Director-Harold Becker

Starring-Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman

Scott’s Review #765

Reviewed May 29, 2018

Grade: B+

Malice (1993) is only one of a slew of husband and wife themed thrillers to emerge from the early 1990’s- Unlawful Entry (1992), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and Deceived (1991) are other similar films that made lots of money during this time period. This genre of slick filmmaking was popular as the new decade emerged and more complex story-telling graced the screens.

The myriad of twists and turns are both a positive and a negative to this film.  Certainly keeping the audience guessing and on pins and needles is a key success, eliciting a fun sort of tone, as well as the tremendous star power of the casting (George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft are big-time heavies).  Then again a few of the plot points become red herrings and thereby meaningless and the overall plots, and endless subplots, become way too complex than they need to be.

In a plot that is dizzying to explain, Associate Dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) and wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman) are embarking on a life together in Massachusetts as they purchase a grand Victorian house and plan to begin a family.

As a serial killer stalks the campus where Andy works and implausibly resulting in him being the prime suspect, Tracy experiences health turmoil and is operated on by cocky yet brilliant Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin). When dire events occur the plot escalates and the motivations of the main characters are questioned as truths and deceptions unravel.

When I first saw Malice in 1993 (in fact I saw it twice the same year), I adored the multitude of plot points and devices. The film had the same effect as a speeding roller coaster ride- with endless twists and story revelations.  And to be fair the film holds up pretty well, never seeming dated or of its time like many mainstream films. The two startling reveals- Tracy and Jed being in cahoots and the mysterious eye witness living next door really being blind, are clever bits of writing that immerse the audience on many levels.

The acting is top-notch- Kidman plays good and evil oh so well and Bancroft’s cameo as Tracy’s mother is Oscar worthy. The chemistry between Pullman, Kidman, and Baldwin, and Pullman’s “nice guy” to Baldwin’s “jerk” work quite well as the overlapping relationships play out. Small yet meaningful roles by Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Gallagher, and Gwyneth Paltrow add layers to the wonderful casting.

And who can forget the often parodied scene where arrogant Dr. Jed launches into a monologue where he claims to be infallible and that he literally is god. This scene received tons of publicity and is arguably the defining moment of the film.

However, Malice’s strengths also sometimes become its weaknesses. As events go along the plot becomes too confusing. The school serial killer plot soon becomes a red herring as we realize it has little to do with the central plot- the Tracy/Jed alliance- except only to raise parenting questions. Therefore the big reveal of who the killer becomes for naught. It’s the creepy janitor named Earl (Tobin Bell) hardly a surprise.

Furthermore, after the film ends and the viewer plays events back to make them add up, he or she will likely give up in frustration.

All in all Malice (1993) is an above-average entry in a popular genre- who doesn’t like a good, solid thriller? With a talented cast and enough good medical thrills to balance with a college campus whodunit, there is plenty to please everyone who views this film.  Yes, some of the writing is preposterous and tough to believe, but Malice is a movie meant to escape with, sit back and enjoy.

A Ghost Story-2017

A Ghost Story-2017

Director-David Lowery

Starring-Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

Scott’s Review #764

Reviewed May 27, 2018

Grade: A-

Marvelous is it to support independent film and I get most of my selections via the annual independent spirit award nominations announced every November.

Rich, creative films that ordinarily would be overlooked are recognized and sometimes treasured instead of forgotten entirely.

A Ghost Story (2017) is a small film fortunate to land big-name stars undoubtedly increasing its audience- I am unsure if this film even played in theaters anywhere.

Nonetheless, the film is a thought-provoking experience that left me both perplexed and fascinated but with the knowledge that I had seen something of worth. I may not have completely understood it, but I also adored it.

Writer and director David Lowery must be in good with Hollywood A-listers Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who star in A Ghost Story. The pair also appeared in Lowery’s first film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) which received critical acclaim.

Somewhere outside of Dallas, Texas, a young married couple is known as “C” (Affleck) and “M” (Mara) moves into a small house. “C” is a musician with an unusual fondness for the small house that the couple rents.

While “M” desires to leave the house “C” wishes to stay, somehow drawn to it. After “C” is tragically killed in a car accident his spirit returns unable to let go of either his wife or his home eventually stuck in time to watch generations come and go.

