The 40-Year-Old Virgin-2005

The 40-Year-Old Virgin-2005

Director-Judd Apatow

Starring-Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd

Scott’s Review #1,214

Reviewed December 31, 2021

Grade: B-

I am not a fan of director/producer Judd Apatow. His brand of silly comedy that includes objectification of women, homophobic language, and plain old unfunny attempts at slapstick comedy doesn’t go very far or sit particularly well with me.

His directorial debut is The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) which contains a fresh feeling and would ultimately lead to less worthy efforts like Knocked Up (2007) and This is 40 (2012).

Admittedly, the title alone had me and many others brimming with curiosity.

The freshness is mostly because of leading actor Steve Carell in a role that would propel him to film stardom and much better roles in the future. So, I guess The 40-Year-Old Virgin deserves credit for that.

Typically, in Apatow’s films, the female characters are written as uptight, shrewish, and bitchy whereas the male characters are goofy and fun-loving. The audience is ‘supposed’ to root for the men and dislike the women.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is no exception.

Still, the film does have a sweet-natured and innocent feeling amid the stereotypes, potty jokes, and raunch that lie within. We root for the underdog to succeed in life and champion his plight despite it being a carnal and sexual one.

Andy Stitzer (Carell) is a tender yet socially inept man who works a lowly job at a big-box store. Single and living alone, 40-year-old Andy whiles away the days playing video games and admiring his action-figure collection. He is your classic, lovable nerd.

He harbors an embarrassing secret. Despite his age, Andy has never engaged in sex, so his friends, including his closest friend David (Paul Rudd), encourage Andy to lose his virginity. While attempting to get over his awkwardness around female customers, Andy meets a local shop owner Trish (Catherine Keener), and they begin an early romance.

With any Apatow film, the rest is highly predictable and the blueprint is formulaic and very easy to figure out.

Andy will face humiliations as a result of his predicament and because of the bumbling yet good intentions of David and his other friend Cal, played by Seth Rogen. He will inevitably have awkward encounters with a few other female characters, in this case, the aggressive Beth, played by Elizabeth Banks, before finding love with the ‘good girl’ Trish (Catherine Keener).

They will ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Spoiler alert- they have sex!

The best, and arguably only good part of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is Carell’s Andy. The character brings a warmth and a vulnerability that causes the audience to sympathize with his plight. While the majority of the viewers will not relate to being a virgin at his age they can at least relate to having an embarrassing issue to deal with.

I am glad that this film led to meatier roles for Carell. Foxcatcher (2014) and his storied role as Michael Scott in television’s The Office (2005-2013) immediately spring to mind.

Keener, mostly known for her dramatic rather than comedic roles is decent as the main love interest, Trish. She, like Andy, is a rootable character though we don’t know too much about her. She is fond of Andy so, therefore, we like her and hope she takes Andy’s cherry.

The rest of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is riddled with standard comic setups and situations. When Andy slips and reveals his virginity by the next day his entire store knows his secret. From there, the insulting additions of a transvestite prostitute and a weird speed dating situation arise.

We know all along that Trish is the girl he will be with.

Apatow unwisely gives an interminable two-hour and thirteen-minute running time to his film which feels too long for a situation comedy. One hour and thirty minutes would have been ideal and more desirable.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) is not the worst offender of the Apatow collection but it lacks any surprises or attempts at diversity. It’s a perfect example of a tried and true adult sex romp with, thankfully, a likable central character.

Licorice Pizza-2021

Licorice Pizza-2021

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman

Scott’s Review #1,213

Reviewed December 27, 2021

Grade: A

Licorice Pizza (2021) is a Los Angeles-based coming-of-age drama by director Paul Thomas Anderson.  Anderson is one of my favorite directors and the film is a must-see for fans of his. Most fans of his yearn to see everything he creates and this one will not disappoint.

One may initially yawn at the tired coming-of-age drama genre and I did too but once I heard that Anderson was directing my curiosity was piqued and I felt secure in the knowledge that the film would be different.

Indeed, Licorice Pizza is special and has a charm all its own.

The expected killer musical soundtrack, prevalent in many Anderson films is there and befitting of the time of 1973. A bit of quirky black humor and general weirdness is also there and so are cameos by A-list superstars like Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper.

Speaking of the soundtrack, they may not be the expected top hits of the time but more obscure gems like ‘Life On Mars?” by David Bowie, “Walk Away” by Joe Walsh, or “But You’re Mine” by Sonny & Cher. I enjoyed the under-the-radar approach as it fits the central characters.

Besides these and other juicy trimmings, the story is a wonderful romantic comedy featuring up-and-coming Hollywood stars, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. They carry the film and emit tremendous chemistry from their very first scene. Haim is in a rock band and Hoffman is the son of actor and frequent Anderson star Phillip Seymore Hoffman. I bet dad would be proud of his son.

