Tag Archives: Satirical 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.

The Brady Bunch Movie-1995

The Brady Bunch Movie-1995

Director-Betty Thomas

Starring-Gary Cole, Shelley Long

Scott’s Review #750

Reviewed April 30, 2018

Grade: B

Capitalizing on nostalgia created from the popular 1960’s-1970’s television comedy “The Brady Bunch”, 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie offers a nice treat for fans of the series- fondly reminiscing back to their youth or hours spent enjoying subsequent reruns after the show had ended. Certainly the case with this reviewer, the film version is cute and silly, but exactly as would be expected, and the attention to detail using facets from the original series makes the film wonderful enjoyment and a job well done by director Betty Thomas.

The Brady Bunch Movie is not highbrow nor complex,  nor should it be. The work is just peppered with great jokes and a solid ode to the fun past. Film fans looking for a good comedy and not having seen the series might miss out on some of the fun as a multitude of references only fans will appreciate  abound throughout the length of the film.

The plot is not the strongest quality, but liberties must be taken since the intention is of a throwback and not much more- the story is one that might have existed during the series, but lengthened for film purposes. Larry Dittmeyer (what a name!), played by Michael McKean, schemes to coax all of his southern Californian neighborhood to sell their houses at a good price, in order to develop a lucrative shopping mall, presumably so they will all get rich.

When earnest Mike and Carol Brady (Gary Cole and Shelley Long) refuse the business deal, Larry embarks on a plot to use a foreclosing notice issued to the Brady’s as leverage in his deal. The Brady’s, owing $20,000 in back taxes due within a week’s time scramble to raise the money. Predictably, the Brady kids rush to the rescue with a plan to secure the funds via a singing contest.

The film immediately gets off to a familiar start as we view the comfortable Brady house and all of the cozy qualities nestled inside- unchanged from the late 1960’s- the groovy orange colors, the tie dye and the plaid outfits are all in tow. Lovable Alice, in her blue and white housekeeper outfit, Mike, Carol, and all six Brady kids are back at the helm, having never missed a beat. In short, they still live as if it 1969 instead of 1995 and are oblivious to the outside world.

A tremendous treat for fans are the cameo appearances of a few of the original cast: Florence Henderson (Carol) and Ann B. Davis (Alice) have the more interesting parts, that of the Brady grandmother and truck driver, respectively.  Oddly, Maureen McCormick’s (Marcia), Susan Olsen’s (Cindy), and Mike Lookinland’s (Bobby’s) scenes were shot, but all cut- a major fail of the film whose fans undoubtedly would have liked to have seen all cast members. Wouldn’t a group scene versus individual scenes have been a wonderful touch? Missing are Robert Reed (Mike) who was deceased and Eve Plumb (Jan) who refused to appear.

The plot is silly, trivial, and completely predictable, but yet, so was the television series! As each episode was wrapped up in a nice bow with a defined conclusion and perhaps a lesson or two learned along the way, the film plays similarly. McKean’s Larry and man hungry wife Dina (Jean Smart) are perfect foils and play their roles with relish only adding to the zany fun. A wonderful and timely point is how a Japanese businessman saves the day for the Brady’s as a nice cultural inclusiveness touch is added- still relevant today.

An observation made while watching the film in present time (2018), is the intended point of the film. In 1995, the point was to show how out of touch the Brady’s were with “modern times”. But in 2018 the tide has turned and 1995 now seems dated in relation to the Brady years- sadly this gives the film itself more of a dated quality. This is always a risk taken when a film uses its current time period as part of the plot. The cool and hip cellular phone used by one character seems garish and uncool by today’s advanced standards.

Still, from Marcia’s flattened nose, The Monkees Davy Jones resurfacing, Cindy’s tattling, Jan’s insecurities, Greg’s cool suave manner, Peter’s breaking voice, and Bobby’s hall monitor job, the familiar stories and antics all resurface in a fun filled hour and a half of comic nostalgia. The Brady Bunch Movie is a light achievement and a nice trip down memory lane for many folks.

