Seven-1995

Seven-1995

Director-David Fincher

Starring-Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman

Scott’s Review #780

Reviewed June 29, 2018

Grade: A-

Many films containing a similar theme as Seven (1995) does have come along over the years- some good, most mediocre. The mixture of homicidal detectives tracking crazed killers has been done ad nauseam and more often than not, done with either poor writing or a predictable outcome- or both. Instead of being a run of the mill film, Seven serves as a representative blueprint of the tautness and unpredictability that can be achieved by using a familiar yet compelling concept, provided there is good writing and good direction. The film is incredibly brutal and riveting.

Respected director David Fincher gathers an all-star cast of Hollywood heavies including Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of whom add to the well-crafted script. It also brings the talent level to respectability and, as great as the story is, with lesser actors the stakes would not have been as high and the film may have even been ruined.

A serial killer is on the loose in Los Angeles- detective duo William Somerset (a very good Freeman) is set to retire and is tasked with finding the killer. He is partnered with David Mills (Pitt), a young, hot-tempered man who has just moved to the city with his wife Tracy (Paltrow). Unbeknownst to David, Tracy is pregnant and unsure whether to keep the child- this point factors in heavily as events unfold. The killer is using the seven deadly sins: greed, gluttony, sloth, lust, pride, envy, and wrath, as his motivation for the creative slayings.

In retrospect Seven is very similar to the still to come Fincher work, 2007’s Zodiac, so much so that both films could be watched in sequence- one being a true story, the other pure fiction. Both focus on the serial killer element with a message, they each have marvelous psychological intrigue and purpose. There are cat and mouse scenes aplenty for fans to enjoy.

At the risk of this point being a total stretch, I’d also argue that 1971’s Dirty Harry influenced Zodiac, Seven, and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). A heinous killer shrouded in intelligence, danger, and motivation is a commonality of all of the aforementioned films, and numerous studies of each of the killers could be dissected if time permitted. Each killer is calculating and manipulative.

On that note, Kevin Spacey gives a tremendous performance as the cold and villainous John Doe. Clever and inventive, his victims are intended to suffer and suffer greatly. Some of the kills could be included in the best of the torture-horror franchise, Saw, as they are very twisted and carved in brutality.

A supermodel is disfigured after being given a choice to call for help or overdose on pills, representing pride. A man is forced to consume food until his stomach ruptures, representing gluttony. Spacey portrays his role with calm, cool, and collective, eliciting a terrifying response from audiences, especially as he toys with the detectives.

Still coming into his own as an actor in 1995, Pitt proves he can almost measure up (though not quite) with big-boy acting talents Spacey and Freeman. Playing an ambitious man eager to prove himself in “the big city” with his pretty wife in tow, Pitt’s David is wholesome and family-oriented, yet has an edge. All around the likable hero, Pitt is perfectly cast in the role and a large part of its success.

The frightening final sequence still resonates with me after all of these years since Seven was released. In a classic standoff between Doe and the detectives, as is typically the case in these types of films, the ultimate climax is twisted, psychological, and gruesome. I did not see this shocker coming as it culminates in lives being forever changed. The expressions and actions by Freeman, Pitt, and Spacey are superlative.

Seven (1995) is a film basking with riches. On par with the best of the best in serial killer films, it is powerfully directed by Fincher. The film is fraught with grisly symbolism and its share of suspenseful sequences. With powerful acting, it is a film relevant and watchable decades after the original release. Perhaps not quite on the level as Dirty Harry or The Silence of the Lambs, but pretty darn close and that is impressive in itself.

 

That Hamilton Woman-1941

That Hamilton Woman-1941

Director-Alexander Korda

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh 

Scott’s Review #779

Reviewed June 27, 2018

Grade: B+

That Hamilton Woman (1941) is an obscure, black and white gem that stars legendary actors and real-life couple Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Providing a story of an old-fashioned style romance, war battles, and dazzling cinematography, the film succeeds as a classic film that should be better remembered than it is. The overall theme here is a tragic love story with a sad ending.

One of the best aspects of That Hamilton Woman is witnessing the super-couple team of Leigh and Olivier act opposite one other. The actors individual talents are reason enough, but combined make this a fascinating viewing experience. The curiosity of the pairing of big stars in their heyday is a delight, highly appealing and both actors do not disappoint. One wonders whether they were acting or otherwise enjoying the experience.

That Lady Hamilton begins with a jarring scene in which the title character, also known as Emma, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) is thrown into debtor’s prison after stealing booze in France. The rest of the story is told via flashbacks as she regales her fellow prisoners with how she wound up in her current state. Her former life starkly contrasts as Emma appears as a young woman with hope, promise, and riches. It is hard to imagine how her life turned out so badly which gives the film a quality of strong intrigue.

The film then has a “riches to rags” element as the story is told in reverse. Full of energy, British Emma moves with her mother to the Kingdom of Naples where she marries the affluent (and much older) Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), presumably for his money. When handsome Admiral Horatio Nelson (Olivier) appears on the scene, the pair fall madly in love. They face tremendous hurdles, however, as the war rages on and each is unfaithful to their respective spouses.

Since the film was made scarcely two years after the epic romance Gone with the Wind (1939), one cannot help but compare Leigh’s portrayal of Emma to Scarlett O’Hara. At times Emma comes across as a British version of the southern lass, especially as she is clad in gorgeous gowns or romancing men. However, as the film develops she becomes a much more sympathetic character and certainly less of a vixen. Still, there are plenty of similarities for viewers to draw from.

The role of Lady Frances Nelson (Gladys Cooper) is completely one-note so the rooting value is never in doubt. The audience is firmly in the corner of Emma and Horatio and this is clearly the film’s intention.  With that said, Cooper does a fantastic job at making her character completely unlikable. Her icy, vengeful spirit is in perfect balance with the sympathetic lead characters. The fact that Horatio and Emma are adulterers, especially for the year the film was made, is not fully explored.