For a very recent comparison, Licorice Pizza is similar in setting and tone to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) though the stories are quite dissimilar.

Alana Kane (Haim) and Gary Valentine (Hoffman) are twenty-five years old and fifteen years old, respectively.  They grow up, run around, and fall in love in California’s San Fernando Valley in the year of 1973. Gary is a child actor who also dabbles in his own public relations business while Alana is a struggling photographer’s assistant yearning to do something more important.

Immediately rebuffing the advances of a ‘child’ Alana slowly falls for Gary and the two forge an unbroken bond as they deal with successes, failures, heartbreaks, and longings.

The setting of sunny California in 1973 is pure genius as Anderson authentically takes us there with the cars, the clothing, and the hairstyles then considered trendy. The added pleasure of seeing stars of the day like Jack Holden (really William Holden), Lucy Doolittle (really Lucille Ball), and film producer John Peters is downright gleeful.

Not to be outdone, Sean Penn, Christine Ebersole, and Bradley Cooper portray these figures. Each actor is delightful in their respective roles with my favorite being Penn as the martini slugging Holden.

But the film is hardly about celebrity sightings in a long-ago era.

During the final act, Alana becomes enamored with a politician that she works for. Not a superfluous romantic entanglement, the figure is Joel Wachs, a real-life then closeted gay male who later would champion gay causes. The film showcases the pain of a closeted gay man and his secretive boyfriend as Alana helps them put up a front to avoid his career being ruined.

At the heart of Licorice Pizza though remains the romance of Gary and Alana. The fact that there is a ten-year age gap between them should be a big deal but somehow it’s not. Gary can be precocious and sometimes a little shit, and Alana is moody and temperamental but I fell in love with them anyway and other viewers will assuredly share my passion for the pair.

They try to get through their youth with some sort of plan or semblance of direction and the joy is to traverse along with them and enjoy the ride.

There is a freshness and honesty to Licorice Pizza (2021) that cannot be unshaken. Thanks in large part to Hoffman and Haim the film is one of those that exude magnificence and appeal that is hard to put into words. Viewers of any age will immediately be transported back to young adulthood and the feelings and inadequacies that come along with it.

I wish more films of this ilk were made.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Paul Thomas Anderson, Best Original Screenplay

The 39 Steps-1935

The 39 Steps-1935

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Scott’s Review #1,212

Reviewed December 26, 2021

Grade: A-

Before Alfred Hitchcock conquered American audiences in the 1950s and 1960s he made a slew of British films many of which are overlooked gems. The 39 Steps (1935) is a film nestled among that category, providing thrilling escapism and a spy-tinged subject matter that has an everyman on the run.

The plot pattern is very familiar because Hitchcock would use it later in his American films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and The Wrong Man (1956) to name only two.

Rather than any sort of carbon copy The 39 Steps instead is a pure delight for any fan of Hitchcock because the viewer can see facets and ideas the director would later bestow on his other films. There is enough originality though to please anyone looking for a good thrill.

It is very loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.

The story centers on Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian civilian on holiday in London. He unintentionally becomes involved in preventing an organization of spies nicknamed “The 39 Steps” from stealing British military secrets.

After being mistakenly accused of the murder of a counter-espionage agent, Richard flees to Scotland and becomes tangled up with an attractive woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) while hoping to stop the spy ring and clear his name.

It’s a simple story but one that immediately compels the viewer to root for Richard since we know he is innocent. Perhaps he can find a bit of romance along the way with Pamela and stop the bad guys in the process. So there is little ambiguity with how the story is supposed to wind up.

The fun is getting there.

Assuming this isn’t one’s first time watching a Hitchcock film and nearing a hundred years since The 39 Steps was made I sincerely doubt it, there are oodles of sequences to enjoy. If one asks “does this scene seem familiar?” it is because many of them are.

The London music hall theatre and the London Palladium brim with recognition especially after a catchy tune that Richard cannot forget come into play. It’s too easy not to think of Doris Day’s hit “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, featured as a key element of The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even the London setting itself.

To switch for a moment to another Hitchcock masterpiece, North by Northwest (1959), the frequent dashing across the lands by foot or by locomotion comes into play in a big way in The 39 Steps.

I loathe spending too much time with comparisons because The 39 Steps delivers some goods on its own merits. The action that takes place in the Scottish Highlands is fantastic and a treat for anyone who has been to the lovely and picturesque area. And the daring trip that Richard takes aboard the Flying Scotsman expresses train to Scotland is compelling adventure personified.

