The Lady Vanishes-1938

The Lady Vanishes-1938

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty

Scott’s Review #1,303

Reviewed September 30, 2022

Grade: A-

The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only seen once. Nonetheless, it resonated well with me after that sole viewing and its influence is palpable.

It’s a film made when Hitchcock was still making films in his native Britain before he took over Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. You may wonder why a dusty old film made in the 1930s and not a household name is important but The Lady Vanishes is.

If the film had not been made and more importantly not been a box-office success, films like Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) might never have been made.

The Lady Vanishes followed three rather unsuccessful efforts by Hitchcock, but whose success assured his new film career in America was a go.

The film is not as brilliant as the others mentioned but is pretty damned close. It serves as a blueprint for other Hitchcock films to come.

The train sequences alone conjure thoughts of Strangers on a Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959) while the romance between the lead actors would become a staple of Hitchcock films.

Finally, the subdued but noticeable inclusion of gay characters, forever a good debate among cinema lovers, especially Hitchcock fans, as to whether it is or isn’t, is showcased.

So, The Lady Vanishes is to be celebrated for its influence but also holds up well on its own two feet.

On a train headed for England, a group of travelers is delayed by a dangerous avalanche. Forced into a hotel in the lush European country, beautiful young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an elderly woman named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty).

When the train resumes travel, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness after being hit by a potted plant and wakes to find the old woman has mysteriously disappeared. The other passengers vehemently deny that Miss Froy ever existed causing Iris to wonder if she has lost her marbles.

Iris determinedly begins to investigate the matter with the help of another traveler, Gilbert, (Michael Redgrave) as the pair begins to search the train to uncover clues. Naturally, the pair fall in love.

They uncover a mystery, political intrigue, and a who’s who of peculiar characters with secrets to keep hidden.

Lockwood and Redgrave have fantastic chemistry. It’s no secret that Hitchcock intends to bring them together even though Iris is to be married when she returns home. Both Lockwood and Redgrave are easy on the eyes which helps make them rootable.

The pacing of The Lady Vanishes is very good but nowhere as astounding as the sequence of events in North by Northwest, the film it most resembles. That’s why the rough cut analogy springs to mind- the film is a perfect warmup act to the 1959 masterpiece.

From an LGBTQ+ perspective, my money is on the characters of Charters and Caldicott. Ferocious cricket enthusiasts, whose only initial concern is to get back to England to see the last days of a Test match. The ‘friends’ proved so popular with audiences that they returned to the film Night Train to Munich 1940, also starring Lockwood.

Needless to say, the revelations at the end of The Lady Vanishes surprise and satisfy with political, and espionage overtones. Frequently, there is a McGuffin or a who cares about the plot element in Hitchcock films.

The plot shouldn’t be overthought in the film as the real fun is the trimmings that makes the suspense so strong. The wit and snappy dialogue make the characters a pleasure to watch.

Providing strong character and stiff upper lip British humor The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a terrific effort and is the most fun to watch to point out the many elements that make up the Hitchcock masterpieces.

Magic Mike-2012

Magic Mike-2012

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #1,302

Reviewed September 28, 2022

Grade: B

In 2012, Channing Tatum was a major Hollywood star. He was cast in starring roles focused on his looks but parts that also allowed him to showcase sensitivity and even some acting chops.

Magic Mike (2012) takes Tatum’s beefcake body and makes a likable hero out of his title character. He is not just brawn but possesses intelligence and a worldly quality sometimes lacking in comedic roles.

Unfortunately, the screenplay isn’t developed well and we get just a glimpse of what Tatum, the good actor, could do. Fortunately, two years later he would play his best role to date in Foxcatcher (2014).

Magic Mike teeters a tad too soft for my liking and gives the stripper world a glossy, lightweight haze. Given the subject matter and the director, Steven Soderbergh, the film could have gone much darker as Boogie Nights did with the porn industry in the late 1990s.

