Wonder Wheel-2017

Wonder Wheel-2017

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Kate Winslet, James Belushi

Scott’s Review #709

Reviewed December 31, 2017

Grade: B+

Woody Allen typically churns out a new film release each year and 2017’s project is a film called Wonder Wheel. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, a seaside beach in Brooklyn, New York, the film is an authentic looking period drama, with lovely costumes and legitimate New York accents from all principal actors. The story itself is overall quite depressing, though, as a likable character is tough to find, but Wonder Wheel contains fantastic acting, mainly on the part of star Kate Winslet, whose troubled character is the films focal point.

Winslet portrays Ginny Rannell, a struggling forty year old woman living in the seaside neighborhood and working as a waitress at a dingy Clam House. She despises her life and longs for a way out of the doldrums- yearning for the life she had years ago as an aspiring actress. Her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, is an alcoholic. Together they raise Ginny’s son, Richie, a young boy who loves to start fires. When Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up on their doorstep, having provided information about her mobster husband, and subsequently “marked”, Ginny’s life slowly begins to unravel as she and Carolina pursue the same man, hunky lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake).

The New York setting of the film is an enormous plus and a standard of many Woody Allen films- the authenticity is clear. The summer mood of the beach, sand, and the sunny boardwalk and beach scenes make the viewer feel like they are transported in time. The 1950’s period works as beachwear and the amusement park sets are used to their advantage. The New York accents of the actors and the language and sayings are appropriate for the times. The apartment that the Rannells rent is a great treat to the film- the set is used with a wonderful beach landscape that is featured during daytime scenes and nighttime scenes so that the change of mood can be noticed-these are all enticing elements to Wonder Wheel.

Enough cannot be said for the talents of Winslet, who makes the character of Ginny come to life. Undoubtedly a tough role for her to play, Winslet, who can make reading the phone book sound interesting, tackles the complex part and arguably gives one of the best performances of her career- my vote would still go to her portrayal of Hannah Schmitz from 2008’s The Reader. Initially a sympathetic character, she longingly desires to return to the stage and perhaps find stardom as an actress and sees Mickey as her last chance. When events curtail her dreams, her character takes a sharp turn and does an unspeakable act.

I love the acting talents of Justin Timberlake and by 2017 he has successfully proven himself a major star in the film world as well as the music world. As the hunky, charismatic, yet studious and intelligent lifeguard, Mickey, he teeters between womanizer and earnest, love-stricken, young man. Timberlake has taken on more interesting film roles beginning with 2010’s The Social Network and let’s hope there are more to come.

Juno Temple is just perfect as the naive Carolina. With an innocent, sweet, personality, all she yearns for is love and a fresh start. Temple, largely known for quirky independent film roles, fits perfectly in a Woody Allen creation. Finally, legendary actor James Belushi fills his character of Humpty with dedication, loyalty, and alcoholic rage. He adores Ginny, but sometimes takes her for granted.

What a treat for fans of The Sopranos to see a couple of familiar faces appear as (what else?) mobsters. Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa make cameo appearances as Angelo and Nick, henchmen for the unseen husband of Carolina, who are intent on tracking down and killing her. Despite very small parts, the actors seem to have a ball reprising similar roles that made them famous.

Wonder Wheel, certainly shot in similar tone to a stage production, draws comparisons to A Streetcar Named Desire, both with four principal characters- two male and two female, Ginny, Carolina, Mickey, and Humpty, all with some similarities to and some differences with storied characters Blanche, Stella, Stanley, and Mitch. But the comparisons can easily be studied and analyzed.

Woody Allen creates a film that can be appreciated mostly for its top-notch acting talent not surprising given the actors cast, and a compelling, never boring story. The film is a downer, however, with no heroic characters to speak of. Thankfully, this is counterbalanced perfectly by a great New York setting, which is a high point of Wonder Wheel and cheers up the otherwise dour tone of the film.

