Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Ocean’s Twelve-2004

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring- George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #1,157

Reviewed June 30, 2021

Grade: B-

The casino heist gang is back together again for more action and adventure in a film that was most certainly only made because of the success of its predecessor, Ocean’s Eleven (2001). The uninspiring title of the film, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) is a letdown as compared to the fantastic and enthralling 2001 film. What felt like a purely original idea, even though it was a remake, now feels like stale bread that was fresh only yesterday.

Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh returns to the fold which adds some style and general good direction.

The story is slow to kick off and provides an implausible and unconventional ending that doesn’t work nearly negating most of the previous activity. There is something a bit irritating about watching a film with the knowledge that it was only made for one reason and the plot seems to be rushed and poorly thought out.

But that’s Hollywood, isn’t it?

Undoubtedly, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and other top talent enjoyed the hefty paychecks they received. This is also perturbing as the performances seem ho-hum and clearly inspired by the big bucks being deposited into big bank accounts for services rendered.

The inauthenticity all around is evident in lazy acting and writing.

The foil and mark, Terry Benedict, once again played by Andy Garcia realizes that the gang has robbed him of millions and demands the money back with interest. Unfortunately, much of it has already been spent. Unable to come up with the cash, the crew is forced to come together to pull off another series of heists, this time in Europe. Presumably, they are not well known there.

Being “forced” to do what the career criminals love to do is far-fetched.

Danny (George Clooney)and the gang hatch a plan to swap a Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg for a holographic recreation. Linus (Damon) comes up with a second plan involving Danny’s wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), posing as a pregnant Julia Roberts to get close to the Egg and swap it. They are foiled by Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a coincidentally present Bruce Willis, and the rest of the group are captured.

While it’s slightly clever having Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts appear as themselves especially when Julia Roberts plays another character in the film, it doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper.

The story is way too convoluted and Ocean’s Twelve quickly turns into the sort of film that you tune out of enjoying the non-story points more than the written word. In this case, that’s not a positive aspect.

The film’s successes, mainly the returning A-list cast, are also negative. While it’s fun to reconnect with familiar characters like Danny Ocean, Rusty (Pitt), and Linus, we know the characters too well and they become caricatures. Meaning, they behave exactly as one would expect them to.

Still, it is admittedly juicy and exciting to witness so many A-listers on one big screen especially when there is trickery, scheming, and just a hint of romance to be had.

I’ll also partake in just about any film that goes on location to Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, and Amsterdam. It’s an orgy of European history and goodness adding cultural trimmings to a sub-par storyline. Particularly inviting are the villa scenes in luscious Lake Como.

Ocean’s Twelve (2004) will please only those who are obsessed enough with the franchise to enjoy what is basically a retread of the 2001 film only set in various parts of Europe instead of Las Vegas. It isn’t nearly enough for me as most cleverness and bright and crisp writing are gone.

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a treasure of a film. In fact, I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone. It is not for children! The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

A clue is that Guillermo del Tor directs the film, he of well-known note for creating films such as Hell Boy (2004), Hell Boy II: The Golden Army (2008), and The Shape of Water (2017) the latter winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar Award.

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat. The frightening time period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes. The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising. Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

She is completely and utterly spellbound and intrigued all at once. Finally, she can escape the ravages of real life and immerse herself in a fantasy world all her own. She hates her stepfather, worries for her mother, and can’t wait to traverse her new world. If only life were that simple.

In a fairy tale, Princess Moanna, who Ofelia becomes, visits the human world, where the sunlight blinds her and erases her memory. She becomes mortal and eventually dies. The king believes that eventually, her spirit will return to the underworld, so he builds labyrinths, which act as portals, around the world in preparation for her return. Enter Ofelia.

About that creativity, I mentioned earlier. Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for adults, taking some similar points and adding the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable. The darkness of the forest is the best and most memorable part.

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child. So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

The story can be downright horrifying at times. Carmen eventually dies and Ofelia is taken under the wing of Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), Ofelia’s stepfather’s housekeeper, and also a revolutionary harboring dangerous secrets. Ofelia and Mercedes team up to save Ofelia’s baby brother from the hands of the dastardly.

The strange fantasy world may confuse some viewers. It’s simply not the imagination of Ofelia (or is it?) because Vidal, Mercedes, and the baby all play a part in the eerie labyrinth.

