May-2003

May-2003

Director-Lucky McKee

Starring-Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris

Scott’s Review #985

Reviewed January 30, 2020

Grade: B+

May (2003) is a macabre and twisted psychological horror film and the directorial film debut from Lucky McKee. Though not a box-office success, the film has become a cult favorite and is a feast for lovers of the depraved and tormented. The wicked fun is to watch the main character, already troubled at the start of the film, dissolve into complete and utter madness. The acting and the mood are exceptionally crafted.

Growing up with a lazy eye leaving her scarred with never-ending insecurity, May Canady (Angela Bettis) is a twenty-eight-year-old woman who has suffered from a troubled childhood. Having always had trouble making friends, she is finally able to befriend a lesbian colleague, Polly (Anna Faris), and a handsome mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto). Before long, she spoils the friendship when her oddities brim to the surface. May descends into utter madness and decides to build a new friend using human body parts. Will bits and pieces of her friends be used in the creation?

Bettis is a goldmine in the central role and provides a healthy dose of sympathy and creepiness. Many film characters have been outright disturbing in cinematic history, but May is wounded and victimized so we, as viewers, want to see her win out for once. All May wants is a friend and, especially with Adam, we root for her to find true love. May is like a combination of Carrie and Frankenstein.

Adam, while handsome, is also weird, and a good mate for May. He introduces her to a bizarre movie in which two characters embark on a romantic picnic and then eat each other. Adam reveals that he created the film for a college project. This impresses May- finally she has a soulmate! She quickly ruins the moment by biting his lip, turning him off and destroying her mounting confidence.

McKee is successful at making the film flow with precision and good pacing. Many rookie directors seem overwhelmed by a major motion picture undertaking, perhaps feeling more comfortable with short films. McKee proves he knows his stuff with an elegant and icy atmosphere that is just perfect for this type of film. May is a quick one hour and thirty-three minutes, which is all that is needed to make its mark.

The final thirty minutes is the best part as the proverbial s@#% hits the fan in a big way. McKee’s choice to use the holiday of Halloween night as the backdrop is both obvious and ingenious. May is not only ignored by Adam, but she learns he has a new girlfriend. To add insult to injury, Polly also finds love with new girlfriend Ambrosia. May feels isolated, finally snapping when she is ignored by her cat. She goes on a rampage and hacks up not only her friends, but her own eye.

May (2003) is a clever and atmospheric horror/thriller film with bursts of creativity and good-flowing storytelling. McKee may not always use originality and borrows heavily from other genre films, but he creates a nice blueprint of what his talents may lead to. The film leaves the viewer unnerved and aghast, but isn’t that the point of a good horror film? May could disappear over time, but provides a worthy dedication to the horror genre.

1900 (Novecento)-1977

1900 (Novecento)-1977

Director-Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring-Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu

Scott’s Review #984

Reviewed January 28, 2020

Grade: A

An epic to rival all epics, 1900 (Novecento) (1977) is a grandiose offering of monumental proportions featuring legendary actors and created by a brilliant director. With a running time of a whopping three-hundred and seventeen minutes in its original version, 1900 is known for being one of the longest commercially released films ever made. The cinematography is breathtaking, and the historical value powerful, as friendship, class distinction, and rivalry are outlined and explored in depth. The key is to let the experience marinate and blossom with a slow and patient build.

Brilliant director Bernardo Bertolucci’s tale follows the lives of two Italian men, a peasant named Olmo (Gerard Depardieu) and landowner Alfredo, (Robert De Niro), both ironically born on January 1, 1900. Inseparable as children, the two become estranged as their differing social status pulls them apart. Their personal conflicts mirror the political events in Italy, as both fascism and socialism gain prominence in the country.

Here is a bit of background on the film. Due to its length, the film was presented in two parts when originally released in many countries, including Italy, East and West Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Colombia, Pakistan and Japan. In other countries, such as the United States, a single edited-down version of the film was released. The latter is not the way to watch this film. I am not a fan of severely edited films, especially in an epic such as 1900, so the full-length version is highly recommended.

