Vantage Point-2008

Vantage Point-2008

Director-Pete Travis

Starring Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker

Scott’s Review #1,271

Reviewed June 25, 2022

Grade: B-

The premise of Vantage Point (2008) is clever and hook-laden stirring up the feeling of intrigue. After all, the idea of several ‘vantage points’ to one perilous event, in this case, an assassination in a European country, exudes promise, and excitement.

An imagined fun game of whodunit or what happened to whom and when and from whose perspective prompted me to want to see this film.

The trailer looked good.

The film doesn’t satisfy and feels like a muddled mess with little character development and surprisingly mediocre acting given its A-list cast. The dialogue is forever repetitious with characters yelling out the same expletives in frustration that soon results in the preposterous, teetering on laughably bad.

It plays too much like a carbon copy of the popular and exceptional television series ’24’ which ran on FOX during the 2000s when Vantage Point was made.

The inspiration, Vantage Point borrows heavily from the political thriller theme setup and the day-in-the-life concept popular during this decade. The editing is rapid-fire quick.

I was able to struggle to find a couple of redeeming values from the otherwise forgettable film.

Usually, seeing a film on the big screen in a slick, air-conditioned movie theater is a treat and increases my enjoyment of it, and that matters here.

In the case of Vantage Point, this raised its final grade from a mediocre C+ to a not much improved and generous B- score.

A stellar company of actors including Dennis Quaid, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, and others joins Matthew Fox, hot at the time for his lead role in the massively successful ABC television series, Lost.

Did these actors read the script before signing on?

Witnesses with different points of view try to unravel an assassination attempt on U.S. President Henry Ashton (Hurt) while he is giving an important speech in Salamanca, Spain.

Special Agents Thomas Barnes (Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Fox) are assigned to protect Ashton during the summit on the war on terror. Television producer, Rex Brooks (Weaver), directs news coverage while American tourist Howard Lewis (Whitaker) films the audience.

Moments after the leader’s arrival, shots ring out, and Ashton is down. In the resulting chaos, Howard comes forward with his camcorder, which he believes contains an image of the shooter.

Everyone attempts to solve the mystery by giving different accounts of what transpired.

Vantage Point is fantastic for about the first thirty minutes until it quickly runs out of gas. The setups are rapid with Rex, Howard, Barnes, and Taylor experiencing different perspectives and the film moves around in the timeline from pre-shooting to post-shooting well.

The novelty wears thin once the perspectives are revised again and again and the plot becomes unnecessarily complicated and downright convoluted.

This makes a normally fast running time of one hour and twenty-nine minutes feel like a lifetime commitment.

Comparisons that I’ve heard to a 1950 Japanese film called Rashomon which unfortunately I have never seen are laughable.

My hunch is that the art film is worlds away from the slickly Americanized Vantage Point and a slow build in the former is superior to the quickly edited mainstream latter.

Vantage Point (2008) is not a well-remembered film nor should it be. There is no reason to watch it a second time. A better choice is to watch the series 24 again instead.

It’s nearly the same with one being superior.

Frayed-2009

Frayed-2009

Director-Rob Portmann, Norbert Caoili

Starring Aaron Blakely, Alena Dashiell, Tony Doupe

Scott’s Review #1,270

Reviewed June 24, 2022

Grade: A

As I began to watch Frayed (2009) the last thing I expected was to be as riveted as I was. I was enthralled, glued to my seat, frightened, and left completely floored by what I had experienced.

In the best of ways possible.

Things didn’t bode well at first since the previews on our rented DVD screamed low-budget and cheesy with sub-standard acting and ridiculously cheap production.

I expected a by-the-numbers, cliche-riddled Halloween (1978) style rip-off. Some thirty years after that film was made didn’t exactly scream relevant.

Maybe somebody’s experimental film school project?

I’ll add that with an astounding five credited screenwriters (rarely a good sign) the outcome could have easily been a muddled mess.

Expectations were shot through the ceiling only increasing with pleasure as the film went along. There are a couple of slow pockets here and there but the last fifteen minutes or so spiral Frayed out of control and into a fantastic new dimension in twists and turns.

Just when I thought I had things figured out and was satisfied with the surprise twist that wasn’t too hard to figure out, there appeared another twist, and yet another, and finally another twist!

I felt like I had done a series of summer saults and was breath taken by the film and left to ponder, consider, and reconstruct the storyline.

Sheriff Pat Baker (Tony Doupe) has led a life of tragedy. When his young son Kurt brutally murders his mother at sister Sara’s (Alena Dashiell) fifth birthday party the boy is left catatonic in a mental asylum.

Thirteen years later, Kurt escapes during a transfer and wanders the nearby woods dressed as a masked clown, chasing a security guard and stalking Sara and her friends. Baker and the team must capture the escapee before he wreaks more havoc.

But since the killer is his son is Pat too invested?

In ways, Frayed is a classic slasher film and a throwback to the 1980s. Sara and her best friend sneak out of the house to meet their boyfriends for beer and sex in the middle of the woods amid a campfire. Sara and her father and stepmother live in a small, remote town.

What better setting for a crazed killer on the loose with bloodletting on his mind?

These are standard setups for dire events.

But Sara, played well by Alena Dashiell isn’t your typical ‘final girl. She drinks a bit and has sex on her mind while remaining strong and careful.

The opening scene is a doozy.

In a flashback, we see Kurt’s mother enter his bedroom and scold him for teasing the birthday girl. She forgets she has a camcorder on and is quickly bashed to death with a baseball bat. The camera viewpoint is from the floor so all we see is the mother’s head repeatedly beaten.

It’s gory and sickening and led to the film being banned in more than one country.

Director, Rob Portmann, who co-wrote the film will not appeal to the faint of heart with this scene though the gore is left to a minimum throughout the rest.

There is so much more to this film than gore.

In retrospect, aspects of Frayed are like a puzzle. Why is the security guard the focus as much as Sara? Why does Pat’s new wife look like his dead wife? Why is a team softball photo constantly shown?

Frayed might warrant a second or third viewing to see how well it holds up.

Surprisingly, the acting is quite good by most of the cast and made on a small budget. Professionalism is laid out, especially by Blakely and Doupe and all the players give compelling performances and are given rich character development.

It’s a shame that Frayed did not garner more notice because the film is fiendish, terrific, and satisfying. Given it’s 2022 and it was made in 2007, and released in 2009 its time may have passed.

Frayed (2009) will please fans who love good old-fashioned slasher flicks and who love a good twist or three or four.

Borrowing from previous films but with an identity as fine as The Sixth Sense (1999) it’s to be remembered in the best of ways.

Quadrophenia-1979

Quadrophenia-1979

Director-Franc Roddam

Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting

Scott’s Review #1,269

Reviewed June 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the British rock band, The Who, will perhaps be mystified by the film Quadrophenia (1979). More specifically, The Who and fans of the exceptional oddity-filled musical film Tommy (1975) will be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Quadrophenia is not patterned after Tommy.

I was uneasy when I realized that very few of the songs from the groundbreaking album of the same name would not be incorporated and that the band themselves would not be appearing.

But that apprehension was short-lived.

Instead, Quadrophenia the film quickly grasped me for the storyline alone and makes up for the lack of music with a gripping tale of teenage angst and conflict amid the streets of London.

Reportedly, the story is at least somewhat derived from the life of Who member Pete Townshend and the concept behind Quadrophenia in the album is the same in the film.

To classify Quadrophenia as a musical or musical drama (I decided to do both) is most generous because that only enhances the fact that it almost isn’t either one. But since it is based on the album and was co-written by Townsend, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

An insecure and angry London youth, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) escapes the dullness of his mailroom job and the chilliness of London and joins the Mods, a sharply dressed gang constantly feuding with their rivals, the Rockers.

When the Mods and Rockers clash in the coastal town of Brighton, England, it leads to both trouble and an encounter with the lovely Steph (Leslie Ash) whom Jimmy has become smitten with over encounters at the grocery store where she works.

Returning to London and his life of drudgery, Jimmy, who aspires to be like handsome and charismatic Mod leader Ace Face (Sting), becomes even more disillusioned and longs to return to Brighton.

Quadrophenia the film is exceptional because it gets the mood of the lead character right and the audience will undoubtedly respond in turn. He feels that his life is going nowhere and most people can relate in some way to being stuck in first gear or reverse and unable to get out of the mud.

In Jimmy’s mind, his parents are assholes and the girl he longs for is out of his league and therefore out of reach. It’s typical adolescence 101. All he needs are the pimples and a bad hairstyle and he encompasses what it feels like to be a teenager.

This may sound comical but anyone remembering youth will undoubtedly find a glimmer of pain and panic.

Filmmaker, Franc Roddam gets it right.

The best part of the film occurs in the final fifteen minutes when finally and blessedly superior songs by The Who commence, most notably the astounding Love, Reign O’er Me.

In addition to the brilliance of the actual song is the way it’s included. As the camera provides a birds-eye view of the stunning cliffs as Jimmy rides recklessly on his scooter it’s a perilous scene with hints of danger.

Will he crash and burn?

Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop. It’s unclear what happens to Jimmy and interpretation can be used.

It raised Quadrophenia from a very good film to an exceptional one.

Another treasured Who song, The Real Me, is included early on amongst the title credits. Other songs appear but are either shortened and/or different versions of what’s expected.

Sometimes fun and comic, other times showing the ugliness of gloomy London and the pains of growing up, Quadrophenia (1979) excels at reminding its audience what it’s like to be restless and unhappy.

Life usually changes for the better but the film is an important reminder of feelings at that age.

