Belfast-2021

Belfast-2021

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring-Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Jude Hill

Scott’s Review #1,202

Reviewed November 28, 2021

Grade: A-

Belfast (2021) is a film that I wanted to see based solely on the year-end awards buzz that the film is receiving as of this writing. The trailer would lead you to believe that the film is a sentimental and heartwarming journey through the lives of a group of people living in Belfast, Ireland.

This is nothing but strategic marketing.

The film is so much better than the trailer reveals with a dark and raw exploration of a family torn between their current lives in Belfast and an opportunity to leave the troubled city for new prospects in England.

But it’s not all doom and gloom and in fact, Belfast provides enough humor, entertainment, and drama to please mass audiences. There also exists a lesson in kindness, decency, and respect that is so needed in the world today.

Belfast is a movie laden with real experiences from director Kenneth Branagh’s own life and this successfully provides realism and honesty to the picture.

The film is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Buddy wonderfully played by Jude Hill. He struggles to forge a path from childhood to manhood in a world that has been turned upside down. It is 1969 and battles over religion have overtaken his neighborhood with radical Protestants wanting the Catholics out.

Buddy experiences young love, loss, joy, laughter, music, and the magic of the cinema. He is surrounded by his family- Ma (Caitríona Balfe), Pa (Jamie Dornan), Granny (Judi Dench), Pop (Ciarán Hinds), and a brother. They each fill Buddy’s life with kindness and fun.

The film starts off slow for me despite an immediate wonderfully compelling slow-motion sequence in which Buddy is surrounded by violence and terror as he walks home from school one pleasant afternoon.

As I ponder Belfast I realize that much of the film is slow but rich with texture and goodness. Every so often an emotional scene erupts but then a great deal of it is Buddy’s everyday experiences.

The black and white cinematography is crucial to show the bleakness of the city of Belfast and how the residents do their best to add some life. Most are born and die where they live.

Branagh adds an occasional glimpse of color which is effective to show a burst of delight in the characters’ lives. This is most powerful when the family goes to the cinema and enjoys an afternoon watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The lighting and extreme close-ups of some of the character’s faces reveal their emotions and the landscape shots are smokey and bright in the appropriate places. This fits the mood perfectly.

The film features music by Belfast native Van Morrison, including eight classic songs and a new song Morrison wrote for the film.

The acting is superb by all the principal cast and Dornan and Balfe provide the emotional core. Both actors are incredibly good-looking and their performance of ‘Everlasting Love’ is simply delightful. Providing proper role models for their children Dornan’s Pa nearly had me in tears when he tells Buddy that a person’s religious beliefs are unimportant but their kindness is what truly matters.

He is a progressive man trapped in a traditional world.

In the end, the family chooses to reach for the stars and the moment is fulfilling for both the characters and the viewers.

Belfast (2021) did not completely win me over until it ended when I realized that I had witnessed a superior film. Branagh fuses heart and decency into a tale of a family’s struggles and their trials and tribulations.

It’s a message film that doesn’t scream or preach that message but rather gives a quiet lesson in humanity.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Kenneth Branagh, Best Supporting Actor-Ciarán Hinds, Best Supporting Actress-Judi Dench, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score-“Down to Joy”, Best Sound

The Good Liar-2019

The Good Liar-2019

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,201

Reviewed November 26, 2021

Grade: B+

The Good Liar (2019) is a well-acted film but by the numbers, the thriller made as good as it can be thanks to superior acting. Casting British heavyweights Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren automatically provide enough star power and credibility to save any lame plot.

This is the first time the actors have appeared in a film together though they have appeared on stage together.

The film moves along at a brisk pace and there is never a moment of boredom. While the main storyline at first is intriguing, the inevitable twist at the ending is satisfying. Suspension of disbelief is required and a portion of the backstory is unnecessary.

Nothing is as it seems.

Roy Courtnay (McKellen) is a dashing career con man. He is suave and used to getting what he wants out of people- to his advantage and their disadvantage. He cagily dips into the online dating pool and stumbles upon an older woman named Betty McLeish (Mirren) ripe for the picking. She is rich, divorced, and lonely.

What could go wrong?

As Betty opens her life and home to him, Roy is surprised to find himself caring about her, turning what should be a cut-and-dry swindle into the most treacherous tightrope walk of his life.

Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), is a constant annoyance to Roy when he questions Roy’s intentions urging his grandmother to be wary of the man.

As the plot begins I kept thinking that there is no way that Betty could be so gullible, lonely or not. This kept me engaged until the big reveal that fills the final thirty minutes or so. If The Good Liar did not contain something more than the banal plot it would have been a real dud.

To continue with the storyline element the ultimate motivations of Betty, while clever, are hard to believe. Not to ruin any plot points but the whole Nazi element from the 1940s feels superfluous and easy. The revenge motives feel extremely plot-driven and meant as a thrown-in explanation.

