What I know about Haute Couture, I could fit in a shoebox. Maybe that is why I found this film SO fascinating. If I knew more about the lifestyle these people were talking about, maybe I would have been bored. Instead, I was riveted. Could people really be this focused on clothes and shoes and, most shocking of all, accessories? Well, this film and the real characters in it proves that yes, people can be this focused on all areas of fashion. Anna Wintour is the “star” of the film. A British ex-pat who came to New York and the world-renowned Vogue (American VOGUE, that is) from British Vogue and is now Vogue’s editor-in-chief. Wintour is a fierce woman…who can make or break a designer’s career with just the shake of her head. She’s the character the DEVIL in The Devil Wears Prada is based on. She pretty much is the face of the New York fashion scene – simply put…what she says or wants GOES and if she doesn’t want it, it’s gone. More interesting, I thought, was her creative director at Vogue, Grace Coddington, who clashes often with Wintour and always loses (since Anna always gets her way). How Grace copes with her losses and her set-backs at Vogue and still manages to come to work every morning is beyond me. The dynamic between these two independent, strong and very alike and different (at the same time) women is what made this film work for me.

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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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Silly but stylish comedy about a young ditzy girl from a ditzy family who, during a charity scavenger hunt, meets a “forgotten” homeless man. The man plays along with the scavenger hunt gag and allows himself to be turned in as the grand prize. To reward him, the young girl makes him the family’s new butler. Of course, everyone knows what is going to happen – somehow the unlikely duo will fall in love and, not to ruin it for anyone, the “happy endings” cliché does occur here. But, leading up to the ending is a film filled with fun, mostly because of the true comic genius of Carole Lombard. The chemistry between her and William Powell’s “forgotten” man allows the audience to believe that fantasies like this do come true. When you hear the word “screwball,” what/who do you associate with that word? After seeing this quintessential “screwball” comedy, you will think of Carole Lombard every time.

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I went into this one with low expectations. I had heard that Denzel Washington plays a troubled soul in Man on Fire, one who has had his fair encounters with criminal behavior. This depiction immediately took me back to Training Day, where Washington plays a corrupt cop in a role that earned him his first Best Actor Oscar. I did not like Training Day and even though Washington gives an extreme and powerful performance, I could not help thinking Man on Fire would be more of the same “bad guy” Washington. This time, though, the movie worked from start to finish, with only a few minor glitches along the way. Washington’s character, Creasy, is a man in torment. He accepts the job of guarding young Dakota Fanning’s character, Pita, as kind of a last resort before suicide or another form of self-destruction (Creasy is a rampant alcoholic in the beginning of the film). The beginning is strengthened by the touching relationship between Pita and Creasy. At first, he tries his best to keep his distance from this young girl but she softens him up and wins him over in a completely realistic way. This story could have become very trite during these scenes with Washington succumbing to Fanning’s charms without justification, but with credit to both actors, they are able to make the transition from strangers to friends natural and convincing. The second part of the movie continues to get its strength from the relationship between Creasy and Pita, but in a more dramatic and deeper way. Sure, there are parts of this film that are highly unbelievable and over-the-top. But, it’s an action movie. Most action movies provide more unbelievable entertainment that realism, whereas this is not the case here. For the most part, this film speaks true, mostly because of the relationship between and the performances by Washington and Fanning.

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True, Lucky Number Slevin has flaws but what action film made today doesn’t? And considering that unlike most actions film, this one has a clever plot and some semblance of intelligent characters, I was able to overlook the few problems with the film. From the excellent cast (all of whom give wonderful performances…including Josh Hartnett who I have dismissed in the past as just a pretty face) to the sharp twists and turns that keep the audience riveted, this film keeps the pace up and the tension high…what more can you ask for in a action film? But, this film goes above and beyond even those meager expectations of today and adds some true smarts to this often-silly genre. Lucky Number Slevin begins with the Josh Hartnett character getting caught in a case of mistaken identity. The identity he is mistaken for is asked by two different crime bosses to kill two different people. Along the way, he meets Lucy Lu who helps him decide what to do in his deadly predicament. This film could have easily also been made into a stylized thriller rather than a shoot-‘um-up action flick. I would say that VERY FEW action movies of today (use The Fast and the Furious series as an example) would stand alone without the explosions and fight scenes. Lucky Number Slevin would be just as good, if not better, a film without all of that extra added special effects.

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This is the one that started it all…we are introduced to John McClane, from the NYPD, for the first time. We like him, though we see he has an edge. And he’s troubled about his estranged relationship with his wife, who accepted a lucrative job in Los Angeles months ago and ended up moving up the corporate ladder quicker than expected. Even without seeing any back story, we know instantly that John is not an “L.A” kind of a guy. So, take this worried, disgruntled man and put him in a skyscraper where he is the only one who is not taken hostage when a gang of slick international terrorists come to rob the joint…to say that his adrenaline kicks in is a vast understatement. All John can think about his that his wife is in danger and he needs to save her. And that means he will go to any lengths, which he does with gusto, humor and incredible vigor. This film became the late 1980-1990s icon of the action film. Films, for years after this one, used the “man trapped someplace alone with baddies” formula. But, none of those imitators came close to the rush of the one and only (and the original) Die Hard.

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Don’t call it “Hitchcockian” but this film is a good, nail-biting thriller. Yes, it’s flawed (which is the main reason it shouldn’t be called “Hitchcockian”) but over-all, I was entertained by this one…mostly because of Clive Owen’s brooding intensity, which he has done in films before but that he perfects here. Owen plays a suburban upper-middle-class husband and father who, by chance, meets a seductive woman on the train one morning. After that first encounter, Owen is tempted enough to seek her out again. And, that leads to more and more, etc. Where this film takes off is once the affair is over…then the action begins. Not the best thriller ever made, but something good to hold your interest on a Saturday night…

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I know I often begin these reviews saying I don’t like something or someone but I took a chance and saw such-and-such movie anyway. Well, here I go again. I do not like Nicole Kidman, but I took a chance and watched this one after I’d heard quite a few positive things. And, I was pleasantly surprised. I always like Sam Neill so that part wasn’t much of a stretch, but I usually try to give Kidman movies a wide birth. Ignore my rant about that, it is a good thriller…and even if you don’t like Nicole, try it. Why? Well, it would have to be something pretty good to overlook the “Kidman” factor. And, it is. This is a methodical thriller that takes place almost entirely on two boats. Neill and Kidman are husband and wife who’ve just lost their only child. Neill, a naval officer, takes his wife on a long sailboat trip to try and ease her pain and guilt (the child died while she was driving) of losing her son. While at sea, Neill spots a boat that appears to be in trouble. One of its passengers is heading toward them in a dingy. They take him aboard and he tells the couple that all of the passengers he was sailing with have died. Neill, not believing this story, heads to the other boat…finding out that the people didn’t just die…they were murdered. That’s a big problem, especially since he left his wife on his boat alone…with the murderer! Neill gives an excellent performance and Billy Zane is particularly menacing as the psychotic murderer. And, Kidman is…OK, which is pretty high praise from me. Dead Calm does one of the best jobs ever of giving a realistic feeling of claustrophobia. Even though they are in the middle of the ocean, we continuously feel trapped…which is something that only heightens the suspense. A great thriller!

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Charade is one fun movie. It’s not the best story in the world and sometimes it seems a little trite. But, when Hepburn and Grant appear on-screen together right at the beginning, the chemistry those two actors exude reels you in and just will not let go. This is the only time they appeared together in a film and they seemed to make the most of it. Grant is never more debonair. Hepburn is never more charming. The screen just lights up when they are together. The plot isn’t that bad — it does have a good trick ending and enough twist and turns on the way to make even the most avid film fanatic woozy. Would this film be the classic it is without Grant and Hepburn? No, but it would still be a decent thriller, especially with director Stanley Donen at the helm. With the two stars, though, it becomes something more than just an ordinary movie. It becomes magic.

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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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