Tag Archives: Comedy films

The Witches-2020

The Witches-2020

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer

Scott’s Review #1,314

Reviewed November 16, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huston beats Hathaway in a comparison.

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

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

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

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

I Love You, Man-2009

I Love You, Man-2009

Director-John Hamburg

Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, Rashida Jones

Scott’s Review #1,311

Reviewed October 24, 2022

Grade: B

I Love You, Man (2009) is another one of these ‘feel-good’ types of ‘bromance’ comedies to grace the silver screen in the 2000s. It takes a familiar storyline of two male friends bonding, usually involving a female in the mix to complicate matters, with hilariously awkward moments thrown in.

It’s nothing groundbreaking or overly severe but rather a mildly satisfying ‘guy film’ that a female audience can also enjoy too because there exists a romance and a happily ever after.

I’m simplifying the specific gender tastes quite a bit but what I mean is the film is light and there can be something for everyone to enjoy.

While there are some innocent homoerotic playful moments between the men, for laughs, of course, the genre avoids anything LGBTQ+ related other than a gay supporting character who cleverly teaches the straight male how to ‘meet’ men.

Director, John Hamburg, is involved in similarly themed projects like Meet the Parents (2000) and Along Came Polly (2004) so he knows the common premise required for a film like I Love You, Man as well as what the audience wants.

As his wedding day approaches, nerdy Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) realizes he has no one to serve as his best man. Through a series of “man-dates,” he finds abrasive Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), and the pair become instant friends.

But as Peter’s “bromance” with Sydney grows stronger, it threatens his relationship with his intended, Zooey (Rashida Jones), forcing Peter to make a choice.

It’s not a bad effort and Rudd and Segal have good chemistry as polar opposite characters. The differences are a big part of the laughs but Jones is somewhat unnecessary to the plot other than the required female component to satisfy the formula.

She dutifully plays her role as the straight woman immersed between two goofballs but has very little to do other than get in the way and be a roadblock to the guy’s fun.

It’s not a great role for her and the chemistry is lacking between her and Rudd but maybe that’s just the point. I’m not too sure but I found the humorous moments entirely left to the boys to provide.

My favorite section of the film is one that many may dismiss or deem secondary. The legendary progressive rock band Rush makes an appearance as a way that Peter and Sydney ultimately bond.

Any fan of music, especially a thinking man’s band like Rush, can attest to the genuine bond that can be created between followers of a specific group.

Rush is legendary for just that and it makes I Love You, Man feel fresher than it otherwise would have. Besides, other than Led Zeppelin is there a better example of a ‘guy’s band’?

Otherwise, the film is particularly run-of-the-mill. There are familiar arguments, misunderstandings, breakups, and makeup to be endured.

Events start with a marriage proposal and unsurprisingly end with a wedding ceremony so anything in between is rather superfluous since we can see the outcome a mile away.

Naturally, as much as Zooey wants Peter to have more male friends she becomes suspicious and otherwise threatened by the new blood, feeling left out. There is a hint that Sydney may be trying to manipulate and pull the wool over Peter’s eyes over a financial loan but things work themselves out just fine.

As predictable as I Love You, Man is there is a sentimental, even heartwarming sensation to be left with, and a few good chuckles along the way.

Up the Sandbox-1972

Up the Sandbox-1972

Director-Irvin Kershner

Starring Barbra Streisand, David Selby

Scott’s Review #1,308

Reviewed October 18, 2022

Grade: B

Up the Sandbox (1972) is likely the least successful film in the Barbra Streisand collection and more obscure than likely desired. The star performs no songs and the film is experimental but it’s unclear if it was intended to be or not.

Streisand takes a break from comedies and musicals and ventures into unknown territory, taking a risk that doesn’t always pay off.

On the flip side, she never looked more beautiful in a film.

The film has its moments. It’s shrouded in early progressive feminism which provides intrigue and it’s tough to go wrong with a bankable star like Streisand in a lead role.

Still, the fantasy sequences get too weird and sometimes unnecessary, and the film doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

The film gets taken down at least a notch for two anti-gay slurs that are shamefully unnecessary to any plot direction.

I award Up the Sandbox credit for thinking outside the box and being unconventional but all the parts don’t come together in a cohesive unit leaving me unfulfilled but recognizing the superior qualities.

The cover art (see above) is wacky and thought-provoking.

Margaret (Streisand) is a young wife and mother who is bored with her day-to-day life in New York City playing second fiddle to her successful and too-busy husband, Paul (David Selby).

He is a professor at Columbia University and they reside in a cramped yet fairly sophisticated apartment.

To combat boredom, she regularly escapes into increasingly outrageous fantasies: her mother breaking into the apartment, an explorer’s demonstration of tribal fertility music at a party causing strange transformations, and somehow joining terrorists to plant explosives in the Statue of Liberty.

Streisand is well cast and while other actresses could have given a fine performance she plays New York Jewish better than anyone. Her plight to break out of her life of doldrums is perfectly conveyed as she yearns to equal the balance between men and women.

She has resentment for going down the path of housewife, just like her mother did, and vowing to be nothing like her, as the women bicker and feud throughout the film.

The sequences involving her mother are the best in the film. Played by Jane Hoffman, Margaret’s mother provides all of the expected Jewish mother stereotypes like nagging and judging, hilariously.

The funniest mother/daughter sequence sees Margaret smash her mother’s head into a giant birthday cake. Naturally, it’s just her fantasy.

Up the Sandbox wins big by the lofty amount of location sequences showing early 1970s New York City, absolutely fascinating to view. One with an appreciation for Manhatten can be assured of a pleasant viewing experience.

