The Lady Vanishes-1938

The Lady Vanishes-1938

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty

Scott’s Review #1,303

Reviewed September 30, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Mike-2012

Magic Mike-2012

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #1,302

Reviewed September 28, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He intends to entertain and entertain he does.

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

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

And who doesn’t like that?

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

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Director-Anthony Fabian

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #1,301

Reviewed September 24, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone gets a happy ending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

Director-Harold Ramis

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #1,300

Reviewed September 19, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director-Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

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

On Golden Pond-1981

On Golden Pond-1981

Director-Mark Rydell

Starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Scott’s Review #1,297

Reviewed September 8, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They do not feel manipulated.

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

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

We all know and love couples like them.

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

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

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

The Black Phone-2022

The Black Phone-2022

Director-Scott Derrickson

Starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke

Scott’s Review #1,296

Reviewed September 7, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crimes of the Future-2022

Crimes of the Future-2022

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux

Scott’s Review #1,295

Reviewed September 2, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malignant-2021

Malignant-2021

Director-James Wan

Starring Annabelle Wallis, George Young

Scott’s Review #1,294

Reviewed August 30, 2022

Grade: B

James Wan is a fantastic director responsible for co-creating the Saw (2003-2017) and Insidious (2010-2018) franchises. Anyone familiar with those films will enjoy Malignant (2021) since it borrows from them and is peppered with trimmings from those films.

In particular, it taps into supernatural elements of Insidious and the mood and score from Saw. Malignant even copies the gruff and robotic phone caller’s voice that was Jigsaw’s trademark and used in Saw. It’s not as threatening but it brings back those memories.

The result of Malignant is mixed but mostly good. It’s not one bit scary like Insidious was but not gratuitously gory like the Saw films though it has its moments of butchering.

Though utterly ridiculous, the conclusion of Malignant contains a terrific twist and a weird supernatural CGI contortionist choreography extravaganza that somehow reminded me of The Matrix (1999).

The storyline twist must have been influenced by Sisters (1973), an early effort by director Brian DePalma. It could be deemed as silly but somehow it’s my favorite part of the film.

Wan reaches into his magical bag of tricks and pulls out some wins. He also demands suspension of disbelief, which is okay in supernatural horror films but many points of the story do not add up.

Malignant begins in 1993 when Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline MacKenzie) and her colleagues treat a violent, disturbed patient named Gabriel at Simion Research Hospital. Gabriel can control electricity and broadcast his thoughts via speakers. He kills several staff members but Weaver survives and deems him untreatable.

Years later, Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) becomes paralyzed by fear from shocking visions. She slowly realizes that when a murder victim dies she is in the room with them witnessing their gruesome death.

Gabriel is on the loose and intent on killing Dr. Weaver and her colleagues for calling him cancer, and Madison is somehow involved.  She and her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson) must sleuth along with the police to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Malignant does well with the mood and tone of the filming. It has a dark grey quality plentiful in modern horror films and fans of Insidious and Saw will enjoy this familiar style of filmmaking. It’s set in Seattle which is a wise choice though all we get are some aerial views of the city, specifically the Space Needle.

Because it’s directed by Wan, it’s professional and contains the horror elements to be expected. There’s even a giant window fan that I swear I’ve seen in a Saw film. Wan knows what he is doing and the name recognition alone was enough to get me to see the film.

It’s not an ‘A’ but it does what a modern horror film is supposed to do and that’s to entertain. Malignant is not groundbreaking but it’s sound.

The plot holes are not worth dissecting beyond asking why there are no other patients in a large city hospital, a device that has existed since at least Halloween II in 1981, but that’s just the beginning.

Malignant annoyed me when it decided to add some humor. A sidekick character, Detective Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) bares an uncanny resemblance to funny lady Wanda Sykes. Unfortunately, her one-liners feel thrown in for kicks, and a blossoming romance between Sydney and Detective Kokoa (George Young) goes nowhere.

During these scenes, I felt like I was watching Chicago Med or Chicago Fire or any one of those other generic network television shows.

Fortunately, the scenes were brief and Wan returned to the point of the film- blood, killing, and chaos.

Lead actress Wallis is a fine casting choice. Pretty but relatable, she carries the film as the victim especially as more to her backstory is revealed.

Films like Malignant (2021) require putting the breaks on any deep analysis and merely going along for the ride. It’s entertaining and that’s good enough for me. With Wan at the helm, I anticipated a particular type of horror film and was ultimately satisfied with what I was served.

Bluebeard-1972

Bluebeard-1972

Director-Edward Dymtryk

Starring Richard Burton, Joey Heatherton

Scott’s Review #1,293

Reviewed August 23, 2022

Grade: A-

My expectations of Bluebeard (1972) were of a late-night foray into the world of weird horror. The story is loosely based on a French folktale of a nobleman with a curious wife forbidden from entering a mysterious room. I was anticipating an entertaining experience but nothing more.

To lower expectations, the critic reviews of the film were quite harsh, ridiculing and ripping upper-class actor Richard Burton to shreds calling this film the decline and fall of his career.

Instead, I was treated to luscious art direction created on a small budget and a fascinating, macabre story about a man nicknamed ‘Bluebeard’ (Burton) who kills each of his six former wives while revealing his dirty deeds to wife number seven, Anne, (Joey Heatherton) who he plans to kill.

We learn that Austrian aristocrat Baron von Sepper (Richard Burton) would rather kill his wives than divorce them. It’s the 1930’s and he is a decorated war hero with a secret or two. A lady’s man meets the most beautiful women but quickly becomes bored with them.

He hides their remains in a secret refrigerated room and Anne stumbles upon their corpses. Now, she must escape his clutches to avoid becoming his next victim.

Burton is famous for being the husband of Elizabeth Taylor and appearing in superior films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and The Robe (1953) and was a much sought-after Hollywood star during the 1950s and 1960s.

By the time of Bluebeard’s making, he was a raging alcoholic and needed the film work. However, intentionally or not he is a fabulous addition to the film whether he was sober during shooting or not. He perhaps doesn’t even recall making it.

The most fun with Bluebeard is the anticipation. Once I realized the film was working backward and detailing each of Bluebeard’s six former wives’ murders I was hooked! Each murder is better than the last and poor Raquel Welch as Magdelena is locked in a tomb alive.

In the comical form, the actress plays a slutty nun.

One particular scene had me tickled pink. Bluebeard’s third or fourth wife, a gorgeous blonde who is a chatty ‘motor mouth’ and eager to dive into bed with her new husband, is decapitated via guillotine when she thinks she will finally become intimate with him.

