Reviewed November 12, 2016

Grade: B-

The rap group N.W.A. was a highly influential and controversial unit to emerge from Compton, California in the late 1980’s and featured soon to be solo rap artists Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Another member, Eazy-E, rounds out the trio that is featured in this film along with their manager Jerry, played by Paul Giamatti. Straight Outta Compton tells their story.

Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced the film along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, and Ice Cube’s real-life son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. portrays Ice Cube. The film is interesting as a way of learning about the rap group and their rise to and fall from stardom, but the film has a very slick and glossy style that detracts from the grittiness of the subject matter- it feels very Hollywood and overly produced. Especially, since the language is atrocious- almost overly so, as if the point was being shoved down the audiences throat. Additionally, the acting, except for Giamatti, is not too impressive. Lastly, the violence portrayed and the gang stuff seemed a bit stereotypical for my tastes.

The film begins in 1986 and we meet the trio of friends. Determined to provide a raw, honest style of poetry to their music, they eventually meet their manager, Jerry, who takes them under his wing and leads them to their success. Predictably, with success comes jealousy and contract disputes. The film delves into this subject matter as the partying and drug use, womanizing, and violence, all lead to the rap groups constant struggles with the police force, especially since one of their top songs is anti-police.

Impressive is the real-life footage used of the 1991 beating of taxi-driver Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department and the subsequent riots that occurred after the officers were found not guilty of any wrong doing. The racial tension that existed in this city at that time was interesting to revisit and palpable to the films subject matter.

The acting was noticeable to me and not in a good way. The young actor who played Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) was fine, but the others (Jackson) and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E were average at best. In any of their dramatic scenes where they appear to be angry, it just does not work, and the scenes lack grizzle and intensity. Conversely, any dramatic scene that held any gusto belonged to Giamatti, who was excellent in his part. In some ways he made the others seem better, but in other ways their inexperience was evident as compared to his. In any event he only made the scenes he appeared in more genuine. Early in the film, when Jerry lashes out at police officers, it is a meaty scene and forceful.

The film makers certainly went for a message of violence and swearing in this film, but despite these qualities Straight Outta Compton still seems safe and overly produced. This may have had to do with the bright, slick cameras used. In this way it had a studio, high budget appearance that does not completely work. I wanted it to look grittier and dirtier and see more of the seedy side of the business instead of it merely being explained to me.

Women in this film are not treated very well and the characters who are the girlfriends are written sympathetically, but not given much of substance to sink their teeth into. Contrasting this, Death Row Records CEO “Suge” Knight is portrayed as a maniacal, violent man. Straight Outta Compton is clearly a guys film.

I had difficulty relating to any of the central characters except perhaps Giamatti’s and it becomes unclear if Jerry really had been ripping off the members of the rap group or if that is merely their perception. He really seems to care about the members of the outfit, so that part is undefined.

Perhaps this film might hold more appeal for fans of N.W.A., which I never was, and rap is not my preferred style of music, but I can appreciate the biographical way the film explains the trio’s story, ups and downs, reunions, death, and violence, but this film could have been much better and is flawed by its over stylized filming.

Lifeforce-1985

Lifeforce-1985

Director-Tobe Hooper

Starring-Steve Railsback, Peter Firth

Scott’s Review #516

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Reviewed November 11, 2016

Grade: F

Lifeforce, a film made in 1985, is a film that I did not enjoy at all. It tells the story of a team of astronauts who find three pods of seemingly human bodies, who eventually return the bodies back to Earth and turn said humans into zombies. That is really it in a nutshell.

The story makes no sense whatsoever and there is no rhyme or reasons for the actions of the characters except to further the plot. No mention or details at to why they are in outer space or anything that drives the characters motives. The film is way too complicated for its own good and would have been wiser in going for a straight-forward action film rather than what we are treated to (a combo sci-fi/horror mess.

The special effects are completely dated and very cheesy. Lifeforce is completely plot driven and I did not find it gripping at all. This film is a waste of time and deserves to be completely forgotten.

Dogtooth-2009

Dogtooth-2009

Director-Giorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#9

Scott’s Review #515

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Reviewed November 11, 2016

Grade: A-

Dogtooth is a Greek drama nominated for the 2010 Best Foreign film academy award. The film is not for the weak at heart and is most bizarre and disturbing- troubling even. But upon digestion afterwards, I realized how much I appreciated its creativity.