The most heartfelt and sentimental moments occur during a long shot of the still-under-construction World Trade Center. Seeing the twin towers still being erected brings back teary memories of 9/11.

Lavish sequences are set in and around Columbia University in upper Manhattan and the campus can frequently be seen as Margaret and her friends trudge their baby strollers around the campus and surrounding areas.

Where the film fails is when it teeters too far out in fantasy land. It makes little sense why Margaret would join terrorists intent on blowing up Lady Liberty or what the group’s intentions are.

Perhaps it is a metaphor for something that went over my head.

Even when the screenplay is a dud Ms. Streisand holds her head high and plays the comedy or drama with sincerity and professionalism. With her well-known perfectionism, she would have been aware when things were not working.

A film not remembered well, Up the Sandbox (1972) scores some points with its locales, progressivism, and star power but stumbles off course too many times to recommend.

If only Streisand would have belted out a number or two amid her scripted fantasies the film might have worked better.

Kindergarten Cop-1990

Kindergarten Cop-1990

Director-Ivan Reitman

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller

Scott’s Review #1,306

Reviewed October 12, 2022

Grade: C+

Before Arnold Schwarzenegger found politics and after he left professional bodybuilding, he starred in a string of films during the 1980s and 1990s. At first solely a bankable action figure due to his bulky frame, he delved into more comedic and friendlier film roles.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) is one of those films yet there is enough mild violence to draw in the male crowd too.

Some of his films were better than others with the best of the bunch being The Terminator (1984) and True Lies (1994).

Kindergarten Cop is fair to a middling effort that attempts to transport the brawny star into a likable teacher but the result feels more forced than genuine. Naturally, the main character ends up in a quandary over whether he wants to fight crime or teach youngsters after he falls in love with them and another teacher.

The setup is way too similar to other films in the action-comedy genre and the film is very standard fare. The bad guy and love interest are tired and cliched, and the gags involving the kids are overly juvenile and mostly fall flat.

Despite these trite characteristics, Kindergarten Cop is not a terrible film and this is thanks to Schwarzenegger’s appeal. He is good-natured and his transition from grizzled cop to a kindly teacher is not unfun.

It provides some family-friendly light entertainment that can be enjoyed on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Unusual circumstances find cop John Kimble (Schwarzenegger) forced to pose as a kindergarten teacher to apprehend major drug lord Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson) and his accomplice and mother, Eleanor, played by Carroll Baker.

While pretending to be a kid-friendly instructor, Kimble falls for pretty fellow teacher Joyce Palmieri (Penelope Ann Miller) as he tries to balance unruly children with the dangerous bad guys.

In a twist seen coming a mile away, Joyce and her son are the people that Cullen is pursuing.

Kindergarten Cop all seems so perfectly thought out. It’s like a bunch of suits were sitting at a round table making sure the elements were all included: hero, bad guy, love interest, kids, enough action sequences, and a chase finale.

There is even one standard black kid and one Asian kid to check off the diversity box.  And enough precociousness to last a lifetime.

The comedy mostly comes in the classroom where it’s frequently humorous to watch a gigantic man teach little kids especially when he has no idea what to do. Careful not to be too silly there are a couple of sentimental moments and social situations like when Kimble threatens a father who is abusing his son.

Director Ivan Reitman, quite familiar with screwball comedies, directed funnies such as Meatballs (1979) and Stripes (1981) so he knows what provides chuckles.

The action sequences do not work well other than providing a reason for Kimble to run around and protect the kids and Joyce. We all know he will eventually best Cullen which he does.

Even the amazing Linda Hunt is wasted as a one-dimensional principal who at first hates Kimble but then comes around to accept him.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) is too blueprint-ready to recommend since it contains elements used in hundreds of other films. But for fans of the hulking Schwarzenegger, the film is a safe offering that sees the film star more softly.

Bros-2022

Bros-2022

Director-Nicholas Stoller

Starring Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane 

Scott’s Review #1,304

Reviewed October 5, 2022

Grade: A

Even if Bros (2022) was a bad film it would still hold the monumental distinction of being the first LGBTQ+-themed romantic comedy released and supported by a major distributor.

In the year 2022, years after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States and various other firsts that would take way too long to list, surprisingly, Bros is the first of its kind.

Fortunately, Bros is not a poor film but an exceptional one with brazen confidence and a lot to say.

Led by crisp and intelligent dialogue, lovable lead actors, a cast solely made up of the LGBTQ+ community, strong characters, and hilarious moments, it has something for everyone, gay, straight, or otherwise.

Before readers pigeonhole the film as one only to be seen by the  LGBTQ+ community, I will cry bullshit.

Straight audiences will fall in love with the characters and learn valuable lessons about stereotypes and deep seeded emotions of gay men who are not always comfortable in their skin.

Unfortunately, Bros was not the box-office smash hit the studio hoped it would be. Some straight viewers felt the film was not for them and that’s a shame.

There’s more work to do to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias and education others to embrace differences.

Billy Eichner, who co-wrote the Bros screenplay along with director, Nicholas Stoller, stars in the film, alongside Luke Macfarlane.

Eichner plays a sardonic, gay Jewish male named Bobby Leiber who resides in New York City.  We meet Bobby while he is doing another episode of his New York podcast and radio show The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall, talking to callers about his written works on gay history and gay icons.

He claims to be fine with being single and not having found love, instead hooking up with random men over a dating application called Grindr, though he is successful in his career and has good friends.

He awkwardly meets Aaron Shepard (Macfarlane), a hunky masculine guy deemed ‘hot but boring’ by those in Bobby’s circle, in a gay club.

