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!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zero Dark Thirty

There were no movies that won for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards that began with the letter Z. So I searched for one that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and came up with Zero Dark Thirty. Released in 2012, it is the story of the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. It is rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and lost to Django Unchained for the Best Original Screenplay award.

I have mixed feelings about this film. For one thing, it is two hours and thirty-seven minutes focused on the hunt for bin Laden by a CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), and encompasses the search over several years. I don’t like films about war that much, and when you add in some really excruciating scenes of torture right at the beginning, I nearly turned it off.

But film reviewers sometimes have to watch films that are not pleasant or all that great so I persisted. After about an hour or so, it began to be more interesting for me as Maya persists in her nearly one-woman quest to find the wanted terrorist.

Jessica Chastain won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance in this film. Although she did a good job, it is mostly her thinking quietly or shuffling papers and looking at a computer screen the whole time.

Zero Dark Thirty is all about hunting, a very long hunt and we know the ending. Navy SEALS were consulted and were actors in the film. Although based on actual events, it is bound to have been fictionalized for Hollywood filmmaking and release to the public. Honestly, I’m not sure who liked this film. Teenage boys would get bored with the way it begins, other than perhaps the torture scenes. And very little, at most, the last 30 minutes, is the actual operation where the SEALS invade the compound bin Laden is hiding in.

Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards for the film The Hurt Locker, directed this film. She was the first female to win the prestigious Best Director award. If I would recommend one of these two films that Kathryn Bigelow directed, watch The Hurt Locker. It is more personal, following the lives of soldiers in Iraq, and the opening quote explains all to follow: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” (Chris Hedges)

But one of the reasons I feel a little soft on Zero Dark Thirty is because of the Navy SEALS in it. One of them, Tim Martin, died an untimely death after returning to the U.S. after active duty. I’ll close with a plea to keep funding in place for the treatment and care of veterans returning from the war zone. PTSD is a real psychological disturbance, and we cannot leave these men and women suffering alone.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too), is a 2001 film by Alfonso Cuaron that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Talk to Her). I couldn’t find a winner of that award that began with the letter Y, so am including this excellent film about two teenage boys and a 20-something woman taking a road trip.

Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are best friends. They meet Tenoch’s older cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdu) at a wedding, and chat about taking a trip to Heaven’s Mouth on the Pacific Ocean. Her husband out of town, she leaves with the two young men. Once the road trip commences, we are taken along on a journey from Mexico City through Oaxaca towards the blue sea. They don’t really know exactly how to get to Heaven’s Mouth. It is questionable whether they’ll ever end up there.

The film is rated R for strong sexual content involving teens, drug use and language. The boys are obsessed with sex, drugging, and drinking. They are looking towards college, and with their girlfriends in Italy for the summer, are free to take this trip.

Y Tu Mama Tambien takes a drive through the beautiful Mexican countryside, the rural culture, the animals, religion, poverty, and beauty that is Mexico. Some customs I saw are not unfamiliar to me living in New Mexico: elaborate roadside memorials of crosses, flowers and candles marking someone’s untimely death, the Day of the Dead altars and offerings for the deceased, with all the dearly departed favorite things. The people who live in these rural areas somehow make a life for themselves, through animal husbandry and a bit of farming.

Alfonso Cuaron has written a unique screenplay, and that is part of the film’s charm. Throughout the action, time will almost stop, and the narrator tells about something we cannot see happening, but that gives the story new meaning. It’s like the ghosts of people who have lived on this planet before us are being given a voice.

If you are a student of film, watch this movie. There is lots of drama, sexuality, and building and tearing down of relationships during the journey for all three unlikely companions. It is not until the very final scene that the big reveal happens. Everything has been leading up to it, and when it is made clear, it is like Pow! It hits you the viewer as much as it does our characters.

Alfonso Cuaron is the recipient of two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing (shared with Mark Sanger) and Best Director for the fine film Gravity in 2013. He was the first Hispanic/Mexican to win for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

You will no doubt know Gael Garcia Bernal as a fine actor with many movies to his credit, and with a current award winning TV show, Mozart in the Jungle. He and his two fellow actors make this movie one you will not forget.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ex Machina

There were no winning films for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards beginning with the letter X, so I chose Ex Machina to review as it was nominated for the award. It is a science fiction film that was released in 2014, and is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. Ex Machina won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The winner of Best Original Screenplay that year was Spotlight.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at BlueBook, wins a staff lottery to spend a week at the CEO’s private mountain residence. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a reclusive man, and Caleb is flown by helicopter to his estate. The setting for this part of the film was in Norway, and is truly breathtaking.

Once at the residence, Caleb is told he will be assisting in the testing of an AI (artificial intelligence) that Nathan has created. Caleb is all too happy to be part of this historic event, and meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), the AI who appears to be part human, part machine. Nathan has made her face and hands human, and Caleb and Ava interact with glass walls between them. Does Ava have consciousness? This is the question Caleb is to ask.

The film works as we become aware that all is not what it seems at Nathan’s house. There is a Japanese woman, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who serves them, but other than her, no one else occupies the home. Kyoko doesn’t speak, and Nathan explains that she doesn’t understand English.

As the week at the estate progresses, Caleb becomes suspicious of Nathan, but the viewer is suspicious of everyone, including Ava. Who will be the one to double cross the others? Is Ava capable of humanlike thought, planning, emotion, compassion? Or is she just programmed with traits that Nathan inputted? Who is evil and who is good?

These are all questions you will need to see answered for yourself. I enjoyed the film. Younger adults especially will like Ex Machina for its tech talk, which is of course totally made up and not really that important to the story. The film is quite philosophical on some levels. There are very interesting conversations between Nathan and Caleb. Tension builds as Caleb and Ava learn about each other, and Caleb begins to doubt why he is there. I liked that it was an intelligent mystery to solve, and that it didn’t involve a whole lot of battles or warfare, so common in a sci-fi film.

Alex Garland directed the film and wrote the screenplay. He is the writer of the film 28 Days Later, a very scary horror story, but very well done.

There is a HORRIBLE song featured while the ending credits are scrolling. Feel free to turn it off. I just decreased the volume, as I wanted to confirm where the film was shot (Norway). You don’t need to watch the credits; just enjoy the film’s mystery, beauty and fascinating premise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Witness is a movie that more than one screenwriter instructor has touted as one of the best written screenplays in film. It won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards as well as the award for best film editing. Released in 1985, Witness is rated R.

John Book (Harrison Ford) is a police officer in Philadelphia. He and his partner are investigating the murder of a fellow police officer. The only known witness is a young Amish boy, Samuel (Lukas Haas). He and his widowed mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) were waiting for a train when he unfortunately saw the deadly crime.

In order to protect young Samuel, the three flee to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to the German speaking farms of the Amish. The beauty of the countryside and the kind ways of the clan are expertly showcased.

John sustained a gunshot wound, and is nursed back to health by Rachel. An attraction soon develops. This is a common thing I’m sure, the bond that comes between patient and nurse. Some of the sweetest moments in the film are between the two of them, and Harrison Ford is in his prime for this film. Kelly McGillis is well cast as the sweet Amish woman just trying to protect her son.

I spotted a young Viggo Mortensen as one of the Amish, and Danny Glover is a police officer in Philadelphia. This is a great film in terms of suspense, and one of the reasons it is highly regarded by screenwriters. The action is slowly drawn out in so many scenes. We really get to stay with the emotions of the characters in everyday situations, in romantic encounters, and in terror filled chase scenes.

I didn’t miss the car chases and crashes that so often accompany films of today. In 1985, maybe there were fewer special effects, but even if they were available, I’m glad the filmmakers did not go that route. None are really needed in this story. But then the Amish are a simple group, choosing to live thoughtfully and peacefully on the earth, and shunning the violence that permeates so much of American culture.

Daniel (Alexander Godunov) is one of the Amish interested in Rachel. And yet there is no overt jealousy or threatening behavior between him and John. It’s a triangle for sure, but none of that macho man BS that goes on in modern society or on the screen.

I love this film. It has just the right amount of romance, drama, and crime solving throughout. Harrison Ford was nominated for Best Actor for his performance, and I really wish he had won. He is a good actor and this is one of his best roles. The film was directed by Peter Weir, also know for The Truman Show, The Way Back and many, many other great films (30 in all).

Witness would be a good date night movie, as there are plot situations both men and women would find entertaining. I hope you enjoy it together.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vera Drake

Vera Drake, released in 2004, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, but lost to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I am reviewing Vera Drake, as there were no films beginning with the letter V that won Best Original Screenplay. Vera Drake is rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.

This is one of those films that are controversial. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is an Englishwoman arrested in 1950 for contributing to the miscarriage of a young girl. During that time in England, this was an illegal procedure.

Vera is a kind woman who is a nurturer and a caretaker. She lives in a tiny flat with her husband Stan (Phil Davis) and two grown children, Sid (Daniel Mays) and Ethel (Alex Kelly). She is caregiver to her elderly mother, does domestic housekeeping for the wealthy class, and unbeknownst to her family, induces miscarriages at women’s requests. She is contacted by Lily (Ruth Sheen), who schedules Vera for the procedures, done in women’s apartments and homes. During a procedure, a girl’s mother recognizes Vera from another setting, and when it later goes all wrong, the police get the woman to disclose Vera’s name to them.

Imelda Staunton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and I can see why. She conveys her emotions without words, and her composure, or lack of it, upon the police getting involved, is simply amazing.

Mike Leigh wrote and directed this film, and was nominated for Best Director in addition to Best Original Screenplay. He is one of my favorite directors out of England, having also been at the helm of the films Mr. Turner, Topsy-Turvy, and Secrets & Lies, among others. I read that he filmed without a script, and didn’t tell the actors, other than Vera of course, that she would be arrested and taken to jail. They only found out when their scenes with the police arriving and her disclosure is made known to them. Mr. Leigh had to write up a screenplay after he received the nomination to turn in to the Academy.

A part of the film I appreciated was the inclusion of a woman from the wealthy class, and how she was treated upon choosing to terminate her pregnancy, and how different it was in comparison to the poor women whom Vera helped. Money buys anything, including an additional measure of safety.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I was as surprised as Vera’s family when the full truth comes out. I was a bit disturbed by the initial lack of representation by an attorney for Vera, but the film’s time period is supposed to be well researched, so it must have been the way things were back then.

Whether you agree or not with what Vera did, I think you’d find the film thought provoking. Another film that has to do with this issue is the excellent The Cider House Rules, based on a novel by John Irving.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Usual Suspects

I remember seeing The Usual Suspects when it was first released in 1995. It begins in a kind of film noir setting, the music befitting the line of fire reaching across a boat to an explosion. I didn’t remember all the details of the story before watching it again for the Challenge, just the aha moments.

This time around, I can’t say I liked it any better. The aha moments were still there, but it grew tiresome with the explosions, gunfire, death and crime.

Actors who appear in this film went on to bigger and better films, especially for Kevin Spacey and Benecio del Toro.

Basically, you get five men in a lineup, supposedly randomly thrown together in a jail cell, where they plot their next big job. An unlikely grouping, there is Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a man with cerebral palsy that others think is stupid, Fred Fenster (Benecio del Toro), Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin; whatever happened to him?), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack).

Verbal gets interrogated by a couple of police officers, Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya) and Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about an incident, and the story unfolds. Verbal narrates throughout the film, a device that doesn’t always work in a good film, but it does here.

Kevin Spacey won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance. I think the reason this screenplay won at the Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay is because it had so many twists and turns to the plot. Just when you think you know what’s going on, another piece of information arises from the police or a victim, or from Verbal himself. And there’s this man named Keyser Soze who comes up.

Who is Keyser Soze? You will wonder about this. Is he like the La Llorona legend in New Mexico? Kids are told scary bedtime stories about someone you don’t want to cross or you’ll have a stroke of misfortune. Someone who doesn’t really exist, just a phantom to give you nightmares.

Or if he really does exist, he is one bad dude and you still don’t want to cross paths with him.

This film received a lot of prestigious nominations for the screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, and included his winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The Usual Suspects is rated R for violence and a substantial amount of strong language.

Out of the films I’ve reviewed so far, I don’t recommend it. I’ll give you a list at the end of my 26 posts of what I do and don’t recommend for your edification.

I’m just tired of violent films with the f-word thrown around like it’s part of our language. Tired of gun battles and casual murdering of people, as bad as they might be. We need more screenplays that tell good stories about more realistic situations we may encounter, not like these criminals that most of us aren’t.

Did you see The Usual Suspects, and what did you think of it?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Talk to Her (Hable con elle)

Talk to Her (Hable con elle) is a Spanish film from 2002, written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. It won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, and Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. It is subtitled, and is rated R for nudity, sexual content and some language.

This is one of the most interesting films I have ever seen. Benigno (Javier Camara) is a nurse working in a private clinic. He is one of two caregivers for the beautiful Alicia (Leonor Watling) who is in a coma following an accident. It has been four years for Alicia in this state, when Lydia (Rosario Flores), a bullfighter, is brought in after being gored. She is in a vegetative state, and her boyfriend Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is distraught at her condition. A friendship develops between Benigno and Marco, the kind nurse attempting to lift Marco’s spirits and get him to just talk to Lydia, despite her comatose state.

Alicia was a ballerina prior to her accident: active, loving travel and cinema, and Benigno lives her life for her by going to dance performances, watching films, doing these things she loved, in a way doing them for her. He tells her all about these experiences in the quiet hours of caring for her.

The dance sequences in the film are fascinating, and the esteemed ballet dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, dances in one of them. Alicia’s ballet teacher Katarina (Geraldine Chaplin) visits her often at the clinic. (Geraldine Chaplin is the daughter of Charlie and Oona Chaplin, and the granddaughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. She has had a long career in film, beginning early on with a role in Doctor Zhivago.)

Javier Camara plays Benigno with such innocence and openness, you can’t help but feel for him. I saw another film he was in, Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, reviewed on this site (enter the film’s name on the blog search feature above, and it will take you to my review). This was an excellent film also from Spain I recommend to you.

Pedro Almodovar is known for innovative, unusual film subjects. Talk to Her is no exception, filled with metaphor and symbolism in the way he writes and films his story. The story of Benigno, Alicia, Lydia and Marco unfolds as it moves forward, and also informs us of how these relationships were initiated by taking us into their past. Past and present gives the story is a sort of timelessness. The cinematography is first rate as well.

Will Lydia and Alicia awaken from their comas? How will Benigno and Marco cope with them lying so still in a coma? Almodovar has written a beautiful screenplay about being human, about art and expression, love and relationships, selflessness, and hope.

If you like art cinema and foreign film, you will enjoy Talk to Her. I didn’t care for the bullfighting, but what was shown was minimal and not like it would have been depicted in a more graphic film.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love, released in 1998, won seven Oscars at the Academy Awards. It’s a fictional tale about William Shakespeare, so don’t expect a biography! I don’t think you need to know much about Shakespeare to watch this film. It’s about one man’s muse, how he becomes inspired and creative, and his muse is the beautiful Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow). Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, playwrights with many writing credits to their names, wrote the screenplay. You’ve probably heard of the famous play Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed and filmed stories. That’s all the Shakespeare you really have to know.

Young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) has a bad case of writer’s block. He’s not perfect, and not making much money off his career as a playwright. Viola loves the poetry of Shakespeare and dresses as a man to get a place onstage. Meanwhile, her marriage to the gold-digger Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) is pending.

When Will meets Viola, the words flow effortlessly onto the page, even with the added handicap of writing with a quill dipped in ink. Will finds inspiration in every encounter he has with Viola and it comes across in his writing. The language is so rich and beautiful in this film. I appreciated the references to other works of Shakespeare’s, not that I am by any means an expert on his plays.

Other actors play good roles and they later developed long, ongoing careers in film, including Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, Ben Affleck, yes, Ben Affleck, as an actor who plays Mercutio. Imelda Staunton plays Viola’s nurse and confidant most engagingly.

Gwyneth is luminous in her role as Viola, and Joseph Fiennes is passionate in all he does. The costumes are ludicrous, but well designed for the times. The film serves to point out how little opportunity women had at this time, 1593. We have come a long way, but not far enough as recent events would have us realize.

Does Shakespeare in Love live up to what Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) asked Will for: a play to show the meaning of true love? I think it does. It’s also a story of actors, how they long to play their roles and give it all they’ve got on stage. It’s about the rehearsals, how everyone wants to tell Will how to write his play. The characters are a microcosm of the entertainment world.

In addition to Best Original Screenplay, Shakespeare in Love also won Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design and Best Original Musical Score. It is rated R for sexuality, an unfortunate rating; I think PG-13 would be more appropriate given the worldliness of teens today. This is a movie that should be watched by all serious screenwriters, as it is a tribute to the trials and tribulations of the writer. Norman and Stoppard have crafted a beautiful script that we can all be entertained by.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge)

The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge) is an interesting exception to a winning Best Original Screenplay in that it is a short film. Released in 1956, it is a French film by Albert Lamorisse, who both wrote and directed this delightful 34-minute classic. It also won the Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Nearly a silent movie with very little dialogue, it follows the adventures of a little boy, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse) after he finds a red balloon. The balloon turns out to have magical powers, and follows the boy around the streets of Paris, to school, to his home, and to his childhood playgrounds. The red balloon is almost like a pet, loyal and faithful.

It is beautifully filmed, and the streets of Paris are as narrow and winding as I recall from when I visited this beautiful city. Being filmed in 1956, Paris appears to have not recovered from the war totally. There are lots of crumbling buildings around and vacant lots where boys challenge each other and carry on with their rough games and bullying.

We see Pascal and the red balloon head off to school, the little children joining him in the queue to enter the building, so cute in their school clothes, marching in with child size briefcases. Most of the boys are wearing shorts, and the girls sweet little dresses. There is magic in the air for certain wherever this balloon goes. The musical score nicely complements the adventures of Pascal and his red balloon.

The little boy, Pascal, is the son of the director and writer. His daughter Sabine also appeared in the movie. I imagine the streets where this was filmed now looks completely different some 50 years later.

The Red Balloon is the only short film to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Why this was placed in with the full-length features that year is up for speculation. It was a groundbreaking film at the time, which is why I suppose it was included.

There are Academy Award categories for Live Action Short, Animated Short, and Documentary Short. They can be no longer than 40 minutes in length, including the credits (The Red Balloon was 34 minutes!). This year I was able to watch all three categories of nominated shorts at my local art cinema. I enjoyed them immensely, and I recommend you seek them out next year prior to the awards ceremony. They may be short, but tell a good story in as little as a few minutes. The creativity, skill, and talent that go into these short films amazes me.

It’s interesting that balloons are such a joy to so many children and even to adults. They’re colorful, light and airy, and with helium in them, they float to the ceiling. What is it about them that is so appealing to you? Perhaps you could share a story in the comments below about a favorite memory with balloons in your own life.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Queen

The Queen, released in 2006, was nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and Best Original Screenplay. I couldn’t find a film beginning with the letter Q that had won Best Original Screenplay, so resorted to a list of those that had been nominated. Helen Mirren won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. (Best Original Screenplay that year went to Little Miss Sunshine.)

I remember well exactly where I was in my life when I heard that Princess Diana had died. I was shocked and angry at the paparazzi that surely contributed to the fatal accident. I had never been one to follow Diana’s activities with zealous interest, and yet I certainly had heard enough about her to mourn the loss of this special woman.

The Queen examines the week following Diana’s death from the perspective of the royal family, and that of recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The Queen’s initial reluctance to acknowledge Diana’s death publicly was a mistake she was severely criticized for. Some of what is depicted is surely the result of writers/filmmakers’ creative imagination, but it all serves to make a point about Diana’s tragic death. I appreciated the film as one who is not all that familiar with the British monarchy and England’s strange obeisance to a centuries old tradition of honoring this genealogical line. I came away from the film having gained some insight into the tradition that uses God’s will as a reason for this family’s privilege.

The scenery shown as the royal family goes stalking (hunting) in the week following Diana’s death is stark, yet beautiful. It is a part of the British Isles I had not seen before: 40,000 mountainous and mostly treeless acres belonging to the royal family.

The Queen and Prince Philip (James Cromwell) are at Balmoral Castle, along with Diana’s sons and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and eventually return to London where they see the mourners and tributes that have been left to honor Diana in front of the palace. Diana was the “People’s Princess,” well loved and respected, despite the divorce that seems to have scandalized the royal family more than the general public.

Liberal use of archival footage of Princess Diana is sprinkled throughout the film. I thought that this must have been a very stressful time for Mr. Blair, having just met the Queen and then dealing with the public’s reaction to what appeared to them to be a lack of sympathy for the death of Diana, their heroine.

The film is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. If you remember Diana fondly, I think you will appreciate this film. Helen Mirren is a great actress and her role as Queen Elizabeth is one that likely gave her many challenges, especially being that the Queen is still alive. Although it is the Queen’s story being told here, for me it was really all about remembering Diana. And for that reason, I recommend The Queen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Piano

Released in 1993, The Piano won Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay for Jane Campion, who was also the director, Best Actress for Holly Hunter, and Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin. The Piano also won the Palme d’Or, the highest prize given at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is rated R for moments of extremely graphic sexuality. I don’t know why they didn’t include mention of an extreme violent act in that explanation, as that is what truly deserved the R rating.

The film is alternately depressing, erotic, tense, cruel, and loving. If I could describe it for you in a term often used for a particular genre of novel, I’d say it is literary, and metaphorical at times. Jane Campion has written a screenplay that goes deep beneath the surface of what we see occurring between the characters. It’s a story of love, jealousy, rage and perseverance in an extremely harsh climate in 1850’s New Zealand.

Ada (Holly Hunter) is a mute Scottish woman whose father is marrying her off to Stewart (Sam Neill), a landowner in New Zealand. She and her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) arrive on the tumultuous shores with their few belongings, including Ada’s cherished piano. Ada does not speak, and expresses herself through playing her piano. She uses some type of sign language with her daughter, or writes messages to those around her when she wants to communicate something to them.

She is not enamored of Stewart who initially gives her some distance in order for her to get to know him and hopefully develop some affection for him. A neighbor, quite friendly with the local Maori tribes people, is George Baines (Harvey Keitel). He is attracted to Ada, and this leads to events that change everyone’s lives.

The forests of New Zealand are wet and dreary, filled with mud from downpours of rain, and hardly any sun. It is not a hospitable environment at all, and it looks as if no one ever really dries out. Despite this, Ada and Flora attempt to make the best of it. In contrast, the scenes set ocean side are particularly beautiful, Ada playing the piano while Flora cavorts about doing cartwheels and making patterns in the sand with stones.

Both actresses give really outstanding performances. Holly Hunter doesn’t say a word except for brief voice over’s at the beginning and end of the film. Her actions and facial expressions have to tell her whole story, as does her piano playing, which was actually Holly playing the piano. Anna Paquin has such a strong well-developed character in Flora, and she was only nine years old at the time. Her emotional outbursts contrast nicely with the stolidity of her mother Ada. We never really hear the truth about Flora’s father, or at least I suspect we haven’t, as Flora is a bit of a storyteller.

I have found that people either love or hate The Piano. It’s all up to the subjective tastes of the viewer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On the Waterfront

Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Original Screenplay, On the Waterfront is a classic for all time. A black and white film from 1954, it was filmed on the seaside loading docks of New York. The gritty story is still significant today; only the players have changed.

Terry (Marlon Brando) and his older brother Charley (Rod Steiger) have gotten mixed up with Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who terrorizes the longshoremen in the union. The corrupt union bosses run the show and says who will and will not work each day, essentially owning them and ignoring any rights the union has granted them.

Terry unknowingly leads a man to his death at the hands of the thugs who are loyal to Johnny Friendly, and Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the man’s sister, is on a mission to find the murderers. Terry falls in love with Edie and their tentative relationship is romantic and sweet. Father Barry (Karl Malden) becomes involved fighting the union bosses out of a social conscience, liberally augmented by his Catholicism. He riles up the men working on the docks to stand up to Johnny Friendly and his thugs. This only increases the bloodshed.

Elia Kazan directed the film, and I watched an extra feature on the DVD to learn more about the film and the times in which it was made. There was a fascinating piece interviewing mostly Rod Steiger and James Lipton from Inside the Actors Studio, about the famous scene between Charley and Terry, who was a former boxer, in the taxicab. “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody,” Terry tells him. A powerful scene between the two brothers and a movie line that is repeated again and again was born.

In a biography of Marlon Brando I read that he didn’t really hold acting in such high esteem and only did it for the money. If that is true, what he did for the money was of such high quality, you just know he gave every performance all he had.

The other Academy Awards handed out were to Eva Marie Saint for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director for Elia Kazan, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Film Editing. Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay.

On the Waterfront is one film you should watch if you haven’t seen it already, or watch again if you saw it years ago. The message is still relevant to today. The corrupt union bosses, and the crime they brought with them, has been replaced by large corporations who still rob workers of their rightful wages and their rights as workers, and their right to be treated with humanity. The greed of Johnny Friendly equals the greed of any CEO of any corporation that exists today. Working class people just want to live, support their families and experience love like anyone else. On the Waterfront confronts the corrupt system, but who will confront corruption today? Each one of us.

Monday, April 17, 2017


I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!
~ Howard Beale in Network

Network was a sensation in 1976 (the film is rated R), and it holds true to our world today, some forty years later. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is at the end of his career as a news anchor on UBS television network. He has a breakdown on air, and to the surprise of network executives, the ratings skyrocket.

Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is an ambitious woman striving to make a name for herself in network programming, and she will stop at nothing until she gets the ratings higher. She pitches an idea to the execs, including Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), about Howard being let loose live on air, and sets about having an affair with a network exec, married man Max Schumacher (William Holden). His wife Louise (Beatrice Straight) confronts Max when he tells her he is in love with another woman, and it is her great delivery of her lines and emotions that no doubt scored her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

Other Academy Awards given out for Network were Best Actor and Actress for Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway, and Best Original Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky. Peter Finch was the first posthumous winner honored by the Academy.

Howard’s diatribes on air are like a bad reality show. The only difference from today is it’s not scripted, and he’s speaking the truth, truth that unfortunately still rings true. Television has become a propaganda machine, influencing everything about life in America; what to buy, whom to love or hate, what candidates to support, and we know some stations deliver this garbage more than others. Corporations run the world, a statement made more than once in Network, and that is exactly who is running the world today. They buy political candidates and have nothing but greed and profit as their goals.

The CEOs are as evil as you can get, and we see them in Network. It doesn’t help that people like Diana succumb to the power and applause from her peers so that she sells out Howard, and makes a mockery of the evening news.

There is a narrator who bookends and provides commentary on the rise and fall of Howard Beale. The dialogue is overwritten (real people don’t speak like that), but the message of the film remains strong.

I suggest you watch Network. After you watch it, find the series The Newsroom on whatever streaming or DVD service you use. It is a contemporary take on the network news written by the brilliant screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. It aired for three seasons (25 episodes) and stars Jeff Daniels, Dev Patel, and other fine actors. They take real news situations and deliver the news like it should be delivered, ethically and responsibly, without bias or moneyed interests dictating how to report events. The Newsroom shows how real investigative journalism should be done prior to it becoming the evening news.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen won Best Original Screenplay at the 2012 Academy Awards for the wonderful film Midnight in Paris. The film begins with a very leisurely stroll through the charming streets of Paris, past monuments and recognizable landmarks, before zooming in on our main characters, Americans visiting the city of love.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), and they are staying in Paris along with Inez’s parents. Gil aspires to be a novelist, his heroes being the writers who lived and wrote in Paris in the 1920’s. Gil is awash in his love for Paris and wants to move there, but Inez will have none of that.

Unexpectedly, friends of Inez are also in the city, and they accompany Gil and Inez on a trip to Rodin’s museum. Paul (Michael Sheen) is a pedantic know-it-all, and Gil is not fond of his company. One evening, Gil goes for a stroll by himself and this is where the magic happens.

He is transported to 1920’s Paris in a classic Peugeot at the stroke of midnight. All the best intellectuals, artists and musicians are in attendance at a party: the Fitzgerald’s, Hemingway, Cole Porter. He is of course enchanted, and is introduced to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who agrees to read his novel.

Adriana (Marion Cotillard) is a beautiful free spirit who associates with all the freest painters of the day, including Picasso. Gil is inexplicably drawn to her, and the fun never stops. I love the way we meet famous people as he explores this alternate universe each night.

Allen asks the question in this film of which era would be the best to live in: the ‘20s, the 1890’s, the Renaissance? Each generation longs for the mystique of the one preceding it. It all makes for a very good story, lots of creative sets and costumes, and the great dialogue that Woody is known for.

I like Woody’s films, but Midnight in Paris is my all time favorite. Besides his screenplay winning at the Oscars, he also won Best Original Screenplay at the Golden Globes that year. I remember the camera focusing in on Owen Wilson when it was announced Woody had won. Woody was of course not in attendance. Owen was looking quite pleased at the film’s being honored. He does a great acting job, and without him, the story just wouldn’t have been the same. Marion Cotillard is perfect as a sort of femme fatale that Gil falls for. And the city of Paris is shown off to great advantage in virtually every scene.

I’ve been to Paris and was impressed. I think even if you’ve only seen Paris in pictures, this film will enchant you. The story is inventive, meticulously staged on camera, and the comedy between the characters helps alleviate some of the serious questioning that Gil does about his life. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking.

Put this high on your list of must see films.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Little Miss Sunshine

I was delighted to see Little Miss Sunshine in my alphabet soup of Best Original Screenplay winners, as it is one of my favorite films. Released in 2006, it has an all-star ensemble cast who play a family focused on getting to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. This involves a cross-country road trip from Albuquerque to the coast in an old yellow VW van. The film is rated R for language, some sex and drug content.

Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) wins a minor beauty pageant in her hometown and is invited to attend the contest of Little Miss Sunshine. Her parents, Sheryl (Toni Collette) and Richard (Greg Kinnear), agree to take her there, but must also take the rest of their family along with them.

Dwayne (Paul Dano) is their voluntarily mute teenage son focused on becoming a pilot in the air force; Frank (Steve Carell) is Sheryl’s gay brother, recently recovering from a serious suicide attempt; and Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is Richard’s grandfather, living with them after having been kicked out of his retirement home.

When a film’s characters talk about philosophers such as Proust and Nietzsche, you know it’s not your typical Hollywood story. Michael Arndt won Best Original Screenplay as the writer of this delightful and intelligent comedy. Alan Arkin won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Grandpa.

There is so much to laugh about, even though the comedy is a bit dark at times. Richard is a perpetual optimist, set on becoming the next big self help guru, helping winners succeed through using his nine steps, no less. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) appears as Stan Grossman, Richard’s business contact that he hopes will be able to get his nine-step work published.

Olive practices diligently on her dancing routine, which is coached by her Grandpa. The film culminates in typical beauty pageant fashion where little girls compete in swimsuits, gowns and in the talent category. Since we never get to actually see Olive and Grandpa rehearse, the delightful debut of Olive on stage is even more exciting than you could imagine, along with many other surprises along the way.

The family has to push and pull together to help Olive meet her goals. This is an entertaining film that I love to watch. Although the family lives in Albuquerque, it was filmed in Arizona and California. It has a good pace and everyone’s individual lives are focused on and showcased during the trip and the action. The well-known cast does a wonderful job with this story.

Abigail Breslin was off to a good start in this film, as she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) have all been nominated for Oscars in the films I just listed, and I don’t doubt that Paul Dano will be next. Look for more films by these wonderful actors and actresses; you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The King's Speech

The King’s Speech is a film from 2010 about the real life story of Prince Albert (Colin Firth) who became King George the VI of England, and his struggles with speaking. He had a stuttering problem, which is a huge issue for anyone being able to communicate with others effectively, and it may bring shame and ridicule to the victim. It was made even more difficult for this sensitive man nicknamed Bertie, and who was expected to make speeches to the kingdom. (Royalty has more than one name, which can be confusing.)

His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) has been seeking out the help of linguists, speech therapists, and healers for many years, and they finally light upon Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose unorthodox, yet effective ways of dealing with the stuttering issue begin to help Albert.

This was an interesting time in British history to portray, as the years depicted led up to Britain entering into war against Nazi Germany. Also in the mix was Albert’s well-known brother David, aka King Edward the VIII (Guy Pearce), whose affair with American socialite and twice-divorced Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) led to scandal for the crown. When he abdicates the throne, Albert is thrust even more into the public eye when he becomes King George.

The film is a beautiful, often dreamy depiction of the streets and countryside of England. Set decorations and costuming were well done and no doubt congruent with the times. Academy Award winner Alexandre Desplat (who won for The Grand Budapest Hotel) wrote the score, and the selections of music throughout fit the time and situations well. Danny Cohen was nominated for Best Cinematography and although he didn’t win, the nomination was well deserved.

More than a story about the King of England, it is a story that anyone who has the affliction of stuttering can be inspired by. The psychological basis for the problem is explored, and the stormy relationship between Logue and Albert depicted very well.

My favorite part of the film is when King George gives his famous speech over the “wireless” to his kingdom, including Canada, Australia, etc. announcing war with Germany. It is the most moving piece in the film that may bring you to tears. It is beautiful to watch Logue acting as a sort of conductor to George’s reading his speech.

The King’s Speech won four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay for David Seidler, Best Actor for Colin Firth, and Best Director for Tom Hooper. It is rated R for some language. I think the R rating shouldn’t scare you off from sharing this film with your children. The language is probably nothing they haven’t already heard, and the film’s message so important it shouldn’t be missed for that reason.

I highly recommend this film. It is engaging on many levels, for the history, for the compassion evoked in the viewer towards King George and for all people with a stuttering problem, and just because it is so well crafted.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


The film Juno won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for new screenwriter Diablo Cody. It is a fast paced, clever and quirky movie from 2007 about teen pregnancy and adoption. It is not, however, a typical adoption story.

Juno (Ellen Page) has one night of introductory sex with her classmate and friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), and as happens far too frequently, their unprotected tryst results in 16-year-old Juno being with child.

Her father Mac (J. K. Simmons) and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney) are the way parents everywhere should be if their precocious teen becomes pregnant: supportive. Juno has decided to have the baby and give it up to a loving home for adoption.

Enter Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman) as the couple who are overjoyed to be the recipient of Juno’s baby gift. All of these arrangements are completed in an entertaining way, while traversing the four distinct seasons of a year in Minnesota. We see Juno’s life unfold through this year, from the reveal of her pregnancy to the birth.

This is not your typical A-Z adoption story, and the twists and turns it takes are really entertaining, as life progresses in a somewhat non-linear fashion for Juno. I liked how the film ended, but I can’t tell you why because I don’t want there to be any spoilers for you!

All the characters’ dialogue is very well written, and Juno especially has a mouth on her that Ellen Page delivers with such finesse and unselfconsciousness, no wonder she received an Academy Award nomination that year for Best Actress. The character Juno is a little over the top, but not pretentious like Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director for Jason Reitman.

This film could be a tearjerker for you. I don’t normally like sappy kinds of films about babies, but certain ones like Juno and Knocked Up, end up being very funny for me as well as making me a little teary eyed.

The film was released in 2007 and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language. There are a few voice over’s in the film, all by Juno, and the uncommon use of this technique fits the story well. The voters in the Academy chose an offbeat comedy to award Best Original Screenplay to in Juno, and this doesn’t often happen. The Academy prefers drama when giving out awards. In this case, I believe it was well deserved.

A note here on my process for selecting the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award winners for the Blogging A to Z Challenge. I looked at the winners in this category chronologically from most recent on back, and as each letter came up, gave it a place in the alphabet for the month of April. This kept out any bias I might have about a particular film, and whether I wanted to watch or write about it. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Interrupted Melody

Let me just say right up front: I don’t like opera. But this movie about an opera singer begins with the letter I, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, so I watched it in the interests of my commitment to the Blogging A to Z Challenge! I saw it on Amazon streaming (it wasn’t very easy to find).

Interrupted Melody is a film from 1955 based on the true story of Marjorie Lawrence, a gifted opera star. It is dense in the beginning with numerous arias of various productions she sang in. Despite my having to sit through the beautiful soprano vocal expertise of Eileen Farrell, who was dubbed in later, the story was fascinating and heartwarming.

Marjorie Lawrence (Eleanor Parker) grew up in a small town in Australia. Her vocal gifts were noticed at a young age and she was able to obtain a scholarship to Paris. Her career is no less than a catapult to fame and notoriety. Her brother Cyril (Roger Moore) was her manager. Marjorie is a strong willed woman, shown in various scenes where she defies her director on stage during a performance, much to the delight of the audience and her critics.

She meets Dr. Tom King (Glenn Ford) and they immediately fall in love. As with complicated relationships where both individuals want careers, it’s a struggle to finally commit to each other.

The unfortunate illness of Marjorie hits suddenly and she is diagnosed with polio. The rest of the film is focused on Dr. King and Marjorie dealing with her illness, which was devastating to a young woman used to being center stage and singing joyfully every day of her life.

It’s about the time of World War II, which ends up figuring into the story. What I liked about the film was the wonderful screenwriting and dialogue, especially between Marjorie and Tom. They have an easy repartee, and their romance is made believable, although I’m sure it was spiffed up for a Hollywood movie.

The other thing about the story that is interesting is how a couple deals with illness and the entire disruption of their lives. Do they just give up, stay down, or do they find a way to cope with the drastic changes?

It was an inspiring story, and if you like opera, you will definitely love this film. Perhaps you’ve even heard of Marjorie Lawrence. I did recognize some of the operatic stories that were staged briefly to show how Marjorie commanded the stage (Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Samson and Delilah, and a couple works of Wagner, among others).

It is rare that the Academy recognizes a musical for best screenplay, much less best picture. This is the only one I’m aware of that featured an opera star. Eleanor Parker sung the arias in her performance, and later Eileen Farrell’s voice was dubbed in. It sounds and looks impressive. I actually thought Eleanor Parker was the one singing until I read about the dubbing. Well done.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Joaquin Phoenix stars in the 2013 quirky futuristic film, Her, by Spike Jonze. Computers have reached a level of sophistication whereby artificial intelligence in the form of a special operating system (OS) can be purchased by lonely humans as a sort of companion and organizer of their life.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man going through a divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). He has a job as a letter writer for those who apparently cannot write. Scary future if people have mostly lost the capability to write for themselves, and scarier still that there are signs of that almost everywhere these days (but not in Blogging A to Z!). Theodore puts his innermost thoughts and feelings directly into the personal letters he writes for his clients.

Scarlett Johansson is the voice of Samantha, the OS who organizes Theodore’s life. She is never seen obviously, but plays an important role for Theodore, who is coping with the grief from his separation and trouble in love. He soon becomes infatuated with Samantha, and they are nearly inseparable.

A good friend from college days, Amy (Amy Adams), is a confidant for Theodore, one of the few real people he seems to connect with. Everyone in this film seems to be having trouble with relationships, including Amy. No wonder; they’re all walking around talking into space, kind of like having a blue tooth, and seldom interact with each other.

Cyber sex (Kristin Wiig in a hilarious turn as the voice of SexyKitten) and surrogate sex so that Samantha can have sex with Theodore, provide some really hilarious moments. Basically, this is about a society where no one knows how to have a truly satisfying intimate relationship anymore. Theodore has a blind date (Olivia Wilde) that doesn’t go anywhere either.

The film is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity. It takes place in a Los Angeles of the future, looking mysteriously like the well-populated skyline of Singapore, where it was filmed, along with some filming taking place in LA.

I like Her. Joaquin Phoenix really has to carry the whole film and his expressive face is in virtually every scene. I also enjoyed the sparse costuming, a future world where men don’t wear belts anymore, just those tight slacks.

I agree with the Academy awarding the Best Original Screenplay to Her and Spike Jonze. The writing is terrific, great dialogue (in fact this is one of the films I’ve seen where there is almost constant dialogue), and really quite thoughtful conversations between the characters, whether they are another human or an OS.

Are we as a world heading this way? You’d think so watching people walking down the street like they do in this film, not really seeing what’s around them, all focused on their devices. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be film as prophecy, and we all succumb to the addictive draw into our computers, telephones, and whatever other electronic device is next available on the market.