Tag Archives: 2005 Movie reviews

Walk the Line-2005

Walk the Line-2005

Director-James Mangold

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #1,264

Reviewed June 8, 2022

Grade: A-

An example of exceptional casting, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, flawlessly depict country music stars Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, respectively. Both embody the real-life troubled stars, he more than she, and bring to life the biopic Walk the Line (2005).

Perturbing only slightly is Witherspoon’s win for Best Actress and Phoenix’s lack of a win for Best Actor. He deserved the win, up against the stiff competition, and she perhaps won because of a soft year in the Best Actress category.

I also think her performance teeters on a supporting turn but the decision was made to include her in the lead actress category. But one could argue Oscar’s imbalances or missteps all day long.

Nonetheless, they both shine especially during any scenes they appear in together especially music-related. The chemistry is the main reason for the film’s success and recognition of the figures they portray.

Walk the Line begins with the examination of the rise of country music legend Johnny Cash (Phoenix) beginning with his humble days as a boy growing up on the family farm in rural Arkansas, where he struggles with his father’s (Robert Patrick) anger and bullying.

As the years quickly go by, Cash ends up in Memphis, Tennessee., with his wife, Vivian (the underrated Ginnifer Goodwin), and breaks into the music scene after finding his successful country sound.

While on tour, Cash meets the love of his life, singer June Carter (Witherspoon), but Cash’s volatile lifestyle threatens to keep them apart.

The risk of rock star biographies is that they can suffer from relying too heavily on cliches or become a one-trick pony with a predictable ending. Towing the standard line is fine but a truly great film needs something to blow the viewers away.

The story is rather standard since we know the Cash’s get together, and face rough times, but the sweet spot is Phoenix and Witherspoon. They make the audience believe every nook and cranny of their relationship, warts and all.

Both actors reportedly sang, played their instruments, and seemed to live the lives of the country stars, all without help, giving Walk the Line much credibility. Since Phoenix is a method actor this is unsurprising.

My only disappointment of the film is Witherspoon winding up with Oscar gold and Phoenix not. Thankfully, this would change with his win for the brutal portrayal of The Joker in Joker (2019).

I love how the beginning of Walk the Line starts with a legendary performance in Folsom State Prison in 1968. Events then backtrack to 1944 before finally culminating with present times again.

Director, James Mangold plays the safe route with the finale. Cash unsurprisingly performs “Ring of Fire” on stage and after the song, Cash invites June to a duet and stops in the middle and proposes.

June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage. Johnny and his father reconcile their relationship.

This is a warm and satisfying ending and rather refreshing after having to squirm through various scenes of Johnny’s drug abuse and scrapes with the law. Mangold also prominently features dark storylines like the loss of Johnny’s brother and his father’s abuse.

Hats off by the way to Robert Patrick for a powerful performance as Ray Cash.

Walk the Line (2005) is a Hollywood film but one made well and pleasing to the eyes and ears. It pays tribute to the legendary stars because of dynamic acting performances and duets that make one fall in love with the songs all over again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Joaphin Phoenix, Best Actress-Reese Witherspoon (won), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing

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.

Madagascar-2005

Madagascar-2005

Director-Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath

Voices-Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer

Scott’s Review #1,247

Reviewed April 17, 2022

Grade: B-

Madagascar (2005) is a film that I found mildly entertaining but struggled to enjoy as much as others might. Films with a target audience of age thirteen and under are a tough sell for me because I don’t see them very often.

Having no children I have few opportunities to join in on the children’s games or sit at the kiddie table and get in that mindset.

Nonetheless, this film somehow crossed my radar.

It’s lighthearted and juvenile but playfully fun sending a positive message of friendship and dedication. Not a fan of the zoo at all my curiosity was piqued at how this angle would be represented if at all. Would the captivity of the zoo face off against the natural African wildlife?

The screenwriters tread safe waters keeping their audience in mind and don’t go for any deep message or environmental or animal issues, playing it quite safe.

Madagascar suffers from blandness and predictability knowing that the audience isn’t quite ready to think outside the box and their parents will obediently sit beside them watching the film.

The result is a film brimming with possibilities that it never realizes. It’s a ready-made family film and nothing more.

Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is the king of the urban jungle and the main draw at New York’s Central Park Zoo. He and his best friends Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have spent their lives at the zoo with admiring fans and tasty meals provided for them.

In their minds, they have it pretty good.

Yet Marty yearns for more and lets his curiosity get the better of him when he escapes the zoo to explore the world. He and his friends wind up on a ship back to Africa and are then shipwrecked on Madagascar and left to fend for themselves in the wild.

They face dangers and allies during their adventures and wrestle with either returning to the zoo or staying in their natural habitat.

There is plenty of humor to occupy the crowd but most of the jokes are tepid or fall flat altogether. They have very little substance to offer but rather are silly gags meant to keep the adventure going.

Big stars like Rock, Schwimmer, and Stiller are cast most likely to appeal to parents forced to go to the show with their kids. Recognizable voices always sell tickets in the animated world.

Secondary characters work better than the main cast. Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien XIII is a standout.

Mildly entertaining and soft touch in its approach Madagascar (2005) left me feeling dull and yearning for something a bit more challenging and robust in the field of kid’s film.

Its intent is merely to entertain and not to challenge so the result is a middle-of-the-road experience for me.

I’ll take any of the Toy Story (1995-2019) films any day.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin-2005

The 40-Year-Old Virgin-2005

Director-Judd Apatow

Starring-Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd

Scott’s Review #1,214

Reviewed December 31, 2021

Grade: B-

I am not a fan of director/producer Judd Apatow. His brand of silly comedy that includes objectification of women, homophobic language, and plain old unfunny attempts at slapstick comedy doesn’t go very far or sit particularly well with me.

His directorial debut is The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) which contains a fresh feeling and would ultimately lead to less worthy efforts like Knocked Up (2007) and This is 40 (2012).

Admittedly, the title alone had me and many others brimming with curiosity.

The freshness is mostly because of leading actor Steve Carell in a role that would propel him to film stardom and much better roles in the future. So, I guess The 40-Year-Old Virgin deserves credit for that.

Typically, in Apatow’s films, the female characters are written as uptight, shrewish, and bitchy whereas the male characters are goofy and fun-loving. The audience is ‘supposed’ to root for the men and dislike the women.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is no exception.

Still, the film does have a sweet-natured and innocent feeling amid the stereotypes, potty jokes, and raunch that lie within. We root for the underdog to succeed in life and champion his plight despite it being a carnal and sexual one.

Andy Stitzer (Carell) is a tender yet socially inept man who works a lowly job at a big-box store. Single and living alone, 40-year-old Andy whiles away the days playing video games and admiring his action-figure collection. He is your classic, lovable nerd.

He harbors an embarrassing secret. Despite his age, Andy has never engaged in sex, so his friends, including his closest friend David (Paul Rudd), encourage Andy to lose his virginity. While attempting to get over his awkwardness around female customers, Andy meets a local shop owner Trish (Catherine Keener), and they begin an early romance.

With any Apatow film, the rest is highly predictable and the blueprint is formulaic and very easy to figure out.

Andy will face humiliations as a result of his predicament and because of the bumbling yet good intentions of David and his other friend Cal, played by Seth Rogen. He will inevitably have awkward encounters with a few other female characters, in this case, the aggressive Beth, played by Elizabeth Banks, before finding love with the ‘good girl’ Trish (Catherine Keener).

They will ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Spoiler alert- they have sex!

The best, and arguably only good part of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is Carell’s Andy. The character brings a warmth and a vulnerability that causes the audience to sympathize with his plight. While the majority of the viewers will not relate to being a virgin at his age they can at least relate to having an embarrassing issue to deal with.

I am glad that this film led to meatier roles for Carell. Foxcatcher (2014) and his storied role as Michael Scott in television’s The Office (2005-2013) immediately spring to mind.

Keener, mostly known for her dramatic rather than comedic roles is decent as the main love interest, Trish. She, like Andy, is a rootable character though we don’t know too much about her. She is fond of Andy so, therefore, we like her and hope she takes Andy’s cherry.

The rest of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is riddled with standard comic setups and situations. When Andy slips and reveals his virginity by the next day his entire store knows his secret. From there, the insulting additions of a transvestite prostitute and a weird speed dating situation arise.

We know all along that Trish is the girl he will be with.

Apatow unwisely gives an interminable two-hour and thirteen-minute running time to his film which feels too long for a situation comedy. One hour and thirty minutes would have been ideal and more desirable.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) is not the worst offender of the Apatow collection but it lacks any surprises or attempts at diversity. It’s a perfect example of a tried and true adult sex romp with, thankfully, a likable central character.

Nanny McPhee-2005

Nanny McPhee-2005

Director-Kirk Jones

Starring-Emma Thompson, Colin Firth

Scott’s Review #1,161

Reviewed July 15, 2021

Grade: B

Clearly patterned after the classic family film Mary Poppins (1964), but with a slightly harder edge, Nanny McPhee (2005) attempts to recreate the iconic character with a similar storyline setup.

But a couple of other family films make their presence known.

The Sound of Music (1965) is quickly added to the mix with a well-meaning but absent daddy and a slew of siblings who terrorize former and present nannies.

A scullery maid with big dreams ala Cinderella (1950) solidifies the harkening back to 1960s cinematic family fun.

Great British actors like Emma Thompson and Colin Firth add much to the film which would be mediocre without their benefits. And the iconic Angela Lansbury hops aboard in a small yet important role. They make what would be a disposable kid’s movie into something respectable, romantic, and fairly cute.

The film tries a bit too hard with the comical moments, losing the magical moments that would have made it feel more alive. Instead, most scenarios come across as campy or family-oriented. Of course, the conclusion can be seen from the very beginning.

The effort is admirable but the story experience never feels very compelling. Thinking demographically, Nanny McPhee has much to offer the younger set. The kids will love the candy-box sets and costumes like confectionery-shop windows, the whimsy and farcical grotesqueness of it all.

The adults might be won over by the creativity and the cast.

Clearly, Thompson has fun playing ugly and getting her feet dirty, her snaggletooth almost a character itself, so prominent is it featured. In a way, she is even the anti-Mary Poppins, lacking an umbrella or the high-class pose that she had.

Each time the children learn a lesson, one of Nanny McPhee’s facial defects magically disappears.

But why not just dust off the original Mary Poppins? Nanny McPhee will inevitably be forgotten since an actual remake of the Mary Poppins film was released in 2015 all but confirming the Nanny McPhee franchise as the second tier.

And Nanny McPhee made me want to revisit Mary Poppins instead of watching Nanny McPhee again.

The premise goes something like this. Set in Victorian-era England, lonely widower Cedric Brown (Firth) hires Nanny McPhee (Thompson) to care for his seven rambunctious children, who have terrified and chased away all previous nannies. But McPhee is different and will have no such nonsense. She slowly wins over the children with magic and a bit of discipline.

And when the children’s great-aunt and benefactor, Lady Adelaide Stitch (Lansbury), threatens to separate the kids, the family pulls together under the guidance of their new leader.

Lansbury nearly steals the show. Short-sighted and domineering, the family is financially supported by her and Cedric cowers to her every request until she demands custody over one of the children. She also viciously threatens to reduce the family to poverty unless Cedric remarries within the month, meaning the family would lose the house, and be forced to separate.

She is deliciously wicked in the role and plays it to the hilt.

The sweet romance between Cedric and scullery maid Evangeline, played by Kelly McDonald, works well. They resist at first, but then realize their feelings for each other and agree to marry, satisfying Aunt Adelaide’s conditions for maintaining her financial support. Nanny McPhee (who is now fully beautiful), magically makes it snow in August, transforming the wedding scene and changing Evangeline’s clothes into a beautiful wedding dress.

This is the fairy tale ending that ultimately makes the film work and won me over.

Nanny McPhee (2005) is solid if not remarkable.

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director-Christophe Honoré

Starring-Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

Brilliant French film actress, Isabelle Huppert, turns in another outstanding performance in Ma Mère (2005). The film is a daring and sometimes shocking experience met with mostly derision from many fans and critics. The subject matter is hard for the weak of heart to take or understand, or maybe even put up with. The taboo nature of incest is what the film is about but also the dark and far reaches of the human psyche and emotion. A heavy and ingenious film for where the filmmakers dare to go. I found it brilliant.

Fun fact Ma Mère was rated NC-17 when it was released in the United States. The reason was “strong and aberrant sexual content”. Despite the sexual fetishism, there is NO drug use.

Huppert plays a recently widowed and sexually adventurous woman named Hélène. Her young and restless son, Pierre (Garrel), is visited by her young and restless son just before his father’s death when he plans to reside with his parents on their lavish island villa. Instead of mourning the loss of her husband, Hélène boasts about her infidelities to Pierre as he copes by masturbating to and then urinating on his father’s pornographic magazines.

Ma Mère is not a happy film but quite intriguing. Of course, the film is french which automatically gives it a sense of style and sophistication which writer/director Christophe Honoré dazzles the audience with. If the film were American it would not work at all. The characters need to be European.

An intense attraction develops between mother and son when Pierre struts around the villa naked and broods. Instead of acting on her impulses, Hélène encourages her uninhibited sex partner Réa (Joana Preiss) to have sex with Pierre.  They do so at a popular shopping and nightlife complex. Hélène looks on longingly as the partially clothed couple makes love with passersby raising no objections. Hélène appears to be turned on.

Things get stranger when afterward, Hélène includes her son in an orgy with her friends. After the orgy, Hélène decides that she must leave her son to travel. While saying goodbye to Pierre, she implies that something taboo has happened between them and that she must leave to prevent it from happening again. We are left unsure of what she means.

Hélène’s motivations are unclear or are she simply a good poker player? Does she feel bad about her attraction to her son or does she secretly revel in it?

There is a ton of masturbating and jealousy in this film. There is also a hefty dose of sadomasochism and such talk. It’s for the extremely adult viewer.

Ma Mere leaves the viewer to ponder many questions over the course of the running time. Is Hélène a lesbian or just sexually promiscuous? What is the back story with her husband? Do they happily cheat on each other or what is their arrangement?

I completely get why people wouldn’t be enamored with Ma Mère. It’s a tough watch though I laughingly find myself wondering if those skeptics are mostly prudes. I found myself absorbed by the machinations of the characters, especially Pierre and Hélène, and chomping at the bit to figure out what would eventually happen to the characters. Spoiler alert- the film does not end happily.

A criticism hurled at Ma Mère is that why we should care about the characters? There is nobody to root for. While mother and child partake in orgies and other sexual dalliances, it’s not as if Hélène exactly takes advantage of the boy, nor is he especially likable. I deem the film fascinating.

For a weird trip inside the minds of sexual deviants and those who love the joy of sex and sexuality, Ma Mère (2005) is a delightful experience. It’s also creepy shit. The ending is dire and dreary and will make the viewer think long after the film ends. And that what provocative films do. And so do great films. Anyone who thinks they have a mommy complex will soon be cured.

Isabelle Huppert does it again.

Land of the Dead-2005

Land of the Dead-2005

Director-George A. Romero

Starring-Simon Baker, John Leguizamo

Scott’s Review #1,077

Reviewed November 6, 2020

Grade: C+

Land of the Dead (2005) is a post-apocalyptic horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, the fourth of Romero’s six Living Dead movies, preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985).

The result is a mediocre effort, plagued by poor acting and too much silliness. The goofy nature of the film negates any sense of foreboding or dread despite there being plenty of zombies.

The result is camp over horror instead of a blended mix of both which would have worked better.  To compare Land of the Dead to Night or Dawn is a tough ask since the formers are so much better and have political points to make. There is nothing like that in Land of the Dead besides a weak side story about the class distinction that goes nowhere, and some jokes about the Bush regime. That’s a shame because it would have made the film more relevant.

What we are served is a healthy dose of shoot ’em up or slice ’em up scenes where zombie heads or some other appendage are blown or sliced off. This is fun for a while, but I wanted something more. Wisely, and staying true to the other films, the events are set around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which helps with continuity. The geographical reference to the famous “three rivers” immediately identifying the city is used.

As events kick off, we learn that the zombie population has outnumbered the human population forcing the humans to barricade themselves within a structured community for safety. There exist the haves who live in a luxury high-rise and the have-nots who survive in squalor. Dennis Hopper plays the rigid government figure, Paul Kaufman, and our good guy is the handsome Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) who provides aid to those in need.

Conflict erupts when it’s discovered that the zombies exhibit superior intelligence. They storm the gates of the city in droves and wreak havoc on the people of the community. Other characters along for the ride are Cholo (John Leguizamo), Slack (Asia Argento- yes, daughter of famous horror director Dario Argento), and Charlie (Robert Joy). The rest of the film is a battle between good and evil (the zombies and greedy Paul) and not much else.

Why do zombies exhibit advanced intelligence? Are they cloning or are more humans becoming zombies? These questions are not answered.

Creatively, Land of the Dead looks good. It is stylistic, dark, and mysterious. Scenes, where zombies parade around in misty and gloomy conditions, are cool. The slicker and more commercial style gives a modern and fresh look and feel. Reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the 2002 offering by Danny Boyle, that’s not a bad thing though it’s tepid for Romero. 28 Days Later rejuvenated the zombie genre so patterning after it doesn’t hurt Land of the Dead.

Another positive is the homoerotic nature of the relationship between Cholo and Mike (Shawn Roberts), a rookie. Both masculine and aggressive, there exists a hint of tenderness and closeness that feels romantic. When Mike is bitten and commits suicide to avoid turning, Cholo is devastated, implying that they might have shared a close background. Unfortunately, this is never explored after Mike’s death.

On that note, the characters are not particularly interesting nor crafted well. Paul is merely bad, while Riley is heroic. Cholo is angry and rebellious, while Slack is a prostitute. Charlie is the sidekick. Everyone has their place, but little substance is given about their past lives, their hopes for the future, or anything more than escaping the zombies. I get that’s the goal, but more personal stuff would have been better.

The rest is what you would expect from a zombie film and nothing more, which feels lazy of Romero especially since he wrote the screenplay. He tends to deliver better products with some meaning or interpretation.

In Dawn of the Dead, for example, the zombies sought the mall because it was familiar to them. One could argue that a city and its lights offer more of the same, but this feels weak and has already been explored. I guess I was expecting more of something that would grab me into the world of the film and nothing ever did.

A forgettable affair, Land of the Dead (2005) does not require repeated viewings as its predecessors do. This film was one and done for me. Some trimmings and entertainment exist, but I yearned for more substance than a standard, Saturday late-night zombie-fest. There are enough of those already.

A History of Violence-2005

A History of Violence-2005

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris

Scott’s Review #1,016

Reviewed April 28, 2020

Grade: B+

David Cronenberg has directed films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Crash (1996), stories safely classified as “off the beaten path”.

With A History of Violence (2005), he creates a film that on the surface appears conventional and even wholesome at the onset, a family drama or thriller, that turns sinister and bloody as it lumbers along.

The Christian-like small Indiana town is the perfect backdrop to quietly inflict mayhem and terror on its characters. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give tremendous portrayals.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet mid-western life and owns a quaint, little diner nestled in the center of town. He is a popular man and quite neighborly, befriending the many patrons who visit his lovely eatery. At his side are his adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello), and children, Jack and Sarah. If they owned a golden retriever and resided in a house with a white picket fence, they would define the all-American family.

Late one night, two men attempt to rob the restaurant and when they attack a waitress, Tom kills both robbers with surprising ease and skill barely blinking at his violent tendencies. He is professed a hero by the townspeople and the incident makes him a local celebrity.

Tom is then visited by the frightening scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Harris), who insists that Tom is a notorious gangster from Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom is perplexed and vehemently denies the claims, but Fogarty begins to stalk the Stall family. Because of the pressure, Tom’s family life hits crisis mode.

As the film ticks along the plot become thicker and thicker as the puzzle pieces are rife with mystery. Is Fogarty merely a liar, holding a vendetta against the person who killed his men? Does Tom suffer from amnesia, having forgotten his past life due to an accident? Has Tom fled the criminal life seeking refuge and a new life in middle America, safely leaving his troubles behind? Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle of these possibilities?

Bello is cast in the role of Edie, Tom’s loyal wife. Bello is a stellar actor and does a wonderful job in the complicated role. Far too often, especially in thrillers, the wife role is as lacking in the challenge as it is in glamour. The ever-supportive wife must be a drag to play but certainly pays the bills. Edie is different, and as soon as the viewer has her figured out, she acts out of the blue that will surprise this type of character. This has a lot to do with Bello’s pizzazz and acting chops.

I adore the setting of the film. A far cry from the bustling City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, when the action eventually flows to the city, the rural setting of Indiana becomes even more important. The quiet mornings, the imagined smell of fresh-brewed coffee, the crackling of sizzling bacon on the grill at Tom’s Diner, and finally, crickets chirping in the distance, all provoke the potent atmosphere and surroundings that really work in this film.

A History of Violence (2005) is a superior film that contains excellent writing, the best aspect of the rich experience. A top-notch screenplay written by Josh Olson leaves the viewer not only with mounting tension but the mysterious unknown as to what will happen next and what the truth is.

Mortensen, commonplace in recent Cronenberg films, has found his niche playing complex yet humanistic characters, which must be a challenge for the actor and a splendid reward for the audience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-William Hurt, Best Adapted Screenplay

Crash-2005

Crash-2005

Director-Paul Haggis

Starring- Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle

Scott’s Review #799

Reviewed August 3, 2018

Grade: A-

A superior film that has unfortunately suffered greatly after controversy, Crash (2005) is a story of intersecting vignettes all interrelated.

The controversy stems from the film’s very surprising Oscar win over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. Many thought the latter was a shoo-in, poised to set the LGBT genre ahead of the game. Sadly, now when Crash is discussed by film lovers, it’s usually in tandem with Brokeback, and usually on the heels of its having stolen the Oscar crown. On its own merits, the film excels as a social story exploring the many facets of race, racism, and bigotry.

The events in Crash take place within one thirty-six-hour day in metropolitan Los Angeles. Featuring a slew of characters that would even impress Robert Altman, the audience witnesses situations involving many races and backgrounds.

We meet Rick and Jean Cabot (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock), a white affluent couple who are carjacked when driving home from dinner. The black men who carjack the couple then strike a Korean man and bring him to the hospital.

A racist police officer, John Ryan (Matt Dillon), cares for his troubled father who cannot afford insurance. A Persian father and daughter wish to buy a gun for protection, a Hispanic father (Michael Pena) worries about a rash of drive-by shootings. The stories go on and on as a myriad of the characters come into situations involving other characters.

The interconnecting stories all cascade into overlapping situations of interest. The point of Haggis’s film is racism, but with a creative twist. The director points out and shows that those who are racist have good qualities too and those who are discriminated against in turn discriminate against others themselves.

The most interesting character is Dillon’s, John Ryan. On the surface a racist, wise-ass, who in one scene embarrasses an affluent light-skinned black woman (Thandie Newton), simply because he carries a gun, then ends up saving her life in a horrific car accident.

But is he redeemed? Does he see the world as black people are getting ahead and he is left behind? What about the Persian man, discriminated against, but then vowing revenge on a Hispanic man after a misunderstanding.

The black men who carjack the white couple then release a group of immigrants who will surely be sold, perhaps even for sex trafficking. Does this act make the men good? The point that Haggis makes is that each character is neither all good nor all bad, but rather complicated and nuanced with emotions based on past experiences and discrimination themselves.

Crash is highly similar to Traffic (2000) and Babel (2006) in terms of pace, style, and the way the stories align. The film is different, however, in that the location is strictly confined to Los Angeles, making the setting of monumental importance.

How would events be different in a setting like Middle America? Or in a different country? These possibilities are worth contemplating based on the perception that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. If racism occurs there it can occur anywhere.

Now more about that pesky Oscar controversy! In later years critics would largely agree that the inferior film had won that year and Brokeback Mountain lost due to a level of homophobia on the part of the voting academy. Since the academy is filled with Hollywood liberals, albeit of an older generation, an alternative way of thinking is that perhaps Crash won because it was the “safer” film. Everyone seems to have forgotten the other three nominated films that year. Alas, Crash is permanently marred for winning Best Picture. It would undoubtedly have more supporters had it lost.

Ranked as one of the lowest scoring Best Picture winners, I still believe Crash has some worth- though I agree that it should not have won over Brokeback Mountain. Taken on its own merits the film is actually quite good. A message film with great atmosphere, it succeeds in making the viewer think and ponder perhaps their own discrimination, whether conscious or subconscious. The ensemble acting and character representations are all very good and worthy of a second watch.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Paul Haggis, Best Supporting Actor-Matt Dillon, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Song-“In the Deep”, Best Film Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Matt Dillon (won), Best First Feature (won)

Transamerica-2005

Transamerica-2005

Director-Duncan Tucker

Starring-Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers

Scott’s Review #795

Reviewed July 25, 2018

Grade: A

Transamerica (2005) is a brave and topical independent drama effort. By 2005 the LGBT genre was in full force with a multitude of similarly themed films gracing silver screens everywhere.  One prominent mainstream production (Brokeback Mountain-2005) was in theaters everywhere. So in a year celebrating diversity, how wonderful and touching to witness a film focused on a transgender woman come into play.

Mixing drama with some needed humor, the film succeeds in large part because it does not take itself too seriously, never becoming too preachy, it merely tells a story. The film’s brilliant casting of Felicity Huffman in the role of a pre-op male to a female transsexual is a success as the decision to cast a female rather than a male in the important role pays off in spades.

The premise allows for a story of both adventure and humor as the film mixes an important issue.

A transgender woman, Bree (Huffman) decides to go on a road trip with her long-lost son, Toby (Kevin Zegers). The intrigue is that Toby is unaware that Bree is both transgender and his father, the fun coming by way of the relationship between the individuals. Adding to the setup is that a week before Bree’s scheduled operation, she has no idea who Toby is.

Encouraged by her therapist, Bree decides to throw caution to the wind and travel to pick up her son- however, does not realize that Bree (being transgender) is his real father. Talk about complicated material!

I love the overall message of the film; the theme clearly being one of self-discovery and a personal journey towards happiness. These qualities do not only apply to Bree, but also Toby. Being a teenage boy, abused and neglected, he has his share of issues, which the film does not skirt over. The areas of male prostitution and gay porn are featured and the film does its best not to shy away from these sensitive matters.

Therefore, even though the tone of the film is light and more of a coming-of-age story, there are underlying painful emotions suffered by the characters. This makes their bonding easier and more fulfilled.

Without a doubt, the film belongs to Huffman, who was honored with a Best Actress Oscar nomination. No offense to that year’s winner (Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (2005), but the rightful owner of the statuette should be Huffman.

The actress simply comes out of nowhere and slays this role. Known for playing a different type of role on the hit television series, ABC’s Desperate Housewives, Bree is in a different league entirely. Huffman possesses strength, vulnerability, and sarcasm, while physically undertaking a transformation that makes her both feminine and masculine while not becoming a “joke.” All of this she pours into the character.

Transamerica (2005) is an unconventional film that on the surface feels mainstream, like many other road trip films made over the years. With a twist and thus a breath of fresh air considering the importance and relevance for the time-released, the film should be championed. When combined with the tremendous performance by Huffman, the film is a heavyweight and should be viewed and celebrated for its influence.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Felicity Huffman, Best Original Song-“Travelin’ Thru”

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Felicity Huffman (won), Best First Screenplay (won), Best First Feature

Sorry, Haters-2005

Sorry, Haters-2005

Director-Jeff Stanzler

Starring-Robin Wright

Scott’s Review #787

Reviewed July 12, 2018

Grade: A

Sorry, Haters (2005) is a small, indie film that was not well received by audiences or necessarily by many film critics, but that I am a champion of.

The film is a little-known gem and a showcase piece for star Robin Wright, who has become quite the indie queen over the years. Thankfully, the film did receive some recognition via two independent film nominations, which is how I heard of it.

Regardless, Wright gives a fantastic performance as a troubled television executive who becomes involved with a Muslim taxi driver in New York City, in panic-stricken post 9/11.

Ashade (Abdel Kechiche), struggles with driving a cab and the myriad of family issues he faces, including legal troubles. When an upscale, white woman, Phoebe (Wright) enters his cab one night, she insists on forging a friendship, but what is her motivation? She immediately seems slightly unbalanced and tense.

Reluctant, but needing her help, Ashade’s life becomes entangled with hers as Phoebe offers Ashade assistance. But when her true motivations are revealed, the audience will never see the terrific and terrifying conclusion coming.

The film is very dark in tone and hardly a feel-good film. The best facet of Sorry, Haters is the complicated relationship between Phoebe and Ashade and how this plays out within the story. More accurate is the complex dynamic of Phoebe herself as her motivations are slowly revealed.

As great as Kechiche is, the standout is Wright, but both play well opposite each other. Her role is more developed and the centerpiece as the audience slowly becomes aware of her dark secrets and disturbing behaviors.

Phoebe immediately claims to be going through a divorce and hires Ashade to drive her to nearby New Jersey to observe her ex-husband. She talks his ear off, recounting how she has lost her family. This scene becomes the first clue that Phoebe may be unbalanced. As the film progresses, this becomes more obvious. As Phoebe dines with colleagues, she engages in reluctant conversation as she violently cuts her leg with a fork underneath the table for some relief.

Wright can do no wrong as an actress appearing in numerous films over the years. She is not a “box office” type of actress and this is to her credit.  She chooses independent films that allow her to sink her teeth into good, meaty, complex, female roles. The role of Phoebe is certainly of that ilk. The character is unstable and borders on madness and has rage bubbling under the surface. Wright portrays these emotions successfully.

Let’s not forget the other leading actor- Kechiche is purely dynamic in the male leading role. The audience will undoubtedly sympathize right away with this man and the character. Since the time period is so close to the events of 9/11, and the character is Muslim (some big clues to the climactic conclusion here), the man is a prime target for discrimination. Since his brother is imprisoned and needs a legal team, Ashade is quite vulnerable and ultimately at Phoebe’s mercy.

The interesting dynamic between Phoebe and Ashade is that they do not share a romantic relationship at all. Developing a friendship based on need, there is clearly something not right with the situation, and director Jeff Stanzler provides the appropriate mood with many scenes occurring either at night or in the confines of Ashade’s taxi. Dialogue frequently seems awkward between the two.

Despite not being an easy film to watch, Sorry, Haters (2005) is a film with a powerful message and great scenery of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. The film is dark, even dour, but above all contains a powerful message with a timely subject matter. Rich in character development between the leads and the maniacal motivations of some. I found the film to be topical, riveting, and disturbing.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Robin Wright Penn, Best Screenplay

Punish Me-2005

Punish Me-2005

Director-Angelina Maccarone

Starring-Maron Kroymann, Kostja Ullman

Scott’s Review #670

Reviewed August 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Punish Me (sometimes titled Hounded) is a provocative 2005 German-language film that pushes boundaries and titillates the viewer with its racy themes of masochism and pedophilia that will be way too much for your average viewer to marinate and digest.

In fact, some may be completely turned off (rather than on) by this film. However, for the edgy thinker, the film is quite the find. Unique, extreme, and thoughtful, Punish Me is an experience to remember.

Shot entirely in black and white (rare for twenty-first-century cinema) the film appears bleak and harsh, cold almost- and that is no doubt an intentional measure. The grizzled German landscape (the city is unidentified), gives the film interesting and effective cinematography, transforming the black and white colors exceptionally well, whether the scene is set in daylight or nighttime. Something about the black and white decision is genius.

Elsa Seifert (Maren Kroymann) is a fifty-year-old probation officer. Married and raising a teenage daughter, she appears to live a stable, middle-class existence. When one of her charges, Jan (Kostja Ullman), a sixteen-year-old, handsome young man, gives a pursuit of her, their relationship turns into an obsessive, lustful situation for both.

Jan, you see, likes to be sexually beaten, and, at first, hesitant, Elsa slowly gets immersed in Jan’s world.   When other characters begin to catch wind of the situation between Jan and Elsa, the film really becomes intense.

Astounding to me is the fact that Punish Me is directed by a woman, Angelina Maccarone. This both surprises, and impresses me. Thought-provoking is the female perspective in the film. Elsa is not an unhappy woman- though she nervously chain-smokes in almost every scene.

She initially has no intention of being sucked into Jan’s eccentricities. As she awkwardly spanks him in their first steamy, sexual encounter, she is gentle, yet she quickly intensifies. Is she insecure with her middle-aged body? She certainly gets carried away by Jan’s charms, putting both her career and her husband at risk.

Can she stop herself before it’s too late?

One wonders a few things- How would this film feel if it were directed by a man? Maccarone centers the perspective on Elsa more than she does Jan- or are we to assume that Jan, at sixteen, is merely experimenting with his sexuality and therefore not the more interesting character?

This was my determination. Elsa has way more to lose than Jan does. We are not sure why Jan is so troubled, to begin with, or why he likes to be beaten- was he abused by his parents? sexually or otherwise? What deep-rooted issues does Elsa have?

I imagined the complexities offered had the film gone something like this- Elsa is a male character. Would the man-on-boy be too much? Is female on boy safer?

One wonders, but if Elsa was a male and Jan a female, I do not think the film would be half as controversial or daring. It would seem more exploitative or dare I say, conventional. Instead, Maccarone, turns the film into a psychoanalytical feast as we wonder what makes both Elsa and Jan tick and why they enjoy the discipline scene? Perhaps there is no clearly defined answer.

The supporting characters are not explored very well, other than a fellow troubled girl that Jan beds, commenting that she is too fat (she is not) or Elsa’s husband is revealed to have once had an affair with another woman pronouncing “it was only sex not love”. From this, one concludes that Elsa and her husband will reunite and resume their middle-class life together, but what will become of Jan?

Thanks to effortless direction and good choices by Maccarone, she makes Punish Me an examine-worthy look at sexuality, desire, and emotions. Many will loathe the film or not bother to give it the time of day based on the subject matter, but the film is a treat for the creative cinematic lover and lovers of analysis.

The Fog-2005

The Fog-2005

Director-Rupert Wainwright

Starring-Tom Welling, Maggie Grace

Scott’s Review #444

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: D

The Fog is a 2005 remake of the original The Fog from 1980 and it is overall not very good. In fact, it sucks. Why original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill had anything to do with it is completely beyond me unless they needed some fast cash. It is so modernized that it loses the mystique that the original had.

The credit that it does deserve is for a few good scares and keeping with the same characters as the original had. Otherwise, it is largely a disaster. For starters, the ending is completely changed from the original and contains some ridiculous, silly fantasy elements that simply do not work at all.

An interesting actress in the television series Lost, Maggie Grace, clearly attempting to embark on a film career, is wooden and one-dimensional. In fact, there is no good acting in the entire movie. Not that I expect great acting in a horror film, but it just adds to the mess of storytelling and writing.

A big fail.

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Director-Ang Lee

Starring-Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

Top 100 Films-#46

Scott’s Review #338

70023965

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Brokeback Mountain is a revolutionary film and certainly one of the most important films to be released during the 2000s. Never before had a LGBT film been given as much exposure and widespread viewership as this film did.

Certainly robbed of the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award (the great, but not as great, Crash won), Brokeback Mountain received other tremendous accolades and word-of-mouth buzz that helped it achieve great success. A treasure that must always be remembered and appreciated.

Perfectly cast, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play two cowboys who fall madly in love with each other. The time period of the film runs from 1963 until the early 1980s. Through the years we see their unbreakable bond tested by outside factors- namely being gay is certainly forbidden at this time and location- Wyoming and Texas.

Jack Swift (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet one summer in 1963 when they are both hired by grizzled Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain in remote Wyoming.

They immediately form a friendship that turns physical one drunken night. From this point, the men are inseparable and share a passion insurmountable.

Due to the times, there is no possible way they can openly share life, so they arrange for periodic “fishing trips”, away from their wives and children so that they can spend time together in secret.

The chemistry is evident between Ledger and Gyllenhaal, which is extremely important to the success of the film.

The audience needs to truly buy their bond and director Ang Lee is successful at eliciting wonderful performances from each actor. This is especially crucial during the first forty-five minutes of the film as all the scenes are only the two actors together.

The famous “tent” scene, in which Jack’s and Ennis’s passion first erupts is perfectly choreographed- it is as much animalistic as it is passionate and this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Eventually, other characters are introduced and Ennis and Jack live lives largely separate from each other. Michelle Williams plays Alma, a kind-hearted country girl, married to Ennis. She accidentally stumbles on to Jack and Ennis’s secret and keeps this hidden throughout the years. Williams is fantastic in the role- sweet, yet saddled with the pain of knowing her husband is in love with another man causes her to mistrust and eventually destroys their marriage.

Jack forges a life in Texas and marries well-to-do Lureen (Anne Hathaway), but the marriage is a sham, Lureen’s father hates Jack, and Jack cannot forget Ennis. Jack is the aggressor, the one more confident with his sexuality, and one would surmise, would be the one more likely to be “out” if circumstances were different. He looks for other men, even going to Mexico to find some companionship.

The ending of the film is tragic and heartbreaking and we witness Ennis being a good father to his now grown-up kids. A wonderful scene is written between Ledger and Kate Mara, who plays his daughter. She asks the lonely Ennis to attend her wedding and the scene is sweet and tender. Another scene involving Ennis meeting Jack’s parents is monumental- as important as what is said in this wonderful scene is what is left unsaid.

Brokeback Mountain is an honest, graceful, and brave film, that thanks to the talents and direction of Ang Lee, was actually able to be made. The exceptional cast led by Ledger and Gyllenhaal is dynamic and enables the film to come together as one masterpiece, that will surely never be forgotten.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Actor-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor-Jake Gyllenhaal, Best Supporting Actress-Michelle Williams, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Cinematography

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Male Lead-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Female-Michelle Williams