To be critical, and presumably since the film is very old, the video quality is not the greatest. If the film was in color the gorgeous Italian landscapes and Leigh’s lovely costumes would have appeared even more lavish and picturesque. But due to the age of the film not much can be done about it unless it is decided to repackage the disc or make it a Blu-ray offering. Still, the luminous mountains and lush oceans of southern Italy are frequently featured throughout the film, which is a real treat.

Purely a showcase for newlyweds Olivier and Leigh to dish their real-life romance for mainstream audiences, That Hamilton Woman (1941) must have been a big deal at the time released. While suffering a bit from lackluster film quality, the story itself is quite hearty with lots of romantic scenes combined with loud, bombastic battle scenes and a bit of British and Italian history thrown in. Sadly, this film is largely forgotten, but a good watch for fans of the legendary stars.

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore

Scott’s Review #778

Reviewed June 26, 2018

Grade: A

Famed director Steven Spielberg does not always get his due respect. This is usually because, for better or worse, he has become synonymous with the “blockbuster” film, drawing comparisons to  either lightweight fare or films of “lesser” artistic merit. His 1980’s works- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), were enormous commercial successes, though I personally enjoyed all of these films.

During the 1990’s Spielberg continued to direct “popcorn flicks” such as Hook (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993), with large studio budgets, but with somewhat less critical acclaim. Finally, he was able to change many opinions with 1993’s Schindler’s List and the war film to end all war films, Saving Private Ryan (1998), an epic, profound experience. Both received numerous Oscar nominations and success at the box office.

The film is a tremendous treat if for nothing other than the riveting opening sequence alone (more about that later). If that is not enough to impress, Saving Private Ryan is known for infusing a very graphic element into the war film- with no letting up from the brutality. In this way Spielberg does no watering down with this picture, instead showing pain and angst of war. The film is helped tremendously by the casting of Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks, who leads an enormous cast of mainly young men.

Saving Private Ryan opens with a prologue- in present times a veteran brings his family to visit an American cemetery at Normandy. Flashbacks then take the audience back to the Omaha Beach debacle in 1944, where American troops faced deadly German artillery attacks in France. After the horrific three day D-Day, it is learned that three of the four Ryan sons have died in the events. Captain Miller (Hanks) is ordered to bring a team of men to Normandy and bring the fourth Ryan son (Matt Damon) to safety.

Spielberg’s opening D-day sequence is just astounding and propels the film to unforgettable status. With a running time of twenty-four minutes, the riveting and horrific slaughter of American soldiers is brought to the screen in intense fashion. Audiences undoubtedly sat open mouthed (I know I did!) as bullets riddled the beach and left soldiers killed or with limbs torn off. The camera-work is brilliant as the use of a shaky technique, almost documentary style is used for effect. Successful is this sequence at promoting an anti-war sentiment while not glorifying the combat at all. The scene is one that will stay with its audience for years to come.

Saving Private Ryan can be compared to the decades later Dunkirk (2017) in that each film took the war genre and turned it upside down.  The similarities between the films start with the obvious- the main events in both films are during World War II, the same week, and the French beach settings making the films perfect companion pieces.  Both films feature a gray, rainy setting with many horrific moments of death and suffering. The war film is a common genre that has historically teetered on predictability and over-saturation, but both films do something completely different and unexpected, yet mirror each other in style.

To counter-balance the violence in the opening sequence, a quiet scene is created and remains one of my favorites. The scene contains almost no dialogue throughout the seven minute duration and is pivotal to the entire film. As a typist realizes that three letters of death are to be delivered to the same family, a woman on a mid-west farm quietly washes dishes and is calmly horrified when she sees a government car approaching. What else can this mean but that one of her sons is dead? The poor Mrs. Ryan will be told that she has lost not one, but three sons. How utterly unimaginable and the scene is incredibly touching!

The best part of Saving Private Ryan is that Spielberg provides a deep level of sentimental vision combined with the terrible atrocities of war. He portrays not only the violent effects of the battles on the soldiers, but also on the surviving families. This is not always done in war films, at least not to the level that Spielberg chooses to.

With such a film as the startling Saving Private Ryan (1998), Spielberg turned the war film genre inside out. Breaking barriers with a no holds gusto, Spielberg influenced war films for years to come- Black Hawk Down and Enemy at the Gates (2001) are prime examples, and received acclaim from fellow directors for his interesting techniques. Saving Private Ryan was an enormous financial winner at the box office, proving that great films don’t have to be watered down to find an audience.

Magnolia-1999

Magnolia-1999

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore

Scott’s Review #777

Reviewed June 21, 2018

Grade: A

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite modern directors. His best film in my opinion is Boogie Nights (1997), but has also created other dark offerings such as Phantom Thread (2017) and Inherent Vice (2014). Arguably, his most peculiar effort might be Magnolia (1999), a cerebral film with themes of forgiveness and the meaning of life. An ambitious effort with a stellar ensemble cast make the film a fantastic experience.

Set in San Fernando Valley (a mountainous area of Los Angeles), the film resembles David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) in area and oddness alone with unusual dialogue and offbeat characters. A narrator explains three situations of extreme coincidence and surmises that chance may not be the only responsible party. Anderson then carves an intricate tale involving numerous characters, intersecting lives, and a riveting final climax during one rainy California day (an oddity in itself!).

The plot begins when we meet Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), a police officer who is called to investigate a disturbance. After finding a woman’s body in an apartment closet, events turn bizarre as a children’s game show host (Philip Baker Hall), his estranged daughter (Melora Walters), the show’s former producer, Earl (Jason Robards), who is dying from cancer, his drug-addicted wife Linda (Julianne Moore), Earl’s male caretaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a former game show champion (William H. Macy), and finally, an intense motivational speaker (Tom Cruise). Quite a bevy of talented actors!

As the plot moves along in mysterious fashion, the connections of each of the characters is not only revealed, but their peculiar motivations start to take shape. For example, Linda, who clearly married Earl for his money, seems to have an epiphany and demands her lawyer change Earl’s will. Later, a character may have a connection to Earl and Linda, but is all as it seems? In the case of Magnolia, the film is so wonderfully strange that it leaves the audience guessing throughout most of its running time.

