Category Archives: Thriller Films

Vantage Point-2008

Vantage Point-2008

Director-Pete Travis

Starring Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker

Scott’s Review #1,271

Reviewed June 25, 2022

Grade: B-

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

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

The trailer looked good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did these actors read the script before signing on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s nearly the same with one being superior.

Unbreakable-2000

Unbreakable-2000

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #1,260

Reviewed May 29, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

He continues his superior acting and calm character approach.

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

Unbreakable is by far the best of the bunch.

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

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

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

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

What is the link between David and Elijah?

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

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

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

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

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

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unbreakable.

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

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

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

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

Director-Anthony Minghella

Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow

Scott’s Review #1,259

Reviewed May 27, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

Sometimes all at once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death on the Nile-2022

Death on the Nile-2022

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring Armie Hammer, Tom Bateman, Gal Gadot

Scott’s Review #1,245

Reviewed April 15, 2022

Grade: B+

Death on the Nile (2022) is a modern remake of the 1978 thriller of the same name which in turn is based on the famous 1937 novel by Agatha Christie, one of many stories the author wrote. I love a good whodunit and the fact that I already knew the outcome from seeing the original film did not lessen the entertainment and suspense that befell me.

It only made me salivate with anticipation about how the new incarnation would handle the inevitable big reveal during the final chapter of the film.

As the suspects are locked in a boat bar one character boldly announces that the murderer is in this room and will be unmasked.

Death on the Nile is a meat and potatoes offering peppered with glamour.

Similar to the remake of Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is once again enshrouded by mysterious folks with money to burn and secrets to hide. One of them has murdered a wealthy young heiress with her own set of secrets and Poirot must quiz and entrap the perpetrators aboard a sailing vessel.

Or could there be more than one murderer?

The setting of mystical Egypt and the luminous Nile river in northern Africa puts the players amid gorgeous locales. This only enhances the juiciness and the appetite for a good, solid murder mystery.

Our hero’s lush Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamboat turns into a deadly search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is cut short by killing one of them.

It turns out that almost everyone aboard has a reason to want her dead. Naturally.

Set against an epic landscape of sweeping desert vistas and the majestic Giza pyramids, Poirot peels back the onion of the lives of his fellow vacationers. He discovers jealousy and deceit as he gets to know the wealthy cosmopolitan travelers.

The trip includes the honeymooners, Simon and Linnet, played by Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, Bouc (Tom Bateman), a long-time friend of Poirot’s, Euphemia (Anette Bening), a renowned painter and Bouc’s mother, Salome (Sophie Okonedo), a black jazz singer, and her niece Rosie (Letitia Wright), Linnet’s maid, Linnet’s godmother, and her companion, and a doctor who used to date Linnet.

It would seem as if all roads lead to Linnet, which it does since she is the character who suffers her fateful demise. What is key is that every character has a connection to her making the puzzle all the more intriguing and interesting to figure out.

Branagh, coming directly from his Oscar-winning film Belfast (2022) deserves the most credit because he not only stars in but directs the film as he did with Murder on the Orient Express. The screenplay is once again created by Michael Green. The consistency is very important and satisfying to the overall product and the two films can be watched back to back with ease.

There is trust that the anticipated enjoyment will be fulfilled and for me it was.

Death on the Nile is not high art but merely slick entertainment done quite well. There is much manipulation for the audience to endure and the setup of the potential suspects and the victim’s background are thrown directly into the viewer’s face.

This was welcomed.

I didn’t mind the implausibility of every character having reason to kill the heiress, nor did I mind a mystery character racing around the ship causing mayhem then changing into formal evening wear in less than thirty seconds flat.

The numerous plot devices are to be expected from a film like Death on the Nile and I happily and willingly fell for them hook, line, and sinker. The wealth of most of the characters is splendid intrigue and only adds to the enjoyment.

Considering the time is the 1930s a same-sex relationship and a brewing romance between the caucasian Poirot and the black Salome are fabulous additions.

Rumor has it, there will be another production of an Agatha Christie novel adaptation directed by and starring Branagh and I can’t wait for this. He has dusted off the old whodunit storyline and updated it with a spectacle about crimes of passion that feels fresh.

The result is a modernized Death on the Nile (2022) brimming with fun and pleasure while never taking itself too seriously.

Jaws-1975

Jaws-1975

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw

Scott’s Review #1,240

Reviewed March 28, 2022

Grade: A

The directorial breakthrough by the iconic Steven Spielberg is Jaws (1975). The film is such a legendary and familiar project that even stating the name to pretty much any human being immediately conjures images of a man-eating great white shark and the unforgettable ‘duh-duh, duh-duh’ musical score.

It’s the film that famously made people afraid to go into the water just as Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho made people afraid to take a shower. When I have occasion to be near the ocean I always think of this film.

Jaws is a hybrid horror/thriller/adventure/action film whereas the subsequent sequels were all straight-ahead horror films that cast more teenagers, and some better than others.

Spielberg teaches a valuable lesson that much can come from very little and that a small budget can create greatness. What he accomplishes with Jaws is admirable, to say the least.

With Jaws, the story is more about the attempts of three men to destroy a killer shark and their relationship with the shark itself. The scary aspect, always terrific in horror, is we do not know what the shark’s motivation is. Why does it kill?

It’s a brilliant film that holds up well decades later despite the shark feeling less authentic as the years go by. But, the time a film is made must always be kept in mind.

When one summer day a young woman is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping near the New England tourist town of Amity Island, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches. He comes into conflict with the mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will negatively affect the town during its summer season.

Dismissed as a mere boating accident, the great white shark then kills a young boy in full view of a beach crowd resulting in panic and mayhem. It’s as if the shark is determined to be taken seriously.

Oceanographer, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled ship captain Quint (Robert Shaw) offer to help Brody capture the killer shark, and the trio engages in an epic battle with the beast.

Jaws is a film that can be viewed multiple times and provides sheer pleasure each time. Forgetting the horror elements, the film provides adventure and heart-pounding thrills per minute once the men dare to try and foil the shark.

The fun, as in any film of this kind, is not knowing when or where danger will strike, only that it inevitably will come.

Scheider excels in his household name-making role as the determined police chief. He cares deeply about the townspeople and is therefore a likable hero. During frequent scenes, he gazes out to the water, a troubled look on his face, pained and feeling responsible for the deaths.

The audience empathizes with him.

Lorraine Gary, who would have a lead role in later films with poor results, is terrific as the supportive yet challenging wife, Ellen. She is the yin to his yang and it comes across on-screen.

The best scenes of the film are the very first one when the girl is eaten by the shark and the later one when Brody yells at everyone on a crowded beach to flee the water. Munching on the first victim, this is the scene where the dreaded music makes its debut. From this point, the audience knows that once this music is heard it means the shark is nearby.

In the other scene, the panic caused is breathtaking and palpable and sympathy is felt for Brody. He obediently takes the blame for the chaos and the deaths and makes it personal when his own son is victimized. The scene sets the tone for the scramble and mayhem.

Jaws (1975) has it all: adventure, thrills, horror, action, a hero, and blood. The technical aspects are astounding with underwater sequences and effects that remain viable.

It arguably created what has become to be known as the summer blockbuster.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Dramatic Score (won), Best Sound (won)

Nightmare Alley-2021

Nightmare Alley-2021

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Scott’s Review #1,229

Reviewed February 13, 2022

Grade: B+

I have not seen the original Nightmare Alley made in 1947 so can make no comparisons to how the film noir remake in 2021 compares but I am a fan of respected filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. His knack for creating such dark treats containing fantastical elements like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017) have similar tones.

Set back in the 1930s and the 1940s when the United States of America suffered from the Depression and subsequently World War II, a midwestern carnival and then wintry Buffalo, New York are the chosen settings for his latest film.

Nightmare Alley feels like two different films and I prefer the first half by a small margin. del Toro is a major filmmaker and while he creates an experience that is gorgeously shot and simmering with effective elements it’s not one of his best films and certainly not on par with the above-mentioned gems.

The story stretches believability at times and feels like the film noir elements from the original might have been included just for the sake of making it fit a defined category. The twist at the end shocks and disturbs which cements the del Toro flavor.

To summarize, the look of the film is exceptional and the story is pretty good and the two halves, one in the midwest and the other in Buffalo, feel disjointed.

When handsome and very charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) meets the clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her aging mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival, he creates a powerful act utilizing his ability to manipulate townfolks.

He has fled from a dark past involving his father and fire but we don’t know the exact details.

Moving on to Buffalo, he enshrouds the wealthy elite of 1940s New York high society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) by his side, Stanton plots to con a rich yet vulnerable tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious and pouty psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might have tricks up her sleeve.

