Movie review: Argo

October 31, 2012 – The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That could have been the tagline to the movie “Argo”, the North American / Middle East drama surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis that unfolded 1979 and 1980. It’s also much like the stories that continue to occur in that part of the world today.

Ben Affleck stars in and directs this compelling story that is far more entertaining than any spy or action movie I’ve ever seen, but with a lot less gore. The story is tense, exciting and sometimes darkly humorous filled with edge of your seat action. It also proves that good ideas can come from anywhere, “even if it’s the best bad idea you have.” And while the Hollywood stuff included in the movie is funny, I’ve read that it is deadly accurate.

“Argo” definitely makes you want to stand and cheer at the end, and hug a Canadian next time you meet one. Considering the script claims that the British and New Zealand embassies turned away the six Americans who escaped the American embassy that day, the Canadians took a real chance when they allowed them to hide inside their walls.

The supporting cast is top-notch in this movie, as well, with both John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Brian Cranston in standout roles. It is high drama at its best but without any overacting on the part of the incredible cast.

I know I’m late in reviewing this movie, but I just got to see it on Sunday. With the Philadelphia Film Festival running over the past two weeks, I’ve been pretty much wrapped up in that.

For those of you who haven’t seen “Argo” yet, go now. You won’t be disappointed. Be sure to stay for all of the credits, as well. They tell a story themselves.

The calm before the storm: more autumn splendor

October 29, 2012 – The epic storm of the century is coming.

If you’re reading this on Monday, and if you have power, southeastern Pennsylvania is probably getting hit with it now.

I took off on Friday realizing it would be the last nice day in October, my favorite month to do autumnal things, or at least one of the last days with leaves on the trees due to the Frankenstorm and high winds predicted. Mother Nature kept the rain away during my visit to Linvilla Orchards in Media, Pa., just south of Philadelphia’s city limits, but alas the sun did not shine.


Movie review: Hyde Park on Hudson

October 26, 2012 – If anyone told me a movie would be made about our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the man who led the United States during the Great Depression, and the only American president elected for more than two terms, and that he would be played by Bill Murray, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second.

Murray did a fine job crossing over to dramatic edgy roles that have a comic or odd/unique twist, yet there are times I still see him as the lounge lizard from “Saturday Night Live”. Still, that’s not his fault even though it was his impersonation of that character that made an impression on me.

“Hyde Park on Hudson”, last night’s centerpiece gala selection at the 21st annual Philadelphia Film Festival, was the surprise movie of the century for me, and I’m glad I was a part of it’s Philadelphia premier. It began like an episode of “Masterpiece Theater”, but quickly evolved into a charming story about one surprising weekend at FDR’s home away from the White House in upstate New York.

How could a movie go wrong with taglines like this? The President. The First Lady. The King. The Queen. The Mother. The Mistress…One weekend would unite two great nations…After cocktails of course.

Now, that’s intriguing.

Aside from Murray, whose performance is stunning, the film stars Olivia Williams, as the First Lady in a role that has her totally embracing the uniqueness and strength that was Eleanor Roosevelt, and the equally talented Laura Linney as FDR’s distant cousin, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley. I’ll admit it took me a little while to adjust to Bill Murray in the role, but he captured it and made me believe.

The story is told through Daisy’s eyes, and the premise is rather wild and yet based on true events; it’s a love story of sorts about FDR’s affair with his distant cousin in 1939, centered on the very weekend King George, the same one written about in “The King’s Speech” and Queen Elizabeth, also known as the Queen Mum, visited New York to ask for America’s help in the war they knew was coming.

Richard Nelson’s dramatic, charming and often witty script is loaded with zingers that tell the story huge culture clashes and of a few unusual friendships that form along the way. It certainly makes FDR seem like a likeable man, with a childlike playfulness, and not at all like the president I learned about in history class, who was supposedly anti-semitic (he refused a ship of Jewish passengers entrance to the U.S. when they tried to dock in Florida, and sent them back to Europe and concentration camps, and it’s been said that he often told Jews and Catholics alike that the U.S. was a protestant country, and that they were only guests in it. He was also the same president that clashed with Winston Churchill and voted with Stalin against Churchill, which some say gave Russia eastern Europe after the war. Still, fans of Murray won’t be disappointed, and I’d bet that fans of history wouldn’t be either.

