Welcome to my website!
Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
Enjoy my reviews and please comment and come back frequently! Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Four Christmases

This is a hilarious holiday movie from 2008 starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. It’s light entertainment (comedy, drama, romance) with a twist on most holiday films, and is rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.

Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) are a young couple in love, unmarried, with no intentions of tying the knot. Normally they avoid their families, but when their plane out of San Francisco to Fiji is grounded due to fog, they reluctantly end up visiting all four of their divorced parents’ homes in one day. Having never met one another’s families previously, they are in for the revelation of family and personal secrets that are sure to stress their relationship, not only with each other, but also within themselves.

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek play Brad’s parents, and Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight play Kate’s parents. Their characters add to the charm of the story (and incidentally, all four are Oscar winners). That is quite a lot of talent as Reese is an Academy Award winning actress herself.

I have not seen that many Vince Vaughn movies, just Wedding Crashers and Couples Retreat, and enjoyed both of those films as well. He is a very good comedic actor and plays well opposite Reese’s more prim and proper lady. (I also recall him in a Sex and the City episode as one of Carrie’s beaus.) He will make you laugh!

Reese, as you know, starred in Walk the Line, her Academy Award winning turn as June Carter Cash. I like some of her other perhaps lesser known films, notably Pleasantville, Election, the more well known Legally Blonde, and just recently, Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed who walked the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese is an accomplished actress, equally adept at comedy as she is in her forays into drama.

Reese’s barely 5 feet 2 inch frame teetering after Vince’s 6 feet 5 inches in her extremely high heels is quite a contrast. The graphic on the DVD plays on this as Reese stands on four boxes wearing stilettos to be the same height as Vince.

These four families are so different, and the circumstances they encounter during the visits are exaggerated for humor. Often slapstick in nature, and always inventive in terms of dialogue and witty repartee, it is a movie that kept a smile on my face from beginning to end.

Kate and Brad are a likable couple, and realistic in that all couples try to hide those embarrassing moments and questionable events from the past in order to continue the relationship, for fear when they are found out, they will get dumped. Also similar is the apprehension at introducing the one they love to their family members. What will they think of a family who is less than perfect, and perhaps even a little crazy? Is there any future between us given the idiosyncrasies of parents and siblings? 

All these questions and more are answered in Four Christmases.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Shift

I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Wayne Dyer speak at a conference I attended in Portland some 15+ years ago. I was initially not that interested to hear him speak as I thought he was just someone who had cashed in on a financially lucrative career publishing self-help books. I was wrong.
I was completely won over by Dr. Dyer, his sincerity, humbleness and wisdom. After he passed away, Facebook and the Internet blossomed with his lectures and videos, and I ordered on Netflix and watched a DVD called The Shift.
Cleverly designed, the film features interviews with Dr. Dyer as himself, alternating with fictional tales of three individuals/families at a crossroads in their lives. The setting is at a retreat center in Monterey, California. The fictional stories worked to illustrate the spiritual truths that Dr. Dyer talked about during his interviews with his fictional film crew. Better than perhaps watching a couple of hours of Dr. Dyer speaking to a PBS audience, it was filled with ideas about the shift, transitioning from the morning of one’s life to the afternoon, a metaphor for an awakening to a life of meaning, a unique soul purpose unfolding for each of us.
A couple of better known actors were featured including Portia de Rossi, and Michael DeLuise, with Louise Hay, matriarch of Hay House, appearing in a cameo. Also available are extra features, which included music videos (Song Inside is charming!), additional scenes and interviews with Dr. Dyer and the film’s director, Michael Goorjian. I watched all these features and enjoyed learning about how the film came to be made, and appreciated Dr. Dyer’s humor as he speaks candidly to the film crew.
The film is visually stunning, the views of the ocean waves and the gnarled trees at the windswept shore helping to create a sense of calmness amidst the characters’ crises. I didn’t care for the music very much, but I am not a fan of classical music and that’s what the score reminded me of. The music felt morose and kind of depressing to me. I learned to ignore it and focused instead on the visuals and the characters’ journeys. You may not have the same reaction to the music as I did.
Dr. Dyer was himself, as I remembered him from hearing him speak those many years ago, a little older, and just as sage. The three people at a crossroads in this story were believable:  a driven businessman and his wife struggling to create a shared life; a young mother who gives first to her husband and children, leaving little time for her own creative expression; and a film director hungry to make a name for himself at any cost.

The Shift is inspiring, and provided many ideas that my husband and I discussed after viewing it. I highly recommend this film; it’s entertaining and insightful, and may be just what you need for the place you are in your life right now.

