Tag Archives: Comedy

Serial Mom-1994

Serial Mom-1994

Director John Waters

Starring Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake

Scott’s Review #1,432

Reviewed July 8, 2024

Grade: A-

Serial Mom (1994) is led by an uproarious performance by Kathleen Turner, in the 1990s still in her cinematic heyday, the latter-day John Waters comedy fires on all cylinders. She wickedly goes full steam ahead in a pulsating performance deliciously deserving of an Oscar nomination.

The film is directed by Waters, known for perverse and gross-out fare like Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1975) so any chance for an Academy Award is laughable.

Though, Serial Mom is much safer than those films choosing slick 1990s mainstream camerawork over raw shots of dogshit on the sidewalk.

Still, Turner hits it out of the park playing a ‘June Cleaver’ character with a murderous dark side.

Beverly Sutphin (Turner) appears to be an unassuming upper-middle-class housewife living with her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and their teenage children, Misty (Ricki Lake) and Chip (Matthew Lillard), in suburban Maryland.

She is secretly a serial killer who kills people over trivial slights or offenses like insulting her son or blowing off her daughter. The dastardly mom uses creative weapons like her station wagon and a fire poker to kill her prey.

Serial Mom is strictly for ravenous fans of Waters and I’m not sure it will win any new fans over. But I’ll stress how much of a mainstream affair it is compared to his more dangerous 1970s films.

It pairs well in look and feel with Hairspray from 1988 and both films star Ricki Lake.

Some have referred to it as a slasher film but that would steer it in the horror vein or knife-wielding maniac territory. Beverly isn’t Freddie, Jason, or Michael Meyers. She is fun and does as much damage with a sneer or a smirk as with a weapon.

Beverly is also the type of woman you’d like to be friends with but are terrified of crossing. After all, she kills in the defense of her kids so she’s a good mother with a wicked sense of humor.

When she delights in crank-calling her neighbor Dottie Hinkle (deliciously played by Waters’s regular Mink Stole) to get a rise out of her, we cheer her on.

Later, when charged and sent to trial for her dirty deeds, she fires her attorney and takes over her case amid rabid fan response. Beverly becomes a local hero.

She’s a cinema villain to remember.

Waters is great because he finds the perfect balance of camp and wit to make a smart film not merely a slapstick one. Many cinema comedies don’t work because the laughs feel canned instead of fresh.

The writing and the cast make Serial Mom a winner.

The ridiculous antics and situations Beverly gets involved in make the audience want to know what she does next. Who doesn’t love a well-to-do character who turns sinister? It’s fun to watch a rich suburban town turn into a shit show of high entertainment.

Besides Stole, my favorite supporting actors are Mary Jo Catlett and Matthew Lillard. Catlett has brilliant comic timing as a neighbor, Rosemary, while Lillard was on the cusp of becoming a horror/comedy star with 1996’s Scream.

Regarding cameos, I could have done without the Suzanne Somers cameo playing herself which didn’t land all that funny but Patty Hearst as juror #8 is a winner.

The ‘white shoes after Labor Day’ sequence is hysterical.

Serial Mom (1994) is a cult classic for the ages and on par with most of John Waters earlier, classic raunchy comedies.

There’s Something About Mary-1998

There’s Something About Mary-1998

Director Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly

Starring Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon

Scott’s Review #1,428

Reviewed June 16, 2024

Grade: B+

Since many films are released within the romantic comedy genre most are disposable and forgettable. Very few stand out initially let alone stand the test of time.

Decades later, There’s Something About Mary (1998) holds up well mostly because of its chemistry and laugh-out-loud memorable moments. It also has a heart and is not mean-spirited showcasing a brewing romance people can relate to.

Watching in 2024 particularly interesting is the appeal of Cameron Diaz since retired from acting, and a young Ben Stiller who was then in his heyday and a box-office gem. Brett Favre, who then was a superstar NFL quarterback makes a cameo appearance.

Pleasing is to watch a hit film from decades ago that still offers appeal.

Ted’s (Ben Stiller) unexpected dream prom date with Mary (Cameron Diaz) in 1985 is disastrous due to an embarrassing injury at her home causing them never to get to the prom. Mary leaves town shortly after.

Thirteen years later, pre-social media in 1998, Ted hires shady investigator Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to track down Mary so he can reconnect with her. Pat becomes obsessed with her and lies to Ted about Mary, finding out everything he can about her to trick her into dating him.

Ted realizes the truth and travels to meet Mary in Miami, Florida where she is a successful orthopedic surgeon to reconnect with her.

Instantaneous hilarity comes to mind from two legendary scenes involving Ben Stiller’s Ted that most people have heard of.

While using the bathroom at Mary’s house before leaving for the prom Ted gets his private parts or ‘frank and beans’, caught in his zipper. Every male viewer will squirm in imagined discomfort but the hijinks with Mary’s parents and neighborhood firefighters who get involved make the sequence legendary.

This pairs well with a later scene when Ted masturbates just before his date with Mary to relax. Mary mistakes some ‘residue’ on Ted’s ear for hair gel and hilariously applies it to her hair causing it to stick straight up in the air during dinner.

Both scenes still feel fresh and natural years later and are now historical.

The introduction of Tucker (Lee Evans) a third admirer of Mary doesn’t work so well in hindsight. The revelation that he is not a British architect but merely a pizza deliverer who injured his back to get close to Mary feels forced and unnecessary.

The triangle between Ted/Mary/Pat is just enough.

The inclusion factors are impressive. In 1985, Mary had a black stepfather and a mentally disabled brother both of whom she adores. When Ted drives from Rhode Island to Florida he stops at a rest area and is assumed to be gay. This is preceded by a session with a psychiatrist who suspects Ted may be gay.

These additions go a long way to showcase normalcy in these individual areas.

It’s also impressive that the Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby), who direct the film, make Mary a surgeon paving the way for female viewers to aspire to the same.

There’s Something About Mary gets a slight knock for exploiting female breasts, Mary is seen at least twice through a window putting on a bra while a male spies on her from the distance.

The characters are benevolent especially Ted and Mary making it easy for the audience to root for them. Thanks to the tremendous chemistry between Diaz, Stiller, and Dillon, There’s Something About Mary (1998) feels fresh and romantic without a forced feeling.

American Fiction-2023

American Fiction-2023

Director Cord Jefferson

Starring Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown

Scott’s Review #1,421

Reviewed February 11, 2024

Grade: A

American Fiction (2023) is an intelligently written expose of black culture and a poignant family drama mixed as one. Cord Jefferson makes his feature directorial debut with the satirical comedy-drama which he also wrote.

The film explores how perceptions of black people, mostly by white people but even amongst themselves, are categorized into neat little boxes.

Usually, the negative stereotypes are assumptions of bad grammar, poverty, and hardships in ghetto situations.

While some may be sympathetic these beliefs are either conscious or subconscious and they are propelled by the media. In the case of the film, through literary works.

Are white people intimidated by intelligent black people, the film questions. How do the intelligent black people feel about themselves?

American Fiction is a witty, smart, funny, and poignant film that will make you laugh as often as it makes you think about the perspectives offered.

Jefferson brilliantly offers up both an education and powerfully drawn black characters. In the middle is a sentimental family storyline that had me enraptured by almost all the characters.

The writer/director bases his film on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a highly intelligent African-American upper-class writer and professor living in Los Angeles.

He is a frustrated novelist-professor who doesn’t make much money or sales from his serious works.

Needing money after moving back to Massachusets on a leave of absence, he decides to write an outlandish satire of stereotypical “black” books, only for it to succeed by mistakenly thought of as serious literature and published to both high sales and critical praise.

He struggles with keeping his alter ego a secret while questioning the lack of intelligence with people assumed to be the liberal elite and the general public.

Wright is great and leads the charge of a dynamic cast. He makes his characters believable and their motivations clear while still showing Monk’s conflict. Monk has lived a privileged life with education, social status, and success.

His experience as a black man is different than other black men and he is smart enough to know this while still wrestling with his feelings.

Wright is dynamic at showing many emotions.

To make the film even better, the supporting characters are delightful with their own stories, making me fall in love with them. Special call-outs are for Sterling K. Brown and Erika Alexander who plays Monk’s brother and girlfriend, respectively.

Brown as Cliff is a successful surgeon but lives a conflicted life as a newly ‘out’ middle-aged gay man. He dabbles in drugs and promiscuous behavior but all he wants is approval by his family.

Alexander is a successful public defender and neighbor of the Ellison’s going through a divorce. She relates to Monk while challenging him on his bullshit and is a richly carved character.

Also, Leslie Uggams Monk’s mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Ellison’s housekeeper Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), and Issa Rae as Sintara Golden are weaved into the canvas seamlessly and with purpose.

The film’s ending left me scratching my head and caught me off guard. While clever, it made me wonder if what I had just seen was reality or fantasy. Providing three different endings as adapted film options it’s tough to know which if any actually happened but maybe that’s the point.

I left the movie theater having laughed out loud, thought, and been entertained.

American Fiction (2023) made me feel like I had seen something relevant that would help me understand people better and give me insight into what other people feel.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Actor-Jeffrey Wright, Best Supporting Actor-Sterling K. Brown, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: 2 wins-Best Film, Best Lead Performance-Jeffrey Wright (won), Best Supporting Performance-Erika Alexander Sterling K. Brown, Best Screenplay (won)

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saltburn-2023

Saltburn-2023

Director Emerald Fennell

Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Scott’s Review #1,417

Reviewed January 19, 2024

Grade: A

Emerald Fennell, as a director (she also acts) is someone to keep a close eye on.  With only her second film, Saltburn (2023), she has quickly drawn comparisons to Darren Aronofsky and Yorgos Lanthimos by creating wickedly daring comedies rife with sharp dialogue and peculiar tastes.

