American Fiction-2023

American Fiction-2023

Director Cord Jefferson

Starring Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown

Scott’s Review #1,421

Reviewed February 11, 2024

Grade: A

American Fiction (2023) is an intelligently written expose of black culture and a poignant family drama mixed as one. Cord Jefferson makes his feature directorial debut with the satirical comedy-drama which he also wrote.

The film explores how perceptions of black people, mostly by white people but even amongst themselves, are categorized into neat little boxes.

Usually, the negative stereotypes are assumptions of bad grammar, poverty, and hardships in ghetto situations.

While some may be sympathetic these beliefs are either conscious or subconscious and they are propelled by the media. In the case of the film, through literary works.

Are white people intimidated by intelligent black people, the film questions. How do the intelligent black people feel about themselves?

American Fiction is a witty, smart, funny, and poignant film that will make you laugh as often as it makes you think about the perspectives offered.

Jefferson brilliantly offers up both an education and powerfully drawn black characters. In the middle is a sentimental family storyline that had me enraptured by almost all the characters.

The writer/director bases his film on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a highly intelligent African-American upper-class writer and professor living in Los Angeles.

He is a frustrated novelist-professor who doesn’t make much money or sales from his serious works.

Needing money after moving back to Massachusets on a leave of absence, he decides to write an outlandish satire of stereotypical “black” books, only for it to succeed by mistakenly thought of as serious literature and published to both high sales and critical praise.

He struggles with keeping his alter ego a secret while questioning the lack of intelligence with people assumed to be the liberal elite and the general public.

Wright is great and leads the charge of a dynamic cast. He makes his characters believable and their motivations clear while still showing Monk’s conflict. Monk has lived a privileged life with education, social status, and success.

His experience as a black man is different than other black men and he is smart enough to know this while still wrestling with his feelings.

Wright is dynamic at showing many emotions.

To make the film even better, the supporting characters are delightful with stories of their own and this made me fall in love with them. Special call-outs are for Sterling K. Brown and Erika Alexander who plays Monk’s brother and girlfriend, respectively.

Brown as Cliff is a successful surgeon but lives a conflicted life as a newly ‘out’ middle-aged gay man. He dabbles in drugs and promiscuous behavior but all he wants is approval by his family.

Alexander is a successful public defender and neighbor of the Ellison’s going through a divorce. She relates to Monk while challenging him on his bullshit and is a richly carved character.

Also, Leslie Uggams Monk’s mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Ellison’s housekeeper Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), and Issa Rae as Sintara Golden are weaved into the canvas seamlessly and with purpose.

The ending of the film left me scratching my head a bit and caught me off guard. While clever, it made me wonder if what I had just seen was reality or fantasy. Providing three different endings as adapted film options it’s tough to know which if any actually happened but maybe that’s the point.

I left the movie theater having laughed out loud, thought, and been entertained.

American Fiction (2023) made me feel like I had seen something of relevance that would help me understand people better as well as give me insight into what other people feel.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Jeffrey Wright, Best Supporting Actor-Sterling K. Brown, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Best Film, Best Lead Performance- Jeffrey Wright, Best Supporting Performance- Erika Alexander Sterling K. Brown, Best Screenplay

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

Lina Wertmüller, a visionary female director around a time when there were few female directors with notoriety, created The Seduction of Mimi (1972), a flavorful Italian adventure/drama/comedy.

Any fans of Federico Fellini will immediately draw comparisons to his films with saucy banter, odd characters, and lively music. But amid the fun exists importance.

Wertmüller produces a film with more of a defined plot focus than Fellini usually does.

The key to the enjoyment of The Seduction of Mimi is twofold. Actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato starred in three of Wertmüller’s films together, usually as love-torn yet bickering couples with lots of drama and misunderstandings.

The other films are Love and Anarchy (1973) which I have not seen and Swept Away (1974) which I have seen.

The actors work so well together that anyone familiar with them will instantly be delighted especially during high-energy scenes when they spar or passionately solidify their romantic intentions.

Giannini was Wertmüller’s muse in a time when rarely if ever a male actor was a muse of a female director.

The other nicety is the title of the film. One might assume (I did) that the character of Mimi is female and is seduced by a male but in Wertmüller’s film, it is the reverse. This causes traditional gender stereotypes to be turned on their heads with more awareness of assumptions.

Mimi (Giannini) is a Sicilian dockworker who inadvertently becomes involved in an increasingly complicated series of personal conflicts.

After he loses his job after voting against a Mafia kingpin in a ‘secret’ election, Mimi leaves his frazzled wife Rosalia (Agostina Belli) to find work. He moves to Turin, where he engages in an affair with a Communist organizer, Fiorella Meneghini (Melato).

Soon Mimi finds himself juggling not two but three relationships and three children while plotting to take revenge against the corrupt forces that ruined his life.

The Seduction of Mimi is quite good but I’m more partial to her other films like Swept Away and the hysterically brash Seven Beauties (1975), her best work in my opinion.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about ‘Seduction’.

Taking nothing away from Melato’s performance, Mimi is the focal point and Giannini is a pure delight. For viewers unfamiliar with his work, his dazzling green eyes and almost manic style fills the character with pizazz and passion.

The actor is also great at making his wacky shenanigans seem realistic.

Beyond the hijinks, Wertmüller offers serious messages about sexual hypocrisies, political dilemmas, and corruption. She mixes jokes with purpose so that the audience learns a thing or two while being richly entertained.

Like her obvious mentor, Fellini, she appreciates good satire and incorporates that into her films.

Visually, there’s some cool and wacky camera-angle stuff going on. Mimi repeatedly notices moles, beauty marks, or otherwise odd eccentric facial features which come into focus as shaky closeup camera shots.

Since the film is so Italian it’s joyful to watch it for this aspect alone. There are frequent sequences shot on location in Sicily, and around Italy, a treat for those partial to European films.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is a film I’d like to see again for more appreciation and further examination. It’s a film that has more going on than meets the eye and leaves its viewer pondering more specifically regarding the Union storyline.

The Zone of Interest-2023

The Zone of Interest-2023

Director Jonathan Glazer

Starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller

Scott’s Review #1,419

Reviewed February 2, 2024

Grade: A

The Zone of Interest (2023) offers a unique experience for its audience. It’s one of a distant observer to unthinkable horrors and events that took place during the 1940s occupied Poland.

A lovely estate rife with flourishing flowers and plush gardens surrounds the haunting setting of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Exterminations and unspeakable acts of human suffering occur daily whilst a German family enjoys their dream home hardly unnerved by what’s going on steps away.

The father is the mastermind behind the suffering.

The macabre film is extraordinary, and powerful, and will haunt you long after it ends.

The subject matter of the Holocaust in cinema is usually told with a visual examination of the victims. In The Zone of Interest, though, what you don’t see is worse than what you do.

The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) live a seemingly idyllic life with their five children. They fish, swim, and frolic among the confines of their house and garden next to the camp.

Höss is a high-ranking and respected member of the Third Reich. Servants handle chores around the house, while the prisoners’ belongings are given to the family.

As a viewer, I first thought to myself what a happy family they seem to be. I was quickly sickened when I realized what was going on over the top of their high walls and their role in it.

Director, Jonathan Glazer, brought us disturbing films such as Birth (2004) and Under the Skin (2015) and revolts even more with The Zone of Interest. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film quite like it.

Usually, what happens in a film happens on screen. Seeing the Jews gassed or shot or tortured is horrific enough. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) was a masterpiece by visually featuring the nature of the Holocaust in an inventive black-and-white way.

We see the victims.

In The Zone of Interest, it’s the sound that is effective. Beyond the garden wall, gunshots, shouting, and sounds of trains and furnaces are constantly heard.

The nights are even worse.

A quick glimpse of flames and smoke roaring to the sky are the visuals key to the events taking place next door.

We only very quickly see a parade of prisoners march through the grass……once.

Höss approves the design of a new crematorium, which soon becomes operational. With horror, it is confirmed that thousands of Jews are gassed and burned.

Glazer keeps the viewer at a distance with more than just experiencing the unseen. The cameras are set far back from events so the audience observes the family instead of being alongside.

There are no closeups.

The lighting is superior. Muted tones portray the starkness of the period. Effective is how everything appears grey except the flowers in the garden.

Some peculiarities exist that are hard to figure out. In two sequences, a Polish girl who lives nearby sneaks out every night, hiding food at the prisoners’ work sites for them to find and eat.

The film is a clay animation style similar to what Glazer used in parts of Under the Skin. It’s weird, stylistic, and fascinating.

Late in the film, Höss descends a staircase and retches. He does so again. I’m not sure why he does. Is he subconsciously sickened by the death he causes? He has been tasked with a new initiative to transport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to be killed.

The mission has been named after him.

Is it too much for him to deal with?

The film ends with a modern scene of a group of janitors cleaning the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum before it opens.

I was dying to know what happened to Höss and Hedwig.

It’s a searing film, unforgettable and uncomfortable. It plods and sickens but is pure art. It’s troublesome and a unique entry for Holocaust films. Glazer finds a new way to examine material that has been told in cinema for decades.

The Zone of Interest (2023) is a painful masterpiece and a thinking man’s film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Jonathan Glazer, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Sound

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

Director Stuart Olme

Starring Stephanie Beacham, Emily Hudson, Aleks Darowska

Scott’s Review #1,418

Reviewed January 20, 2024

Grade: B+

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) is a British dark fantasy film directed by Stuart Orme in his theatrical directorial debut. Most notably a rock video director, I am unsure if Orme ever directed another film.

The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Joan Aiken which was quite popular with children during the 1960s and beyond.

Similar to the book, the film is set in an alternate history version of nineteenth-century England where wolves roam the countryside. The animals prance around the wintery landscapes causing fear for those humans who spot them.

The experience is playful and escapist with similarities to both Oliver! (1968) and The Witches (1990). Especially in regards to the former some of the action takes place in a bleak workhouse where children are mistreated by adults.

