Tag Archives: Comedy films

Booksmart-2019

Booksmart-2019

Director-Olivia Wilde

Starring-Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever

Scott’s Review #1,113

Reviewed February 17, 2021

Grade: A-

I usually avoid teenage coming-of-age comedies or more to the point, being not of that demographic, they are not usually even on my radar. The only reason I saw Booksmart (2019) is but for the Independent Spirit Award it won and the Golden Globe nomination it achieved. Still, I was skeptical of what the appeal of two female teenaged bookworms who decide to become party animals would have on me.

Boy, was I wrong? The film is a fabulous and fast-paced experience that I enjoyed immensely.

Director, Olivia Wilde, in her very first effort, believe it or not, delivers the goods. She takes a genre absolutely told to death and knocks it on its keester offering a fresh and creative spin on a tried and true formula that feels anything but formulaic. There is diversity, inclusiveness, and heart for miles without the feeling that these add-ons were done intentionally for a modern spin.

Before I get carried away too much Wilde carefully keeps the standard moments of teenage angst, rejection, breakups, and makeups, and there are one or two of the commonplace high school “types”- loner, jock, weirdo, etc. but evident is a strong LGBTQ+ stronghold including one of the main female characters. Booksmart sure feels authentic to me.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy are forever friends. The girl’s study, they giggle, they hang-out, and they tell each other about their problems, sexual and otherwise. The kicker is that Molly is straight and Amy is gay. Amy is happily “out” and nobody gives a damn. Her parents, played in small but juicy parts by Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow are hilarious and progressive in their approach to understand a gay child. They incorrectly assume that Molly and Amy are a couple which the girls use to their advantage.

Anyway, Amy and Molly are intelligent and anticipate graduation day and going off to great schools. Once they realize that their fellow students who in their minds slack off and party are also going off to Ivy League schools, they panic. They realize they have wasted four years studying and decide to let finally let their hair down the night before graduation, intent on attending a popular boy’s (and Molly’s crush) party.

The situations the duo get themselves into are clever and witty and the most fun of the film. Feldstein and Dever have exceptional chemistry and I bought them as best friends from the moment of their first scene. When they have a knock-down, drag-out argument towards the end of the film it’s acting at its finest, which made me feel proud. I admire young talent with great acting chops and pride in their craft and Feldstein and Dever both have it.

Wilde peppers much of the film with hip and trendy pop songs that surprisingly enhance rather than slow down or take away from the viewer enjoyment. The lyrics match the specific events of the particular scene.

The romanticism is pivotal as the crushes Molly and Amy have are not necessarily who they wind up with at the end of the film, which naturally culminates on graduation day. I love how their ceremony includes no parents.

The creativity within Booksmart is admirable. When Molly and Amy trip on a hallucinogenic they accidentally ingest they imagine they are barbie dolls. The scene is laden with hilarity as they bend and twist and turn. Later, Molly imagines a dance with Nick amid a colorful, slow-motion sequence that is beautiful, while Amy has an awkward unexpected sexual experience with a mean girl.

Booksmart (2019) is quite R-rated almost shockingly so, which is not a negative. In fact, it’s a positive. Too many films of this ilk try to soften how teenagers really speak and the feelings they really have which are usually sexual. It’s raunchy and definitely not for the younger teen set but mature audiences will reminiscence about their own high school days.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature (won)

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult-1994

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult-1994

Director-Peter Segal

Starring-Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,104

Reviewed January 26, 2021

Grade: B-

Despite being the third and final (get it?) installment in the popular Naked Gun (1988-1994) franchise, Naked Gun 33 1/3 The Final Insult (1994) is my favorite of the trio despite having a silly title. The title of “33 1/3” is a reference to the revolutions per minute of an LP playing on a phonograph, a point that has nothing to do with the actual film. It was also inexplicably decided to leave off the “The” in the title, leaving Naked Gun instead of The Naked Gun. Why is anyone’s guess? Nor does it matter.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a great film but it’s better than the other two, which is shocking in a spoof/screwball comedy going for the standard gags. But, as dumb as the film is, it’s also kind of fun and light-weight. Think- a needed chuckle requiring little thought following a rough day at the office.

A familiar formula is followed and this time the events culminate at the glorious Hollywood Oscar celebration, the apple in the eye of all Los Angeles, undoubtedly the main reason this effort is marginally enjoyable. For unfamiliar viewers, the Naked Gun films are a combination of the Airplane! (1980-1982) and the over-exhausted Police Academy (1984-1994) franchises. The films were out of gas by 1994.

The franchise is based on the short-lived television series Police Squad! (1982), a procedural comedy about bumbling police personnel and the situations they get themselves into to showcase their ineptness.

The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult was O.J. Simpson’s final role before he was damned for all eternity for his presumed role in the murder of his wife and her friend in a ritzy area of California.

Leslie Nielsen returns as Frank Drebin, retired and living with his wife Jane (Priscilla Presley). Bored with life, they experience marital problems and seek counseling. Six months after Frank’s retirement, he is visited by Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) and Officer Nordberg (Simpson), who ask for Frank’s help with an investigation. Police Squad has caught wind that mischievous bomber Rocco Dillon (Fred Ward), who is currently incarcerated, has been hired by terrorists to conduct a major bombing against the United States.

As Frank tries to keep Jane from finding out that he is dabbling in detective work again, he jokes that he is having an affair to throw her off the track. When she begins to suspect he really is having an affair this leads to a silly series of misunderstandings and gags which naturally are wrapped up as is always the case in films like this.

Nielsen is the main draw and he does what he does best and what makes him the king of spoof films. A serious actor before Airplane! he became typecast but had lots of successes ahead of him. He embraces his role which adds freshness. He doesn’t take himself so seriously so audiences can sit back and relax, enjoying the entertainment.

The lavish awards ceremony and the ingenious idea to plant the bomb within the coveted Best Picture Oscar sealed envelope is delicious, especially when the bomb is set to detonate when the card is pulled from the envelope and the winner crowned. This creates a good measure of suspense as the award show carries on toward the big finale.

George Kennedy has little to do but it’s the inclusion of stars like Vanna White, Weird Al Yankovic, and Pia Zadora that add zest to the production.

Director, Peter Segal, famous for lightweight comedies with heart, is wise to keep the running time at a quick one hour and twenty-two minutes. If longer, any momentum the film musters would have disintegrated. This was his feature-length directorial debut.

The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) may be the best in the trio but that says quite little considering it’s based on funnier and fresher endeavors. I champion the early Police Academy films for a needed dose of police incompetence and hilarity done up in a fun way. If one must watch a Naked Gun film and is partial to the Academy Awards, this one is begrudgingly suggested.

Calendar Girls-2003

Calendar Girls-2003

Director-Nigel Cole

Starring-Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Penelope Wilton

Scott’s Review #1,090

Reviewed December 11, 2020

Grade: B+

A clever female version of The Full Monty (1997), the middle-aged bordering on senior citizen characters, nudity comparisons notwithstanding, Calendar Girls (2003) has standard similarities. The film is a light-hearted affair, charming and fun with positive and inspiring messages about friendship and helping with cancer research. How can a film like this not bring a smile to the viewers face? It did to mine.

That said, it’s hardly high drama or material that requires much thought or dissection. I’d wager to say you only need to see it once. There lies a situational or clichéd theme as the women face the standard and guessable awkward moments, but the film entertains in style.

