Category Archives: Thriller

Rebecca-2020

Rebecca-2020

Director Ben Wheatley

Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas

Scott’s Review #1,430

Reviewed June 30, 2024

Grade: A-

Impossible to compare to the legendary 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, I tried very hard to take the 2020 retelling of Rebecca based on its merits. After all, it’s been eighty years and other attempts have been made mostly forgotten or irrelevant.

Aware of lukewarm reviews by other critics I desperately washed those aside and settled in for a macabre, dark ghostly British thriller.

The film is quite good! Feeling fresh and with a polished cinematic look, I’d describe it as a modern British offering despite being set long ago.

For comparisons, it reminds me of the British television series Downton Abbey (2010-2015) in look and feel. A grandiose estate, dutiful servants, and rank and file of other wealthy and not-so-wealthy characters.

A young newlywed (character nameless) arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives in the house long after her death.

The lead actress, Lily James, who at first I couldn’t recall who she was, is most known for Downton Abbey and the 2023 film The Iron Claw.

The character she plays, the insecure second Mrs. de Winter is confused, and haunted requiring terrific acting. James hits it out of the park on that front.

Emotionally abused by her employer, wickedly played by Ann Dowd, she is instantly heroic and likable so we are happy when she graduates from servant to queen bee.

I cringed at first when I realized that the gorgeous and lovely Kristin Scott Thomas was playing the pivotal role of the villainous Mrs. Danvers. Known for the film The English Patient (1996) where she played the romantic Katharine Clifton, I wasn’t sure she’d be able to go so dark.

Boy, was I wrong? It took me a bit to channel out the dastardly performance by Judith Anderson from the original and accept Scott Thomas. She gets better with each scene and even forces the audience to sympathize with her.

Finally, Armie Hammer is good in the lead role of Maxim de Winter. Handsome, sophisticated, and wealthy, he peculiarly fancies a lady’s maid who inexplicably becomes his wife.

We wonder what he sees in her when his deceased wife ‘Rebecca’ was gorgeous, affluent, and a perfectionist. Rebecca was presumed to have drowned in a terrible boating accident but as events unfold we wonder if there’s more to the story.

If only the characters communicated with each other it would have eliminated confusion. Maxim refuses to talk about Rebecca. If his true feelings were revealed he’d have a different kind of second marriage.

Besides the story and the acting, other trimmings make Rebecca circa 2020 worthy of watching.

The cinematography captures crashing waves and high cliffs that provide a haunting mood. The dining room and kitchen sequences brim with goodness and wonderful meals.

The art direction and set design are overall flawless in the presentation.

The costume party that Mrs. de Winter eagerly plans and hopes will admonish the house of any thoughts of Rebecca go wrong which for viewers is a delight because the scene is already rich.  With help from Danvers a regal red costume is designed and prepared to showcase Mrs. de Winter.

When she confidently descends the staircase the startled crowd gasps with fright at the similarities between her and Rebecca. Maxim angrily dismisses her to change outfits while Danvers smirks in the background.

She’s won round one.

The Danvers/Mrs. de Winter feud is my favorite aspect of Rebecca (both original and 2020 versions) so it’s delightful to see it work so well with Scott Thomas and James.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching a film with little expectations but finishing feeling fulfilled and still thinking about it the next morning.

I’ll always watch 1940s Rebecca as a treasured friend but Rebecca (2020) quite capably offers a modern spin with good acting and lavish production values.

10 Rillington Place-1971

10 Rillington Place-1971

Director Richard Fleischer

Starring Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, John Hurt

Scott’s Review #1,424

Reviewed March 22, 2024

Grade: A

Richard Fleischer has directed films such as Dr. Doolittle (1967) and Soylent Green (1973) that are remembered better than 10 Rillington Place (1971).

That’s a shame because the film is one that I hadn’t seen nor heard of but is chilling, macabre, and masterful in its bleakness and atmosphere.

It’s also wonderfully acted.

One can’t help but notice the stark similarities to Frenzy, an equally disturbing and great 1972 film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Did this film influence the master of suspense to create that one? Only he knows the answer to that question.

Mostly set in one dreary apartment building in London named 10 Rillington Place it tells the true story of the British serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough), who committed many of his crimes in the tall terraced house, and the miscarriage of justice involving his neighbor, the simple-minded Timothy Evans (John Hurt).

Timothy was used by John as a scapegoat for the murders.

John is a seemingly model citizen but a killer, as the audience witnesses in the first scene. He poses as a kindly doctor who convinces naive women that he can cure whatever might ail them whether it be aches and pains or making a pesky pregnancy go away.

He usually strangles them to death and buries them in a makeshift graveyard in the pretty garden in front of his residence.

The main story in 10 Rillington Place follows John as he cons a pregnant bride (Judy Geeson) struggling financially to utilize his help and medical methods. John’s dutiful and clueless wife, Ethel (Pat Heywood) slowly discovers her husband’s shenanigans but will she fall prey as his next victim?

Of course, Richard Attenborough steals the show as the demented killer with a calm, cool, and collected exterior. As an average-looking Joe type, he can use his trusting appearance to his advantage.

I’d trust him.

Attenborough became an Academy Award-winning director for 1982’s Gandhi so he knows his craft well. He also directed Cry Freedom in 1987 and Chaplin in 1992.

In actor mode, he is phenomenal in the crazed killer role. His greatest skill is his demeanor. Thoughtful and pondering he never plays psycho or nuts. He is careful but that’s part of his creepiness. With every noise, he peers out the window drawing the living room curtain ever so slightly revealing his face.

Hurt and Geeson are terrific as the young couple with the cards stacked against them. They are simply looking for tranquility and the means to raise their child.

Simplicity is a winning formula and most of the film is subdued thanks to Fleischer’s laid-back direction techniques.

The look of 10 Rillington Place is perfection. The colors are muted and faded giving a dank and depressing look. Even a bright red velvet sofa appears dark and dreary.

As Timothy and Beryl agree to lease the top floor flat this will not bode well for them and somehow we can just sense this.

Towards the end of the film, it is almost too much to bear with the knowledge that John strangles a toddler to death and unceremoniously stuffs the child, wrapped in a blanket in a washroom.

Brilliantly, the murders rarely happen onscreen and with none of the principal characters. That’s what’s so haunting about the film and reminds me of Hitchcock’s Frenzy.

Remember the scene where the necktie killer lures a female victim upstairs to her death? There is silence and a shot of the staircase for seemingly an eternity until the killer descends the stairs.

We know what’s happened.

What we don’t see is sometimes much more frightening than what we do see.

The ghastly reveal at the end of 10 Rillington Place that the story is based on real-life events packed a punch since I didn’t have this knowledge going into the film.

Thankfully, 10 Rillington Place (1971) has received its just desserts in terms of praise and achievement in recent years. This proves that great films are like cream and rise to the top…..eventually.

Anatomy of a Fall-2023

Anatomy of a Fall 2023

Director Justine Triet

Starring Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado-Graner

Scott’s Review #1,422

Reviewed March 4, 2024

Grade: B+

The taut legal thriller, Anatomy of a Fall (2023) is rich with mystery and almost immediately offers the viewer a character’s surprising death. The rest of the film is spent trying to figure out how the death occurred as a trial surfaces.

The mountainous puzzle made me as the viewer anticipate a shocking conclusion or at least a cemented ending leaving nothing to the imagination.

In plain terms, I wanted to know why the character died, at whose hand, and how the act was done.

As good as the film is the ending underwhelmed me. I was left wanting more than I was offered. This is undoubtedly a result of the enormous buildup.

However, the effort is spectacular, and some of the year’s best acting is showcased by Sandra Hüller and Milo Machado-Graner, who give rich and dramatic performances. They stay believable and nuanced in challenging, teary scenes. 

Sandra (Sandra Hüller), her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), and their eleven-year-old son Daniel ( Milo Machado-Graner) live a secluded life in a remote town in the French Alps.

Tension develops when Sandra, who is a writer, is interviewed by a reporter at home as they sip and enjoy wine. Samuel ruins the moment by blasting an obnoxious song loop causing the interview to be aborted.

Suddenly, Samuel is found dead in the snow by Daniel! The police question whether he was murdered or possibly committed suicide. Samuel’s suspicious death is ultimately presumed murder, and Sandra becomes the prime suspect.

