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to-have-and-have-not-bacall-bogartTo Have and Have Not

You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”   One can only an imagine an audience in New York in 1944 sitting back with a gasp and then collectively going, “Whoa!”  From her first moment on screen, Lauren Bacall lit up the cinema with her smoky voice and burning eyes, somehow keeping cool, almost mocking, while at the same time beckoning.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that future husband Humphrey Bogart was the man she was looking at.


 To Catch a Thief 01To Catch a Thief

This is Alfred Hitchcock’s most visually beautiful movie.  Filmed on the French Riviera, the gorgeous hills, dotted with old mansions overlooking the Mediterranean Sea vie with the stark beauty of Grace Kelly and chiseled features of Cary Grant to provide enough eye candy to last a lifetime.


To Kill a Mockingbird 02To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the greatest films ever made and the years have not diminished its greatness in any way.  It is unusual to see a nearly perfect adaptation of a modern classic novel (Pulitzer Prize, 1960), but the combination of Harper Lee’s story, Horton Foote’s adaptation, Robert Mulligan’s direction, Henry Bumstead’s art direction, Russell Harlan’s cinematography, and Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful music make this film uniquely touching, a deeply penetrating portrait of small town rural life in the 1930’s, in the deep South.


Torn Curtain (1966)Torn Curtain

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 cold war thriller is unique among his films because it contains some of the best filmmaking since he moved to America and also some of the worst.  Paul Newman stars as a physicist defecting to East Germany, with Julie Andrews as his stunned fiancé.


Trouble with the CurveTrouble with the Curve

Released in 2012, Trouble with the Curve is a fun little baseball movie that looks at changes in the world of scouting.  Directed by Robert Lorenz, the film stars Clint Eastwood as an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves nearing the end of his long, successful career and Amy Adams as his smart lawyer daughter who tries to help through the last round.

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 Save the Last DanceSave the Last Dance

Save the Last Dance is a surprisingly well-thought out film.  Although it is primarily concerned with dance, it also deals with some big issues.  Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick  Thomas are great as two dancers with completely different backgrounds who come together to merge classical and hiphop dance styles.  Lots of fun, great music, and some serious issues.


Viola and Shakespeare in bedShakespeare in Love

Written by Tom Stoppard (author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and Marc Norman, this 1998 film is both a comedy and a romance–and it is very successful at both.  Great performances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, and Judi Densch fuel this terrific comedy and unpredictable romance!


Silence Lambs 01The Silence of the Lambs

When a serial killer dumps the bodies of several young women into various rivers between Ohio and Pennsylvania, with parts of their bodies skinned, newspapers anoint the unknown assailant as “Buffalo Bill.”  The head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI recruits a beautiful young agent-trainee, who is earmarked for his division, to help him out by interviewing one of the most notorious serial killers of all: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal.


Cooper and Lawrence Silver Linings PlaybookSilver Linings Playbook

This delightful comedy/drama was written and directed by David O. Russell, adapted from the book The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Centered around two quirky people, both at a crossroads in their lives, the film presents bi-polar disorder as a condition that can be overcome.  Jennifer Lawrence gives an Academy Award performance opposite Bradley Cooper, with Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker.


Speak-Movie-kristen-stewart-7224892-960-540Speak

Here’s a 2004 film that really went under the radar.  It was screened at Sundance and aired on Showtime and Lifetime, but I’d never heard of it.  Based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, it tells the story of a high school freshman, Melinda Sordino, who is brutally raped at a party by a senior boy.  Starring Kristin Stewart in a wonderful performance.


Shailine Woodley int The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now aims much higher than any run-of-the-mill teen romance and its success in achieving a film that goes beyond the limits of genre is to be highly commended, yet there are problems in the movie and it would make the film an excellent study for any film theory class.


amy adams emily blunt sunshine cleaningSunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning is a delightful comedy and drama, with a great cast, a strong script by Megan Holley and crisp, clean direction by Christine Jeffs.  Although it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the two performances at the center of it by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt really propelled the two actresses to the acclaim they so richly deserve.

L

The Lady Vanishes (1938)The Lady Vanishes

Set in the fictitious European country of Bandrika, this 1938 British comedy-mystery  remains one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies.  Based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, the script by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder is truly funny, even the suspenseful parts.  Enhanced by Hitchcock’s own wit, it emerges as a truly entertaining popular film that reaches well beyond his normal confines of mystery and suspense.


 LeapYearTitleLeap Year

Genre films are really hit and miss.  If you’re quite lucky, you’ll get a hit, but producers find out all the time that it’s really easy to think you’ve got a winner and then just miss.  This is especially true with romantic comedies, which are perhaps the most difficult genre to score a hit.  Usually, either the comedy fails, the situation isn’t quite creative enough, or–most frequently–the leads just don’t have chemistry, which comes back to the casting.


