Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

Director Stuart Olme

Starring Stephanie Beacham, Emily Hudson, Aleks Darowska

Scott’s Review #1,418

Reviewed January 20, 2024

Grade: B+

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) is a British dark fantasy film directed by Stuart Orme in his theatrical directorial debut. Most notably a rock video director, I am unsure if Orme ever directed another film.

The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Joan Aiken which was quite popular with children during the 1960s and beyond.

Similar to the book, the film is set in an alternate history version of nineteenth-century England where wolves roam the countryside. The animals prance around the wintery landscapes causing fear for those humans who spot them.

The experience is playful and escapist with similarities to both Oliver! (1968) and The Witches (1990). Especially in regards to the former some of the action takes place in a bleak workhouse where children are mistreated by adults.

Predictably and satisfying, the evil adults get their comeuppance while the nice children and warm adults live happily ever after. This is a main part of the fun of watching the perilous situations.

The plot centers around two young girls. Bonnie (Emily Hudson) is the daughter of Lord and Lady Willoughby, who live at the grand yet cozy country estate named Willoughby Chase. Lady Willoughby (Eleanor David) is ill, and the couple plan to recuperate basking in the warm sun along the Mediterranean.

In urban London, Bonnie’s cousin, Sylvia (Aleks Darowska), is leaving her impoverished Aunt Jane (Lord Willoughby’s cousin) to keep Bonnie company while her parents are away.

While on the train, she meets a mysterious man, Mr. Grimshaw (Mel Smith) whom they decide to bring back to Willoughby Chase after falling unconscious when wolves attack the train.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Sylvia’s cousin, Letitia (Stephanie Beacham) is their new governess. She is evil and determined to get rid of the children so that she inherits money and the estate.

Billed as a children’s film, as Oliver! was, some of the sequences may be too much for younger kids. The ferocious wolves may cause fright while a scene involving one of the girls being locked in a chest might cause nightmares.

There is a presumed drowning and another character catches on fire.

For adults, particularly those who enjoyed the book as youngsters the dangerous situations are light fare and merely make Bonnie and Sylvia more heroic and justified in escaping the adult’s clutches.

The art direction and set designs are also a big part of the fun. Numerous scenes of winter and snow-covered roads and pathways are what make The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a perfect watch for a frigid January evening.

I’m not sure if the film would feel as atmospheric in July or August.

The estate where much of the action takes place has a warm and cozy feel. It made me want to curl up by a raging fire with a good book.

There’s an undertone of class distinction when the servants are all dismissed to save money and I questioned why Sylvia and her aunt didn’t simply live on the estate. The poor living amongst the rich is a perfect setup for more meaningful storylines but the intent is more for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to be fun.

Beacham is delightful while slightly over-the-top playing a fiendish character. Most known for appearing on television’s ‘Dynasty’ the actress has also made British horror films.

I assumed she planned to kill the parents and the girls but what about the aunt?

It doesn’t matter much because her plan is foiled and the girls are reunited with their loved ones.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) contains a nice musical score that enhances the adventures. The film is a bit too scary for kids but perfect for young adults and older.

Wonka-2023

Wonka-2023

Director Paul King

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman

Scott’s Review #1,414 

Reviewed January 3, 2024

Grade: B+

Wonka (2023) is only the third live-action film based on Roald Dahl’s iconic 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, following Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

The latter was an inadequate and unnecessarily dark film starring Johnny Depp that threatened to ruin the trademark fantasy of the original.

Fortunately, director Paul King mostly known for directing the Paddington films opts for a warm and even gooey experience that does perfect justice to the original starring Gene Wilder with many connections to that film, especially costumes, characters, and locale.

It’s saccharine sweet but not sickeningly sweet instead feeling both fresh and genuine.

The wonderful and familiar featured song ‘Pure Imagination’ appears instantly as the film begins which does wonders to capture and captivate the nostalgic audience—mixed with other new gems like ‘A World of Your Own’ hooks newer and younger viewers.

The effort works well as a kindly old friend dusted off the shelf for a new waltz across the dance floor and a dizzying chocolate delight crowd-pleaser is the result of Wonka.

Wonka is released in December amid the sugary Christmas holiday season. A marketing win what parents could refuse a delicious trip to the cinema?

The wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician, and chocolate maker became the beloved Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) we know today begins with the young actor brazenly wearing a similar garb as Wilder did in the 1971 effort.

I adore this feat and pointed display because it makes crystal clear the attempt to leverage history instead of upheaval.

Chalamet is perfectly cast as Willy in large part because he resembles Wilder with his wiry build and waifish face. There exists a kindness and trustworthiness that transfers well from the big screen to the audience member.

Throughout the film, there is light peril that Wonka faces like a crooked debt owed to the even more crooked Mrs. Scrubitt’s (Olivia Colman) boardinghouse or the vengeful competitor Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) but it’s nothing he can’t handle with a grin and shrug of the shoulders.

His feathers are not ruffled easily because he believes in the magic of chocolate. In a dear flashback scene featuring his mother, played by Sally Hawkins, she inspires him to always believe in himself and be a good person.

This is at the heart of the film.

Along for the ride are new friends orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), and others trapped within Scrubbit’s and henchman Bleacher, played by Tom Davis.

There’s even a connection with the fan favorite Oompa-Loompa’s led by Lofty (Hugh Grant) who becomes a close ally in the end. As historical viewers will know the pair reunites in business.

Despite all these terrific additions the main attraction is the chocolate naturally. Highlights are a lavish chocolate attempted drowning, a chocolate store, and more than enough chocolate colorful flowers to whet one’s appetite.

The film is weird and zany without being too far out there and retains its touchy-feely approach.

Wonka (2023) successfully builds a multi-generational bridge between audiences with a powerful human connection. Grandparents, parents, and children alike can all see the film together with a common love of chocolate and magic.

The dangers are light-hearted and the filmmakers keep age-appropriate sensibilities and the result is family-friendly material with a kindhearted approach.

We all need this sometimes.

Poor Things-2023

Poor Things-2023

Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #1,413

Reviewed December 27, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

All with a twisted and refreshing feminist quality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially in Victorian London.

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

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

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

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

It’s a fair question.

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

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

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

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

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

Barbie-2023

Barbie-2023

Director Greta Gerwig

Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera

Scott’s Review #1,381

Reviewed July 23, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Well done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camelot-1967

Camelot-1967

Director Joshua Logan

Starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero

Scott’s Review #1,370

Reviewed June 21, 2023

Grade: A-

Camelot (1967) is an adaptation of the well-known Broadway spectacle that explores the creation of the Knights of the Roundtable. It’s medieval times and King Arthur is the main character.

Original stage stars Richard Burton and Julie Andrews declined participation which is unfortunate but their replacements played by Richard Burton and Vanessa Redgrave are more than adequate in the main roles.

