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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!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

For the Love of Spock

On this, our last day of 2016, I am posting a review of the fine documentary/biography feature film, For the Love of Spock. Originally a joint endeavor between father Leonard and son Adam Nimoy, it was unfinished at the time of Leonard’s passing. Adam subsequently completed it without his famous father at his side.

Adam persevered with the project, and we are the better for it. For anyone who is a Star Trek fan, this will illuminate the history and creativity of both Leonard Nimoy and all involved with bringing Star Trek to life.

Filled with interviews of those who knew Nimoy well, and interspersed with archival photos and footage of family films, it will give you insight into not just the character of Spock, but of the man who created him. Leonard Nimoy was an accomplished actor, ambitious where his acting was concerned, and creative in other ways. He recorded music, and his unique photography was featured in art shows.

For the Love of Spock explores the Star Trek phenomenon, the fans who kept the momentum going forward up until present day, resulting in three recent hit movies with the famous seven depicted when the crew was a younger age (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond). The documentary also explores the personal life of Leonard and how fame affected both himself and his family. It is an honest portrait of the struggles and challenges that his family endured, as well as their successes and ultimate healing.

I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in Star Trek. I have an understanding now of how Spock’s makeup evolved, how the nuances of his character were developed, and why Spock was the character who made the show a success and kept us all going after more of these unique voyages on the Enterprise.

You will see how the Vulcan mind meld, that telepathic sharing of two individual’s minds came about, and the genesis of the Vulcan nerve pinch that instantly rendered the victim unconscious. I particularly enjoyed learning about the distinctive Vulcan salute that Spock used with the famous phrase, “Live Long and Prosper,” that was used in greeting or when taking departure of someone. I will never think of it in the same way again now that I know where the original inspiration for it came from.

I knew that Nimoy had directed Star Trek films, and especially enjoyed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but he directed other films as well, including 3 Men and a Baby! Multi-talented does not begin to describe this man. We are all at a loss for losing him, his humor and sensitivity, but at least we have the memories of how he enriched our lives with his presence.

At this, the beginnings of 2017, may we all “Live Long and Prosper,” and carry forward with us a bit of Spock and of Leonard in our hearts, and especially in our intellects, as we go forward into a challenging new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The original animated short film of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! presented itself to us on the TV during an overnight trip. To my surprise, I discovered that my husband had never seen this classic from 1966. It was narrated by Boris Karloff and is a delightful little story.

I proceeded to tell him about the film from the year 2000 of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was directed by Ron Howard and stars Jim Carrey (one of his favorite actors) as the Grinch himself. We got it from Netflix and watched with wonder at the artistry of this film. It is rated PG for some crude humor.

The world of Whoville is brought to life with lots of inventive sets, along with some incredible makeup that make the Whos cute and distinctive. Rick Baker was listed among the credits, and so I didn’t expect anything less. He is an award winning makeup artist responsible for the likes of Men in Black and Ed Wood, and has won seven Academy Awards for Best Makeup, including one for his work in this film.

I particularly liked the facial makeup of the Whos; the noses they grow into as they mature, their hairdos and the long eyelashes on everyone. The costumes were brilliant as well.

The Grinch was delivered to Whoville as an infant and was adopted by two kind women. But as he grows, children being what they are, he is ridiculed for being different. He finally cannot stand it any longer and retreats to his mountain cave. The Grinch’s cave is strewn with a grotesque assortment of things you’d find in a garbage dump. He lives at the end of the tube that shoots the Whos garbage away from the village and up the mountain, so that is not such a mystery.

If I didn’t know it was Jim Carrey in that hairy, green costume and makeup, I would never have guessed the actor, although some of his vocalizations as the Grinch give away his comic genius.

How the Grinch steals Christmas is played out very well, with the expanded involvement of Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen), a precocious youngster with very cool hair. She is a budding investigator who grows curious about the Grinch, and her role adds so much to the story of the town and the Grinch.

Martha May (Christine Baranski) is the girl who grew up to be the woman all the men desire, but who has a soft spot for the Grinch. The songs are familiar from the original film with some new ones added into the mix.

We both enjoyed watching this fantasy tale. The characters were well developed, and the sets, costumes and makeup, stay true to the original vision of Dr. Seuss without the need for animation. I am in great respect of the fine craftspeople that pulled this off. Thanks to Imagine Entertainment for taking on such a challenge and bringing this Dr. Seuss Christmas classic to life!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moonrise Kingdom

Easily my favorite Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) showcases his quirky inventiveness and ability to tell a good story. (He was nominated for best screenplay at the Academy Awards for Moonrise Kingdom.) Taking place in the 1960’s on a remote island in New England, two prepubescent teens disappear, much to the chagrin of their parents, scoutmaster, and the police chief. The film is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Star-studded performances enhance the two young people’s story. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) meet serendipitously at a local theatrical performance and become pen pals. Sam is a skilled khaki scout, very self sufficient, and the two set off on a cross-island trek to a secluded cove most adults would find romantic (if only there were a KOA cabin with a mattress in it.) Suzy is the kind of girl you wanted to be when you were young, a little bit dangerous, a risk taker, her own person.

Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy’s dysfunctional parents, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) is a maligned khaki scout leader turned hero, and Bruce Willis is Captain Sharp. Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman from other Anderson films) has a small role as another scout leader sympathetic to the young love of the two teens fleeing society.

The filming took place in Rhode Island, and the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of Anderson’s sets have a dollhouse like appearance (see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel for other examples). His screenplays are always inventive, creative, and with a fine, fine attention to detail. He really expects the viewer to be paying attention.

The film begins with Suzy’s brothers listening to The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra composed by Benjamin Britten. If you circumvent that so annoying streaming Netflix programming that minimizes the end of the film into a little square box on the upper left of the screen, you can get back to the credits full screen, where they should be watched in their entirety. Anderson inserts his own Young Person’s Guide to Alexandre Desplat’s orchestration of his film in the end credits, and it is delightful to watch.

I like Anderson’s directing his actors to be deadpan if you will, a comic touch that makes the film elicit smiles throughout. I have appreciated his sense of humor ever since Rushmore in 1998. His movies seem few and far between, but then you can’t rush excellence, something I will remember in my own work.

Would kids like this film? I’m not sure. Part of the attraction is how it hearkens back to the 1960’s, when I was just a pre-teen myself. That’s why adults like Wes Anderson’s movies so much. It’s refreshing to see a work of art like this that takes risks and doesn’t subscribe to any of the Hollywood set of rules for making a blockbuster, all action and violence, and no real redeeming story. Moonrise Kingdom has class and substance. Watch it when you need some cheering up.

The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited, a Wes Anderson dramedy from 2007, has an all-star cast, and takes place in India. Three brothers reunite to take a trip across India on the Darjeeling Limited, a train perhaps more fantasy than truth. It is rated R for language.

Francis (Owen Wilson) has organized the trip following the death of their father. He is a controlling and meticulous man, much to the chagrin of brothers Peter (Adrien Brody), and the youngest, Jack (Jason Schwartzman). All have skeletons in the closet, secrets they have kept from one another for years. The alliances among the three of them alternate between two confiding in each other, and then the other telling the secrets he’s just heard to the other one. Typical sibling dysfunction.

I had hoped to see more of India’s countryside during the film, but the action mainly takes place on the train. Jack has an eccentric ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) whom we first learn about while watching the short film Hotel Chevalier, a sort of prologue to The Darjeeling Limited. Lasting only 13 minutes, it was offered on the DVD I had of the film, and I’m glad I watched it first, as references to the relationship between Jack and his ex-girlfriend are made during the main film.

Their mother Patricia (Angelica Huston) has run off to a convent in India, and Francis reveals that the trip is really about going to find her and have a sort of family reunion. During the train ride and stops in towns, the three brothers have, shall we say, adventures. Very unexpected events that serve to bring them closer together, and in effect deal with the loss of their father.

This is not Wes Anderson’s best film. (Read my early review of Wes Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums on this site, and definitely see The Grand Budapest Hotel.) My favorite so far of the works I have seen by Wes is Moonrise Kingdom. Today I will also be posting my review of that delightful story, a kind of double feature for you. Instead of watching The Darjeeling Limited, instead I recommend you view a brief video on YouTube of an ad that Wes Anderson made for H&M. The setting takes place on a train and features the Academy Award winning actor Adrien Brody.

An aside here is that Adrien Brody first came to my attention in the Spike Lee film, Summer of Sam, playing a disturbed young man so brilliantly, it took his Best Actor role in The Pianist for me to forget that persona. He is a gifted actor, and films I have enjoyed him in include King Kong, where he played Jack Driscoll, and a small turn as Salvador Dali in Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson had the starring role. Those two films are well worth watching.

This short ad has a delightful ending that I really loved. Give it a watch and may your holidays be filled with peace: Come Together-H&M directed by Wes Anderson

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Doctor Strange

The main reason my husband and I went to see the film Doctor Strange, which is currently showing in theaters, was to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Doctor Strange is a Marvel Comics film, and we don’t usually go to see those types of movies. But this one seemed to have a spiritual basis to the story, and this intrigued us.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an arrogant and self-involved neurosurgeon. He is condescending to his colleagues, and his expertise, that is apparently quite extraordinary, has led to the money and prestige he covets, but at the expense of love with his former girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams).

An unfortunate car accident leaves him with severe injuries, particularly to his hands, the tool of the surgeon. Desperate for the healing that is evading him, he follows a lead and travels to Nepal in search of solutions to his infirmities.

Here is where the film takes off in a supernatural direction. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) finally agrees to school him in the ways of mysticism and energy. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a kind mentor to Stephen as well. Stephen is drawn into this world and proves to be a ready and industrious student. His humor eases the tension that we feel in the austere surroundings of the school.