It’s a fabulous sequence that I had to watch twice.

The decapitation scene is nearly rivaled by a titillating girl-on-girl scene between Nathalie Delon and Sybil Danning who plays a prostitute hired to teach Bluebeard’s wife how to enjoy the pleasures of touch and eroticism.

They quickly get naked and kiss.

Instead of being aroused as any straight man would, Bluebeard takes a shear to them impaling them to death one on top of the other. We then realize he is quite inadequate in the sexual department.

It should go without mentioning that folks looking for a PG affair need to look elsewhere. There are enough breasts bared to make the prudish blush mightily. The lesbian scene might leave them running for the hills.

No, Bluebeard is an adult venture for those desiring a healthy serving of female flesh with their bloodletting. The male actors are spared any nudity- that’s the way cinema was back then.

Heatherton does surprisingly well paired with Burton and the chemistry works between them. She is not a top-quality actress but she is appealing and we root for her to escape the madman.

The art direction is tremendous and reminiscent of the attention to detail and craft that Hammer Horror films were able to create around that same period. The velvet red walls in Bluebeard’s massive estate ooze with royalty and sophistication. Each table, chair, and set piece is perfectly placed.

Of course, Bluebeard is pure camp and over-the-top shenanigans but it’s a hoot all the way, never dragging nor taking itself too seriously.

I was pleasantly pleased by Bluebeard (1972) and consider it a must-see for Burton fans desiring some later works sans Elizabeth Taylor. It’s not high-art but it sure is delicious Saturday night fun.

The Pajama Game-1957

The Pajama Game-1957

Director-George Abbott, Stanley Donen

Starring Doris Day, John Raitt

Scott’s Review #1,292

Reviewed August 19, 2022

Grade: B+

Doris Day, the queen of the romantic comedy film during the 1950s and 1960s was riding high in 1957 when The Pajama Game was adapted into film production. It had taken Broadway by storm in 1954 and achieved immeasurable success.

The actress/singer did not star in it, Janis Paige did. The film version required a Hollywood star in one of the lead roles and since Frank Sinatra turned down the male lead role, Paige was given the boot in favor of Day.

This hurts a bit but is the way the Hollywood world of box office receipts works.

Fortunately, Day can sing as evidenced by her startling good rendition of “Que Sera, Sera” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which won her an Oscar just a year earlier.

Taking place in the midwest, USA, the boss of an Iowa pajama factory hires superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) to help oppose the workers’ demand for a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.

Sid’s presence stirs the jealousy of foreman Vernon Hines, who is dating bookkeeper Gladys Hotchkiss (Carol Haney), and attracts worker “Babe” Williams (Day), a strong advocate for the pay increase.

Despite liking Babe, Sid resists the workers’ sabotage attempt and must decide whether to fire activist Babe. Predictably, the two fall madly in love amid catchy song and dance numbers.

I’m a huge fan of the musical genre, especially during the 1950s and 1960s heyday. The Pajama Game falls somewhere in the middle for me, inferior to the brilliant West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962) but holding its own with other fun musicals like Guys and Dolls (1955).

Fun is a perfect adjective to describe The Pajama Game with its bright, fluffy, and colorful pajama element, midwestern polite charm, and the romantic comedy bits between Babe and Sid.

This shouldn’t elicit a determination that The Pajama Game is juvenile or fluff because it’s solidly crafted and professionally made. Every musical number sounds good and is choreographed well.

No surprise to learn that Bob Fosse is at the helm as a choreographer, returning to the job he did on the stage production. The principal cast of the Broadway musical reprises their roles for the movie, except Paige, and Stanley Prager, whose role is played by Jack Straw.

As a result, it’s very similar to watching a stage production. Cinema performing is different from stage performing so there is a good number of giant voices and theatrical style acting which I didn’t mind at all. This is never evidenced better than when they all go on the factory picnic.

It’s careful to remember that the signing and dancing shouldn’t let the viewer forget that a sneaky liberal slant emerges in the story and a women’s liberation/progressive woman slant is exposed if the viewer looks carefully enough.

This is a wonderful way to add a tidbit of worth to an otherwise story about romance.

Babe is a very strong female character but it’s not bashed over our heads, but rather simmering below the surface. Unfortunately, this may be missed by those focused only on the most obvious elements.

As entertaining as the film is something is missing that ranks it below other productions like West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain, or The Music Man. It might be a lack of serious drama replaced by a corny element or the need for one big memorable music number.

The Pajama Game (1957) may not be the greatest musical of all time but it’s got enough songs and dances to satisfy a musical fan. Day envelopes the role just fine but I’ll always wonder how Janis Paige would have done in the film role.

Yellow Submarine-1968

Yellow Submarine-1968

Director-George Dunning, Dick Emery

Starring- John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney (*singing only)

Scott’s Review #1,291

Reviewed August 18, 2022

Grade: B+

By 1968 The Beatles, or the ‘Fab Four’, as they were commonly nicknamed, were household names and their music played all around the world. Instead of their earlier 1960s pop and radio-ready songs, the band was beginning to branch out into far more daring and creative territory.

Yellow Submarine (1968), also a song, is a bright and colorful journey into the weird and wonderful psychedelic sensibilities the band had created. It’s fabulous and edgy though sometimes doesn’t make complete sense.

The target audience was likely adolescents but since ‘Yellow Submarine is a children’s song there is a Sesame Street educational factor to it which is hard to explain well but I felt that vibe.

A thought for adults might be to concoct a powerful libation for maximum enjoyment while watching Yellow Submarine. One’s mind must be kept open to the Blue Meanies and the odd world of Pepperland that are featured as the gang traverses the land in a Candy Land-like maze of events.

Adults might be best-suited foraging into the world of silly while watching.

The film is The Beatle’s only animated project.

The music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland are under siege by the Blue Meanies, an unpleasant group of music-hating creatures.

The Lord Mayor of Pepperland (Dick Emery) dispatches sailor Old Fred (Lance Percival) to Liverpool, England, where he is to recruit the help of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr).

The sympathetic Beatles ride a yellow submarine to the occupied Pepperland, where the Blue Meanies have no chance against the Fab Four’s charisma and groovy tunes.

As bizarre as Yellow Submarine is to an adult’s frame of mind, I can only imagine the joy and energy a child would take from the film though perhaps not understanding completely. I tried to keep this in mind while watching it.

The colors are dazzling and vibrant and one of the biggest strengths of the film. The delightful and vivid greens and blues mix well with the lighter pinks and the yellow of the famous submarine.