High Anxiety-1977

High Anxiety-1977

Director-Mel Brooks

Starring-Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn

Scott’s Review #740

Reviewed April 11, 2018

Grade: A

For lovers of legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock (as this reviewer is a die-hard fan), the 1977 spoof/satirical feast High Anxiety is a must-see.  The film is simply a treat for the multitude (nearly twenty!) of fun references to Hitchcock classics that fans can easily point out. Such classics as 1964’s The Birds, 1945’s Spellbound, 1958’s Vertigo, and 1960’s fan-favorite Psycho are heavily parodied.

Producer, director, and star Mel Brooks abounds all expectations with a brilliant performance and a smattering of veteran Brooks ensemble players along for the ride. Featured stars Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and Cloris Leachman provide wonderful comic performances that are quite lively and memorable without ever being too zany or silly. High Anxiety is a hilarious and clever production.

Brooks plays neurotic Doctor Richard Thorndyke, who has been hired by the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very Very Nervous. His role is to replace Doctor Ashley, who has died mysteriously at the facility. Transported by his nervous driver, Brophy, he meets a bevy of peculiar characters led by Doctor Charles Montague (Korman), a man with a BDSM fetish, and Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Leachman), the grizzled head nurse. Thorndyke immediately receives death threats amid strange shenanigans seemingly following his every move.

In brilliant fashion Thorndyke suffers from “high anxiety” a witty reference to Hitchcock’s character of Scotty from 1958’s Vertigo. As he meets and falls in love with Victoria Brisbane (Kahn), a woman whose father is a patient at the facility, he becomes determined to prove the fraudulence and deceit of Montague and Diesel, while subsequently clearing himself of a murder charge orchestrated by the pair. The murder scene- occurring in a crowded lobby- with Thorndyke caught red handed holding the murder weapon as a camera snaps the shot for evidence, is a direct spoof of 1959’s North By Northwest.

To be clear, High Anxiety is not a high-brow film nor does it ever dare to take itself too seriously. It knows what it is and what it wants to achieve and that is to both entertain and please fans of Hitchcock. In fact the film is an ode and tribute to the general film-making of the director who reportedly adored the picture and the accolades that Brooks received from making it. There is hardly a better stamp of approval than that.

I adore the casting and the odd characters Brooks writes, specifically Leachman and Korman. The duo ham it up with a script laced with great comic moments for the duo to sink their teeth into. As Leachman, with her drill sergeant-like stiff posture and pointed bosom (Mrs. Danvers from 1940’s Rebecca), combined with the wimpy and snarky mannerisms of Korman’s character, they are the perfect combination of female dominant and male submissive as they play off of one another in crisp style. The sinister way that Nurse Diesel (my favorite character) utters the word “Braces”, a reference to her henchman, drizzles with dark humor and wit.

Piggybacking off of these characters, Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) gives a fine turn as the doomed straight man with a conscience,  Dr. Wentworth, who just knows something is up at the facility, but is too timid to know exactly what it is. His death scene is one of my favorites as, derived from 1976’s Family Plot, the poor man is driven to ruptured ear drums and a subsequent stroke after his car is rigged to blast rock music, trapping him inside.

Brooks and Kahn make a lovable duo as the beleaguered romantic couple forced into an adventure to prove innocence and rescue Victoria’s father from harm. A favorite moment is Brooks’s wonderful rendition of  the song “High Anxiety” at a hotel piano bar as he successfully woos Victoria is an entertaining romantic comedy moment. In predictable fashion- he gets the girl.

High Anxiety is delicious, silly, and peppered with great classic Hitchcock moments that are momentously fun to watch and pick out which movie they each reference is from. An absolute must-see for all Hitchcock fans or those who simply want a humorous, lightweight introduction to the works of the Master.

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.

Tropic Thunder-2008

Tropic Thunder-2008

Director-Ben Stiller

Starring-Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr.

