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.

Tár-2022

Tár-2022

Director-Todd Field

Starring-Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant

Scott’s Review #1,315

Reviewed November 18, 2022

Grade: A

Tár (2022) is a brilliant film that truly belongs to Cate Blanchett. I cannot picture any other actress in this role but her.

I can pretty much watch any film that she appears in with my favorite being her self-titled role in Carol (2015). But Tár is a close second.

In Tár, again in the title role, she plays a brilliant woman that the audience admires but slowly finds pieces of her personality tarnished and brittle, under the surface. As the film goes on her character’s psyche is peeled back more, like an onion.

This lofty praise of Blanchett is in no way meant to diminish the rest of Tár because it revels in grandiose riches. The pacing, musical score, and other acting performances are to be championed.

When I found out that Todd Field was directing Tár my spirits began to soar.

After all, he directed In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), two tremendous films with a quiet, small-town, setting brimming with secrets and scandals which slowly rise to the surface.

The subdued locales are scrapped in favor of Berlin, a busy, behemoth of a city in Germany. Some of the events take place in New York City so there is a large, cosmopolitan vibe. The luminous settings are encompassed by a cold, grey, stark quality.

Tár requires the viewer’s absolute patience to get the biggest bang for the buck. It can be tough to follow with very long sequences but the Field/Blanchett combination makes the film culminate in a muddy and dazzling conclusion.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the groundbreaking conductor of a major German Orchestra. We meet Tár at the height of her career, in high demand, as she’s preparing both a book launch and a much-anticipated live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

What could go wrong? In Lydia’s case, just about everything.

Over a few weeks, her life begins to unravel. The result is an examination of power and its effect on those who have it and those who don’t.

The timely #MeToo movement is in top form.

The gender flip is also quite interesting since typically it’s males who have and abuse the power, but Lydia is a female and a lesbian.

I spent a good part of Tár feeling perplexed, anxious, and compelled. It’s a slow burn but I always knew, with Field in the director’s seat, that a big payoff awaited me. I happily jumped into his arms and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

The key to Tár is that many of the events have happened off-screen and before the current events of the film. There is a mysterious, suicidal, former student of Lydia’s in the mix. She sends desperate, pleading, emails to Lydia and her assistant.

We wonder how the former student ties into the events.

Lydia relies on Francesca (Noémie Merlant), her attentive personal assistant, and Sharon (Nina Hoss), her sickly wife, and concertmaster for just about everything.

Soon, a new and gifted Russian cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer) arrives on the scene. With Lydia smitten, how will Olga fit in with the other women?

Francesca, Sharon, and Olga are three pivotal female characters and each actress is exceptional in the role.

Tár reminds me of both Whiplash (2014) and Black Swan (2010) for different reasons. It envelops the world of classical music like Whiplash did for jazz and Black Swan did for the ballet world.

All three films could be watched close together and more similarities could be noticed.

Tár is a film that can be owned and watched again to piece together the jagged puzzle pieces. It’s a rare moment in the modern film where one can be re-watched.

Since it contains music, the orchestra and maestro sequences are wonderfully constructed so the coldness of the events mirrors the song choices.

Stark and boiling over with gems like mystique, uncertainty, and sophistication, Tár (2022) rejuvenates modern film with a bleak yet thought-provoking story of a powerful woman.

It’s a film that engrosses and thrills.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Lead Performance-Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Performance-Nina Hoss, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

The Witches-2020

The Witches-2020

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer

Scott’s Review #1,314

Reviewed November 16, 2022

Grade: B

A remake of the 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston, The Witches (2020) sometimes delivers the goods and occasionally derails off the tracks into campy, over-the-top, wackadoo.

Mostly, on the part of star Anne Hathaway who plays an evil and powerful witch.

But, regardless of what this adult thinks, it will please, surprise, and fascinate youngsters who see it. There’s a comforting and vital message of friendship and family roots ingrained in the story which is a nice touch.

In 1968, seven-year-old orphan Charlie Hansen (Jahzir Bruno) travels from Chicago to Alabama to live with his grandmother, Agatha (Octavia Spencer), after his parents are killed in a car accident.

After he is approached by a dastardly witch in a grocery store they flee to a seaside resort to avoid the child-hating witches. Agatha has a troubled past with the witches who long ago turned her best friend into a chicken.

When the two arrive at their hotel, they find a coven with villainous plans. They are accompanied by a mouse named Daisy and an English boy named Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick).

I much prefer the first half of The Witches to the last.

The wonderful and caring relationship between Agatha and Charlie is a beautiful dynamic. When she envelops him with love and southern cooking in her cozy home, understanding the trauma he has endured, it is heartwarming and genuine.

Spencer is terrific in any role she plays, of course, but her calm and stoic demeanor when paired against the witches is lovely. She is prepared for trouble and sneaks to a back room where she keeps crystals, and other anti-witch weaponry.

But the relationship with the little boy is darling and top-notch. I wish they would have just stayed at home and nurtured their relationship with Daisy and Bruno.

The weakest section of the film involves the witches themselves. As they flock to the hotel for a convention to plot the destruction of children everywhere, they appear more silly than scary, especially when they remove their wigs and reveal bald, scabby heads.

Director, Robert Zemeckis must have given Hathaway free range to ham it up because she certainly does just that.

I’m a fan of hers so it’s not a personal knock but she teeters toward ridiculous pretty quickly. I get the need to make a children’s film villain colorful, memorable, and loud but there is no restraint, causing the character to feel more silly than terrifying.

On the plus side, Hathaway must have had a ball letting loose and leaving all constraints on the sidelines.

Inevitably, the kids are changed into cute mice and must convince their loved ones that they are themselves while figuring out how to change back to human children.

Not much is different from the 1990 version besides a tweak here and there and the story is the same but I think I prefer the original by a hair.

Huston beats Hathaway in a comparison.

Some inconsistencies emerge like how Agatha can afford to stay in a grandiose hotel. She knows someone connected to the hotel but the who’s and why’s aren’t clear.

It’s never explained what happened to Agatha’s friend who wound up as a chicken and I wanted more from Stanley Tucci than an uninteresting hotel manager role with little to do.

But, the action sequences are adventurous and energetic and it’s fun cheering the turning of the Grand High Witch (Hathaway) into a rat.

I wanted more of the homespun love between Agatha and Charlie and the simple southern town that felt so lovely and welcoming, but The Witches (2020) provides family fun entertainment that many can enjoy.

In the Bedroom-2001

In the Bedroom-2001

Director-Todd Field

Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei

Scott’s Review #1,313

Reviewed October 29, 2022

Grade: A

Todd Field is an American actor and director who has made very few films. This shows that he must choose his projects carefully. The brilliant Little Children (2006) is one of my favorite films.

Based on a 1979 short story called ‘Killings’ by Andre Debus, In the Bedroom (2001) is an independent project representing what independent films do brilliantly. They tell stories about real people, with emotions, conflict, choices to make, and repercussions to face.

The story depicted in In the Bedroom is one that anyone viewing the film can either directly relate to or sympathize with any number of characters within.

The film centers on the inner dynamics of a family in transition. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) is a successful small-town doctor practicing in Maine and married to Ruth Fowler (Spacek), a music teacher.

Their son Frank (Nick Stahl) is involved in a summertime love affair with an older single mother, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei). He professes it to be merely a fling but her violent ex-husband is jealous.

As the beauty of the summer comes to an end, these characters find themselves amid an unimaginable tragedy and must make difficult choices to persevere through the dark autumn and winter.

Having seen the film when it was released in 2001 and not again until 2022 I wondered how it would hold up over twenty years later. Would it feel dusty and dated or fall into the ‘one and done category like many films do?

The story is just as riveting and this is because of superior acting by the entire cast and exceptional direction and pacing by Field.

The lurid, quiet landscape is still and lonely in most scenes and this is frightening unto itself. The lush and serene Maine water, lobsters, lighthouses, and cabins are fraught with danger because of the human threat lurking in its midst.

The atmosphere is everything.

Fields revels in telling a story about a small town and the secrets buried beneath the surface. Even during a summer barbeque, there is tension when an unwelcomed guest arrives unannounced. With glances between characters, there is a lot of unspoken communication.

