Florence Foster Jenkins-2016

Florence Foster Jenkins-2016

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring-Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

Scott’s Review #613

Reviewed January 30, 2017

Grade: B

Director Stephen Frears certainly loves to direct films that are starring vehicles for mature actresses- Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and now Meryl Streep have benefited vastly by his direction (all received Oscar nominations). In Florence Foster Jenkins, Frears crafts a warm hearted tale of a famous real-life opera singer, the title character, played by Streep. The film is likable, but not up to par with other Frears gems, specifically Philomena or The Queen. The film is a tad too safe for my tastes and should have been darker given the subject matter.

Florence Foster Jenkins is a New York City socialite and heiress living and flourishing during the year 1944. She is the founder of the Verdi Club and does a world of good for music, specifically the world of opera, which she adores. Nicknamed “Bunny” by her husband Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant, he reveres her, but not in the physical sense- he resides elsewhere with a girlfriend. This is due to Bunny being afflicted with long-term syphilis, causing her to be medicated and rendering her bald and unable to engage in sexual relations.

Bunny is a wretched, flat singer, despite her passion for singing, yet everyone convinces her how wonderful she is because she is so well regarded in her social circle. Many people are paid off in exchange for their support. Due to Bunny’s medication, it is assumed that she cannot hear properly leaving her unaware of how bad she really sings. Bunny now determined to sing at Carnegie Hall, Bayfield must scramble to make sure no critics are anywhere in site for the big show, saving his wife from humiliation.

Any film starring Meryl Streep is assured to be fantastic from an acting standpoint and, per usual, she does not disappoint. Streep envelopes the role of Bunny- giving her charm and a vulnerability that only Streep can do. The character knows what she wants and is stubborn, but there is a kindness to her and we see the passion ooze from her pores. Clearly Streep is the highlight and the draw of the film.

Hugh Grant is worthy of kudos himself and I rather liked the chemistry between the two actors. Seeking physical relations with another woman may risk making him appear a cad, but Grant also gives Bayfield a sensitivity and genuine care for his wife. They have “an arrangement” but he hides his girlfriend when Bunny shows up unexpectedly- not wanting Bunny to be embarrassed. Grant’s and Streep’s scenes together are tender and believable.

Simon Helberg, as Bunny’s pianist, McMoon is also a positive of the film. Hired to accompany Bunny’s singing, he is first appalled, bemused, and finally understanding of Bunny, coming to love and respect her for who she is. The character is clearly gay (the film never comes out and says this), but gay themes are common in Frears films and it is a non-issue among the principal characters- wonderful, but perhaps unrealistic for that time.

A flaw of the film is the lack of any purely great moments during the film. I suppose the climax at Carnegie Hall should have been it, but I did not completely buy the entire film. Even the laughter and the mocking of Bunny by the crowd seems done in a soft, light way. The film is a decent offering, nonetheless, and Streep the ultimate selling point. Great costumes, too.

Holding the Man-2015

Holding the Man-2015

Director-Neil Armfield

Starring-Ryan Corr, Craig Stott

Scott’s Review #612

Reviewed January 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Holding the Man is a brave love story centering on two young men and spanning fifteen years as the men begin as high school sweethearts and progress into adulthood and sadly both contract AIDS. This is a pivotal aspect to the film as it is set during the 1970’s and 1980’s- a time when this disease was dreadful and more or less a death sentence. The film is tender and poignant, but despite these characteristics, I felt at times something with more vigor was missing from the film- I did not have the exact emotional reaction that I thought I might have, and felt a slight blandness. The film is set in Australia and adapted from a 1995 memoir of the same name.

The action begins in 1976 as we meet Tim and John- both high school students. They are from opposite social groups- Tim a theater student and John captain of his soccer team. Surprisingly, they connect romantically as Tim asks John out on a date. For the time period it was, the pair receive little hassle and are quite open with their relationship. Certainly, they face a bit of opposition from officials at the school, but this is not a main aspect that the film goes for. Instead, the main problems come from John’s family- specifically, his father, but this is certainly played safely. Tim’s family is much more accepting. Over the next fifteen years, the couple encounter death directly when they are simultaneously told they have acquired HIV.

The film is mostly told chronologically, but does go back and forth at times- specifically, we are reminded of John’s youthful good looks in flashbacks, when he is close to death-now bald and sickly looking. The main point of the film is the men’s enduring love for each other, which is a really nice message. Otherwise, the film (2015 and long since the AIDS plague), goes for a reminder of how harsh those times were for gay men, though there is a softness to the film that I felt-instead of the brutal reality.

