Tag Archives: Science Fiction films

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 experiences 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 actually 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, 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 actually 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 in a nice way.

And the big stars add a nice touch.

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 necessary freedoms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris and Mastrantonio have pretty good chemistry here but we never fully grasp their marital problems or why there is a distance between them. Thrown together on this mission they predictably face peril and come close to losing each other. When they embrace in the final scene it is a wrapped up like a tight bow sort of ending that underwhelms.

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

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

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

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

Back to the Future-1985

Back to the Future-1985

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Scott’s Review #1,205

Reviewed December 5, 2021

Grade: A-

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

I’ve subsequently seen it several times since.

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

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

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

Small-town California teen Marty McFly (Fox) is thrown back into the 1950s when an experiment by his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) goes awry. Traveling through time in an amazing DeLorean car, Marty encounters younger versions of his parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), and must make sure that they fall in love or he will cease to exist.

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

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

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

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

Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Marty and I cannot imagine anyone else in the part though method actor Eric Stolz was the original choice and spent several dismal weeks filming scenes until he was replaced. Fox is the ultimate boy next door, cute but goofy, and relatable to teenage boys across middle America.

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Edward Scissorhands-1990

Director-Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Scott’s Review #1,198

Reviewed November 20, 2021

Grade: B+

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

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

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

Still, Edward Scissorhands is entertaining and fascinating.

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

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

By 1990 Johnny Depp was becoming a huge Hollywood star and so was Winona Ryder. As the ‘it’ actors, this helps Edward Scissorhands tremendously by not only adding ticket sales but a fascination with them as a couple. The chemistry is palpable and so is the classic good girl helping boy reform. Depp’s Edward is a sympathetic hero and is instantly mysterious and likable.

Wiest, then in her prime, is a hoot as the comical Avon lady who introduces Edward to the joys and pains of suburban Americana. Particularly enjoyable are the perfectly manicured landscapes in Peg’s neighborhood where she goes door to door selling her products. As one can easily predict, the beautiful plants and bushes suffer from Edwards’s dangerous hands.

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

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

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

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

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

Burton, along with Depp, Ryder, and Wiest, gives Edward Scissorhands (1990) heart. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that feels magical and adventurous save for some mediocre storytelling. It’s an above-average film that won over the masses at the time of release.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup

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 fights 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 basically 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 own 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 through 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 and 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. In fact, I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone. It is not for children! The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

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

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat. The frightening time period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes. The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising. Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

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

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

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

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child. So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

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

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

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults. Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

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

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

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), 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 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 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 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 really 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 clearly 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 from 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, but comparisons exist. 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, 40 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 his character of George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, especially during the final climactic reveal, which will make viewers question what is really 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 will 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. 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 1960’s 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 1960’s time-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 1960’s 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 of his patients report relatives acting robotic and downright strange.

When half created bodies in pods are soon discovered, Miles and Becky know there is something amiss in their town and race to figure out the mystery of the “pod people” while most of the town turns into emotionless human-like beings. The big revelation is that the epidemic is caused by an extraterrestrial life form. Their intention they explain 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 just 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. Clearly, 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 for 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 to those living in malcontent. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, therefore, suffers from some 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 mystique that was ample for the times. 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 1950’s science-fiction viewing. I remain partial to the stunning vibrantly colored 1978 remake, superior film-making, and more layered production values, but the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds its own and is a recommended watch.

Downsizing-2017

Downsizing-2017

Director-Alexander Payne

Starring Matt Damon, Hong Chau

Scott’s Review #842

Reviewed December 14, 2018

Grade: B

Downsizing (2017) is a film that appeared on many critics’ top ten lists for the year, but that to the average viewers did not resonate well. Part of this discrepancy could have been the way the film was marketed.

Despite having Kristen Wiig among its cast, the film is NOT a comedy but rather a social commentary with some science-fiction and dramatic elements mixed in.

Downsizing contains a wonderful and thought-provoking premise but ultimately does not piece together all parts in a completely satisfying way leaving an erratic and disjointed result.

The elements are all there- a charismatic lead actor (Damon), an inventive, socially relevant premise, and a humanistic and beautiful message. Within the film are some gorgeous cinematic treats of picturesque Norway that will make one melt if watched on the big screen.

The film has enough positives to recommend without it being truly great.

