Ugetsu-1953

Ugetsu-1953

Director-Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring-Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Scott’s Review #1,147

Reviewed May 31, 2021

Grade: A

Kenji Mizoguchi, who directs the brave Japanese masterpiece, Ugetsu (1953), successfully brought eastern cinema to western audiences at the time the film was discovered. The result is a groundbreaking ghost story that fuses reality with the supernatural in the most gorgeous ways.

It’s not always clear what is going on but in only the best of ways. It’s like being inside a dream.

The notice is a long time coming since Mizoguchi had been making films since the 1920s! But his forever stamp on cinema is worth the wait and Ugetsu is a timeless treasure.

Ugetsu is not the easiest plot to follow but that is just fine because its brilliance lies in other areas. Like, every area to be clear. The cinematography, the mix of reality and supernatural, the tone, and the questioning messages and character conflict all add muscle.

It’s cinema to be experienced and mesmerized by. Haunting, sad, and stoic, it explores themes such as war, family, and forbidden relationships.

Its cultural exploration is important and teaches Japanese customs. This film taught me what great cinema is- not necessarily linear or explained, but drenched with brilliance, thoughtfulness, and art. I was able to escape the confines of traditionally constructed films and it was an awakening in pleasure and creativity.

The lesson learned is great cinema knows no boundaries and the film was helpful to open my eyes to types and styles of films that may be deemed difficult.

Drawing its plot particularly from Ueda’s tales “The House in the Thicket” and “The Lust of the White Serpent”, the film is set in Azuchi–Momoyama period Japan (1573–1600). Mizoguchi was fascinated and inspired by these fables and the supernatural style from the long-ago stories are powerful and classic.

A peasant farmer and potter, Genjūrō (Masayuki Mori) leaves his wife and young son behind during the civil war and is seduced by a spirit that threatens his life. He finds himself at a Kutsuki mansion in the hopes of selling his pottery. The mansion is run by the fabulous Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) who seduces him and requests he marry her.

But is Lady Wakasa real or a ghost from the past? She harbors a horrific secret.

A subplot involves Genjūrō’s friend, Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa), who dreams of becoming a great samurai and chases this goal at the unintended expense of his wife. He steals the head of a well-known general and is rewarded with shiny armor. Eager to tell his wife he instead finds her working at a local brothel.

The costumes specifically deserve a shout-out. Drenched in Japanese drawings and colors they are exquisite to the eye despite Ugetsu being a black and white film. The obvious art actually looks better without color adding mystique.

My favorite visual is when two couples drift along in a boat on a tremendous lake. Amid fog and haze, the scene is gloomy yet magnificent offering the lushness of Japanese geography. It’s a breathtaking visual with a fabulous texture and tone that, once again, is aided by black and white filmmaking.

The ghost story also is aided by the black and white cinematography. Isn’t everything? The scenes seem to scroll by in a fusion of live-action and gorgeous landscapes. What is reality and what is not is up for debate? This adds to the confusion and overall beauty.

The humanity and moral conflict the two main characters face is hearty and worthy of a discussion. They strive for great success and riches but live in a cruel world with challenges. I found the men to be heroes. Ugetsu is as much a character study as it is an art film.

Ugetsu (1953) is a must-see for film lovers and those intrigued by other cultures. It should definitely appear on lists of superior films shown at film schools if it is not already.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Black and White

Valentine-2001

Valentine-2001

Director-Jamie Blanks

Starring-Denise Richards, David Boreanaz

Scott’s Review #1,146

Reviewed May 26, 2021

Grade: C

Valentine (2001) is a horror film made in the wrong decade. The film could have been more meaningful or relevant if only it had been made in the early 1980s. Sadly, it feels like a weak retread and an ode to a former time. Its flight took off twenty years ago.

1981 or 1982 was the heyday of the slasher flick. It’s kind of like a band attempting to play 1980’s pop hits passed off as original music- it doesn’t work. Or, a cover band belting out Bon Jovi hits as their own. What’s worse is that it’s set in 2001. It might have been a better film with some feathered hair or parachute pants and a direct tribute to the 1980s.

It’s painfully mediocre.

If I sound harsh that is not my intention. Valentine is not a disastrous film and the pacing is fine at a short one hour and thirty-six minutes. It’s just that it’s dreadfully unoriginal and therefore uninspiring.

