Tag Archives: Biography films

La Vie en Rose-2007

La Vie en Rose-2007

Director-Olivier Dahan

Starring- Marion Cotillard

Scott’s Review #790

Reviewed July 18, 2018

Grade: A

As a true fan of French actress Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (2007) is the tremendously talented lady’s finest role to date- and I would venture to say one of the best in film history. She immerses herself into the pivotal role of singer Edith Piaf and churns out a breathtaking performance. Besides the vehicle to showcase her acting chops, the film as a whole is lovely, offering the poignant life story of the troubled star, adding enough French zest to offer more than just a biography.

The way that the plot is constructed is quite interesting as the story of Edith Piaf is told in non-linear fashion. The highly complex singer’s biography is recounted first telling elements of her childhood and concluding with events occurring shortly before her death. Her childhood is difficult so she is raised by her grandmother in a bordello and discovered on the streets to begin her meteoric rise to acclaim. The events of the film are known to be fairly accurate making the song-stresses life story awe-inspiring.

The visual aspects and cinematography elements to La Vie en Rose are lovely.  With soft, muted tones, the film is rich with culture and has a wonderful French way about it. Since the story commences in 1918 the time period is fraught with rich history including World War II and a lavish trip to New York City where Edit performs. To say nothing of the lavish Parisian settings, the “look” of the film is enough reason to watch in wonderment.

Enough praise cannot be reaped upon Cotillard as Piaf and as enjoyable and profound as the film itself is, the casting of the French actress is both perfect and unimaginable to think of anyone else in the role. As treasured a performance as Cotillard gives, the film makers wisely choose to leave Piaf’s actual voice in the musical numbers. Anyone else mimicking her would be unimaginable and frankly insulting. And an imitator would not have served the film well.

Regardless of the voice-overs, Cotillard delivers such a flawless and brave performance that it makes the film what it is. Piaf was known as a very difficult woman to deal with both personally and professionally, though there were many sympathetic qualities to her given her tough life.  Cotillard’s facial expressions and mannerisms perfectly mimic the stars own qualities so much so that the actress seemingly becomes the singer. The actress deservedly won the Best Actress Academy Award for her layered performance.

The final scene of the film is both profound and ghastly. A very ill Edith, looking haggard, clown-like with heavy makeup, decides to take the stage for the final time, aware that she is dying. Refusing to cancel her show, she performs her well known number, “non, je ne regrette rien”. She then exits the stage in frail manner and dies shortly thereafter. She was the consummate professional and star until the moment of her death. This particular scene is a wonderful culmination to the film.

La Vie en Rose (2007) solely judged as a biopic is a very good piece of film making that tells a graceful, sometimes moving story of an incredible talent. With a performance such as Cotillard’s the film goes to another level and the performance becomes the main event. The emotions and the characteristics the actress undertakes are astounding and go down as one of the finest depictions in cinematic history.

The Disaster Artist-2017

The Disaster Artist-2017

Director-James Franco

Starring-James Franco, Dave Franco

Scott’s Review #781

Reviewed July 2, 2018

Grade: B

The Disaster Artist (2017) is a biography-comedy that I found to be middle of the road to mostly good if I’m judging in overall terms- most I liked with a little criticism. Due to the many accolades I confess to having anticipated a bit more from the finished product and hardly found it any sort of masterpiece. Still, I was both impressed and unimpressed by the performance of James Franco in the lead role, awed at the emergence of the actor as a director, and the Los Angeles setting is great.

At times the film teeters almost into bad slapstick or shtick, and a bit silly, and as much as I respect his performance, this criticism is directed at Franco. Nobody can deny his acting talent if he chooses the right films. His attempt at making his character peculiar is noticeable within seconds so it seems Franco also makes him a bit of a goof and I was not able to take the character seriously all of the time. And the weird accent threw me.

This film is based on the non-fiction book called The Disaster Artist. The work chronicles the making of 2003’s The Room, not to be confused with the 2015 film, Room. The Room was considered amateurish and one of the worst movies to ever have been made.

Told repeatedly that his acting stinks, oddball Tommie Wiseau (James Franco), a European-American aspiring actor decides to screw Hollywood and produce, direct, and star in his own film. Mysteriously, Wiseau has an endless amount of bank funds, which he uses towards the film. Roommate and friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), stars in the film and thus gets his big break. The duo, and various others, pitch in to create the project, which suffers from a level of ineptness on the part of Wiseau.

The Los Angeles setting really resonates with me as did the recurring theme of struggle within the Hollywood scene. These are major pluses to the film as a whole. Los Angeles can appear to be a sunny and glamorous town, but always contains a gloomy dark underbelly beneath the shiny exterior. The film realistically depicts struggle and success- from the central characters to the supporting players making the film resemble an ensemble.

Thousands struggle daily for a break with no respect or appreciation given and The Disaster Artist scores a win focusing on this. When Tommie brazenly approaches a powerful producer in a restaurant, he is unceremoniously dismissed for having no talent and told he will never get anywhere. In addition to Tommie, several actors associated with the film struggle. In a wonderful scene, an older actress states that being on a bad movie set beats any other job by miles. The message here is that people in Hollywood are there because they truly love it.

The sweet, empowering theme of friendship and empowerment are also to be celebrated, nice especially given the cut-throat backdrop. Tommie and Greg are best friends and have each-others backs through thick and thin. Neither gives up on the other, even during the tortuous initial audience reaction to The Room premiere.  Could the film have been slightly darker? Yes, certainly, as very few scenes of drug destruction or the porn that many hopeful talents turn to are mentioned. But the film is not really about that, it’s an enchanting tale of hope and fun.

Interesting to note and not evident to me while watching the film is that brothers James and Dave Franco play opposite one another. While there is somewhat of a physical resemblance, the chemistry works between the two actors as best friends. James delivers a worthy portrayal of an unusual character with a strange dialect and long, stringy brown hair, and seemingly cross-eyed. The role is comedic and perfectly suited for an unusual actor such as Franco- he must have had a ball with the part.

Movies about movie-making always fascinate me. What goes on behind the scenes? The Disaster Artist (2017) provides enough good film meat to make it an overall good experience. Staying true to some fine Hollywood history- the famous James Dean is referenced and the spot where he died even visited- nice touch! Franco is both good and disappointing in the main role.  All-in-all, for those who enjoy film making, Hollywood, or L.A. set films, give this one a chance.

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance. The film is as disturbing as it is awe inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelope any viewer- most of them dark and dire. Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces. The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates. Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees all throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees. He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start off as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage. Because of the very lengthy running time of the film (over three hours) Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera works adds such ambiance and style to the 1990’s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940’s. The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine. As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared. Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto. A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is. Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat. The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film. The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat. The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who view’s the masterpiece. Certainly by no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago. A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

The Social Network-2010

The Social Network-2010

Director-David Fincher

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer

Scott’s Review #753

Reviewed May 3, 2018

Grade: A

When released in 2010 The Social Network was a timely and brazen look into the world of social media and the powers and dangers it encompassed. Any film of this nature that chooses to incorporate either a current event or a current fad runs the risk of either being forgotten soon after or becoming irrelevant as the years go by. So far, almost a decade later, The Social Network is even more of an interesting film in the age of embattled political turmoil involving the social media world- with Twitter and Facebook constantly in the headlines.

Director David Fincher (Zodiac-2007, Fight Club-1999) creates a stylistic piece masked behind the biography of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (still relevant in 2018) and tells of his rise to fame from a Harvard student to an internet genius. Throughout all of his meteoric success, the driven young man let his personal relationships suffer as feuds and backstabbings encircled his life resulting in bitter legal entanglements. The film is flawless in every way- the screenplay, the score, the acting, the cinematography, and especially the editing all lend themselves to a memorable experience.