The story begins as a Norwegian scientist discovers a way to solve the world overpopulation state and global warming problems with a discovery that shrinks people causing them to use few resources.

Paul and Audrey Safranek (Damon and Wiig) decide to undergo the procedure and begin a new life in a gorgeous community designed for small people. When Audrey bails at the last-minute leaving Paul on his own, he must forge ahead with a lonely life anyway, unable to be transformed from small to large.

He meets Ngoc Lan (Chau), a Vietnamese activist who changes his life forever due to her selflessness. Paul realizes he does have a purpose after all.

The positives of the film are mostly in the individual components. How true that the modern world suffers from overpopulation and director Alexander Payne paints a dire picture of the eventual result. This gives the film a left-leaning environmental opinion that I relish.

I was immediately engaged in the humanistic approach Payne relays and the possibilities of a new world with no suffering and riches for all. Of course, this is not sustainable nor realistic as the film shows.

The romantic dynamic is also a major win.  The first half features Paul and Audrey as the romantic couple; a likable pair who struggles with bills and cares for planet earth.

Suddenly, this changes, and Audrey is discounted from the equation in favor of Paul and Ngoc Lan. An unexpected item, their romance is a slow build, seemingly opposite types of people. He is laid back and thoughtful, she brash and outspoken, yet they work wonderfully as a couple.

As a viewer, I became wholly invested in them by the closing credits.

Newcomer Huang Chau (Ngoc Lan) is the standout and nearly upstages Damon. The young actress garnered a Golden Globe nomination for this role and deservedly so. Far too few good roles for Asian actors Chau hits the jackpot with this part. Her character is sympathetic yet tough, once an outspoken advocate, she has endured prison only to lose a leg and be reduced to a house cleaner in her new world.

Payne makes the point that a new society does not equate to joy, and this is the crux of the film. At first, the community is lavish with luxurious homes and idyllic surroundings, but when Paul meets Ngoc Lan and sees her world of pain, starvation, and neglect he is dumbfounded.

This is a sad reality and leads him to make rash decisions about himself and his future.

Where Downsizing misses the boat is with the execution. As strong as the premise is, the story meanders. From Paul and Audrey’s mundane life in Nebraska to the new society to the slums to the introduction of the world ceasing to exist and finally, another world is created, there is too much going on.

The dots never connect leaving the overall experience of Downsizing erratic.

Christoph Walz deserves a better role than Dusan, an aging Serbian party boy. The character is annoying and a weak attempt at portraying spoiled white men having all the advantages. His character is unnecessary and does not work.

Downsizing (2017) is quite the brave effort holding an ingenious premise and a worthwhile message. I recommend the film for these reasons as Payne attempts to tell a story never told before and that is to be championed.

The elements do not add up and the film is missing a solid structure, but as a whole, the film is to be admired for what it intends to do.

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Director-James Whale

Starring-Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester

Scott’s Review #825

Reviewed October 31, 2018

Grade: A-

After four long years director, James Whale finally agreed to follow-up, and resurrect, his character of The Monster. Fortunately, Boris Karloff also returned to the role he made famous. In this installment, he meets a mate played by the gorgeous Elsa Manchester. Critics argue that the sequel is superior to the original, but I am not so sure of that, slightly preferring Frankenstein. Still, the aptly titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a fantastic effort and a memorable classic in and of itself.

The plot picks up where the original Frankenstein ended and includes a sub-plot from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Having learned his lesson about the drawbacks of creating life, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female mate for the Monster. Much of the action follows the Monster, who is on the run from hunters as he encounters both devious and kindly individuals. In clever form, Manchester plays both the “Bride” and Mary Shelley, who is heralded for her masterful writing.

The main difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is that the Monster is more developed from a character perspective. Even more empathetic and now uttering some dialogue, the pained character contains deeper moments and a damaged quality. Karloff reportedly despised this aspect preferring that his character be more ambivalent, using grunts and facial expressions more than words, but to me, the development works well.

As the Monster traverses the forest looking for shelter while being pursued witch hunt style, a lovely sequence occurs between the Monster and a lonely blind man. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of a violin playing “Ave Maria”, the blind hermit befriends the Monster and teaches him a few words like “friend”. Harboring no ill-will towards the creature, the old hermit instead feels blessed and thanks God for sending him a friend. The tender moment is then shattered when a fire burns down the cottage.

