Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Director-Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti

Voices-Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #881

Reviewed March 30, 2019

Grade: B+

There have been many film versions of Spider-Man.

To my recollection, the first series came in three installments and was directed by Sam Raimi: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007) with Toby Maguire in the title role. These were the good, old, days.

Andrew Garfield took over in 2012 and 2014 to mixed reviews before the super-hero was merged into Captain America and The Avengers films as well as one or two additional solo outings. This is where I lose track.

Finally, through all the incarnations comes the very first computer-animated film based on the Marvel Comics character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) was an enormous box-office success as well as a critical success winning the coveted Best Animated Feature Oscar. My choice would have been for the dark and sarcastic Isle of Dogs, but the former has impressive merits and grand animation that are astounding to the eyes.

Towards the climax, the film teeters into the familiar and predictable territory from a story perspective though admittedly the super-hero and animated genre is not my most cherished.

Miles Morales is a Brooklyn teenager, bright, energetic, and likened to your average city kid. His father, Jefferson Davis, is a muscled policeman who is no fan of Spider-Man, the heroic masked man who prevents city crime outshining the cops daily.

While close to his father, Miles is much more connected to his uncle, Aaron Davis, despite his father and uncle having a distant relationship.

When Miles is bitten by a hungry spider he immediately begins exhibiting Spider-Man-like abilities and stumbles upon others with similar stories.

The teen meets super-villain Wilson Frisk, (a not-so-subtle Donald Trump parody if ever I saw one) who is intent on accessing a parallel universe to retrieve his deceased wife and son. Events involving a USB drive and the “real” Spider-Man, Peter Parker, also living in a parallel universe come into play.

The overly complex story is not the best part of the experience and I began losing interest in the how’s and why’s especially when compared to the escapist and marvelous super-cool animations.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse deserves some great praise for making the film’s central character ethnically mixed (Hispanic and Black), never done before in franchise history.

This diversity, evident in Black Panther (2018) is all the rage now in the super-hero genre along with gender equality in a once deemed “guy’s movie” slogan.

This is a delight to witness with hopefully even more of a slant towards richer diversity. Are Asian, gay, or physically impaired character’s coming next?

The film looks amazing with creative and slick modern animation and graphics across the board that never wavers throughout the entire nearly two-hour running time, lengthy for an animated feature.

Styled and bright the film’s most brazen appeal is with its colors and shapes and sizes. The metropolitan New York City is a treat to witness as the creators not only focus on Manhattan, but on Queens and Brooklyn, boroughs were too often forgotten in favor of the glitz and bustle of Manhattan.

The clever re-titling of FedEx trucks to Red Ex is worthy of mention.

With a glitzy look, fast-paced action, and interesting villains, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is an impressive feat and a deep-dive into the possibilities of incorporating more of the super-hero and animated genres.

This is around the corner due to the critical, audience, and awards notice that surrounds this film. If only the story contained more twists and turns and less standard genre-pleasing qualities, the possibilities would be endless.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film (won)



Director-Cory Finley

Starring-Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy

Scott’s Review #880

Reviewed March 26, 2019

Grade: B

Thoroughbreds (2018) is an independent dark comedy with snippets of creative filmmaking and an intriguing premise that loses steam towards the conclusion, closely mirroring too many other similarly themed indies.

An enjoyable geographical setting but the lackluster monotone dialogue never allows the film a mind of its own and is therefore deemed unmemorable.

The lead actors are fine, but the experience lacks too much to raise the bar into its territory suffering from an odd title that has little to do with the story.

Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are former childhood friends whose differing popularity levels have severed their relationship over the years. When Amanda’s mother pays Lily to socialize with Amanda under the guise of tutoring her, Amanda catches wind of the plot and confronts Lily.

This event brings the girls closer and in the macabre fashion, they begin to hatch a scheme to plan the death of Lily’s stepfather, wealthy Mark (Paul Sparks) whom she perceives as abusive. It is revealed via flashback that Amanda euthanized her crippled horse to spare his suffering which resulted in animal cruelty charges.

The setting of affluent Fairfield County, Connecticut, presumably wealthy and snobbish Greenwich is a high point of the film and an immediate comparison to the 1997 masterpiece The Ice Storm.

Bored rich kids who perceive themselves to shoulder all the world’s problems, while subsequently attending the best boarding school imaginable is delicious and a perfect starting point for drama and intrigue.

