Roman Holiday-1953

Roman Holiday-1953

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn

Scott’s Review #694

Reviewed October 26, 2017

Grade: B+

Roman Holiday, released in 1953, was a box office hit, pleasing legions of fans at the time, in addition to being a critical darling. The film reaped a series of Academy Award nominations including the coveted Best Actress statuette for a young Audrey Hepburn. A happy, uplifting story, the film is not diminished by the Cinderella in reverse story-line, but rather is a charming, romantic experience immersing itself in pleasing locales of the cultural city of Rome. Admittedly, Roman Holiday is an example of a film in which I preferred the latter half to the former, but succeeds in setting the bar high in the romantic comedy genre.

Our heroine, Princess Ann (Hepburn, has it all- a glamorous life, gorgeous clothes, and assistants tending to her every need and want. However, she is unhappy and trapped in a rigid life that lacks freedoms or decisions of any kind, to say nothing of the fun she catches glimpses of party-goers reveling in each night from her expansive palace window. Simply put, she is lonely and unfulfilled. When she sees an opportunity to escape her life for a night of fun, she snatches it and stumbles upon an American reporter, Joe Bradley. The two, despite differing backgrounds, fall madly in love with one another.

At first I found something missing with the film and the chemistry between Peck and Hepburn did not immediately embrace me. As the duo meet, Ann, drunk from sleeping pills, and Joe being the ultimate nice guy and allowing her to sleep in his apartment, the story seems somewhat lagging and lacking a good punch. The pair drive around the city of Rome on a scooter and act childish and silly, Ann acting girlish because fun is an entirely new concept to her. At this point the film was reasonable, but little more than a farce.

As Roman Holiday plugs along, and especially through the final act, the film sheds a bit of its light skin and becomes much more poignant and meaningful. Ann and Joe, while in love, realize they will not and cannot embark on a fairy tale ending, which truthfully, would have made Roman Holiday little more than a standard romantic comedy we have all seen before- you know the type- boy meets girl, roadblocks persist, boy whisks girl away and ride off into the sunset together. Roman Holiday, while not a dark film, goes much deeper than a transparent, predictable ending.

Related to this point is that Roman Holiday contains a realness that sets it apart from many films undoubtedly drawn from it, but unlike this film, lean into contrived or predictable situations. As Joe and Ann fall in love, the audience falls in love with them. In fact, the main plot hurdle- Joe’s temptation to profit off of Ann once he realizes her true identity by way of a sought after interview- is earnestly done with a lack of any pretension. Other similar films ought to take note of this.

Certainly, the historic and culturally relevant locales of Rome are a major sell of the film and, if these scenes were shot on a movie set, a lack of authenticity would surely have emerged. Instead, we are treated to such fabulous location sequences as the Colosseum, the Tiber River, the Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Venezia. Such a delight is the long sequence of Roman escapades as Joe and Ann traverse the city in giddy bliss.

Enjoyable is how Roman Holiday contains no real villain of any sort. Nowhere to be found is any physical hurdles to the duo’s relationship- no outside forces plotting to keep Joe and Ann apart, other than merely their individual lifestyles. Ann is in a world of royalty and pampering, but Joe is an every man, so the chances of living happily ever after are slim to none.

Film lovers intent on discovering one of the early romantic comedies- one could argue that It Happened One Night was the first- ought to take a watch of a feel-good, Hollywood classic from 1953 that is rich in honesty, good humor, and raw emotion without being too much of a heavy melodrama. After a middling start the film finishes with gusto.

Don’t Look Now-1973

Don’t Look Now-1973

Director-Nicolas Roeg

Starring-Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland

Scott’s Review #693

Reviewed October 22, 2017

Grade: A

Don’t Look Now is an exceptional 1973 supernatural horror film that is as thought provoking as it is intelligently written and directed. Combined with riveting acting by famous Hollywood stars of the day, the film is simply an anomaly and must be seen to be appreciated. It is also the type of film that can be watched again and again for better clarity and exhibits the age old “it gets better with age” comparison. The film is rich with story, atmosphere, and cerebral elements, as well as being highly influential to horror films which followed.

