Emma-2020

Emma-2020

Director-Autumn de Wilde

Starring-Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn

Scott’s Review #1,128

Reviewed March 31, 2021

Grade: B

I haven’t read the classic Jane Austen novel written in 1815 nor have I seen the 1996 film version starring Gweneth Paltrow. Neither of these is a prerequisite to enjoy the 2020 version of Emma starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role of Emma Woodhouse.

The film, while set in the early nineteenth century, feels incredibly contemporary and seemingly makes little attempt at a classic style save for the hair, makeup, and costumes. These items are splendid, and the high point, and make the film stylish and bright.

Beautiful, smart, and rich, Emma (Taylor-Joy) enjoys her matchmaking skills that sometimes lead to awkward or failed matches and romantic missteps. She claims to not be interested in her own romance or potential suitors though that changes with time.

She struggles with the challenges of growing up, though she is terribly pampered and has a habit of involving herself in other’s business. Emma is also mischievous and not always kind though deep down she is a good person and has regret when she hurts someone’s feelings with her antics.

In a good, coming of age way, she finally realizes that love for her and a proper match of her own has been there all along and staring her in the face.

The film begins with Emma’s governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), marrying and becoming Mrs. Weston. She and Emma are best friends and Emma is saddened so she settles on Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a younger girl whom Emma supposes is the unclaimed child of a gentleman; Harriet’s parents are unknown, but her education has been provided for. They become bonded and Emma’s influence is immeasured.

Taylor-Joy does a wonderful job in the title role and carefully makes Emma naughty and sometimes unlikable before carefully reeling her in with an act of kindness. She has no malice in mind but is often bored and looking for excitement. I found myself rooting for her to find romance with Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), which she does but not without a hurdle or two on the way.

Other characters come and go with flirtations and romantic possibilities explored.

Speaking of Flynn, the actor is rumored to play rock icon David Bowie in a future theatrical feature. A real musician, Flynn should be the perfect casting for that important part. He is the only character to show some flesh, his bare bum, in Emma and one wonders if female director Autumn de Wilde did this purposefully. After all, traditionally in cinema, it’s been the female who is more commonly nude. Turnabout is fair play.

While Taylor-Joy is good she is nearly upstaged by the delightful Goth who is fabulous as the insecure and impressionable Harriet. With humor and innocence, she makes her character quite likable. I’d like to see more from this young actress. Bill Nighy is perfectly cast as the comical father of Emma while Miranda Hart as Miss Bates steamrolls over every scene she is in.

Apparently, some inconsistencies exist especially where Miss Bates is concerned. A quick mention that Miss Bates and her family had once been rich and are now struggling is not explored where it reportedly was in the novel.

Dividing the film into seasonal sections (Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer) is a good decision and makes it more like a novel. The winter snow and Christmas festivities along with a summer picnic do wonders to add fresh atmospheric tidbits. The many scenes of delicious spreads of food and drink laid out for hungry eyes to see offer a robust and colorful glimpse of the culture.

The vibrancy, the food, and the aforementioned clothing, all brimming with richness based on the seasons are the main draw. The castles and large houses featured surely small-town English style brim with vastness and atmosphere.

Emma (2020) is a fun film and the story is not the best part of it. Predictable, all characters wind up with romantically who they should wind up with and there is a happily ever after sensibility.

Adolescents can easily sit in comfort with their mother and father and enjoy the lightweight affair. Nobody will be offended and all will be satisfied. It’s a solid romantic period piece.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Vacancy-2007

Vacancy-2007

Director-Nimród Antal

Starring-Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale 

Scott’s Review #1,127

Reviewed March 29, 2021

Grade: B-

Many times in cinema there exists a great premise for a good film that is a great idea only and the follow-through falls apart. Vacancy (2007) is one such film. Especially a vibrant story for a horror film, the first half is way better than the latter half as we can enjoy wondering what will happen next?

The film fumbles the football midway through once it’s revealed who the killer (or killers?) are and never gets its bearings back. It’s still an okay watch but the possibilities could have taken the film to another level. Instead, we get too much predictability.

The idea seems great because it’s very similar territory to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho. Think Bates Motel and a crazed killer not unlike Anthony Perkins, sans the good chemistry and motivation. The killer (or killers?) has no good motivation.

Vacancy is really a mish-mash of other recent horror efforts including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), and Joy Ride (2001). It takes standard material from each and mixes them, trying to create a fabulous concoction. This doesn’t work so well. Instead, it just feels like a combination of the other films with a similar look and feel.

