Texas Chainsaw-2013

Texas Chainsaw-2013

Director-John Luessenhop

Starring-Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager

Scott’s Review #145


Reviewed July 31, 2013

Grade: B-

If you are a horror buff (as I am) the reality that one must accept is that classic horror films will be remade or some incarnation of them will be made over time. That is the harsh reality. They will never hold a candle to the originals. That is also a reality. One can either accept them for what they are or resist them.

Once again yet another version of the classic 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes upon us. It is present times (2013), and the main character, Heather, takes a road trip with her friends to Texas to collect an inheritance from a long-lost Grandmother she has never known.

An interesting twist is a film begins where the original left off- the fact that sequels were made in between seems to be forgotten.

I enjoyed how the film picks up where the original left off and brings in a bit of history to the story.

Unfortunately, the timeline makes no sense and is a complete impossibility- the heroine of the story would chronologically be 39 years old, but the character is in her early 20’s.

In typical horror fashion, the characters are all one-dimensional (sex-starved) and a token minority is thrown in for good measure, which has become standard in modern horror.

The Texas police are clearly portrayed as corrupt.

Happily, there are brief cameos by two of the original cast members (Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns) from the 1974 version, which is a great touch.

Otherwise, this is a by the numbers modern horror film and quite forgettable, yet enjoyable for the 90-minute length.

Certainly does not hold a candle to the original, but what would?

The Evil Dead-1981

The Evil Dead-1981

Director Sam Raimi

Starring Bruce Campbell

Scott’s Review #144


Reviewed July 31, 2014

Grade: B+

For its time The Evil Dead was a unique, creative, visually impressive horror classic and far different from the wave of mediocre slasher films from this time (1981).

In the story, five teenagers head to a remote cabin in Tennessee for spring break.

From the beginning of the trip, there is trouble- they are almost killed in a head-on collision, their car almost falls into a rickety bridge, and finally, at the cabin, they stumble upon a haunted book.

From this point, even stranger events begin to develop and the haunting, crazy action begins.

Director Sam Raimi does an excellent job from a visual standpoint- the camera racing through the woods from the demon’s point of view is very effective and scary.

The ambiance is creepy- fog, mist, smoke, and the lighting are great.

The film has all the elements- darkness, remote cabin, and woods coming alive for a genuinely scary horror flick.

Yes, the film seems a bit campy to watch now, but at the time the special effects were brilliant.

My personal favorite is the long shot of the twitching dismembered body and the various, hysterically funny chattering and gibberish among the demons.

The ending of the film is very well done.

The Grand Budapest Hotel-2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel-2014

Director-Wes Anderson

Starring-Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham

Scott’s Review #143


Reviewed July 30, 2014

Grade: B+

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a witty and unique film by Director Wes Anderson, who has also directed similarly quirky films- most notably the Monsoon Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

The famous story of the history of the Grand Budapest Hotel is recounted, over dinner, by the current owner named Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham), and an inquisitive guest (Jude Law).

The film then goes back to the 1930s and shares the story of the actual history of the hotel.

The main story centers on the head concierge, Gustave, (Ralph Fiennes), and his antics involving older wealthy blonde women, a murder, stolen art, and a missing will.

Gustave is a ladies’ man, and bisexual, who spends time with the rich women who stay at the hotel.  Fiennes does an excellent job as the quick-witted, almost manic Gustave. This sets off a series of interesting, mysterious events for the remainder of the film that turns into a whodunit yarn.

The visual aspects usurp the story in my opinion- the art direction is amazing. The sets are constructed so perfectly and ingeniously that they almost look like animated sets or like a dollhouse.

The costumes and makeup are flawless.

The story tends to be tough to follow at times and is just not as strong as the other aspects of the film, although this is not to be interpreted as the story is not good- it is entertaining, but nothing more.

It’s just that the other aspects of the film are magnificent and the story secondary. It’s an odd film, certainly, but unique and interesting.