Lily’s domineering stepfather and her passive and enabling mother are clever additions without making them seem like caricatures.

The dynamic between the girl characters is intelligently written and believable especially as they crack witty dialogue between each other. Lily is academic and stoic, humorously said to suffer from an unnamed condition that results in her being unable to feel or show any emotion.

Amanda is the perfect counterbalance as she is sarcastic, witty and serves up one analytical observation after another.

From a physical perspective, the statuesque Lily is believable as the more popular of the two and the perceived leader.

As the girls elicit the participation of local drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) into their plans, at first voluntary and ultimately by blackmail, the plot takes a turn for the formulaic and the redundant.

The setup seems too like a standard dramatic story arc and becomes cliched as the once willing participant is subsequently thrust into the scheme. There are no romantic entanglements between the three main characters and subsequently leaving no characters to root for either, one strike to the film.

Otherwise, the “been there, done that” monotone dialogue has become standard in dark comedies so that in 2018 the element seems dated and a ploy to develop offbeat characters.

Director Cory Finley borrows heavily from fellow director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums-2001 and the Moonrise Kingdom) in this regard so that the freshness of the characters and story wears thin mid-stream.

The title of the film could be better as a quick scene involving Amanda and a horse in the beginning and a brief mention of horses envisioned in a dream by one character is all there is about the animals.

I expected more of incorporation between animal and human or at least a more poignant connection.  The privileged lives of Lily and Amanda seem the perfect correlation to bring horses into the central story in a robust way.

Finley is on the cinematic map, crafting an effort that proves he possesses some talent and an eye for a wicked and solid offering.

Thoroughbreds (2018) represents a film too like many others in the same genre to rise to the top of the pack but is not without merits and sound vision. It will be interesting to see what this up-and-coming director chooses for his next project.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Screenplay

An American Dream-1966

An American Dream-1966

Director-Robert Gist

Starring-Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker

Scott’s Review #879

Reviewed March 19, 2019

Grade: C-

An American Dream (1966) is a film version of the Norman Mailer novel of the same name. Directed by Robert Gist its cast includes Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, and Eleanor Parker, who do what they can with mediocre writing, uneven pacing, and an unsatisfying ending. Roles suffer from miscasts and misfires and the film plays out as more of an episodic television detective show or a darker version of a television movie than a compelling feature. Except for one terrific high-rise scene, the film is largely a waste of time.

Stephen Rojack (Whitman) is a decorated war hero who returns to Los Angeles to embark on a career as a journalist. He publicly criticizes the police for failing to accost a known crime lord named Ganucci (Joe De Santis), which angers the mobster. Simultaneously, Rojack’s alcoholic wife, Deborah (Parker), flies into a drunken rage when he asks her for a divorce resulting in her toppling from a swanky high-rise to her death. Riddled with guilt, Rojack resumes a relationship with his former girlfriend and Ganucci’s ex, Cherry (Leigh).

The best scene of the film is the intense confrontation between Rojack and Deborah. The sweeping, expansive balcony and the open-air locale overlooking dazzling Los Angeles should be a major clue that something dire will transpire, especially as Deborah is drunk beyond belief and filled with fury.

Her lavish apartment is decorated adequately in the latest 1960’s style giving the scene a plush sophistication. The vicious death scene is wonderfully done as the woman not only falls to her death but is subsequently run over by a car adding insult to injury. The scene is also the crux of the entire film.

Harboring the thrill of the climactic scene however is Parker’s jarring overacting performance making Deborah appear crazed and animal-like. The display is understood as making the character unlikable and unbalanced- the hunky gigolo in her bed also makes her unsympathetic-but the cartoon acting seems amateurish and beneath the fabulous actress. Remember, this is the same woman who made the character of “the Baroness” in The Sound of Music (1965) sophisticated and memorable.

The premise of the film is illogical and unbalanced as, to my eyes anyway, it appears Deborah falls to her death accidentally, but the reasoning of the film portrays Rojack as riddled with guilt at causing her death. He even admits his guilt to her father in one scene. His claim to the police that Deborah committed suicide is of course untrue, but the unnecessary guilt seems implausible and too much a stretch at creating the main plot point.

