Tag Archives: Comedy films

Bridesmaids-2011

Bridesmaids-2011

Director-Paul Feig

Starring-Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph

Scott’s Review #784

Reviewed July 6, 2018

Grade: A

Despite the raunchy romantic comedy genre not being my favorite, and despite not being such a fan of Judd Apetow (famed producer of several of these types of films), Bridesmaids (2011) is easily the best of its kind. Influential in a multitude of female empowerment themed comedies that followed, this one is witty, genuine, and funny because of its star, Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the film. One of the best comedies (if not the best) of the decade.

Apatow is largely known for producing comedy films that mix in the standard potty humor for cheap laughs. He is responsible for This Is 40 (2012) and Trainwreck (2015), both of which I found moderately funny, but needlessly gross out and tired.  My point is that minus the talents of Wiig (both in front of and behind the camera), Bridesmaids would likely have been mediocre like these films. Instead, Bridesmaids is a wonderful, uproarious experience with a star who captures a moment. My one gnawing gripe is that shouldn’t a film about women be directed by a woman?

Annie (Wiig) has been asked to serve as the maid of honor at her best friend, Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph), upcoming wedding. Rather than be thrilled, Annie is depressed due to an ongoing string of bad luck. Her bakery business fails, she loses her unfulfilling job at a jewelry store, she is dating a jerk (Jon Hamm), and her car is about to die. She has difficult roommates and is on the verge of having to move back in with her mother at age thirty-five.

The story hilariously follows Annie’s rivalry with Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s soon to be husband’s boss’s controlling wife. Helen is intent on taking over the handling of the wedding events much to Annie’s chagrin. The ladies compete to one up each other throughout the film- Rose is perfect princess to Annie’s grit and cynicism.

Annie struggles through her personal issues, unhappy with the state of her love life, she meets police officer, Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), and they begin a tender friendship. However, their attraction is tested because of Annie’s shenanigans. Annie must then fly to Las Vegas with the other bridesmaids despite being terrified of flying.

Despite the story being nothing not seen dozens of times before in romantic comedy history (the set ups), the film is a laugh out loud riot. In addition to Wiig, Rudolph, and Byrne, the remaining cast of ladies all have tremendous chemistry with each other. Special kudos go to Melissa McCarthy in her fearless role of Megan, a tomboy misfit who somehow is part of the wedding party. With her “tell it like it is” attitude the actress sinks her teeth into this fabulous role without taking her too far across the line into ridiculousness.

In rip roaring fashion, multiple scenes are permanently etched in my mind. After Annie suggests a Brazilian steak restaurant for lunch followed by a fitting at a chic dress shop, the girls suffer from food poisoning. This results in torrents of diarrhea scenes and one unlucky character being reduced to going to the bathroom in the middle of the street. The scene while super raunchy is hilarious and fraught with perfect comic timing.

Not to be outdone, the airplane scene is equally tremendous, however the scene belongs to Wiig rather than the entire ensemble. Being forced to fly coach while everyone else is treated to first class, Annie unwisely accepts a pill from Helen to calm her during the flight. Instead, Annie becomes belligerent and wild when she mixes the sedative with alcohol.

As good as the supporting cast is, Wiig owns the film through and through. Every scene she is in and each line she utters is perfectly timed. The fact that Wiig did some improvisation (think the scene in the jewelry store) is evident and only adds to the genuine feel of the film. Subsequently, to Wiig’s credit, she has been careful to choose more complicated roles to avoid the risk of being typecast. And a sequel was wisely never made- this would have ruined the appeal.

Bridesmaids (2011) is an authentic story rich with hilarity and crisp dialogue. The film is enhanced in that it’s a female centered film written by women (though direction and producers too would have been better). Because of the tremendous cast led by Wiig, the film is blazing with humor and led a firestorm of similar “girl power” films (mostly bad) well into the decade.

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.

Girls Trip-2017

Girls Trip-2017

Director-Malcolm D. Lee

Starring-Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith

Scott’s Review #760

Reviewed May 18, 2018

Grade: D-

I am truly baffled by some of the positive reviews of the film Girls Trip (2017), not only by viewers but respected critics. Attempts to make females as raunchy as the guys in R-rated comedies never works in my opinion (good writing does!) and the result is a largely unfunny, crude, piece of drivel.  The fact that the film which goes for a “female empowerment” theme is directed by a man is as much disappointing as disrespectful, especially given the fact that the writers are female- they couldn’t find a black female director?

At the risk of giving a testimonial, I am fully aware of the importance of creating good female roles in cinema- especially good female black roles. Unfortunately the roles in Girls Trip do nothing to further the cause as tried and true, standardized parts commence with nary a well-written character to be found. In modern film look to Black Panther (2018) or Hidden Figures (2016) for examples of positive black female role models- they do exist!.

The weak plot involves four forty something lifelong friends who regroup for a reunion after years apart. Famous lifestyle guru Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) decides to take her “Flossy Posse” to a music festival in New Orleans where they will spend the weekend partying like it’s the 1990’s once again. Ryan is married to a man who cheats on her, Sasha (Queen Latifah) runs a failing gossip site, Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a divorced, overbearing nurse, and slutty, aggressive Dina (Tiffany Haddish), who has just been fired from her job.

In predictable form- think 2009’s The Hangover or a multitude of other raunchy comedies since then, the girls get into trouble, drink too much, have sex, and partake in other hi-jinks throughout the weekend. The central plot is Ryan’s potential investment deal with rigid and uptight Bethany (Lara Grice) and a wisecracking agent in tow. As events unfold a female nemesis of Ryan’s shows up to cause trouble and stir up drama, testing the group’s patience.

Girls Trip is a typical American comedy film (not a compliment!) that offers weak writing and instead promotes stereotypical stock characters. Many similar comedies have come before it- many more will come after it. Since I disliked the film so much I decided to ask myself a few rhetorical questions as I observed the mess. In films with a group of women why is there always a slutty one (Dina)? Why is there always a mousy one (Lisa)? Why is there always a fat one (Sasha)? Why is it deemed funny to watch women pee or suffer bathroom issues?

The only positives to Girls Trip come in one humorous scene when Dina mixes absinthe into the girls drinks before a meeting causing them to hallucinate. As the girl’s begin to imagine themselves talking in deep baritone voices and Ryan imagines a waitress is her arch enemy the hilarity briefly ensues. A quick wrap up speech by Ryan at the films conclusion does send a nice message about being yourself and staying true to your loved ones, but why we have to suffer through two plus hours of crap to get to the inspiration and point of the film is beyond me.

The success of Girls Trip (2017), which will inevitably produce a sequel leads me to believe that the masses prefer their films idiotic, redundant, and fraught with cheap, crude laughs. The films intention seems to be to push the envelope- not to create great art- but just to make the film as crass as possible. This is presumably to prove that girls can be as nasty as boys, which the film succeeds at portraying.

The Breakfast Club-1985

The Breakfast Club-1985

Director-John Hughes

Starring-Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald

Scott’s Review #755

Reviewed May 8, 2018

Grade: A

The Breakfast Club (1985) is one of the most beloved films of the 1980’s and perfectly captures being a teenager during this time. Containing both an innocence and an authenticity rarely found in films targeted for younger audiences (and there were plenty in the 1980’s), the film is timeless and holds up exceptionally well, still feeling fresh. Director John Hughes avoids cliche’s and creates genuine truth in cinema. The theme song, “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” is nearly impossible to hear without associating it with this film.

The story line is uncomplicated; five high school students (Bender, Claire, Andy, Brian, and Allison) of differing social classes gather one Saturday morning in the high school library for a day of detention. Each student appears to know the others, but only peripherally, having little in common. Assistant Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) assigns them to complete a thousand word essay by the end of the day. The group engages in mischievous antics, squabble, and discuss their respective roles and troubles in life over throughout the day.