Since I adore Blanchett I was eagerly awaiting her entrance which unfortunately doesn’t come until midway through the film. Nonetheless, she makes quite an impression as she smokes and drinks in stylish glamour befitting gorgeous women of the time. Moreover, her character of Lilith Ritter is cold and calculating as the audience knows she is toying with Stanton, we just don’t know how or why.

While not quite a romantic triangle, Cooper has good chemistry with Mara but tremendous chemistry with Blanchett. Both actresses reunite from their turn together in Carol (2015) but have very little screen time together.

Each of the three delivers a mighty performance with Cooper and Blanchett simply mesmerizing.

One can even forget the plot entirely and simply look at the film. It’s that good and polished. From the dusty and depressing midwestern ordinary towns to the architecturally fabulous Buffalo, del Toro and team construct a lavish production design. Each costume and set piece is perfectly staged.

I was more attuned to the strange and creepy carnival characters like the ‘geek’ and Cooper and Blanchett making on-screen magnificence than to care as much as I should have about the storyline plotholes or inconsistencies.

The unsatisfying reveal about the relationship between Stanton and his father or the backstory of the rich tycoon abusing young girls only gave me mild interest. The story as a whole becomes too complex and uncompelling for me to really care for a while.

The sweet spot of Nightmare Alley (2021) is the grand production design and the flawless acting. Besides an effective ‘oh, shit!’ moment at the conclusion which confirms Cooper as a great actor, the story mainly meanders.

It’s a very good effort but not one of del Toro’s best.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Heat-1995

Heat-1995

Director-Michael Mann

Starring-Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer

Scott’s Review #1,228

Reviewed February 12, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the popular 1980s NBC television series, Miami Vice will recall that Michael Mann was the Executive Producer of the show during its run.  He has a distinctive crime thriller style that goes perfectly well with Heat, a sizzling 1995 offering starring two films greats-Al Pacino and Rober De Niro.

The fact that the pair do not appear too often on screen together can be forgiven because when they are the stars align and the power of quiet scenes cannot be outdone. I savored over the moment when they first appeared together. Quality over quantity.

De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a lifelong criminal who is trying to handle damage control caused by one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring to parts unknown. He meets a lovely young Los Angeles-based artist played by Amy Brenneman in a diner and the two plan to relocate abroad.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) is a seasoned officer attempting to track down McCauley and his cohort while dealing with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the unhinged mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman).

McCauley and Hanna discover mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other’s plans. The two characters become doppelgangers of one another. The situation comes to a cat and mouse-based conclusion on the tarmac of LAX airport.

To say that Heat is a by-the-numbers 1990s thriller is a fair assessment although it’s way better than that classification and it’s of that genre.

For starters, the acting is superior and obviously, De Niro and Pacino bring a level of professionalism to the film in the lead roles. My favorite scene is not the one you’d most expect me to say but rather a quiet and powerful chit-chat in a small coffee shop. They are rivals, having lived opposite lives, and yet have troubled lives that mirror each other.

Without a doubt, Hanna wants to bring McCauley to justice, and yet he admires him and sees parts of himself in the man. The feeling is mutual and the two actors relay this revelation without actually speaking the words. Viewers immerse themselves into the characters pivoting from this powerful scene.

There are a ton of characters in Heat but each one feels like he or she has much to offer. Juicy storylines are introduced but never forgotten even if not part of the main canvas. Hanna’s wife and stepdaughter play a central part in the final act even though they mainly appear during the first chapter.

In supporting roles, Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd share beautiful chemistry and a melancholy storyline as a damaged couple trying to survive surrounded by a life of crime.

At two hours and fifty-two minutes, there is plenty of time for each character to make their mark.

I love the rich character development that Heat offers but sometimes it’s admittedly tough to keep track of the motivations of the characters and how they tie into the main action.

Mann’s style is all over the place and even the musical score brought me back to the episodic song intervals that Miami Vice created. The moody and dark atmosphere of dingy and crime-infested Los Angeles is perfectly placed against glossy and glamorous high-rise and sprawling estate scenes. The bright and luminous city skyline is a feast for the eyes.

The cop/criminal dynamic is the main draw as Heat flexes its masculine muscles scene after scene. A bloody bank heist gone wrong at the beginning of the film cements what Mann is trying to create here. A guy’s film with enough juice to hook the introspective film viewer too.

Not remembered as well as it probably should be, Heat holds up surprisingly well when put up against similar but hokey 1990s action films like Lethal Weapon and the Die Hard films.

Though there’s not a whole lot that is new in Heat (1995), rich writing and powerful acting win out every time, and of course, Pacino and De Niro are worth the price of admission.

The Game-1997

The Game-1997

Director-David Fincher

Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn

Scott’s Review #1,226

Reviewed February 5, 2022

Grade: A-

The Game (1998) is a fantastic cat and mouse ‘game’ created by director David Fincher who always gets some street credibility where I’m concerned. The thrills come a mile a minute reaching a crashing crescendo in the final act.

It’s a film that produces a roller coaster, edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride, or whatever metaphor serves you best. The result is the same- a fantastic and deliciously wicked experience.

Hollywood A-listers Michael Douglas and Sean Penn team up with chemistry and radiance as brothers with a rivalrous streak. But, who is the cat and who is the mouse is the question of the day as the puzzle pieces continue to mount.

Anyone who knows Fincher’s work, especially films like Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) realizes that atmosphere and storytelling are his sweet spot and The Game never disappoints. It grasps the viewer by the neck and never let’s go.

The screenplay is intelligent and daring. Now, before anyone gets their knickers in a bit of a twist, I do not dare say that The Game is on the level of Zodiac or Seven-both masterpieces in my opinion. But The Game plays its cards well and measures up well if we are ranking Fincher films.

Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a successful banker who keeps mostly to himself spending most nights alone in his luxurious home. When his estranged brother Conrad (Penn) returns to town on his birthday with an odd gift Nicholas’s suspicions are piqued.

The gift is a personalized, real-life game that he cannot resist accepting. Beginning slowly, the game grows increasingly personal, and Orton begins to fear for his life as he eludes agents from the mysterious game’s organizers. With no one left to trust and his money all gone, Orton must find answers for himself before he goes off the rails into psychosis.

Let’s discuss everything but the story first. The look of The Game is stunning with perfect lighting and shadows exhibiting the mood. The editing, whether in rapid-fire motion or slow-motion is brilliantly effective.

Do we feel sorry for the characters? That would be a resounding no but that’s also the fun of The Game. As Orton spirals down a dark and mysterious path we are not too invested in the character so watching the ‘game’ is all the more enjoyable for the viewer.

The message delivered after The Game can either be loved or hated by viewers. I, for one, loved it. Chaos and uncertainty can be argued to be better than complacency but is it really? Nicholas may argue his case when his life is turned topsy turvy.

The conclusion, while unsettling, is riveting and mind-blowing.

Penn has rarely been better being given a healthy dose of mystique and caginess matched up against a musical score that shines a ghostly light on his scenes. The actor does his best when playing a black sheep or estranged character type so Conrad is ripe for the picking with potential.

Sandwiched in release between Seven and Fight Club (1999), both much better remembered than The Game (1997), that is a bit of a shame. The film deserves a good dusting off and fans of Fincher will undoubtedly enjoy piecing together a good, solid perplexity or at least attempting to.

The Da Vinci Code-2006

The Da Vinci Code-2006

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou

Scott’s Review #1,223

Reviewed January 23, 2022

Grade: B+

Based on the best-selling 2003 novel written by Dan Brown, Ron Howard directs the film version of The Da Vinci Code (2006). Since I haven’t read the novel at this writing I cannot fully give a fair assessment from the perspective of comparison but my hunch is that the book is superior to the film.

Isn’t it usually?

The film is entertainment personified and Howard wisely casts a big name like Tom Hanks to draw audiences to the theaters. It’s a slick and adventurous thrill-ride which is all well and good but it’s also a type of film that you can see once, enjoy for what it is, and then never need to see again.

The most fun is the controversy the film, like the book, encountered.

It was met with especially harsh criticism by the Catholic Church for the accusation that it is behind a two-thousand-year-old cover-up concerning what the Holy Grail is and the concept that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and that the union produced a daughter.

So, those who are sensitive or uptight about religion may want to skip the film and the novel.

But this is Hollywood, after all, and Howard and Hanks do what they do best. They create and produce a fun, solid, blockbuster flick.

When the curator of the Louvre is found murdered in the famed museum’s hallowed halls, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) must untangle a deadly web of deceit involving the works of Leonardo da Vinci.

The most enjoyable parts are the locales and the focus on art. The famous Louvre in Paris, France permitted to film relevant scenes at their premises but only a replica of the Mona Lisa was used during filming as the crew was not allowed to illuminate the original work with their lighting.

