Category Archives: Adventure Films

Spartacus-1960

Spartacus-1960

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons

Scott’s Review #1,250

Reviewed April 30, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank goodness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaws-1975

Jaws-1975

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw

Scott’s Review #1,240

Reviewed March 28, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audience empathizes with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

Being a child of the 1980s films like Back to the Future (1985) left an indelible mark on me. I fondly recall excitedly going to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with a giant tub of popcorn in tow and enjoying the hell out of this film.

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

There exists a magical, futuristic element that left me and countless other youngsters and adults alike with a sense of wonder. And one amazing car!

Michael J. Fox, a huge television star of the 1980s largely in thanks to the sitcom Family Ties, powered through to the big screen with the help of this film and others.

The 1980s was a wonderful decade to grow up in.

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

To further complicate matters, Marty has to then return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

Back to the Future is one of those films that has something for everyone and the stars perfectly aligned to make it a blockbuster popcorn hit. Besides the science fiction elements, there is humor, a cool 1950s throwback vibe, romance, and natural chemistry between Fox and Lloyd who together carry the film.

It’s hardly an art film and goes for the jugular with mainstream additions like a killer soundtrack led by The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News which was all over top 40 radio in the summer of ’85. Counterbalancing the current times was another smash hit Johnny B. Goode, a 1958 Chuck Berry tune.

There is a safe vibe for sure and director Robert Zemeckis knows his action-adventure romantic comedies. This may be his best work but he also skews adding much diversity or heavy topics. He simply creates a fun, entertaining film.

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced. Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

Lloyd is perfect as the zany Doc Brown. He is wacky without being too ridiculous and bridges the gap between generations. The character is presumed to be old enough to be Marty’s (in present-day) grandfather and the two characters rely on each other. Back to the Future shows that an unlikely friendship can develop.

The film is also great at depicting the vast differences between the 1950s and the 1980s. At a simpler time, the 1950s are viewed as wholesome while the 1980s are perceived as the decade of excess and some fun is poked at both generations. But, both generations can also connect.

In an acute moment, Marty helps secure his parent’s bond and ensures he is created. This could be viewed as icky to some but the romance between the two parents is tender and sweet. The interactions between all characters are sentimental without being saccharine.

Back to the Future was the feel-good film of 1985 and a must-see for those living the period. It holds up surprisingly well with then state-of-the-art special effects not now looking dated or laughable. It also explores growing up as an adolescent and identifying with one’s parents and the differences they have. Who can’t relate to that in some way?

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

Excalibur-1981

Excalibur-1981

Director-John Boorman

Starring-Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,108

Reviewed February 4, 2021

Grade: B+

John Boorman, most famous for directing a 1972 disturbing classic film Deliverance returns to the fold with steamy fantasy rich with lavish sets, visual treats, and an incredible atmosphere. This is where the film really succeeds. We are taken to a medieval world where we escape to jealousy, sex, and schemes. Boorman not only directs but produces and co-writes the project along with the screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg.

Excalibur (1981) retells the legend of King Arthur, a British leader from the fifth and sixth centuries mostly told by folklore, and the knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th-century Arthurian romance Le Morte d’Arthur, at behemoth length, by Thomas Malory. The table is symbolic because it implies that there is no head and therefore a democratic forum.

This telling is quite adult and not suitable or comprehensible for children.

Famous legends like Merlin (Nicol Williamson), Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi), and Morgana (Helen Mirren) appear alongside Arthur (Nigel Terry) in a furious battle for control.

In a flurry of handsome European actors who would later become famous, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson both appear.

In fact, most of the male cast are masculine, hunky, and very handsome. These traits cascade to how good they look in full body armor, shields, and swords doing bloody battle with each other. Homoerotic scenes exist just as they did in Deliverance. Lest we only focus on the male cast, Helen Mirren is delightful as an evil seductress who oozes sex appeal.

The magical sword of Excalibur actually starts in the hands of a British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years later, finds its way to his bastard son, Arthur, who is destined to become king but doesn’t realize why. Merlin helps Arthur fulfill his fate by bringing together the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot and unifying the country.

Years later Arthur faces greater tests ahead in pursuit of love, the Holy Grail, and his nation’s survival as some attempt to steal the treasure for their own advantages.

Excalibur had me with the visuals and I was able to immerse myself in the spectacular style and artistic set design with gorgeous sequences. Several creative and glimmering shots of someone either emerging from or submerged underwater are featured. They are startlingly beautiful. I pretended I had been whisked away to an otherworld of enchantment that I could sit back and enjoy.

The knowledge that the entire film was shot in Ireland captured and enraptured me. The breathtaking greenery and waterfalls are dreamlike. When Lancelot beds Guenevere in the forest they both appear nude. Their pale white flesh against the green is both magical and seductive. And a treat for one’s curious eyes.

The story is overly complicated with reality mixed with either dreams or fantasy and some of the plots confused me. I finally got to a point where the intricacies became too much for me to comprehend especially against the stunning backdrops. The plot became too jumbled and messy so it is advisable to drift off and take it all in rather than trying to make sense of everything.

A visual marvel Excalibur (1981) will delight the apt film fan. I fantasize about how the picture would look and feel on the big screen but I wasn’t that lucky. The story is obviously far-fetched and ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t matter and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. I was treated to good-looking people in armor, unique costumes, and various states of undress. And that’s just fine with me.

The Concorde…Airport ’79-1979

The Concorde…Airport ’79-1979

Director-David Lowell Rich

Starring-Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,078

Reviewed November 7, 2020

Grade: B

The fourth and final installment of the popular Airport film franchise, The Concorde…Airport ’79 (1979) has an appealing and sophisticated international flavor, mainly French culture, that may turn off some viewers seeking a more traditional and domestic offering.

The three previous installments contained a wholesome Americana quality that is lacking in this one. The rich culture is the high point for me in a film that by all accounts is not very good. By the late 1970s, the disaster genre had all but crashed and burned so the film was commercially unsuccessful, and the franchise thus abandoned.

The plot is utterly ridiculous to even by disaster standards and my hunch is that ideas of what could go wrong on an airplane were hard to find. After all, it’s not easy to top an airliner crashing and sinking into the ocean, leaving most passengers unscathed. This time we experience an airplane flying upside down (more than once!), nose-diving (more than once!), and nearly doing backflips and summersaults (more than once!).

Disappointing is the limited amount of deaths that occur despite these treacheries unless you count a shooting inside an apartment and a suicide that have little to do with the plane ride.

Back to my original point, the cultured and vibrant foreign presence, specifically Paris and its lustrous and historic offerings, is the high point of The Concorde…Airport ’79. The City of Lights is heavily featured as a team of American Olympic athletes is traveling from Washington D.C. to Moscow by way of a layover at Charles De Galle airport. The heavenly site of the Eifel Tower is an immediate identifier as French pilot, Captain Paul Metrand (Alain Delon), flies the state-of-the-art Concorde to the United States to transport its passengers to the games.

There is a strong French flavor to this film. During the Paris layover, George Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, now a pilot, befriends a gorgeous woman named Francine, who he bonds with over dinner. They, and others, embark on a fabulous French bistro and have the time of their lives. Who cares that she is later revealed to be a prostitute? The setting oozes with French goodness, food, and sexy accents.

One peculiarity is why the trip goes from Paris to Washington D.C. back to Paris and then on to Moscow. It’s a bit confusing and unnecessary. Unintentionally funny is how the Concorde is attacked by a drone en route to Paris, then a bomb is planted on the plane before takeoff to Moscow. Trouble occurs in the same plane with the same passengers. You would think anyone with half a brain would sit the second leg out, perhaps hopping on the nearest boat or train out of town.

The main story is secondary and quite superfluous. Robert Wagner plays Kevin Harrison, a corrupt arms dealer who plots the destruction of the Concorde because news reporter and girlfriend, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) has evidence of his weapons sales to communists. He plans to blow up the plane, killing all the passengers, instead of hiring an assassin to kill only Maggie when she lands and before she can tell authorities. The plot is completely story-driven.

Several celebrity cameos are added mostly for comic relief and largely go nowhere. Jimmie Walker as the pot-smoking, saxophone playing Boise, and Martha Raye’s bathroom crazed Loretta are ridiculous by any standards. Charo’s one scene as Margarita, a woman who sneaks her dog on board and is subsequently kicked off the flight is a time waste. I would have rather witnessed another scene of Loretta needing to use the restroom or Boise getting high. And Susan Blakely overacts throughout the film.

Despite all these hard knocks, The Concorde…Airport ’79 (1979) is good entertaining fun, not to be taken seriously, and encouraged for fans of the genre. There is much fun to be had with the guest stars, once A-list, now B or C list, and the crash-landing finale over the snowy Alps are pretty cool. Just know what you are getting yourself into.

