My Darling Clementine-1946

My Darling Clementine-1946

Director-John Ford

Starring-Henry Fonda, Victor Mature

Scott’s Review #1,017

Reviewed April 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Esteemed director John Ford, mostly known for crafting the very best in the western genre for four decades creates a timeless story that is character driven and unpredictable. My Darling Clementine (1946) provides superb atmosphere amid a depressing ambiance led by Henry Fonda, the appealing leading man of the day. The iconic American western folk ballad, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” makes an appearance during the opening and closing credits to book end the classic.

In 1882, events get underway when a group of men herd cattle through the Old West in route to California. The Earp brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James) encounter the sinister Clanton family, who salivate over the profit the animals could supply them. After being rebuffed for a sale, the Clanton’s kill young James and steal the cattle. Wyatt (Fonda) vows revenge and settles in at Tombstone, Arizona where he befriends the dangerous Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), the ravishing Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) and Mac, the local bartender.

The film is based on real-life western figures and events. Wyatt Earp was a lawman and gambler while Doc Holliday was a gambler, gunslinger, and dentist. Both men were participants in the famous and bloody gunfight at the OK Corral, a thirty second shootout between lawmen and outlaws, regarded as the most well-known battle in the American Wild West. This makes the film both historical and fun for viewers anticipating some truth. The rest is created story.

One can delve into other avenues of enjoyment during My Darling Clementine other than the action emitting from the screen. The rich surrounding elements are as glorious, and plentiful. Much of the events take place outdoors, a treat, and the spacious and wide-open exteriors are a marvel to lay an eye on. The exquisite clouds and sprawling lands are evident as is the black and white cinematography. This adds a measure of mystique that color film would have ruined.

Unlike other westerns there is surprisingly little racism to be found. Commonly, American Indians are classified as the enemy and subsequently mistreated. Other than one quick scene where an unnamed Indian is booted out of town, nary a racist moment can be found. Quite a few Mexican characters appear, most prominently Chihuahua, who is the apple in every man’s eye. To see Mexican culture represented and celebrated with dancing and country colors is a nice addition.

The pacing of the film is superior too, with little lag or drag time. The relatively short running-time of one hour and thirty-six minutes is a benefit as events get down and dirty quickly. The combustible energy of the saloon scenes, simply a must in this genre, is great. So much transpires within each scene as the patrons eat, drink, dance, sing, and fight. Interesting characters like the bartender and Granville Thorndyke, a stage actor who performs Shakespeare, make the film very fleshed out from a character perspective.

A minor demerit that must be aimed at the film is the awkward decision to write a perplexing and uneven ending that sours the wrap-up. When the big shootout concludes Wyatt decides to depart Tombstone, bidding adieu to a confused Clementine at the school house, wistfully promising that if he ever returns, he will look her up. This is weak and unsatisfying considering she moved to the West from the East to be with Doc, who dies. Why would she decide to stay and why would he decide to leave considering the pair was drawn to each other as the film escalates? I was expecting a “happily ever after” moment.

My Darling Clementine (1946) is an elite treasure among a genre that is commonly one-note and riddled with stereotypes and bad treatment of those that are not white, masculine men. Sure, the whiskey flows heavily as the guns are cocked and loaded at a moment’s notice. But, with arguably two main heroes (Wyatt and Doc), well-crafted supporting characters, and a stoic final fight, this film has it all, providing depth and freshness to an often-stale cinematic genre.

A History of Violence-2005

A History of Violence-2005

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris

Scott’s Review #1,016

Reviewed April 28, 2020

Grade: B+

David Cronenberg has directed films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Crash (1996), stories safely classified as “off the beaten path”. With A History of Violence (2005) he creates a film that on the surface appears conventional and even wholesome at the onset, a family drama or thriller, that turns sinister and bloody as it lumbers along. The Christian-like small Indiana town is the perfect backdrop to quietly inflict mayhem and terror on its characters. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give tremendous portrayals.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet mid-western life and owns a quaint, little diner nestled in the center of town. He is a popular man and quite neighborly, befriending the many patrons who visit his lovely eatery. At his side are his adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello), and children, Jack and Sarah. If they owned a golden retriever and resided in a house with a white picket fence, they would define the all-American family.