Continuing what Frankenstein did and more in line with Shelley’s novel is the constant theme of loneliness and despair. The Creature is a tortured soul, yearning for love and affection, yet suffering from a temper. He is childlike and struggles to know the difference between right and wrong.

Like Frankenstein, the sequel contains high-quality special effects and ambiance. With a storm raging (naturally), the thunder and lightning qualities add so much to a horror film such as this, filling it with suspense and a certain science fiction element. When the Bride is hoisted to the sky and struck by lightning, the scene is both campy and terrifying.

How delicious a character is Manchester as The Monster’s Bride? With her statuesque seven-foot height (the actress used stilts), white-streaked hairdo, macabre white gown, and jerky, animal-like head movements, the character is forever recognizable in pop culture. Timeless in characterization, the beautiful woman possesses a macabre yet humorous quality. When she becomes alert, sees the Monster, and shrieks, it is a memorable moment in film history.

Throughout cinematic history, few sequels ever live up to their predecessors, but Bride comes close. Easily able to be watched in tandem with Frankenstein, and perfect for a bit of Saturday afternoon nostalgia, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a wonderful trip down memory lane to a time when horror was as thrilling in simple black and white as it is with all the frills added. Thanks to Whale’s brilliant direction, both films are legendary in their inspiration and achievements.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Recording

12 Monkeys-1995

12 Monkeys-1995

Director-Terry Gilliam

Starring- Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt

Scott’s Review #804

Reviewed August 21, 2018

Grade: B+

Bruce Willis stars in a 1995 science-fiction thriller named 12 Monkeys that is sure to confuse even the keenest of viewers. Containing a plot that is impossible to follow (at least with only one watch), the film is quite novel and filled with edge nonetheless.

With this film, Willis came into his own and proved to some naysayers that he is more versatile than a one-note action hero. He would even develop more as the years passed- think Sixth Sense (1999).

If I may begin to summarize the complex plot, 12 Monkeys is a film about time-travel (confusing enough), that traverses from the year 2035 to the year 1990, to the year 1996, with a bevy of dreams or memories thrown in, but I am still not crystal clear on that. The time periods involved threw me for a loop and I was not able to comprehend where things shifted to……or was part of it a memory possessed by Willis’s character as a little boy?

Nonetheless, in 2035 James Cole (Willis) is a prisoner who is selected by “the powers that be” to go back in time to find a cure for a deadly virus that has wiped out a large part of the world. He is transported to the year 1990 instead of 1996 and lands in a psychiatric hospital, where he meets fanatical Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).

Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) appears in both the 1990 and 1996 stories as a respected psychiatrist and author. Both she and Goines become central to the main plot and story twists and turns as events move along.

The intention to make Willis and Stowe a romantic couple did not seem to quite work at first, but their chemistry grew on me. The duo never received a “happily ever after” finale as they deserved nor was their troubled romance ever fully realized to say nothing of consummated.  The flirtation and bond they shared felt more like a tease than anything else, or rather, having two Hollywood heavyweights forge some sort of romance. Regardless, “romance” did not seem the point of this film.

Brad Pitt was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar award for the film. While he provides a quirky, showy style role (actually multiple roles or personalities), complete with tics resembling a Tourette syndrome patient, the role is not one of his best.

At this time (1995), Pitt was a rising star and the recognition helped him tremendously. But he seems slightly to overact and make the character too over-the-top. I much preferred his more subdued work in Seven (released the same year), or future roles in Babel (2006) and Moneyball (2011).

Appealing in parts are the frequent exterior shots of the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, where the film is set. Treats include the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Pennsylvania Convention Center, and Eastern State Penitentiary filming locations as well as numerous highway and bridge shots, which adds tons of authenticity.

A major score for the film, and Alfred Hitchcock fans everywhere, is the incorporation of classic film clips, specifically the mysterious Vertigo (1958) into the story. As Kathryn and James camp out in a rustic movie theater and disguise themselves as different people, they watch a marathon of Hitchcock films (as evidenced by the many titles on the marquee). Clever is that the characters of James and Kathryn begin to mirror the actions of Vertigo characters Scottie and Judy. Blondes anyone?

