P2-2007

P2-2007

Director-Franck Khalfoun

Starring-Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley

Scott’s Review #1,106 

Reviewed January 29, 2021

Grade: B

Franck Khalfoun, a French filmmaker known for the horror genre, makes his directorial debut with P2 (2007). As a horror buff, the film has a great premise which made me immediately want to see it. Unfortunately, while the film has its moments of intrigue and plenty of gore, the climax ultimately disappoints and it turns run-of-the-mill. Like many of its modern horror brethren, there is little that separates it from other similar films.

It’s fine Saturday night viewing fare but quite predictable.

Films set during the Christmas holiday and especially in festive New York City always enrapture me so P2 gets a leg up. The film doesn’t utilize the holiday very well save for a smattering of decorations within an office building, some snow, and one creepy holiday song.

Set on Christmas Eve, the plot follows a young businesswoman named Angela (Rachel Nichols) who becomes trapped in an underground parking garage in midtown Manhattan, where she is pursued by a psychopathic unhinged security guard (Wes Bentley) who is obsessed with her.

Bentley, known for his terrific role in American Beauty (1999) is the main reason to see this film. He plays creepy and obsessed very well and is a great villain. His piercing blue eyes are intense and frightening and his obsession with Elvis Presley and his dog is revealed. He is clearly disturbed though for no apparent reason, which is not positive to any character development. Why is he crazy?

When Thomas plays Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” over the intercom it’s a festive and delightfully morbid highlight.

I desired to know what makes Thomas tick and why he prays on Angela. Has he been watching her for months or does he simply see an opportunity on this particular night and go for the gusto? The plot reveals a bit of both which is unsatisfying because there is no payoff. Does he knock out and kidnap Angela because she rebuffs his advances or would he have done this anyway if she agreed to dinner?

He is in love with her but why? It’s not that she isn’t a catch. She is pretty and a successful businesswoman with a good head on her shoulders. Does she reject him because she gets a bad vibe or because he’s a security guard? I wanted more backstory for both main characters but once she is chained to a table it hardly matters. He’s gone too far off the deep especially after it’s revealed he has killed others. Thomas’s motivations are not satisfying.

Nichols, a novice actress, is very good at her role. She carries the film and is in a state of peril most of the time. But she neither overacts nor plays the victim. There is a nice balance of terror and figuring out what steps to take to save her life and flee the madman.

P2 possesses a female-empowerment vibe but Angela does appear in skimpy clothing thus issuing the standard state of undress required by their female stars, a formula many horror films stick to. Angela is smart, quick-thinking, and strong. She tries to outsmart her capturer and more often than not she does and she is victorious in the end. Surprise!

I noticed multiple nods to the Saw (2004-2017) franchise since this series introduced and embraced the torture-horror genre. Many horror films used this technique to shock and startle viewers instead of providing clever writing or story. The use of videotape appears in P2 which borrows heavily from Saw.

P2 (2007) is a fine effort and will satisfy horror fans. It may tread into familiar territory and back itself into a corner with limited story possibility, but I did look over my shoulder a couple of times after viewing the film when I was in my building’s parking garage. Ironically, I was on level P2. Maybe the film did leave an impression after all?

Ocean’s Eleven-2001

Ocean’s Eleven-2001

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #1,105

Reviewed January 28, 2021

Grade: A-

Steven Soderbergh was awarded the Best Director Academy Award for his exceptional direction in Traffic (2000) one of my all-time favorite films. He follows up that gem with a slick, commercial film that is stylish and looks cool. It’s fast-paced with quick editing and is set in the dangerously appealing world of casinos as a group of sophisticated thieves attempt to steal $160 million from a casino owner with whom they have a vendetta.

I expected a film of this type to be generic and by-the-numbers but instead, it’s unpredictable and unexpected.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is the first (and best) installment of the popular Ocean’s franchise and a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.  George Clooney was in his film prime and leads the pack of A-list stars like Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon in a packed and brimming two-hour entertainment fest.

