Nancy-2018

Nancy-2018

Director-Christina Coe

Starring-Andrea Riseborough

Scott’s Review #941

Reviewed October 1, 2019

Grade: B+

Part of why I love independent cinema so much is the freedom given the director to simply tell a good story of his or her choosing, usually with little studio interference or opinions. Nancy (2018) is a good example of this as Christina Choe writes and directs a film that is simply hers to share. A quiet film about loneliness, the need to belong, and connect with others are main elements in a compelling and unpredictable story.

Existing in a barren small town in upstate New York, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) bears weather that is cold, damp and bleak. Working a temporary office job where the staff barely remembers her from her previous stint, Nancy spends her down time caring for her ill mother (Ann Dowd) and playing with her cat, Pete. When an occurrence leaves her vulnerable, she sees a news report featuring a couple whose daughter disappeared thirty years ago, and looks exactly like Nancy, given the sometimes-dishonest woman an idea.

Riseborough carries the film with a strong performance, but not exactly a character the audience easily roots for. Nancy is not unkind, dutifully tending to her mother’s needs when she is not being pleasant. She pretends to be pregnant to meet an internet support group man who lost a child and seeks comfort in Nancy. Hoping for a romance or at least a human connection, the two runs into each other, and when the man realizes her scheme, he calls her psycho. We witness a range of subtle facial expressions revealing the complicated character which Riseborough provides brilliantly.

Choe tells a very humanistic story that is peppered with deep feelings and emotions easy for the audience to relate to. Conflicted views will resound between the three principle characters; Nancy, Leo Lynch (Steve Buscemi), and wife Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron). The Lynch’s, especially Ellen, are vulnerable, yearning for a glimmer of hope that their long-lost daughter, surely dead, is alive. So, the complexities that the director provides work exceptionally well with keeping the emotional level very high.

All three principle actors do a fine job, Smith-Cameron being rewarded with a Film Independent award nomination. She is the most conflicted of the three and the character audiences will ultimately fall in love with and feel much empathy for. Has Buscemi ever played a nicer man? I think not as the actor so often plays villainous or grizzled so well. With Leo, he is rationale, thoughtful and skeptical of the story Nancy spins. He adores Ellen and does not want to see her disappointed yet again, the pain apparent on both their faces. Many quiet and palpable subtleties are possessed by the cast.

The locale in the film is also a high point. Presumably January or February, the cold and angry air fills the screen, adding a measure of hopelessness that each character suffers from in a different way. Numerous scenes of the outdoors are featured, and compelling moments provided. When a pretty snowfall coats the land, this is a tease, as one character’s hopes are ultimately dashed. A cheery landscape such as California or Florida would not have worked as well in this film.

Nancy (2018) is a film that risks turning some viewers off with its unhappy nature and slow pace, but isn’t this much better than a fast-paced Hollywood popcorn film? To me the answer is obvious, and Nancy is a prime example of why little films should be celebrated and revered by the film industry and its enthusiasts. Lies and truths cross a fine line and the potent psychological thriller will leave viewers mesmerized as event progress.

The Aftermath-2019

The Aftermath-2019

Director-James Kent

Starring-Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

Scott’s Review #940

Reviewed September 13, 2019

Grade: B-

The Aftermath (2019) is a heavily melodramatic post World War II period film riddled with cliches and proper plot set ups but is nonetheless a moderately enjoyable experience. With a marginal romantic triangle in play and good-looking stars, this can only go so far as predictability soon sets in. Exquisite to look at with a bright and lush European ambiance, the picture is easy on the eyes but lacks in good story or surprises. The film will be forgotten before long.

The time-period is 1945 and the murderous war is still fresh on the minds of all effected and animosity remains between the English and the German. Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in Hamburg during the bitter winter season to reunite with her British husband, Lewis (Clarke), who is tasked with helping to rebuild the decimated city. The Morgan’s reside with handsome German architect, Stefan, (Skarsgard) and his teenage daughter, Freda. Resentment exists between the four since the Morgan’s son was killed by a German caused explosion.

Both positives and negatives are contained within the film. The casting of Knightley, Skarsgard and Clarke bring a professionalism and A-list sensibility, so that the viewer is keen to be watching a glossy Hollywood affair. The offering of a robust romantic triangle is not fair to say since from the moment Rachael and Stefan meet they can barely take their eyes from one another. As if this is not enough, the largely absent Lewis leaves plenty of alone time for Stefan and Rachael to lustfully watch each other. Nonetheless, Knightley and Skarsgard share great chemistry.

The time and setting are also well done. The gorgeous German house in which Stefan and daughter reside feels both grand and cozy complete with a piano and enough open space to go along perfectly with the snowy and crisp exterior shots. The coldness mixes with the fresh effects of those ravaged by war. Music is played frequently, and a female servant dutifully waits on all principles during dinners and desserts adding a classic sophistication to the film. So, the look of it all is quite lovely.

Despite the elements outlined above the story is a real weak point of The Aftermath. It is riddled with cliche after cliche and seems to want to take a page out of every war romance imaginable. Rachael at first loathes Stefan simply for being German despite clearly being in lust with him. Her constant gazes into the distance (thoughtfully pondering what, we wonder?) grow stale and the product is just not very interesting.

A silly side story involving Freda’s boyfriend being involved in Werwolf, a Nazi resistance movement, seems unnecessary and merely a way to momentarily cast suspicion on Stefan. The film is plot driven rather than character driven, and this makes the characters less than compelling.

During the final sequence, set on a train platform as Rachael, Stefan and Freda eagerly decide to steal away into the sunset and begin a new life together, is standard fare. Lewis, the odd man out, is a bit too okay with the circumstances of Rachael and Stefan’s passion to be believed. The farewell scene is stolen from the superb 2002 classic Far from Heaven and nearly identical in every way.

Marvelous to look at and nurturing a slight historical lesson within its bright veneer, The Aftermath (2019) is soap opera story-telling of a romance between two individuals who are not supposed to fall in love. The film has pros and cons and is an okay watch, mainly because the talented cast rises it slightly above mediocrity, adding some measure of realism and avoiding it from being a disaster. Recommended for anyone who adores melodrama mixed with a classic period piece.

IT: Chapter Two-2019

IT: Chapter Two- 2019

Director-Andres Muschietti

Starring-James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader

Scott’s Review #939

Reviewed September 11, 2019

Grade: B+

A companion piece to the first chapter, simply named It (2017), and an adaptation of the famous and chilling 1986 novel by horror novelist, Stephen King, It: Chapter Two (2019) is a successful culmination of the vast story and will please many fans. A box-office hit mixing straight ahead horror with the supernatural, and a tad of adventure mixed in, the film is to be appreciated in many ways, though I slightly prefer the first chapter by measure.

Set in present times (2016), twenty-seven years after the first film took place, the Losers’ Club kids are now nearing middle-age, in their forties. The most prominent characters in the group, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), and Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) are summoned by childhood chum Mike Hanlon, to return to the sleepy town of Derry, Maine after a series of murders begin at the summer carnival. Each of them except for Mike has fled the small town and found success in bustling cities, living prosperous lives.

Because of a promise made as kids, the entire group reunites except for Stanley Uris, who chooses to fatally slit his wrists in a bathtub rather than return and face evil Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). The six members wrestle with their demons and past mistakes while Pennywise takes the form of human beings and objects to terrorize the group, providing imagined and frenzied scares while they scramble to perform a Native American ritual to destroy the beast.