The chemistry between Richard and Pamela is decent but not great. It’s not the focal point of the film so I didn’t necessarily mind that. The clear intent was for her to first fear him but then have the characters fall in love. We never really get there but it seems the intent.

The main villain is Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) who Richard tries to prevent from sending secrets out of the country.

Sure, there are better quality Alfred Hitchcock films to bask in once he got his groove decades later and one can assuredly boast that Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are superior films. But The 39 Steps (1935) is a blueprint of what brilliance the director had in his head at this time and it’s a pure treat to witness.

Christmas in Connecticut-1945

Christmas in Connecticut-1945

Director-Peter Godfrey

Starring-Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan

Scott’s Review #1,211

Reviewed December 24, 2021

Grade: B+

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is a flavorful holiday romantic yarn that will please those looking for a snowy and laugh-out-loud experience with zany moments and silly situations but that works nonetheless.

Any foodie craving a film that dazzles with showcasing wonderful meals will enjoy this treat that left me salivating.

The film also oozes New York’s sophistication and New England’s atmosphere making it a cinematic balance between city and country.

Despite the colorful cover art Christmas in Connecticut is shot in black and white which is better.

The key selling point is the instant chemistry between the leads, Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan who carry the film. Stanwyck had just made the vastly different Double Indemnity (1944) and Morgan was a singer which allowed him the ability to perform a memorable song. Together, they shine.

Supporting players like character actors Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall and Una O’Connor provide perfect comic timing in their roles which allows the leads to take the stage in the romance department.

Not to be missed is the timely release of the film in 1945, the year that World War II ended and a necessary time for a cheery film like Christmas in Connecticut. The main character is an Army veteran and begins the film injured in a vet hospital but the film opts not to make it a dreary, real-life experience.

The action starts somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean where war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is stranded on a raft with his mate. He imagines the raft a clean dining room table brimming with delicious food and his mate his waiter.

Awakened in a hospital, he tricks his nurse, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) into becoming his fiancée so that he can be fed steak dinners. While recovering he grows familiar with the “Diary of a Housewife” column written by Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) who is the Martha Stewart of the 1940s. She provides cooking advice for her readers.

Mary arranges with Elizabeth’s publisher, Alexander Yardley (Greenstreet), for Jeff to spend the holiday at Elizabeth’s lavish Connecticut farm with her husband and child. But the column is a sham, so Elizabeth arranges to marry her friend, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) to make it appear she is the domestic she claims to be in her columns.

How she can write popular columns that dole out cooking and housekeeping advice without knowing anything about either subject is ludicrous but part of the fun.

When she meets Jeff, they fall madly in love with each other at first sight.

The film is one madhouse situation after another and there is never a doubt that Elizabeth and Jeff will live happily ever after but how they will reach that point is the main appeal. From the first scene when they meet at the Connecticut farm there is instant chemistry between Stanwyck and Morgan that lasts the entire film.

Their gazes and glances made me root for them.

The fun is the situations the pair is put through and mostly Elizabeth. As she scurries to pretend she has a baby she borrows a neighbors baby and hastily names him Robert unaware that the baby is a girl. When Jeff who is more domestic than Elizabeth changes the baby’s diaper he is in for a shock.

That Elizabeth knows nothing about cooking or taking care of a baby is the hilarity of Christmas in Connecticut. She awkwardly tries to flip a flapjack or handle a cow or any number of other situation comedy moments that make the film as good as it is.

Stanwyck is fantastic in these moments as a woman on the verge of being found out.

Handsome Dennis Morgan portrays a good American man who will make an even better husband which is a large part of his appeal. We long for Elizabeth and Jeff to be together.

A bevy of food scenes and references appear. Besides the flapjacks and steak sequences, steaming plates of good food and drink appear in seemingly almost every scene.

Elizabeth’s uncle/chef and housekeeper played by Sakall and O’Connor respectively light up the screen in comical scenes. I was hoping the pair would find their romance together but this never came to fruition.

An endearing seasonal nugget, Christmas in Connecticut (1945) will please fans of good-natured romance tinged with physical comedy. It has a heart and a pleasant veneer showcasing hapless misunderstandings that lead to the inevitable and satisfying conclusion.

The Abyss-1989

The Abyss-1989

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Scott’s Review #1,210

Reviewed December 19, 2021

Grade: B+

Well before he created Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) and became a household name, director James Cameron made the gorgeous, special effects-laden film The Abyss (1989). The film followed hits like Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986). These films undoubtedly allowed him to make a film that he wanted to make with necessary freedoms.

The Abyss is completely visual and the interesting cast of characters with possibilities for development are never allowed to shine through instead feeling stale. They are usurped by the constant flow of underwater lush worldly spectacles that utterly encompasses the film.