Predictably and satisfying, the evil adults get their comeuppance while the nice children and warm adults live happily ever after. This is a main part of the fun of watching the perilous situations.

The plot centers around two young girls. Bonnie (Emily Hudson) is the daughter of Lord and Lady Willoughby, who live at the grand yet cozy country estate named Willoughby Chase. Lady Willoughby (Eleanor David) is ill, and the couple plan to recuperate basking in the warm sun along the Mediterranean.

In urban London, Bonnie’s cousin, Sylvia (Aleks Darowska), is leaving her impoverished Aunt Jane (Lord Willoughby’s cousin) to keep Bonnie company while her parents are away.

While on the train, she meets a mysterious man, Mr. Grimshaw (Mel Smith) whom they decide to bring back to Willoughby Chase after falling unconscious when wolves attack the train.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Sylvia’s cousin, Letitia (Stephanie Beacham) is their new governess. She is evil and determined to get rid of the children so that she inherits money and the estate.

Billed as a children’s film, as Oliver! was, some of the sequences may be too much for younger kids. The ferocious wolves may cause fright while a scene involving one of the girls being locked in a chest might cause nightmares.

There is a presumed drowning and another character catches on fire.

For adults, particularly those who enjoyed the book as youngsters the dangerous situations are light fare and merely make Bonnie and Sylvia more heroic and justified in escaping the adult’s clutches.

The art direction and set designs are also a big part of the fun. Numerous scenes of winter and snow-covered roads and pathways are what make The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a perfect watch for a frigid January evening.

I’m not sure if the film would feel as atmospheric in July or August.

The estate where much of the action takes place has a warm and cozy feel. It made me want to curl up by a raging fire with a good book.

There’s an undertone of class distinction when the servants are all dismissed to save money and I questioned why Sylvia and her aunt didn’t simply live on the estate. The poor living amongst the rich is a perfect setup for more meaningful storylines but the intent is more for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to be fun.

Beacham is delightful while slightly over-the-top playing a fiendish character. Most known for appearing on television’s ‘Dynasty’ the actress has also made British horror films.

I assumed she planned to kill the parents and the girls but what about the aunt?

It doesn’t matter much because her plan is foiled and the girls are reunited with their loved ones.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) contains a nice musical score that enhances the adventures. The film is a bit too scary for kids but perfect for young adults and older.

Saltburn-2023

Saltburn-2023

Director Emerald Fennell

Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Scott’s Review #1,417

Reviewed January 19, 2024

Grade: A

Emerald Fennell, as a director (she also acts) is someone to keep a close eye on.  With only her second film, Saltburn (2023), she has quickly drawn comparisons to Darren Aronofsky and Yorgos Lanthimos by creating wickedly daring comedies rife with sharp dialogue and peculiar tastes.

Okay, I’m drawing those comparisons on my own.

The point is that she creates films that are not necessarily for mainstream audiences but will satisfy the peculiar cravings of those seeking left-of-center and hard-to-predict films.

She also wrote the screenplay.

Those wary of hard-to-digest scenes involving blood, sex, nudity, and other depravities, be forewarned.

Her first film was the revenge-themed and Academy Award-winning Promising Young Woman (2020) starring Carey Mulligan who makes a return appearance in Saltburn.

This time out Fennell offers us a beautifully daring story centering around privilege, jealousy, and desire. The film offers unlikable characters with enough twists and turns to keep the audience off guard and confused as to who to root for or against.

Will the characters we hate stay hated? If this sounds vague it’s because the film is filled with mystery.

Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is an awkward young man struggling to find his place at Oxford University the recipient of a scholarship for those with financial hardships. His mother is a recovering drug addict and his father is dead.

Unpopular, he finds himself drawn to the charming and handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who also happens to be filthy rich. Felix is the envy of almost everyone as they strive to be his friend or bedfellow.

After Oliver does Felix a favor, they become buddies, and Felix unexpectedly invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for a summer vacation.

The lavish Oxford University is grandiose and scholarly with lots of preppy and wealthy intellectuals. As the snobs partake in parties and wild games Oliver is looked down on by everyone but Felix. The spoiled students are not meant for the audience to like.

I love how Fennell incorporates legions of insecurities suffered by the have-nots struggling to fit in which is a common theme of hers. The only kid willing to give Oliver the time of day is a creepy Jeffrey Dahmer type.

Anyone familiar with cliques on college campuses will be firmly in Oliver’s corner. He’s a good kid after all, who has been dealt a struggling hand at life, what with his parent’s issues and all.

The shit hits the fan when Oliver arrives at Saltburn which makes Oxford seem minimal in comparison. Manicured and sprawling lawns complete with a center maze are overwhelming to Oliver to say nothing of the group of oddballs that make up the family and staff.

Suddenly though, everything becomes weird, and the tone of the film shifts.

The final forty-five minutes are riveting with unexpected events transpiring after a wild party to celebrate Oliver’s birthday. Felix, his sister, and their parents are involved in shenanigans that make the viewers question everything they’ve seen thus far.

Mulligan doesn’t have much to do in Saltburn. Her role amounts to little more than a cameo which would be more irritating if the other characters weren’t so richly written.

Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant sizzle as aristocratic types oblivious to everyone else and their wealthy surroundings. It’s almost as if they assume everyone lives this well.

The sexual scenes of desire are breathtaking and startlingly explicit. In one scene, two characters make out with bloody mouths and in another, one character masturbates in a bathtub while another character spies on him and lustfully licks the faucet a few minutes later.

The best acting performance belongs to Keoghan who delivers a complex and spirited character who we’re not sure what will do next or sometimes why. He possesses an innocent yet creepy veneer which is tough to figure out.

His naked dance sequence is one of the wildest in cinema history.

Fennell hits another grand slam with the eerie yet fascinating Saltburn (2023), a delicious examination of the class system. The mixture of the groveling poor with the callous rich makes for a brilliant story.

I can’t wait to see what she does next.

The Iron Claw-2023

The Iron Claw-2023

Director Sean Durkin

Starring Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #1,416

Reviewed January 15, 2024

Grade: A

I was pleasantly surprised by how compelling and character-driven The Iron Claw (2023) is. Being a sports drama there is always a risk of cliches and little in the way of surprises but director Sean Durkin who also wrote the screenplay, delivers the goods.

Powerfully acted by all of the actors involved The Iron Claw is also profoundly sad and very hard-hitting emotionally which caught me off guard.

The trials and tribulations of the Von Erich family are explored in a fact-based story that honors the family ties with compassion and heart making the audience fall in love with and understand the feelings of the family.

There are triumphs but also much heartbreak with some outstanding acting in support of a very sad real-life story.

Efron who plays Kevin Von Erich gives the best performance of his career as a reasonable, stable young man living in a world of chaos.

It is perplexing, especially given the December release why the film received no awards mention especially for Efron.

One miss, most notable with Kevin, is the inclusion of a ridiculous wig and jacked-up body making him look more like a cartoonish Incredible Hulk than the clean-cut all-American young man that the real Kevin looked like.

Being a huge fan of professional wrestling as a youngster in junior high school the Von Erich family was somewhat familiar to me. However, I had to search my memory for long-forgotten specifics.

The family, led by former wrestler Fritz (Holt McCallany) was well-known throughout the 1970s-1990s in local Texas circles and then nationally as professional wrestling gained popularity. His sons Kevin (Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simons) are the focal points.

The true story of the inseparable brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling is recounted. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

The family, similar perhaps to the Kennedys, were known for a widespread myth about a family curse, called the ‘Von Erich curse’.

The film has some narration from Kevin who immediately informs the audience of this curse which sets the tone for the chain of events the film explores.

Durkin is careful to present the film so masterfully as a cautionary tale about parental influence, sibling rivalry, and the various dangers of the professional wrestling business.

The Iron Claw begins with a black-and-white sequence from probably the 1950s when Fritz was a struggling local wrestler. His famous ‘finishing maneuver’ was called the ‘iron claw’ meant to make his opponent submit to the wrestling match.

From there the story is largely told from the point of view of Kevin wonderfully played by Efron. Kevin, now the oldest sibling following the tragic death of his older brother at age five, serves as the brother’s leader.

While he yearns for a title belt largely to satisfy the demands of his father, he is usurped by brothers Kerry and David in different ways. He meets a local girl, Pam (Lily James), who is an intellectual and supports him emotionally.

They make a fabulous couple because they are equals. Conversely, the Von Erich mother is a traditional housewife and the entire family is taught to show no emotion.

In a wonderful scene late in the film, Kevin’s son teaches him that it’s okay to cry and show love through emotion. Kevin sobs with relief and it’s a beautiful and pivotal lesson the film teaches.

The other actors are outstanding, especially kudos to Jeremy Allen White (Kerry), and the parents (Maura Tierney and McCallany) but there is not a weak performance to be found.

It is unnecessary to be a professional wrestling fan though it is a treat to see long-ago stars like Ric Flair, Harley Race, and Bruiser Brody represented.

The Iron Claw (2023) like Boogie Nights (1997) did for the porn industry shows the flaws, the hopes and dreams, and the pain of a category of people (professional wrestlers) too often dismissed and discarded.

As Durkin examines wonderfully, these people also have a story to tell.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Director Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #1,415

Reviewed January 14, 2024

Grade: C-

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) is the third and final installment in the Magic Mike trilogy, following the successful Magic Mike (2012) and the dismal Magic Mike XXL (2015).

Billed as ‘The Final Tease’ the sub-title of the last release is rather appropriate since there is nary a bare bum to be found much less any other nudity. Since the film is about the male stripper industry there is laughingly more female flesh than male.

While there are a couple of titillating sequences containing thrusting and gyrating the tone is watered down and extremely safe. Nothing warrants the R-rating that Magic Mike’s Last Dance received.

After my horrific review of Magic Mike XXL in which I awarded it a solid ‘F’ I will keep my manners in check and be mindful that Magic Mike’s Last Dance is intended to entertain on a late night.

I have rated it a generous ‘C-‘.