We first meet Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as a teenager, recently dumped and bitter, he posts a scathing editorial on his personal blog and somehow hacks into the college site to allow all the student body to read. Along with his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss  (Armie Hammer), they come up with the initial concept of Facebook. This leads to others becoming involved in the project including Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) as events spiral out of control due to deceit, jealousy, and conflicting accounts.

Fincher’s style is riveting and fast-paced with snappy edits and lightning fast scenes giving the film a crisp and sharp look. The story is told via the Harvard events interspersed with the numerous courtroom scenes as each of the principal characters are represented by legal council adding drama. In this way the point of the film is of a cynical nature and despite being a biography on Zuckerberg’s rise to fame, the overall theme is the effects that social media has had on the entire world- in this way the film elicits a message without being preachy.

Trent Reznor, from the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, creates an amazing musical score that adds a modern touch with both techno and electronic elements. This is not so overdone as to take away from the main theme of the film nor is it too distracting, but rather provides a moody yet intensive element that is highly effective to the overall film.

What riveting acting The Social Network provides! Young upstart Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Zuckenberg and the similarities between the two are uncanny. With his quick wit and neurotic mannerisms, intelligent yet insensitive to others, Eisenberg not only looks the part he seems to embody the character and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for the role. Garfield and Timberlake are nearly as compelling in supporting yet important roles. Finally, Hammer portrays indistinguishable twins with a smug, cutting edge perfect for the way the parts are written.

The Social Network (2010) is a tremendous film with modern technologies and a brilliant screenplay. Beyond the spectacular writing the film contains other top notch qualities that make for a memorable experience. The film holds up exceptionally well with current relevance and features a stellar cast of young actors (Eisenberg, Garfield, Hammer, and Timberlake) who all went on to become heavy hitters in the world of cinema years later.



Director-Gus Van Sant

Starring-Sean Penn, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #744

Reviewed April 18, 2018

Grade: A

Milk is a 2008 film that successfully teaches its viewers both a valuable history lesson about the introduction of gay rights into the United States culture, as well as to the prolific leader associated with this , Harvey Milk. The film really belongs to Sean Penn, who portrays Milk, but is also a fantastic biopic and learned experience  appreciating his wonderful journey through the 1970’s- mainly in San Francisco and New York City. Moreover, Milk portrays a gay character not played for laughs as many films do, but portrayed as a hero.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person ever to be elected to any political office, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The film however, opens in 1978, after a stunning announcement of Harvey Milk’s assassination along with the Mayor of the city, which was met with much heartbreak. The film then returns to 1970 as we meet Penn as Milk and follow his decade long battles and prosperity of changing the gay culture.

Having seen actual footage of Harvey Milk, Penn perfects the mannerisms and the speech patterns  of Milk giving him an immediate passionate and likable persona. The political figure had such a whimsical and innocent style all his own that Penn perfectly captures. His determination for honesty and fairness is admirable and inspiring and Milk seems like he was an innately good person.

Particularly heartbreaking is Penn’s facial reactions during his assassination scene-a scene that director Gus Van Sant brilliantly shoots as a follow-up to a joyous scene when Proposition 6 is defeated.  As troubled colleague, Dan White (Brolin), (rumored to be himself closeted and struggling with self identity), fires several shots into Harvey at City Hall, the scene is filmed in slow motion for additional dramatic effect and poignancy. The look of pain and sadness on Milk’s face will undoubtedly bring tears to even the most hard-hearted viewer.

The film shows the many close relationships which Milk formed throughout the 1970’s, including his steady lover Scott Smith, played by James Franco. The two actors share a solid chemistry together as they are both fun-loving and driven in what they hope to achieve. Sadly, Milk’s drive eventually outweighs Smith’s as they ultimately drift apart, but retain a special bond. Emile Hirsch is nearly unrecognizable as Cleve Jones, a young man who Harvey inspires and mentor throughout the pivotal decade.

A minute criticism noticed while watching Milk is that, with the exception of Penn, many of the supporting characters (Hirsch, Franco, and especially Alison Pill) seem to be “dressed up” in the 1970’s costumes, giving a forced rather than authentic feel. The costume designers seem intent on making them look so realistic that it backfires and looks more like actors made up to look like they are from the 1970’s. Penn, however, looks and acts spot on and stands out from the rest of the cast by miles.

An inspired biography of a legendary political figure, Harvey Milk, led by a fine lead actor (Penn), deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he was awarded, Milk is an astounding story of both triumph and tragedy. The film successfully portrays a time when a class of people were not treated fairly and equal rights were barely a possibility, and the uprising that occurred in large part due to one man and his followers. Milk is a wonderful testament to a time gone by and the accomplishments achieved since then- a truly inspiring and tragic message.

Loving Vincent-2017

Loving Vincent-2017

Director-Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Voices-Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan

Scott’s Review #738

Reviewed April 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Loving Vincent (2017) is a highly unique animated feature that is quite the artistic experience and vastly different from any typical film of this genre. Being the first of its kind to be a completely painted animated feature, hopefully other films will follow suit, as the result is an exuberance in creativity. While the biography of Vincent van Gogh is interesting, I was oftentimes left wondering the accuracy of all the details as the plot is rather dramatic. Still, the film is to be celebrated for its progressive  and edgy nature.

In clever fashion the actors starring in the vehicle simply act while they are subsequently drawn so that the viewer can imagine the action as if it were a standard film, since the drawings mirror the actors involved. For example, Saoirse Ronan can clearly be distinguished as the daughter of a local boatman, who was rumored as keeping close company with van Gogh before his death. We know it is the actress, but in painting form, eliciting a surreal experience.

The action begins one year following tortured artist, Vincent van Gogh’s, tragic suicide. Postman Joseph Roulin asks his son Armand to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Suspicion surrounds the artist’s death as mere weeks earlier his mood was calm and level-headed making his death cause for alarm. From this point, Armand traverses throughout France to spend time with those who had dealings with Van Gogh during the last days of his life. Those characters include his doctor, an inn keeper, and others who may hold clues to the mystery surrounding his death.

From a story perspective, Loving Vincent is a compelling piece as mystery and suspicion is cast around the actual death of the artist. This is not so much a whodunit as we know of the resulting suicide, however, the film certainly casts some doubt about the why of that fateful night. Did someone drive Van Gogh to suddenly take his own life? What was the romantic situation between either Marguerite or perhaps even Adeline? The supposed copying of Van Gogh’s art by his doctor, Dr. Paul Gachet is an interesting point. Through all of these dramatic and intriguing facets I did begin to wonder what was factual and what was not.

The brilliant part of Loving Vincent exists in the unusual and artistic method in which the film is created. The fact that the film is about one of the most respected and appreciated artists of all time is no accident and this perfectly encases the overall tone of the film in wonderful fashion. Throughout the one hour and thirty four minute duration of the film I was continually enamored by the “look” of the film. Exquisite and quite beautiful, the film makers chose classically trained painters over traditional animators and I feel this makes all of the difference.

The use of actual Van Gogh paintings were an instrumental part of the film and modified to fit into the allotted screen room. The cast performed the film, as if a play, in front of a green screen, and then the painters created their magic- pretty incredible! Also mind blowing is the use of colors to change the time of day (brightness and darkness) that results in a highly effective tone.

By creating a visual masterpiece of cinematic beauty, Loving Vincent is a feast for the eyes. Unknown if the story is true to form or whether facts are embellished, the film succeeds as a work of art and a good glimpse into the life of one of the worlds most beloved and tortured artists.

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

I, Tonya is a 2017 biopic telling of the life and times of the infamous American Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, notorious, of course, for her alleged involvement, along with her husband and his friend, in the attack of fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The event drew monumental media coverage after the attack with the uncertainty of Harding’s knowledge or involvement and her subsequent guilt or innocence continues to be debated.

The film itself is a dark and violent comedy, never taking itself too seriously, and immediately presents the disclaimer that the stated “facts” in the film are open to interpretation and dependent on who you ask. In this way, I, Tonya is far from preachy or directive to the viewer, but rather offers up the life and times of the skater in a story form. The film features tremendous performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya and her despicable mother, LaVona.