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Director-Luca Guadagnino

Starring-Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer

Scott’s Review #708

Reviewed December 27, 2017

Grade: A

Call Me by Your Name is a gorgeous film, simply beautiful in story-telling, cinematography, and acting. A humanistic film that crafts a lovely tale of young love, friendship, and emotions, that is simply breathtaking to experience. In fact, in the LGBT category, I would venture to proclaim that this film is groundbreaking- leaving behind any tried and true homophobic elements and instead telling a good story that is fresh, sincere, and simply flawless.

The time period is summer of 1983 and the landscape is the beautiful Italian Riviera. Seventeen year old Italian-American, Elio,  (Timothee Chalamet) dreams the summer away living with his parents in a small village.  They are affluent and his world is rich with culture and learnings- his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) a professor and his mother a translator. A brilliant student, Elio wiles away the days reading, playing music, and flirting with girlfriend  Marzia. When a handsome, twenty-four year old American student, Oliver, (Armie Hammer) arrives for a six week stay assisting Elio’s father on a project, desire and first love blossoms between the young men, as they struggle with their burgeoning relationship.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, having also directed the lovely 2009 film, I Am Love, is a man known for stories of desire in small Italian villages. Call Me By Your Name is the third in a trilogy- I Am Love and 2015’s A Bigger Splash being the others. The setting is incredibly important to the story as both the summer heat and the world of the intellectual scholars are nestled into a grand shell of culture and the philosophical nature of the story is palpable- the film just oozes with smarts and sophistication.

By 2017, the LGBT genre has become populated with films in the romantic, drama, and comedy sub-genres, but many use the standard homophobic slant to elicit drama and conflict. Not to diminish the importance of homophobic discussions to teach viewers, Call Me By Your Name stands alone in that homophobia is not an issue in this story.  Given the time period of 1983 this may be surprising- at the very cusp of the AIDS epidemic, this topic is also not discussed- rather, the subject matter is simply a love story between two males and the coming of age story that their love expresses.

The film is quite moving and both Elio and Oliver are characters filled with texture and raw emotion. Oliver is confident, charismatic and a great catch for any lucky young lady in the village. Hammer fills the role with poise and humanity. Chalamet, a beautiful young man, gives the complex role his all as so much can be conveyed not by dialogue, but by expressions on the actors face. As Oliver slow dances with a local girl, the wounded look that Chalamet reveals, his eyes welling up with tears, is heartbreaking. Seventeen is a tough age for most young men, but when coming to terms with ones sexuality it can be excruciating. The final scene is poignant as it features at least a five minute long scene gazing into the eyes of Chalamet as many emotions are expressed in this sequence.

Enough credit cannot be given to Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father as he gives one of the best speeches ever performed in film history. What a subtle and poignant performance the actor gives as the sympathetic and knowing father. His speech of understanding and warmth is riveting and inspirational- to be cherished. Mr. Perlman is a role model to fathers everywhere and any gay sons ideal parent.

One scene that could stir controversy is the sure to be controversial “peach scene”. Involving an innocent peach used during a sex act, the scene is erotic and borders on “icky”, but is also important to foster the connection between Oliver and Elio.

Another potential risk to the film is the fact that Oliver is twenty-four and Elio is seventeen, meaning that Elio is underage. However, the film never plays Oliver as more the aggressor and the relationship remains tender and consensual.

Call Me By Your Name is not just a great LGBT film, but it is a film for the ages.  Beautifully crafted with gorgeous landscapes and nuanced, powerful acting, the sequences are subtle and carefully paced. The film is simply a treasure.

