Doctor Sleep-2019

Doctor Sleep-2019

Director-Mike Flanagan

Starring-Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson

Scott’s Review #1,026

Reviewed May 22, 2020

Grade: B

Based on the 2013 novel of the same name written by Stephen King, a sequel to his own 1977 novel The Shining, Doctor Sleep (2019) is also a direct sequel to the film adaptation of The Shining (1980). Events are set several decades after the events of the original and combines elements of the 1977 novel as well. A fun-fact is that King hated the film version of The Shining but approved of the script for Doctor Sleep.

The first and last part of the film are superior to the rest, succeeding mostly when elements of The Shining are incorporated. The rest meanders and teeters too much into supernatural and computer- generated imagery territory, taking away from the haunting ghost story elements that made the original The Shining such a frightening treasure.

Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, the little kid scarred from the trauma he suffered when his father Jack went mad at the looming Overlook hotel decades earlier. Danny, now a grown man and a suffering alcoholic, lives a life that is out of control, suppressing his “shining” gifts that allow him to possess psychic abilities. Hitting rock bottom, Dan moves to a tiny town in New Hampshire and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who sponsors him in AA. Dan is regularly visited by the spirit of Dick Hallorann, the deceased chef from the hotel who teaches Dan how to contain his demons.

Meanwhile, the True Knot, a cult of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), extend their lifespans by consuming “steam”, a psychic essence released as they torture and kill those who have the shining. They mostly feed on young children and pursue Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose shining is even more powerful than Dan’s. She communicates telepathically with him and form a pact to destroy Rose and her cronies.

Let’s take the good with the bad. The film gets off to a very good start with the recreation of scenes from The Shining, when Danny rides his big wheel throughout the winding 1970’s style hallways of The Overlook and gazes at the forbidden Room 237. The synth musical score that made The Shining atmospheric and unforgettable are also included as the bass infused heartbeat is showcased amid overhead camera angles, a clear ode to The Shining.

The finale of Doctor Sleep comes full circle as Dan and Abra travel from New Hampshire to snowy Colorado and revisit the Overlook, now tattered and ill-forgotten from decades of abandonment. The showdown between Dan, Abra, and Rose treats fans to clips of Jack Nicholson and Shelly DuVall. Visits from familiar characters and sets like the ghostly bartender, the conjoined twins, the wrinkled old naked woman, the gushing elevator blood, and the hedge maze make their returns providing a lovely feeling of nostalgia.

Unfortunately, betwixt the first thirty minutes and final thirty minutes sits another ninety minutes of screen time that doesn’t always work. For starters, a running time of two hours and thirty-two minutes feels too long for a horror film and the filler lying in between is that much more obvious. The action meanders especially given the anticipated final battle which is inevitable.

Taking nothing away from either Ferguson or Curran, who are fine in their respective roles of Rose and Abra, neither are they the most interesting aspects of Doctor Sleep either. They are new characters in the novel and therefore the film but are secondary to Dan and his intricate relationships with Jack, Wendy, and Dick. The only story parts that were interesting to me were the connections and thoughts that Dan had to experiences forty years earlier.

The battle scenes between Rose, Abra, and other characters do nothing for the story and take the film too far in the direction of the supernatural and slick technological aspects that The Shining didn’t need. Since Doctor Sleep was made based on successful recent King adaptations of It Chapter Two (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019) perhaps this is the reason for the modern add-ons.

If Doctor Sleep (2019) could be sliced and diced to eliminate the guts and keep the bookends of the beginning and finale the result would have paid proper homage to The Shining (1980), instead we get only halfway there. The film has some nice elements and stays true to its history but contains a few unnecessary tidbits to make it not great. And how can a film ever compare to the greatness of The Shining (1980)?

