Tag Archives: Drama films

When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

When Love Comes (1998) is a New Zealand film, spoken in English, by filmmaker Garth Maxwell.  It starts slow and muddled but quietly captures me with its thoughtful and humanistic tones of emotion, conflict, and sexuality.

There are no subtitles which makes the dialogue hard to follow given the accents and may knock the film down a smidgen for me but the main stories are enthralling with deep texture.

More or less an ensemble of six acquaintances, and three of the characters get the most screen time.

The main character is washed-up singer Katie Keen (Rena Owen) who struggles to create a new life for herself while coping with her absent admirer Eddie and living with her best friend, Stephen.

Stephen is in love with sexually confused ex-hustler Mark, while, band members Fig and Sally, smitten with each other, yearn for success while traipsing around town and the beaches together.

The most interesting storyline is LGBTQ+ centered. Given the time was 1998 when gay films were just starting to make their presence known, Stephen and Mark have the most depth.

Admittedly, a couple of story points are disjoined like why the men have trouble admitting their feelings for each other and Mark’s anger issues cause him to smash a window. In the end, their story wraps nicely and Maxwell gets points for making the audience appreciate the couple.

The lesbians get short shrift. Are they gay or bisexual? If bisexual, are they a couple or what is their arrangement? Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to watch shred the guitar and beat mercilessly on the drums as they raucously perform but little is known about their lives.

Even though When Loves Comes is an ensemble the lead character is Katie. I fell in love with her character because she is the most well-written. At one time a big pop singer, her star faded and she is at a crossroads.

As she whimsically gazes at the crashing waves the expression on her face reveals the deep thought and regrets in her life.

Unfortunately, her love interest, Eddie, is heard from but does not appear in the flesh until pretty deep into the film. Therefore, there is not much rooting value for the couple and we don’t know much about Eddie.

Surprisingly, despite this miss, there is a connection I felt for Katie and Eddie. Rena Owen is a terrific actress revealing expressions and a veneer we deeply want to explore.

There is a decent amount of flesh in the sex scenes which makes for some fun but the wise move is to stick to the character motivations and watch them develop.

This can be said with only three of the characters and I wished for more grit from Eddie, Fig, and Sally.

When Love Comes feels lopsided at times but succeeds as a slow-build film. Nothing is done quickly or forcefully instead crafting long scenes of dialogue but the conversations have something to say rather than existing as filler or a bridge to get to more important scenes.

I respect the cinematography because it has a softer independent film look which is of course what it is. A big budget is not needed for a film about people and the sequences showing Aukland are wonderful.

Keeping the time frame in mind, I wish I saw When Love Comes (1998) at the time it was released. It would have packed a harder punch than it does twenty-five years later when plenty of similar-toned films have been made.

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

Director-Joel Schumacher

Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #1,336

Reviewed January 23, 2023

Grade: A-

Having been fortunate enough to see the legendary Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera makes any film version impossible to usurp compared to the live stage show. The lights, the sets, the booming music, the dreaded chandelier, and presumably phenomenal acting all make for an unforgettable experience.

Since we are talking film, the cinematic version of The Phantom of the Opera (2004) is breathtaking and nearly twenty years late to the game, I should be scolded for having not seen it earlier like when it was initially released.

It’s based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical of the same name, which in turn is based on the 1910 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

Critics were not kind to the film though most audiences liked it so I almost didn’t see it save for my hubby renting it and encouraging us to watch it.

I am glad I did because this film encompasses a feast of riches.

I wonder aloud if the fact that it was directed by Joel Schumacher who created the dreadfully bad Batman & Robin, made seven years earlier in 1997 influenced bad reviews. After all, nobody likes their superhero movies butchered and payback’s a bitch after all.

For the novice fan, the summary is as follows. Gerard Butler stars as the disfigured, reclusive Phantom who roams beneath the Paris Opera and takes budding star Christine (Emmy Rossum) under his wing.

But as he falls for her, she finds love with handsome and porcelain-like Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, leaving the Phantom none too pleased.

If nothing else, and there is something else, the film is a spectacle. Gorgeous Parisian sophistication drips from the screen in nearly every scene from the gloomy catacombs to the enthralling opera stage.

The costumes reek of French style, glamour, and texture, and the principle cast is easy on the eyes, to say the least.

These treats are merely a warmup to the astounding and professional art direction, making the winter sequences dreamlike and gothic, capturing the tone perfectly.

This encapsulates the dire story sequence and aids in the viewer feeling the pain of the Phantom.

The all-too-familiar numbers are modernized in just the right places especially “The Music of the Night” which could have been played on popular radio stations. The lively “Masquerade” parlays into the lovely “The Phantom of the Opera” duet between the Phantom and Christine in his ugly lair.

I didn’t feel the chemistry between Rossum and Wilson the same way I did between Butler and Rossum and maybe that’s the point. Wilson doesn’t have much to work with since the character isn’t the main attraction.

I never wanted Christine to ride off into the unknown with Raoul but ached for the pain that the Phantom felt for Christine’s kindness.

As much as I like Wilson the actor I champion the casting of Rossum (unknown at this time) and Butler who is the top draw in the talent department.

His loud and colorful musical numbers enrapture me as a viewer and grip me with his pain. The passion and magnificence are on full display. Butler is my favorite actor.

Minnie Driver is perfect as the spoiled diva, and the supporting cast, including veteran Simon Callow, gives the cast further credibility.

I was transported to another world while watching The Phantom of the Opera (2004) by the sheer extravagance of what was on the screen. Schumacher more than deserves top accolades and respect for his production.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Learn To Be Lonely”

Cinderella-1977

Cinderella-1977

Director-Michael Pataki

Starring Cheryl Smith

Scott’s Review #1,333

Reviewed January 14, 2023

Grade: B

This telling of the legendary fairy tale Cinderella (1977) differs significantly from the sentimental and wholesome story of a rags-to-riches Disney princess that we all know and love.

It’s for adults only; even many adults will scurry to grab the remote and turn it off before their significant other or, god forbid, children, catch them slyly peeking at what emerges from the screen.

The film is pornographic. This fact doesn’t offend me or influence my critique and in reality, piques my interest tremendously in how the filmmakers turn Cinderella into a porn film.

It’s 1970s-style pornography with the bulk of the nudity going to the female characters with barely any male flesh to view though there is some. During the fleshy numbers, there is music and dancing to be had usually with the female performers singing while topless.

The familiar story involves a lonely prince (Brett Smiley) who tries several young women in his kingdom in his search for the one he met at a royal ball. Naturally, it’s Cinderella (Cheryl Smith) the gorgeous yet abused waif who sings and dances while doing her chores, longing for a better life.

The prince is jaded and feels no satisfaction from traditional sex as he boldly reveals in the musical number ‘My Kingdom Won’t Come’. His sex-crazed father the King (Boris Moris) decides to host a lavish ball so that his son can find what he wants.

You see, the weapon that Cinderella possesses is a special snapping female genitalia that the prince experiences at the ball while blindfolded and in an orgy. This quality is irresistible to him and he must find and be with the woman who is the one who has the magic vagina.

The film is naughtily personified and the fun is seeing how far out director Michael Pataki and screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli will go for a shock. Pataki was mostly an actor who dabbled in directing which makes sense since Cinderella feels widely experimental.

Events get off to a perfectly indecent start when the royal chamberlain played by Kirk Scott wanders the forest encountering nude females who coquettishly make out with each other for fun and the affection of the handsome man.

There is more than the sex scenes to keep one thrilled. The costumes and the makeup, specifically the disgraceful pancake colors applied to Cinderella’s devilish stepsisters are in your face and gratifying. The gowns at the ball are professional and stylish.

The film teeters into art film territory at times like when Cinderella performs a musical number while soaping in the tub and while parading through the forest.

Her wacky Fairy Godmother is a black man played by Sy Richardson who is just a burglar intent on robbing Cinderella’s home but he does provide her with her special ‘gift’.

