Malignant-2021

Malignant-2021

Director-James Wan

Starring Annabelle Wallis, George Young

Scott’s Review #1,294

Reviewed August 30, 2022

Grade: B

James Wan is a fantastic director responsible for co-creating the Saw (2003-2017) and Insidious (2010-2018) franchises. Anyone familiar with those films will enjoy Malignant (2021) since it borrows from them and is peppered with trimmings from those films.

In particular, it taps into supernatural elements of Insidious and the mood and score from Saw. Malignant even copies the gruff and robotic phone caller’s voice that was Jigsaw’s trademark and used in Saw. It’s not as threatening but it brings back those memories.

The result of Malignant is mixed but mostly good. It’s not one bit scary like Insidious was but not gratuitously gory like the Saw films though it has its moments of butchering.

Though utterly ridiculous, the conclusion of Malignant contains a terrific twist and a weird supernatural CGI contortionist choreography extravaganza that somehow reminded me of The Matrix (1999).

The storyline twist must have been influenced by Sisters (1973), an early effort by director Brian DePalma. It could be deemed as silly but somehow it’s my favorite part of the film.

Wan reaches into his magical bag of tricks and pulls out some wins. He also demands suspension of disbelief, which is okay in supernatural horror films but many points of the story do not add up.

Malignant begins in 1993 when Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline MacKenzie) and her colleagues treat a violent, disturbed patient named Gabriel at Simion Research Hospital. Gabriel can control electricity and broadcast his thoughts via speakers. He kills several staff members but Weaver survives and deems him untreatable.

Years later, Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) becomes paralyzed by fear from shocking visions. She slowly realizes that when a murder victim dies she is in the room with them witnessing their gruesome death.

Gabriel is on the loose and intent on killing Dr. Weaver and her colleagues for calling him cancer, and Madison is somehow involved.  She and her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson) must sleuth along with the police to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Malignant does well with the mood and tone of the filming. It has a dark grey quality plentiful in modern horror films and fans of Insidious and Saw will enjoy this familiar style of filmmaking. It’s set in Seattle which is a wise choice though all we get are some aerial views of the city, specifically the Space Needle.

Because it’s directed by Wan, it’s professional and contains the horror elements to be expected. There’s even a giant window fan that I swear I’ve seen in a Saw film. Wan knows what he is doing and the name recognition alone was enough to get me to see the film.

It’s not an ‘A’ but it does what a modern horror film is supposed to do and that’s to entertain. Malignant is not groundbreaking but it’s sound.

The plot holes are not worth dissecting beyond asking why there are no other patients in a large city hospital, a device that has existed since at least Halloween II in 1981, but that’s just the beginning.

Malignant annoyed me when it decided to add some humor. A sidekick character, Detective Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) bares an uncanny resemblance to funny lady Wanda Sykes. Unfortunately, her one-liners feel thrown in for kicks, and a blossoming romance between Sydney and Detective Kokoa (George Young) goes nowhere.

During these scenes, I felt like I was watching Chicago Med or Chicago Fire or any one of those other generic network television shows.

Fortunately, the scenes were brief and Wan returned to the point of the film- blood, killing, and chaos.

Lead actress Wallis is a fine casting choice. Pretty but relatable, she carries the film as the victim especially as more to her backstory is revealed.

Films like Malignant (2021) require putting the breaks on any deep analysis and merely going along for the ride. It’s entertaining and that’s good enough for me. With Wan at the helm, I anticipated a particular type of horror film and was ultimately satisfied with what I was served.

Bluebeard-1972

Bluebeard-1972

Director-Edward Dymtryk

Starring Richard Burton, Joey Heatherton

Scott’s Review #1,293

Reviewed August 23, 2022

Grade: A-

My expectations of Bluebeard (1972) were of a late-night foray into the world of weird horror. The story is loosely based on a French folktale of a nobleman with a curious wife forbidden from entering a mysterious room. I was anticipating an entertaining experience but nothing more.

To lower expectations, the critic reviews of the film were quite harsh, ridiculing and ripping upper-class actor Richard Burton to shreds calling this film the decline and fall of his career.

Instead, I was treated to luscious art direction created on a small budget and a fascinating, macabre story about a man nicknamed ‘Bluebeard’ (Burton) who kills each of his six former wives while revealing his dirty deeds to wife number seven, Anne, (Joey Heatherton) who he plans to kill.

