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, April 30, 2018

Z is for Z

Z is for Z, a 1969 film by Costa-Gavras that is now considered to be a classic suspense thriller. The story is based on true events that occurred in Greece in May1963 when a pacifist statesman was assassinated (real name Grigoris Lambrakis). Z was highly regarded for its time for using unique filming techniques, and a storytelling style that was considered avant-garde. It is rated PG.

The film won Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards. It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (lost to Midnight Cowboy). The famous French actor, Yves Montand, plays the progressive public figure that is assassinated. The Democratic politician is left leaning, charismatic and inspires the populace, just what the government doesn’t want to have happening. He is assassinated as he is making an anti-nuclear weapons speech. Initially, it appears he died as the result of an accident, but we find in the telling of the story that was not the case.

As the action and the investigation of the crime progressed, I thought to myself that this film has parallels to present day. Corruption is in every level of government including the military, the police, politicians, and their silence can be bought.

The other thing I noticed was that when the people were demonstrating, it began as a peaceful gathering, and then when the police intervened with their clubs and force, things got out of hand. There were no guns being brandished about, and even the assassination was not by gunshot. It was actually refreshing, and I thought how much better the world would be without everyone waving a gun around.

I liked the way the film had us learning about the way the assassination was carried out as the investigators found the truth for themselves and the investigation was brought to a conclusion. Not that it ended there, and this is not a story where justice is served. That in itself was depressing.

I also enjoyed the unique way they showed the widow Hélène (Irene Papas) as she recalls moments with her husband after his death. It served to emphasize his humanity, and show how cruel it was to silence him by assassination, taking him from the people who loved him the most and were closest to him. Corruption is ever present yet again, and those in power want to keep the control to themselves and stop at nothing to keep it that way.

The ending was chilling, as it listed the things the military regime banned after this incident. Not the finest moment for Greece, that is for sure.

I highly recommend Z (you’ll have to watch the film to the very end to discover why it is named this; I won’t give that away). If you’re at all interested in the history of film, the history of Greece, or if you want to see a cautionary tale for our times as events similar to this one could happen at any time again, sorry to say.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y is for Young Frankenstein

No Best Original Screenplays beginning with the letter Y, so I give you: Young Frankenstein that was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to The Godfather: Part II). It is a film from 1974 directed by Mel Brooks, and written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. The film is a comedy and a satire of the Frankenstein story that was written as the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and first published anonymously in 1818. The film bears little resemblance to the famous story of the mad scientist piecing together parts of dead bodies and bringing the sad individual back to life.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a young neurosurgeon, is a descendant of the famous Dr. Victor von Frankenstein who lived and worked on his scientific experiments in Transylvania. Frederick is engaged to Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), an interesting and slightly eccentric young woman. He takes leave of Elizabeth and his teaching career at the university to travel to the country where his grandfather, the famous Dr. Frankenstein, lived as he has inherited the man’s castle.

He has quite the journey ahead of him as he comes to know himself and his ancestors once he arrives. He acquires a beautiful lab assistant, Inga (Teri Garr), and has the hunchback servant Igor (Marty Feldman) also at his side. The evil seeming housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman) is no friend to them. Frederick comes upon a diary/journal where Victor has described how he brought dead people back to life, and when a poor villager dies, the good doctor decides to bring him back to life using a brain he sends Igor to fetch for him from the morgue. This of course results in misfortune, for the wrong brain is delivered.

Peter Boyle is absolutely wonderful playing the Monster. As he awakens to his life, he is of course confused, runs off, and a truly hilarious bit occurs when he happens upon the Blind Man (Gene Hackman) who invites him into his cottage for a bite to eat. The Monster is mute and therefore has trouble communicating his thoughts and feelings to others, setting up all sorts of not so funny predicaments for him, but lots of humor for us!

The slapstick comedy doesn’t truly begin until about halfway through the film, and I confess that during the first half of the story, I was kind of bored, wishing it would move along. But when it does, it really moves!  Mel Brooks had a crazy sense of humor and the situations Dr. Frankenstein and his progeny encounter are inventive and very funny. Mel Brooks went on to create other innovative comedy films, such as Blazing Saddles.

The film is rated PG and is in black and white. I recommend you see Young Frankenstein if you are interested in comedy that goes a step beyond. It was truly groundbreaking in its time, the actors are great, and it’s a good way to spend an evening when you need a good laugh.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X is for SeX, Lies, and Videotape

X is for SeX, Lies, and Videotape, a film from 1989. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Written by Steven Soderbergh, it lost to Dead Poets Society that year. If you’re an intelligent person who is not afraid of sensitive subjects, you may enjoy this finely acted film. This is an adults only movie, and is rated R. There isn’t much sexual activity in the film, but there is a lot of talk about sex. It’s a morality tale about double standards and the secrets that intimates keep from one another.

Ann Mullany (Andie MacDowell) lives with her husband John (Peter Gallagher) in what seems to be an average sized city in Louisiana. Ann’s sister Cynthia Bishop (Laura San Giacomo) lives nearby, and works as a bartender. The two sisters are polar opposites: Ann a repressed housewife, and Cynthia a free spirit.