The film is pretty bad with no character development whatsoever, poorly written dialogue, and little chemistry between stars Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek. Mike is the only likable principal character in the bunch.

I’m very surprised that respected director Steven Soderbergh who received an Oscar nomination in 2000 for the terrific Traffic would have anything to do with this film.

His style is unnoticeable except for a setting of wealth and a brief and mediocre mention of capitalism and the rich manipulating the poor which the director sometimes includes in his films.

“Magic” Mike Lane (Tatum) has suffered a bad business deal that has left him bartending at parties in Florida. He meets a rich businesswoman, Max, played by Salma Hayek, who pays him for one of his legendary dances.

Smitten, Max immediately offers him a job directing a show at a famous theatre in London.  The show will include a smoldering feast of hot new dancers that Mike will choreograph.

The storyline, admittedly secondary in this type of film, has so many holes I wouldn’t know where to start, but the weakest point is expecting the audience to buy Mike and Max as having fallen in love after one dance.

Romance is a hard-swallow made worse by Max’s demanding personality and insecurities over her ex-husband. She’s a bit of a tyrant made more noticeable by Mike’s even-keeled nature.

While not worldly, Mike is kind and I desired to see him paired with nearly any other character other than Max.

Tatum is a much better actor than most assume based on his pinup beefcake good looks. Has anyone seen him in Foxcatcher (2015)? Sadly, the actor is given weak material to work with that does nothing to challenge him.

Furthermore, we are cheated and only see him twice in his underwear. Some stripper.

Supporting characters like Max’s brooding daughter, Zadie, and opinionated manservant, Victor, are stock and given uneven dialogue to work with. They are presumably added for comic moments that never come.

To be fair, the film is set in London in addition to Miami, and a few decent exterior shots of both locales are added which helps the film.

A ridiculous Zoom call cameo sequence meant to include Mike’s ‘bros’ from the other films (Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Joe Manganiello) is a treat but has an ill-effect since that’s all we get from the handsome fellas.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance would have been saved if a scantily clad reunion dance had commenced with the ‘bros’ but sadly none was to be found.

The first film, Magic Mike (2012) is the only one of the three worth spending any time on. Pure juicy entertainment mixed with polished machismo is what was offered and Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) loses the ‘magic’ and instead offers a shriveled pickle of what used to be a commanding phallic symbol.

Wonka-2023

Wonka-2023

Director Paul King

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman

Scott’s Review #1,414 

Reviewed January 3, 2024

Grade: B+

Wonka (2023) is only the third live-action film based on Roald Dahl’s iconic 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, following Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

The latter was an inadequate and unnecessarily dark film starring Johnny Depp that threatened to ruin the trademark fantasy of the original.

Fortunately, director Paul King mostly known for directing the Paddington films opts for a warm and even gooey experience that does perfect justice to the original starring Gene Wilder with many connections to that film, especially costumes, characters, and locale.

It’s saccharine sweet but not sickeningly sweet instead feeling both fresh and genuine.

The wonderful and familiar featured song ‘Pure Imagination’ appears instantly as the film begins which does wonders to capture and captivate the nostalgic audience—mixed with other new gems like ‘A World of Your Own’ hooks newer and younger viewers.

The effort works well as a kindly old friend dusted off the shelf for a new waltz across the dance floor and a dizzying chocolate delight crowd-pleaser is the result of Wonka.

Wonka is released in December amid the sugary Christmas holiday season. A marketing win what parents could refuse a delicious trip to the cinema?

The wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician, and chocolate maker became the beloved Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) we know today begins with the young actor brazenly wearing a similar garb as Wilder did in the 1971 effort.

I adore this feat and pointed display because it makes crystal clear the attempt to leverage history instead of upheaval.

Chalamet is perfectly cast as Willy in large part because he resembles Wilder with his wiry build and waifish face. There exists a kindness and trustworthiness that transfers well from the big screen to the audience member.

Throughout the film, there is light peril that Wonka faces like a crooked debt owed to the even more crooked Mrs. Scrubitt’s (Olivia Colman) boardinghouse or the vengeful competitor Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) but it’s nothing he can’t handle with a grin and shrug of the shoulders.

His feathers are not ruffled easily because he believes in the magic of chocolate. In a dear flashback scene featuring his mother, played by Sally Hawkins, she inspires him to always believe in himself and be a good person.

This is at the heart of the film.

Along for the ride are new friends orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), and others trapped within Scrubbit’s and henchman Bleacher, played by Tom Davis.

There’s even a connection with the fan favorite Oompa-Loompa’s led by Lofty (Hugh Grant) who becomes a close ally in the end. As historical viewers will know the pair reunites in business.

Despite all these terrific additions the main attraction is the chocolate naturally. Highlights are a lavish chocolate attempted drowning, a chocolate store, and more than enough chocolate colorful flowers to whet one’s appetite.

The film is weird and zany without being too far out there and retains its touchy-feely approach.

Wonka (2023) successfully builds a multi-generational bridge between audiences with a powerful human connection. Grandparents, parents, and children alike can all see the film together with a common love of chocolate and magic.

The dangers are light-hearted and the filmmakers keep age-appropriate sensibilities and the result is family-friendly material with a kindhearted approach.

We all need this sometimes.

Poor Things-2023

Poor Things-2023

Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #1,413

Reviewed December 27, 2023

Grade: A

Yorgos Lanthimos is a peculiar director and the suggestion is for potential viewers to be familiar with his work before seeing his latest film release, Poor Things (2023).

I’ve said recently that other directors like Alexander Payne, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorcese can easily be added to this list with a style not for everyone but that Cinemaphiles will salivate for style and texture alone.

Anyone who has seen Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) or The Lobster (2016) will know exactly what I mean.

With Poor Things, he hits a grand slam home run that might garner him some Academy Awards in what can be arguably classified as his most progressive film.

Mentions like the art direction, cinematography, set design, and fantastic performance by Emma Stone must be immediately celebrated and called out as highlights.

The film is hardly mainstream or conventional and way out there channeling a parallel to Frankenstein with frightening and gothic sets and sequences galore.

All with a twisted and refreshing feminist quality.

Ultimately, I was satisfied with the knowledge that I had witnessed a cinematic marvel that encourages repeated viewings.

During the nineteenth century in London, England, Bella Baxter (Stone), is a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who is referred to as ‘god’.

He inserts the tender brain of the baby she was carrying when she leaped from a bridge to her death suicide style.

Under Baxter’s protection and supervision, Bella is eager to learn but acts like a toddler with limited speech and motor skills. She teeters around smashing plates with gleeful joy as she discovers her surroundings.

With superior intelligence and a hunger for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and horny lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents from Lisbon, Portugal to Paris, France, and back to London.

Free from the knowledge and the prejudices women of her time were forced to endure, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation. She challenges societal norms with her vision and determination.

I can’t think of anyone else to play the role of Bella other than Stone. With wide eyes filled with wonder, she infuses her character with comedy and wit as she asks questions many women have but never dare to utter aloud.

Especially in Victorian London.

Ruffalo is outrageous and Dafoe is hideously stoic. Both actors bring star quality and wacky performances in different ways.

The look of the film is to die for as Lanthimos offers a looming fairy tale set design led by cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

The European cities of Lisbon, Paris, and London are given their chapters in the film and their focus. The waterfront in Lisbon in particular resembles the real city in a gothic and foreboding way.

The hotel in Paris where Bella becomes a prostitute is regal and polished. Bella wonders aloud why the male customers get to decide which woman they want to spend time with instead of the reverse.

It’s a fair question.

Her friend and fellow prostitute introduces her to socialism while Madame Swiney (Kathryn Hunter) explains capitalism.

Finally, the musical score by Jerskin Fendrix offers shrieking classical strings mixed with haunting pizazz and perfectly timed arrangements. They promote tension and drama at just the right moments.

2023 was a fabulous year for women in cinematic terms but not so much by the United States Supreme Court but that’s another story. The bombast and box office enormity of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is followed by Lanthimos’s celebration of the thought-provoking Poor Things.

Both elicit insightfully quirkiness that successfully bulldozes over traditional gender norms with messages that women can do whatever they set out to do which is a vital quality for young minds to be exposed to.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Actress-Emma Stone, Best Supporting Actor-Mark Ruffalo, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

May December-2023

May December-2023

Director Todd Haynes

Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton

Scott’s Review #1,412

Reviewed December 13, 2023

Grade: A-

Throughout May-December (2023) there exists a quiet gloominess and a sense of foreboding dread during nearly every scene that as a viewer I could not shake. The unsettling nature is what makes the film so fascinating to watch.

Making it even more peculiar is the feeling seeps through a mirage of cheeriness, small-town humility, and the Southern politeness of Savannah, Georgia, United States amongst a lofty helping of cakes, parties, and sunshine.

All is not as it seems.

As a fan of director Todd Haynes and his brilliant films Far From Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015), I had an idea of his style and tone from the get-go.

As excellent as May-December is I was left wanting perhaps one more potato chip than I was offered.  I was slightly unsatisfied only because I had Haynes’s other films as a comparison and May-December is not quite on par with those masterpieces despite being exceptionally well made.

But we can’t always expect a classic like Led Zeppelin IV.

Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, Gracie Atherton-Yu (Julianne Moore) and her husband Joe (Charles Melton) who is twenty-three years her junior are happily preparing for their twins to graduate from high school.

When Hollywood actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) arrives in town to study the family to better understand Gracie and prepare for the role the family dynamics crack under the pressure of the spotlight.

Joe, in particular, who never got a chance to deal with his feelings and emotions as a teenager, begins to face the reality of having grown-up children. At the age of thirty-six, he confronts the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Gracie study each other, and the similarities and differences between the two women begin to surface causing friction.

Drama develops between Elizabeth, Gracie, Joe, and various family members as long-buried emotions and new scandals erupt in the small town.

I felt snippets of Persona, a 1966 avante-garde psychological thriller by Ingmar Bergman, and even the theatrical posters of the two women looking into the camera and facing side by side are identical in both films.

There’s also a teasing Single White Female (1992) similarity to a lesser degree.

