Tag Archives: Adventure films

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

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

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Panther-2018

Black Panther-2018

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #805

Reviewed August 23, 2018

Grade: B+

For the record, I am not a huge super-hero fan nor an obsessive follower of the popular Marvel comic series. I see a handful of, but hardly many of this particular genre of film, usually those (if any) receiving year-end recognition. Having heard many positives regarding Black Panther (2018) I was looking forward to something creative and left of center from the typical genre film.  While the film has some standard super-hero elements, the fact that most of the characters are ethnic is an enormous plus and worth the price of admission alone.

To elaborate further, admittedly Black Panther plays out like a super-hero film is “supposed” to play out- fight scenes, machismo, action, and villains, with the standard good versus evil story-line thrown in. This is all well and good and will undoubtedly please the traditional Marvel comic book fan. However, the nuances that the screenwriters and director, Ryan Coogler sneak into the film are what sets it above a mediocre rating.

The fact that nearly all of the principal characters are black is tremendous, and the female black characters portrayed as strong is huge. Furthermore, the visual treats of Africa, Korea, and multi-cultural clothing and colors is noteworthy. While I wish the actual story would have steered further away from the tried and true, I was left happy with the other qualities.

The film begins with a quick story of how one African nation, Wakanda, came to be and proudly brought into existence the first “Black Panther” with super-powers obtained from a special plant. As the action moves to Oakland, California, circa 1992, we learn that the King of Wakanda is visiting his brother who works undercover.

Following the King’s death, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes over the throne, but is soon challenged by his cousin, N’Jadakan (Michael B. Jordan), who deems himself the rightful heir to the throne. Another sub-plot involving a black-market arms leader named Ulysses Klaue, leads T’Challa, along with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to South Korea and back to Wakanda.

Black Panther feels ambitious to me- like seeing something of worth and something inventive and cool. The film is stylized and the direction that Coogler provides is spectacular, with bright, colorful, visual treats, especially as he features lavish African locales. Admittedly, in a mainstream comic book film, laden with CGI effects, it is tough to actually know what is real or not real, but as a viewer these aspects were a treat and pleasing to the eyes.

The plot of the film itself feels admittedly mediocre and tough to follow and a “been there done that” evaluation. By the same token the story seems predictable and is it any wonder that T’Challa will reclaim the throne as King of Wakanda? After inevitable clashes with warrior type men who want the throne and/or feel that they are the rightful heir to the throne, it really does not matter too much. This is not to say the film is not good, it is, but the plot is not the highlight of Black Panther, feeling fairly standard.

The male-female roles are an interesting study and progressive minded. Granted the male characters (T’Challa, N’Jadaka, and M’Baku) are all testosterone laden and fierce with machismo. But despite being manly men they also contain some sensitivity and there is a unique family element to the characters. On the other hand the female characters are incredibly strong and empowering- a dynamic approach for a super-hero film sure to be seen by millions. One female character is even an Army General! So the portrayal of women as strong warriors rather than merely secondary or arm candy is impressive.

The comic book or super-hero genre is notoriously filled with gender stereotypes and specific, oftentimes generic aspects. With this work, it is nice to see some of these barriers broken down. Between the recent Wonder Woman (2017) and Black Panther (2018), women and the black community have been represented positively. Here’s to hoping that the LGBT community may be next.

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

Director-Ava DuVernay

Starring-Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #788

Reviewed July 16, 2018

Grade: C

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) is a film that I had high hopes for given the enormous marketing push, first rate cast, and especially the acclaimed female director involved with the project, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th). Additionally, having admired the 1962 novel I expected a rich, earthy, and mysterious experience. Sadly, whether it be a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation given the star power involved, or some other factors leading to disconnect, but this film really disappointed me. It’s not terrible, but definitely suffers from miscasting, way too much CGI, and a story that is not very compelling.

Thirteen year old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is having a tough time of it in school. Smack dab in the “awkward phase”, she is picked on by school mates because her father (Chris Pine) has disappeared- presumably having ditched the family. In reality, he is a scientist who has been transported to another world after solving the question of humanity’s existence. After Meg and her family are visited by a strange woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Meg, little brother Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin, time travel in order to find a way to save her father.

Fans who have read the wonderful novel written by Madeleine L’Engle will most certainly be disappointed since many details of the film are vastly different from written page. DuVernay certainly attempts to take the film out of the 1960’s and into 2018 (I have no issue with that), but the film feels so slick and modern with the visual elements and heavy use of CGI, that the story suffers enormously. To be clear, the film is gorgeous to look at, especially in the sweeping outdoors scenes, but in this case, too many bells and whistles spoil A Wrinkle in Time.

The three strange women characters: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) are completely butchered. In the novel, each are portrayed as peculiar, mysterious, and similar to witches: frumpy, awkward, yet lovable. In the film, however, they are colorful, glamorous, empowered, but lack any real uniqueness or intrigue. I am all for female empowerment, but the characters just felt wrong. Kaling is fine in the smallest role, but in the case of Witherspoon and Winfrey, appears a case of “we have big stars, let’s find roles for them.” A tough sell with Mrs. Which is to think of Oprah as anyone other than….well, Oprah! Witherspoon’s attempts to be goofy and the comic relief of the film do not work.

The casting of newcomer Storm Reid is lackluster. I have no issue with the character of Meg being changed to bi-racial, in fact I feel that’s a plus in the modern age. However, the actress is not the greatest, appearing both sullen and wooden in various scenes. Nor does she have any chemistry with her love interest, Calvin. This is a shame since the theme of young love would have been a nice addition to the film and was a coming of age element in the novel.

At the risk of being overly critical, A Wrinkle in Time is not a total disaster either. The progressive and heroic message of the overall film is quite inspired. If kids watch the film (and since it is Disney produced and heavily advertised I can see no reason why they wouldn’t) they will be exposed to a nice message of good conquering evil. And on a side note, the villain is safe and hardly conjures up much fright, so no worries by parents of the film being too scary.

With heaps of buzz and anticipation regarding A Wrinkle in Time (2018) the film seemed poised to become a blockbuster hit and a great spring flick. Instead, the film has largely been derided by critics and audiences alike. With creative genius, star power, and a huge budget involved, something clearly ran amiss as the final product is fair to middling. Let’s hope director Ava DuVernay gets her groove back with her next project- I expected more.



Director-Jan de Bont

Starring-Bill Pullman, Helen Hunt

Scott’s Review #763

Reviewed May 25, 2018

Grade: B+

Twister (1996) is a film that contains amazing and groundbreaking special effects- that blew people away (pun intended!) when released to the masses over twenty years ago. Moviegoers flocked to theaters everywhere to partake in the escapist summer feel good hit starring popular movie stars of the time. The film spawned amusement park rides and lots of other fun things during its run.

The visuals are what truly are to be enjoyed here and not the generic, tried and true subplots of romance, childhood trauma, and corporate greed that are mixed in. The film does not hold up well in present times as the dazzling effects now look rather dated when lined up again modern blockbusters. This results in Twister being reduced to “one of those 1990’s films”.

Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as American storm chasers, Bill and Jo, obsessed with their craft of tracking tornadoes throughout the United States mid-western region. Adding drama to the plot is that Bill and Jo are an estranged married couple in the midst of a divorce. Bill brings his new fiancee Melissa (Jami Gertz) along as numerous meteorologists converge to track storms using newly invented devices. Predictably, a series of vicious storms commence while Bill, Jo, and Melissa play out a love triangle.