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults. Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2008) is a visionary film and must be experienced to be believed.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Original Score

The Day of the Jackal-1973

The Day of the Jackal-1973

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring- Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale

Scott’s Review #1,155

Reviewed June 22, 2021

Grade: A

Political thrillers can run the gamut of taut plots involving espionage assassinations, and car chases all woven into the political landscape. They often run the risk of being overly complicated and losing their audience with too much wordiness and not enough meat and potatoes.

The Day of the Jackal (1973), telling the story of an assassination attempt on a world leader is perfectly paced and intriguing offering some titillating elements and nothing run of the mill. It’s not lazy and can be classified as a thinking man’s film.

I loved it.

Certain complexities and trysts experienced by the deadly title character add extra pizazz and spiciness to the already compelling plot. And the sequences of Paris and its lovely metropolis can aid any film.

A cagey and intelligent underground French paramilitary group is determined to execute President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand), but when numerous attempts on his life fail, they resort to hiring the infamous hitman known as “The Jackal” (Edward Fox). As he plots to assassinate de Gaulle, he takes out others who stand in his way. Meanwhile, Lebel (Michel Lonsdale), a Parisian police detective, begins to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity.

The film is not in French but is English speaking.

Fox is the major draw. Charismatic, handsome, and athletic, he hardly looks like a fiend.  But that’s just the point. A lesser film would have cast an actor who looks like a killer. With Fox, we get many more intricacies. He beds women…..and men. Think- a bisexual James Bond. This is enchanting to see in 1973, though the film is British and sometimes the Brits were well ahead of American filmmakers in this regard.

The director, Fred Zinneman, is actually Austrian and boy can he direct.

I wasn’t sure how engaged I would be. After all, the history books can tell us how the assassination attempt ended. It failed. What was the motivation for watching a film, especially one destined to be complicated? I quickly realized that The Day of the Jackal had that special sauce. It’s more than engaging, it’s enthralling.

Obviously, the audience is meant to root for Lebel to best Fox but there is so much more bubbling under the circumstance. The villain is mysterious and we know almost nothing about him. The ambiguity continues after the film ends. This is definitely a positive to the character and subsequently to the film.

Meanwhile, the hero of the film, the guy after the “Jackal”, is your average, every day, Joe. He is unexciting but very smart and determined to capture Fox. Lebel is quite likable for his savviness alone but I still argue many will root for Fox to escape the clutches of Lebel. I know I did.

Great scenes occur in a swanky hotel when Fox becomes intrigued by Madame de Montpellier, played by Delphine Seyrig. He picks up the rich and mysterious woman as they chat in the dining room. He later sneaks into her room and gets the girl. Whoever cast this woman must have seen the Hitchcock classic Frenzy (1972) because she’s a dead ringer for Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).

Is it an accident that both meet grisly ends?

Not to be satisfied with merely bedding rich women he goes to a Turkish bath to avoid the police and picks up a French gentleman. It is implied they have a romantic date before the gentleman catches onto Fox’s identity (he is now on the run from the police) and meets his maker in his own kitchen.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) is a meticulously crafted film that should be the blueprint for anyone intent on creating a political thriller. It avoids hokey stereotypes or predictability instead offering an edge-of-your-seat experience with nuances for miles.

It’s exceptional on all levels.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

Quarantine-2008

Quarantine-2008

Director-John Erick Dowdle

Starring-Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez

Scott’s Review #1,154

Reviewed June 18, 2021

Grade: B+

Clearly patterned after 28 Days Later (2002), Cloverfield (2008), and other horror zombie offerings popular during the 2000s, Quarantine (2008) is more of a film of its day than anything fresh or original. The funny thing is it works fairly well as an entertaining popcorn horror flick. It’s not going to be remembered very well but it provides jumps, frights, and thrills.

It’s shot like a reality television show with seemingly handheld cameras following the characters which also gives it a 2000s feel. The irony is that the story involves a reality television series (all the craze in those days).

The dark glowing lighting and Los Angeles apartment building setting provide a good amount of peril.

While suspenseful, that doesn’t mean that Quarantine is necessarily a good film. It’s not and my grade of a B+ feels awfully generous but the bottom line is that every film is not a cinematic gem and some just plain ole entertainment. Quarantine is one of those types of films.

Apparently, Quarantine is a remake of a 2007 Spanish film called REC which is set in Barcelona. The United States replaces Spain and the characters are Americanized for the mainstream masses.

Reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are doing a story on night-shift firefighters for a reality television program.  One night while filming, a late-night distress call takes them to a Los Angeles apartment building, where the police are investigating a report of horrific screams.

Angela, Scott, and firefighters Jake and Fletcher, played by Jay Hernandez and Johnathon Schaech respectively report to the building to find a loony old woman who suddenly attacks with teeth bared. Alarmed, they realize that the building has been sealed by CDC workers. Then they really start to panic.

Of course, laughably, they continue to film despite feeling desperate. Gotta keep those television ratings intact. In this way, it pairs well with The Blair Witch Project (1999) though nowhere near as fresh and inventive as that film. Instead, it feels like a copy of that film and other films with very little originality of their own.

Again, this didn’t bother me so much as I had no expectations of cinematic art when I agreed to see Quarantine. I had entertainment on my mind and that is what I received.

John Erick Dowdle writes and directs this project and creates a frenzied horror film. The action is quite quick and instantaneous amid a lightning-quick one-hour and twenty-nine-minute runtime. Interesting to note is that Quarantine features no actual musical score, using only sound effects. As a fan of background music in cinema, this wasn’t a great decision but I understand the intent.

After all, the Hitchock masterpiece The Birds (1963) featured no music.

Of course, the plot can be picked apart like a salad onion, but that’s not the point. But, for fun, why didn’t the firefighters provide the trapped residents with weapons or objects they could fight with? Why did characters try to ‘save’ characters who had been bitten only to put their own lives at risk? Hasn’t anyone ever seen Dawn of the Dead (1978)?

All events and storylines feel like some sort of setup.

I’ve seen better acting. Jennifer Carpenter, whom I have never heard of, is in a constant state of hysterics. That’s fine but her endless cowering, whimpers and hyperventilating does nothing to evoke a strong female character.

On a hot summer day, in a cold air-conditioned movie theater, is the perfect environment for a type of film like Quarantine (2008). There are worse ways to spend an hour and thirty minutes than munching on popcorn and being on the edge of your seat.

Rachel Getting Married-2008

Rachel Getting Married-2008

Director-Jonathan Demme

Starring-Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #1,153

Reviewed June 17, 2021

Grade: A-

Rachel Getting Married (2008) is the film that really put Anne Hathaway on the map as a powerful and respected actress. Deserving the heaps of praise put upon her she was congratulated with an Oscar nomination for the role and would win a few years later for Les Miserables (2012). Hathaway proves that good nuts and bolts acting never goes out of style.

Director Jonathan Demme goes for simplicity with his project. The film is a quiet family drama with members gathered for a specific event. As the film progresses we witness deep-seated emotions and history bubble to the surface through terrific scenes exposing quality acting chops by the entire cast. Pain, truth, and wry humor are explored as a naturalistic approach is possessed. Not all the characters are likable and debatable is if any of them are.

Thankfully, humorous moments are added to lighten the mood.

The screenplay was written by Jenny Lumet, the daughter of famed director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. Filming took place in Stamford, Connecticut, a small city outside of New York City.

The Buchman’s, an affluent New England family, prepares for the wedding of their daughter, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Their other daughter, Kym (Anne Hathaway), is permitted to attend the wedding despite being in the middle of a stint at rehab- she’s been there before. As Kym causes upheaval and drama, Rachel resents her sister causing family tensions to resurface.

Parents Paul and Abby, played by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger do their best to calm the flames created by the bickering siblings. Unfortunately, tensions begin to erupt between Rachel and Abby and away from Rachel.

Obviously, events come to a head-on Rachel’s wedding day, hence the title.

Under different circumstances, Rachel Getting Married could have been a standard lifetime television film. A girl with a drug addiction returning to the fold to stir up family drama is hardly a novel idea and has been told many times before in almost every medium. I cringed at first when I read the premise.

But, the film feels as fresh and energetic as a new idea. The pacing is the first notice as it moves at a brisk pace and the running time is under two hours. Kym is frenetic acting at times which also helps the allusion of a faster pace.

A dark secret is quickly revealed. Due to drunkenness, Kym caused the car she was driving in to careen off a bridge, killing her younger brother. She has harbored guilt ever since and endured the wrath of her family. It has made her struggle with addiction even worse.

I don’t think enough praise can be given to Hathaway for quite simply kicking the film’s ass. Nearly destined for wimpy romantic comedies, Kym gives the actress a role she can not only sink her teeth into but infuse with emotion and empathy.

