Pet Sematary-2019

Pet Sematary-2019

Director-Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring-Jason Clarke, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #923

Reviewed July 26, 2019

Grade: B

In the age of the movie remake, especially within the horror genre, it was only a matter of time before Pet Sematary, first made in 1989, would resurface with its fangs bared. Paramount Pictures offers up Pet Sematary (2019), a by the numbers affair perfect for viewing on a late Saturday night. It is an improvement over the disappointing ’89 version but hardly recreates the genre, feeling more like a remake than offering much in the way of new story-telling or frightening effects. The conclusion is rather disappointing offering a hybrid of slasher meets zombie.

To compare either film to the chilling and suspenseful page-turner written by esteemed novelist Stephen King would be ridiculous. The book is a quick read that will leave its reader breathless and scared, perhaps even fearing their own pets, so the bar is set way too high for a cinematic offering to match up with. The book delves much more into the feelings and emotions of all the principle characters, something that is severely limited with the film.

The Creed family, Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and children Ellie and Gage, move from bustling Boston, Massachusetts, to rural Maine to allow Louis the opportunity to practice medicine at a university hospital. Their friendly neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) befriends Ellie after she stumbles across a funeral procession of children taking a deceased dog to a cemetery called Pet Sematary. He warns she and Rachel that the woods are dangerous. When tragedy strikes the family, the cemetery unleashes a supernatural force contained in an ancient burial ground that sits beside it.

The first half of the film is superior to the second as the build-up offers more perilous moments than when all hell breaks loose. Mysterious is when an accident victim in Louis’s care dies and begins to show up in his visions warning him of something sinister. The victim is mangled and bloody and quite frightening are these foreboding scenes. When a curious Ellie traipses throughout the woods with curious wonderment the audience is nervous about what (or who) she might stumble upon.

The film also gets props for the suspenseful birthday party scene that ends in a grisly death. The scene begins in a cheery way with lively party music and festive balloons amid a warm afternoon in summery Maine. In a clear example of foreshadowing, earlier in the film Louis curses the truck drivers that drive at reckless speed past his house. Excitedly running after their cat named Church, Ellie and Gage pay no attention to the looming truck with the texting driver until it is too late. The scene drips with good terror.

After one family member is struck down by the speeding tractor trailer the predictability surfaces. Jud has already warned Louis that “sometimes dead is better”, but we know Louis will surrender to temptation out of desperation and tempt the bad spirits. When the once dead character returns with a droopy eye and calm deviousness, the film becomes a standard slasher film and is not as compelling.

The final thirty minutes feels very rushed as if the careful pacing of the buildup is all for naught. As in most horror films, now deemed a cliche, the last sequence allows for a sequel if box-office profits are hefty enough. I do not recall a similar ending in the chilling novel or any reference to the family living out their days as a family of the undead. The obvious attempt at a zombie reference was unsatisfying and much different from what I expected.

From a casting point of view Jason Clarke (usually cast in supporting roles) gives a strong performance as the main character. He is a good father figure and provides charisma to the film. Well-mannered but also somewhat outdoorsy and a “regular joe” he is intelligent and humorous with the kids. The child actors are fine but hardly the main attraction and Seimetz as the mother, Rachel, is not the best casting choice. She plays the challenging role much too brooding and angry for my taste, especially given she is written as the most sympathetic of all the characters.

Pet Sematary (2019) is a satisfactory horror offering with a solid first half that teeters into difficult to believe territory rather quickly. A stalwart veteran like Lithgow helps immensely, giving the film some respectability, and a child actor cast in a pivotal role is enough and doesn’t ruin the experience. There is little reason to see the film a second time but advisable is to snuggle with the King novel for some good scares.

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director-Georges Franju

Starring-Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon. The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could possibly be. The film is nestled into a short one hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences. What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy. The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists. The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck. But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young women and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane. Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise. Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by doctor, assistant and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style. Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in almost tender fashion. The film is not the 1980’s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goer’s preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but nonetheless recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film. As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough. Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends. This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand

Scott’s Review #921 

Reviewed July 19, 2019

Grade: B+

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a very obscure film that deserves better than to be relegated into the unknown. Released during a time when the Hollywood musical had lost its luster, it feels like a last gasp effort to keep the genre alive, serving as a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand. The film suffers from severe editing problems with a large portion being cut, so much so that the result is a choppy and disjointed feel, tough to follow as is but left untouched the film could have been a creative masterpiece.

In a particularly convoluted plot that spans two time-periods, chain-smoking New Yorker, Daisy Gamble (Streisand) is convinced by her uptight fiancee Warren (Larry Blyden) to attend a class taught by Marc Cabot (Yves Montand), a psychiatrist. When she is accidentally hypnotized by Cabot he realizes she speaks in the voice of an early nineteenth-century woman named Melinda, as he becomes obsessed with her while she teeters between two existences.

The screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner, adapted from his book for the 1965 stage production. Film director Vincente Minnelli fuses fantasy with a musical to create an experimental piece extremely left of center- this is not your standard 1950’s or 1960’s MGM experience with merry or clap-along tunes. Some of the more memorable numbers include “On a Clear Day” which is a reprise at the end of the film, “He Isn’t You” and “Love with All the Trimmings”.

Casting Streisand is a monumental choice as she carries the film on her shoulders. Belting out numbers is the singer turned actresses forte and she never disappoints. She is fascinating to watch in the neurotic role as she smokes and prances around, usually in a tizzy or in a state of peril (self-induced). The performance impresses as a different style than many of her other films and she has never portrayed a livelier character. Streisand overcomes a few challenges of the film, winning in spades.

She shares little to no chemistry with co-star Montand who is not only too old for her, but he is not the greatest actor either. If the film’s intent, which I suspect, was to make the pair the main draw then this failed. Streisand’s chemistry with John Richardson, who plays Sir Robert Tentrees to her Melinda in the other time-period, excites. The duo smolders with passion but sadly, most of the nineteenth century scenes are the ones that are sacrificed making most of it a jumbled mess. Much more interesting would have been to leave the entire film intact.

An oddity is Jack Nicholson’s almost nonexistent role of Tad Pringle, a mostly non-described brother of Daisy’s. Is he also her neighbor?  In 1970 Nicholson was only on the cusp of super-stardom and questionable is whether some of his role was left on the cutting-room floor, but the limited character is strange and unsatisfying. In another role there would have been some possibility of a romantic entanglement.

Throughout the duration of the film I wondered how On a Clear Day You Can See Forever might have worked with someone other than Streisand in the roles. I kept ruminating how good Liza Minnelli might have been in the roles with her non-classic looks (like Streisand) and bombastic voice. Her high dramatic flair and capable New York style would have made results interesting, but Streisand hits it out of the park.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a brave attempt at something fantastical, brimming with potential that is left feeling cluttered and messy. With a delicious leading lady whom the camera adores and enough creative sets and rigorous energy to keep one guessing, the film stumbles with many problems and leaves viewers incomplete.

Free Solo-2018

Free Solo-2018

Director-Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Starring-Alex Honnold

Scott’s Review #920

Reviewed July 17, 2019

Grade: B

Free Solo (2018) is a documentary that takes a standard approach style, offering a traditional, yet informative piece about the perils and triumphs of rock climbing. More precisely, termed “free soloing”, a dangerous feat involving the lack of ropes or any safety harnesses, one false misstep can (and has) resulted in death. The film balances a nice humanistic approach of the featured daredevil with his girlfriend and camera crew’s individual perspectives.

Having personally scolded the Oscar Academy (in my own mind anyway) for omitting the wonderful Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) from the five documentary nominees, a “WTF” moment on nomination day, Free Solo would not be my choice as the winner, with RBG getting the honor from the choices provided. RBG is the more timelier and more important of the bunch, given the current state of United States political affairs, but nonetheless Free Solo was crowned the champion.

The likable young man at the forefront of the feature is Alex Honnold, a modest athlete from the west coast, United States, in his early twenties.  He has a low-key, almost morose personality and is his own person, shunning organized holidays like Halloween because he “doesn’t want someone else telling him when to have fun”. He is thoughtful and introspective and even a bit odd having sought climbing at a young age and never looking back.

Apparent is how he is not necessarily seeking the fame and fortune but has nonetheless become respected in his chosen profession, explaining that it is more a calling than any attempt to show off or boast of his achievements. As he admits to always wanting to climb the dangerously steep and world-famous rock, the 3,000 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope, he is also concerned about the pressure of performing for camera crews and the responsibility that entails. The documentary stresses this point as Alex bails from the climb on his first attempt.

Throughout the documentary, the film-makers choose to focus on tidbits of story around his loved ones, specifically his girlfriend and mother, offering their perspectives of his dangerous activities. This is a nice added touch and gives heart and layers to the story making it more humanistic than simply watching an unknown person rock climb for an hour and a half. The audience gets to know Alex throughout the piece therefore making us care more about the peril he goes through as he attempts to triumph.

The production is superlative and quite engaging especially throughout the climbing sequences. Vast shots of the amazing views from the giant rock are plentiful and astounding making the viewer feel as if he or she is also climbing the treacherous monument but breathing a sigh of relief when realizing the safety of a sofa or chair is the preferred option. Seriously though, the camera work is a huge appeal of Free Solo and undoubtedly the primary reason it won the Oscar statuette.

The negatives to Free Solo are only slight and perhaps due to my own lack of appeal of rock climbing. During the documentary I kept asking myself why on earth Alex would attempt to achieve the feat and what possible purpose it would serve. From that angle, my attention tended to wander from time to time so the people with passion for adventurous experiences would be the target audience.