At an epic length of nearly three hours, not every moment is the edge of your seat and some lagging exists but the film does justice to the stage production only with a big budget to add extravagance.

The setting and experience are pure magic and not only because of the far-removed time either. The Shakespearean elements are strong as royalty and entitlement mesh with scheming, jealousy, and dangerous romance.

This makes for some juicy soap opera drama.

After the arranged marriage of Arthur (Harris) and Guinevere (Redgrave), the king gathers the noble knights of the realm to his Round Table. The dashing Lancelot (Franco Nero) joins but soon finds himself in love with Guinevere.

When Arthur’s illegitimate and conniving son, Mordred (David Hemmings), reappears in the kingdom and exposes the secret lovers, Arthur finds himself trapped by his own rules into taking action against his wife and closest friend.

There are some dull moments to face at epic length, especially in the first half. I tuned out once or twice but then was whisked back to the dramatic events.

The great moments are truly great with enough punch to pack a wallop emotionally speaking.

During a sequence when Lancelot is challenged to a game of jousting with some knights events turn deadly and one knight, Sir Dinadan, is critically injured. Horrified Lancelot pleads for Sir Dinadan to live, and as he lays hands on him, Dinadan miraculously recovers.

The scene is fraught with emotion as a powerful moment occurs between the men. It’s also pivotal to the storyline because it links Lancelot with Guenevere and sets off a romantic chain of events.

Guenevere is so overwhelmed and humbled that her feelings for Lancelot begin to change. Despite his vows of celibacy, Lancelot falls in love with Guenevere.

More than one song is lovely in Camelot and as the course of the production went on I yearned for more musical numbers.

My favorites are the coy  “The Lusty Month of May” appearing when Guinevere and the women frolic and gather flowers to celebrate the coming of spring. Later, Lancelot and Guenevere sing of their forbidden love and how wrong life has all gone in ‘I Loved You Once In Silence’.

The lovers in the eyes of the law are to be punished so they are aware they are not long for this world.

Visually, Camelot is a spectacle and rich with style and pizazz. Whimsical colors and a ton of vibrant and fragrant flowers appear regularly amid fields of greens and forests of trees.

The castles and battlefields also lend support to gothic structures and masculine power that perfectly balances the exquisiteness of other aspects.

This more than makes up for any drudgery the story might have. It’s nice to sit back and be fulfilled by the cinematic beauty. Especially keeping in mind the romance that is at the heart of the picture.

So when the story drags one can merely enjoy the visuals and escape for a moment.

Also impressive is the story of friendship and how two male friends can be torn apart over the affections of a woman.

Camelot (1967) is an epic of behemoth length and requires patience to sit through. Some parts flat-out drag. But the daring and compelling triangle between the three leads parlays the experience into an above-average thrill ride most of the time.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score (won), Best Sound

The Three Lives of Thomasina-1963

The Three Lives of Thomasina-1963

Director Don Chaffey

Starring Patrick McGoohan, Susan Hampshire

Scott’s Review #1,367

Reviewed June 7, 2023

Grade: B

The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) is a film in which the animal, in this case, a sleek orange tabby cat, steals the show from the humans. It’s not as if the acting by the actors is terrible but who doesn’t love a cute feline clad in a bonnet?

The film is a Disney production but not one of the top tier nor mainly well remembered and was unknown to me before I watched it. It’s sort of related to Mary Poppins (1963) in that the cheery tone is similar and the two child stars were signed to play the Banks children as a result of The Three Lives of Thomasina.

There are enough tender and sentimental moments to satisfy fans who may crave a deeper or darker veneer but there is some fluff and predictability to wrestle with.

With high hopes of entertaining our cats Zeus and Thora with this film the furry felines largely slept through the experience and rendered it uninteresting.

Schoolgirl Mary McDhui (Karen Dotrice) lives in a small village in Scotland with her stoic veterinarian father, Andrew (Patrick McGoohan), and her cherished cat, Thomasina.

When Thomasina is injured, Andrew has the animal euthanized, which infuriates Mary who vows never to forgive her father. Unbeknownst to everyone, Thomasina’s still-living body is rescued by Lori (Susan Hampshire), a kind animal healer who nurses the cat back to health.

The romantic intention of uniting Andrew and Lori is obvious from the start and the pair have decent chemistry. Lori is a Snow White type character, whistling and prancing through her garden befriending any animal who languishes near her.

Deemed a witch by neighborhood kids who are terrified by her healing powers she doesn’t look the part. With golden hair and attractive features, she is more Rapunzel than the wicked witch of the West.

Andrew is a masculine character we’ve seen time and time again in stories. Widowed, he has lost faith in humanity and god alike living a sad existence with his housekeeper and kids.

To nobody’s surprise, in the end, Andrew, Lori, the kids, Thomasina, and the housekeeper all ride off into the sunset as happy as clams.

Though the story is generic, other aspects of The Three Lives of Thomasina spruce things up brighter than the Scottish flowers. The landscape is magical with lush countryside sequences and cute side streets and cottages.

A fabulous sequence occurs at the midpoint when a ‘dead’ Thomasina soul goes to a feline afterlife and meets the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. Since Thomasina still has eight lives left, Bastet returns her to her body.

The sparkling and twinkling lights and the myriad of other felines are beautiful and filled with emotion.

Hopefully, the real-life animals were treated kindly but in 1963 I’m not sure how much could be faked. Still, amazing work mimicking a wounded badger is impressive.

The thrilling finale involves a tribe of gypsies setting up camp in town and opening their traveling circus. Laden with obvious stereotypes which seem clear in 2023 but were unnoticed in 1963, the gypsies abuse their animals causing a stir among the townspeople.

A fight, fire, and justice prevails and all animals are spared.

A 1960s Disney film with family-friendly themes and compassion, The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) will satisfy cat lovers or anyone fond of animals. The real-life Thomasina is worth the price of admission for her gorgeous good looks alone.

Up the Sandbox-1972

Up the Sandbox-1972

Director Irvin Kershner

Starring Barbra Streisand, David Selby

Scott’s Review #1,308

Reviewed October 18, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dune-2021

Dune-2021

Director-Denis Villenueve

Starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac

Scott’s Review #1,282

Reviewed July 29, 2022

Grade: B

Dune (2021) is a film that under normal circumstances I would not have seen. I’m not a huge blockbuster, fantasy film kind of guy. If not for the slew of Oscar nominations the film received, ten to be precise, Dune probably would have flown under my radar.

I needed to see what all the fuss was all about.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man born into a destiny that he doesn’t completely understand, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people.

As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

My assessment of the film before even viewing it proved correct. It’s an epic-length, science-fiction, fantasy type of adventure film all rolled into one. I liken it to the unwieldy Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy in tone and content and a peculiar reminiscence to the popular television series Game of Thrones (2011-2019).