I confess to having had a difficult time with the plot of Yellow Submarine in the beginning and I struggled to make sense of what was going on. This might have been because of the distraction of the beautiful animation and color direction.

I finally began to piece together clues and characters from Beatles songs and my realization turned into one of pleasure and anticipation.

Once the band meets the lonely Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D., also known as the ‘Nowhere Man, I got the point of the film. I began to look for other characters like Eleanor Rigby and Lucy from the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

The fun commences with salivation of what famous Beatles tune could be next. Speaking of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ this number is the trippiest and most interesting of them all as a spirit-like creature dances around with weird shapes and styles.

Other treats like the tremendous ‘All You Need Is Love, the charming ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, and naturally ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and ‘Yellow Submarine’ are featured.

Yellow Submarine (1968) is a must-see for fans of The Beatles and those with an appreciation for the arthouse magic contained within the film. Intelligent kids allowed to be exposed to the project will surely fall in love with it and reminisce when watching it years later.

Zola-2021

Zola-2021

Director-Janicza Bravo

Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo

Scott’s Review #1,290

Reviewed August 16, 2022

Grade: A-

I’ve said this before when speaking about cinema but it bears repeating. I treasure the independent film genre and the creativity it allows. Usually, it’s a small group or sometimes even only one person with a vision and the ability to bring it to the big screen.

Budgets are almost always tight but that’s a good thing. Remember how 1978’s Halloween was made on a shoestring budget and took over the world?

Zola (2021) is a wonderful example of the freedom allowed in independent filmmaking.

The film is not for everyone and I think it knows this. Marketed as a black comedy it’s a mixture of drama and comedy and a dark story sometimes difficult to watch. Comic moments are contained within but sometimes it’s unclear whether we are supposed to laugh or cringe.

I was enthralled by the film not only for the story but for instances of visual magnificence like the dazzling opening shot of lead character Zola (Taylour Paige) in multiple forms of bubbles and sparkles surrounded by quick editing shots.

She boldly asks the audience “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

From the moment the first line is uttered we know we are in for something sassy, salty, and dangerous.

Gorgeous and technically superior cinematography mixed with sex, drugs, and foul language would resurface throughout the film.

The story is loosely based on a viral Twitter thread from 2015 by Aziah “Zola” King and the resulting Rolling Stone article “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” by David Kushner.

Eventually, portions of the tale would prove to be embellished.

Zola (Paige) is a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer, Stefani (Riley Keough), who convinces her to join a road trip weekend of dancing and partying in Florida.

What at first seems like a fun trip quickly turns into a deadly journey involving a pimp, Stefani’s clueless boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters, and other unexpected adventures.

Director, Janicza Bravo, a New York University graduate, is someone to watch out for. Zola is her first full-length feature and reminds me quite a bit of Tangerine (2015) and American Honey (2016), two superior independent films.

At other times, the film contains a sprinkling of the underappreciated 2019 film Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez.

Bravo is not afraid to delve into the down and dirty lives of characters that most people would quickly dismiss or avoid altogether. Stories about strippers, prostitutes, and pimps can be a tough sell. The sex work industry is not always pretty.

Zola contains the raunchiest scene I have ever seen. As Zola and Stefani sit on the toilet going to the bathroom the camera pans from overhead, revealing not only their naked bums but also the waste excreted into the toilet.

The setting of Florida where much of the action takes place hits home to me, remembering several boozy vacations in various parts of the state. A somber gloominess enshrouds the characters as they traverse an otherwise bright and sunny landscape.

I love the detail and mixture of pretty and poisonous but was left knowing very little about the personal lives of the characters. I wanted to know how Zola and Stefani ended up where they did.

Considering the subject matter, Bravo thankfully doesn’t make the film violent or abusive. Instead, she peppers the dark comedy and over-the-top turns with her characters, especially the pimp (Domingo) and Stefani.

When Zola (2021) ends, there is an unsettling feeling of uncertainty and a lack of conclusion that I wish were different. Still, the creativity and the ability to create desperate characters willing to do anything to make some cash is fascinating.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Film, Best Director-Janicza Bravo, Best Female Lead-Taylour Paige (won), Best Supporting Male-Colman Domingo, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

Director-Anthony Waller

Starring Thomas Everett Scott, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,289

Reviewed August 12, 2022

Grade: C+

While fun, An American Werewolf in London (1981) is not in my top 10 best horror films ever. Werewolf flicks were never my go-to film in the genre, and appreciating the incorporated humor, the product is entertaining but not much more.

I’ve gained more appreciation for that film when compared to the follow-up, the haphazard and goofy An American Werewolf in Paris (1997). The only elements it gets right are culturally satisfying locale shots of Paris, France, and an underappreciated starring role by charismatic actor Thomas Everett Scott.

An American Werewolf in Paris is a completely watered-down version of An American Werewolf in London but with little to no connection to it. Considering the sister European cities it’s a missed opportunity and quite a shame that cross-connection wasn’t utilized.

Three handsome young American male tourists traverse Europe for some fun and naturally to meet females. The main focal point is on Andy (Everett Scott) who is virginal and serious.

The group arrives in Paris and witnesses an attempted suicide by Parisian Serafine Pigot (Julie Delpy). Andy can amazingly save her jump from the Eifel Tower by diving after her and catching her in the nick of time.

He is injured and transported to the hospital but eventually locates Serafine.

While on a date at a nightclub with her, Andy is suddenly attacked and bitten by a werewolf. The next day he discovers that Serafine is also a lycanthrope and that he is beginning his transformation into one of the beasts.

The overall tone of An American Werewolf in Paris is silly and amateurish. The situations work poorly, like when Andy and Serafine are having coffee at a Paris cafe and he pretends a condom he is chewing is bubblegum. Later he stumbles upon ditzy American Amy Finch (Julie Bowen) and they have a graveyard adventure that leaves her un-dead and vowing revenge on Andy.

Anyone expecting authenticity like the full nudity of the human/werewolf during the transformation will be severely disappointed with the decided lack of skin-only actress Delpy bares her breasts.

Otherwise, it’s bare chests only for the males which is unfair to viewers expecting the running through the forest naked sequences as An American Werewolf in London had.

It’s a stretch that both Andy and Serafine catapult from both the Eifel Tower and later the Statue of Liberty with barely more than a scratch and very little peril to enjoy.

