Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Director-James Whale

Starring-Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester

Scott’s Review #825

Reviewed October 31, 2018

Grade: A-

After four long years director James Whale finally agreed to follow-up, and resurrect, his character of The Monster. Fortunately, Boris Karloff also returned to the role he made famous. In this installment he meets a mate played by the gorgeous Elsa Manchester. Critics argue that the sequel is superior to the original, but I am not so sure of that, slightly preferring Frankenstein. Still, the aptly titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a fantastic effort and a memorable classic in and of itself.

The plot picks up where the original Frankenstein ended and includes a sub-plot from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Having learned his lesson about the drawbacks of creating life, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female mate for the Monster. Much of the action follows the Monster, who is on the run from hunters as he encounters both devious and kindly individuals. In clever form, Manchester plays both the “Bride” and Mary Shelley, who is heralded for her masterful writing.

The main difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is that the Monster is more developed from a character perspective. Even more empathetic and now uttering some dialogue, the pained character contains deeper moments and a damaged quality. Karloff reportedly despised this aspect preferring that his character be more ambivalent, using grunts and facial expressions more than words, but to me the development works well.

As the Monster traverses the forest looking for shelter while being pursued witch hunt style, a lovely sequence occurs between the Monster and a lonely blind man. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of a violin playing “Ave Maria”, the blind hermit befriends the Monster and teaches him a few words like “friend”. Harboring no ill-will towards the creature, the old hermit instead feels blessed and thanks god for sending him a friend. The tender moment is then shattered when a fire burns down the cottage.

Continuing what Frankenstein did and more in line with Shelley’s novel is the constant theme of loneliness and despair. The Creature is a tortured soul, yearning for love and affection, yet suffering from a temper. He is childlike and struggles to know the difference between right and wrong.

Like Frankenstein, the sequel contains high quality special effects and ambiance. With a storm raging (naturally), the thunder and lightning qualities add so much to a horror film such as this, filling it with suspense and a certain science fiction element. When the Bride is hoisted to the sky and struck by lightning, the scene is both campy and terrifying.

How delicious a character is Manchester as The Monster’s Bride? With her statuesque seven-foot height (the actress used stilts), white streaked hairdo, macabre white gown, and jerky, animal-like head movements, the character is forever recognizable in pop culture. Timeless in characterization, the beautiful woman possesses a macabre yet humorous quality. When she becomes alert, sees the Monster, and shrieks, it is a memorable moment in film history.

Throughout cinematic history, few sequels ever live up to their predecessors, but Bride comes close. Easily able to be watched in tandem with Frankenstein, and in fact perfect for a bit of Saturday afternoon nostalgia, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a wonderful trip down memory lane to a time when horror was as thrilling in simple black and white as it is with all the frills added. Thanks to Whale’s brilliant direction, both films are legendary in their inspiration and achievements.

It Happened One Night-1934

It Happened One Night-1934

Director-Frank Capra

Starring-Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Scott’s Review #824

Reviewed October 25, 2018

Grade: A-

Perhaps the film which best defines the early cinematic romantic comedy and certainly the one most modern genre films can take a lesson from, It Happened One Night (1934) is a lively, fun romp.  The film carted away the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress Academy awards, a rare feat, and defined what romantic tension and smart dialogue ought to be in a quality picture. All the elements sparkle into an excellent classic film watch.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a pampered socialite who has recently disobeyed her overbearing and wealthy father, eloping with a blue-collar pilot who is feared to be after her money. Determined, Ellie escapes her father’s clutches and hops on a Greyhound bus headed from Florida to New York, where her husband is. When she crosses paths with an out of work journalist, Peter Warne (Gable), they each find an opportunity to use the other to their own advantage. The pairs adventures along the east coast lead to antics and schemes as they fall madly in love with one another.

It Happened One Night successfully mixes a good romance with some screwball comedy without ever becoming silly or trite. In fact, the film also serves as a good old-fashioned adventure story as Peter and Ellie face one hurdle after another on their trek north. Pleasing is the way that the duo slowly find romance, but first begin as irritants towards each other. The chemistry between the actors is superb and never seems forced or contrived.