Late one night, two men attempt to rob the restaurant and when they attack a waitress, Tom kills both robbers with surprising ease and skill barely blinking at his violent tendencies. He is professed a hero by the townspeople and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is then visited by the frightening scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Harris), who insists that Tom is a notorious gangster from Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom is perplexed and vehemently denies the claims, but Fogarty begins to stalk the Stall family. Because of the pressure, Tom’s family life hits crisis mode.

As the film ticks along the plot becomes thicker and thicker as the puzzle pieces are rife with mystery. Is Fogarty merely a liar, holding a vendetta against the person who killed his men? Does Tom suffer from amnesia, having forgotten his past life due to an accident? Has Tom fled the criminal life seeking refuge and a new life in middle-America, safely leaving his troubles behind? Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle of these possibilities?

Bello is cast in the role of Edie, Tom’s loyal wife. Bello is a stellar actor and does a wonderful job in the complicated role. Far too often, especially in thrillers, the wife role is as lacking in challenge as it is in glamour. The ever-supportive wife must be a drag to play but certainly pays the bills. Edie is different, and as soon as the viewer has her figured out, she performs an action out of the blue that will surprise for this type of character. This has a lot to do with Bello’s pizzazz and acting chops.

I adore the setting of the film. A far cry from the bustling City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, when the action eventually flows to the city, the rural setting of Indiana becomes even more important. The quiet mornings, the imagined smell of fresh-brewed coffee, the crackling of sizzling bacon on the grill at Tom’s diner, and finally, crickets chirping in the distance, all provoke the potent atmosphere and surroundings that really work in this film.

A History of Violence (2005) is a superior film that contains excellent writing, the best aspect of the rich experience. A top-notch screenplay written by Josh Olson leaves the viewer not only with mounting tension, but the mysterious unknown as to what will happen next and what the truth is. Mortensen, commonplace in recent Cronenberg films, has found his niche playing complex yet humanistic characters, which must be a challenge for the actor and a splendid reward for the audience.

Spellbound-1945

Spellbound-1945

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

Scott’s Review #1,015

Reviewed April 24, 2020

Grade: A-

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s early American films, after his voyage from home base London to United States soil proved profitable and critically acclaimed, Spellbound (1945) followed the box office and awards success of Rebecca (1940). Probably the most spoofed of all the Hitchcock works in the 1977 Mel Brooks parody High Anxiety, Spellbound provides a psychological storyboard that uses enough vehicles like amnesia, hypnosis, and danger to impress any daytime soap opera writer. Not in the director’s top arsenal or remembered well, but a stellar effort.

Youthful Doctor Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives one day at the sprawling Green Manors Mental Asylum as the new director. After immediately falling for each other, the beautiful Doctor Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) discovers that Edwardes is not who he claims, but instead is a paranoid amnesiac impostor, more reminiscent of a patient. This literally gives new meaning to the term “the inmates are running the asylum.”

Constance becomes obsessed with answering the following questions: What happened to the real Dr. Edwardes? If Edwardes has been kidnapped or murdered who is responsible? Who is the gorgeous man that she has just fallen head over heels for? The intelligent psychoanalyst must practice what she preaches by becoming a sleuth and figuring out what is going on. The action takes place in both bustling New York City and snowy Rochester, New York.

I love the progressive nature of the story. To have a leading female character with a lofty professional status is admirable given the year of 1945 when female roles were just beginning to evolve. While most roles that Hollywood heavyweight Bette Davis portrayed in the 1930’s and 1940’s was vital and strong, this was the exception and not the norm. Bergman, quite beautiful, does not need to play sex kitten to make her character sexy. She does well with that by wearing glasses and a lab coat, using the intelligence of her character to her advantage.

In 1945 Alfred Hitchcock was still considered a “new” director to most and was only beginning to make his mark on audiences unfamiliar with his work. His cunning and masterful use of lighting and shadows to produce suspense is on display during much of Spellbound. The faces of Constance and Anthony glow with a combination of warmth and suspicion, and both are wonderful at eliciting emotion through subdued facial expressions. While Peck is slightly wooden, it does add a dimension to his uncertain character.

Atmosphere is everything with Hitchcock. Treats, like shots of the old Penn Station and Grand Central Station, monumental parts of everyday New York City life, are magnificent. They provide a glimpse of what bustling commuter life was like in the 1940’s before most of us were born. Undoubtedly, many extras and non-actors were used that enrich the scenes and offer what regular people looked like in those days.