The biggest negative to An American Dream is the casting of Janet Leigh in the role of Cherry. Wearing an unappealing and silly wig the Hollywood star seems unbelievable and just wrong as a mob girlfriend. Her soft features and petite frame do not fit the part and her lip-syncing of the Oscar-nominated theme song “A Time For Love” does nothing to elicit credibility from either the character or the actress.

When An American Dream bombed at the box office, the desperate distributors re-titled the film See You in Hell, Darling, but to little avail. Reduced to weekday airings on television did nothing to change the image of a low budget made-for-television style look or the episodic detective tint. The intended perception of a horror film is a strikeout as the film plays more like a tepid thriller.

For fans of Janet Leigh, An American Dream (1966) is not recommended. The preferred suggestion is to skip this one and delve into other gems like the legendary Psycho (1960) or Touch of Evil (1958).  An American Dream caters not to the legendary actresses’ talents but rather delivers a forgettable film best left situated in the bargain bin.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“A Time For Love”



Director-Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring-Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meuisse

Scott’s Review #878

Reviewed March 16, 2019

Grade: A

Diabolique (1955) is a masterful French thriller that is as compelling as it is frightening and offers insurmountable influence in years to come.

Shamefully remade and Americanized in 1996 starring Sharon Stone, a waste of time if you ask me, the original is the one to discover and salivate over.

With a perfect blend of psychological intrigue, never-ending suspense, even a good mix of horror that Hitchcock would find impressive (more about him later), the film is brilliant in its pacing and frequent twists and turns.

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is set in a crumbling boarding school in the metropolis of Paris. Sadistic headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meuisse) runs a tight ship but works for his Venezuelan wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot), who owns the school.

Michel is immersed in a torrid affair with schoolteacher, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) and regularly abuses both women as well as his students. The two women embark on a plot to kill Michel, but when they succeed in their plan, Michel’s body goes missing.

In a few fun trivia tidbits, director Clouzot, right after finishing making Wages of Fear (1953), optioned the screenplay rights, preventing Hitchcock from making the film. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel version of Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique. If the film displays nuances incorporated in Psycho, this is undoubtedly the reason.

Clouzot also directs his wife Vera in the prominent role of Christina.

The brilliance of the film is that it could have been made by Hitchcock as the entire experience has his stamp and influence written all over even though his best works lay ahead of him in 1955.

Still, from the Gothic mood to the “can’t believe your eyes” twisted, blood-curdling ending, the director immediately comes to mind every time I watch the film. The “shock” ending only exceeds expectations with a fantastic delivery.

The film takes an unusual stance in the dynamic between the two women, Christina and Nicole. Rather than take a traditional route and make the women rivals for the man’s affections, Clouzot chooses to make the pair co-conspirators. This only deepens their relationship as events unfold and takes a darker and more dire turn.

They rely on each other as teammates rather than despise each other over their love for another man. Intelligently, they spend their energy on making sure the insipid man gets his just comeuppance for his dirty deeds. Nicole clearly leads Christina in the direction she needs to go.

The black and white cinematography is highly influential to the mood of the film. With each unexpected twist or scene of peril, the lighting is perfect in radiating the suspense. The camera juxtapositions the frequent glowing of the white against the dark black that exudes a frightening, ghost-like presentation.

The entire setting of the school is laden with dark corners that provide good elements of foreboding and sinister moments to come.

As the women become more and more unnerved by the limitless possibilities that the missing body presents, many questions are asked but are impossible to answer. “Where is the body?”, “Could Michel be alive?”, “If he is alive is he hell-bent on revenge?” The viewer will also be asking these questions throughout most of the final half of the film.

When an unknown person begins to call the women and other clues take form the questions begin to multiply.

Clouzet uses frequent shots of objects to enhance the tension even further. Closeups of a dripping bathtub, a typewriter with a man’s hat and gloves, a woman’s feet as she removes her shoes, and a woman running in terror through the corridors of the school.

These facets only enhance the overall experience as the suspense and the terror begins to mount.

Diabolique (1955) is considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time and I concur mightily with this assessment. A French version of Psycho (1960), that combines an acclaimed director’s ingenious subtle ideas into a giant web of delicious film making.

The viewer will never see the surprise ending coming even if they think they have the plot figured out. This point alone is reason enough to see the film and salivate in the greatness of it.