Frank Capra, a famous director with successes throughout the 1930’s, culminating with the holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), had several Oscar winning films during the decade. It Happened One Night, though, seems to have inspired the most of them all, and the acting, farcical situations, dialogue and direction all successfully come together.

Shot in black and white and pre- Motion Picture Production Code, which heavily restricted details deemed too violent or sexual in nature, It Happened One Night was able to push the envelope quite a bit. This is to the film’s credit- who can forget the adorable yet provocative scene in which Ellie shows her shapely legs to enable the duo to catch a ride. The lovable scene, non-risque in today’s modern world, was anything but in 1934.

An interesting, and at that time unique, point, is that supporting characters are more layered than is typical in romantic comedies. Danker, who Peter and Ellie hitch a ride with is seemingly a decent man, but ultimately attempts to steal their luggage. Later, Ellie’s preposterous father turns out to be somewhat of a decent man, so the film contains a few character surprises too.

While not quite a pure masterpiece, It Happened One Night (1934) is nonetheless an inspired legendary film that can be viewed and enjoyed for the time-period in which it was made. The film is a standout among the similarly themed romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s and a teachable moment for all film makers delving into same genre territory.

Halloween-2018

Halloween-2018

Director-David Gordon Green

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer

Scott’s Review #823

Reviewed October 23, 2018

Grade: B+

Let’s be honest- nobody will ever be able to either top or recreate the iconic 1978 masterpiece Halloween- so any real attempt is a moot point. Throughout the subsequent decades many sequels or remakes have emerged and have largely disappointed or turned the franchise into camp. With the latest incarnation of Halloween (2018), director David Gordon Green gets it right by creating a follow-up to the original, skipping all the other films. Scoring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie is a major win along with seemingly dozens of neat references to the original gem.

Set forty years to the day (Halloween Eve and Halloween, naturally!), the audience is first given a summary of killer Michael Meyer’s (Nick Castle) time spent in Smith Grove Sanitarium once captured following the 1978 Haddonfield killing spree. Two journalists visit Meyers in captivity and attempt to make him speak after forty years of silence by mentioning the name Laurie Strode and showing him his notorious Halloween mask. Conveniently, he is scheduled to be transferred to a maximum-security prison the following day. We just know that Meyers will escape.

Meanwhile, Laurie has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder since her attack and lives in a constant state of paranoia. With two failed marriages and a daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who is traumatized by her mother’s anxiety, Laurie’s life has not been easy. As an aside, I just love how Laurie dons the same hairstyle she had at age seventeen. While she awaits the inevitable return of Michael, her secluded house is peppered with traps and guns allowing her to be at the ready at any moment. Despite her problems Laurie is very close with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

When the inevitable happens and Michael escapes by presumably causing a bus accident off-screen, the action truly begins. The coincidence of this happening on Halloween night is to be expected and embraced.

Audiences who see the film certainly are not new to the genre. The target audience is the crowd who either grew up with the original or generations who followed and were introduced to the original. Therefore, the film is wise to not try and reinvent the wheel- giving fans what they expect. To this point the opening graphics (the eerie orange writing and the glowing jack-o-lantern) are intact as well as the “introducing” credit for its heroin star- in this case Matichak.

There are several certainties with a horror film like Halloween. We know there will be “kills”, we know there will be an inevitable showdown between Laurie and Michael Myers to conclude the film. The fun is in the trip we take to get there. Who will be offed and how? A butcher-knife? other Halloween delights? Since there are arguably three female leads and three generations of Strode’s, will the film make one of them feel Michael’s deadly wrath?

Halloween really works, and a large reason for this are countless nods to its past. Many scenes pay homage to attention-paying fans resulting in riches and nostalgic memories. Allyson’s boyfriend’s father’s name is Lonnie- undoubtedly the kid who Dr. Loomis scared away from the Meyers house forty years ago.  Then there is a neighbor woman wearing curlers and slicing a sandwich with a butcher knife, who Michael steals the knife from. Finally, as Allyson sits in the back of her class and glances out the window she sees not Michael, but Laurie standing across the street staring at her. These gems are in large part thanks to clever writing and study.

There are a couple of negatives to mention. I am not crazy about the casting of Judy Greer as Jamie Lee Curtis’s daughter. The actresses look nothing alike nor does Curtis seem old enough to be Greer’s mother. Furthermore, attempts to add some comic relief moments, two bumbling police officer’s talking about brownies, Allyson’s goofy father, and the salty tongue of the kid one of the baby-sitters sits for does not really work.