The film looks and feels like a small independent feature rather than a big budget (Universal Pictures) offering, which is of enormous praise. The cast is very small- only the aforementioned six principles and two minor characters. The setting is almost entirely inside the walls of a suburban high school with only a few exterior shots to speak of. Mainly what succeeds is that the characters interact with rich dialogue, good texture and underlying insecurities that make the screenplay bristle with genuine angst.

It is tough to pinpoint who the lead characters would be, but arguably Claire and Bender (Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson) are the pair expected to unite as a couple, as they do in the conclusion- this is predictable yet sweet. Unexpectedly however, the film pairs Andy and Allison (Emilio Estevez and Allie Sheedy). Both couples are complete opposites, Claire and Bender even despising each other throughout most of the film, but realize their mutual attraction.

Careful not to weigh down the film with too much heavy drama, Hughes, who also wrote and produced the work, peppers in some comedic moments as well. Gleason is the easy foil as the sole authority figure, a bit too dedicated to his job of humiliating and disciplining the students, but he does get his due in humorous fashion. In fact, either on-screen or off screen, no adult figures are written in a positive light giving The Breakfast Club a complete teenage perspective.

But the main appeal goes to the teenagers and the message that Hughes successfully relays- that of the misunderstood young adult. Each character is unhappy in some way and feels put into a category or defined by the individual cliques they each belong to- whether they want to or not. In this way Hughes makes the film a treasure in terms of relating to the characters- everyone remembers high school and the insecurities wrestled with while attempting to get good grades and obtain acceptance. Hughes brings these aspects to life with his slice of life tale.

Even if every character is not immediately recognized within the viewer themselves, each is empathetic nonetheless. When Andy reveals his father’s criticisms or Bender painfully recounts his father’s physical abuse, we feel for them, suddenly seeing the strong athlete or the burnout from our own high school days in an entirely new way. Mousy Allison gets a makeover from Claire and suddenly shines like a new dime- finally not being ignored. Brian’s overbearing parents pressures are almost too much for him to bear.

At the conclusion of the film, we are left to wonder what will happen on Monday morning during homeroom. Will the group continue their new friendships (or more) or simply return to the normalcy of their respective peer groups? Hughes wisely does not satisfy our piqued curiosity but rather leaves it to our imagination. The Breakfast Club (1985) holds appeal for the masses without feeling cliched or put upon- only feeling insightful and inspired to accept others we may have preconceived notions about.

The Brady Bunch Movie-1995

The Brady Bunch Movie-1995

Director-Betty Thomas

Starring-Gary Cole, Shelley Long

Scott’s Review #750

Reviewed April 30, 2018

Grade: B

Capitalizing on nostalgia created from the popular 1960’s-1970’s television comedy “The Brady Bunch”, 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie offers a nice treat for fans of the series- fondly reminiscing back to their youth or hours spent enjoying subsequent reruns after the show had ended. Certainly the case with this reviewer, the film version is cute and silly, but exactly as would be expected, and the attention to detail using facets from the original series makes the film wonderful enjoyment and a job well done by director Betty Thomas.

The Brady Bunch Movie is not highbrow nor complex,  nor should it be. The work is just peppered with great jokes and a solid ode to the fun past. Film fans looking for a good comedy and not having seen the series might miss out on some of the fun as a multitude of references only fans will appreciate  abound throughout the length of the film.

The plot is not the strongest quality, but liberties must be taken since the intention is of a throwback and not much more- the story is one that might have existed during the series, but lengthened for film purposes. Larry Dittmeyer (what a name!), played by Michael McKean, schemes to coax all of his southern Californian neighborhood to sell their houses at a good price, in order to develop a lucrative shopping mall, presumably so they will all get rich.

When earnest Mike and Carol Brady (Gary Cole and Shelley Long) refuse the business deal, Larry embarks on a plot to use a foreclosing notice issued to the Brady’s as leverage in his deal. The Brady’s, owing $20,000 in back taxes due within a week’s time scramble to raise the money. Predictably, the Brady kids rush to the rescue with a plan to secure the funds via a singing contest.

The film immediately gets off to a familiar start as we view the comfortable Brady house and all of the cozy qualities nestled inside- unchanged from the late 1960’s- the groovy orange colors, the tie dye and the plaid outfits are all in tow. Lovable Alice, in her blue and white housekeeper outfit, Mike, Carol, and all six Brady kids are back at the helm, having never missed a beat. In short, they still live as if it 1969 instead of 1995 and are oblivious to the outside world.

A tremendous treat for fans are the cameo appearances of a few of the original cast: Florence Henderson (Carol) and Ann B. Davis (Alice) have the more interesting parts, that of the Brady grandmother and truck driver, respectively.  Oddly, Maureen McCormick’s (Marcia), Susan Olsen’s (Cindy), and Mike Lookinland’s (Bobby’s) scenes were shot, but all cut- a major fail of the film whose fans undoubtedly would have liked to have seen all cast members. Wouldn’t a group scene versus individual scenes have been a wonderful touch? Missing are Robert Reed (Mike) who was deceased and Eve Plumb (Jan) who refused to appear.

The plot is silly, trivial, and completely predictable, but yet, so was the television series! As each episode was wrapped up in a nice bow with a defined conclusion and perhaps a lesson or two learned along the way, the film plays similarly. McKean’s Larry and man hungry wife Dina (Jean Smart) are perfect foils and play their roles with relish only adding to the zany fun. A wonderful and timely point is how a Japanese businessman saves the day for the Brady’s as a nice cultural inclusiveness touch is added- still relevant today.

An observation made while watching the film in present time (2018), is the intended point of the film. In 1995, the point was to show how out of touch the Brady’s were with “modern times”. But in 2018 the tide has turned and 1995 now seems dated in relation to the Brady years- sadly this gives the film itself more of a dated quality. This is always a risk taken when a film uses its current time period as part of the plot. The cool and hip cellular phone used by one character seems garish and uncool by today’s advanced standards.

Still, from Marcia’s flattened nose, The Monkees Davy Jones resurfacing, Cindy’s tattling, Jan’s insecurities, Greg’s cool suave manner, Peter’s breaking voice, and Bobby’s hall monitor job, the familiar stories and antics all resurface in a fun filled hour and a half of comic nostalgia. The Brady Bunch Movie is a light achievement and a nice trip down memory lane for many folks.

Working Girl-1988

Working Girl-1988

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver

Scott’s Review #748

Reviewed April 26, 2018

Grade: B+

Released during a decade known for excess, fun and light comedy films, especially during the latter half, 1988’s Working Girl was a blockbuster hit at the time, and in modern times is perfectly nestled as an identifier of the decade itself- this can be both good and bad with both a dated feel and also a whimsical, basic good girl versus bad approach that is appealing.

The film is romantic comedy fluff, but is entertaining and features lovely views of New York City- one of my very favorite locales. The film is directed by Mike Nichols, known more for heavier subject matter (1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and 1967’s The Graduate). His leading of the picture as well as all-star casting surely made this film better than it ought to have been.

Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) commutes via the Staten Island Ferry each morning into vast Manhattan where she holds a secretarial job at a Wall Street investment bank.  When she has a bad experience with one of the brokers, she is reassigned to a female boss, the assertive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). After Katharine steals Tess’s business idea and passes it off as her own to get in good with handsome Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), Tess is determined to reveal the truth as a triangle of sorts develops between the three individuals. In tow is Tess’s best friend Cynthia (Joan Cusack) and her cheating boyfriend, Mick (Alec Baldwin) in supporting roles.