The acting is top-notch, especially Wilkinson and Spacek. Before the tragedy, they both hedgingly accept their son’s relationship with an older woman but hope it’s only a phase. They see the relationship as a major roadblock to his education at a good university.

After the tragedy, Matt and Ruth change. She becomes angry and cold, he is stoic and vengeful. Both actors seamlessly portray their characters just like real-life people.

Other players like Marisa Tomei and Nick Stahl as the younger couple met with tragedy perform their roles flawlessly.

This is a major reason why In the Bedroom resonates so well. Any viewer can put themselves in the shoes of Matt or Ruth or even Natalie Strout. Circumstances can change our perspectives and turn us into different people, at least temporarily.

The last sequence is great. A decision made by Matt and Ruth is shocking and will follow them for the rest of their lives. The key is that they do not make this decision in a rash manner but rather calmly ponder and strategize each step.

They are satisfied and have no regrets.

In the Bedroom (2001) is an emotionally honest and compelling journey into the exploration of character. It is powerful and humanistic and draws the viewer in, ever quietly so, and takes a forceful grip. It uses silence to its advantage making that silence haunting and melancholy.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Actor-Tom Wilkinson, Best Actress-Sissy Spacek, Best Supporting Actress-Marisa Tomei, Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Nominations: Best First Feature (won), Best Male Lead-Tom Wilkinson (won), Best Female Lead-Sissy Spacek (won), Best Screenplay

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers-1988

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers-1988

Director-Dwight H. Little

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris

Scott’s Review #1,312

Reviewed October 27, 2022

Grade: B

Give me a good slasher flick any day and I’m a pretty happy guy.

Especially if it’s one from the Halloween franchise (my favorite series other than Friday the 13th, naturally), and viewed around the demonic holiday is the perfect flavor.

There is so much atmosphere to embrace with pumpkins, masks, and trick-or-treaters nestled seemingly safe in a small town ripe for the picking by a knife-wielding maniac.

By 1988 though, the slasher genre had severely waned and felt quite redundant with watered-down sequels and copycat patterns resulting in a stale crop of films.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers (1988) is an okay film and a worthy entry to the franchise. It is most notable for fixing what many fans thought was a terrible mistake.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) omitted maniacal Michael Meyers entirely which made many fans seeth with rage, so Part 4 corrects this miss by adding his name to the title card.

John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the main contributors to the original Halloween (1978) were not involved so executive producer Moustapha Akkad went for a conventional and safe route, creating a standard slice em and dice em affair.

The allegedly comatose Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) is being transferred from one hospital to another, but he wakes up when the ambulance crew chatter about his surviving niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris).

Out for fresh blood, he slaughters his attendants and sets out to find his one living relative who is being cared for by a kind and resourceful foster sister named Rachel (Ellie Cornell).

Meanwhile, the ever-cautious Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) remains on the killer’s path intent to destroy the monster once and for all.

The overall tone of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers is by the numbers providing an offering that would only satisfy fans of the franchise and not dare ruffle any feathers or acquire new fanatics.

Even the premise of Meyers escaping a hospital and targeting a family member is identical to the original film and its sequel. The familiar Haddonfield Hospital and Smith’s Grove Sanitarium return like good friends not seen for years.

There are no points given for originality but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Haloween III tried to reinvent the wheel and was largely derided for its efforts.

I liked the film and I like Part 4 for different reasons.

Meyers is front and center with his pointy butcher knife and hulking frame, and that’s pleasing and comforting. The mask is a bit paler and his height shorter but it’s the same Michael we all know and love.

Missing is Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, presumed to have died, but the return of Pleasence is a major win as he takes center stage and has more screen time than he has ever had as Loomis. Scarred and looking older and more withered, his determination is even stronger to best Meyers.

In a neat little twist, Michael looks to pass his killing baton to his niece as she attempts to butcher her stepmom, similar to what Michael did to his sister many years earlier.

Borrowing heavily from its predecessors, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers (1988) is satisfying but not revolutionary. There are enough nods to history combined with a new batch of teenagers to mutilate to forge ground and continue the legacy.

I Love You, Man-2009

I Love You, Man-2009

Director-John Hamburg

Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, Rashida Jones

Scott’s Review #1,311

Reviewed October 24, 2022

Grade: B

I Love You, Man (2009) is another one of these ‘feel-good’ types of ‘bromance’ comedies to grace the silver screen in the 2000s. It takes a familiar storyline of two male friends bonding, usually involving a female in the mix to complicate matters, with hilariously awkward moments thrown in.

It’s nothing groundbreaking or overly severe but rather a mildly satisfying ‘guy film’ that a female audience can also enjoy too because there exists a romance and a happily ever after.

I’m simplifying the specific gender tastes quite a bit but what I mean is the film is light and there can be something for everyone to enjoy.

While there are some innocent homoerotic playful moments between the men, for laughs, of course, the genre avoids anything LGBTQ+ related other than a gay supporting character who cleverly teaches the straight male how to ‘meet’ men.

Director, John Hamburg, is involved in similarly themed projects like Meet the Parents (2000) and Along Came Polly (2004) so he knows the common premise required for a film like I Love You, Man as well as what the audience wants.

As his wedding day approaches, nerdy Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) realizes he has no one to serve as his best man. Through a series of “man-dates,” he finds abrasive Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), and the pair become instant friends.

But as Peter’s “bromance” with Sydney grows stronger, it threatens his relationship with his intended, Zooey (Rashida Jones), forcing Peter to make a choice.

It’s not a bad effort and Rudd and Segal have good chemistry as polar opposite characters. The differences are a big part of the laughs but Jones is somewhat unnecessary to the plot other than the required female component to satisfy the formula.

She dutifully plays her role as the straight woman immersed between two goofballs but has very little to do other than get in the way and be a roadblock to the guy’s fun.

It’s not a great role for her and the chemistry is lacking between her and Rudd but maybe that’s just the point. I’m not too sure but I found the humorous moments entirely left to the boys to provide.

My favorite section of the film is one that many may dismiss or deem secondary. The legendary progressive rock band Rush makes an appearance as a way that Peter and Sydney ultimately bond.

Any fan of music, especially a thinking man’s band like Rush, can attest to the genuine bond that can be created between followers of a specific group.

Rush is legendary for just that and it makes I Love You, Man feel fresher than it otherwise would have. Besides, other than Led Zeppelin is there a better example of a ‘guy’s band’?

Otherwise, the film is particularly run-of-the-mill. There are familiar arguments, misunderstandings, breakups, and makeup to be endured.

Events start with a marriage proposal and unsurprisingly end with a wedding ceremony so anything in between is rather superfluous since we can see the outcome a mile away.

Naturally, as much as Zooey wants Peter to have more male friends she becomes suspicious and otherwise threatened by the new blood, feeling left out. There is a hint that Sydney may be trying to manipulate and pull the wool over Peter’s eyes over a financial loan but things work themselves out just fine.

As predictable as I Love You, Man is there is a sentimental, even heartwarming sensation to be left with, and a few good chuckles along the way.

X-2022

X-2022

Director-Ti West

Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega

Scott’s Review #1,310

Reviewed October 20, 2022

Grade: B+

Film company A24 has become synonymous with releasing quality independent films, mostly within the horror genre. The newbie distributor, only birthed in 2012, has hit it out of the park on numerous occasions.

Cutting-edge and downright bizarre projects like Ex Machina (2014), Hereditary (2018), and Midsommar (2019) immediately spring to mind.

I’ll see anything that this company releases.

A group of young, aspiring actors set out to make an adult film named The Farmer’s Daughters, in rural Texas. They rent a cabin from an unwitting elderly, reclusive couple. When the old folks catch on to what the actors are doing all hell breaks loose as an unlikely killer begins a murder spree.

At the risk of spoiling the fun X was shot on location in New Zealand which doubles as Texas, USA.

Ah, the magic of movie-making.

The film immediately will draw comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) in setting alone. Isn’t remote and barren farmland so effective in horror? There is something so creepy and foreboding about the stillness, animals, and miles and miles of emptiness.

Instead of a slaughterhouse or rotting meat, X uses a deadly alligator which comes into play during the final act.

