Dr. No-1962

Dr. No-1962

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Ursula Andress

Scott’s Review #667

Reviewed July 27, 2017

Grade: A-

Watching the 1962 film that launched the James Bond franchise into the legendary status that it has since become, Dr. No is rich in history and is a blueprint of what the Bond films would encompass in the decades to follow. Admittedly more basic in comparison to the more sophisticated and fleshed-out chapters to come, the film is nonetheless a superb entry in the franchise and a chapter to be cherished on its own merits.

Charismatic Sean Connery, soon to forever be identified in the role of James Bond, fills the role with a suave, masculine, confidence oozing from the screen in each and every scene. In fact, his performance in the role is so seamless, one might assume he had been playing Bond for years, rather than being a novice. And who can forget the characters first entrance- in a casino, confidently gambling, and introducing himself to Sylvia Trench, a character originally slated to be his steady girlfriend.

The film version of Dr. No is adapted from the first Ian Fleming spy novel of the same name, which is clever. As the years have gone by, the Bond films were modified a great deal from the original written pages, so it is cool and original to have the film closely mirror the book.

Lacking a hefty budget, the action mainly takes place in both London and Jamaica, and at Crab Key, a fictional island off of Jamaica. When Strangways, a British Intelligence Chief, is killed and his body taken by assassins known as “the Three Blind Mice”, who also steal files related to Crab Key island and a mysterious man named “Dr. No”, Bond is summoned to his superior’s (M) office in London and tasked with determining whether the incident has anything o do with radio interference of missiles launching in Cape Canaveral.  Natural, it does and the adventure sets off  a series of dramatic events involving henchmen, scrapes with death, and  Bond’s bedding more than one beautiful woman, before facing the ultimate showdown with the creepy title character., who is missing both hands.

Notable  and distinguishable to the film are the fabulous, chirpy, child-like songs featured in the film. From the tuneful, harmonic, nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice”, sung calypso style, to the sexy and playful, “Under the Mango Tree”, both are light, yet filled with necessary mystery too. The fact that the former is featured in the beginning of the film and implies that the named the same villains are joyfully singing the happy tune, is a good indicator.

Dr. No is also inspired for the introduction of the crime organization, SPECTRE, that any Bond aficionado knows very well is a staple of the franchise. Joseph Wiseman, as Dr. No, is well cast, though sadly, we only see him at the latter part of the film. Much more character potential is left untouched, though the mystique of knowing the man exists, but not what he looks like is worth mentioning.

Admittedly, rather silly is the assumption that the audience will not be witty enough to realize that both  the characters of Dr. No and Miss Taro (a villainous secretary) are  clearly caucasian actors wearing unconvincing makeup. Why the choice was made not to cast authentically ethnic actors is unclear. My guess is the powers that be wanted to go a safer route due to the uncertainty of the franchise at that time.

Still, for a first try, Dr. No gets it just about right. What woman in 1962 was sexier or cast more perfectly than Ursula Andress as the gorgeous and fiery sex kitten, Honey Ryder? This casting was spot on and who can forget her sultry introduction to the film as she emerges from the roaring waves on the beach in a scantily clad bathing suit. The set designs and locales also work well in the film. Contemporary are the set pieces, specifically the spacious prison apartment Bond and Honey briefly reside in. Sleek and sophisticated, the sofa, rug, and tables all exude luxury and class.

Dr. No is a worthy film on its own merits and a fantastic introduction into the world of James Bond and the many trademark elements and nuances that the films contain.

Dunkirk-2017

Dunkirk-2017

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #666

Reviewed July 24, 2017

Grade: A

Of the hundreds of war films that have been made over the years, most have a similar style with either a clear patriotic slant, or, of a questioning/message type nature. Regardless, most  have a certain blueprint from the story to the visuals to the direction- and rarely stray from this. The genre is not my particular favorite as the machismo is  usually overdone  and too many  of the films turn into standard “guy films”, or the “good guys versus the bad guys”. Finally, along comes a film like Dunkirk that gives the stale genre a good, swift, kick in the ass.

The story is both simple, yet historical. In 1940, Nazi Germany, having successfully invaded France, pushes thousands of French and British soldiers to a seaside town named Dunkirk.  With slim hopes of rescue or survival, the soldiers are sitting ducks for the raid of German fighter planes, who drop bombs both on the soldiers and rescue ships. In parallel stories, a kindly British civilian (Mark Rylance) and his son sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers, and two British fighter pilots chase the German fighter planes, attempting to thwart their deadly intentions.

One will immediately be struck by the pacing of the film as it is non-stop action from start to close. The action, combined with very little dialogue, and an eerie musical score, are what make the film feel so unique and fresh. Directed by Christopher Nolan, (The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) critics are heralding this film as his greatest work yet- I tend to agree.  Scenes involving such differing musical scores as screechy violins mixed with thunderous, heavy beats, really shake up the film and keep the audience on their toes as to what is coming next.