We learn that Austrian aristocrat Baron von Sepper (Richard Burton) would rather kill his wives than divorce them. It’s the 1930’s and he is a decorated war hero with a secret or two. A lady’s man meets the most beautiful women but quickly becomes bored with them.

He hides their remains in a secret refrigerated room and Anne stumbles upon their corpses. Now, she must escape his clutches to avoid becoming his next victim.

Burton is famous for being the husband of Elizabeth Taylor and appearing in superior films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and The Robe (1953) and was a much sought-after Hollywood star during the 1950s and 1960s.

By the time of Bluebeard’s making, he was a raging alcoholic and needed the film work. However, intentionally or not he is a fabulous addition to the film whether he was sober during shooting or not. He perhaps doesn’t even recall making it.

The most fun with Bluebeard is the anticipation. Once I realized the film was working backward and detailing each of Bluebeard’s six former wives’ murders I was hooked! Each murder is better than the last and poor Raquel Welch as Magdelena is locked in a tomb alive.

In the comical form, the actress plays a slutty nun.

One particular scene had me tickled pink. Bluebeard’s third or fourth wife, a gorgeous blonde who is a chatty ‘motor mouth’ and eager to dive into bed with her new husband, is decapitated via guillotine when she thinks she will finally become intimate with him.

It’s a fabulous sequence that I had to watch twice.

The decapitation scene is nearly rivaled by a titillating girl-on-girl scene between Nathalie Delon and Sybil Danning who plays a prostitute hired to teach Bluebeard’s wife how to enjoy the pleasures of touch and eroticism.

They quickly get naked and kiss.

Instead of being aroused as any straight man would, Bluebeard takes a shear to them impaling them to death one on top of the other. We then realize he is quite inadequate in the sexual department.

It should go without mentioning that folks looking for a PG affair need to look elsewhere. There are enough breasts bared to make the prudish blush mightily. The lesbian scene might leave them running for the hills.

No, Bluebeard is an adult venture for those desiring a healthy serving of female flesh with their bloodletting. The male actors are spared any nudity- that’s the way cinema was back then.

Heatherton does surprisingly well paired with Burton and the chemistry works between them. She is not a top-quality actress but she is appealing and we root for her to escape the madman.

The art direction is tremendous and reminiscent of the attention to detail and craft that Hammer Horror films were able to create around that same period. The velvet red walls in Bluebeard’s massive estate ooze with royalty and sophistication. Each table, chair, and set piece is perfectly placed.

Of course, Bluebeard is pure camp and over-the-top shenanigans but it’s a hoot all the way, never dragging nor taking itself too seriously.

I was pleasantly pleased by Bluebeard (1972) and consider it a must-see for Burton fans desiring some later works sans Elizabeth Taylor. It’s not high-art but it sure is delicious Saturday night fun.

The Pajama Game-1957

The Pajama Game-1957

Director-George Abbott, Stanley Donen

Starring Doris Day, John Raitt

Scott’s Review #1,292

Reviewed August 19, 2022

Grade: B+

Doris Day, the queen of the romantic comedy film during the 1950s and 1960s was riding high in 1957 when The Pajama Game was adapted into film production. It had taken Broadway by storm in 1954 and achieved immeasurable success.

The actress/singer did not star in it, Janis Paige did. The film version required a Hollywood star in one of the lead roles and since Frank Sinatra turned down the male lead role, Paige was given the boot in favor of Day.

This hurts a bit but is the way the Hollywood world of box office receipts works.

Fortunately, Day can sing as evidenced by her startling good rendition of “Que Sera, Sera” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which won her an Oscar just a year earlier.

Taking place in the midwest, USA, the boss of an Iowa pajama factory hires superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) to help oppose the workers’ demand for a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.

Sid’s presence stirs the jealousy of foreman Vernon Hines, who is dating bookkeeper Gladys Hotchkiss (Carol Haney), and attracts worker “Babe” Williams (Day), a strong advocate for the pay increase.

Despite liking Babe, Sid resists the workers’ sabotage attempt and must decide whether to fire activist Babe. Predictably, the two fall madly in love amid catchy song and dance numbers.