These many idiosyncrasies make the film Cinderella a cross between a lewd John Waters film and a bombastic Russ Meyers party film.

Cheryl Smith is excellent in the title role providing a gorgeous face and figure with a lovely voice. She perfectly delivers the numbers and carries the film.

Among all the many incarnations of Cinderella, circa 1977 is the most outrageous and courageous. How this film was even made and with an R rating baffles me. It’s nearly impossible to find on streaming or in stores and a mere spontaneous purchase was how I was even able to see it.

My suggestion is for cinematically creative film fans to give Cinderella (1977) a whirl but with extreme caution. Viewed with the wrong companions could be disastrous and a 3 am start time with adult nibbles is highly encouraged.

No kiddies allowed.

The Whale-2022

The Whale-2022

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau

Scott’s Review #1,328

Reviewed December 28, 2022

Grade: B+

The Whale (2022) is the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker that I have been a big fan of since viewing the disturbing Requiem for a Dream in 2000. That film made me cringe and squirm in the best possible ways.

His knack for creating psychologically dark yet enthralling films continued with The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010), and mother! (2017).

Any release by Aronofsky will be watched by yours truly though I am well aware I will likely leave the theater drawing deep breaths and trying not to feel disgusted. On the flip side, there is a good bet that I will feel titillated and secure that I have seen something with artistic distinction.

Not an easy watch, The Whale left me satisfied, in an Aronofsky way, but recognizing the overwhelming dirtiness and nastiness of the supporting characters and the pitiful nature of our protagonist, a good, decent guy.

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an obese, six-hundred-pound English teacher who makes his living teaching online classes from the safety of his meek apartment. Embarrassed by his weight he refuses to ever turn on his camera.

Racked with guilt over abandoning his family and grieving the loss of the male partner he left them for, Charlie is slowly eating himself to death. Over a week, he tries to find redemption when he reconnects with his angry teenage daughter.

He is cared for by a night nurse and the sister of his deceased partner named Liz (Hong Chau) while visited by a church missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), and his estranged daughter Elle (Sadie Sink, and his ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton).

Let’s just give Brendan Fraser the Oscar right now. His performance is a major reason to see the film and he envelopes himself in the role while making a ‘comeback’ to the Hollywood circle.

The actor does more than wear a fat suit. He delivers an emotional turn as a lost soul who has spiraled out of control since his partner’s death. A recluse, he wheezes and struggles to walk to the bathroom while downing two meatball subs with extra cheese for lunch and two pizzas for dinner.

In a heartbreaking scene, he goes on an eating binge fueled by anger, vomiting it all up soon after. Charlie is a kind and decent person, having faced demons most of his life and trying to live out his final days in peace. He is suffering from heart failure and will not go to the hospital.

Fraser seamlessly delivers the best work of his career. He channels the proper emotional honesty that makes the character believable. He is hurting and the audience is along for the ride in his journey to find purpose before the inevitable occurs.

Before I criticize the supporting characters, I’ll stress that the acting by Sink, Morton, Chua, and Simpkins is excellent. Any award recognition provided to any of them will be well-deserved. For upstarts like Sink and Simpkins, this could be the boost to a lengthy career.

With that said, the cruelty heaped on Charlie is astonishing and difficult to watch making the characters of Elle and Mary unlikable. Thomas and Liz are a bit better until Thomas reveals that both Charlie’s weight and sexual orientation disgust him.

Liz is Charlie’s best friend and the most relatable but she is unnecessarily harsh with him when he chokes on food and doesn’t exude much warmth. Of course, she has her demons like the other characters.

A controversy regarding The Whale has emerged and there is a certain ‘fat shaming’ to be endured. If I were overweight I would not see the film since the face stuffing and cruel fat criticisms are part of the experience.

I ruminated throughout The Whale how easily it could be a stage version. Only one set, Charlie’s dark and dusty apartment in rural Idaho is used and only five principal characters exist.

Fraser’s performance is pure genius and worth the price of admission but there is difficulty with some other aspects of The Whale (2022).

Aronofsky fans should see the film but fairweather fans or non-fans should be forewarned that the film is a heavy and depressing journey.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Brendan Fraser, Best Supporting Actress-Hong Chau, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Gangs of New York-2002

Gangs of New York-2002

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz

Scott’s Review #1,327

Reviewed December 26, 2022

Grade: A-

Gangs of New York (2002) is an extremely violent and bloody epic by director Martin Scorsese that is an exquisite piece of filmmaking nearly flawless in every way except maybe its length and story.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully choreographed and filmed crime drama with perfect costumes, art direction, and cinematography. Still, on the other, it’s tedious and lengthy, especially during the final hour, with choppy storytelling and seemingly one long continuous battle.

Scorsese being Scorsese and knowing his way around crafting an excellent film or two left me ruminating over the cinema and pondering whether I’d ever need to see it again.

Usually, I’m all in when it comes to repeated viewings of his films,  especially Raging Bull (1980) or Goodfellas (1990) but with Gangs of New York, the sobering almost three hours running time and the non-stop bloodshed gives me pause.

It’s not a mafia film but it is an Irish-centered crime drama harkening back to the mid-1800s so there are historical lessons to be exposed to. Familiar with most of his films there are good guys, bad guys, and a criminal, feuding overtone, and lots of grit and grime to plow through.

I can’t say it’s one of Scorsese’s top 10 but it’s a grandiose, epic-length behemoth that features a host of top-name talent but there are nonetheless aspects that leave it slightly beneath his most famous works.

But that’s nearly akin to comparing the works of Beethoven, Rembrandt, or other geniuses of one art form or another. Anyone respecting Scorsese or appreciating good cinema should see Gangs of New York.

Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young Irish immigrant released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against his father’s killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) also known as ‘The Butcher’, a brutal and powerful anti-immigrant gang leader.

He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting’s inner circle. Amsterdam’s journey becomes a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860’s New York.

The most delicious part of the film is the rivalry between Amsterdam and ‘The Butcher’. DiCaprio and Day-Lewis make powerful sparring partners and as much as Amsterdam’s motivations are admirable it’s Day-Lewis who has the more interesting character.

To no one’s surprise, the actor channels his inner dictator as he method acts throughout the film. To no one’s additional surprise he steals the show away from other tremendous actors like DiCaprio, Jim Broadbent, and John C. Reilly in supporting roles.

Although I need to ask why Day-Lewis was selected for the Lead Actor Oscar category when he is a supporting one.

Worthy of mention is Cameron Diaz who, for once, plays a dramatic role of a pickpocket. Typically cast in comedic roles she shows she has acting chops.

The story gets a bit wayward about halfway through and I stopped giving the story much credence about three-quarters of the way through. It’s as if Scorsese had frenetic schizophrenia moments with tons of good ideas but none of them formulating a cohesive plot.

The New York City setting is a favorite of mine especially pre-civil war and well before the NYC of modern times even existed. The prevalence of Canal Street and various others make this northeasterner heavily invested in geography.

Finally, to bring it all full circle, Gangs of New York powerfully reminds the audience of the age-old topic of immigration and how those who have citizenship too often oppose those who desire to enter a country they once also did.

‘The Butcher’s brutal opposition is a sad reminder of how the United States of America was never united and the senseless violence towards immigrants is never-ending.

Gangs of New York (2002) may not be Scorsese’s best work but even on his worst day, he creates a film worth watching. Mixing toxic masculinity, and revenge with a crazy story he succeeds where other directors might fail by providing compelling filmmaking with all the fixings.

Just don’t get too hung up on the story points.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actor-Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“The Hands That Built America”, Best Sound

Parallel Mothers-2021

Parallel Mothers-2021

Director-Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit

Scott’s Review #1,326

Reviewed December 22, 2022

Grade: A-

The terrific quality encircling Parallel Mothers (2021), Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, is the constant homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Not to imply that the cult favorite Spanish director needs to borrow at all because he’s got a flavor and color all his own but he has fun adding some patterns of the influential director.