An interesting facet to the film, and certainly done on purpose, is that the backstories of the characters are not revealed- we know very little about any of them.  Do they have families? Are they married? This is a beautiful decision by the screenwriters and by Nolan.  For instance, the very first scenes involve a disheveled private, named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead).  Panicked, he runs through the streets in pursuit of the beach, where he meets a fellow soldier named Gibson, who is burying another soldier in the sand. Together, they find a wounded soldier and carry him to a departing ship- the men never speak, but communicate through their eyes and gestures-it is  a powerful series of scenes.

Another positive to Dunkirk is the anonymity of the enemy. The German soldiers are never shown. Certainly, we see many scenes of the fighter planes overhead, pummeling the soldiers with bombs, and pulsating gunfire in various scenes, but the mystique of  the enemy troops is a constant throughout the film. The faceless component to the villains adds a terror and haunting uncertainty.  In this way, the film adds to the audiences confusion about where the enemy may be, at any given moment.

The visuals and the vastness of the ocean side beach, forefront throughout the entire film, at one hour and forty six minutes relatively brief for a war film, elicits both beauty and a terrible gloominess. Scenes of the vastness of the beach peppered with thousands of cold and hungry men is both pathetic and powerful.

The best scenes take place on Mr. Dawson’s  (Rylance) mariner boat. Aided by his son Peter, and Peter’s frightened schoolmate, the trio head for dangerous Dunkirk to help rescue, but en route pick up a shell-shocked soldier determined to stay as far away from Dunkirk as possible. This leads to compelling drama and a deep characterization of all the central characters.

Many list 1998’s Saving Private Ryan as tops in the modern war genre, but Dunkirk may very well rival that film in intensity and musical effectiveness. Dunkirk also contains shockingly little bloodshed or dismembered soldiers- it does not need this to tell a powerful story. At times emotional,  the film is always intense and never lets go of its audience from the very first frame. A war film for the history books and a lesson in film creativity and thoughtfulness.

Closet Monster-2016

Closet Monster-2016

Director-Stephen Dunn

Starring-Connor Jessup, Aaron Abrams

Scott’s Review #665

Reviewed July 23, 2017

Grade: B

Closet Monster is a 2016 Canadian LGBT drama that had the honor of being featured at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was crowned the Best Canadian Drama winner. Upstart director, Stephen Dunn, directs the film and adds some interesting visual techniques as well as some imagination. The story is a compelling coming of age piece, but the film as a whole is uneven at times, mainly with some character underdevelopment. Still, for the subject matter, a nice film for LGBT teenagers to be exposed to.

The film is set in Newfoundland, where eighteen year old Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) is a closeted, creative, teenager, with aspirations of being accepted into a prestigious school in New York, designing special effects makeup. Through the opening scenes, featuring Oscar as an eight year old child, we learn that his mother has left the family to begin a new life, and that Oscar witnessed a vicious beating of a gay teen, leaving him terrified of his own developing feelings towards the same sex.

Oscar has issues with both of his parents- his mother’s abandonment, and his father’s temper and homophobia. He frequently escapes into a private tree-house he and his father have built and daydreams of happier childhood times with his father. Oscar’s best friend is Gemma, who his father mistakenly assumes is his girlfriend. When Oscar meets suave co-worker, Wilder, he immediately becomes smitten with him.

Director, Dunn, creates a talking pet hamster for Oscar, voiced by actress Isabella Rossellini, a wonderful, creative add-on to the film. Buffy is a source of advice and wisdom throughout Oscar’s constant trials and tribulations and has been with him through the years. In a clever revelation that goes over his head, Buffy reveals to Oscar that she, in reality, has been replaced several times by other hamsters over the years.

Closet Monster has its positives and negatives. Certainly, for teenagers, or for any age group, struggling with either sexuality issues or for children of divorce, the film hits it out of the park, and serves as a relatable film. Dunn successfully makes Oscar an empathetic character, with wit and charm, and just the perfect amount of vulnerability. In many ways, Oscar is mature beyond his years. For the most part a careful character, he is surrounded by a world of chaos and disorder and uses escapism (his fantasies and secluded tree-house) to get through life. In this way Oscar is a very strong and well-written character.

Also a hit is the love interest of Oscar’s- the sexy Wilder. More of a bad boy, and assumed to be straight, Wilder, while rebellious, also becomes a sweet and trusted friend to Oscar. When he realizes Oscar’s sexual preference and that he is the object of Oscar’s affections, he does not freak out or dismiss Oscar. Rather, the young men become even closer. In a tender scene, Wilder offers to be Oscar’s first kiss, so that he can experience the monumental moment in a special way.