For most of Dune, my attention was squarely glued to the story as well as the astounding cinematic grandiose trimmings. I knew if I didn’t pay close attention I would quickly be out in a left field (I’ve made this mistake before).

Overall, I admired Dune and struggled to grade it either a B or a B+ finally deciding on the latter. The visuals are astounding and cleverly show off what can be done with enough CGI to make a film a marvelous spectacle.

But, for me, there needs to be more and I struggled after a while with the plot.

The story is too confusing. Why does every fantasy, or epic film need to be so deep in the plot with too many characters to keep track of? It started off okay and I was clear who Paul’s family is, and more or less who the good guys are. But then other groups like the Fremen (who I think are good) and House Harkonnen (who are all bald and I think are bad) are introduced, and a battle over valuable spice ensues.

To complicate matters, Paul suffers from strange dreams/visions mostly involving a young girl and some battle scenes involving Paul’s connection to a mysterious sword. He can also command without speaking, somehow.

I had no prior history to draw from which in retrospect did me a disservice. Dune began as a novel in 1965 written by Frank Herbert and was turned into a 1985 film directed by David Lynch which was deemed a disaster.

I probably should have read the book.

To be fair, the acting is quite good, especially by Chalamet and Isaac, completely believable as father and son. Their connection and chemistry are pliable but there is not enough of it. Instead, the main focus is Paul’s relationship with his mother, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

Chalamet, already an Oscar-nominated actor for Call Me By Your Name (2017), has the chops to carry a film.

Other worthy turns are by legendary British actress Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother, and Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen tribe.

Despite the over two and a half hour running time Dune does not drag. The bright sweeping desert scenes featuring a pulsating underground worm, mixed well with darker scenes in the Harkonnen’s lair.

Dune (2021) is made incredibly well and is a clear spectacle. I found it too similar to other genre films to give it a thumbs up unless you are already a fan of the novel, but this style of cinema may not really be my cup of tea.

Villeneuve, who directed Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 knows his way around the fantasy genre and is perfectly capable. He is directing Dune: Part II to be released in 2023 so I’d expect more of the same.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Costume Design, Best Sound (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Visual Effects (won),

The Abyss-1989

The Abyss-1989

Director James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Scott’s Review #1,210

Reviewed December 19, 2021

Grade: B+

Well before he created Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) and became a household name, director James Cameron made the gorgeous, special effects-laden film The Abyss (1989).

The film followed hits like Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986).

These films undoubtedly allowed him to make a film that he wanted to make with the necessary freedoms.

The Abyss is completely visual and the interesting cast of characters with possibilities for development are never allowed to shine through instead feeling stale. They are usurped by the constant flow of underwater lush worldly spectacles that utterly encompass the film.

Even when the central characters get a moment to dig deeper into their backstories Cameron never goes for the emotional jugular instead encouraging the viewers to focus on the extraterrestrial and science fiction elements rather than his characters.

That’s the type of director Cameron is and recommended watching The Abyss on the big screen, or the biggest screen possible. I did not and recognize the sheer bombast that a cinema watching would render.

I missed out.

The film, and specifically Cameron, must be heralded for the vast loveliness of the art direction, visual effects, and cinematography.

Forget the convoluted plot entirely and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio portray Bud and Dr. Lindsey Brigman formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. When an American submarine sinks in the Caribbean, a US search and recovery team works with an oil platform crew, racing against Soviet vessels to recover the boat.

Deep in the ocean, they encounter something unexpected and the American team is determined to find out what. Is it the Russians or a deadly and intelligent extraterrestrial force?

The story is overly complicated and riddled with stereotypical plot points. As the team becomes submersed in their submarine they experience the standard trouble- a hurricane, a rogue team leader, a flooded rig, and freezing temperatures.

Harris and Mastrantonio have pretty good chemistry here but we never fully grasp their marital problems or why there is a distance between them. Thrown together on this mission they predictably face peril and come close to losing each other.

When they embrace in the final scene it is a wrapped up like a tight bow sort of ending that underwhelms.

But, man are the visuals amazing. When the team drops at the alien city in the deepest trenches of the ocean floor the beautiful underwater camera shots take center stage. The technical consistencies are simply breathtaking and become the focal point of the film.

I daresay The Abyss (1989) features the greatest underwater sequences ever seen on film to this date but somehow decades later the film feels forgotten or overshadowed by Cameron’s other works.

Perhaps the dated Cold War plotline and the traditional romance have not served the film well in the long run.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects (won), Best Sound

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director Robert Zemeckis

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

Being a child of the 1980s films like Back to the Future (1985) left an indelible mark on me. I fondly recall excitedly going to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with a giant tub of popcorn in tow and enjoying the hell out of this film.

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

There exists a magical, futuristic element that left me and countless other youngsters and adults alike with a sense of wonder. And one amazing car!

Michael J. Fox, a huge television star of the 1980s largely thanks to the sitcom Family Ties, powered through to the big screen with the help of this film and others.

The 1980s was a wonderful decade to grow up in.

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry.

Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

To further complicate matters, Marty has to then return to his own time and save the life of Doc Brown.

Back to the Future is one of those films that has something for everyone and the stars perfectly aligned to make it a blockbuster popcorn hit. Besides the science fiction elements, there is humor, a cool 1950s throwback vibe, romance, and natural chemistry between Fox and Lloyd who together carry the film.

It’s hardly an art film and goes for the jugular with mainstream additions like a killer soundtrack led by The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News which was all over top 40 radio in the summer of ’85. Counterbalancing the current times was another smash hit Johnny B. Goode, a 1958 Chuck Berry tune.

There is a safe vibe for sure and director Robert Zemeckis knows his action-adventure romantic comedies. This may be his best work but he also skews adding much diversity or heavy topics. He simply creates a fun, entertaining film.

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced.

Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

Lloyd is perfect as the zany Doc Brown. He is wacky without being too ridiculous and bridges the gap between generations. The character is presumed to be old enough to be Marty’s (in present-day) grandfather and the two characters rely on each other. Back to the Future shows that an unlikely friendship can develop.

The film is also great at depicting the vast differences between the 1950s and the 1980s. At a simpler time, the 1950s are viewed as wholesome while the 1980s are perceived as the decade of excess and some fun is poked at both generations. But, both generations can also connect.

In an acute moment, Marty helps secure his parent’s bond and ensures he is created. This could be viewed as icky to some but the romance between the two parents is tender and sweet. The interactions between all characters are sentimental without being saccharine.

Back to the Future was the feel-good film of 1985 and a must-see for those living in the period. It holds up surprisingly well with then state-of-the-art special effects not now looking dated or laughable. It also explores growing up as an adolescent and identifying with one’s parents and the differences they have.

Who can’t relate to that in some way?

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

Dark Shadows-2012

Dark Shadows-2012

Director Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #1,203

Reviewed December 3, 2021

Grade: C+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

The plot gives a brief explanation of the history.

