Bernardo Bertolucci continually pushes the envelope and sometimes, I feel, he does it deliberately just to stir up controversy. That is how I felt when I heard about The Dreamers . Once again, the film opening was mired in a heated uproar about the rating system (it was eventually given an NC-17 though an R-rated version was also released on DVD) and sex in motion pictures. So, when I rented it, it was just to see if Bertolucci was once again living up to the reputation I had given him as an over-hyped director. I half expected to fast forward through most of it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. The film is a good one and deserved to get more praise than it did when it was released, rather than just notoriety over its high sexual content. Yes, the film is sexual. It has graphic erotic scenes (I’m basing this review from the R-rated version), even some incestuous sexuality, which Bertolucci has used before in his films (Luna, in particular). Aside from the sexuality, the story and characters are interesting and captivating. It is a solid, vibrant coming-of-age piece with young people searching for a life like the ones they see in their favorite classic movies. The sexuality is a side note…a distraction that does pertain to the plot but does not actually move any of the action forward. Did this film need to be as sexual as it was? No, but Bertolucci so enjoys stepping over that line and inciting controversy that I’m not sure he could make a movie without sex. And, sadly, that controversy kept some people from seeing a film that is a good story about love and friendship and should be seen.

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This film is unlike most of the thrillers I have seen…and I have seen a lot of them. It is smart and clever and unexpected. A little bit of horror mixes with some science, some drama and a lot of strange characters to achieve an edge-of-your-seat film. I guess I should take time here to tell you that some of the plot (especially toward the ending) is a little confused…OK, a lot confused. It involves science and genetics and anything to do with science is pretty much Greek to me (or any other language). At first, I thought I was alone in my confusion but I watched some of the special features on the DVD and the cast and crew were talking about how they didn’t even understand it completely. It’s kind of like the Macguffin in Hitchcock’s films…it doesn’t matter WHAT the thing is, it just matters how exciting it is to find it. What kept me most intrigued with the story were the characters and the quick pacing of the action. It is hard to take a breath during this one…things just keep happening. Sometimes, you don’t know why or how they are happening, but by the time you figure it out, something else is happening. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play excellently off each other…Reno is brooding and Cassel is inexperienced and impetuous. The way Cassel involves himself with Reno’s case is clever and not the usual “action” movie cliché of “pairing up” the old master with the young guy that has a lot to learn. If you like action thrillers, this is one you will not want to miss!

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First off, I’m not a big fan of “historical” or “costume” pics, but this one for me worked. It is a love story, a thriller, a drama and a heartwarming tale of both friendship and a saga of life-long betrayed all rolled into one. Based on the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas, this story has been told before in movies, and probably will be told again…I mean there is so much hatred and passion in this one that it’s hard for filmmakers to resist using it for subject matter. What makes this version captivating for me was the look and feel of the film, and also the performances by both main players…Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce. Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a man dastardly wronged by a man he assumed was his close friend…Fernand Mondego. Pierce is so malicious and cruel in this film that it’s still hard for me to see him in anything else and not see him as a villain. And Caviezel is convincing as a man who will stop at nothing to get revenge. The film is visually stunning, set mostly in France which has never looks better. The visuals themselves are so vivid that they tell their own story…so even if you’ve read the book or seen another version before, check this one out…for the look alone!

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A charming film for the whole family about a school for unruly children in post-war France and the man who makes his way into his students’ hearts through music. Incorporating elements from many other teacher-student films (Heaven Help Us, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poets Society, etc.), The Chorus stands above those because it is able to be endearing without being too corny and hokey. As with many other teacher-student films, there always is a hard-nosed disciplinarian…and that is the case here, with the school being run by an evil headmaster. When the new prefect, Mr. Mathieu, arrives on the scene, he and the headmaster immediately clash but the prefect hangs on and helps the children reform with the help of his musical background. Sounds corny, I know…but the script takes its time and doesn’t ever force anything onto the audience. None of the emotions the children feel towards Mathieu and vice versa seem strained or unnatural. And the way the story is book-ended by present-day scenes only adds to the film’s charm, especially with the way the ending comes together and pleasantly surprises.

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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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An excellent thriller based on a Harlan Coben novel of the same title. A husband and wife are vacationing at their wooded cabin when the wife is mysteriously taken and murdered. The film begins years after the wife’s murder, showing the husband as a man who has not been able to let go. This obsession with his wife’s murder is increased considerably after he receives some video suggesting his wife might be alive. This is a strong film, but the ending really cinches this one as a excellent thriller. Most thrillers really do not know what to do with the ending. The ending of Coben’s book was good. But, the filmmakers decided to try something different. And the ending surpasses the one Coben wrote for the book. So, they succeeded in accomplishing two coups…changing the ending of a novel for the better and writing a strong, definitive ending for a thriller.

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A touching, subtle film that unravels slowly and delicately. The story of a woman who has just been released from 15 years in prison for killing her 6-year-old son…we don’t know why or how. We don’t even find out what crime she committed until more than a half-hour into the film. It’s like a present that we unwrapped…savoring the gift inside so we keep the suspense high. Kristen Scott Thomas uses this slow, methodical storytelling to her advantage…creating one of the most complex, disturbed, misread and misunderstood characters in recent cinema. She does not push the character to be liked…or push the character to be absolved of sin. She lets the audience’s opinion unfold slowly…just like the slowness of the film. A great movie!

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First off, I will be honest. Gary Cooper is sorely miscast in this film. Is that a reason to stay away from it? Definitely not. I just want you to be prepared, though, for Mr. Cooper’s unusual stiffness, in a role that calls for a man who is supposed to be suave and relaxed. Barring Cooper’s role, this is a great, sweet romantic comedy with an endearing father/daughter relationship thrown in to make it even more special. Directed by Billy Wilder, who again proves he can direct any type of movie, Love in the Afternoon features a charming performance by a young Audrey Hepburn and a welcomed comeback role for Maurice Chevalier, who plays her private investigator father. Cooper’s stiffness seems to add to the comedy of this film, though I’m sure that was completely unintentional. The real added comedy comes from one of Chevalier’s clients and from the “Gypsies,” a band that Cooper has serenade him and his lovers in his hotel suite. Because of those moments of comic relief and the appealing, unassuming relationship between Hepburn and Chevalier, this movie overlooks Cooper’s uncomfortability. Look for one of the most romantic, tearful good-bye scenes in all of cinema.

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Hitchcockian, according to Wikipedia, is “a general term used to describe film styles and themes similar to those of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.” Being a Hitchcock fan, this term is like nails on a chalkboard for me…when misused. And, trust me, 99% of the time, it is misused. Brian De Palma is often called “Hitchcockian.” Um, excuse me…no, he’s just a copy-cat. Basically, the term has been tossed around by film critics since the Hitchcock era to signify any decent thriller. Hitchcockian has become WAY too over-used. It should not be used for ANY thriller…good or not. Hitchcock had a certain style, a certain elegance to his films that very few (if any) filmmakers have been able to duplicate over the years. Les Diaboliques is Hitchcockian. First of all, it was made in 1955, when Hitchcock was still alive and well and avidly working (the 1950s was probably his best and most accomplished decade). The story of Les Diaboliques is about two women (the wife and the mistress) who kill a man, only the have the dead body turn up missing. There are certain key differences between this film and Hitchcock’s work, of course, such as Les Diaboliques is devoid of the usual Hitchcock humor. But, on the whole, this is a great thriller…so Hitchcockian that the Master himself felt a little jealous of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot…maybe not jealous per se, but let’s just say Les Diaboliques was such a good thriller that Hitchcock felt some pressure. Do I think Hitch broke a sweat? Well, considering that he was and always will be the one and only Master of Suspense, I think he had very little to worry about.

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