Calendar Girls is based on a true story adding merit, appreciation, and an endearing quality. It’s a feel-good film if there ever was one which is just fine in this case. The film was a box-office smash, and why not? It’s a comically robust experience.

A likable group of “women of a certain age” conspire to launch a calendar, baring their best assets for all to see. Before this sounds too scandalous or corny, the ladies do it for a good cause and not for any titillating pleasure. The women are British and, while attractive, are average looking gals with womanly figures. These tidbits lead to humorous and embarrassing situations as some of the women are more modest than others especially laid parallel to the conservative and crusty town that they live in. This leads to shocks among the prudish townspeople.

Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters) are best friends. When Annie’s husband dies of leukemia, they conjure up an idea of creating a nude calendar, where women pose while doing traditional duties like baking and knitting. The proceeds will go to research for the deadly disease. Unexpectedly, Chris and Annie, along with others from the Women’s Institute in which they are members of, achieve worldwide success even invited to Los Angeles to appear on television’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

The women clash due to their success and differing lifestyle directions, before reconciling and deciding that their ordinary lives aren’t so bad. They happily resume their nice lives away from the spotlight.

The comparisons to The Full Monty must be mentioned because they are so obvious. Whereas the men in The Full Monty strip on stage, the women prefer more modesty, nestled behind calendars for safety, but both groups hail from the English countryside and are regular folk. Since nudity is the word of the day, both groups possess average bodies and are championing worthy causes. Like it or not, this setup produces giggles.

The “calendar girls” are a relatable group which is marketing genius and allows the film to achieve much merit. Who would care if a bunch of supermodels posed nude while baking cookies? No, the everywoman factor is sky-high, allowing the film to be appreciated and savored.

Because Mirren and Walters, two respected British actresses appear in Calendar Girls, there is an added respectability. After all, would either choose a project less than credible? The obvious answer is they make the film better than it might have been. Penelope Wilton does too. There is a classiness the ladies bring, so that we can sink into our theater seats and revel in the good-natured comedy, assuring ourselves we are seeing something of quality too.

Calendar Girls (2003) is so like The Full Monty that they ought to be watched back to back. Perhaps a naughty night in, with a bottle of wine and some cheese, ready to embark on delights and jolly laughs.

Back to School-1986

Back to School-1986

Director-Alan Metter

Starring-Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Sally Kellerman

Scott’s Review #1,089

Reviewed December 7, 2020

Grade: B

Back to School (1986) is a formulaic, mid-1980’s comedy featuring obnoxiously loud funnyman, Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian you may love-to-hate. On paper, this film might have been a train wreck, but some proper pacing and good casting save it from being classified as drivel. Let’s be clear- it’s not great film making, but it serves a purpose- to amuse and delight.

Clearly, a vehicle for Dangerfield with a character mirroring his real personality, the film works. With a brisk one hour and thirty-six minutes, the film sticks to the script, not wasting time getting its point across, nor pretending to be some serious film with a clever message. No, there is little special or inventive about the film, but it’s light, entertaining fun.

The premise, a middle-aged man who returns to college and tries to persevere, is a setup rife with standard situations and comedic moments. Director, Alan Metter, known for gag films, this one his most notable, and big studio, Orion, take full advantage of the task at hand. They provide a mainstream, summer popcorn flick approach. Presumably, the story was conjured up by a group tasked with crafting an appropriate story for Dangerfield, and they succeed. The film delivers what it sets out to.

This might be a nice, nostalgic watch for parents and soon to be college-bound kids to watch together.

Thornton Melon (Dangerfield) is a wealthy corporate tycoon who wants his son, Jason (Keith Gordon) to get the college education that Thornton was unable to receive. While Jason is enrolled in college, he is unhappy and ready to quit. Thornton decides to enroll in the same college, determined to achieve his respect. Jason tries to fit in with his peers while Thornton falls in love with his literature professor, the sophisticated Dr. Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman), while feuding with the college dean, David Martin (Ned Beatty).

Predictably, Thornton is hardly the college type, so he pays others to write his papers for him, which is all the fuel that the dean needs to ruin him. He also attends parties and raucous events, preferring these to study groups. Thornton is eventually found out and forced to pass an exam to prove himself.

A more straight-ahead approach would have been to make Thornton an unsuccessful man, making his need to return to school more important, and the desire for his son to obtain a college education more powerful, but this might have made Back to School too serious a film.

We can ponder why Thornton joining Jason in college will do anything but alienate the kid, and we can ask ourselves why Jason is bullied by the swim team. He is a nice, likeable kid and students aren’t typically bullied in college- this is more a junior high or high school torture. There’s also little reason Diane would have romantic interest in Thornton, and clichéd characters like the dean and Thornton’s bitchy ex-wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) surface along the way. But, Back to School isn’t a film to be overanalyzed either.

On the positive side, the chemistry between Dangerfield and Kellerman is a nice addition, not feeling forced like it might have. They flow through their scenes with a light-hearted innocence. The father and son relationship is a success. Gordon’s brooding counterbalances Dangerfield’s over-the-top nature, so they possess differing personalities.

I’m not sure Back to School (1986) has the legs to be remembered very well. Too similar to other successful comedies of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s like Porky’s (1981) or Animal House (1978) to stand out, the film is for fans of Dangerfield only. Perhaps served up as an opening act to the better and much funnier Caddyshack (1980), one of the best genre films of the decade.

Airplane!-1980

Airplane!-1980

Director-Jim Abrahams, David & Jerry Zucker

Starring-Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty

Scott’s Review #1,087

Reviewed December 2, 2020

Grade: A-

Airplane! (1980) is a landmark film in the spoof genre, leading the pack in the decade of silly (the 1980’s) where films of this ilk and dumb comedies in general became a dime a dozen oversaturating the market. While the film is unabashedly brainless with gags for miles, the jokes work, and the tasteless brand of humor provide plenty of belly laughs.

Better yet, Airplane! never ages, holding up incredibly well long after its initial release. It’s just perfect for a Saturday late-night watch, or when one needs cheering. It’s in my Top 10 of comedies.

When it was originally released, the timing was perfect to spoof the by then aging world of disaster films. I refuse to believe that Jim Abraham and the Zucker brothers had malcontent on their minds since they created a friendly and benevolent yarn that’s just perfectly timed. Good comedy is tough to find, but this film gets it right. The monotone dialogue said with straight faces is what makes the hysterics genuine and palpable.

Not unfairly, is to say that Airplane! is to disaster films what Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was to daytime soap operas. A celebration and a clever wink to each, infusing much needed light-hearted appreciations. It’s fun to re-watch Airport (1970) and Airport ’75 with fresh eyes and a new perspective in parallel to this film.

Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is an ex-fighter pilot traumatized by the war, now working as a taxi driver. He is now terrified of flying despite his previous occupation, His girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Haggerty), conveniently a flight attendant, dumps him just prior to her flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Naturally, Ted throws caution to the wind and boards the flight in hopes of reconciling.

When several of the passengers and flight crew succumb to food poisoning, an inflatable named Otto must steer the plane towards Chicago. The crew convinces Ted to muster up the courage to safely land the plane because Otto cannot do it and subsequently conquer his fear of flying. A perilous yet comical landing ensues, and Ted and Elaine happily reunite.

The plot is a direct steal from Airport ’75 when poor Karen Black’s flight attendant character famously is instructed how to land the aircraft. Until, in sexist fashion, the men arrive to take control, sending her back to serve coffee. This is intentional and spot-on to show the ridiculous nature of that plot point.