A Ghost Story is a cerebral experience as we watch the events from the perspective of “C”. Adding an eerie quality is that “C” is in the form of a ghost- shrouded in a plain white bed sheet with dark circles for the eyes. While “C” does not speak we experience his perceptions and feelings through what he sees.

At first, following “M” around as she mourns his loss, eventually, she moves on and “C” is forced to watch others live in the house. Pitifully, he awaits the return of “M” as hundreds of years go by.

Lowery is so good at creating an ominous and haunting tone mostly through his classical musical score. The film is wonderfully original.

The audience feels the loss and loneliness of both “C” and “M”, but there is a scary quality too. Not in the horror genre way, but rather we do not know what will happen next. When “M” brings a man home “C” is furious and knocks books to the ground and turns the lights on and off. Later, a new family is terrorized when an unhappy “C” breaks all of their dishes in a fit of rage.

A scene that gave me the creeps is when “C”, in spirit form, gazes out the window of his house and notices another ghost looking out the window of the house next door. This ghost looks exactly like him except is female- we know this because her sheet has a flower pattern.

They can communicate without speaking and “C” learns that she has been waiting for someone to come home to her, but it’s been so long that she can’t remember who it is. This scene is sad and filled with despondence.

A forewarning is that the pacing of the film is very slow- perhaps too slow for most. After “M’s” landlord brings her a pie we watch her devour the pie in a very long five-minute scene after which she vomits the contents up.

Despite long this scene is powerful and important as the entire time we view her depression and longing for “C” to return absorbing some little comfort from the pie.

A Ghost Story reaches its creative climax towards the end as the film sort of comes full circle and we begin to understand the circumstances. A dynamic sequence of the passage of time occurs showing the demolition of the house and the development that becomes a thriving city over time. Depressed and desolate “C” jumps off of a high rise.

I was mystified, however, by the final scene and was unable to completely make A Ghost Story (2017) add up (was there a second ghost or a rebirth of “C”?), but that is also part of the intrigue of the film.

Regardless, the film is a worthy watch if only for a story that is cerebral and makes one think. Its central themes of loneliness and loss are depressing, but also fascinating concerning the good story that Lowery creates.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: John Cassavetes Award



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



Director-Andrew Neel

Starring-Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas

Scott’s Review #762

Reviewed May 23, 2018

Grade: D

Goat (2016) is a film that made me angry throughout the entire duration of its one hour and forty minutes and that I therefore deride.

Incorporating outrageous and unnecessary scenes for no other reason than to offend, the film fails to achieve either a lesson learned or any major point.

I do understand what the filmmakers were going for by portraying fraternities as bad and their member’s monsters, but Goat never provided logic, much character development, or any good intentions.

I was left disturbed by what I had just seen.

College student Brad Land (Ben Schnetzer) is viciously attacked by two peers following a party one summer night. As the police search for the assailants, Brad begins the fall semester at a college also attended by his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas).

There he decides to pledge a fraternity during “Hell week”, enduring one humiliation and degradation after another. When a fellow pledge dies following the fraternity’s abuse, someone rats the fraternity out with Brad as the likely suspect.

Brad is an interesting study. Intended to be the protagonist of the film, he makes his first mistake by giving ominous-looking strangers a lift home. At this point, we do feel some sympathy for the character and we should root for him throughout the film, but somehow I didn’t.

As nasty as the fraternity brothers are it is not until nearly the end that Brad ever stands up to any of them and he oddly refuses to point the finger at his assailant despite being right in the police lineup.

Huh? I found the character all over the place and never knew his motivations.

Most of the other characters (including the victimized pledges) have little rooting value and are mostly one-dimensional “frat boys” written poorly.

The writers of the script do their best to make fraternity brothers look awful- they beat, berate, humiliate, and degrade not only the pledges, but they barely treat females or animals any better.

This was quite disturbing to witness- especially as there was little point. And the humiliation scenes went on and on and on and on- as if watching the same scene over again.

Ludicrous scenes of the guys drinking, acting belligerent, using anti LGBT slurs, and taunting each other commenced almost from the get-go.

A ridiculous cameo by James Franco went nowhere and made little sense other than his character is a former frat boy the current members looked up to. If I had a nickel for every “bro”, “dude”, or “man” that was used in the film to show machismo I’d be a rich man.

