The Great Lie-1941

The Great Lie-1941

Director-Edmund Goulding

Starring-Bette Davis, Mary Astor

Scott’s Review #891

Reviewed April 28, 2019

Grade: B+

Clearly breezing into her heyday of films at this point, Hollywood starlet Bette Davis had become an expert at portraying tarts and bitches in most of her films. Desiring to turn left of center and play a more sympathetic character the actress jumped at the chance to play an ingenue. The Great Lie (1941) is the perfect showcase for her talents in a gripping, dramatic film that is pure predictable soap-opera, but lovely escapism done well.

Maggie Patterson (Davis) is a demure and sensitive southern socialite vying for the affections of former beau, aviator Peter Van Allen (George Brent). Peter has impulsively married sophisticated concert pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) and both are startled to learn their marriage is invalid. Confused, Peter decides to marry Maggie and is quickly sent off to Brazil on business when his airplane crashes into the jungle leaving him presumed dead.

When Sandra realizes she is pregnant, Maggie proposes she be allowed to raise the child as her own in exchange for taking care of Sandra financially. The two women go to Arizona to await the birth, and Sandra delivers a boy who is named after his father. The women face a quandary when Peter shows up alive and well and Sandra bitterly announces to Maggie that she intends to ride off into the sunset with both Peter and her son. The women scratch and claw at each other, metaphorically speaking, for the remainder of the picture.

The story line, despite being perfectly melodramatic and stellar for an afternoon daytime drama, is rather engaging throughout, never suffering from too much contrivance. The reason for this is that both Maggie and Sandra have appeal and both women are likable- or at least the film does its best not to make one woman the clear villain. Sandra, dripping with gorgeous fashion and a sturdy poise is confident, pairing well with Maggie’s southern charm and sensibilities- to say nothing of her wealth. Peter would do well with either woman and I found my allegiances shifting throughout the film.

Nearly upstaging Davis is Mary Astor giving a terrific performance as Sandra. Combined, the women are the reason for The Great Lie’s grit and gusto. They play the hell out of their roles and according to legend, both hated the script and vowed together to turn the project into gold. They nearly succeed as the best sequence is when the women travel to deserted Arizona to spend the remainder of Sandra’s pregnancy. Cooped up together, how delicious to see Davis’s Maggie play caretaker to a whiny and spoiled Sandra- typically Davis would play the Sandra character, so the scenes are a treat to watch.

Suspension of disbelief must be achieved as the major plot point of the film is jarring in incomprehension. Maggie offers to provide Sandra with a large sum of money to ensure her security. I did not buy this point as Sandra appears to be well-off, touring the world with incredible success and living a lavish lifestyle including a staff of servants and gorgeous apartment in New York City. The character hardly appears to need a handout despite the incorporated dialogue of Sandra’s success predicted to wane as she ages.

Another oddity is the location of Maggie’s estate. Set in Maryland, hardly a southern mecca, the location has all the trimmings of the deep south, perhaps Mississippi. With an all-black staff, magnolia trees, and southern style cuisine, the Maryland backdrop is quite perplexing and a misfire. More relevant would have been if the location were Mississippi, Louisiana, or Alabama. Finally, remiss would it be not to mention appearances by Hattie McDaniel and brother Sam as Violet and Jefferson, employed by Maggie, always a treat.

With high drama and terrific acting The Great Lie (1941) offers tremendous chemistry between the female leads resulting in a deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Astor. The dialogue may be silly and superfluous with plot gimmicks and obvious set ups, but the film does work. Viewers can let loose and enjoy a sudsy drama with enjoyable trimmings.

LBJ-2017

LBJ-2017

Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Scott’s Review #890

Reviewed April 27, 2019

Grade: B-

LBJ (2017) provides small glimpses of historical interest with a biography about a United States President perhaps underrepresented in cinema history as compared to other presidents but the production never catches fire and falls flat with an overproduced film lacking bombast. The film can easily be viewed once, never to be thought of again, nor providing need for analysis or discussion. Director Rob Reiner creates a glossy, mainstream Hollywood production with questionable casting choices and a muddled feel.

