Tag Archives: Drama

Being the Ricardos-2021

Being the Ricardos-2021

Director Aaron Sorkin

Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem

Scott’s Review #1,426

Reviewed May 7, 2024

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Way of Life-2023

Strange Way of Life-2023

Director Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Scott’s Review #1,425

Reviewed April 22, 2024

Grade: A-

Pedro Almodóvar is a unique film director. Spanish, his films are flavorful, saucy, and unpredictable. He tends to mix melodrama, wacky humor, and a colorful landscape frequently sprinkling LGBTQ+ elements even if they are not classified with that specific genre.

I adore his films though they frequently blur together for me.

Though a Spanish film, Strange Way of Life (2023) is only Almodóvar’s second English language film and to my knowledge his first short feature film.

Watching the brief thirty-one-minute offering I fantasized about a full-length feature or even a television series based on the story and characters.

Since it’s short we get right down to business quickly.

One day Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides a horse across the desert to Bitter Creek to visit Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke). It is quickly revealed that twenty-five years earlier, the sheriff and Silva, worked together as hired gunmen.

They fell in love during a passionate encounter with three whores and barrels of wine who ditched the men when they realized they were not valued.

Silva provides Jake with the excuse that the reason for his trip is not to go down the memory lane of their old friendship but rather to rescue his son Joe (George Steane) from persecution for being suspected of killing Jake’s late brother’s wife, also a whore.

After Jake and Silva sip wine and enjoy a lovely meal they quickly engage in animalistic sex and reignite their long-dormant passion.

While Silva is gung-ho about reuniting Jake has reservations.

Pascal, who is everywhere due to the success of his television series The Last of Us is fabulous to watch. His sexy machismo pairs well with his passion for his soulmate. Because his character of Silva intends for him and Jake to live out their days running a ranch he is a more inspiring character than Jake.

This point is a nod to the groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain (2006) whose characters also flirted with running a ranch together during a time when any gay relations were forbidden territory.

Hawke is quite good too though I’m partial to Pascal. Buttoned up and law-abiding he rebuffs Silva’s advances, at first.

It’s nice to see Hawke in a gay role. Both characters are masculine thereby dismissing silly LGBTQ+ stereotypes that too often appear in cinema.

It also doesn’t hurt to get a glimpse of Pascal’s bare butt or Hawke’s buff physique as they while away time in the bedroom.

I love the sweaty and muscular Western genre being the backdrop of an LGBTQ+ film and tipped upside down. Not to reduce it to a tepid John Wayne film cliche there exists a gorgeous and melodic fado singer throughout the film.

It is performed by Manu Ríos.

This counterbalances the Quentin Tarantino-ish blood and violence with lovely music.

The film is titled after a 1960s Portuguese fado song by Amália Rodrigues

Since Strange Way of Life is a brief experience many facets could have been explored. Why did Silva leave Jake in the first place? What made him suddenly have a realization after twenty-five years? Were there other men at that time?

Being critical that the film is short and deserves full-length feature status it nonetheless deserves to be towards the top of Almodóvar’s catalog a testament to its power.

Strange Way of Life (2023) successfully takes a macho genre like the Western and lights it on fire proving that two men can be tough and tenderly love each other.

The Color Purple-2023

The Color Purple-2023

Director Blitz Bazawule

Starring Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson

Scott’s Review #1,423

Reviewed March 16, 2024

Grade: B+

In 2023, director Blitz Bazawule recreated the famous 1985 cinematic version of The Color Purple by Steven Spielberg with mostly good results though it won’t be remembered like Spielberg’s is.

Bazawule is also a visual artist, rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer so his version differs greatly from Spielberg’s in style and production design.

The ‘new’ version feels closer to what a feel-good Broadway stage version might feel like with incorporated musical numbers breaking up the drama and sometimes the comedy.

The Color Purple was a stage version and before that a much bleaker novel by Alice Walker so I’m not averse to comparing the 2023 version to all that preceded it.

Since we are talking cinema, although I’m more partial to the 1985 version mostly because that one packed a much greater emotional punch I think the numbers are a wise move and are choreographed well.

My favorite by far is ‘Hell No!’ an aggressive and anthemic stomp performed by a defiant Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and later reprised when mousy Celie (Fantasia Barrino) finds a set of balls.

We all probably know the story but here is a brief synopsis for those unfamiliar with the plot.

Set in the Deep South (Georgia) from the early 1900s until the 1940s, the main story follows the shy and put-upon Celie. She is raped and forced to bear the children of her father who then sells the babies. She is sent to marry and live with ‘Mister’ (Colman Domingo) who beats her and sets his sights on Celie’s sister Nettie (Halle Bailey).

Nettie and Celie are the best of friends but through circumstance lose touch for years.

The decades march on as Celie finds her voice and independence thanks to Sofia, jazz singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), and other kind folks.

The Color Purple is a lovely look at perseverance, extraordinary strength, and hope in the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood during a difficult time in history.

Black women especially were not always treated well.

The casting is uneven. I wasn’t completely won over by Barrino as Celie. The one-time ‘American Idol winner can sing and was Celie on Broadway in 2007 but I kept musing how exceptional Whoopi Goldberg was in the part in 1985.

Speaking of Goldberg, she appears in a cameo role early on as a midwife.

Henson, as Shug, has a tremendous voice and confidence providing the glamour and outrageousness needed for the role. However, she is supposed to be a drop-dead gorgeous woman who Celie is madly in love with and Henson doesn’t have the looks.

As my apt husband announced, Beyonce Knowles would have been a brilliant casting choice.

The standout is Brooks as Sofia, justifiably receiving the sole Academy Award nomination. The instant she appears on screen bullying her meek husband Harpo she has the audience wrapped around her finger giving as good a performance as Oprah Winfrey did in 1985.

While the musical numbers incorporate more of the Broadway-style they also contain a musical rock video vibe that takes away a bit of the cinematic production.  The dance moves are so perfect that they make the film feel ‘fun’ when it should feel ‘tragic’.

Even though Spielberg’s version was accused of excessive sappiness, it’s downright raw compared to the 2023 version. The finale is overly sentimental and the reunion of Celie and Mister, Mister now suddenly converted to a saint, is unrealistic.

Everything ends up so perfect for Celie and that’s all well and good but the fairy tale ending offsets some of the anguish she goes through early in the film.

Finally, Sofia’s big scene when she punches the mayor and other white townsmen lack the emotional heartbreak that the 1985 version did.

Held on its own merits, the film is a success. The Color Purple (2023) never drags and entertains from the first scene to the last. It’s a crowd-pleaser so those looking for a gooey experience will enjoy this version.