I’m a huge fan of the musical genre, especially during the 1950s and 1960s heyday. The Pajama Game falls somewhere in the middle for me, inferior to the brilliant West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962) but holding its own with other fun musicals like Guys and Dolls (1955).

Fun is a perfect adjective to describe The Pajama Game with its bright, fluffy, and colorful pajama element, midwestern polite charm, and the romantic comedy bits between Babe and Sid.

This shouldn’t elicit a determination that The Pajama Game is juvenile or fluff because it’s solidly crafted and professionally made. Every musical number sounds good and is choreographed well.

No surprise to learn that Bob Fosse is at the helm as a choreographer, returning to the job he did on the stage production. The principal cast of the Broadway musical reprises their roles for the movie, except Paige, and Stanley Prager, whose role is played by Jack Straw.

As a result, it’s very similar to watching a stage production. Cinema performing is different from stage performing so there is a good number of giant voices and theatrical style acting which I didn’t mind at all. This is never evidenced better than when they all go on the factory picnic.

It’s careful to remember that the signing and dancing shouldn’t let the viewer forget that a sneaky liberal slant emerges in the story and a women’s liberation/progressive woman slant is exposed if the viewer looks carefully enough.

This is a wonderful way to add a tidbit of worth to an otherwise story about romance.

Babe is a very strong female character but it’s not bashed over our heads, but rather simmering below the surface. Unfortunately, this may be missed by those focused only on the most obvious elements.

As entertaining as the film is something is missing that ranks it below other productions like West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain, or The Music Man. It might be a lack of serious drama replaced by a corny element or the need for one big memorable music number.

The Pajama Game (1957) may not be the greatest musical of all time but it’s got enough songs and dances to satisfy a musical fan. Day envelopes the role just fine but I’ll always wonder how Janis Paige would have done in the film role.

Yellow Submarine-1968

Yellow Submarine-1968

Director-George Dunning, Dick Emery

Starring- John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney (*singing only)

Scott’s Review #1,291

Reviewed August 18, 2022

Grade: B+

By 1968 The Beatles, or the ‘Fab Four’, as they were commonly nicknamed, were household names and their music played all around the world. Instead of their earlier 1960s pop and radio-ready songs, the band was beginning to branch out into far more daring and creative territory.

Yellow Submarine (1968), also a song, is a bright and colorful journey into the weird and wonderful psychedelic sensibilities the band had created. It’s fabulous and edgy though sometimes doesn’t make complete sense.

The target audience was likely adolescents but since ‘Yellow Submarine is a children’s song there is a Sesame Street educational factor to it which is hard to explain well but I felt that vibe.

A thought for adults might be to concoct a powerful libation for maximum enjoyment while watching Yellow Submarine. One’s mind must be kept open to the Blue Meanies and the odd world of Pepperland that are featured as the gang traverses the land in a Candy Land-like maze of events.

Adults might be best-suited foraging into the world of silly while watching.

The film is The Beatle’s only animated project.

The music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland are under siege by the Blue Meanies, an unpleasant group of music-hating creatures.

The Lord Mayor of Pepperland (Dick Emery) dispatches sailor Old Fred (Lance Percival) to Liverpool, England, where he is to recruit the help of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr).

The sympathetic Beatles ride a yellow submarine to the occupied Pepperland, where the Blue Meanies have no chance against the Fab Four’s charisma and groovy tunes.

As bizarre as Yellow Submarine is to an adult’s frame of mind, I can only imagine the joy and energy a child would take from the film though perhaps not understanding completely. I tried to keep this in mind while watching it.

The colors are dazzling and vibrant and one of the biggest strengths of the film. The delightful and vivid greens and blues mix well with the lighter pinks and the yellow of the famous submarine.

I confess to having had a difficult time with the plot of Yellow Submarine in the beginning and I struggled to make sense of what was going on. This might have been because of the distraction of the beautiful animation and color direction.

I finally began to piece together clues and characters from Beatles songs and my realization turned into one of pleasure and anticipation.

Once the band meets the lonely Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D., also known as the ‘Nowhere Man, I got the point of the film. I began to look for other characters like Eleanor Rigby and Lucy from the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

The fun commences with salivation of what famous Beatles tune could be next. Speaking of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ this number is the trippiest and most interesting of them all as a spirit-like creature dances around with weird shapes and styles.

