Tag Archives: Dark Comedy films

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Reviewed January 23, 2009

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Zombieland-2009

Zombieland-2009

Director-Ruben Fleischer

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson

Reviewed October 25, 2009

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

A Serious Man-2009

A Serious Man-2009

Director-Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring-Michael Stuhlbarg

Reviewed November 20, 2009

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

Desperate Living-1977

Desperate Living-1977

Director-John Waters

Starring-Mink Stole, Liz Renay

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Reviewed December 4, 2016

Grade: B

Desperate Living will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a raunchy, late-night comedy, in similar fashion to other John Waters directed cult-classics. This one however, suffers from the absence of Waters staple, Divine, who did not appear due to scheduling conflicts. For this glaring omission, Desperate Living is not the greatest of the Waters films, but it is a fun experience all the same. The film has choruses of political satire, specifically fascism, and overthrowing the government.

Mink Stole (Peggy Gravel) takes on the lead role as a crazed, mentally unhinged, neurotic woman on the lam with her maid, Grizelda, after they accidentally cause the death of Peggy’s husband. Peggy has been in and out of mental hospitals and is clearly off her rocker as she yells at neighbors about communism. After an encounter with a lewd police officer, the duo are banished to Mortville, a town filled with outcasts and social deviants. They align with others in the town to overthrown the tyrannical Queen Carlotta, played by Waters fixture Edith Massey. Carlotta plots to spread rabies throughout the community and is at war with her daughter, Princess Coo Coo.

The issue with Desperate Living really is the absence of Divine, originally set to play Mole McHenry, a self-loathing female wrestler, determined to receive a sex change operation. One imagines Divine in this important role, which was played by Susan Lowe, a capable star, but no Divine. With Divine in the part, the hilarious possibilities are endless. Mink Stole carries the movie well, but traditionally being a supporting player in Waters films, is not quite the star the film needs to be a true success.

This is not to say that the film is a dud- it is entertaining and will please most Waters fans. It contains gross-out moments and vulgarity from the very first scene- as the opening credits role, we see a roasted rat, daintily displayed on good china, on an eloquent dinner table, presumably to be served.

Later, Carlotta meets her fate by being roasted, pig style, on a spit with an apple in her mouth. Another character is executed by being shot in the anus. The offensive moments never end!

There also exists a quite controversial scene that I am surprised made the final cut. Peggy, already in a frazzled state due to a neighbor-boy accidentally shooting out her bedroom window, she is shocked to find another boy playing “doctor” with a little girl in her downstairs basement. Both children are completely naked, leaving not much to the imagination. This scene is tough to watch as one wonders what the child actors thought of all of this. I have never viewed another scene quite like this in film.

Otherwise, Desperate Living is filled with cartoon-like characters, lots of sexually deviant leather men, grizzled men with facial hair, and other odd looking characters, making up the community of Mortville. Water’s set creations for the exterior scenes of the town are great- using mainly cardboard and rubbish he found throughout Baltimore where the film was shot, the sets show a bleak yet colorful underworld.

Desperate Living is a raunchy good time with over-the-top acting, trash filled moments, and laugh out loud fun. The lack of any Divine makes it not the first offering to watch from the Waters collection. Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble would take that honor.

Bernie-2011

Bernie-2011

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

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Reviewed January 7, 2013

Grade: C-

Bernie is a film that, surprisingly, received critical acclaim, as well as Golden Globe and Independent Spirit award nominations, but that I was left quite disappointed in. Categorized a dark comedy, it contains a morbid premise, which is not the issue, I just did not find it very good overall.

Despite being a true story of Bernie marrying and murdering millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Texas, the film was not compelling and was written too over the top. Inexplicably, the townspeople refused to believe Bernie’s obvious guilt.

To be fair, the film does contain a few funny and interesting moments and was based on factual events, but I didn’t feel connected to this movie as I expected and honestly found it a bit dull.

Jack Black is impressive as the title character- Bernie,  but only because it is a departure from his usual slapstick film roles. I don’t get the accolades being reaped on him for his performance. Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey are capable with the parts written for them, but one-note characters. Meh.

Seven Psychopaths-2012

Seven Psychopaths-2012

Director-Martin McDonagh

Starring-Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell

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Reviewed June 8, 2013

Grade: B-

Seven Psychopaths is a film that I truly wanted to like more than I actually did. It started off well with a Quentin Tarantino style that was appealing and the film does contain an interesting premise.

Colin Farrell plays the straight man in a cast of offbeat, quirky characters and is attempting to complete a screenplay entitled “Seven Psychopaths” based on these characters. Sounds great, but halfway through the movie stopped delivering. I found myself slightly bored.

The film has a unique concept, to be sure, but fizzles during the second act, so much so that it stopped making much sense and lost my interest.

I did admire the creativity, though, and the chemistry among the cast is great, but the story disappointed me.

The Big Short-2015

The Big Short-2015

Director-Adam McKay

Starring-Christian Bale, Steve Carell

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Reviewed January 10, 2016

Grade: A-

The Big Short is a confusing film- and that is its intention and also its genius. Throughout some of the film  I was uncertain how much I liked it (or got it), and found many of the characters unlikable, but at its conclusion I realized that is exactly what the film-makers intended-this is a clever tactic and makes The Big Short a success. On the surface the film has some humor, but is a very dark story at its core, and left me a bit depressed and terrified at the conclusion. I am very happy that the film is receiving accolades and is the “thinking man’s” hit movie of the season.