From a timeline perspective, it also doesn’t make much sense and if events take place during present times it would put Roy and Betty in their 90’s! The characters are assumed to be in their mid-70’s.

Nonetheless, despite Roy being the villain I fell in love with him. His shenanigans appealed to me despite my better judgment. His trickery when he feigns a knee injury to manipulate Betty while dashing into a corporate meeting minutes later was enamoring instead of mortifying.

The chemistry between McKellen and Mirren is tremendous since both actors know their way around carrying a film and are confident with their abilities. This comes across onscreen and the romantic element works.

The Good Liar also gets respect from me for featuring actors in their golden years in leading roles.

Bill Condon has directed a variety of films including Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2006). The Good Liar is hardly on this level nor is it one of his finest but the director adds enough seasoning to assure a compelling experience.

The locales of London and later of Berlin, Germany is robust and a treat for any viewer who is partial to the international filming. I am! Plenty of busy London streets and German architecture appear during the film.

The slickness and excellent acting by McKellen and Mirren save The Good Liar (2019) from the drivel it might have been with lesser actors and inferior direction. Instead, it’s a clever film that toys with its viewers keeping them engaged until the very end.

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Director-Freddie Francis

Starring-Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, Robin Phillips

Scott’s Review #1,200

Reviewed November 25, 2021

Grade: A-

Tales from the Crypt (1972) is a delicious British anthology based on stories from the EC Comics series. Each of the five chapters is eerie storytelling that offers horror fans glimpses into the minds of depraved and devilish characters with sinister motivations.

The sheer joy is witnessing their comeuppance.

This film is the predecessor to Vault of Horror from 1973 and can easily be watched as companion pieces.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Intro

Five strangers are suddenly compelled to go with a tourist group to view old catacombs.

Separated from the main group, the strangers find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), who details how each of them may die.

…And All Through The House- A

Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) brutally kills her husband Richard (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve to get her hands on their insurance money. She prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement of a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) on the loose. She sees the killer (who is dressed in a Santa Claus costume) outside her house, but cannot call the police without exposing her crime.

Her daughter is upstairs in her bedroom, unaware.

This is my favorite chapter and is non-stop action. Collins is terrific as the greedy English woman put in peril. The audience will cheer for her to get her just desserts especially after she callously disregards a lovely Christmas gift her husband bought for her.

Reflection of Death- B+

Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with his secretary, Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up, having been thrown clear of the burned car. He tries to hitchhike home, but everyone he meets screams with horror when they see him.

This vignette is slightly confusing as far as the timeline of the events but compelling as we wait to see what Carl’s face looks like and what has happened to Susan and his wife.

Poetic Justice- A

James Elliott (Robin Phillips) lives with his father Edward (David Markham) across from the home of elderly dustman Arthur Edward Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), who owns several dogs and entertains children in his house. James hates Arthur’s ramshackle lawn and embarks on a scheme to rid the neighborhood of the old man.

I love seeing Cushing play against type as a kindly grandfatherly character and this chapter is the ultimate revenge fantasy and quite satisfying to see what happens to James.

It’s also a perfect watch on Valentine’s Day since the holiday comes into play.

Wish You Were Here- A-

Businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is on the verge of financial collapse. His wife Enid (Barbara Murray) notices the inscription on a Chinese statue the couple owns. They are granted three wishes. Enid decides to wish for a fortune and, surprisingly, the wish comes true, but with dire results.

This one wonderfully cascades a chain of events that leaves the characters in peril. The theme is once again about greed and specifically surrounding insurance money. The fast-paced nature is appealing and the ancient Chinese wishes leave one character into eternal suffering.

Blind Alleys- A-

Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) becomes the new director of a home for the blind and exploits his position to live in luxury with his dog Shane, while his drastic financial cuts on food and heating lessen the residents’ living conditions.

Led by George Carter (Patrick Magee) the resident’s revolt after a fellow resident dies of hypothermia. Rogers and Shane are locked in the basement where Rogers must navigate through a maze of razor blades and a now ravenous wild dog who will hungrily eat his owner.

Though far-fetched, Blind Alleys is delicious fun and contains my most hated character. This is all the more satisfying as he ‘gets it’ in the end!

Finale

After completing the final tale, the Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not warning them of what would happen, but telling them what has already happened: they have all “died without repentance.

The conclusion does nothing more than put a satisfying cap for the viewer as each character once again pays for their shenanigans.

The Power of the Dog-2021

The Power of the Dog-2021

Director-Jane Campion

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,199

Reviewed November 21, 2021

Grade: A

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a harrowing and brutally honest performance in The Power of the Dog (2021), a thought-provoking and layered film by Jane Campion. Parts western, gothic, and drama, Cumberbatch leads the charge but all players associated with the film knock it out of the park.