Since director Nimród Antal is Hungarian this would explain the Hostel pattern which also features a European vibe even though Vacancy is set somewhere off a mountain road in the United States.

A young couple lost in a deserted area near a seedy hotel will likely freak anyone out. What if my car breaks down and I have no cell phone and am not sure where I am, the viewer immediately thinks? Throw in a serial killer and you’ve frightened the bejeesus out of just about anyone. To make matters worse the characters in Vacancy choose to watch horror films on television for fun- not a smart decision.

When David’s (Luke Wilson) and Amy’s (Kate Beckinsale) car breaks down, they have no choice but to spend the night at a remote hotel. The couple decides to make the best of it by entertaining themselves with low-budget slasher movies on TV. They suddenly realize that the horrifying images they see look were recorded in the room in which they are staying!

With hidden cameras capturing their every move, David and Amy must find a way out before they become the latest stars in another film in the series of snuff films. At first, they panic then try to use good sense and figure out what the heck is going on and how they can escape this crazy hotel room.

Besides the plot loopholes, there really is not good chemistry between Wilson and Beckinsale which doesn’t do the film any favors. David and Amy are merely your average ordinary horror movie characters. They are on the verge of divorce due to some family tragedy that is never explained nor has anything to do with the events.

They have some measure of smarts and it is interesting to see how they finagle out of their peril but nor are they James Bond either so their actions are implausible and become riddled with B-movie cliches. By the halfway point Vacancy, which starts quite well, is reduced to a standard horror film with an average cat and mouse final sequence made completely predictable.

Speaking of cliches, Antal adds the too-good-to-be-true auto mechanic played by Ethan Embry, clearly the prime suspect, and Mason, the desk clerk. Is he a suspect too? These characters are a hybrid of Norman Bates and up to a point make the film fun. Once their true colors are revealed it becomes silly.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale do what they can with a less than a spectacular script that takes us too often into familiar territory and borrows way too much from other films. Vacancy (2007) has some potential that never becomes realized or feels fresh.

U-571-2000

U-571-2000

Director-Jonathan Mostow

Starring-Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton

Scott’s Review #1,126

Reviewed March 25, 2021

Grade: B-

U-571 (2000) is a film that entertains. It’s got excellent cinematography, some thrills, and clear good guys vs. bad guys mentality with machismo for days. It’s an American film if there ever was one and will please American audiences seeking cookie-cutter material with loud noise and a satisfying ending. It’s also got some scenes of guy peril that will please a certain type of audience demographic- think blue-collar males.

The modus operandi is that all the Americans are good and the Germans are bad. It is World War II after all. It wasn’t that simple folks but according to the film, it’s pretty cut and dry. But that’s entertainment and a box-office hit.

It’s not a bad film at all but a beer and pizza style film, not a martini and avocado dip film.

For those seeking something more authentic versus formulaic and riddled with cliches, U-571 will disappoint. It’s also shamefully inaccurate and severely muddies waters. The film does not portray a historical event so there is a lot it gets away with.

But it’s a fictionalized film and is meant to entertain so my suggestion is to sit back, grab some popcorn (or beer and pizza), and enjoy it for what it is. Don’t look for any rationale other than the studio wanting to make a ton of money. And there is the exceptional cinematography and cool locales to keep us marginally happy. The story is inane but the trimmings work.

When a German U-571 submarine (hence the title of the film!) with a sophisticated encryption machine onboard is presumed lost and buried during a World War II battle at sea, the Allies send an American Navy force led by Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve it for study.

Boarding the German ship, the Americans’ cover as a rescue force is quickly blown. Forced to take the crew hostage, the Americans lay their explosives and prepare to destroy the German vessel before the Nazis can send naval backup. It’s a race against time routine seen frequently in masculine thrillers.

About those historical inaccuracies. The American portrayal is horribly skewed and slanted to be pro-American and this point offended many of the British military and public. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair got involved. The Allies captured Enigma-related codebooks and machines about fifteen times during the War; all but two of these by British forces. Watching the film one would think the Americans did everything and the British were incompetent.

Let’s ponder for a moment why filmmakers, especially screenwriter David Ayer and director Jonathan Mostow would embrace such inconsistencies. My hunch is that they were attempting to target their film to male American moviegoers. The tactic worked and the film was a hit.

A cool tidbit is the casting of rock star Jon Bon Jovi in the supporting role of Lieutenant Pete Emmett. At this time launching an acting career that included a role on television’s Ally McBeal, it’s impressive to see him on the big screen and not playing himself. I’m not sure he totally pulls it off but as a fan of the 1980’s hitmaker, I enjoyed this aspect.