To further add to the similarities of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the time is the late 1970s so the character’s dress and mannerisms are similar. Even one long shot of the elderly couple’s house entryway is almost identical to the one used in that film, and surprise, surprise, the cast drives up in a van.

But X is better than merely a modern film patterned after a cult classic. There is proper tension and a stark 1970s, dirty grindhouse look with gritty camerawork and a grainy texture.

I felt absorbed in the atmosphere and the time capsule rather than watching current people dress in retro clothing.

Very few viewers of X will likely be prudes but there is a fair amount of nudity and sexual behavior- I mean a lot!

Since a porn film is being made this is unsurprising but rests assured there is a hefty helping of tits, asses, and full-frontal nudity.

Perhaps as a response to the typically voyeuristic female-only nudity in most older slasher films, there is plenty of male nudity to balance the scales.

Another improvement to slasher films is the incorporation of character development and diversity. In lesser films, supporting nymphomaniacs like Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi), who is black, would have been written as one-dimensional but not in X.

Bobby-Lynne and Jackson love sex but they also have dreams and aspirations and are kind people, each separately trying to help the elderly couple.

Unsurprisingly, the elderly couple, especially the wife, takes center stage as the plot moves along. Suffice it to say, Pearl (the old lady) longs to be young and sexual again like she was in her prime.

She stalks Maxine (Mia Goth), touches her, and finally sneaks into bed with her hoping to recapture her lost youth.

Things don’t exactly go well.

Goth portrays both Maxine and Pearl.

Motivations of Pearl may be a stretch but there is a creepy fascination that works well throughout X and the film never drags. It’s not every day that a ninety-year-old woman in a blood-soaked house dress wanders about a farm bludgeoning folks to death.

For a raw, independent, and fun foray back to the early days of the slasher genre before it became overly conventional, X is a winner.

A24 has another success on its hands since X (2022) will be followed by both a prequel and a sequel.

Halloween Ends-2022

Halloween Ends-2022

Director-David Gordon Green

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell

Scott’s Review #1,309

Reviewed October 19, 2022

Grade: B+

As a bit of rewind for newer fans of the series or altogether non-fans, Halloween Ends (2022) is a slasher film that is the sequel to Halloween Kills (2021), and the thirteenth installment in the legendary Halloween franchise.

It is reported to be the final film in the trilogy of sequels that commenced with the 2018 film rebirth, which directly follows the 1978 film and disregards all other entries.

It’s as if nothing more happened after knife-wielding Michael Meyers toppled from a suburban terrace and escaped one Halloween night long ago.

Time will tell if this is indeed the final farewell but the film wraps events up nicely and it feels like a satisfying ending.

Halloween Ends is unconventional and murky in parts that intrigued me more than confused me. But rest assured there is enough mayhem and creative kills to satisfy blood-thirsty audiences- it just takes some patience to get there.

I’m not sure all diehard fans will be satisfied with the film.

There are some twists and turns to maneuver through and some perplexities with a couple of leading characters but I’m careful not to give too much away.

Over forty years since being terrorized while babysitting one Halloween night, Laurie Strode is writing her memoir as she tries to put the trauma of her past behind her. Since she still resides in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois this will not be easy when the sudden death of a young boy sets off terrifying events.

The opening sequence is compelling despite not even involving Laurie, Michael, or Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak)!

The introduction of male babysitter Corey (Rohan Campbell) breathes fresh life into the complex family tree within the small town and an event causes the young man to become Haddonfield’s new pariah.

Corey is a nice addition as he dates Allyson and becomes involved in the family drama with Michael Meyers becoming a major connection.

I’m keeping this vague so I don’t spoil the fun but the romance between Corey and Allyson works especially during a scene where they romance outside a local radio station one night.

Reminisces of Laura Dern and Kyle MacLachlan’s characters in David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet (1986) appear amid a hauntingly cerebral musical score that adds an art film look and feel. The young romance is shrouded by oncoming chaos but they cannot stay away from each other.

A fun fact and a nod to strong film history are that John Carpenter, director of the original Halloween, and his son Corey, provide the music in Halloween Ends.

Some of Corey’s and Allyson’s sequences feel poetic and dreamy which is the opposite of what a ‘normal’ Halloween film feels like.

Not to be outdone by poetic filmmaking, the director David Gordon Green makes sure any bullies, sluts, or sexual creatures get their due by being fittingly hacked to bits or suffering crushed skulls to pay for their sins.

One even gets ensnared in barbed wire and then unceremoniously run over.

My favorite kills include a comical tongue removal that ends up making an album skip, and a stabbing and impaling onto a door, a clear reference to Bob’s death in the original.

Inevitably, the film belongs to Laurie and Michael and their showdown is no surprise. I was salivating for this final blood feast from the get-go and it doesn’t disappoint.

Laurie’s kitchen is conveniently stocked with a set of sharp, shiny knives which allows for a healthy dose of crimson-red blood soaking.

I could have used more nods to history. Besides the carbon copy killing of Bob, an old photo, and quick clips of scenes from the original, there isn’t a whole lot.

Bringing the original actors and characters to the fold in Halloween Kills worked well but all little Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) gets to do is serve drinks at the local bar and listen to other characters’ problems.

My money is that we haven’t seen the last of Michael Meyers but Halloween Ends (2022) will satisfy those looking for the expected Halloween trimmings with a dash of creative filmmaking.

Other than a couple of missed opportunities, it remains true to its audience.

Up the Sandbox-1972

Up the Sandbox-1972

Director-Irvin Kershner

Starring Barbra Streisand, David Selby

Scott’s Review #1,308

Reviewed October 18, 2022

Grade: B

Up the Sandbox (1972) is likely the least successful film in the Barbra Streisand collection and more obscure than likely desired. The star performs no songs and the film is experimental but it’s unclear if it was intended to be or not.

Streisand takes a break from comedies and musicals and ventures into unknown territory, taking a risk that doesn’t always pay off.

On the flip side, she never looked more beautiful in a film.

The film has its moments. It’s shrouded in early progressive feminism which provides intrigue and it’s tough to go wrong with a bankable star like Streisand in a lead role.

Still, the fantasy sequences get too weird and sometimes unnecessary, and the film doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

The film gets taken down at least a notch for two anti-gay slurs that are shamefully unnecessary to any plot direction.

I award Up the Sandbox credit for thinking outside the box and being unconventional but all the parts don’t come together in a cohesive unit leaving me unfulfilled but recognizing the superior qualities.

The cover art (see above) is wacky and thought-provoking.

Margaret (Streisand) is a young wife and mother who is bored with her day-to-day life in New York City playing second fiddle to her successful and too-busy husband, Paul (David Selby).

He is a professor at Columbia University and they reside in a cramped yet fairly sophisticated apartment.

To combat boredom, she regularly escapes into increasingly outrageous fantasies: her mother breaking into the apartment, an explorer’s demonstration of tribal fertility music at a party causing strange transformations, and somehow joining terrorists to plant explosives in the Statue of Liberty.

Streisand is well cast and while other actresses could have given a fine performance she plays New York Jewish better than anyone. Her plight to break out of her life of doldrums is perfectly conveyed as she yearns to equal the balance between men and women.

She has resentment for going down the path of housewife, just like her mother did, and vowing to be nothing like her, as the women bicker and feud throughout the film.

The sequences involving her mother are the best in the film. Played by Jane Hoffman, Margaret’s mother provides all of the expected Jewish mother stereotypes like nagging and judging, hilariously.

The funniest mother/daughter sequence sees Margaret smash her mother’s head into a giant birthday cake. Naturally, it’s just her fantasy.

Up the Sandbox wins big by the lofty amount of location sequences showing early 1970s New York City, absolutely fascinating to view. One with an appreciation for Manhatten can be assured of a pleasant viewing experience.

The most heartfelt and sentimental moments occur during a long shot of the still-under-construction World Trade Center. Seeing the twin towers still being erected brings back teary memories of 9/11.

Lavish sequences are set in and around Columbia University in upper Manhattan and the campus can frequently be seen as Margaret and her friends trudge their baby strollers around the campus and surrounding areas.

Where the film fails is when it teeters too far out in fantasy land. It makes little sense why Margaret would join terrorists intent on blowing up Lady Liberty or what the group’s intentions are.