It is difficult to write a successful review of It: Chapter Two as merely a stand-alone film since the two chapters are meant to be one cohesive long film. Filmed at the same time the pacing and the continuity are what makes the experience an enjoyable one. Key is the interspersing of many scenes as a hybrid of childhood and adult sequences which gives the film a cohesive package. This style is a treat for viewers having seen the first chapter two years ago. After the hoopla dies down, patient fans would do well to watch both chapters in sequence in back to back sittings for an undoubtedly pleasant experience.

Director Andres Muschietti wisely places focus on the characters so that the film is character driven rather than plot driven, a risk with anything in the horror genre. Each of the six adults resembles the six kids in physical appearance which makes the story believable. A major score is the focus on each character individually, both in present times and in the past. Each faces insecurity, guilt, or mistakes making them complex. At a running time of two hours and forty-nine minutes the film can take its time with character exploration and depth.

A nice add-on and deviating slightly from the King novel are a modern LGBTQ presence. It is implied (though I admittedly missed this when I saw the film) that Richie (Hader) is either gay or wrestling with his sexuality. The pivotal final scenes depict Richie’s undying love for his lifelong friend Eddie as one saves the other’s life only to sacrifice his own. The fact that the love is unrequited or unrealized is both sad and heartbreaking.

The gay-bashing opening sequence of Adrian Mellon and his boyfriend is quite the difficult watch as is the lack of any comeuppance for their perpetrators, but the scene is true to King’s novel. It is also a jarring reminder that in 2019, small towns are not always the safest place for the LGBTQ community as far too often small towns breed small minds.

The film could contain more jumps and scares than it does and teeters a bit too long in the overall running time. While the focus on character is great, the final climax and the battle with Pennywise is a slight let down and feels predictable. The film is not scary in terms of horror, but does have nice special effects and visual razzle-dazzle, especially concerning Pennywise. The creepy clown is less scary than in the first chapter but perhaps this is due to becoming more familiar with him.

A treat for eagle-eyed fans is the cameo appearance by legendary author Stephen King. As a cantankerous pawn shop owner, he sells Bill the relic bicycle he had enjoyed in his youth. For bonus points, Muschietti treats fans to a scene including filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who cameos as the director of the film based on Bill’s novel.

It: Chapter Two (2019) provides good entertainment and will please fans of the horror genre and of the famous author since the film is very true to the novel. As a modern horror experience the film is a solid win though not without slight missteps. Superior in depth and character development to most films in the same vein, it is to be enjoyed and appreciated.

My Fair Lady-1964

My Fair Lady-1964

Director-George Cukor

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #938

Reviewed September 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award (it would not have been my personal choice), My Fair Lady (1964) is a very good production that is based on the stage version, in turn based on the famous 1913 stage play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The main negative to the musical is the casting choices; Hepburn and Harrison have only mediocre chemistry, and Hepburn did not actually sing, but the film is nonetheless enchanting and filled with lavish sets, colorful costumes and earnest songs, making it an entertainment for the whole family.

The iconic Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) and Henry Higgins (Harrison) are household names to every fan of the musical genre. Set in London, sophisticated and arrogant Professor Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, is intent on proving that the tone and accent of one’s voice determines their lot in society. As an experiment, he chooses flower saleswoman Eliza, with her horrid Cockney accent, and is determined to crown her duchess of a ball. Unaware of his scheme but soon to find out she has been had, romance eventually blooms as the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” becomes important.

My Fair Lady is quite the epic at a run-time of two hours and fifty- two minutes, lofty for a film. The misty London setting adds layers of mystique and atmosphere and the cinematography drizzles with color and pizzazz, making the overall content look amazing. Because of the length of the film and the magnificent trimmings, the production looks like a spectacle and of the elegant extravagance of the 1950’s and 1960’s when musicals made into film were grand and robust. Little wonder is that this helped it win the Best Picture, Best Director and a smattering of other awards. It’s a film Hollywood loves.

When dissected and analyzed, social and class systems are a large part of the film, amid the cheery singing, dancing, and big-screen bombast. Social status and hints of socialism pepper the production rising it way above fluff that it could have been if just a “boy from good side of the tracks meets girls from wrong side of the tracks”. Eliza’s father Alfred (Stanley Holloway), a waste collector, is also an opportunist, singing his story during “With a Little Bit of Luck”. The differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” are clear.

I never bought Harrison and Hepburn as a romantic duo and the chemistry between them is limited. The teacher/student angle somewhat works though always bothersome is Henry’s self-assured behavior and superior attitude making him tough to root for. A controversy of the film includes the decision to dub nearly all of Hepburn’s singing with another singer’s voice, which devastated the actress and cost her an Academy Award nomination. Her snub is especially jarring given the dozen other nominations it received.

The story is heartwarming and in keeping with a like-minded theme of hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Hints of Cinderella (1950) and even Pretty Woman (1990) glisten with only a mere hint of male chauvinism that does not ruin the experience or reduce the film to a dated guy film, certainly as is the case with Pretty Woman. “I’m an Ordinary Man” describes how women ruin men’s lives and is not the most progressive or female friendly of all the numbers.

My Fair Lady (1964) is a film of the past that begs to be viewed on the big screen so that all the qualities can be enjoyed. Like Lawrence of Arabia (1963), best viewed on a wide-angle enormous theater setting to ensure notice and enjoyment of all aspects of the scene is recommended. It’s a Hollywood film done tremendously well. Young viewers would be wise to be exposed to this film to delight in the cinematic treats that await.

The Curse of La Llorona-2019

The Curse of La Llorona-2019

Director-Michael Chaves

Starring-Linda Cardellini

Scott’s Review #937

Reviewed August 29, 2019

Grade: C+

The Curse of La Llorona (2019) is a modern-day horror flick that possesses all the standard and expected trimmings that a genre film of this ilk usually has. The story is left undeveloped with many possibilities unexplored in favor of a by the numbers experience. Linda Cardellini, a wonderful actress, above the material she is given, does her best to spin straw into gold, but comes up empty handed. It is the sixth installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise.

The film does have jumps and frights galore and a creepy ghost/spirit character that is scary, but more was expected from this film which left me ultimately disappointed. First-time director Michael Chaves is a novice, so a bit of leniency should be given as he develops a limited product, but he could have a strong future ahead of him if he works on story elements rather than focus on merely scare tactics.

In 1673 Mexico, a family happily plays in a field when one of the boys suddenly witnesses his mother drowning his brother, soon suffering the same fate. This incident becomes part of Mexican folklore and is subsequently feared by many. In present times (1973), case worker Anna (Cardellini) is sent to investigate a woman who has locked her two sons in a room. Despite the woman’s claims that she is trying to save their lives, Anna brings them into police custody. When the boys are later found drowned, the woman curses Anna, whose two young children are now in danger.

The positives are that Chaves makes a competent film. It is not bad and provides a level of familiarity, creaking doors, cracking mirrors, an evil spirit named “The Weeping Woman”, are good and provide a scare or two at just the right moments. Characters frequently see the spirit through a reflection and since the film is set almost completely at night, this tactic is successful.

Cardellini, garnering recent fame for her role in the Oscar winning film Green Book (2018), undoubtedly signed on for The Curse of La Llorona before all the Oscar wins. The actress gives it her all but can hardly save the film, though she does provide a professionalism that rises the film above a terrible experience. Not nearly enough praise will be given to the young child actor’s playing Anna’s kids. Largely one-note and lacking any evident experience, ironically, they mirror Chaves’s own inexperience. They react to the scenes as they are directed but never add any depth or authenticity to their performances.