Bizarre scenes are commonplace throughout the duration of the film. My favorite one is a marvelously creative scene. Suddenly, frogs begin to fall out of nowhere from the Los Angeles sky with numerous consequences for the characters. The incident causes a ripple effect, of sorts, as many of the character’s fates are determined. Though one may not be able to make heads or tails of this scene or take complete logic from it, it’s enthralling all the same.

Magnolia has an overall quirky tone- sometimes upbeat-sometimes melancholy- that I adore. Films that are tough to figure out and that add an interesting musical score are so rich with flavor. Aimee Mann is responsible for composing many of the songs on the musical soundtrack, so much so that she received a title credit on the soundtrack itself. Mann infuses a richness into her music that is moody and diverse with ambient essentials.

Many actors make frequent appearances in Paul Thomas Anderson films. Magnolia alone seems almost like a Boogie Nights reunion with Moore, Walters, Macy, Baker Hall, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman to name just a handful. The amazing aspect is that all of the aforementioned actors play vastly different, and arguably even more complex roles, than they did in Boogie Nights. Similar to Quentin Tarantino’s actors appearing in many of his films, what a creative treat this must be for them.

There is no doubt that Magnolia (1999) is a complex, dream-like, film. Open to interpretation and reflection, I find it to be a film that feels brilliant and that I would like to revisit and deep dive into even more and more with further viewings, for hopefully a better understanding and an even deeper appreciation.

Taxi Driver-1976

Taxi Driver-1976

Director-Martin Scorsese 

Starring-Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd

Scott’s Review #776 

Reviewed June 20, 2018

Grade: A

It is incredibly tough to choose a favorite of all Martin Scorsese films since nearly all of them are incredibly well made. Certainly Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980) and Taxi Driver (1976) immediately come to mind. In fact, Taxi Driver may be Scorsese’s darkest film of all. The thriller is intense, dangerous, and ferocious led by a riveting performance by Robert De Niro- a regular in the director’s earlier films. The film is nail biting and compelling and a great, character driven watch.

Set in the bustling and (at that time) decrepit New York City shortly following the Vietnam War, Travis is a veteran clearly suffering from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. Lonely and angry, he works as an overnight taxi driver who falls for a snooty presidential campaign worker, Betsy, (Cybill Shepherd). He also forges a relationship of a protective nature with an underage prostitute, Iris, (Jodie Foster). As he gradually spirals out of control due to the unhappiness surrounding him, he plots to kill Betsy’s boss while protecting Iris from her pimp (Harvey Keitel).

One great aspect of Taxi Driver is the insanely good performance by De Niro. Along with the later role of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, that and his role of Travis Bickle are my two favorite roles of his. With Bickle, he is unpredictable, on edge, and angry, as De Niro infuses the character with those qualities in seamless fashion. As he teeters on the brink of insanity and ready to snap at any given moment, the character is impossible not to watch with both fear and marvel. De Niro is that brilliant. 

While not to be outdone by the aforementioned negative and dangerous qualities, Travis also possesses a few benevolent traits making the character complex. In large part this comes into play with the protective nature he develops towards Iris.  Almost like a big brother/kid sister dynamic, the deranged man treats her with kindness rather than taking advantage of her as he easily could have. The diner scene the two actors (De Niro and Foster) share is so rich with interesting dialogue and bonds the characters together.

Travis also harbors love and hate emotions towards Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). As she is a political volunteer for a potential presidential candidate, Travis first encounters her by way of spying on her through large glass windows where she works. Coaxing her to accept a date, they have coffee and eventually attend a film together. Betsy is offended since the film is pornographic and their date goes south fast. After a vicious showdown between the pair at the campaign office, Travis goes off the deep end and plots revenge.

The gritty atmospheric approach that Scorsese provides when filming Taxi Driver is an enormous highlight of the film. Dingy, dark, and dangerous, the director creates ample scenes showing just how seedy New York City was in the 1970’s. Working the night shift, surely to bring out the rancid and most decaying elements of the city, Travis experiences many cretins and undesirables in his work- and arguably is one of them! Many scenes feature the notorious 42nd street and its accompanying porn theaters that made New York City famous (or infamous!) at the time.

In one of the film’s most frightening (and best) scenes, Travis is able to get his hands on a gun. He practices drawing his weapon in the mirror repeatedly uttering the famous line “you talkin’ to me?” as we wonder if he will pull the trigger. The scene is fraught with cerebral tension and quite frightening. Later, when Travis shaves his head and brandishes a mohawk, his new look is downright terrifying.

Scorsese creates a dark world that is enriched by his incredible cinematography and astounding representation of interesting characters in dangerous and unstable times. Taxi Driver (1976) is a treasure to watch closely and appreciate as a timeless piece of art. Instead of decaying in the vaults of cinema. Taxi Driver is a film that gets better and better with age.

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance. The film is as disturbing as it is awe inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelope any viewer- most of them dark and dire. Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces. The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates. Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees all throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees. He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start off as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage. Because of the very lengthy running time of the film (over three hours) Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera works adds such ambiance and style to the 1990’s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940’s. The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine. As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared. Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto. A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is. Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat. The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film. The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat. The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who view’s the masterpiece. Certainly by no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago. A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer-2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer-2017

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #774

Reviewed June 15, 2018

Grade: A

For fans of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, creator of such disturbing and bizarre films as 2009’s Dogtooth and 2015’s The Lobster, then The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) will be a treasure. As with those films, the odd story and the peculiar acting styles are prevalent making the film quite the experience. I relish the film and its unusual nature, offering a cinematic experience that is insightful, mesmerizing, extreme, and quite frankly, brilliant.