Even when central characters get a moment to dig deeper into their backstories Cameron never goes for the emotional jugular instead encouraging the viewers to focus on the extraterrestrial and science fiction elements rather than his characters.

That’s the type of director Cameron is and recommended is to watch The Abyss on the big screen, or the biggest screen possible. I did not and recognize the sheer bombast that a cinema watching would render. I missed out.

The film, and specifically Cameron, must be heralded for the vast loveliness the art direction, visual effects, and cinematography provide.

Forget the convoluted plot entirely and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio portray Bud and Dr. Lindsey Brigman formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. When an American submarine sinks in the Caribbean, a US search and recovery team works with an oil platform crew, racing against Soviet vessels to recover the boat.

Deep in the ocean, they encounter something unexpected and the American team is determined to find out what. Is it the Russians or a deadly and intelligent extraterrestrial force?

The story is overly complicated and riddled with stereotypical plot points. As the team becomes submersed in their submarine they experience the standard trouble- a hurricane, a rogue team leader, a flooded rig, and freezing temperatures.

Harris and Mastrantonio have pretty good chemistry here but we never fully grasp their marital problems or why there is a distance between them. Thrown together on this mission they predictably face peril and come close to losing each other. When they embrace in the final scene it is a wrapped up like a tight bow sort of ending that underwhelms.

But, man are the visuals amazing. When the team drops at the alien city in the deepest trenches of the ocean floor the beautiful underwater camera shots take center stage. The technical consistencies are simply breathtaking and become the focal point of the film.

I daresay The Abyss (1989) features the greatest underwater sequences ever seen on film to this date but somehow decades later the film feels forgotten or overshadowed by Cameron’s other works.

Perhaps the dated Cold War plotline and the traditional romance have not served the film well in the long run.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects (won), Best Sound

The Forever Purge-2021

The Forever Purge-2021

Director-Everardo Gout

Starring-Tenoch Huerta, Josh Lucas, Ana de la Reguera

Scott’s Review #1,209

Reviewed December 18, 2021

Grade: B+

To date, I’ve seen two of the four installments of The Purge film franchise. The first one, The Purge (2013) was an edgy, creative concept that brought fresh energy to the horror genre. The sequel, The Purge: Anarchy (2014) was a decent follow-up but nothing to write home about either.

I skipped the next two: The Purge: Election Year (2016) and The First Purge (2018).

My expectations were low for the latest effort, The Forever Purge (2021). I’ve seen way too many ‘part five’ of various horror films to be tricked into thinking anything different will be offered to me.

I was pleasantly surprised. While the film doesn’t rewrite the rulebooks and sticks to a familiar formula for these types of films, there exists a timely political plot surrounding immigration that mirrors the deadly ‘Trump era’ that the United States is sadly still in the midst of ever since the 2016 presidential election.

After the film ended I first chuckled but then felt sad at the message that perhaps at some point citizens of the United States will flee to Mexico instead of the other way around.

It’s a somber message worth taking seriously.

In the first scene, we see Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and her husband Juan (Tenoch Huerta) come across the border from Mexico to live in Texas, where Juan is working as a ranch hand for the wealthy Tucker family. We presume they are illegal immigrants.

Juan impresses the Tucker patriarch, Caleb (Will Patton), but that fuels the jealous anger of Caleb’s son, Dylan (Josh Lucas). The residents of the small town prepare for lockdown because of the annual Purge, where all crime, including murder, is legal for one night only.

On the morning after The Purge, a masked gang of killers attacks the Tucker family including Dylan’s pregnant wife (Cassidy Freeman), and his sister (Leven Rambin), forcing both families to band together and fight back as the country spirals into chaos and the United States begins to crumble around them.

The insurrectionist movement continues committing crimes and murders nationwide after the Purge’s ending. The gang and their supporters spread throughout the United States as a Civil War eventually erupts causing many residents of Texas to flee to neighboring Mexico.

Unusual for horror films the premise and the screenplay are written quite well. The social message is a unique one and solidifies the importance of the action going on. Rather than feeling superfluous, I instead imagined that the events could occur in real-life current United States.

It was an unsettling feeling that made me focus on the film even more than I likely would have.

I love that James DeMonaco (director of the first three and writer of all five) is so heavily involved with the franchise. This consistency brings continuity and a good flow to the series. A sixth film is already in the works.

Too often in horror films a new regime will come along and change everything we knew from the preceding films.

The progressive slant of DeMonaco and director Everardo Gout won me over and I champion that the Mexican characters are the heroes of the film. Not to be forgotten, the caucasian Tucker family are written as sympathizing with and supporting their Mexican friends, becoming strong allies.

Where The Forever Purge lags a bit is with the traditionally standard action sequences. Numerous occurrences of shootouts between the Tuckers and Mexican family (they are never given a last name) and the radical movement become tired and standard after a while.

