Tag Archives: Comedy films

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Peter Sellers, George C. Scott

Scott’s Review #958

Reviewed November 13, 2019

Grade: A

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War and fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film, timely in the 1960’s, is as relevant decades later amid the chaos that ensued during the 2016 United States Presidential election, and the tumultuous years to follow. The film is powerful, brave, and important.

The story centers around an unhinged United States Air Force general (Sterling Hayden) who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The plot then follows the President of the United States, (Peter Sellers), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. The film also follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was fresh in viewers minds when this film was released, and President John F. Kennedy was recently assassinated. The United States and the Soviet Union were hardly best buddies. The film was a robust offering not just for the timing but also because political satire in film was fresh. Unintentionally clever is the ironic controversy that exists between the two leaders of the nation’s nearly sixty years after the film was released.

The acting is great. Peter Sellers plays three prominent roles, and each is quite different from the others. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer, President Merkin Muffley (what a name!) , the President of the United States, and Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-using nuclear war expert and former Nazi. Each glistens with goodness as the actor chomps at the bit, making them precise and unique, careful never to stray too far overboard into ridiculousness.

Director Stanley Kubrick wisely chooses black and white cinematography with stellar results and prominent film making techniques. The film, creative and progressive as many 1960’s films started to become as the decade blossomed, feels like it could have been made in the 1940’s. Kubrick, well known for masterpieces such as The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) delivers perhaps his oddest film in his catalog with Dr. Strangelove.

The story does not feel dated and the dialogue remains crisp and razor-sharp in its delivery and meaning. With fast dialogue delivery and a monotone vocal style, the film is entertaining and humorous, not taking itself too seriously, yet offering a poignant and important idea come to life. The film keeps gnawing at the viewers that as far-fetched as events seem, the possibility they could become real is more than a bit scary.

Who can possibly forget the final sequence of the looming nightmare of the mushroom clouds, set to Vera Lynn’s hopeful We’ll Meet Again?  Since the film has hints of 1940’s cinema style, the rude awakening that the 1960’s produced in terms of nuclear weapons and insecurity, hits home in this sequence.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) is pure satire but frightening in its realism and the uncertainty that one crazy leader could lead an entire nation to detrimental results. The film highly influenced later satires and unique styles in film making- Wes Anderson creations immediately spring to mind. One can ruminate in the differing possibilities the film offers- in a way the absurdity of the situation, and the unthinkable way the situation could easily become reality.

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Director-Taika Waititi

Starring-Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #955

Reviewed November 6, 2019

Grade: A

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is quite simply put, a satire. This type of film, and this style of film making, is not intended for all pallets. The subject of Nazis and Adolf Hitler will hit too close to home for some viewers, especially considering this film is being classified as a comedy, albeit a dark one. With this risk in mind, the film has a fabulous message, is quirky, well-acted, and a marvelous piece of work. But it is a gradual, acquired taste, and not everyone will leave theaters feeling satisfied. I sure did.

Director, Taika Waititi, a Jewish man, is careful to toe the line with his story, teetering close to the edge, but never going too far overboard. He is careful not to offend those who may have close ties to World War II, the horrific events that took place, or disrespect the scars that remain. Rather, he teaches a lesson of acceptance, humanity, and pathos. A laugh one moment leads to tragedy and tears the next, making Jojo Rabbit quite the robust emotional experience.

The time is the 1940’s, the setting Germany, as Roman Griffin Davis portrays the title character, a Hitler Youth who finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa, (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Energetic and excitable, he joins a training camp where he is unable to kill a defenseless rabbit, hence given his new nickname. Jojo slowly comes to question his beliefs, while dealing with the intervention of his imaginary friend, an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). He eventually forges a close bond with Elsa.

As the film kicks off it immediately reminds me of a Wes Anderson style of storytelling. Think The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) or Moonrise Kingdom (2012). With quick editing and fast monotone dialogue the characters initially appear silly and trite, with witty responses to weird situations. As the relationships deepen the audience comes to fall in love with them. Davis is a wonderful child actor and the heart of the film.

Johansson’s Rosie, the mother, is secretly anti-Nazi. She’s got flair, pizzazz, and a good pair of shoes. She states that to dance is to be alive, words of wisdom she provides to Jojo. They come upon a few dangling bodies perched in the center of town for all to see. They have been caught aiding Jewish people and are a deathly symbol to present. Rosie tells Jojo not to look away for these people did what little they could do. This scene is a poignant one.

Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a Nazi captain who runs the youth camp, initially seems to be a buffoon, and a one-note character. He deepens as not just his patriotism, but his sexuality is called into question. The LGBTQ angle is implied, but only skirted over so that the point is vague and mysterious. The Captain stands very close by his second-in-command, Finkel, and a scene at the pool will make many wonder the true relationship between the men.

Finally, Yorki, Jojo’s best friend, is just adorable, providing a sweetness and genuine quality that is undeniably benevolent. McKenzie, as the frightened yet strong Elsa, is courageous to a fault. Stubborn and tough, she softens to Jojo as they get to know each other. Her mysterious boyfriend, Nathan, never seen on-screen, plays a prominent role and is a key to the relationship between she and Jojo. The characters are an integral part of the film.

Made in 2019, a volatile time on planet earth, and especially in the United States, the film breathes fresh air into the world of inclusion and acceptance. Much of this is slowly revealed as events transpire to a crescendo. As the war ends, several lives are forever changed, some good, others tragic, but each connected to the others, enriching their respective lives. Waititi celebrates the gift, joys and heartbreaks of life.

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is a film that makes the viewer think and challenges him or her to soak in innocence and evil. Despite the subject matter, the film is not cold or harsh, nor does it disrespect history. Incorporated are death and tragedy mixed with learning and strong relationships. The film is a great experience and an important find among many routine and mainstream projects. Jojo Rabbit perks up cinema, and hopefully the viewer, with a beautiful message.

Yesterday-2019

Yesterday-2019

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Himesh Patel, Lilly James

Scott’s Review #952

Reviewed October 29, 2019

Grade: B-

Yesterday (2019) is a film that is silly but sentimental, oozing with a nice quality that becomes tiresome towards the conclusion. For those seeking a safe experience the film will be deemed as wonderful, but for those with an appetite for left of center grit, the film will only marginally entertain. It’s safe. Director, Danny Boyle (2008’s Slumdog Millionaire) again chooses a charismatic British-Indian actor, Himesh Patel, in the starring role, in a film any fan of the rock band The Beatles should see.

Jack Malick (Patel) is a struggling musician who resides in Lowestoft, England, a suburb of London. Unsuccessful, he is nonetheless encouraged by his manager and childhood friend, Ellie (Lilly James), to reach for the stars and never give up his dreams of achieving success. One day he is hit by a bus during a global blackout and is hospitalized with a head injury and missing teeth. When he performs the Beatles song “Yesterday” for his friends they are blown away by its genius. Jack realizes that the entire world has never heard of the legendary band and capitalizes on the stroke of luck, becoming a rock n roll superstar.

The massive song catalog of the Beatles featured in Yesterday is the best part of the film. The pleasure is in wondering which songs will appear next and in what context. Jack awkwardly “debuts” the song “Let it Be” to his parents, who continuously botch the name of the song, only showing mild interest. Next, Jack furiously attempts to remember the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby”, a difficult song lyrically. Other gorgeous classics featured are “The Long and Winding Road”, “Here Comes the Sun”, and “Something”.

A sentimental nod, and appearance of a John Lennon figure is a nice touch and a worthy dedication to the deceased legend. The key here is wondering what would have become of the assassinated star had he not been famous. The film approaches this when revealing that Lennon would today be an old man- Lennon tells Jack in a sentimental scene that he has lived happily with his wife by his side. If only this had been the case.

Patel is charming and a character to root for. As the butt of jokes made by his friends, who truly adore him, he is neither the handsome lead nor the wimpy co-star, more of a hybrid of the two. We want him to achieve musical success because he is a nice guy but are glad when he finally fesses to the phony plot, as predictable as that point is to the film. Patel’s best scenes occur on-stage when he either rocks out to the guitar or adorns us with a piano ballad.