McConaughey carries the film well and is his usual dashing and charismatic self. Before the actor started doing more quality and character representative films nearly a decade later, he would later state that several roles he took he disliked and did completely for the cash payday. One wonders if U-571 is one of those films.

Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel have little more to do than to act tense and play second fiddle to McConaughey.

From an inclusive perspective, and I kid because there is nary a strong female to be found, there are no strong women characters. A shame because being the year 2000 Mostow should have known better. Couldn’t one of the high-ranking majors or lieutenants have been a woman? If nothing else it could have added some sexual tension. Or perhaps a same-sex relationship. The film does nothing for diversity.

It’s a very intense and exciting war film that accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s well-executed and a crowd-pleaser, U-571 (2000) doesn’t contain much more than that and will be remembered as a slick entertaining thriller with a big movie star.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound (won)

Tadpole-2002

Tadpole-2002

Director-Gary Winick

Starring-Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Stanford, John Ritter

Scott’s Review #1,125

Reviewed March 23, 2021

Grade: B

Tadpole (2002) is an enjoyable coming of age effort that carefully, or too carefully for that matter, toes the line between being cute and exploring some morally questionable material. The film gets away with the naughty subject matter because there exists a wholesomeness that lands somewhere between fresh and a commodity.

It’s a fun romp but nothing terribly memorable either, borrowing from better films.

Aaron Stanford, the lead actor, makes the film better than it might have been and seamlessly matches wits and comic timing with heavyweight actors like Sigourney Weaver, John Ritter, and Bebe Neuwirth. He is charming just like his character and carries the film.

As Oscar Grubman (what a name!) he is compassionate and sophisticated, reciting Voltaire and speaking fluent French. When he arrives home for Thanksgiving weekend it is revealed that he has a major crush on his stepmother, Eve (Weaver). She and Oscar’s father, Stanley (Ritter) share a ritzy Manhattan apartment and entertain a girl they think would be perfect for Oscar but he only has eyes for Eve and rebuffs the poor girl.

Despondent at not having a chance with his stepmom but desiring her, Oscar visits a local bar and runs into Eve’s best friend, Diane (Neuwirth). He gets drunk and she takes him home winding up in bed together! Oscar is filled with remorse.

Oscar’s and Diane’s tryst is the caveat for the rest of the antics of the film. Oscar is terrified that Diane will tell his father and Eve especially as she is on the guestlist for dinner the next night!  An amusing game of footsie under the table ensues between Oscar and Diane.

Diane is clearly a Mrs. Robinson type character to Oscar’s Benjamin if we want to draw comparisons to The Graduate (1967) and how could we not? Eve is like Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter. Unsuspecting and slightly naive. It’s fun to reminisce about the classic film that director Gary Winick borrows from.

Speaking of Winick, he has a knack for creating coming of age stories featuring teenage characters with light angst and he commonly releases independent films. My hunch is that if Tadpole was a big-budget mainstream affair even more concessions might have been made for the brewing May/December romance.

The “dinner scene” is the best part of Tadpole and provides good physical comedy and a hilarious setup. It’s a stretch in plausibility and borrows from many slapstick comedies but somehow the scene works well and stands out.

The subject matter of a woman three times the age of Oscar is not as harsh as it sounds and is largely played for laughs and misunderstandings. This is where the film misses the mark and stays firmly in the safe lane. Imagine the juicy possibilities that would occur if Eve reciprocated Oscar’s advances? Now that is an interesting concept!

I shudder to think that if Oscar were a fifteen-year-old girl and Eve a forty-something-year-old man this film would never have been made. The double standard gnawed at me.

The ending is wholesome and predictable making the film satisfying for the character yet limiting for the viewer. Oscar more or less “snaps out of it” and realizes that girls his own age are actually okay after all. I half-wondered if the film would be revealed to have all been Oscar’s dream.

The cougar-Esque subject matter provides light entertainment never daring to go as far as it could have, or should have. In the end, we understand a young, pubescent boy’s dreams and desires and may fondly recall when we were his age and all the troublesome sexual feelings that bubbled under the surface.

Tadpole (2002) is a watchable independent comedy providing enough to digest thanks to the worthy actors among its cast.

Birth-2004

Birth-2004

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright

Scott’s Review #1,124

Reviewed March 18, 2021

Grade: B+

Due to the difficult nature of the film’s storyline, Birth (2004) is a tough sell to most cinema lovers. A grown woman embarking on any sort of romance with a ten-year-old boy will turn off viewers, though can you even imagine if the genders were reversed? I was fascinated by the premise and the endless possibilities of a conclusion. I’m not quite sure what I expected to ultimately happen but I felt slightly underwhelmed by the ending. All in all, it is a daring effort that I wish had more payoff.