The film opens on April 25,1945, the day Italy is liberated from the fascists, and this is key to the political message Bertolucci crafts. As peasants’ revolt against the owner of the land, Alfredo (De Niro), and female laborers wield deadly pitchforks, the resulting ambiance is one of chaos. We know nothing of Alfredo yet but know enough to realize he is rich and perceived a tyrant. The natural reaction is to sympathize with them because they are oppressed.

As the film back tracks to the turn of the century, a more elegant scene emerges with the birth of two infants, Alfredo and Olmo. The sequence is sweet, both babies bright and filled with promise. Sadly, this is not meant to be. A railway track is an important addition to the film and one that culminates in the climactic finale.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the dynamic and development of Alfredo and Olmo as they grow. Alfredo resents his family’s wealth and sides with Olmo, a socialist. Alfredo sees his family as false and Olmo and his family as genuine. This aspect is timeless and can be related to by any viewer with any intelligent sense of the world today. The obvious analogy of the haves and have nots cannot be clearer in this film. Scary, is that some have nots are convinced they will one day become the haves.

The message and feelings that 1900 elicit are emotional and strong. Aren’t all men created equal? On the surface they are, but Alfredo and Olmo are not equal. As the birth scene reveals and as Bertolucci makes clear, they are born with advantages and disadvantages. These characteristics simply are what they are, and as human beings grow and learn social norms the financial differences become stronger and the humanistic connections weaker.

If the social aspects of the film or the brilliant cinematography are not enough to please a viewer, the historical lessons presented are second to none. One can simply revel in the political and historic excitement that existed in Europe throughout the forty-five years in which the film is set. I wish Hollywood made more films like this.

1900 (Novecento) (1977) can be enjoyed as both a grandiose dramatic period piece, revered for its majestic and flourishing design style, or as a thought-provoking message film, about the unresolved social class distinctions that exist in the world. I found the film a treasure that works on all levels and showcases just how good a director Bertolucci is. This film is not his best-known work, but for fans of cinema as an art form this is a must-see.

1408-2007

1408-2007

Director-Mikael Hafstrom

Starring-John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #983

Reviewed January 23, 2020

Grade: C+

A bundle of film adaptations of Stephen King novels has been birthed over the years. 1408 (2007) is one of many and while suspenseful, the project might have been better served as a quick fifty-minute episodic television event rather than a big-screen effort. The content seems displaced and disjointed, stretched too thin. Nonetheless, big stars like John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson provide some stamina to a film that slowly teeters into nonsense and a confusing conclusion.

Based on Stephen King’s 1999 short story of the same name, the film follows Mike Enslin (Cusack), an author who investigates allegedly haunted houses, and rents the titular room 1408 at the Dolphin, a New York City hotel, to see what all the fuss is about. Although skeptical of the paranormal, he is soon unable to leave the room as he experiences bizarre events. The hotel manager, Gerald Owen (Jackson) attempts to convince Mike not to inhabit the notorious room, and intriguing is why?

The film has key success when it focuses on the atmospheric and the tense moments. The lighting and the camera techniques elicit a closed-in and claustrophobic aura because the set is mostly the hotel room. The use of psychological tension works better than a slice-’em, dice-’em approach.

During Mike’s examination of his room, the clock radio suddenly starts playing “We’ve Only Just Begun”, a hit song by The Carpenters. Mike assumes that Olin is pulling a prank to scare him. At 8:07, the song plays again and the clock’s digital display changes to a countdown starting from “60:00.” This is creepy, and the viewer is intrigued by what will happen next.

The window slams down and wounds Mike’s hand. He begins to see ghosts of the room’s past victims, followed by flashbacks of his dead daughter Katie, and his sick father. This catapults Mike into a terror and he attempts to escape the room, fearing for his life. He is unsuccessful in his escape and the room appears to have him prisoner until his wife, Lily (Mary McCormack) comes to the rescue. What does Olin have to do with the events? Is Lily sinister or benevolent?

When Mike is out of the hotel room the film falls apart. Containing too many weird circumstances to make much sense- a surfing event on the beach, a Molotov cocktail, a fire alarm, and a return to the hotel room spin the viewer in too many directions as a hallucinogenic experience is created. Before long the viewer will stop caring. I know I did. On paper these oddities sound intriguing, but they did not translate to screen well.