Okay, I’m drawing those comparisons on my own.

The point is that she creates films that are not necessarily for mainstream audiences but will satisfy the peculiar cravings of those seeking left-of-center and hard-to-predict films.

She also wrote the screenplay.

Those wary of hard-to-digest scenes involving blood, sex, nudity, and other depravities, be forewarned.

Her first film was the revenge-themed and Academy Award-winning Promising Young Woman (2020) starring Carey Mulligan who makes a return appearance in Saltburn.

This time out Fennell offers us a beautifully daring story centering around privilege, jealousy, and desire. The film offers unlikable characters with enough twists and turns to keep the audience off guard and confused as to who to root for or against.

Will the characters we hate stay hated? If this sounds vague it’s because the film is filled with mystery.

Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is an awkward young man struggling to find his place at Oxford University the recipient of a scholarship for those with financial hardships. His mother is a recovering drug addict and his father is dead.

Unpopular, he finds himself drawn to the charming and handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who also happens to be filthy rich. Felix is the envy of almost everyone as they strive to be his friend or bedfellow.

After Oliver does Felix a favor, they become buddies, and Felix unexpectedly invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for a summer vacation.

The lavish Oxford University is grandiose and scholarly with lots of preppy and wealthy intellectuals. As the snobs partake in parties and wild games Oliver is looked down on by everyone but Felix. The spoiled students are not meant for the audience to like.

I love how Fennell incorporates legions of insecurities suffered by the have-nots struggling to fit in which is a common theme of hers. The only kid willing to give Oliver the time of day is a creepy Jeffrey Dahmer type.

Anyone familiar with cliques on college campuses will be firmly in Oliver’s corner. He’s a good kid after all, who has been dealt a struggling hand at life, what with his parent’s issues and all.

The shit hits the fan when Oliver arrives at Saltburn which makes Oxford seem minimal in comparison. Manicured and sprawling lawns complete with a center maze are overwhelming to Oliver to say nothing of the group of oddballs that make up the family and staff.

Suddenly though, everything becomes weird, and the tone of the film shifts.

The final forty-five minutes are riveting with unexpected events transpiring after a wild party to celebrate Oliver’s birthday. Felix, his sister, and their parents are involved in shenanigans that make the viewers question everything they’ve seen thus far.

Mulligan doesn’t have much to do in Saltburn. Her role amounts to little more than a cameo which would be more irritating if the other characters weren’t so richly written.

Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant sizzle as aristocratic types oblivious to everyone else and their wealthy surroundings. It’s almost as if they assume everyone lives this well.

The sexual scenes of desire are breathtaking and startlingly explicit. In one scene, two characters make out with bloody mouths and in another, one character masturbates in a bathtub while another character spies on him and lustfully licks the faucet a few minutes later.

The best acting performance belongs to Keoghan who delivers a complex and spirited character who we’re not sure what will do next or sometimes why. He possesses an innocent yet creepy veneer which is tough to figure out.

His naked dance sequence is one of the wildest in cinema history.

Fennell hits another grand slam with the eerie yet fascinating Saltburn (2023), a delicious examination of the class system. The mixture of the groveling poor with the callous rich makes for a brilliant story.

I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Director Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #1,415

Reviewed January 14, 2024

Grade: C-

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) is the third and final installment in the Magic Mike trilogy, following the successful Magic Mike (2012) and the dismal Magic Mike XXL (2015).

Billed as ‘The Final Tease’ the sub-title of the last release is rather appropriate since there is nary a bare bum to be found much less any other nudity. Since the film is about the male stripper industry there is laughingly more female flesh than male.

While there are a couple of titillating sequences containing thrusting and gyrating the tone is watered down and extremely safe. Nothing warrants the R-rating that Magic Mike’s Last Dance received.

After my horrific review of Magic Mike XXL in which I awarded it a solid ‘F’ I will keep my manners in check and be mindful that Magic Mike’s Last Dance is intended to entertain on a late night.

I have rated it a generous ‘C-‘.

The film is pretty bad with no character development whatsoever, poorly written dialogue, and little chemistry between stars Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek. Mike is the only likable principal character in the bunch.

I’m very surprised that respected director Steven Soderbergh who received an Oscar nomination in 2000 for the terrific Traffic would have anything to do with this film.

His style is unnoticeable except for a setting of wealth and a brief and mediocre mention of capitalism and the rich manipulating the poor which the director sometimes includes in his films.

“Magic” Mike Lane (Tatum) has suffered a bad business deal that has left him bartending at parties in Florida. He meets a rich businesswoman, Max, played by Salma Hayek, who pays him for one of his legendary dances.

Smitten, Max immediately offers him a job directing a show at a famous theatre in London.  The show will include a smoldering feast of hot new dancers that Mike will choreograph.

The storyline, admittedly secondary in this type of film, has so many holes I wouldn’t know where to start, but the weakest point is expecting the audience to buy Mike and Max as having fallen in love after one dance.

Romance is a hard-swallow made worse by Max’s demanding personality and insecurities over her ex-husband. She’s a bit of a tyrant made more noticeable by Mike’s even-keeled nature.

While not worldly, Mike is kind and I desired to see him paired with nearly any other character other than Max.

Tatum is a much better actor than most assume based on his pinup beefcake good looks. Has anyone seen him in Foxcatcher (2015)? Sadly, the actor is given weak material to work with that does nothing to challenge him.

Furthermore, we are cheated and only see him twice in his underwear. Some stripper.

Supporting characters like Max’s brooding daughter, Zadie, and opinionated manservant, Victor, are stock and given uneven dialogue to work with. They are presumably added for comic moments that never come.

To be fair, the film is set in London in addition to Miami, and a few decent exterior shots of both locales are added which helps the film.

A ridiculous Zoom call cameo sequence meant to include Mike’s ‘bros’ from the other films (Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, and Joe Manganiello) is a treat but has an ill-effect since that’s all we get from the handsome fellas.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance would have been saved if a scantily clad reunion dance had commenced with the ‘bros’ but sadly none was to be found.

The first film, Magic Mike (2012) is the only one of the three worth spending any time on. Pure juicy entertainment mixed with polished machismo is what was offered and Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023) loses the ‘magic’ and instead offers a shriveled pickle of what used to be a commanding phallic symbol.

Poor Things-2023

Poor Things-2023

Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #1,413

Reviewed December 27, 2023

Grade: A

Yorgos Lanthimos is a peculiar director and the suggestion is for potential viewers to be familiar with his work before seeing his latest film release, Poor Things (2023).

I’ve said recently that other directors like Alexander Payne, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorcese can easily be added to this list with a style not for everyone but that Cinemaphiles will salivate for style and texture alone.

Anyone who has seen Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) or The Lobster (2016) will know exactly what I mean.

With Poor Things, he hits a grand slam home run that might garner him some Academy Awards in what can be arguably classified as his most progressive film.

Mentions like the art direction, cinematography, set design, and fantastic performance by Emma Stone must be immediately celebrated and called out as highlights.

The film is hardly mainstream or conventional and way out there channeling a parallel to Frankenstein with frightening and gothic sets and sequences galore.

All with a twisted and refreshing feminist quality.

Ultimately, I was satisfied with the knowledge that I had witnessed a cinematic marvel that encourages repeated viewings.

During the nineteenth century in London, England, Bella Baxter (Stone), is a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who is referred to as ‘god’.

He inserts the tender brain of the baby she was carrying when she leaped from a bridge to her death suicide style.

Under Baxter’s protection and supervision, Bella is eager to learn but acts like a toddler with limited speech and motor skills. She teeters around smashing plates with gleeful joy as she discovers her surroundings.

With superior intelligence and a hunger for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and horny lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents from Lisbon, Portugal to Paris, France, and back to London.

Free from the knowledge and the prejudices women of her time were forced to endure, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation. She challenges societal norms with her vision and determination.

I can’t think of anyone else to play the role of Bella other than Stone. With wide eyes filled with wonder, she infuses her character with comedy and wit as she asks questions many women have but never dare to utter aloud.

Especially in Victorian London.

Ruffalo is outrageous and Dafoe is hideously stoic. Both actors bring star quality and wacky performances in different ways.

The look of the film is to die for as Lanthimos offers a looming fairy tale set design led by cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

The European cities of Lisbon, Paris, and London are given their chapters in the film and their focus. The waterfront in Lisbon in particular resembles the real city in a gothic and foreboding way.

The hotel in Paris where Bella becomes a prostitute is regal and polished. Bella wonders aloud why the male customers get to decide which woman they want to spend time with instead of the reverse.

It’s a fair question.

Her friend and fellow prostitute introduces her to socialism while Madame Swiney (Kathryn Hunter) explains capitalism.

Finally, the musical score by Jerskin Fendrix offers shrieking classical strings mixed with haunting pizazz and perfectly timed arrangements. They promote tension and drama at just the right moments.

2023 was a fabulous year for women in cinematic terms but not so much by the United States Supreme Court but that’s another story. The bombast and box office enormity of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is followed by Lanthimos’s celebration of the thought-provoking Poor Things.

Both elicit insightfully quirkiness that successfully bulldozes over traditional gender norms with messages that women can do whatever they set out to do which is a vital quality for young minds to be exposed to.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Actress-Emma Stone (won), Best Supporting Actor-Mark Ruffalo, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won)

The Holdovers-2023

The Holdovers-2023

Director Alexander Payne

Starring Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Scott’s Review #1,410

Reviewed November 22, 2023

Grade: A

The snowy New England setting is just one of many aspects of The Holdovers (2023), director Alexander Payne’s latest release gets right. There’s a stuffy prep school, the tumultuous 1970-1971 in world politics, and teenage angst in the mix.

