Tag Archives: Romantic Drama

Eismayer-2023

Eismayer-2023

Director David Wagner

Starring Gerhard Liebmann, Luka Dimic

Scott’s Review #1,427

Reviewed May 31, 2024

Grade: A-

Eismayer (2023) may be the first Austrian-language film I’ve ever and is the first Austrian LGBTQ+ film. Similar to German cinema there is a cold and stark naturalistic veneer to the filmmaking making it feel moody and foreboding.

I’ve said this many times before but the statement still has merit. The LGBTQ+ cinema genre has been saturated with offerings since the late 1990s, especially into the 2000s and it can be difficult not to tell the same story continuously.

As proof of the above, our Prime subscription contains numerous LGBTQ+ films to showcase so we decided on Eismayer which sounded interesting.

It focuses on the military, is Austrian, and focuses on a love story between two soldiers. The fact that it is based on a true story held special intrigue.

Sergeant Major Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann) is known and feared as the toughest training officer in the Austrian Armed Forces. He is ruthless and unfeeling with recruits and a staunch disciplinarian, with order and macho toughness.

Unsurprisingly, the new batch of recruits despises him.

Surprisingly, in his personal life, he is a loving father to his son whom he adores and treats his wife respectfully.

But when he starts to fall in love with Falak (Luka Dimic), a recruit who is unashamedly out and proud as a gay man Eismayer must decide if his closeted existence is worth it.

The director, David Wagner, paints a lovely canvas of the love between two men that slowly takes shape. He wisely makes the running time less than an hour and a half so the film doesn’t drag.

It’s not a shock what develops between Eismayer and Falak because their embrace appears on the cover art but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.

I like the direction Wagner takes with this story. Eismayer being the title character the focus is on his character not the couple as a whole. The plot centers on his plight to come to terms with his sexuality and also make it publicly known.

He doesn’t have to come out naturally but if he wants to have an open and honest romance with Falak he must do this genuinely.

It’s unexplained why Eismayer is the way he is but one can easily guess why. His father was probably stoic and military-like he is and the expectation was to be macho and tough at all costs, showing no vulnerability.

To satisfy his urges he is reduced to having hot sex with willing recruits in the back seat of a car but it’s hardly candlelit dinners and romance nor satisfying.

In addition to being in love with Falak, he admires his courage to be out and proud in a traditionally masculine environment.

We know virtually nothing about Falak’s backstory. What made him come out? What was his father like?

While there has been a clear shift in acceptance of gays in the military a story like this hasn’t been told in film to my knowledge.

Gone hopefully are the days when LGBTQ+ filmmakers told stories of mere resistance to a gay character’s happiness as an obstacle to their joy and acceptance.

There is a raised eyebrow or two when Falak makes his homosexuality evident in the shower and one grizzled senior officer complains that ‘fags don’t belong in the military’ but the younger officers have little issue.

They even applaud at the end when Eismayer and Falak kiss and embrace, cementing their open and blossoming romance.

A fantasy? Possibly, but Wagner gives the likely predominately gay male audience something to admire and cheer for.

Understated, but packs an emotional punch and an uplifting and inspiring message, Eismayer (2023) is an Austrian film I hope will inspire more American filmmakers.

Spoiler Alert-2022

Spoiler Alert-2022

Director Michael Showalter

Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,399

Reviewed September 15, 2023

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also overindulges in the Smurfs collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many cute scenes follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Kind of Wonderful-1987

Some Kind of Wonderful-1987

Director Howard Deutch

Starring Eric Stolz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson

Scott’s Review #1,386

Review August 4, 2023

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

But, the show must go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty in Pink-1986

Pretty in Pink-1986

Director Howard Deutch

Starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer

Scott’s Review #1,376

Reviewed July 10, 2023

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m on team Blane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tender Mercies-1983

Tender Mercies-1983

Director Bruce Beresford

Starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper

Scott’s Review #1,279

Reviewed July 22, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

He won the coveted Academy Award for Tender Mercies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They discuss life!

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Bruce Beresford, Best Actor-Robert Duvall (won), Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Original Song-“Over You”

A Star Is Born-1976

A Star Is Born-1976

Director Frank Pierson

Starring Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson

Scott’s Review #1,276

Reviewed July 13, 2022

Grade: B

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

The fourth time is rarely the charm in film remakes.

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

There is no question about that.

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

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

Did somebody think it was flattering in 1976?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her singing saves the film.

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

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

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

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

Those are the romantic highlights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Evergreen” (won), Best Sound

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

Director Peter Weir

Starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Scott’s Review #1,266

Reviewed June 16, 2022

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It does best when it sticks to the political message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Linda Hunt (won)

The V.I.P’s-1963

The V.I.P’s-1963

Director Anthony Asquith

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan

Scott’s Review #1,263

Reviewed June 4, 2022

Grade: B+

The V.I.P.’s (1963) is a sweeping drama set against a foggy London airport. It’s a very good film but hardly a masterpiece as the trials and tribulations of the stranded passengers are explored and sometimes intersect in standard ways.

The film is formulaic and offers little surprise but I enjoyed it and was entertained by the parade of stars shuffling through the vast airport.

Some stories are more interesting than others and the film has a soap opera style fixating on the glamorous and rich characters.

One wonders if The V.I.P.’s influenced the creation of the film Airport (1970) seven years later, but the film itself is patterned after 1932’s Grand Hotel both distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Real-life couple, and Hollywood A-listers, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star and are the main draws of the film.

The all-star cast also features Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, and the scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford.

Inclement weather has delayed a flight from London’s fabulous Heathrow Airport to New York City. A cross-section of elite passengers (V.I.P.s) impatiently wait to board the plane as they experience various life crises in the airport.

The main storyline surrounds Frances (Taylor), a gorgeous woman fleeing a loveless marriage to her millionaire husband, Paul (Richard Burton), and in love with the dashing Marc Champselle (Jourdan).

Supporting stories feature a dotty duchess (Rutherford) who has fallen on hard times, and a handsome businessman (Rod Taylor) trying to thwart a hostile takeover.

At the same time, his secretary (Smith) lusts after him, and Gloria (Elsa Martinelli), an aspiring actress accompanied by her money-grubbing producer, Max (Welles).

Despite the heavy-sounding plots the film is not overly severe and provides comical moments peppered in small doses. This secures the pacing and offsets too much doom and gloom.

The big soapy moments belong to Liz and Richard and rumor has it that the idea for the screenplay came to the writer Terence Rattigan by way of a real-life situation.

Actress Vivien Leigh was planning to leave her husband Laurence Olivier for another man but was delayed at Heathrow Airport.

How scandalous!

Nonetheless, Taylor stoically gives an acceptable performance as a conflicted actress in love with a man other than her husband. The setup plays out as tired as it sounds except for the juicy reality that Taylor and Burton were married and this provides the only interest.