The gags are legendary, the “Surely you can’t be serious”, “I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley” exchange the most famous one, always providing a laugh. The effortless dialogue as inane as it is somehow works exceptionally well and combines brilliantly with the pacing and delivery. It’s like a long and wonderful episode of television’s Saturday Night Live.

The chemistry between Ted and Elaine is very strong, making the audience root for their eventual reconciliation though it’s obvious they will ride off into the proverbial sunset together. Actors, Hays and Hagerty deserve tremendous praise for aligning the characters so well. Also of note, are the efforts of Leslie Nielsen and Peter Graves as Doctor Rumack and Captain Oveur, respectively. Nielsen would subsequently become famous for spoof films, none of them as good as Airplane!

I’ll never profess to be a slapstick person, but Airplane! (1980) is one that I embrace, undoubtedly because of my love for disaster films and fondness for airplanes. Advisable is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the zany ride that this satirical and very funny film offers.

After Hours-1985

After Hours-1985

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette

Scott’s Review #1,069

Reviewed October 9, 2020

Grade: A-

After Hours (1985) is a gem of a film. When thoughts of director Martin Scorsese are conjured, usually Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), or Goodfellas (1993) are his films that immediately spring to mind. Scorsese’s decision to create a pared down independent film was met with enormous success and accolades for the very first Best Feature indie film victory and Best Director honors. The experience is a black comedy set within the gritty and unpredictable underbelly of Soho-New York City in the 1980’s.

Mixing comedy with satire, Scorsese leapfrogs from similar content in The King of Comedy (1983) to this film made only two years later. Any fan of New York City will cheer with joy at the authenticity achieved since the film was shot on location there. The Big Apple in the 1980’s was a notoriously violent cesspool so the genuine setting and the use of dark streets and alleys is an immeasurable treat and adds much zest to this unusual film.

Yuppie nice guy, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), works hard as a computer data entry worker by day and shares an encounter with a quirky young woman named Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in a Manhattan coffee shop. After she gives him her number and leaves, he is unable to stop thinking about her and embarks on a late-night adventure to go and see her at her apartment. The night does not end how he thinks it will. Not by a long shot, as he spends the rest of the long night meeting various women and other strange characters as he traverses around the city attempting to get back home. He has lost his money and is broke.

The great aspects to After Hours are its bizarre characters and the cinematography that offers a tantalizing view of downtown Manhattan. The film is atmospheric and zany in its gloomy and steamy side streets and odd locales sprinkled with color. A dingy bar, a sophisticated artist’s apartment and a man sculpture that follows Paul everywhere are usurped by the film’s strangest and most interesting set, Club Berlin, an “after hours” club inhabited by punks who want to shave Paul’s head into a mohawk.

I enjoyed this film as a sort of “a day in the life of Paul” adventure story, albeit a gothic one. The film concludes wonderfully as the sun begins to rise just as the film ends and thus Paul’s wild night finally ends. I was chomping at the bit with the thought of what a new morning would bring and the possibilities of reuniting with any of the women he encountered the night before, either dead or alive.

Particularly charming to me while watching After Hours, the decade of decadence well into the past, are the relics once commonplace in everyday life. A phone booth, the traditional yellow cabs, and desktop personal computers are heavily featured. These items, relevant when the film was made, now seem like throwback niceties that make the film endearing and like a glimpse into someone’s time capsule.

I did not pick up on much authentic romance between Paul or any of the female characters- Marcy, June, Gail (Catherine O’Hara), or Julie (Teri Garr), but maybe that’s the point. While one winds up dead, not one, but two of them pursuit him, and not in a good way. The film is mystical, weird, and energetic. The inclusion of Cheech & Chong only adds to the revelry.

Sadly, underappreciated and too often forgotten, After Hours (1985) is a Scorsese treat worth dusting off now and then. The birth of the Independent Spirit Awards has a lot to owe to this film for grabbing top honors and the admiration works both ways. For a glimpse at the creative genius that is Martin Scorsese, this film gets an enormous recommendation.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Martin Scorsese (won), Best Female Lead-Rosanna Arquette, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography

Adventures in Babysitting-1987

Adventures in Babysitting-1987

Director-Chris Columbus

Starring-Elisabeth Shue

Scott’s Review #1,067

Reviewed October 5, 2020

Grade: B

Swimming in the myriad of teen comedies that were all the rage in the 1980’s, a few good, most bad, Adventures in Babysitting (1987) is one of the “okay” ones. It’s lightweight, yet fun. I like the female centered character who drives the story, likeable, personable, but also strong and bold, capable of handling tough situations without the saving hands of a man. The antics throughout the city of Chicago are also a major draw as I loved seeing the landscape and sites. The film is formulaic but works better than most.

The premise is quite far-fetched, bordering on absurd, masking in no sort of reality whatsoever. The plot points are gimmicky, silly, predictable and filled with urban, inner-city stereotypes, playing on the timely feeling of terror at the thought of being lost and in danger amid a major city. The reality of this decade was of crime ridden United States cities and the idea is brilliant for a mostly suburban audience safely nestled in their homes away from any real trouble. They can securely escape to the cinema where pretend danger awaits.

Elisabeth Shue, a near novice fresh off her debut film role in The Karate Kid (1984), takes center stage as the cool, pretty girl who is everyone’s best friend, not the least bit snobby. She plays Chris Parker, the fresh-faced, perky, seventeen-year-old high school senior, who is ditched by her boyfriend on their anniversary and is convinced by her mother to spend the evening babysitting the two Anderson kids, Brad (Keith Coogan) and Sara (Maia Brewton). Naturally, trouble ensues, and a planned dull evening of popcorn and a movie goes awry.

The gags must not be taken seriously. Beginning in the friendliness of Oak Park, Illinois, the action quickly spells out danger as a dirty, downtown bus station becomes the next set. Teenagers and youngsters being left alone in a metropolis is most parent’s worst nightmare and the film uses this angle to create one perilous situation after another. The gang even dangles from a skyscraper!

Adventures in Babysitting is director Chris Columbus’s first film and a worthy debut. Soon to hit the big time with the Home Alone film and its sequel (1990-1992) it’s easy to see how those films are patterned after Adventures. The tone is similar, and the antics of a young adult are explored. Columbus then moved to success with Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) before taking on the Harry Potter films. So, he adopts stories with a youthful or a young person’s point of view.

While watching Adventures in Babysitting the viewer needs to suspend all disbelief and just go into the experience for the enjoyment value. I vividly recall seeing this film in a theater on a hot summer night with popcorn and soda in tow, eager for a nice, light-hearted experience. This film delivered then, and still does.

The best parts are witnessing Chris and the gang driving a station wagon throughout downtown Chicago. Could this particular car be any more obvious a symbol of the ‘burbs? Does anyone in a city drive a station wagon ever? The image conjures up a boatload of kids, the shopping mall, and McDonalds. Chris is so out of place in the city and the situations so preposterous that we should be annoyed by the hijinks. But, somehow the film works! Of course, the film is riddled with banalities like car thieves, gangs, a dirty blues club, and as many criminals as one can imagine.

For viewers aching for a carefree trip down memory lane 1980’s style, the typical bunch of offerings from John Hughes- the trio of Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) usually come to mind first.  But lest not forget a fine and fun film, Adventures in Babysitting (1987) with a subtle message of a young woman taking charge and taking control, albeit with every other stereotype in the book contained in glaring fashion.