The actors playing John and Tim (Craig Stott and Ryan Corr, respectively) have decent chemistry, but this may have been stronger than my perception was, and the reason I did not feel emotionally invested in the film. The film was nice and sweet-the romance part, but when one of the men succumbs to AIDS I should have been a puddle of tears and I just wasn’t.

I did enjoy how the film does not focus too much on the opposition by John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia). He certainly would wish his son’s sexuality differently, but is more concerned with how his son’s relationship with a male looks to Dad’s friends and neighbors. The deeper story was the love between the men that knew no barriers.

It was nice to see Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce in supporting turns as a drama teacher (Rush) and as Tim’s father, Dick (Pearce). Both do well with limited roles and I adored how the film portrayed Dick as a supportive father- even dancing a slow dance with his son at a wedding- free of embarrassment. Also notable is the sweet ending of the film where a photo of the real Tim and John is shown during a narrative from an interview the real Tim did before his death.

Holding the Man is a nice film, but does not quite have the power that other LGBT films in recent decades had- Brokeback Mountain immediately comes to mind as a similar film, but one which was more emotional and engaged me much more. A nice, honest effort, though.

20th Century Women-2016

20th Century Women-2016

Director-Mike Mills

Starring-Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning

Scott’s Review #611

Reviewed January 22, 2017

Grade: A-

Annette Benning gets to shine in her leading role in 20th Century Women, a film directed by formidable independent director, Mike Mills, whose credits include 2010’s Beginners, and 2005’s Thumbsucker. In 20th Century Women, Mills serves as both director and writer, so the film truly is his vision. All of the five principal characters are quirky and well-written, though Benning’s is the most nuanced and fascinating to me.

The time is 1979 Santa Barbara. Despite the image of Santa Barbara being  a wealthy, grand town, dripping with the wealthy and powerful (perhaps due to the sweeping 1980’s daytime soap opera of the same name), Mills does not present this film as such. He presents Santa Barbara as a more artsy town as least where his characters are concerned.

Benning plays Dorothea Fields, a fifty-five year old divorced mother of a fifteen year old boy, Jaimie. She is a free-spirit and allows two boarders to live with her-Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a twenty-five year old aspiring photographer with fuchsia-colored hair, recovering from cervical cancer, and William (Billy Crudup), a handyman. They are joined by Jaimie’s good friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), a depressed neighbor.

The film nicely dives into the trials and tribulations of each character as well as their interactions with each other, in a highly quirky manner, and we fall in love with each of them. Dorothea enlists the help of Abbie and Julie to assist in having a positive influence over Jaimie after he nearly dies after a foolish teenage prank.

Mills successfully gives a slice of life feel to the time period as punk rock and the political climate of the times are heavily used in the film. Bands such as Talking Heads and Black Flag are focused as Dorothea strives to learn what young people like, herself striving to remain youthful and in touch with her charges. Dorothea is a chain-smoker and many scenes of her pondering a situation while taking long drags, are featured. I love this aspect of the film as it showcases Benning’s cerebral performance. She is a thoughtful woman, only wanting her son to grow up sane and productive since his father is absent.

Sex and feminism are big parts of the film. Abbie loans Jaimie two books by female feminist authors to allow him a better understanding of women. When he begins to discuss orgasms and a strange conversation about sex and virginity ensues during a dinner party Dorothea is hosting, the graphic detail is a bit too much for Dorothea. She is a conflicted character- open minded and caring, when it comes to her son, she has a more conservative edge, while trying to remain open to his new experiences as a teen.

20th Century Women is strictly a character driven film, which is an enormous strength. Each character is in a different place in their lives and I adore how the film gives a conclusion to each of the character’s lives in the years to come. Certainly, the film does go the “happily ever after” route, but this does not bother me. Rather, the film is so well composed that I was enraptured by the characters lives. Admittedly, the film is slow moving at times, but this is due to the richness of the dialogue- nothing is rushed along.

Kudos to the cast- specifically Gerwig and Fanning are wonderful. Fanning’s Julie is a unique character- her mother is a psychiatrist who forces her to attend group sessions that she holds. Julie has a step-sister with cerebral palsy, so Julie frequently sleeps at Dorothea’s house as a way to escape her life. Sexual active, Julie has a pregnancy scare during the story.

