Phantom Thread-2017

Phantom Thread-2017

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Scott’s Review #722

Reviewed January 31, 2018

Grade: A

Phantom Thread is a 2017 gem of a film that ideally will be studied in film schools and remembered for decades to come, or at the very minimum be discussed and dissected among those fortunate enough to see it currently. Set in England during the 1950’s and centering on the dress-making industry, the film mixes romance with a bizarre psychological element that leave the viewer breathless as the final act comes to a dramatic and startling conclusion.

Daniel Day-Lewis once again does brilliant work as Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed and famous dressmaker living and working in London during the 1950’s. He creates lavish dresses for the members of high society, including the wedding gown for the famous Belgian princess. Masterful at his work, he is also controlling and demanding, requiring plenty of support and attention from his equally controlling sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). When he meets Alma Elson, a waitress from a countryside resort, the pair fall into a relationship, as she acts as his assistant, muse, and lover. Complexities develop between Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril as the plot progresses in cerebral and nail-biting fashion.

The film itself is ravishing to look at and a feast for the eyes if only for the classic costumes alone.  Each dress that Reynolds creates is exceptional and at the height of glamour. His domineering nature only makes this realistic as perfection is his modus operandi and his dresses are evidence of this. In one particularly fantastic sequence, Reynolds begrudgingly creates a dress for the boozy Barbara Rose, a rich and mature woman, who promptly falls asleep drunk at her own wedding, soiling the garment. A livid Reynolds, along with Alma, strip Barbara of the dress, rather than see her sleep in and tarnish it.

The main draw to the film, however, is the wonderful, intricate main plot involving Reynolds, Cryil, and Alma. This weaving of personalities and their nuances must be attributed to the fabulous direction of Paul Thomas Anderson,  known for edgy, dark films such as 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s Magnolia. He comes up with a masterpiece in Phantom Thread. The three principle characters are quite unlikable and viewer allegiances may change throughout the tale. Appearing to be the innocent, debutante character of the film, the character of Alma will surprise- especially in the films final act.

A successful nuance to the film is the multitude of scenes involving characters breaking bread with others as events unfold over danishes, omelettes, and crisp asparagus-in fact, sometimes the banter involves discussions and debates about the preparation of the food. This characteristic is a dream for any foodie, and the meals actually aid in the progression of the plot.  Earlier in the film, Alma is scolded by a maid for nearly picking poisonous mushrooms which later becomes a major clue and part of the films conclusion. During a  pivotal scene between Reynolds and Alma, she prepares a delicious mushroom omelette for her love as motivations, secrets, and desires come to the surface.

The grand twist that Anderson reveals at the end of the film will only leave the viewer open-mouthed and quickly reviewing the events and circumstances of the entire film.

The close-up scenes that Anderson uses are magical and each actor allowed to be very expressive- the camerawork over several breakfast scenes- Alma and Cyril gazing at each other revealing emotions that border between hatred and mutual respect, are effectively done. Manville in particular does so much with her blue eyes as she sips coffee, peering over her cup with venomous indignation at her foe. How splendid is the comparison of Cyril to the famous Hitchcock villainous Mrs. Danvers from the classic 1940 film in her cold and creepy mannerisms.

My hope is that Phantom Thread will eventually be appreciated and analyzed as a cinematic work of art. Deservedly honored with a 2017 Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Costume Academy Award nomination, the film also is a lesson in great writing, bizarre angles, and important effects. Let’s wish for this film to be recognized as the great work that it is.

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for a number of years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kindly. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality, but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girls life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. In addition, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time, and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic , feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

The Big Sick-2017

The Big Sick-2017

Director-Michael Showalter

Starring-Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan

Scott’s Review #720

Reviewed January 29, 2018

Grade: B+

The Big Sick, a 2017 independent “dramedy” film, takes what could be a standard premise and turns it upside down, instead offering a fresh perspective on a familiar tale about a prospering relationship. In this way the screenplay is the standout as the writing is intelligent and crisp. Thanks to exceptional acting by all four principle characters, The Big Sick is a success and well worth a watch.

The story follows an interracial couple, Emily and Kumail, played by Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani, who have just recently started to casually date. Kumail is a standup comic living in Chicago and meets the flirtatious Emily after a club performance one night. They share a one-night stand and mutually agree to never see one another again. As the smitten pair break their promise and form a romance, a tragedy occurs landing Emily in a coma. Kumail must handle Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who are angry with Kumail for misleading Emily and not telling her about his strict Muslim parents intentions of marrying him off by arranged marriage.

Apparently, the screenplay (nominated for a 2017 Oscar nomination) is loosely based on the relationship between actor/writer Nanjiani (who stars), and Emily Gordon (who co-wrote the screenplay). In this way, especially since Nanjiani stars, the film holds a measure of sincerity and authenticity, as if Nanjiani is living the role. A major plus to the film is the chemistry that Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan share during their many scenes in the start of the film. Before the drama really takes off, the audience will become fully invested in the pair as a couple.  Whether the couple flirt as Kumail drives Emily home, or as the couple fight when Emily learns about his Muslim cultures arranged marriage belief, the couple have a tremendous connection and it shows.