Still, the film would have been wise to develop Oscar’s parents better. At first, the father (Peter Madly), appears to be a decent man, dumped by his wife, and forced to raise his son alone. Conversely, the mother (Brin), is written as abandoning her child to selfishly start a new life with a new family (Oscar even spits in her face!). Somewhere along the line, Peter becomes a reckless homophobic with severe anger issues and Brin is painted as the sympathetic one who suddenly is “there for Oscar”. Better development would be recommended for these characters as I found their motives either unclear or perplexing. Why did they split in the first place?

Dunn is great at making Closet Monster an atypical film. He does not pepper the story with predictability or tried and true story points when it comes to the same sex romance, which is a brave choice. Rather he fills the film with non cliche moments. Closet Monster is a worthy entry in the LGBT film category and a must see for those struggling with identity issues- the film acts as a form of therapy.

Hair-1979

Hair-1979

Director-Milos Forman

Starring-Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #664

Reviewed July 14, 2017

Grade: B+

Hair is a 1979 musical film that, in addition to catchy singing and dance numbers, possesses quite a serious theme- that of the Vietnam war. This film is not your traditional Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer style musical prevalent in the 1950’s. Rather, the entire experience is a unique one with an underlying dark tone and is presumably a message film with a liberal slant.

Made in 1979, yet set in the late 1960’s, Hair centers primarily around two young men, along with a bevy of hippie friends, while most of the action is set in New York City. Despite the time period, the film does not always succeed in the authenticity category- many of the costumes and hairstyles scream late 1970’s. The film also has a late 1970’s “look”, clearly on the cusp of the 1980’s with poofy hair associated with the times. This forces the viewer to escape into a world largely of make-believe.

Claude (John Savage) is a naïve young man from folksy Oklahoma, clearly having lived a sheltered and religious life,  proper and away from big city living.  He is drafted and sent to the Big Apple, where he will wait assignment. Charismatic Berger (Treat Williams) and company befriend Claude after he gives them spare change, soon becoming the best of friends. Claude falls in love with socialite Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo) in town from neighboring Westchester County, NY and a love story ensues.

When Claude, Berger and company interrupt a lavish dinner party hosted by Sheila’s parents, a hilarious yet informative scene develops.  While  Sheila secretly is gleeful at the arrival of her new friends, Sheila’s parents are none to pleased, which results in a standoff between Berger and  Sheila’s family. Part comical, this scene also displays the severe class distinctions between many of the characters.

The rest of the film centers on the friends antics involving drug use, relationship trials and tribulations, and culminates in a cross country drive to desperately see Claude before he is shipped to Vietnam. Multiple scenes involve songs in relation to the turbulent race issues of the times- my personal favorites are the opening number, “Aquarius” and the scandalous, “Black Boys” and “White Boys”, performed by Nell carter.

Never one to be disappointed with a film set in Manhattan, Hair is a film basking in fantasy and the entire production seems to be one big dream as the carefully crafted musical numbers intersperse with the more dramatic elements. Still, much of the film consists of the group prancing around Manhattan and wonderful areas such as Washington Square park are featured as well as several changes of seasons, giving the film a slice of life feel.

My favorite performance is that of Treat Williams as Berger. Part showman, part jokster, and part earnest, he fills the role with dynamic energy that comes full circle in the last act when he drastically changes his appearance for the sake of a friend.

The ending of the film is melancholy and an inevitable reminder of the coldness and finality of war in relation to human life. The encompassing song is “Let the Sunshine In”, a powerful and worthy conclusion to the film as the gang visits Arlington National Cemetery, to join an anti-war peace rally and say goodbye to a friend.

The film version of Hair may be drastically changed from the stage musical version,  a version I shamefully have yet to see, but on its own merits the film is a poignant, powerful, and wholly entertaining musical adventure.

In the Flesh-1998

In the Flesh-1998

Director-Ben Taylor

Starring-Dane Ritter, Ed Corbin

Scott’s Review #663

Reviewed July 10, 2017

Grade: B

In the Flesh is a steamy, pre-Brokeback Mountain, LGBT film from 1998. The budget for this film is very small and the acting quite wooden. My initial reaction was that In the Flesh is a terrible film, yet something sucked me in as a fan, whether the crime theme or the romance (or both). The atmosphere is quite dreamlike and moody, which I find appealing and the addition of a whodunit murder mystery amid the romantic drama is highly appealing- therefore I hesitantly recommend this film for perhaps a late night adult viewing. But be prepared for endless plot holes and unnecessary sub-plots.

Oliver Beck (Dane Ritter) is a handsome college student who works as a hustler in a dive bar named The Blue Boy in Atlanta, Georgia. He has his share of loyal, older men who use his services and adore him, especially a lonely man named Mac- a barfly at the watering hole. When closeted Detective Philip Kursch (Ed Corbin) begins an undercover assignment to bust a drug ring at The Blue Boy, their lives intersect, as Philip falls in love with Oliver and investigates his past.