Scott’s Review #593

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: D-

Tropic Thunder was a ridiculous film that I found to be harsh, tedious, and very loud.Attempting to be a satire of sorts, it fails on almost every level. The main issue was with the characters, who are abrasive and unlikable. The only redeeming qualities are Robert Downey Jr.’s and Tom Cruises portrayals, though they both play idiotic characters.

The plot is something of an ode to 1979’s Apocalypse Now, in that it the plot throws back to the Vietnam war. A group of narcissistic actors are filming a Vietnam memoir on location in the jungles of Southeast Asia, when they are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves amid a group of drug lords.

The films attempt at humor fell flat for me. It just seemed like a group of crazed guys running around the jungle acting wild and the film held little point for me. Cruise’s part was interesting, but way too small.

Directed by, and starring Ben Stiller, who should stick to acting (if that). How Downey, Jr. scored an Oscar nomination for this drivel is beyond me- despite his acting being one of the better efforts in the film.

A Wedding-1978

A Wedding-1978

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley

Scott’s Review #539

Reviewed December 17, 2016

Grade: A

A Wedding is an obscure, brilliant gem penned and directed by Robert Altman- a film genius in my opinion and one of my most adored directors. I love most of his movies and A Wedding is no exception. The creative way that Altman weaves intersecting story-lines and dialogue, thereby creating a real-life tone, gives immense realism to his films.

In A Wedding, he takes a basic life event, and turns it into a well nuanced, fascinating, comical, yet dramatic story. He is known for having enormous casts (in A Wedding it is forty eight principles), but every character serves a purpose. The viewer will feel that they are a fly on the wall of a real wedding.  Altman’s actors primarily improvise the dialogue, speaking at the same time, bringing a reaistic edge. I adore this quality.

The film is a satire- people either love or loath attending weddings and Altman’s film caters to the latter. He creates a setting, from the ceremony, to the reception, riddled with awkward moments, and social guffaws.

In pure satirical, soap opera fashion, two wealthy families gather at a lavish estate for the ceremony to commence. Hilarity ensues when the dead corpse of the matriarch of one family lies in her bed, nobody realizing she is actually dead. Other hi-jinks, such as the revelation of a nude, life-size portrait of the bride, the caterer falling ill, and a tornado wreaking havoc.

Slowly, secrets are revealed by the families, as the alcohol flows and the characters become involved in the perilous situations. Altman does it again as he creates a masterpiece based on a real-life situations that most can relate to.

Hail, Caesar!-2016

Hail, Caesar!-2016

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-George Clooney, Channing Tatum

Scott’s Review #377

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Reviewed February 16, 2016

Grade: B+

Hail, Caesar! is a quirky film created and directed by the Coen Brothers, known for such offbeat films as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Raising Arizona.  Hail, Caesar is a satirical comedy about the Hollywood film industry during the post World War II time period of the 1950’s. Including singing, dancing, and scandalous matters, the film includes a bevy of current Hollywood talent including George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, and Scarlett Johannsen to name but a few. All give fine performances and add humor and wit to the film.

The plot centers on the character of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a celebrity “fixer” and real life person, who works as an executive for Capitol Pictures, and whose main responsibility is to ensure that famous Hollywood stars remain out of trouble. The period is 1951, a particularly scandalous time in pictures. One of the biggest stars of the time, Baird Whitlock (Clooney), is suddenly kidnapped and held for ransom while in the midst of completing a big epic film for the studio. Mannix must race to keep the crisis out of the news and safely get Whitlock back.

Certainly, there are interesting subplots including handsome, yet talent-less Western actor Hobie Doyle, hired by the studio to appear in a sweeping period piece directed by suave Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and DeeAnna Moran (Johannsen), unmarried and with a “bun in the oven”, determined to keep herself out of the tabloids.

I loved the look of the film, as numerous films within the film occur. The 1950’s set pieces and set designs are exquisite to experience, particularly the period piece set, lavishly designed with classic doors, a staircase, flowers, and a cast dressed to the nines. It brings back an extravagant time.