So, let the Oscar buzz begin. This is the kind of script and cast of actors that Hollywood loves to celebrate with its highest honor.

“Hyde Park on Hudson” opens in limited release on December 7, and in wide release on December 26.

Autumn splendor, scarecrows and Fox Chase Farm

October 24, 2012 — Spectacular weather in the Southeastern Pennsylvania on Sunday provided a perfect opportunity to visit Buck’s County’s picturesque Peddler’s Village to snap a few photos of the annual scarecrow contest. On the way home, I made a stop at Fox Chase Farm, Philadelphia’s only working farm right across the street from my own backyard. Early arrival in both places allowed me to walk the grounds peacefully, before the crowds arrived.

The scarecrows:



Fox Chase Farm: 

Movie review: Not Fade Away

October 22, 2012 – Chances are you haven’t heard of the movie “Not Fade Away”, David Chase’s rock and roll story focused on suburban kids in northern New Jersey forming a band and trying to make it big during the 1960s. The film made its Philadelphia debut as a centerpiece gala selection at the 21st annual Philadelphia Film Festival this weekend, so the buzz has just begun.

Chase, the same writer/director who created “The Sopranos”, pays homage to the music of the 1960s, a time that he says shaped his thinking and artistic mission.

“It’s not an autobiography,” Chase says. “But it’s suggested by the way I felt at the time, and my loves and hates at the time, but not incidents per se. I started writing a primitive version of this screenplay 25 or 30 years ago, but I only got eight or nine pages into it. So I had the idea for a long time, but not many pages. So I really only started writing this movie after The Sopranos.”

“Not Fade Away” is also a tender coming of age drama that is as realistic as it is familiar. It stars a list of newer Hollywood actors led by John Magaro in the role of Douglas, the high school nerd who dreams of making it big in the music business. His father, played by veteran actor and Soprano’s lead, James Gandolfini, and his friend and band mate, played by Jack Huston, currently starring in “Boardwalk Empire” as Richard Harrow, the masked man, are the only two actors easily recognized. But Chase explains that casting relatively unknowns was done purposely due to the musical demands of some of the roles.

The story takes place over five years, 1963 to 1968, and opens just as John F. Kennedy is assassinated. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before – older teens arguing with their parents over Vietnam and other social issues that were plentiful during the decade, and parents urging their sons to cut their hair and stay in college to avoid the draft, but it’s true to the times.

The script also shows signs true imagination, with a unique opening scene depicting a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on London’s tube discussing forming a band of their own, and the closing scene, which I won’t ruin, leaving you to wonder.

What might be slightly different about this script is the band’s passion for rock and roll, namely the British invasion of the Beatles and the Stones, and the blues. Most other young folk in those northern Jersey neighborhoods were obsessed with the other Jersey Boys – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to be exact – a total different sound altogether.

It’s hard not compare “Not Fade Away” to other movies that pay homage to the music industry, such as “Almost Famous”, which was much more personal and a better movie overall. Still, if you’re a fan of realistic period pieces, and music of the 1960s – the soundtrack is the brainchild of Steven Van Zandt, also of Sopranos fame – you will most likely enjoy it. It’s far from a great movie, but equally distant from a terrible film, easily making it an enjoyable 95 minutes.

“Not Fade Away” opens in theaters nationwide in December.

Jane’s World: The top ten Hitchcock films

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.

October 19, 2013 – To honor the Philadelphia Film Festival, which opened this week and runs through October 28, and “The Girl”, premiering on HBO tomorrow night, this week’s blog theme was all about movies and Alfred Hitchcock.

It’s only fitting to close out the blogging week with my picks for the top ten Alfred Hitchcock movies. Considering the man directed 53 films from 1924 through 1975 – and I haven’t seen them all, but I did see more than half – this was a bit more difficult than I expected.