Enjoy the ride.

Adventureland-2009

Adventureland-2009

Director-Greg Mottola

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Scott’s Review #1,066

Reviewed October 1, 2020

Grade: B-

Adventureland (2009) is a cute film. That may seem like a compliment, but it’s not. There is nothing wrong with this film, but it’s a rather safe experience. In a word, it is fine, nothing more, nothing less. It plays as a romantic comedy and is mixed with a coming-of-age theme about two young adults merging from kid to adulthood. It’s a story that most of us can appreciate though it’s been done too many times in cinema for this film to do much more with. The selling point is the excellent acting.

The theme park (aka Adventureland) and the nostalgic 1980’s time period is a nice touch though it feels like a 2009 film with the actors fitted into retro costumes and hairstyles. Greg Mottola directed Superbad in 2007 so you can see the influence. He has a knack for directing films with a light comedic touch that will appeal to young adults going through some angst or young, blossoming feelings of love.

The stars of the film, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, terrific actors in their own regard, have little chemistry together and that weakens the picture. They are helped immensely by a talented supporting cast, who pick up the slack and improve the film. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Wendie Malick, and Ryan Reynolds give a comic boost to the events. Unfortunately, despite positive trimmings the film feels like your standard, every day, independent comedy with little left to separate it from other contemporaries. It just has big stars.

Likeable James Brennan (Eisenberg) anticipates a fabulous trip to Europe after graduating from Oberlin college, having earned it for his achievements. Unfortunately, his parents Mr. and Mrs. Brennan (Jack Gilpin and Malick) break bad news to him. They are in dire financial straits and can no longer support him. He must get a part-time job immediately. The disappointing news disappointed me as well. I was savoring a nice adventure in London, Paris, and Rome. Sadly, the rest of the film takes place in an amusement park in Pennsylvania.

Predictably, Mottola, who wrote the screenplay as well, offers banal and stereotypical characters such as Mike Connell (Reynolds), the resident mechanic, who is a rival for the affections of Em (Stewart), the love interest of James. Thrown into the mix are various characters who are a bitch, a sarcastic college student, and a nerd. And, for good measure, James is a virgin. Naturally. The film nosedives with some slapstick humor and misunderstandings worthy of American Pie (1999).

When Adventureland was made Eisenberg was on the brink of breaking out into a fantastic role in The Social Network (2010) that garnered him an Oscar nomination and credibility. Stewart, meanwhile, was in the middle of her Twilight (2008-2012) years which made her a household name but was undoubtedly creatively very unfulfilling. This film is a reminder that actors need to work and make the best of the material they are given.

Truth be told, the main attraction of watching Adventureland is to sit back and admire what was to become of Stewart and Eisenberg. Since the film’s release in 2009 they have traversed meatier and better projects. Eisenberg has a Tom Hanks or a James Stewart likeability. His is someone who the average young male can relate to and the problems that James must face could easily be challenges the viewer might also have.

In the case of Stewart, what a star this girl is with the right roles. Since 2012 she has declined roles in big-budget films in favor of independent productions for the next few years. She took on a terrific supporting role in the drama Still Alice (2014) as a troubled daughter. Still young, the future looks very bright for the talented actress.

But, back to Adventureland (2009). This film is only suggested for a glimpse at the early work of Eisenberg and Stewart. Two young stars who went on to enormous critical cinematic success.

Adaptation-2002

Adaptation-2002

Director-Spike Jonze

Starring-Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Scott’s Review #1,064

Reviewed September 24, 2020

Grade: B+

Adaptation (2002) is a kooky film that is recommended for all writer’s or lovers of the written word, especially for those ever having suffered from writer’s block. The film is wonderful for people who are either curious or obsessed (me!) with how a novel is turned into a screenplay. With an A-list cast featuring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep the offering is credible and not just a bumbling indie experiment with no budget. Stars must get paid, which allows the film a mainstream audience, and awards.

The film will certainly be too weird for some. There is a measure of conceit and self-indulgence (it’s set in Los Angeles after all!) that is sometimes off-putting, but I adored the premise too much and chomped at the bit at what I was offered. It’s quite non-linear and the characters sometimes do things that are weird or out of turn. Adaptation is certainly different (in a good way) and is recommended for its oddness as I cannot think of another film like it, though Being John Malkovich (1999) would be close. Director, Spike Jonze would later create Her (2013) and, of course, directed Malkovich too.

Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay and the central character is Charlie Kaufman, played by Cage, who also plays Kaufman’s brother Donald, a mooch. Charlie is self-loathing and disheveled but somehow likeable. He struggles mightily to bring words into his head as he nervously sits at his typewriter day after day when he is tasked to adapt the novel, The Orchid Thief, into a film. The novel’s author, Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, intimidates Charlie, who decides to pay her a visit in New York City.

This film features the best work of Cage’s career. An actor that is mysteriously “not for everybody”, the performance rivals that of Leaving Las Vegas (1995), in which he won an Academy Award. A dual role is certainly tough to play, but the actor does so with bombast and confidence, making the characters very different from each other and making me forget they were Cage. Too often sinking to inferior action films like Face/Off (1997) or Con Air (1997), the actor wisely had an epiphany or something and made a wise decision. Cage does best when he goes for wacky- Raising Arizona (1987) is proof of that.

The supporting players, specifically Streep and Cooper are fantastic. Streep could fart through a film and still give a great performance and you can tell she enjoys the part of Susan, allowed to let loose. Her character loves sex and drugs and is not above devious shenanigans to get her way. Cooper, who won the Oscar, is delicious as John Laroche, a theatrical character with missing front teeth, who is the secret lover of Susan. Both provide great entertainment.

Adaptation simply feels good for a thought-provoking writer providing oodles of “writer things” to ponder and discuss with friends after the credits roll. Many scenes are rich with layered dialogue and rife with originality making the words sparkle with pizzazz. And there are enough twists and turns to keep viewers guessing.

One of the most original and kooky films you will ever see, Adaptation (2002) pairs well with Being John Malkovich (1999) for an evening of the odd and absurd, but also films not altogether hard to follow. The satirical Hollywood theme will both please and annoy but it’s all good fun and a lesson in creative art cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Nicholas Cage, Best Supporting Actor-Chris Cooper (won), Best Supporting Actress-Meryl Streep, Best Adapted Screenplay

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,033

Reviewed June 16, 2020

Grade: B

The final film by legendary and influential director Robert Altman is not his greatest work. If I were to compare A Prairie Home Companion (2006) to another of Altman’s pictures it would be Nashville (1975) both having grassroots entertainment similarities. The latter combines satire amid a political rally in a southern city while the former celebrates behind the scenes events at a long-running radio show in Minneapolis.

Difficult to criticize anything a genius does, my expectation was much more than was given. The film plods along with little excitement or juiciness ever happening so the experience is to enjoy the standard Altman fixtures like a huge cast, overlapping dialogue, and witty chatter. A melancholy effort since no new material will ever be released by the cinema great, but a chance to celebrate his achievements all the same.

Set in present times, events take place in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a chilly city in the United States mid-west. A long-running live radio variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, prepares for its final broadcast. The radio station’s new parent company has scheduled the show’s home, the storied Fitzgerald Theater, for demolition and dispatched “the Axeman” (Tommy Lee Jones) to judge whether to save the show. Prospects are grim as radio shows are deemed a thing of the past and irrelevant.