As Constance and Anthony team up to determine what secrets lie beneath his subconscious, they board a train for the seclusion of upstate New York, where more secrets are revealed. A heavy dose of psychoanalysis and hypnotism allay the best scene of the film. Anthony sinks into a dreamlike world where he sees strange objects fraught with symbolism: a man with no face, scissors, playing cards, eyes, and curtains. What do they all mean? Fans will have fun piecing together the clues to solve the mystery.

The works of Salvador Dali, a famous surrealist artist known for bizarre and striking images, are on display during the dream sequence. Though limited, they do envelope the scene with fright and mystique and are a perfect addition to the odd sequence. Shot in black and white, the final scene adds a blood red image as a character turns a revolver on themselves and commits suicide. When Anthony drinks a glass of milk, the camera is inside the bottom of the glass, creating a hallucinogenic effect.

While Peck does his best with a peculiar character, Anthony is not as interesting as Constance, Doctor Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), or Doctor Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Personally, I would have loved more scenes or back-story for Brulov and have gotten to know him better. Anthony has some light annoyances as when he inexplicably passes out whenever events become too much for him.

Spellbound (1945) is the perfect accompaniment for a snowy winter night since the film has a warm and cozy look with atmosphere and the soothing musical score. Perfect is to watch in tandem with High Anxiety (1977) for a double-punch of suspense and appreciation for the film with the humor the satire furnishes. While not the best of the best of Hitchcock films, it stands proudly on its own merits.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Alfred Hitchcock, Best Supporting Actor-Michael Chekhov, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Special Effects

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice. The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score the film provides beauty and impressionism. The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but is assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy. While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is. Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar, but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful. If Gustav dared to have approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert. Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion. The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous, but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David-since we are in Italy. But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side-story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city. In 2020, with the vicious Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s own sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterwards walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo. As Tadzio outreaches his arms towards the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly. Dyeing his grey hair black and whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made up face are meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion. The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

Director-Charles Crichton

Starring-Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis

Scott’s Review #1,013

Reviewed April 20, 2020

Grade: B

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an intelligent and witty British-American comedy that was a sleeper hit upon its release garnering critical acclaim and awards affection. The heist flavored production has good comic timing and brisk acting. I adored it not quite as much as most critics though admirable is the quick wit and energetic timing, to be respected in comedies. With some silly moments thrown in that feel staged and unnecessary the film is not as brilliant as some would say and not a memorable entry in the comedy genre.

A crooked foursome, all from shady backgrounds and manipulative tendencies, come together to commit the heist of the century. They are about to get away with it until the London police arrests one of them. Can the other three now on the lam persuade their comrade’s lawyer to reveal the stolen loot’s location? Will they double-cross each other in order to find stolen diamonds that the gang leader has secretly hidden?

The players are con artist Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto West (Kevin Kline), her lover pretending to be her sibling, George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), an animal lover with a stutter. Each has their own personal motivations while relying on the others to get what they want, presumably at the other’s expense as events escalate to dire urgency.

The film gets props for being different. Frequently, in the comedy genre, laughs are attempted at a dizzying speed so that often they do not feel fresh. They also usually contain stereotypical or stock characters who serve little purpose other than to move events along at the sake of character development. A Fish Called Wanda is quirky to say the least with some intelligently written dialogue and sequences, especially the reveal of where the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds is housed. The film’s title is a major clue.

The chemistry between the actors is the best part of the film, especially between Kline and Curtis, two actors with exceptional comic timing. As they spar and bicker and plot not just against each other but against the others they are in cahoots with, the antics get wilder and wilder. Kline was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and victory. His character of Otto is also the most developed.

The final sequence which takes place at Heathrow Airport in London is a fun wrap-up to the caper. A gun, a steamroller, and wet cement are key elements in the wacky finale as character run rampant inside the airport and on the airport tarmac as an airplane is about to take off for parts unknown. Many other scenes take place about London since that is where the film was shot.

Where the film loses me, a bit is with very little sense of meaning of the subject matter. The group are con-artists, or otherwise unsavory characters, but little more. There are no characters to root for or empathize with and the events that transpire are quite silly and superfluous. While the story is fun, what is really the point? All the characters manipulate each other but that is it.

