Tag Archives: Fantasy Films

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.



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 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 encompasses the film.

Even when 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 is to watch 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 the art direction, visual effects, and cinematography provide.

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: 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 in 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 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: Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“The Power of Love, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing (won)

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 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, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward’s hands make him an outcast. 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 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 art design that half the fun with 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.

The addition of 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

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. In fact, 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 Tor 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 time 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: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Original Score



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 really succeeds. We are taken to a medieval world where we escape to 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.

In fact, 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 battle 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 actually 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 own advantages.

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 fantasize 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 or genres best to categorize the film 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 and 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 really make very much sense. Such activities such as Valerie’s grandmother making a pact with vampires to keep her young forever, Valerie lying in a coffin surrounded by rotten apples, and 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 girl to 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.

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 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 really 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 of “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 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this commonplace.

If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure 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 buy 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 and 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. In this way, 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: 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)

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live-action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect.

Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise, why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz?

I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist, Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris.

Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of the dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumble upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman.

The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love?

Of course, they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now-legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney-produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized.

I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy instead of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice.

Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close-ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries, is pure and utter rubbish.

The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss.

Worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord.

On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou to find love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure.

Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect of the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

Oscar Nominations: Best Production Design, Best Costume Design



Director-James Cameron

Starring-Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #572

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: A

Acclaimed director James Cameron has done it again- similar to Titanic, he has created a masterpiece, but, oddly in merely one facet of the film, not the entire ball of wax. Avatar has two main factors to evaluate- the story and the visual aspect. Both are crucial, yes, but the visual experience is immeasurable, so much so, that the story is nearly irrelevant.

Futuristic in the timeline and set in the Twenty-second century, human beings begin to colonize Pandora, a lush planet, filled with lavish forests and creatures who flutter about. Planet earth has become depleted of resources, causing scientists to utilize Pandora for their own gain. Poisonous to humans, visitors must wear protection.

Sam Worthington portrays Jake Scully, a paraplegic former Marine, who visits Pandora and falls in love with Neytiri, a native creature of the planet.

From a story perspective, Avatar is very ordinary and nothing separates the story from others that have come before it. At the center is a love story and a rather predictable one in nature, but this is not the reason to view Avatar. Jake and Neytiri are sweet together, but I had much more fun watching the film rather than caring what happened between the pair.

Visually, Avatar is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. The intricate style and the attention to detail are astounding- this is my favorite aspect of Avatar and why I feel that the story is really not the reason to see the film.

Everything, from the art direction to the background pieces is perfectly made. Natives of Pandora are all CGI- blue/green in color, and are gorgeous, peaceful, and moving.

Avatar will likely go down in history as a groundbreaking film- it is a visual feast. The anti-war slant is also impressive to me, but the creative, technical achievements set this film over the top. James Cameron creates a magical, absorbing film that must be cherished.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-James Cameron, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects (won)

Clash of the Titans-2010

Clash of the Titans-2010

Director-Louis Leterrier

Starring-Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Scott’s Review #566

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: B

Though I went to the theater begrudgingly to see Clash of the Titans (fantasy blockbusters are not typically my cup of tea), I have to confess to being moderately impressed by this film. I had no real expectations other than it is a tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus.

I have heard some people compare it to the original in an unfavorable way, but I have not seen the original- released in 1981 so any comparisons are a moot point. At one hour and fifty minutes, the film is a perfect length and does not drag.

The plot is basic and focused. Perseus (Sam Worthington)  must save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda, as he leads a team of warriors into battle against vicious enemies. Some of the creatures they meet along the way are fascinating.

Clash of the Titans is not fine cinema, and the acting is not spectacular, but the effects are worth mentioning and the look of the film is impressive.

My only real criticisms are the way Medusa is portrayed (said to be ugly, she really is a beautiful woman with snakes on her head) and the 3-D, which really was pretty much unnecessary- this is probably an attempt by the studios to capitalize for profit.

Vampire Academy-2014

Vampire Academy-2014

Director-Mark Waters

Starring-Zoey Deutch

Scott’s Review #482


Reviewed September 18, 2016

Grade: C

Vampire Academy is a teenage intended mixture of Harry Potter meets Heathers meets Twilight. It is escapist fare and is quite light, but rather fun in an amateurish way.

