Sherlock Holmes-2009

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Director-Guy Ritchie

Starring-Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law

Scott’s Review #575

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: B-

From a technical perspective. Sherlock Holmes, a 2009 attempt at revitalizing the famous detective story into something of a modern franchise for the masses, achieves a measure of success in style and editing, but ultimately fails in character development or story. Traditionalist fans of the detective and his partner will undoubtedly be displeased with this film.

This film is very well made, with snappy editing, fast-paced wit, and attempts at humor, but it really does not work all so well when put together as a film. The re-birth of Sherlock Holmes was clearly made to entice modern audiences. Director Guy Ritchie even brings in superhero elements to Sherlock Holmes- suddenly he can kick ass as well as solve a complex mystery, which is so far removed from the original character.

Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and partner Watson, have some humorous moments, but the chemistry is not really wholly there-it appears they are both trying too hard to create some magic where there is none.

All in all, though a well made, entertaining two hours spent, the story and characterization ultimately do not work. Downey Jr. gives a great performance and shows why he is one of today’s most versatile actors, but this cannot ultimately make the entire film a success.

Blow Out-1981

Blow Out-1981

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-John Travolta, Nancy Allen

Scott’s Review #574

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: A-

The follow-up to the 1980 masterpiece that was Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma carves a web of intrigue and mystery with Blow Out, a film starring some of the same cast members from Dressed to Kill and from 1976’s Carrie. Certainly comparisons can be drawn to the trio as they are all in the psychological thriller/horror vein- notwithstanding, the predecessors are the superior films. Blow Out is not quite on the level with those masterpieces, but is still a worthy effort and a must-see for fans of De Palma’s work.

John Travolta and Nancy Allen are the stars of the film-recreating their chemistry from Carrie. In that film, the pair are the clear villains, but in Blow Out they are the heroes and have a rooting value. Dennis Franz appears as a shady thug and John Lithgow is superb as the dastardly  Burke, hired to commit a crime, and enjoying it all too much.

Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound effects technician, working and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He works on low-budget horror films, and is highly respected for his craft. Alone in a remote park, recording sound and video, he records a car careening off a bridge into a creek. He saves Sally (Allen) from the sinking car and this is the point in the film where the intrigue takes off. The driver of the car is a governor and he has died- Sally was having an affair with the governor and his aides are intent on covering this up. To make matters more complicated, Jack has detected a gunshot on his recording-just before the crash, leading to obvious foul play.

I adore the beginning sequence of the film- my favorite. The film begins as a slasher film, unbeknownst to the audience. A collection of dizzy college girls dance, drink, and shower, as the cameras are placed outside of the dorms. We see all of the action through the glass windows, then the steady cam is used from the killers point of view. This is a highly effective scene and rather humorous too. Inevitably, a creepy killer appears in the shower to butcher one of the college girls until the real beginning of the film actually starts. This aspect is clever on the part of  De Palma. Why not trick the audience early and keep them guessing?

Also compelling is the villain of the film- Lithgow. Typically playing  sweet-nature characters, it was interesting to see him as a maniacal killer- and reminiscent of the crazed killer from Dirty Harry, in his harried, grotesque facial features. One particularly chilling scene involves the murder of a prostitute at the train station. I like this scene because the audience gets to know her a bit before she meets her fate- adding a level of empathy for the victim.

Enjoyable are the location sequences of Philadelphia, which give authenticity to the film. Specifically, the train station. Grizzled, dirty, and bustling, the locales set the tone of the film.

The chemistry between Travolta and Allen is decent, though I found more chemistry between them in Carrie. I did not care for Allen’s use of an accent- intended to be a Philadelphia accent, it seemed a New Jersey one to me and simply does not work at all in the film. This distraction is the only weak point of the film.

All in all, Blow Out is a very good film. It combines mystery, political intrigue, and the famed De Palma stamp- which in itself is worthwhile enough to watch. Blow Out contains a dream-like element- as Carrie and Dressed to Kill before it did, which only enhances the mystique. The not so happily ever after ending is superb.

