A charming tale about legal issues in the Edwardian Era of London…but also a fascinating look at the social graces of the day. How prim and proper everyone is…and restrained — it’s almost sinful (in a VERY reserved say, of course). Based on a true early 20th Century case in London, a young man gets accused of a small crime and consequently expelled from his private school for the alleged deed. Director David Mamet (normally more known for American crime dramas) takes the story (which was first turned into a play by author Terence Rattigan) and brings it and early 1900s London to life. Mamet uses some real locations that the actual case might have taken place in (the Horse Guards, House of Lords, and in Inns of Court) and fills the story with true passion and sincerity. There is tension, humor and romance, but all done with the appropriate levels of Edwardian propriety. Nigel Hawthorne is never better as the family patriarch, who puts everything into his son’s legal batter…even his health. Mamet’s real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon plays the Winslow sister and the always spot-on Jeremy Northam plays the lawyer who takes the case. Both of these performances are played on the right level…passionate about their causes but perfectly undemonstrative. Edwardians would be proud!

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Surprisingly, I liked this one. I didn’t see it right away after it came out on DVD since I wasn’t sure it was a film for me. But, the relationship of the brothers and also of the father and sons was captivating and kept me watching. Even though I felt parts (especially the ending) went a little too into the “melodramatic” realm, I felt that most of the movie was strong and convincing. Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix give believable performances as brothers initially pitted against each other. When Wahlberg’s character falls victim to a crime Phoenix might be in on. I bought Phoenix’s reaction and turmoil. It’s not the best crime drama ever made but over-all, it’s a good one.

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When a father tries to force early success on his musical prodigy child, he soon realizes what his child needs most is his love. On its own, the storyline provides meaningful and poignant scenes and makes a heartwarming film. Weave the use of music into the mix and the film becomes even more powerful and stunning. But, at the true heart of this film is the relationship between the old man and the child. This film proves that no matter how high of expectations we set for our children, we never stop loving them even if they don’t achieve all that is expected. A meaningful film for anyone who at one time was someone’s child—meaning a film for all.

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One of the more powerful films I’ve seen all year, the one word I keep using to describe this film and especially the main character of Daniel Plainview is ruthless. Here is the story of a man who at the VERY beginning of the film, sets his mind on a goal…to find oil on his land. We see him deep in the earth, checking the rocks to see if they lend any clues about what’s below. Once oil is found, we see Daniel’s progression to businessman. He no longer is LOOKING for oil. He has found it. And he wants to keep finding it on other pieces of land. Then, we see him as entrepreneur…a man who has a diversified and successful business in oil mining. The end of his life (shown just at the tail end of this lengthy movie) is about what his years of ruthlessness has led to…how it has taken its toll on him as a man and as a human being. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a fabulous performance as Daniel and conveys convincingly to the audience to what lengths Daniel will go to in order to succeed as an oilman…no matter how nefarious. Lying, cheating, stealing, killing are never out of the question, when oil and power are at stake.

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A charming, sweet film about a father who runs a bathhouse in Beijing and his two sons, one mentally handicapped and the other, Da, a stoic businessman. The movie revolves around Da’s coming to terms with his father’s ill health and his brother’s dependence on their father. Da had moved away years ago and not even bothered to introduce his father and brother to his new wife. His character’s transformation in this film is the highlight, even though it is a subtle, unassuming transition from detached to loving son. I’m not big on foreign films yet this film is so special that I watch it often. It’s a beautiful story of compassion, acceptance and emotion. It is a timeless tale about a man who comes of age a little later than most to open his heart to his family.

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Are the hills alive? Well, if they weren’t before this movie, they sure are now. Take the premise from Maria von Trapp’s life story and add songs and dancing and what do you have—magic! That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein must have discovered when they began adapting this story for the stage. And, shortly after its success on Broadway, Hollywood came calling and Rodgers and Hammerstein answered, taking director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman along for the ride. If you don’t like musicals, you might be advised to be especially leery of this one. The Sound of Music takes the sappiness and melodrama you normally find (in small amounts) in musicals to new heights. But, in this film with this story and with these characters, it just seems to work and I love it. Julie Andrews (never better) plays Maria, a young, fledging novice nun who just can’t seem to make her convent life work with her rebellious and free-spirited personality. Christopher Plummer plays stern and ill-tempered Captain von Trapp, the head of a family for whom she governesses. Since I already said it was sappy, you can assume that a love story between these two unlikely people develops. Now seen as more of a children’s film, this movie is very much for everyone. Sure, children like the singing and the fact that there are six kids in the cast. But, adults should also appreciate that this film, though a bit overdone, is one of the best examples of the Hollywood musical ever produced.

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Dustin Hoffman might like to “drive slow on the driveway,” but his brother prefers to take the classic 1957 Buick Roadmaster out on the highways for a spin. Since Hoffman’s character is autistic, this film often gets misjudged as a story about him and his illness. Where, at its heart, it is the tale of two brothers on the road together, getting to know each other for the first time. A little on the sappy side but not enough to keep you away from this film which won a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar.

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If you’ve seen Laura or any other of Gene Tierney’s films, you know she usually plays a good woman. Maybe not always a perfect lady but a law-abiding, seemingly moral character. In Leave Her to Heaven, any question of morality, honor, and integrity flies out of window. Tierney plays an evil woman. This is not giving anything away or being too harsh. Right from the beginning, we find out Tierney’s not quite right, though it’s not until later in the film that she reveals her true viciousness. And, viciousness might be putting it mildly. The story revolves around Tierney’s character’s relationship with Cornel Wilde. Some of the things her character does in this film…well, they are just unspeakable. And, Tierney pulls them all off with conviction and believability. This woman who can be so innocent and naïve in other films becomes this ruthless devil without skipping a beat. Watch this one because it’s a good film, but mostly because of the GREAT performance by a truly underrated actress.

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I loved this movie. Really. It’s quirky and silly and sweet and innocent and charming and disturbing and great! In the vain of films like The Straight Story, this film relies on its uniqueness to reel you in. But, unlike other quirky films, the charming qualities of the characters kicks in and wins you over completely…just like “Bianca” wins over the hearts of all of the townspeople of the small, Northern town. Ryan Gosling plays Lars perfect here…and it’s a tough role to tackle. He has to be low-key and expressionless at times when others aren’t. He has to completely “buy” into what he’s selling, no matter what. But, he has to avoid going too far in the opposite direction with the low-key behavior. Basically, Gosling becomes Lars here…just as the supporting players come to embody their personas as well. You might cry, you might laugh, but most definitely you will smile at this lovely film.

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Junebug is a hard movie to say whether I liked it or I just felt so sorry for the characters I took pity on the film. The best way to describe it is the call it a slice of Southern small-town American living. It’s basically a story about George, who has moved to Chicago but, on a trip back home, reconnects with his Southern roots. Those roots might have been dormant when he fell in love with and married Madeleine, an uptight, highly educated art dealer, but once George gets back home, those dormant characteristics began to surface….from everything from afternoon naps to singing hymns at the local church’s pancake breakfast. The supporting characters are the ones, though, that made this movie special for me. Amy Adams plays Ashley, a pregnant young woman just starved (I mean REALLY STARVED) for affection and attention. She is desperate to like Madeleine, mostly because she has very little positive reinforcement in her life. Ashley’s husband and George’s brother, Johnny, is a gruff loner who shows more attention to his cars than he does to anyone in his family, especially his pregnant wife. Even though Madeleine and George seem to be at the center of the story, I got more out of the supporting characters and their troubles. The Ashley character alone is so complex in her simplicity that she could star in a movie all her own (which might be one of the reasons Amy Adams got so many raves for her over-the-top yet (at the same time) understated performance, including an Oscar nomination for supporting actress).

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