As the drug investigation seems to be quickly forgotten, a murder mystery develops when Mac is murdered at the ATM machine- Oliver looks on, panics,  and speeds away. When Philip covers for Oliver as an alibi, the plot really thickens. Other side stories like a flashback sequence involving Oliver’s past- while driving drunk he killed his best childhood friend, the introduction of his sometime boss and girlfriend, Chloe, and his caring of Lisa, his sister, addicted to heroin- are brought to the table, but really have little to do with the main story and only confuse the plot.

The most compelling element is the relationship between Oliver and Philip and their dysfunctional love story, but many questions abound. Is Philip secretly married or dating a female? We know nothing about his personal life. Oliver, hustling and hating every minute of it, merely as a way to support Lisa’s habit is ridiculous- why not get her help?

Neither actor Ed Corbin nor Dane Ritter will ever be accused of being the world’s greatest actor, and can hardly act their way out of a paper bag. Both actors performances are wooden and unemotional, even when emotion is required in the scene. Still, oddly this somewhat works in the film.

Regardless of In the Flesh being riddled with plot holes and sub-par acting, the film has some charm. The moody Atlanta nights, rife with sex and secrets , is quite appealing. A murderer on the loose and disguised save for a green watch is intriguing. The film also has a mysterious, almost haunting nature, and the muted camera work, whether intentional or the result of a poor DVD copy, works very well.

Since the time is 1998, a time period where more and more LGBT films were beginning to be made, but not overly so, In the Flesh and director, Ben Taylor, deserve credit for even being able to get this film produced and made. The mainstream success of LGBT juggernaut, Brokeback Mountain, undoubtedly was helped, albeit in a small way, by this film. Though, strangely, I never noticed the two main characters ever kiss- too soon for 1998?

Not the finest acting nor the best written screenplay, In the Flesh is a bare bones film that will be enjoyed largely by an LGBT audience seeking a peek into a time when these types films were not running aplenty and typically made in the independent film venue.

Life, Animated-2016

Life, Animated-2016

Director-Roger Ross Williams

Starring-Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind

Scott’s Review #662

Reviewed July 9, 2017

Grade: B+

Autism is still a baffling disease to many people (myself included) since I know nobody personally who is afflicted with it and, before watching this documentary had many questions. How wonderful to see a documentary that not only teaches the viewer about autistic people, but presents a wonderful story of how Disney films helped an autistic child into a world of normalcy with the aid of loving parents. Life, Animated is an empathetic film with a positive and inspirational message.

The production is based on a 2014 novel, written by journalist Ron Suskind, entitled Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, in which Ron tells the story of his son Owen and how Disney films helped him communicate with the outside world. The documentary, however, is told from Owen’s perspective, through childhood years into adulthood. The story incorporates not only Owen’s challenges with autism, but also his love life, relationship with his brother and parents, and various other autistic people he has come to bond with. He also was fortunate enough to be invited to Paris, France to speak at a conference.

How Owen, an energetic and “normal” three year old, suddenly shrunk into himself and away from the rest of the world is mysterious, but also how autism works. Owen’s parents, baffled at the sudden change in Owen’s behavior, did the dutiful parental actions of doctors and studies, but, in essence, helped Owen on their own. When Ron, on a lark, and with some desperation, began speaking in the voice of a Disney character, Owen sprung to life like magic.

The film will please fans of Disney films since Owen lives and breathes the various classic movies, immersing himself in their worlds and memorizing scenes and dialogue alike. Specifically, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are heavily featured as reference points.

As a teenager, Owen sadly was tormented by school bullies, which caused him a setback. Fortunately, through his creative mind, he began to write stories and come up with his own characters as a sense of relief from everyday stress. The film intersperses various drawings of Owen and his family throughout, adding a creative edge to the documentary.

The documentary wisely does not state that Disney films will cure anyone with autism, but rather Owen’s love of these films served as a stimulus to bring him back to life. Presumably any autistic child could find a source or something he or she loves, to help build self esteem and achieve skills.

I highly recommend Life, Animated to anyone with an autistic child, sibling, relative, or friend, or anyone seeking an empathetic experience and a heartwarming tale of achievement. From a film perspective, the documentary is clear, concise, and to the point, with videotaped images of Owen’s life as a child through adulthood. Life, Animated received a 2016 Best Documentary Oscar nomination.

Homicidal-1961

Homicidal-1961

Director-William Castle

Starring- Jean Arless, Patricia Bresling

Scott’s Review #661

Reviewed July 8, 2017

Grade: A-

Homicidal is a 1961 horror film, shot in black and white, that is a direct homage to the successful Psycho, made only a year earlier. In fact, while some would argue Homicidal is a direct rip off of Psycho, I see the film as containing elements of Psycho, but twisted around so that its own unique story is created.  Regardless, Homicidal is a fantastic, edge of your seat film, that never drags or slows down, and the film deserves recognition. The surprise ending is terrific.

