Resident Evil: Afterlife — January 3, 2011 / DVD
The Resident Evil movies are not really my taste, but for some reason the filmmakers keep casting people I love to see. I saw the first one because James Purefoy was involved, and then watched the sequel because of Oded Fehr. The third one didn’t interest me at all, and then I learned that Jason O’Mara had taken a role in it. And Wentworth Miller joined the most recent one, so of course I had to see that one, too. None of the first three interested me enough to watch for story, instead using my fast-forward button to skip through until my actors came onscreen. But with RE: Afterlife, I found an actual interest in the story itself. For the first time the movie came off pretty cool to me. They’re not meant to be great cinema, of course, but there was true fun in this latest installment and I didn’t expect that.
Mother and Child — January 5, 2011 / DVD
I hadn’t heard of Mother and Child until scanning the filmography of favorite Marc Blucas, but when I saw a trailer it seemed an interesting premise, as well. The film follows three main characters who each have a story involving motherhood: Annette Bening mourns the loss of a daughter she gave up for adoption a lifetime ago; Naomi Watts shields herself from all emotion because she never knew her own parents; and Kerry Washington struggles with an inability to conceive and a desire to become a mother at all costs. Their lives weave in and out of heartache and joy, and their personal journeys eventually intersect unexpectedly. Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson also co-star, but their roles are merely springboards for Bening and Watts. As the tale progressed I found myself drawn further and further into the story, to the point where I finally stopped multitasking and gave the movie my entire focus. I never expected to find this movie that engaging! Despite a true distaste for Watts’s character — she displays a harshness I’ve never seen from her — I found Mother and Child engrossing and eventually heartwarming. It’s not a great film, but it’s the kind of movie that is quite moving, especially to women.
Passengers — January 7, 2011 / Encore
In the past year I’ve lost my taste for Anne Hathaway, finding her more and more pretentious with every new project she creates, but this older film also featured Patrick Wilson so I opted to give it a chance. All I can really say is that Passengers is an odd little film. A plane crash brings Wilson and other survivors into Hathaway’s life, where she is the therapist assigned to their “case.” As the story progresses, her patients begin to disappear and in solving that mystery she finds that the plane crash isn’t the accident it seemed to be. Wilson is terrific in his role, and David Morse plays his part of a menacing airline executive beautifully. The conclusion is a bit more twisty than I expected, but I didn’t ever feel the need to turn the movie off. Though it’s more on scale with afternoon or late-night TV airings, Passengers isn’t such a bad little film. Just… different.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
My love for Cary Grant is well-documented here, and I’ve been wanting to watch this particular classic for years but never quite made time for it. All I knew is that it was supposedly one of his funniest roles. I’ll admit that it was humorous, but I didn’t find it to be among his best, to be honest. It’s a fun little movie about a New York City adman moving his family out of the city and eventually having to custom-build their dream home. The movie is filled with sight gags and punchlines, and Myrna Loy is sweet but uninspiring as Grant’s wife. Quite often I thought that she and Grant weren’t being given enough to do, which left the film a bit flat for me. But there was just enough fun to keep me interested to the end, so in that regard the film was enjoyable.
The Thin Man — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
The Thin Man is where Myrna Loy truly shined. Much was made of her chemistry with William Powell in their roles of socialites Nick and Nora Charles, and everything that has been said is still true today. They are charming in these roles, and the film holds up as well today as it did upon its release in 1934. The Thin Man is a true classic, a keen mystery with humor and suspense and even a bit of action thrown in for good measure. It’s no wonder this film spawned a series of sequels! The Charleses become sleuths who never lose their grace or their ability to find the fun in each situation. In the end, the mystery wasn’t even the important part. Simply getting to know Nick and Nora made the movie incredibly fun.
Queen Bee — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Little by little I’m working through Joan Crawford‘s filmography out of respect for my best good friend and her love of the actress. I’ve never been a fan before, but the more movies I watch the more I see Crawford’s greatness. With Queen Bee I was most surprised to learn that this was one of the only roles she played as a villain. I suppose it’s her personal history (or rather, her daughter Christina’s personal history) that makes us believe Crawford played villains all the time. Instead, she was really just one of the studio’s greatest assets for playing any type of character at all. The more I see her films, the more I understand how true this was. Queen Bee showed Crawford’s range in an extraordinary way, allowing her to infuse the character with just a touch of remorse even while embodying the overbearing and manipulative socialite who schemes against anyone threatening her personal agenda. The cast is rich with extraordinary actors and a wealth of interesting characters, and the movie resembles a stage play in its pacing and character interplay. And even the melodrama that is always present in films of this era serves the movie well and provides a perfect ending to an intricate tale. I can see why this film is one of Cerella‘s favorite Crawford flicks!