The wacky plot involves bad guy Claude (Pierre Cosso), his henchmen, and a transforming-inducing drug. They hold a Fourth of July party to attract American tourists to slaughter, and Serafine’s stepfather is revealed to have created a drug with the opposite intention that led Serafine to accidentally kill her mother.

It’s all weak and uninspired causing an overcomplicated storyline to become more and more contrived as the film moves along.

The makeup during the transformation sequences is lacking, especially compared with the superior special effects of An American Werewolf in London. The CGI used looks fake.

And, how could you not compare the two films?

Despite all of the negatives, An American Werewolf in Paris has a moderate presence of fun but only when Everett Scott appears. He, as Andy, is such a likable guy, wearing his heart on his sleeve, that we root for him to ride off into the sunset with Serafine.

Everett Scott and Delpy don’t have the greatest chemistry but this can be forgiven because the film is really about the werewolves.

There are no characters to root for besides Andy and every Parisian character is written as inflexible, or as any other number of French stereotypes. The only relevant Parisian references are the locales though most are built sets to replicate the real places.

There is little need to ever see An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) again since it pales tremendously to the superior An American Werewolf in London (1981).

Queen Bee-1955

Queen Bee-1955

Director-Ranald MacDougall

Starring Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,288

Reviewed August 10, 2022

Grade: B+

Queen Bee (1955) is a drama served straight-up southern style and is highly recommended only for fans of legendary screen actress Joan Crawford. Made during the downward turn in her career the character is tailor-made for the actress and her fans.

She struts across the silver screen in flashy gowns and heavy makeup, admiring herself in the mirror, and firmly ensconced in bitch mode. With matching garish eyebrows and a sassy smirk, she chews up and spits out every character that she crosses paths with.

Otherwise, audience members unfamiliar with or otherwise turned off by Crawford probably shouldn’t bother with Queen Bee. There’s not a lot of character development or anything interesting story-wise other than watching her cause havoc.

Set in the 1950s American South, the vicious and conniving Eva Phillips (Crawford) takes pleasure in making the lives of those around her miserable, especially her husband, Avery (Barry Sullivan), who is so depressed he resorts to heavy drinking and becomes an alcoholic.

Meanwhile, when Eva discovers her sister-in-law (Betsy Palmer) intends to wed her former lover Judson (John Ireland), she decides to ruin their engagement for really no other reason than being nasty.

Eva’s niece, kindly Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), arrives in town and moves in with the family serving as Eva’s confidante. She is quickly warned by everyone not to cross paths with the scheming vixen but must learn for herself how deadly Eva is.

At some point early on Queen Bee turns from high drama into soap opera camp and becomes silly and plot-driven. It’s also quite melodramatic and stagey especially once events start to spin out of control.

Despite a talented supporting cast, Crawford is the headliner. The part is written with her in mind intended as a comeback vehicle when her career was dusty and in need of a dash of drama.

It’s a true delight to watch Crawford as Eva, pouring her heart and soul into a role that allows her to be as vicious as she wants. I guess in some way you could say Eva’s manipulative motivation is her claim for love but that’s a stretch and hardly justifies leading one character to suicide.

In proper form, Eva gets her due at the end of the film which left me, and likely most audiences, clapping with happiness.

Speaking of the supporting cast, I practically squealed with delight at the appearance of Betsy Palmer, forever known to horror audiences as the knife-wielding maniac in Friday the 13th (1980). Jaw-dropping is to see her play a weak, vulnerable character with no bloody ax anywhere in sight.

Barry Sullivan as Avery is also noteworthy as is a small and odd cameo appearance by Fay Wray (King Kong-1933).

Director, Ranald MacDougall wrote the screenplay for Mildred Pierce (1945) which won Crawford the Academy Award and was deemed a major comeback for her. He also wrote Queen Bee clearly with the idea that she would star and perhaps lightning would strike twice.

It didn’t, save for two surprising technical Academy Award nominations.

Palmer’s Carol offers the most poignant character summarization of Eva.  She tells Jennifer that she once read a book about bees and feels that Eva is like a queen bee who stings all her competitors to death.

For late-night satisfaction immersed in an hour and a half of delightful wickedness from Joan Crawford, Queen Bee (1955) is highly recommended.

Her scheming Atlanta socialite Eva is towards the top in a list of characters one loves to hate.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

Director-Charlie Chaplin

Starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Tippi Hedren

Scott’s Review #1,287

Reviewed August 8, 2022

Grade: B-

I hesitated even listing Tippi Hedren among the main cast above since she only appears in A Countess From Hong Kong’s (1967) final ten minutes. I then realized that her appearance also helped make the film better than it would have been without her so I decided to give her some deserved props.

A Countess From Hong Kong needs all the help it can get to lift it above mediocrity which it only does by a hair. This is surprising, given the directorial talents of Charlie Chaplin and the marquee name recognition of heavyweights like Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.

Somehow the stars agreed to appear in the film. Maybe they hadn’t read the script before signing on the dotted line.

Perhaps the incessant door opening and shutting sequences that go on endlessly are symbolic of the stars attempting to flee from this film.

It’s not all drivel and doom as the set decoration is flawless in beauty and style and, of course, Miss Hedren’s appearance in the final act is splendid stuff.

The trivial storyline features a Russian countess named Natascha (Loren) who stows away in the stateroom of a married United States diplomat Ogden, (Brando) bound for New York. They must scheme to ensure she arrives safely and undetected in Hawaii by marrying her off to another man.

Predictably, Natascha and Ogden fall madly in love.

Let’s feature a couple of positives before delving into the shit.

Whoever dressed and decorated the sets for A Countess From Hong Kong practically deserves an Oscar nomination for their work. Brimming with relevant mid-1960s style and sophistication, the sets are right out of television’s Mad Men series.

The colorful yellows and navy blues pair perfectly with black and grey furniture and whatever costume Loren was wearing, especially when she is clad in an ill-fitting green getup during one hi-jink scene.

Especially noteworthy is any scene that takes place away from one of the ship’s cabins, completely overused to enhance the farcical elements.

The open-set ball sequence is like a breath of fresh air and it immediately flourishes with wide-open brightness. Easy to do (and recommended) is to forget the plot altogether and escape with pleasure into each artistic design of the dance number.

When Hedren appears dressed to the nines in glittery and royal outfits it showcases both her star power and the talent of the costume team. She is given little to do as Martha, Ogden’s suspicious wife, except to be jealous, but she knocks it out of the park with her bit of screen time.

Loren and Brando surprisingly have little chemistry even when Natascha and Ogden bark and banter with each other endlessly. Their characters are hardly developed and hers turns into a bitch before too long while he does enough fuming and pouting to last a lifetime.

