angel

Inching closer to the top show, the third spot goes to…ANGEL.

Spun off from the popular cult seriesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel followed the adventures of the vampire with a soul. His mission was to help the helpless in the dank, seedy city of Los Angeles, an area I am quite familiar with. Along with battling actual monstrous demons and vampires, the titular character must also contend with his personal demons as well, repenting all the horrible crimes he committed during his reign prior to the events of BuffyAlong for the ride are a couple of allies, which expands as the series progresses. One of them being Cordelia Chase, the shallow, vain, self centered popular girl from the parent series.

Why should you watch this show?

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Robert Mitchum does not get more broody than in this film noir classic. He’s hired by wealthy Kirk Douglas to track down Douglas’ wife. Once Mitchum finds her, he is enamored and falls in love. She, of course, turns out to be a true Femme Fatale and it all spirals downhill from there. Remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, this classic features Mitchum in one of his most complex performances. He has to be everything in this movie…loving, scared, scorned, troubled, etc. And he plays all of the emotions with his classic “shrug-of-the-shoulders” demeanor. A must see for any film noir fan.

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Are you ready for some good, Lana Turner drama? One of the Queens of the Melodrama (Imitation of Life, Peyton Place) returns in a little known film that is a dramatic gem. OK — try to beat this one: A wealthy man with political family ties marries a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. At first, everything is bliss…she has a son to pacify her mother-in-law and everything seems idyllic. But, secretly, the mother-in-law is just waiting for that chance…that one screw-up she can nail her daughter-in-law with. And, boy does she get the chance when Lana’s character accidental kills a lover in self-defense. Enter mom-in-law to clean up the mess…but there is a catch — a BIG catch. Lana must leave her life forever. Meaning, faking her death so she can and will never speak to her husband or her son again. Trapped, Lana does it. A fabulous film that is about as campy as they come.

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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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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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Basically, Laura is a murder mystery, complete with a series of suspects and a hard-edged police detective, with a little love story tossed in to make things interesting. The thing that makes this film stand out above all of the thousands of other murder mystery films is the direction. Laura is a first-rate example of Film Noir, a type of film in the 1940s and 1950s that grew to represent the dark, threatening era of World War II, the Blacklist, and the Cold War. Laura is one of the first film noir films and possibly one of the best. Director Otto Preminger masterly increases suspense and romance with the right combination of lighting and the camera angles. Preminger didn’t direct many Film Noir films after this one, but he should of since he was so superb at it.

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For film noir-buffs, this is as close to the Father of the genre as you can get. For a genre that came into its own AFTER WWII, this 1941 film still fits the “noir” bill even though it was made before we even entered into the War. Like other noir titles made before the end of the War, specifically Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic Laura and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (also from 1944), The Maltese Falcon did a good job of molding what the noir genre was to become in its heyday…the 1950s. The first appearance of Bogart as legendary Hammett private dick Sam Spade, this also is the first pairing of Bogart with director John Huston, with whom Bogie made five subsequent films. Mary Astor plays possibly the first ever true femme fatale on screen…she’s cold, seductive and very conniving. Plot wise…Spade gets entangled with Astor after his partner dies investigating something for her. Astor turns out to be much more than an innocent victim. What Astor needed Spade’s partner to investigate was bogus and the true crime involves a golden falcon…which those who want are willing to do ANYTHING to get. A true noir classic!

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Everytime I see this one, for some reason I always forget the twists and turns it takes, which is good since that of course increases the suspense for me. This is a prime example of wonderful melodramatic noir films of the post-WWII era…maybe even the best example. Not as serious as Laura, (or as good) and not as over-the-top as some (such as the Joan Crawford campy classic Mildred Pierce), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a perfect mix of murder and sex. Based on the short novel written by the same author as Pierce and another murder/sex film noir classic Double Indemnity, James M. Cain, Postman finds drifter John Garfield drifting to a roadside gas station/café owned by a older guy and his sultry, younger wife, Cora, who puts the D in DAME and the X in SEX. Lana Turner has never had to play up her sensual self as much as in this film…she seems to just sizzle each time the camera is on her. And Garfield does a good job of catering to her…not being able to resist, but putting up just enough resistance to lead to trouble. Basically, a great potboiler for those cold, lonely nights.

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Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I mean, this is an Oscar-winner (Joan Crawford won her only Academy Award for this great, over-the-top title performance), but for some reason, I always feel like I’m doing something “naughty” when I watch it. Maybe because it’s just so much fun. Not FUN on the traditional sense of a good comedy, but FUN in the fact that it’s one of the best campy melodramas ever. The story of a mother who will do anything….I mean ANYTHING…to please her spoiled brat daughter, Crawford gives one of her best performances here as the desperate, troubled Pierce who really should tell her daughter to $*%^&#&# instead of always trying to please her every selfish whim. Never is there a more evil and vindictive young female character than Pierce’s daughter, Veda. She is just AWFUL, without being actually criminal. But, what she puts her mother through is practically criminal. Watch this one for a great evening’s entertainment…and tons of melodramatic FUN.

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This is the classic example of film noir….more than Otto Preminger’s Laura…more than anything else of the era. Why? Well, because this one’s got everything. In a big way too….lust, murder, the perfect femme fatale, the perfect fall-guy, the perfect everything. Based on the novel by James M. Cain (who also penned The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce) and directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is a thriller from start to finish…you’re always wondering and questions and getting closer and closer to the edge of your seat. Fred MacMurray plays a sarcastic insurance salesman who catches Barbara Stanwyck’s eye when he goes to try and sell her husband some insurance. Stanwyck is unhappily married and MacMurray knows it. The one thing in their way…her husband. Like in Postman, husbands are always expendable. Stanwyck is simply the best film femme fatale ever. She’s mean without being hard. She’s cool under pressure without being too sentimental. Stylized and perfectly cast, this Wilder masterpiece set the standard for film noir films…and dared others to try and top it…which, in my opinion, no film ever did.

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