The Greatest Showman-2017

The Greatest Showman-2017

Director-Michael Gracey

Starring-Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron

Scott’s Review #707

Reviewed December 26, 2017

Grade: A-

A pure musical, escapist film, The Greatest Showman holds a dear and relevant message and elicits hope for outcasts everywhere by leading a story of acceptance and perseverance  in the feel-good film of 2017. Hugh Jackman leads the pack, starring as P.T. Barnum, a man struggling to create an entertainment show with live and unusual performers- deemed “freaks” in those days- the 1800’s in New York. The film is quite joyful and light with many cheery musical numbers sure to leave audience members humming along for hours after the conclusion of the film. The Greatest Showman is a rags to riches story and a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Jackman is charismatic and likable as the entrepreneur and showman, Barnum, who we meet as a young boy, the son of a poor tailor. He becomes enamored with wealthy young  Charity (Michelle Williams) and the two eventually marry, much to the chagrin of her pompous parents. Barnum and Charity at first struggle to make ends meet as they begin to raise a family, but eventually find success and wealth when the show succeeds. The film chronicles Barnum’s rise to fame and the trials and tribulations (romantic, business) over the course of several years, mainly through musical numbers. Zac Efron is wonderful as Barnum’s eventual business partner, Phillip Carlyle.

The supporting characters that director Michael Gracey offers up are creative, if not typical mainstays of carnivals and circuses everywhere- the bearded lady, the fat man, and a man covered in tattoos are featured prominently. Unclear to me are whether these characters actually existed or are created simply for plot purposes, but rumor has it that The Greatest Showman has taken great liberties with the factual accuracy of the real P.T. Barnum and his escapades. This would be bothersome if not for the wonderful message this film contains- acceptance and celebrating diversity. Certainly in today’s chaotic world this is of prominent importance for young people everywhere.

Those expecting anything of more substance than a cheery and bright holiday slice of enjoyment may be disappointed- some mainstream critics were not too high on this film, but I am okay with a little escapist adventure on occasion. The message throughout The Greatest Showman is quite good. The best musical number is the show-stopping and anthemic “This Is Me”, and Keala Settle is fabulous as the bearded lady, who leads this important song. The number is empowering and energetic.

The chemistry between Jackman and Williams is not remarkable, but not altogether vacant either. Rather, it is simply decent, and not the films strongest point. In fact, I sense better chemistry between Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson as grand Swedish singer, Jenny Lind. Their “romance” is unfulfilled however and we will just need to imagine the possibilities of that one.

I adore seeing Efron in quality roles (think 2012’s exceptional The Paperboy) and his performance as Phillip is great. Sharing a good bond with Barnum, he has his own romance with acrobat, (and of mixed race) Anne Wheeler. His values and earnestness make the character very appealing as he is torn between riches and standing on principal.

The Greatest Showman may not go down in history as the ultimate tops in film making or even one of the best musicals, but the film does succeed in dazzling the audience and providing a couple of hours worth of fun and entertainment- similar to the way P.T. Barnum energized the crowds with a slice of make-believe, this is more than appropriate.

Bad Moms-2016

Bad Moms-2016

Director-Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Starring-Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn

Scott’s Review #706

Reviewed December 20, 2017

Grade: D+

Bad Moms tries to do for women what The Hangover did for men and create a raunchy, R-rated party romp that haggard mothers everywhere can relate to and appreciate. The films billboard presents the three main characters boozing it up under a caption of “Party Like a Mother”. Perhaps since I am not a mother I did not fully gravitate towards this film, but despite a smidgen of mild laughs, Bad Moms fell flat for me, mostly because of tired characters, gimmicky situations, and an over-the-top tone. Not surprising is that the film is written by the same individuals who wrote The Hangover- as it comes across as a direct ripoff with a different gender in the drivers seat.

The central character in the film is Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), a thirty-two year old mother of two, living a busy life in the Chicago suburbs. Considered “old” by her hipster boss, and with a porn obsessed husband, she runs around frazzled and behind schedule most of the time. After a particularly hairy day, Amy abruptly quits the school PTA run by militant Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and befriends fellow moms, sex-crazed Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and timid Kiki (Kristen Bell). After she incites Gwendolyn’s wrath, Amy decides enough is enough and embarks on a plot to win the PTA presidency, while dumping her husband and dating hunky widower, Jessie (Jay Hernandez).