To its credit the film gets off to a good start introducing the fateful day of November 22, 1963 into the story. As then Vice President Johnson (LBJ), played by Woody Harrelson and wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) deplane and embark on a motorcade procession through downtown Dallas, Texas, dire events will follow. As the violent assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) soon arrives the film portrays the initial foreshadowing well then backtracks to 1960 when the Democratic nominee was up for grabs with both JFK and Johnson in contention.

The film traverses back and forth from pre to post JFK assassination as LBJ took over the presidency amid the controversial Civil Rights Bill and a still shocked United States public. A character study develops as the gruff and grizzled man takes center stage to lead the country into the future. The attempt is to show LBJ, the man, at his best and worst personally and professionally facing pressure from his cabinet. Reiner portrays LBJ as complex, brooding, and vulgar, but also as a person whose heart is ultimately in the right place. A man we love to hate? Or hate to love?

From a historical drama perspective, and a genre that has many in the cinematic chambers, the film fails. A powerful political drama is supposed to be compelling but LBJ just feels dull, run-of-the-mill, and extremely forgettable. Some examples of exceptional political film projects are Lincoln (2012), JFK (1991), and Vice (2018). Each has flare, flavor, and a twist or otherwise unusual story construction that LBJ glaringly lacks. Simply put, the experience feels plain and unimpressive.

Having regrettably not seen the HBO film version entitled All the Way starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ, I cannot compare the two other than from word of mouth that Cranston gives the superior portrayal. Based on trailers I would agree with the overall assessment. Harrelson’s version of LBJ is adequate if not sensational. His mannerisms of the President may be effective, but he does not resemble the man too well. With a waxy, heavily made up face, Harrelson the actor is unrecognizable and feels staged rather than authentic.

Jennifer Jason Leigh suffers the same fate as Harrelson in the important role of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. The actress is successful at emulating the appropriate characteristics specifically facially but also appears too made up- like a wax figure in a museum sprung to life. As Harrelson and Jason Leigh daftly teeter from scene to scene the result is marginally comical but LBJ the film not a comedy nor a satire, played instead for the heavy drama.

LBJ (2017) is of mild interest but limited as a successful film adaptation of an important figure in United States history. Glimpses of political education for those not alive to experience the tumultuous 1960’s are good but much more was expected from this film than was provided. Better studies exist and hopefully will be created in the future than what adds up too little more than a snore-fest.

Dumbo-2019

Dumbo-2019

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green

Scott’s Review #889

Reviewed April 24, 2019

Grade: C+

Dumbo (2019), the live action remake of the charming and emotionally charged animated original from 1941 contains some positives but ultimately underwhelms coming up with less than a stacked deck. The problematic and gnawing element that persisted throughout the Disney film was too much of a cute or child leaning quality for my taste. Assuredly though for an afternoon at the theater with young children under the age of twelve the film is a recommended fun activity and utterly appropriate.

My expectation, knowing that Tim Burton was at the director’s helm, was for a darker, perhaps murkier interpretation given some in his catalog of films. After all, Beetlejuice (1988) and Dark Shadows (2012) though flawed contain some wicked charm and naughty humor but Dumbo is considerably soft as the director chooses a safe, more accessible path. To be fair, creating magic from nearly eighty years ago is a tough task for anyone to achieve.

World War I veteran and amputee, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to rejoin the financially problematic traveling circus owned by Max  Medici (Danny DeVito). A widower, reunited with his two children Holt is assigned to oversee the pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo as she gives birth to an unusual looking elephant with giant ears who comes to be known as Dumbo. The children discover that Dumbo can fly when aided by a feather as the evil V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) attempts to profit from Dumbo’s talents at any costs as he adds to his fabulous creation, Dreamland.

The art direction and the look of the film are where Burton succeeds. With dark looking creations and windy, spider-like sets, especially in Dreamland, the film has the directors signature stamp.  The costumes and styles are to be complimented given the year was 1919 and the wardrobe and hairstyles are in match with the times. The circus stars and characters from the fat lady to the exotic jugglers are well-cast adding good texture and multi-cultural flavor to the production.