The Lion in Winter — January 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Yet again I discovered that I’ve not seen nearly as many Katharine Hepburn films as I thought I had. The Lion in Winter has always seemed so familiar to me, yet I’ve apparently only seen the same moments again and again throughout the years, leading me to believe I knew the performances by Hepburn and Peter O’Toole better than I actually did. In reality, this was my first complete viewing. O’Toole’s King Henry II and Hepburn as his wife-slash-adversary Eleanor of Aquitaine are so equally matched in their ferocity that viewing the film is much like watching a military battle; they spar and retreat and lunge again as if their lives depended on it. And it’s a glorious sight to behold. Providing equally dramatic support is Anthony Hopkins in one of his first feature film appearances, and though he’s not immediately recognizable, he absolutely holds his own against his legendary co-stars. The story is set around Henry’s plan to name his successor to the throne and Eleanor’s schemes to make sure he names their first-born instead of his favored younger son, but the heart of the film really lies in the interactions between characters. It’s a roller coaster of emotional scenes that pack more and more punch as the film progresses. Which often brings as much exhaustion to the viewer as it did to the actors delivering the scenes. The Lion in Winter remains a classic because few performances could ever equal those of Hepburn, O’Toole and Hopkins.
Legends of the Fall — January 9, 2011 / Encore
When this film was released and Brad Pitt hysteria began, I did not see the appeal of either Pitt or the movie. It took me almost a decade to see the merit of Pitt’s talent (in Ocean’s Eleven and then Spy Game), and finally I decided to go back and watch Legends of the Fall. Once again I realize how much I miss when I make snap judgments! I loved Legends. Absolutely loved it! It’s the kind of movie I adore, with its nod to Native American history and aspects of frontier life, and I was reminded how great Pitt was in his early years when acting was the focus of his career (before he was “Brad Pitt, superstar”). Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas, and Julia Ormond each brought additional depth to the movie that made it so beautiful and so engaging, and Gordon Tootoosis presented the heart and soul that he is always known for. Though Legends of the Fall is mostly a love story, it is not just a historical romance but rather a tale of family and redemption and perseverance. All of the things that make a movie great.
The Long Kiss Goodnight — January 11, 2011 / Encore
Long have I seen this film on lists of movies that are overlooked by the masses, and long has Cerella told me to put it on my viewing list, but until I came across it unexpectedly on Encore I really never made a plan for it. Geena Davis isn’t one of my favorite actors (though I have enjoyed her from time to time) and Renny Harlin has never elicited a confidence in me (sorry, C, but I just don’t see the appeal!). But during a long night of insomnia, this movie seemed a perfect choice to pass the time. And I did enjoy it, somewhat, though I found a lot of it to be as hokey as other Harlin films have been. I also don’t subscribe to the notion that it compares to the Bourne films in any way. The only similarity is the premise of Davis’s character regaining her memory of being an assassin before developing amnesia. Beyond that, the Bourne films are a thousand times better and those stories far more complex. That’s just my opinion, of course, and had I seen The Long Kiss Goodnight when it was released (six years prior to Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity) I may have felt differently about it. But since the Bourne trilogy is one of my favorite cinematic joys, I just don’t see as much value in Davis and Harlin’s creation as most people seem to find. Although I loved seeing David Morse as his younger, thinner self! Beyond that, I can’t say The Long Kiss Goodnight is much more than a classic 90s film, when movies were stuck between emerging technologies and over-the-top acting.
Rising Sun — January 11, 2011 / Encore
Speaking of bad movies from the 90s, Rising Sun is one of the worst. I honestly wish I’d never seen this movie. It’s vulgar, it’s distasteful, and it’s a perfect showcase for how bad Wesley Snipes can be. I hated it, and I hated that Sean Connery was involved. Rising Sun just had so much potential and failed miserably on all accounts.
Doubt — January 15, 2011 / Encore
Like most everyone on the planet, I find Meryl Streep phenomenal, and her performance in Doubt is as good as anything she’s ever done. It’s easy to forget how forceful she can be when she plays a string of fun roles like Mamma Mia and Julie & Julia, but as Sister Aloysius, a severe nun at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, Streep is nothing short of mesmerizing. But what makes Doubt such a great film are the equally powerful performances of her co-stars: Amy Adams as a young protégée and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused by Aloysius of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. The movie doesn’t provide definitive proof of the priest’s crime, so a viewer is left to question in the same way as Streep’s and Adams’s characters. And that’s what makes the film so compelling. I was torn by my own swaying opinions throughout the movie, even as I was quick to find Aloysius much too harsh on Hoffman’s Father Flynn. It’s Adams’s naïve Sister James who gives the movie its heart and its softer edges, proving without a doubt that her Oscar nomination for this role was well-deserved. Doubt is a film I chose to see because of its Oscar connection, but it turned out to be much more interesting than anticipated.