John is an attorney, an adulterer, and a liar (like some members of Congress). His friend from college, Graham Dalton (James Spader), comes for a visit and is the catalyst for many changes within this strange family.

John is having an affair with Cynthia. Ann is in therapy and discloses to her shrink the details of her seemingly dying relationship with her husband. Graham has a strange hobby being an amateur filmmaker of sorts. He interviews women, not just about anything, but about their sexual histories. It all shakes loose when Cynthia introduces herself to Graham, and he videotapes her. Secrets should be thrown into the title of the film as well as lies, as there are plenty of clandestine thoughts and actions going on.

This is an interesting film if you enjoy stories about the human psyche. It’s almost as if Graham is a psychologist, only in a very different manner, encouraging people to talk about their innermost thoughts and feelings and about subjects they’d never discuss with any of their friends or family. He’s like a therapist, just doesn’t tell the women he interviews what to do, and shrinks sometimes tell their clients what to do. What I found interesting about Graham is that he shows such unconditional positive regard for the women and their stories. His motivations are questionable, but I wondered if the women’s intimate partners would be so accepting if they told the truth like they do with Graham.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and is a groundbreaking indie film. The actors all do a great job with their roles. Peter Gallagher went on to star in the TV series, The O. C., one of my favorites, and Laura San Giacomo played Vivian’s best friend and fellow hooker in Pretty Woman, not to mention her role in the TV series, Just Shoot Me. Andie MacDowell has had a full acting career. One of my favorite films of hers is Groundhog Day, all sweetness and light, kind of like her role in this film.

Have you watched Sex, Lies, and Videotape? What did you think?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W is for Woman of the Year

W is for Woman of the Year, a romantic comedy from 1942 directed by George Stevens. The film is not rated and is in black and white.

Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) and Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) are both columnists at the New York Chronicle. Sam is a sportswriter, and Tess is an international affairs correspondent. They come to each other’s attention quite accidentally, and a feud between them in their columns develops. They had worked on different floors of the newspaper, and met for the first time being reprimanded by their boss. Attraction is instantaneous and the courtship begins.

Tess is a worldly woman, having lived in China, traveled extensively, and she speaks several languages fluently. Sam is just a small town kind of guy who decides to ask Tess to a baseball game for their first date. One of the funniest segments of the film is Sam patiently attempting to explain baseball to Tess while at the game, difficult in that she has never attended a game in her life. It is truly comical as she is so very, very naïve.

Despite Tess inviting Sam to a party at her apartment where he can interact with virtually no one due to language barriers between him and the guests, he persists to woo her, and they eventually are married. No time for a proper honeymoon due to their career commitments. The arrival of a Dr. Lubbeck at Tess’s door on their wedding night escalates to their bedroom filling with her friends, and then Sam’s friends that he invites in response to the growing entourage of Dr. Lubbeck’s. This leads to some funny slapstick humor involving Sam’s friends, one of whom has been a boxer.

They finally make a go of their relationship, not without bumps in the road. Tess is chosen as “America’s Outstanding Woman of the Year,” and Sam has really had it by this time with his assertive career woman. Whether they will make it or not is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

Interesting about this film is the era, World War II, in which it was created. I noticed an altered map in Tess’s office showing Europe, outlining which countries Hitler had invaded and occupied. Women became part of the workforce during World War II, and were becoming more assertive and independent, characteristics that Tess possesses to the extreme. On the other hand, she has no skill in the kitchen, and there is a really funny scene near the end of the movie where Sam quietly reads the paper while she attempts to cook him breakfast with disastrous and very amusing consequences.

Woman of the Year won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr. It deserves the award, as the writing is clever, the comedic situations really priceless, and it’s basically a sound story. This was the first of nine films Tracy and Hepburn would star in together and the one said to have launched their romantic relationship.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

V is for Victor Victoria

V is for Victor Victoria, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Missing). The film won for “Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score” for Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. Blake Edwards directed this musical/comedy. The film is rated PG.

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is living in 1934 Paris and having trouble making ends meet. She is a gifted singer, and happens to meet Carole “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston) who is also on the brink of ruin. He concocts a scheme to have Victoria pretend she is a man who is a female impersonator. Thus, Victor is born.

Victor/Victoria is soon the talk of Paris. A visiting American, King Marchand (James Garner) is enchanted after seeing her stage performance. King is traveling with his girlfriend Norma Cassady (Lesley Ann Warren) who is about the dizziest blonde ever seen on screen. King’s bodyguard Squash Bernstein (Alex Karras) is a constant companion.

King is convinced that Victor is not a man, and tiptoes about their hotel to find the truth. Once he confirms that it’s Victoria and not Victor he is falling in love with, he proceeds to woo her, having dumped Norma and sent her packing back to Chicago.

The complications and hilarity with all the gender identity confusion is priceless. Blake Edwards did a magnificent job writing and directing this film. A 1933 script by Reinhold Schünzel was his inspiration.

Musically, the film is a winner. Great song and dance routines, and Julie Andrews’ voice is superb. The film sets are awash with color and the costumes are inspired. Some of the action reminded me of the crazy things that would happen to detective Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films that Blake directed.

This is a laugh out loud musical comedy that never has a dull moment. What would you do if you were dating someone who pretended to be of the opposite sex? How would that affect your persona and how others see you in the community? These are serious questions that are explored in playful ways in this very funny film.

Robert Preston is wonderful as the gay man and entrepreneur pushing Victoria along to succeed. James Garner is great as the gangster from America caught in a Parisian situation with no easy answers. Who really steals the show is Lesley Ann Warren as Norma. She plays the gangster moll so well, as well as a singer/dancer, with no holds barred. I admired her performance the most.

Julie was married to Blake from 1969 up until his death in 2010. They often worked on films together with Julie playing a starring role, and Blake writing, producing and directing. Blake was noted for the Peter Gunn series on TV, the classic film 10, and many others. His comedic timing was impeccable. Alex Karras was an NFL football player prior to his acting and producing in the film industry.

Have you seen Victor Victoria? What did you think of it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

U is for Up in the Air

U is for Up in the Air, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Precious). Jason Reitman wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner. Jason was the director of the excellent comedy Juno a couple years earlier. Up in the Air is rated R for language and some sexual content.

Our first views are of earth from the window seat of an airplane, a mode of travel known all too well to Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). He has the regrettable job of traveling to American cities to fire employees at companies apparently too ashamed to do it themselves. I would find it regrettable, but Ryan does not. He loves his job and his traveling, being partial to American Airlines and racking up their loyalty miles with every trip.

Change comes to his company as well when ingénue Natalie (Anna Kendrick) arrives on the scene. She has won over Ryan’s boss Craig (Jason Bateman) who hires her to train their employees on how to fire people online. This doesn’t go over so well with Ryan, and after he gives a demonstration showing that it’s not easy to fire someone, Craig sends Natalie on her merry way with Ryan all over the U.S. in order to learn how to fire people.

Ryan is an independent guy, until he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) who appears to be the female equivalent of him: carefree, assertive, independent and wanting a little male/female bonding while on the road. Ryan reaches out to his family, as his sister is about to get married, and Alex goes with him to Wisconsin where the couple is about to tie the knot.

I really enjoyed George Clooney in his role as Ryan. He shows a vulnerability that makes him lovable, so we really don’t want anyone to hurt him. All the actors are great in their roles, and there are some wonderful cameos by J. K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis as employees being fired that make those scenes memorable.

Natalie grows up while on the road, with Ryan almost taking a paternal role with her. He is after all old enough to be her father, and she considers him “old.” (What? George Clooney? Not yet.)

I loved the opening sequences when Ryan goes through his routine of packing his carryon bag for travel, something he’s obviously gotten down to a science. He moves through the airport, going through all those customary checkpoints that I have grown to expect, ticketing, security, waiting for boarding, all done in an entertaining manner.

I wonder how many others like Ryan and Alex are flying overhead right now. I enjoy my flights, but I don’t do it every day. I’m heading out to some great vacation or to see family, not to business meetings and the daily grind. I really enjoyed this look into a world that exists up there, over our heads. Who is on that plane? Are they happy? See Up in the Air for a glimpse into that world.

Monday, April 23, 2018

T is for Titanic (1953)

T is for Titanic (1953). The film won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, and after having watched it, I can appreciate why. It is a very well written story. The film is not rated.

I was curious what I’d see when watching this original film that was made 44 years prior to the famous Titanic from James Cameron that captured young girls hearts all across the world. This black and white film from 1953 begins with an image of an iceberg calving off of a glacier and crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, thus beginning its drift into the path of the maiden and only voyage of the ship the Titanic.

In April of 1912, both wealthy class and working class, about 2200 passengers, are aboard for a journey to America from Southampton, England. Some of the same storyline is later reflected in the storytelling of James Cameron, and other parts in this film are less well known.

In the unfolding of this tragedy, the writers use a fictional family to focus our sympathies on. Richard Ward Sturges (Clifton Webb) rushes to board the ship at the last minute in pursuit of his estranged wife Julia (Barbara Stanwyck) who is leaving Europe for Michigan, Mackinac Island to be exact, with their two children, Annette (Audrey Dalton) and Norman (Harper Carter). Richard is trying to mend their broken relationship when the disaster strikes.

Also onboard is a group of students from Purdue University, including Gifford Rogers (Robert Wagner), who is enchanted by Annette and attempts to win her over during the sailing. Maude Young (Thelma Ritter) is a card shark with a smart mouth, and I wondered if she was the counterpart to Molly Brown played by Kathy Bates in the later version.

We also see the warnings of impending disaster that were directed to Captain E. J. Smith (Brian Aherne), and the unfortunate lack of necessary equipment that may have diverted the accident. The film is said to be true to the navigational data gathered during investigations into the tragic sinking of the Titanic.

With none of the over the top visual effects that the Titanic of 1997 employed, I actually liked this version better. The actors are all first rate, especially Barbara Stanwyck and the young, handsome Robert Wagner. A few fictionalized stories of the other passengers are thrown in, and it is a well-balanced film that was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (but did not receive the award).

It is first and foremost a drama, and a reminder that human error and laxity in safety measures is what really caused the fatal injury to the vessel, and the deaths of so many travelers (approximately 1500 people). Thankfully for those sailing on large ocean going vessels today, the safety standards are high and must be adhered to. It is a sad film, but a fitting tribute to the innocent souls who lost their lives that cold pre-dawn morning in April of 1912.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

S is for The Seventh Veil

S is for The Seventh Veil, a film from 1945 that won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Muriel and Sydney Box. Muriel was a prolific writer, with 26 film screenplays to her name that she wrote with her husband who was a film producer.

At the beginning of the film is a statement by the British Board of Film Censors: “This is to certify that The Seventh Veil has been passed for public exhibition to adult audiences.” I had not seen this certification on a film previously and found it interesting that there was that type of regulation in 1945.

Francesca Cunningham (Ann Todd), a successful and renowned classical pianist, attempts to drown herself by leaping from a bridge into a river. She is rescued and institutionalized. Dr. Larsen (Herbert Lom) is called in to treat her as she has refused to speak and thus is feared untreatable. He proposes to hypnotize her and lift the veils from her mind. He tells the story of Salome who was hidden from the outside world by seven veils, and likens the process of treating Francesca to removing each veil to get to the underlying issues that led to her depression and loss of the will to live. He successfully hypnotizes Francesca and she tells him her story leading up to her suicide attempt.

Francesca was orphaned at the age of 14 and moves into the home of her second cousin Nicholas (James Mason), her guardian. Nicholas finds that Francesca is a promising pianist, and quickly sets in motion the musical education and practice she needs to reach the pinnacle of success. Mentor and protégé have a tumultuous relationship as the years pass, and Francesca leads a sheltered life due to her music study and performances.

The movie poster for The Seventh Veil provocatively proclaims, “It Dares to Strip Bare a Woman’s Mind,” and shows Francesca being held by the arms by an angry Nicholas. James Mason played Nicholas very well. His distinctive voice and cold bearing shows us why their relationship was so difficult.

Francesca had two chances at romance: Peter Gay (Hugh McDermott), an American musician, and portrait artist Maxwell Leyden (Albert Lieven), hired by Nicholas to paint her portrait at the piano. She is naïve at love and Nicholas is none too happy about her suitors.

Remember that Francesca is telling all of this under hypnosis. Dr. Larsen believes that she is ready to confront the past and experiences that have been making her so unhappy. The ending for me was quite unexpected, and I didn’t think it was the best ending, but then this was 1945, pre-women’s lib you might say. It’s not the ending I would have written. But I enjoyed watching the film.

Eileen Joyce is the pianist playing for Ann Todd. Most of the classical music is Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven.

Have you seen The Seventh Veil? Or any of the films of Muriel and Sydney Box? What did you think of it?

Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Rain Man

R is for Rain Man, a drama from 1988 that won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass. The film also won Best Picture, Best Director for Barry Levinson, and Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman. The film is about family ties, bonding between very different brothers, and a cross-country road trip in a Buick convertible. It is rated R.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a high wheeler on a budget who buys and sells Lamborghinis. His assistant and girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) is a long-suffering woman who is growing frustrated with the closed off and distant Charlie.

When Charlie’s father suddenly dies, they travel to Cincinnati, Ohio for the services, and for Charlie to be present for the reading of the will. Although estranged from his father for years and years, Charlie still expects an inheritance. To his consternation, he is bequeathed only his father’s prized 1949 Buick Roadmaster and his rose bushes. All the rest has been left to the Walbrook Institute as a trust. A three million dollar trust.

Charlie and Susanna go to the Walbrook Institute in search of explanations for the mysterious reasons behind his father’s last wishes, and encounter Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), Charlie’s autistic savant older brother. This was the first time that Charlie realized he had a brother. Turns out Charlie was two years old when Raymond was institutionalized.

Charlie gets Raymond to walk away from Walbrook with him to take him to Los Angeles. His ulterior motives are to gain custody of Raymond and his $3,000,000. But Raymond being who he is, he will not get on an airplane. Thus begins a cross-country road trip for the brothers in the Roadmaster convertible all the way from Ohio to LA. Susanna has left Charlie due to his insensitivity and anger. During the trip that lasts much longer than it should, mainly due to Raymond’s fears and idiosyncrasies, Charlie learns things about Raymond, his father, and himself.

Some of the most famous scenes in Rain Man take place in Las Vegas where Charlie attempts to make some cash. Susanna shows up in Vegas and her sensitive scenes with Raymond are really touching. Traveling with someone who has autism is not easy for Charlie, and Dustin Hoffman gives a wonderful performance, so believable you will think he is on the autism spectrum, which has a wide range of characteristics. Tom Cruise delivers a spot on performance as the self-centered man whose brother with special needs makes him a little more compassionate, not in leaps and bounds, but gradually over several days. This makes Cruise’s performance essential to the story, and he did a great job in his role.

Have you seen Rain Man? Given what we now know about autism spectrum disorders these twenty years later (very few people diagnosed with autism have savant characteristics I might add), what is your opinion of the depiction of Raymond? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, and thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Quiz Show

Q is for Quiz Show, released in 1994, and nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Forrest Gump). Directed by Robert Redford, it is based on a true story that took place during the late 1950’s, a scandal that involved a television game show, “Twenty One.” The film is rated PG-13 for some strong language.

Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) is a winning contestant week after week winning more and more money for his knowledge of obscure topics that make him seem like a walking genius. His “handlers,” Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria), decide Herbie needs to go and brings on a charismatic, handsome teacher from a wealthy family, Charles “Charlie” Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). Charlie is soon disillusioned because Dan and Albert want to give him the answers to the questions so that he is sure not to lose.

Herbie feels terrible about losing the show, and over a question he knew the answer to, but purposely missed because of his instructions. He makes a big fuss and his plight comes to the attention of Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a Congressional attorney who takes an interest in the case and the possible deceit involved.

Dick finds a willing source in Herbie. Then Dick connects with Charlie. What they have in common is education. Dick’s wife Sandra (Mira Sorvino) has her own opinions about the issue, and yet supports Dick during his research. Charlie seems to have found a tactic to keep Dick close so he knows what is being discovered. Tortured by the cheating on the show, and yet relishing the sudden money and fame it brings, Charlie is most worried about his professor father learning the truth.  Probably not true to life, Dick is invited to Charlie’s parents’ home, a poker game with the boys, and to lunch in an expensive restaurant.

Television networks are very powerful, something the head of the station reminds Dick. What it comes down to is money, and which contestant sells the most Geritol. The executives deny knowledge of the small time workings of the quiz shows, and do not hesitate to have a fall guy in the person of Dan Enright.

The film is wonderful to watch because the times of the late 1950’s are so well depicted. The film and the screenplay did a superior job with the dialogue. Thoughtful and real, each person has his or her own unique voice. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as the man thrust into the limelight, wrestling with his conscience daily. John Turturro is the everyman from Queens, embarrassed that his friends and family will know he didn’t know the answers to every question. Rob Morrow is the persistent Harvard man who doesn’t really want to tarnish the Van Dorens’ reputation, but feels sure that the deceit he is ferreting out at the network is worth the pursuit.

Quiz Show is a really good film, thoughtful and an important morality tale. Did you see it? Do you agree?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for Princess O'Rourke

P is for Princess O’Rourke, winner of Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Norman Krasna. The film was made in 1942, and patriotic references to World War II abound. I was smiling though, right from the start of this delightful black and white romantic comedy.

Princess Maria (Olivia de Havilland) is in New York City with her uncle Holman (Charles Coburn). The family wants to marry her off to someone with a title, but she is protesting these arrangements. Bored in the confining hotel room, Holman suggests she fly to San Francisco for a vacation of sorts. Not accustomed to flying, she is given a sleeping pill to take while on the overnight flight.

Assured these are harmless, she proceeds to ask several crewmembers for more sleeping pills, and is completely unaware that the plane has turned around due to weather and headed back to NYC. She is still half asleep upon landing, and her flight was booked under the alias of Mary Williams with no address, so co-pilot Eddie O’Rourke (Robert Cummings) takes her to his apartment and calls his friend Jean Campbell (Jane Wyman) to come and help her into bed.

The following day Maria is not in a hurry to leave this unexpected adventure, and meets Eddie’s friends, Jean and her pilot husband Dave (Jack Carson). Both men are soon to join the air force. She spends a day doing “normal” things with Jean, and going out for a night on the town with them for dinner and dancing.

Eddie and the Princess are attracted to each other, and she is enchanted by the story of how Jean and Dave met and their quick courtship of just ten days before they wed. Things get complicated when Eddie asks her to marry him.

When Holman hears from his secret service man who’s been trailing Maria all day that Eddie is an upstanding citizen among other traits, he encourages Maria to marry him.

At this point it gets a little far-fetched. They go to Washington, D. C. to meet with President Roosevelt, but we only get to see his little black dog. Can a marriage between European royalty and an American pilot really work? Who will back out first? Or will they marry against all odds?

This was a cute little film. Olivia de Havilland is simply radiant, and the handsome Robert Cummings makes a good romantic partner for her. The war propaganda is a bit strong, but then it was 1943 as I mentioned.

Reviewers have commented that Roman Holiday, released ten years later, has a similar story, an escaped royal mucking about with a commoner for a day and falling in love. There are only a limited number of story types that we recycle over and over to tell the same tale in a different way. I would say that Roman Holiday is the superior film of this genre. Have you seen Princess O’Rourke? Or Roman Holiday? What is your opinion of the two films?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O is for Out of Africa

O is for Out of Africa, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards for screenwriter Kurt Luedtke. The story is based on the life of Karen Blixen. It is a sweeping epic that takes place in Kenya. The film also took honors at the Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director for Sydney Pollack, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction–Set Decoration, Best Sound, and Best Original Score composed by John Barry.

Karen Blixen published under the pen name of Isak Dineson. Her stories and memoirs are now considered to be classics by this extraordinary woman living ahead of her time. (She wrote the story Babette’s Feast, which was made into a film that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for Denmark in 1987.)

Out of Africa is rated PG. The film is a whopping 2 hours and 41 minutes, but as I watched it again, it didn’t seem that long. It is an engrossing story of a time past when Africa was still colonized and relationships between native peoples and the ruling elite was ruled by etiquette and a sense of place, as misbegotten as that was.

Karen (Meryl Streep) is a Danish woman, independent and headstrong. She seems a bit bored, and ends up marrying Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the brother of a former lover. They decide to buy a farm in Africa in 1913. Bror arrives in Africa first and has without Karen’s knowledge bought a coffee plantation instead of a dairy farm.

They begin their life in the strange new land with all the conveniences from Denmark Karen brought with her, and their home is elegant and civilized. Early on she meets Denys (Robert Redford), a man equally as forward and outspoken as Karen herself. They fall in love and all sorts of complications develop. Since Bror has already been unfaithful to her, she has no qualms about taking up with Denys. The relationships Karen has with others, whether the men in her life or the native workers subjugated in their own land, are often fraught with drama alternating with tenderness and genuine caring.

The vistas of the savannahs with its abundant wildlife are photographed so beautifully. The story lingers over the safaris that Karen and Denys take together for some wonderful scenes of this place so unlike the country she left behind in Denmark.

Kenya was a harsh place for women at the time, but Karen would not allow herself to be intimidated. I highly recommend Out of Africa. If you saw it a long time ago, perhaps at the time of its release in 1985, watch it again. You won’t be disappointed. It was one of my mother’s favorite films, and I got to thinking as I watched it again how she admired the strong willed and independent woman on screen, in charge of her own destiny, for better or worse.

Have you seen Out of Africa? What did you think of the depiction of that time period in Kenya?

Monday, April 16, 2018

N is for No Country for Old Men

N is for No Country for Old Men, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Joel and Ethan Coen. The screenplay was based on a book by Cormac McCarthy. The film is rated R for strong graphic violence and some language.

The year is 1980. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting antelope one day in the deserts of Texas when he happens upon a drug deal gone bad. Several bodies lay about on the ground, and the drugs are still on the flatbed of a truck underneath a tarp. Llewelyn is a good tracker having served in Vietnam. He follows the trail of a lone man who had fled the scene. He finds the now deceased man in the shade of a tree, and discovers a briefcase loaded with stacks of hundred dollar bills. Llewelyn absconds with the briefcase and the small fortune that turns out to be about two million dollars.

Thus begins a nightmarish ordeal for Llewelyn when Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a ruthless criminal who wants that money back, stalks him. The good sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) becomes aware of what is happening, as does Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), hired by the investor who is upset about the loss of the briefcase of money. With three people in pursuit of him, Llewelyn has to outsmart all of them. Or will he?

No Country for Old Men was primarily filmed on location in New Mexico, with some filming completed in West Texas. The dry sandy desert blows dust into every corner, and into the souls of those who inhabit this tale of greed and murder. It’s a bloody film, one where the Coen brothers seem to again be asking, “Why would you do this for money?” (Recall my review for F this month with Fargo.)

No Country for Old Men won three additional Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem, and Best Director for the Coen brothers.

Watching Llewelyn calmly plan how to keep the money for himself and methodically carry out his strategy for survival is really fascinating, as is Anton’s chilling persona as a man who likes to play a game of chance with his victims before offing them. The Coen brothers have set just the right pace for the men’s journeys that will eventually collide. We are with Llewelyn as he problem solves every step of his path. Josh Brolin does a really fine acting job with Llewelyn, and Javier Bardem as Anton is so cold and calculating, we won’t ever forget him as a man who has no heart.

Tommy Lee Jones plays the sheriff well, the man who has worked for many years in law enforcement, and is growing a little too old to stomach the blood and crime that seem everywhere within his jurisdiction. No Country for Old Men is a well-written and executed film, and you may find it to be a good film to watch if you can stand the blood. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

M is for Marie-Louise

M is for Marie-Louise, winner of Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1946. This is the only film I could not get my hands on out of all of the films that showed up on my list to write about. Despite not being able to see it, I did some research on the Internet, and was sufficiently intrigued by this story to include information about it here.

Marie-Louise was the first foreign language film to have the honor of winning Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. The film was made in Switzerland, is in black and white, and was released in 1944. The languages spoken in the film are French and Swiss German. The subtitles are in German and French only.

Here is the trailer for Marie-Louise: Marie-Louise (trailer)

This trailer was on the website for the Zurich Film Festival, archived in 2015, which is the year they featured the film during their very extensive and diverse screenings. They said they were showing a fully restored digital version of the film. The cinematography appears to be quite good and of better quality than some of the other black and white films I’ve reviewed for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

I found two reviewers who had watched what were probably bootlegged copies of the film, and their reviews were enlightening. One reviewer said she laboriously translated the film into English so she could understand most of the dialogue. Marie-Louise is a French girl, perhaps about 12 years old, who was evacuated to Switzerland in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of France. After three months, it is time to return to France, and Marie-Louise is understandably reluctant to go back. Some synopses of the film state that she has become a spoiled brat, while others feel that her behavior is due to the traumatic experiences she endured in France. Her home was bombed, her brother killed, and she is a shell-shocked teen who understandably is fearful going back into what she fears is still a war zone. Why she is being sent back there after three months, I could not discover. It may have been after the liberation of France.

Scenes another reviewer wrote about that stood out to him were the initial air raid sequence; a tender moment when Marie-Louise’s Swiss surrogate family gives her a dollhouse that is a replica of her home in France; and a funeral scene where four people killed in the air raid speak from the great beyond about their lives. It is mentioned that Marie-Louise attempts to run from the train meant to return her to France, trying to protect one cherished keepsake. What that keepsake might be is not mentioned.

Given this film was in production while World War II was still in progress, it must have been heartbreaking and even stressful for the actors involved to make, especially the children. It is unfortunate it is not available for widespread audiences. I think I would have enjoyed watching Marie-Louise. Have you seen it?

Friday, April 13, 2018

L is for The Lavender Hill Mob

 L is for The Lavender Hill Mob (de l’or en barres), winner of an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay in 1953. This black and white comedy tells the story of a formerly faithful bank employee gone bad. The story begins with Henry “Dutch” Holland (Alec Guinness) telling his tale of how he came to be rich to a man he meets at a restaurant at his hotel in Rio de Janiero. (There is a delightful cameo by Audrey Hepburn early in the film as a woman friend of Holland’s named Chiquita.)

It all began when by happenstance a new resident, Al Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), moves into the boarding house in South London where Holland lives. Al’s occupation sparks an idea in Holland. He begins to see a new future for himself with the help of Pendlebury. Holland’s job involves seeing that gold bullion bars are transferred safely from the foundry to the bank daily. Al is a businessman who manufactures trinkets for sales to tourist markets. One of his creations from his foundry is Eiffel Towers of substantial size that he markets to curio shops in Paris for souvenirs.

Holland suggests that they steal the gold bars and transform the gold into Eiffel Towers that they can smuggle into Europe and sell on the black market. Al likes this idea and they begin to plan.

The two schemers need to find some help though and a search, or rather putting out some bait, for seasoned criminals ensues. Lackery Wood (Sidney James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass) take the bait like mice to cheese, and are deemed suitable for the heist. Thus is formed the Lavender Hill Mob.

The film is entertaining enough, and laugh out loud funny during several scenes. As with any undertaking of a sensitive nature such as a complicated robbery, there are bound to be delays and complications, and the troubles the four run into are quite amusing.

T. E. B. Clarke wrote the screenplay. The film was made by Ealing Studios, which began in 1902 and transitioned to sound in 1931. It is the oldest continuously operating studio for film production in the world. Ealing Studios was known for making comedies up until 1955 when the BBC purchased the facility.

Charles Crichton, who later went on to write and direct the comedy A Fish Called Wanda, directed The Lavender Hill Mob. A Fish Called Wanda is a very funny film that you should see if you haven’t already. It was released in 1988 and starred John Cleese, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Does crime really pay for the Lavender Hill Mob? And for Holland? You’ll have to watch to find out. I found this film on streaming Amazon Prime. I enjoy watching these older films as they rely on some slapstick humor to impart lightness to what could be a very serious tale of crime in another’s hands.

I leave you with a very silly trailer for The Lavender Hill Mob

Thursday, April 12, 2018

K is for Kramer vs. Kramer

K is for Kramer vs. Kramer, a film from 1979 that swept the Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Robert Benton (novel by Avery Corman), Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman, and Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep. It is the story of a custody battle between divorced parents for their son. The film is rated PG.

Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is a driven New York advertising executive who we find is neglecting his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) and even his young son Billy (Justin Henry). Joanna abruptly leaves both Ted and Billy late one night for points unknown. Ted now finds he is faced with the uncomfortable task of being a father in a motherly way to Billy.

His sounding board is neighbor Margaret Phelps (Jane Alexander) who is recently divorced with children of her own, and knew the couple prior to Joanna’s departure. Ted struggles to be a good father to Billy despite his anger at Joanna for deserting both of them. His work takes a downturn as he copes with being there for Billy’s school and activities.

Joanna resurfaces over a year later and has decided she wants to parent Billy, having discovered herself and gotten a job in New York. Ted mounts a defense to keep Billy with himself as primary custodian, and the court battle is none too pretty. I found myself thinking about how in some respects, the courts have changed in their treatment of custody battles, especially in terms of visitation. The attorneys still use every opportunity to make the other parent look bad.

I found that Justin Henry who played Billy was really, really a good little performer. He in fact was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, the youngest to ever be nominated in that category at the age of seven years, and in the same decade as he was born. He didn’t win, but what the director got out of him was truly amazing, particularly in a scene where he defies his father at the dinner table. His traumatized feelings at being abandoned by his mother are truly heartbreaking.

I enjoyed seeing Ted go from an inept sort of guy at home to a loving, caring and competent father to Billy. There is so much to admire about this film. Since it is 1979, there are also some interesting comparisons to make to present day, such as Ted’s and Joanna’s announced salaries to the courts during their trial. Salaries in the thirty thousand range must have been quite substantial back then for New York City; they aren’t anywhere near what is considered well off today.

I recommend Kramer vs. Kramer for a character driven story that will pull at your heartstrings. I saw it when it first came out in 1979, and I chose to watch it again. The musical score is enchanting, mostly classically based, and fitting the scenes well. And it’s fun seeing Hoffman and Streep at very early stages of their careers. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

J is for Julia

J is for Julia, a film released in 1977 that is based on a true story. Julia won three Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards, Best Supporting Actress for Vanessa Redgrave, and Best Adapted Screenplay (written by Alvin Sargent, based upon a story by Lillian Hellman). Julia is rated PG.

Lillian “Lily” (Jane Fonda) and Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) have been the best of friends since childhood. Julia lived with her wealthy grandparents, and Lily visited her frequently at their estate.

While studying medicine at Oxford, Julia becomes an activist as she becomes acutely aware of the inequities between people in the world. This is the 1930’s, when Hitler is coming to power in Europe.

Lily has pursued a career as a writer, and is living with writer Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), her lover and mentor, while she writes a play. She desperately misses Julia, and eventually goes to Paris where she hopes to see her while in Europe.

Julia is injured in a riot at the University of Vienna, and Lily is understandably upset at her condition when she goes to visit her. But then Julia disappears for “therapy.” Years pass, Lillian has a resounding success with her play, The Children’s Hour, and is suddenly summoned by Julia to Europe. Julia needs her to do her a favor, a big favor. She wants Lily to help smuggle funds across the German border, funds that will be used to help people escape the Nazi terror that is growing.

Despite being unsure of herself, Lily sets off by train through Berlin on her way to Moscow. I really loved the way the film allows us to see Lily’s anxiety, and all the little steps she has to take along the way as she tries to get to Julia.

Jane Fonda is stellar in her performance, and the 1930’s setting is depicted very well in the costuming and music of the era. Meryl Streep has a small role as Anne Marie, and she is noticeable immediately. I saw this film years and years ago, before Meryl became the acting legend she is today and was captivated by her brief performance.

Lillian Hellman was accused of making up the story of Julia, something she protested up until her death. Whether the tale is true or not, it is still a fine movie, one that shows the loyalty between friends, the courage it took to stand up to the Nazis, and the danger involved in doing so. I highly recommend you watch Julia for yourself.

Dashiell Hammett was the author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. He was an activist, and during the blacklisting era of Hollywood writers, he refused to testify or give names, was found to be in contempt of court, and imprisoned. Lillian Hellman was also blacklisted. This was a grim period in Hollywood for those who spoke out. It reminds us that freedom of speech is a right always to be held sacred. Our history demands it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I is for The Imitation Game

I is for The Imitation Game, a brilliant film that won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Graham Moore. The screenplay was based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.  The film for me is a tribute to Turing who helped crack the Enigma code of Nazi Germany, thus shortening the war by an estimated two years and saving millions of lives.

The film is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. Unusual within the film is that the character Alan Turing provides a voiceover at times, allowing us to hear his thoughts about his life and the work to decrypt Enigma.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an intense mathematician who applies for a job at the radio factory, which is really a covert operation to crack the Nazi coding. Among others traits, including a genius mentality, he is a homosexual, and has struggled with tormentors since a boy in boarding school because he is different. We learn about his past as the action moves between three different time periods: World War II; the 1950’s when he was vilified as a homosexual; and as a boy, struggling with his feelings and idiosyncrasies.

Alan rises to head the department and hires Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), which is unusual, as women were rarely given that type of position. She was brilliant, and Alan recognized it. She cares deeply for him, and is his protector of sorts.

His colleagues and fellow mathematicians have to warm up to him, and it takes some time getting over Alan’s brusque ways and demanding nature. Until that breakthrough Alan has a very difficult time at a job he takes very seriously, and is also ridiculed by his superiors who are impatient with what appears to be lack of progress in breaking the Enigma code.

The horrible practice of drugging homosexuals to rid them of their predilections is addressed in this film, as that is what happened to Alan. A barbaric practice, one that I hope never returns. That part of the film was really heartbreaking.

Actor Alex Lawther plays the young Alan exquisitely. I have rarely seen such a completely nuanced performance from someone, and you just feel that he is really Alan the young teen who grew up to be the adult Alan, acted so brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Alexandre Desplat composed the beautiful music for the film, which was nominated for Best Original Score.  Quite unique is that he lost to himself when he won Best Original Score that year for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have always enjoyed Desplat’s scores. His compositions accent many films and render them more beautiful and touching.

I highly recommend this film. It is the best illustration of how the geniuses among us are different, and thank goodness they are. Their differentness may well be their gift to humanity for the benefit of all of us. The Imitation Game is a really great film, expertly written, acted and executed.