When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

When Love Comes (1998) is a New Zealand film, spoken in English, by filmmaker Garth Maxwell.  It starts slow and muddled but quietly captures me with its thoughtful and humanistic tones of emotion, conflict, and sexuality.

There are no subtitles which makes the dialogue hard to follow given the accents and may knock the film down a smidgen for me but the main stories are enthralling with deep texture.

More or less an ensemble of six acquaintances, and three of the characters get the most screen time.

The main character is washed-up singer Katie Keen (Rena Owen) who struggles to create a new life for herself while coping with her absent admirer Eddie and living with her best friend, Stephen.

Stephen is in love with sexually confused ex-hustler Mark, while, band members Fig and Sally, smitten with each other, yearn for success while traipsing around town and the beaches together.

The most interesting storyline is LGBTQ+ centered. Given the time was 1998 when gay films were just starting to make their presence known, Stephen and Mark have the most depth.

Admittedly, a couple of story points are disjoined like why the men have trouble admitting their feelings for each other and Mark’s anger issues cause him to smash a window. In the end, their story wraps nicely and Maxwell gets points for making the audience appreciate the couple.

The lesbians get short shrift. Are they gay or bisexual? If bisexual, are they a couple or what is their arrangement? Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to watch shred the guitar and beat mercilessly on the drums as they raucously perform but little is known about their lives.

Even though When Loves Comes is an ensemble the lead character is Katie. I fell in love with her character because she is the most well-written. At one time a big pop singer, her star faded and she is at a crossroads.

As she whimsically gazes at the crashing waves the expression on her face reveals the deep thought and regrets in her life.

Unfortunately, her love interest, Eddie, is heard from but does not appear in the flesh until pretty deep into the film. Therefore, there is not much rooting value for the couple and we don’t know much about Eddie.

Surprisingly, despite this miss, there is a connection I felt for Katie and Eddie. Rena Owen is a terrific actress revealing expressions and a veneer we deeply want to explore.

There is a decent amount of flesh in the sex scenes which makes for some fun but the wise move is to stick to the character motivations and watch them develop.

This can be said with only three of the characters and I wished for more grit from Eddie, Fig, and Sally.

When Love Comes feels lopsided at times but succeeds as a slow-build film. Nothing is done quickly or forcefully instead crafting long scenes of dialogue but the conversations have something to say rather than existing as filler or a bridge to get to more important scenes.

I respect the cinematography because it has a softer independent film look which is of course what it is. A big budget is not needed for a film about people and the sequences showing Aukland are wonderful.

Keeping the time frame in mind, I wish I saw When Love Comes (1998) at the time it was released. It would have packed a harder punch than it does twenty-five years later when plenty of similar-toned films have been made.

Pearl-2022

Pearl-2022

Director Ti West

Starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet

Scott’s Review #1,339

Reviewed February 2, 2023

Grade: A-

The follow-up to the superb horror film X (2022) is even better. Ti West directs and co-writes Pearl (2022) with star Mia Goth, who is quickly becoming a household name, especially in horror circles.

The duo creates a macabre and intelligent piece that pays homage to legendary films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Mary Poppins (1964) in the most wicked of ways. The film looks like a musical from the golden age of film but is instead haunting.

A24 is the place to be predominantly in the horror genre as creativity is embraced and massaged rather than picked apart and recreated by too many cooks in the kitchen.

West and Goth appear to have full creative control and it shows in the finished product.

In the second chapter of X, we are introduced to the character Pearl as a young woman living on a farm in rural Texas. Fans recall that Pearl is the old lady in X, but we knew nothing of her backstory until now.

Pearl feels trapped on her family farm. Bored and isolated, she needs more out of life than milking cows, caregiving for her sickly father (Matthew Sunderland), or disagreeing with her rigid mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright).

She lusts for the glamorous life starring in Hollywood pictures much to her mother’s chagrin. When a church-sponsored audition for dancers needed for a traveling troupe occurs, Pearl sees this as her way out of dodge and anticipates winning the contest. She is joined by her affluent sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Burro).

The time is 1918 and Pearl’s fiancee is off fighting World War I.

It’s tough to take my eyes off Goth, quickly becoming a modern scream queen turned upside down. She’s not the victim, she’s the villain. With her wide-eyed stare and luscious red lips, she bares a striking resemblance to Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.

Her descent into madness is slow yet always bubbling beneath the surface. We quickly get glimpses of her psychosis when she stares down her mother during a disagreement showing that Pearl doesn’t merely get into a tizzy, she goes full-throttle psycho.

And anyone who has seen X knows that the old lady has some issues.

At first, there is hope for Pearl and we enjoy her pleasure. She catches the eye of a handsome projectionist played by David Corenswet. Mutually smitten, he makes her forget her fiancee and they bond over films and aspirations.

But, once he visits Pearl’s farm and finds a maggot-covered stuffed pig, and hears noises in her house, his interest wanes.  Not to be so easily dismissed, Pearl’s true mental state is revealed.

West and Goth turn the horror genre upside down when the best and most brutal killings occur during the daytime. The standard horror films occur at night so this invention ups the ante when the cinematography and lighting are so bright.

This adds to the horrific nature of the gruesome bloodletting. Pearl calmly follows her prey down the sunny driveway holding a pitch-fork intent on killing.

She repeatedly exclaims that nothing will keep her on the farm but we know that she will.

Back to The Wizard of Oz comparisons, several references can be discovered. For starters, Goth resembles Judy Garland, mainly around the eyes. Her outfits, most notably, her dresses and hair bow, pay tribute to Dorothy. Her bicycle looks like Miss Gulchs’s ride.

Goth also resembles American actress Shelley Duvall, whose best role is the suffering Wendy Torrance in The Shining (1980). Both actors have a mesmerizing stare as if to say ‘I can go cuckoo at any moment now’.

Too few modern films can be watched and re-watched but my hunch is that my first viewing of Pearl (2022) will not be my last.

A third film is in the works.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Lead Performance-Mia Goth, Best Cinematography

M3GAN-2023

M3GAN-2023

Director Gerard Johnstone

Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw

Scott’s Review #1,338

Reviewed January 31, 2023

Grade: B+

M3GAN (2023) is the sleeper hit of the year, quickly becoming a ‘water-cooler’ topic (remember that phrase?) after getting stagnant cinema lovers back into theaters in droves.

Released in the traditionally dismal month of January when studios usually ‘dump’ film releases with little or no bang for their buck M3GAN is already set to spawn a sequel. The possibilities for a different story to correlate with the original are endless.

The poster (see above) and the movie trailer are instantly grabbing. We see a doll-like/robotic little girl with long flowing blonde hair and mesmerizing, sparkling eyes that are cat-like and creepy.

Almost life-like, it doesn’t take a genius to conjure images of the Chucky doll from the Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019). Seemingly lovable but turning sinister, the concepts are more or less the same.

When robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) takes in her orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she creates the perfect companion for her, a lifelike doll named M3GAN, who serves as a friend, confidante, and sensible role model.

Cady and M3GAN immediately bond and become inseparable pals.

M3GAN can listen, watch and learn from other people and objects as they relate to Cady, using advanced Artificial Intelligence to store their idiosyncrasies.

As expected, things soon go awry when M3GAN uses her superior intelligence to destroy anyone who she perceives as a threat to Cady.

I’m not one to suggest a film tone down the blood and gore in a horror film but in the case of M3GAN, it works to the film’s advantage as proven by tremendous box-office receipts.

Far from kid-friendly, one of the main characters is eight to ten years old which might encourage parents, especially parents who are horror fans, to take their youngsters to see the film. At first, Cady and M3GAN invoke an idealized pre-teen female relationship, and a bully intent on harming Cady gets his comeuppance.

Most of the other characters who suffer dire fates are unlikeable. A boorish neighbor, a vicious dog, Gemma’s obnoxious boss, and his conniving assistant all get their due one way or another at the hands of M3GAN.

She’s not exactly a ‘hero’ but the fun is watching hated characters suffer at her hands. The setup is perfected as each character reveals their obnoxiousness to the rabid audience thirsting for a slashed throat or two.

My point is that parents and kids alike can enjoy this film and simultaneously share a startle and a giggle.

The campy nature of the film is another win since the humor evens out the horror elements. There are enough funny lines, mostly delivered by the supporting players, to evoke laugh-out-loud moments.

The grand finale is inevitable and predictable by enjoyable because it’s what the audience can’t wait for. M3GAN, once prim and proper in her little girl dress, shrieks and spits curses at her former friends as her now disfigured face and ravaged hair makes her look disheveled and monstrous.

M3GAN’s true colors are revealed and the audience will hoot and holler with delight.

Unlike many films, M3GAN goes right for the jugular in the first scene with a deadly car accident and keeps the fast pace for the entire one hour and forty-two minute running time.

Williams, well-known for starring in Jordan Peele’s 2017 masterpiece Get Out scores another win in the central role. She capably plays a loving yet an inexperienced surrogate parent and carries the film, along with M3GAN of course.

Incorporated is a relevant knock on mass consumption of technology gadgets and a robot replacing good parenting. This is more evidence that parents should see M3GAN.

I can’t wait to see what the writers next have in store for the little terror when the sequel drops.

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Director Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu

Scott’s Review #1,337

Reviewed January 26, 2023

Grade: A

Released in March 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that built momentum throughout the year resulting in an astonishing eleven Academy Award nominations.

Traditionally, films scrambling for awards season notice and subsequent praise and honors are released in the fourth quarter and earlier releases are shuffled off to the discount racks.

But Everything Everywhere All at Once breaks the mold thanks to being a visionary, absurd comedy that demands the appreciation it has received.