Perhaps it is a metaphor for something that went over my head.

Even when the screenplay is a dud Ms. Streisand holds her head high and plays the comedy or drama with sincerity and professionalism. With her well-known perfectionism, she would have been aware when things were not working.

A film not remembered well, Up the Sandbox (1972) scores some points with its locales, progressivism, and star power but stumbles off course too many times to recommend.

If only Streisand would have belted out a number or two amid her scripted fantasies the film might have worked better.

Jaws 2-1978

Jaws 2-1978

Director-Jeannot Szwarc

Starring Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary

Scott’s Review #1,307

Reviewed October 13, 2022

Grade: A-

Because of the enormous critical and commercial success of Jaws in 1975 a sequel was created. Important to keep in mind is that in the mid-1970s it was not yet common to produce sequels especially if the director, Steven Spielberg, had no interest in participating.

Jaws 2 (1978) was an enormous box-office success but the reviews were only mixed. I adore the film which mixes thrills with the horror genre and wisely sets up the kills like a slasher film.

The mostly teenagers are savagely attacked and killed by the Great White shark, one by one style, using a lurking and effective musical score.

The film’s tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” has become one of the most famous in film history and has been parodied and homaged several times. I’d like to assume it led to a healthy almost now mandatory helping of subsequent sequels of other successful films.

Unfortunately, Jaws 2 also spawned a couple more sequels of its own which were piss-poor and laughable but we won’t get into that here.

Fun fact-Jaws 2 was nearly as troubled as Jaws was. The first director for the film, John D. Hancock,  was deemed incompetent and was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc. Star Roy Scheider, who only reprised his role to end a contractual issue with Universal, was also unhappy during production and had several heated exchanges with Szwarc.

Maybe that should have been a sign not to make any more Jaws films.

Years after the shark attacks that left Amity Island reeling, Sheriff Martin Brody (Scheider) finds new trouble lurking in the waters and must rise to the occasion.

To add conflict, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) wants to end the beach town’s poor reputation. But the sudden disappearance of a pair of divers suggests that something is up. When Sheriff Brody voices his warnings about holding an exciting sailing competition, everyone thinks he is suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress.

That is until a shark fin is spotted in the water sending the town into panic mode.

There’s no logical plot reason to make Jaws 2 but somehow I’m okay with that. The film entertains with enough frights and jumps to satisfy and the formulaic approach works well.

Besides the enthralling final sequence when Brody must rescue his sons Mike and Sean (Mark Gruner and Marc Gilpin), the opening sequence involving scuba divers and a female water skier is quite enticing and the best part of the film.

The musical score by John Williams who fortunately returned to the fold is fabulous and enhances any peril the characters face. The slick and clever approach gives the audience a clue that danger lurks nearby but we don’t know when or where the shark will strike.

I mentioned slasher films earlier and this formula is used in Jaws 2. As the teens set sail for the competition it is good fun to wonder who will get killed and who will live to see another sunny beach day.

Despite Scheider not wanting to do the film, you’d never know it by his terrific acting. He doesn’t phone in his performance and provides macho swagger and muscle. He’s everyone’s favorite dad who only wants to save and protect.

Jaws 2 (1978) attempts to scare and entertain and it succeeds. There is little character development but it’s not the type of film that needs deep texture.

The reason to watch is to see folks who intend to enjoy the water get attacked and ripped to shreds.

Kindergarten Cop-1990

Kindergarten Cop-1990

Director-Ivan Reitman

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller

Scott’s Review #1,306

Reviewed October 12, 2022

Grade: C+

Before Arnold Schwarzenegger found politics and after he left professional bodybuilding, he starred in a string of films during the 1980s and 1990s. At first solely a bankable action figure due to his bulky frame, he delved into more comedic and friendlier film roles.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) is one of those films yet there is enough mild violence to draw in the male crowd too.

Some of his films were better than others with the best of the bunch being The Terminator (1984) and True Lies (1994).

Kindergarten Cop is fair to a middling effort that attempts to transport the brawny star into a likable teacher but the result feels more forced than genuine. Naturally, the main character ends up in a quandary over whether he wants to fight crime or teach youngsters after he falls in love with them and another teacher.

The setup is way too similar to other films in the action-comedy genre and the film is very standard fare. The bad guy and love interest are tired and cliched, and the gags involving the kids are overly juvenile and mostly fall flat.

Despite these trite characteristics, Kindergarten Cop is not a terrible film and this is thanks to Schwarzenegger’s appeal. He is good-natured and his transition from grizzled cop to a kindly teacher is not unfun.

It provides some family-friendly light entertainment that can be enjoyed on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Unusual circumstances find cop John Kimble (Schwarzenegger) forced to pose as a kindergarten teacher to apprehend major drug lord Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson) and his accomplice and mother, Eleanor, played by Carroll Baker.

While pretending to be a kid-friendly instructor, Kimble falls for pretty fellow teacher Joyce Palmieri (Penelope Ann Miller) as he tries to balance unruly children with the dangerous bad guys.

In a twist seen coming a mile away, Joyce and her son are the people that Cullen is pursuing.

Kindergarten Cop all seems so perfectly thought out. It’s like a bunch of suits were sitting at a round table making sure the elements were all included: hero, bad guy, love interest, kids, enough action sequences, and a chase finale.

There is even one standard black kid and one Asian kid to check off the diversity box.  And enough precociousness to last a lifetime.

The comedy mostly comes in the classroom where it’s frequently humorous to watch a gigantic man teach little kids especially when he has no idea what to do. Careful not to be too silly there are a couple of sentimental moments and social situations like when Kimble threatens a father who is abusing his son.

Director Ivan Reitman, quite familiar with screwball comedies, directed funnies such as Meatballs (1979) and Stripes (1981) so he knows what provides chuckles.

The action sequences do not work well other than providing a reason for Kimble to run around and protect the kids and Joyce. We all know he will eventually best Cullen which he does.

Even the amazing Linda Hunt is wasted as a one-dimensional principal who at first hates Kimble but then comes around to accept him.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) is too blueprint-ready to recommend since it contains elements used in hundreds of other films. But for fans of the hulking Schwarzenegger, the film is a safe offering that sees the film star more softly.

Blonde-2022

Blonde-2022

Director-Andrew Dominik

Starring-Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale

Scott’s Review #1,305

Reviewed October 7, 2022

Grade: A

Blonde (2022) is not the kind of film that I expected.

When I became aware there would be a new film vehicle showcasing the legendary film icon Marilyn Monroe I guessed that it would be a biography-style effort. After all, this is hardly the first time the star’s life would be explored.

Throw in bits about her struggles, her love life, her famous screen roles, and her rise to fame and there you’d have it.

My only real thought was who would be playing her?

Films about Marilyn have been done before including the most recent effort I can recollect, My Week With Marilyn (2011) starring Michelle Williams, a superior film but hardly groundbreaking or that well remembered ten years later.

Released via the Netflix streaming service, director Andrew Dominik kicks the shit out of any preconceived notions about glamorous, happy, and rich Marilyn.

He creates a story focused on the dark side of the star. Her failures, her insecurities, her forced abortions, and her humiliations. The result is a film that is tragic and profound and should be well remembered.

Blonde delves into facts and some of the deeper thoughts of the legend herself, creating a muddy and dreamlike quality that makes the viewer apprehensive about what’s going on.

Since it’s based on the 2000 fictional memoir written by Joyce Carol Oates which is her own interpretation of events, it makes truth, and imagination all the muddier.

It’s not happy days watching Blonde, which left me wondering if Marilyn had a happy day in her life. From her abortions to sexual harassment, drug addiction, and physical abuse by her husband, she excitedly scampers off to a date with President Kennedy, only to be forced to give him oral service.

Ana de Armas, known for Knives Out (2019) and No Time to Die (2021) is brilliant as Marilyn. Her mannerisms, speech patterns, and facial expressions reveal a genuine, layered, portrayal rather than a carbon copy imitation of her.

Blonde boldly reimagines the life of one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons in two hours and forty-seven minutes of storytelling. Advisable is to not watch the film in one sitting but rather spread it over three nights to let things marinate.

Events begin with her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, an abusive mother and absent father, and her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements. Blonde blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the widening split between her public and private selves.