Based on the title you’d expect Natascha to be Asian but instead, the character is Russian and being played by an Italian actress.

I understand the need for big Hollywood stars to be incorporated into a film to achieve solid box-office returns but Chaplin seems to be without a clue how to make the pair connect.

A feeble attempt to add sophistication by giving English actress Margaret Rutherford one scene as a dotty bed-ridden old woman does nothing other than waste the legendary actress’s time.

Though, I shudder at the thought of how poor the film would have been without these talented actors.

A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) is a botched effort at creating what undoubtedly was supposed to be a fun romantic comedy romp. The film might have worked in the silent film era but forty years later feels tired.

Instead, we must traverse the tedious story to find underlying glimpses of brightness, just bubbling beneath the surface.

Raising Arizona-1987

Raising Arizona-1987

Director-Joel Coen

Starring Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter

Scott’s Review #1,286

Reviewed August 5, 2022

Grade: B+

Raising Arizona (1987) is the second film to be created by the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) with the independent offering, Blood Simple (1984) being the first.

The siblings would later become household names and trailblazers in the world of cinema.

It’s rough around the-edges storytelling with the severe desire to create something different. Maybe too different since sometimes Raising Arizona works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The film is to be championed mostly for its creativity though it’s not on par at all with the Coen brother’s best films, Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007). However, it does serve as a blueprint for films to come, if one is to look at it in hindsight.

I’m not the biggest Nicholas Cage fan of all time so it doesn’t help that he stars in Raising Arizona. The actor was achieving enormous recognition the same year for his appearance in Moonstruck (1987) which won Cher the Best Actress Oscar.

The film mostly gets props for its original writing and quirkiness in the sets and visual effects, but the comedy is way out in the left field and difficult to make sense of.

As with many Coen Brothers films, the plot centers on a crime and people on the run desperately trying to evade capture.

Hi McDunnough (Cage) is a convenience store robber who meets and falls in love with an ex-cop named Edwina “Ed” (Holly Hunter) during a stint in prison. After they move to a mobile home in the middle of the desert they decide to kidnap a baby since they cannot have one of their own.

While keeping their secret, friends, co-workers, and a bounty hunter look to use the child for their purposes.

The setting works quite well and is an important part of the film like other Coen offerings. The blazing hot desert is a familiar sight and pivotal to the story events with sizzling highways and roadside dives a focal point throughout. Hi and Ed’s tacky mobile home is dusty and cracked which enhances the extreme heat.

Cage and Hunter have tremendous chemistry which kept me invested in their characters. Both quirky looking, they act well against each other and invoke sympathy from the audience- at least I did. Despite being kidnappers, they have the best of intentions of keeping their stolen baby safe and cared for.

Delightful to see is actress Frances McDormand in an early role as Dot. She would become a frequent star and collaborator in later Coen Brothers films.

Forgetting the uneven storytelling for a minute, Raising Arizona’s finest moment comes at the very end. Through a series of prophetic dreams about the future, the fates of all the characters are determined.

It’s a trippy and magnificent sequence and quite well known to fans.

A clever offering that at times spins out of control with ridiculousness, Raising Arizona (1987) is nonetheless recommended to view and absorb the zany characters that the Coen Brothers are famous for creating.

Saw-2004

Saw-2004

Director-James Wan

Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell

Scott’s Review #1,285

Reviewed August 4, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many reasons that I love the horror genre so much is how it changes and develops over time. Many classic horror films are influential to more modern ones and that’s all well and good.

But then sometimes a new idea or style comes along that throws everything topsy turvy and influences other films for years to come.

Saw (2004) is one of those films. It smacked everyone who thought they knew horror films upside the head with a relentless and pulsating gore-fest.

I was fortunate enough to see the film when it premiered and boy was it the ‘water cooler’ film of its day. The clever writing and intricate plot and set pieces were unheard of in a world of maniac-wielding knife setups and redundant endings.

It invented the grisly ‘torture porn’ moniker that became popular with films like Hostel (2005) and many more that would come after it.

The Saw franchise ultimately produced perhaps one too many sequels that left it feeling stale and exhausted, but what an influence the original Saw had, and continues to have.

I still remember the hold the film had over me and how much it resonated in nastiness, butchery, and enough creative killings to last a lifetime.

Needless to say, it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart, and watching Saw now knowing the surprise twist doesn’t pack quite the same punch that it did in 2004, but I’ll never forget how I felt when first watching this film.

The twist ending is unforgettable.

Events get off to a kick-ass start when two men awake in peril. Photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) who do not know one another, regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom.

As the confused men realize they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed “Jigsaw” and must complete his perverse puzzle to live, flashbacks unravel the mystery of other character connections.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter) and young daughter (Makenzie Vega) are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.

A massive clue to the puzzle that Saw presents is lying right there in the bathroom but of course, the unwitting audience knows none of this. The fun of the film is to sit back and let the filmmakers slowly unpeel the onion and reveal the who’s who of the backstory.

And let the blood drip.

Unlike legacy films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) or even later efforts like Scream (1996) that brought thousands of rabid horror fans back to movie theaters, nobody is being chased with a knife in Saw.

It’s much more cerebral than that.

Who can ever forget the sound of Jigsaw’s grave voice pouring out of a tape recorder stating “I want to play a game” in a robotic tone? It is still as ominous a sound as one could imagine, and the big reveal still comes as a genuine shock.

Most of the characters have secrets to reveal and most of those secrets are dirty.

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell who also stars in Saw, brilliantly craft a web of deceit amongst their players. The characters who suffer the most have committed a hateful act of deception or schemed their way to benefit based on someone else’s ruin.

In perfect form, all the victims almost deserve their fates like being caught in a shotgun trap, shot in the chest, or being forced to ‘saw’ off their foot to escape death.

The final reveal is downright freaky and will make the audience quickly rewind the events of the film in their heads. The character thought to be the main killer, and wonderfully played by creepy actor Michael Emerson (star of television’s Lost) is merely a pawn of someone more sinister.

Saw (2004) savagely hacked its way into viewers’ heads with a sophisticated, plot-driven experience with a film style enhanced by an independent look.

It’s had its day but it must never be forgotten for the influence left behind.

Scream-2022

Scream-2022

Director-Mike Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring Melissa Barrera, Neve Campbell, Jack Quaid

Scott’s Review #1,284

Reviewed August 2, 2022

Grade: B+

Scream, the 2022 version, was billed as a ‘relaunch’ of the film series when it was released in the crappy month of January. However, is that so important in a Covid age when hardly anyone goes to movie theaters?