Secondly, there was nary a doubt in my mind that the final moments would result in Alex successfully reaching the pinnacle of his career safely despite the concerns of the crew that he could fall to his death at any moment. Sensible reasoning assured me the project would not have been released if tragedy had occurred.

Free Solo (2018) offers a solid and conventional documentary with enough outdoor sequences amid the standard interviews to satisfy all. The finale, while predictable in showing Alex’s successful climb to Mount, is photographed exceptionally well and professional in spirit. The documentary suffers from some predictability issues and a lack of any real cliffhanger (pun intended) but feels fresh and celebrates the human spirit in a big way.

Bad Times at the El Royale-2018

Bad Times at the El Royale-2018

Director-Drew Goddard

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson

Scott’s Review #919

Reviewed July 10, 2019

Grade: A-

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018), directed by Drew Goddard, known for crafting the horror film The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is a gem crossing multiple genres with sound results. With Bad Times, he assumes writing and production duties for the thriller and steals a page from the Quentin Tarantino playbook, most notably from The Hateful Eight (2015). The resulting feature is clever, perverse and mysterious, with a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat experience, and a must-see for Tarantino fans.

Set in 1969, the film focuses on seven strangers of differing backgrounds who make their way to a seedy and remote hotel on the California/Nevada border. Each harbors his or her share of dark secrets, which culminates during a deadly and macabre showdown one dark and stormy night. In many ways each character is seeking redemption or forgiveness for a past indiscretion or is otherwise protecting someone or something else. A large sum of money is also in play for the greedier characters to tussle over.

The seven players are as follows: Jeff Bridges plays catholic priest Donald “Dock” O’Kelly, Cynthia Erivo plays struggling soul singer Darlene Sweet, and Dakota Johnson portrays Emily Summerspring, a hippie trying to save her younger sister, Rose, who is devoted to and mesmerized by sadistic cult leader Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). Finally, Jon Hamm plays Dwight Broadbeck, a vacuum salesman who may have a secret identity, and hotel clerk Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), who runs the hotel alone.

As events roll along the complexities of the characters grow and grow, which is my favorite aspect of the film. There are so many twists and turns involving the characters back stories and motivations that surprises are in store. Some characters have strange connections to each other, others meet for the first time resulting in their lives intersecting in interesting ways.

The dynamic between all the actors work tremendously well with the standouts being Bridges and Erivo, who share tremendous chemistry and are the most interesting characters, to mention get the most screen time. During their lengthy scenes together, their characters forge a bond while never completely trusting each other. Erivo, as Darlene, gets to showcase her wonderful singing voice, the grand hotel room sequence as she belts out “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You”) is the highlight. Old and maligned with memory loss Bridges is successful at granting more sympathy to his character than he deserves.

The film loses momentum towards the end with the introduction of the miscast Hemsworth, pretty but not the greatest acting talent. The actor over acts, playing Billy Lee as sinister and one-dimensional rather than infusing any complexities into the character, which doesn’t work. A better casting choice (and Tarantino mainstays) would have been Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt, either actor assuredly bringing more depth to the role.

Comparisons to both The Hateful Eight and the comedy Clue (1985) must be made. Like the former, Goddard divides the film into chapters, mostly entitled as the hotel room numbers. With each subsequent room the events going on in that room and its inhabitants are explored. As in both films he brings several mysterious characters with connections, together. Like in Clue, secret passageways which lead to various parts of a building are featured, offering layers of possibilities.

The hotel itself is styled and dressed brilliantly, nearly a character with glossy decal, shiny trimmings but with a solemn and melancholy gloominess.  The establishment has seen its share of heartbreak, schemes, and even death. Clever is the division of the hotel in either the “California” section, sunny and cheerful, or the less posh “Nevada” section, purple and costing one dollar less. The viewer is sucked into its web within the first sequence when a man is shown hiding money under the floorboards and then subsequently shot to death.

Despite justifiably being labeled as a Tarantino rip-off, this does not bother me as I was enthralled with the characters, the details, and the vast nuances offered to me. Unfortunately, the film was a box-office disappointment, suffering from lack of awards buzz and a lofty running-time. Bad Times at El Royale (2018) will entertain, intrigue, and keep one guessing up until the credits roll. Be prepared for a bloody good time!

Imitation of Life-1959

Imitation of Life-1959

Director-Douglas Sirk

Starring-Lana Turner, Annie Johnson

Scott’s Review #918

Reviewed July 9, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the original film production made in 1934, which was based on a 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life (1959) is a relevant dissection of race relations, class systems, and gender roles, all of which still feel timely decades later. The film is a fresh, progressive and brazen effort that sometimes teeters too much into soap-opera land but is nonetheless an important story to be exposed to. The dynamics between the central characters in deliciously raw scenes is the greatest part of the film.

Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widowed, stylish New York woman with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. One day she meets a lovely black woman, Annie Johnson (Moore), on the beach, and the women become fast friends, each having a daughter around the same age. The women decide to move in together for financial reasons and to further Lora’s chances for success in the entertainment industry. Lora begins a casual romance with handsome Steve Archer (John Gavin).

Eleven years pass, and Lora is now a big star, residing in a luxurious house in New York and flocking to film locales in Italy. Annie continues to live with her, serving as housekeeper and confidante. The girls are now teenagers with issues of their own. Susie (Sandra Dee) has developed feelings for her mother’s boyfriend while Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), of mixed-race ethnicity, is ashamed of her black heritage and frequently is able to pass for white. The trials and tribulations of all are played out throughout the film.

Imitation of Life has two key distinctions and focuses on each both separately. Since the timing of the story is said to be 1947 and the picture released in 1959, before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, the racial story is very poignant and truthful and the main draw of the film. Sarah Jane is embarrassed to be black and her eventual abandonment of both her life in New York and of her mother can be deemed reprehensible if not for the times. Her regrets come too little too late but Kohner nonetheless infuses much sympathy into her complex role.

The second main aspect of Imitation of Life is more mainstream and dramatic, easily more accessible to the public than the former, and a main reason why the film was misunderstood or even dismissed by some as too melodramatic. Lora is glamorous and well-dressed, always stylish and poised and soon Susie begins to grow jealous and resentful of Lora’s achievements and the attention she receives from men at every turn. This invokes a female rivalry that is pure 1950’s Hollywood glitz and seems manipulative and naughty, using bright colors, dazzling costumes and flair to promote the excess drama.

As tremendous as Kohner is, Juanita Moore knocks it out of the park and does the best acting job out of all the principal performers. Her frequent dramatic scenes are filled with emotional bombast without the actress ever going over-the-top. Rather, she keeps her composure, earning her well-earned Best Actress Oscar nomination if for no other scene than the heartbreaking mother/daughter showdown in a California hotel room.

When Moore’s Annie is mistaken for Sarah Jane’s maid instead of her own mother, the pain and worry can plainly be seen on her face as she realizes she has lost what she knew of her daughter for good. She returns to New York an old woman with a broken heart and spirit, both defeated and deflated. The last sequence is tough to watch as tragedy results and a coldness encompasses the film.

Interesting to note is the prevalence of more than one suitor for Lora, and the implication is that she could have up to three if including her agent Allen and playwright David, while Annie has none. This point is slightly irksome and a missed opportunity as a male companion for Annie, or at least the potential for one, might have changed her life forever. The film is true to the novel but how wonderful to imagine Annie being treated to a nicer life while finding true love.

Imitation of Life (1959) is a film treasure with subtle and not so subtle nuances and bold, powerful story-telling enveloping the entire experience. Suffering a bit from a sometimes too sudsy mass appeal approach, and too much focus on melodrama, the film nonetheless does not abandon its social issues theme especially given the harsh treatment of minorities during this period. No other film deals with the psychological turmoil of mixed-race like Imitation of Life does.

Do Not Disturb-1965

Do Not Disturb-1965

Director-Ralph Levy

Starring-Doris Day, Rod Taylor

Scott’s Review #917

Reviewed July 8, 2019

Grade: C+

Singer and actress Doris Day, in large part, put her stamp on the romantic comedy genre, such that it was, during the 1960’s becoming synonymous with wholesome film characters with spunk and charm but always wearing sensible shoes. Do Not Disturb (1965) is a lightweight, forgettable work that offers a silly premise and a juvenile script with meandering plot thrown in for good measure. The film is saved somewhat by the interesting locales of London and Kent England, but for those seeking better quality ought to seek out the gems The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) or Pillow Talk (1959).

Day and Rod Taylor star as Janet and Mike Harper, an American couple who relocate to England as part of a transfer for the company he works for. They immediately disagree over where to live; Mike prefers the excitement of London, but Janet favors the rustic quality of Kent. After she gets them a house thirty miles outside of London, the plan backfires when the couple grow further apart due to Mike’s need to commute to London every day. Lonesome and isolated, Janet worries incessantly that Mike is having an affair with his new secretary, Claire Hackett (Maureen McGiveney).

Prompted by her busybody landlord, Vanessa Courtwright (Hermione Baddeley), Janet meets an Italian antiques dealer, Paul Bellari (Sergio Fantoni), who she hires to redecorate her house. With Mike spending more time with Claire and Janet and Paul in equally close quarters, the hi-jinks begin. Janet and Mike may be innocent, but Paul and Claire could have designs on their potential mates especially as the foursome begin to face one compromising situation after another.