12 Monkeys (1995) does sort of come together after the film as the dreams/memories are laid out pretty clearly. As we have witnessed these sequences throughout, it leads to a semi-satisfying conclusion. A bit of a beautiful mess, the film has clever tidbits and is well-acted, and the baring of both Willis’s and Pitt’s butts might get some additional viewers. I think I need to watch the film again to perhaps understand and connect all of the dots better.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Brad Pitt, Best Costume Design

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

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

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

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their faraway planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind. When ten-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd-pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm really shines through in this very personal story.

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

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd-looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the filmmakers were careful not to make him too frightening. Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time. From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this commonplace.

If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure have had two happy parents and a white picket fence. Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, like Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we buy the two as connected friends. The duo especially shines during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like. Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience superstardom throughout the 1980s and 1990s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five-year-old.

At its core and what makes E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creature’s desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus. In this way, only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations but lost out on the big prize to the epic Gandhi that year.

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

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Fahrenheit 451-1966

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack

Scott’s Review #728

Reviewed February 26, 2018

Grade: B+

Based upon the famous and fantastic classic 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451,  by Ray Bradbury, the film adaptation is futuristic and dystopian in nature. Directed by French filmmaker Francois Truffaut and starring the “it” girl of the late 1960s, Julie Christie, the film succeeds as a cool, new wave, edgy, progressive hybrid. Various elements aid in making the film seem set in the future, all with hints of the great director, Alfred Hitchcock sprinkled in the mix. Certainly, the novel is superior, but Fahrenheit 451 is a worthy watch if only for Christie alone.

Christie tackles a dual role, as both Clarisse, a young schoolteacher with progressive and forbidden views, and as Linda, the vastly different spoiled wife of the central character, Guy Montag, played by German actor, Oskar Werner. The trio exists in a futuristic world where a totalitarian government has banned all literature deeming it bad for society. A force called Firemen, where Guy works has the right to search anyone at any time and burn all books as needed. Clarisse and Guy begin to question the government’s motivations as Guy stashes a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, causing danger and peril for the pair.

What I think I like most about the film is the mysterious and foreboding concept, which is a downright scary notion. What if books were suddenly non-existent and forbidden? The film does, as the novel did, provide references to luscious and brilliant literary works of art, so much so that the viewer will undoubtedly feel how this reality would be a devastating one. As with similar titles such as “1984” and “Brave New World”, the futuristic world and the “big brother is watching” theme is a key to its success.

Director, Truffaut, an ardent fan of the master Hitchcock, seamlessly incorporates elements of suspense and key “Hitchcockian” moments, most specifically with the musical score. Truffaut used Bernard Hermann, the same composer that Hitchcock used in 1966’s Torn Curtain, but more importantly, the prevalence of strings is reminiscent of classics like Psycho and Vertigo. A fight scene behind frosted glass so that only shadows can be seen is a direct homage to Hitchcock’s famous style.

To go along with the Hitchcock comparisons, an interesting film anecdote is that legendary Hitchcock superstar, Tippi Hedren, was desired in the central dual role, but since at the time she and Hitchcock were embroiled in a feud, and she was under contract to him, he would allow none of it. The mind wanders with the possibilities this would have presented. But alas, Christie is no slouch as the female star of the film.

In fact, major kudos are deserved by Christie as she plays both of her characters to the hilt and is one of the best aspects of the film. Anyone having read Bradbury’s novel will understand how the character of Clarisse is expanded in the film, and one wonders if this was decided to showcase more of Christie? Regardless, the characters of Clarisse/Linda are completely different from each other and the actress is superb. Unfortunately, this film is not front of the pack in Christie’s most remembered films.

My main detraction of Fahrenheit 451, the film, is only that, having recently read the novel, there is no comparison whatsoever, as the novel is far superior, however, the film is very good and contains some wonderful visuals and imagery. So few times can a film usurp the beauties of the written word, and how ironic given the subject matter of the destruction of books.

Fahrenheit 451 is a stylistic, artistic film with a really cool vibe and featuring a tremendous performance from one of 1960’s biggest talents. The film initially received fair to middling reviews and is now largely forgotten, but it’s nice to take down from the dusty old shelves of the Hollywood obscure now and then.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #648

Reviewed June 4, 2017

Grade: B

Having watched The Faculty, a  teenage horror/science fiction flick,  at the time of release in 1998 (now almost twenty years ago!), I fondly remember sitting in the movie theater watching this soon-to-be cult classic takes hold of its audience.