The film is a satire, to be sure, but also contains the serious subject matter of communism (especially for that time period), Russia and Russian defectors, all involved in a plot to prove a valuable point. Despite the film being a comedy, this is worth serious thought. Many writers in Hollywood make money for the studios and are rewarded with underwhelming salaries. The same holds true in Hollywood today. This point can spill over into other walks of life as well and the point of the “little man gets screwed” is explored. Communism is also explored throughout the film as the main message- a message that is important and resonates.

Another interesting tidbit that Hail, Caesar! mentions, though only on the surface, is the burgeoning onslaught of television programming. Suddenly, more and more folks were purchasing TV’s and staying away from the glamour of films opting instead for the comfort of their couch. What a different time it was!

An intriguing, favorite character of mine belongs to Channing Tatum’s portrayal of Burt Gurney, a Gene Kelly like character famous for singing and dancing numbers. A sizzling sailor dance gives edge and sexuality to the film. A revealing scandal involving Burt and Laurence is fantastic and delicious.

My favorite scene belongs to Frances McDormand, shamefully only appearing in one scene- quite memorable. As film editor C.C. Calhoun, she diligently shows Mannix film dailies in the hopes of discovering a clue in the disappearance of Whitlock. When her scarf gets caught in the projector, both hilarity and grotesqueness ensue. It is classic Coen Brothers comedy.

Hail Caesar! succeeds as a witty, comical, throwback to a wonderful time in film history, with a political edge, that historians will appreciate and Coen Brothers fans will relish. Perhaps not their most creative or memorable, but enjoyable all the same.

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Director-George A. Romero

Starring-David Emge, Ken Foree

Scott’s Review #289

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Reviewed November 26, 2015

Grade: B+

One of the better installments by famed horror-comedy director, George A. Romero, though inferior to my personal favorite  film of his, Night of the Living Dead, Romero focuses slightly more on the comedy aspect with Dawn of the Dead, though for horror fans, there is plenty of gore to satisfy the more blood-thirsty viewer. This film is glossier and slicker than its predecessor was.

On a slightly larger budget than Night of the Living Dead,  the events largely take place in suburban Pennsylvania, and more specifically, a local mall. An unknown phenomenon has made non-buried humans change form into flesh-eating zombies that prey on other human beings. A group of survivors hunker down in a suburban mall and begin a life of adequacy-utilizing the contents of the mall until events threaten their existence. They must form a militant operation in order to continue to survive.  The four survivors are Stephen and Francine- two staff members of a local television station- and Roger and Peter- two SWAT team members whom they meet in the ensuing chaos. The quartet steal a helicopter and travel a short distance to the mall.

Having viewed Dawn of the Dead on multiple occasions, I am a fan of the film, but not an enormous fan, and it hovers below my Top 25 Horror Films list.  The main flaw of the film is how it delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Francine midstream, a fact I find meaningless and in fact, stalls the plot. Francine has realized that she is pregnant and I just do not understand the point of slowing down the action for this purpose. I am a huge fan of character development (even in the horror genre!), but this development does not work.

Still, the lengthy portion of the film, and with a running time of over two hours (highly unusual for horror), I am enamored with. The scenes in the mall are fantastic and the action in the final act is thrilling. Reminiscent of my youth and spending hours as a child, along with my mother and siblings, being paraded around the local mall, the look of the mall in Dawn of the Dead brings back a flood of memories. From the fake green plants, to the mannequins, the pool of water filled with coins, and, of course,  the redundant, but lovely Muzak in the background.

Romero, as he did with Night of the Living Dead, provides a social element to the film. In the case of Dawn of the Dead, it is the onset of materialism and consumerism that captured the United States in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s that he focuses on, and it took me a couple of viewings to catch onto this point- the zombies stupidly walking around the mall in numbing fashion mirroring how many people did during the day. One character mentions that the zombies are drawn to the mall because it is familiar- much like people frequented the malls in that time period frivolously spending away their time and their money.