I am certain the target audience is of the teenage, female persuasion, but when traveling one can be limited in film options.

Hence, on a chilly night in Norway, this film kept me occupied.

The story features a half human-half vampire named Rose, a teenage girl, who aspires to be a guardian, who is called back to a boarding school to uncover a hierarchical web of secrets, lies, and plots. She is accompanied by her best friend Lissa.

Predictably, there is a romantic angle to the story as Rose has feelings for Dimitri, a fellow guardian.

The film itself is fine- it knows the demographic it is going for and young adults are sure to enjoy the compelling drama, likable leads, and attractive cast.

From a film critique standpoint, there is nothing wrong with the film, but it is a bit generic and slightly predictable- from the romantic perspective, though impressively the ending is a bit of a surprise it is a whodunit of sorts.

Impressive also is Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), as nerdy classmate Natalie, who seems to be the brains and the keeper of gossip throughout the academy. The role is against type for the young actress and she does very well.

It is tough not to compare this film to the Harry Potter series of films since many aspects of Vampire Academy mirror Harry Potter- only with a female in the driver’s seat. The mysterious teachers and characters are also reminiscent of the fantastical Harry elements.

Unfortunately, a planned sequel was scrapped due to lack of interest, which surprised me. I would anticipate a film like this to be a hit and perhaps introduce a franchise, but not to be.

An adequate young adult film that borrows from other films and also harkens back to the days of former teen-minded genres of the past, specifically the 1980’s.

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-James Franco, Mila Kunis

Scott’s Review #433


Reviewed June 30, 2016

Grade: B

Being a huge fan of the original The Wizard of Oz epic classic in 1939, I was interested in seeing this extension of the original version.

While it has its moments of charm and good old-fashioned adventure, it is ultimately good, but nothing great.

James Franco is fantastic as the Wizard of Oz, the highest point of the film,  and has great charisma in the role. He brings a fun flair and is quite appealing.

The witch characters are okay, but not terribly interesting or deeply explored. Further character depth might have been helpful as I did not notice the much-rooting value for either of them.

On a positive note, I loved the first sequence, which was in black and white, true to the original and the twister scene is impressively done. The set/art design in this sequence and once the setting was Oz were beautifully done.

Toward the end of the film, though, the story becomes more of a silly fantasy action series that drew away from the heart of the original. The first half excels, the second disappoints.



Director-Robert Stromberg

Starring-Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #251


Reviewed June 27, 2015

Grade: C+

Maleficent is an updated re-telling of the classic fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” told from the perspective of Maleficent, the evil godmother, who in this version, it is revealed, was not always so evil after all and, in fact, is rather sympathetic towards the beginning of the film.

Later in life, becoming the antagonist of the story, she initially begins life in a world of goodness, wonder, and hope until one day she is duped by a young man she loves and is then turned wicked with hatred and revenge.

The casting of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is excellent and the main reason to watch the film.

Also worth noting is the wonderful, creative art direction and costumes that allow the film to look gothic and interesting.

Otherwise, the film meanders a bit, is slightly watered down, and contains a sappy Disney-style love story. The story itself is the weakest part of Maleficent.

Born Maleficent, protector of the fairies in the magical land of the Moors, as a young girl she is betrayed and is NOT a villain. Her male suitor (Stefan) is someone she trusts, loves, and respects, and she is then duped and has her wings stolen by him. He goes on to become the King of the neighboring land of humans, which is vastly different from the peaceful world that Maleficent lives in.

These events lead her on a path of devastation followed by revenge as she places a vicious sleeping curse on Stefan’s firstborn, Aurora.

Let’s start with some positives. Jolie is simply wickedly delicious in this role- the sultry, pouty looks, and those eyes! She plays scorned, revenge-driven to the hilt without being too over the top as lesser actresses certainly would have.

As the actress ages, she is beginning to take on more character, villainous parts rather than sexy bad girls or heroines and I am all for that. It gives the actress something meaty to sink her teeth into. Her dark costumes perfectly give the character edge.

The art direction is magical and the difference between the two lands is distinctive. The beauty of the Moors with gushing streams, mountains, and flowers contrasts with the stark nature of the human world.

The fairies symbolize peace and freedom with a life filled with treasures, whereas the human kingdom symbolizes ambition, greed, and coldness. The tiny fairies flittering around add zest and life to the film.