Hafstrom directs the action adequately and uses actors that viewers are familiar with, adding to the credibility. With lesser talents or unknowns, the film may have felt low budget or independent, and I think the film, while not great, needs these actors to add professionalism. The star is naturally Cusack, who enjoys the most screen time as a man who only believes what his eyes and ears tell him, and not the silliness of spirits and ghosts. The actor possesses an offbeat look which adds to the film.

From a story-line perspective, 1408 (2007) never really catches fire. The film is not pitiful, nor is it a great adaptation of a Stephen King novel. The novel is hardly a household name, which does the film few favors. The result is fair to middling, with a promising first half followed by a dour second. 1408 will certainly be forgotten five years after its release.

Little Women-2019

Little Women-2019

Director-Greta Gerwig

Starring-Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh

Scott’s Review #982

Reviewed January 21, 2020

Grade: A-

Numerous creations of the illustrious 1860’s classic novel by Louisa May Alcott have been forged upon the silver screen, some good and some not as good. The consensus is that Little Women (2019) is one of the better offerings, if not the best. Director, Greta Gerwig crafts a clear feminist, progressive version of the trials and tribulations of the March family, led by spirited spit-fire, Jo (Saoirse Ronan). Gerwig’s telling is fantastic, breathing fresh life into a classic story.

The story fluctuates heavily between 1868 and 1861, during and after the United States Civil War. Liberal, the March’s reside in Massachusetts, led by matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern) mainly living life while their patriarch, Father March (Bob Odenkirk) is off at war. The rest of the household includes sisters Jo, Meg (Emily Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and the youngest daughter, Beth (Eliza Scanlen). The family endures joy, hardship, romance, love, and death as they carry on through the decade.

The focal point is Jo, a determined young lady, who moves to New York City, frequently reflecting on her life through back and forth sequences. She begins, an aspiring writer as she grows up, eventually becoming a success and boldly having her novel published. She resists the tried and true and questions why a woman must rely on a man for success rather than her own efforts and talents. During the story she is pursued by two young men, Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) and Friedrich (Louis Garrel).

Little Women is a fantastic and emotional story and a film that has no need for CGI, car chases, explosions, or any ingredients meant to enliven a film. It does not need them. The excitement is in the plot, as we thirst for more of the ups and downs that the March family faces. With any successful drama, there are nuanced characters, each taking a turn at story. While Jo is the headliner, Amy, Meg, and Beth are much more than opening acts. They each have their own lives, dreams, triumphs, and hardships, and the audience cares about each of them.

To capitalize on this point, the casting is dynamite. In a small, but brilliant role, Meryl Streep gives bombast to her character of Aunt March, the wealthy widow who owns a gorgeous house and vacations in Paris. She is cranky, but wise, only wanting the very best for her nieces, which is, of course, to marry rich! Ronan is well cast and charismatic as Jo, the actress losing her Irish accent for an American one. She uses her acting chops to infuse Jo with determination and just enough empathy to win over audiences.

Gerwig assures that the audience is reminded of the times and what it meant to be female during the 1860’s, with minimal chance at self-achievement, having to rely on a man for nearly everything. She in no way demeans or ridicules the male gender though. In fact, she paints no villains in her film, instead showing men as supportive at times, enamored at other times, but never exerting their power over women.

Little Women receives a small demerit in the pacing department. The film sharply plows back and forth, in too rapid a way, from period to period, at times leaving the viewer unclear as to what section in the film he or she is in. Blessedly, this ceases about midway through, but the technique is jarring and unnecessary. One wonders what the action was intended for and why not a more straightforward approach to the story telling was used.

A key facet of any outstanding film is the emotional reaction and Little Women had this viewer with tears streaming down his face. Sometimes for joy, sometimes for sadness, all in an organic way given oomph by a powerful musical score that resonates but never overwhelms. The film is one in which most of the elements come together in perfect harmony.