To attempt to summarize the film in a concise way, the film begins in 2005, approximately two years before the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), realizes the U.S. housing market is very unstable and predicts a crash. He attempts to profit by betting against the market, a move that is laughable to all around him- especially the banks who anticipate a windfall at Michael’s expense. Trader and fellow market manager, Jared Vennett and Mark Baum (played by Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell) catch wind of Michael’s theory and try to get in on the action. There is a sub-plot involving two younger investors also attempting to profit through the guidance of a retired banker (played by Brad Pitt).

The financial collapse is a tender subject and certainly no laughing matter, especially since it is so recent and effected so many people. The Big Short is touted as a comedy, which in a way is strange to me. I found the audience didn’t know exactly what to laugh or when. The film’s “laughs” were cynical, witty, and sometimes wicked. Many people do not get this type of humor.

In real life, people were kicked out of homes, lost their jobs, pensions, etc. and it was all the result of greed, which The Big Short hammers home.  Several scenes include frat-boy investor/trader types getting rich by enabling almost anyone to be able to afford a new house. Little did these people realize that there was a catch. The film paints a jaded picture of Wall Street. The rich get richer at the expense of the middle-class and poor. It is an age old sad tale.

Performance-wise, Carrell and Bale are the standouts. They both play characters who are damaged. Bale’s Michael is socially awkward, has a false eye, but is also a genius. Carrell’s Mark is angry, grizzled, and is in therapy as a result of his brother’s suicide. Both actors give great performances and have developed into worthy, credible acting talents. Worth mentioning are small, but meaningful roles by Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei.

The Big Short is shot in an interesting way- highly unusual, in fact. From time to time, the action will stop and a famed celebrity (Selena Gomez, a world-renowned chef, or a model in a bubble bath) will explain the events of the film, thus far, or give some sort of review. Also, more than once the actors will turn to the camera and speak directly to the audience. A nice, personal touch that I found effective.

In the end, not much in life has changed, which is the real message of the film, and a frightening one. As one character brilliantly puts it “people will go back to blaming the poor and the immigrants”, which is a sad message. After millions lost everything, not much has really changed in the world and The Big Short makes that very clear. The people responsible have gotten away with crime, the banks bailed out, and  anew scheme undoubtedly in place. It’s a sad world. The Big Short is a gritty, harsh look at reality and a terrific film.

Fargo-1996

Fargo-1996

Director-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring-Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films-#79

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Reviewed January 12, 2017

Grade: A

Fargo, the film, is a treasure as far as I am concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress. The film epitomizes dark humor, zany freshness, during a time in film when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity. Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same. Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling. The introduction of a crime- initially done in an innocent manner, escalates out of control. Fargo is part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film. The fact that the time period is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work in a fantastic way.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery. All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but really brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, shaky, yet with a down home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers. Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how this film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it. Fargo is an odd, little piece of art, and remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Pink Flamingos-1972

Pink Flamingos-1972

Director-John Waters

Starring-Divine, Edith Massey

Top 100 Films-#96

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Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

One of the true, and best, late night gross out films of all time, Pink Flamingos breaks down barriers I never thought possible to do in film, and contains one of the most vomit inducing scenes to ever grace the movies. The film is certainly one of a kind and will only be appreciated by a certain type of film-goer. Pink Flamingos is raw, entertaining, and must be seen to be believed. Outrageous in every way and shot documentary style, the film has weird close ups and amateurish camera angles, only adding to the fun. Personally, I love the film.

In what director John Waters famously dubbed the “Trash Trilogy”, along with similar films Desperate Living and Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos has the dubious honor of being the best of the three. Waters stalwart, Divine, plays Babs Johnson, an underground criminal who lives a meager existence in a trailer along with her mentally challenged son Crackers, and her bizarre, egg-obsessed mother, Edie (Massey). They are joined by Babs’s companion, Cotton. In an attempt to win the “Filthiest Person Alive” contest and usurp Babs from achieving this distinction. the Marbles (Mink Stole and David Lochary) set out to destroy her career.

Pink Flamingos is complete and utter over the top fare, but I have fallen in love with the film over the years. Let’s just say it is a type of the film that is an acquired taste, and one will eventually revel in the madness or be disgusted with its bad taste. Waters, a true creative,  breaks new ground in filthy behavior. On a budget of no more than $10,000, it is more than impressive how he pulled this off successfully.

The antics that Babs and the Marbles engage in are downright crude, but the extreme nature of the fun is exactly what is to love about the film. Hysterical is the character of Babs’s mother Edie. Confined to a crib and constantly inquiring about the Egg Man, she is obsessed with eggs and wants to eat nothing else. She eventually marries the Egg Man. The character is entertaining beyond belief.

The Marbles run a clinic in which they sell stolen babies to lesbian couples for cash.  When they send Babs a box of human excrement and a card that says “fatso”, the war between the two sides is on. The highlight of the film is the main sequence in which Babs holds a birthday party. A male contortionist flexes his anus in rhythm to the song “Surfin’ Bird”, which may be the only film featuring an anus. How Waters got away with some of this stuff is mind blowing.

The most disturbing scene occurs at the very end when Babs watches a dog do “its business” on the street and proceeds to pick up the excrement and eat it, revealing to the audience a toothy (and brown) smile. Reportedly Divine actually did this act. As the film ends, Babs truly is “The Filthiest Person Alive”.

Thanks to the genius of John Waters and Divine and the superlative supporting cast, Pink Flamingos is a reminder that creativity and unique humor does not have to conform to a specific style or follow a road map. Waters takes any film criteria and throws it right out the window, instead creating a masterpiece in warped fun and disgust.