Steven Murphy (Farrell) is an esteemed cardiac surgeon who “befriends” a troubled teenage boy named Martin (Barry Keogen) whose father had died years earlier as a result of Steven’s negligence. When Martin slowly insinuates himself into Steven’s family life, they begin to fall ill. Martin threatens to kill the entire family unless Steven kills either his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) or one of his two children- the victim can be of his choosing.

The creepy premise is enormously intriguing as the conclusion cannot be foreseen.  A basic yet deep story line is wonderfully spun with many possible directions for the plot to go in. After forty-five minutes or so of the audience wondering why Steven and Martin meet secretly in diners, hospital corridors, or other remote areas, the teen boy’s true motivations come to the surface as he rapidly and calmly puts his cards on the table for Steven.

Surprisingly, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic. One would assume that the Murphy family- wholesome, affluent, and astute, would garner audience support, but we slowly peel back the onion on each character. With a gorgeous house in a quiet Cincinnati neighborhood, Steven and Anna (a doctor herself) are sometimes harsh and physical with their kids, while the kids (Bob and Kim) develop a strange fascination toward Martin. In this way each character is peculiar and has his or her own dire motivations as the plot unfolds.

Lanthimos is quietly becoming one of my favorite new directors as he slowly churns out one disturbing film after the next. Particularly in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, his clear Stanley Kubrick influences bubble to the surface. With plodding then sudden bombastic classical music pieces, the score is crisp with uniqueness, eliciting emotions like surprise and terror from the audience.

From a visual perspective, fans of Kubrick will no doubt notice the long camera shots and slowly panning camera angles. The hospital’s long and foreboding hallways are prominently featured as we follow a character walking along the corridors. This is highly reminiscent of the Overlook hotel sequences in the 1980 Kubrick masterpiece, The Shining.

One particularly jarring nuance to the film is the speech patterns of most of the actors- clearly dictated by Lanthimos and also occurring in 2015’s The Lobster. The character of Steven talks very quickly, but with monotone delivery and in a matter-of-fact style; Kim and Martin also speak this way. I didn’t notice the quality as much with Kidman’s Anna, but Farrell really went to town. I’m not sure this totally works throughout the entire film since the mannerisms give off almost a comical element. To be sure, this uniqueness makes the film more quirky and decidedly non-mainstream, which is to be celebrated.

The climax of the film is brutal. As Steven brandishes a loaded shotgun, the family gathers in their family room, Anna fussing over her new black dress. As the group dons pillow cases, Steven goes Russian roulette style on the family, randomly firing a shot until one member is killed. When the remaining family members see Martin at the diner the next day, they provide him with icy, hateful looks. The entire scene is done without dialog and is tremendously macabre.

Rest assured, I am eagerly awaiting Lanthimos’s next project (reportedly already in the works) and hope against hope he continues to use the superb Colin Farrell, the brilliant Nicole Kidman, and newcomer Barry Keoghan again. Thanks to tremendous acting, a riveting score, and enough thrills and creeps to last a lifetime, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) is at the top of its game.

God’s Own Country-2017

God’s Own Country-2017

Director-Francis Lee

Starring-Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

Scott’s Review #773

Reviewed June 13, 2018

Grade: B+

God’s Own Country (2017) is a British, romantic, LGBT themed drama directed by Francis Lee, making his directorial film debut. The setting is farming land in the Yorkshire (northern England) territory making the film quite lovely to watch and the pace of the film therefore is slow. Lee does not rush the pace of the story either so it mirrors the slow life that farmers must endure. The film is somewhat autobiographical to Lee’s own life.

The connection and chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the love story endearing, especially impressive to show two different cultures coming together and merging as one. The film is a nice watch and an above average story making it worthy for LGBT audiences worldwide. Those believing in true love and finding ones soulmate will be deeply satisfied.

Twenty something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) lives a dull existence on his father’s farm in remote Yorkshire, England. His grandmother (Gemma Jones) also lives there and due to his father’s recent stroke, the success of the farm is in question. Johnny is depressed; drinking regularly and engaging in sexual encounters with men. Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), is hired to help out and the two young men eventually fall in love. After some ups and downs in their relationship, they decide to live on the farm together and presumably live happily ever after.

God’s Own Country is a rich story of romance and the only real obstacles that Johnny and Gheorghe face are internal struggles. In unique fashion for LGBT films, neither of the men are necessarily unhappy with their sexual identities nor do they face hurdles by other characters because of their sexuality. Gheorghe faces harassment because he is Romanian and deemed an “outsider”. Besides Johnny’s grandmother and perhaps his father, no characters seem aware that the men are a couple.

The cinematography is gorgeous and a perfect backdrop for the love story. The farm is lush with spacious green rolling hills for miles and miles. The animals the family raise are lamb and cattle and more than one scene features a beautiful birth and the nuzzling of the parent to its newborn baby. Sadly one birth is also a breach, which is tough to watch. The themes of life and birth perhaps mirror the feelings and emotions that Gheorghe and Johnny experience- new love.

Throughout God’s Own Country I frequently drew comparisons to arguably the most mainstream and revolutionary film in LGBT history- that of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. Certainly similar elements of animals, farming, and the outdoors are featured in both films. Additionally, commonalities like loneliness and loss are heavily featured. Finally, the rough and tumble, machismo fueled wrestling scenes that result in rough sex between the men are used in both Brokeback Mountain and in God’s Own Country. In fact, both films could be companion pieces.

The film does not delve too much into the back story of the main characters; at least I did not catch many mentions. Admittedly, viewing the film on DVD with no closed captioning or subtitle capability made capturing all of the dialogue very difficult. Especially with English and cockney accents this was made doubly challenging. Regardless, both men are lonely, even despondent, but why? What happened to Johnny’s mother? Where is Gheorghe’s parents or his family?

Upstart Francis Lee carves a quiet, thoughtful yet compelling story of unexpected love that develops between two lonely men in a remote area of the United Kingdom. God’s Own Country (2017) paints a nearly perfect experience, slow yes, but featuring exceptional acting from both leads, as well as the two supporting turns. A film recommended for those seeking a poignant and fulfilling story of love.