As of this writing, it is the highest-grossing film released by A24, a champion of independent and quality cinema.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), plays a flustered and bedraggled immigrant mother who runs a laundromat along with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). They reside in the laundromat with Evelyn’s irritable father Gong Gong (James Hong) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who is gay.

In trouble with an IRS inspector, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she could save the world. She must quickly learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not conventional and is admittedly a complete mess meant in the finest of ways. It takes the cinematic formula and tips it on its ass but intelligently incorporates heartfelt scenes and gripping performances so that the viewer falls in love with the characters before knowing what’s hit them.

I semi-cringed when I heard the film was action mixed with science-fiction and superhero multiverses, none of which are my genre of choice. The film goes beyond that with a sensory overload, a warped, onslaught of colorful wackiness that includes hot dog fingers, butt plugs, and a drag performance.

You can’t make this up kids.

Michelle Yeoh kicks ass (literally!) and gets the role of a lifetime. At sixty years old she has played a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a rich bitch Mom in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), decent roles, but nothing like Evelyn.

Directors, the Daniels, show through Evelyn’s character, how her life has disappointed her. Never appreciated by her father and living in the doldrums, angry and frustrated, she develops into a woman who appreciates the small moments of human connection in her life.

We can all learn from Evelyn.

What a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery playing Deirdre. Displaying her gut, wearing a bizarre grey wig, she plays part IRS agent, part lesbian lover depending on what universe she is in, and is a hoot.

Ke Huy Kwan is famous as the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and not much since. He somersaults back into the acting spotlight in the role of Evelyn’s kind husband.

Finally, Stephanie Hsu is a gem as Stephanie who just wants to be loved by her mother. The actor has a bright future ahead of her.

These actors get to play four or five different characters and show their acting chops.

Stylistically, the film is off the wall. Dizzying special effects and absurd editing pummel the viewer with ‘stuff’ that can be talked about from a technical perspective for weeks.

But at the end of the film, you will shed a tear or two at the emotion that sneaks up from behind in the most wonderful way. Quiet scenes between the noisy ones show humanity and love for one another.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) has reaffirmed my appreciation of film and the creativity and beauty that can be mastered.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Actress-Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor-Ke Huy Kwan, Best Supporting Actress-Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“This is a Life”, Best Costume Design, Best Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Lead Performance-Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Performance-Ke Huy Kwan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Breakthrough Performance-Stephanie Hsu, Best Screenplay, Best Editing

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #1,336

Reviewed January 23, 2023

Grade: A-

Having been fortunate enough to see the legendary Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera makes any film version impossible to usurp compared to the live stage show. The lights, the sets, the booming music, the dreaded chandelier, and presumably phenomenal acting all make for an unforgettable experience.

Since we are talking film, the cinematic version of The Phantom of the Opera (2004) is breathtaking and nearly twenty years late to the game, I should be scolded for having not seen it earlier like when it was initially released.

It’s based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical of the same name, which in turn is based on the 1910 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

Critics were not kind to the film though most audiences liked it so I almost didn’t see it save for my hubby renting it and encouraging us to watch it.

I am glad I did because this film encompasses a feast of riches.

I wonder aloud if the fact that it was directed by Joel Schumacher who created the dreadfully bad Batman & Robin, made seven years earlier in 1997 influenced bad reviews. After all, nobody likes their superhero movies butchered and payback’s a bitch after all.

For the novice fan, the summary is as follows. Gerard Butler stars as the disfigured, reclusive Phantom who roams beneath the Paris Opera and takes budding star Christine (Emmy Rossum) under his wing.

But as he falls for her, she finds love with handsome and porcelain-like Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, leaving the Phantom none too pleased.

If nothing else, and there is something else, the film is a spectacle. Gorgeous Parisian sophistication drips from the screen in nearly every scene from the gloomy catacombs to the enthralling opera stage.

The costumes reek of French style, glamour, and texture, and the principle cast is easy on the eyes, to say the least.

These treats are merely a warmup to the astounding and professional art direction, making the winter sequences dreamlike and gothic, capturing the tone perfectly.

This encapsulates the dire story sequence and aids in the viewer feeling the pain of the Phantom.

The all-too-familiar numbers are modernized in just the right places especially “The Music of the Night” which could have been played on popular radio stations. The lively “Masquerade” parlays into the lovely “The Phantom of the Opera” duet between the Phantom and Christine in his ugly lair.

I didn’t feel the chemistry between Rossum and Wilson the same way I did between Butler and Rossum and maybe that’s the point. Wilson doesn’t have much to work with since the character isn’t the main attraction.

I never wanted Christine to ride off into the unknown with Raoul but ached for the pain that the Phantom felt for Christine’s kindness.

As much as I like Wilson the actor I champion the casting of Rossum (unknown at this time) and Butler who is the top draw in the talent department.

His loud and colorful musical numbers enrapture me as a viewer and grip me with his pain. The passion and magnificence are on full display. Butler is my favorite actor.

Minnie Driver is perfect as the spoiled diva, and the supporting cast, including veteran Simon Callow, gives the cast further credibility.

I was transported to another world while watching The Phantom of the Opera (2004) by the sheer extravagance of what was on the screen. Schumacher more than deserves top accolades and respect for his production.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Learn To Be Lonely”

Barbarian-2022

Barbarian-2022

Director-Zach Cregger

Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long

Scott’s Review #1,335

Reviewed January 19, 2023

Grade: B+

Though there are some exceptions, it can be tough to differentiate many modern horror films from one another. Maybe it’s age catching up to me but many of them run together or lack a novel subject that makes them memorable past a couple of days.

Supernatural beings seem to be a standard flavor so it’s quite refreshing to watch a movie like Barbarian (2022) which offers an original storyline with a straight-ahead premise.

You might say the events could happen in ‘real life’ with some suspensions of disbelief to endure.

The twists and turns make Barbarian edge-of-your-seat with some genuinely scary moments. It’s a nice feeling when I can’t predict the ending or am surprised in some way by a horror film’s outcome.

There are major plot points and numerous questions to ponder but this is forgivable because the film takes the viewer on a fun journey into the unexpected.

Horror genre fans alike should enjoy this spooky entry and I know I’ll never go to Detroit, Michigan without thinking of this film.

Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) travels to Detroit for a job interview, having booked an Airbnb in a residential area.  But when she arrives late at night in a driving rainstorm she discovers that the house is inhabited by a strange man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard) who insists he is also renting the house.

Suspicious, but unable to reach her contacts or find another place to stay, she decides to spend the evening, sharing a bottle of wine with the stranger.

They retire to bed (separately) but when she wakes to find her bedroom door ajar she discovers that there’s more to fear than Keith.

A lot more.

I wondered what I would do if faced with the same circumstance. Would I sit in my car all night certain to be sleep deprived and bomb an important job interview? Or, enjoy an inviting glass of wine, the company of a handsome stranger, and the comfort of a warm bed?

The first section of the film deals with this before spinning into another direction which is what makes the film so pleasurable.

As an unearthed portion of the house is uncovered Tess is continually faced with more questions usually involving fleeing from the house or staying and saving other people.

The introduction of AJ (Justin Long) a Los Angeles actor who owns the house almost makes the audience forget about Keith or the initial storyline especially when other dubious characters like a rapist and deformed woman named ‘Mother’ make their appearance midway through.

The dark, foreboding passageways to nowhere, familiar territory in horror are given fresh life by the use of flashlights and tape measures making the viewer unsure of who or what could be around the corner.

I love how the current rundown neighborhood, now avoided by the police and forgotten by everyone else is seen back in the 1980s with well-manicured lawns and freshly painted houses.

This backstory connects to current events which made me feel invested.

There’s even a shred of sympathy given to the main villain.

Where things falter is when I try to add up the logicality of the situation. Nobody eats in this film as the plausibility of finding food before starvation is nill.

Also, when history is revealed, the many living things residing below the house are nowhere to be found. Where are they or what happened to them?

Finally, Tess, while an intelligent woman, makes more than one bungled decision that lands her in continuous trouble.

Surprisingly, director Zach Cregger is new to filmmaking and simply had an idea that spiraled into Barbarian (2022). If he gets his story points straightened out he could have a bright future in the world of cinema.

Nope-2022

Nope-2022

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,334

Reviewed January 15, 2023

Grade: B

I excitedly anticipated the latest offering from one of my favorite modern directors, Jordan Peele. Always conjuring some type of message, intrigue, or social issues his projects are laden with meaning rather than a one-dimensional crazed killer or a one-note story.

Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) were riveting efforts able to watch over and over again for deeper meaning and the same was expected of Nope (2022). Peele’s brilliant yet short-lived The Twilight Zone series further cemented his appeal.

While there are moments of mystery, intrigue, and horror and the stories independently are good, they don’t come together cohesively at the end of the film. Nothing was clear or cemented in certainty or fulfillment.

Nope is not a dud and deserves respect for the originality of the premise as well as the sprinkling of nods to past horror films like The Shining (1980) and others.

Hollywood animal wrangler OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) begin observing unexplained phenomena on their vast Southern California ranch. After their father is killed by a falling object they become obsessed as they plot to capture the mystery on camera.

Their next-door neighbor Jupe (Steven Yuen), a former child star turned family theme park ringmaster has his own story to tell.

Through flashbacks, we learn of a deadly incident with a chimpanzee who went berserk on the set of a television series Jupe starred in.

The 1998 events involving Jupe and the chimpanzee are the best parts. This is surprising since they are not part of the main action. Peele does wonders with chapter title cards to section the film and haunting camera angles focusing on Jupe’s point of view.

The chimp slaughters nearly everyone on set except for Jupe and tenderly reaches out to him before being shot and killed by police.