Sexy Beast-2001

Sexy Beast-2001

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley

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Reviewed November 13, 2015

Grade: B+

Sexy Beast is an interesting little indie gem that has garnered quite  a cult following, deservedly so,  since the year of its release- 2001 and that I have recently viewed for the first time. In large part, the film belongs to Ben Kingsley as he gives a bravura, and frightening,  performance as a crime lord attempting to convince a retired hit man, now sworn to the straight and narrow, to resurrect his career for one last heist. The other principle characters are wonderful in their own right, as the film successfully mixes elements of Quentin Tarantino with Ocean’s Eleven- bank heist meets quirkiness, with smart and witty dialogue sprinkled in.

Gary Dove is happily retired and living a life of contentment with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee, and best friends Aitch and Jackie.  Having all been involved in “the biz”, they are long since removed from their respective careers. They now enjoy evening parties of wine and martinis, and days relaxing by the pool in their Spanish villas.  One day, a former criminal associate, Don Logan (Kingsley), who is also a sociopath, arrives to disrupt their peaceful lives and coordinate a bank heist in London, in hopes of luring Gary into the game once again.

As Gary and company nervously decide to decline Don Logan’s offer to participate in his sinister plan, a wonderful and important scene occurs early in the film. The quartet sits around the dinner table at a swanky Spanish restaurant anticipating a scrumptious meal. Jackie reveals the news that Don has contacted her and the tone of the scene immediately changes to one of dread. It is evident that all of them both fear and despise Logan. They agonize over this sudden disruption to their lives and we, the audience, fear Don Logan before he ever appears on-screen. What fantastic story-telling.

Kingsley portrays a menacing character and brilliantly so. The character contains a frightening brutality bubbling beneath his normally calm demeanor, that it makes the viewer shudder when he appears on-screen. Lest we forget, Ian McShane also gives a nuanced performance as Teddy Bass, Logan’s right-hand man, and wise business man. The cat and mouse scene towards the end as Teddy and Gary have an important discussion in a car is both chilling and important to the plot of the film. As Teddy slowly figures out certain events I was left intensely anticipating his reactions.

The film introduces  an intriguing  sub-plot involving Don’s long ago fling with Jackie and subsequent love for her which adds layers to the plot and the dynamic and tension between Don and Gary.

Upon finishing the film, I loved the effect of foreshadowing that the film contains. I found myself rewinding the events in my mind, pleasurably so.  From the pool, to the young Hispanic kid, to the thunderous boulder- all of these elements were crucial to the conclusion and fit like a puzzle.

A dark comedy of sorts, I chuckled at the conclusion of the film as the final reveal involving a double-heart insignia and a pool that gives comeuppance to the villain and pleases the viewer.

Having alluded viewing Sexy Beast over the years, I am glad that I finally found the time to witness a darkly comical gem that, admittedly, may take repeated viewings to absorb and therefore fully “get”, and I look forward to doing just that.

 

 

Pulp Fiction-1994

Pulp Fiction-1994

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman

Top 100 Films-#22

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Reviewed May 12, 2015

Grade: A

Pulp Fiction is one of the most influential films of the 1990’s and single-handedly kicked the film industry in the ass. It led an entire generation of filmmakers, who were starved and determined to make more creative work after the largely dull decade of the 1980’s. The success of the film, both creatively and critically, helped ensure that edgier and more meaningful artistic expression would continue to occur. The leader of the charge, of course, was director Quentin Tarantino. With Pulp Fiction, a black comedy crime film, Tarantino mixes violence, witty dialogue, and a 1970’s cartoonish feel to achieve a filmmaking masterpiece.

The plot is non-linear and the story contains three main focuses that intersect- a new style of filmmaking that has become commonplace in commonplace in modern cinema, but at the time was a novel adventure. Set in Los Angeles, Samuel Jackson and John Travolta portray hit men named Jules and Vincent, who work for a powerful gangster, Marsellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames. We get to know them as they interrogate four college aged youths who double-crossed Marsellus, all the while discussing fast-food hamburgers and adventures in Europe. On another front, Butch (Bruce Willis) is hired by Marsellus to lose a fight to another boxer. Later, Marcellus instructs Vincent to take his wife Mia (Uma Thurmon), a former unsuccessful television actress, out for dinner and a night on the town. Finally, we meet Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (Tim Roth and Amanda Plumber), two small town robbers plotting a heist at a local diner. As the film develops these plots relate to each other in unique ways.

The film is quite stylistic, resembling a 1970’s film production in the way it looks, and use of 1970’s style sets- the diner in particular looks very of that time, and an automobile where a death occurs, is a 1970’s Chevy Nova. The film, however, is set in present times.

The dialogue throughout Pulp Fiction is immensely impressive to me. Long dialogues occur between characters, usually sitting over a meal, discuss the meaning of life, religion, fast-food burgers, and other wonderfully real conversations. I love the many food references- from Butch’s girlfriend salivating over an impending meal of blueberry pancakes to the French version of the Big Mac being discussed, to the price of a shake, these make the conversations between the characters rich and unique and oh so creative.

My favorite sequence is the one between Vincent and Mia, mostly taking place at a trendy 1950’s themed diner named Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where the staff dresses up in costume impersonating their favorite stars of the day, such as Marilyn Monroe. After winning a dance contest (and a possible homage to Saturday Night Fever) the two go back to Mia’s place where she accidentally overdoses on heroin thought to be cocaine. The song “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” by Neil Diamond, is both integral and haunting to the scene.

An intense and shocking scene of male gay rape is extremely violent and the hillbillies involved could be straight out of Deliverance from 1972 despite being in Los Angeles. This scene is disturbing yet mesmerizing at the same time, and might I say even comedic in a dark way?