The story fabric takes an interesting turn about midway through the film when Emily is stricken with a debilitating illness and a medically induced coma is needed- as Kumail is forced to pretend to be her husband this opens up many moral and legal ramifications that the film chooses largely to ignore in lieu of dealing with the relationships between Kumail and Emily’s distraught parents. Hunter and Romano are wonderful in the parent roles- Hunter having the more showy of the two  parts with more meat, Romano holds his own and powerhouses a vital comedy club scene, in which he defends his wife from a callous heckler.

Admittedly, the film decides to go the “happily ever after” route, this is hardly a surprise given that Judd Apatow is the producer. Remember this is the same guy who produced such safe films as Superbad and Anchorman 2, but nonetheless, the story within The Big Sick is an enjoyable and character driven ride, if not unpredictable. A darker tinged affair might have set this film over the top as it contains many other credible film qualities.

The addition of comic talent in the supporting roles of Kumail’s comedy club buddies adds a good balance and nicely counterbalances the drama insomuch as the drama does not become too dour. Much of the film involves Emily coma-bound, so comic talent such as SNL’s Aidy Bryant and Comedy Central’s Kurt Braunohler are good adds.

I enjoyed the inclusion of the traditional Pakistani custom of arranged marriages, but at times this seems played for laughs rather than being a major obstacle to the couple. Kumail’s controlling mother parades one young Pakistani girl after another in front of her son as a way of encouraging him to select one of them. Kumail’s traditional family are played as stereotypes and the lighthearted foils of the film.

The Big Sick succeeds with crisp, witty dialogue, and a solid story that mixes with the intended comedy well. A few too many stereotypes and goofiness keeps the action light even when held against the more serious parts- great acting all around.

Beach Rats-2017

Beach Rats-2017

Director-Eliza Hittman

Starring-Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #719

Reviewed January 26, 2018

Grade: A-

Beach Rats is a 2017 coming of age film penned and directed by Eliza Hittman, a young female director from Brooklyn, New York, who incorporates her familiar geographical settings into only her second feature film. 2013’s It Felt Like Love was awarded two Independent Film nominations and Beach Rats has followed suit- garnering a Best Actor nomination as well as a Best Cinematography mention. The film is a very good story of conflict that its target audience will surely relate to.

The film is very low-budget, but a successful character study of a young man named Frankie, played by newcomer Harris Dickinson, wrestling with family issues while also in the midst of wrestling with his sexuality, all while hanging out with his troubled friends and dating his sometime girlfriend. Beach Rats is not a downer, but rather, an interesting glimpse into the life of a teenager and his struggle with self identity.

Mirroring It Felt Like Love, Hittman uses plenty of locales unique to Brooklyn, with the most identifiable being the watery, night time beaches of the borough, which gives the film an authentic feel. Many scenes are shot outdoors and is a strong point of the film. Similar to many independent films, Beach Rats clearly uses several “non-actors” in small roles, which also adds depth to the blue-collar, sometimes harsh, Brooklyn feel.

With only two features to her credit, Hittman is successful at having her own hand-print on her films, making them identifiable as her own. Interesting is how the director chooses a male character to write for. Similar to the female Liza in It Felt Like Love, both she and Frankie are vulnerable and coming terms with their sexual feelings and desires. The fact that Liza is straight and Frankie, at most, bisexual, is only a strength of the evidently complex writer/director.

Dickinson is perfectly cast as Frankie. Good-looking, with chiseled features and a lithe, toned body, his bright blue eyes are expressive, as the audience is empathetic to his many dilemmas. Beach Rats is much more than a traditional “gay film”, which is admirable- it is more complex than that. By 2017, the common theme of coming to terms with ones sexuality has been explored. According to Frankie, he “just has sex with men” and refuses to identify as either gay or bisexual. It is implied that because of his group of trouble-making friends, who only want to get high, he might be faced with resistance if he ever came out to them.

The supporting cast is well represented- Frankie’s mother, Donna (Kate Hodge), is faced with a tough predicament as her husband, Frankie’s father, has just died of cancer, ripping the family apart. She knows that Frankie keeps things from her- is she figuring out Frankie’s sexual secrets? Donna implies that it is okay for Frankie to tell her anything- admirable combined with her own problems. Frankie’s girlfriend, Simone, is coming into her own as Frankie is, and despite the fact that the duo share a sweet relationship, it appears doomed for failure.

The most interesting scenes that Beach Rats feature take place between Frankie and the mostly older men  he meets either virtually or in person. Though Frankie is quite nervous, Dickinson always makes the character of Frankie appear confident and well beyond his years. Being street-smart, he is never taken advantage of as is common with young men and older men. Why he mostly prefers older men is never explained, but might it have anything to do with seeking to fill the void left by his deceased father?  Or is it simply to reduce the risk of running into anyone he might know within his own age group?

Hittman is not shy about featuring nudity, yet each scene is tastefully done and never seems to be for either shock value or to elicit a gasp. Full frontal nudity is featured. as well as scenes of Frankie engaging in sexual acts with both the men and his girlfriend. Sure Dickinson has a perfect body, but his assets do not seem to be on display unnecessarily.