Other than the above notes, Yesterday is only mildly entertaining mixing a musical with a romantic story that does not work. If the audience is expected to root for Jack and Ellie to get together then the idea falls flat. The pair have no chemistry nor is Ellie even remotely written as being the type who will live the rock n roll lifestyle or want to. She is an elementary school teacher and asks Jack to give up his dream and lead a simple life in the suburbs. Who would do that?

Yesterday is riddled with stock characters, some of whom may or may not exist in real-life. As much as I love actress/comedian Kate McKinnon, her overbearing character of Debra Hammer doesn’t showcase her best work. Driven and cold, the character is played for laughs with her over-the-top behavior, but it feels too much like a part written to showcase McKinnon. Jack’s parents are cliche-filled characters doting around with confused expressions and seeming to be overwhelmed by all events.

A musical film that cringes with a safe and saccharin feel saved only slightly by the bevy of mostly 1960’s hits by the Beatles, some of which lyrically are dissected and showcased. Yesterday (2019) includes pop star Ed Sheeran, who cannot act, and does nothing for the film. Way too polished and superfluous for its own good, Boyle, a worthy director, should have added some edginess rather than going for safe pop. Thank goodness the film is about the Beatles rather than the Backstreet Boys.

Eighth Grade-2018

Eighth Grade-2018

Director-Bo Burnham

Starring-Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Scott’s Review #935

Reviewed August 27, 2018

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

With Six You Get Eggroll-1968

Director-Howard Morris

Starring-Doris Day, Brian Keith

Scott’s Review #931

Reviewed August 15, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Disturb-1965

Do Not Disturb-1965

Director-Ralph Levy

Starring-Doris Day, Rod Taylor

Scott’s Review #917

Reviewed July 8, 2019

Grade: C+

Singer and actress Doris Day, in large part, put her stamp on the romantic comedy genre, such that it was, during the 1960’s becoming synonymous with wholesome film characters with spunk and charm but always wearing sensible shoes. Do Not Disturb (1965) is a lightweight, forgettable work that offers a silly premise and a juvenile script with meandering plot thrown in for good measure. The film is saved somewhat by the interesting locales of London and Kent England, but for those seeking better quality ought to seek out the gems The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) or Pillow Talk (1959).

Day and Rod Taylor star as Janet and Mike Harper, an American couple who relocate to England as part of a transfer for the company he works for. They immediately disagree over where to live; Mike prefers the excitement of London, but Janet favors the rustic quality of Kent. After she gets them a house thirty miles outside of London, the plan backfires when the couple grow further apart due to Mike’s need to commute to London every day. Lonesome and isolated, Janet worries incessantly that Mike is having an affair with his new secretary, Claire Hackett (Maureen McGiveney).

Prompted by her busybody landlord, Vanessa Courtwright (Hermione Baddeley), Janet meets an Italian antiques dealer, Paul Bellari (Sergio Fantoni), who she hires to redecorate her house. With Mike spending more time with Claire and Janet and Paul in equally close quarters, the hi-jinks begin. Janet and Mike may be innocent, but Paul and Claire could have designs on their potential mates especially as the foursome begin to face one compromising situation after another.

The heart of an authentic romantic comedy is good, old-fashioned chemistry between the leads and Taylor and Day exhibit adequate sparkle but hardly sizzle. Mediocrity in the setup and writing can be forgiven if other elements like crackling moments exist, but those are scarcities in Do Not Disturb. Some Like it Hot (1959) embodies a great comedy with romantic wrappings featuring fantastic leads Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, but the former does not come anywhere close to finding its footing amid cliche after cliche.

To further on the above note, the film is plot driven and heavy on story-dictated situations rather than on character development, and the ending is predictable. With most of the jokes either falling completely flat or feeling distinctly canned and cheap the laughs never catch on. During a tepid sequence, Janet and Paul go to a remote town to check out antiques where she winds up drinking too much bubbly, becoming drunk and foolhardy. In what should have been the comic high point of the film instead does very little to further the plot or flesh out the characters.

Director, Ralph Levy makes little effort to steer the film anywhere other than a slick mainstream “affair” despite the release year being 1965 when more edgy works were replacing the polished and the tried and true. Rather than dare to go to a less than cheery place and perhaps decide to have Janet or Mike cheat on their significant others, Levy chooses not to go there instead attempting to satisfy those seeking a happily-ever-after wrapping.

Not to be over-saturated with negativity, Do Not Disturb features wonderful and stunning locale sequences of bustling metropolitan London and quaint English cottages and wilderness, oozing with as much culture and sophistication as down-home comforts and rich flavor. The combination of an American couple thrust into a different setting with a new set of rules and regulations to follow makes the film fun in this regard and offers a sprinkle of good scenery.

Do Not Disturb (1965) is a mid-1960’s mainstream release buried among nests of other similar themed but better written films. Even appealing and bankable stars of the time like Taylor and Day could not succeed in spicing up tired gimmicks and plot devices. The film will forever be relegated to the romantic comedy shelves teetering on the brink of obscurity.

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh Lucy!-2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Japanese culture meets American culture is the underlying component of Oh Lucy! (2017), an interesting dark comedy and the feature film debut from female director Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film was once a short but progressed into a full-length project, deservedly receiving Film Independent nominations for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature. The co-settings of Tokyo and Los Angeles and the tremendous performance by star Shinobu Terajima make this a worthy watch.

Middle-aged Setsuko (Terajima) lives an unfulfilled daily existence in Tokyo, working a drab office job and living in a cluttered one- bedroom apartment riddled with comforting junk. She wears a protective mouth cover, common in her city, to avoid breathing in bad air, but also chain smokes. She is unpopular at work and wishes to date more but is unlucky in love. One day she is convinced by her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) to take English lessons and falls for her handsome instructor John (Josh Hartnett), who nicknames her “Lucy” making her don a blonde wig and talk “American”. A fellow classmate, “Tom” (Koji Yakusho) seems interested in “Lucy”.

When Mika runs off with John to Los Angeles prompting Setsuko and her bitchy sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow suit concerned for her safety, adventure begins. Setsuko and Mika both jockey for position with John, her vacation from her dreary job and her growing obsession with him energizing her, as a rivalry between Setsuko and Ayako hits full throttle. Setsuko begins to exhibit bizarre and unbecoming behavior.

The film delves into an interesting characteristic among Japanese females; rivalry, as the subject matter is heavily female centered in nature. The trio of Setsuko, Ayako, and Mika are family, and love each other unconditionally, but do they like each other? Immediately we are made aware that long-ago Setsuko stole Ayako’s boyfriend, or so she claims. Eventually Setsuko tries to steal Ayako’s man, so there is reoccurring conflict between each of the women. Ayako has a rebellious streak, we assume just like Setsuko did at her age.

Despite the triangle/quadrangle of drama and issues, the main story and focal point belongs to Setsuko and her infatuation with John. From the first moment they embrace, as part of a teacher and student dynamic, Setsuko is hooked, longingly remaining in his arms until he insists she let go. This is a key moment an intrigue looms- does she feel more comfortable and confident with her blonde wig and new persona? Does this give her courage and the guts to flee her boring life for a chance at love in Los Angeles?

John clearly loves Mika, or more importantly, he has no feelings for Setsuko, despite her best efforts. In a pivotal and hilarious scene, John and Setsuko smoke marijuana as he teaches her how to drive in a deserted parking lot. As they feel the effects of the drug, Setsuko comes on to John and before he knows it they have sex. This only deepens her obsession with him as she decides to get the same tattoo as he has. He realizes she may not be stable as the audience, still enamored with the character, becomes to pity her.

Hirayanagi is careful not to make her film a downer and she does an amazing job in that regard. When Setsuko returns to her meager existence in Tokyo she is unceremoniously fired from the job she despises but has held for decades. Is she devastated or liberated? Perhaps a bit of each, but she has reached her breaking point and succumbs to sadness, longing for John. Fortunately, a surprise appearance by an unexpected character uplifts her spirits and the entire film.