Airport ’77-1977

Airport ’77-1977

Director-Jerry Jameson

Starring-Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #1,072

Reviewed October 20, 2020

Grade: B+

The word that springs to mind following a viewing of the disaster flick Airport ’77 (1977) is entertaining. Whether this is positive or negative depends on the viewer and what that viewer wants out of a film. As a huge fan of the disaster genre, I was one satisfied customer though there is little to distinguish the film from other efforts. It is a more cohesive and professional-feeling effort than its predecessor, Airport ’75. The fun is watching the cast, the grandiose list of who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights gracing the opening credits. We wonder who will survive and who will not.

The star is the airplane. Showcased by way of both interiors and exteriors, the luxurious privately-owned Boeing 747-100 is a great highlight of the picture. Owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart), the plane is packed with VIPs and priceless art traveling to his Florida estate for a party. The wealthy travelers are drugged, and the aircraft is subsequently hijacked before crashing into the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle and sinking 100 feet, prompting the survivors to undertake a desperate struggle to live.

The airplane set is a feast for the eyes. A double-deck plane (naturally!) the plush green carpets and the spiral staircase complete with a robust bar stocked with every type of liquor imaginable is wonderful trimming. It allows the viewer to forget all about the typical in-flight treats like their seat being kicked, a screaming baby, or a fat man snoring, and escape to the pleasures of champagne, caviar, and slippers. Seriously, the sets are tremendous and worthy of their accolades.

Jerry Jameson, primarily a television director, sticks to a formulaic approach that makes the film look like a long television series. Think Murder, She Wrote, Dallas or Dynasty at 30,000 feet. I say this because the melodrama is sky-high (no pun intended) and situations arise between flight crew and passengers to create more tension than the crash itself. The juiciest drama exists between husband and wife Martin (Christopher Lee) and Karen Wallace (Lee Grant). He flirts with women at the bar, drinks too much, and gets jealous. They squabble. You get the idea.

What a joy it is to see some of the stars on-screen together, specifically Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten. As Nicholas, Cotten is a romantic match for de Havilland’s Emily Livingston, and they appear to be old friends. Fans of classic cinema will undoubtedly associate him with Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and she with Gone with the Wind (1939) and to see the side of the legendary star by side is darling, nearly worth the price of admission. Stewart is perfectly cast as the rich and distinguished man eager to see the impending arrival of his estranged daughter and her son, hopeful of a happy reunion. These delights are why I love this genre.

The actors teeter back and forth between phoning in their lines and enthusiastically having a ball with their respective roles. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. I’ll bet the set was tension-free as everyone was earning a bundle of cash. And why not? The budget is plentiful and filled with overabundance.

The plot is generally ludicrous as is to be expected. The thought that anyone, let alone nearly everyone, could survive a crash into the ocean and remain unscathed as it sinks to the depths of the water is beyond silly. Suddenly, when all passengers conveniently emerge from their drug-induced stupor simultaneously, hysterics erupt which is quite humorous. As the water slowly begins to seep into the plane a frenzied effort to find a way out commences. The last portion of the film involving a rescue crew coming to save the passengers is a disappointment, lacking much captivation.

Airport ’77 (1977) has all the elements its target viewer expects it to have. If the well-known cast were instead unknowns and the crash peril and its following adventure were not danger personified, and the dramatic and romantic tensions left out, the film would be a disappointment. The film is like sinking your teeth into a fattening, highly caloric Whopper from your favorite Burger King. It’s a guilty pleasure that you wouldn’t necessarily tell your health-conscious friends you get so much enjoyment from. But, it’s fun, so why not indulge from time to time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

Airport 1975-1974

Airport 1975-1974

Director-Jack Smight

Starring-Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,060

Reviewed September 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Possessing all the disaster film genre schmaltz, proper trimmings, and then some, Airport 1975 (1974) is good, hammy entertainment that gleefully satisfies, though artistic types will be embarrassed to admit how much they like it. In parallel with The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974), the three were some of the highest-grossing films of the year and it is little wonder why. The offering has enough adventure and peril to satisfy the entire family. I watched this film practically in tandem with Airport (1970) and it feels a letdown by comparison, but that hardly matters. Both are very good.

With juicy anticipation, the filmmakers paid a ton of cash to secure a bevy of Hollywood stars of yesteryear assuring they could rake in the box office receipts. Most past their prime but still marketable, what a treat to see legendary silent film star Gloria Swanson playing herself as a passenger. The unequivocal star and hero of the film is Charlton Heston, as he also was in Earthquake. Karen Black, Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Susan Clark, Nancy Olson, and George Kennedy (reprising his role from the first Airport) round out the stellar cast. Worth its price of admission is watching the opening credits to see who is in the cast.

Unlike Airport, which wisely spent much of its time inside the actual airport setting up the events and stories, Airport 1975 takes flight right away and crafts its trials and tribulations within the aisles and cockpit of the plane. We learn right off the bat that the main romantic couple is Heston and Black. Captain Alan Murdock (Heston) apparently cannot commit to Chief Stewardess Nancy Pryor (Black) and they plan to meet up in Los Angeles to discuss the drama further. We know they will have more to do with each other as her flight takes off for La La Land.

Quickly, a small plane flown by businessman Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) is diverted to Salt Lake City airport and he suffers a massive heart attack while descending. His plane naturally crashes into the cockpit of the enormous Boeing 747 killing two pilots and blinding the other. With nobody able to fly the plane, Nancy must figure out how to divert disaster while cascading over mountains and contending with a fuel leak. Murdock and crew try to land the plane remotely or get somebody up there to save the day. Predictably, Murdock is that man.

If Airport 1975 weren’t so damned fun it would be offensive since it’s riddled with gender stereotypes. Screenwriter, Don Ingalls, composes a project so fraught with machismo and masculinity, the female characters have little chance to do much of anything without being saved by a man. Let’s cite a couple of examples. Nancy is left alone in the open cockpit to navigate the plane.

Worthy of mention is that her hair remains perfect throughout. Anyway, Murdock must explain to her how to check various controls which he does as if she were five-year-old learning the alphabet, referring to a picture of the “little airplane” and calling her “dear”. She rattles off a puzzled “what?” before figuring out where or what the “little airplane” is.

Secondary Stewardess Bette (Christopher Norris) is boy crazy, asking Nancy if the flight crew is “sexy” before making googly eyes at Latin pilot, Julio (Erik Estrada). He is married but that doesn’t seem to bother either of them. They flirt while he orders her to bring him a cup of coffee. In fact, the male characters telling the female characters to get them drinks is a common theme in Airport 1975.

Naturally, Murdock eventually makes it on board to take over the controls and land the plane. We imagine Nancy’s character thinking, “Good Heavens, thank goodness a man arrived just in the nick of time to save all of us!”. She promptly is sent to get Murdock a drink and fluff pillows.

But these are gripes that I can look past with the knowledge that if this film were made in 2020 Nancy would either land the plane or Murdock would be a female character and Nancy a male character. Imagine that! The real treats are the peril and drama associated with the events on the flight. A sick kid (Linda Blair) must reach land quickly so that she can be provided medical assistance while a crack in the airplane ceiling could burst at any moment killing everyone on board. Etc. Etc. Etc.

For popcorn-fueled entertainment sure to please any viewer Airport 1975 (1974) is a perfect late-afternoon, rainy day suggestion. Advisable is to not look too deeply into the stereotypes and contrived setups or this will ruin the fun. Instead, hop aboard and enjoy the bumpy flight from the comfy cushions of your living room with the assurance that you will land safe and sound.

Airport-1970

Airport-1970

Director-George Seaton

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes

Scott’s Review #1,059

Reviewed September 2, 2020

Grade: A

The film that triggered the popular disaster genre that captivated much of 1970’s cinema, Airport (1970) led the pack in innovation and entertained the masses with a large cast of A-list Hollywood stars suffering peril. What fun! The blueprint continued with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974). Interestingly, Airport contains little death, unlike the others who systematically killed off cast members in a reverse whodunit, more like “who gets it”. It holds up quite well.

Airport is pure bliss for me. An enormous fan of the disaster epic, to begin with, this one satisfies my obsessions with airports and airplanes, adding late 1960’s sophistication and style, and a healthy dose of sub-plots. From a romantic triangle to mental illness, to an elderly stowaway named Ada (Helen Hayes), the storylines mesh so that there’s never a dull moment. Events occur amid a twenty-four-hour time-period, and a busy and snowy Chicago airport is the backdrop.

The cinematic spectacle was based on a little-known novel of the same name written by Arthur Hailey and turned into a screenplay written by George Seaton, who also directs the flick. I love when a director also writes the dialogue because a better experience often prevails. Seaton directed Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and a slew of other films, so he knows a thing or two about pulling the heartstrings while offering adventure. The film was rated “G” so it’s a family-friendly affair.

