Hepburn plays the title character, a shy girl who's desperately in love with David Larrabee (William Holden), a rakish Long Island playboy whose too busy chasing skirts and getting married to notice the wispy chauffeur's daughter. Nearly suicidal over David's lack of attention, she reluctantly goes to cooking school in Paris for a couple of years. It's time well spent. She meets a wealthy baron, gets a great new wardrobe, and secures some self-confidence. "I've learned how to live of the world and in the world," she writes her father before leaving Paris.
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We're transported back to turn-of-the-20th-century New York, where widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi is flouncing around meeting people, being charming, and trying to make matches. She journeys up to Yonkers to meet the "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) and to bring him and a couple of his employees, a hatmaker (there are lots of hats in this movie) and her assistant, back to New York so they can all romantically entangle with each other. Dolly's goal is to wind up with Vandergelder herself, but it won't be easy. Why? Because he's Walther Matthau, and that means he's perpetually cranky and cynical.
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In addition to witty, rat-a-tat dialogue and a fun plot that also touches on social issues of the day, the film is a visual spectacle, too. The songs are of course classic, and the sequence wherein a Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin is presented as a play is an amazing work of art. Though it runs well into two hours long, the film is never tiresome, even when Kerr threatens to leave Siam for the umpteenth time. It's funny and touching, an altogether classic movie of the first rank.
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I kid, of course. Among movie musicals, West Side Story ranks in the top five in greatness, and it's arguably the most popular musical ever released. It may be awfully frou-frou -- and let's face it, the dance numbers are awfully similar -- but West Side Story has a tale as timeless as its source material (Romeo and Juliet) and countless songs that have become musical classics. "Maria," "America," "I Feel Pretty," "Tonight" -- you can probably hum these without even thinking about it.
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The story has since been done to death: terrorist group plans to cause massive carnage, this time at the Super Bowl by blowing up the Good Year Blimp overhead. But Black Sunday is distinguished by its unique focus not on the hero but on the villain: Bruce Dern as an angry Vietnam vet, pilot, and former prisoner of war. He holds a grudge against the U.S. like you wouldn't believe (brainwashed? shellshocked?): Enough to convince him to join forces with a Palestinian militant group called Black September. It doesn't help that he's just plain crazy. Even the Black September operatives are a little afraid of what he might do.
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It's a lot more than that, too. I don't mean to speak ill of the film -- in fact, North by Northwest is a epitome of craft and style. When a critic wistfully refers to a movie like The Fugitive or The Bourne Identity as "good old-fashioned entertainment," there's a good chance that this is the movie they recall. It has Cold War intrigue without gadgets or jargon; it has romance that blends in with that intrigue, rather than jogging alongside it.
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Funny thing is: The Sound of Music doesn't need protection from critics. Yes, it's schmaltzy, but it's not nearly as schmaltzy as, say, Titanic. Yes it has all those adorable kids and all those adorable songs and even a cute puppet show stuck right in the middle of it, but it also has grit, drama, and some harrowing moments. Hell, it's got Nazis racing around in big black cars! It is a total cinematic experience, and one that benefits greatly from technological advances that let you enjoy its lavish sights and sounds on a big TV screen with big surround speakers that make it feel like Julie Andrews is embracing your or the Nazis are sneaking up on you from behind.
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