Going against the grain in cinema is always appreciated and the comedy genre is too often stagnant and trite, rarely feeling fresh. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an encouraging project that dares to offer new and inventive gags and physical comedy. The film hits some high marks and strikes out with some portions, leaving an uneven result.

A Few Good Men-1992

A Few Good Men-1992

Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore

Scott’s Review #1,012

Reviewed April 15, 2020

Grade: B+

A Few Good Men (1992) is a film firmly ensconced in the mainstream Hollywood courtroom drama genre. If all the necessary elements had not been well- weaved the results might have been trite or even cringe-worthy. Nonetheless, with big stars and excellent acting, director Rob Reiner (yes, “Meathead” from All in the Family), lucks out with a predictable screenplay that compels and is made better by the sum of its parts. The film will never bore and is a standard edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

The drama was rewarded with several year-end niceties including several nominations for the upper-crust Academy Awards. Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and surprisingly the lofty Best Picture statuette. With no shame for the embarrassment of riches, deserved or undeserved is the real question, the film walked away empty-handed on Oscar night.

When cocky and handsome military lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and his co-counsel, Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), are assigned to a murder case, their investigation uncovers a hazing ritual that could implicate high-ranking officials. U.S. Marines Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private First Class Louden Downey (James Marshall) are facing a general court-martial, accused of murdering fellow Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Kaffee and Galloway are to determine if higher ranking officers orchestrated and forced the lower-ranking men to carry out a “code red” order: a violent extrajudicial punishment, and their own form of justice, to kill the young victim, thus silencing him forever. The questionable part of the plot is whether Base Camp Commander Jessup (Jack Nicholson) administered the order or instead ordered Santiago’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), to merely “train” Santiago to become a better Marine. This is where the courtroom drama takes center stage with gusto.

As good as Moore, Sutherland, and Marshall are in offering compelling roles, the film belongs to Cruise and Nicholson, certainly the veterans of the group. The best scenes come at the end of the film as Cruise and Nicholson spar in the courtroom with bombast and trickery. Nicholson as Jessup is brooding and traditional, clearly a lifelong military man channeling honor and dedication at any cost. Cruise as Kaffee has something to prove and wants to win at any costs. So, they tangle in a fierce machismo way. When he catches Jessup in a lie, just like a spider captures a fly, the scenes crackle and spark with grit and energy. The unforgettable line, “You can’t handle the truth!” is uttered by Nicholson.

A Few Good Men will both satisfy and dissatisfy those with a connection or a penchant for the military. On the one hand, the military is celebrated during the film as the need for efficiency in the world and the decorated appeal are to be admired. But the film also stands up and questions the hypocrisy of one of the oldest establishments and its male domination and bullying methods not so different from a classic college fraternity. The courtroom trial of a patriotic group is serious business.

While not a revolutionary film, sticking to a tried and true courtroom drama script seen in television drama series since the beginning of time, A Few Good Men (1992) provides a hefty two-hour and twenty minutes worth of pure entertainment. Powerful acting across the board make the film a superior experience and a thought-provoking message of whether blindly following orders without a thought is still a relevant approach, not just in the military, but anywhere.

A Day at the Races-1937

A Day at the Races-1937

Director-Sam Wood

Starring-Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx

Scott’s Review #1,011

Reviewed April 13, 2020

Grade: B

Spewing out a collection of successful films throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, A Day at the Races (1937) is a creation by the Marx Brothers that continues the zany adventures of the bumbling men. Not as laugh out loud funny as their earlier works, particularly the memorable Duck Soup (1933), considered to be their best achievement, the film has trademark chuckles and physical comedy for miles that celebrate their vaudeville roots. A horse and a private sanitarium are the major players in this installment.

The film suffers from a myriad of stereotypes and startling racial overtones as any apt viewer will likely need to remind themselves of the decade the film was made. These scenes are thankfully brief and not the highlight of the story. A Day at the Races belongs to the Marx Brothers as their klutzy humor and one-liners are the best parts leaving the romantic leads and the foils as standard characters. Backstage problems were prevalent leaving some continuity issues in the final product.