I sometimes felt like I was watching an episode of The Walking Dead.

The insurrectionists are portrayed as your basic dumb rednecks with primitive ideals and racist viewpoints but you never hear the current government’s side of the story. It is explained that the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) have regained control of the U.S. government but the explanations are limited.

It is supposed to be 2048 but this point feels silly since it is present times as far as hairstyles, clothing, and automobiles go.

I credit the thoughtful and forward-thinking approach that DeMonaco provides to The Forever Purge (2021). The political commentary is a huge win in an otherwise entertaining yet standard dystopian action horror film.

The film may be dated in ten or twenty years but in 2021 the message is pretty damned frightening.

Respect-2021

Respect-2021

Director-Liesl Tommy

Starring Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans

Scott’s Review #1,208

Reviewed December 17, 2021

Grade: B-

I had high hopes when I heard that a new biopic based on the life and times of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was in the works. My elation was solidified when Jennifer Hudson was cast in the iconic role. It seemed just perfect for her.

After all, the singer has pipes for miles and is now far removed from her appearance as a chubby but loveable young upstart on televisions American Idol. She has already won an Oscar for portraying a singer, Effie White, in Dreamgirls (2006) and is firmly in the big leagues.

Sadly, Respect (2021) underwhelms through no fault of Hudson’s. Almost every aspect of the film is standard and by the numbers and the word, ‘safe’ comes to mind multiple times throughout the viewing. On par with a television movie instead of a big-screen spectacle, the feature can largely be skipped save for Hudson’s performance scenes.

To be fair, Hudson’s finale of ‘Amazing Grace’ is astonishing as well as the real-life performance by Aretha Franklin for President Obama and wife Michelle that appears over the closing credits.

I would recommend this film only for the die-hard Aretha fans. If novice South African director, Liesl Tommy, had visions of mirroring the recent successes of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) or Rocket Man (2019), she sadly missed the mark completely.

For a similar experience, watch the superior What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner.

Respect follows the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career, from a privileged child singing in her father’s church choir to her international superstardom and her journey to find her voice. She battles her ‘demons’ like overindulging in alcohol and dating abusive men as she struggles with the rigors of touring and recording hit singles becoming a difficult diva along the way.

The film contains nearly every cliche in the book and I have my doubts that all of the plots are even factual. Expected is that Franklin falls for a charismatic yet abusive man and returns home with a black eye to her controlling father, played by Forest Whitaker.

The tremendous actor has little to do besides what you would expect your typical controlling movie father to do.

She struggles with her career, battles the bottle, collapses on stage, fights with her family, scolds a housekeeper, reunites with her sisters, returns to the stage a star, and just about every other experience that the rise and fall and rise again of a superstar would behold.

Strangely, the film’s timeline is largely from 1962-1972 during the singer’s rise to fame. Completely skipped is her return to the top of the charts in 1985 with ‘Freeway of Love’ or any of her other 1980s hits. She died in 2018 so much of her life is not featured at all.

Laughably, Aretha is never seen as overweight despite being overweight most of her life. The fact that Hudson, once overweight herself and now svelt, is in the lead role, the conclusion is that either Hudson or the filmmakers (or both) didn’t want her to be perceived as fat.

While understandable, missed is an important trademark of the Queen of Soul.

The best parts of Respect are when Hudson performs. Besides her brilliant rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ other treats are ‘Think’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, and naturally, ‘Respect’. Hudson rises to the occasion with every number.

Jennifer Hudson does her best in a role that she is perfectly cast for. She successfully channels her inner Aretha Franklin and soars when she is allowed to let loose and give a brilliant performance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the material is lackluster dialogue and generic situations, and a gnawing feeling of watching Jennifer Hudson perform Aretha Franklin’s songs cannot be shaken.

I expected greatness out of Respect (2021) but all I got was mediocrity.

West Side Story-2021

West Side Story-2021

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose

Scott’s Review #1,207

Reviewed December 12, 2021

Grade: A

I salivated when the news broke that a reboot of the brilliant 1961 film West Side Story, itself based on a Broadway musical, was being planned. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard Steven Spielberg would direct the production. Nothing personal against Mr. Spielberg but there have been some misses with musical adaptations over the years.

Does anyone remember Cats (2019)? I know, we are all trying to forget it.

Nonetheless, my anticipation was sidelined temporarily due to the hated Covid-19 pandemic but art always perseveres and the release of the new West Side Story was changed from December 2020 to December 2021.

Finally, the moment had arrived and I was even fortunate enough to score members-only sneak preview tickets to an early screening at my local art theater.

Hooray!