The story gets off to an intriguing start as a tall, leggy, blonde woman confidently walks into a local California hotel to request a room-there is something mysterious about the woman. She appears to be a woman of some wealth and convinces a young bellboy to marry her for $2,000.  Hesitant, but also enamored by the woman, he accompanies her to the local justice of the peace, who marries them in the middle of the night. The woman (Emily) then savagely bludgeons the justice of the peace and flees the scene. Later, she brags about the murder to a mute and sickly old woman named Helga, who Emily is caring for.

From this point, other characters in the small town are introduced and we slowly learn more and more about the intriguing Emily (Jean Arless). Flower shop owner, Miriam (Patricia Bresling) and her brother Warren are central to the story as Warren will inherit a fortune on his twenty-first birthday, which is the next day. Miriam’s boyfriend, Karl, is the local pharmacist, who Emily appears to fancy. All of these characters come into play as the intriguing plot develops. Is Warren’s inheritance a motivating factor? Will he be killed? Why isn’t his sister, Miriam receiving any money? Could she be secretly plotting something?

The comparisons to Psycho are endless. The gender bending twist during the final act is the most obvious one- Arless deserves kudos for tackling both roles in wonderful, compelling fashion. The fact that Arless resembles Psycho actress Janet Leigh is another similarity. Otherwise, Miriam and Karl resemble characters from Psycho and Helga could be a dead ringer for Mother Bates. Even some of the sets, specifically a staircase, resembles the one in Psycho.

Director, William Castle, brilliantly adds a gimmick to Homicidal that works very well- as the film is about to reach its shocking climax, the action suddenly stops and the introduction of a “fright break” ensues. At this point, Castle gives the audience forty-five seconds to leave the room to avoid what is to come next-we see the clock countdown in real time. What a fantastic idea!

Throughout the film, I noticed some of the actors, most notably Jean Arless, playing their roles in a slight melodramatic way. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door, or a car drives up, and the character quickly turns their head in a fast movement, to look in an almost cartoonish way. Rather than see this as a negative, this style of acting works for me and adds a bit of humor to the film.

Another positive for me is the way the film is gruesome in several parts. As a character descends the staircase from a stairlift, the image of the body is shrouded in dark shadows. When the dismembered head topples down the staircase, it is macabre and effective. The justice of the peace death scene is also well done and will please horror fans in its hefty bloodletting. Surprisingly, only two murders occur.

Certainly not as crafty, and containing a smaller budget (though Psycho was also small), Homicidal is quite the solid effort in a B-movie way. Success is largely thanks to the fantastic direction of William Castle, who carves a similar story to Psycho, but in a  different way so that his film does not feel like a carbon copy. Homicidal is a film for fans of classic, solid, horror films.

Bullitt-1968

Bullitt-1968

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn

Scott’s Review #660

Reviewed July 7, 2017

Grade: B+

Bullitt is one of the ultimate “guy movies”, hardly a stretch considering it stars the “regular guy” hero of the time, Steve McQueen. With his macho, tough guy persona and his cool, confident swagger, he was a marquee hero during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. While the film is rife with machismo stereotypes and is not exactly a women’s lib film, it is also a good old-fashioned action thriller with plenty of chase and fight scenes to make most guys  (and some girls) happy. The story is  not too thought-provoking, but the film works as escapist fare and an example of good late 1960’s cinema.

Set in San Francisco, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is assigned to watch a Chicago gangster, Johnny Ross, over a long weekend, before the criminal is set to testify against his brother on Monday morning.  Robert Vaughn plays ambitious politician, Walter Chalmers, who is determined  to see the case go off without a hitch  and see convictions in the organized crime syndicate.  Predictably, the weekend does not go as planned and  Ross is attacked by hit men. This, in turn,  sets off a cat and mouse game of deception and intrigue. As expected, the action is virtually non-stop with many action sequences lighting up the screen.

The plot of Bullitt does not much matter and, in fact, one does not need to completely understand what is going on to enjoy the film for what it is. The intent of a film like Bullitt is not of good story-telling, but rather of good action. This is not meant as a put-down, but rather good, honest critiquing.  One can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the testosterone laden affair.

Bullitt contains some riveting scenes that raise it above an average, middling, action flick. The muscle car chase involving a then state of the art and flashy Ford Mustang  and Dodge Charger is fantastic and one of the high points of the film. The quick and edgy camera angles as the cars zip down the windy and narrow San Francisco roads  make for compelling tension. Will one of the cars careen off the side of the road or blow up in an explosion? Since one of the cars holds Frank Bullitt and the other car the bad guys, it is not tough to guess how the sequence will end. But it’s good fun all the same and well filmed.

