Tag Archives: Adventure films

Airport ’77-1977

Airport ’77-1977

Director-Jerry Jameson

Starring-Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #1,072

Reviewed October 20, 2020

Grade: B+

The word that springs to mind following a viewing of the disaster flick Airport ’77 (1977) is entertaining. Whether this is positive or negative depends on the viewer and what that viewer wants out of a film. As a huge fan of the disaster genre I was one satisfied customer though there is little to distinguish the film from other efforts. It is a more cohesive and professional feeling effort than its predecessor, Airport ’75. The fun is watching the cast, the grandiose list of who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights gracing the opening credits. We wonder who will survive and who will not.

The star is the airplane. Showcased by way of both interiors and exteriors, the luxurious privately-owned Boeing 747-100 is a great highlight of the picture. Owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart), the plane is packed with VIPs and priceless art traveling to his Florida estate for a party. The wealthy travelers are drugged, and the aircraft is subsequently hijacked before crashing into the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle and sinking 100 feet, prompting the survivors to undertake a desperate struggle to live.

The airplane set is a feast for the eyes. A double-deck plane (naturally!) the plush green carpets and the spiral staircase complete with a robust bar stocked with every type of liquor imaginable is wonderful trimming. It allows the viewer to forget all about the typical in-flight treats like their seat being kicked, a screaming baby, or a fat man snoring, and escape to the pleasures of champagne, caviar and slippers. Seriously, the sets are tremendous and worthy of their accolades.

Jerry Jameson, primarily a television director, sticks to a formulaic approach which makes the film look like a long television series. Think Murder, She Wrote, Dallas or Dynasty at 30,000 feet. I say this because the melodrama is sky high (no pun intended) and situations arise between flight crew and passengers to create more tension than the crash itself. The juiciest drama exists between husband and wife Martin (Christopher Lee) and Karen Wallace (Lee Grant). He flirts with women at the bar, she drinks too much, and gets jealous. They squabble. You get the idea.

What a joy it is to see some of the stars on-screen together, specifically Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten. As Nicholas, Cotten is a romantic match for de Havilland’s Emily Livingston, and they appear to be old friends. Fans of classic cinema will undoubtedly associate he with Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and she with Gone with the Wind (1939) and to see the legendary stars side by side is darling, nearly worth the price of admission. Stewart is perfectly cast as the rich and distinguished man eager to see the impending arrival of his estranged daughter and her son, hopeful of a happy reunion. These delights are why I love this genre.

The actors teeter back and forth between phoning in their lines and enthusiastically having a ball with their respective roles. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. I’ll bet the set was tension free as everyone was earning a bundle of cash. And why not? The budget is plentiful and filled with overabundance.

The plot is generally ludicrous as is to be expected. The thought that anyone, let alone nearly everyone, could survive a crash into the ocean and remain unscathed as it sinks to the depths of the water is beyond silly. Suddenly, when all passengers conveniently emerge from their drug-induced stupor simultaneously, hysterics erupt which is quite humorous. As water slowly begins to seep into the plane a frenzied effort to find a way out commences. The last portion of the film involving a rescue crew coming to save the passengers is a disappointment, lacking much captivation.

Airport ’77 (1977) has all the elements its target viewer expects it to have. If the well-known cast were instead unknowns and the crash peril and its following adventure were not danger personified, and the dramatic and romantic tensions left out, the film would be a disappointment. The film is like sinking your teeth into a fattening, highly caloric Whopper from your favorite Burger King. It’s a guilty pleasure that you wouldn’t necessarily tell your health-conscious friends you get so much enjoyment from. But, it’s fun, so why not indulge from time to time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

Airport 1975-1974

Airport 1975-1974

Director-Jack Smight

Starring-Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,060

Reviewed September 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Possessing all the disaster film genre schmaltz, proper trimmings and then some, Airport 1975 (1974) is good, hammy entertainment that gleefully satisfies, though artistic types will be embarrassed to admit how much they like it. In parallel with The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974), the three were some of the highest grossing films of the year and it is little wonder why. The offering has enough adventure and peril to satisfy the entire family. I watched this film practically in tandem with Airport (1970) and it feels a letdown by comparison, but that hardly matters. Both are very good.