Independent films, more often than many “box office” films, are given much creative freedom to simply tell a good story. Thankfully, in the case of Beach Rats, the audience is lucky enough to view a quiet, introspective tale of a conflicted adolescent, and how he deals with demons and complex feelings that he is faced with. Particularly for the predominantly LGBT audience who will see the film, Beach Rats will have much to offer.

Darkest Hour-2017

Darkest Hour-2017

Director-Joe Wright

Starring-Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

Scott’s Review #718

Reviewed January 24, 2018

Grade: A-

Darkest Hour is a British historical film that showcases an astounding portrayal of Winston Churchill that legendary actor Gary Oldman gives. Certainly known for numerous other fine acting performances in films such as the Harry Potter series, JFK, and Batman Begins, this performance easily transcends all of the others as he brings perfection to a complex role-infusing humor, drama, and many idiosyncrasies of the storied historic figure. Surely, Churchill is the best role of Oldman’s  lengthy career.

Director, Joe Wright, famous for such classy European films as Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Anna Karenina (2012), traditionally offers rich, intelligent experiences with an upper-crust, often British theme, and fills his characters with wry humor and wit. In the case of Darkest Hour, a film that absolutely belongs to Oldman by the way, his Churchill is the master of gruff sarcasm and cantankerous charm.

During the tumultuous time of 1940,  with the barbaric grips of Nazi Germany settling upon both England and France (Allies in World War II), a disheveled England is frustrated with their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, for being weak. Chamberlain begrudgingly appoints Winston Churchill as his successor, amid limited support. The film discusses Churchill’s early days in charge as the war and the Nazi presence loomed larger and larger- especially as the historic Dunkirk situation comes into fruition.

Darkest Hour as a film is good quality- there exists a certain historic richness and the feeling of experiencing a film that is worthy and relevant. For those of us not in existence during the 1940’s, the film will likely serve as an educational experience into the events of the day.  Certainly, hundreds of films have been made over time that have explored the events during World War II in fantastic detail, but this film is unique in that it not only provides a perspective of the Allied countries “back against the wall” situation, but the ups and downs and pressures that Churchill, the man, faced.

Despite a few quick clips of Hitler and both very old black and white footage and newspaper headlines of the crazed leader, the focus is not on the enemy country, in fact, no actor was used to play Hitler, rather, the focus is on Churchill and the decisions he made and the influences he was faced with. Pressured to appease the militant German country and reach a “peaceful” deal, Churchill instead listened to the voices of the common, everyday, British people to reach his decision to fight the Germans and not back down.

Clever, and relevant in 2017 cinema, is the films spotlight on the famous Dunkirk situation, when British forces were trapped on the shores of Dunkirk, with German planes looming overhead. Thanks in large part to Churchill and British and French civilian boats who aided in the rescue, many men were saved. The 2017 film, aptly named Dunkirk, would make a wonderful companion piece to Darkest Hour in that the subject matters mirror one another. Not surprisingly, both films received Academy award nominations for Best Picture.

A great lesson I carried away from the film is with Churchill himself. Sure, I knew that he was the Prime Minister of England during the 1940’s and was instrumental in the events of the bloody war, but I knew little about the man himself. Thanks to Wright and, of course, Oldman, the viewer will learn the good and bad characteristics of this man. A heavy drinker, commonly downing champagne with lunch and brandy the rest of the day, he was initially not well liked, nor taken very seriously by British royalty.

With Churchill’s bumbling personality, Oldman is fantastic at filling the role with humor, frustration, and just the correct amount of empathy and concern. Despite having a temper, we can tell that he has a love of country and pride for the people living there- that is why he is adamant at conquering the enemy. So we know he is a good man despite his temper tantrums. Oldman also successfully embodies the mannerisms that this historical figure contained. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a worthy performance, albeit in a small role, as the mature and graceful wife, who can both support and match wits with her husband.

Thanks to a brilliant acting performance by Gary Oldman, who takes on a difficult role that could easily be botched by lesser talent, he makes a film that could have been dull and flat, into a worthy watch to both learn something and be amazed at a truly great acting performance. Darkest Hour is a 2017 historical drama worth seeing.

GoldenEye-1995

GoldenEye-1995

Director-Martin Campbell

Starring-Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco

Scott’s Review #717

Reviewed January 19, 2018

Grade: B

By 1995, after a record six years between films, the James Bond franchise re-emerged in an energetic manner with Pierce Brosnan assuming the role of the MI6 agent-, and breathing some fresh life into the character. The charming and suave Irish actor gave a new direction to the role last played by Timothy Dalton-an actor who gave Bond more of a brooding quality. The resulting GoldenEye offers mixed results, though the casting is a vast improvement over its predecessor.

In fact, GoldenEye sees other monumental roles recast- that of Judi Dench as M, and Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenney. The film has a slick look, a compelling story, but at times is tough to follow, and overall- despite containing all the elements- something seems missing. Or maybe I just prefer the other Bonds more? Still, the offering is far from a bad watch.

GoldenEye kicks off with, in hindsight, a major clue to the story as Bond  (Brosnan) and fellow 00 agent, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), infiltrate a Soviet facility in northern Russia during 1986, searching for chemical weapons. Alec is tragically killed by sinister Soviet General Ourumov and Bond mourns the loss of his friend.

