Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

Being a child of the 1980s films like Back to the Future (1985) left an indelible mark on me. I fondly recall excitedly going to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with a giant tub of popcorn in tow and enjoying the hell out of this film.

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

There exists a magical, futuristic element that left me and countless other youngsters and adults alike with a sense of wonder. And one amazing car!

Michael J. Fox, a huge television star of the 1980s largely in thanks to the sitcom Family Ties, powered through to the big screen with the help of this film and others.

The 1980s was a wonderful decade to grow up in.

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

To further complicate matters, Marty has to then return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

Back to the Future is one of those films that has something for everyone and the stars perfectly aligned to make it a blockbuster popcorn hit. Besides the science fiction elements, there is humor, a cool 1950s throwback vibe, romance, and natural chemistry between Fox and Lloyd who together carry the film.

It’s hardly an art film and goes for the jugular with mainstream additions like a killer soundtrack led by The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News which was all over top 40 radio in the summer of ’85. Counterbalancing the current times was another smash hit Johnny B. Goode, a 1958 Chuck Berry tune.

There is a safe vibe for sure and director Robert Zemeckis knows his action-adventure romantic comedies. This may be his best work but he also skews adding much diversity or heavy topics. He simply creates a fun, entertaining film.

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced. Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

Lloyd is perfect as the zany Doc Brown. He is wacky without being too ridiculous and bridges the gap between generations. The character is presumed to be old enough to be Marty’s (in present-day) grandfather and the two characters rely on each other. Back to the Future shows that an unlikely friendship can develop.

The film is also great at depicting the vast differences between the 1950s and the 1980s. At a simpler time, the 1950s are viewed as wholesome while the 1980s are perceived as the decade of excess and some fun is poked at both generations. But, both generations can also connect.

In an acute moment, Marty helps secure his parent’s bond and ensures he is created. This could be viewed as icky to some but the romance between the two parents is tender and sweet. The interactions between all characters are sentimental without being saccharine.

Back to the Future was the feel-good film of 1985 and a must-see for those living the period. It holds up surprisingly well with then state-of-the-art special effects not now looking dated or laughable. It also explores growing up as an adolescent and identifying with one’s parents and the differences they have. Who can’t relate to that in some way?

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

The Cannonball Run-1981

The Cannonball Run-1981

Director-Hal Needham

Starring-Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore

Scott’s Review #1,204

Reviewed December 4, 2021

Grade: B-

The Cannonball Run (1981) is someone’s idea of collecting big film and television stars of the time and throwing them into a film with a pointless plot about cross-country road racing.

Truth be told, it’s a pretty bad film. But, it’s a fun and entertaining way to spend ninety minutes just to see the multitude of celebrities in both cameos and leading roles. Otherwise, The Cannonball Run should be skipped.

Taking a glance at the list of players we have Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Dom DeLuise, Peter Fonda, Dean Martin, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda, Adrienne Barbeau, Bert Convoy, and Terry Bradshaw.

Hopefully, the actors had a good time making the film.

The acting is not stellar and one wonders if many of the cast simply phoned it in or even read much of the script. The out-takes look like everyone was having one grand old time.  And whether some were even sober during the shooting is debatable.

The film is loosely based on the 1979 running of an actual cross-country outlaw road race in the United States, beginning in Connecticut and ending in California.

It was one of 1981’s most successful films at the box office which is a scary realization. It was followed by two forgettable sequels- Cannonball Run II (1984), and Speed Zone (1989).

Feeling very thrown together, director Hal Needham is most known for collaborations with Burt Reynolds involving cars and car chases so the plot, if one wants to call it that, is right up his alley.

Race teams gather in Connecticut to start a cross-country car race. One at a time, teams drive up to the starters’ stand, punch a time card to indicate their time of departure, then take off.  The reward to be given to the winner is one million dollars. A representative of the “Safety Enforcement Unit” tries to stop the race because of its environmental effects and safety issues.

Various teams are shown either evading law enforcement, most of which deal with talking their way out of a possible ticket or concocting crazy schemes to outmaneuver their opponents.

The winner of the race is rather unimportant.

It’s all silly and not to be taken seriously. There are plenty of stereotypes like Jamie Farr’s Middle-Eastern wealthy sheik driving a Rolls Royce and the inevitable scantily clad females in tight wear.

Despite The Cannonball Run being riddled with enough negative aspects to make me hate the film, it’s kind of fun. The bevy of different vehicles like an ambulance, an Aston Martin DB5 (driven by Moore’s James Bond imitating the character of course), a Ferrari, and a Chevrolet Malibu are all entertaining.

There is no character development nor any characters with any depth so the only reason to see the film is for the speedy cars and the competition.

And to see which celebrity will appear next.

A slapstick film that makes even the similarly penned Smokey and the Bandit (1977) seem like high-art, The Cannonball Run (1981) is a must-see only for genre fans or those who are willing to watch and perhaps even be entertained by any type of movie.

I haven’t seen the film in eons but can imagine it’s a film only meant for its time and now would feel incredibly dated.

Dark Shadows-2012

Dark Shadows-2012

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #1,203

Reviewed December 3, 2021

Grade: C+

Sometimes a great idea doesn’t pan out. On paper, relaunching the unique and gothic 1960s daytime television series Dark Shadows with a tribute on the big screen with even bigger stars sounds wonderful.

The endless possibilities and the inevitable nods to history are head-spinning.

Sadly, the film version of Dark Shadows (2012) directed by Tim Burton is miscategorized and misunderstood by all involved. It’s billed as a dark comedy rather than horror or even fantasy and comes across as more of a mockery than a real nod to the series.

It’s completely over-the-top and misses any of the wonder and the spookiness that made the long-ago black and white show a daily adventure.

I do not profess to have seen the entire series but I have watched much of the first season and understand the appeal. Fans will be disheartened with Burton’s botched attempts to recreate a great idea.

Depp, a frequent guest star in Burton’s film works, strikes out as the iconic character Barnabas Collins, the eighteenth-century vampire who awakens in the twentieth century though he’s not as bad as he was when he feebly stepped into the Willy Wonka character in 2005.

Yikes.

The only saving grace is the creative and magical visual effects and set design which provides enough imagination and macabre fascination to at least partly save this otherwise messy experience.

The plot gives a brief explanation of the history. In eighteenth-century Maine, Barnabas Collins (Depp) presides over the town of Collinsport. A rich and powerful playboy, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who deviously makes him pay. Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him alive.

Two centuries later, Barnabas escapes from his tomb when builders are erecting a Mcdonald’s and finds the current 1970s Collinsport a very different place. His once-grand estate has fallen into ruin, and the dysfunctional remnants of his family have fared no better.

His resurrection creates complications and drama for the entire family.

Burton knocks it out of the park with the visuals. The gothic mansion, in particular, is right up his alley and he embraces the possibilities with gusto. Every creak or wind sound heard within the mansion co-aligns with the dark and dreary purples and brown colors. Frequent candles mark the proper mood and investigating the vast number of rooms was something to look forward to.

Since the rest of the film sucked I had nothing better to do than fully embrace and focus on the art and set designs.

Heavyweights like Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Depp do their best but oddly overact in nearly every scene. Their direction must have been skewed towards comedy instead of adding any meat or emotional relevance to the characters.

The original series created something strangely dramatic and compelling on a shoestring budget. There was a delicious haunting and grabbing nature that made you anticipate the next episode and who might next fall victim to the vampire.

The film veers into a vastly different territory. Burton and Depp’s Barnabas struts around emitting one-liners for intended giggles. The other characters appear to be dressed for Halloween and are dumb and morose. The feeling I got was that of a retread to a situation comedy like The Addams Family rather than a horror soap to be taken seriously.

The sexual references and the occasional bloody vampire effects are okay but seem peppered in to justify the dark comedy.

Even an uninspired cameo by shock rocker Alice Cooper is perceived as a weak attempt to add something frightening or dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Shadows (2012) performed poorly at the box office and was derided by true fans of the series and almost every other film critic. This caused Barnabas and his family to slink back into their coffins possibly for good.

What a shame.

Belfast-2021

Belfast-2021

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring-Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Jude Hill

Scott’s Review #1,202

Reviewed November 28, 2021

Grade: A-

Belfast (2021) is a film that I wanted to see based solely on the year-end awards buzz that the film is receiving as of this writing. The trailer would lead you to believe that the film is a sentimental and heartwarming journey through the lives of a group of people living in Belfast, Ireland.

This is nothing but strategic marketing.

The film is so much better than the trailer reveals with a dark and raw exploration of a family torn between their current lives in Belfast and an opportunity to leave the troubled city for new prospects in England.

But it’s not all doom and gloom and in fact, Belfast provides enough humor, entertainment, and drama to please mass audiences. There also exists a lesson in kindness, decency, and respect that is so needed in the world today.

Belfast is a movie laden with real experiences from director Kenneth Branagh’s own life and this successfully provides realism and honesty to the picture.

The film is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Buddy wonderfully played by Jude Hill. He struggles to forge a path from childhood to manhood in a world that has been turned upside down. It is 1969 and battles over religion have overtaken his neighborhood with radical Protestants wanting the Catholics out.

Buddy experiences young love, loss, joy, laughter, music, and the magic of the cinema. He is surrounded by his family- Ma (Caitríona Balfe), Pa (Jamie Dornan), Granny (Judi Dench), and Pop (Ciarán Hinds), and a brother. They each fill Buddy’s life with kindness and fun.

The film starts off slow for me despite an immediate wonderfully compelling slow-motion sequence in which Buddy is surrounded by violence and terror as he walks home from school one pleasant afternoon.

As I ponder Belfast I realize that much of the film is slow but rich with texture and goodness. Every so often an emotional scene erupts but then a great deal of it is Buddy’s everyday experiences.