A slew of well-known Hollywood stars appears- Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, and Harvey Keitel among others.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Wes Anderson, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing

The Great Gatsby-2013

The Great Gatsby-2013

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire

Scott’s Review #142


Reviewed July 29, 2014

Grade: A

Despite some mixed reviews of this movie, I loved it. Having read the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was familiar with the story of lavishness and scandal during one sweltering summer in the well-to-do Long Island, NY community during the 1920s.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) I found the look of the film lavish, realistic, and gorgeous- perfect ambiance and a dream-like quality.

I loved the casting of Leonardo Dicaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Caraway. The chemistry among the three leads is apparent and visually the film is spectacularly dressed, from costumes to gorgeous sets, and the speech patterns of the era- “old sport”, and “row”, are used frequently and seem authentic.

Many complained about the mixing of modern rap music with a film set in the 1920s, which does sound strange on paper, but I personally enjoyed that aspect of it and feel like it gave a contemporary edge to the film.

There are slight adjustments from the novel, but I thought it was a very successful transition to the big screen.

Oscar Nominations: Best Production Design (won), Best Costume Design (won)

How To Survive a Plague-2012

How To Survive a Plague-2012

Director-David France

Starring-Bill Bahlman, David Barr

Scott’s Review #141


Reviewed July 29, 2014

Grade: A

A wonderful thing about documentaries is that they can be a learning experience and a teaching tool. How to Survive a Plague is one such type of documentary. It is an authentic, real, gritty piece of work and that’s what makes it so powerful.

The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s was a monumental and devastating time in social history and this documentary chronicles a group of advocates tirelessly fighting to convince the Government (at that time less than sympathetic towards victims of the disease) to approve and administer drugs to combat AIDS.

This organization was named ACT UP and it brought the gay community together as well as sympathetic members of the straight community. Good people fighting against the establishment for change.

Nearly all the footage from the film is from the time period in question and the activism is both heartbreaking and inspiring to witness.

The Pope, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush are not portrayed in a positive light, but rather as uncaring and unwilling to help those dying from the disease.

A moving and inspirational film that teaches one never to give up or back down from what you stand for. Nominated for the 2013 Best Documentary Oscar.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary-Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary Feature



Director-Gideon Raff

Starring-Thora Birch

Scott’s Review #140


Reviewed July 28, 2014

Grade: C-

Train (2008) is a horror, torture film from 2008 that has very similar elements to Hostel (Americans alone in an eastern country- in this case, northern Russia) and like plotted films that were all the rage in this time period.

The premise is fairly interesting- the college wrestling team misses train in northern Russia due to late-night partying and has to take another one where they are systematically accosted, tortured, and dismembered by a strange Russian gang and have their body parts implanted in needy people who are passengers on said train.

However, the film fails on many levels. The bottom line is the film is not very compelling. It is purely plot-centered and no character development. Who are the athletes? What do they care about?

Certainly, in the horror genre, one can make the argument that who really cares about the characters, but it would have been nice to have a little background on them.

Also with horror, suspension of disbelief is mandatory, and I can almost buy the villains legitimately doing the surgical transplants for money (one bad guy claim that they are torturing the athletes to help save people is silly), but why they rape and torture the athletes before removing their body parts is never explained.

The film has an incredible amount of plot holes- why is the wrestling team male and female? Why do they perform the transplants on a train? How can an eye transplant recipient need no recovery time before he can inexplicably walk around with perfect eyes? The list goes on and on.

I will give props to the torture scenes, which are cringe-worthy in their gross-out aspect. I didn’t think Thora Birch was successful as the lead actress of the film- a shame since she had so much career promise in American Beauty in 1999.

Train (2008) is a pale retread of the Hostel franchise, but nowhere near as interesting.



Director-James Ponsoldt

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul

Scott’s Review #139


Reviewed July 28, 2014

Grade: B

Smashed is an independent film made in 2012, clearly as a showcase for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who impressed me enormously as an actress.

She gives a fantastic portrayal of a twenty-something elementary school teacher who is an alcoholic. Known for either crappy or supporting roles (or both) in bombs like The Thing and Live Free or Die Hard, Winstead certainly comes into her own with her performance and is the main reason to see this.

I am always amazed when an actor who heretofore has not been given great material that allows them to shine, finally goes indie, back to their roots, and takes a risk.