Vanity Fair-2004

Vanity Fair-2004

Director-Mira Nair

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy

Scott’s Review #772

Reviewed June 12, 2018

Grade: B

An adaptation of the classic 1848 novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (2004) softens the traditionally unlikable and roguish character of Becky Thatcher quite a bit. This proves not to be the smartest move as the character, now more of a heroine, is watered down and forever changed, as is this film adaptation. Reese Witherspoon (Becky) drew harsh criticism for her starring turn, but I personally do not think she is so bad; and the costumes and set designs are wonderful and quite the highlight of the resulting period piece.

In 1802 England, we meet Becky Sharp, a young woman who has just graduated from a School for Girls and been sent to work as a governess. Because her father, a talented painter, is impoverished, Becky is cast aside as lower class and deemed undesirable to anybody upper class- the men she is most interested in. Despite her reputation as a tart, Becky aspires to marry rich and frequently gets into trouble with her shenanigans and smart tongue while romance blooms with the handsome Rawdon Crawley (Purefoy).

The story is supposed to encompass Becky’s life from approximately age eighteen through her mid-thirties (though Witherspoon never appears to age), and displays her trials and tribulations, her loves and losses through the years. We follow her from rural England to London and to Belgium, eventually residing in Germany, reduced to working in a casino, where the film concludes. In this way the film is a treat as the various countries as they appeared in the nineteenth century, and the wars and battles occurring during this time period are featured making for an interesting history lesson.

The main appeal should be Becky Thatcher since the film revolves around her, and numerous criticisms were thrown around accusing the film for casting Reese Witherspoon in the important and demanding role based on her star power at the time.  In 2004 Witherspoon was experiencing enormous film success after 2001’s Legally Blonde and 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama- admittedly fluff films- but securing her box office power nonetheless. These films undoubtedly led to her being cast in the pivotal role, but I thought the star was perfectly adequate and gave Becky appropriate humor and zest.

Based on Witherspoon’s “girl next door” persona and the fact that she just looks like a good character- perplexing is the decision to cast her if film makers wanted to be true to the character.  Admittedly though, Witherspoon was delicious in 1999’s Election as villainous Tracy Flick, a role of a lifetime. But that is the exception and not the standard. But I digress- the bottom line is that while she is a capable actress, she does not give the gritty performance that many were expecting to be true to the character in the novel.

The rest of Vanity Fair is really just mediocre as far as story goes. While the antics of Becky are both humorous and dramatic, her rooting value in the romance department does not come across in the 2004 film offering- not enough chemistry exists between the leads to warrant much support. Rumors abound that other incarnations of Vanity Fair are far more superior and compelling than this film is, but I have yet to have seen any.

Compliments must be reaped on the costume department and the art direction- both are superior. Such a treat are the lavish and colorful costumes and gowns that mark the time period. From the classic style hats and highfalutin dresses featured in ball after ball, this aspect is nearly enough to recommend a watch over the dull story and immeasurably the highlight of the entire film.

Apparently, Vanity Fair (2004) is considered a messy travesty to those well-read enough to have turned the pages of the classic novel. Since I have not yet read the book, perhaps I enjoyed the film slightly more than I should have, but alas, I did not find the casting of Witherspoon as Becky nor the overall product to be drivel as many did. I recommend the film for the gorgeous visual treats if nothing else.

Gook-2017

Gook-2017

Director-Justin Chon

Starring-Justin Chon, Simone Baker

Scott’s Review #771

Reviewed June 11, 2018

Grade: B+

Gook (2017) is an independent film drama starring and directed by the rising talent, Justin Chon, The film is made on a very limited budget, nonetheless delivering a powerful story with a particularly jaw-dropping final sequence that I did not see coming. In fact, if I am being an honest critic, the film drags at times and is not wholly attention grabbing, but the wrap up is exceptionally done. The use of black and white filming and a poor, ethnic, Los Angeles setting are wins for the film and proof that Chon in becoming someone to keep an eye on in the years to come.

The time period is 1992 amid the soon to be ending Rodney King police brutality trial- news stations and radio programs are abuzz with developments. Intensity and racial strife is in the air as the trial is reaching its controversial conclusion resulting in tumultuous riots across Los Angeles. Two Korean American brothers, Eli (Chon) and Daniel (David So) attempt to keep their deceased father’s shoe store alive in a predominantly African American neighborhood.  The twenty something men hold a unique bond with eleven-year-old Kamilla (Simone Baker), the younger sister of their nemesis, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr).

Initially I was immediately struck (and impressed!) by the clever use of black and white cinematography, which I was not expecting from a film with such a small budget. In addition to adding grittiness and texture of the spread out city, this technique also enhanced the film’s beauty. There exists something so lovely and peaceful, especially since the shoe store location is centered in a rather remote area, against the looming violence and brutality of some of the roughest scenes the film showcases.

The harshness of the obvious racial slur title that Chon chooses, Gook, is both shocking and brave, immediately grabbing one’s interest and piquing curiosity. Wisely, this sets the tone for the entire film and viewers will certainly not mistake it for a feel good affair. Sure there are some light moments of banter between Kamilla and the brothers, but the conclusion of the film brings a painful reminder of how precious life really is.

Yes, the film is admittedly uneven, but that should not be a surprise with a film that teeters around student film making territory. This is hardly a slight, but merely a mention since Chon is so new at his craft. For example, the pacing is very bizarre; at a sleepy, whimsical pace most of the way, the aforementioned final sequence comes in breakneck fashion. As a terrible, accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound sends one character to the emergency room, the speed at which the scene occurs is strange in comparison to the rest of the film.

The highlight of Gook is a tremendous, humanistic element.  The earnest and endearing relationship between Eli and Kamilla really shines through the ugliness of other components. Since the young girl comes from a broken home led by tyrannical older brother Keith, she has no father figure to speak of. To compensate for what she lacks she spends a great deal of time with the brothers helping out at the store. Naturally, she bonds closely with Eli, whose father (presumably murdered) is not on the scene either- so they really embrace each other. Eli serves as a big brother to Kamilla and their scenes are crisp with good dialogue and emotionally pizzazz.