The many radio stars revel and reminisce in memories as they prepare for cancellation. Led by the singing Johnson Girls, Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and sister Rhonda (Lily Tomlin), and daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) who are most prominent, other characters include cowboy duo Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly); pregnant PA Molly (Maya Rudolph) and the show’s creator and host, Garrison Keillor. A spirit known as “Dangerous Woman” (Virginia Madsen) also joins the group.

Star-power is not the issue here and pleasing is to witness a bevy of A-list Hollywood stars duke it out for screen-time. Anyone possessing knowledge of Altman knows that he was an actor’s director, meaning he let his actors truly shine and interpret what the motivations of the characters were. Garrison Keillor, who wrote the piece, follows Altman’s lead in this area letting the cast try and bring to life what is on the written page. Unfortunately, they fail.

While meandering greatly, A Prairie Home Companion has an earthy and humanistic theater troupe quality. The stars of the radio show are like family and cling to each other for moral support during uncertainty. This feels nice to the viewer as a common compassion is endearing, many of the individuals have spent decades together. Their stories and experiences resonate warmly, and one can’t help but being sucked into their lives.

The problem with this is that the stories go on and on and quickly seem pointless. There is little doubt whether the show will close. While the people are enamoring nothing much really happens in the film and it becomes a bore. The character interactions lack any energy and do not carry the film in any direction. They merely are what they are.

I can appreciate a slow build if there eventually is a pay-off. A Prairie Home Companion (2006) never achieves full-throttle or hits the gas petal so that the film exists but doesn’t shine. With masterpieces such as The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975), and 3 Women (1977) my expectations were soaring so that may be a part of my let down. Prairie Home is not included in my go-to catalog of Altman greats and would teeter at the bottom of a master ranking of his films.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

A Fish Called Wanda-1988

Director-Charles Crichton

Starring-Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis

Scott’s Review #1,013

Reviewed April 20, 2020

Grade: B

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an intelligent and witty British-American comedy that was a sleeper hit upon its release garnering critical acclaim and awards affection. The heist flavored production has good comic timing and brisk acting. I adored it not quite as much as most critics though admirable is the quick wit and energetic timing, to be respected in comedies. With some silly moments thrown in that feel staged and unnecessary the film is not as brilliant as some would say and not a memorable entry in the comedy genre.

A crooked foursome, all from shady backgrounds and manipulative tendencies, come together to commit the heist of the century. They are about to get away with it until the London police arrests one of them. Can the other three now on the lam persuade their comrade’s lawyer to reveal the stolen loot’s location? Will they double-cross each other in order to find stolen diamonds that the gang leader has secretly hidden?

The players are con artist Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto West (Kevin Kline), her lover pretending to be her sibling, George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), an animal lover with a stutter. Each has their own personal motivations while relying on the others to get what they want, presumably at the other’s expense as events escalate to dire urgency.

The film gets props for being different. Frequently, in the comedy genre, laughs are attempted at a dizzying speed so that often they do not feel fresh. They also usually contain stereotypical or stock characters who serve little purpose other than to move events along at the sake of character development. A Fish Called Wanda is quirky to say the least with some intelligently written dialogue and sequences, especially the reveal of where the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds is housed. The film’s title is a major clue.

The chemistry between the actors is the best part of the film, especially between Kline and Curtis, two actors with exceptional comic timing. As they spar and bicker and plot not just against each other but against the others they are in cahoots with, the antics get wilder and wilder. Kline was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and victory. His character of Otto is also the most developed.

The final sequence which takes place at Heathrow Airport in London is a fun wrap-up to the caper. A gun, a steamroller, and wet cement are key elements in the wacky finale as character run rampant inside the airport and on the airport tarmac as an airplane is about to take off for parts unknown. Many other scenes take place about London since that is where the film was shot.

Where the film loses me, a bit is with very little sense of meaning of the subject matter. The group are con-artists, or otherwise unsavory characters, but little more. There are no characters to root for or empathize with and the events that transpire are quite silly and superfluous. While the story is fun, what is really the point? All the characters manipulate each other but that is it.

Going against the grain in cinema is always appreciated and the comedy genre is too often stagnant and trite, rarely feeling fresh. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an encouraging project that dares to offer new and inventive gags and physical comedy. The film hits some high marks and strikes out with some portions, leaving an uneven result.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Charles Crichton, Best Supporting Actor-Kevin Kline (won), Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

A Day at the Races-1937

A Day at the Races-1937

Director-Sam Wood

Starring-Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx

Scott’s Review #1,011

Reviewed April 13, 2020

Grade: B

Spewing out a collection of successful films throughout the 1920s and 1930s, A Day at the Races (1937) is a creation by the Marx Brothers that continues the zany adventures of the bumbling men. Not as laugh out loud funny as their earlier works, particularly the memorable Duck Soup (1933), considered to be their best achievement, the film has trademark chuckles and physical comedy for miles that celebrate their vaudeville roots. A horse and a private sanitarium are the major players in this installment.

The film suffers from a myriad of stereotypes and startling racial overtones as any apt viewer will likely need to remind themselves of the decade the film was made. These scenes are thankfully brief and not the highlight of the story. A Day at the Races belongs to the Marx Brothers as their klutzy humor and one-liners are the best parts leaving the romantic leads and the foils as standard characters. Backstage problems were prevalent leaving some continuity issues in the final product.

Judy Standish (Maureen O’Sullivan) owns the struggling Standish Sanitarium which she can barely afford to keep afloat. The devious J.D. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille) owns a nearby racetrack and nightclub and aspires to use the sanitarium space to open a successful casino. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx), a horse doctor, treats the wealthy Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), who she thinks is a “real” doctor, and agrees to financially back the sanitarium, but only if Hackenbush runs it. Suspicions arise when Morgan and his business manager attempt to locate the real Hackenbush in Florida.

Meanwhile, Judy’s fiancé, singer Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), who performs in Morgan’s nightclub, has just spent his life’s savings on a racehorse named Hi-Hat. He hopes that the horse, which he purchased from Morgan, will win a big race and the money will save the sanitarium. Hi-Hat is afraid of Morgan and runs away whenever he hears Morgan’s voice. All the principal players gather for a hysterical conclusion as an exciting horse race ensues with a case of mistaken identity mixed in for good measure.

The main attraction is Groucho, Harpo, and Chico as they provide a robust dose of clumsy, action-filled pranks, misunderstandings pops and bops that keeps them fluttering about the silver screen in fast-paced fashion. The other characters serve as either foils or support for the trio of funny men, so much so that they feel like stock characters. Jones and O’Sullivan have some chemistry as the straight leads and a few tender moments, but neither is the film about them.

The running time of one hour and fifty minutes feels long for a genre film like this and several scenes meant only to balance the physical comedy could have been eliminated. The famous exchange between Hackenbush and Mrs. Upjohn where she exclaims “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” and he, without missing a beat replied, “Well, it’s early yet” is a classic comedy and heartwarming to the eyes and ears as the pacing between the characters is nice.

A Day at the Races (1937) feels dated during some scenes and a stark reminder that inclusion did not always exist in cinema and laughs were to be had at the expense of minority groups. Putting this aside, as a comic creation the writing is witty and entertaining and a perfect showcase for the Marx Brothers to continue their fantastic run of films. The film might be a suggestion as one in a group of a marathon or binge-watching effort rather than as a stand-alone since better chapters are to be found elsewhere.