Taylor and Burton have terrific chemistry though she also does with Jourdan. Still, there is something uncompelling and unsatisfying about the story.

Shockingly, they are all upstaged by Rutherford who steals the entire film which resulted in her surprising Best Supporting Actress victory. She may have won because of the Academy’s tendency to sometimes award an older actor with the prize for a lifetime body of work.

Her riveting story is my favorite as she desperately seeks a way to save her historic home.

The actress hits a homerun providing the much-needed comic relief and therefore the liveliest of the performances. Her peril is offset by her cleverness and her performance is filled with heart.

Many critics hastily insisted that Rutherford is the only reason to see The V.I.P.’s which I disagree with. Personally, the combination of an airport, peril, and big stars was more than enough to have me hooked.

The only addition that might have made the film better was an enormous fire or a hijacking crisis.

In the end, The V.I.P.’s (1963) will only appeal to fans of Taylor and Burton or those seeking something sudsy. Otherwise, the film is not too well remembered.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Margaret Rutherford (won)

The Accidental Tourist-1988

The Accidental Tourist-1988

Director Lawrence Kasdan

Starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis

Scott’s Review #1,215

Reviewed January 1, 2022

Grade: B+

Reuniting stars William Hurt and Kathleen Turner from 1981’s smoldering Body Heat, director Lawrence Kasdan creates a triangle of sorts with the addition of Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist (1988).

She brings a quirky character to the fold in a film about death, tragedy, and a disintegrating marriage.

Despite the subject matter, it’s not a downer at all but rather a romantic drama brimming with rich characters and relatable situations. There are laugh-out-loud moments and there are tender moments all about the human spirit and choices we must make.

It’s an above-average flick that received several Oscar nominations and feels patterned after a Woody Allen-style film. I didn’t necessarily relate to any of the characters nor need to see the film a second time but I respect that Kasdan creates a picture not needing car chases or gratuitous violence or nudity.

The Accidental Tourist is a quiet film about life. It is based on the 1985 novel of the same name written by Anne Tyler.

When their young son is suddenly murdered, the marriage between Macon (Hurt) and his wife Sarah (Turner) flounders, and she moves out. After an accident puts him on crutches, Macon goes to stay with his quirky siblings at the family home, where he meets the high-spirited Muriel (Geena Davis).

She is a dog trainer with a young son of her own. Macon develops a slow friendship with them that surprisingly blossoms into more with Muriel. When Sarah learns about the situation, she attempts a reconciliation with Macon who is forced to make a painful decision.

The intention feels like we, the audience, are supposed to root for Macon and Muriel to get together and not feel much sympathy for Sarah but I did. After all, she is the one ultimately ditched and there is nothing like a woman scorned.

I didn’t feel like there was even much of a triangle because the film is centered around Hurt’s character and the choices Macon must face. It’s about how he deals with change and the unexpected turns of events that life can throw at anybody. Sarah and Muriel must also deal with the same choices and life circumstances but the focus is more on Macon.

The viewer will likely immerse themselves in these characters as they think about their own life and the trials and tribulations that have occurred.

Though I never read the novel I suspect it is a tad better than the film which limits the amount of time to explore the characters. Novels always have more time to delve deeper.

With that said I got a fair share of backstory about Macon, Muriel, and Sarah but didn’t gravitate to any of them over the others.

Regarding the earlier note about The Accidental Tourist being like a Woody Allen film, it has an upbeat, quirky tone that masks much of the heartbreak Macon suffers from with some added comedy. When Muriel hops a flight to Paris to follow her heart and Macon it’s something a character in an Allen film would do.

Since Macon is a writer of travel guides the film contains rich flavor for culture and tourism which is pleasing. London and Paris are the central locales and Kadan does a great job at the international stuff.

A tad long and dragging at times The Accidental Tourist (1988) has enough juiciness to keep any viewer attracted to well-written screenplays about emotional characters and the ups and downs of life satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress-Geena Davis (won), Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Original Score

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Director Lasse Hallstrom

Starring Ewing McGregor, Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,152

Reviewed June 15, 2021

Grade: B-

Despite exceptional chemistry between leads Ewing McGregor and Emily Blunt, who were also bankable stars in 2011, the romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) is predictable, dull, and lacks a good identity.

It is the feel-good film of the year and that is not meant as a compliment.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s above par as compared to the usual drivel emerging from one of my least favorite genres, the rom-com, but it should offer more than the by-the-numbers plot it churns out.

Someone either felt lazy or was instructed to create a banal film.

With good actors and fabulous locales, I expected more edge from Swedish director, Lass Hallstrom. But, alas, we get something merely adequate.

Doctor Alfred Jones (McGregor) is a fisheries scientist who one day receives an unusual request from a strong businesswoman named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). She wants his help in fulfilling a request from a wealthy sheik played by Amr Waked who wants to bring sport fishing to Yemen.

Jones declines at first, but when the British prime minister’s spokeswoman (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to the project as a way to improve Middle East relations, he joins in.

Romance blooms as Jones and Harriet work to make the sheik’s dream come true.

If this brief synopsis sounds like it’s taken from a novel that’s because it is and it is as straightforward as you can imagine. The film is based on a 2007 novel which must have been better than the film.

Let’s be fair and clear. McGregor and Blunt are as good as they can be with the material they are given and they succeed in bringing some life to the big screen. The trouble is there isn’t very far to go with their characters. Harriet is a businesswoman with a task at hand. Alfred is a handsome doctor with something she needs. Did I mention he’s a doctor?

Harriet’s romantic interest is hardly a surprise and Hallstrom puts nary any real obstacles in their path towards getting together.

The fact that early in the film Harriet is dating British Special Forces Captain Robert Meyers played by Tom Mison and Alfred is married to a woman named Mary (Rachael Stirling) is laughable after Robert is quickly killed off and Mary is sent away to Geneva for a conference.

Predictably, Alfred and Mary realize their marriage is over.

But wait, there’s more! Robert resurfaces from the dead alive and well. Harriet struggles with her emotions and quickly realizes that her feelings for him have changed leaving her to be with Alfred.

The setup for Harriet and Alfred is as predictable as what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will taste like.

Poor Kristin Scott Thomas, a fantastic actor is reduced to playing the cliched role of Public Relations Patricia Maxwell. She straightforwardly plays her as aggressive, impatient, and bitchy. The performance doesn’t work well.

Second, to the sweetness of McGregor and Blunt, the locales are thankfully plentiful. Visits to London, Scotland, and Morocco are blessed treats.

A silly subplot of the salmon being removed from British rivers and something about farming goes nowhere and is not worth the effort to go into. Suffice it to say it does little for the film or as a companion to the main plot. The only thing viewers should focus on is Harriet and Alfred’s romantic involvement.

I only recommend Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) for those fans of either McGregor or Blunt or who yearn to escape to a fantasy world with a happily ever after ending.