Besides Cardellini and the horror elements The Curse of La Llorona lacks much shine or substance. The plot and characters are forgettable, and the viewer is left shrugging his or her shoulders once the film concludes, largely forgetting the production thirty minutes later. The story, based on folklore, is weak. The audience is expected to believe the spirit killed her own children and now roams the earth looking for other sacrificial pairs of children so that she may bring hers back from the dead?

In one perplexing sequence, the Weeping Woman softens when looking at Anna’s kids, her demonic face reveals how she once was a beautiful woman. She suddenly changes course and reverts to the evil spirit she had been. Granted the special effects are impressive, but this is one example of a missed opportunity. Why couldn’t we be given a meatier backstory of the motivations of the woman?

Other misses are the 1970’s Los Angeles time-period- a feathered hairstyle and tight sweater worn by Anna, a clip of an old television show, and a car or two overlooking the City of Angels hardly appreciates the decade or the metropolis. Especially laughable are the modern hairstyles and looks of the children, including the kid from the seventeenth century.  Any connection to The Conjuring (2013) or Annabelle (2014) is limited as one character (Father Perez) appearing briefly holding the Annabelle doll barely warrants mention.

The Curse of La Llorona (2019) may only be a blueprint of what director Michael Chaves can build on in his career, and a bright future for him is not out of the question. Building on The Conjuring franchise is a good place to start with a certain audience sure to see this film. He ought to take his basics and create films with more depth, character development, and twists and turns.

Charlie Says-2019

Charlie Says-2019

Director-Mary Harron

Starring-Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon

Scott’s Review #936

Reviewed August 28, 2019

Grade: B

With the very high-profile release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) centering around the sadistic Manson murders of 1969, Charlie Says (2019) is another film that delves into the same story though in a very different way. The latter takes the perspective of the followers, victimizing them, and the choices they made that affected the rest of their lives. The angle is of interest, but the production never completely takes off, resulting in an uneven experience with the need for more grit and substance.

Karlene (Merritt Wever), a female graduate student focused on women’s studies, takes an interest in three followers who viciously killed in the name of their “god”, Charles Manson. A few years after their arrests, they co-exist together in relative solitary confinement in a California penitentiary. They remain under the delusion that Manson is their leader and their deeds were all part of a grand cosmic plan, until Karlene slowly brings them out of their haze of unreality with heartbreaking results.

The casting of the real-life figures is as follows: Charles Manson (Matt Smith), Leslie Van Houton (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon). Each are prominent characters with the central figure being Leslie “Lulu” and her complex relationship with Manson. The newest to be recruited, the audience witnesses her hypnotic possession and her occasional uncertainty about the cult. For a fleeting moment she is even tempted to leave, which the film hammers home to the audience.

Murray plays the character well but does not resemble her enough for praise, though we read the conflict on her face very well. She is meant to be the thoughtful member of the Manson Family whereas Patricia and Susan are more reactionary and temperamental, especially Susan. Whether this is how things were is not known but I always had a gnawing feeling throughout the running time that historical accuracy may have been secondary to the story points and dramatic effect.

Charlie Says is bothersome because of the realization that the girls were recruited and fed lies, falling for the deceit, hook, line and sinker. The followers were certainly brainwashed into Manson’s disturbed version of reality and that fact is disturbing as the girls were not dumb people, only vulnerable young women. Decades later, it is easy to think of other victims polarized by a central or controversial figure whether it be in politics or another arena. The lesson learned is that people can be easily influenced.

The actual “murder night” and the death of Sharon Tate are featured but up close and personal gore is thankfully avoided. The actress, well known to have suffered a terrible fate, to say nothing of her unborn baby, are a small but crucial aspect of the film. When one of the girls watches one of Tate’s films in her cell, another girl clamors for her to turn off the film, beginning to feel pangs of guilt and remorse.

The film questions the girl’s responsibilities for their actions, a fact that in real-life many wrestled with, including the courts and parole boards. Were they merely duped in the cleverest of ways or do they deserve their fates? Spared of the electric chair due to a California law, a positive of the film is a current update of the happenings of each girl, now over forty years later, mature women. Lulu and Patricia remain incarcerated while Susan has died in prison.

After the film closes and a good measure of time is left to ponder the film, I was left feeling slightly less than fulfilled and desiring a bit more. Charlie Says (2019) feels safe and lacks enough grit or bombast, although it does feel well intended. The film is clearly from the feminist point of view and is an interesting watch though given the subject matter, I hoped for more meat and substance.

Eighth Grade-2018

Eighth Grade-2018

Director-Bo Burnham

Starring-Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Scott’s Review #935

Reviewed August 27, 2018

Grade: A-

Occasionally, a film rich with authenticity and pure honesty comes along, and Eighth Grade (2018) is one of those films. Bursting with a lead character who brings a genuine sincerity to a complex role, director Bo Burnham gets the best out of emerging talent, Elsie Fisher, in an autobiographical story about teenage angst and awkwardness that nearly everyone can recollect from those hated middle school years.

The coming-of-age story follows the life and struggles of an eighth-grader, Kayla Day (Fisher), during her last week of classes before graduating to high school. She struggles with severe social anxiety but produces secret YouTube videos as she provides life advice to both herself and her audience. She has a clingy relationship with her sometimes overbearing father, Mark (Josh Hamilton), who adores her but is careful to also provide Kayla with freedom and balance, her mother apparently out of the picture.

Eighth Grade feels fresh and rich with good, old-fashioned, non-cliched scenes, as audiences fall in love with Kayla and her trials and tribulations. In a lesser film, attempting to appeal to the masses, the stereotypes would abound, but this film is going for intelligent writing. The scenes range from touching to comical to frightening- a tender father and daughter talk over a campfire provides layers of character development to both Kayla and Mark as an understanding is realized.

As Kayla ogles over her classmate Aiden, voted student with the nicest eyes, to Kayla’s demoralizing win for quietest student, she bravely attempts to get to know the boy. Realizing to win his heart she must provide dirty pictures of herself or perform lewd acts, she hilariously watches oral sex tutorials and nearly practices on a banana in a scene rivaling any from the crude American Pie (1998). To expand on this, the audience will experience concern for Kayla as she winds up in the backseat of a strange boy’s car, encouraged to take off her top, going rapidly from comedy to alarm.

Enough cannot be said for the casting of Fisher as Kayla. Reportedly seen on a real-life YouTube channel, Burnham plucked the fledgling young actress from the ranks of the unknown. The bright young star is sure to be the next big thing with her innocent yet brazen teenage looks- she is only sixteen after all! With pimples and a pretty face, she admires yet despises popular kids and resorts to telling one off. Fisher gives Kayla sass and poise mixed with her anti-socialism.

Befriended by a pretty and popular high-school student assigned to be her buddy, Kayla awakens with gusto, finally seeing there may be life after middle school, and maybe, just maybe high school will not be as torturous as earlier years. A cute add-on is the adorable relationship that develops in the film’s final act between Kayla and just as awkward Gabe. They dine over chicken nuggets and bond over a nerdy television show they both love.