I Capture the Castle — January 15, 2011 / Encore
Sometimes a movie is so unexpectedly good that I am surprised I’ve never heard of it before, and then I wonder why the world isn’t talking about it, too. I Capture the Castle is just such a film — one that I watched because of a single actor’s involvement (Marc Blucas) and discovered to be on the same level of quality as Pride & Prejudice and Atonement and any number of British dramas. It’s the story of Cassandra, a young woman trying to find balance in life as her eccentric father struggles to write an elusive novel, her sister toys with the hearts of two American suitors, and she falls in love with one of those suitors herself. To make matters worse, the Americans actually own the crumbling castle that Cassandra’s family calls home, and a childhood friend has fallen in love with her but finds his own affections unrequited. The story is complex and romantic and heartbreaking and quite often very funny, and I found myself thinking how much more I would’ve enjoyed Atonement if it had included even a little of the light-heartedness found in Castle. I loved the latter from its first act, and I still can’t believe it remained hidden from me all these years. But no longer! I know that I Capture the Castle will be on my list of go-to Brit flicks from here on out. And, surprisingly, it has very little to do with my love for Marc Blucas.
They — January 16, 2011 / TV Broadcast
When you watch movies because of their casts of actors, you’re often assured of some horrible experiences, even if the actors themselves do their best in the roles. So I watch a lot of really bad films just for the sake of seeing actors I love, and They is one such movie. It’s nothing I would choose to watch, as it is a Wes Craven film and, therefore, bordering on horror, but I gave it a bit of time for that Blucas fellow mentioned above. This was early in his career, so I expected that I wouldn’t have to endure much of the film in order to see him — and that was true — but the movie wasn’t so disturbing that I felt the need to skip over much of it, either. I simply let it run and averted my eyes when the creep-factor came into play. It’s not a good film. It doesn’t even feature good performances. It’s just a creepy pseudo-thriller. But I enjoyed Blucas in his few onscreen moments, and that’s all I expected from the movie in the first place.
The Dark Knight — January 22, 2011 / TV broadcast
I’ve seen this movie several times and love it just as much on each successive viewing, but this time I experienced an interesting moment as the Joker threw his rampage into overdrive in the third act of the film. For the first time since it was released, I didn’t feel sadness at the loss of Heath Ledger. Each previous viewing was bittersweet, and a point would inevitably come when his death overshadowed the onscreen glee. It’s not that reality threatened to derail his performance, but that I simply felt the void of not getting any more chances to see how far his talent could have taken him. But this time, on this fifth or sixth viewing, I didn’t feel that melancholy. I was able to fully experience the Joker’s sadistic joy and be truly entertained without once considering what the world had lost. It wasn’t until hours later that it hit me, but it came without grief this time. Just an awareness and a thankfulness that Ledger’s greatest performance was captured for eternity.
The Bourne Ultimatum — January 29, 2011 / TV Broadcast
I’m a sucker for the Bourne movies. Even when I don’t have any plans to watch them, even when I haven’t thought about them for months, if I happen upon one of them in my TV surfing, I’m there for the duration. I love them, I love Matty Damon, I love the Bourne character and the many supporting actors who contribute to the overall story arc. I never tire of these movies. That said, I’m far more partial to Identity and Supremacy than I am to this third chapter. Ultimatum wasn’t the conclusion I hoped it would be, despite answering the key questions about Jason Bourne. (I’m happy to hear that a fourth Bourne just may be in the works. I’ve always felt a little cheated.) But I did watch this airing of The Bourne Ultimatum in its entirety because (a) I had no other plans, and (b) I love Julia Stiles‘s character in this one more than any other. It’s important to watch all of the chapters in a series, even when you don’t necessarily enjoy them all. It’s important to keep the story complete in your mind. And so I do, and I did. And it was just as much fun as the first time.
Also seen in January: Ondine, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.