The Westminster Abbey scenes were instead filmed at Lincoln and Winchester cathedrals.

The Parisian nightlife is gorgeous and murky in its depiction and a plentiful helping of sequences are shot throughout the United Kingdom with Scotland and England receiving the most representation.

So, while strict limitations were harboring, there is an international flavor to The Da Vinci Code that works wonderfully especially for those who have traveled to those locations.

For art lovers, particularly of da Vinci himself, there is satisfying respect for the art. I always attempt to improve my art knowledge so this film is helpful to me and the novice art fan to educate themselves and learn more about the subject.

Hanks, as usual, carries the film in his steady-Freddy approach.

While not as compelling as his roles in either Philadelphia (1993) or Forrest Gump (1994), the actor can convey his suspicious plight and the need and desire to solve the complex puzzle.

Audiences will follow suit.

The Da Vinci Code (2006) was riddled with bad reviews and jest mostly at its ridiculous plot and absurd story. While there is a grain of truth to this, I found the film enjoyable entertainment and that’s all I expected out of it. The film pleases and satisfies if not taken too seriously.

Backdraft-1991

Backdraft-1991

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Kurt Russell, William Baldwin

Scott’s Review #1,216

Reviewed January 2, 2022

Grade: B

Backdraft (1991) is a highly entertaining yet completely implausible action, thriller film directed by Ron Howard. If made today it would be on par with Chicago Fire or any other of the slew of similar procedural NBC television shows that currently exist.

The film is even set in Chicago just like the television series.

The story involves an arsonist on the loose and the subsequent investigation to catch them.

Howard is an influential and respectable director but his films frequently harbor the safe territory rarely veering too left of center. With Backdraft, I assumed I would get a by-the-numbers masculine film and that is exactly what I received.

The beefy cast includes Kurt Russell, Billy Baldwin (brother of Alec), and Robert De Niro with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay serving as secondary female characters.

Chicago firefighting brothers Stephen (Russell) and Brian (Baldwin) have been rivals since childhood. Brian, struggling to prove himself as a worthy firefighter, transfers to the arson unit where he aids Inspector Don Rimgale (De Niro) in his current investigation. There is a rash of fires involving oxygen-induced infernos called backdrafts.

But when a conspiracy implicating a crooked politician and an arsonist leads Brian back to Stephen, he is forced to overcome his brotherly competitiveness to crack the case.

Anyone involved in their local fire department or who has a strong sense of loyalty or brotherhood in a blue-collar vein will love Backdraft for its message. The strong family unit that shrouds most firehouses or police stations is prevalent throughout the film which brings a united and community feeling.

It’s a nice feeling and sets the tone for the viewer to feel a part of things and root for the heroes to defeat whoever is responsible for the arsons. Could it be an unstable member of the fire community or an outsider harboring a grudge?

The story, despite being somewhat of a whodunit is not the strongest aspect of Backdraft nor much of a reason to tune in and follow. Too often the writing is lazy or languishes into television drama territory with obvious and melodramatic situational setups.

The realism is not there. The fire sequences are completely stagey and meant to perfectly parlay the story elements rather than have an identity of their own.

With all that said, the star of the film is the visuals that give Backdraft its adventure and edge-of-your-seat thrills. Even though I knew the fires and explosions were manipulated I felt like I was inside a burning room with the hissing and crackling sounds of the fire and wind enveloping me.

It’s all for dramatic purposes of course but the state-of-the-art special effects are cool to experience.

This is the key to the success of a film like Backdraft and enough for me to keep watching and become invested in the entire work.

Yes, many characters are types and despite the big A-list stars Russell and Baldwin are the only ones who have much of anything to do. Their brotherly relationship though fraught with friction is at the heart of the characters though sometimes the corny dialogue slips into soap opera territory.

Backdraft (1991) is a cinematic Hollywood mainstream film that works on many levels. Forget the lazy storylines and the predictability factors for a minute. It provides a blazing hot inferno of sharp visuals that are to be commended and appreciated for their merits.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound

The 39 Steps-1935

The 39 Steps-1935

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Scott’s Review #1,212

Reviewed December 26, 2021

Grade: A-

Before Alfred Hitchcock conquered American audiences in the 1950s and 1960s he made a slew of British films many of which are overlooked gems. The 39 Steps (1935) is a film nestled among that category, providing thrilling escapism and a spy-tinged subject matter that has an everyman on the run.

The plot pattern is very familiar because Hitchcock would use it later in his American films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and The Wrong Man (1956) to name only two.

Rather than any sort of carbon copy The 39 Steps instead is a pure delight for any fan of Hitchcock because the viewer can see facets and ideas the director would later bestow on his other films. There is enough originality though to please anyone looking for a good thrill.

It is very loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.

The story centers on Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian civilian on holiday in London. He unintentionally becomes involved in preventing an organization of spies nicknamed “The 39 Steps” from stealing British military secrets.

After being mistakenly accused of the murder of a counter-espionage agent, Richard flees to Scotland and becomes tangled up with an attractive woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) while hoping to stop the spy ring and clear his name.

It’s a simple story but one that immediately compels the viewer to root for Richard since we know he is innocent. Perhaps he can find a bit of romance along the way with Pamela and stop the bad guys in the process. So there is little ambiguity with how the story is supposed to wind up.

The fun is getting there.

Assuming this isn’t one’s first time watching a Hitchcock film and nearing a hundred years since The 39 Steps was made I sincerely doubt it, there are oodles of sequences to enjoy. If one asks “does this scene seem familiar?” it is because many of them are.

The London music hall theatre and the London Palladium brim with recognition especially after a catchy tune that Richard cannot forget come into play. It’s too easy not to think of Doris Day’s hit “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, featured as a key element of The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even the London setting itself.

To switch for a moment to another Hitchcock masterpiece, North by Northwest (1959), the frequent dashing across the lands by foot or by locomotion comes into play in a big way in The 39 Steps.

I loathe spending too much time with comparisons because The 39 Steps delivers some goods on its own merits. The action that takes place in the Scottish Highlands is fantastic and a treat for anyone who has been to the lovely and picturesque area. And the daring trip that Richard takes aboard the Flying Scotsman expresses train to Scotland is compelling adventure personified.

The chemistry between Richard and Pamela is decent but not great. It’s not the focal point of the film so I didn’t necessarily mind that. The clear intent was for her to first fear him but then have the characters fall in love. We never really get there but it seems the intent.

The main villain is Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) who Richard tries to prevent from sending secrets out of the country.

Sure, there are better quality Alfred Hitchcock films to bask in once he got his groove decades later and one can assuredly boast that Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are superior films. But The 39 Steps (1935) is a blueprint of what brilliance the director had in his head at this time and it’s a pure treat to witness.

Three Days of the Condor-1975

Three Days of the Condor-1975

Director-Sydney Pollack

Starring-Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,206

Reviewed December 11, 2021

Grade: B+

Three Days of the Condor (1975) is an edge-of-your-seat thriller starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, two big stars of the 1970s. The film is directed by the respected Sydney Pollack, most famous for Out of Africa (1985) and Tootsie (1982).

He knows how to entertain while providing a good, juicy romance.

The quick pace and frenetic editing equate to the film moving along quickly and the frequent exteriors of Manhattan and Brooklyn are great. Good-looking stars and a dangerous European bad guy played by Max von Sydow certainly help.

My only criticism is that Three Days of the Condor is quite similar and familiar to other espionage or political thrillers like All the Presidents Men (1976) or Chinatown (1974) that emerged during the 1970s. This is small potatoes as measured against the compelling and action-oriented theme though.

On a seemingly ordinary day, Joe Turner (Redford), a bookish CIA codebreaker, is tasked with fetching lunch for his colleagues. When he returns he finds that they have all been murdered. Horrified, Joe flees the scene and tries to tell his supervisors about the tragedy but quickly learns that CIA higher-ups were involved in the murders.

With no one to trust and a determined hitman named Joubert (Max von Sydow) on his tail, Joe must somehow survive long enough to figure out why his agency wants him dead. He kidnaps Kathy Hale (Dunaway) who he hopes will assist him in his peril.

The opening segment is the best part of Three Days of the Condor. The massacre of the entire office is shocking and bloody and Pollack infuses the necessary elements of suspense in this key scene. The scolding, chainsmoking receptionist who keeps a gun in her desk drawer is the first to die and no match for her assassins. As they go about the office kicking down doors and wreaking havoc it’s a hope to envision someone being spared.

We also wonder what their motivation is.

And the tense elevator scene involving Turner and Joubert is fabulous.

Particularly relevant to mention is the inclusion of a female Asian character hinted at as a possible love interest of Turner’s. Played by Tina Chen her character of Janice is intelligent and sexy. Her flirtations with Turner unfortunately never go anywhere as she is part of the lunchtime slaughter but some Asian representation in mainstream film during this time is a positive.