Deserving of accolades is Hamilton in the more difficult than one might realize role of the father of a thirteen-year-old. Smart is how the film shares his perspective on current events. He can be daring as he enters Kayla’s room to nearly catch her practicing her kissing technique, or creepy, as when he follows Kayla to the mall to see her new friends. His deep affection and admiration for her, though, provide a deep warmth seldom seen in teenage films.

Burnham is careful not to stifle the film with fluff or redundancy, instead making the film timely and relevant. The incorporation of the internet, text messaging and the never-ending use of smartphones makes any older viewer realize that over ninety percent of thirteen-year-olds use these devices and social media is the new normal. The sobering realization is that painful teenage experiences do not end when the three o’clock school bell signals the end of the day.

When the students endure a drill to practice measures to survive a school shooting attack, the reality hits home that this is now also a part of a teenager’s everyday life. American life for the young has changed immensely since most of us were of this age and Burnham does a bang-up job of reinforcing the importance of this.

Whether the viewer is elderly or middle-aged, has fond memories of middle school or cringes at the thought, yearbooks safely packed up in boxes to bury the memories, every viewer can take something away from Eighth Grade (2018). Excellent casting and an infusion of several cross genres into this film make it a fresh and memorable independent comedy/drama deserving of a watch.

Angels of Sex-2012

Angels of Sex-2012

Director-Xavier Villaverde

Starring-Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Alvaro Cervantes, Llorenc Gonzalez

Scott’s Review #934

Reviewed August 23, 2019

Grade: C

Angels of Sex (2012) is a Spanish LGBT drama that attempts to create an intriguing romantic relationship between its characters, but slowly teeters into a plot driven soap opera mess, leaving the viewer unsatisfied.  Casting good-looking actors and showing plenty of skin only goes so far before one’s attention span begins to wane and start yearning for more depth, which never comes in this film. The film-makers do get some props for crafting a diversity film, but the story ultimately sucks.

The urban setting of Barcelona, Spain is the backdrop of the film as student, Bruno (Llorenc Gonzalez), is saved by karate instructor, Rai (Alvaro Cerventes), and begins to question his sexuality as the men grow attracted to one another. Throwing a hurtle into their blissful affair is Bruno’s girlfriend, Carla (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is drawn to both men while shunning their romantic attraction to one another. The three characters interact and carry on affairs with each other leading to a series of emotions that influence their decisions.

The premise is intriguing, at the beginning of the story anyway, as a “straight man meets gay man” moment immediately occurs, and sparks fly between the men.  When Bruno accepts his attraction to Rai while also continuing his attraction to Carla a unique bisexual premise is offered. Why can’t Bruno spend equal time with Rai and Carla? Which one will he decide to choose or will choose him? Will each of the three be okay with the arrangement? These are the sorts of interesting questions offered by the film until it slips about halfway through.

Each character begins to crumble and become banal and wishy-washy, especially Carla. She accepts the “time-sharing” relationship, but then gets mad when she sees Rai and Bruno kiss, finally falling for Rai and having an affair with him. Huh? This is character assassination 101. Bruno’s motivations become unclear as he hedges on nearly every decision, while Rai becomes more brooding and indecisive. It’s as if the writers did not know which direction to take the characters in or thought their good looks would carry the film.

Other gripes include the title of the film having nothing meaningful to do with the story, and rather seems like a weak effort at gaining some attention (and viewers) by incorporating such a title. Another irritant was the constant inclusion of unknown characters break-dancing to song. Was this necessary? Rai has an interest in the genre, we get that, but the needless scenes seem like attempts to fill time.

A better use of time might have been additional scenes of Carla and her mother. A passing scene or two and an alluded to situation involving Carla’s father cheating on the mother is limiting and could have been an interested sub-plot, perhaps even figuring in to the main story. Carla’s group of friends add little to the film especially her slutty friend bedding two others in the group. The situation seems more like an add-on or a time filler more than rich writing.

Props go to any film with the desire to showcase an LGBT themed story as, despite the film being made in 2012, most LGBT films are still indie projects. I hoped for and expected more from the film especially the culturally interesting location of a European hotbed of sexuality and parties.

Angels of Sex (2012) starts off well until disintegrating into a bad LGBT episode of “As the World Turns” or “Days of our Lives” with poor character writing, unnecessary supporting characters and a feeble attempt at a twist ending that merely turns into a red herring and thereby a disappointment.

Hitchcock/Truffaut-2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut -2015

Director-Kent Jones

Starring-Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher

Scott’s Review #933

Reviewed August 21, 2019

Grade: B+

A documentary about film and film-making is a worthy watch for any rabid lover of cinema, and when the subject at hand is Alfred Hitchcock, any fan must certainly chomp. I remember Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) appearing at my local independent theater at the time of release but missed my chance to see it. The misstep having been undone, the work is fine, and the result is an abundance of riches, serving as a fly on the wall for those wishing to listen to two geniuses speak, or merely observe the clips of great films and revel in the creativity.

Already possessing a hefty knowledge of Hitchcock does not dull my perspective a bit, nor do I take for granted the appreciation served. For an entry level fan of the director, or of French film director, Francois Truffaut, the title is a must to add to one’s “to see” list. The documentary serves as inspiration and fulfillment for cinema lovers. Billed as side-by-side directors in the title, the documentary treats Hitchcock as the teacher and Truffaut as the student, especially given the age difference between the two men.

Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock in 1962 during a lengthy week-long discussion that took place in a windowless Hollywood office, where the former soaked up the latter’s knowledge and points of view like a sponge. Truffaut was already a well-regarded film-maker at the mere age of thirty-two, with gems such as The 400 Blows (1959) already under his belt. Truffaut then wrote a book about the conversations with Hitchcock, and director Kent Jones brings it to life in documentary form, telling his audience why the book had a tremendous impact on cinema, as well as teaching the audience a thing or two about the movies.

The production is an analysis in film-making from technique to style to clothing, and actors, and anything and everything in between. The main crux though is the technique Hitchcock used to create tension and suspense, manipulating the audience every step of the way. A plethora of his films are featured which is a personal joy to see, but most importantly the documentary is clever enough to build to Hitchcock’s most memorable sequence of all, the shower sequence in Psycho (1960), the director’s most recent film, and now, easily his most notorious.

Hollywood titans such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, arguably geniuses, explain the influence that Hitchcock provided them. Listening to these formidable director’s whimsically praise and dissect Hitchcock’s analysis and explain he led to their own blossoming is a wonderful aspect of the documentary.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) is a treat for die-hard fans of Hitchcock or for Truffaut- or both. Through its conversations and interviews with other famous directors it shows the heavy influence and never- ending love and appreciation for an ingenious suspense director and an equally unique French New Wave director. A thirty-two-year age difference separated the two men, but they appear as natural as close colleagues. Great minds do think alike.

You Were Never Really Here-2018

You Were Never Really Here-2018

Director-Lynne Ramsay

Starring-Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #932

Reviewed August 19, 2019

Grade: A-

You Were Never Really Here (2018) is an independent psychological thriller most reminiscent in tone and texture to the legendary Scorsese film, Taxi Driver (1976). The main characters are worlds apart, but the plot and the trimmings are clearly influenced by the classic, just amid a different time-period (the present).

A terrific and brooding performance by star Joaquin Phoenix leads the charge, as does fantastic direction by Lynne Ramsay, and the editing team, as the dark film is an unusual and impressive choice for a female director. Snippets of cinematic genius exist during a film that, with a more complete package, might have been a masterpiece.