It tells the story of three siblings who are homeschooled and shut out from the rest of the world by their overprotective parents. The teenage kids are curious, damaged, and sad. They know no other world besides the one their parents create for them. Certain words mean certain things to them- a language of their own. It challenges the art of parental control as the kids curiosity builds and builds.

The movie itself is very difficult to follow (non-linear) yet is mesmerizing and perverse. Warning: Some subject matters can be hard to take for some (incest, cruelty to animals, full frontal nudity).I thought it was a fascinating and bravely made film.

Restrepo-2010

Restrepo-2010

Directors-Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Scott’s Review #514

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Reviewed November 10, 2016

Grade: B-

Restrepo is an informative documentary concerning a group of American soldiers sent into Afghanistan to battle the Taliban. Film makers spent one year in the life of this group of men, documenting their experiences, pains, losses, and joys throughout. Camera crews follow them almost non-stop.

The most interesting aspects of this piece are the camaraderie that is evident among the soldiers- a bond that is a brotherhood of sorts. Friendships that develop in the midst of peril that will undoubtedly never be broken or tarnished. Certainly, the fear and worry that these soldiers go through- under the constant uncertainty of attack, far away from their families, is powerful.

Slight gripes are the redundancy of the subject matter of the documentary itself. Seemingly endless are the projects developed surrounding one war or another. I freely admit this is an important matter, but while watching Restrepo, I could not help but feel that I have seen other incarnations of the same documentary before- not to mention in mainstream film. The war experience is a popular story to tell.

I also got the sense of an us against them mentality to this documentary, which is not always a good thing. More about the relationships with the “good” Afghanistan people might have been nice. Overall, though, a decent, interesting documentary.

28 Weeks Later-2007

28 Weeks Later-2007

Director-Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring-Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner

Scott’s Review #513

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Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: B-

At the time of its release, I remember 28 Weeks Later to be a successful follow-up to the original 28 Days Later, a clever play on the title and picking up events some seven months after the original. Watching the film now, however, I see flaws, mostly in the lack of character driven story and the resulting traditional action-type film. Still, the film is far from all bad.

The action begins as the audience meets a “family”, barricaded in a homey residence, attempting to resume normalcy in life by preparing and serving a delicious family dinner- almost reminiscent of Thanksgiving. The scene is tranquil and rich in familiarity. When a little boy pounds on the door to be let in, the terror begins and the Rage virus is proven to still be alive and well.

The story written for 28 Weeks Later has nothing to do with the original and contains none of the original characters. Rather, a father, mother, and young boy and girl, are the family that we follow throughout the film. Rose Byrne stars as a doctor- laughingly named Scarlet- and Jeremy Renner as a U.S. military presence, NATO having been sent in to keep order as best they can.

The opening sequence is fantastic as peacefulness turns deadly rather quickly and the characters are in immediate peril. Another scene, when father and mother are alone in a laboratory and events go awry, the sequence is gory, shocking, and quite heartfelt. These are merely moments, however, and are not quite enough to carry the film into a successful sequel.

Another positive to note about the film is, even more prevalent than in the original, are the wonderful location shots of London. From the London Eye to Big Ben to street shots of downtown London and the surrounding streets, are capably done and I loved seeing the ariel views of said city.  The conclusion at Wembley Stadium was also great. This was a treat for any fan of London and made the film a clear sense of location.

Conversely, I was not a fan of the characters in 28 Weeks Later. Whereas, in 28 Days Later, the characters were well drawn and compelling, rich with beauty and emotion, the same cannot be said for the sequel. In fact, I am unclear what the purpose of Renner’s tough, no-nonsense military type was for, or Byrne’s sympathetic, but pointless turn as a scientist/doctor. Both held little appeal and gave snore-worthy performances. Or perhaps the roles were just not written well. Regardless, neither worked. The dynamic between the father and mother did work, but the kids were not the best actors and I found their additions pointless as well.

The last scene, a frenetic trip through a tunnel by the infected and arriving in gorgeous Paris- a shot of the Eifel tower as proof, is a nice touch.

With a few nice touches added, cool location shots, intense peril in a few sequences, but with limited compelling characters, 28 Weeks Later is okay, but hardly an upgrade to the original or even close to the character driven film. No follow-up film, while initially planned, was ever completed.