Pulp Fiction is not a mainstream affair and certainly has its share of detractors and plain old non-fans, but for filmgoers seeking a fun, entertaining, cleverly delicious work of art, influential to Hollywood and Independent filmmakers alike, Pulp Fiction is a film to watch over and over again and admire its style and creativity.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia-1974

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia-1974

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-Warren Oates

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Reviewed February 14, 2015

Grade: B+

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a Mexican, cult-action film from 1974, directed by Sam Peckinpah, that clearly influenced famed modern movie director Quentin Tarantino in multiple ways. The film itself is violent, bloody, and traditionally Peckinpah in tone and look, similar to his other films (Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch).

The premise of the film is intriguing- a powerful man known simply as “The Boss”, turns furious and places a bounty on the head of the man who impregnated his daughter, whom he, by the way, tortures in order to garner this information out of. He offers the enormous sum of $1 million dollars to the person who can “bring him the head of Alfredo Garcia”. From this point, the action centers mostly on Bennie, a retired military officer who is intrigued by the bounty up for grabs. Bennie, along with his prostitute girlfriend, Elita, traverse the lands of Mexico in search of Alfredo Garcia, whether he already be dead or still alive, which is a mysterious and fun element of the film.

I have a tough time taking the film too seriously as much as I enjoyed it- it seems an action farce and, without giving too much away, the scenes involving the carrying of a severed head, arguably the lead character, are as much comical as ghastly. The illustrious lighting is a major focal point, especially during the outdoor scenes and specifically the night time desert scenes when Elita is almost raped by two bikers. The moonlight radiates onscreen.

The character of Elita is a fascinating one for me. On the one hand she is an aging prostitute madly in love with Bennie and intrigued by a life with him living off their spoils. However, she almost enjoys the sexual experience with one of the bikers, played wonderfully by Kris Kristofferson, despite being roughed up by him-. In fact, the scene, while certainly violent, is in a way, almost tender as the biker and Elita realize their attraction for one another. It’s a surreal scene and has almost a sense of clarity for both characters. Are they in lust? Peckinpah women are traditional not treated well, but Elita borders on the exception.

The Tarantino influence is undeniable- the mixture of humor amid violence- a severed head being treated as a comical prop, is immeasurable in its comparison to later Tarantino films such as the Kill Bill chapters. Daring and pure genius, the film contains a dark tone, but does not take itself too seriously by going for any sort of melodrama or being overwrought. It is only a film and has fun with that fact. It tries to be nothing more and embraces being bizarre. Tarantino films are like Peckinpah films just made 20-30 years apart.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has evolved into a cult classic after having flopped commercially and critically in 1974. How wonderful when a gem is rediscovered and laden with influence, in this case as much stylistically as otherwise.

Harold and Maude-1971

Harold and Maude-1971

Director-Hal Ashby

Starring-Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon

Top 100 Films-#59

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Reviewed December 21, 2014

Grade: A

Harold and Maude is one of the bravest and most left of center films that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. A subject matter so taboo that it had never before been explored in cinema and, to my knowledge, has not since. The film challenges so many mainstream views of aging, sex, and relationships. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort give performances of a lifetime.

The film tells the story of an unhappy, wealthy teenager named Harold (Cort) whose mother- hilariously played by Vivian Pickles- is a cold socialite attempting to reform Harold of his rebellious adolescent behavior. Harold frequently plays suicide pranks on her and the numerous females she tries to set him up with, reducing them to tearful exits from the family mansion in frightened hysterics. Obsessed with attending funerals for fun, one day Harold meets Maude (Gordon), an elderly woman, at a funeral, and it turns out that both share the same fascination, but for vastly different reasons as the story shows. They embark on a tender romance despite their age difference of over sixty years.

In many ways Maude is the real adolescent of the film, which I love. It is a role reversal of sorts. On the cusp of age eighty she has a pure zest for life, living each minute as if it was her last, unconcerned with the consequences of her actions- she is a true free spirit. She gleefully steals cars that happen to be parked on the street and her erratic driving is comically brilliant. Harold becomes the more responsible one despite being the tender age of only nineteen. He cares for Maude and her shocking revelation towards the end of the film floors Harold. It will also shock the audience. Harold and Maude deals with death, but is far from a downer. In fact, it is hilarious at times, brilliantly written, and Maude, a Nazi prison camp survivor, does not fear death- she has seen her share of it and almost embraces it. Harold is just beginning his life and the contrast of the characters and their growing bond is what works best in this film.

The aforementioned Vivian Pickles knocks it out of the park with her portrayal of Harold’s mother- her comic wit and timing are excellent- she callously hosts a dinner party and boasts of her travels to France to the guests while Harold sits ignored, bored, and depressed, staring at his mother is disbelief. He wants nothing to do with her or her trivial lifestyle. She makes an unimportant phone call while Harold’s dangles from the ceiling in a faux suicide attempt- clearly a cry for attention from his mother. This is total black comedy.

The implied intimacy between Harold and Maude was too much for many viewers in 1971. I find it sweet and quite tastefully done. They simply fall in love and it feels wonderful for both of them. I would be remiss for not mentioning the wonderful, lively soundtrack by Cat Stevens.

Edgy, laugh out loud, unusual, witty are words to describe Harold and Maude- one of the most intelligent comedies in film history.

