teresa wright & dana andrews - the best years of our lives 1946The Best Years of Our Lives

The stark reality of surviving life after war is best faced with the aid of friends and loved ones and that is story that is told in this 1946 film which remains one of the best films ever made.

The-Big-Sleep Bogart BacallThe Big Sleep

This 1946 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective novel remains one of the best films ever made for a variety of reasons.  Start with Chandler’s novel, written in a unique voice and style, that delved into the underworld of big city vice, using dangerous and edgy behavior that were normally hidden from the public eye: pornography, promiscuity, and homosexuality.

 Hitchcock The Birds 02The Birds

I was thirteen years old in 1963 when I went to a movie theater to Alfred Hitchcock’s latest move, The Birds, and I can still remember the effect it had, the tension it engendered, the thrill of fright, and my jangled nerves when I left the theater and stepped out into the sunlight.

 the-blind-side-22-550x366The Blind Side

The Blind Side, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, is a biographical drama that tells the story of how Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a rather large African-American, gets adopted into a white family, defeats his educational issues, and goes on to develop into a terrific left tackle on the football field.

Breakfast ClubThe Breakfast Club

Yelling one minute, giggling the next, while cool music plays throughout.  Welcome to The Breakfast Club, John Hughes’ 1985 comedy-drama about five teenagers confined to a Saturday detention in the Shermer High School library in Shermer, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

 renee zellweger bridge jonesBridget Jones’s Diary

Based ever so loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this 2001 British romantic comedy directed by Sharon Maguire is full of hits and misses.  The hits are all punches thrown between the two men who seek Bridget’s attention and the misses are all those single women who wish they had a choice between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

bright-star cornish and wishawBright Star

Written and directed by Jane Campion and based on the John Keats biography by Andrew Motion, this 2009 film is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen and it captures one of the most touching romances in history.  It takes its title from one of Keats’ most moving poems, “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art.”

Broken Arrow Stewart PagetBroken Arrow

This 1950 movie was one of the first to portray western Native Americans in a balanced manner and carries as its message racial equality and peaceful relations between Indians and Anglos.  Based on the popular novel, Blood Brother, by Elliott Arnold, the film adaptation by Michael Blankfort dramatizes the historical relationship between Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) and Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler).

Bridget Jones’s Diary

renee zellweger bridge jonesBased ever so loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this 2001 British romantic comedy directed by Sharon Maguire is full of hits and misses.  The hits are all punches thrown between the two men who seek Bridget’s attention and the misses are all those single women who wish they had a choice between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

Adapted by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis from Fielding’s popular novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger), a single woman in her early thirties looking for love. She works at a publishing house in London, under the direction of Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a real hottie that she’d like to get her hands on.  Over Christmas, her mother tries to set her up with former childhood neighbor Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Get it? Darcy. Firth. Nudge nudge wink wink. Of course, he very aloof and disdainful and she dislikes him immediately.

Right from the beginning, you know it isn’t going to be anything like Pride and Prejudice. Bridget is drunk half the time, smokes constantly, burbling, bumbling, and making a fool out of herself every five minutes. NOT Lizzy Bennet.

Setting her sights on her boss, she begins wearing short skirts and see-through blouses and exchanging flirtatious emails with him. He, of course, responds. When they see Darcy at a party, Daniel tells Bridget that Darcy once stole his fiancée from him. Wickham, eh? They go away for a weekend and there’s that darned Darcy again. On the verge of meeting Bridget’s parents, Daniel abandons her, explaining that he has important work at the office. Not so. He’s actually having an affair with a woman from the New York branch of the publishing company and Bridget finds the woman at his flat.

She dumps him and there is Darcy, immediately interested.

Parts of the movie are quite funny, but most of the humor depends on Bridget’s putting herself in embarrassing situations, which she does over and over. Personally, I don’t care for that kind of humor, just as I don’t care for novels that depend on the stupidity of their protagonists to make a plot. It was hugely popular for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the sophomoric humor and the beautiful people. It didn’t win any major awards, although Zellweger was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award. (It’s funny that British actors routinely play American roles without getting props for how expertly they handle the accent, yet when a Texan plays a Brit everyone makes a big fuss about it. Frankly, I didn’t find it as believable as everyone else. Kind of like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, there was something that just didn’t completely ring true.)