The film is really ‘Scream 5′ because it has continuity from the last installment released in 2011, and harkens back to the 1996 Scream premiere.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.

Scream ultimately follows a formula, but a formula that works especially well and will please fans of the series. My expectations were superseded, and wonderful is the inclusion of series stalwarts in roles that are much more than glorified cameos.

On the flip-side the finale is underwhelming and the killers’ (isn’t there always two??) motivations are lame but I found that to be unimportant because the real fun is the whodunit aspect.

Scream is very faithful to that.

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, California, a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

The frightening release date and the first of the series not to be directed by Wes Craven is enough to make any Scream fan bite their nails in worry about how the end product would result.

In addition, there are two screenwriters and two directors which is rarely a good sign for creativity.

But, all’s well that ends well as writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olipin and Tyler Gillett do many things right.

I mentioned the formula before and they wisely use an anniversary as a starting point. Vicious murders commence on poor Woodsboro at just the right time for mayhem to erupt all over again.

For those who have forgotten the titillating and flawless opening sequence of Scream circa 1996 when poor Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is forced to play a guessing game with an unknown phone caller to avoid death is reintroduced with gusto.

The film immediately begins with a nod to that history.

When teenager Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) answers her landline the audience whoops with joy at the anticipation of what’s to come. She will endure a game of horror film trivia with Ghostface before he (or she) leaps into the kitchen to cut her to bits.

Pleasurably, a new gang of fresh-faced Woodsboro teenagers is then introduced to be plucked off one by one. But, could one or two of them be the killers?

A treat for all fans is the inclusion of Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Skeet Ulrich in their original roles with one of them having a major connection to a new character.

This only cements the lifeline of the franchise.

The clever writing was considered unique at the time of its release for featuring characters aware of real-world horror films who openly discussed the clichés that the film attempted to subvert.

In Scream (2022) this is heightened by a discussion of ‘source material’ and ‘requel’ which feels like a horror film progression.

If you’re thinking that Scream 2022 is a carbon copy of Scream 1996 it kind of is but with some modernization. And it works like a charm, feeling like a good visit with an old friend and watching their offspring sprout into young adults.

Scream (2022) takes a lesson from what the recent Halloween film reboot did. A reprisal franchise once aged and tired that breathes new life into the series by using its history and legacy characters.

How clever that the characters in Scream even acknowledge this in the story!

I anxiously await the next Scream film rumored to be released in 2023 for more fun.

Julia-1977

Julia-1977

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards

Scott’s Review #1,283

Reviewed July 31, 2022

Grade: A

Jane Fonda leads the charge in a powerful, and gorgeously shot, drama named Julia (1977) centering around pre-World War II and the impending Holocaust.

The drama is based on the writing of Lillian Hellman, a famous playwright, which depicts the relationship between two close friends and its unexpected consequences when one desperately needs help from the other.

When Lillian (Fonda), a renowned playwright, reunites in Russia with her childhood friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), the writer is asked to smuggle funds into Germany to aid the anti-Nazi movement. In the mix is Lillian’s mentor, Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), who is unaware of her dangerous assignment.

I immediately relish the film mainly because the message is extremely female empowering and a dynamic friendship between two women is examined. This does not happen enough, successfully, in films even to this day.

Given the World War II theme, one would naturally assume the film would center around men not women, and plenty of female spies and the like, are featured.

Added to the mix is the astounding cinematography of Germany, Poland, and Russia. In truth, the film was actually shot in England and France for security and restrictive reasons but it could have fooled me since the countries look authentic and believable.

Julie looks polished and that’s hardly a gripe. The production design and costumes are perfectly shot and colored to perfection. It’s not a dowdy or drab film and it depicts little amounts of violence or torture choosing to focus on relationships and intrigue.

The suspenseful train sequence is brilliant in every way, sprinkling in Hitchcokian bits along with enough nail-biting to make the long scene a key takeaway. Lillian must keep secret her intentions as she traverses toward Russia and each train scene whether it’s the peril of being checked while crossing the border, or eating in the dining car, is captured with perfection.

A slight suspension of disbelief is the casting of the beautiful Fonda as the plain-looking playwright Lillian Hellman. In some scenes, she is made up to look haggard, tired, and homely but the trick never works for a minute.

It’s even giggle-worthy and recommended to sit back and watch Fonda give a splendid performance forgetting altogether that she is portraying the writer.

In other movies, it might have only been about Fonda from an acting perspective but in Julia, the spoils go round and round. At the very least Redgrave, Robards, and Maximilian Schell, who plays a pivotal character named Johann, must be mentioned. Each brings professionalism and believability to their characters.

But quieter parts by a woman passenger and a girl passenger are my favorites. They go from cheery to serious, speaking in a sort of code, not stating they are helping Lillian, but obviously they are using facial expressions to reveal true alliances.

A delightful point to make is that Julia is Meryl Streep’s first film role, albeit in a tiny part.

Speaking of Redgrave, when she won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award she made an infamous speech that marks a great controversy.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked Hollywood for having “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression”.

This was preceded by members of the Jewish Defense League picketing the ceremony and followed by some boos and retorts to her comments.

But back to the film, Julia does not end in a happily ever after way. A major character is killed and a baby is lost forever. But, that’s part of the truth to create a film that harkens back to a day when non-conformity led to death.

Julia (1977) is a vital film that still holds up tremendously well and in a world still filled with chaos and oppression, it’s a great reminder of the power of cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best DIrector-Fred Zinnemann, Best Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Supporting Actor-Jason Robards (won), Maximilian Schell, Best Supporting Actress-Vanessa Redgrave (won), Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

Dune-2021

Dune-2021

Director-Denis Villenueve

Starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac

Scott’s Review #1,282

Reviewed July 29, 2022

Grade: B

Dune (2021) is a film that under normal circumstances I would not have seen. I’m not a huge blockbuster, fantasy film kind of guy. If not for the slew of Oscar nominations the film received, ten to be precise, Dune probably would have flown under my radar.

I needed to see what all the fuss was all about.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man born into a destiny that he doesn’t completely understand, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people.

As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

My assessment of the film before even viewing it proved correct. It’s an epic-length, science-fiction, fantasy type of adventure film all rolled into one. I liken it to the unwieldy Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy in tone and content and a peculiar reminiscence to the popular television series Game of Thrones (2011-2019).

