OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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For the first time, Woody Allen acting in one of his movies did not annoy me so much that the temptation to turn the film off was almost irresistible. He does not choose, in Husbands and Wives, to play someone who is more neurotic than anyone else in Manhattan. That is not the ONLY reason I enjoyed this film. It is a strikingly open and honest film about relationships. It doesn’t hold anything back and is not afraid to realistically show the anatomy of a break-up, midlife relationship malaise, and the frantic energy of a new relationship. In hindsight (this film is from 1992), it’s a strong subject matter for Allen, who has a young college student fall for his middle-aged professor character. It was not long after this film that Allen, in reality…NOT in the movies, fell in love with his adopted step-daughter. But, leaving that alone, he does an excellent job of being as honest as he can be in this film…as an actor AND as a director. His scenes with Juliette Lewis (the young girl that plays the smitten college student) are filled with frank talk…not with silly dribble that many May-September screen romances sometimes fall for. The other characters’ relationship dialogue is just as true as Allen’s. No one walks away into the sunset in this one. It’s brutal at times, but so is life and love. Right?

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Not having a sister, I’m not sure I complete understand the family dynamic in this film, but putting that aside, I feel this is a good film about love and relationships that neither gets too gooey or too preachy. It starts off like a lot of films have in the past…two siblings have more than their fair share of issues because they could not be more different. One sister is sleazy and superficial, whereas the other is brainy and slower in the “love” department. Sleazy sister likes loafing off her relatives. Brainy sister always is the responsible one who has to pick up the pieces of Sleazy sister’s life. After the Brainy sister finally gives up and kicks Sleazy sister out, the film takes an unconventional turn. Instead of having the typical resolution of “accepting each other’s faults” this one actually allows the characters to change and grow. Enter Shirley MacLaine, who plays the sisters’ estranged grandmother, and there suddenly are three intelligent female characters who are capable of transforming themselves without the help of a “good man” or constant attention from others. The three main characters use what they’ve learned from each other but on their own create their own change.

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Based on true events, this sure tearjerker tells the story of an Irish father in the 1950s who loses his kids through circumstances beyond his control and fights to get them back. The subject matter itself makes this story a tough one to film…too much sappiness might drive the audience away and too little sappiness makes the story fall short of its emotional mark. With the help of Pierce Brosnan (who plays the father) and the rest of the cast, Evelyn succeeds in not being too overly syrupy while still retaining enough tenderness to give the audience both tears in their eyes or lumps in their throats (or both). A charming, feel-good film that the entire family can watch and enjoy together.

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First of all, I never thought I would be writing a review on a Wes Anderson movie. Or even an Owen Wilson film. So, it’s fair to say that The Darjeeling Limited is another film I didn’t think I would like…at all. But, unlike Wes Anderson’s other films, this one relies more on its plot and characters rather than on its inane quirkiness. A story about three brothers, all of whom have been estranged from each other for a time, who buried their father and are now on a quest to find their long-lost mother. Their quest takes them on a train trip through India, where their mother is believed to be in hiding. Yes, it’s quirky, but it’s a good, easy-going sort of quirky that I don’t mind. The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were seeping with quirkiness, and not an innocent, harmless kind either. The quirks here are not part of the plot — they are just little blips in the characters’ personas. It is a colorful, fun movie…a great road-trip film!

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a good thriller…with a good ending. Not a great ending (I wish one of the main characters’ story was not left unresolved) but still satisfying. And, maybe famed NYC director Sidney Lumet left that one character’s end unresolved because that’s how life is…sometimes left hanging. From the way it starts to the way Lumet structures the story (told from different POVs), this one is original. Basically, it’s a robbery-gone-awry story which we’ve all seen over and over again in films. But Lumet adds an extra twist here that keeps you guessing until the end. Not Lumet’s best movie…(can anyone say Twelve Angry Men???) but compared to some of the lame thrillers out there, this one is one of the best of late.

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Once in a while a movie comes out that takes you totally by surprise. That’s what The Barbarian Invasions did for me. I’m not that big into foreign films. So, when I put the DVD in, it was mostly reluctantly. For 99 minutes, I was entranced with the story and the characters. I fell in love with the seemingly unlikable father who, even in the hospital, surrounds himself by his former mistresses. The friends that come to gather around him are a group of vibrant, quirky souls that have small enough roles not to interrupt the main story but who add color while they are on screen. The relationship between the father and his son is the heart of the film and what a believable, realistic relationship it is. There is no canned, Hollywood dialogue here…just two people who have been estranged for a while and are forced together by difficult circumstance. A good film for anyone who is a son, daughter, or even a parent because the film is filled with so much realism that situations like this could occur in anyone’s life.

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Fairytales Abridged

Enjoy a fun public performance for all ages!  Fairy Tales Abridged is an original play written and produced by local teens.  Forget eveyrthing you thought you knew about fairy tales…

When: Saturday, July 25th at 11:00am
Where: Large Meeting Room at 6960 W. Oakton St. in Niles

Register online to ensure your seat!

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2 comments already!

Dark, very well-acted film that stays realistic up to the end. An excellent performance by Melissa Leo (who was nominated for an Oscar for her role) only increases the power of this film. And, when I say DARK, I mean it is not the happiest film ever…but it is a strong, powerful film about a subject that really doesn’t get a lot of attention…at least not at the Canadian border. At times a real nail-biter, but a great film right until the very end!
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Incendiary examines how a London terrorist attack forever destroys the life of a working-class mom. Michelle Williams, who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, plays a London mother and wife…the opening scenes capture her closeness with her 4-year-old son and the distance with her husband. She meets Jasper Black, played by Ewan McGregor and sees her chance to escape some of the dullness of her marriage. When her son and husband head to a local soccer match, she sees her chance to get together with Black. While she’s with him, a terrorist bomb explodes at the soccer stadium and her son and husband are among the dead. She runs through the gambit of emotions…sadness, of course…relief, that her mundane marriage is over?…guilt, that she was betraying her husband at the very moment of his death?…hatred, for the terrorists responsible for the loss of her beloved son? She tries to find some understanding by befriending the suspected bomber’s son, but this just leaves her more disillusioned. Yes, Incendiary sounds like a bleak movie with little hope, and though at times it is, some optimism does manage to sneak in. Williams does a superb job of conveying all sorts of emotions. Her performance raises this movie from just another post-911 tale to a deeper, more powerful film on loss and redemption.

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