Up in the Air-2009

Up in the Air-2009

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Scott’s Review #573

Reviewed December 30, 2016

Grade: A

Up in the Air is a fantastic film, but for some odd reason, circa its release to theaters in 2009 some reason it was categorized as a romantic comedy. While there is a bit of romance involved, the film is really a dark romantic drama. The content is absolutely perfect for this period in history- the terrible economy, and the unemployment rate rising sky high. The acting by the principles is excellent, and is worth watching, but do not expect a happy, uplifting film.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate “downsizer”, who travels the country firing employees from companies that hire him. Ryan has no qualms about what he does and enjoys traveling around the country. He mentors a young employee, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who is more sympathetic to the people whose lives she changes. Ryan meets another frequent flyer, businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an affair. He becomes a more sympathetic character as he develops real feelings for Alex, but will Alex return the affections?

The tone of the film is sarcastic and sardonic, and Clooney is dynamic in the lead role- carrying the film. He is charismatic and energetic, performing his work duties in an emotionless way. We slowly get to know him better and realize, through Alex, that he does have a heart. Alex is a more mysterious character, and Farmiga is equally as engaging in the role. When a big reveal is learned about Alex, the audience does not see it coming.

As the years go by, my hope is that Up in the Air is remembered for being a film that was released at the perfect time, given the difficulties many were going through. I love how the film carries smart dialogue- the characters questioning each others motivations and becoming intertwined. Jason Reitman and the screenwriters craft an exceptional film.

Avatar-2009

Avatar-2009

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #572

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: A

Acclaimed director James Cameron has done it again- similar to Titanic, he has created a masterpiece, but, oddly in merely one facet of the film, not the entire ball of wax. Avatar has two main factors to evaluate- the story and the visual aspect. Both are crucial, yes, but the visual experience is immeasurable, so much so, that the story is nearly irrelevant.

Futuristic in timeline and set in the Twenty-second century, human beings begin to colonize Pandora, a lush planet, filled with lavish forests and creature who flutter about. Planet earth has become depleted of resources, causing scientists to utilize Pandora for their own gain. Poisonous to humans, visitors must wear protection. Sam Worthington portrays Jake Scully, a paraplegic former Marine, who visits Pandora and falls in love with Neytiri, a native creature of the planet.

From a story perspective, Avatar is very ordinary and nothing separates the story from others that have come before it. At the center is a love story and a rather predictable one in nature, but this is not the reason to view Avatar. Jake and Neytiri are sweet together, but I had much more fun watching the film rather than caring what happened between the pair.

Visually, Avatar is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. The intricate style and the attention to detail are astounding- this is my favorite aspect of Avatar and why I feel that the story is really not the reason to see the film. Everything, from the art direction to the background pieces are perfectly made. Natives of Pandora are all CGI- blue/green in color, and are gorgeous, peaceful, and moving.

Avatar will likely go down in history as a groundbreaking film- it is a visual feast. The anti-war slant is also impressive to me, but the creative,technical achievements set this film over the top. James Cameron creates a magical, absorbing film that must be cherished.

Crazy Heart-2009

Crazy Heart-2009

Director-Scott Cooper

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Scott’s Review #571

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: A-

Crazy Heart is a film that is perfectly crafted for Jeff Bridge’s talents as an actor and the role seems written specifically for him. To that end, it is a showcase for the actor, and as proof, he was awarded the Best Actor Oscar. He plays surly, grizzled, and rode-hard to the hilt. His chemistry with co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic- despite her character being much younger than his. First directorial effort by Scott Cooper, who does an outstanding job.

Gyllenhaal plays a reporter, Jean Craddock, who becomes attached and fascinated by Bad Blake (Bridges), a former country-western star turned alcoholic and now washed up old man. He has mentored an upstart played by Colin Farrell, who has since usurped Bad Blake in popularity, leading Blake to depression and alcohol to relieve his pain. he still performs, but in dirty hotels or bowling alleys, for peanuts.