It’s safe waters without languishing towards dull or ineffectual.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Danielle Brooks

American Fiction-2023

American Fiction-2023

Director Cord Jefferson

Starring Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown

Scott’s Review #1,421

Reviewed February 11, 2024

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wright is dynamic at showing many emotions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Iron Claw-2023

The Iron Claw-2023

Director Sean Durkin

Starring Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #1,416

Reviewed January 15, 2024

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Magic Mike’s Last Dance-2023

Director Steven Soderbergh

Starring Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #1,415

Reviewed January 14, 2024

Grade: C-

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

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

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

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

I have rated it a generous ‘C-‘.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May December-2023

May December-2023

Director Todd Haynes

Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton

Scott’s Review #1,412

Reviewed December 13, 2023

Grade: A-

Throughout May-December (2023) there exists a quiet gloominess and a sense of foreboding dread during nearly every scene that as a viewer I could not shake. The unsettling nature is what makes the film so fascinating to watch.

Making it even more peculiar is the feeling seeps through a mirage of cheeriness, small-town humility, and the Southern politeness of Savannah, Georgia, United States amongst a lofty helping of cakes, parties, and sunshine.

All is not as it seems.

As a fan of director Todd Haynes and his brilliant films Far From Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015), I had an idea of his style and tone from the get-go.

As excellent as May-December is I was left wanting perhaps one more potato chip than I was offered.  I was slightly unsatisfied only because I had Haynes’s other films as a comparison and May-December is not quite on par with those masterpieces despite being exceptionally well made.

But we can’t always expect a classic like Led Zeppelin IV.

Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, Gracie Atherton-Yu (Julianne Moore) and her husband Joe (Charles Melton) who is twenty-three years her junior are happily preparing for their twins to graduate from high school.

When Hollywood actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) arrives in town to study the family to better understand Gracie and prepare for the role the family dynamics crack under the pressure of the spotlight.

Joe, in particular, who never got a chance to deal with his feelings and emotions as a teenager, begins to face the reality of having grown-up children. At the age of thirty-six, he confronts the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Gracie study each other, and the similarities and differences between the two women begin to surface causing friction.

Drama develops between Elizabeth, Gracie, Joe, and various family members as long-buried emotions and new scandals erupt in the small town.

I felt snippets of Persona, a 1966 avante-garde psychological thriller by Ingmar Bergman, and even the theatrical posters of the two women looking into the camera and facing side by side are identical in both films.

There’s also a teasing Single White Female (1992) similarity to a lesser degree.

The point is that May-December produces a haunting merging of two female characters in a creepy way.

Identity and obsession are also explored.

Portman and Moore play against and with each other deliciously. It’s not so much a rivalry but an obsession. Portman’s Elizabeth refers while speaking to a class of aspiring actors about becoming a character and we know she means Gracie.

When Gracie helps put Elizabeth’s makeup on just the right way resembling her more and more they look at the camera and see themselves in a mirror. It’s a haunting realization that both women are neurotic and have issues.

Does Gracie want to become Elizabeth as much as Elizabeth wants to become Gracie? Is it real or pretend because of the film?

At different points, I felt sympathy for both characters but at other times I didn’t. Elizabeth seems kind, then not so kind, then dismissive, then demanding.

Gracie seems kind, then neurotic, then sympathetic, then catty. Did she give her daughter’s scales as a graduation present? Did she intentionally point out her daughter’s unflattering arms?

Portman and Moore are successful at portraying these emotions in the subtlest of ways making the characters complex and tough to figure out.

The standout is Melton though. As Joe, the actor made me wonder how astonishingly quick the teenager had to grow up. He never had a childhood and is subsequently childlike, unable to make himself be heard until he broils over with rage.

Melton is on the map as an up-and-coming actor.

At the end of the film, when Elizabeth heads off to the airport I was left disappointed. I wanted more and felt there was more to uncover. What’s to become of Joe and Gracie? Could the three be friends if Elizabeth lived in the town?

What Haynes does so well is create tension even when there is none on the surface. The guttural feelings I was left with made May-December (2023) a quiet and powerful experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: 1 win-Best Film, Best Director-Todd Haynes, Best Lead Performance-Natalie Portman, Best Supporting Performance-Charles Melton, Best First Screenplay (won)

Maestro-2023

Maestro-2023

Director Bradley Cooper

Starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan

Scott’s Review #1,411

Reviewed December 3, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His boyfriend is David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer.

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

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

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

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

Cooper has given the best performance of his career.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holdovers-2023

The Holdovers-2023

Director Alexander Payne

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

Scott’s Review #1,410

Reviewed November 22, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will he follow in his Dad’s footsteps?

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

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

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

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

The set designers flawlessly depict a time long ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rainbow-1989

The Rainbow-1989

Director Ken Russell

Starring Sammi Davis, Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe

Scott’s Review #1,409

Reviewed November 5, 2023

Grade: A-

Continuing my exploration of more obscure films by the British director comes The Rainbow, a 1989 picture adapted from a 1915 D.H. Lawrence novel.

Russell fans will know that he also adapted 1970s Women in Love from Lawrence so there is a tie-in between films.

Even though The Rainbow was made nearly two decades after Women in Love, it’s a prequel. The antics of the Brangwen sisters are explored as they grow up in rural England specifically one sister’s burgeoning sexuality and desires.

One could take The Rainbow as a feminist film that centers mainly on the eldest sister.

Born to a rich landowner, played by Christopher Gable, in the final days of the Victorian era (the late 1800s), Ursula (Sammi Davis) blossoms into a beautiful young woman full of imagination and promise.

She is quite free-spirited and begins to feel trapped by her surroundings. Still, her life changes when she has an erotic experience with Winifred (Amanda Donohoe), an adventurous and bisexual teacher.

From that point on, Ursula puts all of her passion and creativity into the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. She prefers men and develops a relationship with the dashing Anton (Paul McGann).

But she is constantly frustrated and continues to suffer from anguish and under-fulfillment as her development years go by.

Davis is delightful and mesmerizing as the lead character. Her flowing blonde locks which she eventually cuts give her a wholesome schoolteacher persona. But she is peppered with sassiness and experimentation which Davis flawlessly executes.

Donohoe, who starred in another Russell film, the bizarre The Lair of the White Worm (1988) smolders with sophistication and sensuality. Winifred easily takes Ursula under her wing and teaches her the pleasures of sex.

Eventually marrying Ursula’s wealthy Uncle Henry she doesn’t decline into dull matrimony but remains a mentor and source of temptation to Ursula.

McGann, as Anton brings a boyish yet masculine flavor to the film and succeeds as the main love interest for Ursula. Becoming a soldier, he smolders most during his plentiful nude scenes running around forests and up mountains with Ursula in tow.

These scenes are the zestiest as Russell plugs his all-too-familiar bizarre sequences of lust and bare flesh into the film.

There are many nude scenes to salivate over turning the prim and proper Victorian upper-crust characters into horny animalistic creatures.

The dynamics between Ursula, Anton, and Winifred are my favorite because it’s not played as a traditional love triangle with one pair to root for. It’s more sexual and interesting than that.

Not everything in The Rainbow works, however.

Even though I’m very familiar with Women in Love the connection to that film is tough to capture. Gudrun (the other sister) is the main focus in Women in Love but only has a small role in The Rainbow. To make matters more confusing, Ursula (in The Rainbow) is more similar to the character of Gudrun (in Women in Love).

Also, Glenda Jackson (who plays Gudrun in Women in Love) is cast as the mother in The Rainbow. The role is unspectacular especially compared to the brilliant portrayal Jackson did in Women in Love.