Still, Tatum is a star and boogies and shakes his muscular body enough to warrant the price of admission. Matthew McConaughey is also appealing and shockingly plays against type as an older and wiser former stripper, now the manager of club Xquisite.

By day, Mike (Tatum) works as a struggling employee of odd jobs-handyman, car detailing, or designing furniture. But when the sun goes down and the hot spotlight comes on Mike is the star attraction in an all-male revue.

Mike mentors a nineteen-year-old named the Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and teaches him the tricks of the trade. However, Mike’s blossoming romance with the Kid’s sister Joanna (Olivia Munn) is threatened when the drama begins.

Most viewers are not going to see a film like Magic Mike for the dramatic bits or any other measure of story. We’re not talking about The Conversation (1974), Chinatown (1974), or other heady and smartly written dialogue.

That’s a relief because the plot is banal. Who cares if Mike and the Kid are at odds or if Mike and Joanna break up, make up, or launch a mission to the moon?

No, the recipe of the day is flesh and there is plenty of it. Nobody goes full monty or anything but between Tatum, McConaughey, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello, who plays a character aptly named Big Dick Richie, the audience will be left aflutter and quite satisfied.

Soderbergh, an impressive director, knows this and the best sequences occur on the stage. There is music, lights, and razzle-dazzle, as the troupe dance and strips with gusto. With each tie or vest shed amid a shimmering dance routine, pulsating energy makes the sequences appealing.

As showy as these numbers are, and there are plenty of them, I longed for some down and dirty drug use or ‘gay for pay’ situations but Soderbergh doesn’t dare copy Boogie Nights with any seriousness.

He intends to entertain and entertain he does.

I wanted more darkness and more investment in the characters. We know little about the supporting characters except maybe for McConaughey’s Dallas, who sadly will never leave the industry.

In the end, I was okay with the stories being secondary. This one has plenty of buff dudes taking their shirts off, and more, for the camera.

And who doesn’t like that?

Magic Mike (2012) was followed by the disastrous and stupid Magic Mike XL (2015) which makes the former seem like a masterpiece.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Director-Anthony Fabian

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #1,301

Reviewed September 24, 2022

Grade: B+

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) is an endearing film enveloping the viewer in warmth and good cheer. It exudes empathy and heart while sprinkling in some good luck, chance, and a big dream.

It shows that every once in a while a good person wins out in life.

It is the third film adaptation of the 1958 novel Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris written by Paul Gallico. Angela Lansbury played the role in an earlier incarnation.

The film is led by British actress Lesley Manville in the title role. She is surrounded by a talented cast and good performances by legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert in the part of the foil.

Unsurprisingly in a film where good fortunes are the theme of the day, even she comes around in the end though where most characters dutifully assist in the ultimate happiness of Mrs. Harris.

There is drama encircling this film but in the lightest of ways. The comedy elements pair well and the romanticism aligned with Paris is palpable with other characters like young lovebirds André (Lucas Bravo), the Dior accountant, and Natasha (Alba Baptista), a Dior model finding winning each other’s hearts.

Everyone gets a happy ending.

It all begins in1957 London, where Ada Harris, a widowed cleaning lady, becomes obsessed with one client’s haute couture Dior dress. She is impulsively inspired to buy her Dior dress one day. But how to find the money is the big challenge.

As fate would have it, she suddenly receives a war widow’s pension and travels to Paris to buy her dress. She stumbles into a showing of Dior’s 10th-anniversary collection and is befriended by André and Natasha.

However, the Dior director, Claudine (Huppert), resents Ada’s intrusion into the exclusive world of haute couture and schemes to prevent her purchase.

Director, Anthony Fabian, who is very new to directing wisely provides a hefty dose of the British ways of living counterbalanced with the glamour of the Parisian lifestyle that works. The character, and thus the viewer, goes back in forth between London and Paris.

The film is a safe experience and will not ruffle even the slightest of feathers or the tightest of asses.

It’s all pure, silly fantasy, of course, but done in the best possible way.

I was immediately immersed in the film and instantly wanted to champion happiness for Ada.