At times the audience will hate Kym and other times will sob along with her.

DeWitt and especially Winger, returning to the cinematic spotlight after a long absence, have plenty to infuse their characters with. Anger, jealousy, and unbridled sympathy are just a few of the emotions their characters experience.

Demme creates an independent film that feels raw and is filled with naturalistic settings and emotions. He takes a basic story and ravages it completely with great acting, handheld cameras that provide a real-life approach, and a story that will leave audiences thinking about the events and perhaps their own lives after the credits roll.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Anne Hathaway

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Film, Best Director-Jonathan Demme, Best Female Lead-Anne Hathaway, Best First Screenplay, Best Supporting Female-Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Director-Lasse Hallstrom

Starring-Ewing McGregor, Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,152

Reviewed June 15, 2021

Grade: B-

Despite exceptional chemistry between leads Ewing McGregor and Emily Blunt, who were also bankable stars in 2011, the romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) is predictable, dull, and lacks a good identity. It is the feel-good film of the year and that is not meant as a compliment.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s above par as compared to the usual drivel emerging from one of my least favorite dramas, the rom-com, but it should offer more than the by-the-numbers plot it churns out. Someone either felt lazy or was instructed to create a banal film.

With good actors and fabulous locales, I expected more edge from Swedish director, Lass Hallstrom. But, alas, we get something merely adequate.

Doctor Alfred Jones (McGregor) is a fisheries scientist who one day receives an unusual request from a strong businesswoman named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). She wants his help in fulfilling a request from a wealthy sheik played by Amr Waked who wants to bring sport fishing to Yemen.

Jones declines at first, but when the British prime minister’s spokeswoman (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to the project as a way to improve Middle East relations, he joins in. Romance blooms as Jones and Harriet work to make the sheik’s dream come true.

If this brief synopsis sounds like it’s taken from a novel that’s because it is and it is as straightforward as you can imagine. The film is based on a 2007 novel which certainly must have been better than the film.

Let’s be fair and clear. McGregor and Blunt are as good as they can be with the material they are given and they succeed in bringing some life to the big screen. The trouble is there isn’t very far to go with their characters. Harriet is a businesswoman with a task at hand. Alfred is a handsome doctor with something she needs. Did I mention he’s a doctor?

Harriet’s romantic interest is hardly a surprise and Hallstrom puts nary any real obstacles in their path towards getting together. The fact that early in the film Harriet is dating British Special Forces Captain Robert Meyers played by Tom Mison and Alfred is married to a woman named Mary (Rachael Stirling) is laughable after Robert is quickly killed off and Mary is sent away to Geneva for a conference. Predictably, Alfred and Mary realize their marriage is over.

But wait, there’s more! Robert resurfaces from the dead alive and well. Harriet struggles with her emotions and quickly realizes that her feelings for him have changed leaving her to be with Alfred.

The setup for Harriet and Alfred is as predictable as what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will taste like.

Poor Kristin Scott Thomas, a fantastic actor is reduced to playing the cliched role of Public Relations Patricia Maxwell. She straightforwardly plays her as aggressive, impatient, and bitchy. The performance doesn’t work well.

Second, to the sweetness of McGregor and Blunt, the locales are thankfully plentiful. Visits to London, Scotland, and Morocco are blessed treats.

A silly subplot of the salmon being removed from British rivers and something about farming goes nowhere and is not worth the effort to go into. Suffice it to say it does little for the film or as a companion to the main plot. The only thing viewers should focus on is Harriet and Alfred’s romantic involvement.

I only recommend Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) for those fans of either McGregor or Blunt or who yearn to escape to a fantasy world with a happily ever after ending.

If one enjoys fishing or fly-fishing (is there a difference?) that may be enough cause to give the film a twirl too.

Otherwise, the film offers nothing that hasn’t been seen countless times before. By the conclusion of the film, I felt weary and bored for so much unchartered potential left on the cutting room floor….or somewhere else.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle-1973

The Friends of Eddie Coyle-1973

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle

Scott’s Review #1,151

Reviewed June 11, 2021

Grade: B+

Borrowing heavily from the standard cop thriller films to emerge during the early 1970s but containing a unique cynicism and a point of view all its own, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is a taut and engaging crime thriller that will please fans of the genre but never bailing on those cinema fans seeking a more intellectual experience.

The Boston landscape is plentiful and a treat for fans of locale shoots and 1970s qualities.

