One of the best endings in film…not the best movie, per se…or even the best thriller. But, the ending makes the movie payoff. You really do not see it coming…at least I didn’t. Doris Day shines as the tortured wife of an overly hardworking businessman. She begins hearing voices and then starts getting crank calls. Is she making this up to get more attention from her husband? Is she really in danger? And if so, by whom? Being a huge Hitchcock fan, I?m always skeptical of thrillers that try to copy the image and style of the Master of Suspense. Thankfully, I feel this one is not something Alfred Hitchcock would have disappointed with.

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A poignant drama about a wife who cheats and a husband who finds out. This simple premise turns very dark and deadly, when the movie really takes off and sets the audience on an emotional roller coaster. Unfaithful shows what the pain of an affair can do to a couple…how both the betrayed and the betrayer feel toward each other and toward themselves. The performances of Richard Gere and Diane Lane as the seemingly happy husband and wife are stunning…nothing they say or do seems overly forced or too overdone. The scene on the train after Lane first has her extramarital encounter showcases what a brilliant and underrated actress she really is. The ending leaves everything up in the air, which I did not like at first but after more thought, I came to see that leaving things open is best. Emotions do not always have easy answers, so then why should a movie with so many emotions end neatly?

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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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Irene Dunne, supposedly dead, returns after being gone for years to find husband Cary Grant remarried and on his honeymoon. When she goes to the hotel and Grant sees her, his new wife is forgotten about. But, the couple does have other problems, such as Grant finding out that while Dunne was stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, she was not alone. Remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner, who can’t surpass the superb performances of the Grant/Dunne team. This is the second of three pairings with Dunne and Grant (the first being 1937’s social comedy The Awful Truth and the last was 1941’s tear-jerker Penny Serenade). Of all three films, this one, I feel, gives off the most laughs and chemistry between the two stars.

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When I took screenwriting classes in college, I always wondered if I would make it in Hollywood. One of the reasons I never did is that I do not write like Woody Allen. I’m not always a fan of Allen…most of his recent films have been so-so comedies (with the exception of the unique Melinda and Melinda), but Match Point is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and most assuredly the best film of 2005, in my opinion. Why? How about this…not a word is out of place and there is nothing extra that should be in the film and nothing that shouldn’t. It’s a perfectly constructed film all the way around, I attest solely to Allen’s writing. The actors are good in their roles but I wouldn’t say that’s what “made” the film for me. Allen just simply has a way of working a story so it seems so easy and so perfect at the same time. It is a neat, clean circle…the story starts off with one thread and that thread runs through the entire film but in a subtle way until the ending, when you realized, “OH, I get it.” The story revolves around a young tennis pro who gets a job at an upper class athletic club and soon makes friends with one of the members…an affluent young man who has both a pretty, demure sister and a beautiful, sultry fiancée. The tennis pro falls for the sister but really falls hard for the fiancée. What happens from there leads to a complex, intricate series of events that keep the audience guessing at every turn. The ending, unlike most films I’ve seen recently, will not disappoint or ruin the masterfulness of this film. What happens right up to the last second will only increase how strong this film is…which is proof of Allen’s genius.

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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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To be honest, I am not a Ben Affleck fan. And I have seen many of Kevin Smith’s films and am not crazy about him either. So, I went into watching this movie with no expectations whatsoever. I chose to watch the movie, on an airplane, only because I had seen all of the other selections. After saying that, I find it all the more surprising that I loved this movie. Even Ben Affleck didn’t bother me as I became entranced in the story and with the characters. Affleck plays an entertainment publicist who, right at the beginning of the film, falls in love, marries, and prepares for fatherhood. After his wife dies in childbirth, he has to find a way to combine a tough business persona with that of a loving, compassionate father. It is a heartwarming film that does not have as many of the predictable elements most films of similar themes have. It has characters you fall in love with, who can melt your heart just by giving the right kind of look. It’s not the best film ever made, but it is one of the best of its kind made in recent years.

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OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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For the first time, Woody Allen acting in one of his movies did not annoy me so much that the temptation to turn the film off was almost irresistible. He does not choose, in Husbands and Wives, to play someone who is more neurotic than anyone else in Manhattan. That is not the ONLY reason I enjoyed this film. It is a strikingly open and honest film about relationships. It doesn’t hold anything back and is not afraid to realistically show the anatomy of a break-up, midlife relationship malaise, and the frantic energy of a new relationship. In hindsight (this film is from 1992), it’s a strong subject matter for Allen, who has a young college student fall for his middle-aged professor character. It was not long after this film that Allen, in reality…NOT in the movies, fell in love with his adopted step-daughter. But, leaving that alone, he does an excellent job of being as honest as he can be in this film…as an actor AND as a director. His scenes with Juliette Lewis (the young girl that plays the smitten college student) are filled with frank talk…not with silly dribble that many May-September screen romances sometimes fall for. The other characters’ relationship dialogue is just as true as Allen’s. No one walks away into the sunset in this one. It’s brutal at times, but so is life and love. Right?

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Mike Nichols’ controversial film about Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman, in his film debut), a recently out of college lost-soul who begins an affair with his parent’s friend, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), just out of boredom. The affair allows him to procrastinate on other important decisions like graduate school and/or getting a job, much to his parents’ chagrin. More problems occur when he falls in love with the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross). This film did as much for the 1960’s rebellion as it did for both the careers of Simon and Garfunkel and Mike Nichols, who earned an Oscar for his cutting edge direction.

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