If the superior acting is not enough the eerie subtext and gorgeous cinematography put the viewer firmly in 1925 old Montana, where a vast and open range is the main setting. Characters are riddled with secrets and the fun is peeling back the onion on their motives and true desires.

There are enough bare male butts to titillate most viewers and Cumberbatch himself did not use the aid of a body double. He stated he wanted to be as raw and vulnerable as his character, the dastardly and cruel Phil Burbank.

Campion who hasn’t made a film in over a decade is back with a vengeance and imposes a nod to Ang Lee and his film Brokeback Mountain (2006).

From the first moment on screen, we know something is mesmerizing about Phil. He is handsome and severe, an alpha male if there ever was one, and attributes his savvy to his deceased father figure, Bronco Henry. His relationship with this man is key to the whole story.

Along with his brother George (Jesse Plemons), the Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers. One day, at the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose (Kirsten Dunst), the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable and effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Phil behaves cruelly to Rose and Peter but George becomes enamored with Rose and they marry much to Phil’s chagrin. Now all living together, Phil taunts Peter and terrorizes Rose but slowly begins to take the boy under his wing. But what are his true intentions and what will Peter do to save his mother from a complete breakdown?

The acting is so brilliant that I immediately became immersed in their lives. Particularly fascinating is Phil but Rose, George, and Peter are all substantial characters. All the characters intertwine and have special relationships with each other and all the principal actors are central to our fascination with them.

Rose may be Dunst’s best role yet and Plemons is terrific as the kind and steady George. Smit-McPhee, unknown to me, is a revelation as the androgynous young intellectual.

There are enough homoerotic scenes to make the viewer question Phil’s sexuality. His secret stash of strong man magazines and his long gazes at nude male sunbathers may be enough to unlock the key but when he rubs a handkerchief belonging to Bronco all over his body the relationship between the two men oozes to the surface.

Campion has a lot of guts in taking on the male-driven western genre and she brilliantly succeeds. Forgetting the storyline for a minute the ravishing and oftentimes lonely landscape makes the film gorgeous to look at especially on the big screen. Plenty of long shots of the mountainous regions will inevitably grasp viewers and whisk them away to a long-ago time.

The Power of the Dog was shot in New Zealand but I was completely fooled into thinking Montana was the real filming location.

I adored seeing the costumes whether it be Rose in a housedress or more distinguished characters like the governor and his wife dressed for a dinner party. All costumes appear authentic and peppered with some glamour amidst the dirtiness of the range. Even the grubby ranch hands look great.

Discussions will certainly erupt once the film ends and isn’t that the point of great films? The Power of the Dog (2021) takes the tried and true western genre and infuses it with psychological layers. Thanks to Campion and the team she masterfully uses no gimmicks to bring the viewer into the world of the characters but instead offers authenticity and edge-of-your-seat drama.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Jane Campion (won), Best Actor-Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actor-Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons, Best Supporting Actress-Kirsten Dunst, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Scott’s Review #1,198

Reviewed November 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Edward Scissorhands (1990) is a Tim Burton creation, given appropriate funding only after the smash success of his 1989 film Batman. A creative and romantic fantasy, it is an unconventional project made as charming and whimsical as its stars were at that time.

The film is part sad, part magical, with enough science fiction and romance sprinkled in to make it work across genres. The result was another box office hit for Burton, teen idol status for its lead stars, and an obvious Academy Award nomination for the deserving Makeup department.

As unconventional and original as it appears on the surface the film suffers slightly from being a bit mainstream. There is a safe, romantic comedy feel that takes the film away from a much darker tone it could (and should) have had.

Still, Edward Scissorhands is entertaining and fascinating.

An eccentric scientist, deliciously played by Vincent Price, builds an animated human being, the gentle and soft-spoken Edward (Johnny Depp). He dies before he can finish assembling Edward, leaving the poor young man with a freakish appearance accentuated by the scissor blades he has instead of hands.

Friendly suburban saleswoman Peg (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg’s teen daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). However, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward’s hands make him an outcast. This is a challenge for all of them.

By 1990 Johnny Depp was becoming a huge Hollywood star and so was Winona Ryder. As the ‘it’ actors, this helps Edward Scissorhands tremendously by not only adding ticket sales but a fascination with them as a couple. The chemistry is palpable and so is the classic good girl helping boy reform. Depp’s Edward is a sympathetic hero and is instantly mysterious and likable.

Wiest, then in her prime, is a hoot as the comical Avon lady who introduces Edward to the joys and pains of suburban Americana. Particularly enjoyable are the perfectly manicured landscapes in Peg’s neighborhood where she goes door to door selling her products. As one can easily predict, the beautiful plants and bushes suffer from Edwards’s dangerous hands.