Affluent married couple, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), live happily together in their English country home, raising their two children, Johnny and Christine. After a tragic drowning incident, resulting in the death of Christine, the devastated couple relocates to Venice, after John accepts a position restoring an ancient church. Soon, Laura meets a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be clairvoyant, warning her of imminent danger and that Christine is attempting to contact her from beyond.

Don’t Look Now is hardly your standard horror film, which is a main part of its appeal- psychological in nature, the film holds only one gruesome death- not including the death of Christina, which is a terrible accident- not malicious. Rather, director Nicolas Roeg quietly builds the suspense to a startling final sequence by using a chilling musical score to elicit a reaction from the audience. We know not what will happen, only that something sinister is bound to.

Due to the successful chemistry between Sutherland and Christie, in 1973, both cream of the crop in terms of film success and marketability, the actors deserve much credit for making Don’t Look Now both believable and empathetic. As John and Laura, each gives their character a likable nature and immeasurable chemistry, which makes the audience care for them. Despite the supernatural elements in the film, at its core the story is quite humanistic. John and Laura have tragically lost a child and we see them deal with the painful grief associated with this loss. The famous sex scene between the pair is shocking given the time period, but also tastefully done, as Roeg uses a fragmented filming style that mixes the nudity with the couple dressing for dinner.

Visually, Don’t Look Now is a pure treat. The viewer is catapulted to the cultural and wonderful world of watery Venice, where scene after scene feature gondola rides, exterior treats of the city, and filming locations such as the famous Hotel Gabrielli Sandworth and the San Nicolo dei Mendicoli church, wisely chosen as shooting locations giving the film an effective realism.

The characters of the elderly sisters, Heather and Wendy, are wonderfully cast. Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania are fantastic and believable as the mysterious duo. Seemingly kindly and eager to help, I was never really sure what the characters true motives were. Was Laura paying them for their assistance? The film never reveals this information, but Heather especially, contains a sinister look that shrouds her motivations in uncertainty. Fabulous actress Mason shines in her important role.

As John begins to “see things”, the use of the color red becomes very important. Christine died wearing a red coat and John sees a child wearing a red coat walking around the city, but cannot make out her face. When he then sees Laura and the sisters at a funeral, we begin to question his sanity. But are the sisters up to something and attempting to trick him or is his mind playing tricks on him? The terrific conclusion will only lead the viewer to more questions.

Don’t Look Now is a unique, classic horror film, with incredible thematic elements, an eerie psychological story, fine acting, and location sequences that will astound. Mixing the occult with an unpredictable climax, the film is influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, and succeeds in achieving a blood curdling affair sure to be discussed upon the chilling conclusion. The film is non-linear in storytelling, which only makes it more challenging to watch and appreciate.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #692

Reviewed October 15, 2017

Grade: B-

The umbrella title of “Grindhouse” is part of a 2007 double-feature, one film directed by Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), and the other directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror). The gimmick was part of an attempt at something novel and also book-ending fictional trailers within the films. The term “grindhouse” refers to a cinematic specialty of either B movie or exploitation films- largely during the 1970’s. While Planet Terror gets credit for being unique and fun, it is often times too cartoon-like and rather over the top throughout.

The premise of Planet Terror is certainly not one to be taken seriously- as our heroine, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), quits her stripper job vowing to move on to bigger and better things, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddie Rodriguez), and the two team up to lead a group of rebels, who are fleeing for their lives after a vicious zombie outbreak. The attack was caused by a group of military officials, led by the vicious Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis).

The film contains an undeniable retro feel- the sets and the props traverse back to the 1970’s in style and look, however, characters do use cellular phones. In this way, Rodrigues attempts to make the film an homage or a throwback to a different time in cinema- this feat is quite impressive and the film is a marvel from a stylized perspective. Another positive is that the film is reminiscent, by the camera styles and angles, to an actual 1970’s film, with grainy elements and a comforting old-style texture, which really works.