OJ and Emerald’s story also has juice. The foreboding unidentified flying object that circles and comes out at varying times provides mystique and wonderment. What could it be and why does it hover only over their land?

Peele wrote, directed, and produced the venture so presumably, he had complete creative control over the entire film.

He even convinced the appealing Daniel Kaluuya who starred in Get Out and just won an Academy Award for Judas and the Black Messiah in 2021 to return.

There are no major issues with the technical special effects, the cinematography, the cast, or the two separate stories.

My beef is with the myriad of questions I was left with when the end credits began to roll and I thought, ‘Why has Jordan Peele disappointed me for the very first time?’

Here are just a few of them.

Why is the unidentified flying object afraid of horses? Why does it viciously attack anyone who looks it in the eye? What does the vicious chimpanzee attack have to do with anything? How does Jupe’s story connect with OJ and Emerald’s? Why is the character named OJ; what is the connection to OJ Simpson?

Knowing Peele, I could venture a guess at the UFO’s anger at being looked at as having a connection to the celebrity or a society of voyeurs but the others are perplexing to me.

I was compelled and fascinated by the events throughout the film but wish the payoff happened but it never came.

Peele creates sophisticated films and Nope has sophistication and a deeper meaning. I wasn’t personally able to put the pieces together like I was for Get Out or Us.

I may not have the energy to rewatch the two-hour and fifteen-minute spectacle to see if I can get more out of it a second time but I probably should.

I will watch whatever Peele creates next with anticipation and salivation because there is always something to ponder and be entertained by but Nope (2022) at first review is inferior to his other projects and more was expected.

Cinderella-1977

Cinderella-1977

Director-Michael Pataki

Starring Cheryl Smith

Scott’s Review #1,333

Reviewed January 14, 2023

Grade: B

This telling of the legendary fairy tale Cinderella (1977) differs significantly from the sentimental and wholesome story of a rags-to-riches Disney princess that we all know and love.

It’s for adults only; even many adults will scurry to grab the remote and turn it off before their significant other or, god forbid, children, catch them slyly peeking at what emerges from the screen.

The film is pornographic. This fact doesn’t offend me or influence my critique and in reality, piques my interest tremendously in how the filmmakers turn Cinderella into a porn film.

It’s 1970s-style pornography with the bulk of the nudity going to the female characters with barely any male flesh to view though there is some. During the fleshy numbers, there is music and dancing to be had usually with the female performers singing while topless.

The familiar story involves a lonely prince (Brett Smiley) who tries several young women in his kingdom in his search for the one he met at a royal ball. Naturally, it’s Cinderella (Cheryl Smith) the gorgeous yet abused waif who sings and dances while doing her chores, longing for a better life.

The prince is jaded and feels no satisfaction from traditional sex as he boldly reveals in the musical number ‘My Kingdom Won’t Come’. His sex-crazed father the King (Boris Moris) decides to host a lavish ball so that his son can find what he wants.

You see, the weapon that Cinderella possesses is a special snapping female genitalia that the prince experiences at the ball while blindfolded and in an orgy. This quality is irresistible to him and he must find and be with the woman who is the one who has the magic vagina.

The film is naughtily personified and the fun is seeing how far out director Michael Pataki and screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli will go for a shock. Pataki was mostly an actor who dabbled in directing which makes sense since Cinderella feels widely experimental.

Events get off to a perfectly indecent start when the royal chamberlain played by Kirk Scott wanders the forest encountering nude females who coquettishly make out with each other for fun and the affection of the handsome man.

There is more than the sex scenes to keep one thrilled. The costumes and the makeup, specifically the disgraceful pancake colors applied to Cinderella’s devilish stepsisters are in your face and gratifying. The gowns at the ball are professional and stylish.

The film teeters into art film territory at times like when Cinderella performs a musical number while soaping in the tub and while parading through the forest.

Her wacky Fairy Godmother is a black man played by Sy Richardson who is just a burglar intent on robbing Cinderella’s home but he does provide her with her special ‘gift’.

These many idiosyncrasies make the film Cinderella a cross between a lewd John Waters film and a bombastic Russ Meyers party film.

Cheryl Smith is excellent in the title role providing a gorgeous face and figure with a lovely voice. She perfectly delivers the numbers and carries the film.

Among all the many incarnations of Cinderella, circa 1977 is the most outrageous and courageous. How this film was even made and with an R rating baffles me. It’s nearly impossible to find on streaming or in stores and a mere spontaneous purchase was how I was even able to see it.

My suggestion is for cinematically creative film fans to give Cinderella (1977) a whirl but with extreme caution. Viewed with the wrong companions could be disastrous and a 3 am start time with adult nibbles is highly encouraged.

No kiddies allowed.

Reservoir Dogs-1992

Reservoir Dogs-1992

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi

Scott’s Review #1,332

Reviewed January 9, 2023

Grade: A

Reservoir Dogs (1992) is the film that began an essential transition in cinema history. The 1980s saw way too many watered-down or oversaturated films with enough sappy or melodramatic thematics to make a seasoned cinema lover want to gag and run for a good television series.

The 1990s were different. It’s impossible to think of the decade in film and not speak the name Quentin Tarantino, an iconoclast who took the crime thriller genre and riddled it with violence, dark humor, comic book-style characters, and dozens of other eccentricities and spun the world on its heads.

It was needed.

But before anyone begins to assume Reservoir Dogs is the most fantastic Tarantino film, it’s not. Many list it as his weakest catalog entry. That’s open to the opinion of course but in my view, the influence of the film accounts for much of my enjoyment of it.

It’s not as developed and stylized as Django Unchained (2012) or as powerfully fucked up or odd as Pulp Fiction (1995), but the rawness, the gore, and the go-for-broke scenes that are shot like a play, and the small-budget make watching Reservoir Dogs a reminder of the genius that is Tarantino.

Countless scenes mirror sequences to come in his later films so much so that a game can be played to discover where something played out in another Tarantino film.

The film gave new recognition and merit to the independent film genre which was huge and provided doors flying open to young filmmakers everywhere who had ideas and just needed to get their films known.

The influence of Reservoir Dogs is unmeasured and a double feature of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction is suggested. Even though the latter was released later, most people saw Pulp Fiction first and then discovered Reservoir Dogs.

A group of unsavory thieves assembles to pull off the perfect diamond heist. It turns into a bloody shit show when one of the men turns out to be a police informer. But which one is it and who is responsible for the ambush?

As the group begins to question each other’s guilt, the tensions and suspicions threaten to blow up the situation before the police step in and save the day. But how many will die first?

Tarantino cleverly casts himself in a small role as Mr. Brown and names all the men using the same formal title. There is Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and finally Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) who is my favorite of all.

In 1992, many scenes were shocking. When sinister Mr. Blonde cuts off the ear of a cop and prepares to set him on fire the brutality and sadism are hard to watch.

The blood-soaked Mr. Orange lies in a pool of blood through nearly the entire film. As his skin turns whiter and whiter and his clothes redder and redder it’s an example of masterful cinema and creativity.

The few exterior shots are in Los Angeles which gives the film a low-budget, raw look.  It’s to be celebrated as the potent sun and grizzled veneer of the city of angels are on display.

I’m not a fan of the lack of female representation but this only enhances the muscle and masculinity of the characters. As they sit in a diner mulling over whether tipping is necessary we could easily be in a men’s locker room witnessing banter about getting laid, or watching an episode of Seinfeld.

There are no romantic entanglements to mess up the plot or no rescuing the girl from criminals to contend with. The closest we come is a couple of homoerotic moments of men embracing men amongst bullets and blood.

Reservoir Dogs succeeds as a whodunit, a heist film, and a vile look at the inhumanity of some of the characters.

The influence and relevance of Reservoir Dogs in 2023 are as abundant as they were in 1992. Cinema is like fine wine and sometimes the more time that goes by the more appreciation is warranted for a film.

It’s not perfect and is unpolished and sometimes underdeveloped but it’s been emulated so many times that it’s become a blueprint of the crime thriller.

Independent Spirit Awards: Best Supporting Male-Steve Buscemi (won)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery-2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery-2022

Director-Rian Johnson

Starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe

Scott’s Review #1,331

Reviewed January 5, 2023

Grade: B

I teetered over grading Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022), simply referred to as Glass Onion, a B+ or a B but the hardline critic in me won out on this day.

If I hadn’t compared it so much to the deliciously witty and inventive Knives Out from 2019 I might have given in and awarded it a generous B+ rating but it’s also impossible not to compare the two since the setups and similarities are too apparent.

Rian Johnson who returns to the fold as director, writer, and co-producer pays tribute to the fabulous Agatha Christie murder mystery whodunits and the Hercule Poirot detective inclusion with the delightful Daniel Craig as the lead, reprising his role as master detective Benoit Blanc as he takes on an exciting new case.

A Greek island owned by ultra-billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) provides the setting for the Southern detective’s latest adventure, which unfolds as a group of the tech giant’s friends gather for a murder mystery party, quickly turning deadly.

I couldn’t watch Miles without thinking of Elon Musk, the current controversial social media Twitter chief executive officer in all his juvenile buffoonery.

Appearances by top stars Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, and Leslie Odom Jr., and a surprise cameo by Hugh Grant round out the cast. Along with Craig and Norton, this brings enough star power to create buzz.

It’s also appealing that Benoit, a clear ode to Poirot, is the only character that is the same from the first Knives Out story. His character is immediately developed when we see him soaking in a bathtub in his Manhattan apartment conversing with a male voice offscreen.

He refuses to leave the tub during the very topical COVID pandemic making the entire film feel incredibly timely and relevant.