In eighteenth-century Maine, Barnabas Collins (Depp) presides over the town of Collinsport. A rich and powerful playboy, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who deviously makes him pay.

Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him alive.

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

His resurrection creates complications and drama for the entire family.

Burton knocks it out of the park with the visuals.

The gothic mansion, in particular, is right up his alley and he embraces the possibilities with gusto. Every creak or wind sound heard within the mansion co-aligns with the dark and dreary purples and brown colors.

Frequent candles mark the proper mood and investigating the vast number of rooms was something to look forward to.

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

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

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

The film veers into a vastly different territory.

Burton and Depp’s Barnabas struts around emitting one-liners for intended giggles. The other characters appear to be dressed for Halloween and are dumb and morose.

The feeling I got was that of a retread to a situation comedy like The Addams Family rather than a horror soap to be taken seriously.

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

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

Unsurprisingly, Dark Shadows (2012) performed poorly at the box office and was derided by true fans of the series and almost every other film critic.

This caused Barnabas and his family to slink back into their coffins possibly for good.

What a shame.

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Director Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Scott’s Review #1,198

Reviewed November 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Edward Scissorhands (1990) is a Tim Burton creation, given appropriate funding only after the smash success of his 1989 film Batman. A creative and romantic fantasy, it is an unconventional project made as charming and whimsical as its stars were at that time.

The film is part sad, part magical, with enough science fiction and romance sprinkled in to make it work across genres. The result was another box office hit for Burton, teen idol status for its lead stars, and an obvious Academy Award nomination for the deserving Makeup department.

As unconventional and original as it appears on the surface the film suffers slightly from being a bit mainstream. There is a safe, romantic comedy feel that takes the film away from a much darker tone it could (and should) have had.

Still, Edward Scissorhands is entertaining and fascinating.

An eccentric scientist, deliciously played by Vincent Price, builds an animated human being, the gentle and soft-spoken Edward (Johnny Depp). He dies before he can finish assembling Edward, leaving the poor young man with a freakish appearance accentuated by the scissor blades he has instead of his hands.

Friendly suburban saleswoman Peg (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg’s teen daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). However, Edward’s hands make him an outcast despite his kindness and artistic talent.

This is a challenge for all of them.

By 1990 Johnny Depp was becoming a huge Hollywood star and so was Winona Ryder. As the ‘it’ actors, this helps Edward Scissorhands tremendously by not only adding ticket sales but also a fascination with them as a couple.

The chemistry is palpable and so is the classic good girl helping boy reform. Depp’s Edward is a sympathetic hero and is instantly mysterious and likable.

Wiest, then in her prime, is a hoot as the comical Avon lady who introduces Edward to the joys and pains of suburban Americana. Particularly enjoyable are the perfectly manicured landscapes in Peg’s neighborhood where she goes door to door selling her products.

As one can easily predict, the beautiful plants and bushes suffer from Edwards’s dangerous hands.

The Gothic mansion where Peg discovers Edward is a deliciously creative set piece that has the classic Burton stamp. The director is so defined by his artistic sets and design that half the fun of the film is discovering and noticing these fabulous creations.

The mainstream part comes with the story and a smattering of 1982’s E.T. sentimentality included to win over middle-American audiences. This isn’t bad but it does lighten the heavy drama and sinister approach that Burton could have honed in on.

Much of the credit must go to Depp because on paper the premise could easily be dismissed as silly, trivial, or outlandish. The actor brings pathos to the role and makes the audience believe in and fall in love with the character.

He makes Edward even more rootable by adding some obvious cliches- Kim’s jealous boyfriend Jim, played by Anthony Michael Hall, and the eccentric religious fanatic who believes that Edward is evil incarnate, played by O-Lan Jones.

Adding these villains and most of the rest of the neighborhood as either clueless or misunderstanding townsfolk adds to the reduction of most of the supporting cast to standard stock characters.

Burton, along with Depp, Ryder, and Wiest, gives Edward Scissorhands (1990) heart.

It’s a beautiful fairy tale that feels magical and adventurous save for some mediocre storytelling. It’s an above-average film that won over the masses at the time of release.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup

Nanny McPhee-2005

Nanny McPhee-2005

Director Kirk Jones

Starring Emma Thompson, Colin Firth

Scott’s Review #1,161

Reviewed July 15, 2021

Grade: B

Patterned after the classic family film Mary Poppins (1964), but with a slightly harder edge, Nanny McPhee (2005) attempts to recreate the iconic character with a similar storyline setup.

But a couple of other family films make their presence known.

The Sound of Music (1965) is quickly added to the mix with a well-meaning but absent daddy and a slew of siblings who terrorize former and present nannies.

A scullery maid with big dreams ala Cinderella (1950) solidifies the harkening back to 1960s cinematic family fun.

Great British actors like Emma Thompson and Colin Firth add much to the film which would be mediocre without their benefits. And the iconic Angela Lansbury hops aboard in a small yet important role. They make what would be a disposable kid’s movie into something respectable, romantic, and fairly cute.

The film tries a bit too hard with the comical moments, losing the magical moments that would have made it feel more alive. Instead, most scenarios come across as campy or family-oriented.

Of course, the conclusion can be seen from the very beginning.

The effort is admirable but the story experience never feels very compelling. Thinking demographically, Nanny McPhee has much to offer the younger set. The kids will love the candy-box sets and costumes like confectionery-shop windows, the whimsy and farcical grotesqueness of it all.

The adults might be won over by the creativity and the cast.

Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay) has fun playing ugly and getting her feet dirty, her snaggletooth almost a character itself, so prominent is it featured. She is even the anti-Mary Poppins, lacking an umbrella or the high-class pose that she had.

Each time the children learn a lesson, one of Nanny McPhee’s facial defects magically disappears.

But why not just dust off the original Mary Poppins? Nanny McPhee will inevitably be forgotten since an actual remake of the Mary Poppins film was released in 2015 all but confirming the Nanny McPhee franchise as the second tier.

And Nanny McPhee made me want to revisit Mary Poppins instead of watching Nanny McPhee again.

Set in Victorian-era England, lonely widower Cedric Brown (Firth) hires Nanny McPhee (Thompson) to care for his seven rambunctious children, who have terrified and chased away all previous nannies. But McPhee is different and will have no such nonsense. She slowly wins over the children with magic and a bit of discipline.

And when the children’s great-aunt and benefactor, Lady Adelaide Stitch (Lansbury), threatens to separate the kids, the family pulls together under the guidance of their new leader.

Lansbury nearly steals the show. Short-sighted and domineering, the family is financially supported by her and Cedric cowers to her every request until she demands custody over one of the children. She also viciously threatens to reduce the family to poverty unless Cedric remarries within the month, meaning the family would lose the house, and be forced to separate.

She is deliciously wicked in the role and plays it to the hilt.

