Tag Archives: Biography

Nyad-2023

Nyad-2023

Director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Starring Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans

Scott’s Review #1,429

Reviewed June 28, 2024

Grade: B+

Nyad (2023) is a perfect example of a film made much better by the performances of its lead actors.

Heavyweights, Annette Bening, and Jodie Foster bring heart to their characters, making the viewer empathize and fall in love with them even when not likable.

Despite receiving Oscar nominations for both actors I semi-resisted watching the film and had it on my list for quite some time before biting the bullet and pressing play.

The previews enshroud the film in safety offering a feel-good, Cinderella-type story, pleasant but perhaps little more. A sports biography at that any nitwit searching Google could tell how the film would go.

The conclusion while inspiring is unsurprising and, spoiler alert, Bening as famous swimmer Diana Nyad, dramatically lumbers onto the sand of the Florida Keys amid cheers and chants of ‘Diana, Diana, Diana!’.

She is breathless and haggard but acknowledges her fans and friends.

Filmmakers, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin only needed to add slow-motion filmmaking to make this thunderous ovation more sappy. 

But they didn’t, and the husband and wife directors do an admiral job of incorporating various colors and cool editing tricks to make Nyad a bit more cutting-edge than it might have been.

The true story of tenacity, courage, friendship, and the human spirit’s triumph, is explored by telling of the life of world-class athlete Diana Nyad.

Three decades after giving up marathon swimming in exchange for a prominent career as a sports journalist, at the age of sixty, Diana has an epiphany.

She completes an epic swim of one hundred-and-ten-mile trek from Cuba to Florida, a feat she failed decades earlier. It takes her four years along with her best friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Foster) and a dedicated sailing team.

Bening and Foster have tremendous chemistry and every scene together sizzles with authenticity and humanism. Both are gay, it’s assumed they are longtime partners or a married couple. But it’s explained early on that they dated ‘for a minute’ and became best friends.

It turns into a film about female friendship and determination rather than romance. Other than Diana’s one feeble attempt at dating an uptight Los Angeles blonde neither woman date at all.

The flashier role goes to Bening who does not mind looking hideous in her film roles. Determined and aggressive, she slowly transforms into bloated, puffy, and unrecognizable, especially after her long swims.

A wonderful actor, Bening powerfully relays Nyad’s absolute need to attempt this historic feat. She sees her life passing her by and even though she is hardly a failure she doesn’t see herself as anything more.

Foster on the other hand is calm cool and collected, quite familiar with Nyad’s trials and tribulations and bouts of neediness. She’s spent years cow-towing to these needs.

But, Foster’s Bonnie is hardly a patsy or merely a supportive friend. She’s way more. In a brilliant scene, Bonnie confronts Diana and the pair have a blow-up scene. Bonnie needs more from her life and deserves it.

The women grow even closer after this emotional scene.

The film’s mid-section got a bit boring and I found myself tuning out until the big finale I knew was coming.

Since I knew Diana would eventually achieve her goal the three or four attempts feel dull. Bad weather, a jellyfish, fatigue, or other issues force the team to cancel the attempt.

Going in I would have guessed I’d rate Nyad (2023) a ‘B’ but thanks to Bening and Foster a ‘B+’ is a must.

There is so much to be said for brilliant acting and these two ladies know how to deliver the goods.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Annette Bening, Best Supporting Actress-Jodie Foster

Being the Ricardos-2021

Being the Ricardos-2021

Director Aaron Sorkin

Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem

Scott’s Review #1,426

Reviewed May 7, 2024

Grade: B+

Aaron Sorkin who has written or directed such efforts as A Few Good Men (1992), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is typically associated with mainstream films.

While quality projects, he will never be accused of being a dangerous or auteur director. Since he is in the director’s chair for Being the Ricardos (2021) I knew going in that the film would be more or less a safe venture.

Ironically, the film that tells the story of famous comedian Lucille Ball played by Nicole Kidman, and her husband Desi played by Javier Bardem is not a comedy. It’s a drama mixed with a biography for those audiences unfamiliar with the duo explaining who they are.

For those of us at least mildly familiar with the iconic black and white show ‘I Love Lucy’ that pivoted television shows into the spotlight in the 1950s, Being the Ricardos serves as a slice of nostalgia.

The film depicts many aspects of the relationship of the pair and the challenges that went into producing the hit television show every week. But it also delves heavily into their rocky marriage, political smears, and cultural taboos that the show helped break.

Whoever thought that a pregnant character or a Cuban leading man would have stirred so much controversy?

But in the 1950s things were different and anyone even open to the idea of Communism faced career ruination.

Sorkin successfully treats the viewers to lengthy debates in the writers’ room, contentious star feuds, and the creative process in general.

More subtly, we see how a powerful woman in show business was the exception, not the rule, and how norms were very different for women.

The events of the film mostly surround one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy.”

J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda play loveable Fred and Ethel, Lucy and Desi’s comical next-door neighbors in the sitcom. In real life, the actors despised each other frequently hurling insults at each other.

Comedy legend Linda Lavin makes a surprising appearance as Madelyn Pugh. The then-older television writer provides interviews along with other writers and producers to explain the earlier events.

Kidman is center stage as the icon. A brilliant actor in any role she is cast she does effectively depict the breathy voice and the mannerisms of Lucille Ball but she doesn’t look like her. Originally, Cate Blanchett was attached to the role and I’m very curious how she would have played her.

The obvious choice might have been television’s Debra Messing, brilliant on Will & Grace even portraying Lucy in one fantasy episode. My hunch is that Messing was too great a risk of lowering the film to sitcom standards and she isn’t a ‘movie star’ either.

And again, Being the Ricardos isn’t a comedy.

So, Kidman delivers the goods with some reservations mostly revealing what a strong woman Ball was and how she created many of the hilarious skits she is known for while not making the character seem like an idiot.

Bardem is also good in the role of Desi. He mixes conservative machismo with a thirst to be daring and challenge the mold. His womanizing would ruin their marriage but he was a savvy businessman and the film shows this.

An entertaining biopic that probably will be forgotten over time Being the Ricardos (2021) nonetheless shines a spotlight on the early days of television as a new medium and the hurdles its stars had to face in the woeful days of early apple pie and white picket fences that defined America.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Javier Bardem, Best Actress-Nicole Kidman, Best Supporting Actor-J.K. Simmons

The Iron Claw-2023

The Iron Claw-2023

Director Sean Durkin

Starring Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #1,416

Reviewed January 15, 2024

Grade: A

I was pleasantly surprised by how compelling and character-driven The Iron Claw (2023) is. Being a sports drama there is always a risk of cliches and little in the way of surprises but director Sean Durkin who also wrote the screenplay, delivers the goods.

Powerfully acted by all of the actors involved The Iron Claw is also profoundly sad and very hard-hitting emotionally which caught me off guard.

The trials and tribulations of the Von Erich family are explored in a fact-based story that honors the family ties with compassion and heart making the audience fall in love with and understand the feelings of the family.

There are triumphs but also much heartbreak with some outstanding acting in support of a very sad real-life story.

Efron who plays Kevin Von Erich gives the best performance of his career as a reasonable, stable young man living in a world of chaos.

It is perplexing, especially given the December release why the film received no awards mention especially for Efron.

One miss, most notable with Kevin, is the inclusion of a ridiculous wig and jacked-up body making him look more like a cartoonish Incredible Hulk than the clean-cut all-American young man that the real Kevin looked like.

Being a huge fan of professional wrestling as a youngster in junior high school the Von Erich family was somewhat familiar to me. However, I had to search my memory for long-forgotten specifics.

The family, led by former wrestler Fritz (Holt McCallany) was well-known throughout the 1970s-1990s in local Texas circles and then nationally as professional wrestling gained popularity. His sons Kevin (Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simons) are the focal points.

The true story of the inseparable brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling is recounted. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

The family, similar perhaps to the Kennedys, were known for a widespread myth about a family curse, called the ‘Von Erich curse’.

The film has some narration from Kevin who immediately informs the audience of this curse which sets the tone for the chain of events the film explores.

Durkin is careful to present the film so masterfully as a cautionary tale about parental influence, sibling rivalry, and the various dangers of the professional wrestling business.

The Iron Claw begins with a black-and-white sequence from probably the 1950s when Fritz was a struggling local wrestler. His famous ‘finishing maneuver’ was called the ‘iron claw’ meant to make his opponent submit to the wrestling match.

From there the story is largely told from the point of view of Kevin wonderfully played by Efron. Kevin, now the oldest sibling following the tragic death of his older brother at age five, serves as the brother’s leader.

While he yearns for a title belt largely to satisfy the demands of his father, he is usurped by brothers Kerry and David in different ways. He meets a local girl, Pam (Lily James), who is an intellectual and supports him emotionally.