With juicy anticipation the film makers paid a ton of cash to secure a bevy of Hollywood stars of yesteryear assuring they could rake in the box office receipts. Most past their prime but still marketable, what a treat to see legendary silent film star Gloria Swanson playing herself as a passenger. The unequivocal star and hero of the film is Charlton Heston, as he also was in Earthquake. Karen Black, Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Susan Clark, Nancy Olson, and George Kennedy (reprising his role from the first Airport) round out the stellar cast. Worth its price of admission is watching the opening credits to see who is in the cast.

Unlike Airport, which wisely spent much of its time inside the actual airport setting up the events and stories, Airport 1975 takes flight right away and crafts its trials and tribulations within the aisles and cockpit of the plane. We learn right off the bat that the main romantic couple is Heston and Black. Captain Alan Murdock (Heston) apparently cannot commit to Chief Stewardess Nancy Pryor (Black) and they plan to meet up in Los Angeles to discuss the drama further. We know they will have more to do with each other as her flight takes off for La La Land.

Quickly, a small plane flown by businessman Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) is diverted to Salt Lake City airport and he suffers a massive heart attack while descending. His plane naturally crashes into the cockpit of the enormous Boeing 747 killing two pilots and blinding the other. With nobody able to fly the plane, Nancy must figure out how to divert disaster while cascading over mountains and contending with a fuel leak. Murdock and crew try to land the plane remotely or get somebody up there to save the day. Predictably, Murdock is that man.

If Airport 1975 weren’t so damned fun it would be offensive since it’s riddled with gender stereotypes. Screenwriter, Don Ingalls, composes a project so fraught with machismo and masculinity, the female characters have little chance to do much of anything without being saved by a man. Let’s cite a couple of examples. Nancy is left alone in the open cockpit to navigate the plane. Worthy of mention is that her hair remains perfect throughout. Anyway, Murdock must explain to her how to check various controls which he does as if she were a five-year-old learning the alphabet, referring to a picture of the “little airplane” and calling her “dear”. She rattles off a puzzled “what?” before figuring out where or what the “little airplane” is.

Secondary Stewardess Bette (Christopher Norris) is boy crazy, asking Nancy if the flight crew is “sexy” before making googly eyes at Latin pilot, Julio (Erik Estrada). He is married but that doesn’t seem to bother either of them. They flirt while he orders her to bring him a cup of coffee. In fact, the male characters telling the female characters to get them drinks is a common theme in Airport 1975. Naturally, Murdock eventually makes it on board to take over the controls and land the plane. We imagine Nancy’s character thinking, “Good Heavens, thank goodness a man arrived just in the nick of time to save all of us!”. She promptly is sent to get Murdock a drink and fluff pillows.

But these are gripes that I can look past with the knowledge that if this film were made in 2020 Nancy would either land the plane or Murdock would be a female character and Nancy a male character. Imagine that! The real treats are the peril and drama associated with the events on the flight. A sick kid (Linda Blair) must reach land quickly so that she can be provided medical assistance while a crack in the airplane ceiling could burst at any moment killing everyone on board. Etc. Etc. Etc.

For popcorn fueled entertainment sure to please any viewer Airport 1975 (1974) is a perfect late-afternoon, rainy day suggestion. Advisable is to not look too deeply into the stereotypes and contrived setups or this will ruin the fun. Instead, hop aboard and enjoy the bumpy flight from the comfy cushions of your living room with the assurance that you will land safe and sound.

