Tag Archives: Epic films

Exodus-1960

Exodus-1960

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #1,005

Reviewed March 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Creating a monumental epic about the modern state of Israel, director Otto Preminger’s vast project Exodus (1960) is a bold adaptation of the Leon Uris novel from 1958. Starring stars of the day for added Hollywood spice and a romantic element, the result is a sprawling war drama with robust proportions and a hefty running time. At times the film lags or even drags, but the enormous importance of the message and the influence of stimulating Zionism should never be forgotten.

With the treacherous World War II barely in the rear-view mirror, Israeli resistance fighter, Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), attempts to bring six-hundred European Jewish Holocaust survivors from British-blockaded Cyprus into newly developed Palestine. He meets Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), an American volunteer nurse, at the camp. The pair team-up, along with others, to attempt to liberate the survivors.

The action eventually switches to Palestine where other characters and motives come into play in a complex story. During this time, opposition to the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states is heating up, leading to tension, bombs, and death among similar types of people. Central to the main plot is a young love-story involving spirited Dov Landau (Sal Mineo), a radical Zionist resistance group member, and Karen Hansen Clement (Jill Haworth), a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for the father from whom she was separated during the war.

Exodus has so much story going on and multiple plots to follow. The main draw, besides the tense story, are the two love stories told amid the political turmoil. Newman and Saint have marginal chemistry, he is eye-candy who electrifies the screen, she seems too old for him and does not photograph well. Kitty, a widow, hedges on her romantic feelings for Ari, but they do ultimately unite. A gorgeous sequence occurs when the two share a delicious meal of fish and martinis amid a rooftop restaurant overlooking the dazzling landscape. She later dines with his parents, his mother a classic Jewish mother who in stereotypical fashion, cooks and fusses.

The fresh-faced pairing of Dov and Karen is reminiscent of Tony and Maria from West Side Story. Doomed from the start, the youngsters are opposites in many ways, he hot-headed, she sensible and resilient. He is bronze and swarthy, she is blonde and blue-eyed. I fell in love with the couple, more than Ari and Kitty, and rooted for their happily-ever-after moment, which sadly never occurred.

At nearly four hours in length, the film is best watched in segments, perhaps even four, to let the action marinate overnight. The complex drama is aided by the sweeping cinematic photography and the lush exterior sequences. A drawback was not getting to see the film on the big-screen, almost a must in hindsight, and limited by the DVD quality over Blu-Ray. Nonetheless, the film is delicious in nearly every way. Just when tedium is about to occur, an event happens that snaps the viewer back to immediate attention.

A notable fun fact is that Preminger boldly hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, on the dreaded Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for communist leanings, to write the script Together with Spartacus (1960), made the same year, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry. The importance of what is written on the blank page is arguably surpassed by the man who wrote those pages.

Exodus (1960) nearly rivals the epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in its cinematography of exotic and sacred landscapes in daring and forbidding lands. Perhaps twenty minutes or so could be carved out when the action loses momentum, but with great direction, a top tier cast, and a historical lesson in the harshness of war and generations of conflict, makes the film resonate with the realism of the subject matter.

The Leopard-1963

The Leopard-1963

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #991

Reviewed February 18, 2020

Grade: A

One of the great works in cinematic history, I preface this review by stating that I viewed the English dubbed version of the brilliant The Leopard (1963) starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. This version is considerably shorter, at two hours and forty-one minutes, than the Italian version, which is three hours and five minutes. As grand as the former is, my hunch is that something is lost in translation put side by side with the latter. The English version has no subtitles and is available only on DVD, so the film is difficult to follow, but is still rich with texture.

An interesting tidbit is that the film surgery was performed without director Luchino Visconti’s input – the director was unhappy with the editing and the dubbing. This point is valid since some of the voices are Italian and French, sounding too American and unauthentic. Admittedly inferior, the English version is nonetheless extravagant and lovely by its own merits, though I am dying to see the original version, if available.

The time-period is during the 1860’s as the tumultuous era effects the country of Italy and more specifically, Sicily. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) is at a crossroads, torn between holding onto glory he once knew, and accepting the changing times, welcoming a more modern unity within the country. He is surrounded by a new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) who has a gorgeous daughter, Angelica (Cardinale), who intends to marry Fabrizio’s French nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon). The film dissects the changing times in Italy.

The visual treats that await the viewer are astounding and by far the best part of the film. The lovely and palatial estates are gorgeous with decorative sets, bright and zesty colors, and ravishing meals displayed during parties to make any audience member salivate with joy. The costumes are state of the art, as each frame can easily be a painting on a canvas. A tip is to periodically pause the film and study and immerse oneself in its style.

Many film comparisons, both past and yet to come, can easily be made when thought about. An Italian Gone with the Wind (1939), if you will, with Angelica as Scarlett and Tancredi as Rhett (okay, the chemistry is not quite the same, but similarities do exist), and Concetta as the long-suffering Melanie, the characters can be compared. The great ball, the costumes, and the ravaged country are more prominent comparisons.

Nine years post The Leopard, a little film entitled The Godfather (1972) would change the cinematic landscape forever. Director, Frances Ford Coppola must have studied this film, as the plentiful scenes of Italian landscape and the Italian culture are immersed in both films. Even snippets of the musical score mirror each other. What a grand film to borrow and cultivate from!

Despite all the beautiful trimmings that make The Leopard a masterpiece, the film belongs to Lancaster, in his best role of his career. The hunk in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, as the Prince, he is aged to perfection, distinguished looking with graying sideburns. The film is an epic extravaganza and the actor leads the charge, carrying the film. He is a stoic man, but not without fault and emotion, wearing his heart on his sleeve, realizing that he must adapt to the changing times. We feel his quandary and embrace the character as a human being.

Attention paying fans must be forewarned that the plot is basic and while difficult to follow because of the absence of sub-titles, at the same time there is not a highly complex story to follow. The story is about how the Prince maneuvers his family through troubled (and changing) times to a more secure position. This is the overlying theme of the film.

Suffering from dubbing and quality control issues can do nothing to ruin a spectacular offering that is obviously a cinematic gem and testament to the power of The Leopard’s (1963) staying power. I eagerly await the day when the traditional Italian version can be located, and discovered, as this will assuredly be a treat to sink my teeth into. Until then, the film is a historical epic that can be appreciated for the dynamics and importance it so richly deserves.

1900 (Novecento)-1977

1900 (Novecento)-1977

Director-Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring-Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu

Scott’s Review #984

Reviewed January 28, 2020

Grade: A

An epic to rival all epics, 1900 (Novecento) (1977) is a grandiose offering of monumental proportions featuring legendary actors and created by a brilliant director. With a running time of a whopping three-hundred and seventeen minutes in its original version, 1900 is known for being one of the longest commercially released films ever made. The cinematography is breathtaking, and the historical value powerful, as friendship, class distinction, and rivalry are outlined and explored in depth. The key is to let the experience marinate and blossom with a slow and patient build.

Brilliant director Bernardo Bertolucci’s tale follows the lives of two Italian men, a peasant named Olmo (Gerard Depardieu) and landowner Alfredo, (Robert De Niro), both ironically born on January 1, 1900. Inseparable as children, the two become estranged as their differing social status pulls them apart. Their personal conflicts mirror the political events in Italy, as both fascism and socialism gain prominence in the country.

Here is a bit of background on the film. Due to its length, the film was presented in two parts when originally released in many countries, including Italy, East and West Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Colombia, Pakistan and Japan. In other countries, such as the United States, a single edited-down version of the film was released. The latter is not the way to watch this film. I am not a fan of severely edited films, especially in an epic such as 1900, so the full-length version is highly recommended.

The film opens on April 25,1945, the day Italy is liberated from the fascists, and this is key to the political message Bertolucci crafts. As peasants’ revolt against the owner of the land, Alfredo (De Niro), and female laborers wield deadly pitchforks, the resulting ambiance is one of chaos. We know nothing of Alfredo yet but know enough to realize he is rich and perceived a tyrant. The natural reaction is to sympathize with them because they are oppressed.