The black and white cinematography is crucial to show the bleakness of the city of Belfast and how the residents do their best to add some life. Most are born and die where they live.

Branagh adds an occasional glimpse of color which is effective to show a burst of delight into the characters’ lives. This is most powerful when the family goes to the cinema and enjoys an afternoon watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The lighting and extreme close-ups of some of the character’s faces reveal their emotions and the landscape shots are smokey and bright in the appropriate places. This fits the mood perfectly.

The film features music by Belfast native Van Morrison, including eight classic songs and a new song Morrison wrote for the film.

The acting is superb by all the principal cast and Dornan and Balfe provide the emotional core. Both actors are incredibly good-looking and their performance of ‘Everlasting Love’ is simply delightful. Providing proper role models for their children Dornan’s Pa nearly had me in tears when he tells Buddy that a person’s religious beliefs are unimportant but their kindness is what truly matters.

He is a progressive man trapped in a traditional world.

In the end, the family chooses to reach for the stars and the moment is fulfilling for both the characters and the viewers.

Belfast (2021) did not completely win me over until it ended when I realized that I had witnessed a superior film. Branagh fuses heart and decency into a tale of a family’s struggles and their trials and tribulations.

It’s a message film that doesn’t scream or preach that message but rather gives a quiet lesson in humanity.

The Good Liar-2019

The Good Liar-2019

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,201

Reviewed November 26, 2021

Grade: B+

The Good Liar (2019) is a well-acted film but by the numbers, the thriller made as good as it can be thanks to superior acting. Casting British heavyweights Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren automatically provide enough star power and credibility to save any lame plot.

This is the first time the actors have appeared in a film together though they have appeared on stage together.

The film moves along at a brisk pace and there is never a moment of boredom. While the main storyline at first is intriguing, the inevitable twist at the ending is satisfying. Suspension of disbelief is required and a portion of the backstory is unnecessary.

Nothing is as it seems.

Roy Courtnay (McKellen) is a dashing career con man. He is suave and used to getting what he wants out of people- to his advantage and their disadvantage. He cagily dips into the online dating pool and stumbles upon an older woman named Betty McLeish (Mirren) ripe for the picking. She is rich, divorced, and lonely.

What could go wrong?

As Betty opens her life and home to him, Roy is surprised to find himself caring about her, turning what should be a cut-and-dry swindle into the most treacherous tightrope walk of his life.

Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), is a constant annoyance to Roy when he questions Roy’s intentions urging his grandmother to be wary of the man.

As the plot begins I kept thinking that there is no way that Betty could be so gullible, lonely or not. This kept me engaged until the big reveal that fills the final thirty minutes or so. If The Good Liar did not contain something more than the banal plot it would have been a real dud.

To continue with the storyline element the ultimate motivations of Betty, while clever, are hard to believe. Not to ruin any plot points but the whole Nazi element from the 1940s feels superfluous and easy. The revenge motives feel extremely plot-driven and meant as a thrown-in explanation.

From a timeline perspective, it also doesn’t make much sense and if events take place during present times it would put Roy and Betty in their 90’s! The characters are assumed to be in their mid-70’s.

Nonetheless, despite Roy being the villain I fell in love with him. His shenanigans appealed to me despite my better judgment. His trickery when he feigns a knee injury to manipulate Betty while dashing into a corporate meeting minutes later was enamoring instead of mortifying.

The chemistry between McKellen and Mirren is tremendous since both actors know their way around carrying a film and are confident with their abilities. This comes across onscreen and the romantic element works.

The Good Liar also gets respect from me for featuring actors in their golden years in leading roles.

Bill Condon has directed a variety of films including Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2006). The Good Liar is hardly on this level nor is it one of his finest but the director adds enough seasoning to assure a compelling experience.

The locales of London and later of Berlin, Germany is robust and a treat for any viewer who is partial to the international filming. I am! Plenty of busy London streets and German architecture appear during the film.

The slickness and excellent acting by McKellen and Mirren save The Good Liar (2019) from the drivel it might have been with lesser actors and inferior direction. Instead, it’s a clever film that toys with its viewers keeping them engaged until the very end.

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Director-Freddie Francis

Starring-Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, Robin Phillips

Scott’s Review #1,200

Reviewed November 25, 2021

Grade: A-

Tales from the Crypt (1972) is a delicious British anthology based on stories from the EC Comics series. Each of the five chapters is eerie storytelling that offers horror fans glimpses into the minds of depraved and devilish characters with sinister motivations.

The sheer joy is witnessing their comeuppance.

This film is the predecessor to Vault of Horror from 1973 and can easily be watched as companion pieces.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Intro

Five strangers are suddenly compelled to go with a tourist group to view old catacombs.

Separated from the main group, the strangers find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), who details how each of them may die.

…And All Through The House- A

Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) brutally kills her husband Richard (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve to get her hands on their insurance money. She prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement of a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) on the loose. She sees the killer (who is dressed in a Santa Claus costume) outside her house, but cannot call the police without exposing her crime.

Her daughter is upstairs in her bedroom, unaware.

This is my favorite chapter and is non-stop action. Collins is terrific as the greedy English woman put in peril. The audience will cheer for her to get her just desserts especially after she callously disregards a lovely Christmas gift her husband bought for her.

Reflection of Death- B+

Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with his secretary, Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up, having been thrown clear of the burned car. He tries to hitchhike home, but everyone he meets screams with horror when they see him.

This vignette is slightly confusing as far as the timeline of the events but compelling as we wait to see what Carl’s face looks like and what has happened to Susan and his wife.

Poetic Justice- A

James Elliott (Robin Phillips) lives with his father Edward (David Markham) across from the home of elderly dustman Arthur Edward Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), who owns several dogs and entertains children in his house. James hates Arthur’s ramshackle lawn and embarks on a scheme to rid the neighborhood of the old man.

I love seeing Cushing play against type as a kindly grandfatherly character and this chapter is the ultimate revenge fantasy and quite satisfying to see what happens to James.

It’s also a perfect watch on Valentine’s Day since the holiday comes into play.

Wish You Were Here- A-

Businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is on the verge of financial collapse. His wife Enid (Barbara Murray) notices the inscription on a Chinese statue the couple owns. They are granted three wishes. Enid decides to wish for a fortune and, surprisingly, the wish comes true, but with dire results.

This one wonderfully cascades a chain of events that leaves the characters in peril. The theme is once again about greed and specifically surrounding insurance money. The fast-paced nature is appealing and the ancient Chinese wishes leave one character into eternal suffering.

Blind Alleys- A-

Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) becomes the new director of a home for the blind and exploits his position to live in luxury with his dog Shane, while his drastic financial cuts on food and heating lessen the residents’ living conditions.

Led by George Carter (Patrick Magee) the resident’s revolt after a fellow resident dies of hypothermia. Rogers and Shane are locked in the basement where Rogers must navigate through a maze of razor blades and a now ravenous wild dog who will hungrily eat his owner.

Though far-fetched, Blind Alleys is delicious fun and contains my most hated character. This is all the more satisfying as he ‘gets it’ in the end!

Finale

After completing the final tale, the Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not warning them of what would happen, but telling them what has already happened: they have all “died without repentance.

The conclusion does nothing more than put a satisfying cap for the viewer as each character once again pays for their shenanigans.

The Power of the Dog-2021

The Power of the Dog-2021

Director-Jane Campion

Starring-Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,199

Reviewed November 21, 2021

Grade: A

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a harrowing and brutally honest performance in The Power of the Dog (2021), a thought-provoking and layered film by Jane Campion. Parts western, gothic, and drama, Cumberbatch leads the charge but all players associated with the film knock it out of the park.

If the superior acting is not enough the eerie subtext and gorgeous cinematography puts the viewer firmly in 1925 old Montana, where a vast and open range is the main setting. Characters are riddled with secrets and the fun is peeling back the onion on their motives and true desires.

There are enough bare male butts to titillate most viewers and Cumberbatch himself did not use the aid of a body double. He stated he wanted to be as raw and vulnerable as his character, the dastardly and cruel Phil Burbank.

Campion who hasn’t made a film in over a decade is back with a vengeance and imposes a nod to Ang Lee and his film Brokeback Mountain (2006).

From the first moment on screen, we know something is mesmerizing about Phil. He is handsome and severe, an alpha male if there ever was one, and attributes his savvy to his deceased father figure, Bronco Henry. His relationship with this man is key to the whole story.

Along with his brother George (Jesse Plemons), the Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers. One day, at the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose (Kirsten Dunst), the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable and effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Phil behaves cruelly to Rose and Peter but George becomes enamored with Rose and they marry much to Phil’s chagrin. Now all living together, Phil taunts Peter and terrorizes Rose but slowly begins to take the boy under his wing. But what are his true intentions and what will Peter do to save his mother from a complete breakdown?

The acting is so brilliant that I immediately became immersed in their lives. Particularly fascinating is Phil but Rose, George, and Peter are all substantial characters. All the characters intertwine and have special relationships with each other and all the principal actors are central to our fascination with them.

Rose may be Dunst’s best role yet and Plemons is terrific as the kind and steady George. Smit-McPhee, unknown to me, is a revelation as the androgynous young intellectual.

There are enough homoerotic scenes to make the viewer question Phil’s sexuality. His secret stash of strong man magazines and his long gazes at nude male sunbathers may be enough to unlock the key but when he rubs a handkerchief belonging to Bronco all over his body the relationship between the two men oozes to the surface.

Campion has a lot of guts taking on the male-driven western genre and she brilliantly succeeds. Forgetting the storyline for a minute the ravishing and oftentimes lonely landscape makes the film gorgeous to look at especially on the big screen. Plenty of long shots of the mountainous regions will inevitably grasp viewers and whisk them away to a long-ago time.