In a way, Marilyn suffered from a split personality, longing to be Norma Jeane and despising Marilyn.

Enhancing the ambiguity Dominik elects to use cinematography that is sometimes blurry as if in a sleepy haze and sprinkles color with the mostly black and white filming. He even films one abortion scene from the perspective of Marilyn’s vagina.

These creative details cause me to classify Blonde as an art film and highly interpretive.

While not a crowd-pleaser Blonde is not all doom and gloom either.

Tidbits about her most famous films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Some Like it Hot (1959) are featured as one or two neat camera tricks so it appears that de Armas is acting opposite Tony Curtis.

I worry that poor reviews for Blonde may hinder de Armas’s chances of receiving an Academy Award nomination. Positive reviews usually help secure Oscar recognition.

Thankfully, despite many critics and viewers having issues with the film, de Armas has received worldwide acclaim.

Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody are very good as Marilyn’s husbands, controlling Joe DiMaggio and insecure artist Arthur Miller. Both actors fuse good acting with distinguished portrayals so that the audience sees the appeal of both men.

Other interesting sub-plots involve Monroe’s ‘throuple’ romance with bisexual actors Cass and Eddy, and a haunting exposure of the abuse suffered by Marilyn at the hands of her mother Gladys, wonderfully played by Julianne Nicholson.

There is little doubt that Blonde (2022) is an odd film that is not for everyone. But, its down-and-dirty texture and tour de force portrayal of Monroe won me over.

It chilled me to the bone in the best possible way.

Bros-2022

Bros-2022

Director-Nicholas Stoller

Starring Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane 

Scott’s Review #1,304

Reviewed October 5, 2022

Grade: A

Even if Bros (2022) was a bad film it would still hold the monumental distinction of being the first LGBTQ+-themed romantic comedy released and supported by a major distributor.

In the year 2022, years after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States and various other firsts that would take way too long to list, surprisingly, Bros is the first of its kind.

Fortunately, Bros is not a poor film but an exceptional one with brazen confidence and a lot to say.

Led by crisp and intelligent dialogue, lovable lead actors, a cast solely made up of the LGBTQ+ community, strong characters, and hilarious moments, it has something for everyone, gay, straight, or otherwise.

Before readers pigeonhole the film as one only to be seen by the  LGBTQ+ community, I will cry bullshit.

Straight audiences will fall in love with the characters and learn valuable lessons about stereotypes and deep seeded emotions of gay men who are not always comfortable in their skin.

Unfortunately, Bros was not the box-office smash hit the studio hoped it would be. Some straight viewers felt the film was not for them and that’s a shame.

There’s more work to do to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias and education others to embrace differences.

Billy Eichner, who co-wrote the Bros screenplay along with director, Nicholas Stoller, stars in the film, alongside Luke Macfarlane.

Eichner plays a sardonic, gay Jewish male named Bobby Leiber who resides in New York City.  We meet Bobby while he is doing another episode of his New York podcast and radio show The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall, talking to callers about his written works on gay history and gay icons.

He claims to be fine with being single and not having found love, instead hooking up with random men over a dating application called Grindr, though he is successful in his career and has good friends.

He awkwardly meets Aaron Shepard (Macfarlane), a hunky masculine guy deemed ‘hot but boring’ by those in Bobby’s circle, in a gay club.

The two men slowly develop a romantic relationship despite commitment problems and hectic schedules that seem designed to put the kibosh on love.

Despite all the other aforementioned wins for this LGBTQ+ film is that the screenwriting feels fresh and intelligent. Above all else, it wisely paints the struggles that most gay men seeking a relationship of substance face.

As in other romantic comedies, some setups and situations cause conflict that risks Bobby and Aaron not getting together. Bobby feels Aaron is out of his league preferring other muscular men to his overbearing and critical approach.

One can understand Bobby’s angst but in one of the film’s most poignant and beautiful scenes, Aaron tearfully reveals that Bobby constantly challenges him and it feels good.

He needs to be with Bobby because it is right. Bobby serves as a mentor to Aaron as he wrestles with being true to himself. Stuck in a depressing yet financially secure job, Aaron instead longs to be a chocolate maker.

Beauty is only skin deep. Regardless of occasional insecurities, the two men are strongly connected and that beats everything else.

On a personal level, both characters resonated with me making me feel their angst. One would assume that Aaron the hunk would be more confident but is that the case? Both men teach and learn from each other which makes their relationship powerful.

Other than the romantic moments, Bros has its share of raunchy comical scenes justifying its ‘R’ rating. In typical Judd Apatow (the film’s producer) form, the sex scenes are revealing.

There are enough orgies, toe-sucking, and fist-sucking, to make the prudish blush. The planned ‘rimming’ scene didn’t make the final cut. Does one wonder what that would have been like?

The film follows a distinct comedy formula and includes a helping of standard annoying, clueless, or over-the-top colorful characters that appear to justify its mainstream comedy placement.

The genius is that Bros works.

I implore straight audiences to give the film a chance if for no other reason than to show that gay people are as different from each other as apples and oranges. As Bobby makes clear some are nice and some are assholes.

Bros (2022) treads conventional but with a twist, and shows that gay characters are as genuinely funny as straight characters. It provides laugh-out-loud moments and teary sentimental ones.

I can’t wait for the next project from Billy Eichner.

The Lady Vanishes-1938

The Lady Vanishes-1938

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty

Scott’s Review #1,303

Reviewed September 30, 2022

Grade: A-

The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only seen once. Nonetheless, it resonated well with me after that sole viewing and its influence is palpable.

It’s a film made when Hitchcock was still making films in his native Britain before he took over Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. You may wonder why a dusty old film made in the 1930s and not a household name is important but The Lady Vanishes is.

If the film had not been made and more importantly not been a box-office success, films like Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) might never have been made.

The Lady Vanishes followed three rather unsuccessful efforts by Hitchcock, but whose success assured his new film career in America was a go.

The film is not as brilliant as the others mentioned but is pretty damned close. It serves as a blueprint for other Hitchcock films to come.

The train sequences alone conjure thoughts of Strangers on a Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959) while the romance between the lead actors would become a staple of Hitchcock films.

Finally, the subdued but noticeable inclusion of gay characters, forever a good debate among cinema lovers, especially Hitchcock fans, as to whether it is or isn’t, is showcased.

So, The Lady Vanishes is to be celebrated for its influence but also holds up well on its own two feet.

On a train headed for England, a group of travelers is delayed by a dangerous avalanche. Forced into a hotel in the lush European country, beautiful young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an elderly woman named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty).

When the train resumes travel, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness after being hit by a potted plant and wakes to find the old woman has mysteriously disappeared. The other passengers vehemently deny that Miss Froy ever existed causing Iris to wonder if she has lost her marbles.

Iris determinedly begins to investigate the matter with the help of another traveler, Gilbert, (Michael Redgrave) as the pair begins to search the train to uncover clues. Naturally, the pair fall in love.

They uncover a mystery, political intrigue, and a who’s who of peculiar characters with secrets to keep hidden.

Lockwood and Redgrave have fantastic chemistry. It’s no secret that Hitchcock intends to bring them together even though Iris is to be married when she returns home. Both Lockwood and Redgrave are easy on the eyes which helps make them rootable.

The pacing of The Lady Vanishes is very good but nowhere as astounding as the sequence of events in North by Northwest, the film it most resembles. That’s why the rough cut analogy springs to mind- the film is a perfect warmup act to the 1959 masterpiece.

From an LGBTQ+ perspective, my money is on the characters of Charters and Caldicott. Ferocious cricket enthusiasts, whose only initial concern is to get back to England to see the last days of a Test match. The ‘friends’ proved so popular with audiences that they returned to the film Night Train to Munich 1940, also starring Lockwood.

Needless to say, the revelations at the end of The Lady Vanishes surprise and satisfy with political, and espionage overtones. Frequently, there is a McGuffin or a who cares about the plot element in Hitchcock films.

The plot shouldn’t be overthought in the film as the real fun is the trimmings that makes the suspense so strong. The wit and snappy dialogue make the characters a pleasure to watch.

Providing strong character and stiff upper lip British humor The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a terrific effort and is the most fun to watch to point out the many elements that make up the Hitchcock masterpieces.