Admittedly, Kunis is very likable as Amy- a cool chick with energy that most would love to befriend -we empathize with her predicaments and juggling schedules. But this can only go so far in a comedic film, and the setup pieces and the supporting characters are way too plot driven and lack authenticity that the end result is little more than one root-able character. Applegate as an actress, is quite capable, but Gwendolyn, the clear foil, is largely written as a cartoon character. Her bitchy comments to her underlings, who inexplicably are afraid to cross her, seem too staged. Jada Pinkett Smith, clearly in need of a paycheck, is disposable as “second in command” crony, Stacy. Furthermore, Amy’s husband Mike (David Walton) is portrayed largely as a buffoon and childlike. The point of these character examples is to stress that the film contains too many caricatures rather than characters

An irritating quality to Bad Moms that I simply cannot shake is that the film is written and directed by a duo of men! Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the individuals in question and the mere fact that the film, clearly painted as a female empowerment story, is not written by females is almost unforgivable. Case in point involves a bathroom scene where the ladies discuss uncircumcised penises- a dumb scene if you ask me- that is retched considering men wrote and directed it. In this day and age of Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment suits bubbling to the surface, the scene seems icky. It should not be this hard to find women to write for other women.

Of the additional trio of females, Kathryn Hahn’s Carla has a few funny scenes, but is written as so sex-obsessed that it is impossible to take the character seriously and the same goes for Bell’s Kiki. When mousy Kiki finally lays down the law and tells her boorish husband to deal with their kids, it is meant to be a rah-rah moment, but instead becomes eye rolling. Not the best actress in the world, Bell continues to get roles like this in sub-par films.

An attempt by film-makers to make a girl film on par with male driven raunchy comedies thrust on moviegoers over the years, Bad Moms comes across as too unoriginal and too desperate for laughs. Undoubtedly hoping to win over the same audiences who flocked to the last funny female driven comedy hit, 2011 Bridesmaids, the film falls flat and lacks genuine funnies. Its score is bolstered slightly by the successful casting of Kunis in the lead role and the sweet romance her character shares with Hernandez’s Jessie.

The Shape of Water-2017

The Shape of Water-2017

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon

Scott’s Review #705

Reviewed December 16, 2017

Grade: A

Director Guillermo del Toro creates a lovely Beauty and the Beast style film that is as gorgeous to look at as the story is intelligent and sweet to experience. Thanks to a talented cast led by Sally Hawkins, the film is part drama, part science fiction, even part thriller, but touching to ones heart and a lesson in true love regardless of outward appearances. The story was co-written by Vanessa Taylor giving it a needed female perspective to perfectly balance the traditional male machinations.

The setting is Baltimore, Maryland during the early 1960’s. Ongoing is the Cold War pitting the United States and the Soviet Union against each other- both mistrustful of the other side. Kindly and mute, Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) is a curious and whimsical young woman, who works as a cleaning lady at an Aerospace Research Center. When she stumbles upon a mysterious “shape” being held prisoner for experimentation purposes, she slowly communicates with and befriends the creature, eventually falling madly in love with him. The “asset” as the scientists like to call him is an amphibian/humanoid needing salt water to survive. Elisa sees an opportunity to help her love escape captivity and off she goes.

Hawkins exudes warmth and fills Elisa with courage and a determination that is astounding. Not to utter a word is a tough feat for an actor to challenge, but instead of words, Hawkins successfully provides a vast array of emotions to reveal how Elisa feels. Despite her “handicap” she is a strong woman and speaks her mind on more than one occasion using sign language to offer her frustration. Hawkins gives a fantastic and believable performance.

Cast in wonderful and important supporting roles are Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s friend and neighbor, Giles, a closeted gay man who works as a commercial artist. Jenkins fills this character with intelligence, heart, and empathy as he struggles with his own issues of alcoholism and loneliness- unable to be accepted for who he is. Octavia Spencer shines as witty and stubborn Zelda Fuller, Elisa’s best friend and co-worker. Zelda has her own domestic problems, but is forever there for her friend, and Spencer gives her character zest, humor, and energy. Finally, Michael Shannon plays the dastardly and menacing Colonel Richard Strickland, the man who found the “asset” in the rivers of South America and has a nice family. Each of these characters is written exceptionally well and each has their own story-line rather than simply supporting Hawkins character.