As the film back tracks to the turn of the century, a more elegant scene emerges with the birth of two infants, Alfredo and Olmo. The sequence is sweet, both babies bright and filled with promise. Sadly, this is not meant to be. A railway track is an important addition to the film and one that culminates in the climactic finale.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the dynamic and development of Alfredo and Olmo as they grow. Alfredo resents his family’s wealth and sides with Olmo, a socialist. Alfredo sees his family as false and Olmo and his family as genuine. This aspect is timeless and can be related to by any viewer with any intelligent sense of the world today. The obvious analogy of the haves and have nots cannot be clearer in this film. Scary, is that some have nots are convinced they will one day become the haves.

The message and feelings that 1900 elicit are emotional and strong. Aren’t all men created equal? On the surface they are, but Alfredo and Olmo are not equal. As the birth scene reveals and as Bertolucci makes clear, they are born with advantages and disadvantages. These characteristics simply are what they are, and as human beings grow and learn social norms the financial differences become stronger and the humanistic connections weaker.

If the social aspects of the film or the brilliant cinematography are not enough to please a viewer, the historical lessons presented are second to none. One can simply revel in the political and historic excitement that existed in Europe throughout the forty-five years in which the film is set. I wish Hollywood made more films like this.

1900 (Novecento) (1977) can be enjoyed as both a grandiose dramatic period piece, revered for its majestic and flourishing design style, or as a thought-provoking message film, about the unresolved social class distinctions that exist in the world. I found the film a treasure that works on all levels and showcases just how good a director Bertolucci is. This film is not his best-known work, but for fans of cinema as an art form this is a must-see.

1917-2019

1917-2019

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman

Scott’s Review #979

Reviewed January 14, 2020

Grade: A

My personal tastes do not always lean towards the standard war film, so when I first heard about 1917 (2019) I was less than enthusiastic for no other reason than my own pre-conceived perceptions. Though peaked with the idea of a World War I film rather than the standard World War II or Vietnam War film, I anticipated a run of the mill experience, or a story that had already been told. Boldly told with incredible intensity and a brilliant technical style, director Sam Mendes creates a memorable cinematic treasure.

In April 1917, during the height of World War I, two British soldiers are tasked with a daring assignment, to hand deliver crucial news to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off their planned attack on the German forces. The Germans have faked a retreat to the Hindenburg Line and are ready to ambush the battalion, intending to kill sixteen-hundred soldiers. Schofield (George Mackay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are chosen, Blake’s brother Joseph among the soldiers bound to meet their fate.

As they journey, the young men face a myriad of hurdles including booby traps left by the Germans, terrain littered with dead bodies of their comrades, a precarious helicopter crash, giant rats, and the rapidly approaching deadline to deliver their message. If they do not accomplish their mission in a timely fashion (twenty-four hours) the results will be devastating. Mendes keeps the tension high because he tells his film in real-time style.

1917 is raw and emotional and hits a hard punch. Powerful scenes of dead bodies riddle the land, fat and pale from days spent immersed in cold water, young soldiers once handsome, now dead and bloated, remind the viewer what a terrible thing war is, and the ravages caused. Unlike other war films, the patriotism and nationalist pride is not there. Rather, the soldiers are weary and angry, confused as to why they are sent to fight for land as ugly as where they are, to die for land that is not even their own. They are depressed and confused.

The relationship between Schofield and Blake is wonderful. Both men are weary and afraid but have each other’s backs throughout their assignment. It is not clear how long they have known each other, but they are at least acquaintances. They each come to the others rescue and a pivotal scene occurs in a dusty hideout where they nearly die after a cave-in. The characters have grit and determination, but a humanity and a connection with each other that resonates powerfully to the viewer.

A wonderful scene is produced as day turns into night, Schofield well into enemy territory. To avoid a pursuant German soldier, he hides in a dusty basement area and finds a cowering young French girl. At first fearful, the pair quickly bond, and a realization occurs to Schofield. The girl is accompanied by a newborn child.

Assumed to be hers, the soldier immediately parts with his stash of food, not realizing the baby can have only milk. A ghastly realization is that the baby is not the French girls at all but was instead found and rescued to prevent its death. The scene is tender and beautiful, perfectly contrasting the ugliness of the war. The wonderful scene gives the viewer pause wondering what will become of the girl and the baby.

Nearly rivaling this lovely scene, another poignant moment occurs when Schofield stumbles upon a group of soldiers watching another soldier perform a rendition of the melancholy war tune, “Wayfaring Stranger”. This moment slows the action down to a crawl with a dedication to loneliness and sadness amid the terrible battles.

The technical aspects that Mendes creates are spectacular and meant to be enjoyed on the largest screen possible. He uses a one-take approach which keeps the action fast and furious. The lavish and grandiose exterior scenes of immense dry land perfectly counterbalance a terrific watery scene when Schofield is chased into the river and soon embarks into wavy grand rapids. The camera remains on the soldier throughout the scene as the viewer is the one taken on the wild adventure, sweeping every morsel of up and down motion with the tide.

To piggy-back this point, a scene occurs when one of the young men is knocked unconscious. It is daylight, but when he regains consciousness it is night. The cinematography is brilliant with a sharp left turn to translucent colors and blurry images of buildings. The viewer is as disoriented as the soldier and fears what lurks in the shadows, as is found out when an unknown approaching figure begins to fire his gun.

1917 (2019) is a progressive leaning gem with an anti-war message and a genuine approach to a “day in the life of a soldier”. It is not glossy or contrived, but a candid realistic view of the savagery of war. With a creative technical style, it is one of the best of its genre ever made.

A Passage to India-1984

A Passage to India-1984

Director-David Lean

Starring-Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft

Scott’s Review #971

Reviewed December 24, 2019

Grade: A-

David Lean, famous for his sweeping, masterpiece epics including Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), returns with his swan song, a grandiose and lavish film, A Passage to India (1984). Though not quite on the same level as the two other mentions, the brilliant cinematography alone makes this one a winner. The story is compelling with a mystery and a he said/she said rape story that deepens, exploring racism and religion, assuredly switching viewer allegiances between characters.

A Passage to India is based on the famous E.M. Forster novel from 1924. Along with A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910), the three makes up a series that examines class differences and hypocrisy among the British. All three are set at least partially in England and were all adapted to film with immeasurable success. While the film is potent and meaningful, it is the least brilliant of the three, but only by a hair.

Set in the 1920’s, the British had control over India causing some tensions in the air. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) sails from England to India with Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft), the mother of her intended bridegroom, who they plan to see when they arrive at their destination. The women have a wonderful relationship and excitedly anticipate their adventure.

After Mrs. Moore meets the kindly Dr. Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee), becoming enamored and enraptured, the women accompany him to an exploration of ancient caves, along with a guide. When Adela and Ahmed are left alone, she suddenly appears frantic, accusing the Indian Doctor of attempted rape, setting off a blistering scandal that causes public debate and divides the townspeople, culminating in a trial.

The story is naturally the focal point of the film, but not the strongest part. At first left aghast at the accusations hurled at Aziz, by all appearances a wonderful man, the intention is for the viewer to be unclear of what transpires when Aziz and Adela are alone. The events, if any exist, take place off-screen, so we only see a disheveled Adela flee the caves in panic.  The rest is left to the viewers imagination and to wonder what happened. As the truth is eventually revealed, we wonder about the intended motivations and the ramifications the accusations will have on the central characters.

The film is successful at discussing racism and assumptions in an interesting way, leading major characters to disagree. Adela and Mrs. Moore wind up at odds after the events, with Moore refusing to believe Aziz did anything wrong. This is a bold stance to take as the women are good friends and we would assume one would support the other. While Moore is liberal and open-minded, Adela is conservative and buttoned up, making the ideological differences clearer. Did Adela imagine the attack? Did somebody else attack her?