It’s like the filmmakers thought, ‘let’s put some hot chicks in a slasher film and off them one by one and make some money”. Valentine didn’t make much money and was universally panned.

Borrowing from several popular flicks like Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981), director Jamie Banks even steals the familiar holiday theme so necessary for this type of genre.

Even the final twist is unfulfilling because, like in almost all slasher films, a twist is almost mandatory and therefore unsurprising.

Before I forget, the acting is painfully bad. So there’s that bonus.

The action begins at a junior high school Valentines’s Day dance in 1988. An outcast named Jeremy Melton, asks four popular girls to dance and is disdainfully rebuffed by each. They are clearly mean girls. Their overweight friend Dorothy accepts Jeremy’s invitation and they make out underneath the bleachers.

When bullies discover them they are ridiculed. Dorothy lies and claims that Jeremy sexually assaulted her resulting in his being beaten, expelled, and eventually institutionalized after the group testifies against him, lying on the witness stand.

Years later, on Valentine’s Day, Kate (Marley Shelton), Paige (Denise Richards), Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), and Shelly (Katherine Heigl) begin receiving scary messages from an unknown sender, signed “JM”. The women then are killed off one by one by a psycho in a Cupid mask. They reside in San Francisco.

They suspect the murderer is Jeremy, having returned to exact revenge. Ya think?

There is entertainment in the mean girls being hacked to bits unceremoniously and it is definitely satisfying. I clearly sided with the Cupid killer but was I supposed to? Well, I did anyway. Jeremy is handsome and sympathetic. After all, they ruined his life. Why would we root for the girls to be spared?

And it’s enjoyable. The deaths include a slit throat, a brutal beating with a hot iron, and death by electrocution. A special edition for Valentine’s Day is a box of chocolates filled with maggots!

I won’t ruin the final twist by revealing any specifics but suffice it to say that, yes, Jeremy is indeed the killer. But it’s not quite in the way you’d think.

There is nothing original about Valentine (2001) which is about as formulaic a film as there ever was. Instead of ever watching or thinking about the film again I’ll happily break out my copies of Halloween (1978) or Friday the 13th (1980).

But still, it’s not the terrible film most people think it is.

Waiting for Guffman-1996

Waiting for Guffman-1996

Director-Christopher Guest

Starring-Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara

Scott’s Review #1,145

Reviewed May 24, 2021

Grade: B+

Somehow mocking local community theater troupes with questionable talent couldn’t be funnier with the right premise and an outstanding cast. The added fun of midwestern traditions like barbeques and good manners and spot-on imitations put on display for humor works well. They should be celebrated and appreciated in Waiting for Guffman (1996).

The hysterical Best in Show (2000) is probably my favorite Christopher Guest film but Waiting for Guffman is a hoot and hollering good time. The ‘B+’ rating comes largely because Guffman is an opening act to the fab Best in Show. They can easily be watched back to back and perhaps should for further cherishing.

When the town of Blaine, Missouri approaches its sesquicentennial, the residents decide to celebrate by performing a musical revue called “Red, White, and Blaine.” Flamboyant director Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is determined to return to Broadway success by casting untalented but passionate individuals to perform. Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara play the main cast members.

When Corky reveals that influential theater agent Mort Guffman will attend the opening, the cast is convinced that they will be rewarded with accolades and appearances on the Broadway stage if they perform successfully. They become titillated, flustered, and manic as the pressure of opening night approaches.

I daresay, some folks from the midwest United States or those faithful to the local theater may not enjoy Wating for Guffman but I sure did. Most of the characters are written as buffoons and lacking any talent. The hysterics come because they think that they actually possess what they lack.

The aforementioned Guest, Levy, Willard, and O’Hara work so well together they are the reason Waiting for Guffman is so damned funny! The comic timing between the actors is flawless and timed perfectly.

Levy and O’Hara appeared together in the Canadian television sketch comedy series SCTV in the 1970s and 1980s before hitting the jackpot with the television series Schitt’s Creek in later years so a fun thing to do is watch them in whatever they appear in together.

They are that good!

There abound many stereotypes in Waiting for Guffman since Corky is written as a walking gay stereotype with mascara and flamboyancy. The irony is that he reportedly has a wife who is never seen so the audience can draw their own conclusions.