War Horse-2011

War Horse-2011

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

Scott’s Review #1,268

Reviewed June 19, 2022

Grade: B+

Director Steven Spielberg has an enormous catalog of films to rank and paw over. From his dabble into the horror genre with Jaws (1975) to fantastical melodramas like E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), his best work to me is the dark and powerful Schindler’s List made in 1993.

The recent remake of West Side Story (2021) is also brilliant.

My point in mentioning a few of his films is to compare them to War Horse (2011). The film is mediocre when comparing it to the great director’s filmography but there is no doubt the film is extremely well made, lavishly directed, with a wonderful and heartfelt storyline that will make suckers of most viewers.

The main result is that the film doesn’t resonate very much beyond the closing credits especially when matched against Spielberg’s other films.

War Horse did achieve several Oscar nominations mainly because it’s a Spielberg film after all but came away empty-handed. This is not surprising because it’s the type of film that is trying to get awards notice.

A successful Broadway adaptation preceded the film which was also based on a novel of the same name from 1982.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey, live on a farm in the British countryside. At the outbreak of World War I, Albert and Joey part ways after Albert’s father sells the horse to the British cavalry out of necessity.

Against the backdrop of the war, the horse begins a journey full of danger, joy, and sorrow, as he transforms everyone he meets along the way.

Meanwhile, Albert, unable to forget his friend, searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.

It’s interesting seeing the different settings and situations the horse gets into. From England to Germany to France, so many cultures are explored. Joey even bonds with another horse named Tophorn, a black stallion.

The film is as syrupy and sentimental as the summary suggests and that is okay. I fell for the story hook, line, and sinker. Seeing the film in a movie theater on the big screen was a wise choice because the sentimentality oozes to audiences leaving not a dry eye in the house.

Spielberg polishes and shines his film like nobody’s business utilizing all the lavish Hollywood trappings like superior editing, sound, and cinematography.

It’s a Hollywood film plus a hundred.

Despite a safe-leaning film Spielberg wisely does not skate over the ravages of war. Several characters that the horse encounters die tragically leaving him in a state of temporary peril.

Unsurprisingly, War Horse satisfies those audiences seeking a fairy tale ending but the fun is the journey we are taken on.

Actor Jeremy Irvine appearing in his big-screen film debut is exceptional and quite likable. War Horse may be his pinnacle film since he hasn’t done all that much since this meaty role.

The main takeaway is friendship and the bond between human beings and animals which cannot be severed. The mere thought of this brings a tear to my eye and Spielberg wisely manipulates the audience, whisking them away on a journey of forever friendship.

This is not exactly a bad thing.

The war backdrop is a fine addition and the exquisite beach scenes and the glossy images of the horse are fantastic. Hundreds of horses were used and clever editing provides rich and authentic texture.

War Horse (2011) is a film with all the standard characteristics of an old-style film that Hollywood used to make. The sum of the parts doesn’t add up to much beyond the experience and it’s not a film worth seeing over and over.

It’s a one-and-done affair but a lavish production of heartfelt ideals.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Young Adult-2011

Young Adult-2011

Director-Jason Reitman 

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt

Scott’s Review #1,267

Reviewed June 17, 2022

Grade: A-

I am a big fan of Jason Reitman films.

Though classified as comedies, they lack the qualities I most dislike in many mainstream comedies: slapstick, formulaic, gag setups, and potty jokes, that feel completely staged and redundant.

Instead, he incorporates wry, sardonic humor, cynicism, and intelligence into his films that enhance the writing and makes the characters’ motivations clear.

Most of his characters are damaged and unhappy, suffering from inner conflict or instability, but the result is witty humor providing laughs to those able to think outside the box and immerse themselves into the character’s heads.

Thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Diablo Cody the thoughts and conflicts of a female character take center stage.

Reitman’s best films are Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009) and Young Adult (2011) is right up there with the others providing a darker tone than especially Juno contained.

Along with Reitman and Cody is a terrific performance by Charlize Theron who rightfully should have received an Oscar nomination. This is tough to achieve with a comedy performance and she had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination instead.

Just looking at the movie poster for Young Adult reveals a lot about her character. With an annoyed and flabbergasted look, wearing pajamas, she immediately gives off the vibe of slovenly, fed up, and looking for a fight.

Theron is great at playing take no prisoners, tough characters with a bit of edge and a no-bullshit attitude.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a successful but frustrated writer of teen literature who realizes that her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has just become a father with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).

Mavis decides to return to her small hometown and cause trouble.

She feels her life is getting away from her and she’d love to steal Buddy away from Beth and ride off into the sunset for presumed happiness. She also knows that life usually doesn’t work this way.

Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), who has also found it difficult to move past high school.

The two connect in the unlikeliest of ways since they didn’t exactly travel in the same circles during high school. Matt has his own powerful story since he was gay-bashed causing him to be permanently disabled.

Matt and Mavis are both relatable characters to most of the audience. Who hasn’t ruminated over their past life in high school? For some high schools are glorious years filled with memories of pep rallies, parties, and graduation.

For others, the mere thought conjures up memories of insecurity, moodiness, and awkward experiences. There can also be some of both for most people.

Mavis, Matt, and Buddy have each not closed out their high school chapters in different ways so the fun is seeing the feelings of each character come to the surface shrouded in conflict. With Matt and Mavis turning to all-night drinking binges eases their pain.

The best scene that showcases Mavis’s anger and Theron’s exceptional acting skills occurs at an outdoor party in celebration of naming Buddy’s daughter.

As the entire town is gathered on the front lawn Beth spills punch on Mavis’s dress causing Mavis to fly into a rage, insulting Beth, and finally confessing that she was once pregnant with Buddy’s child but had a miscarriage.

The hateful Mavis, the hurt Beth, and the embarrassment of the townspeople are on full display. The scene is wonderful and shows the cohesive value of the events to the rest of the story.

Reitman brings complexity to his characters in Young Adult (2011) and proves that dark comedy, especially character-driven, provides emotional power amid the laughs.

I love that the ending is ambiguous rather than wrapped up in a nice bow like too many comedies.

Thanks to wonderful acting, insightful writing, and wise direction, the film is well-remembered and undoubtedly a source of inspiration for upcoming comedy writers and directors.

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

Director-Peter Weir

Starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Scott’s Review #1,266

Reviewed June 16, 2022

Grade: B+

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) is a solid political drama with enough intrigue, romance, and superior cinematography by Russell Boyd, to recommend it. It’s not an American film but Australian which gives it an authentic flavor even though events are primarily set in Indonesia.

If Mad Max (1979) didn’t make Mel Gibson a full-fledged pinup star The Year of Living Dangerously certainly did because it made him a romantic ladies’ man in addition to a rugged action star. He has a ton of good looks and charisma at this point in his career and arguably has never looked better.

One could say (okay, I flat out will) that Gibson is upstaged, unintentionally so, by stage actress Linda Hunt who gets the role of her life as a highly intelligent Chinese-Australian man suffering from dwarfism and key to the entire plot.

Hunt won the Academy Award for flipping gender norms on its head and making the film more progressive and memorable than it deserves to be. Her performance is timeless and rich in character flavor.

If not for Hunt and Gibson as the standouts the film is lost in the shuffle amongst the myriad of similar political dramas to emerge in the 1980s.

Missing (1982) starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek and Victory (1981) starring Sylvester Stallone are the films that The Year of Living Dangerously reminds me of.

Blow Out (1981) and No Way Out (1987) are two of the best political drama films to come out of the decade and all are assuredly influenced by All the President’s Men (1976) which is one of the best from the genre.

There are so many others that The Year of Living Dangerously feels forgotten and too similar to a standard formula to stand out. It also suffers at times from being either a romantic drama or a political thriller and it struggles to mesh the two satisfyingly.

After journalist Guy Hamilton (Gibson) arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, he forms a friendship with dwarf photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt), through whom he meets British diplomat Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver).

Bryant falls in love with Hamilton, and she gives him key information about an approaching Communist uprising. As the city becomes more dangerous, Hamilton stays to pursue the story. However, he faces more threats as he gets closer to the government putting him and others passionate about the political turmoil, in great peril.

The romance between Guy and Jill is not bad but Weaver has had so many better roles than this one that it feels throwaway. She’s a smart lady who falls madly in love with Guy so easily that the formulaic context is obvious.

The movie poster makes the pair look like Rhett and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (1939), unintentionally providing humor and ambiguity about what the film is going for.

It does best when it sticks to the political message.

The film is laden with foreign mystique and intrigue largely due to the exotic locale of Indonesia (the film was shot in the Phillippines which is a good double).

The plot is absorbing for what it is and the peril the journalists face is exciting. This parlays well with the real-life situation in which the film is based. In 1965, Indonesia was a hotbed of corruption and danger, and director, Peter Weir, manages to pull these sequences together well.

The main flaw is Weir doesn’t seem to know if he is crafting a political thriller or a romantic drama.

Back to the astounding Linda Hunt, the best scene of the film occurs when her character dies in Guy’s arms. Forget Weaver, the emotional core of the film belongs to Gibson and Hunt who have tremendous chemistry. The ambiguity of Billy, mostly because we know the gender of Hunt, is delicious.

In the end, the conclusion is mostly a happy one albeit predictable and the storyline feels unsatisfying.

A nice effort and relevant in 1982, The Year of Living Dangerously has energy and polish. It just feels too familiar and similar to other genre films to stand out, save for Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Linda Hunt (won)

Ben-Hur-1959

Ben-Hur-1959

Director-William Wyler

Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Scott’s Review #1,265

Reviewed June 9, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many pleasures of watching Ben-Hur (1959) is to marvel at the extensive cinematic brilliance involved by the entire cast and crew.

To say it’s a spectacle is not enough and it’s a must-see.

It had the largest budget ($15.175 million), as well as the largest sets built, of any film produced at the time. That allowed for enormous spending to create one of the most lavish and grandiose films ever made.