Magic Mike-2012

Magic Mike-2012

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #1,302

Reviewed September 28, 2022

Grade: B

In 2012, Channing Tatum was a major Hollywood star. He was cast in starring roles focused on his looks but parts that also allowed him to showcase sensitivity and even some acting chops.

Magic Mike (2012) takes Tatum’s beefcake body and makes a likable hero out of his title character. He is not just brawn but possesses intelligence and a worldly quality sometimes lacking in comedic roles.

Unfortunately, the screenplay isn’t developed well and we get just a glimpse of what Tatum, the good actor, could do. Fortunately, two years later he would play his best role to date in Foxcatcher (2014).

Magic Mike teeters a tad too soft for my liking and gives the stripper world a glossy, lightweight haze. Given the subject matter and the director, Steven Soderbergh, the film could have gone much darker as Boogie Nights did with the porn industry in the late 1990s.

Still, Tatum is a star and boogies and shakes his muscular body enough to warrant the price of admission. Matthew McConaughey is also appealing and shockingly plays against type as an older and wiser former stripper, now the manager of club Xquisite.

By day, Mike (Tatum) works as a struggling employee of odd jobs-handyman, car detailing, or designing furniture. But when the sun goes down and the hot spotlight comes on Mike is the star attraction in an all-male revue.

Mike mentors a nineteen-year-old named the Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and teaches him the tricks of the trade. However, Mike’s blossoming romance with the Kid’s sister Joanna (Olivia Munn) is threatened when the drama begins.

Most viewers are not going to see a film like Magic Mike for the dramatic bits or any other measure of story. We’re not talking about The Conversation (1974), Chinatown (1974), or other heady and smartly written dialogue.

That’s a relief because the plot is banal. Who cares if Mike and the Kid are at odds or if Mike and Joanna break up, make up, or launch a mission to the moon?

No, the recipe of the day is flesh and there is plenty of it. Nobody goes full monty or anything but between Tatum, McConaughey, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello, who plays a character aptly named Big Dick Richie, the audience will be left aflutter and quite satisfied.

Soderbergh, an impressive director, knows this and the best sequences occur on the stage. There is music, lights, and razzle-dazzle, as the troupe dance and strips with gusto. With each tie or vest shed amid a shimmering dance routine, pulsating energy makes the sequences appealing.

As showy as these numbers are, and there are plenty of them, I longed for some down and dirty drug use or ‘gay for pay’ situations but Soderbergh doesn’t dare copy Boogie Nights with any seriousness.

He intends to entertain and entertain he does.

I wanted more darkness and more investment in the characters. We know little about the supporting characters except maybe for McConaughey’s Dallas, who sadly will never leave the industry.

In the end, I was okay with the stories being secondary. This one has plenty of buff dudes taking their shirts off, and more, for the camera.

And who doesn’t like that?

Magic Mike (2012) was followed by the disastrous and stupid Magic Mike XL (2015) which makes the former seem like a masterpiece.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Director-Anthony Fabian

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #1,301

Reviewed September 24, 2022

Grade: B+

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) is an endearing film enveloping the viewer in warmth and good cheer. It exudes empathy and heart while sprinkling in some good luck, chance, and a big dream.

It shows that every once in a while a good person wins out in life.

It is the third film adaptation of the 1958 novel Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris written by Paul Gallico. Angela Lansbury played the role in an earlier incarnation.

The film is led by British actress Lesley Manville in the title role. She is surrounded by a talented cast and good performances by legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert in the part of the foil.

Unsurprisingly in a film where good fortunes are the theme of the day, even she comes around in the end though where most characters dutifully assist in the ultimate happiness of Mrs. Harris.

There is drama encircling this film but in the lightest of ways. The comedy elements pair well and the romanticism aligned with Paris is palpable with other characters like young lovebirds André (Lucas Bravo), the Dior accountant, and Natasha (Alba Baptista), a Dior model finding winning each other’s hearts.

Everyone gets a happy ending.

It all begins in1957 London, where Ada Harris, a widowed cleaning lady, becomes obsessed with one client’s haute couture Dior dress. She is impulsively inspired to buy her Dior dress one day. But how to find the money is the big challenge.

As fate would have it, she suddenly receives a war widow’s pension and travels to Paris to buy her dress. She stumbles into a showing of Dior’s 10th-anniversary collection and is befriended by André and Natasha.

However, the Dior director, Claudine (Huppert), resents Ada’s intrusion into the exclusive world of haute couture and schemes to prevent her purchase.

Director, Anthony Fabian, who is very new to directing wisely provides a hefty dose of the British ways of living counterbalanced with the glamour of the Parisian lifestyle that works. The character, and thus the viewer, goes back in forth between London and Paris.

The film is a safe experience and will not ruffle even the slightest of feathers or the tightest of asses.

It’s all pure, silly fantasy, of course, but done in the best possible way.

I was immediately immersed in the film and instantly wanted to champion happiness for Ada.

Manville is perfectly cast though I could easily see other actresses in the role. Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, or Helen Mirren would have been terrific. Taking nothing away from Manville who’s got charisma and acting chops, it’s a role that others could also successfully play.

I can’t say the same for the role of Claudia. At the risk of merely being a throwaway role as the heavy, Huppert, whom I adore in films like Amour (2012) and Elle (2016) instead brings her from a full-on bitch to a sympathetic character.

Huppert is one of the greatest actresses in the world and can and has made the most despicable characters worthy. That’s tough to do.

Naturally, there is a hefty dose of exterior scenes that I find pleasing. Having been to both Paris, London, and surrounding areas, it’s nice and reminiscent to catch glimpses of the Eifel tower or see cobblestone streets with bakeries or pubs on display.

The musical score is fresh and atmospheric, especially during the Parisian sequences. Boisterous and cultured french music emerges from the screen.

Besides all of the pleasant trimmings, romance blossoms for Ada as well as the youngsters. Encouraged to find love she thinks she might have it with the rich and sophisticated Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) who takes a shine to her.

But when he awkwardly tells her she reminds him of his childhood nanny she is crushed.

I secretly enjoyed this heartbreak only because I was never convinced Ava belonged in that hoity-toity world on an everyday basis.

True to form, the filmmakers teeter towards a setup between Ava and regular, beer-drinking, local friend Archie (Jason Isaacs).

Box-office receipts will likely decide if Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) gets a sequel. But, I’ll be keen to follow this richly drawn character as she lands in New York City or other interesting geographies.

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

Director-Harold Ramis

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #1,300

Reviewed September 19, 2022

Grade: A-

The film that spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, spoofs, and other things, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) had more influence on 1980s movies than it probably should have. The slapstick road trip became overused familiar territory, a situation comedy rife with silly scenarios and possibilities.

Despite having started it all, my favorite National Lampoon will always be the Christmas Vacation installment from 1989 but for some snickers, hoots, and belly laughs, Vacation is fresh and authentic. holding up well in the nostalgia category.

So what if Chevy Chase was a douchebag in real life? His portrayal of Clark Griswold is his finest achievement and is firmly placed in the annals of slapstick comedy’s greatest characters. Endless quotes and impersonations of the bumbling dad have emerged over the years.

Great fun is looking for other comedy actors like Eugene Levy and  John Candy who later would forge their path into comedy legend.

Accompanied by their children Audrey and Rusty, played by Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall, Clark Griswold (Chase) and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), decide to drive instead of fly from Illinois to a California amusement park named Walley World to enjoy a much-needed summer break.

Clark is convinced that some togetherness is just what the family needs.

As Clark increasingly fixates on a mysterious, sexy woman (the acting debut of Christie Brinkley) driving a red sports car, the Griswolds deal with car problems and the death of a family member, Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) as they face hi-jinks on the way to their vacation.

Exhausted, they finally reach Los Angeles, but, when Clark worries that the trip is being derailed again, he acts impulsively to get his family to the park.

National Lampoon’s Vacation is a rarity in screwball comedy where almost all of the setups and gimmicks work. Typically, the situations feel stale and tried and true but there is an authenticity brimming over its cup, and that’s largely thanks to Chase.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is hardly worthy of study in film school and the script is polished and patterned out but like other screwball comedies I love like Caddyshack (1980) and Clue (1985), it’s got something solid.