In the final segment, the film does make a feeble effort at humanizing Brett, who inexplicably is hot and cold towards his brother all along (this is never explained).

They also write a few of the frat boys as feeling sorry for the sudden heart attack suffered by one of the pledges, but this only fueled me with rage as unknown was whether they were genuine or wanted to save their asses (they caused his death!). My vote goes for the latter.

The only prop that I will give to Goat is that a middling glossy Hollywood affair it is not and goes for the jugular in its intensity and brutality.

But the point I thought the film was trying to make (that of a thought-provoking look at the problem of fraternities) only made me hate fraternities and develop a negative view towards them.

From the despicable scenes where the frat feeds a poor goat chocolate laxatives and forces a blindfolded pledge to eat what’s thought to be excrement, to the concussion they give a pledge before he succumbs to a heart attack, the film is not an easy watch.

Too many scenes felt overly hammered home and redundant and the conclusion was completely unsatisfying. We were left with Brett and Brad gazing out at the spot where Brad was attacked and this scene did nothing to wrap up the film.

Almost from the onset I squirmed uncomfortably during Goat (2016) and never felt the least bit connected to the film nor any of the characters.

Perhaps with more development and more of a purpose Goat might have been a success or appreciated more, but the film was a complete fail for me.

The Blair Witch Project-1999

The Blair Witch Project-1999

Director-Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring-Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams

Scott’s Review #761

Reviewed May 22, 2018

Grade: A

When a horror film “scares the viewer to death” then that film has superseded what it has intended to do since horror films are really a dime a dozen these days.

Fondly remembering sitting in a crowded and very dark movie theater to see The Blair Witch Project (1999), I was left both mesmerized and clutching my seat for dear life. This film had an enormous impact on me.

The film wisely uses hand-held cameras (black and white 16mm film) and Hi-8 video, manipulating the audience into using their imaginations leading to terrifying results making the film one of the scariest horror films of the 1990s. Sometimes what you don’t see is much more frightening than what is seen on screen.

In 1994 three college-aged amateur filmmakers (Heather, Michael, and Joshua) decide to hike to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a legend known as the “Blair Witch”.  The witch is reportedly responsible for mysterious deaths and disappearances over the past two hundred years. The interview, wander, and joke around with each other as a sense of dread begins to develop.

According to the film, the trio themselves disappear, but a year later their equipment is uncovered fully intact with the film footage able to be viewed. The 1999 film is professed to be the footage left behind by the group. Throughout the film we watch the individuals conduct interviews with the townspeople and eventually get lost in the woods at nightfall, forced to stay the night as a mysterious entity terrorizes them. Numerous creepy noises and rustlings scare the group.

In retrospect, with more insight and knowledge about the film, it may be easy for critics to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as either a hoax or a complete manipulation, but in 1999 audiences flocked to the theaters in droves as word of mouth spread. In fact, I myself saw the film twice on the big screen and was frightened equally with each viewing. More importantly, with the onset of the reality television craze, the film was clever in capitalizing on this trend, so it is to be championed. Timing is everything!

In the film genre, The Blair Witch Project used to buzz and word of mouth to elicit interest before the film was even released- and then the craze began. The film was highly influential to subsequent releases that also chose to utilize camcorders as their method of storytelling- think 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield.

Additionally, The Blair Witch Project is similar in tone to older masterpieces such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead- independent releases made on a shoe-string budget that became enormously successful. As with these films, the camerawork was tremendously important in eliciting necessary realism.

What makes The Blair Witch Project enormously authentic is the tricks used not only on the audience but on the cast. Reportedly the film was almost entirely improvised including dialogue and situations that the characters faced. The actors began to feel as if events they were supposed to act were actually happening- their map disappeared and noises were created to frighten them. This clever approach to Method acting elicited the perfect responses from all involved- especially as they got colder and hungrier and more desperate.

My concern is how well 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will hold up as the year’s pass. Phenomenally effective and tremendously profitable at the time, dozens of imitations have arisen since the idea of the film was novel. So much so that it makes the original idea seem dated. One thing remains true- the film gave the horror genre a much-needed breath of fresh air and influenced many films to come.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature (Under $500,000) (won)

Girls Trip-2017

Girls Trip-2017

Director-Malcolm D. Lee

Starring-Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith

Scott’s Review #760

Reviewed May 18, 2018

Grade: D-

I am truly baffled by some of the positive reviews of the film Girls Trip (2017), not only by viewers but respected critics.