Heathers-1989

Heathers-1989

Director-Michael Lehman

Starring-Winona Ryder, Christian Slater

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Reviewed December 21, 2014

Grade: B

My gut tells me that Heathers was quite controversial and influential upon release in 1989 and has sustained a cult following that continues to this day- 2014. Having seen the film for only the first time, in 2014, the film is good, but now suffers from a slightly dated look and feel. Still, it is a brave and unique expression in creativity. It is clearly a film that sends the message that the popular kids are bad and that the meek shall inherit the earth. The uncool kids will rise up.

To summarize the plot, Heathers is told from the perspective of high school student Veronica Sawyer, played by a young Winona Ryder. She is a second tier popular girl- she is lieutenant to the generals, if you will. The school is run by three popular girls-all named Heather. As popular as they are, they are also despised and feared by the other students, but carry great influence. They enjoy playing cruel jokes on other students and ridiculing anyone beneath them. A rebellious male student, J.D., played by Christian Slater, befriends Veronica and they hatch a plan to destroy the popular clique, including another pair of popular jocks. Shannon Doherty plays second in command Heather.

The tone of Heathers is surreal and dream-like. For example, in the opening scene all three Heathers- along with Veronica- are on a perfectly manicured lawn in the suburbs playing croquet. The hierarchy is established as Veronica seems to be buried up to her neck and is the target of the croquet balls making her, without question, the lowest of the four girls. Whether or not this is a dream or real is unclear. The film is well written and edgy. It reminds me at times of The Ice Storm and American Beauty, which Heathers preceded, and are superior in my opinion. Heathers is a teen angst film and quite dark at times- the various deaths are committed viciously (drain cleaner poisoning, concocting a setup for the jocks to appear to be having a love affair with each other and then passionately shooting each other), but with sly wit and humor. Veronica is, at heart, a good girl, albeit misguided and heavily influenced by J.D., but her intentions of having a fair, just school society are noble. The character is likeable.

All the parents are hilariously portrayed as buffoons and have no idea of the darkness that exists in their kid’s lives- Veronica’s parents in particular. Fearing that Veronica has committed or soon will attempt suicide, they fret that it is their fault stemming from childhood negligence, however their concern has more to do with themselves than with Veronica’s well-being.

Small gripes about the film are the 1980’s style outfits and hairstyles, which, since made in the 1980’s is not a particular fault of the films- though it does contain a slightly dated feel to it while watching in present times. Also, Christian Slater mimicking Jack Nicholson’s voice is odd- was this a decision by the film or by the actor himself? Either way the imitation is both distracting and confusing. What is the point?

The ending of the film is a happy and satisfying conclusion- however, different from the dark tone of the rest of the movie- rumor has it the studio had some influence in toning down the original ending. 1989 was not a stellar year for film so Heathers deserves major props for thinking outside the box and doing something dark and creative. Brave, inventive, and unique, Heathers is a cult classic worth a look.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-1966

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton

Top 100 Films-#41

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Reviewed November 30, 2014

Grade: A

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate), is a dark film based on the play from the early 1960’s. Thankfully, by 1966, the Production Code had been lifted, allowing for edgier, darker films to get made- think The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde from the same time period. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is dreary, bleak, and with damn good acting by all four principles.

George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) are an associate history professor and daughter of the college president respectively, living in a small New England town. They have a bitter love/hate relationship. One night they invite young newlyweds, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), a new professor and his wife, over for drinks at 2:00 in the morning. From this point, a destructive night of verbal assaults and psychological games ensue with damaging and sad results for all parties involved, as their personal lives are exposed and dissected. At the forefront are George and Martha, who have a relationship based on insults, neediness, secrets, and booze. After an evening out, they return home and have a vicious fight. When their young friends arrive, the tension is thick. Eventually the young couple becomes sucked into the older couple’s web of dysfunction, aided by endless drinks throughout the night.

The film is shot very much like a play and filmed in black and white, which I found highly effective- most scenes take place in George and Martha’s house. While all four actors are great (and were all Oscar nominated), the standouts for me are Taylor and Dennis. This role is Taylor’s finest acting performance in my opinion- she is overweight, bitter, angry, frustrated, drunk, and at times vicious to her husband. It is a different performance from many of her other films roles and it is just dynamite. As her anger flairs up, one can feel the heat and intensity oozing from the screen. She goes from vulnerable and soft one moment to a grizzled, bitter woman the next. Dennis, conversely, is a pure innocent- kind, vulnerable, impressionable, and somewhat of a ninny. Having had too much brandy and spending more than one occasion in the bathroom, Dennis successfully plays giddiness and innocence to the hilt. Both Martha and Honey harbor dark secrets, which eventually are revealed.

The ambience is just amazing- black and white cinematography, a hot, suffocating feel to the film, it feels like a quiet little college hamlet and the setting of the eerily quiet wee hours of the morning is conveyed successfully. Each story told- mainly by George and Martha- is captivating in its viciousness (both usually belittling the other) that the film becomes mesmerizing in its shock value at the insults hurled. What will they say or do next? I loved the scene where Honey does an awkward dance at a late-night bar that the four of them go to. Also, the shotgun scene where George obtains the gun from the garage during one of Martha’s insulting tales is disturbing- what will he do with the gun? The stories involving George and Martha’s son are sad and mysterious- the viewer wonders what is going on. The final reveal gives me chills.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the greatest film adaptations of a play that I have ever seen.

Birdman-2014

Birdman-2014

Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu

Starring-Michael Keaton, Edward Norton

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Reviewed November 6, 2014

Grade: A

Birdman is a very unique art film, which happily, has garnered major exposure and publicity, because a movie like this runs the risk of receiving praise and notice only from the art house crowd itself. The film’s star-Michael Keaton, portrays Riggan Thomson, a former action hero superstar from the 1990’s, who was made famous for the “Birdman” character he created. Having made sequels to the film, his career has since dried up and he hopes to establish credibility and prove himself a real actor by writing, directing, and starring in his own play.

