Beautiful Boy-2018

Beautiful Boy-2018

Director-Felix Van Groeningen

Starring-Steve Carrell, Timothee Chalamet

Scott’s Review #835

Reviewed November 23, 2018

Grade: A-

Beautiful Boy (2018) tells a humanistic and important story about the ravages of drug addiction and how the issue affects not only the addict but the entire family unit. Nestled within the powerful writing is a lovely father/son relationship and the trials and tribulations the duo faces over the years.

The film feels pure and honest with rich story-telling and a plethora of good acting performances.

Beginning in present times, David Sheff (Steve Carell) realizes that his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) has been missing for two days. When Nic finally shows up at the Sheff household he is strung out and sick.

David suspects Nic has been abusing drugs and all parties agree that Nic needs professional help and a stint in a rehab facility. However, nobody realizes the depths of Nic’s addiction.

When Nic checks out early and goes on a bender the film begins to segue back and forth between periods of Nic’s recovery and his many relapses, also presenting scenes of David and Nic’s relationship during childhood years.

The best parts are the conversations and moments between father and son and the enduring love they share. In the mix are David’s second wife Karen (Maura Tierney) and Nic’s mother Vicki (Amy Ryan).

The screenplay is based on memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff. The chronicles of their journey include triumph and heartbreak over many years as recovery and relapse become frequent parts of their lives threatening to tear them apart or result in Nic’s ultimate death.

The road to recovery is not an easy path.

The primary characters David and Nic are wonderfully portrayed by Carell and Chalamet. The fact that the actors do not resemble each other is quickly forgotten as their dynamic is emotional and palpable, sharing easy chemistry. Carell is a strong actor, capable of infusing his character with strength and calm while slowly falling apart at the seams.

He loves his son and wants him to recover, but finally accepts that he needs to let his son go. This moving realization is Carell’s best scene.

Chalamet, boyish and innocent-looking is perfectly cast. With kind blue eyes and a mop of raven hair the actor could easily pass for twelve years old, this only enhances the tragedy of youth ravaged by drug abuse.

These qualities are mirrored by those of his girlfriend Lauren (Kaitlyn Dever). She also possesses a fresh-faced, clean look, which strengthens the message.

Mention must be made of Ryan’s and Tierney’s performances in what could easily be throwaway “wife roles”.

For a while, I thought Tierney was in a marginal role until she finally has a wonderful scene where her frustration reaches a boiling point. Fuming with rage she attempts a car chase with Nic only to finally crumble into tears, realizing how the mess has changed her as a person.

Ryan also sinks her teeth into a teary role almost blaming herself for Nic’s problems.

The film wisely presents statistics to further hit home, mainly the low percentage recovery rate of most crystal meth users. A single-digit success rate on this note is frightening, the user requiring more and more substance just to feel anything close to the first high they experienced.

A pivotal scene occurs at the end of the film as we see David and Karen attend a support group. As they tearfully listen to a woman’s story of the recent death of her addict sister we are left to wonder if Nick has also died. Kudos to a powerful cameo performance by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton.

The sunny California setting is a benefit to the film and starkly contrasts the darkness of New York City where Nic attends school. With multiple exterior shots of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the metropolitan scope is vast and cruel for drug users.

Easily accessible to anyone with the motivation to obtain drugs, the streets of San Francisco are portrayed as hard and drug-infused, especially when David drives around desperately looking for Nic.

Featuring a story told before but rarely from the family perspective, Beautiful Boy (2018) does what it sets out to do and does it splendidly.

Careful not to soften the challenges and sufferings of the addict, the devastation they bring to their loved ones is also showcased. The sound and emotional father/son relationship may be the best part of the film.

Boy Erased-2018

Boy Erased-2018

Director-Joel Edgerton

Starring-Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe

Scott’s Review #834

Reviewed November 22, 2018

Grade: A

Before I ventured to the movie theater to view Boy Erased (2018) I heard from more than a few folks who decided not to see the film due to the difficult subject matter.

While parts of the film are admittedly tough to watch and the true story stifling, the overall message is poignant and hopeful, the central character one to be championed.