Aaron Paul plays her husband, also an alcoholic. They both love music and partying. When she decides to sober up, conflict emerges in their marriage.

Despite the subject matter of alcoholism, the film is not a downer it borders on romantic comedy with drama thrown in, and it is not depressing.

My one criticism would be the side effects of alcoholism are glossed over. There is not much grittiness in the film-she simply becomes an alcoholic, struggles a bit, and recovers, almost television movie-like.

The true, horrific battles are not shown.

Octavia Spencer and Megan Mullally appear in small roles.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Gun Hill Road-2011

Gun Hill Road-2011

Director-Rashaad Ernesto Green

Starring-Esai Morales, Harmony Santana

Scott’s Review #138


Reviewed July 27, 2014

Grade: A-

Gun Hill Road is a very small, independent film set in the Bronx, New York, hence the title, which is a famous street there.

It tells the story of a Hispanic family, the father, Enrique, (wonderfully played by Esai Morales) being recently released from prison and adjusting to clean living.

His wife Angela has moved on emotionally and physically, and his teenage son Michael (Harmony Santana) is going through a sexual identity crisis and defines himself as a female. Each of the three characters is sympathetic and motivation well understood.

The most interesting facet of the film is the father/son relationship as Enrique must eventually come to terms with Michael’s sexuality and gender definition, which is not portrayed as easy in the Latino community.

There is a rawness and realness to this film.

Gun Hill Road is a dysfunctional family drama, character-driven, sometimes difficult to watch, and quite captivating, though the ending slightly disappointed, as events were left open-ended.

Santana was nominated for the 2012 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female.

I only wish this film had received wider recognition and acclaim, as it’s a marvel.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Harmony Santana

Rust and Bone-2012

Rust and Bone-2012

Director-Jacques Audiard

Starring-Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts

Scott’s Review #137


Reviewed July 26, 2014

Grade: B+

Rust and Bone is a French foreign language film that tells the difficult love story of a successful, cultured, whale trainer (Stephanie), seriously injured in an accident, and left without legs, who has an unlikely romance with an unemployed former boxer (Ali), who leads a troubled life providing for his young son.

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts give outstanding performances as the two leads. Their powerhouse acting is simply the main reason to watch this film. They are amazingly convincing and Cotillard’s performance alone is astonishing. Cotillard, who has already won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose, is one of the best younger actresses around, and Schoenaerts showed great promise in 2011’s Bullhead.

The film is character-driven as both lead difficult, challenge-filled existences- Ali attempting to return to boxing and Stephanie attempting to cope with life after losing limbs. Together they slowly bond and a love story blossoms. Slow-paced, realistic, and complex, the relationship between the two is at the heart of the film.

The one negative I found with this film is how the story direction meanders to several different plots, some even unnecessary to the main story, so much so that it becomes unclear what the main story is supposed to be and resulting in an uneven viewing experience. Still, beyond that flaw, the film is well worth the price of admission for the superb acting and wonderful love story told.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film



Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem

Scott’s Review #136


Reviewed July 26, 2014

Grade: B+

Skyfall is the latest (23rd!) installment in the decades-long running James Bond franchise (1962- Dr. No) and this one receives major kudos from me.

When one looks back upon all of the Bond films, they have had to adjust to keep up with the times and Skyfall does this very successfully.

In addition, Skyfall brings a good, old-fashioned, compelling story to the table.

An attack on MI6 is initiated by a former agent, Raoul Silva, beautifully portrayed by Javier Bardem, who has a personal vendetta against M, played by Judi Dench. Bardem gives a complex, powerful representation of the villain and is not overly cartoonish.

He appears crazy!

James Bond, of course, must come to the rescue and save the day. The story finally gives M. a chance to shine as the main plot revolves around her. The relationship between M. and Raoul is interesting and layered with history, which makes for a compelling story.

Standard with Bond films, exotic locales are used- this time we get Shanghai, London, Scotland, and Macau. James Bond’s past is also explored- He grew up in Scotland? The Bond family estate is a major backdrop for the action.