Airport-1970

Airport-1970

Director-George Seaton

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes

Scott’s Review #1,059

Reviewed September 2, 2020

Grade: A

The film that triggered the popular disaster genre that captivated much of 1970’s cinema, Airport (1970) led the pack in innovation and entertained the masses with a large cast of A-list Hollywood stars suffering peril. What fun! The blueprint continued with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974). Interestingly, Airport contains little death, unlike the others who systematically killed off cast members in a reverse whodunit, more like “who gets it”. It holds up quite well.

Airport is pure bliss for me. An enormous fan of the disaster epic to begin with, this one satisfies my obsessions with airports and airplanes, adding late 1960’s sophistication and style, and a healthy dose of sub-plots. From a romantic triangle, to mental illness, to an elderly stowaway named Ada (Helen Hayes), the story lines mesh so that there’s never a dull moment. Events occur amid a twenty-four- hour time-period, and a busy and snowy Chicago airport is the backdrop.

The cinematic spectacle was based on a little-known novel of the same name written by Arthur Hailey and turned into a screenplay written by George Seaton, who also directs the flick. I love when a director also writes the dialogue because a better experience often prevails. Seaton directed Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and a slew of other films, so he knows a thing or two about pulling the heart strings while offering adventure. The film was rated “G” so it’s a family friendly affair.

A cold and snowy winter night in Chicago results in flight delays and a 707-plane getting stuck on the runway in snow and mud. As crews attempt to dig out the plane, Airport manager Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) is forced to work overtime. His furious wife Cindy (Dana Wynter) demands a divorce. He’s in love with Tanya anyway, a pretty customer relations agent for the airline, Trans Global Airlines, a clever play on Trans World Airlines. Other characters emerge like a high-spirited chief mechanic (George Kennedy), and married man Vernon, who is a captain of TGA and having an affair with stewardess Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), who is pregnant with his child.

The heavy is a mentally disturbed man named D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) who is so down on his luck that he desperately crafts a handmade bomb and takes out an insurance policy that his struggling wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton) will receive upon his death. He boards a plane to Rome with most of the other characters, intent on detonating the bomb, killing himself, and leaving Inez with some financial relief. When she catches on she hurries to the airport, desperate to stop the flight from departing. Of course, things don’t go so well.

The Guerrero’s are my favorite characters. D.O. could have easily been written as a villain, one-note and dastardly, but he isn’t. He is a sympathetic character, pained and wounded, his troubles the result of war, and he oozes compassion. Stapleton is tremendous as Inez, the suffering wife who loves her husband and desperately wants them to have a nice life. The actress gives a gut-wrenching performance that should have won her the Oscar. Instead, it went to the comic talents of Hayes.

The main appeal of these stories is that the audience slowly gets to know, and falls in love, with the characters. They become like good friends. The pacing is so good that it’s only the last forty-five minutes of the film where the real action takes place. Strong characters and rich stories are offered as the buildup, and we know that peril is eventually coming, and indeed it does.

The special effects and the airplane set are fantastic for 1970. The luxury airline with its plush seats and catered meals are on display and the entire length of the plane, and the cockpit, are used heavily. Characters walk up and down the aisles frequently, so the illusion is a vast and stylish airliner, even though a small set was probably used.

The stewardesses and pilots offer a glimpse of what a luxury it used to be to fly in style without the annoyances of long security lines, check-ins, and constant hassles. Hell, D.O. casually walks on the plane with a bomb and Ada gets on without a second glance when she claims to be giving a passenger their dropped wallet!

Airport (1970) set the tone for other similar films to follow and successfully mixes sudsy dramatic stories of its character’s lives with the thrills and plights of those same characters in danger. I don’t consider it the fluff that many others do, but a satisfying, well- constructed film that still holds up well. Followed by three sequels and heavily spoofed in a hilarious way by the comedy Airplane! (1980).

It bears repeated viewings.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Helen Hayes (won), Maureen Stapleton, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) is the follow-up to the 2014 film, simply named Maleficent and while not a necessary sequel, the sequel bests the original. Clearly, the intent was to create a big, studio effort that would garner lots of cash and the experiment seems to have worked. The production is not as frightening as the title would lead one to believe and kids over the age of ten would be just fine as a target audience.