Prom Night-1980

Prom Night-1980

Director-Paul Lynch

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen

Scott’s Review #1,025

Reviewed May 21, 2020

Grade: B

Released in the summer of 1980, Prom Night feels much more like a late 1970’s styled film than the plethora of carbon copy products that were churned out in the early part of its decade. To be clear, the film is a conventional slasher whodunit and does not reinvent the wheel, but small tidbits of stylized cinematography are nestled within its formulaic confines during what could be considered throwaway scenes. Prom Night might be forgotten if not for the casting of “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis who leads the charge, carrying the story.

The film is heavily influenced by two very popular motion pictures that preceded it. The most obvious comparison, also in the horror genre, is Carrie (1976), that has a gruesome finale set in the usually cheerful late spring high school gymnasium event, known as prom night. Surprisingly, Prom Night also capitalizes on the enormous success of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 vehicle that made John Travolta and discotheque’s household names, to say nothing of making teenage girls swoon. Prom Night even copies a cheesy disco dance sequence.

The story begins, like many horror films do, with an incident that took place many years ago, paving the way for the current events. Youngsters, Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick play hide-and-seek in an abandoned convent. When little Robin Hammond tries to join them, the group starts teasing her, repeating “Kill! Kill! Kill!”, over and over again, frightening her and causing her to accidentally fall to her death through a second story window. The children make a pact not to tell anyone what happened and keep the incident a secret. The shadow of an unseen person who witnessed Robin’s death emerges.

Flash-forward to present day when the children are now in high school and eagerly await a night of dancing, drinking and perhaps getting lucky, as they flirt and plan their partners for the night. Robin’s family, led by the stoic Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) memorializes her on the anniversary of her death as sister Kim (Curtis) and brother Alex (Michael Tough) ready themselves for the prom that night.

Meanwhile, Kelly, Nick, Jude, and Wendy begin to receive menacing phone calls. Could Mr. Hammond, Kim, or Alex be behind the calls, perhaps seeking to avenge Robin’s death, or is this too obvious an approach? As nightfall draws near the teenagers and their friends begin to fall victim to throat slitting’s, a decapitation, and a chase with an ax by crazed killer wearing a ski mask and black clothing. An ode to the Halloween franchise in the final act is delicious, but may or may not have been intentional.

The best part of Prom Night is the whodunit factor and most of the fun is trying to figure out who is offing the kids. We know the motivation but not the who. Red herrings are thrown directly to the audience like bones to a hungry dog. The creepy, alcoholic janitor, Sykes, leers at the teens and even witnesses one of the murders (spoiler alert- he is not the killer!) but his claims are dismissed as drunken rants. An escaped sex offender thought to be Robin’s killer, and an enemy of Kim’s are also thrown in to distract the viewer.

There is little character development (surprise, surprise) as standard stock character’s are on display. There is the jokester, the bitchy rich girl, the virginal girl, and the obnoxious boy, so diversity is not the ingredient of this film. A formula is clearly followed and we know the final reveal will be the be all, end all of a film like this. Despite being formulaic Prom Night is still enjoyable, never feeling mediocre. There is enough going on to please horror fans seeking thrills.

Not a bad effort, Prom Night (1980) captures the viewers attention immediately and never is dull. The one-hour and twenty-nine minutes of running time is a smart move as quick and easy can be described of the film. The surprise reveal genuinely does surprise when the masked killer is revealed. This is not Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) or Black Christmas (1974), the cream of the crop in slasher films, but is worth the watch.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

Director-Jack Sholder

Starring-Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,024

Reviewed May 18, 2020

Grade: B

While producing a surprising and tantalizing sexual subtext to a standard story and including a male protagonist instead of the generic female, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) sometimes feels overwrought with stock characters and not enough scary moments to satisfy bloodthirsty appetites, but the effort and aching for something a bit different is apparent, if viewers are sharp enough to take a curious peek.

The glossy 1980’s cinematic look is cringe-worthy and very “of the time” which usurps the creative tidbits nestled beneath the surface, as deserving of their merits as they are. Nonetheless, the film is not at all bad, almost feeling fresh by today’s standards, and the familiar villain is worth the price of admission. Once again Freddy baits and taunts his victims, who never stand a chance, with his trademark sneer and razor-sharp nails.

Five years following the events of the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, a new family arrives on the cursed block, happily anticipating a new life filled with baked cookies and warm fires. Parents Ken and Cheryl Walsh (film legend Hope Lange) raise two kids, Angela and Jesse (Mark Patton). The latter is haunted in his dreams by a killer driving a school bus. Jesse is joined by his friend and romantic interest, Lisa (Kim Meyers), school chum Grady (Robert Rusler), and Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell), who may or may not be gay.

An obvious comparison to the similar themed Friday the 13th franchise, a hot ticket during the 1980’s, is the return to a familiar setting. Elm Street is to A Nightmare on Elm Street what Camp Crystal Lake is to Friday the 13th. The locale is a character itself and knowing that bad stuff will occur there is pleasing to the viewer. Elm Street is supposed to be a quiet and safe place for families to snuggle in their beds with pets, dreaming the nights away, not worrying about an evil force turning their pleasant dreams into nightmares come to life.

A clever homoerotic tidbit, lost on most viewers, emerges nonetheless, especially in hindsight. Let’s remind ourselves that 1985 was not a hotbed of LGBTQ cinematic activity, especially as the horrific A.I.D.S epidemic was front-page news. Gay-themed films were not the norm, not even in the independent film circuit yet, so any mention of a gay character was a win for the community. A riveting scene has Jesse dreaming of indulging in a drink at a gay bar and is caught by Schneider, who sends him to the showers. The sexual overtones, obvious now, were not then.

Sadly, this is as far as the film goes with this subject. The remainder of the story is mostly standard fare, featuring a lively teenage pool party, aqua-net infused hairstyles, up-tempo pop music, and familiar written characters, most of whom turned up with different faces in the droves of horror films that peppered suburban movie theaters in those days. Not daring to make Jesse a gay character, though someone humorously made the character’s name androgynous, Jesse and Lisa share a tender kiss in her cabana.

Most sequels pale in comparison to their originals. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) is an adequate follow-up that dares to incorporate as much diversity and inclusiveness as could be mustered in a mainstream film during the mid-1980’s. Let’s not kid ourselves that the studios did not have profit on the mind over credibility and creativity, but the stakes are not exactly played safe which is to its credit. There were far worse sequels in this franchise yet to come!

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

Director-Samuel Bayer

Starring-Jackie Earle Haley

Scott’s Review #1,023

Reviewed May 14, 2020

Grade: C-

Rather a pointless remake, but unsurprising given the speedy attempts at re-doing almost every successful horror franchise in recent memory, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) offers nothing that the original did not provide better. Any film that is considered a dud with the word “nightmare” in the title is ripe for the picking as far as jokes and mockery go. The film is not too terrible but is rather mediocre and average to the taste. There is no reason to watch this offering over the 1984 original, besides perhaps a moment of curiosity.

A quick recap or re-introduction. Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a serial killer who crosses the worlds of dreams and reality to slice and dice his victims with his razor-sharp blade-fingered glove, is on the loose in small town America. As Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her pals fight for their lives, they also uncover clues to a shocking secret from their past. Freddy was a known child molester decades earlier and was tracked down and burned alive by angry parents seeking revenge after he escaped prison. He has vowed to destroy the children of those parents who all conveniently still live in the same town.

Capitalizing on the box-office success of a commercially successful yet critically sub-par 2009 offering of Friday the 13th, the light bulb went off and A Nightmare on Elm Street was green lit and born. The intention was to make Freddy and the film harsher and scarier than the 1984 original. This is a severe misstep as what made the original so good was the character of Freddy. What 1980’s teenager doesn’t fondly recall oozing with delight at Freddy’s one-liners and quips as he playfully toys with his pray before slitting their throats? New-Freddy is sinister, violent, and banal. Boring!

Earle Haley, a character actor known for 1977’s Breaking Away and finding a well-deserved career resurgence with the brilliant Little Children (2006) is cast as the brutal villain, sans any of the humor. The actor, small in stature, is cast well on paper, and doesn’t purposely ruin the role. It’s just that he is not Robert Englund and therefore never has a chance. While admittedly Earle Haley is menacing, he lacks the charisma and charm to do very much with the role except try to recreate something that is not his to begin with.

The rest of the teens in the cast are decent but hardly spectacular. The “final girl” is Nancy Thompson (Rooney Mara) changed to Nancy Holbrook in this version in another eye-rolling mistake since no reason is explained for the name change. It’s like changing Freddy Krueger’s name to Freddy Kelly. Regardless, Mara champions on in a role she is way too good for. The actress, about to reach stardom for gems like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Carol (2015) clearly needed the paycheck and a start. Fair enough.

From a visual standpoint, the film has some jump scares and frights that are stock fare for slick, mainstream horror films, almost now becoming clichés. The sets are decent with some of the houses and, a church, worthy of mention. Darkness is the main ingredient of this film- it is horror after all, and the filming has a very dark texture even during bright scenes. Some nice kills flesh out the rest of the experience.

If there is money to be made in Hollywood, it will be made. The true motivator of remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was profit over art. This is a reality and not so much a criticism, after all it’s called the entertainment biz for a reason. The changes made to the script do it no favors and if a remake had to be done, it was better left alone and not fooled with. Jackie Earle Haley does his best, but he is not and never will be the real Freddy Krueger. Robert Englund has that dubious honor.

Funny Girl-1968

Funny Girl-1968

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif

Scott’s Review #1,022

Reviewed May 11, 2020

Grade: B+

Barbra Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her outstanding portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968). She reprises a role that she made famous on the Broadway stage, bringing her to the big-screen. The role is vitally important and presents a great message, teaching viewers that an unconventional woman with great talents can succeed in show biz, leaving prim and proper starlets salivating with jealousy. Features the classic tunes “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as well as the title track.

Fanny (Streisand) is an unhappy Jewish New Yorker, living in semi-poverty and dreaming of the big time. Her mother (Kay Medford) and others in the community try to persuade Fanny to live a normal life far from the hot and judgmental lights of the stage, but she will have none of it. Finding success on her own terms in Ziegfeld Follies throughout World War I, she also finds love and passion with the suave Nick Arnstein (Sharif) following her debut performance. The story is loosely based on the life and career of the real Fanny and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler, Nick.

Taking nothing away from Sharif, who is more than adequate, the film belongs to Streisand. Despite being a novice, producers wanted nobody other than Streisand in the role since she had hit a home run in the stage version. A brief consideration to have Shirley MacLaine star in hindsight seems laughable and unimaginable. Sharif’s suave and dangerous swarthy characterization balances perfectly with Streisand’s naivety and innocence. The Jewish female and the Muslim male also must have raised an eyebrow or two at the time.

Streisand is a breath of fresh air in a role that could be said to mimic real life and reflects film in 1968 and beyond. Glamour girls were the height of fashion throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s where looks sometimes usurped talent. By the lifting of the Hollywood Code, grittier and dirtier roles were to be found for women. Streisand, as Fanny, proves that a self-proclaimed ugly duckling can rise to the top of the cream. Refusing to get a nose job or otherwise alter her appearance or name, she mirrors Fanny in many ways, inspiring both women and men to be yourself to achieve truth.

Director William Wyler, no stranger to Hollywood success with pictures such as Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) knows how to pace and balance a film nicely and how to present a cheery and splendid offering in a nice way, careful not to make the film too lightweight either. Comic scenes such as when Fanny upstages everyone and prances around stage as a pregnant newlywed becoming the talk of the town are the best ones. The film succeeds when it is fun.

Sharif does his best with a small role, surprising given the importance of the character, but the dramatic moments are not the best scenes. They are okay and certainly not overacted by the stars, but do not work as well as when Streisand belts out “People” on a lonely sidewalk. The issue is that Streisand is Funny Girl and even prominent actors like Sharif never had a chance. The one exception is Medford who goes toe to toe with Streisand in every scene with gusto and humor.

Funny Girl (1968) may suffer from a few overly melodramatic moments that slow it down, especially concerning the main romance, but the prominent message is one of staying true to one’s own colors. Refusing to be influenced by elders or even her beau, Fanny is to be heralded as an inspiration to all viewers. With delightful musical numbers and zesty wardrobe pieces, the film has a cheery and fun veneer, but more lies beneath the surface.  Whether the intention is a sing-along experience or a deeper meaning, the film has something for everyone.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress-Barbra Streisand (won), Best Supporting Actress-Kay Medford, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation, Best Song Original for the Picture-“Funny Girl”, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980’s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman. The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters. As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids. Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye. Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender bending this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.  For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980’s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface. This point kept returning to me over the course of the film and imagining how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice. Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama. Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects. Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensue with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferable would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order. For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters the title is bland, banal and tough to remember.

For those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending. Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as 1970’s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same sex desire, to cheesy 1980’s synth laden beats, adds some confusion. Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Lifeboat-1944

Lifeboat-1944

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak

Scott’s Review #1,020

Reviewed May 6, 2020

Grade: A-

Alfred Hitchcock, well-known for big, bouncy, suspenseful productions, creates a stripped-down, intimate story of adventures while adrift on a survival boat, leaving plenty of tension and peril. Lifeboat (1944), now teetering on extinction from memory save for fans of the director, deserves appreciation and respect for the brilliant direction and wonderful cinematography alone. The film was met with controversy and some derision for sympathetic depictions of a German U-boat captain (Walter Slezak) amid the horrors of World War II.

Events begin in the middle of calm Atlantic Oceanic waters after a dastardly battle results in a German U-boat and a British/American ship sinking each other, leaving fewer than a dozen civilians and service members to survive in one lifeboat. The snooty and glamorous columnist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), clad in the finest fur coat around, is irritated by a run in her stocking, a travesty in her mind. She is slowly joined by other survivors including a young British woman with a dead baby, a steward, a U.S. Army nurse (Mary Anderson), a wealthy entrepreneur, and other people from most walks of life.

Lifeboat plays out like a more cerebral version of a disaster film. Think- a smart man’s version of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which is said with love since it’s one of my favorite films. But with Lifeboat, there is a darkness and a sadness missing from 1970’s disaster films that were more lightweight. The black-and-white camerawork helps tremendously as does the mist, the rain, and even the strong beating sun. The weather elements play an important role and are characters themselves.

Speaking of characters, the individuals are plentiful and diverse, ranging from British, American, Black, German, wealthy and working-class, to eventually dead and alive with a gruesome leg amputation taking place mid-stream. Each is well-written, exhibiting fear, bravery, and suspicion of the other’s motivations, especially the German captain who communicates in native tongue with Connie, causing conjecture among the other survivors.

Events would hardly be complete without a good melodramatic romance and such is the treat to see two formulate. Connie and handsome John (John Hodiak) share a love/hate relationship, clearly from opposite backgrounds, while the more stable Alice and Stanley (Hume Cronyn) even decide to marry! Genteel Alice reveals a marriage and an affair to Stanley uncovering layers and a complexity to the character.

My favorite character is Connie, and Bankhead is a pure delight in the bitchy, no-nonsense role. She enshrouds the camera from the first scene. Reminiscent of Bette Davis, the actress has a similar composure, stance, and trademark cigarette, but slowly reveals her insecurities and desperation. What fun she is to watch!

A tender and poignant scene occurs at the end of the film and is lovely to witness especially given the tumultuous time of the mid 1940’s. A drifting young German soldier attempts to board and shoot at the survivors but is apprehended. Disputes occur, but instead of shooting or casting the lad over board to drown, he is saved and presumably provided food and water. He inquires why they don’t kill him? The message is powerful and anti-war.