In other words, while a serious matter, director Joel Edgerton (who also co-stars) is careful not to make the overall experience dour or wholly downtrodden.

Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name and taking place as frighteningly recent as 2004, the setting is rural Arkansas.

Our main character is a handsome, popular young man, renamed Jared (Lucas Hedges) for the film.  Interspersed with numerous flashbacks then back to present times, we see Jared as a high school kid and blossoming as a freshman college student, interested in writing.

He is expected to follow the word of god since his father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), is a respected preacher at their local church, and his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), is a housewife.

Jared’s college experiences are both good and bad. He befriends fellow runner Henry, who ultimately rapes him, and embarks on an enlightening friendship with Xavier, who challenges Jared’s belief in god.

These scenes are preceded by the point of the film, in which Jared admits his thoughts about men to his parents and is sent to a Love In Action gay conversion therapy program. His experiences there are chronicled.

Many scenes involve the treatment the school provides the students (or rather makes the students endure) and Jared’s realization that he is gay and cannot change.

He ultimately questions and challenges the school. The chief therapist, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), teaches that God will not love anyone who is homosexual. In a bit of rich irony, the film later reveals that Victor finally denounced his teachings and married a man.

Fellow students’ lives are featured, one suffers a terrible fate as he cannot come to terms with his sexuality nor can he change.

A comparison to the popular film Love, Simon (2018) is fun to draw.

Both were released during the same year and both feature a young, popular coming-of-age character who struggles with the repercussions of revealing their sexual preference.

Boy Erased is the heavier of the two as Love, Simon has many comic elements, but worth noting is that both are mainstream films garnering large audiences- a win for the LGBT community.

The acting in Boy Erased is flawless and perfectly cast all around.

With Hedges, Kidman, and Crowe in the mix, we know the performances will be outstanding, and all three characters possess their share of empathy.

Jared is the most to be concerned with and Marshall and Nancy are support players, but the film does not portray either as bad people, which is interesting. They are nurturing towards Jared and want him to be happy.

While Nancy is more instrumental in rescuing Jared, Marshall does also come around in the end as his son’s sexuality is tougher for him to accept.

The main song used in the film is appropriately named “Revelation” by Troye Sivan. The singer also appears in the film as Gary, a student made to be “cleansed” of his sexuality.  The tune is sentimental, smoky, and acoustic, perfect for the southern setting.

Heartfelt and fraught with meaning, it encompasses Jared’s struggles and strong will to question the school’s motivations, powering through the toxic approach the school has.

As with many recent biographical films telling stories of real-life people, Boy Erased features a young Jared in homemade video clips as the film begins. This immediately triggers a rooting value for the character as we see the child, cute, happy, and full of life, without a care in the world.

Additionally, the conclusion shows the real adult Jared, Marshall, and Nancy.

Boy Erased (2018) is an important film firmly nestled in a time-period crucial for the LGBT community. As LGBT awareness is now commonplace in cinema, this film does not necessarily go the route of sharing a gay character’s “coming out” story but rather depicts a brilliant story of how perilous and repressive being gay can still be for some people.

Jared is the main character who will undoubtedly be a hero to many young people wrestling with their identity.

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Director-Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Starring-Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz

Scott’s Review #833

Reviewed November 21, 2018

Grade: B

Goodnight Mommy (2015) is an Austrian film that is not for the faint of heart nor the squeamish. Being a seasoned viewer in diverse, bizarre, and otherwise unpleasant cinematic experiences, the film was nonetheless a tough watch for me.

Universally lauded and even submitted as Austria’s Foreign Language entry for the Academy Awards, I found the film at times pointless and gratuitous in its torture scenes. Still, the film stayed with me days later and that is always a positive.

In a peculiar and unclear story opening, we witness a mother (Severin Fiala) and nine-year-old twin sons (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), residing in a remote lakeside location surrounded by cornfields and nature.

The mother (character unnamed) is disfigured and wrapped in bandages with only her eyes and mouth revealed, a haunting and grotesque image. The twins, Elias and Lukas, are very disturbed by her appearance and concerned when she begins acting strangely, ignoring Lukas entirely and chastising Elias repeatedly.