A nice touch is inviting two stars from the original, Henry Silva and Angie Dickinson, to appear as themselves.

Clooney leads the charge and embraces his leading role status with charm, polish, and style. He plays a handsome Danny Ocean, a man with a plan. Less than one day into his parole from a New Jersey penitentiary, the thief is already traveling to California to arrange his next plan with his partner-in-crime Rusty (Brad Pitt). It’s tinged with revenge.

They abide by three rules: Don’t hurt anybody, don’t steal from anyone who doesn’t deserve it, and play the game like you’ve got nothing to lose. Danny orchestrates his charges into creating the most sophisticated, elaborate casino heist in history. And it will take place in glitzy Las Vegas on the night of a boxing match.

By providing the rules it makes me think fondly of a similar proclamation in David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club, Danny and the gang immediately feel sympathetic to me. After all, they don’t intend to hurt anyone, and the money stolen will be from folks who are dastardly and might even deserve to be penniless. Didn’t JigSaw from the Saw films only kill those who harmed other people? Suddenly their motives are clear and justified making them the good guys.

As a bonus, the “victim” of the heist is the unlikable Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who owns three casinos and is worth billions. Making the bad guys the heroes and Benedict the bad guy is clever and situates the players properly so the audience is sure who to root for. As if the film doesn’t have enough treats some drama is thrown in.  Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), is Benedict’s girlfriend. Is she loyal to Danny or Benedict or might she be playing both sides?

Loyalties are tested and questioned and the intricate bank heist sequence is titillating and an edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride. The Las Vegas backdrop with the casino’s bright lights, bells, and like elements cement Ocean’s Eleven as one of the best of its genre.

It’s also tough not to root for Clooney, Pitt, and Damon in or out of character.

Ted Griffin writes the screenplay and adds some nice characters, more than one-note bank robbers or thieves. Along with Soderbergh’s direction, which adds the nice atmospheric trimmings like the razzle-dazzle casino scenes they make a great pair.

I love how Danny and Rusty recruit a team with specialized skills like mechanics, pickpockets, and an electronics and surveillance specialist. There’s even an acrobat! This seems an ode to the 1960s television series Mission: Impossible as the team is carefully selected based on skill.

A highly entertaining popcorn film just perfect for a summer night, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is sure to satisfy. The intention is to sit back and enjoy what is offered and all the elements come together perfectly. The culminating main event boxing match and subsequent twist catapults the film from pure entertainment to something more nuanced and exciting.

The film was a success at the box office and with critics leading to two sequels directed by Soderbergh and a spin-off with an all-female lead cast, was released in 2018.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult-1994

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult-1994

Director-Peter Segal

Starring-Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,104

Reviewed January 26, 2021

Grade: B-

Despite being the third and final (get it?) installment in the popular Naked Gun (1988-1994) franchise, Naked Gun 33 1/3 The Final Insult (1994) is my favorite of the trio despite having a silly title. The title of “33 1/3” is a reference to the revolutions per minute of an LP playing on a phonograph, a point that has nothing to do with the actual film. It was also inexplicably decided to leave off the “The” in the title, leaving Naked Gun instead of The Naked Gun. Why is anyone’s guess? Nor does it matter.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a great film but it’s better than the other two, which is shocking in a spoof/screwball comedy going for the standard gags. But, as dumb as the film is, it’s also kind of fun and light-weight. Think- a needed chuckle requiring little thought following a rough day at the office.

A familiar formula is followed and this time the events culminate at the glorious Hollywood Oscar celebration, the apple in the eye of all Los Angeles, undoubtedly the main reason this effort is marginally enjoyable. For unfamiliar viewers, the Naked Gun films are a combination of the Airplane! (1980-1982) and the over-exhausted Police Academy (1984-1994) franchises. The films were out of gas by 1994.