Oh Lucy! (2017) is a great example of an independent film from an inexperienced director that is laden with good qualities. A wounded main character who is sympathetic to viewers leads a dynamic story of loneliness, melancholia, but also with witty dialogue and crackling humor, and a multi-cultural approach. A hybrid Japanese and American film with location sequences in both areas, the film will satisfy those seeking an intelligent, quick-witted experience.

Pillow Talk-1959

Pillow Talk-1959

Director-Michael Gordon

Starring-Rock Hudson, Doris Day

Scott’s Review #907

Reviewed June 6, 2019

Grade: B+

Pillow Talk (1959) is the ultimate in romantic comedies from the age of innocence in cinema. In 1959 pictures were still largely wholesome and safe, providing happy stories and charming characters. The film is a lovely and enchanting experience with intelligent characters and wonderful chemistry among its leads. Combined with good romance and comic elements it makes for a fun watch that still feels fresh and bright decades later.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson smolder with sensuality as singles living in Manhattan, New York City. Day plays Jan Morrow, a perky, independent interior decorator who dates frequently but has not yet found love. Hudson plays Brad Allen, a talented, creative Broadway composer and playboy who lives in a nearby apartment building. Jan is frustrated by a party line that allows her to hear Brad’s endless phone conversations with the women in his life. He is equally annoyed by her prim and proper, holier than thou attitude. They bicker on the phone but have not met.

Through their mutual, yet unknown to them, acquaintance Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), Brad realizes who Jan really is, which leads to hilarity as he fakes a Texan accent and invents a new persona: Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texas rancher. He succeeds in wooing Jan who falls madly in love with him while unaware who he really is. Events culminate in the inevitable big reveal when the couple vacations at Jonathan’s cabin in nearby Connecticut.

Rock Hudson oozes masculinity and charisma in this film with nearly every woman he meets falling madly in love with him. With Hudson’s sexuality preferences hidden from the public but well known within the film industry, one wonders if a few comical situations were added as an inside joke. One can speculate if these additions were done with or without the stars knowledge; rumors abound that Hudson reportedly carried on an affair with actor Nick Adams (Tony) during filming.

A recurring theme involves Brad mistakenly walking into an obstetrician’s office (twice!) and the doctor and nurse assuming he may be the first man to ever become pregnant as they attempt to locate Brad when he continues to disappear. Later, Brad attempts to trick Jan into believing Rex might be a homosexual because of his love for effeminate things.

The supporting players bring wit to Pillow Talk and is a key piece to the enjoyment of the film. Randall as Jonathan is not quite the nice guy but not entirely the foil either. As he has designs on Jan he warns Brad to keep away from her. His intention, which fails, is to woo her with money, but Jan seeks true love. Thelma Ritter as Alma, Jan’s boozy housekeeper, is delicious, adding necessary comic timing and a sardonic humor. When she ultimately finds love with the elevator operator we crackle with delight.

The lavish set design is flawless and brightens the film while adding luxurious style and sophistication that only New York City apartment living can bring. The combined sets of both Brad’s and Jan’s apartments are gorgeous to witness. With bright colors and 1950’s style furniture one can easily fantasize how beautiful it would be to reside in an apartment of this brilliance- I know this viewer did!

A Doris Day film would not be complete without the addition of several songs that the singer/actress performs. “Pillow Talk” during the opening credits, “Roly Poly” in the piano bar with Blackwell and Hudson, and “Possess Me” on the drive up to Jonathan’s cabin.

Pillow Talk (1959) is an example of a rich romantic comedy with great elements. A bit fantasy, a bit silly, but containing style, sophistication, and humor. The film was an enormous success, understandably so, being deemed “the feel-good film of the year” in many circles. Hudson’s career was re-launched following the film after having hit a snag year’s earlier.

Tully-2018

Tully-2018

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis

Scott’s Review #905

Reviewed June 2, 2019

Grade: B

Tully, a 2018 film release, was awarded wide recognition largely because of a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress- Comedy achieved by its star, Charlize Theron. The actress does carry the film and delivers a wonderful performance in an example of great casting. The film is clearly targeted for a specific audience, that of females with newborn babies, a mother of a child with behavioral issues, or women who have experienced something similar during their lifetime.

As such, the perspective is clearly from the female point of view and men may not find much, if anything, to relate to. Nonetheless, the film is a worthy watch though not sure I’d classify it firmly in the comedy category, but this may have more to do with who directed it. Jason Reitman, famous for his creations Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011) is known for coming-of-age films with dark edges. Nonetheless, I’d carefully teeter the film more into the drama genre than straight comedy.

We meet a very pregnant Marlo (Theron) as she is about to give birth to her third child, the implication being that it is an unplanned pregnancy. She is already frazzled from her other two children, one of whom is Jonah, who has a developmental disorder causing stress. Her world consists of battles with Jonah’s school, her absent-minded husband Drew (Ron Livingston), and her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), who has married an affluent woman and tries to help Marlo. Chris offers to pay for a night nanny which would allow Marlo peace and quiet, and she finally accepts, meeting the bizarre Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who slowly changes her life.

Theron reportedly gained over fifty pounds in preparation for the role and completely immerses herself in the part. Ordinarily a gorgeous woman as well as an astounding actor, she is convincing as the tired and unfulfilled suburban mother. Haggard, going through her day to day routines, it is revealed that she yearns to be young again, and finally revisits her old stomping grounds in Brooklyn where her passion is awakened, New York. Theron not only transforms her appearance but portrays an enormous amount of emotion teetering between responsible mother and flighty middle-aged woman.

To say that Tully is a “woman’s film”, a phrase I dislike, is not entirely fair, but women will relate to the film most of all. Men are not written especially well; we witness Drew meandering around the house mostly holing up in the bedroom, oblivious to his surroundings. He is somewhat aware that a night nanny exists but is more concerned with playing video games or traveling for work than with who is raising his child. He loves his family yet is somewhat only half there and his motivations and feelings are never explored very well. The writing of this character perplexed me, or rather I wondered why the character was written this way to begin with.

As events progress Tully serves up a brilliant twist ending, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in a daring way. The character of Tully becomes a godsend for Marlo. Suddenly, she is inspired by the younger woman who has her whole life ahead of her. Could Marlo be a bit jealous of the young and thin nanny? Tully inspires Marlo, but could she not be all that she seems? The final reveal leaves questions dangling over the viewer. Is Tully all in Marlo’s head? Is it merely a coincidence that Marlo’s maiden name is Tully or the reason for the nanny in the first place?

Tully (2018) plays like a female centered coming-of-age story perfectly suited for women over the age of thirty. It can be enjoyed by others as the story has layers and borders on a character study, but the target audience is clear. The surprise ending is tremendous and rises the film way above mediocrity, otherwise being a traditional genre film. The performance by Theron also adds an immeasurable amount to the film.

Thoroughbreds-2018

Thoroughbreds-2018

Director-Cory Finley

Starring-Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy

Scott’s Review #880

Reviewed March 26, 2019

Grade: B

Thoroughbreds (2018) is an independent dark comedy with snippets of creative film making and an intriguing premise that loses steam towards the conclusion, closely mirroring too many other similarly themed indies. An enjoyable geographical setting but lackluster monotone dialogue never allows the film a mind of its own and is therefore deemed unmemorable. The lead actors are fine, but the experience lacks too much to raise the bar into its own territory suffering from an odd title that has little to do with the story.

Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are former childhood friends whose differing popularity levels have severed their relationship over the years. When Amanda’s mother pays Lily to socialize with Amanda under the guise of tutoring her, Amanda catches wind of the plot and confronts Lily. This event brings the girls closer and in macabre fashion they begin to hatch a scheme to plan the death of Lily’s stepfather, wealthy Mark (Paul Sparks) whom she perceives as abusive. It is revealed via flashback that Amanda euthanized her crippled horse to spare his suffering which resulted in animal cruelty charges.