Through a game that the mother and twins play, the audience learns that the woman is a television personality- has she had a facelift by her choosing, or has she been in an accident? As she acts cruelly and selfishly towards the twins they begin to question whether the woman is their mother or a fake.

They become determined to find out at all costs, turning the tables on the mother, resorting to torturous methods to get the truth out of her.

A few positives for me in Goodnight Mommy are as follows. The Austrian setting and language are huge strengths in adding to the mystique of the overall film.

The unfamiliar (to me) speech and the remote modern home that the mother uses as a sanctuary work very well.  In this way, loneliness and isolation are infused into the film giving a measure of dread. The way the plot continues to unfold and the circumstances are slowly revealed is a good thing.

The how’s and the why’s of the mother’s surgery come to fruition and allegiances switch from the boys to the mothers throughout the film, which I found interesting.

The major negatives are the motivations of the twins and the big reveal at the end of the film- a reveal easily figured out within the first portion of the running time.

Though not shocking, the revelation only complicates said motivations, and questions abound. Is one of the twins just plain crazy? Who is the woman in the photo with the mother dressed exactly like her?

If this is a red herring, no wonder the twins think this woman is impersonating their mother. The mother not being able to escape the twin’s clutches is a bit hard to swallow- remember they are old nine years old!

The torture scenes are brutal for the audience to endure. As Elias and Lukas tie their mother to her bedpost and demand she reveals she is not their mother the methods they resort to are devious and cringe-worthy.

Prolonged in nature so that the viewer feels they are also being tortured when the twins burn her face with a magnifying glass, the process is slow and excruciating.

Later, they decide to superglue her mouth shut and when they realize she cannot eat, they sever the glue with scissors leading to a bloody mess. These scenes are tough to take.

The point of Goodnight Mommy (2018) seems rather, well, pointless. Torture for the sake of torture and many plot holes or story dictated plot devices- who did not think that the Red Cross would fail in rescuing the mother?

Nonetheless, the film does contain a mystique and an unnerving, haunting quality.  The viewer will undoubtedly be kept thinking about the subject matter and the ending, specifically the final still-frame.

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Director-Matt Spicer

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen

Scott’s Review #832

Reviewed November 16, 2018

Grade: A-

Ingrid Goes West (2017) is a deliciously wicked black comedy and a bold statement about the current obsession with social media.

Combined with a dynamite performance by young actress Aubrey Plaza and smart writing, the small independent film provides a summertime treasure and two Spirit Award nominations for good measure.

The film is a breath of fresh air and a fine achievement by new director Matt Spicer.

The film immediately catapults the audience into the action as we are treated to a closeup of a sobbing Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza).

We immediately know that she is not right as she fumes with the realization that she has not been invited to her Instagram friend’s wedding and proceeds to interrupt the reception and attack the bride with pepper spray. Ingrid is carted off to a mental hospital for analysis and recovery.

Once released we learn that Ingrid’s mother has recently died leaving her a tidy sum of money as an inheritance. Ingrid suddenly becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular and narcissistic young woman who Ingrid follows on Instagram.

Taylor becomes Ingrid’s idol as she decides to move to Los Angeles and insinuates herself into Taylor’s life. She stalks Taylor and steals her dog only to pretend she rescued it, thereby becoming a close friend of hers.

Gradually, Ingrid’s actions become more and more psychotic as Taylor catches wind of Ingrid’s antics.

Aubrey Plaza is perfectly cast as the unstable, manipulative title character. She possesses such strong comic timing, and with her wide eyes, nervous mannerisms, and determination to get what she wants, the audience roots for and falls in love with her.

On paper, we should dislike the character as she takes advantage of nearly everyone in her path, but Plaza embodies her with empathy and smarts. Delightful to watch is how she gets out of scrape after a scrape with her quick thinking- Plaza truly excels in the role.

Bold and calculating are words to be used to describe Olsen’s performance as the selfish Taylor, and this may very well be why it is easy to root for Ingrid.