The direction methods are brilliant, looking as realistic as anything could in 1940’s cinema where CGI was decades away. Hitchcock had me fooled as I bought lock, stock, and barrel that the lifeboat was in the middle of rough and murky waters instead of a Hollywood studio tub. The creative method of getting so many characters into one shot wonderfully and effectively provides a claustrophobic feel as the lack of food and drinking water causes hysteria and emotion. The one-set approach is marvelous and perfect for the film’s specific story line.

After decades of underexposure and playing second or third fiddle to other Hitchcock masterpieces, Lifeboat (1944) is finally getting a bit of notice and acclaim. Here’s to hoping the trend will continue as the film contains enough frights and perils to keep anyone guessing which characters will sink and which will swim. Perhaps not the best watch on a cruise ship or other watery surfaces, the escapade will delight most fans of classic black-and-white thrill cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director- Alfred Hitchcock, Best Original Story, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon

Scott’s Review #1,019

Reviewed May 4, 2020

Grade: A-

Pioneer horror director Wes Craven, famous for reinvigorating the slasher genre with humor, wit, and satirically ponderous situations, created the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which introduced the legendary character of Freddie Kruger (Robert Englund) to audiences. Followed by eight sequels or re-introductions, the debut is a clever affair and a breath of fresh air in the too often formulaic world of slashers. And who could deny the satisfaction of seeing future Hollywood royalty, Johnny Depp, succumb to the villainous Kruger.

A group of unsuspecting teenagers are tortured both consciously and unconsciously as they dream the nights away, by a hideously disfigured man clad in a striped shirt and a gloved hand with razors. He taunts and teases the teens unmercifully as they reside, party, and have sex in small-town America, mainly spending their time in high school or on the cursed Elm Street. The main girl to experience Freddie’s devious wrath is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langankamp), who uses caffeine and more drastic measures to stay awake and alive!

To review A Nightmare on Elm Street without mentioning the Friday the 13th or Halloween franchises would be foolhardy since, combined, they make up the “Big three” of the entertaining slasher genre, each living on in infamy. To provide a quick chronology, A Nightmare on Elm Street ran from (1984-1994) adding a crossover with Friday the 13th in 2003, and an unnecessary remake in 2010. Friday the 13th hit cinemas in 1980, never looking back until the uninspired remake in 2009. Finally, Halloween debuted in 1978 and is still churning out relevant chapters.

Whereas Friday the 13th and Halloween chose to stick with a more realistic formula- a crazed killer wielding a butcher knife or an ax, the brief foray into outer space with Jason X (2002) notwithstanding, A Nightmare on Elm Street is the more cerebral of the three, mixing dreams and reality so the viewer is left perplexed and filled with thoughtful questions and is scared. As each victim is gleefully toyed with, invaded and killed in their dreams, and thus killed, by the burnt killer, more complexities exist.

Released right smack in the middle of the 1980’s- the decade of decadence, where a snug suburban life meant safety and sweet dreams, the target audience is the teenage crowd. In the height of the Reagan years where everyone and their neighbor had a vacation house, boat or BMW, this film scared the daylights out of most viewers. Sleep did not come easy for those who took Freddie’s taunts to heart.

While frightening, A Nightmare on Elm Street does not take itself as seriously as Friday the 13th or Halloween does. Infusing humor and snickering fun is a great recipe to differentiate itself from its brethren taking on straight-ahead horror. The film can blur the boundaries between the imaginary and the real, toying with audience perceptions at every turn and making them think.

Imaginative, this is not always the film’s key to success. Craven needs to be careful that his story does not teeter off into the absurd or the outlandish, which it did in later installments. Credit must be given to Englund, who takes crazy Freddie off to orbit with dizzying rapidity, going too over-the-top only once or twice. And who can ever forget the frightening child’s rhyming song featured in the film.

Story always eclipses effects, and Craven is wise to craft a backstory for Kruger to enjoy almost making him sympathetic, but then harshly bringing reality back and making the killer a child murderer. Still, the parents who took their own brand of vengeance and burned Freddie alive are not saints but sinners. This allows Kruger just enough empathy to keep audiences engaged. He’s a fun villain!

