Are the hills alive? Well, if they weren’t before this movie, they sure are now. Take the premise from Maria von Trapp’s life story and add songs and dancing and what do you have—magic! That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein must have discovered when they began adapting this story for the stage. And, shortly after its success on Broadway, Hollywood came calling and Rodgers and Hammerstein answered, taking director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman along for the ride. If you don’t like musicals, you might be advised to be especially leery of this one. The Sound of Music takes the sappiness and melodrama you normally find (in small amounts) in musicals to new heights. But, in this film with this story and with these characters, it just seems to work and I love it. Julie Andrews (never better) plays Maria, a young, fledging novice nun who just can’t seem to make her convent life work with her rebellious and free-spirited personality. Christopher Plummer plays stern and ill-tempered Captain von Trapp, the head of a family for whom she governesses. Since I already said it was sappy, you can assume that a love story between these two unlikely people develops. Now seen as more of a children’s film, this movie is very much for everyone. Sure, children like the singing and the fact that there are six kids in the cast. But, adults should also appreciate that this film, though a bit overdone, is one of the best examples of the Hollywood musical ever produced.

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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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Dustin Hoffman might like to “drive slow on the driveway,” but his brother prefers to take the classic 1957 Buick Roadmaster out on the highways for a spin. Since Hoffman’s character is autistic, this film often gets misjudged as a story about him and his illness. Where, at its heart, it is the tale of two brothers on the road together, getting to know each other for the first time. A little on the sappy side but not enough to keep you away from this film which won a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar.

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For a moment, I forgot I was watching a movie. It’s more like a captivating documentary. The film takes place (with the exception of a small series of scenes at the beginning when Prime Minister Tony Blair first takes power) all within the span of one week in 1997…from the day Princess Diana died to the day she was buried. This film transported me back to this time and I felt as if I was watching the inner goings-on of the Royal Family and the Prime Minister…on CNN. Maybe one of the reasons for this docudrama feel is that Helen Mirren looks SO MUCH like Queen Elizabeth II in this movie. And, I imagine, the Queen acts pretty much like Mirren does…reserved, official, composed. But, the film itself is an intense piece of work…never dull or slow. I thought it would be tough to fill a whole film based on just one week’s events but director Stephen Frears does a great job of keeping up the level of drama through fast-paced editing and through creating tenuous chemistry between the Queen and Blair. Their political relationship defines the film and keeps things moving. The Queen is a must-see! Hail, Elizabeth!

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, this movie, set in a mental hospital, focuses on the relationships between Randle P. McMurphy, the other patients on the ward, and the subtly cruel Nurse Ratched. Early on, it is established that McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) faked insanity in order to avoid a prison sentence, believing that a mental institution would be easy time. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), the head nurse in McMurphy’s ward, makes it her mission that McMurphy’s time will not be easy. The chemistry between McMurphy and Ratched is perfect, with McMurphy trying his best to play the role of a crazy person and Ratched trying her best to keep him in line. Ratched becomes more of a villain as the film progresses, not because of any outwardly despicable things she does, but because of the little, subtle undertones that color her behavior. Nicholson’s portrayal of McMurphy is not over-the-top, but rather perfectly within the boundaries between insanity and boyish fun. At times he taunts the other patients and other times he helps them reach for life beyond the walls of the hospital. At times he teases Nurse Ratched and other times his anger surfaces when he cannot understand her manipulation. The winner of all five of the top Academy Award prizes (picture, director, writing, actor, and actress), this is an excellent film, complemented with two terrific, on-target performances.

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I’d heard all of the talk about how violent this film was, so I guess I was prepared because it didn’t seem that bad to me. What did stand out were the fabulous performances by the entire cast. The plot is simple…a man finds a briefcase filled with cash ($2 million) and takes it. He then is chased for the entire film by the man (Anton) who wants the cash back. Anton is a maniacal killer…he uses the most unlikely and unorthodox killing implements and does it all with a complete lack of all emotion. He is a killing machine. He wants his money back and he will kill anyone and everyone who gets in his way of that goal. And, somehow, I found him to be a sad character. No, like I said, he never shows ANY emotion, but I just felt a strange pity for him. Like John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, he is an unlikable character with an edge that you grow fold of. The difference here is Ethan was a loner and searcher with an edge and Anton is a loner and searching murderer with an edge.

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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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This is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while…mostly because it’s so well done (and also because the penguins are just so darn cute). In reality, this film is a documentary, but with the way it is structured and told (with perfect narration by Morgan Freeman), this film takes on an epic quality. Like Gone with the Wind, this film is a saga. Gone with the Wind is a fictional saga of one spoiled woman in the Civil War South. March of the Penguins is a saga about the yearly penguin brigade from their home to the place where they mate and raise their young and back home again. The story doesn’t single out any one penguin in particular. Rather, it speaks of them as a group…which is appropriate since as a group huddled together is how they survive the harsh Antarctic winters. The scenery is breathtaking and the cinematography is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. At first, I thought this was going to be another IMAX-esque documentary about penguins at the South Pole. This film, though, is so much more than that. It is an odyssey…about more than just heading from one place to another for mating…it’s a love story of how these creatures bond with their babies to keep the little ones alive and with each other to survive in the harsh elements. The audience becomes so enthralled with these creatures that somehow, their pain and hardship affects us just as much or even more than actors in a feature film.

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A fine German movie, which had less thrills than I expected, but the story was top-notch. Set in the early 1980s before the Berlin Wall fell, I found this film to be more of a psychological character study of one man and his sense of personal justice. A Stasi (the secret police of East Germany) officer is assigned to spy on a playwright and his actress girlfriend because the playwright is a friend of a blacklisted stage director. When the officer finds out that he might be spying on the playwright for different reasons than he was told, he begins to doubt his assignment. The officer starts to doubt everything he believes in…and finds himself questioning everything in his life. Excellent acting makes this a must see film…which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

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