The franchise is based on the short-lived television series Police Squad! (1982), a procedural comedy about bumbling police personnel and the situations they get themselves into to showcase their ineptness.

The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult was O.J. Simpson’s final role before he was damned for all eternity for his presumed role in the murder of his wife and her friend in a ritzy area of California.

Leslie Nielsen returns as Frank Drebin, retired and living with his wife Jane (Priscilla Presley). Bored with life, they experience marital problems and seek counseling. Six months after Frank’s retirement, he is visited by Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) and Officer Nordberg (Simpson), who ask for Frank’s help with an investigation. Police Squad has caught wind that mischievous bomber Rocco Dillon (Fred Ward), who is currently incarcerated, has been hired by terrorists to conduct a major bombing against the United States.

As Frank tries to keep Jane from finding out that he is dabbling in detective work again, he jokes that he is having an affair to throw her off the track. When she begins to suspect he really is having an affair this leads to a silly series of misunderstandings and gags which naturally are wrapped up as is always the case in films like this.

Nielsen is the main draw and he does what he does best and what makes him the king of spoof films. A serious actor before Airplane! he became typecast but had lots of successes ahead of him. He embraces his role which adds freshness. He doesn’t take himself so seriously so audiences can sit back and relax, enjoying the entertainment.

The lavish awards ceremony and the ingenious idea to plant the bomb within the coveted Best Picture Oscar sealed envelope is delicious, especially when the bomb is set to detonate when the card is pulled from the envelope and the winner crowned. This creates a good measure of suspense as the award show carries on toward the big finale.

George Kennedy has little to do but it’s the inclusion of stars like Vanna White, Weird Al Yankovic, and Pia Zadora that add zest to the production.

Director, Peter Segal, famous for lightweight comedies with heart, is wise to keep the running time at a quick one hour and twenty-two minutes. If longer, any momentum the film musters would have disintegrated. This was his feature-length directorial debut.

The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) may be the best in the trio but that says quite little considering it’s based on funnier and fresher endeavors. I champion the early Police Academy films for a needed dose of police incompetence and hilarity done up in a fun way. If one must watch a Naked Gun film and is partial to the Academy Awards, this one is begrudgingly suggested.

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director-Christophe Honoré

Starring-Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

Brilliant French film actress, Isabelle Huppert, turns in another outstanding performance in Ma Mère (2005). The film is a daring and sometimes shocking experience met with mostly derision from many fans and critics. The subject matter is hard for the weak of heart to take or understand, or maybe even put up with. The taboo nature of incest is what the film is about but also the dark and far reaches of the human psyche and emotion. A heavy and ingenious film for where the filmmakers dare to go. I found it brilliant.

Fun fact Ma Mère was rated NC-17 when it was released in the United States. The reason was “strong and aberrant sexual content”. Despite the sexual fetishism, there is NO drug use.

Huppert plays a recently widowed and sexually adventurous woman named Hélène. Her young and restless son, Pierre (Garrel), is visited by her young and restless son just before his father’s death when he plans to reside with his parents on their lavish island villa. Instead of mourning the loss of her husband, Hélène boasts about her infidelities to Pierre as he copes by masturbating to and then urinating on his father’s pornographic magazines.

Ma Mère is not a happy film but quite intriguing. Of course, the film is french which automatically gives it a sense of style and sophistication which writer/director Christophe Honoré dazzles the audience with. If the film were American it would not work at all. The characters need to be European.

An intense attraction develops between mother and son when Pierre struts around the villa naked and broods. Instead of acting on her impulses, Hélène encourages her uninhibited sex partner Réa (Joana Preiss) to have sex with Pierre.  They do so at a popular shopping and nightlife complex. Hélène looks on longingly as the partially clothed couple makes love with passersby raising no objections. Hélène appears to be turned on.

Things get stranger when afterward, Hélène includes her son in an orgy with her friends. After the orgy, Hélène decides that she must leave her son to travel. While saying goodbye to Pierre, she implies that something taboo has happened between them and that she must leave to prevent it from happening again. We are left unsure of what she means.