I, Tonya is told in chronological fashion, culminating with “the incident” in 1994. However, the story begins  back in the mid 1970’s as Tonya, just a tot at the tender age of four, is as cute as a button and shrouded with innocence. One cannot help wonder if director, Craig Gillespie, known for independent films, purposely made this wise casting choice. We see Tonya, once an innocent child, journey into a life of violence, abuse, and tumultuous living. Harding grew up cold and hard and endured an abusive, difficult relationship with her mother- the pressures to be the best skater simply never ended. Even upon achieving success Tonya never felt good enough or loved by her mother.

We then experience Tonya as a fifteen year old girl, fittingly first meeting her boyfriend and later, husband Jeff, Gillooly played well by actor Sebastian Stan. The early scenes between the two are sweet, tender, and fraught with the emotions of first love. As explained by the actors, this was a short-lived time of bliss, and the relationship soon disintegrated into abuse, rage, and chaos.

Certainly the main point of the film is to debate the guilt or innocence of Harding, which Gillespie peppers throughout, so it is never clear what to believe or how the audience should be made to think. “Interpretation” is the key here- some may see Harding as a victim of life’s circumstances and the hardships she had to endure and may place sympathy upon her. Others may view Harding as off-putting, potty-mouthed, and even icy and violent herself with a big chip on her shoulder. In one scene she publicly belittles the hoity toity judges who never cut her a break and give her less than perfect scores.

A clever technique that the film delivers is to have the actors frequently speak to the camera, and thus the audience. This is achieved by either interview style or for the action in the film to simply cease and either Robbie, Janney, Stan, or whomever, turn to the camera and express their version of the events. In this way, I, Tonya possesses a creative, edgy, indie feel.

How brilliant are the performances of both Robbie and Janney. Robbie, a gorgeous woman, portrays a “red-neck” to the hilt. Through her bright blue eyes , her face is quite expressive- relaying pain, anger, and a seldom triumph. The film often slants the scales in a sympathetic way towards Harding, but it is the talents of Robbie that make us feel this sympathy. Janney hits the jackpot with a delicious role she sinks her teeth into. A cold-hearted, vicious character, through facial expressions, we occasionally get a glimpse of LaVona, perhaps softening, but as we do, the character does something even more despicable.

A good surprise for fans who remember the real-life events and the real-life players, will be treated to a sequence of the real Tonya, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn Eckhardt, which play over the films ending credits. How similar in looks are both Robbie to Harding, with her feathered, frizzy, 1980’s style hairdo, and Janney, a dead-ringer for the boozy, chain-smoking LaVona, with her mousy brown bob haircut, complete with scruffy bangs.

Viewers will leave theaters confused, unsure, or perhaps just simply perplexed by what they have just seen, but will most certainly feel thoroughly entertained and may even depart chanting some upbeat 1980’s rock tunes that the film uses throughout. Thanks to wonderful acting and a strong story, I, Tonya is a success.

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Emma Stone, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #691

Reviewed October 11, 2017

Grade: A

Battle of the Sexes is a film that achieves worth on many levels- equal parts sports film, drama, and biography, the film excels across all genres, with exceptional acting and crowd pleasing storytelling. To boot, the film is a true story based not only on the very famous pro tennis match of 1973, termed the “Battle of the Sexes”, but a story of the sexual identity conflict of one of the opponents, in a time where being ones true self was not easy, especially for a public figure.

Emma Stone might very well have given her best portrayal of her young career as Billie Jean King, the talented tennis pro featured in the film. She is kind and fair, but a fierce proponent of women’s rights in a time in the United States when feminism was beginning to first take shape and women, and their male supporters, demanded equal treatment. At first uncertain whether Stone could pull the role off (not because of lack of talent, but the women seem so different), she truly shines as the tomboy athlete with shaggy, feathered locks, and a toothy grin.

Equally worthy of praise is Steve Carell, who bolsters his film credo by tackling the role of King’s opponent and foe in the big match, Bobby Riggs. Portrayed as a certifiable “jerk” and a sexist pig, Carell somehow pours the perfect amount of sympathy and likability into the part. We witness scenes of Riggs’ playfulness with his young son and tender yet troubled relationship with his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue in a well cast role), that never seems neither trite nor contrived, but rather quite genuine.

In fact, the acting in Battle of the Sexes is across the board good. Sarah Silverman drips with confidence and humor as Gladys Heldman, founder of World Tennis magazine and leader of the troupe of female tennis players she parades around southern California seeking the same respect and pay as their male counterparts. Bill Pullman, makes the most of his one dimensional role of Jack Kramer, a wealthy and male chauvinistic  promoter, while the talented Andrea Riseborough is brilliant as Marilyn, the bisexual, closeted lover of Billie Jean- giving a blend of vulnerability and toughness to her role.

The romantic scenes between Stone and Riseborough smolder with tenderness and heart as they forge ahead with their forbidden romance. The film makes clear that a same sex romance in those days, while accepted by those around them, would be met with shame and rejection by a large part of King’s legions of fans- this is a heartbreaking reality. One of the most tear-jerking scenes comes at the end of the film, when a victorious King is unable to acknowledge Marilyn- her openly gay male dresser earnestly whispers to her that one day she will be free to love who she truly loves- the scene is poignant.

Directors Dayton and Faris carve a finale that is careful not to fall into cliched territory. Given that Battle of the Sexes is a sports film, this is a real risk, as typically these genre films teeter into the “good guys beat bad guys” fairy tale land. Rather, while the film does champion King in the end, the moment is laced with good humor, drama, and sentimentality that does not seem forced, but rather honest and real- I enjoyed the final act immensely.

As the film progressed I found myself drawing parallels to the ever dramatic and historical 2016 Presidential election- sure to have films made in years ahead-and King in many ways mirrors Hillary Clinton while Riggs resembles Donald Trump in the sexist department. The political and sports “Battles of the Sexes” warrants an amount of analysis. My point is a sad one and as much as I love the film, I was left with a cold feeling that forty five years after the famous Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs match, male superiority and chauvinism is alive and well in the United States- we still have so much progress to make.

Battle of the Sexes is a film with fantastic acting, stellar casting, passion, excitement, and a telling of a historical, true story. In short the film contains all of the elements of a compelling cinematic experience.

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Director-Mel Gibson

Starring-Andrew Garfield

Scott’s Review #651

Reviewed June 9, 2017

Grade: B+

Hacksaw Ridge is considered somewhat of a comeback film for troubled director Mel Gibson, having not directed a film in over ten years. The film received several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield). While the film has a few minor flaws, and despite being yet another exhausting war film, Hacksaw Ridge is quite powerful, mostly because of the warmth and convictions that Garfield breathes into the central character, and real life hero, Desmond Doss. The film also leans anti-war and pacifistic, needed components in these troubled times.

During World War II, Desmond is a young man living in Virginia. With a brother around the same age, they deal with an abusive, alcoholic father and a passive mother. Desmond realizes he has a talent for medical care and, after falling in love with a small town nurse, he decides to enlist in the Army as a non combat medic. After refusing to use weapons and train on Saturdays, he is met with contempt by his commanding officers and fellow recruits. When, inevitably, Doss and his troops are deployed to the Pacific theater during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss becomes a hero when he saves numerous lives on the frightening  “Hacksaw Ridge” in courageous form.

For the first half or so of the film (save for a peculiar opening battle sequence that comes into play during the second half of the film), the action largely either takes place in Desmond’s hometown  of Virginia or at a basic training facility.  We get to know a bit about Desmond’s childhood experiences, his love life, and his love of country and duty. His father, a retired military man himself is damaged- he drinks, beats on his wife, and hits the boys, though Gibson tones down the abuse by not showing much of it. He saves the real gore for later in the film.