The plot, though, is the source of frustration, and many aspects of the film are just plain silly. The actors play way over the top- as they were probably directed by Rodriguez to do, but the end result is too much like watching a cartoon rather than a piece of art. Rodriguez appears to be copying many aspects of Quentin Tarantino films- specifically, the mixture of violence with camp, although these attempts do not always work.

The acting and casting is fine- in fact, Bruce Willis shines in the lead villain role and plays demented to the hilt. Unquestionably “borrowed” by Rodriguez through Tarantino, Willis, who was dynamic in Pulp Fiction, knows how to do his thing well in films such as this. Muldoon is quite the different character than boxer Butch Coolidge in 1994’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, but the acting style is the same. Stars such as Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, and Rosario Dawson also make appearances so the film is assuredly a star-studded affair.

The casting of McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez as the leads is acceptable and the pair make a decent screen coupling. Still, her artificial leg which doubles as a deadly machine gun and his maniacal persona seem somewhat forced and, again, way over the top.

Planet Terror was a moderate box office success upon release in 2007, but watching the film in 2017, ten years later, unfortunately some of the luster has been tarnished and the gimmick not as catchy as at the time of release. Still, a decent offering in the horror, cartoon, campy genre, but much better films exist- think anything by Tarantino.

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Emma Stone, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #691

Reviewed October 11, 2017

Grade: A

Battle of the Sexes is a film that achieves worth on many levels- equal parts sports film, drama, and biography, the film excels across all genres, with exceptional acting and crowd pleasing storytelling. To boot, the film is a true story based not only on the very famous pro tennis match of 1973, termed the “Battle of the Sexes”, but a story of the sexual identity conflict of one of the opponents, in a time where being ones true self was not easy, especially for a public figure.

Emma Stone might very well have given her best portrayal of her young career as Billie Jean King, the talented tennis pro featured in the film. She is kind and fair, but a fierce proponent of women’s rights in a time in the United States when feminism was beginning to first take shape and women, and their male supporters, demanded equal treatment. At first uncertain whether Stone could pull the role off (not because of lack of talent, but the women seem so different), she truly shines as the tomboy athlete with shaggy, feathered locks, and a toothy grin.

Equally worthy of praise is Steve Carell, who bolsters his film credo by tackling the role of King’s opponent and foe in the big match, Bobby Riggs. Portrayed as a certifiable “jerk” and a sexist pig, Carell somehow pours the perfect amount of sympathy and likability into the part. We witness scenes of Riggs’ playfulness with his young son and tender yet troubled relationship with his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue in a well cast role), that never seems neither trite nor contrived, but rather quite genuine.

In fact, the acting in Battle of the Sexes is across the board good. Sarah Silverman drips with confidence and humor as Gladys Heldman, founder of World Tennis magazine and leader of the troupe of female tennis players she parades around southern California seeking the same respect and pay as their male counterparts. Bill Pullman, makes the most of his one dimensional role of Jack Kramer, a wealthy and male chauvinistic  promoter, while the talented Andrea Riseborough is brilliant as Marilyn, the bisexual, closeted lover of Billie Jean- giving a blend of vulnerability and toughness to her role.

The romantic scenes between Stone and Riseborough smolder with tenderness and heart as they forge ahead with their forbidden romance. The film makes clear that a same sex romance in those days, while accepted by those around them, would be met with shame and rejection by a large part of King’s legions of fans- this is a heartbreaking reality. One of the most tear-jerking scenes comes at the end of the film, when a victorious King is unable to acknowledge Marilyn- her openly gay male dresser earnestly whispers to her that one day she will be free to love who she truly loves- the scene is poignant.

Directors Dayton and Faris carve a finale that is careful not to fall into cliched territory. Given that Battle of the Sexes is a sports film, this is a real risk, as typically these genre films teeter into the “good guys beat bad guys” fairy tale land. Rather, while the film does champion King in the end, the moment is laced with good humor, drama, and sentimentality that does not seem forced, but rather honest and real- I enjoyed the final act immensely.

