The Day of the Jackal was a surprise to me. I have tried other 1960s/1970s-era spy films and had not liked them…The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Odessa File, etc. When this Fred Zimmemann film came on cable one night, I begrudgingly thought I would give it a go, but expected I’d be turning it off quickly. I didn’t. I was totally engrossed in the story and captivated by the inner workings of the main characters. The story begins in the 1960s with a failed assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle and leads us into a web of intrigue about a secret French organization that is determined to succeed in killing then President de Gaulle. This film plays like a documentary, which makes it slower-paced and more intense. Mostly filled with unknown actors (or at least actors who are not known to me) with the exception of Derek Jacobi…playing a Frenchman, no less…The Day of the Jackal demands all of your attention. If you take your eyes away from the screen for a second, an important detail might be missed. I’ve watched this one several times since I first saw it and each viewing, I catch something new…something that makes me like the film even more. From start to finish, this one captivates…it is truly one of the best, most taut spy thrillers ever made.

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First off, I’m not a big fan of “historical” or “costume” pics, but this one for me worked. It is a love story, a thriller, a drama and a heartwarming tale of both friendship and a saga of life-long betrayed all rolled into one. Based on the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas, this story has been told before in movies, and probably will be told again…I mean there is so much hatred and passion in this one that it’s hard for filmmakers to resist using it for subject matter. What makes this version captivating for me was the look and feel of the film, and also the performances by both main players…Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce. Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a man dastardly wronged by a man he assumed was his close friend…Fernand Mondego. Pierce is so malicious and cruel in this film that it’s still hard for me to see him in anything else and not see him as a villain. And Caviezel is convincing as a man who will stop at nothing to get revenge. The film is visually stunning, set mostly in France which has never looks better. The visuals themselves are so vivid that they tell their own story…so even if you’ve read the book or seen another version before, check this one out…for the look alone!

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OK – I’m a James Bond fan. So, right off the bat I’ll say I was leery. Leery of a blonde Bond. Leery about a relatively unknown actor jumping into the timeless role. Leery of an actor who might be a little too “hard” looking to play the über spy. But, enough of my fears…since this film and Daniel Craig’s performance put them all to rest, I will no longer focus on my apprehensions. What I will focus on is that this is a strong film in a series that has been through some hard times in the past…especially concerning actor changes. I will also focus on the fact that Craig makes a strong, determined Bond…different than all the others but made for the 21st Century. Could Connery be Bond today? Probably not. He would slap the wrong woman’s bottom and she’d sue him. Would Roger Moore? Well, no, because his series of quips would also land him in court for one thing or another. Pierce Brosnan was the perfect end-of-the-20th-Century Bond…debonair, striking, yet with a soft side. In Casino Royale, the 21st installment of the official Bond films (not counting 1983’s Never Say Never Again and 1967’s Bond spoof also based and titled on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale), Craig holds onto Bond’s soft side right up to the very end. His Bond is raw and harsh and more “action” and less “sophistication” than his predecessors. The plot is pretty simple, which is another departure from most of the recent Bond films that get mulled down with convoluted stories. Here, Bond needs to win a high-stakes poker game so a terrorist does not win money to finance his crimes. This film also goes back to the beginning of 007’s career…right after he has been granted his license to kill by Her Majesty’s Secret Service (this makes sense since this is the novel Fleming used to introduce the world to Bond). And, granted, the film could use a little editing (it is close to 2 ½ hours long) especially around the card game. But, what the film doesn’t need is another Bond search. The right actor has been found! And we can only hope that he sticks around for a while.

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Based on the bestselling book by Helen Fielding, this story of the classic “singleton” hits both dramatic and comic highs and lows while entertaining throughout. Texan Renee Zellweger strikes the perfect British tone as Bridget, a single, frustrated Londoner who looks for love in all the wrong places. Hugh Grant steals most of his scenes as the devilish Daniel, who once again fits Bridget’s bill as the “wrong” guy. Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, on the other hand, might very well be the “right” guy, if Bridget would ever realize it before it’s too late. Well-adapted from its diary format, this movie runs the gamut of emotions while never seeming forced or fake, mostly due to Zellweger’s robust and daring performance as the ever-disappointed yet daffy Bridget.

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I wanted to LOVE this movie. After-all, I adored the first installment. So, naturally, I was VERY excited to see this one. And, I have to say, I was let-down some. Not because it’s not a cute, witty film (the first one was extremely witty), but because it’s not AS entertaining as the first. Sequels do have a lot to live up to and this one, like most, falls flat, in comparison to the first. But, looking at the film on it’s own, it is a sweet, funny romantic comedy that has a lot of problems (the jail scenes need to be MUCH shorter) but that basically is a cute, fun film. Starting from where the first film lets off (Bridget just snags Mark Darcy as her boyfriend and she’s no longer a “singleton”), Bridget once again is up to her old tricks. Now that she HAS Mark, she tries her best to “get rid of him” by letting her paranoia get the best of her. Bridget is a very appealing character. She’s like every woman. She’s nuts at time. She’s not bone thin. She makes a lot of mistakes. She’s VERY imperfect. Why Mark (a heck of a lot more perfect than Bridget) would be with her is a mystery but doesn’t every slightly chubby, less than gorgeous woman imagine Mr. Perfect on her arm. It’s a film about watching someone live out her fantasies…and I’m sorry but I wouldn’t mind doing that.