Bunny Lake Is Missing-1965

Bunny Lake Is Missing-1965

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley

Scott’s Review #877

Reviewed March 13, 2019

Grade: B+

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) is a taut psychological thriller that feels fresh and unpredictable, containing a mysterious, almost haunting quality throughout its running time. The film focuses on one big question- whether the main character’s interpretation of events is real or imagined. The uncertainty makes the film intriguing to watch. Glimpses of London locales also make for fun viewing as is the chaotic and creepy children’s school that is the film’s main location. Though not remembered well the film is still worthy of a watch.

Ann (Carol Lynley) is a single mother, recently transplanted to London with her well-kept brother Stephen (Keir Dullea). When she hurriedly drops off her unseen daughter, Bunny, to her new preschool, and instructs the school cook to watch her, the girl soon disappears without a trace.

When the police are called to investigate it is discovered that nobody on staff has lain eyes on the young girl. The plot thickens when it is revealed that all of Bunny’s belongings have been removed from Ann’s residence and that Ann had an imaginary childhood friend named Bunny.  Has Ann concocted the entire scheme herself for attention or could she be harmful or psychotic?

The film offers several subtle nuances that either work or do not work. The opening credits are a lesson in cinematic creativity as the words present themselves as slivers of paper being torn down the middle. Though the musical score during this sequence is not necessarily eerie the complexity and the ferocity of the scene nonetheless present an ominous and certainly an intriguing element. This point is a wise move because it sets the tone for such a thriller as the film presents itself as.

The black and white style that director Otto Preminger uses is also positive to the overall look of the picture. The muted tones elicit an effective ghost-story style with an ambivalent chilling technique. As the mystery is ultimately resolved, the introduction of new and peculiar characters offset the tangled plot as the look of the film remains a constant. Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, Ann’s landlord, and Martita Hunt as the retired school headmistress who now resides in the attic of the school, do wonders for the addition of creepy characters, but are they meant to be red herrings or key to the big reveal?

A few gripes are with the incorporation of English rock band The Zombies that serve little purpose and the addition is perplexing.  It’s not that I am opposed to the band’s music, but the songs themselves have nothing to do with the plot. Seen on the television during a pub scene and later heard on a janitor’s radio during an escape scene, the odd placing seems little more than a marketing tool product placement.

Another miss is with the casting of Sir Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse. His talents are largely wasted with little more than a throwaway role despite arguably being considered the lead. As the straight manhandling the investigation, his performance is adequate but limited, especially given the talents that the Shakespearean stage actor possesses. His performance is both phoned in and beneath the historic actor.

The other roles are well cast with highlights being actors Lindley and Dullea in key parts. For the first portion of the film, I assumed the pair were husband and wife until it was revealed otherwise which is a nice unexpected nuance. Their chemistry is sweet and easy, and both perform their respective roles with poise and charisma. In 1965 both were relatively novice young actors on the brink of stardom, though sadly short-lived. Their acting chops are firmly in place with this film which is fun to witness.

For fans of psychological thrillers with an implied ghost story enveloped within its clutches Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) is worthy and mysterious entertainment with a surprise ending. The film is not stellar all the way around with some weaknesses and lesser than a pure classic, more reminiscent of a good, solid Twilight Zone television episode.

On the Waterfront-1954

On the Waterfront-1954

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #876

Reviewed March 9, 2019

Grade: A

Led by one of the best acting performances of all time, On the Waterfront (1954) was an important and relevant film when made and is still powerful in the modern era. Director Elia Kazan and newly minted Hollywood star Marlon Brando join forces for a film spectacle that is as much a character study as a tale of morality and social injustice. The musical soundtrack score composed by Leonard Bernstein only enhances an already astounding picture that is deservedly referenced as a masterpiece.

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a washed-up former local boxer who now spends his days slaving away as a dockworker on the dingy waterfronts of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) works for a vicious mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who has complete control over the area. The police are aware of the ongoing corruption but are limited by the lack of evidence and witnesses to regular crimes. When a fellow dockworker is killed, Terry falls for the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), leading him to rethink his priorities.

The positive aspects of On the Waterfront are enumerable. Enshrined in the rich story and flawless acting are marvelous cinematography and location sequences. The film was shot almost entirely on location in New York and New Jersey using real docks and outdoor sequences that give the film authenticity. The dingy and water-soaked locales are riddled with secrets and dark violence that reach new levels by using realism and grittiness.