Moonlight-2016

Moonlight-2016

Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512

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Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: A

Moonlight is a wonderful film, rich with character and grit, that tells the story of one man’s life- from childhood, to teenage years, to adulthood, sharing the bonds he forms, and the demons he wrestles. The acting all around is fantastic and the story poignant and truthful. The film is not preachy, but rather tells a story and leaves the audience to sit and observe- quietly formulating their own opinions. Moonlight is a mixture of beauty and heartbreak and is told very well.

The film is divided into three chapters- in chronological order of the central characters life. Chiron is a shy, docile, young boy of six or seven living in a drug-filled world of Miami, Florida in the 1980’s. He is bullied for being “different” though he knows not why he is shunned. Chiron is introverted and distrusting.  A kind hearted drug dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali), takes a shine to Chiron, whose own mother becomes more and more absent and emotionally abusive to her son. Naomie Harris plays Paula, mother to Chiron and herself a drug addict. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) become surrogate parents to Chiron and share their home with him as needed.

Chapter two focuses on Chiron as a teenager- still bullied and coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings of insecurity. By this time his mother has spiraled out of control and his life is a sad one. He is filled with emotions such as rage, despair, and confusion. He has an experience with his best friend Kevin that changes the direction of his life. Kevin is his saving grace and a decent person amidst his troubled life.

In chapter three, we are re-introduced to Chiron as an adult- having completely reinvented himself and become a changed man, but is he changed for better or for worse? People from his past resurface at this time and Chiron must face various demons and emotions, and come to terms with himself and others surrounding him. Will his story have a sad or a happy ending is the question we are left wondering.

The aspect that left me impressed the most is the storytelling and the ground that is broken with this film. From an LGBT perspective, by this time (2016), we have experienced numerous offerings on the subject, but the fact that Moonlight is not only a character study, but a love story between two black men has not been done to this degree yet in cinema, or arguably at all, especially in mainstream fare. Happily Moonlight is receiving critical praise. The fact that Chiron lives in a macho, male driven society, makes his self acceptance all the more challenging for him.

The direction in Moonlight is impressive and director Barry Jenkins deserves much praise. Quiete scenes of Chiron as a boy asking Juan and Theresa why the bullies call him a certain name are heartbreaking. Another scene, muted and in slow motion, reveal an abusive Paula calling Chiron a degrading name leaving him confused and hurt. Otherwise, tender scenes between Chiron and Kevin are sweet and passionate and told on such a humanistic level.

Moonlight delves into such territory as loneliness and self identity and  is an interesting film to view for anyone who has struggled with these issues or anyone who is empathetic to those who have.  Moonlight breaks stereotypes and molds a film that is subtle and low-key, but speaks volumes.

Wall Street-1987

Wall Street-1987

Director-Oliver Stone

Starring-Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen

Scott’s Review #511

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Reviewed November 5, 2016

Grade: B+

Rather late in the game, but 2011 was my first time seeing the film Wall Street and it was a very good film. Douglas and Sheen have great on-screen chemistry and the numerous scenes of New York City are pleasing- pre 9/11 they capture a haunting feeling.

Despite being made in 1987 (not a great year for film), it does not feel dated except for the soundtrack. In fact, unfortunately, circumstances in this movie still ring true today. There is a lot of dishonesty and greed in the financial world (check out the documentary Inside Job for proof of this). The financial collapse of 2008 is a great indicator of this.

Michael Douglas is excellent in the role of Gordon Gekko, a power hungry, greedy financial mogul. He encompasses the role in every way and deservedly won the Best Actor statuette for this year.

You Again-2010

You Again-2010

Director-Alan Fickman

Starring-Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver

Scott’s Review #510

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Reviewed November 4, 2016

Grade: C

If not for the cast (Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White, and Sigourney Weaver) You Again would have been a bad experience and a dimwitted, by the numbers comedy, but the talent involved has helped matters greatly. This is not meant to parlay much credit to the film.

As it is, it is not a great film, and quite silly and dumb, but the cast successful turns it into a light, fun, dumb movie instead of solely drivel- with a cast of lesser this would have undoubtedly been the case. Bell is not my favorite actress, but alas she seems to be currently receiving star turns in these types of films.

