Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Poor Things-2023

Poor Things-2023

Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #1,413

Reviewed December 27, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

All with a twisted and refreshing feminist quality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially in Victorian London.

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

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

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

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

It’s a fair question.

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

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

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

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

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

The Stepford Wives-1975

The Stepford Wives-1975

Director Bryan Forbes

Starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss

Scott’s Review #1,395

Reviewed September 4, 2023

Grade: A

The Stepford Wives (1975) is a film that has deservedly achieved cult status over the years and its title became iconic in meaning.

Everyone knows what a ‘Stepford wife’ is and what it depicts. Usually, a tall, leggy, brainless rich white woman from Connecticut is a sufficient enough image.

The film is a personal treasure to me since I am a resident of said state. The fact that ‘Stepford’ sounds like ‘Stamford’ where I live is uncanny and ironic. The film was shot in various areas of Connecticut so it’s fun to see the towns, grocery stores, and houses in the mid-1970s.

It also resonates quite well with my husband who lived in Manhattan for many years and then transplanted to nearby Connecticut just like the main characters do.

Besides my fondness, it’s a damned good thriller. It paces nicely and takes its time getting to the stunning conclusion.

The film was written by William Goldman (All the Presidents Men-1976), who based his screenplay on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel of the same name. Levin also wrote Rosemary’s Baby which was turned into a 1968 film.

The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby would make an outstanding double feature.

Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to the quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut, with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and children. The town seems idyllic and maybe just a little too perfect for her tastes.

Along with best friend and fellow Stepford resident Bobby (Paula Prentiss), the women notice that the other housewives are not quite ‘normal’. They obsess over housework and are willingly subservient to their husbands.

Joanna and Bobby are determined to solve the mystery especially when they realize there used to be a large women’s liberation group in Stepford.

In a lesser film, the final product could dive headfirst into campy horror. A tepid remake made in 2004 and starring Nicole Kidman did. But the original version stays the course and provides thrills and psychological facets.

The audience knows pretty soon that the men have a secret club that women are not permitted to attend. Named the Men’s Association, a major clue surfaces when Walter invites the men over to his house and they secretly look Joanna up and down.

What we don’t know is the how. Joanna, Bobby, and another neighbor Charmaine Wimperis (brilliantly played by Tina Louise) are the only ‘normal’ wives. Realizing which one of them is the next intended victim is part of the fun.

The women’s portraits are drawn by one of the men and we learn that the previous women have ‘turned’ after going away on a romantic weekend with their husbands.

What’s inside the creepy mansion that holds the Men’s Association meetings? Will Joanna sneak inside? What will happen next?

Delicious sequences occur that reveal that housewives are robots. After a minor fender bender in the local shopping center parking lot, Carol (Nanette Newman) begins acting strangely at an outdoor cocktail party. She repeatedly frets and repeats the same line over and over again.

Her husband blames her odd behavior on alcohol but the audience knows better.

Unforgettable is the stellar grocery store finale when the women are dressed to the nines and robotically shuffle through the aisles. They absent-mindedly take items off the shelves and place them into their carts while acknowledging each other with a pleasant ‘Hello, Charmaine”, or “Hello, Carol”.

My favorite scene is close to the finale between Bobby and Joanna. Horrified at Bobby’s transition to an uptight, well-dressed housewife obsessed with a clean kitchen, Joanna impulsively plunges a butcher knife into Bobby’s midsection.

With no bloodshed proving Bobby is a robot, Bobby calmly scolds Joanna by saying over and over again, “Now why would you do a thing like that?”

The scene is creepy, startling, and powerful given the close relationship between the women.

These scenes and others make The Stepford Wives (1975) part of pop culture and a reason I can watch the film several times over.

Featuring a cast of good actors led by Ross who successfully provides Joanna with both likability and sensibility the film is never over the top or ridiculous.

M3GAN-2023

M3GAN-2023

Director Gerard Johnstone

Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw

Scott’s Review #1,338

Reviewed January 31, 2023

Grade: B+

M3GAN (2023) is the sleeper hit of the year, quickly becoming a ‘water-cooler’ topic (remember that phrase?) after getting stagnant cinema lovers back into theaters in droves.

Released in the traditionally dismal month of January when studios usually ‘dump’ film releases with little or no bang for their buck M3GAN is already set to spawn a sequel. The possibilities for a different story to correlate with the original are endless.

The poster (see above) and the movie trailer are instantly grabbing. We see a doll-like/robotic little girl with long flowing blonde hair and mesmerizing, sparkling eyes that are cat-like and creepy.

Almost life-like, it doesn’t take a genius to conjure images of the Chucky doll from the Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019). Seemingly lovable but turning sinister, the concepts are more or less the same.

When robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) takes in her orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she creates the perfect companion for her, a lifelike doll named M3GAN, who serves as a friend, confidante, and sensible role model.

Cady and M3GAN immediately bond and become inseparable pals.

M3GAN can listen, watch, and learn from other people and objects as they relate to Cady, using advanced Artificial Intelligence to store their idiosyncrasies.

As expected, things soon go awry when M3GAN uses her superior intelligence to destroy anyone whom she perceives as a threat to Cady.

I’m not one to suggest a film tone down the blood and gore in a horror film but in the case of M3GAN, it works to the film’s advantage as proven by tremendous box-office receipts.

Far from kid-friendly, one of the main characters is eight to ten years old which might encourage parents, especially parents who are horror fans, to take their youngsters to see the film. At first, Cady and M3GAN invoke an idealized pre-teen female relationship, and a bully intent on harming Cady gets his comeuppance.

Most of the other characters who suffer dire fates are unlikeable. A boorish neighbor, a vicious dog, Gemma’s obnoxious boss, and his conniving assistant all get their due one way or another at the hands of M3GAN.

She’s not exactly a ‘hero’ but the fun is watching hated characters suffer at her hands. The setup is perfected as each character reveals their obnoxiousness to the rabid audience thirsting for a slashed throat or two.

My point is that parents and kids alike can enjoy this film and simultaneously share a startle and a giggle.

The campy nature of the film is another win since the humor evens out the horror elements. There are enough funny lines, mostly delivered by the supporting players, to evoke laugh-out-loud moments.

The grand finale is inevitably predictable but enjoyable because it’s what the audience can’t wait for. M3GAN, once prim and proper in her little girl dress, shrieks and spits curses at her former friends as her now disfigured face and ravaged hair make her look disheveled and monstrous.

M3GAN’s true colors are revealed and the audience will hoot and holler with delight.

Unlike many films, M3GAN goes right for the jugular in the first scene with a deadly car accident and keeps the fast pace for the entire one hour and forty-two minute running time.

Williams, well-known for starring in Jordan Peele’s 2017 masterpiece Get Out scores another win in the central role. She capably plays a loving yet inexperienced surrogate parent and carries the film, along with M3GAN of course.

Incorporated is a relevant knock on mass consumption of technology gadgets and a robot replacing good parenting. This is more evidence that parents should see M3GAN.

I can’t wait to see what the writers next have in store for the little terror when the sequel drops.

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Director Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu

Scott’s Review #1,337

Reviewed January 26, 2023

Grade: A

Released in March 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that built momentum throughout the year resulting in an astonishing eleven Academy Award nominations.

Traditionally, films scrambling for awards season notice and subsequent praise and honors are released in the fourth quarter and earlier releases are shuffled off to the discount racks.