The film was served up six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Pugh), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sadly, and in a never-ending slight for female directors, Gerwig was overlooked. Prior to 2019’s Little Women, the novel was adapted six times for film, most successfully in 1933 and 1949. Seventy years later, the most modern version is arguably the best, with a left-leaning stance that is oh so necessary in modern times.

The Lion King-2019

The Lion King-2019

Director-Jon Favreau

Voices-Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #981

Reviewed January 17, 2020

Grade: B

An impossible feat would have been to eclipse the magic of the stage version or the loveliness of the animated version, but The Lion King (2019) offers a different approach well. Arguably, animated in a way and in a way not, this version is heavily CGI (or in this case computer-generated animation-CGA) infused with marvelous visual effects and creativity. Partial to the two-former offering, this telling is lovely and perfect for the entire family. The realism of the animals and scenery is remarkable.

To recap new viewers, the story centers on a den of lions living among the creatures in the “Pride Lands of Africa”. They hunt, prance, love, and guard their territory, mostly from the hungry hyenas, who are kept at bay during peaceful times. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) are fair rulers and anticipate their son, Simba (Donald Glover), taking over the throne one day much to the chagrin of Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar (Chiwetal Ejiofor), who was passed over for the crown.

Envious of Simba, Scar tricks him and his friend Nala (Beyonce) into wandering in the land of the hyenas hoping to cause their deaths. When his plot is foiled by a heroic Mufasa, Scar ups the ante and hatches a scheme to kill his own brother. He not only succeeds, but makes Simba believe he caused his father’s death. Ashamed, the youngster runs away to begin a new life unaware that he will one day return to save the day.

Props must be given to the filmmakers for inclusion and cultural authenticity as many of the characters, especially those front and center, are voiced by African- American talent. This is high achievement since the film is set in Africa and why would the voices be Caucasian? Heavyweights like Jones and Woodard sound polished, especially Jones with his deep and dominant, yet fatherly voice, perfectly cast as the King. Woodard provides a gentle warmth and confident complexity.

The musical numbers are terrific. The film begins with an energetic and tribal rendition of “Circle of Life” where a legion of wild animals dance around together in a warm example of diversity. The song appears later in the film. The powerful and romantic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is performed against a lovely moonlight sky with decadent stars. The new song “Spirit” performed by Beyonce is adequate but does not figure into the story as much as it should, seeming more like an afterthought.

The best parts of The Lion King, however, are the astounding visuals. With contrasting sequences of bright, sprawling African terrain and a magical oasis of colorful flowers and running water, set against the dark and foreboding land of the dangerous hyenas, offers the viewer a multitude of treats to dine on. The orange and red colors during the climactic finale is unrivaled in dazzling bombast of adventure.

As realistic as the elements are in the film, they are also a negative. Watching the animals talk and prowl amid the lush landscape felt wonderful, until realizing that all of it is fake. Real animals were never used, and it is all a virtual reality tool making the effects look real. This aspect slightly saddens me as the genuine quality left me feeling robbed. The possibility of another alternative would have meant a reboot of the animated classic and I am not sure that would have been wise.

Favreau, once an actor and now a director, known for creating films such as Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), certainly knows his way around an adventure film. The story, while containing some menacing moments, also feels a bit safe and lacking a freshness or edginess that the 1994 version possessed. Something seems watered down and the excitement and heart of the original feels missed.

I will always go back to the animated 1994 treasure for a cinematic feast, but while The Lion King (2019) could have been a disaster, it really isn’t. With modernized songs and enough CGA to last a lifetime, I could easily see some people hating the film, but I embraced it for what it is. Spectacular visual treats await any fan of cinema as one will ponder how the project all came together.

Sex Tape-2014

Sex Tape-2014

Director-Jake Kasdan

Starring-Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel

Scott’s Review #980

Reviewed January 15, 2020

Grade: C

Sex Tape (2014) is a cliched, by the numbers, standard romantic comedy that meets expectations, but does little to exceed them. It is a raunchy affair, perhaps too raunchy for some, and riddled with juvenile moments. The film contains good chemistry between the leads and is fun up to a point. The final sequence strays too far into dumb, situation comedy style moments, with way too many seen before stereotypes, that take most of the preceding fun away.