The early 1970s-era set pieces and Americana comfort food are brilliantly and prominently placed to offer security in a world with tragedy and loneliness The jazzy soundtrack also features hits of the time, embracing the viewer in beautiful nostalgia.

Finally, the three lead characters are well-defined and their complexities are displayed in raw form making them rich relatable flawed thanks to strong acting performances.

Paul Giamatti leads the charge as a sarcastic teacher with his great acting and meshes well with newcomers Dominic Sessa as a rival student and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a kind but wounded cook.

Anyone who has seen Payne’s films like Election (1999), Sideways (2004), The Descendents (2011), or others knows that he sprinkles satirical depictions of contemporary American society in his works.

There is frequently sadness and morosity to the content saved from depression by warmhearted and caring characters.

I savored the quiet moments of human connection that were crafted in The Holdovers.

Events occur over about two weeks beginning at Christmas break and culminating in early January so holiday cheer and sadness are themes.

Paul Hunham (Giamatti) is a classics instructor at Barton University, a prep school outside of Boston. He is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go.

At first, despising each other he eventually forms an unlikely bond with one of them, a damaged, but witty troublemaker named Angus Tully (Sessa).

He also connects with the school’s head cook, Mary (Randolph), who has just lost her son in the Vietnam War (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and shows romantic interest in Lydia Crane (Carrie Preston), a Barton faculty member.

Giamatti is terrific and my favorite character. As a grumpy teacher, the character could have been a one-note standard or stock.  But as events go on we learn more about his past and despite being an authority figure he has demons and insecurities of his own.

During emotional moments he calmly offers a voice of reason which is a comfort. He’s stoic and rough around the edges but he genuinely cares about people making him likable.

Sessa and Randolph, despite being supporting characters each have their own stories.

There wasn’t much awareness about mental illness in 1970 compared to current times and Angus, who takes medication is fearful of spiraling down the same rabbit hole that cost his father his sanity.

Will he follow in his Dad’s footsteps?

A teary scene occurs when Angus visits his father in a facility. Hopeful of progress, Angus is quietly shattered when his father reveals paranoia about his food being poisoned by the staff.

Sessa provides a low-key performance that envelopes the character.

Randolph as Mary is kind yet depressed. She tries to find the good in people while realizing she’s been left out of the game in many instances. Her breakdown scene at a Christmas party allows Randolph to flex her mighty acting muscles.

I relished in the retro Christmas lights, the suburban houses with 1960s and 1970s living room and kitchen set pieces, the sweaters, the hairstyles, and the coffee mugs and plates.

The set designers flawlessly depict a time long ago.

I wanted to sit down and dine on Mary’s scrambled eggs and bacon or Lydia’s Christmas cookies. I yearned to sip a Miller Lite with Paul and Angus.

Finally, I smiled pleasantly at the movie theater scene featuring Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, an obscure American Western film from 1970.

With precision, Alexander Payne creates another outstanding film featuring the trials and tribulations of good characters dealt losing hands.

The Holdovers (2023) proves that a quality film with terrific writing, a moderate pace, and dramatic and comic moments, draws cinema fans to theaters as much as a cliched superhero film.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Actor-Paul Giamatti, Best Supporting Actress-Da’Vine Joy Randolph (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: 3 wins-Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Performance-Da’Vine Joy Randolph (won), Best Breakthrough Performance-Dominic Sessa (won), Best Cinematography (won)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-1986

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-1986

Director John Hughes

Starring Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck

Scott’s Review #1,396

Reviewed September 7, 2023

Grade: B

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) is one of the best-known of the John Hughes collection featuring 1980s teen, coming-of-age comedies. On par with The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986) in name recognition memory banks especially for teenagers growing up in this decade.

Iconic moments like Ben Stein’s teacher’s monotone attendance roll call the name ‘Bueller’ repeatedly, and the term ‘Save Ferris’, which became the name of an alternative rock band, are legendary.

The film has its moments of creativity and Matthew Broderick’s portrayal of the title character was charming and star-making. Watching the film, though, decades later the slapstick feels overwhelming to the drama and there isn’t much angst like other Hughes films.

There isn’t much deeper meaning besides one day to skip school and have an adventure.

This makes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fun and lighthearted but silly in comparison to more mature Hughes efforts. The film is about being young, free, and having fun but not much more, and the hijinks between the students and the authority figures sometimes feel tired.

Ferris Bueller (Broderick) is brilliant at skipping school and getting away with it despite being an intelligent student. He causes the high school principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) much irritation and the ultimate pursuit to catch Ferris in the act.

The young man plans one final outing before graduation with best pal Cameron (Alan Ruck) and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara).  They ‘borrow’ Cam’s father’s expensive Ferrari and journey through the streets of Chicago.

Ferris’s sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) seethes with rage at her brother’s antics while their successful but dimwitted parents Katie (Cindy Pickett) and Tom (Lyman Ward) remain clueless.

The superior aspects of the film are the frequent sites of Chicago and Broderick himself which raise the film above mediocrity decades after its initial release.

Broderick followed his contemporaries like Michael J. Fox and Emilio Estevez as the cool and likable all-American boy next door. His performance makes the film better than it might have been and the fun is watching him outwit rivals like the principal and other villains he encounters.

Hughes creates a nice ‘day in the life’ style that follows the characters from early morning until evening which keeps the events contained well.

A high point of the film and where it picks up steam is when the gang gets to Chicago. We suspect the teenagers, while they skip school via fibs, merely have a case of ‘senioritis’ and otherwise are superior students. This is confirmed by the sophisticated and intellectually stimulating places they visit.

They indulge in lunch at a swanky French restaurant and visit the worldly Art Institute of Chicago for good old-fashioned culture. Not to appear too snobby they hobnob with blue-collar folks at an afternoon Cubs baseball game.

Where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off feels dated is with the ditziness of Ferris’s parents. The teen easily bamboozles his parents with his feigned illness and when his father notices Ferris in a nearby taxi cab he shrugs it off as his imagination.

The most laughable instance of the parent’s cluelessness is when mom Katie, in the passenger seat, appears not to notice her son running in front of their car when sister Jeanie slams on the brakes. She instead scolds Jeanie for driving recklessly.

These and other setups involving the over-the-top principal feel more like cliches than genuine laugh-out-loud moments. But this was common in 1980s comedies.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) feels fresh in some parts but dated in others making the experience humorous but hardly legendary. Whereas The Breakfast Club holds up very well this film doesn’t as much.

The Notorious Landlady-1962

The Notorious Landlady-1962

Director Richard Quine

Starring Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Fred Astaire

Scott’s Review #1,390

Reviewed August 16, 2023

Grade: B+

If viewers can look past the messy nature of The Notorious Landlady (1962) and the schizophrenic pacing that appears intermittently then the film is enjoyable.

It’s not platinum status but a decent enough flick, especially for fans of Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon who were big stars at the time. This is the third and final film that the duo starred in.

Like the film, their chemistry goes in and out but appealing is to see Novak in a comic role whereas the genre is familiar territory for the funny Lemmon.

After her husband mysteriously disappears, Carly Hardwicke (Novak) finds it impossible to rent a room in her lovely London apartment, because everyone assumes she’s responsible.

American diplomat William Gridley (Jack Lemmon), is new to the city and desires a residence with her. It doesn’t hurt matters that Carly is very easy on the eyes. William becomes smitten with her unaware of her troubles.

When his boss, Franklyn Ambruster (Fred Astaire), learns what Gridley has stumbled into, the two men try to clear her name. A series of lies and misunderstandings catapult events into a compelling mystery.

Even though neither William nor Carly are British the foggy locale works well providing foreign mystery. They reside in a courtyard type of home where neighbors can see in or they can see out to other apartments. This comes into greater play towards the end of the film.

This is just one example of an Alfred Hitchcock influence from 1955’s Rear Window which director Richard Quine heftily borrows from. He’s wise to do so since he secured Novak, fresh from her role in Vertigo (1958) two years earlier.

Shit, even the title ‘The Notorious Landlady’ borrows the title of the 1946 Hitchcock masterpiece, ‘Notorious’.

There’s also a secret locked door that Carly references and forbids anyone from entering adding suspense and foreboding.

Despite tepid chemistry between the stars I ultimately enjoy their romance. It’s a hard sell that the gorgeous Carly would fall head over heels for the everyman William but she does.

They win me over during a dramatic scene where an attempted romantic dinner of steaks goes awry and instead, a massive fire erupts. The burgeoning lovers cling together in a sweet embrace that cements their appeal.

The tension is supposed to be about whether Carly murdered her husband and has designs on William. Red herrings like kitchen poisons and the like make an appearance but I was more interested in the impending mystery of said husband than really believing she’d want to kill William.

The last act brings the reemergence of a threatening character, an unexpected villain, and a race to save another character who’s in dangerous peril.

A courtroom scene also adds to the tension.

The central storyline is satisfying, edge of your seat, and suspenseful, just what I assume Quine was going for…..ultimately.

Within the story, The Notorious Landlady shifts genres a whopping three times! The tone of the film is all over the place, first romantic comedy, then suspense and drama, and finally slapstick.

During the finale when Carly and William race to a retirement community and scramble to stop an out-of-control wheelchair, I half expected Laurel & Hardy or The Little Rascals to make a cameo.

Poor Fred Astaire has little to do and struggles to keep up any relevance as measured against Novak and Lemmon’s characters. At times I’d even forgotten he was still in the film.

The Notorious Landlady (1962) is an entertaining vehicle and a must-see for fans of Novak or Lemmon eager to see a largely forgotten film that has something fun to offer.

Sixteen Candles-1984

Sixteen Candles-1984

Director John Hughes

Starring Molly Ringwald, Michael Schoeffling, Anthony Michael Hall

Scott’s Review #1,389

Reviewed August 14, 2023

Grade: B

While recently re-watching a string of John Hughes-produced or directed films from the 1980s I set upon them with fresh eyes. Some scenes or themes that worked in the mid-1980s would be inappropriate in a more sensitive and post-Me Too! movement.

Hughes, of course, was the king of the teen angst, coming-of-age, romantic comedies that usually starred Molly Ringwald.

Sixteen Candles, Hughes’s first directorial effort was released in 1984 and launched him to superstardom and immense popularity. Films like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986) would follow to much acclaim.

What he did so well was provide maturity and a message to otherwise dumb and raunchy comedies that populated the decade and they had a fresh female perspective whereas others were typically male and hormone-driven.

Already angst-ridden Samantha (Molly Ringwald) wakes up on the morning of her sixteenth birthday to find her busy family has completely forgotten her special day.

Samantha already pines for the handsome senior Jake (Michael Schoeffling), but worries that her dorkiness and lack of sexual experience will be a turnoff for the popular boy.

Meanwhile, Samantha must constantly rebuff the affections of nerdy Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), the only boy in the school who seems to take an interest in her.

As enjoyable as Sixteen Candles is I’d list it as the weakest of the Hughes films. It serves as more of a blueprint for the genius he would become.

Ringwald carries the film with ease made more impressive since this was one of her first film roles. She infuses Samantha with a blend of confidence but also insecurity and worry so that most American teenage girls could see themselves in her.

Pretty but not a pinup blonde, Samantha is intelligent and the girl next door. She lives in a suburban neighborhood, is middle class, has loving but distracted parents, and siblings focused on their trials and tribulations.

Most can relate to that.

A wonderful and tender moment between Samantha and her father, Jim, played brilliantly by Paul Dooley nearly moved me to tears. His wisdom and kindness as Samantha emotionally reveals her love for Jake to her dad is warm and solid epitomizing what a dad should be to his daughter.

A tepid series of misunderstandings occur between Samantha and Jake, who ironically has noticed her and shares the attraction. She freezes when face to face with him, and flees, so he naturally assumes she is a bitch and has no interest in him.

It takes so long for the lovebirds to connect that more possibilities and scenes are left unexplored. The film ends as soon as they reveal their feelings so there isn’t enough for the audience to celebrate.

We also know almost nothing about Jake. He is a rich kid whose parents are vacationing in Europe but what makes him tick? He could have any girl in high school and dates the pretty blonde girl but what makes him so drawn to Samantha?

The casting of the four grandparents serves no purpose other than comic relief and an inaccurate message of how bumbling older people are. One refers to Samantha’s ‘boobies’ while another stinks up the bathroom.

Worse yet, the inclusion of a foreign exchange Asian student named Long Duk Dong is riddled with cliches and stereotypes only played for laughs.

These characters are caricatures.

Finally, the groping and taking advantage of drunk female characters now feels dated if not flat-out inappropriate. In 1984, the scenes are meant to be funny.

Still, Sixteen Candles (1984) accurately depicts the loneliness and problems that face nearly every teenager in the history of the world. With a warm message of belonging and a sweet subtext, the film is a recommended watch but watch out for those stereotypes.

Private Resort-1985

Private Resort-1985

Director George Bowers

Starring Rob Morrow, Johnny Depp, Hector Elizondo

Scott’s Review #1,382

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Reviewed July 26, 2023

Grade: B

Depending on what type of film you are looking for Private Resort (1985) may be just what the doctor ordered.

A version of Animal House (1978) or Porky’s (1981) shifted to a sunny beach resort is the perfect summer setting for a sex romp with enough g-strings, boobs, and bare butts to make even non-prudish viewers blush a little.

Suffice it to say, director George Bowers, mostly known as a film editor, and screenwriter Alan Wenkus wasn’t seeking any Academy Award nominations.

Though silly, thoughtless, and caked with terrible acting Private Resort is a fun flick.

Shamelessly, since its 1985 release the distributors have callously billed mega Hollywood star Johnny Depp as the ‘star’ of this film. Someone even dared to add his photo to the film’s cover art, which I nearly used when creating my film review.

In reality, Depp plays second fiddle to Rob Morrow, who is the film’s real star and proudly displays more bare flesh than Depp does.

Morrow also proudly dons a dress and wig for a lengthy drag performance.

Thankfully, another source cleverly depicts a lineup of bronzed and toned beach bodies donning the letters that spell ‘Private Resort’ (see above) on different cover art.

Horny teenage buddies, Ben and Jack (Morrow and Depp) decide to spend a weekend in a swanky Miami beach resort chasing the flock of equally horny and scantily clad women they encounter.

How they have the money to afford a room is never explained.

Their fun is parlayed when they cross paths with a shifty jewel thief played by Hector Elizondo and his leggy girlfriend Bobbie Sue (Leslie Easterbrook). Throw in a romance with all-American-looking waitress Patti (Emily Longstreth) and sultry Dana (Karyn O’Bryan) and you’ve got a plot.

Bowers throws in enough physical comedy and antics to keep the action moving along in a speedy one-hour and twenty-two-minute running time.

The gags follow films like Caddyshack (1980) or any of the other countless 1980s slapstick comedies and you can pretty much bank on what you’ll be served up.

Why, the opening scene follows a parade of sexy female sunbathers slathering suntan lotion on or suggestively bending over for all to see. Many were uncredited so my hunch is that adult film stars were used.

Morrow is the standout and his boyish charisma lights up the screen especially when he becomes smitten with Patti. The fresh-faced pair make a perfect match and exude young love becoming the heart of the film.

Elizondo and Easterbrook dutifully perform their parts as one-dimensional foils and MILF roles respectively. Decent actors are worlds above any of the other supporting actors in terms of talent. Even comic actress Dody Goodman goes way over the top in her role as the wealthy grandmother to Dana.

Andrew Dice Clay, then known as Andrew Clay also appears.

Private Resort gets a severe wrist-slapping for two crass fat-shaming scenes not worth giving time to other than to mention it’s not kind to plump girls.

I first saw Private Resort (1985) as a teenager when it was first released and loved it. This was before I blossomed into a snobby film critic. Seeing the film a million years later with more sophisticated tastes I still find it fun, especially on a scorching summer night.

That’s got to count for something, right?

Barbie-2023

Barbie-2023

Director Greta Gerwig

Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera

Scott’s Review #1,381

Reviewed July 23, 2023

Grade: A

Greta Gerwig is a tremendously talented director who is influencing Hollywood films. The gifted woman crafted Lady Bird in 2017 to critical acclaim and forges ahead with another feminist and progressive project.

With Barbie (2023) she takes a traditional and iconic ‘Barbie doll’ product by Mattel and explores the positives and negatives of the doll throughout its existence.

A cool opening sequence harkening to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey explains the evolution of the doll.

Barbie incorporates gender balance, creativity, thought, satire, and slapstick comedy fraught with meaning. Not forgotten is heart and humanity and a look at how much progress has been achieved for women over the years and how much more is still needed.

As if that’s not enough, Barbie deserves praise for its direction, production design, costumes, music, and cast performances.

Well done.

The film stars Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, who decide to go on a journey of self-discovery following an existential crisis Barbie faces. Deemed the ‘stereotypical’ Barbie she begins having peculiar and ‘un-Barbie’ thoughts of death and analytics and must return to the real world to find her doll’s owner.

She soon longs to return to Barbie Land which is a perfect place. Unless you’re a Ken who exists merely to pine after Barbie. But, do they secretly resent this?

There are a ton of positives to delve into regarding Barbie but one slight miss is proximity to silly comedy and goofiness. This is mostly offset by the meaning of the film but my fear is some audiences may be overwhelmed by gag jokes and lose the overall point of the story.

Let’s take a deep dive. The production design and art direction are dazzling and immediately noticed. Particularly, I’m referring to Barbie Land and its pink and pretty sets. Luxurious pools, streets, houses, and cars are rich with color and ooze a fun vibe.

I can’t imagine these teams being overlooked during the year-end awards season.

Robbie and Gosling looking blonde, buff, and tanned are wonderfully cast and not only look the part but quickly switch from physical comedy to heavy drama without looking foolish.

Robbie, for example, while the classic Barbie type has layers of emotion that she channels. And Gosling could have been looked the buffoon with over-the-top sequences if not for a startling good dramatic scene towards the film’s climax.

The supporting casting is brilliant and includes Kate McKinnon as ‘weird Barbie’ a perfect role for her to release her comic beast. How lovely to see Rhea Perlman again in the small but powerful role of Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel and creator of the Barbie doll.

Finally, America Ferrera and Will Ferrell add both comedy and meaningful spirit to their roles. And how could the inclusion of British stalwart Helen Mirren as the narrator not create credibility?

The main attraction though is the writing. Isn’t it always when intelligently done?

The dynamic duo of Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (famous for among other works the 2019 film Marriage Story) pair well giving equality messages to both Barbie and Ken. While easy to dismiss Ken his role is valued and respected within the overall context of showing that everyone deserves a seat at the table.

I was touched by the film in various moments more than I ever expected it to be. Wonderful sentiments about being a mother are powerfully stated by Ruth and Gloria (Ferrera) during various scenes and messages such as everyone deserving respect and serving a purpose are hard not to get choked up over.

Barbie wins points for diversity and inclusion with nearly every ethnic group represented and a transgender character, Dr. Barbie (Hari Nef) featured prominently.

Providing roaring entertainment, bubble gum sets and design, and a message that will break your heart while exuding intelligence Barbie (2023) is a win.

It’s a story about the wills of plastic and humanity making for a perfect harmonious blend. Who would have thought a film about Barbie would be so important?

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Ryan Gosling, Best Supporting Actress-America Ferrera, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Song-“I’m Just Ken”, “What Was I Made For?” (won)

Funny Face-1957

Funny Face-1957

Director Stanley Donan

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire

Scott’s Review #1,375

Reviewed July 7, 2023

Grade: B

The results of Funny Face (1957) are mixed and the word ‘cute’ pops to mind on more than one occasion.

On the one hand, audiences are served a sophisticated look at the fashion industry and the sleek style of Paris, France in the 1950s. The outfits and set design are fab revealing the cultured and colorful modeling world while the makeup and hairstyles match the time with fragrant gusto.

The screenplay is riddled with plausibility issues bordering on offensiveness, silliness, and a good look at the patriarchal mindset of the times. The message is twofold. The fashion industry and Hollywood equally embraced these norms at the time the film was made.

In a word, the overall film is dated.

New York City fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is tasked with finding a model for a new assignment. Discouraged, he is struck by the beauty of Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), an intellectual bookstore employee he photographed by accident.

He convinces Jo to go with him to France, where he continues photographing her against Parisian backdrops, while they scramble to pull together a fashion show along with crusty Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), a fashion magazine publisher.

Dick and Jo fall for one another, only to find hurdles to overcome along the way.

The musical numbers are plentiful but rather second-tier. Bouncy songs like ‘Funny Face’ and ‘On How to Be Lovely’ are decent but not memorable. The highlight is “S, Wonderful’ appearing during the finale and perfectly wrapping the Paris experience and the film in a shiny bow.

Comparisons can be made to An American in Paris (1951) and not just because both are set in Paris use the same tune (S Wonderful) and are composed by George Gershwin. There’s more buried beneath the surface that ties the two films.

Both lead characters, Jerry and Jo, wind up with the wrong partners, in reality, inappropriate for each other. Jerry should be with the comparable Milo while Jo should be with the dashing and artistic Flostre (Michael Auclair). Instead, Jerry chooses the waifish Lise while Jo lands the ancient Dick.

Astaire is old enough to be Hepburn’s grandfather which makes the romance odd.

Of course, in An American in Paris and Funny Face, Milo and Flostre are made to be the foils. They are merely obstacles to be overcome by the preferred couple.

Another irritant is the demeaning nickname that Dick calls Jo, ‘funny face’. Hardly a dog, Hepburn is quite beautiful though the film makes the audience assume she is wrong for the modeling world. The reality is she fits right in looking perfect in every dress or costume she dons, or photograph she appears in.

A better casting choice would have been not classically beautiful singers/actors such as Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler though admittedly neither had surfaced at that point.

Though shot on a soundstage, Funny Face rebounds from implausibility with gorgeous ariel views of historic Parisian landmarks that envelope the glitter of the theme.

Shots of the Eifel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the broad Champs-Elysees are robust and made me rewatch this sequence again.

In parallel, the Greenwich Village, New York City setting where other events in the film take place is an intelligent choice to define the artistic and bookish characters.

The opening titles of Funny Face (1957) are creative and polished reflecting the maturity of the subject matter and style of the 1950s.

With no chemistry, Hepburn and Astaire carry the film as best they can with a dated and tame screenplay.

Oscar Nominations: Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Direction

Triangle of Sadness-2022

Triangle of Sadness-2022

Director Ruben Östlund

Starring Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean Kriek, Woody Harrelson

Scott’s Review #1,374

Reviewed July 2, 2023

Grade: A

When I realized the director of Triangle of Sadness (2022) had directed Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017) I became very interested in seeing it. I’m not sure I ultimately ‘got’ The Square but Force Majeure was a thought-provoking slice of cinematic brilliance that I still think about now and then.

Sure, Triangle of Sadness was rewarded with three Academy Award nominations, deservedly so. Still, Ruben Östlund has a knack for challenging his audience to think outside the box, cinematically or otherwise with a robust look at social classes.

He crafts a subject matter about class systems and the haves and have-nots that has been explored before in film many, many times. But, in Triangle of Sadness, it feels fresh and fraught with many different possible directions.

The wicked dark comedy explores political talking points like capitalism, communism, and socialism and challenges standard ways of thinking.

It’s on par with the popular HBO series The White Lotus but on steroids.

I cannot recommend the film more heavily especially geared toward those desiring expressive and deep-textured films with some meaning.

Despite the dreary title, it’s far from a dour experience. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, especially in scenes featuring severe vomiting amid sea sickness.

The rich and famous embark on a luxury cruise with fine dining and servants galore. But after a devastating storm leaves several passengers and staff stranded together on a deserted island the power exchange begins to shift and the social hierarchy is turned upside down.

Events mainly surround a celebrity model couple, Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who are invited on the luxury cruise for promotional purposes. Yaya is a social media influencer.

They are joined by a Russian oligarch Dimitry and his wife Vera, and an elderly couple Clementine and Winston, who have made their fortune manufacturing grenades and other weapons. Therese, a wheelchair user only capable of speaking a single phrase in German following a stroke; and Jarmo, a lonely tech millionaire who flirts with Yaya.

Besides possibly, Therese, there is not a sympathetic rich character to be found.

The yacht staff are more sympathetic although we don’t get to know all characters very well. Highlights are the head of staff, Paula, who demands the staff obey the guests’ without question, Abigail, a cleaning woman, and the yacht’s captain, Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), who spends his time drunk in his cabin, and despises the absurdity of the guests’ wealth.

The main events on the ship take a while to get to and the film is divided into chapters. Part 1: Carl and Yaya, Part 2: The Yacht, and Part 3: The Island.

I realized after the fact that the point of the slow build is to show the dynamic between Carl and Yaya, the main characters. Both models and living life based on their looks they are wildly insecure, bickering over money and gender roles.

While not likable nor complete assholes either, enjoyable is a chance to get a fleshed-out perspective on where they are coming from.

My adoration for the film largely stems from not knowing what is going to happen but knowing that at some point the shit is going to hit the fan.

The setup is perfect, especially the put-upon staff. While they are not abused, the relationship is clear. The passengers are in a position of power, the staff is not.

This will soon change.

Late in the game, I unexpectedly found myself rooting for a minor character who takes center stage in the last chapter turning events upside down.

Comparisons can also be found in the recent Best Picture winner Parasite (2019) and old-school international films Swept Away (1974) and L’Vventura (1960).

These are all brilliant films and my hunch is that Triangle of Sadness (2022) will hold up well perhaps achieving even greater acclaim as the years go by.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Ruben Östlund, Best Original Screenplay

The Hospital-1971

The Hospital-1971

Director Arthur Hiller

Starring George C. Scott, Diana Rigg

Scott’s Review #1,369

Reviewed June 11, 2023

Grade: A

An example of the freedom to craft one’s vision allowed in cinematic works during the first half of the1970s, The Hospital (1971) is a testament to the creativity and exceptional writing and what can happen when studios and producers leave the creatives alone to make the film they want to make.

One can dismiss any preconceived notions of the classic medical dramas that flooded television networks during the 1970s and 1980s. The Hospital is not formulaic or contrived.

No, The Hospital is a dark work drooling with satirical examples of the politics and shenanigans within the medical community. Oftentimes, secondary activities come at the cost of good care and quality medicines.

Before you imagine a doctor and nurse cavorting in a janitor’s closet, it’s a deeper film than it appears on the surface despite the inclusion of witty comedy. A lax patient care, staff deaths, and the dismissal of nearby residents because of a new drug rehabilitation project are explored in this fascinating film.

At a rundown Manhattan teaching hospital, chief of staff Herb Bock (George C. Scott) is riddled with multiple personal and professional problems after two doctors and one nurse are found dead almost simultaneously.

He assumes the rash of deaths is due to dimwitted staff who are overworked amid the chaos.

Suicidal, he meets the intelligent daughter of a patient who knocks him off his feet with her studious personality and reflections of the world. Barbara Drummond is played by Diana Rigg.

Immediately noticeable is the clever and well-paced screenplay while I was unknowledgeable of the fact that Paddy Chayefsky had won the Oscar for writing the film. Immediately, the chaos of a city hospital is exposed but not in a cliched way like a series like ER or Grey’s Anatomy might show.

Nobody is going into cardiac arrest on the operating table or having convulsions in the waiting room amid lame dramatic music.

The Hospital is more cerebral than that.

Unknown patients and little-known hospital staff go about their everyday business like clockwork until confusion with daily tasks causes events to go awry.

Like real-life.

The brilliance is how director Arthur Hiller casts regular-looking actors in almost all the roles. They look and act like everyday hospital staff so that the proper tone is set. This is even before we meet and get to know Herb and Barbara. They answer phones, walk around with charts, and hustle after emergencies.

Chayefsky and Hiller mirror director Robert Altman in many ways mostly in the dialogue and how seemingly unimportant scenes mean a whole lot.

In robust soliloquy-style scenes between Herb and Barbara the audience ‘gets them’. They are both desperate, wounded, and unhappy yet possess the sophistication and awareness to realize how similar they are.

They immediately connect, fall in love, and nearly run off together. It’s that simple. They are willing to flee their lives after meeting for five minutes. But will they ultimately take that plunge?

A key character is revealed to be Barbara’s father and a whodunit begins after it comes to light that the deaths are not accidents. Who is responsible and what their motivation is is the key to the story.

Scott does wonderful work with his character and rivals his excellent performance a year earlier in Patton (1970). Herb is more introspective with the world on his shoulders.

The Hospital has more than one daring scene. Herb, though impotent, basically throws Barbara down on the table and rapes her. The shocker is she makes light of it the next day and almost seems to have enjoyed it.

Barbara and Herb are both complex characters that the audience needs to ruminate over.

My favorite part of The Hospital (1971) is the setting. That Hiller puts you inside what a real urban hospital was like in 1971 is brilliance. The satire comes into play with the writing which questions decision-making and incompetence within the hospital walls.

Only, the result is a scathing look at hospital practices and will hit home to anyone terrified of entering a hospital only to never come out again.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actor-George C. Scott, Best Original Screenplay (won)

Babylon-2022

Babylon-2022

Director Damien Chazelle

Starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #1,365

Reviewed June 4, 2023

Grade: A-

Babylon (2022) is a film that will largely divide audiences. Slightly late to the table, I viewed the film after the awards season hoopla had ended and the film came up empty-handed. Sure, a few nominations were received but much more was expected from the epic Hollywood-themed venture.

I’m a fan of director Damien Chazelle, most famous for the similarly set Los Angeles film La La Land (2016), which I adore.

His direction style reminds me a great deal of Baz Luhrmann’s with the incorporation of intense musical numbers during many scenes and a strong chaotic and frenetic nature.

I realize this style is not for everyone so I’m not surprised Babylon is somewhat revered and somewhat reviled. This isn’t always a bad thing as a good film debate can be fun.

I adore Babylon mostly for the powerful and potent silent-era Hollywood story and the terror stars of the 1920s faced with the realization that sound had entered their pictures and they were expected to keep with the times.

Sadly, many careers ended in devastating fashion sinking one-time big stars into depression and despair.

The acting is superb and major props go especially to Margot Robbie as debaucherous film star Nellie LaRoy and newcomer (to me) Diego Calva as handsome Mexican immigrant Manny Torres. Both actors elicit superb performances that should have landed them Oscar nominations.

The major overtones that Chazelle incorporates into Babylon are those of ambition and outrageous excess, but also belonging and acceptance. The rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood are explored.

As Hollywood makes the transition from silent films to talkies, ambitious up-and-coming actress Nellie and aging superstar Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) each struggle to adapt to the new medium as well as a rapidly changing world.

And Manny just wants a seat at the table.

Another reason I love the film is the dedication and exposure given to pre-sound Hollywood movies which nobody remembers. I struggle to recall ever viewing a film from that era with my earliest film being the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front.

The hit film The Artist (2011) may have paid tribute but it’s not the same and Babylon goes for the jugular in showcasing an entire movement that is now largely forgotten.

Cinema fans will respect Babylon.

Besides the film’s characters, there is so much movie stuff to appreciate. A Hollywood movie set, repeated takes, scripts, dialogue, lighting equipment, and rehearsals, make for a feast of riches for any cinephile.

The weak point is the behemoth length of the film. At three hours and nine minutes, an epic length, the erratic structure is a challenge to get through. A piecemeal approach can sometimes affect the continuity and it did detract a bit in this case for me.

If one can sit still long enough the final thirty minutes is superb. A tidy wrap-up and truthful storytelling give several characters a proper sendoff. The film ends in 1952 so a great conclusion befits.

Before we get to this point though, a nailbiting sequence involving Manny and a fiendish Los Angeles gangster played by Toby MacGuire is second to none. Fake money, a rat-eating entertainer, and pornographic dwarfs make for an odd adventure that one can’t look away from.

A fascinating and bombastic experience, Babylon (2022) loudly delves into the silent film world and gives a proper head nod to a long-forgotten period.

The film successfully makes me appreciate Hollywood and its history more than I already do.

Oscar Nominations: Best Musical Score, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Shampoo-1975

Shampoo-1975

Director Hal Ashby

Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn

Scott’s Review #1,362

Reviewed May 19, 2023

Grade: A-

Shampoo (1975) is a drama and comedy hybrid that reminds me greatly of a Robert Altman film without the customary overlapping dialogue common in his works.

The political environment against the posh Los Angeles backdrop emotes the vibes of The Long Goodbye (1973) and Nashville (1975) with enough sly satire and humor to generate a comparison.

Of course, the film, nestled in mid-1970s cinema greatness is in the right decade. Further, the 1968 setting is perfect for the Los Angeles mood where the Manson killings, hippies, sex, drugs, and rock n roll were all commonplace.

Listening to the soundtrack of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and other familiar bands of the late 1960s makes Shampoo a grand slam of authenticity and richness.

Director, Hal Ashby, who created the dark comic genius Harold and Maude in 1971, hits it out of the park again with Shampoo, a study of love and loneliness and a sense of belonging and fulfillment.

I wasn’t won over right away and the film took me a while to warm up to if I’m being honest but by the end, I was a big fan, especially of the writing. But, some of the slow-build films are the best.

The film takes place against the backdrop of Election night in 1968 when eventually shamed former president Richard Nixon won the presidency. The characters bounce from one election party to the next but barely notice the outcome choosing booze and lust over politics.

Beverly Hills hairdresser and notorious cad George Roundy (Warren Beatty) runs into trouble when his bedroom antics interfere with a possible business deal with the influential Lester (Jack Warden). George is sleeping with Lester’s wife Felicia (Lee Grant) and his best friend and ex-girlfriend, Jackie (Julie Christie), in addition to his current girlfriend, Jill Haynes, played by Goldie Hawn.

Part of why Shampoo sneaks up on the viewer is that it’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy in a physical way. Instead, the intelligent dialogue and the development of its characters are the winning formula.

We first meet George in bed with his older mistress, Felicia, who we assume might be his girlfriend. When he makes an excuse to check on Jill, we realize he is playing the field, but with no ill intent. He genuinely likes the women he beds and despite his antics is feeling empty and mindlessly trudging along.

A wonderful scene atop the Hollywood Hills brings George’s peril to a climax when he professes his love for one of the women but is it too late?

Beatty, who co-wrote the screenplay, fleshes his character’s motivations out well. He really only wants happiness and a successful business. Some of the action takes place in his salon where he meets his conquests.

The scenes between Beatty and Warden work particularly well especially when Lester discovers George in a precarious situation or three assuming he is gay.

Let’s not forget the ladies. The triple bill of Christie, Hawn, and Grant is a force to be reckoned with. Grant is an interesting character since she has all the wealth she wants but instead loves the financially struggling George. Should we feel sympathy for her?

Jill presumably will find happiness with a director smitten with her. They seem like a quality pair and Christie’s Jackie also makes out well at the conclusion of the film.

Surprisingly and effectively, the presidential election is more of a background effect and is largely ignored by the characters who have better things to worry about.

Ashby mostly has the news telecasts and election returns blurred intentionally. The point made is that Nixon’s cheating is a reflection of the self-obsession affecting the United States during that time.

Despite his flaws, the audience nonetheless roots for George. This is a testament to the writing of Beatty and Robert Towne and the rich slow build that Ashby provides to Shampoo (1975) amid a shiny yet tarnished Los Angeles veneer.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actor-Jack Warden, Best Supporting Actress-Lee Grant (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction

Violent Night-2022

Violent Night-2022

Director Tommy Wirkola

Starring David Harbour, John Leguizamo

Scott’s Review #1,355

Reviewed April 9, 2023

Grade: B

Violent Night (2022) isn’t the straight-ahead slasher flick with a holiday theme that I thought it might be. Part magic, part action, and part dark comedy make the film a peculiar yet strangely satisfying experience.

In a warped way, of course.

I’m not sure what director Tommy Wirkola was specifically going for but Violent Night is an entertaining one-hour-and-fifty-two-minute experience. Best watched around the Christmas holidays I watched the film on a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to New York City in April and still enjoyed it.

It’s a cool concept with lots of gore, a ritzy mansion as the main set, and a pleasing interracial element providing diversity. The film is also a strange take on a jovial Christmas message production like a Lifetime television movie.

A lot is going on in Violent Night and it openly patterns itself after Home Alone (1990) which one character has just watched for the first time.

David Harbour plays a not-so-jolly Santa Clause who guzzles beer in a London pub on Christmas Eve just before he is set to traverse the world distributing toys to children.

Depressed at the state of the world and the overwhelming amount of naughty people on his list Santa arrives in upper-crust Greenwich, Connecticut, and witnesses a team of mercenaries breaking into a wealthy family compound and taking everyone inside hostage.

Led by Scrooge (John Leguizamo) the bad guys dressed as Christmas characters take the family hostage demanding money they know is hidden in the estate. St. Nick must save the day and kick some ass to maintain the spirit of Christmas.

The characters, though mostly over the top, are my favorite part of Violent Night.

The audience is meant to like seven-year-old Trudy (Leah Brady) a darling innocent with interracial parents who are separated. Jason (Alex Hassell) is part of a rich family and his wife, Linda (Alexis Louder) is a kind woman who has her daughter’s best interests at heart.

All Trudy wants for Christmas is her parents back together.

The other characters are played for laughs especially grand dame Gertrude, deliciously played by Beverly D’Angelo. She’s terrific as the queen rich bitch whose family kisses her ass at every turn hoping to keep in her good graces.

Leguizamo pairs well against Harbour’s Santa who is effective as the beefy and boozy man. He is a good fellow but has lost his belief in the magic of Christmas. The relationship between Santa and Trudy also works well.

A couple of belly chuckles exist which is always a good thing. As Santa takes off on his reindeer-led sleigh to deliver toys he promptly vomits on the pub bartender’s head. Soaked with barf she proudly exclaims ‘He is Santa!’

Violent Night is good fun though severely unrealistic. The film gets a bit too hammy towards the conclusion when the bad guys get their comeuppance on the spacious mansion’s snowy exterior. One character’s decision to burn money to keep warm is too far-fetched and the villains quickly disintegrate into caricatures.

The happily ever after conclusion and the resurrection of a character are underwhelming and worthy of a Hallmark television movie send-off.

The Connecticut mansion is a cool set and the trimmings of Christmas make the set flourish with strong design. The plentiful rooms and secret attics are fun to watch.

I’ve never seen the film Bad Santa (2003) but from what I know of it Violent Night (2022) seems on par. Be forewarned, the ‘violent’ in the title is true to form and the violence is fast and furious at times with a snug message wrapped within.

Revenge of the Nerds-1984

Revenge of the Nerds-1984

Director Jeff Kanew

Starring Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards

Scott’s Review #1,354

Reviewed April 8, 2023

Grade: B+

Released in 1984, Revenge of the Nerds is in a similar vein to other raunchy comedies like Police Academy (1984), Animal House (1978), or Porky’s (1981).

Goofy with slapstick elements and involving unpopular or marginalized groups rising above are the thematic commonalities these genre films share.

To say the film is dumb fun is quite apt and watching it again almost forty years past the release date the stereotypes and gags are ever so noticeable. The term ‘date rape’ was not known then but known presently leaves a slightly uncomfortable feeling during one scene.

Also dated is the classification of what a nerd is. In 1984, the last name one would like to be referred to was a nerd. Today, it’s a term of endearment or even something to aspire to be!

Anyone under the age of forty will not appreciate Revenge of the Nerds or even get it’ It was made at a very different time but will be appreciated by the older folks and provide a burst of uproarious nostalgia.

Revenge of the Nerds is one of my favorite selections when I think of the 1980s and yearn for a slice of mind-numbing entertainment.

Geeky college students Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) and Lewis (Robert Carradine) are excited to leave their repressed small town and venture off to the mind-opening University where, in their minds, they are bound to score with countless women.

Once there, they are ridiculed mercilessly by the jocks and evicted from their dormitory when the Alpha Betas, who recently burned down their own fraternity house by accident, confiscate the building.

When the college forces the freshmen to live in the gym, Gilbert, Lewis, and their fellow dorks relocate to a run-down house. When the Alpha Betas, led by jock Stan (Ted McGinley), repeatedly humiliate them, the nerds plot revenge.

Naturally, in an attempt at gender parity, there is a nerd sorority named Omega Mu featuring Judy (Michelle Meyrink) who becomes Gilbert’s girlfriend.

And as a fabulous addition, there is one equivalent to Alpha Beta consisting of cheerleader types who are bitchy and mean to the nerds led by Betty Childs (Julie Montgomery), the object of Lewis’s affections.

Revenge of the Nerds succeeds well because it’s easy to root for the Nerds to exact their revenge on the jocks. But this would not be the case without the characters of Gilbert and Lewis.

Edwards and Carradine infuse them with likability and a flavor of fairness. More than just horny nerds, they choose their brethren from all walks of life. There is a gay nerd, a black nerd, an Asian nerd, and even a nerd who picks his nose and is effectively named Booger (Curtis Armstrong).

Despite the subject matter, it’s easy to see the producers were attempting some early diversity and inclusion. They exist within boxed stereotypes but at least the representation was visible.

McGinley as Stan is the perfect foil. The actor is a blonde and a surfer dude so he is the perfect ‘big man on campus’ type. The secondary jocks are all loud and obnoxious but are happy to be second bananas to Stan.

Adorable is how the distinction bubbles up to the school dean, played by David Wohl, who is at first intimidated by but finally gets the better of loud Coach Harris (John Goodman). And Lewis’s father, Mr. Skolnick (James Cromwell) is his doppelganger.

Revenge of the Nerds is successful at bringing out the thirteen-year-old boy in all of us with its incorporation of mooning scenes, belching, and a hilarious peeping tom scene in the hated popular girls’ sorority.

It’s not film art or anything in the way of classy cinematic camerawork, or visual effects, but what Revenge of the Nerds (1984) does is provide some good-humored laughs.

It’s well-intentioned and holds up surprisingly well on its own merits while some 1980s ‘quality’ films do not.

The Banshees of Inisherin-2022

The Banshees of Inisherin-2022

Director Martin McDonagh

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon

Scott’s Review #1,348

Reviewed March 2, 2023

Grade: A

Martin McDonagh, who directs The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), is known for films like In Bruges (2008) and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017). His films usually include dark humor stories of humanity and unpleasantness and require some afterthought to ruminate about the characters’ true nature.

This film stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson who reunite from their collaboration in In Bruges for another turn playing men dealing with depression and other feelings of loneliness and friendship.

McDonagh is British/Irish so the period and surroundings likely resonate well with him. The gorgeous islands off coastal Ireland are used and key to the story and counterbalance the troubles and tribulations of the characters.

Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), are lifelong friends and inhabitants of an island off of mainland Ireland. They find themselves embroiled in a feud after Colm one day announces he is ending their friendship. This confuses Pádraic who vows to mend the relationship at all costs.

Their reunion is thwarted by severed fingers, a fire, and the mysterious death of Pádraic’s beloved pet donkey, Jenny.

Mixed into the events are Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), who have their problems to face.

The Banshees of Inisherin is slow-paced and cerebral and many questions will be pondered but left unanswered. This will tick off those viewers who prefer a clear conclusion to the characters’ lives.

But, this is a key part of the beauty of the film. Sure, I might have liked one big no-holds-barred argument scene between Pádraic and Colm or more closure in Dominic’s or Siobhán’s stories. Instead, McDonagh challenges the audience to feel perplexed or unsure and use their interpretations.

For example, I wonder if Dominic was being sexually abused by his policeman father who has a penchant for sitting naked in the living room chair and masturbating.

Or, what does Siobhán leave the island for and will she ever return?

On a separate note, I wonder if McDonagh was influenced by the epic 1970 gem Ryan’s Daughter, directed by David Lean. The flowing Irish landscapes and unpleasant, embittered townspeople have key similarities.

The winning formula is ambiguity. The audience is served terrific acting all around, particularly amongst the four principals (Farrell, Gleeson, Condon, and Keoghan) all of whom were awarded Academy Award nominations.

Each provides subdued performances dripping with contained emotion and complexities buried beneath the surface.

Audiences can draw their conclusions but my takeaways were loneliness, longing for new adventures, depression, and begrudgingly accepting meager existence amid the most lavish countryside one can find.

The 1920s Irish Civil War is the backdrop though those events are not central to the plot.

Since Colm’s desire to create music is a central part of the story the accompanying music is crucial to the film. The use of fiddles is incorporated rather than traditional Irish music except in the sprinkling of pub scenes.

A hearty round of applause is due to McDonagh and company for crafting and performing a thinking man’s film. The comic bits are not syrupy but tragic in their honesty and cadence.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) separate cinematic thinkers from passive viewers with a quiet story about the friendship between two men and the layers that exist beneath the surface.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin McDonagh, Best Actor-Colin Farrell, Best Supporting Actor-Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, Best Supporting Actress-Kerry Condon, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

Young Frankenstein-1974

Young Frankenstein-1974

Director Mel Brooks

Starring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr

Scott’s Review #1,347

Reviewed February 27, 2023

Grade: A

Young Frankenstein (1974) is one of the funniest, most authentic examples of slapstick comedy done right. The physical timing, facial expressions, and dialogue delivery are sheer perfection from the well-known cast.

Many of whom are stars of the comedy genre.

The fact that director Mel Brooks took a classic horror film as distinguished as Frankenstein (1931), and made a cross-genre sequel, is pure brilliance.

Even better is the incorporation of black-and-white filmmaking resembling the 1930s masterpiece so the setting feels similar. This is aided by the recreation of the original set designer Kenneth Strickfaden’s lab equipment from the 1931 film. 

Brooks co-wrote the screenplay with star Gene Wilder, a comic legend, and the writing is brilliant crackling with wit and energy.

The 1970s film watched decades later has lost none of its original appeal holding up astoundingly well after most of the cast and director have left this world. It can be watched over the Halloween season for the proper atmosphere or at any time.

Ideally, recommended is to watch Frankenstein either before or after seeing Young Frankenstein for ideal pleasure.

Respected medical lecturer Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) learns, much to his chagrin, that he has inherited his infamous grandfather’s estate in Transylvania, Romania.

The original Frankenstein’s reputation is so tarnished that Frederick wants nothing to do with the name even going so far as changing the pronunciation of his surname to “Fronkensteen”.

Begrudgingly arriving at the castle, Dr. Frankenstein soon begins to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of servants Igor (Marty Feldman), Inga (Teri Garr), and the rigid Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman).

After he creates his monster (Peter Boyle), a new set of complications ensue with the arrival of the doctor’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), and the unleashing of the frightening beast on the small town.

Comedy and horror are worlds apart but Brooks and Wilder pay respect and tribute to the classic horror film by not mocking it but instead embracing it and enhancing the story with Young Frankenstein.

You could say it’s a sequel in addition to a spoof made over forty years later.

The characters are the best part and each one is enveloped by its actor in fine form. Led by Wilder as the mad scientist, bug-eyed Igor (pronounced ‘Eyegor’ naturally) explained to be the grandson of Igor in Frankenstein, is a personal favorite of mine followed by Garr as the secret romantic interest for Wilder.

My favorite scenes are when Igor reveals that he took the wrong brain for Frankenstein’s experiment belonging to ‘Abby Normal’ instead of ‘Abnormal’ as the label read.

Inga and Frederick have instant chemistry leaving Kahn’s Elizabeth in the dust as far as a romantic triangle. Hilarity between the pair occurs in the final sequence when, after a lobotomy, she is delighted to realize that Frederick has received the monster’s “enormous Schwanzstucker”.

This is not to diminish Boyle, Leachman, or Kahn who each do their part to make Young Frankenstein an ensemble. Apt viewers will spot Gene Hackman in the role of Harold, the blind man.

As an aside, Brooks brilliantly pays tribute to Bride of Frankenstein (1934) by giving Elizabeth the same hairstyle.

The double entendre is fast and furious from knockers to the male anatomy.

The only scene that didn’t wow me was the sequence where Frankenstein and his creation perform “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. The monster singing and dancing was too amateurish for me but for some, it’s a favorite scene.

A parody that works on nearly every level and is the best of all the Brooks films (even barely usurping my forever fondness for 1977’s High Anxiety), Young Frankenstein (1974) is a treasure.

Silly, devoted, and creative, it revives a classic in only the best of ways and is filmmaking 101 in how to create a proper spoof.

Oscar Nominations:  Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound

The Menu-2022

The Menu-2022

Director Mark Mylod

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy

Scott’s Review #1,345

Reviewed February 20, 2023

Grade: B+

The premise of The Menu (2022) immediately elicited my utmost pleasure. A self-proclaimed ‘foodie’ with a long way to go in being an expert, a film about a high-caliber restaurant with an extravagant and sophisticated tasting menu was impossible to ignore.

Throw in the horror and dark humor genres and you’ve got the icing on the cake.

After all, being fortunate enough to have experienced fine dining like in the film makes me repeatedly reminisce about those adventures. Those enchanted by such tasting menus rich with flavor and style must see The Menu.

Cinematically, the film reminds me of part Saw (2004), part Knives Out (2018), with a dash of novelist Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians story and a sprinkling of a Jordan Peele project for the social commentary.

A young couple Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) travels to a sunny coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant named Hawthorn, where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu.

They are joined by other guests including a food critic, her editor, wealthy regulars, three businessmen, a washed-up movie star and his assistant, and the chef’s alcoholic mother.

As the evening commences and the dishes are served the chef has some diabolical surprises in store for the guests. Secrets are soon revealed as it becomes apparent they have been summoned to the island for a reason.

Mark Mylod, a new director to me, peppers the film with dark, macabre humor, mostly related to the food, which is slyly placed and pairs well. Those who savor fine dining and tasty ingredients will smirk with delight.

The title and ingredients of each course are named and by the third course, the sins of the diners are revealed on tortilla shells for all to see. The audience knows they are not innocent people and the chef and his team are intent on punishing them a la carte style.

The revelation that Margot is not supposed to be there is satisfying because so far the chef, his assistant, and a guest have been eying her mysteriously. Tyler was originally scheduled to bring another woman with him.

Instead of limiting the story this only enhances it. Could Margot be convinced to align with the chef or does she hate him? Jealousy among the staff and guests quickly spirals out of control.

Another win for The Menu is the incorporation of class distinction. The haves and the have-nots and how they feel about each other is an important sidebar and easy to understand the motivations of the characters.

The Menu loses its way during the final thirty minutes with an unsatisfying and perplexing ending that hardly wraps the story up for the audience in a doggy bag.

I was left with more questions than answers regarding the plot.

The analysis can be somewhat forgiven with a deathly serving of s’mores for dessert with the bodies of the guests as the marshmallows and their heads mirroring the chocolate tops.

A laugh-out-loud moment occurs when a spoiled guest does not understand the difference in quality between cod and halibut. Every foodie should be aware of the superiority of halibut.

It’s not all polish and high cuisine as the preparation and consumption of a good old-fashioned greasy cheeseburger are made with such precision that I could nearly smell the wonderful indulgence.

The sizzling meat combined with the heavenly melted American cheese made me want to reach for the phone and order Grubhub.

Fiennes and Taylor-Joy are the standouts as their complex relationship and chemistry are palpable. Special notice must be given to Hung Chau, Judith Light, Janet McTeer, and John Leguizamo who make the ensemble quite good.

With a terrific idea and enough tastes and smells that almost emerge from the screen The Menu (2022) is a winner. It’s unsatisfying at the conclusion but the experience is enjoyable and the creativity is championed.

I felt like a restaurant guest myself.

M3GAN-2023

M3GAN-2023

Director Gerard Johnstone

Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw

Scott’s Review #1,338

Reviewed January 31, 2023

Grade: B+

M3GAN (2023) is the sleeper hit of the year, quickly becoming a ‘water-cooler’ topic (remember that phrase?) after getting stagnant cinema lovers back into theaters in droves.

Released in the traditionally dismal month of January when studios usually ‘dump’ film releases with little or no bang for their buck M3GAN is already set to spawn a sequel. The possibilities for a different story to correlate with the original are endless.

The poster (see above) and the movie trailer are instantly grabbing. We see a doll-like/robotic little girl with long flowing blonde hair and mesmerizing, sparkling eyes that are cat-like and creepy.

Almost life-like, it doesn’t take a genius to conjure images of the Chucky doll from the Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019). Seemingly lovable but turning sinister, the concepts are more or less the same.

When robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) takes in her orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she creates the perfect companion for her, a lifelike doll named M3GAN, who serves as a friend, confidante, and sensible role model.

Cady and M3GAN immediately bond and become inseparable pals.

M3GAN can listen, watch, and learn from other people and objects as they relate to Cady, using advanced Artificial Intelligence to store their idiosyncrasies.

As expected, things soon go awry when M3GAN uses her superior intelligence to destroy anyone whom she perceives as a threat to Cady.

I’m not one to suggest a film tone down the blood and gore in a horror film but in the case of M3GAN, it works to the film’s advantage as proven by tremendous box-office receipts.

Far from kid-friendly, one of the main characters is eight to ten years old which might encourage parents, especially parents who are horror fans, to take their youngsters to see the film. At first, Cady and M3GAN invoke an idealized pre-teen female relationship, and a bully intent on harming Cady gets his comeuppance.

Most of the other characters who suffer dire fates are unlikeable. A boorish neighbor, a vicious dog, Gemma’s obnoxious boss, and his conniving assistant all get their due one way or another at the hands of M3GAN.

She’s not exactly a ‘hero’ but the fun is watching hated characters suffer at her hands. The setup is perfected as each character reveals their obnoxiousness to the rabid audience thirsting for a slashed throat or two.

My point is that parents and kids alike can enjoy this film and simultaneously share a startle and a giggle.

The campy nature of the film is another win since the humor evens out the horror elements. There are enough funny lines, mostly delivered by the supporting players, to evoke laugh-out-loud moments.

The grand finale is inevitably predictable but enjoyable because it’s what the audience can’t wait for. M3GAN, once prim and proper in her little girl dress, shrieks and spits curses at her former friends as her now disfigured face and ravaged hair make her look disheveled and monstrous.

M3GAN’s true colors are revealed and the audience will hoot and holler with delight.

Unlike many films, M3GAN goes right for the jugular in the first scene with a deadly car accident and keeps the fast pace for the entire one hour and forty-two minute running time.

Williams, well-known for starring in Jordan Peele’s 2017 masterpiece Get Out scores another win in the central role. She capably plays a loving yet inexperienced surrogate parent and carries the film, along with M3GAN of course.

Incorporated is a relevant knock on mass consumption of technology gadgets and a robot replacing good parenting. This is more evidence that parents should see M3GAN.

I can’t wait to see what the writers next have in store for the little terror when the sequel drops.

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Director Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu

Scott’s Review #1,337

Reviewed January 26, 2023

Grade: A

Released in March 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that built momentum throughout the year resulting in an astonishing eleven Academy Award nominations.

Traditionally, films scrambling for awards season notice and subsequent praise and honors are released in the fourth quarter and earlier releases are shuffled off to the discount racks.

But Everything Everywhere All at Once breaks the mold thanks to being a visionary, absurd comedy that demands the appreciation it has received.

As of this writing, it is the highest-grossing film released by A24, a champion of independent and quality cinema.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), plays a flustered and bedraggled immigrant mother who runs a laundromat along with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). They reside in the laundromat with Evelyn’s irritable father Gong Gong (James Hong) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who is gay.

In trouble with an IRS inspector, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she could save the world. She must quickly learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not conventional and is admittedly a complete mess meant in the finest of ways. It takes the cinematic formula and tips it on its ass but intelligently incorporates heartfelt scenes and gripping performances so that the viewer falls in love with the characters before knowing what’s hit them.

I semi-cringed when I heard the film was action mixed with science-fiction and superhero multiverses, none of which are my genre of choice. The film goes beyond that with a sensory overload, a warped, onslaught of colorful wackiness that includes hot dog fingers, butt plugs, and a drag performance.

You can’t make this up kids.

Michelle Yeoh kicks ass (literally!) and gets the role of a lifetime. At sixty years old she has played a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a rich bitch Mom in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), decent roles, but nothing like Evelyn.

Directors, the Daniels, show through Evelyn’s character, how her life has disappointed her. Never appreciated by her father and living in the doldrums, angry and frustrated, she develops into a woman who appreciates the small moments of human connection in her life.

We can all learn from Evelyn.

What a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery playing Deirdre. Displaying her gut, wearing a bizarre grey wig, she plays part IRS agent, part lesbian lover depending on what universe she is in, and is a hoot.

Ke Huy Kwan is famous as the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and not much since. He somersaults back into the acting spotlight in the role of Evelyn’s kind husband.

Finally, Stephanie Hsu is a gem as Stephanie who just wants to be loved by her mother. The actor has a bright future ahead of her.

These actors get to play four or five different characters and show their acting chops.

Stylistically, the film is off the wall. Dizzying special effects and absurd editing pummel the viewer with ‘stuff’ that can be talked about from a technical perspective for weeks.

But at the end of the film, you will shed a tear or two at the emotion that sneaks up from behind in the most wonderful way. Quiet scenes between the noisy ones show humanity and love for one another.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) has reaffirmed my appreciation of film and the creativity and beauty that can be mastered.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Actress-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Actor-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Best Supporting Actress-Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“This is a Life”, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 6 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Lead Performance-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Performance-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Breakthrough Performance-Stephanie Hsu (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Editing (won)