The point is that May-December produces a haunting merging of two female characters in a creepy way.

Identity and obsession are also explored.

Portman and Moore play against and with each other deliciously. It’s not so much a rivalry but an obsession. Portman’s Elizabeth refers while speaking to a class of aspiring actors about becoming a character and we know she means Gracie.

When Gracie helps put Elizabeth’s makeup on just the right way resembling her more and more they look at the camera and see themselves in a mirror. It’s a haunting realization that both women are neurotic and have issues.

Does Gracie want to become Elizabeth as much as Elizabeth wants to become Gracie? Is it real or pretend because of the film?

At different points, I felt sympathy for both characters but at other times I didn’t. Elizabeth seems kind, then not so kind, then dismissive, then demanding.

Gracie seems kind, then neurotic, then sympathetic, then catty. Did she give her daughter’s scales as a graduation present? Did she intentionally point out her daughter’s unflattering arms?

Portman and Moore are successful at portraying these emotions in the subtlest of ways making the characters complex and tough to figure out.

The standout is Melton though. As Joe, the actor made me wonder how astonishingly quick the teenager had to grow up. He never had a childhood and is subsequently childlike, unable to make himself be heard until he broils over with rage.

Melton is on the map as an up-and-coming actor.

At the end of the film, when Elizabeth heads off to the airport I was left disappointed. I wanted more and felt there was more to uncover. What’s to become of Joe and Gracie? Could the three be friends if Elizabeth lived in the town?

What Haynes does so well is create tension even when there is none on the surface. The guttural feelings I was left with made May-December (2023) a quiet and powerful experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Best Film, Best Director-Todd Haynes, Best Lead Performance-Natalie Portman, Best Supporting Performance-Charles Melton, Best First Screenplay

Maestro-2023

Maestro-2023

Director Bradley Cooper

Starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan

Scott’s Review #1,411

Reviewed December 3, 2023

Grade: A

Brilliance personified defines Maestro (2023), a film directed by and starring Bradley Cooper. As if that isn’t enough Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer and co-produced the project with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg.

With riches such as these players involved equates to adequate muscle to make the film a necessary watch brimming with creativity and good storytelling.

There is no disappointment whatsoever in the buildup. Maestro expresses powerful acting, creative direction, and a musical score encompassing the works of the man being examined, Bernstein.

At the conclusion, I found myself feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. The epic portrayal of one family’s love for one another was overwhelming.

Combined with the art appreciation left me astounded with culture and further knowledge of the composer.

The story is not as much of a straightforward biography as one might imagine though when the film begins in the 1940s the famous composer is just on the cusp of his first big break. By sheer luck, he is asked to fill in for an ailing conductor, Bruno Walter, one evening.

But at its core Maestro is a torrential and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan) who was a well-known theater actress.

They meet at a party and fall madly in love spending most of their time together. The intrigue is that Leonard is gay and quite openly so before he meets Felicia and becomes famous.

His boyfriend is David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer.

This sat well with me and I was impressed by their openness well before the LGBT movement. Unfortunately, we see little of David or Bomer after the early days and Leonard becomes enamored with several young aspiring composers. He then took to doing lines of cocaine into the 1970s and 1980s.

What the film does well is reveal that Felicia is aware of Leonard’s sexuality and loves him despite his appetite for men. This is not always easy for her. They share a love that is stoic and unadulterated and they become one in their bond making it unbreakable.

Maestro gets very dark in the later stages when Felicia is diagnosed with terminal cancer but this gives Cooper and Mulligan a chance to shine, and dazzle the audience with mesmerizing acting performances.

It’s tough to showcase one because both are so good.

Cooper has given the best performance of his career.

Enveloping himself into the role so much that it’s staggering how he gets the mannerisms of Bernstein.  The composer’s energetic style of expressive body movements and gestures which he was noted for as a conductor are done to perfection by Cooper.

Mulligan doesn’t play the wife role. She has her own story and makes the audience empathize with Felicia’s struggles to deal with her husband’s sexuality especially when rumors come to light affecting her children.

Mulligan gives a genuineness and heart to Felicia’s battle with cancer.

Cooper’s direction is excellent. The first part is shot in black and white giving an artistic, old Hollywood-style feel making the cigarette smoking look glamorous and sophisticated. The lush art direction merges into blurry shadows and angular lighting that fits the mood.

The color enhances the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s time as the characters age. The hairstyles and outfits gleam with sophisticated New York style and the Bernstein’s Long Island home is palatial.

Ironically, the darkest parts of the film are the most vivid and colorful.

Finally, the musical score features legendary Bernstein pieces that give truth to the production not only reminding viewers how talented he was but the choices made enhance each scene where a number appears.

I smiled when a number from West Side Story, perhaps his best-known work was featured.

A knock-out scene of Leonard conducting at a cathedral is lengthy and dramatic culminating with Felecia looking on from the side of the church. At this moment, I knew that the couple were true soulmates.

Maestro (2023) is an exceptional piece of filmmaking that easily secures Bradley Cooper his place in cinema history both in front of and behind the camera.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Bradley Cooper, Best Actress-Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Holdovers-2023

The Holdovers-2023

Director Alexander Payne

Starring Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Scott’s Review #1,410

Reviewed November 22, 2023

Grade: A

The snowy New England setting is just one of many aspects of The Holdovers (2023), director Alexander Payne’s latest release gets right. There’s a stuffy prep school, the tumultuous 1970-1971 in world politics, and teenage angst in the mix.

The early 1970s-era set pieces and Americana comfort food are brilliantly and prominently placed to offer security in a world with tragedy and loneliness The jazzy soundtrack also features hits of the time, embracing the viewer in beautiful nostalgia.

Finally, the three lead characters are well-defined and their complexities are displayed in raw form making them rich relatable flawed thanks to strong acting performances.

Paul Giamatti leads the charge as a sarcastic teacher with his great acting and meshes well with newcomers Dominic Sessa as a rival student and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a kind but wounded cook.

Anyone who has seen Payne’s films like Election (1999), Sideways (2004), The Descendents (2011), or others knows that he sprinkles satirical depictions of contemporary American society in his works.

There is frequently sadness and morosity to the content saved from depression by warmhearted and caring characters.

I savored the quiet moments of human connection that were crafted in The Holdovers.

Events take place over about two weeks beginning at Christmas break and culminating in early January so holiday cheer and sadness are themes.

Paul Hunham (Giamatti) is a classics instructor at Barton University, a prep school outside of Boston. He is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go.

At first, despising each other he eventually forms an unlikely bond with one of them, a damaged, but witty troublemaker named Angus Tully (Sessa).

He also connects with the school’s head cook, Mary (Randolph), who has just lost her son in the Vietnam War (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and shows romantic interest in Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston), a Barton faculty member.

Giamatti is terrific and my favorite character. As a grumpy teacher, the character could have been a one-note standard or stock.  But as events go on we learn more about his past and despite being an authority figure he has demons and insecurities of his own.

During emotional moments he calmly offers a voice of reason which is a comfort. He’s stoic and rough around the edges but he genuinely cares about people making him likable.

Sessa and Randolph, despite being supporting characters each have their own stories.

There wasn’t much awareness about mental illness in 1970 compared to current times and Angus, who takes medication is fearful of spiraling down the same rabbit hole that cost his father his sanity.

Will he follow in his Dad’s footsteps?

A teary scene occurs when Angus visits his father in a facility. Hopeful of progress, Angus is quietly shattered when his father reveals paranoia about his food being poisoned by the staff.

Sessa provides a low-key performance that envelopes the character.

Randolph as Mary is kind yet depressed. She tries to find the good in people while realizing she’s been left out of the game in many instances. Her breakdown scene at a Christmas party allows Randolph to flex her mighty acting muscles.

I relished in the retro Christmas lights, the suburban houses with 1960s and 1970s living room and kitchen set pieces, the sweaters, the hairstyles, and the coffee mugs and plates.

The set designers flawlessly depict a time long ago.

I wanted to sit down and dine on Mary’s scrambled eggs and bacon or Lydia’s Christmas cookies. I yearned to sip a Miller Lite with Paul and Angus.

Finally, I smiled pleasantly at the movie theater scene featuring Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, an obscure American Western film from 1970.

With precision, Alexander Payne creates another outstanding film featuring the trials and tribulations of good characters dealt losing hands.

The Holdovers (2023) proves that a quality film with terrific writing, a moderate pace, and both dramatic and comic moments, draws cinema fans to theaters as much as a cliched superhero film does.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Paul Giamatti, Best Supporting Actress-Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Performance-Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Best Breakthrough Performance-Dominic Sessa, Best Cinematography

The Rainbow-1989

The Rainbow-1989

Director Ken Russell

Starring Sammi Davis, Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe

Scott’s Review #1,409

Reviewed November 5, 2023

Grade: A-

Continuing my exploration of more obscure films by the British director comes The Rainbow, a 1989 picture adapted from a 1915 D.H. Lawrence novel.

Russell fans will know that he also adapted 1970s Women in Love from Lawrence so there is a tie-in between films.

Even though The Rainbow was made nearly two decades after Women in Love, it’s a prequel. The antics of the Brangwen sisters are explored as they grow up in rural England specifically one sister’s burgeoning sexuality and desires.

One could take The Rainbow as a feminist film that centers mainly on the eldest sister.

Born to a rich landowner, played by Christopher Gable, in the final days of the Victorian era (the late 1800s), Ursula (Sammi Davis) blossoms into a beautiful young woman full of imagination and promise.

She is quite free-spirited and begins to feel trapped by her surroundings. Still, her life changes when she has an erotic experience with Winifred (Amanda Donohoe), an adventurous and bisexual teacher.

From that point on, Ursula puts all of her passion and creativity into the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. She prefers men and develops a relationship with the dashing Anton (Paul McGann).

But she is constantly frustrated and continues to suffer from anguish and under-fulfillment as her development years go by.

Davis is delightful and mesmerizing as the lead character. Her flowing blonde locks which she eventually cuts give her a wholesome schoolteacher persona. But she is peppered with sassiness and experimentation which Davis flawlessly executes.