The cinematography is brilliant and the pure excellence of the film. The plentiful exterior scenes are delectable and simmer with beauty within each frame. Since many of them take place in the grandiose mountains or caves the results are exquisite. One can easily sit back and revel in the majestic sequences and many scenes are still and quiet which enhances the effects. As with other Lean epics, advisable is to see this film on the biggest screen known to mankind.

At one-hundred and sixty-four minutes the film is hardly non-stop action, but rather slightly laborious and lumbering. Some parts are a tad too slow, but the payoff is mighty and there is a measure of intrigue throughout, especially once the cave incident occurs. I hate to say the film drags, but perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes could have been shaved off. When Lean is at the helm, a hefty running time is a guarantee.

A Passage to India (1984) is a film by a respected director that culminates a lengthy and inspired career in bold fashion. While not his best film, this should not detract from the excellent experience the film provides. Grandiose sequences and sophisticated style make the film able to be viewed more than once, a marvel for a film released in the lackluster 1980’s.

The Irishman-2019

The Irishman-2019

Director- Martin Scorsese

Starring-Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #960

Reviewed November 20, 2019

Grade: A

Any film created by legendary director, Martin Scorsese is sure to impress legions of adoring followers and most critics. Every project he touches results in something fantastic, and easy to revel in good analysis and discussion about the movie moments after the closing credits have rolled. The Irishman (2019) is a film that requires repeated viewings and thought to obtain the full flavor and relish in the savory and vast cast of characters.

The picture may not be on the same level as Goodfellas (1990) or The Godfather (1972), which it seems patterned after, but the work is highly impressive and should stand the test of time resulting in a fine wine analogy. The years will likely be kind to the film and enrich the experience- it’s that kind of film. With stars like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel on board, the viewer expects a plethora of riches and that is exactly what is delivered.

The film spans the period of the 1950’s through the 1970’s and follows the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hit man and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Sheeran is dubbed “the Irishman”. He narrates much of the story, now quite elderly and residing in a nursing home, of his time in the mafia and the mystery surrounding the death of Hoffa.

The only negatives to the film are the suspension of disbelief that De Niro is Irish- was there ever a more Italian New Yorker? But, alas, this film is Scorsese directed and De Niro produced, so they could tell me the sky is green and I would readily nod in agreement. At three hours and twenty-nine minutes, the film is a long haul and towards the middle the film meanders a bit. Perhaps twenty or thirty minutes could have been sliced to the cutting room floor.

The rest of the experience The Irishman serves up is brilliance, with rich characters and wonderful atmosphere. Have I mentioned that Scorsese directed this film? The cast of characters is endless and drizzles with zest speaking volumes for what The Godfather did with casting. Many recognizable actors appear in small roles like Ray Romano as attorney Bill Bufalino, Bobby Cannavale as “Skinny Razor”, and Anna Paquin as Frank’s estranged daughter, Peggy. An endless supply of character actors fleshes out the remaining cast.

Wonderful are the plethora of food references that would impress notable food director, Alfred Hitchcock, known for incorporating meals into many of his scenes. The delectable early scenes when Frank delivers meat to grocers and gets in with a gangster over a discussion about a good steak will leave viewers mouth-watering for a tender sirloin.

The conversations between characters are interesting, slowly building and adding robust grit to a packed film. They have good, careful dialogue exchanges and talk matter-of-fact about life and experiences. Characters are given a chance to develop and grow and even small characters like a nurse or a wife add a good, comforting aura. It is evident what treasured films look like when a director can simply create and develop without outside interference.

The standouts in the acting department are Pacino and De Niro, the former crossing my fingers will receive an Oscar nomination. The pairing is flawless and eagle-eyed fans will recall that both actors appeared together in The Godfather Part II (1974) yet never shared a scene. In The Irishman they appear together in pivotal scenes. Pacino infuses Hoffa with humor and poise as only Pacino can do with a character. He is my favorite character and is tough to look away from.

Both actors, along with Pesci, are treated to a recent marvel in cinema- that of the de-aging process. Each actor, well into his seventy’s, is transformed to mid-forties in many scenes and then aged to appear elderly later in life. While each has a strange unnatural look to him as a younger man, the process is impressive and an innovative technique that assuredly will become more common in film, and subsequently offer limitless possibilities.

The Irishman (2019) is a cinematic gem by a storied director advancing in years, but still offering grandiose films. With stalwarts like De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, the players are well cast, and nuanced touches add dimensions to the finished product. Offering a gangster film with grace and style, the story is poignant and crisp and a thoughtful approach to one of the legendary mysteries- what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

Giant-1956

Giant-1956

Director-George Stevens

Starring-Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean

Scott’s Review #898

Reviewed May 14, 2019

Grade: A

Giant (1956) is a sweeping epic firmly ensconced in both the western genre and the dramatic field of play. The film is a flawless Hollywood production featuring three of the most recognizable stars of the time, as well as a slew of powerful supporting actors offering rich performances and good characterizations. The thunderous melodrama plays out over the span of decades with the dry and dusty locale and the superb cinematography one of the finest aspects of the grandiose film experience.

Dashing and wealthy Texas rancher Jordan Bick Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson), falls in love with and marries socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) after a whirlwind romance in Maryland. The pair begin their married life on Bick’s immaculate Texas ranch but not before two central figures thwart their happiness. Jett Rink (James Dean) falls obsessively in love with Leslie while Bick’s sister, Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) despises Leslie, taking out her vengeance on Leslie’s horse. The trials and tribulations continue as the characters age through the years.

The trifecta of talents Taylor, Hudson, and Dean make Giant the ultimate in treats as one fawns over the good looks of each (or all!) of them over the lengthy three hour and eleven minutes of illustrious screen-time. Making for more powerful poignancy is that the film is Dean’s final appearance on-screen before his tragic death by car accident, his death occurring before the film was even released to the public.

Dean plays Jett to the hilt as a surly ranch hand jealous of the riches that Bick possesses and wanting to take Bick’s woman for himself. Jett is an unsympathetic character and the one I find the most interesting. Rivals for decades, Jett and Bick’s lives overlap continuously as Jett finally becomes rich and dates Bick and Leslie’s daughter much to their chagrin. The character of Jett is a racist- common in the early to mid-1900’s, especially in southwestern Texas. Sadly, the character never finds happiness, which is a main part of his depth.

The screenplay is peppered with important and relevant social issues that provide a sophistication and humanistic approach. The film inches towards a liberal slant as the plot progresses, the most famous example occurring in the final act as the Benedict’s stop at a roadside diner with a racist sign, implying the restaurant will not serve Mexican’s. Bick takes a dramatic stance and shows heart as his family, now multi-racial, needs his help. Culminating in a fight, the scene reveals the enduring love that Bick and Leslie share for one another.

Criticisms of the films enormous length and scope are wrong as these aspects deepen the film and components I find the most appealing. Director, George Stevens never rushes through a scene or makes superfluous edits to limit running-time. Rather, he allows each scene to marinate and graze, just like real-life would. Lengthy scenes play out with real conversations and slow build-ups allowing character’s opinions and motivations to take shape slowly.

On the surface a drama and western, the film can be peeled back like an onion to reveal deeper nuances. The racism, love story, and class structure ideals are mesmerizing especially given the true to life humanitarian that Taylor was. One can sit back and revel in the knowledge that she must have been enjoying the rich character.

Along with great epics like Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1963), and The Godfather (1972) sits a film that is rarely mentioned with the other stalwart films and that is a shame. With magnificent shot after shot of the vast Texas land and with enough gorgeous stars to rival the landscape, Giant (1956) is a must-see. A western soap-opera with terrific writing, rife with racism, prosperity and fortitude, the film deserves more praise than it’s given.

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore

Scott’s Review #778

Reviewed June 26, 2018

Grade: A

Famed director Steven Spielberg does not always get his due respect. This is usually because, for better or worse, he has become synonymous with the “blockbuster” film, drawing comparisons to  either lightweight fare or films of “lesser” artistic merit. His 1980’s works- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), were enormous commercial successes, though I personally enjoyed all of these films.