The sweet romance between Cedric and scullery maid Evangeline, played by Kelly Macdonald, works well. They resist at first, but then realize their feelings for each other and agree to marry, satisfying Aunt Adelaide’s conditions for maintaining her financial support.

Nanny McPhee (who is now fully beautiful), magically makes it snow in August, transforming the wedding scene and changing Evangeline’s clothes into a beautiful wedding dress.

This is the fairy tale ending that ultimately makes the film work and wins me over.

Nanny McPhee (2005) is solid if not remarkable.

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director Guillermo del Toro

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a treasure of a film. I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone.

It is not for children!

The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

A clue is that Guillermo del Toro directs the film, he of well-known note for creating films such as Hell Boy (2004), Hell Boy II: The Golden Army (2008), and The Shape of Water (2017) the latter winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar Award.

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat.

The frightening period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes.

The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising.

Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

She is completely and utterly spellbound and intrigued all at once. Finally, she can escape the ravages of real life and immerse herself in a fantasy world all her own. She hates her stepfather, worries for her mother, and can’t wait to traverse her new world. If only life were that simple.

In a fairy tale, Princess Moanna, who Ofelia becomes, visits the human world, where the sunlight blinds her and erases her memory. She becomes mortal and eventually dies. The king believes that eventually, her spirit will return to the underworld, so he builds labyrinths, which act as portals, around the world in preparation for her return.

Enter Ofelia.

About that creativity, I mentioned earlier. Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for adults, taking some similar points and adding the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable.

The darkness of the forest is the best and most memorable part.

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child.

So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

The story can be downright horrifying at times. Carmen eventually dies and Ofelia is taken under the wing of Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), Ofelia’s stepfather’s housekeeper, and also a revolutionary harboring dangerous secrets.

Ofelia and Mercedes team up to save Ofelia’s baby brother from the hands of the dastardly.

The strange fantasy world may confuse some viewers. It’s simply not the imagination of Ofelia (or is it?) because Vidal, Mercedes, and the baby all play a part in the eerie labyrinth.

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults.

Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2008) is a visionary film and must be experienced to be believed.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Original Score

Hercules-1997

Hercules-1997

Director Ron Clements, John Musker

Starring Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito

Scott’s Review #1,109

Reviewed February 7, 2021

Grade: B-

Hercules (1997) is a modern-day Walt Disney film that centers on the world of Ancient Greek mythology. The premise is one I find fascinating and the characters of Hercules, Zeus, Hades, and Pegasus are the focus.

The names alone hold intrigue and appeal but the film is only an adequate watch.

The product feels “produced” and lacks the authenticity and sincerity that is rich and seamless in beloved Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) or Bambi (1941).

Besides the initial story intrigue, the animations are nothing particularly special and it feels too kiddie-like.

It’s like comparing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band historical album to a latter-day solo effort by Paul McCartney and that’s being generous. It may be fine but can’t hold a candle to the former.

And “fine” is not what I wanted from a Disney film. That’s what I felt about Hercules. It’s okay and entertaining but not up to snuff as compared with finer films.

The film is equipped with a fantastic villain though, the best part of Hercules other than the mythological elements. James Woods, who voices the character of Hades, is wonderful and I’m hardly a James Woods fan but for other reasons, like his politics.

Anyway, the rivalry and competitive edge of Hercules and Hades are unique and compelling and will hold one’s attention.

It all begins in a perfect Disney way when Hercules (Tate Donovan), a son of gods, is snatched as a baby by Hades and forced to live among mortals as a half-man, half-god. When he grows to be an adolescent, Hercules needs to perform a rite of passage on Earth to prove himself worthy of living with the gods on Mount Olympus.

With his sidekick, Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), in tow, Hercules must learn to use his strength to defeat evil creatures.

The strong message is written in Hercules to appeal to a sense of good overthrowing evil. It’s a Disney film, trust me it will.

Though predictable the story feels good in a world where far too often the bad guys get away with bad things and the good guys don’t get enough credit.

Appealing and targeted mostly to kids, the film made a ton of money which means a lot of kids saw it. A great reminder is that with any luck truth and honest will win out. So will remaining true to one’s self.

Woods makes Hades a villain with an edge rather than a generic, cookie-cutter type. Hades speaks rapidly, like a used car salesman trying to sell a customer a good deal. We can tell we are trying to be swindled but there is fun in that.

Megara (Susan Egan), the intended love-interest for Hercules, is working for Hades, which adds a level of intrigue.

Unfortunately, the romance between Hercules and Meg never gets off the ground or works well. The main issue is that there is little chemistry or rooting value for the couple. Meg isn’t my favorite Disney character. She is a sarcastic damsel whom Hercules saves from the centaur Nessus.

After Hercules and the others leave, Meg is revealed to be Hades’ servant, having sold her soul to him to save a lover who then left her. She’s had a tough life and finally does the right thing but I never felt invested in the character.

The main song from the film is okay but rather forgettable. The title of “Go the Distance” is a song of determination but also generic and unmemorable. The look of the animations has a 1990s vibe with bright, vibrant colors that look “of the time” instead of feeling classic or alive.

A decent effort, Hercules (1997) hits its mark sometimes and other times misses completely. I was enraptured with the historical and mythological gods and the trimmings that go along with that mystique, but the modern spin doesn’t work and only made me yearn for the classics from the 1940s and 1950s.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“Go the Distance”

Excalibur-1981

Excalibur-1981

Director John Boorman

Starring Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,108

Reviewed February 4, 2021

Grade: B+

John Boorman, most famous for directing a 1972 disturbing classic film Deliverance returns to the fold with steamy fantasy rich with lavish sets, visual treats, and an incredible atmosphere.

This is where the film succeeds.

We are taken to a medieval world where we embrace jealousy, sex, and schemes.

Boorman not only directs but produces and co-writes the project along with the screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg.

Excalibur (1981) retells the legend of King Arthur, a British leader from the fifth and sixth centuries mostly told by folklore, and the Knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th-century Arthurian romance Le Morte d’Arthur, at behemoth length, by Thomas Malory.

The table is symbolic because it implies that there is no head and therefore a democratic forum.

This telling is quite adult and not suitable or comprehensible for children.

Famous legends like Merlin (Nicol Williamson), Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi), and Morgana (Helen Mirren) appear alongside Arthur (Nigel Terry) in a furious battle for control.

In a flurry of handsome European actors who would later become famous, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson both appear.

Most of the male cast are masculine, hunky, and very handsome. These traits cascade to how good they look in full body armor, shields, and swords doing bloody battles with each other.

Homoerotic scenes exist just as they did in Deliverance. Lest we only focus on the male cast, Helen Mirren is delightful as an evil seductress who oozes sex appeal.

The magical sword of Excalibur starts in the hands of a British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years later, finds its way to his bastard son, Arthur, who is destined to become king but doesn’t realize why.

Merlin helps Arthur fulfill his fate by bringing together the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot and unifying the country.