As the film progressed I found myself drawing parallels to the ever dramatic and historical 2016 Presidential election- sure to have films made in years ahead-and King in many ways mirrors Hillary Clinton while Riggs resembles Donald Trump in the sexist department. The political and sports “Battles of the Sexes” warrants an amount of analysis. My point is a sad one and as much as I love the film, I was left with a cold feeling that forty five years after the famous Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs match, male superiority and chauvinism is alive and well in the United States- we still have so much progress to make.

Battle of the Sexes is a film with fantastic acting, stellar casting, passion, excitement, and a telling of a historical, true story. In short the film contains all of the elements of a compelling cinematic experience.

O.J.: Made in America-2016

O.J.: Made in America-2016

Director-Ezra Edelman

Starring-Various

Scott’s Review #690

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Simply put, O.J.: Made in America is one of the greatest documentary films that I have ever scene- if not the best. The level of detail that is thoroughly explored without being over-inflated is to be marveled at. In fact, it is much more than a documentary, it is more a chronicle of one of the most talented professional athletes and one of the most controversial figures of our time. The piece dissects not only O.J. Simpson and his tumultuous life, but also how race, wealth, and celebrity factored into the infamous trial that took over the world in 1994. Basically, this story tells of the examination of the rise and fall of an American sports hero.

At seven hours and forty three minutes in length, I had no intention of actually committing to watching the entire saga, surmising that I could easily obtain a good grasp after watching only one disc, but it needs to be viewed in its entirety to be fully realized and appreciated. The documentary is an ESPN production and part of the 30 for 30 series plays out more like a mini-series, with multiple chapters (five in total) encompassing the entire chronicle. The title of O.J: Made in America is of vital importance and a powerful reason for the success the documentary achieved as film makers question whether many factors were instrumental in making O.J. Simpson what he became rather than creating merely an overview of the events.

An immediate positive, and successfully got me immediately intrigued, is how the documentary begins in present times, O.J. Simpson, now imprisoned and presumably at a parole hearing, he is asked about his duties in the prison and how old he was when he was first arrested- the answer is age forty six, when he was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. The documentary then immediately returns to Simpson’s humble upbringing in the ghettos of San Francisco and how, through scholarships, was able to attend and become a major star at University of Southern California in the mid 1960’s.

What I adore most of all about O.J.: Made in America is that it is a multi-faceted story. Instead of a straight up biography about the troubled celebrity, the film-makers instead choose to balance the documentary with related stories about racial tensions. Certainly, a chronological approach is taken when it comes to Simpson- yes, we learn his skyrocketing trip to super-stardom as a college football player and then professionally as a Buffalo Bill. We are educated of his achievements in commercials, films, and various endorsements, but the documentary relates this to what America made O.J. Simpson into- a beloved star.

Finally, the documentary explains his relationship and marriage to Nicole Brown and the dreaded death and subsequent trial that was sensationalized beyond belief. Lots of time is spent on the trial portion with oodles of interviews ranging from the prosecution- Marsha Clark, Gil Garcetti- as well as numerous friends and relatives of both Simpson and Nicole Brown. An astounding seventy two interviews were conducted.

Surprising to me at first, but making total sense in retrospect, is how the issue of race relations, especially in Los Angeles, have an enormous amount to do with the O.J. Simpson murder case. Film-makers draw many wise comparisons to the history of poor relations between blacks and the Los Angeles Police Department and certainly, the documentary explores the Rodney King incident from the late 1980’s and poses a crucial question- was O.J. Simpson found “not guilty” as a way of exoneration for Rodney King? More than one juror has admitted she refused to find O.J. Simpson guilty and send a black man to prison.

O.J.: Made in America is a superb, well-rounded, concise, and brilliant study of a troubled man- deemed a hero, who obviously had a dark side. The excellent documentary wholly explores his life and provides a fair, unbiased assessment of the events and the thoughts and opinions of those surrounding the case. It is a sad story, but one that is told in brilliant fashion.