The character is so plastic and conniving that it is intensely satisfying to see her as the foil. Olsen usually plays good girl roles and possesses a girl next door quality, but in this part, she nestles nicely into a bitch role. Olsen also contains great timing with her character’s dialogue delivery, so much so that Olsen and Plaza had me in stitches during their one on one scenes.

I adore the Los Angeles setting, beyond appropriate for a film about phoniness, obsession, and plastic personas.

Beneath the sunny veneer lies darkness and tomfoolery in every direction and besides Ingrid’s landlord/somewhat boyfriend, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), there are not many likable characters.

Attending party after party and lavish club, restaurant, or get-away, being involved in the “scene”, the City of Angels is the perfect backdrop.

One gripe that knocks Ingrid Goes West down a rung for me is how the character of Taylor’s artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is written.

Ingrid realizes as she has a poolside heart to heart with the depressed Ezra, in one of the more authentic scenes, that his wife is not the girl he knew when she moved to L.A. He and Ingrid seem to connect, but shortly after it is as if the conversation never happened and he is ferociously taking his wife’s side again.

A nicer approach, and one I was hoping for, is that Ingrid and Ezra would ride off into the sunset, but the film misses this opportunity.

The entire film is a clever piece of work. From the performances, the dark humor, and the witty dialogue, Ingrid Goes West (2018) succeeds on nearly all levels.

A modern-day Single White Female (1992) with a social media slant, the film goes for the gusto and gets there. I cannot wait to see more from up-and-coming star Aubrey Plaza as the actress has the comic and dramatic chops to go very far.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Screenplay, Best First Feature (won)

Isle of Dogs-2018

Isle of Dogs-2018

Director-Wes Anderson

Voices-Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton

Scott’s Review #831

Reviewed November 15, 2018

Grade: B+

Anybody familiar with a Wes Anderson production knows what they are in store for and Isle of Dogs (2018) is par for the course.

With zany narratives and fantastic art direction, the film has a familiar stamp. Most resembling his other notable stop-motion film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Isle of Dogs offers what is to be expected- an intelligent and odd project by a visionary creative mind.

Anderson provides the film with a timely, corrupt Government type message that strongly resonates in 2018. In this way Isle of Dogs, while animated, is so much more than a cookie-cutter story or a wholesome film for kids.

This is a show of bravery by the director to focus on corruption prevalent in today’s world and the fight for justice by ordinary people living under authoritarian control.

Set in dystopian Japan, a recent outbreak of canine flu causes corrupt Mayor Kobayashi to banish all dogs from society to the vast wasteland of Trash Island where they will live out their days with other ostracized canines.

A brave twelve-year-old boy named Atari, who happens to be the mayor’s nephew, steals a plane and crash lands on the island to rescue his beloved dog, Spots.

With help from a pack of dogs led by a former stray named Chief, the group sets out to find Spots and ultimately expose the government conspiracy. Obstacles abound as the mayor has sent a robot dog to return Atari and make mincemeat of any dog in its path.

Meanwhile, a professor is on the cusp of discovering a serum as an outspoken American exchange student, Tracy Walker, investigates the conspiracy.

Isle of Dogs is incredibly original and offers bravura visuals. From the lush and bright Japanese culture to the tired and haggard look of many of the dogs living on the island, the film is a treat for the eyes. The shimmering richness of the city is elegant and feels alive and powerful.

What I admire most about the film is the creativity and the blast of left-of-center story-telling, blowing away most animated offerings of today.

Many contain a robust helping of “cute”, which can turn off a mature viewer. With a target audience of the tween age, what is in it for adults? To sit there with a youngster and pretend to be jovial?

Isle of Dogs is not the crowd-pleaser, it is better than that. Anderson crafts a serious and timely message begging to be absorbed by the careful viewer.

Assuredly, Anderson cannot escape providing a subtle allegory on an evil leader stirring the pot against the most helpless in our society. This point, especially in the tumultuous United States is timely and well thought out. Could this be why an American character (Tracy) was added?

As dynamic as Anderson’s creativity is, the story in Isle of Dogs does not always embrace the viewer and the jarring dialogue is tough to follow.

Standard in his films, the pacing is strange, the conversations between characters are odd, and the film lacks a truly welcoming or warm quality.