But Everything Everywhere All at Once breaks the mold thanks to being a visionary, absurd comedy that demands the appreciation it has received.

As of this writing, it is the highest-grossing film released by A24, a champion of independent and quality cinema.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), plays a flustered and bedraggled immigrant mother who runs a laundromat along with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). They reside in the laundromat with Evelyn’s irritable father Gong Gong (James Hong) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who is gay.

In trouble with an IRS inspector, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she could save the world. She must quickly learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not conventional and is admittedly a complete mess meant in the finest of ways. It takes the cinematic formula and tips it on its ass but intelligently incorporates heartfelt scenes and gripping performances so that the viewer falls in love with the characters before knowing what’s hit them.

I semi-cringed when I heard the film was action mixed with science-fiction and superhero multiverses, none of which are my genre of choice. The film goes beyond that with a sensory overload, a warped, onslaught of colorful wackiness that includes hot dog fingers, butt plugs, and a drag performance.

You can’t make this up kids.

Michelle Yeoh kicks ass (literally!) and gets the role of a lifetime. At sixty years old she has played a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a rich bitch Mom in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), decent roles, but nothing like Evelyn.

Directors, the Daniels, show through Evelyn’s character, how her life has disappointed her. Never appreciated by her father and living in the doldrums, angry and frustrated, she develops into a woman who appreciates the small moments of human connection in her life.

We can all learn from Evelyn.

What a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery playing Deirdre. Displaying her gut, wearing a bizarre grey wig, she plays part IRS agent, part lesbian lover depending on what universe she is in, and is a hoot.

Ke Huy Kwan is famous as the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and not much since. He somersaults back into the acting spotlight in the role of Evelyn’s kind husband.

Finally, Stephanie Hsu is a gem as Stephanie who just wants to be loved by her mother. The actor has a bright future ahead of her.

These actors get to play four or five different characters and show their acting chops.

Stylistically, the film is off the wall. Dizzying special effects and absurd editing pummel the viewer with ‘stuff’ that can be talked about from a technical perspective for weeks.

But at the end of the film, you will shed a tear or two at the emotion that sneaks up from behind in the most wonderful way. Quiet scenes between the noisy ones show humanity and love for one another.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) has reaffirmed my appreciation of film and the creativity and beauty that can be mastered.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Actress-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Actor-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Best Supporting Actress-Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“This is a Life”, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 6 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Lead Performance-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Performance-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Breakthrough Performance-Stephanie Hsu (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Editing (won)

Minority Report-2002

Minority Report-2002

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

Scott’s Review #1,318

Reviewed November 27, 2022

Grade: B+

If you study his body of film work, the fascinating thing about acclaimed director Steven Spielberg is the growth and groundbreaking cross-genre categorization of many of his films.

Traversing blockbuster popcorn films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) to heavy drama with the 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List, the man can do it all.

With 2002’s Minority Report, he bravely delves into science-fiction territory with a crime thriller and action tint. The film is tough to follow and mostly reminds me of Inception (2010), a Christopher Nolan vehicle influenced by this film.

Despite the cerebral tone, Minority Report is a fascinating study of futuristic crime-fighting styles with enough twists and turns to keep me engaged though I confess at times having no real idea what was going on plot-wise.

The casting of Tom Cruise is a major win. Who better to carry a film like this except maybe Bruce Willis though Cruise is a better actor. Nonetheless, he is believable as a crime chief with a slick edge and a wicked smile.

Unsure whether or not to trust him he remains at the heart of the success of the film.

Based on a story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, ‘Minority Report’ contains a perfect premise to bring to the big screen. Set in Washington D.C. in 2054, police are now intelligent enough to utilize psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crimes.

The setup is fabulous and rife with possibility.

Cruise plays Chief John Anderton, the head of this Precrime unit, and is himself accused of the future murder of a man he hasn’t even met. Following an audit, it is predicted that in thirty-six hours, Anderton will kill a man who is a stranger to Anderton.

Anderton flees, prompting a manhunt led by Witwer (Colin Farrell).

It is revealed that Anderton joined the Precrime program after his son was kidnapped and never found. He is depressed, withdrawn, and addicted to hard drugs, and his wife Lara (Kathryn Morris) has since left him.

But is this all a setup and are others involved in the conspiracy?

The plot goes way off the rails in terms of explanation or logic but the fun is in trying to put the never-ending puzzle pieces together. Truthfully, after a while, I simply gave up this approach and enjoyed the visual eye candy and terrific futuristic style.

I rarely am a proponent of visuals over storytelling but the intelligence of the sequences and the thrilling nature of the acting assured me there was something there. I just wasn’t completely getting it.

Since it’s directed by Spielberg I was confident that the complexities I was being served were not shit. I was comforted by this knowledge and my enjoyment escalated.

Enough props can’t be handed out for Cruise’s dynamic performance parlayed by the coldness and harshness of the overall tone of the film.

Many of Spielberg’s films are heartwarming but this was not to be found in Minority Report (2002) and I liked it even more for that reason.

Spielberg gets another win by suckering me into a cinematic world that he magically can create. This time with perplexities and perhaps even some influence from the Matrix (1999) movies.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing

Crimes of the Future-2022

Crimes of the Future-2022

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux

Scott’s Review #1,295

Reviewed September 2, 2022

Grade: B

Being somewhat familiar with the work of director David Cronenberg and the macabre and squirmy elements he adds to his films, I had a fair idea of what type of experience I was in for. There was anticipation as I slipped the blu ray of Crimes of the Future (2022) into the player.

He’s responsible for such peculiar pleasures as Eastern Promises (2007), an annual Christmas time watch for my husband and me, and A History of Violence (2005) a gangster-flavored effort. Cronenberg frequently teeters around psychological horror and science fiction though has dabbled in other genres.

Stalwart actor Viggo Mortensen once again graces the screen in one of Cronenberg’s films and leads the charge as the main protagonist in Crimes of the Future.

Visually the film is astounding with creepy shapes and visceral red images floating about mainly in the opening credits. It’s riddled with a subdued and mellow mood taking its time to get going and allowing for somber tones and textures.

It’s a tough and weird watch but somehow slowly lures the viewer into its confusing web.

Be warned though that the story is inexplicable and impossible to figure out. I even read a post-film synopsis and was still unclear how the puzzle pieces are supposed to come together. But maybe they aren’t.

Crimes of the Future is the type of film that is recommended to be digested and left to ruminate in one’s inner being. The translation is to not overthink the events but rather to enjoy what is being served.

Sometime soon, the human species has adapted to a new synthetic environment, causing bodies to undergo new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.

In simpler terms, his body is cut into for all to see.

An odd character named Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements. A mysterious group exists with a mission to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

The summary is tough to write and even tougher to explain so I won’t waste space even going there. I’ll leave it to say that the above is the best that can be explained and only that there is a fascinating story element to the events.

Something about science fiction and the future typically equates to mystique and wonderment.

I could watch Mortensen in pretty much any film which is the main reason to see Crimes of the Future. The actor is so keen on choosing just the right roles for him and each is so different from the last.

Merely comparing his recent films like Captain Fantastic (2016), Green Book (2018), and Crimes of the Future results in the actor continuing to challenge himself with the depth of each character instead of capitalizing on name recognition to cash a hefty paycheck like other similar aged Hollywood actors.