Let’s see what happens when the film ages ten years.

We later learn that his husband, Phillip (Hugh Grant) lives with him and Blanc is gay. How wonderful to incorporate an LGBTQ+ presence into a main character and icing on the cake is that the studly James Bond actor is all in.

With Blanc’s vague sexuality revealed, the exciting mystery commences with many twists and turns among the characters, led by a wonderful dual performance by Monáe. She plays sophisticated New Yorker Andi and her southern sister Helen Brand.

The other characters are a mixed bag with Hudson and Hahn playing ridiculous, over-the-top roles as a washed-up fashion designer and an aspiring governor, respectively.

But the cartoon character award goes to former WWE professional wrestler David Bautista as the weird, buff guy, Duke Cody who barely keeps his clothes on.

Still, the characters are a hoot, and the anticipation of how they all connect, who has screwed over who, and why, are slowly revealed in fun form.

Not to be outdone there are even revelations of who is screwing who in the bedroom.

The story isn’t as interesting as the story in Knives Out was. The ingenious script is lost and by the end, it’s a case of who cares? All we want to know is who’s dead and who’s alive and what does the Mona Lisa have to do with anything?

The cast undoubtedly had a ball making Glass Onion and the sunny Greek Island locale is a great choice. As the players bask in the sun and saunter around in bikinis sipping a cocktail or three amid peril is great fun for the cast and viewers alike.

It’s unclear if Johnson will create another installment of the Knives Out ‘collection’ but I’m on board if he does. I’ve been fascinated by the whodunit genre for as long as I can remember.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) isn’t quite as riveting or satisfying as Knives Out (2019) but the film is simply fun with superior, glossy production values and a great cast.

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

The Enforcer-1976

The Enforcer-1976

Director-James Fargo

Starring Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, John Mitchum

Scott’s Review #1,330

Reviewed January 2, 2023

Grade: B+

The Dirty Harry film series is pure, gooey 1970s machismo entertainment.

Featuring a vigilante-type police detective who rids the world of the bad guys is pleasure personified if not all that realistic. In these films there exists only the good versus the destructive and social issues, if they are explored, are not the most relevant part of the film but more reasoning as to why the events are occurring.

Nonetheless, the films are top-notch in action with quality gun fights and violence creating a powerful crime thriller film franchise that still holds up well.

They are much better than the similar yet uninspired and poorly acted Death Wish films featuring Charles Bronson.

The Enforcer (1976) is a third of five films from 1971 until 1988 following the 1971 masterpiece Dirty Harry and the nearly as good Magnum Force in 1973.

This one provides a slightly progressive and feminist approach that would also continue in 1983’s Sudden Impact and adds some much-needed humor creating a lighter touch.

Feminism is the inclusion of a female cop due to a new affirmative action initiative who goes toe to toe with the masculinity and conservatism of our main character.

Officer “Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is reassigned from homicide to personnel after his latest use of excessive force exhausts his outranking superiors. Demoralized, he angrily assumes his duties while a new case disrupts the San Francisco bay area.

A new terrorist group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force organizes a series of crimes in San Francisco, hoping to enrich themselves. Led by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter) they wreak havoc and create fear.

When they kidnap the mayor (John Crawford) and steal rockets and rifles for their next attack, Harry and his new female partner, Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), must stop the terrorists.

To measure up to 1971’s Dirty Harry is a nearly impossible feat but The Enforcer continues the rhythm with largely the same basic script. A main part of the fun is watching the grizzled Callahan feud with his superiors and being reduced to working with a female cop.

Naturally, he and Moore eventually become buddies and I like the lack of sexual chemistry. She’s not interested in his affection and neither is he so their relationship is focused on serving and protecting the public.

Daly is terrific in the role of Moore which led to her career-defining role in the television series Cagney and Lacey. Rather than playing her as a bitch she is warm and determined to immerse into a man’s world.

She’s a great character but unfortunately is not explored as much as she could have been.

The filmmakers also keep the setting of San Francisco intact which is a wise move and a treat for those moviegoers that love a good exterior sequence or two.

A fabulous final sequence finds the events of the film heading to a Giants game at the historic Candlestick Park and finally a showdown at Alcatraz Island. These trimmings are so necessary to fans anticipating the juicy and pulsating locales of the populous city.

No, Eastwood is not the greatest actor in the film but he is the best at playing Callahan. He carries the film seamlessly and will make conservatives smirk as he endures the irritations of liberal-minded decision-makers.

A weak explanation of the real motives of the terrorist group is unimportant. It’s the violence, the thrills, the chases, and Eastwood and Daly that make this movie pure fun.

The Enforcer (1976) doesn’t challenge or add to the creativity of cinematic art but provides a shoot-em-up experience featuring a confident and charismatic main character. Forever immersed in the good tidings of 1970s cinema is enough to continue the successful string of Dirty Harry films.

Fantastic Mr. Fox-2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox-2009

Director-Wes Anderson

Voices George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray

Scott’s Review #1,329

Reviewed December 30, 2022

Grade: B+

I have fond memories of, either reading or being read, Roald Dahl’s famous 1970 children’s novel entitled Fantastic Mr. Fox. The story involves the clever and hungry Mr. Fox and how he outwits his farmer neighbors to steal food from under their noses.

In 2009, it is adapted into a stop-motion animated film by Wes Anderson and includes the voice of George Clooney and Meryl Streep as Mr. and Mrs. Fox.  Anyone familiar with Anderson’s work knows well that an added dose of eccentricity will inevitably be included as well as a unique narrative.

I confess to either being in the mood for an Anderson film or not but at least I know to know what I’m in store for.

Anderson co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach known for making witty and intellectual comedies like The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Greenberg (2010).

Fantastic Mr. Fox pairs well with 2018’s Isles of Dogs if we are talking about Anderson films. Both include the thoughts and peculiarities of animals, similar stop motion, and a story about trickery and revenge pitting man against animals.

There is an eerie and prominent comparison to Animal Farm, a 1950s George Orwell novel and film adaptation, that I noticed.

The farm, animals, class system, and desire for power and authority.

When Mr. Fox’s nightly raids on three nearby farms raise the tempers of three selfish farmers who are losing their chickens, he must outwit the outrageous plans to catch him.

After all, in his mind, he is merely trying to feed his hungry family and neighbors, and Mr. Fox must find a new way to get his paws on the bounty.

Billed as a children’s film probably because it’s based on a children’s novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox contains aspects that will go way over kids’ heads. This suits me well however because I have a fascination for animation that pushes the envelope or moves beyond the overdone ‘safe genre’.

Think of it as a kid’s film for adults.

It would appear difficult to side solely with Mr. Fox since he is a thief. We are all taught at a young age not to steal but it’s difficult not to root for Mr. Fox. He steals not to gorge himself but to feed his family and community.

Of course, he is addicted to being a cad and quickly returns to his thieving ways finding his calling and strong satisfaction.

A good lesson for kids and adults is the neighborly aspect of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is a camaraderie amongst the animals that I find lovely and inspiring. They band together and cohabitate in an underground community and later the sewer always having each other’s backs.

The farmers are portrayed as the villains though we can certainly understand their hardships at having their animals stolen and eaten. But Anderson hits home that the farmers are greedy and obsessed with their wealth, happy to kill any animals they see fit.

It’s satisfying to see them get defeated.

The story is outshined by the visuals though. It’s difficult not to focus on the technique and stunning attention to detail, especially in the tunnel sequences. The character performances and shadowy framework make one realize just how far stop motion has come.

The autumnal colors of red, orange, and yellow, perfectly enhance the visual style and season that Anderson and team create. Even the cue card titles between scenes are meticulous art that harkens back to sophisticated cartoons of yesteryear.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is a creative, edgy, and intelligently written and scored production. Multi generations are featured with means young kids, parents, and grandparents with a hunger for a left-of-center and thought-provoking approach will be well satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score

The Whale-2022

The Whale-2022

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau

Scott’s Review #1,328

Reviewed December 28, 2022

Grade: B+

The Whale (2022) is the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker that I have been a big fan of since viewing the disturbing Requiem for a Dream in 2000. That film made me cringe and squirm in the best possible ways.

His knack for creating psychologically dark yet enthralling films continued with The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010), and mother! (2017).

Any release by Aronofsky will be watched by yours truly though I am well aware I will likely leave the theater drawing deep breaths and trying not to feel disgusted. On the flip side, there is a good bet that I will feel titillated and secure that I have seen something with artistic distinction.

Not an easy watch, The Whale left me satisfied, in an Aronofsky way, but recognizing the overwhelming dirtiness and nastiness of the supporting characters and the pitiful nature of our protagonist, a good, decent guy.

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an obese, six-hundred-pound English teacher who makes his living teaching online classes from the safety of his meek apartment. Embarrassed by his weight he refuses to ever turn on his camera.

Racked with guilt over abandoning his family and grieving the loss of the male partner he left them for, Charlie is slowly eating himself to death. Over a week, he tries to find redemption when he reconnects with his angry teenage daughter.

He is cared for by a night nurse and the sister of his deceased partner named Liz (Hong Chau) while visited by a church missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), and his estranged daughter Elle (Sadie Sink, and his ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton).

Let’s just give Brendan Fraser the Oscar right now. His performance is a major reason to see the film and he envelopes himself in the role while making a ‘comeback’ to the Hollywood circle.

The actor does more than wear a fat suit. He delivers an emotional turn as a lost soul who has spiraled out of control since his partner’s death. A recluse, he wheezes and struggles to walk to the bathroom while downing two meatball subs with extra cheese for lunch and two pizzas for dinner.