With universally scathing reviews, I expected to hate the film, and salivated over the opportunity to craft a good, old-fashioned terrible review, but alas, Sex Tape is marginally fair to middling. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, reuniting again after starring in Bad Teacher (2011), do what they can with the material given, offering strong convictions and fluid moments of enamored charm. In a supporting role as the boss, Rob Lowe is fine in a stock role, and the child actors are abhorrent (what else is new in romantic comedy casts?)

The film treats the viewer to a brief backstory, narrated by Annie, about the fresh romance between twenty-somethings, Jay and Annie Hargrove (Segel and Diaz). Much in love, they can barely keep their eyes off each other and have sex at the drop of a hat. Once they settle down and have kids, their romantic interludes must be balanced and scheduled amid bath time, feedings, and the necessity of sleep. Annie writes a popular blog, expressing the challenges of being a mom, as she bucks for a well-paying job at a company run by Hank Rosenbaum (Lowe).

One day, while feeling naughty, Jay and Annie rapturously and spontaneously decide to record their session of hanky panky on video, to enjoy later. Predictably, an error occurs, and their lovemaking session is inadvertently synchronized to video to several iPads the couple had given away over time, which ridiculously is the entire cast. They struggle to retrieve the iPads one by one and erase their session, while being blackmailed by an anonymous viewer.

The strength of Sex Tape is in the pairing of Diaz and Segel because without these actors the film would be drivel. In physical comedy films, chemistry and antics are everything, and these two have it down. We accept that the married couple, despite it being ten long years, are still smitten with each other, avoiding the doldrums. What they need is a spark and it is fun watching them come up with a sneaky idea. Even when the film gets bad, the actors are a hoot.

The supporting cast is what one usually gets in a romantic comedy and wonder of wonders is why these characters are always written as a “type” and not better fleshed out. Examples are Jay and Annie’s best friends, Robby and Tess Thompson (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper), one-dimensional and offering merely extensions of the lead characters, with no character development of their own. The same can be said for Annie’s mother (played by Nancy Lenehan), and the children.

To say nothing is how the studio clearly attempt to promote the latest technological tool, the iPad, to death is strongly evident. If one more iPad appeared on screen I would have screamed. And how is it possible to record yourself in numerous sexual positions with an iPad? If they were filming themselves how did they move the iPad and get into those positions? Why did everyone and their brother have an iPad? A weak explanation alluded to Jay’s occupation being somehow responsible.

Sex Tape (2014) does not rewrite the comedy road map and will assuredly be forgotten over time- might this film’s bad reviews and the disastrous remake of Annie (2014) be the reason why Diaz retired from acting altogether? Regardless, for a pleasant Saturday night of silly laughs over a cosmopolitan or two, this film may be the way to go, but for fans of Diaz, watch There’s Something About Mary (1998) instead.

1917-2019

1917-2019

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman

Scott’s Review #979

Reviewed January 14, 2020

Grade: A

My personal tastes do not always lean towards the standard war film, so when I first heard about 1917 (2019) I was less than enthusiastic for no other reason than my own pre-conceived perceptions. Though peaked with the idea of a World War I film rather than the standard World War II or Vietnam War film, I anticipated a run of the mill experience, or a story that had already been told. Boldly told with incredible intensity and a brilliant technical style, director Sam Mendes creates a memorable cinematic treasure.

In April 1917, during the height of World War I, two British soldiers are tasked with a daring assignment, to hand deliver crucial news to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off their planned attack on the German forces. The Germans have faked a retreat to the Hindenburg Line and are ready to ambush the battalion, intending to kill sixteen-hundred soldiers. Schofield (George Mackay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are chosen, Blake’s brother Joseph among the soldiers bound to meet their fate.

As they journey, the young men face a myriad of hurdles including booby traps left by the Germans, terrain littered with dead bodies of their comrades, a precarious helicopter crash, giant rats, and the rapidly approaching deadline to deliver their message. If they do not accomplish their mission in a timely fashion (twenty-four hours) the results will be devastating. Mendes keeps the tension high because he tells his film in real-time style.