The film during the earlier portions has a very mainstream, safe feel to it and I found more than a couple of aspects to nitpick. Desmond’s fellow training recruits are laced with too often used stereotypical, stock characters- the brooding one, the cocky one nicknamed “Hollywood” for his good looks and tendency to walk around naked, the funny one, the strange one, the list goes on and on. Predictably, drill Sergeant Howell (played by Vince Vaughn, now parlaying from comedy roles to drama) is tough as nails. This is a character we have seen in dozens of war films before it and it feels stale as do all of the characters. Some of the jokes used are cheap one-liners like, “we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy” to describe new surroundings- Duh, really?. Additionally, there is glaring machismo in the first half that is a negative to the film and it makes the film feel like nothing more than standard fare.

However, the second half of Hacksaw Ridge really drew me in- much more than the first half did. Now in Okinawa, the film grips a much darker tone with the inclusion of battle scenes, some very gruesome with the loss of limbs and life. Technically speaking, the cinematography and camera work are shaky and move very quickly, causing an effective shift from the sun and peace of the United States to the dark and fog of unfamiliar territory.  A sweet scene between Desmond and brooding former rival, Smitty Ryker, inside a foxhole, is wonderful as we get to know each character much better within that one scene. Both men discuss their pasts and grow a new affection for one another. It is humanistic and character driven and thereby makes the film much more powerful.

Andrew Garfield is a marvel in the film and deserves the attention received for the role. Coming into his own as an actor after suffering hiccups with Spider Man, he has thankfully returned to character driven and empathetic roles. The role of Desmond is a truly heroic role for him and he is wonderfully cast.

A war film with a distinct anti-war message, Hacksaw Ridge  is overall a “guy’s film” with the female characters taking a backseat to the men, and suffers from some tried and true aspects, and some of the hairstyles seem awfully 2016, but in the end the film depicts a wonderful human being and tells his heroic story, so that makes the film a good watch.

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Director-Arthur Penn

Starring-Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway

Scott’s Review #628

Reviewed March 25, 2017

Grade: A

Bonnie and Clyde is an excellent 1967 crime drama that is not only a great film, but successfully, and surprisingly wound up influencing an entire generation, becoming somewhat of a rallying cry for the youth generation of the time. Released in a tumultuous period in history (the Vietnam war, the Sexual Revolution, and Civil Rights), the film fits the times and also was groundbreaking in its use of violence, blood, and sex. The film holds up tremendously well to this day and is beloved by intelligent film lovers everywhere.

The film begins with snapshots of the real Bonnie and Clyde- a duo of bank robbers who rampaged the southwest during the Great Depression.  Set in steamy Texas, circa 1930’s, the film tells their story. Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meets Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) when he tries to steal her mother’s car one hot day. Instantly infatuated with each other, the steamy duo team up and become partners in crime. Over time they enlist the help of others and become more successful bank robbers with the stakes rising with each heist. Rounding out the crew of criminals are gas-station attendant, C.W. Moss, and Clyde’s older brother Buck, played by Gene Hackman, along with his wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), an innocent-minded, and sometimes hysterical, preacher’s wife.

Bonnie and Clyde is a unique film in many different ways- the quick-cut editing style influenced Sam Peckinpah in his films to come, and the film uses a fast paced rat-a- tat-tat style that symbolizes gunfire-a major element of the film. Blood spurts from victims bodies in a style never before seen on the big screen and led to many film makers comfort with using increased violence. You could say that Bonnie and Clyde took away the innocence of Hollywood films and shook all of the traditional elements inside out.

The conclusion of the film is one of the greatest in cinematic history. Far from an idyllic, happy ending, traditional with films in those days, the law finally catches up with Bonnie and Clyde with grim results for the pair, and their demise is gruesome, but true to form. We have fallen in love with the characters so their hasty exit from this world is tough to stomach and as they writhe and twitch with each gunshot wound, the bullets pummeling the bodies, the scene is a difficult one to watch.

The love story between Bonnie and Clyde is intense, yet sweet, and the casting of Beatty and Dunaway is spot on. Smoldering with sexuality- as Bonnie fondles Clyde’s gun who does not see this as a phallic symbol- their personal relationship is fraught with stamina and emotional energy. The two actors feed off of each other and fill the scenes with gusto. Their chemistry is part of what makes the film so great.

One of the best scenes is the shoot ’em up showdown at a ranch where the group of robbers is hiding out- the scene laden with intensity and violence. As Buck is mortally wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured, soon to make a grave mistake in revealing one of the others identities. Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. barely escape with their lives and their antics from this point become bloodier and bloodier. The cat and mouse play during this scene make it the most suspenseful of them all.

Amid all of the violence, a wonderful scene exists when Bonnie and Clyde meet up at a secret location with Bonnie’s mother. A local townswoman and non-actress was cast in the pivotal role of Bonnie’s mother and the scene is an emotional experience. The woman’s kindness and sensibility and the sheer “regular person” she encompasses humanizes Bonnie and Clyde, and in ominous fashion, their downfall is soon to occur.

A heavily influential film, Bonnie and Clyde is a film that is still quite relevant, especially for those who appreciate good film, and rich, intelligently written characters, who are flawed, yet humanistic, layered with complexities. This is what director, Penn, carves out, and the film is an all time Hollywood classic.



Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart

Scott’s Review #623

Reviewed March 10, 2017

Grade: B

I think most film critics would agree that each modern film directed by Clint Eastwood would accurately be described as compelling films yet safe films and the 2016 Eastwood offering, Sully, fits into both of these categories in snug fashion- just as Sully feels like a snug film. Everything seems to fit into a nice package by the time the credits roll and while the film is sympathetic and has leanings of a character study, it is also shrouded in a wholesomeness that is incredibly safe and “Hollywood”. This is not a knock or a demerit towards the film as it is very good and well made with a high budget, but edgy is not its thing in the least and it might have gone for a bit more grit.

The quite recent perilous United Airways flight 1549 that now famous Captain Sully successfully landed into New York’s frigid  Hudson river one January morning, is recounted in the film. Tom Hanks plays the role of the subdued and unassuming hero to perfection as his calm demeanor and grounded persona makes him quite a likable chap to say nothing of the fact of saving 155 lives aboard the would be doomed flight that day.

Instead of going in a purely linear direction, building up the events (gravitating passengers, takeoff) in sequential order, until the inevitable crash, Eastwood wisely decides to begin directly after the crash has already happened.  Captain Sully, clearly jarred by the events, is startled awake by nightmares as he dreams of crashing into midtown Manhattan instead of safely landing the jet. The hero is clearly beginning to suffer from symptoms of PTSD. He is kept in New York City for days on both a press tour, interview after interview, as well as being questioned by The National Transportation Safety Board, who wonder why Captain Sully did not return to a nearby airport for an emergency landing as simulated computer recreations show that he could have. This leads to both Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) put under a microscope and questioned.

I was a bit caught off guard, and getting slightly bored, as the film takes about thirty minutes to even focus on the actual crash or show and airplane scene, rather building up the events by focusing on Sully and Skiles mental health, but in retrospect this is actually a wise decision by Eastwood. The entire film in itself is barely over ninety minutes total so the action does come fast and furious mid-stream.

Still, the film is not quite all that it could have been. Despite the potential horrific consequences faced with an airplane blowing both engines due to the flocks of birds, I never got many extremely perilous moments during the film. In fact, the danger scenes as Sully navigates the plane into the river, while technically well done, lack much in the way of punch. Sure, there are a few quick shots of passengers praying or appearing frightened, but we never get to know any of the passengers very well. A “don’t blink or you might miss it” scene of an elderly mother and her daughter shopping for a snow globe at the airport or three men rushing to catch the plane in order to catch a golf game in Charlotte are not enough for the audience to become to enveloped in their characters. In fact, they almost seem thrown in last minute as a way of personalizing the passengers.