The heart of an authentic romantic comedy is good, old-fashioned chemistry between the leads and Taylor and Day exhibit adequate sparkle but hardly sizzle. Mediocrity in the setup and writing can be forgiven if other elements like crackling moments exist, but those are scarcities in Do Not Disturb. Some Like it Hot (1959) embodies a great comedy with romantic wrappings featuring fantastic leads Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, but the former does not come anywhere close to finding its footing amid cliche after cliche.

To further on the above note, the film is plot driven and heavy on story-dictated situations rather than on character development, and the ending is predictable. With most of the jokes either falling completely flat or feeling distinctly canned and cheap the laughs never catch on. During a tepid sequence, Janet and Paul go to a remote town to check out antiques where she winds up drinking too much bubbly, becoming drunk and foolhardy. In what should have been the comic high point of the film instead does very little to further the plot or flesh out the characters.

Director, Ralph Levy makes little effort to steer the film anywhere other than a slick mainstream “affair” despite the release year being 1965 when more edgy works were replacing the polished and the tried and true. Rather than dare to go to a less than cheery place and perhaps decide to have Janet or Mike cheat on their significant others, Levy chooses not to go there instead attempting to satisfy those seeking a happily-ever-after wrapping.

Not to be over-saturated with negativity, Do Not Disturb features wonderful and stunning locale sequences of bustling metropolitan London and quaint English cottages and wilderness, oozing with as much culture and sophistication as down-home comforts and rich flavor. The combination of an American couple thrust into a different setting with a new set of rules and regulations to follow makes the film fun in this regard and offers a sprinkle of good scenery.

Do Not Disturb (1965) is a mid-1960’s mainstream release buried among nests of other similar themed but better written films. Even appealing and bankable stars of the time like Taylor and Day could not succeed in spicing up tired gimmicks and plot devices. The film will forever be relegated to the romantic comedy shelves teetering on the brink of obscurity.

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

Having not seen the first two installments of the latest Spider-Man franchise nor with any prior knowledge of The Avengers franchise, or the cross-sectional connections of the characters to other films, I walked into Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) with little expectations and admittedly limited understanding of the Marvel universe altogether. The film is no better or worse than a summer popcorn flick with enough adventure and nice locales to keep a non- super-hero buff entertained for over two hours without fidgeting too much.

The film begins with a nod to a past film where apparently a mysterious “Blip” occurred erasing people for a period of five-years’ time where they then return to normalcy having not aged. Still shots of various Avengers characters including Tony Stark (Iron Man) who have died appear on the screen amid a musical tribute to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) (Tom Holland) still mourns his mentor as he embarks on a two-week European vacation with his classmates as part of a school trip. He plans to confess his love for MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower in Paris.

Peter’s Aunt May (now reduced in age and sexy with the casting of Marisa Tomei) quickly packs his Spider-Man suit as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to enlist Peter’s help on a mission and provide him with Stark’s special glasses, named E.D.I.T.H. which possess all the databases of Stark Industries. Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of Illusions is recruited to help Spider-Man and serve as a cool Uncle figure. These events all happen as Peter travels abroad.

The film is undeniably light and fun, with a bright and safe ambiance. The perilous scenes are not scary nor particularly dangerous despite characters being at the risk of death. The teen romance angle enhances this assessment as it is a main component of the film, even as much as the adventure and super-hero antics are. Even prior to the teen classmates traversing throughout Europe, a triangle between Peter, MJ and Peter’s hunky, high school football rival develops, as does love at thirty-five thousand feet between lovebirds Ned and Betty Brant.

Tom Holland is very well cast in the lead role and is charismatic and believable.  Charming with a youthful innocence, he is part nerd and part hero, but at always empathetic and benevolent without this feeling forced. As a viewer unfamiliar with the first two chapters, I was immediately catapulted into his world of teen angst, romance, and his responsibility of saving the world. The young actor could have a fine future ahead of him if he avoids any typecasting and chooses good roles.

The guts of the film, meaning the action sequences and the standard genre elements, are palpable and worthy of admiration on their own merits. The visual effects are tremendous and crowd-pleasing, especially whenever Mysterio is involved. With a twisting, tornado-like blue and green swirling motion he flies in and out of sequences with enough pizzazz to put the Wicked Witch of the West to shame. Similarly, the gusty unnatural storm, Earth Elemental, and the dangerous Fire, provide magical and atmospheric power that help the look of the film.

Comedy rather than dark and foreboding scenes are what the film-makers seem to be going for with this project. As class trip chaperones and the student’s teachers, the comic duo of Julius Dell and Roger Harrington trade barbs with themselves and the kids, part bumbling and part incompetent, always offering comic moments of relief. When Harold “Happy” Hogan becomes smitten with Aunt May, his awkwardness is cute and fresh rather than sappy and cliched. The supporting characters have stuff to do but I would have preferred a bit more darkness or gloominess.

The sequences that rise Spider-Man: Far from Home above mediocrity are the wonderful and plentiful European scenes, a feast of riches for this fan of world travel and culture. The canals of Venice and the magnificence of Prague are nearly rivaled by the sophistication of London and the history of Berlin. Sadly, the film does not culminate in Paris as I had hoped and was hinted at, causing a slight hiccup in my vicarious travel pleasures.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is a film perfectly crafted for summer and fittingly was viewed on a scorching hot July day. The film is not a masterpiece, sticking to a formula tried and true, and limiting the dangerous possibilities when one threatens to destroy the world in favor of humor. The cast is likable, the villain compelling, and the romance showcases more than just the main couple, being careful not to limit the cash cow of special effects and adventure the film heavily provides.

First Man-2018

First Man-2018

Director-Damian Chazelle

Starring-Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

Scott’s Review #915

Reviewed July 4, 2019

Grade: B+

First Man (2018) is a re-teaming of efforts by director Damian Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling, hot on the heels of the 2016 critical and commercial smash hit La La Land. The former could not be more different the latter and the direction unrecognizable for those expecting a comparison. First Man is a mainstream Hollywood production with good camerawork and an edgy quality.  The necessary full-throttle action approach is interspersed nicely with a personal family story and humanistic spin that is never too sappy nor forced.

The focus of the story is on Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and the events leading up to the historic Apollo 11 mission which resulted in the him being the first United States astronaut to walk on the moon. Buzzy Aldrin (Corey Stoll), the second man to walk on the moon is featured to a lesser degree and his character is portrayed as self-centered and difficult though screen time is limited. The overall message is of the triumphs and the costs to families, the astronauts and the country during an already tumultuous decade in history.

Events of the film begin in 1961 as we see Armstrong as a young NASA test pilot suffering mishaps due to his personal problems and culminates in 1969 after the successful mission concludes. Chazelle wisely balances human and personal scenes with the inevitable rocket take-offs and outer space problems that the astronauts face.  Both segments turn out well and keep the action moving, allowing for tender moments between the characters especially showcasing the relationship between Neil and his wife Janet (Claire Foy). Lacking (thankfully) are the scenes of machismo or “guy talk” that sometimes accompany films in this genre.

During one of the first scenes the audience quickly witnesses the couple’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Karen retching and suffering from learning disabilities only to quickly die from a brain tumor forever destroying the couple. This important aspect reoccurs as Neil imagines his daughter playing with neighborhood kids and enjoying life. In a wonderful moment he tearfully drops Karen’s tiny bracelet into a giant crater in the hopes of always keeping her memory alive. These additions give the film a character driven quality.

Worthy of analysis before and after viewing the film is the decision of the young director to tackle such a project, heartily appealing to the mainstream audience undoubtedly in mind. Legendary director Clint Eastwood was originally slated to direct and the historically rich story seems right up his alley. Interesting to wonder is if during the 1990’s Tom Hanks might have been cast in the role of Armstrong during his younger days, playing a similar role in Ron Howard’s 1995 film Apollo 13.

Well-known character actors appear in supporting roles fleshing out the production and further adding name and face recognition. Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Ciaran Hinds appear as astronauts or various NASA Chiefs. Viewers who may not be able to name the actors will certainly recognize them as actors seen in other features. This only brings First Man to the big leagues with a hearty and talented central cast.

Gosling and Foy are the main draw and both actors were mentioned as possibilities for Oscar nominations throughout awards season, but a slot in the big race did not come to fruition. While the film drew a couple of nominations for Best Editing and Best Score, a Best Picture nomination was not to be, probably due to the film not being as big a blockbuster success as expected. The film is also more brooding and less patriotic than a Howard or Eastwood production would have been.

To expand on this, First Man came under attack by Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, and President Donald Trump for Chazelle’s decision to omit any mention of the famous planting of the American Flag on the moon by Armstrong and Aldrin. Chazelle refused to admit this was any sort of political statement, instead insisting he chose to focus more on the lesser known aspects of the moon landing rather than facts that everybody already knew.

Youngster Damian Chazelle proves a multi-faceted director by changing course and creating a historic biopic much different from a story of singing and dancing in Los Angeles. He proves to be no one-trick pony and gets the job done, creating a brave and robust effort that does not limit action at the hands of humanity, successfully weaving a good dose of both. First Man (2018) may not be a classic in the making but deserves to be seen.

Touch of Evil-1958

Touch of Evil-1958

Director-Orson Welles

Starring-Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh

Scott’s Review #914

Reviewed July 2, 2019

Grade: A

Touch of Evil (1958) is a film noir directed by the legendary influential Hollywood director, Orson Welles. The film contains suspense, drama and mystery, but is to be praised largely for its use of visual treats to enhance the cinematic experience. The dark and foreboding thriller was revolutionary for the time of release and influenced many films of similar ilk in the years to come. Robust and fraught with tension, the experience is marvelous and worthy of study for its many nuances.

Welles not only directs the work but also stars in and writes the screenplay, so his entire being is invested in the production and execution. Known mostly for the legendary Citizen Kane (1940), a film that arguably changed the course of cinema with its direction and cinematography, Touch of Evil explores a different genre entirely but keeps the superlative aspects of Welles’s loftier film, including black and white, intact, resulting in a grand and dangerous crime infused classic. The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.

The tension is ample from the onset as the humidity-drenched Mexico-United States border is the focal point. A car driven by a young couple is laced with a bomb and detonates as soon as they cross the into U.S. territory. In a hint of irony, Newlyweds Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), a drug enforcement official in the Mexican government, and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh) pass the car several times on foot prior to the explosion. An investigation ensues with the introduction of other characters, including Police Chief Pete Gould (Harry Shannon), District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins) and police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), with a prime suspect being Sanchez, a young Mexican secretly married to the victim’s daughter.

Typical in the film noir genre, events are not what they seem as layers of plot slowly unravel. The heavyset and disheveled Captain nostalgically visits a brothel run by Tanya (Marlene Dietrich), who barely recognizes him because he’s gained so much weight since their last meeting.  Vargas forsakes his bride to spearhead the investigation, but soon locks horns with corpulent Quinlan and the duo begin to feud. Could Quinlan or Vargas have something to do with the car bombing, or could other supporting characters be either behind or involved in the shenanigans. This is a great part of Touch of Evil as the film leaves the viewer guessing.

Heston and Leigh smolder as the lead couple and their chemistry is apparent from the first scene in which they appear together. Sexy and mysterious, she hunkers down in a dump fraught with peril, while he attempts to solve the crime and keep his girl safe. Outside factors play heavy roles in keeping the lovers apart and although Heston playing a Mexican man is quite the stretch, the audience will nestle comfortably into the events as they reveal deeper layers.

Wells, once a handsome man, is not afraid to let it all hang out as the fat and racist Quinlan becoming one of the great and most complicated screen villains as his true colors emerge. As the film’s title boldly suggests does his character contain complexities that make him evil and keep some sympathies or does he wreak havoc on all he touches with his devious nature only the tip of the iceberg? Viewers will need to await the final act to have several questions answered as motivations are finally revealed.

Touch of Evil (1958) gave delicious and pulsating material to film makers clever enough to study its intricacies, most notably Roman Polanski for Chinatown (1974). Nuggets were also thrown the way of Alfred Hitchcock who got the idea for Leigh to appear in Psycho (1960) two years later, catapulting her character’s alone in a hotel peril, mixing in a weird hotel clerk. The power the film had to hatch other great films from its ingenuity are the most fun parts of watching it again and again.

Shanghai Express-1932

Shanghai Express-1932

Director-Josef Von Sternberg

Starring-Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook

Scott’s Review #913

Reviewed June 29, 2019

Grade: A-

A film way ahead of its time and firmly affixed to the female perspective, Shanghai Express (1932) is riddled with drama, intrigue and adventure culminating in a slightly too tidy of an ending. Forgetting that slight embrace with traditional been there, done that film climax, the story has layers of interesting tidbits and will assuredly keep audiences on their toes. Marlene Dietrich sizzles in the lead role and benefits from the film being made pre-American code, which put restrictions galore on pictures, watering down many.

With flashes of a story like Murder on the Orient Express, Shanghai Express gets off to a strong start as a group of strangers of differing backgrounds begin to board the self-titled train from Istanbul, Turkey through civil war-torn China. Causing a stir is the presence of Shanghai Lily (Dietrich), a woman of questionable morals, with her sidekick Hui Fei in tow (Anna May Wong). Lily reconnects with her former flame Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook) as passengers shun her and political matters reach the boiling point, leading Lily to prove her undying love for Donald.

Keeping in mind that the film was made in the year 1932, the plot and surrounding elements all resound to being female driven which is both courageous and forceful. Dietrich is glamorous and photographs beautifully with no better example of this than the scene when she trembles and shivers in fear as she clings to a cigarette, her character deep in thought and anxiety. The image and lighting were so powerful that it became the cover art for the promotional photograph. A promiscuous woman but never being ashamed of who she is Lily proudly proclaims the immortal line, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

Dietrich is nearly overshadowed by Anna May Wong, the mysterious and deadly Hui Fei. With her exotic demeanor the audience is perplexed by her, not knowing much about her, and longing for more exposure and reveals. Hui Fei comes full tilt during the final act but remains an elusive character. Throughout the run-time of the film-short at one hour and thirty-two minutes, I found myself thinking about Hui Fei continuously, wanting more explanation about her life, her background, and how she came to be associated with Shanghai Lily.

The film’s atmosphere is a championed success as the roaring engines of the fast-moving train mixed with the bells and dazzling, luxurious train cars make the background details tremendously important, keeping the fast-paced action ongoing and crackling. The supporting characters like judgmental Christian missionary Mr. Carmichael (Lawrence Grant), who at first condemns the two as “fallen women”, and the boarding house keeper Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale) with her strictness for discipline and cleanliness, add life and a good comic balance to the heavy drama.

Shanghai Express’s tremendous attributes with cagey female characters and perspective, so strong an appeal, ultimately lead to a glaring letdown at the end of the film. Understood is how Lily is madly in love with Donald and the physical tension they share throughout the film is palpable and noticeable.  She is willing to agree to go with the film’s villain, the dastardly Chang (Warner Oland) to his palace, presumably for sex or to become his kept woman, all in the name of her love for Donald. Lily and Donald find their way to a strong embrace as the film ends but this feels contrived given the immense other qualities.

Lovely is having the experience of viewing a film not too distant from celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary and noticing aspects highly influential to other films. Thanks to a fantastic performance by Dietrich and cleverly written characters the film is a high achievement and should be exposed to young film fans studying in film school as evidence of an early treasure. Shanghai Express (1932) is a cinematic success peppered with complexities and voracious theater.

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh Lucy!-2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Japanese culture meets American culture is the underlying component of Oh Lucy! (2017), an interesting dark comedy and the feature film debut from female director Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film was once a short but progressed into a full-length project, deservedly receiving Film Independent nominations for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature. The co-settings of Tokyo and Los Angeles and the tremendous performance by star Shinobu Terajima make this a worthy watch.

Middle-aged Setsuko (Terajima) lives an unfulfilled daily existence in Tokyo, working a drab office job and living in a cluttered one- bedroom apartment riddled with comforting junk. She wears a protective mouth cover, common in her city, to avoid breathing in bad air, but also chain smokes. She is unpopular at work and wishes to date more but is unlucky in love. One day she is convinced by her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) to take English lessons and falls for her handsome instructor John (Josh Hartnett), who nicknames her “Lucy” making her don a blonde wig and talk “American”. A fellow classmate, “Tom” (Koji Yakusho) seems interested in “Lucy”.

When Mika runs off with John to Los Angeles prompting Setsuko and her bitchy sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow suit concerned for her safety, adventure begins. Setsuko and Mika both jockey for position with John, her vacation from her dreary job and her growing obsession with him energizing her, as a rivalry between Setsuko and Ayako hits full throttle. Setsuko begins to exhibit bizarre and unbecoming behavior.

The film delves into an interesting characteristic among Japanese females; rivalry, as the subject matter is heavily female centered in nature. The trio of Setsuko, Ayako, and Mika are family, and love each other unconditionally, but do they like each other? Immediately we are made aware that long-ago Setsuko stole Ayako’s boyfriend, or so she claims. Eventually Setsuko tries to steal Ayako’s man, so there is reoccurring conflict between each of the women. Ayako has a rebellious streak, we assume just like Setsuko did at her age.

Despite the triangle/quadrangle of drama and issues, the main story and focal point belongs to Setsuko and her infatuation with John. From the first moment they embrace, as part of a teacher and student dynamic, Setsuko is hooked, longingly remaining in his arms until he insists she let go. This is a key moment an intrigue looms- does she feel more comfortable and confident with her blonde wig and new persona? Does this give her courage and the guts to flee her boring life for a chance at love in Los Angeles?

John clearly loves Mika, or more importantly, he has no feelings for Setsuko, despite her best efforts. In a pivotal and hilarious scene, John and Setsuko smoke marijuana as he teaches her how to drive in a deserted parking lot. As they feel the effects of the drug, Setsuko comes on to John and before he knows it they have sex. This only deepens her obsession with him as she decides to get the same tattoo as he has. He realizes she may not be stable as the audience, still enamored with the character, becomes to pity her.

Hirayanagi is careful not to make her film a downer and she does an amazing job in that regard. When Setsuko returns to her meager existence in Tokyo she is unceremoniously fired from the job she despises but has held for decades. Is she devastated or liberated? Perhaps a bit of each, but she has reached her breaking point and succumbs to sadness, longing for John. Fortunately, a surprise appearance by an unexpected character uplifts her spirits and the entire film.

Oh Lucy! (2017) is a great example of an independent film from an inexperienced director that is laden with good qualities. A wounded main character who is sympathetic to viewers leads a dynamic story of loneliness, melancholia, but also with witty dialogue and crackling humor, and a multi-cultural approach. A hybrid Japanese and American film with location sequences in both areas, the film will satisfy those seeking an intelligent, quick-witted experience.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Scott’s Review #911

Reviewed June 17, 2019

Grade: A

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical. But wait there’s more. The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.

The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over the course of six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story. Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.

Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Mark Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made. An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.

To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature. To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, each line of the film is sung.

Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period. Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.

The story is unequivocally a basic one of girl meets boy, boy is drafted into the army, girl becomes pregnant, girl meets another suitor, boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece. Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.

The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention. Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is both concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.

The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own. With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry. The reoccurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.

For those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat. With French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing of all that is good and cultured about French film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.

12 Angry Men-1957

12 Angry Men-1957

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb

Scott’s Review #910

Reviewed June 14, 2019

Grade: A

A fond memory of Junior High School was reading the play and then being treated to a viewing of the film version of 12 Angry Men (1957), a bristling and suffocating film that infuses progressive thought and thinking for oneself in the face of animosity. A valuable lesson for a teenager to learn, or anyone else for that matter, the film is an important one, providing life lessons and tremendous drama holding up well and still brimming with texture.

The film begins as the audience is introduced to twelve men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of a defendant based on reasonable doubt. The defendant is an eighteen-year-old Puerto Rican male living in a poor neighborhood, accused of fatally stabbing his father. The witnesses are the lady who lives across the street and an old man. The juror’s instructions are quite clear; if there is any reasonable doubt, they are to return a verdict of not guilty. If found guilty, the accused will receive a death sentence.

Henry Fonda plays Juror # Eight, who initially is the only juror to vote “not guilty” when the others assuredly vote “guilty”. He adamantly questions how reliable the two witnesses are and disagrees with the argument that the knife used in the death is an obscure brand as he produces an identical knife of his own. Juror # Eight can convince one juror to change his vote allowing discussions and analysis to reconvene much to the chagrin of a few of the men, especially Juror # 3 (Lee J. Cobb), the main antagonist.

Director Sidney Lumet provides dynamic atmosphere in his debut film with astounding results. The black and white cinematography is brilliantly mixed with the humidity of a scorching New York summer day as the one set used is claustrophobic, bringing the audience into the action and suffocating along with the men. As tensions mount and one juror attempts to kill another juror out of rage, a thunderstorm erupts outside, breaking the heat and changing the momentum in the jury room as the tide slowly turns in a different direction.

The story is wonderfully written as each juror’s backstory is slowly revealed providing insight as to why each man may think the way he does, or perhaps has preconceived notions about the accused instead of giving him a fair shake. Juror #3 is a bully who is estranged from his own son, while Juror # 7 mistrusts “foreigners”. Some of the others “go with the flow”, intimidated by conflicts and afraid to ruffle feathers.

12 Angry Man teaches a lesson of utmost importance; the power of change against all odds. By standing by his convictions, Juror # 8 is slowly able to influence each of the other jurors into seeing what they were either unable to see or refused to see. He forces them to question their morals and values. By the time the film has concluded the audience is smacked across the face with tremendous impact perhaps questioning their own views. This is an example of the power of cinema.

Just like the stage version, the plot requires the audience to think and determine along with the characters, the power of reason and strong dialogue. The fact that all the jurors are white males is never lost on me, but neither does it detract from my enjoyment. This is how things were done decades ago. Fonda is brilliant in the lead role and as charismatic as he has ever been in film.

12 Angry Men (1957) is a timeless story told and retold wonderfully on the live stage. Lumet brings the production to the big screen in a powerful and effective way by using cinematic elements to produce the proper emotions from his audience. The film holds up very well as sadly many of the stereotypes and beliefs that the jurors possess are still held by many Americans to this day. On the more positive scale, people with strong and empathetic wills, like Juror # 8 also exist and unquestionably influence more than they lose.

Midnight Lace-1960

Midnight Lace-1960

Director-David Miller

Starring-Doris Day, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #909

Reviewed June 13, 2019

Grade: B+

Midnight Lace (1960) is a straight forward psychological thriller made during a period in cinematic history when the genre was beginning to garner more popularity. The film was clearly influenced by the Alfred Hitchcock craze which was front and center at this time, and a robust departure for its lead, Doris Day, who until this time was mostly nestled securely in the romantic comedy domain. The film is a good watch and a challenging role for Day, who proves she has the acting chops to carry the film.

Day portrays Kit, an American heiress, newly married to British financier Tony (Rex Harrison), residing together in London. When she is terrorized by an odd voice in a London park one misty night, her panic is dismissed as rubbish and pranksters having their way with her. When the threats return and escalate by way of telephone calls, Tony alerts the authorities who question whether Kit may be imagining things or creating a panic to gain the attention of her husband. Tony, in turn, begins to ask the same questions.

Day, an American sweetheart and forever good girl, was brave to tackle a role that was left of center for her. Despite her fine acting and impressive range during scenes of peril though, Doris Day is still Doris Day, and it is tough to shake the image of her playing herself. Attractive, Day is not the sexpot type, so a few scenes of her being flirty by attempting to seduce Tony with sexy nighties do not work so well. To be fair, Day has never looked lovelier than she does in this picture.

The plot rolls along at a quick pace with wonderful glossy production values and I never found myself tuning out or wondering when the film would end. The drama heightens minute by minute turning into a whodunit while the film wisely never disqualifies the question of whether Kit could be staging the shenanigans herself.

Did she fall into a bus or was she pushed? Why did she hire someone to call her? Is the menacing voice disguised? The questions become more frequent as the film progresses which is what good thrillers should do. I was able to figure out only half of the big reveal, but the other half caught me off guard so that the finale was climactic and satisfying.

The film belongs to Day, but the additions of Harrison and the legendary Myrna Loy add class and flavor to a film that could have been dismissed as only cliched in lesser hands. Harrison is effective as the concerned but stoic husband and the audience is made to wonder if Tony has something to do with Kit’s stalking or if he is a caring man. Does the sub plot of a discovered embezzler in Tony’s company have anything to do with it? If so, how are the stories connected?

Handsome John Gavin, a Rock Hudson type who was made famous for Psycho (1960) is a handsome addition as contractor Brian, the man showing up at the right time to save Kit making him a prime suspect. Loy plays Kit’s Aunt Bea, who comes to town for a visit; the part is nothing special but it’s lovely to see the actress in whatever role she tackles. Finally, Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowell) adds drama as a money hungry man, and son of Kit’s maid. Characters are added to the story as potential suspects.

The viewer is treated to their share of exterior shots of London which provides the film with enough British flavor to almost forget that Day is American. With the additions of Scotland Yard and an Inspector, the British culture is firmly placed, adding a wonderful British element. Tony and Kit are rich, so their lavish home and exclusive neighborhood are placed on display in a fine way.

The title of the film, represented during a cute scene when Kit seductively holds up a sexy outfit she has purchased for Tony, seems straight out of the 1980’s slick television movie thriller genre, and primed for the lifetime television network. This is not a criticism because the title works well and holds a tantalizing darkness.

Midnight Lace (1960) is a nearly forgotten piece of film that is a fine watch and a nice tribute to the talents of Doris Day, who makes the film her own and is the main reason to watch. Though she does not sing or play the girl next door, she does turn in an above average performance, showing her range as an actress. The rest of the film’s trimmings, especially the locale and the supporting actors are additions beneficial to the viewing pleasure the film possesses.

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

Pillow Talk-1959

Pillow Talk-1959

Director-Michael Gordon

Starring-Rock Hudson, Doris Day

Scott’s Review #907

Reviewed June 6, 2019

Grade: B+

Pillow Talk (1959) is the ultimate in romantic comedies from the age of innocence in cinema. In 1959 pictures were still largely wholesome and safe, providing happy stories and charming characters. The film is a lovely and enchanting experience with intelligent characters and wonderful chemistry among its leads. Combined with good romance and comic elements it makes for a fun watch that still feels fresh and bright decades later.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson smolder with sensuality as singles living in Manhattan, New York City. Day plays Jan Morrow, a perky, independent interior decorator who dates frequently but has not yet found love. Hudson plays Brad Allen, a talented, creative Broadway composer and playboy who lives in a nearby apartment building. Jan is frustrated by a party line that allows her to hear Brad’s endless phone conversations with the women in his life. He is equally annoyed by her prim and proper, holier than thou attitude. They bicker on the phone but have not met.

Through their mutual, yet unknown to them, acquaintance Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), Brad realizes who Jan really is, which leads to hilarity as he fakes a Texan accent and invents a new persona: Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texas rancher. He succeeds in wooing Jan who falls madly in love with him while unaware who he really is. Events culminate in the inevitable big reveal when the couple vacations at Jonathan’s cabin in nearby Connecticut.

Rock Hudson oozes masculinity and charisma in this film with nearly every woman he meets falling madly in love with him. With Hudson’s sexuality preferences hidden from the public but well known within the film industry, one wonders if a few comical situations were added as an inside joke. One can speculate if these additions were done with or without the stars knowledge; rumors abound that Hudson reportedly carried on an affair with actor Nick Adams (Tony) during filming.

A recurring theme involves Brad mistakenly walking into an obstetrician’s office (twice!) and the doctor and nurse assuming he may be the first man to ever become pregnant as they attempt to locate Brad when he continues to disappear. Later, Brad attempts to trick Jan into believing Rex might be a homosexual because of his love for effeminate things.

The supporting players bring wit to Pillow Talk and is a key piece to the enjoyment of the film. Randall as Jonathan is not quite the nice guy but not entirely the foil either. As he has designs on Jan he warns Brad to keep away from her. His intention, which fails, is to woo her with money, but Jan seeks true love. Thelma Ritter as Alma, Jan’s boozy housekeeper, is delicious, adding necessary comic timing and a sardonic humor. When she ultimately finds love with the elevator operator we crackle with delight.

The lavish set design is flawless and brightens the film while adding luxurious style and sophistication that only New York City apartment living can bring. The combined sets of both Brad’s and Jan’s apartments are gorgeous to witness. With bright colors and 1950’s style furniture one can easily fantasize how beautiful it would be to reside in an apartment of this brilliance- I know this viewer did!

A Doris Day film would not be complete without the addition of several songs that the singer/actress performs. “Pillow Talk” during the opening credits, “Roly Poly” in the piano bar with Blackwell and Hudson, and “Possess Me” on the drive up to Jonathan’s cabin.

Pillow Talk (1959) is an example of a rich romantic comedy with great elements. A bit fantasy, a bit silly, but containing style, sophistication, and humor. The film was an enormous success, understandably so, being deemed “the feel-good film of the year” in many circles. Hudson’s career was re-launched following the film after having hit a snag year’s earlier.

Rocketman-2019

Rocketman-2019

Director-Dexter Fletcher

Starring-Taron Egerton

Scott’s Review #906

Reviewed June 5, 2019

Grade: A

Following in the footsteps of the unexpected success of 2018’s rock biography Bohemian Rhapsody, comes the similar themed Rocketman (2019). This time the subject at hand is Elton John rather than Freddie Mercury, but both storied figures contain unquestionable comparisons as their successes, failures, and struggles are well documented. Both films take their name from popular title songs and both have the same director in the mix, Dexter Fletcher.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John are both larger than life onstage personas while both reportedly suffered from shyness, creating characters to portray to ease difficulties. Rocketman gets the slight edge over Bohemian Rhapsody when comparing the two, with experimental and psychedelic sequences making the experience more left of center than the latter and lacking a hefty feel-good component. I would venture to assess that Rocketman has darker overtones.

The film opens in an impressive way as a now adult, successful Elton John (Taron Egerton) is in rehab, begrudgingly attending a support group therapy session- this scene will reoccur throughout the film as John slowly reveals more to the group about his childhood, rise to fame, and struggles with numerous demons. This is key to the enjoyment of the film as it backtracks in time frequently and we see John’s development as both a musician and on a personal level.

Many scenes play out like a Broadway play which is an ingenious approach, not only a treat for fans of John’s huge catalog of songs, but immensely creative from a cinematic perspective. The high point of the film, the scenes are not only showy, but catapult the direction of the film instead of slowing down the events. Fantastic are offerings of hit songs like “Tiny Dancer”, as shown during John’s first trip to Los Angeles, as he is forced to witness his then crush Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) take up with a supermodel at an LSD infused Hollywood party.

The musical numbers offer glimpses into the mind and heart of Elton, and other characters, through song. A teary number occurs early on when a pained, boyish Elton is learning piano, facing struggles at home. When the song begins it is Elton’s tune to carry but then his father sings a few lines, then his mother, then his grandmother. Each person offers his or her own perspective based on the lyric they are singing. The beauty of this scene is powerful and sets the tone of the scenes to follow.

Rocketman is an emotional film, triggering laughter and tears throughout its duration. Thanks to Egerton who carries the film, the audience cares for him as a human being instead of a larger than life rock star. We feel his pain, cry his tears, and smile during rare moments when he is content. He faces insecurity, sex addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, and an eating disorder. Through Egerton, we face the battles alongside of him.

Elton John serves as Executive Producer of the film providing a measure of truth and honesty in storytelling, something Bohemian Rhapsody was accused of not containing. John’s parents are portrayed accurately and decidedly, and both mother and father are dastardly, nearly ruining Elton’s self-esteem for life. Dallas Bryce-Howard as his mother is happy to capitalize financially on his fame but sticks a dagger in his heart when she professes he will never be loved since he is a gay man.

His father is nearly as bad. Abandoning his loveless marriage to Elton’s mother, he eventually finds happiness with another woman and produces two boys. He can never love his eldest son despite Elton’s efforts to reconnect. To add insult to injury, his father asks him to cross out the words “to Dad” on an album autograph, instead requesting it go to a colleague. Elton is devastated.

Events are not all dire and dreary as with his parents and a major suicide attempt. Happier times are shown and his grandmother (wonderfully played by Gemma Jones) remains an ardent supporter. His relationship with Taupin is one of the most benevolent and a life-long cause of trust and respect, and once his act is cleaned up Elton can appreciate the finer things in life more completely.

Egerton performs beautifully in acting as well as singing capabilities but lacks the singing chops that Elton Jon has. The decision was made not to have Egerton lip-sync which deserves its own measure of praise. Interesting to wonder what the opposite choice would have resulted in, like with Bohemian Rhapsody, we are left with a brilliant portrayal of John by Egerton.

Watched in tandem with Bohemian Rhapsody, a great idea given the back to back releases, is one recommendation for comparison sake. Offering a more creative experience- again the musical numbers are superb, and both switching through back and forth timelines, Rocketman (2019) squeaks out the victory for me and doesn’t the victor go the spoils? If Rami Malek won the coveted Best Actor Oscar statuette what will that mean for the tremendous turn that Egerton gives?

Tully-2018

Tully-2018

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis

Scott’s Review #905

Reviewed June 2, 2019

Grade: B

Tully, a 2018 film release, was awarded wide recognition largely because of a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress- Comedy achieved by its star, Charlize Theron. The actress does carry the film and delivers a wonderful performance in an example of great casting. The film is clearly targeted for a specific audience, that of females with newborn babies, a mother of a child with behavioral issues, or women who have experienced something similar during their lifetime.

As such, the perspective is clearly from the female point of view and men may not find much, if anything, to relate to. Nonetheless, the film is a worthy watch though not sure I’d classify it firmly in the comedy category, but this may have more to do with who directed it. Jason Reitman, famous for his creations Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011) is known for coming-of-age films with dark edges. Nonetheless, I’d carefully teeter the film more into the drama genre than straight comedy.

We meet a very pregnant Marlo (Theron) as she is about to give birth to her third child, the implication being that it is an unplanned pregnancy. She is already frazzled from her other two children, one of whom is Jonah, who has a developmental disorder causing stress. Her world consists of battles with Jonah’s school, her absent-minded husband Drew (Ron Livingston), and her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), who has married an affluent woman and tries to help Marlo. Chris offers to pay for a night nanny which would allow Marlo peace and quiet, and she finally accepts, meeting the bizarre Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who slowly changes her life.

Theron reportedly gained over fifty pounds in preparation for the role and completely immerses herself in the part. Ordinarily a gorgeous woman as well as an astounding actor, she is convincing as the tired and unfulfilled suburban mother. Haggard, going through her day to day routines, it is revealed that she yearns to be young again, and finally revisits her old stomping grounds in Brooklyn where her passion is awakened, New York. Theron not only transforms her appearance but portrays an enormous amount of emotion teetering between responsible mother and flighty middle-aged woman.

To say that Tully is a “woman’s film”, a phrase I dislike, is not entirely fair, but women will relate to the film most of all. Men are not written especially well; we witness Drew meandering around the house mostly holing up in the bedroom, oblivious to his surroundings. He is somewhat aware that a night nanny exists but is more concerned with playing video games or traveling for work than with who is raising his child. He loves his family yet is somewhat only half there and his motivations and feelings are never explored very well. The writing of this character perplexed me, or rather I wondered why the character was written this way to begin with.

As events progress Tully serves up a brilliant twist ending, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in a daring way. The character of Tully becomes a godsend for Marlo. Suddenly, she is inspired by the younger woman who has her whole life ahead of her. Could Marlo be a bit jealous of the young and thin nanny? Tully inspires Marlo, but could she not be all that she seems? The final reveal leaves questions dangling over the viewer. Is Tully all in Marlo’s head? Is it merely a coincidence that Marlo’s maiden name is Tully or the reason for the nanny in the first place?

Tully (2018) plays like a female centered coming-of-age story perfectly suited for women over the age of thirty. It can be enjoyed by others as the story has layers and borders on a character study, but the target audience is clear. The surprise ending is tremendous and rises the film way above mediocrity, otherwise being a traditional genre film. The performance by Theron also adds an immeasurable amount to the film.

Witchfinder General-1968

Witchfinder General-1968

Director-Michael Reeves

Starring-Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer

Scott’s Review #904

Reviewed May 31, 2019

Grade: B+

Witchfinder General (1968) is a macabre horror film that provides enormous atmosphere amid a gruesome story centering around the theme of witch hunting. By the late 1960’s violence and bloodletting in cinema had become more lenient and acceptable so the film takes full advantage of the timing with an unusual amount of torture, cruelty and brutality. The mid-seventeenth century English period is highly effective as is the ghastly religious angle, making for effective film making.

Vincent Price is delicious in any film he appears in, having amassed over one-hundred cinematic credits alone, to say nothing of his television appearances. Practically trademarking his over-the-top comic wittiness and campy performances, his role in Witchfinder General may be his best yet as he plays the character straight and deadly serious. This succeeds in making his character chilling and may be the best role of his career despite numerous disputes with director, Michael Reeves, over motivation.

During the English Civil War, Mathew Hopkins (Price) takes advantage of the unrest in the land, profiting from witch hunting. He travels from town to town accusing the unfortunate of witchcraft until they are mercilessly executed after which he is paid handsomely. Matthew is assisted in the accusations and torments by John Stearne (Robert Russell) a man his equal in brutality. The knowledge that these two men were real-life historic figures makes the action even more difficult to watch.

When he arrests and tortures Father Lowes (Rupert Davies), Lowes’s niece’s fiancé (Ian Ogilvy) decides to put an end to Hopkins’s sleazy practices and goes on a quest to seek vengeance. The mixture of a romantic love story as Richard Marshall (Ogilvy) and Sara (Hilary Dwyer) marry and a revenge tale as Marshall vows to destroy Hopkins is a nice combination as are the numerous outdoor scenes. Witchfinder General has much going on and the pieces all come together.

The most horrific moments of the film come during the death scenes as the victims, who logical viewers can ascertain are innocent. The characters are merely perceived as peculiar, therefore deemed to be up to witchcraft, and do not stand much of a chance despite their endless pleas and cries. Before they are murdered they are typically tortured until they ultimately confess to crimes out of desperation and perceived relief. The common mode of death is either hanging or burning to death.

In one sickening scene, victims are assumed to be witches if they can swim and then are subsequently burned at the stake; if they drown they are innocent, but of course die anyway. One unfortunate victim has her hands and legs bound and obviously drowns, followed by one of the witch hunters profess how her death was unfortunate because she was innocent all along.

In horror films, the most frightening situations are the ones that can conceivably occur in real-life whether it be a home-invasion, a psycho with a knife, or burning at the stake in the 1600’s. The fact that witch hunting did happen is shocking and resoundingly makes Witchfinder General creepier especially given most scenes take place in the daytime. Anyone can create a studio monster, but the realism of the events is the key to the film’s power.

As an aside, while watching the film I was keen to keep in mind how many countries still treat certain classes and groups of people differently, or even oppress them in the name of God. Food for thought and an additional component that makes Witchfinder General relevant.

The story and the screenplay are not brilliant, nor do they necessarily need to be given the treasures existing among the elements. The writing is your basic villain’s getting their comeuppance with a love story thrown in- standard fare and adequate. While pointing out some negatives is “Witchfinder General” the best title that Reeves could come up with, or anyone else for that matter? The title does not exactly roll off the tongue nor does the renamed United States release, The Conqueror Worm sound much better.

Witchfinder General (1968) is not an easy watch and the faint of heart may want to avoid this one, but the realism and the rich atmosphere make it a success. From the lit candles, an old castle, potent red and blue costumes, and one of the greatest horror legends of all time, make this a must watch among horror fans.

South Pacific-1958

South Pacific-1958

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor

Scott’s Review #903

Reviewed May 29, 2019

Grade: A-

South Pacific (1958) contains a magical and romantic aura that will entrance the dreamy viewer seeking exotic paradise and cinematic escapism. Marveling at the use of distinctive and experimental color hues to shift from sequence to sequence, usually from romantic to ordinary scenes, the film has other worldly appeal and lavish locale sequences, some real, others studio manipulations.

The surrounding war story is relevant, the interracial relationship more progressive than the times were, and the two leads share tremendous chemistry. All these qualities combine with catchy songs to make the film a darling watch, providing tremendous enjoyment and an impassioned payoff. The film may not be the very best of all musicals but there is very little to criticize.

Attractive Navy nurse Nellie (Mitzy Gaynor) falls head over heels for suave French plantation officer Emile (Rosanno Brazzi) as the pair enjoy a wonderful date amidst the gorgeous beach landscape. The feeling, of course, is mutual and Nellie and Emile seem destined for happiness. He confides to her that he once killed a man in his native France causing him to flee his country, never to return. The Navy requests Nellie spy on Emile in hopes of utilizing him against their hated Japanese enemy.

In a separate story, but just as romantic, Tokinese trader Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) is determined to marry her beautiful dark-skinned daughter Liat (France Nuyen) to handsome Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr). He throws away a chance at lasting happiness by refusing to marry her due to prejudicial feelings. Despite best efforts he cannot get her out of his mind and the couple reunite briefly before tragedy strikes.

The World War II backdrop plays heavily into the story and the atmospheric elements make the film ooze with sensuality and sunny desire so that the result is good, escapist fun with brazen musical numbers added to set the perfect tone. Contrasting the beauty of the island where most of the events take place, foreboding military airplanes fly overhead, some manned by the main characters, in dangerous fashion with just a hint of foreshadowing.

South Pacific has much to be treasured for especially with its songs. For one thing, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s immortal songs from the stage production, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali H’ai,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime” are retained, and, as a bonus, a song cut from the original stage production, “My Girl Back Home,” is revived herein. The songs are integral to the plot also holding up well on their own, especially the robust “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” possessing a naughtiness as Nellie sings it from the shower.

After a successful release of the film version of Oklahoma! (1955) Rodgers & Hammerstein decided to tackle South Pacific as their next big project. The stakes were high due to the success achieved by the former but critically the latter did not measure up. Some thought Gaynor was miscast though I personally like her just fine.

Nonetheless, the production is gorgeous and quite on par with Oklahoma! With the knowledge of the same producers and proximity in release, many similarities can be ascertained from each film. The south pacific may be a far cry from mid-western USA but both films have an outdoorsy feel. Numerous scenes take advantage of luscious natural landscapes to add beauty to the big screen.

A key point to keep in mind is that South Pacific is far from fluff despite the tendency for comic scenes or light sounding numbers. The film distinguishes itself quite well with a strong anti-war slant as Emile decries killing and promotes harmony in more than one scene almost as though the film encourages us to learn from a French man rather than an American.  To this end the important subject of racism is brought up not only in the Liat/Cable story but also when Nellie struggles with the notion of raising two children of a different race.

Perhaps not revisited as often as such unforgettable genre contemporaries as West Side Story (1960) or The Sound of Music (1965) and perhaps justifiably not as dynamic, South Pacific (1958) is a lovely film with impressive key production values, a worthy story and enough sing along tunes to keep one humming for days. The picture never feels dated and exists as a timeless member of the stage productions magically brought to the big screen club.

The Wrong Man-1956

The Wrong Man-1956

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Henry Fonda, Vera Miles

Scott’s Review #902

Reviewed May 24, 2019

Grade: A-

The Wrong Man (1956) is not an Alfred Hitchcock film typically mentioned when lists of the greatest of all the director’s works are in conversation. Flying completely under the radar, and a conspicuous emission from most “Best of” collections, the film is a nice gem ready to be dusted off and appreciated for its worth. It features the legendary Henry Fonda, perfectly cast in a story point frequently used in Hitchcock films; that of the wrongly accused man.

Set in New York City, Manny Balestrero (Fonda) is a struggling musician who requires three-hundred dollars for dental work that his wife Rose (Vera Miles) needs. Determined not to let his wife suffer he decides to obtain the money by borrowing against her insurance policy. The life insurance employees mistake Manny for another man who has recently twice held them up. He is arrested and forced to perform a test for the police, which he fails, leading them to assume he is their man.

Attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle) sets out to prove that Manny could not possibly be guilty since he has perfect alibis for the nights of both holdups. Complications erupt during his trial as proper witnesses either cannot be found or have died, leaving Manny in dire straits. Meanwhile, Rose teeters towards the brink of insanity as she suffers from severe depression.

The Wrong Man differs from many Hitchcock films in that the story is based upon a real-life quandary one man faced. As such, any viewer can immensely relate to the story and put themselves in Manny’s shoes. I often found myself wondering, “what would I do if this were me?” and as certainly as one could find the story implausible one could just as easily find it plausible. Mistaken identity can happen and proving one’s innocence is not as easy as it may seem.

Set largely on location is another tidbit unique to many Hitchcock productions as the man cringed at the thought of any scene that could not be manipulated by studio luxuries. The New York City locales are splendid and provide an artistic and genuine element. Many scenes were filmed in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood where Manny lived when he was accused. Most of the prison scenes were filmed among the convicts in a New York City prison in Queens. The courthouse was located at the corner of Catalpa Avenue and 64th Street in Ridgewood.

Careful not to be too dissimilar to standard Hitchcock fare, the use of the every man being falsely accused, common in some of his films, is the main story line. Other films like North by Northwest (1958) and The 39 Steps (1935) delivered the same elements with a man being mistakenly accused of murder. While the others were more of “chase stories” involving flight, The Wrong Man stays firmly planted in one city.

The film is composed with some jazz elements, here primarily to represent Fonda’s appearance as a musician in the nightclub scenes. This gives sophistication to the overall tone of the film especially as we see Manny as worldly yet kind. He is a performer but comes home to his wife and adores her, doing anything he needs to for her comfort. The music and the black and white cinematography exude harshness and coldness but also good style.

Fans of either the police force or the justice system may be in for a tough ride watching The Wrong Man as neither group is written very sympathetically. The police are the worst offenders as they go to unethical methods to accuse a man of a crime seeming not to care who is convicted only that someone is.

The one detraction to The Wrong Man is the chemistry between Fonda and Miles. The passion is underwhelming, but not terrible either. Rather, the main point of the film is the false accusations instead of the romance. A bit more of the latter might have made the film more special.

Containing suspenseful and dramatic elements and a charismatic leading man, The Wrong Man (1956) perhaps lacks the flair of other more well-known Hitchcock films but is a solid achievement and one that deserves more acclaim than traditionally given. Sullen yes, but also poignant and frightening and a terrific effort. Henry Fonda carries the film and provides compassion and realism.

Taste of Fear-1961

Taste of Fear-1961

Director-Seth Holt

Starring-Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis

Scott’s Review #901

Reviewed May 21, 2019

Grade: A-

Though Taste of Fear (1961) is a Hammer Production, a British film company primarily known hefty offerings in the horror genre, the film plays more like an intense and chilling thriller with a Gothic, ghostly feel rather than a full throttled horror display. The title was changed for US marketing purposes to Scream of Fear and neither the US nor the UK title quite works, both lacking the appropriate pizzazz that the film warrants. The result is a razor edge spellbinder with marvelous cinematography and more than a few surprise twists.