A coming of age type film set in an interesting period of time, 20th Century Women showcases the talents of a stellar cast, led by Benning, and takes its audience into a wonderful, character themed world and discusses the lives of its intriguing characters with a clear portrayal of life in the late 1970’s.

The Lady in the Van-2015

The Lady In The Van-2015

Director-Nicholas Hytner

Starring-Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #610

Reviewed January 19, 2017

Grade: B

As far as I am concerned Maggie Smith can do no wrong and I will happily enjoy watching her in anything- anytime. Around in film since the 1950’s this lady deserves starring film role.  Utterly distinctive she is- as legendary actress Bette Davis was- Smith has a style purely her own- her facial expressions and exasperated gasps make her one of the great film stars. The Lady in the Van is specifically made for her, I have no doubt, but besides her talents the movie is a decent offering, but very safe. It lacks the depth that it could have had.

Written by Alan Bennett, the film tells the true story of Mary Sheperd, an elderly woman living in a broken down van, who befriends Bennett, and eventually lives in his driveway for fifteen years before her inevitable death. Set in northern London, a quaint and gorgeous part of the world, Mary harbors a deep secret involving her van, and is revealed to have been a star piano pupil in her day.

Smith has no qualms about playing unflattering characters. Sheperd is grizzled, abrupt, and rude, but Smith puts a lot of heart into her too, so that the audience senses her vulnerability and falls in love with her. With her sad protruding blue eyes, wrinkles for miles, and chirpy voice, Smith is fantastic at giving her all to the role. The rest of the cast, however, adequately play their roles, but are limited and out-shadowed at every turn. Most notable is the wasted talents of Jim Broadbent, appearing in a small and quite meaningless role.

Besides Smith’s brilliant performance, The Lady in the Van lacks any layers. The story is well and good, but we never see many of Mary’s struggles- how does she afford food? how is she not sick? The film skims over the darker elements of being homeless in favor of a lighthearted tale. Fine, but what about her inevitable issues?

Other less important stories are mentioned but not fully explored. Alex speaks to what looks like his twin brother, but is it his alter ego? Young men come and go at night, so the presumption is that Alex is gay, and in the end we do see Alex living with a man, but why is this so vaguely written? Why mention it at all? This story would have been interesting to delve deeper into especially given the fact that the real Alex Bennett wrote the film.

Other side stories are introduced, but remain on the surface. Alex’s mother clearly suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this is not explored much, and Mary’s brother, who institutionalized her at a young age, offers no explanation as to why this was done- obviously she had mental illness- but the brother’s motivations are not clear. I wanted more from the supporting characters than was offered.

Still, the bottom line is that The Lady in the Van is a Maggie Smith film, and any film in which she has the lead role, is pretty damned good for that reason alone.

Hell or High Water-2016

Hell or High Water-2016

Director-David Mackenzie

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster

Scott’s Review #609

Reviewed January 16, 2017

Grade: B+

Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men or a classic Sam Peckinpah film from the 1970’s, Hell or High Water is a splendid tale of bank robbers being chased by lawmen in rural, western Texas. The film provides good story with a tale of morality so the viewer is unsure who to root for- the good guys or the bad guys. This gives the film substance compared to the typical action, guy film, done to death. Odd, quirky, small characters are interspersed throughout the film which adds comedy and a unique feel. The film is directed by David Mackenzie- up until now an unknown to me.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play Toby and Tanner, two brothers who embark on a series of small town bank robberies in order to save their recently deceased mother’s ranch. Tanner (Foster) is the more seasoned criminal of the two, having spent time in jail and being more volatile than his brother. Toby (Pine) is a family man with two kids, and is more intelligent and sensible than his brother. They are pursued by two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), a grizzled man weeks away from retirement, and his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

What I enjoyed most about this film is the authenticity of the setting. The film was actually shot in New Mexico, but, meant to be west Texas, this is believable and the cinematography is gorgeous. The vastness of the land, the sticky desert heat are filmed very well. Small town Texas is portrayed as tiny characters are introduced as townspeople, given much credo to the film. My favorites are the diner waitress-smitten with the handsome Toby (and her $200 tip), and t-bone waitress- grizzled and rude after forty-four years in the same place- their sassy and abrasive behavior works and adds much to the film. Dale Dickey is a treat in any film and her turn as a bank employee is a joy.

How nice to see Chris Pine in a challenging role. His character is conflicted morally- not wanting to hurt anyone, he struggles with the robberies, and wants to do right by his kids and his mother. He is a decent man caught in uncertain circumstances and Pine does an excellent job at portraying him, proving the actor is becoming more than just a pretty face.