Twister gets off to a fantastic start as a wicked storm kills then five year old Jo’s father, prompting her to pursue her career of choice. Jo has never gotten over her father’s death becoming fascinated by deadly storms. The effects of this initial storm are very well done as Jo’s father’s death scene is riveting- the poor man being sucked into the deadly cyclone is memorable. Regardless, this scene sets the tone for the ample effects to follow- most notably the terrifying sound of the swirling storm as farm tools and animals fly around onscreen.

After the initial introduction the rest of the film is mainly of the group driving around and encountering storms, with Bill and Jo taking center stage. As a child having spent many summers in the mid-west, sans tornadoes thankfully, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching the film.  Assumptions being made that Twister was indeed filmed on location (with studio help), the authenticity is apparent. From the vastness of the plains to the dusty roads, cornfields, and small town U.S.A. I enjoyed the down home, slice of life feel.

The action and effects are lightning quick and quite realistic. As mentioned the sound effects are as strong as the visual effects and I never doubted for a second that the twisters had a realism to them. This successfully merges into the summer blockbuster that Twister’s producers undoubtedly were going for. Making a ton of money, the end result was clearly successful and inspired by Hollywood.

Despite the superlative special effects, though, this is really the only reason to watch Twister and seeing the film once is enough excitement. The writers (Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin) attempt to incorporate a romance into the story and this does nobody any good. This negative aspect is even more apparent since the chemistry between Paxton and Hunt is non-existent and Gertz’s Melissa is clearly meant to be the odd woman out all along.

A large amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary to “buy” various scenes. Ludicrous are countless scenes where characters either outrun the monstrous twisters or somehow the storms encircle them, but miraculously never touch them. When Jo, Bill, and Melissa’s truck is captured inside the funnel cloud the vehicle and its passengers somehow remain unharmed.  And tornadoes do not simply come out of nowhere to attack without any indication on radar. But alas this is a disaster film and liberties must be taken.

The famous “cow scene”, notoriously used twice in the film seemed groundbreaking and cutting edge in 1996, but in 2018 now seems hokey and unnecessary. Times sure do change in cinema especially with technical effects and CGI growing each year.

Admittedly, the film does contain a good, all-american rockin’ summer tune by Van Halen named “Humans Being”, which always makes me think of summertime when I hear it. In fact the entire Twister soundtrack was an enormous success with radio airplay given and led to further successes for the film.

Perhaps now watched as a blast from the past or a revisit to some sort of nostalgic time for folks, Twister (1996) is a great example of a once popular popcorn movie falling into semi-obscurity. Given another twenty years the film will undoubtedly fall all the way. A nice film for the time it was, but little more years later.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-1984

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-1984

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw

Scott’s Review #759

Reviewed May 17, 2018

Grade: A

The second in the trilogy (I refuse to acknowledge the middling Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is easily my favorite of the group. Much darker than its predecessor, Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is also better, with more flare and pizzazz.  All three (1989’s The Last Crusade added) could be watched in sequence and easily enjoyed as companion pieces for a slice of 1980’s nostalgia.

A prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the action picks up a few years prior as our hero narrowly escapes the clutches of a crime boss in Shanghai, China. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), along with sidekick’s eleven-year-old Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), embark on an adventure to retrieve a stolen sacred stone. The poor villagers have also lost their children to a lavish palace where they are forced to work as slaves.

Wisely in keeping with the continuity of the first story, director Steven Spielberg and writer George Lucas return to the fold. This enriches the experience as both men clearly are in touch with the character of Indiana Jones and do not try to change him. His familiar wittiness and charismatic nature return and the dashing hero shows more skin this time around with more than one shirtless scene. To cement the good character, Harrison Ford returns to the role he created and made famous.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is layered with positive aspects and holds special childhood memories for me. I vividly recollect going to the movie theater and excitedly watching the film on the big screen clutching a tub of buttery popcorn. For a young boy this is the best- an adventure story for the ages with thrills and edge of your seat sequences. In fact, the film is perfect for the entire family.

Many gorgeous exterior sequences abound throughout the film and a prime example of this is when the trio encounter deadly assassins on a precarious rope bridge high atop a crocodile infested murky river.  This scene is fraught with tension and “how will he ever get out of this?” thinking when dear Indie is cornered by the killers. With lightning quick thinking he severs the bridge resulting in a dangling escapade. As numerous bodies fall into the river they are chopped to bits by the hungry reptiles. The fact that the action is all shot outdoors in lush scenery only adds to the enjoyment.

The film is admittedly filled with dark and scary aspects necessitating a PG-13 rating versus a PG one. As Indie, Willie, and Short Round are held hostage in the evil palace, a dangerous sacrifice occurs. One poor man is chosen to give his life by way of being burned alive in a roaring fire. Indie is then forced to drink potion presumably suffer the same fate.  Other bloody moments occur as a bad guy meets his fate after being flattened like a pancake by a steamroller. So clearly the tone of the film is much darker than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

To offset the blood, guts, and voodoo, the film occasionally parlays into humor mostly at the expense of Willie- the comic relief of the film. Accustomed to the glamour of costumes and luxurious hotels, the singer is forced to fend for herself amid snakes, elephants and other creatures. As she hungrily sits down for what she thinks is a scrumptious dinner, she is treated to monkey brains and bulging eye balls in soup- deemed Indian delicacies.

Lost on me seeing the film as a youngster and readily apparent watching it now are glaring negative stereotypes associated with the Indian culture. As I am sure the intent was not to insult, some stereotypes do abound with the hokey cuisines and the severe poverty. The underlying image of tribal Indians as being weird or out of touch is prevalent to say nothing of the odd religious overtones.

Kate Capshaw as Willie is the complete opposite of the central female character of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whereas Marion is intelligent and serious, Willie is pampered, rich, and gullible. I find the camaraderie between Indie and Willie much more palpable than between Indie and Marion and the romantic overtures appealing. Who can forget the famous “bug scene” in the palace?

Conjuring up wonderful and exciting childhood memories, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is a treasure for the eyes and the strongest entry in the bunch. If in the mood for a good, fun-filled experience with a healthy dose of Indian culture and adventurous antics with a slice of darkness this one is a must see.

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Scott’s Review #757

Reviewed May 15, 2018

Grade: A

A film that kicked off the tremendously successful and ever so fun 1980’s trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a treasure in the adventure genre time capsule. Director Steven Spielberg embarks on the journey of one of the most highly visible film heroes in that of Indiana “Indie” Jones, a swashbuckling, aww shucks kind of guy. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast in a role that perfectly fits him and, besides Han Solo, defined him during the decade- his best role of his career if you ask me.

Wonderful to watch in sequence with the even more superb Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), these two films are pure pleasure as our hero faces dangerous obstacles at every turn while either chased by or pursuing sinister robbers or other undesirables. All the while Indie keeps his familiar sly grin and numerous jokes to entertain audiences.

As a piece of film making Raiders of the Lost Ark has it all with superior writing, editing, cinematography, art direction, sound, and visuals effects. The reaped many Oscar nominations, quite uncommon for an adventure tale, but nonetheless the merits were warranted. Atypical compared to other films of this type, the film is not overly saturated with phony machismo or unnecessary “guy” stuff, but rather appealing and genuine.