I fell in love with Kathy’s cozy and stylish Brooklyn apartment. Assumed to be very close to the lower Manhattan financial area the set is dressed beautifully. It provides depth and texture to her character who at first we barely know. She has good taste and sophistication and sees something in Turner although she has just been accosted by him at random.

It was a stretch to buy Robert Redford as nerdy or anything other than a platinum blonde hunk but the actor does a satisfactory job leading the film. I couldn’t stop my comparisons between Redford and Brad Pitt at that age as the two stars are similar in looks.

The chemistry between Redford and Dunaway is palpable which is key to the film. If little or none existed it would have detracted from the believability. When they become lovers it feels natural and a culminating moment satisfying for the audience and proper to the story.

Providing enough action to enthrall and viewer tied to the thriller genre Three Days of the Condor (1975) is slick but believable. Capitalizing on the paranoia that the fresh Watergate scandal had resulted in when the film was made it still holds up well as a film decades later.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

The Good Liar-2019

The Good Liar-2019

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,201

Reviewed November 26, 2021

Grade: B+

The Good Liar (2019) is a well-acted film but by the numbers, the thriller made as good as it can be thanks to superior acting. Casting British heavyweights Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren automatically provide enough star power and credibility to save any lame plot.

This is the first time the actors have appeared in a film together though they have appeared on stage together.

The film moves along at a brisk pace and there is never a moment of boredom. While the main storyline at first is intriguing, the inevitable twist at the ending is satisfying. Suspension of disbelief is required and a portion of the backstory is unnecessary.

Nothing is as it seems.

Roy Courtnay (McKellen) is a dashing career con man. He is suave and used to getting what he wants out of people- to his advantage and their disadvantage. He cagily dips into the online dating pool and stumbles upon an older woman named Betty McLeish (Mirren) ripe for the picking. She is rich, divorced, and lonely.

What could go wrong?

As Betty opens her life and home to him, Roy is surprised to find himself caring about her, turning what should be a cut-and-dry swindle into the most treacherous tightrope walk of his life.

Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), is a constant annoyance to Roy when he questions Roy’s intentions urging his grandmother to be wary of the man.

As the plot begins I kept thinking that there is no way that Betty could be so gullible, lonely or not. This kept me engaged until the big reveal that fills the final thirty minutes or so. If The Good Liar did not contain something more than the banal plot it would have been a real dud.

To continue with the storyline element the ultimate motivations of Betty, while clever, are hard to believe. Not to ruin any plot points but the whole Nazi element from the 1940s feels superfluous and easy. The revenge motives feel extremely plot-driven and meant as a thrown-in explanation.

From a timeline perspective, it also doesn’t make much sense and if events take place during present times it would put Roy and Betty in their 90’s! The characters are assumed to be in their mid-70’s.

Nonetheless, despite Roy being the villain I fell in love with him. His shenanigans appealed to me despite my better judgment. His trickery when he feigns a knee injury to manipulate Betty while dashing into a corporate meeting minutes later was enamoring instead of mortifying.

The chemistry between McKellen and Mirren is tremendous since both actors know their way around carrying a film and are confident with their abilities. This comes across onscreen and the romantic element works.

The Good Liar also gets respect from me for featuring actors in their golden years in leading roles.

Bill Condon has directed a variety of films including Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2006). The Good Liar is hardly on this level nor is it one of his finest but the director adds enough seasoning to assure a compelling experience.

The locales of London and later of Berlin, Germany is robust and a treat for any viewer who is partial to the international filming. I am! Plenty of busy London streets and German architecture appear during the film.

The slickness and excellent acting by McKellen and Mirren save The Good Liar (2019) from the drivel it might have been with lesser actors and inferior direction. Instead, it’s a clever film that toys with its viewers keeping them engaged until the very end.

Old-2021

Old-2021

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps

Scott’s Review #1,195

Reviewed November 13, 2021

Grade: B

I am always rather intrigued by any M. Night Shyamalan projects that come down the pike whether it be a television or film offering. He has a knack for creating twist endings with a supernatural component.

Sometimes, like with The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Village (2004) he knocks it out of the park. Others are more average.

Old (2021) contains a novel and tantalizing premise that sometimes delivers and sometimes lags. It’s a worthy effort that picks up speed in the final fifteen minutes or so with a predictable conclusion I guessed about midway through but is still really cool to see.

The film might have been better as a short film or shorter running episode- think Twilight Zone.

Nothing in Old is too shocking or scary and nothing that will make the hair on your neck stand up but it’s entertaining and provides a message worthy of dissection.

The visionary filmmaker unveils a chilling, mysterious premise that oozes with possibility.

A seemingly happy suburban family decides to treat themselves to a tropical holiday in paradise. Prisca (Vicky Krieps), the wife, stumbles upon the exciting vacation offer online and decides to go for it. This alone should have been a red flag. Her husband, Guy (Gael García Bernal) agrees, and their children, Trent and Maddox, are overjoyed.

What the children don’t realize is that Guy and Prisca plan to divorce after the vacation ends.

The family is lavished with hospitality, food, and drinks and whisked away to a secluded beach where they relax for a few hours with other members of the resort including a surgeon and his wife, an epileptic psychologist, and her husband, and various others. They realize that something is causing them to age rapidly…reducing their entire lives into a single day!

They panic and try to leave the island sometimes turning on each other in the process.

M. Night Shyamalan himself has a small role-playing resort employee who drives the group to the beach and monitors them.

Filmed mostly on the beaches of the Dominican Republic the cinematography is wonderful and quite scenic. The film doesn’t say where the action is supposed to be so I guessed it was Hawaii. The lavish mountains, roaring waves, and exquisite underwater coral sequences give the film a beautiful and calming vibe despite the drama going on.

I also ruminated to the comparisons with the popular television series Lost which ran on ABC from 2004-2010. A group of stranded individuals faces complex and startling situations while desperately trying to flee an island. When one character drowns and another falls to their death from a cliff while trying to leave I was reminded that maybe the island is a force in itself.

As the title gives away the characters start to age rapidly. The makeup effects aren’t as great as one might hope and some characters inexplicably age more than other characters making the whole idea feel a bit silly.

Some of the characters are written better than others and there are some stereotypes to overlook like the schizophrenic doctor who goes mad. His trophy wife is blonde and toned and obsessed with remaining young. As a positive, the wife of another couple is a doctor and the husband a nurse. Many would expect the opposite.

To that end, I never felt very connected to any of the characters, and most are written as a means to an end. Their backstories are explored but lack any depth.

The twist at the end, totally expected in a Shyamalan film is a discussion that can be had after the film ends. A question of medicine and playing god is the main focus and one character with a small role at the beginning of the film is pivotal with the final events.

Not one of his best but certainly worthy of a watch, M. Night Shyamalan continues to tickle my fancy for crafting good, twisty thrillers. Old (2021) doesn’t come close to rivaling his classics but provides good entertainment and perhaps a bit more.

Falling Down-1993

Falling Down-1993

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring-Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,192

Reviewed November 6, 2021

Grade: B+

Falling Down (1993) is a film with a message or arguably several messages. It’s about one man who is fed up with just about everything and is at the brink of a full-throttle meltdown. What the film does though is mix entertainment with this message about socio-economic unfairness, inequality, etc.

Whether or not people take these elements as seriously as they should is at risk from the popcorn qualities. It’s almost like it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a kick-ass thriller, a black comedy, or a fantasy?

The film certainly entertains though.

This is unsurprising because director Joel Schumacher is at the helm as director. The man is a mainstream director churning out hits like The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997) throughout the 1990s. Some were more successful than others but Falling Down is his best work.

I am a big fan of Falling Down with the awareness that the messages peppered throughout may not be taken as seriously as they ought to be. And the reason is that there are too many of them. It’s almost as if they are boxes being checked off a list.

But it bears repeating that the entertainment factor is fabulous.

One scorching summer day in Los Angeles William Foster (Michael Douglas) an already frustrated middle-aged man who is both unemployment and divorced is having a terrible day.

When his car breaks down on the freeway, he leaves his vehicle and begins a trek across the city to attend his daughter’s birthday party. As he makes his way through urban neighborhoods, William’s frustration and bitterness are tested at every turn resulting in violent encounters with various people, including a vengeful gang and a pursuant veteran police sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall).

Unfortunately for Prendergast, today is the day before his long-awaited retirement.

Douglas delivers an excellent performance as Foster. He makes the character relatable to every viewer who has ever felt so fed up they want to discharge on the people responsible for the unfairness. He only takes his anger out on those who deserve it and that makes the character somewhat of a hero.