Years later Arthur faces greater tests ahead in pursuit of love, the Holy Grail, and his nation’s survival as some attempt to steal the treasure for their advantage.

Excalibur had me with the visuals and I was able to immerse myself in the spectacular style and artistic set design with gorgeous sequences.

Several creative and glimmering shots of someone either emerging from or submerged underwater are featured. They are startlingly beautiful.

I pretended I had been whisked away to an otherworld of enchantment that I could sit back and enjoy.

The knowledge that the entire film was shot in Ireland captured and enraptured me. The breathtaking greenery and waterfalls are dreamlike. When Lancelot beds Guenevere in the forest they both appear nude. Their pale white flesh against the green is both magical and seductive.

And a treat for one’s curious eyes.

The story is overly complicated with reality mixed with either dreams or fantasy and some of the plots confused me. I finally got to a point where the intricacies became too much for me to comprehend especially against the stunning backdrops.

The plot became too jumbled and messy so it is advisable to drift off and take it all in rather than trying to make sense of everything.

A visual marvel Excalibur (1981) will delight the apt film fan. I fantasized about how the picture would look and feel on the big screen but I wasn’t that lucky.

The story is obviously far-fetched and ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t matter and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it.

I was treated to good-looking people in armor, unique costumes, and various states of undress. And that’s just fine with me.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Director Jaromil Jires

Starring Jaroslava Schallerova

Scott’s Review #1,076

Reviewed October 30, 2020

Grade: B+

One of the oddest films I’ve ever laid eyes on. The best way to view a film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970) is to absorb it and let it either pull you in or turn you off.

The cadence is to feel the film and then search for any semblance of meaning or interpretation later, or perhaps never.

The genre best to categorize the film is art cinema meets fantasy meets horror meets fairy tale. Is it ever a bizarre experience? If one is to take hallucinogens first, this film is a recommended watch.

The production is Czech and is translated to Valerie a týden divů in its native language. 

The story involves a week in the life of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and the weird sexual thoughts and desires she encounters while blossoming. She encounters witchcraft, vampires, and a bizarre Constable, who wears a mask.

Valerie is raised by the strangest grandmother (Helena Anýžová) imaginable, who morphs into other characters named Mother and Redhead. Valerie does not live a boring life.

One poster for the film is of a blooming flower with splotches of blood that can be interpreted as a girl losing her virginity.

To delve much further into the plot than a quick summary is wasteful because it doesn’t make very much sense. Such activities as Valerie’s grandmother making a pact with vampires to keep her young forever, Valerie lying in a coffin surrounded by rotten apples, being burned at the stake, and finally being followed and menaced by her priest, are a few of the shenanigans the film presents.

This is shrouded by some of the loveliest photography and scenery you’ve ever seen.

The creativity and the experimental nature of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders are what will allure an open-eyed viewer seeking something left-of-center….very left-of-center.

The story is secondary.

The medieval landscape is gothic and haunting, perfect for evil-doings and strangeness. Not to harp on this point, but the look of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the money shot. All else can be left by the sidelines.

The perspective is all Valerie’s, which is nice in an early 1970’s feminist way. It feels like Valerie is changing from a girl to a woman and a strong one at that. She is coming into her own after facing and challenging demons. In the mix is a handsome man who titillates Valerie.

I felt like I was emerging into the girl’s subconscious and experiencing her fears and desires alongside her.

Critically speaking, I would have preferred a little more logic and wrap-up, but that’s just me.

Surely, not a realistic interpretation, Was the girl dreaming while asleep or merely delving into fantasy one day? The more I tried to follow the story and put together the pieces like working on a puzzle, the less this did me any favors.

I then decided to space out and indulge in the other lovelies included. I should have done this from the beginning.

I am unsure how many Czech films I have seen if any, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a clear example of what Czech filmmakers can do and it’s crazy what they can come up with.

The mystique is likely multiplied on American audiences and a viewer used to more formulaic approaches to film. With a desire for more put-together stories and logic, I nonetheless admired this film for the magic and style offered.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

Director Renny Harlin

Starring Robert Englund, Tuesday Knight, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,030

Reviewed June 8, 2020

Grade: B-

By 1988, a tepid year in cinema, and with the slasher genre nearly dead on arrival, the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) had the cards stacked against it.

The franchise feels tired and out of gas by this point, so more comedy and humorous lines were added along with a return to a similar concept offered in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), the dream sequences.

The film is so-so with not much making it stand out as compared to the superior first three offerings. Thankfully, Robert Englund is the mainstay and main attraction.

A year after the events of the previous film, Kristen (Tuesday Knight) and her friends have been released from the stifling Westin Hills sanitarium, putting the horrific events behind them.

Their attempts to resume normal teenage activities like attending class and partying are thwarted by Freddy Krueger (Englund) who begins to infiltrate Kristen’s dreams.

As usual, a fresh batch of teenagers is along for the ride as they struggle to stay awake by watching Music Television (MTV) and revisiting the lavish junkyard featured in the previous installment.

The redundancy of another franchise film using the tired “one year later” to begin events anew is feeling like a cliché.

The main character Kristen being played by a different actress does not help the film only making it lack any consistency, the fact that actress Patricia Arquette had little interest in returning for around two in the role is not the film’s fault, but a brand-new character instead of a recast might not have been a bad idea.

Recasting prominent roles may work in daytime soap operas but not in the movies.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, while quite similar to its predecessor, Dream Warriors, so much so that they could easily be watched in tandem, has some positive qualities.

I love the MTV angle, the network music channel overtaking nearly every United States teenager’s living room or bedroom throughout the 1980s.

If the filmmakers wanted to get teenagers who might not necessarily watch horror films, this was a perfect marketing tool. The target audience is perfectly aligned, and the film feels fresh and relevant for its time of release.

The drawback to the above point is that making a film that is timely means that decades later its risk is being referred to as “of its time”, and sadly that is what has happened with Dream Master.

Nobody will scramble to watch this installment when other better chapters are out there. There may hardly be a reason to watch this one against you unless a Nightmare marathon is on the docket.

The junkyard set and the creepy church set are very good, so the film does well from a visual perspective.

Englund is Freddy and his familiarity cannot be dismissed, but the actor seems to be phoning in his performance by this point in the franchise. Finally receiving top billing, as he should, he shares his familiar witty remarks and playfully taunts his victims like a cat would before pouncing on a mouse.

The actor adds even more humor to his one-liners, but this sacrifices the horrific moments of which there are not many. A successful horror/comedy fusion is a delicate balance and there is not enough meat on the bone.

Entertaining at best, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) is not well remembered, nor should it be. A dated affair, with emotionless teenage actors needing acting lessons and surely never to be heard from again, round out the cast led by Robert Englund.

