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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I think Lilies of the Field is a great movie, though I believe Sidney Poitier has done some better work, even though he won the Oscar for this role. I mean, this is a good movie with a ton of wonderful, uplifting messages, but it is not what I would call powerful like some of Poitier’s other work of this period, such as The Defiant Ones or No Way Out (1950). This one is just a sweet, innocent film about a man who comes across some German nuns and eventually helps them build the chapel they have been praying for. The camaraderie between the nuns and Poitier really “make” the film for me. The sisters do not speak any English and Poitier has a good deal of fun teaching them. It is a heart-warming film that prove Poitier can do it all…even teach a bunch of nuns to speak English!

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Next time you over-do the wine during a dinner party, you might want to watch this one to remind you of how alcohol destroys people. This film is one of the few that really captures what it is like to be an alcoholic. Unlike others, such as The Days of Wine and Roses and When a Man Loves a Woman which mostly deal with the FAMILY’S struggle, The Lost Weekend is about THE INDIVIDUAL’S struggle with drink. Ray Milland stars as a writer who has taken his “social” drinking habit way too far. When he meets a girl, he tries to hide it from her at first, but that doesn’t last too long. The drinking begins to affect every aspect of his life, his personality and even his mental state. Directed by Billy Wilder, who is most know for his darkish comedies, Wilder takes this very serious subject matter and gives it a life of its own…mostly due to Milland’s powerful performance.

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This is a hard movie to say I liked because it’s such a hard film to watch. Much is made of the performance by Forest Whitaker as General Idi Amin (at the time I’m writing this, Whitaker has just been nominated for an Oscar – we’ll find out soon if he wins or not). But, the film is much more than just Whitaker’s brilliant performance. It’s the story about a Scotsman who heads to Uganda after medical school because he doesn’t seem to want to follow in his father’s footsteps of a medical practice in Scotland. Once in Africa, he gets entangled with the newly appointed (self-appointed in a coup) Dictator Amin and becomes the General’s personal physician. Once the Scotsman, Garrigan, finds out about Amin’s brutality, it might be too late for him to escape. Powerful performances by Whitaker and James McAvoy as Garrigan make this film a must see for anyone who is interested in political dramas.

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This film set the stage for early romantic comedies and also gave the brilliant career of director Frank Capra a boost. While running away from the demands of her strict, wealthy father, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) meets struggling newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) on a bus going from Florida to New York City. They cannot be more different: he likes to drink more than work and she is spoiled and prudish about everything. What should be just a two-night ride turns into a much-longer trip filled with stops and mishaps, all of which bring the two closer together, despite their differences. This movie’s sharp, witty dialogue inspired a new form of film comedy, where the characters’ initial love/hate relationship inevitably turns to romance. This comedy style was used later for films such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, also from 1940. Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to make this comedy, but after they were both honored with Academy Awards for their work, they were probably glad they did. It Happened One Night also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars.

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What do they call you? Well, if they call you Mr. Tibbs, watch out. One of the many films of the 1950s and 60s that Sidney Poitier did about race, this one would have to be the best…mostly since it is by far the most powerful. With the films The Defiant Ones (1958) and A Patch of Blue (1965), Poitier had cemented himself as one of the finest actors in American cinema – black or white. With this film, made in 1967 and directed by Norman Jewison, Poitier takes his acting to the next level…sheer power and passion. Also in 1967, he made another “race” based classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That film, though emotional, does not hit at the anger and the murderous rage that racial issues bring out in some people…especially some from the mid-20th Century South, where In the Heat of the Night is based.

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I’m not a pool shark. I’m not even a pool fan. But, I am a Newman fan, which makes this film good enough for me. Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young, brash pool shark who needs a lot of sophistication and polishing if he is ever going to become the best. Enter Minnesota Fats (expertly played by Jackie Gleason) who is just the one to add some polish to the young hustler. A romantic relationship with Piper Laurie distracts Felson too much for my taste, but the George C. Scott character as Fats’ manager makes up for the diversion. Scott is brilliant here…cocky and tough — I think it is one of his best roles. And, it is one of Newman’s best roles as well…he is perfectly able to balance on that bridge between arrogant jerk and engaging sweetheart. Watch this one for his and Scott’s performances alone…and you also might want to pick up a pool cue!

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