The reintroduction of two famous Bond characters- Moneypenny and Q is like a breath of fresh air added to the franchise, although I was not crazy about the casting choice of Q.  Also, one minor flaw with this film is there is no clear “Bond girl” to root for.

Skyfall provides a successful return to its Bond roots and will hopefully allow the Bond franchise to continue for many films to come.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Skyfall” (won), Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography

The Intouchables-2011

The Intouchables-2011

Director-Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano

Starring-Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy

Scott’s Review #135


Reviewed July 26, 2014

Grade: C

The Intouchables is a French comedy-drama that tells the story of a wealthy, intelligent quadriplegic man named Philippe, who hires a poor, angry black man, named Driss, who is uninterested in the position, as his caregiver.

The film is a story of their bond and friendship and is a buddy movie. What starts as simply an employer/employee relationship turns into something much deeper.

The Intouchables received rave reviews and was a huge hit in France, but, for me, it disappointed me, and I am not getting the love for this movie.

I found the message and theme of the story dated- yet another film about a wealthy sophisticated white man taking a working-class, volatile black man under his wing and the black man helping him achieve some sort of self-fulfillment.

The Blind Side and Driving Miss Daisy have done this before along with countless other films.

Yes, they become close friends, but the stereotypical racial dynamic is certainly prevalent. How many more times must this dynamic show in modern film?

This is not to say that the film is poorly made. It is not. The relationship between the two men and the mixtures of each of their respective cultures is charming and, at times, heartwarming. The way that Driss helps Philippe garner courage to meet a woman he has been having a letter-writing relationship with is nice.

The views of Paris are lovely and plentiful.

But, overall The Intouchables comes across as a stereotypical, safe, predictable film.



Director-Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Starring-Montrail “Money” Brown

Scott’s Review #134


Reviewed July 25, 2014

Grade: B

Undefeated is an emotional documentary, a true story of a high school football coach brought into a struggling, poor, suburban Memphis area high school and leading the team to a championship title.

The story of the coach taking various students under his wing, father figure style, and helping them succeed in, not only football but scholastics as well is inspiring and heartwarming. The coach’s passion really shines through to the viewer in this story.

As wonderful a story as it is, I felt slightly let down by it is as, yet again, the slant on the story is of an affluent white family swooping into a poor black neighborhood and saving the black kids with their mighty influence.

Why can’t we see a film that is the reverse?

In the 21st century, this is becoming slightly offensive and one-sided. It is The Blind Side with real people! With that rant made, the documentary is pretty awe-inspiring and the coach is portrayed as a fantastic, truly caring human being. I laughed, cried, and rooted for the struggling football team to victory.

The portion on what has since happened to the football players is interesting to see.

Undefeated won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary-Feature (won)



Director-Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Starring-Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard

Scott’s Review #133


Reviewed July 24, 2014 

Grade: B

Lovelace is an account of famous 1970’s porn star, Linda Lovelace, and her rise to stardom and inevitable fall from the spotlight, difficult family life, abusive relationships, and her attempt to escape the porn world for good.

The film certainly portrays the story from Lovelace’s point and view and based on her tell-all autobiography, and spins her in a very sympathetic way. Whether all of her abuse and struggles that Lovelace claimed are to be believed is up to the viewer.

Lovelace, the film, comes across as similar to Boogie Nights- even the 1970’s soundtrack is eerily alike, but clearly inferior to that masterpiece.

The only character whose past is fully delved into is Linda Lovelace and she is the sole focal point; the others are simply an extension of her character. One major issue I found with the film is the casting of Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace.

Seyfried does not have the plain Jane or girl next door characteristics that the actual Lovelace had. She comes across as rather soft and gentle, much too much for this particular role.

Conversely, the casting of Sharon Stone and Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as each is dynamic in their respective roles. Stone in particular should have received much more acclaim than she did for her role. As Lovelace’s mother, she is gritty, steely, and unsympathetic.

The film contains a who’s who of Hollywood names involved in small roles.

Another issue is the film seems like a made for television movie and considering the subject matter is the porn industry, it seems awfully watered down and not harsh enough.

Lovelace is entertaining enough to keep one’s interest but is not riveting or in-depth enough to be a major success.



Director-Hany Abu-Assad

Starring-Adam Bakri, Eyad Hourani

Scott’s Review #132


Reviewed July 24, 2014

Grade: B

Omar is a 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee.

Omar tells the story of a young Palestinian man living in the political unrest of Israel, personally conflicted, and a freedom fighter, sympathetic to the other side. He is in love with a young girl whose brother is a leader in the freedom fight and their romance eventually becomes a love triangle.

Once Omar is arrested on suspicion of murdering a soldier, a series of events take place that makes the audience wonder what side of the fence he really is on and who his allegiance lies with.

The film starts slowly and way too much emphasis is placed on the romantic story- seemingly endless scenes of Omar and Nadia professing their love and passing notes to each other.

In fact, the film seems to know not what it wants to be a political thriller or a romance film.  Approximately, 30 minutes into the film it really kicks into high gear as the arrest and the political cat and mouse aspects come to the forefront.

The ending of the film is unexpected and rather excellent.

At times, though, the story is a bit unrealistic and implausible, especially in some of the prison scenes- Would a Palestinian traitor really be given a second chance and not killed instantly? Would the prisoner and interrogator really become friends?

Certain aspects of the film seemed plot-driven and too convenient to be realistic, but I was enraptured with the story overall, minus the romance, which seemed overextended and sappy.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

The Loneliest Planet-2011

The Loneliest Planet-2011

Director-Julia Loktev

Starring-Hani Furstenberg, Gael Garcia Bernal

Scott’s Review #131


Reviewed July 24, 2014

Grade: B-

The Loneliest Planet is an independent film that contains incredibly gorgeous cinematography of the Georgian landscape (geographically, outside of Russia), where the entire movie is set.

The story centers around a young couple, Alex and Nica, on a backpacking excursion through the mountains, whose relationship is tested along the way, mainly because of the existence of their camping guide, a man who comes between them as the plot slowly unfolds and a romantic triangle begins to emerge.

All three characters are complex, likable at times, annoying at other times, so that is a satisfying part of the film. The dynamic between the three individuals is interesting when any action takes place, which leads me to my major gripe with The Loneliest Planet.

The huge negative is that the story moves at a painfully slow pace, and while I personally do not mind slow-moving films, with the extremely long sequences of simply watching the three characters trek across the countryside with backpacks and absolutely no dialogue, nothing happens!

When the story does intermittently develop, the audience empathizes with each of the characters. The ending is abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying.

As a film with lavish footage of picturesque landscaping of land few are fortunate enough to see, I’d give this film a solid A, but for the compelling storytelling, the film is lackluster as a whole.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Julia Loktev



Director John Waters

Starring Ricki Lake, Divine

Scott’s Review #130


Reviewed July 23, 2014

Grade: B+

Hairspray (1988) is one of director John Water’s later and much more mainstream comedies.

Influencing the Broadway musical of the same name that was created years later and inspiring a successful remake in 2007, the film is a wonderful watch one late at night accompanied by spirits.

It is fun, fun, fun.

The film tells the story of a cute, yet insecure, overweight teenager named Tracy Turnblad, wonderfully portrayed by Rikki Lake. Tracy lives in Baltimore in the racially conflicted 1960s, and she battles to appear on a local talent show.

With Waters directing, one might expect comedic raunchiness, but Hairspray is quite tame. It is the only Waters film to be rated PG, the others are rated X.

Not to be outdone, however, Hairspray does contain its share of light naughtiness.

The film itself, while campy and over the top, is important since it does its best to break down racial barriers, including interracial relationships, and sends an important message.

Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton judge people for who they are, not on race, income, or anything else.

Those characters in Hairspray who are written as racist or less than welcoming to interracial cohabitation (again the film is set in the early 1960s) look like buffoons and not with the progressive social times.

The supporting cast is high caliber- Divine and Jerry Stiller are perfectly cast as Tracy’s open-minded yet cautious and concerned parents.

Famous musicians appear in cameos- most notable are Debbie Harry, Ric Ocasek, and Sonny Bono in small but zesty roles.

The musical dance numbers are plentiful and perfectly fit the time of the film.