During the 1990’s Spielberg continued to direct “popcorn flicks” such as Hook (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993), with large studio budgets, but with somewhat less critical acclaim. Finally, he was able to change many opinions with 1993’s Schindler’s List and the war film to end all war films, Saving Private Ryan (1998), an epic, profound experience. Both received numerous Oscar nominations and success at the box office.

The film is a tremendous treat if for nothing other than the riveting opening sequence alone (more about that later). If that is not enough to impress, Saving Private Ryan is known for infusing a very graphic element into the war film- with no letting up from the brutality. In this way Spielberg does no watering down with this picture, instead showing pain and angst of war. The film is helped tremendously by the casting of Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks, who leads an enormous cast of mainly young men.

Saving Private Ryan opens with a prologue- in present times a veteran brings his family to visit an American cemetery at Normandy. Flashbacks then take the audience back to the Omaha Beach debacle in 1944, where American troops faced deadly German artillery attacks in France. After the horrific three day D-Day, it is learned that three of the four Ryan sons have died in the events. Captain Miller (Hanks) is ordered to bring a team of men to Normandy and bring the fourth Ryan son (Matt Damon) to safety.

Spielberg’s opening D-day sequence is just astounding and propels the film to unforgettable status. With a running time of twenty-four minutes, the riveting and horrific slaughter of American soldiers is brought to the screen in intense fashion. Audiences undoubtedly sat open mouthed (I know I did!) as bullets riddled the beach and left soldiers killed or with limbs torn off. The camera-work is brilliant as the use of a shaky technique, almost documentary style is used for effect. Successful is this sequence at promoting an anti-war sentiment while not glorifying the combat at all. The scene is one that will stay with its audience for years to come.

Saving Private Ryan can be compared to the decades later Dunkirk (2017) in that each film took the war genre and turned it upside down.  The similarities between the films start with the obvious- the main events in both films are during World War II, the same week, and the French beach settings making the films perfect companion pieces.  Both films feature a gray, rainy setting with many horrific moments of death and suffering. The war film is a common genre that has historically teetered on predictability and over-saturation, but both films do something completely different and unexpected, yet mirror each other in style.

To counter-balance the violence in the opening sequence, a quiet scene is created and remains one of my favorites. The scene contains almost no dialogue throughout the seven minute duration and is pivotal to the entire film. As a typist realizes that three letters of death are to be delivered to the same family, a woman on a mid-west farm quietly washes dishes and is calmly horrified when she sees a government car approaching. What else can this mean but that one of her sons is dead? The poor Mrs. Ryan will be told that she has lost not one, but three sons. How utterly unimaginable and the scene is incredibly touching!

The best part of Saving Private Ryan is that Spielberg provides a deep level of sentimental vision combined with the terrible atrocities of war. He portrays not only the violent effects of the battles on the soldiers, but also on the surviving families. This is not always done in war films, at least not to the level that Spielberg chooses to.

With such a film as the startling Saving Private Ryan (1998), Spielberg turned the war film genre inside out. Breaking barriers with a no holds gusto, Spielberg influenced war films for years to come- Black Hawk Down and Enemy at the Gates (2001) are prime examples, and received acclaim from fellow directors for his interesting techniques. Saving Private Ryan was an enormous financial winner at the box office, proving that great films don’t have to be watered down to find an audience.

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance. The film is as disturbing as it is awe inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelope any viewer- most of them dark and dire. Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces. The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates. Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees all throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees. He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start off as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage. Because of the very lengthy running time of the film (over three hours) Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera works adds such ambiance and style to the 1990’s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940’s. The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine. As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared. Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto. A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is. Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat. The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film. The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat. The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who view’s the masterpiece. Certainly by no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago. A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

The Godfather: Part III-1990

The Godfather: Part III-1990

Director-Francis Ford Coppola

Starring-Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia

Scott’s Review #533

60011153

Reviewed December 3, 2016

Grade: B+

The Godfather: Part III, released in 1990, has traditionally been met with unwavering criticisms for not being as great as the two preceding epics. Sofia Coppola, who plays Mary- daughter of Michael Corleone, in particular, has bared the brunt of the attacks. No, The Godfather: Part III is not on the level of the others, but is actually pretty damned good based on its own merits and is a capable mob epic to conclude the franchise in a satisfying fashion. The central theme is Michael’s continued desire to leave the mafia and religion, and the Catholic Church are central themes of the film.

Some backstory to the making of the film; Coppola had a non-expiring offer to create a third installment to the saga ever since 1974, when Part II was released. Having had a financial crisis, 1990 was the time Coppola agreed to do the follow-up. The ever crucial role of Mary (now a coming of age young lady) was to be played by Julia Roberts, who dropped out. Winona Ryder was then cast and bailed at the very last minute. Out of necessity, Coppola daughter Sofia was cast and had little time to prepare or much acting experience (she would later become an acclaimed director, which better suited her talents).

In similar fashion to the other epics, a big event launches the film, as Michael (Pacino) is named Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian in a lavish ceremony at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. It is revealed that Michael is approaching age sixty and semi-retired, leaving his business dealings mainly to Joey Zasa in New York, who has ravaged what the Corleone family had once built. Many characters- Kay, Mary, Tony, and Connie, are re-introduced, and new characters such as Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) and Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) are introduced, in a flurry of new story lines. It is like a big, grand, soap opera, with wonderful, rich, writing.

I was immediately impressed by the neat cinematography- the camera captures wind-swept leaves and an artistic introduction to the film, as well as either mentioned or appearing in cameo roles, small characters from the first two films- a great touch in continuity and history. Coppola does a fantastic job of providing little updates of these characters during a party. For example, we learn that Vincent is the deceased, illegitimate son of Sonny, his mother being Lucy Mancini, who appears in a scene. (Clever viewers will remember Sonny and Lucy’s torrent affair in the bathroom during The Godfather-it is suggested that this produced Vincent). It is mentioned that Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) has died, though his wife and son appear, and Coppola treats us to a myriad of flashbacks (Apollonia, a young Michael and Kaye). These nuances make The Godfather: Part III filled with cool little aspects that fill the loyal viewer with warmth.

The main story- Michael takes Vincent under his wing- and strives to steer the family clear of criminal ties- is interesting, if not spectacular. Connie rises from battered mafia wife, raising kids, to a major player in the family, just as women progressed from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, when the story takes place. She even feeds her godfather a poisoned cannoli! Michael, Vincent, and Connie involve themselves with the Catholic Church, bailing them out (the real-life Papal banking scandal is linked to the story) and making a deal with them for major shares of a real-estate company, Immobiliare. In-fighting between the major crime mob bosses lead to several bloody massacres throughout the film, on the streets, in Atlantic City, and finally, in the Sicilian Opera house.

The pairing of cousins and lovers, Vincent and Mary, never really works, nor does Bridget Fonda’s one or two scene appearance as Grace Hamilton, a brief dalliance for Vincent. Also, the exclusion of the character of loyal family attorney Tom is a glaring omission. So the film does contain a few negatives.

In a nutshell, The Godfather: Part III is a very good, epic, crime drama even without the Godfather name. To measure up to the glory of Parts I and II is impossible. With the added bonus of having the rich Corleone family history and the intricate relationships between the characters, this makes for a treat for fans. There has not been a Part IV, nor should there ever need to be as the conclusion of the film is a satisfying wrap-up to the saga.

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Director-David Lean

Starring-Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif 

Top 100 Films-#82

Scott’s Review #355

60028312

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Lawrence of Arabia is quite a grand film and one that must be seen on the large screen in order to fully appreciate the enormous scale of the production. Numerous shots of objects appearing in the distance are featured and the small screen dulls the experience. A wonderful film from top to bottom and groundbreaking at the time by the scope and vast proportions of the production, Lawrence of Arabia achieves its place in the annals of cinema history, and is a treat to revisit from time to time. The film is divided into two parts divided by an intermission as was the case with epics nearly four hours in length.

Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a bored British Army Lieutenant, who talks his way into a transfer to the Arabian desert. As the film opens, it is 1935, and Lawrence has just been killed in a motorcycle accident. This concept of revealing the ending of the story and working backwards, common in current films, was a novel experience in 1962, when the film was made.

While in Arabia, Lawrence successfully bands together bitter rival tribes to work together in order to unite against Turkish oppression during World War I. While there he meets two young guides, and other central characters such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). Much of the film features the many battles that occur between the rival tribes and the peace that Lawrence to achieve. Also, a multitude of location sequences of Lawrence and company traveling across the miles and miles of hot desert are featured.

Some complain that Lawrence of Arabia is too slow moving a film, but to me that is its selling point. I find the scenes of the group languishing across the desert incredibly lush and rich in meaning. The intense heat and the beating sun are fantastic in their cinematic grandeur. The film is meant to take its time- exactly how the experience in the Arabian desert would really be like and the mountainous sand dunes and swirling winds are brilliantly filmed. David Lean is the king of the sprawling epic and Lawrence of Arabia is his crown achievement.

The character of Lawrence is written well and he is a layered and complex individual- he is not easy to describe or to understand and that is also to the films credit. The sheer weight loss that O’Toole went through over the course of the two years that it took to Film Lawrence of Arabia is impressive enough, but he is also a tortured soul emotionally.

An epic film of the grandest proportions, Lawrence of Arabia required a half day of dedicated viewing, but is worth each and every minute. For a reminder of what a true, breathtaking film really looks like- sans the oversaturated CGI and quick edits, one should take a deep breath and appreciate this work of art for its majestic look.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

Scott’s Review #327

1181461

Reviewed January 6, 2016

Grade: A

1997’s Titanic is a sweeping, gorgeous epic, directed by James Cameron, that is perfection at every level. This film has it all: romance, disaster, gorgeous art direction, and flawless attention to detail. The film will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with the characters, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. The film is based on the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 after the ship tragically collided with an iceberg. I have witnessed this film be derided for being a “chick flick” or too “sappy”, but I vehemently disagree, and feel it is a classic for the ages. Titanic successfully re-invented the Hollywood epic.

Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a penniless artist who meets high class socialite Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet) aboard the luxurious Titanic, headed from the coast of England to the United States in its maiden voyage. Rose is engaged to cagey Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Depressed, Rose contemplates diving overboard to her death, but Jack saves her and convinces her otherwise. They spend time together and he draws her portrait. As their romance blossoms, Cal catches on and plots revenge. In the mix are Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, played by Frances Fisher. A main theme of the film is social class and the difference that separate the haves from the have nots.

James Cameron desired perfection from this film and he sure got what he wanted. Every detail of Titanic is flawless and historically accurate, from the dining room silverware to the costumes to the set pieces barely visible in the background. Cameron even had a replica of the original Titanic built for filming purposes- certainly with limitations, but what a vast undertaking this must have been. That, along with the smoldering romance between Jack and Rose, are what makes Titanic one of my favorite films.

Two fantastic scenes are when Jack is taken under the wing of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. Molly is not the snob that many of the other upper class is, and lends Jack a tuxedo so that he will look dapper for Rose. She also tenderly teaches him the appropriate way to use silverware. Tragically, the other scene is more melancholy- a gorgeous classical piece plays in the background as the vast ship is engulfed in water and slowly sinks, causing many deaths.

At well over three hours in length, the conclusion of the film is quite sprawling- and one has the feeling of being aboard the ship. By this time I was invested in the characters, both lead and supporting and the tragedy that ensues is both a marvel and heart-wrenching. Titanic is a film that simply must be viewed on the big screen for full effect, and is a timeless masterpiece that has aged perfectly.

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Julie Christie, Terence Stamp

Scott’s Review #315

70111488

Reviewed January 1, 2016

Grade: A-

A sweeping, gorgeous epic from 1967, Far from the Madding Crowd is pure soap opera (this is not a negative), done very well, which features a woman with three male suitors and contains many similarities to another brilliant epic, Gone with the Wind. The cinematography, score, and writing is excellent, and, at close to three hours, is a lengthy experience. The film is based on the popular novel, written by Thomas Hardy.

The setting is lovely, rural England, the landscape green and lush- mostly farmland, where Bathsheba resides having recently inherited her Uncle’s enormous estate and is, frankly, overwhelmed with the heavy responsibility required to successfully run it. Three men appear in one form or another to lend a hand and each falls madly in love with her- she having her choice of any of them. Throughout the film each is given a chance to win her heart and the trials and tribulations of each occur. The wealthy neighbor, William Boldwood, is older and insecure. Frank Troy is a bad boy who is a cavalry sergeant, and Gabriel, a former farmer, who has lost all of his sheep.

Having only seen this film twice (so far), I notice more and more the similarities to Gone with the Wind. Both are set around the same time period (1860’s) and both films feature very strong, independent, gorgeous female characters with multiple male suitors. Unlike Gone with the Wind, though, Bathsheba is not self centered, but wholesome and honest.

Julie Christie was certainly the “it” girl during the time period in which the film was made, having recently starred in Darling, Doctor Zhivago, among others, and Far from the Madding Crowd is a perfect film for her, focusing on her beauty and earnestness. She is exceptionally cast.

What I enjoy most about the film is we do not know which of the men Bathsheba will wind up with….if any of them. Gabriel Alan Bates) is my personal favorite, but in the beginning of the film she rebuffs his marriage proposal. In a heartbreaking scene, one of his dogs goes mad and leads his entire flock of sheep to their death. He then is forced to work as her shepherd, a job beneath him. He is the most likable of the three men and it is fun to root for their ultimate union. But is he prone to bad luck?

Frank Troy is dashing- a clear ladies man, yet I did not root for him. A character, which I found to have strange motivations, having impregnated, and almost married a young lady named Fanny, only to turn her away based on a misunderstanding, then ultimately change his mind about Bathsheba. In one scene he manipulates his way into getting the townsmen drunk on brandy, which leads to a crisis. He is charismatic and used to getting his way.

Finally, Boldwood is wealthy and sophisticated and appealing to Bathsheba in a certain way (mainly stability), but there is also something I find “off” about the character throughout the film- unstable maybe, needy? I did not find his character likable either.

The overlap and the relationships between the men are also an interesting aspect to Far from the Madding Crowd. Will they become friends? Would they kill each other for Bathsheba’s affections? There are many emotions that run through all four characters, which makes the film rich in character development.

Grand, sweeping, and beautiful are words to describe Far from the Madding Crowd, a film that I enjoy exploring and evaluating upon each viewing.

Interstellar-2014

Interstellar-2014

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #277

70305903

Reviewed September 25, 2015

Grade: B-

Interstellar is an interesting film to review. A science fiction/futuristic epic with a run time of nearly three hours, it is complex and intricate. It is the latest offering by director Christopher Nolan. I cannot say I loved this film, however, I did appreciate and marvel at the visual and technical aspects of it, which completely usurps the convoluted plot, made difficult to follow due to changing worlds and galaxies.

The film reminds me of Inception with an obvious homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the former directed by Nolan, but not quite as compelling from a story point of view as Inception was. The complexities of different entities, worlds, and layers of worlds are featured and admittedly, mind blowing, which is the weak part of the film. By making the film arguably too intelligent, it loses the audiences attention. By too intelligent, I mean too complex. As I review the film, I see two halves to it- the story side and the visual side. In Interstellar, both are essential components and one fails and one marvels.

If I am to attempt to summarize the story it goes something like this- Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed, former space expert stuck in a small town in the mid-west, where he begrudgingly runs a farm, living out an unsatisfying existence. The Earths food and crops are slowly running out and the planet is dying. His two children, daughter Murphy and son Tom, face a bleak world. One day, a dust pattern with coordinates lead Cooper and Murphy to a secret NASA team intent on finding other worlds and thereby attempting to save Earth. The team is led by Dr. Brand, a college professor and science wizard, played by Michael Caine. Cooper, naturally, is chosen to lead the venture, which could take him away from his family for years. He accepts much to Murphy’s chagrin. Once in outer space- assisted by Amelia Brand (Dr. Brand’s daughter), the team embarks on an endless mission leading them to different planets and one strange encounter with a rebel astronaut (played wastefully by Matt Damon). Years later (on earth anyway) Murphy and Tom (now grown and played by Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck) assume their father Cooper is dead.