Therefore, the film is not an easy watch. And the dogs all speaking English rather than Japanese, with American accents, simply must be overlooked.

Critics and detractors of Wes Anderson need not see Isle of Dogs (2018) as they will be in store for typical Anderson fare. In addition, those seeking a standard mainstream animated feature will be disappointed.

Those with a more open-minded approach to cinema will revel in the stunning look the film achieves and the powerful message bubbling under the surface.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film, Best Original Score

The Long Goodbye-1973

The Long Goodbye-1973

Director Robert Altman

Starring Elliott Gould

Scott’s Review #830

Reviewed November 14, 2018

Grade: A

Nearly a full-fledged character study of one man’s moral fiber, The Long Goodbye (1973) is an edgy piece of direction by famous mastermind Robert Altman.

The setting of the Los Angeles underbelly is fabulous and effective as is dim lighting and excellent camera work prevalent throughout. The film is not cheery and rather bleak which suits me just fine given the smart locale.

Perhaps a more obscure Altman offering, but the film sizzles with zest and authenticity.

The film is based on a story written by Raymond Chandler in 1953.

Altman, however, opts to change the setting from 1950 to present times- 1970s Los Angeles and present a film noir experience involving deceit and shenanigans where all is not as it seems.

I think this is a wise move and I could not help but draw many comparisons (mainly the overall story) to Chinatown (1974), released the year after The Long Goodbye, but a film much better remembered.

Elliott Gould is wonderful as Phillip Marlowe, a struggling private investigator, and insomniac. He is asked by a friend, Terry Lennox, for a ride to the Mexico border one night and agrees to do the favor.

This leads to a mystery involving police, gangsters, and Eileen and Roger Wade after Phillip is questioned regarding his connection to Terry, who is accused of murdering his wife Sylvia.

The seedy side and complexities of several characters are revealed as the story unfolds and the plot gradually thickens.

My favorite aspects of The Long Goodbye are not necessarily the primary storytelling, though the writing is filled with tension.

As the film opens an extended sequence featuring a “conversation” between Phillip and his cat is both odd and humorous. The finicky feline refuses to eat anything other than one brand of cat food. As Phillip tries reasoning with the cat through talking and meowing, he is forced to venture out in the middle of the night to an all-night grocery store.

Altman, known to allow his actors free-reign for improvised dialogue, appears to allow Gould to experiment during this scene.

Phillip’s neighbors, a bundle of gorgeous twenty-something females, seem to do nothing except exercise on their balcony, get high, and request he buy them brownie mix for a “special occasion”.

As they stretch topless, usually in the background and almost out of camera range, they are a prime example of an interesting nuance of the film. The girls are mysterious but have nothing to do with the actual plot adding even more intrigue to the film.

In one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history and one that could be straight from The Godfather (1972), crazed gangster, Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), slices the beautiful face of his girlfriend to prove a point to Marlowe.

In a famous line, he utters, “That’s someone I love. You, I don’t even like.” The violent act is quick, unexpected, and fraught with insanity.

Finally, the film’s conclusion contains a good old-fashioned twist worthy of any good film noir. In the end, the big reveal makes sense and begs to raise the question “why did we trust this character?”

In addition to the viewer being satisfied, Marlowe also gets a deserved finale and proves that he cannot be messed with nor taken for a fool.

The Long Goodbye is undoubtedly the best film of Gould’s career. With a charismatic, wise-cracking persona, the chain-smoking cynic is deemed by most as a loser. He is an unhappy man and down on humanity but still wants to do what is right. He lives a depressed life with few friends and the company of only his cat.

While he is marginally entertained by his neighbors, he goes about his days only barely getting by emotionally. Gould is brilliant at relaying all these qualities within his performance.

The addition of the title theme song in numerous renditions is a major win for the film and something noticed more and more with each repeated viewing. The ill-fated gangster’s girlfriend hums along to the song playing on the radio at one point, and a jazz pianist plays a rendition in a smoky bar.

This is an ingenious approach by Altman and gives the film a greater sense of mystery and style.

There is no question among cinema lovers that Robert Altman is one of the best directors of all time.