Oscar Nominations: Best Dance Direction

Tag-2018

Tag-2018

Director-Jeff Tomsic

Starring-Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm

Scott’s Review #1,010

Reviewed April 10, 2020

Grade: D

Tag (2018), starring Ed Helms, weakly attempts to re-create some semblance of magic that The Hangover trilogy (2009-2013) initially had, in which the actor starred. The result is an over-the-top and self-indulgent mess that incorporates the standard gags that raunchy comedies always do and little more. The characters are caricatures and the film provide no character development or anything fresh to stay with the viewer after the end credits role. The most interesting part is post-credits where the real-life figures the film is based upon, appear.

The film gets off to a dumb start as Hogan Malloy (Helms), an established physician, inexplicably gets a job as a janitor at an esteemed corporation in order to go undercover and “tag” Bob Callahan (Hamm). The childhood friends, along with “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) attempt to pursue and “tag” their other buddy Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), who has alluded the “loser award” for the past thirty years, given to the member last tagged during the month of May, when their annual contest is held.

The rest of the film piggy-backs on this premise as the group pursues Jerry in tired form as adventures ensue. The specifics are running through other people’s apartments, tumbling down fire escapes, impersonating elderly women, and a continued use of back flips, stop-motion editing, and nutty situations. You get the idea.

The least appealing quality that Tag possesses is it feels forced and too derivative of other similar films. The film-makers try to create a “buddy film” and a camaraderie between the characters that never amounts to much. The reason for this is they embed each with specific qualities that define the character instead of making them fresh or creative in any way. We meet Chilli as he smokes pot with his father, revealed that he is divorced, unemployed, and a pothead. Bob is uptight, business-like, and the ladies’ man. A token black character (Kevin) is the comic relief. The characters are one-note and uninspired.

Other weak points from a character standpoint are prevalent. Hogan is written as the “straight man”, meaning the most sensible of the group. He is the main character and has a competitive streak that his wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) shares. Her character is most irritating as she has fits of rage then turns sweet. Fisher has been cast in raunchy comedies for most of her career so it would be nice to see her branch out to better roles. Finally, Hogan’s mother, the local bartender, and a fitness worker are written poorly.

As a bonus, the film chooses to add a homophobic sequence in to offend audiences. Meant for laughs, as are most offensives, the male fitness worker is lightly interrogated as the men attempt to locate Jerry. A back and forth involving presumptive oral sex is written as a joke and in addition to being unnecessary, the sequence goes on and on. Wishful thinking is for genre comedies to finally create something fresh, stereotype free, or making mockeries of groups of people.

Predictably, the conclusion is silly and trite. The film culminates in a hokey wedding scene when the friends are tricked by Jerry’s fiance who fakes a pregnancy and miscarriage in a gag-worthy effort. A moment of feigned sincerity is followed by a juvenile rapid-fire torrent of “You’re It!” that would make a ten-year-old boy roll his eyes in disbelief.

Tag is not a complete disaster. If one sticks to the entire watch, a couple of tidbits of pleasure espouse themselves. Familiar classic rock songs like Danzig’s “Mother”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”, and “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies are interspersed throughout the running time. An added romantic triangle between Bob, Cheryl (Rashida Jones), and Chilli has potential if it were not relegated to a sub-plot with no resolution. Both men have chemistry with Cheryl and possess some rooting power.

A film that will certainly wind up in the $1.99 (or less) bargain bin, Tag (2018) might have been a relaxed effort to shoot by the cast of actors, but they must have had more fun than anyone watching it will have. With big name stars and an, on paper anyway, interesting premise, the film fails to deliver the goods, embellishes a based on a true story to the max, and results in a complete waste of time.

(500) Days of Summer-2009

(500) Days of Summer-2009

Director-Marc Webb

Starring-Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Scott’s Review #1,002

Reviewed March 20, 2020

Grade: B

(500) Days of Summer (2009) is an unconventional love story that deserves props for being different, but never completely catches fire as a film effort. What it tries to do left-of-center from most conventional romantic comedies is to be admired, but I did not feel much connection to the characters and the result seemed pointless.

The independent film garnered some praise for being unique and clever, but this is out-shined by a gnawing, forced feeling, like the filmmakers are trying to be edgy for the sake of being edgy, adding in story elements that are contrived. The lead characters conveniently both like an obscure band and an obscure artist, throwing them immediately together. The film is a modest effort but will only be remembered as an indie project with a bit of unfulfilled potential.

When his girlfriend, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), unceremoniously dumps him, greeting-card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spins into a depression and begins reflecting on the year-long relationship the pair spent together, looking for clues as to what went wrong. As he rummages through the good times and the bad times, his heart reawakens to find what is most important. The Los Angeles backdrop sets the tone for the five-hundred days of Tom and Summer.

Director, Marc Webb, a first-time director at this point, now known more for The Amazing Spider-Man reboot franchise (2012-2014) steers in an experimental direction. Shown somewhat as a “year in the life” in the young lovebirds blossoming relationship, the film is presented in a nonlinear narrative, jumping between various days within the five-hundred days of Tom and Summer’s relationship. There is an on-screen timer showing the day, which is a nice addition.

Props are given for the creativity Webb infuses. The romantic comedy genre, not my favorite, is constantly saturated with formulaic films, predictable from the start. Frequently told from the female perspective, (500) Days of Summer tells the story from the male perspective, even reversing the traditional gender stereotypes. Tom is the lovesick romantic, and Summer the rough and tumble, one-night stand type. This is nuanced and throws the entire genre upside down.

The characters are questionable and the most able to relate to is Tom. There is some confusion and mystery with some motivations. The audience can understand how Tom falls head over heels for Summer, immediately smitten. His depression is deep and to be taken seriously, but he is depressed because of Summer, and any history or previous causes of depression are not mentioned. It feels like his depression is a convenient way of adding a story element.

Summer is even more perplexing and not deeply explored. Is she merely playing the field? After a song and dance scene where she explains she is not looking for anything serious and wants a casual romance, she suddenly marries another man. She hurriedly tells Tom that she discovered her husband was her true love and that she now believes in love, whereas Tom doesn’t anymore. Again, this feels more like story-line dictated writing versus anything character-rich.

Despite receiving a Best Screenplay Independent Spirit Award nomination, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and oodles of praise, (500) Days of Summer (2009) is a non-conformist piece with some nice moments but feels irrelevant. The lead actors are talented and do a decent job with the material given, but meander through the experience since it is more about the film than the acting. The result is not a pure dud, but neither is it a pedigree winner.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Male Lead-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Best Screenplay (won)

50/50-2011

50/50-2011

Director-Jonathan Levine

Starring-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #1,001

Reviewed March 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The subject matter of cancer is an incredibly tricky one to portray in film. Especially tough when any comedic bits are incorporated- the risk lies in jokes not going over well or being misinterpreted. With 50/50, director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser craft and intelligent and genuine story, based on a true one, led by upstart actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, shining in the lead role. Comic actor Seth Rogan is on board cementing the comedy elements.

Otherwise healthy twenty-something Seattle resident, Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) experiences severe back pain and is shocked to learn he has a malignant tumor in his spine. Devastated, his world is turned upside down. He is usually accompanied by best friend Kyle (Rogan). While Kyle is brash and outspoken, Adam is reserved and mild-mannered. They are opposites, but inseparable friends. Adam is dating artist Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), whom Kyle despises adding conflict to the story.