Despite some now dated (in 2017) special effects, the story holds up well, and what a treat to see some “stars of tomorrow” mixed in with some venerable veterans, take center stage. The Faculty stirs up a strange hybrid of classic films (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and The Breakfast Club) to create a fun, and gory, horror film.

The action takes place in a small town said to be somewhere in Ohio, though the film is actually shot in Texas. A football town, and home to the Hornets, sports are central to Herrington High school- both to students and faculty. It becomes immediately evident that some of the staff is not “right” after two of the teachers stab Principal Valerie Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) with a pencil and scissors and flee with no emotions late one night after a faculty meeting.

Later, student Casey Connors (Elijah Wood) confesses to his group of friends that he believes the teachers are being controlled by aliens. Naturally, they are skeptical until strange events among the staff begin to take shape once the students watch the staff’s activities closely. The film then turns into a clever whodunit as one student after another is revealed to be infected and therefore an alien.

A highlight of The Faculty is its stellar casting- there is the younger set of actors, who share great chemistry- Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Wood (Casey), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Clea Duvall (Stokes), Laura Harris (Marybeth), and Shawn Hatosy (Stan) all make up the troupe of characters thrown together due to unlikely circumstances to figure out the big mystery- who amongst the staff is an alien and where they come from?

All of the students are from different social classes, which makes their antics unique- Zeke, the rebel, Stan, the jock, Stokes, the “weirdo”, and Casey, the nerd. In this way, the film reminds me of The Breakfast Club, a mid-1980’s “coming of age” high school film.

Additionally, the staff comprises some of the best in the business- stalwart Piper Laurie appears as the drama teacher, luscious Salma Hayek as the sexy school nurse, comic Jon Stewart as the science teacher, and rugged Robert Patrick as Coach Willis. What a treat for film fans to watch a film such as The Faculty to see a bevy of popular film and television stars amongst the cast.

Director, Robert Rodriguez, most notably known for creative left-of-center work such as Machete and Sin City and for being a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino in his edgy collection of films, helms a rather mainstream piece of work in The Faculty. Clearly, the film is targeted for your typical, mainstream audience, but with the right blend of clever quirks added in.

Delicious is the ode to the classic science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only set in a suburban high school. Clever still is the revelation of the teachers as the robotic “pod people” or aliens from outer space. This cute reference, in 1998, and still today is an innocent knock on authority figures as the high school kids slowly get their comeuppance against some of the staff.

There comes a point in the film where nearly everyone is an alien and the film runs out of gas. However, the final scene is wonderfully constructed as the film ends as just another day in the life of a small-town high school- life goes on and all is well. The Faculty is a treat to watch in present times as a “trip down memory” lane experience.

Arrival-2016

Arrival-2016

Director-Denis Villeneuve

Starring-Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Scott’s Review #642

Reviewed May 9, 2017

Grade: B-

Arrival is the latest entry into what has become a recent trend of science fiction-themed films to garner Academy Award praise, either by way of technical achievements or in the case of Arrival, a surprising Best Picture nomination in addition to the more traditional awards notice for categories like sound effects and editing.

Traditionally, science fiction fare tends to get little or no recognition in major categories, all the more surprising is the films under the radar style inclusion with the big guns.

Similar in style to recent films such as Interstellar and Gravity, Arrival ultimately proves a disappointment as a complete film, succeeding only in specific avenues like its musical score and a sort of surprise twist ending that the film presents, but at times is downright to say nothing of its tedious moments.

Needless to say, I disagree with its Best Picture nomination wholeheartedly.

Not claiming to be the world’s greatest science fiction fan either, at times Arrival does have glimmers of success (mainly in the first act) and some high points in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the greatest of the greats in the genre), but the good moments ultimately fade as the story lumbers on only to show a brief resurgence in the final act.

Sadly, the rest of the film is rather middling.

In a role seemingly written just for her, Amy Adams stars as Louise Banks, a linguist professor living and teaching in Massachusetts.

When one day a series of twelve extraterrestrial aircraft appear across the world, Louise is summoned by an Army Colonel (Forest Whitaker) to travel to a remote area of Montana where one aircraft has taken up residence, and assist a physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in communicating with the aliens.

Their goal is to determine why they have come to planet Earth. Interspersed with the main story are strange flashbacks of a life Louise briefly spent with her daughter, who appears to have died of cancer as a teenager.

The premise of the film is reminiscent of another film named Contact, made in 1997, starring Jodie Foster.