How great would it have been to include P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, or even Kyle Richards in cameos? Since Curtis and Castle returned I wanted more familiar faces.

In wise form Gordon Green leaves the window wide open for a potential sequel, so be sure to stay for the end credits. My personal wish would be for this to parlay to the aftereffects of the killings on the same night, which Halloween II (1981) did so successfully. If the box office returns are strong enough and with Curtis on board for another installment, the possibilities are endless.

Frankenstein-1931

Frankenstein-1931

Director-James Whale

Starring-Colin Clive, Boris Karloff

Scott’s Review #822

Reviewed October 22, 2018

Grade: A

For those of us who treasure cinematic brilliance in films of the past need to look no further than Frankenstein (1931), a masterpiece in the horror genre. In fact, considered by some to be the greatest horror film ever made, the still frightening work is based on the legendary 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Highly influential to later groupings of horror film sub-genres, the importance of this film must never be forgotten.

In a small European village, a scientist named Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is determined to create human life by way of stealing fresh body parts from cemeteries and using electrical shock as part of his creation. He convinces his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), to steal a human brain from a former professor’s laboratory. Due to a clumsy mistake, Fritz must steal the brain of a criminal rather than a “normal” human being, the result being dire when Frankenstein’s monster is created.

The creation of the monster (and no, the monster’s name is not actually Frankenstein as some might assume) is astounding, especially given the time-period of the early 1930’s. With a flattop, heavy eyelids, protruding neck terminals, and his hulking physique, he is a frightening figure, but with a yearning, childlike nature. The monster’s innocence makes him so tragic. A compelling scene occurs when the audience first sees the monster turn around and face the camera.

What separates Frankenstein from many other horror films is the underlying sadness and empathy that we feel towards the monster. As a general-rule, the “villain” in most horror films is clearly defined, but who is the villain in Frankenstein? How can it be the monster when he, unaware of his own strength, drowns a young child? We root for the monster when he hangs the dastardly dwarf and we hate the town of peasants who seek revenge on the monster. The complexities in this film are endless.

The main character is an interesting study. Title billed, the character is a genius while also teetering on the brink of madness- he is not the hero of the film nor is he entirely sympathetic. He is the ruin of a monster who has feelings and a sadness to him. Frankenstein’s fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clark) is concerned for him, which adds a nurturing element to the dynamic. The intent is for the audience not to despise Frankenstein, but to be enthralled with his complexities.

The term “monster film” can conjure up feelings of silliness or over-the-top acting, but Frankenstein is more artistic than goofy. The famous line of “It’s alive!” was paid tribute to in later years, but an equally spectacular horror film, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) when Rosemary feels her haunted baby kick. To say nothing of the tribute Mel Brook’s classic Young Frankenstein (1974) paid to the original.

Given the film was made in 1931 the effects and lighting techniques are beyond impressive. The overall tone of the film is stylistic with a prevalent fairy-tale beauty unlike any films made at the time, save for perhaps Dracula, the 1931 horror-vampire masterpiece. In fact, both Frankenstein and Dracula would make a delicious double-feature on a Saturday evening. Director James Whale creates a magical environment that astounds, holding up well generation after generation, never seeming dated.

Frankenstein (1931) was followed by numerous sequels, the best of which is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Undoubtedly, the film influenced campy yet important monster films to follow- most notably the “Hammer Horror films” of the same tone. Despite teetering on the one-hundred-year-old mark, the brilliant film is timeless and must be introduced to young film makers everywhere (especially in the horror genre).

Split-2016

Split-2016

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy

Scott’s Review #821

Reviewed October 18, 2018

Grade: B-

Split (2016) is the second part of a planned trilogy, the first being Unbreakable (2000), and the third to debut in 2019. This point was confusing to me since I did not notice any correlation between the films until the final scene and even that was not very clear. Split has its ups and downs, mainly that the performance of James McAvoy is spectacular and the highlight, but the film is sadly riddled with many plot holes and some nonsense. I do not predict the film will be remembered all too well.