The action resumes in present times (1995) as , now in gorgeous Monte Carlo, Bond follows the beautiful and sadistic Xenia Onatopp, a  crime syndicate member known for crushing men with her thighs. Xenia and Ourumov travel to Siberia where they destroy a bunker holding GoldenEye satellites and kill everyone except computer programmer, Boris (Alan Cumming), and lone survivor, Natalya  (Izabella Scorupco). In a clever twist, it is revealed that Alec has betrayed the British Intelligence and is, in fact, himself leading the crime syndicate.

In one of the quietest, and best scenes, Bond and M have an interesting exchange in her office as M (a woman) calls Bond out on his arrogance and chauvinism, and states that it is a new day. Dench adds a ton of female modernism into the role (about time in 1995) as Bond now reports to a woman. The scene is important as it leads the two characters to achieve a mutual respect and arguably parlays the franchise into a new, more female-empowering direction.

A great positive to GoldenEye is the setting, which I think does wonders for the film as a whole- the bitter, blustery, Siberian set gives a soothing feeling, especially while watching the film during the ravages of winter, snug with a warm blanket and heaters. Regardless, the sets are realistic, never cheesy, and loaded with atmosphere- so the film itself looks wonderful.

Issues abound with the frenetic pacing of the film- at times I found myself losing track of the action or the sequence of events. Understandably, as in many Bond films, events circle the globe and, surely London, Russia, and Monte Carlo are great locations, but especially within the film’s final climax, I suffered from sensory overload.

Furthermore, Brosnan is not one of my favorite Bonds. Sure, he has the charisma, the looks, and the charm to pull off the role, but something about him does not measure up to Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazanby, or Daniel Craig- certainly he supersedes Timothy Dalton.  Don’t get me wrong- I do not despise him as Bond, but nothing stands him out against the others either.

The villains in GoldenEye are perfectly adequate if not spectacular. Sean Bean gives Alec a sly, aww shucks appeal and defines good-looking, but his motivations for switching sides is not very exciting- something about Nazis in World War II, the Cossacks, and revenge are quickly mentioned, but it doesn’t much matter.  General  Ourumov is effective- with his sinister look he is the perfect Bond villain. Xenia is little more than a cartoon character 9with the name to boot) and her gimmick quickly wears thin. Finally, Cummings as the programmer is played only for laughs and his final chant of “I am invincible!” as he freezes into solid ice is mildly humorous.

The title theme song, “GoldenEye”, performed by Tina Turner is forgettable at best and one of the most lackluster in the illustrious musical catalog.

GoldenEye has many of the standard Bond elements within its frames and is a decent entry in the franchise. With the debut of a new Bond, the film has a fresh and very modern and technical feel to it that, along with a fantastic setting, overlooks some flaws in the storytelling.  Filled with bombast and a crowd-pleasing method, GoldenEye is hardly the best Bond film, but certainly not the worst.

Octopussy-1983

Octopussy-1983

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Maud Adams

Scott’s Review #716

Reviewed January 17, 2018

Grade: A-

Hardly regarded as one of the most stellar of entries in the James Bond franchise, 1983’s Octopussy is nonetheless a guilty pleasure of mine. This is undoubtedly due to the film being the first installment that I was allowed to see in the movie theater and is filled with exciting memories. As the film stands in current days it is perfectly fine, containing all of the enjoyable elements necessary for a good Bond film- interesting villains, solid action, and gorgeous women. Perhaps at times suffering from a bit of silliness, Octopussy is still  quite the fantastic watch.

Roger Moore, admittedly looking slightly aged and sagging, returns to the fold as 007, the shaken, but not stirred action hero known as James Bond. However, he is, true to form, as witty and suave as he always is with witty one-liners and mischievous smirk. Interesting to note is how Moore ritualistically infuses the character with a measure of comedy- a wink of the eye or a raised eyebrow adds humor to the character-more so than any other actor who has portrayed Bond.

In this installment, Faberge eggs, clowns, and gorilla suits are featured. Attempting to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin, 009- dressed as a circus clown, is murdered on the estate of a British Ambassador, while attempting to deliver a fake Faberge egg. Assuming the Soviets are involved, MI6 instructs Bond to investigate the matter and a complex smuggling ring is uncovered- featuring a gorgeous female smuggler named Octopussy (Maud Adams), along with sinister Afghan exiled prince Kamal Kahn (Louis Jourdan), and his bodyguard, Gobinda.

Watching the film in 2018, and despite the fact that it was made in 1983, Octopussy does not suffer from the dreaded “1980’s look” that so many other films do, and seems surprisingly clean and fresh. The colors are vibrant- especially the prevalent circus and clown scenes, and the best two scenes- the airplane and train scenes- still bristle and crackle with good action.

As the climax to Octopussy culminates, the inevitable heroine and main Bond girl- Adams’s “Octopussy”, has been bound and gagged and taken hostage by the baddies in a fleeing airplane, Bond grabs hold of the fuselage, and begins a harried flight over the mountains of remote India, clinging for dear life. The scene climaxes with an exciting fight scene atop the rooftop of the speeding plane as Bond and Gobinda fight to the death as Kamal unsuccessfully attempts to twist and turn the plane and rid themselves of pesky Bond. The scene is still compelling and loses none of its appeal over the years, never appearing dated.