Never looking more masculine or more handsome, though his portrayal of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a close second, Marlon Brando achieves riches in the world of stellar acting. He is rugged and compassionate, macho yet tender, and pours his heart into the role of Terry, and one cannot help wondering if the self-professed method actor became Terry during filming. With both vulnerability and strength, Brando embodies the character so well that he becomes my favorite of all the film roles he has undertaken.

The supporting players dutifully flesh out the resounding cast with gusto. Special mentions go to both Karl Malden as Father Barry and Steiger as Charley. As Barry, Malden brings a warm character who is patient and benevolent in a world of crime and deceit. He attempts to console and mentor the folks in his world and is eventually beaten for his honesty and earnestness. Charley is a different story, selling his soul to the devil and accepting the cards he has been handed, choosing to join with Friendly. At a crucial moment, he makes another devastating choice that changes his life forever.

Few films can proudly boast a scene or dialogue that remains timeless and imprinted on cinematic history, but On the Waterfront contains a scene of this caliber. During a tremendously important moment in the film, Terry has a conversation with Charley and makes an impassioned statement-“I coulda’ been somebody. I coulda’ been a contender”, laments Terry to his brother, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it.” This line is a historic piece of writing and true to the heart of the character.

The film reaches further in its power and truth because it is representative of Elia Kazan’s real-life plight. During the early 1950’s the director famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee while many of his colleagues chose to go to prison rather than name names. Many Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted for decades to come. On the Waterfront is frequently deemed as an allegory to the director’s plight and therefore is a very personal story.

On the Waterfront (1954) is sometimes violent and all-times realistic, painting a portrait of one man’s struggle to overcome the lousy life that has been given to him to do the right thing. Thanks to gorgeous direction, an explosive lead performance by Brando, and all the pieces fitting perfectly in unison together, the film is one of the greats and hopefully will remain one that generations will come to discover.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Elia Kazan (won), Best Actor-Marlon Brando (won), Best Supporting Actor-Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Best Supporting Actress-Eva Marie Saint (won), Best Story and Screenplay (won), Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing (won)

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii. The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the story-telling. With great acting and a compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel is stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled. They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored dramatically before the devastating incident set to take place.

The perspective of the film is centered around the male characters which risk the film being classified as a “guy’s movie” but it really isn’t. There exist enough melodrama and romance to offset the testosterone and masculinity and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives a broader canvas is painted. This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people affected by and soon to be affected by the war. The characters co-exist peacefully in their own little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the stars torrid love affair and need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be a pure myth but have never been disproven either. Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may very well cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart-pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are nonetheless powerful and dims the mood of the film. Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends sadly with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters. At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from any phony false patriotism. With a dash of romance and sexuality, the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Fred Zinnemann (won), Best Actor-Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Best Actress-Deborah Kerr, Best Supporting Actor-Frank Sinatra (won), Best Supporting Actress-Donna Reed (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Musical Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Sound Recording (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing (won)

Singin’ in the Rain-1952

Singin’ in the Rain-1952

Director-Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Starring-Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds

Scott’s Review #874

Reviewed March 4, 2019

Grade: A-

In the over-saturated field of musicals released during the mid-twentieth century Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is the one having most to do with the entertainment industry itself. The battle between the transition of silent pictures to “talkies” is the basis of the story, giving the film an important, along with a fun, subject matter. Likable stars and sing-along tunes make the film memorable and decidedly All-American, though perhaps not the greatest in the crowded musical field.

During the late 1920s, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a famous and well-regarded silent film star. His co-star and studio created romantic attachment are Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), an annoying and shallow leading lady with a harsh singing voice. As more successful “talkies” (films with sound) are produced Don finds himself smitten with musical chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). The plot to dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s leads to comical chaos and an idea to create a new musical amid a blossoming romance between Don and Kathy.

The fun and frolicking Singin’ in the Rain is lightweight but never silly nor superfluous thanks to the overriding message of the change in Hollywood priorities. Critically acclaimed from the get-go this is unsurprising since Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood especially since the film was made only a little more than two decades since sound-laden films overtook the world. Furthermore, in 1952 television was making its debut to legions of fans and the accessibility presented a serious threat to the cinema in general making the subject matter even more relevant.