The audience becomes involved in the private lives of Giles, Zelda, and Strickland and we get to know and care for them- or hate them as the case may be. Giles, harboring a crush on a handsome pie-shop owner, is afraid to make his feelings known. Zelda, with a lazy husband, dutifully takes care for her man though she is as sassy as they come. And Strickland lives an all-american family life with a pretty wife and two kids, totally unaware of his shenanigans.

The film is really a gorgeous and lovely experience and by this I mean the film has a magical element. The opening and closing sequences, shot underwater, resound in beauty as objects float along in a dreamy way, the narrator (Jenkins) taking us on a journey to explain the events of the story. At its core, The Shape of Water is a romantic love story and my favorite scenes- those of Hawkins and the “asset” are to be treasured. Yes, the two do make love, which may be too much for some, but the scenes are tasteful and important to show the depth of the characters love for one another.

Cherishing is  the way that Elisa uses both music and hard-boiled eggs to communicate with the “asset”. When Elisa imagines the two characters dancing, the sequence is an enchanting experience reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. Other underwater scenes involving Elisa and the “asset” are tender, graceful, and filled with loveliness.

A key part of the film involves a story of intrigue between the Americans and the Soviets, and while both are portrayed in a negative fashion, the Americans are arguably written as more unsympathetic than the Soviets. Thanks to Strickland- abusive and vicious, and his uncaring superior, General Holt, we do not root for the government officials at all, but rather, the ordinary folks like Elisa, Zelda, and Giles, who are outcasts. Interestingly, Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy who is a scientist, is the only character working at the center who wants to keep the “asset” alive and is written in a sympathetic way.

My overall assessment of The Shape of Water is that it is a film to be enjoyed on many levels and by particular varied tastes- the film will cater to those seeking an old-style romance, complete with some tasty French music. Then again, the film can be lumped into a political espionage thriller, with a cat-and-mouse chase and other nail-biting efforts. Overall, the film has heart and truth and will appeal to vast audiences seeking an excellent film.

Why Him?-2016

Why Him?-2016

Director-John Hamburg

Starring-John Franco, Bryan Cranston

Scott’s Review #704

Reviewed December 6, 2017

Grade: D

Why Him? is epic film drivel, starring quite capable actors in a mish-mash of dull, predictable story, obnoxious characters, and a need to attempt to go raunchier and raunchier for the sake of a cheap laugh. Why there is a market for films like this is beyond me as no thinking is required (maybe the film will please those fans!), but the film scores slightly higher than a solid “F” based solely on a few chuckles uttered thanks to the only dim bright spots in this mess- Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally.

In a story told dozens of times before in “slapstick comedy” fare, the premise is tired beyond belief- good girl meets bad boy, they fall head over heels in love, and must deal with the aftermath of her parents meeting, and hating, said bad boy. The main gimmick is the rivalry between boyfriend and girlfriends father- think an unfunny Meet the Parents.  A silly and uninteresting plot point about each characters business success or lack thereof is mixed in, as if anyone cares. As with all films of this ilk, the story is wrapped up in a neat, tidy, little bow by the time the credits roll and all characters live happily ever after in perfect harmony <gag>.

Cast in one of his most disappointing  roles, James Franco stars as Laird Mayhew, a wealthy, eccentric, thirty-something CEO of an upstart video game company. He is foul-mouthed and comically speaks his mind or absentmindedly shows his ass on a skype chat with his girlfriend (Zoey Deutch) Stephanie while her parents are linked to the chat at a birthday party.  Stephanie Fleming (Deutch), a college student,  and girlfriend of Laird, decides to invite her parents, Ned and Barb (Cranston and Mullally), along with their fifteen-year old Scotty for Christmas holidays.  In predictable fashion, Stephanie’s parents are appalled by Laird and want her to have nothing to do with him. When Stephanie arranges for Ned, Barb, and Scotty to stay at Laird’s spacious home, the antics really take off as feuds and misunderstandings erupt.