I won’t name names but Liam Neeson could take a note or two from Mortensen.

Seydoux, a French actress pairs well with Mortensen. She possesses a sophisticated European vibe that translates well within this distant future. She is sexy and because of the subject matter, this is key to the visual style the film has.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Kristen Stewart as the nutty and nerdy Timlin but it’s a shocking follow-up to a fabulous portrayal of Princess Diana. As she speaks rapidly with timidity it’s a particular role but nice to see Stewart continue to go with edgy roles.

Because it’s Cronenberg, Crimes of the Future (2022) is cerebral and provocative with a fleshy and grim style. I’d expect nothing less from the director but would have preferred a more cohesive package.

In the end, I simply couldn’t figure the film out so it’s tough to completely recommend it.

Dune-2021

Dune-2021

Director-Denis Villenueve

Starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac

Scott’s Review #1,282

Reviewed July 29, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I probably should have read the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbreakable-2000

Unbreakable-2000

Director M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #1,260

Reviewed May 29, 2022

Grade: A-

Following the brilliant and massive critical and commercial success of The Sixth Sense (1999), M. Night Shyamalan hit his stride and became a household name known for mixing supernatural and psychological elements in his web of good storytelling.

Following 2002’s Signs credibility tapered a bit but Unbreakable (2000) is an overlooked gem falling in the shadows of The Sixth Sense which everyone remembers best when they talk about the director.

The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are also strong counterparts because they both star Hollywood legend Bruce Willis who it can be argued started to gain respectability within the industry with the former.

He continues his superior acting and calm character approach.

Unbreakable is part thriller, science fiction, and superhero film, so I have categorized it accordingly. It’s part of an Unbreakable film series and was followed by Split (2016) and Glass (2019) which took years to develop and were decent if underwhelming projects.

Unbreakable is by far the best of the bunch.

David Dunn (Willis) is a regular guy who works as a college football stadium security guard. He is a former star college quarterback whose dreams of stardom never materialized because of a car accident. He lives a somewhat melancholy yet decent life with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and son Joseph.

One day David boards a train. The train experienced a devastating derailment with an enormous casualty number. David awakes in the hospital to find that he is the sole survivor of the wreck. He is left unscathed.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives on the scene as a mysterious comic book expert who takes a liking to David and his experience. He offers a bizarre explanation as to why David escaped without a single scratch that counters Elijah’s health- he is a frail man who is constantly at risk of breaking his bones.

Elijah and Joseph begin to believe that David is a superhero. At first, David rebuffs this notion but slowly begins to realize he has extrasensory perception.

What is the link between David and Elijah?

I’m not always a big superhero fan and sometimes the storylines are riddled with cliches, stereotypes, and predictability.

But, Unbreakable is fascinating and unpredictable. It’s also dark, cerebral, and contains a surprise ending leaving me summarizing that it’s a different sort of superhero film with layers of cool elements.

It’s a non-traditional superhero film and I love that quality.

There’s a suspension of disbelief of course. How one character can rig a train accident and other crimes is a bit of a stretch but the characters of David and Elijah are compelling enough for me to forget those pesky little plot holes and enjoy the experience.

If the story sometimes falters, the riveting train sequence more than makes up for it. We see David quietly enjoying the train ride until all hell breaks loose. The shattered glass, derailment, and chaos are fabulous entertainment as well as wonderment of what comes next and what the sequence means to the rest of the story.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unbreakable.

Almost as riveting but in a different way is the opening scene of Unbreakable which will immediately grab the viewer. It is 1961 and an African American woman is told that her baby’s arms and legs are broken. This is later a key to the story but at this time we know not what this intrigue has to do with anything.

Unbreakable (2000) is incredibly fresh and original. It can easily be watched in a double-feature with The Sixth Sense but is nothing like that film except for its director and actor.

But, they are M. Night Shyamalan’s best films, and Unbreakable provides tremendous thought and conceptualization while creating daring camera work long remembered after the first viewing.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

**Updated Review- Original Review in 2017**

Director Robert Rodriguez

Starring Josh Hartnett, Jordanna Brewster, Clea Duvall

Scott’s Review #1,227

Reviewed February 5, 2022

Grade: B

The Faculty (1998) was released during the late 1990s horror film renaissance. Wisely, it cast film veterans that improved its merit along with young rising stars bankable at the box office. The film was only a moderate success but has become a cult classic over the years.

With a teacher/student dynamic incorporating all the standard cliches that go along with that, it mixes classic horror with a direct ode to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and is enjoyable, though hardly worthy of regular viewings.

Instead, it can be part of a 1990s nostalgia night or taken out as an opening act for comparison film Scream (1996), a similar vehicle also released by Dimension Films. The sunny yet somber high school setting is nearly identical in both films.

The Faculty is a sheer delight for teenage audiences or even twenty-somethings who can relate to the idea of their teachers being otherworldly or some such alien beings.

Stars Josh Hartnett, who had just jumped into the horror circle by being in Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998), along with attractive and similar-aged Jordanna Brewster and Elijah Wood, lead the pack.

Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, and Bebe Neuwirth appear in supporting roles as part of the faculty.

The setting is midwestern Ohio, where the students at Harrington High find Principal Drake (Neuwirth) and her gang of teachers a bit odd. Wacky under the best of circumstances, suddenly they become controlled by a parasite and attempt to infect the students one by one.

Cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy), drug dealer Zeke (Hartnett), and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) team up with some of their other classmates to fight back against the invaders.

But is one of the students the ringleader and controlling the faculty?

The horror standardized offing one by one is intelligently mixed up in The Faculty. Rather than a maniac brandishing a hatchet and chopping the students to bits, they are instead infected by more subtle means. The fun is finding out who will become an alien next and enjoying the weird behavior of the staff.

And who hasn’t imagined one of their teachers writhing around on a sports car coquettishly toying with the hunky high school football players?

Yes, there are some plot holes to contend with and some stale attempts at pairing the teens off romantically. Predictably, the standard jock, cheerleader, nerd, and outcast stereotypes abound as well as perceptions of what a school nurse, math teacher, and drama teacher look and sound like.

For good measure, one of the faculty (Salma Hayek) is ‘hot’.

There is much fun in the film and perhaps some truth and that’s what director Robert Rodriguez showcases throughout. He doesn’t take himself or his characters too seriously as inside high school jokes and role interplay make for a playful, light experience.

Rodriguez is the best friend and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino but The Faculty holds no Tarantino influence whatsoever.

My favorite line may be when Casey says to snooty Delilah Profitt, “You’re pretty cool when you’re not being a bitch”.

The film isn’t really about students versus teachers or the faculty getting their comeuppance. The target audience is the teen crowd and they will have a marvelous time experiencing The Faculty. Times may change but the same teenage angst is shared from generation to generation.

The film is a good outlet for that.

Any fan of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, either the 1950s version or the 1970s remake will notice some familiar territory. The pods become fish and the explanation of taking over planet Earth because another planet is dying is intentionally (hopefully!) silly with a science-fiction edge.

The film ends happily ever after which is satisfying for the level of seriousness one must take while watching.

Borrowing heavily from other horror films near and dear, The Faculty (1998) carves out enough originality in the science fiction area to warrant some props. It’s not a measured success but evenly distributes the pacing and the entertainment nicely.

And the big stars add a nice touch.