The screenplay and Gordon-Levitt’s performance are the superior aspects of 50/50. The title of the film is poignant because Adam is given the dubious news that he has only a 50/50 chance of surviving his cancer. The young actor provides heart and soul to his challenging role and his acting is such that scenes do not feel cliched or manufactured. This, naturally, is due to the excellent writing by Will Reiser. He crafts a sincere script that is straightforward, avoiding razzle-dazzle, but one that is also heartfelt.

My only criticism with 50/50 is that I would have liked a bit more darkness. As we all know, real-life cancer patients must endure the ravages that the brutal disease inflict. The film never really goes there and shows how devious the disease is and what happens to the human body. I get that the film tows the line carefully, but despite shaving his head, Adam does not lose much weight or suffer other visible indignities. The toned-down approach feels PG- rated rather than R-rated as it might have been.

This can largely be forgiven because the main message of the film supersedes this point. The film shows that love and friendship can be the best healers and the root of good, kind, humanity. This is something every viewer can take and learn from and it makes the film lovely and worthy to witness. The romantic comedy elements do not work, and I am not even sure they are necessary. The main draw is the undying friendship between Adam and Kyle and Adam’s experiences with other cancer patients along his journey.

Combining comedy and cancer are not easy tasks, but thanks to exceptional writing and a talented cast, 50/50 (2011) succeeds in its achievements. The film and Gordon-Levitt were rewarded with Golden Globe nominations but missed out on any Oscar nominations. If the intended result of the film, to ease cancer patient’s minds about their situations, and provide some meaningful entertainment, the film is a major win.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Supporting Female-Anjelica Huston, Best First Screenplay (won)

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Director-Franco Brusati

Starring-Nino Manfredi

Scott’s Review #996

Reviewed March 6, 2020

Grade: B

Bread and Chocolate (1974), known as Pane e cioccolata in Italian is a mixed dramatic and comedic offering by the director, Franco Brusati, a well-known Italian screenwriter and director. The film is charming and tells of one man’s trials and tribulations trying to make it as a migrant worker in a foreign country- in this case neighboring Switzerland. He is conflicted by the opportunities presented and the catastrophic way his life is screwed up at every turn. The film is meaningful and poignant but sometimes has no clear path. A commonality is the representation of differing cultures.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) is a hard-working Sicilian man who heads for Switzerland in search of a better life- the time-period is the 1960’s or the 1970’s when this was a common occurrence. Despite his best efforts to fit in with his neighbors, he never quite seems to make it, haplessly going from one situation to the next.

He befriends and is supported for a time by a Greek woman named Elena, who is a refugee and harbors secrets. He forages a career as a waiter and befriends a busboy. As his luck dwindles, he is reduced to finding shelter with a group of Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, with the same chickens they tend to in order to survive. With bizarre gusto they frequently emulate the chickens, strangely parading around their quarters like animals.

The main character of Nino reminds me of the character that Roberto Benigni played in the 1997 gem, Life is Beautiful. In that film, Guido tries to shelter his son from the horrors of war. In Bread and Chocolate, Nino has a zest for life using humor to survive and get through daily situations, slowly realizing his dire straits. Both characters are scrappy and daring; Nino humorously urinating on a tree or awkwardly finding a dead body in the woods.

The theme of the film is loaded with conflict overstaying in Switzerland to find a better life or returning in shame to his homeland of Italy, assumed a failure. Nino constantly wrestles with this quandary and discusses this point with his family photos in his bedroom. In two instances he nearly gets on a train headed back to Italy but changes his mind. The film does not do a great job explaining or showing what is so awful back in Italy.

Bread and Chocolate are difficult to categorize because it is neither a straight-ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situation comedy moments in favor of exhibiting melancholia and sadness. I am not sure this is a great decision as we wonder many times if we should laugh with Nino or feel bad for him? Perhaps both?

The film scores big when it focuses on comedy as evidenced by several laughs out loud restaurant scenes. Nino, clearly not knowing what he is doing, struggles to properly peel an orange to serve a guest. He emulates another waiter with hilarious results. Later he offends a snobbish, sophisticated woman after she blames him for causing her to fall to the floor.

The strangest scene occurs when the chicken people spy on four gorgeous Swiss siblings bathing in a nearby river. Gorgeous and tranquil, they are the definition of stunning and lush. Charmed by the idyllic vision of the group, Nino decides to dye his hair and pass himself off as a local. The images of the cackling and dirty Italian people, with their snickering and drooling set against the peaceful family, are both beautiful and odd. The scene could almost be featured in an Ingmar Bergman art film.

Bread and Chocolate (1974) is a film about a man’s journey that nearly can be classified as an adventure, drama, art film, or comedy, and sometimes crosses genres too much. The comedic antics draw rave reviews, but the film slips a bit when it goes into the dramatic territory and becomes middling and too preachy. Actor Nino Manfredi breathes all the life he can into a film that is appealing, but not quite marvelous.

21 Jump Street-2012

21 Jump Street-2012

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #992

Reviewed February 20, 2020

Grade: C+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex Tape-2014

Sex Tape-2014

Director-Jake Kasdan

Starring-Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel

Scott’s Review #980

Reviewed January 15, 2020

Grade: C

Sex Tape (2014) is a cliched, by the numbers, standard romantic comedy that meets expectations, but does little to exceed them. It is a raunchy affair, perhaps too raunchy for some, and riddled with juvenile moments. The film contains good chemistry between the leads and is fun up to a point. The final sequence strays too far into dumb, situation comedy style moments, with way too many seen before stereotypes, that take most of the preceding fun away.

With universally scathing reviews, I expected to hate the film, and salivated over the opportunity to craft a good, old-fashioned terrible review, but alas, Sex Tape is marginally fair to middling. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, reuniting again after starring in Bad Teacher (2011), do what they can with the material given, offering strong convictions and fluid moments of enamored charm. In a supporting role as the boss, Rob Lowe is fine in a stock role, and the child actors are abhorrent (what else is new in romantic comedy casts?)

The film treats the viewer to a brief backstory, narrated by Annie, about the fresh romance between twenty-somethings, Jay and Annie Hargrove (Segel and Diaz). Much in love, they can barely keep their eyes off each other and have sex at the drop of a hat. Once they settle down and have kids, their romantic interludes must be balanced and scheduled amid bath time, feedings, and the necessity of sleep. Annie writes a popular blog, expressing the challenges of being a mom, as she bucks for a well-paying job at a company run by Hank Rosenbaum (Lowe).

One day, while feeling naughty, Jay and Annie rapturously and spontaneously decide to record their session of hanky panky on video, to enjoy later. Predictably, an error occurs, and their lovemaking session is inadvertently synchronized to video to several iPads the couple had given away over time, which ridiculously is the entire cast. They struggle to retrieve the iPads one by one and erase their session, while being blackmailed by an anonymous viewer.

The strength of Sex Tape is in the pairing of Diaz and Segel because without these actors the film would be drivel. In physical comedy films, chemistry and antics are everything, and these two have it down. We accept that the married couple, despite it being ten long years, are still smitten with each other, avoiding the doldrums. What they need is a spark and it is fun watching them come up with a sneaky idea. Even when the film gets bad, the actors are a hoot.