The standout musical number is the poignant and sentimental “Baby Mine” wisely featured twice during the film. Since the song is so lovely this proves a bold move and my favorite part of an otherwise mediocre experience. Sharon Rooney sings the version featured during a touching and painful scene between separated elephants Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo, and the rock band Arcade Fire performs a different rendition over the end-credits. Anyone needing a good cry would be advised to check out the emotionally charged song.

While the acting among Farrell, DeVito, and Eva Green as Colette, the French trapeze artist who falls for the sexy Holt, all play their roles admirably, two performances left me with critical fire. Keaton, typically a standout performer goes full-throttle with an over-the-top and one-note performance as the villainous Vandevere. Cartoon-like with herky-jerky head snaps and tic-like movements, the actor appears silly and ineffectual at creating any sort of robust character. Young actress, Nico Parker as Milly, Holt’s daughter, gives a dreadfully wooden performance in what could have been the film’s most likable character.

Besides one or two tender scenes the film largely goes for a cutesy vibe, not feeling fresh nor especially genuine. A Disney production, the film feels quite mainstream, lacking edginess, like the producers had dollar signs and major success on their minds over artistic merit or staying true to the original. Other than a quick shot of the number “41” on the front of a train, a clear tribute to the animated original’s year of release, the remake strays very far from the first Dumbo with a few new characters and sadly no gossipy female elephants anywhere in site.

A disappointing offering, the live-action Dumbo (2019), the year’s first in a series of five expected Disney releases (Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Lady and the Tramp being the others) lacks much more than a couple of sweet scenes, an adorable elephant, and admirable sets, feeling utterly ordinary in flavor. This is a misfire compared to the legendary, teary 1941 version of Dumbo.

Colette-2018

Colette-2018

Director-Wash Westmoreland

Starring-Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #888

Reviewed April 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Colette (2018) is a French period piece and biography based on the life and times of novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The film is directed by Wash Westmoreland who also directed Still Alice (2014), so the man is successful at creating a film from a strong female point of view. With a prominent and cultured French style and sophistication the film pairs well with and ultimately belongs to star Keira Knightley. The glaring British accents rather than French and the formulaic approach bring the experience down a notch from grandeur in a film likely to be forgotten.

Knightley plays the title character whose upbringing in a rural area of France is pleasant but hardly sophisticated and utterly country. When Colette meets a handsome literary genius named Willy (Dominic West), successful but employing ghostwriters to fill his creative void, the pair marry and combine forces to create popular novels based on Colette’s naughty schoolgirl experiences. The duo embarks on frequent dalliances with feminine and masculine women (Colette is bisexual) and face the trials and tribulations of seesawing finances and competitiveness until their ultimate divorce. Along the way Willy and Colette enjoy the excesses of late nineteenth century Paris.

Besides a few quick exterior shots of the Seine River and fabulous Parisian landmarks such as Notre Dame, the filming likely did not take place in France at all though you’d never know it. Both cozy and flamboyant scenes of Parisian eateries and lavish nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge and one rich socialite’s love nest are featured giving the film an authentic French flair. The costumes are decadent, and stage shows with Colette and her partner crackle with daring artistic merit.

Knightley, a household name but still teetering on the brink of one definitive great role comes close with her portrayal of Colette. Westmoreland is wise to climax the film with photos and summary of the real-life writer and her husband. If only the film exceeded marginally good reviews and achieved great reviews, then perhaps the actress may have secured an Oscar nomination but alas the proverbial boat was missed. Nonetheless, Knightley plays the role with delicious and naughty delight sinking her teeth into a character who wants to live and have fun.

Despite the rich French flavor Colette is plagued by a jarring fault as the actors all possess English accents rather than French. All in favor of occasional suspensions of disbelief to elicit the desired effect or manipulation, assumptions are that Westmoreland decided since most of the actors are British to let the detail slide in favor of comfort in tongues. Perhaps this misfire is why the sets and locations are overcompensated and decorated in such lovely French style.