As the trial begins, the events of Samuel’s death are uncovered while the complexities increase. A disturbing journey into Sandra and Samuel’s troubled relationship is explored with Daniel being at the center of the drama.

Anatomy of a Fall is a slow-moving vehicle but that’s a large part of its appeal for me. After Samuel’s death, the film features quiet scene after quiet scene of Sandra and Daniel being interviewed by either their lawyers or others involved in the case.

While not action scenes, the dialogue reveals an incredible amount of backstory. An incident that occurred years earlier is key and the remnants of that unfortunate activity are vital to the entire reveal.

With tremendous acting the film is also significant in scoring Justine Triet an Oscar nomination for Best Director when shamefully few female directors have ever been given this distinct honor.

Unfortunately, Triet’s nomination comes at the expense of Greta Gerwig NOT being nominated for the ginormous blockbuster hit Barbie. I’d give the nomination to Gerwig but why couldn’t they both be nominated?

Triet also wrote the screenplay and wisely crafted an unpredictable vehicle. Since Sandra is on trial the writing could have felt forced or generic but it doesn’t. There are also no silly television drama moments of unnecessary legal jargon or canned shocking tense moments.

What Triet serves up is genuine and humanistic.

The cold and snowy atmosphere reminds me of a Swedish film from 2014 called Force Majeure with a similar story of uncovered secrets and backstory. They are both set in the French Alps ironically enough.

I expected more from the ending but Anatomy of a Fall (2023) mesmerizes and keeps one guessing never feeling boring like some legal dramas can.

While Triet’s Oscar nomination may be questionable, Hüller’s is not and I’d even argue she deserves to win.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Justine Triet, Best Actress-Sandra Hüller, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best International Film (won)

The Zone of Interest-2023

The Zone of Interest-2023

Director Jonathan Glazer

Starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller

Scott’s Review #1,419

Reviewed February 2, 2024

Grade: A

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

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

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

The father is the mastermind behind the suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We see the victims.

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

The nights are even worse.

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

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

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

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

There are no closeups.

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

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

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

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

The mission has been named after him.

Is it too much for him to deal with?

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Jonathan Glazer, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature Film (won), Best Sound (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Saltburn-2023

Saltburn-2023

Director Emerald Fennell

Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Scott’s Review #1,417

Reviewed January 19, 2024

Grade: A

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

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

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

She also wrote the screenplay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stepford Wives-1975

The Stepford Wives-1975

Director Bryan Forbes

Starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss

Scott’s Review #1,395

Reviewed September 4, 2023

Grade: A

The Stepford Wives (1975) is a film that has deservedly achieved cult status over the years and its title became iconic in meaning.

Everyone knows what a ‘Stepford wife’ is and what it depicts. Usually, a tall, leggy, brainless rich white woman from Connecticut is a sufficient enough image.

The film is a personal treasure to me since I am a resident of said state. The fact that ‘Stepford’ sounds like ‘Stamford’ where I live is uncanny and ironic. The film was shot in various areas of Connecticut so it’s fun to see the towns, grocery stores, and houses in the mid-1970s.

It also resonates quite well with my husband who lived in Manhattan for many years and then transplanted to nearby Connecticut just like the main characters do.

Besides my fondness, it’s a damned good thriller. It paces nicely and takes its time getting to the stunning conclusion.

The film was written by William Goldman (All the Presidents Men-1976), who based his screenplay on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel of the same name. Levin also wrote Rosemary’s Baby which was turned into a 1968 film.

The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby would make an outstanding double feature.

Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to the quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut, with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and children. The town seems idyllic and maybe just a little too perfect for her tastes.

Along with best friend and fellow Stepford resident Bobby (Paula Prentiss), the women notice that the other housewives are not quite ‘normal’. They obsess over housework and are willingly subservient to their husbands.

Joanna and Bobby are determined to solve the mystery especially when they realize there used to be a large women’s liberation group in Stepford.

In a lesser film, the final product could dive headfirst into campy horror. A tepid remake made in 2004 and starring Nicole Kidman did. But the original version stays the course and provides thrills and psychological facets.

The audience knows pretty soon that the men have a secret club that women are not permitted to attend. Named the Men’s Association, a major clue surfaces when Walter invites the men over to his house and they secretly look Joanna up and down.

What we don’t know is the how. Joanna, Bobby, and another neighbor Charmaine Wimperis (brilliantly played by Tina Louise) are the only ‘normal’ wives. Realizing which one of them is the next intended victim is part of the fun.

The women’s portraits are drawn by one of the men and we learn that the previous women have ‘turned’ after going away on a romantic weekend with their husbands.

What’s inside the creepy mansion that holds the Men’s Association meetings? Will Joanna sneak inside? What will happen next?

Delicious sequences occur that reveal that housewives are robots. After a minor fender bender in the local shopping center parking lot, Carol (Nanette Newman) begins acting strangely at an outdoor cocktail party. She repeatedly frets and repeats the same line over and over again.

Her husband blames her odd behavior on alcohol but the audience knows better.

Unforgettable is the stellar grocery store finale when the women are dressed to the nines and robotically shuffle through the aisles. They absent-mindedly take items off the shelves and place them into their carts while acknowledging each other with a pleasant ‘Hello, Charmaine”, or “Hello, Carol”.

My favorite scene is close to the finale between Bobby and Joanna. Horrified at Bobby’s transition to an uptight, well-dressed housewife obsessed with a clean kitchen, Joanna impulsively plunges a butcher knife into Bobby’s midsection.

With no bloodshed proving Bobby is a robot, Bobby calmly scolds Joanna by saying over and over again, “Now why would you do a thing like that?”

The scene is creepy, startling, and powerful given the close relationship between the women.

These scenes and others make The Stepford Wives (1975) part of pop culture and a reason I can watch the film several times over.

Featuring a cast of good actors led by Ross who successfully provides Joanna with both likability and sensibility the film is never over the top or ridiculous.

Dark Passage-1947

Dark Passage-1947

Director Delmer Daves

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Scott’s Review #1,393

Reviewed August 25, 2023

Grade: B

In 1947, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were big Hollywood stars. Dark Passage is the third of four films the real-life couple made together in the 1940s and must have catapulted audiences to theaters to see the power couple perform.

To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Key Largo (1948) were the others.

Dark Passage is based on the 1946 novel of the same title by David Goodis.

Vincent Parry (Bogart) has just escaped from San Quentin prison near San Francisco, California after being locked up for murdering his wife, a crime he did not commit.

He finds a plastic surgeon to give him new features. After getting a ride out of town from a stranger, Vincent crosses paths with a young woman Irene Jansen, (Bacall) who lets him stay in her apartment while he heals and continues to try and clear his name.

The duo falls madly in love and attempts to figure out the puzzle and find the real killer.

Delmer Daves, a director with whom I’m not familiar, also writes the screenplay. The first portion of the film uses superior camera angles and the use of the point of view (POV) filming from Vincent’s perspective.

The audience sees what Vincent sees. This was used to justify Vincent’s plastic surgery and the knowledge that viewers wouldn’t buy a different actor from Bogart. It makes sense and brings a creative technological perspective to the film quality.

Something about black-and-white filmmaking always conjures up 1940s cinema for me. That Dark Passage is a thriller with film noir elements making it all the more effective.

A personal treat for me was to see the exterior sequences of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square are easy to spot and having spent time in both locales I was fascinated by what both looked and felt like in the 1940s.

Notwithstanding the ‘look,’ the main draw is Bogart and Bacall. Having not seen their other films the chemistry is apparent in Vincent and Irene.

The tenderness between the pair considering the characters have only just met is strong, especially during a quiet scene when they sip after-dinner coffee next to a window with driving California rain.

They are getting to know each other and so is the audience.

Bacall who is terrific and smolders with sensuality and confidence easily outshines Bogart who doesn’t deliver his best work. This could be partly because he doesn’t speak until the midway point of the film but there is an aura that Bacall has that Bogart doesn’t.

My favorite film of his is Casablanca (1942).

The story starts tremendously with mystery and intrigue. Who killed Vincent’s wife quickly becomes who killed Vincent’s friend after he is also found murdered.

A tremendous scene between Vincent and a man he hitches a ride from and a taxi cab driver who helps Vincent increases the thrill ride with quick and engaging dialogue meant to hold suspense.

The climax fizzles with an overly complicated and overwrought build-up to the final reveal that drags. When the villains are unmasked their motivations are a bit suspect and underwhelming.