She doesn’t have much to play except being their mother.

I finally decided to stop thinking about Women in Love and enjoy The Rainbow on its own merits.

Admittedly, the final sequence does satisfy as Ursula forges ahead to a new life which brings us back to the start of Women in Love.

Reminiscent of E.M. Forster’s adaptations like A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), or Howards End (1992), the quaint English cottages, landscapes, and villages are wonderful and capture a specific time capsule.

The Rainbow (1989) transported me to another time and offered a character study meshed in sexuality, coming of age, and feminist power.

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone

Scott’s Review #1,406

Reviewed October 22, 2023

Grade: A

One great thing about legendary director Martin Scorsese, and there are plenty I could mention, is that he continues to challenge his audience with his films well into his eighties.

Any aspiring filmmaker, or any cinephile, should study his films.

Before I knew too much about his new picture, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) I knew I wanted to see it because I trust Scorsese as a director.

His most recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019) are not easy watches but the payoff is tremendous.

Scorsese is not the kind of filmmaker to create feel-good fluff but leaves the audience pondering what they’ve seen long after leaving the theater.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, two frequent Scorsese collaborators and great actors appear in Killers of the Flower Moon assuring something of quality.

Be forewarned that at an enormous running time of three hours and twenty-six minutes, the film is long! Like a fine wine, it took me about an hour or so to immerse myself in the texture and storytelling but this only defends the richness of the experience.

Based on David Grann’s broadly lauded best-selling book, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

In 1918, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) returns from World War I to his uncle, rancher William “King” Hale (De Niro), who lives with Ernest’s brother Byron (Scott Sheperd) on the reservation. Hale pretends to be a friendly supporter of the Osage people, but he secretly schemes to murder them and steal their wealth.

Lily Gladstone who has starred mainly in independent films makes her breakthrough performance as Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Native American woman who is the love interest of Ernest.

The cast is unwieldy and features stalwarts like Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow in small roles but the notable mentions are DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone.

Each scene between the three crackles with phenomenal acting and attention to their craft. Gladstone quietly yet expressively emotes her character’s feelings and emotions. Mollie is a proud woman but not gullible as she presents a strong feminist quality.

Her scenes with DiCaprio resonate the most. His character of Ernest is complicated and possesses good and bad qualities. As Mollie professes early on he is handsome but not too smart.

Her statement comes further into play at the end of the film.

Amid the schemes and murders Killers of the Flower Moon embraces a sweet romantic story between Ernest and Mollie. They love each other and he adores her and their children but is it ultimately enough?

Any aspiring actors should hone in on scenes between DiCaprio and De Niro for inspiration. Each scene and line within the scene is delivered with naturalness. Carefully yet authentically executed their conversations are mesmerizing.

De Niro reportedly and unsurprisingly modeled his character after the callous and dastardly reality star turned-politician Donald Trump.  Pretending to be well-intentioned but instead bullying and scheming his way to fortune by bamboozling the weak, De Niro channels his inner asshole with precision.

I immediately recognized what the actor was going for concerning the hateful politician.

In what only enhances the film, Scorsese appears at the beginning and end with impassioned moments about the importance of telling this story.

Filmed in Oklahoma, many sequences of open land, fields, streams, and other natural elements appear. Scorsese often uses the same film crews which enhances the authenticity.

The cinematography is filled with early 1900s facets and real Native American people are featured. The colors and tribal outfits offer culture and a glimpse into their way of life.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) is an important film because it teaches and reminds the audience that oppression and tragedy have existed in the United States and still do today.

The telling of one group of people is sound and a stark reminder of how many more stories exist each needing the help of a great filmmaker to bring exposure.

Scorsese does it again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actress-Lily Gladstone, Best Supporting Actor-Robert De Niro, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)

The Devils-1971

The Devils-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave

Scott’s Review #1,403

Reviewed October 4, 2023

Grade: A

Ken Russell, most famous for directing the outstanding Women in Love (1970) and The Who’s Tommy (1975) creates a disturbing opus about perversion and scandal amid the Roman Catholic church during medieval times.

The film’s graphic portrayal of violence, sexuality, and religious blasphemy ignited shocked reactions from censors, and it originally received an X rating in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was banned in several countries, and heavily edited for exhibition in others.

This alone will pique open-minded and curious viewer’s interests. It sure did mine.

The film is ironically entitled The Devils (1971) and stars Russell stalwart Oliver Reed who also appeared in the aforementioned films.  Reed leads the charge as a sexy, rugged man who beds many women and is the center of a convent full of nuns’ nasty and naughty thoughts.

Vanessa Redgrave also appears as a lustful and evil nun with a hunchback.

During the period of seventeenth-century France, Father Grandier (Reed) was a priest whose unorthodox views on sex and religion influenced a passionate following of nuns, including the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne (Redgrave).

When the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) realizes he must eliminate Grandier to gain control of France, Richelieu vows to destroy the man. He portrays Grandier as a Satanist and spearheads a public outcry to destroy the once-loved priest’s reputation.

The Devils is outrageous and bizarre in only the best of possible ways. Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of nun orgies and simulating fellatio on a large candlestick? One nun violently masturbates as another looks on giggling sadistically.

The camera simply loves Reed and Redgrave who it’s interesting to note are not a couple in the film. These British actors were in their heyday in 1971 and both portray roles that must have challenged them tremendously.

Despite being British the film takes place in France getting off to a naughty start with a nearly nude dance performed by skinny Louis XIII (played with wacky delight by Graham Armitage). Rumored to be gay the king traipses around in colorful costumes and later shoots protestants dressed as gorillas for sport.

There are themes of exorcising and burning at the stake and mentions of the warring Catholics and Protestants so there is a seriousness amid the antics and shenanigans.

It took me a little while to become fully immersed in the chaotic land of Loudon, a town in western France where the film is set. In truth, a second viewing really helped me settle in and have a sense of what was going on.

The best films really are like fine wines.

Attempts by Russell to irritate and incite the overly religious are quite satisfying in a wicked way. As much as he mocks religion by making the traditionally sexually conservative filled with lust and animalistic sexual prowess there is much more going on.

Beneath the surface, he challenges the ridiculousness of religion which cinema lovers will embrace and delight in. There are history lessons to be had though and the film provides exceptional details of the political upheavals and tyranny that occurred.

The thunderous musical score by Peter Maxwell Davies is fabulous especially during The Devils final act when a major character endures a broiling on a wooden stake.

Those possessing the wonderful Blu-Ray version of the film can be treated to various outtakes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes information.

An added delight for knowledgeable film fans is the inclusion of character actor Murray Melvin, famous for playing Reverand Runt in the classic Barry Lyndon (1975). He plays Father Pierre Barre.

The Devils (1971) is a perverse and operatic extravaganza of lunacy. It’s caked with sex and nudity and blasphemy that I loved every bit of. The dangerous tone can be studied and thought about long after the film ends.

