Tag Archives: Adventure

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

Lina Wertmüller, a visionary female director around a time when there were few female directors with notoriety, created The Seduction of Mimi (1972), a flavorful Italian adventure/drama/comedy.

Any fans of Federico Fellini will immediately draw comparisons to his films with saucy banter, odd characters, and lively music. But amid the fun exists importance.

Wertmüller produces a film with more of a defined plot focus than Fellini usually does.

The key to the enjoyment of The Seduction of Mimi is twofold. Actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato starred in three of Wertmüller’s films together, usually as love-torn yet bickering couples with lots of drama and misunderstandings.

The other films are Love and Anarchy (1973) which I have not seen and Swept Away (1974) which I have seen.

The actors work so well together that anyone familiar with them will instantly be delighted especially during high-energy scenes when they spar or passionately solidify their romantic intentions.

Giannini was Wertmüller’s muse in a time when rarely if ever a male actor was a muse of a female director.

The other nicety is the title of the film. One might assume (I did) that the character of Mimi is female and is seduced by a male but in Wertmüller’s film, it is the reverse. This causes traditional gender stereotypes to be turned on their heads with more awareness of assumptions.

Mimi (Giannini) is a Sicilian dockworker who inadvertently becomes involved in an increasingly complicated series of personal conflicts.

After he loses his job after voting against a Mafia kingpin in a ‘secret’ election, Mimi leaves his frazzled wife Rosalia (Agostina Belli) to find work. He moves to Turin, where he engages in an affair with a Communist organizer, Fiorella Meneghini (Melato).

Soon Mimi finds himself juggling not two but three relationships and three children while plotting to take revenge against the corrupt forces that ruined his life.

The Seduction of Mimi is quite good but I’m more partial to her other films like Swept Away and the hysterically brash Seven Beauties (1975), her best work in my opinion.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about ‘Seduction’.

Taking nothing away from Melato’s performance, Mimi is the focal point and Giannini is a pure delight. For viewers unfamiliar with his work, his dazzling green eyes and almost manic style fills the character with pizazz and passion.

The actor is also great at making his wacky shenanigans seem realistic.

Beyond the hijinks, Wertmüller offers serious messages about sexual hypocrisies, political dilemmas, and corruption. She mixes jokes with purpose so that the audience learns a thing or two while being richly entertained.

Like her obvious mentor, Fellini, she appreciates good satire and incorporates that into her films.

Visually, there’s some cool and wacky camera-angle stuff going on. Mimi repeatedly notices moles, beauty marks, or otherwise odd eccentric facial features which come into focus as shaky closeup camera shots.

Since the film is so Italian it’s joyful to watch it for this aspect alone. There are frequent sequences shot on location in Sicily, and around Italy, a treat for those partial to European films.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is a film I’d like to see again for more appreciation and further examination. It’s a film that has more going on than meets the eye and leaves its viewer pondering more specifically regarding the Union storyline.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

Director Stuart Olme

Starring Stephanie Beacham, Emily Hudson, Aleks Darowska

Scott’s Review #1,418

Reviewed January 20, 2024

Grade: B+

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) is a British dark fantasy film directed by Stuart Orme in his theatrical directorial debut. Most notably a rock video director, I am unsure if Orme ever directed another film.

The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Joan Aiken which was quite popular with children during the 1960s and beyond.

Similar to the book, the film is set in an alternate history version of nineteenth-century England where wolves roam the countryside. The animals prance around the wintery landscapes causing fear for those humans who spot them.

The experience is playful and escapist with similarities to both Oliver! (1968) and The Witches (1990). Especially in regards to the former some of the action takes place in a bleak workhouse where children are mistreated by adults.

Predictably and satisfying, the evil adults get their comeuppance while the nice children and warm adults live happily ever after. This is a main part of the fun of watching the perilous situations.

The plot centers around two young girls. Bonnie (Emily Hudson) is the daughter of Lord and Lady Willoughby, who live at the grand yet cozy country estate named Willoughby Chase. Lady Willoughby (Eleanor David) is ill, and the couple plan to recuperate basking in the warm sun along the Mediterranean.

In urban London, Bonnie’s cousin, Sylvia (Aleks Darowska), is leaving her impoverished Aunt Jane (Lord Willoughby’s cousin) to keep Bonnie company while her parents are away.

While on the train, she meets a mysterious man, Mr. Grimshaw (Mel Smith) whom they decide to bring back to Willoughby Chase after falling unconscious when wolves attack the train.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Sylvia’s cousin, Letitia (Stephanie Beacham) is their new governess. She is evil and determined to get rid of the children so that she inherits money and the estate.

Billed as a children’s film, as Oliver! was, some of the sequences may be too much for younger kids. The ferocious wolves may cause fright while a scene involving one of the girls being locked in a chest might cause nightmares.

There is a presumed drowning and another character catches on fire.

For adults, particularly those who enjoyed the book as youngsters the dangerous situations are light fare and merely make Bonnie and Sylvia more heroic and justified in escaping the adult’s clutches.

The art direction and set designs are also a big part of the fun. Numerous scenes of winter and snow-covered roads and pathways are what make The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a perfect watch for a frigid January evening.

I’m not sure if the film would feel as atmospheric in July or August.

The estate where much of the action takes place has a warm and cozy feel. It made me want to curl up by a raging fire with a good book.

There’s an undertone of class distinction when the servants are all dismissed to save money and I questioned why Sylvia and her aunt didn’t simply live on the estate. The poor living amongst the rich is a perfect setup for more meaningful storylines but the intent is more for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to be fun.

Beacham is delightful while slightly over-the-top playing a fiendish character. Most known for appearing on television’s ‘Dynasty’ the actress has also made British horror films.

I assumed she planned to kill the parents and the girls but what about the aunt?

It doesn’t matter much because her plan is foiled and the girls are reunited with their loved ones.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) contains a nice musical score that enhances the adventures. The film is a bit too scary for kids but perfect for young adults and older.

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

Director George Lester

Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Kim Cattrall

Scott’s Review #1,401

Reviewed September 24, 2023

Grade: B

The Return of the Musketeers (1989) is the third Musketeers film directed by Richard Lester, following 1973’s The Three Musketeers and 1974’s The Four Musketeers.

George MacDonald Fraser wrote each screenplay.

This is key to mention because a strong continuity flow helps the film be fun and charming. The results of the same person directing and writing resonate on screen in several ways. The characters feel truthful and their motivations are clear.

A rich sense of the history of the characters is apparent making the film a pleasing adventure for fans of the franchise.

After ambitious Oliver Cromwell (Alan Howard) overthrows the king, Cardinal Mazarin (Philippe Noiret) enlists a down-and-out D’Artagnan (Michael York) to rally the Musketeers against him.

Porthos (Frank Finlay) accepts the mission at once, but Athos (Oliver Reed) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) hesitate at first. Eventually, the three reunite, but they are soon torn apart by infighting and a situation from their past.

They get a chance at redemption when they are sent to England to save the life of King Charles I (Bill Paterson).

There is some slapstick play to endure making The Return of the Musketeers feel juvenile at times when characters are bopped over the head or otherwise trip and fall in silly form.

For this type of adventure film, the plot is too complicated and veers in different directions a shade too often. I wondered more than once if I was in France or England.

This makes the minor characters difficult to keep track of and Christopher Lee’s character of Comte de Rochefort once again has little to do.

The costumes and the French setting are a major victory and the history lessons provided especially the British and French kings and queens are more than fulfilling. We delved into our history books to determine which King Louis reigned when and who was aligned with the film (it’s Louis the XIV during the 1600s).

The point of the film made fifteen years after the second film is to please fans and the result is a swimming success. I’m a sort of fan with my hubby being a big fan and we both enjoyed the resurfacing of familiar characters.

It feels like old-home week. The reunion of the musketeers feels like witnessing a family reunion. As D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis embraced each other we felt the warmth along with them.

Since the characters played by Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway (Milady) were dead a creative idea was to introduce her daughter to the story, Justine played by Kim Cattrall. Athos also has a son named Raoul, played by C. Thomas Howell.

This provides a further nod to history and introduces compelling lead characters who have a connection to familiar characters.

It is also an example of good writing and storytelling. Despite the characters being new to the audience we already care about them based on their tie to other beloved characters.

Making the film more sentimental, a sad occurrence happened while filming. Actor Roy Kinnear who plays lovable Planchet died following an on-camera accident in which he fell off a horse.

His role was completed by using a stand-in, filmed from the rear, and dubbed-in lines from a voice artist.

The film is dedicated to him.

Reuniting most of the original cast years later makes The Return of the Musketeers (1989) a warm experience. Beautiful costumes locales and history raise the film above expectations considering it’s a third installment.

The Four Musketeers-1974

The Four Musketeers-1974

Director Richard Lester

Starring Oliver Reed, Michael York, Faye Dunaway

Scott’s Review #1,379

Reviewed July 17, 2023

Grade: B

The Four Musketeers (1974) is a sequel to the film The Three Musketeers made a mere year earlier. It takes the second half of the famous novel by French author Alexandre Dumas with the original film covering the first half.

A recommendation is to watch the sequel directly after the original so there is less struggle to figure out what is going on. I did not do that so connecting the plot points was a struggle.

A further negative is the omission of any English subtitles making hearing or ascertaining the events of the film difficult. British accents are tough.

King Louis XIII’s (Jean-Pierre Cassel) four swashbuckling heroes engage in chivalrous and daring adventures when Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and his evil accomplice Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway), kidnap the queen’s dressmaker, Constance (Raquel Welch).

The heroes are D’Artagnan (Michael York), Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay), and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain).

It’s a British swashbuckler film so the adventures are prevalent and the physical comedy is fast and furious. It’s like a sitcom at times with over-the-top and outlandish fight sequences and one-liners.

The frequent low-cut tops on the female characters are intended to channel the male viewer’s thirteen-year-old boy.

The film gets darker than I anticipated in the final act which is to its credit with two deaths. This surprised me in a good way because so much of The Four Musketeers is light-hearted.

The death by the beheading of a major character is well-done. The heroes watch an executioner perform his duties to the fiendish character from across a lake. The decapitation is not exactly shown but it’s done almost in a tremendously effective silhouette and from a distance.

The costumes and attention to detail from a historic perspective are superior elements of the film. One can imagine being in the French countryside during the Anglo-French War in the 1600s. The sets and lighting are bright so the result is colorful and picturesque style.

The cast is made up of several A-list Hollywood stars of the time and each adequately does their share to light up the screen. My favorites are Dunaway as the villainess and Reed as a ‘good guy’, a refreshing change for the actor who usually appears as the heavy.

Reed and Dunaways share some scenes mostly in flashbacks that made me want to see more of their romance but this is not to be. Athos was unaware that Milady de Winter was a criminal which left a permanent branding mark.

Still, what little I got featured tremendous chemistry between the pair and I would have liked to have seen more.

Where the film loses me a bit is with the silliness which follows the same formula that made The Three Musketeers a success. Feeling redundant were the endless sword fight scenes and tongue-in-cheek winking.

The film tries hard to be a comedy but adds in darker moments too so it leaves an unbalanced quality.

Some actors get short shrift. Christopher Lee as Count De Rouchfort is a secondary villain and has little to do except prance around in a wig, uniform, and eye patch. His character is no Dracula and does not feel dangerous.

The Four Musketeers (1974) is good entertainment from a solidly professional cast. Hardly a masterpiece it’s a bang ’em up comedy adventure with a few moments of death and destruction.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish-2022

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish-2022

Director Joel Crawford

Voices Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault

Scott’s Review #1,357

Reviewed April 14, 2023

Grade: B

There is a connection between the Shrek film series and Puss in Boots which I didn’t realize until researching this review. The title character appears in Shrek 2 (2004) and a film called Puss in Boots (2011) which I think I’ve seen but don’t remember well precedes the 2022 film Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.

I’m not a big enough fan.

The film is an entertaining adventure laden with bright, colorful animations and Skittles or rainbow-type colors miraged with blacks and greys. This works well and provides energy.

There is also a cool incorporation of familiar fairy tale characters. The names are re-introduced mostly as scheming people intent on capturing Puss in Boots which accelerates the fun and my interest.

The result is a good but not a great film. I’m not sure what would have made Puss in Boots: The Last Wish a masterpiece but the target is firmly placed on the young demographic.

My two cats glanced at the screen once or twice before deciding on a cozy nap instead. They were not engaged.

Even the darker subject matters of death and dog abuse somehow fall by the wayside in favor of the other cute, adventurous, and fight sequences. Surprising is that they do not pack a deeper punch.

Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) returns as the daring outlaw who discovers that his passion for danger and disregard for his safety have taken their toll and he is forced to consider retirement.

As a cat, he is on his ninth and last life!

He tries to get those lives back by returning to the Black Forest to find the mythical Wishing Star on his grandest quest yet. At the risk of death, Puss will have to ask for help from his former partner and nemesis, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault).

They are joined in their journey by a chatty and cheerful mutt named Perro (Harvey Guillén). Together, they try to stay one step ahead of the fairy tale villains including Goldilocks and the Three Bears, ‘Big’ Jack Horner, and the Big Bad Wolf.

I had no knowledge of the character history either from Shrek or Puss in Boots despite having seen them but I’m not sure that’s imperative to one’s enjoyment of the film. I quickly caught on that Puss in Boots and Kitty Softpaws were meant to be an ‘item’.

The story is a compelling enough adventure but there comes a point where it felt meandering. I knew the troupe would ultimately emerge on the Wishing Star and all would end well. It did, and the characters rode swiftly off into the sunset.

That’s how a film like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is supposed to end and I respect that. Best not to tarnish youngsters too early especially when the reality is sometimes quite dark.

The fun for me was the visuals and specific moments. The stunning and gleaming green eyes that Puss in Boots possesses are astounding and counterbalance nicely with Kitty’s blue ones.

‘Big’ Jack Horner is patterned after Donald Trump. Bullying, fat, and loud, he is a feared pastry chef and a crime lord who plans to use the Wishing Star to gain control of all magic. Snubbed as ‘Little’ Jack Horner as a kid he vows revenge and exhibits a pouty, snotty vibe.

The writers must have fun with that character.

Finally, a darling sequence featuring Mama Luna, an elderly cat lady who initially takes Puss in is excellent. Puss in Boots, more like a human being eating human food and using the toilet, is reduced to cat chow and a litter box like all the other cats.

Director, Joel Crawford, and screenwriters Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow carefully tone down the violence and darker themes in favor of a robust adventure and largely succeed.

Perfect for kids, it’s not bad for adults either.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature

Top Gun: Maverick-2022

Top Gun: Maverick-2022

Director-Joseph Kosinski

Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,316

Reviewed November 23, 2022

Grade: B

I made the mistake of watching Top Gun: Maverick (2022) in the worst possible forum imaginable- inside an airplane at 35,000 feet! And I wasn’t inside the cockpit either, which would have fulfilled the appropriate thrills and perhaps even elicited terror.

Being chastised repeatedly for not seeing the film on the biggest movie theater screen imaginable, I watched this offering on the plane primarily out of curiosity to see what all the fuss was about.

In a nutshell, I thought the visuals and action/adventure sequences up in the sky were second to none. The use of sound and cinematography successfully provided the peril and anticipation of the events of the film.

Even on a teenie tiny screen with earbuds I could sense and appreciate the bombastic trimmings.

To bury myself even further, I hadn’t even seen the original Top Gun made in 1986. Of course, I was familiar with the popular soundtrack featuring the enormous Kenny Loggins hit, ‘Danger Zone, which is reprised in the new film, and the syrupy ballad, ‘Take My Breath Away by Berlin.

I guess I felt I knew the predictable story enough not to bother viewing the film.

So, I’ll chalk this review up to lessons learned but I can still provide a critical opinion as I asked myself repeatedly over the two hours and eleven minutes running time why people love Top Gun: Maverick so much and why it was such a box-office hit.

But in the end, I’m glad it was because in 2022 we desperately need butts in movie theater seats.

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) pushes the envelope and challenges his superiors as a courageous test pilot. This subsequently hinders his chances of advancing up the ranks of status.

When he finds himself training a group of All-American-looking Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”.

Rooster blames Maverick for his father’s death.

Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

This summary equates to a limited story with plenty of flaws but Top Gun: Maverick is about entertainment first and foremost. A cohesive and edgy story is not to be found.

Let’s get the storyline woes out of the way in short order.

I was disappointed that superb actress Jennifer Connelly (if anyone has missed her wonderful turn in 2006’s Little Children check it out asap) was reduced to playing Penny Benjamin, a girlfriend who owns a dive bar role.

I mean Connelly looks amazing but she has no deep story to speak of. She flirts with, sleeps with, and hopes to live happily ever after with him. A single Mom, her daughter frets that Maverick will break her heart.

It’s the romantic angle of the story but quite banal and uninteresting.

The ‘recruits’ are written as one-dimensional. There is rivalry and teamwork to be had but they are all so good-looking that it’s tough not to see a lack of realism.

Finally, Jon Hamm suffers through an uninteresting role as the heavy. Cast as Vice Admiral Simpson, he doesn’t like Maverick and that’s about all there is to his part.

The same can be said for Ed Harris and his role.

On the upside, Cruise has a wonderfully emotional scene that reminds audiences how good an actor he is. He says a teary goodbye to his long-time friend Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and it’s a beautifully written, rich scene that I adored.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) fails in the story department but I realize the main draw is Cruise the action star. The film wins as a loud, thrilling, summer, popcorn visual and sensory treat, and thankfully it was an enormous success.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song-“Hold My Hand”, Best Film Editing, Best Sound (won), Best Visual Effects

The Witches-2020

The Witches-2020

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer

Scott’s Review #1,314

Reviewed November 16, 2022

Grade: B

A remake of the 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston, The Witches (2020) sometimes delivers the goods and occasionally derails off the tracks into campy, over-the-top, wackadoo.

Mostly, on the part of star Anne Hathaway who plays an evil and powerful witch.

But, regardless of what this adult thinks, it will please, surprise, and fascinate youngsters who see it. There’s a comforting and vital message of friendship and family roots ingrained in the story which is a nice touch.

In 1968, seven-year-old orphan Charlie Hansen (Jahzir Bruno) travels from Chicago to Alabama to live with his grandmother, Agatha (Octavia Spencer), after his parents are killed in a car accident.

After he is approached by a dastardly witch in a grocery store they flee to a seaside resort to avoid the child-hating witches. Agatha has a troubled past with the witches who long ago turned her best friend into a chicken.

When the two arrive at their hotel, they find a coven with villainous plans. They are accompanied by a mouse named Daisy and an English boy named Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick).

I much prefer the first half of The Witches to the last.

The wonderful and caring relationship between Agatha and Charlie is a beautiful dynamic. When she envelops him with love and southern cooking in her cozy home, understanding the trauma he has endured, it is heartwarming and genuine.

Spencer is terrific in any role she plays, of course, but her calm and stoic demeanor when paired against the witches is lovely. She is prepared for trouble and sneaks to a back room where she keeps crystals, and other anti-witch weaponry.

But the relationship with the little boy is darling and top-notch. I wish they would have just stayed at home and nurtured their relationship with Daisy and Bruno.

The weakest section of the film involves the witches themselves. As they flock to the hotel for a convention to plot the destruction of children everywhere, they appear more silly than scary, especially when they remove their wigs and reveal bald, scabby heads.

Director, Robert Zemeckis must have given Hathaway free range to ham it up because she certainly does just that.

I’m a fan of hers so it’s not a personal knock but she teeters toward ridiculous pretty quickly. I get the need to make a children’s film villain colorful, memorable, and loud but there is no restraint, causing the character to feel more silly than terrifying.

On the plus side, Hathaway must have had a ball letting loose and leaving all constraints on the sidelines.

Inevitably, the kids are changed into cute mice and must convince their loved ones that they are themselves while figuring out how to change back to human children.

Not much is different from the 1990 version besides a tweak here and there and the story is the same but I think I prefer the original by a hair.

Huston beats Hathaway in a comparison.

Some inconsistencies emerge like how Agatha can afford to stay in a grandiose hotel. She knows someone connected to the hotel but the who’s and why’s aren’t clear.

It’s never explained what happened to Agatha’s friend who wound up as a chicken and I wanted more from Stanley Tucci than an uninteresting hotel manager role with little to do.

But, the action sequences are adventurous and energetic and it’s fun cheering the turning of the Grand High Witch (Hathaway) into a rat.

I wanted more of the homespun love between Agatha and Charlie and the simple southern town that felt so lovely and welcoming, but The Witches (2020) provides family fun entertainment that many can enjoy.

Dune-2021

Dune-2021

Director-Denis Villenueve

Starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac

Scott’s Review #1,282

Reviewed July 29, 2022

Grade: B

Dune (2021) is a film that under normal circumstances I would not have seen. I’m not a huge blockbuster, fantasy film kind of guy. If not for the slew of Oscar nominations the film received, ten to be precise, Dune probably would have flown under my radar.

I needed to see what all the fuss was all about.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man born into a destiny that he doesn’t completely understand, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people.

As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

My assessment of the film before even viewing it proved correct. It’s an epic-length, science-fiction, fantasy type of adventure film all rolled into one. I liken it to the unwieldy Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy in tone and content and a peculiar reminiscence to the popular television series Game of Thrones (2011-2019).

For most of Dune, my attention was squarely glued to the story as well as the astounding cinematic grandiose trimmings. I knew if I didn’t pay close attention I would quickly be out in a left field (I’ve made this mistake before).

Overall, I admired Dune and struggled to grade it either a B or a B+ finally deciding on the latter. The visuals are astounding and cleverly show off what can be done with enough CGI to make a film a marvelous spectacle.

But, for me, there needs to be more and I struggled after a while with the plot.

The story is too confusing. Why does every fantasy, or epic film need to be so deep in the plot with too many characters to keep track of? It started off okay and I was clear who Paul’s family is, and more or less who the good guys are. But then other groups like the Fremen (who I think are good) and House Harkonnen (who are all bald and I think are bad) are introduced, and a battle over valuable spice ensues.

To complicate matters, Paul suffers from strange dreams/visions mostly involving a young girl and some battle scenes involving Paul’s connection to a mysterious sword. He can also command without speaking, somehow.

I had no prior history to draw from which in retrospect did me a disservice. Dune began as a novel in 1965 written by Frank Herbert and was turned into a 1985 film directed by David Lynch which was deemed a disaster.

I probably should have read the book.

To be fair, the acting is quite good, especially by Chalamet and Isaac, completely believable as father and son. Their connection and chemistry are pliable but there is not enough of it. Instead, the main focus is Paul’s relationship with his mother, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

Chalamet, already an Oscar-nominated actor for Call Me By Your Name (2017), has the chops to carry a film.

Other worthy turns are by legendary British actress Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother, and Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen tribe.

Despite the over two and a half hour running time Dune does not drag. The bright sweeping desert scenes featuring a pulsating underground worm, mixed well with darker scenes in the Harkonnen’s lair.

Dune (2021) is made incredibly well and is a clear spectacle. I found it too similar to other genre films to give it a thumbs up unless you are already a fan of the novel, but this style of cinema may not really be my cup of tea.

Villeneuve, who directed Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 knows his way around the fantasy genre and is perfectly capable. He is directing Dune: Part II to be released in 2023 so I’d expect more of the same.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Costume Design, Best Sound (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Visual Effects (won),

Spartacus-1960

Spartacus-1960

Director Stanley Kubrick

Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons

Scott’s Review #1,250

Reviewed April 30, 2022

Grade: A

Typically, when influential director Stanley Kubrick’s name is uttered, films such as The Shining (1980), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Barry Lyndon (1975) are immediately thought of, and for obvious reasons.

The haunting, moody musical score, the long camera shots, the dark humor, and the clever camera tricks are easy to pinpoint.

Rewinding to 1960, the director was brought in to grab the reigns and direct the gorgeous epic, Spartacus, after Hollywood star Kirk Russell had unceremoniously fired the first director.

None of the previously mentioned elements are easy for me to notice and are more or less absent, but a grand battle scene in a luscious green field is very reminiscent of Barry Lyndon. This is likely because Spartacus was not Kubrick’s film entirely instead it belonged to others with more clout.

Spartacus is a brilliant film for many reasons. Some epics suffer from a hokey, cliched feel and can be overwrought, predictable, and tired.

The rebellious Thracian Spartacus (Russell), born and raised a slave, is sold to Gladiator trainer Batiatus (Ustinov). After training to kill for the arena, Spartacus turns on his owners and leads the other slaves in rebellion.

As the rebels move from town to town, their numbers increase as escaped slaves join their ranks. Under the leadership of Spartacus, they make their way to southern Italy, where they intend to cross the sea and return to their homes.

Spartacus is grand, sweeping, cinematically great, and everything else you’d expect from a 1960s Hollywood epic with enormous stars of its day. Looking beneath the surface, the film is riddled with interesting tidbits like bisexuality, homoeroticism, and violence more in tune with an art film or modern war film than the safety of a film made during this time.

Particularly noteworthy is that Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of alleged Communist influences in the motion picture industry.

After the release of Spartacus, it marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other affected screenwriters.

Thank goodness.

In a famous scene, recaptured slaves are asked to identify Spartacus in exchange for leniency; instead, each slave proclaims himself to be Spartacus, thus sharing his fate.

The suggestion is that this scene was meant to dramatize the solidarity of those accused of being Communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era.

Besides the political importance, Spartacus showcases a beautiful romance between Spartacus (Russell) and Varinia (Jean Simmons), a gorgeous slave girl. The tenderness and authenticity are palpable as many of their early scenes involve no dialogue but only longing and expression through both actors’ eyes.

I celebrated the connection between the actors at the forefront of much romance. Russell carries the film with a calm, masculinity that easily makes him heroic and likable.

He is the charismatic good guy who has been wronged and ill-fated.

A sequence oozing with machismo and homoeroticism occurs when evil Crassus (Olivier) is bathed by his slave boy Antoninus (Tony Curtis). He seductively explains that while sometimes he prefers snails, he also likes oysters. The implication is that he is bisexual, brazenly so, and expects the youngster to become his sex slave.

The warmth of the bathtub and the luxurious atmosphere are juxtapositioned against the proximity and touch of both male characters.

In 1960, this scene was way ahead of its time.

The conclusion of Spartacus is melancholy and surprising. The expectation might have been to happily see Spartacus and Varinia ride off into the sunset having bested the cruelty of Rome.

This doesn’t happen and the film is all the richer for it. There is pain and despair as there were in real life. Wisely sparing complete doom and gloom, the ending is satisfying as one major character escapes a deadly demise and conjures ahead.

Spartacus (1960) is one of the greats. It has muscle, texture, and many below-the-surface nuances ripe for discussion. It’s a must-see for many reasons.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Supporting Actor-Peter Ustinov (won), Best Art Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography-Color (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture

Jaws-1975

Jaws-1975

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw

Scott’s Review #1,240

Reviewed March 28, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audience empathizes with him.

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Dramatic Score (won), Best Sound (won)

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director Robert Zemeckis

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

Being a child of the 1980s films like Back to the Future (1985) left an indelible mark on me. I fondly recall excitedly going to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with a giant tub of popcorn in tow and enjoying the hell out of this film.

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

There exists a magical, futuristic element that left me and countless other youngsters and adults alike with a sense of wonder. And one amazing car!

Michael J. Fox, a huge television star of the 1980s largely thanks to the sitcom Family Ties, powered through to the big screen with the help of this film and others.

The 1980s was a wonderful decade to grow up in.

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry.

Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

To further complicate matters, Marty has to then return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

Back to the Future is one of those films that has something for everyone and the stars perfectly aligned to make it a blockbuster popcorn hit. Besides the science fiction elements, there is humor, a cool 1950s throwback vibe, romance, and natural chemistry between Fox and Lloyd who together carry the film.

It’s hardly an art film and goes for the jugular with mainstream additions like a killer soundtrack led by The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News which was all over top 40 radio in the summer of ’85. Counterbalancing the current times was another smash hit Johnny B. Goode, a 1958 Chuck Berry tune.

There is a safe vibe for sure and director Robert Zemeckis knows his action-adventure romantic comedies. This may be his best work but he also skews adding much diversity or heavy topics. He simply creates a fun, entertaining film.

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced.

Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

Lloyd is perfect as the zany Doc Brown. He is wacky without being too ridiculous and bridges the gap between generations. The character is presumed to be old enough to be Marty’s (in present-day) grandfather and the two characters rely on each other. Back to the Future shows that an unlikely friendship can develop.

The film is also great at depicting the vast differences between the 1950s and the 1980s. At a simpler time, the 1950s are viewed as wholesome while the 1980s are perceived as the decade of excess and some fun is poked at both generations. But, both generations can also connect.

In an acute moment, Marty helps secure his parent’s bond and ensures he is created. This could be viewed as icky to some but the romance between the two parents is tender and sweet. The interactions between all characters are sentimental without being saccharine.

Back to the Future was the feel-good film of 1985 and a must-see for those living in the period. It holds up surprisingly well with then state-of-the-art special effects not now looking dated or laughable. It also explores growing up as an adolescent and identifying with one’s parents and the differences they have.

Who can’t relate to that in some way?

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

Excalibur-1981

Excalibur-1981

Director John Boorman

Starring Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,108

Reviewed February 4, 2021

Grade: B+

John Boorman, most famous for directing a 1972 disturbing classic film Deliverance returns to the fold with steamy fantasy rich with lavish sets, visual treats, and an incredible atmosphere.

This is where the film succeeds.

We are taken to a medieval world where we embrace jealousy, sex, and schemes.

Boorman not only directs but produces and co-writes the project along with the screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg.

Excalibur (1981) retells the legend of King Arthur, a British leader from the fifth and sixth centuries mostly told by folklore, and the Knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th-century Arthurian romance Le Morte d’Arthur, at behemoth length, by Thomas Malory.

The table is symbolic because it implies that there is no head and therefore a democratic forum.

This telling is quite adult and not suitable or comprehensible for children.

Famous legends like Merlin (Nicol Williamson), Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi), and Morgana (Helen Mirren) appear alongside Arthur (Nigel Terry) in a furious battle for control.

In a flurry of handsome European actors who would later become famous, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson both appear.

Most of the male cast are masculine, hunky, and very handsome. These traits cascade to how good they look in full body armor, shields, and swords doing bloody battles with each other.

Homoerotic scenes exist just as they did in Deliverance. Lest we only focus on the male cast, Helen Mirren is delightful as an evil seductress who oozes sex appeal.

The magical sword of Excalibur starts in the hands of a British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years later, finds its way to his bastard son, Arthur, who is destined to become king but doesn’t realize why.

Merlin helps Arthur fulfill his fate by bringing together the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot and unifying the country.

Years later Arthur faces greater tests ahead in pursuit of love, the Holy Grail, and his nation’s survival as some attempt to steal the treasure for their advantage.

Excalibur had me with the visuals and I was able to immerse myself in the spectacular style and artistic set design with gorgeous sequences.

Several creative and glimmering shots of someone either emerging from or submerged underwater are featured. They are startlingly beautiful.

I pretended I had been whisked away to an otherworld of enchantment that I could sit back and enjoy.

The knowledge that the entire film was shot in Ireland captured and enraptured me. The breathtaking greenery and waterfalls are dreamlike. When Lancelot beds Guenevere in the forest they both appear nude. Their pale white flesh against the green is both magical and seductive.

And a treat for one’s curious eyes.

The story is overly complicated with reality mixed with either dreams or fantasy and some of the plots confused me. I finally got to a point where the intricacies became too much for me to comprehend especially against the stunning backdrops.

The plot became too jumbled and messy so it is advisable to drift off and take it all in rather than trying to make sense of everything.

A visual marvel Excalibur (1981) will delight the apt film fan. I fantasized about how the picture would look and feel on the big screen but I wasn’t that lucky.

The story is obviously far-fetched and ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t matter and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it.

I was treated to good-looking people in armor, unique costumes, and various states of undress. And that’s just fine with me.

The Concorde…Airport ’79-1979

The Concorde…Airport ’79-1979

Director David Lowell Rich

Starring Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,078

Reviewed November 7, 2020

Grade: B

The fourth and final installment of the popular Airport film franchise, The Concorde…Airport ’79 (1979) has an appealing and sophisticated international flavor, mainly French culture, that may turn off some viewers seeking a more traditional and domestic offering.

The three previous installments contained a wholesome Americana quality that is lacking in this one. The rich culture is the high point for me in a film that by all accounts is not very good.

By the late 1970s, the disaster genre had all but crashed and burned so the film was commercially unsuccessful, and the franchise thus abandoned.

The plot is utterly ridiculous even by disaster standards and my hunch is that ideas of what could go wrong on an airplane were hard to find. After all, it’s not easy to top an airliner crashing and sinking into the ocean, leaving most passengers unscathed.

This time we experience an airplane flying upside down (more than once!), nose-diving (more than once!), and nearly doing backflips and summersaults (more than once!).

Disappointing is the limited amount of deaths that occur despite these treacheries unless you count a shooting inside an apartment and a suicide that have little to do with the plane ride.

Back to my original point, the cultured and vibrant foreign presence, specifically Paris and its lustrous and historic offerings, is the high point of The Concorde…Airport ’79.

The City of Lights is heavily featured as a team of American Olympic athletes traveling from Washington D.C. to Moscow by way of a layover at Charles De Galle airport. The heavenly site of the Eifel Tower is an immediate identifier as French pilot, Captain Paul Metrand (Alain Delon), flies the state-of-the-art Concorde to the United States to transport its passengers to the games.

There is a strong French flavor to this film. During the Paris layover, George Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, now a pilot, befriends a gorgeous woman named Francine, whom he bonds with over dinner.

They, and others, embark on a fabulous French bistro and have the time of their lives. Who cares that she is later revealed to be a prostitute? The setting oozes with French goodness, food, and sexy accents.

One peculiarity is why the trip goes from Paris to Washington D.C. back to Paris and then on to Moscow. It’s a bit confusing and unnecessary.

Unintentionally funny is how the Concorde is attacked by a drone en route to Paris, and then a bomb is planted on the plane before takeoff to Moscow. Trouble occurs in the same plane with the same passengers.

You would think anyone with half a brain would sit the second leg out, perhaps hopping on the nearest boat or train out of town.

The main story is secondary and quite superfluous. Robert Wagner plays Kevin Harrison, a corrupt arms dealer who plots the destruction of the Concorde because news reporter and girlfriend, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) has evidence of his weapons sales to communists.

He plans to blow up the plane, killing all the passengers, instead of hiring an assassin to kill only Maggie when she lands and before she can tell authorities.

The plot is completely story-driven.

Several celebrity cameos are added mostly for comic relief and largely go nowhere.

Jimmie Walker as the pot-smoking, saxophone-playing Boise, and Martha Raye’s bathroom-crazed Loretta are ridiculous by any standards. Charo’s one scene as Margarita, a woman who sneaks her dog on board and is subsequently kicked off the flight is a time waste.

I would have rather witnessed another scene of Loretta needing to use the restroom or Boise getting high.

And Susan Blakely overacts throughout the film.

Despite all these hard knocks, The Concorde…Airport ’79 (1979) is good entertaining fun, not to be taken seriously, and encouraged for fans of the genre.

There is much fun to be had with the guest stars, once A-list, now B or C-list, and the crash-landing finale over the snowy Alps is pretty cool.

Just know what you are getting yourself into.

Airport ’77-1977

Airport ’77-1977

Director Jerry Jameson

Starring Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland

Scott’s Review #1,072

Reviewed October 20, 2020

Grade: B+

The word that springs to mind following a viewing of the disaster flick Airport ’77 (1977) is entertaining. Whether this is positive or negative depends on the viewer and what that viewer wants out of a film.

As a huge fan of the disaster genre, I was one satisfied customer though there is little to distinguish the film from other efforts. It is a more cohesive and professional-feeling effort than its predecessor, Airport ’75.

The fun is watching the cast, the grandiose list of who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights gracing the opening credits.

We wonder who will survive and who will not.

The star is the airplane. Showcased by way of both interiors and exteriors, the luxurious privately-owned Boeing 747-100 is a great highlight of the picture.

Owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart), the plane is packed with VIPs and priceless art traveling to his Florida estate for a party.

The wealthy travelers are drugged, and the aircraft is subsequently hijacked before crashing into the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle and sinking 100 feet, prompting the survivors to undertake a desperate struggle to live.

The airplane set is a feast for the eyes. A double-deck plane (naturally!) the plush green carpets and the spiral staircase complete with a robust bar stocked with every type of liquor imaginable are wonderful trimming.

It allows the viewer to forget all about the typical in-flight treats like their seat being kicked, a screaming baby, or a fat man snoring, and escape to the pleasures of champagne, caviar, and slippers.

Seriously, the sets are tremendous and worthy of their accolades.

Jerry Jameson, primarily a television director, sticks to a formulaic approach that makes the film look like a long television series. Think Murder, She Wrote, Dallas, or Dynasty at 30,000 feet.

I say this because the melodrama is sky-high (no pun intended) and situations arise between flight crew and passengers to create more tension than the crash itself.

The juiciest drama exists between husband and wife Martin (Christopher Lee) and Karen Wallace (Lee Grant). He flirts with women at the bar, drinks too much, and gets jealous. They squabble. You get the idea.

What a joy it is to see some of the stars on-screen together, specifically Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten. As Nicholas, Cotten is a romantic match for de Havilland’s Emily Livingston, and they appear to be old friends.

Fans of classic cinema will undoubtedly associate him with Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and her with Gone with the Wind (1939) and to see the legendary stars side by side is darling, nearly worth the price of admission.

Stewart is perfectly cast as the rich and distinguished man eager to see the impending arrival of his estranged daughter and her son, hopeful of a happy reunion.

These delights are why I love this genre.

The actors teeter back and forth between phoning in their lines and enthusiastically having a ball with their respective roles. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. I’ll bet the set was tension-free as everyone was earning a bundle of cash.

And why not? The budget is plentiful and filled with overabundance.

The plot is generally ludicrous as is to be expected. The thought that anyone, let alone nearly everyone, could survive a crash into the ocean and remain unscathed as it sinks to the depths of the water is beyond silly.

Suddenly, when all passengers conveniently emerge from their drug-induced stupor simultaneously, hysterics erupt which is quite humorous. As the water slowly begins to seep into the plane a frenzied effort to find a way out commences.

The last portion of the film involving a rescue crew coming to save the passengers is a disappointment, lacking much captivation.

Airport ’77 (1977) has all the elements its target viewer expects it to have. If the well-known cast were instead unknowns the crash peril and its following adventure were not danger personified, and the dramatic and romantic tensions left out, the film would be a disappointment.

The film is like sinking your teeth into a fattening, highly caloric Whopper from your favorite Burger King. It’s a guilty pleasure that you wouldn’t necessarily tell your health-conscious friends you get so much enjoyment from.

But, it’s fun, so why not indulge from time to time?

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

Airport 1975-1974

Airport 1975-1974

Director Jack Smight

Starring Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

Scott’s Review #1,060

Reviewed September 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Possessing all the disaster film genre schmaltz, proper trimmings, and then some, Airport 1975 (1974) is good, hammy entertainment that gleefully satisfies, though artistic types will be embarrassed to admit how much they like it.

In parallel with The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974), the three were some of the highest-grossing films of the year and it is little wonder why. The offering has enough adventure and peril to satisfy the entire family.

I watched this film practically in tandem with Airport (1970) and it feels a letdown by comparison, but that hardly matters. Both are very good.

With juicy anticipation, the filmmakers paid a ton of cash to secure a bevy of Hollywood stars of yesteryear assuring they could rake in the box office receipts.

Most are past their prime but still marketable, what a treat to see legendary silent film star Gloria Swanson playing herself as a passenger.

The unequivocal star and hero of the film is Charlton Heston, as he also was in Earthquake. Karen Black, Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Susan Clark, Nancy Olson, and George Kennedy (reprising his role from the first Airport) round out the stellar cast.

Worth its price of admission is watching the opening credits to see who is in the cast.

Unlike Airport, which wisely spent much of its time inside the actual airport setting up the events and stories, Airport 1975 takes flight right away and crafts its trials and tribulations within the aisles and cockpit of the plane.

We learn right off the bat that the main romantic couple is Heston and Black. Captain Alan Murdock (Heston) apparently cannot commit to Chief Stewardess Nancy Pryor (Black) and they plan to meet up in Los Angeles to discuss the drama further.

We know they will have more to do with each other as her flight takes off for La La Land.

Quickly, a small plane flown by businessman Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) is diverted to Salt Lake City airport and he suffers a massive heart attack while descending.

His plane naturally crashes into the cockpit of the enormous Boeing 747 killing two pilots and blinding the other.

With nobody able to fly the plane, Nancy must figure out how to divert disaster while cascading over mountains and contending with a fuel leak. Murdock and crew try to land the plane remotely or get somebody up there to save the day.

Predictably, Murdock is that man.

If Airport 1975 weren’t so damned fun it would be offensive since it’s riddled with gender stereotypes. Screenwriter, Don Ingalls, composes a project so fraught with machismo and masculinity, that the female characters have little chance to do much of anything without being saved by a man.

Let’s cite a couple of examples. Nancy is left alone in the open cockpit to navigate the plane.

Worthy of mention is that her hair remains perfect throughout.

Anyway, Murdock must explain to her how to check various controls which he does as if she were a five-year-old learning the alphabet, referring to a picture of the “little airplane” and calling her “dear”.

She rattles off a puzzled “what?” before figuring out where or what the “little airplane” is.

Secondary Stewardess Bette (Christopher Norris) is boy crazy, asking Nancy if the flight crew is “sexy” before making googly eyes at Latin pilot, Julio (Erik Estrada). He is married but that doesn’t seem to bother either of them.

They flirt while he orders her to bring him a cup of coffee. The male characters telling the female characters to get them drinks is a common theme in Airport 1975.

Naturally, Murdock eventually makes it on board to take over the controls and land the plane.

We imagine Nancy’s character thinking, “Good Heavens, thank goodness a man arrived just in the nick of time to save all of us!”. She promptly is sent to get Murdock a drink and fluff pillows.

But these are gripes that I can look past with the knowledge that if this film were made in 2020 Nancy would either land the plane or Murdock would be a female character and Nancy a male character.

Imagine that!

The real threats are the peril and drama associated with the events on the flight.

A sick kid (Linda Blair) must reach land quickly so that she can be provided medical assistance while a crack in the airplane ceiling could burst at any moment killing everyone on board.

For popcorn-fueled entertainment sure to please any viewer Airport 1975 (1974) is a perfect late-afternoon, rainy day suggestion.

Advisable is to not look too deeply into the stereotypes and contrived setups or this will ruin the fun. Instead, hop aboard and enjoy the bumpy flight from the comfy cushions of your living room with the assurance that you will land safe and sound.

Airport-1970

Airport-1970

Director George Seaton

Starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes

Scott’s Review #1,059

Reviewed September 2, 2020

Grade: A

The film that triggered the popular disaster genre that captivated much of 1970’s cinema, Airport (1970) led the pack in innovation and entertained the masses with a large cast of A-list Hollywood stars suffering peril.

What fun!

The blueprint continued with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974). Interestingly, the Airport contains little death, unlike the others who systematically killed off cast members in a reverse whodunit, more like “who gets it”.

It holds up quite well.

Airport is pure bliss for me. An enormous fan of the disaster epic, to begin with, this one satisfies my obsessions with airports and airplanes, adding late 1960s sophistication and style, and a healthy dose of sub-plots.

From a romantic triangle to mental illness to an elderly stowaway named Ada (Helen Hayes), the storylines mesh so that there’s never a dull moment. Events occur amid a twenty-four-hour time, and a busy and snowy Chicago airport is the backdrop.

The cinematic spectacle was based on a little-known novel of the same name written by Arthur Hailey and turned into a screenplay written by George Seaton, who also directs the flick. I love it when a director also writes the dialogue because a better experience often prevails.

Seaton directed Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and a slew of other films, so he knows a thing or two about pulling the heartstrings while offering adventure.

The film was rated “G” so it’s a family-friendly affair.

A cold and snowy winter night in Chicago results in flight delays and a 707 plane getting stuck on the runway in snow and mud. As crews attempt to dig out the plane, Airport manager Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) is forced to work overtime. His furious wife Cindy (Dana Wynter) demands a divorce. He’s in love with Tanya anyway, a pretty customer relations agent for the airline, Trans Global Airlines, a clever play on Trans World Airlines.

Other characters emerge like a high-spirited chief mechanic (George Kennedy), and married man Vernon, who is a captain of TGA, and having an affair with stewardess Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), who is pregnant with his child.

The heavy is a mentally disturbed man named D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) who is so down on his luck that he desperately crafts a handmade bomb and takes out an insurance policy that his struggling wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton) will receive upon his death.

He boards a plane to Rome with most of the other characters, intent on detonating the bomb, killing himself, and leaving Inez with some financial relief. When she catches on she hurries to the airport, desperate to stop the flight from departing. Of course, things don’t go so well.

The Guerrero’s are my favorite characters. D.O. could have easily been written as a villain, one-note, and dastardly, but he isn’t. He is a sympathetic character, pained and wounded, his troubles are the result of war, and he oozes compassion.

Stapleton is tremendous as Inez, the suffering wife who loves her husband and desperately wants them to have a nice life. The actress gives a gut-wrenching performance that should have won her the Oscar.

Instead, it went to the comic talents of Hayes.

The main appeal of these stories is that the audience slowly gets to know, and falls in love, with the characters. They become like good friends.

The pacing is so good that it’s only the last forty-five minutes of the film where the real action takes place.

Strong characters and rich stories are offered as the buildup, and we know that peril is eventually coming, and indeed it does.

The special effects and the airplane set are fantastic for 1970. The luxury airline with its plush seats and catered meals is on display and the entire length of the plane, and the cockpit, are used heavily.

Characters walk up and down the aisles frequently, so the illusion is a vast and stylish airliner, even though a small set was probably used.

The stewardesses and pilots offer a glimpse of what a luxury it used to be to fly in style without the annoyances of long security lines, check-ins, and constant hassles.

Hell, D.O. casually walks on the plane with a bomb and Ada gets on without a second glance when she claims to be giving a passenger their dropped wallet!

Airport (1970) set the tone for other similar films to follow and successfully mixes sudsy dramatic stories of its characters’ lives with the thrills and plights of those same characters in danger.

I don’t consider it the fluff that many others do, but a satisfying, well-constructed film that still holds up well.

The film was followed by three sequels and heavily spoofed hilariously by the comedy Airplane! (1980).

It bears repeated viewings.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Helen Hayes (won), Maureen Stapleton, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-2019

Director-Joachim Ronnin

Starring-Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #1,039

Reviewed July 14, 2020

Grade: B+

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) is the follow-up to the 2014 film, simply named Maleficent, and while not a necessary sequel, the sequel bests the original.

The intent was to create a big, studio effort that would garner lots of cash and the experiment seems to have worked.

The production is not as frightening as the title would lead one to believe and kids over the age of ten would be just fine as a target audience.

While the screenplay has traditional plot trimmings and a predictable ending, the real winner is the visual and cinematic treats, which will leave viewers gasping. The lush landscapes, odd little worlds, castles, and forests, blossom with vibrant colors and exquisite shapes and objects.

It may mostly be CGI but marvelous all the same.

To recap, the character of Maleficent debuted in the 1959 classic animated Disney film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is an evil fairy and the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” who, after not being invited to a christening, curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday.

The character has since “evolved”, now portrayed as a sympathetic character, who is misunderstood in trying to protect herself and her domain from humans.

For five years Aurora (Elle Fanning) has reigned peacefully as Queen of the Moors with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) serving as teacher and protector. They have a rapturous relationship and flock and carry on with fairies and animals alike.

Handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Aurora, thereby uniting her kingdom to his, which is met with caution by his parents, specifically his mother Queen Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer).

When the players gather for a celebratory dinner Maleficent is mocked, causing her to fly into a rage, setting off a war between humans and fairies.

A key positive, and a story shift, is that Maleficent, a legendary film villain, is written sympathetically and the plot device works. Rather than have her sparring with daughter Aurora, the duo team up to thwart the devious efforts of the evil Queen Ingrid, who is the real villain.

Jolie and Pfeiffer must have had fun playing the roles and both perform their respective parts adequately. Favorable to me is Jolie, adding just enough vulnerability to balance her fierce nature and blood-red lips. Pfeiffer plays the role straight, as a caricature, with no redeeming value.

Both roles are fun.

Keeping in mind the target audience, the characters of Maleficent and Aurora are inspiring, especially to young females everywhere. The film adds more than a hint of progressive feminism as both characters are strong and no-nonsense.

This does not take away from their sensitivity or their sense of fairness. Both could equally be role models of tough yet compassionate female characters.

In most Disney films there are heroes and villains and we all know and expect that. The standard storyline of good revolting against evil is on display and an epic climactic battle scene gives a customary ending to the film.

Likewise, the fairy tale romance between Prince and Princess is prominently featured and for my money, Dickinson and Fanning are tremendous in the roles.

The chemistry is apparent between the actors and there is a nice balance between a believable romance and strong independent characters.

Queen Ingrid, barely a mention in the original animated film, is turned into an evil shrew, all completely plot-driven. The story is what I expected it to be and not the high point of the film.

More impressive is how the viewer can easily escape into a world of make-believe and long to stay there forever. Especially for the younger viewers, the Moors is a bevy of magical creatures and fluttering fairies rich with goodness.

The comical Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, the red fairy, green fairy, and blue fairy respectively, make a return appearance, though in a limited capacity. It would have been nice to give them a stronger presence providing more wisdom, more advice, and more humor, but they serve their comic relief purpose well.

Will there be a third incarnation of Maleficent?

The filmmakers provide a strong likelihood. After Aurora and Philip wed, Maleficent returns to the Moors with the other Dark Fey, teaching the young fairies to fly. She promises to return for Aurora and Philip’s future child’s christening.

This vow seems like an easy setup to build on the original storyline, unlocking the next chapter in this engaging saga.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring (ENGLISH) Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

For any lover of all things cats or all things Paris, A Cat in Paris (2010) is a double-punch winner in themes alone and a pure treat.

The French-made film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature along with Chico and Rita (2010), another foreign language animated feature, both considered surprise entries.

This was monumental as it aided subsequent non-American features to be allowed into the mix.

The former is a moody and mysterious caper story involving a cat and a young Parisian girl and the adventures they share. The traditional ink colors and hand drawings are lovely and creative, adding to the inventive mood.

The feline-centered story and feminist empowerment angle provide a unique and worthy experience to be well remembered. The French language version contains native language voices while the English version has English speakers.

The main protagonist of the film is Dino, a pet cat who leads a double life. By day he lives with his friend Zoe (Lauren Weintraub), a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is a detective in the Parisian police force.

He sneaks out of the window each night to work with Nico (Steve Blum), a slinky cat burglar with a heart of gold, who regularly evades captors as he glides and swishes from rooftop to rooftop with the picturesque Paris skyline serving as a backdrop.

Dino’s two worlds collide when one night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures and falls into the dangerous hands of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), an intimidating gangster who is planning the theft of a rare statue.

Now the cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame.

In an acute tongue-in-cheek final moment, Nico gives Jeanne a snow globe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in it as a Christmas present.

Despite the film being an animated one, this fact does not take away from the cultural and sophisticated Parisian experience.

Delicious views of the distinguished Eifel Tower and the luminous, glowing skylines of the City of Lights assuredly will captivate each viewer fortunate enough to have ever visited the magical city in person, or those who have daydreamed an afternoon away imagining experiencing the grand city.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is mirrored throughout A Cat in Paris, specifically his film To Catch a Thief (1955). That film is set along the French Riviera instead of in Paris but features a cat burglar, a thrilling rooftop climax, and enough cat and mouse-thrills to last a lifetime.

The director’s work is easy to spot, and the filmmakers are wise to adapt to his style, carefully weaving elements into an animated film with the hopes of exposing children to intelligent filmmaking.

Adults will equally love the film.

At a mere one hour and five minutes, nearly teetering classification of a short film instead of a full-length feature, A Cat in Paris (2010) more than accomplishes what it sets out to in the limited time.

Utilizing fantastic silhouettes and lit shapes and angles, the visual treats alone make this one exceptional. Adding tidbits of the greatest film director of all time’s work without outright stealing it is a wise choice.

May more intelligent international animated films like this one receive their deserved exposure to mass audiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

21 Jump Street-2012

21 Jump Street-2012

Director Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #992

Reviewed February 20, 2020

Grade: C+

21 Jump Street (2012) is a nostalgic ode to the general style of the 1980s, more specifically a popular television series that ran from 1987 to 1991.

The teen police drama launched the successful career of actor Johnny Depp.

He starred as the good-looking leader of a team of young police officers who can pass for high school students, and infiltrate potential drug rings, prostitution circles, or other such shenanigans.

The film is hardly high art nor cinematic genius. The gags are silly and trite, other times not funny at all. But the film contains a freshness that feels cool, sleek, and fun and a throwback to the decade of materialism, and the film never apologizes for this.

The combination of stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have nice chemistry, turning a standard buddy film into something bearable to watch.

The film is formulaic, but not dull.

The filmmakers strive for an action-comedy hybrid even though the series was only conventional drama and taught a lesson with each episode. They also change course and focus on two characters instead of a group making it more of a guy movie.

Honor roll student Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular underachieving jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) reunite seven years after graduating high school at the police academy where they are studying to be cops.

Eager to leave their juvenile problems, and their dislike for each other behind, they use their youthful appearances to go undercover at a local high school as part of a Jump Street unit.

As they trade in their guns and badges for books and bagged lunches, Schmidt and Jenko risk their lives to investigate a violent and dangerous drug ring.

They slowly realize that high school is nothing like they left it just a few years earlier, and they revisit the terror and anxiety of being a teenager again and all the issues they assumed they had left behind.

The film is mediocre and while there is nothing wrong with the film, nothing is outstanding about it either. As the setup poises the audience, Morton and Greg are opposites in every way and must come together to achieve a common goal.

This is a standard cliche told countless times in films such as Stir Crazy (1983) and 48 Hours (1982), the reference being one of the 1980s.

Speaking of the decade of excess, 21 Jump Street achieves what it sets out to in this regard with a clever nod to a revived scheme from that decade.

Set in present times, the film is nonetheless a nod to teen films of the day.

Wild comedy and lavish adventures are in order in every high school situation imaginable. Dating, AP chemistry class, and the senior prom are heavily promoted so that any viewer above the age of twenty-five can reminisce.

A fun and necessary quality is the inclusion of a few of the original cast of the television series-Holly Robinson Peete, Peter DeLuise, and Johnny Depp all appear in cameo roles. This is a treat for fans of the original series and a tribute to its creation, though nothing else is utilized very well and no other history ever quite measures up.

Robinson Peete’s role is nice because she appears as a police officer.

While doing little to honor the television series it is based on, instead of churning out more of a male cop film, the incorporation of the original cast does deserve praise.

The lead actors are charismatic and clever in their roles which saves the film from being a disaster.

21 Jump Street (2012) kvetches too far into slapstick instead of sending an important message to its audience, which it could have.

The box-office hit was followed in 2014 by an unnecessary remake, aptly entitled 22 Jump Street.

101 Dalmatians-1996

101 Dalmatians-1996

Director Stephen Herek

Starring Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson

Scott’s Review #989

Reviewed February 13, 2020

Grade: C+

The classic animated Disney film 101 Dalmatians (1961) is brought to life in a live-action format thirty-five years later to create a fresh spin on the revered original film.

Unfortunately, the result is nothing special save for Glenn Close’s brilliant performance as the dastardly Cruella De Vil. Otherwise, the reworking is too amateurish and largely unnecessary, especially as compared to the brilliance and charm of the original.

Thankfully not modifying the London setting, American video game designer Roger Dearly (Jeff Daniels) lives with his pet dalmatian, Pong.

Lonely, Roger trudges along through life without a love interest. During a walk, Pongo sets his eyes on a beautiful female dalmatian named Perdy. After a chase through the streets of London that ends in St. James’s Park, Roger discovers that Pongo likes Perdy.

Her owner, Anita Campbell-Green (Joely Richardson) immediately falls in love with Roger and the duo are inseparable.

They get married along with Perdy and Pongo. Anita works as a fashion designer at the House of de Vil. Her boss, the pampered and glamorous Cruella de Vil (Close), has a passion for fur.

Anita, inspired by her Dalmatian, designs a coat made with spotted fur, and Cruella is intrigued by the idea of wearing Anita’s dog. She hatches a plot to steal and kill the puppies for her lavish gain.

The scenes between the dogs are cute and work better than the intended romance relationship between the humans. A darling pursuit in the animated feature that does not shine through with real actors.

Either the chemistry between Daniels and Richardson does not exist or the scene is too forced, or perhaps both. I did not buy the love, at first sight, stars aligning moments.

I bet most audiences didn’t either. The result is a banal and stale connection between Roger and Anita, meant to be the core of the story.

Enough cannot be said for what Close brings to the role. The actress gives a tremendous performance and sinks her teeth into the most prominent and interesting part of the film.

With a sinister sneer, a flowing red and white coat, and a token cigarette holder, she infuses Cruella with dazzling menace.

Careful not to overact and result in a juvenile character, she relishes the role, providing just enough comedy without being too scary. The performance is perfect.

A negative is that, unlike the animated version, none of the animals have speaking voices. This detracts from the earnest quality of expressive, talking animals.

What pet owner does not imagine what their cat or dog would sound like if they talked?

Instead, the puppies sniff and look cute, making themselves distracted and unclear about what feelings they have. One wonders why the decision was made in this way, but it does little to provide texture.

101 Dalmatians are too cute for their good, limiting any sophistication. The original had British intelligence and a cultural voice, with small, yet important details, like falling rain, that live-action cannot mimic.

The 1996 version is kid-friendly, but brings little to the table, lacking interesting flair. Why not teach a lesson about the dalmatian dog breed rather than settle for simply an adorable slant?

Rumors abound that parents adopted dalmatians for their children after seeing the film and were forced to return them, rather than invest time in study, realizing that raising a dalmatian is hard work.

The idea to remake an adorable and cozy Walt Disney classic from the 1960s with a fresh approach is admirable. The live-action detail could add a new twist or an inventive spin that could appeal to a new generation of youngsters.

Unfortunately, 101 Dalmatians (1996) works unwell, barely rising above mediocrity, with an aura of fluff and gimmicks that feel forced and trite. The saving grace is Glenn Close, a tremendous talent who gives it her all despite sub-par material.

Stick to the original 1961 version.

10,000 B.C.- 2008

10,000 B.C.- 2008

Director Roland Emmerich

Starring Steven Strait, Camilla Belle

Scott’s Review #988

Reviewed February 11, 2020

Grade: F

10,000 B.C. (2008) is a by-the-numbers adventure/action hybrid film that attempts to be slick and modern with catchy visual elements and instead bottoms out resulting in an example of terrible filmmaking.

The CGI usurps all other qualities providing no historical accuracy, with a ridiculous 2008 feel rather than the time at hand. Those involved only had maximum box office returns in mind when the film was created.

An irritating formulaic quality and poor acting across the board leave this one dead on arrival.

Fierce, masculine mammoth hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out on an impossible journey to rescue the woman he loves, Evolet, (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord and save the people of his village.

While venturing into the unknown and frightening territories, D’Leh and his fellow warriors discover an amazing civilization rife with possibilities.

Predictably, the warriors are attacked and slaughtered, leaving the young man to protect the remaining group while winning the heart of a princess, well above his station in life.

The story is complete schmaltz and easy to predict from nearly the very beginning of the film.

Powerful invaders force the hunters of D’Leh’s tribe into slavery and accost the princess in such a fashion that the setup is all put neatly in place for the viewer, providing nothing out of the ordinary. When the young and naive boy has an epiphany and realizes he is the only one who can save his tribe from extinction, it is all too much.

The film is riddled with cliche after cliche after cliche.

A tough ask to lead a film with summer blockbuster written all over it, newcomers Strait and Belle do their best, which only enhances how poor their acting is.

Cast for their good looks, they can offer little else. For audience delight, Strait is costumed with a bad wig, dripping sweat, and bulging muscles. Belle is also victimized as she pouts and sulks while wearing skimpy clothing.

The result is a standard boy meets a girl, the boy loses the girl, and the boy becomes a man to save the girl’s mess. Inexplicable is how they meet and fall in love before ever speaking or getting to know each other.

If only the bad acting were the only negative the film might be fair to middling, but nothing good is ever offered. All the hunters and tribesmen look like modern people dressed to look from a different period.

The endless battle scenes borrow from the legions of action and adventure films that have come before it. The animals prance across the screen in obvious timed moments providing little in the way of authenticity.

Director, Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) has a knack for creating large epic adventures to please mainstream audiences.

There is nothing wrong with a conventional film if it manages to teach the viewer something or offer something of merit. With a target audience of pubescent boys and girls yearning to learn, Emmerich misses a golden opportunity to present an imaginative prehistoric moment and provide a lesson.

Complete with a bad story and bad acting, the drivel conjured up is nearly too much.

10,000 B.C. (2008) cannot be saved by the over-stylish visuals because they are so phony one cannot even fathom any credibility. The good-looking main stars look straight out of a glossy magazine and hardly from the prehistoric era presented.

With a little attempt at giving audiences anything of substance, this film is an epic fail to be missed.

The Lion King-2019

The Lion King-2019

Director-Jon Favreau

Voices-Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #981

Reviewed January 17, 2020

Grade: B

An impossible feat would have been to eclipse the magic of the stage version or the loveliness of the animated version, but The Lion King (2019) offers a different approach well.

Arguably, animated in a way and in a way not, this version is heavily CGI (or in this case computer-generated animation-CGA) infused with marvelous visual effects and creativity. Partial to the two-former offering, this telling is lovely and perfect for the entire family.

The realism of the animals and scenery is remarkable.

To recap new viewers, the story centers on a den of lions living among the creatures in the “Pride Lands of Africa”. They hunt, prance, love, and guard their territory, mostly from the hungry hyenas, who are kept at bay during peaceful times.

King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) are fair rulers and anticipate their son, Simba (Donald Glover), taking over the throne one day much to the chagrin of Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who was passed over for the crown.

Envious of Simba, Scar tricks him and his friend Nala (Beyonce) into wandering in the land of the hyenas hoping to cause their deaths. When his plot is foiled by a heroic Mufasa, Scar ups the ante and hatches a scheme to kill his brother.

He not only succeeds but makes Simba believe he caused his father’s death. Ashamed, the youngster runs away to begin a new life unaware that he will one day return to save the day.

Props must be given to the filmmakers for inclusion and cultural authenticity as many of the characters, especially those front and center, are voiced by African- American talent. This is a high achievement since the film is set in Africa and why would the voices be Caucasian?

Heavyweights like Jones and Woodard sound polished, especially Jones with his deep and dominant, yet fatherly voice, perfectly cast as the King. Woodard provides gentle warmth and confident complexity.

The musical numbers are terrific.

The film begins with an energetic and tribal rendition of “Circle of Life” where a legion of wild animals dance around together in a warm example of diversity. The song appears later in the film. The powerful and romantic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is performed against a lovely moonlight sky with decadent stars.

The new song “Spirit” performed by Beyonce is adequate but does not figure into the story as much as it should, seeming more like an afterthought.

The best parts of The Lion King, however, are the astounding visuals.

With contrasting sequences of bright, sprawling African terrain and a magical oasis of colorful flowers and running water, set against the dark and foreboding land of the dangerous hyenas, offers the viewer a multitude of treats to dine on.

The orange and red colors during the climactic finale are unrivaled in the dazzling bombast of adventure.

As realistic as the elements are in the film, they are also negative. Watching the animals talk and prowl amid the lush landscape felt wonderful, until realizing that all of it is fake. Real animals were never used, and it is all a virtual reality tool making the effects look real.

This aspect slightly saddens me as the genuine quality left me feeling robbed. The possibility of another alternative would have meant a reboot of the animated classic and I am not sure that would have been wise.

Favreau, once an actor and now a director, known for creating films such as Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), certainly knows his way around an adventure film.

The story, while containing some menacing moments, also feels a bit safe and lacks the freshness or edginess that the 1994 version possessed. Something seems watered down and the excitement and heart of the original feel missed.

I will always go back to the animated 1994 treasure for a cinematic feast, but while The Lion King (2019) could have been a disaster, it isn’t. With modernized songs and enough CGA to last a lifetime, I could easily see some people hating the film, but I embraced it for what it is.

Spectacular visual treats await any fan of cinema as one will ponder how the project all came together.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects

300-2007

300-2007

Director Zack Snyder

Starring Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #977

Reviewed January 7, 2020

Grade: D

On paper 300 (2007) could have been a good or even a great film under different circumstances, if a historical realism or a message of some kind had existed.

Unfortunately, what sounds like an interesting premise is met with a cartoon quality, over-acting, and cheesy testosterone-laden bombast.

Little more than drivel, the film is saved slightly by a charismatic lead, male flesh, and potent homo-eroticism, but this is no Magic Mike (2012), and the content fails because it is intended to be taken seriously.

The result is a silly affair, with predictability, and cliches for miles.

The story is based on a 1998 comic series of the same name that is a fictionalized retelling of a battle within the Persian War.

The flimsy plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (hence the title).

As the battle rages on, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband (Leonidas) and conquer the army.

Butler is the only slight positive worth mentioning as he preens and prances in little more than a loin-cloth with chiseled abs during the battle scenes, ferociously bellowing at his enemy.

A fine-looking man, he is unarguably charismatic and poised, so the audience is strongly encouraged to root for him, and naturally for the Spartans. Leonidas makes for a powerful leader and is great to look at, but that is where any positives to this film end.

The scantily clad gimmick is not intended to draw female viewers to the film, or at least the intent doesn’t seem to be there unless the marketing is botched. There is enough male nudity to go around and the beefcake and machismo are clear in most of the characters.

Laughable is how the Spartans all have washboard abs and appear to be freshly waxed. Did they have access to state-of-the-art fitness centers in 479 BC?

The Persians are mostly face-pierced and sneering, the clear enemy, which does nothing to diminish racist overtones. Spartan-good, Persian-bad.

Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead-2004) motivation seems to be to market this film to pubescent teenage males or the low-IQ crowd so the stereotypes are not the best thing to witness nor will they cause anyone to feel very liberated or united.

The characters are either cookie-cutter or grizzled and violent, which is in tune with most of the film- bloody, but without reason, substance, or merit. One-note character after one-note character appears through each scene.

Most bothersome is the intent to stir a pro-war stance, not helpful given the target audience.

300 was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book which does nothing but make the film look like a high-energy video game.

The product is quite stylized with gloomy battleground scenes and dire bleakness and derives a graphic novel or comic book approach but lacks any subtle qualities or pretty much anything else interesting from a cinematography perspective.

The battle scene finale is by the numbers and should come as no surprise who the inevitable victor is. The film requires little thought or attention span and one can simply immerse themselves onto a cushion and absorb the nonsense couch-potato style.

Battle after battle erupts with cliched earnestness and a bevy of blood-spurting wounds and kills. This would be okay if there existed any point or good plot twist.

Any character development is missing.

300 (2007) is a weak offering and decidedly boring, a surprise since much of the events take place on the battleground where the action is produced a mile a minute. The experience is forgettable, and a legion of other action-fueled films exist with more meat and potatoes on their plate.

The sinister and stereotypical aspects make the resulting film less than fun and the big, loud, dumb product is only marginally cinematic.

We can do better.

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

Having not seen the first two installments of the latest Spider-Man franchise nor with any prior knowledge of The Avengers franchise, or the cross-sectional connections of the characters to other films, I walked into Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) with little expectations and admittedly limited understanding of the Marvel universe altogether.

The film is no better or worse than a summer popcorn flick with enough adventure and nice locales to keep a non- super-hero buff entertained for over two hours without fidgeting too much.

The film begins with a nod to a past film where a mysterious “Blip” occurred erasing people for five years where they then return to normalcy has not aged. Shots of various Avengers characters including Tony Stark (Iron Man) who have died appear on the screen amid a musical tribute to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”.

Peter Parker (Spider-Man) (Tom Holland) still mourns his mentor as he embarks on a two-week European vacation with his classmates as part of a school trip. He plans to confess his love for MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower in Paris.

Peter’s Aunt May (now reduced in age and sexy with the casting of Marisa Tomei) quickly packs his Spider-Man suit as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to enlist Peter’s help on a mission and provide him with Stark’s special glasses, named E.D.I.T.H. which possess all the databases of Stark Industries.

Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of Illusions is recruited to help Spider-Man and serve as a cool Uncle figure. These events all happen as Peter travels abroad.

The film is undeniably light and fun, with a bright and safe ambiance. The perilous scenes are not scary nor particularly dangerous despite characters being at risk of death.

The teen romance angle enhances this assessment as it is a main component of the film, even as much as the adventure and superhero antics are. Even before the teen classmates traversing throughout Europe, a triangle between Peter, MJ, and Peter’s hunky, high school football rival develops, as does love at thirty-five thousand feet between lovebirds Ned and Betty Brant.

Tom Holland is very well cast in the lead role and is charismatic and believable.  Charming with youthful innocence, he is a part nerd and part hero, but always empathetic and benevolent without this feeling forced.

As a viewer unfamiliar with the first two chapters, I was immediately catapulted into his world of teen angst, romance, and his responsibility of saving the world. The young actor could have a fine future ahead of him if he avoids any typecasting and chooses good roles.

The guts of the film, meaning the action sequences and the standard genre elements, are palpable and worthy of admiration on their own merits.

The visual effects are tremendous and crowd-pleasing, especially whenever Mysterio is involved. With a twisting, tornado-like blue and green swirling motion he flies in and out of sequences with enough pizzazz to put the Wicked Witch of the West to shame.

Similarly, the gusty unnatural storm, Earth Elemental, and the dangerous Fire provide magical and atmospheric power that helps the look of the film.

Comedy rather than dark and foreboding scenes are what the filmmakers seem to be going for with this project. As class trip chaperones and the student’s teachers, the comic duo of Julius Dell and Roger Harrington trade barbs with themselves and the kids, part bumbling and part incompetent, always offering comic moments of relief.

When Harold “Happy” Hogan becomes smitten with Aunt May, his awkwardness is cute and fresh rather than sappy and cliched. The supporting characters have the stuff to do but I would have preferred a bit more darkness or gloominess.

The sequences that rise Spider-Man: Far from Home above mediocrity are the wonderful and plentiful European scenes, a feast of riches for this fan of world travel and culture.

The canals of Venice and the magnificence of Prague are nearly rivaled by the sophistication of London and the history of Berlin. Sadly, the film does not culminate in Paris as I had hoped and was hinted at, causing a slight hiccup in my vicarious travel pleasures.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is a film perfectly crafted for summer and fittingly was viewed on a scorching hot July day. The film is not a masterpiece, sticking to a formula tried and true, and limiting the dangerous possibilities when one threatens to destroy the world in favor of humor.

The cast is likable, the villain compelling, and the romance showcases more than just the main couple, being careful not to limit the cash cow of special effects and adventure the film heavily provides.

Black Panther-2018

Black Panther-2018

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #805

Reviewed August 23, 2018

Grade: B+

For the record, I am not a huge superhero fan nor an obsessive follower of the popular Marvel comic series. I see a handful of, but hardly any of this particular genre of film, usually those (if any) receiving year-end recognition.

Having heard many positives regarding Black Panther (2018) I was looking forward to something creative and left of center from the typical genre film.

While the film has some standard super-hero elements, the fact that most of the characters are ethnic is an enormous plus and worth the price of admission alone.

To elaborate further, admittedly Black Panther plays out like a superhero film is “supposed” to play out fight scenes, machismo, action, and villains, with the standard good versus evil storyline thrown in.

This is all well and good and will undoubtedly please the traditional Marvel comic book fan. However, the nuances that the screenwriters and director, Ryan Coogler sneak into the film are what sets it above a mediocre rating.

The fact that nearly all of the principal characters are black is tremendous, and the female black characters portrayed as strong is huge.

Furthermore, the visual treats of Africa, Korea, and multi-cultural clothing and colors are noteworthy. While I wish the actual story would have steered further away from the tried and true, I was left happy with the other qualities.

The film begins with a quick story of how one African nation, Wakanda, came to be and proudly brought into existence the first “Black Panther” with superpowers obtained from a special plant.

As the action moves to Oakland, California, circa 1992, we learn that the King of Wakanda is visiting his brother who works undercover.

Following the King’s death, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes over the throne but is soon challenged by his cousin, N’Jadakan (Michael B. Jordan), who deems himself the rightful heir to the throne.

Another subplot involving a black-market arms leader named Ulysses Klaue, leads T’Challa, along with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to South Korea and back to Wakanda.

Black Panther feels ambitious to me- like seeing something of worth and something inventive and cool. The film is stylized and the direction that Coogler provides is spectacular, with bright, colorful, visual treats, especially as he features lavish African locales.

Admittedly, in a mainstream comic book film, laden with CGI effects, it is tough to know what is real or not real, but as a viewer, these aspects were a treat and pleasing to the eyes.

The plot of the film itself feels admittedly mediocre and tough to follow and a “been there done that” evaluation. By the same token, the story seems predictable, and is it any wonder that T’Challa will reclaim the throne as King of Wakanda?

After inevitable clashes with warrior-type men who want the throne and/or feel that they are the rightful heir to the throne, it does not matter too much.

This is not to say the film is not good, it is, but the plot is not the highlight of Black Panther, feeling fairly standard.

The male-female roles are an interesting study and progressive-minded. Granted the male characters (T’Challa, N’Jadaka, and M’Baku) are all testosterone-laden and fierce with machismo.

But despite being manly men they also contain some sensitivity and there is a unique family element to the characters.

On the other hand, the female characters are incredibly strong and empowering- a dynamic approach for a superhero film sure to be seen by millions. One female character is even an Army General! So the portrayal of women as strong warriors rather than merely secondary or arm candy is impressive.

The comic book or superhero genre is notoriously filled with gender stereotypes and specific, oftentimes generic aspects. With this work, it is nice to see some of these barriers broken down.

Between the recent Wonder Woman (2017) and Black Panther (2018), women and the black community have been represented positively.

Here’s to hoping that the LGBT community may be next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“All the Stars”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design (won), Best Costume Design (won)