Monday, November 30, 2015


When I first saw Aloha advertised, I thought it had several things going for it:  Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director; actors Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Rachel McAdams; and the gorgeous scenery of Hawaii.

So I put it in my Netflix queue. The film is rated PG-13 for some language including suggestive comments. Though it didn’t do well at the box office, this romantic-comedy-drama is well worth a night at home with popcorn.

I have been a fan of Cameron Crowe since Say Anything, and Jerry McGuire. It is well written, although top heavy on the musical selections. Cameron is into music (see Almost Famous for a semi-autobiographical take on his life on the road with bands), and the almost ever-present music interfered at times with the flow of the movie.

The main characters are Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) and Allison (Emma Stone). (I have enjoyed both their careers since The Hangover and Easy A, the first two films I saw them in.) Brian has a job to do while in Hawaii, and is sweet, vulnerable, and a really great guy. Allison is a total air force military woman with a sharp salute and a mouth that fires at machine gun speed. She is charged with shadowing Brian, ostensibly to keep him out of trouble.

Complicating Brian’s life at this point is an old girlfriend, Tracey Woodside (Rachel McAdams), married to a strong, silent military man. They have two kids, Grace and Mitchell. Will Bradley and Rachel rekindle their love affair, or will he fall for Allison? What will happen with the space launch Brian is charged with completing for eccentric billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray)?

I enjoyed the emphasis on Native Hawaiians. We in the continental U.S. may forget that Hawaii was taken by force and coercion, just as it was for the many Native American tribes on the mainland. There is a deep connection to nature that European invaders did not bring with them from their own native peoples when North America and then Hawaii was conquered. The film touches on this connection to nature and spirituality, especially from Allison, who is one-quarter Hawaiian.

Issues no doubt still surface in Hawaii today between natives and the military, and I thought the film did a good job bringing this dynamic into perspective with a fictional, but plausible, story about the military throwing its weight around, along with rich, eccentric space junkie Carson Welch.

The word aloha translates from Hawaiian to “affection, peace, compassion and mercy,” an apt way to describe the characters’ journeys in this story.

The ending is really, really sweet, beautiful and unexpected. There are moments in the film where words are not used to express thoughts and feelings; Cameron allowed the actors to show what they were thinking through subtle expressions and body language, and nowhere is this more evident than in the ending.

I recommend this film. I liked the romance, the focus on the native Hawaiians, and the happy ending. (Next time though, Cameron, go easy with the music, please.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

After watching Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter, my husband commented that I shouldn’t post a review, rather to save my reviews for good films that I can recommend viewing. But a reviewer doesn’t have that option. Roger Ebert wrote reviews for bad films. There was that whole thumbs up, thumbs down routine for him and Gene Siskel, so I feel I have a responsibility to post reviews even about films that don’t live up to expectations.