The white supremacist, the belligerent Korean grocery store owner, the gang members, and the lazy construction workers all deserve their just desserts. Throughout the film, I cheered Foster mightily and chuckled at his wit.

My favorite sequence occurs at the fast-food joint named Whammy Burger. All Foster wants is his breakfast but he arrives one minute past the cut-off as the unsympathetic cashier smugly tells him. He proceeds to ravage the restaurant in anger.

Despite the humor that Schumacher adds the message must be taken seriously. Minority characters are aptly shown as repressed or not treated well and that point sticks with me until the end.

The least interesting story point is the entanglement between Foster and his ex-wife Beth, played by a woefully underutilized Barbara Hershey. The Oscar-nominated actress can do so much but her talents are wasted in a throwaway role as the underdeveloped wife character.

I never warmed to Robert Duvall’s police sergeant character either and while sympathetic to Foster’s cause because of a situation with his son, the plot point never develops fully. Prendergast’s overbearing wife and a young police officer he seems smitten with are never explored well.

Despite great talent, the film belongs to Michael Douglas.

The mood and cinematography deserve accolades. The humidity is suffocating and the layers of smog overlooking Los Angeles hammer home the stuffy nature of the film. One can imagine the sweaty environment leading to explosions of anger.

What Schumacher does besides entertain the audience is show them that a once successful man who once had a great job and happy family life can lose it all and snap. Falling Down (1993) shows that what happens to Foster can happen to anyone.

Let’s live each happy day to the fullest while we can.

The Little Things-2021

The Little Things-2021

Director-John Lee Hancock

Starring-Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto

Scott’s Review #1,191

Reviewed November 5, 2021

Grade: B

The serial killer genre in film always fascinates me. Gems like Dirty Harry (1971), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Seven (1995), and Zodiac (2007) immediately spring to mind as top of the heap works. John Lee Hancock who directs The Little Things (2021) thinks so too because he borrows from those pictures throughout his film.

The film contains superior acting and a fantastic mood adding effective musical score bits and absorbing cinematography of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. The script must have read superior enough to get heavyweights like Washington, Malek, and Jeto to hop on board.

Despite these wins, The Little Things is lackluster and ultimately disappoints in the end. I was ready to award it a solid B+ if not for the confusing and unsatisfying conclusion which reminds me of a weak copy of the aforementioned Seven.

Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) joins forces with Sgt. Jim Baxter (Malek) to search for a serial killer who’s terrorizing Los Angeles. The blueprint is similar to a case that Deacon worked on and ended with a deadly mistake and his resulting heart attack. As the pair track the suspected culprit, a loner named Albert Sparma (Leto), Baxter becomes aware of Deke’s inner demons and risks going down the same emotionally wrecked path.

A cat and mouse game ensues with Sparma continually toying with both Deke and Baxter.

The story is familiar territory and sets up the rest of the film. How many times in film have we seen a detective tortured over a case? Despite Sparma being the only real suspect and presumed serial killer we never do learn whether or not he did the deeds. One girl who escaped the killers’ clutches may recognize Sparmas boots but is dismissed after concluding that since he is in police custody he must be the killer.

The opening sequence is excellent despite using a direct rip-off of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the girl is cruising down an empty desert road at high speed singing a rock song without a care in the world. Thankfully, they had her crooning a different song but the scene mirrors the other. She is pursued by a killer in another car. The scene is a terrific way to start.

The ensemble does good work with the characters they play. Leto gets the showiest role while Washington plays yet another police detective, a role he now can probably play in his sleep, but always does well. Malek was cast based on the success of his Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury role in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

Leto received enough acclaim that he received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination. This prompted me and undoubtedly others to see The Little Things which suffered at the box office because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I didn’t buy the period of 1990-1991 for a second regardless of how many shiny Chevy Impalas were used in the production. None of the characters looked of the time that it was supposed to be though I admired the now old-fashioned diners and storefronts they used.

I don’t know much about Hancock, who both directs and writes The Little Things but looking at his filmography he has directed such works as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). Since both of these films are safer works it’s unsurprising why much of the film looks and feels like watching an episode of CSI.

Hancock could do with a dose of rawness over sleekness in his next film.

The Little Things (2021) pales in comparison to other better-like genre films and will not be remembered well despite making a valiant effort to play with the big boys. Unfortunately, it’s a minor league experience that borrows too often from other films and therefore has no distinct identity.

I shudder to think of the result if not for the big stars who appear.

Stage Fright-1950

Stage Fright-1950

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding

Scott’s Review #1,160

Reviewed July 9, 2021

Grade: A-

Stage Fright (1950) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock right before his American invasion. The film feels like a hybrid British/American project with the leading lady, Jane Wyman, being American, but otherwise is set in London with many British actors. Hitchcock mixes plenty of film noir influences with the typical thrills and suspense creating an excellent product that flies under the radar when matched against his other films.

Wyman is cast well as an attractive aspiring actress who works on her craft by going undercover to solve a mystery. There are Nancy Drew elements and it’s fun to watch Wyman, who would become Mrs. Ronald Reagan before he entered politics and later would become President of the United States. She reportedly divorced him because she had little interest in entering the political spectrum by association.

The action gets off to a compelling start with two characters driving in a car in clear peril. Hitchcock loved driving scenes like these. It is learned that the police think actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is a murderer, and now they’re on his tail. He seeks shelter with his ex-girlfriend Eve (Wyman), who drives him to stay in hiding with her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim).

He explains that it was his lover, the famous and snobbish actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), who killed the victim (not coincidentally, her husband). Convinced Jonathan is innocent, Eve plays detective and assumes multiple disguises, slowly developing feelings for Detective Inspector, Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding). Once she becomes embroiled in a web of deception, she realizes that Shakespeare was right and that all the world is a stage.

Wyman is the Hitchcock brunette as opposed to his later fascination with the blonde bombshell. Therefore, her role is more sedate and astute than the sex appeal that would come with Hitchcock’s later characters. Eve closely resembles the character of Charlie that Teresa Wright played in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. They are both astute and investigative with a mystery to unravel. Interestingly, they both fall for detectives.

All the glasses! Hitchcock’s fetish with women wearing glasses is on full display especially with the character of Nellie, a cockney opportunist played by Kay Walsh. Look closely and one can spot several minor or background ladies sporting spectacles and even Eve dons a pair as a disguise.

Pat Hitchcock, the director’s daughter, plays a small role as she would in Strangers on a Train (1955) and Psycho (1960).

Speaking of Strangers on a Train, there are similarities to mention. Both involve a tit-for-tat exchange where one character is requested by another to kill someone in exchange for either a payoff or another form of motivation.

Marlene Dietrich is as sexy as ever in the pivotal role of Charlotte. She is self-centered, self-absorbed, and thoughtless, constantly mispronouncing Eve’s fictitious name and barely noticing that she is covering for her regular maid/dresser.

But is she evil and capable of killing her own husband?

Stage Fright has a thrilling finale. In the climax, the audience finally finds out who has been telling the truth and who has been lying and what explanations are revealed. There is a pursuit, an attempted killing, and a shocking death by way of a falling safety curtain, in the theater naturally. Just what one would expect from a Hitchcock final act.

The focus on theatrical stage actors is a nice topic and adds to the existing drama as the implication of playing various roles comes into play big time. So is the prominence very early on of the Big Ben landmark in London and other location trimmings.

Stage Fright (1950) doesn’t get the love saved for other Hitchcock masterpieces and that’s a shame because the film is excellent.

Foreign Correspondent-1940

Foreign Correspondent-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Joel McCrea, Laraine Day

Scott’s Review #1,158

Reviewed July 2, 2021

Grade: B+

As a superfan of all films Alfred Hitchcock, I had been chomping at the bit to see some of his older selections before he took American audiences by storm throughout his 1950’s and 1960’s heyday. Many people do not realize just how many films the “Master of Suspense” actually made that are not household names.

Foreign Correspondent, made in 1940, is a black and white production and an obvious precursor for his later works. In fact, much of the fun is zeroing in on particulars that would be featured in later films. Some Hitchcock favorites like a tower, a circling airplane, an unwitting and innocent man involved in a political plot, and false identity are served up. And the director’s obsession with female characters wearing glasses is certainly part of the fun.

What Hitchcock fan doesn’t giggle with glee after discovering the director’s trademark cameo appearance in each of his films?

As an aside, I just love the cover artwork for this film.

There are reasons why Foreign Correspondent isn’t one of the best-remembered Hitchcock films because it’s only very good rather than exceptional. In 1940 the director was just getting his groove following a surprising Best Picture Oscar win for Rebecca (1940), a film that was a very early American effort. He was still finding his footing in production values.

