Tag Archives: Dark Comedy films

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Stranger Than Fiction-2000

Director-Eric Bross

Starring Mackenzie Astin, Todd Field, Dina Meyer

Scott’s Review #1,298

Reviewed September 14, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By that time I didn’t care anymore.

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

Zola-2021

Zola-2021

Director-Janicza Bravo

Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo

Scott’s Review #1,290

Reviewed August 16, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Arizona-1987

Raising Arizona-1987

Director-Joel Coen

Starring Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter

Scott’s Review #1,286

Reviewed August 5, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Rocket-2021

Red Rocket-2021

Director-Sean Baker

Starring Simon Rex, Suzanna Son

Scott’s Review #1,277

Reviewed July 15, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Adult-2011

Young Adult-2011

Director-Jason Reitman 

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt

Scott’s Review #1,267

Reviewed June 17, 2022

Grade: A-

I am a big fan of Jason Reitman films.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

Director-John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

Starring Jim Carey, Ewan McGregor

Scott’s Review #1,235

Reviewed March 5, 2022

Grade: A-

Easily the most daring and arguably the best film role of Jim Carey’s career, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a delightful romantic comedy featuring same-sex characters in the central roles. At the risk of being too fluffy, there is a sardonic and wry wittiness that I fell in love with.

Those criticizing the film as ‘gay porn’ are silly since there is hardly a sex scene to be critical of or anything more than would appear in a traditional male/female romantic comedy. Prudes wouldn’t see a film as I Love You Phillip Morris anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Carey, fabulous in The Mask from 1994, and having his share of hits and misses over the years, is perfect in the role of Steven. It’s the most interesting role he has portrayed since he gets to provide his usual physical humor in a role that matters. LGBTQ+ audiences see a character who makes them laugh without the typical gay stereotypes.

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

Props go to McGregor as well who makes a perfect counterpart for Carey as the calm, cool, and collected ‘straight man’. The film could not have worked without him. He meshes so well with Carey that the audience instantly roots for Steven and Phillip to ride off into the sunset despite being criminals.

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

At its core, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a romantic comedy, and the trials and tribulations of Steven and Phillip are told. I immediately fell in love with them and viewers will too. It’s a film that feels fresh and alive with the exploration of character richness that is not easy to come by.

Wild at Heart-1990

Wild at Heart-1990

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern

Scott’s Review #1,230

Reviewed February 19, 2022

Grade: B+

David Lynch has created some weird films. Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (1992) are masterpieces that skew the odd and peculiar facets of human behavior. But Wild at Heart (1990) takes the cake as the strangest in the lot.

Fascinatingly unhinged, yet hard to understand, it’s got the Lynch handprint from start to finish, but only a warm-up act as stacked against those other films.

Somehow the film is classified as a comedy. It’s got to be one of the darkest of dark comedies. Anyone who is not a Lynch fan will not appreciate or get this film- I am a Lynch fan and I’m not sure I even got it. I do appreciate it though.

It’s also the best role of Diane Ladd’s career in which she plays a fiendish, witchy mama. The graceful actress belts a home run in her storied performance.

A situation occurs during the opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) serves prison time for a self-defense killing and reunites with girlfriend Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) when he is released.

Lula’s mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), is desperate to keep them apart and hires a hitman to kill Sailor. But those are only the start of his troubles when he and Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe, an old buddy who’s also out to get Sailor, try to rob a store.

When Sailor lands in jail again, he may be destined never to reunite with Lula ever again.

Wild at Heart deep down is a love story about Sailor and Lula and the many obstacles they must overcome to live happily ever after.

Cage and Dern are terrific though I fantasized while watching how nice it would have been to see Kyle MacLachlan in the role of Sailor. A Blue Velvet reunion would have been splendid since his chemistry with Dern in that film was top-notch. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching Cage and Dern as the romantic leads.

The many references to The Wizard of Oz are delightful like when an image of Marietta flying through the air on a haggard broomstick appears just like the Wicked Witch of the West. When Lula desperately clicks her red heels three times to no avail we strangely wonder where the home she wants to return to is?

The film is one of those that is hard to take seriously or focus on the plot too much. This is evidenced by the inclusion of Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017) alumni Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, and Grace Zabriskie. They play The Good Witch, Girl in Accident, and Juana Durango, respectively. Each character is indescribable in their strangeness.

The nuttiness continues with bizarre turns from Crispin Glover and Harry Dean Stanton.

Interesting is how Wild at Heart was released the same year as Twin Peaks was. The inclusion of a seedy bar named One-Eyed Jacks which appears in both productions is about all there is comparable with each other. The main events in Wild at Heart are in Texas and Washington for Twin Peaks.

Forgetting the storylines, the best part about Wild at Heart is the cinematography. Enough dark and dusty highway sequences emerge using glowing and moody lighting and foreboding cracks and crevices in other visceral scenes. Cigarette smoking has never looked as sexy or dangerous as it does in this film.

Despite there being admirable and perfectly Lynch-y elements to Wild at Heart (1990) the film is just too far overboard for me to fall in love with.

I’ll pull out my copies of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive any day before Wild at Heart.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Diane Ladd

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Willem Dafoe, Best Cinematography (won)

Election-1999

Election-1999

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick

Scott’s Review #1,225

Reviewed January 30, 2022

Grade: A

Election is a 1999 black comedy film directed by Alexander Payne. He co-wrote the screenplay with Jim Taylor, and it’s based on Tom Perrotta’s 1998 novel of the same name.

Anyone film fan who knows Payne’s work can attest that they are noted for their dark humor and satirical depictions of contemporary American society. His best is About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), and Nebraska (2013).

And Election ranks among his finest works.

The subject matter at hand this time out is politics and education with the familiar Payne setting of Omaha, Nebraska. Right smack in the middle of the American Heartland.

Only his second film, Election stars Reese Witherspoon in her breakthrough role that built momentum towards her becoming a superstar. She is utterly fantastic and this would rank as one of her best roles, if not the best.

And, no, that is not a slight against her iconic portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001), which I love, but Tracy Flick gets my vote.

The film itself is a masterpiece and has become a cult classic. Payne takes a subject matter, a rivalry between a teacher and student, still considered somewhat taboo. He takes into question authority and tomfoolery and then spins everything around.

Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), is a straight and narrow, well-liked high school government teacher who notices that successful student Tracy Flick (Witherspoon) uses unethical tactics and manipulation to get exactly what she wants.

Since Jim believes that Tracy has ruined his friend’s marriage he already despises the girl. Though, could he also be in love with her?

When Tracy decides to run for school president, Jim feels that she will be a horrible influence on the student body. He convinces Paul (Chris Klein), a dull but popular student-athlete, to run against Tracy. When she becomes aware of Jim’s secret involvement in the race, a bitter feud develops between teacher and student as they try to outsmart the other.

The writing in Election is brilliant. The audience may see Jim or Tracy as the villain or perhaps both. They resort to drastic machinations to get their way. Tracy wants to win at all costs while Jim becomes obsessed with ensuring that Tracy does not win.

I love the high school setting and the normal goodie two shoes Jim resorting to ballot cheating and affairs to best his rival. Tracy is no better as she manipulates and conspires to win the election.

I also worry that the viewers who should see this film either won’t or won’t get the message that Payne is sending.

The editing is flawless and the quick cuts that allow each character a chance to narrate and share their perspective is a major win. We see each motivation and understand what makes each character tick-especially Jim and Tracy.

The acting is wonderful and enough praise cannot be reaped upon Witherspoon and Broderick for their sick and twisted performances. They each radiate desperation and dark comedy and delightful is the perkiness and drive that Witherspoon gives Tracy.

When she bakes cupcakes in the hopes of bribing her classmates for votes, this counterbalances Broderick’s angry and grizzled Jim. He is at war with a student and goes for the jugular instead of being the role model a teacher should be.

It’s delightfully fun though many high school teachers may not appreciate the deviousness.

There’s also a cool LGBTQ+ inclusion which is a positive.

I’d venture to compare Election to American Beauty (1999), made the same year and with a similar tone. Cynical and witty, they both question morality and ethics especially with the sugar coating of a high school or small-town Americana.

Satire never looked finer with both films.

Made in 1999, how dubious the realization is that Election continues to have relevance as time goes by. In the current state of United States politics where lying, cheating, and a blatant refusal to accept election results unless one side is the victor is running rampant, and shockingly tolerated by some, Payne’s message has never been more powerful.

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Direction-Alexander Payne (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Female Lead-Reese Witherspoon, Best Debut Performance-Jessica Campbell

Don’t Look Up-2021

Don’t Look Up-2021

Director-Adam McKay

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #1,220

Reviewed January 16, 2022

Grade: A

In the times of the Covid pandemic, ‘water cooler’ films have ceased to exist. Once, employees would gather around the water cooler to discuss a current film or television show. These days, with many working from home this activity has waned.

Too bad, because Don’t Look Up (2021) is one of those films.

It was not on my radar until a flurry of scuttlebutt and controversy brought the film to the forefront of my mind and many others. Super topical and mired in irony, everyone should see it, but those who need to won’t.

It’s a brazen and in-your-face look at how science and facts are dismissed by some who can’t see the forest for the trees, or in this case, a giant comet speeding towards planet Earth. In the year 2021, with controversy over Covid preventing mask-wearing and preventative vaccinations, Don’t Look Up portrays those as simply stupid.

As they are.

Those viewers who are conspiracy theorists, Trump supporters, or I daresay even too self-absorbed to look past their own lives are the ones who should see the film the most. You will be mocked and used as fodder for the entertainment of the more intelligent species of human beings.

But, perhaps learn a thing or two?

Led by director Adam McKay, famous for satirical works such as 2015’s The Big Short, he satirizes the current state of worldly affairs masterfully, using political comparisons and the world-weary science versus non-science approach.

McKay also writes and produces.

He enlists an all-star cast who were chomping at the bit to be part of his relevant and brilliant project. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Mark Ryland, and Cate Blanchett are just a handful of participating stars.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is an astronomy graduate student who along with her professor Doctor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes a discovery of a comet on a collision course with Earth. It is expected to arrive within six months and destroy most of the planet.

They are shocked and dismayed when their attempts to get anyone to pay any attention are hijacked by the media and the President of the United States of America, President Orlean (Streep). Instead, folks in high power attempt to use the ‘story’ for either ratings or political gain.

With the help of Doctor Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). While Randall embarks on an affair with Brie, the scientists attempt to gain the attention of the social media-obsessed public before it’s too late.

As the title states, just look up?!

President Orlean and her psychopathic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), are patterned after former President Donald J. Trump and his son. Their nastiness and dismissive attitude, only thinking of personal gain are despicable.

Hysterically and satisfying, they each get their proper comeuppance.

Orlean’s demise at the end of the film is particularly satisfying. Stay post-credits for this treat.

Don’t Look Up is not a conventional film- it’s better than that. Its special sauce is its powerful message and reassurance for viewers to not take good old-fashioned common sense for granted. Despite the naysayers, the use of one’s brain is a valuable commodity.

The urgency of the matter is not meant to be taken for granted but there is enough comedy elements to classify it as such- a dark comedy.

DiCaprio is terrific in the lead role. Nervous and having difficulty expressing himself, his frustration is felt as he tries to warn the world of impending doom. The actor can play any character and it’s great seeing him add a sexy, middle-aged nerd to his repertoire.

Lawrence is a killer. Her character has no filter and is known to burst into rage making her lash-out scenes pleasing. Kate will call an idiot an idiot. Her outburst at the President is a particularly terrific scene.

Despite the laughter, Don’t Look Up (2021) sends a dire message. It mirrors the current times and what trouble we are in. The grim final sequence when Randall, Kate, and family sit around the dinner table enjoying a Thanksgiving-style meal is also a reminder to keep loved ones close and treasure every moment.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

Dark Shadows-2012

Dark Shadows-2012

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #1,203

Reviewed December 3, 2021

Grade: C+

Sometimes a great idea doesn’t pan out. On paper, relaunching the unique and gothic 1960s daytime television series Dark Shadows with a tribute on the big screen with even bigger stars sounds wonderful.

The endless possibilities and the inevitable nods to history are head-spinning.

Sadly, the film version of Dark Shadows (2012) directed by Tim Burton is miscategorized and misunderstood by all involved. It’s billed as a dark comedy rather than horror or even fantasy and comes across as more of a mockery than a real nod to the series.

It’s completely over-the-top and misses any of the wonder and the spookiness that made the long-ago black and white show a daily adventure.

I do not profess to have seen the entire series but I have watched much of the first season and understand the appeal. Fans will be disheartened with Burton’s botched attempts to recreate a great idea.

Depp, a frequent guest star in Burton’s film works, strikes out as the iconic character Barnabas Collins, the eighteenth-century vampire who awakens in the twentieth century though he’s not as bad as he was when he feebly stepped into the Willy Wonka character in 2005.

Yikes.

The only saving grace is the creative and magical visual effects and set design which provides enough imagination and macabre fascination to at least partly save this otherwise messy experience.

The plot gives a brief explanation of the history. In eighteenth-century Maine, Barnabas Collins (Depp) presides over the town of Collinsport. A rich and powerful playboy, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who deviously makes him pay. Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him alive.

Two centuries later, Barnabas escapes from his tomb when builders are erecting a Mcdonald’s and finds the current 1970s Collinsport a very different place. His once-grand estate has fallen into ruin, and the dysfunctional remnants of his family have fared no better.

His resurrection creates complications and drama for the entire family.

Burton knocks it out of the park with the visuals. The gothic mansion, in particular, is right up his alley and he embraces the possibilities with gusto. Every creak or wind sound heard within the mansion co-aligns with the dark and dreary purples and brown colors. Frequent candles mark the proper mood and investigating the vast number of rooms was something to look forward to.

Since the rest of the film sucked I had nothing better to do than fully embrace and focus on the art and set designs.

Heavyweights like Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Depp do their best but oddly overact in nearly every scene. Their direction must have been skewed towards comedy instead of adding any meat or emotional relevance to the characters.

The original series created something strangely dramatic and compelling on a shoestring budget. There was a delicious haunting and grabbing nature that made you anticipate the next episode and who might next fall victim to the vampire.

The film veers into a vastly different territory. Burton and Depp’s Barnabas struts around emitting one-liners for intended giggles. The other characters appear to be dressed for Halloween and are dumb and morose. The feeling I got was that of a retread to a situation comedy like The Addams Family rather than a horror soap to be taken seriously.

The sexual references and the occasional bloody vampire effects are okay but seem peppered in to justify the dark comedy.

Even an uninspired cameo by shock rocker Alice Cooper is perceived as a weak attempt to add something frightening or dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Shadows (2012) performed poorly at the box office and was derided by true fans of the series and almost every other film critic. This caused Barnabas and his family to slink back into their coffins possibly for good.

What a shame.

Falling Down-1993

Falling Down-1993

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring-Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,192

Reviewed November 6, 2021

Grade: B+

Falling Down (1993) is a film with a message or arguably several messages. It’s about one man who is fed up with just about everything and is at the brink of a full-throttle meltdown. What the film does though is mix entertainment with this message about socio-economic unfairness, inequality, etc.

Whether or not people take these elements as seriously as they should is at risk from the popcorn qualities. It’s almost like it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a kick-ass thriller, a black comedy, or a fantasy?

The film certainly entertains though.

This is unsurprising because director Joel Schumacher is at the helm as director. The man is a mainstream director churning out hits like The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997) throughout the 1990s. Some were more successful than others but Falling Down is his best work.

I am a big fan of Falling Down with the awareness that the messages peppered throughout may not be taken as seriously as they ought to be. And the reason is that there are too many of them. It’s almost as if they are boxes being checked off a list.

But it bears repeating that the entertainment factor is fabulous.

One scorching summer day in Los Angeles William Foster (Michael Douglas) an already frustrated middle-aged man who is both unemployment and divorced is having a terrible day.

When his car breaks down on the freeway, he leaves his vehicle and begins a trek across the city to attend his daughter’s birthday party. As he makes his way through urban neighborhoods, William’s frustration and bitterness are tested at every turn resulting in violent encounters with various people, including a vengeful gang and a pursuant veteran police sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall).

Unfortunately for Prendergast, today is the day before his long-awaited retirement.

Douglas delivers an excellent performance as Foster. He makes the character relatable to every viewer who has ever felt so fed up they want to discharge on the people responsible for the unfairness. He only takes his anger out on those who deserve it and that makes the character somewhat of a hero.

The white supremacist, the belligerent Korean grocery store owner, the gang members, and the lazy construction workers all deserve their just desserts. Throughout the film, I cheered Foster mightily and chuckled at his wit.

My favorite sequence occurs at the fast-food joint named Whammy Burger. All Foster wants is his breakfast but he arrives one minute past the cut-off as the unsympathetic cashier smugly tells him. He proceeds to ravage the restaurant in anger.

Despite the humor that Schumacher adds the message must be taken seriously. Minority characters are aptly shown as repressed or not treated well and that point sticks with me until the end.

The least interesting story point is the entanglement between Foster and his ex-wife Beth, played by a woefully underutilized Barbara Hershey. The Oscar-nominated actress can do so much but her talents are wasted in a throwaway role as the underdeveloped wife character.

I never warmed to Robert Duvall’s police sergeant character either and while sympathetic to Foster’s cause because of a situation with his son, the plot point never develops fully. Prendergast’s overbearing wife and a young police officer he seems smitten with are never explored well.

Despite great talent, the film belongs to Michael Douglas.

The mood and cinematography deserve accolades. The humidity is suffocating and the layers of smog overlooking Los Angeles hammer home the stuffy nature of the film. One can imagine the sweaty environment leading to explosions of anger.

What Schumacher does besides entertain the audience is show them that a once successful man who once had a great job and happy family life can lose it all and snap. Falling Down (1993) shows that what happens to Foster can happen to anyone.

Let’s live each happy day to the fullest while we can.

French Exit-2020

French Exit-2020

Director-Azazel Jacobs

Starring-Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges

Scott’s Review #1,188

Reviewed October 29, 2021

Grade: C+

French Exit (2020) is a mediocre effort that disappointed me. I expected to be dazzled by the eccentric French culture and sequences that I had anticipated. While there are some location shots in historic Paris, there are not enough to outpace the lackluster writing and unlikable characters the film offers.

Plot-wise, the intriguing premise teeters into the far-fetched, so much so that the result becomes banal and silly.

The film is a miss and should be skipped in favor of other films like Midnight in Paris (2011) and Last Tango in Paris (1972) which both offer better French flair and superior storytelling.

A widowed New York socialite named Frances (Pfeiffer) and her meandering son Malcolm (Hedges) move to Paris after she spends the last of her husband’s inheritance. Sixty years old and now penniless, she borrows a friend’s apartment where she plans to live out the rest of her days anonymously. Her husband, Franklin, has been dead for twelve years and all that’s left of him is a cat named Small Frank, who may or may not embody his spirit.

Based on the previews I anticipated an adventure involving cobblestone Parisian streets, delicious bakeries, and cultural french music. A glimpse of the famous Louve or Eifel Tower would have been a cherry on top. While there are a few sequences of Frances and Malcolm walking along Parisian streets and an apartment that provides good french flavor there is not enough to be considered an achievement.

The main character is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. As a fan of some of her more recent projects like Mother! (2017) a brilliant film directed by Darren Aronofsky, the character didn’t catch fire for me. She’s pretty snobbish throughout and never really gets her comeuppance or learns any lesson.  As the protagonist, I was baffled as to why I was expected to root for a woman who is a bitch.

Hedges, a fantastic actor, plays his part according to script but the morose, one-dimensional Malcolm, is uninteresting, and a so-so romantic plot involving his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots) even less so.

On the plus side, Valerie Mahaffey steals the show with her quirky, comedic performance as Reynard. A fan of Frances’s she befriends the woman who initially has no interest in her and coldly dismisses her. An eccentric, her odd demeanor and style are infectious, and she won me over immediately especially placed side by side with the other less flavorful characters.

She was deservedly rewarded with recognition and received a Spirit Award nomination. Hopefully, this leads to more juice roles from Mahaffey.

Azazel Jacobs, who has had modest success on the independent film circuit offers moderate impressive direction but loses me with the addition of not one but two tired seance sequences. A cat inhabiting a dead body and coming to life with the deceased person’s voice is drab and better suited for low-brow light comedy.

To make matters worse, the inclusion of a plump medium Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald) is about as cliched as you can get.

There is not enough substance to give French Exit (2020) higher than average marks. Pfeiffer, taking center stage and doing the best she can, deserves better roles as she charges into her senior years. She’s got gusto so let’s give her better material.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Female-Valerie Mahaffey

O Lucky Man!-1973

O Lucky Man! -1973

Director-Lindsay Anderson

Starring-Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,174

Reviewed September 1, 2021

Grade: A-

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a satirical black comedy that mixes musical songs with a message of capitalism by the driven protagonist. Like a great fine wine, the film has aged well and is still relevant decades later. The film is a slow build but by the end of the lengthy running time of nearly three hours, I was enamored and hummed the title song repeatedly.

In fact, I’m still humming it as I write this review.

Suggested is to watch O Lucky Man! in two or three segments for full appreciation. One sitting would be incredibly tough since some of the events require some level of reflection and thought.

An ambitious young British man, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is determined to be successful at all costs. Debuting as a coffee salesman, Mick is quickly promoted within his company. Events take a series of bizarre turns when Mick is abducted by a military agency.

Later, he becomes smitten with the gorgeous Patricia (Helen Mirren) and winds up working for her father, sinister executive Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). As Mick’s tale continues, his experiences get progressively stranger.

The clever aspect is that just when you think Mick’s life is dour and drab he rebounds more successful than ever. Hence the title of the film. So, there is an element of adventure and romance amid the capitalist plot.

Lindsay Anderson, who directed O Lucky Man! re-casts McDowell again in the same role he first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson’s film If… (1968). I did not realize this at the time I watched O Lucky Man! and I think this knowledge would have made me catch on to the events and the sub texture even more.

Now, I need to rewatch If…

I did however ruminate constantly on McDowell’s other iconic role in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex. The characters are quite similar save for Alex being a juvenile delinquent instead of a rising corporate guy like Mick is. This is in large part due to McDowell’s looks and acting style. His trademark sneer and bright blue eyes make him mesmerizing in both roles.

I even spotted an actor who played one of the infamous droogs!

A plus to the film is that several actors appear in multiple roles, some difficult to distinguish. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who’s who.

There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between McDowell and Mirren but it’s interesting the shifting characteristics of the characters. And Patricia is fascinating. When she inquires why people work so hard for things instead of just taking them we realize that she places no value in things because she’s never had to work for them. She’s a rich, daddy’s girl.

There are reasons not to like her but I still did. When she winds up in a homeless lot it’s shocking. And I also loved the character of Mick and his epic journey. He is imprisoned and then reformed in a humanistic way just like Alex was in A Clockwork Orange.

But the best part of O Lucky Man! is absolutely the music. Anderson takes periodic breaks from the drama to simply treat his audience to a musical number all performed by Alan Price. It’s comforting to sit back and enjoy the unforgettable tunes that pepper the film. One could argue that the songs almost usurp the main action but I found them, great companions, to the other.

As if there was any doubt, the soundtrack was widely lauded and was a huge financial success.

A surreal effort, sometimes happy or tragic but always insightful and oftentimes delightful, McDowell, Price, and Anderson are at the top of their respective games. O Lucky Man! (1973) is a terrific watch brimming with good juices if one just has the patience to let events marinate.

Promising Young Woman-2020

Promising Young Woman-2020

Director-Emerald Fennell

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham

Scott’s Review #1,132

Reviewed April 13, 2021

Grade: A

Emerald Fennell, making her film directorial debut, kicks her viewers in the ass with major help from star Carey Mulligan, with Promising Young Woman (2020). The actress gives the best performance of her career. The film is a sexy and haunting experience mixing black comedy and witty dialogue with an important and timely subject matter- the abuse and victimization of young women by men.

Both men and women can be held responsible as Fennell makes abundantly clear. Predators often have a share of people who choose to “look the other way” and thereby enable. This is a constant theme throughout the film involving many characters who are called out for their passivity.

Fennell makes this point during two of the best scenes of the film as she calls out a high-powered dean and attorney for their betrayals. The scenes are so powerful that I wanted the characters to suffer as much as the revenge seeker does.

There is also a wackiness in the pacing and dialogue that reminds me quite a bit of the 1999 masterpiece, American Beauty.

The film is depravity, bizarreness, and brilliance all rolled into one. I felt this film in my bones.

Almost every scene is a treat in the mysterious and unexpected and the film features peculiar characters and creative musical score renditions and includes a scene and music from the underappreciated masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). Fennell knows her classic cinema.

Mulligan stars as a woman named Cassie who seeks to avenge the death of her best friend, who was a victim of rape when they were in medical school and their young lives had potential and such possibility lay ahead of them. Cleverly, we never see her friend, named Nina Fisher, but she is of vital importance and nearly a major character herself despite her absence.

Everyone said Cassie was a “promising young woman” until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. But now at age thirty and still living at home, her parents suggest via a giant suitcase for her birthday, it may be time for her to move on.

Cassie is tough to figure out since she’s wickedly clever, sometimes wisecracking, and tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. She goes to nightclubs looking drop-dead gorgeous and lures men to her rescue pretending to be inebriated.

What happens when they go back to their pad is shocking, dark, and justified. The men will never see this coming.

Before the presumption is that Cassie is nothing more than a bad-ass, her intentions are not only admirable, but she has a heart and desires love. Promising Young Woman is a dark character study.

Besides the powerful story, Promising Young Woman is riddled with interesting cinematic techniques. Cassie’s parent’s lounge in their afternoon one afternoon watching The Night of the Hunter, a dark fairy tale for adults. Later, a haunting version of Britney Spear’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” complete with a string arrangement is featured most uniquely.

All the supporting players add pizzazz and strength, some in odd or unclear ways until certain revelations bubble to the surface. Jennifer Coolidge as Cassie’s strange mother, Bo Burnham as the smitten Ryan Cooper, and Alison Brie as Cassie’s college friend Madison McPhee are the best examples.

Bo and Madison have the most to hide but will they or won’t they face Cassie’s wrath is the question. Not much is worse than a woman scorned.

But the main draw is Mulligan. Startlingly good, with an astonishingly powerful, deeply layered performance by her. She showcases a remarkable acting range, where she effortlessly alternates from brash to darkly humorous and at times, emotionally vulnerable in her best performance to date.

Two scenes stand out to me. The first is a delicious scene between Cassie and the female dean of her school, played by Connie Britton. At first dismissive and annoyed by Cassie’s accusations, Dean Elizabeth Walker finally takes notice when she believes that Cassie had kidnapped her teenage daughter and left her with a group of drunken frat boys. What comes around goes around!

The second is the finale wedding scene, interestingly not featuring Cassie other than by text messages. As the happy young couple says their vows a parade of police cars ruins the moment and the audience cheers victory. It’s a satisfying moment.

The screenplay is original, fresh, and timely. In the “Me Too” movement the timing is vital and makes the subject matter relevant. Fennell wrote the screenplay- is there anything she can’t do?

Promising Young Woman (2020) is an exceptional film. It’s a controversial revenge film but it’s so much more. Taking a powerful subject matter and examining the hypocrisy, of men and women, is telling and eye-opening. That is why this film is very important to see and brings awareness to a situation society still too often deems as okay.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Emerald Fennell, Best Actress-Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Emerald Fennell, Best Female Lead- Carey Mulligan (won), Best Screenplay (won)

Bone-1972

Bone-1972

Director-Larry Cohen

Starring-Yaphet Kotto, Andrew Duggan, Joyce Van Patten

Scott’s Review #1,121

Reviewed March 12, 2021

Grade: B+

It’s tough to review a film like Bone (1972) because it’s a tough film to be categorized. Is it a satire or does it dissect racism and classism? The truth is it does all of the above and offers a bizarre and jagged cinematic experience that will leave the viewer perplexed, scratching his or her head, and ruminating about the experience long after the credits roll.

I was originally expecting Bone to be a 1970s exploitation film but it’s not that at all.

One lazy sunny day, in Los Angeles’s illustrious Beverly Hills, local salesman Bill (Andrew Duggan) and his wife Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten) bicker beside their luscious pool. They are horrified when they realize a filthy rat has become stuck in the filter. This provides some symbolism as the film chugs along. When they rush to call the exterminator a threatening black man named Bone (Yaphet Kotto) suddenly appears.

Frightened, they firstly assume he is with the exterminator company but when he terrorizes them with the now-dead rat they offer him money to leave. While they search for banking materials, Bone realizes that Bernadette and Bill are not as wealthy as appearances would dictate. Bone sends Bill to the bank to withdraw cash or else he will rape and beat Bernadette. At the same time, Bernadette becomes suspicious of Bill’s financial intentions.

There are moments in the film that left me feeling like I was watching something bizarre or of little sense. I’m still not sure what the opening scene of Bill filming a television commercial featuring cars involved in wrecks with dead bodies inside. The images are bloody and horrific- artistic but unclear is the message.

The conclusion also is unclear. When one character appears to murder another, a third character vanishes. Naming the characters would ruin the story but suffice it to say one may wonder if the entire film was a dream.

The realization that Bill and Bernadette make individually is that they don’t care for one another and would happily leave the other to die. We know little about their life from before but assume, while rich, they live a life of boredom, each yearning for some spice. How many nights does Bernadette sit alone by the pool drowning her sorrows in Chardonnay?

Yaphet Kotto is wonderfully cast. Soon to be well-known as a James Bond villain in Live and Let Die (1973), his character in Bone starts as menacing and slowly becomes sympathetic almost rootable. When he reveals to Bernadette that he cannot maintain an erection unless he is raping someone, the thought is sickening, but he also appears vulnerable and feeble.

He gradually became my favorite character of the three whereas in a conventional film he would be the one not to root for.

Bill’s experiences are a mind-fuck. Tasked with withdrawing money from his bank to save his wife, he thinks why should he? He meets a gregarious woman at a bar played by Brett Somers and a chatty young woman online at the bank, who beds him and makes him a salted steak. They frolic away the afternoon as, for all he knows, his wife could be dead!

The issues of classism and racism are the meat and potatoes of Bone and where the film really succeeds. We feel the pain of Bone when he as a black man must stand out like a sore thumb in swanky Beverly Hills. He has had to struggle for every crumb he has gotten while he sees spoiled brats like Bill and Bernadette getting everything and working half as hard. It’s not fair and the audience is meant to empathize with him.

Larry Cohen, well-known for the low-budget campy circuit, creates a perplexing project with added black comedy. The rat, the chatty girl, the X-Ray lady, everyone in the film is wacko!

Bone is a weird film that I don’t know what to make of.  I took it as a glimpse into social issues and I loved the food references, the steak, and eggs mostly. The plot and conclusion will leave you wondering but I guess that’s better than forgetting the film five minutes later. I’m still trying to make heads or tails of it.

After Hours-1985

After Hours-1985

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette

Scott’s Review #1,069

Reviewed October 9, 2020

Grade: A-

After Hours (1985) is a gem of a film. When thoughts of director Martin Scorsese are conjured, usually Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), or Goodfellas (1993) are his films that immediately spring to mind.

Scorsese’s decision to create a pared-down independent film was met with enormous success and accolades for the very first Best Feature indie film victory and Best Director honors. The experience is a black comedy set within the gritty and unpredictable underbelly of Soho-New York City in the 1980s.

Mixing comedy with satire, Scorsese leapfrogs from similar content in The King of Comedy (1983) to this film made only two years later. Any fan of New York City will cheer with joy at the authenticity achieved since the film was shot on location there. The Big Apple in the 1980s was a notoriously violent cesspool so the genuine setting and the use of dark streets and alleys is an immeasurable treat and adds much zest to this unusual film.

Yuppie nice guy, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), works hard as a computer data entry worker by day and shares an encounter with a quirky young woman named Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in Manhattan coffee shop. After she gives him her number and leaves, he is unable to stop thinking about her and embarks on a late-night adventure to go and see her at her apartment.

The night does not end how he thinks it will. Not by a long shot, as he spends the rest of the long night meeting various women and other strange characters as he traverses around the city attempting to get back home. He has lost his money and is broke.

The great aspects of After Hours are its bizarre characters and the cinematography that offers a tantalizing view of downtown Manhattan. The film is atmospheric and zany in its gloomy and steamy side streets and odd locales sprinkled with color.

A dingy bar, a sophisticated artist’s apartment, and a man sculpture that follows Paul everywhere are usurped by the film’s strangest and most interesting set, Club Berlin, an “after hours” club inhabited by punks who want to shave Paul’s head into a mohawk.

I enjoyed this film as a sort of “a day in the life of Paul” adventure story, albeit a gothic one. The film concludes wonderfully as the sun begins to rise just as the film ends and thus Paul’s wild night finally ends. I was chomping at the bit with the thought of what a new morning would bring and the possibilities of reuniting with any of the women he encountered the night before, either dead or alive.

Particularly charming to me while watching After Hours, the decade of decadence well into the past, are the relics once commonplace in everyday life. A phone booth, the traditional yellow cabs, and desktop personal computers are heavily featured. These items, relevant when the film was made, now seem like throwback niceties that make the film endearing and like a glimpse into someone’s time capsule.

I did not pick up on much authentic romance between Paul or any of the female characters- Marcy, June, Gail (Catherine O’Hara), or Julie (Teri Garr), but maybe that’s the point. While one winds up dead, not one, but two of them pursuit him, and not in a good way. The film is mystical, weird, and energetic. The inclusion of Cheech & Chong only adds to the revelry.

Sadly, underappreciated and too often forgotten, After Hours (1985) is a Scorsese treat worth dusting off now and then. The birth of the Independent Spirit Awards has a lot to owe to this film for grabbing top honors and the admiration works both ways. For a glimpse at the creative genius that is Martin Scorsese, this film gets an enormous recommendation.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Martin Scorsese (won), Best Female Lead-Rosanna Arquette, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Dr. Strangelove-1964

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Peter Sellers, George C. Scott

Scott’s Review #958

Reviewed November 13, 2019

Grade: A

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War and fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film, timely in the 1960s, is as relevant decades later amid the chaos that ensued during the 2016 United States Presidential election, and the tumultuous years to follow. The film is powerful, brave, and important.

The story centers around an unhinged United States Air Force general (Sterling Hayden) who orders a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The plot then follows the President of the United States, (Peter Sellers), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. The film also follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was fresh in viewer’s minds when this film was released, and President John F. Kennedy was recently assassinated. The United States and the Soviet Union were hardly best buddies. The film was a robust offering not just for the timing but also because political satire in the film was fresh. Unintentionally clever is the ironic controversy that exists between the two leaders of the nation’s nearly sixty years after the film was released.

The acting is great. Peter Sellers plays three prominent roles, and each is quite different from the others. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer, President Merkin Muffley (what a name!), the President of the United States, and Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-using nuclear war expert, and former Nazi. Each glistens with goodness as the actor chomps at the bit, making them precise and unique, careful never to stray too far overboard into ridiculousness.

Director Stanley Kubrick wisely chooses black and white cinematography with stellar results and prominent film making techniques. The film, creative and progressive as many 1960’s films started to become as the decade blossomed, feels like it could have been made in the 1940s. Kubrick, well known for masterpieces such as The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) delivers perhaps the oddest film in his catalog with Dr. Strangelove.

The story does not feel dated and the dialogue remains crisp and razor-sharp in its delivery and meaning. With fast dialogue delivery and a monotone vocal style, the film is entertaining and humorous, not taking itself too seriously, yet offering a poignant and important idea come to life. The film keeps gnawing at the viewers that as far-fetched as events seem, the possibility they could become real is more than a bit scary.

Who can forget the final sequence of the looming nightmare of the mushroom clouds, set to Vera Lynn’s hopeful We’ll Meet Again?  Since the film has hints of 1940’s cinema style, the rude awakening that the 1960s produced in terms of nuclear weapons and insecurity, hits home in this sequence.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) is pure satire but frightening in its realism and the uncertainty that one crazy leader could lead an entire nation to detrimental results. The film highly influenced later satires and unique styles in film making- Wes Anderson creations immediately spring to mind. One can ruminate in the different possibilities the film offers- in a way the absurdity of the situation, and the unthinkable way the situation could easily become reality.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stanley Kubrick, Best Actor-Peter Sellers, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Jojo Rabbit-2019

Director-Taika Waititi

Starring-Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #955

Reviewed November 6, 2019

Grade: A

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is quite simply put a satire. This type of film, and this style of filmmaking, is not intended for all pallets. The subject of Nazis and Adolf Hitler will hit too close to home for some viewers, especially considering this film is being classified as a comedy, albeit a dark one.

With this risk in mind, the film has a fabulous message, is quirky, well-acted, and a marvelous piece of work. But it is a gradual, acquired taste, and not everyone will leave theaters feeling satisfied. I sure did.

Director, Taika Waititi, a Jewish man, is careful to toe the line with his story, teetering close to the edge, but never going too far overboard.

He is careful not to offend those who may have close ties to World War II, the horrific events that took place or disrespect the scars that remain. Rather, he teaches a lesson of acceptance, humanity, and pathos. A laugh one moment leads to tragedy and tears the next, making Jojo Rabbit quite the robust emotional experience.

The time is the 1940’s, setting Germany, as Roman Griffin Davis portrays the title character, a Hitler Youth who finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa, (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic.

Energetic and excitable, he joins a training camp where he is unable to kill a defenseless rabbit, hence being given his new nickname. Jojo slowly comes to question his beliefs, while dealing with the intervention of his imaginary friend, an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi).

He eventually forges a close bond with Elsa.

As the film kicks off it immediately reminds me of a Wes Anderson style of storytelling. Think The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) or Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

With quick editing and fast monotone dialogue, the characters initially appear silly and trite, with witty responses to weird situations. As the relationships deepen the audience comes to fall in love with them. Davis is a wonderful child actor and the heart of the film.

Johansson’s Rosie, the mother, is secretly anti-Nazi. She’s got flair, pizzazz, and a good pair of shoes. She states that to dance is to be alive, words of wisdom she provides to Jojo. They come upon a few dangling bodies perched in the center of town for all to see.

They have been caught aiding Jewish people and are a deathly symbol to present. Rosie tells Jojo not to look away for these people did what little they could do. This scene is a poignant one.

Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a Nazi captain who runs the youth camp, initially seems to be a buffoon and a one-note character. He deepens as not just his patriotism, but his sexuality is called into question.

The LGBTQ angle is implied, but only skirted over so that the point is vague and mysterious. The Captain stands very close by his second-in-command, Finkel, and a scene at the pool will make many wonders about the true relationship between the men.

Finally, Yorki, Jojo’s best friend, is just adorable, providing sweetness and genuine quality that is undeniably benevolent. McKenzie, as the frightened yet strong Elsa, is courageous to a fault. Stubborn and tough, she softens to Jojo as they get to know each other.

Her mysterious boyfriend, Nathan, never seen on-screen, plays a prominent role and is a key to the relationship between her and Jojo. The characters are an integral part of the film.

Made in 2019, a volatile time on planet earth, and especially in the United States, the film breathes fresh air into the world of inclusion and acceptance. Much of this is slowly revealed as events transpire to a crescendo.

As the war ends, several lives are forever changed, some good, others tragic, but each connected to the others, enriching their respective lives. Waititi celebrates the gift, joys, and heartbreaks of life.

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is a film that makes the viewer think and challenges him or her to soak in innocence and evil. Despite the subject matter, the film is not cold or harsh, nor does it disrespect history. Incorporated are death and tragedy mixed with learning and strong relationships.

The film is a great experience and an important find among many routines and mainstream projects. Jojo Rabbit perks up cinema, and hopefully the viewer, with a beautiful message.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Scarlett Johansson, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh, Lucy! -2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Japanese culture meets American culture is the underlying component of Oh Lucy! (2017), an interesting dark comedy and feature film debut by female director Atsuko Hirayanagi.

The film was once short but progressed into a full-length project, deservedly receiving Film Independent nominations for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature.

The co-settings of Tokyo and Los Angeles and the tremendous performance by star Shinobu Terajima make this a worthy watch.

Middle-aged Setsuko (Terajima) lives an unfulfilled daily existence in Tokyo, working a drab office job and living in a cluttered one-bedroom apartment riddled with comforting junk.

She wears a protective mouth cover, common in her city, to avoid breathing in bad air, but also chain smokes. She is unpopular at work and wishes to date more but is unlucky in love.

One day she is convinced by her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) to take English lessons and falls for her handsome instructor John (Josh Hartnett), who nicknames her “Lucy” making her don a blonde wig and talk “American”. A classmate, “Tom” (Koji Yakusho) seems interested in “Lucy”.

When Mika runs off with John to Los Angeles prompting Setsuko and her bitchy sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow suit concerned for her safety, the adventure begins.

Setsuko and Mika compete for position with John, her vacation from her dreary job and her growing obsession with him energizing her, as a rivalry between Setsuko and Ayako hit full throttle. Setsuko begins to exhibit bizarre and unbecoming behavior.

The film delves into an interesting characteristic among Japanese females; rivalry, as the subject matter is heavily female-centered.

The trio of Setsuko, Ayako, and Mika are family, and love each other unconditionally, but do they like each other?

Immediately we are made aware that long-ago Setsuko stole Ayako’s boyfriend, or so she claims. Eventually, Setsuko tries to steal Ayako’s man, so there is a reoccurring conflict between each of the women. Ayako has a rebellious streak, we assume just like Setsuko did at her age.

Despite the triangle/quadrangle of drama and issues, the main story and focal point belong to Setsuko and her infatuation with John. From the first moment they embrace, as part of a teacher and student dynamic, Setsuko is hooked, longingly remaining in his arms until he insists she let go.

This is a key moment an intrigue looms- does she feel more comfortable and confident with her blonde wig and new persona? Does this give her courage and the guts to flee her boring life for a chance at love in Los Angeles?

John loves Mika, or more importantly, he has no feelings for Setsuko, despite her best efforts. In a pivotal and hilarious scene, John and Setsuko smoke marijuana as he teaches her how to drive in a deserted parking lot.

As they feel the effects of the drug, Setsuko comes on to John and before he knows it they have sex. This only deepens her obsession with him as she decides to get the same tattoo as he has. He realizes she may not be stable as the audience, still enamored with the character, becomes to pity her.

Hirayanagi is careful not to make her film a downer and she does an amazing job in that regard. When Setsuko returns to her meager existence in Tokyo she is unceremoniously fired from the job she despises but has held for decades. Is she devastated or liberated? Perhaps a bit of each, but she has reached her breaking point and succumbs to sadness, longing for John.

Fortunately, a surprise appearance by an unexpected character uplifts her spirits and the entire film.

Oh, Lucy! (2017) is a great example of an independent film from an inexperienced director that is laden with good qualities. A wounded main character who is sympathetic to viewers leads a dynamic story of loneliness, melancholia, but also with witty dialogue and crackling humor, and a multi-cultural approach.

A hybrid Japanese and American film with location sequences in both areas, the film will satisfy those seeking an intelligent, quick-witted experience.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Shinobu Terajima, Best First Feature

Thoroughbreds-2018

Thoroughbreds-2018

Director-Cory Finley

Starring-Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy

Scott’s Review #880

Reviewed March 26, 2019

Grade: B

Thoroughbreds (2018) is an independent dark comedy with snippets of creative filmmaking and an intriguing premise that loses steam towards the conclusion, closely mirroring too many other similarly themed indies.

An enjoyable geographical setting but the lackluster monotone dialogue never allows the film a mind of its own and is therefore deemed unmemorable.

The lead actors are fine, but the experience lacks too much to raise the bar into its territory suffering from an odd title that has little to do with the story.

Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are former childhood friends whose differing popularity levels have severed their relationship over the years. When Amanda’s mother pays Lily to socialize with Amanda under the guise of tutoring her, Amanda catches wind of the plot and confronts Lily.

This event brings the girls closer and in the macabre fashion, they begin to hatch a scheme to plan the death of Lily’s stepfather, wealthy Mark (Paul Sparks) whom she perceives as abusive. It is revealed via flashback that Amanda euthanized her crippled horse to spare his suffering which resulted in animal cruelty charges.

The setting of affluent Fairfield County, Connecticut, presumably wealthy and snobbish Greenwich is a high point of the film and an immediate comparison to the 1997 masterpiece The Ice Storm.

Bored rich kids who perceive themselves to shoulder all the world’s problems, while subsequently attending the best boarding school imaginable is delicious and a perfect starting point for drama and intrigue.

Lily’s domineering stepfather and her passive and enabling mother are clever additions without making them seem like caricatures.

The dynamic between the girl characters is intelligently written and believable especially as they crack witty dialogue between each other. Lily is academic and stoic, humorously said to suffer from an unnamed condition that results in her being unable to feel or show any emotion.

Amanda is the perfect counterbalance as she is sarcastic, witty and serves up one analytical observation after another.

From a physical perspective, the statuesque Lily is believable as the more popular of the two and the perceived leader.

As the girls elicit the participation of local drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) into their plans, at first voluntary and ultimately by blackmail, the plot takes a turn for the formulaic and the redundant.

The setup seems too like a standard dramatic story arc and becomes cliched as the once willing participant is subsequently thrust into the scheme. There are no romantic entanglements between the three main characters and subsequently leaving no characters to root for either, one strike to the film.

Otherwise, the “been there, done that” monotone dialogue has become standard in dark comedies so that in 2018 the element seems dated and a ploy to develop offbeat characters.

Director Cory Finley borrows heavily from fellow director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums-2001 and the Moonrise Kingdom) in this regard so that the freshness of the characters and story wears thin mid-stream.

The title of the film could be better as a quick scene involving Amanda and a horse in the beginning and a brief mention of horses envisioned in a dream by one character is all there is about the animals.

I expected more of incorporation between animal and human or at least a more poignant connection.  The privileged lives of Lily and Amanda seem the perfect correlation to bring horses into the central story in a robust way.

Finley is on the cinematic map, crafting an effort that proves he possesses some talent and an eye for a wicked and solid offering.

Thoroughbreds (2018) represents a film too like many others in the same genre to rise to the top of the pack but is not without merits and sound vision. It will be interesting to see what this up-and-coming director chooses for his next project.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Screenplay

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Beatriz at Dinner-2017

Director-Miguel Arteta

Starring-Salma Hayek, John Lithgow

Scott’s Review #844

Reviewed December 18, 2018

Grade: B+

Thanks to a well-written screenplay and a thought-provoking idea, Beatriz at Dinner (2017) spins an interesting concept about politics and class systems discussed over dinner.

Salma Hayek and John Lithgow give tremendous performances as characters with opposing viewpoints helping the film to succeed, though a flawed ending and cookie-cutter style supporting characters detract from the overall enjoyment.

Set in southern California, presumably around Los Angeles, Beatriz (Hayek) works as a holistic health practitioner. Moonlighting as a massage therapist, she becomes stranded at the wealthy home of one of her clients, Kathy (Connie Britton), who she views as a friend.

Kathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner where she encounters real-estate mogul Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and the two gradually develop a feud based on their differing politics and viewpoints.

The setup and flow of Beatriz at Dinner is commendable and paces the film nicely, sort of a day in the life of Beatriz. The film begins as the character awakens to her pet dogs and goat noisily beginning their day and culminates late at night, the dinner party concludes, and the last glass of wine consumed.

In this way, the film has a nice packaged feel that keeps the story confined and structured.

Being an independent film, the budget is small and most of the scenes are shot in the spacious modern house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which works well. Gorgeous and vast, many rooms are used as conversations among the characters occur, many overlapping each other.

Beatriz at Dinner could have been a play, and this helps with the good flow.

Hayek and Lithgow are the main draws as their initial guarded pleasantries progress to venom and violence, albeit largely imagined.

Initially thinking that Beatriz is the household help, Doug is inquisitive about her entry into the United States and makes numerous insulting gestures, mispronouncing her Mexican hometown and mocking her profession.

Beatriz calmly endures his racism and begins discussions about how his business harms animals and people as emotions escalate. The actors play off each other wonderfully and share chemistry.

With each glass of wine, Beatriz becomes more brazen and shares a story of how people in her village lost their land to real estate development and shares a humanistic viewpoint while Doug sees life as to be lived while you can.

Despite their dislike for each-others lifestyle the film has Beatriz and Doug at least listen to one other and attempt to understand the other’s opinion, which is more than can be said for the supporting player’s motivations or lack thereof.

Besides Kathy, while sympathetic to Beatriz’s calm demeanor and life-rich philosophies, she also realizes that Doug is her family’s meal ticket.

The other party attendees are written as polite yet uninteresting twits with nothing to talk about except a reality star’s nude photos, dinner, or a handful of other nothing topics.

Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and David Warshofsky have little to do other than stand around and react to the meatier written material that Hayek and Lithgow get to play.

Beatriz at Dinner had me in its corner until the film takes a jarring turn during the final act. As Beatriz leaves the party and sets about on her way home, she hastily decides to grab a letter opener and bludgeon Doug to death as the dinner guests hysterically realize what is happening.

Instead of leaving things be the film chooses to make this only Beatriz’s fantasy and then have her go to the ocean and walk into the waves. Does this mean she commits suicide or is this another fantasy? Unclear and unsatisfying is this final sequence.

I am not sure why Beatriz at Dinner is considered a comedy. Perhaps a mild dark comedy, I argue that the film is a straight-ahead drama and lacks the witty humor that made dinner party-themed films such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Boys in the Band (1970) are such masterpieces.

Beatriz at Dinner (2017) is a valiant attempt at offering social commentary in a time when discussions like these are needed in films and the project largely succeeds.

An impassioned yet subdued performance by Hayek deservedly earned her a Female Lead Independent Film nomination. Rich writing garnered the film a Best Screenplay nomination too, but a big whiff at the end lowers the overall experience a notch.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Salma Hayek, Best Screenplay

The Favourite-2018

The Favourite-2018

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #843 

Reviewed December 17, 2018

Grade: A

The Favourite (2018) is a deliciously wicked comedy about greed, jealousy, and rage during early eighteenth-century England.

The primary rivalry consists of two feuding cousins, each jockeying for position and “favor” with the Queen, both resorting to dire methods to achieve these goals.

With splendid acting and grand designs, director Yorgos Lanthimos adds to his growing collection of odd and compelling works with the dark comedy offering.

The film takes place amid the British and French war of 1708 as a physically and mentally ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules the country by way of her confidante and secret lover, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz).

Though deals and modifications must be made with the ruling Parliament Anne has the final say in all decisions including doubling the state tax to pay for the war.

When Abigail (Emma Stone), a distant cousin of the Duchess, and former royalty herself, arrives seeking work as a servant, she quickly plots her way to the bedside of the Queen at all costs.

Lanthimos, known for such bizarre treats like Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is not afraid to get down and dirty and wrestle with the macabre subject matter.

The Favourite is the director’s most mainstream affair yet and is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day filmmakers. As he now charters into royal territory the possibilities are endless in a world of politics and scheming.

Some morose highlights include an abused bunny, naked tomato throwing, and pheasant shooting.

The film is not kind to animals.

Despite being a mainstream affair in the world of Lanthimos, The Favourite is a bizarre and brazen experience. The heaps of award nominations are quite remarkable given the film will not be enjoyed by all audiences.

Despite being categorized as a comedy (see more below) the film is not an easy watch and none of the characters are likable. Abigail is sympathetic at first and quite humorous but as the plot develops her true colors and motivations are exposed.

Conversely, Anne and Sarah are initially despicable, but garner support as the story evolves.

The comic elements are the best elements and clever lines come at a deliciously rapid pace. The best dialogue is the sparring between Sarah and Abigail as the women realize they are bitter enemies and each attempt to one-up the other in a chess game for Anne’s attention.

Anne, known for fits of emotion, stuffing her face with cake and vomiting, and berating the servants, offers her comic wit. The language is salty bordering on vulgar, but that is what makes the experience so stellar and morosely enjoyable.

The musical score adds muscle and the diabolical string arrangements give The Favourite a gruesome, morbid atmosphere.

The feeling of dread is prevalent and downright haunting at times as the audience, knowing that some sort of shenanigans will soon occur, does not know when or how.

This quality enhances the overall product and gives ambiance to an already superior piece.

Finally, the acting in The Favourite is brilliant and worth the price of admission. With heavyweights like Colman, Stone, and Weisz this is unsurprising, but the gravy is in the individual moments.

The chemistry the women share is what works best as every scene sparkles with exceptional delivery and a sly sense of humor. When the three women appear together-these are the best scenes.

Deserving of all the accolades lauded upon it The Favourite (2018) is an experience that contains all elements of a fine film though one that is quite the unconventional work.

With glistening art direction, set pieces that shine with authenticity, and costumes that would make Scarlett O’Hara drool with envy, The Favourite takes all of its parts and spins a crafty tale that encompasses the entire film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Actress-Olivia Colman (won), Best Supporting Actress-Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Ingrid Goes West-2017

Director-Matt Spicer

Starring-Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen

Scott’s Review #832

Reviewed November 16, 2018

Grade: A-

Ingrid Goes West (2017) is a deliciously wicked black comedy and a bold statement about the current obsession with social media.

Combined with a dynamite performance by young actress Aubrey Plaza and smart writing, the small independent film provides a summertime treasure and two Spirit Award nominations for good measure.

The film is a breath of fresh air and a fine achievement by new director Matt Spicer.

The film immediately catapults the audience into the action as we are treated to a closeup of a sobbing Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza).

We immediately know that she is not right as she fumes with the realization that she has not been invited to her Instagram friend’s wedding and proceeds to interrupt the reception and attack the bride with pepper spray. Ingrid is carted off to a mental hospital for analysis and recovery.

Once released we learn that Ingrid’s mother has recently died leaving her a tidy sum of money as an inheritance. Ingrid suddenly becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular and narcissistic young woman who Ingrid follows on Instagram.

Taylor becomes Ingrid’s idol as she decides to move to Los Angeles and insinuates herself into Taylor’s life. She stalks Taylor and steals her dog only to pretend she rescued it, thereby becoming a close friend of hers.

Gradually, Ingrid’s actions become more and more psychotic as Taylor catches wind of Ingrid’s antics.

Aubrey Plaza is perfectly cast as the unstable, manipulative title character. She possesses such strong comic timing, and with her wide eyes, nervous mannerisms, and determination to get what she wants, the audience roots for and falls in love with her.

On paper, we should dislike the character as she takes advantage of nearly everyone in her path, but Plaza embodies her with empathy and smarts. Delightful to watch is how she gets out of scrape after a scrape with her quick thinking- Plaza truly excels in the role.

Bold and calculating are words to be used to describe Olsen’s performance as the selfish Taylor, and this may very well be why it is easy to root for Ingrid.

The character is so plastic and conniving that it is intensely satisfying to see her as the foil. Olsen usually plays good girl roles and possesses a girl next door quality, but in this part, she nestles nicely into a bitch role. Olsen also contains great timing with her character’s dialogue delivery, so much so that Olsen and Plaza had me in stitches during their one on one scenes.

I adore the Los Angeles setting, beyond appropriate for a film about phoniness, obsession, and plastic personas.

Beneath the sunny veneer lies darkness and tomfoolery in every direction and besides Ingrid’s landlord/somewhat boyfriend, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), there are not many likable characters.

Attending party after party and lavish club, restaurant, or get-away, being involved in the “scene”, the City of Angels is the perfect backdrop.

One gripe that knocks Ingrid Goes West down a rung for me is how the character of Taylor’s artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) is written.

Ingrid realizes as she has a poolside heart to heart with the depressed Ezra, in one of the more authentic scenes, that his wife is not the girl he knew when she moved to L.A. He and Ingrid seem to connect, but shortly after it is as if the conversation never happened and he is ferociously taking his wife’s side again.

A nicer approach, and one I was hoping for, is that Ingrid and Ezra would ride off into the sunset, but the film misses this opportunity.

The entire film is a clever piece of work. From the performances, the dark humor, and the witty dialogue, Ingrid Goes West (2018) succeeds on nearly all levels.

A modern-day Single White Female (1992) with a social media slant, the film goes for the gusto and gets there. I cannot wait to see more from up-and-coming star Aubrey Plaza as the actress has the comic and dramatic chops to go very far.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Screenplay, Best First Feature (won)

Office Space-1999

Office Space-1999

Director-Mike Judge

Starring-Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston

Scott’s Review #811

Reviewed September 16, 2018

Grade: B+

Having become somewhat of a cult classic since its theatrical release in 1999, Office Space is delightful to watch for anyone who works in a corporate environment- or ever has- they will undoubtedly “get” this movie. The dark humor and antics may be lost on those who have not, but for the rest of us, the film is quite the treat.

One may never view a stapler or the common office cake party in the same manner. Yes, the story and characters are somewhat over-the-top, but more than a few clever scenes ring with truth. But over time will the film become dated?

Writer and Director, Mike Judge, carves a story about life within a 1990’s software firm. Reportedly, the story is based on Judge’s cartoon series Milton, and his first foray into live-action filmmaking. His first film was Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) if this gives any indication of the type of humor that resounds. Fraternity boy-minded, yes, but the writing is crisp and oftentimes rife with fun. The film was not a box-office smash at the time of release yet is well regarded by critics.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a frustrated IT programmer who works for a company named Initech. Alongside two colleagues, one of whom is comically named Michael Bolton (not that Michael Bolton), they despise their sneaky boss, Lumbergh (Gary Cole). The situation gets worse when two consultants are brought in to downsize the company, leaving everyone in panic mode.

After a failed hypnotherapy session Peter becomes relaxed and confident, even winning praise from the consultants and scoring a promotion. This puts him at odds with Lumbergh, especially after he begins dating a waitress, Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), and assumes she has also slept with him.

Office Space shines the most with the crackling dialogue and clever scenes that take place within the confines of the office. With stuffy cubicles for miles and the standard corporate jargon to make into witty lines, the subject matter is ripe for the picking. With Cole’s sly requests for his employees to work weekends, Judge creates authenticity and freshness that is incredibly appealing to corporate workers. He successfully knocks down office politics with intelligent, wisely crafted, memorable satire.

In the supporting role of Milton Waddams, character actor Stephen Root is successful at stealing the show with his mumbling and bumbling character. Nearly invisible to all his colleagues, Milton is eventually moved to a basement desk and left out of the cake party.

When somebody borrows his prized red stapler, all hell breaks loose. Increasingly disgruntled, Milton’s fate is instrumental to the hilarious conclusion of the film and he ultimately gets his revenge satisfyingly to all.

The romantic element between Peter and Joanna is okay, but not at all the highlight of the film. In fact, the romance seems unnecessary to me but undoubtedly added since comedies of this sort usually require something heartfelt to appeal to mainstream audiences.

Aniston, popular at the time for her role on the television show Friends, was on her way to becoming a marquee movie star, but not quite yet, so she must be content with the standard “girlfriend” role. She’s cute, but hardly anything more.

Office Space (1999) is a fun ride, but the film is not a groundbreaking experience in great film techniques, inventive ideas, or any other technical or story achievements. What it offers to fans, it does very well and feels like a breath of fresh air in its genre.

The film is a comedy, but not a dumb comedy as a myriad of similar style offerings have been released since the beginning of cinema. With the witty one-liners and comic gold, Office Space is a film to be remembered.

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

I, Tonya is a 2017 biopic telling of the life and times of the infamous American Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, notorious, of course, for her alleged involvement, along with her husband and his friend, in the attack of fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The event drew monumental media coverage after the attack with the uncertainty of Harding’s knowledge or involvement and her subsequent guilt or innocence continues to be debated.

The film itself is a dark and violent comedy, never taking itself too seriously, and immediately presents the disclaimer that the stated “facts” in the film are open to interpretation and dependent on who you ask.

I, Tonya isn’t preachy or directive to the viewer, but rather offers up the life and times of the skater in a story form. The film features tremendous performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya and her despicable mother, LaVona.

I, Tonya is told chronologically, culminating with “the incident” in 1994.

However, the story begins back in the mid-1970s as Tonya, just a tot at the tender age of four, is as cute as a button and shrouded with innocence. One cannot help wonder if director, Craig Gillespie, known for independent films, purposely made this wise casting choice.

We see Tonya, once an innocent child, journey into a life of violence, abuse, and tumultuous living. Harding grew up cold and hard and endured an abusive, difficult relationship with her mother- the pressures to be the best skater simply never ended. Even upon achieving success Tonya never felt good enough or loved by her mother.

We then experience Tonya as a fifteen-year-old girl, fittingly first meeting her boyfriend and later, husband Jeff, Gillooly played well by actor Sebastian Stan. The early scenes between the two are sweet, tender, and fraught with the emotions of first love.

As explained by the actors, this was a short-lived time of bliss, and the relationship soon disintegrated into abuse, rage, and chaos.

Certainly, the main point of the film is to debate the guilt or innocence of Harding, which Gillespie peppers throughout, so it is never clear what to believe or how the audience should be made to think.

“Interpretation” is the key here- some may see Harding as a victim of life’s circumstances and the hardships she had to endure and may place sympathy upon her. Others may view Harding as off-putting, potty-mouthed, and even icy and violent herself with a big chip on her shoulder.

In one scene she publicly belittles the hoity-toity judges who never cut her a break and give her less than perfect scores.

A clever technique that the film delivers is to have the actors frequently speak to the camera, and thus the audience. This is achieved by either interview style or for the action in the film to simply cease and either Robbie, Janney, Stan, or whomever, turn to the camera and express their version of the events.

In this way, I, Tonya possesses a creative, edgy, indie feel.

How brilliant are the performances of both Robbie and Janney?

Robbie, a gorgeous woman, portrays a “red-neck” to the hilt. Through her bright blue eyes, her face is quite expressive- relaying pain, anger, and a seldom triumph. The film often slants the scales in a sympathetic way towards Harding, but it is the talents of Robbie that make us feel this sympathy.

Janney hits the jackpot with a delicious role she sinks her teeth into. A cold-hearted, vicious character, through facial expressions, we occasionally get a glimpse of LaVona, perhaps softening, but as we do, the character does something even more despicable.

A good surprise for fans who remember the real-life events and the real-life players will be treated to a sequence of the real Tonya, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn Eckhardt, which play over the film ending credits.

How similar in looks are both Robbie to Harding, with her feathered, frizzy, 1980’s style hairdo, and Janney, a dead-ringer for the boozy, chain-smoking LaVona, with her mousy brown bob haircut, complete with scruffy bangs.

Viewers will leave theaters confused, unsure, or perhaps just simply perplexed by what they have just seen, but will most certainly feel thoroughly entertained and may even depart chanting some upbeat 1980’s rock tunes that the film uses throughout.

Thanks to wonderful acting and a strong story, I, Tonya is a success.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Margot Robbie, Best Supporting Actress-Allison Janney (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Actress-Margot Robbie, Best Supporting Female-Allison Janney (won), Best Editing (won)