If one enjoys fishing or fly-fishing (is there a difference?) that may be enough cause to give the film a twirl too.

Otherwise, the film offers nothing that hasn’t been seen countless times before. By the conclusion of the film, I felt weary and bored for so much unchartered potential left on the cutting room floor….or somewhere else.

Yentl-1983

Yentl-1983

Director Barbra Streisand

Starring Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin

Scott’s Review #1,144

Reviewed May 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Feeling slightly dated nowadays, perhaps for the year it was made, Yentl (1983) is nonetheless a very good watch if only for Barbra’s performance, in multiple ways, alone.

Who else could I be talking about other than superstar Barbra Streisand?

Astounding is that she also directed the film, rare for a female to direct in those days. Even circa 2021, there have only been two women to win the coveted Best Director Oscar prize.

Mind-blowing. Streisand was snubbed in this category and was understandably miffed.

But I’ll get down from my soapbox.

Streisand plays the title role. Yentl is a bookish girl and daughter of a respected Talmud teacher who instructs her although she is female and not male. This is forbidden in their culture.

Her father dies leaving Yentl to her own devices and determinations.

She disguises herself as a boy to gain entry to a yeshiva and meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), who she becomes fascinated by. But he only has eyes for Hadass (Amy Irving) whom he is supposed to marry.

This results in a triangle of sorts but not in the traditional sense. Hadass develops feelings for Anshel (really Streisand as Yentl in drag). After they marry (unconsummated) Anshel falls in love with Avigdor.

This may sound like a comedy rather than drama and it does contain a bit of each but the romantic interludes, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations are not the best parts of the film.

The main themes of faith and romance are center stage. Streisand may have had feminism on her mind with the film but I didn’t find this a major point except for Yentl refusing to marry a man.

She pretends to be a boy because females are repressed in the religion. A real win would have been Yentl embracing faith as she is, but for 1983 the message isn’t a bad one.

Still, we are supposed to want Yentl and Avigdor to live happily ever after but I never felt very much of a connection to the couple.

The best parts of Yentl are the musical score and the songs the audience is treated to. The highlight is the emotionally charged “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” which is a gorgeous moment for Yentl.

Yentl leaves Europe on a boat bound for the United States, where she hopes to lead a life with more freedom. With a smile on her face, she rises above and into a new day.

It’s a dynamic singing performance and rises the film above where it would have been without the number. It’s like the perfect culminating Streisand moment.

The romantic moments are unfulfilling and predictable, but the film is about Streisand and Streisand alone. As good as Patinkin and Irving are they take a backseat to the illustrious star. We never even get to see Patinkin sing.

I’m okay with this. I watched Yentl (1983) for the enormous talents of its star. Her singing, acting, and directing all make the film a worthwhile and engaging experience.

It’s not a great film and other Streisand films are better- I’m thinking of Funny Girl (1968) and Hello, Dolly (1969), but it’s way above average.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Amy Irving, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, “The Way He Makes Me Feel”

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Director-Céline Sciamma

Starring-Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

Scott’s Review #1,114

Reviewed February 19, 2021

Grade: A-

A film with tremendous artistry and a cool LGBTQ+ vibe, gay director Céline Sciamma interestingly delivers the goods with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). She takes modern-looking actors and transplants them to the era of France during the late 18th century.

The film tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait.

The viewer will ask themselves the following questions. What would become of two young gay women in this long-ago age? How many people repressed their true feelings and desires because of the times they lived in? Would their different classes and backgrounds cause strife within their burgeoning relationship? I know I constantly asked myself these questions.

To those with limited cinematic patience be forewarned. A Portrait of a Lady on Fire is plodding. I didn’t mind this aspect but some might. The payoff is not bombastic in an act of violence or an explosion sort of way but it’s well worth the effort put in.

In a common approach in modern film that is feeling more standard than special, the first scene postdates the events in the rest of the film so that we sort of know-how events will turn out. But we do not know the how’s and the why’s. It is immediately assumed that one character has suffered some loss or misfortune related to a painting.

Painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is summoned to a remote island inhabited by very few people. She is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haene) who is destined to be married to a nobleman in Milan, Italy. Héloïse is depressed and despondent, wanting nothing to do with her intended whom she has not met.

The portrait is a gift to the never-seen husband-to-be. It is revealed that Héloïse’s sister leaped to her death from the cliffs on the family estate so it’s suggested throughout that she may suffer the same fate.

Needless to say, Marianne and Héloïse fall madly in love.

Their love is hardly ever a question as the chemistry is immediately noticed. Sciamma, who wrote the screenplay, avoids stereotypes that would give away the sexuality of the main characters. They are not butch nor do they possess masculine qualities. Do we wonder if they are bisexual? They never struggle with their sexuality, a dramatic cliche in other LGBTQ+ films.

I adore this because it makes the love story more powerful rather than one character pursuing the conflicted other.

As brilliant and artistic as I found Portrait of a Lady on Fire to be there are a couple of unexplained or unclear aspects. I am not even sure how they relate to the main story.

Waifish housemaid Sophie has an abortion with assistance from Marianne and Héloïse. Later, the three go to a bonfire gathering where women sing, during which Héloïse’s dress briefly catches fire (just as shown in the painting featured in the beginning).

When Sophie is having the abortion there is an infant and child nearby. Are they her children? Who are the women who sing?

I didn’t understand the point of these items.

Fortunately, these missteps can be forgiven for the grander piece is amazing filmmaking. The final shot of Héloïse sitting in a theater is phenomenal and borrowed from Call Me By Your Name (2017) which featured an identical scene.

The camera focuses on the face of actress Haene as she emits many emotions during the flawless scene. What a win for an actor!

Despite some side story flaws, I adored Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). The film is exceptionally shot and almost all shots could be portraits in their own right. Especially lovely are the beach sequences as when Marianne and Héloïse first ignite the flames of their passion.

My takeaway is that it tells the story of fate but doesn’t feel like a downer. Rather, it feels like life.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Keep the Lights On-2012

Keep The Lights On-2012

Director Ira Sachs

Starring Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth

Scott’s Review #1,100

Reviewed January 16, 2021

Grade: A

With such a healthy dose of LGBTQ+ films released during the 2010s, most independent productions enough exist to please nearly everyone striving for good diversity in film.

Over the years in cinema, it was tough to find specific genre films, rather than being forced to seek out subtle clues that filmmakers would incorporate.

LGBTQ+ films are now a dime a dozen, which is good but makes some films fall under the radar.

Keep The Lights On (2012) is a romantic drama, rather mysterious, about two men and the nine-year-long love affair they share. It’s not a happy watch because drug addiction is a large part of the story.

It portrays the men as human beings with passion, and feelings, and experiencing joys and pains, instead of being written as caricatures or comic relief.

This is progress, and worthy of much praise.

The only issue with the film is that by 2012, and the decade as a whole, there were so many similar films being made that there’s not enough to distinguish it from other high-profile works.

The LGBTQ bar was set very high with Brokeback Mountain in 2006, and recent offerings like Carol (2015) and Moonlight (2016) thrust the LGBTQ+ community into the spotlight.

Keep The Lights On has many positives, especially cinematically, but it risks getting lost in the shuffle matched up against other genre films.

Advisable, is to check out this gem.

It might best be compared to the exceptional same-sex love story, Call Me By Your Name (2017). Both are character-driven and are both happy and tragic.

Keep The Lights On is technically an American film. It feels like an international film, though, because it centers around a Danish filmmaker who lives in New York City.

Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a troubled, creative soul, struggling to complete a documentary about an artist named Avery Willard. He meets and enters into a loving but complicated long-term relationship with Paul (Zachary Booth), a lawyer in the publishing industry who struggles with drug addiction.

Therein lies the complicated nature of their relationship. They are bonded but plagued with outside challenges. It began in 1998 and ended in 2006.

They meet via a phone sex chatline which adds to the sexual mystique. Erik is gay and happily out, but Paul indulges in both men and women and is conflicted sexually.

He gets Erik high. Will he lead Erik down a dark path? Will Paul clean up his act or die? Erik and Paul bed numerous other men throughout the story. This is an intriguing addition to the complicated events.

Since the film is about a filmmaker it ought to include cool and inventive camera angles and trimmings, and it does. Ira Sachs, an American director, provides flourishing shots of New York City and gazes through the lens of an actual creative spirit, which justifies the character of Erik.

The story builds quite slowly and plenty of times I awaited something exciting to happen. But real life is composed of many small moments and I loved how the film simply is instead of big momentous scenes being added for effect.

The audience is meant to root for Erik and Paul to trot into happily ever after territory. This may or may not happen.

Keep The Lights On has a vague ending open to interpretation.

Erik and Paul look similar to each other which I found very interesting. They say that many same-sex couples are attracted to individuals who look like themselves. I’m not sure how true this is, but I wondered if Sachs had a point to make.

Can a person have multiple sides to themselves they see through other people? Keep The Lights On is told more from Erik’s perspective and sees in Paul the dark side of himself.

Key to the honesty that exudes from Keep The Lights On is that the story is based on Sach’s relationship with a publisher he met and fell in love with. The truthfulness comes across on screen, which is the main appeal to the overall experience.

I love the title which can be interpreted in a few different ways, especially once the conclusion is upon us.

I admire the fact that Keep The Lights On (2012) was made and the characters provide a longing and yearning that is quite humanistic. It feels like it was created based on fact rather than a studio idea conjured up around a boardroom table.

Ira Sachs creates an excellent, quiet film about two men and the love story they share. Their troubles come and go but their passion and bond never waver.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Ira Sachs, Best Male Lead-Thure Lindhardt, Best Screenplay

Across the Universe-2007

Across the Universe-2007

Director Julie Taymor

Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess

Scott’s Review #1,057

Reviewed August 27, 2020

Grade: A

Across the Universe (2007) is a film that some will deem sappy or trite or classify as a cliched love story, and admittedly some of those elements exist. But the film offers so much more.

Truthfully, the romance genre is not usually for me, for those very reasons. Somehow the inclusion of The Beatles songs and the psychedelic backdrop of musical compositions makes the film beautiful, lovely, and charismatic.

The war effects and the healthy dose of chemistry by the lead actors make this a winner in my book.

I adore the pairing of lovebirds Lucy and Jude, played by Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess. The chemistry between them sizzles from the moment they appear together, though this takes a while to happen.

When it did, over a savory Thanksgiving meal and while bowling, I was hooked, and most audiences were too. The beauty is that we experience the characters separately first and get to know them well.

The love story is the meat and potatoes of Across the Universe. If the connection between Jude and Lucy were not there the film would not work.

This is far from merely a love story, though. That is only one facet. A hefty thirty-four Beatles compositions are included throughout the film, all strategically placed cleverly to match the scene.

For example, when Jude is working in a Liverpool shipyard in the 1960s, he reminisces about a girl he has loved and lost to the tune of “Girl”.

In a matching sequence, Lucy frets about her current boyfriend heading off to the Vietnam War while singing “Hold Me Tight”.

The 1960s period is brilliantly placed to add not only a clear juxtaposition to when the Beatles ruled the world but during a frightening time in world history when many young soldiers died needlessly during the ravaging war.

The mixture of the war, the songs, and the hybrid of live-action and animation provide a magical, other-worldly quality that is perfect. It provides a feeling of escapism to the deadly war. The visuals and the gorgeous colors are a complete contrast to the grey and dark war elements.

Julie Taymor takes an anti-war, activist stance created through the main characters when Jude and Lucy proclaim themselves revolutionaries. This occurs when the war hits home after Lucy’s brother is drafted. They sadly realize they may never see Daniel again, and they are right.

Taymor gives a personal touch to the characters and a political decision is made that shapes the film. I found the stance perfectly logical given the characters and their viewpoints, but some audience members could be turned off or feel slighted depending on their beliefs.

I love the point she makes that war is bad.

Twenty-five of the vocal tracks are performed by one or more of the six lead cast members. My favorite treasures are the new takes on classic songs, especially “Come Together” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” which are unusual and elegant.

When Daniel is killed in Vietnam and Detroit, a young boy is killed in the 1967 riot (combined “Let It Be”), the moment is sentimental and powerful.

A dry eye will not be left.

Locales such as Greenwich Village, and New York City show the creative artists who inhabit those streets. The riot-fueled streets of Detroit, Michigan are featured, and finally, the dirty and jungle-killing fields of Vietnam provide a diverse slate of experiences.

The love story and musical soundtrack provide exceptional emotion to an important and timeless film.

Across the Universe (2007) is artistic and inspirational.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

(500) Days of Summer-2009

(500) Days of Summer-2009

Director Marc Webb

Starring Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Scott’s Review #1,002

Reviewed March 20, 2020

Grade: B

(500) Days of Summer (2009) is an unconventional love story that deserves props for being different, but never completely catches fire as a film effort.

What it tries to do left-of-center from most conventional romantic comedies is to be admired, but I did not feel much connection to the characters and the result seemed pointless.

The independent film garnered some praise for being unique and clever, but this is out-shined by a gnawing, forced feeling, like the filmmakers are trying to be edgy for the sake of being edgy, adding in contrived story elements.

The lead characters conveniently both like an obscure band and an obscure artist, throwing them immediately together.

The film is a modest effort but will only be remembered as an indie project with a bit of unfulfilled potential.

When his girlfriend, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), unceremoniously dumps him, greeting card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spins into depression and begins reflecting on the year-long relationship the pair spent together, looking for clues as to what went wrong.

As he rummages through the good times and the bad times, his heart reawakens to find what is most important.