Some of the deaths, including one main characters, are haunting. As the character suddenly “turns”, it is frightening to see them in this new light as compared to how they once were. And, in comic fashion, my favorite zombie character is the nurse. Clad in nurse-gear (white shoes, classic nurse cap, and white uniform) she is creepy yet mesmerizing in her body and facial expressions as she lumbers around the mall. It makes me smile each time I see her.

Dawn of the Dead is certainly one of the better, more interesting zombie movies around- I just wish the relationship drama, mainly in the center of the film, had been derailed or modified, as it slows down the pacing of the film. Still, a good, fun, late night flick.

Dear White People-2014

Dear White People-2014

Director-Justin Simien

Starring-Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson

Scott’s Review #274

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Reviewed September 18, 2015

Grade: B+

Dear White People is a highly creative, independent satire that begs to be watched if for nothing else but its message of existing racism in present times, homophobia, and class distinction. Set at an Ivy League college and written tongue and cheek, but also with a direct message from newly discovered director Justin Simien, it is a meaningful gem that challenges audiences to think as well as be entertained and emit an occasional chuckle at the wit and comical lines presented.

Set in present day- assuming 2013 or 2014, and well beyond the Civil Rights era, the film features a hip, sharp look and a myriad of characters, all with differing perspectives, and all of whom are either caucasian or black in racial identities. All of the characters attend the affluent and sophisticated Winchester University, a mostly white, conservative school with a small community of black students, who curiously all seem to reside in the same dorm house. In addition, the Dean is a black man (played by Dennis Haysbert).

Sam White is a rebellious female student, of mixed race, who runs a radio show entitled “Dear White People”, which challenges the current state of racism in America, and specifically at Winchester University. Supporting characters include Lionel Higgins, a gay, bookish student with an enormous afro, who is excluded from almost all of the sub-groups. Lionel is intrigued with Sam’s radio show. Other characters include Coco- an attractive black girl with typically “white” mannerisms and friends, who tried to fit in with white culture. Troy, a very handsome black student (who tries to act “white”), dating a white girl (who tries to act “black”). Finally, the film features Kirk, a white student whose father is the school president, who values an old-style way of thinking. Kirk, shockingly, hosts a blackface party, which leads to a major controversy at the school and is the focus of much of the films drama.

The main theme of the film is obviously race, but different characters have different viewpoints on the subject matter, and all are explored, which is what makes the film so unique and interesting. Sam, for example, is a true advocate for racial equality and constantly challenges white people’s motivations and actions, blatantly so. Coco, on the other hand, is resistant to being stereotyped as a woman of color and, in one scene is incorrectly assumed to be from the hood by a reality television producer she is auditioning for. She is clearly envious of white people and the advantages they have, even going so far as having straight hair and blue contact lenses. Then we have Lionel, who is both gay and black, and clearly considered an outcast. He fits in with no group and curiously seems okay with being his own person.

What is unique and compelling about Dear White People is that it brings up a controversial issue, mixes it in satire, humorously so, but also presents compelling arguments against stereotypes, but also bringing those stereotypes center stage, which most films avoid like the plague. One black character is frustrated that, in their mind, most black people are content watching dumb black comedies, thereby supporting a negative racial stereotype.

One interesting aspect regarding the score of the film is the use of lily white classic film music- such as Barry Lyndon- the most lily white of lily white films (British and Irish). Famous film director, Quentin Tarantino, is called out as being a racist director. What wonderful irony!

Dear White People is a witty, intelligent slice of inventive film making that is worth seeing if only for its controversial subject of inequality and racism, that is too often forgotten in today’s day and age. A non-formulaic indie treat for those inclined to think a little.