The film is set in and around the Broadway theater in New York City. As opening night approaches, he struggles to pull everything together and emit a successful production while faced with an injured terrible actor, a difficult actor, his own insecurities, and a miserable theatre critic destined to ruin his big chance. To make matters worse, his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone is a recovering drug addict who hangs around the theatre distracting actors with her charm and good looks.  Naomi Watts and Edward Norton play Leslie and Mike, other cast members in the production. Watts is sympathetic as the emotional actress with the heart of gold who finally has her dream of performing on Broadway realized. Norton, outstanding as Mike, is blunt yet socially awkward and can only perform truthfully on the stage. Keaton is simply a marvel as he plays a dark and vulnerable man hating and wishing to shed his ridiculous movie persona of yesteryear and secretly cringes when recognized by fans. He communicates with a voice inside his head, the voice he used when he played “Birdman” years earlier.

The uniqueness of the film is the use of what seems like one long take as the action rarely stops and seems to be ongoing. In my opinion, the film belongs to Keaton- he wonderfully relays vulnerability, pain, and fear within with an outward persona of bravery and masculinity. Throughout the film I wondered, is Riggan suicidal? What is real and what is imagined? Are certain scenes foreshadowing for later events? The film has much depth. One marvels at how art imitates life- Is Keaton really portraying himself? Keep in mind that Keaton was the original Batman in the successful superhero franchise beginning in 1989 and his career tanked shortly thereafter. Birdman is a comeback film for him and he is devastatingly good. Norton’s character Mike impressed me- blunt and honest he is also flawed and scared and in some ways addicted to the stage.  Stone has one particularly brilliant scene as she lambasts her father and with regret later on, tells him that the world has moved on without him and that he is irrelevant just like everyone else- it is a powerful scene. In another, Riggan is locked outside of the theater during the performance, clad only in his underwear- how on earth will he return to the stage and complete the show? The quick slights at current Hollywood superstars playing superheroes, specifically Robert Downey Jr. are deliciously naughty.

A dark comedy for sure, it is impossible to predict what will come next and the film is very New York theater style. Keaton’s run in with a theater critic in a cocktail bar is the best scene in the film as the critic’s vicious critique of “You’re a celebrity, not an actor” resonates both pain and tremendous anger for Riggan. Riggan is a sensitive, struggling man and Keaton so wonderfully shows his vulnerability in every scene. Bravo!

 

Diary of a Mad Housewife-1970

Diary of a Mad Housewife-1970

Director-Frank Perry

Starring-Carrie Snodgress, Frank Langella

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Reviewed November 4, 2014

Grade: A

The film version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, based on the best-selling novel by Sue Kaufman, is a tremendous, unique story of one woman’s frustration with her irritating life. A superb Carrie Snodgrass stars as a haggard, insecure, yet affluent housewife named Tina Balser, who lives in New York City, surrounded by an unpleasant family. The family is led by Tina’s verbally abusive and neurotic husband Jonathan- a successful attorney, played flawlessly and rather comedically by Richard Benjamin, and her two brattish daughters Sylvie and Liz. Bored, Tina decides to embark on an affair with crude artist George Prager, wonderfully played by Frank Langella. She teeters on the edge of an emotional breakdown throughout the film and trudges through life depressed and disappointed with all aspects of her life except for her affair with George. George, however, is a womanizer and openly has other conquests besides Tina.

The brilliant idea of the film is that the story is told strictly from Tina’s point of view. All of the action centers on her character, which makes the film so interesting. On the surface one might argue she has everything- she is intelligent, well educated, and affluent. A stay at home mother, she is treated like a servant by husband Jonathan, as he constantly berates her appearance and criticizes her activities- she is always doing something incorrectly.

The film though, is not a downer. It is a dry, satirical comedy that reminds me very much of a Woody Allen film. Tina is depressed, yes, but she goes through life with a realistic, almost chin-up, outlook. Her marriage to Jonathan is loveless yet why doesn’t she leave him? Her affair with George is sexually satisfying, but she has no intention of pursuing anything further with him, nor does he want to. Tina dotes over her husband- planning dinner parties, sending Christmas cards and various other wife duties.

I’m not sure that the films true intent is to show Tina as either a strictly sympathetic character nor as completely downtrodden- the film is not a moral tale nor is it a schmaltzy, woman victimized and will rise up against the world generic drama- it is witty and filled with black humor. Despite her unkind husband, I found myself envying Tina’s life, in a way, and I think the film expects that of the viewer. I never got the impression that Tina is suicidal in anyway. It’s not that type of film. Instead, she has wealth, she goes to fancy restaurants, but she also has a very needy husband- he does not abuse her in a physical sense, nor is she reduced to tears by his outbursts. She gets annoyed and merely accepts that this is the way life is and gets by with the assistance of an occasional swig of alcohol while doing dishes or preparing dinner, or when the dog has “an accident” on the living room rug and Tina’s kids cannot wait to tattle on her. She is a sophisticated woman, trapped in an unhappy yet financially secure relationship.