The setting of affluent Fairfield County, Connecticut, presumably wealthy and snobbish Greenwich is a high point of the film and an immediate comparison to the 1997 masterpiece The Ice Storm. Bored rich kids who perceive themselves to shoulder all the world’s problems, while subsequently attending the best boarding school’s imaginable is delicious and a perfect starting point for drama and intrigue. Lily’s domineering stepfather and her passive and enabling mother are clever additions without making them seem like caricatures.

The dynamic between the girl characters is intelligently written and believable especially as they crack witty dialogue between each other. Lily is academic and stoic, humorously said to suffer from an unnamed condition that results in her being unable to feel or show any emotion. Amanda is the perfect counterbalance as she is sarcastic, witty and serves up one analytical observation after another. From a physicality perspective, the statuesque Lily is believable as the more popular of the two and the perceived leader.

As the girls elicit the participation of local drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) into their plans, at first voluntary and ultimately by blackmail, the plot takes a turn for the formulaic and the redundant. The setup seems too like a standard dramatic story arc and becomes cliched as the once willing participant is subsequently thrust into the scheme. There are no romantic entanglements between the three main characters and subsequently leaving no characters to root for either, one strike to the film.

Otherwise, the “been there, done that” monotone dialogue has become standard in dark comedies so that in 2018 the element seems dated and a ploy to develop offbeat characters. Director Cory Finley borrows heavily from fellow director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums-2001 and Moonrise Kingdom) in this regard so that the freshness of the characters and story wears thin mid-stream.

The title of the film could be better as a quick scene involving Amanda and a horse in the beginning and a brief mention of horses envisioned in a dream by one character is all there is about the animals. I expected more of an incorporation between animal and human or at least a more poignant connection.  The privileged lives of Lily and Amanda seem the perfect correlation to brings horses into the central story in a robust way.

Finley is on the cinematic map, crafting an effort that proves he possesses some talent and an eye for a wicked and solid offering. Thoroughbreds (2018) represents a film too like many others in the same genre to rise to the top of the pack but is not without merits and sound vision. It will be interesting to see what this up and coming director chooses for his next project.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein-1948

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein-1948

Director-Charles Barton

Starring-Bud Abbott, Lou Costello

Scott’s Review #865

Reviewed February 9, 2019

Grade: B+

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was the first film of several to capitalize on the comedy duo’s popularity and merge them with several horror characters in a hybrid of the horror and comedy genres. The zany film was enormously popular with fans leading to other subsequent pairings, but this is the best of the bunch. The ingenious idea works well, and the bumbling pair presents an entertaining film fresh with good ideas and a harmless comedy romp. The inclusion of the villainous Dracula and the Wolf Man along with the title horror character only make the riches even loftier.

Working as baggage clerks at a Florida train station Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) border on incompetent and are tasked with delivering two crates to a local wax museum after damaging them at the station. Little do the pair realize that the crates house Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange). Once Chick and Wilbur arrive at the wax museum a comedy of errors occurs as the monsters reanimate and escape while the pair are arrested for supposed theft. Ultimately the film culminates with an exciting finale at a nearby island castle as a devious doctor (Lenore Aubert) is intent on removing Wilbur’s brain.

The film is wonderfully campy and over-the-top and a strong part of its appeal. The setup is delicious as the audience knows Chick and Wilbur will ultimately face the various creatures but know not how this will come about. The quick-witted comedy duo hardly needs coaching, but their banter and timing seem particularly palpable in this screen offering. This is impressive given the historical account of neither actor wanting to make the film and both being convinced the end result would be a bomb teetering on career suicide. Any accusations that their hearts were not in it can be dismissed.

A large part of the appeal is the inclusion of three individual monsters each with different motivations and offerings. Dracula is clearly the villain and in cahoots with the mad scientist while Frankenstein’s monster is the victim and the Wolf Man the suffering hero. Returning to roles that made them famous was crucial to the success of the film and Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi (Wolf Man and Count Dracula, respectively) deliver their lines with gusto, careful not to make themselves too menacing nor too foolish and both blur the horror and comedy lines with perfection.

The film-makers must be given credit for the progressive slant of casting the mad scientist as a female rather than the traditional male. Actress Aubert as Dr. Sandra Mornay is delicious in the role as she lustfully seduces Wilbur in comic form. She needs not his body but the brain of a simpleton to insert into the head of the monster. The pudgy young man and the gorgeous woman make an odd pairing made comedic by their physical differences. The blend is just right for physical and lightweight comedy.

The final scene is clever in that it leads into a potential follow-up for the film. As Chick and Wilbur sail away from the looming castle in relief of their adventure coming to a satisfying conclusion, Chick ensures Wilbur that all the monsters are gone. An uncredited voice appearance by Vincent Price and a dangling cigarette coming from no mouth introduces the next chapter that of the Invisible Man.

Hardly a masterpiece or cinematic genius Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) does serve an important purpose and that is to entertain. Each player is well-cast and the result is a culmination of good comedy infused with atmospheric horror elements done with the perfect light touch. The comic timing of all members ensures that all the pieces come together in just the right mix of fun and frights with a tongue-in-cheek approach. What could be a better choice for escapist fare on a lazy Saturday afternoon?

Crazy Rich Asians-2018

Crazy Rich Asians-2018

Director-Jon M. Hu

Starring-Constance Wu, Henry Golding

Scott’s Review #860

Reviewed January 26, 2019

Grade: B+

Crazy Rich Asians (2018), the romantic comedy smash of 2018 is a fun romp that is memorable because it centers on the Asian population, shamefully underrepresented in mainstream American cinema. For this point alone, the film is recommended and worthy of praise but otherwise is a standard genre film with gimmicks and stock characters galore and a predictable conclusion. A mention must be made for the numerous cultural tidbits included which rises the film above mediocrity .

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding) are a happily dating New York City couple, she a New York University college professor and he an entrepreneur. They fly to Singapore to attend Nick’s best friend’s wedding resulting in antics and anguish.  Rachel realizes that Nick comes from an extremely wealthy family and are Chinese royalty owning a multitude of lavish hotels and real estate. Most of Nick’s family, especially his traditional mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), disapprove of the pairing viewing Rachel as a typical American placing passion over family.

Nick is a sought-after commodity among the single women of Singapore as Rachel is forced to endure harassment and mockery at every turn. Her allies are Nick’s kind sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) and Rachel’s outrageous college pal Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her equally garish family. The plot thickens when Nick’s scheming mother does a background check on Rachel and discovers a family secret.

Crazy Rich Asians is a formulaic romantic comedy with the standard types of situations and characters expected of a genre film. The rivalry between the good girl and her boyfriend’s domineering mother, the comic relief of the gay sidekicks as Peik Lin and another friend of Rachel’s provide. The caricatures of Peik Lin’s wild family, her unattractive brother fond of taking secret photos of Rachel, and Eleanor’s snooty judgmental circle of female friends are all well cast yet one-dimensional.

Perplexing is why the film makers decided to make Nick only half Chinese rather than authentically Asian. Sadly, this may have been a reassurance of making the film more marketable to mass audiences. The film is presented as an Asian film, but it is really an American film. The story-line justification is that Nick’s father (surprisingly never seen) is British and that he and Eleanor met in college- only she being Chinese. Nick and Astrid’s English accents gnawed at me throughout the film.

Despite the myriad of cliche’s and manipulations Crazy Rich Asians has a nice flow and offers a fun two hours. The film is flavorful with bright colors and visual spectacles of the stylish and sophisticated Singapore and its modern and sleek nuances. I adored the locales featuring the skyline and a rich overview of the robust and relevant city/country.

Fantastic is how the film-makers add spices of traditional Chinese culture throughout the telling of the film quickly becoming more of an ode to the good history. Nick’s grandmother Su-Yi (Lisa Lu) takes pride in her wonderful and artistic flowers and Rachel is introduced to the art of dumpling making. Crazy Rich Asians introduces a history lesson for those unfamiliar with ancient Chinese customs.

Flavorful inclusions of Mandarin Chinese language versions of American pop hits are also nice additions, so the film has some tidbits to revel in other than the story. Most of the songs offer a reference to money such as “Money Honey” by Lady Gaga and “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates.