Critically, the story is way too much to comprehend and after awhile I found myself gradually letting go of the story altogether instead focusing on the visual spectacle I was treated to. The plot eventually meanders off track completely as the team traverses through a space wormhole created by an alien intelligence and travels fifty years or so without aging, while obviously life has gone on over planet Earth. Some characters age, others do not. To summarize, the story is convoluted and impossible to follow.

Speaking of the story side to Interstellar, the writing contained an irritating wholesomeness to it, especially in the early stages- pre outer space. McConaughey was given this tough guy, machismo side to him that screamed of Hollywood traditionalism- almost like “I am man- I save family”. Haven’t we seen this too many times in film? I also found the relationship between Cooper and young daughter Murphy incredibly saccharine and screamed of Hollywood schmaltz. To be fair, McConaughey was given, and succeeded in delivering, one great crying scene.

The visual aspect to Interstellar, however, is a spectacle and much, much better than the story, especially during the final third of the film. The sheer grandeur is astounding. When the crew lands on Miller’s planet, an ocean world, a great tidal wave topples their space ship killing one of the team. The massive look of the tidal wave is monumental in size and ferocity. Later, when the crew lands on an icy planet, the immense coldness and shape of the planet work perfectly in the film and one feels like they are really in outer space.

How inventive and creative was the scene where Cooper attempts to contact a character through a bookshelf. The scene was set up like a maze with different time periods, and colors and shapes, seemingly blending together was very impressive and artistic.

Visually speaking, Interstellar has some similarities to the 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Grandiose, artistic, experimental, and epic along with the obvious space theme allow the two films to be compared. However, where 2001: A Space Odyssey was about life and contains a clear and powerful message, I did not find the same with Interstellar. Instead, I did not find much of a message, but rather a confusing story, mixed with spectacular visuals.

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Robert De Niro, James Woods

Scott’s Review #218

60028306

Reviewed January 19, 2015

Grade: A

An epic film, the extended directors cut at more than four hours in length, 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America is a film directed by Sergio Leone, who also directed the 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West and numerous other westerns starring Clint Eastwood. This particular film is in a different vein and not to be confused as any sort of sequel or related to the aforementioned film- this time Leone explores the crime drama genre rather than the western and does so in remarkable fashion.

The film tells the story of a group of Jewish friends who become involved in organized crime during the 1920’s in New York City. The main story is told via flashbacks as the central character, Noodles, played by Robert De Niro, returns to Brooklyn thirty years later to reunite with his former mobster friends. In this way the film is sectioned- the group of youngsters and kids and the same characters as adults.

Once Upon a Time in America has been met with much controversy since it was made. At the time of its release the film was butchered as over an hour of footage was cut by the studio heads making the film largely uneven. Fortunately, the restored version, at over three hours in length, is available for viewing. Furthermorethe directors cut clocks in at well over four hours and is the best version to watch. Due to so many cuts, other versions appear shoddy and out of order making the viewing experience difficult.

Once Upon a Time in America is largely underappreciated except for the die-hard cinema lovers most patient with the film, and deserves mention as an excellent crime epic drama. The film contains many similarities to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and the role De Niro plays is not too different from Vito Corleone in Part II. However, the greatest contrast is that Once Upon a Time in America is more visually artistic than The Godfather films.

The film centers mainly on Noodles perspective as he enjoys youth in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he meets his group of lifelong friends. The focal point is his friendship with Max, the adult character played by James Woods, and his undying love for Deborah, played by Elizabeth McGovern as an adult. As kids they are worry free, but gradually fall in with a group of older mobsters, first doing their dirty work, followed by venturing out on their own.

The themes of the film are loyalty, childhood friendship, betrayal, and greed as all of the characters change (or die) in the time span that the film takes place. When a mysterious letter forces Noodles to resurface in Brooklyn, we begin to understand the back story and the history between the friends as layers are slowly peeled back.

The film drags slightly in the middle section, but the first part and last part are very well made and absorbing. Leone has a way of pacing the film that really works- it is methodical, nuanced, with wonderful set pieces and each period of time explored- 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1960’s seem equally as authentic as the next one does. I especially enjoyed the 1920’s art direction- it revealed such a state of genuineness and felt like truly being there in that time period.

The relationship between Noodles and Deborah is an interesting one worth mentioning. Falling in love as youngsters (when Deborah was played by a very young Jennifer Connelly) they had an innocent, puppy love relationship. As adults, due to a violent, disgraceful act, their tender relationship is subsequently ruined and one might argue one of the characters turns quite unsympathetic.

Once Upon a Time in America is a sprawling epic film sure to be enjoyed by intelligent fans of the crime epic drama genre and specifically Sergio Leone fans- an under appreciated gem.

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

Director-Cecil B. DeMille

Starring-Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart

Scott’s Review #204

60034703

Reviewed December 14, 2014

Grade: B+

Considered by some critics to be one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, The Greatest Show on Earth is quite an impressive Hollywood spectacle and tells the story of the world’s largest railroad circus as they launch a tour and travel throughout the United States, with plenty of drama to experience throughout the film. The film stars Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, and James Stewart as general manager, acrobat, and clown of the show, respectively.

The film used over 1400 real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s people in the production as well as hundreds of animals giving it an authentic circus feel. Unfortunately, the film also has a schmaltzy quality to it and not the best acting, which surprisingly does not bother me and, strangely enough, sort of works in a melodramatic way. Various characters have affairs with each other or fall in and out of love rather quickly- it makes for good drama anyway. The main appeal is the extravagant show, of course. While the drama sometimes takes center stage, the lavish production and real circus events shine through.

My favorite, and arguably, only interesting character with any depth in The Greatest Show on Earth is Buttons the clown, played by James Stewart. Buttons wears his clown costume complete with full makeup at all times. He is kindly and mysterious. We learn that he “mercy killed” his dying wife and has joined the circus for protection from the police. A wonderful human being, he was once a Doctor, and tends to anyone in the circus troupe who needs assistance. Later in the film, he plays a very important role after a tragic accident occurs. His heartbreaking, tender conversation with his elderly mother, whom he only sees secretly once a year for seconds as she tearfully and discreetly visits him in the audience, is painfully sad to watch and is such a sweet scene.

The Greatest Show on Earth’s best scene by far though, which still impresses today, is the massive train wreck, close to the conclusion of the film. Made in 1952, the special effects and direction of Cecil B. DeMille are brilliant. The way that the train derails on a dark night is just perfect- highly effective in its enormity, crashing into an approaching train and derailing. The scene does not look silly. The way that all of the drama comes together in this scene- Harry, the crooked midway concessionaire and the vicious elephant trainer, Klaus, responsible for the accident, Buttons true identity being revealed, and a major character in peril, make this scene top notch and a satisfying conclusion to the film.

The films stories involving Brad, Holly, Sebastian, and Angel are soapy and melodramatic and the weakest point of the film- as a viewer I couldn’t care less which character lusted after which or who wound up in bed together, but the film itself is a spectacle and that is my main enjoyment of it. The brightness, the revelry, and the circus performances are all wonderful.

Gone With The Wind-1939

Gone With The Wind-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh

Top 100 Films-#15

Scott’s Review #201

70020694

Reviewed December 4, 2014

Grade: A

Gone with the Wind is the grand masterpiece of the sweeping epic drama. The film is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel. Set in the south (Georgia) during the Civil War era, it centers on the life of Scarlett O’Hara, southern belle of cotton plantation Tara, and how she must struggle to keep her plantation alive after the south loses the war. Initially, Scarlett cares little about war, instead enjoying her spoiled, narcissistic lifestyle, and romances with many men in the town, all vying for her attentions. She revels in one sunny picnic and ball after another with all eyes on her. As war decimates the south, however, Scarlett must take over the plantation and survive the ravages of war. Mixed in with the war theme is a romance between Scarlett and Rhett, one of cinema’s most recognized and enduring couples. Having gone through three directors (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood), the film is as extravagant and precise in its style, attention to detail, and set design as films come.