Donohoe, who starred in another Russell film, the bizarre The Lair of the White Worm (1988) smolders with sophistication and sensuality. Winifred easily takes Ursula under her wing and teaches her the pleasures of sex.

Eventually marrying Ursula’s wealthy Uncle Henry she doesn’t decline into dull matrimony but remains a mentor and source of temptation to Ursula.

McGann, as Anton brings a boyish yet masculine flavor to the film and succeeds as the main love interest for Ursula. Becoming a soldier, he smolders most during his plentiful nude scenes running around forests and up mountains with Ursula in tow.

These scenes are the zestiest as Russell plugs his all-too-familiar bizarre sequences of lust and bare flesh into the film.

There are many nude scenes to salivate over turning the prim and proper Victorian upper-crust characters into horny animalistic creatures.

The dynamics between Ursula, Anton, and Winifred are my favorite because it’s not played as a traditional love triangle with one pair to root for. It’s more sexual and interesting than that.

Not everything in The Rainbow works, however.

Even though I’m very familiar with Women in Love the connection to that film is tough to capture. Gudrun (the other sister) is the main focus in Women in Love but only has a small role in The Rainbow. To make matters more confusing, Ursula (in The Rainbow) is more similar to the character of Gudrun (in Women in Love).

Also, Glenda Jackson (who plays Gudrun in Women in Love) is cast as the mother in The Rainbow. The role is unspectacular especially compared to the brilliant portrayal Jackson did in Women in Love.

She doesn’t have much to play except being their mother.

I finally decided to stop thinking about Women in Love and enjoy The Rainbow on its own merits.

Admittedly, the final sequence does satisfy as Ursula forges ahead to a new life which brings us back to the start of Women in Love.

Reminiscent of E.M. Forster’s adaptations like A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), or Howards End (1992), the quaint English cottages, landscapes, and villages are wonderful and capture a specific time capsule.

The Rainbow (1989) transported me to another time and offered a character study meshed in sexuality, coming of age, and feminist power.

The House That Dripped Blood-1971

The House That Dripped Blood-1971

Director Peter Duffell

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #1,408

Reviewed October 31, 2023

Grade: B+

Any horror project including Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is worth a watch and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) features both actors though sadly not in any scenes together.

The British horror anthology is spooky and perfect for the Halloween season. The action surrounds a hulking house where bad events occur regardless of who inhabits it.

The film is divided into four short stories explaining the circumstances surrounding the individual inhabitants.

The production is low budget which is perfect for a film like this but the title makes it seem bloodier and gorier than it is.

All of the stories were originally written, and subsequently scripted, by Robert Bloch.

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

Framework: B+

Shortly after renting an old country house, a well-known film star Paul Henderson mysteriously disappears and Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) from Scotland Yard is called by a local Sergeant to investigate.

Inquiring at the local police station, he is told some of the house’s history.

He soon learns how four tenants met macabre fates.

The ‘Framework’ sequence goes between the vignettes and provides good context but is more or less just the interplay between Inspector and Sergeant.

This serves as an introduction to each chapter and ties the events together.

Method for Murder: A-

Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) is a struggling writer who specializes in horror stories. He and his wife Alice (Joanna Dunham), move into the house thinking it will serve as inspiration. Charles creates a devious character named ‘Dominic’ after he ‘imagines’ seeing him outside a window.

Charles soon starts to see Dominic, who begins stalking and tormenting him.

My second favorite of the four chapters, I all but guessed the ‘twist’ from the get-go but was surprised at the ‘twist on top of a twist’ which pleased me.

It’s great when a villain thinks they’ve gotten away with murder only to be murdered themselves.

Waxworks: B+

Retired stockbroker Philip Grayson (Cushing) moves into the house with plans to read, garden, and relax. Though initially he occupies himself with his hobbies, he quickly becomes lonely. One day, while wandering around town, he happens upon a wax museum.

Grayson explores the museum and finds a sculpture of a dead woman he had been in love with. The museum’s proprietor explains that he based the likeness of the sculpture on his late wife, who had been executed after murdering his best friend.

Despite featuring Cushing, it’s a moderately good story but lacks the compelling nature of a couple of the other vignettes.

It’s less about the house itself and more about the wax museum and obsession is the subject matter.

While decent, Waxworks didn’t blow me away either.

Sweets to the Sweet: A

Widower John Reid (Lee) moves into the house next along with his odd young daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). John hires former teacher Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) to tutor Jane. Ann bonds with Jane, she helps Jane get over a fear of fire.

Ann suspects John of abusing Jane but is there more to the story? Why doesn’t he let Jane play with other children or toys and do his best to keep her isolated?

Is there something wrong with Jane?

This is the best installment and has a resemblance to The Innocents (1961) featuring a governess and a spooky child. Viewers will find themselves switching alliances with the characters as the story rapidly moves along.

The Cloak: B+

Finally, horror film actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) moves into the house while starring in a vampire film being shot nearby.

Irritated by the lack of maturity or talent from the cast and crew he decides to purchase a realistic cloak worn by his character (who happens to be a vampire). The shop he makes his purchase from is run by the enigmatic Theo von Hartmann (Geoffrey Bayldon) who eerily offers him a black cloak.

This one plays like a Hammer Horror Dracula installment and is good but not great. Less happens within the confines of the house than I’d like and Paul is an unlikable character.

The action on the movie set and in the shop are the best parts.

The Boy Friend-1971

The Boy Friend-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Twiggy, Christopher Gable

Scott’s Review #1,407

Reviewed October 27, 2023

Grade: B+

With each Ken Russell film, I see the expectation is for something wacky and I sit back for a schizophrenic roller coaster ride.

His finest efforts like Women in Love (1970), The Devils (1971), and Tommy (1975) offer bombast and weirdness in their way.

The British director decided to take on The Boy Friend (1971), a reworking of a 1953 traditional musical of the same name by Sandy Wilson, and turn it upside down on its ass. Those expecting a conventional affair with cheery sing-along numbers in perfect symmetry will be disappointed.

The messy project has its ups and downs and meanders off course on more than one occasion. With jagged storytelling and dragging sequences, it makes up ground with the sizzling visuals and costumes and offers the audience a glimpse of theatre drama and shenanigans both onstage and offstage.

On its own merits and considering the director is Russell it gets a marginal thumbs up but is nowhere near as fantastic as his other works.

Causing a bit of confusion, the plot is divided into three levels. Level one tells the main story, where, in the south of England in the 1920s, a struggling theatrical troupe is performing a musical about romantic intrigues at a finishing school for young women in the south of France.

The cast awkwardly strives to impress a visiting famous movie director with hopes of fame and fortune. They giggle, improvise, and scheme to get noticed at the risk of upstaging the other cast members.

Next, there is the musical itself. Four of the girls at the school are very forward and acquire boyfriends, but Polly, played by 1960s supermodel Twiggy, is shy and has nobody to take her to the carnival masked ball that night. Tony (Christopher Gable), a messenger boy from a dress shop, brings her a costume, and they fall in love.

Finally, there are extensive fantasy sequences in the film, during which the characters’ dreams and hopes are enacted in music and dance sans dialogue.

Glenda Jackson, who won an Oscar for Russell’s Women in Love returns in an uncredited appearance as the theatre star who Polly must fill in for when she breaks her leg.

The crux of the film is the romance between Polly and Tony. While there is some chemistry between the duo they never completely take off as the centerpiece either.

The cleverness is in the reveal of the twist within the stage production cementing the pair’s connection, as characters in the play.

Nonetheless, there are too many other things going on to care about the lovebirds for very long.

The musical numbers got my attention, especially towards the end of the film. My personal favorite ‘It’s Nicer in Nice’ kickstarts the action with high-caliber energy and shout-outs to other geographical cities in comparison to Nice, France. It’s a fun regional experience with great culture and an upbeat rhythm.

The chirpy ‘It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love’ follows soon after offering a gleeful ending.

The fantasy sequences waste story potential and offer no plot direction but are fun to watch anyway. Dripping with colors and razzle-dazzle the chaotic events are dreamlike and foot-stomping.

Twiggy, with little to no prior film experience, is quite impressive in the lead role. Her voice is strong and her acting skills are more than adequate. What might have been a disaster is not thanks to her talents.

Even though other Ken Russell films are tighter and linear The Boy Friend (1971) is worth the watch, especially for his diehard fans.

Oscar Nominations: Best Music, Adaptation, and Original Song Score

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone

Scott’s Review #1,406

Reviewed October 22, 2023

Grade: A

One great thing about legendary director Martin Scorsese, and there are plenty I could mention, is that he continues to challenge his audience with his films well into his eighties.

Any aspiring filmmaker, or any cinephile, should study his films.

Before I knew too much about his new picture, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) I knew I wanted to see it because I trust Scorsese as a director.

His most recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019) are not easy watches but the payoff is tremendous.

Scorsese is not the kind of filmmaker to create feel-good fluff but leaves the audience pondering what they’ve seen long after leaving the theater.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, two frequent Scorsese collaborators and great actors appear in Killers of the Flower Moon assuring something of quality.

Be forewarned that at an enormous running time of three hours and twenty-six minutes, the film is long! Like a fine wine, it took me about an hour or so to immerse myself in the texture and storytelling but this only defends the richness of the experience.

Based on David Grann’s broadly lauded best-selling book, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

In 1918, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) returns from World War I to his uncle, rancher William “King” Hale (De Niro), who lives with Ernest’s brother Byron (Scott Sheperd) on the reservation. Hale pretends to be a friendly supporter of the Osage people, but he secretly schemes to murder them and steal their wealth.

Lily Gladstone who has starred mainly in independent films makes her breakthrough performance as Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Native American woman who is the love interest of Ernest.

The cast is unwieldy and features stalwarts like Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow in small roles but the notable mentions are DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone.

Each scene between the three crackles with phenomenal acting and attention to their craft. Gladstone quietly yet expressively emotes her character’s feelings and emotions. Mollie is a proud woman but not gullible as she presents a strong feminist quality.