I think it’s because the characters are very relatable. Who doesn’t have a wacky Aunt Edna or a Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) somewhere in their family tree?

Long-suffering, suburban housewife Mom Ellen has a heart of gold and represents the classic 1970s or 1980s homemaker with a glimmer of progressiveness.

She dutifully scrambles eggs for breakfast and shops for cereal and dog food but also keeps Clark at bay before he does something ridiculous.

Chase and D’Angelo have tremendous chemistry bouncing one-liners off each other as naturally as a real-life conversation so that we buy them as husband and wife.

What kid who grew up in this period can’t relate to the horrid paneled oversized station wagon that ran rampant in suburbia? I sure remember those gas guzzlers eventually replaced by the minivan.

It’s perfection to see that style of car represented in this film as it adds to the hilarity and is a character in itself.

The fun continues because the Griswolds embark on travel across the United States. So, the film provides a slice of Americana and harkens back to a time when if you were an American you were united and bonded even if you had differences.

What National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) does so well watching in modern times is remind us what that felt like. An adventure across the good ‘ole USA was not such a bad thing and the folks you met along the way were friendly and warm without suspicion.

The film is like a dear old friend who has emerged from the woodwork, dusty, but still full of life.

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

Once I knew that Australia’s own Baz Luhrmann was directing the new film Elvis (2022) I immediately formulated an expectation of what the film-watching experience would be like. I anticipated a certain type of filmmaking, an auteur artist merging fast-paced music videos with a dramatic biopic into a film.

Other Luhrmann offerings like Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013) infuse contemporary musical elements and are highly visual and stylistic. I knew what I was going to get and was prepared for it.

Elvis is no different and Luhrmann’s style is an unconventional risk not for everybody.

I mostly enjoyed the film but did not quite love it either, seeing both the good and the not-as-good.

At two hours and thirty-nine minutes, it goes on way too long.

Perhaps contradicting this point is that Elvis does get better as it goes along, at first feeling jarring, overwhelming, and all over the place with rapid editing and very quick camera work.

A Dramamine is suggested until one is comfortable with the sudden bursts of turbulence. I semi-joke but there is a period of sinking into Luhrmann’s style that is necessary especially if never having seen one of them.

The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), and his complicated relationship with his opportunist manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and his wife Priscilla (Oliva De Jonge). The story delves into the singer’s rise to fame and the evolving cultural landscape in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Like many films, the events start much later than the main story, in this case, 1997. Parker is on his deathbed and ruminates how he first met Elvis and made him into a legendary icon.

Much of the film takes place in glitzy Las Vegas where Elvis had a long-term residency though it’s worth noting that the star’s working-class roots and an impoverished upbringing in a mostly black neighborhood were a tremendous influence on his music.

The Vegas setting applies a sparkling veneer mixed with a downtrodden feeling of isolation, especially in scenes that show Elvis’s million-dollar penthouse view of Sin City. The star frequently pulls all the black curtains to reside in solitude.

Butler starts slow but ends up doing a fabulous job of portraying the iconic star, no easy feat. At first, I had difficulty buying the actor as Elvis but as time went on he becomes more immersed in the role.

The best scenes hands down occur during the performances. The sheer rawness of his act and the famous wiggle that left fans dizzy with eroticism are compelling and authentic to say nothing of titillating.

The young actor exudes charisma much as the real-life star does and this is most evident on the stage. The dramatic scenes don’t work as well and Luhrmann strangely skims over the controversial weight gain years, the 1970s, that Elvis experienced.

I expected Butler to don a fat suit but there was none of this.

This miss can almost be forgiven when a heart-wrenching final performance of ‘Unchained Melody’ by the real Elvis is showcased. The number is fraught with emotion and tenderness that left me feeling sympathy.

Hanks is good as the slimy and curmudgeonly manager but I never felt sympathy for the character. If the film can be believed, he ruined Elvis as much as brought him success, but Hanks never made me forgive the man. I also wasn’t interested in his backstory.

It will be hard-pressed to ever make me enjoy Hanks more than in his Oscar-winning back-to-back turns in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), his two best roles.

Elvis, the film, does better when it serves as a musical performance rather than a biography. Sure, the drug use and the disputes with family and manager are dramatic but it’s the performances of ‘All Shook Up, ‘Unchained Melody’, and ‘Can’t Help Falling Into Love’ that win me over.

In pure Luhrmann form, many of the familiar songs are done in different tempos and interpretations but that’s part of the fun.

Comparisons to recent musical biographies like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019) are fair.

Elvis (2022) is not as good as those films but it’s above average and succeeds when it entertains and shows how the star’s determination and grit pulled through over outside influences.

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director-Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

An interesting note about Stranger Than Fiction (2000) is that it stars director Todd Field in a dual-acting role. The director is not a household name, at least not yet, but is known for directing two gems-In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006). Rewarded with Oscar nominations for both, he acts too.

This is not a set-up to a joke that he should not act and stick to directing because he does a decent job.

The irony is that he doesn’t direct the featured film Stranger Than Fiction, Eric Bross does.

The film has its share of intrigue which carries through until the end when the plot gets messy and ridiculous. I mean messy and ridiculous.  I’m all for twists and turns in a good film but sometimes a speeding train can derail and that’s what ultimately happens with Stranger Than Fiction.

But for most of the running time, it’s solid entertainment, black humor, and thrills.

I was immediately interested in the story when an author named Donovan Miller, with hours to kill at an airport bar because of a delayed flight, explains the story of his novel, Stranger Than Fiction, to a curious patron.

As I drifted off to the world of Salt Lake City where the events of the book take place I anticipated juicy drama.

An interesting bit of advice is to pay very close attention to this first bar scene.

Four twenty-something friends, Jared (Mackenzie Astin), Austin (Todd Field), Emma (Dina Meyer), and Violet (Natasha Gregson Wagner) meet for drinks at the local bar. They pull a prank on Violet’s boss for fun and call it a night.

Later, Jared shows up at Austin’s place injured and covered in blood, declares he’s gay, and spews a strange story about a dead guy in his apartment. The foursome investigates and things get interesting.

The cinematography has a muted, dull style that feels sort of like an independent film but also looks amateurish and made for television. Even though it was made in 1999 it feels quite 1980s to me.

Unclear is if or why this style was used or if the budget was just low. I love independent filming but this didn’t do Stranger Than Fiction any favors.

None of the characters are particularly interesting and writers Tim Garrick and Scott Russell unsuccessfully try and give the camaraderie between the four principals a television sitcom feel. The constant bantering and bickering get tired fast.

It feels like NBC’s Will and Grace meets Friends.

Where Stranger Than Fiction excels is at the twists and this makes me forgive the other mistakes and forced chemistry between the actors. I salivated for the next plot reveal and couldn’t wait to see how the events would pan out.

Once the friends agree and make the foolish decision to dispose of the dead guy instead of calling the police, I knew I was in for hijinks or a caper.

As the gang gets deeper and deeper into shit like hitting a homeless guy with their car and parking illegally and getting their car towed, more characters are introduced and threaten their plans.

This is all well and good until things spiral out of control with a dizzying explanation of events that involve blackmail, suicide, backstabbing, and jealousy. Since the author is explaining a fictitious novel this might have been okay until it’s revealed that the events might have occurred.

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

Nice effort for a while by Stranger Than Fiction (2000) and fans of black comedy should take notice. With a strong premise and mostly good build-up, the follow-through fails and I was left bewildered and confused rather than completely satisfied.

On Golden Pond-1981

On Golden Pond-1981

Director-Mark Rydell

Starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Scott’s Review #1,297

Reviewed September 8, 2022

Grade: A

A beautiful and quiet family drama, On Golden Pond (1981) is a brilliantly acted and written story about life and specifically aging and dying. It tells one lovely story arc after another, involving the relationships between its principal characters.

With heavyweights like Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda signed on to star how could the film not be a success? It was not only a blockbuster in the summer of 1981 but accumulated ten Academy Award nominations and tons of other awards showing that sometimes subdued stories about human relationships win big.

The anticipation of legendary stars Fonda and Hepburn, golden icons of Hollywood, finally appearing opposite each other in a film must have made film lovers salivate back in 1981.

