When a 1950s housewife falls in love with her black gardener, her life that was already in shambles threatens to complete fall apart. A great, powerful drama in the same tone of the early 20th Century melodramas, especially the Douglas Sirk-directed melodrama All That Heaven Allows. In All That Heaven Allows, Jane Wyman plays a recent widow with two grown children and Rock Hudson plays her gardener. The catch, in the Sirk film from 1955, was the age difference and that he is a lowly gardener and she is a prominent widow with means. Far From Heaven takes off where the Sirk film began and uses racial tensions as the barrier between the two potential lovers. Even though they are two different films told in two totally diverse perspectives, both of these movies are worthy of being seen for their brilliant 1950s styles and their powerful messages.

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A good thriller by Kenneth Branagh…who is not your typical “thriller” director. Maybe that’s what keeps this one original—Branagh’s unusual take on the suspense genre. Well, whatever it is that makes this film witty and clever, it works. Set in two time periods, it tells two stories that at first seem mostly separate but then begin to reveal some joint characteristics. The 1940s part is shot in black and white and revolves around a couple who appeared to be madly in love…at least until one of them is killed and the other is accused of the murder. The present-day story (shot in color) deals with a woman who is suffering from amnesia and the private investigator trying to help her. How these stories interweave is the original part. Branagh does a great job of holding off on the suspense until just the right time. But, once it kicks in, watch out!

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No, it’s not going to win any Oscars but it’s a charming film that I think everything will get something out of. Danny is a frustrated bricklayer who has been bitten by the “vacation” bug and has a camping trip planned. His headstrong girlfriend has different ideas…none of which include a vacation but rather include ways to jumpstart her real estate career. After hearing that his vacation has been axed, Danny has one too many beers and comes up with a great idea…or what seems like a great idea at the time. What happens next takes the film on a predictable wild ride. Yes, predictable, but I didn’t care…somehow it all just works. I mean when Danny’s “idea” lands him in the backyard of a beautiful, single lady, I dare you guess what’s going to happen! But, the ride getting to the end is a fun one. Danny is an odd character…not only because of what he does but also because he can go from being wild and outrageous one minute to serious and introspective the next. In the beginning of the film, I kept thinking “what a fool!” but by the end of the film I had grown fond of Danny. And I guess that’s part of the film’s progression…Danny is supposed to “grow” as a man…discovering what he was missing in life and doing something to fill the void. All of this philosophy might be a little too much, since this film is much less complicated than I’m making it out to be. It’s a charming, funny love story with entertaining characters and extremely comical situations.

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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 fledging office clerk finds out the hard way that getting to the top of the corporate ladder is not easy after he falls for a lady he is unknowingly sharing with his boss. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. It’s not the plot that makes The Apartment a masterpiece…it’s Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray and director Billy Wilder all working together to make one of the best comedies ever. Or is it one of the best dramas ever? Some of the funniest movie moments ever are captured in this film…just as some of the darkest are as well. Before this, Wilder had proven he could excel at any genre of filmmaking…out-and-out comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, and even other dark comedies (Stalag 17). With The Apartment, Wilder really sealed his mastery of cinema by combining most of those genres to make one fabulous film. Sadly, this is his last great public or critical success. Talk about going out with a bang!

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A wonderful feel-good romantic comedy of the 1990s…which was a decade of some of the best (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, etc.). But, it also answers the question…what would a single (or divorced, widowed) president do if they wanted to start dating while in office? Here, President Shepherd meets someone he’s interested in and thinks he can just start dating…like he’s a regular guy. But, he isn’t…he’s the President. And, he picks someone tough and opinionated and stubborn…lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, who at first, finds all of the attention (from him and from the nation) sweet but then it begins to grate on her, especially when it starts affecting her career. One of the things that really makes this one stand out among all of the other “rom coms” is the cast. Bening and Douglas are just perfect together…both when things are good and when things are problematic. They exude chemistry…we can really see these two people together. Romantic comedies are usually unrealistic in their simplicity, so having good, solid characters helps make the story a success. And this one is more than successful…it shines!

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Off the top, I would like to state that I’m a huge Edith Wharton fan. I’ve read almost everything by her…including nonfiction and short stories…and love her style. I’m always leery when an “adaptation” comes out of a novel I love. Bonfire of the Vanities is one of favorite books of the latter part of the 20th Century and I’m still reeling from that debacle. So, when I heard that this novel was being adapted for the screen, I immediately got nervous. But, then I heard it was being directed by Martin Scorsese and I knew Wharton’s work would be in capable hands (though I thought there might be one or two added scenes of violence that old Edith didn’t really bank on). But, alas, I needn’t had worry about any blood shed…Scorsese held true to Wharton’s vision and created a modern masterpiece out of a classic masterpiece. Sticking pretty close to the novel, the plot is about love that goes unfulfilled. Newland Archer and May Welland look like they are destined to be a happy married couple. Enter May’s slightly colorful cousin Ellen Olenska…who Newland takes a shine to — and vice versa. Visually, this is by far Scorsese’s most prominent use of color on film. The film looks and feels like a fabulous artist’s salon we can all just step into. And when I read the book, I had a feeling that’s exactly what Wharton wanted us to envision. Which, I think, is the best thing an adaptation can hope for…capturing the author’s true vision. I doubt Tom Wolfe would say the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities has anything to do with his vision!

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No, not FAT…this phat means “pretty, hot and thick.” Thick, meaning large, which goes back to the original term of fat. Confused? Well, that aside, this film IS about a woman of size who is discouraged with her life…professional but mostly personal. As a woman of size myself, I found this film very positive in its depiction of the struggles a larger woman faces in the world. The main character here, Jazmin, is an aspiring plus-size fashion designer who designs her own clothes because she is fed up with the lack of colorful and vibrant options for women of size. Jazmin is a sexy, vivacious lady who, when she’s down and out, we really sympathize for. The movie, though, doesn’t seem to be milking the story for more pity…the trials Jazmin goes through all seem realistic for someone in her dilemma. I identified with her, as I’m sure much of the overweight female population will. Jazmin is Black, but she could be any color…her plight is the same. A fun, wild movie that actually has a decent, non-preachy message…something rarely done in Hollywood these days.

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A fabulously vivid and enticing film from Mexico that combines food and sensuality. The story, based on the acclaimed novel by Laura Esquivel, revolves around a family who has three daughters…the oldest one is a rebel, the middle one is the “good” girl, and the youngest is doomed to a live of misery and loneliness since she will be the one to take care of her aging mother and can never marry. The youngest falls in love with a man, but the middle daughter is the one the mother assigns him to marry instead. Filled with rage and hatred for her mother and her situation, the youngest takes her anger out in her cooking. Beautifully filmed, this is a wonderfully colorful and lush film that will make you both hungry and excited. What more can you ask for than that?

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This film is an interesting twist on the often mundane genre of romantic comedies. Ryan Reynolds, who has successfully gone beyond his previous role as teen movie heartthrob, is very appealing here. He plays it serious when needed, always charming and never too over the top. The story has Reynolds talking with his daughter, Maya, about why he’s divorcing her mother. Maya wants to know details about his past relationships, hoping it will help her see what might have gone wrong with her parents’ marriage. Reynolds confesses to having three serious relationships in his life, one of whom is Maya’s mother…but Maya is just going to have to guess which story is the one about her parents. Yes, it’s overly cutesy at times (I mean it IS a romantic comedy), but never too much. And unlike almost all “rom coms” of today, it is not entirely predictable. Sure, we know it will end happy but with whom will it end happy???? Watch and find out!
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