Judy Standish (Maureen O’Sullivan) owns the struggling Standish Sanitarium which she can barely afford to keep afloat. The devious J.D. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille) owns a nearby racetrack and nightclub and aspires to use the sanitarium space to open a successful casino. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx), a horse doctor, treats the wealthy Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), who she thinks is a “real” doctor and agrees to financially back the sanitarium, but only if Hackenbush runs it. Suspicions arise when Morgan and his business manager attempt to locate the real Hackenbush in Florida.

Meanwhile, Judy’s fiancé, singer Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), who performs in Morgan’s nightclub, has just spent his life’s savings on a racehorse named Hi-Hat. His hope is that the horse, which he purchased from Morgan, will win a big race and the money will save the sanitarium. Hi-Hat is terribly afraid of Morgan and runs away whenever he hears Morgan’s voice. All the principal players gather for a hysterical conclusion as an exciting horse race ensues with a case of mistaken identity mixed in for good measure.

The main attraction is Groucho, Harpo, and Chico as they provide a robust dose of clumsy, action-filled pranks, misunderstandings, pops and bops that keeps them fluttering about the silver screen in fast-paced fashion. The other characters serve as either foils or support for the trio of funny men, so much so that they feel like stock characters. Jones and O’Sullivan have some chemistry as the straight leads and a few tender moments, but neither is the film about them.

The running time of one-hour and fifty minutes feels awfully long for a genre film like this and several scenes meant only to balance the physical comedy could have been eliminated. The famous exchange between Hackenbush and Mrs. Upjohn where she exclaims “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” and he, without missing a beat replies, “Well, it’s early yet” is classic comedy and heartwarming to the eyes and ears as the pacing between the characters is nice.

A Day at the Races (1937) feels dated during some scenes and a stark reminder that inclusion did not always exist in cinema and laughs were to be had at the expense of minority groups. Putting this aside, as a comic creation the writing is witty and entertaining and a perfect showcase for the Marx Brothers to continue their fantastic run of films. The film might be a suggestion as one in a group of a marathon or binge-watching effort rather than as a stand-alone since better chapters are to be found elsewhere.

Oscar Nominations: Best Dance Direction

Tag-2018

Tag-2018

Director-Jeff Tomsic

Starring-Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm

Scott’s Review #1,010

Reviewed April 10, 2020

Grade: D

Tag (2018), starring Ed Helms, weakly attempts to re-create some semblance of magic that The Hangover trilogy (2009-2013) initially had, in which the actor starred. The result is an over-the-top and self-indulgent mess that incorporates the standard gags that raunchy comedies always do and little more. The characters are caricatures and the film provide no character development or anything fresh to stay with the viewer after the end credits role. The most interesting part is post-credits where the real-life figures the film is based upon, appear.

The film gets off to a dumb start as Hogan Malloy (Helms), an established physician, inexplicably gets a job as a janitor at an esteemed corporation in order to go undercover and “tag” Bob Callahan (Hamm). The childhood friends, along with “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) attempt to pursue and “tag” their other buddy Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), who has alluded the “loser award” for the past thirty years, given to the member last tagged during the month of May, when their annual contest is held.

The rest of the film piggy-backs on this premise as the group pursues Jerry in tired form as adventures ensue. The specifics are running through other people’s apartments, tumbling down fire escapes, impersonating elderly women, and a continued use of back flips, stop-motion editing, and nutty situations. You get the idea.

The least appealing quality that Tag possesses is it feels forced and too derivative of other similar films. The film-makers try to create a “buddy film” and a camaraderie between the characters that never amounts to much. The reason for this is they embed each with specific qualities that define the character instead of making them fresh or creative in any way. We meet Chilli as he smokes pot with his father, revealed that he is divorced, unemployed, and a pothead. Bob is uptight, business-like, and the ladies’ man. A token black character (Kevin) is the comic relief. The characters are one-note and uninspired.

Other weak points from a character standpoint are prevalent. Hogan is written as the “straight man”, meaning the most sensible of the group. He is the main character and has a competitive streak that his wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) shares. Her character is most irritating as she has fits of rage then turns sweet. Fisher has been cast in raunchy comedies for most of her career so it would be nice to see her branch out to better roles. Finally, Hogan’s mother, the local bartender, and a fitness worker are written poorly.

As a bonus, the film chooses to add a homophobic sequence in to offend audiences. Meant for laughs, as are most offensives, the male fitness worker is lightly interrogated as the men attempt to locate Jerry. A back and forth involving presumptive oral sex is written as a joke and in addition to being unnecessary, the sequence goes on and on. Wishful thinking is for genre comedies to finally create something fresh, stereotype free, or making mockeries of groups of people.