 Little Women 1994Little Women (1994)

This Robin Swicord adaptation of Luisa May Alcott’s classic novel is very good, considering that the movie comes in under two hours.  Overall, it is a very good film.  This is the fourth adaptation of Little Women to the screen, it stars Wynona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst.


 Lost in Austen trioLost in Austen

The general fascination with Jane Austen is continued in this 2008 four-part British television film, originally aired by ITV and released in the United States as a three hour film.  Amanda Price is a modern Jane Austen stuck in an unromantic relationship with a boozy, uncouth guy, Michael (Daniel Percival) and living in a flat in Hammersmith with a girlfriend, Pirhana (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  All she really wants is to be left alone so she can immerse herself in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.


Amanda Seyfriend as Linda LovelaceLovelace

This film is a 2013 biographical picture about the life of Linda Boreman, beginning at the age of 20 and going through her marriage to Chuck Traynor and the release of her biography, .  Under the trade name of Linda Lovelace, she starred in the 1972 pornographic breakthrough movie Deep Throat and that is her lone claim to fame aside from her biography, Ordeal.

H

Her Phoenix and AdamsHer

What would happen if cell phone addiction was carried one step further?  It’s a common sight now.  In public, it is not uncommon to see people isolated in a crowd, lost in their own little world, playing with their cell phone.  What if this phenomenon was almost universal?  In Her, the 2013 film written and directed by Spike Jonze, these questions are answered and it is both funny and scary.


 ray johnson how to draw a bunnyHow to Draw a Bunny

This 2002 documentary on the elusive, enigmatic artist Ray Johnson really gives us a lot more than it promises.  Almost from the beginning, it is suggests that “no one really knew Ray Johnson” and then, through interviews and close-ups of his art, the film proceeds to give us one insight after another into the man’s genius.


Hunger Games 03The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was already a huge success when producers began bidding on the film rights.  By teaming up director Gary Ross with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, adding Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland and a bunch motivated, beautiful teens, the producers of this movie created a magic gumbo and a film that will long lead all of the Young Adult Dystopian movie franchises.

F

Fargo Frances McDormandFargo

Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this 1996 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen quirky thriller that contains so much comedy it transcends genres.  It borrows a number of techniques from the master of thriller movies, including a clever McGuffin, a villain with empathy, horrific incidents that are hilarious, and a tremendous environmental atmosphere.


THE FIGHTERThe Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.  This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing.  There is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.


First TimeThe First Time

The very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.


Fly Away PictureFly Away

Written and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast.


French ConnectionThe French Connection

If you are looking for the meaning of life, this movie is not for you.  Indeed, if you are looking for any meaning at all, this is not your movie.  Rather, it is a completely kinetic film.  Directed by William Friedkin, it echoes the French cinema of the 1950’s, which itself echoes the American gangster films of the 1930’s.  It is all movement and action, with practically no dialogue, moving in a steady arc of energy toward a violent ending.


french kissFrench Kiss

Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection.  Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.


Friends with KidsFriends with Kids

This 2011 movie, written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children. It stars Adam Scott, Westfeldt, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph.


frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoFrozen River

There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films.  It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.

E

 Edge of TomorrowEdge of Tomorrow

Using the same plot device as Harold Ramis’s temporal breakthrough script Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow gives a more plausible rationale for a person living the same day over and over again, but couches the story in a science fiction action adventure format.


An Education - MulliganAn Education

An Education is both a very scary and ultimately very satisfying movie.  Any film that balances tension in such an evocative way deserves attention and this one more than most.  Fortunately, it got it in the form of three Academy Award nominations in 2010, for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress.


ElizabethtownElizabethtown

If ever there was a candidate for a movie that needed a Second Look, it is the 2005 Cameron Crowe romantic comedy-drama, Elizabethtown.  Crowe wrote and directed the film, which features music by his wife, Nancy Wilson, one-half of the musical duo Heart.  As romantic comedies go, this is a very smart one, always entertaining, and deeper than it probably should be. 


amy-adams encxhantedEnchanted

Walt Disney Pictures has given us a most enchanting film in this entertaining blend of animation, CGI, and live action.  Released in 2007, Enchanted was written by Bill Kelly and directed by Kevin Lima with an eye toward both parody and reverence toward the Disney classic animated movies.  It contains wonderful songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and sparkles with good humor.


English PatientThe English Patient

The English Patient is a highly overblown World War II romance. Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje, the movie was adapted and directed by Anthony Minghella.  It tells a rather choppy story that uses lots of flashbacks to flesh out (literally) the illicit romance between cartographer Count László de Almásy and the wife of his benefactor, Katherine Clifton.