The supporting cast is what one usually gets in a romantic comedy and wonder of wonders is why these characters are always written as a “type” and not better fleshed out. Examples are Jay and Annie’s best friends, Robby and Tess Thompson (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper), one-dimensional and offering merely extensions of the lead characters, with no character development of their own. The same can be said for Annie’s mother (played by Nancy Lenehan), and the children.

To say nothing is how the studio clearly attempt to promote the latest technological tool, the iPad, to death is strongly evident. If one more iPad appeared on screen I would have screamed. And how is it possible to record yourself in numerous sexual positions with an iPad? If they were filming themselves how did they move the iPad and get into those positions? Why did everyone and their brother have an iPad? A weak explanation alluded to Jay’s occupation being somehow responsible.

Sex Tape (2014) does not rewrite the comedy road map and will assuredly be forgotten over time- might this film’s bad reviews and the disastrous remake of Annie (2014) be the reason why Diaz retired from acting altogether? Regardless, for a pleasant Saturday night of silly laughs over a cosmopolitan or two, this film may be the way to go, but for fans of Diaz, watch There’s Something About Mary (1998) instead.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls-1970

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls-1970

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers

Scott’s Review #976

Reviewed January 2, 2020

Grade: B+

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) was originally intended as a sequel to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls but was revised as a parody of the commercially successful but critically panned original. This was not altogether a smart move since it would have been interesting to see a coherent follow-up exploring the lives of the original characters instead of a similarly named film with little to do with the first.

Instead, the film plays like frenetic mayhem with jarring edited scenes, a peculiar character switch and storyline, and completely over-the-top vulgarity. Still, the film is fun and extravagant, but hardly on par with Valley of the Dolls. I would not even recommend watching them in sequence- the confusion would only be doubled.

To call Valley of the Dolls a “serious” film is laughable, but compared to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it is. Director Russ Meyer, known for successful sexploitation films that featured campy humor, satire, and large-breasted women, such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Supervixens (1975), is at the helm to create the bombastic and eye-dropping shenanigans. Famous film critic Roger Ebert co-wrote the screenplay along with Meyer.

Three young women-Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and “Pet” Danforth (Marcia McBroom) front a struggling rock band, The Kelly Affair, managed by Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), Kelly’s boyfriend. The four travel to Los Angeles to seek Kelly’s estranged aunt, Susan Lake, an heiress to a family fortune. Fans of Valley of the Dolls will need to know that Susan is supposed to be Anne Welles, the central character in that film.

A battle ensues as Susan graciously offers to give some of her fortunes to Kelly, but Susan’s unsavory financial adviser, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod) will have none of it. Amid the drama, Kelly meets a gigolo who feuds with Harris, while Harris is pursued by a sexually aggressive porn star named Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams). Events all take place against the backdrop of the night after night Los Angeles party.

While the plot is not the central aspect of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the renaming of Susan from Anne, the same character, as well as recasting Barbara Parkins with Phyllis Davis, make things confusing. Adding to this point, Parkins was originally cast as Anne/Susan but was abruptly fired from the production. This makes any comparisons to Valley of the Dolls other than the title alone, unwise and a waste of time.

The lively revelry is the fun and the beauty of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The film has a cool and groovy vibe and epitomizes the late 1960s psychedelic and colorful aura. The free love and the expressionism make the experience a wild but liberal-minded experience and that is suitable for a film like this. The intention is to entertain and express the confidence of women. While the female characters are exploited, they are also driven and comfortable with themselves.

A fun fact, and cause for musing, is that as wild and exploitative to women (and men) as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is, that Ebert was largely responsible for penning the script. In the 1980s the critic, who I am a cherished fan of, panned many of the 1980s horror/slasher flicks, especially Friday the 13th (1980) for exploiting women, but he had no issue exploiting them years early. Makes one ponder the hypocrisy of his comments.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) is daring and never plays things safe. With a hip edge and plenty ahead of its time same-sex character representations, the film is unique and brimming with hilarious and bizarre antics. The plot is rather silly and goofy and unsurprisingly panned by critics but has become a cult classic and with repeated viewings, grown on me more and more. The production is meant to be watched late at night for better appreciation.

A League of Their Own-1992

A League of Their Own-1992

Director-Penny Marshall

Starring-Geena Davis, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #970

Reviewed December 18, 2019

Grade: B

Sports films are too often predictable affairs with fairy tale endings. They are also typically male driven. A League of Their Own (1992) is warm and sentimental, and while director Penny Marshall plays it way too sweet and safe for my tastes, there is a measure of feminism that is admirable and a bit different. The cast is well-known and provides professionalism and energy, but the film is little more than mediocre and strikes out towards the end with a far too pretty ending, doing exactly what these genre films normally do. It’s as if Marshall has a great idea, but then decides not to teeter too far left of center.

Beginning in 1988 (present times), elderly Dottie Hinson attends an opening of the new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. She reunites with several of her former teammates and friends, prompting a flashback to 1943, when the main story takes place. With many young men off fighting World War II, the Major League Baseball franchise is at risk. A women’s league is bankrolled which prompts the recruitment of several players, forming the Peaches and the Belles. They face off in the World Series to dramatic effect.

To be fair, the film is nice and welcoming, providing a haven for film goers seeking a solid story and a heartwarming sensibility. The lead actors, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, respectively the team manager and star player, provide strength and do the best they can with the roles given. During the early 1990’s both were big stars, and while their characters are not romantically linked, their chemistry is zesty. Hanks as Jimmy is a bit predictable and gruff, at first being little more than a male chauvinist, but eventually coming around to respect the women.

For fans of the sport of baseball, the film will be delightful. With enough action scenes on the outdoor diamond to please those fans, one might forget that the teams are made up of women. The demographic sought after is clearly female, but the sunny settings and standard hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn, result in the film drawing a wholesomeness that should also please men.

The supporting characters are too one-dimensional and cliched. The biggest offenders are the characters of “All the Way” Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell). The pop star, a horrid actress in my opinion, is written way too corny, cracking gum and talking tough, while O’Donnell is intended to be her sidekick. The duo is street smart and grizzled New Yorker’s, but the casting never really works, and the act feels very formulaic, losing its luster very early on.

While Marshall incorporates brief moments of tragedy, one minor character’s husband is killed in action during the war, all the action is safely in the United States, the war serving as more of a backdrop than a major player. More common are syrupy scenes between characters who at first have a miscommunication or misunderstanding, but then forge their way to a close bond. And do we ever really believe Jimmy will not become the women’s biggest fan?

A League of Their Own (1992) is a decent watch and marginally enjoyable in a fluff way. It provides little edginess and could have provided darker story points than it does. Instead it shows a slice of Americana and Apple Pie approach that while not all bad, is not all good either, feeling limited by its own sentimentality. The film could be much worse and possesses characters that the viewer can root for and cheer along with a home run or a safe slide into third base. This is mainly a result of the stellar cast that Marshall presents.

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 1960s, 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 viewer’s 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 the 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 1940s. Kubrick, well known for masterpieces such as The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) delivers perhaps the 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 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 1960s 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 different possibilities the film offers- in a way the absurdity of the situation, and the unthinkable way the situation could easily become reality.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stanley Kubrick, Best Actor-Peter Sellers, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Scarlett Johansson, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

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.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Female Lead-Elsie Fisher, Best Supporting Male-Josh Hamilton, Best First Screenplay (won)

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 filmmaker intends to showcase a romance between Abby and Jake so that the elements are set up in a way as to makes the characters likable, leaving a very predictable experience. When Jake arrives at 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 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 are 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.