The two men slowly develop a romantic relationship despite commitment problems and hectic schedules that seem designed to put the kibosh on love.

Despite all the other aforementioned wins for this LGBTQ+ film is that the screenwriting feels fresh and intelligent. Above all else, it wisely paints the struggles that most gay men seeking a relationship of substance face.

As in other romantic comedies, some setups and situations cause conflict that risks Bobby and Aaron not getting together. Bobby feels Aaron is out of his league preferring other muscular men to his overbearing and critical approach.

One can understand Bobby’s angst but in one of the film’s most poignant and beautiful scenes, Aaron tearfully reveals that Bobby constantly challenges him and it feels good.

He needs to be with Bobby because it is right. Bobby serves as a mentor to Aaron as he wrestles with being true to himself. Stuck in a depressing yet financially secure job, Aaron instead longs to be a chocolate maker.

Beauty is only skin deep. Regardless of occasional insecurities, the two men are strongly connected and that beats everything else.

On a personal level, both characters resonated with me making me feel their angst. One would assume that Aaron the hunk would be more confident but is that the case? Both men teach and learn from each other which makes their relationship powerful.

Other than the romantic moments, Bros has its share of raunchy comical scenes justifying its ‘R’ rating. In typical Judd Apatow (the film’s producer) form, the sex scenes are revealing.

There are enough orgies, toe-sucking, and fist-sucking, to make the prudish blush. The planned ‘rimming’ scene didn’t make the final cut. Does one wonder what that would have been like?

The film follows a distinct comedy formula and includes a helping of standard annoying, clueless, or over-the-top colorful characters that appear to justify its mainstream comedy placement.

The genius is that Bros works.

I implore straight audiences to give the film a chance if for no other reason than to show that gay people are as different from each other as apples and oranges. As Bobby makes clear some are nice and some are assholes.

Bros (2022) treads conventional but with a twist, and shows that gay characters are as genuinely funny as straight characters. It provides laugh-out-loud moments and teary sentimental ones.

I can’t wait for the next project from Billy Eichner.

Magic Mike-2012

Magic Mike-2012

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #1,302

Reviewed September 28, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He intends to entertain and entertain he does.

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

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

And who doesn’t like that?

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

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Director-Anthony Fabian

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #1,301

Reviewed September 24, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone gets a happy ending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983

Director-Harold Ramis

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #1,300

Reviewed September 19, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director-Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

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

The Pajama Game-1957

The Pajama Game-1957

Director-George Abbott, Stanley Donen

Starring Doris Day, John Raitt

Scott’s Review #1,292

Reviewed August 19, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Submarine-1968

Yellow Submarine-1968

Director-George Dunning, Dick Emery

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

Scott’s Review #1,291

Reviewed August 18, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

The film is The Beatle’s only animated project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zola-2021

Zola-2021

Director-Janicza Bravo

Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo

Scott’s Review #1,290

Reviewed August 16, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

An American Werewolf in Paris-1997

Director-Anthony Waller

Starring Thomas Everett Scott, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,289

Reviewed August 12, 2022

Grade: C+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, how could you not compare the two films?

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

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

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

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

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

A Countess From Hong Kong-1967

Director-Charlie Chaplin

Starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Tippi Hedren

Scott’s Review #1,287

Reviewed August 8, 2022

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictably, Natascha and Ogden fall madly in love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Arizona-1987

Raising Arizona-1987

Director-Joel Coen

Starring Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter

Scott’s Review #1,286

Reviewed August 5, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Director-George Sidney

Starring Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret

Scott’s Review #1,280

Reviewed July 24, 2022

Grade: B

A lightweight romp created exclusively as a vehicle for superstar Elvis Presley and his lofty success, Viva Las Vegas (1964) is one of the better Elvis film entries.

This may not be saying much because he’s not the greatest actor in the world. He doesn’t need to be since he’s got enough charisma and chemistry with co-star Ann Margret to elicit a smile or two, and the musical numbers together and separately are entertaining.

That’s really what Viva Las Vegas is about.

Elvis was at his peak in 1964 both musically and physically so watching the hunky singer croon, dance, and writhe with style on the big screen is not the most daunting task in the world.

The silly story feels forced, obvious, and created on the fly to provide humor, hijinks, and a bit of drama for the leads. It’s not the most substantial part of the film.

Appealing are the opening camera shots of ‘old Las Vegas’ during the 1960s. The lights and glitter are colorful and appealing as is the Vegas setting, though disappointingly, most of the film is shot on a studio soundstage.

The sloppily conjured-up story involves a  musically gifted race car driver named Lucky Jackson (Presley, naturally) who arrives in Las Vegas to score enough money for a new car motor so he can win the upcoming Grand Prix race. He befriends a cagey racing rival named Elmo (Cesare Danova).

When he encounters sexy swimming instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret), he considers staying around longer to get better acquainted with the dame. After Lucky loses his winnings in the hotel pool, he’s forced to remain in Vegas working as a waiter.

He not only wants to recoup his financial losses, but he is now determined to win Rusty’s heart. Unfortunately, so does Elmo, setting off a chain of events that culminates with the Grand Prix race. Elmo and Lucky try to outwit each other.

To say the events in Viva Las Vegas are predictable is an understatement as a meager attempt at an invested triangle between Lucky, Rusty, and Elmo is laughable. There is no doubt that Lucky and Rusty will ride off into the sunset together.

Unintentionally I am sure, director George Sidney is no Alfred Hitchcock after all, there exists homoeroticism between Lucky and Elmo. As they lie side by side under the wheels of a broken-down greaser, a titillating thought is what if the men were to kiss.