The Cabin in the Woods-2011

The Cabin in the Woods-2011

Director Drew Goddard

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth

Scott’s Review #1,221

Reviewed January 17, 2022

Grade: A-

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is a very clever film with tremendous writing and acting. It takes a standard horror film premise and spins it into something new and inventive. I wouldn’t dare spoil the twist reveal at the end of the film but suffice it to say it’s a doozy.

It’s not your typical or expected slasher film.

Created by Drew Goddard (he wrote Cloverfield-2008) in his directorial debut he also co-wrote the screenplay with Joss Whedon. Besides horror, there is dark comedy and science fiction incorporated making it cross-genre entertainment and enjoyment.

When five college friends (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams) arrive at a remote forest cabin for relaxation and quiet, odd horrors await them. A group of backwoods zombies wreaks havoc on the group and they are systematically killed one by one in a gruesome fashion.

From an unknown location, two scientists (Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford) are manipulating the events, but there are even more sinister machinations going on somewhere else.

The story on the surface is pretty basic and Goddard and Company delightfully add parodies of standard horror elements. Most who see The Cabin in the Woods will be fans of the horror genre.

Anytime five college kids head for a weekend alone in a secluded cabin it’s a recipe for disaster.

I immediately compared the film to Friday the 13th (1980) meets The Evil Dead (1981).

The group even has nicknames that coincide with traditional horror/slasher film character trademarks: ‘The Virgin’, ‘The Athlete’, ‘The Whore’, ‘The Fool’, and ‘The Scholar’.

This is a pure treat for fans.

Goddard, or the scientists manipulating the action, gleefully fills the students with intoxicants making their libidos flare and their curiosities piqued. A mysterious diary and other weird objects are found by the group in the cabin basement.

Ordinarily smart, the students are unable to provide rational thinking or proper reasoning. Naturally, they are unable to escape the remote area either.

The scientists cackle and make bets on which zombie will appear next. The audience enjoys this immensely because what horror film viewer doesn’t predict who gets killed when how and who will be the last one standing?

The Cabin in the Woods is incredibly enjoyable.

In joyous form, two of the group have animalistic sex outside and one is decapitated.

Then things get strange.

The audience knows of the scientists, but wait there’s more! When the scientists are called by a mysterious ‘director’ who tells them that Marty (Hemsworth) has not been killed and is attempting to rescue Dana (Connolly), something has gone amiss.

The reasoning and understanding of the big reveal are very implausible but shocking nonetheless. It’s scary because it’s unexpected and that’s why the film is so creative and successful.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) turns the traditional horror formula upside down and is a pure delight for fans of the genre. Instead of mocking, it embraces the methods and offers intelligence and humor that I truly appreciate.

Don’t Look Up-2021

Don’t Look Up-2021

Director-Adam McKay

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #1,220

Reviewed January 16, 2022

Grade: A

In the times of the Covid pandemic, ‘water cooler’ films have ceased to exist. Once, employees would gather around the water cooler to discuss a current film or television show. These days, with many working from home this activity has waned.

Too bad, because Don’t Look Up (2021) is one of those films.

It was not on my radar until a flurry of scuttlebutt and controversy brought the film to the forefront of my mind and many others. Super topical and mired in irony, everyone should see it, but those who need to won’t.

It’s a brazen and in-your-face look at how science and facts are dismissed by some who can’t see the forest for the trees, or in this case, a giant comet speeding towards planet Earth. In the year 2021, with controversy over Covid preventing mask-wearing and preventative vaccinations, Don’t Look Up portrays those as simply stupid.

As they are.

Those viewers who are conspiracy theorists, Trump supporters, or I daresay even too self-absorbed to look past their own lives are the ones who should see the film the most. You will be mocked and used as fodder for the entertainment of the more intelligent species of human beings.

But, perhaps learn a thing or two?

Led by director Adam McKay, famous for satirical works such as 2015’s The Big Short, he satirizes the current state of worldly affairs masterfully, using political comparisons and the world-weary science versus non-science approach.

McKay also writes and produces.

He enlists an all-star cast who were chomping at the bit to be part of his relevant and brilliant project. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Mark Ryland, and Cate Blanchett are just a handful of participating stars.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is an astronomy graduate student who along with her professor Doctor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes a discovery of a comet on a collision course with Earth. It is expected to arrive within six months and destroy most of the planet.

They are shocked and dismayed when their attempts to get anyone to pay any attention are hijacked by the media and the President of the United States of America, President Orlean (Streep). Instead, folks in high power attempt to use the ‘story’ for either ratings or political gain.

With the help of Doctor Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). While Randall embarks on an affair with Brie, the scientists attempt to gain the attention of the social media-obsessed public before it’s too late.

As the title states, just look up?!

President Orlean and her psychopathic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), are patterned after former President Donald J. Trump and his son. Their nastiness and dismissive attitude, only thinking of personal gain are despicable.

Hysterically and satisfying, they each get their proper comeuppance.

Orlean’s demise at the end of the film is particularly satisfying. Stay post-credits for this treat.

Don’t Look Up is not a conventional film- it’s better than that. Its special sauce is its powerful message and reassurance for viewers to not take good old-fashioned common sense for granted. Despite the naysayers, the use of one’s brain is a valuable commodity.

The urgency of the matter is not meant to be taken for granted but there is enough comedy elements to classify it as such- a dark comedy.

DiCaprio is terrific in the lead role. Nervous and having difficulty expressing himself, his frustration is felt as he tries to warn the world of impending doom. The actor can play any character and it’s great seeing him add a sexy, middle-aged nerd to his repertoire.

Lawrence is a killer. Her character has no filter and is known to burst into rage making her lash-out scenes pleasing. Kate will call an idiot an idiot. Her outburst at the President is a particularly terrific scene.

Despite the laughter, Don’t Look Up (2021) sends a dire message. It mirrors the current times and what trouble we are in. The grim final sequence when Randall, Kate, and family sit around the dinner table enjoying a Thanksgiving-style meal is also a reminder to keep loved ones close and treasure every moment.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

The Abyss-1989

The Abyss-1989

Director James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Scott’s Review #1,210

Reviewed December 19, 2021

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

I missed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director Robert Zemeckis

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

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

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who can’t relate to that in some way?

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

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Director Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Scott’s Review #1,198

Reviewed November 20, 2021

Grade: B+

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

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

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

Still, Edward Scissorhands is entertaining and fascinating.

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

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

This is a challenge for all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup

On the Beach-1959

On the Beach-1959

Director Stanley Kramer

Starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #1,179

Reviewed September 19, 2021

Grade: A-

On the Beach (1959) is a film that showcases a grim subject matter but remains relevant considering the period in which it was made. The Cold War era kept most people on edge with the threat of nuclear war as they rolled into the 1960s.

The lavishness of the 1950s turned into a more distrustful time as countries gained modern technological advances making nuclear weapons a real possibility.

At the time the film was not met with much praise or popularity.

Certainly, people were content in their cinematic bubbles of nice and comforting films that largely emerged during the 1950s but On the Beach is a fantastic discovery decades later.

I suppose people expected a sweeping epic romantic adventure but what they received was a harsher tale. It’s not nearly as dark as it could have been.

The black and white cinematography is highly effective at relaying a cold and stark world that is left for the film’s characters. Another success is that the film is set in the future, 1964 to be exact while the film was made in 1959.

The film is hardly a downer and while the subject matter of nuclear disaster and devastation sounds heavy there is as much romance as there is social storytelling. The romance between Peck and Gardner is effective and the best part of the film experience.

