Jaws-1975

Jaws-1975

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw

Scott’s Review #1,240

Reviewed March 28, 2022

Grade: A

The directorial breakthrough by the iconic Steven Spielberg is Jaws (1975). The film is such a legendary and familiar project that even stating the name to pretty much any human being immediately conjures images of a man-eating great white shark and the unforgettable ‘duh-duh, duh-duh’ musical score.

It’s the film that famously made people afraid to go into the water just as Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho made people afraid to take a shower. When I have occasion to be near the ocean I always think of this film.

Jaws is a hybrid horror/thriller/adventure/action film whereas the subsequent sequels were all straight-ahead horror films that cast more teenagers, and some better than others.

Spielberg teaches a valuable lesson that much can come from very little and that a small budget can create greatness. What he accomplishes with Jaws is admirable, to say the least.

With Jaws, the story is more about the attempts of three men to destroy a killer shark and their relationship with the shark itself. The scary aspect, always terrific in horror, is we do not know what the shark’s motivation is. Why does it kill?

It’s a brilliant film that holds up well decades later despite the shark feeling less authentic as the years go by. But, the time a film is made must always be kept in mind.

When one summer day a young woman is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping near the New England tourist town of Amity Island, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches. He comes into conflict with the mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will negatively affect the town during its summer season.

Dismissed as a mere boating accident, the great white shark then kills a young boy in full view of a beach crowd resulting in panic and mayhem. It’s as if the shark is determined to be taken seriously.

Oceanographer, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled ship captain Quint (Robert Shaw) offer to help Brody capture the killer shark, and the trio engages in an epic battle with the beast.

Jaws is a film that can be viewed multiple times and provides sheer pleasure each time. Forgetting the horror elements, the film provides adventure and heart-pounding thrills per minute once the men dare to try and foil the shark.

The fun, as in any film of this kind, is not knowing when or where danger will strike, only that it inevitably will come.

Scheider excels in his household name-making role as the determined police chief. He cares deeply about the townspeople and is therefore a likable hero. During frequent scenes, he gazes out to the water, a troubled look on his face, pained and feeling responsible for the deaths.

The audience empathizes with him.

Lorraine Gary, who would have a lead role in later films with poor results, is terrific as the supportive yet challenging wife, Ellen. She is the yin to his yang and it comes across on-screen.

The best scenes of the film are the very first one when the girl is eaten by the shark and the later one when Brody yells at everyone on a crowded beach to flee the water. Munching on the first victim, this is the scene where the dreaded music makes its debut. From this point, the audience knows that once this music is heard it means the shark is nearby.

In the other scene, the panic caused is breathtaking and palpable and sympathy is felt for Brody. He obediently takes the blame for the chaos and the deaths and makes it personal when his own son is victimized. The scene sets the tone for the scramble and mayhem.

Jaws (1975) has it all: adventure, thrills, horror, action, a hero, and blood. The technical aspects are astounding with underwater sequences and effects that remain viable.

It arguably created what has become to be known as the summer blockbuster.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Dramatic Score (won), Best Sound (won)

Two Evil Eyes-1990

Two Evil Eyes-1990

Director-George Romero, Dario Argento

Starring-Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel

Scott’s Review #1,239

Reviewed March 26, 2022

Grade: B+

Two legendary masters of horror, American director George Romero, famous for zombie films, and Italian director Dario Argento, famous for stylistic horror,  team up to create a thrilling double-bill horror feast.

For fans of the genre, the idea is titillating, to say the least, and the follow-through is a robust success. There is a gnawing television film feel to each of the films that are eventually usurped by the reminder that grand directors are at the helm.

Cleverly, they base their films on the works of the poet Edgar Allan Poe, famous for writing poems and short stories of the macabre and peculiar. ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ (1990) and ‘The Black Cat’ (1990) are the featured tales.

Having seen many Argento and Romero works with Suspiria (1977) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) being my respective favorites, the fun is seeing how each film contains familiar aspects of each with a sprinkling of the 1960 Hitchcock masterpiece, Psycho, thrown in for good measure.

Fun fact- Psycho star Martin Balsam appears in ‘The Black Cat’ story.

In the first feature, ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’, Adrienne Barbeau plays an ex-flight attendant named Jessica who plots with her lover Dr. Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada) for her elderly husband’s money. While liquidating large amounts of cash, her husband’s lawyer grows suspicious and warns her there will be consequences should her husband die in the next three weeks.

Naturally, he does, and events grow weird and terrifying.

In the second film, ‘The Black Cat, Harvey Keitel plays an unlikeable man named Rod Usher who works as a crime scene photographer. He suffers the consequences when he viciously kills his girlfriend’s cat. In his attempts to rid himself of both his girlfriend and the cat, they continue to reappear, much to his chagrin. With two detectives on his tail, the finale is both grim and satisfying.

If forced to choose, I am more partial to ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ and this is mostly to do with the casting of Barbeau of whom I am a big fan. It’s also the winner of the two as far as the unexpected conclusion goes.

Barbeau carries the film, short at only an hour or so, and infuses likeability into a character who could easily be dismissed as a gold-digging bitch. Jessica feels some sensitivity and truly wants no harm done to her husband, she only desires some money. After all, in her mind, she deserves the payoff for having married an old man.

Romero’s influence is apparent but not as much as Argento’s is in ‘The Black Cat’. A gruesome scene at the conclusion when a character’s decomposing body lumbers forward immediately brought me back to the zombie delights of ‘Dawn of the Dead.

The music in the opening credits reminds me of Argento films in general. A mysterious high-pitched synthesizer sound peppers the experience with horrific beats that are highly effective.

I did not enjoy the prevalent cat torture scenes that appear in ‘The Black Cat’ and these are tough to sit through. I was somewhat encouraged by the knowledge that the dead cat does enact revenge on its torturer in the end.

I chuckled at the numerous references to ‘Psycho’ mostly when Balsam’s character of Mr. Pym appears. When the man climbs a flight of stairs who won’t immediately think of a similar scene in ‘Psycho’ with a deadlier result. Another scene of draining shower water immediately conjures up the legendary shower scene in ‘Psycho’.

Casting heavyweights like Barbeau, Keitel, Balsam, Tom Atkins, John Amos, and Kim Hunter provide credibility to a project that could easily have been dismissed as a throwaway horror double-feature.

The experience is much better than that as the compelling nature and thrills by the minute will keep the audience invested and longing to know what happens next.

‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ (1990) and ‘The Black Cat’ (1990) effectively team two of the best horror directors out there in dedication to the best horror poet.

Perhaps a longer duration for each film might have allowed time for more character exploration but the results are just fine.

King Richard-2021

King Richard-2021

Director-Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis

Scott’s Review #1,238

Reviewed March 13, 2022

Grade: B+

King Richard (2021) is an inspirational, feel-good, Hollywood film with a strong message. It champions the little guy rising beyond expectations to achieve greatness. Audiences will be left with a warm feeling of possibility and that nearly anything can be achieved with hard work and determination.

The story of the world-famous tennis stars, the Williams sisters, and their parents, just happens to be true, lending the necessary credibility to make this film quite enjoyable. It’s a conventional film and contains many cliches but is a heartwarming family drama.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena, into the tennis history books while also keeping them educated and away from the drug-infested streets of Compton, California where they reside. Along with his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), they defy all odds in their meteoric rise to fame and fortune just as Richard had planned.

The Williams family story is told in an uplifting fashion as they face trials and tribulations along the way like gang violence and racism. The sisters would soon become two of the world’s greatest sports legends.

The film is led by an excellent performance by Smith though I’m careful to make the bold statement that it’s his best role ever. I haven’t seen Ali (2001) but have heard he brings down the house in that role, again playing a real-life figure.

Time will tell.

The lesson learned about Smith is that when he skirts away from his usual summer popcorn blockbuster action roles in which there are many, he is truly a great actor. Plenty of backstories is given to Richard and the violence and marginalization he has faced in his past, living as a child in Louisiana. His occasional shrewdness and feistiness can be forgiven as the character is explored very well.

Aunjanue Ellis, unknown to me before this film, is a revelation. As Brandy and the assumed second-in-command supportive wife role, she does way more than one might have expected. In one tense scene, she lays down the law with Richard and refuses to play the second fiddle. Ellis brings a subdued toughness and quiet to the role that not all actresses can bring.

The casting all around is strong. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena are believable though they are not given the material that Smith and Ellis are afforded. Delightful is Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn in supporting roles as coaches.

Director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, sticks to a straight-ahead approach and achieves what his intention seems to be. He forges into R-rated territory with some of the gang relationships and an occasional racist remark but the effect is soft-touch only and the main message is how a struggling black family can succeed.

I enjoyed the depictions of California and then sunny Florida throughout the 1980s and the 1990s and finally into more recent times. It felt realistic and appropriate to the film especially when real-life incidents like the Rodney King police beatings were shown.

The editing team is flawless, especially in the multiple tennis match sequences which are very difficult to shoot and make seem real. The continuity is exceptional and a massive undertaking.

A safe passage and not a film to be watched a second time or dissected much with post-credit discussions, King Richard (2021) is nonetheless a winner. It provides enough positive vibes to leave its viewer smiling and determined to beat any odds.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Will Smith (won), Best Supporting Actress-Aunjanue Ellis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“Be Alive”

Dead Snow-2009

Dead Snow-2009

Director-Tommy Wirkola

Starring-Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen

Scott’s Review #1,237

Reviewed March 12, 2022

Grade: B

First off, the cover art (pictured above) to the 2009 Norwegian horror-comedy film Dead Snow, is simply incredible. The creepy Nazi head embedded in the snow with a background chainsaw is perfect marketing and genuinely artistic.

It automatically makes the tired zombie horror genre feel fresh and alive with endless possibilities.

The film itself is a decent watch and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities are necessary to appreciate the movie. There is a hint of art film qualities peppered throughout and it’s not a run-of-the-mill mainstream horror film either but a sense of humor and embracing the ridiculousness is required.

In other words, one must be a fan of the genre to watch Dead Snow. Otherwise, it will not win people over with a great storyline or character enrichment.

It’s a slice and dice ’em affair and after a slow build goes into overdrive with the kills and thrills.

The familiar setup of a group of young people, this time intelligent medical students, heading off for a long weekend of booze and sex in a remote location gets Dead Snow off to an intriguing start. A lonely cabin in the middle of the snowy mountains of Norway is the primary setting for the Arctic Easter bloodbath.

The eight of them plan to ski and relax during the time away. After one of their group disappears while on a solo cross-country hike, a mysterious resident (Bjørn Sundquist) provides the remaining visitors with a backstory.

In the last days of World War II, a battalion of Nazi soldiers disappeared into the nearby woods after the residents turned on them, and that their zombified corpses remain on the prowl in the area looking for fresh meat.

Of course, the students hoot and snicker at the stranger’s proclamations but the audience knows full well the Nazi soldiers will emerge eventually. After all, in the very first scene, one of the students who never shows up to join the others is killed by an unidentifiable figure in the dark woods.

If nothing else, Dead Snow is prime-grade entertainment. I eagerly awaited who from the group would be butchered first and how it might happen. As all fans of the slasher horror genre know he or she who parties or has sex is not long for this world, and Dead Snow is no different.

What is different from a straight-ahead release is the dark humor that encompasses the film. When one student who is deathly afraid of blood must remove his arm with a chainsaw after being bitten, he does so with deep seriousness and precision.

The macabre scene nearly rivals some others like when a male member of the group is seduced for sex by a female member of the group while sitting on the toilet in the cold outhouse.

Enough splatters of blood exist to forget how silly the Nazi soldiers look. But the makeup and creative team do a superior job of making the zombies look horrific too. In particular, their leader, Colonel Herzog, is a combination of sexy and hideous.

The international quality and the Norwegian language require sub-titles but that is no problem for me. This brings sophistication and intelligence that I appreciate, rising the film above the mediocrity that it may have suffered from had it been an American release. The foreign lands add mystique.

Dead Snow at one hour and thirty minutes is short enough not to wear out its welcome which it starts to do in the final fifteen minutes or so. A chase scene across the snowy mountains and motivation for some ancient gold coins is explained as the final character makes it to safety in an until then missing car.

Or does he or she?

Providing some fun without taking itself too seriously, Dead Snow (2009) contains no message nor any marquis stars. Making Nazis the evil ones is no stretch so that there is immediately enough rooting value to forgive some of the students for their idiotic decisions.

It’s a bloody fun time but not much more.

No Time to Die-2021

No Time to Die-2021

Director-Cary Fukunaga

Starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek

Scott’s Review #1,236

Reviewed March 6, 2022

Grade: A-

Celebrating the twenty-fifth in the iconic James Bond film franchise, No Time to Die (2021) is Daniel Craig’s fifth and final appearance as the British MI6 agent. As of this writing, it is yet to be determined who will next step into the shoes of the legendary character but Craig was able to make the character his own since his debut in Casino Royale (2006).

He retains his hunky and muscular portrayal with a sullen and serious tone.

No Time to Die is visually and stylistically similar to the recent handful of films to come before it with a slick and modern look and feel. The difference is that the film is about relationships and has a shocking conclusion that nearly rivals Mrs. James Bond’s, death in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service way back in 1969.

There are few quips or one-liners uttered by James Bond and we can agree that Craig does not play the character in the same way that Roger Moore did. But, there exists a dark and dreary tone throughout and more than one surprising death.

It’s a serious affair.

I love the parallels to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that emerge mostly in the beginning and end of the film. The inclusion of the famous Louis Armstrong song ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ recalls both love and loss experienced by Bond and is played in full during the closing credits.

This is a special treat for fans of that film, myself included. I felt emotionally connected to No Time to Die which was a major score for it.

In a long opening sequence, a young girl named Madeleine witnesses the murder of her mother by terrorist Lyutsifer Safin in a failed attempt to murder her father Mr. White (appearing in Casino Royale). Madeleine shoots Safin (Rami Malek), but he survives and rescues her after she falls into a frozen lake. This connects them for life.

In the present, after the capture of villain Blofeld, Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) is vacationing in Southern Italy with Bond when Spectre’s assassins ambush him. He incorrectly assumes Madelaine has betrayed him and he ends their relationship after they escape death.

Depressed, Bond retires to Jamaica but returns to action after his friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

With the emotional and relationship investments successfully sealed any worthy Bond film should have great action with interesting locales, stellar villains, and relevant Bond girls. In this regard, the film gets a solid B+ with the aforementioned bumping it up a notch.

The chase throughout southern Italy is fabulous with delicious scenery of the culturally lavish country getting the film off to a fast start. Other sequences in Chile and Cuba show the sophistication and investment in quality locales. Naturally, London is heavily featured and I adore the grand and frequent aerial views that allow prominent landmarks to be discovered.

As creepy as actor Malek can be in his roles and as dastardly a villain as he plays, I wasn’t completed satisfied with the character of Safin. Not appearing in an obvious fashion until midway through his screen time is limited and his motivations murky- I wanted more.

The casting is terrific but the character is underwhelming and not explored to his potential.

Christoph Waltz’s limited appearance as an imprisoned Blofeld is great, and double agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), and scientist Obruchev (David Dencik) prove quality secondary villains. The storyline with Felix and the returns of Moneypenny, Q, and M (now played by Ralph Fiennes) is solid.

Main Bond girl Madelaine did not win me over at first but by the end, I was heavily invested, especially since she is a powerful female character and a true romantic partner to Bond. A new female 007, played by Lashana Lynch is a progressive inclusion that breathes new life into MI6.

May both appear in the future?

Time, and perhaps another viewing, will determine how No Time to Die (2021) ranks compared to other Bond films. At a hefty two hours and forty-three minutes, the film drags in the middle section, and some characters receive limited exploration.

The nods to history and the heavy emotional investment kept me glued to my seat.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“No Time to Die” (won), Best Sound, Best Visual Effects

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

Director-John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

Starring Jim Carey, Ewan McGregor

Scott’s Review #1,235

Reviewed March 5, 2022

Grade: A-

Easily the most daring and arguably the best film role of Jim Carey’s career, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a delightful romantic comedy featuring same-sex characters in the central roles. At the risk of being too fluffy, there is a sardonic and wry wittiness that I fell in love with.

Those criticizing the film as ‘gay porn’ are silly since there is hardly a sex scene to be critical of or anything more than would appear in a traditional male/female romantic comedy. Prudes wouldn’t see a film as I Love You Phillip Morris anyway.

It is based on the 1980s and 1990s real-life story of Texas con artist, impostor, and multiple prison fugitive Steven Jay Russell who was clever beyond belief and successful at outwitting his opponents.

I Love You, Phillip Morris, is the directorial debut by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra who received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Steven Russell  (Carrey) becomes a cop, gets married, and starts a family, but after a terrible car accident, he vows to be true to himself. Thus far in his life, he has played by the rules and done what is expected of him and because of the crash, he pivots to an emotional bloodletting.

The key irony is that Steven is telling the audience his story from his deathbed so most of the activity is in the past. This is the hook because it made me wonder how and why he dies. But is there a twist?

He comes out of the closet, moves to Florida, and finances a luxurious lifestyle with bad checks and credit cards. Arrested and now in prison, Steven meets Phillip (Ewan McGregor), a mild-mannered inmate who becomes the love of his life. Determined to build a beautiful life with his partner, Steven embarks on another crime spree.

The film caters to the LGBTQ+ audience but has crossover appeal so that all audiences can enjoy it. This is in large part in thanks to the screenwriters and whoever had Carey and McGregor in mind for the film.

Too often films centering around gay characters are deemed second fiddle and not profitable but with bigger stars, the audiences will come.

I Love You Phillip Morris is an independent film but builds momentum when the message is that big stars are comfortable in gay roles, something Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal taught us a few years earlier in Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Jim Carey, fabulous in The Mask from 1994, and having his share of hits and misses over the years, is perfect in the role of Steven. It’s the most interesting role he has portrayed since he gets to provide his usual physical humor in a role that matters. LGBTQ+ audiences see a character who makes them laugh without the typical gay stereotypes.

Straight audiences will see a character whose sexual identity doesn’t matter to them.

Props go to McGregor as well who makes a perfect counterpart for Carey as the calm, cool, and collected ‘straight man’. The film could not have worked without him. He meshes so well with Carey that the audience instantly roots for Steven and Phillip to ride off into the sunset despite being criminals.

The stereotypes are limited but the subject matter of AIDS, especially given the time in which the film is set, is given notice. This is a win and Requa and Ficarra are very careful not to teeter too close to the edge of doom and gloom while respecting the disease.

At its core, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a romantic comedy, and the trials and tribulations of Steven and Phillip are told. I immediately fell in love with them and viewers will too. It’s a film that feels fresh and alive with the exploration of character richness that is not easy to come by.