Predictably, the conclusion is silly and trite. The film culminates in a hokey wedding scene when the friends are tricked by Jerry’s fiance who fakes a pregnancy and miscarriage in a gag-worthy effort. A moment of feigned sincerity is followed by a juvenile rapid-fire torrent of “You’re It!” that would make a ten-year-old boy roll his eyes in disbelief.

Tag is not a complete disaster. If one sticks to the entire watch, a couple of tidbits of pleasure espouse themselves. Familiar classic rock songs like Danzig’s “Mother”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”, and “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies are interspersed throughout the running time. An added romantic triangle between Bob, Cheryl (Rashida Jones), and Chilli has potential if it were not relegated to a sub-plot with no resolution. Both men have chemistry with Cheryl and possess some rooting power.

A film that will certainly wind up in the $1.99 (or less) bargain bin, Tag (2018) might have been a relaxed effort to shoot by the cast of actors, but they must have had more fun than anyone watching it will have. With big name stars and an, on paper anyway, interesting premise, the film fails to deliver the goods, embellishes a based on a true story to the max, and results in a complete waste of time.

A Dangerous Method-2011

A Dangerous Method-2011

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #1,009

Reviewed April 9, 2020

Grade: B+

A literal psychological themed drama, if ever there was one, director David Cronenberg uses popular actors of the day to create a film based on a non-fiction book. Famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung share a tumultuous relationship when they catch the eye of the first female psychoanalyst, who was a patient of each. Thanks to a talented cast and an independent feel, the result is a compelling piece and a historical lesson in sexual titillation, jealousy, passion, and drama, among real-life elite sophisticates.

Set on the eve of World War I in Zurich, Switzerland, a young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), suffering from hysteria begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). He uses word association, dream interpretation, and other experimental methods as part of his approach to psychoanalysis and finds that Spielrein’s condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child when her father spanked her naked. They embark on a torrid affair.

Jung and friend and confidante, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) explore various psychoanalytical methods, but cracks appear in their friendship as they begin to disagree more frequently on matters of psychoanalysis. When Spielrein, now a student, meets Freud, she confides her relationship with Jung to him, which leads to animosity between the men. Spielrein embarks on other lovers as she attempts to reconcile the geniuses, to allow for their psychoanalysis studies to continue to develop with relevancy.

The film is intelligently written and for any viewer fascinated with psychology or sexual interest, a wonderful marvel. Since Freud and Jung are two of the most recognizable names in behavioral science and Spielrein one of the most influential women in the field, the production is as much a historical and biographical study as it is dramatic enjoyment. Spanking, bondage, and sexual humiliation for gratification and pleasure, strong taboos at the turn of the twentieth century, are explored and embraced in delicious and wicked style.

Of course, given that Fassbender, Mortensen, and Knightley are easy on the eyes provides further stimulation than if less attractive actors were cast. Nonetheless, what the actors provide in eye-candy is equally matched by their acting talent as each one immerses themselves into each pivotal role. In clever and unique fashion, the film is not a trite romantic triangle or giddy formulaic genre movie. Rather, the sets, costumes, and cinematography are fresh and grip the audience.

Carl Jung is the central figure here as both his personal and professional experiences are given plenty of screen time. He wrestles between remaining committed to his wife or giving in to his deepest desires with Speilrein- we can guess how this turns out! The early scenes between Fassbender and Knightley crackle with passion and will make many blush and smirk with naughtiness.

The title of the film is bold but doesn’t always live up given the subject matter. More sensual, fun, and intelligent than dangerous, the film is hardly raw or gritty, surprising given it’s an independent project. It is softer to the touch, especially during scenes between Jung and Speilrein, than hard-edged. Many early psychoanalytical ideas of approach and remedy are discussed and explored making the film more of a study than a thriller.

A Dangerous Method (2011) received stellar reviews and year-end awards consideration, but unsuccessful box-office returns. Hardly a popcorn film and deeply accepting of its indie roots, the film ought to be shown in high-school or academic psychology classes- whether in abnormal or general studies remains a question. With a fascinating story that risks making the prudish blush or turn away, the film will please those independent thinkers, sexual deviants, or those aching for an expressive and satisfying film.