They make a fabulous couple because they are equals. Conversely, the Von Erich mother is a traditional housewife and the entire family is taught to show no emotion.

In a wonderful scene late in the film, Kevin’s son teaches him that it’s okay to cry and show love through emotion. Kevin sobs with relief and it’s a beautiful and pivotal lesson the film teaches.

The other actors are outstanding, especially kudos to Jeremy Allen White (Kerry), and the parents (Maura Tierney and McCallany) but there is not a weak performance to be found.

It is unnecessary to be a professional wrestling fan though it is a treat to see long-ago stars like Ric Flair, Harley Race, and Bruiser Brody represented.

The Iron Claw (2023) like Boogie Nights (1997) did for the porn industry shows the flaws, the hopes and dreams, and the pain of a category of people (professional wrestlers) too often dismissed and discarded.

As Durkin examines wonderfully, these people also have a story to tell.

Maestro-2023

Maestro-2023

Director Bradley Cooper

Starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan

Scott’s Review #1,411

Reviewed December 3, 2023

Grade: A

Brilliance personified defines Maestro (2023), a film directed by and starring Bradley Cooper. As if that isn’t enough Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer and co-produced the project with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg.

With riches such as these players involved equates to adequate muscle to make the film a necessary watch brimming with creativity and good storytelling.

There is no disappointment whatsoever in the buildup. Maestro expresses powerful acting, creative direction, and a musical score encompassing the works of the man being examined, Bernstein.

At the conclusion, I found myself feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. The epic portrayal of one family’s love for one another was overwhelming.

Combined with the art appreciation left me astounded with culture and further knowledge of the composer.

The story is not as much of a straightforward biography as one might imagine though when the film begins in the 1940s the famous composer is just on the cusp of his first big break. By sheer luck, he is asked to fill in for an ailing conductor, Bruno Walter, one evening.

But at its core Maestro is a torrential and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan) who was a well-known theater actress.

They meet at a party and fall madly in love spending most of their time together. The intrigue is that Leonard is gay and quite openly so before he meets Felicia and becomes famous.

His boyfriend is David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer.

This sat well with me and I was impressed by their openness well before the LGBT movement. Unfortunately, we see little of David or Bomer after the early days and Leonard becomes enamored with several young aspiring composers. He then took to doing lines of cocaine into the 1970s and 1980s.

What the film does well is reveal that Felicia is aware of Leonard’s sexuality and loves him despite his appetite for men. This is not always easy for her. They share a love that is stoic and unadulterated and they become one in their bond making it unbreakable.

Maestro gets very dark in the later stages when Felicia is diagnosed with terminal cancer but this gives Cooper and Mulligan a chance to shine, and dazzle the audience with mesmerizing acting performances.

It’s tough to showcase one because both are so good.

Cooper has given the best performance of his career.

Enveloping himself into the role so much that it’s staggering how he gets the mannerisms of Bernstein.  The composer’s energetic style of expressive body movements and gestures which he was noted for as a conductor are done to perfection by Cooper.

Mulligan doesn’t play the wife role. She has her own story and makes the audience empathize with Felicia’s struggles to deal with her husband’s sexuality especially when rumors come to light affecting her children.

Mulligan gives a genuineness and heart to Felicia’s battle with cancer.

Cooper’s direction is excellent. The first part is shot in black and white giving an artistic, old Hollywood-style feel making the cigarette smoking look glamorous and sophisticated. The lush art direction merges into blurry shadows and angular lighting that fits the mood.

The color enhances the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s time as the characters age. The hairstyles and outfits gleam with sophisticated New York style and the Bernstein’s Long Island home is palatial.

Ironically, the darkest parts of the film are the most vivid and colorful.

Finally, the musical score features legendary Bernstein pieces that give truth to the production not only reminding viewers how talented he was but the choices made enhance each scene where a number appears.

I smiled when a number from West Side Story, perhaps his best-known work was featured.

A knock-out scene of Leonard conducting at a cathedral is lengthy and dramatic culminating with Felecia looking on from the side of the church. At this moment, I knew that the couple were true soulmates.

Maestro (2023) is an exceptional piece of filmmaking that easily secures Bradley Cooper his place in cinema history both in front of and behind the camera.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Bradley Cooper, Best Actress-Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mahler-1974

Mahler-1974

Director Ken Russell

Starring Robert Powell, Georgina Hale

Scott’s Review #1,404

Reviewed October 15, 2023

Grade: A

Anyone brave and open-minded enough to expose themselves to a Ken Russell film is in for an experience in great cinema. The British director frequently fuses music, odd visual sequences, and vivid colors into his art.

There is a specific mood one must be in to flourish in the moment and the dream-like perplexities of a film of this ilk but the result will be an appreciation for creativity in filmmaking.

My personal favorite Russell film, and I’m still getting my feet wet in all things Russell, is Women in Love (1970) followed by The Devils (1971), a journey into madness.

Hardly straight-laced, Mahler (1974) conceptualizes the music of the famous Austro-Bohemian composer and delves into the life and times of the man.

Gustav Mahler (Robert Powell) is returning to his home in Vienna, Austria following a stint conducting at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Traveling via train with his wife, Alma (Georgina Hale) he reflects on pivotal moments in his life.

Mahler dwells on memories of his overbearing father, of his once powerful but now failing relationship with Alma, and of the anti-Semitism that forced him to convert to Catholicism.

A garish sequence also reveals the death of his child.

A side story on the train features Alma’s lover, Max (Richard Morant), also on the train, urging her to leave Mahler and get off with him a couple of stops before Vienna.

Russell shifts time quite often so that at first it’s tough to figure out what is happening and more specifically if events are in the past or the future.

But once acclimated it’s easy to reflect on the stages of life and the various players. Better still is to ruminate about the happenings after the credits have rolled.

The best films require some ponderance after they end rather than simply forgetting them fifteen minutes later and Mahler is one of those films.

Knowing Russell, (has anyone seen The Devils?), he sometimes incorporates religion into his work. Mahler, a Jew, is forced to relegate his religion to get his work showcased. So, there is religious conflict and debate.

Mahler’s conversion to Catholicism is expressed by a wacky fantasy sequence in which he undergoes a baptism of fire and blood on a mountaintop, presided over by Cosima Wagner (second wife of the composer, Wagner).

The character wears horrid black lipstick and other odd attire like a Prussian helmet and a bathing suit with a cross on the front and a swastika on the rear.

The sequence is one of the best and technically brilliant with fire, rocks, and mountains on display. It’s also choreographed amazingly well and features unique musical compositions.

The style of Mahler (the film) is visual and artistic but also a chance for classical music fans to appreciate the compositions. Also, for novice fans eager to be introduced to quality music the film is equally as important.

I love my rock n roll like any other red-blooded American but the chance to soak in classical pieces from Mahler and Wagner is a pure treat in cultural goodness.

British actor Robert Powell is cast exceptionally well bearing a stark resemblance to the real Mahler. Oftentimes morose and sullen he is a tortured artist. But the expressions in his work like the song cycle Songs on the Death of Children reveal his complexities.

Powell is successful at exposing the audience to the emotional nuances that often pair with great artists.

Georgina Hale as Alma is just as good. Staunchly supporting her husband but yearning for her slice of the happiness pie she is also conflicted.

Mahler (1974) is a film about filmmaking and art appreciation. Thanks to Russell’s vision he challenges the conventional viewer with a unique journey through the weird and wild but more importantly, the chance to revel in something of brilliance.

Oppenheimer-2023

Oppenheimer-2023

Director Christopher Nolan

Starring Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,384

Reviewed August 1, 2023

Grade: A

Knowing the films of Christopher Nolan who directed works like The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), Inception (2010), and Dunkirk (2017) I expected what I would be served with by his new film Oppenheimer (2023).

This would include a big booming soundtrack and an arguably more ‘guys’ genre film, but with intelligence, than other contemporary hits like Barbie (2023).

Dark and looming with complexities are usual for Nolan so I settled in for a three-hour epic journey centered on the atomic bomb and physics that has unexpectedly become a blockbuster.

Speaking of the pink phenomenon its simultaneous release with Oppenheimer led to the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon on social media, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature.

This forever links the two vastly different films that were responsible for filling movie theaters once again.

I expected to enjoy Oppenheimer but was jarred (in a good way) by the sheer brilliance of its construction. Prepared for more mainstream fare that typically follows a biography or historical piece I was instead overly fascinated by the experimental elements enshrouding a more conventional film.

During World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Groves Jr. (Matt Damon) appoints physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project.

Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spend years developing and designing the atomic bomb. Their work came to fruition on July 16, 1945, as they witnessed the world’s first nuclear explosion, forever changing the course of history.