Anytime there is a compelling identity switcheroo or mistaken identity to enjoy it makes me think of the director. Throw in a dose of subtle lesbianism to make things interesting and you’ve got yourself an excellent film.

I also noticed a bit of Brian DePalma’s influence in the dreamy scenes but it’s primarily Hitchcockian as far as the suspense and plot twists are concerned.

The setting is Madrid, Spain (more about that later) where two women, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), meet in a hospital room where they are about to give birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident unsure of what, if any, future with the fathers they will have.

Janis, middle-aged, is exultant to become a new mother, whereas Ana, an adolescent, is scared, and traumatized. Janis encourages Ana which creates a close link between the two women assumed to never see each other again following the birth of their babies.

But a strange twist of fate brings the women back into each other’s lives and their babies are at the heart of a complicated situation.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Parallel Mothers but I assumed that Cruz played a fortysomething woman who perhaps doesn’t want to give birth at her age.

Cruz is excellent in the role of Janis, a confident woman who exudes warmth and stoicism. She is unfazed about her one-night stand and plans to live happily ever after with the baby daddy despite his wife suffering from cancer.

Janis is not delusional but knows what she wants and is determined to get it embracing her situation and caring for others in her path instead of manipulating them.

A strange situation occurs with Ana and her baby which throws everything into a spiral.

Cruz is a muse of Almodóvar’s, appearing in many of his films like Volver (2006) and Pain and Glory (2019) and she is perfectly cast in this role. She is a mature woman, a feminist, and a role model while staying true to her family roots which is how she meets the father of her child.

Anyone who has either been to Madrid or aspires to (me!) will be treated to a history lesson free of charge. Plenty of location sequences of the city, restaurants, and street life are featured. As with Almodóvar’s style, he incorporates vibrant colors, a rich aesthetic, and brilliant cinematography.

The musical score enhances the series of events perfectly.

A slight miss for me is the connection between the baby story and the other story which is the disappearance of people during Spain’s wars. I didn’t envelope the important civil war story as much as I should of or understand what the connection was.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing?

The introduction and backstory of Ana’s mother, a well-known theater actress, felt jarring and out of place. I expected more of a connection to the other events in the film than was to be found.

Almodóvar teeters more in the vein of drama than his usual witty comedies like 2013’s I’m So Excited and the results are stimulating especially with Cruz in the main role.

Parallel Mothers (2021) is a sizzling and titillating exploration of human sensation, eroticism, and emotion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Penélope Cruz, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

The Fabelmans-2022

The Fabelmans-2022

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano

Scott’s Review #1,324

Reviewed December 17, 2022

Grade: A

At seventy-five years old, Steven Speilberg continues to churn out heartfelt films, personal and resonating with anyone who sees them. Rebounding with creative energy with the remake of the brilliant West Side Story in 2021 he continues to impress the older he gets.

In what is certainly his most personal film, The Fabelmans (2022) is semi-autobiographical, telling the story of a young boy’s venture into the world of filmmaking.

The boy is presumed to be Spielberg himself.

The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s thirty-third film and I’d be hard-pressed not to say it’s one of his best. He loses no ground in creating a lovely tale of family, dreams, human bonds, and a bit of scandal.

The director takes a fond look back to his boyhood in New Jersey and the family’s subsequent move to his primary childhood home in Arizona. From there he goes to California to launch his film career.

Of course, obstacles and trials and tribulations of the Fabelman family sometimes get in the way.

Young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ a film about a carnival, in 1952. His life changes forever after viewing the riveting train crash.

Sammy starts to make his films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), who is at heart a dreamer and an artist like Sammy. His father Burt (Paul Dano), who is a computer engineer, sees filmmaking as merely Sammy’s hobby and something he will outgrow.

The story is heartfelt and compelling with sentimentality and emotion that only Spielberg can create without it ever feeling phony or forced.

To my surprise, I was teary-eyed more than I ever thought I would be mostly because the characters feel genuine and filled with humanistic sensibility. They are good people trying to do good things for each other.

Particular standouts are LaBelle, Williams, and Dano, but the cast is tremendous all around. Seth Rogen gives a career-best as Sammy’s father’s best friend and colleague who harbors a family secret.

Judd Hirsch hits it out of the park in the small but powerful role of Mitzi’s uncle. He provides invaluable words of wisdom to Sammy and a bit of understanding about his mother.

I was enthralled the most by Williams and several of her scenes made me choke up. She delivers a beautiful performance as an artist who never saw her dreams realized, instead living vicariously through her son, another dreamer.

That doesn’t mean that Mitzi is unhappy, quite the opposite. She is often childlike in her approach, buying a monkey for entertainment simply because she needs a laugh. When a secret about his mother is revealed to Sammy while editing his film it threatens to ruin their close relationship.

Dano, stoic as the methodical and quiet Burt, has deep-seated thoughts and emotions. The actor is brilliant as his range of emotions remains within himself while brimming to be let out.

Finally, LaBelle anchors the film in his debut effort. Showcasing his talent as the insecure lone Jewish boy living in affluent and white, Christian northern California, he nonetheless finds love and companionship with a classmate.

Besides the wonderful characters and storytelling, Spielberg crafts tremendous editing to reinforce the beauty of the creative filmmaking process.

Technically impressive, it also exudes a passion for creating the film. As Sammy intertwines bits of film and videotapes together to create art it’s inspiring to any lover of cinema.

The Fabelmans (2022) may be a personal story but Spielberg masterfully shares it with his audience as an homage to his own family revealing experiences and secrets held close to him over the years.

The viewer will overwhelmingly connect to his silver screen family and his love of cinema so that they may also conjure a feeling of belonging. The film contains tremendous acting, cinematography, storytelling, and everything else.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Actress-Michelle Williams, Best Supporting Actor-Judd Hirsch, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Production Design

Rocky II-1979

Rocky II-1979

Director-Sylvester Stallone

Starring-Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

Scott’s Review #1,317

Reviewed November 24, 2022

Grade: B+

Rocky II (1979) is a terrific sequel and entertaining sports film. It doesn’t recreate the wheel or challenge cinematic artistic freedom or expression or anything like that. But, it knows what it wants to achieve and gets there in fine fashion.

It’s a straight-ahead vehicle that capitalizes on the enormous critical and commercial success of Rocky (1976) and enthralls with a winning final climax- in the squared boxing circle naturally.

The film is a crowd-pleaser through and through and the powers that even let boorish actor Stallone, notoriously difficult, take the director’s reigns (yikes!).

The actor even writes the screenplay for the film.

Events begin immediately following the first Rocky film which is a wise decision. Cocky world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has defeated working-class Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) in the closest of battles with both men requiring medical attention.

Despite vowing not to engage in a rematch, Rocky’s Cinderella story has caught the national sports media’s attention, and he now has the opportunity to capitalize on his sudden fame. Creed arrogantly prods his newfound nemesis into getting back into the ring.

Plagued with financial problems and a pregnant wife Rocky is goaded out of retirement and back into the ring for the fight of his life.

Supporting players Talia Shire (Adrian), Burgess Meredith (Mickey), and Burt Young (Paulie) return to the fold which provides excellent continuity and familiarity, another key to Rocky II’s success.

Additionally, Shire, Meredith, and Young are such top-quality actors that they enhance Stallone’s performance.

Rocky is unquestionably the best role of Stallone’s long career. Never known for great acting chops, he won the lottery with this iconic role and does quite well with him on the second time out.

The character is impossible not to root for and the Italian Stallion’s charisma shines across the big screen. Who doesn’t like an underdog especially when all he cares about is the timid Adrian (another underdog)?

His ‘Yo, Adrian, I did it!’ is legendary.

I’ll never cease being enamored with Shire’s portrayal of Adrian as compared to her other iconic role of Connie Corleone in The Godfather films. Adrian and Connie are like night and day which is a big part of the fun of viewing them both.

Of course, the setup of Rocky II is contrived and the storyline dictated. We know the final thirty minutes or so will showcase the bloody rematch between Rocky and Creed and we the audience salivates thirstily as the fight approaches.