Hélène’s motivations are unclear or are she simply a good poker player? Does she feel bad about her attraction to her son or does she secretly revel in it?

There is a ton of masturbating and jealousy in this film. There is also a hefty dose of sadomasochism and such talk. It’s for the extremely adult viewer.

Ma Mere leaves the viewer to ponder many questions over the course of the running time. Is Hélène a lesbian or just sexually promiscuous? What is the back story with her husband? Do they happily cheat on each other or what is their arrangement?

I completely get why people wouldn’t be enamored with Ma Mère. It’s a tough watch though I laughingly find myself wondering if those skeptics are mostly prudes. I found myself absorbed by the machinations of the characters, especially Pierre and Hélène, and chomping at the bit to figure out what would eventually happen to the characters. Spoiler alert- the film does not end happily.

A criticism hurled at Ma Mère is that why we should care about the characters? There is nobody to root for. While mother and child partake in orgies and other sexual dalliances, it’s not as if Hélène exactly takes advantage of the boy, nor is he especially likable. I deem the film fascinating.

For a weird trip inside the minds of sexual deviants and those who love the joy of sex and sexuality, Ma Mère (2005) is a delightful experience. It’s also creepy shit. The ending is dire and dreary and will make the viewer think long after the film ends. And that what provocative films do. And so do great films. Anyone who thinks they have a mommy complex will soon be cured.

Isabelle Huppert does it again.

L.A. Confidential-1997

L.A. Confidential-1997

Director-Curtis Hanson

Starring-Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger

Scott’s Review #1,102

Reviewed January 19, 2021

Grade: A

An enormous critical and commercial hit of 1997, L.A. Confidential spins a tale of intrigue and mystery during the 1950s with plenty of big-name stars to go around. The film can be classified as a throwback, neo-noir escapade, but it’s quite stylistic and fleshed out. It’s well-made with slick elements and Hollywood looks and feels like the lavish production design and musical score, but it’s the seduction and bevy of secrets that will keep and viewers glued to their seats, trying to guess what happens next.

As if it doesn’t have enough great elements a powerful whodunit is constructed leading viewers to question if the bad guys are good or the good guys bad?

Stalwarts like Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, and Danny DeVito bring star power, while unknowns at the time, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are the real reasons to tune in. L.A. Confidential has a seemingly endless tangled web to absorb and unravel, but the film is paced well and never overcomplicates itself. The strong art direction and musical score make it a delight in the eyes and ears.

The film is fraught with a saucerful of secrets just waiting to be brought to the surface.

Based on the James Ellroy 1990 novel of the same name, it’s the third book in his L.A. Quartet series, the others being The Black Dahlia (1987) and The Big Nowhere (1988). All focus on the Los Angeles Police Department, corruption, and scandal. The former was turned into an unsuccessful film in 2006 starring Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson.

I love films set in the City of Angels with the focus on Hollywood darkness lurking beneath the sunny and swanky exterior. Especially effective is the 1950s time-period, post World War II, when everything seemed to be coming up roses. Naturally, murder is the offering of the day.

To summarize, three policemen, each with his motives and obsessions, tackle the corruption surrounding an unsolved murder at a downtown Los Angeles coffee shop in the early 1950s. Detective Lieutenant Exley (Pearce), the son of a murdered detective, is out to avenge his father’s killing. The ex-partner of Officer White (Crowe), implicated in a scandal uncovered by Exley, was one of the victims. Sergeant Vincennes (Spacey) feeds classified information to a tabloid magnate (DeVito). Basinger portrays Lynn Bracken, a glamorous prostitute.

It’s nice watching the film with the knowledge of the big stars Crowe and Pearce would become. Also interesting is to see Spacey when he was a big star, eventually destined to turn into Hollywood mud due to a scandal. That’s the beauty of watching a classic film and adds a realistic element unknown at the time of the first release.

