BY FAR the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation out there, this film is a classic for The Bard himself would be proud of. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring two then-unknown teenage actors as the star-crossed lovers, this movie oozes sensuality, humor and utter despair. Set, as the play is, in Verona, Italy, Romeo Montague meets Juliet Capulet and they fall in love at first sight. One MAJOR problem is that the Montagues and the Capulets are major enemies. We all know the rest of the story…what’s special here is the way Zeffirelli captures the passion and the intensity of the romance. And by using teenagers, we focus on what their young, impulsive relationship might really have been like. After-all, no one is more impulsive than an adolescent. And, then there is the music Zeffirelli picked (probably the most famous part of the movie) and the way he shot the film with such lush colors and muted lighting. Basically, if you’ve never seen an adaption of this story, this is the one to watch. And if you have seen others, this one will surpass all!

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Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.

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A modern day Cyrano de Bergerac story starring Steve Martin as large-nosed C.D. Bales, who falls for Daryl Hannah, who falls for Rick Rossovich, who does not know what to say to Hannah or how to say it. Enter Martin, who writes her beautiful letters, saying and meaning things she thinks are coming from Rossovich. This one shines because of the smart, snappy dialogue, written by Martin.

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Right off the top, let me just say I know little to nothing about math. And even though the main characters in this film are math geniuses, my lack of knowledge did not hinder me from liking this film. Math is only the background…the basis of this film, not the plot. In a nutshell, it’s a story of a daughter who just lost her father. Add to that the father was a math genius…but also insane (later in life). Add that the daughter is also a math prodigy and fears following her father’s footsteps down the path of mental illness. Yes, it’s a heavy subject but the film moves along pretty quickly through all of it…no, it’s not a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat film but what film about math geniuses is? Based on a successful stage play, this is a drama…a dark drama about family relationships and personal soul-searching. The stand out thing about Proof is Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance. To me, this is by far her best acting work. She is emotional without being too over the top and she’s sorrowful without being too sappy. There are several scenes where there are intense close-ups of her face…and just through the look in her eyes and her facial expression, she tells the audience everything we need to know about her character’s state of mind at that very second. A very powerful performance to top off a strong and meaningful film.

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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Good old Eliza Doolittle with her flowers in Covert Garden Market…she’s so seemingly content in her existence on the steps of the famed London opera house. Then, along comes Professor Henry Higgins and turns her simple world upside down. From the classic play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and then adapted into a musical production by Lerner and Loewe, director George Cukor masterly takes hold of the big screen version, making Eliza, Professor Higgins, and all of the rest seem as fresh as the day Shaw originally penned them. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza caused quite a bit of controversy in the day. Julie Andrews, who originated Ms. Doolittle on the stage, was seen by Hollywood execs not to be “Hollywood” enough for the starring role. So, very Hollywood Hepburn was brought in as a replacement, along with professional-dubber Marni Nixon singing the songs for her. Rex Harrison was able to reprise his stage role of Professor Higgins (I guess he was “Hollywood” enough, or at least would not take no for an answer) and he did manage to “sing” his own songs. As in the stage productions, Harrison got away with his lack of singing talent by doing more of a “melodic talking” to music. Regardless of all of the hoops that were leapt through along the way, the end result is one fabulous film. And, even though I’m sure Andrews would have been great in the movie, Hepburn just shines here, as if Audrey and Eliza were one in the same. Isn’t it Loverly???

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Another Oscar Wilde play comes to life…this time in one that is funny and charming and lively and sometimes even wicked… Set in late 19th Century London, the story revolves around an up-and-coming young politician who gets blackmailed by a “lady” into changing his opinion on an upcoming parliamentary bill. She has some evidence of how he got his early influence…and is willing and ready to use it if he doesn’t meet her demands. OK, so that’s the main plot, but as Wilde always does, the plot is only the beginning of the story. The best parts here are the supporting players and the smaller storylines about romances and the search for husbands, etc. Those are the juicy parts that offer the best snippets of Wilde-esque dialogue, innuendo and puns. One of the leaders in this smaller storylines is Rupert Everett, who plays a cad who has made it is goal in life never to marry. His story interweaves perfectly with the main storyline about the blackmail (he is friends with the politician and used to date the lady who is blackmailing him) but on its own, Everett’s story is a perfectly solid work. His entire character could be pulled out and turned into a full-length play or film, since there is so much meaty dialogue and so many stories to tell about him. If you have liked Wilde’s work in the past (such as A Woman of No Importance, Lady Windemere’s Fan’s, and most notably The Importance of Being Earnest), An Ideal Husband is guaranteed to please and if you’ve never seen anything written by Wilde, this is the one to start with. Trust me…you will want to see them all!

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Why is this considered a love story? The two main characters hardly even touch until the VERY ending…so doesn’t that make it the antithesis of a romance? Based on Tennessee Williams’ drama, the dialogue says it all here. These two characters, Brick and Maggie, have so much passion…so much desire inside of them, it seems to be eating them alive. Yet, they also cannot be more distance to each other. Their passion is brooding… brewing…boiling under the surface… patiently waiting to explode. It’s more of a simmering romance than we’re used to today and that simmering element, I feel, increases the desire in the audience as well. We are not thrown right into a loving, uncomplicated relationship. We have to get to know these characters and understand them first. And this is fine with us, because they’re Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor and we don’t mind having to spend time with them. So, grab a sweetie and pull up a chair for this one. Something just might boil inside of you…

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A great movie that actually makes its audience think. I know — THE HORROR, THE HORROR. We have to THINK! A tough, hard film, Doubt is superbly acted and scripted. Why is it hard? Well, it deal with one of our most taboo subjects — priests and young boys and doing more than sipping the alter wine together. Meryl Streep places a nun running a school in the early 1960s. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the attached church’s priest. There is some suspicion about him with the alter boys, but Streep doesn’t have any proof. She just has her doubts. I walked out of the theater thinking I had just seen a good movie and that would be the end of it…but it stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did he or didn’t he? Did Streep’s nun do the right thing? What would have been a better solution? Etc… Sadly, most movies today don’t even make your brain click on. So, when one comes around where it keeps your thought processes going for days…it’s a keeper!

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Agatha Christie stuck mainly to her continuing characters…Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, etc…when writing. But, occasionally she would go off on a limb and write something original, introducing new characters to the audience. With the stage play Witness for the Prosecution, she created an entirely new world of people and situations, which kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. Made into a film in 1957 by talented and well-rounded film director Billy Wilder, the movie keeps us hanging until the last possible second and delivers the same kind of wallop as the play. Set in London, the story revolves around Leonard Vole’s (played by Tyrone Power) guilt or innocence. He is being tried for the murder of a wealthy, older woman he befriended. Unlike a lot of thrillers that are made, this one does have a very satisfying ending, do mostly to the relationship between Vole and his wife…one of Marlene Dietrich’s finest performances. But, the main character of the film is Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the crotchety, ailing barrister Vole gets to represent him. Not really known for light-ish roles, Charles Laughton dives into the barrister with a droll vigor that makes the audience LOVE Wilfrid even though he’s crass, brash, insubordinate, and very pig-headed. Laughton just seems to be having so much fun playing this character; without him, Wilfrid would have just been another forgettable character.

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