Black Orpheus-1959

Black Orpheus-1959

Director-Marcel Camus

Starring-Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn

Scott’s Review #689

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Black Orpheus is a 1959 French film, made in Brazil, honored with a win in the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Academy award category in 1960, considered somewhat of a surprise to actually win. The film is adapted from the well known Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, now set in Rio de Janeiro during the festive celebration of Carnaval. Containing a cast of almost all black actors and providing a look at life on the streets of Brazil, Black Orpheus is vivacious, and filled with lively song and dances.

The setting is key to the film as the beauty and merriment is mixed with loss and tragedy- loads of exterior shots of Rio de Janeiro flesh out the film with many shots high atop a hill in a quaint village where all of the characters live-and most in very close proximity to each other. Similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film is romantic and lovely, but the story is also mired in jealousy and drama amid the dancing and many celebrations. Many of the actors, certainly leads Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, are non-actors, cast undoubtedly because of their gorgeous, authentic looks, but surprisingly both are phenomenal in their roles, perfectly cast.

Wholesome Eurydice (Dawn) arrives in the city of Rio de Janeiro by way of a trolley driven by Orpheus (Mello), intent on visiting her cousin, Serafina. There is an instant attraction between the young man and woman as he provides directions to her cousins village, which is also his. Orpheus, however, is engaged to be  married to his possessive and demanding fiance, Mira, though he is less than enthused about the impending marriage and would rather fix his guitar than buy Mira an engagement ring.

As the Carnival festivities get underway, Orpheus and Eurydice give in to their mutual attraction and dance the night away while subsequently trying to avoid the wrath of Mira, and avoid a mysterious costumed man who has been stalking Eurydice since  she escaped her village and fled to Rio.  Eurydice is terrified that the man may want to kill her and his motivations are unknown. His character is particularly frightening as he is known as “Death” and dons a tight, skeleton costume.

The tragic conclusion culminating in a wonderful chase scene in Orpheus’s trolley station is fantastic. The morbid ending is unsurprising based on the legendary Greek tale and the Romeo and Juliet comparisons, but is still heartbreaking and difficult to experience, most notably the final scene atop a cliff. As the lovelorn couple topples down a hill together at the hands of another central character, the scene is shocking and difficult to watch. Intertwined in each others arms, the scene is also gorgeous and a confirmation of true love and artistic beauty.

Some accusations of racial stereotypes within this film have abounded over the years, mainly the depiction of Brazil being inhabited by party-going, sex-crazed people, but I find the film a masterpiece and the type of cinematic experience to be enjoyed rather than over-analyzed. Particularly, the almost non-stop musical score created by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim is to die for and an enormous part of what makes the film so engaging and entertaining.

Perfectly capturing the spirit of a jovial, cultural, environment, Black Orpheus spins an interesting, heartbreaking tale of love amid a musical. Tragedy, art, true love, romance, and death, are all elements captured in this wonderful film.

Black Narcissus-1947

Black Narcissus-1947

Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #688

Reviewed October 5, 2017

Grade: A

A British film made in 1947 that is way ahead of its time, Black Narcissus is a brilliant foray into the mysterious entity of nuns and the bitterness, both from humanity and from the elements, a group of nuns must face as they attempt to establish a new school atop the hills of the Himalayas. The look of the film is as fantastic as the story itself, with incredible cinematography, and a foreboding eerie quality to it. Black Narcissus is one of the great treasures of classic cinema.

Based on the 1939 novel written by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus tells the story of revolving jealousy, rage, lust, and tension, amid a convent of nuns living in isolation. Deborah Kerr, wonderful in the lead role of Clodaugh, Sister Superior, and leader of the group, faces the temptations and anger of men, while dealing with an unbalanced nun, Sister Ruth, played terrifically by Kathleen Byron.

The cinematography and the art direction first and foremost must be praised as the lavish sets are just that- sets. However, the average viewer will be whisked away on a magical experience where it seems the sets are real locales- high atop the Himalayan mountains. Scenes contain howling wind, mist, and fog that are believable- all of the sets are built and structured and Black Narcissus was filmed entirely on a set. This tidbit is unbelievable given the realism that is the end result, especially since the film was made in 1947.