Additionally, the train sequence is still relevant, but admittedly does suffer from a small dose of silliness. The action is plentiful as Bond races against time to prevent a Russian missile from detonating and killing thousands of American citizens, and worthy of noting is the timely Cold War subject matter of the Russians versus the Americans- plentiful in American cinema during this time period. As Bond dons a phony looking gorilla outfit- embarrassing even for the comical Roger Moore- he is able to successfully take off the costume and sneak out of a train car, all before the three seconds that it takes for Gobinda to turn around and slice the head off of the gorilla thinking it is Bond. Suspension of disbelief is required.

Impressive is the female empowerment slant that is evident throughout the film. From the strong businesswoman character that Adams portrays- she is decisive, intelligent, and savvy, she is neither cowering nor impressionable and cannot be bullied or pushed around. Albeit her name, “Octopussy”, does teeter on male chauvinism.  Be that as it may, her gang of feminist followers, all wielding assault rifles, are quite inspiring and, at this point, unusual for a Bond film- certainly typically masculine leaning.

Octopussy is an overlooked, under-appreciated, too easily dismissed slice of goodness served up with a bit of comedy, plenty of action, and good solid villains- everything that makes a Bond film a Bond film. Certainly the film is worthy of a viewing.

The Post-2017

The Post-2017

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #715

Reviewed January 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Amid the current political upheaval occurring during the year 2017 comes a fresh and quite timely film named The Post, created by esteemed director, Steven Spielberg, and starring two of today’s biggest Hollywood film stars- Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The film is a political, historical thriller set during the tumultuous time of 1971, as the controversial Vietnam War raged on, and tells of the bravery of a female newspaper owner (Streep), who risked everything to publish the truth, along with her team of mostly male editors and staff.

The film is an intelligent piece of writing, with a crisp script and quick editing allowing for a believable foray into a different time, when newspapers were hot and rotary telephones, telephone booths, and polyester outfits were all the rage. Spielberg is brilliant at setting just the right mood and tone to transport the audience back to 1971- on the eve of the enormous Watergate scandal. While all of the elements are in play, and the truthful story is important, the film is very good, but not quite brilliant- falling just shy of that bombastic one or two scenes that would land it over the top.

The Post begins in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965, as military analyst Daniel Ellsberg documents the progress of military activities among the soldiers during battle. On the journey home he briefs then President Lyndon Johnson that the war is hopeless and should be stopped. As history unfortunately shows, the brutal war continued on with thousands of lives lost. The film then continues on a journey of the uncovering of top secret Pentagon papers documenting the White House’s knowledge of the useless nature of the war, but each administration chose to continue with the bleeding to avoid the United States being “humiliated”.

Streep gives her best performance in years as Katharine Graham, Washington Post newspaper heiress, a woman who struggles to be taken seriously in a man’s world- especially given the time period- many men were uncomfortable taking direction from a woman. Streep infuses the perfect amount of emotion, insecurity, and charm into the role. Despite her wealth and her control, she is frequently overruled by the all male board of directors, so much so that she often doubts her confidence.

Hanks, however, underwhelms as gruff editor in chief of the Post, Ben Bradlee. Given the enormous talents of the actor, I was expecting a meatier performance, which does not materialize. I also anticipated an equal balance of Hanks and Streep, but the film clearly belongs to Streep. Perhaps because Hanks (the ultimate nice guy) portrays Bradlee as a tough, yet family man, the performance does not quite work. Also, the chemistry between Hanks and Streep is not the specialty of the film.

Evident is the correlation between 1971’s President Nixon and 2017’s President Trump- both administrations shrouded in controversy. A neat trick Spielberg creates is to only show Nixon in shadows, wildly gesturing and threatening, similar to Trump’s mannerisms- this is no accident. In fact, the entire work of The Post seems a big call-out by Spielberg, a devout liberal, to the Trump administration. This comparison of past and present makes The Post incredibly timely and topical for 2017. Clever is the intriguing ending- as the Watergate scandal begins with a security guard catching intruders at the complex, Spielberg seems to be saying “watch out Trump!”

In 2017, the current state of the media versus the White House has never held more controversy, disdain, and even hatred as the “truth” is often tough to come by or even to distinguish. “Fake news” is now a thing and twitter rants are now a daily occurrence, making the “truth” a precious commodity. For this reason alone, The Post must be a film to celebrate and model ourselves after- how timely indeed.

Death On The Nile-1978

Death On The Nile-1978

Director-John Guillermen

Starring-Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis

Scott’s Review #714

Reviewed January 14, 2018

Grade: B+

Death On The Nile is a 1978 British thriller that follows up the successful 1974 offering, Murder On The Orient Express- both films based on the fabulous Agatha Christie novels of the 1930’s. This time around, Belgian detective Hercules Poirot (Peter Ustinov) investigates a string of deaths aboard a luxurious steamer carrying the lavishly wealthy and their servants. The film is a good, old-fashioned whodunit, perhaps not on the level of storytelling as its predecessor-the murder mystery contains not the oomph expected-but features exquisite Egyptian historical locales-worth its weight in gold.