For most of Dune, my attention was squarely glued to the story as well as the astounding cinematic grandiose trimmings. I knew if I didn’t pay close attention I would quickly be out in a left field (I’ve made this mistake before).

Overall, I admired Dune and struggled to grade it either a B or a B+ finally deciding on the latter. The visuals are astounding and cleverly show off what can be done with enough CGI to make a film a marvelous spectacle.

But, for me, there needs to be more and I struggled after a while with the plot.

The story is too confusing. Why does every fantasy, or epic film need to be so deep in the plot with too many characters to keep track of? It started off okay and I was clear who Paul’s family is, and more or less who the good guys are. But then other groups like the Fremen (who I think are good) and House Harkonnen (who are all bald and I think are bad) are introduced, and a battle over valuable spice ensues.

To complicate matters, Paul suffers from strange dreams/visions mostly involving a young girl and some battle scenes involving Paul’s connection to a mysterious sword. He can also command without speaking, somehow.

I had no prior history to draw from which in retrospect did me a disservice. Dune began as a novel in 1965 written by Frank Herbert and was turned into a 1985 film directed by David Lynch which was deemed a disaster.

I probably should have read the book.

To be fair, the acting is quite good, especially by Chalamet and Isaac, completely believable as father and son. Their connection and chemistry are pliable but there is not enough of it. Instead, the main focus is Paul’s relationship with his mother, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

Chalamet, already an Oscar-nominated actor for Call Me By Your Name (2017), has the chops to carry a film.

Other worthy turns are by legendary British actress Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother, and Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen tribe.

Despite the over two and a half hour running time Dune does not drag. The bright sweeping desert scenes featuring a pulsating underground worm, mixed well with darker scenes in the Harkonnen’s lair.

Dune (2021) is made incredibly well and is a clear spectacle. I found it too similar to other genre films to give it a thumbs up unless you are already a fan of the novel, but this style of cinema may not really be my cup of tea.

Villeneuve, who directed Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 knows his way around the fantasy genre and is perfectly capable. He is directing Dune: Part II to be released in 2023 so I’d expect more of the same.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Costume Design, Best Sound (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Visual Effects (won),

42nd Street-1933

42nd Street-1933

Director-Lloyd Bacon

Starring Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels

Scott’s Review #1,281

Reviewed July 28, 2022

Grade: A-

Whenever I am fortunate enough to watch a film made in the 1930s I am reminded of the vast nature of cinema and how far it’s blossomed.

Filmmakers could do unique things back then having very little of what filmmakers have in the modern day for technology’s sake.

I’ve heard it said that films of the 1930s are dated and dusty, the acting style is different, and the musical scores always have a standard sound. I find them like little presents beckoning to be opened to escape to another time, long ago.

The famous musical 42nd Street (1933) is a Broadway stalwart since the beginning of time, seemingly. This is a falsehood since a stage adaption of the film debuted on Broadway in only 1980, winning two Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Director Lloyd Bacon creates a slow and steady build to set the drama properly. The final thirty-five or forty minutes culminates in a lavish and fascinating extravaganza of the gala show opening.

All in all, events transpire in a brisk one hour and twenty-nine minutes. If I’m honest, I could have done with another ten minutes of the merriment-laden conclusion.

I giggled with delight at the professionalism inhabiting unique cinematography sequences like a camera rolling through a dozen spread legs to land on a handsome young couple’s face.

In a timely fashion, the Great Depression Era is the focus and props go to all involved for placing a focus on this dastardly time with an escapist show.

Revered and impatient Broadway director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has fallen on hard times like the rest of the United States. He is warned by his doctor to take care of his health but his finances are dire.

He launches an ambitious musical as a final production before his retirement. The lead actress, bitchy Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), is torn between two men, the show’s rich financer, Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), and struggling actor Pat Denning (George Brent).

Meanwhile, aspiring young performer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is hoping for her big break. She is completely green and impressionable but humorously looks similar to Dorothy, right down to their curled hairstyle.

It’s easy to see what direction the plot is going in but instead of an All About Eve (1950) theater story of one actress scheming for the role of another actress, events happen organically.

The first portion of 42nd Street is all well and good. We get snippets of the women traversing amongst their male admirers and Julian becoming more and more frustrated with the incompetent talent but I kept hoping events would finally take off.

The romantic triangles and irritated threats to fire the cast almost get repetitive until the spectacular second act.

When the company is reduced to the opening in Philadelphia, the dregs of society to them, instead of the bright lights of New York City, 42nd Street becomes a different type of film.

A magical and marvelous escapade of leggy performances and astounding costumes and song and dance numbers emerge onto the big screen before my delighted eyes. It is startlingly like watching the production in real-time.

The cherry on top was watching the petrified Peggy fill in for the injured Dorothy. Instead of the women continuing their feud, the older Dorothy gives Peggy a pep talk about how much the crowd wants to like her, and she has no reason to be nervous.

She’s got it and Dorothy’s got her back.

The moment is filled with sweetness as the veteran passes the baton to the upstart. Dorothy’s words resonated with me as any entertainer, public speaker, or anyone else can take her advice to heart.

The musical numbers are cheery and robust led by the toe-thumping title track which I continue to hum along to whilst writing this review.

A gripe is that, according to legend, Julian is a gay character but there is never a moment where the film implies this. A pleasant jolt would have been for him to at least flirt with a cast member.

Old fashioned has rarely felt better because 42nd Street (1933) provides enough flash and dance, and razzle-dazzle, to make its audience harken back to the good old days of classic cinema.

There are even some words of wisdom to embrace.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Director-George Sidney

Starring Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret

Scott’s Review #1,280

Reviewed July 24, 2022

Grade: B

A lightweight romp created exclusively as a vehicle for superstar Elvis Presley and his lofty success, Viva Las Vegas (1964) is one of the better Elvis film entries.

This may not be saying much because he’s not the greatest actor in the world. He doesn’t need to be since he’s got enough charisma and chemistry with co-star Ann Margret to elicit a smile or two, and the musical numbers together and separately are entertaining.

That’s really what Viva Las Vegas is about.

Elvis was at his peak in 1964 both musically and physically so watching the hunky singer croon, dance, and writhe with style on the big screen is not the most daunting task in the world.

The silly story feels forced, obvious, and created on the fly to provide humor, hijinks, and a bit of drama for the leads. It’s not the most substantial part of the film.

Appealing are the opening camera shots of ‘old Las Vegas’ during the 1960s. The lights and glitter are colorful and appealing as is the Vegas setting, though disappointingly, most of the film is shot on a studio soundstage.