The film is a letdown because it is too much like Dream Warrior and suffers from too much predictability.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

Director Chuck Russell

Starring Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,028

Reviewed May 29, 2020

Grade: B+

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is a credible effort to take the, at this point, tired slasher genre in a new direction, using style and special effects to its advantage.

The film is not a work of art and does not stray too far from the norm to risk losing the target audience, but the experiment works, providing the film with a fresh feel.

Thankfully, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in tow providing wit and humor and rich character history rarely seen in horror.

One year following the events of the previous chapter, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) awakens following a nightmare of being chased by Freddy Krueger, to find him in her bathroom where she is attacked again.

Her mother believes that she is suicidal and sends her to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, where Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson).

The rest of the events of the film mainly take place in this setting. A new intern therapist, Nancy, (Heather Langenkamp) takes an interest in Kristen’s case.

In two clever plot twists, one a bit too coincidental, Nancy reveals to the remaining patients that they are the “last of the Elm Street kids”, the surviving children of the people who banded together and burned Krueger to death many years ago.

The second is more intriguing as a nun named Sister Mary Helena (Nan Martin) provides the history of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger, who turns out to be the same.

This humanizes Freddy a bit and provides layers to his story rather than just another “slice ’em and dice ’em” horror film.

The film has a way of gathering curiosity and delivering the goods with dreams hypnosis and mental synapses, as the kids realize they have dream powers that culminate in a group adventure.

Perfect for the mental hospital setting.

The junkyard sequence that provides the climax with so much muscle is splendid adding creative and colorful bits of junk, littering the entire set with rusty tin trinkets and other nooks and crannies to marvel at.

A feast for the eyes and a perfect backdrop for evil and killings. The set design works tremendously well in this film.

The familiar character Nancy played once again by Langenkamp (the main girl from the first Nightmare) is a nice touch of recognition that will please fans immensely. A returning favorite in a horror franchise is always a smart move.

The casting of esteemed character actress Nan Martin, who can frighten the pants off anyone if given a good part, is a divine decision. The actress even resembles legendary actress Betsy Palmer (familiar to Friday the 13th fans as the dreadful Mrs. Voorhees).

The creepy mommy theme so often works well in horror films and this inclusion is no exception.

The theme song to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a pop-metal treat written and performed by the heavy metal band Dokken.

This inclusion assuredly brought the teenage girls and the mullet crowd alike to movie theaters across America. The song is catchy and can easily be head-banged as the end credits roll across the screen.

Even more impressive is that the lyrics make sense from a story perspective since dreams are a huge part of the franchise and this specific installment.

Nearly rivaling the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in originality and plot, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warrior (1987) does a fantastic job bringing energy to a fading genre, one not to be rejuvenated for another nine years when Scream (1996) debuted.

Engaging and brightly lit razzle-dazzle visual sets within dreams are pulse-racing and creative, while a mother story crafts fresh air. This film is the sequel high-point to a series of duds soon to follow.

A Christmas Carol-1951

A Christmas Carol-1951

Director Brian Desmond Hurst

Starring Alastair Sim

Scott’s Review #871

Reviewed February 26, 2019

Grade: A

A Christmas Carol (1951), released as the American title, or Scrooge in Great Britain, is yet another film incarnation of the world-famous 1843 novel by Charles Dickens.

This version seems to be the popular favorite, historically shown on television around the holidays.

Alastair Sim is perfectly cast as the curmudgeonly Scrooge with the eventual endearing qualities in this earnest and wonderful seasonal effort.

Set in bustling London, a fabulous setting for any Christmas film, the story gets off to a resounding start with Dickens’ words being narrated subsequently presenting a faithful tribute to the book.

The brooding Ebenezer Scrooge (Sim) angrily leaves the London Exchange on Christmas Eve eager for a quiet night at home. He begrudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) the day off to spend with his poor family and bemoans the holidays as humbug to fellow wealthy businessmen that he encounters.

Scrooge embarks on a strange journey at night as he is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), shackled in chains and doomed to walk the earth clad in chains to represent his greed during his living years.

He warns Scrooge to repent or suffer the same fate as he is visited by three ghosts representing chapters of his life: The Spirit of Christmas Past, the Spirit of Christmas Present, and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to come.

The first two ghosts are more benevolent, and the third ghost is mysterious and frightening and takes Scrooge down a dim journey of what will be after he dies.

The centerpiece that makes A Christmas Carol work so well is its star, Alastair Sims. Hardly handsome, the actor is perfect in the role offering relish with his irritated facial expressions and untamed white locks. As he dismisses a waiter at the realization that he will be charged extra for more bread the penny-pinching Scrooge is in fine form as only Sims can be.

Later, his cleaning lady assumes Scrooge has lost his marbles as he frolics about gleefully in his bedclothes raising her salary beyond comprehension, clearly a changed and jolly man.

Sims play this range of emotions with relish and truthfulness.

The cinematographers work wonders creating a magical London set drizzling with celebratory facets. With eons of pure white falling snow and streets filled with young Christmas carolers and city people, the film offers a great feel.

With the Cratchit household modest yet filled with holiday cheer, the film gives the audience the right blend of sentimentality and spirit never turning into schmaltz.

The result is a richly produced film with a small budget proving that a robust budget does not equal greatness.

Rated G, the film has a few dark moments but is largely tailor-made for an all-ages audience. This undoubtedly is a testament to its success and staying power.

Neither a musical nor too heavy in the drama field, the pacing is perfect, and the story builds throughout the running time. After many decades most viewers will be familiar with the conclusion, an enchanting character turn that is always wonderful to witness with joyful glee.

A Christmas Carol (1951) is a legendary film with crackle and spark and an effective atmosphere leaving adoring fans to look forward to more each season.

For an interesting contrast, a suggested companion piece is the aptly titled Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney, a musical version of the same story.

Watched in tandem or even traded off, these two similar yet different creations offer interesting perspectives both enchant and celebrating the human spirit.

The Polar Express-2004

The Polar Express-2004

Director Robert Zemeckis

Starring Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #800

Reviewed August 8, 2018

Grade: B+

The Polar Express (2004) is a modern entry into the annals of holiday film history. Along with treasures like Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, and all the other standards, this film has become a popular one to watch throughout the season.

The film is not exactly like the others, since it is the first of its kind to incorporate live human characters animated using live-action motion capture animation.

The mood of the film is mysterious, edgy, and with a dark tint, so jolly it isn’t, but compelling it is, and visually is a marvel.

The story is as follows- on a snowy (naturally!) Christmas Eve, a young boy living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is doubtful of the existence of Santa Claus. When a steam locomotive suddenly appears outside of his house, he curiously boards the train to find a mysterious conductor (Tom Hanks) manning the train.

As the train rolls away the boy meets two other children on board and stops for another one, also reluctant to get on. They begin a dazzling, frozen adventure to the North Pole with the promise of receiving the first gift of Christmas from Santa Claus himself.