Alice In Wonderland — June 7, 2010 | DVD Rental
First word of this adaptation by Tim Burton was all I needed to get excited, especially upon hearing that Johnny Depp would play the Mad Hatter. It all seemed perfect! And then I learned it would be shown in 3-D, and while I’m not a proponent of the format (and would rather filmmakers limit their usage to those films that truly deserve the effect), I felt that Alice could actually benefit from the technique. I never quite got around to seeing it in the cinema, mostly because those who went before me were not impressed with the film nor with its 3-D imagery. When people I trust tell me it’s okay to save the money and wait for DVD, I happily oblige. And they’re rarely wrong in their first impressions. The problems with Alice are not with the story but with the presentation of the story. I could embrace the usage of both Alice stories to create a richer tale, and I could accept not seeing my favorite characters as I like to recall them (from previous films of the subject). My struggle came in the tone of the film and darker colors that didn’t allow Wonderland to pop onscreen. Had I been viewing the film through 3-D glasses I would’ve been utterly disappointed in the look of the film, for it was already muted without the added shadow of those horrid glasses. And that, to me, is the greatest shame of Burton’s version. He could have made it visually spectacular. And he could’ve done that without forfeiting his vision. But he chose to drag everything down in tone, in color, in the sadness of characters. Which simply made the film a drag in itself. The only salvation, for me, was Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. Dee-lightful! I continue to quote the pig line even now!
All That Jazz — June 12, 2010 | American Movie Classics
This was not my first viewing of All That Jazz but it was the first time I really paid close attention to the story. Before, I had always focused on the dance, on the brilliant choreography of Bob Fosse, but I never actually realized what I was watching in the story. Or perhaps I never actually watched the story? This time I was focused on the plot as much as theatricality, and I was surprised to see it was an autobiographical statement by Fosse himself. It’s a depressing film, and yet, in the midst of such a story about one man’s steady decline toward death (set to Broadway numbers, no less), it features artistic greatness. Which is how the film endures, I suppose. Life imitating art imitating life. Within a true 1970s setting.
High Fidelity — June 12, 2010 | TV Broadcast
The more I see this film, the more I find its nuanced humor. There are levels of it, in fact, that are not obvious on just one or two viewings. But after a few it becomes clear how terrific this film is and how terrific John Cusack is in the lead role. It’s tailor-made for him, of course, with various monologues directed to the viewer and long-winded speeches that come across as little more than self-indulgent ramblings, but in Cusack’s hands it’s always charming. There are many familiar faces throughout the film — Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor play ex-girlfriends, Jack Black plays a best friend, Tim Robbins is a sleazy nemesis — but none give so rich a performance as Lisa Bonet playing one of Cusack’s lovers. She is sublime. And no matter how many times I watch the film, it is her character that comes back to me again and again. Which is also what makes me return to the film itself.
The 60s miniseries — June 14, 2010 | TV Broadcast
I wouldn’t search out this TV miniseries from 1999, but whenever I come across it I am temporarily mesmerized. The story always pulls me in, whether through Jerry O’Connell’s Vietnam-era soldier or Josh Hamilton’s political activist or, most often, Julia Stiles’ wayward flower child. It’s a brisk look at the decade, to be sure, and just glosses over most of it, but it’s still a fascinating introduction for those of us who did not live through the times. I always find one or more events to read up on after seeing them mentioned in the series. I also enjoy seeing so many actors in the series that I had either forgotten or whom I didn’t know on the last viewing. Jeremy Sisto is memorable as a radical activist, but for some reason I never associate him with the miniseries itself. I do, however, remember that longtime favorite Marc Blucas appears, but I’m always surprised to only see him in two or three scenes. But they are not the reason I love this series; it’s Julia Stiles who captivates me here. And the cinematic treatment of the era. For that, I find it worth revisiting time and again.
Without Love — June 16, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
With all the love I have for Katharine Hepburn, it has taken me quite some time to come around to her partner, Spencer Tracy. Even watching them together onscreen, the supposed tell-all in their relationship, hasn’t brought me to appreciate him or embrace him as much more than a studio player at a time when these kinds of men were enjoyable to audiences. He’s always so curmudgeonly, and that has never appealed to me. But in Without Love, Tracy’s World War II-era scientist is quirky and endearing as he takes up residence in the basement of a widow, played by Hepburn, who is simply trying to leave her large residence behind and move forward with her life. Instead, she becomes intrigued with the scientist and eventually serves as his assistant on a top secret project for the military. There is great humor, great comedy along the way, especially in the matter-of-factness of their relationship, and even when the two decide to marry it is simply for convenience and nothing more. But love does come, and whereas the humor is so grand between Tracy and Hepburn, the sweet romance is equally palpable. I finally came to see what Tracy possessed and why their pairing was so revered. There is also a minor character played by a young, vivacious Lucille Ball, and she so charming and so memorable that I found myself wanting more of her. For a movie I’d never previously heard of, Without Love turned out to be a very charming film.
Alice Adams — June 16, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
On the same night I discovered my affection for Spencer Tracy, I was also reminded of the grace and attractiveness of Fred MacMurray in his younger years. My first experiences with MacMurray were The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor, so I never saw him as a romantic lead. But little by little that perception has changed, from Double Indemnity and The Apartment to Alice Adams, where I have been able to see how affecting he could be. As suitor to Katharine Hepburn’s Alice he is just charming enough to understand why she goes to such lengths to be something she is not. Alice spends the entire story pretending to fit in with a higher class of society, pretending she attends the same parties and knows the same people and walks in the same social circles as the debutante class of her city. The stage for this charade is set early on as Alice works her way into a societal dance, using her brother as a date, and then proceeds (with great comedy) to proclaim her “status” to everyone in earshot. It’s funny for a moment and then incredibly sad after that. And the entire film continues in that vein, culminating in a disastrous dinner party thrown by Alice in which she forces all members of her family to play along. Hepburn is perfectly wonderful in the role of Alice, using her quirky mannerisms and awkwardness to flesh out Alice’s ruse, but the film is pretty thin beyond her performance. I loved it throughout the first half, but by the end I was tired of playing through the game with her.
Ring of Deceit — June 20, 2010 | Lifetime Movie Network
It always amazes me how many seemingly successful actors show up in Lifetime movies, and then I have to remember that everyone has to pay the rent. I suppose, outside that class of women who live and die by Lifetime, it’s people like me who keep those actors in business. For I usually follow actors I like to whatever movie they choose to do, so long as I don’t have to pay out of pocket for the privilege. Such is the case with the next two movies I saw in June. Ring of Deceit featured Cameron Bancroft, an actor I enjoyed on a single series years and years ago but never saw anywhere again, and Rebecca Mader, of Lost fame. She played an art expert attempting to solve the mystery of a stolen artifact, and he, naturally, was the charming suitor who seemed an obvious suspect. I won’t even discuss the movie, as it’s predictable and tidy and sappy and silly in all the ways every Lifetime movie seems to be when I watch, but I will say that even the actors annoyed me in their roles. After 20 minutes all I wanted to know was whodunnit. I watched almost the entire movie in skip forward mode. Interestingly, though it was so terrible I felt compelled to turn it off, I actually never did. I still wanted to learn the culprit. I was really that bored. Perhaps that’s how Lifetime movies continue to be so popular?
Deadly Isolation — June 24, 2010 | Lifetime Movie Network
This second Lifetime entry, which you’ll notice from the later date that I planned to watch, starred Nicholas Lea… Krycek, to all us X-Files fans. I watch for him all the time but see him less and less. My salvation in this particular movie is that he was the nefarious suitor (are there any new stories in the Lifetime universe?) and he was wooing Sherrilyn Fenn, of Twin Peaks fame, in an effort to locate stolen money stored away by her deceased husband. I actually managed to sit through this entire movie until the last few scenes, which involved a ridiculous slow-moving chase outside a house window, and while it was romantic fluff with absolutely no edge whatsoever, I still enjoyed seeing Lea play a character he does well. Not the worst way to spend some free time.
Dances With Wolves — June 26, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about Dances With Wolves. I enjoy re-watching it every so often just to find new small elements that I may have overlooked in the past and to see actors that I may have come to appreciate since the last viewing. But the story always impacts me, the emotions are always the same for me: I laugh and cry and cheer and become irritated at the same exact scenes each time, and I always find myself so saddened at the history of my country and our treatment of the native peoples. Whether strictly accurate or not, Wolves is still a beautiful film with a strong reminder not to forget our past and not to repeat it. And I love that most of all.
To Catch A Thief — June 28, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
I’d been searching for this Cary Grant film on television for a long while and had even recorded it a few times but deleted later to free up space, so this year is my first viewing of this Hitchcock classic. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it as a priority like other classics I’d been putting off, but now that I’ve seen Thief it will be on my go-to list in the future. I loved Grant in middle age, and I loved his interplay with Grace Kelly (someone I need to devote a little more time to, I admit), but most of all I loved the feel of the movie. The story of a retired cat burglar attempting to clear his name of copycat crimes is classic Hitchcock, of course, and it’s a formidable mystery until the end. And the end features one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, a tense chase across a rooftop that eventually reveals the truth about the thief. The film is a classic in every sense of the word. And I loved it!
Grand Hotel — June 28, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
I attempted to watch this film about individual dramas of the patrons of Berlin’s Grand Hotel a couple of times before finally being able to settle into it. While I love films from the late 30s and 40s, sometimes the earlier ones don’t hold my attention as well. There was something sharper, less languid in later films that isn’t always present in their predecessors, and I often don’t have patience to sit with those earlier dramas without some kind of hook to reel me in quickly. Such was the case with Grand Hotel. There is much setting-up of story and character at the beginning, and very few of the characters were interesting enough to draw my attention. I initially gave the movie one more chance after noticing Joan Crawford’s name in the cast (having promised Cerella that I would watch Crawford’s films without pre-judgement), but I found myself staring right at her for several scenes before even recognizing it was Crawford. I suppose I had an image in mind that didn’t fit with what I saw here. But she was also practically the only light in this story. Her “stenographer-slash-mistress” to a German businessman is sharp-tongued but sweet and a romantic at heart, and her flirtation with John Barrymore’s secretly-bankrupt baron is the joy of the film. Until we meet Greta Garbo, that is, as a temperamental ballet dancer in the final act of her career. When she is wooed by Barrymore, the film begins to truly have heart. Which is odd, since the baron’s initial intentions toward her are not legitimate. And I suppose that’s what makes this film better in the end than it seemed at the start. It’s multilayered and filled with charming performances by acclaimed actors. I’m happy to say I’ve finally seen it, but honestly, I doubt I’ll ever make plans to see it again unless someone else brings it up.
Man on Fire — June 30, 2010 | American Movie Classics
With all of the films I see each year, the reality is that I won’t often make an effort to watch a specific film after its initial release period unless it continues to float around my mind. Back in 2004, I had no real interest in Man On Fire despite having no doubt it was a very good film. And once the initial publicity waned, I never thought of it again. Until I began to see it on television a few years ago. And then my parents saw it and praised it highly. And then a friend saw it recently and praised it again. So I finally had my chance, and, as I suspected, I also loved it as much as they did. But how could I not? Denzel Washington plays a former CIA assassin contracted as a bodyguard to protect a Latin businessman’s daughter during a rash of kidnappings in Mexico City. Washington’s hard-nosed, jaded protector is softened over time by his charge, played with such strength by Dakota Fanning, and when she also becomes victim of kidnappers, he vows vengeance upon everyone involved. The entire film lies upon Washington’s character, and he is magnanimous. He has little dialogue through much of the film, and you realize that you are actually learning more about him without the dialogue than you ever might if he spoke. By the end, there is a nice little twist that truly caps the film successfully. Man On Fire is one of those movies that will stay with you forever.
My Blueberry Nights — June 30, 2010 | Independent Film Channel
Running across this film by accident, all I could remember was its featuring of Norah Jones in the lead role and that I had always heard great reviews. As I watched I remembered everything else that made me want to see it. Judy Law, Rachel Weisz, David Straithairn. And the story of love lost, redemption sought, friendships made, and love found. My Blueberry Nights is the kind of film that must be viewed without much knowledge of its story. It has a languid feel that is matched by the soundtrack and the cinematography and the subtle interaction between Law and Jones at the beginning of the film. The building of their friendship actually sets the tone for everything that comes after, and up until the last third of the film (and subsequent entrance of Natalie Portman), that tone is what makes the film so special. An impromptu road trip with Portman’s character nearly ruined the film for me, but in the end there was salvation by a returned focus to Jones’s character and the relationships that had come before. This is a sweet film, for the most part, in the midst of unsavory circumstances.
The Band Wagon — May 1, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
Because I’ve not seen many Fred Astaire films, I decided not to be picky with what I watched, assuming that most any film of his would be enjoyable. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that for The Band Wagon. The story seemed interesting at first, with Astaire playing an almost washed-up movie star who reluctantly joins two pals to put on a musical comedy for Broadway, but as the story progressed it simply didn’t hold my attention. By the midway point I was just ready to move on. I skipped through until the musical numbers appeared, and even then I didn’t care for some of them. Proving that all musicals are not created equal. And yet, Astaire and co-star Cyd Charisse are always fun to watch. I’m just sorry the entire film didn’t have the same appeal.
The Legend of Bagger Vance — May 1, 2010 / TV broadcast
I never pass up an opportunity to revisit the story of Bagger Vance, a mysterious nomad who teaches a disillusioned golf pro how to recapture his game and restore the balance in his life. It’s one of my favorite Robert Redford films (despite his not actually portraying a character in the film), and I consider it one of both Matt Damon’s and Will Smith’s best performances. In fact, the entire cast is extraordinary, from Charlize Theron to Joel Gretsch as Bobby Jones. Watching the film brings a wonderful sense of calm, and it makes me want to learn golf in the worst way. I find the entire film beautiful, from cinematography to the minutiae, and I love it more each time I watch it.
Swimfan — May 4, 2010 / DVD Rental
I had no particular interest in this film about a high school swimming star and the crazy classmate who stalks him — not when it was released in 2002 and not at any point since then. But last year I discovered that Clayne Crawford had a role in the film, so I made a point to watch at least his scenes. In the end, that’s all I wanted to see. Swimfan held absolutely no appeal, so I simply watched Clayne’s scenes and skipped through the rest. Honestly, it’s a wonder to me how anyone could find this movie interesting. If I’d had no interest in the one actor, I’d have turned it off within the first half hour.
Pride & Prejudice (2005) — May 15, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
The 2005 version of this film based on Jane Austen’s novel is by far my favorite. I did enjoy the Colin Firth series, of course, but it’s Keira Knightley who I feel best embodies Elizabeth Bennett, and that’s what makes the later version much more enjoyable to me. I also think Matthew Macfadyen is a perfect Mr. Darcy, and going forward I’ll always compare other Darcys to him. Each time I see this Pride and Prejudice I find it better than the last time, with more layers and more nuance and much more humor than I’ve seen before. Which is what makes a movie infinitely watchable.
Becoming Jane — May 15, 2010 / Starz
I first saw this film “based on the romantic life of Jane Austen” at the cinema back when Anne Hathaway was less a “star” and more an up-and-coming actress, but I had never seen her co-star James McAvoy before and found myself charmed immediately. And yet, when I came to know his work better, I couldn’t recall his performance in Becoming Jane. That’s the reason I decided to watch this film again, in fact. It’s not that I enjoy it that much, but rather I wanted to watch McAvoy this time more than the story. And it was worth it for that alone. I just wish the movie did a better job of convincing me that this Jane resembles the true Austen.
The Cincinnati Kid — May 15, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
It took me a while to make time for this classic about a young self-assured poker player determined to prove himself against a master of the game. Even as I made a concerted effort to see Steve McQueen’s films, I just didn’t find myself drawn to Kid. But it’s a great film full of great actors and great scenes. And though it’s definitely a film that dates itself in visual style, the eye is constantly drawn to McQueen. This is an essential McQueen movie to watch, and it’s a perfect example of the magnetism that made him a star.
War and Peace — May 16, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
Despite finding Audrey Hepburn so enchanting, I have not seen many of her films. And until I began perusing her filmography, I had no idea that she starred in this epic based on Tolstoy’s novel. So I watched it. But I shouldn’t even be including it in this post because, for the life of me, I can’t remember a single detail of the movie. How is that possible? I watched a three-hour masterpiece and can’t recall one moment? Shameful.
Roman Holiday — May 16, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
I vividly remember this one, though. How could you not? Hepburn is at her best, the classic ingenue. This being her first film role, she’s perfectly fearless and fully immersed into her character of Princess Ann. And despite the age difference that was all-too-common in the old studio system, Gregory Peck and Hepburn are enchanting together, running around Rome pretending she’s not royalty. They are meant to be the stars, of course, but Rome is just as much a key player of the film. Even in black and white, the city is breathtaking. Which makes the film a joy to watch, each and every time.
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball — May 18, 2010 / DVD Rental
There is nothing good in this movie. It’s a weak sequel, hyper-violent, profane, loose on plot and even slimmer on character, but in keeping with my habit of renting movies for a single beloved actor, I checked out this terrible film because my beloved Clayne Crawford had a rare lead role. I never actually planned to watch the movie (and I didn’t), but I did hope that Clayne was at least enjoyable. Instead, he was hilarious… but often I was amused when the scene wasn’t meant to be funny. His look alone was reminiscent of Colonel Sanders, and his mannerisms were quirky, at best. He, and the entire movie, became more and more ridiculous as the time clicked by, and at the end I was never so ready to see a final scene. The movie is truly awful, but I did find joy in Clayne when I stopped taking any of it seriously. So I guess that’s something.
Ransom! (1956) — May 27, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
One of my favorite films of all time is Mel Gibson’s Ransom, but until just recently I had no idea it was a remake of an earlier film. So I checked out the original for comparison. The two films begin very much the same, and a lot of the story follows the same path of a father’s efforts to rescue his son from a kidnapper, but for me, the 1956 version really doesn’t hold a candle to the later film. The suspense is missing and the ending is truly anti-climactic. The only good thing I can say about the original is that the basic story is still as good and Glenn Ford is terrific, as always. But I’ll always recommend the remake. It’s just a much more enjoyable film.
Taps — May 29, 2010 / American Movie Classics
There is a collection of films from my adolescence that mostly define the decade, and Taps can easily be placed in that category for its cast alone. This story of military academy cadets who go to extremes to save their school features the finest actors of my generation… before we realized they would become our finest actors. Timothy Hutton is the core of the film, the one actor who was expected to be legendary, but Sean Penn is also phenomenal and Tom Cruise was simply a great character actor at the time. The cast list goes on and on with names who were new then and are very familiar now, which is what makes Taps such a pleasure to watch today. It’s a powerful film that hasn’t lost its impact over the years, and seeing it again reminds me of the great potential these actors had, even at the beginning of their careers.
The Dirty Dozen — May 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
It should be obvious by now that my love of classic films doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve seen that many of them. And movies centering around war and the military are always among the least of my interests, so I never made a point to watch The Dirty Dozen because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t in that same genre. But my dad always mentioned how much he enjoyed it, so I finally took the time to sit down with it, where I discovered that it’s a story of prison inmates who are trained to carry out a secret military mission. Along the way, they find their true natures to be far different from the lives they were leading before. I had no idea that this was the story, and I found that I loved it. It’s funny! Why didn’t I know it was funny? Plus, as always, there are so many actors in the early days of their careers, which makes it so much more enjoyable. Charles Bronson, in fact, was the biggest surprise, as I’ve never known him to be anything other than a tough guy vigilante. By the end of the film I found myself caring about every character and cheering during the final act. I never expected that in a million years.
Gangs of New York — May 29, 2010 / TV broadcast
I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis, but I have always been a fan of Leo DiCaprio, so Gangs of New York was eternally on my list of movies to watch. That it took me so long to get around to it is simply laziness and never being in the right frame of mind. It always seemed a specific type of film, this story of rival Irish gangs in 19th century New York City, and I felt that I needed to have a certain level of preparedness in order to enjoy it. But actually, all of those presumptions proved incorrect. It’s actually a terrific character drama with an epic setting, wherein DiCaprio seeks to have revenge on Day-Lewis’s gang leader for the murder of his father many years before. This is DiCaprio’s film with memorable moments by Daniel Day-Lewis. And I didn’t even mind watching Cameron Diaz, which is quite rare for me. It took no time at all for me to fall in love with the movie and the story and the characters and the setting. I expect I’ll want to revisit Gangs a lot throughout the rest of my life.
Notorious — May 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
My friend Cerella tasked me with watching the films of Ingrid Bergman, believing that I would certainly begin to see what makes Bergman so deserving of her icon status. I’ve seen a few films and haven’t been greatly impressed with her, I must admit. But then came her film with Cary Grant for Hitchock. And I’ve finally begun to understand her appeal. As a young woman shackled by alcoholism and recruited by a government agent (Grant) to spy on friends who are known to be Nazis, Bergman is at once untethered and high-strung. She’s beautiful and sad and paranoid, all of which Bergman plays perfectly. And she effortlessly floats between her emotions, allowing Grant to be the weight that keeps her grounded from scene to scene. Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s best though it was made before films became “Hitchcockian,” and even a sudden and unexpected ending can’t detract from the greatness of this film. It simply hits all the right notes. And it’s begun to change my mind about Bergman.
Stage Door — May 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
This particular film has been on my “must watch” list for years and years, yet always slightly outside my purview when I chose to catch up with Katharine Hepburn movies. But I’ve always wanted to see it for the story alone: young women living together in a boarding house as each tries to get that big break on Broadway. Within the first few minutes the tone is set; a roomful of women gossip and chatter, all at once and at lightning speed. It’s so much simultaneous commentary that even I got a bit lost at first. But then my ear began tuning in to specific voices and I realized that quite a few of them were very familiar. Eve Arden is always easy to pick out of a crowd, though I can’t recall ever seeing her in her younger years. And there was another voice that seemed so familiar but slightly different than what it should be. And the woman’s face — the very young woman’s face — wasn’t instantly recognizable to me either. But I listened closely and zeroed in until it finally hit me: Lucille Ball. The youngest I’ve ever seen her (and with blonde hair!), though her voice still had almost the same quality as her later years when I came to know her as Lucy Ricardo. What made her voice a little unfamiliar was its youth; at this stage in her career her voice lacked the timbre of her later years. Still, it was there just enough that I recognized her, and that made this film even more enjoyable. There are a lot of women in the movie, including Ginger Rogers, and each is as beautiful and talented as the next. The house is literally filled with great comic ability, but all that’s really important is just watching these women work onscreen. For all the reasons I disliked The Women, they were exactly what made Stage Door so enjoyable.