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I Love Silents - Silent Movies

A work in progress

Motto: So Many Movies - So Little Time!
My personal movie watching diary - started September 12, 2004. I watch a movie almost every day, sometimes several - I wish I had more time to watch even more, I really could watch movies all day, every day. I have not done a review for every movie I see, mostly just the ones I have not written up before. I enjoy watching films from all decades, from the beginnings of film to now. (I try to see new releases as well as any older films as they just come out on DVD, so the Netflix rental disc I receive isn't all scratched up and unplayable yet.) NOTE: there may be spoilers for some entries. Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being best.

Okay - starting from July 14, 2008 I am adding my reviews on a blog which will be, I think, easier to keep up with and archive - - Click here for the newest review entries

July 10, 2008 - Definitely, Maybe (2008) - Romantic comedy that, interestingly, didn't catch my fancy. About a dad who tells his young daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he dated and ended up marrying her mother, who he is about to divorce. The catch - the story involves several women from his past and he leaves it up to the daughter (and the audience) to try and figure out which character ends up being his wife (soon-to-be ex-wife). Told in flashback, the story of his romantic flings begins in 1992 when he is newly arrived in New York City to work on the Clinton campaign. Left behind in Wisconsin is his current girlfriend who he is thinking of marrying, but there's also that cute, feisty gal in the office who he loves to argue with, and then there's the beautiful brunette who once had some sort of physical encounter with his gal from back home (uh, yeah) and is living with an older guy (Kevin Kline) who jokingly introduces himself as her "daddy". Okay - I see a couple of problems with this film - first off, we know from the beginning that this "romance" leading to his eventual marriage is going to end in divorce ten years later, so I find that sort of holds me back from really caring who of the three he ended up with. Secondly, the actor who plays the dad, Ryan Reynolds, is just too boring and lacking in any sort of star quality or appeal (not to mention zero chemistry with all three leading ladies) to sustain an almost two hour film. I thought this film dragged a bit, and found myself getting bored - never a good thing (and I usually love - or at least like - romantic comedies). The two saving graces in this film are - one, Abigail Breslin is a very appealing child actor and is very likable in this part (though I didn't think she got nearly enough screen time here) and two, the on-location filming done entirely on the streets of wonderful NYC was nice. Disappointing - and by the way, this is NOT a comedy. Oh, one more thing that leaves me wondering, the dad obviously has an open, good relationship with his daughter - I wonder how she reached eleven years old without ever hearing anything about how her parents met, or anything about the mom's background. * 6/10 stars *

July 9, 2008 - Vantage Point (2008) - Well, I don't usually go for the non-stop action filled sort of movie - but this action thriller was fast-paced and exciting, filmed in an entertaining and original way. About an assassination attempt on the U.S. President (William Hurt) while in Spain speaking at a big outdoor summit meeting against terrorism. The entire story is set in about a 20 minute time segment - the film rewinding back several times to show the assassination and explosions that follow play out from different characters points-of-view all leading to a big final car chase in hot pursuit of the perpetrators. Well done and different, interesting idea of filming this from all "vantage points". * 8/10 stars *

July 7, 2008 - 27 Dresses (2008) - Always, always, always a bridesmaid - Jane (Katherine Heigl) has been one 27 times to be exact, and she keeps the 27 bridesmaid dresses in a big closet in her small NYC apartment. Jane, of course, loves weddings and dreams of her own - but 27 times a bridesmaid, never a bride, as they say - will it ever happen for Jane? Well, Jane is madly in love with her boss George who, despite the fact that Jane is really gorgeous, doesn't seem to notice her romantically in any way, shape, or form, he just see's her as an efficient assistant who never says no. Jane's hottie blonde younger sister arrives in town and immediately hooks George the boss for her own (well, she isn't aware that sis loves him too). Jane soon finds herself planning her sister's wedding to the man she loves - and meanwhile is being pursued by a guy (James Marsden) she met at a wedding who she hates because he "hates" weddings - what she doesn't know is that he is actually *the* writer who writes the wedding columns in her favorite section of the newspaper "Commitments" (she even keeps clippings of his articles, unaware he is the man she hates). Okay, you can probably guess where this film will lead you - and maybe not?! I'm not telling. I was expecting this romantic comedy to be quite silly, maybe even a bit dumb - I was pleasantly surprised, 'cause this was a lot better than I expected. Quite interesting, fun, and romantic. * 8/10 stars *

June 26, 2008 - Three movies today: first up, Cassandra's Dream (2007), another excellent film written and directed by Woody Allen. Stylish thriller set in London about two brothers - one, Terry (Colin Farrell), has a big gambling problem and a big debt owed to loan sharks, the other, Ian (Ewan McGregor), has huge ambitions to invest in hotels and get out of working under his father at the family restaurant. Both guys are in need of some big funds when their rich Uncle comes for a visit and agrees to help them out - for a price. He wants them to murder a man who is about to spill the beans on some sort of shady dealings Uncle has gotten up to in his business. Uh oh! This film was real good - exciting, edge-of-your-seat sort of stuff - very Hitchcock-like in style, I thought. I liked the orchestral score done by Philip Glass that helps keep the tension going here. * 9/10 stars *
Next up, The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) - Fun fantasy following the story of young Jared and his twin brother Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore) who, along with their mom and older sister, move into a huge rundown mansion in the country where once lived their great Uncle Spiderwick and his daughter, the boys Aunt Lucinda (newly checked into a local "nut house" as Jared calls it). The house is a real-life "haunted house", it seems, for they soon start hearing creepy sounds inside the walls and things start to disappear. Well, Jared finds a book written by Uncle Spiderwick which reveals the secrets of the "fantasical realm" of otherworldly creatures that exist on Earth - with the book and the help of a "Brownie" that lives in the house and talks to him, Jared soon unlocks a magical world of goblins and flower fairies and sprites and griffins and an evil ogre who is in high pursuit of Spiderwick's book. Now the story is a battle between the ogre and his team of goblins who are trying to get into the house to get the book - and the kids inside, protected by a ring of salt and toadstools (I think) that encircles the house and can't be crossed by ogre or goblin. I liked this a lot - good special effects, fun, light entertainment, and a nice orchestral score throughout. Freddie Highmore is always a likable young actor, Joan Plowright appears in the small part of old Aunt Lucinda. I do have a love for fantasy films, this was a real escape - I enjoyed every minute. * 8 to 9 stars *
Third movie today, Persepolis (2007) - Animated, French-language film telling the true, coming-of-age tale of Marji, a little girl who lives in Tehran circa 1978. During a time of war, revolution, and upheaval - the film follows this girl's tale as she grows up, faces a new regime that forces the females to wear veils and face all sorts of new restrictions - yet Marji still tries to maintain a normal life as she buys underground music by Iron Maiden, giggles with her gal pals over males, and as she grows up goes to secret booze parties, though alcohol is banned. She does leave Iran to live in Vienna as a teenager and finds things rough for her there as well, then comes back and finds the restrictions now placed on women have become worse than ever! Excellent film with very well done, visually appealing animation, the majority of the film is done in black and white. * 9/10 stars *

June 20, 2008 - It's a Boy Girl Thing (2008) - Another one of those body switching comedies - - I normally like this type of story, so this wasn't too bad. In this one, a high school nerd girl and her annoying jock neighbor guy hate each other with so much passion that when their class is visiting a natural history museum, a statue causes them to switch bodies. Okay - so now the usual comedy antics about a female trapped in a male body and vice versa as these two young people learn to see things more from the other person's point of view. I thought this was fairly entertaining, though gross at times - the B-movie type actors that fill most of the cast in this detracts a little - though the film seems fairly well made and features a quite good soundtrack of modern pop/rock songs, I would have liked this better with a couple of top stars in the main roles, maybe Reese Witherspoon and - hmmm? * 7/10 stars *
Next up (on what I am now calling my-new-dumb-comedy-afternoon) Be Kind, Rewind (2008) - A guy (Jack Black) becomes magnetized while attempting (for some reason) to sabotage a power plant. This leads to the erasure of all the video tapes at a local, rundown New Jersey video store that he goes to. So - him and his friend, the guy running the shop, decide to remake the movies themselves to keep the business going for the owner who is out-of-town. The films they create are *extremely* low-budget and only about twenty minutes long, but as they keep filming these things for rental they become a huge success - and the guys become famous for their "new" versions of old (well, mostly not so old) movies. Okay - so I found this film slightly interesting, the films they are seen duplicating include Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, Rush Hour 2, and more (I would have liked to see more classics being done). The end part of the film involves the fellows and the whole neighborhood filming a story about the life of Fats Waller to help save the building from demolition. By this point I was pretty much ready for this to end, so was a bit bored. The whole movie is filmed sort of documentary-style with hand-held camera - it also appears to include a lot of improvisation. Real so so. * 5/10 stars *

June 16, 2008 - The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) - Historical drama loosely based on the real-life story of Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and her sister Mary (Scarlet Johannson) - with an ambitious family pushed on by their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, unhappy-in-his-marriage King Henry the Eighth is invited to the Boleyn estate where Anne has been coached on to seduce him and lead him to take her on as a mistress. But - Henry falls for Mary instead and summons the family to come live at court, even giving a good postion to Mary's young husband. The family's power grows as Mary sleeps with King Henry and becomes pregnant with his son. But while Mary becomes bedridden with her pregnancy, Anne works her wiles to get Henry for herself. Soon Anne Boleyn seeks to force King Henry to annul his marriage to his current wife and marry her - by withholding sleeping with him, thus driving up his passion for her. If you know your history though, you know what happens to poor Anne in the end - luckily they didn't make the death scene gory. This film was great - I was on the edge of my seat the whole film. Now I really do love, love, love these sort of historical period pieces, so this was right up my alley. I loved the lavish costumes they did for this, seems as if they looked at historical paintings to try and duplicate actual clothes that Anne and Mary wore (like the necklace with the big "B" Anne wears in some scenes - I saw a painting where she wears a necklace just like that). Really nice art direction too, the majority of this film actually takes places indoors in the rooms and halls of the palace court. Well, one more thing - with Eric Bana playing the King, well, I've never actually seen Henry the Eighth portrayed as young and handsome before! * 9 to 10 stars *

June 12, 2008 - Three's A Crowd (1927) - Silent comedy starring Harry Langdon as a man/child who lives in a shabby room at the top of a long, rather slanting stairway and dreams of one day having a wife and child. His boss, who lives downstairs, is a bit jealous of this "little sheik" as he calls him, as he suspects Harry has eyes for his wife. Hmmm - seems the boss is correct, as the wife receives a love note from Harry sent via pigeon and signed "A Lonesome Boy" - aaahh. Well, we are soon led to winter via a segment with a rag doll left on the street outside (this scene suffers from some bad nitrate decomposition, so I couldn't really see exactly what was happening - looked like different people were sort of getting rid of this doll which is then left abandoned.) Suddenly we are in a scene of a really severe winter snowstorm, and Harry finds a woman in the snow who has just left her husband. When he realizes she is about to give birth he calls for help and soon Harry has the wife and baby he always wanted. But - the real husband is out there looking for his wife, and the wife is apparently still carrying the torch as she keeps his picture on the nightstand by her bed (which Harry appears to deface in one scene). He really is like a big child - when he rocks the blanket wrapped baby (looked like a doll) in an upside-down table turned into a rocking cradle he climbs into the cradle to join the baby and they rock to sleep together for the night, this all seems to fit with his child-like character who appears completely oblivious to any sort of sexual attraction to the woman.

Okay - except for about two brief laughs in this, I found the comedy in this fell pretty flat. A scene where Harry deals with some very stiff diapers that are stuck on an indoor clothesline fails to be funny, same with a gag involving too many doctors arriving on the scene to help with the birth, and many other sight gags that just didn't strike my funny bone (I even found the goings a bit boring through some of this film). With the exception of the one segment with decomposition, the Kino DVD of this film features a gorgeous looking sepia-tinted print and nice organ score. I found the film quite appealing visually, especially the way they did the snowstorm, and the slanted stairway is interesting to see. There are also a few visual gags near the beginning featuring contraptions he has rigged up to help him get ready for work in the morning - namely that he presses his pants with bricks overnight and has a shower made out of a watering can set into motion via a series of pulleys and rope. All in all, not that great as far as the comedy is concerned, but visually interesting to look at. * 6 to 7 stars *
The Chaser (1928), another silent comedy starring Harry Langdon. Harry gets in big trouble for going out every night while his really naggy wife and even worse mother-in-law think he's at his "lodge" (he actually appears to be at a speakeasy) - the mother-in-law even takes a gun to him and soon divorce court. But - the judge refuses to grant a divorce and instead rules that Harry should be "deprived of manhood" (ooohh, that sounds bad) - well, actually he must "take his wife's place in the kitchen for 30 days" or face jail (no more "wine, women, and blondes" for Harry). So - the next day Harry's tie and suit clad wife goes to a job, while Harry dons a skirt and keeps house. Mind you, he looks like a man in EVERY way except the skirt, but every man who comes to the door, ice man, repo man, etc. chases after him or gives him a kiss - yeah, weird, that's for sure, but kind of funny actually. I know this film gets a lot of criticism and lots of folks hate it - but - I like it. I first saw this years ago at a Cinecon screening and really liked it then - was glad to see this come out on DVD, it's actually the second feature on the Kino DVD with "Three's A Crowd" - I like this film better. * 7 to 8 stars *

June 11, 2008 - The Bucket List (2007) - Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two old guys who meet when they end up in the same hospital room together, both dying of cancer. Each is given only a year max. to live - so they decide to run off together and complete tasks they have written on their "bucket list", a list of things they want to do before they die. Nicholson is very rich so can pay for the both of them - Freeman seems not so happily married and glad to get away. So - next thing you know we see them - um - living as if they are two twenty-year olds as they sky dive, drive race cars, and get tattoos. Then they seem to calm down as they go on a round-the-world adventure together - seeing the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Himalayas, and the like - cool! I thought this was pretty good, much better than I was expecting. The two lead actors had a pretty good bond/chemistry together, which helps the whole story work. * 8/10 stars *