The premise is basic and tried and true- A twenty eight year old “beautiful” woman (Kristen Bell) who was an ugly duckling in high school, returns to her hometown for her brother’s wedding and his fiance turns out to be her high school nemesis. It is a standard Hollywood comedy cliched with typical gags, and a “we have seen this before” story. A gripe- Kristen Bell is cute, sort of all-American, girl next door, but I would be remiss if I did not point out she is not the beauty they make her out to be.

Thanks to the aforementioned cast, and the wit that Curtis and Weaver bring to their rivalry (as mothers of the respective fiancé and Bell’s character- they were high school rivals a generation before), the film does get some meager credit. Not much, but some.

Let Me In-2010

Let Me In-2010

Director-Matt Reeves

Starring-Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz

Scott’s Review #509

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Reviewed November 4, 2016

Grade: A-

I loved this film. It is nearly as exceptional as the original, Let the Right One In, which was Swedish. Billed as horror, it contains none of the typical horror cliches or corny dialogue- rather it is mysterious, compelling, and character driven. This in itself is refreshing. Additionally, the cinematography is exceptional in its coldness, darkness, and good old fashioned ambiance.

Let Me In is about a twelve year old outcast, named Owen,  who befriends a neighbor girl-Abby- who we learn is a vampire. Owen is bullied at school and through Abby, learns to stand up to his tormentors.

I am partial to foreign language films so, to me, the American version lacks the engaging language a bit and is not…well, foreign, so that detracts slightly, but not much at all, and this effort is quite remarkable.

This film is a horror film- in the classic sense of containing vampires and not being played for goofs- and quite gory, but also a beautiful, emotional film and the concepts of sadness and loneliness are explored. One of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years.

Solitary Man-2009

Solitary Man-2009

Director-Brian Koppelman, David Levien

Starring-Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon

Scott’s Review #508

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Reviewed November 3, 2016

Grade: B-

Solitary Man is an indie drama that has good points and bad. Michael Douglas stars as a one time successful, but womanizing, car dealership owner who hits rough times and loses everything.

Michael Douglas’s performance is very good and believable as a cad who hits a difficult stretch in his life. As an actor, Douglas still possesses his good looks and charm despite being an older leading man by this time- he plays 60 very well. The film centers around him and wisely so- despite the film containing other notable actors. His character of Ben Kalman has swagger and is narcissistic, but yet lovable at the same time and this is unmistakably due to Douglas’s talents.

Annoyingly, the supporting characters played by Susan Sarandon, Danny Devito, and Jesse Eisenberg are quite one-note and not terribly interesting, which is really a shame in light of their immense talents..

The story is okay, but nothing fantastic. I felt as though I had seen films like this many times before- the quirky edge and the attempted dark humor with laughs and some melodrama mixed in was forgettable. However, as a character study, the movie succeeds. Recommended for Michael Douglas’s performance only.

28 Days Later-2002

28 Days Later-2002

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Cillian Murphy, Noah Huntley

Scott’s Review #507

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Reviewed November 2, 2016

Grade: B+

Before the influx of zombie related horror films and television shows filled the land- arguably offset by the success of The Walking Dead series, a little film came along- now almost teetering on its influence being forgotten- that presented this genre with fresh insight and creative storytelling posing questions amid the mayhem. 28 Days Later rejuvenated this largely dormant film category with a gritty story of peril among a group of survivors spared from a deadly virus. The film is smart as it explores morality issues and the needs of society to continue.

We initially are immersed in confusion as chaos immediately ensues. After a brief prologue of a group of laboratory chimpanzees gone mad, inflicted with rage, being let loose by animal liberators, and killing all present as well as inflicting the humans, we meet a lone man named Joe- the timing is relevant as it is “28 days later” from the incident. The young man awakens in a hospital to find himself alone amid downtown London- not a soul in sight.  Fortunately, he has been in a coma and missed the crumbling of society due to an outbreak- somehow Joe has been spared. Gradually, Joe meets others uninfected by the virus and they forge through the country in search of a military base rumored to be a safe haven.

The infected humans are not zombies, but rather, violent creatures who destroy anyone in their path. The film not only presents the grotesque creatures, but also challenges the audience to think in a political sense- how will the survivors forge a new society? How will women be treated differently from and by their male counterparts in a world that now lacks any police force or government?