The pacing of the film is nice with never a boring or dragging moment and a nice balance of comedy and drama results. Humorous is when Peik Lin provides Rachel with a costume makeover ensuring she look dynamic for the grand wedding as she convinces her to fight Eleanor with fire. Drama ensues when someone casts a dead fish on Rachel’s bed and Eleanor spits that Rachel will never be enough for her son.

Predictable is the film’s conclusion resulting in a marriage proposal aboard a jet heading from Singapore to New York City. With a film like Crazy Rich Asians it is guaranteed that the couple live happily ever after riding off into the sunset in great defiance of Nick’s roots. Due to the success of the film a sequel is a solid bet though I am also not betting the follow-up will be any good. Are romantic comedy sequels ever decent?

Filled with cliche’s, but satisfying most mainstream film-goers, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) creates a film with enough shards of Asian culture to at least get the Asian population on the map with a Hollywood production. Containing a polished look and some stereotypes the film breaks no new ground other than good inclusion and that is a start.

Elf-2003

Elf-2003

Director-Jon Favreau

Starring-Will Ferrell, James Caan

Scott’s Review #846

Reviewed December 20, 2018

Grade: B-

Elf (2003) is one of the few lasting Christmas hits of recent memory or at least one that many fans make a regular viewing experience each holiday season. The film is light and unarguably a safe, feel-good experience mixing a hopeful Christmas message with comic gags and romance. The key to its success is Will Ferrell who possesses wonderful comic timing. More wholesome than my tastes and lacking plausibility the film does succeed as a family friendly, ready-made, fun experience.

The story revolves around one of Santa’s elves (Ferrell) named Buddy who learns he is human and was orphaned as an infant. Revealed that his biological father Walter (James Caan) resides in New York City, Buddy embarks on a trip to find the man and spread Christmas cheer in a world filled with grizzled and cynical human beings. In predictable comic form Buddy has trouble adjusting to the human world and the fast-paced lifestyle with misunderstandings arising repeatedly. Buddy eventually wins over his father and family finding love with downtrodden Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).

Hot on the heels of his Saturday Night Live stint ending in 2002, Ferrell was primed to embark on a successful film career. Elf is a great role for him as it capitalizes on his comic timing and energy and the setup works. At 6’3″ who better to play an elf for laughs than a hulking middle-aged man? Due to his talents Ferrell makes the role of Buddy fun, appealing, and the highlight of the film. With a lesser talent the character would have been too annoying (as it is there are too many hug jokes) and the overall film would have suffered.

Other than Ferrell the supporting roles are nothing memorable other than Caan’s role. The once dashing star of films such as The Godfather (1972) Caan still has the charm and charisma to appeal, though the balding and dyed head of hair does nothing for him. A small role by television star Bob Newhart as Papa Elf is fine, but Deschanel’s role and Mary Steenburgen’s role as Emily, Walter’s wife, could have been played by many actresses and nothing is distinguishable about either part. Lesser roles like Walter’s secretary, Walter’s boss, and the Gimble’s store manager are stock parts with no character development.

A major high-point is the New York City setting and the exterior scenes are aplenty. Filmed in 2002 and released in 2003, the location shots were completed not long after 9/11 and showcasing a city with such recent decimation adds to the film’s appeal. Scenes in Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and the Empire State Building are prominently featured making the film festive and merry. What greater city is there at Christmastime than New York?

Elf remains an entertaining experience with enough shiny ornaments and fun moments in the department store and Walter’s office to hold interest. The luster wears thin at the conclusion as all the traditional elements come together. Jovie leads a chorus of strangers in “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, Walter quits his job without concern for paying bills, and everyone happily rides off into a sparkling winter wonderland. This may satisfy some, but I wanted more conflict than a troupe of Central Park Rangers chasing Santa through the park.

A film that might be paired nicely with holiday favorites of similar ilk such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) or Christmas with the Kranks (2004), Elf (2003) is an energetic affair with a charismatic lead actor. Containing silly moments, but a spirited and worthwhile message nestled nicely within, the film is worth a watch if in the mood for slapstick. More thought-provoking holiday films with deeper merriment and stronger flair exist, but for a chuckle or two Elf works well.

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Director-Miguel Arteta

Starring-Salma Hayek, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #844

Reviewed December 18, 2018

Grade: B+

Thanks to a well-written screenplay and a thought-provoking idea, Beatriz at Dinner (2017) spins an interesting concept about politics and class systems discussed over dinner. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow give tremendous performances as characters with opposing viewpoints helping the film to succeed, though a flawed ending and cookie-cutter style supporting characters detract from the overall enjoyment.

Set in southern California, presumably around Los Angeles, Beatriz (Hayek) works as a holistic health practitioner. Moonlighting as a massage therapist, she becomes stranded at the wealthy home of one of her clients, Kathy (Connie Britton), who she views as a friend. Kathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner where she encounters real-estate mogul Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and the two gradually develop a feud based on their differing politics and viewpoints.

The setup and flow of Beatriz at Dinner is commendable and paces the film nicely, sort of a day in the life of Beatriz. The film begins as the character awakens to her pet dogs and goat noisily beginning their day and culminates late at night, the dinner party concludes, and the last glass of wine consumed. In this way the film has a nice packaged feel that keeps the story confined and structured.

Being an independent film, the budget is small and most of the scenes are shot in the spacious modern house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which works well. Gorgeous and vast, many rooms are used as conversations among the characters occur, many overlapping each other. Beatriz at Dinner could have been a play, and this helps with the good flow.

Hayek and Lithgow are the main draws as their initial guarded pleasantries progress to venom and violence, albeit largely imagined. Initially thinking that Beatriz is the household help, Doug is inquisitive about her entry into the United States and makes numerous insulting gestures, mispronouncing her Mexican hometown and mocking her profession. Beatriz calmly endures his racism and begins discussions about how his business harms animals and people as emotions escalate. The actors play off each other wonderfully and share chemistry.

With each glass of wine Beatriz becomes more brazen and shares a story of how people in her village lost their land to real estate development and shares a humanistic viewpoint while Doug sees life as to be lived while you can. Despite their dislike for each-others lifestyle the film has Beatriz and Doug at least listen to one other and attempt to understand the other’s opinion, which is more than can be said for the supporting players motivations or lack thereof.

Besides Kathy, while sympathetic to Beatriz’s calm demeanor and life rich philosophies, she also realizes that Doug is her family’s meal ticket. The other party attendees are written as polite yet uninteresting twits with nothing to talk about except a reality star’s nude photos, dinner, or a handful of other nothing topics. Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and David Warshofsky have little to do other than stand around and react to meatier written material that Hayek and Lithgow get to play.

Beatriz at Dinner had me in its corner until the film takes a jarring turn during the final act. As Beatriz leaves the party and sets about on her way home, she hastily decides to grab a letter opener and bludgeon Doug to death as the dinner guests hysterically realize what is happening. Instead of leaving things be the film chooses to make this only Beatriz’s fantasy and then have her go to the ocean and walk into the waves. Does this mean she commits suicide or is this another fantasy? Unclear and unsatisfying is this final sequence.

I am not sure why Beatriz at Dinner is considered a comedy. Perhaps a mild dark comedy, I argue that the film is a straight-ahead drama and lacks the witty humor that made dinner party themed films such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Boys in the Band (1970) such masterpieces.

Beatriz at Dinner (2017) is a valiant attempt at offering social commentary in a time when discussions like these are needed in films and the project largely succeeds. An impassioned yet subdued performance by Hayek deservedly earned her a Female Lead Independent Film nomination. Rich writing garnered the film a Best Screenplay nomination too, but a big whiff at the end lowers the overall experience a notch.

The Favourite-2018

The Favourite-2018

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #843 

Reviewed December 17, 2018

Grade: A

The Favourite (2018) is a deliciously wicked comedy about greed, jealousy, and rage during early eighteenth century England. The primary rivalry consists between two feuding cousins, each jockeying for position and “favor” with the Queen, both resorting to dire methods to achieve these goals. With splendid acting and grand designs, director Yorgos Lanthimos adds to his growing collection of odd and compelling works with the dark comedy offering.