Hairspray (1988) is entertaining, relevant, and free with a powerful message mixed in with the entertainment.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-John Waters, Best Female Lead-Ricki Lake, Best Supporting Male-Divine, Best Supporting Female-Debbie Harry, Best Screenplay

The Strange One-1957

The Strange One-1957

Director Jack Garfein

Starring Ben Gazzara, Pat Hingle

Scott’s Review #129


Reviewed July 23, 2014

Grade: B

The Strange One is a very strange (no pun intended) obscure psychological drama from 1957 starring a very young Ben Gazzara and George Peppard.

The setting is a military academy where bullying and intimidation run rampant between the young cadets and some of the staff.

The sadistic lead bully is Gazzara who is mesmerizing to watch in his low-key yet frightening portrayal as a macho guy who gets what he wants and decides to destroy his victims.

The film reminds me of a long Twilight Zone episode as it feels like a television thriller but is effective as a shot in black and white.

Gazzara is the standout in the cast as a charming, sadistic, bully in a military academy who terrorizes and manipulates anyone in his path, though a major flaw is there is no explanation for his behavior- How did he become so terrorizing? Was he abused? What is his motivation?

In a sense, however, this makes it all the more fascinating.

There are some homoerotic scenes, which is surprising to find in films in 1957 when the Production Code was so strict.

The Strange One is an interesting little film.

The Purge-2013

The Purge-2013

Director-James DeMonaco

Starring-Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey

Scott’s Review #128


Reviewed July 23, 2014

Grade: A-

On paper, the premise of the film The Purge is very intriguing. It immediately caught my attention and I was compelled to see it.

Set shortly, the government, fed up with the overwhelming crime and prison overcrowding, decides to initiate a once-a-year purge, whereupon, anything goes.

It’s like Christmas for the criminals and insane.

All emergency and police will shut down on this night and citizens are left to their own devices as a way to purge the violent and aggressive instincts from human systems. An affluent family, led by a security systems genius (Ethan Hawke), nestles in their lavish home.

Of course, events go horribly awry and chaos ensues.

The film contains suspense, thrills, frights, and a bit of humor and contains a question of class distinction and raises societal questions- Why are the wealthy better off than the poor? Do they deserve to be?

I enjoyed the setting of the wealthy, gated Los Angeles community and the eerily Stepford wife-like atmosphere of the neighborhood where housewives delivered casseroles and other dishes to each other for the big night. Throughout this sunny environment, the viewer could sense a too-good-to-be-true cheerfulness and the darkness to follow anticipated as sunset emerged.

I found this film to be unpredictable and the edge of your seat and the film delved into a home invasion thriller, which was effective. I could not predict what might happen next and that is incredibly entertaining.

I am unsure if some of the humor in the film was intentional or not- some of the kills were over the top and contained one-liners, but The Purge is a crisp, fun, summer popcorn horror film.

Peeping Tom-1960

Peeping Tom-1960

Director Michael Powell

Starring Nigel Davenport

Top 100 Films #60     Top 20 Horror Films #16

Scott’s Review #127


Reviewed July 22, 2014

Grade: A

Peeping Tom is a brilliant horror film from 1960 directed by Michael Powell.

It is a British film and was released the same year as Psycho and they sort of resemble each other as both have a more character-driven villain than many other contemporary horror films.

Both feature male killers with a sympathetic (to them) female.

Set in London, it tells the story of an assistant cameraman who kills his victims by using a camera with a spike on the end of it as he is videotaping the fear in their eyes, which he later plays back for his own psychological needs.

The killer has emotionally damaged himself and the film explores this aspect in depth; his father tormented him as a child with weird, traumatic experiments used on the boy for research.

I love this aspect of the film in contrast to most films of the genre, where the killer typically has no sympathetic aspects and whose motivations are usually explored minimally.

The audience has sympathy for this killer, which, strangely, is absurd and shocking.

Way ahead of its time, viewers were initially turned off by the film at the time of release, and director Michael Powell’s (ironically playing the terrible father in videotape scenes) career was ruined.

Anna Massey (later to appear in the Hitchcock masterpiece Frenzy) plays the sweet-natured, girl next door who develops a crush on the killer. Her blind and boozy mother is a fascinating character as she suspects and strangely bonds with the killer.

The film has an erotic and voyeuristic quality that has been unmatched in horror.

Peeping Tom (1960) is now considered a masterpiece and I certainly agree with that assessment. It is one of the most interesting and unique horror films ever made.

Anna Karenina-2012

Anna Karenina-2012

Director-Joe Wright

Starring-Keira Knightley, Jude Law

Scott’s Review #126


Reviewed July 22, 2014

Grade: B+

Anna Karenina is the film adaptation of the classic Leo Tolstoy novel. Shamefully, having not read the novel, but being familiar with the story I was not sure how successful the transition from novel to film would be. The transition proved to be quite successful, as it would turn out.

Being a fan of director Joe Wright, who did wonderful work on his direction of Atonement in 2007, he is a master of costumed period pieces and Anna Karenina is no different in that regard.

It is vastly different, however, in the way it is shot- the film is non-traditional as it is shot with jarring, quick camera movements interspersed with musical numbers.

It resembles Moulin Rouge in this style and is certainly not for everyone’s tastes. I enjoyed this technique and, combined with the wonderful art direction/costumes, made for modern, unique storytelling.

Keira Knightley was adequate as Anna, but nothing special. I have to wonder if she was cast simply because she is typically the lead in Joe Wright films.

It is a tragedy, of course- a tale of a lonely love-torn young woman conflicted between two high-class men. In fact, on a broader scale, it is a story of the romantic entanglements of the high-class world and their trials and tribulations, centering on Anna.

The look of the film is what impressed me most, more than the story did.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won)

Friday the 13th: Part 4: The Final Chapter-1984

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter-1984

Director Joseph Zito

Starring Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman

Scott’s Review #125


Reviewed July 21, 2014

Grade: B

Being the 4th chapter in the popular Friday the 13th saga, and the shameless marketing of this installment as being the final chapter, obviously a fib since the ending of the film sets up another sequel, I have a soft spot for this Friday the 13th sequel.

If I am being honest, with each viewing I realize more and more it’s not nearly as good as the first three.

From a storyline and technical perspective, it is a crappy movie.

It now seems incredibly dated and of its time- the acting is mediocre at best but fans of the franchise will love it.

It’s predictable, much like eating at McDonald’s, you know exactly what you will get and that is fine for a certain audience.

A gathering of horny, pot, and beer-induced teens flock to Camp Crystal Lake for a weekend of revelry. Apparently not knowing, or caring, that dozens of other teens have been slaughtered there before, they begin their partying.

For horror fans, there is comfort in this film. We know the youths will be killed- we just don’t know how or when. That’s the fun and beauty of it.

Will someone be decapitated? Lose a limb? Will the murder weapon be an ax or a machete? Who will be the last remaining victim?

The introduction of the twins is a nice touch and a very young Crispin Glover appears.

The addition of Corey Feldman to this one adds child feistiness. Otherwise, it’s pretty formulaic, and not much separates it from any of the others. Fans of the franchise will love Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), all others stay away.

The Central Park Five- 2012

The Central Park Five-2012

Director-Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

Starring-Antron McCray

Scott’s Review #124


Reviewed July 21, 2014

Grade: B+

The Central Park Five is a very interesting documentary surrounding the infamous 1989 events of the Central Park jogger, who was raped, beaten, and left for dead one night.

I remember the case well but was too young to know the details and circumstances involved. If one is to believe the documentary presented, then one is to be outraged and disgusted by police, detectives, and attorneys who railroaded and influenced the youths found guilty in this case because they assumed they were guilty…..youths who were later found to be innocent after years wasting away in prison.

It saddens me how the media at the time turned the case into a witch hunt and sensationalized the story. What is sadder still is this happens today.

I like documentaries that present both sides, but according to the film, no attorneys, detectives, or police would comment, so I will accept this as truth. After the youths were exonerated, no apology was ever issued.

It is sad day when detectives can pressure and threaten someone into a confession. Thank goodness, in modern times, DNA evidence has come to the falsely accused rescue.