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a timeless classic that introduced the world to one of the horror genres best villains. Unlike Jason and Michael Myers, who are faceless, Freddie Kruger was played by one actor, Robert Englund, who gave him energy, zest, and charm. He will forever live on in the hearts of slasher fans everywhere.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

Director-Joe Talbot

Starring-Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors

Scott’s Review #1,018

Reviewed May 1, 2020

Grade: A

The brilliance of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) is multi-fold. The immediate call-out is that the work is the creation of up-and-coming director, Joe Talbot, an artist with a great eye for both the visual and humanistic aspects of cinema. Whomever influenced this young man deserves props for he has a great future ahead of him. Being this is his film debut and he also co-wrote it, the future is bright indeed. The film is loosely based on the life of his childhood best friend, Jimmie Fails, who also stars.

A24 is arguably the new “it” film studio for independent entertainment offerings and this is to be celebrated. Indie films provide creative artists with the means and the time to develop their product and tell stories that are fraught with meaning and in many cases dare to go where other films have not ventured to at risk of turning a mainstream audience off. This is to be celebrated and championed and has resulted in many great and unique films. Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019), and The Lighthouse (2019) immediately spring to mind.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco gets off to an interesting start as two young black men, Jimmie (Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) wait for the bus as men clad in protective gear appear to clean polluted waters. The implication is clear that residents are not protected while the men are. Protesters chant while images of the changes San Francisco has experienced over the years are shown. The two then skateboard to a Victorian house in the city’s Fillmore District that Jimmie grew up in and says was built by his grandfather in 1946. Their skateboard trip is cerebral and surrealistic and ten glorious cinematic moments.

Evident is that Talbot is channeling either an autobiographic story or one of a friend- it proves to be the latter. Unclear is if Mont is supposed to be Talbot, but my guess would be in the affirmative. Jimmie and Mont are inseparable, residing both at Mont’s grandfather’s house (played by a startlingly elderly Danny Glover) and the house that Jimmie’s grandfather built. The friends trudge along their daily life by enduring insults hurled at them by a neighborhood gang and fixing up the Victorian house whose owners neglect it and are subsequently are evicted.

Jimmie and Mont are fantastically nuanced, rich characters, each for different reasons. Jimmie is pained that his city has forgotten his grandfather and his legacy, cast aside for progress and wealth. His father (Rob Morgan) is angry, his mother, a recovering drug addict is barely in his life, as they run into each other by chance on the city bus. Jimmie’s Aunt (Tichina Arnold) resides outside the city and serves as his confidante.

Mont is a creative, yearning to write a play based on the local gang, but struggles to create the words or authentically express his voice. He works in a fish shop and frequently acts out his thoughts of others down by the water. Considered odd, he is a good guy and loyal to his grandfather. Since a female love interest is never mentioned (another high point of the film) neither Jimmie’s nor Mont’s sexuality is ever discussed, nor is a potential relationship between the two ever mentioned. The ambiguity works amazingly well and conjures up comparisons to the groundbreaking Moonlight (2016).

When a sudden death erupts the proceedings, Mont finally finds his voice and composes an improvised stage play which he stars in as a dedication for the fallen victim. He elicits responses from the people in attendance (including all principal cast members) as a shocking secret erupts resulting in disarray. This takes the already layered film into a new direction as all Jimmie thought to be true is suddenly shattered.

In a word, the film feels fresh, both visually and from a story perspective. Fails and Majors are top young talent with bright futures who add a patient climb with their characters amid a film that paces slowly but steadily, letting the events marinate to a frenzy in a thought-provoking way.

I eagerly await the next project by the talented Talbot. In a film industry hungry for new ideas, the creator of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offers a journey into the minds of two black men written not as stereotypes, but as interesting and intelligent individuals sadly not looking forward but looking backwards. The film provides characters who are not standard but are so much more than that.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature, Best Supporting Male (Jonathan Majors)