A cold and snowy winter night in Chicago results in flight delays and a 707-plane getting stuck on the runway in snow and mud. As crews attempt to dig out the plane, Airport manager Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) is forced to work overtime. His furious wife Cindy (Dana Wynter) demands a divorce. He’s in love with Tanya anyway, a pretty customer relations agent for the airline, Trans Global Airlines, a clever play on Trans World Airlines. Other characters emerge like a high-spirited chief mechanic (George Kennedy), and married man Vernon, who is a captain of TGA and having an affair with stewardess Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), who is pregnant with his child.

The heavy is a mentally disturbed man named D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) who is so down on his luck that he desperately crafts a handmade bomb and takes out an insurance policy that his struggling wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton) will receive upon his death. He boards a plane to Rome with most of the other characters, intent on detonating the bomb, killing himself, and leaving Inez with some financial relief. When she catches on she hurries to the airport, desperate to stop the flight from departing. Of course, things don’t go so well.

The Guerrero’s are my favorite characters. D.O. could have easily been written as a villain, one-note and dastardly, but he isn’t. He is a sympathetic character, pained and wounded, his troubles the result of war, and he oozes compassion. Stapleton is tremendous as Inez, the suffering wife who loves her husband and desperately wants them to have a nice life. The actress gives a gut-wrenching performance that should have won her the Oscar. Instead, it went to the comic talents of Hayes.

The main appeal of these stories is that the audience slowly gets to know, and falls in love, with the characters. They become like good friends. The pacing is so good that it’s only the last forty-five minutes of the film where the real action takes place. Strong characters and rich stories are offered as the buildup, and we know that peril is eventually coming, and indeed it does.

The special effects and the airplane set are fantastic for 1970. The luxury airline with its plush seats and catered meals is on display and the entire length of the plane, and the cockpit, are used heavily. Characters walk up and down the aisles frequently, so the illusion is a vast and stylish airliner, even though a small set was probably used.

The stewardesses and pilots offer a glimpse of what a luxury it used to be to fly in style without the annoyances of long security lines, check-ins, and constant hassles. Hell, D.O. casually walks on the plane with a bomb and Ada gets on without a second glance when she claims to be giving a passenger their dropped wallet!

Airport (1970) set the tone for other similar films to follow and successfully mixes sudsy dramatic stories of its character’s lives with the thrills and plights of those same characters in danger. I don’t consider it the fluff that many others do, but a satisfying, well-constructed film that still holds up well. Followed by three sequels and heavily spoofed in a hilarious way by the comedy Airplane! (1980).

It bears repeated viewings.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Helen Hayes (won), Maureen Stapleton, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) is the follow-up to the 2014 film, simply named Maleficent, and while not a necessary sequel, the sequel bests the original.

The intent was to create a big, studio effort that would garner lots of cash and the experiment seems to have worked.

The production is not as frightening as the title would lead one to believe and kids over the age of ten would be just fine as a target audience.

While the screenplay has traditional plot trimmings and a predictable ending, the real winner is the visual and cinematic treats, which will leave viewers gasping. The lush landscapes, odd little worlds, castles, and forests, blossom with vibrant colors and exquisite shapes and objects.

It may mostly be CGI but marvelous all the same.

To recap, the character of Maleficent debuted in the 1959 classic animated Disney film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is an evil fairy and the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” who, after not being invited to a christening, curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday.

The character has since “evolved”, now portrayed as a sympathetic character, who is misunderstood in trying to protect herself and her domain from humans.

For five years Aurora (Elle Fanning) has reigned peacefully as Queen of the Moors with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) serving as teacher and protector. They have a rapturous relationship and flock and carry on with fairies and animals alike.

Handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, thereby uniting her kingdom to his, which is met with caution by his parents, specifically his mother Queen Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer).

When the players gather for a celebratory dinner Maleficent is mocked, causing her to fly into a rage, setting off a war between humans and fairies.

A key positive, and a story shift, is that Maleficent, a legendary film villain, is written sympathetically and the plot device works. Rather than have her sparring with daughter Aurora, the duo team up to thwart the devious efforts of the evil Queen Ingrid, who is the real villain.

Jolie and Pfeiffer must have had fun playing the roles and both perform their respective parts adequately. Favorable to me is Jolie, adding just enough vulnerability to balance her fierce nature and blood-red lips. Pfeiffer plays the role straight, as a caricature, with no redeeming value.

Both roles are fun.

Keeping in mind the target audience, the characters of Maleficent and Aurora are inspiring, especially to young females everywhere. The film adds more than a hint of progressive feminism as both characters are strong and no-nonsense.

This does not take away from their sensitivity or their sense of fairness. Both could equally be role models of tough yet compassionate female characters.

In most Disney films there are heroes and villains and we all know and expect that. The standard storyline of good revolting against evil is on display and an epic climactic battle scene gives a customary ending to the film.

Likewise, the fairy tale romance between Prince and Princess is prominently featured and for my money, Dickinson and Fanning are tremendous in the roles.

The chemistry is apparent between the actors and there is a nice balance between a believable romance and strong independent characters.

Queen Ingrid, barely a mention in the original animated film, is turned into an evil shrew, all completely plot-driven. The story is what I expected it to be and not the high point of the film.

More impressive is how the viewer can easily escape into a world of make-believe and long to stay there forever. Especially for the younger viewers, the Moors is a bevy of magical creatures and fluttering fairies rich with goodness.

The comical Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, the red fairy, green fairy, and blue fairy respectively, make a return appearance, though in a limited capacity. It would have been nice to give them a stronger presence providing more wisdom, more advice, and more humor, but they serve their comic relief purpose well.

Will there be a third incarnation of Maleficent?

The filmmakers provide a strong likelihood. After Aurora and Philip wed, Maleficent returns to the Moors with the other Dark Fey, teaching the young fairies to fly. She promises to return for Aurora and Philip’s future child’s christening.

This vow seems like an easy setup to build on the original storyline, unlocking the next chapter in this engaging saga.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director-Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring-Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

For any lover of all things cats or all things Paris, A Cat in Paris (2010) is a double-punch winner in themes alone and a pure treat. The French-made film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature along with Chico and Rita (2010), another foreign language animated feature, both considered surprise entries. This was monumental as it aided subsequent non-American features to be allowed into the mix.

The former is a moody and mysterious caper story involving a cat and a young Parisian girl and the adventures they share. The traditional ink colors and hand drawings are lovely and creative, adding to the inventive mood.

The feline-centered story and feminist empowerment angle provide a unique and worthy experience to be well remembered. The French language version contains native language voices while the English version has English speakers.

The main protagonist of the film is Dino, a pet cat who leads a double life. By day he lives with his friend Zoe (Lauren Weintraub), a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is a detective in the Parisian police force. He sneaks out of the window each night to work with Nico (Steve Blum), a slinky cat burglar with a heart of gold, who regularly evades captors as he glides and swishes from rooftop to rooftop with the picturesque Paris skyline serving as a backdrop.

Dino’s two worlds collide when one night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures and falls into the dangerous hands of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), an intimidating gangster who is planning the theft of a rare statue. Now the cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame.

In an acute tongue-in-cheek final moment, Nico gives Jeanne a snow globe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in it as a Christmas present.

Despite the film being an animated one, this fact does not take away from the cultural and sophisticated Parisian experience. Delicious views of the distinguished Eifel Tower and the luminous, glowing skylines of the City of Lights assuredly will captivate each viewer fortunate enough to have ever visited the magical city in person, or those who have daydreamed an afternoon away imagining experiencing the grand city.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is mirrored throughout A Cat in Paris, specifically his film To Catch a Thief (1955). That film is set along the French Riviera instead of in Paris, but features a cat burglar, a thrilling rooftop climax, and enough cat and mouse thrills to last a lifetime.

The director’s work is easy to spot, and the filmmakers are wise to adapt to his style, carefully weaving elements into an animated film with the hopes of exposing children to intelligent filmmaking. Adults will equally love the film.

At a mere one hour and five minutes, nearly teetering classification of a short film instead of a full-length feature, A Cat in Paris (2010) more than accomplishes what it sets out to in the limited time period.

Utilizing fantastic silhouettes and lit shapes and angles, the visual treats alone make this one exceptional. Adding tidbits of the greatest film director of all times’ work without outright stealing it is a wise choice. May more intelligent international animated films like this one receive their deserved exposure to mass audiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

21 Jump Street-2012

21 Jump Street-2012

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #992

Reviewed February 20, 2020

Grade: C+

21 Jump Street (2012) is a nostalgic ode to the general style of the 1980s, more specifically a popular television series that ran from 1987 to 1991. The teen police drama launched the successful career of actor Johnny Depp. He starred as the good-looking leader of a team of young police officers who can pass for high school students, and infiltrate potential drug rings, prostitution circles, or other such shenanigans.

Let’s be clear- the film is hardly high art nor cinematic genius. The gags are silly and trite, other times not funny at all. But the film contains a freshness that feels cool, sleek, and fun and a throwback to the decade of materialism, and the film never apologizes for this. The combination of stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have nice chemistry, turning a standard buddy film into something bearable to watch. The film is formulaic, but not dull.