The action gets off to an exciting start as a female body is suddenly discovered in the waters of coastal Italy; a young woman has taken her own life by drowning. Soon after a wheelchair-bound heiress, Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) arrives at her father’s estate in the lavish French Riviera to bond with her new stepmother, Jane (Ann Todd), and await her father’s return from vacation. It is explained that the deceased woman was a close friend of Penny’s.

Penny distrusts her stepmother immensely but is not sure why since the woman is more than accommodating during her stay. Immediately, strange events begin to occur at a rapid rate, most notably seeing her father’s corpse in odd places around the house and the grounds. The body disappears when Penny calls for help leaving the members of the household questioning her sanity and Penny starting to agree. She befriends the handsome family chauffeur, Robert (Ronald Lewis) and the pair become determined to figure out what is going on.

In clever fashion, the audience knows that something is amiss but not what the entire puzzle will add up to, which is a great part of the viewing pleasure. Director Seth Holt enjoys toying with his viewers, keeping them guessing at every dark turn. The biggest questions are these: If Penny’s father is dead where is the body being hidden? Who is responsible and why? Why does Jane leave the house for drives every night? What does the family doctor (Christopher Lee) have to do with the story?

The best visual aspect of Taste of Fear is the black and white cinematography.  This quality adds foreboding and brooding elements during the entire short running time of eighty minutes. The grand estate with its creepy nooks and crannies provides plenty of prop potential. A grand piano that seems to play by itself is pivotal to the story as is a murky pool, shockingly deep and unkempt for such a residence. Finally, the mansion boat house that may or may not contain lit candles takes center stage during the film.

The story telling is quick-paced and robust, never dragging. Layers unfold as the story progresses, but instead of overkill the developments are necessary as the conclusion comes into view. Assumptions as to which character’s motivations are devious begin to unravel. The illustrious dialogue crackles with spunk so that by the time we figure out what is going on we scratch our heads in disbelief finally surrendering to the film’s manipulations.

Where Taste of Fear falters slightly is only when an attempt to make the story completely add up is pondered. Liberties must be taken, happily so, as what could be deemed silly or superfluous instead results in thrilling fun. Only once or twice I thought the setup was too contrived, but just as quickly tabled the inquisition instead choosing to revel in the story.

The more than adequate cast performs their roles with professionalism and energy, always careful to make the unbelievable believable. Any film starring the legendary Christopher Lee is worthy of praise despite the actor only having a supporting role. Justice is eventually served though as his character becomes central to the plot. A fun fact is that Lee was quoted as saying: “Taste of Fear was the best film that I was in that Hammer ever made. It had the best director, the best cast and the best story.” This is not to be easily dismissed given the actor’s catalog of treasures.

A forgotten delight, Taste of Fear (1961) is a prime example of a film that does everything correctly. An excellent story, Gothic gloominess, and a foray for Hammer Production company into the then new genre of the psychological thriller. The piece is never over-the-top and is a production sure to make Hitchcock himself quite impressed.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger-1960

Director-Cyril Frankel

Starring-Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

Scott’s Review #900

Reviewed May 17, 2019

Grade: A

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (modified to Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US for marketing purposes) is a 1960 British film, directed by Cyril Frankel and released by Hammer Film Productions. The film contains brilliant cinematography, a cerebral quality, and is quite daring for the time made. It combines a story of pedophilia with manipulations of the legal system allowing those to get away with this most heinous crime because of their status. Despite the production company name and marketed as horror the film is more left of center than the traditional genre film.

The locale is a small, sleepy lakefront Canadian town, seemingly like an everyday US town. The Carter family (Peter, Sally and 9-year-old daughter Jean) have just moved to allow Peter a fantastic job opportunity as school principal. Jean confides to her parents that while playing in the woods, she and her friend, Lucille, went into the house of an elderly man who asked them to remove their clothes and dance naked for him in return for some candy, which they did.  Peter and Sally are appalled and decide to file a complaint. The elderly man is one of the wealthiest and most influential in the town, the respected Clarence Olderberry, Sr.

Surprisingly, Jean’s experience is downplayed, and the Carter family largely shunned by the town. As a trial against Olderberry commences, Jean is ridiculed on the stand and her story ripped to shreds by attorneys. After Olderberry is acquitted he pursues Jean and Lucille in the woods eventually catching the girls during a harrowing lake front chase and murders Lucille. Jean escapes and the truth is revealed to the shocked and devastated town.

The cast of Never Take Sweets from a Stranger are not household names, but each gives a fine performance. Patrick Allen and Gwen Watford as the parents are well-cast and believable. They are upstanding people but strangers in the town, wanting to protect their daughter without smothering. Felix Aylmer as old-man Olderberry plays the role not as dastardly or menacing but providing glimpses of pain and sympathy. The audience is unclear whether the man suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps not even knowing what he has done.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, surreal and tremendously effective. With ghostly tones the film gets off to a mysterious and prominent start as we see Jean and Lucille casually playing in the woods, startled to glance up at a menacing mansion (perfect for a Hammer production) to see elderly Olderberry leering at them with binoculars. The lakefront sequences and the chase through the woods are among the best at providing superior camera angles.

As it’s Lucille who talks Jean into entering Oldberry’s house we presume she has done this type of thing before. She knows Oldberry will provide the girls with candy, but does she understand this comes at a price? Immediately there is a shred of doubt placed on the children’s innocence- ever so quickly. This decision by the film along with the representation of Oldberry is pivotal to casting even the slightest doubt on the main characters motivations or decisions.

Comparisons to the brilliant The Night of the Hunter (1955) must be made. Themes of child abuse, young children in front and center roles, a creepy lake with a prominent boat, and macabre adults are prevalent, at least to some degree, in both films. Additionally, both films were shunned at the time of release, misunderstood, and later rediscovered, subsequently seen as treasures of brilliant film making.  Measuring both films as tragedies is also obvious; each result in pain and sadness for the children involved.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) is a film released decades ahead of its time that has taken years for its brilliance to be recognized and appreciated, adding nuances that are admirable and thought-provoking to the viewer. The subtle qualities make this film in a world of its own.

Sadly, the very best of films are often overlooked, marinating the flavorful juices rather than a sudden bombastic reaction. In 1960 the world was not ready for this film but is now poised to be remembered as a brave, disturbing, and relevant film offering.

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Director-Gordon Hessler

Starring-Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #899

Reviewed May 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Any film that features horror heavyweights and great actors like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is well worth the price of admission for the name status alone. Each is a mainstay attraction in his own right and combined, results in an orgy of riches. Scream and Scream Again (1969) sputters by limiting the on-screen interaction between the actors but after a reflective pause I realize the picture is to be revered for its creativity and use of intersecting plot lines into a thrashing crescendo of a surprise ending.

The audience is offered three segments of story, each periodically revisited as stand-alone segments that culminate into overlapping components. An athletic runner trots along the streets of London suddenly suffering from an attack only to awaken in the hospital with no legs. Elsewhere, a deadly intelligence operative reports back to his repressed Eastern European country only to murder his commanding officer with a deadly paralyzing hold. Finally, a London detective investigates the brutal deaths of several young women in metropolitan nightclubs.

Cushing, reduced to merely a cameo sized role as the ill-fated officer, is barely worth mentioning and adds little to the film besides appearing in it. Lee, as Fremont, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, plays a straight role with not much zest. Price, with the meatiest role as a mysterious doctor specializing in limb replacement, can give anyone the creeps with his scowling and eerie mannerisms, but the film strikes out by wasting the talents of the other legendary actors.

The film is not at all what a fan of Hammer horror will expect especially based on the horror familiar cast and the gory sounding title. Heaping buckets of blood or ghoulish vampires are what was on the anticipated menu but that does not mean the film fails to deliver. It may not please a fan of traditional horror films since the genres of political espionage and science-fiction come heavily into play. The fantastic and peculiar nightclub serial killer story line will satisfy fans eager for a good kill or two.

My initial reaction to Scream and Scream Again was that of over-complicated writing and too much going on simultaneously especially for a film of said horror genre. After the film concludes and the surprise ending is revealed I realized that the numerous tidbits are necessary to achieve the desired result and events will make the viewer ponder when the film ends.  Not to ruin the big reveal but the film makers borrow a healthy dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) in a more macabre way, naturally.

Fans of the 1960’s British television series The Avengers will be pleased with Scream and Scream Again as a similar tone exists with both. The distinctive musical soundtrack, trendy for the 1960’s time-period works well, and the nightclub sequences and some of the detectives feel reminiscent of the show. The feel of the film is not limited to an episodic television story but contains a similar style. High British 1960’s fashion is also prevalent and pleasing to the eye.

A couple of supporting characters strike a fascination in small and almost entirely non-verbal performances. A sexy red-headed hospital nurse with superhuman powers and a penchant for removing limbs, combined with a brooding and mysterious serial killer provide dubious intrigue as to who the true characters are. What is their motivation? Do they work for someone or something sinister? Questions like these will keep the viewer occupied and thirsty for an explanation.

In bizarre fashion, British film and television director Gordon Hessler crafts an implausible yet fascinating story that keeps the viewer guessing. Featuring horror superstars Price, Cushing, and Lee would seem like an assured horror masterpiece but due to the stars limited time on-screen brings the overall project down a notch. Scream and Scream Again (1969) still achieves a good measure of worthy entertainment.

Welcome to my blog! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!