1917 is raw and emotional and hits a hard punch. Powerful scenes of dead bodies riddle the land, fat and pale from days spent immersed in cold water, young soldiers once handsome, now dead and bloated, remind the viewer what a terrible thing war is, and the ravages caused. Unlike other war films, the patriotism and nationalist pride is not there. Rather, the soldiers are weary and angry, confused as to why they are sent to fight for land as ugly as where they are, to die for land that is not even their own. They are depressed and confused.

The relationship between Schofield and Blake is wonderful. Both men are weary and afraid but have each other’s backs throughout their assignment. It is not clear how long they have known each other, but they are at least acquaintances. They each come to the others rescue and a pivotal scene occurs in a dusty hideout where they nearly die after a cave-in. The characters have grit and determination, but a humanity and a connection with each other that resonates powerfully to the viewer.

A wonderful scene is produced as day turns into night, Schofield well into enemy territory. To avoid a pursuant German soldier, he hides in a dusty basement area and finds a cowering young French girl. At first fearful, the pair quickly bond, and a realization occurs to Schofield. The girl is accompanied by a newborn child.

Assumed to be hers, the soldier immediately parts with his stash of food, not realizing the baby can have only milk. A ghastly realization is that the baby is not the French girls at all but was instead found and rescued to prevent its death. The scene is tender and beautiful, perfectly contrasting the ugliness of the war. The wonderful scene gives the viewer pause wondering what will become of the girl and the baby.

Nearly rivaling this lovely scene, another poignant moment occurs when Schofield stumbles upon a group of soldiers watching another soldier perform a rendition of the melancholy war tune, “Wayfaring Stranger”. This moment slows the action down to a crawl with a dedication to loneliness and sadness amid the terrible battles.

The technical aspects that Mendes creates are spectacular and meant to be enjoyed on the largest screen possible. He uses a one-take approach which keeps the action fast and furious. The lavish and grandiose exterior scenes of immense dry land perfectly counterbalance a terrific watery scene when Schofield is chased into the river and soon embarks into wavy grand rapids. The camera remains on the soldier throughout the scene as the viewer is the one taken on the wild adventure, sweeping every morsel of up and down motion with the tide.

To piggy-back this point, a scene occurs when one of the young men is knocked unconscious. It is daylight, but when he regains consciousness it is night. The cinematography is brilliant with a sharp left turn to translucent colors and blurry images of buildings. The viewer is as disoriented as the soldier and fears what lurks in the shadows, as is found out when an unknown approaching figure begins to fire his gun.

1917 (2019) is a progressive leaning gem with an anti-war message and a genuine approach to a “day in the life of a soldier”. It is not glossy or contrived, but a candid realistic view of the savagery of war. With a creative technical style, it is one of the best of its genre ever made.

The Reptile-1966

The Reptile-1966

Director-John Gilling

Starring-Ray Barrett, Jennifer Daniel

Scott’s Review #978

Reviewed January 10, 2020

Grade: B

While watching a Hammer horror film production, there are always little treats offered and enjoyed. The budgets are always small which only adds to the mystique and the fun and the wonderment of what can be done. Impressive are how creative they get with a shoestring budget. The Reptile (1966) is a nice offering with enough murder and intrigue to mildly satisfy, though many plot holes and illogical sequences occur. The British class and murky locales are fantastic.

Set in Cornwall, England, events begin in a macabre way when a middle-aged bachelor hears noises coming from a nearby estate. When he investigates, he is bitten by a demonic figure and rapidly develops the “Black Death” which kills him. Many locals succumb to a similar fate. The bachelor’s brother, Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett), inherits his brother’s cottage and moves in despite the warnings of resident tavern owner, Tom (Michael Ripper), the only one of the townspeople to befriend Harry and his wife, Valerie (Jennifer Daniel).

Meanwhile, the sinister Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), the owner of the nearby estate, is the only resident near the cottage and he lives with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce). The Doctor treats his daughter with contempt as she is attended by a silent servant (Marne Maitland). When Anna asks Valerie for help, this leads Valerie and Harry to the estate where dire events occur, but could this be a trap?