To my mention above, the point of the film certainly surrounds Sully (and arguably it should; nothing wrong with that) and to a lesser degree Skiles, the supporting characters contain no character development and even Skiles’s personal life is not explored well. Scully’s wife is only seen by way of phone conversations (played by Laura Linney) that he is happily married with two daughters. There is brief talk of some money trouble, but the wife is underdeveloped. Additionally, the NTSB agents are portrayed as quite antagonistic towards Sully and Skiles (rumors abound that this was embellished for movie making), which makes sense.

I enjoyed the ending of the film- in tandem with the credits rolling- of seeing not only the real-life Sully, but his wife, and the passengers and crew of the real United Airlines flight 1549, through interviews and photographs. This offering in true life biography films is now a standard feature to look forward to as it brings a humanistic conclusion to the story just watched.

The focus of the film centering on Captain Sully is fine by me- the man is a hero- but as a film, and more than a biography, it might have added depth to have richer supporting characters and a stronger background of the man that is Sully. A few rushed childhood aviator and battle plane scenes seemed rather out of place. Still, as a whole the film is nice and quite watchable, just nothing that will set the world on fire or be remembered as much more than a decent film based on a true story.

The Lady in the Van-2015

The Lady In The Van-2015

Director-Nicholas Hytner

Starring-Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #610

Reviewed January 19, 2017

Grade: B

As far as I am concerned Maggie Smith can do no wrong and I will happily enjoy watching her in anything- anytime. Around in film since the 1950’s this lady deserves starring film role.  Utterly distinctive she is- as legendary actress Bette Davis was- Smith has a style purely her own- her facial expressions and exasperated gasps make her one of the great film stars. The Lady in the Van is specifically made for her, I have no doubt, but besides her talents the movie is a decent offering, but very safe. It lacks the depth that it could have had.

Written by Alan Bennett, the film tells the true story of Mary Sheperd, an elderly woman living in a broken down van, who befriends Bennett, and eventually lives in his driveway for fifteen years before her inevitable death. Set in northern London, a quaint and gorgeous part of the world, Mary harbors a deep secret involving her van, and is revealed to have been a star piano pupil in her day.

Smith has no qualms about playing unflattering characters. Sheperd is grizzled, abrupt, and rude, but Smith puts a lot of heart into her too, so that the audience senses her vulnerability and falls in love with her. With her sad protruding blue eyes, wrinkles for miles, and chirpy voice, Smith is fantastic at giving her all to the role. The rest of the cast, however, adequately play their roles, but are limited and out-shadowed at every turn. Most notable is the wasted talents of Jim Broadbent, appearing in a small and quite meaningless role.

Besides Smith’s brilliant performance, The Lady in the Van lacks any layers. The story is well and good, but we never see many of Mary’s struggles- how does she afford food? how is she not sick? The film skims over the darker elements of being homeless in favor of a lighthearted tale. Fine, but what about her inevitable issues?

Other less important stories are mentioned but not fully explored. Alex speaks to what looks like his twin brother, but is it his alter ego? Young men come and go at night, so the presumption is that Alex is gay, and in the end we do see Alex living with a man, but why is this so vaguely written? Why mention it at all? This story would have been interesting to delve deeper into especially given the fact that the real Alex Bennett wrote the film.

Other side stories are introduced, but remain on the surface. Alex’s mother clearly suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this is not explored much, and Mary’s brother, who institutionalized her at a young age, offers no explanation as to why this was done- obviously she had mental illness- but the brother’s motivations are not clear. I wanted more from the supporting characters than was offered.

Still, the bottom line is that The Lady in the Van is a Maggie Smith film, and any film in which she has the lead role, is pretty damned good for that reason alone.



Director-Pablo Larrain

Starring-Natalie Portman

Scott’s Review #576

Reviewed January 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Natalie Portman clearly carries the 2016 biographical-drama film based on the life on Jackie Kennedy, and the events directly following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. The film is not a retread of conspiracy theories nor does it feature more than a few glimpses brief of JFK himself, but rather, it is Jackie’s story and what she faced throughout the ordeal. The film wisely uses flashbacks to show the famous tour of the White House, which Jackie gave shortly before the President’s death. A bravura performance by Portman as Jackie.

Director Pablo Larrain, primarily known for achievements with foreign language films (the Chilean film, No comes to mind), rather than the American History genre, is successful in his work with direction. The film is a gloomy one, both in tone and with the terrific brooding musical score-composed by Mica Levi, with its loud, abrupt  sound effects. The overall feel of the film is foreboding and dark.

The main activity is told through a famous Life interview that Jackie Kennedy gave a week after the assassination- the reporter was Theodore H. White, who was slightly less than sympathetic in demeanor toward the First Lady. Held in Massachusetts, Jackie is away from the limelight in peaceful tranquility, but is still pained.

Portman is very successful at revealing two sides of Jackie Kennedy to the audience. Not simply a smiling debutante that she always portrayed to the world publicly, Jackie was also a complex, feisty woman, who vehemently wanted the world to see how brutal the assassination was, how proud she was of her husband, and how she would not back down from holding a lavish and public funeral procession for her deceased husband. Jackie was met with harsh criticisms and defiance for desiring to do so. A proud woman- she did not wish to run off and hide from the terrible events that occurred.

Jackie is mostly a quiet, introspective film. Much of the film is Jackie being interviewed, or flashbacks of her giving the White House tour. Typically Portman plays Jackie as prim, proper, and demure- she is always filled with class and grace. In one riveting sequence though, we see Jackie walking through the White House, smoking cigarettes, and drinking vodka. She appears alone and vulnerable, having just lost her husband. Portman embraces her pain and the audience grieves with her- she is alone in more ways than one. We see her not only as a First Lady, but as a sad woman,  in her agony. Portman is really fantastic in her mannerisms and tone of voice.

I loved the continuous usage of flashbacks to tell the story, but the film does not delve into an unneeded history lesson- we all know what happened- the point of the film is to answer curiosity about Jackie.

What is most effective is the focus on Jackie’s reactions and how Jackie handled the events. In a grotesque scene, rivaling any horror film, we are right there with Jackie in the car that fateful day as a shot rings out, blowing JFK’s head wide open. Sinking into Jackie’s lap, she later candidly describes to the Life magazine reporter, how she attempted to hold the remains of his head together. We then see her wandering around, her beautiful pink suit smeared with blood.

A quiet yet compelling and mesmerizing film, Portman is the main draw. She channels emotions of heartbreak, sadness, and composure. A fantastic First Lady, Jackie always was graceful and proper, but Portman shows another side to her, very few people knew of. In addition to this fine acting, Jackie is a dark, brooding film that successfully tells this woman’s story.

The Last Station-2009

The Last Station-2009

Director-Michael Hoffman

Starring-Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #569

Reviewed December 28, 2016

Grade: A-

The Last Station is a wonderful film. It contains many worthwhile elements- history, culture, good drama, and great acting. Starring seasoned veterans such as Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, the fantastic acting is as good as it gets.

The film tells the story of the final year in the life of famous Russian author Tolstoy and the relationship he has with his family- specifically his wife, Sofya, and his disciples. The year is 1910 and Tolstoy is ailing. He has had a stormy yet passionate relationship with his wife for decades, which is explored in the film. The film’s main point is of greed and in-fighting for control of a great literary figures legacy and money.

The main strong point of The Last Station is the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya- both characters are headstrong, opinionated, but also madly in love, which lead to many sessions of battle.

This is a film of substance. Director Michael Hoffman also mixes some humor in with heavy drama. At the conclusion you might need to use some hankies.

The Fighter-2010

The Fighter-2010

Director-David O. Russell

Starring-Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #546

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: A-

The Fighter is an excellent film. Being a sports film there are the inevitable cliches, which make the entire sports film genre rather predictable. But this film is a very well done story and based on real-life figures (the Ward brothers). Tremendous acting by Wahlberg, Bale, and Melissa Leo, in the role of Mama Ward- a role of a lifetime.