One character plummeting from a high-rise window to their death is pretty cool, especially for 1947. The shrieking neighbor and the dead body displayed along the sidewalk is a highlight.

Also, a sliver of the film takes place in beautiful Peru and is a comparison to the nightclub featured in Casablanca.

Dark Passage (1947) is a pretty good film but will be appreciated mostly by fans of Bogart and Bacall. The plot is up and down but the behemoth Hollywood stars are the main attraction.

The Boys from Brazil-1978

The Boys from Brazil-1978

Director Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason

Scott’s Review #1,391

Reviewed August 20, 2023

Grade: B+

The Boys from Brazil (1978) is a taut political thriller with a neo-Nazi focus and a weird cloning subject matter. It’s a bit of a tough follow but quite compelling all the way though and doesn’t lag at all.

Sometimes political thrillers get overly complicated or drag but this one doesn’t. The story is slightly hokey and impractical even bordering on ludicrous but since it’s so intriguing and action-packed these adjectives can be overlooked.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t blown away by either the performance of Laurence Olivier or Gregory Peck despite being a fan of both quality actors. Both actors overact and create stereotypes but especially Peck’s character is a bit too cartoonish.

It took me half the film to even recognize either man since both are heavily made up making them hard to recognize. It also took until the dramatic conclusion for either character to truly grow on me.

A brilliant one-scene cameo performance by Uta Hagen, a German American actress, as a former Nazi guard now imprisoned nearly steals the show and should have deserved an Oscar nomination.

The story surrounds Doctor Josef Mengele played by Peck who clones Adolf Hitler ninety-five times and raises the boys in Brazil, giving them childhoods identical to Hitler’s in various parts of the world.

His goal is to create a band of Nazi leaders that can continue where Hitler left off, forming the Fourth Reich. Their fathers will be murdered and the boys will be mothered as Hitler was.

Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), a Nazi hunter, learns of the plan from a young journalist (Steve Guttenberg) and is determined to thwart it.

The plot is a tough pill to swallow and takes some time to absorb exactly what is going on but it’s fresh and unique. I’m not sure if in 1978 people had had enough of Nazi and World War II films but both subjects are always worth dissecting again.

I’m not sure why it was so tough to get used to Peck as the evil doctor but it was. It’s probably because Peck usually plays characters with a strong moral compass and he was playing way against type.

His character looks weird and Peck seems to be overacting sometimes almost like he was playing a James Bond villain. It’s not exactly a role that measures up to Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

Olivier is better and the main protagonist of The Boys from Brazil but I’m not sure he entirely wins me over. It’s not easy immersing in the prim and proper British aristocratic actor playing a Jewish man who kvetches so often.

Still, by the finale when Mengele meets Lieberman in a deadly showdown involving vicious Dobermans, a gun, and a Hitler clone I was cheering for Olivier all the way.

Supporting characters played by Guttenberg, Anne Meara (Jerry Stiller’s wife) as Mrs. Curry, one of the Hitler clone’s mothers, and the aforementioned Hagen is excellent. I wish that each character was explored better and given more screen time.

The same can be said for Rosemary Harris in a one-scene performance. While quality, I wanted more from her character of Frau Doring, the wife of one of the murdered fathers of the Hitler clones.

Finally, James Mason has little to do as Colonel Seibert other than serve as second fiddle to Peck.

But, The Boys from Brazil is the Olivier and Peck show.

The locales are a big win since they add an international vibe and relevance. Geographies such as Germany, Paraguay, Austria, and rural Pennsylvania, United States are featured which lofts the film up tremendously.

The taught nature of the film provides suspense, an ode to history, and an eerie measure of Trumpism in comparison to Nazi-ism. The Boys from Brazil (1978) isn’t prime steak but it’s not a bad watch either.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Laurence Olivier, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score

The Notorious Landlady-1962

The Notorious Landlady-1962

Director Richard Quine

Starring Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Fred Astaire

Scott’s Review #1,390

Reviewed August 16, 2023

Grade: B+

If viewers can look past the messy nature of The Notorious Landlady (1962) and the schizophrenic pacing that appears intermittently then the film is enjoyable.

It’s not platinum status but a decent enough flick, especially for fans of Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon who were big stars at the time. This is the third and final film that the duo starred in.

Like the film, their chemistry goes in and out but appealing is to see Novak in a comic role whereas the genre is familiar territory for the funny Lemmon.

After her husband mysteriously disappears, Carly Hardwicke (Novak) finds it impossible to rent a room in her lovely London apartment, because everyone assumes she’s responsible.

American diplomat William Gridley (Jack Lemmon), is new to the city and desires a residence with her. It doesn’t hurt matters that Carly is very easy on the eyes. William becomes smitten with her unaware of her troubles.

When his boss, Franklyn Ambruster (Fred Astaire), learns what Gridley has stumbled into, the two men try to clear her name. A series of lies and misunderstandings catapult events into a compelling mystery.

Even though neither William nor Carly are British the foggy locale works well providing foreign mystery. They reside in a courtyard type of home where neighbors can see in or they can see out to other apartments. This comes into greater play towards the end of the film.

This is just one example of an Alfred Hitchcock influence from 1955’s Rear Window which director Richard Quine heftily borrows from. He’s wise to do so since he secured Novak, fresh from her role in Vertigo (1958) two years earlier.

Shit, even the title ‘The Notorious Landlady’ borrows the title of the 1946 Hitchcock masterpiece, ‘Notorious’.

There’s also a secret locked door that Carly references and forbids anyone from entering adding suspense and foreboding.

Despite tepid chemistry between the stars I ultimately enjoy their romance. It’s a hard sell that the gorgeous Carly would fall head over heels for the everyman William but she does.

They win me over during a dramatic scene where an attempted romantic dinner of steaks goes awry and instead, a massive fire erupts. The burgeoning lovers cling together in a sweet embrace that cements their appeal.

The tension is supposed to be about whether Carly murdered her husband and has designs on William. Red herrings like kitchen poisons and the like make an appearance but I was more interested in the impending mystery of said husband than really believing she’d want to kill William.

The last act brings the reemergence of a threatening character, an unexpected villain, and a race to save another character who’s in dangerous peril.

A courtroom scene also adds to the tension.

The central storyline is satisfying, edge of your seat, and suspenseful, just what I assume Quine was going for…..ultimately.

Within the story, The Notorious Landlady shifts genres a whopping three times! The tone of the film is all over the place, first romantic comedy, then suspense and drama, and finally slapstick.

During the finale when Carly and William race to a retirement community and scramble to stop an out-of-control wheelchair, I half expected Laurel & Hardy or The Little Rascals to make a cameo.

Poor Fred Astaire has little to do and struggles to keep up any relevance as measured against Novak and Lemmon’s characters. At times I’d even forgotten he was still in the film.

The Notorious Landlady (1962) is an entertaining vehicle and a must-see for fans of Novak or Lemmon eager to see a largely forgotten film that has something fun to offer.

Sudden Impact-1983

Sudden Impact-1983

Director Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke

Scott’s Review #1,388

Reviewed August 12, 2023

Grade: B+

The groundbreaking and highly influential Dirty Harry, released in 1971 spawned four sequels. Sudden Impact (1983) is the third. It is directed, produced by, and stars Clint Eastwood (making it the only Dirty Harry film to be directed by Eastwood himself) and co-starring Sondra Locke, the star’s longtime girlfriend.

On the surface, the film is standard fare and relatively conventional featuring slick cinematography, a predictable story, shoot ’em-ups, and cartoon villains.

It’s also quite bloody and violent with a theme of justice being served.

Exactly what you’d expect from any action/thriller to come out in the two decades following the original.

The cliches and story setups had by 1983 been seen in so many crime thriller genre films that they feel tired and stale and can be predicted at length.

The expected Dirty Harry catchphrase in Sudden Impact is, “Go ahead, make my day” which is probably what the film is best remembered for though some assume the famous line appears in Dirty Harry.

This isn’t a glowing testament for Sudden Impact.

United States President Ronald Reagan embarrassingly used the “make my day” line in a March 1985 speech threatening to veto legislation raising taxes.

The secret weapon of Sudden Impact though is the inclusion of Locke who is a tour de force in acting and raises the film quite a bit. Her romance with Eastwood (on and off the silver screen) simmers with chemistry making Sudden Impact feel like a much better film than it is.

Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke) is a thirty-something blonde bombshell who along with her much younger sister was gang raped, but the crime went unpunished. She now hunts down those responsible one by one and gruesomely shoots them in the testicles before killing them.

She’s not a gal to be messed with.

The murders attract the attention of Harry Callahan (Eastwood), who is on a forced vacation due to his violent approach to police work.

The case gets complicated when Harry develops a relationship with Jennifer, and it’s up to Harry to make the right decision when Jennifer’s life is threatened for a second time.

Locke and Eastwood always do well with marginal material- think Bronco Billy (1980) or Every Which Way But Loose (1978). Both of those films are more comical so it’s riveting to see them co-star in a violence-based thriller.

Not to dwell on Locke (okay, I must), but she’s the best part of Sudden Impact. The first scene involves one of her vigilante murders and her cold, calm, steadiness is magnificent. Through icy eyes, she is filled with rage though is wise and calculating.

When she is not blowing balls to bits, Jennifer leads a successful life as an author and escapes to a whimsical carnival town outside San Francisco to focus on her work. She also finds time to finish killing the remaining members of the gang of rapists.

Locke mesmerizes in every scene she appears in.

Eastwood is good too but his character is the same grizzled, sick of criminal, guy with a gun he’s been since the beginning. Harry’s arguments with the suits in the top office are tired and the actors cast are handily stock types.

The win is Eastwood’s scenes with Locke. As they share dinner there is a romantic tenderness that perfectly offsets the rest of the story. We ask, will he send her to prison or let her go when he inevitably finds out she’s the killer?

Is she justified?

The rapists are cartoon-like and poorly cast and there is no character development. The main villain, Mick (Paul Drake) shrieks and wails and delivers his dialogue in over-the-top fashion. He’s a poor man’s ‘Scorpio’ who he tries to emulate.

A female villain, an assumed lesbian named Ray Parkins, in a purely politically incorrect fashion, has every lesbian stereotype imaginable.

I liken Sudden Impact (1983) to a McDonald’s meal. A greasy Big Mac, fries, and a shake. It’s not fine dining but it’s satisfying and one knows exactly what to expect. Only in this case, Locke is the special sauce.

The Warriors-1979

The Warriors-1979

Director Walter Hill

Starring Michael Beck, Deborah Van Valkenburgh

Scott’s Review #1,383

Reviewed July 31, 2023

Grade: B+

The Warriors (1979) is an entertaining gang-themed action-thriller that is a perfect watch for a late Saturday night. Reportedly, it caused friction and outbreaks of fights in movie theaters when it was released but decades later doesn’t feel as dangerous as it might have upon release.

The film does terrific work with some art direction that melds live-action with colorful drawings of characters. This infuses an artistic experience and raises results way above dumb action flicks like Rambo (1982), Death Wish (1974), and countless others.

In perhaps a peculiar comparison, The Warriors reminds me a bit of Escape from New York by John Carpenter which came two years later. The isolated Manhattan streets and other areas with a post-apocalyptic feel merge the two films, in my mind anyway.

The film suffers a bit from a dated and obscure categorization and is not remembered as well as perhaps it should be. The acting isn’t terrific either but strangely this makes the experience a bit more raw and enjoyable.

After being wrongly accused of killing a charismatic gang leader named Cyrus, a Coney Island street gang known as the Warriors must hoof their way home which is miles from where the death occurred. They are pursued by both police and enemy gangs one of which framed them for Cyrus’s execution.

The ambiance and atmospheric qualities are the best aspects of the overall film. So many Big Apple treats can be found especially the infamous Central Park which takes center stage. The lavish and picturesque park wasn’t as safe and pristine in the late 1970s as in 2023 and the film uses this to its advantage.

Characters never know who or what might be lurking behind a bench or a tree. A particularly fun scene features a young Mercedes Ruehl being groped by a gang member only to be revealed to be a sexy policewoman who quickly puts the perp in handcuffs.

The other locales featured are plentiful and include Van Cortlandt Park, Union Square, 96th Street and Broadway, and Riverside Park. The beauty of this is that the action doesn’t include only Manhattan but other boroughs like the Bronx and Brooklyn showing the vastness of NYC.

The main romance is between Swan (Michael Beck) and Mercy played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh. The pair have a sliver of chemistry but I wasn’t watching the film for doey-eyed young people.

One scene was exceptionally done when the couple laid eyes on some well-dressed and upstanding teenagers on the subway who could easily be their doppelgangers.

Maybe them in another life? The forlorn look on the faces of Swan and Mercy reveals much as the couples all eye each other perhaps thinking the same thing.

Walter Hill directs the film and is well-versed in the action genre creating the popular film 48 Hours (1982). He paces and choreographs the action sequences so well that it’s as if the viewer is watching a dance routine occur.

The opening sequence gets the tone of the film out in the open as the storied Wonder Wheel on dusty Coney Island is on full display. Even the bright and windy shore feels gloomy and ominous as leather-clad gang members make it their turf.

The finale salutes the Warriors with a song, ‘In the City by Joe Walsh which I particularly enjoyed because it’s a great song.

Though unrealistic for the time, it’s nice to see gang members of different ethnicities team up together in diverse representation.

The film is a perfect watch for cinema fans thirsty for old New York City locales and greasy, dirty subway stations. Because the real Manhattan wasn’t too different from what The Warriors (1979) showcases.

The Mirror Crack’d-1980

The Mirror Crack’d-1980

Director Guy Hamilton

Starring Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson

Scott’s Review #1,371

Reviewed June 22, 2023

Grade: B+

I’m a sucker for any sort of whodunit especially based on an Agatha Christie novel. Some of her treasures like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile have made for quality filmmaking in the crime thriller genre.

With The Mirror Crack’d (1980) director Guy Hamilton (he directed four James Bond films) collects some of Hollywood’s finest stars and creates an adaption with British authenticity and a knock-it-out-of-the-park finale twist that I didn’t see coming.

Any fans of the long-running CBS sleuth series Murder, She Wrote from the 1980s are treated to gleeful clues that the film influenced the series. Both star the iconic Angela Lansbury.

The main character and murder solver in The Mirror Crack’d is a kindly old woman named Miss Marple played by Lansbury. The actress is aged via makeup to look much older than she was at the time. Lansbury does a good job with the speech and mannerisms of one of her character’s age.

Jane Marple (Lansbury) is tickled pink when two glamorous Hollywood actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor), and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), arrive in her quaint English village to shoot a movie.

Drama is sprinkled in when it’s revealed that the two actresses despise each other.

At a welcome reception related to the film, Marina engages in conversation with a longtime fan named Heather Babcock and is momentarily distracted. Soon afterward, the fan collapses and dies, poisoned by a drink intended for Marina.

Pleasure is had by the incorporation of so many stars some way past their prime. My favorite is the dynamic duo of Taylor and Hudson as a married couple. Fans will recall that Hudson’s sad death due to A.I.D.S. in 1985 led to Taylor championing a crusade for research with which the government then refused to be associated.

Her efforts and star power led to tremendous progress to be made as the disease ravaged the world’s LGBTQ+ community.

So, any scene centered on Taylor and Hudson is heartfelt and a pure treat.

Otherwise, the cast of characters is positioned in a familiar pattern to reveal almost everyone would have a reason to kill the glamorous star. Could it be her sexy blonde rival? Or the cranky producer of the film played by Tony Curtis? Or even her hubby Jason?

Geraldine Chapman appears as Ella Zielensky who is secretly in love with Jason and has a good reason to want Marina out of the way. Especially suspicious are her trips to a phone booth to call an unknown person accusing them of murder.

The setting adds value as the small English village is cute and picturesque. Marple’s cottage is perfectly dressed with colors and patterns well suited for her character.

The Mirror Crack’d has a couple of misfires and sometimes has a television movie feel. The comparisons to Murder, She Wrote while nice are also detractors since it makes the film seem like a small screen effort.

The time is supposed to be 1953 and the characters are dressed appropriately but it doesn’t feel authentic. The real year 1980 feels more believable despite the costumes.

While it doesn’t drag a bit it also isn’t quite as good as the aforementioned Murder on the Orient Express (1974) or Death on the Nile (1978).

For a good old-fashioned detective story based on a storied author, one could do worse than watching The Mirror Crack’d (1980). Sure there are other better-produced efforts but the film is a solid, entertaining watch with glamorous stars incorporated.