Torch Song-1953

Torch Song-1953

Director Charles Walters

Starring Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding, Gig Young

Scott’s Review #1,402

Reviewed September 25, 2023

Grade: B

Since I’m a huge fan of legendary Hollywood Actress Joan Crawford I’ll willingly watch any film of hers, both quality films and mediocre offerings.

Her style, confidence, clothes, makeup, and yes, those eyebrows capture me every time I see her. She’s also a damned good actor.

Torch Song (1953) is a film made when her career was waning despite just scoring an Oscar nomination the year before for Sudden Fear (1952).

She would find success in the 1960s with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1963).

The film is fun to watch because it reportedly best captures her true personality in a role that is realistic to who she was. Faye Dunaway even studied the role closely before she portrayed the star in 1981’s cult classic Mommie Dearest.

The story is about a talented and demanding Broadway star named Jenny Stewart played by Crawford. She is used to snapping her fingers and having her every whim catered to without question. She rewrites scenes and fires talent for shows she stars in if she deems them beneath her.

One day she meets her blind rehearsal pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding) and finds herself attracted to him. At first, clashing over his refusal to put up with her bullshit she comes to realize she admires him.

The feeling is mutual and the lovebirds tenderly nurture their budding relationship.

I’m not sure if non-Crawford fans would appreciate or enjoy Torch Song as much as we die-hards would. The story is basic with few twists and turns and it’s not hard to imagine that Jenny and Tye will wind up together.

Torch Song was famously spoofed by comedienne Carol Burnett in the 1970s on her television show when she replicates a dress rehearsal scene from the film in a hilarious fashion.

But Crawford is devilish and fierce in the film. She prances confidently in each scene wearing getups as outlandish as a haughty yellow nightgown with high-heeled slippers and a garish scene from the production wearing  ‘black face’!

When she yanks off her wig revealing her messy red hair, black face, and wide emotion-infused eyes as she desperately watches Tye exit the auditorium it rivals any scary scene from a horror film.

Jenny is the star as much as Crawford is and one wonders if she had the same ferocious clout as the fictitious character. We’ll have to ask the cast if any are still alive.

Crawford’s singing voice was dubbed by India Adams and she lip-syncs to the recording Adams originally made for Cyd Charisse in a number discarded from the 1953 film, The Band Wagon.

When she belts emotional numbers like ‘Two-Faced Woman the comic relief is unintentional. Adams sounds nothing like Crawford which makes the dubbing glaring and nearly pitiful. Crawford had a decent voice and sang the songs only available on the home video release.

Oddly, actress Marjorie Rambeau who played Crawford’s mother received an Oscar nomination for the role. Her performance is adequate but not Academy Award-worthy.

This must have irritated Ms. Crawford who wasn’t known for being a gracious co-star. She must have felt usurped.

Crawford seamlessly carries the film from beginning to end credits like the seasoned professional she always was. She pokes her co-stars and chews up the scenery like nobody’s business.

Deserving of mention is actor Michael Wilding since he equals Crawford in performance. He never appears outshined or swallowed whole during a scene instead relaying good chemistry with her.

A mediocre Torch Song (1953) is made better by the mix of the competitive Broadway lifestyle and the star playing a ferocious and seasoned veteran.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Marjorie Rambeau

Short Cuts-1993

Short Cuts-1993

Director Robert Altman

Starring Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,400

Reviewed September 20, 2023

Grade: A

I am such a fan of acclaimed director Robert Altman because he typically features an enormous cast with richly composed characters all serving a story purpose. Frequently, with much character development and investment.

Short Cuts (1993) is a latter-day Altman offering set in Los Angeles, California, the City of Angels that is nearly as good as my all-time favorite of his, Nashville made in 1975.

Similarities burst to the screen with twenty-two principal characters to Nashville’s twenty-four. Their lives frequently intersect and the fun is peeling back the layers of their lives and discovering who is connected to whom.

Comparisons to 1992’s The Player (also Altman) and 1999’s Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson can also be made for obvious Los Angeles setting reasons.

But, Magnolia is much weirder than Short Cuts.

The irony is that most characters are anything but angels as they suffer from insecurities, deaths, infidelity, and various shenanigans as they attempt to get through California life amid an earthquake and a fleet of helicopters spraying for medflies.

Altman based the film on the nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver.

Some of the tales include a waitress Doreen (Lily) who is married to an alcoholic limo driver (Tom Waits) who accidentally runs into a boy with her car. Soon after walking away, the child lapses into a coma. While at the hospital, the boy’s grandfather (Jack Lemmon) tells his son, Howard (Bruce Davison), about his past affairs.

Meanwhile, a baker (Lyle Lovett) starts harassing the family when they fail to pick up the boy’s birthday cake.

Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Moore), meet Stuart Kane (Fred Ward), an unemployed salesman, and Claire Kane (Anne Archer), a party clown, at a cello concert.

They impulsively decide to have a Sunday dinner date. seemingly having nothing in common.

Meanwhile, Marian’s sister, Sherri (Madeleine Stowe), is married to a cheating cop named Gene (Tim Robbins), who is having an affair with Betty Weathers (Frances McDormand), while Betty is divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher).

There are other stories and connections to round out the fabulous cast.

The juicy and dramatic storylines play out like a terrific story arc on Days of Our Lives or As the World Turns with some needed comedic elements to balance things out.

Anyone who knows Altman will salivate with the name recognition among the cast most notably Tomlin and Robbins. Actors frequently chomped at the bit to appear knowing that he was an actor’s director.

This means he allowed his cast open range to create dialogue appropriate for their characters.

There’s no better example than when Jack Lemmon tells a story in the film. His improv and free dialogue are a dream to watch and a lesson in good and natural acting.

Despite the enormous cast everyone has something of quality to do. Nobody is languishing on the back burner with throwaway scenes or unimportant activities. All characters connect to others in some way.

Fans who fancy Los Angeles both in film and in real life with its bursting sunshine and cheery perception will revel in the down and dirty sub texture of Short Cuts.

The fun is getting there.

Some characters are wealthy but most struggle with day-to-day routine so the film contains a harsh realism. They try to find some shreds of happiness wherever they can get them.

Like real life which is part of the mastery of Short Cuts. The audience can relate to the characters because we all know people like them which makes the film a beautiful and treasured experience.

Or some may even be like us. The writing is brilliant and the characters are true to form.

One day I’ll create a list of my Top Ten Robert Altman films and I bet Short Cuts (1993) lands in the Top Five.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 3 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Robert Altman (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress-Julianne Moore

Spoiler Alert-2022

Spoiler Alert-2022

Director Michael Showalter

Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,399

Reviewed September 15, 2023

Grade: A-

Spoiler Alert (2022) comes dangerously close to being classified as a Hallmark Television Movie of the Week tearjerker with standard cliches and a predictable storyline. While the ending is no surprise the film works incredibly well and fires on all cylinders.

I laughed, cried, and felt an enormous connection to the central characters in what could become a seasonal holiday watch.

I recently reviewed another film that on the surface sounded saccharin and contrived but pulled me in nonetheless. The lesson learned is not to make assumptions about the quality of films.