Manville is perfectly cast though I could easily see other actresses in the role. Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, or Helen Mirren would have been terrific. Taking nothing away from Manville who’s got charisma and acting chops, it’s a role that others could also successfully play.

I can’t say the same for the role of Claudia. At the risk of merely being a throwaway role as the heavy, Huppert, whom I adore in films like Amour (2012) and Elle (2016) instead brings her from a full-on bitch to a sympathetic character.

Huppert is one of the greatest actresses in the world and can and has made the most despicable characters worthy. That’s tough to do.

Naturally, there is a hefty dose of exterior scenes that I find pleasing. Having been to both Paris, London, and surrounding areas, it’s nice and reminiscent to catch glimpses of the Eifel tower or see cobblestone streets with bakeries or pubs on display.

The musical score is fresh and atmospheric, especially during the Parisian sequences. Boisterous and cultured french music emerges from the screen.

Besides all of the pleasant trimmings, romance blossoms for Ada as well as the youngsters. Encouraged to find love she thinks she might have it with the rich and sophisticated Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) who takes a shine to her.

But when he awkwardly tells her she reminds him of his childhood nanny she is crushed.

I secretly enjoyed this heartbreak only because I was never convinced Ava belonged in that hoity-toity world on an everyday basis.

True to form, the filmmakers teeter towards a setup between Ava and regular, beer-drinking, local friend Archie (Jason Isaacs).

Box-office receipts will likely decide if Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) gets a sequel. But, I’ll be keen to follow this richly drawn character as she lands in New York City or other interesting geographies.

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

Director-Harold Ramis

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #1,300

Reviewed September 19, 2022

Grade: A-

The film that spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, spoofs, and other things, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) had more influence on 1980s movies than it probably should have. The slapstick road trip became overused familiar territory, a situation comedy rife with silly scenarios and possibilities.

Despite having started it all, my favorite National Lampoon will always be the Christmas Vacation installment from 1989 but for some snickers, hoots, and belly laughs, Vacation is fresh and authentic. holding up well in the nostalgia category.

So what if Chevy Chase was a douchebag in real life? His portrayal of Clark Griswold is his finest achievement and is firmly placed in the annals of slapstick comedy’s greatest characters. Endless quotes and impersonations of the bumbling dad have emerged over the years.

Great fun is looking for other comedy actors like Eugene Levy and  John Candy who later would forge their path into comedy legend.

Accompanied by their children Audrey and Rusty, played by Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall, Clark Griswold (Chase) and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), decide to drive instead of fly from Illinois to a California amusement park named Walley World to enjoy a much-needed summer break.

Clark is convinced that some togetherness is just what the family needs.

As Clark increasingly fixates on a mysterious, sexy woman (the acting debut of Christie Brinkley) driving a red sports car, the Griswolds deal with car problems and the death of a family member, Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) as they face hi-jinks on the way to their vacation.

Exhausted, they finally reach Los Angeles, but, when Clark worries that the trip is being derailed again, he acts impulsively to get his family to the park.

National Lampoon’s Vacation is a rarity in screwball comedy where almost all of the setups and gimmicks work. Typically, the situations feel stale and tried and true but there is an authenticity brimming over its cup, and that’s largely thanks to Chase.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is hardly worthy of study in film school and the script is polished and patterned out but like other screwball comedies I love like Caddyshack (1980) and Clue (1985), it’s got something solid.

I think it’s because the characters are very relatable. Who doesn’t have a wacky Aunt Edna or a Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) somewhere in their family tree?

Long-suffering, suburban housewife Mom Ellen has a heart of gold and represents the classic 1970s or 1980s homemaker with a glimmer of progressiveness.

She dutifully scrambles eggs for breakfast and shops for cereal and dog food but also keeps Clark at bay before he does something ridiculous.

Chase and D’Angelo have tremendous chemistry bouncing one-liners off each other as naturally as a real-life conversation so that we buy them as husband and wife.