Kelly and Reynolds make a nice enough pair, but I never thought they completely knocked it out of the park either from a chemistry perspective. One slight knock is the lack of any hurdles preventing the couple from an inevitable union. Lina is the clear foil and ultimately played for laughs so she is no serious threat. The plot-driven conflict involving Kathy’s initial dislike of Don because she values stage over film is cute, but ultimately revealed to be a sham since she has been a fan of his all along. Sure, the musical is a comedy, but better hurdles might have made for a more interesting story.

Nonetheless, Singin’ in the Rain is sheer pleasure and a largely non-threatening experience. The hi-jinks involved as the characters strive and struggle to put on their production are comical and Lina’s New York accent and shrill singing voice threaten to steal the show from the more grounded central characters. The musical numbers are a dream especially favorites like “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Good Morning”, and the epic title song.

Through no fault of the film’s title musical number “Singin’ in the Rain” will forever not be associated with this film for me, but rather with the dark and cerebral A Clockwork Orange (1971). As the villain beats and rapes his victim by cheerily singing this tune the song will forever hold a much darker association for me.

The dramatic final act is the highlight as a lavish premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is unveiled to a live theater audience hungry for something good. When the crowd chomps at the bit for Lina to perform live the big reveal of Kathy being the truly talented singer is displayed a la the wizard in The Wizard of Oz style as Don and Kathy ultimately kiss and ride off into the sunset together in grand show biz fashion.

In the crowded genre of the 1950’s and 1960’s musical productions that ravaged American cinema at the time, I mostly choose to watch West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), The Sound of Music (1965), and Oklahoma! (1955) for pleasure, but Singin’ in the Rain (1952), an earlier gem is worthy of value especially for the memorable musical soundtrack it offers. The story is light and harmless but also relevant and most importantly highly entertaining.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Jean Hagen, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture

Sudden Fear-1952

Sudden Fear-1952

Director-David Miller

Starring-Joan Crawford, Jack Palance

Scott’s Review #873

Reviewed March 3, 2019

Grade: B+

Sudden Fear (1952) is a gripping film noir thriller, a genre that became commonplace for a time during the early 1950s. The film is raised to lofty acclaim due in large part to the casting of legendary Hollywood star Joan Crawford in the lead role. Her performance led to an Oscar nomination and is the main draw of the film. Sudden Fear suffers from some cliches but is otherwise a solid watch although largely forgotten at present time.

Crawford stars as Myra Hudson, a successful Broadway playwright who rejects the suave and handsome Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) after he auditions for the lead role of her play. Later, they coincidentally meet on a train headed for San Francisco as Lester manages to sweep the mature woman off her feet. When Myra impulsively marries Lester his true intentions to manipulate and then kill her to inherit her money are revealed. The suave Myra uncovers the plot and instead plans to kill Lester and place the blame on his scheming former girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame).

As a rabid fan of Ms. Crawford and her talents, my opinion leans towards the film belonging exclusively to the star. With her expressive eyes and mannerisms, the role is tailor-made for her talents and not too far from a role she would later play in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1966). As the strong yet beleaguered character Myra has been unsuccessful in the romance department and after a glimmer of hope is devastated when she realizes she is being played for a fool. Thanks to Crawford her pain and humiliation are palpable and her subsequent paranoia believable without overacting too much for effect.

Palance and Grahame are okay in their respective supporting roles but are either outshined by Crawford or written in a banal way- or both. Regardless, the roles are one-note and not the best of either actor’s careers. The characters have little rooting value and we clearly know their motivations and shenanigans nearly from the start. The conclusion of the film produces a satisfying demise to each one as their comeuppance is in perfect form.

From a plot and pacing perspective, the film is never boring and contains many twists and turns and surprises galore which will undoubtedly keep audiences engaged. The action moves along in stellar form and never tires as the viewer will undoubtedly anticipate a cool ending. The final chapter is fraught with chase scenes throughout the streets of San Francisco as a terrified Myra runs through the streets clad in a black coat and a white head shawl, wearing high-heels naturally while being chased by a crazed Lester.

Sudden Fear adds some clever camera angles and cinematography mentions making it slightly left of center and creative looking with cool shadows throughout. Elements of Hitchcock emerge as a shaky hallway scene featuring a lumbering Lester approaches the camera. Closeups of the actors and the illuminating black and white lighting provide a glowing look to the film. Shots of a gun, a pendulum swinging representing a clock, or a bottle labeled “poison” add elements of tension.