In his lengthy catalog filled with rich and experimental films, The Long Goodbye (1973) is not the best-remembered nor the most recognizable.

I implore film fans, especially fans of plodding mystery and intrigue to check this great steak dinner of a film out.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?-2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me? -2018

Director-Marielle Heller

Starring-Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

Scott’s Review #829

Reviewed November 13, 2018

Grade: A

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) is a biographical drama that excels at successfully providing its audience with sly writing and fruitful chemistry among the lead actors.

A rare dramatic turn for star Melissa McCarthy, she proves that she has the chops as she immerses herself in a role that showcases her acting talent when she is provided a good script. Grizzled, angry, and sometimes depressed, she infuses a character we should hate with gusts of humor and sarcasm, so much so that we fall in love with her.

That is a testament to a great performance.

The film begins in 1990’s Manhattan as we meet a once successful, but now down on her luck author, Lee Israel (McCarthy). Famous for works now deemed dated, she is angry, boozy, and brazen, certainly not afraid to tell someone off for not holding the door for her or prank-calling a vicious bookstore owner.

We quickly learn that Lee is three months behind on her rent and cannot afford to take her sick, elderly cat to the vet. She fights with her publisher, Marjorie (Jane Curtin), who refuses to advance her $10,000.

As she sits in a bar contemplating her future, she reconnects with an acquaintance, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a flamboyant gay man who once caused a stir at a party for urinating on rich women’s furs.

Lee and Jack are in stitches over the past incident and immediately form a deep bond, though Jack’s unreliability and dishonesty challenge Lee’s patience.

When Lee concocts a scheme to forge letters supposedly written by famous deceased literary people, Jack quickly becomes her accomplice as the two begin to profit.

The film belongs to McCarthy in a challenging role. By all accounts we should dislike Lee- she attends Marjorie’s parties for the free booze and steals a new jacket from the coat check on the way out.

She distances herself from relationship commitments and alienates most people. But despite these flaws, we adore her and root for her.

When she embarks on a cautious date with quiet bookstore owner Anna (Dolly Wells), she manages to get through her meal with trepidation, unsure whether to open herself up to another potential suitor.

In McCarthy’s best and most emotionally raw scene, we see her raw collapse in tears when she finds her beloved cat under the couch, dead.

Viewing the feline as her only true friend, she is devastated beyond belief and McCarthy will pull at the heartstrings in this poignant scene.

Grant is equally as impressive as McCarthy in the main support role. An aging party-boy in a city that can embrace the young and discard the old, he still dazzles with his dashing smile, but his best years are behind him as he still lives a young man’s life.

He flirts with a handsome waiter and still has charm and humor that has aided him through the past few decades, but he is also ravaged from decades of abuse and his luster has become tarnished. A health secret revealed at the end of the film adds further layers to the character’s complexity and richness.

Beyond the great acting performances, the screenplay, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, crackles with rich dialogue and fantastic aplomb.

The writers write with confidence and smarts and provide the goods in spades. The proof is in the proverbial pudding as Lee cackles with glee as she types her latest Dorothy Parker forgery in the words of the deceased satirist, writing what she imagines the famous author would write.

These added touches of intelligence and quick-witted dialogue make the film fantastic to view.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) is a fabulous undertaking made spectacular by two actors with bold chemistry. Combined with intelligent writing, a grand yet gritty New York City setting, and an authenticity unrivaled, the film succeeds on all levels.

With heart, drama, compelling situations, and most of all dark sardonic humor, the elements are all there for a dynamic film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Melissa McCarthy, Best Supporting Actor-Richard E. Grant, Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Richard E. Grant (won), Best Screenplay (won)

The Grapes of Wrath-1940

The Grapes of Wrath-1940

Director John Ford

Starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell

Scott’s Review #828

Reviewed November 8, 2018

Grade: A

Based on the famous novel written by John Steinbeck and released only one year before the film, The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is a superlative offering by director John Ford, known mostly for Westerns.

The work accurately depicts life for the struggling American family during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

With gorgeous cinematography and a sad yet poignant story, the film is a must-see and a timeless depiction of the perils of life in the United States for working-class people.