From a romantic angle, it’s fun and juicy wondering who Lynn, a Veronica Lake lookalike, will wind up with. Basinger has chemistry with all of the handsome cops and one wonders who she will screw and screw over. The role is the best of Basinger’s career.

L.A. Confidential (1997) is a film that can be viewed multiple times to notice intricacies missed during the first go-around. It harkens back to the 1940s in style, pizazz, and texture. There is something for everyone and it develops well beyond the film noir genre. It contains great acting, exceptional writing with twisting storylines and events, bloodshed, and thrills. It is an exceptional crime drama almost on par with one of the greats, Chinatown (1974).

The 1990s was an excellent decade for well-made films and L.A. Confidential is near the top of the pile.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Curtis Hanson, Best Supporting Actress-Kim Basinger (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (won), Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

 

The Prom-2020

The Prom-2020

Director-Ryan Murphy 

Starring-Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #1,101

Reviewed January 17, 2021

Grade: A

Hollywood legends Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman take on singing and dancing roles in the lovely and timely film, The Prom (2020). James Corden joins them in a prominent role in a musical based on the popular and recent Broadway production of the same name. The LGBTQ+ storyline is important and powerful but doesn’t overshadow the colors and the fun. The message is perfectly incorporated in the delicious comedy romp.

The Prom reminds me of John Waters Hairspray from 1988 or even the fun remake from 2007. Instead of racism, the topic is now homophobia, with a few characters rebuffing the lifestyle. Most of the performances are over-the-top, but the film works on all levels. The one-liners are crackling and polished, especially by Streep and Corden.

As should be the case, the homophobic characters are written as fools and finally come to realize the error of their ways.

Director, Ryan Murphy, has become a favorite of mine for creating both extremely dark and light-hearted projects that usually slant towards LGBTQ+ recognition and inclusion. His treasured FX series American Horror Story (2011-present) and miniseries The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story are excellent examples of this. I drool with anticipation over what his next offering might be.

High school student, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to bring a female date to the upcoming prom. Chaos has erupted after the head of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington) has canceled the prom. The setting is Indiana and the same gender coupling conflicts with the town’s traditional beliefs and values. Little does she know that her daughter, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s secret girlfriend. The school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) supports Emma and has leaked the story to social media outlets.

Meanwhile, in sophisticated New York City, snooty broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) are devastated when their new musical flops. They join forces with struggling performers Angie Dickinson (Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and take a bus trip with the cast of Godspell to remote Indiana to champion Emma’s cause, and drum up sympathy from their fans and critics.

The rest of the film is as one might expect with bursts of song and dance combined with teaching the stuffy residents of small-town Indiana to accept and embrace Emma and her LGBTQ+ brethren. Amid a flurry of misunderstandings, mainly between newly dating Tom and Dee Dee, Emma and Alyssa, and Alyssa and her mother, a lavish prom is funded for the town, high school students straight and gay, to flock to and co-mingle in unity.

While The Prom is sheer fantasy and real-life doesn’t usually work out so perfectly, the sentiment is meaningful and the film takes a progressive stance.

I adore the song and dance numbers with my favorites being rapturous “It’s Time to Dance” and “Tonight Belongs to You”. They match well with the meaningful “The Acceptance Song”.

My curiosity wonders how residents of Indiana or other small towns might react to The Prom. While the film depicts a stuffy, close-minded viewpoint by many of the residents- besides the ones already mentioned, two male students, and two cheerleaders bully and ridicule Emma, other characters like Emma’s grandmother (Mary Kay Place) are kind and accepting. The bullying is a soft touch and Murphy keeps the plot light.

The contrasts of Dee Dee and Barry’s derision of Edgewater is comical and delightful, the main fun of the film. Dee Dee has never heard of the restaurant, Applebees, or knows not what it is. Barry and Dee Dee are horrified to have to stay in the local hotel because it is beneath their standards. The hotel is pretty nice.