The first hour or so is extremely provocative.

Nicole Kidman excels at making the unbelievable material as believable as she can and the film is directed very well by Jonathan Glazer who gives it a haunting and mysterious Stanley Kubrick vibe. The director would really come into name recognition following his 2013 masterpiece Under the Skin.

The film opens with a voiceover of an unknown man, a professor, lecturing about his disbelief in reincarnation. The audience then sees the man jogging through New York City’s Central Park where he collapses and dies.

It takes Anna (Kidman) ten years to recover from the death of her husband, Sean, (the professor) but now she’s on the verge of marrying her boyfriend, Joseph (Danny Huston), and finally moving on. We suspect she may not be completely keen on marrying Joseph but most of their relationship is unclear. We know that she aches for Sean.

On the night of their lavish engagement party, a young boy named Sean (Cameron Bright) turns up, saying he is her dead husband reincarnated. At first, she ignores the child, thinking it’s a joke, but his knowledge of her former husband’s life is uncanny, leading her to slowly realize that he could be telling the truth.

Anna is conflicted to say the very least and Kidman effortlessly makes the audience believe that what is considered ridiculous might actually be true. Is there a supernatural element here?

Her family members, led by her mother Eleanor (Lauren Bacall) are disbelieving and antagonistic towards the boy for disrupting Anna’s life. An issue is that other than one supporting character, Clara (Anne Heche), who has a great opening sequence burying mysterious letters, the others have next to nothing to contribute to the story except to brood and get angry.

Bacall, in particular, is completely wasted in a role that could have been played by any other older actress.

Parallels to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) are hard not to make. Anna dons a similar pixie hair as Rosemary had. They both reside in swanky old-style New York City high-rises that have a ghostly, haunting feeling. The ambiance is positive.

My favorite camera shot that Glazer includes is a lengthy one of Kidman’s Anna. A close-up, the character’s reactions are on full display for what feels like several minutes. Kidman gets to show her tremendous range- tears, shock, realization. I’ve noticed a similar shot in a handful of modern films and it’s an actor’s delight- a viewer’s too!

The finale, without giving much away, is interesting to a point. The big reveal involving Clara is intriguing until the viewer backtracks and tries to add up all the events. The fact is they don’t add up and I longed for something more concrete or believable.

There lacks a good payoff.

Birth (2004) doesn’t always add up to satisfaction but it’s edgy, gloomy, and unpredictable and I enjoyed those facets enough to recommend it. This is not a mainstream film like Ghost (1990) with a similar theme- it’s much more cerebral and thought-provoking.

Kidman’s performance is the main draw here but it’s tough to find a film the actress is not great in.

The Father-2020

The Father-2020

Director-Florian Zeller

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman 

Scott’s Review #1,123

Reviewed March 17, 2021

Grade: A

The Father is a heartbreaking 2020 drama film co-written and directed by Florian Zeller, based on his own 2012 play entitled Le Père. The piece is wonderfully written and superbly acted with incredible empathy for the characters involved.

Everyone should see this important film.

Anne (Olivia Colman) has always adored her intelligent and independent father, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who’s approaching the treacherous age of eighty. His mind is not what it used to be by any means and is in fact starting to fail. Stubborn, he rejects every caregiver she brings in to assist with his daily living. Anne finds herself in anguish about how to solve this crisis while striving to live her own life.

Zeller spins a brilliant story from the very first scene because it’s told from Anthony’s perspective rather than solely from Anne’s. Traditionally in films centering around Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the perspective is from the family member and how they cope and handle a life-altering and painful situation. 2014’s Still Alice starring Julianne Moore is an exception.

Immediately, the viewer is forced into the same world as Anthony and suffers as much confusion as he does. This is tremendously effective. When Anthony rummages about his kitchen in his London flat and hears a door close, he is startled. Who can it be? He wanders to the living room to discover a man sitting reading the newspaper who claims to be Anne’s husband. Anthony has never laid eyes on the man before. Neither has the viewer.

Immediately Anthony and the viewer are confused. Who is the man? Is he a burglar playing tricks on an elderly man or is Anthony forgetting?

From this point in the film, it remains unclear what events are really happening and what Anthony is forgetting or misunderstanding. Sometimes the characters are unclear. Does Anthony think one person (Olivia Williams) is Anne but is she really his nurse? Is his caretaker his other daughter Lucy? Is the man his daughter or Anne’s husband?

Confusion. Disorientation. Just like anyone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia feels regularly.

Towards the finale, the most heartwrenching part of the film, Anthony weeps at his memory loss, yearning to be a child again and safe in his mother’s arms. We feel his despair and desperation and it’s gutwrenching to witness. Anyone who has had to care for an elder will understand. Anyone else should be empathetic.

We suffer alongside Anne too. Help is becoming a necessity for her; she can’t make daily visits anymore and Anthony’s grip on reality is unraveling. She wants to move to Paris where her new boyfriend lives.

In a chilling scene, we watch Anthony sleeping peacefully while Anne gazes lovingly at him. She tucks him in and then begins to strangle him. We hope this is only a fleeting fantasy, toying with the idea of saving him from further suffering and giving her freedom back.

As we experience the changing tides of his memory, how much of his own identity and past can Anthony cling to? How does Anne cope as she grieves the loss of her father, while he still lives and breathes before her?

Hopkins and Colman are dynamic. Hard to imagine Hopkins usurping his unforgettable role as Hannibal Lechter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), he nearly does. His character is humorous, dignified, and lovable. He is also angry, feisty, and frustrated. Hopkins channels nearly every emotion.

Colman is teary but strong. A woman sacrificing her own life and happiness for the burden of caring for her father. She is loyal and wouldn’t think twice about having it any other way.

The story is a downer but one that must be witnessed. The Father (2020) warmly embraces real life, through loving reflection upon the simple human condition; heart-breaking and uncompromisingly poignant, the film tells a simple yet complex tale about life, death, and loss.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Anthony Hopkins (won), Best Supporting Actress-Olivia Colman, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

Luce-2019

Luce-2019

Director-Julius Onah

Starring-Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. 

Scott’s Review #1,122

Reviewed March 16, 2021

Grade: B+

Oftentimes unpleasant with shifting character allegiances, Luce (2019) is a painful look at race relations. The clever nuance is the relationships between people of the same race. Superior acting rises the film above just simply a nice idea as heavyweights like Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts lend credibility to a small indie film.

The result is sometimes muddied waters and an unclear direction but the effort is exceptional and a worthy subject matter in modern times.

The film is down and dirty and makes no apologies for what it’s dissecting. The co-writer and director, Julius Onah, a Nigerian-American man, offers glimpses of grandeur, and definitely impossible to guess how it will end. We wonder if he bases the story on his own very real experiences and I am eager to see what projects he comes up with in the future.

Some aspects of the film I found implausible if not logically impossible and not every point adds up or is successfully outlined. But the effort and the balance of drama, thrills, and social issues are definitely there for the taking.

I realized I was rooting throughout for one character and then suddenly I was disappointed in their actions and my allegiance shifted to another of the principal characters. This is key and a positive to a good character-driven film. At times though the character’s actions are questionable and more than one mighty shake of the head in disbelief will be experienced.

Liberal-minded parents Amy (Watts) and Peter Edgar (Eli Roth) have adopted Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a child of refuge and a dangerous third-world country. It is referenced that they have spent years in therapy to repair the damage he has suffered as a child. It is implied he learned to shoot and possibly kill at a young age. Now a teenager, and Americanized, Luce is popular in high school and a star scholar and track star.

Life is good. Or is it?

The film, based on the play of the same name by J.C. Lee, is shot nothing like a play and is conventionally shot.

Luce writes and submits an extremely disturbing essay that forces the Edgars to reconsider their marriage and their family after it is brought to their attention by his teacher.

He challenges and makes an enemy of this teacher, Harriet Wilson (Spencer) who is extremely tough on students of color, being black herself. She snoops through one student’s locker and finds drugs, ratting on him and blowing his chances for a scholarship. When she finds fireworks in Luce’s locker she is appalled and makes it her mission to entangle his parents but could she have planted them herself?

Is she out to get Luce, jealous of his success when she has had to struggle for hers? Tensions mount between Harriet and Luce as the story unfolds.

The acting is powerful all around the canvas but Harrison and Spencer deliver the standout performances- nearly brilliant. Watts and Roth are good too but with more standard portrayals.

Excellent is how we get to know each of the four principles in detail. Harriet at first appears a tough shrew, but her personal life makes her sympathetic. She attempts to care for her mentally ill sister herself but after a humiliating scene at school is forced to return her to a home.

Suddenly, I was a fan of Harriet, Later, I was disappointed in Luce and Amy, who I thought I was intended to root for. The film is topsy turvy and I enjoyed this juicy infusion of not knowing what was to come next.

When a female classmate of Luce’s who harbors an enormous secret takes center stage the roller-coaster ride becomes even bumpier.

I wish there were more films of a similar nature as Luce (2019) to hit mainstream theaters. It provokes thought and opinion while featuring social problems, pre-conceived notions, and trusting one’s merits. I just wish the puzzle had been solved in a more satisfying way than it was.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Julius Onah, Best Male Lead-Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Best Supporting Female-Octavia Spencer

Bone-1972

Bone-1972

Director-Larry Cohen

Starring-Yaphet Kotto, Andrew Duggan, Joyce Van Patten

Scott’s Review #1,121

Reviewed March 12, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s tough to review a film like Bone (1972) because it’s a tough film to be categorized. Is it a satire or does it dissect racism and classism? The truth is it does all of the above and offers a bizarre and jagged cinematic experience that will leave the viewer perplexed, scratching his or her head, and ruminating about the experience long after the credits roll.

I was originally expecting Bone to be a 1970s exploitation film but it’s not that at all.

One lazy sunny day, in Los Angeles’s illustrious Beverly Hills, local salesman Bill (Andrew Duggan) and his wife Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten) bicker beside their luscious pool. They are horrified when they realize a filthy rat has become stuck in the filter. This provides some symbolism as the film chugs along. When they rush to call the exterminator a threatening black man named Bone (Yaphet Kotto) suddenly appears.

Frightened, they firstly assume he is with the exterminator company but when he terrorizes them with the now-dead rat they offer him money to leave. While they search for banking materials, Bone realizes that Bernadette and Bill are not as wealthy as appearances would dictate. Bone sends Bill to the bank to withdraw cash or else he will rape and beat Bernadette. At the same time, Bernadette becomes suspicious of Bill’s financial intentions.

There are moments in the film that left me feeling like I was watching something bizarre or of little sense. I’m still not sure what the opening scene of Bill filming a television commercial featuring cars involved in wrecks with dead bodies inside. The images are bloody and horrific- artistic but unclear is the message.

The conclusion also is unclear. When one character appears to murder another, a third character vanishes. Naming the characters would ruin the story but suffice it to say one may wonder if the entire film was a dream.

The realization that Bill and Bernadette make individually is that they don’t care for one another and would happily leave the other to die. We know little about their life from before but assume, while rich, they live a life of boredom, each yearning for some spice. How many nights does Bernadette sit alone by the pool drowning her sorrows in Chardonnay?

Yaphet Kotto is wonderfully cast. Soon to be well-known as a James Bond villain in Live and Let Die (1973), his character in Bone starts as menacing and slowly becomes sympathetic almost rootable. When he reveals to Bernadette that he cannot maintain an erection unless he is raping someone, the thought is sickening, but he also appears vulnerable and feeble.

He gradually became my favorite character of the three whereas in a conventional film he would be the one not to root for.

Bill’s experiences are a mind-fuck. Tasked with withdrawing money from his bank to save his wife, he thinks why should he? He meets a gregarious woman at a bar played by Brett Somers and a chatty young woman online at the bank, who beds him and makes him a salted steak. They frolic away the afternoon as, for all he knows, his wife could be dead!

The issues of classism and racism are the meat and potatoes of Bone and where the film really succeeds. We feel the pain of Bone when he as a black man must stand out like a sore thumb in swanky Beverly Hills. He has had to struggle for every crumb he has gotten while he sees spoiled brats like Bill and Bernadette getting everything and working half as hard. It’s not fair and the audience is meant to empathize with him.

Larry Cohen, well-known for the low-budget campy circuit, creates a perplexing project with added black comedy. The rat, the chatty girl, the X-Ray lady, everyone in the film is wacko!

Bone is a weird film that I don’t know what to make of.  I took it as a glimpse into social issues and I loved the food references, the steak, and eggs mostly. The plot and conclusion will leave you wondering but I guess that’s better than forgetting the film five minutes later. I’m still trying to make heads or tails of it.

The Silent Partner-1978

The Silent Partner-1978

Director-Daryl Duke

Starring-Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer

Scott’s Review #1,120

Reviewed March 10, 2021

Grade: A-

The Silent Partner (1978) is an exceptionally thrilling film that is relatively unknown to most moviegoers but is well-regarded by cinema lovers, especially fans of 1970s relics. Watching the film in tandem with Brian DePalma’s clever and steamy Dressed to Kill (1980) one will immediately notice some similarities and will be able to draw comparisons. Might have DePalma even patterned his film after The Silent Partner?

Even the finest of directors borrow snippets of greatness from other directors. That’s the way it works.

It’s a shame so few realize that the film even exists. Starring Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer, admittedly the late 1970s was not the best-known time-period for Plummer but saw Gould in his heyday. The film also is peppered with notable sequences reminiscent of Frances Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation.

I can best describe the film as a Canadian heist film but this might imply that it’s cookie-cutter or generic in some way. It’s not. It’s not even a “guy film”- it’s way more cerebral than that.

There are a style and momentum in The Silent Partner that is individual with unique and unexpected trimmings along the way. The cat and mouse dynamic adds trickery and a murky nature that makes the film work.

Daryl Duke, unfamiliar to me and primarily known for television work, is at the helm as director, crafting from a screenplay written by Curtis Hanson. Hanson adapted his work from a Danish novel and should be familiar to movie fans for his participation in the thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and the neo-crime thriller L.A. Confidential (1997).

Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) plods along during the holidays at his bank teller job at the local mall. It’s Christmastime and Miles is down because he attempted to ask out his co-worker Julie Carver (Susannah York), who is more interested in dating their married boss- for now!

After discovering a secret plot by the mall Santa Claus (Christopher Plummer)to rob the bank at which he works, Miles cunningly hides a large portion of the cash in his own safe-deposit box. After the robbery, it is discovered that Santa is really a deranged master criminal named Harry Reikle.  He discovers that he’s been duped by Miles and puts horrific pressure on Cullen to hand over the money.

I adore the added romantic angle that blossoms amid the cat and mouse antics between Miles and Harry. No sooner than Julie softens towards Miles a mysterious and gorgeous woman enters the scene claiming to know Miles’s father. Elaine (Celine Lomez) is flirtatious and immediately wants to bed Miles but what is she up to?

From a character perspective, Miles and Harry are great studies. Related to the aforementioned films, Miles exhibits qualities similar to Harry Call in the brilliant The Conversation. Suspicious, paranoid, and intelligent, he is the perfect counterpart to Plummers Harry. Michael Caine played a transvestite in Dressed to Kill and Harry’s mascara, long nails, and fishnet top made me feel he possessed those qualities though the film never confirms this.

Psychologically speaking, Harry is disturbed based on his treatment and the perceived hatred he expresses towards women. He picks up and beats a young prostitute unconscious.

Is there a gay vibe? Most certainly especially when Harry looks longingly at Miles during more than one scene as he watches Miles in his apartment and proclaims, “You know we really are partners, right?”

Plummer is great and I can’t recall seeing any role of his being so villainous and he plays it superbly. Certainly a far cry from the musical patriarch in The Sound of Music (1965).

The Silent Partner contains one of the most gruesome murder scenes I’ve witnessed in cinema. It involves decapitation and a fish tank and is so shocking and unexpected that viewers may audibly gasp during the scene.

Nearly rivaling this is the great finale and a justified death on the mall escalator. It is fun to revisit the time when malls were flocked to especially during the Christmas holidays. The Santas, decorations, big crowds, and music made The Silent Partner a walk down memory lane.

A great and sadly lost gem, The Silent Partner (1978) is a film for movie lovers to check out, embrace, and fall in love with. A perfect watch would be around the Christmas holidays. Hopefully, with due word of mouth, this film will be rediscovered.

Miss Juneteenth-2020

Miss Juneteenth-2020

Director-Channing Godfrey Peoples

Starring-Nicole Beharie, Alexis Chikaeze

Scott’s Review #1,119

Reviewed March 6, 2021

Grade: B+

I love when a topic of relevance is explored in film or when an interesting class of people is represented or given a story worth sharing. It enriches everyone. Black stories and actors are still woefully underutilized in cinema and there is so much more unchartered territory to explore.

Unless it’s a story about racism, slavery, or blacks being saved by whites it isn’t always a film that gets made.

Miss Juneteenth (2020) is a film about the black community and how they support, enrich, and have a conflict with each other but it’s a story about them and how they strive to live the best lives they can.

Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is a single mom from the vicinity of Fort Worth, Texas who leads a household, raises a blossoming teenager (Alexis Chikaeze), and works at a local watering hole. She’s also a former local beauty queen who once reigned as a “Miss Juneteenth” pageant. The title is meant to celebrate the Black culture and enrich the lives of the contestants with the winner receiving a prestigious scholarship.

Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised since Turquoise had to drop out when she got pregnant, but she is determined that her daughter, Kai, will become the new Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.

To complicate her life, Turquoise’s mother runs a local church and exudes grace and kindness on the surface but secretly battles booze and judges others. Turquoise is also embroiled in a love triangle with separated husband Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), and local funeral home owner Bacon (Akron Watson). The girl has a lot going on!