In a heartbreaking scene, he goes on an eating binge fueled by anger, vomiting it all up soon after. Charlie is a kind and decent person, having faced demons most of his life and trying to live out his final days in peace. He is suffering from heart failure and will not go to the hospital.

Fraser seamlessly delivers the best work of his career. He channels the proper emotional honesty that makes the character believable. He is hurting and the audience is along for the ride in his journey to find purpose before the inevitable occurs.

Before I criticize the supporting characters, I’ll stress that the acting by Sink, Morton, Chua, and Simpkins is excellent. Any award recognition provided to any of them will be well-deserved. For upstarts like Sink and Simpkins, this could be the boost to a lengthy career.

With that said, the cruelty heaped on Charlie is astonishing and difficult to watch making the characters of Elle and Mary unlikable. Thomas and Liz are a bit better until Thomas reveals that both Charlie’s weight and sexual orientation disgust him.

Liz is Charlie’s best friend and the most relatable but she is unnecessarily harsh with him when he chokes on food and doesn’t exude much warmth. Of course, she has her demons like the other characters.

A controversy regarding The Whale has emerged and there is a certain ‘fat shaming’ to be endured. If I were overweight I would not see the film since the face stuffing and cruel fat criticisms are part of the experience.

I ruminated throughout The Whale how easily it could be a stage version. Only one set, Charlie’s dark and dusty apartment in rural Idaho is used and only five principal characters exist.

Fraser’s performance is pure genius and worth the price of admission but there is difficulty with some other aspects of The Whale (2022).

Aronofsky fans should see the film but fairweather fans or non-fans should be forewarned that the film is a heavy and depressing journey.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Brendan Fraser, Best Supporting Actress-Hong Chau, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Gangs of New York-2002

Gangs of New York-2002

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz

Scott’s Review #1,327

Reviewed December 26, 2022

Grade: A-

Gangs of New York (2002) is an extremely violent and bloody epic by director Martin Scorsese that is an exquisite piece of filmmaking nearly flawless in every way except maybe its length and story.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully choreographed and filmed crime drama with perfect costumes, art direction, and cinematography. Still, on the other, it’s tedious and lengthy, especially during the final hour, with choppy storytelling and seemingly one long continuous battle.

Scorsese being Scorsese and knowing his way around crafting an excellent film or two left me ruminating over the cinema and pondering whether I’d ever need to see it again.

Usually, I’m all in when it comes to repeated viewings of his films,  especially Raging Bull (1980) or Goodfellas (1990) but with Gangs of New York, the sobering almost three hours running time and the non-stop bloodshed gives me pause.

It’s not a mafia film but it is an Irish-centered crime drama harkening back to the mid-1800s so there are historical lessons to be exposed to. Familiar with most of his films there are good guys, bad guys, and a criminal, feuding overtone, and lots of grit and grime to plow through.

I can’t say it’s one of Scorsese’s top 10 but it’s a grandiose, epic-length behemoth that features a host of top-name talent but there are nonetheless aspects that leave it slightly beneath his most famous works.

But that’s nearly akin to comparing the works of Beethoven, Rembrandt, or other geniuses of one art form or another. Anyone respecting Scorsese or appreciating good cinema should see Gangs of New York.

Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young Irish immigrant released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against his father’s killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) also known as ‘The Butcher’, a brutal and powerful anti-immigrant gang leader.

He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting’s inner circle. Amsterdam’s journey becomes a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860’s New York.

The most delicious part of the film is the rivalry between Amsterdam and ‘The Butcher’. DiCaprio and Day-Lewis make powerful sparring partners and as much as Amsterdam’s motivations are admirable it’s Day-Lewis who has the more interesting character.

To no one’s surprise, the actor channels his inner dictator as he method acts throughout the film. To no one’s additional surprise he steals the show away from other tremendous actors like DiCaprio, Jim Broadbent, and John C. Reilly in supporting roles.

Although I need to ask why Day-Lewis was selected for the Lead Actor Oscar category when he is a supporting one.

Worthy of mention is Cameron Diaz who, for once, plays a dramatic role of a pickpocket. Typically cast in comedic roles she shows she has acting chops.

The story gets a bit wayward about halfway through and I stopped giving the story much credence about three-quarters of the way through. It’s as if Scorsese had frenetic schizophrenia moments with tons of good ideas but none of them formulating a cohesive plot.

The New York City setting is a favorite of mine especially pre-civil war and well before the NYC of modern times even existed. The prevalence of Canal Street and various others make this northeasterner heavily invested in geography.

Finally, to bring it all full circle, Gangs of New York powerfully reminds the audience of the age-old topic of immigration and how those who have citizenship too often oppose those who desire to enter a country they once also did.

‘The Butcher’s brutal opposition is a sad reminder of how the United States of America was never united and the senseless violence towards immigrants is never-ending.

Gangs of New York (2002) may not be Scorsese’s best work but even on his worst day, he creates a film worth watching. Mixing toxic masculinity, and revenge with a crazy story he succeeds where other directors might fail by providing compelling filmmaking with all the fixings.

Just don’t get too hung up on the story points.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actor-Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“The Hands That Built America”, Best Sound

Parallel Mothers-2021

Parallel Mothers-2021

Director-Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit

Scott’s Review #1,326

Reviewed December 22, 2022

Grade: A-

The terrific quality encircling Parallel Mothers (2021), Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, is the constant homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Not to imply that the cult favorite Spanish director needs to borrow at all because he’s got a flavor and color all his own but he has fun adding some patterns of the influential director.

Anytime there is a compelling identity switcheroo or mistaken identity to enjoy it makes me think of the director. Throw in a dose of subtle lesbianism to make things interesting and you’ve got yourself an excellent film.

I also noticed a bit of Brian DePalma’s influence in the dreamy scenes but it’s primarily Hitchcockian as far as the suspense and plot twists are concerned.

The setting is Madrid, Spain (more about that later) where two women, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), meet in a hospital room where they are about to give birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident unsure of what, if any, future with the fathers they will have.

Janis, middle-aged, is exultant to become a new mother, whereas Ana, an adolescent, is scared, and traumatized. Janis encourages Ana which creates a close link between the two women assumed to never see each other again following the birth of their babies.

But a strange twist of fate brings the women back into each other’s lives and their babies are at the heart of a complicated situation.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Parallel Mothers but I assumed that Cruz played a fortysomething woman who perhaps doesn’t want to give birth at her age.

Cruz is excellent in the role of Janis, a confident woman who exudes warmth and stoicism. She is unfazed about her one-night stand and plans to live happily ever after with the baby daddy despite his wife suffering from cancer.

Janis is not delusional but knows what she wants and is determined to get it embracing her situation and caring for others in her path instead of manipulating them.

A strange situation occurs with Ana and her baby which throws everything into a spiral.

Cruz is a muse of Almodóvar’s, appearing in many of his films like Volver (2006) and Pain and Glory (2019) and she is perfectly cast in this role. She is a mature woman, a feminist, and a role model while staying true to her family roots which is how she meets the father of her child.

Anyone who has either been to Madrid or aspires to (me!) will be treated to a history lesson free of charge. Plenty of location sequences of the city, restaurants, and street life are featured. As with Almodóvar’s style, he incorporates vibrant colors, a rich aesthetic, and brilliant cinematography.

The musical score enhances the series of events perfectly.

A slight miss for me is the connection between the baby story and the other story which is the disappearance of people during Spain’s wars. I didn’t envelope the important civil war story as much as I should of or understand what the connection was.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing?

The introduction and backstory of Ana’s mother, a well-known theater actress, felt jarring and out of place. I expected more of a connection to the other events in the film than was to be found.

Almodóvar teeters more in the vein of drama than his usual witty comedies like 2013’s I’m So Excited and the results are stimulating especially with Cruz in the main role.

Parallel Mothers (2021) is a sizzling and titillating exploration of human sensation, eroticism, and emotion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Penélope Cruz, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Single All the Way-2021

Single All the Way-2021

Director-Michael Mayer

Starring Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Luke Macfarlane

Scott’s Review #1,325

Reviewed December 21, 2022

Grade: C+

Single All the Way (2021) is an LGBTQ+ romantic comedy film released by the streaming behemoth Netflix, though I swear the film feels like a Hallmark or Lifetime television movie of the week offering.

The film is a Christmas-themed romantic comedy about gay men and is the streaming service’s first gay holiday film.

As inspired and momentous as this may sound please hold the accolades and champagne for just a hot second. I hoped for at least a bit more danger, complexity, or even darker drama from Single All the Way being that it’s the first of its kind.

Instead, I was presented with a childish, cliched, saccharine-induced, run-of-the-mill story that swaps the standard straight-laced, blue-eyed, blonde-haired straight couple from the midwest, USA, with gay characters.

Everything else remains the same.

Since the LGBTQ+ is to be celebrated, the result is a marginally enjoyable romantic comedy featuring gay men and a timid triangle where the audience knows all along how it’s going to play out.

Desperate to avoid his family’s judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter (Michael Urie) who lives in Los Angeles, convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to join him for the holidays in snowy New Hampshire and pretend that they’re now in a relationship.

But when Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy) sets him up on a blind date with her hunky trainer James (Luke Macfarlane) the plan goes awry. Peter becomes caught in a quandary about either confessing his feelings for Nick or pursuing relations with James while his family schemes to unite Peter and Nick.

Let me just make clear that the only reason Single All the Way rates as high as a ‘C+’ is that I applaud the decision to write, produce, and release an LGBTQ+-themed film. It’s about damn time, but I wish it were a better film.

Nick being light-skinned black is also a way to promote at least a bit of diversity, although the other characters and environment feel as white as the fake snow draping the wintry set design.