The direction is conventional but the story and characters absorbing and heartwarming with spectacular acting, especially among the two lead actors, Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge. An added gift is the appearance of Sally Field in a supporting role as an overbearing but lovable mom.

In 2001, Michael Ausiello (Parsons), a writer for TV Guide, begrudgingly goes to a gay nightclub with his best friend in Manhattan. There, he meets photographer Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), and the two instantly connect.

As they begin dating, Michael struggles with insecurities about not being attractive enough for Kit, since he was an overweight child. Kit is athletic and good-looking, oozing confidence. Michael was a ridiculed kid watching soap operas with his mother and creating a pretend sitcom family.

He also overindulges in the Smurfs collection.

They both admit their fears of being in a long-term relationship since neither of them has been in one before, but they decide to continue dating.

Hurdles then plague the couple as Kit must come out to his parents, Bob (Bill Irwin), and Marilyn (Field), to explain who Michael is, and ultimately they all must face Kit’s stage IV cancer diagnosis.

I recognize how Spoiler Alert doesn’t possess the most original screenplay, written by David Marshall Grant and LGBTQ+ advocate Dan Savage and based on a story written by real-life Michael Ausiello.

The tried and true story point of a gay male character struggling to come out to his parents has been done for decades in LGBTQ+ films.

The insecure partner feels inferior to the more confident partner and it affects their relationship story point has also been before. Michael is convinced that Kit will dump him for someone else.

Hell, we’ve seen both of these cliches as recently as 2022 in Bros. a fantastic LGBTQ+ mainstream film that used both.

In Spoiler Alert they work because of Parsons and Aldridge and the chemistry they have together and the nuanced delivery of the characters separately.

While they each want love and a relationship neither is desperate. As they banter back and forth Michael awkwardly removes his clothes during their first intimacy the actors playfully frolic immediately at ease with one another.

Many cute scenes follow.

Events then grow serious as we move beyond Kit’s uneven coming out to his parents (of course they embrace Kit and Michael instantly!) and dive headfirst into Kit’s cancer battle.

The film makes no secret that Kit will die of cancer. It’s practically shown in the opening scene as he and Michael lie in a hospital bed together and Michael narrates the story.

It’s called Spoiler Alert for a reason. But instead of ruining the film it only enhances the love story to come. We know that Kit and Michael become soul mates and the pleasure is watching them grow and flourish together.

Since Michael’s mother, and presumed best friend, died of cancer only strengthens the investment in the character.

As Kit becomes weaker, my fondness for the two men becomes stronger. The maturity and love for one another are apparent especially when Michael selflessly invites a man whom Kit had an affair with to say goodbye to Kit.

It’s a touching scene but not as touching as the scene where Michael and Kit’s parents sob over Kit’s hospital bed.

Yes, Spoiler Alert (2022) may have manipulated me with a conventional film but Parsons and Aldridge have better chemistry than most opposite-sex couples.

I thoroughly enjoyed my way through the film without dry eyes.

A Man Called Otto-2022

A Man Called Otto-2022

Director Marc Forster

Starring Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, Truman Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,398

Reviewed September 13, 2023

Grade: A-

I hedged slightly with seeing the film A Man Called Otto (2022) because it looked like an overly sentimental, predictable melodrama. It also missed out completely during the 2022-2023 awards season which means that the film had its share of critical detractors.

But I do love and admire Tom Hanks, both professionally and personally, even though he can be accused of choosing marginally safe material.

Though the film explores a tried and true formulaic setup my heartstrings were immediately and severely pulled by the events in the movie. I may have been manipulated into teariness but in the best of ways and I didn’t mind a bit.

I enjoyed A Man Called Otto much more than I ever thought I would.

It is an American remake of the 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove, based on the 2012 novel by Fredrik Backman.

Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), is a grumpy widower whose only satisfaction comes from abiding by and enforcing his neighborhood rules and regulations and criticizing and judging his exasperated neighbors.

When a young Hispanic family moves in next door, he connects with the no-nonsense and very pregnant Marisol (Mariana Trevino), leading to an unexpected friendship that softens and unnerves the crotchety man.

As the pair bond, the audience learns more about Otto and his deceased wife Sonya (Rachel Keller) through flashbacks. The once youthful and determined couple faces terrible obstacles as we realize why Otto has become so depressed and irritable.

A Man Called Otto is very conventional, polished, and sentimental and could arguably be accused of being a tad dramatic. It’s not a dangerous film nor does it present material viewers have never seen before.

Nonetheless, it works!

The reasons it works so well start with Tom Hanks. A two-time Oscar winner who has played many types of characters before he portrays his character with flourishing comedy and dramatic gusto.

We like Otto even though he could be classified as an asshole.

Despite Hanks’s acting ability, he is only part of the enjoyment of the film.

Worth mentioning is that the very liberal Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson co-produced the film and I’m glad they did.

A heavy dose of diversity and inclusivity are plopped into the film. Otto’s neighbors are a black couple revealed to be Otto and Sonya’s best friends for decades.

Otto confronts a teenager named Malcolm for delivering advertising circulars, and the boy recognizes Otto as his former teacher’s husband, recounting that Sonya supported him as a transgender student when nobody else did.

Sonya courageously led an effort to convince the other teachers to respectfully call Malcolm by his desired name.

Another win is the frequent flashbacks to when Otto and Sonya first met. A nervous but smitten Otto intentionally gets on the wrong train to bring Sonya a book that she has accidentally dropped on the platform. They eventually dine in a nice restaurant where he encourages Sonya to have a lovely entre while he dines on a meager bowl of soup because of financial issues.

Truman Hanks (Tom’s son), Rachel Keller, and Mariana Trevino deliver outstanding performances in supporting roles.

Finally, a feral cat that reminds me of my darling cat Zeus stole my heart. He also steals Otto’s.

It’s these trimmings that make the film a crowd-pleaser and a charming sentiment. The story feels fresh even though other films have had the same type of message. A case could be made that Otto is Ebenezer Scrooge in a non-Christmas film.

I may not necessarily need to see A Man Called Otto (2022) again since it’s a one-shot deal type of movie but I’m glad I did. The film reaffirms that there are good people in the world who selflessly look out for each other without needing personal gain.

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Director Jacques Demy 

Starring Dominique Sanda, Michel Piccoli

Scott’s Review #1,397

Reviewed September 10, 2023

Grade: A

Une Chambre en Ville (also known as A Room in Town) is a 1982 French musical drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Colombier, and starring Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Michel Piccoli.

Those familiar with Demy’s other works like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) will be aware that his preferred genre is the musical drama and in Une Chambre en Ville, the dialogue is entirely sung.

And those unfamiliar with his work are recommended to give his films a chance. They are flavorful and offer exceptional production design to say nothing of other ingredients.

I liken the film to be most similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because the story involves two people destined to be together but who are thwarted by many obstacles threatening to ruin their happiness.

Demy creates a distinct Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet final ending in the best of possible ways.

The story is set during a workers’ strike in Nantes, France in 1955. A steelworker named Francois (Richard Berry) has a fling with the married daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) of his widowed landlady, Margo (Danielle Darrieux).

His girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon), who works in a shop and lives with her mother, wants to get married but he is unwilling, partly because they have no money and nowhere to live.

Oh, and he also has met Edith.

On the street, François is accosted by Edith who is a beautiful woman who wears only a fur coat and has decided to take up part-time prostitution to pay bills. Her husband owns a struggling television shop.

The two have a blissful night together in a cheap hotel and fall madly in love.

Une Chambre en Ville is at first jarring because the dialogue is in the form of a song. But after merely a few minutes I became invested and enamored with the characters. This occurs when Francois and Margo ‘discuss’ the strike and even though she is upper-class she supports the workers.

They quickly bond.

Before this though, the tone is set with black-and-white cinematography of the workers’ strike that quickly turns to color. My hunch is that Demy wanted to promote the seriousness of the situation and alert the audience that they were not watching a rosy musical with tap-along tunes.

There’s a message of pain, struggle, and depression which doesn’t make the film a downer either.

As with Demy’s other films, the art direction and set designs are gorgeous. The director has a talent for introducing the most fragrant colors like red, yellow, blue, and green, that are powerful and enshroud the characters in pizazz and vibrancy.

The set highlights are Margo’s apartment drizzling with red color and contemporary patterns and furniture and Edith’s husband’s television shop. The greenish hue reveals a tacky yet sophisticated French style. These and other sets are superior efforts.

The main attraction is Francois and Edith and I was smitten with them almost immediately. Some may think this is odd because basically, Francois dumps his nice girlfriend for a sexy prostitute who flashes her naked body to him and then beds him.

Nonetheless, I became enraptured. They make ‘love at first sight’ seem believable and possible. The thing to remember is they are both wounded by their circumstances and are reaching for their desires out of desperation.

The finale of Une Chambre en Ville is dazzling but painful to watch. I alluded to a Romeo and Juliet catastrophe and this is no joke as the star-crossed lovers meet a dire ending.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what happens.

Jacques Demy creates a film made in 1982 that feels nothing like a 1982 film as we are believably transported to 1955.

Une Chambre en Ville holds up as well as Demy’s films made two decades earlier and he proves none of his creativity and romantic dramatics have waned.

Interiors-1978

Interiors-1978

Director Woody Allen

Starring Diane Keaton, Geraldine Page, Mary Beth Hurt

Scott’s Review #1,392

Reviewed August 24, 2023

Grade: A

Woody Allen films are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Typically, offbeat or even downright wacky comedies with quick-witted dialogue and irritating characters are not everyone’s preferred taste in film.

I’ve always adored the director’s works.

Allen hits a home run with Interiors (1978), his first dramatic film and my favorite. It even rivals classics like Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) which most people frequently consider his best.

The famous director turns down the volume and slows the pace with a dark story about mental illness and the ravaging effect it has on a family, the struggling individual, and the other extended members.

Missing from this Woody Allen film are the prevalent one-liners and gimmicks mostly associated with his comedies. The only standard is the inclusion of frequent collaborator Diane Keaton who plays a successful poet, Renata.

The story centers on a middle-aged and upper-class couple’s disintegrating marriage. It forces their three grown daughters (Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, and Kristin Griffith) to reveal their feelings about themselves and each other. They also have their share of difficulties.

Renata is successful but her husband is a struggling writer with marginal talent. He lusts after Renata’s sister, Flyn (Kristin Griffith), an actress only known for her good looks. Joey (Hurt) is a restless soul unable to decide on a career and jealous of Renata.

Mental illness is only one of their trials and tribulations.

The family resides in Manhattan, Connecticut, and Long Island, most likely the Hamptons so they are wealthy and assumed to be happy, healthy, and thriving.

They are anything but.

None of the daughters are successful at providing ample support to their devastated mother (played by Geraldine Page) who suffers from mental illness and is extremely fragile.

The cast is tiny, with only eight principals, each with a perspective. There are no villains. Only complicated characters with rich texture and substance.

I love the brilliant characterization and development and the many layers most of the characters possess. Each character, especially the father, mother, two of the daughters, and the new wife, Pearl, exceptionally played by Maureen Stapleton, can be heartily examined.

One might assume that the father Arthur played stoically by E.G. Marshall might be unlikable. After all, he requests a ‘separation’ from Eve which the audience knows is a soft-touch way of ultimately asking for a divorce. He then meets a new woman, a different type from his wife, and plans to marry her!

This does not go over well for anyone.

But Arthur is sympathetic and so is Pearl (the new wife). I rooted for the pair even though I felt bad for Eve.

The film culminates in a stunning sequence at the family’s Hampton residence amid Arthur and Pearl’s wedding. The family begrudgingly attends the simple dinner party-style wedding and pretends to be happy.

From a visual perspective, the art direction is flawless. Muted color tones of grey and brown perfectly complement the drab and depressing subject matter.

People have compared Interiors to an Ingmar Bergman film and I completely understand that. The film is dark, cold, and bleak but contains a sophistication and thought provocation mirroring Bergman films like Wild Strawberries (1957) and others.

Woody Allen crafts an astonishingly good screenplay with confidence and precision that only he can do. Interiors (1978) could have easily turned into a soap opera melodrama but remains enthralling and devastating throughout.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Woody Allen, Best Actress-Geraldine Page, Best Supporting Actress-Maureen Stapleton, Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen, Best Art Direction

Some Kind of Wonderful-1987

Some Kind of Wonderful-1987

Director Howard Deutch

Starring Eric Stolz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson

Scott’s Review #1,386

Review August 4, 2023

Grade: B+

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) is one of many John Hughes-written teenage romantic dramas to emerge in the 1980s. It’s familiar territory as far as storytelling and quite similar to the 1986 hit Pretty in Pink.

I’ll call it what it is and define the film as essentially a remake of Pretty in Pink.

Hughes attempts to ‘right the wrong’ of the ending of Pretty in Pink which he was forced to rewrite because of pesky test audiences. Truth be told, I was happy with who wound up with whom in the film but I guess I’m in the minority.

A romantic quadrangle is front and center with differing social classes explored amidst the already tricky teenage years. Characters battle for status as they deal with powerful feelings and angst with their parents and friends.

A fun fact about Some Kind of Wonderful is that Hughes assumed his muse Molly Ringwald would star in the film. When she turned him down for more adult roles he never forgave her and it resulted in the dissolution of their film collaboration.

But, the show must go on.

Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), is an artistic high school outcast who bravely tries to land a date with the most popular girl in school, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson).

His tomboy best friend, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is secretly in love with him while Amanda’s rich on-again-off-again boyfriend, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer), vows revenge on Keith. Watts tries to convince Keith to stop pursuing Amanda while his father (John Ashton) is deadset on Keith attending business rather than art school.

Before you start to think this sounds like a corny story arc from the afternoon soap opera Days of Our Lives, it’s a pretty well-flowing story with many ups and downs and good, sincere acting.

Stolz is compelling as the boy next door/leading man. He is relatable and therefore easy to root for to get the girl.