The time period is 1936 and archaeologist Indiana Jones works as a professor at a University. Known for retrieving ancient artifacts he is contacted by Army intelligence officers who ask him to help stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant which they believe will make their armies invincible, allowing them to conquer the world in sinister fashion. Events lead Indie to Marion (Karen Allen), who harbors resentments towards him for a failed past romance. The rest of the film follows the pair throughout Nepal and Cairo in an attempt to recover the Ark before the Nazis do.

Raiders of the Lost Ark contains all of the elements for a successful “hit” movie and has blockbuster written all over it. This is not a slight against the film, but rather a testament to all involved. Led by successful Spielberg who knows how to connect all the dots, first and foremost Ford infuses charisma into his character so that the audience enjoys his sensibilities and desire for the truth. Indie is intent on protecting humankind so Spielberg carves a “good versus bad” approach- making the villainous Nazis the antithesis of Jones which creates a clear rooting value.

My personal favorite scene in the film comes towards the conclusion. Nicknamed the “face melting scene” this scene contains then state of the art special effects that compelled and mesmerized me and also led to light nightmares for any kid under the age of twelve. The way that the bad guys see swirling, benevolent ghosts- first beautiful and peaceful, but soon turning deadly- cause their faces to literally melt off or shrivel-the scene is both inventive and dramatic.

Not to be dismissed as trite or fluff are the exciting and memorable scenes dubbed “the snake scene” and “the rolling boulder scene”.  In the former Indie wryly admits his fear and trepidation of snakes as he must traverse a huge pit filled with thousands of them and he comes face to face with a deadly King cobra. In the latter scene, Indie must outrun a speeding boulder as he takes an ancient artifact from a sacred spot inside a cave, causing boulders to collapse around him. Both scenes are enormous fun and immeasurable edge of your seat sequences.

I never sensed much chemistry between actors Ford and Allen, but writing the characters of Indie and Marion as former lovers adds a good bit of tension and sparring between the characters- this provides for some good fodder and humorous situations. Thankfully the romance between the two is neither the focal point of the film nor all too important, but rather, in the safety that the 1980’s cinema was- merely a necessity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a superb adventure film holding up better than it should decades beyond release. The film is rich with good old fashioned action, a charismatic hero, thrills, intrigue, and a good history lesson for those interested in the build up to World War II. The accounts are fictional of course, but Spielberg offers a fine 1980’s cinematic experience that’s got it all.

Stand By Me-1986

Stand By Me-1986

Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Will Wheaton, River Phoenix

Scott’s Review #752

Reviewed May 2, 2018

Grade: A

Stand By Me (1986), is a sweet, coming of age story that every male  (or female for that matter) who grew up in small town america will undoubtedly relate to. Set mostly outdoors in the remote pacific northwest, the film successfully shows the deep bonds of friendships over the course of a Labor day weekend as four youths set out on an adventure of discovery. In 1986 I was able to completely relate to the film and in present day Stand By Me holds up quite well.

Stephen King, a tremendous author known mostly for horror novels, created a short story named The Body in 1982- Stand By Me is based on this story. Instead of traditional horror however, the story is more of a straight up adventure, though in pure King style- a dead body is front and center (naturally). Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and its success led to other mainstream achievements for Reiner (1989’s When Harry Met Sally and 1990’s Misery- also a King novel). The legendary theme song by Ben E. King plays over the closing credits and became a smash hit again in 1986.

The film starts off in intriguing fashion as the main character, Gordie, as an adult, learns that his childhood friend Chris Chambers has tragically been stabbed to death. Gordie then narrates a flashback to the summer of 1959 when he and three other boys embarked on a childhood adventure one Labor day weekend. Along with Gordie (Will Wheaton), we meet Chris (River Phoenix) a rebellious boy with a troubled home life, Teddy (Corey Feldman), who is scarred as a result of being burned by his mentally ill father, and Vern (Jerry O’Connell)  an overweight kid insecure about his looks.

The wonderful aspect of Stand By Me is that each of the four central characters is flawed either physically or by some other insecurity-giving depth to each character. In this way, each character is highly empathetic to an audience member who may see him or herself in these characters. This point carries through for the entire length of the film. Through conversational scenes with one another each weakness is exposed and dissected- Teddy becomes vulnerable about his relationship with his father when a character refers to him as “loony”. Vern’s weight bothers him, and Chris aspires to be so much more than people anticipate he will ever become.

Not to be weighed down by too many dramatic elements, Stand By Me incorporates much needed humor into its story. My favorite sequence is the delightful story that Godie regales the other boys with one night as they camp outdoors.  Town legend has it that a rotund, picked on boy nicknamed “Lard-Ass” enacts the perfect revenge on the townspeople one summer as he enters a pie-eating contest resulting in a torrent of vomiting. This scene is very well shot by Reiner and brilliantly balances the differing tones of the film all the while nestled in a connecting package.

The film belongs to the young actors each of whom is cast extremely well. Of course, Corey Feldman and River Phoenix went on to major success in the 1980’s. Phoenix who tragically died in 1993, and Feldman, who suffered through numerous problems in his short career, are forever youthful with promise and poise in this film. In Phoenix’s case, he seemed most on course for leading man status with his dashing youthful looks and clean cut appearance. Watching in later years it is bittersweet to watch both actors and recollect the promise of each.

Mixing both drama and comedy but at its core a true adventure story best watched on a summer evening, Stand By Me is memorable and poignant. The setting of late summer, outdoorsy camping and green scenery is resilient and stands the test of time. Anyone who ever has embarked on a good journey as a kid or formulated everlasting memories of those from their youth (which should be all of us) can appreciate this timeless gem.

Wonder Woman-2017

Wonder Woman-2017

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring-Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

Scott’s Review #696

Reviewed November 20, 2017

Grade: B

Wonder Woman is a 2017 summer offering (and a mega success) that is firmly nestled in the comfort of the super hero, adventure genre, but is quite unique in that it is directed by a woman in what is typically a male dominated field. This must be championed, and the film has a palpable, female empowering quality that I adore since it is still lacking in most mainstream film.

However, at times, the film teeters too much around predictability and possesses many traditional super hero elements, such as good versus evil, climactic fights scenes, and stock villains. But liberties must be taken and overall I saw the film as a female driven work. The fact that Wonder Woman was celebrated by the masses is wonderful news.

Director Patty Jenkins, notable for having previously tackled weighty subject matter in films such as 2003’s Monster, is at the helm of this project and embodies her lead character with a good blend of earnestness, pizzazz, and heart. “Wonder Woman” is a likable character and newcomer Gal Gadot, an unknown to me, is interesting casting. Certainly, there are a myriad of young Hollywood “names” who could have championed the part- Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence may have been palpable in the role. Seemingly a brave choice, Gadot clearly takes command of the character and fills her with substance.

We meet “Princess Diana” as a young girl, living on the protected Amazon island of Themyscira- inhabited only by females. The time is around 1918, amid the harsh reality of World War I, though the members of the tribe know nothing about the war or any other current events- nor do any males live on the island. Most of the women are trained warriors, presumably to protect the island from potential dangers. It is soon revealed that Diana has special powers, and after meeting a lost American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she embarks on a mission to save the world from the ravages of war. Mixed in with the main story is a briefly mentioned ancient legend of Zeus’s son Ares plotting to return and destroy the Amazons, whom Zeus created.

My only issue with Wonder Woman as a whole, is with the story.  The plot is not weak, but simply put- it is nestled in Hollywood predictability rather than containing any surprises along the way. Despite deserved kudos for the characterization of Diana, the story ultimately turns ho-hum like many super hero films do- peppered with the inevitable battle scenes. The genre specific “save the world” is played to the hilt as Diana takes it upon herself to stop the war with the belief that people are not entirely bad. With this thought, Diana finally learns a valuable lesson about the complexities of human beings- in this way Wonder Woman contains a moralistic tale- but then come more battle scenes.

The villains are mainly cartoon-like and what one might expect for a film of this kind.  Chemist Isabel Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), dons a mask to hide a disfigured face (intentionally to test the poison gas), and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) plans to destroy all of mankind. These characters are straight out of comic books and contain no redeeming qualities.

Contrary to where the main story may be a tad lacking, the romantic element is nicely done and the scenes involving Diana and Steve are sweet and romantic in nature making them fun to watch and a good balance against the action sequences. Gadot and Pine have great chemistry, adding humor, so the scenes are not forced. As Diana sees Steve naked for the first time a clever sexual flirtation develops and a sly lesbian backstory is briefly hinted at. Diana remarks with a smirk that men are only needed for procreation and that the women on the island “can satisfy themselves”. The duo also have a play of words about his “manhood”.

Due to the success of Wonder Woman, a sequel, again directed by Jenkins is in the works. My hope is that because of the box office performance many more liberties can be taken by the talented director and she can further push the envelope as she did with Monster. Wonder Woman is a good film, let’s hope the next installment is a great film.

King Kong-1933

King Kong-1933

Director-Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring-Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Scott’s Review #624

Reviewed March 11, 2017

Grade: A

The original, black and white, 1933 version of King Kong (a few other remakes or reboots followed) is a masterful achievement in special effects never before done in film and is also a great horror/adventure film that is timeless in its look and feel, capturing 1930’s New York City, especially, in majestic fashion. Some of the dialogue and scenes now dated or slightly racist, it still holds up well as an overall lesson in film exploration and is a treasure to watch time and time again. The film is a take on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, sans the happy ending.

In the watery harbors of New York City, film maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) prepares to embark, via ship, on a journey to film his latest picture. Known for films about exotic wildlife, he has a film to end all films in mind, and reluctantly, is talked into casting a female lead in the part. He scours the streets of New York City, finding broke and hungry Ann (Fay Wray)- a struggling actress unable to find work. She agrees to the role and off they go headed towards destination unknown. Weeks later, he reveals to the crew that they are headed for Skull Island, a secret island known for pre-historic creatures and a beast only known as “Kong”.

Amid the voyage to the island, Ann and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) fall madly in love with each other giving the film a nice romantic slant along with the male driven adventure story. The adventure really begins when the crew arrive at Skull Island to find a weird, ancient ritual marriage occurring by the tribal people and all hell breaks loose when the dangerous “King Kong” escapes from captivity and falls in love with Ann. Mixed in with the story are enormous dinosaurs who destroy everything in their paths including many of the men from the island and the film crew.

As I watched the film in 2017, not too far out from 100 years past the films incarnation, I oftentimes sat in wonderment, amazed at how the film makers were able to achieve the luminous special effects throughout the second half of the film. Given the film is in black and white, the contrast of the dark, enormous ape (Kong) and the bright New York City, and the majestic Empire State Building, prominently featured in the final, climactic, act.

Scenes of a struggling Ann in the hand of King Kong seem flawless and believable and I marvel at how these scenes were shot and the enormous amount of effort to make them dramatic and not hokey looking. Since the film was made “pre code”, several shocking scenes exist- when Kong rips off Ann’s clothes as she struggles in his palm and Kong’s stepping on and squashing men are featured sparing no graphic details.

In addition to the great adventure story that is King Kong, also lies a tender love story and a bit of melancholy too. King Kong is not so much a dangerous creature, rather, has fallen in love with Ann and serves as her protector. He is a scared animal, chained and confined and subsequently shown to a stuffy Broadway crowd as entertainment- he becomes angry. I find Kong to be a sympathetic, misunderstood character, and because the human beings in the story are frightened, he becomes their enemy. He adores Ann and would not harm her in any way, but he is perceived as vicious, which he is not.

It can be argued who the real villain of the story is. Would it not be film maker Carl, intent on exploiting King Kong and gaining profit from it? Is it the tribe people who keep Kong locked up or is it for their own protection?

My favorite scene is the climax of the film. After taking Ann from a hotel room, he scales the Empire State building and is pursued by four military airplanes. When he sets Ann down on the rooftop ledge, he battles the planes, only to sadly topple down to the ground- dead. As he swipes at the planes and succumbs to gunshot wounds, it is a sad and powerful scene.

King Kong is a legendary film.  A film where audiences will empathize with the “villain” of the story and be impressed by the nuances on the technical side as well as enjoy the conventional and the unconventional love stories presented. One thing is for sure, King Kong is one of the most influential films ever made.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Director-Gore Verbinski

Starring-Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom

Scott’s Review #606

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the follow-up to the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, from 2003. The sequel is decent, but certainly inferior to Curse of the Black Pearl. The visual effects are spectacular, and the budget very high, but the story wasn’t really there. The film drags along at times as well as being a bit confusing.

Johnny Depp gives his all to his role of Jack Sparrow, performing with gusto and is clearly the highlight of the franchise. The supporting characters, Bloom as Will Turner, and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, are fine, but not on the level of Depp. Otherwise, the performances are all okay, but just a carbon copy of the first film.

Story-wise, Will and Elizabeth are arrested for aiding Jack Sparrow’s escape execution, and the plot involves the attempts at locating Sparrow along with the typical adventure aspects of a film like this and the stock character villains, with grimaces, heavy makeup, and over-acting, but I expected as much.

Not a bad sequel, certain to entertain the masses, and guaranteed to make a ton of money, inevitably ensuring another sequel will be made, with little doubt of being even less compelling.

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Director-Guy Ritchie

Starring-Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law

Scott’s Review #575

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: B-

From a technical perspective. Sherlock Holmes, a 2009 attempt at revitalizing the famous detective story into something of a modern franchise for the masses, achieves a measure of success in style and editing, but ultimately fails in character development or story. Traditionalist fans of the detective and his partner will undoubtedly be displeased with this film.

This film is very well made, with snappy editing, fast-paced wit, and attempts at humor, but it really does not work all so well when put together as a film. The re-birth of Sherlock Holmes was clearly made to entice modern audiences. Director Guy Ritchie even brings in superhero elements to Sherlock Holmes- suddenly he can kick ass as well as solve a complex mystery, which is so far removed from the original character.

Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and partner Watson, have some humorous moments, but the chemistry is not really wholly there-it appears they are both trying too hard to create some magic where there is none.

All in all, though a well made, entertaining two hours spent, the story and characterization ultimately do not work. Downey Jr. gives a great performance and shows why he is one of today’s most versatile actors, but this cannot ultimately make the entire film a success.

Clash of the Titans-2010

Clash of the Titans-2010

Director-Louis Leterrier

Starring-Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Scott’s Review #566

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: B

Though I went to the theater begrudgingly to see Clash of the Titans (fantasy blockbusters are not typically my cup of tea), I have to confess to being moderately impressed by this film. I had no real expectations other than it is a tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus.