Where there is good there is also evil, especially in the supernatural realm, and Stephen soon finds himself in the throes of a battle between those who use the energy for their own selfish desires and those who want to keep the universe safe for all. The special effects remind me of those in the film Inception, buildings and surroundings folding into a sort of block puzzle. This is to signify the layers of dimensions that Stephen can now travel to and from.

The special effects throughout this film are really very good. The portals of fire where dimensions are accessed, and time stopped on a busy street in Hong Kong, are two of my favorites.

The film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. I liked this film. I like the actors, and Tilda Swinton played the role of the wise seer quite well. Benedict Cumberbatch goes through transformations that are believable in a fantasy world, growing into the hero he always has been, but just didn’t realize he was. I liked the cape, the weapon that chose him. Quite dashing he is, striding assuredly about with this protective and useful accouterment.

I’d recommend this film to be seen while in the theaters. It is big screen entertainment on a grand scale. I enjoyed the emphasis on spirituality and energy, even if the mystical bent soon morphed into the comic book universe that we knew we were in for.

I thought they left it open for a sequel, due to an interesting exchange Doctor Strange has with someone during the closing credits. Doctor Strange will not be fading away anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I wasn’t all that interested in the film Philomena when it first came out, despite Judi Dench’s nomination for an Academy Award for her performance in the leading role. But my husband started to watch it on Netflix, and I was soon drawn into this fascinating film inspired by a true story.

Philomena (Judi Dench) has a secret. A big secret. Having given birth as a teen in a convent, and then subsequently losing her child to adoption, she finally discloses the existence of a son to her adult daughter. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a journalist recently unemployed, decides to take on her human-interest story for a magazine feature, and together, they proceed to follow the clues leading to Philomena’s lost son.

The way the film was structured, using flashbacks to Philomena’s youth alternating to present day searching, effectively shows us Philomena’s emotions which vacillate back and forth in an approach/avoidance fashion as she moves ever closer to the truth of what happened with her son. Martin makes a good detective as he has the drive to ask the tough questions and not give up until they are answered.

The two make an unlikely pair, and grate on one another endlessly. The chemistry between them is good, and I don’t mean that in a romantic way. The friendship they develop feels real, as does the compassion they have for each other as well. The two trot across the globe all the way to America, a first for Philomena, as one lost piece of information after another is revealed that helps fill in the blanks.

Philomena is rated PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references. I recommend this film. It may make you angry, or it may make you sad; either way, it will make an impression on you. I admire the screenwriting by Steve Coogan (who starred as journalist Martin) and Jeff Pope, as well as the directing by Stephen Frears.

There always seems to be young girls naïve and in love who “get into trouble,” and then with no way to support the child, find adoption or some other arrangement the only solution open to them. Back when Philomena had her baby, the social mores were even more rigid than they are now. Shamed and humiliated, the family rejects the young girl when they should really be hunting down the man who impregnated her and making him pay.

For an alternate view on girls in trouble, watch The Cider House Rules, an excellent film (story by John Irving) that was released in 1999. Watching the talents of Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine, you may compare how different times and cultures deal with the problem of accidental conception, a child unwanted and unable to be cared for. I have read that teenage girls become pregnant not by other teenage boys, but by older men the majority of the time. This problem won’t stop until the culture of men feeling entitled to sex, especially with minors, is addressed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

First Daughter

My Netflix queue delivered First Daughter, a 2004 comedy/romance starring Katie Holmes. I was surprised to see that Forest Whitaker, Academy Award winning actor who was the butler in the last film I reviewed, directed it. I discovered he also directed one of my favorite movies, Waiting to Exhale! What a talented man. The story for First Daughter was partially attributed to Jerry O’Connell, the child actor of Stand By Me who grew up to be a handsome man in such films as Jerry Maguire. It’s great how these actors are able to follow their creativity where it leads them.

Samantha MacKenzie (Katie Holmes) is the daughter of President MacKenzie (Michael Keaton) who is seeking a reelection. She has already lived in the White House for four years, and is now of college age. Longing to break out and see the world on her own, she is less than thrilled with the prospects of going away to school with Secret Service men trailing her at every turn.

She does, however, leave her famous parents in DC and travel to California to be a college girl. Samantha finds that anonymity is nonexistent and that living with her first roommate, Mia Thompson (Amerie) is a challenge. She tries to fit in with college life, and falls for James Lansome (Marc Blucas), a handsome student she meets in her dorm.

The witty dialogue between Samantha and James is really quite entertaining. The story sets them up with a natural affinity for one another, and the chemistry between them is really great. Other than that, the story is somewhat predictable, Samantha taking risks with her behavior that the media pounces upon in order to cast aspersions at her father seeking a second term. I had not seen Katie Holmes in any movies that I could recall. I was actually impressed by her acting.

It was a cute little film, entertaining, funny, romantic, and I admired the set dressing. There were several times where the beauty of the shot impressed me, like when Samantha appeared in a purple gown and the flowers she was standing next to had light purple blooms. I notice these things; the colors they used in her wardrobe, and how the set complemented her costumes. While the settings should be subtle and not detract from the story, there is a balance to be had where the set dressing enhances the story and the character in it.