Norman Thayer (Fonda) is a grumpy old man trying to enjoy his golden years. He and his nurturing wife, Ethel (Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond.

Norman is experiencing memory problems and frets about dying while Ethel makes the most of it and enjoys the beautiful loons on the water and chats with the local mailman.

One year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée (Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it’s too late.

The greatest part of On Golden Pond is that it is believable. The tender love that Norman and Ethel share, the tensions between Norman and Chelsea, and the burgeoning friendship between Norman and Billy Jr. feel so very real and poignant.

Beautiful scenes emerge between the old man and a young man when Norman turns Billy Jr. on to literary classics like A Tale of Two Cities and Treasure Island. The viewer can easily see themselves in real-life situations like this or when Ethel and Chelsea discuss a strained relationship.

Years and years of memories and situations between the characters spring to life making the dialogue rich with flavor. Moving sequences like when Norman suffers a heart attack and is involved in a boating accident are teary and sentimental but fresh with emotion.

They do not feel manipulated.

As if the richly acted scenes are not enough, screenwriter, Ernest Thompson, who wrote the film based on his play provides credibility. He felt the passion the story would bring to the big screen and he was right.

As I grow older I appreciate the characters of Norman and Ethel. They stick together through thick and thin, sometimes quarrel, but love each other with a bond that can never be severed.

We all know and love couples like them.

The cinematography bristles with sweet nature. From the loons to the other sounds of summer, the camerawork elicits the light of late summertime. I constantly had to remind myself that I wasn’t really in the countryside but was in my living room.

A tearjerker that carefully combines heavy drama with comical moments that lighten the load, On Golden Pond (1981) is a truthful and emotional extravaganza about death that never feels sad or downtrodden. It’s much too clever for that and instead is an uproarious crowd-pleaser.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Mark Rydell, Best Actor-Henry Fonda (won), Best Actress-Katharine Hepburn (won), Best Supporting Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound

The Black Phone-2022

The Black Phone-2022

Director-Scott Derrickson

Starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke

Scott’s Review #1,296

Reviewed September 7, 2022

Grade: B+

The Black Phone (2022) is a compelling horror offering with some good frights and jumps contained within. It merges classic horror with a supernatural element that toes the line very well, never going too deep into either territory.

It doesn’t redefine the genre but nor does it feel stale or like a tired retread of other modern films. This is because of merging other genres into the action. Some question marks surface but the movie is an above-average effort by the director Scott Derrickson, surprisingly most known for the superhero vehicle Doctor Strange (2016).

The 1978 cloudy suburban blue-collar United States setting works particularly well and Ethan Hawke is delicious as the evil ‘Grabber’, a demented masked man who snatches neighborhood boys and hides them in a stank basement.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliant inclusion of the Pink Floyd song ‘On the Run’ during the final sequence.

Wonderful is how snippets of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) peek in now and then while never feeling like a carbon copy or even source material.

The Black Phone feels quite like a coming-of-age story since events surround a conflicted teenage boy and his numerous insecurities from bullying to blossoming romance.

Finney, played by newcomer Mason Thames, is a shy but clever thirteen-year-old boy. He and his younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) live with their alcoholic father and take turns looking after him. Finney is bullied by neighborhood boys but also has a protector in his friend Robin until Robin goes missing.

Eventually, Finney is abducted and finds himself trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When an old disconnected black phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims.

The Black Phone was adapted from a 2004 short story of the same name and has a similar feel. Events flow quickly and the film doesn’t drag though I was ready for it to end when it did.

Since the film was a commercial success, rumors of a sequel or prequel are swirling. I vote for a prequel because there is a lot left to tell regarding the Grabber. The character’s backstory is barely touched, leaving many questions unanswered.

He only kidnaps and kills teenage boys, the suggestion being that the Grabber is gay. At one point, he announces that he just wants to look at Finney. The suggestion is uneven though because it’s never revealed if he rapes the boys before killing them or what his motive even is.

The Grabber has a brother, who plays a key role in the story but their relationship is not explored. What about parents, kids, or jobs?

In a nutshell, I wanted to know more about the killer and I was left unsatisfied.

Speaking of the Grabber, here’s where the Silence of the Lambs comparison comes into play. The villains are similar since both are presumably gay and disguise themselves in one way or another, either by creating a ‘women suit’ or donning a creepy mask.

Both lure their victims into a grimy van and keep them tucked away underground before killing them.

But, Buffalo Bill beats the Grabber by a landslide. The line ‘it rubs the lotion on its skin- it does this whenever it is told’ will forever run a chill up my spine.

I’ve droned on long enough about the Grabber but only because he is a fabulous villain and I am intrigued beyond measure at the possibilities.

The editing and continuity are a win, especially in the final twenty minutes. The rescue/escape scenes are powerful and emotional without being hokey or overly predictable.

The psychic dreams are pretty good and McGraw is a superb child actor but those sequences didn’t enamor me as much as the scenes with Finney and the Grabber or the voices on the telephone.

I’ll bet casting Ethan Hawke against type in The Black Phone (2022) supercharged audiences into seeing the film. The independent film style and edge-of-your-seat pacing ultimately make the film a winner, even if I was left with tons of questions.

Crimes of the Future-2022

Crimes of the Future-2022

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux

Scott’s Review #1,295

Reviewed September 2, 2022

Grade: B

Being somewhat familiar with the work of director David Cronenberg and the macabre and squirmy elements he adds to his films, I had a fair idea of what type of experience I was in for. There was anticipation as I slipped the blu ray of Crimes of the Future (2022) into the player.

He’s responsible for such peculiar pleasures as Eastern Promises (2007), an annual Christmas time watch for my husband and me, and A History of Violence (2005) a gangster-flavored effort. Cronenberg frequently teeters around psychological horror and science fiction though has dabbled in other genres.

Stalwart actor Viggo Mortensen once again graces the screen in one of Cronenberg’s films and leads the charge as the main protagonist in Crimes of the Future.

Visually the film is astounding with creepy shapes and visceral red images floating about mainly in the opening credits. It’s riddled with a subdued and mellow mood taking its time to get going and allowing for somber tones and textures.

It’s a tough and weird watch but somehow slowly lures the viewer into its confusing web.

Be warned though that the story is inexplicable and impossible to figure out. I even read a post-film synopsis and was still unclear how the puzzle pieces are supposed to come together. But maybe they aren’t.

Crimes of the Future is the type of film that is recommended to be digested and left to ruminate in one’s inner being. The translation is to not overthink the events but rather to enjoy what is being served.

Sometime soon, the human species has adapted to a new synthetic environment, causing bodies to undergo new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.

In simpler terms, his body is cut into for all to see.

An odd character named Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements. A mysterious group exists with a mission to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

The summary is tough to write and even tougher to explain so I won’t waste space even going there. I’ll leave it to say that the above is the best that can be explained and only that there is a fascinating story element to the events.

Something about science fiction and the future typically equates to mystique and wonderment.

I could watch Mortensen in pretty much any film which is the main reason to see Crimes of the Future. The actor is so keen on choosing just the right roles for him and each is so different from the last.

Merely comparing his recent films like Captain Fantastic (2016), Green Book (2018), and Crimes of the Future results in the actor continuing to challenge himself with the depth of each character instead of capitalizing on name recognition to cash a hefty paycheck like other similar aged Hollywood actors.

I won’t name names but Liam Neeson could take a note or two from Mortensen.

Seydoux, a French actress pairs well with Mortensen. She possesses a sophisticated European vibe that translates well within this distant future. She is sexy and because of the subject matter, this is key to the visual style the film has.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Kristen Stewart as the nutty and nerdy Timlin but it’s a shocking follow-up to a fabulous portrayal of Princess Diana. As she speaks rapidly with timidity it’s a particular role but nice to see Stewart continue to go with edgy roles.

Because it’s Cronenberg, Crimes of the Future (2022) is cerebral and provocative with a fleshy and grim style. I’d expect nothing less from the director but would have preferred a more cohesive package.

In the end, I simply couldn’t figure the film out so it’s tough to completely recommend it.

Welcome to my blog! 1,300 + 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, James Bond Films, Quentin Tarantino Films, Top 100 Films, and 2022 Films.!