A beautiful moment occurs towards the end of the film when Barry reunites with his mother, played by Tracey Ullman. Distant for years because of his parent’s inability to accept him as gay, the old woman comes to terms, and the two reunite with tears. A sad reality is that the dad still cannot come to terms with his son’s sexuality. This is surprising and hurtful that some parents still have a tough time with lifestyle choices in the year 2020.

The Prom has heart and the side story of the blossoming romance between Dee Dee and Tom, opposites, is charming and sweet.  Learning to curb her narcissism and doing for others as tough as that might be for her, Streep is a hoot and has tremendous chemistry with Key. The interracial match is a bonus for a film keen on promoting diversity and inclusion.

Related to this, one preposterous notice is the small Indiana town having oodles of Hispanic, black, and Asian townspeople. A real small town in Indiana would almost certainly be 99% white. But, the message is diversity so Murphy does what he sets out to do. I just don’t feel it’s accurate.

Those desiring a pulsating, riotous comedy musical with snippets of cutting humor are in for a treat with The Prom (2020). The musical numbers may fade and are not as memorable as instantly recognizable songs from classics like West Side Story (1961) or The Music Man (1962), but enough is on the table for pure enjoyment for the entire family. And the strong message is enough reason to tune in.

Keep the Lights On-2012

Keep The Lights On-2012

Director-Ira Sachs

Starring-Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth

Scott’s Review #1,100

Reviewed January 16, 2021

Grade: A

With such a healthy dose of LGBTQ+ films released during the 2010s, most independent productions, enough exists to please nearly everyone striving for good diversity in film.

Over the years in cinema, it was tough to find specific genre films, rather than being forced to seek out subtle clues that filmmakers would incorporate. LGBTQ+ films are now a dime a dozen, which is good but makes some films fall under the radar.

Keep The Lights On (2012) is a romantic drama, rather mysterious, about two men and the nine-year-long love affair they share. It’s not a happy watch because drug addiction is a large part of the story. It portrays the men as human beings with passion, feelings, and experiencing joys and pains, instead of being written as caricatures or comic relief. This is progress, and worthy of much praise.

The only issue with the film is that by 2012, and the decade as a whole, there were so many similar films being made that there’s not enough to distinguish it from other high-profile works.

The LGBTQ bar was set very high with Brokeback Mountain in 2006, and recent offerings like Carol (2015) and Moonlight (2016) thrust the LGBTQ+ community into the spotlight.

Keep The Lights On has many positives, especially cinematically, but it risks getting lost in the shuffle matched up against other genre films.

Advisable, is to check out this gem.

It might best be compared to the exceptional same-sex love story, Call Me By Your Name (2017). Both are character-driven and are both happy and tragic.

Keep The Lights On is technically an American film. It feels like an international film, though, because it centers around a Danish filmmaker who lives in New York City.

Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a troubled, creative soul, struggling to complete a documentary about an artist named Avery Willard. He meets and enters into a loving but complicated long-term relationship with Paul (Zachary Booth), a lawyer in the publishing industry who struggles with drug addiction.

Therein lies the complicated nature of their relationship. They are bonded but plagues with outside challenges. It begins in 1998 and ends in 2006.

They meet via a phone sex chatline which adds to the sexual mystique. Erik is gay and happily out, but Paul indulges in both men and women and is conflicted sexually. He gets Erik high. Will he lead Erik down a dark path? Will Paul clean up his act or die? Erik and Paul bed numerous other men throughout the story. This is an intriguing addition to the complicated events.

Since the film is about a filmmaker it ought to include cool and inventive camera angles and trimmings, and it does. Ira Sachs, an American director, provides flourishing shots of New York City and gazes through the lens of an actual creative spirit, which justifies the character of Erik.

The story builds quite slowly and plenty of times I awaited something exciting to happen. But real-life is compiled of many small moments and I loved how the film simply is instead of big momentous scenes being added for effect.

