This film, which made Alec Guinness a star all around the world, still ranks as one of the most popular British comedies of all time. The story is told by a droll, very serious young man, played by Dennis Price, who is being cut out of his royal bloodline by his stodgy, proper family. Even though Price is the MAIN character, Alec Guinness is the REAL star of this film, as he demonstrates his mastery of comedy by playing all eight members of Price’s family. Guinness’ performance is purely genius, especially with the way he changes mannerisms and other nuances for each of his eight characters. Not necessarily a fall-on-the-floor-laughing film, but a great one.

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I had heard of this movie but I wasn’t sure why so many people had been asking for it. So, what I’m saying is that I went in with no expectations. And I came out laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. This has to be one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years…close-to-perfect comic writing, timing, acting….everything. Basically, it’s about a hot-shot London cop (Nick) who gets reassigned to a small English village where he thinks he will be completely bored for the rest of his career…but, boy, does he turn out to be wrong. The village police force consists of a bunch of crackpots…one of whom (Danny) becomes Nick’s partner. Some of the repartee between Nick and Danny is just priceless…Danny is quite simple-minded and his slow-wit counteracts perfectly with Nick’s confident policing. When Danny is forced to become a real police officer and fight real crime, the laughs do not stop! I immediately wanted to see Shaun of the Dead, which is the first film written by Simon Pegg (who plays Nick) and Edgar Wright. Sadly, I didn’t like that one as much, but for me, it would be VERY hard to top my Hot Fuzz experience.

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As critics and audiences alike call this their favorite James Bond film, I guess I am no longer alone in thinking this is one of the best spy films ever made. There is very little wrong with Goldfinger and what is wrong is very easily overlooked because of the strong plot and even stronger characters. With many series, the filmmakers begin to wane and rest on their successes when number three (or so) comes along. But, this is the case where the third film truly is the charm. Number one in the series Dr. No and two (From Russia with Love) just seem like practice in order to get to this third installment in the Bond series. Bond creator and author Ian Fleming got the title Goldfinger from the villain’s name…a man who is obsessed with gold. Truly. And the actor who plays the man-in-gold (Gert Fröbe) fits the bill perfectly. Sean Connery’s Bond also comes into his own in this film. In Dr. No he seemed a little unsure of himself and in From Russia with Love, it was the opposite…he seems TOO confident as the super-spy. Here, Connery shows the right tone of power, control and fear. And the plot is also one of the best ever in a Bond film…with Frobe’s Goldfinger trying to destroy the gold in Fort Knox so his mass amounts of gold increase considerably in value. But, for Bond films, plot always seems to take a back seat to the gadgets, romance and action. Here, at least, they made an attempt at a story…and did a great job in the process. No worries, though. There are lots of gadgets, action and romance. Promise.

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For Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 outing, he sure picked a fun ride. This is a James Bond film with bite…one that was perfect for Bond’s reemergence in theaters after a six-year break (the previous Bond film, License to Kill with Timothy Dalton, was produced in 1989). It also is a good film for the end of the 20th Century…no more Cold War doesn’t mean the former Soviet Union countries cannot be used as adequate threats. This story deals with a former MI-6 agent who went over to the other side in order to avenge his past (his Russian parents were Cossacks who were sent home by the British to be executed by Stalin) and cause World chaos. There are MAJOR parts of this film that are outlandish and unbelievable. But, remember, this is a Bond film. Unbelievable is a requirement. Brosnan fits into Bond’s tux perfectly…he mixes the right combination of Connery’s suaveness and Moore’s wit and Dalton’s fierceness. The series lagged with the two Dalton films (License and 1987’s The Living Daylights) mostly because many of the Bond-isms were gone. Yes, Dalton’s 007 was still asking for his Vodka Martini’s “shaken not stirred” but the quips and especially the romances were practically nonexistent…the latter probably because of the 1980s “safe sex” era. Enter Brosnan who brings it all back with gusto! Ian Fleming would be proud.

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Give this one some time to grow on you…I came close to giving up about 30 minutes into this film. Then, just as I practically had my finger on the STOP button of my remote, the plot settled down and began to come together. I understand what the director (Mike Hodges of Croupier fame) was trying to do in the beginning. He was trying to set the stage of a dark, murky movie by showing us the characters in little segments to make us deliberately confused. Just because I understand what Hodges was doing doesn’t mean I like it. Once the crime has been committed, all of the pieces begin to fall into place and turn a complicated premise into a smart, original thriller. We get to know the characters we had only seen in bits and pieces before. We get to know what led up to the crime that is committed. We get to know some back-story on the main character, played brilliantly by Clive Owen. Owen’s character has turned his back on his former criminal/gangster ways, disconnecting himself from his family and friends, and become homeless (he lives out of his van in the woods and moves from one cash-paying construction job to another). The story hinges on the believability of Owen. We HAVE to believe his character in order for the story to work. Of course, going from gangster to homeless man is quite a personality change. But, is the change sincere or just a weak way to escape his past? Owen, once back around his former friends and “associates,” tries his best to stay clean but crime’s a-calling. Owen fights and fights off his temptation and the question of whether he will win the fight is almost as thrilling as the mystery around crime. The ending, at first, bothered me. I wanted a more solid ending…I wanted to know about the characters and what happened to them. But, as I thought more about it, based on what we know about the Owen character, the ending is just as it should be.

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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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Did you ever look for something and it’s not where you remember putting it but the next time you look, it’s there? Sure, it happens to all of us occasionally and we think “I’m losing my mind.” In a second or two, that thought is replaced with something else and we forget about our minor brain lapse. But, what if things like that would continue to happen? What if we kept seeing things and hearing thing and doubting our sanity…little occurrences at first and then major things like losing pieces of jewelry and misplacing practically everything…? Well, Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight experiences all of these things plus more. Her husband, played with cruel intensity by Charles Boyer, might or might not be “helping” her out in the insanity department. Regardless, he becomes less and less sympathetic with her as she slips more and more out of reality. The audience never really knows whether Bergman is insane or not. I mean she hears footsteps above her…and we hear them too…but it’s not until the end until the plot is uncovered. Director George Cukor directs this so passionately that at times it has the feel of a horror film. When the light from the gaslights dims, the look on Bergman’s face is pure terror…as if she was being tortured. And…as you come to find out…she is. But how…and by whom????

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This is the one James Bond movie that I enjoy mostly because it seems so dated. Earlier Roger Moore Bond films (Live and Let Die, The Spy who Loved Me and The Man with the Golden Gun (I’m not even talking about the REALLY DATED and just plain BAD Moonraker)) somehow were mostly able to avoid being bogged down with era-specific music and technology (remember – I’m NOT talking about Moonraker). But, For Your Eyes Only has great electronic music that is reminiscent of the Disco era at its best! Also, some of the gadgets and technology in this one are a little dated as well…such as the Identograph that Bond and Q use to help identify a bad guy who tried to kill Bond. The story is pretty solid…with your basic “Bond saving the world” plot. This time, 007 is trying to retrieve an encryption machine from men who want to use it against the British. I feel that this film is enhanced by Topol, who plays one of the most interesting Bond characters yet. If you’re in the mood for some good early-1980s fun, For Your Eyes Only is one you have to check out!

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Not being a Johnny Depp fan, I avoided Finding Neverland as long as I could. Based on recommendations of several people whose opinions I value, I finally caved. I am very infrequently surprised by films. This one surprised me more than any other film in 2004. I was expecting a stuffy, highfalutin film about an author and his life (I have to confess—I hadn’t read any reviews to come to this opinion). Much to my chagrin, the film is not really about adults or adult problems (even though there are several adult issues). It is about children…being a child, holding on to your childhood as long as possible, never letting your child-like innocence and imagination go…etc. The film is based on the life of J.M Barrie, who was a semi-successful playwright in 1900s London…semi-successful only until he wrote the play Peter Pan. Depp plays Barrie in a very toned down way…quiet and introspective. We really never find out what’s going on in Barrie’s mind until it appears on stage through his plays. But, no offense to Mr. Depp, but the children steal this movie. Kate Winslet, as the widowed mother of four boys, including Barrie’s Peter Pan inspiration, and even a small, comic-relief role by Dustin Hoffman do not bring as much joy to the film as the children do when they are on screen. These children provide Barrie with his inspiration and also provide this film with its heart.

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For his final outing as the ever-clever MI-6 spy James Bond, Pierce Brosnan has a so-so script to work with but he does a great job, as usual, of keeping the lack-luster story alive. He is joined, this time, by a showy Halle Berry (who adds very little to the film) and some other less-than-exciting characters (with the exception of Rosamund Pike who plays a great friend then foe to Bond). So, even with the daunting challenge of keeping the movie entertaining despite obstacles, Brosnan comes through with a bang! He is really charged here as Bond, finally finding his 007 footing…he’s tough and charming and cynical, yet confident. It’s a shame that this was his last 007 film (though new Bond Daniel Craig is also good spy material, which he proves in 2006’s Casino Royale) but for four films, Brosnan brought life back into a fledgling series…just as he brings life to this fledgling movie.

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