Other treats like the tremendous ‘All You Need Is Love, the charming ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, and naturally ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and ‘Yellow Submarine’ are featured.

Yellow Submarine (1968) is a must-see for fans of The Beatles and those with an appreciation for the arthouse magic contained within the film. Intelligent kids allowed to be exposed to the project will surely fall in love with it and reminisce when watching it years later.

Zola-2021

Zola-2021

Director-Janicza Bravo

Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo

Scott’s Review #1,290

Reviewed August 16, 2022

Grade: A-

I’ve said this before when speaking about cinema but it bears repeating. I treasure the independent film genre and the creativity it allows. Usually, it’s a small group or sometimes even only one person with a vision and the ability to bring it to the big screen.

Budgets are almost always tight but that’s a good thing. Remember how 1978’s Halloween was made on a shoestring budget and took over the world?

Zola (2021) is a wonderful example of the freedom allowed in independent filmmaking.

The film is not for everyone and I think it knows this. Marketed as a black comedy it’s a mixture of drama and comedy and a dark story sometimes difficult to watch. Comic moments are contained within but sometimes it’s unclear whether we are supposed to laugh or cringe.

I was enthralled by the film not only for the story but for instances of visual magnificence like the dazzling opening shot of lead character Zola (Taylour Paige) in multiple forms of bubbles and sparkles surrounded by quick editing shots.

She boldly asks the audience “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

From the moment the first line is uttered we know we are in for something sassy, salty, and dangerous.

Gorgeous and technically superior cinematography mixed with sex, drugs, and foul language would resurface throughout the film.

The story is loosely based on a viral Twitter thread from 2015 by Aziah “Zola” King and the resulting Rolling Stone article “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” by David Kushner.

Eventually, portions of the tale would prove to be embellished.

Zola (Paige) is a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer, Stefani (Riley Keough), who convinces her to join a road trip weekend of dancing and partying in Florida.

What at first seems like a fun trip quickly turns into a deadly journey involving a pimp, Stefani’s clueless boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters, and other unexpected adventures.

Director, Janicza Bravo, a New York University graduate, is someone to watch out for. Zola is her first full-length feature and reminds me quite a bit of Tangerine (2015) and American Honey (2016), two superior independent films.

At other times, the film contains a sprinkling of the underappreciated 2019 film Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez.

Bravo is not afraid to delve into the down and dirty lives of characters that most people would quickly dismiss or avoid altogether. Stories about strippers, prostitutes, and pimps can be a tough sell. The sex work industry is not always pretty.

Zola contains the raunchiest scene I have ever seen. As Zola and Stefani sit on the toilet going to the bathroom the camera pans from overhead, revealing not only their naked bums but also the waste excreted into the toilet.

The setting of Florida where much of the action takes place hits home to me, remembering several boozy vacations in various parts of the state. A somber gloominess enshrouds the characters as they traverse an otherwise bright and sunny landscape.

I love the detail and mixture of pretty and poisonous but was left knowing very little about the personal lives of the characters. I wanted to know how Zola and Stefani ended up where they did.

Considering the subject matter, Bravo thankfully doesn’t make the film violent or abusive. Instead, she peppers the dark comedy and over-the-top turns with her characters, especially the pimp (Domingo) and Stefani.

When Zola (2021) ends, there is an unsettling feeling of uncertainty and a lack of conclusion that I wish were different. Still, the creativity and the ability to create desperate characters willing to do anything to make some cash is fascinating.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Film, Best Director-Janicza Bravo, Best Female Lead-Taylour Paige (won), Best Supporting Male-Colman Domingo, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

Director-Anthony Waller

Starring Thomas Everett Scott, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,289

Reviewed August 12, 2022

Grade: C+

While fun, An American Werewolf in London (1981) is not in my top 10 best horror films ever. Werewolf flicks were never my go-to film in the genre, and appreciating the incorporated humor, the product is entertaining but not much more.

I’ve gained more appreciation for that film when compared to the follow-up, the haphazard and goofy An American Werewolf in Paris (1997). The only elements it gets right are culturally satisfying locale shots of Paris, France, and an underappreciated starring role by charismatic actor Thomas Everett Scott.

An American Werewolf in Paris is a completely watered-down version of An American Werewolf in London but with little to no connection to it. Considering the sister European cities it’s a missed opportunity and quite a shame that cross-connection wasn’t utilized.