Attempts to make females as raunchy as the guys in R-rated comedies never works in my opinion (good writing does!) and the result is a largely unfunny, crude, piece of drivel.

The fact that the film which goes for a “female empowerment” theme is directed by a man is as much disappointing as disrespectful, especially given the fact that the writers are female- they couldn’t find a black female director?

At the risk of giving a testimonial, I am fully aware of the importance of creating good female roles in cinema- especially good female black roles.

Unfortunately, the roles in Girls Trip do nothing to further the cause as tried and true, standardized parts commence with nary a well-written character to be found.

In modern films look to Black Panther (2018) or Hidden Figures (2016) for examples of positive black female role models- they do exist!.

The weak plot involves four forty-something lifelong friends who regroup for a reunion after years apart. Famous lifestyle guru Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) decides to take her “Flossy Posse” to a music festival in New Orleans where they will spend the weekend partying like it’s the 1990’s once again.

Ryan is married to a man who cheats on her, Sasha (Queen Latifah) runs a failing gossip site, Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a divorced, overbearing nurse, and slutty, aggressive Dina (Tiffany Haddish), who has just been fired from her job.

In predictable form- think 2009’s The Hangover or a multitude of other raunchy comedies since then, the girls get into trouble, drink too much, have sex, and partake in other hi-jinks throughout the weekend.

The central plot is Ryan’s potential investment deal with rigid and uptight Bethany (Lara Grice) and a wisecracking agent in tow. As events unfold a female nemesis of Ryan’s shows up to cause trouble and stir up drama, testing the group’s patience.

Girls Trip is a typical American comedy film (not a compliment!) that offers weak writing and instead promotes stereotypical stock characters.

Many similar comedies have come before it- many more will come after it. Since I disliked the film so much I decided to ask myself a few rhetorical questions as I observed the mess.

In films with a group of women, why is there always a slutty one (Dina)? Why is there always a mousy one (Lisa)? Why is there always a fat one (Sasha)? Why is it deemed funny to watch women pee or suffer bathroom issues?

The only positives to Girls Trip come in one humorous scene when Dina mixes absinthe into the girl’s drinks before a meeting causing them to hallucinate. As the girls begin to imagine themselves talking in deep baritone voices and Ryan imagines a waitress is her arch-enemy the hilarity briefly ensues.

A quick wrap-up speech by Ryan after the film does send a nice message about being yourself and staying true to your loved ones, but why do we have to suffer through two-plus hours of crap to get to the inspiration and point of the film is beyond me.

The success of Girls Trip (2017), which will inevitably produce a sequel leads me to believe that the masses prefer their films idiotic, redundant, and fraught with cheap, crude laughs.

The film’s intention seems to be to push the envelope- not to create great art- but just to make the film as crass as possible. This is presumably to prove that girls can be as nasty as boys, which the film succeeds at portraying.

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)



Director-Jonah Markowitz

Starring-Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe

Scott’s Review #758

Reviewed May 16, 2018

Grade: B+

By the mid-2000s independent LGBT films were coming fast and furious as the genre was still relatively new and ripe for the picking with good ideas.  With Shelter (2007) we have a sweet film that focuses on the new romance between two young men, one of whom is coming to terms with his own sexuality. The lead characters are not gay stereotypes and could easily pass for straight men, a characteristic impressive in LGBT film- and other mainstream films for that matter.

Rather than focusing on discrimination, the characters may face, or any obstacles from other characters (family and friends), the film wisely makes the story a character study and the demons one man wrestles with while “coming out”. The small film is written intelligently save for one supporting character plot-driven decision. Also, in the modern age, we are beginning to see a bevy of similarly themed films emerge from the LGBT community, and Shelter offers nothing we have not seen before.

Set in sunny southern California, our main protagonist is Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring artist in his early twenties. The ultimate “good guy” he is popular with friends and girls and frequently babysit his five-year-old nephew Cody while his sister parties and has one-night stands. When Zach meets his best friend’s older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), the pair fall in love as Zach wrestles with his sexuality and conflict with his plans. The sexual and family struggles of Zach are the main themes of the film.