Given the casting and the director, Christopher Guest takes on acting and directing duties, the experience is the largely improvisational and witty result.  Guest treats his actors, and himself, to famous Director Robert Altman’s mantra of letting his actors release and act on their own terms, presumably knowing the characters better than anyone else.

The tactic works. Too often comedies are stagey and situations forced in an attempt to make the viewer laugh because he or she thinks they are supposed to laugh. My favorite characters unsurprisingly are Ron and Sheila Albertson (Willard and O’Hara) as travel agents/amateur performers. They are zany and unpredictable and their antics cannot be superseded by anyone else.

Recommended mostly for the artistic and the improv comedy crowd. The spoofs are all over the place and fans of documentaries and talent shows can appreciate the gags.

Waiting for Guffman (1996) targets an intelligent audience craving fresh and original comedy. Being a cinema fan largely immersed in drama and horror, I was won over nonetheless. The only drawback is the film pales in comparison to the brilliant Best in Show (2000) with largely the same cast and tone, but still should be watched.

Yentl-1983

Yentl-1983

Director-Barbra Streisand

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin

Scott’s Review #1,144

Reviewed May 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Feeling slightly dated nowadays, perhaps for the year it was made, Yentl (1983) is nonetheless a very good watch if only for Barbra’s performance, in multiple ways, alone. Who else could I be talking about other than superstar Barbra Streisand?

Astounding is that she also directed the film, rare as hen’s teeth for a female to direct in those days. Even circa 2021, there have only been two women to win the coveted Best Director Oscar prize. Mind-blowing. Streisand was snubbed in this category and was understandably miffed.

But I’ll get down from my soapbox.

Streisand plays the title role. Yentl is a bookish girl and daughter of a respected Talmud teacher who instructs her although she is female and not male. This is forbidden in their culture. Her father dies leaving Yentl to her own devices and determinations. She disguises herself as a boy to gain entry to a yeshiva and meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), who she becomes fascinated by. But he only has eyes for Hadass (Amy Irving) who he is supposed to marry.

This results in a triangle of sorts but not in the traditional sense. Hadass develops feelings for Anshel (really Streisand as Yentl in drag). After they marry (unconsummated) Anshel falls in love with Avigdor. This may sound like a comedy rather than drama and it does contain a bit of each but the romantic interludes, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations are not really the best parts of the film.

The main themes of faith and romance are center stage. Streisand may have had feminism on her mind with the film but I didn’t find this a major point except for Yentl refusing to marry a man.

She pretends to be a boy because females are repressed in the religion. A real win would have been Yentl embracing faith as she really is, but for 1983 the message isn’t a bad one.

Still, we are supposed to want Yentl and Avigdor to live happily ever after but I never felt very much of a connection to the couple.

The best parts of Yentl are the musical score and the songs the audience is treated to. The highlight for me is the emotionally charged “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” which is a gorgeous moment for Yentl. Yentl leaves Europe on a boat bound for the United States, where she hopes to lead a life with more freedom. With a smile on her face, she rises above and into a new day.

It’s a dynamic singing performance and rises the film above where it would have been without the number. It’s like the perfect culminating Streisand moment.

The romantic moments are unfulfilling and predictable, but the film is about Streisand and Streisand alone. As good as Patinkin and Irving are they take a backseat to the illustrious star. We never even get to see Patinkin sing.

I’m okay with this. I watched Yentl (1983) for the enormous talents of its star. Her singing, acting and directing all make the film a worthwhile and engaging experience. It’s not a great film and other Streisand films are better- I’m thinking of Funny Girl (1968) and Hello, Dolly (1969), but it’s way above average.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Amy Irving, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, “The Way He Makes Me Feel”

Fame-1980

Fame-1980

Director-Alan Parker

Starring-Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, Maureen Teefy

Scott’s Review #1,143

Reviewed May 18, 2021

Grade: A-

Fame (1980) is a teen high school musical drama centering around the trials and tribulations of gifted New York City kids. Anyone with musical, theatrical, or dance talent can relate to the film. The rest of us can merely live vicariously through these kids and the potential careers that lie ahead of them wishing we had half of their talent and drive.