The story is formulaic and silly if truth be told while Knightley and West share grand chemistry. As Willy and Colette paint the town they also have repeated misunderstandings or outbursts of rage and jealousy (mostly on her part) before deciding to accept and enjoy each other as they are. Unfortunate is how through the affairs and celebratory nights Colette accepts her role as ghostwriter to his name recognition only to divorce and never see Willy again based on his sale of the treasured Claudine series. Hopeful was I for a happily ever after result.

A crisp and polished offering of the life and times of a complex and peculiar French figure Colette (2018) has its share of ups and downs. Unknown how true to real life the story is, the acting compels and accomplishes a high point while the cultured flavor is zestful and spicy. The film may not be well remembered but is ultimately a success for a few above par qualities that supersede the negatives.

Guys and Dolls-1955

Guys and Dolls-1955

Director-John Mankiewicz

Starring-Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra

Scott’s Review #887

Reviewed April 19, 2019

Grade: B+

The interesting pairing of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in the playful musical Guys and Dolls (1955) provides enough bombast and playboy inclinations to make the musical lively and entertaining. Though not one of my all-time favorites in the genre the film keeps up the pace with a nice flow and hearty musical numbers that successfully transfer the Broadway show to the big screen with an endearing production.

Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) is a full-fledged gambler, living and breathing the sport although commonly taken to task for his deeds. As the police clamp down on the shenanigans around town he is desperate to obtain a deposit for use of a secret venue allowing gambling. Spotting acquaintance and fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Brando) the duo embark on a ridiculous and hilarious bet involving Sky’s invitation to dinner in Havana, Cuba with Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) a devout religious figure and non-gambler. Predictably, events spiral out of control with romance, misunderstandings, and charming musical numbers.

The setup is plot driven but forgivable given the fun involved. We are certain that Masterson will fall head-over-heels for missionary and seemingly unobtainable Sarah. Will he get the girl? Will she be able to forgive him when she realizes the scheme that Masterson and Nathan have hatched at her expense? Of course, the fun is in the revelations as the film goes along. Naturally Nathan has his own set of antics; he must marry his years-long intended Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) because of losing a different bet.

The premise, the plot and the conclusion all feel rather frivolous and a bit chauvinistic in the modern world as many 1950’s productions do. The film is a clear case of naughty guy meets good girl, guy pursues girl, guy gets the girl, guy and girl ride off into the sunset, so the overall production is not cutting edge nor particularly progressive but that is okay because of the fun and good chemistry among the characters. Brando and Sinatra possess as much chemistry together as Brando and Simmons do.

The conclusion of the film is satisfying and wrapped neatly like a tidy Christmas bow. To no one’s surprise both couples tie the knot in beautiful style as all the misfires and misunderstandings end with a double wedding in the middle of Times Square, with Sky marrying Sarah, and Nathan marrying Adelaide. A perfect climax and a way to show the bright and bustling New York City amid a romantic backdrop can forgive any other weaknesses the film may contain.

What makes the film rise above standard fare or mediocrity as an overall piece are the wonderfully adorable tunes and Sinatra and Brando as a duo. The actor turned singer Brando and the singer turned actor Sinatra crackle with harmony as they play off each other in style. The clap-along “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” never fails to get any audience on its feet and the clever “Luck Be a Lady”, a classic Sinatra standard, still resonates today.

The art direction, cinematography, costumes, and music all wrap the film together nicely allowing the film a tight and well-muscled extravagant feel with a maturity and richness perfect for the decade the film was released in. Guys and Dolls sits beside a plethora of other musicals with a style all its own. A handful of Oscar nominations followed though none for the top honors of Picture of any acting nominations.

The 1960’s brought a decidedly darker texture to cinema which left many 1950’s film’s feeling dated or superfluous compared to more important story directions. While this is the case with Guys and Dolls (1955) there also exists an innocence in watching the pure and charming character relationships and the resulting fun and frolicking. A lively musical score, the bright lights of New York City and the unusual locale of Cuba makes the film lovely entertainment.