Bridge’s character reminds me so much of Mickey Rourke’s character “Randy the Ram” in The Wrestler, from 2008, so anyone who enjoyed the latter will enjoy the former. In fact, one might watch the two exceptional films in tandem- and in both there appears a younger female character who meshes well in the stories.

The story portrayed in Crazy Heart is gritty and depressing, yet also heartwarming and sentimental. We root for Blake and Jean  to succeed, battling Blake’s many demons. Crazy Heart is very well acted and genuine. The film is nice as it is a character driven film instead of a story dictated one.

The Aristocats-1970

The Aristocats-1970

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #570

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: B+

The golden age of Disney films mainly occurring prior to the release of this film, The Aristocats is a latter day Disney film, released in 1970- the first release since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. It is a darling story with a very cute subject matter- cats living in sophisticated Paris face peril from their butler. Like many Disney works, the film’s message pertains to the treatment of animals. The Aristocats is much safer fare than the dark Bambi or even Dumbo, but it is a fantastic film worth watching.

Glamorous and elegant retired opera star, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, lives peacefully with her gorgeous mother cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse in the heart of Paris, circa 1910. They are sophisticated beyond measure and enjoy every luxury known to cats, and are accompanied in their estate by English butler, Edgar. One day while Madame is discussing her will with her attorney, Edgar learns that she plans to leave her entire estate to her cats, until their death, then all goes to Edgar. Filled with greed, Edgar plots to kill the cats. This leads to an adventure in the country as the accosted cats attempt to find their way back home to Madame, with the help of feral yet kindly cat friends.

Ever so sweet to the film is the burgeoning romance which erupts between Duchess and Thomas O’Malley, as he  aids the cats in returning to Paris. It is classic girl from high class, meets the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks- only cat style. The chemistry is readily apparent between the pair and, on a personal note, my female cat Thora certainly seemed smitten with Thomas O’Malley as she sat smiling at Thomas as she watched the film.

During their adventure, Thomas and Duchess manage to dance and sing along with Thomas’s best friend Scat Cat, who leads a Jazz band of alley cats- this makes the film light and lively in tone. The group also shares adventures with English geese, Abigail and Amelia Gabble, who share a fondness for style and a prim and proper manner.

Throughout it all, the group continues to be pursued by Edgar, who is portrayed more as a bumbling villain than a sinister one, making The Aristocats a fun film rather than anything too heavy or sinister.

The sophistication of the film is really what makes me enjoy it so much. The high style of the Parisian city blocks, Madame’s gorgeous mansion, and the beautifully drawn French countryside are my favorite elements. I love the contrasts with this film- the city and the country, the high brow characters meet the more blue collar ones, but in the end, everyone comes together to conquer the mischievous foe.

Whereas, in Bambi man is the serious enemy, in The Aristocats, Edgar is more of a buffoon than a true dangerous element. He is cartoon-like (no pun intended), thereby the film is more of a caper with hi-jinks than of true danger.

For the cat lover in all of us, The Aristocats is a delightful film with a nice message, and a wonderful cultural experience. Who can forget the fantastic theme song, “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”?

The Last Station-2009

The Last Station-2009

Director-Michael Hoffman

Starring-Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #569

Reviewed December 28, 2016

Grade: A-

The Last Station is a wonderful film. It contains many worthwhile elements- history, culture, good drama, and great acting. Starring seasoned veterans such as Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, the fantastic acting is as good as it gets.

The film tells the story of the final year in the life of famous Russian author Tolstoy and the relationship he has with his family- specifically his wife, Sofya, and his disciples. The year is 1910 and Tolstoy is ailing. He has had a stormy yet passionate relationship with his wife for decades, which is explored in the film. The film’s main point is of greed and in-fighting for control of a great literary figures legacy and money.

The main strong point of The Last Station is the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya- both characters are headstrong, opinionated, but also madly in love, which lead to many sessions of battle.

This is a film of substance. Director Michael Hoffman also mixes some humor in with heavy drama. At the conclusion you might need to use some hankies.