While the screenplay has traditional plot trimmings and a predictable ending, the real winner is the visual and cinematic treats, which will leave viewers gasping. The lush landscapes, odd little worlds, castles and forests, blossom with vibrant colors and exquisite shapes and objects. It may mostly be CGI but marvelous all the same.

To recap, the character of Maleficent debuted in the 1959 classic animated Disney film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is an evil fairy and the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” who, after not being invited to a christening, curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. The character has since “evolved”, now portrayed as a sympathetic character, who is misunderstood in trying to protect herself and her domain from humans.

For five years Aurora (Elle Fanning) has reigned peacefully as Queen of the Moors with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) serving as teacher and protector. They have a rapturous relationship and flock and carry on with fairies and animals alike. Handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, thereby uniting her kingdom to his, which is met with caution by his parents, specifically his mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the players gather for a celebratory dinner Maleficent is mocked, causing her to fly into a rage, setting off a war between humans and fairies.

A key positive, and a story shift, is that Maleficent, a legendary film villain, is written sympathetically and the plot device works. Rather than have her sparring with daughter Aurora, the duo team up to thwart the devious efforts of the evil Queen Ingrith, who is the real villain. Jolie and Pfeiffer must have had fun playing the roles and both perform their respective parts adequately. Favorable to me is Jolie, adding just enough vulnerability to balance her fierce nature and blood-red lips. Pfeiffer plays the role straight, as a caricature, with no redeeming value. Both roles are fun.

Keeping in mind the target audience, the characters of Maleficent and Aurora are inspiring, especially to young females everywhere. The film adds more than a hint of progressive feminism as both characters are strong and no-nonsense. This does not take away from their sensitivity or their sense of fairness. Both could equally be role models of tough yet compassionate female characters.

In most Disney films there are heroes and villains and we all know and expect that. The standard story line of good revolting against evil is on display and an epic climactic battle scene gives a customary ending to the film. Likewise, the fairy tale romance between Prince and Princess is prominently featured and for my money, Dickinson and Fanning are tremendous in the roles.

The chemistry is apparent between the actors and there is a nice balance between a believable romance and strong independent characters. Queen Ingrith, barely a mention in the original animated film, is turned into an evil shrew, all completely plot driven. The story is what I expected it to be and not the high point of the film.

More impressive is how the viewer can easily escape into a world of make-believe and long to stay there forever. Especially for the younger viewers the Moors is a bevy of magical creatures and fluttering fairies rich with goodness. The comical Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, the red fairy, green fairy, and blue fairy respectively, make a return appearance, though in limited capacity. It would have been nice to give them a stronger presence providing more wisdom, more advice, and more humor, but they serve their comic relief purpose well.

Will there be a third incarnation of Maleficent? The film makers provide a strong likelihood. After Aurora and Philip wed, Maleficent returns to the Moors with the other Dark Fey, teaching the young fairies to fly. She promises to return for Aurora and Philip’s future child’s christening. This vow seems like an easy setup to build on the original story line, unlocking the next chapter in this engaging saga.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director-Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring-Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

21 Jump Street-2012

21 Jump Street-2012

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #992

Reviewed February 20, 2020

Grade: C+

21 Jump Street (2012) is a nostalgic ode to the general style of the 1980’s, more specifically a popular television series that ran from 1987 to 1991. The teen police drama launched the successful career of actor Johnny Depp. He starred as the good-looking leader of a team of young police officers who can pass for high school students, and infiltrate potential drug rings, prostitution circles, or other such shenanigans.

Let’s be clear- the film is hardly high art nor cinematic genius. The gags are silly and trite, other times not funny at all. But the film contains a freshness that feels cool, sleek, and fun and a throwback to the decade of materialism, and the film never apologizes for this. The combination of stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have nice chemistry, turning a standard buddy film into something bearable to watch. The film is formulaic, but not dull.