I shudder to think of how powerful it was to see this film on the large screen in a movie theater and the sheer mesmerizing quality it had on audiences.

I’ve anticipated viewing the film for years and finally did. Why I waited so long is beyond me. It does not disappoint and the extravagance is immeasurable. I sat back in awe at the many aspects of the film, way before CGI was created, that makes it as impressive in 2022 as it was over sixty years ago.

Charlton Heston plays a Palestinian Jew named Judah who is battling the Roman empire at the time of Christ. He becomes involved in a vicious feud with his ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd).

Their hatred culminates in an exciting yet vicious chariot race.

Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus who helps Judah save his family despite his own death.

The film made a household name out of Heston and besides its big budget is legendary for its use of homoeroticism and an unspoken love story between two men who are at first the best of friends and who later become bitter rivals.

The film had several screenwriters and if looked at closely there is some uneven storytelling that is largely overlooked by the enormous spectacle of the finished product. Gore Vidal who was openly gay insisted on a homosexual interlude, conspicuously of course, between Judah and Messala.

Giggle worthy to those in the know is that Boyd played his character as a spurned gay lover of Heston’s, with Heston unaware of the underlying romantic angle. This is rumored to be because Heston couldn’t handle it had he known.

This knowledge made me enjoy the subtext of the scenes between the two men even more than I should have.

As if to prove the above point, the written romance between Judah and Esther (Haya Harareet) hasn’t much chemistry and I viewed them more like brother and sister or good friends.

Other scenes of shimmering, muscular men sitting around in towels are further proof of Ben-Hur’s homoeroticism.

These tidbits of juicy intrigue provide tingles but the main draw is the famous chariot scene which is as exciting as an action scene gets in cinema. The outdoor arena, packed with thousands of onlookers, provides a perfect setup for the round and round racetrack as dozens of horses are whipped into a dizzying frenzy, going faster and faster.

The peril is prominent as numerous riders drop to their death, mangled into pieces from being stampeded by the horses.

Other sequences like the leper colony and the crucifixion of Jesus are beautiful and astounding.

Director, William Wyler, a heavy hitter at the time with gems like Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) easily usurps those excellent films with Ben-Hur.

It won eleven of its twelve Oscar nominations and employed ten thousand extras!

Ben-Hur (1959) is the definition of an epic film. Expensive and expansive, the breathtaking chariot scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a film.

Not feeling dated it’s a marvel in exquisiteness and magnificence.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor in a Leading Role-Charlton Heston (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Hugh Griffith (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound Recording (won), Best Music-Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Special Effects (won)

Walk the Line-2005

Walk the Line-2005

Director-James Mangold

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #1,264

Reviewed June 8, 2022

Grade: A-

An example of exceptional casting, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, flawlessly depict country music stars Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, respectively. Both embody the real-life troubled stars, he more than she, and bring to life the biopic Walk the Line (2005).

Perturbing only slightly is Witherspoon’s win for Best Actress and Phoenix’s lack of a win for Best Actor. He deserved the win, up against the stiff competition, and she perhaps won because of a soft year in the Best Actress category.

I also think her performance teeters on a supporting turn but the decision was made to include her in the lead actress category. But one could argue Oscar’s imbalances or missteps all day long.

Nonetheless, they both shine especially during any scenes they appear in together especially music-related. The chemistry is the main reason for the film’s success and recognition of the figures they portray.

Walk the Line begins with the examination of the rise of country music legend Johnny Cash (Phoenix) beginning with his humble days as a boy growing up on the family farm in rural Arkansas, where he struggles with his father’s (Robert Patrick) anger and bullying.

As the years quickly go by, Cash ends up in Memphis, Tennessee., with his wife, Vivian (the underrated Ginnifer Goodwin), and breaks into the music scene after finding his successful country sound.

While on tour, Cash meets the love of his life, singer June Carter (Witherspoon), but Cash’s volatile lifestyle threatens to keep them apart.

The risk of rock star biographies is that they can suffer from relying too heavily on cliches or become a one-trick pony with a predictable ending. Towing the standard line is fine but a truly great film needs something to blow the viewers away.

The story is rather standard since we know the Cash’s get together, and face rough times, but the sweet spot is Phoenix and Witherspoon. They make the audience believe every nook and cranny of their relationship, warts and all.

Both actors reportedly sang, played their instruments, and seemed to live the lives of the country stars, all without help, giving Walk the Line much credibility. Since Phoenix is a method actor this is unsurprising.

My only disappointment of the film is Witherspoon winding up with Oscar gold and Phoenix not. Thankfully, this would change with his win for the brutal portrayal of The Joker in Joker (2019).

I love how the beginning of Walk the Line starts with a legendary performance in Folsom State Prison in 1968. Events then backtrack to 1944 before finally culminating with present times again.

Director, James Mangold plays the safe route with the finale. Cash unsurprisingly performs “Ring of Fire” on stage and after the song, Cash invites June to a duet and stops in the middle and proposes.

June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage. Johnny and his father reconcile their relationship.

This is a warm and satisfying ending and rather refreshing after having to squirm through various scenes of Johnny’s drug abuse and scrapes with the law. Mangold also prominently features dark storylines like the loss of Johnny’s brother and his father’s abuse.

Hats off by the way to Robert Patrick for a powerful performance as Ray Cash.

Walk the Line (2005) is a Hollywood film but one made well and pleasing to the eyes and ears. It pays tribute to the legendary stars because of dynamic acting performances and duets that make one fall in love with the songs all over again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Joaphin Phoenix, Best Actress-Reese Witherspoon (won), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing

The V.I.P’s-1963

The V.I.P’s-1963

Director-Anthony Asquith

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan

Scott’s Review #1,263

Reviewed June 4, 2022

Grade: B+

The V.I.P.’s (1963) is a sweeping drama set against a foggy London airport. It’s a very good film but hardly a masterpiece as the trials and tribulations of the stranded passengers are explored and sometimes intersect in standard ways.

The film is formulaic and offers little surprise but I enjoyed it and was entertained by the parade of stars shuffling through the vast airport.

Some stories are more interesting than others and the film has a soap opera style fixating on the glamorous and rich characters.

One wonders if The V.I.P.’s influenced the creation of the film Airport (1970) seven years later, but the film itself is patterned after 1932’s Grand Hotel both distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Real-life couple, and Hollywood A-listers, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star and are the main draws of the film.

The all-star cast also features Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, and the scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford.

Inclement weather has delayed a flight from London’s fabulous Heathrow Airport to New York City. A cross-section of elite passengers (V.I.P.’s) impatiently wait to board the plane as they experience various life crises in the airport.

The main storyline surrounds Frances (Taylor), a gorgeous woman fleeing a loveless marriage to her millionaire husband, Paul (Richard Burton), and in love with the dashing Marc Champselle (Jourdan).

Supporting stories feature a dotty duchess (Rutherford) who has fallen on hard times, a handsome businessman (Rod Taylor) trying to thwart a hostile takeover while his secretary (Smith) lusts after him, and Gloria (Elsa Martinelli), an aspiring actress accompanied by her money-grubbing producer, Max (Welles).

Despite the heavy-sounding plots the film is not overly serious and provides comical moments peppered in small doses. This secures the pacing and offsets too much doom and gloom.

The big soapy moments belong to Liz and Richard and rumor has it that the idea for the screenplay came to the writer Terence Rattigan by way of a real-life situation. Actress Vivien Leigh was planning to leave her husband Laurence Olivier for another man but was delayed at Heathrow airport.

How scandalous!

Nonetheless, Taylor stoically gives a fine performance as a conflicted actress in love with a man other than her husband. The setup plays out as tired as it sounds except for the juicy reality that Taylor and Burton were married and this provides the only interest.

Taylor and Burton have terrific chemistry though she also does with Jourdan. Still, there is something uncompelling and unsatisfying about the story.

Shockingly, they are all upstaged by Rutherford who steals the entire film which resulted in her surprising Best Supporting Actress victory. She may have won because of the Academy’s tendency to sometimes award an older actor with the prize for a lifetime body of work.

Her riveting story is my favorite as she desperately seeks a way to save her historic home.

The actress hits a homerun providing the much-needed comic relief and therefore the liveliest of the performances. Her peril is offset by her cleverness and her performance is filled with heart.

Many critics hastily insisted that Rutherford is the only reason to see The V.I.P.’s which I disagree with. Personally, the combination of an airport, peril and big stars was more than enough to have me hooked.

The only addition that might have made the film better was an enormous fire or a hijacking crisis.

In the end, The V.I.P.’s (1963) will only appeal to fans of Taylor and Burton or those seeking something sudsy. Otherwise, the film is not too well remembered.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Margaret Rutherford (won)

Free to Be…You and Me-1974

Free to Be…You and Me-1974

Director-Bill Davis

Starring Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte

Scott’s Review #1,262

Reviewed June 3, 2022

Grade: A

I don’t typically review television specials or television series since, hence the title, my website isn’t about that.

But, because of the sheer relevance and groundbreaking nature of Free to Be…You and Me (1974) and that it is more of a ‘project’ than merely a television special I felt compelled to provide its deserved recognition and praise.

A record album and illustrated book first released in November 1972 featuring songs and stories sung or told by celebrities of the day also makes it meatier than a one-and-done hour-long slot on a random Monday night.

The running time is a mere forty-five minutes in length but a lot happens during this time and leaves any viewer with an open mind thinking about how everyone should see it.

To summarize, the emotions the experience elicits supersedes the limited amount of screen time.

The project was conceived, created, and executive-produced all by actress Marlo Thomas who also serves as host. What a great human being she proves she is to bring something so valuable to the small screen.