What kid who grew up in this period can’t relate to the horrid paneled oversized station wagon that ran rampant in suburbia? I sure remember those gas guzzlers eventually replaced by the minivan.

It’s perfection to see that style of car represented in this film as it adds to the hilarity and is a character in itself.

The fun continues because the Griswolds embark on travel across the United States. So, the film provides a slice of Americana and harkens back to a time when if you were an American you were united and bonded even if you had differences.

What National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) does so well watching in modern times is remind us what that felt like. An adventure across the good ‘ole USA was not such a bad thing and the folks you met along the way were friendly and warm without suspicion.

The film is like a dear old friend who has emerged from the woodwork, dusty, but still full of life.

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

Once I knew that Australia’s own Baz Luhrmann was directing the new film Elvis (2022) I immediately formulated an expectation of what the film-watching experience would be like. I anticipated a certain type of filmmaking, an auteur artist merging fast-paced music videos with a dramatic biopic into a film.

Other Luhrmann offerings like Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013) infuse contemporary musical elements and are highly visual and stylistic. I knew what I was going to get and was prepared for it.

Elvis is no different and Luhrmann’s style is an unconventional risk not for everybody.

I mostly enjoyed the film but did not quite love it either, seeing both the good and the not-as-good.

At two hours and thirty-nine minutes, it goes on way too long.

Perhaps contradicting this point is that Elvis does get better as it goes along, at first feeling jarring, overwhelming, and all over the place with rapid editing and very quick camera work.

A Dramamine is suggested until one is comfortable with the sudden bursts of turbulence. I semi-joke but there is a period of sinking into Luhrmann’s style that is necessary especially if never having seen one of them.

The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), and his complicated relationship with his opportunist manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and his wife Priscilla (Oliva De Jonge). The story delves into the singer’s rise to fame and the evolving cultural landscape in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Like many films, the events start much later than the main story, in this case, 1997. Parker is on his deathbed and ruminates how he first met Elvis and made him into a legendary icon.

Much of the film takes place in glitzy Las Vegas where Elvis had a long-term residency though it’s worth noting that the star’s working-class roots and an impoverished upbringing in a mostly black neighborhood were a tremendous influence on his music.

The Vegas setting applies a sparkling veneer mixed with a downtrodden feeling of isolation, especially in scenes that show Elvis’s million-dollar penthouse view of Sin City. The star frequently pulls all the black curtains to reside in solitude.

Butler starts slow but ends up doing a fabulous job of portraying the iconic star, no easy feat. At first, I had difficulty buying the actor as Elvis but as time went on he becomes more immersed in the role.

The best scenes hands down occur during the performances. The sheer rawness of his act and the famous wiggle that left fans dizzy with eroticism are compelling and authentic to say nothing of titillating.

The young actor exudes charisma much as the real-life star does and this is most evident on the stage. The dramatic scenes don’t work as well and Luhrmann strangely skims over the controversial weight gain years, the 1970s, that Elvis experienced.

I expected Butler to don a fat suit but there was none of this.

This miss can almost be forgiven when a heart-wrenching final performance of ‘Unchained Melody’ by the real Elvis is showcased. The number is fraught with emotion and tenderness that left me feeling sympathy.

Hanks is good as the slimy and curmudgeonly manager but I never felt sympathy for the character. If the film can be believed, he ruined Elvis as much as brought him success, but Hanks never made me forgive the man. I also wasn’t interested in his backstory.

It will be hard-pressed to ever make me enjoy Hanks more than in his Oscar-winning back-to-back turns in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), his two best roles.

Elvis, the film, does better when it serves as a musical performance rather than a biography. Sure, the drug use and the disputes with family and manager are dramatic but it’s the performances of ‘All Shook Up, ‘Unchained Melody’, and ‘Can’t Help Falling Into Love’ that win me over.

In pure Luhrmann form, many of the familiar songs are done in different tempos and interpretations but that’s part of the fun.

Comparisons to recent musical biographies like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019) are fair.