Maps to the Stars-2014

Maps to the Stars- 2014

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska

Scott’s Review #266

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Reviewed August 14, 2015

Grade: A-

Maps to the Stars is a bizarre, unpleasant, film that is as dark and perverse as it is provocative and fascinating to observe and ponder. More like an independent art film than a blockbuster Hollywood project and made by an arguably mainstream director, David Cronenberg (Crash, The Fly), I am surprised it was able to be made on a large scale budget due to the negative portrayal of actors and celebrity types, specifically, troublesome starlet and child star. One must be wary of biting the hand that feeds. Maps to the Stars is a film where almost all of the central characters are unlikable in nature- difficult, unstable, self absorbed, or all of the above. The subject matter is ugly, but fascinating to me. The wealthy and glamorous are interesting and, at times the film is like a Greek tragedy as well as containing Shakespearean elements- think Romeo and Juliet in an incestuous way times two- one must watch this film to see what I mean. Hint- it contains the ick factor.

The plot centers on a Hollywood family, where the son is a famous child star and the primary bread-winner. They are the Weiss family- all struggling to either find success, or hang on to it, all the while each of them is neurotic. The father, Dr. Samuel Weiss, played by John Cusack, is a TV psychologist, who is hired by Havannah Segrand (Julianne Moore), a highly self-centered, aging actress, struggling to land a coveted role playing her mother. Her mother was a young actress in her day, who tragically died in a fire. Havannah despises her due to claimed childhood abuse. Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) is Samuel’s wife, a very controlling, ambitious woman, who strives to get the most money out of her son Benjie, a Justin Bieber type character with a troubled streak. Rounding out the family is Agatha Weiss, a troubled teenager, sent away for years after giving her brother pills and setting her parents house on fire. Though not directly related to the Weiss’s, Havannah, and limo driver, Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) become heavily involved with the family as events transpire.

As I watched the film it reminded me of a myriad of other influencial films and/or directors in peculiar ways. I noticed elements of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, for instance, in dark clever mood and the obvious setting of Los Angeles- even the score is similar during parts of the film, as the moody momotone sounds played in the background. The Ice Storm (1997), American Beauty (1999) and Magnolia (1997) also sprang to mind in their dark and strange worlds (Magnolia) and the inclusion of the dysfunctional family element (The Ice Storm and American Beauty). Furthermore, to a lesser extent I saw some Robert Altman ingrained in Maps to the Stars. These aspects are an enormous reason why I loved the film so much.

A prevelant theme throughout Maps to the Stars is one of burning- a victim of burning, a fire set, a character setting oneself on fire. Some characters see dead people. Havannah regularly sees her dead mother. Benjie sees a young girl who he visited in the hospital before she died, her last wish of meeting the big star. She suffered from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, who he foolishly thought had AIDS. He sees her in visions and tries to strangle her, instead strangling an innocent living person. The film is a weird trip for sure.

There are times when the viewer will be filled with dread at an oncoming dark moment. When Benjie carelessly plays with a gun that he assumes is unloaded we know trouble will occur. He is showing off at an actor friend’s party along with equally obnoxious starlets, while talking about poop, all selfish and wanting to party.
When Havannah belittles Agatha, her assistant, we see Agatha’s past anger come back into play as she slowly unravels with rage- Havannah, unaware of Agatha’s knowledge of her betrayal.

One small gripe is the continued use of gross toilet talk in multiple scenes including a raunchy discussion of a fan buying a well known actors waste for thousands of dollars. What was Cronenberg’s motivation for this? This was a silly, tasteless, unnecessary element of any otherwise great film.

Maps of the Stars is dirty and ugly, but is also a quirky treasure about bad people in Hollywood. Unpleasant characters whom I could not take my eyes off of. A brilliant film that delves into the Hollywood shallowness and madness and does it in such a daring, twisted, wonderful, sort of way.

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.

Diary of a Mad Housewife-1970

Diary of a Mad Housewife-1970

Director-Frank Perry

Starring-Carrie Snodgress, Frank Langella

Scott’s Review #189

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Reviewed November 5, 2014

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville-1975

Nashville-1975

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Karen Black

Top 100 Films-#7

Scott’s Review #47

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Reviewed June 19, 2014

Grade: A

Nashville is a brilliant film. I have found that with each subsequent viewing it creeps higher and higher on my list of favorite movies of all time. The style is unique (largely improvised) and epitomizes creative freedom in film during the 1970’s. Director Robert Altman lets his actors express themselves, even allowing them to write their own songs, the dialogue overlaps at times, which results in a natural feeling as the viewer watches the cast of 24 principles intersect over a period of 5 days at a political rally/country music festivals. It is pure Robert Altman at his finest.

Nashville is a satire of the political arena of the early1970’s and of the Vietnam conflict and politicians, specifically. The film certainly questions and challenges the government with an ironic patriotic setting (Nashville). The country music industry was in an uproar upon initial release of the film. It is a layered film that can be discussed and appreciated and each and every character is cared about. I cannot adequately describe the multitude of nuances in each scene that are noticed over time.

Each character- even some with limited screen time are important to the story as is the political elements- the questions of wars, policies, etc. abound. The chaotic bits and individual storylines come together at the end and many background happenings are incredibly interesting to watch and take note of throughout each viewing. With each experience the audience will notice more and more. I certainly do.

Lily Tomlin, for example, plays Linnea, a haggard mother of deaf children with a supportive husband, a woman who on the surface is heroic, yet she has is a complex character; she is bored with her life and falls in love with a young musician despite the guilt and repercussions.

The musician in question is Tom Frank, played by Keith Carradine. Handsome, and self-absorbed, he arrives in Nashville to dump his bandmates in hopes of a solo career, and beds many willing females. He also lashes out at a soldier at the airport, saying, “kill anyone lately?” Despite his unlikable character, Carradine gives one of the most beautiful performances in the film when he sings “I’m Easy”. Several  of the female characters assume he is singing the song for them, but who is he truly singing it for…if anyone?

Another character to analyze is Barbara Jean, played by Ronee Blakley. A frail yet very successful country singer, she is in and out of hospitals as she frets about her replacement singer stealing her thunder. Her insecurities rise to the surface. In fact, insecurity is a common theme among the characters. Many of them are either unsure, afraid, or not confident about either their musical talent, their relationships, or even themselves.

These are only 3 examples of the 24 richly layered characters- some ambitious, some falling apart, others meandering through life.

Many songs throughout were created by the actors themselves. Nashville is storytelling and filmmaking at its best. A creation by Altman that is deservedly admired, revered, and heralded as a major influence. It is studied in film schools as it should be.

Animal Farm-1954

Animal Farm-1954

Director-Joy Batchelor, John Halas

Voices-Gordon Heath, Maurice Denhall

Scott’s Review #45

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Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: B+

Animated film based on the classic fable written by George Orwell. This film is quite different from the typically wholesome Disney animated film of the time and reportedly many parents were shocked by the subject matter (didn’t they read the book??).

Animation-wise, this film does resemble a Disney film as the colors and animals are meticulously drawn and composed. The tale, as anyone who has read the book knows, is quite dark and satirical/political, and sadly, is relatable today as class systems, power, and greed are still quite prevalent in today’s society. The ending of the film is changed and is more hopeful than the book ending, presumably to appeal to a larger audience.

The written fable is far superior to the film, though the film is well done and effective and gets the message across. Made in the 1950’s, it still holds up well and is a look at the dark side of humanity.

Catch-22-1970

Catch-22-1970

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen

Scott’s Review #41

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Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: B

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

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

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

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie-1972

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie-1972

Director-Luis Bunuel

Starring-Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur

Scott’s Review #13

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A-

This film is a wonderful satire by Director Luis Bunuel. The movie is very strange- 3 well-to-do couples meander from dinner party to dinner party and, due to circumstances beyond their control (an incorrect date, a mysterious corpse, a military raid) never end up sitting down and enjoying a meal together.

How the individuals are wealthy is a bit vague; though there is mention of drug smuggling. It’s unclear who is matched up with whom since frolicking amongst them is commonplace. Several of them experience odd fantasy/dream sequences throughout and oftentimes are seen walking aimlessly down the road.

The entire film is tongue in cheek and pokes fun at the wealthy class. It’s offbeat, but highly enjoyable.