The filmmakers strive for an action-comedy hybrid even though the series was only conventional drama and taught a lesson with each episode. They also change course and focus on two characters instead of a group making it more of a guy movie. Honor roll student Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular underachieving jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) reunite seven years after graduating high school at the police academy where they are studying to be cops.

Eager to leave their juvenile problems, and their dislike for each other behind, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover at a local high school as part of a Jump Street unit. As they trade in their guns and badges for books and bagged lunches, Schmidt and Jenko risk their lives to investigate a violent and dangerous drug ring.

They slowly realize that high school is nothing like they left it just a few years earlier, and they revisit the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they assumed they had left behind.

The film is only mediocre and while there is nothing wrong with the film, there is also nothing terribly outstanding about it either. As the setup clearly poises the audience, Morton and Greg are opposites in every way and must come together to achieve a common goal.

This is a standard cliche told countless times in films such as Stir Crazy (1983) and 48 Hours (1982), the clear reference being one of the 1980s.

Speaking of the decade of excess, 21 Jump Street achieves what it sets out to in this regard with a clever nod to a revived scheme from that decade. Set in present times, the film is nonetheless a nod to teen films of the day. Wild comedy and lavish adventures are in order in every high school situation imaginable. Dating, AP chemistry class, and the senior prom are heavily promoted so that any viewer above the age of twenty-five can reminisce.

A fun, and necessary quality is the inclusion of a few of the original cast of the television series-Holly Robinson Peete, Peter DeLuise, and of course, Johnny Depp all appears in cameo roles. This is a treat for fans of the original series and a tribute to its creation, though nothing else is utilized very well and no other history ever quite measures up. Robinson Peete’s role is nice because she appears as a police officer.

While doing little to honor the television series it is based off, instead of churning out more of a male cop film, the incorporation of the original cast does deserve praise. The lead actors are charismatic and clever in their roles which saves the film from being a disaster.

21 Jump Street (2012) kvetches too far into slapstick instead of sending an important message to its audience, which it could have. The box-office hit was followed in 2014 by an unnecessary remake, aptly entitled 22 Jump Street.

10,000 B.C.- 2008

10,000 B.C.- 2008

Director-Roland Emmerich

Starring-Steven Strait, Camilla Belle

Scott’s Review #988

Reviewed February 11, 2020

Grade: F

10,000 B.C. (2008) is a by the numbers adventure/action hybrid film that attempts to be slick and modern with catchy visual elements and instead bottoms out resulting in an example of terrible filmmaking.

The CGI usurps all other qualities providing no historical accuracy, with a ridiculous 2008 feel rather than the time period at hand. Those involved only had maximum box office returns in mind when the film was created. There is an irritating formulaic quality and poor acting across the board that leaves this one dead on arrival.

Fierce, masculine mammoth hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out on an impossible journey to rescue the woman he loves, Evolet, (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord and save the people of his village. While venturing into the unknown and frightening territories, D’Leh and his fellow warriors discover an amazing civilization rife with possibilities.

Predictably, the warriors are attacked and slaughtered, leaving the young man to protect the remaining group while winning the heart of a princess, well above his station in life.

The story is complete schmaltz and easy to predict from nearly the very beginning of the film. Powerful invaders force the hunters of D’Leh’s tribe into slavery and accost the princess in such a fashion that the setup is all put neatly in place for the viewer, providing nothing out of the ordinary. When the young and naive boy has an epiphany and realizes he is the only one who can save his tribe from extinction, it is all too much. The film is riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche.

A tough ask to lead a film with summer blockbuster written all over it, newcomers Strait and Belle do their best, which only enhances how poor their acting is. Clearly cast for their good looks, they can offer little else. Strait is costumed with a bad wig, dripping sweat, and bulging muscles, purely for audience delight. Belle is also victimized as she pouts and sulks wearing skimpy clothing. The result is a standard boy meets a girl, the boy loses the girl, and the boy becomes a man to save the girl’s mess. Inexplicable is how they meet and fall in love before ever speaking or getting to know each other.

If only the bad acting were the only negative the film might be fair to middling, but nothing good is ever offered. All the hunters and tribesmen look like modern people dressed to look from a different time period. The endless battle scenes borrow from the legions of action and adventure films that have come before it. The animals prance across the screen in obvious timed moments providing little in the way of authenticity.

Director, Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) has a knack for creating large epic adventures to please mainstream audiences. There is nothing wrong with a conventional film if it manages to teach the viewer something or offer something of merit. With a target audience of pubescent boys and girls yearning to learn, Emmerich misses a golden opportunity to present an imaginative prehistoric moment and provide a lesson.

Complete with a bad story and bad acting, the drivel conjured up is nearly too much to take. 10,000 B.C. (2008) cannot be saved by the over stylish visuals because they are so phony one cannot even fathom any credibility out of them. The good-looking main stars look straight out of a glossy magazine and hardly from the prehistoric era presented. With a little attempt at giving audiences anything of substance, this film is an epic fail and is to be missed.

The Lion King-2019

The Lion King-2019

Director-Jon Favreau

Voices-Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #981

Reviewed January 17, 2020

Grade: B

An impossible feat would have been to eclipse the magic of the stage version or the loveliness of the animated version, but The Lion King (2019) offers a different approach well.

Arguably, animated in a way and in a way not, this version is heavily CGI (or in this case computer-generated animation-CGA) infused with marvelous visual effects and creativity. Partial to the two-former offering, this telling is lovely and perfect for the entire family.

The realism of the animals and scenery is remarkable.

To recap new viewers, the story centers on a den of lions living among the creatures in the “Pride Lands of Africa”. They hunt, prance, love, and guard their territory, mostly from the hungry hyenas, who are kept at bay during peaceful times.

King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) are fair rulers and anticipate their son, Simba (Donald Glover), taking over the throne one day much to the chagrin of Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who was passed over for the crown.

Envious of Simba, Scar tricks him and his friend Nala (Beyonce) into wandering in the land of the hyenas hoping to cause their deaths. When his plot is foiled by a heroic Mufasa, Scar ups the ante and hatches a scheme to kill his brother.

He not only succeeds but makes Simba believe he caused his father’s death. Ashamed, the youngster runs away to begin a new life unaware that he will one day return to save the day.

Props must be given to the filmmakers for inclusion and cultural authenticity as many of the characters, especially those front and center, are voiced by African- American talent. This is a high achievement since the film is set in Africa and why would the voices be Caucasian?

Heavyweights like Jones and Woodard sound polished, especially Jones with his deep and dominant, yet fatherly voice, perfectly cast as the King. Woodard provides gentle warmth and confident complexity.

The musical numbers are terrific.

The film begins with an energetic and tribal rendition of “Circle of Life” where a legion of wild animals dance around together in a warm example of diversity. The song appears later in the film. The powerful and romantic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is performed against a lovely moonlight sky with decadent stars.

The new song “Spirit” performed by Beyonce is adequate but does not figure into the story as much as it should, seeming more like an afterthought.

The best parts of The Lion King, however, are the astounding visuals.

With contrasting sequences of bright, sprawling African terrain and a magical oasis of colorful flowers and running water, set against the dark and foreboding land of the dangerous hyenas, offers the viewer a multitude of treats to dine on.

The orange and red colors during the climactic finale are unrivaled in the dazzling bombast of adventure.

As realistic as the elements are in the film, they are also negative. Watching the animals talk and prowl amid the lush landscape felt wonderful, until realizing that all of it is fake. Real animals were never used, and it is all a virtual reality tool making the effects look real.

This aspect slightly saddens me as the genuine quality left me feeling robbed. The possibility of another alternative would have meant a reboot of the animated classic and I am not sure that would have been wise.

Favreau, once an actor and now a director, known for creating films such as Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), certainly knows his way around an adventure film.

The story, while containing some menacing moments, also feels a bit safe and lacks the freshness or edginess that the 1994 version possessed. Something seems watered down and the excitement and heart of the original feel missed.

I will always go back to the animated 1994 treasure for a cinematic feast, but while The Lion King (2019) could have been a disaster, it isn’t. With modernized songs and enough CGA to last a lifetime, I could easily see some people hating the film, but I embraced it for what it is.

Spectacular visual treats await any fan of cinema as one will ponder how the project all came together.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects

300-2007

300-2007

Director-Zack Snyder

Starring-Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #977

Reviewed January 7, 2020

Grade: D

On paper 300 (2007) could have been a good or even a great film under different circumstances, if a historical realism or a message of some kind had existed. Unfortunately, what sounds like an interesting premise is met with a cartoon quality, over-acting, and cheesy testosterone-laden bombast. Little more than drivel, the film is saved slightly by a charismatic lead, male flesh, and potent homo-eroticism, but this is no Magic Mike (2012), and the content fails because it is intended to be taken seriously. The result is a silly affair, with predictability, and cliches for miles.