Casey (Joy) is a withdrawn teenage girl with an abusive past at the hands of her uncle, who raised her after her father died. She, along with two other girls are accosted by a man (McAvoy) who chloroforms them and takes them to a hidden basement. The girls quickly learn that their abductor is Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). His personalities range from a nine-year-old child, to an effeminate artist, to a well-dressed woman, and Kevin.

The audience (but not the girls) learns that Kevin is in therapy and in the care of Doctor Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) an established Philadelphia psychiatrist. Fletcher is aware of Kevin’s other personalities, and of an additional personality deemed “The Beast”, who she assumes is a fantasy super-hero figure. Karen slowly pieces together the frightening depth of Kevin’s disorder and must race against time to save the girls.

McAvoy, mostly known for his great performances in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007), but also a central figure in the X-Men film franchise (2011-2019), knocks it out of the park. What a challenging role (or roles!) for the handsome, Scottish actor.  He is convincing as the stoic and confident Kevin and provides the perfect swagger as “Patricia” and “Dennis”. Finally, he plays nine-year-old “Hedwig” to perfection with childhood innocence and insecurities. The casting of McAvoy is a treat and a success.

How lovely to see film and television stalwart Betty Buckley back in the game with a central film role. To say nothing of the actress’s achievements on stage in play after play, the woman is a legend in the other genres. Eagle-eyed horror fans will undoubtedly remember Buckley’s role as the sympathetic gym teacher in Carrie (1976). In Split, she portrays another benevolent character as she is concerned for her patient’s well-being, not realizing the sinister sides he keeps hidden. The role is perfect for the warm Buckley.

Written, co-produced, and directed by the acclaimed M. Night Shyamalan, Split is no masterpiece like The Sixth Sense (1999) or even on par with The Village (2004).  Instead, the result is a peculiar and uneven effort- the fascination is with McAvoy’s twenty-three different personalities, granted we only see four or five of them.

The film misses with the numerous backstory scenes of Casey and her uncle, hunting in the woods. These scenes slow down the action and seem overly lengthy. She was abused and can now handle herself- we get it. This point could have been achieved with in one scene.

The relationships between the three girls is okay, but the story point of Casey being an outcast and different from the other two girls seems unnecessary and thrown in. The final scene of Bruce Willis (as Dennis Dunn from Unbreakable) is somewhat of a nice nod to the previous film but lost on anyone who either has not seen the film or has not seen it since it premiered well over a decade ago. More of a connection between the two stories should have been featured.

In addition to McAvoy’s impressive performance a positive is how there are no male characters designed to “save the day” as is still typical with mainstream films. In fact, the heroes of the film are Casey (a teenage girl) and Karen (a woman in her sixties). Credit must be given to attempts at making Split a more progressive minded film, despite all the story pieces not aligning.

The result of the film is fair to middling- Split (2016) is not a great effort, but a decent watch. The highlights are McAvoy, a worthy role for veteran Buckley, and some good tension and moments of good peril. The story is not the high point to the film and Shyamalan has certainly made much better films.

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

Director-Lewis Milestone

Starring-Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim

Scott’s Review #820

Reviewed October 12, 2018

Grade: A

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the oldest films that I have ever seen, and a masterpiece that resonates in present times just as much as the film did nearly one hundred years ago. The work of art presents an astounding anti-war message that is a timeless lesson in humanity, idealism, and ultimately, despair. Based on the banned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, much of the action takes place on the front lines during World War I.

The cameras follow an anxious group of spirited young men as they sit in a classroom and listen to a passionate speech given by their professor. He is quite “pro war”, filling the boys with patriotism and the importance of serving the Army and their country. At his urging the group, led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) join the Second Company. Once enlisted, the youths are enlightened to the fact that war is not fun, and their romantic delusions are smashed to pieces.

Paul is clearly the hero of the film and events are told through his eyes, offering his perspective. Beginning as a young recruit, he ages quickly and sees friends and allies slaughtered senselessly. One recruit, frightened to death, is blinded by shrapnel and hysterically runs into machine-gun fire resulting in his death. Other scenes involving the soldiers forced to go without food only to finally be offered second helpings simply because there are so many dead, is heart-wrenching.

Paul is portrayed as a good man- conflicted by how he is “supposed” to feel towards the enemy and how he sees people as human beings. At the young age of nineteen he possesses an innocence towards the world. When he returns home on leave the townspeople have no inclination of the ravages of war. When Paul recounts the brutal situations on the front line, he is derided as a “coward”.

In an excruciating scene Paul is trapped overnight in a fox hole with a dying French soldier, whom Paul has stabbed in a cemetery. He desperately tries to save the man’s life, but to no avail. In this important scene Paul sees the enemy soldier as a human being rather than as someone to hate. He crumbles into tears for the dead soldier, begging him to speak. The scene is incredibly poignant and meaningful.

The final scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is lovely and memorable too. In fact, the scene is the most remembered from the film and firmly ensconced in cinematic history. As a wounded Paul lies in hiding from German soldiers, he spots a beautiful butterfly peacefully circling around. Paul smiles, enamored with the pretty creature amid all the ugliness. He desperately tries to reach for the gorgeous insect. What happens next is heartbreaking and fraught with the unfair ruining of life- the scene is of utmost importance.

The film is both sad and poignant as we are well into the twenty-first century while wars continue to wage on in present day. Have we learned nothing? Director, Lewis Milestone brazenly, and tragically, paints a portrait of the foolishness of war and the senseless loss of life that war results in. It is tough to think of an equivalent film that depicts this message in a clearer way.

Many European leaders and countries, Germany’s Adolf Hitler included, banned All Quiet on the Western Front throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. The film has remained controversial in its blatant depiction of war since it was made.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is a groundbreaking film and ought to be viewed by everyone as a reminder of how precious life really is. The novel and film were both made as a result of World War I- how profound to think since this film was made wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, have occurred. Is war ever really the answer? Anyone who watches this terrific film will find the answer.

A Star Is Born-2018

A Star Is Born-2018

Director-Bradley Cooper

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

Scott’s Review #819

Reviewed October 10, 2018

Grade: A

On paper, by the time a film reaches its fourth remake (think- superhero franchises), there is a risk of either utter redundancy or a lack of interest (or both!). Months before A Star Is Born was released to theaters a tremendous buzz emerged, particularly about the stars (Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga). Considering the latter had never starred in a film before, the word of mouth was surprising. The hype can be believed as the film is a tremendous effort with something to offer everyone.

The story begins as boozy country crooner, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), performs a sold-out show. He needs the aid of pills to take the stage and suffers from gradual hearing loss but is nonetheless a famous and popular star. Following the concert Jackson meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress who moonlights singing French songs at a drag bar. They immediately bond as he encourages her to celebrate her talent despite her insecurities. As events unfold the pair dive into a passionate romance as her career skyrockets while his deteriorates from drug and alcohol abuse.

On the surface a film such as A Star Is Born runs the risk of being hokey, formulaic, or otherwise generic. The premise dictates as such- successful star meets insecure up and comer, romance ensues, and they face obstacles and internal conflict on the road to success. Sounds like material custom made for a Hallmark television movie or something light weight, especially given the remake of a remake of a remake factor.

Instead, every element of A Star Is Born works perfectly. Of enormous praise is how Bradley Cooper both directs this film and has the central male role. He, as a director, incorporates some interesting camera shots, including a long shot of Ally walking down an alley, rehearsing a song for a performance. Also, the numerous concert scenes are very well done. Impressive since this is Cooper’s directorial debut.

An enormous win for the film is the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga which is evident in the very first moments the two appear on screen together. In fact, their chemistry is purely electric- almost magical as they rapidly bond and connect. Their connection is not only physical, but over their love of music and the artistry associated with creating good music. This bond is slowly tested as Ally’s career takes off and her manager steers her in a more pop oriented direction, which infuriates Jackson. Even through turmoil, the chemistry between the two actors is palpable in every scene.

My two favorite scenes include the scene in which Jackson and Ally first meet in the drag bar. The lovely French tune (Edit Piaf’s “La Vie en rose”) that she performs is cultural and rife with talent. As Jackson gazes at her from the bar there is amazement and pride in his gleaming eyes. He is immediately smitten with her talent and poise and this scene sets the tone for the film. The second comes at the film’s conclusion, as Ally belts out the heartfelt “I’ll Never Love Again”. Performing to a subdued audience, the song is performed as a close-up of Ally to tremendous visual effect.

The musical numbers are heartfelt and emotional without being sappy. From treasures such as “Shallow”, and “Maybe It’s Time” to the thunderous “Black Eyes” and pop driven “Why Did You Do That?”, the soundtrack contains something for everyone.

Cooper, already an acting champ, astounds as he is so good, while Lady Gaga, a novice to film acting, looks like a pro. We believe her struggles, doubting her star potential as she is deemed “too ugly” to make it in the music business. Gaga successfully showcases her pain, doubt, and eventual bombast at her sudden success.

Mention must be given to Sam Elliott, the veteran actor who gives a dynamic supporting turn as Bobby Maine, older brother and manager of Jackson. Elliott does not have a showy role or a big emotional scene- he doesn’t need to. In the actor’s quiet way, he infuses the character with pent up anger but with unconditional love and affection for his brother mixed in. Harboring rage and turmoil for each other, the best scene between Elliott and Cooper comes towards the end of the film when Jackson admits his love for Bobby. The emotion is raw on the face of Elliott in this important scene.

A Star Is Born (2018) is a superlative remake and one for the ages. I can easily see this film, already a fan favorite, going down in the record books. With a memorable musical soundtrack, wonderful acting and directing, and characters audiences can relate to, a classic in the making is not too difficult to imagine.

Oliver & Company-1988

Oliver & Company-1988

Director-George Scribner

Voices-Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin

Scott’s Review #818

Reviewed October 8, 2018

Grade: B

Oliver & Company (1988) is a darling animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures, the twenty-seventh Disney feature film to be produced. The film is based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, but Oliver is now a homeless kitten who joins a gang of dogs, and the setting moves from London to the dangerous streets of New York City- present times.

We meet Oliver (Joey Lawrence) as he huddles with other homeless kittens in a cardboard box, chilly from a driving New York rain. As all of the other kittens are snatched up by adoring animal lovers, Oliver is inexplicably left on his own. He eventually meets up with Dodger (Billy Joel), a mongrel with street smarts, and the duo steal hot dogs from an abrasive food vendor. When Dodger swindles Oliver out of his share, the kitten follows the dog to a barge, which turns out to be the hideout of Fagin (Dom DeLuise), a human pickpocket. Fagin houses a gang of assorted dogs as he is bullied by loan shark Sykes.

As Oliver bonds with the miscreants, his life suddenly takes a positive turn when he is rescued from the streets by a kindly, wealthy little girl named Jenny and her bumbling butler, Winston. Jenny’s parents are on holiday in Europe, leaving she and Winston running the house. Along for the ride is Jenny’s sophisticated and spoiled pet poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler), who takes a disliking to Oliver.

By the 1980’s Disney films were hardly the hot commodity they once were, and the small budget is evidence of that. To be fair Oliver & Company is not on par with classic, lovely offerings such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), or Dumbo (1941). In fact, the film has a severe and decidedly “1980’s quality”, mostly due to the upbeat soundtrack, that decades later make the film feel rather dated. Speaking of the soundtrack, the highlight is a treat entitled “Why Should I Worry?”, a tune sung by the ensemble cast and impossible not to hum along to.

The film features an array of famous voices that are perfectly cast. The film makers wisely cast plenty of native New Yorkers, which results in a huge measure of authenticity. Brazen voices like Midler’s, Joel’s, and Cheech Marin’s as feisty chihuahua Tito, give credibility to their characters. The odd romantic pairing of Georgette and Tito, on the surface completely mismatched, gives a good dose of comic relief to the story.

The story written for Oliver & Company is really the best part of the entire production.  Anyone familiar with the famous Dickens novel or Oliver! (1968), the most famous of the film incarnations, knows how the story will end. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the animated film though, a compelling and charming experience. Sykes makes a great villain, drawn with a long face and enormous chin, interesting, but not too scary to frighten young children.

One conspicuous emission is the elimination of the important character of Nancy. As fans know, Nancy played a vital role in the original story. Perplexing is the decision not to include her, but perhaps her ultimate death would have made the story too dark, so this can be overlooked.

Surely not the best in the Disney bunch, Oliver & Company (1988) is nonetheless a decent offering sadly overlooked by fans and critics alike. In fact, the film is nearly forgotten and suffers from a dated quality if not for the widespread knowledge of the classic novel. The film is not one of the storied Disney treasures, nor should it be dismissed altogether. The result is a darling, innocent experience meant for pure enjoyment.

Fahrenheit 11/9-2018

Fahrenheit 11/9-2018

Director-Michael Moore

Starring-Michael Moore

Scott’s Review #817

Reviewed October 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Controversial film-maker Michael Moore, who has been at the helm of other topical and lively works does it again with a politically charged documentary called Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018). Known for other substantial offerings like Roger and Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002), and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), the left-wing activist continues his aggressive and thought-provoking ways with a very good effort.

After the gloomy and divisive 2016 United States Presidential election, it seems inevitable for Moore to create another politically infused documentary. This important point in history is the primary focus of his work. Moore asks and analyzes two very important questions- how did we get here? and how do we get out?  In pure Michael Moore controversy he adds a couple of expletives for good measure.

The documentary itself does in fact begin with the surprising, and (to most), now dire buildup to the 2016 election with clips of Hillary Clinton’s assured victory and election night festivities interspersed with the expected loss of Donald Trump. The Republican party was not crazy about Trump as a candidate and the unexpected victory due to the electoral college rule left the United States shocked, appalled, and in a state of peril.

Moore does not simply create a documentary about the election though. Instead he crosses into territory including the creation of a dictator (Trump) and how this man’s rise to the presidency mirrors Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1930’s Germany. Hitler used a sense of fear and populism among the German people to his advantage and successfully created an “us versus them” mentality. Trump is doing the same with a sour and hateful propaganda.

The documentary feels very personal to Moore, as many of his others do. Fahrenheit 11/9 spends a good deal of time exploring the Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown) poison water situation and the ensuing cover-up by the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder. The largely working-class city (already decimated by numerous GM layoffs) faced a public health emergency due to lead contamination.

So that the subject matter is not completely dour and depressing (though admittedly I was depressed watching most of the documentary, for personal reasons), Moore gleefully adds in some humor. As a camera shot of the director lumbering towards the Snyder headquarters to confront him about the poisoned Flint water and the Governors reported cover-up, a Snyder employee refuses to drink the water Moore insists is directly from Flint and therefore must be safe. Moore later waters the lawn of the Governors home with a giant fire hose when Snyder refuses to be interviewed.

To be fair, as liberal minded as Moore is, he is not afraid to call out members of his own party- the Democrats. He shames President Obama for once appearing in Flint, viewed as a “saving grace” for the city folks, only to pretend to drink a glass of Flint water, while insisting it was safe to drink. Moore surmises that this stunt so turned off the people of Flint that they stayed home on election day, causing Clinton to lose the state of Michigan.

Moore has perhaps never made a more relevant or emotional documentary than he has with Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018). In a tumultuous time in United States history, his documentary is quite opportune to implore people to care what is going on. With the 2018 mid-term elections looming, the country is again in the forefront of a pivotal moment in history. Moore’s timing is flawless.

Faces Places-2017

Faces Places-2017

Director-Agnes Varda, JR

Scott’s Review #816

Reviewed October 3, 2018

Grade: B+

Fans of French culture, landscape, and sophistication will assuredly enjoy Faces Places (2017), a documentary that explores art and creativity.  With both humorous and touching moments, the work explores the friendship between two differing artists of vastly opposite ages. Some scenes of Paris and especially the French countryside make this a personal treat.

The documentary begins by showing its two main characters, thirty-something JR, and eighty-something Agnes Varda, beforehand not knowing one another, missing each other in a coffee shop. Both share their passion for images expressed in different ways- photography and cinema. They each enjoy expressing regular people’s stories by creating lavish portraits and exhibiting them on houses, barns, and the like. Both Varda and JR co-directed this documentary.

When deciding to view Faces Places, I did so with the anticipation that I would be treated to sightseeing type glimpses of both Paris and the surrounding areas- possibly even the south of France or Niece or Burgundy! Paris, however gets short shrift but this can be forgiven as rural France (not known as a tourist hotbed) is featured mostly. We experience many local French people living ordinary lives, but bringing something treasured to the film.

As Agnes and JR cavort around the rural roads in his pickup truck they stop in small towns where they have heard of an interesting story. In one town a farmer works alone and supports his village- a superhero of sorts, while in another town an old woman who has lived in the same house for decades is honored by Varga and JR as they brandish her portrait on the exterior of her house. The woman is tearful and emotionally touched.

The dynamic between Agnes and JR is the high point of the documentary. With more than one generation between them they begin as acquaintances, but their bond flourishes and grows as the documentary moves along. Think-the relationship between Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort featured in the 1971 masterpiece Harold and Maude, save for the romantic element. In a touching moment, JR introduces Agnes to his quite elderly grandmother and the two women hit it off tremendously.

Varda is particularly interesting to me for her contribution to 1950’s French New Wave cinema. Her usage of location sequences and non-professional actors were unconventional at the time and highly influential. In a tender scene Varda attempts to visit friend Jean-Luc Godard, but he refuses to see her, evidently now living as a recluse.

Faces Places (2017) is a rich and soulful experience, one with enough imagination and creativity to inspire its viewers. Perhaps not offering  as much of the vast French landscape as I had anticipated, instead the documentary offers a lesson in the importance of life. With a startlingly connected duo, contributing a whimsical approach to their passion, the result is an inspirational journey that everyone can enjoy.

The Insult-2017

The Insult-2017

Director-Ziad Doueiri

Starring-Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha

Scott’s Review #815

Reviewed October 1, 2018

Grade: B

A Lebanese film nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy award, The Insult (2017) offers its audience what I would categorize as a message film.  A battle of cultures and religions lead to chaos and controversy culminating with an embattled court case as we get to know supporting characters as well. While the film is above average it is also too glossy and at times plays out more like a television series- with dramatic effects and plot developments for miles. Still, the film is a worthy watch.

In a small Lebanese village, main character Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) lives with his pregnant wife Shirine. Working as an automobile mechanic, Tony is a proud member of the Christian community, attending rallies and events. His village employs Palestinian refugees to perform maintenance repairs, which irritates Tony. When a verbal altercation with middle-aged refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) occurs over a broken gutter, a failed apology results in physical violence as the situation rapidly escalates.

The courtroom drama, while compelling, seems a very familiar story. Other recent foreign language films such as A Separation (2011), and Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (2014) use similar plot devices of family conflict that wind up in the courtroom. Those films are better written and feel more authentic and raw than The Insult does. All throughout the film I kept telling myself I was not watching a middle-eastern version of Law & Order, but that is what it felt like.

Personally, I felt little sympathy for Tony and I was not completely sure if we were supposed to feel anything for him. With his brooding nature, and populist attitude he is written as downright unlikable at first. I assume the intent was to soften the character over the length of the film when he briefly comes to Yasser’s aid and helps start the man’s car. However, Tony soon reverts to his original stubborn nature.

Yasser is a much more likable fellow, albeit with a temper. Hurling curse words at Tony is the reason the tension between the two men begins in the first place and attempted apologies only lead to miscommunications between everyone. But Yasser gets my vote for the most compassionate character. In the supporting roles, an interesting (though perhaps not completely necessary) side story exists as the embattled lawyers are revealed to be father and daughter.

The major problem with The Insult is that the entire story seems plot-driven and each step created to come up with a way to build or add tension. For example, a speeding motorcycle angrily side-swipes Tony and his wife.  The partners are then in peril because their daughter is born premature due to the stress. Situations and tensions could have easily been wrapped up or smoothed over under different circumstances, therefore the tone of the films feels less than authentic and manipulative despite some good drama.

Still, what the writing team does is introduce the audience to the turbulent world of Middle Eastern politics in a way that undoubtedly results in thought-provoking views and exposures to opposing ideas. The film also provides a distinct hopeful slant at the conclusion so as not to send a dour message. The direction is that people can come together as one peaceful group, but that it will not be easy.

The Insult (2017) is not a bad watch and, in fact, compels the viewer to witness an interesting story of differing cultures and warring religious beliefs churning two men inside out when faced with conflict. The film also does a fine job of emitting a peaceful message of coming together as human beings.

An overall rating of “B” is a nice score but given the dozens of potential Best Foreign Language finalists, I am not sure the film quite “cuts the mustard” for me- surely there were superior entries. But then this Oscar category’s nominating process has always been a mystery.