The supporting cast is wonderful. I loved Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s parents. Embeth Davidtz, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, and Lisa Barbuscia are all excellent and add to the fun.

There is one other carry-over from the great BBC Pride and Prejudice besides Colin Firth: the screenwriter for that masterpiece, Andrew Davies, collaborated on the script for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

At 98 minutes, it’s a funny, entertaining evening, without having to exercise the brain at all.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas 01

It’s almost impossible to describe Cloud Atlas, the extraordinary film of David Mitchell’s amazing novel of the same name.

Six stories are told, all relating to one another, presenting critical junctures in the lives of several people living in various times. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry each play six roles, one in each story, and demonstrate a tremendous virtuosity of acting skills, each disappearing so completely in their six roles that at times you simply cannot recognize them.

The supporting cast is equally brilliant: Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant also play six roles equally well and a handful of other cast members play as many as five roles, each so unique that it is difficult to say who is whom in any given story.

The novel mixes the stories only to a certain extent, in that each chapter focuses on a different story, but the book jumps from story to story as the next chapter presents itself. The movie takes this concept of mixing the six stories to a whole new level, often jumping from story to story in the pan of the camera or the tick of a sound, sometimes taking many minutes with one story and sometimes taking only seconds before jumping to the next story, back and forth, round and round until you feel like you’re sitting on the top of the front end of train moving at a hundred miles an hour.

This is some of the finest film editing you will ever see, I guarantee.

The stories themselves are in many ways related, either thematically, through character similarities or in philosophy.Cloud Atlas 02

The first story chronologically takes place in the South Sea Islands and on the Pacific Ocean in 1849, as a young lawyer saves the life of a Moriori slave, who returns the favor. It relates to the final tale in that Morioris appear in both.

The second story occurs in Europe in 1936 and details the life of a young composer apprenticed to a Master.

The third story takes place in San Francisco in 1973 and tells the story of an investigative reporter in over her head with a corporate scam involving nuclear power.

The fourth story is somewhat “present day” in that it happens in 2012 (the year the film was released) and tells the story of a publisher whose brother involuntarily commits him to hospital for seniors, under lock and key.

The fifth story moves us firmly into science fiction. It takes place in “Neo-Seoul,” the gigantic metropolis that has replaced Old Seoul, which is mostly under water.  Beautifully executed and full of action, this story tells the story of a genetically engineered “fabricant” who is liberated from her service job to help the revolution against a corrupt dystopian government.  The final story takes place after the fall of civilization, “106 winters after the fall” and features Tom Hanks’ most brilliant performance of the film, as a Moriori triblesman who must deal with an alien Prescient (Berry) who is trying to get her people off planet because of the radiation.

Most of you know that I rarely tolerate any movie that runs toward two hours, but in the two hours and forty two minutes of this film, I was never once bored. In fact, I felt completely in suspense the entire length of the film.  It is so beautifully done!

Cloud Atlas 03But it’s not a film that comes easy. It requires an active brain and a healthy sense of curiosity.  It requires viewer involvement.  You must think in order to enjoy it.  I couldn’t imagine seeing it in a theater.  For one thing, the Moriori dialect is so thick that I had to turn on subtitles almost from the first word of the movie. (I highly recommend that it be watched with subtitles.) 

For another thing, I think it would leave you breathless and exhausted, almost hallucinatory. I watched it in two sittings. An hour and a half the first night and an hour and fifteen minutes the second.  I’m certainly going to watch it again, perhaps many, many times.  There will always be something new to get from it. 

If you just want to sit back and let a movie entertain you, with no thought or involvement on your part, you probably shouldn’t see it. But for those who quest for greater challenges and thought provoking action, this has to be considered a great, great film and certainly one that must be seen many times.