Working Girl feels overwhelmingly like a “1980’s film” and while relevant at the time and kindly nostalgic, the film does not hold up well in modern times, rather seeming to be suited for a time capsule, unlocked from time to time for kicks. The most garish example are the hideous hairdo’s (or more appropriately hair dont’s) that Nichols has Tess and Cynthia don- frizzed out and caked with aqua net hairspray is over-the-top even for the 1980’s. Then there are the inevitable tacky outfits complete with bright colors and shoulder pads as the girl hustle to their dull jobs. With these costume tidbits in addition to the filming style the tone just screams 1980’s.

The casting of the three leads is very good- Griffith, Ford, and Weaver all share nice chemistry with one another and the clear rooting value is for Tess and Jack to live happily ever after- with Katharine as the obvious foil. In this way the conclusion of the film is of little surprise, but as a romantic comedy this is standard fare. The point is that the relationships are dynamic and the ride is fun. Griffith is quite breathy and seductive in her role- a clear homage to the talents of Marilyn Monroe in her 1950’s era films. Never known for great acting, Tess is the role of a lifetime for Griffith. Weaver sinks her teeth into an against type villainous role and Ford is dashing and charismatic as the leading man.

My favorite parts of Working Girl, and the strongest aspects of the film, leaving an indelible impression even after all of these years, are the sweeping camera sequences of New York City featured throughout the film. Lots of scenes were shot in neighboring Staten Island, but the best shots of all are the luminous skylines of Manhattan that encompass the opening sequence and later, viewpoints from the corporate offices. There we see Tess on the Ferry heading across the Hudson River all with the wonderful soundtrack song by Carly Simon, Let the River Run, playing in the background. The soothing tune and the approaching mammoth city set a nice tone.

The story itself is a sort of rags to riches, Cinderella style experience from the point of view of Tess. Taking night classes to better herself and clearly a blue collar type battling the giants of the corporate world and the more sophisticated Katherine (she speaks fluent French!) is an enormous draw of the film to sustain mainstream audiences. In fact, corporate greed versus the little guy is an adept comparison here. Almost borderline fairy tale, the fact that Tess gets the dashing Jack (in real life he would undoubtedly be with Katharine) makes the film good, escapist fare. The working class Staten Island versus the sophisticated Manhattan is another theme worth mentioning.

Thirty years beyond its original release. 1988’s Working Girl now seems dated, dusty, and of its time like many similar style films, but does still contain some of the enjoyment undoubtedly beholden to it at the time of release. A film that is fine to take out of the vault, dust off, and enjoy for some good escapist cinema and a predictable story of good overcoming bad.

High Anxiety-1977

High Anxiety-1977

Director-Mel Brooks

Starring-Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn

Scott’s Review #740

Reviewed April 11, 2018

Grade: A

For lovers of legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock (as this reviewer is a die-hard fan), the 1977 spoof/satirical feast High Anxiety is a must-see.  The film is simply a treat for the multitude (nearly twenty!) of fun references to Hitchcock classics that fans can easily point out. Such classics as 1964’s The Birds, 1945’s Spellbound, 1958’s Vertigo, and 1960’s fan-favorite Psycho are heavily parodied.

Producer, director, and star Mel Brooks abounds all expectations with a brilliant performance and a smattering of veteran Brooks ensemble players along for the ride. Featured stars Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and Cloris Leachman provide wonderful comic performances that are quite lively and memorable without ever being too zany or silly. High Anxiety is a hilarious and clever production.

Brooks plays neurotic Doctor Richard Thorndyke, who has been hired by the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very Very Nervous. His role is to replace Doctor Ashley, who has died mysteriously at the facility. Transported by his nervous driver, Brophy, he meets a bevy of peculiar characters led by Doctor Charles Montague (Korman), a man with a BDSM fetish, and Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Leachman), the grizzled head nurse. Thorndyke immediately receives death threats amid strange shenanigans seemingly following his every move.

In brilliant fashion Thorndyke suffers from “high anxiety” a witty reference to Hitchcock’s character of Scotty from 1958’s Vertigo. As he meets and falls in love with Victoria Brisbane (Kahn), a woman whose father is a patient at the facility, he becomes determined to prove the fraudulence and deceit of Montague and Diesel, while subsequently clearing himself of a murder charge orchestrated by the pair. The murder scene- occurring in a crowded lobby- with Thorndyke caught red handed holding the murder weapon as a camera snaps the shot for evidence, is a direct spoof of 1959’s North By Northwest.

To be clear, High Anxiety is not a high-brow film nor does it ever dare to take itself too seriously. It knows what it is and what it wants to achieve and that is to both entertain and please fans of Hitchcock. In fact the film is an ode and tribute to the general film-making of the director who reportedly adored the picture and the accolades that Brooks received from making it. There is hardly a better stamp of approval than that.

I adore the casting and the odd characters Brooks writes, specifically Leachman and Korman. The duo ham it up with a script laced with great comic moments for the duo to sink their teeth into. As Leachman, with her drill sergeant-like stiff posture and pointed bosom (Mrs. Danvers from 1940’s Rebecca), combined with the wimpy and snarky mannerisms of Korman’s character, they are the perfect combination of female dominant and male submissive as they play off of one another in crisp style. The sinister way that Nurse Diesel (my favorite character) utters the word “Braces”, a reference to her henchman, drizzles with dark humor and wit.

Piggybacking off of these characters, Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) gives a fine turn as the doomed straight man with a conscience,  Dr. Wentworth, who just knows something is up at the facility, but is too timid to know exactly what it is. His death scene is one of my favorites as, derived from 1976’s Family Plot, the poor man is driven to ruptured ear drums and a subsequent stroke after his car is rigged to blast rock music, trapping him inside.

Brooks and Kahn make a lovable duo as the beleaguered romantic couple forced into an adventure to prove innocence and rescue Victoria’s father from harm. A favorite moment is Brooks’s wonderful rendition of  the song “High Anxiety” at a hotel piano bar as he successfully woos Victoria is an entertaining romantic comedy moment. In predictable fashion- he gets the girl.

High Anxiety is delicious, silly, and peppered with great classic Hitchcock moments that are momentously fun to watch and pick out which movie they each reference is from. An absolute must-see for all Hitchcock fans or those who simply want a humorous, lightweight introduction to the works of the Master.

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.

Bad Moms-2016

Bad Moms-2016

Director-Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Starring-Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn

Scott’s Review #706

Reviewed December 20, 2017

Grade: D+

Bad Moms tries to do for women what The Hangover did for men and create a raunchy, R-rated party romp that haggard mothers everywhere can relate to and appreciate. The films billboard presents the three main characters boozing it up under a caption of “Party Like a Mother”. Perhaps since I am not a mother I did not fully gravitate towards this film, but despite a smidgen of mild laughs, Bad Moms fell flat for me, mostly because of tired characters, gimmicky situations, and an over-the-top tone. Not surprising is that the film is written by the same individuals who wrote The Hangover- as it comes across as a direct ripoff with a different gender in the drivers seat.

The central character in the film is Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), a thirty-two year old mother of two, living a busy life in the Chicago suburbs. Considered “old” by her hipster boss, and with a porn obsessed husband, she runs around frazzled and behind schedule most of the time. After a particularly hairy day, Amy abruptly quits the school PTA run by militant Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and befriends fellow moms, sex-crazed Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and timid Kiki (Kristen Bell). After she incites Gwendolyn’s wrath, Amy decides enough is enough and embarks on a plot to win the PTA presidency, while dumping her husband and dating hunky widower, Jessie (Jay Hernandez).