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 Across_the_Universe_3lgAcross the Universe

Conceived, produced and directed by the eclectic Julie Taymor, this film is a romantic musical that incorporates parts of 34 songs composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the three of them plus Ringo Starr (“Flying”).  Most of the songs are sung on-screen by the characters, though there are some instrumentals.  This places the film in the category of old-style musicals where people seem to burst into song as a part of the story.  To everyone’s credit, it actually seems to work very well indeed.


1-adjustment-bureau-copyThe Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is a far-fetched, but very engaging film.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Brooklyn politician who meets a fascinating woman, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on the night that he has just lost the Senate election.  When she runs away, he is motivated to give a galvanizing concession speech that will reenergize his career.


AdventurelandAdventureland

Adventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival.  The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing.  Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.


All is Lost RedfordAll is Lost

A man sleeps peacefully aboard his small yacht when it suddenly bangs into some sea debris, tearing a hole in the side.  This begins a great survival story where one problems piles upon another as he is tossed across the Indian sea toward shipping lanes and possible rescue.  But he must first face storms, sharks, and other menaces.  And even when he reaches the shipping lanes, will anyone see him?


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Amadeus

A terrible way to triumph over God.  These are the words of 18th Century Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) referring to his murder of the brilliant, meteoric Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ((Tom Hulce). He tells the story to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) who has come to hear his confession at the insane asylum to which Salieri has been confined following a suicide attempt.


 american-hustle-posters-sonyAmerican Hustle

Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting operation, this 2013 film was written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer and directed by Russell of The Fighter and  Silver Linings Playbook fame.  Bringing along Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, he has created a brilliant sting comedy that takes place at the height of disco mania, 1978.


Art of Getting By3The Art of Getting By

In The Art of Getting By (2011), George (Freddie Highmore), a high school senior living in New York City, falls into a fatalistic funk.  Although he is a gifted artist, he realizes that he’s going to die some day and asks himself: What is the point of trying?  Seeing no point, he gives up working on his school assignments, skips class and tests and just skates by as a loner.  Facing this failure, he is placed on academic probation.


Austenland PictureAustenland

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland

 

The First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival

When I finished the fifth draft of my novel Walk Against Time, I was suffering a bit of post-partum depression and decided to fill the void with Amy Adams movies, so I decided to create the First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival. Okay, it was a low-key affair, just me and a bowl of popcorn, but it was great fun.

I must confess right from the beginning that I love Amy Adams unconditionally.

There, it’s out in the open. A friend recently asked me what I love about Amy and I’ve got to confess that it’s pretty much the whole package.  Red hair, green eyes, a cute little pixie nose.  What’s not to love?  She’s not emaciated, but not overweight, either (okay, maybe just a tiny hint of baby fat).  Inside that perfect shell, there is a personality that just radiates optimism.  Don’t blame her, she can’t help it.  It’s how she is.  She’s like the Tom Hanks of female actors.  There’s just something that will never, ever give up on humanity and our potential.  Finally, you crinkle in a moderate dash of vulnerability that brings tears to my eyes.  Please, Amy, DON’T CRY!  I admit it freely.  I am besotted.

The film list below contains links to my reviews for each of the movies.  Just click on the name or photo to read the full review.

The First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival

Day 1

Leap Year

amy-adams-leap-yearAmy plays an Irish-American girl who travels to the auld country to propose to her sweetie on February 29th, when she believes he can’t refuse. Along the way, she meets an Irish pub owner that just might change her mind.  This is easily the worst of all the films in the festival.  It is a romantic comedy that is not entirely successful.  Read the review to find out why.  It’s a good film to begin the festival with because every movie will get better from now on.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

amy adams miss-pettigrewOne of Amy’s most adorable roles as nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse, a flibbertygibbet who is bouncing between three men. It takes a wonderful performance by Frances McDormand to help her realize her true love and find happiness.  A wonderful comedy!

American Hustle

amy_adams american hustleAmy does some real acting in this hilarious comedy about two con artists in the 1970’s who get into something over their heads. Christian Bale is unbelievably good in this movie and frankly he steals the show, but Amy is great, too.  In fact, everyone is good.

 

Enchanted

amy-adams encxhanted

This is an amazing Disney film containing both animation and live action with great music and some incredible songs. Yes, Amy sings again!  She is at her delightful best as Princess Giselle who is thrown out of her cartoon kingdom into downtown Manhattan by the evil queen Narissa, played by Susan Sarandon.  It’s joyful and funny and one of the best Amy Adams films ever.  A personal favorite.

 

Day 2

Sunshine Cleaning

amy adams emily blunt sunshine cleaningThis is kind of a dark comedy about two down and out Albuquerque sisters, played by Amy and Emily Blunt, who start a business cleaning up crime scenes. It is both funny and touching and features a great performance by Blunt.  Alan Arkin appears as their father.

 The Fighter

amy_adams the fighter

A great film on so many levels! Again, Christian Bale is over the top good and won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role as Dicky Eckland, the older brother of Amy’s love interest, Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahberg. Amy plays a smart bartender who helps Micky to escape his family’s bungling of his boxing career. She’s really good in this movie and creates a real regular girl-type character (except that she’s like totally gorgeous, as usual). This is a must-see movie!

 

Trouble with the Curve

Amy-Adams-in-Trouble-with-the-Curve-What more could one possibly ask than to have Clint Eastwood as Amy’s crusty old baseball scout father? She’s at her most vulnerable here in a movie that combines some subtle comedy with a deep hurt that she suffered in her childhood.  She and Clint are dynamite together and when you add in Justin Timberlake as her love interest, you have a wonderful, feel-good movie that just can’t be resisted.  Wonderful!

 

Julie and Julia

 

amy adams julie and juliaThe festival ends, appropriately enough, with Julie and Julia.  The first time I actually remember seeing Amy Adams in anything, it was this and I fell for her really hard as Julie Powell, a talented wannabe writer in a post 9/11 world who decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s legendary cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Although they have no scenes together, Meryl Streep’s endearing performance as Julia Child is a perfect counterpoint to Amy’s vulnerable, lovable Julie.  This is a film that I can literally watch over and over and love more each time.  As a writer, two scenes touch me the most.  First, when Julia receives the first printed copy of her book, and second, when Julie gets a call that a publisher is interested in publishing her blog.  I’m still waiting for the magical moment in my own life, but these two women are wonderful in their own joy of publication.  LOVE—LOVE—LOVE this movie!

 

 

And so the festival ends. An empty bowl of popcorn.  A little wetness about my eyes.  And a hope that the Second Annual Amy Adams Film Festival will be just as enjoyable as the first.

I hope you all like my reviews, please feel free to subscribe to my web site to enjoy all of the reviews I write in the future.

Until then, as Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss PettigrewLondon in 1939 was a hodgepodge of pre-war jitters. Depression era soup kitchens operated down the block from posh nightclubs for the rich and the middle class worked to scratch out a decent living.

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged spinsterish daughter of a vicar gets fired from her job as a governess. Rushing up the street with her suitcase, she bumps into a man just getting out of prison, Michael Pardue (Lee Pace).  Frightened, she runs away, leaving her suitcase in the street.  Standing in a soup kitchen that night, she sees fashion mogul Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) kissing someone in an alley. When Edythe sees she’s being watched, she takes her lover and leaves.

The next morning, Miss Pettigrew goes to her employment agency, but they turn her away because she’s lost every job they sent her on. She steals the business card of American nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) from her agent’s desk, hoping she can arrive first and steal the job. Delysia is in a state.  It’s nearly ten o’clock in the morning and she must get a producer’s son, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) from her bed before her sugar daddy, Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) arrives. She hopes that bedding Phil will get her the lead role in his new West End musical.  She’s using him, just as she’s using nightclub owner Nick for her wardrobe and apartment.

Jumping into action as Delysia’s new social secretary, Miss Pettigrew manages to gently evict Phil and stall Nick because Delysia must attend a fashionable lingerie show. At the show, Delysia introduces her to Edythe, who doesn’t recognize her right away.  She also meets lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) who has been engaged to Edythe.  Delysia and Edythe give Miss Pettigrew a complete make-over.  Recognizing her at last, Edythe blackmails Miss Pettigrew into smoothing things over with Joe, even though she had been unfaithful to him, threatening to reveal that she knows Guinevere is actually penniless.

When they get back to the apartment, Michael is there. It turns out that he is the pianist that accompanies Delysia in her nightclub act.  They are in love, but Delysia persists in using the other men to further his career.  Michael gives her one last chance.  He has tickets on a boat to America and is leaving the next morning.  He begs her to join him and take their act to Manhattan.

This is just the beginning of a rip-roaring comedy filled with delightful performances. Directed by Bharat Nalluri, the film was adapted by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy from the 1938 novel by treasured British novelist Winifred Watson.  Scandalous when it was first released, the movie is quite tame by today’s standards, but still very amusing.  Nalluri shows a very deft touch in the directing, mixing tracking shots with steady cam to create a beautiful and tight movie.  In addition, the music is truly special, capturing the feeling of the time perfectly.  The art direction is fantastic, using upscale art deco side by side with the bleak depression era streets.

Frances McDormand, is, as usual, brilliant. She remains one of our finest actresses and infuses Miss Pettigrew with both restrained priggishness and down-to-earth humanity.  In spite of her upbringing, she is open to the friendship that Delysia gives to her.  Amy Adams is wonderful as the flibbertygibbet Delysia and she bonds with McDormand very well.  They make an amazing comedy team and yet both display great emotion with a restrained script.  The two of them make the movie, but all of the male co-stars are also terrific.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a truly entertaining movie that fans of McDormand and Adams will be proud to own. It can be watched over and over with a deepening level of enjoyment.  I highly recommend the film!