The audience is meant to root for Erik and Paul to trot into happily ever after territory. This may or may not happen. Keep The Lights On has a vague ending open to interpretation.

Erik and Paul look similar to each other which I found very interesting. They say that many same-sex couples are attracted to individuals who look like themselves. I’m not sure how true this is, but I wondered if Sachs had a point to make. Can a person have multiple sides to themselves they see through other people? Keep The Lights On is told more from Erik’s perspective and seeing in Paul the dark side of himself.

Key to the honesty that exudes from Keep The Lights On is that the story is based on Sach’s relationship with a publisher he met and fell in love with. The truthfulness comes across on screen, which is a main appeal to the overall experience. I love the title which can be interpreted in a few different ways, especially once the conclusion is upon us.

I admire the fact that Keep The Lights On (2012) was made and the characters provide a longing and yearning that is quite humanistic. It feels like it was created based on fact rather than a studio idea conjured up around a boardroom table.

Ira Sachs creates an excellent, quiet film about two men and the love story they share. Their troubles come and go but their passion and bond never waver.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Ira Sachs, Best Male Lead-Thure Lindhardt, Best Screenplay

J. Edgar-2011

J. Edgar-2011

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Scott’s Review #1,099

Reviewed January 12, 2021

Grade: A

When director Clint Eastwood and actor Leonardo DiCaprio align, exceptional things can happen. This is evidenced by J. Edgar (2011), a compelling and well-constructed drama with a biographical and character-driven focus.

One gets inside the head and psyche of the title character, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, with DiCaprio playing him flawlessly.

The film is left-of-center, surprising for the mainstream director, though his film-making style is familiar. Eastwood does what he does best by constructing a slick and “Hollywood” experience. There are not daring camera angles or unique uses of light that Kubrick might use.  He creates a steady affair that will appeal to the American heartland, getting viewer’s butts to the movie theater on his name alone.

The film opens in 1919 when a young Hoover (DiCaprio) is tasked with purging radicals from the United States and obtaining their secrets, something he’d carry with him for decades. He meets a new Secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who he makes an awkward pass at, and an even more awkward marriage proposal. She refuses, and they become professional and personal allies.

The story then plods along with historical stops through the decades like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon. Hoover is always involved in these escapades.

Hoover, who served as the head of the bureau from 1924 until he died in 1972, was a powerful and ruthless man. Eastwood carefully dissects him, professionally and personally. He never married, lived with his mother, traveled, and enjoyed dinners with one man who in death, bequeathed his estate to. You do the math. He was a gay man when one couldn’t be an openly gay man. Thus, he is conflicted, and Eastwood does a great job at showing the demons he wrestled with.

The relationship between Hoover and lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is my favorite part of J. Edgar because it is interesting and humanistic. DiCaprio and Hammer give outstanding performances with flawless chemistry and charisma.

When Hoover professes his love for Tolson and quickly recants his statement then professes love for an actress, we view his turmoil. He loves Tolson but cannot bear to accept it even though it would free him from his chains.

Despite the tender nature of the sequence above or that his mother was a traditional, no-nonsense, shrew, Hoover is not portrayed as a hero. He was a complicated and damaged man and Eastwood hits this point home. He blackmailed Martin Luther King Jr., kept sexual secrets on several Hollywood stars, and participated in various abuses of power. The film does admit that the director also instituted fingerprinting and forensic measures that reduced crime.

Those who desire a straightforward lesson in history may be slightly perturbed by the focus on Hoover’s personal life. Eastwood could have easily made Hoover’s career the only facet of the production-enough material that exists for this. But instead, we get to see the inner working of the man. Kudos for this.

Dustin Lance Black, who wrote Milk (2008), a portrait of a gay man, is back at the helm serving as a screenwriter. But the two films are not modeled after one another. They are very different animals. While Milk celebrates a man refusing to deny who he and others are, demanding their just civil rights, J. Edgar provides the narrative of a man fleeing from who he is.