Three handsome young American male tourists traverse Europe for some fun and naturally to meet females. The main focal point is on Andy (Everett Scott) who is virginal and serious.

The group arrives in Paris and witnesses an attempted suicide by Parisian Serafine Pigot (Julie Delpy). Andy can amazingly save her jump from the Eifel Tower by diving after her and catching her in the nick of time.

He is injured and transported to the hospital but eventually locates Serafine.

While on a date at a nightclub with her, Andy is suddenly attacked and bitten by a werewolf. The next day he discovers that Serafine is also a lycanthrope and that he is beginning his transformation into one of the beasts.

The overall tone of An American Werewolf in Paris is silly and amateurish. The situations work poorly, like when Andy and Serafine are having coffee at a Paris cafe and he pretends a condom he is chewing is bubblegum. Later he stumbles upon ditzy American Amy Finch (Julie Bowen) and they have a graveyard adventure that leaves her un-dead and vowing revenge on Andy.

Anyone expecting authenticity like the full nudity of the human/werewolf during the transformation will be severely disappointed with the decided lack of skin-only actress Delpy bares her breasts.

Otherwise, it’s bare chests only for the males which is unfair to viewers expecting the running through the forest naked sequences as An American Werewolf in London had.

It’s a stretch that both Andy and Serafine catapult from both the Eifel Tower and later the Statue of Liberty with barely more than a scratch and very little peril to enjoy.

The wacky plot involves bad guy Claude (Pierre Cosso), his henchmen, and a transforming-inducing drug. They hold a Fourth of July party to attract American tourists to slaughter, and Serafine’s stepfather is revealed to have created a drug with the opposite intention that led Serafine to accidentally kill her mother.

It’s all weak and uninspired causing an overcomplicated storyline to become more and more contrived as the film moves along.

The makeup during the transformation sequences is lacking, especially compared with the superior special effects of An American Werewolf in London. The CGI used looks fake.

And, how could you not compare the two films?

Despite all of the negatives, An American Werewolf in Paris has a moderate presence of fun but only when Everett Scott appears. He, as Andy, is such a likable guy, wearing his heart on his sleeve, that we root for him to ride off into the sunset with Serafine.

Everett Scott and Delpy don’t have the greatest chemistry but this can be forgiven because the film is really about the werewolves.

There are no characters to root for besides Andy and every Parisian character is written as inflexible, or as any other number of French stereotypes. The only relevant Parisian references are the locales though most are built sets to replicate the real places.

There is little need to ever see An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) again since it pales tremendously to the superior An American Werewolf in London (1981).

Queen Bee-1955

Queen Bee-1955

Director-Ranald MacDougall

Starring Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,288

Reviewed August 10, 2022

Grade: B+

Queen Bee (1955) is a drama served straight-up southern style and is highly recommended only for fans of legendary screen actress Joan Crawford. Made during the downward turn in her career the character is tailor-made for the actress and her fans.

She struts across the silver screen in flashy gowns and heavy makeup, admiring herself in the mirror, and firmly ensconced in bitch mode. With matching garish eyebrows and a sassy smirk, she chews up and spits out every character that she crosses paths with.

Otherwise, audience members unfamiliar with or otherwise turned off by Crawford probably shouldn’t bother with Queen Bee. There’s not a lot of character development or anything interesting story-wise other than watching her cause havoc.

Set in the 1950s American South, the vicious and conniving Eva Phillips (Crawford) takes pleasure in making the lives of those around her miserable, especially her husband, Avery (Barry Sullivan), who is so depressed he resorts to heavy drinking and becomes an alcoholic.

Meanwhile, when Eva discovers her sister-in-law (Betsy Palmer) intends to wed her former lover Judson (John Ireland), she decides to ruin their engagement for really no other reason than being nasty.

Eva’s niece, kindly Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), arrives in town and moves in with the family serving as Eva’s confidante. She is quickly warned by everyone not to cross paths with the scheming vixen but must learn for herself how deadly Eva is.

At some point early on Queen Bee turns from high drama into soap opera camp and becomes silly and plot-driven. It’s also quite melodramatic and stagey especially once events start to spin out of control.

Despite a talented supporting cast, Crawford is the headliner. The part is written with her in mind intended as a comeback vehicle when her career was dusty and in need of a dash of drama.