The setting of the coastal town is well created and scenes in cemeteries, par for the course with Hammer productions, add a good vibe. The cottage and the estate are well manicured, and the film simply feels like a British gem. Since the sets are low budget, the exterior sequences add a great deal to The Reptile. Assumed is that the film was shot with a “day for night” technique, a trick used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. This makes for positive cinematography.

The final thirty minutes or so is the best part of the film when Harry and Valerie are invited to dinner at the doctor’s estate. Banished to her bedroom for most of the evening, Anna emerges looking ravishing in an evening dress, but is soon revealed to have been met with a curse and sheds her skin and becomes a frightening reptile. The servant has a hold over Anna and her father, while a sweet black kitten comes into play.

The characters are interesting. Benevolent Harry and Valerie mix well with the dark and cynical Dr. Franklyn, and the servant. Franklyn is irritable and the servant, though he does not speak, is devious and riddled in mystery. Ignoring warnings to flee the town, never to return, the newlyweds refuse, blissful in their new cottage and filled with the promise of a fresh life. Their spirit counterbalances their neighbors and when the characters intersect the real fun begins.

The creature is a tad on the corny side and is hardly scary. The makeup, reportedly difficult for actress Jacqueline Pearce to wear looks amateurish. The cover art makes the creature look much better than in the film, but again, the budgetary limitations made things tight. Kudos for the idea for the creature to be a female. It was tough to either root for her or against her though since we know little about why she turns from gorgeous to evil.

From a plot perspective, the viewer is encouraged not to try too hard to figure out how circumstances relate to one another. Why and how did Anna become cursed? Did the servant curse her and why is he there? Are the group of caged animals’ creatures that Anna eats? It is mentioned that Anna needs a hot environment- is the hot molten in the basement to keep her human? These and many other inquiries could be made, but it really doesn’t matter too much.

The Reptile (1966) is worth a watch especially for fans of classic, Gothic horror. With an unfamiliar cast, the project would have been assisted by the additions of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, mainstays of Hammer films in either of the central male roles. Still, the film succeeds with unpredictability and the low budget creates a fabulous texture. The main appeal is that it is a good, fun horror film with little expectations.

300-2007

300-2007

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #977

Reviewed January 7, 2020

Grade: D

On paper 300 (2007) could have been a good or even a great film under different circumstances, if a historical realism or a message of some kind had existed. Unfortunately, what sounds like an interesting premise is met with a cartoon quality, over-acting, and cheesy testosterone laden bombast. Little more than drivel, the film is saved slightly by a charismatic lead, male flesh, and potent homo-eroticism, but this is no Magic Mike (2012), and the content fails because it is intended to be taken seriously. The result is a silly affair, with predictability, and cliches for miles.

The story is based on a 1998 comic series of the same name that is a fictionalized retelling of a battle within the Persian War. The flimsy plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (hence the title).  As the battle rages on, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband (Leonidas) and conquer the army.

Butler is the only slight positive worth mentioning as he preens and prances in little more than a loin-cloth with chiseled abs during the battle scenes, ferociously bellowing at his enemy. A fine-looking man, he is unarguably charismatic and poised, so the audience is strongly encouraged to root for him, and naturally for the Spartans. Leonidas makes for a powerful leader and is great to look at, but that is where any positives to this film end.

The scantily clad gimmick is not intended to draw female viewers to the film, or at least the intent doesn’t seem to be there, unless the marketing was botched. There is enough male nudity to go around and the beefcake and machismo are clear in most of the characters. Laughable is how the Spartans all have washboard abs and appear to be freshly waxed. Did they have access to state-of-the-art fitness centers in 479 BC? The Persians are mostly face-pierced and sneering, the clear enemy, which does nothing to diminish racist overtones. Spartan-good, Persian-bad.

Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead-2004) motivation seems to be to market this film to pubescent teenage males or the low-IQ crowd so the stereotypes are not the best thing to witness nor will they cause anyone to feel very liberated or united. The characters are either cookie-cutter or grizzled and violent, which is in tune with most of the film- bloody, but without reason, substance or merit. One-note character after one-note character appear through each scene. Most bothersome is the intent to stir a pro-war stance, not helpful given the target audience.