We had this film delivered from Netflix for some Halloween fun, and just got around to seeing it the other night. A film from 2012, it is rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality. I was not familiar with any of the actors, director or writers (sorry!), although noticed that Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas and various off beat Johnny Depp films) was one of the producers. Obviously, it is pure fiction; vampires don’t exist, and Lincoln was not a sworn enemy of vampires.
But I appreciated the film for a few reasons. As a screenwriter, I admired how snippets of historical information that were true served as the starting point for fictional situations involving vampires. There seemed to be a comparison in the film with vampires and Confederates. Vampires, if they did exist, are pure evil (unless you’ve watched True Blood, then not so much). And one could say that the Confederates, in favor of slavery, and who used and abused people through slavery, are evil too.
In this story, vampires were paired with the Confederates, even meeting with Jefferson Davis, and of course Lincoln and his aides were with the Union. My husband said that he feared that younger people, given what we’ve heard is a sad state of affairs these days in school with not enough history being taught, might not even know that much about Lincoln and the period of the Civil War, and what it meant to the United States. A good place to begin would be to read A. Lincoln:  A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.
There are some action packed sequences, with some kung fu type fighting, and a tension producing train ride, all very well executed on screen. The film held our attention right from the very beginning, and we never once suggested turning it off, which we have done when a movie is so bad we just can’t waste our time.
My favorite quote from the film: “Until every man is free, we are all slaves.” And a clever graphic at the end may remind you of the bloodshed that brought the country together to the 50 states it is today.
I think teenage boys would like this story. And it is said that most Hollywood produced movies are for that teen boys group. Basically, if you like vampires, really well choreographed fight scenes, and spectacular chase scenes, yes to this film. But if you are offended by the thought of Abraham Lincoln being cast as a hunter of vampires, don’t rent it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector and the Search for Happiness is an interesting and enjoyable film about one man’s journey around the world to find what makes for true happiness. A comedy-drama film from 2014, it is rated R for language and some brief nudity.
Simon Pegg (Hector) is a psychiatrist, and the narrator of the film. Rosamund Pike plays Clara, Hector’s girlfriend. You may remember her from the recent film Gone Girl. (If that is the only film you’ve seen her in, you may be surprised to know that she is British, and nailed that American accent for her role in Gone Girl.)
Hector leads quite a predictably ordered life, and begins to wonder about happiness. Is he or any of his patients truly happy? Will his patients ever find the key to happiness, and can he help them if he is similarly clueless about finding it for himself?
I really empathized with Hector, as I’ve been a counselor and I know how draining it can get listening to other peoples’ problems. In fact, that’s why after several years, I moved into administrative positions for my jobs. You can only hear so much without it beginning to affect you and your own happiness in life.
But, back to Hector. To figure out what is happiness, he treks across the planet, his journey of self-discovery taking him to three continents, and a variety of emotional encounters. Stellan Skarsgard  (Edward) is one of the first strangers Hector meets, with surprising results.
Hector’s musings are shown to us through his drawings and the questions he poses in his journal. I enjoyed this aspect of the film. We are let in on the workings of Hector’s mind through the recording of his thoughts on happiness in his travel journal. He poses a question to people he encounters along the way: What makes you happy? He creates a list about happiness as revealed to him, and I enjoyed thinking about which ones I liked the best.
The film also features Christopher Plummer (Professor Coreman), who studies the effects of happiness on the brain, and enlists Hector to take part in one of his experiments. Toni Collette (Agnes) is one of Hector’s past loves.
Hector finds the humanity in people again, has a series of epiphanies about life, and experiences the growth he would want for his patients in himself. Grateful and in the present, Hector finds happiness in himself.
The film is very entertaining, and I applaud that director and writer took risks by having a narrator, which is looked on as not such a wise decision in order to have a successful movie. They also have Hector’s doodling in his journal come alive on the page and thus on the screen throughout the film. It was creative and effective in bringing this story to life (and contributes to our happiness as movie lovers).
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Hector might add that happiness can only happen when you’re truly alive. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015


“They’re here.”
So begins the ordeal of a family in small town USA when their daughter hears ghost/spirits coming out of their TV set.
I am of course talking about the classic Steven Spielberg film Poltergeist. Another of our Halloween selections, this movie from 1982 is truly a horror story. I had somehow never seen it, and found it to be much more scary than it’s PG rating would suggest it to be.
Diane (JoBeth Williams) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson) are the caring parents of three children. Steve is involved in real estate and Diane appears to be a full time mom. They are swept into a maelstrom of supernatural happenings when their daughter disappears.
Steve asks for help from a parapsychology department at a university, and a team visits the home, surprised by the prolific activity of the poltergeists, which translated means “noisy ghosts.” They in turn call in someone to “clean” the house, an interesting little lady, Tangina, played by Zelda Rubinstein; she is like someone’s bizarre grandmother. She gives a beautiful speech in way of explanation about the departed, and what could be happening in the family’s home.
These few scenes with Tangina were the most beautiful part of the story that Steven Spielberg wrote; the screenplay was written with the help of a team. I know something about this paranormal subject, and both my husband and I commented that the movie was confusing ghosts and poltergeists, two different types of spirits. Ghosts more commonly are from those who die and don’t know they’re dead and hang around appearing to the living.
Poltergeists, on the other hand, are frequently associated with teenagers, especially female teenagers, because their energy is so intense. Intense emotions can trigger objects being picked up and hurled, things moving, silverware being bent, etc.
This movie mashed it all up together. It was still a good film, but not entirely true to the field of parapsychology.
There were special features on my DVD entitled They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists; Part I Science of the Spirits and Part II Communing with the Dead. We watched both of these which featured interviews with professional ghost hunters and parapsychologists.
If you’d like to read a really good book about real life poltergeists, pick up a copy of Unleashed, of Poltergeists and Murder, the Curious Story of Tina Resch by William Roll, Ph.D. and Valerie Storey.
I’d also say little kids might be pretty scared by this film. It freaked me out, but then I don’t like amorphous monsters that can suck children into other dimensions. They were evil looking. It would make kids say their prayers at night, that’s for sure.
Finally, I wonder about Steven Spielberg and his beliefs in otherworldly phenomena. What has he encountered? Four otherworldly films to his credit may not be just coincidence. If I could invite anyone to dinner for an engrossing night of wine and chitchat, it would be him. “They’re here.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Devil's Backbone

I watched another foreign film recently, this one in the horror genre in order to get those Halloween vibes going last weekend. The Devil’s Backbone is a Spanish film by Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). I remember that movie as being quite violent, and hoped this one, which actually preceded Pan’s Labyrinth by five years, would not be as bad in that regard. The film is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. Pedro Almodovar produced it; those aware of Spanish filmmaking will recognize his name, a prolific filmmaker himself.

Set during the Spanish civil war in 1939, this was a time when children were sent to orphanages to protect them from the ravages of war or when the opposing party killed their parents and they became orphans.
This is a horror film, one promising the specter of ghosts, secrets to be revealed, and for the boys in the orphanage, their courage to be tested. Early on in the film it is established that the Spaniards are a superstitious people, and the devil’s backbone explained (and shown in graphic detail!).
Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 12 year old whose father has been killed, is dropped off at an isolated boys’ orphanage by a man he refers to as his tutor, who subsequently leaves him without saying goodbye. Carlos is despondent, but quickly tries to fit in with the other boys, all orphaned and abandoned children who are taken care of by headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi). Carmen is a tough woman with the boys, but has a soft side, as seen in her fondness for the poetry Dr. Casares recites from memory.
Carlos apparently has “the gift,” because he sees the ghost of Santi, a young boy who has been missing for some time. Santi wants Carlos to know something and pursues him when darkness falls, much to Carlos’ horror.
Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a man who was an orphan and lived at the orphanage when he was young, has returned and now works there. He has many secrets, some of which he has in common with Carmen, their complicated relationship hidden from Jacinto’s girlfriend and the boys.
The boys hunt for slugs in a cellar where a well draws the creatures in, and the cellar ultimately holds the key to Santi’s disappearance. I found the bleak landscape, and the defused bomb sitting in the courtyard ominous and foreboding, and the ghost of Santi held me spellbound.
The film was less violent than Pan’s Labyrinth I thought, although if you are sensitive to violence, it could disturb you. Even though the ghost of the film is supernatural, the plotline and the events that transpire felt real, as if they could have happened in a country torn by war, where death was everywhere, and innocents had to grow up quickly.
If you’re looking for an adult movie, something creepy and with a good storyline, The Devil’s Backbone may be just the one for you.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Love Is All You Need

Finding a great foreign film is a treasure; I like watching stories about people who live in other cultures and seeing landscapes I have yet to visit. Reading subtitles does not faze me (nor should it deter you from renting a foreign flick). With a little practice, you will find that you can skillfully read the subtitles while still enjoying the visual piece of the movie.

When I came across the Danish film Love Is All You Need, I put it in my Netflix queue and it worked its way up. Set in Copenhagen, Denmark, and more extensively in Sorrento, Italy, the characters speak mainly Danish and British English. The film is from award winning director Susanne Bier, whose film In a Better World won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. In 2013, Love Is All You Need was selected as the best comedy film at the 26th European Film Awards.

Starring Pierce Brosnan and a capable cast of actors who were unfamiliar to me, it is a character driven romantic comedy rated R for brief sexuality, nudity and some language.

Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is a Danish woman who describes herself as unlucky “lately,” her biggest challenge being treatment for breast cancer. Her daughter is marrying a young man Ida has yet to meet. The wedding is to be held on an estate in Sorrento, Italy owned by the groom’s father Philip (Pierce Brosnan), which includes a lemon grove and a spacious seaside villa. The two families of the happy couple soon to be joined, for better or worse, till death they do part, gather for the nuptials, rowdy friends of the bride and groom joining them on the eve of the event for the pre-wedding party at the villa.

This is a sweet story with a subtle, emotional performance by Pierce Brosnan, a widower who has never remarried and who doesn’t quite know how to be supportive of his son. Ida has her own challenges with her husband, and she has somehow stayed positive through everything, showing us this with her enchantingly beautiful smile. Everyone grows in this film, and Ida the most. The young couple appears so young, and it surprised me a bit that no one questions them about marrying after only having met three months ago. They have much to learn.

The landscape of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is simply stunning, and figured into the reasons I got this movie. If I’m watching a film with a good storyline, then the icing on the cake is a fabulous setting. You can practically feel the ocean breezes, smell the scent of lemons, and bask in the warmth of the Mediterranean.

That’s Amore, sung by Dean Martin, and other variations on that song, are woven throughout the film, tying together the storyline as much as the characters and scenery. I liked the entire film and it had a realistic ending. I think you will find it as wonderful to watch as I did.