The Power of the Dog was shot in New Zealand but I was completely fooled into thinking Montana was the real filming location.

I adored seeing the costumes whether it be Rose in a housedress or more distinguished characters like the governor and his wife dressed for a dinner party. All costumes appear authentic and peppered with some glamour amidst the dirtiness of the range. Even the grubby ranch hands look great.

Discussions will certainly erupt once the film ends and isn’t that the point of great films? The Power of the Dog (2021) takes the tried and true western genre and infuses it with psychological layers. Thanks to Campion and the team she masterfully uses no gimmicks to bring the viewer into the world of the characters but instead offers authenticity and edge-of-your-seat drama.

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Scott’s Review #1,198

Reviewed November 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Edward Scissorhands (1990) is a Tim Burton creation, given appropriate funding only after the smash success of his 1989 film Batman. A creative and romantic fantasy, it is an unconventional project made as charming and whimsical as its stars were at that time.

The film is part sad, part magical, with enough science fiction and romance sprinkled in to make it work across genres. The result was another box office hit for Burton, teen idol status for its lead stars, and an obvious Academy Award nomination for the deserving Makeup department.

As unconventional and original as it appears on the surface the film suffers slightly from being a bit mainstream. There is a safe, romantic comedy feel that takes the film away from a much darker tone it could (and should) have had.

Still, Edward Scissorhands is entertaining and fascinating.

An eccentric scientist, deliciously played by Vincent Price, builds an animated human being, the gentle and soft-spoken Edward (Johnny Depp). He dies before he can finish assembling Edward, leaving the poor young man with a freakish appearance accentuated by the scissor blades he has instead of hands.

Friendly suburban saleswoman Peg (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg’s teen daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). However, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward’s hands make him an outcast. This is a challenge for all of them.

By 1990 Johnny Depp was becoming a huge Hollywood star and so was Winona Ryder. As the ‘it’ actors, this helps Edward Scissorhands tremendously by not only adding ticket sales but a fascination with them as a couple. The chemistry is palpable and so is the classic good girl helping boy reform. Depp’s Edward is a sympathetic hero and is instantly mysterious and likable.

Wiest, then in her prime, is a hoot as the comical Avon lady who introduces Edward to the joys and pains of suburban Americana. Particularly enjoyable are the perfectly manicured landscapes in Peg’s neighborhood where she goes door to door selling her products. As one can easily predict, the beautiful plants and bushes suffer from Edwards’s dangerous hands.

The Gothic mansion where Peg discovers Edward is a deliciously creative set-piece that has the classic Burton stamp. The director is so defined by his artistic sets and art design that half the fun with the film is discovering and noticing these fabulous creations.

The mainstream part comes with the story and a smattering of 1982’s E.T. sentimentality included to win over middle-American audiences. This isn’t bad but it does lighten the heavy drama and sinister approach that Burton could have honed in on.

Much of the credit must go to Depp because on paper the premise could easily be dismissed as silly, trivial, or outlandish. The actor brings pathos to the role and makes the audience believe in and fall in love with the character.

He makes Edward even more rootable by adding some obvious cliches- Kim’s jealous boyfriend Jim, played by Anthony Michael Hall, and the eccentric religious fanatic who believes that Edward is evil incarnate, played by O-Lan Jones.

The addition of these villains and most of the rest of the neighborhood as either clueless or misunderstanding townsfolk adds to the reduction of most of the supporting cast to standard stock characters.

Burton, along with Depp, Ryder, and Wiest, gives Edward Scissorhands (1990) heart. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that feels magical and adventurous save for some mediocre storytelling. It’s an above-average film that won over the masses at the time of release.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup

Cruella-2021

Cruella-2021

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Emma Stone, Emma Thompson

Scott’s Review #1,197

Reviewed November 19, 2021

Grade: A-

One of the first red carpet premiers to emerge amid the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, Cruella (2021) is a wickedly funny delight and celebrates the return of cinema to the theaters. What a fabulous choice. The makeup, hairstyling, costumes, musical score, and the title character herself make this film loud, proud, and lots of fun.

It’s not too dark for the entire family to enjoy but far from fluff either. Suspension of disbelief is mandatory since it’s pure fantasy and not to be dissected for its numerous plot holes and ridiculous antics. Dogs, people, and costumes fly around in frantic motion to fulfill their every motivation.

The film is way better than anticipated which is always a treat. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting quality but I didn’t expect to be entertained and enthralled quite as much as I was. I was carried away by the experience.

The live-action force sheds light on the backstory of Cruella de Vil made famous of course as the dastardly villain in the animated Disney feature 101 Dalmations from 1961. Her life and intentions are explored ala a story similar to Oliver Twist, 1970s style. Orphaned young she must survive the mean streets of London during the punk rock evolution. She becomes an expert pickpocket and ingenious thief while doubling as the humble fashion upstart Estella.

Estella befriends a pair of young thieves who adore her appetite for mischief, and together they construct a cozy life for themselves and their furry friends. While working as a cleaning lady Estella is discovered by the ruthless and unkind Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a fashion legend. Their complex relationship sets in motion revelations that harken back to Estella’s deceased mother and causes her to embrace her wicked side and become the fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.

Emma Stone basks in the spotlight as Cruella with ravaging fury and a twinkle in her eye. An incredible actress having played roles in Birdman (2014), La La Land (2016), and The Favourite (2018), Stone goes full-throttle in her duel role making them as opposite as possible. She’s terrific and carries the bombastic film with seeming ease.

Thompson is just as good as the Baroness, a woman with a heart of stone and most similar to Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). With a snap of her fingers or a glance, she expects to be served and pleased, happy to take credit for other people’s work. It’s a toss-up which character I hate more.

Stone and Thompson are delicious together and chew up the scenery especially when they spar and attack each other. These scenes are wickedly delightful and a key to their past may link them forever. The Baroness is tough to like since she twice tries to kill Estella/Cruella.

The actresses make magic together.

Besides the clear parallels to Oliver Twist, Cruella also mirrors Spider-Man with the alter-ego premise. I saw her as a superhero. Traditionally, Cruella is portrayed as evil and fiendish but here she is the rooting favorite. This may turn some off but I loved this facet and complexity of the character.

To go deeper, the Baroness is more like the animated Disney character Cruella than Cruella is!

I joyously anticipated which 1970s rock song would come next as nearly every sequence has this genre of music incorporated. Bands like Blondie, Queen, and Black Sabbath appear as well as interesting, modern takes on some of the best hits of the period. This adds oodles of depth and relevancy.

What about the costumes? Oh, how gorgeous they are! Numerous dresses, gowns, and other accessories are featured. The sheer number of outfits and designs in the film is astounding. My favorite appears as Cruella unfolds a flowing dress from a limousine that goes on for miles and miles sort of like a domino effect. It’s flashy and beautiful.

Rumors abound that Stone has signed on for a sequel to Cruella (2021). As long as a more thought-out story continues to be developed the character can continue to be as complex as she is entertaining. The style, locale, and time make the film a fantastical fantasy retelling.

Licence to Kill-1989

Licence to Kill-1989

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell

Scott’s Review #1,196

Reviewed November 14, 2021

Grade: B

Of the two turns as 007 that Timothy Dalton gave us License to Kill (1989) ranks as the weakest with The Living Daylights (1987) being superior. But that doesn’t mean the film has no good qualities.

It’s an okay film and director John Glen, now returning for his fifth James Bond film seems a little out of gas. Many of the stunts and sequences are very familiar territory and the dialogue is far from crackling or exciting.

The James Bond film franchise would go on a six-year hiatus after Licence to Kill and return refreshed in 1995. Perhaps it needed to.

Dalton does his best but his heart doesn’t quite seem in it and the serious tone of the film gets even darker than The Living Daylights. I don’t think this is a bad thing and I love how the franchise regular Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets more of a storyline. But the wit and charm are lacking.

Events begin in sunny Key West at the impending nuptials of former CIA agent and Bond friend, Leiter. On the tale of one of the international drug cartel’s most brutal and powerful leaders, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), events quickly escalate. After a double-crossing poor Felix is fed to the sharks. While he survives the attack his now wife is murdered. Bond goes rogue and seeks personal vengeance.

What separates Licence to Kill from other Bond entries is the limited locales. Though exquisite, they only take place in North America. The Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Mexico are used in fine form especially the latter. The gorgeous coastline feels European and I surmised that it was shot and set in Spain when in fact it was Mexico.

Also enjoyable is the Latin flair with lots of cultures throughout. Davi is powerful and dangerous as the Latin drug lord and he exudes violence and treachery. He is gleeful when a nemesis falls victim to his pet shark and loses a limb or two before succumbing to death. A great kill is when dastardly Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) topples into a giant microwave oven and explodes into bloody bits. His death is deserved and satisfying.

To build on this, the inevitable death of Sanchez himself is a crowd cheering moment. Before he explodes into a giant ball of flames Bond is certain to let the villain know that his death is courtesy of Leiter. This is an exciting and fulfilling moment.

The Bond girls are not at their finest in Licence to Kill. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-Army pilot, and DEA informant. While sometimes portrayed as a tough-minded and brazen female character she is also written as simpering and pining over Bond. She can also be silly and foolhardy like when she carelessly plays with dangerous gadgets that Q creates. I would expect more intelligence and wherewithal based on her credentials.

Secondary Bond girl Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) and girlfriend of Sanchez, lacks much depth. Beautiful to be sure, she is quite wooden in the acting department and suddenly falls in love with Bond insisting on her powerful feelings for the man she barely knows. It’s a bit far-fetched even for Bond standards but she is nice to look at. So there’s that.

Licence to Kill (1989) usually gets either lost in the shuffle or derided completely and this is unfair. It’s not one of the greats but neither is it garbage. Rather, it feels a bit tired and of its time. Truth be told, it’s grown on me since I first saw it and even the title song performed by Gladys Knight has enamored me over the years.

Old-2021

Old-2021

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps

Scott’s Review #1,195

Reviewed November 13, 2021

Grade: B

I am always rather intrigued by any M. Night Shyamalan projects that come down the pike whether it be a television or film offering. He has a knack for creating twist endings with a supernatural component.

Sometimes, like with The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Village (2004) he knocks it out of the park. Others are more average.

Old (2021) contains a novel and tantalizing premise that sometimes delivers and sometimes lags. It’s a worthy effort that picks up speed in the final fifteen minutes or so with a predictable conclusion I guessed about midway through but is still really cool to see.

The film might have been better as a short film or shorter running episode- think Twilight Zone.

Nothing in Old is too shocking or scary and nothing that will make the hair on your neck stand up but it’s entertaining and provides a message worthy of dissection.

The visionary filmmaker unveils a chilling, mysterious premise that oozes with possibility.

A seemingly happy suburban family decides to treat themselves to a tropical holiday in paradise. Prisca (Vicky Krieps), the wife, stumbles upon the exciting vacation offer online and decides to go for it. This alone should have been a red flag. Her husband, Guy (Gael García Bernal) agrees, and their children, Trent and Maddox, are overjoyed.

What the children don’t realize is that Guy and Prisca plan to divorce after the vacation ends.

The family is lavished with hospitality, food, and drinks and whisked away to a secluded beach where they relax for a few hours with other members of the resort including a surgeon and his wife, an epileptic psychologist, and her husband, and various others. They realize that something is causing them to age rapidly…reducing their entire lives into a single day!

They panic and try to leave the island sometimes turning on each other in the process.

M. Night Shyamalan himself has a small role-playing resort employee who drives the group to the beach and monitors them.

Filmed mostly on the beaches of the Dominican Republic the cinematography is wonderful and quite scenic. The film doesn’t say where the action is supposed to be so I guessed it was Hawaii. The lavish mountains, roaring waves, and exquisite underwater coral sequences give the film a beautiful and calming vibe despite the drama going on.

I also ruminated to the comparisons with the popular television series Lost which ran on ABC from 2004-2010. A group of stranded individuals faces complex and startling situations while desperately trying to flee an island. When one character drowns and another falls to their death from a cliff while trying to leave I was reminded that maybe the island is a force in itself.

As the title gives away the characters start to age rapidly. The makeup effects aren’t as great as one might hope and some characters inexplicably age more than other characters making the whole idea feel a bit silly.

Some of the characters are written better than others and there are some stereotypes to overlook like the schizophrenic doctor who goes mad. His trophy wife is blonde and toned and obsessed with remaining young. As a positive, the wife of another couple is a doctor and the husband a nurse. Many would expect the opposite.

To that end, I never felt very connected to any of the characters, and most are written as a means to an end. Their backstories are explored but lack any depth.

The twist at the end, totally expected in a Shyamalan film is a discussion that can be had after the film ends. A question of medicine and playing god is the main focus and one character with a small role at the beginning of the film is pivotal with the final events.

Not one of his best but certainly worthy of a watch, M. Night Shyamalan continues to tickle my fancy for crafting good, twisty thrillers. Old (2021) doesn’t come close to rivaling his classics but provides good entertainment and perhaps a bit more.

The Living Daylights-1987

The Living Daylights-1987

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo

Scott’s Review #1,194

Reviewed November 12, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s 1987 and Timothy Dalton is the new James Bond having replaced the aging Roger Moore. Moore made seven Bond films. Dalton’s reign was to be brief and made only two films- The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989).

The Living Daylights is a fine Bond film ranking somewhere midstream with Best Of lists. I completely agree with this sentiment as it mostly borrows from other Bond films or stays true to the course, providing a quality action film with all of the typical trimmings a fan would expect from the franchise.

Nothing wrong with that.

This is unsurprising since director John Glen is at the helm once again. Responsible for directing the three prior Bond films- For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View To A Kill (1985) he certainly knows how to create a decent picture and he does just that.

The main issue is with Dalton himself. Certainly handsome, dashing, and British, he doesn’t quite possess the charisma that other Bonds like Moore, Connery, or Lazenby had. There is a seriousness to the actor and a lacking of a smirk or wink of his eye that makes fans melt like putty in his hands.

The action commences with British secret agent James Bond (Dalton) helping KGB officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect during a symphony performance. A mysterious blonde woman who plays cello immediately catches Bond’s attention for more than one reason.

She is Russian assassin Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo). Predictably, as events unfold they become madly in love (or lust).

Koskov reveals that a policy of assassinating defectors has been instated by new KGB head Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies). But as Bond explores this threat, counterplot surfaces, involving a shady American arms dealer (Joe Don Baker). Bond must thwart the evildoer’s fiendish plans and save the world from disaster.

The plot is secondary and difficult to follow but the gist is the same as any other Bond film.

The fun (for me anyway) is enjoying the exquisite locales that the film takes Bond to. I salivated at the gorgeous concert hall and surrounding areas of Czechoslovakia (pre-Czech Republic) and was mesmerized as the action went to the stark desert lands of Afghanistan, Morocco, and finally into historic Austria.

The pre-title sequence was filmed on the Rock of Gibraltar and is utterly fabulous.

With every Bond film, this is a real treat and much of the enjoyment. The Living Daylights doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

The thrilling finale aboard a speeding airplane is thrilling and pulsating, edge-of-your-seat fun. Fights, ticking time bombs, and impending peril keep the action moving at a breakneck speed.

The villains lack much gusto save for a hunky blonde assassin named Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) who enjoys prancing around in skimpy swimwear and who may or may not be gay. In a more progressive Bond, they might have had a dalliance.  The main antagonists, Brad Whitaker, an arms dealer General, and Koskov are too goofy to present any real danger or feel diabolical.

Also forgettable is the main Bond girl. Maryam d’Abo is an okay actress but lacks much chemistry with Dalton. Their adventures are appealing but more as buddies and the romance didn’t work for me. He does respect her more than other Bonds would so that is a win.

Delightful is the title theme song performed by the band A-Ha, which is catchy enough to stick in my head as I write this review. It is exotic and upbeat. Its standard inclusion in the opening credits makes the cheesy sequence more bearable.

Undoubtedly intended to launch a long and storied career as the new James Bond, Dalton lasted only briefly in the role. The Living Daylights (1987) presents a Cold War theme still relevant but slightly tired for the times. As usual, unless we’re talking one of the superior Bond films, the locales are the real highlight.

Spencer-2021

Spencer-2021

Director-Pablo Larraín

Starring-Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall

Scott’s Review #1,193

Reviewed November 7, 2021

Grade: A

In the 2020s there has been a sudden flurry of depictions of and attention given to Princess Diana, a tragic figure in British royalty who came to an untimely death in 1997.  The Netflix series The Crown and a documentary immediately come to mind. While tremendous offerings they often stay the mainstream or historic course.

But Director Pablo Larraín presents a daring and rather unpleasant telling of a miserable Christmas weekend the Princess spent among the royal family in 1991, a time when her marriage to Prince Charles had been decimated and reached the point of no return.

Spencer (2021) is a brilliant art film focused on the troubled young woman’s dealings with her children, her eating disorder, her loneliness and despair, and of course relationships with the royal family.

Kristen Stewart delivers a career-defining performance as Diana and bravely puts on full naked display the shocking reality of the real-life figure’s most inner thoughts and demons.

Larraín prefaces the film with the sentence ‘a fable about a real-life tragedy’ or something to that effect.

The crumbling marriage of Princess Diana (Spencer) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has led to rumors of affairs and an impending divorce but peace is demanded during the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. The lavish spread of magnificent food, pheasant hunting, and family photos would be the dream of many but Diana is counting down the minutes until she can escape the dreary experience.

Restless, Diana imagines her life without the royal family and yearns to escape her trapped life. She fantasizes, binges and purges, and spends time with her children, while clinging to her friend and Royal Dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), and befriending the kindly Equerry Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall). He leaves a book about Anne Boleyn, the tragic wife of Henry VIII, which Diana becomes obsessed with.

My two biggest takeaways are Stewart’s performance and the musical score.

Stewart has long attempted to separate herself from her household name-making performances as Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga film series (2008-2012). Several supporting roles in independent features like Still Alice (2014) and Cafe Society (2016) followed but with Spencer, she hits the jackpot.

Her vulnerability and insecurity infuse themselves into Diana with ferocity and power so much so that I became immersed with her mannerisms as much as the words she spoke. A long and painful dinner scene (my favorite scene) with no dialogue features a closeup of Stewart as she angrily glares at several members of the dinner party. Her disgust at both them and the life she now leads is apparent.

Stewart clearly displays how much Diana desired to escape from her cage where she felt as trapped as an animal would.

Jonny Greenwood creates a fantastic musical score that is haunting and powerful. He is the lead guitarist of the alternative rock band Radiohead and has scored numerous film scores. In the sequence listed above, he offers bombastic and eerie stringed instruments and a powerful drum beat. Later, as Diana wanders the grand halls he expresses her frustration with his music.

It’s an essential part of the film.

To lighten the mood, the 1986 hit song “All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics is played while Diana and her boys drive in their car on a sunny day singing along.

Spall and Hawkins play vital supporting roles as Diana’s only true allies. Spall is quiet and reserved but reveals so much with his facial expressions as his sympathy for Diana is apparent. In a surprise twist, Hawkins’s Maggie admits both her sexuality and her love for Diana as the two grow even closer.

Diana was quite the powerful ally to the LGBTQ+ community during a time when precious few were and the film gives a good reminder of her open-mindedness and her open heart.

Spencer (2021) is not the crowdpleaser some, including myself, would have expected and may even turn some viewers off with its depressing and embroiled cinematic fury. But it’s so much better than a popcorn feature with deeper emotion and exceptional psychological appeal that takes us into an imaginative state.

Falling Down-1993

Falling Down-1993

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring-Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,192

Reviewed November 6, 2021

Grade: B+

Falling Down (1993) is a film with a message or arguably several messages. It’s about one man who is fed up with just about everything and is at the brink of a full-throttle meltdown. What the film does though is mix entertainment with this message about socio-economic unfairness, inequality, etc.

Whether or not people take these elements as seriously as they should is at risk from the popcorn qualities. It’s almost like it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a kick-ass thriller, a black comedy, or a fantasy?

The film certainly entertains though.

This is unsurprising because director Joel Schumacher is at the helm as director. The man is a mainstream director churning out hits like The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997) throughout the 1990s. Some were more successful than others but Falling Down is his best work.

I am a big fan of Falling Down with the awareness that the messages peppered throughout may not be taken as seriously as they ought to be. And the reason is that there are too many of them. It’s almost as if they are boxes being checked off a list.

But it bears repeating that the entertainment factor is fabulous.

One scorching summer day in Los Angeles William Foster (Michael Douglas) an already frustrated middle-aged man who is both unemployment and divorced is having a terrible day.

When his car breaks down on the freeway, he leaves his vehicle and begins a trek across the city to attend his daughter’s birthday party. As he makes his way through urban neighborhoods, William’s frustration and bitterness are tested at every turn resulting in violent encounters with various people, including a vengeful gang and a pursuant veteran police sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall).

Unfortunately for Prendergast, today is the day before his long-awaited retirement.

Douglas delivers an excellent performance as Foster. He makes the character relatable to every viewer who has ever felt so fed up they want to discharge on the people responsible for the unfairness. He only takes his anger out on those who deserve it and that makes the character somewhat of a hero.

The white supremacist, the belligerent Korean grocery store owner, the gang members, and the lazy construction workers all deserve their just desserts. Throughout the film, I cheered Foster mightily and chuckled at his wit.

My favorite sequence occurs at the fast-food joint named Whammy Burger. All Foster wants is his breakfast but he arrives one minute past the cut-off as the unsympathetic cashier smugly tells him. He proceeds to ravage the restaurant in anger.

Despite the humor that Schumacher adds the message must be taken seriously. Minority characters are aptly shown as repressed or not treated well and that point sticks with me until the end.

The least interesting story point is the entanglement between Foster and his ex-wife Beth, played by a woefully underutilized Barbara Hershey. The Oscar-nominated actress can do so much but her talents are wasted in a throwaway role as the underdeveloped wife character.

I never warmed to Robert Duvall’s police sergeant character either and while sympathetic to Foster’s cause because of a situation with his son, the plot point never develops fully. Prendergast’s overbearing wife and a young police officer he seems smitten with are never explored well.

Despite great talent, the film belongs to Michael Douglas.

The mood and cinematography deserve accolades. The humidity is suffocating and the layers of smog overlooking Los Angeles hammer home the stuffy nature of the film. One can imagine the sweaty environment leading to explosions of anger.

What Schumacher does besides entertain the audience is show them that a once successful man who once had a great job and happy family life can lose it all and snap. Falling Down (1993) shows that what happens to Foster can happen to anyone.

Let’s live each happy day to the fullest while we can.

The Little Things-2021

The Little Things-2021

Director-John Lee Hancock

Starring-Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto

Scott’s Review #1,191

Reviewed November 5, 2021

Grade: B

The serial killer genre in film always fascinates me. Gems like Dirty Harry (1971), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Seven (1995), and Zodiac (2007) immediately spring to mind as top of the heap works. John Lee Hancock who directs The Little Things (2021) thinks so too because he borrows from those pictures throughout his film.

The film contains superior acting and a fantastic mood adding effective musical score bits and absorbing cinematography of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. The script must have read superior enough to get heavyweights like Washington, Malek, and Jeto to hop on board.

Despite these wins, The Little Things is lackluster and ultimately disappoints in the end. I was ready to award it a solid B+ if not for the confusing and unsatisfying conclusion which reminds me of a weak copy of the aforementioned Seven.

Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) joins forces with Sgt. Jim Baxter (Malek) to search for a serial killer who’s terrorizing Los Angeles. The blueprint is similar to a case that Deacon worked on and ended with a deadly mistake and his resulting heart attack. As the pair track the suspected culprit, a loner named Albert Sparma (Leto), Baxter becomes aware of Deke’s inner demons and risks going down the same emotionally wrecked path.

A cat and mouse game ensues with Sparma continually toying with both Deke and Baxter.

The story is familiar territory and sets up the rest of the film. How many times in film have we seen a detective tortured over a case? Despite Sparma being the only real suspect and presumed serial killer we never do learn whether or not he did the deeds. One girl who escaped the killers’ clutches may recognize Sparmas boots but is dismissed after concluding that since he is in police custody he must be the killer.

The opening sequence is excellent despite using a direct rip-off of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the girl is cruising down an empty desert road at high speed singing a rock song without a care in the world. Thankfully, they had her crooning a different song but the scene mirrors the other. She is pursued by a killer in another car. The scene is a terrific way to start.

The ensemble does good work with the characters they play. Leto gets the showiest role while Washington plays yet another police detective, a role he now can probably play in his sleep, but always does well. Malek was cast based on the success of his Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury role in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

Leto received enough acclaim that he received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination. This prompted me and undoubtedly others to see The Little Things which suffered at the box office because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I didn’t buy the period of 1990-1991 for a second regardless of how many shiny Chevy Impalas were used in the production. None of the characters looked of the time that it was supposed to be though I admired the now old-fashioned diners and storefronts they used.

I don’t know much about Hancock, who both directs and writes The Little Things but looking at his filmography he has directed such works as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). Since both of these films are safer works it’s unsurprising why much of the film looks and feels like watching an episode of CSI.

Hancock could do with a dose of rawness over sleekness in his next film.

The Little Things (2021) pales in comparison to other better-like genre films and will not be remembered well despite making a valiant effort to play with the big boys. Unfortunately, it’s a minor league experience that borrows too often from other films and therefore has no distinct identity.

I shudder to think of the result if not for the big stars who appear.

Halloween Kills-2021

Halloween Kills-2021

Director-David Gordon Green

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Anthony Michael Hall

Scott’s Review #1,190

Reviewed October 31, 2021

Grade: B+

The second in a planned revival trilogy of the iconic Halloween franchise that began in 1978, Halloween Kills (2021) is a frightfully effective “middle sibling”. Bridging the gap between Halloween (2018) and the highly anticipated Halloween Ends (2022) the film has enough gory kills and bloodletting to satisfy any horror fan.

The plot is furthered and the groundwork is laid for the next installment.

The nods to history and having several actors reprise their characters from the original film is an enormous treat for fans and a true pleasure to see. The writing in regards to history is great and weaves these characters in with newer characters. Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, stars as the terrorized Laurie Strode.

Picking up where Halloween-2018 left off on Halloween night (naturally), a wounded Laurie (Curtis) is whisked away to Haddonfield Hospital to recover while confident that she has finally killed her nemesis, Michael Meyers, by burning him to death. She is joined by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) since the trio left the masked maniac caged and burning in Laurie’s basement. Or so they thought.

Spoiler alert- Michael is far from dead.

Continuing his ritual bloodbath held on Halloween night, Michael roams the quiet streets of Haddonfield while the fed-up townspeople rise against their unstoppable monster and form a vigilante mob led by Tommy Doyle (Hall). They continue to chant “Evil dies tonight” in anticipation of Michael’s demise.

Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Nancy Stephens (Nurse Marion Chambers), and Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett) return to the action with prominent supporting roles. Their additions are a major win for me and presumably any fan of the franchise. It’s on par with welcoming old friends back into one’s life with open arms after decades apart.

The fact that they provide historical background is icing on the cake. Brackett’s daughter, Annie, one of the first of Michael’s victims is celebrated and shown via flashbacks. Marion’s close friendship with Michael’s doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is also mentioned. He is seen via computer-animated imagery when the events go back to 1978.

The decision by the director/writer David Gordon Green, along with co-writers Scott Teems and Danny McBride to frequently go back in time to the events of 1978 is uncompromised and relevant to remind old fans of the history of the story and teaching novice fans how the dots connect. It’s a brilliant decision.

The diversity offered in Halloween Kills is a breath of fresh air and progressive. An interracial couple, a same-sex couple, and a black couple are added with respect, dignity, and without stereotype. They are everyone’s neighbors and a true representation.

As residents of the cursed Meyers house, Big John and Little John are written as tough and intelligent, avoiding any comic relief that too often shadow gay characters.

A few death scenes are extended to show the victim’s pain and suffering instead of the usual quick and easy slice ’em and dice ’em style. This will make the squeamish a bit nervous but that’s half the fun of horror films, right?  The typical throat-slashings and eye gougings are included but many of the small characters are likable, witty, and smart, and not written as complete morons.

In contrast to the original Halloween, the residents of Haddonfield now seem more blue-collar and red necks than upper-middle-class.  I chuckled when Laurie yelled “sheep” to the venomous residents who were chasing a man assumed to be Meyers (he wasn’t). I surmised that maybe the filmmakers were sticking it to the dolts that blindly follow political leaders in a cultish way and devoid of thought.

Before anyone thinks that Halloween Kills (2021) is a work of art, it isn’t. There exists enough silly dialogue to make anyone snicker but that’s what slasher films are all about. They are meant to be fun and this Halloween installment doesn’t disappoint.

The film is sheer entertainment done well and makes me anticipate the next and “final” Halloween chapter. But, as long as the films remain hits at the box office the killings will go on and on and on and on.

Gandhi-1982

Gandhi-1982

Director-Richard Attenborough

Starring Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #1,189

Reviewed October 30, 2021

Grade: A

Ben Kingsley delivers an astonishing performance as Mahatma Gandhi,  the steady-handed lawyer who stood up against British rule in India and became an international symbol of nonviolence and peaceful understanding until his tragic assassination in 1948.

Entitled simply Gandhi (1982) the film is directed by Richard Attenborough who has created masculine offerings such as The Great Escape (1963) and The Sand Pebbles (1966) before. Calmly, the director creates a grandiose epic but one that is thought-provoking and introspective in its humility.

I was incredibly affected by this picture.

As beautiful as the cinematography and other such trimmings are the message is what stands out to me most. One man’s spirit and thirst for fairness and human equality are beyond inspiring decades after the film was made. Thanks to Kingsley, the biography infuses an infectious channeling of what being a human being is all about and how human decency is the desired goal.

The film belongs to Kingsley. Despite hosting a cast of literally thousands he is the only name worth mentioning. He is that superior.

Attenborough, who teams with screenwriter John Briley presents major events in the life of Mohandas Gandhi (Kingsley). The film starts suddenly in January 1948, when an elderly Gandhi is on his way to an evening prayer service and shot point-blank in the chest in front of a large number of dumbfounded greeters and admirers. His state funeral is shown, the procession attended by millions of people from all walks of life, with a radio reporter speaking beautifully about Gandhi’s world-changing life and projects.

The film then returns to decades earlier when Gandhi, a young man, has a violent and racist experience. He vows to dedicate himself to the concept of nonviolent resistance. Initially dismissed, Gandhi is eventually internationally renowned, and his gatherings of passive protest move India towards independence.

Gandhi has been criticized for its extraordinary length with a running time of three hours and ten minutes. A suggestion is to watch the film in multiple sittings though the best-recommended approach would be to see it on the big screen. Unfortunately, I didn’t but fantasize about the massive sequences and how gorgeous they would appear at the cinema.

The story, acting, production, and pretty much everything else about Gandhi is a ravishing spectacle.

It’s worth its weight to sit back and watch Kingsley completely immerse himself in the role. The actor deservedly won the Best Actor Academy Award and despite his oodles of other film roles are best remembered for this one. I’m half surprised that it didn’t typecast him since he is so identifiable in the role.

I’d like to mention two aspects that some might not notice as much as others but that is simply astounding. The cinematography of the deserts, towns, and cities of India is plush with detail and accuracy. If one cannot go on a trip to India the next best thing is to watch this film instead. You’ll get a good dose of realism.

South Africa is also featured.

The costumes brilliantly showcase Indian flair and culture so well that I felt that I had been to the interesting country at the time that the film portrayed the events and felt nestled amid the luxurious colors and good taste.

Post-1982, the film genre of the epic exists rarely if ever anymore. Long gone are the days of brilliance like Gone With the Wind (1939) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) which are truly a delight to simply lay one’s eyes on. Gandhi deserves to be appreciated as much as those other films despite being released in less than an artistic decade in cinema.

Gandhi (1982) is a wonderfully tragic film and leaves the viewer feeling sad but also inspired to carry the torch picked up by one brave man. A history lesson it’s also as much a lesson in humanity and the courageous fight that one man fought. Military power is not the way to achieve changing the world.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Richard Attenborough (won), Best Actor-Ben Kingsley (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Sound

French Exit-2020

French Exit-2020

Director-Azazel Jacobs

Starring-Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges

Scott’s Review #1,188

Reviewed October 29, 2021

Grade: C+

French Exit (2020) is a mediocre effort that disappointed me. I expected to be dazzled by the eccentric French culture and sequences that I had anticipated. While there are some location shots in historic Paris, there are not enough to outpace the lackluster writing and unlikable characters the film offers.

Plot-wise, the intriguing premise teeters into the far-fetched, so much so that the result becomes banal and silly.

The film is a miss and should be skipped in favor of other films like Midnight in Paris (2011) and Last Tango in Paris (1972) which both offer better French flair and superior storytelling.

A widowed New York socialite named Frances (Pfeiffer) and her meandering son Malcolm (Hedges) move to Paris after she spends the last of her husband’s inheritance. Sixty years old and now penniless, she borrows a friend’s apartment where she plans to live out the rest of her days anonymously. Her husband, Franklin, has been dead for twelve years and all that’s left of him is a cat named Small Frank, who may or may not embody his spirit.

Based on the previews I anticipated an adventure involving cobblestone Parisian streets, delicious bakeries, and cultural french music. A glimpse of the famous Louve or Eifel Tower would have been a cherry on top. While there are a few sequences of Frances and Malcolm walking along Parisian streets and an apartment that provides good french flavor there is not enough to be considered an achievement.

The main character is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. As a fan of some of her more recent projects like Mother! (2017) a brilliant film directed by Darren Aronofsky, the character didn’t catch fire for me. She’s pretty snobbish throughout and never really gets her comeuppance or learns any lesson.  As the protagonist, I was baffled as to why I was expected to root for a woman who is a bitch.

Hedges, a fantastic actor, plays his part according to script but the morose, one-dimensional Malcolm, is uninteresting, and a so-so romantic plot involving his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots) even less so.

On the plus side, Valerie Mahaffey steals the show with her quirky, comedic performance as Reynard. A fan of Frances’s she befriends the woman who initially has no interest in her and coldly dismisses her. An eccentric, her odd demeanor and style are infectious, and she won me over immediately especially placed side by side with the other less flavorful characters.

She was deservedly rewarded with recognition and received a Spirit Award nomination. Hopefully, this leads to more juice roles from Mahaffey.

Azazel Jacobs, who has had modest success on the independent film circuit offers moderate impressive direction but loses me with the addition of not one but two tired seance sequences. A cat inhabiting a dead body and coming to life with the deceased person’s voice is drab and better suited for low-brow light comedy.

To make matters worse, the inclusion of a plump medium Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald) is about as cliched as you can get.

There is not enough substance to give French Exit (2020) higher than average marks. Pfeiffer, taking center stage and doing the best she can, deserves better roles as she charges into her senior years. She’s got gusto so let’s give her better material.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Valerie Mahaffey

Lamb-2021

Lamb-2021

Director-Valdimar Johannsson

Starring-Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Guonason

Scott’s Review #1,187

Reviewed October 17, 2021

Grade: A-

Director, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s feature-length film directorial debut is a mixed recipe of eeriness and gorgeous cinematography sprinkled with horror and dread. The film is shot entirely in remote Iceland making the texture of the film ominous and haunting.

The creation, Lamb (2021), is highly effective in mood and dread as throughout most of the film the feeling that something awful will happen at any moment is unrelenting. During numerous sequences, I expected something to leap out from behind a door or suddenly peer through a window but the film contains no gimmicks.

It doesn’t need them. The low-key musical score is terrific.

After an extremely slow build, the shit finally hits the fan making the payoff well worth the wait.

On their remote farm, María (Rapace) and Ingvar (Guonason) share a peaceful and idyllic life raising sheep. They are deeply in love but miss having a child. After one of their sheep gives birth to a human/sheep hybrid, they are filled with love and decide to raise it as their own naming her Ada. The arrival of Ingvar’s troubled brother Pétur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) upends their calm family dynamic.

Providing an additional hurdle is the arrival of their “daughters” sheep mother who remains outside their house crying for her newborn. She is determined not to let María and Ingvar steal her baby. Does María go too far in a fit of rage?

Jóhannsson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, fills the film with mystery. The first scene is of a herd of horses terrified by some approaching force that arrives at María and Ingvar’s barn. Later, featured animals like the sheep, a cat, and a dog seem spooked and alert. What is this force and what’s in store for the characters?

On the surface, a sheep/human hybrid runs the risk of feeling ridiculous especially as Ada ages and is clad in bright sweaters and jackets. She cannot speak but can comprehend and is capable of feeling and emotion. She is quite human-like and filled with love. I, as audiences will, took to her and therefore roots for her happiness.

I adore the characters of María and Ingvar. Preparing meals together, sipping wine, and playing cards, they take turns with the farmwork and make a wonderful romantic ideal. It’s never known if they once had a child who died or whether Ada is the first sheep/human hybrid they’ve ever seen. They don’t seem completely surprised at the birth.

When they visit a grave marked with the name Ada, we wonder who the deceased is?

I shuttered upon the arrival of Pétur. A heap of trouble he mooches off of our happy couple and despises Ada, almost shooting her with a shotgun. Thankfully, he has enough sense not to hurt her but the ever-present shotgun inevitably comes into play later on.

Rapace, Guonason, and Haroldsson provide exceptional acting which goes miles to ground a story that could easily be deemed as silly or superfluous.

Cinematographer, Eli Arenson, deserves major props for filming gorgeous Iceland location shots. Having visited this lush geographical paradise I immediately appreciated what I was being offered and was taken back to the sprawling farmlands and statuesque mountains.

Those who are squeamish about seeing an animal give birth may want to close their eyes during one scene which undoubtedly is a real birth of a lamb. I found it beautiful.

The final fifteen minutes of Lamb is violent and daring. Mixed with an obvious nightmare is a sweetness and sincerity that dripped from the screen. The folktale presentation creates a fairytale comparison and the fate of one character is shrouded in uncertainty.

For those wondering who or what Ada’s father is, daddy does finally make an appearance.