The story is based on a 1998 comic series of the same name that is a fictionalized retelling of a battle within the Persian War. The flimsy plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (hence the title).  As the battle rages on, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband (Leonidas) and conquer the army.

Butler is the only slight positive worth mentioning as he preens and prances in little more than a loin-cloth with chiseled abs during the battle scenes, ferociously bellowing at his enemy. A fine-looking man, he is unarguably charismatic and poised, so the audience is strongly encouraged to root for him, and naturally for the Spartans. Leonidas makes for a powerful leader and is great to look at, but that is where any positives to this film end.

The scantily clad gimmick is not intended to draw female viewers to the film, or at least the intent doesn’t seem to be there unless the marketing was botched. There is enough male nudity to go around and the beefcake and machismo are clear in most of the characters. Laughable is how the Spartans all have washboard abs and appear to be freshly waxed. Did they have access to state-of-the-art fitness centers in 479 BC? The Persians are mostly face-pierced and sneering, the clear enemy, which does nothing to diminish racist overtones. Spartan-good, Persian-bad.

Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead-2004) motivation seems to be to market this film to pubescent teenage males or the low-IQ crowd so the stereotypes are not the best thing to witness nor will they cause anyone to feel very liberated or united. The characters are either cookie-cutter or grizzled and violent, which is in tune with most of the film- bloody, but without reason, substance or merit. One-note character after one-note character appears through each scene. Most bothersome is the intent to stir a pro-war stance, not helpful given the target audience.

300 was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book which does nothing but make the film look like a high-energy video game. The product is quite stylized with gloomy battleground scenes and dire bleakness and derives a graphic novel or comic book approach but lacking any subtle qualities or pretty much anything else interesting from a cinematography perspective.

The battle scene finale is by the numbers and should come as no surprise who the inevitable victor is. The film requires little thought or attention span and one can simply immerse themselves onto a cushion and absorb the nonsense couch-potato style. Battle after battle erupts with cliched earnestness and a bevy of blood spurting wounds and kills. This would be okay if there existed any point or good plot twist. Any character development is missing.

300 (2007) is a weak offering and decidedly boring, a surprise since much of the events take place on the battleground where the action is produced a mile a minute. The experience is forgettable, and a legion of other action-fueled films exist with more meat and potatoes on their plate. The sinister and stereotypical aspects make the resulting film less than fun and the big, loud, dumb product is only marginally cinematic. We can do better.

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

Having not seen the first two installments of the latest Spider-Man franchise nor with any prior knowledge of The Avengers franchise, or the cross-sectional connections of the characters to other films, I walked into Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) with little expectations and admittedly limited understanding of the Marvel universe altogether.

The film is no better or worse than a summer popcorn flick with enough adventure and nice locales to keep a non- super-hero buff entertained for over two hours without fidgeting too much.

The film begins with a nod to a past film where a mysterious “Blip” occurred erasing people for five years where they then return to normalcy has not aged. Shots of various Avengers characters including Tony Stark (Iron Man) who have died appear on the screen amid a musical tribute to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”.

Peter Parker (Spider-Man) (Tom Holland) still mourns his mentor as he embarks on a two-week European vacation with his classmates as part of a school trip. He plans to confess his love for MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower in Paris.

Peter’s Aunt May (now reduced in age and sexy with the casting of Marisa Tomei) quickly packs his Spider-Man suit as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to enlist Peter’s help on a mission and provide him with Stark’s special glasses, named E.D.I.T.H. which possess all the databases of Stark Industries.

Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of Illusions is recruited to help Spider-Man and serve as a cool Uncle figure. These events all happen as Peter travels abroad.

The film is undeniably light and fun, with a bright and safe ambiance. The perilous scenes are not scary nor particularly dangerous despite characters being at risk of death.

The teen romance angle enhances this assessment as it is a main component of the film, even as much as the adventure and superhero antics are. Even before the teen classmates traversing throughout Europe, a triangle between Peter, MJ, and Peter’s hunky, high school football rival develops, as does love at thirty-five thousand feet between lovebirds Ned and Betty Brant.

Tom Holland is very well cast in the lead role and is charismatic and believable.  Charming with youthful innocence, he is a part nerd and part hero, but always empathetic and benevolent without this feeling forced.

As a viewer unfamiliar with the first two chapters, I was immediately catapulted into his world of teen angst, romance, and his responsibility of saving the world. The young actor could have a fine future ahead of him if he avoids any typecasting and chooses good roles.

The guts of the film, meaning the action sequences and the standard genre elements, are palpable and worthy of admiration on their own merits.

The visual effects are tremendous and crowd-pleasing, especially whenever Mysterio is involved. With a twisting, tornado-like blue and green swirling motion he flies in and out of sequences with enough pizzazz to put the Wicked Witch of the West to shame.

Similarly, the gusty unnatural storm, Earth Elemental, and the dangerous Fire provide magical and atmospheric power that helps the look of the film.

Comedy rather than dark and foreboding scenes are what the filmmakers seem to be going for with this project. As class trip chaperones and the student’s teachers, the comic duo of Julius Dell and Roger Harrington trade barbs with themselves and the kids, part bumbling and part incompetent, always offering comic moments of relief.

When Harold “Happy” Hogan becomes smitten with Aunt May, his awkwardness is cute and fresh rather than sappy and cliched. The supporting characters have the stuff to do but I would have preferred a bit more darkness or gloominess.

The sequences that rise Spider-Man: Far from Home above mediocrity are the wonderful and plentiful European scenes, a feast of riches for this fan of world travel and culture.

The canals of Venice and the magnificence of Prague are nearly rivaled by the sophistication of London and the history of Berlin. Sadly, the film does not culminate in Paris as I had hoped and was hinted at, causing a slight hiccup in my vicarious travel pleasures.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is a film perfectly crafted for summer and fittingly was viewed on a scorching hot July day. The film is not a masterpiece, sticking to a formula tried and true, and limiting the dangerous possibilities when one threatens to destroy the world in favor of humor.

The cast is likable, the villain compelling, and the romance showcases more than just the main couple, being careful not to limit the cash cow of special effects and adventure the film heavily provides.

Black Panther-2018

Black Panther-2018

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #805

Reviewed August 23, 2018

Grade: B+

For the record, I am not a huge superhero fan nor an obsessive follower of the popular Marvel comic series. I see a handful of, but hardly any of this particular genre of film, usually those (if any) receiving year-end recognition.

Having heard many positives regarding Black Panther (2018) I was looking forward to something creative and left of center from the typical genre film.

While the film has some standard super-hero elements, the fact that most of the characters are ethnic is an enormous plus and worth the price of admission alone.

To elaborate further, admittedly Black Panther plays out like a superhero film is “supposed” to play out fight scenes, machismo, action, and villains, with the standard good versus evil storyline thrown in.

This is all well and good and will undoubtedly please the traditional Marvel comic book fan. However, the nuances that the screenwriters and director, Ryan Coogler sneak into the film are what sets it above a mediocre rating.

The fact that nearly all of the principal characters are black is tremendous, and the female black characters portrayed as strong is huge.

Furthermore, the visual treats of Africa, Korea, and multi-cultural clothing and colors are noteworthy. While I wish the actual story would have steered further away from the tried and true, I was left happy with the other qualities.

The film begins with a quick story of how one African nation, Wakanda, came to be and proudly brought into existence the first “Black Panther” with superpowers obtained from a special plant.

As the action moves to Oakland, California, circa 1992, we learn that the King of Wakanda is visiting his brother who works undercover.

Following the King’s death, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes over the throne but is soon challenged by his cousin, N’Jadakan (Michael B. Jordan), who deems himself the rightful heir to the throne.

Another subplot involving a black-market arms leader named Ulysses Klaue, leads T’Challa, along with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to South Korea and back to Wakanda.

Black Panther feels ambitious to me- like seeing something of worth and something inventive and cool. The film is stylized and the direction that Coogler provides is spectacular, with bright, colorful, visual treats, especially as he features lavish African locales.

Admittedly, in a mainstream comic book film, laden with CGI effects, it is tough to know what is real or not real, but as a viewer, these aspects were a treat and pleasing to the eyes.

The plot of the film itself feels admittedly mediocre and tough to follow and a “been there done that” evaluation. By the same token, the story seems predictable, and is it any wonder that T’Challa will reclaim the throne as King of Wakanda?

After inevitable clashes with warrior-type men who want the throne and/or feel that they are the rightful heir to the throne, it does not matter too much.

This is not to say the film is not good, it is, but the plot is not the highlight of Black Panther, feeling fairly standard.

The male-female roles are an interesting study and progressive-minded. Granted the male characters (T’Challa, N’Jadaka, and M’Baku) are all testosterone-laden and fierce with machismo.

But despite being manly men they also contain some sensitivity and there is a unique family element to the characters.