The silly love story, though is not believable nor compelling to me, especially the latter film romance between Stefan’s daughter- Aurora, and her wealthy suitor Phillip. They seem manufactured to be together without having a chance to get to know each other. This seems contrived and produced to add something young to the story.

And on a storytelling note, Maleficent’s sleeping curse is set to transpire on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday when she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep that can only be remedied by love’s true kiss.

Why does he send Aurora away to live in hiding when she is a newborn? Doesn’t he have sixteen years to enjoy her?

The film then dwindles to the inevitable battle finale with lots of movement and fire and a stand-off between Maleficent and Stefan that is dull and predictable.

Overall, the first half of the film is the better part and the performance of Angelina Jolie is wonderful.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Into the Woods-2014

Into the Woods-2014

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #241


Reviewed May 8, 2015

Grade: B

Based on the stage production of the same name, Into the Woods is a feature-length Disney film that incorporates several different fairy tales into the main story.

The film is a fantasy musical with numerous songs performed by the cast, featuring a large ensemble of seasoned actors within its ranks.

The classic fairy tales are modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella.

The action mainly revolves around a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are sad and lonely because they are unable to conceive a child due to a long-ago curse put upon the baker’s family by a witch- played by Meryl Streep.

Circumstances surrounding the baker’s father caused the once beautiful witch to be turned ugly. The witch offers a bargain to the baker and his wife- if they bring her four items (a white cow, a red cape, yellow hair, and a gold slipper) for a special potion, she will lift the curse, enabling them to conceive a child and live happily ever after.

This prompts the couple to venture into the dark forest to obtain the requested items. From this point in the film, the couple intersects with other characters from the fairy tales as all question various aspects of their lives.

Certainly, there are subsequent stories- the witch is Rapunzel’s adoptive mother and keeps her locked in a tower to prevent her from being hurt by the world.

Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) escapes her taunting stepsisters and attends a ball only to flee when noticed by the handsome prince (Chris Pine)- Jack attempts to sell beans to provide food for his mother- and Little Red Riding Hood attempts to bring sweets to her Grandmother, but is confronted by the Big, Bad, Wolf (Johnny Depp), and there is a strange Woman Giant stomping through the forest searching for Jack, but all of these stories revolve around the baker and his wife’s efforts to retrieve the witches requests.

The production and art direction in the film is great. I love the dark, gloomy forest, which translates so well on the screen and gives the magical effect of a mysterious, secret forest to the viewer.

I enjoyed the songs quite a bit- especially the catchy finale “Into the Woods”. However, some of the songs are quite one-dimensional and bland and not discernible from each other, let alone memorable.

The duet of the Prince’s, “Agony” is silly with, useless to the plot, gyrations, and silly dance moves.

Meryl Streep- dynamic in anything she appears in again steals the show as the vile witch turned beautiful in the latter stages of the film. She has a fantastic solo number mid-story, entitled “Stay with me”.

One drawback I found with the film is, at times it drags a bit and I was not sold on the casting of Anna Kendrick as Cinderella- something about her performance was lacking- perhaps she was not as sympathetic or convincing as another actress might have been.

Also, I would have enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp as the Wolf be more prominently featured as well as a larger role for the Woman Giant. As integral as she is to the plot, it was tough to even get a clear glimpse of her face let alone anything more substantial.

An entertaining feast of fairy tales immersed in one film, Into the Woods has some compelling moments but has a dull note to it and some lost opportunities that bring it far from the reaches of a masterpiece level.

A good film, but not a great film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Meryl Streep, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve

Scott’s Review #227


Reviewed March 11, 2015

Grade: B

Peau d’Ane (English-Donkey Skin) is a 1971 French musical film that is a fairy tale for adults- seemingly happy, but very dark beneath the surface. To say this film is bizarre would be an understatement. For all intents and purposes, the film is a strange retelling of the classic story of Cinderella, the film set in a peculiar medieval world and centering on a dying Queen, her husband The King, and the heroine of the story, the beautiful Princess.

The Queen is dying. Her last wish is for The King to marry the most beautiful woman in the land. Coincidentally, that is their daughter The Princess! Eager to produce an heir to the throne, he is determined to marry and reproduce with his daughter. The Princess, wanting none of it, turns herself into an ugly creature, by way of wearing the skin of a donkey and moves to a neighboring kingdom to exist in a life of exclusion and revulsion, farming pigs and being berated by those around her. A handsome Prince decides to pursue the woman who has baked him a delicious cake, but knows not who she is. Ironically enough it is the Princess.

I found the film to be quite interesting, albeit in a warped way. Unusual and tough to analyze, one must watch with an open mind. Certainly, Donkey Skin delves headfirst into the icky world of incest and makes no apologies for its controversial nature all the while interspersing the film with cheery tunes with singing roses and hatching chicks. The donkey skin that the Princess wears is obviously fake and unbelievably laughable and how nobody is aware that there is a beautiful Princess underneath is silly. And yet the film somehow works. I was transported into a magical world where nothing is normal and one surprise after another ensues.

A couple of oddities worth mentioning- some of the music from the film is a contemporary, upbeat music. Also, strangely, the final scene involves a helicopter, which is completely implausible given the time period. I get the sense that this film is going for absurd and unique and succeeds on both counts.

Visually the film is gorgeous- bright and cheerful with loads of colors. The film has awe-inspiring art direction as the set pieces within the castle are odd, interesting, and colorful. I especially enjoyed the Prince’s bedroom set.

As eccentric and seemingly dark the film is, often a character will burst into a cheerful song as evidenced by the Princess singing a happy tune while making a meal, all the while dressed in her donkey skin, almost like a scene out of Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady or any other wholesome musical.

To be sure a unique film, Donkey Skin is eccentric, lively, and interestingly perverse with a French flair. Fantasy for adults and a journey into the weird.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

Scott’s Review #206


Reviewed December 18, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five-year-olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby.

The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since the closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like?

The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entirely edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening riverboat.

The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary riverboat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually has weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” is memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Director-Bryan Singer

Starring-Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

Scott’s Review #93


Reviewed July 4, 2014

Grade: C

Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy, CGI-laden film most likely targeted at a young audience. It tells the story of Jack, a farmhand who must rescue a beautiful princess from the world of giants after an accident causes a gateway to open to their world.

The film is loosely based on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The special effects in the land of the Giants are the most impressive aspect of the film.

Otherwise, it is a love story mixed with adventure and the story is simply not very engaging and very predictable.

Heavyweights Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci appear in over-the-top performances and the acting of the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is shockingly wooden.

The finale is mildly entertaining as a chase through the castle occurs, but the film is so weighted down by the effects and the lack of a good story that overall it was a very middle-of-the-road film.

The Wizard of Oz-1939

The Wizard of Oz-1939

Director Victor Fleming

Starring Judy Garland

Top 100 Films-#11

Scott’s Review #34


Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

The Wizard of Oz is a magical film and one of my all-time favorites- made in 1939 it still holds up amazingly well and the nuances continue to admire- especially given the time in which it was made. 1939 belongs to this film and Gone With the Wind- as both were and are true classics.

This film is so embedded in people’s minds that it can be tough to look at from an objective point of view. I fondly recall watching this gem annually as it aired on television each holiday season- traditionally around Thanksgiving if memory serves.

It’s a marvel from start to finish and masterfully artistic. How creative to show the first portion in black and white with dusty muted colors, not to mention the astounding twister sequence- done using a stocking.

Then, we are introduced to a magical world filled with luscious colors and art direction still mind-blowing in depth. Munchkin-land, Glinda the Good Witch, and Emerald City are beautiful, lavish, and treats.

Who does not become teary-eyed during Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? The poignancy is becoming given the tragic (yet successful) life the star would lead.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch is delicious in her nastiness. As she mocks Dorothy, who whimpers in tears while missing Auntie Em, she almost sneers at the camera. One can tell she had a ball with this role.

And The Wizard of Oz is not simply a pop culture hit- it has merit and creativity. The special effects hold up tremendously well and were simplistic back then, no CGI in those days, but many ways better than the CGI of today.

Audiences of all ages must see this film at least once, preferably on Blu-Ray. Judy Garland, later a tragic, troubled, lost figure, captured an innocence that was so sadly lost through the years.

All of the characters (The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man) are perfectly cast and are uniquely created without being too over-the-top.

Very few films are timeless and this is one of them.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Outstanding Production, Best Song-“Over the Rainbow” (won), Best Art Direction, Best Special Effects