The telling is a true story of Mickey Ward, a boxer from Massachusetts and his battle to stardom, dealings with family members, and his love life. The characters may be ever slightly overdone in the rugged, rough, Bostonian way, almost appearing New Jersey-Soprano-ish instead of New England, but the message is clear- they are in the boxing world and tough guys (and gals).

This film is much more character driven than many similar sports movies. thank goodness, and the casting is spot on. There is the inevitable final boxing match and the standard reaction shots, but again sports films are riddled with cliches. The real win here is with the characters layered, complexities as they love and hate each other.

Bale and Leo deserved their Oscars for their respective roles, specifically Bale for the shocking weight loss and spot on character imitation.



Director-Jeff Nichols

Starring-Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga

Scott’s Review #527


Reviewed November 26, 2016

Grade: A

Loving is a quiet film. Subdued and poignant, it is an important, historic story to tell, and jarring to be transported back to the 1950’s southern style, where interracial marriage was not only illegal, but children of interracial couples were barely considered human beings, to say nothing of the views of their parents, specifically by law enforcement. Sadly, circa 2016, we all should be aware that racism is still alive and well in the United States and this film is a reminder of how much further we need to go. The true story of the landmark1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court case is the basis for this film.

The time is 1958 Virginia, and a sweet, working class couple-Richard and Mildred-are very much in love. Richard-white, and Mildred-black, are met with some sideways glances around town, but generally have a strong supportive family and friend structure, although both families are quite poor. They enjoy spending time with friends in bars and racing cars. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard purchases a plot of land for them and asks Mildred to marry him. Despite the challenges this will create, they are wed in Washington D.C. Once they return to Virginia, they are arrested for violating anti-miscegenation laws, prohibiting interracial marriage. The couple eventually sue the state of Virginia, leading to a unanimous Supreme Court ruling a decade later.

As a film, Loving is thoughtful and introspective. The audience questions who are we to decide who someone loves? This can apply to same sex couples as easily as interracial couples. The film, led by director Jeff Nichols, creates many quiet scenes of thoughtfulness on the faces of leads Edgerton and Negga. Furthermore, several scenes of peril encompass the film. The Loving’s are in constant threat of being discovered as they secretly return to their forbidden home state to give birth to their son- only wanting Richard’s mother to perform the birth. The tense scene where Mildred is dropped off on a deserted back road is well shot- the camera constantly focusing on the road and the threat of a car coming by at any moment.

Edgerton, a fantastic actor and director, gives a tremendous performance as a quiet, stoic, blue-collar man, madly in love with his wife and seeing nothing wrong with it, simply because it is not the norm. He is poorly educated, but Edgerton gives him underlying intelligence and a basic understanding of cherished love and more than once calmly uttering “but I love my wife.” To him it is that simple. Richard will also use any measures necessary to protect his family, as any man surely would. Edgerton’s squinting blue eyes portray suspicion, warmth, and love.

Negga is equally compelling as calm and loyal Mildred. One might expect Mildred to finally explode with rage as she has to put up with obstacle after obstacle, raising three kids in an environment she does not want, yet she never does. Negga embodies the character with sweetness and wide-eyed passion and longing for a better life. Mildred tries not to get her hopes up with each impending court date, but Negga successfully portrays the character with many different emotions and complexities. My favorite scenes of hers simply involve Mildred gazing at her husband- her eyes filled with love and pride.

Nichols wisely does not spend very much time in the courtroom and this is a positive with the film. Sure, we do get the occasional scene of Richard and Mildred facing the court, but the film does not go a different route than necessary. Despite a landmark decision coming from the Loving’s marriage, the film is really a love story between a good man and a good woman, who just happen to be of different races. What a lesson every viewer can learn from this film.

Straight Outta Compton-2015

Straight Outta Compton-2015

Director-F. Gary Gray

Starring-O’Shea Jackson Jr., Paul Giamatti

Scott’s Review #517


Reviewed November 12, 2016

Grade: B-

The rap group N.W.A. was a highly influential and controversial unit to emerge from Compton, California in the late 1980’s and featured soon to be solo rap artists Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Another member, Eazy-E, rounds out the trio that is featured in this film along with their manager Jerry, played by Paul Giamatti. Straight Outta Compton tells their story.

Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced the film along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, and Ice Cube’s real-life son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. portrays Ice Cube. The film is interesting as a way of learning about the rap group and their rise to and fall from stardom, but the film has a very slick and glossy style that detracts from the grittiness of the subject matter- it feels very Hollywood and overly produced. Especially, since the language is atrocious- almost overly so, as if the point was being shoved down the audiences throat. Additionally, the acting, except for Giamatti, is not too impressive. Lastly, the violence portrayed and the gang stuff seemed a bit stereotypical for my tastes.

The film begins in 1986 and we meet the trio of friends. Determined to provide a raw, honest style of poetry to their music, they eventually meet their manager, Jerry, who takes them under his wing and leads them to their success. Predictably, with success comes jealousy and contract disputes. The film delves into this subject matter as the partying and drug use, womanizing, and violence, all lead to the rap groups constant struggles with the police force, especially since one of their top songs is anti-police.

Impressive is the real-life footage used of the 1991 beating of taxi-driver Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department and the subsequent riots that occurred after the officers were found not guilty of any wrong doing. The racial tension that existed in this city at that time was interesting to revisit and palpable to the films subject matter.

The acting was noticeable to me and not in a good way. The young actor who played Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) was fine, but the others (Jackson) and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E were average at best. In any of their dramatic scenes where they appear to be angry, it just does not work, and the scenes lack grizzle and intensity. Conversely, any dramatic scene that held any gusto belonged to Giamatti, who was excellent in his part. In some ways he made the others seem better, but in other ways their inexperience was evident as compared to his. In any event he only made the scenes he appeared in more genuine. Early in the film, when Jerry lashes out at police officers, it is a meaty scene and forceful.

The film makers certainly went for a message of violence and swearing in this film, but despite these qualities Straight Outta Compton still seems safe and overly produced. This may have had to do with the bright, slick cameras used. In this way it had a studio, high budget appearance that does not completely work. I wanted it to look grittier and dirtier and see more of the seedy side of the business instead of it merely being explained to me.

Women in this film are not treated very well and the characters who are the girlfriends are written sympathetically, but not given much of substance to sink their teeth into. Contrasting this, Death Row Records CEO “Suge” Knight is portrayed as a maniacal, violent man. Straight Outta Compton is clearly a guys film.

I had difficulty relating to any of the central characters except perhaps Giamatti’s and it becomes unclear if Jerry really had been ripping off the members of the rap group or if that is merely their perception. He really seems to care about the members of the outfit, so that part is undefined.

Perhaps this film might hold more appeal for fans of N.W.A., which I never was, and rap is not my preferred style of music, but I can appreciate the biographical way the film explains the trio’s story, ups and downs, reunions, death, and violence, but this film could have been much better and is flawed by its over stylized filming.



Director-Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Starring-James Franco

Scott’s Review #491


Reviewed October 9, 2016

Grade: B+

Howl is a compelling courtroom drama/unique biopic starring James Franco (wonderfully cast). In fact, this role, despite being in a small film with little recognition, cements Franco’s talents as an edgy actor- willing to tackle challenging work- rather than sticking to mainstream, safe fare. Franco has become one of my favorite young actors. He is so diverse and believable in any role he takes on.

The story is about 1950s poet-Allen Ginsberg- and his trial to determine whether his poems were art or rather should be banned for being indecent. Much of the action transpires inside the courtroom and the film wisely mixes animation (in scenes of Ginsberg reading his poetry) in between traditional scenes.

The film allows the viewer to get to know the characteristics of Ginsberg- he was troubled (his sexuality, delusions, stints in a mental hospital), for sure, but also had a true, authentic love of writing and of poetry, which is inspiring in an age of digital technology. Sometimes good old fashioned words are the truest art. Interesting little film.

Jimi: All Is By My Side-2014

Jimi: All Is By My Side-2014

Director-John Ridley

Starring-Andre Benjamin

Scott’s Review #487


Reviewed September 30, 2016

Grade: A-

Jimi: All Is By My Side was not quite the film that I was expecting it to be- it was better! I was not expecting drivel certainly, the film did receive a Best Male Lead Independent Spirit award nomination for Andre Benjamin in the title role, after all. But I expected an overview of the rise and fall of famed rocker Jimi Hendrix. Instead I was treated to a more introspective piece than I imagined. The film is a British production.

Interestingly, the film was denied use of any Jimi Hendrix songs familiar to audiences, but only songs written in 1966 and 1967. This surprisingly turns out to be a positive to the film.

The awesome achievement of this film is its non-conformity and being an independent film, lots of freedoms were undoubtedly given.  This is a good thing. Had this film been targeted for a run at the local multiplex, it may have been a run of the mill affair, focusing on the star and the star only. It is also shot in a less than glossy way, giving it an almost grainy, gritty look that I found added something.

Impressively, the supporting characters, specifically three females that Hendrix has relationships with throughout his initial rise to fame, are prominently featured, and the story shifts at times to their perspectives and feelings, not just on Hendrix’s. The film does not focus on Hendrix’s untimely death.

We meet Hendrix (compellingly played by Benjamin) performing guitar in a sparsely attended bar in New York City. He is discovered by Linda, girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, as she becomes both smitten with Hendrix and also recognize his immense talents. Slowly, he is discovered (mainly in London) and rises to fame. However, the film is not solely focused on his success, but rather his personal life.

Besides Linda, Hendrix becomes involved with volatile groupie and fixture among the 1960’s London music scene, Kathy, and cultured American Ida. Instead of the female characters being written as one-dimensional and dizzy, all three are quite intelligent and layered. While each has feelings for the star, they are forces to be reckoned with in their own right, and we grow to care about their characters as individuals.

A scene involving Jimi violently beating girlfriend Kathy with a telephone during an argument has been refuted by friends as being fictitious- Hendrix was known as a gentle, peaceful man. A controversy has emerged as to the accuracy of this film in general, but I thought it quite introspective and fascinating.



Director-David O. Russell

Starring- Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro

Scott’s Review #485


Reviewed September 24, 2016

Grade: B-

Joy is a safe, mainstream, female centered 2015 film, a biopic clearly written for current star Jennifer Lawrence. She was nominated for a Best Actress academy award for her role and she clearly carries the film.  Still, despite her very good performance, the film is really nothing special and is written in a ho-hum manner. It is simply not very compelling and the supporting characters are not utilized as they could have been. Despite being based on a true story, the writing is lazy and the plot far-fetched. I expected more.

The film is another collaboration between director, David O. Russell, and big stars of the time- Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro- all used in previous Russell films.

Lawrence plays Joy- a struggling Long Island mother of two- divorced form her husband (who still lives in the basement of her house), with multiple family members living with her, forming a support unit.  The sense is that Joy is the bread-winner of the family. The story is narrated by Joy’s grandmother, who she calls Mimi (Diane Ladd). Mimi always had a feeling Joy would be a success and we see a few scenes of Joy as a child, surviving her dysfunctional family and her parents disputes. DeNiro plays her womanizing father, divorced from her mother (Virginia Madsen), who lies around in bed all day watching soap operas. Cooper plays opportunist, QVC executive, Neil Walker, who takes a liking to Joy and helps her achieve her dream as a successful business woman after she patents an idea for a new, high powered mop.

Enjoyable to me was the authenticity of the time period- circa 1989- and through the 1990’s- as we see Joy working for Eastern airlines, a company that would fold several years later. Also authentic were the automobiles of the time as well as the dress and hairstyles. These points the film does very well. And how cute was it to see famous daytime television stars such as Susan Lucci, portraying soap opera stars, as Joy’s mother lives her life vicariously through their tangled and bizarre soap lives. Several scenes occur on the television set as we get glimpses of the soap stories.

The film as a whole, though, feels too tidy and neat. Predictably, Joy faces obstacles on her way to success.  Already struggling financially, she takes out a second mortgage on her house. At first she cannot give away mops, let alone sell them. On the brink of giving up, she finagles a meeting with execs who laugh at her product, but Walker is there to give her a break because she has a pretty face. Predictably, things do no go well at first, and there is a rather dull sub-plot about a company in Texas trying to steal Joy’s idea. When she goes and threatens them they immediately back down and obediently give in to her every whim. This is both unrealistic and uninteresting. I much rather would have seen a messy back and forth and/or some court scenes, but the Texas company is portrayed as nothing but the villain.

The writing has either plot holes or contain missed opportunities altogether and many questions abound. Despite many scenes of Joy’s past we end up knowing little. Her entire family lives with her in a suburban Long Island house- why does Joy own the house and not her mother or grandmother? Why does Joy have a rivalry with her half sister, Peggy? Why does Joy’s father own an auto garage and still need to stay with Joy, presumably always broke? Why is Joy’s mother mostly in bed? Madsen as the mother is rather cartoonish and unnecessary to the plot as is Ladd- a dynamic actress given little of substance.  I did not buy DeNiro as a cad nor as in love with his wealthy new girlfriend Trudy (though great seeing Isabella Rossellini in the part), conveniently there to be Joy’s financer.

Despite an enormously talented cast, which is fantastic to see, most of the supporting parts could have been played by any actors, as the roles are not all that challenging, and the film itself is for certain a vehicle to showcase Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell’s current “it” girl.

This is not a slight towards Jennifer Lawrence as she is the best part of the film.  She successfully portrays Joy as a sympathetic, strong willed, fair, decent human being, with enormous struggles, and a blue collar sensibility. Great performance, but I wish the writing and the other talents involved in the film were given better material.



Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones

Scott’s Review #476


Reviewed September 10, 2016

Grade: A

Lincoln is a 2012 film, which received a slew of Academy award nominations. There appear to be differing opinions about the film itself, however Lincoln has audiences divided over whether it’s a brilliant film or a snore-fest. My opinion leans decisively toward the former.

I recognize that (especially the first half) the film is slow moving, but I found it engrossing and well made. Even the subtle aspects (costumes, art direction, lighting) are masterfully done. I found Daniel Day Lewis’s (Abraham Lincoln) lengthy stories intriguing, not dull, and found it to be a wonderful history lesson.

Steven Spielberg does what he does best- he creates a clearly Hollywood film done well. He does do controversial, shocking, or experimental, but mainstream fare is his forte.

Apparently, this film is not for everyone, but if you can find the patience it will be an enlightening experience- if nothing else, a thing or two may be learned.



Director-Jay Roach

Starring-Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane

Scott’s Review #449


Reviewed July 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston, who is suddenly in everything these days, is a 2015 biography drama about Dalton Trumbo, a  famed, talented Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950’s. Cranston is certainly center stage in the film, and very good. The film itself has a crisp, glossy look and excited me with its ode to old Hollywood and it’s mixture of real-life interspersed newsreels. Great stuff for a classic film buff!

The sets, costumes, and art direction travel back to the 1940’s and 1950’s, but throughout I had a constant feeling of a modern film dressed to resemble an older one and I never felt true authenticity- still, a very good effort and a well above average Hollywood film.  A treat for cinema lovers or even those folks interested in seeing some classic black and white footage- a young Ronald Reagan is seen testifying, presumably against those feared to be communists.

Following World War II there was a panic throughout the United States, including liberal Hollywood, to oust anyone with a thinking deemed “un-American”. If this sounds like a dated way of thinking now, the United States was not always as diverse as it is in 2016. The infamous “Hollywood 10”, included ten screenwriters who were Communists- or at least had communist beliefs and sympathies. The story in Trumbo obviously focuses on Dalton Trumbo, a quirky screenwriter, always with a classy cigarette, and holder, in hand. His story is told and the audience sees his passion for fairness in the United States- he sees nothing wrong with being a communist.