The main attraction and best part of the film is the triangle between Keith, Watts, and Amanda. Hardy is merely along for the ride as both the foil and necessary eye candy. Every girl wants him so why would Amanda want Keith and not him?

When Hardy refers to Amanda as his ‘property’ it makes him unforgivable to audiences. It might have been interesting if Hughes made the character a viable option for romance with Amanda or Watts by softening him.

There are arguments for Keith winding up with either Amanda or Watts and a tantalizing mention is that Watts could be gay but this story goes nowhere. 1987 would have been too early for this quality to be featured much in mainstream film but at least the thought is there.

Despite being popular Amanda is not a bitch. Her best friend, Shayne (Molly Hagan) is though.

In a bit of irony, which character Keith winds up at the end of the film feels rushed, jagged, and like an added-on scene. The similarities to the reshoot they did with the ending of Pretty in Pink are uncanny.

Other characters are added purely for comic relief and to offset the romantic-heavy drama. Keith’s tough guy friend Duncan (Elias Koteas) and Keith’s younger sister Laura (Maddie Corman) provide the film with some cute moments.

Teenagers either in 1987 or the present day can relate to the well-meaning pressure Keith’s father puts on him so the message is universally appreciated.

Nothing will exceed my top ranking of The Breakfast Club (1985) as my favorite John Hughes film but Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) does a nice job of portraying a nice slice of teenage angst we can all relate to.

Oppenheimer-2023

Oppenheimer-2023

Director Christopher Nolan

Starring Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,384

Reviewed August 1, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His personal life is also explored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living-2022

Living-2022

Director Oliver Hermanus

Starring Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood

Scott’s Review #1,380

Reviewed July 20, 2023

Grade: B+

Living (2022) is a British film remake of a Japanese movie named Ikiru made in 1952. That screenplay was partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I have not seen that film but my best bet is that it is either equal or superior to Living.

The remake is quiet yet powerful. It teaches a poignant lesson about living life to its fullest and not wasting time on trivial and meaningless things that most people stress over.

Before you know it life is over.

The brilliance of this message is that anyone can apply it to their own lives at any age and in any given situation. At least that is what I took from the film and therefore the film is inspiring to me personally.

In this particular case, the focus is an elderly man who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a maximum of six months to live.

With high reliability, Living tells the story of an ordinary man named Rodney Miller (Bill Nighy) who has so far lived years of dull office work and a careful routine. In other words, he has enjoyed only a bland existence and rarely does much exciting.

To be clear, he is not a loser but is quite polished and prim and proper. Well-dressed, has a good job, and is highly responsible. He resides with his son and daughter-in-law.

Once his doctor gives Mr. Miller his diagnosis, he becomes determined to turn his dull life into something wonderful with the help of a young office worker, Miss Margaret Harris played by Aimee Lou Wood).

While the supporting actors are fine they are not given much to do or deeply explored except maybe Wood. She is compelling as a girl next door type who bonds with her much older boss. We root for her to find happiness and she does.

Living works best as a character study and Nighy quietly takes charge with a ferociously understated performance that justifiably landed him with an Academy Award nomination.

The actor has a gorgeous voice, so very poised, deep, and oozing with polish and sophistication. I fell in love with the character right away even before his deadly cancer diagnosis.

He’s not a bad man just a boring one and Nighy is successful at showing his appeal. This is evidenced in his personal life when he is unable to communicate with his son though he desperately wants to. His life has so far avoided any ruffling of feathers that he cannot even adequately express himself.

The film avoids exploration of much of anything about Mr. Williams’s personal life and he has no designs on Miss Harris other than his envy of her joy and passion for life. He does not seem to be gay but nothing is said for a wife or ex-wife.

The overall pace of the film is slow which may not appeal to some viewers. Since the running time was merely one hour and forty-two minutes I wasn’t bored though I wasn’t energized either until the ending which I found moving.

The experience is not a downer despite the subject matter and no scenes of Mr. Williams dying a painful death or any hospital scenes are featured. Rather, it portrays life.

The filmmaking is clean and polished sort of like Mr. Williams and there exists a rich London texture. Rainy days, a sophisticated swagger, and crisp structured sets and art design are what I mostly notice.

The title of Living (2022) is appropriate for the lesson being presented to the audience. Spend an enormous amount on that savory dinner, eat an enormous ice cream sundae, or help someone before looking the other way.

Because one day it will be too late.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Bill Nighy, Best Adapted Screenplay

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,377

Reviewed July 15, 2023

Grade: A

Recently acquiring a robust Ingmar Bergman collection featuring over three dozen of the great director’s works, I have much introspective filmmaking to look forward to.

Considered visionary, influential, and many other stellar adjectives, his films are personal and human. They are frequently dark and not easy watches but the payoff is quite big for the patient cinephile.

His 1961 work, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) tells the story of a schizophrenic young woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson), vacationing on a remote island with her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), novelist father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and frustrated younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård).

She has been released from the hospital and plans to enjoy the summer in tranquility at the family’s quaint cottage.

She slowly unravels as the reality sets in that she may not get better and the family is aware of this.

The story is told in a brisk twenty-four-hour period and consists of only the four aforementioned characters. It is structured as a three-act play in a very short ninety-one-minute run.

Let’s remember that mental illness was not as advanced in 1961 as it is decades later. Most who suffered from it were tossed away into a ‘loony bin’ and quickly discarded from society.

Delving into such controversial and unpleasant territory in 1961 deserves huge accolades.

The brilliance of Through a Glass Darkly is how Karin realizes her mental illness and its fateful ravages. She is aware of what’s happening to her and that she will never recover. After all, the hen’s mother also suffered from mental illness.

Her rich characterization is powerfully played by Andersson who is the standout in the film. This could be a result of Sven Nykvist’s cinematography but sometimes Karin looks like a little girl and other times a haggard older woman.

I wonder if Bergman was trying to show the parallel between Karin and her mother.

Speaking of the camerawork, as in Bergman’s films the black-and-white style only enhances the quality of the picture. The contrast between black and white and the frequent close-ups of the characters reveal glowing and ghostlike facial images.

I champion shots like this because it enriches the visual perspective and shifts away from the story momentarily.

Andersson is not the only actor who is excellent and second place belongs to Björnstrand as the father. His character is a writer and deeply pained. Revealed to have tried to commit suicide he is riddled with guilt, regret, and desperation.

von Sydow is decent as Karin’s husband but the actor has much better Bergman roles to reflect on. Any cinema lover will immediately associate the great actor with The Seventh Seal (1957).

Towards the end of Through a Glass Darkly, I didn’t quite connect the dots when the characters go into detail about how god is equated with love.

My focus was more on Karin and the other characters coming to terms with the fact that she would go to an asylum and never return.

What Bergman does so well in Through a Glass Darkly is he makes the audience envelop the characters, accepting and feeling their pain. I despair along with Karin when she imagines a spider emerging from the walls and crawling on her.

Of course, the audience doesn’t see what Karin imagines which makes the scene much scarier than if Bergman had shown a giant spider.

One’s imagination is always worse than what is on the screen.