The lighting in the film is unique, specifically the vibrant colors of the pink flowers, and later, the closeups of Sister Ruth. A fantastic example of this is her decent into madness during the final act as her face, maniacal, yet lovely, is heavily featured. Her face appears bright and hypnotic.

The main event, though, belongs to the tales that the film tells, which are quite edgy for the year the film was made. The subject matter of religion is always a risky matter, and the treatment of the nuns as real human beings with true emotions, even lustful ones, is brazen. Specifically, Clodagh (Kerr),  is an interesting study as the character teeters on a romance with charismatic, handsome, local British agent, Mr. Dean (David Farrar) while attempting to forget a failed romance during her youth in Ireland. Meanwhile, Sister Ruth spirals out of control leading to a dire climax involving a enormous church bell atop the restored structure.

A slight misstep the film makes is casting mostly white actors with heavy makeup in the Indian roles instead of actors with authentic ethnicity. This detail is glaring because the makeup used is not overly convincing and especially guilty is the casting of the gorgeous Jean Simmons as Kanchi, a lower class dancing girl, who the Prince becomes infatuated with in a sub-plot. Still, this pales in comparison to the fantastic story and look of the film.

Black Narcissus is a classic film that contains a bit of everything- drama, thrills, intrigue, gorgeous sets, lavish design, even a bit of forbidden passion- and executes all aspects of the film in brilliant fashion. A film admired by critics and directors through the ages, specifically championed by Martin Scorsese, the film has the unique quality of getting better and better with each viewing.

Mother!-2017

Mother!-2017

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Scott’s Review #687

Reviewed October 4, 2017

Grade: A

Mother! is an intense, disturbing, and brilliant 2017 work by acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky, having crafted left of center works such as 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, 2008’s The Wrestler, and 2010’s Black Swan- I shudder to think this film rivals the other in the insanity department. Stocked with four principal characters portrayed by mainstays in the Hollywood world, much buzz circled around this film upon release. The film is thought provoking, analytical, and surely will be discussed following the conclusion. I appreciate complex, difficult watches and Mother! succeeds in spades.

The film is set entirely within the confines of one enormous house in the middle of a vast field of land. Aronofsky never reveals the location adding mystery to the already intriguing premise. A young couple known only as Him (Javier Bardem) and mother (Jennifer Lawrence) cheerfully enjoy married life together and seem very much in love. Him is a renowned author suffering from writer’s block and mother having fixed up the house after it had burned long ago. One day Man (Ed Harris) arrives looking for a place to stay- while Him is delighted by the visitor and encourages Man to stay, mother is not as pleased. When Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, the house guests turn Him and mother’s lives upside down. This is merely the beginning of a complex puzzle.

As the plot unfolds, Mother! is oozing with one bizarre event after the other. mother witnesses unsettling images such as a beating heart within the walls and a bloodstain within the floor that will not go away. When relatives of Man and Woman’s overtake the house and a violent event occurs, events go from dark to downright chaotic.

By giving too much more of the plot points away would ruin the element of surprise, making Mother! a difficult film to review- the film is polarizing and mesmerizing and each of the principle characters can be analyzed and their motivations questioned. Why do Him and mother react differently to the visitors? What manifests the resentment each has towards mother?

Each actor gives a compelling turn and Aronofsky has admitted the character of mother is the one he related to most of all- logically one might assume that Bardem’s Him might receive that honor since the character is famous and a writer. How strange and this revelation by the director will only result in more character analysis.

How wonderful to see Michelle Pfeifer back in the forefront of a Hollywood film- it seems eons ago since we have seen her grace the silver screen, and she is back with a vengeance. Her bitchy portrayal is purely delicious and she encompasses Woman with the perfect amount of venom, toughness, and mystery. As she icily quizzes mother about her intentions of starting a family, she slowly immerses herself in mothers life without missing a beat.