The legendary Costume Designer, Edith Head, and Music Composer Bernard Hermann had not joined the fold yet as they would in masterpieces like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958) and it really shows. The musical score is ordinary, more or less what a picture made in 1940 sounded like. The costumes are decent but lacking the grandeur and style that Head brought to the productions.

New York City-based crime reporter John Jones, later renamed Huntley Haverstock played by Joel McCrea is reduced to producing dull copy despite the world being on the cusp of war. His editor hopes a change of scenery will be the thing Jones needs to get back on track and also to provide the juicy story.

He is re-assigned to Europe as a foreign correspondent. When he stumbles on a spy ring, he attempts to unravel the truth with the help of a politician, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), his daughter Carol (Laraine Day), and an English journalist (George Sanders). But can any or all of them be trusted or are they in cahoots with the bad guys for their own personal gain?

I immediately was reminded of Saboteur (1942) by way of the plot alone. Both involve a complicated (maybe overly?) story of government, investigations, and sabotage. They also each focus on a couple either attempting to outwit or outrun authorities. And, they are both filmed with black and white cinematography.

Foreign Correspondent contains its share of thrills and compelling moments. The best sequence is when John is nearly shoved off Westminster Cathedral tower by a hitman who is ultimately the one who plummets to his death. The obvious parallel is to Vertigo especially when the nuns give the sign of the cross after the body falls.

Other mentions are a terrific airplane finale that contains special effects astounding for such a long time ago. Also unforgettable is a windmill sequence that will remind any Hitchcock fan of the famous cropduster scene from North By Northwest. I half expected a character to exclaim, ‘the windmill is turning where there ain’t no wind”.

At two hours even in run time, Foreign Correspondent is a good fifteen minutes or so too long. The plot takes a bit of time to pick up speed and the chemistry between John and Carol is rather weak. They are certainly no Mitch and Melanie like from The Birds (1963).

Foreign Correspondent (1940) is a second-tier Alfred Hitchcock film with enough components to serve as a solid opening act for North By Northwest. This is not such a bad thing and the film holds its own against similarly patterned films of its day.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Alan Basserman, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects

The Day of the Jackal-1973

The Day of the Jackal-1973

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring- Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale

Scott’s Review #1,155

Reviewed June 22, 2021

Grade: A

Political thrillers can run the gamut of taut plots involving espionage assassinations, and car chases all woven into the political landscape. They often run the risk of being overly complicated and losing their audience with too much wordiness and not enough meat and potatoes.

The Day of the Jackal (1973), telling the story of an assassination attempt on a world leader is perfectly paced and intriguing offering some titillating elements and nothing run of the mill. It’s not lazy and can be classified as a thinking man’s film.

I loved it.

Certain complexities and trysts experienced by the deadly title character add extra pizazz and spiciness to the already compelling plot. And the sequences of Paris and its lovely metropolis can aid any film.

A cagey and intelligent underground French paramilitary group is determined to execute President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand), but when numerous attempts on his life fail, they resort to hiring the infamous hitman known as “The Jackal” (Edward Fox). As he plots to assassinate de Gaulle, he takes out others who stand in his way. Meanwhile, Lebel (Michel Lonsdale), a Parisian police detective, begins to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity.

The film is not in French but is English speaking.

Fox is the major draw. Charismatic, handsome, and athletic, he hardly looks like a fiend.  But that’s just the point. A lesser film would have cast an actor who looks like a killer. With Fox, we get many more intricacies. He beds women…..and men. Think- a bisexual James Bond. This is enchanting to see in 1973, though the film is British and sometimes the Brits were well ahead of American filmmakers in this regard.

The director, Fred Zinneman, is actually Austrian and boy can he direct.

I wasn’t sure how engaged I would be. After all, the history books can tell us how the assassination attempt ended. It failed. What was the motivation for watching a film, especially one destined to be complicated? I quickly realized that The Day of the Jackal had that special sauce. It’s more than engaging, it’s enthralling.

Obviously, the audience is meant to root for Lebel to best Fox but there is so much more bubbling under the circumstance. The villain is mysterious and we know almost nothing about him. The ambiguity continues after the film ends. This is definitely a positive to the character and subsequently to the film.

Meanwhile, the hero of the film, the guy after the “Jackal”, is your average, every day, Joe. He is unexciting but very smart and determined to capture Fox. Lebel is quite likable for his savviness alone but I still argue many will root for Fox to escape the clutches of Lebel. I know I did.

Great scenes occur in a swanky hotel when Fox becomes intrigued by Madame de Montpellier, played by Delphine Seyrig. He picks up the rich and mysterious woman as they chat in the dining room. He later sneaks into her room and gets the girl. Whoever cast this woman must have seen the Hitchcock classic Frenzy (1972) because she’s a dead ringer for Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).

Is it an accident that both meet grisly ends?

Not to be satisfied with merely bedding rich women he goes to a Turkish bath to avoid the police and picks up a French gentleman. It is implied they have a romantic date before the gentleman catches onto Fox’s identity (he is now on the run from the police) and meets his maker in his own kitchen.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) is a meticulously crafted film that should be the blueprint for anyone intent on creating a political thriller. It avoids hokey stereotypes or predictability instead offering an edge-of-your-seat experience with nuances for miles.

It’s exceptional on all levels.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

The Friends of Eddie Coyle-1973

The Friends of Eddie Coyle-1973

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle

Scott’s Review #1,151

Reviewed June 11, 2021

Grade: B+

Borrowing heavily from the standard cop thriller films to emerge during the early 1970s but containing a unique cynicism and a point of view all its own, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is a taut and engaging crime thriller that will please fans of the genre but never bailing on those cinema fans seeking a more intellectual experience.

The Boston landscape is plentiful and a treat for fans of locale shoots and 1970s qualities.

A superior film based against the many similar films to be created during the decade, there is a moroseness that encompasses the experience. I felt sorry for the main character and The Friends of Eddie Coyle lacks a clear good guy versus bad guy standard. This actually helps the film.

What I’m trying to say is that those crime thriller fans desiring a clear hero or standard characterization might be unsatisfied or miss the point, though the bank robbery scenes alone are worth the price of a ticket.

Some say, Robert Mitchum, cast in the title role gives his finest film performance but I wasn’t entirely blown away.  The film is an ensemble and at times Eddie Coyle feels like a supporting character.  Think Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Instead, I ruminated over his brilliant performances in my two favorite films of his, The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970).

His performance is fine but all the actors bring their A-game.

Aging low-level Boston gunrunner Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is fearful of the possibility of several years of jail time for participating in a truck hijacking in neighboring New Hampshire. Having a wife and kids dependent on him, and feeling old and desperate, he volunteers to funnel information to Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), an ATF agent.

Eddie buys some guns from another gunrunner, Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), then gives him up to Foley, but the agent isn’t satisfied. Panicked, Eddie decides to also give up the gang of bank robbers he’s been supplying, only to find that Foley already knows about them, and the mob believes Eddie snitched.

These events do not bode well for poor Eddie who now has a mark on his back.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle has a handful of plots happening simultaneously. There is Eddie’s predicament, the saga of the bank robbers and the bank owners they put in peril, and a bartender played by Peter Boyle (of televisions Everybody Loves Raymond fame), who is also an informant. The stories intertwine but sometimes not quite enough and a conclusion over how the players relate is sometimes unclear.

From the get-go, I was reminded of Dirty Harry (1971) which arguably propelled the cop/crime thriller/crime drama to mainstream audiences. Dave Grusin gets credit for the music composition and creates a similar score to Dirt Harry with funky tempo, time-relevant arrangements. They really work and fit the times perfectly.

Differing from Dirty Harry, which is a superb film in many ways, is the messaging. Whereas, Dirty Harry professes a good vs. bad approach and a conservative pro-gun stance, The Friends of Eddie Coyle doesn’t partake in schooling the audience on the viewpoints of most cops. The bad guys are complex and nuanced characters with worries and fears to wrestle with themselves.

The location sequences are plentiful and give the film authenticity and Boston appreciation. The classic Boston Garden is featured as two characters attend a Boston Bruins hockey game. The Charles River, downtown, and surrounding areas like Quincy are featured. Director, Peter Yates certainly creates a blue-collar, Irish-represented community.

Lovers of classic 1970s American automobiles will be in heaven. I spotted a Ford Galaxy, Chevy Impala, and similar full-sized cars. One character drives a green muscle car. I mean, there are tons and tons of car sequences in this film.

The seedy Boston underworld, a terrific performance by Robert Mitchum, and enough guns, car chases, and bank robberies to satisfy the action audience, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is a win. The film didn’t stick with me as much as I would have liked but it’s a striking entry in the crime thriller genre.