On the other hand, the female characters are incredibly strong and empowering- a dynamic approach for a superhero film sure to be seen by millions. One female character is even an Army General! So the portrayal of women as strong warriors rather than merely secondary or arm candy is impressive.

The comic book or superhero genre is notoriously filled with gender stereotypes and specific, oftentimes generic aspects. With this work, it is nice to see some of these barriers broken down.

Between the recent Wonder Woman (2017) and Black Panther (2018), women and the black community have been represented positively.

Here’s to hoping that the LGBT community may be next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“All the Stars”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design (won), Best Costume Design (won)

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

Director-Ava DuVernay

Starring-Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #788

Reviewed July 16, 2018

Grade: C

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) is a film that I had high hopes for given the enormous marketing push, first-rate cast, and especially the acclaimed female director involved with the project, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th).

Additionally, having admired the 1962 novel I expected a rich, earthy, and mysterious experience. Sadly, whether it be a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation given the star power involved, or some other factors leading to disconnect, this film disappointed me.

It’s not terrible but suffers from miscasting way too much CGI, and a story that is not very compelling.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is having a tough time of it in school. Smack dab in the “awkward phase”, she is picked on by schoolmates because her father (Chris Pine) has disappeared- presumably having ditched the family. In reality, he is a scientist who has been transported to another world after solving the question of humanity’s existence.

After Meg and her family are visited by a strange woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Meg, little brother Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin, time travel to find a way to save her father.

Fans who have read the wonderful novel written by Madeleine L’Engle will most certainly be disappointed since many details of the film are vastly different from the written page.

DuVernay certainly attempts to take the film out of the 1960s and into 2018 (I have no issue with that), but the film feels so slick and modern with the visual elements and heavy use of CGI, that the story suffers enormously.

To be clear, the film is gorgeous to look at, especially in the sweeping outdoors scenes, but in this case, too many bells and whistles spoil A Wrinkle in Time.

The three strange women characters: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) are completely butchered. In the novel, each is portrayed as peculiar, mysterious, and similar to witches: frumpy, awkward, yet lovable. In the film, however, they are colorful, glamorous, empowered, but lack any real uniqueness or intrigue.

I am all for female empowerment, but the characters just felt wrong.

Kaling is fine in the smallest role, but in the case of Witherspoon and Winfrey, appears a case of “we have big stars, let’s find roles for them.” A tough sell with Mrs. Which is to think of Oprah as anyone other than….well, Oprah! Witherspoon’s attempts to be goofy and the comic relief of the film do not work.

The casting of newcomer Storm Reid is lackluster. I have no issue with the character of Meg being changed to bi-racial I feel that’s a plus in the modern age. However, the actress is not the greatest, appearing both sullen and wooden in various scenes. Nor does she have any chemistry with her love interest, Calvin.

This is a shame since the theme of young love would have been a nice addition to the film and was a coming-of-age element in the novel.

At the risk of being overly critical, A Wrinkle in Time is not a total disaster either. The progressive and heroic message of the overall film is quite inspired. If kids watch the film (and since it is Disney produced and heavily advertised I can see no reason why they wouldn’t) they will be exposed to a nice message of good conquering evil.

And on a side note, the villain is safe and hardly conjures up much fright, so no worries by parents of the film being too scary.

With heaps of buzz and anticipation regarding A Wrinkle in Time (2018), the film seemed poised to become a blockbuster hit and a great spring flick. Instead, the film has largely been derided by critics and audiences alike.

With creative genius, star power, and a huge budget involved, something ran amiss as the final product is fair to middling.

Let’s hope director Ava DuVernay gets her groove back with her next project- I expected more.

Twister-1996

Twister-1996

Director-Jan de Bont

Starring-Bill Pullman, Helen Hunt

Scott’s Review #763

Reviewed May 25, 2018

Grade: B+

Twister (1996) is a film that contains amazing and groundbreaking special effects- that blew people away (pun intended!) when released to the masses over twenty years ago. Moviegoers flocked to theaters everywhere to partake in the escapist summer feel-good hit starring popular movie stars of the time. The film spawned amusement park rides and lots of other fun things during its run.

The visuals are what truly are to be enjoyed here and not the generic, tried, and true subplots of romance, childhood trauma, and corporate greed that are mixed in. The film does not hold up well in present times as the dazzling effects now look rather dated when lined up again modern blockbusters. This results in Twister being reduced to “one of those 1990’s films”.

Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as American storm chasers, Bill and Jo, obsessed with their craft of tracking tornadoes throughout the United States mid-western region. Adding drama to the plot is that Bill and Jo are an estranged married couple in the midst of a divorce. Bill brings his new fiancee Melissa (Jami Gertz) along as numerous meteorologists converge to track storms using newly invented devices. Predictably, a series of vicious storms commence while Bill, Jo, and Melissa play out a love triangle.

Twister gets off to a fantastic start as a wicked storm kills then five-year-old Jo’s father, prompting her to pursue her career of choice. Jo has never gotten over her father’s death becoming fascinated by deadly storms.

The effects of this initial storm are very well done as Jo’s father’s death scene is riveting- the poor man being sucked into the deadly cyclone is memorable. Regardless, this scene sets the tone for the ample effects to follow- most notably the terrifying sound of the swirling storm as farm tools and animals fly around onscreen.

After the initial introduction, the rest of the film is mainly of the group driving around and encountering storms, with Bill and Jo taking center stage. As a child having spent many summers in the mid-west, sans tornadoes thankfully, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching the film.

Assumptions being made that Twister was indeed filmed on location (with studio help), the authenticity is apparent. From the vastness of the plains to the dusty roads, cornfields, and the small-town U.S.A. I enjoyed the down-home, slice of life feel.

The action and effects are lightning quick and quite realistic. As mentioned the sound effects are as strong as the visual effects and I never doubted for a second that the twisters had a realism to them. This successfully merges into the summer blockbuster that Twister’s producers undoubtedly were going for. Making a ton of money, the result was clearly successful and inspired by Hollywood.

Despite the superlative special effects, though, this is really the only reason to watch Twister, and seeing the film once is enough excitement. The writers (Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin) attempt to incorporate a romance into the story and this does nobody any good. This negative aspect is even more apparent since the chemistry between Paxton and Hunt is non-existent and Gertz’s Melissa is clearly meant to be the odd woman out all along.

A large amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary to “buy” various scenes. Ludicrous are countless scenes where characters either outrun the monstrous twisters or somehow the storms encircle them, but miraculously never touch them.

When Jo, Bill, and Melissa’s truck are captured inside the funnel cloud the vehicle and its passengers somehow remain unharmed.  And tornadoes do not simply come out of nowhere to attack without any indication on the radar. But alas this is a disaster film and liberties must be taken.

The famous “cow scene”, notoriously used twice in the film seemed groundbreaking and cutting edge in 1996, but in 2018 now seems hokey and unnecessary. Times sure do change in cinema especially with technical effects and CGI growing each year.

Admittedly, the film does contain a good, all-American rockin’ summer tune by Van Halen named “Humans Being”, which always makes me think of summertime when I hear it. In fact, the entire Twister soundtrack was an enormous success with radio airplay given and led to further successes for the film.

Perhaps now watched as a blast from the past or a revisit to some sort of nostalgic time for folks, Twister (1996) is a great example of a once-popular popcorn movie falling into semi-obscurity. Given another twenty years, the film will undoubtedly fall all the way. A nice film for the time it was, but a little more years later.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Visual Effects

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-1984

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-1984

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw

Scott’s Review #759

Reviewed May 17, 2018

Grade: A

The second in the trilogy (I refuse to acknowledge the middling Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is easily my favorite of the group. Much darker than its predecessor, Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is also better, with more flair and pizzazz.  All three (1989’s The Last Crusade added) could be watched in sequence and easily enjoyed as companion pieces for a slice of 1980’s nostalgia.

A prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the action picks up a few years prior as our hero narrowly escapes the clutches of a crime boss in Shanghai, China. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), along with sidekick’s eleven-year-old Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), embark on an adventure to retrieve a stolen sacred stone. The poor villagers have also lost their children to a lavish palace where they are forced to work as slaves.

Wisely in keeping with the continuity of the first story, director Steven Spielberg and writer George Lucas return to the fold. This enriches the experience as both men clearly are in touch with the character of Indiana Jones and do not try to change him.

His familiar wittiness and charismatic nature return and the dashing hero show more skin this time around with more than one shirtless scene. To cement the good character, Harrison Ford returns to the role he created and made famous.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is layered with positive aspects and holds special childhood memories for me. I vividly recollect going to the movie theater and excitedly watching the film on the big screen clutching a tub of buttery popcorn. For a young boy, this is the best- an adventure story for the ages with thrills and edge-of-your-seat sequences. In fact, the film is perfect for the entire family.