The Crazies-2010

The Crazies-2010

Director-Breck Eisner

Starring-Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell

Scott’s Review #568

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: B+

The Crazies is an example of a very rare instance of a remake (especially in the horror genre) actually being better than the original (Cape Fear also comes to mind). Despite the original film being made in 1973, a wonderful time for creative film-making, I was not such a fan. The remake is more slick and stylized, but I actually think it works well and makes the film an above average effort.

There are many thrills during The Crazies and jump out of your seat scares (car wash scene), and I may never look through a keyhole again, ha! I actually felt tense watching several scenes and I genuinely did not know what was going to come next, which is quite an achievement for the modern horror genre.

I love the heartland, small town, middle of nowhere elements. A feeling of isolation and vulnerability is apparent and a must for successful horror.

The acting is above average for a horror flick, though, let’s not kid ourselves- who watches horror films for the Shakespearean acting? This film was sort of a cross between 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, but set in mid-western surroundings. A must for fans of modern horror.

Shutter Island-2010

Shutter Island-2010

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio

Scott’s Review #567

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: A-

Shutter Island is a great, psychological thriller, that being a Scorsese film, I had high expectations for. Lo and behold, I was not disappointed in the slightest. Scorsese has a knack for making taut films, violent certainly, and with an edge. This film does not have the gore nor the blood that some of his other films have- especially since the subject matter is not mafia related.

After Teddy Daniels, a World War II veteran, turned U.S. Marshall investigates the disappearance of a female patient at a local psychiatric hospital, the case develops layers that are unforeseen. The time period is the 1950’s.

Shutter Island is not your typical, run of the mill thriller- it is much more than that and the complexities build and build. Not to be secondary to the interesting web of plot, but the art and set designs and visual effects are quite impressive- particularly during the storm scenes.

Leonardo DiCaprio is quite the gem, carrying the film in a demanding role, and working so well with Scorsese, as proven by his being a repeat player in his films. In fact, all the performances (even tiny roles) were played with perfection- with flawless nuances- I mainly mean the hospital staff and patients.

The unpleasant violent images may upset some as well as the ending, but I found it to be an edge of your seat, extremely well made film. I hope that it is remembered for some time. Kudos.

Clash of the Titans-2010

Clash of the Titans-2010

Director-Louis Leterrier

Starring-Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Scott’s Review #566

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: B

Though I went to the theater begrudgingly to see Clash of the Titans (fantasy blockbusters are not typically my cup of tea), I have to confess to being moderately impressed by this film. I had no real expectations other than it is a tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus.

I have heard some people compare it to the original in an unfavorable way, but I have not seen the original- released in 1981 so any comparisons are a moot point. At one hour and fifty minutes the film is a perfect length and does not drag.

The plot is basic and focused. Perseus (Sam Worthington)  must save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda, as he leads a team of warriors into battle against vicious enemies. Some of the creatures they meet along the way are fascinating and interesting.

Clash of the Titans is not fine cinema, and the acting is not spectacular, but the effects are worth mentioning and the look of the film is impressive.

My only real criticisms are the way Medusa is portrayed (said to be ugly, she really is a beautiful woman with snakes on her head) and the 3-D, which really was pretty much unnecessary- this is probably an attempt by the studios to capitalize for profit.

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

Director-Juan Jose Campanella

Starring-Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin

Scott’s Review #565

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: A

The Secret in Their Eyes is a wonderful film and one of the best of the year 2009- deservedly it won the Best Foreign Language Film of that year. Argentinian, it is a multi-faceted story with twists and turns, leaving the audience guessing.

The remarkable characteristic of the film is that it crosses genres. It lies somewhere between a thriller and romantic film, and with much depth. The story concerns a criminal investigator who decides to write a memoir of a case that happened twenty-five years ago as he reflects on the present as well as the past. This story angle in itself is highly appealing.

The film contains many flashbacks- a young newlywed was raped and murdered years ago in an unsolved case, and the film is clearly influenced heavily by both Alfred Hitchcock and Dirty Harry. It has a few surprises and twists to the tale, especially as the plot moves along. I adored the use of mirrors, reflections, shadows, and eyeglasses. Hitchcock lovers will know all about that.