The Gothic mansion where Peg discovers Edward is a deliciously creative set-piece that has the classic Burton stamp. The director is so defined by his artistic sets and art design that half the fun with the film is discovering and noticing these fabulous creations.

The mainstream part comes with the story and a smattering of 1982’s E.T. sentimentality included to win over middle-American audiences. This isn’t bad but it does lighten the heavy drama and sinister approach that Burton could have honed in on.

Much of the credit must go to Depp because on paper the premise could easily be dismissed as silly, trivial, or outlandish. The actor brings pathos to the role and makes the audience believe in and fall in love with the character.

He makes Edward even more rootable by adding some obvious cliches- Kim’s jealous boyfriend Jim, played by Anthony Michael Hall, and the eccentric religious fanatic who believes that Edward is evil incarnate, played by O-Lan Jones.

The addition of these villains and most of the rest of the neighborhood as either clueless or misunderstanding townsfolk adds to the reduction of most of the supporting cast to standard stock characters.

Burton, along with Depp, Ryder, and Wiest, gives Edward Scissorhands (1990) heart. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that feels magical and adventurous save for some mediocre storytelling. It’s an above-average film that won over the masses at the time of release.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup

Cruella-2021

Cruella-2021

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson

Scott’s Review #1,197

Reviewed November 19, 2021

Grade: A-

One of the first red carpet premiers to emerge amid the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, Cruella (2021) is a wickedly funny delight and celebrates the return of cinema to the theaters. What a fabulous choice. The makeup, hairstyling, costumes, musical score, and the title character herself make this film loud, proud, and lots of fun.

It’s not too dark for the entire family to enjoy but far from fluff either. Suspension of disbelief is mandatory since it’s pure fantasy and not to be dissected for its numerous plot holes and ridiculous antics. Dogs, people, and costumes fly around in frantic motion to fulfill their every motivation.

The film is way better than anticipated which is always a treat. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting quality but I didn’t expect to be entertained and enthralled quite as much as I was. I was carried away by the experience.

The live-action force sheds light on the backstory of Cruella de Vil made famous of course as the dastardly villain in the animated Disney feature 101 Dalmations from 1961. Her life and intentions are explored ala a story similar to Oliver Twist, 1970s style. Orphaned young she must survive the mean streets of London during the punk rock evolution. She becomes an expert pickpocket and ingenious thief while doubling as the humble fashion upstart Estella.

Estella befriends a pair of young thieves who adore her appetite for mischief, and together they construct a cozy life for themselves and their furry friends. While working as a cleaning lady Estella is discovered by the ruthless and unkind Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a fashion legend. Their complex relationship sets in motion revelations that harken back to Estella’s deceased mother and causes her to embrace her wicked side and become the fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.

Emma Stone basks in the spotlight as Cruella with ravaging fury and a twinkle in her eye. An incredible actress having played roles in Birdman (2014), La La Land (2016), and The Favourite (2018), Stone goes full-throttle in her duel role making them as opposite as possible. She’s terrific and carries the bombastic film with seeming ease.

Thompson is just as good as the Baroness, a woman with a heart of stone and most similar to Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). With a snap of her fingers or a glance, she expects to be served and pleased, happy to take credit for other people’s work. It’s a toss-up which character I hate more.

Stone and Thompson are delicious together and chew up the scenery especially when they spar and attack each other. These scenes are wickedly delightful and a key to their past may link them forever. The Baroness is tough to like since she twice tries to kill Estella/Cruella.

The actresses make magic together.

Besides the clear parallels to Oliver Twist, Cruella also mirrors Spider-Man with the alter-ego premise. I saw her as a superhero. Traditionally, Cruella is portrayed as evil and fiendish but here she is the rooting favorite. This may turn some off but I loved this facet and complexity of the character.

To go deeper, the Baroness is more like the animated Disney character Cruella than Cruella is!

I joyously anticipated which 1970s rock song would come next as nearly every sequence has this genre of music incorporated. Bands like Blondie, Queen, and Black Sabbath appear as well as interesting, modern takes on some of the best hits of the period. This adds oodles of depth and relevancy.

What about the costumes? Oh, how gorgeous they are! Numerous dresses, gowns, and other accessories are featured. The sheer number of outfits and designs in the film is astounding. My favorite appears as Cruella unfolds a flowing dress from a limousine that goes on for miles and miles sort of like a domino effect. It’s flashy and beautiful.

Rumors abound that Stone has signed on for a sequel to Cruella (2021). As long as a more thought-out story continues to be developed the character can continue to be as complex as she is entertaining. The style, locale, and time make the film a fantastical fantasy retelling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Licence to Kill-1989

Licence to Kill-1989

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell

Scott’s Review #1,196

Reviewed November 14, 2021

Grade: B

Of the two turns as 007 that Timothy Dalton gave us License to Kill (1989) ranks as the weakest with The Living Daylights (1987) being superior. But that doesn’t mean the film has no good qualities.