The film takes place amid the British and French war of 1708 as a physically and mentally ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules the country by way of her confidante and secret lover, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Though deals and modifications must be made with the ruling Parliament Anne has final say in all decisions including doubling the state tax to pay for the war. When Abigail (Emma Stone), a distant cousin of the Duchess, and of former royalty herself, arrives seeking work as a servant, she quickly plots her way to the bedside of the Queen at all costs.

Lanthimos, known for such bizarre treats like Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is not afraid to get down and dirty and wrestle with macabre subject matter. The Favourite is the director’s most mainstream affair yet and is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day film makers. As he now charters into royal territory the possibilities are endless in a world of politics and scheming. Some morose highlights include an abused bunny, naked tomato throwing, and pheasant shooting. The film is not kind to animals.

Despite being a mainstream affair in the world of Lanthimos, The Favourite is a bizarre and brazen experience. The heaps of award nominations are quite remarkable given the film will not be enjoyed by all audiences. Despite categorized as a comedy (see more below) the film is not an easy watch and none of the characters are likable. Abigail is sympathetic at first and quite humorous but as the plot develops her true colors and motivations are exposed. Conversely, Anne and Sarah are initially despicable, but garner support as the story evolves.

The comic elements are the best elements and clever lines come at a deliciously rapid pace. The best dialogue is the sparring between Sarah and Abigail as the women realize they are bitter enemies and each attempt to one-up the other in a chess game for Anne’s attentions. Anne, known for fits of emotion, stuffing her face with cake and vomiting, and berating the servants, offers her own comic wit. The language is salty bordering on vulgar, but that is what makes the experience so stellar and morosely enjoyable.

The musical score adds muscle and the diabolical string arrangements give The Favourite a gruesome, morbid atmosphere. The feeling of dread is prevalent and downright haunting at times as the audience, knowing that some sort of shenanigans will soon occur, does not know when or how. This quality enhances the overall product and gives ambiance to an already superior piece.

Finally, the acting in The Favourite is brilliant and worth the price of admission. With heavyweights like Colman, Stone, and Weisz this is unsurprising, but the gravy is in the individual moments. The chemistry the women share together is what works best as every scene sparkles with exceptional deliver and a sly sense of humor. When the three women appear together-these are the best scenes.

Deserving of all the accolades lauded upon it The Favourite (2018) is an experience that contains all elements of a fine film though one that is quite the unconventional work. With glistening art direction, set pieces that shine with authenticity, and costumes that would make Scarlett O’Hara drool with envy, The Favourite takes all of its parts and spins a crafty tale that encompasses the entire film.

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Director-Matt Spicer

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen

Scott’s Review #832

Reviewed November 16, 2018

Grade: A-

Ingrid Goes West (2017) is a deliciously wicked black comedy and a bold statement about the current obsession with social media. Combined with a dynamite performance by young actress Aubrey Plaza and smart writing, the small independent film provides a summertime treasure, and two Spirit Award nominations for good measure. The film is a breath of fresh air and a fine achievement by new director Matt Spicer.

The film immediately catapults the audience into the action as we are treated to a closeup of a sobbing Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza). We immediately know that she is not right as she fumes with the realization that she has not been invited to her Instagram friend’s wedding and proceeds to interrupt the reception and attack the bride with pepper spray. Ingrid is carted off to a mental hospital for analysis and recovery.

Once released we learn that Ingrid’s mother has recently died leaving her a tidy sum of money as an inheritance. Ingrid suddenly becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular and narcissistic young woman who Ingrid follows on Instagram. Taylor becomes Ingrid’s idol as she decides to move to Los Angeles and insinuates herself into Taylor’s life. She stalks Taylor and steals her dog only to pretend she rescued it, thereby becoming a close friend of hers. Gradually, Ingrid’s actions become more and more psychotic as Taylor catches wind of Ingrid’s antics.

Aubrey Plaza is perfectly cast as the unstable, manipulative title character. She possesses such strong comic timing, and with her wide eyes, nervous mannerisms, and determination to get what she wants, the audience roots for and falls in love with her. On paper we should dislike the character as she takes advantage of nearly everyone in her path, but Plaza embodies her with empathy and smarts. Delightful to watch is how she gets out of scrape after scrape with her quick thinking- Plaza truly excels in the role.

Bold and calculating are words to be used to describe Olsen’s performance as the selfish Taylor, and this may very well be why it is easy to root for Ingrid. The character is so plastic and conniving that it is intensely satisfying to see her as the foil. Olsen usually plays good girl roles and possesses a girl next door quality, but in this part, she nestles nicely into a bitch role. Olsen also contains great timing with her character’s dialogue delivery, so much so that Olsen and Plaza had me in stitches during their one on one scenes.

I adore the Los Angeles setting, beyond appropriate for a film about phoniness, obsession, and plastic personas. Beneath the sunny veneer lies darkness and tomfoolery in every direction and besides Ingrid’s landlord/somewhat boyfriend, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), there are not many likable characters. Attending party after party and lavish club, restaurant, or get-away, being involved in the “scene”, the City of Angels is the perfect backdrop.

One gripe that knocks Ingrid Goes West down a rung for me is how the character of Taylor’s artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is written. Ingrid realizes as she has a poolside heart to heart with the depressed Ezra, in one of the more authentic scenes, that his wife is not the girl he knew when she moved to L.A. He and Ingrid seem to connect, but shortly after it is as if the conversation never happened and he is ferociously taking his wife’s side again. A nicer approach, and one I was hoping for, is that Ingrid and Ezra would ride off into the sunset, but the film misses this opportunity.

The entire film is a clever piece of work. From the performances, the dark humor, and the witty dialogue, Ingrid Goes West (2018) succeeds on nearly all levels. A modern day Single White Female (1992) with a social media slant, the film goes for the gusto and gets there. I cannot wait to see more from up and coming star Aubrey Plaza as the actress has the comic and dramatic chops to go very far.

It Happened One Night-1934

It Happened One Night-1934

Director-Frank Capra

Starring-Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Scott’s Review #824

Reviewed October 25, 2018

Grade: A-

Perhaps the film which best defines the early cinematic romantic comedy and certainly the one most modern genre films can take a lesson from, It Happened One Night (1934) is a lively, fun romp.  The film carted away the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress Academy awards, a rare feat, and defined what romantic tension and smart dialogue ought to be in a quality picture. All the elements sparkle into an excellent classic film watch.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a pampered socialite who has recently disobeyed her overbearing and wealthy father, eloping with a blue-collar pilot who is feared to be after her money. Determined, Ellie escapes her father’s clutches and hops on a Greyhound bus headed from Florida to New York, where her husband is. When she crosses paths with an out of work journalist, Peter Warne (Gable), they each find an opportunity to use the other to their own advantage. The pairs adventures along the east coast lead to antics and schemes as they fall madly in love with one another.

It Happened One Night successfully mixes a good romance with some screwball comedy without ever becoming silly or trite. In fact, the film also serves as a good old-fashioned adventure story as Peter and Ellie face one hurdle after another on their trek north. Pleasing is the way that the duo slowly find romance, but first begin as irritants towards each other. The chemistry between the actors is superb and never seems forced or contrived.

Frank Capra, a famous director with successes throughout the 1930’s, culminating with the holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), had several Oscar winning films during the decade. It Happened One Night, though, seems to have inspired the most of them all, and the acting, farcical situations, dialogue and direction all successfully come together.

Shot in black and white and pre- Motion Picture Production Code, which heavily restricted details deemed too violent or sexual in nature, It Happened One Night was able to push the envelope quite a bit. This is to the film’s credit- who can forget the adorable yet provocative scene in which Ellie shows her shapely legs to enable the duo to catch a ride. The lovable scene, non-risque in today’s modern world, was anything but in 1934.