Set on the vast plains of Oklahoma, the Joad family has run a successful farm and lived as a thriving family unit for decades- an extended group enjoying their lives.

When the United States suffers from depression, the Joads’ lives are turned upside down and they are forced to sell their farm. They decide to traverse the countryside in hopes of the promise of profitable jobs and wealth in faraway California. The Grapes of Wrath depicts the family’s journey as hardship and deaths occur.

When the film was released in 1940 many studios were not interested in bringing the story to the big screen as aspects were deemed too left-leaning for conservative types.

The social issues the film delves into are still incredibly relevant today and Ford wisely dissects not only the poverty that the Joad family suffers but the psychological trauma and ruination they must endure. What a devastating effect this must have had on families.

The casting is spot-on. A young Henry Fonda was merely an upstart actor in 1940 and successfully exudes a rich, passionate performance as Tom.

Plenty of close-up shots reveal the quiet pain and desperation the young man feels and the humiliation of having lost his livelihood. Fonda shares poignant chemistry with the preacher character, Jim Casy (John Carradine), who once was filled with glory and has now lost his spirit and his belief in goodness.

Jane Darwell, a famous character-actress, gives a treasured performance as the family matriarch, Ma Joad. The actress won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, deservedly so, as she relays a haggard woman wanting only the best for her family and attempting to hold them together.

Her determined final speech at the film’s conclusion is teary and meaningful as she utters, “We’re the people… We’ll go on forever.” Speaking of Oscars, Ford also won Best Director.

The film sees no age but rather endures as a timeless journey alongside the Joad family. Sticking very close to Steinbeck’s novel, the story is modified significantly. Perhaps to please studio financiers or simply to provide a more hopeful message, the Joads are left with a positive future thanks to a government-run camp where they finally live.

In the novel, they reside at the camp first but later are ultimately reduced to starvation wages.

A monumental scene is when the family drives their battered vehicle to a squatter’s camp for needed shelter. The scene is shot documentary style with the camera focusing both on the Joads and on the faces of the occupants of the run-down and filthy shacks that they are forced to live in.

We wonder with sadness what the lives of these unfortunate people were like before the Depression.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) was quite the humanistic cinematic masterpiece when it was released. Forging into a new decade plagued by a terrible war and otherworldly problems, it reminisced about a previous decade also fraught with different types of problems.

The film is one for the ages and should be appreciated by all.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Outstanding Production, Best Director-John Ford (won), Best Actor-Henry Ford, Best Supporting Actress-Jane Darwell (won), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing

The Little Princess-1939

The Little Princess-1939

Director Walter Lang

Starring Shirley Temple, Ian Hunter

Scott’s Review #827

Reviewed November 6, 2018

Grade: B+

The Little Princess (1939) is a latter-day Shirley Temple film released when the child star’s popularity was clearly on the decline.

The film is also the first Temple production to be filmed in Technicolor and the last of her major successes. The picture is very good though not the first I would choose as a starting point in her collection: saccharin, wholesome, and predictable are adjectives to describe the film, but also just what audiences adore about the star’s cinematic projects.

Loosely based on a novel entitled A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the film was criticized at the time of release for straying too far from the original novel.

The time is the turn of the century in England and the backdrop is the Boer war. The setting of the film is a highlight for American audiences who were amidst the First World War and on the cusp of World War II allowing for a timely and relevant quality of the film.

In the story, Temple plays Sara, the wealthy daughter of a military Captain (Ian Hunter) who is left to reside in a well-to-do girl’s school when her father is called away to serve in the war. When he unexpectedly dies in battle Sara is left penniless and forced to work as a servant in the school she once attended.

At first, treated like royalty by the staff her treatment gradually harbors resentment among the principals especially the dastardly headmistress (Mary Nash). Sara keeps her chin up insisting that her father is not dead at all as she becomes determined to find him in a local hospital.

In the year 2018, Shirley Temple films mainly serve as a source of nostalgia versus any critical acclaim or cinematic dissection- what is the point?

Her films are a wholesome trip down memory lane back to a simpler time for many. Ironic that the film is the first color picture in the collection, this detracts from the enjoyment and adds too much of a modern element foreign to Temple fans.