It’s an okay film and director John Glen, now returning for his fifth James Bond film seems a little out of gas. Many of the stunts and sequences are very familiar territory and the dialogue is far from crackling or exciting.

The James Bond film franchise would go on a six-year hiatus after Licence to Kill and return refreshed in 1995. Perhaps it needed to.

Dalton does his best but his heart doesn’t quite seem in it and the serious tone of the film gets even darker than The Living Daylights. I don’t think this is a bad thing and I love how the franchise regular Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets more of a storyline. But the wit and charm are lacking.

Events begin in sunny Key West at the impending nuptials of former CIA agent and Bond friend, Leiter. On the tale of one of the international drug cartel’s most brutal and powerful leaders, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), events quickly escalate. After a double-crossing poor Felix is fed to the sharks. While he survives the attack his now wife is murdered. Bond goes rogue and seeks personal vengeance.

What separates Licence to Kill from other Bond entries is the limited locales. Though exquisite, they only take place in North America. The Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Mexico are used in fine form especially the latter. The gorgeous coastline feels European and I surmised that it was shot and set in Spain when in fact it was Mexico.

Also enjoyable is the Latin flair with lots of cultures throughout. Davi is powerful and dangerous as the Latin drug lord and he exudes violence and treachery. He is gleeful when a nemesis falls victim to his pet shark and loses a limb or two before succumbing to death. A great kill is when dastardly Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) topples into a giant microwave oven and explodes into bloody bits. His death is deserved and satisfying.

To build on this, the inevitable death of Sanchez himself is a crowd cheering moment. Before he explodes into a giant ball of flames Bond is certain to let the villain know that his death is courtesy of Leiter. This is an exciting and fulfilling moment.

The Bond girls are not at their finest in Licence to Kill. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-Army pilot, and DEA informant. While sometimes portrayed as a tough-minded and brazen female character she is also written as simpering and pining over Bond. She can also be silly and foolhardy like when she carelessly plays with dangerous gadgets that Q creates. I would expect more intelligence and wherewithal based on her credentials.

Secondary Bond girl Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) and girlfriend of Sanchez, lacks much depth. Beautiful to be sure, she is quite wooden in the acting department and suddenly falls in love with Bond insisting on her powerful feelings for the man she barely knows. It’s a bit far-fetched even for Bond standards but she is nice to look at. So there’s that.

Licence to Kill (1989) usually gets either lost in the shuffle or derided completely and this is unfair. It’s not one of the greats but neither is it garbage. Rather, it feels a bit tired and of its time. Truth be told, it’s grown on me since I first saw it and even the title song performed by Gladys Knight has enamored me over the years.

Old-2021

Old-2021

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps

Scott’s Review #1,195

Reviewed November 13, 2021

Grade: B

I am always rather intrigued by any M. Night Shyamalan projects that come down the pike whether it be a television or film offering. He has a knack for creating twist endings with a supernatural component.

Sometimes, like with The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Village (2004) he knocks it out of the park. Others are more average.

Old (2021) contains a novel and tantalizing premise that sometimes delivers and sometimes lags. It’s a worthy effort that picks up speed in the final fifteen minutes or so with a predictable conclusion I guessed about midway through but is still really cool to see.

The film might have been better as a short film or shorter running episode- think Twilight Zone.

Nothing in Old is too shocking or scary and nothing that will make the hair on your neck stand up but it’s entertaining and provides a message worthy of dissection.

The visionary filmmaker unveils a chilling, mysterious premise that oozes with possibility.

A seemingly happy suburban family decides to treat themselves to a tropical holiday in paradise. Prisca (Vicky Krieps), the wife, stumbles upon the exciting vacation offer online and decides to go for it. This alone should have been a red flag. Her husband, Guy (Gael García Bernal) agrees, and their children, Trent and Maddox, are overjoyed.

What the children don’t realize is that Guy and Prisca plan to divorce after the vacation ends.

The family is lavished with hospitality, food, and drinks and whisked away to a secluded beach where they relax for a few hours with other members of the resort including a surgeon and his wife, an epileptic psychologist, and her husband, and various others. They realize that something is causing them to age rapidly…reducing their entire lives into a single day!

They panic and try to leave the island sometimes turning on each other in the process.

M. Night Shyamalan himself has a small role-playing resort employee who drives the group to the beach and monitors them.

Filmed mostly on the beaches of the Dominican Republic the cinematography is wonderful and quite scenic. The film doesn’t say where the action is supposed to be so I guessed it was Hawaii. The lavish mountains, roaring waves, and exquisite underwater coral sequences give the film a beautiful and calming vibe despite the drama going on.