The film is clearly unconventional and layered with symbolism and differing interpretations. Is Aronofsky’s message biblical? Is it political? Or could it be a reference to the obsessions everyday folk have with celebrity? After much pondering, and all three possibilities went through my mind, the biblical message seems the most solid and plausible explanation, but with Aronofsky films, the pleasure is in the analysis.

The final act of the film is particularly macabre as, until this time, the action exclusively centers on the four principal characters and the setting is largely bright.  A slow burn if you will, suddenly, all hell breaks loose as mobs, blood, fire, death and darkness takes over. The brutality and cannibalism involved will churn anyone’s stomach.

Quick to note are the lurid closeups of Jennifer Lawrence’s face during most of her scenes. Certainly, the camera loves her, but there is more going on here. Is the intention to make the viewer focus more on her character or to sympathize more with her character?

Mother! is a film that has stirred controversy among film-goers with some ravishing its elements and themes, while others have reviled and been revolted by the film. Time will tell if Mother! holds up well, but my hope and guess would be that it will become a film studied in film schools everywhere.

Toni Erdmann-2016

Toni Erdmann-2016

Director-Maren Ade

Starring-Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller

Scott’s Review #686

Reviewed October 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Reaped with a slew of award nominations in 2017, mostly in the Foreign Language film categories, Toni Erdmann is a unique film that I must champion, but for its imagination and humanistic perspective alone. At two hours and forty two minutes in length, it can almost be watched in segments- miniseries style. The film is set in Bucharest, Romania, so viewers are treated to several exterior scenes of the bustling city and interesting European culture. However, the film is actually German and Austrian made and produced.

Winfried Conradi is a hippie-type man in his sixties. Divorced and working as a music teacher, his dog suddenly dies resulting in his decision to reconnect with his corporate, power hungry daughter, Ines. She is forging her career in business consulting, currently on assignment in Bucharest. Winfried insinuates himself into Ines’s busy life as she wants little to do with him or the petty practical jokes he continues to play on her. Gradually, involving a few hysterical antics and embarrassing situations, father and daughter reunite and forge the loving relationship that they once shared.

What makes Toni Erdmann an unusual film is simply that one will not know what to expect from the film or what direction the film will go in as we get to know and love the characters. We do know that Ines is a driven career woman, busy beyond belief, with no time for her father. Yet, in all of the scenes that Ines and Winfried share, in large part due to fantastic and believable acting by the two principles (Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller), there is an underlying love and appreciation for each other that comes across on-screen. This chemistry made me root for the father-daughter reunion and re-connection.

When Winfried dons his garish wig and horrid false teeth, naming himself “Toni Erdmann”, a series of hilarious scenes ensue. Winfried is successful at being noticed in important corporate functions and dinners he follows Ines to, as well as a ladies dinner with Ines and her friends as he explains to the women that he is in Bucharest to attend a funeral that a friend is having for his pet turtle. The way that actor Simonischek fills his character with an earnestness and dry wit is what makes these scenes so hilarious.

My favorite scene of all and, if this film goes down in history as remembered, is a scene that will surely be talked about for years to come, is the “naked party” scene. Not only is the scene comical, it is also fraught with meaning as it is a turning point for the character of Ines. Hosting a team building party for her birthday, the party is set to begin, except Ines cannot get her dress on and her shoes do not match. Frustrated, with a guest already at the door, Ines strips naked and decides to turn the party into a naked, team building experience. Some guests are disgusted and leave, others reluctantly agree to strip nude. It is the point where Ines sheds not only her clothes, but her stodgy, rigid persona and begins to appreciate and enjoy life again- thanks to her father.

Toni Erdmann is a unique and unpredictable film by a female director (Maren Ade), who has an interesting and strong perspective on the female psyche. She carves a thoughtful tale about a damaged father and daughter with characters to root for and a realism. The film is a fun, laugh out loud romp, that also goes into dramatic territory, careful to remain playful and not be too overwrought. I enjoyed the film tremendously.