The film makers strive for an action-comedy hybrid even though the series was only conventional drama and taught a lesson with each episode. They also change course and focus on two characters instead of a group making it more of a guy movie. Honor roll student Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular underachieving jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) reunite seven years after graduating high school at the police academy where they are studying to be cops.

Eager to leave their juvenile problems, and their dislike for each other behind, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover at a local high school as part of a Jump Street unit. As they trade in their guns and badges for books and bagged lunches, Schmidt and Jenko risk their lives to investigate a violent and dangerous drug ring. They slowly realize that high school is nothing like they left it just a few years earlier, and they revisit the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they assumed they had left behind.

The film is only mediocre and while there is nothing wrong with the film, there is also nothing terribly outstanding about it either. As the setup clearly poises the audience for, Morton and Greg are opposites in every way and must come together to achieve a common goal. This is a standard cliche told countless times in films such as Stir Crazy (1983) and 48 Hours (1982), the clear reference being one of the 1980’s.

Speaking of the decade of excess, 21 Jump Street achieves what it sets out to in this regard with a clever nod to a revived scheme from that decade. Set in present times, the film is nonetheless a nod to teen films of the day. Wild comedy and lavish adventures are in order in every high school situation imaginable. Dating, AP chemistry class, and the senior prom are heavily promoted so that any viewer above the age of twenty-five can reminisce.

A fun, and necessary quality is the inclusion of a few of the original cast of the television series-Holly Robinson Peete, Peter DeLuise, and of course, Johnny Depp all appear in cameo roles. This is a treat for fans of the original series and a tribute to its creation, though nothing else is utilized very well and no other history ever quite measures up. Robinson Peete’s role is nice because she appears as a police officer.

While doing little to honor the television series it is based off, instead churning out more of a male cop film, the incorporation of the original cast does deserve praise. The lead actors are charismatic and clever in their roles which saves the film from being a disaster. 21 Jump Street (2012) kvetches too far into slapstick instead of sending an important message to its audience, which it could have. The box-office hit was followed in 2014 by an unnecessary remake, aptly entitled 22 Jump Street.

10,000 B.C.- 2008

10,000 B.C.- 2008

Director-Roland Emmerich

Starring-Steven Strait, Camilla Belle

Scott’s Review #988

Reviewed February 11, 2020

Grade: F

10,000 B.C. (2008) is a by the numbers adventure/action hybrid film that attempts to be slick and modern with catchy visual elements and instead bottoms out resulting in an example of terrible film making. The CGI usurps all other qualities providing no historical accuracy, with a ridiculous 2008 feel rather than the time-period at hand. Those involved only had maximum box office returns in mind when the film was created. There is an irritating formulaic quality and poor acting across the board that leaves this one dead on arrival.

Fierce, masculine mammoth hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out on an impossible journey to rescue the woman he loves, Evolet, (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord and save the people of his village. While venturing into the unknown and frightening territories, D’Leh and his fellow warriors discover an amazing civilization rife with possibilities. In predictable fashion, the warriors are attacked and slaughtered, leaving the young man to protect the remaining group while winning the heart of a princess, well above his station in life.

The story is complete schmaltz and easy to predict from nearly the very beginning of the film. Powerful invaders force the hunters of D’Leh’s tribe into slavery and accost the princess in such a fashion that the setup is all put neatly in place for the viewer, providing nothing out of the ordinary. When the young and naive boy has an epiphany and realizes he is the only one who can save his tribe from extinction, it is all too much. The film is riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche.

A tough ask to lead a film with summer blockbuster written all over it, newcomers Strait and Belle do their best, which only enhances how poor their acting is. Clearly cast for their good looks, they can offer little else. Strait is costumed with a bad wig, dripping sweat, and bulging muscles, purely for audience delight. Belle is also victimized as she pouts and sulks wearing skimpy clothing. The result is a standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy becomes a man to save the girl mess. Inexplicable is how they meet and fall in love before ever speaking or getting to know each other.