The film is rated PG for language, sexual situations and alcohol-related material. I can see why teenage girls might really like this film. It is kind of a princess story, as Samantha, as the first daughter, has to go to elegant functions dolled up in gowns with her hair piled on her head in elegance and grace. Young girls might truly identify with her character, wanting both the privilege and benefits of the family she’s been born into, as well as understanding her desperate quest for freedom, wishing the same would come from their own family.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lee Daniel's The Butler

Lee Daniel’s The Butler was my selection to watch the evening of Election Day. Loosely based on the life of Cecil Gaines, who served as a White House butler under administrations from Eisenhower through Reagan, it was the perfect film for this election year. It is rated PG-13 for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking,

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) had a circuitous route to the White House. Born in Mississippi to sharecropper parents, he was picked to work for the woman of the house as a servant (although she didn’t use such a kind word to describe his job).

Having learned his duties well, Cecil eventually ended up in DC where he waited on wealthy and politically connected whites in upscale hotels. Married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), with two children, he jumped when offered a position to work in the White House.

His employment enabled him to rise above poverty to have a nice home for his family and seemingly everything he could wish for. But he finds that even if you’re getting paid for a job in service, it has its down side.

Well-known actors play the Presidents, only one of which I couldn’t place. I asked who was playing Johnson? He didn’t even seem to look familiar to me and then when I read the credits, realized it was Liev Schreiber, an actor I am very familiar with. He so transformed into LBJ, I couldn’t tell it was Liev.

The butler’s eldest son Louis (David Oyelowo), growing up in the turbulent sixties, puts himself on the line in the civil rights movement. It was very disturbing to watch protestors, both black and white, sitting at the lunch counters in the white section, waiting to be served when violence broke out. They were severely abused by the white patrons, while the protestors never lifted a finger or said a cross word. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have it no other way and taught that a peaceful movement would create change; violence never does.

Putting themselves in harm’s way on the freedom buses, and being ambushed by the KKK was a grim reminder of the hate that the civil rights movement had to endure in their quest for equality.

Chilling indeed to contrast this with present day reality, when hate apparently still runs through the cold, dark hearts of many, where diversity is feared, not celebrated. It saddens me to realize that some citizens in America have not evolved in their acceptance of difference and may still discriminate on the basis of color.

This was an excellent film, and I highly recommend it. You will cry, especially if like me you grew up in the 60’s and watched as JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and MLK were assassinated. This should be mandatory watching in high school history class, maybe even junior high school. The film effectively shows what class and race divisions have done to America, and hopefully will inspire the present generation to not let their ancestors’ sacrifices go unrewarded.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Movies for Election Day

For the last two presidential elections, on Election Day I have stayed home in the evening and watched a DVD. I don’t care for all the endless election returns on the telly all night long. I choose politically based films to watch instead.

Eight years ago, I watched Dave, an excellent comedy starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. It’s a good film with Dave as a regular citizen who ends up being forced to impersonate the president when the real one becomes ill. Sigourney Weaver plays the real president’s wife. Lots of room for comedy and it has a good message.

Four years ago, I watched Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner. Kevin is just so darn appealing, and played the role of a simple, country man so well. The presidential election all comes down to his single vote, and the two candidates proceed to woo him for his support. A bright, fun film, and a bonus for me was that it was filmed largely in New Mexico, where I am living now. Type Swing Vote into the search box on the upper left hand side of my blog to read my review of this comedy.

This year, I am staying home and have picked out something to watch on streaming Netflix. It’s a film from 2013, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker plays a butler in the White House who serves different administrations over decades, and watches presidents and their staffs come and go. It sounds like a winner, focusing also on the civil rights movement, possibly one of the most important times in American history. I’m really looking forward to seeing this and will write a review for you after I have watched it.

A local theater in Albuquerque is showing Air Force One on election night, for one night only. This film stars Harrison Ford as the President, and sounds like it would be good for those who like a little more action in their movies.

Another great film that is a riotous comedy is Election. It stars Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, and was written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor of Sideways fame. If you haven’t ever seen it, this year might be just the right time. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is a teacher at a high school. An election at the school for class president unfolds with student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) driven to win no matter what. It is rated R and deserves that rating. The election process at the school mirrors the process of elections in American politics.

A more serious film is The Contender starring Joan Allen. She is a vice presidential candidate who finds her past being dragged through the dirt. This is a serious drama that has parallels to modern day politics. It’s a very good political thriller.

Skip the network news on election night and tune in to a film about an election or a presidency, just for fun. Let me know what you watched!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio, winner for Best Actor at the last Academy Awards for his performance in The Revenant, has had a long history of environmental activism. In 2014, Leo was granted the position of United Nations Messenger of Peace with special focus on climate change. He is passionate about the environment and a caring, humane man. His research has culminated in the documentary feature Before the Flood. This film is available on YouTube free of charge for the next few days Before the Flood. I highly recommend you watch it. Have a viewing party with your friends.

Leonardo interviews such notable world leaders as Pope Francis, Barack Obama, an economist, and leading scientists among others. He travels to India, China, Greenland, Kiribati (a group of islands in the South Pacific), Indonesia, and the Arctic. His concern: global climate change. Although he frequently refers to it as global warming, I prefer the former title for what is occurring at a more and more rapid rate due to overpopulation and lack of foresight in controlling where humans get their energy.

The fossil fuel industry is looked at, as is newer technologies of solar and wind. The drastic crises of those less privileged populations, the poor in India, those living on islands in the oceans, and even Americans, the streets of Miami flooding regularly, are highlighted. He admits his carbon footprint is bigger than it could be, and in the film talks about what is necessary for us to care for the planet and life on earth.

The film begins with a graphic of the famous Hieronymus Bosch painting, Paradise, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell, that I discussed in my recent review about Bosch a few weeks ago. Leo grew up with this image gracing the wall of his childhood room and was fascinated by the depictions. He does a great job of pulling the meaning out of this Medieval work of art and applying its message to the present.

I found this documentary to be easy to watch in that it held my rapt attention, but hard to hear the harsh reality of our situation on planet Earth, our only home.  Whereas the solutions Al Gore promoted in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 were more personal, the recommendations this film makes are more focused on legislation and changes to how corporations are taxed, particularly for the carbon footprint left behind. Action must be taken to influence the policy makers in governments around the world, and America should be setting an example for the more impoverished countries.

Before the Flood is rated PG for thematic elements, some nude and suggestive art images, language and brief smoking. This film will help wrap your mind around the reality of global climate change as it takes you from the abstract to the concrete. I welcome comments about this film in my blog comments section. What will each of us do to turn things around? It’s not too late, if we begin today.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Shining

Somehow I had never seen the classic horror film The Shining until a few days ago. The screenplay was based on the novel by Stephen King, and was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Released in 1980, it has since become known as one of the best-made horror films in the genre.  Jack Nicholson’s performance is legendary, clips from his most madman scenes being shown over and over for the sheer horror. So I watched The Shining and was duly impressed.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who accepts a job at a resort in the off-season winter months as a caretaker. He feels he can do the job while still getting in plenty of good writing time. He and his family arrive at the expansive property in the mountains just prior to winter descending upon the landscape, the snow and storms making passage away from the resort nearly impossible.

His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), each have their own problems, as does Jack. His son has a gift, or perhaps you could call it a curse, a telepathic sense that the chef of the resort, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) explains as “shining.” Danny, and Dick also, can see things or intuit things others cannot.

After a short time passes at the deserted resort, the three family members individually are haunted by images, ghosts, premonitions; who knows what they really are. The suspense is drawn out into a tight, thin line. It’s just the three of them in the main building; high ceilings, long hallways, huge industrial kitchen. Lots of opportunity for paranoia and drama.

Shelley Duvall played Jack’s frumpy wife Wendy perfectly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else looking so pathetic and homely as Shelley became for this role. Danny, the little boy, is so expressive, even when he is looking vacantly at something, he is totally believable. Mr. Kubrick must have had a good time directing him.

This is a very fine horror film. I appreciate Stephen King’s imagination and writing. He often writes stories about writers, their writer’s block, their insecurities as an author, and he plays this up with Jack, sitting at the typewriter in the large room every day. Jack chastises his wife for interrupting his writing; something I could relate to as writers get into a kind of meditative state when the story is flowing and the last thing we want is to be interrupted. I wouldn’t be as rude as Jack about it though!

Jack Nicholson is truly one of the finest actors of his generation. His face is so facile, so malleable, his emotions so raw and high, he really pulls off the persona of Jack as the disturbed caretaker/writer.

The film is rated R. There were some special features on the DVD that I didn’t watch, but die-hard fans may want to as it follows the interactions between the actors and director unfold as filming progresses. I recommend The Shining. It’s film history and a good scare.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Children's Hour

A faithful reader asked me to watch The Children’s Hour, a film from 1961 that she remembered watching at an early age with her mother. I found it on Netflix and was intrigued by the movie and the history that goes along with it.

Martha (Shirley MacLaine) and Karen (Audrey Hepburn) are owners and teachers at an exclusive girls’ boarding school. They have struggled to make this school work, their dream since college days. Dr. Joe Cardin (James Garner) is courting Karen and is a frequent visitor after the school day ends. Martha’s eccentric Aunt Lily (Miriam Hopkins) also teaches at the school. They are the four main adult characters.

The girls are a handful to say the least, especially Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) who has a touch of evil in her. She manipulates the other girls in the school, especially Rosalie (Veronica Cartwright), and tells tall tales to her grandmother, no doubt hoping she will not have to return to boarding school. Because of Mary’s actions, Martha, Karen and Joe lose their credibility and reputations.