West Side Story (2021) is a brilliant adaptation and does not disappoint in the least providing entertainment and authenticity for miles. It’s bombastic and enthralling mixing romance with some quite brutal fight scenes. The delightful songs “Maria”, “America”, “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty”, and my personal favorite “Somewhere” are all included and are like new gifts for fans to greedily unwrap.

This may be the best effort yet by Spielberg (I never thought he’d top 1993’s Schindler’s List) as he recreates a musical spectacle that will surely entice viewers back to the cinemas.

The reboot has life, artistry, and expressionism breathing fresh energy into the production. In some ways, it’s superior to the 1961 version.

Despite being created in the late 1950s there is a timeliness to it. Racism sadly still exists in America and we have much work to do to unite as one if we ever do. This may feel hopeless but the message of the film is one of love and unity providing hints of hopefulness.

How timely and how much needed this film is.

The film has a deeper sentiment because of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, the masterful composer, and lyricist who reinvented the American musical. He worked in tandem with Leonard Bernstein on most of these songs.

For those unfamiliar let me summarize the plot of the film.

Love, at first sight, strikes when young Tony (Ansel Elgort) spots Maria (Rachel Zegler) at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Forbidden to have anything to do with each other except to hate each other, their immediate romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks- two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

Things go from tense to terrible when street fights between the gangs lead to mayhem, misunderstandings, and death.

The film is crafted exceptionally well from a visual and cinematic perspective. From the opening sequence when the gangs stumble amongst the ruins of a decrepit west side lot there are intriguing shadows and shapes and high camera shots. These continue throughout the film when the flawless choreography of the dance scene takes center stage.

Speilberg corrects missteps that the 1961 version made which brought a wide smile to my face. The Puerto Rican characters that makeup half the cast are played by Hispanic actors. The big mistake the original film made was casting caucasian actors passing for Puerto Rican.

The chemistry between Richard Baymer (original Tony) and Natalie Wood (original Maria) was lacking but it explodes off the screen from the first moment that Elgort and Zegler appear together.

Rita Morena, familiar to West Side Story fans with her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 version returns in the role of Valentina who runs Doc’s general store and is assumed to be the widow of Doc. It is explained that Valentina, Puerto Rican, married a white man. Morena’s role is much bigger than I thought and she performs a magnificent and teary version of “Somewhere”.

The casting is flawless. Standouts are Elgort (Tony), Ziegler (Maria), Ariana DeBose (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo), and Mike Faist (Riff) but the entire company performs flawlessly and effortlessly.

The character of Anybodys, a tomboy in the original is cast with a transgender actor, Iris Menas, which provides rich diversity and inclusion.

West Side Story (2021) is an instant classic that I can’t wait to see again and again and again. I’ll never waver in my love and devotion to the original version but the new version is an exceptional achievement in authenticity, style, and pizazz that will assuredly remind viewers why they love the cinema so much.

It certainly reminded me.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Supporting Actress-Ariana DeBose (won), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound

Three Days of the Condor-1975

Three Days of the Condor-1975

Director-Sydney Pollack

Starring-Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,206

Reviewed December 11, 2021

Grade: B+

Three Days of the Condor (1975) is an edge-of-your-seat thriller starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, two big stars of the 1970s. The film is directed by the respected Sydney Pollack, most famous for Out of Africa (1985) and Tootsie (1982).

He knows how to entertain while providing a good, juicy romance.

The quick pace and frenetic editing equate to the film moving along quickly and the frequent exteriors of Manhattan and Brooklyn are great. Good-looking stars and a dangerous European bad guy played by Max von Sydow certainly help.

My only criticism is that Three Days of the Condor is quite similar and familiar to other espionage or political thrillers like All the Presidents Men (1976) or Chinatown (1974) that emerged during the 1970s. This is small potatoes as measured against the compelling and action-oriented theme though.

On a seemingly ordinary day, Joe Turner (Redford), a bookish CIA codebreaker, is tasked with fetching lunch for his colleagues. When he returns he finds that they have all been murdered. Horrified, Joe flees the scene and tries to tell his supervisors about the tragedy but quickly learns that CIA higher-ups were involved in the murders.

With no one to trust and a determined hitman named Joubert (Max von Sydow) on his tail, Joe must somehow survive long enough to figure out why his agency wants him dead. He kidnaps Kathy Hale (Dunaway) who he hopes will assist him in his peril.

The opening segment is the best part of Three Days of the Condor. The massacre of the entire office is shocking and bloody and Pollack infuses the necessary elements of suspense in this key scene. The scolding, chainsmoking receptionist who keeps a gun in her desk drawer is the first to die and no match for her assassins. As they go about the office kicking down doors and wreaking havoc it’s a hope to envision someone being spared.

We also wonder what their motivation is.

And the tense elevator scene involving Turner and Joubert is fabulous.

Particularly relevant to mention is the inclusion of a female Asian character hinted at as a possible love interest of Turner’s. Played by Tina Chen her character of Janice is intelligent and sexy. Her flirtations with Turner unfortunately never go anywhere as she is part of the lunchtime slaughter but some Asian representation in mainstream film during this time is a positive.

I fell in love with Kathy’s cozy and stylish Brooklyn apartment. Assumed to be very close to the lower Manhattan financial area the set is dressed beautifully. It provides depth and texture to her character who at first we barely know. She has good taste and sophistication and sees something in Turner although she has just been accosted by him at random.

It was a stretch to buy Robert Redford as nerdy or anything other than a platinum blonde hunk but the actor does a satisfactory job leading the film. I couldn’t stop my comparisons between Redford and Brad Pitt at that age as the two stars are similar in looks.

The chemistry between Redford and Dunaway is palpable which is key to the film. If little or none existed it would have detracted from the believability. When they become lovers it feels natural and a culminating moment satisfying for the audience and proper to the story.

Providing enough action to enthrall and viewer tied to the thriller genre Three Days of the Condor (1975) is slick but believable. Capitalizing on the paranoia that the fresh Watergate scandal had resulted in when the film was made it still holds up well as a film decades later.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

Being a child of the 1980s films like Back to the Future (1985) left an indelible mark on me. I fondly recall excitedly going to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with a giant tub of popcorn in tow and enjoying the hell out of this film.

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

There exists a magical, futuristic element that left me and countless other youngsters and adults alike with a sense of wonder. And one amazing car!

Michael J. Fox, a huge television star of the 1980s largely in thanks to the sitcom Family Ties, powered through to the big screen with the help of this film and others.

The 1980s was a wonderful decade to grow up in.

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

To further complicate matters, Marty has to then return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

Back to the Future is one of those films that has something for everyone and the stars perfectly aligned to make it a blockbuster popcorn hit. Besides the science fiction elements, there is humor, a cool 1950s throwback vibe, romance, and natural chemistry between Fox and Lloyd who together carry the film.

It’s hardly an art film and goes for the jugular with mainstream additions like a killer soundtrack led by The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News which was all over top 40 radio in the summer of ’85. Counterbalancing the current times was another smash hit Johnny B. Goode, a 1958 Chuck Berry tune.

There is a safe vibe for sure and director Robert Zemeckis knows his action-adventure romantic comedies. This may be his best work but he also skews adding much diversity or heavy topics. He simply creates a fun, entertaining film.

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced. Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

Lloyd is perfect as the zany Doc Brown. He is wacky without being too ridiculous and bridges the gap between generations. The character is presumed to be old enough to be Marty’s (in present-day) grandfather and the two characters rely on each other. Back to the Future shows that an unlikely friendship can develop.

The film is also great at depicting the vast differences between the 1950s and the 1980s. At a simpler time, the 1950s are viewed as wholesome while the 1980s are perceived as the decade of excess and some fun is poked at both generations. But, both generations can also connect.

In an acute moment, Marty helps secure his parent’s bond and ensures he is created. This could be viewed as icky to some but the romance between the two parents is tender and sweet. The interactions between all characters are sentimental without being saccharine.

Back to the Future was the feel-good film of 1985 and a must-see for those living the period. It holds up surprisingly well with then state-of-the-art special effects not now looking dated or laughable. It also explores growing up as an adolescent and identifying with one’s parents and the differences they have. Who can’t relate to that in some way?

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

The Cannonball Run-1981

The Cannonball Run-1981

Director-Hal Needham

Starring-Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore

Scott’s Review #1,204

Reviewed December 4, 2021

Grade: B-

The Cannonball Run (1981) is someone’s idea of collecting big film and television stars of the time and throwing them into a film with a pointless plot about cross-country road racing.

Truth be told, it’s a pretty bad film. But, it’s a fun and entertaining way to spend ninety minutes just to see the multitude of celebrities in both cameos and leading roles. Otherwise, The Cannonball Run should be skipped.

Taking a glance at the list of players we have Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Dom DeLuise, Peter Fonda, Dean Martin, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda, Adrienne Barbeau, Bert Convoy, and Terry Bradshaw.

Hopefully, the actors had a good time making the film.

The acting is not stellar and one wonders if many of the cast simply phoned it in or even read much of the script. The out-takes look like everyone was having one grand old time.  And whether some were even sober during the shooting is debatable.

The film is loosely based on the 1979 running of an actual cross-country outlaw road race in the United States, beginning in Connecticut and ending in California.

It was one of 1981’s most successful films at the box office which is a scary realization. It was followed by two forgettable sequels- Cannonball Run II (1984), and Speed Zone (1989).

Feeling very thrown together, director Hal Needham is most known for collaborations with Burt Reynolds involving cars and car chases so the plot, if one wants to call it that, is right up his alley.

Race teams gather in Connecticut to start a cross-country car race. One at a time, teams drive up to the starters’ stand, punch a time card to indicate their time of departure, then take off.  The reward to be given to the winner is one million dollars. A representative of the “Safety Enforcement Unit” tries to stop the race because of its environmental effects and safety issues.

Various teams are shown either evading law enforcement, most of which deal with talking their way out of a possible ticket or concocting crazy schemes to outmaneuver their opponents.

The winner of the race is rather unimportant.

It’s all silly and not to be taken seriously. There are plenty of stereotypes like Jamie Farr’s Middle-Eastern wealthy sheik driving a Rolls Royce and the inevitable scantily clad females in tight wear.

Despite The Cannonball Run being riddled with enough negative aspects to make me hate the film, it’s kind of fun. The bevy of different vehicles like an ambulance, an Aston Martin DB5 (driven by Moore’s James Bond imitating the character of course), a Ferrari, and a Chevrolet Malibu are all entertaining.

There is no character development nor any characters with any depth so the only reason to see the film is for the speedy cars and the competition.

And to see which celebrity will appear next.

A slapstick film that makes even the similarly penned Smokey and the Bandit (1977) seem like high-art, The Cannonball Run (1981) is a must-see only for genre fans or those who are willing to watch and perhaps even be entertained by any type of movie.

I haven’t seen the film in eons but can imagine it’s a film only meant for its time and now would feel incredibly dated.

Dark Shadows-2012

Dark Shadows-2012

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #1,203

Reviewed December 3, 2021

Grade: C+

Sometimes a great idea doesn’t pan out. On paper, relaunching the unique and gothic 1960s daytime television series Dark Shadows with a tribute on the big screen with even bigger stars sounds wonderful.

The endless possibilities and the inevitable nods to history are head-spinning.

Sadly, the film version of Dark Shadows (2012) directed by Tim Burton is miscategorized and misunderstood by all involved. It’s billed as a dark comedy rather than horror or even fantasy and comes across as more of a mockery than a real nod to the series.

It’s completely over-the-top and misses any of the wonder and the spookiness that made the long-ago black and white show a daily adventure.

I do not profess to have seen the entire series but I have watched much of the first season and understand the appeal. Fans will be disheartened with Burton’s botched attempts to recreate a great idea.

Depp, a frequent guest star in Burton’s film works, strikes out as the iconic character Barnabas Collins, the eighteenth-century vampire who awakens in the twentieth century though he’s not as bad as he was when he feebly stepped into the Willy Wonka character in 2005.

Yikes.

The only saving grace is the creative and magical visual effects and set design which provides enough imagination and macabre fascination to at least partly save this otherwise messy experience.

The plot gives a brief explanation of the history. In eighteenth-century Maine, Barnabas Collins (Depp) presides over the town of Collinsport. A rich and powerful playboy, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who deviously makes him pay. Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him alive.

Two centuries later, Barnabas escapes from his tomb when builders are erecting a Mcdonald’s and finds the current 1970s Collinsport a very different place. His once-grand estate has fallen into ruin, and the dysfunctional remnants of his family have fared no better.

His resurrection creates complications and drama for the entire family.

Burton knocks it out of the park with the visuals. The gothic mansion, in particular, is right up his alley and he embraces the possibilities with gusto. Every creak or wind sound heard within the mansion co-aligns with the dark and dreary purples and brown colors. Frequent candles mark the proper mood and investigating the vast number of rooms was something to look forward to.

Since the rest of the film sucked I had nothing better to do than fully embrace and focus on the art and set designs.

Heavyweights like Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Depp do their best but oddly overact in nearly every scene. Their direction must have been skewed towards comedy instead of adding any meat or emotional relevance to the characters.

The original series created something strangely dramatic and compelling on a shoestring budget. There was a delicious haunting and grabbing nature that made you anticipate the next episode and who might next fall victim to the vampire.

The film veers into a vastly different territory. Burton and Depp’s Barnabas struts around emitting one-liners for intended giggles. The other characters appear to be dressed for Halloween and are dumb and morose. The feeling I got was that of a retread to a situation comedy like The Addams Family rather than a horror soap to be taken seriously.

The sexual references and the occasional bloody vampire effects are okay but seem peppered in to justify the dark comedy.

Even an uninspired cameo by shock rocker Alice Cooper is perceived as a weak attempt to add something frightening or dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Shadows (2012) performed poorly at the box office and was derided by true fans of the series and almost every other film critic. This caused Barnabas and his family to slink back into their coffins possibly for good.

What a shame.