Featuring a who’s who of famous stars and tremendous actors of the day, Death On The Nile carves a neat story right off the bat in such a way that the murder victim is fairly obvious right away- most of the characters have reason to celebrate her demise. Rich and reviled heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), has stolen best friend Jacqueline’s (Mia Farrow) beau, Simon, sparking a bitter feud between the women. While honeymooning in Egypt, the newlyweds are continually taunted by angry Jacqueline. Once the cruise ship departs with all on board, Jackie is the prime suspect when Linnet is murdered. Poirot must find the killer as numerous other suspects all with grudges against Linnet, begin to emerge.

Death On The Nile serves up a stellar cast including legendary Bette Davis in the role of Marie Van Shuyler- eccentric American socialite with an eye for Linnet’s necklace. The casting of Davis is reason enough to watch the film, though the character is not center stage and rather a supporting role. The lead female honor is held for Farrow, who has the meatiest and most complex role in the film. Jackie’s unstable actions makes her the most likely to commit the deed, but the fun is to figure out the “whys” and the “hows” of the murder. Is there more than one killer? Are they working in cahoots or independently? As the body count increases these questions begin to resonate more and more.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous and it is no wonder the film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. At a ball the women are dripping with jewels and gorgeous gowns. Along with Davis, boozy author Salome Otterbourne, hilariously played by Angela Lansbury, is granted the prize of wearing the most luxurious and interesting of all the costumes. She drips with jewels and, with a cocktail always in hand, is the films comic relief.

Director John Guillermin makes the film an overall light and fun experience and, despite the murderous drama, does not take matters too seriously. Offering humorous moments, this balances nicely with the inevitable murders. The fun for the audience is deducing whodunit- most of the characters have motive and the cast of characters is hefty. I had memories of the famous board game Clue- Was it Jackie in the ballroom with the revolver? You get the idea. In this way the film makes for a good, solid game of mystery.

Comparisons to 1974’s Murder On The Orient Express cannot help but be drawn, especially in the lead casting of Hercules Poirot. Truth be told, Albert Finney’s portrayal in “Murder” is superior to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in “Death” and I am not sure what purpose Colonel Race (David Niven) as Poirot’s friend offers other than to be a loyal sidekick and present a character that Poirot can explain events to- think what Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Regardless, Finney is the superior Poirot as he musters more strength and charisma than Ustinov does.

How lovely and historic to witness the wonderful Egyptian locales- the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids are featured amid an attempt on the life of the romantic pair by way of falling rocks- this sets the tone for the perilous cruise about to be embarked upon.

Perhaps a perfect film for a Saturday stay at home evening with friends, complete with a serving of a quality wine and cheese, Death On The Nile is a sophisticated, yet fun, British mystery film, fantastic to watch in a party setting where the audience can be kept guessing until the nice conclusion and the big reveal of who killed whom and why.

The Boss Baby-2017

The Boss Baby-2017

Director- Tom McGrath

Voices- Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire

Scott’s Review #713

Reviewed January 12, 2018

Grade: C

True confession- I was not expecting much from the 2017 offering of the animated film entitled The Boss Baby (a brooding, sarcastic newborn offered no appeal). However, since the film was nominated for a Golden Globe award, I decided to throw caution to the wind and settle down for a viewing. Predictably, the film fulfilled my hunch and resulted in a fair to middling experience- the attempt at a nice message was offset by cliched and silly characters and an over-produced film rather than a directed one, but yet held interesting  and sometimes even beautiful visuals.

Seven year old Tim Templeton (voiced by Tobey Maguire), as an adult, narrates a story of his childhood  days, living with his parents Ted and Janice, both busy marketing professionals, who work at Puppy Co.. One day, his parents return home with a bundle of joy in tow, Theodore Lindsey Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who immediately monopolizes their time and attention. Isolated, Tim is envious and begins a rivalry with his baby brother, who is secretly a spy named “The Boss Baby”, and who has the mind of an adult in a baby’s body. It is revealed that he is working undercover as a spy to investigate why puppies are now receiving more love than babies. The duo eventually team up and forge a bond to prevent corporate America from ruining all of the love in the world.

To be fair, The Boss Baby presents a positive, good message of love and acceptance, which is nice to see, but this message can only carry a film so far, and there is little else of substance. As with many animated films, the story here contains a “good versus evil” slant, which, in this case, renders the film rather one dimensional. We are instructed who to root for and who not to root for, and while  challenging corporate greed is certainly a cause worth championing, too often I found The Boss Baby causing my mind to wander elsewhere instead of keeping me engaged in the story- not a good sign.

Apparently the target audience for this film is quite young because many sappy or juvenile scenes continue to play out. Closeups of Theodore and whimsical shots of his bulging eyes give the film a cute, too wholesome quality, and in predictable fashion, there are the standard doody and poop jokes, which comedies do all too often to account for sloppy writing.

The character of Theodore is voiced by comedy stalwart Alec Baldwin, and this does wonders to make the baby a bit more interesting than otherwise might have been. Baldwin, fusing assertion and a sarcasm into Theodore, makes him witty and energetic, but again, this can only go so far, and by the time the film has concluded in happily ever after fashion, the once tough character has disintegrated into a hammy kid.

Older brother Timothy is perfectly fine and the idea of having Maguire narrate him as an adult is a nice touch.  The central theme of sibling rivalry between brother and brother and especially the difficulty of some kids adjusting to a newborn debuting into the family may be enough to encourage parents to make it a family outing and see The Boss Baby.

Sadly, the creative and unique sets of animations may be wasted on viewers seeking good story. What a pity that The Boss Baby does not hold both qualities, but alas the film is little more than adequate and will undoubtedly be forgotten before very long.

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

I, Tonya is a 2017 biopic telling of the life and times of the infamous American Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, notorious, of course, for her alleged involvement, along with her husband and his friend, in the attack of fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The event drew monumental media coverage after the attack with the uncertainty of Harding’s knowledge or involvement and her subsequent guilt or innocence continues to be debated.

The film itself is a dark and violent comedy, never taking itself too seriously, and immediately presents the disclaimer that the stated “facts” in the film are open to interpretation and dependent on who you ask. In this way, I, Tonya is far from preachy or directive to the viewer, but rather offers up the life and times of the skater in a story form. The film features tremendous performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya and her despicable mother, LaVona.

I, Tonya is told in chronological fashion, culminating with “the incident” in 1994. However, the story begins  back in the mid 1970’s as Tonya, just a tot at the tender age of four, is as cute as a button and shrouded with innocence. One cannot help wonder if director, Craig Gillespie, known for independent films, purposely made this wise casting choice. We see Tonya, once an innocent child, journey into a life of violence, abuse, and tumultuous living. Harding grew up cold and hard and endured an abusive, difficult relationship with her mother- the pressures to be the best skater simply never ended. Even upon achieving success Tonya never felt good enough or loved by her mother.

We then experience Tonya as a fifteen year old girl, fittingly first meeting her boyfriend and later, husband Jeff, Gillooly played well by actor Sebastian Stan. The early scenes between the two are sweet, tender, and fraught with the emotions of first love. As explained by the actors, this was a short-lived time of bliss, and the relationship soon disintegrated into abuse, rage, and chaos.

Certainly the main point of the film is to debate the guilt or innocence of Harding, which Gillespie peppers throughout, so it is never clear what to believe or how the audience should be made to think. “Interpretation” is the key here- some may see Harding as a victim of life’s circumstances and the hardships she had to endure and may place sympathy upon her. Others may view Harding as off-putting, potty-mouthed, and even icy and violent herself with a big chip on her shoulder. In one scene she publicly belittles the hoity toity judges who never cut her a break and give her less than perfect scores.

A clever technique that the film delivers is to have the actors frequently speak to the camera, and thus the audience. This is achieved by either interview style or for the action in the film to simply cease and either Robbie, Janney, Stan, or whomever, turn to the camera and express their version of the events. In this way, I, Tonya possesses a creative, edgy, indie feel.

How brilliant are the performances of both Robbie and Janney. Robbie, a gorgeous woman, portrays a “red-neck” to the hilt. Through her bright blue eyes , her face is quite expressive- relaying pain, anger, and a seldom triumph. The film often slants the scales in a sympathetic way towards Harding, but it is the talents of Robbie that make us feel this sympathy. Janney hits the jackpot with a delicious role she sinks her teeth into. A cold-hearted, vicious character, through facial expressions, we occasionally get a glimpse of LaVona, perhaps softening, but as we do, the character does something even more despicable.

A good surprise for fans who remember the real-life events and the real-life players, will be treated to a sequence of the real Tonya, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn Eckhardt, which play over the films ending credits. How similar in looks are both Robbie to Harding, with her feathered, frizzy, 1980’s style hairdo, and Janney, a dead-ringer for the boozy, chain-smoking LaVona, with her mousy brown bob haircut, complete with scruffy bangs.

Viewers will leave theaters confused, unsure, or perhaps just simply perplexed by what they have just seen, but will most certainly feel thoroughly entertained and may even depart chanting some upbeat 1980’s rock tunes that the film uses throughout. Thanks to wonderful acting and a strong story, I, Tonya is a success.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Director-Stanley Donen

Starring-Howard Keel, Jane Powell

Scott’s Review #711

Reviewed January 7, 2018

Grade: B-

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a 1954 musical and another in a string of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer productions, ever so present during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. The songs are not quite as memorable as similar musicals of the day, and the film has a sexist slant that is jarring in today’s gender equal standards. But given the time that the film was made, and the time period setting of the mid-nineteenth century, however, things were very different, and the film does contain one semi-strong female character at least. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a nice film, but in present times seems quite dated and irrelevant- little more than an ode to yesteryear.

Adam Pompitee (Howard Keel), is a dashing, rugged man, living in the Oregon Territory in the year of 1850. He struts into town and proclaims his desire for a wife- presumably to cook and clean for him and his six younger brothers, all living together in a cabin in the rural mountains. When he falls head over heels for tavern worker Milly (Jane Powell), they impulsively marry, but she is disappointed to learn she will be caring for seven men- not one. Milly then plots to marry off the unruly bunch to local girls. Throughout the course of the film, characters partake in song and dance and merriment as the hi-jinks play out in wild fashion.

At its core, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is meant to be a lighthearted romp, and it succeeds at that. Containing a strong romantic angle and the message of finding one’s soul-mate is palpable- Milly is the sensible female counter-part to erratic Adam, and there is good chemistry between the actors. Milly is strong-willed and eventually puts her foot down, but still accepts her role as the domestic and the caretaker.

Fun is how each of the brothers manages to find the one girl in town meant for him as the duo’s pair off in unison. This is a cute aspect of the film- and perhaps a film such as this one is not entirely meant to be over-analyzed. Humorous, if not just slightly overdone,  is the luscious red hair that each of the Pontipee brothers has- obviously dyed hair or wigs were used as needed.

The film succeeds when it sticks to the song and dancing numbers, which are far more entertaining than the story-line. MGM used actors who were classically trained singers or dancers, giving the film a more authentic choreography. Given the fourteen principle characters involved in the production, this must have been a beast to achieve without things looking ridiculous. Keel, as main character Adam, was in fact a professional singer, having appeared in a number of musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Showboat. Powell, as Milly, holds her own with a gorgeous singing voice and also appeared in other musicals.

Still, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers contains a bothersome sexist story and women are treated more as objects for men to conquer rather than real people with feelings or emotions. The overall implication within the film are that women are desperate to get married and should be flattered to be chosen by any man. This is readily apparent when the brothers accost the girls from their homes and take them unwillingly to the cabin where, predictably, the women succumb to the men’s desires and fall in love with them.

A film to be taken with a grain of salt and a trip back to olden times, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a dated picture, but a fun one containing grand production numbers such as “Lonesome Polecat”, “When You’re In Love”, and “June Bride”. These songs are light and airy and a high point of the film. For those seeking a liberal minded affair, this film will disappoint, as the film is very conservative with traditional male/female roles and expectations, as much as one could imagine.

Scream-1996

Scream-1996

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, David Arquette

Scott’s Review #710

Reviewed January 5, 2018

Grade: A-

Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream is a piece that greatly assisted in bringing the horror genre back into relevance after a long drought throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when horror films suffered from both over-saturation and cliche-riddled messes. Thanks to Scream, creativity and plot twists and turns returned to the forefront of  good horror films and a clever film was birthed. Fast-forward to 2018, the film does suffer a bit from a dated “1990’s look,  but is still great fun to watch and a treat for all classic horror buffs as the references to classic greats are endless.

The film is sectioned off nicely and gets underway quickly  (in the best sequence of the film) as Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore)  receives a flirtatious phone call, while making popcorn,  from a man asking her to name her favorite horror film. The friendly game quickly turns vicious as the caller threatens to kill her boyfriend should she answer a question incorrectly. In a clever twist (think 1960’s Psycho!) Casey and her boyfriend meet deadly fates and the opening credits begin to roll. Given the huge star Barrymore was in 1996, this twist was all the more shocking and attention grabbing.

The remainder of the film centers around Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a popular California high school student, as she is pursued by an attacker known only as “Ghostface”, who dons a creepy costume and terrorizes victims via phone calls. The small town , led by police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and bitchy newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), are determined to unmask the killer and figure out his or her motivations. Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and other friends are along for the ride as a possible connected sub-plot involving Sidney’s deceased mother are introduced. A romance between Dewey and Gale is also broached.

Scream is an enormous treat for fans of the horror genre as numerous references (and film clips!) of classics such as 1978’s Halloween abound throughout the film. Other references to Friday the 13th, Prom Night, and A Nightmare On Elm Street appear during the film. Writer, Kevin Williamson, clearly a horror enthusiast, must have had a ball writing the screenplay that would become Scream. In 1996, the mega-success of the film successfully not only jump-started the entire genre, it introduced younger fans of Scream to classics that were perhaps their parents generation and got them interested in the films.

Classic horror films are not only referenced during the film, but also explained, mostly by the supporting character of Jamie, the nerdy kid who works at the video store and adores horror films. A sequence in which he explains several “rules” of the horror genre is superlative and creative, and just great fun. He schools the teenagers at a party that anyone who drinks, has sex, or says “I will be right back”, is doomed to suffer a violent fate. This clever writing makes Scream enormous fun to watch.

The climax of Scream is quite surprising in itself and the “great reveal” of the murderer (s) is also intelligent writing and quite the surprise, as several red-herrings are produced along the way, casting suspicion on other characters who may or may not be the killers. A small gripe of the writing is the motivations of the murderers- when the explanation is given for their killing spree, the reasoning is a bit convoluted and hard to fathom, but this is horror and suspension of disbelief is always a necessity.

Scream is best remembered for giving the horror genre a good, hard kick in the seat of the pants and shaking all of the elements up a bit while preserving the core ideals of a good slasher film (suspense, a whodunit, and good solid kills). True to a good mention in the film, Scream was followed by several sequels, some achieving better successes than others. In 2018 the film may not be quite as fresh as it once was, but is still a solid watch and memorable for relaunching a genre.