Many gorgeous exterior sequences abound throughout the film and a prime example of this is when the trio encounters deadly assassins on a precarious rope bridge high atop a crocodile-infested murky river.  This scene is fraught with tension and “how will he ever get out of this?” thinking when dear Indie is cornered by the killers.

With lightning-quick thinking, he severs the bridge resulting in a dangling escapade. As numerous bodies fall into the river they are chopped to bits by the hungry reptiles. The fact that the action is all shot outdoors in lush scenery only adds to the enjoyment.

The film is admittedly filled with dark and scary aspects necessitating a PG-13 rating versus a PG one. As Indie, Willie, and Short Round are held hostage in the evil palace, a dangerous sacrifice occurs.

One poor man is chosen to give his life by way of being burned alive in a roaring fire. Indie is then forced to drink potion presumably suffer the same fate.  Other bloody moments occur as a bad guy meets his fate after being flattened like a pancake by a steamroller. So clearly the tone of the film is much darker than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

To offset the blood, guts, and voodoo, the film occasionally parlays into humor mostly at the expense of Willie- the comic relief of the film. Accustomed to the glamour of costumes and luxurious hotels, the singer is forced to fend for herself amid snakes, elephants, and other creatures. As she hungrily sits down for what she thinks is a scrumptious dinner, she is treated to monkey brains and bulging eyeballs in soup- deemed Indian delicacies.

Lost on me seeing the film as a youngster and readily apparent watching it now are glaring negative stereotypes associated with the Indian culture. As I am sure the intent was not to insult, some stereotypes do abound with the hokey cuisines and the severe poverty. The underlying image of tribal Indians as being weird or out of touch is prevalent to say nothing of the odd religious overtones.

Kate Capshaw as Willie is the complete opposite of the central female character of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whereas Marion is intelligent and serious, Willie is pampered, rich, and gullible. I find the camaraderie between Indie and Willie much more palpable than between Indie and Marion and the romantic overtures appealing. Who can forget the famous “bug scene” in the palace?

Conjuring up wonderful and exciting childhood memories, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is a treasure for the eyes and the strongest entry in the bunch. If in the mood for a good, fun-filled experience with a healthy dose of Indian culture and adventurous antics with a slice of darkness this one is a must-see.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects (won)

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Scott’s Review #757

Reviewed May 15, 2018

Grade: A

A film that kicked off the tremendously successful and ever-so-fun 1980’s trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a treasure in the adventure genre time capsule. Director Steven Spielberg embarks on the journey of one of the most highly visible film heroes in that of Indiana “Indie” Jones, a swashbuckling, aww shucks kind of guy. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast in a role that perfectly fits him and, besides Han Solo, defined him during the decade- the best role of his career if you ask me.

Wonderful to watch in sequence with the even more superb Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), these two films are a pure pleasure as our hero faces dangerous obstacles at every turn while either chased by or pursuing sinister robbers or other undesirables. All the while Indie keeps his familiar sly grin and numerous jokes to entertain audiences.

As a piece of film making Raiders of the Lost Ark has it all with superior writing, editing, cinematography, art direction, sound, and visuals effects. They reaped many Oscar nominations, quite uncommon for an adventure tale, but the merits were warranted. Atypical compared to other films of this type, the film is not overly saturated with phony machismo or unnecessary “guy” stuff, but rather appealing and genuine.

The time period is 1936 and archaeologist Indiana Jones works as a professor at a University. Known for retrieving ancient artifacts he is contacted by Army intelligence officers who ask him to help stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant which they believe will make their armies invincible, allowing them to conquer the world in a sinister fashion.

Events lead Indie to Marion (Karen Allen), who harbors resentments towards him for a failed past romance. The rest of the film follows the pair throughout Nepal and Cairo in an attempt to recover the Ark before the Nazis do.

Raiders of the Lost Ark contains all of the elements for a successful “hit” movie and has blockbuster written all over it. This is not a slight against the film, but rather a testament to all involved.

Led by successful Spielberg who knows how to connect all the dots, first and foremost Ford infuses charisma into his character so that the audience enjoys his sensibilities and desire for the truth. Indie is intent on protecting humankind so Spielberg carves a “good versus bad” approach- making the villainous Nazis the antithesis of Jones which creates a clear rooting value.

My personal favorite scene in the film concludes. Nicknamed the “face-melting scene” this scene contains then state of the art special effects that compelled and mesmerized me and also led to light nightmares for any kid under the age of twelve. The way that the bad guys see swirling, benevolent ghosts- first beautiful and peaceful, but soon turning deadly- cause their faces to literally melt off or shrivel-the scene is both inventive and dramatic.

Not to be dismissed as trite or fluff are the exciting and memorable scenes dubbed “the snake scene” and “the rolling boulder scene”.  In the former Indie wryly admits his fear and trepidation of snakes as he must traverse a huge pit filled with thousands of them and he comes face to face with a deadly King cobra. In the latter scene, Indie must outrun a speeding boulder as he takes an ancient artifact from a sacred spot inside a cave, causing boulders to collapse around him. Both scenes are enormous fun and the immeasurable edge-of-your-seat sequences.

I never sensed much chemistry between actors Ford and Allen, but writing the characters of Indie and Marion as former lovers adds a good bit of tension and sparring between the characters- this provides for some good fodder and humorous situations. Thankfully the romance between the two is neither the focal point of the film nor all too important, but rather, in the safety that the 1980’s cinema was- merely a necessity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a superb adventure film holding up better than it should decades beyond release. The film is rich with good old-fashioned action, a charismatic hero, thrills, intrigue, and a good history lesson for those interested in the build-up to World War II. The accounts are fictional of course, but Spielberg offers a fine 1980’s cinematic experience that’s got it all.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Original Score, Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

Stand By Me-1986

Stand By Me-1986

Director-Rob Reiner

Starring-Will Wheaton, River Phoenix

Scott’s Review #752

Reviewed May 2, 2018

Grade: A

Stand By Me (1986), is a sweet, coming-of-age story that every male  (or female for that matter) who grew up in small-town America will undoubtedly relate to. Set mostly outdoors in the remote pacific northwest, the film successfully shows the deep bonds of friendships over the course of a Labor day weekend as four youths set out on an adventure of discovery. In 1986 I was able to completely relate to the film and in present-day Stand By Me holds up quite well.

Stephen King, a tremendous author known mostly for horror novels, created a short story named The Body in 1982- Stand By Me is based on this story. Instead of traditional horror, however, the story is more of a straight-up adventure, though in pure King style- a dead body in a front and center (naturally).

Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and its success led to other mainstream achievements for Reiner (1989’s When Harry Met Sally and 1990’s Misery- also a King novel). The legendary theme song by Ben E. King plays over the closing credits and became a smash hit again in 1986.

The film starts intriguingly as the main character, Gordie, as an adult, learns that his childhood friend Chris Chambers has tragically been stabbed to death. Gordie then narrates a flashback to the summer of 1959 when he and three other boys embarked on a childhood adventure one Labor day weekend.

Along with Gordie (Will Wheaton), we meet Chris (River Phoenix) a rebellious boy with troubled home life, Teddy (Corey Feldman), who is scarred as a result of being burned by his mentally ill father, and Vern (Jerry O’Connell)  an overweight kid insecure about his looks.

The wonderful aspect of Stand By Me is that each of the four central characters is flawed either physically or by some other insecurity-giving depth to each character. In this way, each character is highly empathetic to an audience member who may see him or herself in these characters.

This point carries through for the entire length of the film. Through conversational scenes with one another, each weakness is exposed and dissected- Teddy becomes vulnerable about his relationship with his father when a character refers to him as “loony”. Vern’s weight bothers him, and Chris aspires to be so much more than people anticipate he will ever become.

Not to be weighed down by too many dramatic elements, Stand By Me incorporates much-needed humor into its story. My favorite sequence is the delightful story that Godie regales the other boys with one night as they camp outdoors.

Town legend has it that a rotund picked on a boy nicknamed “Lard-Ass” enacts the perfect revenge on the townspeople one summer as he enters a pie-eating contest resulting in a torrent of vomiting. This scene is very well shot by Reiner and brilliantly balances the differing tones of the film all the while nestled in a connecting package.

The film belongs to the young actors each of whom is cast extremely well. Of course, Corey Feldman and River Phoenix went on to major success in the 1980s. Phoenix who tragically died in 1993, and Feldman, who suffered through numerous problems in his short career, are forever youthful with promise and poise in this film.

In Phoenix’s case, he seemed most on course for leading man status with his dashing youthful looks and clean-cut appearance. Watching in later years it is bittersweet to watch both actors and recollect the promise of each.