It’s a true delight to watch Crawford as Eva, pouring her heart and soul into a role that allows her to be as vicious as she wants. I guess in some way you could say Eva’s manipulative motivation is her claim for love but that’s a stretch and hardly justifies leading one character to suicide.

In proper form, Eva gets her due at the end of the film which left me, and likely most audiences, clapping with happiness.

Speaking of the supporting cast, I practically squealed with delight at the appearance of Betsy Palmer, forever known to horror audiences as the knife-wielding maniac in Friday the 13th (1980). Jaw-dropping is to see her play a weak, vulnerable character with no bloody ax anywhere in sight.

Barry Sullivan as Avery is also noteworthy as is a small and odd cameo appearance by Fay Wray (King Kong-1933).

Director, Ranald MacDougall wrote the screenplay for Mildred Pierce (1945) which won Crawford the Academy Award and was deemed a major comeback for her. He also wrote Queen Bee clearly with the idea that she would star and perhaps lightning would strike twice.

It didn’t, save for two surprising technical Academy Award nominations.

Palmer’s Carol offers the most poignant character summarization of Eva.  She tells Jennifer that she once read a book about bees and feels that Eva is like a queen bee who stings all her competitors to death.

For late-night satisfaction immersed in an hour and a half of delightful wickedness from Joan Crawford, Queen Bee (1955) is highly recommended.

Her scheming Atlanta socialite Eva is towards the top in a list of characters one loves to hate.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

Director-Charlie Chaplin

Starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Tippi Hedren

Scott’s Review #1,287

Reviewed August 8, 2022

Grade: B-

I hesitated even listing Tippi Hedren among the main cast above since she only appears in A Countess From Hong Kong’s (1967) final ten minutes. I then realized that her appearance also helped make the film better than it would have been without her so I decided to give her some deserved props.

A Countess From Hong Kong needs all the help it can get to lift it above mediocrity which it only does by a hair. This is surprising, given the directorial talents of Charlie Chaplin and the marquee name recognition of heavyweights like Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.

Somehow the stars agreed to appear in the film. Maybe they hadn’t read the script before signing on the dotted line.

Perhaps the incessant door opening and shutting sequences that go on endlessly are symbolic of the stars attempting to flee from this film.

It’s not all drivel and doom as the set decoration is flawless in beauty and style and, of course, Miss Hedren’s appearance in the final act is splendid stuff.

The trivial storyline features a Russian countess named Natascha (Loren) who stows away in the stateroom of a married United States diplomat Ogden, (Brando) bound for New York. They must scheme to ensure she arrives safely and undetected in Hawaii by marrying her off to another man.

Predictably, Natascha and Ogden fall madly in love.

Let’s feature a couple of positives before delving into the shit.

Whoever dressed and decorated the sets for A Countess From Hong Kong practically deserves an Oscar nomination for their work. Brimming with relevant mid-1960s style and sophistication, the sets are right out of television’s Mad Men series.

The colorful yellows and navy blues pair perfectly with black and grey furniture and whatever costume Loren was wearing, especially when she is clad in an ill-fitting green getup during one hi-jink scene.

Especially noteworthy is any scene that takes place away from one of the ship’s cabins, completely overused to enhance the farcical elements.

The open-set ball sequence is like a breath of fresh air and it immediately flourishes with wide-open brightness. Easy to do (and recommended) is to forget the plot altogether and escape with pleasure into each artistic design of the dance number.

When Hedren appears dressed to the nines in glittery and royal outfits it showcases both her star power and the talent of the costume team. She is given little to do as Martha, Ogden’s suspicious wife, except to be jealous, but she knocks it out of the park with her bit of screen time.

Loren and Brando surprisingly have little chemistry even when Natascha and Ogden bark and banter with each other endlessly. Their characters are hardly developed and hers turns into a bitch before too long while he does enough fuming and pouting to last a lifetime.

Based on the title you’d expect Natascha to be Asian but instead, the character is Russian and being played by an Italian actress.

I understand the need for big Hollywood stars to be incorporated into a film to achieve solid box-office returns but Chaplin seems to be without a clue how to make the pair connect.

A feeble attempt to add sophistication by giving English actress Margaret Rutherford one scene as a dotty bed-ridden old woman does nothing other than waste the legendary actress’s time.