As the story begins, we learn that World War III has already occurred, leaving Australia the only remaining safe place for survivors. However, wind currents carrying lingering radiation are headed their way condemning those on the continent to certain death.

When the survivors receive a strange signal from San Diego, California, Commander Dwight Towers (Peck) must undertake a mission with Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) to see if there is hope for humanity. They leave behind Moira (Gardner) and Mary (Donna Anderson), the women they love.

Director, Stanley Kramer knows his way around a message movie. He also directed the racially important Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in 1967.

The romance between Dwight, Moira, Peter, and Mary is my favorite aspect of the film. Dwight has lost his wife and two children so out of loneliness falls for Moira, who has never married and has no one. Their soon-to-be doomed romance is fraught with complications as they cling to each other so tenderly knowing their time is limited.

Peter and Mary, on the other hand, are married with an infant young daughter. A major conflict the couple deals with is whether to take suicide pills rather than get sick and die a slow and painful death.

There is enough chemistry between Peck and Gardner to keep the viewer engaged and it’s tough to watch Perkins, a known gay man, play a macho father figure with a newborn for some reason. It’s also hard not to see Norman Bates from Psycho (1960). I half-expected Peter to attack Mary in the shower with a butcher knife.

Still, the acting is good.

On the Beach states a powerful message in its conclusion. Ultimately, within just a few days of the shifting winds bringing the toxins to Australia, the last pockets of humanity are dead.

The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are filled with dramatic, music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner that reads “There is still time .. Brother”.

Indeed, there is.

This leaves the viewer pondering his or her fate and the terrible dangers of nuclear war. Decades later, On the Beach (1959) still frightens and teaches about the ravages of world conflict and the plea for a peaceful society.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Film Editing

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Director Stephen Chiodo

Starring Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder

Scott’s Review #1,169

Reviewed August 6, 2021

Grade: B-

A film surely only meant to be viewed late at night and/or in a hallucinated or otherwise drugged state for maximum pleasure, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is not to be taken seriously.

It does contain great imagination.

It’s kind of a take-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with a wretched 1980s look. It’s a fun film but as odd and pointless as they come. There is no explanation offered for the villain’s behavior nor is one necessary. There is also no political message or motivation.

It’s like someone thought of the weirdest possible gimmick and made a film about it.

For a horror film, the body count is very high but there is little gore. Unsurprisingly, it has found a permanent home in the genre cult classic category, forever to be dusted off when in need of the wacky or absurd.

Teenage lovebirds Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a comet crash outside their quiet, small-town one late night. They investigate and discover a pack of murderous aliens who look exactly like circus clowns. When they do the right thing and warn the local authorities, everyone assumes their story is a prank.

Meanwhile, the clowns attempt to harvest and eat as many people as they can. When they kidnap Debbie, Mike decides to set out himself to rescue her and stop the bloody rampage. This leads to an epic battle between Mike and his friends and the clowns.

The Chiodo Brothers, who wrote and directed Killer Klowns from Outer Space, are primarily known for special effects, stop motion and clay modeling, and the film uses these techniques heavily. The wonky and lumbering clowns possess sinister smiles and quirky cotton candy cocoons to keep their prey.

Hardly are they directorial or screenplay masters so the film feels extremely experimental in many regards. The storyline is basic and the villains have only one modus operandi. The character development is nill and the acting is poor.

Is anyone surprised?

The key to the enjoyment of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is that it knows it is a B-movie and embraces the classification. Avoiding all seriousness is arguably what makes it a marginal success. One can sit back and laugh at it as one would rib an old friend. It is acceptable to both parties.

The clowns, or Klowns, are the real stars of the film. It’s fun to view these odd creatures and admire their costumes. This is the creativity of the film coming out and the Chiodo Brothers are masterful at this. One part scary and one part goofy their lavish costumes are bright and colorful. The creatures themselves are ugly as sin, big and lumbering.

Predictably, the film writes the supporting characters as stereotypical as possible, and maybe that’s the fun in it all. Farmer Gene Green (cool name!) believes Halley’s comet is the strange glowing object falling to earth.

He and his dog are quickly harvested. The police officers are curmudgeons and disbelieving of the teenagers. Various friends of Mike and Debbie are cast as one would think for a horror film.

The final climax is the best part of the film when an ice cream truck is used as a weapon against the clowns until a myriad of pies starts falling from the skies. Anyone watching the film while stoned would gleefully laugh.

Recommended for the adventurous cinema lover who wants to delve into the bizarre, late-night campy horror territory. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is mesmerizing in its absurdity and harkens back to 1950s science fiction.

The Omega Man-1971

The Omega Man-1971

Director Boris Sagal

Starring Charlton Heston, Rosalind Cash

Scott’s Review #1,168

Reviewed August 2, 2021

Grade: B

Watching a film in 2021 about a global pandemic that was made in 1971 conjures many interesting nuances and comparisons and brings fresh relevance to the story.

Throw in vaccinated versus non-vaccinated debate and the similarities are downright eerie.

Given this relevance, I wish that I had found The Omega Man (1971) more engaging than I did. It’s not a bad watch and delivers a very progressive interracial romance and cool exterior scenes of downtown Los Angeles but the story doesn’t live up to the potential that the premise would suggest.

I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, who stars, in two of his other science fiction roles- Planet of the Apes (1968) and Soylent Green (1973), also directed by Omega Man director, Boris Sagal. Planet of the Apes is of course a classic.

In the first scene, Robert Neville (Heston) wanders the streets of Los Angeles. We quickly surmise that he is the last man left on earth. Armed with an experimental vaccine for the disease that’s turned everyone into light-averse zombies, he fights a biological war, roaming the empty streets by day and fighting off the mutated creatures at night.

The premise immediately reminded me of a famous Twilight Zone episode.

On paper, the storyline sounds fascinating with many possible directions it could go in and nuances to explore. Sadly, the direction that Sagal chooses to go in feels lackluster and dull.

Neville hunts and kills as many members of “the Family”, a cult of plague victims who were turned into nocturnal albino mutants as he can. The Family in turn seeks to destroy all technology and kill Neville, who has become a symbol of the science they blame for humanity’s downfall.

They try to kill each other but “the Family’s” motivations and reasoning make little sense. If they destroy technology what will they do? And why not just get the vaccination? These bits may have been explained but I didn’t take notice.

The parallels between the film and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 and perhaps onward are uncanny. Maybe the modern unvaccinated will turn into creepy-looking creatures with pale glowing eyes? One can only hope.

There is also a hokey idea of Neville believing that extending his immunity to others may be possible by creating a serum from his blood.

I didn’t feel very engaged by the story but I was very interested in the romance between Neville and Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash. Lisa is a black woman who arrives on the scene with her infected and dying brother.

For 1971, having a mainstream interracial romance is a huge win for diversity and inclusion though the film stops short of having the pair consummate their relationship. This is quite conspicuous. There is also not a whole lot of chemistry between Heston and Cash but I was rooting for them anyway. It is thought that their kiss is the first interracial kiss in cinema history.

Suffice it to say the conclusion isn’t very satisfying but I’ll leave it right there to avoid spoilers.

The science fiction genre is a tough one to tackle. The bar is set pretty high with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) the greatest science fiction film ever made. Too many times the story is hokey or not imaginative enough and that’s what makes The Omega Man lose some points.