Another nice touch that Chon provides with his creation is an instance where the first scene is the same as the last scene- Kamilla doing a ceremonial dance amid the burning storefront. The final scene is obviously more meaningful and powerful than the opening scene since by this time the audience knows Kamilla’s fate. Another shining example of the artistic talent that Chon has.

Props must be given to a talented up and comer in the cinematic scene. Justin Chon serves as actor, director, creator, and all around talented performer. Gook (2017) is far from perfect and suffers from choppy story-telling and erratic elements, but is impressive in the good qualities it brings to the big screen. Celebrating young film makers is fun, encouraging, and necessary to ensure that ambitious ideas are embraced.

Moonraker-1979

Moonraker-1979

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Lois Chiles

Scott’s Review #770

Reviewed June 8, 2018

Grade: A-

Moonraker (1979) is an installment of the James Bond film franchise not usually well regarded and rarely appearing on critics top ten lists. Perhaps a reason for this is the timing of the film, hot on the heels of the late 1970’s Star Wars craze. Plans for a different Bond film were scrapped in favor of an outer space story. Regardless, I adore most of Moonraker, save for the final thirty minutes when the plot gets way too far-fetched for anyone’s good. The rest of the film is a superior entry and holds up quite well in the modern age of all things Bond.

Many of the familiar elements remain intact following the successful and lavish The Spy Who Loved Me (1975). An even heftier budget featuring gorgeous locales like Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rain forest are featured as well as a capable, intelligently written “Bond girl”. The villains, compelling and suave, including the return appearance of Jaws (Richard Kiel), and handy, dandy gadgets make Moonraker a treat for fans. Therefore, I find the non-love for the film rather mystifying.

The action starts off as a jumbo airplane carrying a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked in midair causing the plane to crash and the shuttle to disappear. Since the space shuttle was on loan to the United Kingdom from the wealthy and powerful Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), 007 (Roger Moore) is tasked with finding its whereabouts. He visits the grand shuttle-manufacturing plant in California where he learns that Drax and his bodyguard Chang are sinister and plotting global destruction.

Bond befriends the gorgeous and highly intelligent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), an astronaut who works at the facility, and Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery), the beautiful personal pilot of Drax. As events roll along Jaws returns to the story seeking revenge on Bond and subsequently serving as Drax’s new bodyguard. Of course, treasured favorites like M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), return to the fold.

To explain the weakest portion of the film first, producers were clearly attempting to capitalize on the tremendous success of 1977’s Star Wars by featuring a space exploration theme. Interestingly, only the final half hour does this come into play as Bond and Goodhead, and nearly all the cast, don bright yellow space suits. Drax’s evil plan is to eradicate all human kind and begin a new world with only beautiful people existing and reproducing.

The inevitable final battle scenes take place in a sprawling space station amid laser guns shooting bright beams- a direct rip off from Star Wars. In fact, the entire sequence is too long and quite reminiscent of my criticism of the tedious finale from the otherwise brilliant The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker’s predecessor.

Otherwise, the film is top notch. Fantastic sequences involves Bond’s mid-air fight with a bad guy and a dangerous struggle for a parachute, a fight scene high atop a Cable Car during Rio Carnival, a vicious sparring in a Venice museum, and a female character chased and torn to bits by Drax’s carnivorous dogs, all make for great action sequences. The highlight though, may very well be Bond’s harrowing ordeal inside an out of control centrifuge chamber.

The return of Jaws is certainly a highlight to Moonraker especially as the popular villain turns “good” and finds a love interest! When he sees the cute blonde girl with pig tails and glasses, both characters eyes light up in a “love at first site” moment. As Jaws realizes Drax plans to both of them exterminated his alliances suddenly switch resulting in a touching scene between the two over champagne.

Moore and Chiles have tremendous chemistry as the MI-6 agent teams with the capable female CIA agent. In fact, Holly Goodhead is portrayed exceptionally well: female, intelligent, gorgeous, and savvy. Impressive (and progressive) is how Goodhead takes charge as she and 007 make a harrowing journey back to planet Earth and then work nicely together to destroy Drax’s deadly missiles. Sure the romance is there, but also the mutual respect between the two.

Fondly recalling childhood memories watching this film numerous times, Moonraker (1979) holds good memories for me. More importantly, it possesses wonderful Bond qualities that will enchant many Bond fans seeking fun and entertainment. The film admittedly contains a ludicrous plot attempting to fit the times, but thanks to lavish sets and a competent main Bond girl, the film is quite memorable.

The Breadwinner-2017

The Breadwinner-2017

Director-Nora Twomey

Voices-Saara Chaudry, Ali Rizvi Badshah

Scott’s Review #769

Reviewed June 7, 2018

Grade: B

Certainly a timely and politically charged story, The Breadwinner (2017) provides relevance and a progressive women’s empowerment message. This should be championed above all else and for that reason alone is recommended as a worthy watch. The film itself is dark and not entirely a children’s movie nor necessarily family friendly either, but rather a good lesson learned. Dragging just a bit throughout, this is small potatoes compared to the importance of the overall story.

The animated feature is based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, which focuses on life in dangerous Afghanistan (circa 2001) under constant threat by Taliban rule. Since women are not allowed to leave the house and any men daring to question the Taliban are either slaughtered, beaten, or arrested, the film is quite the heavy compared to typical animated fare.

The Breadwinner’s main character is a likable eleven year-old girl named Parvana, who lives in metropolitan Kabul, Afghanistan. Along with her father, she sells items on the city streets to support the rest of the family- wife, daughter and male toddler. Parvana’s older brother has died years ago.  Parvana’s father, Nurullah, is a former teacher left crippled by an injury sustained during war. When he is arrested, Parvana must disguise herself as a boy and work to support her family as she traverses the city with her best friend Shauzia in tow.