The main reason to recommend The Polar Express is simply for the gorgeous visual treats offered. In 2004 the film was a unique experience and I fondly recall sitting in a dark movie theater observing the film for the first time.

There was a magical element to the surroundings, combining intrigue and fantasy that still holds up well.

For adults, I do not think the film is at all scary, but I have heard some reviewers complain that the moody ingredients are a bit frightening for children so there is that concern. 

A major component is the mixture of human beings and animated tools. The familiar actor who everybody knows is Tom Hanks as the conductor. Therefore, to sit back and observe the character is a wonderful thing- is it Tom Hanks or is it an animation?

It is ultimately both, but the fun is in the observation and wondering how the filmmakers created this experience.

And listen for Hanks in other voice performances throughout the film. 

The story (or fable) itself is warm and fairly predictable. But, of course, being largely made with kids in mind, this is to be expected. There is never a doubt that the boy (interestingly never given a name) will ultimately believe in Santa after all and live happily ever after.

The magic is in the details, though- the boy’s journey to this realization is peppered with fun and creative richness- the little girl’s floating ticket and an ornament falling off a Christmas tree are good particulars. 

Director, Robert Zemeckis, and Hanks worked closely together in Forrest Gump (1994) so the pair are familiar with each other, creatively speaking. Hanks undoubtedly had much input into the decision making and it shows. 

I do not personally rank The Polar Express (2004) among the best of the best holiday film offerings, but I support an occasional dusting off of this work for viewing pleasure.

Perhaps over time the animations may become dated or seem less dazzling, but the film is still to be appreciated for its creative elements. The story is nothing spectacular (in a way Scrooge for kids) but makes for a pleasant family viewing experience. 

Oscar Nominations: Best Song-“Believe”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a wonderful, magical film that will succeed in melting the hearts of anyone with even a tad of cynicism. The film is otherworldly (quite literally) and contains a message of acceptance and appreciation of other beings.

Mixing many humorous moments with tender drama and tears, the film becomes part of a fantasy, science-fiction, and humanistic story. The film still feels fresh and relevant today with a bevy of forever-remembered scenes and references- a wonderful story of friendship.

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their faraway planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind.

When ten-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd-pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers.

Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm shines through in this very personal story.

The film contains an overall innocence that is pure benevolence- E.T. teaches Elliott as much as Elliott teaches E.T.

Who can ever forget the pair’s initial interaction as the use of Reese’s Pieces candy became a huge cultural phenomenon? The lovely quote “E.T. phone home!” is still as poignant and teary-eyed as it was in 1982.

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd-looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the filmmakers were careful not to make him too frightening.

Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time.

From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this commonplace.

If made in 1960 Elliott would have had two happy parents and a white picket fence.

Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, like Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we see the two as connected friends.

The duo especially shines during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like.

Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience superstardom throughout the 1980s and 1990s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five-year-old.

At its core what makes E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creature’s desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus.

Only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations but lost out on the big prize to the epic Gandhi that year.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Effects Editing (won), Best Sound (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

Cinderella-1950

Cinderella-1950

Director Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson

Voices Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Cinderella is a lovely 1950 Walt Disney production that rejuvenated the animated film genre after a sluggish 1940s, thanks to the ravages of World War II.

The film glistens with goodness and bright colors, offering a charming fairy tale-based story based on hope and “happily ever after”.

Cinderella is enchanting on all levels.

Told largely in narration form especially to explain the history of the story, we learn that Cinderella’s parents have both died, leaving her an orphan and living with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine.

Her stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia are jealous of Cinderella’s natural beauty. She is abused and berated regularly, forced to work as a servant in a rundown chateau- tending to the trio’s needs and demands.

Despite her unhappy life, Cinderella makes the most of it and befriends mice, birds, and many other animals she meets, singing and dancing merrily.

Life chugs along for our heroine until one day the King of the royal palace decides to throw a lavish Ball for his son, the Prince, to find his soulmate and marry her finally. The King requests that all eligible unmarried women attend.

As Cinderella excitedly requests to go, Lady Tremaine cruelly grants her request, provided all of her work is done, having no intention of making things easy on her.

In true fairy tale form, the Prince falls madly in love with Cinderella while many hurdles face the pair on their way to happiness.

Given the time when Cinderella was made (1950), the timing was excellent for a lavish production, to say nothing of the fantasy that many young girls undoubtedly experienced a handsome prince rescuing them, whisking them away from a life of doldrums to undying love.

Female empowerment had not yet taken hold during the 1950s, so the male-rescuing female message was palpable and appealing to many. Dated not the least bit, a story of true love overcoming hardship can always find an audience.

The colors and animations of the production are lush and powerful, oozing with perfection and drizzling with fantastic elements of romance and spectacular wealth.

An example of this is the lavish ball at the palace- as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother transforms the young girl and her transportation into a magical fantasy of horses, gowns, and carriages, it is quite extravagant in its beauty.

Engaging, with a bit of humor mixed in, are the supporting characters of the three evil ladies and the bumbling Grand Duke- interestingly voiced by the same person as the King. As Drizella and Anastasia attempt to impress Prince Charming, their awkward and haphazard mannerisms and scowls perfectly counterbalance the charm and grace of Cinderella in a sometimes comical fashion.

Comparisons must be made to 1937’s masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both films could easily be companion films to each other, being watched in sequence for better study and marveling about similarities.

Snow White and Cinderella are purely “good” characters, singing lovely tunes, embracing animal friends, and various forms of wildlife- they are both more or less “saved” by men.

In the present day, instead of this being offensive or “old fashioned”, it remains enchanting and a celebration of true love.

Cinderella is a treasure to be enjoyed after all these years, never aging nor becoming dated or irrelevant, which is a true testament to the power of film. Carving a story of values, honesty, hard work, and good payoff, generations of fans can appreciate this everlasting treasure.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Original Song-“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”, Best Sound Recording

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale of a wooden puppet longing to become a real boy.

The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy.

A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film, Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly, Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in to not make the experience too dark or scary.

This is evidenced by the, now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches and is the main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times.

Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.

The scene is sweet, and touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way, Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together.

Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Cricket. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film, and is still identified with the legendary film.

In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney Company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual.

Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity.

Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“When You Wish Upon a Star” (won)

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Wolfgang Reitherman, Eric Larson

Voices Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production by Walt Disney.  By this point, Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work.

However, due to mixed reviews and poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for many years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora.

After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when an evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby.

Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kind. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her personality but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety.

While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora. Merryweather arguably saves the young girl’s life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip gets star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the showing, and lush with colors as bright as stars. The sparkles that drizzle from the fairies’ wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration.

In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire-breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways.

The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the goodness of Snow White and Aurora are obvious.

Besides, both contain dashing princes who come to the rescue in just the nick of time and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact, the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films.

Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains elements of an empathetic, feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture