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!

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”.