I have heard some people compare it to the original in an unfavorable way, but I have not seen the original- released in 1981 so any comparisons are a moot point. At one hour and fifty minutes the film is a perfect length and does not drag.

The plot is basic and focused. Perseus (Sam Worthington)  must save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda, as he leads a team of warriors into battle against vicious enemies. Some of the creatures they meet along the way are fascinating and interesting.

Clash of the Titans is not fine cinema, and the acting is not spectacular, but the effects are worth mentioning and the look of the film is impressive.

My only real criticisms are the way Medusa is portrayed (said to be ugly, she really is a beautiful woman with snakes on her head) and the 3-D, which really was pretty much unnecessary- this is probably an attempt by the studios to capitalize for profit.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Director-J.J. Abrams

Starring-Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Scott’s Review #540

Reviewed December 8, 2016

Grade: B

As a youngster who grew up exposed to the original three Star Wars films (admittedly, I cannot keep track nor care enough to learn the exact chronological order of the films in the franchise), the 2016 reincarnation is very nostalgic for me. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi were magical films for a kid to enjoy and be bedazzled by. Sadly, The Phantom Menace in 1999 was a rather forgettable endeavor and did nothing to draw new fans to the franchise- nor keep existing fans engaged.

Taking center stage in this installment are beloved stalwart character’s Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a nostalgic trip down memory lane. A slight gripe is the shamefully under-use of one of these characters. The visual effects are very impressive, the main villain is okay, and the action sequences adequate, but it is the ode to past history that keeps the long-time viewer engaged  the most. In a way, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aptly title as it is a rebirth of sorts for the storied franchise.

Legendary actor Max von Sydow is shamefully under-utilized in a throwaway part in the films first sequence. Ironic is that he resembles deceased actor Alec Guinness, made famous all over again in the 1970’s when he appeared in the first Star Wars. A co-incidence?

It would seem that film makers are going for a modern reboot of episode IV (the 1977 Star Wars). The main character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is clearly meant to be the new Luke Skywalker, who is known as a Jedi hero in the land, and has been missing for years. Rey has special powers and is accompanied by her sidekick droid, BB-8, a similar character as R2-D2. The villain is Kylo-Ren, son of Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia, and reminiscent to Darth Vader. The film is a classic tale of good versus evil as the evil First Order battles the good Resistance.

I enjoyed the good storytelling most of all and prominent roles for Han Solo and Leia were good choices for the storied franchise. Newcomers Rey and her love interest, Finn, are appealing, as are fighter pilot, Poe, played by Oscar Isaac. Reportedly, this film is the start of another trio of films so we will undoubtedly see more of these characters in the films ahead.

I could not help but notice the Nazi similarities of the First Order and their soldiers- the Stormtroopers. Possessing a red quality and a Nazi- like salute to their supreme leader, they even look German in appearance. Kylo-Ren, raven haired, pale, and clad in a dark black cape, was clearly derived from Darth Vader, especially when he appeared in mask attire. He almost could have been his son.

Set thirty years since the original Star Wars, the plot is more or less similar, and I think this is a wise move in introducing the franchise to a new audience, while staying true to the rich history of the central characters and their offspring. Han Solo and Leia discuss their love affair, past adventures, and of course, their son, who has been hypnotized to the dark side. They struggle to concoct a way to rescue him and hope to persuade him that aligning with the Resistance is the only way to go.

Favorite scenes of mine include the ultimate showdown between Rey and Kylo-Ren. Set in a snowy, wintry forest, with their glistening and glowing light sabers, the scene is gorgeous from a visual perspective, as are the many scenes in one battle station or another. The re-appearance of comical C-3PO is darling.

As with the original Star Wars, humor is mixed in to lighten the mood. Han Solo and his dedicated side-kick Chewbacca, gently spar, and when Han Solo takes the group to a saloon filled with interesting creatures, the scene is light and fun. 

The real drawback for me is that the film is not all that compelling save for the nostalgia aspects. It is merely a classic battle of two wills, but otherwise, offers nothing very new and exciting. Sure there are a few new characters, but the plot is rather basic and what one would expect. 

I, personally, am not truly invested in the franchise, despite zillions of die-hard fans being fanatics of the films and their intricacies, so that is more of an opinion than a criticism of the films merits. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens  will undoubtedly please fans and introduce new ones to a world of galaxies, and the indelible “force”. Still, a satisfying trip down memory lane.

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-James Franco, Mila Kunis

Scott’s Review #433


Reviewed June 30, 2016

Grade: B

Being a huge fan of the original The Wizard of Oz epic classic from 1939, I was interested in seeing this extension of the original version. While it has its moments of charm and good old fashioned adventure, it is ultimately good, but nothing great.

James Franco is fantastic as the Wizard of Oz, the highest point of the film,  and has great charisma in the role. He brings a fun flair and is quite appealing. The witch characters are okay, but not terribly interesting or deeply explored. Further character depth might have been helpful as I did not notice much rooting value for either of them.

On a positive note, I loved the first sequence, which was in black and white, true to the original and the twister scene is impressively done. The set/art design in this sequence and once the setting was Oz were beautifully done.

Toward the end of the film, though, the story becomes more of a silly fantasy action series which drew away from the heart of the original. The first half excels, the second disappoints.

Life of Pi-2012

Life Of Pi-2012

Director-Ang Lee

Starring-Suraj Sharma

Scott’s Review #412


Reviewed June 18, 2016

Grade: B

Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece. It is a beautiful piece of filmmaking and lovely to look at. There are several majestic scenes, mostly in the ocean sequences that one will marvel at.

I did not see this movie in 3-D so I am unsure what difference, if any, it would have made. A good portion of the film is CGI laden, which I am typically not a fan of, but in this case it works wonders. What an adventure the main character has!

The actual story, and the acting, is nothing special and has been done before, and slightly stereotypical if truth be told, though I did enjoy the ending. It’s a wonderful adventure tale, one made very, very well.

The main reason to see this is for its Direction (Ang Lee) and the visual spectacle that it is.



Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #407


Reviewed June 2, 2016

Grade: B+

One of the several disaster films to populate film screens in the early to mid 1970’s, Earthquake is one of the “main four” blockbusters (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Airport being the others), that still resonate with viewers in modern times and are nostalgic to watch. In fact, one might argue that the aforementioned few largely influenced Earthquake since it was the last of the group to be filmed. Certainly, the influence is apparent.

Earthquake is a classic, traditional, disaster film containing many stock characters (or types) and is clearly an ensemble piece- as disaster films always are- frequently containing stars of yesteryear attempting exposure in the modern cinema.  The gender roles in Earthquake are quite mainstream for the day as the females are all clearly  “damsels in distress” types and the men portrayed as the heroes.

The action begins as we witness a Los Angeles based middle-aged couple (the central couple if you will) engaging in a dispute. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner play Stewart and Remy Graff, an affluent couple, he a former football star, she a boozy socialite. Her father is the wealthy Sam Royce, played by Lorne Greene. Stewart is carrying on an affair with young actress, Denise Marshall, creating a soap-opera style romantic triangle, adding drama to the film. We meet other characters who round out the character’s stories- LAPD Sgt. Slade (George Kennedy) shares a flirtation with Rosa (Victoria Principal), while drunkard Walter Matthau and evil kineval character Richard Roundtree provide comic relief. These stories are merely filler until the inevitable earthquake arrives.