The animation is lovely and a definite high point of the film. All of the details look crisp and fresh- from the stark village houses to the vegetable stands and other more metropolitan aspects of the bustling cities, the film just looks very good and professional. The flawless art direction and visuals aid in the believable nature of the story.

Another high point to The Breadwinner is the substance that the story contains- it is not fluff as commonly seen in modern animated films.  All throughout the film I knew that I was watching something of meaning. Parvana faces true danger; if she is found out not to be a young boy but instead a young girl she could be beaten, raped, or worse. Unwisely, early on in the film she makes an enemy of a young, sadistic soldier, who continues to resurface and threaten Parvana throughout the film.

More than a handful of frightening scenes occur, evidence that director Nora Twomey’s intentions are not for a family friendly affair. Given the subject matter at hand this is a wise move. Toning down the violence and treachery of the Taliban would make the film feel insincere and dishonest. Rather, because of the violence and deaths and beatings that occur throughout, the film feels genuine and the characters emotions real.

If I were to point out a shortcoming to the film, The Breadwinner suffers a bit from an erratic approach. I adore the straightforward aspects of the main story and enjoyed not only the survival instincts and female empowerment, but of her innocent friendship with Shauzia. However, a handful of times the film goes in a different direction as Parvana tells stories of a young man’s journey to retrieve seeds stolen from him. Frankly, this slowed down the main plot and one has little to do with the other making them seem disjointed.

With a worthy and meaningful central story line, how nice to feast one’s eyes on an artistic animated production so marvelously made. The Breadwinner (2017) is a treat for those animated film fans yearning for something more intelligent than the standard “kid’s film”. Perhaps not a perfect “A”, but something of quality nonetheless.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail-2017

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail-2017

Director-Steve James

Scott’s Review #768

Reviewed June 6, 2018

Grade: B+

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) is a compelling documentary that received a fair amount of notice after earning an Academy Award nomination. The straightforward story never dulls nor drags, but rather stays on point by telling a gripping courtroom style legal thriller of a Chinese family’s struggle to keep their small banking business from criminal prosecution.

The documentary features the Sung family, led by patriarch Mr. Sung who brought the family from China to start a banking business decades ago. Since then the family has set up roots in downtown New York City launching a community style bank to help people living and working in the Chinatown section. The bank had come to be tremendously popular and culturally centered as a way to help struggling neighbors and their business has thrived.

The Abacus Federal Savings Bank became the only bank to face criminal charges following the mortgage crisis in 2009. The documentary argues that this was because the larger banks were untouchable and prosecutors desired to make an example out of the bank because they were an easier target. The documentary wisely presents both sides featuring family interviews as well as the prosecutor’s arguments.

I found Abacus: Small Enough to Jail to move along quite smoothly and at a quick pace. The documentary mainly focuses on the Sung’s- all very driven people. They reside in upscale Greenwich, Connecticut, and consist of the mother and father and three grown daughters in their twenties and thirties. The daughters are highly intelligent and the entire family are intensely loyal to each other and their business despite scenes showing them bicker over trial strategies and take out lunch.

The documentary mainly chronicles the prolonged five year ordeal that the Sung’s endured involving a myriad of paperwork, trial dates, and other particulars. All the while the family continues to uphold their business with gusto, but the trial takes quite a toll on the individuals, particularly the elderly patriarch. It is tough to imagine anyone rooting for a bank, but that is exactly the end result.

Director Steve James is wonderful at portraying the Sung family sympathetically in his work. There is never a doubt that he feels they have been victimized and sought after because they are a relatively easy target compared to the big boys of the banking world- J.P. Morgan and Chase are deemed untouchable, which is a large source of the problem and the film’s main objective to show.

Heartbreaking is a scene containing footage of at least a dozen or so Chinese bank employees being led to processing all chained together- chain gang style. This scene, shown relatively early on in the documentary, cemented my support for the Sung’s. I asked myself, even if they were guilty, why the inhuman and racist treatment? When questioned about the poor treatment of the indicted all the prosecution could muster was that it was “unfortunate”, hardly an apology.

The key element here and the main point of the story is that wrongdoing was committed, but the question asked is if the Sung’s had knowledge of a few of their employee’s shenanigans and I truly think not. As the documentary explains, the jury had extreme difficulty reaching a concrete decision, which is why the trial dragged on and on. All the while I asked myself, “If the large banks were bailed out with no prosecutions whatsoever why should a mom and pop bank be targeted?”

Steve James creates an unexpectedly fast paced piece, tough to do with dry financials, spreadsheets, and other banking type particulars, but that is just what he does. Objectively presenting the facts on both sides and offering a multitude of interviews and court room drawings, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) is a treat to view and captures a terrible time in United States history and how the undertones of racism still exist.

Good Time-2017

Good Time-2017

Director-Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie

Starring-Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie

Scott’s Review #767

Reviewed June 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Every so often an actor who is known for either doing mainstream films or for portraying a mediocre character risks being typecast. Fortunately for actor Robert Pattinson, known mostly as the heartthrob from the trite Twilight films, he has been given the best role of his career. The actor hits the jackpot with a challenging and edgy performance in the fast-paced independent crime drama, Good Time (2017).

The film is a very good ride, and directors Ben and Joshua Safdie successfully provide excellent tension and compelling action scenes (Ben even gives a worthy supporting performance as a mentally challenged character). The overall tone of the film is that of an edge of your seat experience. As enjoyable and taut as the film is, a few minor criticisms must be mentioned below.

Good Time begins with Nick Nikas (Ben Safdie) being quizzed by a therapist. They are quickly interrupted by Nick’s brother Connie (Pattinson), who removes him from the facility so that he can assist with a bank heist. When the attempt goes awry and Nick is arrested, Connie does his best to spring his brother from jail then from the hospital following an altercation with another inmate. All the while, Connie must also evade the police as he forms a strange connection with a sixteen year old girl, Crystal (Taliah Webster).