The film is constructed marvelously in every way and is authentic to the eye. The first notice is that it feels like it’s the 1940s 1920s or 1960s or anywhere in between depending on where the film goes.

The art design, costumes, and makeup feel natural rather than stagey which helps its audience escape into the scientific world.

Speaking of, Nolan constructs the film in a series of pockets and goes back and forth between periods. We see Oppenheimer many times as an aspiring upstart with visions, a confident, established physicist, and in 1963 when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.

His personal life is also explored.

Many, many scenes shift back and forth involving different characters at different ages. Most of the scenes in the 1940s take place in the desert at Los Alamos, New Mexico while the later years are set in a stuffy conference room where Oppenheimer is grilled for his left-leaning and suspected Communist politics.

The cinematography led by Hoyte van Hoytema provides some edgy moments especially when Oppenheimer descends into frightening and psychedelic hallucinations of those suffering the aftereffects of the atomic bomb. Images of peeling and melting faces are terrifying.

Cillian Murphy successfully makes Oppenheimer sympathetic especially after he creates the bomb and is left forgotten by his government.

Various moments in the film showcase Murphy at his best. After relinquishing his deadly bomb after a test the government callously tells Oppenheimer that ‘they’ll take it from here’. The look of dread, regret, and sadness in Murphy’s crystal blue eyes speaks volumes.

Another great scene occurs when President Harry S. Truman (Gary Oldman) a left-leaning democrat calls Oppenheimer ‘a crybaby’ when he expresses interest in returning land to the American Indians.

The supporting cast is a bevy of riches with several top-caliber actors appearing in cameos. My standouts in larger roles are Robert Downey Jr. shredding his Iron Man superhero persona as a slighted and venomous Lewis Strauss, intent on revoking Oppenheimer’s security clearance, and Emily Blunt as the boozy biologist and former communist wife of Oppenheimer.

My biggest takeaway from Oppenheimer (2023) though is a powerful one. The difference between the United States of America during and post World War II and in present times, 2023.

Then, a patriotic infrequently questioned nation brimming with pride and glory, where nationalism was rampant and expected and those with foreign respect were cast aside as traitorous.

Now, a divided country half of whom support an ideology based on hate, racism, and cultlike dedication to a corrupt ex-president, and the other focused on diversity inclusion, and equality for all.

This film resonated so powerfully well and in so many different ways.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Christopher Nolan (won), Best Actor-Cillian Murphy (won), Best Supporting Actor-Robert Downey Jr. (won), Best Supporting Actress-Emily Blunt, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Air-2023

Air-2023

Director Ben Affleck

Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Scott’s Review #1,358

Reviewed April 19, 2023

Grade: B+

Ben Affleck both directs and co-stars in Air (2023), a sports drama that is surprisingly neither cliched nor enshrouded in a big climactic showdown at the conclusion. This happens in way too many sports-centered films.

Other than basketball game clips occasionally playing in the background the action takes place within boardrooms rather than on the court.

Being a basketball fan is not required.

There is a measure of predictability in Air which I didn’t mind, again surprising. Anyone superficially familiar with National Basketball Association superstar Michael Jordan knows about his famous  Air Jordan sneakers. His colorful footwear overtook the nation during the 1980s and 1990s.

This film is based on the true story of its origin and the circumstances surrounding it.

Air is a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word with energy and affection and not a slow moment to be found.

An unlikely partnership develops between a then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s struggling basketball division revolutionizing the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand.

A Nike basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) comes up with an unusual and risky offer to land Jordan, a rising college star who would become the most successful NBA player in history.

His parents, Deloris and James (Viola Davis and Julius Tennon) cleverly negotiate for their son to earn his share of the pie usually saved only for executives and business people rather than the sports star. Deloris knows the worth of her son’s immense talent and unmovingly sticks to her guns.

A treat for anyone who grew up in the 1984 era, countless pop songs and pop culture references are included. Every few minutes, snippets of upbeat tunes emote from the screen adding pleasure and nostalgia to the film.

Peppered throughout also include automobiles, office telephones, fax machines, and basic computers. There’s even an early car cell phone included.

Other famous sneaker brands of the time like Adidas and Converse are represented during a time when celebrities and the like were starting to align with sneakers to make large profits.

I’ve said this too many times but in films set during a different time it either looks authentic or it looks like modern actors dressed for the times.

Affleck as a director knows his stuff in this regard. He is a good actor but a very good director.

Damon is the film lead and does so convincingly. Either wearing a padded suit or chunking up to fit the character of Sonny, it’s unclear which, the actor appears as a ‘regular guy’ rather than a Hollywood movie star. This is tricky to pull off for a big star but here it works.

Sonny’s earnestness to save Nike and his connection to the Jordan family feels fresh and unassuming. He’s painted as a good guy and counterbalances other scheming and bloodthirsty sports agents like David Falk, impressively played by Chris Messina.

Jason Bateman also shines brightly as Sonny’s colleague, Robby Strasser, a man revealed to be lonely. In a touching moment, Sonny brings Robby a birthday cake on a working Sunday, when his special day would otherwise have been forgotten.

Davis can never do wrong but is the anchor of the film and the role of common sense.

Finally, the character of Michael Jordan is portrayed in the film, though his face is not seen, and has limited dialogue.

Thanks to a crackling screenplay and genuine sincerity, Ben Affleck’s Air (2023) has gotten butts back in movie theater seats. It proves that people do love the theater when served a satisfying offering.

Blonde-2022

Blonde-2022

Director-Andrew Dominik

Starring-Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale

Scott’s Review #1,305

Reviewed October 7, 2022

Grade: A

Blonde (2022) is not the kind of film that I expected.

When I became aware there would be a new film vehicle showcasing the legendary film icon Marilyn Monroe I guessed that it would be a biography-style effort. After all, this is hardly the first time the star’s life would be explored.

Throw in bits about her struggles, her love life, her famous screen roles, and her rise to fame and there you’d have it.

My only real thought was who would be playing her?

Films about Marilyn have been done before including the most recent effort I can recollect, My Week With Marilyn (2011) starring Michelle Williams, a superior film but hardly groundbreaking or that well remembered ten years later.

Released via the Netflix streaming service, director Andrew Dominik kicks the shit out of any preconceived notions about glamorous, happy, and rich Marilyn.

He creates a story focused on the dark side of the star. Her failures, her insecurities, her forced abortions, and her humiliations. The result is a film that is tragic and profound and should be well remembered.

Blonde delves into facts and some of the deeper thoughts of the legend herself, creating a muddy and dreamlike quality that makes the viewer apprehensive about what’s going on.

Since it’s based on the 2000 fictional memoir written by Joyce Carol Oates which is her interpretation of events, it makes truth, and imagination all the muddier.

It’s not happy days watching Blonde, which left me wondering if Marilyn had a happy day in her life. From her abortions to sexual harassment, drug addiction, and physical abuse by her husband, she excitedly scampers off to a date with President Kennedy, only to be forced to give him oral service.

Ana de Armas, known for Knives Out (2019) and No Time to Die (2021) is brilliant as Marilyn. Her mannerisms, speech patterns, and facial expressions reveal a genuine, layered, portrayal rather than a carbon copy imitation of her.

Blonde boldly reimagines the life of one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons in two hours and forty-seven minutes of storytelling. Advisable is to not watch the film in one sitting but rather spread it over three nights to let things marinate.

Events begin with her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, an abusive mother and absent father, and her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements. Blonde blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the widening split between her public and private selves.

In a way, Marilyn suffered from a split personality, longing to be Norma Jeane and despising Marilyn.

Enhancing the ambiguity Dominik elects to use cinematography that is sometimes blurry as if in a sleepy haze and sprinkles color with the mostly black and white filming. He even films one abortion scene from the perspective of Marilyn’s vagina.

These creative details cause me to classify Blonde as an art film and highly interpretive.

While not a crowd-pleaser Blonde is not all doom and gloom either.

Tidbits about her most famous films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Some Like it Hot (1959) are featured as one or two neat camera tricks so it appears that de Armas is acting opposite Tony Curtis.

I worry that poor reviews for Blonde may hinder de Armas’s chances of receiving an Academy Award nomination. Positive reviews usually help secure Oscar recognition.

Thankfully, despite many critics and viewers having issues with the film, de Armas has received worldwide acclaim.

Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody are very good as Marilyn’s husbands, controlling Joe DiMaggio and insecure artist Arthur Miller. Both actors fuse good acting with distinguished portrayals so that the audience sees the appeal of both men.

Other interesting sub-plots involve Monroe’s ‘throuple’ romance with bisexual actors Cass and Eddy, and a haunting exposure of the abuse suffered by Marilyn at the hands of her mother Gladys, wonderfully played by Julianne Nicholson.

There is little doubt that Blonde (2022) is an odd film that is not for everyone. But, its down-and-dirty texture and tour de force portrayal of Monroe won me over.

It chilled me to the bone in the best possible way.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Ana de Armas

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Austin Butler, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Hairstyling

Walk the Line-2005

Walk the Line-2005

Director James Mangold

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #1,264

Reviewed June 8, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

I also think her performance teeters on a supporting turn but the decision was made to include her in the lead actress category.

But one could argue Oscar’s imbalances or missteps all day long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both actors reportedly sang, played their instruments, and seemed to live the lives of the country stars, all without help, giving Walk the Line much credibility.

Since Phoenix is a method actor this is unsurprising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actor-Joaquin Phoenix, Best Actress-Reese Witherspoon (won), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Raging Bull-1980

Raging Bull-1980

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #1,256

Reviewed May 14, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor-Robert De Niro (won), Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actress-Cathy Moriarty, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound

The Queen-2006

The Queen-2006

Director Stephen Frears

Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen

Scott’s Review #1,253

Reviewed May 8, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

The Queen is a terrific film across the board and Mirren is phenomenal in her portrayal of the grand dame. She cleverly fuses stiffness and stoicism with subtle warmth and humanity few see from the queen, at least publicly.

Layers of complexity are provided to an already mysterious public figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Queen (2006) hardly needs bombs, bombast, or quick editing to get its point across, though speaking of editing, a fantastic job of it with family scenes of Diana.

The film lures the viewer into its web and makes them feel like an insider amongst the walls of royalty.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Helen Mirren (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

La Bamba-1987

La Bamba-1987

Director Luis Valdez

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto

Scott’s Review #1,242

Reviewed April 3, 2022

Grade: A-

The brief musical career of Mexican rock ‘n’ roll star Richie Valens is showcased in a lovely little film called La Bamba (1987).

The film spawned a massive United States number-one hit, the title track, for the band Los Lobos, that filled the summer with rich culture and a hummable beat. The song is a recreation of Valen’s earlier hit from 1958.

I’m humming it as I write this review!

The film itself is flavorful and tinged with Latino colors and traditions such as the importance of family. It provides a much-needed look at diversity and recognition of a young talent taken way too soon.

His rise to stardom is the main focus but not forgotten is his influence on his family, most notably his younger brother in which love, respect, jealousy, and conflict engulf their relationship.

Valens, a Los Angeles teenager played by Lou Diamond Phillips, becomes an overnight rock ‘n’ roll success in 1958, thanks to a love ballad called “Donna” that he wrote for his girlfriend (Danielle von Zerneck) whose parents didn’t want her to date a Latino boy.

But as his star rises, Valens has conflicts with his jealous brother, Bob (Esai Morales), and becomes haunted by a recurring nightmare of a plane crash, in which he is terrified of flying, just as he begins his first national tour alongside Buddy Holly (Marshall Crenshaw).

Foreshadowing indeed. It’s common knowledge that Valens tragically died in a plane crash over Iowa, alongside Holly and other prominent musicians.

Lou Diamond Phillips is fantastic in the lead role of Ritchie. The actor can entertain the audience while staying true to the life of the Mexican star. Not merely resembling him physically, Phillips brings Ritchie’s famous life and energy to the table.

Not lasting long in this world, the actor infuses as much soul as he can into the ill-fated singer successfully creating a dedication to his life.

The supporting actors are all terrific. Highly talented is Morales, his character of Bob is conflicted by his brother’s success but also closely bonded to him. As mama Connie, Rosanna DeSoto is fiercely protective of her cub while championing his career path and natural talent. Finally, Elizabeth Pena deserves praise for playing Rosie, the victimized girlfriend of Bob.

The interracial romance between Ritchie and Donna is also a strong area of La Bamba. Many decades after their short romance differing races coming together is commonplace but there are still those who object. The chemistry between Phillips and von Zerneck is palpable but mostly I imagined how nice it was between the real-life figures and the endless possibilities had the singer not perished.

Director and writer, Luis Valdez deserves credit for giving meaning to this relationship by making it obvious that other marginalized minority communities can be assured that most people support their unions.

La Bamba (1987) is a film where all the parts come together in perfect form. The music, the culture, and the characters, all brim with life and meaning, ironically since the biography could have easily been a downer. Instead, it inspires and teaches unity and the forever-lasting power of music.

Yes, there are occasional cliches but I enjoyed the film immensely.

King Richard-2021

King Richard-2021

Director-Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis

Scott’s Review #1,238

Reviewed March 13, 2022

Grade: B+

King Richard (2021) is an inspirational, feel-good, Hollywood film with a strong message. It champions the little guy rising beyond expectations to achieve greatness. Audiences will be left with a warm feeling of possibility and that nearly anything can be achieved with hard work and determination.

The story of the world-famous tennis stars, the Williams sisters, and their parents, just happens to be true, lending the necessary credibility to make this film quite enjoyable. It’s a conventional film and contains many cliches but is a heartwarming family drama.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena, into the tennis history books while also keeping them educated and away from the drug-infested streets of Compton, California where they reside. Along with his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), they defy all odds in their meteoric rise to fame and fortune just as Richard had planned.

The Williams family story is told in an uplifting fashion as they face trials and tribulations along the way like gang violence and racism. The sisters would soon become two of the world’s greatest sports legends.

The film is led by an excellent performance by Smith though I’m careful to make the bold statement that it’s his best role ever. I haven’t seen Ali (2001) but have heard he brings down the house in that role, again playing a real-life figure.

Time will tell.

The lesson learned about Smith is that when he skirts away from his usual summer popcorn blockbuster action roles in which there are many, he is truly a great actor. Plenty of backstories is given to Richard and the violence and marginalization he has faced in his past, living as a child in Louisiana. His occasional shrewdness and feistiness can be forgiven as the character is explored very well.

Aunjanue Ellis, unknown to me before this film, is a revelation. As Brandy and the assumed second-in-command supportive wife role, she does way more than one might have expected. In one tense scene, she lays down the law with Richard and refuses to play the second fiddle. Ellis brings a subdued toughness and quiet to the role that not all actresses can bring.

The casting all around is strong. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena are believable though they are not given the material that Smith and Ellis are afforded. Delightful is Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn in supporting roles as coaches.

Director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, sticks to a straight-ahead approach and achieves what his intention seems to be. He forges into R-rated territory with some of the gang relationships and an occasional racist remark but the effect is soft-touch only and the main message is how a struggling black family can succeed.

I enjoyed the depictions of California and then sunny Florida throughout the 1980s and the 1990s and finally into more recent times. It felt realistic and appropriate to the film especially when real-life incidents like the Rodney King police beatings were shown.

The editing team is flawless, especially in the multiple tennis match sequences which are very difficult to shoot and make seem real. The continuity is exceptional and a massive undertaking.

A safe passage and not a film to be watched a second time or dissected much with post-credit discussions, King Richard (2021) is nonetheless a winner. It provides enough positive vibes to leave its viewer smiling and determined to beat any odds.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Will Smith (won), Best Supporting Actress-Aunjanue Ellis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“Be Alive”

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

Director John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

Starring Jim Carey, Ewan McGregor

Scott’s Review #1,235

Reviewed March 5, 2022

Grade: A-

Easily the most daring and arguably the best film role of Jim Carey’s career, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a delightful romantic comedy featuring same-sex characters in the central roles.

At the risk of being too fluffy, there is a sardonic and wry wittiness that I fell in love with.

Those criticizing the film as ‘gay porn’ are silly since there is hardly a sex scene to be critical of or anything more than would appear in a traditional male/female romantic comedy.

Prudes wouldn’t see a film as I Love You Phillip Morris anyway.

It is based on the 1980s and 1990s real-life story of Texas con artist, impostor, and multiple prison fugitive Steven Jay Russell who was clever beyond belief and successful at outwitting his opponents.

I Love You, Phillip Morris, is the directorial debut by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra who received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Steven Russell  (Carrey) becomes a cop, gets married, and starts a family, but after a terrible car accident, he vows to be true to himself. Thus far in his life, he has played by the rules and done what is expected of him and because of the crash, he pivots to an emotional bloodletting.

The key irony is that Steven is telling the audience his story from his deathbed so most of the activity is in the past. This is the hook because it made me wonder how and why he died. But is there a twist?

He comes out of the closet, moves to Florida, and finances a luxurious lifestyle with bad checks and credit cards. Arrested and now in prison, Steven meets Phillip (Ewan McGregor), a mild-mannered inmate who becomes the love of his life.

Determined to build a beautiful life with his partner, Steven embarks on another crime spree.

The film caters to the LGBTQ+ audience but has a crossover appeal so that all audiences can enjoy it. This is in large part thanks to the screenwriters and whoever had Carey and McGregor in mind for the film.

Too often films centering around gay characters are deemed second fiddle and not profitable but with bigger stars, the audiences will come.

I Love You Phillip Morris is an independent film that builds momentum when the message is that big stars are comfortable in gay roles, something Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal taught us a few years earlier in Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Jim Carey, fabulous in The Mask from 1994, and having his share of hits and misses over the years, is perfect in the role of Steven. It’s the most interesting role he has portrayed since he gets to provide his usual physical humor in a role that matters.

LGBTQ+ audiences see a character who makes them laugh without the typical gay stereotypes.

Straight audiences will see a character whose sexual identity doesn’t matter to them.

Props go to McGregor as well who makes a perfect counterpart for Carey as the calm, cool, and collected ‘straight man’. The film could not have worked without him.

He meshes so well with Carey that the audience instantly roots for Steven and Phillip to ride off into the sunset despite being criminals.

The stereotypes are limited but the subject matter of AIDS, especially given the time in which the film is set, is given notice. This is a win and Requa and Ficarra are very careful not to teeter too close to the edge of doom and gloom while respecting the disease.

At its core, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a romantic comedy, and the trials and tribulations of Steven and Phillip are told. I immediately fell in love with them and viewers will too.

It’s a film that feels fresh and alive with the exploration of character richness that is not easy to come by.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye-2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye-2021

Director-Michael Showalter

Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield

Scott’s Review #1,233

Reviewed February 26, 2022

Grade: A-

When thinking of the name Tammy Faye Baker, usually images of outlandish pancake makeup and ridiculous evangelical spewings are conjured up. Alongside her husband Jim Baker, the duo was prominent and highly visible throughout the 1970s and the 1980s as fixtures of Christian broadcasting.

Naturally, scandals ensued resulting in prison time for Jim and shame and career ruin for Tammy.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) delves into the thoughts and experiences of Tammy, hence the title. It’s sympathetic material and made me learn much more about the celebrity than I knew of. Other characters like husband Jim and sullen evangelists like Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson are explored but Tammy is the main draw.

I love the depiction of Tammy Faye Baker and hats off to a dynamite performance by Jessica Chastain, especially in the final act. Nearly unrecognizable, the actress unleashes a flurry of brilliant scenes and a depiction of a tacky woman winning over an audience.

It is Chastain’s best role yet.

Tammy’s LGBTQ+ community appreciation and thoughtfulness during the A.I.D.S crisis in the 1980s when very few others, especially in her inner circle, wanted anything to do with them is especially powerful and heart-wrenching.

She saw them as human beings when others saw them as lepers. She continued to support the LGBTQ+ community until she died in 2007.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall, and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. The film begins with her humble beginnings in frigid Minnesota and her closeness with her very religious mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), and her kind stepfather who accepted her as his own.

An innocent college romance with Jim Baker (Garfield) results in marriage and the rise to success in creating the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, promoting a message of love whilst skimming from the top to enjoy their lavish lifestyle.

Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, it wasn’t long before financial improprieties and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire.

This is the point where the film takes off.

Chastain had me at the very first scene when an extreme closeup of her face, now aging, is featured. Though wacky, she infuses a humanism and kindness into Tammy that immediately made me champion her.

Through trials and tribulations like nearly cheating on her husband to looking the other way amid the financial scandals surrounding her, she always keeps her head held high and fills any room she enters with love and sincerity.

The best scene by Chastain is at the end of the film when Tammy makes a triumphant yet humble return to the stage. As she nervously takes the stage at Oral Roberts University she imagines a stage filled with glamour and pomp rather than the meek one it is. It helps her get through and I wanted to give her a big hug.

All the awards attention has gone to Chastain but Andrew Garfield is nearly as flawless. Complex and struggling with Tammy’s brazen approach, his sexuality, and playing nice with the other major players, he gets his comeuppance but Garfield makes him sympathetic and a fine study.

Directed by Michael Showalter, I feel he could have gone much darker with this film. Sure, there is some sadness like when Tammy overhears a bunch of kids whispering that she is a freak or colleagues mocking her as a clown, but it’s soft touch. The woman battled cancer for years before dying from it but the film ends before any of that even happens.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) belongs to Chastain and Garfield. It’s a bit glossy and skates over some hard-punching attributes it could have showcased but it balances the camp with endearment and champions acceptance and compassion for one another.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Jessica Chastain (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won)

Respect-2021

Respect-2021

Director-Liesl Tommy

Starring Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans

Scott’s Review #1,208

Reviewed December 17, 2021

Grade: B-

I had high hopes when I heard that a new biopic based on the life and times of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was in the works. My elation was solidified when Jennifer Hudson was cast in the iconic role. It seemed just perfect for her.

After all, the singer has pipes for miles and is now far removed from her appearance as a chubby but loveable young upstart on televisions American Idol. She has already won an Oscar for portraying a singer, Effie White, in Dreamgirls (2006) and is firmly in the big leagues.

Sadly, Respect (2021) underwhelms through no fault of Hudson’s. Almost every aspect of the film is standard and by the numbers and the word, ‘safe’ comes to mind multiple times throughout the viewing. On par with a television movie instead of a big-screen spectacle, the feature can largely be skipped save for Hudson’s performance scenes.

To be fair, Hudson’s finale of ‘Amazing Grace’ is astonishing as well as the real-life performance by Aretha Franklin for President Obama and wife Michelle that appears over the closing credits.

I would recommend this film only for the die-hard Aretha fans. If novice South African director, Liesl Tommy, had visions of mirroring the recent successes of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) or Rocket Man (2019), she sadly missed the mark completely.

For a similar experience, watch the superior What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner.

Respect follows the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career, from a privileged child singing in her father’s church choir to her international superstardom and her journey to find her voice. She battles her ‘demons’ like overindulging in alcohol and dating abusive men as she struggles with the rigors of touring and recording hit singles becoming a difficult diva along the way.

The film contains nearly every cliche in the book and I have my doubts that all of the plots are even factual. Expected is that Franklin falls for a charismatic yet abusive man and returns home with a black eye to her controlling father, played by Forest Whitaker.

The tremendous actor has little to do besides what you would expect your typical controlling movie father to do.

She struggles with her career, battles the bottle, collapses on stage, fights with her family, scolds a housekeeper, reunites with her sisters, returns to the stage a star, and just about every other experience that the rise and fall and rise again of a superstar would behold.

Strangely, the film’s timeline is largely from 1962-1972 during the singer’s rise to fame. Completely skipped is her return to the top of the charts in 1985 with ‘Freeway of Love’ or any of her other 1980s hits. She died in 2018 so much of her life is not featured at all.

Laughably, Aretha is never seen as overweight despite being overweight most of her life. The fact that Hudson, once overweight herself and now svelt, is in the lead role, the conclusion is that either Hudson or the filmmakers (or both) didn’t want her to be perceived as fat.

While understandable, missed is an important trademark of the Queen of Soul.

The best parts of Respect are when Hudson performs. Besides her brilliant rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ other treats are ‘Think’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, and naturally, ‘Respect’. Hudson rises to the occasion with every number.

Jennifer Hudson does her best in a role that she is perfectly cast for. She successfully channels her inner Aretha Franklin and soars when she is allowed to let loose and give a brilliant performance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the material is lackluster dialogue and generic situations, and a gnawing feeling of watching Jennifer Hudson perform Aretha Franklin’s songs cannot be shaken.

I expected greatness out of Respect (2021) but all I got was mediocrity.

Gandhi-1982

Gandhi-1982

Director Richard Attenborough

Starring Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #1,189

Reviewed October 30, 2021

Grade: A

Ben Kingsley delivers an astonishing performance as Mahatma Gandhi,  the steady-handed lawyer who stood up against British rule in India and became an international symbol of nonviolence and peaceful understanding until his tragic assassination in 1948.

Entitled simply Gandhi (1982) the film is directed by Richard Attenborough who has created masculine offerings such as The Great Escape (1963) and The Sand Pebbles (1966) before.

Calmly, the director creates a grandiose epic but one that is thought-provoking and introspective in its humility.

I was incredibly affected by this picture.

As beautiful as the cinematography and other such trimmings are the message is what stands out to me most. One man’s spirit and thirst for fairness and human equality are beyond inspiring decades after the film was made.

Thanks to Kingsley, the biography infuses an infectious channeling of what being a human being is all about and how human decency is the desired goal.

The film belongs to Kingsley. Despite hosting a cast of literally thousands he is the only name worth mentioning. He is that superior.

Attenborough, who teams with screenwriter John Briley presents major events in the life of Mohandas Gandhi (Kingsley). The film starts suddenly in January 1948, when an elderly Gandhi is on his way to an evening prayer service and is shot point-blank in the chest in front of a large number of dumbfounded greeters and admirers.

His state funeral is shown, the procession attended by millions of people from all walks of life, with a radio reporter speaking beautifully about Gandhi’s world-changing life and projects.

The film then returns to decades earlier when Gandhi, a young man, has a violent and racist experience. He vows to dedicate himself to the concept of nonviolent resistance. Initially dismissed, Gandhi was eventually internationally renowned, and his gatherings of passive protest moved India towards independence.

Gandhi has been criticized for its extraordinary length with a running time of three hours and ten minutes. A suggestion is to watch the film in multiple sittings though the best recommended approach would be to see it on the big screen.

Unfortunately, I didn’t but fantasize about the massive sequences and how gorgeous they would appear at the cinema.

The story, acting, production, and pretty much everything else about Gandhi is a ravishing spectacle.

It’s worth its weight to sit back and watch Kingsley completely immerse himself in the role. The actor deservedly won the Best Actor Academy Award and despite his oodles of other film roles is best remembered for this one.

I’m half surprised that it didn’t typecast him since he is so identifiable in the role.

I’d like to mention two aspects that some might not notice as much as others but that is simply astounding. The cinematography of the deserts, towns, and cities of India is plush with detail and accuracy. If one cannot go on a trip to India the next best thing is to watch this film instead. You’ll get a good dose of realism.

South Africa is also featured.

The costumes brilliantly showcase Indian flair and culture so well that I felt that I had been to an interesting country at the time that the film portrayed the events and felt nestled amid the luxurious colors and good taste.

Post-1982, the film genre of the epic exists rarely if ever anymore.

Long gone are the days of brilliance like Gone With the Wind (1939) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) which are truly a delight to simply lay one’s eyes on.

Gandhi deserves to be appreciated as much as those other films despite being released in less than an artistic decade in cinema.

Gandhi (1982) is a wonderfully tragic film and leaves the viewer feeling sad but also inspired to carry the torch picked up by one brave man.

A history lesson it’s also as much a lesson in humanity and the courageous fight that one man fought. Military power is not the way to achieve change in the world.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Richard Attenborough (won), Best Actor-Ben Kingsley (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Sound

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Director-Shaka King

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,176

Reviewed September 9, 2021

Grade: B+

I wanted to love Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). I still champion the importance of the story, however, and the timeliness of its release. The film has some moments of glory where a bombastic scene occurs that immediately reigns the viewer back into the fold. But other parts drag and feel fragmented or otherwise confusing so much so that the film bored me sometimes and I hate admitting that.

I teetered back and forth between a B+ grade and a B grade and, perhaps channeling my political side, I finally settled on a very generous B+ determination. Before I watched the film I would have bet on an A or an A-. Alas, it was not to be.

That the film was made and exposed a mass audience to the trials and tribulations of the late 1960s Chicago racial tensions that helped create the Black Panthers organization is of course a huge win.

But, I wanted more. Much more.

A major gripe is that the song from the film and winner of the Best Original Song Oscar only appears over the end credits and has nothing to do with the film. Having a tacked-on feel, the song, performed by H.E.R. and others is not particularly memorable either.

The title is “Fight for You”, possessing images of battle and courage which fits the theme of the film but the song itself is quite lackluster.

The plotline is a challenge to follow but goes something like this. The FBI ropes small-time Chicago thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) into infiltrating the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

At first, O’Neal enjoys the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his FBI main contact, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Plemons). Hampton’s political power grows as he falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). To complicate matters she becomes pregnant.

Meanwhile, O’Neal becomes conflicted. Does he align with The Panthers and where his heart lies or thwart Hampton’s efforts by any means necessary, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?

The acting is fantastic and along with the message is the best part of the film. Justified controversy ensued over the placement of Kaluuya and Stanfield in the Supporting Actor category at the Oscars- both received nominations and Kaluuya was victorious.

It’s obvious to me that Stanfield is the lead character so it’s a shame he wasn’t awarded a Best Actor nomination. With Chadwick Boseman positioned to be the clear winner for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) and shockingly losing to Anthony Hopkins for The Father (2020) was the thought that another black actor in the category might ruin Boseman’s chances?

We’ll probably never know.

Kaluuya and Stanfield are both mesmerizing and I am looking forward to their subsequent projects, especially Kaluuya who I fell in love with after his turn in Get Out (2017).

A heavily made-up Martin Sheen is a treat to see in a woefully too-small role as J. Edgar Hoover.

The rest of the film is pretty good. The climax is thrilling and almost bumped the film up a grade for me. Without giving too much away it involves a bloody shoot-out and real-life interview and highlight footage. I love the reality the latter provides.

But then I remembered the snail’s pace it took to get to this point and how the other good scenes paled in comparison with a plodding pace.

I adored the characters and fell in love with the sweet though the doomed romance between Hampton and Deborah. I yearned for them to live happily ever even after my hunch told me this was not in the cards for them. My hunch was right.

The intent was to make the audience outraged at the unfairness people of color endured in the late 1960s.  I was angrier still at the realization that they are still being treated unfairly in the time of George Floyd and others.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) get hands down major praise for the intent and acting but disappoints as far as delivery and final product. It is not equal to the sum of all its parts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Daniel Kaluuya (won), Lakeith Stanfield, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Fight for You” (won)

W.-2008

W.-2008

Director Oliver Stone

Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks

Scott’s Review #1,130

Reviewed April 7, 2021

Grade: B+

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- the United States political landscape forever changed with the dastardly 2016 presidential election. Presidents pre and post-2016 are held to a completely different standard.

We didn’t see this coming.

That said, the film W. (2008) is a biography and satire of George W. Bush, the forty-third president of the United States, who held office during the deadly 9/11 attacks.

Thought by some to be a moron, director Oliver Stone is careful to ease up on the obvious mockery and barbs that are usually thrown at Bush. There is some of that but surprisingly the film contains some sympathetic moments.

For example, a clever addition is a complex relationship between father and son, something shadowed from the spotlight. At least I was never aware there was any friction between Dad and Son.

Fans who lean or are conservative may not like the film. It’s not exactly pro-Bush but neither is it anti. It simply tells a good and accurate story.

Stone wisely features an all-star cast and offers a retrospective chronicling the life and political career of George W. Bush, from his troubles as a young adult through his governorship of Texas and to the Oval Office.

It’s well-made because it provides the uninformed viewer with an important history lesson.

The lineup is juicy featuring an array of elite Hollywood stars. Josh Brolin sinks his teeth into the title role while Elizabeth Banks is more low-key as former First Lady Laura Bush.

In support, James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn play George H.W. Bush and Barbara, while Richard Dreyfuss is fantastic as Dick Cheney.

Finally, Thandie Newton is as delicious as Condoleeza Rice.

Flashbacks are key to his life events revealing the rise of George W. Bush from ne’er-do-well party boy and son of privilege to president of the United States. After giving up booze for religion, George mends his restless ways and sets his sights first on the Texas governorship, which he achieves, then on the presidency.

By a fluke, he achieved this too but lost the popular vote, forever a bee in his bonnet.

However, the country’s involvement in the Iraq war affects his reign and decreases his approval rating.

The historical accuracy appears to be valid and most details are taken from non-fiction books. That’s why the film is perfect for those who wish to brush up on their history or who are intrigued about the life and times of a modern president.

Just be prepared for a bit of comedy.

To be fair, there are moments in W. when it feels like a long Saturday Night Live sketch and the characters are caricatures. It’s not exactly a parody nor is it a documentary either.

Sort of a hybrid.

The heart of the film belongs to Josh Brolin (reportedly he stepped in for Christian Bale at the last minute). Major props go to Brolin for a nuanced, spot-on characterization of the former president.

He’s got the mannerisms down and turns of the head, his walk, and speech patterns. He is careful to take a controversial public persona and portray him with both humor and humanity. Never completely silly but not as a straight man either. The real Bush always had a bit of a devilish aww shucks persona.

Post 2016 it’s tough to care much about W. (2008) though. It’s sort of an “of its time” film.  Too much has happened since the Bush years, or even since 2008 when the film was made.

Donald Trump made so many things irrelevant. I can’t wait until a satire emerges about him. You know one is coming.

Mank-2020

Mank-2020

Director-David Fincher

Starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Pelphrey

Scott’s Review #1,110

Reviewed February 9, 2021

Grade: A

Everyone knows that Citizen Kane (1941) is one of the greatest films ever made. Well, I hope so anyway. Almost always appearing at the top of ‘best of’ lists its merits are justified and creativity astounding. In a word it’s groundbreaking. The visual beauty, tone, and lighting are exceptional, to say the least. But this review is not meant to kiss the ass of that treasured masterpiece.

Mank (2020) is a film that is a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood. For those unfamiliar with Citizen Kane, please see the film immediately or the beauty of Mank will be missed.

The film celebrates the brilliance of Citizen Kane by offering new fans a glimpse into the creation of the film while breathing life into the 1930s and 1940s film for new and younger fans to experience. It also gives classic film fans something to sink their teeth into and reaffirmation of their passion for the cinema. Film lovers will adore Mank.

The project stems back to the 1990s when director David Fincher’s father, Jack, began work on the film. It never came to fruition, and Jack Fincher died in 2003. Eventually, the project was officially announced, and filming took place around Los Angeles from November 2019 to February 2020.

The film is about Citizen Kane specifically but is so much more than that. It’s part biography about alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he scrambles to finish writing Citizen Kane given a tight deadline while also trying to recover from a broken leg. He is hired by the famous Orson Welles (director and star of Citizen Kane) to pen the script without any credit.

As terrific as Oldman is, as he always is, Mank also explores and dissects the politics of California of that time, the impending Nazi regime that soon led to World War II, and the rich and powerful producers. It harkens back to the 1930s so genuinely that I felt I was living this important decade through my cinematic eyes. How different Hollywood was then!

Oldman is the star of a large cast with many actors being given small yet important roles. Nearly unrecognizable with a bloated beer belly and stringy hair, Herman is a lifelong boozer. Mank spans ten years, from 1930 to 1940, and goes back in forth between the years. Mankiewicz dictated dialogue to his secretary, Rita (Lily Collins) in one scene while visiting the set of films made in the early 1930s.

Fun fact- Collins is the daughter of British pop artist Phil Collins and is on the cusp of a big career.

With his wit and humor, never afraid to call a spade a spade, or insult billionaire American businessman William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), he offends glamorous starlets over an extravagant dinner, forcing them to depart one by one as he gets drunker and drunker.

Never a big fan of Amanda Seyfried’s, the actress impresses with a fabulous performance, the best of her career. Playing Marion Davies, the inspiration for a character in Citizen Kane, she befriends Mankiewicz platonically, and the pair become close. Seyfried nails it with a giving performance. Tom Pelphrey plays Herman’s handsome brother, Joseph, on the cusp of becoming a famous writer and director and the actor is terrific.

The look of Mank is delicious. The black and white cinematography offers an homage to Citizen Kane with the stark use of dark and light contrasting each other in gorgeous form. Two great scenes come to mind- In 1933 Herman and Marion go for a stroll in a lavish courtyard, where they bond over discussions on politics and the film industry. It’s a benevolent and sweet scene where many topics are explored and embraced and is a definite ode to Hollywood.

The other takes place within the Hearst Mansion, directly before the aforementioned scene, where a drunken Herman lets loose on some of the Hollywood elite. He insults Louis B. Mayer, founder of the famous MGM studios, the most famous and influential of all studios.

A gem is the addition of so many historic Hollywood figures, a treasure chest for fans of old cinema. Joan Crawford, Great Garbo, and Bette Davis are featured, although if you blink you’ll miss them.

A wonderful suggestion is to work double-time and follow-up a viewing of Mank with Citizen Kane (I did!) for further appreciation of the film. A gift is realizing how the characters who appear in the classic film are based on real-life characters in Mankiewicz’s world.

Mank (2020) should be appreciated and revered for its lovely hybrid of crisp dialogue and wry comedy based on a real-life Hollywood director, and its cinematography and visual appreciation of a long-ago era of cinema. I hope this inspires some to appreciate and salivate over films created almost a hundred years ago.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-David Fincher, Best Actor-Gary Oldman, Best Supporting Actress-Amanda Seyfried, Best Production Design (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Sound

J. Edgar-2011

J. Edgar-2011

Director Clint Eastwood

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Scott’s Review #1,099

Reviewed January 12, 2021

Grade: A

When director Clint Eastwood and actor Leonardo DiCaprio align, exceptional things can happen. This is evidenced by J. Edgar (2011), a compelling and well-constructed drama with a biographical and character-driven focus.

One gets inside the head and psyche of the title character, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, with DiCaprio playing him flawlessly.

The film is left-of-center, surprising for the mainstream director, though his film-making style is familiar. Eastwood does what he does best by constructing a slick and “Hollywood” experience.

There are not daring camera angles or unique uses of light that Stanley Kubrick might use.  He creates a steady affair that will appeal to the American heartland, getting butts to the movie theater on his name alone.

The film opens in 1919 when a young Hoover (DiCaprio) is tasked with purging radicals from the United States and obtaining their secrets, something he’d carry with him for decades. He meets a new Secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), whom he makes an awkward pass and an even more awkward marriage proposal.

She refuses, and they become professional and personal allies.

The story then plods along with historical stops through the decades like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon.

Hoover is always involved in these escapades.

Hoover, who served as the head of the bureau from 1924 until he died in 1972, was a powerful and ruthless man.

Eastwood carefully dissects him, professionally and personally. He never married, lived with his mother, traveled, and enjoyed dinners with one man who in death, bequeathed his estate.

You do the math.

He was a gay man when one couldn’t be an openly gay man. Thus, he is conflicted, and Eastwood does a great job of showing the demons he wrestles with.

The relationship between Hoover and lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is my favorite part of J. Edgar because it’s interesting and humanistic.

DiCaprio and Hammer give outstanding performances with flawless chemistry and charisma.

When Hoover professes his love for Tolson and quickly recants his statement then professes love for an actress, we view his turmoil. He loves Tolson but cannot bear to accept it even though it would free him from his chains.

Despite the tender nature of the sequence above or that his mother was a traditional, no-nonsense, shrew, Hoover is not portrayed as a hero. He was a complicated and damaged man and Eastwood hits this point home.

He blackmailed Martin Luther King Jr., kept sexual secrets on several Hollywood stars, and participated in various abuses of power.

The film does admit that the director also instituted fingerprinting and forensic measures that reduced crime.

Those who desire a straightforward lesson in history may be slightly perturbed by the focus on Hoover’s personal life. Eastwood could have easily made Hoover’s career the only facet of the production-enough material that exists for this.

Instead, we get to see the inner workings of the man. Kudos for this.

Dustin Lance Black, who wrote Milk (2008), a portrait of a gay man, is back at the helm serving as a screenwriter. But the two films are not modeled after one another. They are very different animals.

While Milk celebrates a man refusing to deny who he and others are, demanding their just civil rights, J. Edgar provides the narrative of a man fleeing from who he is.

Offering a rich and complex biography of a tortured man, the audience is exposed to a person wrestling with inner turmoil. Hoover was a famous man, but the film could easily represent those thousands of men who could not bring themselves to accept who they were.

The largest praise goes to DiCaprio who makes us sympathize, pity, and admire the complexities of his character.

J. Edgar (2011) hits a grand slam.

Richard Jewell-2019

Richard Jewell-2019

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates

Scott’s Review #1,035

Reviewed June 19, 2020

Grade: B

With most Clint Eastwood films, especially in the latter part of his career, one should expect a mainstream story with a conservative edge. The man has lost his touch with age, unlike greats like Martin Scorsese. This may not always make for the most cutting-edge cinematic experience, but the results can still be compelling.

Richard Jewell (2019) was not on my radar but for the last minute, surprising Oscar nomination for Kathy Bates.

I am still smarting that she presumably took the last spot over the snubbed Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers-2019). But I digress.

As anticipated, the project has a predictable edge and a safe feel, Eastwood sending a nasty note to the media and the FBI shaming them for their corruption and ineptness.

The biography, centering around the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and its aftermath during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, tells the story in a nicely paced way but feels light, pulling too much of a right-wing slant.

Lead actor Paul Walter Hauser is the best part of the film, providing empathy and heroism to his character, the one, and only Richard Jewell.

Our title character is an overweight, average-looking man who lives with his mother in a modest apartment in Georgia. He works as a supply clerk in a small law firm where he meets arrogant attorney Watson Bryant (Rockwell). They bond over video games and become fast friends.

The time is 1986. Jewell, aspiring to become a police officer, lands a job as a security guard at Piedmont College, where he is subsequently fired for overstepping his grounds. Finally, he begins a job running security for a concert series near the Olympic games. He has a keen eye for law enforcement and is passionate about doing his job well.

Hauser, who had supporting roles in I, Tonya (2017), and in BlacKkKlansman (2018), has reached his breakout role.  Hauser makes the character likable and loyal. Law and order are his passions and he eats, sleeps, and breathes life.

The actor makes the audience know that Richard is not dumb. He is highly intelligent but has not been handed an easy life. The relationship with his mother is touching and he genuinely wants to protect those who he serves.

As far as the supporting roles go, Rockwell is fantastic as Watson, who ultimately defends Richard against the FBI. With wit, sarcasm, and outrage, his passion comes across on screen as a gruff but loyal friend.

Other big-name stars are not as lucky with their roles. Jon Hamm plays FBI Agent Tom Shaw, a made-up character who wants to railroad Richard at all costs. He tricks Richard into stating a confession that he records. Olivia Wilde is Kathy Scruggs, an unpleasant journalist who will trade sex for stories.

The character is unlikable, and rumors abound that the writing is sharply embellished. Both Hamm and Wilde suffer from one-note characters.

Let’s discuss Kathy Bates’s performance. Bates is a legendary actress and well-regarded. In the film, her best role is of the maniacal Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990). Throughout recent years she has brightened the small screen with daring and unique roles on American Horror Story. Her role as the sympathetic and kindly Bobi Jewell is not one of her best.

There is nothing wrong with her performance, but the character never has a big memorable scene.

Unclear is the historical accuracy of the story and my hunch is that liberties could offer good drama. Inexplicable is the omission of anything related to the real bomber, who is never mentioned. What were his motivations? Whatever happened to him? Viewers can do their research, but a real miss is to not include this.

The story only centers around Richard’s accusers and attempted railroading simply because he fits the profile of a bomber. The film could have gone further.

Also, viewers are left with no knowledge that Richard traditionally put a rose on one of the bombing victim’s graves or other niceties that could have been included.

Why did Eastwood need to hammer home the point that Richard was fretting about the perception that he may have been gay? True or false the point feels like a homophobic tidbit thrown in to appeal to a likely redneck audience.

Richard Jewell (2019) will not appear on Eastwood’s “greatest hits” of top films or even top 10 lists. Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) would get my votes for “best of”.

The film is only a slightly above-average biography of a falsely accused man eventually gaining justice. The spin is a politically conservative one of the main characters portrayed as a hero meeting unfortunate circumstances.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Kathy Bates

Harriet-2019

Harriet-2019

Director-Kasi Lemmons

Starring-Cynthia Erivo

Scott’s Review #1,031

Reviewed June 10, 2020

Grade: B

The story of real-life American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, a woman who risked her life multiple times to rescue slaves from the United States of America South, pre-civil war, is a story of monumental importance to get right.

An escaped slave herself, Harriet was more than an Abolitionist, she was a political activist and hero to all whose lives she touched. She was a figure that all women and men should aspire to emulate with her message of freedom and civility.

The cinematic telling of Harriet’s story, simply titled Harriet (2019), is a mild success, mostly deserving of praise for being told at all.  At well over one-hundred and fifty years post-civil war, racism still runs rampant across the United States, so the release of the film is important.

A gutsy performance by Cynthia Erivo, a British singer turned actor, is the high point but unfortunately, the rest of the offering is lackluster, frighteningly modern in look and feel, with clear heroes and clear villains and nobody with muddied motivations to be found anywhere.

We first meet young Harriet (Erivo), then named “Minty” Ross, in 1840’s Maryland, then a slave state. She is to be married to her intended, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), already a free man. Minty’s father, also free, asks her owner to release her as his grandfather had promised before his demise.

Refusing, his son, Gideon (Joe Alwyn) decides to sell Minty as punishment. Savvy, Minty flees for the northern states and settles in Philadelphia, a newly free woman with her life ahead of her.

She risks capture and death to return to Maryland, in disguise, to rescue her family from the horrors of slavery.

Her plight was so important and so heroic that I wanted to love this film.

To be fair, it is okay but does not do justice to the real-life Harriet, or succeed as a cinematic offering. The weakest point is the modern look that the film and the actors possess, and I think this was done intentionally.

Every single actor, black and white, looks like a present-day’s actor dressed in mid-nineteenth century garb and it does not work. My hunch is that filmmakers wanted this to add relevancy to the current racial problems and I am all for that, but the film suffers as a result.

I am all for feminism in cinema, but Harriet can be accurately accused of stomping that point into the ground.

During some of the numerous action sequences when Harriet becomes a flawless sharpshooter, she nearly rivals a Marvel superhero instead of a simple woman championing a cause. And why is Harriet psychic?

This is a silly addition that feels plot-driven. Director Kasi Lemmons, known for films like Eve’s Bayou (1997) and Black Nativity (2013) knows her way around a picture, but Harriet will not be known as her finest achievement.

There are some positives to mention. Erivo, not known for her acting as much as her singing ability, rises to the occasion. Viola Davis nearly ended up being cast, who would have been brilliant, but Erivo nonetheless impresses. She is pretty, yet plain which humanizes Harriet and makes her relatable to many.

Erivo provides both toughness and sympathy so that the audience will champion her cause without it feeling forced. Early in the year, thought to be a lock for the Best Actress Oscar, the film lost ground critically, and Erivo limped to an Oscar nod, and she was lucky to get that. She lost.

The cinematography is credible and another positive to the film. The green, lush landscapes are very southern and peaceful, roaring rapids, bridges, and spacious forests making for atmospheric niceties serving as backdrops for many sequences.

Casting Janelle Monae as the gorgeous (and free) Marie Buchanan is fine and adds a Color Purple (1985) comparison-think Celie/Shug Avery.

Ironically, the acting among the black actors is superior to the most over-the-top or cartoon-like white actors.

Best described as a formulaic Hollywood film with a good message, Harriet (2019) could be a launching pad for Erivos, a new name in Hollywood film.

She tackles a difficult role and is the best thing about the production. The sleekness and modernism make the resulting experience less than the grittiness that a film like Harriet needs.

Much better biographies of legendary figures exist, a shame since Harriet Tubman is one of the most prominent to have their stories told on the big screen.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Cynthia Erivos, Best Original Song-“Stand Up”

A Dangerous Method-2011

A Dangerous Method-2011

Director David Cronenberg

Starring Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #1,009

Reviewed April 9, 2020

Grade: B+

A literal psychological-themed drama, if ever there was one, director David Cronenberg uses popular actors of the day to create a film based on a non-fiction book.

Famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung share a tumultuous relationship when they catch the eye of the first female psychoanalyst, who was a patient of each.

Thanks to a talented cast and an independent feel, the result is a compelling piece and a history lesson in sexual titillation, jealousy, passion, and drama, among real-life elite sophisticates.

Set on the eve of World War I in Zurich, Switzerland, a young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), suffering from hysteria begins a new course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).

He uses word association, dream interpretation, and other experimental methods as part of his approach to psychoanalysis and finds that Spielrein’s condition was triggered by the humiliation and sexual arousal she felt as a child when her father spanked her naked.

They embark on a torrid affair.

Jung and friend and confidante, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) explore various psychoanalytical methods, but cracks appear in their friendship as they begin to disagree more frequently on matters of psychoanalysis.

When Spielrein, now a student, meets Freud, she confides her relationship with Jung to him, which leads to animosity between the men. Spielrein embarks on other lovers as she attempts to reconcile the geniuses, to allow for their psychoanalysis studies to continue to develop with relevancy.

The film is intelligently written and for any viewer fascinated with psychology or sexual interest, a wonderful marvel. Since Freud and Jung are two of the most recognizable names in behavioral science and Spielrein is one of the most influential women in the field, the production is as much a historical and biographical study as it is dramatic enjoyment.

Spanking, bondage, and sexual humiliation for gratification and pleasure, strong taboos at the turn of the twentieth century, are explored and embraced in delicious and wicked style.

Given that Fassbender, Mortensen, and Knightley are easy on the eyes provide further stimulation than if less attractive actors were cast. Nonetheless, what the actors provide in eye candy is equally matched by their acting talent as each one immerses themselves into each pivotal role.

Cleverly and uniquely, the film is not a trite romantic triangle or giddy formulaic genre movie. Rather, the sets, costumes, and cinematography are fresh and grip the audience.

Carl Jung is the central figure as both his personal and professional experiences are given plenty of screen time. He wrestles between remaining committed to his wife or giving in to his deepest desires with Speilrein- we can guess how this turns out!

The early scenes between Fassbender and Knightley crackle with passion and will make many blush and smirk with naughtiness.

The title of the film is bold but doesn’t always live up to the subject matter. More sensual, fun, and intelligent than dangerous, the film is hardly raw or gritty, surprising given it’s an independent project. It is softer to the touch, especially during scenes between Jung and Speilrein than hard-edged.

Many early psychoanalytical ideas of approach and remedy are discussed and explored making the film more of a study than a thriller.

A Dangerous Method (2011) received stellar reviews and year-end awards consideration, but unsuccessful box-office returns. Hardly a popcorn film and deeply accepting of its indie roots, the film ought to be shown in high-school or academic psychology classes- whether in abnormal or general studies remains a question.

With a fascinating story that risks making the prudish blush or turn away, the film will please those independent thinkers, sexual deviants, or those aching for an expressive and satisfying film.