Once Upon a Time in the West-1968

Once Upon a Time in the West-1968

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #886

Reviewed April 17, 2019

Grade: A

At one time dismissed as either frivolous or cartoon-like, the derogatory genre classification “spaghetti western” originally played for goofs or contained a comical slant associated with bad lip syncing. Many of these films have aged tremendously well though and now have come to be appreciated more and ensconced in cinematic study.  Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is a lesson in camp art that marinates like a fine steak drizzling with texture and good atmosphere across a sprawling two hour and forty-six-minute landscape.

In a great sequence, the film begins with a mysterious harmonica-playing gunman (Charles Bronson), dubbed “Harmonica” for reasons eventually revealed shooting three men sent to kill him. Meanwhile, to get his hands-on prized railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) hires killers, led by blue-eyed baddie Frank (Henry Fonda), who murder property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. Immediately, the film exudes intensity with a severe revenge theme.

The story develops further with romance mixed in western style as McBain’s newly arrived bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), inherits the land instead. Jill is a former prostitute who catches the eye of most of the men she encounters. Both outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank’s plans to seize her land. With standard western flare they are both attracted to Jill and yearn for her affections while also feeling protective over her.

Not professing to be enamored with the western genre- the stereotypical Cowboys and Indians and token damsel in distress have their limitations- Once Upon a Time in the West is a feast for the eyes and the ears with cinematography on par with Lawrence of Arabia (1963) and a killer musical score.  While the story may have a traditional backbone, the nuances are astounding. The sweeping mountains of the western United States feature heavily, and the tension infused music sets up every thrilling scene with gusto and foreboding tendencies.

Hot on the heels of another similarly themed masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) Leone delivers the goods at every turn most notably setting up each scene with sizzling elements that emit a clear sense of danger. The audience knows trouble is about to transpire but not exactly when the shit will hit the fan. The family death scene is paced astoundingly well as the family merrily goes about preparing a delicious summer meal unaware that destruction is around the corner.

Sure, the cast is a mix of American and Italian actors with varying degrees of accents not exactly mirroring the Wild West. Yes, Jill wears heavy mascara and a hairstyle straight out of the 1960’s and one character has brightly dyed red hair, but these intricacies give the film character rather than turn the production into a disheveled mess.

Forever known for heroic or every man roles Fonda plays against type instead cast as the central and sadistic villain, and the result is superlative. Leone’s ability to cast a legendary star in a production with little expectations is quite a feat and Fonda seems to revel in the role playing him dangerous and straight. With his piercing blue eyes and a gaze sure to make children run away in terror his brutal villainy is only wholly realized at the film’s conclusion.

Dozens of iconic comparisons to modern directing genius Quentin Tarantino’s style can be drawn upon. The director undoubtedly watched and studied this film repeatedly as numerous qualities mirror his own films. Viewers will delight at drawing these comparisons including a harmonica reference, the revenge story, and the climactic reveal at the end of the film via flashback pulling all the pieces together.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is a quality film that has finally gotten its due. Tremendous and compelling story-telling are combined with flavorful qualities and a dusty atmosphere. The film is the sum of all its parts and while at first underappreciated has finally risen to the ranks of high-quality masterpiece. Influencing many great directors like Martin Scorsese and George Lucas and Tarantino is quite a testament to its staying power.

Rebel Without a Cause-1955

Rebel Without a Cause-1955

Director-Nicholas Ray

Starring-James Dean, Natalie Wood

Scott’s Review #885

Reviewed April 14, 2019

Grade: A

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is usually most associated with being the best remembered film of star James Dean’s short-lived career. East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956) are his other notable films in a much too brief time-period. With Rebel Without a Cause Dean and underappreciated director Nicholas Ray crafted a story about teenage angst and rebellion that has brilliant authenticity and was the first of its kind influencing countless other films.

In Los Angeles, three teenagers meet and commiserate at the juvenile section of the police station, revealing their respective crimes. Jim Stark (Dean) has been brought in for drunkenness and meets John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo), who was brought in for killing a litter of puppies, and Judy (Natalie Wood), who was brought in for curfew violation. All three of them suffer from problems at home and confide in one another with their deepest revelations becoming connected and bonded for life.