The film seems to borrow aspects from several other famous science fiction films such as the creepy, ominous score that harkens back to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its mysteriousness, to the oddity of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

So much so that the film reminds me too much of other films, it, therefore, has little identity of its own, especially throughout the mid-section of the film.

Other than the character of Louise, there is no character development and this is glaring among the male cast of top talents like Whitaker and Renner the roles are glorified throwaway roles.

Save for Renner’s limited involvement in the film’s climactic “twist”, admittedly barely raising the film above mediocrity, neither character serves many purposes and could be played by any actor.

Whitaker’s G.T. Weber has little motivation other than to convince Louise to take part in the mission. The film also seems unsure whether to delve full force into a romantic entanglement between Louise and Renner’s Ian.

Certainly, a flirtation exists on the surface, but the film never hits a home run with it. Couldn’t a meatier story be created for these two storied actors?

The unique extraterrestrial, a hybrid of tentacles, fingers, and funny eyes appearing as a pair humorously nicknamed Abbott and Costello is impressive from an artistic perspective and this does help the film.

Also, the fact that the characters are unsure whether Abbott and Costello are friends or foes is slightly intriguing, but the film the main negative is that nothing much happens other than repeated attempts by Louise to communicate, whimsically staring up into the camera in wonderment, and ultimately figure out the alien’s messages and purpose.

Worthy of mention is a fantastic and ominous musical score that allows the film some climactic and dark components that feel like the highlights of the film. It adds chilling, effective components. In this way, the elements raise the film a notch from complete blandness.

The best part of the film is its ending and I rather got a bit of chill up and down my spine with the unique and inspired big reveal.

In this way, Arrival saves itself from being completely lackluster, but too little too late. I would have preferred the film to balance the emotions, the surprises, and the thrills a bit more rather than exist mostly as a tedious, uninteresting film.

Overall, the outcome of Arrival is more of a retread rather than anything new or original.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Denis Villeneuve, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

The Fourth Kind-2009

The Fourth Kind-2009

Director-Olatunde Osunsanmi

Starring-Milla Jovovich, Will Patton

Scott’s Review #583

Reviewed January 4, 2017

Grade: B-

I went into the theater to see The Fourth Kind certainly not expecting a classic, but rather, a few frights, chills, and something compelling. I ended up completely entertained and I believed it was a pretty good movie. However, after the credits rolled, I was left with an unsatisfying and misrepresented feeling.

The premise of the film is admittedly a bit trite. An Alaskan female psychiatrist, Dr. Abigail Tyler videotapes her therapy sessions with patients, she discovers they have possibly been abducted by some sort of alien. Yes, this sounds crazy, but the film is actually well made and rather believable all along.

The look of the film is similar to the Paranormal Activity films, a craze that was happening when the film was released in 2009. The documentary look and the interviews with the actors will be looked back on as “of its time”, to be sure.

The style and interspersing of “real” events with fictitious events were interesting. However, I was disappointed when I read that the supposed “real” events were entirely made up, a fact the movie never admits, and, in fact, time and time again reminds the audience are real events. I enjoyed the movie but felt duped afterward, rendering the film trivial.

Avatar-2009

Avatar-2009

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #572

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splice-2009

Splice-2009

Director-Vincenzo Natali

Starring-Adrien Brody

Scott’s Review #564

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B-

If you are looking for a realistic, character-driven movie, this film is not for you. Rather, Splice is a science-fiction, thriller, that must be viewed while suspending all disbelief.

Certainly not a work of art, and lots of plot holes, but it provides decent entertainment, bordering on fluff.

The two main characters, Elsa and Clive, while admittedly neurological scientists are not the brightest people in the world and their motivations change with the weather.

The basic plot involves a married couple (above said scientists) who conduct an experiment to splice human and animal DNA into a new creation, a female hybrid named Dren. Predictably, things go awry, once Dren is let loose on the world.

The plot is thin and there are questionable actions, motivations, and subplots, but somehow I still found it entertaining once I simply went with it. There are cliches such as the scientists ignoring instructions, the one-dimensional supporting characters, and so on.

As a comical aside, I overheard the guy sitting behind me in the theater mutter as the closing credits rolled,  “This was the worst movie ever”. I understand where he is coming from, but did not think the film was that bad. For fans of horror or thrillers I recommend it, anyone else might want to skip this one.