I was fortunate to see this film at my local art theater and at close to three hours, it can be slow moving at times, but well worth the pay off. The Secret in Their Eyes is a very, very well made film.

Splice-2009

Splice-2009

Director-Vincenzo Natali

Starring-Adrien Brody

Scott’s Review #564

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B-

If you are looking for a realistic, character driven movie, this film is not for you. Rather, Splice is a science-fiction, thriller, that must be viewed while suspending all disbelief. Certainly not a work of art, and lots of plot holes, but it provides decent entertainment, bordering on fluff.

The two main characters, Elsa and Clive, while admittedly neurological-scientists, are not the brightest people in the world and their motivations change with the weather. The basic plot involves a married couple (above said scientists) who conduct an experiment to splice human and animal DNA into a new creation, a female hybrid named Dren. Predictably, things go awry, once Dren is let loose on the world.

The plot is thin and there are questionable actions, motivations, and subplots, but somehow I still found it entertaining once I simply went with it. There are cliches such as the scientists ignoring instructions, the one-dimensional supporting characters, and so on and so forth.

As a comical aside, I overheard the guy sitting behind me in the theater mutter as the closing credits rolled,  “This was the worst movie ever”. I understand where he is coming from, but did not think the film was that bad. For fans of horror or thrillers I recommend it, anyone else might want to skip this one.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-2010

Director-Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg

Starring-Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers

Scott’s Review #563

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: A

I found Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work to be a great documentary. For fans of Joan Rivers the film is obviously a treat, but for people unfamiliar with her, it is an amazing journey into her personal life, and we see her at her most vulnerable.

At the time of this documentary, she was a very busy seventy-seven year old entertainer. The film exceeds as it shows not only her stage persona, and her quick wit, but a more intimate, personal side to the woman. According to Rivers, the makers of the documentary were allowed free reign of what made the final cut, with no approval by Rivers.

Joan Rivers must be the hardest working, driven, seventy-seven year old alive. Not only is she the foul-mouthed, hysterical comedienne most know her as, but she also has an insecure, sensitive side that few see. Moments of this documentary are hysterical, others are heartbreaking. As she is heckled in a crappy club in the mid-west by a man offended by her jokes, Rivers lashes out at the man, and later shows a sense of regret as she speaks to the camera.

The documentary is basically set-up as a year in the life of Joan Rivers mixed in with her forty plus years in showbiz, how she got her start, breaks, etc. We experience the pain she felt when her husband committed suicide, forcing her to take almost any job as a way to pay her bills.

This is a documentary that reveals much, much more than the public sees her as. It is an intimate portrayal of a courageous woman that few wholly see. I loved it.

Toy Story 3-2010

Toy Story 3-2010

Director-Lee Unkrich

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Scott’s Review #562

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B+

It is not easy for sequels to succeed in the creativity or the originality categories, but surprisingly, Toy Story 3 is a fresh, imaginative, fun film. The characters are charming, interesting, and heartwarming, and the film is able to avoid a sappy result. Pixar has another hit.

Andy, now grown up and headed off to college, sees no reason to keep any of his childhood toys, now irrelevant and headed for the scrap box- at least that is what Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, fear will happen as the dreaded day approaches. They must scheme to avoid their fate.

Many interesting new toys are introduced to this franchise with unique personalities, thereby giving a fresh approach, yet not forgetting the past. I adore how Toy Story 3 has many dynamic themes (loneliness, abandonment, togetherness), that play very well together with a nice message.

On a deeper level, the film certainly reflects the modern era. People are so easily thrown out, forgotten, and abandoned, whether through a job, relationship, etc. so that makes this film a sad reality if one chooses to look at it that way, which most won’t.

Great movie for kids and adults alike with a meaningful, relevant message. The film is not a sugar-coated affair and offers a cold reality, while still remaining accessible.

