Halloween-2007

Halloween-2007

Director-Rob Zombie

Starring-Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane

Scott’s Review #1,234

Reviewed February 27, 2022

Grade: B

I’ve seen director/musician/entertainer Rob Zombie tear down the house as the headlining second stage act at the metal festival Ozzfest in the 2000s. He’s a striking individual with ferocious energy and a creative persona. He’s also quite brave to take on such an undertaking as remaking the legendary slasher film Halloween from 1978.

The results of his 2007 effort simply titled Halloween is a mixed effort but props to him for having the balls to try.

Similar to other horror films he has directed, and his music, there is brutality and rawness mixed with nastiness and a grim outlook. He wisely focuses on the character of Michael Meyers but fulfills too much backstory for my liking. Part of the appeal of the crazed killer is his mysteriousness.

Michael is played by both Daeg Faerch and Tyler Mane.

The story is a bit of a remake and an original. The original aspect focuses on events that begin on Halloween when ten-year-old Michael inexplicably butchers a school bully, his sister, her boyfriend, and his abusive stepfather. He is sent to a mental hospital for the next fifteen years becoming despondent and fixated on making paper machete masks.

The second part is more familiar territory. Nearly two decades later he breaks out, intent on returning to the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. He arrives in his hometown on Halloween to hunt down his younger sister, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton). The only thing standing between Michael and a night of bloody carnage is psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

I stress the point of the nearly impossible task that Zombie faced of remaking or even reviving a film as iconic as John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece. Without even putting pen to paper there would immediately be those who would mock and trivialize any attempt.

Zombie both wrote and directed the film. He immediately provides a reason for Michael’s dirty deeds. Close with his mother, played by Zombie’s real-life wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, who does a fantastic job, Deborah is a struggling stripper married to an abusive man. So Michael’s earlier butchery can be somewhat understood by audiences.

My preference is how Michael’s parents were portrayed in the original in their one brief scene. They appear to be an upstanding middle-class couple with a nice house and family. This makes Michael’s psychotic rampage all the more vague and confusing.

A fabulous scene at the mental hospital showcases an ominous moment. It’s Halloween Eve and Doctor Loomis visits the despondent Michael in the outdoor yard. The audience knows he will escape but not when or how things will erupt and who will be slashed, we just know the bloodletting will soon commence.

The rest of the film is standard fare and a letdown compared to the ambitious first half, though there is way more violence and gore than can be imagined. The film feels haunting and brutal with an uncompromising approach by Zombie to kick the killings up ten notches.

It’s like the original Halloween on steroids.

The casting highlights start and stop with the exceptional Malcolm McDowell as the tortured Loomis. The famous actor, forever known as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971) carries the film with his expression-filled crystal blue eyes and tremendous acting ability.

Another winning choice is Brad Dourif as Sheriff Lee Brackett. Classic film fans will remember the actor as a mental patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in 1975 which he was Oscar-nominated.

Scout Taylor-Compton does a decent job as Laurie Strode but can anyone compare to Jamie Lee Curtis? I snicker at the thought. The rest of the actors portraying the teen friends are okay but not memorable.

Followed by Halloween II in 2009, Halloween (2007) received enough attention at the time to give fans a flurry of excitement but with the later recreation and reprisal by Jamie Lee Curtis and others from the original, the Zombie offerings won’t be remembered well.

It’s dirty, bloody, and raw but never terrifying. Zombie adds story points, some that work and some that don’t but I give the man much respect for dusting off a film as brilliant as Halloween (1978).

The Eyes of Tammy Faye-2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye-2021

Director-Michael Showalter

Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield

Scott’s Review #1,233

Reviewed February 26, 2022

Grade: A-

When thinking of the name Tammy Faye Baker, usually images of outlandish pancake makeup and ridiculous evangelical spewings are conjured up. Alongside her husband Jim Baker, the duo was prominent and highly visible throughout the 1970s and the 1980s as fixtures of Christian broadcasting.

Naturally, scandals ensued resulting in prison time for Jim and shame and career ruin for Tammy.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) delves into the thoughts and experiences of Tammy, hence the title. It’s sympathetic material and made me learn much more about the celebrity than I knew of. Other characters like husband Jim and sullen evangelists like Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson are explored but Tammy is the main draw.

I love the depiction of Tammy Faye Baker and hats off to a dynamite performance by Jessica Chastain, especially in the final act. Nearly unrecognizable, the actress unleashes a flurry of brilliant scenes and a depiction of a tacky woman winning over an audience.

It is Chastain’s best role yet.

Tammy’s LGBTQ+ community appreciation and thoughtfulness during the A.I.D.S crisis in the 1980s when very few others, especially in her inner circle, wanted anything to do with them is especially powerful and heart-wrenching.

She saw them as human beings when others saw them as lepers. She continued to support the LGBTQ+ community until she died in 2007.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall, and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. The film begins with her humble beginnings in frigid Minnesota and her closeness with her very religious mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), and her kind stepfather who accepted her as his own.

An innocent college romance with Jim Baker (Garfield) results in marriage and the rise to success in creating the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, promoting a message of love whilst skimming from the top to enjoy their lavish lifestyle.

Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, it wasn’t long before financial improprieties and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire.

This is the point where the film takes off.

Chastain had me at the very first scene when an extreme closeup of her face, now aging, is featured. Though wacky, she infuses a humanism and kindness into Tammy that immediately made me champion her.

Through trials and tribulations like nearly cheating on her husband to looking the other way amid the financial scandals surrounding her, she always keeps her head held high and fills any room she enters with love and sincerity.

The best scene by Chastain is at the end of the film when Tammy makes a triumphant yet humble return to the stage. As she nervously takes the stage at Oral Roberts University she imagines a stage filled with glamour and pomp rather than the meek one it is. It helps her get through and I wanted to give her a big hug.

All the awards attention has gone to Chastain but Andrew Garfield is nearly as flawless. Complex and struggling with Tammy’s brazen approach, his sexuality, and playing nice with the other major players, he gets his comeuppance but Garfield makes him sympathetic and a fine study.

Directed by Michael Showalter, I feel he could have gone much darker with this film. Sure, there is some sadness like when Tammy overhears a bunch of kids whispering that she is a freak or colleagues mocking her as a clown, but it’s soft touch. The woman battled cancer for years before dying from it but the film ends before any of that even happens.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) belongs to Chastain and Garfield. It’s a bit glossy and skates over some hard-punching attributes it could have showcased but it balances the camp with endearment and champions acceptance and compassion for one another.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Jessica Chastain (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won)

The Lost Daughter-2021

The Lost Daughter-2021

Director-Maggie Gyllenhaal

Starring-Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson

Scott’s Review #1,232

Reviewed February 21, 2022

Grade: A

Throughout The Lost Daughter (2021), there is a constant feeling of dread that may result in viewer anxiety. We know that bad things are coming but we do not know how or when. This makes for good drama done exceptionally well by director Maggie Gyllenhaal in her astounding debut.

She has acted for years and has made the transition to writer/director.

Gyllenhaal adapts her film from a novel written by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. The experience is extremely female-centered and having a female pen both book and film makes it a rich and authentic project. The result is a brilliant depiction of motherhood and choices but everyone must see and appreciate this film.

However, the film is not for everyone nor will it please those seeking a conventional work about mother and daughter love and moments of happily skipping through the field of daisies. It has feel-good moments but is much, much darker than some would imagine.

For me, those aspects are what make The Lost Daughter so damned amazing.

We meet middle-aged Leda (Olivia Colman) when the woman embarks on a seaside vacation in Greece. She begins to observe a young mother, Nina, played by Dakota Johnson, and her daughter, Elena, on the beach and becomes obsessed with them. Leda unwisely butts heads with the mother’s menacing extended family who may be mafia related.

Leda begins to have memories of her early motherhood when she struggled to raise two young girls while balancing her career as a professor. When she spontaneously steals Elena’s doll she becomes increasingly more obsessive while battling moments of rage and emotion.

Colman is a perfect choice for the central character. From the first moment, she appears on the screen we know there is conflict surrounding her. She is angry and consumed with either guilt or tension. The actress is wonderful at portraying Leda’s complexities through her eyes and facial expressions. Many shots of Leda quietly observing events or sitting on the beach deep in thought are powerful.

Though a quiet film, The Lost Daughter never drags or lags as Gyllenhaal is perfect at providing a doom and gloom feeling. I was dying to know Leda’s secrets and the interspersing flashbacks to a young Leda, wonderfully played by Jessie Buckley, finally provide resolution.

But that’s just the beginning of the fun. Once Leda’s backstory is revealed, and Gyllenhaal makes us wait quite a while for the reveal, there are more places for the film to go, like what about the stolen doll?

The viewer will not only wonder why Leda stole the doll but why won’t she return it, especially when it’s known how desperately the family wants it back. Will they kill her when they find out she has it?

Beneath all the drama there is a lingering question that is asked of the viewers. Do I want to be a parent? The film is not only for women but men can certainly ask themselves the same question.

The inclusion of a male character played by Ed Harris is evidence of this. Older now, in his youth he struggled with being a father.

The film has a sense of purpose and meaning that many films lack. A film that poses questions and makes the viewer squirm a bit is top-notch for me. The basic story of a lone woman on vacation grows into intensity and psychological warfare among oneself and their feelings.

The Lost Daughter (2021) is a difficult watch but a lesson in great acting, directing, writing, and what atmosphere and mood can do to a story layered with intrigue. As shocking and unsettling as moments are I was left feeling satisfied that I had seen something of worth and merit.

I can’t wait to see what Gyllenhaal does next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Olivia Colman, Best Supporting Actress-Jessie Buckley, Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Maggie Gyllenhaal (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Female-Jessie Buckley

Splendor in the Grass-1961

Splendor in the Grass-1961

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle

Scott’s Review #1,231

Reviewed February 20, 2022

Grade: A-

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is mainly a film about teenage angst but the angst spills over to the adults as pressures are heaved on many characters. Fortunes are gained and lost following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that handicapped some characters obsessed with money while the teenage characters battle emotions.

It offers poetic relics and references from English poet, William Wordsworth about life and longing for love that can be thought about.

The film is written by William Inge, who also wrote 1955’s Picnic, and is directed by Elia Kazan, famous for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On The Waterfront (1954). Splendor in the Grass is an uneasy watch but provides slices of the brilliance that those other films have.

Isn’t the point of the superior film to make us think and ponder?

At the risk of feeling a tad dated some sixty years later how powerful a film it must have been in 1961 and sending inevitable shock waves to those audiences expecting a more wholesome show.

It’s also legendary Hollywood actor Warren Beatty’s film debut and showcases an emotionally superb performance from Natalie Wood.

Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and his high school sweetheart, Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood) have an innocently blossoming relationship but if only they could be left alone. It is weighed down by their parents’ mutual oppressiveness.

Bud’s father, Ace (a terrific Pat Hingle), is hell-bent on Bud attending Yale University in the fall and is afraid of Deanie becoming pregnant and ruining the bright future expected from the affluent young man.

Deanie’s mother (Audrey Christie) cautions her daughter from engaging in sexual relations and remaining a ‘good girl’ because she is frightened of Bud not marrying a girl with questionable morals.

The meddling by both parents causes the teens emotional pressure and threatens not just to ruin their relationship but perhaps ruin their futures. Bud’s mother is complacent and Deanie’s father offers proper support to his daughter.

There is a lot of story going on in Splendor in the Grass and all of it is juicy and relevant from whomever’s perspective the viewer takes. This is part of the beauty of the film- told through the eyes of Bud and Deanie and the fragile feelings teenagers possess, their parents can be dissected as well and wanting the very best for their kids.

The romance is not just about Bud and Deanie. Other players and potential love interests are introduced and we begin to wonder if Bud and Deanie will ride off into the sunset together.

Inge and Kazan make us pose several questions. Do people who belong together make it? Do some people settle for different lives based on sacrifice? Can heartbreak lead to madness and a different perspective for some?

The terrific screenplay written by Inge is the film’s sweet spot. It’s complex and fraught with emotion and questions. The setting of remote Kansas in the late 1920s gave me a feeling of stifling predictability and one’s lives already planned for them rather than encouragement to reach for the stars.

This is dangerous territory in itself.

Bud is expected to get an education but all he really wants is to live on a simple ranch and be a family man. Deanie is trained to be sweet and kind and to resist the pleasures of the flesh like her mother did but is that enough for Deanie?

The great writing is brought to life by Kazan, a master at offering brutal yet realistic films. Based on knowledge of his other films I knew I was not in for a cheery experience but the rather harsh reality. That sits well with me as films that make one think are celebrated by me.

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is similar to Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and also stars Wood. The film teaches me that although generations come and go the feelings and emotions felt by young people in the moments that they are young never change.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Natalie Wood, Best Original Screenplay (won)

Wild at Heart-1990

Wild at Heart-1990

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern

Scott’s Review #1,230

Reviewed February 19, 2022

Grade: B+

David Lynch has created some weird films. Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (1992) are masterpieces that skew the odd and peculiar facets of human behavior. But Wild at Heart (1990) takes the cake as the strangest in the lot.

Fascinatingly unhinged, yet hard to understand, it’s got the Lynch handprint from start to finish, but only a warm-up act as stacked against those other films.

Somehow the film is classified as a comedy. It’s got to be one of the darkest of dark comedies. Anyone who is not a Lynch fan will not appreciate or get this film- I am a Lynch fan and I’m not sure I even got it. I do appreciate it though.

It’s also the best role of Diane Ladd’s career in which she plays a fiendish, witchy mama. The graceful actress belts a home run in her storied performance.

A situation occurs during the opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) serves prison time for a self-defense killing and reunites with girlfriend Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) when he is released.

Lula’s mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), is desperate to keep them apart and hires a hitman to kill Sailor. But those are only the start of his troubles when he and Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe, an old buddy who’s also out to get Sailor, try to rob a store.

When Sailor lands in jail again, he may be destined never to reunite with Lula ever again.

Wild at Heart deep down is a love story about Sailor and Lula and the many obstacles they must overcome to live happily ever after.

Cage and Dern are terrific though I fantasized while watching how nice it would have been to see Kyle MacLachlan in the role of Sailor. A Blue Velvet reunion would have been splendid since his chemistry with Dern in that film was top-notch. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching Cage and Dern as the romantic leads.

The many references to The Wizard of Oz are delightful like when an image of Marietta flying through the air on a haggard broomstick appears just like the Wicked Witch of the West. When Lula desperately clicks her red heels three times to no avail we strangely wonder where the home she wants to return to is?

The film is one of those that is hard to take seriously or focus on the plot too much. This is evidenced by the inclusion of Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017) alumni Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, and Grace Zabriskie. They play The Good Witch, Girl in Accident, and Juana Durango, respectively. Each character is indescribable in their strangeness.

The nuttiness continues with bizarre turns from Crispin Glover and Harry Dean Stanton.

Interesting is how Wild at Heart was released the same year as Twin Peaks was. The inclusion of a seedy bar named One-Eyed Jacks which appears in both productions is about all there is comparable with each other. The main events in Wild at Heart are in Texas and Washington for Twin Peaks.

Forgetting the storylines, the best part about Wild at Heart is the cinematography. Enough dark and dusty highway sequences emerge using glowing and moody lighting and foreboding cracks and crevices in other visceral scenes. Cigarette smoking has never looked as sexy or dangerous as it does in this film.

Despite there being admirable and perfectly Lynch-y elements to Wild at Heart (1990) the film is just too far overboard for me to fall in love with.

I’ll pull out my copies of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive any day before Wild at Heart.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Diane Ladd

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Willem Dafoe, Best Cinematography (won)

Nightmare Alley-2021

Nightmare Alley-2021

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Scott’s Review #1,229

Reviewed February 13, 2022

Grade: B+

I have not seen the original Nightmare Alley made in 1947 so can make no comparisons to how the film noir remake in 2021 compares but I am a fan of respected filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. His knack for creating such dark treats containing fantastical elements like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017) have similar tones.

Set back in the 1930s and the 1940s when the United States of America suffered from the Depression and subsequently World War II, a midwestern carnival and then wintry Buffalo, New York are the chosen settings for his latest film.

Nightmare Alley feels like two different films and I prefer the first half by a small margin. del Toro is a major filmmaker and while he creates an experience that is gorgeously shot and simmering with effective elements it’s not one of his best films and certainly not on par with the above-mentioned gems.

The story stretches believability at times and feels like the film noir elements from the original might have been included just for the sake of making it fit a defined category. The twist at the end shocks and disturbs which cements the del Toro flavor.

To summarize, the look of the film is exceptional and the story is pretty good and the two halves, one in the midwest and the other in Buffalo, feel disjointed.

When handsome and very charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) meets the clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her aging mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival, he creates a powerful act utilizing his ability to manipulate townfolks.

He has fled from a dark past involving his father and fire but we don’t know the exact details.

Moving on to Buffalo, he enshrouds the wealthy elite of 1940s New York high society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) by his side, Stanton plots to con a rich yet vulnerable tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious and pouty psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might have tricks up her sleeve.

Since I adore Blanchett I was eagerly awaiting her entrance which unfortunately doesn’t come until midway through the film. Nonetheless, she makes quite an impression as she smokes and drinks in stylish glamour befitting gorgeous women of the time. Moreover, her character of Lilith Ritter is cold and calculating as the audience knows she is toying with Stanton, we just don’t know how or why.

While not quite a romantic triangle, Cooper has good chemistry with Mara but tremendous chemistry with Blanchett. Both actresses reunite from their turn together in Carol (2015) but have very little screen time together.

Each of the three delivers a mighty performance with Cooper and Blanchett simply mesmerizing.

One can even forget the plot entirely and simply look at the film. It’s that good and polished. From the dusty and depressing midwestern ordinary towns to the architecturally fabulous Buffalo, del Toro and team construct a lavish production design. Each costume and set piece is perfectly staged.

I was more attuned to the strange and creepy carnival characters like the ‘geek’ and Cooper and Blanchett making on-screen magnificence than to care as much as I should have about the storyline plotholes or inconsistencies.

The unsatisfying reveal about the relationship between Stanton and his father or the backstory of the rich tycoon abusing young girls only gave me mild interest. The story as a whole becomes too complex and uncompelling for me to really care for a while.

The sweet spot of Nightmare Alley (2021) is the grand production design and the flawless acting. Besides an effective ‘oh, shit!’ moment at the conclusion which confirms Cooper as a great actor, the story mainly meanders.

It’s a very good effort but not one of del Toro’s best.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Heat-1995

Heat-1995

Director-Michael Mann

Starring-Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer

Scott’s Review #1,228

Reviewed February 12, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the popular 1980s NBC television series, Miami Vice will recall that Michael Mann was the Executive Producer of the show during its run.  He has a distinctive crime thriller style that goes perfectly well with Heat, a sizzling 1995 offering starring two films greats-Al Pacino and Rober De Niro.

The fact that the pair do not appear too often on screen together can be forgiven because when they are the stars align and the power of quiet scenes cannot be outdone. I savored over the moment when they first appeared together. Quality over quantity.

De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a lifelong criminal who is trying to handle damage control caused by one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring to parts unknown. He meets a lovely young Los Angeles-based artist played by Amy Brenneman in a diner and the two plan to relocate abroad.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) is a seasoned officer attempting to track down McCauley and his cohort while dealing with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the unhinged mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman).

McCauley and Hanna discover mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other’s plans. The two characters become doppelgangers of one another. The situation comes to a cat and mouse-based conclusion on the tarmac of LAX airport.

To say that Heat is a by-the-numbers 1990s thriller is a fair assessment although it’s way better than that classification and it’s of that genre.

For starters, the acting is superior and obviously, De Niro and Pacino bring a level of professionalism to the film in the lead roles. My favorite scene is not the one you’d most expect me to say but rather a quiet and powerful chit-chat in a small coffee shop. They are rivals, having lived opposite lives, and yet have troubled lives that mirror each other.

Without a doubt, Hanna wants to bring McCauley to justice, and yet he admires him and sees parts of himself in the man. The feeling is mutual and the two actors relay this revelation without actually speaking the words. Viewers immerse themselves into the characters pivoting from this powerful scene.

There are a ton of characters in Heat but each one feels like he or she has much to offer. Juicy storylines are introduced but never forgotten even if not part of the main canvas. Hanna’s wife and stepdaughter play a central part in the final act even though they mainly appear during the first chapter.

In supporting roles, Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd share beautiful chemistry and a melancholy storyline as a damaged couple trying to survive surrounded by a life of crime.

At two hours and fifty-two minutes, there is plenty of time for each character to make their mark.

I love the rich character development that Heat offers but sometimes it’s admittedly tough to keep track of the motivations of the characters and how they tie into the main action.

Mann’s style is all over the place and even the musical score brought me back to the episodic song intervals that Miami Vice created. The moody and dark atmosphere of dingy and crime-infested Los Angeles is perfectly placed against glossy and glamorous high-rise and sprawling estate scenes. The bright and luminous city skyline is a feast for the eyes.

The cop/criminal dynamic is the main draw as Heat flexes its masculine muscles scene after scene. A bloody bank heist gone wrong at the beginning of the film cements what Mann is trying to create here. A guy’s film with enough juice to hook the introspective film viewer too.

Not remembered as well as it probably should be, Heat holds up surprisingly well when put up against similar but hokey 1990s action films like Lethal Weapon and the Die Hard films.

Though there’s not a whole lot that is new in Heat (1995), rich writing and powerful acting win out every time, and of course, Pacino and De Niro are worth the price of admission.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

**Updated Review- Original Review in 2017**

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring Josh Hartnett, Jordanna Brewster, Clea Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,227

Reviewed February 5, 2022

Grade: B

The Faculty (1998) was released during the late 1990s horror film renaissance. Wisely, it cast film veterans that improved its merit along with young rising stars bankable at the box office. The film was only a moderate success but has become a cult classic over the years.

With a teacher/student dynamic incorporating all the standard cliches that go along with that, it mixes classic horror with a direct ode to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and is enjoyable, though hardly worthy of regular viewings.

Instead, it can be part of a 1990s nostalgia night or taken out as an opening act for comparison film Scream (1996), a similar vehicle also released by Dimension Films. The sunny yet somber high school setting is nearly identical in both films.

The Faculty is a sheer delight for teenage audiences or even twenty-somethings who can relate to the idea of their teachers being otherworldly or some such alien beings.

Stars Josh Hartnett, who had just jumped into the horror circle by being in Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998), along with attractive and similar-aged Jordanna Brewster and Elijah Wood, lead the pack.

Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, and Bebe Neuwirth appear in supporting roles as part of the faculty.

The setting is midwestern Ohio, where the students at Harrington High find Principal Drake (Neuwirth) and her gang of teachers a bit odd. Wacky under the best of circumstances, suddenly they become controlled by a parasite and attempt to infect the students one by one.

Cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy), drug dealer Zeke (Hartnett), and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) team up with some of their other classmates to fight back against the invaders.

But is one of the students actually the ringleader and controlling the faculty?

The horror standardized offing one by one is intelligently mixed up in The Faculty. Rather than a maniac brandishing a hatchet and chopping the students to bits, they are instead infected by more subtle means. The fun is finding out who will become an alien next and enjoying the weird behavior of the staff.

And who hasn’t imagined one of their teachers writhing around on a sports car coquettishly toying with the hunky high school football players?

Yes, there are some plot holes to contend with and some stale attempts at pairing the teens off romantically. Predictably, the standard jock, cheerleader, nerd, outcast stereotypes abound as well as perceptions of what a school nurse, math teacher, and drama teacher look and sound like.

For good measure, one of the faculty (Salma Hayek) is ‘hot’.

There is much fun in the film and perhaps some truth and that’s what director Robert Rodriguez showcases throughout. He doesn’t take himself or his characters too seriously as inside high school jokes and role interplay make for a playful, light experience.

Rodriguez is the best friend and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino but The Faculty holds no Tarantino influence whatsoever.

My favorite line may be when Casey says to snooty Delilah Profitt, “You’re actually pretty cool when you’re not being a bitch”.

The film isn’t really about students versus teachers or the faculty getting their comeuppance. The target audience is the teen crowd and they will have a marvelous time experiencing The Faculty. Times may change but the same teenage angst is shared from generation to generation.

The film is a good outlet for that.

Any fan of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, either the 1950s version or the 1970s remake will notice some familiar territory. The pods become fish and the explanation of taking over planet Earth because another planet is dying is intentionally (hopefully!) silly with a science-fiction edge.

The film ends happily ever after which is satisfying for the level of seriousness one must take while watching.

Borrowing heavily from other horror films near and dear, The Faculty (1998) carves out enough originality in the science fiction area to warrant some props. It’s not a measured success but evenly distributes the pacing and the entertainment in a nice way.

And the big stars add a nice touch.

The Game-1997

The Game-1997

Director-David Fincher

Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn

Scott’s Review #1,226

Reviewed February 5, 2022

Grade: A-

The Game (1998) is a fantastic cat and mouse ‘game’ created by director David Fincher who always gets some street credibility where I’m concerned. The thrills come a mile a minute reaching a crashing crescendo in the final act.

It’s a film that produces a roller coaster, edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride, or whatever metaphor serves you best. The result is the same- a fantastic and deliciously wicked experience.

Hollywood A-listers Michael Douglas and Sean Penn team up with chemistry and radiance as brothers with a rivalrous streak. But, who is the cat and who is the mouse is the question of the day as the puzzle pieces continue to mount.

Anyone who knows Fincher’s work, especially films like Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) realizes that atmosphere and storytelling are his sweet spot and The Game never disappoints. It grasps the viewer by the neck and never let’s go.

The screenplay is intelligent and daring. Now, before anyone gets their knickers in a bit of a twist, I do not dare say that The Game is on the level of Zodiac or Seven-both masterpieces in my opinion. But The Game plays its cards well and measures up well if we are ranking Fincher films.

Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a successful banker who keeps mostly to himself spending most nights alone in his luxurious home. When his estranged brother Conrad (Penn) returns to town on his birthday with an odd gift Nicholas’s suspicions are piqued.

The gift is a personalized, real-life game that he cannot resist accepting. Beginning slowly, the game grows increasingly personal, and Orton begins to fear for his life as he eludes agents from the mysterious game’s organizers. With no one left to trust and his money all gone, Orton must find answers for himself before he goes off the rails into psychosis.

Let’s discuss everything but the story first. The look of The Game is stunning with perfect lighting and shadows exhibiting the mood. The editing, whether in rapid-fire motion or slow-motion is brilliantly effective.

Do we feel sorry for the characters? That would be a resounding no but that’s also the fun of The Game. As Orton spirals down a dark and mysterious path we are not too invested in the character so watching the ‘game’ is all the more enjoyable for the viewer.

The message delivered after The Game can either be loved or hated by viewers. I, for one, loved it. Chaos and uncertainty can be argued to be better than complacency but is it really? Nicholas may argue his case when his life is turned topsy turvy.

The conclusion, while unsettling, is riveting and mind-blowing.

Penn has rarely been better being given a healthy dose of mystique and caginess matched up against a musical score that shines a ghostly light on his scenes. The actor does his best when playing a black sheep or estranged character type so Conrad is ripe for the picking with potential.

Sandwiched in release between Seven and Fight Club (1999), both much better remembered than The Game (1997), that is a bit of a shame. The film deserves a good dusting off and fans of Fincher will undoubtedly enjoy piecing together a good, solid perplexity or at least attempting to.