This is not your standard musical from the 1950s or 1960s and the pace is quite frenetic. Fasten your seatbelts because there is a lot packed in.

The film oozes with an upbeat musical score and the flavor of New York City, quite gritty and dangerous circa 1980. The now-legendary musical numbers where the cast dances together with faculty and strangers alike atop Manhattan taxi cabs is silly beyond belief but the title song by star Irene Cara is a danceable and hummable classic.

In a way, these scenes offset the muscular dramatic scenes with lightness and comedy, but in another way, they diminish the credibility of the serious moments.

Events get off to a chaotic start as we witness a mass of teenagers frenetically scrambling to remember audition lyrics and dance numbers as they vie for entry into the High School of Performing Arts, with free admission for only the cream of the crop.

The film chronicles the lucky lives from their auditions to their freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years.

The main group features Montgomery MacNeil (Paul McCrane), a closeted gay male; Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy), a shy Jewish girl; Ralph Garci (Barry Miller), and Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri) an aspiring keyboardist whose electronic equipment horrifies the conservative music teachers. They align with Lisa Monroe (Laura Dean), Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara), and Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray) a gifted dancer who cannot read.

All have interesting backstories or problems to work through during their four years in school and this is the main appeal of the film. The dance numbers, of course, are fabulous too.

I immediately became enamored with sensitive Doris, whose mother’s (Tresa Hughes) emotions elicit viewer emotion simply with her own emotions. Her passion for her daughter and her talent is infectious.

Alan Parker, who directs Fame, offers extremely heavy topics that the students must face. It’s not all fun and dance. The youngsters grapple with issues such as homosexuality, abortion, interracial dating, class systems, attempted suicide, and illiteracy. Their pain is readily offered to audiences who become entangled in their worlds.

A negative is that as much as the issues are brought to the forefront, the sheer number of them result in few resolutions.

On top of their unique struggles, the students must deal with the mundane pressures of adolescence like homework, heartbreak, and rejection. Their talent doesn’t make them any more special than anyone else in the growing-up department.

My favorite moments in Fame are the quiet ones. When Doris and Montgomery share a chat on the stairs that skirts around the talk of his absent mother I thought what a delightful couple they would make. Montgomery’s repressed sexuality slowly surfaces while Doris develops a crush on an older popular boy.

As if the heavy topics eventually subside, they don’t. As the students age and start to plan careers, Coco is lured by a man claiming to be a director only to realize he is a porn film “director”. He coaxes her into taking off her shirt and photographs her sobbing. The scene is heartbreaking in its power.

The atmosphere of Fame also works well. There is a strong and suffocating feeling of heat and humidity. Anyone who has spent time in New York City during the summer months knows the stench and thickness of the stuffy weather. I got the impression the school had no air conditioning as the running perspiration of the music teacher is evidence of.

A coming of age film that delivers hard-hitting messages only offset by the climactic dance-celebration numbers, Fame (1980) is a winner and gives teen angst its due.

This film ages well and stands the test of time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Fame” (won), Out Here on My Own”, Best Film Editing, Best Sound

Never Rarely Sometimes Always-2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always-2020

Director-Eliza Hittman

Starring-Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder

Scott’s Review #1,142

Reviewed May 14, 2021

Grade: A

I’ll confess that a teen drama centered on abortion involving conflicted female characters wouldn’t be the first film I’d sit down and watch. Done before and not my demographic I assumed little in common with the characters. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) blew me away and taught me a valuable lesson- never judge a film by its synopsis.

The film only entered my radar because of positive buzz and a handful of independent film awards. Hopefully, this recognition catapults the director and actresses to other excellent projects.

It’s not that director, Eliza Hittman does anything particularly different with the vehicle on the surface. I jest slightly because she takes a standard story and hits it out of the ballpark so that even us middle-aged folks with no kids can remain engaged. The film can be watched by anyone as it compels completely.

I was enamored from scene one.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, Never Rarely Sometimes Always doesn’t get on a soapbox about whether abortion is right or wrong. It’s not about that though I can guess Hittman’s likely position on the topic. Rather, it gives a fresh, raw, and realistic depiction of what it’s like for a seventeen-year-old girl to be scared and pregnant and, in some parts of the United States, unable to get proper guidance or treatment. This could shape her whole life.

The kicker is that one doesn’t necessarily need to live in the middle of nowhere for this to occur. This note shocked me and quite frankly frightened me.

Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), travel from suburban Pennsylvania across state lines to New York City on a challenging journey of friendship, compassion, and a bit of adventure.

Autumn is brooding and upset yet holds it mostly together. She performs beautifully at a high school pep rally despite being snickered at by a rude boy in the audience. Afterward, her family goes for pizza and soda to celebrate where her stepfather is unable to praise Autumn.

The tension between Autumn and her stepfather is very ambiguous. Could he be the father or the boy she presumably dated and now wants nothing to do with her?

We realize that the males in Autumn’s life pretty much suck after her boss disgustingly kisses her hand as a daily ritual.

She goes to a discreet mom-and-pop clinic where she learns she is pregnant. The woman in charge callously shows Autumn horrific abortion videos when she suspects Autumn might be flirting with the idea of getting one.

Autumn and Skylar realize they must flee their one-horse town for the hustle and bustle, and better medical care, provided by New York City. They steal cash from their job and make the jaunt on a bus.

This is the point where the film really takes off. As the girls arrive at the chaotic Port of Authority bus terminal I felt like I was on the journey with them. They arrive at a clinic and meet a kind receptionist and technician who tell her she is actually sixteen weeks pregnant instead of the ten weeks she thought she was. Her procedure will take two days.

Where will they stay? What will they eat? The procedure is costly so how will they pay for the bus fare home? A boy they meet on the bus reappears and maybe their savior but at what price?

These are some of the questions I as the viewer was thinking throughout the experience just as Autumn and Skylar were.

The most powerful scene occurs when Autumn receives question after question from the technician which is the crux of the title of the film. We sadly realize that Autumn has faced some sort of sexual abuse before. The film does not reveal exactly what happened which is clever and makes the scene more powerful.

Never Rarely Sometimes Never is a slow-moving vehicle but because of the outstanding acting talents of Flanigan and Ryder, I was completely engaged, hooked, and suckered. I fell in love with these characters and the entirety of the film feels incredibly authentic.

A film that grapples with despair, hope, fear, journey, friendship, and much much more than its main storyline offers, Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) is a brave film that hits a home run.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Eliza Hittman, Best Female Lead-Sidney Flanigan, Best Supporting Female-Talia Ryder, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

Bernice Bobs Her Hair-1976

Bernice Bobs Her Hair-1976

Director-Joan Micklin Silver

Starring-Shelley DuVall, Veronica Cartwright 

Scott’s Review #1,141

Reviewed May 12, 2021

Grade: B+

Much transpires within Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976), a short film based on a short story by famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald. For the non-literary crowd, Fitzgerald penned the worldly The Great Gatsby, a treasured story from the 1920’s Long Island, New York setting.

The story was made into television production in 1976 for PBS for The American Short Story.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair is a quieter story than Gatsby, and more peculiar, resulting in a fabulous tale of revenge with a similar time period of 1920, the cusp of the American Jazz Age. The setting is presumed to be Long Island or Westchester County, New York though that’s never confirmed. Regardless, our main character, Bernice (Shelley DuVall) hails from Wisconsin and comes to visit family.

The visit isn’t exactly peaches and cream as you can imagine.

The bitchy and sophisticated Marjorie (Veronica Cartwright), Bernice’s cousin, pities her for being awkward and unlikable, far inferior to the elitist company that Marjorie keeps. She rolls up her sleeves and becomes determined to shape Bernice into a sophisticated vixen, molding her into a girl who gets what she wants.

The idea ends up biting her in the ass.

Bernice, mocked for being quiet and dull, blossoms into a brave young woman, titillated by the attention of the society boys. She delights in having her pick of the litter and daringly proclaims to have her hair bobbed in a few days, to the shock and chagrin of the rich group of friends.

Would a young woman ever dare to do something so drastic for attention? Hell, she’ll have to go to a barber and be sheared!

Marjorie’s jealousy increases as Bernice’s confidences soar leading to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

DuVall is delightful in the role. The actress, very unconventional looking, appears the prettiest I’ve ever seen her, even when she plays dowdy. Telling so much with her wide-eyed and expression-filled eyes, she seduced me into her world of mystique and wonderment. DuVall has a charisma all her own and fascinates in any film she appears in.

Not to be overlooked, Veronica Cartwright, possesses Marjorie with fury and pizazz, also doing so much with her trademark blue eyes. The actresses work so well together as they eventually play a seductive game of will and wit.

For the boys, there are a few love interests to note. I loved seeing Bud Cort, struggling for work after his groundbreaking role in 1971’s Harold & Maude, appear in the short film. Insecure, he is nonetheless smitten with Bernice, just as Draycott Deyo (Patrick Byrne) is. Other handsome suitors like Mark La Mura, of daytime television fame, appear.

The costumes and sets are lavish and fitting to the 1920s which enhanced my enjoyment. The hot summer setting also infuses the film with smoldering and rigid tension enhancing the experience. There is nothing like escaping into the past in style and enchantment.

The final revenge is extremely fulfilling as the classes clash. The socially awkward Bernice conquers the WASP’y Marjorie like a plain Jane would a beautiful evil princess. It’s quite satisfying.

The entire experience of Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976) is pleasing and compelling. The kicker is when Bernice does indeed ‘bob her hair’ she looks amazing and trendy for the decade to follow. She gets her just desserts in more ways than one and the audience cheers her to victory!

Cross of Iron-1977

Cross of Iron-1977

Director-Sam Peckinpah

Starring-James Coburn, Maximilian Schell

Scott’s Review #1,140

Reviewed May 8, 2021

Grade: B+

Cross of Iron (1977) is a film that sticks with you. I appreciate that it’s not a standard, cookie-cutter war film that too often graces the big screen decade after decade featuring different wars but applying virtually the same message. The tone is usually pro-United States with little explanation or defense of the other guys. This is not one of those films.

That said, I could have used more of a straightforward approach because Cross of Iron is all over the place. It’s like a fragmented puzzle that doesn’t add up or come together but the experience is something both mind-blowing and unforgettable. Sometimes confusing and unpleasant, it’s directed by Sam Peckinpah so anyone possessing knowledge of some of his other works knows what the experience will be like.

His best films, Straw Dogs (1971) and The Getaway (1972), are famous for their lightning-fast editing sequences galore and sudden still frames. Violence and mistreatment of female characters are also Peckinpah staples and Cross of Iron sure has those elements. But it’s definitely not on the level that Straw Dogs and The Getaway is as far as a solid storyline. Not even close.

The synopsis goes something like this. The time period is World War II and Corporal Rolf Steiner (James Coburn) is a well-respected member of the German military and a recipient of the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor. He leads a group of soldiers to battle somewhere in Russia, presumably.

Envious of Steiner’s Iron Cross award, Captain Hauptmann Stransky (Maximilian Schell), a Prussian officer clashes with Steiner when he joins the unit near the Russian front. Desperate to receive his own Iron Cross, Stransky takes the credit for a significant attack and sparks a heated rivalry with Steiner.

Mixed in with all this machismo drama between Stransky and Steiner are several brooding German soldiers, one French soldier, and a rescued Russian boy. A homosexual relationship between the French soldier and another soldier is discovered by Stransky and used as blackmail while Stransky himself may also be gay. Yet another soldier kisses a fellow soldier on the mouth.

Sadly, these story points go nowhere. And I didn’t care one iota about the Iron Cross.

To add to the confusion, a few of the German soldiers appear to be German while the others, especially Steiner, seem American. They frequently denounce Hitler which makes the viewer wonder why they are fighting for him. Are they forced to? Were many German soldiers not pro- Hitler but had to fight to avoid execution? Again, these points are not explained.

The film introduction features children singing German songs amidst real-life footage of Hitler and Nazis and the conclusion also features children singing and still frames of children suffering during the war. The sequences, while powerful, have nothing to do with the story since the story has nothing to do with children except the one lone Russian boy.

If you can get past the cloudy storylines Cross of Iron has some delicious stuff to chew on. Besides the fantastic editing, the film features one of the most intense and interesting scenes I’ve witnessed in a long time. When the soldiers stumble upon a group of female Russian detachments things really heat up. A despised Nazi Party member takes one of the women into a barn and rapes her. She bites off his penis and he kills her. Steiner allows the remaining women to exact revenge on the rapist and they beat him to death.

A couple of things stand out in this scene. As much as Peckinpah usually reduces his female characters to victims, in this scene there is a strong feminist angle which I love. Were there actually Russian female soldiers in real life including a high-ranking major? Steiner allowing the women to kill the Nazi would make his group anti-Nazi?

There are lots to ponder throughout and after watching Cross of Iron (1977). I’m not sure if I’m a huge fan of the film or ever need to see it again but maybe I should. So much goes on throughout the film that either adds or detracts from the experience that it’s a perplexing watch.

Personally, I’d add much more to the relationships between the characters, especially the male-male sexual dynamic to bring more substance. The dynamic of Steiner taking the Russian boy under his wing had more to offer and I’d also reduce the number of battle scenes seemingly thrown in every so often to prove or justify that Cross of Iron is a war film.

The Bible: In the Beginning-1966

The Bible: In the Beginning-1966

Director-John Huston

Starring-George C. Scott, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #1,139

Reviewed May 5, 2021

Grade: A-

An epic of grand proportions that nearly rivals the magic cinematography of Lawrence of Arabia (1963), The Bible: In The Beginning (1966) embraces its own definition of majestic, magnificent, and sweeping. The story follows the chronological telling of The Bible book, beginning with Adam & Eve.

Important to remember is that one need not be of Catholic, Christian, or any religious persuasion to enjoy the rapturous beauty encompassing the film.  The pious and the non-believers alike can enjoy the experience though there is a hint of the unbelievable and suspension of disbelief in some of the stories gracing the “good book” by director John Huston. He also narrates some of the stories and appears as Noah.

Nobody is mocked for their beliefs and the film is a straight-ahead interpretation of the first twenty-two chapters of the Book of Genesis, covering the stories from The Creation and Adam and Eve to the binding of Isaac. Abraham (George C. Scott) and Sarah (Ava Gardner) are heavily featured.

The film strongly focuses on five main sections: The Creation, Garden of Eden, Cain, and Abel, Noah’s Ark, and the story of Abraham. Some other stories are given less screen time and attention but are featured.

Speaking of Adam & Eve (Michael Parks & Ulla Bergyrd), they kick off the action with the fateful decision to pick and taste the luscious fruits dangling in front of their eyes as the Serpent fiendishly looks on. God punishes Adam & Eve for their temptations setting off a common theme amidst the film, and certainly of the good book, of resisting pleasures of the flesh and of being punished for caving into desires.

Apparently, God is happy when people are unfulfilled and joyless. Sadly, some have taken this too much to heart.

We could debate religion until the cows come home, and many have, but I became aware of a hint of ridicule or at least strong questioning on the part of Huston. He creates scenes that most would deem ridiculous if not written in the words of the Bible. Again, Huston is careful not to mock anyone, shrouding any antics in good, stylized 1960’s film, but a woman being turned into a pillar of salt for looking at the sky could be found amusing.

Admittedly, some chapters are better than others.

The trials and tribulations of Abraham & Sarah get off to a slow start as Abraham and company traverse miles and miles of the lonely desert so much so that I was left wondering if they were on the road to nowhere. Finally, the action takes off as Sarah realizing she is barren, makes her maid conceive a child with Abraham. I never knew this saga had so much in common with the Hulu hit The Handmaid’s Tale but the similarities are eerie and uncanny.

Noah and his Ark is also a very good sequence and brings more humor than might be necessary but I guess this is to counterbalance more serious stories. Noah adores animals, especially cats, and lions and he treated them beautifully choosing to save and live in harmony with the creatures. They love him. The flooding scenes related to this chapter are exquisite and adventurous.

The film depicts God as a bit of a son of a bitch as he calls to Abraham to lead his only son to a high mountain and sacrifice him. This tests Abraham’s will and is somber and thoughtful.

If one notices many of the actors look Italian it’s because they are. Noah’s wife for example is played by Pupella Maggio, famous for her role in Fellini’s Amarcord (1973). Much of the film was shot in and around the Italian city of Rome.

Huston not only narrates some of the sections but appears as Noah himself!

The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) is exquisite to look at and pleasing cinematically. Many fans of religious cinema will prefer the more conventional The Ten Commandments (1956) to this one and, while slow at times, by the conclusion the film has aged like a fine wine and had me enthralled and appreciative of its achievements.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Music Score