Diary of a Mad Housewife is an interesting character study for all women to view and perhaps even slyly wink at.  Many women would champion Tina. She is a likeable, sarcastic, cool chick. Audiences will find themselves drawn to her and even falling in love with her before long- I know I did. Without the talents of Carrie Snodgrass, who completely carries this film, it would not be the wonder that it is. A wonderful satire, the film is not as wry or satirical as the novel, but how many films are? The novel delves more into detail and the role of the Balser’s maid is barely mentioned in the film, yet plays a larger role in the Kaufman novel. I loved the portrayal of Jonathan by Richard Benjamin who must receive some honor for most annoying character ever in film,  when he repeatedly screams for his wife by bellowing “teeeenaaaaa!”, or initiating sex by asking “would you like a little roll in dee hay?”, one wants to choke him. The way Tina’s daughters whine “mudder” instead of “mother” is comically brilliant. And her simmering hatred of all of them is dark hysteria.

Diary of a Mad Housewife is genius and should not be forgotten.

The Skeleton Twins-2014

The Skeleton Twins-2014

Director-Craig Johnson

Starring-Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

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Reviewed October 2, 2014

Grade: A-

The Skeleton Twins is a tremendous, character-driven, family drama that focuses on character development rather than standard plot devices. The film stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live, but do not be fooled based on the actors involved that The Skeleton Twins is a light comedy- it is not. Certainly, there are laugh out loud scenes throughout, but this is a serious story about depression, suicide, and anger, and at times, is very dark. Wiig plays Maggie, a woman in her thirties who seemingly has it all- Lance, her handsome, loyal husband, played by Luke Wilson, adores her. She has a stable job as a dental hygienist, and lives a quiet, quaint life in upstate New York- seemingly enjoying a happy middle class existence. Hader plays Milo, Maggie’s estranged twin brother, who lives in Los Angeles and is a struggling actor with no agent, reduced to waiting tables in a lousy restaurant. Presumably just out of a relationship, Milo attempts suicide by slitting his wrists. Maggie flies to Los Angeles to visit Milo in the hospital and invites him to recuperate with Maggie and Lance in New York. Having grown up as best friends, they reconnect once Milo moves in.

The Skeleton Twins is so jammed packed with interesting story, both current and back story, that it becomes effortless to fall in love with Maggie and Milo. When the twins were aged 14, their father committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, a father they were very connected to. Their mother, played by Joanna Gleason, was a horrible mother growing up and, in present times, is a hippie involved in an interracial marriage. She awkwardly visits Maggie and Milo and attempts to heal them through meditation. Other character history is revealed- Milo, who is gay, was molested by his teacher when he was 15 years old, a teacher he is still in love with, and is wonderfully played against type by Ty Burrell. Maggie has carried on affairs with various men throughout her marriage to Lance and is secretly using birth control pills to avoid becoming pregnant- Lance happily thinks they are trying to conceive. The characters of Milo and Maggie are incredibly layered and well written- they are both damaged from a difficult childhood, suffer from depression, and now only have each other- rich material. Scenes in The Skeleton Twins range from hysterical- a scene in a dentists office involving laughing gas is roll on the floor funny and a lip- synching scene to the 1980’s schmaltzy hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, are both absolutely wonderful, to shocking- scenes where Milo and Maggie go at each other with gusto, dredging up childhood wounds, are brilliantly acted by Wiig and Hader.

The chemistry between Wiig and Hader is incredible and both actors are very successful at playing hysterical comedy versus dark drama, which impressed me. Luke Wilson is great in support as the straight laced, nice guy married to Maggie. A slight criticism- the character of Milo is written as stereotypically gay- man hungry and hardly a man’s man-He has trouble clearing brush because presumably he is too girly to handle the task- I wish more films would steer away from these stereotypes.  Ty Burrell’s character of Rich is so complex that I wish he would have been explored a bit more- being gay how can things work with his girlfriend while harboring many secrets? Is he still in love with Milo despite repeatedly pushing him away? I would have loved more depth to this complex character. At the conclusion of the film we are left with relief that the filmmakers did not go as dark as they could have, and audiences will know what I mean following the final scene. There is no fairy tale ending ether. Milo and Maggie are damaged goods who only have each other and that makes for a dynamic character rich film.

Female Trouble-1974

Female Trouble-1974

Director-John Waters

Starring-Divine

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Reviewed August 4, 2014

Grade: A

Female Trouble is a deliciously naughty treat by famous Independent film legend, John Waters. Not exactly family friendly, it is a gem for those desiring more left of center fare with depravity and gross out fun mixed in for good measure. Water’s theme of the film is “crime is beauty” and the film is dedicated to Manson family member, Charles “Tex” Watson.

Clearly meant for adult, late night viewing, the film tells the story of female delinquent Dawn Davenport, who angrily leaves home one Christmas morning after not receiving her desired cha-cha heels as a Christmas present. Her parents, religious freaks, disown her and she is left to fend for herself on the streets of Baltimore. The film then tells of her life story of giving birth and subsequently falling into a life of crime in the 1960’s.  Her friends Chicklet and Concetta are in tow as they work various jobs and embark on a career of theft. Female Trouble stars Waters regulars Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Cookie Mueller, and others.

Interestingly, Divine plays a dual role- Dawn Davenport (in drag, of course) and also the father of her bratty child- Earl Peterson. Dawn and Earl have a less than romantic interlude on a dirty mattress on the side of the road, when he picks her up hitchhiking, which results in the birth of Taffy. Also featured is the hilarious feud between Dawn and her love interest’s (Gator) Aunt Ida, as the women engage in tactics such as acid throwing and chopping off of limbs as they constantly exact revenge on each other.

Favorite scenes include Dawn’s maniacal nightclub act in which she does her rendition of acrobatics and then begins firing a gun into the crowd. Another is of Dawn’s dinner party with Donald and Donna Dasher- serving a meal consisting of spaghetti and chips, Taffy’s tirade ruins the evening in hilarious fashion.