The supporting characters are excellent. John Goodman, in the role of Frank King, B movie director, who gives Trumbo a chance to write under a pseudonym, and Helen Mirren and David James Elliott, as villainous Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, respectively. Personally, I felt Diane Lane could have been given more to do as loyal wife of Trumbo, but sadly, Hollywood is not a woman’s world.

If I were to have any criticism of this film it is that Trumbo is mainstream fare and not high on the edgy factor, which is only a mild complaint. There is nothing wrong with that, but the film screams Hollywood branded.  For instance, throughout Trumbo’s two year prison sentence he faces no real threats, no beatings, no abuse, nothing really. He emerges from prison with a few gray hairs and life goes on. When Trumbo’s friend battles, and finally succumbs to lung cancer, there is no long suffering scenes, making the film on the soft side. Again, more an observation of the type of film Trumbo is more than a complaint.

The scenes of Trumbo with his three children as the film periodically ages the children with older actors, are touching, especially scenes with his oldest daughter, Nikola, are sweet. She grows up to be just like her father. Trumbo earnestly explains to young Nikola, why he is a communist and asks what she would do if someone else was going without- her response is to share- a simplistic and sweet scene. Ah, through the eyes of a child the world is so innocent.

Trumbo goes back to Hollywood of old- clean, glamorous, extravagant, both in the way the film is made, and also the retro use of old footage. It is a non threatening film that simply explains the story of Dalton Trumbo in a safe, yet thorough way. I enjoyed the film tremendously.

Behind The Candelabra-2013

Behind the Candelabra-2013

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #411


Reviewed June 18, 2016

Grade: A

I thoroughly enjoyed this HBO film based on the life of Liberace, whom I was too young to know much about before viewing this movie. The excesses of his lavish lifestyle are explored completely.

The standouts are Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who are both exceptional in their portrayals of Liberace and his young lover. Both were unrecognizable at times and completely embodied their characters. I can’t attest to the absolute truth to the story, but the HBO film does a nice job of mixing joy, passion, heartbreak, sadness, and competition throughout.

The story undoubtedly bears a likeness to many Hollywood troubled relationships past and present.

The Danish Girl-2015

The Danish Girl-2015

Director-Tom Hooper

Starring-Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander

Scott’s Review #310


Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A-

The Danish Girl tells the loosely based story of Danish painters and married couple Lili Ebe and Gerda Wegener and recounts Lili’s struggles as the first known recipient of sex reassignment surgery, unheard of at the time that it was (1930). The film is a showcase in terrific acting (Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander especially) and a journey of one person’s struggle with gender identity. The subject matter is quite important and timely as the recent transgender movement has emerged to the forefront in social issues today.

A happy, young couple living in Copenhagen, and married for six years, Gerda and Einar are inseparable and madly in love. They are best friends and help each other with their art. In a pinch because of a female models tardiness, Gerda convinces Einar to stand in for the model, wearing female clothes. This event triggers a lifelong identification as a female named Lili Elbe. Apparently Lili has emerged sporadically since childhood. Through painful self assessment and encouragement from progressive loved ones, Lili decides to go through with a highly experimental and risky sex change operation.

Gushing with sensitivity and tenderness and groundbreaking in a sense, though I bet even moreso if made ten years ago, one feels for both lead characters as it is important to note that they both go through emotional turmoil. It would be easy to lessen Gerda’s emotions and, perhaps with a lesser actress this might have happened, but Vikander (unknown to me before seeing this film) gives an emotional performance that is raw and exudes empathy. One can imagine how they would feel if their spouse identified as the opposite sex. Confusion, blame, anger, sorrow, would all be common reactions. Gerda is strong, brave, and helpful, all the while crumbling beneath the surface. Vikander brings all of this to the screen flawlessly.

Similarly, Redmayne brings depth and empathy to his role.  Redmayne’s Einar is masculine, but there is something sensitive and slightly feminine to him from the start. Was this purposely done to soften the blow? He also appears to be very slightly built. Clearly, Redmayne lost a bit of weight to portray this role and have a softer appearance. Actors can easily dress up in drag, but the emotional investment needs to be there and Redmayne makes the viewer care about Lili a great deal. One is teary-eyed along with Lili as she sees no other choice, but to undergo the risky operation. We see the desperation in Lili’s eyes and this is thanks to Redmayne’s acting skills.

I loved how supportive the characters are in the film. Granted, Einar/Lili and Gerda travel in liberal and progressive circles, but for 1930, this was wonderful to see. Of course, Copenhagen and Paris are open minded cities, but Lili’s childhood friend Hans, a sophisticated, macho guy, offers nothing but support. Same goes for the Doctor taking on Lili’s surgery. These aspects lend to a delicate, peaceful film of encouragement.

To be clear, Lili is not gay, and this is made crystal clear during the film as she meets a gay man and the distinction between them is made. She does, however, identify and feel that she is a woman. She was simply born with the wrong parts.

The greatest aspect of The Danish Girl is its powerhouse acting and compelling subject matter. One’s gender is a given for most, but watching a riveting drama about someone who is at unrest with their gender is eye-opening and still rather taboo. 2015 was a year of progressive transgender films and The Danish Girl is towards the top in its class and gracefulness in dealing with the subject matter in a calm non judgmental way.


Steve Jobs-2015

Steve Jobs-2015

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #288


Reviewed November 25, 2015

Grade: B+

Steve Jobs is a name that almost everyone has heard of. Most associate him with Apple products or at least know that he is some sort of technological genius who has influenced the modern world in some fashion- his name is household. The film Steve Jobs presents a slice of his life, mostly focusing on his professional leap to success, but also on his damaged personal life and his inability to stay close to people within his personal circle.

Michael Fassbender plays the title role.   He looks nothing like the real Steve Jobs, but this fact did not bother me. Quite soon it is revealed that Steve Jobs is a competitive, cut-throat, and sometimes unkind man. He is driven, ambitious, and willing to do what it takes to succeed at business. He is also complex and as the film rolls along we witness the complexities of this man, arguably deemed a “genius”.  But where he has flaws is in his personal life as the film makes abundantly clear.

Kate Winslet is excellent in the supporting role she plays. As Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s loyal Marketing Executive, she stays in his corner through the years, enduring  ups and downs, and yet their relationship never goes beyond the platonic.  They are colleagues and both are absorbed in their creations. Her character is a bit under-explored as we never are exposed to much of her personal life. Winslet, in a rare “dowdy” role, makes the most of Joanna as she is the type of woman who throws herself into her work at the expense of a private life.

The film is primarily set during the three important software launches. and, predictably, all are filled with issues and stress. The bulk of the first act occurs in 1984, when Jobs and Hoffman struggle and fret during an Apple Macintosh launch in front of an auditorium filled with industry types eager to see the new technology. The entire scene is filled with tension as the new computer will not say “hello” as advertised and Jobs demands lead engineer, Andy Hertzfeld, fix it.  The scene escalates in its intensity. We immediately bear witness to the fact that Steve Jobs is a shark. He is demanding and unlikable and the film is not afraid to stress that fact as the action continues.

We are next introduced to Jobs personal life. A beautiful young woman arrives at his office with a young girl. They are both on the brink of being destitute and thrown out of their home, yet Jobs refuses to help them and coldly calculates the probability that the young girl (Lisa) is biologically not his.

As the film chugs along Steve Jobs has a turbulent relationship with Lisa as the film spans the period of time from 1984-1998. The film is a character study of sorts and we learn the complexities of Jobs. Fassbender gives a nuanced performance and allows the audience to absorb these character traits and ultimately feel emotional sympathy for him.

I admired this character study that is Steve Jobs and feel that I know him quite a bit more, on a human level, than I once did. Perhaps the supporting characters might have been fleshed out a bit more, but in large part, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of a real-life person makes this film a success.