The other spectacular sequence is the finale- as Frank and company overtake busy San Francisco airport in pursuit of a baddie about to board a transcontinental flight, the chase sequence leads them throughout the airport, onto a taxiing plane, and finally onto the runway, as a plane is about to take off. It is action at it’s finest and also a treat for the viewer in that it brings us back to airport days, pre-9/11, when airports were just-different. The luxurious flight crew, the innocence, and the glamour- all a distant memory.  The scene is such that it shows all of the airport elements- the people, the employees, the airport, and the planes, giving it a slice of life  feel, circa late 1960’s airport days.

Appealing is the time period that the film is made in. 1968, a great time for film, Bullitt capitalized on the newly liberal use of blood that films were able to show, so in this way, Bullitt is an influential action film. Dozens of imitators (some admittedly with superior writing) followed, including classics Dirty Harry and The French Connection. These films contain the same basic blueprint that Bullitt has.

A negative to Bullitt is the trite way in which women are portrayed. Female characters are written as either dutiful nurses, gasping  in fear and helplessly running away when an assailant runs rampant in the hospital, praying for a man to save the day. Or, they are written, in the case of Bullitt’s girlfriend, as a gorgeous yet insignificant character, given a laughable scene in which she questions whether or not she really knows Frank after witnessing the violence in his job- hello?  he is in the San Francisco Police Department after all.

Bullitt is meat and potatoes kind of film-making. An early entry into  what would become the raw 1970’s and the slick formulaic 1980’s action genre, the film deserves credit for being at the front of the pack in style and influence. The story and character development is secondary to other aspects of the film and Bullitt is just fine as escapism fare.

The Beguiled-2017

The Beguiled-2017

Director-Sofia Coppola

Starring-Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell

Scott’s Review #659

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A-

A remake of the 1971 film (also adapted from an earlier novel) starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled is a 2017 release directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), a director ready to burst onto the front lines. Coppola carefully chooses her films, but each one is different from the others and The Beguiled is no different. A piece fraught with atmosphere and tension, Coppola does a wonder from a directing standpoint. The story has tons of unchartered potential and drags at times, but overall The Beguiled is a hit, if nothing more than to look at in wonderment.

The film gets off to a moody start as we follow a young girl, eerily humming as she picks mushrooms, along a deserted southern road. It is Civil War times (1864), and the setting is a mostly deserted all-girls boarding school in southern Virginia. The girl (Amy) is startled when she discovers an injured, handsome Union Army soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Farrell). Sympathetic, Amy helps the soldier back to the school, led by headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Kidman). Slowly, the females in the school become enamored with John as they develop rivalries with each other in order to gain the upper hand for his affections.

There is something so sinister and wickedly foreboding about almost every scene as we shrink at the thought that something bad will happen at any moment- sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Almost like a horror film would, the camera angles are such that something or someone is bound to suddenly leap out and grab a character.

The colors are muted and almost pastel and there is commonly fog floating through the exterior scenes. Coppola does a fantastic job of portraying a deserted southern landscape. The lighting of the film is also intriguing as lit candles serve to enhance the dimness and the final dinner scene (poison mushrooms anyone?) is gloomy and Shakespearean.

Beyond the look of the film, The Beguiled is well-acted. With heavyweights like Farrell, Kidman, and frequent Coppola star, Kirsten Dunst, as the vulnerable and unhappy teacher, Miss Morrow, the acting is stellar and believable. The audience is unsure if John is manipulating the women for his own gain or if he has developed feelings for any (or all) of them. The lovesick teen, Alicia (Elle Fanning), with hormones clearly raging, sets her sights on John almost from the beginning, sneaking out of musical lessons, to kiss an unconscious John goodnight.

The story, while compelling, is quite slow moving and left with oodles of possibilities when the conclusion finally happens. Other than the tart, Alicia, endless romantic potential could have been reached with both Miss Morrow and Miss Farnsworth. I was left wondering throughout the film when a romance would develop between Martha and John, but only towards the end of the film was this ever addressed and barely skirted over, as the take charge and stoic Martha slowly began to let her guard down. In this way, the film could have added some further romantic complications and beefed up the very short running time of ninety three minutes.

As Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite film stars of all time (she can tell a story by facial expressions alone), she has wisely begun to choose fantastic supporting roles as she ages in Hollywood (2016’s Lion immediately comes to mind). Dunst has aged gracefully into a middle-aged actress chomping at the bit for meaty roles, and Colin Farrell is as ruggedly handsome as ever sprouting a dark and bushy beard for most of the role. The acting in The Beguiled is fantastic.

The Beguiled is a film to watch if only to escape to the joys of great, atmospheric, film-making, and to appreciate the wonderful talents of one of the few prominent female director’s of today (hopefully the mega success of 2017’s female directed Wonder Woman will begin to change this). The story has a few issues, but overall The Beguiled is worth the money spent.