The French Connection II-1975

The French Connection II-1975

Director-John Frankenheimer

Starring-Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,148

Reviewed June 2, 2021

Grade: B

The French Connection, the winner of the coveted Best Picture Academy Award for pictures released in 1971, is a brilliant film, holding up well as a cream of the crop cop film. An action film winning an Oscar is as rare as a horror film winning it. It’s rare.

The decision to make a sequel is debatable but The French Connection II (1975) forges as a decent action crime thriller but hardly on par with the original.

Is anyone surprised?

Sequels rarely usurp their predecessors especially when The French Connection is such a superior genre film. In a way, Part II didn’t have much of a chance measured up against Part I. Films like The Godfather only come around once in a lifetime. Unfortunately, William Friedkin did not return to the fold to direct, replaced by John Frankenheimer, best known for the nail-biting The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Thankfully, Gene Hackman did return. He helps the film from an acting perspective and gives his all in a tough role. His partner, played by Roy Scheider does not appear and is not mentioned.

Picking up a couple of years after the first one ended, Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) is still hot on the heels of cagey and sophisticated drug trafficker Charnier (Fernando Rey). Doyle hops a flight to lovely Marseilles, France. Away from his familiar New York City territory, he struggles to assimilate himself in a strange city and conquer the drug ring to bring Charnier down.

Doyle is accosted and spends time as a dreary heroin addict in rough confines before being tossed away and forced to recover cold turkey style. He becomes even more determined to bring the bad guys to justice- dead or alive.

As a stand-alone action film, The French Connection II is not a bad experience. It is certainly better than the still-to-come 1980s doldrums like the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon cop/buddy films that marginalized the genre into cookie-cutter popcorn films.

The gripping New York City is replaced by the equalling compelling French landscape. Gorgeous locales like the French Riviera and the Meditteranean Sea are featured but Marseilles is not Paris. There exists a seediness and dirtiness that helps the film a bit.

Hackman acts his ass off especially as a drug addict. I shudder to think of a weaker actor trying to pull off this acting extravaganza. From scenes featuring his withdrawals to his drug cravings are exciting to watch and showcase Hackman’s wonderful acting chops.

But the intent is to produce a good action film after all and that effort is mediocre. The French Connection II is simply not as compelling as The French Connection and despite some decent chase scenes and a cool finale where Doyle gets his satisfaction there is little else but by the numbers activity.

To be fair, the final fifteen minutes is the best part of the film.

Remember the frightening car chasing a subway sequence? Or the delicious cat and mouse subway sequence between Doyle and Charnier? Brilliant scenes like this do not exist.

A few clichés are bothersome. Predictably, Doyle stands out like a sore thumb in France and his hot-headedness emerges quickly, offending or pissing off the French authorities. He is not the most likable character and I frequently found myself rooting for the bad guys!

I don’t think I was supposed to.

Other implausibilities occur like the boneheaded decision to send Doyle to Marseilles, to begin with. Was he the only detective, including the French authorities, capable of catching Charnier?

What was the point of the old-lady heroin addict stealing Doyle’s watch?

A shadow of The French Connection, The dull titled The French Connection II is a weaker effort but still respectable as matched against other genre films. This is mostly because of the French landscape and the return of Gene Hackman.

Femme Fatale-2002

Femme Fatale-2002

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,137

Reviewed April 28, 2021

Grade: B+

The plot of Femme Fatale (2002) is muddy, to say the least, and I was left perplexed by the details by the time the film concluded. I even needed to review a synopsis to figure out what the hell went on but I was willing to do so. But, let’s remember that it’s directed by Brian De Palma so the beauty is in the visuals’ style and stimulation, which makes the film pay off in spades.

Probably more similar to a modern De Palma film like 2012’s underrated and underappreciated Passion than more familiar turf like Carrie (1976) or Dressed to Kill (1980), Femme Fatale has juicy trademarks that only fans of the director will immediately notice and revile in.

The entire experience that De Palma creates is titillating, erotic, fetishist, and thrilling. It’s an enrapturing piece. Unfortunately, Femme Fatale was a box-office dud but has subsequently amassed a cult following status likely by the legions of De Palma fans who appreciate the good stylistic film.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, with legs for miles and an abdomen to fry eggs off of, stars as Laure Ash, a master manipulator, who takes part in one last jewel theft intending to leave behind her life of crime. Her intention predictably doesn’t turn out so well but Laura sure does look great in her leather-clad outfits and affair with a female supermodel.

Later, Romijn-Stamos also plays an odd character named Lily, who is suicidal.

Reinvented under the presumption of a respectable married woman, Laura captures the attention of eager photographer Nicolas (Antonio Banderas). He becomes mesmerized by the elusive woman amid the gorgeous locales of Paris and accidentally shatters her carefully crafted world by way of his photo taking.

The steamy women’s bathroom love scene between Laura, who is bisexual, and Veronica, a model with a diamond gold ensemble top, is not just a male chauvinistic turn-on, but hugely important to the storyline. Laura is supposedly in cahoots with thugs “Black Tie” and Racine who aggressively wait outside the restroom, but is Laura double-crossing them both? Is she partnered in crime with Veronica or is she just a mark?

The riddles of the plot are both positive and negative especially when one scene plays out twice, midstream and during the finale. There is a mystique that forces the viewer to give up on any comprehension and plausibility over Laura and her motivations and modus Operandi. I chose to immerse myself in the bevy of trimmings that De Palma tosses our way like a hungry dog salivating over a bone.

He borrows a bit from the best of Alfred Hitchcock films (when doesn’t he?)and his own, neither a bad thing. The most obvious is from the 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, an orgy of fetishism, which appears throughout, mostly concerning Nicolas as he spies on Laura again and again, almost obsessively.

Romijn-Stamos isn’t the best actress in the biz and Banderas would grow as an actor after this film but Femme Fatale is about style, not Academy Award acting and the beauty is trying to figure out a puzzle and being startled by a twist ending and a replay of the events to provide some sort of explanation.

The twist is quite a doozy and had me rethink the entire film. Plot holes be-damned it was a very good reveal but also made most of the rest of the film a bit worthless.

Femme Fatale (2002) will never reach the upper echelons of the best of Brian De Palma films but it’s hardly a waste of time to give it a spin either. Forgetting the steaminess altogether, pleasing will a European appreciating viewer be with the astounding and plentiful sequences in and around Paris.

Zodiac-2007

Zodiac-2007

Director-David Fincher

Starring-Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. 

Scott’s Review #1,134

Reviewed April 16, 2021

Grade: A

Zodiac (2007) is a great film in its mood alone. The attention to detail circa the 1960s and 1970s is spot on and adds to the flavor of the entire experience. The locale of San Francisco is moody and lurking with the antics of the self-professed zodiac killer. With excellent acting, the sum of its parts adds up to a wonderful film experience.

The film is incredibly well-paced, character-driven, and layered in rich texture. What more can be asked of a cinematic production? It simply has it all and will engage any viewer craving mystery and intrigue.

David Fincher, at the director’s chair, creates a world unto itself with carefully crafted sets, artistic nuances, and of course a superb story. A lesson learned is that sometimes evil exists and cannot be caught despite best efforts and the ramifications are endless. Painfully, the characters in Zodiac slowly realize this.

Zodiac is based on the best-selling non-fiction book by Robert Graysmith, a pivotal character in the film. The novel is very similar to James Elroy’s 1987 novel The Black Dahlia, another unsolved case set in California.

The film tells the story of the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who terrorized the foggy San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Investigators (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) and reporters (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) become obsessed with learning the killer’s identity and bringing him to justice.

Meanwhile, Zodiac claims victim after victim and taunts the authorities with endless and specifically graphic letters, bloodstained clothing, and cryptic messages shrouded in menacing phone calls. The case remains one of the United States’ most infamous unsolved crimes.

Much of the acclaim must go to the three actors cast in the central roles and Gyllenhaal is top of his game in the leading role. As cartoonist Robert Graysmith he is the main hero and the person who spearheads the investigation, prompting disbelievers to listen to him. Gyllenhaal is sensitive, sympathetic, and obsessed and at first, perceived to be a laughing stock, but audiences will immediately get behind the man and this is thanks to Gyllenhaal’s powerful acting.

The character-driven approach continues as Mark Ruffalo gives a wonderful portrayal of Inspector David Toschi. The tough-as-nails and no-nonsense approach led Toschi into obsession and fudging evidence.

Finally, Robert Downey Jr. provides energetic gusto as Paul Avery, a journalist who turns to drugs and alcohol because of the intensity and emotional investment in the case.

Plenty of red herrings make the film fun and the prime suspect of Arthur Leigh Allen, played by character actor John Carroll Lynch may or may not be the assailant. It’s breathtaking watching all the twists and turns in this ferociously complex film.