If only the bad acting were the only negative the film might be fair to middling, but nothing good is ever offered. All the hunters and tribesman look like modern people dressed to look from a different time-period. The endless battle scenes borrow from the legions of action and adventure films that have come before it. The animals prance across the screen in obvious timed moments providing little in the way of authenticity.

Director, Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) has a knack for creating large epic adventures to please mainstream audiences. There is nothing wrong with a conventional film if it manages to teach the viewer something or offer something of merit. With a target audience of pubescent boys and girls yearning to learn, Emmerich misses a golden opportunity to present an imaginative prehistoric moment and provide a lesson.

Complete with bad story and bad acting, the drivel conjured up is nearly too much to take. 10,000 B.C. (2008) cannot be saved by the over stylish visuals because they are so phony one cannot even fathom any credibility out of them. The good-looking main stars look straight out of a glossy magazine and hardly from the prehistoric era presented. With little attempt at giving audiences anything of substance, this film is an epic fail and is to be missed.

The Lion King-2019

The Lion King-2019

Director-Jon Favreau

Voices-Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #981

Reviewed January 17, 2020

Grade: B

An impossible feat would have been to eclipse the magic of the stage version or the loveliness of the animated version, but The Lion King (2019) offers a different approach well. Arguably, animated in a way and in a way not, this version is heavily CGI (or in this case computer-generated animation-CGA) infused with marvelous visual effects and creativity. Partial to the two-former offering, this telling is lovely and perfect for the entire family. The realism of the animals and scenery is remarkable.

To recap new viewers, the story centers on a den of lions living among the creatures in the “Pride Lands of Africa”. They hunt, prance, love, and guard their territory, mostly from the hungry hyenas, who are kept at bay during peaceful times. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) are fair rulers and anticipate their son, Simba (Donald Glover), taking over the throne one day much to the chagrin of Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar (Chiwetal Ejiofor), who was passed over for the crown.

Envious of Simba, Scar tricks him and his friend Nala (Beyonce) into wandering in the land of the hyenas hoping to cause their deaths. When his plot is foiled by a heroic Mufasa, Scar ups the ante and hatches a scheme to kill his own brother. He not only succeeds, but makes Simba believe he caused his father’s death. Ashamed, the youngster runs away to begin a new life unaware that he will one day return to save the day.

Props must be given to the filmmakers for inclusion and cultural authenticity as many of the characters, especially those front and center, are voiced by African- American talent. This is high achievement since the film is set in Africa and why would the voices be Caucasian? Heavyweights like Jones and Woodard sound polished, especially Jones with his deep and dominant, yet fatherly voice, perfectly cast as the King. Woodard provides a gentle warmth and confident complexity.

The musical numbers are terrific. The film begins with an energetic and tribal rendition of “Circle of Life” where a legion of wild animals dance around together in a warm example of diversity. The song appears later in the film. The powerful and romantic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is performed against a lovely moonlight sky with decadent stars. The new song “Spirit” performed by Beyonce is adequate but does not figure into the story as much as it should, seeming more like an afterthought.

The best parts of The Lion King, however, are the astounding visuals. With contrasting sequences of bright, sprawling African terrain and a magical oasis of colorful flowers and running water, set against the dark and foreboding land of the dangerous hyenas, offers the viewer a multitude of treats to dine on. The orange and red colors during the climactic finale is unrivaled in dazzling bombast of adventure.

As realistic as the elements are in the film, they are also a negative. Watching the animals talk and prowl amid the lush landscape felt wonderful, until realizing that all of it is fake. Real animals were never used, and it is all a virtual reality tool making the effects look real. This aspect slightly saddens me as the genuine quality left me feeling robbed. The possibility of another alternative would have meant a reboot of the animated classic and I am not sure that would have been wise.