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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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Like its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy, this film holds up well against the first one of the series, The Bourne Identity. When it comes to series films, regardless of how good or bad the first one is, the subsequent films are usually never good…or at least as good…as the first. By a third film in a series, everything just seems to run out of steam…especially the screenplay. Plot is just mostly ignored…since blowing things up for no reason does not fall under the list of acceptable plotlines. In The Bourne Ultimatum, the script stays taut and clever from start to finish, the action stays consistently tied to the story, and the actors do not behave like they are sleepwalking through their performances. Beginning with the plot thread that left Supremacy up in the air, Ultimatum takes charge right from the beginning. Jason Bourne, this time, remembers more about his past and is determined to find out who is the person responsible for that said past. No, it’s not MUCH of a plot but at least it’s some justification for all of the action and fighting. It’s simple…a simple story…Jason Bourne wants to find out who he is and why he does what he does. Basing all the action on that logic, the movie makes sense. And it is one heck of a wild ride – once again Greengrass and his crew incorporate the camera in the action…make sure to take your Dramamine before this one because when Jason Bourne gets in a brawl, you feel like you’re punching right along with him. If you were a fan of the first two films, this one is a must see!

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Like the 2002 film, The Bourne Identity, this film features amnesiac Jason Bourne on his quest to find the truth out about himself and his possibly nefarious former life. Identity ends with Jason reconnecting with love Marie in an island paradise and Supremacy continues at that spot. From there, it spins you into a world of action, intrigue, and governmental intelligence like nothing ever before. Identity lays the groundwork for the character and plot, but this film answers most, not all, of the questions. It is faster, more intense, and a bit more easy to follow than the first installment. And, there is a car chase in Supremacy (one of the best car chases ever in movies, I feel) that will make you want to walk around for a while since just the sight of automobiles will make you sick. Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne to the hilt, capturing the right level of stamina, compassion, and strength of mind and body. The supporting characters (some carried over from Identity, some new) round out the film by filling in some of the holes about Jason’s past, that, of course, he can’t do since he’s lost his memory. This is one of the best action films in recent years (or decades). It takes the audience on a ride of fun and thrills, all while maintaining a level of plausibility, smarts, and common sense…things VERY few action movies do anymore.

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Writing this on June 3, 2005, the whole world now knows the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Having that newly revealed information does not diminish the impact of this film. Neither does knowing the outcome of the story. People flocked to see Titanic even though that outcome was also infamously known. The ending…or resolve…of All the President’s Men really is not the reason to watch it. Watch it for everything that leads up to the finale of Nixon as president—the detailed investigative reporting, the danger, the deadlines, the fear of incomplete information…or inaccurate information…the threat of losing jobs and even lives while covering this story. All of those pieces make this film about a very well-known time in American history a taut, fast-paced thriller. Yes…thriller. A movie about Nixon and Watergate and reporters and reporting is a thriller…all with an ending that is not a surprise to viewers? Hard to believe, I know, but nonetheless true. From start to finish, this film is packed with tense, exciting moments…all while making investigative journalism look like the coolest profession outside of taste tester for Ben and Jerry’s. The famous book that this film is based on, by then-Washington Post up-and-coming journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (who is now an editor at the Post), is dryer and more dense. The movie takes all of the many facts and details of the book and lays them out in a complex, tight structure that makes us sit on the edge of our seats.

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Off the top, I would like to state that I’m a huge Edith Wharton fan. I’ve read almost everything by her…including nonfiction and short stories…and love her style. I’m always leery when an “adaptation” comes out of a novel I love. Bonfire of the Vanities is one of favorite books of the latter part of the 20th Century and I’m still reeling from that debacle. So, when I heard that this novel was being adapted for the screen, I immediately got nervous. But, then I heard it was being directed by Martin Scorsese and I knew Wharton’s work would be in capable hands (though I thought there might be one or two added scenes of violence that old Edith didn’t really bank on). But, alas, I needn’t had worry about any blood shed…Scorsese held true to Wharton’s vision and created a modern masterpiece out of a classic masterpiece. Sticking pretty close to the novel, the plot is about love that goes unfulfilled. Newland Archer and May Welland look like they are destined to be a happy married couple. Enter May’s slightly colorful cousin Ellen Olenska…who Newland takes a shine to — and vice versa. Visually, this is by far Scorsese’s most prominent use of color on film. The film looks and feels like a fabulous artist’s salon we can all just step into. And when I read the book, I had a feeling that’s exactly what Wharton wanted us to envision. Which, I think, is the best thing an adaptation can hope for…capturing the author’s true vision. I doubt Tom Wolfe would say the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities has anything to do with his vision!

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