Shelter (not sure I get the title’s meaning) is a solid slice of life story. Zach initially dates a pretty girl, Tori, who is blonde, wholesome, and a girl next door type. This is done intentionally to show that Tori is a girl any young straight man would have an interest in. We never see Zach show interest in any other men besides Shaun so the film leans towards a solid romantic drama once the fellas get together. Still, we see Zach’s internal struggles and accepting himself for who he is played out. Actor Wright and director Jonah Markowitz, capture this successfully.

Shaun, arguably second fiddle to Zach, is a character that I feel is very well written. Avoiding negative stereotypes, Shaun is handsome, masculine, and charismatic. Completely confident and exuding great poise, he is a character that any gay male should look up to. He is openly gay yet “one of the guys” as he should be. He immediately connects with Cody becoming a father or cool surrogate uncle figure for the lad. A quick concern of Zach’s sister Jeanne’s of having the boy around a gay man is trivialized in a quick form.

Another positive to the film is the multiple scenes showing Zach, Shaun, and Cody as a happy family and how normal this is. Examples of this are frolicking around the beach playing football or horseplay. A quiet dinner of barbeque steaks and red wine for the men and macaroni and cheese for Cody elicit images of a connected family unit despite some in society still poo-pooing this idea. The film presents the connectivity as normal.

A tiny flaw in the character of Jeanne shows her willingness (almost eagerness) to leave Cody (and her ailing father) behind when she decides to take off to Oregon with her brand new boyfriend. This point seems rushed and out of character. While a party girl with a crappy job in a grocery store Jeanne did exhibit heart and written as sympathetic and caring throughout the film. Surprising and unrealistic to me is that she would up and leave her life. A paltry excuse of “Oregon not allowing kids” was left unclear and unexplained.

Part coming of age story, part coming out story, Shelter (2007) is an example of the little film that could with an appreciation of independent cinema. The film tells a nice story of one man’s journey to self-discovery and the individuals he surrounds himself with.  With impressive California oceanfront and working-class principles as a backdrop, the film has a calming texture and weaves a solid experience for viewers to enjoy.

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)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a wonderful, magical film that will succeed in melting the hearts of anyone with even a tad of cynicism. The film is otherworldly (quite literally) and contains a message of acceptance and appreciation of other beings.

Mixing many humorous moments with tender drama and tears, the film becomes part fantasy, science-fiction, and humanistic story. The film still feels fresh and relevant today with a bevy of forever remembered scenes and references- a wonderful story of friendship.

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their faraway planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind. When ten-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd-pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm really shines through in this very personal story.

The film contains an overall innocence that is pure benevolence- E.T. teaches Elliott as much as Elliott teaches E.T. Who can ever forget the pair’s initial interaction as the use of Reese’s Pieces candy became a huge cultural phenomenon? The lovely quote of “E.T. phone home!” is still as poignant and teary-eyed as it was in 1982.

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd-looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the filmmakers were careful not to make him too frightening. Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time. From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this commonplace.

If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure have had two happy parents and a white picket fence. Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, like Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we buy the two as connected friends. The duo especially shines during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like. Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience superstardom throughout the 1980s and 1990s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five-year-old.

At its core and what makes E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creature’s desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus. In this way, only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations but lost out on the big prize to the epic Gandhi that year.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Effects Editing (won), Best Sound (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

The Breakfast Club-1985

The Breakfast Club-1985

Director-John Hughes

Starring-Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald

Scott’s Review #755

Reviewed May 8, 2018

Grade: A

The Breakfast Club (1985) is one of the most beloved films of the 1980s and perfectly captures being a teenager during this time. Containing both an innocence and authenticity rarely found in films targeted at younger audiences (and there were plenty in the 1980s), the film is timeless and holds up exceptionally well, still feeling fresh.

Director John Hughes avoids cliches and creates genuine truth in cinema. The theme song, “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” is nearly impossible to hear without associating it with this film.

The storyline is uncomplicated; five high school students (Bender, Claire, Andy, Brian, and Allison) of differing social classes gather one Saturday morning in the high school library for a day of detention. Each student appears to know the others, but only peripherally, having little in common. Assistant Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) assigns them to complete a thousand-word essay by the end of the day. The group engages in mischievous antics, squabble, and discusses their respective roles and troubles in life throughout the day.