The result is something so ahead of its time that the message feels powerful watching it for the first time nearly fifty years later in 2022.

You can’t say that about most television.

The basic concept is to celebrate and encourage gender neutrality, saluting values such as individuality, tolerance, and comfort with one’s identity. Strong messages.

These ideals began to emerge throughout the late 1960s when the sexual revolution transpired.

A major theme is that anyone regardless of being a boy or a girl can achieve anything and be whatever they want to be.

I adore early on when a scene from a hospital emerges, infant depictions of Thomas and Mel Brooks debating their genders. They say their goodbyes as they leave the hospital but the moment is long remembered.

Later, Thomas and Alan Alda sing about a boy named William who wants a doll. And why shouldn’t he? Just as Sally, Jennifer, or Mary should be allowed to play with a dump truck should they feel like it.

Surely, the United States, the project’s main region, has slowly become more progressive in the subsequent decades. A sad reminder is that some people still have a problem with gender neutrality or even gender equality.

We’re not out of the woods yet, folks.

But those people are to be dismissed and not embraced.

Guest performers include Alda, Cicely Tyson, Tom Smothers, and Harry Belafonte, while Roberta Flack, Michael Jackson, Rita Coolidge, and Kris Kristofferson help supply the tunes.

A shockingly young Jackson also appears in a skit.

The production features uplifting sketches and songs that urge young and old to welcome diversity and embrace individualism.

I ruminated throughout my viewing how similar in many ways it is to PBS’s Mister Rogers Neighborhood, using puppets to appeal to youngsters and teach treasured messages. The kindness of the characters provides protection and warmth, teaching worth and value.

Free to Be…You and Me (1974) deservedly became an Emmy-winning TV special that taught many children (and adults) how to celebrate and respect diversity.

I hope that someone somewhere gives Free to Be…You and Me a boost and it become shown in schools all across the world.

It’s a timeless masterpiece.

Downton Abbey: A New Era-2022

Downton Abbey: A New Era-2022

Director-Simon Curtis

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #1,261

Reviewed May 30, 2022

Grade: B+

Following the success of the 2019 film version of the television series Downton Abbey which ran on PBS from 2010-to 2015, a sequel was made. This was unsurprising given the fan-favorite being critically and commercially well-received.

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) will undoubtedly please fans of the series and may even recruit new audiences who may not have been exposed to it yet.

The trials and tribulations of the Crawley’s, friends, and staff are a treat as new situations and drama arise for the group to sift through as they discuss matters over tea and crumpets.

The film is like visiting a cherished friend after a few years apart.

Award-winning creator Julian Fellowes is thankfully still involved and was given screenwriting credit. This means that the formula is still the same and nobody has tried to reinvent the wheel or veer the characters off course.

This time out the year is 1928. The main action centers around the sudden news that grand dame Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) has inherited a villa in the south of France from a former suitor who has just died. Some of the family must travel to France and figure out the mystery.

Secondly, A film production company requests to use Downton for a silent film. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and retired butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) disapprove, but Robert’s eldest daughter and estate manager, Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), says the income would cover replacing Downton’s leaking roof.

The household staff is eager to see the film stars and scrambles to make things as lovely as possible for the incoming actors.

The terrific thing about Downtown Abbey: A New Era is that nearly all of the nearly thirty principal characters are given some sort of storyline.

Plus there are a handful of new characters to give screen time to.

Surprisingly, as in Downton Abbey (2019), the main ‘super couple’, servants Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) are given almost nothing to do. They are seen but their child is not and some drama would have been nice. Perhaps a mysterious illness or a malady for the couple to endure?

Maybe next time.

Still, everyone else is represented and the feeling for viewers is warm and fuzzy.

Below are some highlights.

Robert frets at the possibility that he may be half french and his birth a result of a tryst between Violet and the villa owner. Mary’s absent husband allows for a flirtation to develop between her and a member of the film. Gay butler Thomas (Robert James-Collier) finds himself pursued by the film’s big star.

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) keeps a health secret, while a bed-ridden Violet’s health declines. Newlywed servants Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox) scheme to unite his lonely father with the cook, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol).

Finally, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) eagerly awaits a marriage proposal from nervous Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle).

In addition, new characters like actors Guy Dexter (Dominic West), Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), and director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) are instant fan favorites, immediately connecting with mainstay characters.

This is ingenious writing that can be a lesson for any soap opera writer. Always write new characters by sharing stories with existing ones rather than writing in silos. It works wonders.

The historical relevance of approaching the 1930s is not missed as ‘talkies’ taking over the film industry meant the kiss of death for most silent film stars.

The popular LGBTQ+ storyline is wonderfully written. A gay man in 1928 was doomed to either a life of hiding or one of loneliness and one character wisely references a ‘cruel world’ in regards to the viewpoint of the lifestyle.

Times were not changing just yet.

I am crossing my fingers that a third Downton Abbey film will be made. The characters and storylines still have life especially as the timeline progresses into the 1930s and the dire 1940s when World War II commences.

Downtown Abbey: A New Era (2022) proves that in the Covid-19 times a trusted old friend is needed tremendously. Even by way of the silver screen.

Unbreakable-2000

Unbreakable-2000

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #1,260

Reviewed May 29, 2022

Grade: A-

Following the brilliant and massive critical and commercial success of The Sixth Sense (1999), M. Night Shyamalan hit his stride and became a household name known for mixing supernatural and psychological elements in his web of good storytelling.

Following 2002’s Signs credibility tapered a bit but Unbreakable (2000) is an overlooked gem falling in the shadows of The Sixth Sense which everyone remembers best when they talk about the director.

The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are also strong counterparts because they both star Hollywood legend Bruce Willis who it can be argued started to gain respectability within the industry with the former.

He continues his superior acting and calm character approach.

Unbreakable is part thriller, science fiction, and superhero film, so I have categorized it accordingly. It’s part of an Unbreakable film series and was followed by Split (2016) and Glass (2019) which took years to develop and were decent if underwhelming projects.

Unbreakable is by far the best of the bunch.

David Dunn (Willis) is a regular guy who works as a college football stadium security guard. He is a former star college quarterback whose dreams of stardom never materialized because of a car accident. He lives a somewhat melancholy yet decent life with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and son Joseph.

One day David boards a train. The train experiences a devastating derailment with an enormous casualty number. David awakes in the hospital to find that he is the sole survivor of the wreck. He is left unscathed.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives on the scene as a mysterious comic book expert who takes a liking to David and his experience. He offers a bizarre explanation as to why David escaped without a single scratch that counters Elijah’s health- he is a frail man who is constantly at risk of breaking his bones.

Elijah and Joseph begin to believe that David is a superhero. At first, David rebuffs this notion but slowly begins to realize he has extrasensory perception.

What is the link between David and Elijah?

I’m not always a big superhero fan and sometimes the storylines are riddled with cliches, stereotypes, and predictability.

But, Unbreakable is fascinating and unpredictable. It’s also dark, cerebral, and contains a surprise ending leaving me summarizing that it’s a different sort of superhero film with layers of cool elements.

It’s a non-traditional superhero film and I love that quality.

There’s a suspension of disbelief of course. How one character can rig a train accident and other crimes is a bit of a stretch but the characters of David and Elijah are compelling enough for me to forget those pesky little plot holes and enjoy the experience.

If the story sometimes falters, the riveting train sequence more than makes up for it. We see David quietly enjoying the train ride until all hell breaks loose. The shattered glass, derailment, and chaos are fabulous entertainment as well as wonderment of what comes next and what the sequence means to the rest of the story.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unbreakable.

Almost as riveting but in a different way is the opening scene of Unbreakable which will immediately grab the viewer. It is 1961 and an African American woman is told that her baby’s arms and legs are broken. This is later a key to the story but at this time we know not what this intrigue has to do with anything.

Unbreakable (2000) is incredibly fresh and original. It can easily be watched in a double-feature with The Sixth Sense but is nothing like that film except for its director and actor.

But, they are M. Night Shyamalan’s best films, and Unbreakable provides tremendous thought and conceptualization while creating daring camera work long remembered after the first viewing.

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

Director-Anthony Minghella

Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow

Scott’s Review #1,259

Reviewed May 27, 2022

Grade: A

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is a psychological thriller that is Hitchcockian and would make the famous director, the esteemed Alfred Hitchcock, damned proud.

The film contains suspense, thrills, mystique, and great writing, and is an exceptional adaptation of the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name.

A fun fact is that Highsmith also wrote the novel on which Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers on a Train was based from.

In my opinion, the title role is the best of Matt Damon’s lengthy career, rivaling that of his debut in Good Will Hunting (1998), also a tremendous effort. His riveting portrayal showcases that he plays several layers at once: calculating, sinister, vulnerable, jealous, and unhinged.

Sometimes all at once.

He shockingly was omitted from the Best Actor Oscar list which is unforgivable considering his great work. Instead, he was nominated in later years for lesser films like Invictus (2010) and The Martian (2016).

With his blonde clean-cut hairstyle, short and parted on the side, along with big, studious glasses, he is half wholesome and half creepy.

The fact that the character is gay is icing on the cake and delicious for a film set in the 1950s when having an alternative lifestyle was strictly forbidden.

The setting is mainly lavish and sunny coastal Italy in the late 1950s. Tom Ripley (Damon) craves a lifestyle of luxury and manipulates his way into the life of wealthy playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law).

When Dickie’s father asks Tom to bring his errant son back home to America, Dickie, and his beautiful expatriate girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), never suspect the dangerous extremes to which Ripley will go to make their lifestyle his own.

The best part of The Talented Mr. Ripley is the compelling suspense and the twists and turns that result. It’s astounding how many layers of the plot exist without the experience being confusing or paced poorly.