Scrooge-1970

Scrooge-1970

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Albert Finney, Alec Guinness

Scott’s Review #561

Reviewed December 25, 2016

Grade: A

A classic that is perfect to watch around the holidays, accompanied perhaps by a roaring fire and a bit of brandy, Scrooge is a magical, musical experience, that should be adored by the entire family. The film is a re-telling of the 1843 Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. Set in London with spectacular London style art direction, it is perfect in its depiction of life around the holidays in the historic city, circa nineteenth century.

To be clear, this is the musical version of the popular tale- not to be confused with the 1935 or the 1951 versions of the story. The film is not as dark or scary as those films are. Rather, the 1970 Scrooge would be a fantastic companion piece to the 1968 classic, Oliver!, both based on Dickens stories, as both mix fantastic musical scores with the dramatic elements.

Albert Finney takes center stage in flawless form as the old, cantankerous, miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. He plays the character as both an old man, and, via flashbacks, as a young man (Finney was merely thirty four years old at the time of filming). Guinness, certainly a high caliber actor, is effective as the ghost of Jacob Marley- Scrooge’s former business partner. Scrooge is a money-lender, mainly to the working class, and is unforgiving in his collection of debts.

Filled with hatred of all things good, especially the Christmas holiday, Scrooge refuses to attend a family Christmas dinner hosted by his nephew, Fred, or to give to any charities. He begrudgingly gives his minion and bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, Christmas day off. Finally left alone Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of Jacob Marley, deceased seven years, who tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts during  the night.

In a chilling scene, Marley takes Scrooge on a journey through the sky where he is greeted by spirits doomed to traverse the Earth as Jacob is, with shackles acquired from their life as living beings. Since they were greedy and wicked, they are doomed in the afterlife, just as Scrooge will be if he does not change his ways.

In a wonderful sub-plot, we get to know the Cratchit’s, led by father Bob, a poor, but earnest man. The family has little, but make the most of what they do have, and appreciate the glorious holiday. They prepare a meager Christmas bird, and savor being together as a family. Their youngest, Tiny Tim, is lame, and he lusts over a lavish train set in the local toy shop. The Cratchit’s epitomize goodness and richness of character, and clearly contrast Ebenezer Scrooge.

As Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and Christmas yet to come, he slowly realizes he needs to change his ways before it is too late, and the audience is treated to stories of Scrooge’s youth, as we realize what has made him the miserly old man that he is today.

The clear highlight to this film is its musical numbers that will leave even the most tone deaf humming along in glee. Throughout each sequence we are treated to various numbers. My favorite is “Thank You Very Much”, as first appears during the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come sequence. By this time feeling more sympathetic and appreciative, Scrooge merrily dances and sings along with the townspeople, unaware of the fact that they are celebrating his death and are dancing on his coffin to celebrate the fact that their debts are now free and clear. This catchy tune is a reprise at the end of the film.

Other cheery numbers are “Father Christmas” and “I Like Life”, which perfectly categorize the film as a merry, holiday one, despite the occasional dark nature of the overall film. This is necessary to avoid making Scrooge too bleak.

I also adore the vivid set designs as the gorgeous city of London is perfectly recreated to show the festive Christmas holiday. The film is not high budget, but makes the most of it by using small, yet lavish sets.

Scrooge is a perfect holiday film that contains fantastic tunes, a meaningful story, that comes across on film as celebratory of life, never edging toward contrived or over-saturated in nature. A wonderful holiday feast.

The Kids Are All Right-2010

The Kids Are All Right-2010

Director-Lisa Cholodenko

Starring-Julianne Moore, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #560

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

The Kids Are All Right is a fantastic film! In my opinion the film is one of the best of the year 2010 and was rewarded with a deserving Best Picture nomination. Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo were also honored with acting nominations. Bening gives the best performance in the film.

Continuing the trend of more exposure to LGBT issues, The Kids Are All Right tells of a same sex centered family dealing with real issues. Though not dark, the film is not light or played strictly for laughs. It is a family drama that shows how same sex family units face problems like everyone else, and how they deal with them, never forgetting how much they love each other.