At close to four hours in length, Gone with the Wind is a lavish production that can take an entire afternoon or evening to watch and is divided into two halves- interestingly the first half directed by Cukor, and the second primarily directed by Fleming. It is a film that can be viewed and analyzed over and over again and the set pieces and flawless perfectionism alone, marveled at. The first half is superior to the second, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon- it’s a preference of goodies. The first half is brighter, cheery, and fantastic. The wonderful Tara and neighboring plantation Twin Oaks host southern balls and parties and are filled with romance, gossip and beautiful costumes. War is coming, but it is a delightful time of merriment. The Southerners embrace going to war- they assume it will last for two weeks and they will be victorious. They party and they celebrate.

The second half has a much darker tone. By the beginning of the second half Atlanta has burned, thousands of men have died, and Tara is decimated, Scarlett’s mother dead and father gone batty. The rebuilding of the south is explored, the troubled Rhett and Scarlett marriage commences, their daughter dies, and the world famous line uttered by Rhett to Scarlett, “Frankly my dear…. I don’t give a damn”. Having been now directed by a different person (Fleming), the first and second halves almost seem like two separate films.

Vivien Leigh plays a wonderful role. In 1939 women were rarely strong characters in film, so for that reason Gone with the Wind is groundbreaking for female characters. Scarlett is selfish, yes, but she rises above, is strong, saving her plantation and succeeding as a successful businesswoman- almost unheard of in cinema for 1939. Her undying love for Ashley Wilkes, but unable to obtain him (he is married to his cousin Melanie) gives her a sympathetic vulnerability.

Clark Gable, already a huge star and the people’s choice to play Rhett, is charismatic and handsome. The fact that he and Leigh did not get along make their fights and sexual tension electric. They love each other, but also hate each other and this is transmitted on screen. Rhett is his own man- he defines himself as not a northerner, but not a southerner either. He is a vagabond and spends many nights at the local brothel in the company of Belle Watling. The character of Rhett is independent and strong.

The supporting characters are colorful, lively, and humorous. Aunt Pittypat with her dramatic worrying and smelling salts and Prissy with her insistence on expert child-birthing when in reality she knows nothing, are moments meant to lighten the mood. Mammie, a mother-figure to Scarlett, is a moral, kind, yet tough character. Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is an even sweeter character in her caring and selflessness. Lesser characters such as Dr. Meade, Suellen, Carreen, India, and Frank Kennedy all serve their purpose and are not throwaway characters.

Bothersome is that over the years Gone with the Wind has been unfairly “feminized” once it began airing as an alternative to the annual Super Bowl, the assumption being that only women would enjoy it, is silly. I do not find this film to be a female film and frankly, some of the battle scenes are quite masculine, with epic fires and guns galore. Is Gone with the Wind now considered a racist film? Perhaps so, and time has made the political incorrectness much more glaring- this point can be debated endlessly. Ashley participates in a hooded Klan organization and is a hero of the film! Certainly the slaves are portrayed as happy, kindly, and comfortable with their place in life all throughout the film, vastly different from what surely transpired. However, Hattie McDaniel (Mammie) won the first ever Oscar for a black actress so that was monumental progress and influence. Using seemingly thousands of extras, the war torn Atlanta scene where the camera rises up and up and up panning down on hundreds of wounded and dead Union soldiers as Scarlett defeatedly walks among them is still heartbreaking to watch and is a reminder of the power and destruction that war is.

Gone with the Wind is an epic masterpiece from long ago that still holds up amazingly well. The sets, the rich characters, and the costumes can be admired and still inspire today.

The Godfather: Part II-1974

The Godfather: Part II-1974

Director-Frances Ford Coppola

Starring-Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro

Top 100 Films-#3

Scott’s Review #197

60011663

Reviewed: November 25, 2014

Grade: A

Frances Ford Coppola’s sequel (and technically also a prequel) to the highly regarded and successful The Godfather is one of the rare sequels to equal and even surpass the original in its greatness, creativity and structure. The Godfather Part II feels deeper, more complex, and ultimately richer than The Godfather- and that film itself is a masterpiece. Part II is much darker in tone. Ford Coppola had complete freedom to write and direct as he saw fit with no studio interference. The results are immeasurable in creating a film masterpiece.

The film is sectioned into two parts, which is a highly interesting and effective decision. The story alternates between the early twentieth century following Don Corleone’s life, now played by Robert DeNiro, as his story is explained- left without a family and on the run from a crime lord, Don escapes to the United States as a young boy and struggles to survive in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City. He obtains a modest job as a grocery stock boy and finally celebrates his eventual rise to power in the mafia. The other part of the film is set in 1958 as Michael Corleone is faced with a crumbling empire, through both rivals and the FBI- investigating him and holding Senate committee hearings in Washington D.C., and a failing marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton). Betrayal is a common theme of the film from Michael’s wife, brother, and mobster allies revealed to be cagey enemies. Michael grows uncertain and mistrustful of almost everyone surrounding him. Is Kay a friend or foe? Is Fredo plotting against him? He even begins lashing out at Tom Hagen on occasion.
What makes The Godfather Part II so brilliant, and in my opinion richer than The Godfather, is that it is tougher to watch- and that is to its credit. Now, instead of being a warm, respected member of a powerful family, Michael is questioned, analyzed, and betrayed. New, interesting characters are introduced- Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, a former ally of Don’s, and Frankie Pentangeli, played by Michael V. Gazzo are intriguing characters and their allegiances are unknown throughout most of the film- are they loyal to the Corleone’s or deadly enemies?

The character of Michael goes from conflicted to all-out revenge minded, including revenge sought on members of his own family. Michael is now a dark, angry character- gone is the nice, decorated war hero with his whole life ahead of him. He is much older and a changed man. Similar to the original Godfather, the opening scene is a large celebration- this time of Anthony Corleone’s first communion celebration. Also in comparison, the finale of the film involves major character deaths one after the other.

Unique to this film are the multiple location scenes- New York, Nevada, Italy, Florida, and Cuba are all featured making for an enjoyable segue throughout and a bigger budget. The blow-up confrontation between Michael and Kay is devastating and shocking in its climax. When Michael punches Kay in a sudden rage, the audience also feels punched. The wonderful scene at the end of the film with the entire family gathered around for Don’s fiftieth birthday in 1942 is a special treat for viewers; familiar faces make cameo appearances. I love these aspects of the film.

The rich history of Don is the greatest aspect of The Godfather Part II as simply known as “Godfather” and patriarch of the family, his life as a boy and young father are explained so we see how he became one of the most powerful men in the crime world. I love how he remains a decent man and helps the poor and the victims of ruthless Don Fanucci, his predecessor. He loves his wife and children, but also loves his neighbors, and helps them, believing in fairness. Ultimately, the characters of Don and Michael are worlds apart.

The Godfather Part II is one of the most complex and well-written films in movie history- studied in film school, discussed, imitated, and championed. It remains vital and should be viewed and analyzed again and again and again.

The Godfather-1972

The Godfather-1972

Director-Frances Ford Coppola

Starring-Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

Top 100 Films-#10

Scott’s Review #196

60011152

Reviewed November 24, 2014

Grade: A

The Godfather is one of the most identifiable and brilliant film masterpieces of all time. It is so ingrained in pop-culture and film history and was such a blueprint of 1970’s cinema that its legend deservedly lives on. The film has not aged poorly nor been soured by over-exposure. It is as much a marvel today as it must have been when originally released in theaters in 1972.