A superior film based against the many similar films to be created during the decade, there is a moroseness that encompasses the experience. I felt sorry for the main character and The Friends of Eddie Coyle lacks a clear good guy versus bad guy standard. This actually helps the film.

What I’m trying to say is that those crime thriller fans desiring a clear hero or standard characterization might be unsatisfied or miss the point, though the bank robbery scenes alone are worth the price of a ticket.

Some say, Robert Mitchum, cast in the title role gives his finest film performance but I wasn’t entirely blown away.  The film is an ensemble and at times Eddie Coyle feels like a supporting character.  Think Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Instead, I ruminated over his brilliant performances in my two favorite films of his, The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970).

His performance is fine but all the actors bring their A-game.

Aging low-level Boston gunrunner Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is fearful of the possibility of several years of jail time for participating in a truck hijacking in neighboring New Hampshire. Having a wife and kids dependent on him, and feeling old and desperate, he volunteers to funnel information to Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), an ATF agent.

Eddie buys some guns from another gunrunner, Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), then gives him up to Foley, but the agent isn’t satisfied. Panicked, Eddie decides to also give up the gang of bank robbers he’s been supplying, only to find that Foley already knows about them, and the mob believes Eddie snitched.

These events do not bode well for poor Eddie who now has a mark on his back.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle has a handful of plots happening simultaneously. There is Eddie’s predicament, the saga of the bank robbers and the bank owners they put in peril, and a bartender played by Peter Boyle (of televisions Everybody Loves Raymond fame), who is also an informant. The stories intertwine but sometimes not quite enough and a conclusion over how the players relate is sometimes unclear.

From the get-go, I was reminded of Dirty Harry (1971) which arguably propelled the cop/crime thriller/crime drama to mainstream audiences. Dave Grusin gets credit for the music composition and creates a similar score to Dirt Harry with funky tempo, time-relevant arrangements. They really work and fit the times perfectly.

Differing from Dirty Harry, which is a superb film in many ways, is the messaging. Whereas, Dirty Harry professes a good vs. bad approach and a conservative pro-gun stance, The Friends of Eddie Coyle doesn’t partake in schooling the audience on the viewpoints of most cops. The bad guys are complex and nuanced characters with worries and fears to wrestle with themselves.

The location sequences are plentiful and give the film authenticity and Boston appreciation. The classic Boston Garden is featured as two characters attend a Boston Bruins hockey game. The Charles River, downtown, and surrounding areas like Quincy are featured. Director, Peter Yates certainly creates a blue-collar, Irish-represented community.

Lovers of classic 1970s American automobiles will be in heaven. I spotted a Ford Galaxy, Chevy Impala, and similar full-sized cars. One character drives a green muscle car. I mean, there are tons and tons of car sequences in this film.

The seedy Boston underworld, a terrific performance by Robert Mitchum, and enough guns, car chases, and bank robberies to satisfy the action audience, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) is a win. The film didn’t stick with me as much as I would have liked but it’s a striking entry in the crime thriller genre.

Take Shelter-2011

Take Shelter-2011

Director-Jeff Nichols

Starring-Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #1,150

Reviewed June 9, 2021

Grade: B+

Michael Shannon is a great actor. Appearing mostly in supporting roles and breaking out big time in 2008’s Revolutionary Road he gets the lead in Take Shelter (2011) and is more than up to the task of creating a great character. The ambivalence and uncertainty his character feels are monumental to the enjoyment of the film.

It’s a slow burn and an unsatisfying payoff but I mean that with positive praise.

The plot is set in a small rural town in Ohio. Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a working-class husband and father and provider to his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and young daughter Hannah. Curtis begins to have scary apocalyptic dreams which he keeps from his family.

He decides to build a storm shelter in his backyard which raises concerns for Samantha. His strange behavior creates a strain on his family. As he builds the shelter, Curtis is afraid of his dreams, or rather, afraid that they are a premonition and will come true. Is he going crazy, or will his dreams become a devastating reality?

Curtis, Samantha, and the entire audience will ponder this note throughout the course of the film.

An interesting add-on is that Hannah is deaf so the way her parents embrace and accept her disability is a nice nod to the inclusiveness of people with disabilities.

Take Shelter is delightful to revisit and discuss ten years following its release. In 2011, both Shannon and Chastain were up and coming stars and only barely on the cusp of A-list status so it’s fun to see them in an independent film that showcases their acting chops. They would grow to be big stars and flourish their talents in many other roles so it’s fun to see them in early-career performances.