Esteemed author Lillian Hellman, someone who was blacklisted in the same era that Dalton Trumbo suffered the same fate, wrote this story. The play was based on a true story of two Scottish schoolteachers accused of being lesbians. I wondered at the title of The Children’s Hour, and still don’t know why Hellman chose it for her story.

I found it interesting that a film dealing with this subject would be made so early in the 1960’s. The film doesn’t ever come right out and say the word lesbian. It’s on the Netflix description and on IMDb, but back in 1961, the dialogue and situations had to be made very subtle. Without them saying it explicitly, the viewer has no trouble realizing that the allegation Mary makes about Martha and Karen to her grandmother is that they are lesbians.

The film is in black and white and has a theatrical quality to it; not surprising as Hellman wrote for the stage. William Wyler was the director, and John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay based on Lillian Hellman’s play. He had a prolific career, penning screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock and others. Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn and James Garner are well cast, and they all do a good job of portraying their complex characters.

It is disturbing to think that even now, some people fear that their children associating with lesbians or homosexuals will somehow rub off on them. The ignorance shown in The Children’s Hour unfortunately still exists today. The other aspect still alive is the children’s lying, their incomplete understanding of the world contributing to the accusations that had such tragic consequences. Children today commit suicide after being ostracized and bullied because of their sexual orientation. I recommend this film, both because of its cinematic excellence, and because it deals with current issues in our culture. I hope this film and others like it can bring light to those who have their eyes and hearts closed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

House on Haunted Hill

It’s been about one year since I started reviewing and posting movie reviews again. Thank you for being a faithful reader! With Halloween coming up, I’ll be featuring reviews for a few scary (and not so scary) films for the season.

A Vincent Price film from 1959, the black and white House on Haunted Hill is a campy mystery starring the man whose voice is as recognizable as his on screen persona. Michael Jackson after all used him for the speaking part in his famous Thriller song, and Vincent’s eerie laugh and performance really added to the success of the song and music video.

This story involves Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), who invite five guests to their home on Halloween Eve: Nora (Carolyn Craig), a young woman who works for him; Mr. Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who is convinced ghosts haunt the house on the hill following several murders; Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), an older woman who is a columnist; Lance (Richard Long from The Big Valley TV show); and Dr. Trent, a psychiatrist (Alan Marshal). All arrive at the rented house at the appointed hour, the prize offered by Frederick of $10,000 each for spending the night locked in together in the house their impetus.

Frederick and Annabelle are at each other’s throats as soon as we meet them, and have a kind of creepy yet sexy exchange of dialogue between them. You know they aren’t the best match and suspect their intentions for the evening immediately.

Nora soon becomes hysterical when she sees ghosts wandering the deserted rooms of this very strange looking house. (The exterior of the house doesn’t really resemble what you’d think of as a haunted house, and is actually the Ennis Brown house in Los Angeles designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1924.) Lance of course is a perfect pairing with the hysterical young woman, coming to her rescue again and again.

The alcohol flows and Frederick ups the ante by giving each of the guests a little gift. What that gift is you’ll have to watch to find out. The film is only an hour and fifteen minutes, hardly much out of your day if you indulge in it. The music reminds me of an Ed Wood movie, that eerie odd soundtrack adding to the campiness of the film.

Carolyn Craig must have auditioned for her role solely by screaming. Carol Ohmart playing Frederick’s wife Annabelle was the best actress in the film, and with Vincent Price, they make the film, well, amusing.

Special effects are primitive and not believable, thus the campy feeling throughout the film. It’s really a mystery more than a ghost story. I read that the large grosses for this film were noticed by Alfred Hitchcock, which led him to creating his own low budget horror film, Psycho.

By all means give House on Haunted Hill a watch. It would make a nice double feature with another scarier movie some rainy, cold evening.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Uninvited

I had the pleasure recently of watching a classic ghost story from 1944 starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell titled The Uninvited. It is a black and white film filled with intrigues more than horror, and with a mystery to be solved.

Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) find a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean while on holiday in Cornwall. They have the means to purchase the house, and move there from London to take up residence full time. They bring their housekeeper with them, and are soon troubled by moaning and wailing in the night, which can only be from ghosts.

They discover that Windward House had a sordid past, and that the owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) had sold it to them just to get it off his hands. His granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell) is an orphan being raised by him since her parents’ deaths, and he wants to keep her away from the house.

Rick befriends Stella and they develop a close friendship. But Windward House has secrets that threaten their lives.

I thought it a little odd that siblings, brother and sister, would buy a house to live in together, but this is 1944 after all. It was the middle of WWII, and life was very different then. People in England who were well off did have servants or housekeepers.

The black and white cinematography lends itself well to the nighttime scenes in the old house and on the cliffs oceanside. Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for best black and white cinematography. Considering this is a film from 1944, the special effects are adequate. Very misty looking ghosts appear to the homeowners. It is one of the first films to portray a haunting as an actual event; previously ghosts were used for comedy. The ghost story was tapped into very early on in cinema for a type of story that moviegoers would be sure to embrace.

Edith Head designed the costumes. Victor Young composed Stella by Starlight, now a jazz standard, for this film. Rick is a musician and composes and plays the tune for Stella. The melody did sound vaguely familiar.

A great addition to the DVD was a visual essay on The Uninvited called Giving Up the Ghost by filmmaker Michael Almereyda that was filmed in 2013 for Criterion Collection. It focused closely on the stars of the film: Ray Milland, the famous Academy Award winning actor for his performance in The Lost Weekend, and Gail Russell, an actress with a tragic life despite her career in film.

If you like an intelligent ghost story with a mystery to be solved, then this is for you. I was impressed by the screenplay; good dialogue and scenes for the characters, a house that almost has an aliveness (or deathlike presence), and some fun scenes during a séance.

The Uninvited will be shown on the TCM station on 10/29/16, so you can catch this excellent supernatural mystery/romance right before Halloween.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


With the film Snowden out now, I moved the documentary feature Citizenfour to the top of my Netflix queue. I figured the real thing might be better than a Hollywoodized version of the life and times of Edward Snowden, even if it is directed by Oliver Stone.

Citizenfour was filmed by Laura Poitras, and won an Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2015. It is rated R for language. It features journalists Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) and Ewen MacAskill.

By now you know that Snowden made public the illegal surveillance of United States citizens by the government through telecommunications companies, such as Verizon and AT&T, etc. Whether it was advisable for Snowden to leak this story to the media rather than going through official channels, I will not argue here.

I found it unsettling though that a documentary would be filmed of Snowden meeting with the journalists who would disclose what he knew. A need for notoriety? Why does his every move from the time he arrived in Hong Kong until he leaves need to be filmed? Do you have any feelings about this? Please respond to my review if you have a feeling one way or another.

Privacy is an issue we should all be concerned about. These technological geniuses like Snowden know more than the average citizen about the ways we are spied on by those who think they need to know.

One chilling scene in the film was watching officials outright lie about doing surveillance through telecommunications companies. That is footage the director fit in there to show that they were complicit in that they knew what they were doing, and that there is a law against the indiscriminate surveillance without cause.

It was also disturbing that it was stated that if we think this is bad about doing it to American citizens, we need to know how the United States spies on the rest of the world, along with other countries, a camera on every corner. Basically, anything could be listened to.

The issue as I understood it is that if we know we are being surveilled, maybe we won’t exercise our freedom of speech, like we did in the Civil Rights era to give an example I recall. I was young in the 60’s, not old enough to be a protestor, but I watched it all on the nightly news. I think people today are less wiling to put themselves out there. A meeting of the Occupy Wall Street people shown being briefed at what they could expect if they participated would put me off ever joining in actively.

I don’t know at this point if I’ll see Snowden in the theaters. Some friends of mine saw it and said it was very good. I think Hollywood wanted to make a film about Edward Snowden knowing full well that not that many moviegoers watch documentaries. It is a shame that is the case, as a good documentary is often even more unbelievable than fiction.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil

I first heard of Hieronymus Bosch in art history class in college. This late-Medieval painter from the Netherlands was noted for his bizarre depictions of humans and other creatures, worldly and otherworldly.

A few years back, I came across the book Leap by Terry Tempest Williams, who is one of my favorite authors. She wrote this book about her coming to terms with Bosch’s famous triptych, “Paradise, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell.” Until she was an adult, she knew only of the “Paradise” and “Hell” parts of the triptych. Makes for an interesting exploration of what this meant to her, discovering the “Garden of Earthly Delights.”

Having this knowledge of Bosch, when the documentary film, Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil showed up at my local art cinema, I decided to go see it.

It is a documentary about a group of Dutch art curators at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch putting together a retrospective exhibition of Bosch’s works to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death. This film is not just for anyone; I think you really have to be an art lover and curious about the art world as it exists today to be able to appreciate it.

Curiously, none of Bosch’s works were housed in the Netherlands. So the curators had to set about going to other countries where his works of only about 24 remaining paintings are on display. The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain boasts possession of the famous triptych noted above, and others are scattered about Europe.

Fascinating to me was the part of the curators’ work that sought to definitively identify paintings as either truly a Bosch or inaccurately attributed to him. How do you tell a museum that what they’ve been labeling a Bosch is most certainly not? On the other hand, a collector comes across a drawing and buys it, not because he particularly enjoys the subject matter, but because he was told it was a good investment, and then finds out he’s holding on to an original drawing by Bosch himself. That is a day of good news for sure.

Not much is known about Hieronymus Bosch, especially his personal life. He painted in an atmosphere of domination by the Catholic Church, so his paintings were populated by good and evil, especially in the famous triptych as well as another painting depicting a saint in her unfortunate death. His imagination defies description; his figures and little creatures so bizarre one wonders if he was plagued by nightmares that ended up in his art.

Subtitles are dominant throughout the film due to the many countries the team visited searching for Bosch’s works. The art world, especially at the level of the museums, is filled with hierarchy and a sense of possession that is really difficult to penetrate for the curators.

Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil is returning to the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque October 25th and 26th, so if you are a local reader and curious, you can see it then.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Roman Holiday

I was delighted watching the timeless classic Roman Holiday, directed by William Wyler and written by Dalton Trumbo. You will recall that Trumbo did not receive credit for his wonderful story until years after the Academy Award was given in 1954 to Ian McLellan Hunter who fronted for him. This film had Dalton Trumbo’s name in the credits, something they were able to do when they restored the film. Audrey Hepburn won an Academy Award for her performance, and Edith Head netted one for costume design.

The film is black and white and was shot entirely in Rome, Italy. Part of the plot reminded me a little of Sabrina, in that class divisions and the unspoken rules about not mixing together if you’re not from the same station in life are a part of both stories. In Roman Holiday, the commoner is Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an American journalist, and the nobility is young Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn). Princess Ann longs for a more normal life without the responsibilities of royalty, and elopes from the embassy one dark night to wander the streets of Rome.

Joe Bradley finds her asleep, drugged really, on a park bench, and takes her to his apartment so no harm will come to her. Here is where the best comedic scenes take place, and Audrey gives a sensational performance as the sleepy princess.

Joe discovers who she really is and senses a great story in the works. He enlists the help of his friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), a photographer who willingly tags along to get exclusive photos of the princess exploring Rome.

I really liked Ann’s exploration of Rome. What would you do if you were playing hooky, which is essentially what the princess is doing? I watched this film with my husband who enjoyed it as well (he is my barometer for whether you can get your man to watch something with you).

We discussed what this screenplay said about Dalton Trumbo and how it reflected who he was and his convictions. People were kind to each other in the story, even when tempers were stretched thin. The princess is gracious to everyone, not just the royalty she has to deal with, or rather put up with, on a day-to-day basis. The class differences seem to have no effect on her.

Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn make a great romantic couple. Gregory Peck was my Mom’s favorite actor, and I could see why. He is a charming, caring man to the Princess, keeping her safe, and ultimately doing the right thing.

I had a Special Collector’s Edition DVD from Netflix and was pleased with the extra features. There were two short films: Roman Holiday: Remembering, and Roman Holiday: Restoring, and a wonderful short film, Edith Head-The Paramount Years.

I highly recommend Roman Holiday. As a screenwriter, I admired the skill with which this story was written, and as a lover of romantic comedy, really appreciated the actors’ chemistry. It’s a wonderful film for “date night”.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sabrina (1995)

Hollywood cannot resist a remake of a classic film. They think it is a sure moneymaker if the first was a proven winner. Thus, the remake of the classic Billy Wilder film, Sabrina. I reviewed the original a few weeks ago, and promised to see this remake and give you a report. It is rated PG for some mild language.

Directed by Sydney Pollack (Tootsie), it was updated from 1954 to 1995 with a great new screenplay. We are again privy to the lives of the super-rich Larrabee family on their Long Island estate.  This time, they made Maude (Nancy Marchand), the matriarch of the family, a widow, and her two sons are Linus (Harrison Ford) and David (Greg Kinnear).

Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormand) is the gangly daughter of their chauffeur (John Wood). Sabrina is infatuated with David, a sort of puppy love that has not dimmed over the years, even though he remains inaccessible and self-involved. In this remake, Sabrina goes to Paris, but becomes a photographer’s assistant at a fashion magazine, a much better fit than her training as a chef.

When she returns to Long Island transformed (her physical transformation is more apparent than that of Audrey Hepburn’s in the first film), David is pulled into her wake, much to the dismay of Linus and their mother. David has recently become engaged to Elizabeth (Lauren Holly), a beautiful physician, with the added bonus that she is from an affluent family with business ties Linus and Maude covet. For this marriage to never happen would be decidedly inconvenient for their dreams of expansion.

Linus proceeds to monopolize Sabrina’s time in an effort to get her mind off David. I liked Harrison Ford in this role much better than Humphrey Bogart. Julia Ormand is fine, but if it had been possible, which of course it’s not, I would have liked Harrison Ford and Audrey Hepburn in the starring roles. William Holden or Greg Kinnear would be fine in either case.

Angie Dickenson and Richard Crenna play Elizabeth’s parents, and they add some spice and charm to the story. I liked that David fell for someone like Elizabeth, an intelligent woman who can keep him in line. David is not without his own smarts; he just hasn’t chosen to put them to good use yet.

This excellent screenplay gave more range to the actors. We really get to see Linus as a vulnerable man who has postponed love in exchange for empire building with his mother. The interactions between Linus and Sabrina are poignant, and I even shed a few tears! When Sabrina is won over by Linus, it comes as no surprise.

Billy Wilder gave a good plot to work with and Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel successfully updated it by 40 years. I highly recommend this film. Linus and Sabrina’s characters are well delineated, making the ending more believable than the first Sabrina. Those class divisions that the rich want to maintain can only be broken down through love.