My initial reaction to watching 28 Days Later- years after its initial release- is that it now seems slightly dated, but that has more to do with the legions of copycat films that have come after it and have been exposed to. We have become more encompassed by this type of film, both in genre and in style. Appreciation is warranted for its gritty, fast-paced camera-work, extreme violence, and the use of “infected” who turn from human being to vicious beings.

A fantastic part of this film is that it is not simply a horror film, it is more layered than that. There are moments of great beauty and tender moments among Joe and Selena- the sole surviving female other than the young, waif-like, Hannah, whose world has been shattered by the death of her loved ones. In one sad scene a couple have peacefully committed suicide, rather than face what would surely become of them.

There is a sense of a human story in 28 Days Later, which made me find the film heartfelt and almost sweet. Even the military soldiers- their motivations questionable- are relatable based on the world being turned upside down. A layered, complex, zombie film with some character driven elements.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch-1982

Halloween III: Season of the Witch-1982

Director-Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring-Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkins

Scott’s Review #506

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Reviewed November 1, 2016

Grade: B

Halloween III: Season of the Witch was met with much disdain when it was released in 1982- a mere one year following the very successful Halloween II- the sequel to the iconic Halloween. Fans (and critics) expecting a third chapter in the maniac wielding Michael Myers saga were sorely disappointed and perplexed at what they were “treated” to. After all, the title is billed as “III”. Therefore, the film was met with disapproval. To be clear, this film is not even in the slasher genre- more of a science fiction meets Twilight Zone.

Years later, this film would be heralded as a not so bad offering from a stand-alone film perspective. A different title might have been wise, but at the risk of being a forgotten film.  I agree with the sentiment-it’s not a fantastic film- the plot far from its strong suit, but a brave film and one that has aged well. Apparently, the franchise creators (John Carpenter and Debra Hill) had hoped to create an anthology type film series with different chapters all surrounding the holiday of Halloween. This was not to be and Michael Myers would return for the fourth installment. Director Tommy Lee Wallace was also affiliated with the original Halloween.

The story actually begins a week before Halloween (reaching a crescendo on Halloween) as shop-owner, Harry Grimbridge,  runs along a highway in northern California, panicked and fleeing from corporate looking men in business suits- he clutches a Halloween mask. Finally rushed to the hospital by a stranger, he is killed by one of the business men, who then sets himself on fire. Grimbridge manages to tell Dr. Dan Challis that “They’re going to kill us.” Challis and Grimbridge’s daughter, Ellie, mount an investigation to solve the mystery of her father’s demise. Naturally a romance ensues between the pair.

The film, while not a stinker, does have some issues. The corporate greed that we realize exists by villain, Cochran, the founder of a company producing Halloween masks and responsible for the prosperity of a town is silly. Even more perplexing are his motivations- he plans to sacrifice children wearing the masks to honor some ancient witchcraft- huh? He creates androids as his henchmen and airs creepy television commercials to release a signal- and there are strange bugs that emerge from the masks, thereby killing the mask wearers. The story is ludicrous.

Others gripes involve no chemistry between leads Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin, and the shameful waste of actress Nancy Loomis’s (Annie Brackett from Halloween) time and talents as she is reduced to a one-scene appearance as nagging and haggard looking, ex-wife of Challis. She deserved better and would have been perfect in the lead female role. The fact that Loomis was married to director Wallace makes this even more surprising- they were later divorced.

The negative attributes listed above would make one think that I detested this film, but somehow it is compelling in its own right. The musical score is one highlight of Halloween III. Techie and new-wave-ish, it really does wonders at portraying peril and creepiness- especially where the male androids are concerned. And the sing-along jingle to the tune of the classic children’s song, “London Bridge is Falling Down”, encouraging children to buy the masks, is superb.

Though the story does not work- the subject does contain a throwback to science fiction films of yesteryear- most notably, highly resembling Invasion of the Body Snatchers in its eeriness and mystique, that renders the film appealing. In the end a character we do not suspect is revealed to be an android spinning the plot into a fun finale.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is flawed, but becomes a bit of an acquired taste- appreciated a bit more over the years- if for no other reason than going against the grain and trying to be something different and creative. The story fails, but other little nuances succeed immeasurably.