Speaking of the pacing, this is another achievement of the film and director Anthony Minghella wisely quickens the action from the snail’s pace of his earlier film The English Patient (1996) that I personally loved.

We immediately know much about Tom and how he makes his living by charming people and forging signatures to make ends meet. His innocent deceit soon turns fatal as he spirals downward and becomes a pathological liar and sociopath in addition to a cold-blooded murderer.

Law is tremendous as Dickie and the brazen character is ambiguous in his sexuality while Tom’s is clearer. I love this about Law’s character. He is handsome and a lady’s man which would make him ripe for the picking for a closeted gay man in the 1950s to become enamored.

The key to ponder is whether the feeling is mutual or not. This remains ambiguous.

The acting, superior in every way, is made all the richer because the film is a character study, and the relationship between Tom and Dickie is cleverly dissected.

The best scene occurs on a small boat as tensions reach a crescendo between the two men. This results in dire activity.

Besides the action starting off in New York, the rest of the story takes place in Italy and is mostly shot on location. This only enhances my enjoyment of the film because it showcases the Mediterranean and southern Italy more than the more familiar cities.

Not to disappoint, astounding sequences in Rome and Venice do occur.

Because of the cinematography and locales, the film has a glossy and polished look which is terrifically counterbalanced to the darkness of the story. Think American Psycho (2000) but more subdued with a larger budget.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is one of the best to emerge from a decade in cinema that was terrific. It is not as well-remembered as some others but I strongly encourage a watch to uncover a series of riches that is led by bold storytelling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Jude Law, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Director-Stephen Chbosky

Starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams

Scott’s Review #1,258

Reviewed May 25, 2022

Grade: A-

From the very first scene, Dear Evan Hansen (2021) grabbed me by the collar and never let me go. Providing an emotional wallop that mixes perfectly with meaningful and catchy pop songs the film is one that nearly everyone can relate to.

The oftentimes painful world of teenage angst is the central storyline and the dangerous and unfortunately too timely pandemic of mental illness is examined in heartwrenching form.

Dear Evan Hansen has a relevance that I found to be powerful and profound leaving me not soon forgetful of the experience.

I had never seen the hugely popular Broadway stage version so I only had a limited understanding of what the story was about going in. Still, as much as the subject matter is of great importance the film’s follow-through is what is tremendous and emotional with superb acting all around.

Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Ben Platt reprises his stage role as the anxious, isolated high schooler named Evan Hansen who craves companionship and understanding. He suffers the same quandary that many fellow teenagers face in a world rendered impersonal and heartless. He tries to survive the pressures and the chaos of the social-media age.

Lonely, he meets a young man named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) who is as wounded as Evan is. They have an odd first (and only) exchange after which Connor steals a therapy assignment of Evan’s, a letter to himself. Soon after, Connor commits suicide and his parents, played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino assume the boys were best friends.

Evan lies about the events to spare Connor’s parents which ultimately leads to events spiraling out of control.

I’m well aware of the outpouring of negative reviews that have been hurled at the film and I don’t understand nor agree with any of them.

My hunch is that the stage version may have been even more powerful because it’s a live production and the raw emotion is right there but the film does right by it.

Sure, Platt looks older than a teenager. The actor was twenty-seven years old when he filmed Dear Evan Hansen and a mere twenty-two or so when it appeared on Broadway but so what? With talent as superior as he is why cast a movie star?

I didn’t hear anyone complain when Olivia Newton-John played the iconic role of Sandy, a seventeen-year-old in Grease (1978) at the ripe old age of thirty.

Sometimes a suspension of disbelief is required.

Platt is a terrific casting choice and encompasses the role of Evan completely. He is shockingly good in dramatic scenes or when he comically fumbles over his words. His dramatic voice perfectly infuses the production’s most recognizable number You Will Be Found.

Besides, there are big stars in Dear Evan Hansen. Amy Adams plays the emotionally drained but hopeful Cynthia Murphy, blessed with affluence at the price of losing a son. Julianne Moore plays the haggard nurse and financially struggling mother of Evan.

Both are fabulous.

The film is directed by Stephen Chbosky who is responsible for the terrific and sorely underappreciated film adaptation of the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) which he also wrote. He knows how to tell a coming-of-age story.

There are a couple of foul balls to be aware of but the emotion to be felt far exceeds these pesky matters.

The film occasionally overplays its casting with the inclusion of a few stock characters like the Indian technology wizard and the perky, straight-A student with the same problems as everyone else, but the characters don’t have enough to do to make them bothersome.

The chemistry between Platt and Kaitlyn Dever as the romantic interest is only tepid but I didn’t watch this film for the teen romance.

I could not disagree with the torrent of negative reviews for Dear Evan Hansen (2021) more and urge anyone reading this review to take in the film and be prepared for a tearjerker that feels authentic and justified in its existence.

The Sand Pebbles-1966

The Sand Pebbles-1966

Director-Robert Wise

Starring Steve McQueen, Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,257

Reviewed May 18, 2022

Grade: A-

The 1950s and 1960s can collectively be defined as the two decades representing the grandiose film epic, which are instantly recognizable cinematic sprawling, lengthy efforts and frequently encompassing a time.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) safely falls into this category especially because it’s a war film and one minute shy of a three-hour extravaganza.

The film was a critical and commercial success at the time of release and received several Academy Award nominations (see more below) but is not remembered as well as one might expect despite being a fantastic watch.

There is something that makes the film fly somewhere under the radar and I’m not sure why that is. It might be that an anti-war message film was not as common as it would become. In 1966 there had only just begun to be a United States movement questioning the government and war in general.

It wasn’t cool nor acceptable yet.

Robert Anderson adapted the screenplay from the 1962 novel of the same name by Richard McKenna which I understand is very similar.

Robert Wise, famous for directing the very memorable The Sound of Music just one year prior in 1965 and the legendary West Side Story in 1961 is at the helm resulting in a superior direction, especially in the exterior sequences and the lush, oceanic sequences.

Star, Steve McQueen was at the height of popularity when this film was made which undoubtedly helped get butts in the seats to drool over the blue-eyed actor in his Navy attire.

The Sand Pebbles has a heavier touch and promotes an anti-war viewpoint from its main character. Therefore, it has a good solid message to go with the expected aspects of a war film. It’s not dissimilar to The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) made nearly a decade earlier.

Not lost on the viewer will be the Asian locales and the parallels with the controversial Vietnam conflict happening at the time.

We go back to 1926 when the USS San Pablo was patrolling the Yangtze River during the clashes between Chiang Kai-shek’s communists and Chinese warlords.

Eight-year veteran machinist Jake Holman (McQueen), new to the self-named “sand pebbles” crew, immediately draws deep suspicion due to his independent streak.

Ordered to protect Americans, including schoolteacher Shirley Eckhart (Candice Bergen), Jake and the gunboat crew is unwittingly drawn into a bitter nationalistic feud that holds grim consequences.

Besides his unforgettable turn in The Getaway in 1972, the role is McQueen’s finest and I’m not the biggest fan of his nor feel he is the greatest actor.

But, in The Sand Pebbles, he has tremendous material to work with and hits all cylinders throughout. The character is rootable and relatable to the audience.

The film also presents a fascinating look at Navy life with the camaraderie and depth of the supporting characters. There is comedy and drama and the additions of Richard Attenborough and Richard Crenna are stellar.

Naturally, Bergen is the romantic love interest for McQueen as Shirley and Jake have fledging feelings for each other.

Though the film ends abruptly there is enough pain, death, and confusion to leave the viewer thinking afterward and that is always an aspect of the film that I champion.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) is an underrated production that simmers beneath some other classics from the same decade but is a terrific watch for many reasons. It has an old-world feel despite being extremely timely representing a forage into the dangerous early 1970s history still to come.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Steve McQueen, Best Supporting Actor-Mako, Best Art Direction-Color, Best Cinematography-Color, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound

Raging Bull-1980

Raging Bull-1980

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #1,256

Reviewed May 14, 2022

Grade: A

Raging Bull (1980) might be director Martin Scorsese’s most personal film and certainly his most character-driven. His other films contain great characters, rich with life, but with the focus firmly planted on controversial real-life boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) there is much to explore.

His descent into madness is hard to watch but also impossible to look away from.

It’s tough to top the De Niro/Scorsese pairing featured in Taxi Driver (1976) when the actor simply kicked the audience’s ass with his ferocious portrayal of maniacal Travis Bickle. LaMotta arguably surpasses that portrayal because the boxer experiences the highest of the highs with the lowest of the lows.

And the audience is whisked away with him on the journey from heaven to hell. Arguably director and actor’s finest film, Raging Bull is often painful to watch, but it’s a searing, powerful work about an unsympathetic hero who we can’t help but explore.

A double-pairing film extravaganza of watching Taxi Driver and Raging Bull is a fabulous idea though the viewer may need a Valium to combat the resulting anxiety after experiencing these films.

I love the title that is Raging Bull because it is so apt and central to the film. Fueled with machismo, testosterone, and anger, Jake LaMotta certainly is a raging bull.

Screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, frequent collaborators of Scorsese’s, adapt the story from Raging Bull: My Story, a 1970 memoir written by LaMotta.

Raging Bull tells the story of an Italian-American middleweight boxer as he struggles through the ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He possesses a self-destructive and obsessive rage, jealousy, and animalistic appetite that destroys his relationship with his wife and family.

Wonderfully cast as his wife Vickie is Cathy Moriarity who is a gorgeous girl from the Bronx who falls head over heels in love with Jake. Joe Pesci plays his well-intentioned brother and managerJoey, who unsuccessfully tries to help Jake battle his inner demons.

Jake’s inability to express his feelings enters the ring and eventually takes over his life. He is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.