Despite being slightly effeminate he works as a rugged handyman which somehow completely doesn’t work.

The main issue is that there is no chemistry between any of the three men. Unbelievable is how Nick and Peter have been roommates for years and it takes a trip to New Hampshire for them to suddenly realize their undying love for one another.

Macfarlane, well-known for appearing in Bros. (2022), the first gay romantic comedy released by a major studio, is almost distractingly good-looking. Hunky and drop-dead gorgeous, to believe his character would be the odd man out against the semi-cute Peter and Nick is laughable.

It’s like someone wanted the average joe to finally beat out the hunk.

Realistically,  Peter would have at least slept with James instead of hemming and hawing before declining an invitation up to James’s apartment after a date.

The family, led by Peter’s mother Carole (Najimy) is beyond irritating. Wanting desperately for her son to find love, she is what every gay man doesn’t want his mother to be. Landing Jennifer Coolidge, a gay icon, is a major win wasted by casting her in the cliche-riddled role of Aunt Sandy, a man-hungry diva.

If that isn’t bad enough, Peter’s two sister’s scheming to separate Peter and James’s burgeoning romance and unite Peter and Nick is silly and not worthy of a daytime soap opera.

At the end of the day Single All the Way (2021) is barely even a cute film. It’s as safe as can be with every cliche (straight and gay) imaginable as if someone was so thrilled to be making an LGBTQ+ film that they didn’t dare take one single risk.

The Fabelmans-2022

The Fabelmans-2022

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano

Scott’s Review #1,324

Reviewed December 17, 2022

Grade: A

At seventy-five years old, Steven Speilberg continues to churn out heartfelt films, personal and resonating with anyone who sees them. Rebounding with creative energy with the remake of the brilliant West Side Story in 2021 he continues to impress the older he gets.

In what is certainly his most personal film, The Fabelmans (2022) is semi-autobiographical, telling the story of a young boy’s venture into the world of filmmaking.

The boy is presumed to be Spielberg himself.

The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s thirty-third film and I’d be hard-pressed not to say it’s one of his best. He loses no ground in creating a lovely tale of family, dreams, human bonds, and a bit of scandal.

The director takes a fond look back to his boyhood in New Jersey and the family’s subsequent move to his primary childhood home in Arizona. From there he goes to California to launch his film career.

Of course, obstacles and trials and tribulations of the Fabelman family sometimes get in the way.

Young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ a film about a carnival, in 1952. His life changes forever after viewing the riveting train crash.

Sammy starts to make his films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), who is at heart a dreamer and an artist like Sammy. His father Burt (Paul Dano), who is a computer engineer, sees filmmaking as merely Sammy’s hobby and something he will outgrow.

The story is heartfelt and compelling with sentimentality and emotion that only Spielberg can create without it ever feeling phony or forced.

To my surprise, I was teary-eyed more than I ever thought I would be mostly because the characters feel genuine and filled with humanistic sensibility. They are good people trying to do good things for each other.

Particular standouts are LaBelle, Williams, and Dano, but the cast is tremendous all around. Seth Rogen gives a career-best as Sammy’s father’s best friend and colleague who harbors a family secret.

Judd Hirsch hits it out of the park in the small but powerful role of Mitzi’s uncle. He provides invaluable words of wisdom to Sammy and a bit of understanding about his mother.

I was enthralled the most by Williams and several of her scenes made me choke up. She delivers a beautiful performance as an artist who never saw her dreams realized, instead living vicariously through her son, another dreamer.

That doesn’t mean that Mitzi is unhappy, quite the opposite. She is often childlike in her approach, buying a monkey for entertainment simply because she needs a laugh. When a secret about his mother is revealed to Sammy while editing his film it threatens to ruin their close relationship.

Dano, stoic as the methodical and quiet Burt, has deep-seated thoughts and emotions. The actor is brilliant as his range of emotions remains within himself while brimming to be let out.

Finally, LaBelle anchors the film in his debut effort. Showcasing his talent as the insecure lone Jewish boy living in affluent and white, Christian northern California, he nonetheless finds love and companionship with a classmate.

Besides the wonderful characters and storytelling, Spielberg crafts tremendous editing to reinforce the beauty of the creative filmmaking process.

Technically impressive, it also exudes a passion for creating the film. As Sammy intertwines bits of film and videotapes together to create art it’s inspiring to any lover of cinema.

The Fabelmans (2022) may be a personal story but Spielberg masterfully shares it with his audience as an homage to his own family revealing experiences and secrets held close to him over the years.

The viewer will overwhelmingly connect to his silver screen family and his love of cinema so that they may also conjure a feeling of belonging. The film contains tremendous acting, cinematography, storytelling, and everything else.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Actress-Michelle Williams, Best Supporting Actor-Judd Hirsch, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Production Design

Encanto-2021

Encanto-2021

Director Jared Bush, Byron Howard

Voices Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo

Scott’s Review #1,323

Reviewed December 16, 2022

Grade: B+

Encanto (2021) is a lovely film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It’s part musical, part fantasy, and part comedy with plenty of bright, colorful, and culturally significant sequences, that are quite pleasing to the eyes.

The musical numbers are wonderfully catchy and fun, especially the standouts ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ and ‘Welcome to the Family Madrigal’. Since the musical numbers are mostly created by Lin-Manuel Miranda and composed by Germaine Franco they are professional and memorable.

The film has a wholesome, upbeat yet diverse quality that makes it challenging not to enjoy.

The representation provided is a significant win for the film.

The setting of Columbia helps with this and the main character, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is darling. Her positive and forthright personality is cheerful and instantly likable and I imagine inspiring young girls everywhere.

It’s nice to see Disney branch out to an international reach in today’s world of inclusion and diversity.

The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who lives hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charming residence called the Encanto.

The magic of Encanto is well known throughout the nearby town and its magic has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift, except Mirabel who mysteriously has no gift.

Or so it would appear.

When Mirabel discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger of running out she may be their last hope.

The success of Encanto lies in the character of Mirabel. She is imperfect and unique but she is strong and confident, not fitting a mold. This is what Disney does well to make her relatable. You could say that Mirabel feels left out and isolated, different from her more conventional siblings.

The most important goal is to create a character that the audience can embrace and feel that they are similar to. Since the target demographic of Encanto is young females the idea is successful.

The animation is also inspiring. Challenged with replicating the mountains of Columbia in a genuine way the gorgeous, lush locales can frequently be seen in sequences. The way the family estate rests along the landscape made me want to be there with them.

The colorful pastels and psychedelic moments are dizzying in a good way. The costumes alone are evidence of this including embroidered wool with cool patterns. With pinks, purples, blues, and yellows it’s an orgy of spectacular images.

The Madrigals appear to be an affluent family revered by their community but besides having magical powers it’s unknown how they cultivate their wealth. They serve the villagers with their gifts but what does that mean exactly? Are they paid with cash?

Encanto (2021) won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and this is no surprise. The Academy sometimes rewards creativity and diversity over mainstream fluff and this film is an example of when the academy gets it right.

The film can be enjoyed by the entire family for multiple reasons instead of a product appealing to kids whose parents are forced to tag along.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature (won), Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Dos Oruguitas” (won)

Lightyear-2022

Lightyear-2022

Director-Angus Maclane

Voices-Chris Evans, Keke Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,322

Reviewed December 13, 2022

Grade: B

The popular Toy Story (1995-2019) franchise spawns a new child with Lightyear (2022),  the spin-off prequel film within a film. Box office receipts will determine if Lightyear has any children of its own.

It’s a pleasant and more or less conventional offering since it only focuses on one ‘toy’, the masculine Buzz Lightyear, and tells his story. The visuals are delightful and colorful and there is enough adventure to keep the whole family engaged.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of legacy or connection to the Toy Story characters, and even the voice of Buzz is replaced by Tim Allen to Chris Evans.

One’s enjoyment of the film largely depends on their preference for the franchise in general or the hero in question. Better satisfied may be now adults who were kids in 1995 harkening to a nostalgic film featuring a favorite childhood character.

As a semi-fan but not a diehard fanatic of the Toy Story films I found the overall result pretty good but not astounding.

It doesn’t explain why Lightyear went from a living and thriving action hero to becoming a suburban kid’s possession but it also doesn’t matter much, at least to me.

For fans of the series, it’s a nice trip down memory lane type of film more than anything groundbreaking or breathtaking.

Sometimes familiarity breeds comfort.

The film follows Buzz Lightyear (Evans) operating as a space ranger who, after being marooned on a hostile planet with his commander and crew, tries to find a way back home while confronting a threat to the universe’s safety.

His ambitious recruits Izzy, Mo, Darby, and his robot companion, Sox serve as new characters following Lightyear’s every move. As this motley crew tackles their toughest mission yet, they must learn to work together as a team to escape the evil Zurg and his dutiful robot army that is never far behind.

Possibly the most interesting and I’ll confess the primary reason why I saw Lightyear was the notorious same-sex kiss that unceremoniously got the film banned in some Middle Eastern countries.

It also pissed off conservatives who found the kiss too much for them and the potential damnation and ruination of young children everywhere.

In truth, the kiss is timid and a non-issue. The issue is more likely a prominent female lesbian character and her wife, and best friend Buzz. It’s like, how dare the all-American Lightyear has a black lesbian for a best friend.

Alisha (Uzo Aduba) is strong, confident, and black. She is a commanding officer and arguably the most interesting character in the film.

What an inspiration for young girls everywhere to see such representation and potential. The kicker is that she is in a relationship with a woman who produces a grandaughter named Izzy (Keke Palmer), one of Buzz’s recruits.