The earthquake is really the main character in the film just like the tidal wave, the fire, and the airline peril is in the other same genre films. The characters trivial relationships soon take a back seat to the action as the earthquake shatters the city in subsequent onsets and aftershocks, destroying buildings and resulting in many deaths. The very lengthy main earthquake sequence is second to none and hovers around the twenty minute mark. We see many characters in peril. The scene goes on and on, but is hardly redundant. The scene is masterful and well done. The effects, cinematography, and visuals alone hold up well today and must have been breathtaking circa 1974.

In one particularly thrilling scene, a group of office workers on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper desperately try to scramble to the elevator as the building shakes and shimmies. One businessman shoves a secretary out of the way and selfishly immerses himself in the crowded elevator as others desperately pound on the elevator door to escape. Things do not end well for the folks on the elevator as bolts loosen and the car crashes to the ground. An animated blood splat fills the screen in a lighthearted, comical way. The film wisely does not take itself too seriously.

As fantastic as the destruction sequence is, Earthquake is not a film without a few flaws, mostly from a character standpoint. Unbelievable is Heston playing Greene’s son in law and Gardner being assumed to be young enough to be his daughter- they appear to be around the same age. A strange character, Jody, a store clerk, suddenly dresses as a soldier, wearing a wig, following the destruction and, assumed to be gay by thugs, is teased, which prompts him to shoot them with a machine gun. He subsequently becomes obsessed with and nearly rapes Rosa. The sub-plot seems uneven and very unnecessary.

With spectacular special effects, Earthquake is a must see disaster film with a slightly downcast, hopeless tone. It does its job well- it entertains, thrills, and features an all star cast of former Hollywood elite and a few rising stars. A fun time will be had.

The Martian-2015

The Martian-2015

Director-Ridley Scott

Starring-Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #379


Reviewed February 19, 2016

Grade: C-

The latest film from heralded director Ridley Scott (notable for classics Blade Runner and Alien), The Martian is a science-fiction/space adventure involving a believed dead astronaut (Matt Damon) trapped on Mars after being thought dead by his fellow team. NASA and a crew of rescuers fervently attempt to save him as supplies run out. Extremely resourceful, Mark Watney cleverly avoids death by using his wits to survive and even prosper on the challenging planet.

Hot on the heels of several other modern science fiction, high profile offerings, such as Interstellar and Gravity, The Martian features a big Hollywood star in the lead role. Much of the action is Watney on his own, attempting to grow produce, ration food, and keep his sanity- think Tom Hanks in Castaway except on another planet, and with a “Hab”, an indoor operations station left by his abandoned crew.

The Martian has received lots of accolades- winning the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Film- though that is poor categorization in my opinion. The film has snippets of humor and a few songs in the background, but that is really it. Unless some late 1970’s disco songs constitute a musical.

I found The Martian to be a Hollywood mainstream film in every sense- to some that may be a high compliment, but to me, I expect a bit more from a film. It is not that The Martian is a bad film- it is not, but it is mediocre in my opinion and has all the elements of an average film. The film was going for an emotional experience that I did not experience- I had little doubt that the ending would be a sweet one, wrapped in a bow.

Mark Watney is the typical all-american character in a “guy film”. He hates disco and loves ketchup. The film makes him a guys guy, so therefore the average film-goer will relate to him. He is in good shape, cracks jokes, and is likable. But that is also a problem with the character specifically and The Martian as a whole. He lacks substance. We know little about him except he has parents who never appear on-screen. The way that the film touts him as the hero and is cheered and praised, while in real-life would be warranted, in the film it just feels forced and contrived. This is not a knock against Matt Damon, who does a decent job. My beef is that the character is not fleshed out.  The well-built Damon in the beginning of the film versus a scrawny Damon at the conclusion is completely a facade as clearly a body double was used in the latter scenes. This lack of authenticity disappointed me.

I expected more from the supporting cast given the talent involved- Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig all play one-note types that any actor could have played. Why were big stars cast at all? Chastain as a mission commander, Daniels as Director of NASA, Ejiofor as NASA mission commander, and Wiig as a Public Relations specialist. The casting, in particular, of Wiig in the straight-laced, stale was mysterious to me, and it was not a  particularly good portrayal….and I am a Wiig fan.

The humorous parts in The Martian border on contrived and not dissimilar to countless other films with the smart-ass remarks all containing a bland quality. Lines like “eat your heart out Neil Armstrong” seem silly and unnecessary. I expected more wit.

Let me be fair- the visual effects (it is space after all) are impressive, and it was fairly interesting to see what is supposed to be the planet of Mars, but really in this day and age of CGI effects the film is not that spectacular. I would much rather be given a compelling story than visual treats any day of the week.

My review of The Martian may seem a tad harsh, but that is only because I expected a great deal more from it than I was given. With several Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, I anticipated a top-notch film, and The Martian did not come close. Mediocrity, straightforward, and predictable describe The Martian film. I have heard, however, that the novel is fantastic. I have added it to my reading list.

Jurassic World-2015

Jurassic World-2015

Director-Colin Trevorrow

Starring-Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

Scott’s Review #307


Reviewed December 23, 2015

Grade: C

Jurassic World is a film that I expected to like much more than I did. Sure, it is a summer, blockbuster, popcorn flick, but based on the success of the earlier franchise efforts,  and, if memory serves, finding enjoyment in the 1993 original, Jurassic Park, I expected a fun ride. Unfortunately, I was treated to a formulaic, escapade with uninteresting characters and mediocre writing.

The premise is standard- a behemoth of an amusement park exists in Central America, on the island of Isla Nublar, where a dinosaur theme park has been running without incident for ten years. A genetically modified dinosaur, created because a magnificent new attraction is needed, breaks loose and runs rampant.  A silly love story exists between the two leads Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard), as well as the inclusion of two young boys (Zach and Gray) sent by their divorcing parents to be with their Aunt Claire, who works as the Operations Manager at the park. Owen is the dinosaur trainer. Predictably, there are “bad guys” who are greedy and/or desiring to advance science at the risk of human life.

The special effects are fine, albeit completely CGI laden, which is to be expected- the main stars are dinosaurs after all. I did, however, expect better writing or, at least, more of a creative attempt at coming up with something a bit edgy. The story was completely redundant. Where was the character development? There was none. We know very little about any of the principal characters except on a superficial level. One might argue that an adventure film does not necessitate this, but I disagree- I think it is important. We know that Claire is a workaholic and has none time for her nephews- why? What makes her tick?

Here is a slight complaint- Why kill off only extremely minor characters or villains? I could see this (and the ending) a mile away. The whole film just seemed forced and sloppy.

Jurassic World is also filled with clichés- Owen and Claire initially dislike each other having had one unsuccessful first day back in the day. The film tries to push the love/hate, opposites attract element and it seems contrived. How many times have we seen this in film history? Also, Chris Pratt is perfect as the hunky, muscular “hero saves the day” type, and Dallas Bryce Howard running through the forest in a tight tank top is not unintentional.

This is not to say that the film is bad. It is a decent adventure film and the special effects are kind of cool. I did enjoy the homage to the original 1993 version as the boys stumble upon the original visitor station complete with the 1992 jeep from the original Jurassic Park film. I thought this was a neat little nod to history and I love that in franchise film, but that is really it for the positives.

Yes, this film was a blockbuster smash and made oodles of money. It, however, felt forced and clichéd and quite formulaic. I was hoping for much more and deeper, stronger, material.


Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Director-James Gunn

Starring-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #281


Reviewed October 9, 2015

Grade: C-

The summer blockbuster hit of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comics film popular among fans and critics alike, disappointed this viewer. Too many superhero films are overly conventional, by the numbers fare, and this one certainly contained the aforementioned characteristics. Presumably targeted for teens (I would think), the film has cute jokes and decent special effects, but a bland, mediocre screenplay that lacks any edginess.

Handsome Chris Platt plays Peter Quill, a space pilot from Earth, who is abducted as a young boy by a pirate group named the Ravagers. Now a grown man, Peter attempts to steal a mysterious and powerful Orb known for special powers, for monetary gain. The Orb is desired by many, including the evil Ronan, and his daughter Gamora. Predictably, events turn into a battle of good vs. evil as Peter and Gamora (who turns good) team up with misfits Drax (a strongman), Groot (a tree), and Rocket (a raccoon) to thwart intentions by Ronan of destroying a peaceful planet, Nova Empire. The meat of the story involves the teams journey from imprisonment and escape to their efforts saving the world. As traditional with these types of films, there is inevitable romantic chemistry between Peter and Gamora, who at first are rivals, but slowly develop a fondness for each other when it is revealed that she is plotting against Ronan, and has valiant efforts.

Strengths of the film are the 1970’s soundtrack and the incorporation of a cassette player and Walkman, unheard of in today’s modern world, to the story. I loved how this was not simply background music, but referenced throughout the film in various situations. For example, when Peter comically explains to a clueless bad guy what his treasured cassette tape consists of and how he cannot bare to part with it, this impressed me. The creative sets and bright colors are another high point of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Xander planet, specifically, is portrayed as clean, bright, and progressive, which counterbalanced the dark, dreary nature of where Ronan and his entourage live.

However, the film is too conventional and not the least bit edgy or out of the ordinary in any way story wise. Let’s take the hero for example. He is clean-cut, all American, and is humorous. But, why exactly is he the hero? He inevitably saves the world, but makes him go from a pirate who is a thief, to a golden boy leading a team to save a relatively unknown planet. There is, of course, a scene involving a backstory of his mother dying of cancer and his regret over not taking her hand one final time. This is assumed to make him kind hearted and one of the good guys. This felt forced to me and what we have seem time after time in super-hero films. The message I received from the film was basic- powerful, strong, masculine guy with a sense of humor mixed in for good measure, saves the world from the bad guys, while including a bunch of tag-alongs. This is fine, but albeit predictable.

I was left with some questions. What were Ronan’s and Tharos’s motivations? They were simply evil with not much explanation as to why. What led them down this path? Did they each want theirs to be the only planet remaining in the galaxy?

A tender moment towards the end of the film when one of the team members dies is done in a rushed way that it was a missed opportunity for more emotion.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a mediocre superhero/action film, one that might have been better if further fleshed out. This film contains a blandness that left me forgetting about it soon after the credits rolled.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Director-Matt Reeves

Starring-Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman

Scott’s Review #232


Reviewed March 29, 2015

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster hit that knocks it out of the park from a visual perspective- it is magnificent to look at with creative sets and realistic images, but the story is mediocre and predictable. I think the filmmaker’s true intent was to focus on the look of this film, which is a splendid feature. The film is a slightly better than average big screen adventure with more style than substance.

Set in San Francisco- or what was once San Francisco- the film is set in futuristic times and the apes have forged a new civilization after the deadly virus has eliminated 90% of the human population. The apes are highly intelligent and manage a happy, unified existence. Then, one day, a human is encountered and, scared, shoots one of the apes. This leads to a peaceful resolution between Caesar- leader of the apes- and the humans, to each stay in their respective territories. However, the humans need access to a dam in the Apes area in order to provide electricity for themselves. Mutual distrust leads to tension, but the civilized apes and humans reach a truce. Naturally, there is further conflict as sinister humans and apes vow revenge on each other. This leads to a waging war while the peaceful apes and humans strive to work things out. A further angle of the story is the hunger for power within the ranks of the Apes which is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The human protagonists of the film- Malcolm and Ellie- played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell- are a wholesome, decent couple.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a far cry from the original 1968 masterpiece, Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston. To compare the two is unfair since, sadly, this one has nothing to do with the original. It is simply the same franchise tag. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is weaker than its predecessor- 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that one, we have a charismatic star- James Franco- and an interesting story- the apes are experimented on and their intelligence is a strong angle. With the sequel, the story if rather one note and has a machismo, us against them angle, that is not unique.

The main drawback to this film is the story limitations. All of the characters are portrayed as a) the good and sympathetic humans, b) the evil and destructive humans, c) the good and heroic apes, or finally, d) the evil, bad ape. Everyone is clearly defined for the audience and there is no ambiguity or complexities within the characters. This is a bit limiting. The evil ape Koba is purely bad and the drunken, gun-happy, humans are also purely bad.

This is not to say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not enjoyable- it is. It is a fun, entertaining flick. For what it is, it is fine and there is a somewhat message in the film, that there is a way to find peace and love between different species and types of people. Hopefully the audience gets that message.

The film is a summer blockbuster action/sci-fi flick that many will enjoy, however it is clearly plot driven extravaganza that could have been superior had it contained more layers to the story and more shape to some of the characters. It is worth seeing as a visual cinema treat, but scarcely more than that.

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#12

Scott’s Review #214


Reviewed January 17, 2015

Grade: A

The disaster genre, mainly encompassing the 1970’s in film, include some of my personal favorite films of all time and The Poseidon Adventure is easily at the top of the pile. Set on a lavish ocean liner, the SS Poseidon, on New Year’s Eve, the doomed ship falls victim to a powerful tsunami while sailing from New York to Athens on its final voyage, causing it to topple over and leaving a handful of survivors to meander through the bowels of the ship in an attempt to find a way out and be rescued. They are led by a stubborn preacher, played by Gene Hackman.

The appeal of The Poseidon Adventure is, of course, watching the cast of characters in peril and guessing which ones will meet their fates and how- think a slasher film without the horror component. Featuring an ensemble cast of Hollywood celebs of the day, the characters are introduced to the audience before the tidal wave erupts, so therefore we care for them immensely. There is the former hooker with the heart of gold married to a gruff cop (Stella Stevens and Ernest Borgnine as Mike and Linda Rogo). Then there is the sweet natured older couple on the cruise to see their grandchild (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson as Manny and Belle Rosen). Pamela Sue Martin plays the teen girl, Susan, who falls madly in love with the preacher- Reverend Scott. Along with her younger brother, Robin, they are traveling to see their parents, who await their arrival. Roddy McDowall plays a waiter named Acres. Lastly, Red Buttons plays James Martin, a health conscious bachelor and Carol Lynley plays shy singer Nonnie. Reverend Scott is the moral focal point of the film and questions god several times throughout.