The writing is intelligent, deeply layered, and rich. The acting superb, and the characters complex.  The best scene is one where the entire family is eating dinner- suddenly the camera focuses on one person, goes in slow motion, the other voices become muffled and distance, and a painful emotion is portrayed on one of the character’s faces as a revelation comes to the surface. Brilliant.

Even the seemingly unimportant dialogue throughout the film is smart as it shows the bond of the family that cannot ultimately be broken. The Kids Are All Right is a worthwhile and compelling film.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #559

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Inception-2010

Inception-2010

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page

Scott’s Review #558

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A-

Inception is the type of film that will leave you astounded, baffled, confused, bewildered, and many other adjectives. To put it more simply, this film needs to be pondered after the fact. This is a high compliment as it is tough to remember such a complex (in a good way!), savory film. Inception is visionary and meant to be processed.

A highly intelligent film, of sorts,  that will leave you thinking afterwards. The story is immeasurably complex and will leave many completely confused, but just go with it.

In a nutshell, it tells the story of a man who intercepts people’s subconscious minds through dreams. Different layers of their minds are revealed as the film goes along. There are also virtual levels to each person’s mind- complex, yes.

The film reminds me quite a bit of The Matrix- but better. The film has many twists and turns throughout and will keep the viewer both perplexed and fascinated. My only slight criticism is the dream sequences do not feel like dreams at all, but highly stylized action sequences. Many props given for being so inventive, though.

Get Low-2009

Get Low-2009

Director-Aaron Schneider

Starring-Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray

Scott’s Review #557

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: B+

Get Low is an understated, gentle, sweet story set in Tennessee in the late 1930’s. The film is greatly enhanced by the stellar cast consisting of Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray.  I dislike the title of the film as, to me, it feels dull and boring. Despite the very slow pace, and the understated feel, the film is successful as one will become engaged with the characters lives.

It tells the story of an elderly man named Felix Bush (DuVall), who decides to plan his own living funeral for the small town to attend. Felix is a hermit who lives deep in the woods of Tennessee. He is despised, yet largely unknown by the townspeople, who only have past stories they have heard about him to formulate their opinions. He hides a long ago, dark secret, which predictably is eventually revealed.

DuVall is the standout in this movie, but Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray are also very good- unsurprising based on their string of acting credits.

Enjoyable are the exterior scenes of rural Tennessee, giving an authentic look into the lives of small town folks of that time period.

I could have gone for a quicker pace, despite the fact that I love slow moving stories, as long as a pay-off is to be received. The reveal served satisfactory, but I could have gone for some juicer scandals and revalations. Get Low is a simple, yet moving story about life, regret, secrets, and religion.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Scott’s Review #556

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Never Let Me Go-2010

Never Let Me Go-2010

Director-Mark Romanek

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Scott’s Review #555

Reviewed December 21, 2016

Grade: A-

Offering a unique experience in creative story-telling, Never Let Me Go is an excellent film that I was happy to discover. A mixture of romance and science-fiction, it tells of young love and tragedy in an interesting way- sacrifice and science can lead to dire results. Based on a 2005 novel of the same name.

A small British drama about a private school where the children are raised as typical children, but at a certain point are expected to donate organs to save other lives, the concept is quite fresh and original. The film deals with both the moral and psychological effects of the chosen ones as they attempt to allude ending their lives- if they can prove they are in love.

My initial reactions were multiple in emotion-thought-provoking, touching, and sad are what I felt. This film will make you think. It is equally evocative and thought-provoking- many times I imagined myself in a similar situation. As Andrew Garfield’s character gets out of his car on the side of the road and screams up at the sky, it is the most powerful scene in the film.

Excellent acting by the three leads (Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley), with special praise for Carey Mulligan. Charlotte Rampling as the mysterious headmistress of the school is brilliant.

Repulsion-1965

Repulsion-1965

Director-Roman Polanski

Starring-Catherine Deneuve

Scott’s Review #554

Reviewed December 21, 2016

Grade: A

Repulsion is an excellent British film, and an early film of great director, Roman Polanski- made in 1965. The film was shot on a low budget, and the action mainly takes place inside a small London apartment. Repulsion is part of Polanski’s “Apartment trio”, along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant- all set inside apartments.