Parts are inspiring and parts are goofy but the progressive slant makes The Omega Man (1971) an above-par cinema experience. The unexpected parallels to a global situation some fifty years later are remarkable in themselves.

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director Guillermo del Toro

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

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

It is not for children!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Ofelia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenet-2020

Tenet-2020

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-John David Washington, Robert Pattinson

Scott’s Review #1,149

Reviewed June 4, 2021

Grade: C

For those film lovers craving a plot that serves as a weaving puzzle that can never be figured out Tenet (2020) is highly recommended. Others who crave a more defined and linear story and character development will be disappointed by the film. Tenet is a visuals only experience as I tuned in and out of the actual plot points after realizing they intersect past present and future elements.

I did try from the outset to understand but ended up falling flat.

One’s enjoyment will depend on your cinematic desires and expectations.

I skew much more towards a good story with excellent acting and an emotional reaction to the project. I’m not as focused on brilliant CGI or dazzling visuals as some but I recognize that Tenet has these elements.

However, I’m not sure I agree with the film’s Oscar win for Best Visual Effects or nomination for Best Production design- thank goodness the terrific Mank (2020) won the latter award.

I’ll try to summarize the plot. A secret agent simply named the Protagonist (John David Washington) embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III. The villainous Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branaugh) is a Russian oligarch who communicates with the future and is intent on destroying the world. His wife, Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki) despises her husband and aligns with the Protagonist to stop him. They fall in love.

Along for the ride are an arms dealer, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), and Robert Pattinson plays the Protagonist’s handler who may or may not be trusted.

Let’s start with the positives. Tenet gets off to a terrific start with a scene at the Kyiv opera house in Ukraine. Though silly, the invasion of the theater and massive sleeping effect of the theater attendees and performers is like a domino effect. The scene is fast and exciting. Later, a daring car chase featuring a car speeding down a highway in reverse gear is pretty exciting. Add a character bound and tied in the passenger seat with no driver and no way to get out provides a cool James Bond moment.

Another positive is the luscious locales like Estonia, Oslo, Norway, London, and the Amalfi coast.

That’s where the fun ends.

I have to admit that I expected more from Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed the project. The man has churned out superlative efforts like The Dark Knight (2008) and Dunkirk (2017), but Tenet will not rank among his finest moments.

To that end, it’s a Nolan film. Sound and visuals are his trademarks and the bombastic, booming score is tight and familiar. The mixing of loud, techy, thundering beats is commonplace but sadly does little for the film. They almost become annoying.

The cast is seasoned and capable. With Washington, Pattinson, Branaugh, and Debicki onboard there is a talent to be found. Even Michael Caine is cast in one wasteful scene. Nonetheless, the actors drift through their scenes looking perplexed and stiff. Probably because they didn’t know what the hell was going on in the scenes.

Just like the viewer.

The dialogue is an issue because it’s not written well. Why would Kat want to kill a man who is already dying of terminal cancer? Why not wait out his demise? And the time travel was lost on me from the first sequence. I simply didn’t care.

The most laugh-out-loud line occurs when Kat exclaims to the Protagonist, “I just knew you’d have a backup plan. Wait, you do have a backup plan, right?” With juicy dialogue like this, it’s a wonder Tenet didn’t receive a Best Screenplay nomination. I jest, of course.

Little nitpicky items like the Protagonist and Kat having zero chemistry even though an interracial romance had so much potential are disappointing.

I can’t say I’d recommend Tenet (2020), but I can provide details of what you can expect from the experience. Some cool visual moments can’t overcome the lack of any storyline and the viewer will become lost in the tired moments. By the final sequence, I thought I had watched a generic episode of a network television series like NCIS.

Ouch.

Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects (won), Best Production Design

Mad Max-1979

Mad Max-1979

Director George Miller

Starring Mel Gibson

Scott’s Review #1,070

Reviewed October 15, 2020

Grade: A-

Mad Max (1979) is a gritty and dirty film that is nothing like any other film coming before it. There are an edginess and an “off the beaten track” quality that sucks you in and pummels you into submission with its energy and ferocity.

The film is raw and not slick and hats off for that. This is all done with fun intentions and it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the film has brutality and power that must be experienced to be believed.

The plot is not the most important quality, nor is it the most believable, but it’s the trimmings that make Mad Max unforgettable.

I haven’t seen the two follow-up sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981) or Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but my understanding is they are more family-friendly films, disappointing to hear after viewing the raw power of the original.

The undesirable Fury Road (2015), is an enormous critical and commercial success, but the appeal lost on me, is to be skipped in favor of the first.

I disliked that film.

But alas, a treasure such as the original can never be duplicated. The revenge-themed, fast car-driving, lewd masterpiece, is a must-see cult classic.

It stands the test of time.

In a post-apocalyptic future, an angry cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is looking forward to retiring, having had enough of the derelicts that populate his region. One day, his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation, forcing a devastated Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance.

As he travels the Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway, he tours the bloodstained battlegrounds ruled by low-life bikers who feed on violence.

Mad Max made Mel Gibson a star. His breakthrough role, led to future work in the action and buddy genres, specifically the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998) with tepid success from any artistic standpoint until he bravely took on more creative and challenging roles.

Max is his finest action character and most authentic feeling. He mixes a blend of rage, sentimentality, and humanity, perfectly, never missing a beat.

And his youthful looks are enchanting to see.

The multitude of scenes featuring super fast-cars, motorbike gangs, and leather-clad creatures with colorful tattoos and missing teeth are just the icing on the cake of the fun that lies ahead.

Names like Toecutter and Bubba give you an idea here.

These are all great add-ons, but the revenge-seeking Max is the one to watch. The scene is immediately set when the grizzled Nightrider is killed by Max in a chaotic police chase. His gang goes rampant and loots and destroys shops and businesses, raping both women and men. All hell breaks loose.

The best sequence is also the most horrific.

Taking place on the open road, naturally, a sweet vacation by Max, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and son Sprog begins with a pleasant drive, only to result in a chase scene climaxing with Sprog’s death and Jessie languishing in intensive care.

The image of Sprog and Jessie lying on the open road, tattered and torn, is memorable and sticks with you.

The film is intelligent if studied thoroughly enough, and a study in film school is recommended. Credit must be given to director George Miller who knows his way around a camera.

The cinematography lends much to the film and a feeling of being there is the desirous result. The editors deserve a special prize for their brilliant efforts.

Undoubtedly influencing countless action genre selections of the 1980s and 1990s, most running the gamut between only marginally fun (the Terminator franchise-1984-present) or downright atrocious (The Running Man-1987), Mad Max (1979) breathes life into the genre.

Action films are categorically known to be one-dimensional but by adding a cool Australian locale, characters who are filled with cartoon bombast and punky zest, and a futuristic mystique, Miller crafts well.

It’s a low-budget flick, destined for underground viewership and appreciation, that is somehow nearly flawless.

Westworld-1973

Westworld-1973

Director Michael Crichton

Starring Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner

Scott’s Review #1,056

Reviewed August 25, 2020

Grade: A-

I have seen the film version of Westworld (1973) before and after having watched the current hit HBO television series, brilliant in its complexities.

Many are not even aware that the series is based on a film and that is a pity because the film is good stuff with lots to digest in a short time.

Admittedly, watching it in present times given the extreme psychology that the series offers, the film has so much more it could have offered but it’s still a great watch.

One must always remember the time-period a film is made for proper context and comparison.

Yul Brynner nearly steals the film in a spectacular and creepy performance as a wide-eyed futuristic android cowboy to Richard Benjamin and James Brolin’s regular guys out for an escapist good time.

Much of the film could be conceived as a buddy film with a bevy of homoerotic elements brimming beneath the surface if one is aware. These tidbits spice things up in an already escapist and futuristic world.

A titillating high-tech adult-themed amusement park is the backdrop of the film. Participants can choose any of the three worlds to embark on Western World, Medieval World, or Roman World. All contain lavish and realistic trimmings and ooze realism.

The inhabitants are robots, not real people, so they can be shot, stabbed, or made love to depending on the personal tastes of those who wish to indulge in their wildest fantasies.

The island is very exclusive, and the experience comes at a high cost.

Peter (Benjamin) and John (Brolin) are businessmen who adore the Wild West, so they select the Western World. They enjoy frolicking with desperadoes, gunslingers, and dance-hall girls who appear as if they are human beings.

Enjoying their adventures, the technicians notice odd behavior from the androids. Small at first, events escalate quickly when a gunslinger (Brynner) goes on a rampage with Peter and John as his targets.

Since the television series is fleshed out so well and the motivations and the stories of the androids are examined at length, it makes it easy to ask why the film does not, or rather, wish it had.

On the one hand, it is creepy not knowing what makes Brynner’s gunslinger tick, on the other hand, I want to know what makes him tick.

I also wanted to know more about the guests. Why were they there and what are their lives in the real world like?

One way in which the film is superior to the series is the way Peter and John are written.

Is it my imagination or do the pair seem a little closer than merely friends? Do they wish to escape their lives to be together? Are the wives and children waiting at home for them?

A scene of Peter bathing is erotic especially as he must abandon the tub mid-soak to battle a foe. He is the Marlboro man personified, though Benjamin’s too recent turn as the twit father from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) ruins any masculinity he has.

The climax is riveting.

Since we are unsure of the gunslinger’s motivations we are unsure what he will do. A frightening scene occurs when the gunslinger intently walks down a corridor with his expressionless eyes attentively stalking his prey. This still gives me the chills.

When the android is sprayed with acid his face becomes freakish and psychotic-looking this adds fright to an already frightening character. When Peter frantically traverses the park looking for help his peril is terrific as he finds dead guests and damaged robots everywhere.

The severity of the situation is finally realized.

Crichton deserves much of the credit since he not only directed but wrote the screenplay, and this was his debut! The pacing is excellent and something is going on all the time making the film feel as entertaining as it is intelligent.

The dazzling cinematography of the world allows the viewer to see the differences.

Westworld is riddled with intriguing questions that are left unanswered and this adds to the tension.

Impossible not to compare the film to the series as much as we might like not to, Westworld (1973) is a freakish, creative, adventure that I wanted so much more from having seen the complexities and story possibilities crafted for the series.

I am not a fan of remakes but in this case, a modern retelling is not a bad idea. Some accuse the film of being cheesy, over-the-top, or “too 70’s”, but I disagree.

I like the hidden trimmings and messages mixed with the good fun.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence-2001

A.I. Artificial Intelligence- 2001

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law

Scott’s Review #1,052

Reviewed August 13, 2020

Grade: B+

A bit of a history lesson about the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).

The final cinematic version is based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, which was purchased and developed by director Stanley Kubrick in the 1970s.

Left unfinished for years, and the subsequent passing of Kubrick after he had started to collaborate with Steven Spielberg, the film was finally carved into a final project by Spielberg.

Upon close study, the film possesses the mark of both directors with the edge going to Spielberg.

The tone of the story contains a creepiness and oddity familiar to fans of Kubrick, like he may have been thinking along the lines of a similar theme to the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Both center around robots and a futuristic world. Spielberg adds a humanistic, sympathetic, and slightly melancholy edge as he did with E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) so that we adore the main character and want justice for him.

In contrast, Kubrick made his version of an extra-terrestrial in 2001: A Space Odyssey a scary villain. The results are mostly good, but uneven in parts.

The premise is solid and grasps our attention. The time is the twenty-second century when the polar ice caps have melted and submerged many coastal cities. It’s also a time when humans live side by side with “mechas,” or sentient robots.

Henry and Monica Swinton are suffering because their son Martin has a rare disease and is placed in suspended animation.

They are given a Mecha child capable of experiencing love. Henry and Monica fall in love with David and, in a plot twist worthy of a daytime soap -opera, Martin returns to life, becomes jealous of David in a plot reminiscent of The Good Son (1993), tries to frame David for monstrous deeds, and David is nearly shipped off to parts unknown.

This is Spielberg’s first crack at screenwriting in nearly twenty-five years, since Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and he does a decent job. No secret is that both films, along with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial have common themes so he feels comfortable with these subjects.

The humanity is there, but the screenplay is often too busy with story points coming and going at a rapid pace. I wanted a deeper dive into Henry and Monica to feel more about their characters and what makes them tick. I felt their pain of having (sort of) lost a child, but not why they needed to fill the void so quickly.

Osment is insanely good in a film so complex that his performance could have easily been overshadowed by the other elements.

Instead, he powers through adding complexities to a character the audience falls in love with, aching and yearning along with him. David is faced with terrible, life-changing news of not only being adopted but of not even being human.

His determination to find out who he truly is takes the viewer down a path of both entertainment and adventure, but also of bitter emotion.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) has a lot going on and critically speaking, maybe too much. Spielberg fleshes out the original short story and tasks the viewer with enduring a global warming message, important, but a trite overdone, and sympathizing with David, the lonely robot boy.

The story becomes an exciting adventure and the complexities between being human and being almost human are explored, but not quite satisfactory.

Osment and Law are terrific with dazzling chemistry and the visuals and musical score are astounding. Osment should have received a Best Actor Oscar nomination to follow the one he got for The Sixth Sense (1999).

Oscar Nominations: Best Musical Score, Best Visual Effects

Soylent Green-1973

Soylent Green-1973

Director Richard Fleischer

Starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young

Scott’s Review #943

Reviewed October 8, 2019

Grade: B

Soylent Green (1973) is a rather obscure offering starring then big-named star Charlton Heston in a dystopian science-fiction film.

The story is futuristic and eerily reminiscent of Planet of the Apes (1968), though not nearly as compelling nor as layered.

The result is admirable for its progressive message, cool colors, and sets, but feels dated and of its time and treats female characters more like props than characters, leaving an uneven result.

It’s a one-and-done sort of film.

The year is 2022 and because of the Industrial Revolution, forty million people live in New York City, suffering year-round from extreme humidity because of the greenhouse effect and shortages of water, food, and housing.

Only the wealthy are afforded necessities and residents of the rich (mostly female) are referred to as “furniture” and used as slaves.

Detective Frank Thorn (Heston) is tasked with investigating the murder of an affluent and prominent man, which leads him to dire details surrounding Soylent Industries and the food they produce.

The film seems like someone’s visionary idea turned Hollywood.

Loosely based on a 1966 novel entitled “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison, Heston is cast as the lead while his career was slowly declining, but he is still the star and quite hunky for an older gentleman.

He plays a role similar to the character of George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, especially during the final climactic reveal, which will make viewers question what is contained in what they are eating for dinner.