The Boys in the Band-1970

The Boys in the Band-1970

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs

Top 100 Films-#80

Scott’s Review #658

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A

An excellent counterpart to the equally brilliant, and equally unpleasant, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band is also a stage production made into a feature film. As such, shot very much like a play and seemingly in one long take, the film is highly effective and delicious in wit and dark humor. With a macabre and bitter element, the characters snipe and ridicule each other during a birthday party.

The Boys in the Band is a groundbreaking film on many levels as it is one of the first LGBT films to feature gay characters in prominent roles. Furthermore, it has the dubious honor of being the first film to use the word “cu##”. Regardless, the film is fantastic and a must see for anyone intrigued by LGBT film history. All of the actors appeared in the stage production and reprise their roles for the film version.

The setting is the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the late 1960’s. Michael, a writer, is hosting a birthday party for his good friend, Harold. When Michael receives an urgent call from his straight and married college chum, Alan, he begrudgingly invites him over at the risk of having his lifestyle exposed. One by one, the guests arrive for the party. Emory is quite effeminate and loud, Hank and Larry and straight-acting and a couple, but with monogamy issues and Hank’s marriage as obstacles. Bernard, a black bookstore clerk is an amiable, nice guy. “Cowboy”, a dim-witted hustler, and Harold, the sarcastic, bitter, guest of honor, round out the attendees.

As the night wears on, the party turns into a free for all of insults, bad feelings, and vicious conversation. Alan and Emory get into a fistfight, and later a hurtful telephone game forces everyone to call the one person they have truly loved which results in anxieties and sadness for most of the guests.

The key aspect to The Boys in the Band is that it is shot like a play would be, with a highly effective result. In this way, especially mid-way through the film when the guests are all in the same closed room, the action becomes suffocating and stifling as the fangs are bared by a few of the guests. Director, Friedkin, uses many close-ups of his characters to further portray their raw emotions.

My favorite characters are Alan and Hank as these characters are the most complex. Both are married, and both hit it off famously, although Alan’s sexuality is never completely revealed. He is married, but clearly troubled, and the audience never learns why, although we could wager a guess that he is, indeed, conflicted by his sexuality. What will become of him? Will he accept his sexuality or live a repressed existence?

Hank, in the midst of a divorce from his wife, lives with Larry as a couple. Hank is complex because he is transitioning from a straight life to a gay lifestyle and that must have been very difficult in the late 1960’s- for this reason I find the character of Hank quite brave. The film does not explore this angle as much as it could have, but a character such as Hank fleshes out the cast in a positive way. Alan and Hank are multi-dimensional characters whereas some of the others contain gay stereotypes.

I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into the personal lives of some of the characters, but the film is really about the emotions many of the characters possess and feelings of love, some unrequited, and there are too many characters for each to receive his due focus. Plus, the main focus of the film is the back and forth banter between the characters.

Valley of the Dolls-1967

Valley of the Dolls-1967

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate

Scott’s Review #657

Reviewed July 3, 2017

Grade: A-

Based on the best selling novel written by Jacqueline Susann a year earlier, the film version of Valley of the Dolls has become rather a cult classic in the years following release- it has earned the dubious description of “it’s so bad it’s good”.  The film dives head first into the soapy and dramatic world of Hollywood and Broadway and the trials and tribulations that three young women encounter as they try to “make it” in the back stabbing business. The film teeters on camp, but is a favorite of mine, as I love the theme of aspiring stars in La La land. The set design and groovy styles of the late 1960’s are also note-worthy.

Bored with her life in sleepy New England, Anne Welles decides to move to the bright lights of Manhattan seeking fame, fortune, and excitement. After she lands a secretarial job for an entertainment lawyer, who handles temperamental Broadway star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), Anne meets and befriends two other struggling young actresses. Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is a vivacious, gifted singer and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) a gorgeous blonde with limited talent, but looks to die for.  The three women wrestle with their ups and downs of show business as they each achieve various levels of successes and failures.

The film centers on both the loves and the losses of each woman and at times the film is rather soap opera-like, especially the bitchy feud between Neely and Helen, but the film is a fun, entertaining experience.  Various men come in and out of the trios lives. The “dolls” referenced in the title are a nickname for pills that the girls readily pop and alcohol is also used in the film.

One interesting aspect to the film that I am fond of is that the three women are vastly different from one another.  Anne is the most sensible of the three and arguably the most intelligent. Neely is wild, reckless, and constantly battles drugs and alcohol, yet she is both the most successful and the most talented. Jennifer is gorgeous, but lacks the talent or the vigor to succeed in Hollywood. Two of the three women do not experience happy endings to their respective stories.

