Election-1999

Election-1999

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick

Scott’s Review #1,225

Reviewed January 30, 2022

Grade: A

Election is a 1999 black comedy film directed by Alexander Payne. He co-wrote the screenplay with Jim Taylor, and it’s based on Tom Perrotta’s 1998 novel of the same name.

Anyone film fan who knows Payne’s work can attest that they are noted for their dark humor and satirical depictions of contemporary American society. His best is About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), and Nebraska (2013).

And Election ranks among his finest works.

The subject matter at hand this time out is politics and education with the familiar Payne setting of Omaha, Nebraska. Right smack in the middle of the American Heartland.

Only his second film, Election stars Reese Witherspoon in her breakthrough role that built momentum towards her becoming a superstar. She is utterly fantastic and this would rank as one of her best roles, if not the best.

And, no, that is not a slight against her iconic portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001), which I love, but Tracy Flick gets my vote.

The film itself is a masterpiece and has become a cult classic. Payne takes a subject matter, a rivalry between a teacher and student, still considered somewhat taboo. He takes into question authority and tomfoolery and then spins everything around.

Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), is a straight and narrow, well-liked high school government teacher who notices that successful student Tracy Flick (Witherspoon) uses unethical tactics and manipulation to get exactly what she wants.

Since Jim believes that Tracy has ruined his friend’s marriage he already despises the girl. Though, could he also be in love with her?

When Tracy decides to run for school president, Jim feels that she will be a horrible influence on the student body. He convinces Paul (Chris Klein), a dull but popular student-athlete, to run against Tracy. When she becomes aware of Jim’s secret involvement in the race, a bitter feud develops between teacher and student as they try to outsmart the other.

The writing in Election is brilliant. The audience may see Jim or Tracy as the villain or perhaps both. They resort to drastic machinations to get their way. Tracy wants to win at all costs while Jim becomes obsessed with ensuring that Tracy does not win.

I love the high school setting and the normal goodie two shoes Jim resorting to ballot cheating and affairs to best his rival. Tracy is no better as she manipulates and conspires to win the election.

I also worry that the viewers who should see this film either won’t or won’t get the message that Payne is sending.

The editing is flawless and the quick cuts that allow each character a chance to narrate and share their perspective is a major win. We see each motivation and understand what makes each character tick-especially Jim and Tracy.

The acting is wonderful and enough praise cannot be reaped upon Witherspoon and Broderick for their sick and twisted performances. They each radiate desperation and dark comedy and delightful is the perkiness and drive that Witherspoon gives Tracy.

When she bakes cupcakes in the hopes of bribing her classmates for votes, this counterbalances Broderick’s angry and grizzled Jim. He is at war with a student and goes for the jugular instead of being the role model a teacher should be.

It’s delightfully fun though many high school teachers may not appreciate the deviousness.

There’s also a cool LGBTQ+ inclusion which is a positive.

I’d venture to compare Election to American Beauty (1999), made the same year and with a similar tone. Cynical and witty, they both question morality and ethics especially with the sugar coating of a high school or small-town Americana.

Satire never looked finer with both films.

Made in 1999, how dubious the realization is that Election continues to have relevance as time goes by. In the current state of United States politics where lying, cheating, and a blatant refusal to accept election results unless one side is the victor is running rampant, and shockingly tolerated by some, Payne’s message has never been more powerful.

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Direction-Alexander Payne (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Female Lead-Reese Witherspoon, Best Debut Performance-Jessica Campbell

Carlito’s Way-1993

Carlito’s Way-1993

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller

Scott’s Review #1,224

Reviewed January 29, 2022

Grade: B

Brian De Palma would be firmly planted in my Top 10 favorite directors of all time- maybe even the Top 5. His daring and juicy Dressed to Kill (1980), and horrific Carrie (1976) is still visually mesmerizing to me.

Carlito’s Way (1993) takes De Palma into New York mobster territory similar in vein to his 1983 disappointment Scarface (1983). Both star Al Pacino.

The latter is set in Miami while the former offers many reminders of its New York City setting like street signs and other exterior trimmings of the Big Apple, especially in Spanish Harlem. Sequences also occur on Long Island, New York, and Rikers Island prison.