Admittedly, Kunis is very likable as Amy- a cool chick with energy that most would love to befriend -we empathize with her predicaments and juggling schedules. But this can only go so far in a comedic film, and the setup pieces and the supporting characters are way too plot driven and lack authenticity that the end result is little more than one root-able character. Applegate as an actress, is quite capable, but Gwendolyn, the clear foil, is largely written as a cartoon character. Her bitchy comments to her underlings, who inexplicably are afraid to cross her, seem too staged. Jada Pinkett Smith, clearly in need of a paycheck, is disposable as “second in command” crony, Stacy. Furthermore, Amy’s husband Mike (David Walton) is portrayed largely as a buffoon and childlike. The point of these character examples is to stress that the film contains too many caricatures rather than characters

An irritating quality to Bad Moms that I simply cannot shake is that the film is written and directed by a duo of men! Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the individuals in question and the mere fact that the film, clearly painted as a female empowerment story, is not written by females is almost unforgivable. Case in point involves a bathroom scene where the ladies discuss uncircumcised penises- a dumb scene if you ask me- that is retched considering men wrote and directed it. In this day and age of Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment suits bubbling to the surface, the scene seems icky. It should not be this hard to find women to write for other women.

Of the additional trio of females, Kathryn Hahn’s Carla has a few funny scenes, but is written as so sex-obsessed that it is impossible to take the character seriously and the same goes for Bell’s Kiki. When mousy Kiki finally lays down the law and tells her boorish husband to deal with their kids, it is meant to be a rah-rah moment, but instead becomes eye rolling. Not the best actress in the world, Bell continues to get roles like this in sub-par films.

An attempt by film-makers to make a girl film on par with male driven raunchy comedies thrust on moviegoers over the years, Bad Moms comes across as too unoriginal and too desperate for laughs. Undoubtedly hoping to win over the same audiences who flocked to the last funny female driven comedy hit, 2011 Bridesmaids, the film falls flat and lacks genuine funnies. Its score is bolstered slightly by the successful casting of Kunis in the lead role and the sweet romance her character shares with Hernandez’s Jessie.

Why Him?-2016

Why Him?-2016

Director-John Hamburg

Starring-John Franco, Bryan Cranston

Scott’s Review #704

Reviewed December 6, 2017

Grade: D

Why Him? is epic film drivel, starring quite capable actors in a mish-mash of dull, predictable story, obnoxious characters, and a need to attempt to go raunchier and raunchier for the sake of a cheap laugh. Why there is a market for films like this is beyond me as no thinking is required (maybe the film will please those fans!), but the film scores slightly higher than a solid “F” based solely on a few chuckles uttered thanks to the only dim bright spots in this mess- Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally.

In a story told dozens of times before in “slapstick comedy” fare, the premise is tired beyond belief- good girl meets bad boy, they fall head over heels in love, and must deal with the aftermath of her parents meeting, and hating, said bad boy. The main gimmick is the rivalry between boyfriend and girlfriends father- think an unfunny Meet the Parents.  A silly and uninteresting plot point about each characters business success or lack thereof is mixed in, as if anyone cares. As with all films of this ilk, the story is wrapped up in a neat, tidy, little bow by the time the credits roll and all characters live happily ever after in perfect harmony <gag>.

Cast in one of his most disappointing  roles, James Franco stars as Laird Mayhew, a wealthy, eccentric, thirty-something CEO of an upstart video game company. He is foul-mouthed and comically speaks his mind or absentmindedly shows his ass on a skype chat with his girlfriend (Zoey Deutch) Stephanie while her parents are linked to the chat at a birthday party.  Stephanie Fleming (Deutch), a college student,  and girlfriend of Laird, decides to invite her parents, Ned and Barb (Cranston and Mullally), along with their fifteen-year old Scotty for Christmas holidays.  In predictable fashion, Stephanie’s parents are appalled by Laird and want her to have nothing to do with him. When Stephanie arranges for Ned, Barb, and Scotty to stay at Laird’s spacious home, the antics really take off as feuds and misunderstandings erupt.

The main problem with Why Him? is that director John Hamburg (famous for mainstream comedies such as Along Came Polly and I Love You, Man), seems determined to push the raunchy comedy elements further with this idiotic film. He makes Laird as obnoxious and crass as possible, yet tries to make the character more “likable” by giving him a clueless quality- therefore he is not really mean-spirited and should therefore be loved by the audience. The character does not work at all- especially having seen Franco in some terrific roles- specifically 127 Hours and  Howl. Being a fan of the talented actor I expected more from him, but alas, some performances are only as good as the material written.

If there is a bright spot worth mentioning it is with the casting of Cranston and Mullally. Two actors undeniably good at physical comedy, they do as much as they can with poorly written, stock type roles. Cranston’s Ned, a middle-class small business owner from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is both envious and resentful of Laird, perhaps admiring the young man’s business savvy and regretting not being as successful. Barb is a one-note, ditzy yet lovable wife- a role made slightly better by Mullally’s goofy portrayal. In one of the best scenes, Barb smokes pot and becomes a disheveled mess in the bedroom. Ned, trapped on the toilet the next morning, has an embarrassing experience with Laird’s best friend, Gustav. These scenes, while juvenile, are made better because of the likes of the funny actors.

Suffering greatly from a tired and overused story-line that falls flat, unlikable and dull characters, the film offers nothing of substance or worth. Why Him? is entirely plot driven with no character development or well-written characters to speak of. The film is a complete waste of time, resulting from a studio hoping to achieve box office success by churning out a poor comedy with wasted talent that will please only those audiences not expecting much out of their films.

Lady Bird-2017

Lady Bird-2017

Director-Greta Gerwig

Starring-Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf

Scott’s Review #700

Reviewed November 28, 2017

Grade: A

Lady Bird is a 2017 independent film release and a wonderful effort by actor turned writer/director, Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut. No stranger to the indie syndicate herself. Gerwig puts her own unique stamp on the film with a rich, female centered perspective that works quite well and that is seeping with charm and wit. Worth noting is how the story is a semi-autobiography-one based on Gerwig’s own life and her stormy dealings with her own mother. The story is well-written, well-paced, and empathetic as the audience views a slice of life through the eyes of a restless yet kindly teenager on the cusp of womanhood.

Saoirse Ronan gives a bravura performance in the title role. Her given birth name being Christine, she defiantly changes it to Lady Bird, in a show of adolescent independence, and much to her parents, Marion and Larry’s (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts ) chagrin. Christine lives in suburban Sacramento, California, and yearns for a more exciting life in New York City, and far away from what she considers Dullsville, USA. Now in her senior year- attending a Catholic high school-Christine applies to college after college, hoping to escape her daily dilemmas. Christine’s best friend Julie and somewhat boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) are along for the ride. The time period is 2002- shortly after 9/11.

The brightest moments in Lady Bird are the scenes between Christine and her mother, which are plentiful. The chemistry between Ronan and Metcalf is wonderful and I truly buy them as a real mother/daughter duo, warts and all. They fight, make up, get on each others nerves, fight, cry, make up, etc. I especially love their knock down-drag-outs, as each actress stands her ground while allowing the other room to shine- feeding off of each other. My favorite Metcalf scene occurs while she is alone- having gotten into a tiff with Christine and giving her the silent treatment while Christine flies to New York, Marion reconsiders as she melts into a ball of tears while she drives away- regretting her decision and missing her daughter already. Metcalf fills the scene with emotional layers as she does not speak- we simply watch in awe as her facial expressions tell everything.

Comparably, Ronan- likely to receive her third Oscar nomination at the ripe old age of twenty three (Atonement and Brooklyn are the other nods), successfully gives a layered performance of a teenage girl struggling with her identity and restless to see different worlds and get out of what she sees as a bland city. Of Irish decent, Ronan is remarkable in her portrayal of a California girl- sometimes selfish, sometimes sarcastic, but always likable and empathetic.

