Tag Archives: Dark Comedy films

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Peter Sellers, George C. Scott

Scott’s Review #958

Reviewed November 13, 2019

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Director-Taika Waititi

Starring-Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #955

Reviewed November 6, 2019

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh Lucy!-2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoroughbreds-2018

Thoroughbreds-2018

Director-Cory Finley

Starring-Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy

Scott’s Review #880

Reviewed March 26, 2019

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Director-Miguel Arteta

Starring-Salma Hayek, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #844

Reviewed December 18, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Favourite-2018

The Favourite-2018

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #843 

Reviewed December 17, 2018

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Director-Matt Spicer

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen

Scott’s Review #832

Reviewed November 16, 2018

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Office Space-1999

Office Space-1999

Director-Mike Judge

Starring-Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston

Scott’s Review #811

Reviewed September 16, 2018

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-2017

Director-Martin McDonagh

Starring-Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Scott’s Review #703

Reviewed December 4, 2017

Grade: A

Frances McDormand takes control of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri from the first scene and never lets go as she gives a riveting portrayal of an angry mid-western woman seeking justice in the Martin McDonagh directed 2017 vehicle. The up and coming director has also created such films as  2008’s In Bruges and 2012’s Seven Psychopaths. Similar to these films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is peppered with dark comedic moments and vile, bitter characters. The film is a measured success as it is not your standard Hollywood production and, in fact, is quite left of center.

The action begins as we meet McDormand’s Mildred Hayes, sitting alone in her beat up station wagon, brooding by the side of the road gazing at three tattered billboards. She is clearly both pissed off and thoughtful as she formulates a plan to purchase a years worth of billboards, questioning the local police’s ineptitude at finding her daughters rapist and killer. Woody Harrelson portrays the Ebbing police chief, Sheriff Bill Willoughby, and Sam Rockwell plays the racist and dim-whited officer Jason Dixon, both displeased with Mildred’s activities.

Other casting decisions in small yet important roles are Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s adolescent and depressed son, Robbie, and John Hawke as her ex-husband, Charlie, who is dating an eighteen year old ditz. Peter Dinklage is well cast as local car salesman, James, an earnest dwarf with a crush on Mildred. Well cast supporting roles are prevalent throughout the film as small town locales like Jason’s mother, and Red, the owner of the advertising agency, who rents the billboards to Mildred, shape the experience. The casting in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a strong point of the film as a whole.

The town of Ebbing is portrayed as dreary, blue collar, and racist, but just perfect as a way of setting the tone of the film. I suspect residents of the mid-west or southern United States of America may take some issue with character representations. Jason is clearly written as both racist and not too smart and he encompasses numerous characters in the film. Enough cannot be said for Rockwell’s performance in transforming a hated character during the first two-thirds of the film to suddenly almost becoming the hero towards the end. Props are also deserved by Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby- bordering on hick and racist, he also has a heart, and cares about Mildred’s predicament- when a shocking event occurs, he becomes an even richer character.

Worth pointing out and impressive to me as a viewer, are that the three prominent black characters- Willoughby’s replacement, Abercrombie, Mildred’s best friend and co-worker, Denise, and a kindly billboard painter, are each written as intelligent and sensitive, a fact I found to perfectly balance the other less sympathetic characters. In this way, a nasty film becomes more satisfying.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, though, belongs to McDormand. Successful is she at portraying a myriad of different emotions. From her sly eye-winking as she crafts a good verbal assault on whomever crosses her path, to an emotional breakdown scene towards the end of the film, McDormand embodies the character with depth. During a gorgeous scene, she has a sweet conversation with a peaceful deer grazing nearby, for a second imagining it could be her dead daughter reincarnated. The scene richly counter-balances other violent and difficult scenes. McDormand manages to look downright homely in some scenes- beautiful in others.

A film sure to divide viewers- some will champion the films crisp writing and witty dialogue, others will undoubtedly be turned off by the foul language and nasty nature of some of the characters. I found Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to be sarcastic, gritty, and well told, a versatile affair rich with layers and brimming with enjoyment.

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #635

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Zombieland-2009

Zombieland-2009

Director-Ruben Fleischer

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson

Scott’s Review #586

Reviewed January 6, 2017

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

Desperate Living-1977

Desperate Living-1977

Director-John Waters

Starring-Mink Stole, Liz Renay

Scott’s Review #534

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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

Scott’s Review #472

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Reviewed August 30, 2016

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

Scott’s Review #422

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Reviewed June 19, 2016

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

Scott’s Review #369

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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

Scott’s Review #366

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

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

Scott’s Review #359

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

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

Scott’s Review #286

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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

Scott’s Review #242

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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

Scott’s Review #222

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Reviewed February 20, 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

Scott’s Review #208

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Reviewed December 30, 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

Scott’s Review #207

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Reviewed December 25, 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

Scott’s Review #200

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Reviewed December 3, 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.