Lots of questions abound after the credits roll so might there be a sequel offered by Jóhannsson? Let’s hope so.

Lamb (2021) perfectly infuses the common reality of farm work and an attractive couple’s daily life with a horrific folklore story. I might have preferred a slightly faster pace but by no means did I ever feel robbed of a proper payoff.

Final Destination-2000

Final Destination-2000

Director-James Wong

Starring-Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith

Scott’s Review #1,186

Reviewed October 16, 2021

Grade: B

Following the commercial success of Wes Craven’s Scream in the mid-1990s, the horror genre was now a hot ticket item once again. New Line Cinema capitalized on this financial goldmine by creating the popular Final Destination franchise in 2000. Five films were created in total.

The Final Destination films all have the same premise. A small group of people escapes impending death after one individual sees a sudden premonition and warns the others about the mass-casualty accident that is about to happen. Their luck is unfortunately short-lived.

After avoiding their foretold deaths, the survivors are systematically killed off one by one in bizarre accidents caused by an unseen force creating complicated chains of cause and effect. In other words, there is no way they can cheat death and the bastard will have his way with them.

The upside is that the deaths are highly creative and oodles of fun for the blood-thirsty horror viewer to feast upon. Instead of a knife-wielding maniac, the protagonist is an evil force which at the time was a neat little add-on that made the film unique.

The victims are mainly teenagers or twenty-something characters which are the target audience for these and most other horror films.

In Final Destination (2000), high school student Alex Browning  (Sawa), is about to embark on a fabulous trip to Paris for his senior class trip. He is joined by a group of his schoolmates. Just before takeoff as the group is settling in for their eight-hour journey from New York to Charles de Gaulle Airport Alex experiences a premonition and sees the plane explode moments after leaving the ground.

Alex becomes unruly and insists that everyone get off the plane and seven people including Alex, are forced to disembark. All watch as the plane explodes in an enormous fireball, killing everyone on board. He and the other survivors have briefly cheated death, but will not be able to avoid their fate for very long. One by one, these lucky survivors fall victim to the grim reaper.

I have seen each one of the Final Destination films and enjoyed them all. Atypically, the first film is not the best. I may argue that part 2 is the best but that is irrelevant to this review.

The premise is extremely clever and instantly absorbing. Instead of the dated “final girl” one assumes that Alex will be the last survivor and that may or may not be true as a twisted game of figuring out which order the seven survivors will be killed is based on their seating arrangements on the flight nearly drives Alex mad.

It’s the perfect engagement for the viewer.

As a clue, director James Wong who co-wrote the screenplay creates stock characters like the dumb jock, Carter Horton, with the muscle car, played exceptionally well by Kerr Smith, and the douchey Billy Hitchcock (Seann Williams Scott). There is a teacher and FBI agents thrown in for good measure so it becomes obvious who is going to be killed off.

The fun is watching how they are killed. Delicious deaths like being run over by a bus, embedded by flying knives, and a good old-fashioned decapitation by flying shrapnel are to be enjoyed.

The final sequence, ironically set in Paris, is exceptional as three survivors are left and they feel safe. They are not safe at all as one of them suddenly realizes resulting in a clever final kill followed by sudden end credits.

This is narrowly usurped by the brilliant plane crash premonition scenes as Alex teeters between reality and premonition. The plane explosion is highly effective and is shown from inside the fuselage. The visual effects which used a miniature Boeing 747 are wonderful to watch with heart-racing detail and excitement.

At times during Final Destination, the action lags and Ali Larter who plays Clear Rivers is not the greatest actress. Her silly battle with electric sparks while sitting in a car is not the film’s finest sequence.

Final Destination (2000) is a fun popcorn film with some admirable unexpected turns. It stays true to the horror formula while offering some unique additions that feel fresh. It’s a roller coaster ride meant to be enjoyed and not overanalyzed. The innovation suitably balances the fun.

For Your Eyes Only-1981

For Your Eyes Only-1981

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet

Scott’s Review #1,185

Reviewed October 10, 2021

Grade: B+

Following the outrageousness of 1979’s Moonraker, a film I nonetheless find enjoyable, the decision was made to bring James Bond back to earth in the next chapter. For Your Eyes Only (1981) has matured well over the years and is an above-average entry among my all-time James Bond list.

The main Bond girl and the villain are not as top-notch as other Bond films but the action, suspense, and nods to Bond history are fantastic as is the grittier look and feel. And, the locales of Italy and Greece are breathtaking.

The title song, a sleek and syrupy love ballad performed by Sheena Easton, is a favorite of mine and is instantly recognizable in association with the film. It charted at number one on the charts and sold a gazillion copies.

The plot is typical of a James Bond film. After a British ship is sunk in foreign waters, the world’s superpowers begin a feverish race to find its cargo: a nuclear submarine control system. And 007 (Roger Moore) is thrust into the middle of the action as he aligns with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), Milos Columbo (Topol), and others to thwart the fiendish plans of the villainous Kristatos (Julian Glover).

The story is rather secondary to the enjoyment of the film and I quickly stopped trying to follow every plot point or detail. It’s not that important to know who every bad guy is or their motivations. There is a plot to take over the world and there you have it.

I adored the opening sequence when Bond visits the gravestone of his deceased wife Teresa. This tender moment immediately made me reflect on the goodness of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and the humanistic tone that the film brought. Bond then engages in a thrilling helicopter chase with arch-rival Blofeld which parlays into the opening credits with the title song as a backdrop.

Admittedly, this first sequence has nothing to do with the rest of the film but fabulous is the London shots of Big Ben and other historical treats. And it’s just desserts to see Blofeld dumped into a massive chimney and presumably to his death.

Bond historians will love this.

The film is recommended to be watched in the winter months since the snowy and icy scenes fare better in the appropriate calendar months. It could be a warmup act to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or From Russia With Love (1963) also cold-feeling Bond films.

I didn’t perceive much chemistry between Moore and Bouquet but neither did their lack of chemistry ruin the film for me. The thirty-year age difference didn’t help matters but at least James Bond had the decency not to bed the horny underaged figure skater, Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson). Her character is played for laughs and her schoolgirl crush on Bond is cute.

Kristatos isn’t the most memorable villain either. His true colors aren’t revealed until late in the game and his motivations are a stretch. I didn’t buy him as a former war hero and ally turned smuggler. Nonetheless, Glover plays him straightforward and a compelling sequence occurs when he attempts to kill Bond and Melina with his massive boat and hungry sharks.

Topol, well-known for his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is great to see as one of Bond’s allies. The actor’s distinctive voice is tough to miss though I half-expected him to break into “If I Were a Rich Man” at any moment.

The final sequence atop the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and Eastern orthodox monastery in Greece is terrific and quite justifiably the highlight. Bond dangles for his life as a henchman slowly breaks each of Bond’s rock climbing stakes is a nail-biting and suspenseful scene even though you know that Bond will find his escape.

Flying under the radar, For Your Eyes Only (1981) is delightful for the locales and action sequences alone. Dragging slightly midway and not featuring a memorable Bond girl or villain, it offers a darker story and contains less cheeky moments. This is refreshing following a silly trip to the moon. The villains are more dangerous than cartoonish and the extreme locales and throwback to history make this an appreciated effort.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“For Your Eyes Only”

Half Nelson-2006

Half Nelson-2006

Director-Ryan Fleck

Starring-Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps

Scott’s Review #1,184

Reviewed October 8, 2021

Grade: B+

Half Nelson (2006) is an independent drama that showcases Ryan Gosling’s acting talent and forays into meatier, more mature roles. He was only twenty-five years old when he made the film but was growing into a mature actor which is part of the fun of watching it.

Its New York City locale presents a gritty and seedy essence appropriate for the subject matter. Speaking of, the seriousness and potential creep factor may turn some viewers off, but true cinema fans and admirers of good stories will appreciate the film.

The taboo dynamic of a thirteen-year-old student and her drug-addicted teacher is not for everyone and many will not even dare to go there. But, the payoff is worth the initial squirming.

Especially forewarned are those seeking a romantic or action film from Gosling as they will surely be disappointed. This is a more cerebral and artful effort.

The film garnered Gosling his first Academy Award nomination. A very deserved one.

Dan Dunne (Gosling) is a young history teacher at a Brooklyn, New York school. Though he is highly regarded and well-liked by his students and colleagues, he secretly spends his evenings hopping bars and getting high. He lives a double life.

One night a shy female student named Drey (Shareeka Epps) catches him in a drug-induced haze after a basketball game and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. As Dan struggles with his addiction, he tries to act as a mentor to the girl, whose brother is serving time for dealing drugs.

It’s easy to dismiss a film like Half Nelson because of the uneasy premise. But below that resides a sweet and kind story about two human beings bonding over their lives in crisis. Too much negativity exists these days among teachers so it is reassuring to see a film where the student and teacher bond amid the most unlikely circumstances.

Gosling and Epps are both spectacular. They give their all as an unlikely pair, he an idealistic and she a girl trapped in ghetto life. The connection between the characters is palpable especially given the role reversal that occurs. They slowly become forever bonded and the reaction is fresh, layered with genuine emotion. And who’s the teacher and who’s the student?

As terrific as they are together, they each have their own story. I loved learning more about Dan’s wrecked love life but I still wanted to know why he escaped to drugs in the first place.

Drey has enormous challenges of her own and is pressured to go down the same rabbit hole as many in similar circumstances have done. She is savvy enough to know if she does it will lead to an unhappy life but will she go there anyway?

Even if a viewer never sets foot into an undesirable area, they will nonetheless be able to put themselves there for the duration of the film.

I love the ending of the film.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a filmmaking duo mostly known for independent features churn out terrific and subdued work. Half Nelson feels authentic with grainy and shakey filmmaking that makes the viewer feel as if he or she is an observer in the lives of Dan and Drey and part of their world.