In fact, the casting from top to bottom is wonderful as the supporting players lend added meat to the story. Christine’s best friend, Julie, played by young upstart Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister) is compelling as the lovable, chubby, and nerdy theater geek. Letts is perfect as Christine’s father, depressed at losing his job in the tough economy and having to compete with young talent as he sees his career slip away. Legendary actress, Lois Smith, adds heart to the role of Sister Sarah Joan- a by the book nun, who proves to be a cool, old chick. Finally, Hedges, seemingly in every film in 2016-2017, is emotionally resounding as Danny, the troubled boyfriend of Christine- struggling with his sexuality.

Gerwig simply does it all with this piece of film- she directs and writes, scripting both laugh out line moments and eliciting heartfelt emotion from her enchanted audience. A hilarious scene occurs as Christine attends a dreary class assembly- an anti-abortion themed one- by a woman who almost did not exist, but for her mother’s decision not to have an abortion. When a bored Christine icily points out that had the woman’s mother had the abortion, she would not be forced to sit through the assembly, it is a laugh out loud moment.

Lady Bird, thanks to a fantastic writer and director, and superlative casting, is a film that has it all- heart, emotion, humor, and great acting. The film is intelligently written and forces the audience to quite willingly embrace its characters. Gerwig carves a story, perhaps done many times before in film, but with a fresh and energetic feel to it.

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #697

Reviewed November 23, 2017

Grade: A

A film that became a sleeper hit at the time of release in 2006 and went on the achieve recognition with year end award honors galore, Little Miss Sunshine holds up quite well after over ten years since its debut. Combining family humor with heart, audiences will fall in love with the antics of the dysfunctional Hoover family, warts and all, as they strive to persevere endless obstacles to enable precocious, seven year old daughter, Olive, a chance at competing in a beauty pageant hundreds of miles away. The film is a comedic treat with charm and contains uproarious fun.

Directors  (and husband and wife team) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris start right to work kicking off the humor in style as the one hour and forty one minute film introduces depressed Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) to the rest of the Hoovers as he comes to live with the family after a failed suicide attempt. Frank, who is gay and has recently been dumped, is Sheryl Hoover’s (Toni Collette) brother, and has a dry sense of humor. He fits in well with the other peculiar members of the clan- Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), a struggling motivational speaker, Grandpa Edwin, a vulgar, irritable man, brother Dwayne, angry and refusing to speak, and finally, pudgy faced, Olive.

The brightest spots in Little Miss Sunshine are the exceptional writing and the nuanced, non one-dimensional characters. Each character is both good yet troubled in their own way and the overall message of the film is an important one. The plot of the film encompasses a beauty queen pageant and the lifestyle this involves- the hypocrisy and plastic nature is a main theme. When the family stops at a roadside cafe for breakfast, Olive hungrily orders ice-cream and is shamed by a member of the family- she must watch her figure, she is told. Other members instead encourage Olive to be herself. In this way, Little Miss Sunshine poses an interesting dissection of the pressures very young people face to be perfect, especially in the beauty pageant business, and the message society sends. Shocking is a scene where many of the contestants, all under the age of ten, appear in sexy, glamorous makeup, and bikinis.

Little Miss Sunshine is a very funny film and this undoubtedly is due to the chemistry that exists among the cast of talented actors. Quite the ensemble, all five of the principle characters has an interesting relationship with each other. Too many film comedies suffer immensely from forced jokes or typical “set-up” style humor, plot devices created to elicit a response from the audience- to which I call “dumbing down”. Little Miss Sunshine, however, feels authentic and fresh- a situation becomes funny because there is an honest reaction by the characters. The film is a slice of life experience of an average blue-collar family.

A standout scene to mention is the hysterical one in which the Hoovers are pulled over by a highway police officer. To say nothing of the fact that the Hoovers are “escorting” a corpse to their destination, along with pornographic magazines, their classic, beat-up, yellow Volkswagen bus barely runs and contains a malfunctioning horn that beeps at inopportune times. This hilarious scenes works on all levels as the comic timing is palpable and leads to a laugh out loud response.

Furthermore, the climactic “beauty pageant” scene is fraught with physical humor. Olive, clearly the oddball in a group of hypersexualized, young starlets, takes inspiration from her grandfather to simply “be herself”. She does so in a hilarious version of “Super Freak” that is clearly R-rated, both shocking the audience and celebrated by others- specifically her entire family. Olive successfully proves that she can be herself and happily do so.

How wonderful and refreshing to find a comedy with honest, ample humor and real integrity that is able to shine many years after its first release and retain the richness and zest that originally captured legions of viewers. As proven over time with many independent films, wonderful writing and directors sharing a vision, go a long way in achieving a quality piece of film making.

Other People-2016

Other People-2016

Director-Chris Kelly

Starring-Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon

Scott’s Review #676

Reviewed August 24, 2017

Grade: B+

2016’s recipient of numerous Independent Film award nominations is equal parts a touching drama and equal parts witty comedy, providing a film experience that successfully transcends more than one genre- is it a heavy drama or is it a comedic achievement? Without being sappy or overindulgent, Other People is a film that will elicit both laughs and tears from viewers fortunate enough to see this film focused on a tough to tackle subject- a woman dying of cancer. The title of the film, which one character states he always thought cancer was something that only happened to “other people” is poignant.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon play son and mother in the brave film both written and directed by Chris Kelly. The very first scene is a confusing one and caught me off guard- we see the entire Mulcahey clan- father Norman (Bradley Whitford), three kids, David (Plemons), Alex, and Rebeccah, along with their dead mother Joanne (Shannon), all lying in the same bed, sobbing and clutching hands. Clearly Joanne has just succumbed to her battle with cancer. This powerful opening scene, which ironically is also the final scene, sets the tone for the entire film as Kelly, works his way back, beginning a year prior to the important “death scene”.

Cancer is a very tough subject to cover in film, especially going the comedy/drama route. The sensitive film maker must be careful not to trivialize the subject matter with too many comedic elements nor go for the heavy drama. Kelly successfully mixes the humor and drama well so that the film works as a cross-genre film. He achieves this by putting capable talents like Plemons and Shannon to good use- they share tremendous chemistry in every scene they appear in together. Scenes that show David and Joanne cry in each others arms work as well as others, such as when David takes a giddy Joanne to meet his comedy friends.

Most impressive is that the story in Other People is largely autobiographical- Kelly, a gay man like the character of David, moved from New York City to Sacramento, California, to tend to his ailing mother, who had also died from cancer. Actress Shannon reminded him so much of her that he had the fortune of casting the talented lady in his film- the part originally slated to go to Sissy Spacek instead.

Mixed in with the Joanne’s battle with cancer is also a nice story about David. A gay man, David has broken up with his boyfriend Paul, previously living together on the east coast (though still pretending to in order to spare Joanne worry), to return to the west coast. Over the course of the next year we see Joanne and Norman slowly come to terms with David’s sexuality- more so Norman than Joanne. In fact, the turbulent father/son relationship is explored during the course of the film as Norman, initially hesitant to even meet David’s boyfriend, Paul, in the end, pays for his airline ticket to attend Joanne’s funeral.

A slight miss with the film is the Norman/David dynamic-besides a few hints of Norman encouraging David’s struggling writing career and his obsession with David joining the gym and boxing, it is not really clear what issue he takes with his son being gay or why he is uncomfortable with it- other than the implication that the family is rather conservative no other reason is given. David’s sister’s and grandparents do not seem to take issue with David’s sexuality, though it is not made certain if the grandparents are even aware of it. Is it a machismo thing with Norman? This part of the story is unclear.

Still, in the end, Other People is a good, small, indie film, rich with crisp, sharp writing and a tragic “year in the life of a cancer patient” along with good family drama and the relationships that abound when a family comes together and unites based on a health threat. The film is certainly nothing that has not been done before, but thanks to good direction and a thoughtful, nuanced, approach, along with one character’s sexuality mixed in, the film feels quite fresh.