Shannon is careful not to outshine Chastain, but Curtis’s focal point is what is going on internally. His conflict is palpable and written all over his face in quiet scene after quiet scene after quiet scene of his gazing at the luminous skies. He wonders what is coming next.

His dreams and hallucinations and auditory experiences involving swarms of blackbirds are creepy and well-made on a small budget. A clue is when it is revealed that Curtis’s mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at roughly the same age that Curtis is.

A drained Curtis seeks counseling but still cannot shake his feelings of impending doom. I felt completely empathetic to his plight and never saw Curtis as crazy or out of control. He possesses controlled restrain.

In fact, director Jeff Nichols does an exceptional job of making the film largely quiet and peaceful with a gnawing and foreboding dread just as the expected apocalypse might come upon the lonely town.

Take Shelter is the debut by Nichols who followed up this gem with two other low-key but critically acclaimed films Mud (2012) and Loving (2016). He knows how to get to the core of his character’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Unexpectedly, he wrote each of these works and received praise for fine writing.

The film is really about the relationship between the characters and the possibility that Curtis is going insane. I’m not sure Take Shelter provides a neatly wrapped conclusion but boy is it an edge-of-your-seat thrill. And why does it need to?

Shannon’s best scene occurs at a Lions Club community event. With most of the town gathered in the hall for a delicious dinner of pot luck dishes things go bad when Curtis loses his temper and verbally berates the townspeople. He warns them that they are unprepared for the doom. They look at him as if he belongs in a padded cell. Shannon’s explosion is frightening and frighteningly good.

As good as Shannon is, Chastain must not be dismissed. She barely holds it together as a woman with a special needs child and an unbalanced husband. When they lose their health insurance she nearly comes apart at the seams.

I love the ending because Nichols leaves the truth of reality a mystery to the audience. This may dissatisfy some but I thought it’s how Take Shelter should be. Unclear, just like the thoughts of its main character.

Take Shelter (2011) succeeds with a powerhouse performance by its star Michael Shannon and wonderful direction and a refined imbalance. The quiet and thoughtful cinema fan will endear the most to this film.

Tenet-2020

Tenet-2020

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-John David Washington, Robert Pattinson

Scott’s Review #1,149

Reviewed June 4, 2021

Grade: C

For those film lovers craving a plot that serves as a weaving puzzle that can never be figured out Tenet (2020) is highly recommended. Others who crave a more defined and linear story and character development will be disappointed by the film. Tenet is a visuals only experience as I tuned in and out of the actual plot points after realizing they intersect past present and future elements.

I really did try from the outset to understand but ended up falling flat.

One’s enjoyment will depend on your own cinematic desires and expectations.

I skew much more towards a good story with excellent acting and an emotional reaction to the project. I’m not as focused on brilliant CGI or dazzling visuals as some but I recognize that Tenet has these elements.

However, I’m not sure I agree with the film’s Oscar win for Best Visual Effects or nomination for Best Production design- thank goodness the terrific Mank (2020) won the latter award.

I’ll try to summarize the plot. A secret agent simply named the Protagonist (John David Washington) embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III. The villainous Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branaugh) is a Russian oligarch who communicates with the future and is intent on destroying the world. His wife, Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki) despises her husband and aligns with the Protagonist to stop him. They fall in love.

Along for the ride are an arms dealer, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), and Robert Pattinson plays the Protagonist’s handler who may or may not be trusted.

Let’s start with the positives. Tenet gets off to a terrific start with a scene at the Kyiv opera house in Ukraine. Though silly, the invasion of the theater and massive sleeping effect of the theater attendees and performers is like a domino effect. The scene is fast and exciting. Later, a daring car chase featuring a car speeding down a highway in reverse gear is pretty exciting. Add a character bound and tied in the passenger seat with no driver and no way to get out provides a cool James Bond moment.

Another positive are the luscious locales like Estonia, Oslo, Norway, London, and the Amalfi coast.

That’s where the fun ends.

I have to admit that I expected more from Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed the project. The man has churned out superlative efforts like The Dark Knight (2008) and Dunkirk (2017), but Tenet will not rank among his finest moments.

To that end, it’s a Nolan film. Sound and visuals are his trademarks and the bombastic, booming score is tight and familiar. The mixing of loud, techy, thundering beats is commonplace but sadly does little for the film. They almost become annoying.