The Los Angeles backdrop sets the tone for the five hundred days of Tom and Summer.

Director, Marc Webb, a first-time director at this point, now known more for The Amazing Spider-Man reboot franchise (2012-2014) steers in an experimental direction.

Shown somewhat like a “year in the life” of the young lovebirds blossoming relationship, the film is presented in a nonlinear narrative, jumping between various days within the five hundred days of Tom and Summer’s relationship. There is an on-screen timer showing the day, which is a nice addition.

Props are given for the creativity Webb infuses. The romantic comedy genre, not my favorite, is constantly saturated with formulaic films, predictable from the start.

Frequently told from the female perspective, (500) Days of Summer tells the story from the male perspective, even reversing the traditional gender stereotypes. Tom is the lovesick romantic, and Summer is the rough-and-tumble, one-night-stand type.

This is nuanced and throws the entire genre upside down.

The characters are questionable and the ablest to relate to is Tom. There is some confusion and mystery with some motivations. The audience can understand how Tom falls head over heels for Summer, immediately smitten.

His depression is deep and to be taken seriously, but he is depressed because of Summer, and any history or previous causes of depression are not mentioned. It feels like his depression is a convenient way of adding a story element.

Summer is even more perplexing and not deeply explored. Is she merely playing the field? After a song and dance scene where she explains she is not looking for anything serious and wants a casual romance, she suddenly marries another man.

She hurriedly tells Tom that she discovered her husband was her true love and that she now believes in love, whereas Tom doesn’t anymore.

Again, this feels more like storyline-dictated writing versus anything character-rich.

Despite receiving a Best Screenplay Independent Spirit Award nomination, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and oodles of praise, (500) Days of Summer (2009) is a non-conformist piece with some nice moments but feels irrelevant.

The lead actors are talented and do a decent job with the material given, but meander through the experience since it is more about the film than the acting.

The result is not a pure dud, but neither is it a pedigree winner.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best Feature, Best Male Lead-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Best Screenplay (won)

Love Story-1970

Love Story-1970

Director Arthur Hiller

Starring Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw

Scott’s Review #950

Reviewed October 23, 2019

Grade: B+

Love Story (1970) was an enormous blockbuster hit at the time of release with two good-looking stars of the day immersed in a tragic romance. Almost fifty years later the story feels contrived and watered down with a “been there seen that” result.

While reviewing the film one must be mindful of the period in which the film was made (before similar films hit the circuit) and the chemistry between the leads holds up quite well.

Perhaps the film works best having seen it decades ago as it now feels dated.

Handsome Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) is a star ice hockey player attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is heir to the wealthy Barrett family led by father Oliver Barrett III (Ray Milland).

While at school he meets the blue-collar Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw), who attends neighboring Radcliffe College and studies classical music. The couple falls madly in love becoming inseparable.

Oliver is met with anger after he proposes to Jenny, She accepts, and they travel to the Barrett mansion so that she can meet Oliver’s parents. They are judgmental and unimpressed with her thinking she is nice, but hardly a companion for their son.

Later Oliver’s father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny. After graduation, Oliver and Jenny marry nonetheless and begin a life of financial struggle but filled with happiness. When they attempt to conceive they learn that Jenny is terminally ill and has weeks to live.

The prime appeal of the film is the romance between Oliver and Jenny which feels primal and honest. They are the cliched rich boy and poor girl equation but in this film the dynamic works.

O’Neal and MacGraw are good-looking and were on the cusp of Hollywood A-list classification so the stars aligned in the casting. They ebb and flow at the beginning of the film with Jenny’s sarcasm and Oliver’s quiet arrogance, but there is never a doubt the pair will fall madly in love and we, the audience, are hooked from the start.

On an atmospheric level, the icy northeastern climate and the myriad of exterior scenes throughout Massachusetts give the film a proper ambiance.

For anyone who has studied at a university in this area or has an interest, the film succeeds, and it adds a robust flavor to the surrounding events. The youthful wonder and the promise of a bright future are of paramount importance to the story being told and the foreshadowing is effective.

The film lacks guts in the pacing area though. Most of Love Story is spent focusing on the newness of Oliver and Jenny’s romance and their hurdles surrounding family members and a brief nod to class and societal roles.

At a brief one hour and thirty-five minutes, there is very little time left for the shocking turn of events surrounding Jenny’s illness. Coming out of nowhere, the character is alive and well, has a brief fainting spell, and is then seen lying on a gurney before dying off-screen.

There is no bedside death scene, no suffering or deteriorating health, and the entire tragedy is glossed over. Hence the title, the focus is on the “love story” but this seems like a scam.

So much is invested in the couple that the loss seems skimmed over. How can one die from leukemia (blood cancer) within a few days anyway?

The filmmaker’s clear attempts at playing it safe are at the expense of the overall film experience.

Love Story (1970) deserves praise for being one of the first of its kind- the romantic tearjerker. The genre would soon become soaked with imitators so cliched that they bring the original down a notch because it now feels trite.

The ‘chick flick’ contains good acting and nice scenery but lacks the emotional depth I was hoping for. Melodramatic to a fault the appeal of the leads surges the overall effort way more than it should.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Arthur Hiller, Best Actor-Ryan O’Neal, Best Actress-Ali MacGraw, Best Supporting Actor-John Marley, Best Story or Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced, Best Original Score (won)

The Sandpiper-1965

The Sandpiper-1965

Director Vincente Minnelli

Starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor

Scott’s Review #897

Reviewed May 12, 2019

Grade: B+

The Sandpiper (1965) is a film that stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, released at the very height of their fame.

It capitalized on their notoriety as one of the world’s most famous couples and their well-known romantic tribulations. Although they portrayed adulterous lovers, they were married shortly before filming began.

The film’s theme of adultery closely mirrored their own lives at the time, as each very publicly conducted an affair with each other while married to other spouses.

The film is a lavish and sweeping production, one of the very few major studio pictures ever filmed in Big Sur, and the story is specifically set there.

Big Sur is a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It is frequently praised for its dramatic scenery and is the perfect location for a film with romance.

The Sandpiper (1965) is a romantic drama perfectly showcasing the two stars’ chemistry in a pure case of art mimicking real life, at least in some way. Fascinating is to watch the actors work off one another and think in wonderment about what life would have been like on the set amidst the dreamlike and steamy locale and the fresh romance.

The story is not a dynamic piece and is quite sudsy and melodramatic and a case of the actors being the main reason to watch.

Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, a bohemian, free-spirited single mother who lives in Big Sur, California with her young son, Danny. Laura makes a living as an artist while homeschooling her son, who has gotten into trouble with the law.

When Danny is sent to an Episcopal boarding school, Laura meets the headmaster, Dr. Edward Hewitt (Burton), and the duo falls madly in love despite Edward being married to teacher Claire (Eva Marie Saint).

The melodrama only escalates as those close to the pair catch on to their infidelity.

The gorgeous locale of Big Sur is second to none and exudes romance and sexual tension with the crashing waves against the mountainous terrain symbolic of a passionate love affair. As the characters capitulate to each other the lavish weather only infuses the titillating experience.

Taylor is lovely to look at throughout the film and an erotic nude chest of the character plays a major role. I did have to wonder if the inclusion had the desired effect or resulted in unintended humor as the endowed sculpture is quite busty.

The film belongs to Taylor and Burton, but the supporting cast deserves mention for creating robust characters that add flavor.

Eva Marie Saint plays the amiable wife, at first distraught by her husband’s infidelity but later coming to an understanding. Charles Bronson plays Cos Erickson, the protective friend of Laura’s who despises Edward’s hypocrisy.

Finally, Robert Webber is effective as Ward Hendricks, a former beau of Laura, eager for another chance with the violet-eyed bombshell.

The title of the film represents a sandpiper with a broken wing that Laura nurses, as Edward looks on. The bird lives in her home until it is healed and then flies free, though it comes back occasionally.

This sandpiper is used as a central symbol in the movie, illustrating the themes of growth and freedom. The element is sweet and true to the love story between Laura and Edward.

The Sandpiper is an entertaining film, not a great film. It suffers from mediocre writing and cliched storytelling, but a starring vehicle for Taylor and Burton.

The fascination is watching the actors, not for a great cinematic experience and the film is not remembered very well but for fans of the super-couple.

Amazing that the film was made only one year before the dreary yet brilliant Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) starring the same husband and wife duo as does The Sandpiper (1965).

The roles of Laura and Edward are worlds apart from George and Martha and watched in close sequence to each other one can marvel at the acting chops of each star in comparison.

The film won the coveted Academy Award for Best Original Song for the sentimental “The Shadow of Your Smile”.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Song-“The Shadow of Your Smile” (won)

The Great Lie-1941

The Great Lie-1941

Director Edmund Goulding

Starring Bette Davis, Mary Astor

Scott’s Review #891

Reviewed April 28, 2019

Grade: B+

Breezing into her heyday of films at this point, Hollywood starlet Bette Davis had become an expert at portraying tarts and bitches in most of her films. Desiring to turn left of center and play a more sympathetic character the actress jumped at the chance to play an ingenue.

The Great Lie (1941) is the perfect showcase for her talents in a gripping, dramatic film that is purely predictable soap opera, but lovely escapism did well.

Maggie Patterson (Davis) is a demure and sensitive southern socialite vying for the affections of former beau, aviator Peter Van Allen (George Brent). Peter has impulsively married sophisticated concert pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) and both are startled to learn their marriage is invalid.

Confused, Peter decides to marry Maggie and is quickly sent off to Brazil on business when his airplane crashes into the jungle leaving him presumed dead.

When Sandra realizes she is pregnant, Maggie proposes she is allowed to raise the child as her own in exchange for taking care of Sandra financially. The two women go to Arizona to await the birth, and Sandra delivers a boy named after his father.

The women face a quandary when Peter shows up alive and well and Sandra bitterly announces to Maggie that she intends to ride off into the sunset with Peter and her son. The women scratch and claw at each other metaphorically speaking, for the remainder of the picture.

The storyline, despite being perfectly melodramatic and stellar for an afternoon daytime drama, is rather engaging throughout, never suffering from too much contrivance.

Both Maggie and Sandra have appeal and both women are likable- or at least the film does its best not to make one woman the clear villain. Sandra, dripping with gorgeous fashion and a sturdy poise is confident, pairing well with Maggie’s southern charm and sensibilities- to say nothing of her wealth. Peter would do well with either woman and I found my allegiances shifting throughout the film.

Nearly upstaging Davis is Mary Astor giving a terrific performance as Sandra. The women are the reason for The Great Lie’s grit and gusto. They play the hell out of their roles and according to legend, both hated the script and vowed together to turn the project into gold.

They nearly succeed as the best sequence is when the women travel to deserted Arizona to spend the remainder of Sandra’s pregnancy. Cooped up together, how delicious to see Davis’s Maggie play caretaker to a whiny and spoiled Sandra- typically Davis would play the Sandra character, so the scenes are a treat.

Suspension of disbelief must be achieved as the major plot of the film is jarring in incomprehension. Maggie offers to provide Sandra with a large sum of money to ensure her security. I did not buy this point as Sandra appears to be well-off, touring the world with incredible success and living a lavish lifestyle including a staff of servants and a gorgeous apartment in New York City.

The character hardly appears to need a handout despite the incorporated dialogue of Sandra’s success predicted to wane as she ages.

Another oddity is the location of Maggie’s estate. Set in Maryland, hardly a southern mecca, the location has all the trimmings of the deep south, perhaps Mississippi. With an all-black staff, magnolia trees, and southern-style cuisine, the Maryland backdrop is quite perplexing and a misfire.

More relevant would have been if the location were Mississippi, Louisiana, or Alabama. Finally, remiss would it be not to mention appearances by Hattie McDaniel and brother Sam as Violet and Jefferson, employed by Maggie, always a treat.

With high drama and terrific acting, The Great Lie (1941) offers tremendous chemistry between the female leads resulting in a deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Astor.

The dialogue may be silly and superfluous with plot gimmicks and obvious setups, but the film does work. Viewers can let loose and enjoy a sudsy drama with enjoyable trimmings.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Mary Astor (won)

Rebel Without a Cause-1955

Rebel Without a Cause-1955

Director Nicholas Ray

Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood

Scott’s Review #885

Reviewed April 14, 2019

Grade: A

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is usually most associated with being the best-remembered film of star James Dean’s short-lived career. East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956) are his other notable films in a much too brief time.

With Rebel Without a Cause Dean and underappreciated director, Nicholas Ray crafted a story about teenage angst and rebellion that has brilliant authenticity and was the first of its kind to influence countless other films.

In Los Angeles, three teenagers meet and commiserate at the juvenile section of the police station, revealing their respective crimes. Jim Stark (Dean) has been brought in for drunkenness and meets John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo), who was brought in for killing a litter of puppies, and Judy (Natalie Wood), who was brought in for curfew violation.

All three of them suffer from problems at home and confide in one another with their deepest revelations becoming connected and bonded for life.

To complicate matters Jim is a new student and must endure challenges associated with this in addition to his troubled home life. His main rival is Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen), who challenges Jim to a knife fight and finally a deadly “Chickie Run” game.

This leads to Buzz’s death which infuriates his gang who mistakenly assumes that Jim ratted them to the cops. This puts a target on Jim’s back as he slowly falls in love with Judy and develops a deep friendship with Sal who idolizes him.

One key to the success of Rebel Without a Cause is in the casting. Dean, rebellious in real life and the roles he portrayed chews up each scene he appears in.

The famous scene in which Jim quarrels with his father (Jim Backus) results in a bombastic emotional unraveling and an exclamation of “You’re tearing me apart!” as his blind-sided parents bicker with one another over how best to handle the situation.

Dean is a pivotal reason for the film’s success and landmark status.

Wood infuses her character of Judy with poignancy and a calm demeanor. Judy is a good kid but behaves wildly out of frustration over her inability to communicate with her deliberately distant father (William Hopper).

Finally, Plato (Mineo), who is so sensitive that he threatens to break apart at the seams, has taken to killing puppies as a desperate cry for attention from his wealthy, always absent parents.

Wood and Mineo support the film in brilliant form.

Jim and Judy are likable as a pair from opposite sides of the tracks, another influential aspect of the film that became commonplace in oodles of entertainment genres over the years.

Good Girl meets Bad Boy is dangerous, tender, and filled with story possibilities.

It is implied that Plato is in love with Jim but in 1955 films were extremely careful about pushing the envelope much further than an implication when it came to homosexuality. Rumors ran rampant that Dean and director Ray had a torrid love affair off-screen.

Another positive is the entire film is told within twenty-four hours providing excellent pacing and an action-packed emotional punch. The best scenes take place at night especially the deadly car race and the fantastic conclusion at the old deserted mansion the trio of friends claim as their sanctuary.

The tragic final ending is sure to result in the shedding of a tear or two by anyone who watches and is entranced by the powerful finality of the event.

Watching the film in the present day one must appreciate the enormous influence that Rebel Without a Cause achieved.

Some classics that succeeded Rebel and stand out on their own include American Graffiti (1973) The Breakfast Club (1985) and even West Side Story (1961) which also starred Natalie Wood. Each is riddled with teenage angst, hormones, and elevating emotions and all contain a seriousness and a depth all their own.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is a film that should be viewed and viewed again for more than the obvious and impressive story it tells.

The film is directed well, and speaks to a generation of unruly and angry teenagers, giving them a much-needed voice. It is fraught with emotion and balance for current and future generations of teenagers to learn from.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture Story, Best Supporting Actor-Sal Mineo, Best Supporting Actress-Natalie Wood

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director Fred Zinnemann

Starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii.

The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the storytelling.

With great acting and a compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel is stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals, and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled.

They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored dramatically before the devastating incident set to take place.

The film’s perspective is centered around the male characters which risks the film being classified as a “guy’s movie”. Enough melodrama and romance exist to offset the testosterone and masculinity, and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, a broader canvas is painted.

This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people affected and soon to be affected by the war.

The characters co-exist peacefully in their little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the star’s torrid love affair and the need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be a myth but have never been disproven.

Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart-pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are powerful and dim.

Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends sadly with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters.

At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from phony false patriotism.

With a dash of romance and sexuality, the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

Oscar Nominations: 8 wins– Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Fred Zinnemann (won), Best Actor-Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Best Actress-Deborah Kerr, Best Supporting Actor-Frank Sinatra (won), Best Supporting Actress-Donna Reed (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Musical Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Sound Recording (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing (won)

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

Director-Barry Jenkins 

Starring-Kiki Layne, Stephan James

Scott’s Review #854

Reviewed January 8, 2019

Grade: A

2018 proved to be a year where filmmakers of color prided themselves in telling stories of diversity, inclusion, social injustice, and the never-ending challenges of minorities.

One of the best films of the year is If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), a lovely piece of storytelling by director Barry Jenkins. His other major work, Moonlight (2016) is a similarly poignant and melancholy experience.

The film is based on a novel by James Baldwin.

The title is explained in the first dialogue of the film. Beale Street exists in New Orleans, but thousands of streets exist in other cities and is a metaphor for discrimination and unnecessary struggles that black folks continue to endure. Right away the audience knows that an important story is to be told.

The wonderful part of If Beale Street Could Talk is all of the combined elements that lead to brilliance.

Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) have known each other since childhood. Growing up in a Harlem neighborhood their families are interconnected and community-centered.

Events begin in 1973 as Tish realizes she is pregnant. Ordinarily a happy occasion, the situation contains a major challenge because Fonny is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

A woman has accused him of rape and a corrupt policeman has positively identified Fonny as the rapist despite this being a logistical impossibility. Tish is determined to prove his innocence before the baby arrives with the assistance of her family.

The story is non-linear as Jenkins begins the film in the present day with Tish breaking the news of her pregnancy to him then notifying her family.

As the film progresses more of the Fonny and Tish love story is explored. The couple falls in love has romantic dinners and nervously makes love for the first time. In this way, the film becomes a tender story of young love.

The social injustice and family drama situations are carefully mixed in amid the central romance.

The film impresses with warm touches and ingenious cinematography and musical score. These left me resounding with pleasure at the intricate and intimate details. The frequent use of jazz music over dinner or as the Rivers family sips celebratory wine adds sophistication to many scenes.

The texture of the film is muted and warm giving it a subdued look that is genuine to the quiet and timeless nature of the production.

The plume of cigarette smoke can be seen in nearly every scene as most of the characters smoke. Since the period is the 1970’s the authenticity is there, and a glamorous image is portrayed.

Smoking enhances the sophistication of the characters and adds to the tremendous cinematography.

Several scenes of simple dialogue crackle with authenticity and passion. In one of the best scenes Fonny’s friend Daniel, a recent parolee, stays for dinner and the friends share a conversation over beer and cigarettes.

The lengthy scene is poignant and tremendous with meaning. Daniel recounts his experience in prison and how black men are victims of the whims of white men and the terror involved in that. The scene is powerful in its thoughtfulness and a foreshadowing of Fonny’s impending trauma.

The supporting characters are stellar and add to the bravura acting troupe.

Regina King as Sharon Rivers gives a rave performance when she bravely travels to Puerto Rico and confronts Fonny’s accuser in hopes of getting her to modify her story. The scene is laden with emotion and honest dialogue.

The other notable actors are Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris as Tish’s father and sister, respectively. Both do wonders with fleshing out the Rivers family as strong and kind people.

Jenkins is careful to add white characters who are benevolent to offset the other dastardly white characters. Examples are the kindly old woman who comes to the rescue of Fonny and Tish and berates the cop.

The Jewish landlord who agrees to rent a flat to the pair is portrayed as decent and helpful, and finally, the young lawyer who takes Fonny’s case is earnest and understanding.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) continues talented director Barry Jenkins plunge into the depths of being one of the modern greats. With a beautifully visual and narrative film, he creates an experience sure to win more and more fans.

The ending is moving yet unsatisfying as so many more miles are to go in the race for prison justice. Adapting an important story of race and repression based on skin color is a powerful and detailed affair.

I cannot wait to see what Jenkins comes up with next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Regina King (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins (won), Best Supporting Female-Regina King (won)

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Director William Wyler

Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon

Scott’s Review #841

Reviewed December 13, 2018

Grade: A-

Released in 1942 amid the horrific World War II, Mrs. Miniver (1942) was a smash hit, winning over audiences concerned with the troubled and uncertain times.

Decades later the film does not age as well as other similarly themed films, but still entertains and tells a good story with an important theme.

The film is nestled in the war drama genre with romance. The film won numerous Oscars the year of its release including Best Picture and star Greer Garson winning for Best Actress.

The story is told from the perspective of an affluent British family and the struggles they face to keep things together during growing peril. The focus mostly remains on an unassuming housewife, Kay Miniver (Garson).

The supporting players do much to flesh out the film with wonderful performances by Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, and Henry Travers as Clem Miniver, Carol Beldon, and Mr. Ballard, respectively.

The direction by William Wyler is astounding and adds to the perfectly crafted ambiance and homey details.

The family lives a comfortable life in a whimsical village outside of London. Quite idealized, they own a large garden and a motorboat on the River Thames.

Along with Kay and Clem, their three children of varying ages and their housekeeper and cook reside with them. Besides the parents, the central couple is son Vin (Richard Ney) and the prominent Carol (Wright), the pair initially disagree on politics, but finally, fall madly in love.

As the soap-opera-style family situations continue the war grows closer and closer to their house.

As Mrs. Miniver progresses, Vin enlists in the army to assist with war efforts, a German Nazi breaks into the Miniver house, a central character dies, and bombs and planes crash.

Through it all, Kay remains stoic and takes the family through challenging situations adding much melodrama to the film. The woman’s journey and resolve to keep everything and everyone intact is at the core.

The film is mainly a family drama with the Minivers and the townspeople experiencing trials and tribulations. In this way, Mrs. Miniver risks being a one-trick pony, albeit an emotional and teary-eyed one.

The rich characteristics and the polished nature make the film more than it ought to be and the superlative cast and production values and the timeliness of the film’s release undoubtedly made it what it was in 1942.

In present times, however, Mrs. Miniver seems diminished in importance and relevance with a sappy and overly sentimental feel, World War II in the distant past, and several other wars come and gone.

Wyler carefully packaged the film to hit every emotion from the bombastic musical score to the proper English characters, to the comic relief housekeeper.

The film is a giant Hollywood production, but perhaps a bit too perfect to age with any zest or reason to watch more than once.

The film might be better remembered for its strong female lead. Told from Kay’s perspective, it was unusual in 1942 for a film (especially with a war theme) not to have the story from the male point of view. Still refreshing in 2018, this quality was downright groundbreaking at the time.

Kay stays strong and proud through the ravages of war that are closing in on her family with unbridled boldness and nary a simpering quality. An early champion for strong, female-driven characters and in a smaller way, Wright’s Carol is also a muscled female role model.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) is a well-crafted film of its time that displays lavish production values and strong characters worthy of admiration.

For a glimpse back into the 1940s capsule, especially for those fans of good, solid drama, the film is a major win. There are no major flaws to harp on, but the overall piece has not aged especially well and other similar films (Casablanca, 1942) are more memorable.

Oscar Nominations: 6 wins-Outstanding Motion Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor-Walter Pidgeon, Best Actress-Greer Garson (won), Best Supporting Actor-Henry Travers, Best Supporting Actress-Teresa Wright (won), Dame May Whitty, Best Screenplay (won), Best Sound Recording, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool-2017

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool-2017

Director-Paul McGuigan

Starring-Annette Bening, Jamie Bell

Scott’s Review #840

Reviewed December 11, 2018

Grade: B+

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) showcases a compelling performance by stalwart actress Annette Bening as she plays faded, insecure Hollywood glamour girl, Gloria Grahame.

The film focuses only on Grahame’s final two years of life as she battles breast cancer and begins a relationship with a much younger man, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell).

The film is a sad yet poignant dedication to the star featuring enough performance gusto from its actors to make up for a limited period and too much back and forth within the timeline that complicated the film too much.

As a result, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is endearing but does not hit it out of the park.

The entire film takes place between 1979 and 1981 as actress Gloria Grahame, her best days behind her, resides in a rented Liverpool room. In 1979 she has found a bit of success in local theater and befriends her much younger male neighbor.

The pair become romantic partners and experience trials and tribulations as the film teeters back and forth between Grahame’s ailing final days in 1981 to happier times in Los Angeles and New York. Gloria also befriends and finally lives with Peter’s parents, who care for her unflinchingly.

The story is enveloped in sadness but is not a downer either.

The film begins towards the end of Gloria’s illness though the audience is not aware yet of the seriousness of her disease. Insisting she just has painful gas, the tender relationship between the actress and Peter is explored.

The story then parlays back to 1979 when Peter and Gloria first meet- he is an aspiring actor unaware of who she is until a bartender makes the connection.

In this way, the film makes it clear this is not a story about a young man seeking the fortunes of a presumably wealthy woman. I like this point as the story is about romance not money-grubbing.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool belongs to Bening.

The supporting roles are well cast taking nothing away from either Bell’s performance or a nice turn by Julie Walters as Peter’s mum.

Bening, however, does wonders emulating the mannerisms of Grahame with an innocent, damsel in distress nature (mirroring the roles she made famously).

Bening was amazing at revealing the actress’s insecurities and fear of aging and an older appearance. During a fight, Peter cruelly refers to her as an “old lady” and we see the comment strike a deadly blow the same as if she had been physically slapped. Bening is so good at portraying a myriad of emotions throughout the film.

Another high point comes towards the end of the film. I love the way the film connects an earlier argument (and breakup) between Gloria and Peter with a later sequence.

As Peter assumes she was carrying on with another man when he learns she lied about her whereabouts, the haunting reality is later revealed, changing the audience’s entire perception of the turn of events.

This is good writing by the screenwriters.

To counter the above point, the constant back and forth from 1981 to 1979 and everywhere in between detracts from the enjoyment of the overall film for me.

Spanning only two years the film spends way too much time in multiple locations without enough explanation. Suddenly Gloria and Peter are in Los Angeles having dinner with her mother and sister at Gloria’s modest house, then they are in New York City in her lavish Park Avenue apartment.

The film would have been better suited with a straightforward approach chronicling events from 1979 to 1981 in sequence.

Another negative is the omission of any scenes before 1979.

The actress’s career thrived during the 1940s and 1950’s so it would have been interesting to capture those earlier days. If the fear was that Bening was too old to pass for a younger Grahame, another actress could have been used for those scenes.

While a clip of the real Grahame winning the Oscar and a few clips of her starring in films are nice, way more time could have been spent on more stories.

Thanks to a brilliant performance by Bening and an emotional story that in large part succeeds, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) is a win.

Not recognized during awards season as originally anticipated, this could have been due to the overly complex timeline and thus the limiting feeling the film produced. The production and writing are very good, but lack greatness.