Bridges plays surly quite well and how nice to see the actor succeeding career-wise in his golden years. His Texas Ranger character is determined to uphold the law, but below the surface is more than a bit worried about his upcoming retirement, closing a chapter in his life that undoubtedly is important to him. His relationship with his partner is jovial, and buddy-like, but is there an underlying physical attraction between the men? The film does not go there, but perhaps on a subconscious level it is hinted at.

A fantastic scene laced with tension occurs near the end of the film, when two of the main characters are killed. It is a stand-off of sorts, atop a desert mountain ridge. One of the characters loses it, which results in a shoot-out and a shocking loss of life. The scene is great in that it is good, old-fashioned shoot ’em up done well.

Hell or High Water is a gritty action film that contains great elements, nice characterization, and good, clean fun. A throwback to a crime-western of long ago, without the standard stock characters. This film is more layered than the traditional sort of film and is intelligently written, thereby achieving something unique in its own right.

London Has Fallen-2016

London Has Fallen-2016

Director-Babak Najafi

Starring-Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart

Scott’s Review #608

Reviewed January 13, 2017

Grade: D

Save for plenty of very interesting, cool London shots- mostly aerial views- London Has Fallen is complete drivel. The films attempt at being a red-blooded, patriotic film, comes across as insulting and racist, with a machismo that is cringe worthy. The dialogue is bad and the “us against them” mantra has been done to death in film- mostly the 1980’s and 1990’s. To quote one reviewer, “London Has Fallen is Donald Trump in film form”. How the film convinced such a talented cast to appear is beyond me (must have been money), and several’s parts are so small (Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley) they are nearly glorified extras.

The plot is painfully contrived to say nothing of the ludicrous nature of the entire story. To retaliate against a drone strike killing a Pakistani leader, terrorists take advantage of the death of the UK Prime Minister in order to assassinate several world leaders who have gravitated to London in order to attend the funeral services. The President of the United States (played by Aaron Eckhart) is naturally in attendance and his murder is thwarted by top Secret Service official, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)-our films hero. The rest of the film involves the President and Mike running throughout London attempting to catch the terrorists and bring them to justice while avoiding death.

The London locales are superb, but sadly, mainly appear at the beginning and the end of the film. The London Eye, the Thames river, the Underground and various metro stations are featured. The numerous London bridges also get some exposure. The best part is the way the film showcases the vastness of London and not just the up close shots of historic places like Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Certainly London is known for those gems, but the aerial views give the viewer an appreciation of all that London has to offer- I loved only this aspect of the film.

The supporting roles are abysmal and one imagines the actors cringing as they read the scripts for some of these roles, given the more artistic parts they’ve received in the past. I hesitate to think what possessed Leo, Forster, and Haley to accept meaningless roles save for a hefty pay check. Each played members of the President’s staff and were largely reduced to reactionary shots. Getting more screen time, but being treated to equally uninteresting roles are Angela Bassett as an ill-fated Secret Service Director and Radha Mitchell as Banning’s weary looking, pregnant wife. The performances overall are forgettable. Respectable actors Butler and Eckhart merely phone in their vapid, dull lines, failing to make any of it believable.

The film never bothers with character development or anything beyond basic good and bad roles- every character is either 100% good or 100% bad. It is made crystal clear that the Americans are the good guys, and the foreigners (all Middle eastern or Asian actors, of course) are simply the bad guys. There is never an explanation of what the “bad guys” motivations are and one cheesy line after another is written for the “good guys”. During the finale Banning professes that “we have been here for thousands of years and always will be”, as he beats a bad guy senseless. Good grief. I’ve seen better dialogue on a network television drama.

And there is never any doubt how the film will end- there is an American mole who has used his power to enable all of the assassinations, but when the mole is revealed, it is a character we have never seen before, so who cares?

Surely a film soon to be forgotten for the poor story, cliche-riddled script, and stereotypes galore, but the fantastic London shots were inspiring and lovely to see. I would have been happy with one hour and forty minutes of those.

Snakes on a Plane-2006

Snakes On A Plane-2006

Director-David R. Ellis

Starring-Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #607

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B

Snakes on a Plane, the surprise internet bruhaha sensation of 2006 has much to criticize. The plot is inane, the acting way over the top, and the subject portrayed in such a dumb manner, I could the results being horrific, but there is just something I really enjoyed about the film too, as admittedly stupid as it is. I simply could not help but sit back and enjoy it.

I enjoyed the setting of an airplane- trapped at 35, 000 feet, in peril, has always enamored me (think Airport disaster films of the 1970’s). The story involves a plot to release hundreds of deadly snakes on a passenger flight, in order to kill a witness to a murder trial.  Of course, innocent passengers are met with their dire fates as the cartoon-like characters are offed one by one, horror film style.

Sadly, the film did not live up to anticipated expectations, commercially or critically, and was considered somewhat of a dud after all of the hype, but I rather enjoyed it for what is was. Hardly high art, it entertained me.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Director-Gore Verbinski

Starring-Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom

Scott’s Review #606

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the follow-up to the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, from 2003. The sequel is decent, but certainly inferior to Curse of the Black Pearl. The visual effects are spectacular, and the budget very high, but the story wasn’t really there. The film drags along at times as well as being a bit confusing.

Johnny Depp gives his all to his role of Jack Sparrow, performing with gusto and is clearly the highlight of the franchise. The supporting characters, Bloom as Will Turner, and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, are fine, but not on the level of Depp. Otherwise, the performances are all okay, but just a carbon copy of the first film.

Story-wise, Will and Elizabeth are arrested for aiding Jack Sparrow’s escape execution, and the plot involves the attempts at locating Sparrow along with the typical adventure aspects of a film like this and the stock character villains, with grimaces, heavy makeup, and over-acting, but I expected as much.

Not a bad sequel, certain to entertain the masses, and guaranteed to make a ton of money, inevitably ensuring another sequel will be made, with little doubt of being even less compelling.

Closer-2004

Closer-2004

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman

Scott’s Review #605

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B+

Closer is a very odd, offbeat sort of film, yet it is strangely fascinating and reels you in as the story unfolds and more is revealed. One will become engrossed in the characters as the film is rich in nuanced character development. Closer is very adult and certainly not for everyone, but if you enjoy character driven films this one is worth checking out.

Based on a play of the same name and featuring a star studded cast to go along with several Oscar nominations, Closer tells the story of companionship, isolation, and betrayal. It centers on four characters, (Anna-Julia Roberts, Dan-Jude Law, Alice-Natalie Portman, and Larry-Clive Owen), each of whom spends the film either bedding, scheming, or jealous of each of the others. Purely a character study, we see many different emotions from each, which is the films strength.

To the films credit, it is shot much like a play, however, is just a tad on the slow moving side. However, I adored the London locales, and the films successful attempt at makes the viewer uncomfortable and just a tinge disturbed.

My Bloody Valentine-2009

My Bloody Valentine-2009

Director-Patrick Lussier

Starring-Jensen Ackles, Jaime King

Scott’s Review #604

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B

What can I say? The remake of the classic slasher film from 1981 is a very slick version of the perfect Valentine’s day treat- My Bloody Valentine. To compare the 2009 offering to the original is unfair since I consider that one top notch. This version is what I expected it to be. Though several aspects of it were changed from the original, it was entertaining all the same.

The sleepy mining town that the film is set in becomes immersed in scandal as a string of grisly murders occurs in one of the town mines. It is revealed that a tragic accident occurred at one time causing several deaths. The one remaining victim awakens from a coma and goes on a killing spree. At the same time, youths throw a party near the mine and a series of deaths begin again.

The 3-D effects are necessary to a film like this, for without them, this movie would have been generic as anything else in the same style. The story is lame, implausible, and the characters are dumb, but looking past all that, as I usually do in the horror genre, this was a fun ride. Lots of gore nudity, violence, and a few genuine scares.

The Reader-2008

The Reader-2008

Director-Stephen Daldry

Starring-Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #603

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Reader (2008) is by far my favorite of all of Kate Winslet’s film roles-and that is saying something! It is her most challenging and provocative to date, and will ruffle some feather for sure based on the subject matter of the story. The subject of a grown woman in her thirties involved in a steamy and passionate love affair with a young boy half her age, is too much for some, but I found the films bravery admirable.

To be fair, the film is a slow build-up type of story and it takes a little while to get going, but if you stick with it, it will be worth your time. Winslet plays a woman (Hanna) living in 1950’s Germany, living an ordinary life. She is a poor woman and a young boy she meets changes her life for the better. He teaches her readings and other educational things and they are inseparable. When she leaves twn one day, the boy is devastated.

The film then fast-forwards thirty years to the 1990’s and the boy, now grown up and played by Ralph Fiennes, comes upon Hanna is a most unusual, dramatic, and devastating way. The film is told from the perspective of Fiennes character, which is a wonderful decision.

The Reader is very heavy on the sex and nudity (I mean lots!), so if anyone is offended by that you might want to skip it. The story was riveting and the acting topnotch. An excellent film.

Broadcast News-1987

Broadcast News-1987

Director-James L. Brooks

Starring-William Hurt, Holly Hunter

Scott’s Review #602

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B

Broadcast News is a 1987 feature film that admittedly is an intelligently written romantic comedy. It was rewarded with several Academy Awards nominations, in what has been known to be a bleak year for the film industry. That being said, I found the overall result of the film to be a decent experience, but certainly nothing fantastic. I was left with the feeling that it was “okay”.  I definitely do not think it was good enough to warrant Oscar nominations, but it was enjoyable all the same.

The principle characters are interesting enough, albeit safe. The film centers around three television news people- a neurotic news producer (Holly Hunter), a reporter (Albert Brooks), and his rival (William Hurt). All of them are ambitious, and determined to climb the ladder of success in their Washington D.C. base. The film explores the relationships between the the characters.

As stated, there is nothing really wrong with the film. I would have expected a bit more- perhaps deeper or darker story- instead, despite some witty dialogue, the film is largely a safe, predictable journey.

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Player ranks up there with other Robert Altman classics such as Gosford Park, Network, and Short Cuts. The film is an excellent piece of Hollywood satire and centers around a jaded movie executive, played by Tim Robbins, who does an incredible job with his role.

Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a man with no scruples. Feeling usurped by a younger executive, played by Peter Gallagher, as well as receiving death threats, he goes on the hunt for the person he feels responsible, which leads to murder.

The audience is unsure whether to love or hate Mill, thanks to Robbins performance. He is snarky, but also vulnerable and a tad sympathetic.

The film contains a slew of real Hollywood celebrities (Cher, Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Willis) playing themselves and is largely improvised (as many of Altman’s films are). Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett star as odd police detectives.

The plot is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s the realness and the direction that make this movie a must see, especially for Robert Altman fans. A hidden gem.

Masters of Horror: Dario Argento: Pelts-2006

Masters of Horror: Dario Argento: Pelts-2006

Director-Dario Argento

Starring-Meat Loaf, John Saxon

Scott’s Review #600

Reviewed January 10, 2017

Grade: C+

For those unfamiliar with Masters of Horror, this was a spectacular horror series which aired during the mid 2000’s featuring vignettes of superlative horror chapters- famed Italian horror maestro, Dario Argento directed two such chapters during the series run- Pelts is an okay story, but unspectacular, and really only for die-hard Argento fans.

The chapter is quite gory and extreme (this is the main positive)  and stars Meatloaf (the singer) and John Saxon (from Nightmare on Elm Street, and Black Christmas). The story centers around a fur trader named Jake Feldman, who encounters a fellow fur trader offering raccoon skin. Eager to make money and impress a stripper, Jake leaps at the chance, with dire results.

This episode of Masters of Horror is not for the squeamish. If you are a fan of raccoons this might be up your alley. My slight disappointment in this chapter merely comes from my utter love for some of the other chapters, and this one pales in comparison.

Zombie Strippers-2008

Zombie Strippers-2008

Director-Jay Lee

Starring-Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #599

Reviewed January 10, 2017

Grade: C-

Zombie Strippers is so filled with campy moments and so over-the-top, that it is a film that is impossible to remotely take seriously. As they say, there is a time and a place for everything, and this includes films. It is completely a cheesy, campy B minus horror film.

The story, if one can call it that, involves a small strip club, in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere. The star stripper is played by former adult film star, Jenna Jameson, who, I am pretty certain, was not hired for her acting talents. One day, a government controlled virus is released by the government, causing Jameson’s character to be transformed into a flesh-eating zombie. The motivation is not really there, and, who cares anyway? This is not the film to watch for compelling plot.

The acting all around in the film is poor, and the story is completely unrealistic- laced with stereotypes galore. However, how nice to see horror legend, Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street) in a prominent role, even in a bad film. Also deserving of credit are the makeup and prop department, clearly having a small budget, for making the film look better than it might have.

If you are looking for a cheesy, after midnight, and after a few drinks fun film, this is it. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #598

Reviewed January 10, 2017

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road is an outstanding film- and what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The duo reunite in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic.

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one. Both characters are certainly flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He a successful doctor, she the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they? Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it, and Revolutionary Road is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think. It really shows the depth of DiCaprio’s  and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow moving, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring-John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #597

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: B-

The Grifters is a film that has witty writing and has an overall appeal to it- the film is very unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930’s and the 1940’s. Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. In fact, all three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and furthermore, feed off each other so well that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their own personal gain. The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me awhile to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended. Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me there remained something missing.

Unforgiven-1992

Unforgiven-1992

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman

Scott’s Review #596

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Winning the 1992 Best Picture Academy Award, Unforgiven is a beautifully shot, well crafted Western film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The film differs from that of classic westerns in that it questions the meaning of violence and is of a moral fiber. Eastwood was clearly influenced by director Sergio Leone.

Eastwood also stars in the film as William Munny, a former cold blooded murderer, is now retired and living as a farmer, a widower due to violence against his deceased wife. He is talked out of retirement to help kill some shady cowboys.

Unforgiven is a dark film and definitely character driven- certainly centering mostly on Eastwood’s character. Why does Munny really come out of retirement? Is he lusting after blood or enjoy the satisfaction of revenge?

The cinematography is second to none with gorgeous western United States locales and beautiful landscapes.

The film admittedly drags a bit at times, but is rich in character development and questions the motives of its central characters, which in itself is much deeper than most western, shoot ’em up style of films.

Frost/Nixon-2008

Frost/Nixon-2008

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Frank Langella, Michael Sheen

Scott’s Review #595

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: B+

Adapted from a Broadway play, director Ron Howard creates a powerful film surrounding the infamous 1977 interview between shamed former President Nixon and interviewer David Frost. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen star.

For someone who was too young to really remember Nixon or the Watergate scandal, the film was very enlightening and historical for me on a personal level. Frost/Nixon is also a very human story and well made.

The interview scenes are fantastic as the constant back and forth, cat and mouse, each man looking for an opportunity to either pounce, avoid, or gain the upper hand are rich with character driven possibilities. The scuttlebutt and the behind the scenes scrambling by Nixon’s men is good drama.

In particular, Frank Langella steals the show as President Nixon. He is confident, strong, yet vulnerable, and sad. An acting Tour De Force by Langella.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #594

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

Tropic Thunder-2008

Tropic Thunder-2008

Director-Ben Stiller

Starring-Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr.

Scott’s Review #593

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: D-

Tropic Thunder was a ridiculous film that I found to be harsh, tedious, and very loud.Attempting to be a satire of sorts, it fails on almost every level. The main issue was with the characters, who are abrasive and unlikable. The only redeeming qualities are Robert Downey Jr.’s and Tom Cruises portrayals, though they both play idiotic characters.

The plot is something of an ode to 1979’s Apocalypse Now, in that it the plot throws back to the Vietnam war. A group of narcissistic actors are filming a Vietnam memoir on location in the jungles of Southeast Asia, when they are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves amid a group of drug lords.

The films attempt at humor fell flat for me. It just seemed like a group of crazed guys running around the jungle acting wild and the film held little point for me. Cruise’s part was interesting, but way too small.

Directed by, and starring Ben Stiller, who should stick to acting (if that). How Downey, Jr. scored an Oscar nomination for this drivel is beyond me- despite his acting being one of the better efforts in the film.

Friday the 13th-2009

Friday the 13th-2009

Director-Marcus Nispel

Starring-Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker

Scott’s Review #592

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: C-

As a devoted and faithful fan of the Friday the 13th film franchise and having many wonderful memories of Friday the 13th’s of the past, I was expecting better than this version. There was no reason for the producers to start from scratch with a brand new beginning- that makes no sense to me.

There is really nothing to distinguish this, 2009 Friday the 13th,  from other sequels. They would have been better suited making a “Friday The 13th Part 11” since that’s really what it was. In essence, an entire new story-line was created- only keeping to the original Jason and Mrs. Voorhees characters, and Camp Crystal Lake location.

This movie is not scary, nor are any of the characters particularly likable. In fact, several were quite unlikable- way too many horror films do that. The film also contains very distinct stereotypes, which in this day and age seem ridiculous. Also, Jason has now graduated to “taking prisoners” instead of simply hacking his victims. There is also a “flashback” scene from 1980, which, inexplicably is a newly filmed scene. A wiser choice, and treat for loyalists, would have been to show this scene from the original Friday The 13th from 1980 instead of foolishly recreating one.

The story is completely implausible in countless ways. I am giving this film a very liberal C- grade for at least giving us a new film and for being somewhat entertaining, even though there are many negatives. This film will be forgotten before too long.

Drag Me To Hell-2009

Drag Me To Hell-2009

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-Alison Lohman, Justin Long

Scott’s Review #591

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: B

Drag Me To Hell is a fairly predictable, modern day horror film, with some supernatural elements and special effects that make it slightly above average. Directed by Sam Raimi (of Spiderman fame) one can definitely see his stamp on it, as he has a way of horror-camp. 1983’s cult classic, Evil Dead, directed by Raimi is evidence of this.

Young Loan Officer, Christine Brown, played by Alison Lohman, is bucking for a promotion and intent on impressing her boss by being a stickler for the rules. She chooses the wrong day to do this as an elderly woman, desperately needing a loan, is denied one by Christine. The angry woman places a curse on Christine, causing her life to spin out of control. She has a mere three days to remove the curse before her soul is “dragged to hell”.

As with most horror films involving a curse, the plot is completely unrealistic and filled with holes. The film also tries to be both serious and comical at times- sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. In a few scenes I was not sure if the intention was to be comical or if it was unintended, but periodically the acting was over the top.

With all that said, if one is interested in a fun horror film that has a few scares and is not too gory (it is rated PG-13 after all), one will enjoy Drag Me To Hell.

The Hangover-2009

The Hangover-2009

Director-Todd Phillips

Starring-Bradley Cooper. Ed Helms

Scott’s Review #590

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: B+

It was not my idea to see this particular film- the raunchy, mindless “guy” films have always seemed lackluster and cheesy to me, but I confess to finding The Hangover, a novel and entertaining, summer blockbuster film. I did not expect much from this film, but instead found it comical and fun. Certainly, it has the “dumb frat boy/jock” shenanigans, and not much thought is needed, but it is good old boy entertainment.

Similar to the American Pie films of the 1990’s in which a group of guys find themselves mixed up in amusing, and sometimes humiliating situations, after a night of boozing, The Hangover has a likable cast led by, then up and coming star Bradley Cooper. What sets The Hangover apart is the great chemistry among the cast (Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis, specifically) that other flaws or generic writing, can be overlooked or forgotten altogether. The group goes from one hysterical situation after another.

Set in Las Vegas (a great decision), three men awake to find the groom to be missing after a night of debauchery- they are there to celebrate via a wild bachelor party. In their hotel room is a tiger and a six month old baby. From this point, the film goes back to the arrival of the gang and the events that transpired leading up to the hotel room acquisitions. This is fun and keeps the audience engaged in the hi-jinks.

The Hangover was followed by the inevitable two sequels, neither of which was as good or as successful at the box office to the surprise of nobody except maybe movie studio executives.

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #589

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: A

Inglorious Basterds is simply a great movie. Blending many film genres together, it is hard to categorize, but that is because it is a Quentin Tarantino film and that says it all. The film as a whole contains excellent acting, is wonderfully shot, and extremely detail oriented, plus it has the familiar “Tarantino” style of music and sound, the chapter breakdown, and the heavy violence.

Set mainly in German occupied France during the early 1940’s, clearly during World War II, the action centers around two stories- Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a teenage girl whose entire family is killed after being discovered hidden by a dairy farmer who is a Jewish sympathizer, barely escapes with her life when a SS Colonel, brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, interrogates the man. Three years later, now living in Paris and owning a cinema, she plots her revenge. The other story is also of a revenge plot by a group of Jewish-American soldiers to kill as many Nazi’s as possible. Both stories eventually intersect with a grand finale inside a cinema.

The story itself is richly nuanced and unlike many generic films of today. The fantastic set design and the perfection to every last set piece is amazing. Long scenes play out slowly, but bristle with authenticity and good dialogue. Take the first scene for example- as the SS Colonel, aptly nicknamed the “Jew Hunter” plays cat and mouse with the dairy farmer, politely asking for two glasses of milk, the audience knows the pay off will be huge, but the conversation crackles with good dialogue.

What strikes me most about the film is the intelligent writing. The many scenes of conversations between characters- a chat over strudel and cream, a trivia game at a bar, and the aforementioned scene at the farmhouse, bristle with unique, clever written dialogue so that the scenes are far from merely filler. Of course, this is also a characteristic of Tarantino.

At over two and a half hours Inglourious Basterds is long, but satisfying. My only criticism is of Brad Pitt. I didn’t buy him as a Tarantino guy and found his character the only weak point of the film. His southern drawl just did not draw me in like I thought it might. He was touted as the main character (perhaps because he was the biggest star), but he really plays a supporting role.