For fans of the illustrious Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear (1952) is a recommended watch and will please those seeking a good helping of the star. She does not disappoint and is the main draw in an otherwise by-the-numbers genre film. The film’s conclusion is the high point and I wished for more layers and character development from Palance and Grahame, but Crawford shines in an otherwise forgotten offering.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Joan Crawford, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Palance, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

A Streetcar Named Desire-1951

A Streetcar Named Desire-1951

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh

Scott’s Review #872

Reviewed March 2, 2019

Grade: A

An adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s dark and dreary Broadway play, the stellar cast of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) features three of the four original members of the stage version who bring the film to the big screen. Tremendous acting and a southern, morbid setting will leave the viewer transfixed and wondering what chaos and drama will next unfold. The story is sad and pitiful and quite heavy as each character suffers from guilt, resentment, rage, or regret, but the elements make the film a pure classic.

Aging southern belle Blanche DuBois has lost her valuable southern plantation and flees her aristocratic livelihood to New Orleans to live with her working-class sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Unhappy, Blanche immediately begins acting snobbish which is in stark contrast to regular folks and offends many with her prim and proper ways. Stanley feels slighted by Blanche also convinced that she is keeping inheritance from Stella resulting in conflict. She meets Mitch (Karl Malden) and it appears she may have a shot at happiness after all.

The most painful and well-dissected character is Blanche. A fun fact is that Leigh is the only actor among the principle four to not appear in the original stage version, the role played by Jessica Tandy. Leigh undoubtedly is cast because of her star power at that time dives full-steam ahead into the role and gives the perfect blend of pathos and courage adding the most complexity. Reduced to a life among the poor and struggling, the reality is tough for the once-wealthy heiress who has lost all her money through no fault of her own, her estate taken by creditors after her husband’s tragic death assumed to be suicide.

Almost as complicated is Stanley, played stunningly by Brando, an actor who with this film was just beginning to embark on Hollywood success that would surround him throughout most of the 1950s. The most prominent film cover art features a tee-shirt clad Brando, his muscular arms and torso on display, and his smoldering bad-boy pose. The sexual tension between Stanley and Blanche is undeniable as their love/hate relationship is filled with unbridled passion. Their carnal attraction is largely due to the brutish masculinity that Brando exudes on-camera.

The combined supporting performances by both Kim Hunter and Malden almost match with the leads as far as complexity and are just as important to recognize. In the former’s case, Hunter plays Stella as wounded and put-upon, but not weak. She has strength but is unsure who to trust or whether to leave her husband. Malden plays Mitch as benevolent and trusting, enamored with Blanche until her secrets are finally revealed. Heartbroken, even he, the kindest character in the group is left unhappy. Malden is great at adding an every-man and graceful quality to Mitch.

Who can ever forget the poignant and melancholy wails of “Stella! Stella! Stella!” emitted by the tragic Stanley a moment forever remembered in cinematic history? He longingly begs for Stella’s forgiveness as he looks towards the sky in desperation. The suggested rape, although not shown, is a powerful and brazen tidbit and controversial in the film for 1951. The audience not seeing the action is arguably as intense as having seen it as imaginations can oftentimes be more prominent.

The black and white cinematography adds emotional treasures as the bleak New Orleans life is captured and the struggle and hardship of the characters wonderfully portrayed. The run-down tenement that most of the film takes place in is dour, suffocating, and dingy, perfectly enveloping the character’s lives. Hopelessness and depression are commonalities as director Elia Kazan creates a film that grasps his audience and never let’s go.

A Streetcar Named Desire is about conflict, pain, and the human desire for love and feeling thwarted by realism and dire circumstances. Each of the four characters is capable of being dissected and sympathized with as well as worthy of discussion. This only proves the complexities of each. I challenge a good comparison to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and A Streetcar Named Desire as both have similar qualities.

The film set an Oscar record when it became the first film to win in three acting categories (a feat only since matched by Network in 1976). The awards it won were for Actress in a Leading Role (Leigh), Actor in a Supporting Role (Malden), Actress in a Supporting Role (Hunter), and Art Direction. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is not an easy watch but assuredly is a feast in excellent acting and a bevy of heartbreaking and wounded characters.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Elia Kazan, Best Actor-Marlon Brando, Best Actress-Vivien Leigh (won), Best Supporting Actor-Karl Malden (won), Best Supporting Actress-Kim Hunter (won), Best Screenplay, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Sound Recording, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White