I’m sure most people have seen this one and I’m most definitely not in the minority for liking it. I just think this is one of the best action/suspense films in years. Yes, it’s ALL supposed to be set in Illinois and us Illinoisans know that we do not have any kind of dam like that in this great state. But, ignoring that, this one is just top-notch in most every way. Harrison Ford plays Richard Kimble, a doctor who comes home to find a one-armed man attacking his wife. Kimble fights with the man, but the murderer gets away. Kimble is accused of the murder, when the police don’t buy his “one-armed man” story. After managing to escape from incarceration (one of the best train crashes ever put on film), Kimble makes it his mission to come back to his hometown of Chicago and find the one-armed murderer. It’s sharp, fast, well structured, well acted, has just enough humor, and is riveting when it needs to be and laid back when it needs to be. Basically, just a good film.

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Not for the faint of heart, this film is one of the funniest comedies I had seen in years. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing very pregnant Marge Gunderson…a fabulous character who is most definitely the sharpest person in the film (though that is not really much of a compliment). Marge is a police officer in Brainerd, Minnesota and she gets involved in an investigation involving kidnapping, brutal murder and theft. The script is sharp and hilarious…and the performances are all right on target. But, be warned…it is a DARK comedy. People die. People kill people. This is the Coen Brothers, after all.

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The story of Hitler’s last days in the bunker, told through the eyes of his 24 year old secretary, Traudi Junge. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Hitler is absolutely chilling…it never degenerates into kitschy. As a historical drama, it’s accurate, very compelling and well-made. Yes, it’s long, but somehow, the suspense and the pacing keeps everything moving. Another film where you know the outcome (i.e. Titanic, All the President’s Men), but you don’t care — you’re just riveted.

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A fabulously done Austrian film about a skilled counterfeiter who gets put in the counterfeiting section of a concentration camp during World War II. Him and a few select others are chosen to help the Nazis attempt to counterfeit both the British pound and the American dollar. The rapport among the men in the counterfeiting section is what intrigued me. Some were so sickened by helping the Nazis they came close to self-destruction. Some saw this “duty” as easy work…a way out of hard labor and even out of being killed. The performances are all spot-on and each of the characters is unique and very well-constructed…and even with the dark, grizzly subject matter, we keep watching because we have to find out how all of these characters end up. Any Holocaust film is tough to watch…and hard to say you really “like.” I mean, can you “like” a film about death and atrocity? So, avoiding that, I will say this film is well-done and extremely powerful.

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One of Newman’s best roles…in my humble opinion. OK — it also happens to be the role he probably looks his best in. Does that have something to do with it — you betcha! Playing a two-bit street kid, one of his petty crimes finally lands him in a prison…and part of a chain gang. Not wanting to be there, he makes trying to escape his new occupation…getting caught and sent back almost as often as he attempts to flee. Newman is not the only reason to watch here…George Kennedy won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as one of the fellow inmates. And the other prisoners are also great…befriending Newman, cheering him on as he flees, and welcoming him back as he returns. Not a movie for all people…ladies, be where. This is the antithesis of a “chick flick.” But, then again, you can always mute it and just look at Mr. Newman!

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Paul Newman…Tom Cruise…Martin Scorsese. Heaven on film. A sequel 25 years after the fact, Scorsese takes over for The Hustler helmsman Robert Rossen (who died in 1966) and continues the story of “Fast” Eddie Felson…a hustling pool player who uses his exuberant charm and extreme good looks to his benefit at every pool table he plays. The tale Scorsese spins here is much different than Rossen’s tale of 1961. This film is more stylized and a little glitzier…at least as glitzy as pool halls can get. Here, Felson encounters a young man whom, seeing a lot of his young self in, he begins to groom into being a proper hustler. The protégée is crass and way to smart for his own good. Felson teaches him some of the lessons he learned over the years…though at times the protégée has trouble listening. The Hustler will always remain the quintessential Fast Eddie film. But, this one adds depth and experience to the aging hustler’s character.

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Being as big of a film fan as I am, you would think I’d seen this one long ago. But, I never did. It was not intentional…just an oversight. Recently, I made up for that by finally watching the extended edition on DVD. This is a fabulous movie that will be around forever as a testament to filmmaking and movies in general. Destined to be a timeless classic, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a man, Salvatore, who finds out his childhood hero has passed away. We are taken into his memory and back in time to his childhood when he first meets his hero Alfredo, a movie projectionist in a small-town cinema. Then, we move into Salvatore’s adolescence where, though Alfredo is still part of his life, his romance with a lady becomes Salvatore’s consuming passion. The movie comes full circle, back where it started with Salvatore as an adult and returning home to the town he grew up in. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece about filmmaking, love, regret, and loss. Just when you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, it gets better. Put off seeing this one and you’ll be sorry (like I was).

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A charming film for the whole family about a school for unruly children in post-war France and the man who makes his way into his students’ hearts through music. Incorporating elements from many other teacher-student films (Heaven Help Us, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poets Society, etc.), The Chorus stands above those because it is able to be endearing without being too corny and hokey. As with many other teacher-student films, there always is a hard-nosed disciplinarian…and that is the case here, with the school being run by an evil headmaster. When the new prefect, Mr. Mathieu, arrives on the scene, he and the headmaster immediately clash but the prefect hangs on and helps the children reform with the help of his musical background. Sounds corny, I know…but the script takes its time and doesn’t ever force anything onto the audience. None of the emotions the children feel towards Mathieu and vice versa seem strained or unnatural. And the way the story is book-ended by present-day scenes only adds to the film’s charm, especially with the way the ending comes together and pleasantly surprises.

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A riotous, toe-tapping adaptation of the Kander-Ebb Broadway musical that will keep you dancing and singing along from start to finish. Told through the eyes of wannabe star Roxie Hart, the movie’s tone is much lighter and more fun than the Broadway musical, which spends more time on the dark side of Roxie. Great performances by Renee Zellweger as Roxie and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Roxie’s nemesis Velma Kelly but that stand-out performance is by Richard Gere, who is just phenomenal as the conniving lawyer Billy Flynn. If you’re not still humming the songs of this Best Picture winner a day later, there’s something wrong with you!

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If you can get past the annoying whistling (of the soldiers whistling a certain march, which is the movie’s theme music), this David Lean epic is one of film’s true masterpieces. William Holden stars as the tough, bitter Shears, who has been imprisoned in a POW camp for months when British colonel Alec Guinness and his troops are captured and sent to the camp. For me, this movie is one of the few large-scale epics I ever liked, mostly because it’s not too corny and sentimental. Don’t get me wrong…I like sentiment as much as the next gal but I prefer it in a romantic comedy or a melodrama. Corny romance and dialogue always seemed out of place, to me, in an epic. The one question I have, though, with the film is the ending. Not the finale—which ends with the train scene of all train scenes—but, rather just the second half of the film. After Holden’s character escapes from the camp, he finds himself enjoying his freedom. When he is propositioned by superiors to take them back to the camp so they can bomb a bridge the Japanese are building (with the help of Guinness’ soldiers), he reluctantly agrees. Reluctantly or not, I would never have agreed. We are told (through previous dialogue and through a montage of shots during the escape) that escaping the camp was an arduous ordeal and we already know that life inside the camp was hell. Nothing or no one would make me go back to hell once I got out, so I never really do get why Holden agrees. But, alas, if he didn’t there would not be a movie. And what a great movie it is! And that’s not just my opinion—ask the Academy. Winner of seven Oscars, including ones for Guinness and Lean.

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