300 was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book which does nothing but make the film look like a high energy video game. The product is quite stylized with gloomy battleground scenes and dire bleakness and derives a graphic novel or comic book approach but lacking any subtle qualities or pretty much anything else interesting from a cinematography perspective.

The battle scene finale is by the numbers and should come as no surprise who the inevitable victor is. The film requires little thought or attention span and one can simply immerse themselves onto a cushion and absorb the nonsense couch-potato style. Battle after battle erupts with cliched earnestness and a bevy of blood spurting wounds and kills. This would be okay if there existed any point or good plot twist. Any character development is missing.

300 (2007) is a weak offering and decidedly boring, a surprise since much of the events take place on the battleground where action is produced a mile a minute. The experience is forgettable, and a legion of other action fueled films exist with more meat and potatoes on their plate. The sinister and stereotypical aspects make the resulting film less than fun and the big, loud, dumb product is only marginally cinematic. We can do better.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls-1970

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls-1970

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers

Scott’s Review #976

Reviewed January 2, 2020

Grade: B+

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) was originally intended as a sequel to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls but was revised as a parody of the commercially successful but critically panned original. This was not altogether a smart move since it would have been interesting to see a coherent follow-up exploring the lives of the original characters instead of a similar named film with little to do with the first.

Instead the film plays like frenetic mayhem with jarring edited scenes, a peculiar character switch and story line, and completely over the top vulgarity. Still, the film is fun and extravagant, but hardly on par with Valley of the Dolls. I would not even recommend watching them in sequence- the confusion would only be doubled.

To call Valley of the Dolls a “serious” film is laughable, but compared to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it is. Director Russ Meyer, known for successful sexploitation films that featured campy humor, satire and large-breasted women, such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Supervixens (1975), is at the helm to create the bombastic and eye-dropping shenanigans. Famous film critic Roger Ebert co-wrote the screenplay along with Meyer.

Three young women-Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and “Pet” Danforth (Marcia McBroom) front a struggling rock band, The Kelly Affair, managed by Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), Kelly’s boyfriend. The four travel to Los Angeles to seek Kelly’s estranged aunt, Susan Lake, heiress to a family fortune. Fans of Valley of the Dolls will need to know that Susan is supposed to be Anne Welles, the central character in that film.

A battle ensues as Susan graciously offers to give some of her fortune to Kelly, but Susan’s unsavory financial adviser, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod) will have none of it. Amid the drama, Kelly meets a gigolo who feuds with Harris, while Harris is pursued by a sexually aggressive porn star named Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams). Events all take place against the backdrop of night after night Los Angeles partying.

While the plot is not the central aspect of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the renaming of Susan from Anne, the same character, as well as recasting Barbara Parkins with Phyllis Davis, make things confusing. Adding to this point, Parkins was originally cast as Anne/Susan, but was abruptly fired from the production. This makes any comparisons to Valley of the Dolls other than the title alone, unwise and a waste of time.

The lively revelry is the fun and the beauty of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The film has a cool and groovy vibe and epitomizes late 1960’s psychedelic and colorful aura. The free love and the expressionism make the experience a wild but liberal minded experience and that is suitable for a film like this. The intention is to entertain and express the confidence of women. While the female characters are exploited, they are also driven and comfortable with themselves.

A fun fact, and cause for musing, is that as wild and exploitative to women (and men) as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is, that Ebert was largely responsible for penning the script. In the 1980’s the critic, who I am a cherished fan of, panned many of the 1980’s horror/slasher flicks, especially Friday the 13th (1980) for exploiting women, but he had no issue exploiting them years early. Makes one ponder the hypocrisy of his comments.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) is daring and never plays things safe. With a hip edge and plenty of way ahead of its time same sex character representations, the film is unique and brimming with hilarious and bizarre antics. The plot is rather silly and goofy and unsurprisingly panned by critics but has become a cult classic and with repeated viewings, grown on me more and more. The production is meant to be watched late at night for better appreciation.