This film is certainly not for the prudish, squeamish, or uptight crowd, but a ball for all open minded, dirty fun-seekers. The film contains one over-the-top, hilarious scene after another. The line “just cuz you got them big udders don’t make you somethin’ special” is a Waters classic.

Female Trouble is one of a series of outrageous, cult-classics featuring the legendary camp star, Divine. Not meant to be overanalyzed or some might say, analyzed at all, Female Trouble is unabashedly trashy and makes no apologies for its outrageousness.

The Evil Dead-1981

The Evil Dead-1981

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-Bruce Campbell

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Reviewed July 30, 2014

Grade: B+

For its time The Evil Dead was a unique, creative, visually impressive horror classic and far different from the wave of mediocre slasher films from this time period (1981). In the story, five teenagers head to a remote cabin in Tennessee for spring break. From the beginning of the trip there is trouble- they are almost killed in a head on collision, their car almost falls into a rickety bridge, and finally, at the cabin, they stumble upon a haunted book. From this point, even stranger event begin to develop and the haunting, crazy action begins.

Director Sam Raimi does an excellent job from a visual standpoint- the camera racing through the woods from the demons point of view is very effective and scary. The ambiance is creepy- fog, mist, smoke, and the lighting are great. The film has all the elements- darkness, remote cabin, woods coming alive for a genuinely scary horror flick. Yes, the film seems a bit campy watching it now, but at the time the special effects were brilliant.

My personal favorite is the long shot of the twitching dismembered body and the various, hysterically funny chattering and gibberish among the demons. The ending of the film is very well done.

All About Eve-1950

All About Eve-1950

Director-Joe Mankiewicz

Starring-Bette Davis, Anne Baxter

Top 100 Films-#84

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Reviewed October 3, 2013

Grade: A

All About Eve is a cynical masterpiece from 1950 set in the competitive world of the New York theater. Insecure Margo Channing, played to perfection by Bette Davis, is an aging actress whose career is on the downturn. She meets naïve Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, who insinuates herself into Margo’s life and career. One interesting facet of this film is how the opening scene is of an acceptance speech by Eve. The look of anger and disdain from the front table gives a good indication of things to come. From there the film backtracks to the first time the two women meet and the story really begins. It is certainly a dark film and jealousy and back-stabbing are common themes throughout as had never been done before in film set in the world of theater. One by one, each of Margo’s friends catch on to Eve’s plot, but at what cost? This is Bette Davis’s comeback performance as a talented Broadway star and she makes the most of the opportunity as she deliciously utters her famous revenge minded line “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night”. Marilyn Monroe has a cameo role as a debutante in her first film role. The film deservedly won the 1950 Best Picture Oscar.

American Beauty-1999

American Beauty-1999

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening

Top 100 Films-#65

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Reviewed October 11, 2013

Grade: A

American Beauty is a film that holds up magnificently well and packs the same punch that it did when I originally saw it when it first premiered in 1999. The film won the Best Picture Oscar in 1999, surprisingly so, as it is not a mainstream film and is edgy, artistic, and poetic.

The film is a thought provoking story of the American Dream gone wrong and how most people live ordinary, humdrum, on the surface, happy lives, but in truth are unhappy, damaged, or otherwise unfulfilled. It is a truthful film and reminds me quite a bit of The Ice Storm, a film from 1997. American Beauty is not a downer, but rather is witty, dark humored, and filled with dry sarcasm. Kevin Spacey is tremendous as the central character going through a mid-life crisis and Annette Bening is frighteningly good as his neurotic, controlling wife. Their daughter, played by Thora Birch, has her own teenage angst and falls in love with a neighborhood misfit. Every character, even small and supporting, is troubled in some way.

American Beauty is a film that was loved or hated at the time of its release; some simply did not get it or did not want to invest in the thought it requires, but, to me it’s a work of art, which has achieved a timeless quality.

The Anniversary-1968

The Anniversary-1968

Director-Roy Ward Baker

Starring-Bette Davis

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Reviewed November 27, 2013

Grade: B+

The Anniversary is a British film based on a play of the same name. The story centers on the Taggert family reunion celebrating the anniversary of the matriarch (Bette Davis) and the deceased patriarch.

The film is set like a play and most of the action takes place inside the Taggert family mansion. The film is all Davis and she gives a delicious over the top performance as a vicious mother intent on controlling her 3 son’s lives and terrorizing their wives or significant others with cutting remarks and insults.

Davis must have had fun with this role as her storied career was clearly on the downturn and this role allowed her to let loose. One must wonder if Davis chewed up the actors in the cast as much as the characters- rumor has it she was quite intimidating to her fellow actors and a terror to work with which adds to the macabre enjoyment. Her physical appearance of an eye patch, wig, cigarette, and bright red lipstick all works in her favor. Her maniacal laugh is incredibly campy and wonderful to watch.

Bette Davis is one of the greats and this late career romp is fun to watch.

Catch-22-1970

Catch-22-1970

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen

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Reviewed December 17, 2013

Grade: B

Catch-22 is a satirical film similar in subject matter to Robert Altman’s Mash, released the same year though admittedly I have not actually seen that film yet. It does remind me of Dr. Strangelove, and Slaughterhouse Five in their anti-war theme.

This film is well made and certainly effectively portrays the outrageousness and lunacy of war. Most of the characters are presented as crazy, albeit in a dark humored, over-the-top way.

Alan Arkin is wonderful as the protagonist trying to find a way out of the island off of Italy where he and his fellow pilots are stationed. At times the film felt disjointed and tough to follow, which I understand the novel is too (I have not read the entire book), but the message of the movie comes across loud and clear.