Her scenes with DiCaprio resonate the most. His character of Ernest is complicated and possesses good and bad qualities. As Mollie professes early on he is handsome but not too smart.

Her statement comes further into play at the end of the film.

Amid the schemes and murders Killers of the Flower Moon embraces a sweet romantic story between Ernest and Mollie. They love each other and he adores her and their children but is it ultimately enough?

Any aspiring actors should hone in on scenes between DiCaprio and De Niro for inspiration. Each scene and line within the scene is delivered with naturalness. Carefully yet authentically executed their conversations are mesmerizing.

De Niro reportedly and unsurprisingly modeled his character after the callous and dastardly reality star turned-politician Donald Trump.  Pretending to be well-intentioned but instead bullying and scheming his way to fortune by bamboozling the weak, De Niro channels his inner asshole with precision.

I immediately recognized what the actor was going for concerning the hateful politician.

In what only enhances the film, Scorsese appears at the beginning and end with impassioned moments about the importance of telling this story.

Filmed in Oklahoma, many sequences of open land, fields, streams, and other natural elements appear. Scorsese often uses the same film crews which enhances the authenticity.

The cinematography is filled with early 1900s facets and real Native American people are featured. The colors and tribal outfits offer culture and a glimpse into their way of life.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) is an important film because it teaches and reminds the audience that oppression and tragedy have existed in the United States and still do today.

The telling of one group of people is sound and a stark reminder of how many more stories exist each needing the help of a great filmmaker to bring exposure.

Scorsese does it again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actress-Lily Gladstone, Best Supporting Actor-Robert De Niro, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)

The Satanic Rites of Dracula-1973

The Satanic Rites of Dracula-1973

Director Alan Gibson

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley

Scott’s Review #1,405

Reviewed October 16, 2023

Grade: B+

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is the eighth film in the Hammer Horror Dracula series, and the seventh and final one to feature Christopher Lee in the starring role. It also unites legendary horror actor Peter Cushing with Lee for the third time.

So, the territory and storyline are hardly unchartered and a film like this is for a targeted audience.

For those unclear, Hammer Horror films are a series of low-budget British films produced by the London-based company featuring gothic and fantasy-type films.

Their heyday was from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula comes at the end of the horror genre reign of terror but is enjoyable nonetheless. It’s redundant in a way because I’ve seen so many of them by now that there’s little intrigue anymore.

It’s not a surprise anymore what’s going to transpire in the film.

I love these films mostly because of the low budget and the creative and sophisticated sets and art design. But the main selling point is the Lee/Cushing pairing.

After a Secret Service agent barely escapes an English country estate where satanic rituals are being held and later dies Van Helsing (Cushing) is asked to investigate.

He seeks the seven hundred-year-old count (Lee), who is dead and living in London with his vampire bride and a breed of other undead women dressed in red robes.

Van Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica played by Joanna Lumley is introduced as well as another Secret Service agent, Murray (Michael Coles).

The team naturally winds up at the English estate where they discover shenanigans led by a female Chinese vampire (Barbara Yu Ling). They grapple with fire and brimstone as they determinedly attempt to take down Dracula once and for all (yeah right!).

The film is silly but in the best of ways. I enjoyed the very beginning and ending most of all. When the Secret Service agent runs down the vast estate driveway amid darkness the mysterious pursuing motorcycle men provide intrigue, and the plot is hatched.

As fans know well the finale will result in a fiery showdown between good and evil and the benevolent Van Helsing destroys the villainous Dracula with a strong stake to the heart.

This technique is used a few times during The Satanic Rites of Dracula and in comic fashion, a stake and hammer always seem to be at the ready.

But the fun is good besting evil after all and delightful is seeing a vampire’s fangs come into view as the unsuspecting victim gasps in shock or shrieks in terror.

By 1973 Cushing and Lee could probably deliver their dialogue in their sleep and the motivation doesn’t seem to be there. Lee barely appears until the final act.

The introduction of Lumley, well-known to Absolutely Fabulous fans is wise and breathes new life into the familiar characters. She brings a Nancy Drew-type appeal especially as she sneaks into the estate basement to investigate peculiar noises.

A hoot for Hammer Horror fans or fans of British horror but it’s not one of the best in the series. Enjoyable mostly for additional tidbits like howling wind, creepy noises, and lavish drapes, furniture, and various set pieces.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is a nice watch in October around Halloween.

Mahler-1974

Mahler-1974

Director Ken Russell

Starring Robert Powell, Georgina Hale

Scott’s Review #1,404

Reviewed October 15, 2023

Grade: A

Anyone brave and open-minded enough to expose themselves to a Ken Russell film is in for an experience in great cinema. The British director frequently fuses music, odd visual sequences, and vivid colors into his art.

There is a specific mood one must be in to flourish in the moment and the dream-like perplexities of a film of this ilk but the result will be an appreciation for creativity in filmmaking.

My personal favorite Russell film, and I’m still getting my feet wet in all things Russell, is Women in Love (1970) followed by The Devils (1971), a journey into madness.

Hardly straight-laced, Mahler (1974) conceptualizes the music of the famous Austro-Bohemian composer and delves into the life and times of the man.

Gustav Mahler (Robert Powell) is returning to his home in Vienna, Austria following a stint conducting at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Traveling via train with his wife, Alma (Georgina Hale) he reflects on pivotal moments in his life.

Mahler dwells on memories of his overbearing father, of his once powerful but now failing relationship with Alma, and of the anti-Semitism that forced him to convert to Catholicism.

A garish sequence also reveals the death of his child.

A side story on the train features Alma’s lover, Max (Richard Morant), also on the train, urging her to leave Mahler and get off with him a couple of stops before Vienna.

Russell shifts time quite often so that at first it’s tough to figure out what is happening and more specifically if events are in the past or the future.

But once acclimated it’s easy to reflect on the stages of life and the various players. Better still is to ruminate about the happenings after the credits have rolled.

The best films require some ponderance after they end rather than simply forgetting them fifteen minutes later and Mahler is one of those films.

Knowing Russell, (has anyone seen The Devils?), he sometimes incorporates religion into his work. Mahler, a Jew, is forced to relegate his religion to get his work showcased. So, there is religious conflict and debate.

Mahler’s conversion to Catholicism is expressed by a wacky fantasy sequence in which he undergoes a baptism of fire and blood on a mountaintop, presided over by Cosima Wagner (second wife of the composer, Wagner).

The character wears horrid black lipstick and other odd attire like a Prussian helmet and a bathing suit with a cross on the front and a swastika on the rear.

The sequence is one of the best and technically brilliant with fire, rocks, and mountains on display. It’s also choreographed amazingly well and features unique musical compositions.

The style of Mahler (the film) is visual and artistic but also a chance for classical music fans to appreciate the compositions. Also, for novice fans eager to be introduced to quality music the film is equally as important.

I love my rock n roll like any other red-blooded American but the chance to soak in classical pieces from Mahler and Wagner is a pure treat in cultural goodness.

British actor Robert Powell is cast exceptionally well bearing a stark resemblance to the real Mahler. Oftentimes morose and sullen he is a tortured artist. But the expressions in his work like the song cycle Songs on the Death of Children reveal his complexities.

Powell is successful at exposing the audience to the emotional nuances that often pair with great artists.

Georgina Hale as Alma is just as good. Staunchly supporting her husband but yearning for her slice of the happiness pie she is also conflicted.

Mahler (1974) is a film about filmmaking and art appreciation. Thanks to Russell’s vision he challenges the conventional viewer with a unique journey through the weird and wild but more importantly, the chance to revel in something of brilliance.

The Devils-1971

The Devils-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave

Scott’s Review #1,403

Reviewed October 4, 2023

Grade: A

Ken Russell, most famous for directing the outstanding Women in Love (1970) and The Who’s Tommy (1975) creates a disturbing opus about perversion and scandal amid the Roman Catholic church during medieval times.

The film’s graphic portrayal of violence, sexuality, and religious blasphemy ignited shocked reactions from censors, and it originally received an X rating in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was banned in several countries, and heavily edited for exhibition in others.

This alone will pique open-minded and curious viewer’s interests. It sure did mine.

The film is ironically entitled The Devils (1971) and stars Russell stalwart Oliver Reed who also appeared in the aforementioned films.  Reed leads the charge as a sexy, rugged man who beds many women and is the center of a convent full of nuns’ nasty and naughty thoughts.

Vanessa Redgrave also appears as a lustful and evil nun with a hunchback.

During the period of seventeenth-century France, Father Grandier (Reed) was a priest whose unorthodox views on sex and religion influenced a passionate following of nuns, including the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne (Redgrave).

When the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) realizes he must eliminate Grandier to gain control of France, Richelieu vows to destroy the man. He portrays Grandier as a Satanist and spearheads a public outcry to destroy the once-loved priest’s reputation.

The Devils is outrageous and bizarre in only the best of possible ways. Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of nun orgies and simulating fellatio on a large candlestick? One nun violently masturbates as another looks on giggling sadistically.

The camera simply loves Reed and Redgrave who it’s interesting to note are not a couple in the film. These British actors were in their heyday in 1971 and both portray roles that must have challenged them tremendously.

Despite being British the film takes place in France getting off to a naughty start with a nearly nude dance performed by skinny Louis XIII (played with wacky delight by Graham Armitage). Rumored to be gay the king traipses around in colorful costumes and later shoots protestants dressed as gorillas for sport.

There are themes of exorcising and burning at the stake and mentions of the warring Catholics and Protestants so there is a seriousness amid the antics and shenanigans.

It took me a little while to become fully immersed in the chaotic land of Loudon, a town in western France where the film is set. In truth, a second viewing really helped me settle in and have a sense of what was going on.

The best films really are like fine wines.

Attempts by Russell to irritate and incite the overly religious are quite satisfying in a wicked way. As much as he mocks religion by making the traditionally sexually conservative filled with lust and animalistic sexual prowess there is much more going on.

