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.


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.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of TomorrowUsing 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.

Sometime in the future, a meteor crashes into earth, unleashing a vicious alien fighting force.  These creatures, which look like a cross between an octopus and the creature from Alien, immediately take over most of Europe and then are stopped by the human allies, the United Defense Force (UDF).  The public relations spokesperson for the UDF, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) announces that the forces have been halted at Verdun by a female soldier using a new fighting machine, Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).

When ordered to report to the commanding officer of the allied invasion force, British General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Cage finds himself ordered to report to the front lines to cover the invasion.  A coward at heart, Cage tries to finagle a way to get out of it and finally resorts to blackmailing the General.  Brigham will have no part of it and orders Cage arrested.  He wakes up the next morning at Heathrow Airport.  He has been busted down to the rank of Private, branded a deserter, and assigned to Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton).  He is marched to his new unit, J Company, a bunch of stupid soldiers dumber than any unit ever depicted in film history (and that’s saying quite a bit, actually).  The next day, he is strapped into his fighting machine and the soldiers are flown to Normandy.

Before the drop, they come under attack and the plane is shot down.  Dropping onto the beach, Cage is truly lost in a masscre.  He is attacked by an alien who is a bit larger than the others and of a bluish color.  Later, this creature will be identified as an “Alpha.”  He is killed by the Alpha and wakes up back at Heathrow, living the same day over.  He tries to convince the others that they are heading to a massacre, but no one will listen.  He is killed and the day resets.  This action prompted the advertising slogan, “Live. Die. Repeat.”  As the days go by, he learns more from each day’s events and finally meets Rita on the field of battle.  She watches him going through a very precise series of motions designed to keep him alive and she tells him, “Find me when you wake up tomorrow.”

This begins a new series of days where he gradually figures out how to find her at Heathrow.  Explaining the situation to her, she takes him down to a basement where Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a scientist in the guise of a worker reveals that the aliens are all linked to an Omega that controls them all, but that the Alphas control the time loop.  Rita had previously ran into an Alpha at Verdun and she went through the same process of living a day over and over again until she was badly hurt and they replaced her blood—that is what broke the time loop.  They know that eventually the looper will begin to dream about where the omega is and that his how they will eventually find and kill it.

Rita begins to train him to prepare for battle and they live the same day over and over many times as he begins to perfect how to find the Omega.  He dreams of a dam in Germany where the Omega is hiding and so they hatch a plan to get there.  Every day, of course, he has to re-educate Rita, Carter, and his squadron as to what is going on.  At one point, he and Rita make it pretty far, holding out at a farm house, but he tells her that this is the point where she dies and if he is actually going to kill the Omega, he doesn’t want her dead.  The next time he relives the day, he goes alone and makes it all the way to the dam, but the Omega isn’t there.  Instead, he finds an ambush and is killed again.

Carter has a device that he thinks will allow them to tap into the aliens and find out the real hiding place of the Omega, but part of his equipment has been confiscated by General Brigham.  This begins another series of days where Cage must figure out how to get to the general and convince the man to give him the equipment.  When he does so, he taps into the alien part of his blood and discovers that the Omega is actually hiding underneath the Louvre, but he is injured during the escape and wakes up in the hospital getting fresh blood.

His day will no longer reset and he will only have one chance to take out the Omega.

There are a lot of really good things in this movie. 

Based on the 2004 Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the screenplay went through a large number of writers to achieve its final form.  As directed by Doug Liman, this film really moves fast.  The trick in these time loop movies is getting the audience to quickly figure out that the same day is being lived over and over again so that each day can move ahead in plot and not get bogged down in too much repetition.  The film copies the techniques used in Groundhog Day to extremely good effect and it moves like a bat out of hell.  It uses a lot of humor to provide relief from the many violent scenes of warfare and it does so very effectively.  The fighting machines used by the soldiers remind me a lot of machines conceived of by Robert A Heinlein in his novel Starship Troopers, a terrific concept that wasn’t actually used in the movie based on Heinlein’s work.  The aliens are extremely well designed and executed.

This movie is a lot of fun to watch!

In addition to all the technical wizardry, the acting is surprisingly good.  Emily Blunt is always great and she really comes through brilliantly in this movie.  Tom Cruise begins as his usually dislikable self, but as the film goes on he gains considerable traction and ends up with a really fine performance.  I liked him for once!

But the best acting job by far is accomplished by Bill Paxton.  I didn’t even know he was in the movie until the credits rolled at the end and then I was stunned because I didn’t recognize him at all.  It is one of those breakthrough acting jobs like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich or Christian Slater in The Figher.

Overall, I think most audiences will enjoy this movie regardless of some of the extremely violent scenes.  The comedy carries well and the film moves so quickly along that it all adds up to more than the sum of its parts.  Quick, fun entertainment.


Descendants Clooney and WoodleyThe Descendants

Although this movie might not be suitable for all ages because of language and some adult situations, it is nonetheless a family movie.  It deals with the issues people face, both as parents and as children, and ultimately it addresses the responsibility of generations to their family.  George Clooney and Shailene Woodley star in the beautiful film set in beautiful Hawaii.

Devil-Wears-Prada-3The Devil Wears Prada

Based on the novel The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger, the 2006 film of the same name brings a great deal to the table, namely moral, ethical, and economic issues usually absent from a comedy more concerned with appearance than reality.

Dial_M_For_Murder_Grace KellyDial M for Murder

It might be easy to plan the perfect murder, but actually doing it is something else entirely.  That is the theme of Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie adapted by Frederick Knott from his own successful stage play of the same name.


Adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor from the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, this 2014 movie is remarkably faithful to the original book, which is both good and bad.  Shailene Woodley is brilliant as Tris, the Abnegation girl who is diagnosed as Divergent: she’s not only Abnegation, but also Erudite and Dauntless.  At her choosing ceremony, she chooses Dauntless and begins a life of courage and risk.


 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.


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?


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.



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

Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine CleaningSunshine 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.

In Albuquerque, NM, Rose Lorkowski (Adams) is a single mother in her thirties, a former cheerleader who dated the captain of the football team, Mac (Steve Zahn), and was thought to have a bright future, yet she works as a house cleaner and is looked down on by all of her former classmates. She is still having an affair with Mac and he recommends that she could make a lot more money doing crime scene cleanup.  Enlisting the help of her frustrated sister, Norah (Blunt), she dives in with no knowledge or understanding of the business.

As they work their way through a series of gross cleanups, they meet Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.), who runs a special supply store and he helps them to become more professional. During one cleanup of a dead woman’s house, Norah finds a fanny pack filled with pictures of the woman’s child, Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and she sets out to find her.  When she does, she can’t bring herself to tell Lynn what happened, but the two develop a friendship.  Rose wants Mac to divorce his wife and marry her, but he balks.

The sisters were both children when their mother committed suicide and Rose, as the eldest, has strong memories of the event that traumatized both of them.  Their father, Joe (Alan Arkin) has a series of money making schemes that always seem to fail, but he has a great relationship with Rose’s son, Oscar (Jason Spevack). He helps by babysitting the boy, who also develops a friendship with Winston.

Adams and Blunt provide both comedy and drama, showing a great range acting. Adams manages to be both very strong and very vulnerable at the same time, while Blunt is brilliant as the troubled little sister.  All of the supporting roles are very well acted.  The script is tight and lean, wasting no time on things that don’t matter.  Everything ties in well.  The directing and editing are terrific.

It is an extremely entertaining and well made movie. I highly recommend it!

Young Victoria

theyoungvictoria-2This review contains spoilers (as if history didn’t contain enough).

In 1836, when Princess Victoria of Kent (Emily Blunt), the heir apparent to the throne of England, first meets Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Rupert Friend), she is in a very delicate situation, both politically and personally.

Her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) is heavily under the influence of her brother, King Leopold I of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann), who devoutly wishes an alliance with Britain to keep Belgium safe from France, and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), the comptroller of her household, who wants King William IV (Jim Broadbent) to die while Victoria is still a minor so that the Duchess will be appointed Regent and he can rule England from behind the scenes.

Victoria herself is in rebellion against both of these constraints, siding instead with King William. She resents the control that Conroy exerts over her mother and she resents the domestic restraints that they both hold on her.  While she is ill, Conroy even attempts to force her to sign an agreement for a Regency, but she bats the document away.  Conroy treats her quite brutally, once grabbing her physically and throwing her on a sofa.  When her mother stands by and allows this to happen, she warns her mother that she will never forget it.

King Leopold decides that the best way to keep England friendly is to have his nephew, Prince Albert, become very friendly with Victoria, perhaps even marry her, so he sends Albert to England for a visit. Trained to know all of her favorite music, reading, and opera, Albert tries to forge a friendship, but Victoria sees right away what he’s up to.  Changing tacks, he decides to be honest and disagree with her when their opinions differ.  Immediately, Victoria notices and decides to give him a little slack.  The more they talk, the fonder they grow, gradually falling in love, until, at last, Albert must return to Germany.

When King William dies, Victoria has come of age and she makes a few quick decisions. Although she allows her mother separate apartments at Buckingham Palace (built by William, Victoria was the first regal tenant), but she banishes Conroy.  Making friends with Lord Melbourne, she takes him as an advisor.  Although she desires to improve the living conditions of the poor, Melbourne steers her away from that and arranges her household as he wants it.  When Melbourne falls from power, Queen Victoria refuses to change her appointments to suit the new Prime Minister and the government falls.  There is a huge reaction in the public against her, there are riots outside the palace, and in one instance, a window is broken by a flying object.

Confused and needing help from a friend, she calls on Prince Albert to come to her, not just as an advisor, but as a husband and they are finally able to consummate their simmering love. Just when things would appear to be quite well, Albert makes the mistake of making a decision without consulting her and Victoria reacts strongly, feeling that, like Conroy, he was attempting to rule England behind her back and they have a vicious quarrel.  At a public appearance, a gunman appears and tries to assassinate Victoria, but Albert takes the bullet for her, thus proving his real love.

The two then form a true partnership and rule England successfully for another 20 years when typhoid takes Albert. Alone, Queen Victoria then ruled England alone until she was over 80 years old, supervising England’s management (not always successfully) of the Industrial Revolution and leaving a false impression of extreme prudishness.

This film is beautifully made. The art direction, photography, costumes, locations, acting, directing, music, and photography are all first rate.  Much credit must be given to director Jean-Marc Vallée for imposing strict control over the length of the film and the editing.  Some period dramas like this run amok by running two or three hours in length, but the timing of this film feels just right.  The script by Julian Fellowes maintains as much historical accuracy as possible, while still bending reality to make it a pretty good movie.  It is focussed, as it should be, on the love story, but the love story is underpinned everywhere by the politics and Fellowes did a fantastic job of merging the two worlds.  Much credit should also go to Sandy Powell for her Academy Award winning costumes.

Emily Blunt is simply stunning as Victoria. She shows such a range of acting that I found myself completely won over within the first few minutes of the film.  Rupert Friend was a wonderful casting decision as Albert because he brings both restraint and passion to the performance.  The chemistry between these two is really terrific and one completely believes not just the love, but the political realities of both of them.

You don’t need a PhD in History to understand this moving love story that involves two kingdoms, ministers, lords and ladies. It is passionate, well-made, well-timed and beautiful to watch.  I highly recommend the movie!

The Adjustment Bureau

1-adjustment-bureau-copyThe Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is a bit far-fetched, but a 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 quickly runs away, he is motivated to give a galvanizing concession speech that will reenergize his career.

A year later, the men of the Adjustment Bureau, an organization that adjusts humans to keep us following “the plan,” set up a situation where David’s day is supposed to be interrupted by one of their men Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), who nods off and misses his assignment. When David sees Elise on the bus, the plan has gone awry.  Furthermore, he walks on in an adjustment of his boss, Charlie Traynor (Michael Kelly) and freaks out. Everyone is frozen while Richardson (John Slattery), the head of David’s team of Adjustment men, scans his brain.  They have to intervene with him and tell him what’s going on.  They burn Elise’s phone number and tell him he can’t have anything to do with her.  Well, David isn’t having any of this and he sets out to try to alter the plan so he can end of up the girl he loves. 

Matt Damon is excellent as David. Not only is he a believable politician, but his single-mindedness in trying to outwit the Bureau really makes the film move.  Emily Blunt is very engaging as Elise and Terrence Stamp is terrific as the man at the Bureau (“the Hammer”) they call in to make him give up his search

It’s a very fast-moving, enjoyable film with great music and it comes in at just over 90 minutes, so it’s the perfect length. It’s a really fun evening’s entertainment!