Requiring patience and a deep dive into despair, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) is worth the work. Lovely beachside images and beautiful sunlight mix perfectly with anguish and depression creating an intimate experience.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Original Screenplay

Pretty in Pink-1986

Pretty in Pink-1986

Director Howard Deutch

Starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer

Scott’s Review #1,376

Reviewed July 10, 2023

Grade: B+

A superior grade of ‘B+’ may surprise some who know that I’m not a big fan of generic 1980s films, romantic comedies, or dramas.

Formulaic or nostalgic doesn’t always sit well with me but I was baited hook, line, and sinker for an implausible coming of age sweet story.

Pretty in Pink (1986) and its writer John Hughes epitomizes the 1980s and teen angst films in general but looking beneath the surface the film has a lot of heart.

Star Molly Ringwald was the ‘it’ girl of the decade perfectly portraying the girl next door facing the trials and tribulations ordinary sixteen-year-olds faced.

Of course, my favorite Hughes film is The Breakfast Club (1985), also starring Ringwald but Pretty in Pink is hardly as daring as that film. It’s softer and kinder with a lovely message of individuality and romance.

The film’s secret weapon is the spectacular musical soundtrack featuring among other songs the groovy title track by Psychedelic Furs and the mega-hit ballad ‘If You Leave’ by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.

Andie (Ringwald) is an outcast at her Midwest USA high school. From a working-class household with an unemployed father (Harry Dean Stanton) and an absent mother she makes her clothes and has an individual fashion sense.

She’s not exactly popular with the bitchy and materialistic cheerleaders.

She works at a record store for her older boss and friend Iona (Annie Potts) and is usually seen with her best friend and fellow outcast Duckie (Jon Cryer), who has a crush on her.

When one of the rich and famous kids at school, Blane (Andrew McCarthy), asks Andie out, it seems too good to be true. As Andie starts falling for Blane, she begins to realize that dating someone from a different social class has its challenges.

Pretty in Pink has a few different angles going on including a social sphere, a romantic triangle, and conformity.

The triangle is ultimately divisive. Should Andie choose a best friend and confidante Ducky or Blane, the boy she truly is smitten with? Her choice has divided audiences since the film was released decades ago.

She has so much in common with Ducky who also has blue-collar roots but her heart belongs to Blane who could offer her so much more. Andie is headed for University and couldn’t Blane be proper sophistication for her?

I’m on team Blane.

Strangely and offputting is Ducky. Meant to be cute he all but harasses Andie, smothering her and pressuring her. His repeated phone calls would make me run the other way.

Social class is a wise topic explored and one that many audiences can relate to. The classic upper-class boy falls in love with a working-class girl and family and friend pressures develop.

Hughes doesn’t delve too much into the upper-middle-class parents but only into the students which I find interesting. The character of Steff (James Spader) is the villain antagonizing Andie because he can’t get her into bed.

Andie inspired and continues to inspire teenage girls everywhere who refuse to conform to norms and standards. The film offers a strong female character with real emotions and hopes, fears, and dreams.

Thanks to an outstanding performance by Ringwald we see all her emotions and a beautiful dynamic forms between father and daughter.

The conclusion of the film (related to the triangle) occurs at the high school prom where a jilted Andie attends alone. A quick sequence where she reconnects with a character is very rushed and the film ends quickly.

Unsurprisingly, this is the result of the finale being re-written at the last minute after the original ending didn’t go over well with test audiences.

There is something to be said for the writer and director having complete creative control but sadly this isn’t the case in Pretty in Pink and the audience can see the void.

Pretty in Pink (1986) may scream ‘1980s film’ and the tacky hairstyles and outfits that go along with the decade and the genre but the messages relayed hit their marks.

Though dated in some ways the film is timeless in others.

Europa Europa-1990

Europa Europa-1990

Director Agnieszka Holland

Starring Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,373

Reviewed June 29, 2023

Grade: A

Europa Europa (1990) is a unique film that showcases a young Jewish man’s plight and experiences in a dangerous time in world history.

There have been many films made that examine German Naziism in some way, shape, or form but the film is German which only authenticates the story.

The secret sauce of this film is the remarkable storytelling by Agnieszka Holland who also directed.

The fact that it is based on real-life events only adds emotion heartbreak and just a little hope. It is based on the 1989 autobiography of Solomon Perel, a German-Jewish boy who escaped the Holocaust by masquerading as a Nazi and joining the Hitler Youth.

Perel himself appears briefly as “himself” in the film’s finale.

Speaking of German war films, Europa Europa doesn’t eclipse the power of the 1930 masterpiece All Quiet Along the Western Front or the 2022 remake for that matter. It’s not as raw but it does personalize the experience by focusing on one character and his perspectives.

The film adds a tinge of humor, homosexuality, and full nudity in a way that lightens the mood and almost makes it fun instead of pure doom and gloom.

But the concentration camp horror is never taken for granted.

Handsome Jewish teenager Salek (Marco Hofschneider) is separated from his family when they flee their home in Germany for Poland. Salek ends up in a Russian orphanage for two years, but when Nazi troops reach Russia he convinces them he is a German Aryan, and becomes an invaluable interpreter and then an unwitting war hero.

While he can hide his Jewish blood on the surface he is uncircumcised which makes him vulnerable and at risk of being found out at any moment.

His deception becomes increasingly difficult to maintain after he joins the Hitler Youth and finds love with beautiful Leni (Julie Delpy), a staunch anti-Semite.

Hofschneider easily carries the film. With dashing good looks and a trusting smile the audience can see how he might be able to fool the German regime. As shown during a powerful scene where the Hitler Youth is taught how to spot a Jew, scrawny, rat-like, and mistrustful looking are the characteristics they are told to be wary of.

Salek is the opposite.

The actor appears completely naked in several scenes including full-frontal. This is not done frivolously because his penis is central to the plot and his potential discovery.

Delpy plays the gorgeous yet tragic character of Leni. She at first appears humane and kind but her true colors and anti-Semitic hate soon shine through which troubles Salek. He is startled at how much hate a young girl could harbor for human beings she knows nothing about.

The realization hits home to the audience as the power and influence that Hitler possessed with the ruination of human life in so many different ways.

A groundbreaking sequence occurs when a German soldier named Robert (André Wilms) attempts to molest Salek when he is privately bathing. Revealing his homosexuality to Salek while realizing Salek is Jewish makes them the best of friends.

They both have secrets that would get them instantly killed.

When Robert is mortally wounded he and a devastated Salek share a deathbed kiss forever cementing their bond. The human connection is more powerful than a sexual one.

A reunion with a family member at the conclusion will melt the hardest of hearts.

Europa Europa could have been a darker film than it was because of the subject matter and perhaps should have been.

It’s not quite on par with All Quiet Along the Western Front or Schindler’s List (1993) in the annals of Nazi war films but is not far behind offering hate mixed with kindness in an exploration of human feeling and emotion amid chaos.

Shamefully, due to a ridiculous decision that the film didn’t meet eligibility requirements Europa Europa (1990) was not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but easily won the Golden Globe.

Despite the film’s omission, it went on to be a critical and commercial success in the United States achieving just desserts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published