Comparisons to the exceptional Rocky (1976) are cute and perhaps contain some merit on paper but whereas the former is heroic and compelling, the main characters are nothing alike except that they are both struggling boxers who achieve success.

Both are sports films but Raging Bull is much, much darker and purely a character study.

The cinematography by Michael Chapman and the Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker are deserving of accolades and make the picture as flawless as it is.

Scorsese adds enough boxing scenes to showcase the fantastic editing that is required for these difficult scenes. The editing is lightning quick and the thunderous bombast makes the viewer feel each blow of the glove on the skin. The blood and sweat are legendary components of these scenes.

The black and white cinematography is jaw-dropping especially powerful during the kitchen fight scene between Jake and Joey. The brutal buildup is hard to stomach as Jake’s dementia becomes evident.

Despite the other qualities of the film that bring it all together, my favorite aspect is the performance that De Niro delivers, winning him a much deserved Best Actor Oscar.

He is powerful and animalistic playing both subtle rage and explosive anger. His tragic final act as a much older and fat man is shrouded in heartbreak and pain for both the character and the viewer to experience.

All the pieces of Raging Bull (1980) add up perfectly into a masterpiece. The violence and pain are enshrouded in poetic dialogue and beautiful illuminating camera work exploring one man’s battles and struggles both inside the squared circle and internally.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor-Robert De Niro (won), Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actress-Cathy Moriarty, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound

Antlers-2021

Antlers-2021

Director-Scott Cooper

Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,255

Reviewed May 13, 2022

Grade: B+

Antlers (2021) is a film co-produced by Guillermo del Toro who is famous for dark, humanistic treasures like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (2017).

His name attached to the project conjures images of supernatural and otherworldly creations and some murky elements. While the film does contain his influence if looked at carefully it’s in a tepid way and I wouldn’t call it a del Toro type film.

But, it’s not as if he directed it either, he only helped fund it. Scott Cooper, known for Crazy Heart (2009) and Black Mass (2015), two very good films, does a fantastic job of adding horror elements and impressive cinematography that create a bleak and grey atmosphere that is perfect for horror.

The plot is the weak point in an otherwise exceptional offering. The story has a standard setup and unsatisfying ending save for an attempt to push the wheels in motion for a potential sequel.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Antler’s release date was postponed twice and flew under the radar as many films did in the early 2020s.

Plus, star Jesse Plemons received an Oscar nomination for The Power of the Dog (2021) by the time the film hit the screens so it’s doubtful he’d make a return appearance.

I’m not sure the film is good enough to warrant a follow-up but I did thoroughly enjoy the perfect trimmings and quality acting even though the story didn’t completely satisfy me.

The film is based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca.

The action is set in a rural, isolated Oregon town where a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Plemons) become entangled with her taciturn student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) whose dark family secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature known for creating debauchery.

The dazzling cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister perfectly encapsulates the setting of the Pacific Northwest making it appear grim and constantly cloudy. The foreboding presence is only helped by adding a dark mine as the main set where the dire events occur.

Russell does a fine job with carrying the film and Cooper and the team provides a character-driven approach to the story. Julia has returned to her hometown after the suicide of her father, who we quickly learn was abusing her as a little girl.

She bonds with Lucas who is also abused and this portion of the story works well. We get the bond and they connect well. He’s got a different set of daddy issues though since his wolf-like papa salivates at the sight of him and is diseased from an incident in the mine.

But, the Julia/Lucas relationship ultimately has very little to do with a wild creature running around killing a student and a principal. A quick scene involving a local townsperson explaining an ancient curse is uninspired even if he is played by Graham Greene from Dances With Wolves fame (1990).

I was more invested in the Julia and Paul raising Lucas angle and what comes next over the silly folklore curse that we’ve seen countless times in films.

The texture of Antlers easily awards it a solid B+ rating because it’s spooky and scary in some sequences. When Julia and Principal Ellen (Amy Madigan) separately approach the run-down Weaver house the camera follows the characters making the audience feel like they are the ones entering the house.

We know bad things will soon happen and that makes it fun.

Because of the great camera work and use of lighting, I’d never want to set foot in Cispus Falls.

As an aside for every film writer out there, it’s time to discard the anti-LGBTQ slurs once and for all. Aren’t we beyond this? Can’t we write one character calling another a ‘loser’ and leave it at that?

The visceral style of Antlers (2021) is more than enough reason to recommend it. A straight-ahead supernatural horror film with a grim veneer is the reason to see it. The ho-hum story is rather secondary.

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring Herbert Lom, Michael Gough, Heather Sears

Scott’s Review #1,254

Reviewed May 12, 2022

Grade: B+

Probably not the best-known film adaptation of the famous 1910 French novel written by Gaston Leroux, but likely the most horrific. Hammer Horror Productions getting their hands on this is a significant win since the story is perfectly suited for the horror genre.

I’ve not yet seen the 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney which I hear is wonderful so I cannot compare that to this.

The possibilities for a macabre telling are endless and director Terence Fisher, a familiar director in Hammer films, is back at the helm to mix the dreariness of a musty London theater with the creepy face mask of its lonely and wounded inhabitant.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this review. It’s impressive to notice the astounding achievements the Horror films obtained by making lemonade out of lemons from a budget perspective. The limited funds necessitated creativity which can be seen in every series frame, especially the colorful sets and costumes.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) is no different and is even better than some others in the brilliant mix of mood and sympathy for its main victim, specifically the luminous and disfigured ‘phantom’ played by Herbert Lom.

Dastardly Composer Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, wonderfully played by Michael Gough, and his bullied backer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza), struggle to find a replacement for the female lead in their new opera after she quits and flees town in the wake of a gruesome theater murder.

When a new prospect, the virginal Christine Charles (Heather Sears), disappears after the advances of Ambrose, Harry cautiously investigates unaware that there is a lonely figure inhabiting the theater.

Meanwhile, a mysterious masked man (Lom) who is eerily familiar with the opera holds Christine captive and offers to groom her to play the part.

He is a mix of crazy and passionate and his plight is sympathetic when what he’s been through is finally explained.

But the atmosphere is what sets The Phantom of the Opera apart from other similar films of the 1960s, even Hammer films.

This is never more evident in an early scene when the camera follows the characters on the misty streets of London, the darkness and shadows becoming prominent as they walk through streets and dark alleys.

Fisher, now five years into his association with the production company has hit his stride. A limited budget might reduce another director to a fretting basket case but the result and ease that he parlays to The Phantom of the Opera are quite beautiful.

Many scenes take place in the theater itself adding a foreboding element to the events. Dusty yet brimming with musicianship and artistic pizzazz, it’s fun to watch the characters sneak around and scheme within the confines of this structure.

Therefore, the mood and trimmings are exquisite without actually being so.

The music sequences are impressive without going on for too long, and despite the locale being switched from Paris to London for obvious reasons, the main being that the actors are British, this doesn’t hamper the overall experience.

The best, and most gruesome scene, occurs when a poor chap swings across the theater stage in a neck rope, dead as a doornail. The creaking sound of the rope as the man swings back and forth is chilling and dubious.

Lom is my favorite actor in the film and his character’s backstory reveal is humanistic and impressive. Who can’t relate to at least once being swindled or cheated out of work that is rightfully theirs?

Gough, also familiar to Hammer Horror fans, is tremendous as the treacherous main villain.

Sears is okay but perhaps not the greatest actress nor the best choice for the role. She’s rather bland and unmemorable.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) falters a bit when it ends too suddenly, though many Hammer films suffer the same fate. This film is not for those expecting a grandiose Andrew Lloyd Webber style musical but for fans of down and dirty horror it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Queen-2006

The Queen-2006

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen

Scott’s Review #1,253

Reviewed May 8, 2022

Grade: A

Before the Netflix series, The Crown (2016-2023), loudly stomped into existence and took the world on a historical journey through the trials and tribulations of British royalty there was The Queen (2006).

Starring Helen Mirren, the film is a quiet telling of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II, especially immediately after the death of Princess Diana and the conflict and contention that took place.

Ironically, The Crown is created and primarily written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen. He created The Crown because of The Queen so there is an instant correlation between the two brilliant projects and the handwriting is very similar.

Stephen Frears, who also directed Judi Dench to an Oscar nomination for Philomena (2013) is at the helm and won himself an Oscar nomination for directing as well as scoring a win for Mirren.

The Queen is a terrific film across the board and Mirren is phenomenal in her portrayal of the grand dame. She cleverly fuses a stiffness and stoicism with subtle warmth and humanity few see from the queen, at least publicly. Layers of complexity are provided to an already mysterious public figure.

Following the death of Princess Diana in a fiery auto accident, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) struggle to reach a compromise on how the royal family should publicly respond to the tragedy.

In the balance is the family’s need for privacy and the public’s demand for an outward show of mourning. This causes mayhem and drama behind the sacred walls of Buckingham Palace.

The acting of Mirren and the direction are what make The Queen pure magic and a standout among the many royalty-themed films to emerge since the beginning of motion pictures.

First of all, Mirren looks like the part of Queen Elizabeth II and this goes way beyond wearing glasses and a sweater or having the same hairdo. She encompasses the role and this is no small feat.

The mannerisms, the speech patterns, and the lowkey attitude are the amazing nuances that the actress is somehow able to channel.

It feels more than simply Mirren dressing up like royalty and showing up scene after scene. She does something much more with the unspoken looks and inner workings of the queen that become apparent to the viewer.

Frears chooses to include many closeups of characters, mainly of Mirren, which only encircle what each character is thinking and pondering.

The film is very subdued with a lovely musical score adding texture and appeal to each frame. The inclusion of archival footage is powerful realism.