Don’t Worry Darling-2022

Don’t Worry Darling-2022

Director Olivia Wilde

Starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine

Scott’s Review #1,368

Reviewed June 9, 2023

Grade: B+

Don’t Worry Darling (2022) plays like a modern version of The Stepford Wives (1975) meets Pleasantville (1998) but with a supernatural spin and lots of much-needed modern diversity.

Not set in present times the characters all feel very 2022 but are transplanted to a different period that only enhances an already unsettling feeling.

The sophisticated 1950s set design and art direction are a major score as well as the mysterious happenings that continue to shroud the central character and her surroundings.

The film never lags and in fact, fascinates throughout. There is a continuous feeling of uncertainty, dread, and controlled chaos that assuredly will explode in the finale.

I’m not sure I quite got the conclusion right away until I read through the summary and something about an alternate universe and different lives outside of the main setting was revealed. Regardless, it felt unsatisfying especially compared to the rest of the events.

But, small potatoes, I still enjoyed Don’t Worry Darling immensely.

The premise is thrilling from the start. A 1950s housewife named Alice, played by emerging star Florence Pugh is living with her husband in a utopian experimental community. They mingle with neighbors, host lavish parties with delicious food and drink and enjoy each gorgeous sunny day.

Daily, the men dutifully drive off to work in the distinguished Victory Headquarters while the wives cheerfully clean and scrub the windows and prepare a savory dinner while counting the minutes until their husbands return for a romp in the hay.

It all sounds too good to be true.

When a close friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) experiences a psychotic episode witnessed by Alice, she begins to worry that her husband’s glamorous company may be hiding disturbing secrets and that everything may not be as perfect as it seems.

I am becoming a big fan of Florence Pugh who easily carries the film. Impressive in both Midsommar and as Amy in Little Women, both in 2019, she possesses a certain ‘it’ factor showcased well in Don’t Worry Darling.

Pugh has many scenes with no dialogue. Ranging from a soak in the bathtub, a bizarre episode where she wraps her head in saran wrap, and witnessing her friend’s death, she does so much without speaking.

Successfully, the audience is taken along for the ride. We know as much as Alice does which is nothing. It’s not that Alice hates her life, hell, she’s got it pretty good. A scrumptious roast and carrots alongside hot sex on her dining room table, the girl could do much worse.

But, she knows something is off and is determined to find out what it is. Why are the women forbidden from seeing the Victory Headquarters? Why does a plane crash that only Alice sees? Why does Frank, the alpha male leader of Victory, wonderfully played by Chris Pine, keep eyeing Alice?

Impressive is the direction by Olivia Wilde, who also appears as Alice’s friend, Bunny. Along with the screenwriter, Katie Silberman, the duo craft a piece of work with a feminist perspective turned topsy turvy and it’s a good angle.

Not to harp on the ending again, but the message of female empowerment which I think is the intention of Wilde and Silberman, is unclear. A bolder message and a more finite ending would have helped cement the deal.

Still, in Wilde’s only second film, the first being the vastly different Booksmart (2019), she should only be proud of herself and the product she created.

If one is seeking an emboldened psychological thriller with twists and turns to savor, Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is a fine pick. It creeps along with appropriate plot points and a stylized visual canvas.

Marathon Man-1976

Marathon Man-1976

Director John Schlesinger

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider

Scott’s Review #1,359

Reviewed April 29, 2023

Grade: A-

Writer, William Goldman, was involved in two politically charged, taut thrillers released in 1976 that can easily be watched back to back. Fast-paced and rapidly edited, thrilling action-packed offerings are on the menu.

The Academy Award-winning All the Presidents Men (1976) and Marathon Man (1976) are highly recommended since both are in the same vein. They are part of why I love 1970s cinema so much freedom and rich character development combined with a sole vision are admirable traits.

John Schlesinger, famous for Midnight Cowboy (1969) and other films, directs.

Both films are written by Goldman and each stars actor Dustin Hoffman so the similarities are endless. And yet, each has its own identity.

In Marathon Man, Thomas “Babe” Levy (Hoffman) is a Columbia graduate student and long-distance runner, residing in New York City. His older brother, Doc (Roy Scheider), is a government agent chasing down a Nazi war criminal named Szell (Laurence Olivier).

Babe does not know Doc’s career until a tragic event finds him involved in a plot of stolen gems and sadistic madmen. Even his girlfriend, Elsa (Marthe Keller), becomes a suspect as everything Babe believes to be true is suddenly turned upside down.

At over two hours there is not a slow moment in the film.

We meet Babe as he runs throughout New York City so that the audience learns his obsession with running could correlate to his need to escape from something.

This proves to be true when we learn the brother’s father committed suicide after being investigated during the Joseph McCarthy era when civilians were suspected and accused of being communists.

So, the backstory made me sympathize with Babe and Doc and fleshed them as characters. Hoffman and Scheider are superb and show the different nuances between the personalities of the brothers. Doc is sophisticated and Babe is common, though highly intelligent.

The musical score, created by Michael Small must be mentioned. Oftentimes in film, the score serves as more or less ‘background music’ and can go unnoticed. This is not the case in Marathon Man and several times I noticed the music-enhancing sequences, especially when peril was involved.

I was pleased when I learned that the iconic Laurence Olivier plays the villain, Szell, in the film. He is believable as a vicious German Nazi who specializes in a unique brand of dental work. First blonde and then bald, the physical nature of the role is showcased. He also calmly performs torturous tactics using dental tools.

Marathon Man is made up of a series of scenes that will either enthrall, make the audience squirm, or in some cases both.

Speaking of dental work, any viewer who has a phobia or dislike of going to the dentist may want to fast forward past the sequence when Babe is forced to endure some stylized poking and prodding. Szell and his henchmen are convinced that Babe knows more than he is letting on and are determined to make him reveal all.

Early on, a terrifying scene centering on road rage in Manhattan is as good as it gets and reveals the gist of the plot. Nazis, anti-semitism, and a fiery gasoline truck encompass a speedy and argumentive car chase scene.

The sequence is heart-racing, nail-biting, and revealing.

Others flesh out the film like a quiet lunch at a lovely French restaurant. Doc takes Babe and Elsa out where they dine on lavish courses of creamy, sophisticated cuisine and wine. The richness of the food and culture enhances the earlier scenes set in Paris.

The final thirty minutes of Marathon Man are the best part. A series of shootouts in the suburban rural farmland and foot chases in downtown Manhattan culminate in a showdown between Babe and Szell near a water tank in Central Park.

A strong appeal for viewers is experiencing scene after scene in New York City as many exteriors were shot there.

The plot of Marathon Man (1976) is sometimes too complicated and all events do not add up satisfyingly. The who’s who and realism is a tough sell but it hardly matters. The film entertains and is a high-energy thrill ride and that is more than enough for me.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Laurence Olivier

Klute-1971

Klute-1971

Director Alan J. Pakula

Starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland

Scott’s Review #1,351

Reviewed March 12, 2023

Grade: A-

I’ll gladly watch any film Jane Fonda appears in especially early treats like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969), Coming Home (1978), and On Golden Pond (1981), but Klute (1971) trumps them all.

Fonda plays a prostitute, one with intelligence, manipulation skills, and deep introspective thought. Teamed with Donald Sutherland who has quiet cool, the duo sink their teeth into a taut psychological thriller chasing a serial killer.

The inventive part is that the film is hardly a whodunit but uses long sequences of calm dialogue and little editing breaks making it stand out with great style and substance.

Bree Daniel (Fonda), is a New York City call girl who becomes absorbed in an investigation into the disappearance of a business executive. Detective John Klute (Sutherland) is hired to follow Bree and eventually begins a romance with her.

Klute is not the only one on Bree’s trail. A killer is on the loose having killed two prostitutes that Bree is friendly with. They must figure out the deadly puzzle before it’s too late.

Fonda plays Bree wonderfully. Gorgeous and well-dressed, Bree is aching to leave the business and launch an acting or modeling career but she continues to strike out on both fronts. Fonda assures the audience that Bree is smart and uses her smarts to get the best of the men she beds.

During several scenes where she chats with her shrink, we learn a great deal about Bree and the workings of her mind. While she cringes at a dull life of being married and darning socks, she also craves stability and self-worth.

She aptly embraces her lifestyle but on her terms. When briefly jaded by a pimp played by Roy Scheider, I cringed because Bree is better than that.

I only wanted to learn a bit more about Bree’s childhood and how she wound up as a call girl but at the same time, the mystique works well. The ambiguity only makes Bree more complex.

Pre-conceived notions or sub-par writing might have had the character dubbed the overdone ‘hooker with the heart of gold’ title but there are no cliches to be found.

Written by the team of Andy and Dave Lewis, and directed by Alan J. Pakula, they construct a complex film with equal focus on the intriguing serial killer pursuit and the workings of its lead female character.

Surprisingly, the men achieve both goals. In later years the screenplay might have been written by a female but it’s impressive how boldly they write Bree.

The character of Klute is also well-written. Similarly shrouded in mystery, we know that the investigator is the strong silent type and falls for Bree hook, line, and sinker. Has he been married? Does he have kids? Why the fascination with Bree?

He only mirrors the audience as we become equally smitten with her. The fact that he knows the killer is icing on the cake and adds rich texture to the storytelling.

The other facets of Klute are strong from a technical and location perspective.

The interior sequences, mostly of Bree’s apartment building, are superior, with dull lighting and an eerie musical score to set the proper mood. Downsizing from Park Avenue, Bree has a decent Manhattan apartment but with dated appliances and unflattering lighting.

The exterior New York City location shots are fun to look at and for a native tri-state area resident to identify various neighborhoods.

Early 1970s New York City was not a pretty site and the Wall Street area and garment district where the riveting action culminates are terrific.

Delightful is the scene involving Jean Stapleton as a no-nonsense secretary. Forever remembered as Edith Bunker on the television series All in the Family, it’s great fun seeing her in Klute and remembering she appeared in films before her television success.

Klute (1971) is a taut, superior thriller that sometimes is a bit too complex but that scores a winning run with its marriage of a character study and intelligent writing.

Thanks to Fonda and Sutherland, and a screenplay that bravely goes left of center when it easily could have gone straightforward, Klute is a memorable piece of cinema.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actress-Jane Fonda (won), Best Original Screenplay

Grindhouse: Death Proof-2007

Grindhouse: Death Proof-2007

Director Quentin Tarantino

Starring Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell

Scott’s Review #1,344

Reviewed February 13, 2023

Grade: A

It’s tough to go wrong with a Quentin Tarantino film recognizing that one needs to be a Tarantino fan. His films are for specific tastes that indulge in stylized violence, dark humor, and cartoonish characters.

Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007) is an easy victory for the director and incorporates his trademark qualities with beautiful female race car drivers and a sadistic stuntman.

As usual, revenge is the name of the game and results in a satisfying ending. The thrill is in the chase that occurs mainly midway through and plenty of B movie references and old songs are on display.

The experience is a pure pleasure for any cinema lover that appreciates aspects of the film like editing that too often falls beneath the surface. The scratchy film texture and retro title sequence all help to encompass another Tarantino opus.

The film is part of a double feature along with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and includes a series of mock exploitive trailers.

Both, specifically Tarantino’s, harken back to when exploitative films were shown in dusty movie houses with grainy video and a stale popcorn stench. The mood was immediately set for me while watching the film which enhanced my enjoyment tremendously.

Psychotic stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a professional body double who likes to meet unsuspecting women at bars and take them for deadly drives for fun. He has a specially made car which he calls ‘Death Proof’ but only for the driver and not the passenger.

The first half of the film involves a group of girls out for a good time in a dive bar. Abbie (Rosario Dawson), Pam (Rose McGowan), and others ultimately fall victim to his shenanigans during a dastardly head-on collision exceptionally filmed.

Later, he meets a tough group of female race car drivers led by real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell who vows to make him pay for causing them trouble. Their hell-bent vengeance just may be what the doctor ordered to cause Mike’s downfall.

Death Proof is often overlooked by fans of Tarantino and it might be because it’s paired with another film. But, it’s not half a movie either and at one hour and fifty-four minutes, it’s got legs. The film flies under the radar for me too but it’s a high-octane mile-minute experience.

One great part of Death Proof is the throwback to cult films of the 1960s and 1970s, especially Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a 1965 exploitative masterpiece by Russ Meyer.

These girls are no shrinking violets or damsels in distress who need a man to save the day. Quite the contrary. They kick ass and take names, especially in the flawless second half. Out for blood, the girls assuredly put Mike firmly in his place.

Juxtapositioned with the first half which has a dire ending for the group of girls, the second half is more upbeat and satisfactory. The lighting is also different in the two halves. The first takes place well beyond midnight while the second is in the bright afternoon.

Tarantino produces a brilliant piece of feminist progressivism with nasty muscle and female characters not to be messed with. Death Proof (2007) shows badass characters with hints of humor and discussions about men.

The girlie action flick blends perfectly with the 1970s race cars and the sexploitation theme Tarantino is recreating while still making the film feel modern and relevant.

Reservoir Dogs-1992

Reservoir Dogs-1992

Director Quentin Tarantino

Starring Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi

Scott’s Review #1,332

Reviewed January 9, 2023

Grade: A

Reservoir Dogs (1992) is the film that began an essential transition in cinema history. The 1980s saw way too many watered-down or oversaturated films with enough sappy or melodramatic thematics to make a seasoned cinema lover want to gag and run for a good television series.

The 1990s were different. It’s impossible to think of the decade in film and not speak the name Quentin Tarantino, an iconoclast who took the crime thriller genre and riddled it with violence, dark humor, comic book-style characters, and dozens of other eccentricities and spun the world on its heads.

It was needed.

But before anyone begins to assume Reservoir Dogs is the most fantastic Tarantino film, it’s not. Many list it as his weakest catalog entry. That’s open to the opinion of course but in my view, the influence of the film accounts for much of my enjoyment of it.

It’s not as developed and stylized as Django Unchained (2012) or as powerfully fucked up or odd as Pulp Fiction (1995), but the rawness, the gore, and the go-for-broke scenes that are shot like a play, and the small-budget make watching Reservoir Dogs a reminder of the genius that is Tarantino.

Countless scenes mirror sequences to come in his later films so much so that a game can be played to discover where something played out in another Tarantino film.

The film gave new recognition and merit to the independent film genre which was huge and provided doors flying open to young filmmakers everywhere who had ideas and just needed to get their films known.

The influence of Reservoir Dogs is unmeasured and a double feature of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction is suggested. Even though the latter was released later, most people saw Pulp Fiction first and then discovered Reservoir Dogs.

A group of unsavory thieves assemble to pull off the perfect diamond heist. It turns into a bloody shit show when one of the men turns out to be a police informer. But which one is it and who is responsible for the ambush?

As the group begins to question each other’s guilt, the tensions and suspicions threaten to blow up the situation before the police step in and save the day. But how many will die first?

Tarantino cleverly casts himself in a small role as Mr. Brown and names all the men using the same formal title. There is Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and finally Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) who is my favorite of all.

In 1992, many scenes were shocking. When sinister Mr. Blonde cuts off the ear of a cop and prepares to set him on fire the brutality and sadism are hard to watch.

The blood-soaked Mr. Orange lies in a pool of blood through nearly the entire film. As his skin turns whiter and whiter and his clothes redder and redder it’s an example of masterful cinema and creativity.

The few exterior shots are in Los Angeles which gives the film a low-budget, raw look.  It’s to be celebrated as the potent sun and grizzled veneer of the city of angels are on display.

I’m not a fan of the lack of female representation but this only enhances the muscle and masculinity of the characters. As they sit in a diner mulling over whether tipping is necessary we could easily be in a men’s locker room witnessing banter about getting laid, or watching an episode of Seinfeld.

There are no romantic entanglements to mess up the plot or no rescuing the girl from criminals to contend with. The closest we come is a couple of homoerotic moments of men embracing men amongst bullets and blood.

Reservoir Dogs succeeds as a whodunit, a heist film, and a vile look at the inhumanity of some of the characters.

The influence and relevance of Reservoir Dogs in 2023 are as abundant as they were in 1992. Cinema is like fine wine and sometimes the more time that goes by the more appreciation is warranted for a film.

It’s not perfect and is unpolished and sometimes underdeveloped but it’s been emulated so many times that it’s become a blueprint of the crime thriller.

Independent Spirit Awards: 1 win-Best Supporting Male-Steve Buscemi (won)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery-2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery-2022

Director-Rian Johnson

Starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe

Scott’s Review #1,331

Reviewed January 5, 2023

Grade: B

I teetered over grading Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022), simply referred to as Glass Onion, a B+ or a B but the hardline critic in me won out on this day.

If I hadn’t compared it so much to the deliciously witty and inventive Knives Out from 2019 I might have given in and awarded it a generous B+ rating but it’s also impossible not to compare the two since the setups and similarities are too apparent.

Rian Johnson who returns to the fold as director, writer, and co-producer pays tribute to the fabulous Agatha Christie murder mystery whodunits and the Hercule Poirot detective inclusion with the delightful Daniel Craig as the lead, reprising his role as master detective Benoit Blanc as he takes on an exciting new case.

A Greek island owned by ultra-billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) provides the setting for the Southern detective’s latest adventure, which unfolds as a group of the tech giant’s friends gather for a murder mystery party, quickly turning deadly.

I couldn’t watch Miles without thinking of Elon Musk, the current controversial social media Twitter chief executive officer in all his juvenile buffoonery.

Appearances by top stars Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, and Leslie Odom Jr., and a surprise cameo by Hugh Grant round out the cast. Along with Craig and Norton, this brings enough star power to create buzz.

It’s also appealing that Benoit, a clear ode to Poirot, is the only character that is the same from the first Knives Out story. His character is immediately developed when we see him soaking in a bathtub in his Manhattan apartment conversing with a male voice offscreen.

He refuses to leave the tub during the very topical COVID pandemic making the entire film feel incredibly timely and relevant.

Let’s see what happens when the film ages ten years.

We later learn that his husband, Phillip (Hugh Grant) lives with him and Blanc is gay. How wonderful to incorporate an LGBTQ+ presence into a main character and icing on the cake is that the studly James Bond actor is all in.

With Blanc’s vague sexuality revealed, the exciting mystery commences with many twists and turns among the characters, led by a wonderful dual performance by Monáe. She plays sophisticated New Yorker Andi and her southern sister Helen Brand.

The other characters are a mixed bag with Hudson and Hahn playing ridiculous, over-the-top roles as a washed-up fashion designer and an aspiring governor, respectively.

But the cartoon character award goes to former WWE professional wrestler David Bautista as the weird, buff guy, Duke Cody who barely keeps his clothes on.

Still, the characters are a hoot, and the anticipation of how they all connect, who has screwed over who, and why, are slowly revealed in fun form.

Not to be outdone there are even revelations of who is screwing who in the bedroom.

The story isn’t as interesting as the story in Knives Out was. The ingenious script is lost and by the end, it’s a case of who cares? All we want to know is who’s dead and who’s alive and what does the Mona Lisa have to do with anything?

The cast undoubtedly had a ball making Glass Onion and the sunny Greek Island locale is a great choice. As the players bask in the sun and saunter around in bikinis sipping a cocktail or three amid peril is great fun for the cast and viewers alike.

It’s unclear if Johnson will create another installment of the Knives Out ‘collection’ but I’m on board if he does. I’ve been fascinated by the whodunit genre for as long as I can remember.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) isn’t quite as riveting or satisfying as Knives Out (2019) but the film is simply fun with superior, glossy production values and a great cast.

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

The Enforcer-1976

The Enforcer-1976

Director James Fargo

Starring Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, John Mitchum

Scott’s Review #1,330

Reviewed January 2, 2023

Grade: B+

The Dirty Harry film series is pure, gooey 1970s machismo entertainment.

Featuring a vigilante-type police detective who rids the world of the bad guys is pleasure personified if not all that realistic. In these films there exists only the good versus the destructive and social issues, if they are explored, are not the most relevant part of the film but more reasoning as to why the events are occurring.

Nonetheless, the films are top-notch in action with quality gun fights and violence creating a powerful crime thriller film franchise that still holds up well.

They are much better than the similar yet uninspired and poorly acted Death Wish films featuring Charles Bronson.

The Enforcer (1976) is a third of five films from 1971 until 1988 following the 1971 masterpiece Dirty Harry and the nearly as good Magnum Force in 1973.

This one provides a slightly progressive and feminist approach that would also continue in 1983’s Sudden Impact and adds some much-needed humor creating a lighter touch.

Feminism is the inclusion of a female cop due to a new affirmative action initiative who goes toe to toe with the masculinity and conservatism of our main character.

Officer “Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is reassigned from homicide to personnel after his latest use of excessive force exhausts his outranking superiors. Demoralized, he angrily assumes his duties while a new case disrupts the San Francisco Bay Area.

A new terrorist group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force organizes a series of crimes in San Francisco, hoping to enrich themselves. Led by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter) they wreak havoc and create fear.

When they kidnap the mayor (John Crawford) and steal rockets and rifles for their next attack, Harry and his new female partner, Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), must stop the terrorists.

To measure up to 1971’s Dirty Harry is a nearly impossible feat but The Enforcer continues the rhythm with largely the same basic script. A main part of the fun is watching the grizzled Callahan feud with his superiors and being reduced to working with a female cop.

Naturally, he and Moore eventually become buddies and I like the lack of sexual chemistry. She’s not interested in his affection and neither is he so their relationship is focused on serving and protecting the public.

Daly is terrific in the role of Moore which led to her career-defining role in the television series Cagney and Lacey. Rather than playing her as a bitch she is warm and determined to immerse into a man’s world.

She’s a great character but unfortunately is not explored as much as she could have been.

The filmmakers also keep the setting of San Francisco intact which is a wise move and a treat for those moviegoers that love a good exterior sequence or two.

A fabulous final sequence finds the events of the film heading to a Giants game at the historic Candlestick Park and finally a showdown at Alcatraz Island. These trimmings are so necessary to fans anticipating the juicy and pulsating locales of the populous city.

No, Eastwood is not the greatest actor in the film but he is the best at playing Callahan. He carries the film seamlessly and will make conservatives smirk as he endures the irritations of liberal-minded decision-makers.

A weak explanation of the real motives of the terrorist group is unimportant. It’s the violence, the thrills, the chases, and Eastwood and Daly that make this movie pure fun.

The Enforcer (1976) doesn’t challenge or add to the creativity of cinematic art but provides a shoot-em-up experience featuring a confident and charismatic main character.

Forever immersed in the good tidings of 1970s cinema is enough to continue the successful string of Dirty Harry films.

Minority Report-2002

Minority Report-2002

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

Scott’s Review #1,318

Reviewed November 27, 2022

Grade: B+

If you study his body of film work, the fascinating thing about acclaimed director Steven Spielberg is the growth and groundbreaking cross-genre categorization of many of his films.

Traversing blockbuster popcorn films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) to heavy drama with the 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List, the man can do it all.

With 2002’s Minority Report, he bravely delves into science-fiction territory with a crime thriller and action tint. The film is tough to follow and mostly reminds me of Inception (2010), a Christopher Nolan vehicle influenced by this film.

Despite the cerebral tone, Minority Report is a fascinating study of futuristic crime-fighting styles with enough twists and turns to keep me engaged though I confess at times having no real idea what was going on plot-wise.

The casting of Tom Cruise is a major win. Who better to carry a film like this except maybe Bruce Willis though Cruise is a better actor. Nonetheless, he is believable as a crime chief with a slick edge and a wicked smile.

Unsure whether or not to trust him he remains at the heart of the success of the film.

Based on a story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, ‘Minority Report’ contains a perfect premise to bring to the big screen. Set in Washington D.C. in 2054, police are now intelligent enough to utilize psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crimes.

The setup is fabulous and rife with possibility.

Cruise plays Chief John Anderton, the head of this Precrime unit, and is himself accused of the future murder of a man he hasn’t even met. Following an audit, it is predicted that in thirty-six hours, Anderton will kill a man who is a stranger to Anderton.

Anderton flees, prompting a manhunt led by Witwer (Colin Farrell).

It is revealed that Anderton joined the Precrime program after his son was kidnapped and never found. He is depressed, withdrawn, and addicted to hard drugs, and his wife Lara (Kathryn Morris) has since left him.

But is this all a setup and are others involved in the conspiracy?

The plot goes way off the rails in terms of explanation or logic but the fun is in trying to put the never-ending puzzle pieces together. Truthfully, after a while, I simply gave up this approach and enjoyed the visual eye candy and terrific futuristic style.

I rarely am a proponent of visuals over storytelling but the intelligence of the sequences and the thrilling nature of the acting assured me there was something there. I just wasn’t completely getting it.

Since it’s directed by Spielberg I was confident that the complexities I was being served were not shit. I was comforted by this knowledge and my enjoyment escalated.

Enough props can’t be handed out for Cruise’s dynamic performance parlayed by the coldness and harshness of the overall tone of the film.

Many of Spielberg’s films are heartwarming but this was not to be found in Minority Report (2002) and I liked it even more for that reason.

Spielberg gets another win by suckering me into a cinematic world that he magically can create. This time with perplexities and perhaps even some influence from the Matrix (1999) movies.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing

Jaws 2-1978

Jaws 2-1978

Director Jeannot Szwarc

Starring Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary

Scott’s Review #1,307

Reviewed October 13, 2022

Grade: A-

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

Jaws 2 (1978) was an enormous box-office success but the reviews were only mixed.

I adore the film which mixes thrills with the horror genre and wisely sets up the kills like a slasher film.

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

The film’s tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” has become one of the most famous in film history and has been parodied and homaged several times.

I’d like to assume it led to a healthy almost now mandatory helping of subsequent sequels of other successful films.

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

Fun fact is that the film was nearly as troubled as Jaws was. The first director for the film, John D. Hancock,  was deemed incompetent and was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc.

Star Roy Scheider, who only reprised his role to end a contractual issue with Universal, was also unhappy during production and had several heated exchanges with Szwarc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady Vanishes-1938

The Lady Vanishes-1938

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty

Scott’s Review #1,303

Reviewed September 30, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

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

Unfaithful-2002

Unfaithful-2002

Director Adrian Lyne

Starring Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez

Scott’s Review #1,278

Reviewed July 21, 2022

Grade: A-

Unfaithful (2002) is an American version of the brilliant 1969 French film The Unfaithful Wife, directed by Claude Chabrol.

Directed by Adrian Lyne, most famous for directing the smoldering and creepy Fatal Attraction (1987) which awarded him an Academy Award nomination in the direction category, Unfaithful is unsurprisingly brimming with the same eroticism and sexual ferocity.

What’s exceptional about it is the character development and the empathy felt for the characters and their convictions.

This makes Unfaithful work.

To say it’s watered down from the Chabrol version is a bit unfair because it has an identity all its own, though his version is superior in suspense and naturally, more French from a cinematic perspective.

Lyne’s film is slicker and wrapped up tighter, and much more mainstream-it does the job well and provides compelling entertainment.

In both films, the subject matter of guilt runs rampant.

Edward (Richard Gere) and Connie (Diane Lane) live seemingly happily in their upper-middle-class Westchester County, New York neighborhood.

When Edward learns that Connie has lied to him about an affair, suspicion leads him to uncover the devastating truth about her infidelity with Paul. (Olivier Martinez) the hunky man who has captured her heart.

He confronts Connie’s ‘boy toy’ which results in a deadly accident caused by Edward’s surprising rage. Edward must cover up the truth with detectives questioning both him and Connie about their involvement with Paul.

Can their marriage survive the damage?

The Hallmark television movie premise rises to tremendous credibility thanks to the fantastic acting by Lane, Gere, and Martinez.

The standout is Lane who the audience may relate to a bit more than the other two. She fills Connie with a tired and weary tone. She appreciates her good life but is nonetheless bored with it.

Some may relate to her, but others will shame her for her infidelity.

Each character provides their motivation for their character actions. The stoic chemistry between Lane and Gere’s characters perfectly balances the lusty dynamic between the Lane and Martinez characters.

Wisely, the story is one that most married couples can deem true. When the romance wanes, sometimes the doldrums result. Connie doesn’t purposefully set out to cheat on Edward but the repetition of raising their eight-year-old son and casserole Wednesdays causes her to seize an unexpected opportunity.

The rainy, windy setup with a sexy young French artist at her fingertips, is smoldering with intrigue. The lusty scenes between Connie and Paul are rich with sex, like when they bathe together and make love in Paul’s hallway.

The titillating chemistry works well.

A clever scene in a coffee shop is daringly good. Connie’s girlfriends drool with delight as Paul walks by them, completely unaware that he is Connie’s new beau. How jealous they’d be if they knew the truth.

The face-off scene between Edward and Paul is shrouded with machismo as both struggle for the upper hand, toying with each other for power.

The tone changes to one of Hitchcockian intrigue as Edward and Connie must forge together and cover up their actions. Not trusting each other, there is an interesting dynamic among themselves and what they tell and keep hidden from the flocking detectives.

After all, an upstanding white couple couldn’t possibly be involved in murder, could they, the detectives ponder?

Easily serving as the opening act to the more famous Lyne offering, Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful (2002) both films draw parallels to each other.

They successfully manipulate the audience in a good way, using intrigue, thrills, and flesh to elicit a ‘glued to their seats’ result.

Sometimes a good, old-fashioned, thrill ride is just what the doctor ordered.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Diane Lane

Cat People-1982

Cat People-1982

Director Paul Schrader

Starring Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard

Scott’s Review #1,275

Reviewed July 10, 2022

Grade: B+

Cat People (1982) is a mysterious and psychological trip into the strange universe of humans possessing cat qualities, sometimes with a tendency towards vicious limb extraction and other such mauling techniques.

It’s an absurd premise though admittedly clever with an identity all its own. Feeling slightly dated mostly due to the early 1980s synthesizer-like musical score, film style, and the casting of some actors at the top of their game, Cat People is nonetheless enjoyable and sexual.

Especially recommended is a late Friday or Saturday night viewing with as little light as possible for the best ambiance.

Since our rented DVD copy was ravaged by poor visual quality and hard-to-hear sound, a thought is to simply buy the film.

The 1982 version of Cat People is directed by Paul Schrader who is best known for writing or co-writing Scorcese greats Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). The director also has his share of his films as recent as 2021.

His production is a remake of one made some forty years earlier which I have not seen.

The mood of Cat People is an overwhelmingly sensual and violent horror and thriller tale. The action immediately gets off to a sexually perverse start when during presumably prehistoric days, a wild black panther impregnates a young girl offered to him via sacrifice.

The message is clear that this results in a weird human/cat hybrid being coming into existence.

In present times, Irena Gallier (Nastassia Kinski) harbors a dark family secret that she despises. She reconnects with her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell) who shape-shifts into a savage beast. He lives in the southern city of New Orleans and has spent time in a mental hospital.

Irena visits the local zoo and finds herself attracted to handsome zoologist Oliver Yates (John Heard), even as her brother makes his incestuous advances toward her. Inevitably, the family curse rears its ugly head when Paul rips the arm off one of the zoo workers played by a young Ed Begley Jr.

I like tremendously how Schrader incorporates New Orleans as the central setting. Having nothing really to do with the story the French-influenced city is nice to look at as restaurant scenes feature Creole style and other southern/European sophisticated little gems.

Ruby Dee is cast as a wacky housekeeper named Female rippling with New Orleans flair and who is aware of the terrible family secret.

Nastassja Kinski is perfectly cast as the provocative and sultry main character and she effortlessly leads the charge. Others like Heard and Annette O’Toole who were A-list stars in the early 1980s provide a time capsule of Hollywood relevancy.

Unfortunately, this also makes Cat People feel like from another time and the 1980s film style is painfully obvious.

The growling and vicious cats feel both scary and fake during close-ups but imagine the trickery of using real-life leopards? The filmmakers did the best they could and this is also obvious.

Some sequences are quite grisly and when they aren’t there are best-remembered scenes of peril and intrigue. O’Toole’s character of Alice (another zoologist) takes a late-night dip in a swimming pool and is harassed by a menacing Irena.

Earlier, a great scene occurs when a prostitute named Ruthie visits her client in a dingy motel room only to realize that her john is a mean leopard. We assume she will be ripped to shreds but this dubious honor is saved for another slutty character who Paul picks up at a funeral.

An attempted triangle between Irena, Oliver, and Alice goes nowhere and bewildering is why the decision was made to even try. The power couple is Irena and Oliver as their smoldering love scenes are sensual and skin heavy professing almost immediate love for each other.

With enough explicit sex and gratuitous violence to keep many viewers titillated, Cat People (1982) has positives and negatives. When it was released I bet it was a pot boil of juicy and relevant intrigue, but the film hasn’t held up quite as well as some others.