White Chicks-2004

White Chicks-2004

Director-Keenen Ivory Wayans

Starring-Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans

Scott’s Review #647

Reviewed May 29, 2017

Grade: D

Anything but high art, though at the time of release (2004), seeming like a clever, yet silly, slapstick farce, White Chicks was a film that I found rather enjoyable. Watching the film in 2017, some thirteen years later, however, the film feels dated beyond belief and as dumb as can be. The film also contains Paris Hilton gimmick characters and racial overtones that were lost on me when I first saw the film.

Clearly influenced by the drag comedy (and classic) from 1959, Some Like It Hot, the premise sounds interesting and comical. Kevin and Marcus Copeland (played by the comical Wayans brothers) are a pair of black,  masculine, F.B.I. agents who bungle an undercover investigation and are given one last chance to redeem themselves before being booted from the bureau for good. They are assigned the task of protecting the mega-rich cruse-line heiresses Brittany and Tiffany Wilson, who are in town (at the Hamptons) from a planned kidnapping plot over Labor day weekend. Kevin and Marcus don blonde wigs, freakish makeup, and awkwardly pose as the Wilson sisters in order to save their jobs.

As the story goes on, Kevin and Marcus (as Brittany and Tiffany) develop relationships with various characters including millionaire Latrell Spencer (Terry Crews), who takes an interest in Marcus (thinking he is Tiffany, and white). Other antics occur as the “girls” try their best to formulate friendships with the heiresses snotty friends as they attempt to foil the kidnapping plot.

Similarities to the classic Wilder hit, Some Like It Hot, are tough not to notice, and director, Keenen Ivory Wayans, is smart to borrow from a film considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. Just as Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) go on the lam to escape mafia figures out of desperation, Kevin and Marcus are desperate to keep their jobs, causing both sets of “impersonators”, to suffer from dire circumstances. Also worth mentioning are similar conclusions in both films as love interest Osgood Fielding III, also a millionaire, as is Spencer in White Chicks, each are not phased by the “big reveal” as the men are de-masked as actually being males.

Clever in 2004, the incorporation of celebrity Paris Hilton, in 2017 now all but faded, seems dated and of the past. In real life being a hotel heiress, characters Brittany and Tiffany (cruise line heiresses) clearly mirror Hilton as spoiled, self centered, and oblivious to everyone around her. The aspect was a good idea at the time of the films release, but now is irrelevant, not even as a nostalgia gag- perhaps in the year 2037 White Chicks might be appreciated more, but I would not hold my breathe.

The overall tone of White Chicks is also fraught with silliness and with one gag after another. Rather than being believable as females, the Wayans brothers look downright frightening and robotic as Brittany and Tiffany. Certainly in comedies suspension of disbelief is required, but the producers should have done a bit more to feminize the characters instead of playing them as goofs.

The ending of the film is no frills and formulaic with no real twist or surprise ending to speak of. The ridiculous misunderstandings with Kevin and Marcus’s real significant others, foolishly believing the men are having affairs with other women seem forced and amateurish. Predictably, when the men profess their love for the girls in earnest fashion, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker and the film wraps in disappointing, standard fashion.

Cute and fresh feeling at the time, White Chicks now feels stale and tired with racial overtones, deemed amusing back in the day, but now seeming mean-spirited and unnecessary. The film is an attempt at recreating a classic comedy for a younger audience, but I would recommend seeing the original Some Like It Hot instead- it is much more enjoyable.

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #635

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

One thing is certain about the puzzling 2016 film, The Lobster- it is a film worthy of discussion long after the end credits roll and will leave the viewer pondering many facets of the film- a great film to dissect, if you will. This in itself is worth recognition and praise to the power of the film- so many questions abound. I was immediately struck by how heavily The Lobster contains major subject matter influences from “message novels” (and films) such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, as well as creative, stylistic recent film influences from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

The story begins somewhere outside of Dublin, where David (Colin Farrell) has recently been dumped by his wife in favor of another man. Now single, he is whisked away by authorities to a luxurious hotel in the woods, where he (and the other guests) are given forty five days to find a suitable romantic partner, or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David is accompanied by his brother, now a dog, and has decided, should he be turned, that he will become a lobster because he loves the sea and they tend to live to be over one hundred years old.

The hotel management adheres to strict rules- no masturbation, mandatory temptations by hotel employees, and a strange outdoor hunting game where the guests hunt other guests to win extra days extended to their stays. As David befriends fellow hotel guests, he is conflicted and desperate to find a mate. Events take a surprising turn when circumstances allow the rules to change for him and he becomes involved with a short-sighted woman (Weisz).

The plot of the film is strange beyond belief, yet also incredibly creative and thought provoking. The subject matter is pure dystopian- a facility, presumably controlled by the government, with a rebel group intent on ruining the “status quo”. Mixed in with all of this suddenly appears an odd little secret romance between David and Shortsighted Woman that begins only during the final act of the film.

One aspect to the film that I found interesting was the odd monotone dialogue that the characters used- almost matter-of-fact in whatever they were saying, even while expressing anger. This peculiarity perplexed me, but the more I think about it, the more this decision makes the film dark humored and dry with wry wit.

Another interesting nuance to the film are the multitude of quirky characters, many of whom are mainly referred to by their nicknames. Lisping Man, Limping Man, and Nosebleed Woman to name a few. And what viewer would not spend the duration of the film imagining which animal he or she would desire to be turned into and why?

My favorite aspect of the film is the offbeat performance by Colin Farrell- typically a rugged, sex symbol, he goes against the grain and plays a pudgy, socially awkward, insecure man, but all the while instilling the character with enough warmth and likability to make the character work- and his chemistry with Rachel Weisz is fantastic. This turns the strange dark comedy into a strange romantic drama.

A beautiful forest becomes the backdrop for a large part of the film as does the city of Dublin itself, contrasting the film in nuanced ways. Combined with the lavish hotel, the film achieves several different settings for the action, each meaningful in its own right.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion of the film- the final scene in particular- is positively gruesome in what goes through the viewers mind, and the resolution is left very unclear. Does David do it or doesn’t he? Clearly, much of the film is open to one’s interpretation and imagination.

Black humor and cynicism are major components of The Lobster, which is a thinking man’s movie. In fact, I continue to think of this film as I write this review. The film flairs with originality and thought and this is a great positive. Confusing and mind blowing? For sure. A run of the mill film? Absolutely not. The Lobster is a film that gives no answers and is not an easy watch, but an achievement in film creativity- something sorely needed.

Sleeper-1973

Sleeper-1973

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Scott’s Review #631

Reviewed April 5, 2017

Grade: B

One of the earliest of Woody Allen’s enormous list of film’s that he both directed and starred in, 1973’s Sleeper is a comedic, science-fiction film, and a blueprint for future Allen masterpieces, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. While this film has it’s moments of intelligence and clever dialogue, it too often teeters into straight up slapstick and silliness to be held in the same esteem as the aforementioned richer films. Rather it is a juvenile effort as compared to masterpieces to follow, but admittedly with some laughs and creative moments. Sleeper is the first of several to pair Allen with longtime co-star, Diane Keaton.

Allen portrays Miles Monroe, a nerdy jazz musician and owner of the “Happy Carrot” health-food store in Greenwich Village, New York City sometime in the then present time of the 1970’s. In the hospital for a routine surgery, he is cryogenically frozen for two-hundred years, waking up in an otherworldly police state and frazzled beyond belief. The scientist’s who revive him are part of a rebellion and beg Miles to assist them as they are taken into police custody, pleading with him to search for a secret plan known only as the “Aries Project”. Miles then poses as a robotic butler and goes to work for Luna (Keaton), a spoiled, bitchy, socialite. The duo ultimately bond together and spend the rest of the film outrunning and outsmarting their pursuers.

Sleeper succeeds as a novel story, one filled with unique and interesting gadgets from a futuristic world, with clever, witty, crisp dialogue and odes to the past world, now deemed irrelevant. Amusing are scenes when scientists explain that natural foods and products, at one time thought to be healthy and natural, are actually not so much. This makes the world that Miles is used to seem silly and superfluous in their minds.

I also enjoyed the physical humor that the film contains, as when Miles (as his robotic persona) serves dinner to a sophisticated group of Luna’s friends, accidentally destroying their expensive outerwear in a garbage incinerator as well as botching dinner. As all of the attendees are high on hallucinogenic drugs (including Miles), they fail to realize that he is a human being- they dance with glee and stumble around in a haze, largely unaware of their surroundings. This is one of the best scenes in the film.

The plot itself is fairly predictable though and almost forced. Certainly, as Miles and Luna are the couple we root for in the film, the introduction of handsome rebel leader, Erno Windt (John Beck) doesn’t stand a chance and is somewhat of a foil for Miles and Luna. Much of the time, the pair are on the run and sparring with each other. The actors involved have wonderful chemistry with each other, but the central story is not the strongest suit- rather, the weird and unique gadgets and intricacies of the film, are.

Albeit, an introduction for anyone intrigued by the comic genius that is Woody Allen, other polished Allen gems are a better start than this early offering, but that is not to say Sleeper is not a good, entertaining film, with imagination, merely that it lacks all of the elements to rank it among other Woody Allen greats.

BearCity-2010

BearCity-2010

Director-Douglas Langway

Starring-Joe Conti, Stephen Guarino

Scott’s Review #626

Reviewed March 19, 2017

Grade: B

BearCity is a small, independent, LGBT, coming of age film that tells of a young man living in New York City, and his exploration of a sub-culture within the LGBT community and a subsequent romance that follows. The film is a comedy and has a “Sex in the City” or “Queer as Folk” approach to its storytelling- a group of close knit friends and  raunchy and gratuitous to be sure. The budget is very small and some aspects rather amateurish, but the film is enjoyable, especially for those exposed to the LGBT lifestyle. The film is not a heavy nor are any of the characters dealing with “coming out” issues, but rather it is a fun sex comedy romp.

Our central character, Tyler (Joe Conti), is a young man in his twenties, an aspiring actor, who moves to New York City to pursue his career, with a mind for casual dating. His roommates encourage him to date Abercrombie and Fitch types, but Tyler comes to realize he prefers “bear” types- mature, hairy men. On the sly he begins to pursue this sub-culture and makes many friends. The apple of his eye, handsome Roger (Gerald McCullough) is a popular mature man, distinguished in the bear circle, and risks his reputation with “the bears” by falling in love with Tyler. The two men spend the greater part of the film conquering their respective fears and finding their way into each others arms in a predictable ending.

BearCity is a fun farce and nothing very heavy and the featuring of a strong circle of friends is a nice, positive portrayal- all of the friends connect well and stick by each other through thick and thin. Comical sub-plots abound such as one couples (Brent and Fred) awkward parlay into the world of threesomes with unsuccessful results. Another bear who is unemployed, and grossly obese, decides to undergo weight loss surgery much to the chagrin of his hunky boyfriend.

The main story though, belongs to Tyler and Roger and their inevitable reunion can be seen miles away. The film throws various hurdles in their way, such as a third person briefly dating Roger, or Roger’s commitment issues, but the climax of the film will be no surprise to anyone. Tyler and Roger make a nice couple as a whole, but perplexing is how the film makes Roger the undisputed leader of the bear group, when he is actually a lean, muscular man- not a “bear” at all! This is odd to me, but BearCity is so light hearted that I suppose I can let this detail slide in favor of a good romance.

Critically, the film is nice, but quite amateurish, and super low-budget. The acting, especially by some of the supporting characters (the pre-surgery guys boyfriend is the most glaring example), is not great. I half-expected him to accidentally look at the camera. Additionally, the film has a low-budget look and feel, which on one level is fine, but combined with the not so stellar acting, enhances the inexperience of the cast and crew. The film is tough to take too seriously- if this is even the intention of the filmmakers.

The film is a logistical treat for anyone privy to popular gay hangouts in New York City- specifically The Eagle and The Ramrod, both locales are featured prominently, and the use of many real-life people who hang out at those establishments are used throughout the production.

BearCity is not a bad experience and certainly a film that is light and comical within the LGBT community seems rather fresh compared to the myriad of dramatic and heavy films that exist. At the same time the film teeters towards goofy too much with more than one bafoonish, sex-crazed, stereotypical gay man, that it almost gives a bad impression, so the film has mixed results for me.

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Player ranks up there with other Robert Altman classics such as Gosford Park, Network, and Short Cuts. The film is an excellent piece of Hollywood satire and centers around a jaded movie executive, played by Tim Robbins, who does an incredible job with his role.

Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a man with no scruples. Feeling usurped by a younger executive, played by Peter Gallagher, as well as receiving death threats, he goes on the hunt for the person he feels responsible, which leads to murder.

The audience is unsure whether to love or hate Mill, thanks to Robbins performance. He is snarky, but also vulnerable and a tad sympathetic.

The film contains a slew of real Hollywood celebrities (Cher, Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Willis) playing themselves and is largely improvised (as many of Altman’s films are). Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett star as odd police detectives.

The plot is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s the realness and the direction that make this movie a must see, especially for Robert Altman fans. A hidden gem.

Tropic Thunder-2008

Tropic Thunder-2008

Director-Ben Stiller

Starring-Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr.

Scott’s Review #593

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: D-

Tropic Thunder was a ridiculous film that I found to be harsh, tedious, and very loud.Attempting to be a satire of sorts, it fails on almost every level. The main issue was with the characters, who are abrasive and unlikable. The only redeeming qualities are Robert Downey Jr.’s and Tom Cruises portrayals, though they both play idiotic characters.

The plot is something of an ode to 1979’s Apocalypse Now, in that it the plot throws back to the Vietnam war. A group of narcissistic actors are filming a Vietnam memoir on location in the jungles of Southeast Asia, when they are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves amid a group of drug lords.

The films attempt at humor fell flat for me. It just seemed like a group of crazed guys running around the jungle acting wild and the film held little point for me. Cruise’s part was interesting, but way too small.

Directed by, and starring Ben Stiller, who should stick to acting (if that). How Downey, Jr. scored an Oscar nomination for this drivel is beyond me- despite his acting being one of the better efforts in the film.

The Hangover-2009

The Hangover-2009

Director-Todd Phillips

Starring-Bradley Cooper. Ed Helms

Scott’s Review #590

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: B+

It was not my idea to see this particular film- the raunchy, mindless “guy” films have always seemed lackluster and cheesy to me, but I confess to finding The Hangover, a novel and entertaining, summer blockbuster film. I did not expect much from this film, but instead found it comical and fun. Certainly, it has the “dumb frat boy/jock” shenanigans, and not much thought is needed, but it is good old boy entertainment.

Similar to the American Pie films of the 1990’s in which a group of guys find themselves mixed up in amusing, and sometimes humiliating situations, after a night of boozing, The Hangover has a likable cast led by, then up and coming star Bradley Cooper. What sets The Hangover apart is the great chemistry among the cast (Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis, specifically) that other flaws or generic writing, can be overlooked or forgotten altogether. The group goes from one hysterical situation after another.

Set in Las Vegas (a great decision), three men awake to find the groom to be missing after a night of debauchery- they are there to celebrate via a wild bachelor party. In their hotel room is a tiger and a six month old baby. From this point, the film goes back to the arrival of the gang and the events that transpired leading up to the hotel room acquisitions. This is fun and keeps the audience engaged in the hi-jinks.

The Hangover was followed by the inevitable two sequels, neither of which was as good or as successful at the box office to the surprise of nobody except maybe movie studio executives.