The film looks and feels like a small independent feature rather than a big-budget (Universal Pictures) offering, which is of enormous praise. The cast is very small- only the aforementioned six principles and two minor characters.

The setting is almost entirely inside the walls of a suburban high school with only a few exterior shots to speak of. Mainly what succeeds is that the characters interact with rich dialogue, good texture, and underlying insecurities that make the screenplay bristle with genuine angst.

It is tough to pinpoint who the lead characters would be, but arguably Claire and Bender (Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson) are the pair expected to unite as a couple, as they do in the conclusion- this is predictable yet sweet. Unexpectedly, however, the film pairs Andy and Allison (Emilio Estevez and Allie Sheedy). Both couples are complete opposites, Claire and Bender even despising each other throughout most of the film, but realize their mutual attraction.

Careful not to weigh down the film with too much heavy drama, Hughes, who also wrote and produced the work, peppers in some comedic moments as well. Gleason is the easy foil as the sole authority figure, a bit too dedicated to his job of humiliating and disciplining the students, but he does get his due humorously. In fact, either on-screen or off-screen, no adult figures are written in a positive light giving The Breakfast Club a complete teenage perspective.

But the main appeal goes to the teenagers and the message that Hughes successfully relays- that of the misunderstood young adult. Each character is unhappy in some way and feels put into a category or defined by the individual cliques they each belong to- whether they want to or not. In this way Hughes makes the film a treasure in terms of relating to the characters- everyone remembers high school and the insecurities wrestled with while attempting to get good grades and obtain acceptance. Hughes brings these aspects to life with his slice-of-life tale.

Even if every character is not immediately recognized within the viewer themselves, each is empathetic nonetheless. When Andy reveals his father’s criticisms or Bender painfully recounts his father’s physical abuse, we feel for them, suddenly seeing the strong athlete or the burnout from our own high school days in an entirely new way. Mousy Allison gets a makeover from Claire and suddenly shines like a new dime- finally not being ignored. Brian’s overbearing parent’s pressures are almost too much for him to bear.

After the film, we are left to wonder what will happen on Monday morning during homeroom. Will the group continue their new friendships (or more) or simply return to the normalcy of their respective peer groups? Hughes wisely does not satisfy our piqued curiosity but rather leaves it to our imagination. The Breakfast Club (1985) holds appeal for the masses without feeling cliched or put upon- only feeling insightful and inspired to accept others we may have preconceived notions about.



Director-Peter Weir

Starring-Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis

Scott’s Review #754

Reviewed May 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Witness (1985) is a slick crime thriller that may at first glance seem like just another by the numbers genre film but instead is well above average. As the plot unfolds there are key nail-biting and edge of your seat scenes that build the tension in such a way that the suspense master himself, Alfred Hitchcock would be proud.

Decades later it is tough to watch the film and not notice a slightly dated quality, but at the time it was well regarded and terrifically paced. Charismatic Harrison Ford and novice child actor Lukas Haas make the film more than it could have been.

The setting of the film is twofold and presents two different cultures- rural Pennsylvania’s Amish country and the bustling metropolitan Philadelphia. The death of her husband leads Amish woman Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and her son Samuel (Haas) to the big city to see her sister. While transferring trains Samuel witnesses a brutal murder in the men’s room- unbeknownst to the killers. This riveting scene (explained more below) triggers the rest of the story.

When Detective John Book (Ford) is assigned to the case and questions Samuel, he is unable to determine who the assailants are. After Samuel’s fingers, an unthinkable suspect, events escalate and John uncovers a mighty corruption circuit within the police force. John, now targeted, must assimilate into the Amish culture as he strives to protect both Samuel and Rachel (as well as keep himself alive) while embarking on a relationship with Rachel. The story wisely focuses on the differing lifestyles of the principal characters.

What I enjoy most of all about Witness is the nice mix between both types of people and different cultures and how they can learn from one another. John is so used to and desensitized by being in the midst of the rat race that he often forgets the nicer things in life- peace or even love.

Rachel and Samuel, of course, are highly sheltered, living in a bubble, and are fish out of water amid the bustling streets of Philadelphia. The counter-cultures offer a nice balance in this masculine film with female sensibilities.

Not to be usurped by pure romance, Witness is at its core, a fleshy, male-driven crime thriller. Adding some softer edges, Weir pleases both male and female audience members and appeals to the masses. John’s precinct, filled with detectives, police officers, and criminals, gives the film appropriate “guy elements”.  So director Peter Weir offers a good balance here.

I like how Weirs chooses to portray the Amish- not caricatures, stereotypes, or to be made fun of, they are sweet, stoic, and intelligent, accepting of John into their lives. As John learns more of the Amish culture and becomes one of them, this is even more prevalent as an immersing of different cultures- a good lesson to even apply to other differences between peoples.

The acting is a strong component to Witness. Charismatic and handsome, Ford is believable as a fast-paced, busy detective. To add further substance, Ford transforms his character (written as one-note in typical films of this nature) into a sympathetic and inspiring man as he slowly becomes a father figure to wide-eyed youngster Samuel and falls in love with Rachel.

Ford is the standout, but the film would not work with lesser supporting actors. Both innocent and gentle characters, McGillis and Haas add layers to their roles with pronounced toughness and resilience- saving John as much as he saves them.

Two scenes are pure standouts and successfully elicit tension and dramatic effect.

As Samuel witnesses the murder in the bathroom, he is seen in a stall peeking through a crack with only one eye exposed. When he makes a slight noise the assailant violently goes through each stall intent on shooting whatever he finds. Samuel must think quickly to avoid being caught. The camera goes back and forth between Samuel’s looks of panic and the assailant getting closer and closer to catching him. Viewer’s hearts will pound during this scene.

Later, as Samuel sees a newspaper clipping framed among a case of awards, he recognizes one man as the assailant. In this scene, Weir shoots it in slow motion so that the reactions of John and Samuel’s characters are palpable and effective. The scene is tremendously done and cements the bond and trust between these characters.

Thanks to a wonderful performance by Ford and the cast surrounding him, Witness (1985) successfully widens the traditionally one-dimensional masculine crime thriller into something deeper. Providing slick entertainment with a great story and substance, the film crosses genres and offers a substantial cinematic experience woefully needed in the mid-1980s.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Peter Weir, Best Actor-Harrison Ford, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won)

The Social Network-2010

The Social Network-2010

Director-David Fincher

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer

Scott’s Review #753

Reviewed May 3, 2018

Grade: A

When released in 2010 The Social Network was a timely and brazen look into the world of social media and the powers and dangers it encompassed. Any film of this nature that chooses to incorporate either a current event or a current fad runs the risk of either being forgotten soon after or becoming irrelevant as the years go by.

So far, almost a decade later, The Social Network is even more of an interesting film in the age of embattled political turmoil involving the social media world- with Twitter and Facebook constantly in the headlines.

Director David Fincher (Zodiac-2007, Fight Club-1999) creates a stylistic piece masked behind the biography of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (still relevant in 2018) and tells of his rise to fame from a Harvard student to an internet genius.

Throughout all of his meteoric success, the driven young man let his personal relationships suffer as feuds and backstabbings encircled his life resulting in bitter legal entanglements. The film is flawless in every way- the screenplay, the score, the acting, the cinematography, and especially the editing all lend themselves to a memorable experience.

We first meet Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as a teenager, recently dumped and bitter, he posts a scathing editorial on his personal blog and somehow hacks into the college site to allow all the student body to read.

Along with his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss  (Armie Hammer), they come up with the initial concept of Facebook. This leads to others becoming involved in the project including Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) as events spiral out of control due to deceit, jealousy, and conflicting accounts.

Fincher’s style is riveting and fast-paced with snappy edits and lightning-fast scenes giving the film a crisp and sharp look. The story is told via the Harvard events interspersed with the numerous courtroom scenes as each of the principal characters is represented by legal counsel adding drama.

In this way, the point of the film is of a cynical nature and despite being a biography on Zuckerberg’s rise to fame, the overall theme is the effects that social media has had on the entire world- in this way the film elicits a message without being preachy.

Trent Reznor, from the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, creates an amazing musical score that adds a modern touch with both techno and electronic elements. This is not so overdone as to take away from the main theme of the film nor is it too distracting, but rather provides a moody yet intensive element that is highly effective to the overall film.

What riveting acting The Social Network provides! Young upstart Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Zuckenberg and the similarities between the two are uncanny. With his quick wit and neurotic mannerisms, intelligent yet insensitive to others, Eisenberg not only looks the part he seems to embody the character and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for the role.