We first meet Joe (Phoenix) somewhere in Ohio as, we learn, he is a hired gun sent to rescue underage girls from sex trafficking rings. He is brutal in his methods of rescue, resorting to gruesome murders to complete his assignments, and is paid handsomely. Back in New York City, he cares for his elderly mother whom he adores, and is contacted to rescue Nina, the daughter of a New York State Senator, Albert Votto for an enormous sum of money. When Joe rescues Nina and waits for Votto, events quickly spin out of control and a sinister web of deception is revealed.

When you look at the story that You Were Never Really There tells, it is one that has been told many times before, typically in slick Hollywood conventional standards. Angry ex-military unleashes brutality on devious criminals, rescues girl, and returns her safely to the open arms of her awaiting parents. Fortunately, the film is more thoughtful than that, adding complexity with the Joe and Nina relationship, and a stylistic, poetic quality featuring Joe’s relationship with his mother.

The plot is paced very well so that the events occur only over the course of a day or two, and the film is highly unconventional and dark. Frequent flashbacks give the film mystique as we see both Joe and his mother abused by Joe’s father, as a young Joe hides in a closet and hyperventilates. Now an adult, Joe is suicidal, frequently fantasizing or practicing his own death until he is interrupted.

As grisly as the film can be, beautiful and tender moments are laden throughout as Ramsay provides gorgeous style and humanity. A homoerotic moment occurs when Joe lies next to the man who has killed his mother. As the man is close to death at the hands of Joe, they hold hands as Joe provides comfort to the man in death. Joe then buries his mother in a pond in upstate New York, providing her with a peaceful final resting place. These are unique scenes that feel almost like an art film.

The conclusion is open-ended leaving lots of questions; Joe and Nina appear to ride off into the sunset together, but what will they do? What is to become of them? Surely, not a romantic element can be found, but where will they go from here? Both characters appear to have nothing left to hang on to other than each other, but is this sustainable? The film is not the type that is poised for a sequel, but I would be very curious what Ramsay has planned for her characters.

Joe is not portrayed as wicked, he is too complex for that. Phoenix, a tremendous actor, perfectly infuses the character with brutality and anger, but also a tenderness and a warmth. The aspects between You Were Never Really Here and Taxi Driver: the grizzled New York portrayals, the political backdrop, and the main characters saving a woeful young girl from the depths of despair, make the two film’s comparable. However, Joe and Travis Bickle are opposites, the latter having a frenetic humor that the former lacks.

Ramsay has been around for a while with We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) her most prominent film. She is successful at telling stories about deeply troubled individuals who are good people handed awful circumstances. With a tremendous actor like Phoenix on board, she crafts a solid work that has provided You Were Never Really Here (2018) with accolades, at least among the indie critics. Ramsay seems poised to break out in a big way and shake up the film industry with future works.

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

Director-Howard Morris

Starring-Doris Day, Brian Keith

Scott’s Review #931

Reviewed August 15, 2019

Grade: B

A film that clearly influenced the creation of the iconic television series, The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), or the reverse depending on the timeline or who you ask, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a cute family romantic comedy, hardly exceptional fare, and becoming too silly during the final act. Featuring the merging of two families into one big blended family, the heart of the film is the romance between two middle-aged singles looking for new love despite their baggage.

Abby McClure (Doris Day) is a widow raising three boys somewhere in northern California. She dutifully runs her deceased husband’s lumberyard while feeling unfulfilled in the romance department. When her overzealous sister, Maxine (Pat Carroll) tricks her into inviting widower Jake Iverson (Brian Keith) to her dinner party, the pair do not connect, but are drawn to one other as they become better acquainted. Predictable obstacles come their way including misunderstandings and backlash from their kids.

With Six You Get Eggroll is Day’s last film and certainly not one of her best offerings but is nonetheless moderately enjoyable. The film makers intent is to showcase a romance between Abby and Jake so that the elements are setup in a way as to make the characters likable, leaving a very predictable experience. When Jake arrives to the party early and sees Abby at her disheveled worst, or after Jake makes up an excuse to leave the evening early but runs into Abby later at the supermarket, it’s the sort of film that has a happy ending.

As such, the chemistry is palpable between Day and Keith which makes the film charming. If they had no chemistry the film would be a bust, but their slow build fondness for each other works well for this genre of film. They share a spontaneous evening of champagne and small talk at Abby’s house and excitedly plan a date for the next day only for Jake to make an excuse leaving Abby perplexed.

When Abby sees him with a much younger woman, we feel her disappointment. After all, Abby is well past forty in a world where middle-aged women are not the pick of the litter anymore, as sister Maxine annoyingly reminds her. When the young woman turns out to be Jake’s daughter, we smile with relief, along with Abby, because we like the characters and want them to be together.

The children: Flip, Jason, Mitch and Stacey (a young Barbara Hershey) add little to the film and are merely necessary supporting characters. They dutifully add obstacles to their parent’s happiness by squabbling with each other over bathroom space or resenting one parent taking the other away from them. Conversely, Maxine and Abby’s housekeeper, Molly (Alice Ghostley) add wonderful comic relief, keeping the film from turning too melodramatic and providing natural humor.

The Brady Bunch comparisons are quite obvious to any viewer who has seen the television series, and who hasn’t? The blended families and the G-rated dramatic crises are the most certain and the time period and clothes are almost identical. Molly the maid could be Alice the housekeeper, and the actor (Allan Melvin) who plays Sam “the Butcher” from the television series appears as a Police Sergeant. I half-expected the musical scores to mirror each other.

The film does have some mild flaws other than the predictability factor. The introduction of a band of hippies (though cool to see M*A*S*H alums Jamie Farr and William Christopher in early acting roles) and a speeding chicken truck resulting in arrests is way too juvenile and plot driven. A much better title could have been thought up for the film; With Six You Get Eggroll doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor does it have anything to do with the story. Finally, Abby’s masculine profession is only shown in the opening scene and also has nothing to do with the story.

For a wholesome late 1960’s themed evening, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) is a moderate affair with cliches and a cheery tone, but also some genuine chemistry between its leads. The sets and colors lend themselves well to the times and Day is always top notch. Perhaps one could skip this film and watch a sampling of The Brady Bunch television reruns; the experience would almost be the same.

Madame Bovary-1949

Madame Bovary-1949

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Jennifer Jones, James Mason

Scott’s Review #930

Reviewed August 13, 2019

Grade: A-

Madame Bovary (1949) is a film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel of the same name. Remade a handful of times since this version, Jennifer Jones is cast in the lead role and does a fantastic job with a difficult and complicated part. The title character is central to the controversial film which will undoubtedly result in mixed opinions of her actions and motivations- she will be loved or loathed. Director Minnelli successfully mixes melodrama and glamour with pain and defeat as one woman’s attempt at happiness is told.

In clever fashion, the story is told within a story as the viewer is immediately amid a compelling and dramatic trial. Flaubert (James Mason) defends his novel depicting an adulterous woman (Jones) ruining the lives of men, deemed disgraceful to France and all womanhood. He tells the story from his perspective and, through this, Madame Bovary’s perspective. She (Emma) marries a small town, country doctor, Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) and quickly grows disappointed with his lack of status. Feeling trapped and unfulfilled, she embarks on failed romances with other men as she attempts to ascend the social ladder.

The central theme of the film, as with the novel, is either understanding or abhorring Emma’s feelings and actions, or perhaps a mixture of both emotions. Who would not forsake her for being true to her feelings and desiring her piece of the pie? Most women of her day were reduced to matronly statuses or asexual feelings, but Emma wanted satisfaction and life, at the risk of her own family.

To counter these lustful feelings, she does not treat her husband very well, resenting his passivity and disappointed at her daughter being a girl instead of her desired son. This, she feels, would have allowed her better status, so as a result her daughter is nearly shunned, preferring the affections of the housekeeper to her mother’s feeble attempts at love. Is she hellion or a sympathetic soul? Emma is one of the most complex of all female film characters.

With Madame Bovary being made in 1949 and the novel obviously earlier, the progressive slant is rich and worthy of much admiration. The female perspective and the courage to reach for the stars and grasp life is spirited and wonderful to see, especially given the time-period. A mixture of romantic drama and torrid affairs are at hand during this experience and always is the character center stage.

The film mixes in remnants of Gone with the Wind (1939) especially with the lavish dance hall sequence. The ball is the highlight of the film with gorgeous costumes, great cinematography and bombastic dances. As Emma cavorts with dashing aristocrat, Rodolphe (Louis Jourdan), Charles gets drunk and makes a fool of himself, as her true disdain for her marriage becomes clear. The smashing windows with chairs moment is ahead of its time by way of the effects used and the constant dance twirls are dizzying. So much of importance occurs in this pivotal sequence.

Jones, while more than adequate, would not have been my first choice in the role. Married to influential producer David O. Selznick, it was rumored that many of the actresses’ roles were given to her. Delicious is to fantasize at what legends such as Bette Davis or Vivian Leigh might have brought to the character. Especially Leigh, given her dazzling performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, a follow-up as a similar and arguably more complex character is fun to imagine.

A film that allows for post-credits discussion is always a positive, with Madame Bovary (1949) a lengthy analysis of a character begs deliberation. Minnelli pours love and energy into a work dripping with nuances, long before his famous musicals came into fruition. A strong and vital female character suffers a lonely and despairing fate at her own hand which is tragic and sad, but she did live her life with zest which should empower us all.

The Music Man-1962

The Music Man-1962

Director-Morton DaCosta

Starring-Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Scott’s Review #929

Reviewed August 9, 2019

Grade: A

The big screen offering of The Music Man (1962) is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, written by Meredith Wilson, and one of the most upbeat and jovial of all the Hollywood renditions of stage productions. Featuring talented stars like Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, the former appearing in the stage version, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year and can be watched and re-watched whenever the mood strikes for sing-along tunes and a cheery story told from a purely Americana viewpoint.

In the summer of 1912, deceitful traveling salesman Harold Hill (Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on swindling the town folks of their money. Masquerading as a traveling music instructor, he plans to bamboozle parents into enrolling their kids into a marching band and selling them instruments. He uses scare tactics to incorporate fear into the gullible parents and romantically sets his sights on the local librarian, Marian (Jones). Marian, who is distrustful of men, slowly falls in love with Harold, as his plotting eventually is discovered resulting in a witch hunt.

Of the plethora of musical releases bombarding Hollywood throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, The Music Man arguably possesses the catchiest tunes and the most jovial spirit. Impossible not to hum along with or tap one’s foot to, the songs stick in the viewer’s heads for days after watching the addictive production. My favorites are “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” as each has distinctive melodies, rhymes and rapid-fire dialogue. The musical soundtrack always provides pleasure on the gloomiest of days which speaks volumes of the legs the musical contains.

Besides the tunes, the best aspect of The Music Man is the romantic story-line at its core. The chemistry exists in full form between Preston and Jones and each is perfectly cast. Due to the studio wanting “a big name” Preston nearly didn’t make the cut, which would have been a shame. As he infuses life and humor into a character who could be perceived as dastardly, he tips the likability scale firmly his way, making the character the hero of the film.

Jones, a treasured singer, is just as good as Preston, playing the mousy and serious Marian in a believable way. Her “slice of the mid-west” innocence and blonde hair portrays her as corn-bred, but the actress makes the character work for her and combined, the duo is sensational. The best sequence the pair appear in is the wonderful “Marian the Librarian”, a sneaky and naughty number the most adult of all the renditions. Their mutual attraction becoming evident, this is the moment when the film brings the audience to its knees.

The musical is purely a slice of Americana, which may limit its popularity across oceans, but for Americans it really works and feels authentic. This is no surprise given that composer Willson hailed from the mid-west. With an uplifting message, a nostalgic ode to a country once filled with promise and innocence, the film is arguably even more important in today’s divisive environment. The piece wisely does not celebrate small-town cliches but instead offers a wholesomeness. The townsfolk sing and dance together and celebrate life as a neighborly bunch and this nuance is refreshing to see.

The supporting cast adds flavor and comedy to the production. A very young child actor, soon to be famous director, Ron Howard, offers a heartfelt performance of “Gary, Indiana”. Character actors Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold offer delightful hysterics as Mayor Shinn and wife Eulalie.

Thematically like Oklahoma (1955) and Picnic (1955), at least from geographical and time-period perspectives, but distant relatives as far as mood and drama, all three could be watched in one marathon weekend. The Music Man (1962) provides the most warmth and will fill the most stone-faced of individuals with beaming smiles at its conclusion. The film version is a perfect example of a stage musical successfully brought to the silver screen with energy, bombast and gorgeous singing and dancing.

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #928

Reviewed August 7, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the 1934 novel of the same name written by famous author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) brings the story to the big screen with a robust and eccentric cast of characters all drizzling with suspicion. The classic whodunit of all whodunits, the film adds a Hollywood flair with rich costumes and an authentic feel to a budget-blasting extravaganza that keeps the audience guessing as to whom the killer or killers may be. The film was recognized with a slew of Oscar nominations that year.

The hero of the film is Hercules Poirot (Albert Finney), a well- respected yet bumbling Belgian detective, who is solicited to solve the mysterious death of a business tycoon aboard the famous and luxurious Orient Express train. On his way to the train’s destination, he encounters such delicious characters as the glamorous Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), the nervous Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), and his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), director of the company who owns the enormous vessel. Many other characters are introduced to the layered story.

As the complicated plot is unraveled, most of the characters have something to hide or a connection to another character or characters. The fun for the viewer is to live vicariously through Poirot and await the big final reveal at the conclusion of the film that, unless already having viewed the film or read the novel, one will not see coming. With a film of this type, a detective thriller, the audience can be assured of a resolution, like a big murder mystery dinner theater production brought to the big screen. Certainly formulaic, the film never drags nor feels dull.

Amid the first few minutes of Murder on the Orient Express, the intrigue is unleashed at full-throttle speed leaving one bedazzled and hooked. The sequence is brilliantly done and thrusts the audience into a compelling back story of plot and the wonderment of what these events have to do with a train pulling out of the Orient. Quick edited film clippings of a news story explain the mysterious Long Island, New York abduction and murder of the infant daughter of a famed pilot.

It is suggested that the Orient Express trip embarks from Istanbul, Turkey and is destined for London. This means that several countries will be included in the trek, creating possibilities for both geographical accompaniments and new cultural experiences which director Sidney Lumet offer generous amounts of. Moments following the murder, the train has the unfortunate fate of colliding with an avalanche, leaving the passengers in double peril, with a killer on the loose and cabin fever to contend with.

