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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Blake Edwards’ directs this comedy about a destitute singer (Julie Andrews) who meets up with a gay, out of work nightclub performer, Toddy. He comes up with a plan for them both to be successful involving her changing her image from a woman to a man to a woman. Complications set in when she falls in love with a mobster (James Garner) who is homophobic and convinced she is a woman. Alex Karris steals all of the scenes he is in as Garner’s bodyguard who is coming to terms with his own sexuality in the midst of this whole mess. Definitely the best film from the husband and wife team of Edwards/Andrews.

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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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This is a film that honestly brings Shakespeare to life…literally and figuratively. A brilliant movie that utilizes many of the Bard’s plays for dialogue and antidotes, but most notably Romeo and Juliet, the ever-tragic saga of Italian star-crossed lovers. The tragic lover story is key to this film…the movie follow Romeo’s plot, in a lot of ways, and even takes quite a few scenes directly from the play. But, then again, that is the gimmick here. Will Shakespeare, in the film, is supposed to be suffering writer’s block…longing for a muse to get him back in the creative spirit. Just when all hope is lost, he meets Viola, the well-to-do daughter of a wealthy family. As she becomes his muse, their story, verse for verse, scene for scene, mimics what Shakespeare is writing. So, Viola’s and Will’s love is really Romeo’s and Juliet’s as well. So, when I say that this film TAKES scenes from Romeo, that is how it’s supposed to work…since the story of the film inspired the play. And, boy, does it all come together with passion. It might sound confusing, but worry not, it’s just a bit hard to explain. All will make sense. Even if you are not a fan of the Bard, or you are not familiar with Romeo (how could you not be?), the story still plays well and is ever-entertaining. Though, it does help some if you are able to catch the nuances between the film story and the play. How art not seen the play? For shame, for shame. A plague on your house.

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A classic love story, based on the award-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. Told in both the present time and Victorian times, Byatt’s story and characters leap off of the pages and director Neil LaBute captures that same vividness in the film. Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow play academics in modern-day England and while they research the relationship between two historical lovers, they fall in love themselves. LaBute does a great job of combining the past and present elements throughout the movie—scenes go seamlessly from historical times to the present day. LaBute lends equal time to both eras, allowing each love story to evolve in its own way…at its own pace. Beautiful scenery and lush dialogue enhance the emotions of this timeless love story.

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Good old Eliza Doolittle with her flowers in Covert Garden Market…she’s so seemingly content in her existence on the steps of the famed London opera house. Then, along comes Professor Henry Higgins and turns her simple world upside down. From the classic play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and then adapted into a musical production by Lerner and Loewe, director George Cukor masterly takes hold of the big screen version, making Eliza, Professor Higgins, and all of the rest seem as fresh as the day Shaw originally penned them. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza caused quite a bit of controversy in the day. Julie Andrews, who originated Ms. Doolittle on the stage, was seen by Hollywood execs not to be “Hollywood” enough for the starring role. So, very Hollywood Hepburn was brought in as a replacement, along with professional-dubber Marni Nixon singing the songs for her. Rex Harrison was able to reprise his stage role of Professor Higgins (I guess he was “Hollywood” enough, or at least would not take no for an answer) and he did manage to “sing” his own songs. As in the stage productions, Harrison got away with his lack of singing talent by doing more of a “melodic talking” to music. Regardless of all of the hoops that were leapt through along the way, the end result is one fabulous film. And, even though I’m sure Andrews would have been great in the movie, Hepburn just shines here, as if Audrey and Eliza were one in the same. Isn’t it Loverly???

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Based on the TV series, Bret Maverick, director Richard Donner brings to the big screen a Western comedy about a handsome gambler (Mel Gibson), a charming lady con-artist (Jodie Foster), and a lawman (James Garner), all heading for a poker tournament held on a river boat with a $500,000 pot for the winner. Much of the film’s success comes from the biting dialogue from screenwriter William Goldman (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame). Gibson and Foster are purely charming together and Garner adds just enough tension to the film to keep the audience on its toes. Look for Graham Greene in a small role as Gibson’s friend, Joseph, who practically steals the movie and many of the laughs!

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Not exactly realistic, but a fun tale of a 19th Century duke who travels through time to meet his new wife in the present day. This film reminded me of the classic films of the 1940s and 1950s where believability was not necessarily a requirement. The “un”believeable part is the time-travel element that transports Hugh Jackman’s duke from the late 1800s to the 21st Century. I found myself not even caring that it is the most illogical premise ever conceived (at least, that I have seen). The movie really is not about if you believe in time-traveling. It’s about romance and love and fate and timeless passion. Jackman definitely steals the show as the charming, courteous time-traveler. Liev Schreiber also shines as Kate’s ex-boyfriend who starts the whole time-travel mess in the first place.

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The Heiress is a magnificent film that defies 1940s Hollywood logic…the woman and man do not walk into the sunset hand-in-hand. Actually, what is even more defiant for a film of this era is a woman having power over a man. Yes, 1940s were the days of the powerful woman in Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. But, the films those women were in were mostly about tough ladies who needed the love of a good man to set them straight. The Heiress is nothing like that. The film begins by setting the stage that shy, naïve Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy daughter of a stern New England doctor, played beautifully by Sir Ralph Richardson, will probably never marry. Catherine is plain, timid, and lacks what, as her father claims, men look for in future wives…aside, of course, from her money. Enter Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, who takes a liking to Catherine but her father disapproves and believes Townsend is just an opportunist. By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “powerful” woman enters the picture. Well, Catherine learns quite a few life lessons over the course of the film and in the end she is a strong, confident woman who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t want. Even though George Cukor was known in Hollywood circles as being the best “ladies director,” I feel that director William Wyler gives Cukor tough competition here and with some of his other movies (Roman Holiday, Mrs. Miniver, Jezebel, Funny Girl , etc.). This film is a tour de force for de Havilland (she won the Oscar), but Wyler’s brave direction increases both the power of Catherine and the tone of the whole film.

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Hugh Grant playing Frederic Chopin??? When I found this out, I had to watch this film. And, Grant surprised me by pulling off the role of the fragile pianist with considerable ease. I bought him as Chopin, just as I bought the other characters in this subtly lavish film. Judy Davis plays unconventional 19th Century novelist George Sand, of whom then film revolves. Her relationships with men, especially Chopin, are chronicles here in a semi-farcical/semi-serious way. Knowing nothing about Sand’s personal life, I was fascinated by her character. She is a true rebel for the day…wearing men’s clothes and having open affairs with a variety of different men. The way the movie tells her story is by not exactly taking it all seriously and, on the same taken, not exactly poking fun of it. All in all, Sand, Chopin and all of the other 19th Century characters make this a fun, interesting look at the France in the mid-1800s.

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