Some of the film is admittedly a bit uneven, especially the performance of Duke as Neely. She plays the role wildly over the top especially during her shrieking, drug saddled tirades, but rather than find the performance irritating (some certainly might), I find the role loud, bombastic, but yet sympathetic. We root for Neely because she has talent despite her personal shortcomings and she is a likable character to me as I want her to find happiness. Also playing up the camp is Hayward, as she fills Helen with fire, spite, and gusto, doing everything to make the audience view her as queen bitch. Helen was scheduled to be played by illustrious star Judy Garland (she would have been perfect!), but was reportedly fired for showing up for work drunk.

An enjoyable aspect to Valley of the Dolls is the humor, though sadly the laughs are not always intentional. The finale involves a cat-fight between Neely and Helen in the classy ladies room of a famed theater. With sheer delight, Neely yanks off Helen’s bright orange wig to reveal her natural head of hair. In campy fashion, Helen’s real hair is perfectly fine- more shocking would have been if she were bald or had thinning hair, but her hair is bleached blonde and full. In melodramatic fashion, Helen waltzes out of the theater sans wig.

Valley of the Dolls is a late-night treat that can be enjoyed and not taken overly seriously- the film differs vastly from the actual novel and even the time period (the 1960’s versus the 1940’s through the 1960’s) is changed. The film was followed by a much more campy and satirical film,  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, made in 1970 and directed by Russ Meyer.

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Escape from Alcatraz-1979

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood

Scott’s Review #656

Reviewed July 2, 2017

Grade: B+

Made during the heyday (the 1970’s and the early 1980’s) of a slew of action and thriller type films to star popular actor, Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz is a gritty, guy-focused film with not one single female character in sight. The film is directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Eastwood in several previous films, most notably, Dirty Harry in 1971, and contains a grittiness frequently used in this genre of film during the time period.

Reminiscent in style to 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in its authority repressing and taking advantage of  the victimized common man, the film itself is also a good historical account of one of the most famous prison escapes ever achieved, in 1962. Having recently visited the long since shut down Alcatraz prison near San Francisco, California, the film was wonderful to watch at this time as much of it was shot inside and around the actual prison grounds.

We immediately meet Frank Morris (Eastwood) as he is unceremoniously led to the infamous Alcatraz prison on a stormy, chilly night in foggy San Francisco. The dark, harsh weather perfectly sets the tone for the dreary prison experience he will face. Morris is stripped, searched, intimidated by the warden and the guards, and paraded around naked, finally taken to his tiny cell, where he will presumably spend the rest of his life. Interestingly, the film does not reveal what crimes Morris has committed to warrant his tenure in Alcatraz-in this way the character is more sympathetic.

Slowly, Morris befriends other inmates and formulates an idea to escape the impossible prison by digging through the cement walls with spoons and escaping through pipes. The other inmates featured in the film are the Anglin brothers, in for robbery, a kindly older man named Doc, who fervently paints the time away, nervous Charlie Butts, and English, an intelligent black man in for two life sentences for killing two white men in self defense. All of these men in some way aid Morris in his escape from the torturous Alcatraz.

A side story involves a bully named Wolf, who has designs on Morris from day one. Whether Wolf is actually gay or merely a menace is unknown and not explored. Throughout the film, Wolf and Morris fight and spend time in solitary confinement and their rivalry is an interesting sub-plot.

The film clearly wants the viewer to be on the side of the prisoners and I am not sure if in real life the prisoners would be as sympathetic as portrayed in the film. Most of them seem to be confined to Alcatraz for robberies or for crimes they did not do or circumstances deeming the crimes inevitable in some way. Furthering a liberal slant to the film is the friendship between Morris and English. An interracial friendship between the men reveal that our hero Morris is progressive thinking and a “good guy”.

Conversely, most of the guards and certainly the Warden (Patrick McGoohan) are written as terrible, unsympathetic people. When an inmate drops dead of a heart attack, the warden coldly remarks “some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz-alive”.  In this way, and other examples, the Warden is the clear foil of the film and in the final scene the warden gets a bit of comeuppance when a mocking souvenir is left for him . To further compare Escape from Alcatraz to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, the Warden is a similar character to the infamous Nurse Ratched in their mutual, diabolical sadism.

I am unsure if in “real life” the distinctions between the prisoners and the authority figures were so black and white, but it sure makes for good film drama. In a sense, it is “the heroes versus the villains” but in reverse.

The inevitable escape sequence is predictable, but highly compelling as Morris and company enact their escape plot during an overnight. The usage of papier-mache dolls to fool the guards is heavily dramatic and compelling.

Escape from Alcatraz is not high art, but works as a historical account of a real-life incident in one of the most discussed prisons in United States history. The film is also a perfect starring vehicle for Eastwood as he is well cast in the gritty, yet likable role of prisoner Morris. The film is a good, solid, late 1970’s thriller.