An interesting, and at that time unique, point, is that supporting characters are more layered than is typical in romantic comedies. Danker, who Peter and Ellie hitch a ride with is seemingly a decent man, but ultimately attempts to steal their luggage. Later, Ellie’s preposterous father turns out to be somewhat of a decent man, so the film contains a few character surprises too.

While not quite a pure masterpiece, It Happened One Night (1934) is nonetheless an inspired legendary film that can be viewed and enjoyed for the time-period in which it was made. The film is a standout among the similarly themed romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s and a teachable moment for all film makers delving into same genre territory.

American Pie-1999

American Pie-1999

Director-Paul Weitz

Starring-Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan

Scott’s Review #813

Reviewed September 23, 2018

Grade: B+

With each generation of film there seems to be a gross-out comedy that speaks to a young, coming-of-age generation- of the mostly male and jock persuasion. American Pie (1999) finishes the 1990’s in strong fashion with a raunchy story that feels fresh and genuinely funny with precarious situations facing the cast, specifically the protagonist and “every man”, played by Jason Biggs. The film is a teen sex comedy of the crudest nature yet engulfed with characters audiences like- not mean spirited, but rather fun loving and endearing.

An enormous box office hit at the time, the film was all the rage and brought tawdry new meaning to the Americana staples of apple pie and band camp. Spawning several sequels throughout the next decade, the franchise successfully brought back the teen comedy genre with strong and highly recognizable characters. American Pie also brought back the fun to R-rated films and put a nice cherry on the top of a creative decade in cinema. The film is not high art, but what it aims to do, it does quite well.

Living a middle to upper-middle class existence in suburban USA (presumably Michigan), five high school seniors make a pact to lose their virginity by the time they graduate. Most of the group are nerdy, insecure, and sexually naive, the central character being Jim Levenstein (Biggs). Most events are taken from his point of view and he is continually given advice from his very nerdy father, Noah (Eugene Levy). The setup is an age-old premise with lots of room for jokes and precarious situations in hilarious form.

As Jim has the hots for sexy foreign exchange student, Nadia, she is clearly out of his league. In a hilarious scene a “warm apple pie” incident leads to a webcam setup attempt to watch Nadia change clothes. When events go amiss everyone gains access to the webcam link, Nadia is sent back to Czechoslovakia in shame. This leads to a new pursuit for Jim, in geeky band camp girl, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). Surprisingly, they fall madly in love and have fantastic chemistry.

Some of the supporting characters add energy and sometimes hilarity. Jennifer Coolidge is great as the mother of Stifler (the jock of the group), who has eyes for younger men, specifically Finch. As they finally consummate their relationship on a basement pool table, Stifler walks in at the worst time and faints in horror. These antics are genuine and fresh, with great acting by all principals.

In fact, Coolidge, Hannigan, and Levy are arguably the best secondary characters. Each, in a different way from the others, provides comic relief by crafting interesting nuances to the characters. Levy, as Jim’s father, is well-meaning, yet bumbling. Every teen cringes at the thought of having a father like Noah, yet the pair share a close bond and a classic father-son relationship, so the character is therefore enamoring.

American Pie was successful at coining new pop-culture phrases such as “warm apple pie”, “milf”, and “this one time in band camp…” that the young generation of the time-period (myself included) enjoyed giggling over and repeating in glee. The film set the tone for other similar genre films, but none of them lived up to the chemistry and the charm that American Pie had. This film was better than it ever should have been!

The turn of the century version of Animal House, American Pie (1999) introduces a new generation of young people into the world of comedic, R-rated, raunchy fun. Certainly, films like this have been churned out by the numbers, but rarely any are as authentic as this film feels. The franchise was able to sustain their popularity with well-written sequels, most notably American Pie 2 (2001), which developed the situations more, but the original is a fine blueprint for what good comedy can achieve.

Office Space-1999

Office Space-1999

Director-Mike Judge

Starring-Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston

Scott’s Review #811

Reviewed September 16, 2018

Grade: B+

Having become somewhat of a cult classic since its theatrical release in 1999, Office Space is delightful to watch for anyone who works in a corporate environment- or ever has- they will undoubtedly “get” this movie. The dark humor and antics may be lost on those who have not, but for the rest of us, the film is quite the treat. One may never view a stapler or the common office cake party in the same manner. Yes, the story and characters are somewhat over-the-top, but more than a few clever scenes ring with truth. But over time will the film become dated?

Writer and Director, Mike Judge, carves a story about life within a 1990’s software firm. Reportedly, the story is based on Judge’s cartoon series Milton, and his first foray into live-action film making. His first film was Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) if this gives any indication of the type of humor that resounds. Fraternity boy minded, yes, but the writing is crisp and oftentimes rife with fun. The film was not a box-office smash at the time of release yet is well regarded by critics.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a frustrated IT programmer who works for a company named Initech. Alongside two colleagues, one of whom is comically named Michael Bolton (not that Michael Bolton), they despise their sneaky boss, Lumbergh (Gary Cole). The situation gets worse when two consultants are brought in to downsize the company, leaving everyone in panic mode. After a failed hypnotherapy session Peter becomes relaxed and confident, even winning praise from the consultants and scoring a promotion. This puts him at odds with Lumbergh, especially after he begins dating a waitress, Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), and assumes she has also slept with him.

Office Space shines the most with the crackling dialogue and clever scenes that take place within the confines of the office. With stuffy cubicles for miles and the standard corporate jargon to make into witty lines, the subject matter is ripe for the picking. With Cole’s sly requests for his employees to work weekends, Judge creates an authenticity and freshness that is incredibly appealing to corporate workers. He successfully knocks down the office politics with intelligent, wisely crafted, memorable satire.

In the supporting role of Milton Waddams, character actor Stephen Root is successful at stealing the show with his mumbling and bumbling character. Nearly invisible to all his colleagues, Milton is eventually moved to a basement desk and left out of the cake party. When somebody borrows his prized red stapler, all hell breaks loose. Increasingly disgruntled, Milton’s fate is instrumental to the hilarious conclusion of the film and he ultimately gets his revenge in satisfying fashion to all.

The romantic element between Peter and Joanna is okay, but not at all the highlight of the film. In fact, the romance seems unnecessary to me, but undoubtedly added since comedies of this sort usually require something heartfelt to appeal to mainstream audiences. Aniston, popular at the time for her role on the television show Friends, was on her way to becoming a marquee movie star, but not quite yet, so she must be content with the standard “girlfriend” role. She’s cute, but hardly anything more.

Office Space (1999) is a fun ride, but the film is not a groundbreaking experience in great film techniques, inventive ideas, or any other technical or story achievements. What it offers to fans, it does very well and feels like a breath of fresh air in its genre. The film is a comedy, but not a dumb comedy as a myriad of similar style offerings have been released since the beginning of cinema. With the witty one-liners and comic gold, Office Space is a film to be remembered.

The Happytime Murders-2018

The Happytime Murders-2018

Director-Brian Henson

Starring-Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph

Scott’s Review #808

Reviewed September 6, 2018

Grade: B-

Considered by some to be the worst film release of 2018, I had nary a positive expectation as I walked into an empty movie theater. In truth, The Happytime Murders is not that bad, more in tune with a fun, adult humored late night affair. The greatest assets are the comic talents of Melissa McCarthy and the neat whodunit that is the central part of the story. The human actors acting opposite puppets is a bit bizarre and takes some getting used to, but the nice editing (not easy at all to do!) is to be commended.

Set in modern times, in the underbelly of Los Angeles, puppets live alongside humans and are not treated well- constantly bullied and thought less of. Sarcastic and angry puppet, Phil Phillips (a nod to the American Idol winner?) works as a private investigator, an incident many years ago causing him to be booted from the LAPD police force forever.

When Phil is hired by a sexy blonde female puppet, Sandra, to find out who has been sending her blackmail letters, he stumbles upon a rash of puppet murders. The killer is knocking off members of a 1980’s television show, presumably for profit. Phil’s brother and grizzled ex-partner, Connie Edwards (McCarthy) become central to the story.