The fun part of Good Time is that the film is fast paced and filled with twists and turns. Largely taking place over the course of one night, we are compelled by Connie’s journey and wonder if he will outrun the cops. In a way a standard thriller, Good Time rises slightly above this ranking with its wonderful New York City setting with numerous exterior scenes- this is a major plus.

Also garnering props for the film is the look of it. With a slick yet gritty and grainy  feel, the camera angles are quick and plentiful. This is a great tool to keep the action going at lightning speed and the editing deserves kudos too. In this way the intensity and tension runs rampant throughout. A good example of this is the bank robbery scene- as the teller disappears into the vault to get the requested amount of money she takes what seems like an eternity to return, leaving the audience (and Connie) wondering if she has alerted the authorities.

Otherwise, the film is helped immensely by the acting performance of Pattinson who owns the film. Having not seen him in anything before I was surprised at how good he is. Thinking of him as more a matinee idol versus a serious actor, I was proven wrong. Grizzled, temperamental, but being a decent guy at times, Pattinson’s Connie is loyal to a fault, putting his brother first and foremost.

Fans of Captain Phillips (2013) will be delighted to see Barkhad Abdi cast in a small yet pivotal role of an amusement park security guard. Nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award for Captain Phillips, the Somali- American actor has been able to find steady work in film since his acclaimed debut performance.  In his role in Good Time, the character is instrumental in kicking off the final act that leads to the downfall of at least one other character.

Worth mentioning are a few small but notable flaws (rather unnecessary) that Good Time contains. Perplexing to me is the casting of Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role of Connie’s girlfriend Corey. Decades older than Connie, Corey is written pretty much as a nitwit- attempting to use her mother’s credit card to bail out Nick. The film does not mention the age difference nor provides much meat to the role- Jason Leigh deserves better than a throwaway role like this.

Otherwise, none of the female characters are treated especially well. Connie frequently directs or shouts at either Corey or even Crystal eliciting a “man in charge” vibe that is slightly off-putting. Also, a gay slur uttered by Connie is thrown into a scene for seemingly no reason, which in 2017 surprises me. Still, there is something that makes the audience root for Connie while we still want him to get his punishment.

Good Time (2017) provides quality entertainment in a specified genre with good acting all the way around. With a weird Ocean’s Eleven style (only with one prominent character) the bank robbery theme will satisfy those in the mood for a good heist film. The title of the film is a mystery (is it irony?) and not sure it totally works, but overall the film is a very good watch.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

UPDATED REVIEW

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed

Scott’s Review #766

Reviewed June 2, 2018

Grade: A

Women in Love (1969) is a British romantic drama film that is truly one of a kind. The film is quite cerebral and requires a bit of thought which undoubtedly will lead to good conversation with film connoisseurs everywhere following a viewing. The four central characters are complex and flawed and intersect in each other’s lives in dramatic fashion making the film a “thinking mans” feast. The film is adapted from a popular D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

In 1920, set in the Midlands section of central England, sisters Ursula (Jennie Linden) and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) attend the wedding of an acquaintance, Laura Crich. The Crich family are enormously rich and own a good portion of the mining town. During the ceremony, Gudrun and Ursula fantasize about Gerald Crich (Oliver Platt) and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates), respectively. When the foursome cross paths again at Rupert’s pretentious girlfriend’s party, attractions and conflict arise.

The film being described as “character driven” does not begin to do it justice. Each of the four principle characters are richly written with intelligence and gusto. All of them are either flawed or insecure in some way, while the fact that Gerald and Rupert share sexual attraction for each other is another nuance explored throughout the film. In fact, Rupert is confident and outspoken about his bisexuality- extremely rare for a 1969 film. In this way, Women in Love is ahead of its time.

The major themes in Women in Love are commitment and love and how each character handles these emotions-sometimes either embracing them or running away from them. Clearly, Gudrun and Gerald are in love with each other, while Rupert and Ursula are too, but one couple is unsuccessful at reaching any sort of bliss. The characters possess a bevy of emotions making their happiness almost impossible and the characters feel doomed to failure from the onset. This is an example of the tremendous writing on the part of Larry Kramer and bringing the characters to the big screen in a memorable way.

Jackson’s Gudrun and Bates’s Rupert are my favorite characters because they appear to have slightly more depth to them and feel like the standouts. Gudrun appears to have love/hate feelings toward Gerald and often is downright cruel to him. As they vacation in the Swiss Alps, Gudrun purposely and inexplicably flirts with a gay artist leaving Gerald insanely jealous and resulting in tragedy. Counter-balancing Gudrun’s anger, Rupert showers in fun and zest for life, happily bi-sexual and thinking nothing of it, enjoying his sexually charged affections for both men and women.

The supporting characters, specifically of snobbish Hermione and mentally unstable Christianna Crich are examples of perfect casting. Eleanor Bron plays Hermione as garish, mocking, and teetering on unhinged. As she psychologically bullies poor Ursula when it’s clear Rupert prefers the more innocent woman, Hermione becomes frightful. Actress Catherine Willmer takes Christianna to a new level in creepy. Already appearing psychotic, when her daughter tragically drowns the woman goes over the edge, unleashing vicious dogs on any visitors to her estate. Both actresses give unforgettable performances.

Women in Love contains a scene that may very well be the most homo-erotic scene in film history. As Rupert and Gerald decide to partake in a Japanese style wrestling match one evening, they strip completely naked and grapple in front of a roaring fire. In this lengthy sequence, both front and rear nudity is provided, leaving nothing to the imagination. When Rupert suggests they swear eternal love for each other, Gerald cannot commit to the emotional union. One wonders if this outstanding scene influenced 2007’s Eastern Promises.

1969’s Women in Love is an amazing film with terrific acting all around. Taking romantic drama to an entirely different level and setting a new standard for brilliant complexities in film, the work of art from director Ken Russell is peppered with nuances making it rich with great story telling and character development. The fact that one couple ends in bliss and the other in tragedy is sheer excellence.