Julie & Julia-2009

Julie & Julia-2009

Director-Nora Ephron

Starring-Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Scott’s Review #588

Reviewed September 4, 2009

Grade: A-

Julie & Julia is a darling film about cooking and centering on the legendary chef Julia Child. It is for the foodie or culinary geek in all of us. The film is lighthearted and will ruffle no feathers, but a delicious, well told treat.

The film tells of the life of Julia Child, at one time an aspiring chef, contrasted with the life of a young New Yorker, blogger Julie Powell, who is determined to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, within a one year period.

The film, of course, would not be half as good without the amazing talents of Meryl Streep, who portrays Julia Child herself. All of Julia Child’s personality characteristics are portrayed exceptionally well by Streep. Her laugh, her voice, her zest for life, are all perfect. Of course, since Streep is not nearly as tall a woman as Child was, liberties had to be taken by way of camera trickery.

Regardless of Streep’s performance, and props for a nice performance by Adams as well. Julie & Julia is a cute, charming, light, fun movie. I thoroughly recommend it.

Zombieland-2009

Zombieland-2009

Director-Ruben Fleischer

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson

Scott’s Review #586

Reviewed January 6, 2017

Grade: B

Zombieland is a fun, entertaining, popcorn-style flick. The film is not designed to be taken very seriously given the subject matter of zombies- nor should it. Rather, the film goes over the top frequently to elicit a good time and plays for laughs. Sometimes it is successful, adding dark comedy to the story, other times the film comes across as silly.

The story takes place during a time when zombies have overtaken the world, and humans are left to fend for themselves and survive. The film is actually a more cartoon version of the popular television series, The Walking Dead, despite pre-dating it. It lacks the heavy drama of the series.

Still, for 2009, the film is a novel idea and the movie works more often than not. Woody Harrelson is amusing and charismatic. Jesse Eisenberg is falling into the Ben Stiller and Will Farrell trap of playing the same character over and over again, and I am personally a big fan of Abigail Breslin and she does not disappoint in this film.

Zombieland will likely only be remembered as a fun midnight, Saturday night fluff film.

Everybody Wants Some!!-2016

Everybody Wants Some!!-2016

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch

Scott’s Review #585

Reviewed January 5, 2017

Grade: A-

A follow-up to the successful 2014 film Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!! is another slice of life story with interesting characters, trials and tribulations, and a coming of age theme centering around the main characters struggles to identify with themselves and each other. Like Boyhood, a time-line is used, but instead of taking place over the span of seventeen or so years, it takes place over the course a long weekend preceding the start of the college semester- a blissful, yet melancholy time for many.

The setting is steamy Texas in the late summer of 1980. A few freshman baseball prospects, superstar athletes in high school,but unknown here, move into a large house inhabited by other baseball players all hoping to make it to the majors. The college is fictional, but is a Southeast Texas Cherokees team. The main character, freshman Jake, arrives to find a bevy of drunken jocks carousing for a good time. He bonds with the other guys, but is more introspective and complex, and embarks on a flirtation with a theater student, Beverly, while also connecting with various other jocks whom he lives with.

The film is successful in that it is a quiet story, Linklater, similar to Boyhood, choosing to focus on relationships and good storytelling rather than big bombastic moments or cliched stereotypes. We simply observe a large group of acquaintances living life and getting to know each other, having fun, rather than taking life too seriously. At the same time worrying over their futures and choosing to live for the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring- they are stuck in a moment in time.

The musical soundtrack is wonderful- interspersing 1980’s bands like Van Halen (known for the title song), Pat Benatar, Devo, and a myriad of others, while mixing in classics artists like Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. The film focuses on a bonanza of rock n roll history.

Everybody Wants Some!! is well written and intelligent. Fellow intellectual jock, Willoughby, neither he nor Jake quite fitting in with the other, loud and self-centered jocks, forge a close friendship, discussing intricate aspects of rock songs by Led Zeppelin, and dissecting the arrangements and simply talking about life, rather then guzzling beer and chasing girls. Ironically, Linklater chooses to have Willoughby diss Van Halen as a corporate rock band, despite branding the title name of the film.

One may argue that nothing really happens throughout the film, but that is the beauty, and what makes it work as an honest, truthful piece of film making. How novel that the film does not contain any contrived plot devices intended to create tension between the characters- the film simply is, and that is the beauty of it. Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to be observed.

The romance between Jake and Beverly is sweet and unassuming. They come from different backgrounds- he a jock, she a theater major, yet they connect innocently. The film displays different social groups coming together- a major accomplishment of the film. We witness the jocks attend a theater style party and enjoy themselves. The film successfully merges differing social groups together as one, but the key here is that the film never does this in a contrived manner- it simply happens organically.

Some complain of the age of some of the actors- many considerably older than teenage years- donning wigs, but that did not bother me. In fact, I enjoyed the maturity of the seasoned actors in these roles.

Linklater is a modern director daring to tell interesting stories about ordinary individuals who the audience can immediately identify with and that is what makes him a worthy talent of today.

A Serious Man-2009

A Serious Man-2009

Director-Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring-Michael Stuhlbarg

Scott’s Review #582

Reviewed January 4, 2017

Grade: B

A Serious Man is a quirky, odd film that is definitely a character study. Directed by the Coen brothers who typically have an offbeat style to their films (No Country For Old Men and Fargo spring to mind), A Serious Man is no different, offering wonderful, richly written supporting characters.

The film, however, lacks the violence of other Coen Brothers films, instead, adding more humorous situations and an overall comical premise. It tells the story of a Jewish Professor, Larry Gopnik, living in the 1960’s, who has a string of bad luck. People close to Larry begin to drop dead all around him and he seems cursed with a string of bad luck. The film centers around how he deals with crisis after crisis.

The first half of the film admittedly drags a bit, but the second part really picks up nicely. The plot suddenly comes to a head rather quickly. To stress, A Serious Man is a witty, dark comedy, so many of the dialogue is either tongue in cheek or dry in nature.

The rabbis that Larry meets, combined with his son Danny and wife Judith are very funny and well carved out characters, many certain “types”. The character of Larry also contained elements of the Larry David character on TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Also, for those cinema lovers who pay close attention to or have an appreciation for good set design, the film captures 1960’s style (dress, furniture, cars), perfectly.

A Wedding-1978

A Wedding-1978

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley

Scott’s Review #539

Reviewed December 17, 2016

Grade: A

A Wedding is an obscure, brilliant gem penned and directed by Robert Altman- a film genius in my opinion and one of my most adored directors. I love most of his movies and A Wedding is no exception. The creative way that Altman weaves intersecting story-lines and dialogue, thereby creating a real-life tone, gives immense realism to his films.

In A Wedding, he takes a basic life event, and turns it into a well nuanced, fascinating, comical, yet dramatic story. He is known for having enormous casts (in A Wedding it is forty eight principles), but every character serves a purpose. The viewer will feel that they are a fly on the wall of a real wedding.  Altman’s actors primarily improvise the dialogue, speaking at the same time, bringing a reaistic edge. I adore this quality.

The film is a satire- people either love or loath attending weddings and Altman’s film caters to the latter. He creates a setting, from the ceremony, to the reception, riddled with awkward moments, and social guffaws.

In pure satirical, soap opera fashion, two wealthy families gather at a lavish estate for the ceremony to commence. Hilarity ensues when the dead corpse of the matriarch of one family lies in her bed, nobody realizing she is actually dead. Other hi-jinks, such as the revelation of a nude, life-size portrait of the bride, the caterer falling ill, and a tornado wreaking havoc.

Slowly, secrets are revealed by the families, as the alcohol flows and the characters become involved in the perilous situations. Altman does it again as he creates a masterpiece based on a real-life situations that most can relate to.