To complicate matters Jim is a new student and must endure challenges associated with this in addition to his troubled home life. His main rival is Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) who challenges Jim to a knife fight and finally a deadly game of “Chickie Run”. This leads to Buzz’s death which infuriates his gang who mistakenly assume that Jim ratted them to the cops. This puts a target on Jim’s back as he slowly falls in love with Judy and develops a deep friendship with Sal who idolizes him.

One key to the success of Rebel Without a Cause is in the casting. Dean, rebellious in real life as well as in roles he portrayed chews up each scene he appears in. The famous scene in which Jim quarrels with his father (Jim Backus) results in a bombastic emotional unraveling and an exclamation of “You’re tearing me apart!” as his blind-sided parents bicker with one another over how best to handle the situation.  Dean is a pivotal reason for the film’s success and landmark status.

Wood infuses her character of Judy with poignancy and a calm demeanor. Judy is basically a good kid but behaves wildly out of frustration over her inability to communicate with her deliberately distant father (William Hopper). Finally, Plato (Mineo), who is so sensitive that he threatens to break apart at the seams, has taken to killing puppies as a desperate cry for attention from his wealthy, always absent parents. Wood and Mineo support the film in brilliant form.

Jim and Judy are quite likable as a pair from opposite sides of the tracks, another influential aspect to the film that became commonplace in oodles of entertainment genres over the years. Good girl meets bad boy is quite dangerous but also quite tender and filled with story possibilities. It is implied that Plato is in love with Jim but in 1955 films were extremely careful about pushing the envelope much further than an implication when it came to homosexuality. Rumors ran rampant that Dean and director Ray had a torrid love affair off-screen.

Another positive is the entire film is told within a twenty-four-hour period which provides excellent pacing and an action-packed emotional punch. The best scenes take place at night especially the deadly car race and the fantastic conclusion at the old deserted mansion the trio of friends claim as their sanctuary. The tragic final ending is sure to result in the shedding of a tear or two by anyone who watches and is entranced by the powerful finality of the event.

Watching the film in present day one must appreciate the enormous influence that Rebel Without a Cause achieved. Some classics that succeeded Rebel and stand out on their own include American Graffiti (1973) The Breakfast Club (1985) and even West Side Story (1961) which also starred Natalie Wood. Each is riddled with teenage angst, hormones, and elevating emotions and all contain a seriousness and a depth all their own.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is a film that should be viewed and viewed again for more than the obvious and impressive story it tells. The film is directed well, spoke to a generation of ornery and angry teenagers, giving them a much-needed voice, and is fraught with emotion and balance for current and future generations of teenagers to learn from.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

Director-Robin Campillo

Starring-Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois

Scott’s Review #884

Reviewed April 11, 2019

Grade: A-

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017) is a film that is both exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch. Churning out emotional reactions such as empathy and empowerment the film channels a potential life-saving cause. Of French language and shot documentary style the film is not an easy watch as the viewer is transplanted back to the early 1990’s when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the world in general and the gay community specifically. A mixture of a community- oriented movement amidst a love story makes this project worthwhile viewing.

The immediate focal point of the story is an impassioned and aggressive Paris based chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a unified gay and lesbian organization intent on speeding up the French government’s response to the unwieldy AIDS epidemic. The group resorts to extreme public protests consisting of fake blood throwing and invading prominent pharmaceutical company meetings. Their intent is to get them to release trial results immediately instead of waiting until the next year. The various debates and infighting among the chapter are heavily featured.

As the film progresses BPM (Beats Per Minute) slowly shifts its focus from the protests to the personal lives of the ACT UP members as a romance brews between nineteen-year-old HIV positive Sean (Perez Biscayart), who already exhibits visible infections from the disease, and HIV negative Nathan (Valois), a newcomer to the group. The pair quickly become inseparable as Sean’s body becomes ravaged by the disease resulting in a poignant and dire conclusion sure to elicit tears.