To the compelled viewer this is snug comfort as the atmospheric locales are gorgeous and the thought of a dozen strangers trapped together with so much to hide brings the story to a frenzy. Who did what to the murder victim are slowly revealed as several red herrings (or are they?) are revealed. Who is the mysterious woman strutting down the corridor shortly before the murder, spotted by Poirot? Is she a staged pawn or merely an innocent victim? Could she be the murderer? The wonderful part of Murder on the Orient Express is the amount of entangled possibilities.

The conclusion of the film turns the thriller into a sort of moralistic story, to its credit. The fact that the murder victim was hateful and diabolical is a key part of the story and makes the viewer wonder if the killer or killers are justified in their actions. Does the fact that Ratchett was stabbed a dozen times with varying degrees of severity play into the motivation? A very compelling, and unrecognizable Finney does a fantastic job of carrying the film among such a troupe of good actors.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) sets out to entertain and succeeds on every level, bringing the book to the silver screen with a fresh interpretation that still honors the intent that Christie had. Stylistic and thought-provoking, the film has gorgeous costumes, a good story, and fine acting. The knowledge of who the killer is does little to take away any enjoyment that a repeated viewing will provide.

The Farewell-2019

The Farewell-2019

Director-Lulu Wang

Starring-Awkwafina, Tzi Ma

Scott’s Review #927

Reviewed August 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Any film with a dark premise such as The Farewell (2019) offers runs the risk of resulting in a bleak and depressing outcome, but the film is anything but a downer. Surprising to many will be that the film is classified as both a drama and a comedy with snippets of humor and sadness prevalent throughout. Met with lots of critical buzz, the film is successful at furthering the much-needed presence of quality Asian representation in modern cinema well into the twenty-first century.

Young upstart/comedienne, Awkwafina, memorable for her humorous turn in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), returns to the big screen in a more sedate role, crafting a passionate and dramatic character, strongly leading the charge in an ensemble project exploring the family dynamic. The film succeeds extraordinarily as a multi-generational glimpse into humanity, though at times suffers from being too slow moving.

A thirty-something struggling writer, Billi (Awkwafina), lives in New York City near her parents, all expats from China. Billi is particularly close with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who still resides in her birth land as they speak regularly via telephone. When Billi is informed that her grandmother suffers from terminal lung cancer and has weeks to live, the entire family reunites and decides to hold a mock wedding as an excuse to all be together. The decision is made by the family not to tell Nai Nai she is dying preferring to let her live out her days in happiness rather than fear.

Awkwafina is the main draw of the film and much of the action is told from her perspective. One wonders if perhaps director Lulu Wang drew from personal experience when she wrote the screenplay. The audience does not know Billi’s sexuality nor is that even relevant to the film, but the vagueness was noticed. She does not date nor seem very interested in men, does her laundry at her parent’s apartment, and attempts and fails at a prestigious writing scholarship.

The supporting characters add tremendous depth so that the film is not solely Billi’s, providing unique perspectives from her mother, her father, and her aunt, as they each possess their own viewpoints in relation to Nai Nai’s illness. I adore this technique in rich storytelling as it not only fleshes out secondary characters, it also provides interesting ideas.  Nai Nai is not written as a doting old lady nor a victim; she is strong, witty, and full of life. Shuzhen, unknown to me before viewing this film, adds tremendous poise in a crucial role portraying it in just the right way.

The Farewell is a quiet film with both comic and dramatic elements, sometimes within the same scene, thereby giving relief from the dour subject matter. Wang gets the balance just right and makes sure she does not make the film too heavy. A hysterical bowing marathon takes place as the entourage decides to visit grandfather’s grave, as they prepare the necessary essentials to comfort him during the afterlife.

As a direct contrast to a physical comedy nuance, not a dry eye can be found when Billi and her parents depart China by taxi to the airport. Nai Nai tearfully waves goodbye to them, not knowing that will certainly be her final goodbye. Any audience member with an elderly relative who they seldom see will be churning with emotion over this poignant scene. Questions such as “would you keep a loved one unaware of a terminal disease?” will gnaw at the viewer, the central theme of the story.

Influenced by the buzz and word of mouth encircling the film, I salivated at the thought of one big, powerful, emotional scene, but one clearly defined, bombastic moment never came. Rather, the film offers small tidbits, careful not to overpower the audience or risk making the film too sentimental or overwrought. I still think a pivotal teary scene might have been added for good measure. A scene where Billi breaks down in front of her parents was adequate, but never catapulted the film over the top.

The Farewell (2019) is a wonderful film rich with emotion and importance. Like Black Panther (2017) did with a completely different genre, bringing black characters to the forefront of mainstream film, this film provides exposure to the Asian population, typically relegated to doctors, Chinese takeout owners or other cliched roles. Wang delights with an independent film steam-rolling itself across Middle-America.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-2019

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #926

Reviewed August 1, 2019

Grade: A

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is another brilliant offering by one of the most (deservedly) respected directors of the modern film era. This film may be his most personal as it includes many cinematic references and immerses itself in the Hollywood lifestyle. Toned down considerably from the violence standard in his other films, the first half lays the groundwork to a startlingly good second half with every detail of utmost importance. A bevy of riches await any viewer enthusiastically feasting his or her eyes on this film.

The time is 1969, as actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) struggles to reinvent himself and revitalize his career in Hollywood amid a changing cinematic landscape. Famous for a popular western television series from the 1950’s, Bounty Law, a pursued film career has not taken off, and he is reduced to guest appearances as the villain, then considered throwaway roles, in other episodic series. His stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) accompanies him almost everywhere serving as both sidekick and errand boy.

Meanwhile, famous director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have moved into the house next door which Dalton hopes will help him revitalize his career aspirations. As Tate goes about her daily life of running errands and watching her own movies in the theater, she is visited by Charles Manson one day looking for the former resident of her house. Historical viewers know how subsequent events transpired in real-life as Tarantino offers a fictional and tantalizing version of the events.

The length of the film is two hours and thirty-nine minutes, quite robust but typical for a Tarantino production. Some may complain about the bloated running time, but the film never drags; rather the director lays out all the pieces carefully like a fine chess game. By the mid-point all hell breaks loose with one of the most suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat scenes of in film history. When Cliff drives a flirtatious young hippy hitchhiker, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) to a range populated by Manson followers, he is in for the adventure of his life…..if he survives.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood contains an orgy of cinematic tidbits featuring a myriad of clips from forgotten films of the late 1960’s and popular songs from the day. This is just the tip of the iceberg in marvels as Tarantino perfectly immerses the viewer into the time-period with fury and zest. Every set piece, costume, hairstyle or car is flawlessly placed. Kraft macaroni and cheese, Velveeta cheese and popular dog food from the time-period are featured. Tarantino is a fan of cinema and makes cinema lovers fall in love with cinema all over again.

The cast is humongous but each character necessary and perfectly represented in roles large and small. The haunting troupe of Manson followers, specifically Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison), are all real-life figures. They are foreboding, dangerous and ever so important to the story. Al Pacino shines in the small but pivotal role of Schwarz (not Schwartz), Dalton’s agent, while Steve McQueen look-alike, Damian Lewis, on-screen for merely seconds, is memorable. The list of cameo performances goes on and on and on and the fun is wondering who may appear next.