Offering a rich and complex biography of a tortured man, the audience is exposed to a person wrestling with inner turmoil. Hoover was a famous man, but the film could easily represent those thousands of men who could not bring themselves to accept who they really were.

The largest praise goes to DiCaprio who makes us sympathize, pity, and admire the complexities of his character. J. Edgar (2011) hits a grand slam.

Terror Train-1980

Terror Train-1980

Director-Roger Spottiswoode

Starring-Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis

Scott’s Review #1,098

Reviewed January 5, 2021

Grade: B+

Terror Train (1980) is a creepy slasher film released amid the heyday of the genre’s popularity. It embraces a familiar formula of teenage party victims but adds a helping of red herrings/whodunit twists, which catapults it above mediocrity and will keep audiences engaged until the finale.

Helpful is the casting of the “scream queen” of the time, Jamie Lee Curtis, who is the main attraction and obviously the “final girl”. Her casting adds credibility and star power. The film serves as a puzzle and the ending is difficult to predict with many twists and turns along the way. A perfect watch for a snowy New Year’s Eve, when the film is set.

Events begin three years before the happenings in the main story, naturally at a New Year’s Eve fraternity party, inhabited by a group of energetic pre-medical students looking for a good time. Alana Maxwell (Curtis) is coaxed into participating in a cruel joke meant to lure an insecure pledge, Kenny (Derek MacKinnon) to a bedroom with the promise of sex. Instead of becoming a light-hearted prank the group later laughs about, the joke spirals Kenny into insanity and a long stay at a mental institution.

Reunited for another party, this time on a train, bitter cold and snowy New Year’s Eve is again the setting. The same group, now forgetting all about the prank, unwittingly boards the train for a night of booze, laughs, and partying. This time, a costume party is on the menu, which is convenient for a disguised killer intending to spend the night murdering the partygoers. He first kills Ed (Howard Busgang) on the tracks and takes his Groucho Marx costume to confuse everyone else. A mysterious magician and assistant are aboard to provide entertainment.

The film belongs to Curtis, of course. The idea was to create “Halloween on a train”. As much as Halloween (1978) is superior and scarier, Terror Train is cleverer. Many a red herring can be found throughout the story so that a deduction of the killer’s identity can quickly be questioned. Curtis, a popular star with the younger set in 1980, inevitably led fans to the movie theater to see Terror Train. The comparisons to Halloween are apt- both feature disguises, masks, costumes, and mayhem.

The casting of Ben Johnson as Carne, the train conductor, an actor making films since the 1930s, and winning an Oscar for The Last Picture Show in 1971, provides the patriarchal character like Donald Pleasance did in Halloween. Despite the vulnerability of being on a train speeding through the middle of nowhere on a frigid winter night with a killer on board, having a father figure and voice of reason is reassuring. And the casting agents were lucky to get him.

The vibe in Terror Train is great and the setting works wonderfully. An ode to Hitchcock, the train is an effective place for suspense or murder. The victims have few places to hide and a long tube with dark seats and hidden compartments while they disappear one by one is perfect horror fodder.

The gripe is that the identity of the killer is painfully obvious. Spoiler alert- it’s who you think it is! After the film, I was left feeling tricked and bamboozled. But, just like the mysterious magician, all is not what it seems. Newcomer director, Roger Spottiswood, casts real-life magician, David Copperfield, for good effect, and the star does a fairly good job of adding tension and looking sinister. When the big revelation is upon us, a cool gender-bender treat awaits, but the killer is predictable, nonetheless.

A quick nod to the inclusion of some diversity, few and far between in 1980 slasher fare. One of the fraternity brothers is a black male. The character is handsome, arrogant, and quickly gets his comeuppance, but the addition is to be noted.

Terror Train (1980) is an atmospheric and surprisingly good holiday-themed slasher film that flies under the radar. Snuggle under a warm blanket, break open the midnight champagne, and enjoy the claustrophobic and frightening post-Christmas trimmings.