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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.

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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

American Hustle

american-hustle-posters-sonyLoosely 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.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including all four major acting categories.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a good man at heart. He has a home in New Jersey, a wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and he has adopted her son, Danny, whom he loves.  But Irving is a small time hustler and he makes his money off of people about to under financially.  When he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), herself a small time hustler, they fall in love and she joins in his financial fraud scheme, posing as Lady Edith Greensly, a wealthy Englishwoman with connections.

Their secret life goes very well until they are caught in an FBI sting, led by agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Although technically they only have Sydney on the hook, Richie uses Irving’s love to get him to agree to a deal.  If they help him make four busts, he’ll let them both go scott free.  Thinking they’ll just be bringing down small time hustlers, Irving is all for doing the deal, but Sydney just wants to run away with him (she’s even willing to take his son Danny with them).  She is certain that something stinks about the deal and that if they do it, they’ll have to have an ace in the hole, but Irving is insistent.  Sydney tells him that if that’s what he wants to do, she’ll distance herself from him and get close to Richie instead.

Irving proposes using a friend of his posing as a sheik to sting some hustlers he knows, but Richie and the FBI have different ideas. They want to go after Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden who is looking for investors to help revitalize Atlantic City.  Irving thinks the deal has now become too big for them and Richie’s boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) is also against it, but the FBI wants to do it.  In setting it up, Irving becomes friends with Carmine.  Seeing that he is also basically a good man, Irving tries to find a way to keep Carmine out of it, but things are beyond his control.  When he brings Rosalyn to a dinner with Carmine and his wife, she sees a chance to improve her own lot.

Carmine brings this unlikely group of people to a casino to meet the Mafia, led by Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), right-hand man to Meyer Lansky. Richie is posing as the sheik’s interpreter, but it turns out that Victor actually speaks Arabic and the whole plan falls into jeopardy.  This begins a hilarious series of plot twists and turns that lead to the conclusion of the movie.

Christian Bale turns in one of the best performances of this new century as Irving. He has crafted a character both deep and shallow, so well-layered in nuance that Bale himself completely disappears in the character.  Typically, he carries the film.  Adams, Lawrence, and Cooper are all very good, but pale beside the brilliance of this one truly great American actor.

The script is incredibly well-crafted and the direction is superb.  Russell is emerging as one of America’s finest cinematic minds and he brings all of his talents to bear in this period comedy that never ceases to entertain.  From beginning to end, the viewer is caught up in one bizarre scheme after another as the plot moves through unexpected twists and turns.  As the story gets deeper and deeper, a kind of tension is created behind the comedy that impels the viewer to watch, rooting for Irving and also fearing for him at the same time.

The film is beautifully crafted and should be seen by everyone!

The Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.

THE FIGHTERThis 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.  As with most biopics, 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.

It’s no accident that the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two, for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale as Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

Dicky Eckland (Christian Bale) had a very promising career as a boxer–in fact, in 1978, he actually went the distance against Sugar Ray Leonard—but addiction to crack brought it to a standstill.  Since then, he has been training his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who is managed by their mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo).  But between the mother and brother, Micky always seems to get bad fights.  His brother fails to show up to train him and is usually wacked out when he does.  HBO has shown up to make a documentary that Dicky claims is about his comeback, but which is actually about the effects of crack on wrecked lives.

Following a terrible loss to a beast of a fighter, Micky begins to question his choices.  A promoter from Las Vegas offers Micky a chance to train year round in Vegas and get the fights he deserves, rather than being a “stepping stone” for other fighters.  At the same time, Micky meets Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), a former college athlete who drank her way out and now works as a bartender.  The two fall pretty deep in love, but Charlene isn’t putting up with Micky’s situation and they decide to revolt, hire their own trainer, and pull back from his family.

Begging for another chance, Dicky promises them that he will raise the money to support Micky training year round in their hometown of Lowell, MA, so they decide to give him a chance, even though Charlene is highly skeptical.  Dicky’s pyramid scheme to raise money fails, so he puts his girlfriend on the street so they can fleece cash out of unsuspecting Johns.  When it backfires, Dicky is arrested and sent to prison as Micky begins to climb the ladder to success.

Leaving aside the solid performances by Wahlberg and Adams, this is a truly strong cast from top to bottom.  I was knocked-out, surprised by just how truly great an actor Christian Bale is.  His performance as Dicky is one of the best I’ve seen in the last twenty years and—even as a supporting actor—he carries the film to levels far beyond what it might have been.  Also, one cannot say enough about the amazing Melissa Leo’s, whose performance in Frozen River probably should have won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1978.

Even with enough downers to bring down an elephant, this movie still manages to be a terrific feel-good film.  I love movies that show us how we can all be so much more than we are, how we should be awake to change and set goals that move us beyond what we are now—and this movie delivers that in spades.  It is a terrific film that I very highly recommend!