Merely nine years after the real-life death of the uber-popular Diana the event was still so fresh in the minds of viewers that releasing The Queen at this time was a stroke of genius.

It’s no secret that while Queen Elizabeth II is respected she is worlds away from wildly popular Diana and emits a coolness that baffles the public.

Thanks to Mirren, the public gets a glimpse into the heart and soul of a mysterious person and that’s a good feeling indeed.

However, Mirren couldn’t have delivered fully if not for the talents of Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Generations apart and with differing views they spar and respect each other, slowly forging a friendship of sorts.

The Queen (2006) hardly needs bombs, bombast, or quick editing to get its point across, though speaking of editing, a fantastic job of it with family scenes of Diana. The film lures the viewer into its web and makes them feel like an insider amongst the walls of royalty.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Helen Mirren (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

War Wolves-2009

War Wolves-2009

Director-Michael Worth

Starring John Saxon, Adrienne Barbeau, Tim Thomerson

Scott’s Review #1,252

Reviewed May 7, 2022

Grade: C-

Technically, a horror-television film that aired on the Syfy network, War Wolves (2009) is an abysmal experience in both filmmaking and plot. Bad dialogue and juvenile special effects are just the tip of the iceberg in what could easily be a hard-hitting review.

But, strangely enough, even with bad films pleasure is to be found and sometimes more than is rightly earned. My final rating of ‘C-‘ is my gift to the film that currently rates an anemic 8% audience favorability rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The only saving grace is the inclusion of veterans Adrienne Barbeau (Escape from New York-1981) and John Saxon (Black Christmas-1974) into the mix though Barbeau’s character is completely throwaway. Saxon is the co-lead and what a treat to see the seasoned actor do his best with weak material.

The action begins on the battlefields of the Middle East, presumably Afghanistan, where veteran Jake Gabriel (Michael Worth) is cursed with lycanthropy during a gunfight. He is aware of this and struggles to suppress his inner werewolf once he quickly returns to the United States.

His military comrade and girlfriend, Erika (Natasha Alam), and other female former soldiers begin to grow fangs and develop a fancy for the taste of blood. Jake resists but members of his “pack” attempt to hunt him down and convert him to the more thrilling life their changes are introducing them to.

Saxon plays a commander named Tony who is sent to the States to apprehend Jake before he can infect others and is joined by Frank Bergman (Tim Thomerson), his best friend, and polar opposite. Barbeau plays a woman named Gail who talks incessantly about her deceased husband.

Hopefully, Saxon, Barbeau, and Thomerson were thrown what little monetary breadcrumbs existed in the budget for this film. They play their parts earnestly while providing much-needed professionalism. Poor Barbeau even throws in a southern accent to her northern California hailing character in an attempt to make her more interesting.

I’ll say one thing. The above-average acting by the veterans makes up for the tepid and wooden acting by the rest of the cast. But casting gorgeous female ‘actresses’ as military personnel has a market too.

Unsurprisingly, the plot doesn’t add up and it’s never explained why Jake is infected in the first place or what anyone’s motivations are besides the obvious infecting and destroying the infecters.

The pale attempts at below the surface humanistic connections either go nowhere or result in the reaction of ‘who gives a shit, let’s see more blood’!

Worthy of mention is that star Michael Worth also directs the film. A better title than War Wolves would have been desirable. Although a humorous take on the word ‘werewolves’, it doesn’t roll off the tongue very well and conjures images more aligned with parody versus seriousness.

Unfortunately, Worth doesn’t play the film for laughs and it’s meant to be taken seriously, at least on paper. Tony and Frank have experienced this mission before and it causes Tony to be estranged from his family, a weak attempt at creating humanistic drama that never goes anywhere other than one conversation with an unseen family member from a pay phone.

I daresay the film is a load of fun providing some unintended laughs, especially in the final act. When the female pack appeared with cute, tiny brown noses, with matching pointy ears, and uttered demonic dialogue to appear threatening, I roared with laughter.

War Wolves (2009) is a film focused on the werewolf genre that is merely a blip on the radar and is probably forgotten already. It’s not my favorite horror sub-genre of all time but I’d still list The Wolf Man (1941) and An American Werewolf in London (1981) as the best entries.

But, for the 1230am-to 2 am timeslot on a boozy Saturday night, War Wolves is an appropriate fit.

Really bad movies can be fun too.

The Pacifier-2005

The Pacifier-2005

Director-Adam Shankman

Starring Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham

Scott’s Review #1,251

Reviewed May 1, 2022

Grade: C

The Pacifier (2005) is the kind of film that has been made for decades in one form or another. The setup is familiar and puts its macho movie star in situations that go against type or are deemed a bit feminine, and lightweight, all for the sake of a laugh.

As far back as the 1950s when Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis donned lady’s clothing in Some Like it Hot (1959), to Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom (1983), to the 1990s when Arnold Schwarzenegger entertained audiences in Kindergarten Cop (1995), there is a pattern to follow.

And those are just the decent films.

In 2005, the sexy Vin Diesel was one of the highest-grossing leading men in Hollywood churning out hits like Boiler Room (2000) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) to rabid audiences.

Known primarily for his action films, someone had the bright idea to domesticate the muscular star and put him in a situation where he would comically change baby diapers or vacuum a living room.

Unfortunately, The Pacifier is juvenile in nearly every way with canned gags and predictability for miles. Diesel is terrific to look at but isn’t the best actor in the world which causes the film to lose credibility.

Despite cliche after cliche and ridiculous situation, the film occasionally will elicit a chuckle or two from anyone brave enough to watch it.

That’s mostly because Diesel is willing to emerge in one scene covered in shit.

But don’t expect much more from The Pacifier.

Shane Wolfe (Diesel) is an elite Navy SEAL with muscles and charisma for miles. He is the type of man who would run into a fire and save a baby or swim out to sea to save a drowning child.

One day he makes a grave error in judgment when he fails to keep scientist Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan) safe from assassination and the man is killed.

Riddled with guilt, he is assigned to protect Plummer’s five children when the mother played by Faith Ford needs to leave the country temporarily. The kids include rebellious Zoe (Brittany Snow), Seth (Max Thieriot), and clingy Lulu (Morgan York).

The kid’s pet duck is along for the ride pushing the seasoned veteran to his breaking point.

Predictably, when Shane is not busy tending to the kids there is a secret project contained somewhere in the household that he must uncover.

Of course, a film like The Pacifier requires some romance so the inclusion of Principal Claire Fletcher (Lauren Graham) is for the sole purpose of having someone for Shane to fall in love with.

There is not great chemistry between Diesel and Graham so I wasn’t invested in them. The casting of the children is so one-dimensional with standard characteristics that it would be easy to laugh at.

I chose not to do this but rather strove to find something enjoyable in The Pacifier.

It’s a cute film but it’s so mainstream, dull, fluffy, and whatever generic adjective one would choose to describe it that it deserves the bland grade of C I am awarding it.

Diesel is the only appealing factor to The Pacifier.

Why make the bad guys as stereotypical as possible? They are North Korean and the ‘twist’ that Shane’s boss is in cahoots with them is as surprising as realizing the two-week-old Chinese leftovers in the fridge have gone bad.

The film has a small comparison to the superior The Sound of Music (1965) which the filmmakers must have realized since they incorporate it into the story. The kids that Shane is in charge of are behaving badly and attempting to play a practical joke on him.

In the end, there is a chase sequence, a reveal, peril, and a happy ending in more or less that order.

The Pacifier (2005) is a Disney film so there is a safe, family-friendly vibe throughout. It marginally entertains largely on the strength of Diesel.

He is sexy, macho, and provides enough charisma to forget the bevy of standard gags and silly situations that he, and the audience, must endure.

Spartacus-1960

Spartacus-1960

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons

Scott’s Review #1,250

Reviewed April 30, 2022

Grade: A

Typically, when influential director Stanley Kubrick’s name is uttered, films such as The Shining (1980), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Barry Lyndon (1975) are immediately thought of, and for obvious reasons.

The haunting, moody musical score, the long camera shots, the dark humor, and the clever camera tricks are easy to pinpoint.

Rewinding to 1960, the director was brought in to grab the reigns and direct the gorgeous epic, Spartacus, after Hollywood star Kirk Russell had unceremoniously fired the first director.

None of the previously mentioned elements are easy for me to notice and are more or less absent, but a grand battle scene in a luscious green field is very reminiscent of Barry Lyndon. This is likely because Spartacus was not Kubrick’s film entirely instead belonging to others with more clout.

Throwing out the director issues, Spartacus is a brilliant film for many reasons. Some epics suffer from a hokey, cliched feel and can be overwrought, predictable, and tired.

The rebellious Thracian Spartacus (Russell), born and raised a slave, is sold to Gladiator trainer Batiatus (Ustinov). After training to kill for the arena, Spartacus turns on his owners and leads the other slaves in rebellion.

As the rebels move from town to town, their numbers increase as escaped slaves join their ranks. Under the leadership of Spartacus, they make their way to southern Italy, where they intend to cross the sea and return to their homes.

Spartacus is grand, sweeping, cinematically great, and everything else you’d expect from a 1960s Hollywood epic with enormous stars of its day. Looking beneath the surface, the film is riddled with interesting tidbits like bisexuality, homoeroticism, and violence more in tune with an art film or modern war film than the safety of a film made during this time.

Particularly noteworthy is that Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of alleged Communist influences in the motion picture industry.

After the release of Spartacus, it marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other affected screenwriters.

Thank goodness.

In a famous scene, recaptured slaves are asked to identify Spartacus in exchange for leniency; instead, each slave proclaims himself to be Spartacus, thus sharing his fate.

The suggestion is that this scene was meant to dramatize the solidarity of those accused of being Communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era.