Beneath the surface, he challenges the ridiculousness of religion which cinema lovers will embrace and delight in. There are history lessons to be had though and the film provides exceptional details of the political upheavals and tyranny that occurred.

The thunderous musical score by Peter Maxwell Davies is fabulous especially during The Devils final act when a major character endures a broiling on a wooden stake.

Those possessing the wonderful Blu-Ray version of the film can be treated to various outtakes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes information.

An added delight for knowledgeable film fans is the inclusion of character actor Murray Melvin, famous for playing Reverand Runt in the classic Barry Lyndon (1975). He plays Father Pierre Barre.

The Devils (1971) is a perverse and operatic extravaganza of lunacy. It’s caked with sex and nudity and blasphemy that I loved every bit of. The dangerous tone can be studied and thought about long after the film ends.

Torch Song-1953

Torch Song-1953

Director Charles Walters

Starring Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding, Gig Young

Scott’s Review #1,402

Reviewed September 25, 2023

Grade: B

Since I’m a huge fan of legendary Hollywood Actress Joan Crawford I’ll willingly watch any film of hers, both quality films and mediocre offerings.

Her style, confidence, clothes, makeup, and yes, those eyebrows capture me every time I see her. She’s also a damned good actor.

Torch Song (1953) is a film made when her career was waning despite just scoring an Oscar nomination the year before for Sudden Fear (1952). She would find more success in the 1960s with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1963).

The film is fun to watch because it reportedly best captures her true personality in a role that is realistic to who she was. Faye Dunaway even studied the role closely before she portrayed the star in 1981’s cult classic Mommie Dearest.

The story is about a talented and demanding Broadway star named Jenny Stewart played by Crawford. She is used to snapping her fingers and having her every whim catered to without question. She rewrites scenes and fires talent for shows she stars in if she deems them beneath her.

One day she meets her blind rehearsal pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding) and finds herself attracted to him. At first, clashing over his refusal to put up with her bullshit she comes to realize she admires him.

The feeling is mutual and the lovebirds tenderly nurture their budding relationship.

I’m not sure if non-Crawford fans would appreciate or enjoy Torch Song as much as we die-hards would. The story is basic with few if any twists and turns and it’s not hard to imagine that Jenny and Tye will wind up together.

Torch Song was famously spoofed by comedienne Carol Burnett in the 1970s on her television show when she replicates a dress rehearsal scene from the film in a hilarious fashion.

But Crawford is devilish and fierce in the film. She prances confidently in each scene wearing getups as outlandish as a haughty yellow nightgown with high-heeled slippers and a garish scene from the production wearing  ‘black face’!

When she yanks off her wig revealing her messy red hair, black face, and wide emotion-infused eyes as she desperately watches Tye exit the auditorium it rivals any scary scene from a horror film.

Jenny is the star as much as Crawford is and one deliciously wonders if she had the same ferocious clout as the fictitious character did. We’ll have to ask the cast if any of them are still alive.

Crawford’s singing voice was dubbed by India Adams and she lip-syncs to the recording Adams originally made for Cyd Charisse in a number discarded from the 1953 film, The Band Wagon.

When she belts out emotional numbers like ‘Two-Faced Woman the comic relief is unintentional. Adams sounds nothing like Crawford which makes the dubbing glaring and nearly pitiful. Crawford had a decent voice and sang the songs only available on the home video release.

Oddly, actress Marjorie Rambeau who played Crawford’s mother received an Oscar nomination for the role. Her performance is adequate but not Academy Award-worthy.

This must have irritated Ms. Crawford who wasn’t known for being a gracious co-star. She must have felt usurped.

Crawford seamlessly carries the film from beginning to end credits like the seasoned professional she always was. She pokes and prods her co-stars and chews up the scenery like nobody’s business.

Deserving of mention is actor Michael Wilding since he equals Crawford in performance. He never appears outshined or swallowed whole during a scene instead relaying good chemistry with her.

A mediocre storyline in Torch Song (1953) is made better by the mixture of the competitive Broadway lifestyle and the star playing a ferocious and seasoned veteran.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Marjorie Rambeau

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

Director George Lester

Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Kim Cattrall

Scott’s Review #1,401

Reviewed September 24, 2023

Grade: B

The Return of the Musketeers (1989) is the third Musketeers film directed by Richard Lester, following 1973’s The Three Musketeers and 1974’s The Four Musketeers.

George MacDonald Fraser wrote each screenplay.

This is key to mention because a strong continuity flow helps the film be fun and charming. The results of the same person directing and writing resonate on screen in several ways. The characters feel truthful and their motivations are clear.

A rich sense of the history of the characters is apparent making the film a pleasing adventure for fans of the franchise.

After ambitious Oliver Cromwell (Alan Howard) overthrows the king, Cardinal Mazarin (Philippe Noiret) enlists a down-and-out D’Artagnan (Michael York) to rally the Musketeers against him.

Porthos (Frank Finlay) accepts the mission at once, but Athos (Oliver Reed) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) hesitate at first. Eventually, the three reunite, but they are soon torn apart by infighting and a situation from their past.

They get a chance at redemption when they are sent to England to save the life of King Charles I (Bill Paterson).

There is some slapstick play to endure making The Return of the Musketeers feel juvenile at times when characters are bopped over the head or otherwise trip and fall in silly form.

For this type of adventure film, the plot is too complicated and veers in different directions a shade too often. I wondered more than once if I was in France or England.

This makes the minor characters difficult to keep track of and Christopher Lee’s character of Comte de Rochefort once again has little to do.

The costumes and the French setting are a major victory and the history lessons provided especially the British and French kings and queens are more than fulfilling. We delved into our history books to determine which King Louis reigned when and who was aligned with the film (it’s Louis the XIV during the 1600s).

The point of the film made fifteen years after the second film is to please fans and the result is a swimming success. I’m a sort of fan with my hubby being a big fan and we both enjoyed the resurfacing of familiar characters.

It feels like old-home week. The reunion of the musketeers feels like witnessing a family reunion. As D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis embraced each other we felt the warmth along with them.

Since the characters played by Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway (Milady) were dead a creative idea was to introduce her daughter to the story, Justine played by Kim Cattrall. Athos also has a son named Raoul, played by C. Thomas Howell.

This provides a further nod to history and introduces compelling lead characters who have a connection to familiar characters.

It is also an example of good writing and storytelling. Despite the characters being new to the audience we already care about them based on their tie to other beloved characters.

Making the film more sentimental, a sad occurrence happened while filming. Actor Roy Kinnear who plays lovable Planchet died following an on-camera accident in which he fell off a horse.

His role was completed by using a stand-in, filmed from the rear, and dubbed-in lines from a voice artist.

The film is dedicated to him.

Reuniting most of the original cast years later makes The Return of the Musketeers (1989) a warm experience. Beautiful costumes locales and history raise the film above expectations considering it’s a third installment.

Short Cuts-1993

Short Cuts-1993

Director Robert Altman

Starring Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,400

Reviewed September 20, 2023

Grade: A

I am such a fan of acclaimed director Robert Altman because he typically features an enormous cast with richly composed characters all serving a story purpose. Frequently, with much character development and investment.

Short Cuts (1993) is a latter-day Altman offering set in Los Angeles, California, the City of Angels that is nearly as good as my all-time favorite of his, Nashville made in 1975.

Similarities burst to the screen with twenty-two principal characters to Nashville’s twenty-four. Their lives frequently intersect and the fun is peeling back the layers of their lives and discovering who is connected to whom.

Comparisons to 1992’s The Player (also Altman) and 1999’s Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson can also be made for obvious Los Angeles setting reasons.

But, Magnolia is much weirder than Short Cuts.

The irony is that most characters are anything but angels as they suffer from insecurities, deaths, infidelity, and various shenanigans as they attempt to get through California life amid an earthquake and a fleet of helicopters spraying for medflies.

Altman based the film on the nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver.

Some of the tales include a waitress Doreen (Lily) who is married to an alcoholic limo driver (Tom Waits) who accidentally runs into a boy with her car. Soon after walking away, the child lapses into a coma. While at the hospital, the boy’s grandfather (Jack Lemmon) tells his son, Howard (Bruce Davison), about his past affairs.

Meanwhile, a baker (Lyle Lovett) starts harassing the family when they fail to pick up the boy’s birthday cake.

Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Moore), meet Stuart Kane (Fred Ward), an unemployed salesman, and Claire Kane (Anne Archer), a party clown, at a cello concert.

They impulsively decide to have a Sunday dinner date. seemingly having nothing in common.

Meanwhile, Marian’s sister, Sherri (Madeleine Stowe), is married to a cheating cop named Gene (Tim Robbins), who is having an affair with Betty Weathers (Frances McDormand), while Betty is divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher).

There are other stories and connections to round out the fabulous cast.

The juicy and dramatic storylines play out like a terrific story arc on Days of Our Lives or As the World Turns with some needed comedic elements to balance things out.

Anyone who knows Altman will salivate with the name recognition among the cast most notably Tomlin and Robbins. Actors frequently chomped at the bit to appear knowing that he was an actor’s director.

This means he allowed his cast open range to create dialogue appropriate for their characters.

There’s no better example than when Jack Lemmon tells a story in the film. His improv and free dialogue are a dream to watch and a lesson in good and natural acting.

Despite the enormous cast everyone has something of quality to do. Nobody is languishing on the back burner with throwaway scenes or unimportant activities. All characters connect to others in some way.

Fans who fancy Los Angeles both in film and in real life with its bursting sunshine and cheery perception will revel in the down and dirty sub texture of Short Cuts.

The fun is getting there.

Some characters are wealthy but most struggle with day-to-day routine so the film contains a harsh realism. They try to find some shreds of happiness wherever they can get them.

Like real life which is part of the mastery of Short Cuts. The audience can relate to the characters because we all know people like them which makes the film a beautiful and treasured experience.

Or some may even be like us. The writing is brilliant and the characters are true to form.