Director, Campillo and co-screenwriter Philippe Mangeot drew on their personal experiences with ACT UP in developing the story enriching the authenticity of the experience. Despite being shot in present day the film feels genuine with a 1990’s feel and flavor. The gray Parisian locales though gorgeous and picturesque also portray a sadness and bleakness. As Sean gazes outside we sense his fear and anguish. Through this character Campillo and Mangeot provide personal stories representing the plight of many during that time.

A particularly racy scene erupts approximately halfway through the film as Sean and Nathan’s love story takes center stage. Foreign language films are not known for shying away from nudity or sexuality the way many American films do. As the impassioned pair make love for the first time, little is left to the imagination. Despite the gratuitous nudity and the overt sexual tones, the duo’s relationship is not solely physical, and the audience will undoubtedly come to care for both men the way that I did.

The two-fold story is a wise choice and the overall message that BPM (Beats Per Minute) presents is both inspiring and a good telling of the LGBT community’s struggles at notice and inclusion during the 1980’s and 1990’s. This point is both a positive and a negative as the story beckons back to a day in the community’s history dripping with pain and loneliness and this comes across on film. The film is hardly a happy experience and quite rather the downer.

The main drawback to the film is its length. At nearly two and a half hours the story and principle points begin to become redundant which causes the overall message to lose a bit of thunder. The constant bickering and debate among the ACT UP group becomes tedious to watch as fight and clash after fight and clash resurface repeatedly.

Though painful to experience and not very uplifting, BPM (Beats Per Minute) is an important film to view given how far the treatments of HIV have progressed over several decades. Not taking things for granted, a trip down memory lane for those alive during the epidemic is recommended. For those fortunate enough to have missed the 1980’s and the 1990’s the film is a necessary reminder of how life once was for the unfortunate victim of a devastating epidemic.

The Old Maid-1939

The Old Maid-1939

Director-Edmund Goulding

Starring-Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins

Scott’s Review #883

Reviewed April 3, 2019

Grade: B-

Not one to dare criticize the legendary Bette Davis (would there be much to criticize anyway?), her starring turn in The Old Maid (1939) is not one of her best remembered films through no fault of her own. With compelling characters and a nice flow to a short one hour and thirty-five-minute experience, the films suffers from too much melodrama and soap-opera style overacting to warrant a sturdy recommendation. The overwrought drama may have been interesting at the time of release but now feels dated and dusty.

Davis portrays Charlotte, a modestly attractive young woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War era. When her cousin Delia (Miriam Hopkins) discards her beau Clem Spender (George Brent) in favor of marrying another well-to-do man, Charlotte and Clem begin an affair that results in the birth of baby Tina. When Clem is killed in battle Charlotte opens a home for orphans as a way of hiding Tina’s illegitimacy. As the years go by Delia’s scheming results in Tina not knowing her real mother and Charlotte suffering away as an old maid yearning to confess the truth the Tina before the young woman marries.

The highlight of the film naturally is Ms. Davis as she makes her character’s plight emotional and sympathetic. Especially for 1939 the character is written as a strong and intelligent female with a will all her own. Davis portrays all qualities with passion and gusto only adding to the perplexing wishy-washy indecisiveness of the character. Why does Charlotte go year after year living under the same roof with her daughter but under the constant guise of only being her aunt and allowing Delia the title of mother?

The reasoning of Charlotte is supposed to be to ensure Tina is given a proper upper-middle class, respectable upbringing all the while being a part of her life. The film does wonders to portray the roles of aunt and mother as opposites. As a teenager Tina lavishes Delia with praise while considering Charlotte as matronly and dull as dishwater due to her overbearing and militant respect for rigidity. Regardless, many facets of the story seem like plot setups to create drama and story points leading to vendettas and reoccurring conflict between Delia and Charlotte.

The fact that Charlotte is so strong and stoic on the surface is also a detraction as the audience is left frustrated over and over at the cousin’s decision not to tell the truth to Tina until the final scene when she is marrying a rich boy and even then, the scene is a disappointment. The decision for Delia to adopt Tina at the age of twenty to finally allow her respectability and her fiancee’s parents approval is weak and story dictated. The film makers attempts are to never allow Charlotte any happiness or satisfaction which is depressing to witness especially given Davis’s brash personality.

Regardless of the story issues, The Old Maid has some positives including a well-dressed set and gorgeous costumes as wedding after wedding occur over the film’s twenty-year period. The aging of the character’s is also successfully done specifically with Davis as she goes from impressionable youngster to graying and haggard over the years with good lighting and camera angles.

The Old Maid (1939) is a film of moderate interest as it includes some well-developed characters and a subject matter that might have been daring for the time. The film, decades later, has a conventional slant and too many story plot setups better served for daytime television. The overall result is too soapy style for much enjoyment but is saved by the graceful and powerful acting of Bette Davis, easily the best thing about the film.

Us-2019

Us-2019

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring-Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke

Scott’s Review #882

Reviewed April 1, 2019

Grade: A

Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed and shockingly Oscar-nominated horror film Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele does it again with an even more thought-provoking creation. Us (2019) combines classic horror elements with macabre and insightful qualities, crafting an ambitious project that can be dissected and discussed at length following the climactic and psychologically perplexing ending. One thing is for sure; Peele has earned his spot among the most influential and elite directors circling Hollywood.

The film begins in 1986 as an event entitled Hands Across America- a publicity campaign encouraging people to holds hands to create a human chain to fight hunger and poverty- gripped the United States. Nine-year-old Adelaide Thomas goes on vacation to Santa Cruz, California with her parents only to wander off into a deserted house of mirrors. When she meets her doppelganger, she is terrified beyond comprehension and requires therapy to resume a normal life.

Events return to present day as Adelaide (now played by Lupita Nyong’o) is married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) with two young children, Zora and Jason. Coaxed into a weekend getaway to none other than Santa Cruz to visit their wealthy friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), Adelaide is apprehensive about the trip with a dreading sensation that her doppelganger is returning to get her. When a strange family dressed in red jumpsuits appear on the Wilson’s driveway the plot transforms into a bizarre direction especially since the family look exactly like the Wilson’s.

Us is extremely layered and reminiscent of the expression “peeling back the onion” in analysis and discussion possibilities. For starters, a character thought to be one person is really another causing the audience to spin into confusion and not know who they were rooting for or not rooting for all along. The astounding questions are endless and in Peele’s brilliant fashion can be asked at different times during the film. Why do the doppelgangers exist? What do they want? What does Hands Across America have to do with anything? What do the rabbits symbolize?

One gruesome scene and a favorite is the barbaric scene when the Tyler’s are suddenly attacked by their doppelgangers- home invasion style. Reminiscent of the infamous Charles Manson murders, the family is slain quickly and mercilessly as the audience is left agape at the brutal slaughter. So much happens in this scene, first and foremost is the realization that there are more doppelgangers than we originally thought. To lighten the mood a bit, Peele adds morbid comic relief as the family’s voice-controlled Siri system misunderstands the dying victim’s plea to call for police and mistakenly plays “F#@$ the Police” by N.W.A. instead.

Nyong’o clearly has the most opportunities to showcase her acting ability by tackling two very different types of roles. As Adelaide she is kind, capable, and your typical suburban Mom but as her doppelganger Red she is grizzled and desperate with a dry, throaty voice filled with pain and defeat. At first thought a villain the audience eventually learns her complexities of Red’s story clearer and the Oscar winner delivers both parts with exceptional grace.

The supporting actors fill their characters with gusto with mention going to Duke and Moss. Duke’s character of Gabe contains inept humor coming across as slightly incompetent and the typical goof ball dad type character. Moss takes her one-note character of Kitty, a spoiled, never made it as an actress whiner with a rich husband and infuses naughty passion into her doppelganger. As she playfully applies lipstick while coquettishly watching herself in the mirror she soon gives the term “plastic surgery” a new definition as she curiously carves her own face.

Peele delivers a treasure with Us (2019) and I salivate at the thought of the film being only the novice director’s second attempt. Not suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump, he is becoming a modern director whose works are more like events than simply released films. Quentin Tarantino is a director who has also achieved this status though the director’s styles are vastly different. I cannot wait to feast on Peele’s next attempt.