I also ruminated to the comparisons with the popular television series Lost which ran on ABC from 2004-2010. A group of stranded individuals faces complex and startling situations while desperately trying to flee an island. When one character drowns and another falls to their death from a cliff while trying to leave I was reminded that maybe the island is a force in itself.

As the title gives away the characters start to age rapidly. The makeup effects aren’t as great as one might hope and some characters inexplicably age more than other characters making the whole idea feel a bit silly.

Some of the characters are written better than others and there are some stereotypes to overlook like the schizophrenic doctor who goes mad. His trophy wife is blonde and toned and obsessed with remaining young. As a positive, the wife of another couple is a doctor and the husband a nurse. Many would expect the opposite.

To that end, I never felt very connected to any of the characters, and most are written as a means to an end. Their backstories are explored but lack any depth.

The twist at the end, totally expected in a Shyamalan film is a discussion that can be had after the film ends. A question of medicine and playing god is the main focus and one character with a small role at the beginning of the film is pivotal with the final events.

Not one of his best but certainly worthy of a watch, M. Night Shyamalan continues to tickle my fancy for crafting good, twisty thrillers. Old (2021) doesn’t come close to rivaling his classics but provides good entertainment and perhaps a bit more.

The Living Daylights-1987

The Living Daylights-1987

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo

Scott’s Review #1,194

Reviewed November 12, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s 1987 and Timothy Dalton is the new James Bond having replaced the aging Roger Moore. Moore made seven Bond films. Dalton’s reign was to be brief and made only two films- The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989).

The Living Daylights is a fine Bond film ranking somewhere midstream with Best Of lists. I completely agree with this sentiment as it mostly borrows from other Bond films or stays true to the course, providing a quality action film with all of the typical trimmings a fan would expect from the franchise.

Nothing wrong with that.

This is unsurprising since director John Glen is at the helm once again. Responsible for directing the three prior Bond films- For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View To A Kill (1985) he certainly knows how to create a decent picture and he does just that.

The main issue is with Dalton himself. Certainly handsome, dashing, and British, he doesn’t quite possess the charisma that other Bonds like Moore, Connery, or Lazenby had. There is a seriousness to the actor and a lacking of a smirk or wink of his eye that makes fans melt like putty in his hands.

The action commences with British secret agent James Bond (Dalton) helping KGB officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect during a symphony performance. A mysterious blonde woman who plays cello immediately catches Bond’s attention for more than one reason.

She is Russian assassin Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo). Predictably, as events unfold they become madly in love (or lust).

Koskov reveals that a policy of assassinating defectors has been instated by new KGB head Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies). But as Bond explores this threat, counterplot surfaces, involving a shady American arms dealer (Joe Don Baker). Bond must thwart the evildoer’s fiendish plans and save the world from disaster.

The plot is secondary and difficult to follow but the gist is the same as any other Bond film.

The fun (for me anyway) is enjoying the exquisite locales that the film takes Bond to. I salivated at the gorgeous concert hall and surrounding areas of Czechoslovakia (pre-Czech Republic) and was mesmerized as the action went to the stark desert lands of Afghanistan, Morocco, and finally into historic Austria.

The pre-title sequence was filmed on the Rock of Gibraltar and is utterly fabulous.

With every Bond film, this is a real treat and much of the enjoyment. The Living Daylights doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

The thrilling finale aboard a speeding airplane is thrilling and pulsating, edge-of-your-seat fun. Fights, ticking time bombs, and impending peril keep the action moving at a breakneck speed.

The villains lack much gusto save for a hunky blonde assassin named Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) who enjoys prancing around in skimpy swimwear and who may or may not be gay. In a more progressive Bond, they might have had a dalliance.  The main antagonists, Brad Whitaker, an arms dealer General, and Koskov are too goofy to present any real danger or feel diabolical.

Also forgettable is the main Bond girl. Maryam d’Abo is an okay actress but lacks much chemistry with Dalton. Their adventures are appealing but more as buddies and the romance didn’t work for me. He does respect her more than other Bonds would so that is a win.

Delightful is the title theme song performed by the band A-Ha, which is catchy enough to stick in my head as I write this review. It is exotic and upbeat. Its standard inclusion in the opening credits makes the cheesy sequence more bearable.

Undoubtedly intended to launch a long and storied career as the new James Bond, Dalton lasted only briefly in the role. The Living Daylights (1987) presents a Cold War theme still relevant but slightly tired for the times. As usual, unless we’re talking one of the superior Bond films, the locales are the real highlight.