Heston carries the film well and mixes wonderfully with character actor Edward G. Robinson, who plays Sol Roth in his final role. The old character decides to “return to the home of God” and seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic.

The final scene between the actors is poignant and heartfelt as they say goodbye to each other. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a young Dick Van Patten in a tiny role during this scene.

Any romantic chemistry is lacking in Soylent Green as a potential love match between Frank and Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) strikes out. Mismatched and having little thunder together, the couple does not appeal well.

Making matters worse is that Shirl is mere “furniture” limiting the character’s potential. She is reduced to assisting with Frank’s investigation.

The main detraction is that the film does not feel very futuristic or authentic. The characters look like actors from the 1970s dressed up to look like they are from the future always with a tint of Hollywood thrown in.

The story loses its way halfway through and teeters about between pure science-fiction and a standard detective story, seen nightly at that time on network television.

Still, the film does contain a robust amount of potential but is not reached. The progressive slant and social commentary are admirable, and the bright green nutritious synthetic canned food is almost a character.

The final scene will shock the viewer with horror and I wish more scenes this jaw-dropping existed within the entire experience and not simply at the end.

A film that attempts to do something different or provide a provocative message is worthy of a certain amount of praise.

Soylent Green (1973) carves a bit of thought provocation but seems more relevant for the 1970s than containing much interest decades later.

Heston is dazzling as the main character and the trimmings are impressive but Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) resonate more as similar genre films.

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Scream and Scream Again-1969

Director Gordon Hessler

Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #899

Reviewed May 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Any film that features horror heavyweights and great actors like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is well worth the price of admission for the name status alone. Each is a mainstay attraction in his own right and combined, results in an orgy of riches.

Scream and Scream Again (1969) sputters by limiting the on-screen interaction between the actors but after a reflective pause, I realize the picture is to be revered for its creativity and use of intersecting plotlines into a thrashing crescendo of a surprise ending.

The audience is offered three segments of the story, each periodically revisited as stand-alone segments that culminate into overlapping components.

An athletic runner trots along the streets of London suddenly suffering from an attack only to awaken in the hospital with no legs.

Elsewhere, a deadly intelligence operative reports back to his repressed Eastern European country only to murder his commanding officer with a deadly paralyzing hold.

Finally, a London detective investigates the brutal deaths of several young women in metropolitan nightclubs.

Cushing, reduced to merely a cameo-sized role as the ill-fated officer, is barely worth mentioning and adds little to the film besides appearing in it.

Lee, like Fremont, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, plays a straight role with not much zest.

Price, with the meatiest role as a mysterious doctor specializing in limb replacement, can give anyone the creeps with his scowling and eerie mannerisms, but the film strikes out by wasting the talents of the other legendary actors.

The film is not at all what a fan of Hammer horror would expect especially based on the horror familiar cast and the gory-sounding title.

Heaping buckets of blood or ghoulish vampires are what was on the anticipated menu but that does not mean the film fails to deliver. It may not please a fan of traditional horror films since the genres of political espionage and science-fiction come heavily into play.

However, the fantastic and peculiar nightclub serial killer storyline will satisfy fans eager for a good kill or two.

My initial reaction to Scream and Scream Again was that of over-complicated writing and too much going on simultaneously, especially for a film of the said horror genre.

After the film concludes and the surprise ending is revealed I realized that the numerous tidbits are necessary to achieve the desired result and events will make the viewer ponder when the film ends.

Not to ruin the big reveal but the filmmakers borrow a healthy dose of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) in a more macabre way, naturally.

Fans of the 1960s British television series The Avengers will be pleased with Scream and Scream Again as a similar tone exists with both.

The distinctive musical soundtrack, trendy for the 1960s period works well, and the nightclub sequences and some of the detectives feel reminiscent of the show.

The feel of the film is not limited to an episodic television story but contains a similar style.

High British 1960s fashion is also prevalent and pleasing to the eye.

A couple of supporting characters strike a fascination in small and almost entirely non-verbal performances.

A sexy red-headed hospital nurse with superhuman powers and a penchant for removing limbs, combined with a brooding and mysterious serial killer provides dubious intrigue as to who the true characters are.

What is their motivation? Do they work for someone or something sinister? Questions like these will keep the viewer occupied and thirsty for an explanation.

Bizarrely, British film and television director Gordon Hessler crafts an implausible yet fascinating story that keeps the viewer guessing.

Featuring horror superstars Price, Cushing, and Lee would seem like an assured horror masterpiece but the star’s limited time on-screen brings the overall project down a notch.

Scream and Scream Again (1969) still achieves a good measure of worthy entertainment.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1956

Director Don Siegel

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter

Scott’s Review #895

Reviewed May 8, 2019

Grade: B+

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), released during the mid-1950s, a time of post-War World II unity and prosperity in America where neighborhoods snuggled cheerily by the fireplaces with nary a care in the world, sought to make the public paranoid and it worked.

Thanks to a foreboding premise audiences got to ponder the possibilities of pod people cloning human beings and invading the planet, scaring the daylights out of the masses, and resonating with critics.

Playing like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, and to the film’s credit, it preceded the television series, at a brief one hour and twenty-minute running time the film is successful at achieving thought-provoking post-film dialogue and has been crowned with the cult-classic status along with similar creepy themed genre films that blossomed during the 1950s.

Set in the fictional sunny California town of Santa Mira, the film gets off to an exciting start as we witness a screaming man in an emergency room attempting to be calmed by staff. The harried man claims to be a doctor and recounts, via flashbacks, the events leading up to the present day.

Our main character, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), and his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) team up after several patients report relatives acting robotic and strange.

When half-created bodies in pods are soon discovered, Miles and Becky know something is amiss in their town and race to figure out the mystery of the “pod people” while others turn into emotionless human-like beings.

The epidemic is caused by extraterrestrial life. The intention is for humanity to lose all emotions and a sense of individuality, creating a simplistic, stress-free world.

An interesting facet of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how time has changed the reaction to the film. In 1956 the thought of aliens taking over the world seemed plausible and frightening since the man had not yet walked on the moon and astronomy was a new venture.

The peaceful tranquility of the United States of America was in danger of being overtaken, the film exclaimed, and viewers fell for the scare tactics.

The film was created to be a political allegory and boy did this sure work.

Decades later, the vibe of the United States is more integrated and flourished with more diversity and acceptance of other cultures and beings. The country is also more chaotic, so the invasion of the “pod people” is less scary and perhaps even more embraced by those living in Malcontent.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers suffers from poor aging and a message rethink and teeters on feeling dated.

The acting is marginally good if not spectacular, but it does not need to be Oscar-worthy to have the desired effect. The actors deliver their lines with a dramatic gusto successful in providing the troubled paranoia of the suburban American to audiences sure to be on the edge of their seats as the drama unfolds.

The characters never think outside the box; only in straightforward terms so the motivations are earnest.

The black and white cinematography is palpable yet subdued, the lack of colors providing substance. The 1950’s while a wonderful time for film was also a less edgy time for cinema.

The 1960s brought fewer restrictions and therefore more shocking elements but Invasion of the Body Snatchers is compartmentalized, feeling more like a long episodic television thriller.

Double-billed with the equally frightening The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would make for delicious 1950s science-fiction viewing.

I remain partial to the stunning vibrantly colored 1978 remake, superior film-making, and more layered production values. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) holds its own and is a recommended watch.