The film is based on two like novels written in the 1970s when the events in the film are supposed to be set. This doesn’t work as well as you might think but more about that later.

Carlito’s Way itself is a solid mobster film that borrows from many others including Scarface, The Godfather (1972), and Goodfellas (1990). If I were to take ten mobster films it might get lost somewhere in the middle.

But it’s still an above-average watch and sprinkles pleasant De Palma familiarities like slow-motion dreamlike sequences and a terrific chase through the subway and Grand Central Station that will bring a smile to Dressed to Kill fans.

It’s just not one of the best Brian De Palma films nor one of the best mobster films.

Released on a technicality after years in prison, Carlito Brigante (Pacino) swears to give up his criminal ways, but it’s not long before the ex-con is sucked back into the New York City underworld thanks to his shady lawyer and friend Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn).

All he wants to do is save enough money to leave town and retire in paradise.

Carlito reconnects with his aspiring actress/dancer girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) while young and dangerous gangster Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) plots revenge on Carlito and Kleinfeld after being slighted.

Kleinfeld has also stolen money from a dangerous convict so that’s an added stressor for both him and Carlito.

The time is very odd. It’s supposed to be the 1970s as the musical score suggests as disco party music blasts during club scenes. The clothes and hairstyles somewhat align but there is a strange 1980s feel which is even stranger given the film was shot in the 1990s.

The chemistry between Pacino and Miller is okay but nothing terrific either although it grows during the film. At first, I wondered what they saw in one another but was slowly won over by the pair. By the end, I was rooting for them to ride off into paradise together.

The best part of Carlito’s Way is the final thirty minutes or so. On the run from the bad guys, Carlito and Gail decide to meet on a late-night train bound for Florida. There, they will forget their troubles and live happily ever after on the beach.

Oh, and by the way, Gail is now pregnant.

De Palma, as he usually does, creates a dazzling climax. I was mesmerized by the cat and mouse chase scenes and what Grand Central looked like in the early 1990s when the film was shot. And there’s also the terrific running from subway car to subway car chase scene just like in Dressed to Kill.

As an aside, Pacino who is Italian is playing a Puerto Rican character. One character comments that Carlito could almost pass for an Italian. Given Pacino’s heritage in the very Italian Godfather films, this is an anecdote that made me chuckle.

Penn and Pacino give it their all and craft unusual characters, especially Penn, and it’s a delight seeing great actors play off of one another.

Carlito’s Way (1993) has some hits and some misses and borrows heavily from similar films including De Palma’s films. This too often makes it become a comparison film rather than containing its own identity.

The Da Vinci Code-2006

The Da Vinci Code-2006

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou

Scott’s Review #1,223

Reviewed January 23, 2022

Grade: B+

Based on the best-selling 2003 novel written by Dan Brown, Ron Howard directs the film version of The Da Vinci Code (2006). Since I haven’t read the novel at this writing I cannot fully give a fair assessment from the perspective of comparison but my hunch is that the book is superior to the film.

Isn’t it usually?

The film is entertainment personified and Howard wisely casts a big name like Tom Hanks to draw audiences to the theaters. It’s a slick and adventurous thrill-ride which is all well and good but it’s also a type of film that you can see once, enjoy for what it is, and then never need to see again.

The most fun is the controversy the film, like the book, encountered.

It was met with especially harsh criticism by the Catholic Church for the accusation that it is behind a two-thousand-year-old cover-up concerning what the Holy Grail is and the concept that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and that the union produced a daughter.

So, those who are sensitive or uptight about religion may want to skip the film and the novel.

But this is Hollywood, after all, and Howard and Hanks do what they do best. They create and produce a fun, solid, blockbuster flick.

When the curator of the Louvre is found murdered in the famed museum’s hallowed halls, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) must untangle a deadly web of deceit involving the works of Leonardo da Vinci.

The most enjoyable parts are the locales and the focus on art. The famous Louvre in Paris, France permitted to film relevant scenes at their premises but only a replica of the Mona Lisa was used during filming as the crew was not allowed to illuminate the original work with their lighting.

The Westminster Abbey scenes were instead filmed at Lincoln and Winchester cathedrals.

The Parisian nightlife is gorgeous and murky in its depiction and a plentiful helping of sequences are shot throughout the United Kingdom with Scotland and England receiving the most representation.

So, while strict limitations were harboring, there is an international flavor to The Da Vinci Code that works wonderfully especially for those who have traveled to those locations.

For art lovers, particularly of da Vinci himself, there is satisfying respect for the art. I always attempt to improve my art knowledge so this film is helpful to me and the novice art fan to educate themselves and learn more about the subject.

Hanks, as usual, carries the film in his steady-Freddy approach.

While not as compelling as his roles in either Philadelphia (1993) or Forrest Gump (1994), the actor can convey his suspicious plight and the need and desire to solve the complex puzzle.

Audiences will follow suit.

The Da Vinci Code (2006) was riddled with bad reviews and jest mostly at its ridiculous plot and absurd story. While there is a grain of truth to this, I found the film enjoyable entertainment and that’s all I expected out of it. The film pleases and satisfies if not taken too seriously.

Passing-2021

Passing-2021

Director-Rebecca Hall

Starring-Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga

Scott’s Review #1,222

Reviewed January 22, 2022

Grade: A

Passing (2021) is a quiet film brimming with importance. It’s the feature directorial debut of Rebecca Hall and she hits a home run with a film pleasing both visually and from a storytelling perspective.

The title of the film equates, the word ‘passing’ refers to three different meanings as the viewer will need to wait until the end to figure it out.  I was not able to deduce the third meaning until I read the synopsis and was left in a state of shock.

The setting is 1920s New York City, a polished time when status and sophistication meant everything. Unfortunately, despite the liberal-leaning metropolis racism is still alive and kicking.

The first scene shows a pair of well-dressed ladies entering a store commenting how thankful they feel that their children have only met ‘colored’ people who are members of their staff. The message is laid clear that they feel anyone of dark skin are lepers.

Passing is a film about race but so much more.

Tessa Thompson plays Irene Redfield, a well to do light-skinned black woman who is married to a successful doctor, Brian (André Holland). They reside in Harlem in a largely black neighborhood. Irene is respected and is also able to walk amongst cultured white people and ‘pass’ for white. She is treated differently when she does.

One day Irene stops for a sandwich at a posh hotel. She runs into her childhood friend Clare (Ruth Negga) who is also of mixed race. Clare completely passes for white and is married to a successful and handsome banker, John Bellew (Alexander Skarsgård). He makes no secret of despising black people.

As Irene and Clare reconnect, Clare begins to immerse herself in the black culture and specifically in Irene’s life. She flirts with many black men and grows close to Brian much to Irene’s chagrin. Irene becomes both jealous and enamored with Clare.

They both risk their established lives as they soul search for their truths.

Passing is not conventional and that’s what I admire and love about it. While watching I never knew what direction the film was going in and I missed one subtle, yet important, detail- Irene’s fascination with Clare. The complex relationship is shaken to the core in a jarring final sequence during a winter party in a luxury apartment.

Hall makes the monumental good decision to film in black and white cinematography thus making the racial subject and tones all the more powerful.

Visually, this is never more evident than when Clare stands beside a darker-skinned black character. The contrast is astounding and made me believe how everyone would be fooled into thinking she is a white woman.

The story of two cultured black women dealing with life in the early twentieth century is juicy enough but the stuff peeking out from beneath the surface heightens the meaning of Passing and adds layers and layers of emotional vigor.

The film reminds me of the 2002 masterpiece Far from Heaven. Visually brilliant and both offering stories about race, they are both also tragic. Nobody ends up happy or fulfilled and a terminal sense of loss is palpable in each. A tortured, well-manicured central character exists in both films.

Negga has received the lion’s share of praise for playing Clare but Thompson is also flawless. Both actresses are brilliant playing characters who are very much alike. They strive for perfection but are nonetheless living in fantasy worlds whether they realize it or not. It’s tough to convey this to audiences but they do in measured calmness.

The film shows that we all pretend just a little bit and pass it off sometimes, don’t we?

It’s a scary realization.

My standard modus operandi when I review a film is to think whether it stays with me after the credits roll or if it is quickly dismissed from my train of thought.

Passing (2021) has powerfully remained in my mind and caused me to ruminate and peel back the onion more and more in this tremendous and stylistic effort.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Ruth Negga (won), Best Cinematography (won)

The Cabin in the Woods-2011

The Cabin in the Woods-2011

Director-Drew Goddard

Starring-Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth

Scott’s Review #1,221

Reviewed January 17, 2022

Grade: A-

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is a very clever film with tremendous writing and acting. It takes a standard horror film premise and spins it into something new and inventive. I wouldn’t dare spoil the twist reveal at the end of the film but suffice it to say it’s a doozy.

It’s not your typical or expected slasher film.

Created by Drew Goddard (he wrote Cloverfield-2008) in his directorial debut he also co-wrote the screenplay with Joss Whedon. Besides horror, there is dark comedy and science fiction incorporated making it cross-genre entertainment and enjoyment.

When five college friends (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams) arrive at a remote forest cabin for relaxation and quiet, odd horrors await them. A group of backwoods zombies wreaks havoc on the group and they are systematically killed one by one in a gruesome fashion.

From an unknown location, two scientists (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) are manipulating the events, but there are even more sinister machinations going on somewhere else.

The story on the surface is pretty basic and Goddard and company delightfully add parodies of standard horror elements. Most who see The Cabin in the Woods will be fans of the horror genre.

Anytime five college kids head for a weekend alone in a secluded cabin it’s a recipe for disaster.

I immediately compared the film to Friday the 13th (1980) meets The Evil Dead (1981).

The group even has nicknames that coincide with traditional horror/slasher film character trademarks: ‘The Virgin’, ‘The Athlete’, ‘The Whore’, ‘The Fool’, and ‘The Scholar’. This is a pure treat for fans.

Goddard, or the scientists manipulating the action, gleefully fills the students with intoxicants making their libidos flare and their curiosities piqued. A mysterious diary and other weird objects are found by the group in the cabin basement.

Ordinarily smart, the students are unable to provide rational thinking or proper reasoning. Naturally, they are unable to escape the remote area either.

The scientists cackle and make bets on which zombie will appear next. The audience enjoys this immensely because what horror film viewer doesn’t predict who gets killed when and how and who will be the last one standing?

The Cabin in the Woods is incredibly enjoyable.

In joyous form, two of the group have animalistic sex outside and one is decapitated.

Then things get strange.

The audience knows of the scientists, but wait there’s more! When the scientists are called by a mysterious ‘director’ who tells them that Marty (Hemsworth) has not been killed and is attempting to rescue Dana (Connolly), something has gone amiss.

The reasoning and understanding of the big reveal are very implausible but shocking nonetheless. It’s scary because it’s unexpected and that’s why the film is so creative and successful.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) turns the traditional horror formula upside down and is a pure delight for fans of the genre. Instead of mocking, it embraces the methods and offers intelligence and humor that I truly appreciated.

Don’t Look Up-2021

Don’t Look Up-2021

Director-Adam McKay

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #1,220

Reviewed January 16, 2022

Grade: A

In the times of the Covid pandemic, ‘water cooler’ films have ceased to exist. Once, employees would gather around the water cooler to discuss a current film or television show. These days, with many working from home this activity has waned.

Too bad, because Don’t Look Up (2021) is one of those films.

It was not on my radar until a flurry of scuttlebutt and controversy brought the film to the forefront of my mind and many others. Super topical and mired in irony, everyone should see it, but those who need to won’t.

It’s a brazen and in-your-face look at how science and facts are dismissed by some who can’t see the forest for the trees, or in this case, a giant comet speeding towards planet Earth. In the year 2021, with controversy over Covid preventing mask-wearing and preventative vaccinations, Don’t Look Up portrays those as simply stupid.

As they are.

Those viewers who are conspiracy theorists, Trump supporters, or I daresay even too self-absorbed to look past their own lives are the ones who should see the film the most. You will be mocked and used as fodder for the entertainment of the more intelligent species of human beings.

But, perhaps learn a thing or two?

Led by director Adam McKay, famous for satirical works such as 2015’s The Big Short, he satirizes the current state of worldly affairs masterfully, using political comparisons and the world-weary science versus non-science approach.

McKay also writes and produces.

He enlists an all-star cast who were chomping at the bit to be part of his relevant and brilliant project. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Mark Ryland, and Cate Blanchett are just a handful of participating stars.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is an astronomy graduate student who along with her professor Doctor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes a discovery of a comet on a collision course with Earth. It is expected to arrive within six months and destroy most of the planet.

They are shocked and dismayed when their attempts to get anyone to pay any attention are hijacked by the media and the President of the United States of America, President Orlean (Streep). Instead, folks in high power attempt to use the ‘story’ for either ratings or political gain.

With the help of Doctor Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). While Randall embarks on an affair with Brie, the scientists attempt to gain the attention of the social media-obsessed public before it’s too late.

As the title states, just look up?!

President Orlean and her psychopathic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), are patterned after former President Donald J. Trump and his son. Their nastiness and dismissive attitude, only thinking of personal gain are despicable.

Hysterically and satisfying, they each get their proper comeuppance.

Orlean’s demise at the end of the film is particularly satisfying. Stay post-credits for this treat.

Don’t Look Up is not a conventional film- it’s better than that. Its special sauce is its powerful message and reassurance for viewers to not take good old-fashioned common sense for granted. Despite the naysayers, the use of one’s brain is a valuable commodity.

The urgency of the matter is not meant to be taken for granted but there is enough comedy elements to classify it as such- a dark comedy.

DiCaprio is terrific in the lead role. Nervous and having difficulty expressing himself, his frustration is felt as he tries to warn the world of impending doom. The actor can play any character and it’s great seeing him add a sexy, middle-aged nerd to his repertoire.

Lawrence is a killer. Her character has no filter and is known to burst into rage making her lash-out scenes pleasing. Kate will call an idiot an idiot. Her outburst at the President is a particularly terrific scene.

Despite the laughter, Don’t Look Up (2021) sends a dire message. It mirrors the current times and what trouble we are in. The grim final sequence when Randall, Kate, and family sit around the dinner table enjoying a Thanksgiving-style meal is also a reminder to keep loved ones close and treasure every moment.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans

Scott’s Review #1,219

Reviewed January 15, 2022

Grade: B

Oliver Reed, later famous for films like Oliver! (1968) and Women in Love (1969) makes his first starring role in the low-budget Hammer Horror film, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He carries the latter third of the film simply because it takes that long for his character to appear.

The film is sectioned into parts and though only a little over one hour and thirty minutes feels quite long. The finale is the best chapter and the others, while good, move too slowly considering the brief running time.

This is the first werewolf film to be colorized and the film was heavily censored upon release.

Hammer horror regular director Terence Fisher is at the helm so there is a soothing and secure feeling for the viewer. We know the quality will persevere and I adored the setting of Spain with its gothic steeples and flavorful culture.

The Curse of the Werewolf is above average but not one of the best in the Hammer series.

Reed plays Leon Corledo, a man with brutal and macabre origins. He is adopted and raised in the home of a kind and respectable Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans). When he leaves Don Alfredo to find work, Leon discovers that he has increasingly violent urges. Although these fits are somewhat calmed by Leon’s love for the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Feller), he regularly transforms into a werewolf, terrorizing the Spanish countryside.

Before the central part of the story, Leon’s mother is imprisoned and raped by a homeless beggar gone mad. Unfortunately for her, she gives birth on Christmas where the werewolf curse is started. She soon dies and little Leon is taken in by Don and his motherly housekeeper, Teresa.

The middle sequence explains how Leon as a little boy escapes out his bedroom window to kill animals thinking it’s all just a dream. Don and others try to hide Leon’s secret.

The curse doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why does the Christmas holiday make an unwanted newborn “unlucky” and a vicious werewolf? Why is Leon the only werewolf around? Surely, others are born on Christmas day.

Reed is the main draw as the handsome Leon and he makes a lovely mate for Cristina though too few scenes of them exist. It’s not explained why they fall in love other than they are both beautiful and Cristina’s current intended mate is boorish.

But, then again, The Curse of the Werewolf is not a love story so we accept some details with a grain of salt.

Any fan of Hammer horror films wants blood and mayhem and there is a good smattering of each. The dastardly Marquis Siniestro who humiliates the beggar and nearly rapes the servant girl (Leon’s mother) gets it in the back from her with a jagged mirror and the death is bloody and satisfying.

Later, a slutty girl with designs on Leon is ravaged to death by him after he turns into a werewolf on a night with a full moon.

The finale is bittersweet and almost tender when Don must make a horrible decision to kill his son with a silver bullet made with a crucifix to prevent the tortured Leon from killing anymore and suffering a life of misery and regret.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) is not as satisfying as the Hammer horror films featuring Dracula or containing Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Nobody will ever usurp Lon Chainey Jr.’s frightening portrayal of the wolfman decades earlier but it’s fun seeing Reed take center stage in the film.

There’s also enough to keep Hammer fans entertained.

The Brides of Dracula-1960

The Brides of Dracula-1960

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur

Scott’s Review #1,218

Reviewed January 9, 2022

Grade: B+

It’s always impressive to me what Hammer Film Productions do with such a limited budget mostly from a set and art direction perspective. With small funds, they can create gloomy yet beautiful set structures that are highly creative and appear extremely lavish.

To the savvy viewer, this tidbit can make each film a treasure trove of enjoyment if only to look beyond the central activity taking place and notice the style.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is no exception.

The film is a sequel to the 1958 film Dracula (also known as Horror of Dracula), though the character of Count Dracula does not appear in the film, and is instead mentioned only twice. As fans of these films know Christopher Lee portrays Dracula. Instead, the vicious vampire at the center of the film is Baron Meinster, a disciple of Dracula’s and played by David Peel.

The fiendish villain even bites his own mother played by Martita Hunt making her undead and terrifying to the residents of a Spanish village.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the hero of the story and must drive a stake through the heart of the vampire baron before he deviously makes innocent Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) his bride.

Cushing is a familiar part of Hammer horror film lore and leads the charge as the film’s hero. I love the character because he is heroic and unflinching, always calm, cool, and collected in the face of sheer horror.

The aforementioned sets are gothic and brilliant, especially the gloomy castle owned by Baronness and her son. When she invites Marianne to spend the night the girl is treated to a stylish room and a ravishing dinner served by a threatening servant named Greta.

The exteriors are as good as the interiors and portray the village within Transylvania as cozy and homespun. Outside the prominent inn run by the locals is inviting as much as it feels forbidden and haunted.

When Marianne is abandoned in the village by her terrified coach driver we know that secrets or living creatures are waiting to be unearthed.

These atmospheric additions will compel audiences to tune in and enjoy the horrific moments.

Speaking of the horror, The Brides of Dracula feels enough like camp to not be too scary, and comic elements exist throughout. No better example of this is the bumbling and boozy Doctor Toblerplayed by character actor Miles Malleson.

While many moments are over the top especially when a vampire character bares their fangs in the best hammy way, the film never feels foolish or amateurish.

A huge misstep is naming the film The Brides of Dracula when no Dracula is ever to be found. I incorrectly assumed that the Baron was Dracula until after the final credits had rolled. It’s a sneaky way to capitalize on the name recognition of Dracula.

There are too many fun moments in the film though to harbor much resentment. Of the brides, my favorite is Gina, played by Andree Melly who looks the most frightening.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is an entertaining and pleasing chapter in the Hammer horror catalog. All the expected elements are contained within including a crucifix and a healthy dose of holy water.

Candyman-2021

Candyman-2021

Director-Nia DaCosta

Starring-Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris

Scott’s Review #1,217

Reviewed January 8, 2022

Grade: B

Not being such a fan of the original Candyman horror film from 1992 though admittedly not remembering it too well either I had mixed feelings when I heard that a reboot was in the works. I’ve learned that while most remakes, especially in the horror genre, are not masterpieces, there is some joy in seeing them resurface.

I was delighted when I realized that Jordan Peele, the magnificent modern director of gems like Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) had co-written the screenplay. Peele has a tendency of creating intelligent and well-written black characters, something that still needs more representation in film today.

I admire the creativity and visual aspects that the new Candyman (2021) offers and the characters, mostly black, are to be respected and emulated because they are the heroes of the film.

The social message is another win and Peele is not the only player deserving of credit. Newcomer director, Nia DaCosta treats the viewer to more than the story. An artsy and sophisticated downtown Chicago art gallery and the swanky apartment is the main setting.

With all these credos Candyman is not a complete win and is sometimes overcomplicated. The supernatural elements, paired with a socially relevant angle, are implausible and I yearned for a more direct and accountable approach rather than fantastical storytelling.

The film has a certain left-wing message which I champion but that others may not.

For as long as residents can remember, the urban housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood have been terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand. He can easily be summoned by simply repeating his name five times into a mirror.

As a child, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was a resident of the towers, met a man assumed to be the killer who was then unnecessarily killed by police.

Decades later, the Cabrini towers are long gone and Anthony is a struggling visual artist. He and his girlfriend, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified and inhabited by affluent millennials.

Anthony has a chance encounter with a former Cabrini-Green resident named Billy Burke (Colman Domingo). Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his paintings, unknowingly unleashing a supernatural beast and risking his own sanity.

The sophisticated visual style and especially the wonderful drawings featured at the start and end of Candyman are highly impressive. They provide a heavy and realistic portrayal of African American culture and the generations of unfairness and mistreatment they have suffered.

This parlays to the point of the film and is nuanced with why the supernatural force with the hook rises up in the first place and takes his vengeance out on people who conjure him.

The final sequence cements this detail as a slaughter erupts between Anthony, Brianna, and the police. The police are portrayed as unkind and corrupt but I get the point of the film. Oftentimes the police are no friends of poor black people.

Despite the social element, Candyman doesn’t feel preachy.

The lead actors are attractive and appealing and even the original Candyman, actor Tony Todd, makes an appearance, though extremely brief. Other characters from the original also make appearances.

The kill scenes, a must for a horror film, are delightful, especially a sequence in which a troupe of gossipy schoolgirls meets their maker in a bloody girl’s bathroom scene. Besides being fun, the scene features a camera visual through a makeup compactor that is highly effective.

It’s just that when the credits rolled I didn’t feel enough satisfaction from what I had just seen. I was more perplexed with how the legend intersected (or did he become?) with present times and with Anthony specifically.

Candyman (2021) delivers an entertaining and relevant themed resurfacing of a thirty-year-old film that I’m glad I watched. It sometimes delivers but the realistic and important racial message is sometimes overshadowed by an otherworldly spirit.

Backdraft-1991

Backdraft-1991

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Kurt Russell, William Baldwin

Scott’s Review #1,216

Reviewed January 2, 2022

Grade: B

Backdraft (1991) is a highly entertaining yet completely implausible action, thriller film directed by Ron Howard. If made today it would be on par with Chicago Fire or any other of the slew of similar procedural NBC television shows that currently exist.

The film is even set in Chicago just like the television series.

The story involves an arsonist on the loose and the subsequent investigation to catch them.

Howard is an influential and respectable director but his films frequently harbor the safe territory rarely veering too left of center. With Backdraft, I assumed I would get a by-the-numbers masculine film and that is exactly what I received.

The beefy cast includes Kurt Russell, Billy Baldwin (brother of Alec), and Robert De Niro with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay serving as secondary female characters.

Chicago firefighting brothers Stephen (Russell) and Brian (Baldwin) have been rivals since childhood. Brian, struggling to prove himself as a worthy firefighter, transfers to the arson unit where he aids Inspector Don Rimgale (De Niro) in his current investigation. There is a rash of fires involving oxygen-induced infernos called backdrafts.

But when a conspiracy implicating a crooked politician and an arsonist leads Brian back to Stephen, he is forced to overcome his brotherly competitiveness to crack the case.

Anyone involved in their local fire department or who has a strong sense of loyalty or brotherhood in a blue-collar vein will love Backdraft for its message. The strong family unit that shrouds most firehouses or police stations is prevalent throughout the film which brings a united and community feeling.

It’s a nice feeling and sets the tone for the viewer to feel a part of things and root for the heroes to defeat whoever is responsible for the arsons. Could it be an unstable member of the fire community or an outsider harboring a grudge?

The story, despite being somewhat of a whodunit is not the strongest aspect of Backdraft nor much of a reason to tune in and follow. Too often the writing is lazy or languishes into television drama territory with obvious and melodramatic situational setups.

The realism is not there. The fire sequences are completely stagey and meant to perfectly parlay the story elements rather than have an identity of their own.

With all that said, the star of the film is the visuals that give Backdraft its adventure and edge-of-your-seat thrills. Even though I knew the fires and explosions were manipulated I felt like I was inside a burning room with the hissing and crackling sounds of the fire and wind enveloping me.

It’s all for dramatic purposes of course but the state-of-the-art special effects are cool to experience.

This is the key to the success of a film like Backdraft and enough for me to keep watching and become invested in the entire work.

Yes, many characters are types and despite the big A-list stars Russell and Baldwin are the only ones who have much of anything to do. Their brotherly relationship though fraught with friction is at the heart of the characters though sometimes the corny dialogue slips into soap opera territory.

Backdraft (1991) is a cinematic Hollywood mainstream film that works on many levels. Forget the lazy storylines and the predictability factors for a minute. It provides a blazing hot inferno of sharp visuals that are to be commended and appreciated for their merits.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound

The Accidental Tourist-1988

The Accidental Tourist-1988

Director-Lawrence Kasdan

Starring-William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis

Scott’s Review #1,215

Reviewed January 1, 2022

Grade: B+

Reuniting stars William Hurt and Kathleen Turner from 1981’s smoldering Body Heat, director Lawrence Kasdan creates a triangle of sorts with the addition of Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist (1988). She brings a quirky character to the fold in a film about death, tragedy, and a disintegrating marriage.

Despite the subject matter, it’s not a downer at all but rather a romantic drama brimming with rich characters and relatable situations. There are laugh-out-loud moments and there are tender moments all about the human spirit and choices we must make.

It’s an above-average flick that received several Oscar nominations and feels patterned after a Woody Allen-style film. I didn’t necessarily relate to any of the characters nor need to see the film a second time but I respect that Kasdan creates a picture not needing car chases or gratuitous violence or nudity.

The Accidental Tourist is a quiet film about life. It is based on the 1985 novel of the same name written by Anne Tyler.

When their young son is suddenly murdered, the marriage between Macon (Hurt) and his wife Sarah (Turner) flounders, and she moves out. After an accident puts him on crutches, Macon goes to stay with his quirky siblings at the family home, where he meets the high-spirited Muriel (Geena Davis).

She is a dog trainer with a young son of her own. Macon develops a slow friendship with them that surprisingly blossoms into more with Muriel. When Sarah learns about the situation, she attempts a reconciliation with Macon who is forced to make a painful decision.

The intention feels like we, the audience, are supposed to root for Macon and Muriel to get together and not feel much sympathy for Sarah but I did. After all, she is the one ultimately ditched and there is nothing like a woman scorned.

I didn’t feel like there was even much of a triangle because the film is centered around Hurt’s character and the choices Macon must face. It’s about how he deals with change and the unexpected turns of events that life can throw at anybody. Sarah and Muriel must also deal with the same choices and life circumstances but the focus is more on Macon.

The viewer will likely immerse themselves in these characters as they think about their own life and trials and tribulations that have occurred.

Though I never read the novel I suspect it is a tad better than the film which limits the amount of time to explore the characters. Novels always have more time to delve deeper.

With that said I got a fair share of backstory about Macon, Muriel, and Sarah but didn’t gravitate to any of them over the others.

Regarding the earlier note about The Accidental Tourist being like a Woody Allen film, it has an upbeat, quirky tone that masks much of the heartbreak Macon suffers from with some added comedy. When Muriel hops a flight to Paris to follow her heart and Macon it’s something a character in an Allen film would do.

Since Macon is a writer of travel guides the film contains rich flavor for culture and tourism which is pleasing. London and Paris are the central locales and Kadan does a great job at the international stuff.

A tad long and dragging at times The Accidental Tourist (1988) has enough juiciness to keep any viewer attracted to well-written screenplays about emotional characters and the ups and downs of life satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Geena Davis (won), Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score