Spencer-2021

Spencer-2021

Director-Pablo Larraín

Starring-Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall

Scott’s Review #1,193

Reviewed November 7, 2021

Grade: A

In the 2020s there has been a sudden flurry of depictions of and attention given to Princess Diana, a tragic figure in British royalty who came to an untimely death in 1997.  The Netflix series The Crown and a documentary immediately come to mind. While tremendous offerings they often stay the mainstream or historic course.

But Director Pablo Larraín presents a daring and rather unpleasant telling of a miserable Christmas weekend the Princess spent among the royal family in 1991, a time when her marriage to Prince Charles had been decimated and reached the point of no return.

Spencer (2021) is a brilliant art film focused on the troubled young woman’s dealings with her children, her eating disorder, her loneliness and despair, and of course relationships with the royal family.

Kristen Stewart delivers a career-defining performance as Diana and bravely puts on full naked display the shocking reality of the real-life figure’s most inner thoughts and demons.

Larraín prefaces the film with the sentence ‘a fable about a real-life tragedy’ or something to that effect.

The crumbling marriage of Princess Diana (Spencer) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has led to rumors of affairs and an impending divorce but peace is demanded during the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. The lavish spread of magnificent food, pheasant hunting, and family photos would be the dream of many but Diana is counting down the minutes until she can escape the dreary experience.

Restless, Diana imagines her life without the royal family and yearns to escape her trapped life. She fantasizes, binges and purges, and spends time with her children, while clinging to her friend and Royal Dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), and befriending the kindly Equerry Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall). He leaves a book about Anne Boleyn, the tragic wife of Henry VIII, which Diana becomes obsessed with.

My two biggest takeaways are Stewart’s performance and the musical score.

Stewart has long attempted to separate herself from her household name-making performances as Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga film series (2008-2012). Several supporting roles in independent features like Still Alice (2014) and Cafe Society (2016) followed but with Spencer, she hits the jackpot.

Her vulnerability and insecurity infuse themselves into Diana with ferocity and power so much so that I became immersed with her mannerisms as much as the words she spoke. A long and painful dinner scene (my favorite scene) with no dialogue features a closeup of Stewart as she angrily glares at several members of the dinner party. Her disgust at both them and the life she now leads is apparent.

Stewart displays how much Diana desired to escape from her cage where she felt as trapped as an animal would.

Jonny Greenwood creates a fantastic musical score that is haunting and powerful. He is the lead guitarist of the alternative rock band Radiohead and has scored numerous film scores. In the sequence listed above, he offers bombastic and eerie stringed instruments and a powerful drum beat. Later, as Diana wanders the grand halls he expresses her frustration with his music.

It’s an essential part of the film.

To lighten the mood, the 1986 hit song “All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics is played while Diana and her boys drive in their car on a sunny day singing along.

Spall and Hawkins play vital supporting roles as Diana’s only true allies. Spall is quiet and reserved but reveals so much with his facial expressions as his sympathy for Diana is apparent. In a surprise twist, Hawkins’s Maggie admits both her sexuality and her love for Diana as the two grow even closer.

Diana was quite the powerful ally to the LGBTQ+ community during a time when precious few were and the film gives a good reminder of her open-mindedness and her open heart.

Spencer (2021) is not the crowdpleaser some, including myself, would have expected and may even turn some viewers off with its depressing and embroiled cinematic fury. But it’s so much better than a popcorn feature with deeper emotion and exceptional psychological appeal that takes us into an imaginative state.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Kristen Spencer

Falling Down-1993

Falling Down-1993

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring-Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,192

Reviewed November 6, 2021

Grade: B+

Falling Down (1993) is a film with a message or arguably several messages. It’s about one man who is fed up with just about everything and is at the brink of a full-throttle meltdown. What the film does though is mix entertainment with this message about socio-economic unfairness, inequality, etc.

Whether or not people take these elements as seriously as they should is at risk from the popcorn qualities. It’s almost like it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a kick-ass thriller, a black comedy, or a fantasy?

The film certainly entertains though.

This is unsurprising because director Joel Schumacher is at the helm as director. The man is a mainstream director churning out hits like The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997) throughout the 1990s. Some were more successful than others but Falling Down is his best work.

I am a big fan of Falling Down with the awareness that the messages peppered throughout may not be taken as seriously as they ought to be. And the reason is that there are too many of them. It’s almost as if they are boxes being checked off a list.

But it bears repeating that the entertainment factor is fabulous.

One scorching summer day in Los Angeles William Foster (Michael Douglas) an already frustrated middle-aged man who is both unemployment and divorced is having a terrible day.

When his car breaks down on the freeway, he leaves his vehicle and begins a trek across the city to attend his daughter’s birthday party. As he makes his way through urban neighborhoods, William’s frustration and bitterness are tested at every turn resulting in violent encounters with various people, including a vengeful gang and a pursuant veteran police sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall).