Besides the political importance, Spartacus also showcases a beautiful romance between Spartacus (Russell) and Varinia (Jean Simmons), a gorgeous slave girl. The tenderness and authenticity are palpable as many of their early scenes involve no dialogue but only longing and expression through both actors’ eyes.

I celebrated the connection between the actors who are at the forefront of much romance. Russell carries the film with a calm, masculinity that easily makes him heroic and likable.

He is the charismatic good guy who has been wronged and ill-fated.

A sequence oozing with machismo and homoeroticism occurs when evil Crassus (Olivier) is bathed by his slave boy Antoninus (Tony Curtis). He seductively explains that while sometimes he prefers snails, he also likes oysters too. The implication is that he is bisexual, brazenly so, and expects the youngster to become his sex slave.

The warmth of the bathtub and the luxurious atmosphere is juxtapositioned against the proximity and touch of both male characters.

In 1960, this scene was way ahead of its time.

The conclusion of Spartacus is melancholy and surprising. The expectation might have been to happily see Spartacus and Varinia ride off into the sunset having bested the cruelty of Rome.

This doesn’t happen and the film is all the richer for it. There is pain and despair as there were in real-life. Wisely sparing complete doom and gloom, the ending is satisfying as one major character is allowed to escape a deadly demise and conjure ahead with their life.

Spartacus (1960) is one of the greats. It has muscle, texture, and many below-the-surface nuances ripe for discussion. It’s a must-see for many reasons.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Peter Ustinov (won), Best Art Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography-Color (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture

The Object of My Affection-1998

The Object of My Affection-1998

Director-Nicholas Hytner

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd

Scott’s Review #1,249

Reviewed April 24, 2022

Grade: B

The Object of My Affection (1998) is a romantic comedy riddled with the standard cliches and obvious situation setups of similar types of film. As a whole, it is plot-driven rather than character-driven.

The redeeming factor is that it adds a left of center approach and delves into LGBTQ territory, albeit in a soft touch, which more mainstream American films were only starting to do in the late 1990s.

The best part of the film is the casting of Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd who have tremendous chemistry as a potential couple who has no chance of riding off into the sunset together. At least in any romantic sort of way.

He is gay and she is straight and nothing can change that.

Though fluffy, The Object of My Affection deserves some level of praise. Several gay men can easily relate to a situation where he finds a female friend enamored with him and experiences a return of affection differently.

It’s common to fantasize about what might have been if feelings were different and as the film explores, even try to go straight.

The film itself has a definite Will & Grace vibe, a popular television program emerging at this time, and even has the same location. The main characters become the very best of friends, watching movies together and sharing intimate moments just like a romantic couple would do.

The late 1990s was a time when gay characters took the center stage so The Object of My Affection gets a thumbs up for being part of the herd.

Nina Borowski (Jennifer Aniston) lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as a social worker. She invites her new gay friend, George (Paul Rudd), to move into her apartment after he breaks up with his longtime lover, Robert (Tim Daly).

Meanwhile, Nina gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, but ends her relationship with the child’s father, her controlling boyfriend Vince (John Pankow).

As Nina and George live and experience her pregnancy together, they grow close and Nina realizes she’s beginning to fall in love with her friend.

Aniston and Rudd work well together as a couple, friends or otherwise, and the chemistry tones are terrific. Even during the sappiest of scenes, and there are many of them, I always smiled a bit at their bond.

When Nina and George have the inevitable dramatic scene and express their feelings it doesn’t feel as forced as one might expect. Their bond is solidified and the film unsurprisingly has the pair remain in each other’s lives, presumably forever.

In satisfying form, Nina and George do ride off into the sunset along with little Molly but in solid relationships with other mates. Each character finds their destiny and soulmate while keeping in each other’s life.

While nice, there are many hurdles the filmmakers could have gone further with but don’t. The message is clear- regardless of sexuality, race, religion, or politics, a friend is a friend and a bond is meant to be forever.

It’s a warm message which is the basis for what the intent was and the film delivers a heartfelt story that eases the conflict of real-life and perhaps that is needed sometimes.

As much as The Object of My Affection (1998) has its heart in the right place with a progressive and inclusive slant, the film is bogged down by standard cliches and a fairy tale ending.

It’s a nice, fulfilling fantasy film but skates over hard-hitting realistic issues in favor of kid gloves type situations making it feel dated nearly twenty-five years later.

Other films in the years ahead would supersede the premise and take it to different and more interesting levels delving outside the box further and further.

But, a nice attempt.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

Director-Jeremiah S. Chechik

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid

Scott’s Review #1,248

Reviewed April 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Made several years after the first in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series (1983-2015), the inevitable production of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) is my personal favorite of the bunch and the most laugh out loud.

Silly personified but the jokes work and the enjoyment carries throughout the entire running time.

In retrospect, you knew they were going to do it. What better fodder for the bumbling Griswold family than to have them reunite with extended family on such a seasonal holiday. The gags and awkward situations are ripe for the picking as situation after setup is done exceptionally well and with grand humor.

The silliness works and the film is a recommended watch around the holidays with the family gathered around. Viewers can either relate directly to the film or inevitably know families that resemble the incompetent yet loveable Griswolds.

As the holidays approach, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is determined to have a perfect family Christmas. He motivates his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their children to make sure everything is in line, including the tree and house decorations.

Naturally, things quickly go awry in the greatest of humor.

His hick cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family show up unplanned and start living in their camper on the Griswold property. Even worse, Clark’s employers renege on the holiday bonus he needs causing a great deal of stress for the family patriarch.

For starters, the film has a cool holiday vibe. The setting is wisely the midwest United States somewhere outside of Chicago, Illinois. Snow is to be found everywhere and Christmas decorations and lights are lit all over the place throughout the film. This equates to a suburban and homey atmosphere that is warming and friendly.

Most viewers can snuggle in amid a warm fireplace and delicious hot cocoa and enjoy the film. The environment is one of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’s finest achievements.

A classic moment and the film’s funniest scene occurs when Clark excitedly decorates the inside and outside of the house to the nth degree and blows the town’s electric circuit as a result leading to uproar among his neighbors. Proud Clark’s ego is suddenly deflated and the man must rise above it all to somehow enjoy his family Christmas.

Watching the film decades after its release is still great fun as a nostalgia offering. The tacky Griswold Ford LTD station wagon with paneled siding is garish and unsightly (then and now) and anyone growing up in the 1980s can easily recall when suburban families would pile into this gas-guzzling car.

Not every aspect works perfectly in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation like the unappealing yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo (played by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Eddie and his redneck family. These roles are a bit too over the top and secondary inclusions to be the major win that the film is.

The real wins from the supporting cast are Clark’s immediate family. His parents and Ellen’s parents are perfectly cast and provide excellent comic timing and seasoned wit. Special notice goes to John Randolph, Diane Ladd, and Doris Roberts.

And who won’t fall in love with Clark’s senile Aunt Bethany played with hilarity by Mae Questel (the voices for animated Betty Boop and Olive Oyl).

Predictably, and well-intentioned, all the Griswold problems quickly fade away when Clark receives his annual Christmas bonus after all and all characters have a lovely send-off while singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ just in the odd way that the Griswolds would do.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) used to be a traditional Christmas viewing for me but has shamefully fallen out of favor over the years. It might be time to dust off this forever gem that provides laugh after laugh, fun, and togetherness for the whole family.

Madagascar-2005

Madagascar-2005

Director-Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath

Voices-Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer

Scott’s Review #1,247

Reviewed April 17, 2022

Grade: B-

Madagascar (2005) is a film that I found mildly entertaining but struggled to enjoy as much as others might. Films with a target audience of age thirteen and under are a tough sell for me because I don’t see them very often.

Having no children I have few opportunities to join in on the children’s games or sit at the kiddie table and get in that mindset.

Nonetheless, this film somehow crossed my radar.

It’s lighthearted and juvenile but playfully fun sending a positive message of friendship and dedication. Not a fan of the zoo at all my curiosity was piqued at how this angle would be represented if at all. Would the captivity of the zoo face off against the natural African wildlife?

The screenwriters tread safe waters keeping their audience in mind and don’t go for any deep message or environmental or animal issues, playing it quite safe.

Madagascar suffers from blandness and predictability knowing that the audience isn’t quite ready to think outside the box and their parents will obediently sit beside them watching the film.

The result is a film brimming with possibilities that it never realizes. It’s a ready-made family film and nothing more.

Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is the king of the urban jungle and the main draw at New York’s Central Park Zoo. He and his best friends Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have spent their lives at the zoo with admiring fans and tasty meals provided for them.

In their minds, they have it pretty good.

Yet Marty yearns for more and lets his curiosity get the better of him when he escapes the zoo to explore the world. He and his friends wind up on a ship back to Africa and are then shipwrecked on Madagascar and left to fend for themselves in the wild.

They face dangers and allies during their adventures and wrestle with either returning to the zoo or staying in their natural habitat.

There is plenty of humor to occupy the crowd but most of the jokes are tepid or fall flat altogether. They have very little substance to offer but rather are silly gags meant to keep the adventure going.

Big stars like Rock, Schwimmer, and Stiller are cast most likely to appeal to parents forced to go to the show with their kids. Recognizable voices always sell tickets in the animated world.

Secondary characters work better than the main cast. Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien XIII is a standout.

Mildly entertaining and soft touch in its approach Madagascar (2005) left me feeling dull and yearning for something a bit more challenging and robust in the field of kid’s film.

Its intent is merely to entertain and not to challenge so the result is a middle-of-the-road experience for me.

I’ll take any of the Toy Story (1995-2019) films any day.

Welcome to my blog! 1,250 + 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. They range from dramas to horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. 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 Top 100 Films section! I periodically update these rankings. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page.