Garfield and Timberlake are nearly as compelling in supporting yet important roles. Finally, Hammer portrays indistinguishable twins with a smug, cutting edge perfect for the way the parts are written.

The Social Network (2010) is a tremendous film with modern technologies and a brilliant screenplay. Beyond the spectacular writing, the film contains other top-notch qualities that make for a memorable experience.

The film holds up exceptionally well with current relevance and features a stellar cast of young actors (Eisenberg, Garfield, Hammer, and Timberlake) who all went on to become heavy hitters in the world of cinema years later.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-David Fincher, Best Actor-Jesse Eisenberg, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (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

A Quiet Place-2018

A Quiet Place-2018

Director-John Krasinski

Starring-Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Scott’s Review #751

Reviewed May 1, 2018

Grade: B+

A clever modern horror film, A Quiet Place (2018) offers a unique premise and novel use of sound to elicit a compelling, edge of your seat story.

With a science fiction slant and a “quiet” sensibility, the film is a good offering with ample jumps and frights that fit with the story rather than being added unnecessarily.

Actor turned director, John Krasinski shines in this film to say nothing of the raw talents of Emily Blunt and the two child actors involved. Only the four principles exist in the story which is a benefit.

In the year 2020, most of the human population has been decimated by vicious creatures called “Death Angels”, who have a hypersensitive hearing- they cannot see but pounce on their prey at every sound made. Thus the survivors must either whisper or communicate non-verbally.

An intelligent couple, Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Blunt), an engineer and a doctor have managed to survive with their two children, Regan and Marcus, their youngest son Beau having been killed after his toy rocket accidentally goes off. The family exists on a farm in upstate New York having created intricate ways to ward off the creatures but live in constant fear of impending doom.

As Evelyn is now pregnant and due to give birth any day, in addition to Regan’s deafness, Lee attempt to create a mock ear to enable her to hear. One evening he decides to take Marcus out to hunt while Regan visits Beau’s grave.  When Evelyn goes into labor she steps on a sharp nail, dropping a picture that alerts a nearby creature.

The remainder of the film (only ninety minutes in length) is spent with Evelyn alone in peril as the rest of the family makes efforts to save her with some eventual dire results, both before and after the baby is born.

A Quiet Place immediately stands out as a unique film- especially for horror- by using sign language and sub-titles to show not only the characters communicating with each other but also to the audience. This tactic is successful at immediately getting the viewer absorbed in Abbott’s world and the hurdles they face.

This unconventional approach gives the film more depth than a standard horror film would normally have and is tremendously effective.

Such marvels are Blunt and Krasinski as the protective and clever parents that I fell in love with both characters almost immediately and bought them as a palpable couple. This is no stretch considering the two stars are dating in real life, but alas their chemistry works well in the film and they make a believable team.

Both Lee and Evelyn will do whatever it takes to protect their brood, and after a lovely day of foraging for supplies in an abandoned grocery store, we feel heartbreak when their youngest is annihilated by the savage creature.

Lee, and Krasinski looking perfectly hunky in his beard and muscles, falls into the hero/Dad role nicely while Blunt gives an emotional bravado performance worthy almost of an Oscar nomination if this were a different genre.

Not to be usurped by more seasoned actors, both child actors are wonderfully cast and hold their own. Millicent Simmonds, an unknown, flawlessly portrays Regan as the young actress who is herself deaf which translated well onto the large screen. And Noah Jupe plays sensitive yet brave to the hilt. Both assuredly have bright acting futures ahead of them.

The “creature” is a strong element of the film but suffers some misses as well.  Careful not to be too amateurish looking or too obviously heavy on the CGI effects, the fastness and ferocious nature are effective.

However, no apparent motivation is ever given nor an explanation of how they came to exist is mentioned. Perhaps a sequel will give more depth? Regardless, I wanted to know more about the backstory of the creature. And how did Abbott’s hold out so long when no others did?

A Quiet Place succeeds as a frightful film with depth and intelligence. Perhaps working better as an independent film  (it could have been edgier) with more grit and less polish from the creature, the film was released by Paramount Pictures.

Nonetheless, Krasinski is off to a great start as a director and leading man with an impressive horror effort containing nice scares and little gore.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing