Nocturnal Animals-2016

Nocturnal Animals-2016

Director-Tom Ford

Starring-Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal

Scott’s Review #640

Reviewed April 30, 2017

Grade: A-

Nocturnal Animals blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in a revenge themed thriller directed by Tom Ford, in only his second directorial effort- 2009’s A Single Man was his first. While not always hitting the mark and at times very difficult to follow, the film is both unusual and mesmerizing, as well as lovely to look at from a visual perspective. Some scenes literally blur together in a splendid way so that the scenes seem interposed-a brilliant touch. The film is clearly influenced by David Lynch in tone and style.

Events are divided between “The Real World” and “The Novel”. The film begins in a strange manner as a bevy of nude, obese women prance and dance on video screens during an art exhibit opening. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful woman living a glossy life in Los Angeles. We quickly learn that Susan is involved in a loveless marriage with hunky Hutton (Armie Hammer), a businessman who is inattentive towards Susan. Before Hutton, Susan was briefly married to Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a novelist, who dedicates his latest manuscript to Susan received via mail. As Susan reads the manuscript, she is transported down a dark path of memories and fantasies concerning Edward and their past.

The locales of the film are split largely between Los Angles (the real world), and western Texas (where the novel takes place). This, in itself, is a compelling aspect to the film and really separates the two different worlds. Los Angeles is featured mainly at nighttime as Susan, presumed to be suffering from insomnia, is compelled by her reading. She also rubs shoulders with sophisticated artist types and colleagues at her studio.

Conversely, the setting of western Texas is worlds apart from the Los Angeles setting- like night and day. In Texas, we are introduced to the protagonist of the story that Susan reads. Tony, traveling through Texas with his wife, Laura, and their daughter, India, are accosted and terrorized by passing local motorists. Clearly from out of town, the family is stranded in the middle of nowhere and kept at bay by the rednecks- the story has a tragic ending. The stories intersect in an interesting way as we see the differing worlds.

I found the scenes in western Texas to be frightening and fraught with tense moments- so much so that my heart was beating very fast. I pictured myself as Tony in a situation faced with peril and danger. As the family attempts to reason with the thugs, they get deeper and deeper into trouble. The feeling of being vulnerable and unsafe with no help around is tremendously in the film.

The acting in Nocturnal Animals is excellent all around, no surprise with the tremendous cast. Adams and Gyllenhaal are especially worthy of mention. Their scenes playing via flashbacks, we find them both sympathetic and vulnerable (at first)- he a sensitive writer, she a college girl with aspirations of love and a family life. As the plot thickens both characters become more nuanced and complex- the subject of betrayal and revenge certainly comes into play, and both characters, now older and more pessimistic, intersect again as mature adults.

Michael Shannon, though believable as Detective Bobby Andes, assigned to Tony’s case, and suffering from stage four lung cancer, is not the standout for me, and I disagree with his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Certainly a fine performance, I would have much rather Gyllenhaal or Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as one of the rednecks) be awarded the nomination.

I was reminded of David Lynch’s masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, largely during the Los Angeles scenes. The slick, night air and the trials and tribulations of the wealthy mirrored each other quite readily. There is a gothic, haunting, moody vibe that the sequences contain.

The central theme of revenge comes into play in both worlds- Tony and Bobby seek revenge on the criminals in western Texas, while revenge also is a focus on Los Angeles, though much more subtle. A hint is given a couple of times in Susan’s art gallery as a large exhibit entitled “Revenge” is a focal point. What the Los Angeles revenge is, however, is not revealed until the very last scene.

One thing is certain about Nocturnal Animals- the film is dreamy, complex, and worthy of a good conversation. Tom Ford is an up and coming director with visual sensibilities and a dream-like vision. I hope we see more from this fascinating director.

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Scott’s Review #639

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

High Noon-1952

High Noon-1952

Director-Fred Zinneman

Starring-Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #638

Reviewed April 28, 2017

Grade: A

Billed as a standard western, but much more complex a film as a traditional, basic western, High Noon accomplished what no other western did in 1952- adding complexities from other genres , such as suspense and drama, to a film form. Additionally, High Noon challenged typical western themes such as male driven fights and chases, in favor of a moral and emotional approach, and oh is the film ever character driven.

The end results are astounding and the film ought to be studied in film school to understand and appreciate all of the elements going on. High Noon breaks the mold in a hearty way, being released at a time when the mainstream western was quite popular in film adding enormous risk-the results paid off in spades.

Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just wed his beloved bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), in a small ceremony in a tiny town in New Mexico. He plans to turn over his badge and retire to the prairie land with his new wife. Suddenly, the town receives word that a dastardly villain, Frank Miller, who was once sent away by Kane, has been released from a Texas prison, and plans to exact revenge on Kane. Miller is to arrive on the noon train as his three accomplices await his arrival, much to the chagrin of the rest of the town, who become panicked with each passing moment. The film begins at approximately ten thirty in the morning and ends shortly after noon.

High Noon has subtle yet prominent political themes and the messages taken from the film are clear examples of McCarthyism, though this is disputed by some. McCarthyism was a campaign launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy, which ended up blacklisting many artists suspected of communism. The main theme is how a group of people become frightened and blame and attack one another as a result of this fear. Our main protagonist (Kane) is faced with the dire feat of facing four angry gunmen, with revenge on their minds, alone, as a town full of people choose not to get involved.

Brilliant is that High Noon more or less takes place in real time. The inclusion of clocks in the film, and specifically of pendulums swaying back and forth creates a defined level of tension as character after character nervously glances at the time, knowing full well that with each passing minute they inch closer and closer to a fantastic and deadly showdown- much blood will be shed.

Cooper, old enough to be Kelly’s grandfather, is noticeable if one chooses to be nit picky, but the couple really do work well together and I bought the happily wedded couple as genuine.

I adore the character of Helen Ramirez, played by actress Katy Jurado. A Mexican character, Ramirez is a prominent business woman in the small town, owning a saloon. She is empowered, and confident, a character to admire regardless of one’s gender. A strong female character of Mexican heritage in film in 1952 was quite uncommon, also keeping in mind the film is set in the wild west.

Equally impressive and completely backwards for the time, the events of Amy coming to the rescue of Kane, instead of the standard, gender specific, “man rescues woman”, challenge the norm. Further groundbreaking is that Amy is written as a Quaker woman, not the traditional Christian woman, nor is she skittish or silly. Western stereotypes are completely turned upside down in the film which is arguably way ahead of its time.

Eerie, yet highly effective, is the use of a “theme song” either being sung or in another form (musical score or background music) throughout the film- the song is “Do Not Foresake Me, My Darling”, which became a hit forTex Ritter. Worth mentioning is that the success of this added “theme song” encouraged subsequent westerns to add similar songs to their films.

Challenging the standard in many ways, High Noon sets the bar very high in its thoughtfulness, its message, and its personal conflict. The film is an example of persons taking the film world and turning it upside down, the results being fantastic and inspiring.

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Barbara Bach

Scott’s Review #637

Reviewed April 27, 2017

Grade: A-

The Spy Who Loved Me is pure James Bond- an installment of the franchise that successfully contains all of the elements of an exceptional Bond film- and then some. By this time Roger Moore was firing on all cylinders and had clearly made the character of James Bond his own- Sean Connery who? With his third appearance in the role, Bond exudes charisma and wry wit, combined with a fabulous story, sexy Bond girls, and a villain worthy of his role, The Spy Who Loved Me achieves near perfection, save for too drawn out of an ending- otherwise, an excellent, memorable film that does not feel dated in the least.

When Soviet and British submarines begin to vanish, the two sides team up and send their best agents forward to uncover the circumstances surrounding the disappearances. Barbara Bach plays Major Anya Amasova, also known as Agent Triple X, a Soviet agent, and naturally Bond becomes enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Together they face off against a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg, who is intent on destroying the world with nuclear missiles and creating his own underwater world. Stromberg’s sidekicks are Jaws, a giant with steel teeth, and a deadly vixen named Naomi.

Interestingly, if watched as a companion piece to a Bond film of the 1960’s, as I did this time around (You Only Live Twice), the viewer will notice the change in how Bond female characters are treated. No longer servile and obedient to the male characters (Bond specifically) Bond women are now his equals in every way, matching him in career success and intelligence. The main “Bond girl”, (Anya), is a shining example of this, which the film immediately offers. In one of my favorite scenes, Anya is in bed with a handsome man- when “Agent Triple X” is paged, we assume the agent is the man, until Anya slyly responds to the message- it is a nonchalant, yet brazen way to make the point that women have emerged as powerful and sexy figures in the modern Bond world.

The chemistry between Moore and Bach is immeasurably important to the success of the film and their romance is dynamic- they simply have “it” and their scenes smolder with sensuality. To complicate matters, Bond has killed an agent whom Anya was in love with and she plans to kill Bond as soon as their mission is victorious. Director, Gilbert, also adds in a slice of Bond back story- giving truth and rich history to the story-Anya mentions Bond’s deceased wife (married and killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a subject Bond deems off limits. This ode to the past only enhances the connection between these two characters.

Villains play an important part in the success of The Spy Who Loved Me. Take Stromberg- he is sophisticated, mature, worldly, and rich- and quietly insane. He also has a lavish dining room in his underwater submarine with exotic fish swimming about through visible tanks- a gorgeous element to this film.

Through a trap door,  victims meet their demise by a vicious killer shark swimming about. One unlucky female assistant, who has double-crossed Stromberg, meets her maker in bloody fashion. Later, Bond sees a severed hand floating about in one of the tanks. This is great creative writing and adds nuances to the film.

Hulking henchman, Jaws, who would return in the next installment, Moonraker, dazzles and impresses with his deadly, steel teeth. A great scene, aboard a high-speed train, and a throwback to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is action packed. Naomi, meets her demise after an ill-fated helicopter chase scene. I would have liked to have gotten more screen time and gotten to know this character. Her brief, but obvious flirtation with Bond is all too short- and he never even gets to share a bed with her!

Not to be outdone, the locales in the film are lavish and gorgeous- Egypt and Italy are countries explored and scenes are shot on location in each country in grand fashion. The Egyptian pyramids are features as a chase and a murder occur during a night time exhibit- also fantastic are the gorgeous shots of Sardinia- a beautiful region in Italy, where Stromberg’s hideout is set.

A mini gripe is the lengthy conclusion to the film. As Bond struggles to recalculate the two nuclear missiles set to destroy New York and Moscow, Bond must rush to make sure they do not hit their intended target. The “final act” of the film just goes on too long with way too many soldiers and men running around in a panic. The action is great, but enough is enough by the end.

Roger Moore once commented that The Spy Who Loved Me was his favorite of all the Bond films to make- it is easy to see why he felt this way. The film contains all of the necessary elements to make it one of the top entries in all of the film franchise and has a magnificent feel to it.

You Only Live Twice-1967

You Only Live Twice-1967

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi

Scott’s Review #636

Reviewed April 23, 2017

Grade: B+

You Only Live Twice is the fifth in the James Bond film series franchise and also the fifth to star iconic Bond, Sean Connery, in the starring role. Reportedly growing bored with the role and eager to move on to meatier acting challenges, Sean Connery is not quite as mesmerizing in the role this time around, but is still indisputably charismatic and sexy with his delivery of one-liners and various affairs with women. You Only Live Twice is the last to feature Connery until he would be coaxed into returning to the role four years later with 1971’s Diamond Are Forever.

The film is not tops on my favorite Bond films of all time nor is it even top ten for that matter, but nonetheless still quite an enjoyable watch, and certainly the Japanese locales are the highlight. The film as a whole suffers from a silly story, dated special effects, and a completely lackluster villain, but it does have Connery to rescue it and a nice little romance between Bond and main girl, Aki, played by Japanese actress, Akiko Wakabayashi- that is until she is unceremoniously poisoned.

The plot involves the hijacking of an American NASA spacecraft by another mystery spacecraft. The Americans suspect the Russians of the action and the British suspect the Japanese since the aircraft landed in the Sea of Japan. MI6 (Bond) fakes his own death in Hong Kong and subsequently begins to investigate who is responsible. His search brings him to Tokyo where he investigates Osato Chemicals and stumbles upon evidence. He is aided by both Aki and Tiger Tanaka, Japanese Secret Service leader. Soon it is revealed that the mastermind is SPECTRE villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld-in this installment played by Donald Pleasence. Bond must destroy his enemy and inevitably save the world from a global nuclear war.

Though a timely story-line since 1967 was in the midst of the Cold War, the plot seems somewhat forced and a bit uninteresting. The countries blame each other for the hijacked ship, but this comes across as extremely plot driven and secondary. The “swallowing” of the aircraft seems cheesy and preposterous even considering the year that the film was made and the writing is not as rich as some of the proceeding Bond films like From Russia With Love or Thunderball. The film also has an overall “cheap” look to it.

However, the film does have plenty of positives worth mentioning. The gadgets that James Bond fixture, Q (the MI6 technical wizard) creates are state of the art and fun. The mini flying helicopter that Bond uses is creative and allows for even more views to enjoy. Bond faking his death in the opening sequence is a treat (albeit having been done before) and ceremoniously being cast off into the sea in a coffin only to be wearing a suit and an oxygen mask inside the casket is clever and light.

Donald Pleasence, a storied, fantastic actor, is not well cast in the role of main villain Stavros and I am not entirely sure why. The fact that his face is not shown until the last act is not helpful and the character (though seen in other Bond films) is not compelling and is underutilized. I would have liked to have the character be a bit more visible, though surprisingly the character was highly influential in the 1990’s spoof Austin Powers films. Adorable yet creepy is Stavros only being seen clutching and stroking a gorgeous white cat.

As for the Bond women, the aforementioned Aki is the best of the bunch. Gone too soon in the story, she is replaced by Kissy Suzuki, who is rather unappealing. Mostly clad in a skimpy white bikini and heels, and appearing to wear a black wig, the character is forgettable and serves no purpose. Conversely, villainous Helga Brandt, SPECTRE assassin, is very well cast and shares good chemistry with Connery. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill Bond, she is fated with a date with killer piranhas as payment for her failure.

You Only Live Twice has a myriad of ups and downs, but is worth watching for fans of the franchise, and specifically, fans of the classic Bond films featuring Sean Connery. Some will argue that the film feels dated and is chauvinistic, and to some degree they are correct, but the film is a large part of a treasured franchise and a fun experience.

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #635

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

One thing is certain about the puzzling 2016 film, The Lobster- it is a film worthy of discussion long after the end credits roll and will leave the viewer pondering many facets of the film- a great film to dissect, if you will. This in itself is worth recognition and praise to the power of the film- so many questions abound. I was immediately struck by how heavily The Lobster contains major subject matter influences from “message novels” (and films) such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, as well as creative, stylistic recent film influences from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

The story begins somewhere outside of Dublin, where David (Colin Farrell) has recently been dumped by his wife in favor of another man. Now single, he is whisked away by authorities to a luxurious hotel in the woods, where he (and the other guests) are given forty five days to find a suitable romantic partner, or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David is accompanied by his brother, now a dog, and has decided, should he be turned, that he will become a lobster because he loves the sea and they tend to live to be over one hundred years old.

The hotel management adheres to strict rules- no masturbation, mandatory temptations by hotel employees, and a strange outdoor hunting game where the guests hunt other guests to win extra days extended to their stays. As David befriends fellow hotel guests, he is conflicted and desperate to find a mate. Events take a surprising turn when circumstances allow the rules to change for him and he becomes involved with a short-sighted woman (Weisz).

The plot of the film is strange beyond belief, yet also incredibly creative and thought provoking. The subject matter is pure dystopian- a facility, presumably controlled by the government, with a rebel group intent on ruining the “status quo”. Mixed in with all of this suddenly appears an odd little secret romance between David and Shortsighted Woman that begins only during the final act of the film.

One aspect to the film that I found interesting was the odd monotone dialogue that the characters used- almost matter-of-fact in whatever they were saying, even while expressing anger. This peculiarity perplexed me, but the more I think about it, the more this decision makes the film dark humored and dry with wry wit.

Another interesting nuance to the film are the multitude of quirky characters, many of whom are mainly referred to by their nicknames. Lisping Man, Limping Man, and Nosebleed Woman to name a few. And what viewer would not spend the duration of the film imagining which animal he or she would desire to be turned into and why?

My favorite aspect of the film is the offbeat performance by Colin Farrell- typically a rugged, sex symbol, he goes against the grain and plays a pudgy, socially awkward, insecure man, but all the while instilling the character with enough warmth and likability to make the character work- and his chemistry with Rachel Weisz is fantastic. This turns the strange dark comedy into a strange romantic drama.

A beautiful forest becomes the backdrop for a large part of the film as does the city of Dublin itself, contrasting the film in nuanced ways. Combined with the lavish hotel, the film achieves several different settings for the action, each meaningful in its own right.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion of the film- the final scene in particular- is positively gruesome in what goes through the viewers mind, and the resolution is left very unclear. Does David do it or doesn’t he? Clearly, much of the film is open to one’s interpretation and imagination.

Black humor and cynicism are major components of The Lobster, which is a thinking man’s movie. In fact, I continue to think of this film as I write this review. The film flairs with originality and thought and this is a great positive. Confusing and mind blowing? For sure. A run of the mill film? Absolutely not. The Lobster is a film that gives no answers and is not an easy watch, but an achievement in film creativity- something sorely needed.

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect. Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist , Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris. Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumbles upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman. The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love? Of course they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized. I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy in lieu of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice. Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries is pure and utter rubbish. The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss. In fact, worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord. On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou finds love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure. Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect to the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

99 Homes-2015

99 Homes-2015

Director-Ramin Bahrani

Starring-Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon

Scott’s Review #633

Reviewed April 13, 2017

Grade: B+

99 Homes is a 2015 independent film that contains an underlying theme of morality as its central message, bubbling to the surface throughout the run of the film as our main hero is faced with a major dilemma. Set in 2010 in the midst of the dark economic housing crisis where thousands of families lost their homes to foreclosure, the film is depressing at times, but turns uplifting towards the end. Reminiscent of The Big Short and Inside Job in subject matter, we witness a wonderful performance by Andrew Garfield in the lead role, with a worthy supporting turn by Michael Shannon as a venomous opportunist.

Director Ramin Bahrani immediately creates tension with a taut musical score that bombards the screen. We see a poor victim of foreclosure, having shot himself to avoid the humiliation of being evicted from his home, followed by the introduction of powerful real-estate mogul, Rick Carver. Carver has wisely capitalized on the slew of Florida working class families, living well beyond their means and novice homeowners, booted from their homes thanks to adjustable mortgages that they cannot afford to pay.

Andrew Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a struggling construction worker, raising his young son and presumably supporting his mother (Laura Dern). They are fated to be evicted even though they have tried to win an extension with the court- months behind in their mortgage payments. They feel victimized and are forced to move to a seedy motel that houses many others in the same circumstances. Desperate for work, Dennis ironically ends up working for Rick and becomes encased in the dishonest world of real estate scheming- manipulating banking and government rules at the expense of homeowners who are down on their luck.

The main point of the film is the exploitation of the “working man” at the expense of “the man” and Rick is an example of this beast. Dennis represents the goodness of humanity as he wrestles with the moral repercussions of evicting families since he himself has met with similar circumstances. Is the money worth the pain and the hardship he causes people? How is it Rick has no morals, but Dennis does? Will Dennis choose money and lose himself in the process? What would the viewer do?

Despite the morality questions, the film does play like a slick thriller, with a few slight contrivances and the “wrapped up in a neat bow” style ending. This slightly makes the film lose its luster at times. It is implied that the film ends happily for Dennis and that Rick gets his “just desserts”, but what about the characters kicked out of their homes? Sadly, as in real-life, they are largely forgotten by the end of the film and play as footnotes in a larger story. Some follow-up as to what happens to them might have been nice.

99 Homes is a thinking man’s film and will undoubtedly leave the viewer asking what he or she would do in many situations that Dennis is faced with. The emotions ooze from the face of Andrew Garfield as Bahrani uses many close-ups and enough cannot be said for Garfield’s bravura performance. In one heart-wrenching scene, he is forced to evict a man and his wife and children from their home, the man reduced to tears, comforted by his wife-Dennis is pained. In another, an elderly man with nowhere to go is evicted, left defeated by the side of the road. These scenes may have played as overwrought, but Garfield convincingly brings honesty and raw emotion to the work.

Laura Dern is very good in her role as young mother, Lynn,  to Garfield’s Dennis and I am perplexed why she was cast- she barely seems old enough to play convincingly as his Mom, but she does pull it off. However, I could not help but desire more meat from this Oscar nominated Actress- sure there is one great scene when Lynn realizes the extent of Dennis’s involvement with Rick, but I wanted more. Still, the acting all around in this film is superb.

What left me so bothered by 99 Homes is that situations just like the ones that played out in the film are examples of countless real-life occurrences people experienced due to greed, dishonesty, and uncaring fellow human beings and that is a sad realization. Director, Bharani, surrounded by a stellar cast, brings this realism to the big screen in raw, honest, storytelling.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte-1964

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #632

Reviewed April 8, 2017

Grade: B+

The follow up film, but not a direct sequel, to the surprise hit of 1962, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a psychological thriller again directed by Robert Aldrich. The film was intended to reunite Aldrich with stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and Crawford did in fact film several scenes, but the tension between the stars proved too much and Crawford dropped out. Olivia de Havilland took her place and reportedly the film makers had to scramble to re-shoot the film nearly from scratch.