Despite the addition of inclusion and diversity Lightyear is nonetheless a by-the-numbers offering. The message is one of a robust adventure though I appreciate the social importance of such a good character.

Once Buzz is in flight and soaring for the stars Lightyear turns action/adventure in a hurry. The filmmakers intend to create a popcorn summer blockbuster while having our hero save the day and the intention is fulfilled.

The time travel and aging of characters are interesting because we see their lifecycle and generations to follow. For example, Buzz is close to Izzy. He cares so much for Alisha who he misses terribly because he has been far away and not aging while she has aged like a normal human.

Lightyear (2022) provides a safe flight plan despite being brave enough to include some diverse characters. It doesn’t connect to the origin of Toy Story as much as I’d like it to and feels rather like a stand-alone.

Time will tell if a sequel is made but it would be unnecessary.

Bodies Bodies Bodies-2022

Bodies Bodies Bodies-2022

Director-Halina Reijn

Starring-Amandla Sternberg, Maria Bakalova

Scott’s Review #1,321

Reviewed December 11, 2022

Grade: B

Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022) is an admirable attempt at merging straight-ahead slasher whodunit with a good dose of dark comedy and camp. It doesn’t always hit the mark but provides entertainment and is thought-provoking.

The film is never boring and will keep the viewer guessing. There is plenty of diversity with a twist at the end which I’m still not sure is satisfying or not.

While watching the film, I wasn’t always sure if the dialogue was being played for laughs (it’s sometimes terrible). I’m still uncertain if the debut director Halina Reijn was poking fun at 1980s-style slasher flicks or paying homage to them.

The inclusion of Saturday Night Live alumni Pete Davidson provides a bit of humor and pushes the film toward comedy territory though his character is more of an asshole than comic relief. It’s other characters who deliver the funny lines.

Having not heard of the film at all, the premise was intriguing and made me flip it on during a long international flight. I needed to pass ninety minutes or so of time.

When a group of rich twenty-somethings plans a dubious hurricane party at a remote family mansion, they drink and use drugs. A party game goes awry.

I knew right away that an incident would occur that would see them knocked off unceremoniously one by one.

A hefty dose of cattiness between both the male and female characters will make the viewer smirk with pleasure. The backstabbing and fake friends angle is as delicious as the offing of several characters.

I love that Sophie (Amandla Sternberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova), the central characters, are a lesbian couple. Bee is from eastern Europe while Sophie is of mixed race, and Sophie is affluent and Bee working class. So there are many differences to explore making for an insecure relationship.

It’s suggested that they are a new couple, early on in their relationship, and one of the other girls, Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), has previously had relations with Sophie. On top of all that, Sophie is a recovering drug addict.

I’m not sure the myriad of drama elements is all that necessary but it does reinforce the complexities of the characters. At the end of the day what the audience wants to see is violence and dripping blood and I felt a bit cheated in that department.

Don’t get me wrong, people do die but nobody is shown squealing or running for their life. Because they are playing a game, aptly titled ‘bodies bodies bodies’, the victims pretend to die but then wind up dead.

Besides Bree and Sophie, the other characters are unlikeable. I slowly realized that’s the fun of Bodies Bodies Bodies. Since the characters are whiny, rich, and spoiled rotten, we want them to get their just desserts.

My main criticism of Bodies Bodies Bodies is that it’s not always clear what the intention of the film is which confuses. Is it a message movie, a slasher flick, or an argument over a spoiled and clueless generation?

As the credits rolled I wasn’t even sure who the killer was or why. Turns out, my immediate hunch was right but I second-guessed myself.

In hindsight, I like the ultimate twist but there are so many aspects to Bodies Bodies Bodies. Generation Z hatred, societal clashes, love triangles, and a potential serial killer all rolled into one. That’s a bit much for a ninety-minute affair.

Comparisons to April Fool’s Day (1986) and Scream (1996) come to mind. And, Agatha Christie’s novels where a group of characters flocks to a remote locale for a good whodunit also occur.

As I absorb Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022) more and more I realize that Reijn brings a fresh perspective to a sorely oversaturated genre and that’s a good thing.

The film could have been fleshed out more.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Halina Reijn, Best First Screenplay

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-1966

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-1966

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef

Scott’s Review #1,320

Reviewed December 9, 2022

Grade: A

Any film lover cannot view The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) without realizing its enormous influence on Quentin Tarantino, one of the greatest filmmakers of modern times.

Obsessed with the ‘spaghetti western’ a derogatory categorization for cheaply made Italian western films with lousy lip-syncing and an over-the-top stylization, he made them ‘cool’ and interspersed moments and film scores from some of these films.

Director, Sergio Leone also created brilliant films like Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and was famous for his sprawling epics at great length.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is top-notch in nearly every way. The instantly recognizable hauntingly operatic score is to be revered. It brings dubious and edgy energy that defines the entire film representing the title characters.

Unfortunately, the film received mixed reviews at best upon initial release but is now considered a masterpiece.

The sprawling landscape represents the American Western territory with lush mountains and desert dryness. In reality, the film was shot mostly in Spain but you’d never know it. It’s a pleasing feeling to possess this knowledge since it makes for more fun and comparisons to the fake world of the frontier.

The creative sweeping widescreen cinematography is also a major win. Combined with violent, stylized gunfights, the use of close-ups and long shots makes the film unique.

Story-wise, during the bloody Civil War, a mysterious stranger, Blondie ‘the Good’ (Clint Eastwood), and a Mexican outlaw, Tuco ‘the Ugly’ (Eli Wallach), form an uneasy partnership. Blondie turns in the bandit for some reward money, then rescues him just as he is being hanged. When Blondie’s shot at the noose goes awry during one escapade, a furious Tuco tries to have him murdered.

The men re-team abruptly, however, to beat out a sadistic criminal named ‘Angel Eyes’ (Lee Van Cleef) or ‘the Ugly’ and the Union army and find $20,000 that a soldier has buried in the desert.

The hook is that each of the three principal characters is looking for loot, specifically a buried cache of Confederate gold. This plot enhances the duels and peril along the way which is surely a selling point to the viewer.

The finale and paired ‘noose sequence’ is the highlight of the film.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is purely a ‘guy’s film’ though this is not to say females who appreciate influential cinema will not get something from it. Even if the plot is a one-trick pony the other aspects of the film quality are worthy of admiration.

In 1966 Clint Eastwood was not the big Hollywood star he would soon become and certainly hadn’t tried his hand in the director’s chair.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is very early Eastwood, and worth noting that it’s the film that propelled him into a rebellious action hero he cemented with Dirty Harry (1971).

Studying the characters may be a superfluous approach for a film like this but Blondie’s nickname of ‘the Good’ is laughable. He’s a pure anti-hero and joins forces with ‘the Ugly’ a known criminal. Sure, he spares lives but he’s not exactly a goody two shoes. That just makes the character more appealing in my book.

Spaghetti westerns were derided and scoffed at when they were originally released. Nobody could have predicted that decades later a film like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) would be revered and influential.

The great filmmakers who appreciated this film mirrored their own after it.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown-1987

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown-1987

Director-J. Lee Thompson

Starring Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz

Scott’s Review #1,319

Reviewed November 29, 2022

Grade: C+

I have an interesting relationship with the Death Wish films. Besides the first and maybe its follow-up, they pretty much suck, and that’s being kind.

They possess a machismo and right-wing, pro-National Rifle Association stance that’s just not my cup of tea.

To make matters worse, poor acting, stagey action sequences, an explosive overuse of smokey ammunition, and endless cliches riddle the screen throughout nearly every scene.

Sure there’s usually some heartwarming romantic moment or a justification for the killings but the series is solidly amateurish.

With my nose to the grindstone I somehow, someway, plodded through all five of the Charles Bronson film series installments and lived to tell.

I refuse to see the tepidly reviewed unrelated 2018 incarnation starring Brice Willis.

But, the funny thing is with all the cinematic negatives the Death Wish films are fun in a campy, silly way. Hardly high art, they instead provide the viewer with fluff and a quick ninety-minute experience in shoot ’em-up revenge-seeking bloodletting.

With Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) the filmmakers cleverly leverage the 1980s excess with a witty subtitle channeling the crack epidemic of the day set against the backdrop of lusty Los Angeles and the drug carnage seeping over the United States border from neighboring countries.

Some thirty-five years later the premise is dated to say nothing of riddled with stereotypes but at the time the plot must have seemed downright modern.

Paul Kersey (Bronson), who is no stranger to vigilante justice, is pulled back into the underworld of gritty Los Angeles when the daughter of his new girlfriend, Karen (Kay Lenz), dies after an overdose of crack cocaine.

Intent on dishing out a healthy dose of vigilante justice, he goes after the drug lord who ultimately supplied the crack, apparently forgetting to focus on the social issue of why the young girl was taking drugs in the first place.

The First lady Nancy Reagan’s famous anti-drug slogan, ‘just say no’ fell on deaf ears.

As he hunts down the kingpin’s henchmen, Paul starts taking out a large part of the city’s drug-dealing population on a violent killing spree while posing as a dimwitted bartender.

The acting is laughably bad from Bronson on down to the bit players.

My favorite bad scene is when an interracial couple squabbles on their way out to dinner from the luxurious highrise apartment they inhabit.

As she sits in the limo brooding and cursing her mate who forgot something from the apartment, he is suddenly hurled from his penthouse onto the limo as she shrieks with anguish, after wishing him dead only seconds prior.

Director, J. Lee Thompson, well past his prime in the late 1980s forgot to tell his actors to add a bit of humor to the horrendous line delivery.

Or, he might have just phoned the whole thing in himself.

The film is by the numbers and one attempt at a twist toward the end is an inspired effort. A pivotal character is shockingly killed and it ain’t Paul who meets his maker either.

I didn’t see this surprise coming.

Nonetheless, despite the myriad of bad qualities contained within Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, the bad guys do get their just desserts which are delightful to witness.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) is best served up on a rainy afternoon when the viewer can munch on popcorn and lazily escape the day away with solid cinema trash.

Minority Report-2002

Minority Report-2002

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

Scott’s Review #1,318

Reviewed November 27, 2022

Grade: B+

If you study his body of film work, the fascinating thing about acclaimed director Steven Spielberg is the growth and groundbreaking cross-genre categorization of many of his films.

Traversing blockbuster popcorn films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) to heavy drama with the 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List, the man can do it all.

With 2002’s Minority Report, he bravely delves into science-fiction territory with a crime thriller and action tint. The film is tough to follow and mostly reminds me of Inception (2010), a Christopher Nolan vehicle influenced by this film.

Despite the cerebral tone, Minority Report is a fascinating study of futuristic crime-fighting styles with enough twists and turns to keep me engaged though I confess at times having no real idea what was going on plot-wise.

The casting of Tom Cruise is a major win. Who better to carry a film like this except maybe Bruce Willis though Cruise is a better actor. Nonetheless, he is believable as a crime chief with a slick edge and a wicked smile.

Unsure whether or not to trust him he remains at the heart of the success of the film.

Based on a story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, ‘Minority Report’ contains a perfect premise to bring to the big screen. Set in Washington D.C. in 2054, police are now intelligent enough to utilize a psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crimes.

The setup is fabulous and rife with possibility.

Cruise plays Chief John Anderton, the head of this Precrime unit, and is himself accused of the future murder of a man he hasn’t even met. Following an audit, it is predicted that in thirty-six hours, Anderton will kill a man who is a stranger to Anderton.

Anderton flees, prompting a manhunt led by Witwer (Colin Farrell).

It is revealed that Anderton joined the Precrime program after his son was kidnapped and never found. He is depressed, withdrawn, and addicted to hard drugs, and his wife Lara (Kathryn Morris) has since left him.

But is this all a setup and are others involved in the conspiracy?

The plot goes way off the rails in terms of explanation or logic but the fun is in trying to put the never-ending puzzle pieces together. Truthfully, after a while, I simply gave up this approach and enjoyed the visual eye candy and terrific futuristic style.

I rarely am a proponent of visuals over storytelling but the intelligence of the sequences and the thrilling nature of the acting assured me there was something there. I just wasn’t completely getting it.

Since it’s directed by Spielberg I was confident that the complexities I was being served were not shit. I was comforted by this knowledge and my enjoyment escalated.

Enough props can’t be handed out for Cruise’s dynamic performance parlayed by the coldness and harshness of the overall tone of the film.

Many of Spielberg’s films are heartwarming but this was not to be found in Minority Report (2002) and I liked it even more for that reason.

Spielberg gets another win by suckering me into a cinematic world that he magically can create. This time with perplexities and perhaps even some influence from the Matrix (1999) movies.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing

Rocky II-1979

Rocky II-1979

Director-Sylvester Stallone

Starring-Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

Scott’s Review #1,317

Reviewed November 24, 2022

Grade: B+

Rocky II (1979) is a terrific sequel and entertaining sports film. It doesn’t recreate the wheel or challenge cinematic artistic freedom or expression or anything like that. But, it knows what it wants to achieve and gets there in fine fashion.

It’s a straight-ahead vehicle that capitalizes on the enormous critical and commercial success of Rocky (1976) and enthralls with a winning final climax- in the squared boxing circle naturally.

The film is a crowd-pleaser through and through and the powers that even let boorish actor Stallone, notoriously difficult, take the director’s reigns (yikes!).

The actor even writes the screenplay for the film.

Events begin immediately following the first Rocky film which is a wise decision. Cocky world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has defeated working-class Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) in the closest of battles with both men requiring medical attention.

Despite vowing not to engage in a rematch, Rocky’s Cinderella story has caught the national sports media’s attention, and he now has the opportunity to capitalize on his sudden fame. Creed arrogantly prods his newfound nemesis into getting back into the ring.

Plagued with financial problems and a pregnant wife Rocky is goaded out of retirement and back into the ring for the fight of his life.

Supporting players Talia Shire (Adrian), Burgess Meredith (Mickey), and Burt Young (Paulie) return to the fold which provides excellent continuity and familiarity, another key to Rocky II’s success.

Additionally, Shire, Meredith, and Young are such top-quality actors that they enhance Stallone’s performance.

Rocky is unquestionably the best role of Stallone’s long career. Never known for great acting chops, he won the lottery with this iconic role and does quite well with him on the second time out.

The character is impossible not to root for and the Italian Stallion’s charisma shines across the big screen. Who doesn’t like an underdog especially when all he cares about is the timid Adrian (another underdog)?

His ‘Yo, Adrian, I did it!’ is legendary.

I’ll never cease being enamored with Shire’s portrayal of Adrian as compared to her other iconic role of Connie Corleone in The Godfather films. Adrian and Connie are like night and day which is a big part of the fun of viewing them both.

Of course, the setup of Rocky II is contrived and the storyline dictated. We know the final thirty minutes or so will showcase the bloody rematch between Rocky and Creed and we the audience salivates thirstily as the fight approaches.

There exists some trivial plot about Adrian giving birth to their son (named Rocky Jr. obviously) and slipping into a coma only to be resurrected by determination and giving her blessing for Rocky to fight but we all know what’s coming.

Like clockwork, the final fight arrives! As the men slug it out through fifteen brutal, sweaty rounds, the editing is fantastic. The sequence feels like a retread because it sort of is but it still provides an enthralling and bombastic finale.

Fans will not be disappointed.

Sure, Rocky II suffers from a saccharine romance and a predictable ending but it’s also a feast for the eyes and the ultimate sports match-up.

Compared to Rocky (1976) the film is a letdown despite carefully keeping the Philadelphia underdog, blue-collar elements that made the original such a hit.

Subsequent sequels would parlay into nationalistic, patriotic nonsense using the Cold War as a prop but Rocky II (1979) remains all-American and robust in spirit and climax.

Top Gun: Maverick-2022

Top Gun: Maverick-2022

Director-Joseph Kosinski

Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,316

Reviewed November 23, 2022

Grade: B

I made the mistake of watching Top Gun: Maverick (2022) in the worst possible forum imaginable- inside an airplane at 35,000 feet! And I wasn’t inside the cockpit either, which would have fulfilled the appropriate thrills and perhaps even elicited terror.

Being chastised repeatedly for not seeing the film on the biggest movie theater screen imaginable, I watched this offering on the plane primarily out of curiosity to see what all the fuss was about.

In a nutshell, I thought the visuals and action/adventure sequences up in the sky were second to none. The use of sound and cinematography successfully provided the peril and anticipation of the events of the film.

Even on a teenie tiny screen with earbuds I could sense and appreciate the bombastic trimmings.

To bury myself even further, I hadn’t even seen the original Top Gun made in 1986. Of course, I was familiar with the popular soundtrack featuring the enormous Kenny Loggins hit, ‘Danger Zone, which is reprised in the new film, and the syrupy ballad, ‘Take My Breath Away by Berlin.

I guess I felt I knew the predictable story enough not to bother viewing the film.

So, I’ll chalk this review up to lessons learned but I can still provide a critical opinion as I asked myself repeatedly over the two hours and eleven minutes running time why people love Top Gun: Maverick so much and why it was such a box-office hit.

But in the end, I’m glad it was because in 2022 we desperately need butts in movie theater seats.

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) pushes the envelope and challenges his superiors as a courageous test pilot. This subsequently hinders his chances of advancing up the ranks of status.

When he finds himself training a group of All-American-looking Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”.

Rooster blames Maverick for his father’s death.

Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

This summary equates to a limited story with plenty of flaws but Top Gun: Maverick is about entertainment first and foremost. A cohesive and edgy story is not to be found.

Let’s get the storyline woes out of the way in short order.

I was disappointed that superb actress Jennifer Connelly (if anyone has missed her wonderful turn in 2006’s Little Children check it out asap) was reduced to playing Penny Benjamin, a girlfriend who owns a dive bar role.

I mean Connelly looks amazing but she has no deep story to speak of. She flirts with, sleeps with, and hopes to live happily ever after with him. A single Mom, her daughter frets that Maverick will break her heart.

It’s the romantic angle of the story but quite banal and uninteresting.

The ‘recruits’ are written as one-dimensional. There is rivalry and teamwork to be had but they are all so good-looking that it’s tough not to see a lack of realism.

Finally, Jon Hamm suffers through an uninteresting role as the heavy. Cast as Vice Admiral Simpson, he doesn’t like Maverick and that’s about all there is to his part.

The same can be said for Ed Harris and his role.

On the upside, Cruise has a wonderfully emotional scene that reminds audiences how good an actor he is. He says a teary goodbye to his long-time friend Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and it’s a beautifully written, rich scene that I adored.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) fails in the story department but I realize the main draw is Cruise the action star. The film wins as a loud, thrilling, summer, popcorn visual and sensory treat, and thankfully it was an enormous success.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song-“Hold My Hand”, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects

Welcome to my blog! 1,325 + reviews posted so far! My name is Scott Segrell and I reside in Stamford, CT. My blog is a diverse site featuring tons of film reviews I have written since I launched my site in 2014. I hope you enjoy perusing the site for latest or greatest films or to search for your own favorites to see how we compare. Please take a look at my featured sections at the top of the page: Alfred Hitchcock Films, Horror Films, 2022 Movie Reviews, Top 100 Films, and Best Picture Oscar Winners!