Mixing both drama and comedy but at its core, a true adventure story best watched on a summer evening, Stand By Me is memorable and poignant. The setting of late summer, outdoorsy camping, and green scenery is resilient and stands the test of time. Anyone who ever has embarked on a good journey as a kid or formulated everlasting memories of those from their youth (which should be all of us) can appreciate this timeless gem.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Rob Reiner, Best Screenplay

Wonder Woman-2017

Wonder Woman-2017

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

Scott’s Review #696

Reviewed November 20, 2017

Grade: B

Wonder Woman is a 2017 summer offering (and a mega success) that is firmly nestled in the comfort of the superhero, adventure genre but is unique in that it is directed by a woman in what is typically a male-dominated field.

This must be championed, and the film has a palpable, female-empowering quality that I adore since it is still lacking in most mainstream films.

However, at times, the film teeters too much around predictability and possesses many traditional superhero elements, such as good versus evil, climactic fights scenes, and stock villains. But liberties must be taken and overall I saw the film as a female-driven work.

The fact that Wonder Woman was celebrated by the masses is wonderful news.

Director Patty Jenkins, notable for having previously tackled weighty subject matter in films such as 2003’s Monster, is at the helm of this project and embodies her lead character with a good blend of earnestness, pizzazz, and heart.

“Wonder Woman” is a likable character and newcomer Gal Gadot, an unknown to me, is interesting casting. Certainly, there are a myriad of young Hollywood “names” who could have championed the part- Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence may have been palpable in the role.

Seemingly a brave choice, Gadot takes command of the character and fills her with substance.

We meet “Princess Diana” as a young girl, living on the protected Amazon island of Themyscira- inhabited only by females. The time is around 1918, amid the harsh reality of World War I, though the members of the tribe know nothing about the war or any other current events- nor do any males live on the island.

Most of the women are trained warriors, presumably to protect the island from potential dangers. It is soon revealed that Diana has special powers, and after meeting a lost American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she embarks on a mission to save the world from the ravages of war.

Mixed in with the main story is a briefly mentioned ancient legend of Zeus’s son Ares plotting to return and destroy the Amazons, whom Zeus created.

My only issue with Wonder Woman as a whole is with the story.  The plot is not weak, but simply put- it is nestled in Hollywood predictability rather than containing any surprises along the way.

Despite deserved kudos for the characterization of Diana, the story ultimately turns ho-hum like many superhero films do- peppered with the inevitable battle scenes.

The genre-specific “save the world” is played to the hilt as Diana takes it upon herself to stop the war with the belief that people are not entirely bad. With this thought, Diana finally learns a valuable lesson about the complexities of human beings- in this way Wonder Woman contains a moralistic tale- but then come more battle scenes.

The villains are mainly cartoon-like and what one might expect for a film of this kind.  Chemist Isabel Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), dons a mask to hide a disfigured face (intentionally to test the poison gas), and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) plans to destroy all of mankind.

These characters are straight out of comic books and contain no redeeming qualities.

Contrary to where the main story may be a tad lacking, the romantic element is nicely done and the scenes involving Diana and Steve are sweet and romantic making them fun to watch and a good balance against the action sequences.

Gadot and Pine have great chemistry, adding humor, so the scenes are not forced. As Diana sees Steve naked for the first time a clever sexual flirtation develops and a sly lesbian backstory is briefly hinted at.

Diana remarks with a smirk that men are only needed for procreation and that the women on the island “can satisfy themselves”. The duo also has a play of words about his “manhood”.

Due to the success of Wonder Woman, a sequel, again directed by Jenkins is in the works. My hope is that because of the box office performance many more liberties can be taken by the talented director and she can further push the envelope as she did with Monster.

Wonder Woman is a good film, let’s hope the next installment is a great film.

King Kong-1933

King Kong-1933

Director-Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring-Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Scott’s Review #624

Reviewed March 11, 2017

Grade: A

The original, black and white, 1933 version of King Kong (a few other remakes or reboots followed) is a masterful achievement in special effects never before done in film and is also a great horror/adventure film that is timeless in its look and feel, capturing 1930’s New York City, especially, in majestic fashion. Some of the dialogue and scenes are now dated or slightly racist, it still holds up well as an overall lesson in film exploration and is a treasure to watch time and time again. The film is a take on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, sans the happy ending.

In the watery harbors of New York City, filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) prepares to embark, via ship, on a journey to film his latest picture. Known for films about exotic wildlife, he has a film to end all films in mind, and reluctantly, is talked into casting a female lead in the part. He scours the streets of New York City, finding broke and hungry Ann (Fay Wray)- a struggling actress unable to find work. She agrees to the role and off they go headed towards a destination unknown. Weeks later, he reveals to the crew that they are headed for Skull Island, a secret island known for pre-historic creatures and a beast only known as “Kong”.

Amid the voyage to the island, Ann and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) fall madly in love with each other giving the film a nice romantic slant along with the male-driven adventure story. The adventure begins when the crew arrives at Skull Island to find a weird, ancient ritual marriage occurring by the tribal people and all hell breaks loose when the dangerous “King Kong” escapes from captivity and falls in love with Ann. Mixed in with the story are enormous dinosaurs who destroy everything in their paths including many of the men from the island and the film crew.

As I watched the film in 2017, not too far out from 100 years past the film’s incarnation, I oftentimes sat in wonderment, amazed at how the filmmakers were able to achieve the luminous special effects throughout the second half of the film. Given the film is in black and white, the contrast of the dark, enormous ape (Kong) and the bright New York City, and the majestic Empire State Building, prominently featured in the final, climactic, act.

Scenes of a struggling Ann in the hand of King Kong seem flawless and believable and I marvel at how these scenes were shot and the enormous amount of effort to make them dramatic and not hokey looking. Since the film was made “pre-code”, several shocking scenes exist- when Kong rips off Ann’s clothes as she struggles in his palm and Kong’s stepping on and squashing men are featured sparing no graphic details.

In addition to the great adventure story that is King Kong, lies a tender love story and a bit of melancholy. King Kong is not so much a dangerous creature, rather, has fallen in love with Ann and serves as her protector. He is a scared animal, chained and confined, and subsequently shown to a stuffy Broadway crowd as entertainment- he becomes angry. I find Kong to be a sympathetic, misunderstood character, and because the human beings in the story are frightened, he becomes their enemy. He adores Ann and would not harm her in any way, but he is perceived as vicious, which he is not.

It can be argued who the real villain of the story is. Would it not be filmmaker Carl, intent on exploiting King Kong and gaining profit from it? Is it the tribe people who keep Kong locked up or is it for their protection?

My favorite scene is the climax of the film. After taking Ann from a hotel room, he scales the Empire State building and is pursued by four military airplanes. When he sets Ann down on the rooftop ledge, he battles the planes, only to sadly topple down to the ground- dead. As he swipes at the planes and succumbs to gunshot wounds, it is a sad and powerful scene.

King Kong is a legendary film.  A film where audiences will empathize with the “villain” of the story and be impressed by the nuances on the technical side as well as enjoy the conventional and the unconventional love stories presented. One thing is for sure, King Kong is one of the most influential films ever made.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Director-Gore Verbinski

Starring-Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom

Scott’s Review #606

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the follow-up to the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, from 2003. The sequel is decent, but certainly inferior to Curse of the Black Pearl. The visual effects are spectacular, and the budget very high, but the story wasn’t really there. The film drags along at times as well as being a bit confusing.

Johnny Depp gives his all to his role of Jack Sparrow, performing with gusto and is clearly the highlight of the franchise. The supporting characters, Bloom as Will Turner, and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, are fine, but not on the level of Depp. Otherwise, the performances are all okay, but just a carbon copy of the first film.

Story-wise, Will and Elizabeth are arrested for aiding Jack Sparrow’s escape execution, and the plot involves the attempts at locating Sparrow along with the typical adventure aspects of a film like this and the stock character villains, with grimaces, heavy makeup, and over-acting, but I expected as much.

Not a bad sequel, certain to entertain the masses, and guaranteed to make a ton of money, inevitably ensuring another sequel will be made, with little doubt of being even less compelling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects (won)

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Director-Guy Ritchie

Starring-Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law

Scott’s Review #575

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: B-

From a technical perspective. Sherlock Holmes, a 2009 attempt at revitalizing the famous detective story into something of a modern franchise for the masses, achieves a measure of success in style and editing, but ultimately fails in character development or story. Traditionalist fans of the detective and his partner will undoubtedly be displeased with this film.

This film is very well made, with snappy editing, fast-paced wit, and attempts at humor, but it really does not work all so well when put together as a film. The re-birth of Sherlock Holmes was clearly made to entice modern audiences. Director Guy Ritchie even brings in superhero elements to Sherlock Holmes- suddenly he can kick ass as well as solve a complex mystery, which is so far removed from the original character.

Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and partner Watson, have some humorous moments, but the chemistry is not really wholly there-it appears they are both trying too hard to create some magic where there is none.

All in all, though a well made, entertaining two hours spent, the story and characterization ultimately do not work. Downey Jr. gives a great performance and shows why he is one of today’s most versatile actors, but this cannot ultimately make the entire film a success.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Art Direction