Elvis (2022) is not as good as those films but it’s above average and succeeds when it entertains and shows how the star’s determination and grit pulled through over outside influences.

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director-Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

An interesting note about Stranger Than Fiction (2000) is that it stars director Todd Field in a dual-acting role. The director is not a household name, at least not yet, but is known for directing two gems-In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006). Rewarded with Oscar nominations for both, he acts too.

This is not a set-up to a joke that he should not act and stick to directing because he does a decent job.

The irony is that he doesn’t direct the featured film Stranger Than Fiction, Eric Bross does.

The film has its share of intrigue which carries through until the end when the plot gets messy and ridiculous. I mean messy and ridiculous.  I’m all for twists and turns in a good film but sometimes a speeding train can derail and that’s what ultimately happens with Stranger Than Fiction.

But for most of the running time, it’s solid entertainment, black humor, and thrills.

I was immediately interested in the story when an author named Donovan Miller, with hours to kill at an airport bar because of a delayed flight, explains the story of his novel, Stranger Than Fiction, to a curious patron.

As I drifted off to the world of Salt Lake City where the events of the book take place I anticipated juicy drama.

An interesting bit of advice is to pay very close attention to this first bar scene.

Four twenty-something friends, Jared (Mackenzie Astin), Austin (Todd Field), Emma (Dina Meyer), and Violet (Natasha Gregson Wagner) meet for drinks at the local bar. They pull a prank on Violet’s boss for fun and call it a night.

Later, Jared shows up at Austin’s place injured and covered in blood, declares he’s gay, and spews a strange story about a dead guy in his apartment. The foursome investigates and things get interesting.

The cinematography has a muted, dull style that feels sort of like an independent film but also looks amateurish and made for television. Even though it was made in 1999 it feels quite 1980s to me.

Unclear is if or why this style was used or if the budget was just low. I love independent filming but this didn’t do Stranger Than Fiction any favors.

None of the characters are particularly interesting and writers Tim Garrick and Scott Russell unsuccessfully try and give the camaraderie between the four principals a television sitcom feel. The constant bantering and bickering get tired fast.

It feels like NBC’s Will and Grace meets Friends.

Where Stranger Than Fiction excels is at the twists and this makes me forgive the other mistakes and forced chemistry between the actors. I salivated for the next plot reveal and couldn’t wait to see how the events would pan out.

Once the friends agree and make the foolish decision to dispose of the dead guy instead of calling the police, I knew I was in for hijinks or a caper.

As the gang gets deeper and deeper into shit like hitting a homeless guy with their car and parking illegally and getting their car towed, more characters are introduced and threaten their plans.

This is all well and good until things spiral out of control with a dizzying explanation of events that involve blackmail, suicide, backstabbing, and jealousy. Since the author is explaining a fictitious novel this might have been okay until it’s revealed that the events might have occurred.

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

Nice effort for a while by Stranger Than Fiction (2000) and fans of black comedy should take notice. With a strong premise and mostly good build-up, the follow-through fails and I was left bewildered and confused rather than completely satisfied.

On Golden Pond-1981

On Golden Pond-1981

Director-Mark Rydell

Starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Scott’s Review #1,297

Reviewed September 8, 2022

Grade: A

A beautiful and quiet family drama, On Golden Pond (1981) is a brilliantly acted and written story about life and specifically aging and dying. It tells one lovely story arc after another, involving the relationships between its principal characters.

With heavyweights like Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda signed on to star how could the film not be a success? It was not only a blockbuster in the summer of 1981 but accumulated ten Academy Award nominations and tons of other awards showing that sometimes subdued stories about human relationships win big.

The anticipation of legendary stars Fonda and Hepburn, golden icons of Hollywood, finally appearing opposite each other in a film must have made film lovers salivate back in 1981.

Norman Thayer (Fonda) is a grumpy old man trying to enjoy his golden years. He and his nurturing wife, Ethel (Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond.

Norman is experiencing memory problems and frets about dying while Ethel makes the most of it and enjoys the beautiful loons on the water and chats with the local mailman.

One year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée (Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it’s too late.

The greatest part of On Golden Pond is that it is believable. The tender love that Norman and Ethel share, the tensions between Norman and Chelsea, and the burgeoning friendship between Norman and Billy Jr. feel so very real and poignant.

Beautiful scenes emerge between the old man and a young man when Norman turns Billy Jr. on to literary classics like A Tale of Two Cities and Treasure Island. The viewer can easily see themselves in real-life situations like this or when Ethel and Chelsea discuss a strained relationship.

Years and years of memories and situations between the characters spring to life making the dialogue rich with flavor. Moving sequences like when Norman suffers a heart attack and is involved in a boating accident are teary and sentimental but fresh with emotion.

They do not feel manipulated.

As if the richly acted scenes are not enough, screenwriter, Ernest Thompson, who wrote the film based on his play provides credibility. He felt the passion the story would bring to the big screen and he was right.

As I grow older I appreciate the characters of Norman and Ethel. They stick together through thick and thin, sometimes quarrel, but love each other with a bond that can never be severed.

We all know and love couples like them.

The cinematography bristles with sweet nature. From the loons to the other sounds of summer, the camerawork elicits the light of late summertime. I constantly had to remind myself that I wasn’t really in the countryside but was in my living room.

A tearjerker that carefully combines heavy drama with comical moments that lighten the load, On Golden Pond (1981) is a truthful and emotional extravaganza about death that never feels sad or downtrodden. It’s much too clever for that and instead is an uproarious crowd-pleaser.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Mark Rydell, Best Actor-Henry Fonda (won), Best Actress-Katharine Hepburn (won), Best Supporting Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound

The Black Phone-2022

The Black Phone-2022

Director-Scott Derrickson

Starring Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke

Scott’s Review #1,296

Reviewed September 7, 2022

Grade: B+

The Black Phone (2022) is a compelling horror offering with some good frights and jumps contained within. It merges classic horror with a supernatural element that toes the line very well, never going too deep into either territory.

It doesn’t redefine the genre but nor does it feel stale or like a tired retread of other modern films. This is because of merging other genres into the action. Some question marks surface but the movie is an above-average effort by the director Scott Derrickson, surprisingly most known for the superhero vehicle Doctor Strange (2016).

The 1978 cloudy suburban blue-collar United States setting works particularly well and Ethan Hawke is delicious as the evil ‘Grabber’, a demented masked man who snatches neighborhood boys and hides them in a stank basement.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliant inclusion of the Pink Floyd song ‘On the Run’ during the final sequence.

Wonderful is how snippets of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) peek in now and then while never feeling like a carbon copy or even source material.

The Black Phone feels quite like a coming-of-age story since events surround a conflicted teenage boy and his numerous insecurities from bullying to blossoming romance.

Finney, played by newcomer Mason Thames, is a shy but clever thirteen-year-old boy. He and his younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) live with their alcoholic father and take turns looking after him. Finney is bullied by neighborhood boys but also has a protector in his friend Robin until Robin goes missing.

Eventually, Finney is abducted and finds himself trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When an old disconnected black phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims.

The Black Phone was adapted from a 2004 short story of the same name and has a similar feel. Events flow quickly and the film doesn’t drag though I was ready for it to end when it did.

Since the film was a commercial success, rumors of a sequel or prequel are swirling. I vote for a prequel because there is a lot left to tell regarding the Grabber. The character’s backstory is barely touched, leaving many questions unanswered.

He only kidnaps and kills teenage boys, the suggestion being that the Grabber is gay. At one point, he announces that he just wants to look at Finney. The suggestion is uneven though because it’s never revealed if he rapes the boys before killing them or what his motive even is.

The Grabber has a brother, who plays a key role in the story but their relationship is not explored. What about parents, kids, or jobs?

In a nutshell, I wanted to know more about the killer and I was left unsatisfied.

Speaking of the Grabber, here’s where the Silence of the Lambs comparison comes into play. The villains are similar since both are presumably gay and disguise themselves in one way or another, either by creating a ‘women suit’ or donning a creepy mask.

Both lure their victims into a grimy van and keep them tucked away underground before killing them.

But, Buffalo Bill beats the Grabber by a landslide. The line ‘it rubs the lotion on its skin- it does this whenever it is told’ will forever run a chill up my spine.

I’ve droned on long enough about the Grabber but only because he is a fabulous villain and I am intrigued beyond measure at the possibilities.

The editing and continuity are a win, especially in the final twenty minutes. The rescue/escape scenes are powerful and emotional without being hokey or overly predictable.

The psychic dreams are pretty good and McGraw is a superb child actor but those sequences didn’t enamor me as much as the scenes with Finney and the Grabber or the voices on the telephone.

I’ll bet casting Ethan Hawke against type in The Black Phone (2022) supercharged audiences into seeing the film. The independent film style and edge-of-your-seat pacing ultimately make the film a winner, even if I was left with tons of questions.

Crimes of the Future-2022

Crimes of the Future-2022

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux

Scott’s Review #1,295

Reviewed September 2, 2022

Grade: B

Being somewhat familiar with the work of director David Cronenberg and the macabre and squirmy elements he adds to his films, I had a fair idea of what type of experience I was in for. There was anticipation as I slipped the blu ray of Crimes of the Future (2022) into the player.

He’s responsible for such peculiar pleasures as Eastern Promises (2007), an annual Christmas time watch for my husband and me, and A History of Violence (2005) a gangster-flavored effort. Cronenberg frequently teeters around psychological horror and science fiction though has dabbled in other genres.

Stalwart actor Viggo Mortensen once again graces the screen in one of Cronenberg’s films and leads the charge as the main protagonist in Crimes of the Future.

Visually the film is astounding with creepy shapes and visceral red images floating about mainly in the opening credits. It’s riddled with a subdued and mellow mood taking its time to get going and allowing for somber tones and textures.

It’s a tough and weird watch but somehow slowly lures the viewer into its confusing web.

Be warned though that the story is inexplicable and impossible to figure out. I even read a post-film synopsis and was still unclear how the puzzle pieces are supposed to come together. But maybe they aren’t.

Crimes of the Future is the type of film that is recommended to be digested and left to ruminate in one’s inner being. The translation is to not overthink the events but rather to enjoy what is being served.

Sometime soon, the human species has adapted to a new synthetic environment, causing bodies to undergo new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.

In simpler terms, his body is cut into for all to see.

An odd character named Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements. A mysterious group exists with a mission to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

The summary is tough to write and even tougher to explain so I won’t waste space even going there. I’ll leave it to say that the above is the best that can be explained and only that there is a fascinating story element to the events.

Something about science fiction and the future typically equates to mystique and wonderment.

I could watch Mortensen in pretty much any film which is the main reason to see Crimes of the Future. The actor is so keen on choosing just the right roles for him and each is so different from the last.

Merely comparing his recent films like Captain Fantastic (2016), Green Book (2018), and Crimes of the Future results in the actor continuing to challenge himself with the depth of each character instead of capitalizing on name recognition to cash a hefty paycheck like other similar aged Hollywood actors.

I won’t name names but Liam Neeson could take a note or two from Mortensen.

Seydoux, a French actress pairs well with Mortensen. She possesses a sophisticated European vibe that translates well within this distant future. She is sexy and because of the subject matter, this is key to the visual style the film has.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Kristen Stewart as the nutty and nerdy Timlin but it’s a shocking follow-up to a fabulous portrayal of Princess Diana. As she speaks rapidly with timidity it’s a particular role but nice to see Stewart continue to go with edgy roles.

Because it’s Cronenberg, Crimes of the Future (2022) is cerebral and provocative with a fleshy and grim style. I’d expect nothing less from the director but would have preferred a more cohesive package.

In the end, I simply couldn’t figure the film out so it’s tough to completely recommend it.