There exists some trivial plot about Adrian giving birth to their son (named Rocky Jr. obviously) and slipping into a coma only to be resurrected by determination and giving her blessing for Rocky to fight but we all know what’s coming.

Like clockwork, the final fight arrives! As the men slug it out through fifteen brutal, sweaty rounds, the editing is fantastic. The sequence feels like a retread because it sort of is but it still provides an enthralling and bombastic finale.

Fans will not be disappointed.

Sure, Rocky II suffers from a saccharine romance and a predictable ending but it’s also a feast for the eyes and the ultimate sports match-up.

Compared to Rocky (1976) the film is a letdown despite carefully keeping the Philadelphia underdog, blue-collar elements that made the original such a hit.

Subsequent sequels would parlay into nationalistic, patriotic nonsense using the Cold War as a prop but Rocky II (1979) remains all-American and robust in spirit and climax.

Tár-2022

Tár-2022

Director-Todd Field

Starring-Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant

Scott’s Review #1,315

Reviewed November 18, 2022

Grade: A

Tár (2022) is a brilliant film that truly belongs to Cate Blanchett. I cannot picture any other actress in this role but her.

I can pretty much watch any film that she appears in with my favorite being her self-titled role in Carol (2015). But Tár is a close second.

In Tár, again in the title role, she plays a brilliant woman that the audience admires but slowly finds pieces of her personality tarnished and brittle, under the surface. As the film goes on her character’s psyche is peeled back more, like an onion.

This lofty praise of Blanchett is in no way meant to diminish the rest of Tár because it revels in grandiose riches. The pacing, musical score, and other acting performances are to be championed.

When I found out that Todd Field was directing Tár my spirits began to soar.

After all, he directed In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), two tremendous films with a quiet, small-town, setting brimming with secrets and scandals which slowly rise to the surface.

The subdued locales are scrapped in favor of Berlin, a busy, behemoth of a city in Germany. Some of the events take place in New York City so there is a large, cosmopolitan vibe. The luminous settings are encompassed by a cold, grey, stark quality.

Tár requires the viewer’s absolute patience to get the biggest bang for the buck. It can be tough to follow with very long sequences but the Field/Blanchett combination makes the film culminate in a muddy and dazzling conclusion.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the groundbreaking conductor of a major German Orchestra. We meet Tár at the height of her career, in high demand, as she’s preparing both a book launch and a much-anticipated live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

What could go wrong? In Lydia’s case, just about everything.

Over a few weeks, her life begins to unravel. The result is an examination of power and its effect on those who have it and those who don’t.

The timely #MeToo movement is in top form.

The gender flip is also quite interesting since typically it’s males who have and abuse the power, but Lydia is a female and a lesbian.

I spent a good part of Tár feeling perplexed, anxious, and compelled. It’s a slow burn but I always knew, with Field in the director’s seat, that a big payoff awaited me. I happily jumped into his arms and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

The key to Tár is that many of the events have happened off-screen and before the current events of the film. There is a mysterious, suicidal, former student of Lydia’s in the mix. She sends desperate, pleading, emails to Lydia and her assistant.

We wonder how the former student ties into the events.

Lydia relies on Francesca (Noémie Merlant), her attentive personal assistant, and Sharon (Nina Hoss), her sickly wife, and concertmaster for just about everything.

Soon, a new and gifted Russian cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer) arrives on the scene. With Lydia smitten, how will Olga fit in with the other women?

Francesca, Sharon, and Olga are three pivotal female characters and each actress is exceptional in the role.

Tár reminds me of both Whiplash (2014) and Black Swan (2010) for different reasons. It envelops the world of classical music like Whiplash did for jazz and Black Swan did for the ballet world.

All three films could be watched close together and more similarities could be noticed.

Tár is a film that can be owned and watched again to piece together the jagged puzzle pieces. It’s a rare moment in the modern film where one can be re-watched.

Since it contains music, the orchestra and maestro sequences are wonderfully constructed so the coldness of the events mirrors the song choices.

Stark and boiling over with gems like mystique, uncertainty, and sophistication, Tár (2022) rejuvenates modern film with a bleak yet thought-provoking story of a powerful woman.

It’s a film that engrosses and thrills.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Actress-Cate Blanchett, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Lead Performance-Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Performance-Nina Hoss, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

In the Bedroom-2001

In the Bedroom-2001

Director-Todd Field

Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei

Scott’s Review #1,313

Reviewed October 29, 2022

Grade: A

Todd Field is an American actor and director who has made very few films. This shows that he must choose his projects carefully. The brilliant Little Children (2006) is one of my favorite films.

Based on a 1979 short story called ‘Killings’ by Andre Debus, In the Bedroom (2001) is an independent project representing what independent films do brilliantly. They tell stories about real people, with emotions, conflict, choices to make, and repercussions to face.

The story depicted in In the Bedroom is one that anyone viewing the film can either directly relate to or sympathize with any number of characters within.

The film centers on the inner dynamics of a family in transition. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) is a successful small-town doctor practicing in Maine and married to Ruth Fowler (Spacek), a music teacher.

Their son Frank (Nick Stahl) is involved in a summertime love affair with an older single mother, Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei). He professes it to be merely a fling but her violent ex-husband is jealous.

As the beauty of the summer comes to an end, these characters find themselves amid an unimaginable tragedy and must make difficult choices to persevere through the dark autumn and winter.

Having seen the film when it was released in 2001 and not again until 2022 I wondered how it would hold up over twenty years later. Would it feel dusty and dated or fall into the ‘one and done category like many films do?

The story is just as riveting and this is because of superior acting by the entire cast and exceptional direction and pacing by Field.

The lurid, quiet landscape is still and lonely in most scenes and this is frightening unto itself. The lush and serene Maine water, lobsters, lighthouses, and cabins are fraught with danger because of the human threat lurking in its midst.

The atmosphere is everything.

Fields revels in telling a story about a small town and the secrets buried beneath the surface. Even during a summer barbeque, there is tension when an unwelcomed guest arrives unannounced. With glances between characters, there is a lot of unspoken communication.

The acting is top-notch, especially Wilkinson and Spacek. Before the tragedy, they both hedgingly accept their son’s relationship with an older woman but hope it’s only a phase. They see the relationship as a major roadblock to his education at a good university.

After the tragedy, Matt and Ruth change. She becomes angry and cold, he is stoic and vengeful. Both actors seamlessly portray their characters just like real-life people.

Other players like Marisa Tomei and Nick Stahl as the younger couple met with tragedy perform their roles flawlessly.

This is a major reason why In the Bedroom resonates so well. Any viewer can put themselves in the shoes of Matt or Ruth or even Natalie Strout. Circumstances can change our perspectives and turn us into different people, at least temporarily.

The last sequence is great. A decision made by Matt and Ruth is shocking and will follow them for the rest of their lives. The key is that they do not make this decision in a rash manner but rather calmly ponder and strategize each step.

They are satisfied and have no regrets.

In the Bedroom (2001) is an emotionally honest and compelling journey into the exploration of character. It is powerful and humanistic and draws the viewer in, ever quietly so, and takes a forceful grip. It uses silence to its advantage making that silence haunting and melancholy.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Actor-Tom Wilkinson, Best Actress-Sissy Spacek, Best Supporting Actress-Marisa Tomei, Best Adapted Screenplay

Independent Spirit Nominations: Best First Feature (won), Best Male Lead-Tom Wilkinson (won), Best Female Lead-Sissy Spacek (won), Best Screenplay

Up the Sandbox-1972

Up the Sandbox-1972

Director-Irvin Kershner

Starring Barbra Streisand, David Selby

Scott’s Review #1,308

Reviewed October 18, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blonde-2022

Blonde-2022

Director-Andrew Dominik

Starring-Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale

Scott’s Review #1,305

Reviewed October 7, 2022

Grade: A

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

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

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

My only real thought was who would be playing her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Ana de Armas

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris-2022

Director-Anthony Fabian

Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #1,301

Reviewed September 24, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone gets a happy ending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Golden Pond-1981

On Golden Pond-1981

Director-Mark Rydell

Starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Scott’s Review #1,297

Reviewed September 8, 2022

Grade: A

A beautiful and quiet family drama, On Golden Pond (1981) is a brilliantly acted and written story about life and specifically aging and dying. It tells one lovely story arc after another, involving the relationships between its principal characters.

With heavyweights like Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda signed on to star how could the film not be a success? It was not only a blockbuster in the summer of 1981 but accumulated ten Academy Award nominations and tons of other awards showing that sometimes subdued stories about human relationships win big.

The anticipation of legendary stars Fonda and Hepburn, golden icons of Hollywood, finally appearing opposite each other in a film must have made film lovers salivate back in 1981.

Norman Thayer (Fonda) is a grumpy old man trying to enjoy his golden years. He and his nurturing wife, Ethel (Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond.

Norman is experiencing memory problems and frets about dying while Ethel makes the most of it and enjoys the beautiful loons on the water and chats with the local mailman.

One year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée (Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it’s too late.

The greatest part of On Golden Pond is that it is believable. The tender love that Norman and Ethel share, the tensions between Norman and Chelsea, and the burgeoning friendship between Norman and Billy Jr. feel so very real and poignant.

Beautiful scenes emerge between the old man and a young man when Norman turns Billy Jr. on to literary classics like A Tale of Two Cities and Treasure Island. The viewer can easily see themselves in real-life situations like this or when Ethel and Chelsea discuss a strained relationship.

Years and years of memories and situations between the characters spring to life making the dialogue rich with flavor. Moving sequences like when Norman suffers a heart attack and is involved in a boating accident are teary and sentimental but fresh with emotion.

They do not feel manipulated.

As if the richly acted scenes are not enough, screenwriter, Ernest Thompson, who wrote the film based on his play provides credibility. He felt the passion the story would bring to the big screen and he was right.

As I grow older I appreciate the characters of Norman and Ethel. They stick together through thick and thin, sometimes quarrel, but love each other with a bond that can never be severed.

We all know and love couples like them.

The cinematography bristles with sweet nature. From the loons to the other sounds of summer, the camerawork elicits the light of late summertime. I constantly had to remind myself that I wasn’t really in the countryside but was in my living room.

A tearjerker that carefully combines heavy drama with comical moments that lighten the load, On Golden Pond (1981) is a truthful and emotional extravaganza about death that never feels sad or downtrodden. It’s much too clever for that and instead is an uproarious crowd-pleaser.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Mark Rydell, Best Actor-Henry Fonda (won), Best Actress-Katharine Hepburn (won), Best Supporting Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound

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

Queen Bee-1955

Queen Bee-1955

Director-Ranald MacDougall

Starring Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,288

Reviewed August 10, 2022

Grade: B+

Queen Bee (1955) is a drama served straight-up southern style and is highly recommended only for fans of legendary screen actress Joan Crawford. Made during the downward turn in her career the character is tailor-made for the actress and her fans.

She struts across the silver screen in flashy gowns and heavy makeup, admiring herself in the mirror, and firmly ensconced in bitch mode. With matching garish eyebrows and a sassy smirk, she chews up and spits out every character that she crosses paths with.

Otherwise, audience members unfamiliar with or otherwise turned off by Crawford probably shouldn’t bother with Queen Bee. There’s not a lot of character development or anything interesting story-wise other than watching her cause havoc.

Set in the 1950s American South, the vicious and conniving Eva Phillips (Crawford) takes pleasure in making the lives of those around her miserable, especially her husband, Avery (Barry Sullivan), who is so depressed he resorts to heavy drinking and becomes an alcoholic.

Meanwhile, when Eva discovers her sister-in-law (Betsy Palmer) intends to wed her former lover Judson (John Ireland), she decides to ruin their engagement for really no other reason than being nasty.

Eva’s niece, kindly Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), arrives in town and moves in with the family serving as Eva’s confidante. She is quickly warned by everyone not to cross paths with the scheming vixen but must learn for herself how deadly Eva is.

At some point early on Queen Bee turns from high drama into soap opera camp and becomes silly and plot-driven. It’s also quite melodramatic and stagey especially once events start to spin out of control.

Despite a talented supporting cast, Crawford is the headliner. The part is written with her in mind intended as a comeback vehicle when her career was dusty and in need of a dash of drama.

It’s a true delight to watch Crawford as Eva, pouring her heart and soul into a role that allows her to be as vicious as she wants. I guess in some way you could say Eva’s manipulative motivation is her claim for love but that’s a stretch and hardly justifies leading one character to suicide.

In proper form, Eva gets her due at the end of the film which left me, and likely most audiences, clapping with happiness.

Speaking of the supporting cast, I practically squealed with delight at the appearance of Betsy Palmer, forever known to horror audiences as the knife-wielding maniac in Friday the 13th (1980). Jaw-dropping is to see her play a weak, vulnerable character with no bloody ax anywhere in sight.

Barry Sullivan as Avery is also noteworthy as is a small and odd cameo appearance by Fay Wray (King Kong-1933).

Director, Ranald MacDougall wrote the screenplay for Mildred Pierce (1945) which won Crawford the Academy Award and was deemed a major comeback for her. He also wrote Queen Bee clearly with the idea that she would star and perhaps lightning would strike twice.

It didn’t, save for two surprising technical Academy Award nominations.

Palmer’s Carol offers the most poignant character summarization of Eva.  She tells Jennifer that she once read a book about bees and feels that Eva is like a queen bee who stings all her competitors to death.

For late-night satisfaction immersed in an hour and a half of delightful wickedness from Joan Crawford, Queen Bee (1955) is highly recommended.

Her scheming Atlanta socialite Eva is towards the top in a list of characters one loves to hate.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Julia-1977

Julia-1977

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards

Scott’s Review #1,283

Reviewed July 31, 2022

Grade: A

Jane Fonda leads the charge in a powerful, and gorgeously shot, drama named Julia (1977) centering around pre-World War II and the impending Holocaust.

The drama is based on the writing of Lillian Hellman, a famous playwright, which depicts the relationship between two close friends and its unexpected consequences when one desperately needs help from the other.

When Lillian (Fonda), a renowned playwright, reunites in Russia with her childhood friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), the writer is asked to smuggle funds into Germany to aid the anti-Nazi movement. In the mix is Lillian’s mentor, Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), who is unaware of her dangerous assignment.

I immediately relish the film mainly because the message is extremely female empowering and a dynamic friendship between two women is examined. This does not happen enough, successfully, in films even to this day.

Given the World War II theme, one would naturally assume the film would center around men not women, and plenty of female spies and the like, are featured.

Added to the mix is the astounding cinematography of Germany, Poland, and Russia. In truth, the film was actually shot in England and France for security and restrictive reasons but it could have fooled me since the countries look authentic and believable.

Julie looks polished and that’s hardly a gripe. The production design and costumes are perfectly shot and colored to perfection. It’s not a dowdy or drab film and it depicts little amounts of violence or torture choosing to focus on relationships and intrigue.

The suspenseful train sequence is brilliant in every way, sprinkling in Hitchcokian bits along with enough nail-biting to make the long scene a key takeaway. Lillian must keep secret her intentions as she traverses toward Russia and each train scene whether it’s the peril of being checked while crossing the border, or eating in the dining car, is captured with perfection.

A slight suspension of disbelief is the casting of the beautiful Fonda as the plain-looking playwright Lillian Hellman. In some scenes, she is made up to look haggard, tired, and homely but the trick never works for a minute.

It’s even giggle-worthy and recommended to sit back and watch Fonda give a splendid performance forgetting altogether that she is portraying the writer.

In other movies, it might have only been about Fonda from an acting perspective but in Julia, the spoils go round and round. At the very least Redgrave, Robards, and Maximilian Schell, who plays a pivotal character named Johann, must be mentioned. Each brings professionalism and believability to their characters.

But quieter parts by a woman passenger and a girl passenger are my favorites. They go from cheery to serious, speaking in a sort of code, not stating they are helping Lillian, but obviously they are using facial expressions to reveal true alliances.

A delightful point to make is that Julia is Meryl Streep’s first film role, albeit in a tiny part.

Speaking of Redgrave, when she won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award she made an infamous speech that marks a great controversy.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked Hollywood for having “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression”.

This was preceded by members of the Jewish Defense League picketing the ceremony and followed by some boos and retorts to her comments.

But back to the film, Julia does not end in a happily ever after way. A major character is killed and a baby is lost forever. But, that’s part of the truth to create a film that harkens back to a day when non-conformity led to death.

Julia (1977) is a vital film that still holds up tremendously well and in a world still filled with chaos and oppression, it’s a great reminder of the power of cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best DIrector-Fred Zinnemann, Best Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Supporting Actor-Jason Robards (won), Maximilian Schell, Best Supporting Actress-Vanessa Redgrave (won), Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

Tender Mercies-1983

Tender Mercies-1983

Director-Bruce Beresford

Starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper

Scott’s Review #1,279

Reviewed July 22, 2022

Grade: B+

Tender Mercies (1983) is a quiet, down-home film about a country musician struggling with alcohol addiction, god, and a tepid musical career. Anyone starting to elicit a yawn will have the same reaction I did when reading the premise.

It’s not the most original idea but the film works surprisingly better than I initially expected. The 1983 film is largely forgotten at this point but has a Cinderella story as its legacy.

Funding and a marketing push were limited, resulting in low box-office returns but the Academy sure took notice heaving five nominations its way.

It’s quite the departure for those expecting actor Robert Duvall to mirror his The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) character.

Tender Mercies is an actor’s film, and it belongs squarely to Duvall who delivers a wonderful performance perfectly carved out for an Oscar nomination. He instills himself into the role of a drunken, washed-up, country star vowing to stay straight.

Duvall does more than act in it, crafting and performing his songs in a role standing side by side with his role in The Apostle (1998) as his very best.

He won the coveted Academy Award for Tender Mercies.

Though the tone is low-key, filming was anything but, and reports of disagreements and blow-ups between Duvall and director, Bruce Beresford, surfaced.

The Australian director was later made famous for Driving Miss Daisy (1989) at one point even considered quitting the production.

The story tells of alcoholic drifter Mac Sledge (Duvall), who awakens one day in the middle of rural Texas after a night of heavy drinking.

His surroundings are a run-down roadside motel and gas station.

He meets the owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), and offers to perform maintenance work at the motel in exchange for a room. Rosa, whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War, is raising her young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard), on her own.

Mac and Rosa become smitten with one another, attending church, and forging a life of solitude together. Demons surface when it is revealed that Mac is a once-famous country singer with a currently famous ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley).

When the opportunity for a career comeback surfaces, Mac must choose between his new life and the life he let slip through his hands.

The story is very good for several reasons. At the forefront, Mac is a likable guy who the audience pulls for. Instead of the tried-and-true story of a man battling his demons and being ‘saved’ by a woman, Mac is already on the road to recovery and has the desire to stay sober.

Rosa Lee and Sonny merely serve as steady influences versus the bright lights and broken hearts of the country music world.

Mac also has a chance to be a father figure to someone. The bad stuff has already transpired in the past, so the audience is spared having to endure a pile of shit in exchange for a big payoff at the end of the film.

There are a couple of negatives that hold the film from being a masterpiece.

On the wagon, Mac is tempted to down a bottle of whiskey after a tragedy, but he resists the urge instead pouring the devil’s juice out onto the ground. is that a big surprise?

Buckley does her best with a one-note character, clearly in existence as an obstacle to Mac’s happiness.

But, at its core, Tender Mercies is about relationships, and though a slow under texture, delicious are the low-key scenes between Mac and Rosa Lee, and Mac and Sonny. The scenes prove that good crisp dialog with grace and heart trumps car chases any day.

They discuss life!

The cinematography of remote Texas is magical in its vastness and its loneliness. Key expressions on the face of Duvall perfectly match the western landscape.

I’m not a religious guy and I’m not a country & western guy but I enjoyed the story I was served up by Tender Mercies (1983) quite a bit.

The combination of superb acting, an emotionally charged character-driven story, and a fabulous glimpse at the dry state of Texas, made for a compelling, and relatively short viewing time of ninety minutes.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Bruce Beresford, Best Actor-Robert Duvall (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Original Song-“Over You”

A Star Is Born-1976

A Star Is Born-1976

Director-Frank Pierson

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson

Scott’s Review #1,276

Reviewed July 13, 2022

Grade: B

Four incarnations of A Star Is Born: 1937, 1954, 1976, and 2018 have been created. Strangely enough, the most recent film starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is worlds above the others, though I haven’t yet seen the 1937 version.

The fourth time is rarely the charm in film remakes.

The focus of this review, however, is largely on the 1976 film starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A hit movie at the time, and nonetheless despised by some, the film is perfectly fine though it bears multiple repeatings that it’s inferior to the 2018 film.

There is no question about that.

Amazingly, it was nominated for four Academy Awards and deservedly won for Best Song. The other nominations are generous.

Watching A Star Is Born circa 2022 the 1976 rendition suffers severely from a dated tone mostly because of the jaw-droppingly hideous perm hairdo worn by Streisand.

Did somebody think it was flattering in 1976?

The chemistry between Streisand and Kristofferson starts tepid but increases in intensity as the film plods along. The ending is underwhelming and I expected more emotional pizazz than I was given, leaving me with almost a ‘so what’ reaction to a devastating turn of events.

Until that is, Barbra sings her heart out in one unbroken, gut-wrenching shot of seven or eight minutes.

For those unfamiliar, the story surrounds John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), a troubled rock star on the decline, frequently indulging in excessive drugs and drinking and trying to write hit records.

He drunkenly wanders into a club one night and watches aspiring singer Esther Hoffman (Streisand) perform and is instantly smitten. The two begin dating, and soon John lets Esther take the spotlight during his concerts.

However, even as Esther finds fame and success with her singing, John continues his downward spiral.

Let’s face it. The main draw is who is playing the lead roles in a film like A Star Is Born. To make a love story work there must be sizzling chemistry so that the audience is invested in the romance. Streisand commands the center stage and her singing is the selling point.

Otherwise, Ms. Streisand suffers another bout of miscasting as she did in 1969’s Hello, Dolly. She’s simply too talented and established to be believable as an aspiring singer.

Her singing saves the film.

The gorgeous song “Evergreen” is a quite powerful moment and great strength. Without it, the film would have felt lacking and mediocre. The tune rises the overall experience up a notch.

The chemistry is merely the warm-up act. It’s ho-hum until a smoldering bathtub scene occurs where John and Esther soap each other down and fall madly between the sheets for a night of passion.

It’s Streisand’s sexiest scene and the romance takes off.

Back to Streisand’s vocals, the scene is preceded by a gorgeous songwriting sequence between John and Esther at the piano where they craft a new song. As they collaborate, the connection and bond between the characters are birthed.

Those are the romantic highlights.

Otherwise, the scene where John becomes infatuated with Esther holds no appeal since he is drinking and arguing with another patron and barely has time to notice her. This was thankfully changed in the 2018 version when John is mesmerized by the rising talent.

Additionally, when John invites Esther to his concert and she watches from backstage it goes nowhere. In the 2018 version he drags her out to perform with him and it’s a moment. 

Some films are best reviewed on their own merits but what great fun to compare renditions of the same film because, why not?

The supporting characters have little to do except for an impressive turn by Gary Busey as John’s drug-pushing manager.

There is little reason to watch A Star Is Born (1976) more than once, or at most twice to confirm that the film lacks a bit. It’s not terrible but hardly memorable unless the desire is to giggle over an incredibly bad 1970s hairstyle by one of the greatest divas.

Then, move on to the outstanding Cooper/Gaga 2018 version.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Evergreen” (won), Best Sound

The Many Saints of Newark-2021

The Many Saints of Newark-2021

Director-Alan Taylor

Starring Michael Gandolfini, Alessandro Nivola, Vera Farmiga

Scott’s Review #1,272

Reviewed July 4, 2022

Grade: B

Fans of the iconic HBO series The Sopranos which ran from 1999 to 2007 have been chomping at the bit since the announcement of the soon-to-be-released The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

The film is a prequel to the series centering on a young Tony Soprano. The kicker is that the actor who portrays Tony in the movie (Michael Gandolfini) is the real-life son of James Gandolfini who played Tony in the series.

To add mustard to the on-paper perfect setup is that the film is written by David Chase, the writer, and creator of The Sopranos. This ensures rich character development and dedication to the rich history.

What could go wrong?

The answer is that nothing is ‘wrong’ with The Many Saints of Newark. It’s just not brilliant like the series was and rather unnecessary to have been made in the first place, especially after such a long gap.

While the film meanders at times this gave me time to thoughtfully ruminate that perhaps The Many Saints of Newark would have been better as a limited series.

There are so many characters and too few of them are familiar to audiences of The Sopranos. The two-hour and change running time couldn’t possibly provide enough time to get to know many of them and I longed to.

On the upside, the film is shot quite well and the costumes, sets, and design of the 1960s and 1970s are remarkably beautiful with superior accuracy.

It succeeds in transplanting the audience to what Newark, New Jersey was like during that time. Additionally, the film looks quite a bit like The Sopranos and is influenced by the legendary 1991 offering Goodfellas and other mafia-laden films.

Young Anthony Soprano (Gandolfini) is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, as rival gangsters begin to challenge and desecrate the powerful DiMeo crime family.

As the year 1967 emerges and Newark is now an increasingly race-torn city events take on a violent and historical time.

Conflicted by the changing times is Tony’s Uncle Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) whom he idolizes much more than his own father Johnny (Jon Bernthal) or domineering mother Livia (Vera Farmiga).

The Many Saints of Newark depicts how Tony will eventually become whom the audience knows as mob figure Tony Soprano!

Besides looking like his father, Gandolfini is not the best actor in the world but he does his best with a small role billed as the lead. He hardly appears until thirty minutes before the film concludes and he never carries the film like one would expect the character to.

The real star of the film is Dickie (Nivola) who is terrific. The storyline follows his conflict and a damaged relationship with his father, wonderfully played by Ray Liotta, and his father’s horny wife Giuseppina, who later becomes his mistress.

A shocking scene occurs when Dickie beats a major character to death by repeatedly slamming their head against a steering wheel. The death will hold forever repercussions for Dickie, emotionally and otherwise.

The problem is that even though Dickie is a great character the audience doesn’t know him and this is a problem.

Despite flaws with the marginally adequate casting, the uneven writing, and the focus on unfamiliar characters, there are other small treats to enjoy.

The film is peppered with familiar characters like Paulie, Big Pussy, and Carmella as younger people. Even though they don’t have much to do with the story their mere presence feels like an old home week.

The racial tensions are another win and actor Leslie Odon Jr. adds a winning formula to his character of Harold McBrayer, a black associate of Dickie’s.

I haven’t watched an episode of The Sopranos since it ended in 2007 and it may be advantageous to watch The Many Saints of Newark immediately after. Situations, history, and characters will be fresher in one’s mind and it may result in more cohesiveness.

Or maybe the film shouldn’t have been made fourteen years after the series ended.

Regardless, The Many Saints of Newark (2021) is a pretty solid effort but completely underwhelming especially when compared with such a groundbreaking television series.

Quadrophenia-1979

Quadrophenia-1979

Director-Franc Roddam

Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting

Scott’s Review #1,269

Reviewed June 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the British rock band, The Who, will perhaps be mystified by the film Quadrophenia (1979). More specifically, The Who and fans of the exceptional oddity-filled musical film Tommy (1975) will be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Quadrophenia is not patterned after Tommy.

I was uneasy when I realized that very few of the songs from the groundbreaking album of the same name would not be incorporated and that the band themselves would not be appearing.

But that apprehension was short-lived.

Instead, Quadrophenia the film quickly grasped me for the storyline alone and makes up for the lack of music with a gripping tale of teenage angst and conflict amid the streets of London.

Reportedly, the story is at least somewhat derived from the life of Who member Pete Townshend and the concept behind Quadrophenia in the album is the same in the film.

To classify Quadrophenia as a musical or musical drama (I decided to do both) is most generous because that only enhances the fact that it almost isn’t either one. But since it is based on the album and was co-written by Townsend, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

An insecure and angry London youth, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) escapes the dullness of his mailroom job and the chilliness of London and joins the Mods, a sharply dressed gang constantly feuding with their rivals, the Rockers.

When the Mods and Rockers clash in the coastal town of Brighton, England, it leads to both trouble and an encounter with the lovely Steph (Leslie Ash) whom Jimmy has become smitten with over encounters at the grocery store where she works.

Returning to London and his life of drudgery, Jimmy, who aspires to be like handsome and charismatic Mod leader Ace Face (Sting), becomes even more disillusioned and longs to return to Brighton.

Quadrophenia the film is exceptional because it gets the mood of the lead character right and the audience will undoubtedly respond in turn. He feels that his life is going nowhere and most people can relate in some way to being stuck in first gear or reverse and unable to get out of the mud.

In Jimmy’s mind, his parents are assholes and the girl he longs for is out of his league and therefore out of reach. It’s typical adolescence 101. All he needs are the pimples and a bad hairstyle and he encompasses what it feels like to be a teenager.

This may sound comical but anyone remembering youth will undoubtedly find a glimmer of pain and panic.

Filmmaker, Franc Roddam gets it right.

The best part of the film occurs in the final fifteen minutes when finally and blessedly superior songs by The Who commence, most notably the astounding Love, Reign O’er Me.

In addition to the brilliance of the actual song is the way it’s included. As the camera provides a birds-eye view of the stunning cliffs as Jimmy rides recklessly on his scooter it’s a perilous scene with hints of danger.

Will he crash and burn?

Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop. It’s unclear what happens to Jimmy and interpretation can be used.

It raised Quadrophenia from a very good film to an exceptional one.

Another treasured Who song, The Real Me, is included early on amongst the title credits. Other songs appear but are either shortened and/or different versions of what’s expected.

Sometimes fun and comic, other times showing the ugliness of gloomy London and the pains of growing up, Quadrophenia (1979) excels at reminding its audience what it’s like to be restless and unhappy.

Life usually changes for the better but the film is an important reminder of feelings at that age.

War Horse-2011

War Horse-2011

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

Scott’s Review #1,268

Reviewed June 19, 2022

Grade: B+

Director Steven Spielberg has an enormous catalog of films to rank and paw over. From his dabble into the horror genre with Jaws (1975) to fantastical melodramas like E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), his best work to me is the dark and powerful Schindler’s List made in 1993.

The recent remake of West Side Story (2021) is also brilliant.

My point in mentioning a few of his films is to compare them to War Horse (2011). The film is mediocre when comparing it to the great director’s filmography but there is no doubt the film is extremely well made, lavishly directed, with a wonderful and heartfelt storyline that will make suckers of most viewers.

The main result is that the film doesn’t resonate very much beyond the closing credits especially when matched against Spielberg’s other films.

War Horse did achieve several Oscar nominations mainly because it’s a Spielberg film after all but came away empty-handed. This is not surprising because it’s the type of film that is trying to get awards notice.

A successful Broadway adaptation preceded the film which was also based on a novel of the same name from 1982.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey, live on a farm in the British countryside. At the outbreak of World War I, Albert and Joey part ways after Albert’s father sells the horse to the British cavalry out of necessity.

Against the backdrop of the war, the horse begins a journey full of danger, joy, and sorrow, as he transforms everyone he meets along the way.

Meanwhile, Albert, unable to forget his friend, searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.

It’s interesting seeing the different settings and situations the horse gets into. From England to Germany to France, so many cultures are explored. Joey even bonds with another horse named Tophorn, a black stallion.

The film is as syrupy and sentimental as the summary suggests and that is okay. I fell for the story hook, line, and sinker. Seeing the film in a movie theater on the big screen was a wise choice because the sentimentality oozes to audiences leaving not a dry eye in the house.

Spielberg polishes and shines his film like nobody’s business utilizing all the lavish Hollywood trappings like superior editing, sound, and cinematography.

It’s a Hollywood film plus a hundred.

Despite a safe-leaning film Spielberg wisely does not skate over the ravages of war. Several characters that the horse encounters die tragically leaving him in a state of temporary peril.

Unsurprisingly, War Horse satisfies those audiences seeking a fairy tale ending but the fun is the journey we are taken on.

Actor Jeremy Irvine appearing in his big-screen film debut is exceptional and quite likable. War Horse may be his pinnacle film since he hasn’t done all that much since this meaty role.

The main takeaway is friendship and the bond between human beings and animals which cannot be severed. The mere thought of this brings a tear to my eye and Spielberg wisely manipulates the audience, whisking them away on a journey of forever friendship.

This is not exactly a bad thing.

The war backdrop is a fine addition and the exquisite beach scenes and the glossy images of the horse are fantastic. Hundreds of horses were used and clever editing provides rich and authentic texture.

War Horse (2011) is a film with all the standard characteristics of an old-style film that Hollywood used to make. The sum of the parts doesn’t add up to much beyond the experience and it’s not a film worth seeing over and over.

It’s a one-and-done affair but a lavish production of heartfelt ideals.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

Director-Peter Weir

Starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Scott’s Review #1,266

Reviewed June 16, 2022

Grade: B+

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) is a solid political drama with enough intrigue, romance, and superior cinematography by Russell Boyd, to recommend it. It’s not an American film but Australian which gives it an authentic flavor even though events are primarily set in Indonesia.

If Mad Max (1979) didn’t make Mel Gibson a full-fledged pinup star The Year of Living Dangerously certainly did because it made him a romantic ladies’ man in addition to a rugged action star. He has a ton of good looks and charisma at this point in his career and arguably has never looked better.

One could say (okay, I flat out will) that Gibson is upstaged, unintentionally so, by stage actress Linda Hunt who gets the role of her life as a highly intelligent Chinese-Australian man suffering from dwarfism and key to the entire plot.

Hunt won the Academy Award for flipping gender norms on its head and making the film more progressive and memorable than it deserves to be. Her performance is timeless and rich in character flavor.

If not for Hunt and Gibson as the standouts the film is lost in the shuffle amongst the myriad of similar political dramas to emerge in the 1980s.

Missing (1982) starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek and Victory (1981) starring Sylvester Stallone are the films that The Year of Living Dangerously reminds me of.

Blow Out (1981) and No Way Out (1987) are two of the best political drama films to come out of the decade and all are assuredly influenced by All the President’s Men (1976) which is one of the best from the genre.

There are so many others that The Year of Living Dangerously feels forgotten and too similar to a standard formula to stand out. It also suffers at times from being either a romantic drama or a political thriller and it struggles to mesh the two satisfyingly.

After journalist Guy Hamilton (Gibson) arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, he forms a friendship with dwarf photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt), through whom he meets British diplomat Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver).

Bryant falls in love with Hamilton, and she gives him key information about an approaching Communist uprising. As the city becomes more dangerous, Hamilton stays to pursue the story. However, he faces more threats as he gets closer to the government putting him and others passionate about the political turmoil, in great peril.

The romance between Guy and Jill is not bad but Weaver has had so many better roles than this one that it feels throwaway. She’s a smart lady who falls madly in love with Guy so easily that the formulaic context is obvious.

The movie poster makes the pair look like Rhett and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (1939), unintentionally providing humor and ambiguity about what the film is going for.

It does best when it sticks to the political message.

The film is laden with foreign mystique and intrigue largely due to the exotic locale of Indonesia (the film was shot in the Phillippines which is a good double).

The plot is absorbing for what it is and the peril the journalists face is exciting. This parlays well with the real-life situation in which the film is based. In 1965, Indonesia was a hotbed of corruption and danger, and director, Peter Weir, manages to pull these sequences together well.

The main flaw is Weir doesn’t seem to know if he is crafting a political thriller or a romantic drama.

Back to the astounding Linda Hunt, the best scene of the film occurs when her character dies in Guy’s arms. Forget Weaver, the emotional core of the film belongs to Gibson and Hunt who have tremendous chemistry. The ambiguity of Billy, mostly because we know the gender of Hunt, is delicious.

In the end, the conclusion is mostly a happy one albeit predictable and the storyline feels unsatisfying.

A nice effort and relevant in 1982, The Year of Living Dangerously has energy and polish. It just feels too familiar and similar to other genre films to stand out, save for Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Linda Hunt (won)

Ben-Hur-1959

Ben-Hur-1959

Director-William Wyler

Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Scott’s Review #1,265

Reviewed June 9, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many pleasures of watching Ben-Hur (1959) is to marvel at the extensive cinematic brilliance involved by the entire cast and crew.

To say it’s a spectacle is not enough and it’s a must-see.

It had the largest budget ($15.175 million), as well as the largest sets built, of any film produced at the time. That allowed for enormous spending to create one of the most lavish and grandiose films ever made.

I shudder to think of how powerful it was to see this film on the large screen in a movie theater and the sheer mesmerizing quality it had on audiences.

I’ve anticipated viewing the film for years and finally did. Why I waited so long is beyond me. It does not disappoint and the extravagance is immeasurable. I sat back in awe at the many aspects of the film, way before CGI was created, that makes it as impressive in 2022 as it was over sixty years ago.

Charlton Heston plays a Palestinian Jew named Judah who is battling the Roman empire at the time of Christ. He becomes involved in a vicious feud with his ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd).

Their hatred culminates in an exciting yet vicious chariot race.

Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus who helps Judah save his family despite his own death.

The film made a household name out of Heston and besides its big budget is legendary for its use of homoeroticism and an unspoken love story between two men who are at first the best of friends and who later become bitter rivals.

The film had several screenwriters and if looked at closely there is some uneven storytelling that is largely overlooked by the enormous spectacle of the finished product. Gore Vidal who was openly gay insisted on a homosexual interlude, conspicuously of course, between Judah and Messala.

Giggle worthy to those in the know is that Boyd played his character as a spurned gay lover of Heston’s, with Heston unaware of the underlying romantic angle. This is rumored to be because Heston couldn’t handle it had he known.

This knowledge made me enjoy the subtext of the scenes between the two men even more than I should have.

As if to prove the above point, the written romance between Judah and Esther (Haya Harareet) hasn’t much chemistry and I viewed them more like brother and sister or good friends.

Other scenes of shimmering, muscular men sitting around in towels are further proof of Ben-Hur’s homoeroticism.

These tidbits of juicy intrigue provide tingles but the main draw is the famous chariot scene which is as exciting as an action scene gets in cinema. The outdoor arena, packed with thousands of onlookers, provides a perfect setup for the round and round racetrack as dozens of horses are whipped into a dizzying frenzy, going faster and faster.

The peril is prominent as numerous riders drop to their death, mangled into pieces from being stampeded by the horses.

Other sequences like the leper colony and the crucifixion of Jesus are beautiful and astounding.

Director, William Wyler, a heavy hitter at the time with gems like Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) easily usurps those excellent films with Ben-Hur.

It won eleven of its twelve Oscar nominations and employed ten thousand extras!

Ben-Hur (1959) is the definition of an epic film. Expensive and expansive, the breathtaking chariot scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a film.

Not feeling dated it’s a marvel in exquisiteness and magnificence.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor in a Leading Role-Charlton Heston (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Hugh Griffith (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound Recording (won), Best Music-Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Special Effects (won)