Though, I shudder at the thought of how poor the film would have been without these talented actors.

A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) is a botched effort at creating what undoubtedly was supposed to be a fun romantic comedy romp. The film might have worked in the silent film era but forty years later feels tired.

Instead, we must traverse the tedious story to find underlying glimpses of brightness, just bubbling beneath the surface.

Raising Arizona-1987

Raising Arizona-1987

Director-Joel Coen

Starring Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter

Scott’s Review #1,286

Reviewed August 5, 2022

Grade: B+

Raising Arizona (1987) is the second film to be created by the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) with the independent offering, Blood Simple (1984) being the first.

The siblings would later become household names and trailblazers in the world of cinema.

It’s rough around the-edges storytelling with the severe desire to create something different. Maybe too different since sometimes Raising Arizona works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The film is to be championed mostly for its creativity though it’s not on par at all with the Coen brother’s best films, Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007). However, it does serve as a blueprint for films to come, if one is to look at it in hindsight.

I’m not the biggest Nicholas Cage fan of all time so it doesn’t help that he stars in Raising Arizona. The actor was achieving enormous recognition the same year for his appearance in Moonstruck (1987) which won Cher the Best Actress Oscar.

The film mostly gets props for its original writing and quirkiness in the sets and visual effects, but the comedy is way out in the left field and difficult to make sense of.

As with many Coen Brothers films, the plot centers on a crime and people on the run desperately trying to evade capture.

Hi McDunnough (Cage) is a convenience store robber who meets and falls in love with an ex-cop named Edwina “Ed” (Holly Hunter) during a stint in prison. After they move to a mobile home in the middle of the desert they decide to kidnap a baby since they cannot have one of their own.

While keeping their secret, friends, co-workers, and a bounty hunter look to use the child for their purposes.

The setting works quite well and is an important part of the film like other Coen offerings. The blazing hot desert is a familiar sight and pivotal to the story events with sizzling highways and roadside dives a focal point throughout. Hi and Ed’s tacky mobile home is dusty and cracked which enhances the extreme heat.

Cage and Hunter have tremendous chemistry which kept me invested in their characters. Both quirky looking, they act well against each other and invoke sympathy from the audience- at least I did. Despite being kidnappers, they have the best of intentions of keeping their stolen baby safe and cared for.

Delightful to see is actress Frances McDormand in an early role as Dot. She would become a frequent star and collaborator in later Coen Brothers films.

Forgetting the uneven storytelling for a minute, Raising Arizona’s finest moment comes at the very end. Through a series of prophetic dreams about the future, the fates of all the characters are determined.

It’s a trippy and magnificent sequence and quite well known to fans.

A clever offering that at times spins out of control with ridiculousness, Raising Arizona (1987) is nonetheless recommended to view and absorb the zany characters that the Coen Brothers are famous for creating.

Saw-2004

Saw-2004

Director-James Wan

Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell

Scott’s Review #1,285

Reviewed August 4, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many reasons that I love the horror genre so much is how it changes and develops over time. Many classic horror films are influential to more modern ones and that’s all well and good.

But then sometimes a new idea or style comes along that throws everything topsy turvy and influences other films for years to come.

Saw (2004) is one of those films. It smacked everyone who thought they knew horror films upside the head with a relentless and pulsating gore-fest.

I was fortunate enough to see the film when it premiered and boy was it the ‘water cooler’ film of its day. The clever writing and intricate plot and set pieces were unheard of in a world of maniac-wielding knife setups and redundant endings.

It invented the grisly ‘torture porn’ moniker that became popular with films like Hostel (2005) and many more that would come after it.

The Saw franchise ultimately produced perhaps one too many sequels that left it feeling stale and exhausted, but what an influence the original Saw had, and continues to have.

I still remember the hold the film had over me and how much it resonated in nastiness, butchery, and enough creative killings to last a lifetime.

Needless to say, it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart, and watching Saw now knowing the surprise twist doesn’t pack quite the same punch that it did in 2004, but I’ll never forget how I felt when first watching this film.

The twist ending is unforgettable.

Events get off to a kick-ass start when two men awake in peril. Photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) who do not know one another, regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom.

As the confused men realize they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed “Jigsaw” and must complete his perverse puzzle to live, flashbacks unravel the mystery of other character connections.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter) and young daughter (Makenzie Vega) are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.