Zodiac is based on real events and reportedly is extremely historically accurate. In fact,  Fincher and others spent eighteen months conducting their own investigation and research into the Zodiac murders. So, authenticity is everywhere in this film.

Watching a film beginning in 1969 and ending in 1983 is a joy for someone who grew up in that era. Fincher drizzles the film with timely automobiles, clothes, and other sets so it appears to be walking into a time capsule. I’m sure this only will add to the viewer’s enjoyment.

For fans of films based on the zodiac killers, the 1971 film Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood delivers an exceptional experience based on the real-life case. But Fincher’s Zodiac is just as good.

Despite the behemoth running time- two hours and thirty-seven minutes, Zodiac (2007) is an edge of your seat thriller. The pulsating yet prowling pace is worth several viewings to appreciate the juiciness of all of the elements David Fincher offers.

A hefty round of applause is deserved.

Promising Young Woman-2020

Promising Young Woman-2020

Director-Emerald Fennell

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham

Scott’s Review #1,132

Reviewed April 13, 2021

Grade: A

Emerald Fennell, making her film directorial debut, kicks her viewers in the ass with major help from star Carey Mulligan, with Promising Young Woman (2020). The actress gives the best performance of her career. The film is a sexy and haunting experience mixing black comedy and witty dialogue with an important and timely subject matter- the abuse and victimization of young women by men.

Both men and women can be held responsible as Fennell makes abundantly clear. Predators often have a share of people who choose to “look the other way” and thereby enable. This is a constant theme throughout the film involving many characters who are called out for their passivity.

Fennell makes this point during two of the best scenes of the film as she calls out a high-powered dean and attorney for their betrayals. The scenes are so powerful that I wanted the characters to suffer as much as the revenge seeker does.

There is also a wackiness in the pacing and dialogue that reminds me quite a bit of the 1999 masterpiece, American Beauty.

The film is depravity, bizarreness, and brilliance all rolled into one. I felt this film in my bones.

Almost every scene is a treat in the mysterious and unexpected and the film features peculiar characters and creative musical score renditions and includes a scene and music from the underappreciated masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). Fennell knows her classic cinema.

Mulligan stars as a woman named Cassie who seeks to avenge the death of her best friend, who was a victim of rape when they were in medical school and their young lives had potential and such possibility lay ahead of them. Cleverly, we never see her friend, named Nina Fisher, but she is of vital importance and nearly a major character herself despite her absence.

Everyone said Cassie was a “promising young woman” until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. But now at age thirty and still living at home, her parents suggest via a giant suitcase for her birthday, it may be time for her to move on.

Cassie is tough to figure out since she’s wickedly clever, sometimes wisecracking, and tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. She goes to nightclubs looking drop-dead gorgeous and lures men to her rescue pretending to be inebriated.

What happens when they go back to their pad is shocking, dark, and justified. The men will never see this coming.

Before the presumption is that Cassie is nothing more than a bad-ass, her intentions are not only admirable, but she has a heart and desires love. Promising Young Woman is a dark character study.

Besides the powerful story, Promising Young Woman is riddled with interesting cinematic techniques. Cassie’s parent’s lounge in their afternoon one afternoon watching The Night of the Hunter, a dark fairy tale for adults. Later, a haunting version of Britney Spear’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” complete with a string arrangement is featured most uniquely.

All the supporting players add pizzazz and strength, some in odd or unclear ways until certain revelations bubble to the surface. Jennifer Coolidge as Cassie’s strange mother, Bo Burnham as the smitten Ryan Cooper, and Alison Brie as Cassie’s college friend Madison McPhee are the best examples.

Bo and Madison have the most to hide but will they or won’t they face Cassie’s wrath is the question. Not much is worse than a woman scorned.

But the main draw is Mulligan. Startlingly good, with an astonishingly powerful, deeply layered performance by her. She showcases a remarkable acting range, where she effortlessly alternates from brash to darkly humorous and at times, emotionally vulnerable in her best performance to date.

Two scenes stand out to me. The first is a delicious scene between Cassie and the female dean of her school, played by Connie Britton. At first dismissive and annoyed by Cassie’s accusations, Dean Elizabeth Walker finally takes notice when she believes that Cassie had kidnapped her teenage daughter and left her with a group of drunken frat boys. What comes around goes around!

The second is the finale wedding scene, interestingly not featuring Cassie other than by text messages. As the happy young couple says their vows a parade of police cars ruins the moment and the audience cheers victory. It’s a satisfying moment.

The screenplay is original, fresh, and timely. In the “Me Too” movement the timing is vital and makes the subject matter relevant. Fennell wrote the screenplay- is there anything she can’t do?

Promising Young Woman (2020) is an exceptional film. It’s a controversial revenge film but it’s so much more. Taking a powerful subject matter and examining the hypocrisy, of men and women, is telling and eye-opening. That is why this film is very important to see and brings awareness to a situation society still too often deems as okay.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Emerald Fennell, Best Actress-Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Emerald Fennell, Best Female Lead- Carey Mulligan (won), Best Screenplay (won)

The Silent Partner-1978

The Silent Partner-1978

Director-Daryl Duke

Starring-Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer

Scott’s Review #1,120

Reviewed March 10, 2021

Grade: A-

The Silent Partner (1978) is an exceptionally thrilling film that is relatively unknown to most moviegoers but is well-regarded by cinema lovers, especially fans of 1970s relics. Watching the film in tandem with Brian DePalma’s clever and steamy Dressed to Kill (1980) one will immediately notice some similarities and will be able to draw comparisons. Might have DePalma even patterned his film after The Silent Partner?

Even the finest of directors borrow snippets of greatness from other directors. That’s the way it works.

It’s a shame so few realize that the film even exists. Starring Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer, admittedly the late 1970s was not the best-known time-period for Plummer but saw Gould in his heyday. The film also is peppered with notable sequences reminiscent of Frances Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation.

I can best describe the film as a Canadian heist film but this might imply that it’s cookie-cutter or generic in some way. It’s not. It’s not even a “guy film”- it’s way more cerebral than that.

There are a style and momentum in The Silent Partner that is individual with unique and unexpected trimmings along the way. The cat and mouse dynamic adds trickery and a murky nature that makes the film work.

Daryl Duke, unfamiliar to me and primarily known for television work, is at the helm as director, crafting from a screenplay written by Curtis Hanson. Hanson adapted his work from a Danish novel and should be familiar to movie fans for his participation in the thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and the neo-crime thriller L.A. Confidential (1997).

Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) plods along during the holidays at his bank teller job at the local mall. It’s Christmastime and Miles is down because he attempted to ask out his co-worker Julie Carver (Susannah York), who is more interested in dating their married boss- for now!

After discovering a secret plot by the mall Santa Claus (Christopher Plummer)to rob the bank at which he works, Miles cunningly hides a large portion of the cash in his own safe-deposit box. After the robbery, it is discovered that Santa is really a deranged master criminal named Harry Reikle.  He discovers that he’s been duped by Miles and puts horrific pressure on Cullen to hand over the money.

I adore the added romantic angle that blossoms amid the cat and mouse antics between Miles and Harry. No sooner than Julie softens towards Miles a mysterious and gorgeous woman enters the scene claiming to know Miles’s father. Elaine (Celine Lomez) is flirtatious and immediately wants to bed Miles but what is she up to?

From a character perspective, Miles and Harry are great studies. Related to the aforementioned films, Miles exhibits qualities similar to Harry Call in the brilliant The Conversation. Suspicious, paranoid, and intelligent, he is the perfect counterpart to Plummers Harry. Michael Caine played a transvestite in Dressed to Kill and Harry’s mascara, long nails, and fishnet top made me feel he possessed those qualities though the film never confirms this.

Psychologically speaking, Harry is disturbed based on his treatment and the perceived hatred he expresses towards women. He picks up and beats a young prostitute unconscious.

Is there a gay vibe? Most certainly especially when Harry looks longingly at Miles during more than one scene as he watches Miles in his apartment and proclaims, “You know we really are partners, right?”

Plummer is great and I can’t recall seeing any role of his being so villainous and he plays it superbly. Certainly a far cry from the musical patriarch in The Sound of Music (1965).

The Silent Partner contains one of the most gruesome murder scenes I’ve witnessed in cinema. It involves decapitation and a fish tank and is so shocking and unexpected that viewers may audibly gasp during the scene.

Nearly rivaling this is the great finale and a justified death on the mall escalator. It is fun to revisit the time when malls were flocked to especially during the Christmas holidays. The Santas, decorations, big crowds, and music made The Silent Partner a walk down memory lane.

A great and sadly lost gem, The Silent Partner (1978) is a film for movie lovers to check out, embrace, and fall in love with. A perfect watch would be around the Christmas holidays. Hopefully, with due word of mouth, this film will be rediscovered.