Monday, October 26, 2015


My husband’s interest in ghost stories and horror movies peaks this time of year with Halloween looming on the horizon. We discussed getting some appropriately creepy movies to watch as the holiday is now less than a week away. I had been encouraging him for several months to watch Ghost with me, a now classic film from 1990 starring the beloved Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The film brought screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin an Academy Award win for Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). My husband kept saying it was a chick flick, but finally consented to give it a try, so we turned the TV on to Netflix streaming, and Ghost began with a BAM!
I remembered this film as being a romantic story, not all that scary, with a famous scene between Sam (Patrick Swayze), and Molly (Demi Moore) at the pottery wheel, very sensuous if somewhat tame. (The film is rated PG-13 for some strong thematic and sexual material, language, and some bloody violence.) But I found I hadn’t remembered all the nuances of the story after having only seen it once, 25 years ago!
Molly and Sam are prematurely separated when a mugger kills Sam late one night on a deserted street. Sam, however, chooses not to go to the light/heaven/another dimension, and his spirit remains on earth. He is initially confused by his transformation, and as he lurks around his house where Molly continues to live, he becomes convinced she is in danger.
He stumbles upon a spiritualist/psychic named Oda Mae Brown, famously played by Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award winning performance for best actress in a supporting role (she also won a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA award for this role). She lends some humor to what could have otherwise been a very sad, depressing film.
Sam appearing to Oda Mae, or rather speaking to her, throws her for a loop. He’s the first spirit she has had contact with. Sam eventually convinces her to help him speak to Molly.
There’s a hilarious scene of other ghosts visiting Oda Mae; Sam’s coming to her opened the floodgates for other departed souls who haven’t yet left earth, and she is none too happy about it.
All does not go smoothly for Sam in his efforts to protect Molly, and he takes a mentor, a scary, unstable ghost (Vincent Schiavelli) who inhabits the subway. Sam learns about the powers waiting to be harnessed by him now that he is a ghost.
The suspense is good throughout, and Patrick gives a wonderfully emotional performance as a soul yearning to make a connection with his still living true love. The ending is a tearjerker, at least for a woman, and I did shed a tear or two. My husband enjoyed the film, and his only negative comment was about the disposition of evil souls versus good souls depicted.
If you’re searching for a good film for Halloween, something metaphysical, not pure horror, Ghost is the one for you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Martian

What initially led me to this film was that it starred Matt Damon, and the trailers I watched for this PG-13, sci-fi adventure looked intriguing. Matt is a favorite actor of mine, and it seemed he was well cast in the role of an astronaut stranded alone on Mars, with nothing to rely on for his survival but his intelligence and what remains of a scientific outpost.

I didn’t go for the 3D show, thinking it would detract from the story. (I liked watching Avatar in 3D, but I didn’t think The Martian would have those beautiful seeds of the sacred tree floating at me like delicate airborne jellyfish, just a lot of hurtling space debris, so passed on that movie technology.)

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is likable, skilled in critical thinking, with a PhD in botany, and also quite knowledgeable about engineering and the maintenance of mission equipment. He gets left behind during a severe storm that necessitated the abandonment of the mission, and evacuation of the crew. Believing him to be dead, the five remaining crewmembers launch off the planet towards Earth.

Mark, however, has survived. He must bring all his skills as a scientist and rational thinker to his predicament. What to do about food, water, and oxygen on a planet where none of these exists? What good is it to survive if NASA doesn’t know he’s alive? How will communication be restored, and is there any hope for a rescue?

A friend of mine on Facebook said he didn’t go see the movie because he knew how it ended. It’s not the destination, friend, it’s the journey, and what a journey it was. I especially liked that it wasn’t some shoot ‘em up film filled with hate and violence against others. It celebrated the human spirit to survive, scientific inquiry and cooperation, and the exploration of space by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration for those who may have forgotten).

Other main characters were also well cast:  Jeff Daniels as director of NASA (The Newsroom), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty and The Help) as the commander of the Ares III (she had a great role as an educated woman with a calm presence, a strategist capable of making tough decisions and not unwilling to place her own life in danger in order to save another), mission chief Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), and Kristen Wiig as NASA’s spokeswoman (the only movie I’d ever seen her in was Bridesmaids, so I wondered about her being cast, but it was fine.)

Just a few days prior to the film’s release, NASA announced evidence of water on the surface of Mars. Future exploration of Mars is not that far off, and we can only hope that space exploration, with the coordinated efforts of NASA and the space programs of other nations, will assist us in understanding this complex and wonderful universe we live in. In the meantime, enjoy the journey of Mark Watney as The Martian.