Elvis’s enormous fan base was not ready for that scandal in 1964 so the result is a by-numbers boy meets girl, boy intends to conquer girl, a traditional love story.

Sigh.

The anticipation of a grand musical finale is disappointing because there isn’t one, only the race itself tepidly watched by Rusty and company from an overhead helicopter. The sequence is adequate with enough suspense and car wrecks to enthrall the viewer but unsurprisingly Lucky wins the race.

In a rushed final scene, Lucky and Rusty are seen happily emerging from a church on their wedding day whilst a bouquet sits in Rusty’s hand. Big smiles are on the faces of everyone.

The chemistry between Presley and Ann-Margret is strong and endearing. This is no surprise given the real-life affair the pair were reportedly having. Nonetheless, the sweetest number occurs early on when Lucky tries to convince Rusty, through song, that she is in love with him, but just doesn’t know it yet.

I gushed at the thought of Marilyn Monroe in the Rusty role which may have been the original intent. The blonde bombshell died less than two years before the film’s release, and likely after the idea was birthed.

No disrespect to Ann-Margret.

Of course, the main reason to watch Viva Las Vegas is for the tunes. The title track is a super-charged song about the enjoyment of the city of sin and a multitude of other numbers appear throughout the film at breakneck speed.

This is a relief since there is not much time to invest in the paper-thin plot.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) is a film recommended mostly for Elvis fans seeking a glimpse of the star in his heyday.

Red Rocket-2021

Red Rocket-2021

Director-Sean Baker

Starring Simon Rex, Suzanna Son

Scott’s Review #1,277

Reviewed July 15, 2022

Grade: A-

Sean Baker has become a director I am intrigued by. Firmly planted in the independent circuit, recent films like Tangerine (2015), and The Florida Project (2017) offer a slice of life look at troubled or otherwise forgotten or discarded groups of people.

His works are fascinating and humanistic, admittedly skewing darker or daring avenues like the transgender community, the homeless, or in the case of Red Rocket (2021), a former male porn star.

And while his characters may not always be likable, they are complex, requiring exploration and consideration.

There are also enough butts, boobs, and fornicating to remind us what the subject matter at hand is.

Baker has an incredible way of providing depth to the people considered dregs of society, and a voice with a story to tell. He treats them like human beings oftentimes using real people who are non-actors in pivotal roles.

This lofts the authenticity and realism off the charts and successfully gets his audience to empathize with the characters and see them as living beings with fears, thoughts, and emotions.

Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) is a charismatic con man and washed-up porn star who returns to rural southeast Texas to shack up with his depressed and estranged wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod).

He plots his triumphant return to Los Angeles and the porn industry after meeting a teenager named Strawberry (Suzanna Son) who works at the local donut shop. They connect and plot ways to flee their depressing small-town existence into the adult film world.

Like other Baker films, the city of Los Angeles is considered one of grandeur or where the characters’ lives will be better than they currently are. Mikey and Strawberry feel their destiny lies outside of the daily doldrums of their surroundings and they are convinced their lives will change.

Red Rocket is a film about longing for a better life and being frustrated with the present. That’s a message many audiences can connect with.

Even though Rex and Son are successful with their lead roles it’s the supporting characters who I found even more interesting. I liked Mikey and Strawberry but never loved them together. Interesting to me were Mikey’s relationships with other characters.

Lexi and her mother are fascinating characters. It’s mentioned that before Mikey returned to town, Lexi would meet men on craigslist to pay the rent. Along with her mother, Lil (Brenda Deiss), who smokes pot to ease some health pain, they exist in a dilapidated house.

Their neighbors, a black family, sell drugs to make ends meet and appear to do alright for themselves, respected around town.

I love how there is small-town harmony and the neighbors seem fond of each other, united with pleasantries. There’s a sense of having one’s back, and there is no mention of racism.

I adore these surface characters and longed to know more about their stories. Of course, since Mikey and Strawberry are the core characters there is not enough time to go into much detail.

Baker provides political overtones about American life which are both noticeable and depressing. News clips of former President Donald Trump boasting and pandering to his blue-collar base are included in various scenes.

A ‘Make America Great’ fixture covers the side of a building.

These points are oxymorons of what the characters’ lives are and always will be. They are poor and stuck and cling to some false hope hammered into their heads by a crooked salesman gone politician that he will make their lives great.

It’s heartbreaking and scary in its realism and Baker makes his point clear without having to hammer it over the heads of the audience.

Red Rocket (2021) makes it a solid trifecta for Baker and his earlier works. With a sometimes brutal depiction of small-town life in poverty, he shows there is always hope and heart despite the many obstacles many people continue to face.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Male Lead-Simon Rex (won), Best Supporting Female-Suzanna Son

Hello, Dolly!-1969

Hello, Dolly! -1969

Director-Gene Kelly

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau

Scott’s Review #1,273

Reviewed July 5, 2022

Grade: B+

I was surprised by my reaction to Hello, Dolly! (1969), a musical comedy starring the brilliant Barbra Streisand in only her second film role. The songs are tailor-made for the diva’s vocals and are the follow-up to her Oscar-winning turn in Funny Girl made just a year earlier.

The film is enjoyable and there are enough songs to hum along with but it suffers mightily by miscasting Streisand in a role much too old for her, and a ghastly lack of any decent chemistry between the leads.

Nevertheless, the memorable and outstanding dinner scene toward the conclusion of the film makes the overall effort worth the wait and rebounds it to a generous B+ rating up from a tepid B rating.

The wonderful supporting players help save Hello, Dolly! from mediocrity since I felt much more invested in their story than I did in the lead action.

Still, based on the synopsis and talent potential I was anticipating a solid A rating but this was not to be as Hello, Dolly! brought the once-reliable musical comedies of the 1950s and 1960s to a crashing halt as 1970 was nearly upon us.

The time is 1890s New York City and Yonkers, New York as the bold and enchanting widow Dolly Levi (Streisand) is a socialite-turned-matchmaker, though she yearns for her own love life.

Her latest client is the grumpy but wealthy Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) and a young artist named Ambrose (Tommy Tune), who is in love with Horace’s niece, Ermengarde (Joyce Ames).

Dolly has secret romantic designs on Horace and is determined to land him while Ambrose and Ermengarde have little to do.

Dolly’s meddling soon involves Horace’s employees Cornelius (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby (Danny Lockin) who become smitten with a New York hatmaker named Irene (Marianne McAndrew) and her ditzy assistant Minnie (E.J. Peaker).

For starters, anyone who has seen or knows the history of the 1960s stage version of Hello, Dolly! knows that Carol Channing portrayed the role and should have in the film.

She is so well known for the role that she won a Tony and reprised it many times during her storied career becoming way more famous than Streisand would ever be for the role.

Streisand was only twenty-six years old when she made Hello, Dolly! and is too youthful for the matronly role despite the help of makeup and costumes. This is bothersome because the main reason Streisand was cast was that her career was taking off.

The other glaring problem is there is no chemistry between Streisand and Matthau and it’s unknown why Dolly is even romantically interested in Horace besides perhaps for his money.

Needless to say, is that he is too old for her.

There is no rooting value for the couple at all and a fun fact is that the two stars hated each other during filming. This provided a chuckle or two.

All is not lost though because the supporting foursome of Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene, and Minnie steals the show. The hijinks between the characters as the boys struggle to figure out how to pay for a lavish champagne dinner for the girls is physical comedy at its finest.

In fact, the lavish dinner scene set at the Harmonia Gardens Restuarant saves the film. Dripping with beautiful set design, bright red velvet decor, and perfect choreography, the highlight is an adorable rendition of the title song between Streisand and Louis Armstrong.

The sequence is so great that it almost makes me forget about the missteps surrounding the rest of the film.

Director and Actor, Gene Kelly, is most known for starring in An American in Paris (1950) and knows his way around a musical or two. He does wonders with all facets of the production but can’t be blamed for the casting choices.

Surprisingly, Hello, Dolly! (1969) received seven Academy Award nominations winning only two. This assuredly is a result of a conservative tendency by the Academy members who worshipped the once-mighty musical genre.

Unfortunately, the genre limped into the more edgy 1970s and would remain more or less obscure for many years.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation (won), Best Sound (won)

Young Adult-2011

Young Adult-2011

Director-Jason Reitman 

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt

Scott’s Review #1,267

Reviewed June 17, 2022

Grade: A-

I am a big fan of Jason Reitman films.

Though classified as comedies, they lack the qualities I most dislike in many mainstream comedies: slapstick, formulaic, gag setups, and potty jokes, that feel completely staged and redundant.

Instead, he incorporates wry, sardonic humor, cynicism, and intelligence into his films that enhance the writing and makes the characters’ motivations clear.

Most of his characters are damaged and unhappy, suffering from inner conflict or instability, but the result is witty humor providing laughs to those able to think outside the box and immerse themselves into the character’s heads.

Thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Diablo Cody the thoughts and conflicts of a female character take center stage.

Reitman’s best films are Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009) and Young Adult (2011) is right up there with the others providing a darker tone than especially Juno contained.

Along with Reitman and Cody is a terrific performance by Charlize Theron who rightfully should have received an Oscar nomination. This is tough to achieve with a comedy performance and she had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination instead.

Just looking at the movie poster for Young Adult reveals a lot about her character. With an annoyed and flabbergasted look, wearing pajamas, she immediately gives off the vibe of slovenly, fed up, and looking for a fight.

Theron is great at playing take no prisoners, tough characters with a bit of edge and a no-bullshit attitude.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a successful but frustrated writer of teen literature who realizes that her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has just become a father with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).

Mavis decides to return to her small hometown and cause trouble.

She feels her life is getting away from her and she’d love to steal Buddy away from Beth and ride off into the sunset for presumed happiness. She also knows that life usually doesn’t work this way.

Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), who has also found it difficult to move past high school.

The two connect in the unlikeliest of ways since they didn’t exactly travel in the same circles during high school. Matt has his own powerful story since he was gay-bashed causing him to be permanently disabled.

Matt and Mavis are both relatable characters to most of the audience. Who hasn’t ruminated over their past life in high school? For some high schools are glorious years filled with memories of pep rallies, parties, and graduation.

For others, the mere thought conjures up memories of insecurity, moodiness, and awkward experiences. There can also be some of both for most people.

Mavis, Matt, and Buddy have each not closed out their high school chapters in different ways so the fun is seeing the feelings of each character come to the surface shrouded in conflict. With Matt and Mavis turning to all-night drinking binges eases their pain.

The best scene that showcases Mavis’s anger and Theron’s exceptional acting skills occurs at an outdoor party in celebration of naming Buddy’s daughter.

As the entire town is gathered on the front lawn Beth spills punch on Mavis’s dress causing Mavis to fly into a rage, insulting Beth, and finally confessing that she was once pregnant with Buddy’s child but had a miscarriage.

The hateful Mavis, the hurt Beth, and the embarrassment of the townspeople are on full display. The scene is wonderful and shows the cohesive value of the events to the rest of the story.

Reitman brings complexity to his characters in Young Adult (2011) and proves that dark comedy, especially character-driven, provides emotional power amid the laughs.

I love that the ending is ambiguous rather than wrapped up in a nice bow like too many comedies.

Thanks to wonderful acting, insightful writing, and wise direction, the film is well-remembered and undoubtedly a source of inspiration for upcoming comedy writers and directors.

The Pacifier-2005

The Pacifier-2005

Director-Adam Shankman

Starring Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham

Scott’s Review #1,251

Reviewed May 1, 2022

Grade: C

The Pacifier (2005) is the kind of film that has been made for decades in one form or another. The setup is familiar and puts its macho movie star in situations that go against type or are deemed a bit feminine, and lightweight, all for the sake of a laugh.

As far back as the 1950s when Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis donned lady’s clothing in Some Like it Hot (1959), to Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom (1983), to the 1990s when Arnold Schwarzenegger entertained audiences in Kindergarten Cop (1995), there is a pattern to follow.

And those are just the decent films.

In 2005, the sexy Vin Diesel was one of the highest-grossing leading men in Hollywood churning out hits like Boiler Room (2000) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) to rabid audiences.

Known primarily for his action films, someone had the bright idea to domesticate the muscular star and put him in a situation where he would comically change baby diapers or vacuum a living room.

Unfortunately, The Pacifier is juvenile in nearly every way with canned gags and predictability for miles. Diesel is terrific to look at but isn’t the best actor in the world which causes the film to lose credibility.

Despite cliche after cliche and ridiculous situation, the film occasionally will elicit a chuckle or two from anyone brave enough to watch it.

That’s mostly because Diesel is willing to emerge in one scene covered in shit.

But don’t expect much more from The Pacifier.

Shane Wolfe (Diesel) is an elite Navy SEAL with muscles and charisma for miles. He is the type of man who would run into a fire and save a baby or swim out to sea to save a drowning child.

One day he makes a grave error in judgment when he fails to keep scientist Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan) safe from assassination and the man is killed.

Riddled with guilt, he is assigned to protect Plummer’s five children when the mother played by Faith Ford needs to leave the country temporarily. The kids include rebellious Zoe (Brittany Snow), Seth (Max Thieriot), and clingy Lulu (Morgan York).

The kid’s pet duck is along for the ride pushing the seasoned veteran to his breaking point.

Predictably, when Shane is not busy tending to the kids there is a secret project contained somewhere in the household that he must uncover.

Of course, a film like The Pacifier requires some romance so the inclusion of Principal Claire Fletcher (Lauren Graham) is for the sole purpose of having someone for Shane to fall in love with.

There is not great chemistry between Diesel and Graham so I wasn’t invested in them. The casting of the children is so one-dimensional with standard characteristics that it would be easy to laugh at.

I chose not to do this but rather strove to find something enjoyable in The Pacifier.

It’s a cute film but it’s so mainstream, dull, fluffy, and whatever generic adjective one would choose to describe it that it deserves the bland grade of C I am awarding it.

Diesel is the only appealing factor to The Pacifier.

Why make the bad guys as stereotypical as possible? They are North Korean and the ‘twist’ that Shane’s boss is in cahoots with them is as surprising as realizing the two-week-old Chinese leftovers in the fridge have gone bad.

The film has a small comparison to the superior The Sound of Music (1965) which the filmmakers must have realized since they incorporate it into the story. The kids that Shane is in charge of are behaving badly and attempting to play a practical joke on him.

In the end, there is a chase sequence, a reveal, peril, and a happy ending in more or less that order.

The Pacifier (2005) is a Disney film so there is a safe, family-friendly vibe throughout. It marginally entertains largely on the strength of Diesel.

He is sexy, macho, and provides enough charisma to forget the bevy of standard gags and silly situations that he, and the audience, must endure.

The Object of My Affection-1998

The Object of My Affection-1998

Director-Nicholas Hytner

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd

Scott’s Review #1,249

Reviewed April 24, 2022

Grade: B

The Object of My Affection (1998) is a romantic comedy riddled with the standard cliches and obvious situation setups of similar types of film. As a whole, it is plot-driven rather than character-driven.

The redeeming factor is that it adds a left of center approach and delves into LGBTQ territory, albeit in a soft touch, which more mainstream American films were only starting to do in the late 1990s.

The best part of the film is the casting of Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd who have tremendous chemistry as a potential couple who has no chance of riding off into the sunset together. At least in any romantic sort of way.

He is gay and she is straight and nothing can change that.

Though fluffy, The Object of My Affection deserves some level of praise. Several gay men can easily relate to a situation where he finds a female friend enamored with him and experiences a return of affection differently.

It’s common to fantasize about what might have been if feelings were different and as the film explores, even try to go straight.

The film itself has a definite Will & Grace vibe, a popular television program emerging at this time, and even has the same location. The main characters become the very best of friends, watching movies together and sharing intimate moments just like a romantic couple would do.

The late 1990s was a time when gay characters took the center stage so The Object of My Affection gets a thumbs up for being part of the herd.

Nina Borowski (Jennifer Aniston) lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as a social worker. She invites her new gay friend, George (Paul Rudd), to move into her apartment after he breaks up with his longtime lover, Robert (Tim Daly).

Meanwhile, Nina gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, but ends her relationship with the child’s father, her controlling boyfriend Vince (John Pankow).

As Nina and George live and experience her pregnancy together, they grow close and Nina realizes she’s beginning to fall in love with her friend.

Aniston and Rudd work well together as a couple, friends or otherwise, and the chemistry tones are terrific. Even during the sappiest of scenes, and there are many of them, I always smiled a bit at their bond.

When Nina and George have the inevitable dramatic scene and express their feelings it doesn’t feel as forced as one might expect. Their bond is solidified and the film unsurprisingly has the pair remain in each other’s lives, presumably forever.

In satisfying form, Nina and George do ride off into the sunset along with little Molly but in solid relationships with other mates. Each character finds their destiny and soulmate while keeping in each other’s life.

While nice, there are many hurdles the filmmakers could have gone further with but don’t. The message is clear- regardless of sexuality, race, religion, or politics, a friend is a friend and a bond is meant to be forever.

It’s a warm message which is the basis for what the intent was and the film delivers a heartfelt story that eases the conflict of real-life and perhaps that is needed sometimes.

As much as The Object of My Affection (1998) has its heart in the right place with a progressive and inclusive slant, the film is bogged down by standard cliches and a fairy tale ending.

It’s a nice, fulfilling fantasy film but skates over hard-hitting realistic issues in favor of kid gloves type situations making it feel dated nearly twenty-five years later.

Other films in the years ahead would supersede the premise and take it to different and more interesting levels delving outside the box further and further.

But, a nice attempt.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

Director-Jeremiah S. Chechik

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid

Scott’s Review #1,248

Reviewed April 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Made several years after the first in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series (1983-2015), the inevitable production of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) is my personal favorite of the bunch and the most laugh out loud.

Silly personified but the jokes work and the enjoyment carries throughout the entire running time.

In retrospect, you knew they were going to do it. What better fodder for the bumbling Griswold family than to have them reunite with extended family on such a seasonal holiday. The gags and awkward situations are ripe for the picking as situation after setup is done exceptionally well and with grand humor.

The silliness works and the film is a recommended watch around the holidays with the family gathered around. Viewers can either relate directly to the film or inevitably know families that resemble the incompetent yet loveable Griswolds.

As the holidays approach, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is determined to have a perfect family Christmas. He motivates his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their children to make sure everything is in line, including the tree and house decorations.

Naturally, things quickly go awry in the greatest of humor.

His hick cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family show up unplanned and start living in their camper on the Griswold property. Even worse, Clark’s employers renege on the holiday bonus he needs causing a great deal of stress for the family patriarch.

For starters, the film has a cool holiday vibe. The setting is wisely the midwest United States somewhere outside of Chicago, Illinois. Snow is to be found everywhere and Christmas decorations and lights are lit all over the place throughout the film. This equates to a suburban and homey atmosphere that is warming and friendly.

Most viewers can snuggle in amid a warm fireplace and delicious hot cocoa and enjoy the film. The environment is one of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’s finest achievements.

A classic moment and the film’s funniest scene occurs when Clark excitedly decorates the inside and outside of the house to the nth degree and blows the town’s electric circuit as a result leading to uproar among his neighbors. Proud Clark’s ego is suddenly deflated and the man must rise above it all to somehow enjoy his family Christmas.

Watching the film decades after its release is still great fun as a nostalgia offering. The tacky Griswold Ford LTD station wagon with paneled siding is garish and unsightly (then and now) and anyone growing up in the 1980s can easily recall when suburban families would pile into this gas-guzzling car.

Not every aspect works perfectly in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation like the unappealing yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo (played by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Eddie and his redneck family. These roles are a bit too over the top and secondary inclusions to be the major win that the film is.

The real wins from the supporting cast are Clark’s immediate family. His parents and Ellen’s parents are perfectly cast and provide excellent comic timing and seasoned wit. Special notice goes to John Randolph, Diane Ladd, and Doris Roberts.

And who won’t fall in love with Clark’s senile Aunt Bethany played with hilarity by Mae Questel (the voices for animated Betty Boop and Olive Oyl).

Predictably, and well-intentioned, all the Griswold problems quickly fade away when Clark receives his annual Christmas bonus after all and all characters have a lovely send-off while singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ just in the odd way that the Griswolds would do.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) used to be a traditional Christmas viewing for me but has shamefully fallen out of favor over the years. It might be time to dust off this forever gem that provides laugh after laugh, fun, and togetherness for the whole family.

Modesty Blaise-1966

Modesty Blaise-1966

Director-Joseph Losey

Starring Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde

Scott’s Review #1,243

Reviewed April 9, 2022

Grade: B

Loosely based on a British comic strip of the same name, Modesty Blaise (1966) is a campy, over-the-top escapist film that features a relaxed style but a convoluted plot. The story doesn’t matter much and the film feels based on the James Bond film series with some Dick Tracy and Brenda Starr comic elements thrown in.

Throughout the action, I chuckled at the situation comedy antics of the characters. Both heroes and villains get mixed up in one hokey situation after another and all of the actors seem well aware that they are not performing Shakespearean comedy.

They forge ahead with gusto making it as much of a zany offering as humanly possible.

I mused at how much the film was reminiscent of televisions, Get Smart, a foolish but sweet-natured 1960s spy-genre offering.

I challenge the odd decision to make a film of this genre a bloated one hour and fifty-seven minutes. A spry ninety or ninety-five minutes would have been more than ample time to wrap up the experience and allow audiences to head for the exits.

This might prevent some from realizing how silly a film they’d just sat through

Modesty Blaise is not a traditionally good film but grooviness and pizazz are the main attractions as characters indulge in an orgy of colorful situations, and preposterous setups.

Lavish locales like Amsterdam, London, and the roaring beaches off the coast of the Meditteranean Sea bring the film back from going too far off the rails and pepper it with some cultivation.

If one is in the right mood Modesty Blaise is a chuckle fest but if aching for high art don’t waste your time. The psychedelic and groovy art design and Mad Men-like sets won me over as I quickly forgot to try and piece together the overcomplicated plot.

I simply didn’t care who was who or who was trying to outwit who and why. And I was okay with that.

Gorgeous Italian actress Monica Vitti leads the charge followed by the dashing English actor, Terence Stamp. Together, they make a lusty and good-looking pair though Vitti gets no acting accolades from me.

Her looks are the primary reason for her casting win.

The actress plays a  beautiful former criminal named Modesty who decides to go straight and work for the Secret Service. They send her to infiltrate a ring of jewel thieves. She is not especially respected by the stuck-up older regime but she shrugs it off and offers her best services.

Soon after she joins the gang, sophisticated and dangerous head honcho Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde) grows suspicious of his new charge, and Modesty realizes that British Intelligence gave her a mission they could care less if she survives.

She then enlists her former partner in crime, Willie (Stamp), to help her out of her peril while outsmarting both sides.

Most of the action scenes are ludicrous. The likelihood of any of the stories being true is slim to none. Plenty of sequences takes place on a luxury yacht or some other water transportation so that viewers can see Vitti and Stamp clad in as little as possible.

I smirked at more than one James Bond nod though I dare say some influence on the still-to-be-made Diamonds Are Forever (1971) is noticed.

If I’m making Modesty Blaise out to be a terrible film, it’s not.

The gimmicky angle of having Modesty appear with a different hairstyle in every sequence is clever and enjoyable (my preference is for her as a blonde).

When she is imprisoned in a spiraling colored basement cell and must climb out the roof for help it’s one of the best-looking set designs I’ve ever seen. The creative team gets an A-plus for expressiveness and imagination which is the reason Modesty Blaise is so damned fun.

The cartoonish criminals Gabriel and Clara, played by Dirk Bogarde and Rossella Falk, are deliciously wicked. I was amazed at Gabriel’s towering purple cocktail and craved trying a sip of it to see exactly what he was drinking.

Satisfyingly, both main villains get their comeuppance.

The film is foolish, campy, and a silly time wrapped up in amazing artistry from a creative team who deserves more credit than they probably received.

Modesty Blaise (1966) is a messy film that I enjoyed and found endearing way more than I probably should have. It’s the guiltiest of pleasures in a chest full of sub-par spy comedy films.

Dead Snow-2009

Dead Snow-2009

Director-Tommy Wirkola

Starring-Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen

Scott’s Review #1,237

Reviewed March 12, 2022

Grade: B

First off, the cover art (pictured above) to the 2009 Norwegian horror-comedy film Dead Snow, is simply incredible. The creepy Nazi head embedded in the snow with a background chainsaw is perfect marketing and genuinely artistic.

It automatically makes the tired zombie horror genre feel fresh and alive with endless possibilities.

The film itself is a decent watch and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities are necessary to appreciate the movie. There is a hint of art film qualities peppered throughout and it’s not a run-of-the-mill mainstream horror film either but a sense of humor and embracing the ridiculousness is required.

In other words, one must be a fan of the genre to watch Dead Snow. Otherwise, it will not win people over with a great storyline or character enrichment.

It’s a slice and dice ’em affair and after a slow build goes into overdrive with the kills and thrills.

The familiar setup of a group of young people, this time intelligent medical students, heading off for a long weekend of booze and sex in a remote location gets Dead Snow off to an intriguing start. A lonely cabin in the middle of the snowy mountains of Norway is the primary setting for the Arctic Easter bloodbath.

The eight of them plan to ski and relax during the time away. After one of their group disappears while on a solo cross-country hike, a mysterious resident (Bjørn Sundquist) provides the remaining visitors with a backstory.

In the last days of World War II, a battalion of Nazi soldiers disappeared into the nearby woods after the residents turned on them, and that their zombified corpses remain on the prowl in the area looking for fresh meat.

Of course, the students hoot and snicker at the stranger’s proclamations but the audience knows full well the Nazi soldiers will emerge eventually. After all, in the very first scene, one of the students who never shows up to join the others is killed by an unidentifiable figure in the dark woods.

If nothing else, Dead Snow is prime-grade entertainment. I eagerly awaited who from the group would be butchered first and how it might happen. As all fans of the slasher horror genre know he or she who parties or has sex is not long for this world, and Dead Snow is no different.

What is different from a straight-ahead release is the dark humor that encompasses the film. When one student who is deathly afraid of blood must remove his arm with a chainsaw after being bitten, he does so with deep seriousness and precision.

The macabre scene nearly rivals some others like when a male member of the group is seduced for sex by a female member of the group while sitting on the toilet in the cold outhouse.

Enough splatters of blood exist to forget how silly the Nazi soldiers look. But the makeup and creative team do a superior job of making the zombies look horrific too. In particular, their leader, Colonel Herzog, is a combination of sexy and hideous.

The international quality and the Norwegian language require sub-titles but that is no problem for me. This brings sophistication and intelligence that I appreciate, rising the film above the mediocrity that it may have suffered from had it been an American release. The foreign lands add mystique.

Dead Snow at one hour and thirty minutes is short enough not to wear out its welcome which it starts to do in the final fifteen minutes or so. A chase scene across the snowy mountains and motivation for some ancient gold coins is explained as the final character makes it to safety in an until then missing car.

Or does he or she?

Providing some fun without taking itself too seriously, Dead Snow (2009) contains no message nor any marquis stars. Making Nazis the evil ones is no stretch so that there is immediately enough rooting value to forgive some of the students for their idiotic decisions.

It’s a bloody fun time but not much more.

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 dies. 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 crossover appeal so that all audiences can enjoy it. This is in large part in 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 but 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.