June 6, 2008 - Shanghai Express (1932) - "It took more than one man to change my name to - Shanghai Lily" is just one of the great lines in this film, a stylish, gorgeously photographed adventure/melodrama that is all set during a three-day train journey on board the Shanghai Express. Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lily ("the notorious white flower of China" - a prostitute), dressed all in black, draped in feathers and boa as she arrives to board the train where we soon meet an ensemblage of characters all riding in the first class compartments - an elderly English lady who runs a Shanghai boarding house and tries to sneak her little dog on the train in a picnic basket, a man (Eugene Pallette) who bets on "everything under the sun", a British officer/doctor (Clive Brook), another man who speaks only French, Mr. Chang - a sickly man, a half Chinese/half white man with a secret, a Doctor of Divinity who highly disapproves of the two women and their "careers", and a young Chinese prostitute (Anna May Wong) who ends up sharing the compartment with Shanghai Lily. Turns out the doctor is an old beau of Shanghai Lily and he feels she hurt him badly, yet he still carries the torch for her not to mention the watch she gave him with a photo of herself inside it. A Civil War is going on in China and the train keeps getting stopped during their journey, passports checked, and the like - a Chinese man is captured and taken away, and he ends up being the "right hand man" of Chang who turns out to be the "Commander in Chief" of the revolution and wanted, dead or alive, by the Chinese government. Chang sets out to find a hostage amongst the first-class passengers and choses the doctor who Lily is apparently still in love with as she must help rescue him. Quite good film, the story kept me involved, the imagery is nice to look at with atmospheric lighting and lots of close-ups, particularly of the two beautiful women. "Every train carries it's cargo of sin, but this train is burdened with more than it's share" spouts our Doctor of Divinity - I just had to share one more line! * 9/10 stars *

June 4, 2008 - Dan In Real Life (2007) - Romantic comedy about an advice columnist (Steve Carell) who is a widow and the father of three tween to teen daughters. He carts them off to Rhode Island for the annual family reunion at his parent's house where the whole extended family spends a week (or so) together - then he meets a pretty woman (Juliette Binoche) in a local bookstore and hits it off with her via his comedic patter. Uh oh - what neither of them know is she was just on her way to his parent's house herself, seems she's his brother's new girlfriend who is staying for this reunion too. Trouble ensues as our man finds himself falling in love but has to keep himself away from her and keep the whole family from knowing about their little secret. Pretty cute - side story relates to the dad's insensitiveness to his daughter's feelings, which all gets turned around on himself in his pursuit (or non-pursuit is more like it) of love. I liked the way this big family seemed like a real-life family - and the Rhode Island house they filmed this in is gorgeous, just my kind of house. * 8/10 stars *

June 2, 2008 - Elevator to the Gallows (1958) - French language film, directed by Louis Malle. The film is a slick and stylish fifties film noir, with a riveting plot full of clever twists that lead this crime story in all directions but the expected. The film opens with an extreme close-up of the beautiful face of elegant Jeanne Moreau as she spouts into a telephone "I Love You". The party on the other end - Julian Taverniers, a man about to kill his boss, her husband, all in the name of love. The crime is perfectly planned - a drawer opens in his office and ready to go are rubber gloves, a gun, and a rope which he uses to pull himself up to the bosses window where he sneaks in, shoots him, and sets it up for a suicide. Plans go awry when he starts up his fancy car outside, leaves the engine running when he remembers he forgot the rope dangling on the side of the building (duh), and - now here's one twist that starts the real story rolling - he gets trapped in the elevator when the power is shut off on his ride up to get the rope! While his girl roams the city streets of Paris all night searching for him, he tries to escape the elevator, and meanwhile - of all things - his car is stolen by a local flower shop girl and her youthful, leather-jacketed boyfriend who take the car for a joyride. A terrific film, I won't go anymore into the plot but it pretty much kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way. The cinematography in this film is superb, full of noirish elements - you know, the femme fatale, the dark city streets, venetian blinds in every window, even a black cat that strolls by the window as the crime is being committed. A very nice jazz score done by Miles Davis really helps set the mood for this really entertaining, must see film. * 10/10 stars *

May 28, 2008 - '49 -'17 (1917) - Cute silent western about an Eastern judge who daydreams of his younger days in the Old West where he panned for gold, was involved in a love triangle, struck it rich, then headed East to care for his invalid sister - ah, those were the days! The judge decides he would like to enjoy those days one more time before he dies - so decides to return to the western gold rush town "Nugget Notch", his old stomping grounds, now an abandoned ghost town, and rebuild it. He sends his secretary Tom ahead of him out West to help populate the town - not an easy task based around the local, shy "Western types". Luckily Tom happens upon a carnival-style simulated "forty-niner camp" which is on it's last legs. Worried the show will soon close, the owner strikes a deal with Tom for the whole troupe to help him recreate the glory days of Nugget Notch. They all move into the town and Tom joins the troupe as a performer undercover where he soon begins a romance with a cute, young gal named Peggy (Donna Drew) - but there's a jealous rival/"bad man" who bribes Peggy's father to keep her away from Tom. And meanwhile the judge is living it up in Nugget Notch, which soon becomes a Wild West gold rush town that is more real than fake - with a saloon gun battle, horse-capades, bad guy versus good guy, *the* girl, *the* gold, every cliche you would expect pretty much. A whole lot of coincidences help drive this story, an entertaining film that is interesting while it lasts, though perhaps not the best silent western in the world - a bit muddled/nonsensical sometimes. The Kino DVD release of this film (on the same disc as "The Ocean Waif") features a decent, tinted print as well as an excellent piano score by Jon Mirsalis. * 7/10 stars *

May 23, 2008 - The Ocean Waif (1916) - "NIGHT - When all is peace and beauty sleeps, genius wakes and the robber creeps" - a choice title card from this film. Silent film telling the tale of Ronald Roberts (Carlyle Blackwell), a successful young novelist who goes ashore from his yacht to work on his next book. He finds an abandoned manor house, reputed to be haunted by a female ghost, and decides it's the perfect place to write. But - unknown to him the house is already inhabited, and not by a ghost, but by a pretty young lady named Millie aka "The Ocean Waif" who has found refuge in the house after running away from her cruel, bad-tempered "foster father". As Millie snitches food, Ronald's valet gets spooked - but soon the mystery of the "girl ghost" is solved as Ronald finds her asleep in the attic. Yes, she's real attractive, so naturally he falls for her. But - soon his "fiancee" - a-hum - arrives and catches him kissing Millie, so Millie heads back home to her foster father. Though by all appearances it doesn't seem like she's been gone all that long, the father suddenly realizes she is a woman and he "ain't her father" and asks to marry her - ugh. Soon a crime, then a trial puts Ronald and his relationship with the fiancee in jeopardy - and all's well that end's well, you might say. This is a rather charming film, though it is dampered by quite a bit of nitrate deterioration to the print as well as missing footage here and there. Still - I found what could be followed of the story entertaining and the two lead stars very appealing and attractive. Carlyle Blackwell, so popular during the teen era of silent film, is, well, handsome and charismatic - I love his smile. Actress Doris Kenyon, who plays Millie, is rather delightful and looks very cute when she's dressed in overalls. The Kino DVD release of this film features a really nice piano score done by Jon Mirsalis. Nice film. * 8/10 stars *

May 22, 2008 - The Lives of Others (2007) - German language film set in East Berlin, the GDR circa 1984. About a secret police officer who is put in charge of the 24-hour surveillance of a successful playwright and his actress girlfriend. The playwright's apartment is completely bugged without his knowledge and he goes about his life, while upstairs in the attic of the building, the secret police are busy listening on headphones and typing up reports on everything that goes on in the apartment. But - the main gestapo guy gets so involved in the playwright's life he gets to like him, and when the playwright starts writing a piece about GDR cover-up of suicide statistics in East Germany, our secret police man begins his own cover-up. Real good - the story held me captive completely. * 9/10 stars *

May 21, 2008 - For Robert Montgomery's birthday last week, Turner Classic Movies featured a day of his films. Robert Montgomery has become one of my most favorite 30s/40s actors in the past year, and he's a real adorable heartthrob too (I must say) watch out when he's dressed in white tie and tails (wooo) - I seek out seeing more and more of his films. On this day I watched three (ended up I had seen the first one before, but well worth watching again). Here's my plot summaries and reviews for these films: First up, Another Language (1933) - Pre-code sitting room melodrama - Arriving on the French Line is just eloped couple, mama's boy Victor (Robert Montgomery) and new bride Stella (Helen Hayes), who is introduced to her new hubby's family for the first time. This close-knit family are very gossipy and judgmental and pronounce Victor "henpecked" as they just don't seem to approve of anything Stella does. Jump to three years later where conflict is rampant - seems every Tuesday is family dinner night at Victor's mother's house (she was never very happy about the elopement OR her new daughter-in-law) and Stella regularly makes excuses not to go - - mama manages to get sick every-time Victor and Stella want to go on a trip. Victor is no prize of a husband either as he sides with his family against his wife every single time. Stella finally makes an appearance at a family dinner where she meets young and handsome Jerry, Victor's nephew. Jerry finds he has lots in common with put-upon Stella and quickly falls in love with her. Stella is kind to him and enjoys talking to him, as he seems like the only true friend she really has. Troubles ensue. This is a really excellent film - it features a very intriguing story, is well acted and believable. * 9/10 stars *
Lovers Couragous (1932) - Well done melodrama starring Robert Montgomery as Willie Smith, a young Englishman with a wanderlust who travels about the world running through a string of different jobs - hotel boy to cowboy to finally ending up in South Africa where he's busy working as a tobacconist's assistant. Soon a beautiful young lady enters the shop, Mary Blayne (Madge Evans), the daughter of an admiral and engaged to marry an English Lord. Crazy about each other, they secretly meet - but when Mary's rich daddy finds out, Mary is shipped back home to England to get married. The Lord is a much older, rather pompous old guy mainly interested in hunting and hounds, you know the sort. But Willie is soon back in England himself - in pursuit of his real dream, that of becoming a Playwright. The night before her marriage to the Lord, Mary finds out he's back and runs away to marry him. Now the story becomes a tale of a poor starving couple struggling to make ends meet while he is writing and attempting to sell one of his plays. Troubles ensue for these two. Quite entertaining - the star power is working in this one with a nice chemistry between the two leads; good script too. * 8 to 9 stars *
Live, Love and Learn (1937) - Romantic comedy about struggling artist Bob Graham (Montgomery) who marries Julie (Rosalind Russell) the society gal who is used to the good things in life, then brings her to live in his shabby one-room flat - and she don't mind a bit! Privacy is an issue for them as Bob has a drunken roommate (Robert Benchley) who sleeps on his couch, plus the walk-in-without-knocking landlady's boy (Mickey Rooney in only ONE brief scene - shucks). Julie sees everything as great and even is happy to encourage hubby to turn down a $2,000 check from her rich uncle. Sudden success for Bob the artist and he immediately starts spending his new found money including a huge, stylish new luxury penthouse for them to live in - and wifey is just *not* happy as she believes he has sold himself out to the idle rich as he paints rich people's portraits and ignores his roots. With lots of star power in this film - Montgomery, Russell, Benchley, and even old reliable Monty Woolley as a man who owns a gallery and wants to exhibit the paintings of his new discovery - you would think the film would be better than it is, the problem is simply a poor script. I found this film a bit dull and tedious, the plot somewhat implausible, and absolutely no romantic chemistry between the two leads - it was always hard to ever believe them as a happy couple (easier when they are not so happy). So so, best for Montgomery and Rosalind Russell fans only. * 6/10 stars *

May 20, 2008 - Jimmy Stewart's 100th Birthday celebration today on TCM. As he's one of my all-time favorite actors, I watched one of my fave of his movies today - Vertigo (1958), a very stylish romantic thriller directed by the master, Alfred Hitchcock. Jimmy Stewart is a retired detective, put on a case by an old acquaintance who is worried about the strange behavior of his beautiful wife (Kim Novak). Seems she's disappearing around San Francisco, driving for miles to places unknown and hubby wants the scoop on her - so Stewart starts tailing her to find out what's going on. Now we get into a possibly supernatural tale that involves a woman from the past who committed suicide, as Novak goes to a graveyard to gaze at her tombstone and spends hours sitting in front of the dead woman's painting that hangs in a local museum. She doesn't know she is doing this, and ends up taking a dive in the bay, where Stewart rescues her, then begins to fall in love with her. This film is just terrific, and though I have seen it a number of times (it's probably my favorite Hitchcock film) I was completely on the edge of my seat through the whole film - it's that good. I love the wonderful, mysterious soundtrack that runs through the film, composed by Bernard Herrmann. One of the greatest films of all time. * 10/10 stars *

May 19, 2008 - The Lovers (1958) - French language film about love and loneliness, expertly directed by Louis Malle. Here's a short summary of the plot: Jeanne (played by Jeanne Moreau) lives in a very lovely house in the French wine country outside Dijon - she has a young daughter, loyal servants, and a well-to-do husband of eight years, a newspaper publisher who is way more interested in his job and listening to Brahms records than being with his wife. Lonely and bored, Jeanne spends lots of weekends in Paris with her best gal pal Maggy - and those weekends get to be more and more frequent as beautiful Jeanne has fallen for a magnificently tall, dark, and handsome (Maggy knows 30 women who would do anything to have him) polo player who is madly in love with Jeanne. The husband begins to get jealous and oddly insists she cut her latest trip to Paris short and invite Maggy and the polo player to come back and stay with them for a few days. But when Jeanne's car breaks down on the way back home, she gets a ride with an attractive male stranger who is then asked by the hubby to join the group for dinner and stay overnight. Now we've got dinner and conversation round the table with hubby, wife, Maggy, the polo player, and the stranger and the whole situation becomes a sort of farce in Jeanne's eyes - until a night of passion leads to a complete life change (and I won't go into the details of this as it's too much of a SPOILER). SPOILER: This film is very passionate, with almost a third of the film devoted to the love scenes between Jeanne and her lover, with an amount of in bed (and bath and boat) love-making and a touch of nudity that, though seemingly tame now, is surprising for a film made in the fifties. The film is interestingly photographed in black-and-white, and the plot, though slow moving, completely held me captivated - I really became interested in this woman's story. Jeanne's voice is sometimes heard as voice-narration, telling her thoughts in third-person, like reading a storybook. An excellent film all around. * 10/10 stars *

May 15, 2008 - P.S. I Love You (2007) - Okay, I wasn't even sure I wanted to watch this one, but it ended up being SO much better than I was expecting - quite romantic and well done. A romantic melodrama (with a small touch of comedy here and there to lighten it up) about a young woman, Holly (Hilary Swank) whose Irish husband of ten years dies of a brain tumor. The story follows the year after his death and her attempts to come out of her grief and back into her life again - helped along by the fact that her, well, rather thoughtful now-gone hubbie had the foresight to arrange to have sent to her after his death a series of letters to help her along. He even pre-planned and paid for a trip to Ireland for her and her two best gal pals. Flashbacks relate some memories of their relationship, including the day they met in a wild, heather-laden "park" area of Ireland. I really enjoyed this - I liked some of the side characters in this too - Lisa Kudrow, always a favorite, as her man-hunt crazy pal and Harry Connick Jr. is her says-whatever-comes-into-his-head new friend who happens to have a crush on her - will it end in a new romance for Holly? A lot of nice on-location photography, shot in New York City and lovely Ireland is seen in this film - the story is entertaining and kept me interested throughout - very enjoyable film. * 9/10 stars *

May 9, 2008 - I'm Not There (2007) - A truly odd, rough-and-tumble, very muddled portrait of singer Bob Dylan - I can't say I really liked this but - the soundtrack of Dylan songs that runs throughout the film is very good, plus I loved seeing my poor gone love, Heath Ledger, in this. The film has six different actors portraying various personas of Dylan, each with his own name - one is played by a black youngster, one is played by a woman (Cate Blanchett). The stories time-trip back and forth - one actor here, then forward in time, a different actor is Dylan, then back, sometimes shot in black-and-white, sometimes color - and really, pretty nonsensical, I must say. Oh - and one of the personas, played by Richard Gere, is "Billy the Kid" in this very odd period village full of characters in their "Halloween costumes". I take it some of these concepts come from Dylan's song lyrics? - I don't know all the songs that well, so for me, it was unclear. My favorite scene was actually a black-and-white 60s party scene where one of my fave Monkees songs "Stepping Stone" plays in the foreground. This film is trying so, so, so hard to be artsy, innovative, trendy, cool, and remembered as a filmmakers masterwork - it certainly falls far short. But - Heath is a doll. * 7/10 stars *

May 6, 2008 - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) - Moving, very stylishly done film based on the true story of a 42-year old French man who wakes up in a hospital in Normandy from a several week long coma to find that he has had a debilitating stroke that has left him completely paralyzed - he can't speak and he can't move except for one eye, which he can blink. Yet his mind is completely intact and he finds that he can escape from his "diving bell", as he calls it, through his imagination and his memories. His speech therapist helps him communicate via a system of recitation of the alphabet and blinking at the appropriate letter to spell out words - and thus begins the tedious daily process of the writing of a book telling his story. This is a really good film that completely held my interest - it is in French, with English subtitles (that were luckily big and easy to read on the DVD, by the way). The photography in this film is extremely interesting - some of the story told showing first-person action seen through the eyes of the main character - you see what he sees, in other words. When he blinks, you see the blink covering across the picture, when people are looking at him up close you see just their face in extreme close-up. You also hear his voice telling his thoughts, so as you view the film you know everything he is thinking - you also see his thoughts come to life as he fantasizes about such things as women or dining in a fine Paris restaurant or remembers his real-life past. * 9 to 10 stars *

May 5, 2008 - Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today watched The Golden Compass (2007) - Computer-animated bears, oddball flying machines, a mechanical "spy fly", and bow-and-arrow wielding flying witches is all part of the magic in this special-effects laden fantasy about a parallel world to ours that is similar in many ways, but different too - the biggest difference is that a human soul is not inside of a person but rather walks next to his side in animal form and is called his "daemon". The animal, whether be mammal, bird, or even insect, is different for each human - I think based around his/her personality - for just children, the animal keeps changing shape until it finally stays stable when they become an adult. The story focuses around tween-age Lyra - her animal normally shifting between ferret, cat, and mouse. She is apparently some sort of chosen child, foretold by the witches to be a human who will lead the armies against the evil people who are running a sort of mind control venture to keep the truth of the duel universes a secret. The "gobblers" as they are called, steal poor children and bring them to a secret place in the north to perform a dastardly medical treatment on them - the removal of their daemon from their body. The reasons behind all this stuff is a bit muddled, but it's a fun film, very entertaining. Lyra is brought on a venture to the icy northern country where she hooks up with 1. a gigantic "ice bear" who was once a prince, and 2. a sort of otherworld cowboy - and the three join together to try to save the stolen kids. Oh yes - the "golden compass" part of this story is a compass that reveals the truth to any question posed to it via a series of dials - young Lyra has been given the only one left in existence, as all others were destroyed in the past by people in power. * 8 to 9 stars *

May 4, 2008 - Tonight starts Frank Sinatra month on TCM - and ya know I love Frankie - so first up was an early Frankie film that I used to watch fairly regularly, but haven't seen in a number of years - Higher and Higher (1943). Romantic comedy/musical about a household of servants who love to break out in song as they work understairs to serve a man named Drake who is about to have his New York mansion foreclosed because of debt. So - the staff (unpaid for the last 7 months, but still willing to work for this guy, by the way) joins forces to form a "corporation" to try and get money to save the property - their method is to have the attractive scullery maid (Michele Morgan) try to hook a wealthy man to marry by posing as Drake's deputante daughter, just back from Switzerland (which I guess explains her accent). She's pretty inept at playing up the deputante - she just seems to love being a maid too much, it seems, as she keeps getting caught dusting things and washing the front steps - stuff like that. A man is found quickly for her - one Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor - problem is, she's madly in love with the household valet (Jack Haley) who seems oblivious to her passion despite her constant not-so-subtle mooning around and gazing into his eyes, etc. So how does Frankie fit into all this, you may ask - well, he plays himself (unmarried though) as a neighbor (and *what* a nice neighbor to have - ooh la la!) who lives in the next-door house and has befriended the scullery maid by waving at each other from opposite windows. Okay, so this film is fun, light entertainment boosted up to the hilt by a very young and handsome Sinatra crooning his heart out throughout the film (as my Aunt Billie used to say in the day - according to my dad - "When Frankie sings, *all* the girls swoon!"). Most of the songs are not super catchy, but with star turns by the likes of Sinatra, not to mention Jack Haley, Dooley Wilson, and a really young "Velvet Fog", Mel Torme, everything is very enjoyable to watch. One number that I've always remembered to this day is when the teenybopper maid (Marcy McGuire) sings "I Saw You First" with Sinatra ("Ooh Frankie"). A silly, but quite a fun romp. * 7/10 stars *

April 29, 2008 - Nancy Drew (2007) - Okay, I used to love the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid (in those sort of tween years), I couldn't get enough of them - I even read some of my faves ("The Haunted Bridge" comes to mind) multiple times, so I was interested in seeing this. Well, the film is a pretty cute take-off on the story (except they close to almost eliminated Nancy's pals Bess and George - booo). Anyway, it's set in the current day - but they fit in the old look for Nancy (well, the 60s look anyway, similar to the drawings that were in the books I read in them old days) by making her a teen who likes old-fashioned stuff including clothes and vinyl records - and she still drives that vintage roadster, just like in the books. Now the books normally describe Nancy Drew as basically like this "meet lovely, titian-haired Nancy, generous to a fault, and the MOST popular young person in River Heights". In this version, Nancy is pretty *unpopular* once she hits the local L.A. high school (and yes, there's those filmland Mean Girls again) - see the plot involves Nancy and her dad leaving River Heights, a town pretty much stuck in the past, to stay in L.A. for a few months, renting a house with a "mystery". Nancy's dad has forbidden her to "sleuth" while they are there (he seems to *really* want her to just be a normal teen), but Nancy found the house for them, and is completely set on solving the mystery of the former movie actress who onced lived there and died mysteriously in 1981 after a five month disappearance. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson even shows up in town for awhile - still in the picture, I see. Watching Nancy solve the mystery is entertaining, the action sometimes filmed to look just like the drawings from the books (as I remember the way they looked, anyway). The Los Angeles setting is interesting, with scenes shot in familar places like Chinatown and Hollywood. The young actress, Emma Roberts, who plays Nancy is capable, likeable, and appropriately strawberry blonde/titian/auburn-haired. Nothing great, but a fun to watch and enjoyable flick for an afternoon's watch. * 7/10 stars *

April 28, 2008 - Dancing Lady (1933) - Gosh, I love this one - but failed to write it up. Stars Clark Gable, Joan Crawford (who dances with a young Fred Astaire, playing himself, in one scene) - and best of all, my lovely Franchot Tone. It's good.

April 25, 2008 - Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) - "Society Girl Turns Reporter" - Fast-paced, very entertaining precode film starring Joan Crawford as Bonnie Jordan - she's spoiled, she's rich, she dances, she parties on her daddy's yacht where the young people like to go "moonlight bathing" in their underwear, she believes in "trying love out". But daddy's hit hard in the stock market crash of 1929 - completely wiped out, he drops dead. Bonnie and her wild, hard drinking brother Rod are left penniless, the furniture auctioned, the servants let go - they even lose the yacht. What are these poor kids going to do? As Rod says "We're not prepared to work - we didn't even finish school". Well, seems our Bonnie is stronger and braver than one would think when viewing her earlier scenes in this film - she refuses to marry just for her rich beau's money, and gets herself a newspaper job as a cub reporter. She adapts to her new, poorer lifestyle like a fish to water - riding the bus, living in an apartment, cooking for herself, and enjoying earning her own living - it's really pretty amazing! Unfortunately, brother Rod doesn't adapt as well and gets himself hired to work for a really ruthless (but handsome) bootlegger (Clark Gable) interested in Rod for his connections to the rich set. SPOILER SPOILER But soon Bonnie must go undercover working as a dancer in the bootlegger's nightclub to help solve the murder of a beloved fellow reporter - little does she know her own brother is behind the crime, and she almost gets herself "taken for a ride". A good script and well done performances help make this one a winner - don't you just love it when Gable plays the bad guy! Well worth seeing. * 9/10 stars *

April 24, 2008 - The Savages (2007) - About a rather neurotic woman, aspiring playwright Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) - single, prescription drug popping, currently having an affair with a married man, and somewhat of a liar to boot - who must suddenly care for her elderly father who she never had a good relationship with and has been estranged from for years. Wendy and her also seldom-seen brother Jon, a college professor, move the dad from his Sun City, Arizona home to a nursing home near the brother in winter-time Buffalo. The dad has dementia, but - I don't know - Wendy seems crazier than him! Okay, so the film is basically the back and forth dialogue and growing relationship between Wendy and Jon, as they await the dad's imminent death. The story is much more about Wendy and her problems and relationships than anything else. A quite good film - completely held my interest. Laura Linney gives an excellent performance here, Oscar nominated. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent too in his performance as the brother - the two have a lot of chemistry together, really came across as real siblings, actually. A few clips from old movies are screened in scenes in this film - namely, a "classic movie night" screening at the nursing home of "The Jazz Singer". * 8/10 stars *
Next up, Charlie Wilson's War (2007) - Very well done and entertaining, much better than I was actually expecting. Based on the true story of a small-time Congressman from Texas - Charlie Wilson - who manages to work it to get much more spending put towards better weapons and training to help Afghanistan defeat the Russians in the 1980s. * 9/10 stars *

April 23, 2008 - On TCM today, Middle of the Night (1959) - "Hungry for Love", a May-December Mid-Life Crisis - - Fredric March is excellent here playing Jerry, the lonely, middle-aged (56 years old), widowed boss at a clothing factory who befriends Betty (Kim Novak) the company's beautiful, 24-year old secretary/model one afternoon while picking up papers at her apartment. She's a troubled young lady, it seems, all in a frazzle about her ex-husband and whether she should "go back with him or not". The boss stays for a couple hours listening to her, helping her decide that she doesn't love the ex and doesn't want him back - she seems to like having around this "friendly" older man who is kind to her. Well - surprise (not) - the boss thinks she's a real "pretty kid" and starts chasing around after her. Soon he's asked her out for a date - and she accepts. Now remember, this is 1959, the kind of office environment where this kind of line gets said "I thought you understood when you were hired you have to go out with the bosses, heh, heh" - as one older "gentleman" says over the desk to Betty. But Betty sees Jerry as a good man, not one of these creeps who chase young girls. After a few dates she seems to realize she won't be able to love this guy more than twice her age and tries to break it off - well, he just won't give it up, see, *he's* fallen in love. Amazingly, she continues to go out with him, not limited to going away for a weekend stay at a cabin in the snow. Soon talk of marriage - but it's still not so clear if Betty loves the guy or what. Problems ensue in the form of seeking some sort of approval by their rather dysfunctional families. I found this film quite interesting, the 2 hours watching this went by fast - it is pretty much a filmed stage play, most scenes in just a few different rooms, a few city street scenes in NYC, Central Park, etc. The character Betty is never shown as a gold-digger, or interested at all in her boss for his money - so, despite the large age gap, hey, more power to her if she really likes being with this guy. He seems to be mainly after her for her beauty, but, so be it. Kim Novak is, of course, very beautiful here, I'm not so sure about some of her acting (a lot of glancing back and forth to show how troubled she is) but she is likeable - Fredric March gives a great performance. There's a lot of talk in this film about being a fifty-something middle-aged "old guy" (gosh, being in your fifties isn't so old - I'm nearly there myself). A very good film. * 9/10 stars *

April 18, 2008 - Lars and the Real Girl (2007) - Off-the-wall film set in a small Canadian town, about Lars (Ryan Gosling) a shy man, almost hermit-like in his hiding away from any kind of socializing or communicating with people, until - - he orders a true-to-life, anatomically correct (yeah, you got it) "love doll" i.e. sex doll from the internet and takes the *love* aspect of her literally as he, well, falls in love with her. His new "girlfriend" (the doll) Bianca is treated like a real girl - he talks to her, imagines he hears her talk back, and starts to come out of his shell socially. Now here's the weird part - the whole town in an effort to help him, acts like the doll is real too, asking her to join social things, part-time job for her, etc. - eh, pretty odd. If this was meant to be a comedy - it's not. Seems to me Lars is very deeply disturbed in his "delusion" - his relations *are* worried, but the psychologist they bring him to recommends simply going along with it. Everyone treats the whole thing like it's completely normal - a real close-knit town, that's for sure, they stick by their own no matter what! There's a girl where Lars works that seems interested in him from the beginning of the film - her interest doesn't seem to wane - I don't know about that? I mean, I can't see considering dating someone who has that sort of mental disorder - this is way over the top! I was hoping this one would be better - very disappointing. A much better film with a story about a guy and his relationship with a life-size doll - the silent film "The Doll". * 5/10 stars *

April 15, 2009 - Music Within (2007) - Well done period film following the true story of Richard Pimentel, in a tent hit by a bomb blast in Vietnam, he becomes partly deaf and can't understand what anyone is saying - until he meets new life-long pal Art, severely disabled with cerebral palsy, Richard is the only person who can understand his mangled speech (hey, this part of the story is sure similar to the film I saw last week "Rory O'Shea Was Here"). One night at 3:00 am the two guys decide to go to a Pancake House for Art's b-day, but Art is viciously attacked by their very rude/evil waitress who calls Art "the ugliest thing on the planet" and worse (it's so hard to believe there was a real person who ever treated a disabled person like this, but, well, this is a true story - shocking) - the guys are arrested based on a real-life law that existed since the days of Barnum that "extremely ugly persons can't go out in public places" - wow. Anyway, this inspires Richard to give up his high-paying career and use his natural gift at public speaking to work helping get jobs for the disabled, as well as write a book helping to get employers to hire the disabled, all leading to the establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I liked this film a lot, it was inspiring to see this person use his gifts for something good, instead of just going the route of the bitter. The film does a fine job with the period settings in this, starting in the late 40s, the majority of the film is set in the 60s/70s - the soundtrack full of songs from the period, which helps bring the time to life. The side story of Richard's years long romance with this girl he meets at the roller rink doesn't add much to the story. I thought the actor who plays Art does a fine job, his cerebral palsy seemed real here (though I saw in the special features it was all just good acting)! * 8 to 9 stars *
Early evening, watched Juno (2007) - Coming-of-age comedy/drama following the story of a sixteen-year old girl named Juno, who finds out she has gotten pregnant via one night with her best guy pal, a geeky and quiet track team member. Juno decides she will look at ads in the Pennysaver to find a couple to adopt her baby when it is born and finds the ultimate yuppie/suburban/thirty-something/successful couple with a wife desperate to have a child. The woman (Jennifer Garner) seems a bit hyper/nervous in her longing for a baby - the hubby (Jason Bateman) turns out to be more of an aging song writer/guitarist somewhat trapped in this surburban environment - and with a love of music and horror movies that is compatible with Juno. This film is highly entertaining, a teen film that feels just a little bit different - the soundtrack music of current songs is good and matches the spirit of the film. The story could have gone in several different directions, I thought, so wasn't completely predictable - - the actress, Ellen Page, who plays Juno is very likable, which helps with this. I really liked this one a lot. Interesting opening credits too. * 9/10 stars *

April 14, 2008 - Titanic (1997) - My annual screening of "Titanic", on the night of the disaster. I didn't write this up but here's a few bits - I have lots of books and know quite a bit about the true incident, I saw this originally in a theatre in Westwood Village when it came out and was fairly disappointed about some of the unrealistic aspects of this film. But - the movie has grown on me over the years - and now I love it. Yeah, it has a rather far-fetched love story woven in with the sinking - but it's still an entertaining watch, with a fab music score (and I'm a sucker for a really fabulous music score!).

April 10, 2008 - There Will Be Blood (2007) - Stylish cinematography and art direction that brings to life the period setting starting from 1898 through to 1927, a rather unusual music score (kind of sounded like sirens sometimes, yet suited the story), but a rather odd and dark tale made for a film that I did like, even though it was SO hard to like the characters. The main character, who is basically in every scene of the film, is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), oil man, who in 1911 is visited by a young man, Paul Sunday, who sells him the location of his family ranch in Little Boston, California which he claims is rich in oil. Daniel and his young son head to the ranch pretending to be hunting quail, the Sunday family is poor, the land will not grow anything, but there is indeed oil - so, Daniel makes a deal to purchase the Sunday's property and agrees to give $5,000 dollars to the local church when oil comes through. See, son Eli, who happens to be an identical twin to Paul, is prophet (and a healer to boot) of the local "Church of the Third Revelation". Daniel is a man full of greed and hatred, he's all for making more and more profit, even at the expense of others - but he's a very hard character to read, too, as he seems to love his young son, who is being groomed to become an oil man like dad. SPOILER SPOILER - the boy is injured in a oil well accident and loses his hearing, dad Daniel can't take the child's bad behavior after the accident, so basically abandons the boy on a train, shipping him off to some sort of unknown home for boys - ouch. I think this film is extremely well done, the way it is photographed and the on-location scenery really captured a time and place from the past for me, SPOILER SPOILER: there is one long tracking shot that tracks down a pipeline they are placing in the ground to a scene reuniting the boy and father - this whole scene is done in one take, and the reunion is seen only from a distance, some very interesting photography that. Of course, Daniel Day Lewis, is very good in this part, which he won the Oscar for Best Actor this last year, well deserved - but the character is so dark and brooding, he's certainly could be called one of film's "men you love to hate". * 9/10 stars *
The Water Horse (2007) - Rather charming fantasy tale of a boy and his horse, with a twist! The twist - the "horse" is a water horse, a creature of legend reputed to be the Loch Ness Monster. Set in 1942 in a small village near Loch Ness, the story follows young boy Angus, who finds a large rock-like egg at the seaside and brings it home, only to find in the night it has hatched into a baby creature, horse-faced and lizard like. Angus names him Crusoe after "Robinson Crusoe", finds out Crusoe needs water badly, and soon Crusoe has taken over a bathtub - and is growing like crazy! All of this while at the same time a battalian of soldiers have stationed themselves at their house, where Angus' mum is head housekeeper. With the help of the new household handyman, Angus brings Crusoe, now too big to live in the tub, to the Loch to be let free, the boy still visits - but unfortunately, trouble starts up when the soldiers play target practice with these huge power guns shooting into the lake, poor Crusoe truly then becomes a "monster" from his fear. I found this film very entertaining, the story completely interesting and fun - Crusoe, put into the film via computer animation (which I don't normally like all that much), really comes to life in this as a real character you care about. One of the best scenes is one where Angus takes a rip-roaring ride on Crusoe's back, under water, and over the water - wooo! * 9/10 stars *

April 8, 2008 - Rory O'Shea Was Here (2004) - Really well done UK / Irish film following the story of twenty-year old Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy), disabled by muscular dystrophy, we first meet him as the new resident at a Dublin care home for the disabled. Though paralyzed and wheelchair bound, he is able to speak, is sharp of mind - and sharp of tongue. A somewhat angry young man, he plays his music too loud and says exactly what he thinks to the, as he calls them, "old bitches" who run the joint. Rory very soon befriends a young man named Michael who is severely disabled by cerebral palsy, wheelchair bound, his speech so distorted that no one can understand him - except Rory! Michael has spent his whole life isolated in care homes, Rory sneaks him out on the town one day and into a bar to enjoy alcohol - and meet girls. Michael likes this new independence and soon he has applied for independent living - with Rory signed on as his live-in "interpreter". The two men get a two-bedroom flat together and hire on this pretty blonde they met at the bar to be their "personal assistant". Trouble brews though, when Michael starts to fall in love with this girl, not reciprocated. I thought this film was very good - it went by fast, I was so interested in the story here - and I really cared what happened to these characters, they seemed so real. I love, love, love James McAvoy - he's great in this, as usual, and - well, he's just so darn cute. The actor who plays Michael, Steven Robertson - wow is he good, his garbled speech, turned mouth, and struggling arm movements so well played, he seemed like he really was disabled, not just acting - I was actually thinking they might have hired someone real for the part he's that good (according to the imdb, not true). * 9/10 stars *

April 6, 2008 - The Rat Race (1960) - Tony Curtis plays a naive midwestern saxophone player, just off the bus in New York City in pursuit of success as a musician in the big city. With little money in his pocket he takes a cheap apartment which is currently occupied by Debbie Reynolds, just about to be kicked out for not paying her rent. Well - he feels sorry for her as she has nowhere to go, so invites her to "share" the room with him - and being 1960 this could be considered a rather shocking prospect, but the landlady okays it (for extra money in her pocket). Debbie works as a "dancer" at a dime-a-dance sort of place, he seeks work too, but being part of the "rat race" of NYC now, he just ends up getting taken. His musical instruments get stolen after he is tricked by a bunch of con artists, and at the same time he is finally offered a real job playing on a cruise ship, what to do? Well, nice little Debbie finds a way to get money to buy him a new saxophone so he can take the job - - however, she must agree to do the unthinkable (prostitution) in exchange for the dough. Well, this is an interesting film - pretty much a filmed stage play, but with street scenes done in New York (and possibly a backlot). The story is somewhat of a downer since things just always seem to go wrong, the idea of Debbie keeping a strong will and not having to resort to doing anything "worse" than being a ticket dancer is constantly part of the story here - the "prostitution" is not mentioned (being 1960), just implied - but clearly implied. Still - I enjoyed this, have never actually seen this one before, and I am a fan of Debbie Reynolds, so that helps. * 7/10 stars *

April 3, 2008 - Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) - Absolutely terrific adaptation of the hit Broadway musical - I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this one, I saw the original production on the stage with Angela Lansbury and the original cast and LOVED it. This film version is just a bit over the top (especially in it's level of gruesomeness - ugh, you could watch this on Halloween if you really want a fright - very bloody) but once it got going the fantastic imagery and even more fantastic music just caught me - I love the songs in this, just great. Telling the tale of a barber (Johnny Depp), thrown in jail for fifteen years for a crime he didn't commit, by a judge (Alan Rickman) chasing after the barber's beautiful wife. Released from prison, the barber changes his name to Sweeney Todd and opens up a shop above a very unsuccessful, cockroach-inhabited meat pie shop ("the worst pies in London", as the song goes) run by one strange lady, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). Well, Todd is pretty odd himself and bent on revenge against the judge who did him wrong - he plans to murder him in his barber chair with a very shiny, sharp straight razor (yes, Sweeney Todd does like to gaze at himself sometimes in the razor). But before he has a chance to get to the judge, he starts on a rampage of slitting throats in his barber chair - and, get this, sending them through the floor to the bakery shop below to be baked into "the best pies in London" - oh my. Meanwhile, a side story involves Todd's daughter, stolen by the judge after Todd is sent to prison, and living as an imprisoned "ward" in the judge's house (and yes, the pervy judge decides he will "marry" his ward). Macabre and fantastical - with a fabulous musical score, excellent performances all around (especially some of the side characters, actually - the actor who plays the young boy Toby who comes to work in the pie shop is just great, as is the young man who plays a youth in love with the daughter Joanna - "Joanna" is probably my fave song in this). Loved. * 10/10 stars *
Later watched The Wrath of the Gods (1914) - Earlier silent melodrama telling the tale of a poor fisherman (Sessue Hayakawa) and his daughter who live alone in a Japanese beach hut - - strolling down the beach she flirts with a young fisherman she meets, but an old prophet warns that she is unmarriageable, her family cursed. Back home, the girl is distraught and renounces her faith after her father relates the tale of their curse and that no daughter in his family may be taken for a wife. A storm immediately arrives and a ship is wrecked on their beach by the typhoon - the father carries a young American sailor back to their home to be healed, cut to several months later and (yes, just what you would think) the sailor has fallen in love with the daughter and asks to marry her. To protect themselves from the "curse" she takes on a new faith in a Christian God and they are married at a local mission. But the whole town as well as the Gods themselves are soon in an uproar - literally! This is an interesting film, the really nicely photographed on-location outdoor scenery bringing the action realistically to life. Sessue Hayakawa is in heavy duty makeup as the old father - the daughter, played by Tsuru Aoki, spends her time looking like a lovely Japanese geisha. This film is a bonus feature on the same Milestone DVD as "The Dragon Painter" - it features a decent looking tinted print with some minor nitrate decomposition in a few places, the music score is Japanese in style and suits the film. * 8/10 stars *

April 2, 2008 - The Dragon Painter (1919) - Fairy tale like gem, this silent film is a fable that tells the tale of a brilliant young artist, Tatsu (Sessue Hayakawa), who lives in the mountains of Japan and is known as "the dragon painter", a mad genius who dwells outdoors in tattered robes and paints only dragons as he seeks his "enchanted princess" who he believes was turned into a dragon by the spirits a thousand years ago. In Toyko lives an old master artist, father of a daughter but no sons, who seeks an artist worthy of carrying on his family tradition and name. The dragon painter is presented to him as a prospect - but now here's the rub: the dragon painter's single-minded pursuit of his princess forces the old artist to display his daughter to him as "the princess come to life". Tatsu will only agree to become his apprentice if the daughter is given to him for a wife. The old master, deeming Tatsu as a worthy disciple does just that, Tatsu is married, but then struggles to regain his talent as a painter which seems was only brought on by his painful pursuit of his lost love. This film is entertaining, and very nicely photographed - the tinted print and Japanese style music score, which features the sounds of some unusual instruments in parts of it (like what sounded like wooden wind chimes tinkling together, is one example) adding to the fantasy atmosphere. Enchantingly romantic fare. * 10/10 stars *

April 1, 2008 - The Martian Child (2007) - Story about a recently widowed, lonely sci-fi/fantasy writer (John Cusack) who decides to adopt a child - and decides on a lonely, friendless, strange little boy who reminds him of himself when he was young. The boy is very strange indeed, for he thinks he is from Mars, on a mission to study earthlings. Taken into the writer's home, the two try to bond and all the while our little "Martian boy" is busy snapping Polaroid photos and "collecting" things he finds around the house and at school, hoarding the items in his closet - for study, of course. The kid also does other strange things like avoiding the sun by sitting in a big box, wearing a weight belt to keep him from floating away, and handing out "Martian wishes". This film was very enjoyable, better than I was expecting - I liked it a lot. John Cusack is one of my favorites these days, he's very good here - I liked that Joan Cusack, his real sister, plays his sister in this - the close bond comes off well. The young child actor - Bobby Coleman - who plays the Martian Child really steals this though - he is a fantastic choice of casting, he really pulls off the very weird behavior style that this character has (he actually really comes off as a person from another planet!). It works. Good one (and didn't know until the end credits there is a real-life story behind this film). Nice music too - ELO "Mr. Blue Sky", love love love. * 8 to 9/10 stars *

March 31, 2008 - Grass (1925) - "Yo Ali!" Silent documentary following an American woman who, along with director Merian C. Cooper and a photographer (the two men are only seen in the intro), caravan across the desert in a sort of covered wagon, through sandstorm and snow-covered mountain, from Angora to Arabia to Iran in search of the land of the "Forgotten People". Interesting images like a large camel eating alongside a tiny puppy, a line of camels crossing the desert against a tinted sky, and an Arabian desert police station where "sheiks" dance at a "policeman's ball", so to speak. The Forgotten People found and we get to the main meat of the story - a migration of nomadic tribes who trek many a mile, human and animal by the thousands, in search of grass to feed their goat herds. A treacherous river crossing with goats and cattle and dogs and men and women and children heading across the rapids on foot or on top of goat skin floats is memorable, followed by a climb over a steep rock cliff and through the snow in bare feet - this is one tough, 48-day journey! This documentary is interesting though I thought the title cards were a bit hokey sometimes (trying to be funny, I guess). The people are kind of mean to the animals sometimes in this, tossing them around like old suitcases, tying them down, etc. - but I guess I, sadly, just must face that that's just the way it is. The background music added to this film, which I saw on TCM (a Milestone release) is appropriate and suits the film. The film is tinted in different colors depending on the scenery - hey, I like the bright green tint when they reach the journey's end! * 7 to 8/10 stars *

March 30, 2008 - The Out-of-Towners (1970) - Frenetic paced story about a rather uptight husband and his at times rather annoying (oh that whiny voice - ugh) wife (Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis) who travel from Ohio to NYC for an important 9:00 a.m. business interview for the husband - all sorts of trouble ensues not limited to delayed landing of their flight leading to the flight landing in Boston, lost luggage, trouble catching a train, transit strikes, being caught in a rainstorm, losing their hotel room after arriving too late, being held up at gunpoint, kidnapped, etc. You get the idea - anything that could go wrong in this less than 24-hour trip from hell, does go wrong. The film is interesting in its nostalgic (for me) glimpse back to 1970, a well-remembered year from my childhood, and the on-location photography on the streets of New York City. The film gets a bit frustrating to watch since just nothing seems to go right for this couple - and worse, the woman, who starts off okay, becomes more and more annoying as the film progresses - just her voice is so so annoying and hard to listen to. I do love Jack Lemmon though, so enjoyed seeing him in this. * 7/10 stars *

March 28, 2008 - The Kite Runner (2007) - Excellent film about Amir, a well-to-do boy livng in Kabul, Afghanistan circa 1978 and his friendship with Hassan, the household servant's young son. The boys spend their time participating in city street kite flying games which involve trying to fight your kite with another and cut it's string. Hassan has a knack for running down loose kites and capturing them. SPOILER SPOILER: After a big kite event, poor little Hassan ends up raped by some tough street youths after running for a kite - and Amir secretly watches and does nothing. Amir no longer wants to be friends with Hassan, for some reason, and sets him up for a crime (nice guy, eh). Anyway, soon the Russians have invaded and Amir and his father must escape to Pakistan. The story then skips to the late 80s where they are now living in California, and finally into the year 2000 when Amir returns to his country and must face the Taliban to rescue his childhood friends' son. This is a well done, moving film - really nicely photographed (I love the kite flying scenes!), and includes an excellent music score. Half of the film is done with subtitles (which were done in yellow and a bit hard to read sometimes) - the street scenes showing Kabul in 1978 were apparently filmed in China and they certainly made it look like an interesting place, I must say (and sad it was to see such a city ruined when he returns in 2000). The main character Amir is somewhat of a jerk, but at least he tries to redeem himself. The little boy who plays Hassan really steals this film in my mind - just great. Good one all around. * 9 to 10/10 stars *

March 26, 2008 - Enchanted (2007) - Disney romantic comedy/musical about a beautiful animated soon-to-be-princess named Giselle (Amy Adams) who is punished by the cartoon wicked queen who doesn't want Giselle to marry her son, the prince, and take over her thrown. So - Giselle is thrown down this well and ends up coming through a manhole cover into the real live world of New York City where we now have the story of a real life girl living in NYC who behaves like a Disney animated cartoon, including breaking out into song constantly and summoning creatures to help her clean the house and sew dresses from curtains, etc. Soon the handsome prince, as well as a talking chipmunk, and even the queen herself have all come through the manhole cover and into the real world. And Giselle herself develops a friendship with a man (Patrick Dempsey) and his little girl, who take her into their apartment. She believes in "happily ever after" - he's a divorce lawyer who doesn't - let's see how that works out! This was quite a good movie - lots better than I was expecting. The musical numbers are catchy, the whole story very entertaining - and different too. Liked this one. * 8 to 9/10 stars *

March 25, 2008 - The Brave One (2007) - Jodie Foster as a NYC radio personality who is attacked in the park one evening while out on a walk with her fiance and dog - she is in a coma for three weeks, her fiance dies. The trauma turns her into a vigilante, taking the law into her own hands she buys a gun, then starts shooting criminal types she just keeps on encountering in the act of committing crimes in the city. Meanwhile she befriends the cop in charge of the investigation of these crimes - and he has no clue she is behind them! Okay - saw half this film - was enjoying it - and, just blame it on the Netflix - again! The tape stopped playing, I tried cleaning it, it just would NOT play the second half of the disk, kept shutting off the machine - darn it! No rating until I finally manage to see this whole film.

March 19, 2008 - Atonement (2007) - Interesting epic - a period film which starts in England circa 1935 and progresses into World War II. Opening in a sort of upstairs/downstairs setting at a rich country estate with the almost grown children going about sipping cocktails and wearing suits and gowns, while served by a loyal staff of servants - all so "Brideshead Revisited", but with a dark undertone to it all that reminded me a bit of an Agatha Christie style setting. Cecilia (Keira Knightley), the extremely slim, beautiful twentyish daughter of the house and Robbie (James McAvoy), the oh so handsome son of the former head of the household staff, have a brief encounter by the fountain which is misinterpreted by Briony, the jealous thirteen-year old sister of Cecilia, as she sees them out her window. SPOILERS SPOILERS - - - Then Robbie writes a joke apology letter for the "fountain incident" which contains a very "foul" word in it (and this is the way he describes his "love"?) - he accidently sends the joke letter instead of his real letter (how could anyone make such a dumb mistake?). Anyway - an incident of rape occurs in the garden and Briony accuses Robbie as the perpetrator of the crime - so he goes to prison, then to War ending up at the battle of Dunkirk, brought amazingly to life with a whole LOT of extras and a long, uncut tracking shot down the beach. Well - I liked this a lot. The film completely held my interest, the photography is fascinating and great, the moody orchestral score completely suits the story, and, well, the plot is a bit predictable, but still - I think multiple viewings of this really well done film would make it even better. And James McAvoy - my, oh, my - just *gorgeous*. Not much chemistry with Keira Knightley though, SPOILER SPOILER - - - the library scene where he is having his way with her after declaring their love for each other - well, um, not my idea of a romantic encounter, shoved up against the bookcases with your leg supporting you up via the bookcase ladder -- ugh. 9 to 10/10 stars

March 14, 2008 - No Country for Old Men (2007) - Dark thriller, set in 1980, about this nutcase (Javier Barden) who is after this hunter (Josh Brolin) who took a suitcase full of cash he finds at a drug-related murder scene he happened upon in the middle of the Texas wilderness one hunting trip. The nut guy wants that money - and goes about murdering person after person (some just for fun, it seems, using a coin toss to decide if the victim will live or die) as he pursues the hunter. And he uses a very strange method in his killings - this air tank thing which is used as a gun. Hmm - I just thought of one interesting thing - our man who likes to go about murdering defenseless animals is now the hunted himself - ha! Anyway, I thought this film was okay - but what's up with the Oscar selections in recent years?! This won Oscar Best Picture for 2007 and I thought it was really just so-so, interesting while on, but fading quick, and WAY too violent. Tommy Lee Jones is pretty good in this as a small town Texas sherrif, and I liked Kelly MacDonald as Brolin's wife (I didn't even recognize her at first, putting on a Texas accent to perfection rather than her real-life Scottish brogue). The character played by Javier Barden is a memorable one, however - kind of weird and haunting (or is it just 'cause of the oddball haircut that he sticks in my head?!) The film has a lot of interesting on-location scenes in small Texas and New Mexico areas. A bit of a "yucky" movie - that's all I can really say. 7/10 stars

March 13, 2008 - August Rush (2007) - Musical all about three people in three different cities, all trying to find each other - a mom, a dad, and their son, a family that was never a family! Sound weird - well, Lila (Keri Russell) is a young concert cellist from Chicago who is performing in NYC where she meets Louis on a rooftop - he's a young, Irish band singer/guitarist from San Francisco and they have a one-night stand (on an old couch on said roof!) after barely speaking more than a few words to each other. They seem to kind of love each other and attempt to meet later that morning, but are both swept away back to their respective homes never to see each other again. But - she got pregnant, her jerky dad, a real stickler in charge of her "career", secretly signs away the son she gave birth to, he's put in a orphanage, she is told her baby was born dead. Okey-dokey, well, the film mainly focuses around their son, now about eleven (played by Freddie Highmore), who has a strange love for and gift for making music - he believes that the music with be a call to his parents, who he has always believed will one day "find him". Running away from the orphanage he ends up in the middle of NYC where he is taken under the wing of an eccentric older "gentleman" called Wizard (Robin Williams), who cares for a group of bedraggled street boys in an old, abandoned theatre. Yeah, the story is pretty much a bit of a twist on "Oliver Twist" - but Wizard doesn't send the boys to pick pockets - instead they are street buskers who have to turn over their "pay" to Wizard. Our boy's name is changed to "August Rush" as he turns out to be a real musical prodigy, composing music based around the sounds he hears on the streets as he dreams of finding the parents he's never known. Okay - this film sounds kind of dumb, but it was really good - I liked it a lot. The music is very nice throughout the film, the cinematography is interesting in style, I liked seeing the many scenes of the film that take place on-location on the streets of New York, and the young boy, Freddie Highmore, who is in a large chunk of the movie, is really likable. There is a scene at the beginning where he is "listening" to the sounds in the air with his hands in this big wheat field - hmmm, nearly identical to scenes in the Iranian film "Color of Paradise". Ah well. Anyway, I thought this film was heartfelt and very, very enjoyable . 9/10 stars

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July 23, 2007 - Laurel Canyon (2003) - Sort of unusual film about a yuppie engaged couple, Alex and Sam (Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale), who come to L.A. to live in his record producer mom's house in Laurel Canyon - but mom (Frances McDormand), who is supposed to not be there, is there - and so are the members of the rock group she is currently working with. So - Alex is a rather uptight young lady currently working on her dissertation on the reproductive cycle of the fly (or something like that) and Sam is a new intern at a local medical center. Alex begins to come out of her shell as she deals with the wild child mom and her rocker boyfriend (plus all their constant pool parties with an entourage of people in and out of the house). Sam thinks mom is an embarrassment and Alex needs QUIET so she can work - so they try to find a place to rent, but Alex doesn't really want to, as she is now getting into a relationship with mama and the rocker (including the beginnings of a menage-a-trois in the pool!) Meanwhile our young intern has his eye on a beautiful second-year intern that he works with. Okay - this film is pretty good - I enjoyed it, the story is interesting, the use of music via performances by the band as their record is being produced is well done, the acting top-notch. (7 to 8 stars)
Later watched Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005) - Well done, interesting film from the UK following the story of an elderly lady named Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) who decides to go and live at the Claremont, a London hotel she saw advertised. Expecting a somewhat more luxurious place, apparently, nevertheless she has signed herself up for a month-to-month lease and is soon tucked away in her tiny, depressing, room without a view. Dining at the Claremont is of the "separate tables" variety - lonelyhearts, mainly elderly widows like herself, each dining alone at individual tables - - but introductions are quick at the Claremont, she meets most of the residents the very first night (okay, since this bunch seems so friendly with each other, I couldn't help but wonder why they don't decide to push some tables together and dine with each other - oh well, just a thought). Anyway, our Mrs. Palfrey one day has a slip in the rain - and, well, I guess it was her lucky day because she is rescued by an extremely handsome young man, a gorgeous long-haired Adonis/writer/subway busker (Rupert Friend) who kindly tends to her scraped knee and makes her tea. To return the favor, she invites him to the Claremont for dinner on Saturday, and when she tells all her hotel cronies she is bringing a young man to dinner, they all assume it's her "mystical grandson" who lives in London but has failed to contact or visit his own grandma. Soon Mrs. Palfrey and Ludo (our hunk) start to form a strong friendship and she sort of becomes the grandma he never had - no "Harold and Maude" here, just a close bond between an older lady and younger fellow. I liked this a lot - the story was entertaining and completely held my interest - and I think any senior lady should consider herself lucky to find a friend such as Ludo (um - ooh la la). (8 to 9 stars)

July 19, 2007 - Premonition (2007), which I have been looking forward to since I first "glimpsed" the TV trailer for this (I try to avoid seeing trailers before I see the film, to always keep me in suspense while watching - so just a tiny glimpse). A stylish sci-fi thriller with an intriguing take on the space-time continuum - very enjoyable, I love stuff like this. About a woman (Sandra Bullock) who is given terrible news - her husband has been suddenly killed in a terrible car accident. But wait - when she wakes up the next day he is still alive! Seems she has had a premonition of the future, and now the film proceeds to jump back and forth within a week's time, sometimes he's dead, sometimes he's alive - and she must figure out a way to perhaps do something to prevent his death from happening. Very entertaining. (8 stars)

July 17, 2007 - Watched Driving Lessons (2006) - UK coming of age story about a quiet/shy seventeen-year old youth (Rupert Grint), who seems to live an odd life guarded over by his seriously overbearing ultra-religious mother and distant father, a vicar. This young man seems to spend most of his time just sort of staring with his mouth half open, not really responding to his life. But mama advises he get himself a summer job to help donate money to one of her current causes - so he responds to an ad placed by an aging actress (Julie Walters) looking for a boy to help her around her house and garden. This woman is *quite* an eccentric, and our young fellow doesn't seem quite so sure if he wants to keep this job - until she corrals him into taking her on a camping trip (forbidden to go by mama, of course) and then tricks him into a week trip to Edinburgh (gorgeous, I must say) where she is to appear at a literary reading. And soon our young man grows up as they share a tent, Shakespeare and his love for writing poetry - and as their friendship blossoms, so he begins to come out of his shell. By the way, even though mom has been attempting (quite poorly) to teach him to drive - it is on this trip that he actually learns to drive! I found this film entertaining and interesting. Julie Walters is very good here, playing the part of a woman who is older than herself in real life - Laura Linney, who plays mama, is excellent too - I've never seen her play a character quite like this one, she plays it to the hilt as the mother you love-to-hate. This film is reminiscent of "Harold and Maude" in a way, but without the romance element. (7 stars)

July 10, 2007 - The Last Mimzy (2007) - Magical sci-fi/fantasy film that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole movie - I LOVED this! About a ten-year old boy and his little sister who find a strange object (revealed at the beginning of the story to have been sent by a scientist from the future) floating in the water at their beach house. The object opens up to reveal a selection of odd rocks, a large seashell, and a stuffed bunny rabbit. Well, the rocks spin and do some strange stuff, the seashell causes the boy to be able to communicate with spiders, and the rabbit talks to the little girl and reveals to her that her name is Mimzy. The kids start to be able to do some odd tricks via newly found extra-sensory perception after playing with these toys - their parents seem at a loss what to do. Okay, this was really good (before sending back the disk to Netflix I watched this again a few days after this, by the way.) - the actress who plays the little girl in this is really excellent, believable - and quite adorable too. And I loved, loved, loved the orchestral score in this film, done by Howard Shore - really suited this to a tea, especially the piece of music that overlays each scene of magic - yeah, a magical touch! Okay, I must admit I am biased towards sci-fi and fantasy films - the touch of time travel in this made it pretty likely I would like it. A terrific, imaginative, and engaging film. (10 stars)

July 9, 2007 - Breach (2007) - This was a really excellent espionage thriller, based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, a "mole" in the FBI who has been busy giving secrets to the Russians for twenty-five years - finally caught in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. This film follows the story of the placement of a young wannabee agent (Ryan Phillipe) as new "clerk" for the man they believe to be the mole - and their efforts to finally catch this man in the act of making a "drop". This is a terrific film - the story completely held me captive - the acting is great, especially I loved the performance given here by Chris Cooper, who plays the part of the mole as an oh-so subtly smarmy yet ultra religious (but with hidden sex perversions, apparently) character. The movie is really more about the relationship between the two men, than anything else. Loved this film. (9 to 10 stars)

July 6, 2007 - The Score (2001) - Highly entertaining and exciting crime thriller involving three men involved in a big heist to steal this priceless 16th century gold scepter that a buyer is willing to pay 30 million bucks to get their hands on. The head of this heist is played by Marlon Brando - he doesn't actually do anything except give them the idea and bring them to the buyer. Then there is the middle-aged man, Nick (Robert De Niro), years of experience as a safecracker - he hopes this will be his last "score" and he can retire from the biz on his "6 million dollar" cut. The third man is Jackie (Edward Norton), young, cocky, inexperienced - but has an "in" to the building (the Montreal Customs House) where the scepter is located - he's been posing there as a mentally retarded janitor's assistant. Trouble comes for them too - at the last minute the Customs House has put a whole bunch of extra security around the scepter, giving added suspense to the whole plot when the heist actually goes down! I liked this a lot - the whole heist was tense, dramatic, and fun to watch. The acting is top-notch - handsome and darling Edward Norton does such a good job in the scenes where he poses as the mentally challenged young man. One note: Angela Bassett is in this as DeNiro's girlfriend, but she almost seems like an afterthought here and does almost nothing, they could have just left her out of this entirely and the film would have been just as good (or better). It's like the producers thought, for some reason, they needed a romance in here (perhaps to hold the interest of the female audience - oh brother). (9 stars)

July 2, 2007 - A Lady of Chance (1928) - Entertaining silent film following the story of a gold-digger named Dolly aka "Angel Face" (played by Norma Shearer). Dressed up as the "good girl" we first meet Dolly working as a switchboard operator at a ritzy hotel, where she is recognized by two former partners in crime (slick, oily Brad and bad, blonde Gwen) who force her to rejoin their "racket" or face the consequences (she failed to report for her parole). Seducing a wealthy man she met at the hotel, he's soon minus $10,000 and picking out mug shots of Dolly at police headquarters. Brad and Gwen try to keep the dough for themselves, but wise Dolly gets the better of them - and wanting to work her own racket, she heads for Atlantic City where she ends up at a hotel absolutely swarming with men attending a "tile and cement" convention. There she meets her next "mark", an innocent Southern cement man/mama's boy (Johnny Mack Brown) who happens to be the perfect specimen of a "tall, dark, and handsome" man. She doesn't seem to notice his rather remarkable charms - under the impression he's about to make a million dollar deal, her heart is only on his wallet. Dolly bats her eyelashes into marriage, but things aren't exactly what she expects - and she just can't seem to escape from those two vultures either! This is a fun film - amusing and well acted, with an interesting, if predictable plot line. Norma Shearer is great, as always, and has a lot of expression on her face in this film - Johnny Mack Brown is charming and oh so handsome to look at. Lowell Sherman, who plays Brad, is terrific in this as he plays the smarm to the hilt. There is some interesting photography in this - like a shot of just the feet of the actors as Dolly is chased by some phony cops, and another interesting shot of the heavily made-up face of "Angel Face" visualized atop her new switchboard operator look when she is recognized by Gwen. The version of this screened on TCM features a decent jazz score that suits the film well. (8 stars)

June 30, 2007 - This morning I woke up early, so turned on TCM and watched Rusty's Birthday (1949) - Last of the Rusty movies, this one follows the continuing adventures of dog Rusty and his owner, teenager Danny (Ted Donaldson) who has just bought a new collar for Rusty's upcoming birthday - but doesn't want to give the gift before the day, so Rusty goes outside without his license on. Well, a man is seen rummaging around their garage, Rusty gives chase, Rusty rescues a woman's purse for her - and the bad man pretends Rusty is his dog and, well, sells him to the woman who decides to name her new-found hero dog "Jackpot". Okey dokey. But Rusty "escapes" and ends up having to make a multi-mile trek home the hard way, through a wooded area where he gets caught in some barbed wire and gets rescued by a sort of strange little fellow who goes around with his "pretend dog" - a stuffed toy dog on a rope he calls "Gladly". Well - first glimpse of the dad makes you know why this poor little boy is so weird - the dad says he's gonna "wallop" the kid because of this pretend dog. This out-of-work dad and his two sons get caught with the dog - and Danny's parents befriend them, especially the little boy (who mom seems to have maternal feelings for) who is given a room to sleep in their house and Danny's old pajamas to sleep in (bringing out the green-eyed monster, jealous Danny decides he will attend a military school next term and leave home). Mild, light fare - entertaining enough for it's hour length, plus you get to see Rusty the dog (played by Flame the dog) do a series of tricks - lay down, look right, etc., and fetch the mail from the mailbox and deliver it to Danny's dad via his mouth (by the way, everyone gets their name on the mailbox, even Rusty - everyone except Mom, what's up with that?!). The interaction between Danny and his parents comes across as very similar to the sort of wise TV dad's and their sons to come - like seen in "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver". Danny makes mistakes sometimes, but mom and dad are always there to teach him a well needed lesson. Worth seeing. (6 stars)
Later today watched Black Snake Moan (2007) - Um, this was a weird one - amazingly it completely held my interest and, in fact, went by really fast - so, I liked it (I guess). About an abused young woman/wild child (Christina Ricci) in a rural Southern small town who seems to be a nymphomaniac - after her boyfriend leaves for his duty in the army, she goes on the loose - sleeping with all sorts of men and getting herself doped up, she ends up with a friend of the boyfriend who beats her in the face, shoves her out of his car, and (presumably) leaves her for dead on the side of a rural road (nice friend, eh). Anyway, an older black man (Samuel L. Jackson) who lives next to where she is laying in the road picks her up, brings her into his house, gets medicine for her, spends a few days treating her, chases her down when she's in the yard having nightmares, and - now this is the weirdest part - decides to wrap this big, heavy chain around her waist and chain her to his radiator! This isn't even like a sex thing or 'cause he is a psycho or something (well, I think) - it's because he wants to help her abandon her addiction to sex and find Jesus, and wants to keep her from running away until she does. Okey dokey (see - told ya it was weird!). The film is really, quite interesting (though I could have done without seeing the girl running around half naked for most of the film) - the acting well done and believable. It is certainly helped along by a great Rock and Blues music score, including some blues guitar numbers played by the man who holds her in chains, all of which completely suits this very odd film. (7 to 8 stars)

June 27, 2007 - The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) - Pretty good bio-pic following the story of Hustler founder Larry Flynt - starting with a scene of him in childhood in the woods of Kentucky, selling homemade moonshine with his brother. Skip to twenty years later where the two are running this sleazy strip club "Hustler a Go Go", and on to the beginnings of his porn magazine. A lot of this movie focuses on the court trials of Larry Flynt - arrested for obscenities, arrested for libel against Jerry Falwell, etc. We also see his relationship with one of the strip club girls, who later becomes his wife (and a total junkie) - and later Larry gets shot and becomes paralyzed, then seems to go pretty nutty. I really watched this one to see fave Edward Norton (so young, so handsome here) who plays his ever present attorney. The acting in this is pretty much the draw, I would say - Courtney Love is real good playing a junkie (reminded me of her role in "Sid and Nancy"), Woody Harrelson excellent and believable as Larry Flynt. (7 stars)

June 25, 2007 - Bridge to Terabithia (2007) - Really enjoyable film version of the children's book, the story of a lonely 11 year old (or thereabouts) boy named Jess (Josh Hutcherson) who is the target of a variety of school bullies, both male and female, and has a passion for art and drawing. Enter the new girl in school, Leslie - a pretty outsider with a big imagination! Turns out, they very soon realize, they live next door to each other in this rural area - and these two outsiders soon become friends. Scouting about in the wooded area nearby, they find this old rope that hangs above a river and decide to swing across. Soon Leslie has lead them into the world of their imaginations and into a magical fantasy land called Terabithia, where giant trolls and other creatures roam, all based around the real-life bullies they know. This film was a treat - I loved it. The two actors who play the kids are extremely likable and perfect in these roles (I knew I recognized Josh Hutcherson while I was watching this, but couldn't quite place him - he was the boy in "Little Manhattan") - even the little girl who plays his cute, sassy little sister is real good in this. The special effects are done to perfection, the story-line that takes place around the schoolyard is well acted and interesting (especially when they get even with a tormenter or two!). The orchestral score for this is excellent too. A moving and highly entertaining film. (9 to 10 stars)

June 23, 2007 - This morning watched Rusty Saves a Life (1949) - B-movie about an old man they call "Counselor" who likes to entertain a group of five teenage boys by serving them Sunday dinner each week, giving them advice, and giving them free reign over his large estate including their own shed/clubhouse with a lease for 99 years. He informs the boys that he plans to change his will the next day and leave the house and grounds to them instead of his absent nephew who never comes to see him. Well, oh dear, our fellow dies that night before the will can be changed. The city nephew comes around to hear the reading of the will and learns that there is an odd stipulation he must fulfill in order to inherit the property - he must live in the house, which is in a small town, for one year - and must continue to serve the boys dinner every Sunday night! Well, the nephew doesn't exactly hit it off with the boys - starting off immediately on the wrong foot by accidently hitting one of the boys dog Rusty with his car (luckily the dog was okay!). Okay, this nephew is a jerk and spends his time shooing kids off his property and tacking up "No Trespassing" signs - but the boys, and in fact, the whole town are even bigger jerks as they give him the cold shoulder, treating him like a complete outcast - and worse. The boys start pulling some pretty vicious pranks to try and get this guy to break the will - like breaking the windows of his house, and trying to wreck the construction of his new swimming pool. Anyway, as can be guessed by the title, Rusty the dog ends up saving a life - SPOILER: he saves the nephew and all become friends - heh. This film was mildly entertaining, very light fare and short enough to hold my interest through the whole film. This is from a series of films made in the forties about the boy (played by Ted Donaldson) and his dog Rusty, and (believe it or not) this is actually the first one I have seen of these! I liked it enough to see some more of them, and the dog is real cute. (6 stars)

June 21, 2007 - 25th Hour (2002) - This was quite good, directed by Spike Lee, the plot of this is simple yet interesting. The story follows the last day in NYC for a man/drug dealer (Edward Norton) who has just been caught and sentenced to 7 years in the penitentiary. He spends his last evening in a club where he meets up with his two best pals from school days on, plus his current girlfriend (who he has a slight suspicion turned him in). The patter between the two pals is somewhat amusing - one of the guys is a high school English teacher (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has a crush on his flirtatious, scantily clad student (Anna Paquin) - she is by coincidence there trying to get into this club, ends up going in with these guys and teacher ends up kissing her (oops - underage, it seems). Certain scenes in this were filmed in a particularly effective style - in particular a scene where our main guy, upset 'cause he's going to the slammer (and very worried that he's too "pretty" to not get raped by his fellow inmates) does a bathroom rant where his image in the mirror gives a rapid-fire speech, ranting on about every racial group and person he knows or knows of and what losers/fuck-ups/assholes (excuse the language) the whole world is - a really well done scene. This film really held my attention - good one. (8 stars)

June 20, 2007 - The Fountain (2006) - Really weird sci-fi movie that didn't quite hit the mark for me. About a man (Hugh Jackman) who has a wife (Rachel Weisz) that is dying from a brain tumor. The film switches back and forth between several odd stories all with the same two actors - the story in current day (the easiest to follow), the second story (which follows a book the woman is writing called "The Fountain") telling the weird tale of a man in Spain, circa 1500 A.D., on a quest for the queen to find Eden and the hidden "tree of life" which will give eternal life. The other story has our man with a shaved head in some sort of weird world next to this tree, mixing up potions, tattooing himself, hmmm - this apparently was supposed to be in the future, 2500 A.D., but the only way I know this is NOT from watching the movie - I had no idea what was going on here. Watching the "theatrical trailer" on the DVD afterwards, it gave this bit of info - okey dokey. Even the current day story is pretty weird as our man operates on a monkey in some sort of lab where he uses something from some tree he once saw to cure the monkey of a tumor. This movie has parts that are interesting, the message it seems to try to be giving (I think??) on some sort of meaning of life and death is an interesting concept, but as a whole this film is sort of a confusing mess. Now, perhaps those who know something about this film before they see it could follow this more easily - but I like to go into a film COLD, I don't like to know anything about plot-line before I see a film - for this the only thing I knew prior to viewing was that it was science fiction. So, to me, there is a real flaw in a film that can't be followed without prior knowledge of the story. This film is mostly a failure, in my book. (4 to 5 stars)

June 18, 2007 - Visages d'enfants (Faces of Children) (1925) - Excellent and moving silent film following the story of a young boy who has trouble coping with the sudden loss of his mother followed by his father's remarriage. In the village of Saint-Luc, in the Swiss Alps, the film opens in the parlour of a house where the coffin of the dead mother is brought down the stairs before the whole village including grief-stricken father and especially upset son, Jean. The daughter, Pierrette, seems too young to understand what is going on as she blows soap bubbles and plays with her doll (and in fact is actually told by a neighbor lady that her mama is "on a trip"). Jean now prays each night to a large photograph of his mother, which is prominently perched right above his pillow - he even imagines her coming to life as she smiles down on him. Every Sunday, father and son place flowers on her grave, but the father soon meets a local widow and her daughter Arlette, and before you know it dad stops visiting mama's grave and comes to the decision he will remarry. But he decides that Jean is just too sensitive to be told the news and recruits the boy's god-father to take him out of town while the marriage takes place, then tell the boy and send him back when the new family is safely in the household - hmmm, kind of an odd plan, it seems to me, just leaving the boy out of everything (he doesn't even get to attend the wedding - and the whole village is there!). Anyway, when Jean gets back he immediately gets into a fight with new step-sister Arlette. Now I was expecting some real problems with the new mom perhaps treating him badly in the way of the often seen evil movie step-mother - but she is actually very kind, gives lots of love and encouragement in trying to join these two families together as one family, and even seems to treat all the kids equally. But the fighting continues between Jean and Arlette, mostly caused by Jean who tries to exclude Arlette from playing with them and seems to like to pull pranks on her involving her doll, which he eventually pushes off the family horse and cart into the snow - all leading to a possible tragedy as Arlette is caught in an avalanche. This is a terrific film, very well photographed and very scenic, visually like a gorgeous picture postcard. An effective scene during the funeral procession features rapid cutting between the boy's face and the coffin - another scene looks like it came straight out of "Heidi" as Jean and Arlette are at the top of a mountain surrounded by the peaks of the Alps and a herd of goats. The acting in this film is natural and very well done by all - the kids are particularly good, their faces expressively showing every thought, especially Jean Forest, who plays Jean, who gives a really top-notch and memorable performance. The tinted print of this looked very nice for the most part, the orchestral score suits the film well and at times is extremely good. A remarkable and beautiful film - a treat to see. (10 stars)

June 14, 2007 - The Family Stone (2005) - Entirely set at Christmas-time, this film is about, yeah, the "Stone family", mom (Diane Keaton), dad and five adult kids. One brother, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), brings home for the holidays, his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). Now Meredith is a big city gal constantly on her cell phone, and EXTREMELY high-strung - - even though she meets them very politely and seems to be trying her best, the family immediately hates her, led on the most by bitchy youngest daughter Amy (Rachel McAdams). The only one on Meredith's side is pot-smoking brother Ben (Luke Wilson) who takes a sort of "fancy" to her right off the bat. Now, mind you, Meredith does keep putting her foot in her mouth, especially at one dinner where she gets in an argument with the family over her position that no parent would choose for their child to be gay (and one of the brothers is gay, as well as deaf - and he's there at the table with his life partner - oops). Feeling the need for back-up, I guess, Meredith recruits her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come stay with her at a nearby inn - when Everett picks up Julie at the bus stop, he appears to have an immediate crush on her (another oops)! Okay - it's pretty obvious from the get-go that Ben may end with Meredith, and Everett with Julie - SPOILER: yes. Meanwhile, the mom is suffering with her own secret - she is about to die from breast cancer. With an all-star cast, interesting story, nice music score, and set entirely at Christmas - this film is a very enjoyable watch. One thing though, it can be a little tense watching this poor gal trying so hard to fit in to this very close-knit family, as the family seems to do their best to be rude and make her feel uncomfortable - I really felt for her, as it's easy to identify with how hard it can be to be the new one mixing with a family like this - but this really goes over the top in the way this family treats her, including her man. Quite good as a whole. (8 stars)

June 11, 2007 - Catching up on a couple of Edward Norton films today (my latest heartthrob) - first up, Down in the Valley (2005) - Dark, odd film about the relationship between a bored teenage Valley girl and an older guy named Harlan (Edward Norton) who thinks he's a cowboy while living in the north edge of the San Fernando Valley. Tobe (short for October - played by Rachel Evan Wood) heads for the beach one summer day with her friends and meets our man as he pumps gas into their car. She for some reason takes a shine to this guy and goes after him hard - inviting him to the beach with them, he quits his job all so he can spend the day with this young girl. Soon a happy couple in love, except for one thing - her dad doesn't shine to his daughter dating some down-and-out pseudo cowboy who (well, it's never actually stated in the film) seems much older than the girl and sort of a loser. Well, SPOILER - maybe dad was right. Harlan begins to show signs of insanity as he steals a horse to ride from a nearby ranch, plays cowboy by himself in his motel room with real guns, drawing them, pointing at himself in a mirror - he even at one point shoots at the mirror and gets himself kicked out to living on the streets. He seems just crazier and crazier as the film progresses until bad things start to happen when his cowboy gun "play" goes too far! Okay - this is quite a good film. Edward Norton gives an excellent performance here, he's very good at making himself appear like a good guy in the beginning, then oh-so-subtly showing the insanity inside as the film progresses. Rachel Evan Wood, great as always - Rory Culkin gives a good performance here too, playing Tob's quiet, slightly disturbed, lonely 13-year old brother - "the meek shall inherit the earth" as he profoundly states to his mad, aggressive, gun-crazed father. I found the film a bit depressing in the fact that I grew up in the Valley myself (I recognized many of the streets, freeways, and buildings in the film) - in fact in that northern part up near Chatsworth, Northridge, Simi is where I lived in my earlier years - I thought the film just made the Valley look like a complete hell on earth, just so ugly and crowded and depressing, with all the cars and criss-crossing freeways overhead - ugh! (8 stars)
Next up, Keeping the Faith (2000) - Unusual romantic comedy about three childhood pals who, grown-up, get involved in a love triangle - the twist, one guy is a priest (Edward Norton), one guy is a rabbi (Ben Stiller), and the woman they first loved in junior high, Anna (aka "Anna Banana" - played by Jenna Elfman) is newly arrived in NYC as a power business woman - but still wants to be pals with her old friends. Anna and the rabbi start having an affair, they keep it a secret from both their priest friend, from the rabbi's mom (who wants him to marry a nice Jewish girl, unlike his older brother), and even from the people at his temple (who push their daughters on him for prospective marriage). Anyway, our priest falls in love with Anna too - but is torn (like "Thorn Birds" Father de Bricassart, sort of) between church and love. All of this is mixed with some touches of humor here and there (not particularly funny, I must say). This is a pretty good film, though (perhaps it's my own biased attraction towards Ed Norton rather than Ben Stiller) but I didn't sense very much chemistry between Elfman and Stiller for it to be realistic as a love match - I did sense chemistry between her and Norton, yet she has no interest in him in that way. Ah well. All in all, pretty entertaining - it's kind of amusing the way these two fellows are portrayed as the sort of hip, new 21st century idea of being a priest or rabbi, joking in front of the congregation, and joining forces to set up a joint Jewish/Catholic senior center/karaoke bar. Ed Norton is a doll, Anne Bancroft is a nice addition to the cast as Stiller's mom. (7 stars)
And tonight, on TCM watched Hell's Highway (1932) - Well done chain gang movie - a short film, but packed with enough prison movie cliches to hold my interest for an hour including prisoners working in the hot sun with pick axes to build a highway under the supervision of mean, whip-wielding guards, the "sweat box" where prisoners get punished (sometimes to the death), bad chow (of course), black inmates singing spirituals, blackmail, murder, prison escapes, and two brothers - one the older, cocky, hardened bank robber (Richard Dix), the other a kid (Tom Brown) who seems to look up to his older brother almost like a father-figure and gets put in the prison for taking a shot at the "squealer" who sent his brother to the slammer. And to add a little color to the mix of men here - there's also a gay cook, a deaf inmate, and a prisoner who "reads the stars" and tells fortunes. There's also a bit about prison reform too, as a man is sent there to inspect the reason for the latest "sweat box death". This is quite a good film, nicely photographed in almost what I might call an early noir style with lots of dark shadows and close-ups. Richard Dix gives a really, quite good performance here - I usually think he seems a bit hammy, but this role really seemed to suit him. A young Rochelle Hudson appears here as Tom Brown's girlfriend - though her part is very, very, very brief. All in all, I found this film to be quite interesting and entertaining - well worth seeing. (8 stars)
Ladies They Talk About (1933) - Barbara Stanwyck as a beautiful gun moll who helps her gang commit an armed bank robbery, then gets herself arrested. A young reformer who speaks in front of an "old-fashioned revival" believes in her innocence and tries to help her as they both are from the same hometown and, well, she's not past using her looks to get what she wants. But when, for some reason that I couldn't quite figure out, she actually admits to him she was part of the hold-up, he then assists in sending her to San Quentin. Soon our gal is the "new fish" in prison, and this is a women's prison like no other - if it weren't for the appearance of some older women prisoners in the mix, this would almost look a private girl's school rather than the state Penn! Lounge rocking chairs, newspapers, card games, a "greenhouse" area, a hair stylist, manicures, the "ladies bird club", phonograph record players, and outside - "the sun yard", a regular garden spot. These women can wear their own slinky negligees at night and play records in their room - and one older inmate actually is allowed to keep her own little "lap dog" - hmm. This film is pretty good - the portrayal of the prison so far-fetched it's actually kind of a hoot to watch. I notice the male prisoners (on the other side of the prison) don't seem to have the same conditions as the women as they are shown in regular jail cells with bars. Anyway, Barbara Stanwyck, one of my favorite actresses from that era, gives her usual star performance and acts up a storm - just great as she plays the world-wise gal who'll play hard ball to get what she wants. A really fun film. (8 stars)

June 8, 2007 - Wonder Bar (1934) - Entertaining musical all taking place on one evening at the swanky Paris nightclub "Wonder Bar", the film following the stories of several different characters including headline dancers Inez and Harry (aka "the gigolo"), a well-to-do woman (Kay Francis) who has paid for "dance lessons" from Harry with a diamond necklace (now being investigated by her husband and the insurance company), orchestra leader/singer Tommy (Dick Powell) who is in love with Inez, a man who spends the evening giving away all his possessions before his planned suicide of driving over a cliff, two drunken American businessmen (in "Nuts and Bolts") on vacation with their wives, a Russian Count, and at the helm of it all - Al Wonder (Al Jolson), club owner who likes to deliver rather silly one-liners as he oversees and sings sometimes too.
Al loves Inez, Inez loves Harry, the two businessmen are busy chasing after two hostesses/gold-diggers, and their wives are happily pursued by another young nightclub gigolo. All of this is inter-mixed with a selection of musical numbers including a very entertaining dance number in which Harry and Inez dance surrounded by a bevy of platinum blondes and masked men, all dressed in black and white as they flow around the mirrored art deco set and dance floor, and are shown dancing in overhead, Busby Berkley-directed style kaleidoscope effect - cool! Other numbers include "The Gaucho Dance" (reminiscent of Valentino), and the big finale which is possibly the most politically incorrect, jaw-dropping musical number ever filmed featuring Al Jolson in blackface who heads to heaven complete with an entire entourage of dancing blackfaced angels, "Pork Chop Orchard" where pork chops grow on trees, "Watermelon Palace" with watermelons free for the taking, "Uncle Tom To-Nite" sign, craps dice, and tap-dancing number in front of waving watermelon slices.
All in all though, this film is quite enjoyable, light fare with enough stories to hold your interest, and the glitz and glamour of what appears to be a very fun-to-go-to hot spot full of well-heeled patrons in gorgeous gowns and tuxedos. I always enjoy the performances of Kay Francis and she is just fine in this, although she's not really given very much to do - same with Dick Powell, who has a small, rather bland role in this film. Guy Kibbee as one of the American businessmen and sidekick Hugh Herbert, as well as Ruth Donnelly and Louise Fazenda as the wife who likes the attentions of a younger man add quite a bit of humor to all this. Definitely worth a look. (7 stars)

August 18, 2006 - Solaris (1972) - Unusual Russian sci-fi film about a man who goes to the space station at Solaris and finds only two men left there, both sort of gone crazy. Solaris, it seems, is a sort of Ocean planet with a mind that reads humans thoughts and dreams, then brings them to life in the form of what the three men call "guests". Our main man is soon becoming involved with his guest - his wife who died of self-inflicted poisoning ten years previous. I liked this film, but was expecting a little more from what I've heard of it - perhaps this is one that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate. But I certainly think the photography and style of this film is amazing - and the quietness of it, barely any soundtrack music, really suits the story and made me feel the isolation and quietness of the lonely space station atmosphere. Very interesting film. (8 stars)

August 17, 2006 - Today on TCM, watched Lady By Choice (1936) - Carole Lombard plays a fan dancer (working under the moniker "Alabam, the Human Heat Wave") who hooks up with a haggardly, dice rolling, beer guzzler named Patsy when she adopts her out of the "old ladies home" as her new mother, a publicity stunt for Mother's Day. Moving in with Alabam into her swanky apartment, the two women soon bond over shots of straight whisky, Alabam buys the old lady a new wardrobe, then both try to reform the other of their bad ways. And yes indeed, there is a male love interest for Lombard, a character who fits somewhat loosely into this whole plot. Interesting film, the first half better than the second, I thought, but I do like the interaction between Carole Lombard and May Robson who plays Patsy - they come across as pretty chummy, which works well for this story. Lombard appears in a number of gorgeous outfits here, everything from glamorous, fur-sleeved dress to satin rompers (how 'bout that ragged old hat with the dead bird hanging off it that Patsy wears in the beginning?!). Worth seeing. (7 stars)

August 16, 2006 - Watched Heidi (2005) Delightful Adaptation - Well done version of the classic story of the orphaned young girl, Heidi (played by Emma Bolger), sent to live with her hermit grandfather, known by the locals as "Uncle Alp", in his cabin away up high in the Swiss Alps. Grandfather is an unwelcoming, gruff old man, but he very soon takes a real shine to sweet little Heidi - and Heidi takes to her new environment like a duck to water. Sadly for both, she is soon swept away by her unkind/greedy aunt to live with a rich Frankfurt household as the playmate of a wheelchair-bound girl named Clara - but lively young Heidi soon adds some spark of life to the whole house, much to the chagrin of the meanie housekeeper, a really nasty woman in black who rules the roost with an iron fist. I have seen a number of filmed versions of this story, I found this version to be one of the best. All the actors are perfectly cast in this, I really think Max von Sydow is *the* perfect choice for the grandfather in this story and Geraldine Chaplin is suitably despicable in her portrayal of the housekeeper. Emma Bolger is an adorable and charming young actress who gives a very endearing performance, just as she does in her memorable portrayal of Ariel in the film "In America". The mountain scenery in this film is very atmospheric and gorgeously photographed, the orchestral score is really wonderful. An especially lovely and heartfelt family film, full of charm. Recommended. (9 stars)

August 15, 2006 - Ace of Aces (1933) - Rocky and Nancy, couple in love, when War is declared (WWI, in spite of their early 30s clothing). Rocky (played by Richard Dix) compares soldiers to lemmings "trying to reach a goal that doesn't exist" - Nancy (Elizabeth Allan) thinks her man is "yellow" as she pushes him into going to battle. Next thing you know, Rocky has joined an Aero Squadron and is encamped in a barracks full of nicknamed comrades and a menagerie of "mascots" not limited to a goat, pig, chimp, parrot, and Rocky's personal mascot, a cute little lion cub (actually, he looked sort of like a leopard to me). Rocky starts out fighting his morals against shooting another man - but not for long, it seems, as Rocky gets pretty darn aggressive amazingly quickly - the war has completely gone to his head as Rocky turns into the fighting ace of all aces! This film is a bit hit or miss - parts of it are good, other parts are quite slow-moving and boring. Richard Dix gives a somewhat hammy performance and there are some pretty fake looking kisses between the two leads, a real lack of chemistry there, I would say. BUT - there is some interesting photography in the air battle scenes, and a few other interesting scenes here and there, especially notable is a scene where Dix is confronted by one of the German soldiers he shot down, now on his death bed. Okay film. (6 stars)

August 9, 2006 - The New World (2005) - Quietly emotional, this very visual film started out quite slow, but in the end was very satisfying - it completely drew me in, I loved it! In the early 1600s, several ships of men from England arrive in the new world to set up a colony. They soon encounter a tribe of Indians, but things are never that great between the two sides. Handsome Captain Smith (Colin Farrell) befriends the very beautiful, favored daughter of the Indian King, Pocahontas, and they are soon in love. But when he is sent on a voyage to find the Northwest Passage (or something like that), she is told he has drowned (yeah, he did tell them, for some reason to tell her that). Anyway, this film is a real sweeping epic - love all the tracking shots, gorgeous photography, and the real historical feel of everything (really made me feel like I was back in time) - I do love historical epics like this. I really, really love the orchestral score for this too, done by James Horner. My only complaint is I had a bit of trouble understanding large segments of dialogue because of the English/Cockney accents combined with loud segments of music. Still was able to follow this though, as it really is a visual piece, a complete visual experience - could have been done well as a silent film. I will be watching this one again! (9 stars)

August 7, 2006 - Ghost World (2001) - Interesting film about a teen girl who just doesn't fit the mold. Just graduated from high school, quirky outsider Enid (Thora Birch) and her gal pal Rebecca aka Becky (Scarlet Johansson) seem at loose ends as to where their lives will go next. Becky gets a job at a coffee house and Enid has to take a make-up art class for summer school. Soon the two girls have played a cruel joke on a man who has placed a personal ad in the paper. They pretend the woman he seeks wants to meet him, then spy on the fake set-up date, then feeling bad, follow the fellow home. Enid soon befriends the guy, whose name is Seymour, and turns out he's just as quirky, if not more than her. Seymour's obsession is collecting vintage records and he can't get a date, it seems. So Enid sets out to help him find someone, without realizing that maybe the two might just connect themselves! I liked this film quite a bit, I think that Seymour seemed like a cool guy to date myself - hey, I like quirky guys really into vintage stuff. I can identify a bit with the girls in the film too (as a female interested in odd things like silent film, old-time music, etc., and spending all my time in the dark watching movies in my college days rather than goiing on weekend "ski trips" or playing tennis - I never really fit the mold either!) (8 stars)

August 2, 2006 - Asphalt (1929) - Outstanding German silent era crime drama; an early film noir about a young traffic officer who gets involved with a femme fatale he has just arrested for stealing a diamond from a jeweler's shop. This spit-curled, dark-haired beauty attempts to use tears, tricks, Cognac, a pillow-laden couch proportioned like a king-sized bed, and finally a black-laced bodysuit/nightie to seduce our officer into letting her off. These two soon become emotionally involved with each other, but the officer is feeling guilt over shirking his duty to arrest her. The photography in this film is really excellent - the film as a whole is very visual, with lots of facial close-ups, softly filtered lighting along with shadowy rooms and hallways, and an interesting montage at the beginning of the asphalt streets of Berlin and it's fast moving crowds of people and traffic, all shown with interesting overlapped and angled photography. The actors all give excellent, emotional performances. The actress, Betty Amann, who portrays the thief is especially good here, seducing both our officer and the viewer with just her eyes, showing a great range of emotion in close-up. The print on the Kino DVD of this looks good, the orchestral score is really great and suits this to a tea. I have seen many, many silent films and I would certainly count this one among the best I've seen. (10 stars)

July 31, 2006 - Today watched Hawthorne of the U.S.A. (1919) - Mildly entertaining silent film about Anthony Hamilton Hawthorne, American (played by Wallace Reid), who breaks the bank at Monte Carlo, then travels through the poverty-stricken kingdom of Bovinia, along with his best pal/sidekick Harry Blake (Harrison Ford). When Hawthorne's cap blows over a high wall, he climbs it and encounters a "lonely little girl", playing make-believe in her dream garden, which for all the world looks just like "The Secret Garden". Well, though described as a "little girl", she is really a very beautiful young lady, played by Lila Lee. He falls in love immediately, then gets caught up in a local revolution to overthrow the king, and the revolutionaries are determined to get Hawthorne to finance this revolution with his gambling winnings! But wait - the twist - the beautiful, lonely little girl is actually a princess, daughter of the king, and about to be forced to marry a Prince from a rival kingdom, a man she hates! I found this film interesting, though thought the plot revolved too much around this "revolution" and not enough about the romance between the characters. The film is boosted up considerably by the three main stars (Reid, Ford, and Lee), who are all very engaging and attractive - all three I would count among my favorite silent era actors. I enjoyed the interplay between the two male leads, they actually seemed like real buddies. The DVD version (from Grapevine) of this I saw featured a quite decent looking print, tinted mainly in a greenish-sepia tone. The music score was also decent, what I would describe as mid-range to pleasant. Enjoyable, light fare. (6 to 7 stars)

July 28, 2006 - Watched the Thelma Todd/Zasu Pitts short film The Soilers (1932) - Having no luck selling magazine subscriptions to housewives door to door, the girls (Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts) decide to invade City Hall to try their luck selling to the men. Thelma is soon using "a little personality", as she puts it, to sell subscriptions - showing off her leg to get them into offices. This film is mildly funny, not one of their best shorts, but still worth seeing. It features a number of standard slapstick gags including slips on banana peels, office ink spills, and the old "can't get through the revolving door" gag. The short is boosted up by the use of lively stock Roach Studio background music throughout the film and a ton of chemistry between Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts, who really seem to be having fun with this. They actually seem to spend the majority of this short falling down on top of a variety of male characters with their legs flailing about in the air - for those interested in seeing lots of shots of Thelma Todd's legs, this would be the short to see. A bit of slapstick fun. (6 stars)
This afternoon, watched the odd silent film Warning Shadows (1923) - This is an unusual, very different sort of film, completely visual as it has no intertitles, in keeping with the original German version. About a man who is full of anxiety (his eyes continually popping out in jealous rages) over the attentions his woman has been paying to a handsome youth and several other male admirers (meanwhile, though she likes to flirt, she actually seems more interested in gazing at herself and posing in front of mirrors). The action all takes place at a house dinner party one evening, where our beautiful and alluring peacock lady is busy enticing the man, the youth, and three gentlemen, then all are "entertained" by a strange traveling entertainer and his shadow puppet play, who causes all to hallucinate a vision of "things to come". This film is very interestingly photographed, full of sharp shadows against brightly lit walls that set some of the action, plus lavish period costuming and well-draped sets that look like they belong on a stage. The action is mostly slow and dreamlike, a bit too slow at times as this drags just a little through parts. Still, very interesting to see. The print on the Kino DVD, tinted in sepia/yellow, pink, and bright lavender tones, looks quite nice. The music score is excellent and suits this very odd silent film quite well. (7 stars)

July 27, 2006 - Watched the short film Hot News Margie (1931) - Short and Spicy. Fun little short film about "Hot News Marg" (Marjorie Beebe), star reporter for gossip-hungry tabloid "the Gazette", who will stop at nothing to get her story including getting shot full of bullets under the protection of her trusty "bullet-proof brassiere". On special assignment to get the lowdown on the rumored wedding of famous quarterback "Babe Booth" to a beautiful showgirl, Margie does it all to get the scoop, including playing football during a big match, disguised in football uniform (her stockings and panties left out on the men's locker room bench) and pestering Babe during game play ("Babe, are you married, huh, huh, be a good fella and give me the lowdown, are you married?"). Pretty amusing short, fast talking, and full of snappy patter and sexual innuendo - as Marg says "She'll get her story, even if she has to make the football team!". Marjorie Beebe is funny in this, and very entertaining to watch. A hoot. (6 stars)

July 26, 2006 - Get Yourself a College Girl (1964) - Cool Hits, Swinging Hips, and Girls with Flips. As the song lyrics gush in the opening credits "Come on along and join the Swinging Set" as you watch this quite silly, but fun film about Terry (played by Mary Ann Mobley), a student at Wyndam College for Girls who writes hit songs under a pseudonym and already has her first hit single, a ditty called "Help Stamp Out Men!". When the college board finds out about her songs (with lyrics like "She knows all there is to know from A to Z about S - E - X") they want to expel her for bringing "scandal" to the school - so Terry and her gal pals agree to have "nothing to do with men" on their Christmas holiday ski vacation in Sun Valley. But, oh know, they are soon being chased around the resort by Terry's music publisher (Chad Everett) and a French artist who want her to pose for a publicity painting wearing nothing but guitar and baby doll nightie! Girls wearing bikinis and shorty nightgowns who can *barely* act combined with fake-looking snow scene backdrops, poorly lip synched song performances, and handsome, but oh so boring young Chad Everett makes this sound like a pretty bad movie - but that's all completely part of the campy, nostalgic, 60s fun here! Yes, this film is a bit of fluff, but quite enjoyable. It is full of swinging party scenes at places like the Go Go Club, with kids dancing the Swim and Watusi, and lots of great, live performances by such groups as The Animals and The Dave Clark Five, and one of my favorite parts of the movie, Stan Getz along with the jazzy, cool girl performance done by Astrud Gilberto singing "The Girl from Ipanema" . Worth seeing for the music alone. (7 stars)
Later watched Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) - During the London blitz, four children - Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy - are sent to the countryside to live in this huge manor house. While playing hide and seek through the rooms of the massive house - the youngest, Lucy, stumbles upon a huge wardrobe full of fur coats. Hiding in it she stumbles through the back of the wardrobe and into the magical, snow covered kingdom of Narnia, where she befriends a fawn named Tumnus. Soon the rest of the kids are through the wardrobe to Narnia where they meet the beavers, the White Witch, and Aslan, the lion king. This film is terrific - kept me on the edge of my seat with it's powerfully well-done, superb special effects. I liked the choice of actors for the kids and thought they did a fab job telling this story, especially good is the young actress who plays Lucy. I was sort of expecting something more for kids, this instead seemed more like "Lord of the Rings" - fantastical, a bit violent, and even scary. I do love fantasy films, this was great. (10 stars)

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