Certainly, as with anything, there are two sides to every story, but one can’t help but wonder if the police did no wrongdoing why not comment on the events?

The Central Park Five is a shockingly truthful, informative documentary.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary Feature

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Director Norman Jewison

Starring Topol, Norma Crane

Top 100 Films #91

Scott’s Review #123


Reviewed July 21, 2014

Grade: A

Fiddler on the Roof is a fantastic musical from 1971 based on the popular stage version. It tells the story of a Russian Jewish family living in conflicted times before and during the Russian revolution.

The film has everything and is very well made, truly doing justice to the stage version. It contains dancing, drinking, festive parties, love, and sing-alongs. It also contains politics, hardships, and tragedy.

Led by the patriarch of the family, Teyve, played fantastically by Topol, he explains (often narrating directly to the audience, which is a goldmine in style) life in his Russian village with five daughters and no sons and an overbearing wife. They are a poor family and struggle to make ends meet.

They go through life with the help of song and dance and deal with such situations as romance- focusing mostly on the three oldest girls, and the political upheaval that surrounds their country.

It is tough for a film version of a famous musical to be top-notch and even compare to the stage version, but the film is wonderful- “Tradition”, “Matchmaker”, and “If I Were a Rich Man” immediately stick in the viewer’s head.

The film has a rich, earthy feel to it, with lots of brown and grey colors, and Russian history is explored giving it complexity and an educational quality instead of only a simple, feel-good experience. To put it simply- the story is layered and not one-note.

Politics, progressive thinking versus conservatism, and the generation gap are explored and the characters learn and adapt to a changing world, especially the parents.

One interesting aspect is the progressive onset of the Russian revolution as gradually it drew closer.

Fiddler on the Roof is quite lengthy (179 minutes), but does not seem that long. This film (and play) is a marvel.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Norman Jewison, Best Actor-Chaim Topol, Best Supporting Actor-Leonard Frey, Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (won)

Quartet- 2012


Director-Dustin Hoffman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay

Scott’s Review #122


Reviewed July 20, 2014

Grade: B+

Quartet is a fantastic little British film, directed by Dustin Hoffman, and starring the always wonderful Maggie Smith, whom one might argue could be watched in anything. I certainly could.

Smith stars as a stubborn retired opera singer who begrudgingly settles in at Beecham House, a luxurious senior retirement home for former musicians in their final years. There she reunites with colleagues from years past who attempt to reunite for a concert for the public in order to save the home from foreclosure.

The cast of senior citizens in Quartet is quite likable in one of the few smart films handling aging gracefully. There is comedy and drama mixed in as the intelligent characters are treated as such in their final years with a hint of soap opera to the film as some of them were intimate with others in years past and the current hijinks are hysterical.

The subject of aging is treated with respect and dignity and not played for laughs, which is one aspect of the film that I adored.

A talent-filled cast of British theater actors, along with some real-life musicians make this film a treat.

It is terrific to see Pauline Collins (Upstairs/Downstairs) in a large role.

World War Z-2013

World War Z-2013

Director-Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #121


Reviewed July 20, 2014

Grade: B

World War Z is the type of film that is a summer hit and will most likely be forgotten over a couple of years. It is a slightly above average, enjoyable action/ zombie thriller, but really not much more.

It stars Brad Pitt as a former United Nations investigator called in to save the world from a zombie pandemic. The crisis is spreading throughout major cities of the world simultaneously.

The film sees Pitt traversing the globe in an attempt to find a cure for the epidemic before it is too late and the zombies make the world extinct of humans. The zombies are super zombies in that they can fly and move at lightning speed making them ultra-dangerous.

The story is completely implausible and plot-driven, but somehow it doesn’t matter and it works on some level. My theory for this success is that the film is fast-paced and the action starts almost immediately and Brad Pitt is charismatic in the film.

He is clearly the star and all the action centers around him.

The film contains some very exciting, tense scenes including a plane crash sequence and a chase around a medical lab. World War Z is clearly a popcorn film, meant to be sat back and enjoyed and not overanalyzed or taken too seriously.

It is a perfect summer hit.