The cast is seasoned and capable. With Washington, Pattinson, Branaugh, and Debicki onboard there is a talent to be found. Even Michael Caine is cast in one wasteful scene. Nonetheless, the actors drift through their scenes looking perplexed and stiff. Probably because they didn’t know what the hell was going on in the scenes.

Just like the viewer.

The dialogue is an issue because it’s not written well. Why would Kat want to kill a man who is already dying of terminal cancer? Why not wait out his demise? And the time travel was lost on me from the first sequence. I simply didn’t care.

The most laugh-out-loud line occurs when Kat exclaims to the Protagonist, “I just knew you’d have a backup plan. Wait, you do have a backup plan, right?” With juicy dialogue like this, it’s a wonder Tenet didn’t receive a Best Screenplay nomination. I jest, of course.

Little nitpicky items like the Protagonist and Kat having zero chemistry even though an interracial romance had so much potential are disappointing.

I can’t say I’d recommend Tenet (2020), but I can provide details of what you can expect from the experience. Some cool visual moments can’t overcome the lack of any storyline and the viewer will become lost in the tired moments. By the final sequence, I thought I had watched a generic episode of a network television series like NCIS.

Ouch.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects (won), Best Production Design

The French Connection II-1975

The French Connection II-1975

Director-John Frankenheimer

Starring-Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,148

Reviewed June 2, 2021

Grade: B

The French Connection, the winner of the coveted Best Picture Academy Award for pictures released in 1971, is a brilliant film, holding up well as a cream of the crop cop film. An action film winning an Oscar is as rare as a horror film winning it. It’s rare.

The decision to make a sequel is debatable but The French Connection II (1975) forges as a decent action crime thriller but hardly on par with the original.

Is anyone surprised?

Sequels rarely usurp their predecessors especially when The French Connection is such a superior genre film. In a way, Part II didn’t have much of a chance measured up against Part I. Films like The Godfather only come around once in a lifetime. Unfortunately, William Friedkin did not return to the fold to direct, replaced by John Frankenheimer, best known for the nail-biting The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Thankfully, Gene Hackman did return. He helps the film from an acting perspective and gives his all in a tough role. His partner, played by Roy Scheider does not appear and is not mentioned.

Picking up a couple of years after the first one ended, Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) is still hot on the heels of cagey and sophisticated drug trafficker Charnier (Fernando Rey). Doyle hops a flight to lovely Marseilles, France. Away from his familiar New York City territory, he struggles to assimilate himself in a strange city and conquer the drug ring to bring Charnier down.

Doyle is accosted and spends time as a dreary heroin addict in rough confines before being tossed away and forced to recover cold turkey style. He becomes even more determined to bring the bad guys to justice- dead or alive.

As a stand-alone action film, The French Connection II is not a bad experience. It is certainly better than the still-to-come 1980s doldrums like the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon cop/buddy films that marginalized the genre into cookie-cutter popcorn films.

The gripping New York City is replaced by the equalling compelling French landscape. Gorgeous locales like the French Riviera and the Meditteranean Sea are featured but Marseilles is not Paris. There exists a seediness and dirtiness that helps the film a bit.

Hackman acts his ass off especially as a drug addict. I shudder to think of a weaker actor trying to pull off this acting extravaganza. From scenes featuring his withdrawals to his drug cravings are exciting to watch and showcase Hackman’s wonderful acting chops.

But the intent is to produce a good action film after all and that effort is mediocre. The French Connection II is simply not as compelling as The French Connection and despite some decent chase scenes and a cool finale where Doyle gets his satisfaction there is little else but by the numbers activity.

To be fair, the final fifteen minutes is the best part of the film.

Remember the frightening car chasing a subway sequence? Or the delicious cat and mouse subway sequence between Doyle and Charnier? Brilliant scenes like this do not exist.

A few clichés are bothersome. Predictably, Doyle stands out like a sore thumb in France and his hot-headedness emerges quickly, offending or pissing off the French authorities. He is not the most likable character and I frequently found myself rooting for the bad guys!

I don’t think I was supposed to.

Other implausibilities occur like the boneheaded decision to send Doyle to Marseilles, to begin with. Was he the only detective, including the French authorities, capable of catching Charnier?

What was the point of the old-lady heroin addict stealing Doyle’s watch?

A shadow of The French Connection, The dull titled The French Connection II is a weaker effort but still respectable as matched against other genre films. This is mostly because of the French landscape and the return of Gene Hackman.