Despite the incorporation of big-name stars in significant small roles, the best performances belong to Dicaprio and Pitt. Dicaprio’s best scene takes place alone in his trailer as the washed-up star botches his lines thanks to a hangover causing a delay in filming. He abuses himself into nailing the scene, receiving kudos all around while becoming teary-eyed after a compliment from a young actress. Pitt has never given a better performance than he does as Cliff, sharing his best scenes with his adorable dog Brandi, and with Dicaprio. Who can ever forget his chest baring rooftop scene?

Quentin Tarantino scores again with a bombastic and flawless picture, his ninth release. Rumored to retire after his tenth film, one can hardly fathom the reality of that statement. His films can be watched and watched again, continuously absorbing new and noteworthy details of rich texture. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) easily joins the ranks of great works, not just of the director’s own catalog, but of all time.

Lizzie-2018

Lizzie-2018

Director-Craig Macneill

Starring-Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart

Scott’s Review #925

Reviewed July 31, 2019

Grade: B+

Lizzie (2018) is an odd and macabre interpretation of the life and times of the infamous Lizzie Borden, who was accused and acquitted of hacking her father and stepmother to bits with a deadly axe. This offering is shrouded in a bit of controversy for inaccuracies and interpretations of the events, specifically Borden’s sexuality called into question. The film is quiet and a tad too slow but thunders to a grand climax more than making up for any negatives. The casting of its leads is perfect and key to success.

Thirty-two-year old Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) lives with her domineering and affluent father Andrew, (Jamey Sheridan), and rigid stepmother, Abby (Fiona Shaw). Despising both, she lives out a lonely and depressed existence with her only outlet being occasional evenings out at the theater. When an Irish immigrant, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), moves in to the Borden residence to work as a servant the women form a strong bond especially after she is abused by Andrew.

Sevigny, one of my favorite modern actresses, possesses a range that is astounding in the myriad of characters she has played in her long career. Debuting to the masses in the critically acclaimed and depressing Boys Don’t Cry (1999) she has churned out a numerous array of independent features portraying one oddball character after another and deserves the strong influence she has achieved over the years.

Director, Craig Macneill makes interesting choices with his film which may or may not please audiences expecting a by the number’s horror offering. He dives into psychological thriller territory with more of a character study approach that provides layers to the finished product. Sevigny is center stage and plenty of camera close-up shots offer an introspective analysis of what her feelings are rather than from her parents’ perspective. Instead of a crazed killer spontaneously committing the crime she is careful and calculating in her plan. Macneill presents Lizzie as the victim and Andrew and Abby the villains.

This is to assume that Borden really committed the crimes, which the film never doubts. Historically, people assume that this is the truth, but Lizzie was set free by a jury refusing to believe a woman of such means would commit such a heinous crime. I wonder if Macneill directed the film with a bit of a smirk at this ridiculous decision of the times when the woman clearly enjoyed the murders. At the end of the film it is explained what happened to Lizzie and Bridget which is a good decision and wraps the film into a nice tidy bow.

Powerful is the quiet subtext which gives a moody and foreboding quality. I adore slow moving films provided the reward is worth the wait and Lizzie sucker punches once the events begin rolling along. Another positive is the gnawing feeling of terrible things about to happen but unsure of when or how the attacks will occur. Most viewers choosing to watch this film will be aware of the context and the reported murders committed.

The atmospheric additions succeed as the late eighteenth century costumes and daily living are believable. The lavish Borden house is well-kept and brightly lit offering a nice New England feel. Finally, the creaks and noises throughout the house perfectly encompass the danger lurking behind corners and the fun is in wondering when Lizzie will strike. Since the film moves back and forth through its time-period we know that strike she will.

Where the film offers its best work is through the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget. Sevigny and Stewart dazzle together with unleashed chemistry nearly rivaling a similar dynamic seen in 2003’s Monster. As with Aline Wuornos and Selby Wall Lizzie is the dominant one and Bridget is submissive following her lead. Both sets of women share a lesbian relationship and neither pair achieves any happiness at the conclusion of the film.

A film sure to fly under the radar and likely to be forgotten before long, Lizzie (2018) is worth the effort. A spooky and controversial interpretation of the events leading up to, during, and after one of the most notorious crimes in United States history is dissected and analyzed from a human perspective. Macneill makes Borden less maniacal and more sympathetic than some may prefer. I think he does a fine job and deserves praise for a rich telling.

Gloria Bell-2019

Gloria Bell-2019

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Julianne Moore, John Turturro

Scott’s Review #924

Reviewed July 29, 2019

Grade: B+

An English remake of the successful Chilean film from 2013 simply titled Gloria, Gloria Bell (2019) stars Julianne Moore and the setting is moved to Los Angeles. The film is directed by Sebastian Lelio, fresh off a Best Foreign Language Film win for A Fantastic Woman (2017) and both films contain similar themes of oppression and loneliness. Preferring the original by only a hair Gloria Bell is nonetheless a worthy offering with Moore perfectly cast in the title role.

Middle-aged divorcee Gloria Bell (Moore) resides in Los Angeles, working an office job of some respectability but is clearly unfulfilled. She spends frequent nights at a nightclub where she is deemed a regular. The club caters to middle-aged singles who dance and drink while looking for love. When she meets Arnold (John Turturro) one evening and they share a night of passion, the pair begin dating but Gloria realizes that he still supports his ex-wife and grown daughters limiting his time and commitment to her, which leaves her frustrated.

Moore is honest and understated with her performance and the highlight of the film. With another casting choice the character might not have worked so well. She is full of life, singing in her car, attending laughter therapy, and smoking pot in her apartment. She has a warm yet limited relationship with her millennial kids and her ex-husband and his new wife. Moore gives the character an earnestness and likability that works and gets the audience on her side during her trials and tribulations.

This is not to say that Gloria doesn’t occasionally frustrate the audience. After inviting Arnold to meet the whole crew over dinner and wine at her son’s house, what begins as a meet and greet quickly turns into a reminiscing trip down memory lane and whimsical looks at Gloria and her ex’s wedding pictures. Her disregard of Arnold’s feelings is disappointing, but the bad intention is not there. Gloria has baggage and is caught up in the moment simply reliving a happier time at the expense of the current moment.

Arnold has his own demons and is both likable and unlikable to the audience. Tending to bail on Gloria when either his family requires his assistance or he feels left out, he hardly exhibits grown man behavior or anyone Gloria would want to date. The first red flag is his confessions of enamor to Gloria over their first dinner date. From there his on again off again presence makes him the odd man out. The intent by Lelio is to make Gloria the sympathetic one. It’s her movie after all.

Watched sequentially with A Fantastic Woman is a wise idea. Numerous comparisons are apparent beginning with the feelings shared by both central characters. Both are searching for happiness but unsure of how to obtain it especially given the fact that they once had it and it was snatched away from them. Scenes of both characters driving in their cars and singing songs are included, and the look of both films is the same.

Very few comparisons or contrasts can be made between Gloria of 2013 and Gloria Bell of 2019 as both are way above average other than in the former the character is slightly more vivacious than the latter. This could be attributed to the Chilean and South American free thinking and sexual gusto as compared to a more reserved American way of thinking, but this is merely a suggestion. Interesting to note is how Lelio remade his own film only six years later rather than another director putting his or her own stamp on it.

Gloria Bell (2019) paints a vivid canvas of a modern woman dealt a bad hand who struggles to find her happiness and fulfillment any way she knows how. Thanks in large part to Moore’s embracing and filling the character with kindness and care she wins over the audience. The character is written as intelligent and interesting and not desperate in any way for a man. He needs to be the right man.

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.

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!