The sets are extraordinary- the colorful Christmas tree in the grand dining room is fantastic. In fact, the entire New Year’s Eve party scene is my favorite- it is festive, extravagant, and mixed in with a scene where the ominous tsunami is rapidly approaching. The festive celebration quickly turns into confusion as the sirens begin to sound, and finally to panic as furniture begins to fly. Visually this scene is the most intricate- the ship turns upside down after the crash, thus giving the illusion that the bottom of the ship is the top. Tricky. From this point on all of the sets to follow are actually intended to be upside down- a crafty and effective style, but none more than the dining room scene. A victim toppling and crashing into a giant clock is a memorable scene.

As the group of survivors haggardly make their way throughout the ship they encounter underwater explosions, dead bodies, rushing water, and disputes, mainly between Reverend Scott and Rogo, as to how to proceed to safety. One by one a handful of the group meets their fates in gruesome fashion- falling into a fire, a heart attack, and falling to one’s death.

Shelley Winters is the comic relief of the film with her humorous quips about her weight, and her death scene brings me to tears each time I experience it. A heavyset older woman who at one time was a dynamite high school swimmer, she attempts to help the group by holding her breath and swimming underneath the engine room, which is blocked- she does inevitably save the Reverend Scott’s life, but succumbs to a heart attack shortly thereafter. It is a powerful, heartbreaking scene.

The film is a great adventure. What makes The Poseidon Adventure so timeless and continue to bring so much pleasure? Certainly not high-brow nor high art, but it does not need to be. It is simply meant to be enjoyed for what it is- a thrilling, fun, entertainment ride.

The Towering Inferno-1974

The Towering Inferno-1974

Director-John Guillermin

Starring-Paul Newman, Steve McQueen

Top 100 Films-#43

Scott’s Review #194


Reviewed November 15, 2014

Grade: A

The Towering Inferno epitomizes the disaster film craze heaped on audiences throughout the 1970’s (Airport, Airport ‘75 and ‘77, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake to name a few). I am (guilt-free) a huge fan of this 1970’s movie genre, though some certainly look down on it, I am not one of them, and feel The Towering Inferno is one of the greats. The film is enormous and has such a sense of adventure and danger.

The grand film tells of the trials and tribulations of an enormous cast of characters trapped inside an inferno flamed skyscraper – led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (fun fact- the two actors reportedly despised each other). An incredible skyscraper is erected in San Francisco, at 138 floors it is professed to be the tallest building in the world and incredibly state of the art. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, an elaborate party is held atop the building overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Due to faulty electrical wiring, the building catches fire and the cast of characters face one challenge after another to escape the grips of death. The stellar cast features stars like William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson in addition to Newman and McQueen.

The film is quite soap opera style- numerous characters are introduced, many having affairs with each other or suffering some sort of conflict with each other- Wagner having a torrid office romance with his secretary played by then up and coming star Susan Flannery is deliciously sexy. Holden’s son-in-law is responsible for the faulty electrical system yet blames his father-in-law for cutting budgets. Another subplot involves Astaire’s character attempting to swindle Jones’s character, but then falling in love with her. The plots are so melodramatic that, given the time period of the film, it has a definite primetime television soap opera style to it- think Dallas or Dynasty in a state of peril.

I enjoyed the enormous cast and trying to guess who will be killed off next and in what elaborate way the film will create to burn them to death is a joy to watch- several victims fall or jump to their deaths, which eerily (and sadly) bring back morbid images of jumpers from the World Trade towers on 9/11. The beginning of the film shows a dedication to firemen everywhere and the film has a definite moral and hero quality to the firemen sent to rescue the people in the building. They are portrayed as heroes and intended not to be forgotten in the midst of all the drama encompassing the story. This is admirable.

The special effects are elaborate and quite impressive- the glass elevator rescue scene is amazing! The beautiful set designs are a treat to watch as each lobby, apartment, or lounge in the skyscraper is exquisitely designed in the height of 1970’s style. Every sofa or carpet featured is plush, colorful, and sophisticated. The skyscraper, made of glass, is an amazing element of the film and the aerial views of the building, especially while ablaze are impressive to say the least- remember- 1974 was long before CGI. I am assuming small replicas of the building were used, but what an achievement from a visual perspective. The effects certainly champion the syrupy story elements.

My only small gripe with The Towering Inferno is, assumed to be 138 stories high, the action taking place at the top of the tower- the rooftop as well as the party scenes on the top floor- do not feel that high- The scenic outlook overlooking the water and some land feel about 25 stories high not 138. Some find The Towering Inferno to be nothing more than schmaltzy drama- I say schmaltz was never done better. Enjoy this feast of a big film.

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Director-Bryan Singer

Starring-Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

Scott’s Review #93


Reviewed July 4, 2014

Grade: C

Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy, CGI laden film most likely targeted for a young audience. It tells the story of Jack, a farmhand who must rescue a beautiful princess from the world of giants after an accident causes a gateway to open to their world.

The film is loosely based on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The special effects in the land of the Giants are the most impressive aspect of the film. Otherwise, it is a love story mixed with adventure and the story is simply not very engaging and very predictable. Heavyweights Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci appear in over-the-top performances and the acting of the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is shockingly wooden.

The finale is mildly entertaining as a chase through the castle occurs, but the film is so weighted down by the effects and the lack of good story that overall it was a very middle of the road film.



Director-Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Starring-Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen

Scott’s Review #78


Reviewed June 28, 2014

Grade: C+

I don’t know what has happened to the nominating process for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar (it has been controversial for years), but it used to be you could count on any of the 5 nominated films to be interesting, edgy, and even controversial. Now, a few of the nominated films squeaking through barely rise above mediocrity and are such mainstream stories. Kon-Tiki is one such film.

It tells the tale of a Norwegian scientist determined to sail, via raft, from Peru to the Polynesian islands to prove a Sun God, centuries ago, did the same voyage. He forms a team and off they go. Supposedly based on a true story, the team faces the typical challenges in an oceanic adventure- bad weather, sharks, the raft in peril, dissent among the ranks. These high sea clichés have really gotten to me recently.

The film is similar in context to Life of Pi. It’s not a bad film, but there is nothing special about it and it has glossy and safe written all over it- the score is Spielberg to the nines (who has nothing to do with this film). The 5 adventurers are bronzed with buff bodies when nobody was buff in the 1940’s when this film is set, and the scruffy beards, after months of sailing, look perfectly phony. For the top tier foreign language group, I expected something more cutting edge and with more substance.

The African Queen-1951

The African Queen-1951

Director-John Huston

Starring-Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

Scott’s Review #76


Reviewed June 28, 2014

Grade: B-

The African Queen is a difficult film to review. Revered and appearing on many greatest films of all time lists, overall this film is disappointing to me. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star as a couple  who despise each other, stranded  together on a tugboat in Africa on the eve of World war I.

Sure, the chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn (Hollywood royalty in their day) is there and the opposites attracting has a definite rooting value as the passion between them oozes off the screen. He is a grizzled alcoholic, American. She is a repressed, puritanical British woman. The locales of Africa as the couple traverse on a makeshift boat are gorgeous to view. That is it for me though- nothing else about the film is spectacular.

The plot is rather silly and unrealistic and the two are obviously thrown together purely for plot purposes. The adventure seems quite secondary to the love story at hand. How far-fetched that an “old maid” and a sailor could build torpedoes and blow up an enormous German warship.

The film is a decent, old fashioned romantic adventure film, but little more and that disappoints, because I was expecting much, much more due to the films accolades. Bogart won the 1951 Best Actor Oscar for this performance.