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Annabelle Comes Home-2019

Director-Gary Dauberman

Starring-Mckenna Grace, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Scott’s Review #1,008

Reviewed April 7, 2020

Grade: B

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) was made as a sequel to 2014’s Annabelle and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation, and as the seventh installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise overall. Lest we forget the uninspiring The Nun (2018) it is not necessary to view the films in sequence and with this version, it can serve as a stand-alone film just fine. At this point in the series it is getting tough to connect all the dots in previous offerings. The film is a fun, scary-light experience, which works well.

Borrowing the babysitting theme from the 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween, the film is neither dull nor formulaic either, providing some visual creativity to an otherwise B movie experience. Franchise fan favorites Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to their popular roles, but only in the beginning and end of the film, letting the younger set take center stage as they bear the brunt of angry demons.

Presumed to take place sometime after Annabelle but before Annabelle: Creation, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) are determined to stop the frightening Annabelle from wreaking further havoc and drag the possessed doll to the safety of their locked artifacts room, placing her behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing. After a curious teenage girl snoops, Annabelle is reawakened angrier than usual and unleashes a torrent of evil spirits into the Warren house. Ten-year old daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), must be savvy and outsmart the dangerous demons before it’s too late.

Annabelle herself, the doll statuesque and holding a grotesque smirk on its made-up face and possessing bright blue/green eyes, has quietly become a fixture within the horror community, now easily recognizable to mainstream audiences everywhere. That Annabelle does not speak or walk, but only stares, unless possessed by a spirit, is a big part of the fun and the scares. She tends to appear rather than move around which is part of her appeal. And the pretty red ribbons in her hair are a bonus.

The 1970’s time-period is fabulous as the set and art design teams deserve major props for authenticity. The Warren’s house, for example, is a wonderful showcase for the yellow and brown trimmings prevalent in any middle to upper-middle class residence during this decade. The flowered wallpaper enshrouding the downstairs hallway and the pink frosted birthday cake are delightful additions. The standard feathered hairstyles and plaid patterned clothes are standard trademarks and always a hoot.

From a fright perspective, the film provides a perfect balance of buildup and edge of your seat thrills. The best example of this is when nosy Daniela (Katie Sarife), already curious of the Warrens, breaks into the artifacts room determined to talk to the dead. Her motivations are believable since her father recently died in a car accident, and she is a fan favorite. Chaos ensues as she unleashes such evil forces as the Black Shuck, the Ferryman, and the Bride.

The film tries a bit too hard to appeal to a tween or teenage audience with a silly romance between main girl, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), the perfect virginal babysitter, and high school crush, Bob (Michael Cimino). He even serenades her after an idea by the pizza delivery man and conveniently lives across the street. This portion of the story is unnecessary and feels like filler, Mary Ellen being responsible enough not to let a boy in the house she is looking after.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) is a fine horror effort, intelligently traversing both supernatural and classic horror sub-genres with ease and perfect balance. Staying true to its franchise roots and incorporating groovy production and musical score elements representing the decade it celebrates, the film holds up well in a myriad of similar films that rely on gimmicks and cheap thrills more than this one does.

I Confess-1953

I Confess-1953

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter

Scott’s Review #1,007

Reviewed April 2, 2020

Grade: A-

I Confess (1953) is an early effort by the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock with a decidedly religious slant but keeps the suspense and thrills commonplace in his other films. The picture is not one of his best remembered works and in fact is one of his least remembered projects. This is unwarranted because the film contains all the standard elements known to the director, creating an entertaining and enthralling effort. Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter, big Hollywood stars of the day, are featured.

Not a fan of exterior shoots where he couldn’t control the elements, filming was nonetheless done largely on location in Quebec City with numerous shots of the city landscape and interiors of its churches and other emblematic buildings, such as the Château Frontenac, heavily featured. This factor adds to the enjoyment as a French sophistication and culture is added and the accents provide a European influence, especially powerful during the final act.

Handsome Catholic priest, Father Michael Logan (Clift), wants nothing more than to be a good priest but his calling is made complicated after someone confesses a murder to him and he’s subsequently blamed for the death. A World War II veteran, he harbors secrets told in back story, as a strong connection to another character comes to light. An easy way to clear his name is to reveal exactly what he knows, but doing so would break his vows as a clergyman and alienate members of his community who trust he will keep their steamy secrets very private.