A serene but not a simple film, Half Nelson (2006) teaches many valuable lessons. Perseverance, unlikely friendships, mixed with two separate character studies, the film has a lot going on but never overcomplicated itself. I longed for more about Dan’s descent into drug use but the rest of the experience is fantastic.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Ryan Gosling

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Ryan Fleck, Best Male Lead-Ryan Gosling (won), Best Female Lead-Shareeka Epps, Best First Screenplay

Ragtime-1981

Ragtime-1981

Director-Milos Forman

Starring-Howard E. Rollins, Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen

Scott’s Review #1,183

Reviewed October 1, 2021

Grade: A-

Milos Forman, most famous for directing 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and 1984’s Amadeus, creates a relevant period piece drama with a moving racial storyline. Set in the turn of the twentieth-century New York, Ragtime (1981) mixes an important message with gorgeous costumes and a peppering of romantic intrigue.

The film was honored with an astounding eight Academy Award nominations but came away empty-handed.

The cast is enormous and I love that aspect of the film. At two hours and thirty-five minutes, the experience nearly felt too short since there was plenty of stories left to tell, mainly with the sub-plots. Some resolutions are not clearly explained but of course, the central story ends tragically.

A fun fact is that initially Robert Altman was signed on to direct the film but was replaced by Forman. My mind conjures up endless juicy moments that Altman likely would have added. As good as Forman is Altman certainly would have been even better.

There are also a few real-life people sprinkled in with fictitious characters which may cause some confusion, especially with the high volume cast. Newsreels of Theodore Roosevelt, Houdini, and architect Stanford White are featured.

A flurry of juicy tales based on E.L. Doctorow’s eponymous novel dissects life in pre-World War I New York City. The haves and have-nots see their lives intersect in many different ways.

A lavish party in Atlantic City is a fabulous highlight of Ragtime.

One day, a rich white family living in New Rochelle, New York, finds a black baby in their yard and takes on the mother (Debbie Allen) as a maid. A black pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), returns for his woman and child after finding success in a Harlem jazz band.

A group of small-minded firefighters, irritated to see a successful black man own a Model-T Ford, deface it, and Walker demands retribution. This sets the main chain of events in the film as a war rages between Walker and his friends and the white firefighters.

There are more stories presented in a lesser form that I would have loved more from like the interesting friendship between the black Walker and the white younger brother played by Brad Dourif.

In a strange scene, millionaire industrialist Harry Kendall Thaw (Robert Joy) makes a scene when White unveils a nude statue atop Madison Square Garden, modeled after former chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), Thaw’s wife. Convinced White has corrupted Evelyn, Thaw publicly shoots him dead.

From an acting perspective, the film belongs to Howard E. Rollins. I immediately treasured the character he plays and rooted for him to win. Intelligent yet put upon he goes through several incarnations of the character and twice as many emotions. He was by far the richest character of all as far as substance.

Other characters intrigued but to dissect them would be impossible since there were so many of them. McGovern, Mandy Patinkin, and Mary Steenburgen play my favorite characters.

The only slight drawback I perceive is that the film has a glossy look to it and gritty scenes are not powerful enough. As intense a moment as the finale is, for example, I wanted something dirtier. When Walker’s fate is sealed I wanted to be more frightened instead of feeling like I was being fed high drama.

Ragtime (1981) successfully and nearly flawlessly combines artistic style with an enormous social message. It looks polished and representative of the early 1900s and it challenges audiences to take a look at how different cultures co-existed in another time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Howard E. Rollins Jr., Best Actress in a Supporting Role-Elizabeth McGovern, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music-Original Score, Best Music-Original Song-“One More Hour”

I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

Director-Jim Gillespie

Starring-Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Scott’s Review #1,182

Reviewed September 29, 2021

Grade: B+

Capitalizing on the wild success of the mid-1990s horror resurgence led by Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) was a popular low-budget popcorn hit at the time. The year 1997 was like 1979 or 1980 when the slasher craze (part Deux) was still fresh and intriguing.

The film is fun with superior direction and a dark ambiance that works quite well for the genre.

A slew of other imitators would follow this release including the tepid I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998 but the first one is formulaic entertainment done well. It wisely cast youthful stars of the day chomping at the bit to be the killer’s next victim.

One hot July 4th night in the small coastal town of Southport, North Carolina, a group of four teenagers run over a fisherman and dumping his body in the water, vow never to speak of the incident again. Some members of the group feel little remorse while others are racked with guilt.

The four principals are Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.).

Predictably, one year later Julie receives a frightening letter and the group reconvenes. They fret and worry that they have been seen or worse yet that they will be exposed. The letter clearly states ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Someone begins to follow them, especially Julie, clad in fisherman’s gear and wielding a meat hook.

In a way, he is a combination of other horror villains like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Meyers, but we know neither his identity nor his motivation.

Does he want money or blood?

One of the group incorrectly pursues who he thinks is the killer and is unceremoniously run down and terrorized. The bloodletting only continues as other townspeople become involved in the events some amid a local Independence Day parade.

There are some obvious inclusions to the story to make sure audiences are aware they are watching a slasher flick and a teen-targeted genre flick. This is no wonder since the screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, was the best know for teenaged-themed writing for television’s Dawson’s Creek.

I Know What You Did Last Summer borrows from so many 1980’s slasher-flicks like Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981) that it’s a given that Williamson and director Jim Gillespie spent weekends shacked up with popcorn and sodas while watching these films for reference material.

The killer is masked. This is to make damned sure we know that we are watching a whodunit and that at the finale the killer will be exposed- think the big reveal in every Scooby-Doo episode. Could the killer be one of the teens themselves?

Julie is immediately the clear ‘final girl’ simply because she feels the most guilt and is the most pursued perhaps for that very reason. Other necessities like the asshole jock (Phillippe), the mean girl (Bridgette Wilson), and the red-herring are added on like clockwork. We know that Julie will be the one to survive.

Still, the premise is quite compelling and immediately had me hooked. I also knew that I was being manipulated but I did not care. I couldn’t wait to find out who the killer was.

The final sequence that ensures a sequel is delicious and an obvious ode to Brian De Palma films. A year later in 1998, Julie is in college in Boston. As she enters the shower, she notices the words “I still know” written in the steam on the shower door. Moments later, a dark figure crashes through it as Julie screams!

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is straight up, by the numbers mainstream horror but the familiarity doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the experience. You know what is right around the bend and you can’t wait to get there.

Minari-2020

Minari-2020

Director-Lee Isaac Chung

Starring-Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn-Yuh Jung

Scott’s Review #1,181

Reviewed September 24, 2021

Grade: A-

I proudly champion a film like Minari (2020) for further bringing Asian actors and directors into the Hollywood mainstream with a truthful story. They have slowly (and it’s about time!) begun to reap the riches from the Academy Awards and other such honors. Parasite (2019) and to a lesser degree Crazy Rich Asians (2018) helped propel respectability to the Asian film community.

With that said, I expected Minari to be a masterpiece, and instead, it is simply a very good film. That’s a tough statement for me to make. Undoubtedly, it was heavily helped by the progress I have mentioned above.

This is to take nothing away from its cast and wonderful director, Lee Isaac Chung.

I found the film sentimental and heartwarming but only during one scene did it ever feel dangerous or edgy.

Of strong interest to me is the fact that the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s upbringing, but is it a fantasized version?

The plot follows a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in the rural United States during the 1980s. Specifically, the year is 1983 in the southern state of Arkansas where the family sticks out like sore thumbs amid the suffocating summer heat.

Chung, who writes and directs the piece, provides a tender look at the ties that bind- family. The Yi’s are a Korean-American family that moves from California to invest in a crummy plot of land and their own American Dream. Jacob and Monica (Yeun and Han) are reduced to taking even crummier jobs sexing chicks at a local factory.

The family home changes completely with the arrival of their scheming, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother Soon-Ja played by Yuh-Jung.

Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home. The Yi’s are resilient through the constant bickering of Jacob and Monica, Soon-JA’s stroke, bad water, and the burning of their shed which stores their goods.

The story is all well and good, and it is good, but I desired more. I blame this on the heaps of praise put on Minari and the number of Top 10 lists it appeared on.

For example, hearing the premise I couldn’t help but wonder what discrimination the Yi’s would inevitably face down in the deep south. But they faced none. In one soft scene, the young Yi boy, David, played exceptionally by Alan Kim is asked by a local kid why his face is flat. They quickly become best friends.

Another ally and Jacob’s farming partner is played by Will Patton. He is a Korean War veteran and a bit nutty yet he adores Jacob and the rest of the Yi’s and harbors no ill-will towards them. I expected him to despise them because of the war. This would have been more realistic.

The southern characters are written as nice as pie and always ready to lend a helping hand. This is all fine and good but is it realistic?

The casting is outstanding and brings the dialogue to reality. Yeun and Han bring their A-games in more than one vicious fight scene where their words crackle with intensity leaving them teetering on the verge of divorce. Yeun was recognized during awards season but Han was sadly overlooked.

Soon-Ja mixes humor with drama and will leave many viewers bawling with her facial expressions and terrific acting during the final sequence. Her performance deservedly led her to a Supporting Actress Oscar win.

In fact, the finale felt so incredibly raw and real to me whereas the rest felt sentimental that based on this alone it caused me to raise its grade from a B+ to an A-.

Beautiful landscape and brilliant acting make Minari (2020) a fine experience. It teeters too close to formula at times but offers freshness and representation for a group only starting to receive their recognition.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Actor-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Actress-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Male Lead-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Female-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Han Ye-ri, Best Screenplay

Welcome to my blog! Over 1,200 reviews to share! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!