My preference is for the black-and-white productions of the early and mid-1930s.

The supporting characters spice up The Little Princess quite a bit.

Most notable is Cesar Romero as neighbor Ram Dass, a man who fills the void that Sara needs due to the loss of her father. The chemistry between Romero and Temple is wonderful as the kindly Dass leaves warm blankets for Sara in a tender scene.

As the main villainous, common in Temple films, Mary Nash as Miss Minchin does her job flawlessly. Serving as the main foil, Nash provides the perfect blend of rigid mannerisms and the brunt of Sara’s tension.

The overall tone of The Little Princess (1939), hence the title, contains a riches to rags, Cinderella in reverse, type of story. The film is above average, but not the best in the bunch.

Venturing to say that the film is a forgotten work save for fans of the Shirley Temple series, it does what it sets out to do and entertains.

With drama, musical numbers, and a happy ending, the result is a similar experience to her many other films.



Director Allan Dwan

Starring Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt

Scott’s Review #826

Reviewed November 2, 2018

Grade: A-

During the 1930s and the 1940s, Shirley Temple was the most prominent and profitable child star around starring in dozens of films deemed “wholesome” and “cute”.

Heidi (1937) is one of her most popular and best-regarded, a treasure of earnest and sentimental riches.

The film is forever known in pop culture as the ruination of the 1968 Super Bowl when the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets game was interrupted at a crucial moment due to the scheduled airing of the film.

An interesting side note is that amazingly Temple relinquished her Hollywood title with dignity and without scars. She left the scene entirely and became a successful world diplomat. During a time in American cinema when child stars were treated as property and sometimes like cattle, her relatively healthy exit was a remarkable feat.

The story of Heidi is based on the 1880 Swiss story of the same name. Temple, in the title role, plays an orphan living in the cold mountains with her grizzled grandfather, Adolf (Jean Hersholt). At first bitter for being saddled with raising a child, Adolf finally accepts the girl and he and Heidi become fast friends, exhibiting a warm and tender bond.

Heidi’s self-absorbed aunt ruins the dynamic and instead whisks the child away to live with a wealthy family. The little girl will serve as a companion for their crippled daughter, Klara, as Heidi and Adolf are determined to find each other.

Adding drama to the story is Klara’s evil housekeeper and her jealousy of Heidi, leading to attempts to sell Heidi off to gypsies for profit.

By 1937 Temple was beginning to be deemed “too old” for cute roles, but Heidi is one of her best-remembered films and the actress is in top form.

As one might expect from any Shirley Temple film musical numbers are included- a dream sequence in Holland culminates with Temple belting out the charming “In My Little Wooden Shoes”.

As there are mountains of Shirley Temple fans worldwide there are also her detractors. Some feel her films are completely dated and that the young star was not as talented as some thought she was.

Admittedly, watching her films approaching the one-hundred-year mark can be a peculiarity and, on the surface seem a bit hammy and overly sentimental, but my personal experience elicits a return to childhood days.

Despite being decades before my existence, Shirley Temple films were commonplace in my household as a child.

Heidi is not a groundbreaking cinematic experience or all that deep at all. What the film does provide though is comfort. The audience assuredly must know a film like Heidi has a happy ending as the child provides warmth and spirit to every person she meets, making their lives better.

Even during peril, the girl has an “awe-shucks” manner of being and makes the best of any lousy situation she faces.

The strongest appeal of Heidi comes in the friendship she makes with Klara the cripple. Klara is kind and naive, unaware of her servant’s jealousy and rage. Helpless, she comes to depend on Heidi and we root for Heidi to rescue Klara and bring her to a better life.

The film has sappily written all over it but somehow works all the same.

Films such as Heidi, the best of all the Temple films, in my opinion, can be watched and enjoyed as an ode to days gone by or a tribute to someone’s grandmother’s favorite film.

Despite perhaps being irrelevant and too sappy in today’s modern world, they undoubtedly provide comfort and support to some and that cannot be such a bad thing.

Heidi (1937) can easily be enjoyed for the popularity that the film achieved and the warm message the film exudes.