Shot in black and white, just like What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, the film is very similar in style and tone and, rather than Los Angeles as the setting, the setting is now the sprawling southern landscape of the deep south- Louisiana to be exact, and a vast estate with a lavish mansion is the featured ominous setting.

The action begins in 1927 at a grand party taking place at the well-to-do Hollis family mansion. The night is fraught with tension and secrets are harbored- most notably southern belle Charlotte (Davis) and her married beau, John (Bruce Dern), plan to elope and steal away into the night together. When John is threatened by Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), he regrettably breaks up with Charlotte, destroying her. Later, John is decapitated and his hand severed leaving all of the guests only to assume that Charlotte committed the murder after she appears wearing a blood soaked dress. Due to lack of evidence, Charlotte is set free.

The remainder of the film takes place during present times (1964) and in the same mansion- now rather decrepit and slated to be demolished by the town in favor of a highway. Charlotte, now old and haggard, has lived a life of seclusion, her father long since dead, and her only company her dedicated and faithful housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead). Frantic at the thought of leaving the safety of her estate, Charlotte asks her cousin Miriam (de Havilland) to visit. Events then become stranger and stranger as past secrets and jealousies are revealed.

Taking nothing away from the talents of Olivia de Havilland, I cannot help but imagine how much better Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would have been if Joan Crawford had settled into the role as cousin Miriam. The real-life rivalry between Crawford and Davis is in large part what made What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? such a  compelling work, and the angry emotions were so fresh and real. Interestingly, the characters are reversed in this film- Davis playing the victimized Charlotte, Crawford would have played the villainous Miriam and the results would have been delicious.

The plot of the film is decent, but yet nothing spectacular, and not nearly as splendid all around as What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? was, although certain similarities abound between the two films: a giant mansion, black and white cinematography, a mentally unstable (or assumed to be) character, a character being either drugged or victimized, and two female characters who are related. To compare the two films, which is impossible not to, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? wins out in spades. It is the more compelling of the two films.

What does set Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte well above mediocrity (with lesser actors it may have been) is the casting of one of the greatest actress ever to grace the big screen.  Bette Davis’s portrayal of the victimized Charlotte is fantastic. She encompasses vulnerability, anger, fear, and energy. Her facial expressions and those passionate eyes give so much to the character of Charlotte.

The clever resolution to the film and the plot twist at the conclusion of the film is quite well-written and surprising given that the characters assumed to be involved in the murder are not as guilty as one might think, or at least not in the way one might think, and by the time the credits role, the story has a satisfying, hopeful ending.

Another success of the film is the use of two gruesome scenes- surprising since the film pre-dates the lifting of the film censorship rules. When a severed head comes tumbling down the grand staircase of the mansion, it is frightening and not in the least campy or over-the-top. As John is hacked to death in the opening sequence, his hand is severed from his arm and it tumbles to the floor in dramatic fashion. The scenes resonate because they were rarely done in mainstream film as early as 1964.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a fantastic companion piece to the superior What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, but watched back to back, will make for a fantastic late night experience. Successful to the film are top notch talents such as de Havilland, Victor Buono, Bruce Dern, Agnes Moorehead, and the superior film queen herself, Bette Davis, which makes any film worth watching.

Sleeper-1973

Sleeper-1973

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Scott’s Review #631

Reviewed April 5, 2017

Grade: B

One of the earliest of Woody Allen’s enormous list of film’s that he both directed and starred in, 1973’s Sleeper is a comedic, science-fiction film, and a blueprint for future Allen masterpieces, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. While this film has it’s moments of intelligence and clever dialogue, it too often teeters into straight up slapstick and silliness to be held in the same esteem as the aforementioned richer films. Rather it is a juvenile effort as compared to masterpieces to follow, but admittedly with some laughs and creative moments. Sleeper is the first of several to pair Allen with longtime co-star, Diane Keaton.

Allen portrays Miles Monroe, a nerdy jazz musician and owner of the “Happy Carrot” health-food store in Greenwich Village, New York City sometime in the then present time of the 1970’s. In the hospital for a routine surgery, he is cryogenically frozen for two-hundred years, waking up in an otherworldly police state and frazzled beyond belief. The scientist’s who revive him are part of a rebellion and beg Miles to assist them as they are taken into police custody, pleading with him to search for a secret plan known only as the “Aries Project”. Miles then poses as a robotic butler and goes to work for Luna (Keaton), a spoiled, bitchy, socialite. The duo ultimately bond together and spend the rest of the film outrunning and outsmarting their pursuers.

Sleeper succeeds as a novel story, one filled with unique and interesting gadgets from a futuristic world, with clever, witty, crisp dialogue and odes to the past world, now deemed irrelevant. Amusing are scenes when scientists explain that natural foods and products, at one time thought to be healthy and natural, are actually not so much. This makes the world that Miles is used to seem silly and superfluous in their minds.

I also enjoyed the physical humor that the film contains, as when Miles (as his robotic persona) serves dinner to a sophisticated group of Luna’s friends, accidentally destroying their expensive outerwear in a garbage incinerator as well as botching dinner. As all of the attendees are high on hallucinogenic drugs (including Miles), they fail to realize that he is a human being- they dance with glee and stumble around in a haze, largely unaware of their surroundings. This is one of the best scenes in the film.

The plot itself is fairly predictable though and almost forced. Certainly, as Miles and Luna are the couple we root for in the film, the introduction of handsome rebel leader, Erno Windt (John Beck) doesn’t stand a chance and is somewhat of a foil for Miles and Luna. Much of the time, the pair are on the run and sparring with each other. The actors involved have wonderful chemistry with each other, but the central story is not the strongest suit- rather, the weird and unique gadgets and intricacies of the film, are.

Albeit, an introduction for anyone intrigued by the comic genius that is Woody Allen, other polished Allen gems are a better start than this early offering, but that is not to say Sleeper is not a good, entertaining film, with imagination, merely that it lacks all of the elements to rank it among other Woody Allen greats.

The Visitor-2011

The Visitor-2011

Director-Tor Iben

Starring-Sinan Hancili, Engin Cert

Scott’s Review #630

Reviewed April 4, 2017

Grade: B-

The Visitor is a 2011 LGBT centered film that is set in Berlin, Germany, but features mainly Turkish characters. While the film tells a nice story and features some cool shots of the metropolitan city, it is rather amateurish in style,. The pieces of the film do not always come together or fit very well and there is no character development to speak of, but still, the film does have good intentions with a nice message and theme that deserves at least a few props.

The story involves a young male and female couple, Cibrial and Christine, who are dating. Cibrial works as a policeman and the pair seem to be in a happy relationship, enjoying walks and dinners together. One day, when Christine’s gay cousin, Stefan, comes to town, the relationship between Cibrail and Christine sours. The cousin is openly gay and comfortable with his own sexuality, while Cibrail secretly harbors feelings for the same sex, which he dares not tell Christine about, though she eventually catches on in dramatic fashion. Stefan is looking for action, cruising the city and parks for sex and companionship, while Cibrail is both lustful and jealous of Stefan.

Many scenes involve Cibrail looking longingly at Stefan and fantasizing about him. In that regard, the film teeters on being quite steamy and features more than one nude shower scene- this smoldering element helps the film avoid complete doldrums. Specifically, Cibrail showers alone during one scene, washing and presumably daydreaming about Stefan. But too many other scenes show a character jogging or walking around the park- too much like filler material.

The climax of the film is highly predictable as the two men find their way into each others arms, though the passion is not exactly evident to the audience. The lack of buildup is a negative aspect to the film because there is very little rooting value and too many questions. Is the film a love story? Is it supposed to be about Cibrail coming to terms with his own sexuality? Why do we not see more of a blowup scene between Cibrail and Christine? He simply moves out once she catches him in bed with Stefan and before we know it, Stefan and Cibrail passionately embrace and the film closes in celebration.

A side story involving a dead body found in the park- a park known for gay shenanigans- is included as Cibrail investigates the crime with his police partner, but this seems to have nothing to do with the main plot, unless we are to suspect one of the two men as the killer, but this is hardly focused on. Another shot of a gay pride parade in Berlin is included, but is this to make it known that The Visitor is a gay film? Apparently so. Additionally, a statue of two men is shown in several scenes for seemingly no other reason than to reinforce that the film is gay themed.

The Visitor is a simple story of two men finding each other, which is a nice message, but the film’s run time is a brief seventy minutes, hardly enough time for character development. A muted, videotaped look does not help the film seem very professional, and in fact, seems downright amateurish as an entire film, so much so that I would not be surprised if a film student might have made The Visitor.