The sloppily conjured-up story involves a  musically gifted race car driver named Lucky Jackson (Presley, naturally) who arrives in Las Vegas to score enough money for a new car motor so he can win the upcoming Grand Prix race. He befriends a cagey racing rival named Elmo (Cesare Danova).

When he encounters sexy swimming instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret), he considers staying around longer to get better acquainted with the dame. After Lucky loses his winnings in the hotel pool, he’s forced to remain in Vegas working as a waiter.

He not only wants to recoup his financial losses, but he is now determined to win Rusty’s heart. Unfortunately, so does Elmo, setting off a chain of events that culminates with the Grand Prix race. Elmo and Lucky try to outwit each other.

To say the events in Viva Las Vegas are predictable is an understatement as a meager attempt at an invested triangle between Lucky, Rusty, and Elmo is laughable. There is no doubt that Lucky and Rusty will ride off into the sunset together.

Unintentionally I am sure, director George Sidney is no Alfred Hitchcock after all, there exists homoeroticism between Lucky and Elmo. As they lie side by side under the wheels of a broken-down greaser, a titillating thought is what if the men were to kiss.

Elvis’s enormous fan base was not ready for that scandal in 1964 so the result is a by-numbers boy meets girl, boy intends to conquer girl, a traditional love story.

Sigh.

The anticipation of a grand musical finale is disappointing because there isn’t one, only the race itself tepidly watched by Rusty and company from an overhead helicopter. The sequence is adequate with enough suspense and car wrecks to enthrall the viewer but unsurprisingly Lucky wins the race.

In a rushed final scene, Lucky and Rusty are seen happily emerging from a church on their wedding day whilst a bouquet sits in Rusty’s hand. Big smiles are on the faces of everyone.

The chemistry between Presley and Ann-Margret is strong and endearing. This is no surprise given the real-life affair the pair were reportedly having. Nonetheless, the sweetest number occurs early on when Lucky tries to convince Rusty, through song, that she is in love with him, but just doesn’t know it yet.

I gushed at the thought of Marilyn Monroe in the Rusty role which may have been the original intent. The blonde bombshell died less than two years before the film’s release, and likely after the idea was birthed.

No disrespect to Ann-Margret.

Of course, the main reason to watch Viva Las Vegas is for the tunes. The title track is a super-charged song about the enjoyment of the city of sin and a multitude of other numbers appear throughout the film at breakneck speed.

This is a relief since there is not much time to invest in the paper-thin plot.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) is a film recommended mostly for Elvis fans seeking a glimpse of the star in his heyday.

Tender Mercies-1983

Tender Mercies-1983

Director-Bruce Beresford

Starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper

Scott’s Review #1,279

Reviewed July 22, 2022

Grade: B+

Tender Mercies (1983) is a quiet, down-home film about a country musician struggling with alcohol addiction, god, and a tepid musical career. Anyone starting to elicit a yawn will have the same reaction I did when reading the premise.

It’s not the most original idea but the film works surprisingly better than I initially expected. The 1983 film is largely forgotten at this point but has a Cinderella story as its legacy.

Funding and a marketing push were limited, resulting in low box-office returns but the Academy sure took notice heaving five nominations its way.

It’s quite the departure for those expecting actor Robert Duvall to mirror his The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) character.

Tender Mercies is an actor’s film, and it belongs squarely to Duvall who delivers a wonderful performance perfectly carved out for an Oscar nomination. He instills himself into the role of a drunken, washed-up, country star vowing to stay straight.

Duvall does more than act in it, crafting and performing his songs in a role standing side by side with his role in The Apostle (1998) as his very best.

He won the coveted Academy Award for Tender Mercies.

Though the tone is low-key, filming was anything but, and reports of disagreements and blow-ups between Duvall and director, Bruce Beresford, surfaced.

The Australian director was later made famous for Driving Miss Daisy (1989) at one point even considered quitting the production.

The story tells of alcoholic drifter Mac Sledge (Duvall), who awakens one day in the middle of rural Texas after a night of heavy drinking.

His surroundings are a run-down roadside motel and gas station.

He meets the owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), and offers to perform maintenance work at the motel in exchange for a room. Rosa, whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War, is raising her young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard), on her own.

Mac and Rosa become smitten with one another, attending church, and forging a life of solitude together. Demons surface when it is revealed that Mac is a once-famous country singer with a currently famous ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley).

When the opportunity for a career comeback surfaces, Mac must choose between his new life and the life he let slip through his hands.

The story is very good for several reasons. At the forefront, Mac is a likable guy who the audience pulls for. Instead of the tried-and-true story of a man battling his demons and being ‘saved’ by a woman, Mac is already on the road to recovery and has the desire to stay sober.

Rosa Lee and Sonny merely serve as steady influences versus the bright lights and broken hearts of the country music world.

Mac also has a chance to be a father figure to someone. The bad stuff has already transpired in the past, so the audience is spared having to endure a pile of shit in exchange for a big payoff at the end of the film.

There are a couple of negatives that hold the film from being a masterpiece.

On the wagon, Mac is tempted to down a bottle of whiskey after a tragedy, but he resists the urge instead pouring the devil’s juice out onto the ground. is that a big surprise?

Buckley does her best with a one-note character, clearly in existence as an obstacle to Mac’s happiness.

But, at its core, Tender Mercies is about relationships, and though a slow under texture, delicious are the low-key scenes between Mac and Rosa Lee, and Mac and Sonny. The scenes prove that good crisp dialog with grace and heart trumps car chases any day.

They discuss life!

The cinematography of remote Texas is magical in its vastness and its loneliness. Key expressions on the face of Duvall perfectly match the western landscape.

I’m not a religious guy and I’m not a country & western guy but I enjoyed the story I was served up by Tender Mercies (1983) quite a bit.

The combination of superb acting, an emotionally charged character-driven story, and a fabulous glimpse at the dry state of Texas, made for a compelling, and relatively short viewing time of ninety minutes.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Bruce Beresford, Best Actor-Robert Duvall (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Original Song-“Over You”

Welcome to my blog! 1,300 + reviews posted so far! My name is Scott Segrell and I reside in Stamford, CT. My blog is a diverse site featuring tons of film reviews I have written since I launched my site in 2014. I hope you enjoy perusing the site for latest or greatest films or to search for your own favorites to see how we compare. Please take a look at my featured sections at the top of the page: Alfred Hitchcock Films, James Bond Films, Quentin Tarantino Films, Top 100 Films, and 2022 Films.!