Ruth Grandfort (Baxter) is a respected member of society, married to husband Pierre (Roger Dann), a member of the Quebec legislature. They live a comfortable existence in a lavish house with servants and regularly throw cosmopolitan parties befitting people of their stature. Amid martinis and festive party games, Ruth keeps not one secret but two and is being blackmailed for her shenanigans. Her connection to Father Michael slowly bubbles to the surface.

Christian viewers will neither be offended nor completely embraced either. Hitchcock does not mock the religion but makes certain of the conflict and demons that can encircle even a pious or righteous man. Known as far back as 1940’s Rebecca as toying with viewers and frequently adding an LGBTQ uncertainty, this can be said of I Confess. Assumed to be in love, Father Michael offers little romantic passion or zest towards Ruth and the connections seems one-sided. Could his descent into the Catholic Church be a front to cover up his sexuality? Only Hitchcock will know the answer.

Eagle-eyed Hitchcock fans will certainly discover similarities to his other works. In the very first scene, an unknown man is strangled to death, collapsing to the floor. This is reminiscent of the 1948 masterpiece, Rope, when an identical sequence occurs. The audience knows nothing about the stranger- yet. In both films, the character, even after death, become integral to the plot twists and turns in store. The tremendous use of shadows and lighting are on careful display mirroring the look of the soon to come The Wrong Man (1956).

While the not the cream of the crop among Hitchcock’s best film entries or even a top ten offering, I Confess (1953) is certainly deserving of a viewing or two on its own merits. Clift and Baxter have excellent chemistry and there is enough mystique and plot guessing to keep audiences well occupied. The final twenty minutes provides cat and mouse revelry and a shocking death perfect for a dramatic climax to a film oozing with Hitchcock’s finest traits.

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director-Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring-Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

For any lover of all things cats or all thing’s Paris, A Cat in Paris (2010) is a double-punch winner in themes alone and a pure treat. The French made film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature along with Chico and Rita (2010), another foreign language animated feature, both considered surprise entries. This was monumental as it aided subsequent non-American features to be allowed into the mix.

The former is a moody and mysterious caper story involving a cat and a young Parisian girl and the adventures they share. The traditional ink colors and hand drawings are lovely and creative, adding to the inventive mood. The feline centered story and feminist empowerment angle provides a unique and worthy experience to be well remembered. The French language version contains native language voices while the English version has English speakers.

The main protagonist of the film is Dino, a pet cat who leads a double life. By day he lives with his friend Zoe (Lauren Weintraub), a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is a detective in the Parisian police force. He sneaks out of the window each night to work with Nico (Steve Blum), a slinky cat burglar with a heart of gold, who regularly evades captors as he glides and swishes from rooftop to rooftop with the picturesque Paris skyline serving as a backdrop.

Dino’s two worlds collide when one-night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures and falls into the dangerous hands of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), an intimidating gangster who is planning the theft of a rare statue. Now cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame. In a cute tongue-in-cheek final moment, Nico gives Jeanne a snow globe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in it as a Christmas present.

Despite the film being an animated one, this fact does not take away from the cultural and sophisticated Parisian experience. Delicious views of the distinguished Eifel Tower and the luminous, glowing skylines of the City of Lights assuredly will captivate each viewer fortunate enough to have ever visited the magical city in person, or those who have day dreamed an afternoon away imagining experiencing the grand city.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is mirrored throughout A Cat in Paris, specifically his film To Catch a Thief (1955). That film is set along the French Riviera instead of in Paris, but features a cat burglar, a thrilling rooftop climax, and enough cat and mouse thrills to last a lifetime. The director’s work is easy to spot, and the film makers are wise to adopt to his style, carefully weaving elements into an animated film with the hopes of exposing children to intelligent film making. Adults will equally love the film.

At a mere one-hour and five minutes, nearly teetering classification of a short film instead of a full-length feature, A Cat in Paris (2010) more than accomplishes what it sets out to in the limited time-period. Utilizing fantastic silhouettes and lit shapes and angles, the visual treats alone make this one exceptional. Adding tidbits of the greatest film director of all times’ work without outright stealing it is a wise choice. May more intelligent international animated films like this one receive their deserved exposure to mass audiences.