Unfortunately for Prendergast, today is the day before his long-awaited retirement.

Douglas delivers an excellent performance as Foster. He makes the character relatable to every viewer who has ever felt so fed up they want to discharge on the people responsible for the unfairness. He only takes his anger out on those who deserve it and that makes the character somewhat of a hero.

The white supremacist, the belligerent Korean grocery store owner, the gang members, and the lazy construction workers all deserve their just desserts. Throughout the film, I cheered Foster mightily and chuckled at his wit.

My favorite sequence occurs at the fast-food joint named Whammy Burger. All Foster wants is his breakfast but he arrives one minute past the cut-off as the unsympathetic cashier smugly tells him. He proceeds to ravage the restaurant in anger.

Despite the humor that Schumacher adds the message must be taken seriously. Minority characters are aptly shown as repressed or not treated well and that point sticks with me until the end.

The least interesting story point is the entanglement between Foster and his ex-wife Beth, played by a woefully underutilized Barbara Hershey. The Oscar-nominated actress can do so much but her talents are wasted in a throwaway role as the underdeveloped wife character.

I never warmed to Robert Duvall’s police sergeant character either and while sympathetic to Foster’s cause because of a situation with his son, the plot point never develops fully. Prendergast’s overbearing wife and a young police officer he seems smitten with are never explored well.

Despite great talent, the film belongs to Michael Douglas.

The mood and cinematography deserve accolades. The humidity is suffocating and the layers of smog overlooking Los Angeles hammer home the stuffy nature of the film. One can imagine the sweaty environment leading to explosions of anger.

What Schumacher does besides entertain the audience is show them that a once successful man who once had a great job and happy family life can lose it all and snap. Falling Down (1993) shows that what happens to Foster can happen to anyone.

Let’s live each happy day to the fullest while we can.

The Little Things-2021

The Little Things-2021

Director-John Lee Hancock

Starring-Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto

Scott’s Review #1,191

Reviewed November 5, 2021

Grade: B

The serial killer genre in film always fascinates me. Gems like Dirty Harry (1971), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Seven (1995), and Zodiac (2007) immediately spring to mind as top of the heap works. John Lee Hancock who directs The Little Things (2021) thinks so too because he borrows from those pictures throughout his film.

The film contains superior acting and a fantastic mood adding effective musical score bits and absorbing cinematography of Los Angeles and surrounding areas. The script must have read superior enough to get heavyweights like Washington, Malek, and Jeto to hop on board.

Despite these wins, The Little Things is lackluster and ultimately disappoints in the end. I was ready to award it a solid B+ if not for the confusing and unsatisfying conclusion which reminds me of a weak copy of the aforementioned Seven.

Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) joins forces with Sgt. Jim Baxter (Malek) to search for a serial killer who’s terrorizing Los Angeles. The blueprint is similar to a case that Deacon worked on and ended with a deadly mistake and his resulting heart attack. As the pair track the suspected culprit, a loner named Albert Sparma (Leto), Baxter becomes aware of Deke’s inner demons and risks going down the same emotionally wrecked path.

A cat and mouse game ensues with Sparma continually toying with both Deke and Baxter.

The story is familiar territory and sets up the rest of the film. How many times in film have we seen a detective tortured over a case? Despite Sparma being the only real suspect and presumed serial killer we never do learn whether or not he did the deeds. One girl who escaped the killers’ clutches may recognize Sparmas boots but is dismissed after concluding that since he is in police custody he must be the killer.

The opening sequence is excellent despite using a direct rip-off of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the girl is cruising down an empty desert road at high speed singing a rock song without a care in the world. Thankfully, they had her crooning a different song but the scene mirrors the other. She is pursued by a killer in another car. The scene is a terrific way to start.

The ensemble does good work with the characters they play. Leto gets the showiest role while Washington plays yet another police detective, a role he now can probably play in his sleep, but always does well. Malek was cast based on the success of his Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury role in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

Leto received enough acclaim that he received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination. This prompted me and undoubtedly others to see The Little Things which suffered at the box office because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I didn’t buy the period of 1990-1991 for a second regardless of how many shiny Chevy Impalas were used in the production. None of the characters looked of the time that it was supposed to be though I admired the now old-fashioned diners and storefronts they used.

I don’t know much about Hancock, who both directs and writes The Little Things but looking at his filmography he has directed such works as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). Since both of these films are safer works it’s unsurprising why much of the film looks and feels like watching an episode of CSI.

Hancock could do with a dose of rawness over sleekness in his next film.

The Little Things (2021) pales in comparison to other better-like genre films and will not be remembered well despite making a valiant effort to play with the big boys. Unfortunately, it’s a minor league experience that borrows too often from other films and therefore has no distinct identity.

I shudder to think of the result if not for the big stars who appear.