One day I’ll create a list of my Top Ten Robert Altman films and I bet Short Cuts (1993) lands in the Top Five.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 3 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Robert Altman (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress-Julianne Moore

Spoiler Alert-2022

Spoiler Alert-2022

Director Michael Showalter

Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,399

Reviewed September 15, 2023

Grade: A-

Spoiler Alert (2022) comes dangerously close to being classified as a Hallmark Television Movie of the Week tearjerker with standard cliches and a predictable storyline. While the ending is no surprise the film works incredibly well and fires on all cylinders.

I laughed, cried, and felt an enormous connection to the central characters in what could become a seasonal holiday watch.

I recently reviewed another film that on the surface sounded saccharin and contrived but pulled me in nonetheless. The lesson learned is not to make assumptions about the quality of films.

The direction is conventional but the story and characters absorbing and heartwarming with spectacular acting, especially among the two lead actors, Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge. An added gift is the appearance of Sally Field in a supporting role as an overbearing but lovable mom.

In 2001, Michael Ausiello (Parsons), a writer for TV Guide, begrudgingly goes to a gay nightclub with his best friend in Manhattan. There, he meets photographer Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), and the two instantly connect.

As they begin dating, Michael struggles with insecurities about not being attractive enough for Kit, since he was an overweight child. Kit is athletic and good-looking, oozing confidence. Michael was a ridiculed kid watching soap operas with his mother and creating a pretend sitcom family.

He also overindulges in the Smurfs collection.

They both admit their fears of being in a long-term relationship since neither of them has been in one before, but they decide to continue dating.

Hurdles then plague the couple as Kit must come out to his parents, Bob (Bill Irwin), and Marilyn (Field), to explain who Michael is, and ultimately they all must face Kit’s stage IV cancer diagnosis.

I recognize how Spoiler Alert doesn’t possess the most original screenplay, written by David Marshall Grant and LGBTQ+ advocate Dan Savage and based on a story written by real-life Michael Ausiello.

The tried and true story point of a gay male character struggling to come out to his parents has been done for decades in LGBTQ+ films.

The insecure partner feels inferior to the more confident partner and it affects their relationship story point has also been before. Michael is convinced that Kit will dump him for someone else.

Hell, we’ve seen both of these cliches as recently as 2022 in Bros. a fantastic LGBTQ+ mainstream film that used both.

In Spoiler Alert they work because of Parsons and Aldridge and the chemistry they have together and the nuanced delivery of the characters separately.

While they each want love and a relationship neither is desperate. As they banter back and forth Michael awkwardly removes his clothes during their first intimacy the actors playfully frolic immediately at ease with one another.

Many cute scenes follow.

Events then grow serious as we move beyond Kit’s uneven coming out to his parents (of course they embrace Kit and Michael instantly!) and dive headfirst into Kit’s cancer battle.

The film makes no secret that Kit will die of cancer. It’s practically shown in the opening scene as he and Michael lie in a hospital bed together and Michael narrates the story.

It’s called Spoiler Alert for a reason. But instead of ruining the film it only enhances the love story to come. We know that Kit and Michael become soul mates and the pleasure is watching them grow and flourish together.

Since Michael’s mother, and presumed best friend, died of cancer only strengthens the investment in the character.

As Kit becomes weaker, my fondness for the two men becomes stronger. The maturity and love for one another are apparent especially when Michael selflessly invites a man whom Kit had an affair with to say goodbye to Kit.

It’s a touching scene but not as touching as the scene where Michael and Kit’s parents sob over Kit’s hospital bed.

Yes, Spoiler Alert (2022) may have manipulated me with a conventional film but Parsons and Aldridge have better chemistry than most opposite-sex couples.

I thoroughly enjoyed my way through the film without dry eyes.

A Man Called Otto-2022

A Man Called Otto-2022

Director Marc Forster

Starring Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, Truman Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,398

Reviewed September 13, 2023

Grade: A-

I hedged slightly with seeing the film A Man Called Otto (2022) because it looked like an overly sentimental, predictable melodrama. It also missed out completely during the 2022-2023 awards season which means that the film had its share of critical detractors.

But I do love and admire Tom Hanks, both professionally and personally, even though he can be accused of choosing marginally safe material.

Though the film explores a tried and true formulaic setup my heartstrings were immediately and severely pulled by the events in the movie. I may have been manipulated into teariness but in the best of ways and I didn’t mind a bit.

I enjoyed A Man Called Otto much more than I ever thought I would.

It is an American remake of the 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove, based on the 2012 novel by Fredrik Backman.

Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), is a grumpy widower whose only satisfaction comes from abiding by and enforcing his neighborhood rules and regulations and criticizing and judging his exasperated neighbors.

When a young Hispanic family moves in next door, he connects with the no-nonsense and very pregnant Marisol (Mariana Trevino), leading to an unexpected friendship that softens and unnerves the crotchety man.

As the pair bond, the audience learns more about Otto and his deceased wife Sonya (Rachel Keller) through flashbacks. The once youthful and determined couple faces terrible obstacles as we realize why Otto has become so depressed and irritable.

A Man Called Otto is very conventional, polished, and sentimental and could arguably be accused of being a tad dramatic. It’s not a dangerous film nor does it present material viewers have never seen before.

Nonetheless, it works!

The reasons it works so well start with Tom Hanks. A two-time Oscar winner who has played many types of characters before he portrays his character with flourishing comedy and dramatic gusto.

We like Otto even though he could be classified as an asshole.

Despite Hanks’s acting ability, he is only part of the enjoyment of the film.

Worth mentioning is that the very liberal Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson co-produced the film and I’m glad they did.

A heavy dose of diversity and inclusivity are plopped into the film. Otto’s neighbors are a black couple revealed to be Otto and Sonya’s best friends for decades.

Otto confronts a teenager named Malcolm for delivering advertising circulars, and the boy recognizes Otto as his former teacher’s husband, recounting that Sonya supported him as a transgender student when nobody else did.

Sonya courageously led an effort to convince the other teachers to respectfully call Malcolm by his desired name.

Another win is the frequent flashbacks to when Otto and Sonya first met. A nervous but smitten Otto intentionally gets on the wrong train to bring Sonya a book that she has accidentally dropped on the platform. They eventually dine in a nice restaurant where he encourages Sonya to have a lovely entre while he dines on a meager bowl of soup because of financial issues.

Truman Hanks (Tom’s son), Rachel Keller, and Mariana Trevino deliver outstanding performances in supporting roles.

Finally, a feral cat that reminds me of my darling cat Zeus stole my heart. He also steals Otto’s.

It’s these trimmings that make the film a crowd-pleaser and a charming sentiment. The story feels fresh even though other films have had the same type of message. A case could be made that Otto is Ebenezer Scrooge in a non-Christmas film.

I may not necessarily need to see A Man Called Otto (2022) again since it’s a one-shot deal type of movie but I’m glad I did. The film reaffirms that there are good people in the world who selflessly look out for each other without needing personal gain.

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Director Jacques Demy 

Starring Dominique Sanda, Michel Piccoli

Scott’s Review #1,397

Reviewed September 10, 2023

Grade: A

Une Chambre en Ville (also known as A Room in Town) is a 1982 French musical drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Colombier, and starring Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Michel Piccoli.

Those familiar with Demy’s other works like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) will be aware that his preferred genre is the musical drama and in Une Chambre en Ville, the dialogue is entirely sung.

And those unfamiliar with his work are recommended to give his films a chance. They are flavorful and offer exceptional production design to say nothing of other ingredients.

I liken the film to be most similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because the story involves two people destined to be together but who are thwarted by many obstacles threatening to ruin their happiness.

Demy creates a distinct Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet final ending in the best of possible ways.

The story is set during a workers’ strike in Nantes, France in 1955. A steelworker named Francois (Richard Berry) has a fling with the married daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) of his widowed landlady, Margo (Danielle Darrieux).

His girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon), who works in a shop and lives with her mother, wants to get married but he is unwilling, partly because they have no money and nowhere to live.

Oh, and he also has met Edith.

On the street, François is accosted by Edith who is a beautiful woman who wears only a fur coat and has decided to take up part-time prostitution to pay bills. Her husband owns a struggling television shop.

The two have a blissful night together in a cheap hotel and fall madly in love.

Une Chambre en Ville is at first jarring because the dialogue is in the form of a song. But after merely a few minutes I became invested and enamored with the characters. This occurs when Francois and Margo ‘discuss’ the strike and even though she is upper-class she supports the workers.

They quickly bond.

Before this though, the tone is set with black-and-white cinematography of the workers’ strike that quickly turns to color. My hunch is that Demy wanted to promote the seriousness of the situation and alert the audience that they were not watching a rosy musical with tap-along tunes.

There’s a message of pain, struggle, and depression which doesn’t make the film a downer either.

As with Demy’s other films, the art direction and set designs are gorgeous. The director has a talent for introducing the most fragrant colors like red, yellow, blue, and green, that are powerful and enshroud the characters in pizazz and vibrancy.

The set highlights are Margo’s apartment drizzling with red color and contemporary patterns and furniture and Edith’s husband’s television shop. The greenish hue reveals a tacky yet sophisticated French style. These and other sets are superior efforts.

The main attraction is Francois and Edith and I was smitten with them almost immediately. Some may think this is odd because basically, Francois dumps his nice girlfriend for a sexy prostitute who flashes her naked body to him and then beds him.

Nonetheless, I became enraptured. They make ‘love at first sight’ seem believable and possible. The thing to remember is they are both wounded by their circumstances and are reaching for their desires out of desperation.

The finale of Une Chambre en Ville is dazzling but painful to watch. I alluded to a Romeo and Juliet catastrophe and this is no joke as the star-crossed lovers meet a dire ending.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what happens.

Jacques Demy creates a film made in 1982 that feels nothing like a 1982 film as we are believably transported to 1955.

Une Chambre en Ville holds up as well as Demy’s films made two decades earlier and he proves none of his creativity and romantic dramatics have waned.

Welcome to my blog! 1,400 + 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 which change often! Utilize the tags and category links.