The film revolves around the Corleone family- a mob family living in New York. They are high powered, wealthy, and influential with politicians and law enforcement alike. They are the cream of the crop of the organized crime families. The patriarch of the family is known as “The Godfather”, real name Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando. The eldest son is hot-headed Sonny, played by James Caan. Middle son Fredo, played by John Cazale, is dim-witted and immature and clearly the weak link of the family. Finally, the youngest son is the central character in the film. Michael, played by a very youthful Al Pacino, has just returned home from World War II, a decorated and Ivy League educated hero. Throughout the film Michael wrestles with either steering the Corleone family business towards the straight and narrow or continuing the death, blood, and corruption that currently encompasses the family. Rounding out the Corleone family is Tom Hagen, an Irish surrogate son of sorts, who serves as the family attorney. Connie- the temperamental and emotional sister, and Mama Corleone, the passive wife of Don’s complete the main family. The various supporting characters are immense, from family friends, relatives, corrupt mob figures, and characters introduced when Michael lives in Italy.

The brilliance of The Godfather is clearly the richness of the enormous amount of characters on the canvas and the structure and pacing of the film. Even small characters are vital to the film and every scene is important and effortlessly paced so that they neither seem rushed nor drag, and the film is immeasurably character driven. My favorite character is Michael Corleone as he is the most troubled and complex. Pacino plays him to the hilt as, initially, a nice guy trying to do the right thing, going against the grain, and non-traditional- he proposes to a waspy woman who has no Italian heritage. When events develop in a particular way, Michael suddenly becomes the leader of the family, despite being the youngest son, and the complexities of the character deepen from this point. Specifically, the revenge killing sequence is brilliant as the viewer is kept on the edge of their seat through a car ride, a meal in a restaurant, a men’s room scene, until finally, all hell breaks loose, all the while Michael is conflicted, unsure, and intense. Has he veered too far from being a nice guy? Can he salvage the family business without being ruthless? Michael faces a battle of good vs. evil. The scenes are brilliantly structured- the grand opening scene alone is beautiful as the audience is introduced to the entire family- cheerfully dancing and frolicking during a bright and sunny outdoor wedding (Connie’s) at the Corleone estate, while inside a dark interior study, a man begs Don Corleone to help avenge his raped and beaten daughter by having her attackers killed. Several scenes in The Godfather are my personal favorites- the aforementioned restaurant scene, where Michael is faced with a dilemma involving a corrupt policeman and a high powered figure, one can feel the tension in this extended scene. The scene in a Hollywood mansion where poor, innocent, horse Khartoum meets his fate in the most gruesome way imaginable. Later, Michael’s beautiful Italian wife, Apollonia, has an explosive send-off. Towards the end of the film, the improvised tomato garden scene with an elderly Don Corleone playing with his young grandson. Finally, the brutal scene involving Corleone son Sonny at the toll booth is mesmerizing, brutal, and flawlessly executed.

The lack of any strong female characters and the way in which women are treated (either beaten or passively following their husbands) is bothersome, but unfortunately, circa 1940’s mafia, this is the way things were. One could make the argument that Kay Adams, played by Diane Keaton, is the strongest female character as she questions the Corleone family’s motives and attempts to keep Michael honest and trustworthy. She has little in common with the other female characters. Lines such as “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “Don’t forget the cannolis” are unforgettable and quote-worthy.

The finale of the film is breathtaking- a combination of bloody kills mixed in with a peaceful scene of Michael accepting the honor of becoming his nephew’s godfather. As he pledges his devotion to God and denounces Satan, the murders he orchestrated are simultaneously being executed. The character, while complex, suddenly becomes a hypocrite. Some view Michael as strictly a hero whose choices should not be questioned or analyzed- other’s view Michael as not a hero, but rather a complex, tortured, bad guy. One simply must watch The Godfather and The Godfather Part II as companion pieces, as Part I is slightly more straightforward and easier to follow than the more complex and layered sequel.

The Godfather is storytelling and film making at its absolute best and continues to influence films to this day.

Doctor Zhivago-1965

Doctor Zhivago-1965

Director-David Lean

Starring-Julie Christie, Omar Sharif

Top 100 Films-#47

Scott’s Review #42

449931

Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: A

Doctor Zhivago is a great film to watch on a cold winter’s night or throughout the crisp winter or holiday season. The film is a classic masterpiece directed by the talented David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India) whose perfectionism is evident in his epic films. Nearly every scene could be a painting so the cinematography alone is reason enough to become enchanted with the work of art. Of course, the story is also a goldmine as a sprawling decades long love story unfolds amid the ravages of the bloody Bolshevik Revolution.

The film is set in the bitter cold of Russia (though in reality all scenes were shot in Spain) and the bitterness of the cold climate and the war are mixed perfectly with a doomed love story set against the backdrop of the many battles and wartime effects. Nearly all sequences are set in the winter so that the blustery and icy effects are nestled magnificently against numerous scenes of cozy, candlelit cabins or more extravagant glowing surroundings. In this way the viewer simply must be surrounded by a fire, flaming candles, or another form of warmth as a snowstorm or blizzard besets outdoors for a perfect viewing experience. And a large screen television or in a cinema is simply a must to watch this film as it is epic on the grandest scale.

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie (a gorgeous star in her day) are cast perfectly as Uri and Lara, young forbidden lovers enthralled with one another but involved with significant others. The film dissects their initial meeting and their story over the years, experiencing marriages, births, and deaths throughout the ravages of Russia in the early twentieth century. Despite their affairs neither is deemed unsympathetic- quite the contrary as audiences will fall in love with the pair and become enchanted as we watch their love-tortured adventures. Sharif and Christie are just magnificent and completely believable as a couple.

The set pieces are magnificent and flawless in design and detail (my favorite is the ice palace). The cinematography is breathtaking and the content is very close to the obviously superior novel by Boris Pasternak and a feeling of “really being there” encompasses the viewer. Doctor Zhivago is quite simply a brilliant film and perfect for a snowy, winter evening.

Ryan’s Daughter-1970

Ryan’s Daughter-1970

Director-David Lean

Starring-Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum

Scott’s Review #10

60010843

Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

Ryan’s Daughter is a sweeping epic from masterful director, David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago). The film is sprawling and filled with fabulous locales of oceanic Ireland. In fact, much of the action takes places using exterior scenes and this is arguably as prominent and important to the film as the story is.

Set in WWI era Ireland, one will immediately notice the gorgeous Irish landscapes and the brilliant photography involved. This gives the film a timeless look, and one can simply escape into the scenery itself, forgetting the story, and dream away through the roaring waves. The intense “storm scene” is second to none as Lean had to wait over a year to film this pivotal scene- and Mother nature had to cooperate.

The story is twofold: a love story involving a woman torn between her schoolteacher husband and a strapping, yet English (at this time there was no love lost between the Irish and English), officer. Rosy (Sarah Miles) is headstrong yet kindhearted, the daughter of a local, prominent man.  Her husband, Charles (Robert Mitchum) is dutiful and loyal to a fault. After Rosy’s affair with the British officer, she is deemed a tyrant by the townspeople, as her husband chooses to stand by her side.

The second story is of a political nature. A feeling of extreme nationalism exists among the townspeople against the British. Both stories blend together nicely as small town gossip and a subsequent witch hunt come into play. The village idiot is played brilliantly by John Mills, who won an Academy award for his efforts.

Character driven is the stories main appeal and the audience will surely feel perplexed or confused whom to root for or feel empathy for- I know I did. In fact, at different times ones loyalties can fluctuate or be challenged.

The film is reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago to me as romance and politics intertwine and a dilemma involving the central female characters are similar. At over three hours in length the film does not drag and remains interesting throughout as the conflict and drama reach a crescendo during the final act. At no time is there any filler or unnecessary scenes, which, in itself is a positive.

Sadly, Ryan’s Daughter is not considered as worthy as other aforementioned David Lean efforts, but I disagree with this- the film ages exceptionally well- like a fine wine. This film also focuses largely on a female character and, therefore, is female driven, a wonderful aspect in film, circa 1970.