Favreau, once an actor and now a director, known for creating films such as Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), certainly knows his way around an adventure film. The story, while containing some menacing moments, also feels a bit safe and lacking a freshness or edginess that the 1994 version possessed. Something seems watered down and the excitement and heart of the original feels missed.

I will always go back to the animated 1994 treasure for a cinematic feast, but while The Lion King (2019) could have been a disaster, it really isn’t. With modernized songs and enough CGA to last a lifetime, I could easily see some people hating the film, but I embraced it for what it is. Spectacular visual treats await any fan of cinema as one will ponder how the project all came together.

300-2007

300-2007

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #977

Reviewed January 7, 2020

Grade: D

On paper 300 (2007) could have been a good or even a great film under different circumstances, if a historical realism or a message of some kind had existed. Unfortunately, what sounds like an interesting premise is met with a cartoon quality, over-acting, and cheesy testosterone laden bombast. Little more than drivel, the film is saved slightly by a charismatic lead, male flesh, and potent homo-eroticism, but this is no Magic Mike (2012), and the content fails because it is intended to be taken seriously. The result is a silly affair, with predictability, and cliches for miles.

The story is based on a 1998 comic series of the same name that is a fictionalized retelling of a battle within the Persian War. The flimsy plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (hence the title).  As the battle rages on, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband (Leonidas) and conquer the army.

Butler is the only slight positive worth mentioning as he preens and prances in little more than a loin-cloth with chiseled abs during the battle scenes, ferociously bellowing at his enemy. A fine-looking man, he is unarguably charismatic and poised, so the audience is strongly encouraged to root for him, and naturally for the Spartans. Leonidas makes for a powerful leader and is great to look at, but that is where any positives to this film end.

The scantily clad gimmick is not intended to draw female viewers to the film, or at least the intent doesn’t seem to be there, unless the marketing was botched. There is enough male nudity to go around and the beefcake and machismo are clear in most of the characters. Laughable is how the Spartans all have washboard abs and appear to be freshly waxed. Did they have access to state-of-the-art fitness centers in 479 BC? The Persians are mostly face-pierced and sneering, the clear enemy, which does nothing to diminish racist overtones. Spartan-good, Persian-bad.

Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead-2004) motivation seems to be to market this film to pubescent teenage males or the low-IQ crowd so the stereotypes are not the best thing to witness nor will they cause anyone to feel very liberated or united. The characters are either cookie-cutter or grizzled and violent, which is in tune with most of the film- bloody, but without reason, substance or merit. One-note character after one-note character appear through each scene. Most bothersome is the intent to stir a pro-war stance, not helpful given the target audience.

300 was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book which does nothing but make the film look like a high energy video game. The product is quite stylized with gloomy battleground scenes and dire bleakness and derives a graphic novel or comic book approach but lacking any subtle qualities or pretty much anything else interesting from a cinematography perspective.

The battle scene finale is by the numbers and should come as no surprise who the inevitable victor is. The film requires little thought or attention span and one can simply immerse themselves onto a cushion and absorb the nonsense couch-potato style. Battle after battle erupts with cliched earnestness and a bevy of blood spurting wounds and kills. This would be okay if there existed any point or good plot twist. Any character development is missing.

300 (2007) is a weak offering and decidedly boring, a surprise since much of the events take place on the battleground where action is produced a mile a minute. The experience is forgettable, and a legion of other action fueled films exist with more meat and potatoes on their plate. The sinister and stereotypical aspects make the resulting film less than fun and the big, loud, dumb product is only marginally cinematic. We can do better.

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.

Twister-1996

Twister-1996

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Visual Effects

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Original Score, Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Rob Reiner, Best Screenplay

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects (won)

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Art Direction

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

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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

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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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Pi’s Lullaby”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

Earthquake-1974

Earthquake-1974

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #407

60030175

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing