Downton Abbey: A New Era-2022

Downton Abbey: A New Era-2022

Director-Simon Curtis

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #1,261

Reviewed May 30, 2022

Grade: B+

Following the success of the 2019 film version of the television series Downton Abbey which ran on PBS from 2010-to 2015, a sequel was made. This was unsurprising given the fan-favorite being critically and commercially well-received.

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) will undoubtedly please fans of the series and may even recruit new audiences who may not have been exposed to it yet.

The trials and tribulations of the Crawley’s, friends, and staff are a treat as new situations and drama arise for the group to sift through as they discuss matters over tea and crumpets.

The film is like visiting a cherished friend after a few years apart.

Award-winning creator Julian Fellowes is thankfully still involved and was given screenwriting credit. This means that the formula is still the same and nobody has tried to reinvent the wheel or veer the characters off course.

This time out the year is 1928. The main action centers around the sudden news that grand dame Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) has inherited a villa in the south of France from a former suitor who has just died. Some of the family must travel to France and figure out the mystery.

Secondly, A film production company requests to use Downton for a silent film. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and retired butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) disapprove, but Robert’s eldest daughter and estate manager, Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), says the income would cover replacing Downton’s leaking roof.

The household staff is eager to see the film stars and scrambles to make things as lovely as possible for the incoming actors.

The terrific thing about Downtown Abbey: A New Era is that nearly all of the nearly thirty principal characters are given some sort of storyline.

Plus there are a handful of new characters to give screen time to.

Surprisingly, as in Downton Abbey (2019), the main ‘super couple’, servants Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) are given almost nothing to do. They are seen but their child is not and some drama would have been nice. Perhaps a mysterious illness or a malady for the couple to endure?

Maybe next time.

Still, everyone else is represented and the feeling for viewers is warm and fuzzy.

Below are some highlights.

Robert frets at the possibility that he may be half french and his birth a result of a tryst between Violet and the villa owner. Mary’s absent husband allows for a flirtation to develop between her and a member of the film. Gay butler Thomas (Robert James-Collier) finds himself pursued by the film’s big star.

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) keeps a health secret, while a bed-ridden Violet’s health declines. Newlywed servants Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox) scheme to unite his lonely father with the cook, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol).

Finally, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) eagerly awaits a marriage proposal from nervous Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle).

In addition, new characters like actors Guy Dexter (Dominic West), Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), and director Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) are instant fan favorites, immediately connecting with mainstay characters.

This is ingenious writing that can be a lesson for any soap opera writer. Always write new characters by sharing stories with existing ones rather than writing in silos. It works wonders.

The historical relevance of approaching the 1930s is not missed as ‘talkies’ taking over the film industry meant the kiss of death for most silent film stars.

The popular LGBTQ+ storyline is wonderfully written. A gay man in 1928 was doomed to either a life of hiding or one of loneliness and one character wisely references a ‘cruel world’ in regards to the viewpoint of the lifestyle.

Times were not changing just yet.

I am crossing my fingers that a third Downton Abbey film will be made. The characters and storylines still have life especially as the timeline progresses into the 1930s and the dire 1940s when World War II commences.

Downtown Abbey: A New Era (2022) proves that in the Covid-19 times a trusted old friend is needed tremendously. Even by way of the silver screen.

Unbreakable-2000

Unbreakable-2000

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #1,260

Reviewed May 29, 2022

Grade: A-

Following the brilliant and massive critical and commercial success of The Sixth Sense (1999), M. Night Shyamalan hit his stride and became a household name known for mixing supernatural and psychological elements in his web of good storytelling.

Following 2002’s Signs credibility tapered a bit but Unbreakable (2000) is an overlooked gem falling in the shadows of The Sixth Sense which everyone remembers best when they talk about the director.

The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are also strong counterparts because they both star Hollywood legend Bruce Willis who it can be argued started to gain respectability within the industry with the former.

He continues his superior acting and calm character approach.

Unbreakable is part thriller, science fiction, and superhero film, so I have categorized it accordingly. It’s part of an Unbreakable film series and was followed by Split (2016) and Glass (2019) which took years to develop and were decent if underwhelming projects.

Unbreakable is by far the best of the bunch.

David Dunn (Willis) is a regular guy who works as a college football stadium security guard. He is a former star college quarterback whose dreams of stardom never materialized because of a car accident. He lives a somewhat melancholy yet decent life with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and son Joseph.

One day David boards a train. The train experiences a devastating derailment with an enormous casualty number. David awakes in the hospital to find that he is the sole survivor of the wreck. He is left unscathed.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives on the scene as a mysterious comic book expert who takes a liking to David and his experience. He offers a bizarre explanation as to why David escaped without a single scratch that counters Elijah’s health- he is a frail man who is constantly at risk of breaking his bones.

Elijah and Joseph begin to believe that David is a superhero. At first, David rebuffs this notion but slowly begins to realize he has extrasensory perception.

What is the link between David and Elijah?

I’m not always a big superhero fan and sometimes the storylines are riddled with cliches, stereotypes, and predictability.

But, Unbreakable is fascinating and unpredictable. It’s also dark, cerebral, and contains a surprise ending leaving me summarizing that it’s a different sort of superhero film with layers of cool elements.

It’s a non-traditional superhero film and I love that quality.

There’s a suspension of disbelief of course. How one character can rig a train accident and other crimes is a bit of a stretch but the characters of David and Elijah are compelling enough for me to forget those pesky little plot holes and enjoy the experience.

If the story sometimes falters, the riveting train sequence more than makes up for it. We see David quietly enjoying the train ride until all hell breaks loose. The shattered glass, derailment, and chaos are fabulous entertainment as well as wonderment of what comes next and what the sequence means to the rest of the story.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unbreakable.

Almost as riveting but in a different way is the opening scene of Unbreakable which will immediately grab the viewer. It is 1961 and an African American woman is told that her baby’s arms and legs are broken. This is later a key to the story but at this time we know not what this intrigue has to do with anything.

Unbreakable (2000) is incredibly fresh and original. It can easily be watched in a double-feature with The Sixth Sense but is nothing like that film except for its director and actor.

But, they are M. Night Shyamalan’s best films, and Unbreakable provides tremendous thought and conceptualization while creating daring camera work long remembered after the first viewing.

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

The Talented Mr. Ripley-1999

Director-Anthony Minghella

Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow

Scott’s Review #1,259

Reviewed May 27, 2022

Grade: A

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is a psychological thriller that is Hitchcockian and would make the famous director, the esteemed Alfred Hitchcock, damned proud.

The film contains suspense, thrills, mystique, and great writing, and is an exceptional adaptation of the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name.

A fun fact is that Highsmith also wrote the novel on which Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers on a Train was based from.

In my opinion, the title role is the best of Matt Damon’s lengthy career, rivaling that of his debut in Good Will Hunting (1998), also a tremendous effort. His riveting portrayal showcases that he plays several layers at once: calculating, sinister, vulnerable, jealous, and unhinged.

Sometimes all at once.

He shockingly was omitted from the Best Actor Oscar list which is unforgivable considering his great work. Instead, he was nominated in later years for lesser films like Invictus (2010) and The Martian (2016).

With his blonde clean-cut hairstyle, short and parted on the side, along with big, studious glasses, he is half wholesome and half creepy.

The fact that the character is gay is icing on the cake and delicious for a film set in the 1950s when having an alternative lifestyle was strictly forbidden.

The setting is mainly lavish and sunny coastal Italy in the late 1950s. Tom Ripley (Damon) craves a lifestyle of luxury and manipulates his way into the life of wealthy playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law).

When Dickie’s father asks Tom to bring his errant son back home to America, Dickie, and his beautiful expatriate girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), never suspect the dangerous extremes to which Ripley will go to make their lifestyle his own.

The best part of The Talented Mr. Ripley is the compelling suspense and the twists and turns that result. It’s astounding how many layers of the plot exist without the experience being confusing or paced poorly.

Speaking of the pacing, this is another achievement of the film and director Anthony Minghella wisely quickens the action from the snail’s pace of his earlier film The English Patient (1996) that I personally loved.

We immediately know much about Tom and how he makes his living by charming people and forging signatures to make ends meet. His innocent deceit soon turns fatal as he spirals downward and becomes a pathological liar and sociopath in addition to a cold-blooded murderer.

Law is tremendous as Dickie and the brazen character is ambiguous in his sexuality while Tom’s is clearer. I love this about Law’s character. He is handsome and a lady’s man which would make him ripe for the picking for a closeted gay man in the 1950s to become enamored.

The key to ponder is whether the feeling is mutual or not. This remains ambiguous.

The acting, superior in every way, is made all the richer because the film is a character study, and the relationship between Tom and Dickie is cleverly dissected.

The best scene occurs on a small boat as tensions reach a crescendo between the two men. This results in dire activity.

Besides the action starting off in New York, the rest of the story takes place in Italy and is mostly shot on location. This only enhances my enjoyment of the film because it showcases the Mediterranean and southern Italy more than the more familiar cities.

Not to disappoint, astounding sequences in Rome and Venice do occur.

Because of the cinematography and locales, the film has a glossy and polished look which is terrifically counterbalanced to the darkness of the story. Think American Psycho (2000) but more subdued with a larger budget.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is one of the best to emerge from a decade in cinema that was terrific. It is not as well-remembered as some others but I strongly encourage a watch to uncover a series of riches that is led by bold storytelling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Jude Law, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Director-Stephen Chbosky

Starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams

Scott’s Review #1,258

Reviewed May 25, 2022

Grade: A-

From the very first scene, Dear Evan Hansen (2021) grabbed me by the collar and never let me go. Providing an emotional wallop that mixes perfectly with meaningful and catchy pop songs the film is one that nearly everyone can relate to.

The oftentimes painful world of teenage angst is the central storyline and the dangerous and unfortunately too timely pandemic of mental illness is examined in heartwrenching form.

Dear Evan Hansen has a relevance that I found to be powerful and profound leaving me not soon forgetful of the experience.

I had never seen the hugely popular Broadway stage version so I only had a limited understanding of what the story was about going in. Still, as much as the subject matter is of great importance the film’s follow-through is what is tremendous and emotional with superb acting all around.

Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Ben Platt reprises his stage role as the anxious, isolated high schooler named Evan Hansen who craves companionship and understanding. He suffers the same quandary that many fellow teenagers face in a world rendered impersonal and heartless. He tries to survive the pressures and the chaos of the social-media age.

Lonely, he meets a young man named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) who is as wounded as Evan is. They have an odd first (and only) exchange after which Connor steals a therapy assignment of Evan’s, a letter to himself. Soon after, Connor commits suicide and his parents, played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino assume the boys were best friends.

Evan lies about the events to spare Connor’s parents which ultimately leads to events spiraling out of control.

I’m well aware of the outpouring of negative reviews that have been hurled at the film and I don’t understand nor agree with any of them.

My hunch is that the stage version may have been even more powerful because it’s a live production and the raw emotion is right there but the film does right by it.

Sure, Platt looks older than a teenager. The actor was twenty-seven years old when he filmed Dear Evan Hansen and a mere twenty-two or so when it appeared on Broadway but so what? With talent as superior as he is why cast a movie star?

I didn’t hear anyone complain when Olivia Newton-John played the iconic role of Sandy, a seventeen-year-old in Grease (1978) at the ripe old age of thirty.

Sometimes a suspension of disbelief is required.

Platt is a terrific casting choice and encompasses the role of Evan completely. He is shockingly good in dramatic scenes or when he comically fumbles over his words. His dramatic voice perfectly infuses the production’s most recognizable number You Will Be Found.

Besides, there are big stars in Dear Evan Hansen. Amy Adams plays the emotionally drained but hopeful Cynthia Murphy, blessed with affluence at the price of losing a son. Julianne Moore plays the haggard nurse and financially struggling mother of Evan.

Both are fabulous.

The film is directed by Stephen Chbosky who is responsible for the terrific and sorely underappreciated film adaptation of the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) which he also wrote. He knows how to tell a coming-of-age story.

There are a couple of foul balls to be aware of but the emotion to be felt far exceeds these pesky matters.

The film occasionally overplays its casting with the inclusion of a few stock characters like the Indian technology wizard and the perky, straight-A student with the same problems as everyone else, but the characters don’t have enough to do to make them bothersome.

The chemistry between Platt and Kaitlyn Dever as the romantic interest is only tepid but I didn’t watch this film for the teen romance.

I could not disagree with the torrent of negative reviews for Dear Evan Hansen (2021) more and urge anyone reading this review to take in the film and be prepared for a tearjerker that feels authentic and justified in its existence.

The Sand Pebbles-1966

The Sand Pebbles-1966

Director-Robert Wise

Starring Steve McQueen, Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,257

Reviewed May 18, 2022

Grade: A-

The 1950s and 1960s can collectively be defined as the two decades representing the grandiose film epic, which are instantly recognizable cinematic sprawling, lengthy efforts and frequently encompassing a time.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) safely falls into this category especially because it’s a war film and one minute shy of a three-hour extravaganza.

The film was a critical and commercial success at the time of release and received several Academy Award nominations (see more below) but is not remembered as well as one might expect despite being a fantastic watch.

There is something that makes the film fly somewhere under the radar and I’m not sure why that is. It might be that an anti-war message film was not as common as it would become. In 1966 there had only just begun to be a United States movement questioning the government and war in general.

It wasn’t cool nor acceptable yet.

Robert Anderson adapted the screenplay from the 1962 novel of the same name by Richard McKenna which I understand is very similar.

Robert Wise, famous for directing the very memorable The Sound of Music just one year prior in 1965 and the legendary West Side Story in 1961 is at the helm resulting in a superior direction, especially in the exterior sequences and the lush, oceanic sequences.

Star, Steve McQueen was at the height of popularity when this film was made which undoubtedly helped get butts in the seats to drool over the blue-eyed actor in his Navy attire.

The Sand Pebbles has a heavier touch and promotes an anti-war viewpoint from its main character. Therefore, it has a good solid message to go with the expected aspects of a war film. It’s not dissimilar to The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) made nearly a decade earlier.

Not lost on the viewer will be the Asian locales and the parallels with the controversial Vietnam conflict happening at the time.

We go back to 1926 when the USS San Pablo was patrolling the Yangtze River during the clashes between Chiang Kai-shek’s communists and Chinese warlords.

Eight-year veteran machinist Jake Holman (McQueen), new to the self-named “sand pebbles” crew, immediately draws deep suspicion due to his independent streak.

Ordered to protect Americans, including schoolteacher Shirley Eckhart (Candice Bergen), Jake and the gunboat crew is unwittingly drawn into a bitter nationalistic feud that holds grim consequences.

Besides his unforgettable turn in The Getaway in 1972, the role is McQueen’s finest and I’m not the biggest fan of his nor feel he is the greatest actor.

But, in The Sand Pebbles, he has tremendous material to work with and hits all cylinders throughout. The character is rootable and relatable to the audience.

The film also presents a fascinating look at Navy life with the camaraderie and depth of the supporting characters. There is comedy and drama and the additions of Richard Attenborough and Richard Crenna are stellar.

Naturally, Bergen is the romantic love interest for McQueen as Shirley and Jake have fledging feelings for each other.

Though the film ends abruptly there is enough pain, death, and confusion to leave the viewer thinking afterward and that is always an aspect of the film that I champion.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) is an underrated production that simmers beneath some other classics from the same decade but is a terrific watch for many reasons. It has an old-world feel despite being extremely timely representing a forage into the dangerous early 1970s history still to come.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Steve McQueen, Best Supporting Actor-Mako, Best Art Direction-Color, Best Cinematography-Color, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound

Raging Bull-1980

Raging Bull-1980

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #1,256

Reviewed May 14, 2022

Grade: A

Raging Bull (1980) might be director Martin Scorsese’s most personal film and certainly his most character-driven. His other films contain great characters, rich with life, but with the focus firmly planted on controversial real-life boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) there is much to explore.

His descent into madness is hard to watch but also impossible to look away from.

It’s tough to top the De Niro/Scorsese pairing featured in Taxi Driver (1976) when the actor simply kicked the audience’s ass with his ferocious portrayal of maniacal Travis Bickle. LaMotta arguably surpasses that portrayal because the boxer experiences the highest of the highs with the lowest of the lows.

And the audience is whisked away with him on the journey from heaven to hell. Arguably director and actor’s finest film, Raging Bull is often painful to watch, but it’s a searing, powerful work about an unsympathetic hero who we can’t help but explore.

A double-pairing film extravaganza of watching Taxi Driver and Raging Bull is a fabulous idea though the viewer may need a Valium to combat the resulting anxiety after experiencing these films.

I love the title that is Raging Bull because it is so apt and central to the film. Fueled with machismo, testosterone, and anger, Jake LaMotta certainly is a raging bull.

Screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, frequent collaborators of Scorsese’s, adapt the story from Raging Bull: My Story, a 1970 memoir written by LaMotta.

Raging Bull tells the story of an Italian-American middleweight boxer as he struggles through the ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He possesses a self-destructive and obsessive rage, jealousy, and animalistic appetite that destroys his relationship with his wife and family.

Wonderfully cast as his wife Vickie is Cathy Moriarity who is a gorgeous girl from the Bronx who falls head over heels in love with Jake. Joe Pesci plays his well-intentioned brother and managerJoey, who unsuccessfully tries to help Jake battle his inner demons.

Jake’s inability to express his feelings enters the ring and eventually takes over his life. He is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.

Comparisons to the exceptional Rocky (1976) are cute and perhaps contain some merit on paper but whereas the former is heroic and compelling, the main characters are nothing alike except that they are both struggling boxers who achieve success.

Both are sports films but Raging Bull is much, much darker and purely a character study.

The cinematography by Michael Chapman and the Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker are deserving of accolades and make the picture as flawless as it is.

Scorsese adds enough boxing scenes to showcase the fantastic editing that is required for these difficult scenes. The editing is lightning quick and the thunderous bombast makes the viewer feel each blow of the glove on the skin. The blood and sweat are legendary components of these scenes.

The black and white cinematography is jaw-dropping especially powerful during the kitchen fight scene between Jake and Joey. The brutal buildup is hard to stomach as Jake’s dementia becomes evident.

Despite the other qualities of the film that bring it all together, my favorite aspect is the performance that De Niro delivers, winning him a much deserved Best Actor Oscar.

He is powerful and animalistic playing both subtle rage and explosive anger. His tragic final act as a much older and fat man is shrouded in heartbreak and pain for both the character and the viewer to experience.

All the pieces of Raging Bull (1980) add up perfectly into a masterpiece. The violence and pain are enshrouded in poetic dialogue and beautiful illuminating camera work exploring one man’s battles and struggles both inside the squared circle and internally.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor-Robert De Niro (won), Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actress-Cathy Moriarty, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound

Antlers-2021

Antlers-2021

Director-Scott Cooper

Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,255

Reviewed May 13, 2022

Grade: B+

Antlers (2021) is a film co-produced by Guillermo del Toro who is famous for dark, humanistic treasures like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (2017).

His name attached to the project conjures images of supernatural and otherworldly creations and some murky elements. While the film does contain his influence if looked at carefully it’s in a tepid way and I wouldn’t call it a del Toro type film.

But, it’s not as if he directed it either, he only helped fund it. Scott Cooper, known for Crazy Heart (2009) and Black Mass (2015), two very good films, does a fantastic job of adding horror elements and impressive cinematography that create a bleak and grey atmosphere that is perfect for horror.

The plot is the weak point in an otherwise exceptional offering. The story has a standard setup and unsatisfying ending save for an attempt to push the wheels in motion for a potential sequel.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Antler’s release date was postponed twice and flew under the radar as many films did in the early 2020s.

Plus, star Jesse Plemons received an Oscar nomination for The Power of the Dog (2021) by the time the film hit the screens so it’s doubtful he’d make a return appearance.

I’m not sure the film is good enough to warrant a follow-up but I did thoroughly enjoy the perfect trimmings and quality acting even though the story didn’t completely satisfy me.

The film is based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca.

The action is set in a rural, isolated Oregon town where a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Plemons) become entangled with her taciturn student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) whose dark family secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature known for creating debauchery.

The dazzling cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister perfectly encapsulates the setting of the Pacific Northwest making it appear grim and constantly cloudy. The foreboding presence is only helped by adding a dark mine as the main set where the dire events occur.

Russell does a fine job with carrying the film and Cooper and the team provides a character-driven approach to the story. Julia has returned to her hometown after the suicide of her father, who we quickly learn was abusing her as a little girl.

She bonds with Lucas who is also abused and this portion of the story works well. We get the bond and they connect well. He’s got a different set of daddy issues though since his wolf-like papa salivates at the sight of him and is diseased from an incident in the mine.

But, the Julia/Lucas relationship ultimately has very little to do with a wild creature running around killing a student and a principal. A quick scene involving a local townsperson explaining an ancient curse is uninspired even if he is played by Graham Greene from Dances With Wolves fame (1990).

I was more invested in the Julia and Paul raising Lucas angle and what comes next over the silly folklore curse that we’ve seen countless times in films.

The texture of Antlers easily awards it a solid B+ rating because it’s spooky and scary in some sequences. When Julia and Principal Ellen (Amy Madigan) separately approach the run-down Weaver house the camera follows the characters making the audience feel like they are the ones entering the house.

We know bad things will soon happen and that makes it fun.

Because of the great camera work and use of lighting, I’d never want to set foot in Cispus Falls.

As an aside for every film writer out there, it’s time to discard the anti-LGBTQ slurs once and for all. Aren’t we beyond this? Can’t we write one character calling another a ‘loser’ and leave it at that?

The visceral style of Antlers (2021) is more than enough reason to recommend it. A straight-ahead supernatural horror film with a grim veneer is the reason to see it. The ho-hum story is rather secondary.

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring Herbert Lom, Michael Gough, Heather Sears

Scott’s Review #1,254

Reviewed May 12, 2022

Grade: B+

Probably not the best-known film adaptation of the famous 1910 French novel written by Gaston Leroux, but likely the most horrific. Hammer Horror Productions getting their hands on this is a significant win since the story is perfectly suited for the horror genre.

I’ve not yet seen the 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney which I hear is wonderful so I cannot compare that to this.

The possibilities for a macabre telling are endless and director Terence Fisher, a familiar director in Hammer films, is back at the helm to mix the dreariness of a musty London theater with the creepy face mask of its lonely and wounded inhabitant.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this review. It’s impressive to notice the astounding achievements the Horror films obtained by making lemonade out of lemons from a budget perspective. The limited funds necessitated creativity which can be seen in every series frame, especially the colorful sets and costumes.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) is no different and is even better than some others in the brilliant mix of mood and sympathy for its main victim, specifically the luminous and disfigured ‘phantom’ played by Herbert Lom.

Dastardly Composer Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, wonderfully played by Michael Gough, and his bullied backer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza), struggle to find a replacement for the female lead in their new opera after she quits and flees town in the wake of a gruesome theater murder.

When a new prospect, the virginal Christine Charles (Heather Sears), disappears after the advances of Ambrose, Harry cautiously investigates unaware that there is a lonely figure inhabiting the theater.

Meanwhile, a mysterious masked man (Lom) who is eerily familiar with the opera holds Christine captive and offers to groom her to play the part.

He is a mix of crazy and passionate and his plight is sympathetic when what he’s been through is finally explained.

But the atmosphere is what sets The Phantom of the Opera apart from other similar films of the 1960s, even Hammer films.

This is never more evident in an early scene when the camera follows the characters on the misty streets of London, the darkness and shadows becoming prominent as they walk through streets and dark alleys.

Fisher, now five years into his association with the production company has hit his stride. A limited budget might reduce another director to a fretting basket case but the result and ease that he parlays to The Phantom of the Opera are quite beautiful.

Many scenes take place in the theater itself adding a foreboding element to the events. Dusty yet brimming with musicianship and artistic pizzazz, it’s fun to watch the characters sneak around and scheme within the confines of this structure.

Therefore, the mood and trimmings are exquisite without actually being so.

The music sequences are impressive without going on for too long, and despite the locale being switched from Paris to London for obvious reasons, the main being that the actors are British, this doesn’t hamper the overall experience.

The best, and most gruesome scene, occurs when a poor chap swings across the theater stage in a neck rope, dead as a doornail. The creaking sound of the rope as the man swings back and forth is chilling and dubious.

Lom is my favorite actor in the film and his character’s backstory reveal is humanistic and impressive. Who can’t relate to at least once being swindled or cheated out of work that is rightfully theirs?

Gough, also familiar to Hammer Horror fans, is tremendous as the treacherous main villain.

Sears is okay but perhaps not the greatest actress nor the best choice for the role. She’s rather bland and unmemorable.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) falters a bit when it ends too suddenly, though many Hammer films suffer the same fate. This film is not for those expecting a grandiose Andrew Lloyd Webber style musical but for fans of down and dirty horror it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Queen-2006

The Queen-2006

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen

Scott’s Review #1,253

Reviewed May 8, 2022

Grade: A

Before the Netflix series, The Crown (2016-2023), loudly stomped into existence and took the world on a historical journey through the trials and tribulations of British royalty there was The Queen (2006).

Starring Helen Mirren, the film is a quiet telling of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II, especially immediately after the death of Princess Diana and the conflict and contention that took place.

Ironically, The Crown is created and primarily written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen. He created The Crown because of The Queen so there is an instant correlation between the two brilliant projects and the handwriting is very similar.

Stephen Frears, who also directed Judi Dench to an Oscar nomination for Philomena (2013) is at the helm and won himself an Oscar nomination for directing as well as scoring a win for Mirren.

The Queen is a terrific film across the board and Mirren is phenomenal in her portrayal of the grand dame. She cleverly fuses a stiffness and stoicism with subtle warmth and humanity few see from the queen, at least publicly. Layers of complexity are provided to an already mysterious public figure.

Following the death of Princess Diana in a fiery auto accident, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) struggle to reach a compromise on how the royal family should publicly respond to the tragedy.

In the balance is the family’s need for privacy and the public’s demand for an outward show of mourning. This causes mayhem and drama behind the sacred walls of Buckingham Palace.

The acting of Mirren and the direction are what make The Queen pure magic and a standout among the many royalty-themed films to emerge since the beginning of motion pictures.

First of all, Mirren looks like the part of Queen Elizabeth II and this goes way beyond wearing glasses and a sweater or having the same hairdo. She encompasses the role and this is no small feat.

The mannerisms, the speech patterns, and the lowkey attitude are the amazing nuances that the actress is somehow able to channel.

It feels more than simply Mirren dressing up like royalty and showing up scene after scene. She does something much more with the unspoken looks and inner workings of the queen that become apparent to the viewer.

Frears chooses to include many closeups of characters, mainly of Mirren, which only encircle what each character is thinking and pondering.

The film is very subdued with a lovely musical score adding texture and appeal to each frame. The inclusion of archival footage is powerful realism.

Merely nine years after the real-life death of the uber-popular Diana the event was still so fresh in the minds of viewers that releasing The Queen at this time was a stroke of genius.

It’s no secret that while Queen Elizabeth II is respected she is worlds away from wildly popular Diana and emits a coolness that baffles the public.

Thanks to Mirren, the public gets a glimpse into the heart and soul of a mysterious person and that’s a good feeling indeed.

However, Mirren couldn’t have delivered fully if not for the talents of Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Generations apart and with differing views they spar and respect each other, slowly forging a friendship of sorts.

The Queen (2006) hardly needs bombs, bombast, or quick editing to get its point across, though speaking of editing, a fantastic job of it with family scenes of Diana. The film lures the viewer into its web and makes them feel like an insider amongst the walls of royalty.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Helen Mirren (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

War Wolves-2009

War Wolves-2009

Director-Michael Worth

Starring John Saxon, Adrienne Barbeau, Tim Thomerson

Scott’s Review #1,252

Reviewed May 7, 2022

Grade: C-

Technically, a horror-television film that aired on the Syfy network, War Wolves (2009) is an abysmal experience in both filmmaking and plot. Bad dialogue and juvenile special effects are just the tip of the iceberg in what could easily be a hard-hitting review.

But, strangely enough, even with bad films pleasure is to be found and sometimes more than is rightly earned. My final rating of ‘C-‘ is my gift to the film that currently rates an anemic 8% audience favorability rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The only saving grace is the inclusion of veterans Adrienne Barbeau (Escape from New York-1981) and John Saxon (Black Christmas-1974) into the mix though Barbeau’s character is completely throwaway. Saxon is the co-lead and what a treat to see the seasoned actor do his best with weak material.

The action begins on the battlefields of the Middle East, presumably Afghanistan, where veteran Jake Gabriel (Michael Worth) is cursed with lycanthropy during a gunfight. He is aware of this and struggles to suppress his inner werewolf once he quickly returns to the United States.

His military comrade and girlfriend, Erika (Natasha Alam), and other female former soldiers begin to grow fangs and develop a fancy for the taste of blood. Jake resists but members of his “pack” attempt to hunt him down and convert him to the more thrilling life their changes are introducing them to.

Saxon plays a commander named Tony who is sent to the States to apprehend Jake before he can infect others and is joined by Frank Bergman (Tim Thomerson), his best friend, and polar opposite. Barbeau plays a woman named Gail who talks incessantly about her deceased husband.

Hopefully, Saxon, Barbeau, and Thomerson were thrown what little monetary breadcrumbs existed in the budget for this film. They play their parts earnestly while providing much-needed professionalism. Poor Barbeau even throws in a southern accent to her northern California hailing character in an attempt to make her more interesting.

I’ll say one thing. The above-average acting by the veterans makes up for the tepid and wooden acting by the rest of the cast. But casting gorgeous female ‘actresses’ as military personnel has a market too.

Unsurprisingly, the plot doesn’t add up and it’s never explained why Jake is infected in the first place or what anyone’s motivations are besides the obvious infecting and destroying the infecters.

The pale attempts at below the surface humanistic connections either go nowhere or result in the reaction of ‘who gives a shit, let’s see more blood’!

Worthy of mention is that star Michael Worth also directs the film. A better title than War Wolves would have been desirable. Although a humorous take on the word ‘werewolves’, it doesn’t roll off the tongue very well and conjures images more aligned with parody versus seriousness.

Unfortunately, Worth doesn’t play the film for laughs and it’s meant to be taken seriously, at least on paper. Tony and Frank have experienced this mission before and it causes Tony to be estranged from his family, a weak attempt at creating humanistic drama that never goes anywhere other than one conversation with an unseen family member from a pay phone.

I daresay the film is a load of fun providing some unintended laughs, especially in the final act. When the female pack appeared with cute, tiny brown noses, with matching pointy ears, and uttered demonic dialogue to appear threatening, I roared with laughter.

War Wolves (2009) is a film focused on the werewolf genre that is merely a blip on the radar and is probably forgotten already. It’s not my favorite horror sub-genre of all time but I’d still list The Wolf Man (1941) and An American Werewolf in London (1981) as the best entries.

But, for the 1230am-to 2 am timeslot on a boozy Saturday night, War Wolves is an appropriate fit.

Really bad movies can be fun too.

The Pacifier-2005

The Pacifier-2005

Director-Adam Shankman

Starring Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham

Scott’s Review #1,251

Reviewed May 1, 2022

Grade: C

The Pacifier (2005) is the kind of film that has been made for decades in one form or another. The setup is familiar and puts its macho movie star in situations that go against type or are deemed a bit feminine, and lightweight, all for the sake of a laugh.

As far back as the 1950s when Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis donned lady’s clothing in Some Like it Hot (1959), to Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom (1983), to the 1990s when Arnold Schwarzenegger entertained audiences in Kindergarten Cop (1995), there is a pattern to follow.

And those are just the decent films.

In 2005, the sexy Vin Diesel was one of the highest-grossing leading men in Hollywood churning out hits like Boiler Room (2000) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) to rabid audiences.

Known primarily for his action films, someone had the bright idea to domesticate the muscular star and put him in a situation where he would comically change baby diapers or vacuum a living room.

Unfortunately, The Pacifier is juvenile in nearly every way with canned gags and predictability for miles. Diesel is terrific to look at but isn’t the best actor in the world which causes the film to lose credibility.

Despite cliche after cliche and ridiculous situation, the film occasionally will elicit a chuckle or two from anyone brave enough to watch it.

That’s mostly because Diesel is willing to emerge in one scene covered in shit.

But don’t expect much more from The Pacifier.

Shane Wolfe (Diesel) is an elite Navy SEAL with muscles and charisma for miles. He is the type of man who would run into a fire and save a baby or swim out to sea to save a drowning child.

One day he makes a grave error in judgment when he fails to keep scientist Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan) safe from assassination and the man is killed.

Riddled with guilt, he is assigned to protect Plummer’s five children when the mother played by Faith Ford needs to leave the country temporarily. The kids include rebellious Zoe (Brittany Snow), Seth (Max Thieriot), and clingy Lulu (Morgan York).

The kid’s pet duck is along for the ride pushing the seasoned veteran to his breaking point.

Predictably, when Shane is not busy tending to the kids there is a secret project contained somewhere in the household that he must uncover.

Of course, a film like The Pacifier requires some romance so the inclusion of Principal Claire Fletcher (Lauren Graham) is for the sole purpose of having someone for Shane to fall in love with.

There is not great chemistry between Diesel and Graham so I wasn’t invested in them. The casting of the children is so one-dimensional with standard characteristics that it would be easy to laugh at.

I chose not to do this but rather strove to find something enjoyable in The Pacifier.

It’s a cute film but it’s so mainstream, dull, fluffy, and whatever generic adjective one would choose to describe it that it deserves the bland grade of C I am awarding it.

Diesel is the only appealing factor to The Pacifier.

Why make the bad guys as stereotypical as possible? They are North Korean and the ‘twist’ that Shane’s boss is in cahoots with them is as surprising as realizing the two-week-old Chinese leftovers in the fridge have gone bad.

The film has a small comparison to the superior The Sound of Music (1965) which the filmmakers must have realized since they incorporate it into the story. The kids that Shane is in charge of are behaving badly and attempting to play a practical joke on him.

In the end, there is a chase sequence, a reveal, peril, and a happy ending in more or less that order.

The Pacifier (2005) is a Disney film so there is a safe, family-friendly vibe throughout. It marginally entertains largely on the strength of Diesel.

He is sexy, macho, and provides enough charisma to forget the bevy of standard gags and silly situations that he, and the audience, must endure.