The main problem with Why Him? is that director John Hamburg (famous for mainstream comedies such as Along Came Polly and I Love You, Man), seems determined to push the raunchy comedy elements further with this idiotic film. He makes Laird as obnoxious and crass as possible, yet tries to make the character more “likable” by giving him a clueless quality- therefore he is not really mean-spirited and should therefore be loved by the audience. The character does not work at all- especially having seen Franco in some terrific roles- specifically 127 Hours and  Howl. Being a fan of the talented actor I expected more from him, but alas, some performances are only as good as the material written.

If there is a bright spot worth mentioning it is with the casting of Cranston and Mullally. Two actors undeniably good at physical comedy, they do as much as they can with poorly written, stock type roles. Cranston’s Ned, a middle-class small business owner from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is both envious and resentful of Laird, perhaps admiring the young man’s business savvy and regretting not being as successful. Barb is a one-note, ditzy yet lovable wife- a role made slightly better by Mullally’s goofy portrayal. In one of the best scenes, Barb smokes pot and becomes a disheveled mess in the bedroom. Ned, trapped on the toilet the next morning, has an embarrassing experience with Laird’s best friend, Gustav. These scenes, while juvenile, are made better because of the likes of the funny actors.

Suffering greatly from a tired and overused story-line that falls flat, unlikable and dull characters, the film offers nothing of substance or worth. Why Him? is entirely plot driven with no character development or well-written characters to speak of. The film is a complete waste of time, resulting from a studio hoping to achieve box office success by churning out a poor comedy with wasted talent that will please only those audiences not expecting much out of their films.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-2017

Director-Martin McDonagh

Starring-Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Scott’s Review #703

Reviewed December 4, 2017

Grade: A

Frances McDormand takes control of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri from the first scene and never lets go as she gives a riveting portrayal of an angry mid-western woman seeking justice in the Martin McDonagh directed 2017 vehicle. The up and coming director has also created such films as  2008’s In Bruges and 2012’s Seven Psychopaths. Similar to these films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is peppered with dark comedic moments and vile, bitter characters. The film is a measured success as it is not your standard Hollywood production and, in fact, is quite left of center.

The action begins as we meet McDormand’s Mildred Hayes, sitting alone in her beat up station wagon, brooding by the side of the road gazing at three tattered billboards. She is clearly both pissed off and thoughtful as she formulates a plan to purchase a years worth of billboards, questioning the local police’s ineptitude at finding her daughters rapist and killer. Woody Harrelson portrays the Ebbing police chief, Sheriff Bill Willoughby, and Sam Rockwell plays the racist and dim-whited officer Jason Dixon, both displeased with Mildred’s activities.

Other casting decisions in small yet important roles are Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s adolescent and depressed son, Robbie, and John Hawke as her ex-husband, Charlie, who is dating an eighteen year old ditz. Peter Dinklage is well cast as local car salesman, James, an earnest dwarf with a crush on Mildred. Well cast supporting roles are prevalent throughout the film as small town locales like Jason’s mother, and Red, the owner of the advertising agency, who rents the billboards to Mildred, shape the experience. The casting in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a strong point of the film as a whole.

The town of Ebbing is portrayed as dreary, blue collar, and racist, but just perfect as a way of setting the tone of the film. I suspect residents of the mid-west or southern United States of America may take some issue with character representations. Jason is clearly written as both racist and not too smart and he encompasses numerous characters in the film. Enough cannot be said for Rockwell’s performance in transforming a hated character during the first two-thirds of the film to suddenly almost becoming the hero towards the end. Props are also deserved by Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby- bordering on hick and racist, he also has a heart, and cares about Mildred’s predicament- when a shocking event occurs, he becomes an even richer character.