I love the message that Miss Juneteenth sends and I hope many within the black community (or any community) see the film. It encourages and inspires those who may not have much money or prospects to be their better selves.

When the pageant contestants are taught which cutlery to use while dining or the difference between a red wine glass and a white wine glass I championed the teachers. These are life skills that teach sophistication, grace, and class despite how much money one has. It’s an important scene to view.

It’s worth noting that Miss Juneteenth doesn’t always hit a home run. I wondered why Turquoise didn’t date Bacon, a man perfectly suited for her. He adores her and is quite a catch. I was frustrated that she kept giving what little money she had to Ronnie. I understand she felt passion for him but after his many examples of unreliability why didn’t she move on?

I wanted her to do more for herself, which she eventually does but it’s also not completely satisfying.

Ideally, I wanted her to hit the road and run for Los Angeles or New York City. Beautiful, Torquoise could have made a better life for herself rather than choosing to stay in the town she had always lived and known.

Directed by Channing Godfried Peoples, I wondered how much of the story was autobiographical and personal to her? I also wondered why Turquoise’s mother was written as she was? Certainly a minor character, I wanted more explanation and discussion over their mother and daughter relationship not just Turquoise and Kai.

Turquoise does live in the past and her desire to spend a fortune (which she didn’t have) on a pageant dress seemed superfluous and overbearing. Understood is her determination though I started to find this aspect slightly irritating after a while. Why didn’t she use the money and leave town?

A character study of one woman’s attempts and struggles to improve her life while residing in her past, Miss Juneteenth (2020) shows the challenges a mother faces when wanting the most for her child. The story is a familiar one but Peoples writes and directs with heart and charm which supersedes the several questions and holes the film has.

The main win is that it will enrich the lives of those who choose to see it.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay, Best Female Lead-Nicole Beharie, Best Supporting Female-Alexis Chikaeze

Saint Ralph-2004

Saint Ralph-2004

Director-Michael McGowan

Starring-Adam Butcher, Campbell Scott

Scott’s Review #1,118

Reviewed March 3, 2021

Grade: C

Saint Ralph (2004) is an indie drama that is overly sentimental with too many added standard plot points.  This makes the film ho-hum and extremely cliched. It feels like the attempt was to create a major studio film in independent clothes but without the grit afforded most indies. There is plenty of ordinary setups and by the numbers, follow-through over anything different or fresh.

The film is too charming and safe for my tastes and is too feel-good. Maybe there are just too many similar types of movies made that it doesn’t stand out very well. And since it’s an indie shouldn’t it strive for more edginess?

The message is meant to inspire and in a way it does but that only goes so far. Saint Ralph is a story of a young man triumphing over insurmountable odds- wonderful but unrealistic. The religious elements of faith, miracles, and the Catholic high school are lost on me but some may champion those elements better.

I did enjoy the 1950s time-period and its share of decade trimmings and set pieces yet too often they felt stagey and any authenticity doesn’t feel fresh. Rather, like actors clad in period clothing.

The lead kid who plays Ralph (Adam Butcher) isn’t impressive enough though Campbell Scott who plays a priest with more wisdom than he probably should have is the best thing about Saint Ralph.

If I’m being harsh it’s unintentional but Saint Ralph is a film I’ve forgotten about a day or so after seeing. I like a film that sticks with me and makes me think about and Saint Ralph just ain’t it. It’s classified as a tear-jerker and I didn’t shed one.

Ralph is a troubled kid. His father has died in World War II and his mother lies ill in a coma. He smokes and masturbates resulting in adult intervention by way of strict Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent) and kindly Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott). He is encouraged to run in the upcoming Boston Marathon and he trains mightily with the right encouragement.

He feels if he trains hard and wins the marathon his mother will be granted a miracle by God, wake up from her coma, and live happily ever after. I won’t spoil the ending but the conclusion will satisfy pious audiences.

I embrace films that feature a character championing certain hardships and Saint Ralph does contain a youthful innocence and earnestness that holds some appeal. I felt myself rooting for him to overcome his problems. No kid deserves those hardships.

The weakness is that I felt manipulated. Since the intention was to root for Ralph it was clear what direction the film was going in and the predictability was at an all-time high.

The training sequences are reminiscent of any sports film. Think of a young Rocky Balboa training for an upcoming fight. And the saccharine ending is riddled in predictably.

Saint Ralph (2004) will ruffle no feathers and only appeal to mainstream audiences seeking safe cinema. Most people will not remember it very well.