The first dynamic that works well in The Happytime Murders is the “chemistry” between Connie and Phil. Surprising is the connection and good rapport considering the human/puppet factor. One might find that surprising that the two characters play well off of each other, but their adult sparring and frequent vulgar language name calling is oodles of fun to watch. McCarthy is always fantastic with comic timing so fans of hers will not be disappointed. As they shout vulgar “pleasantries” to each other one cannot help but smirk.

Maya Rudolph has an interesting role as secretary to Phil. Named Bubbles, she is sexy, sultry, and coquettish- an unusual role for Rudolph, but she pulls it off in spades. Otherwise, Elizabeth Banks cast in the small role of Jenny, Phil’s blonde ex-girlfriend is entertaining. In fact, Phil, despite being a puppet is quite the lady’s man with Sandra (a nymphomaniac) being his main conquest. In one lewd scene Phil beds her right in his office spewing strands of white goo meant to be semen and Sandra exposing her purple pubic hair.

The film is clearly for adults only and hopefully unwitting parents do not mistake the puppet characters for a kid’s film. In fact, the film contains many scenes bordering on X-rated territory, yet the inclusion of puppets undoubtedly gives off a humorous, not to be taken too seriously element. Handsome Joel McHale as a Special Agent on the case along with a Lieutenant, Connie’s superior, makes it clear the characters are along for the comic ride and the film never takes itself too seriously.

I admittedly had low expectations to begin so I was surprised to find myself enjoying the puppet characters most of all and the rapport between them. Phil, charismatic in a Dick Tracy sort of way balances with the other “over the top” puppets including a drug lord, two puppet prostitutes, and a puppet bunny addicted to porn. The creations are lively and unique. Let’s not get carried away though- The Happytime Murders is not the genius that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) is, but it’s crass nature is of some appeal.

I adored the Los Angeles setting as the sunny locale perfectly counter-balanced the murderous antics of a hooded killer. The big reveal I did not see coming and added to the surprise factor for me.

To summarize, The Happytime Murders (2018) is not a work of art or anything particularly spectacular. Presumably it will be a forgotten film, especially since McCarthy is appearing in another “more serious” film in 2018 named Can You Ever Forgive Me?, with enormous Oscar potential. Therefore, the focus will assuredly be on that film.  But a work like The Happytime Murders does have its place as perhaps a fun late-night offering.

Legally Blonde-2001

Legally Blonde-2001

Director-Robert Luketic

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson

Scott’s Review #807

Reviewed August 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Legally Blonde (2001) is a film that by all accounts should have been a hot mess, but for some reason instead is a great ball of fun. High art it ain’t by any means, and the plot is implausible beyond belief and suspension of disbelief must be securely tucked away. Despite portraying more serious roles both before and after this film, Reese Witherspoon is largely responsible for the success and is closely associated with this role. Quite simply, all the elements manage to align with perfection in this film.

Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is president of her sorority at a Los Angeles college. Clad in fluffy pink attire and carrying her cute dog everywhere she goes, she epitomizes the stereotypical “dumb blonde”. However, she does carry a 4.0 grade point average in fashion. Expecting a marriage proposal from her upper-class, snooty boyfriend, Warner, Elle instead finds herself dumped due to not being serious enough. Determined to prove herself worthy, she manages acceptance into Harvard Law school, along with Warner, and embarks on hi-jinks and adventures. Warner’s fiancee and a potential new love interest cause turmoil for the boisterous Elle.

Legally Blonde never takes itself too seriously and is simply a fun, silly-minded, comic adventure. Audiences will likely chuckle and smile along with Elle’s adventures as she gets into one pickle after another, always determined to prove her intelligence.

To be clear, the film itself is very formulaic and could easily have been trivial and uninspired resulting in a bomb. But Witherspoon shines in the lead role adding a likable, charming quality to the character. The actress possesses great wit and comic timing so that her character becomes more of a champion and we root for her to overcome obstacles and succeed. By miles, she is the standout in the film.

Suspension of disbelief is at an all-time high. In “real life” there is no way Elle would ever make her way into the elitist Ivy league school brandishing a pink resume or other silly tricks to be cute and appealing. Nor would she ever likely be so instrumental in winning a murder case so quickly. To nobody’s surprise Elle eventually graduates with flying colors and is honored with giving a graduation speech inspiring those around her. But as implausible as these situations are, they are also Legally Blondes appeal.

The supporting characters are pure caricatures, especially the main foils (Warner and Vivian- who takes Elle’s place as fiancee). Both are clearly the villains, Vivian going so far as to embarrass Elle by inviting her to a stuffy party under the guise of it being a costume party. In the end, one of the characters “turns good”, another common element of predictable films of this nature. But again, the film is just pure and simple fun, so these stereotypes are okay.

In more modern times (not that 2001 was so long ago), the film would have not been directed by a man, but rather by a woman. Screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz prepare a female driven film which was based on a novel by Amanda Brown. Why a man was chosen to direct is beyond me, but, alas, this is the way things were at the time.

Interestingly, another recent film that I reviewed, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) would work perfectly as a now retro romantic comedy double feature  along with Legally Blonde (2001). Both are fun and light, but also celebrate strong female characters. Legally Blonde borrows much from the 1995 brilliant similar genre leaning Clueless, but is not as great as that film. Still the film is an inspired effort due largely to the charms of its lead star.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding-2002

My Big Fat Greek Wedding-2002

Director-Joel Zwick

Starring-Nia Vardalos, John Corbett

Scott’s Review #806

Reviewed August 28, 2018

Grade: B+

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a romantic comedy film from 2002 that became a surprising sleeper hit at the time of release. A novel story idea, the film was even recognized with a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. The film achieved success the old-fashioned way by garnering word of mouth buzz despite little promotion. Good natured, earnest, and tender, the film was nonetheless marred by an abysmal sequel and short-lived television series- a lesson learned in leaving well enough alone.

Comedian Nia Vardalos reportedly wrote the story as a one woman play and word of mouth among Hollywood A-list celebrities led to a film version starring Vardalos herself. This casting choice adds enormous authenticity as the writer’s vision shines through on-screen. The film just has a fresh and modern feel to it. Otherwise, the supporting cast is brilliant and perfectly selected. From handsome love interest John Corbett to veterans like Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin, everyone plays their part to the hilt and seems to be having a ball with the comic elements.

Dowdy Toula Portokalos is a lonely thirty -year-old Greek woman, considered to be the black sheep of her family. Of traditional roots, she is expected to marry and bare children as quickly as possible. Toula still lives at home and works in the family restaurant in bustling Chicago, yearning for something more out of life. When she sees dashing school teacher Ian Miller in the restaurant one day, she makes an embarrassing attempt to catch his attention. Through a computer class, Toula blossoms and finally lands her man, but the drama is just beginning as the couples and their individual families differing cultures collide.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is written very well and, again, the authenticity is what really shines through in each scene. Admittedly, it does often feel like a television sitcom and many scenes play for obvious laughs, but the laughs work. The funniest of these scenes is when Toula and Ian (now engaged) decide to invite his parents to dinner at her parent’s house. Predictably, events go awry as his parents-conservative and reserved, do not mesh well with hers-festive and bombastic.

Vardalos and Corbett may not have the greatest chemistry in film history, but the build -up and the romance is so charming that we can overlook the lack of lustful vigor or the sexual tension between the pair. In this way the film feels more like a PG rated Cinderella story than anything heavier. Predictably, the couple shares a happily ever after ending.

As much of a jewel as My Big Fat Greek Wedding was in 2002, the risk with a film of this nature is to actually hold up well over time. Specifically, in the romantic comedy genre, films of this ilk have a short relevant self-life (if deemed relevant at all). The humorous Windex references may be lost on audiences over time or just become stale over the years.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) can be deemed by some as fluff- mainly based on the romantic comedy genre it exists in. But it’s of better worth than that, mainly because of the fresh and genuine use of culture and differing backgrounds. The film has a quality that most of the standard “rom coms” do not possess, that of authenticity. Yes, it certainly contains Greek stereotypes, but the overall vibe of the film is that of a sunny, fun, happy experience. An uplifting film can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

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.