Worth pointing out and impressive to me as a viewer, are that the three prominent black characters- Willoughby’s replacement, Abercrombie, Mildred’s best friend and co-worker, Denise, and a kindly billboard painter, are each written as intelligent and sensitive, a fact I found to perfectly balance the other less sympathetic characters. In this way, a nasty film becomes more satisfying.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, though, belongs to McDormand. Successful is she at portraying a myriad of different emotions. From her sly eye-winking as she crafts a good verbal assault on whomever crosses her path, to an emotional breakdown scene towards the end of the film, McDormand embodies the character with depth. During a gorgeous scene, she has a sweet conversation with a peaceful deer grazing nearby, for a second imagining it could be her dead daughter reincarnated. The scene richly counter-balances other violent and difficult scenes. McDormand manages to look downright homely in some scenes- beautiful in others.

A film sure to divide viewers- some will champion the films crisp writing and witty dialogue, others will undoubtedly be turned off by the foul language and nasty nature of some of the characters. I found Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to be sarcastic, gritty, and well told, a versatile affair rich with layers and brimming with enjoyment.

Howards End-1992

Howards End-1992

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #702

Reviewed December 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Howards End is my favorite film in the collection of E.M. Forster adapted novels turned into films during the 1980’s and 1990’s (1985’s A Room with a View and 1987’s Maurice are the other two quality works). The novels were written during the early 1900’s and set during the same period, focusing on class relations  during 20th-century England. The film is lovely, picturesque, and carves an interesting story about romance and drama between the haves and the have-nots during this time period. The film was a success and received heaps of Academy Award nominations in 1993.

Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), an upper-middle class intellectual , part of London’s bourgeoisie, befriends wealthy and sophisticated, yet shockingly conservative Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). The two women strike up a powerful friendship, which results in her beloved country home being left to Margaret when an ailing Mrs. Wilcox dies. To complicate matters, Margaret falls in love with businessman (and husband of Ruth), Henry (Anthony Hopkins), while Margaret’s sister Helen, briefly becomes engaged to Paul Wilcox, Henry’s son. The two families lives further intersect when they wind up as neighbors in London and the true ownership of the beloved “Howards End” is questioned. Added in the mix are several other characters of various social backgrounds, having connections to the families.

The writing in Howards End is rich and emotional as each character is perfectly fleshed out- and this includes the supporting as well as the lead characters. Thompson and Hopkins, both sensational actors, have tremendous chemistry together, and unsurprising was Thompson’s win for Best Actress during this competitive year. She carries the film seamlessly with her upper middle class ideals- not conservative rich, but far from working class- she epitomizes poise and grace and empathy for those less fortunate than she. Hopkins, on the other hand, is calculating and confident, yet charismatic and sexy as a old-school, controlling businessman. Somehow, these two characters compliment each other exceptionally well despite their varied backgrounds

The role of Helen may very well be Helena Bonham Carter’s finest. Not being an enormous fan of the actress-overrated and too brooding in my opinion-she enjoys portraying an interesting character in Helen. Lovelorn and earnest, yet somewhat oblivious, she develops a delicious romance with young clerk, Leonard Bast, my favorite character in the film. Living with Jacky, a woman of dubious origins, he is the ultimate nice guy, and sadly winds up down on his luck after heeding terrible business advice. Bast, thanks in large part to actor Samuel West, who instills an innocent, good guy quality to his character, deserves major props.

The cinematography featured in Howards End is just beautiful with extravagant outdoor scenes- the lavish gardens of Howards End- just ravishing and wonderful. Kudos too to the art direction, set design, and costume department for making the film look so enchanting. There is something so appealing about the look of this film and director, James Ivory, undoubtedly deserves praise for pulling it all together into a suave picture. Whether the scene call for sun or rain, tranquil or bustling, each and every scene looks great.

If I were to knock any points from this fine film it would be at two hours and twenty two minutes, Howards End does drag ever so slightly, and many scenes involve the characters merely having chats with each other, without much action, but this criticism is small potatoes when compared to the exceptional writing and well-nuanced character development displayed throughout the piece.

Admittedly, and perhaps shamefully, I have not read any of the Forster novels, but Howards End appears to be the film that is most successfully adapted, gleaming with textured finesse, grace, and style. With films finest actors along for the experience, and intricate, fine story-telling, Howards End is a film well worth watching.