A massive clue to the puzzle that Saw presents is lying right there in the bathroom but of course, the unwitting audience knows none of this. The fun of the film is to sit back and let the filmmakers slowly unpeel the onion and reveal the who’s who of the backstory.

And let the blood drip.

Unlike legacy films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) or even later efforts like Scream (1996) that brought thousands of rabid horror fans back to movie theaters, nobody is being chased with a knife in Saw.

It’s much more cerebral than that.

Who can ever forget the sound of Jigsaw’s grave voice pouring out of a tape recorder stating “I want to play a game” in a robotic tone? It is still as ominous a sound as one could imagine, and the big reveal still comes as a genuine shock.

Most of the characters have secrets to reveal and most of those secrets are dirty.

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell who also stars in Saw, brilliantly craft a web of deceit amongst their players. The characters who suffer the most have committed a hateful act of deception or schemed their way to benefit based on someone else’s ruin.

In perfect form, all the victims almost deserve their fates like being caught in a shotgun trap, shot in the chest, or being forced to ‘saw’ off their foot to escape death.

The final reveal is downright freaky and will make the audience quickly rewind the events of the film in their heads. The character thought to be the main killer, and wonderfully played by creepy actor Michael Emerson (star of television’s Lost) is merely a pawn of someone more sinister.

Saw (2004) savagely hacked its way into viewers’ heads with a sophisticated, plot-driven experience with a film style enhanced by an independent look.

It’s had its day but it must never be forgotten for the influence left behind.

Scream-2022

Scream-2022

Director-Mike Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring Melissa Barrera, Neve Campbell, Jack Quaid

Scott’s Review #1,284

Reviewed August 2, 2022

Grade: B+

Scream, the 2022 version, was billed as a ‘relaunch’ of the film series when it was released in the crappy month of January. However, is that so important in a Covid age when hardly anyone goes to movie theaters?

The film is really ‘Scream 5′ because it has continuity from the last installment released in 2011, and harkens back to the 1996 Scream premiere.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.

Scream ultimately follows a formula, but a formula that works especially well and will please fans of the series. My expectations were superseded, and wonderful is the inclusion of series stalwarts in roles that are much more than glorified cameos.

On the flip-side the finale is underwhelming and the killers’ (isn’t there always two??) motivations are lame but I found that to be unimportant because the real fun is the whodunit aspect.

Scream is very faithful to that.

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, California, a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

The frightening release date and the first of the series not to be directed by Wes Craven is enough to make any Scream fan bite their nails in worry about how the end product would result.

In addition, there are two screenwriters and two directors which is rarely a good sign for creativity.

But, all’s well that ends well as writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olipin and Tyler Gillett do many things right.

I mentioned the formula before and they wisely use an anniversary as a starting point. Vicious murders commence on poor Woodsboro at just the right time for mayhem to erupt all over again.

For those who have forgotten the titillating and flawless opening sequence of Scream circa 1996 when poor Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is forced to play a guessing game with an unknown phone caller to avoid death is reintroduced with gusto.

The film immediately begins with a nod to that history.

When teenager Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) answers her landline the audience whoops with joy at the anticipation of what’s to come. She will endure a game of horror film trivia with Ghostface before he (or she) leaps into the kitchen to cut her to bits.

Pleasurably, a new gang of fresh-faced Woodsboro teenagers is then introduced to be plucked off one by one. But, could one or two of them be the killers?

A treat for all fans is the inclusion of Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Skeet Ulrich in their original roles with one of them having a major connection to a new character.

This only cements the lifeline of the franchise.

The clever writing was considered unique at the time of its release for featuring characters aware of real-world horror films who openly discussed the clichés that the film attempted to subvert.

In Scream (2022) this is heightened by a discussion of ‘source material’ and ‘requel’ which feels like a horror film progression.

If you’re thinking that Scream 2022 is a carbon copy of Scream 1996 it kind of is but with some modernization. And it works like a charm, feeling like a good visit with an old friend and watching their offspring sprout into young adults.

Scream (2022) takes a lesson from what the recent Halloween film reboot did. A reprisal franchise once aged and tired that breathes new life into the series by using its history and legacy characters.

How clever that the characters in Scream even acknowledge this in the story!

I anxiously await the next Scream film rumored to be released in 2023 for more fun.