The film tells the story of Carol (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful, young, woman who slowly goes insane over the course of a weekend, while left alone by her vacationing sister. Carol is a beauty parlor worker who seemingly is sweet and shy, but gradually becomes violent, volatile, and unbalanced. Carol experiences hallucinations and it is alluded to that she may have been sexually abused as a child. She loathes men.

The film is shot in black and white with eerie camera shots and background noises and very little music. This film has a claustrophobic entity that makes it all the more disturbing. All of these characteristics make the film a difficult experience to watch, but that is to its credit.

We see Carol unravel and are mystified by the aspects that make her this way. The bathtub scene and the scene with Carol’s landlord are highlights in their brutality.

Repulsion is difficult to watch, but a wonderful piece of cinema. An in-depth character study of an already unhinged woman reaching her psychological breaking point.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Scott’s Review #553

Reviewed December 20, 2016

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969. The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content actually. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each become enamored with a member of the wedding party. Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sisters individual relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other. All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion-some tender and some quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in  a gratuitous fashion. The film’s theme are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character driven, told from each of the characters perspectives, and is quite the intense experience. Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

Inside Job-2010

Inside Job-2010

Director-Charles Ferguson

Starring-Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #552

Reviewed December 20, 2016

Grade: A-

Directly derived from the financial crisis of 2008, Inside Job explains what led up to, the factors involved in, and who is responsible for the 2008 crisis. The documentary is very important to see- if nothing else but a lesson in greed and corruption.

It is mainly divided into segments to make it less confusing and the content is easily digestible. The basic concept here is greed, and how people are predisposed to being greedy. Those responsible for the crisis and the subsequent effects on millions of people attempt to defend themselves and what they did to the end- sadly they are still in power, as immoral human beings as they are.

Many times the interviewer will either catch the subject in a lie or leave them tongue tied- one subject even threatens the interviewer. There is a sense of satisfaction that erupts as they squirm and attempt to quickly think of ways to evade the questions.

Inside Job shows how Wall street is incredibly powerful, and how most politicians are puppets, who are influenced greatly by them. It is a sad and discouraging documentary, but incredibly honest and thought provoking. I left the theater feeling angry and depressed, but feeling that the filmmakers do an excellent job of educating the viewer to the woes of the world.

Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job is one of the best documentaries I have seen in recent years.

Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood-1988

Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood-1988

Director-John Carl Buechler

Starring-Lar Park Lincoln, Terry Kiser

Scott’s Review #551

Reviewed December 19, 2016

Grade: B-

The seventh installment of the legendary Friday the 13th franchise is enjoyable, yet clearly predictable. However, props must be awarded to the creators for at least making an attempt  at a novel idea- this time the “final girl” is not the damsel in distress type, but rather, gives as good as she gets. Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood is a decent offering in the horror genre and certainly better than some of its companion films.

The main heroine is a telekinetic girl named  Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln). Via flashbacks, we learn that Tina’s father was an alcoholic and abused her mother. When Tina’s telekinesis was unlocked ten years earlier, Tina caused her father’s drowning death, conveniently at Camp Crystal Lake. Tina has harbored deep regret ever since and is now treated by Doctor Crews (Terry Kiser). The duo- along with her mother- decide to stay at the lake where a group of partying kids take up residence next door. Apparently none of them have any idea who Jason Voorhees is.

The beginning and end are ridiculous even by horror standards as the action is way over the top and too convoluted to go into, but everything else is fine. The cast seems a bit larger than in other chapters, which is great because that means more kills. Unfortunately, many of the kills have been edited to make an R rating. (I try to watch NR horror films- no edits). My favorite kill by far is the “sleeping bag” kill. Awesome!! Unfortunately, the DVD version of this kill is severely edited from the theatrical version.

Also, Jason looks like a true monster in this one and that is to be applauded. Stuntman Kane Hodder would begin a successful stint at the killer and he looks the part. Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood is a fun popcorn horror flick.