10. Psycho – Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in a spine-tingling horror film that focuses on a young man tormented by his past and his mother. Not my favorite Hitchcock film by far, but arguably his most popular or at least his best known, so it earns a #10 spot on my list. That, and it’s still hard not to think about this movie, especially whenever I step into the shower while traveling.

9. The Birds – Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are headliners in this Hitchcock classic, but those nasty birds are the real stars. The plot has the feathered creatures mysteriously attacking anyone and anything in their way. This was the first Hitchcock movie I remember seeing as a child, and it had a huge impact on me. Just like the Night Galley earwig episode that had me sleeping with cotton in my ears, this movie made me wary of our feathered friends for a long time.

8. Rear Window – This film, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, takes spying on your neighbors – and who doesn’t enjoy that – to extremes. Long considered one of the Master’s finest, a photographer (Stewart) is laid up with a broken leg, which leaves him plenty of time to watch from his rear window, and allow himself to get caught up in the drama that his is neighbors’ lives. And what drama that becomes.

7. Vertigo – In this strange film, both James Stewart, with Kim Novak this time, find themselves caught in a never-ending spiral of deception and obsession. Stewart plays a private detective who must search for the truth behind the death of a woman he loved. One of the most interesting characteristics of this movie is the way Hitch filmed it in a dreamlike haze.

6. The Man Who Knew Too Much – It’s Doris Day’s turn to star with Jimmy Stewart in this Hitchcock thriller about an American family accidentally caught up in an assassination plot. This was a remake of Hitchcock’s early 1934 movie, which is interesting on its own. How many directors get to remake their own movies? It also introduced the world to the Doris Day classic hit, “Que Sera Sera”.

5. Strangers on a Train – Hitchcock used a lot of trains and train references in his movies, whether actually filming on a train, or just used as a Freudian symbol, as in “North by Northwest”. “Strangers on a Train” starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman in a must-see classic tells this tale of strangers who take on each other’s murders. It’s one of Hitch’s only movies to use all B list actors, but it’s still one of his most intriguing. It also inspired the Danny DeVito comedy, “Throw Momma from the Train”, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

4. Spellbound – Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman play the amnesic impersonating a famous psychologist and the doctor who wants to save him even if he is guilty of murder to perfection in this Hitchcock thriller. The fact that this is a black and white movie from the early 1940s, adds even more intrigue and suspense to the plot.

3. To Catch a Thief – When Hitch combines romance and intrigue with a seaside resort on the French Riviera, and stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, how could he go wrong? Grant plays a reformed jewel thief who is suspected of a rash of burglaries, and Kelly, the woman who is drawn to him, yet worried she’ll become his latest victim.

2. North by Northwest – Cary Grand and Eva Marie Saint star in a heart-stopping suspense tale with a little bit of everything mixed in. You’ve got your classic mistaken identity, a man who is falsely accused, a chance meeting on a train, and a beautiful blonde, a little voyeurism, and Hitchcock spins it all masterfully. Not to mention a nice trip across the U.S., from the streets of New York, to the cornfields of Illinois, and the majesty that is Mount Rushmore.

1. Notorious – Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a classic tale of love and betrayal. Grant plays a FBI agent who must send the woman he loves to seduce a Nazi conspirator. Like Casablanca, I can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it because it has everything from great acting to heart-wrenching romance, and plenty of suspense. Not only is it my favorite Hitchcock, but also it might be my favorite movie of all time.

Dissecting “The Master of Suspense”

October 17, 2012 – Plenty has been written / speculated about Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest directors of all time, and his obsessions with his leading ladies – often referred to Hitchcock’s blondes. Soon those behind the scenes tales will play out on television and on the big screen.

HBO’s “The Girl”, which focuses on Hitchcock’s obsession with Tippi Hedren while making “The Birds” premiers Saturday night. Like many HBO productions, it’s already generating plenty of award buzz for actors Toby Jones, who plays Hitch and Sienna Miller, who takes on Hedren.

Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock

You might call “The Girl” a horror movie within a horror movie, as it tells the story about how Hedren coped with Hitchcock’s obsession and erratic behavior, and why it was tolerated by Hitch’s wife, Alma who was always on the set. Hedren has publicly stated that she walked away from her contract with Hitchcock after just two movies, which caused her to lose her acting career in general, just to get away from him. Legally, he had the right to stop her from working with other directors and studios because she was under contract, and he did just that.

Anthony Hopkins as The Master of Suspense

A second film, “Hitchcock” is set to hit theaters in November. Starring Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense, and Helen Mirren as his wife, the story focuses on their relationship during the filming of the 1959 classic “Psycho”. View the trailer.

As a fan of Hitchcock’s films, I’m anxious to see how these dramas play out, but after seeing both trailers, I’m a little disappointed that the actors do not share more of a resemblance to the director with the famous profile who was known for making cameo appearances in all of his movies. It is a point that should quickly disappear if the actors live up to the roles and the magic of the movies takes over.

Last year, I’d seen a screening of the Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest” in Philadelphia, and before the movie began, the female lead, Eva Marie Saint fielded questions from the audience. She talked about her experience working with Cary Grant, but focused more on Hitchcock, although she wouldn’t answer questions about whether or not she shared similar experiences as other actresses have claimed. She spoke only of him as a director, and how he didn’t direct like others who told actors what to do. He simply laid out the scene on storyboards and let the actors take over. Then he’d watch the dailies (film clips) without sound at the end of each day, as if he were watching a silent movie, and only then could he determine if they were good enough to go to print. According to Saint, Hitchcock did very little editing, and that formula obviously worked very well for him.

Regardless of his reputation, Hitchcock continues to thrill fans worldwide. With 53 films under his director’s belt from 1924 through 1975, you’d think he accomplished it all. But here’s a look at 13 films Hitchcock never made.

Philadelphia Film Festival kicks off this week

October 15, 2012 – Good news for Philly’s film fans: The 21st Philadelphia Film Festival, sponsored by the Philadelphia Film Society begins this week. The 11-day event kicks off on Thursday, October 18, and plays out on several theater screens throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

The festival opens with locally shot “Silver Linings Playbook”, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. The film, which focuses on a former high school teacher who returns home to rebuild his life after spending time in a mental institution, is generating plenty of award buzz. The festival will close with “Flight”, starring Denzel Washington as the seasoned airline pilot who crash-lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, miraculously saving nearly everybody on board.

In between, the festival features several classic films, several films locally produced by independent directors, and five centerpiece screenings.  The centerpiece screenings include “Cloud Atlas”, a sci-fi drama with a star-studded cast, “Hyde Park on the Hudson”, an intimate look into FDR’s extramarital affair, “Not Fade Away”, a coming of age tale about three young men who form a band in the 60s, “Quartet”, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut about four aging retired opera singers, and “Stand Up Guys”, an action comedy starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.

Screenings will be held at the Ritz East, the Ritz Bourse, the Rave University Six, Gershman Y at the University of the Arts, the Zellerbach Theater at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and the Prince Music Theater.

For a full line up of films and locations, visit filmadelphia.org/festival. I’ll be working the festival on October 20 at the Rave University Six, October 25 at the Prince Music Theater and October 27 at the Ritz Bourse, so watch for updates next week.

How to survive the post season if your team isn’t playing

October 12, 2012 – For the past five seasons, the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have been on cloud nine.

Their beloved team, which notoriously struggled through much of its 100+ year history until recently, opened a beautiful new park, hired solid talent in the front office who sought out quality players, and pretty much owned the National League. They made back-to-back appearances in the World Series in 2008, when they won it all, and in 2009 when they came close to doing it again.

Now, with an aging team and plenty of injuries, this season unfolded quite differently than many of us expected. Fans witnessed a dreadful first half, without it stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and held on to renewed hope when everything seemed to click in second half, but just a little too late. I have no doubt that they can contend again in 2013, just as Jimmy Rollins prophisized, but the bitter taste of no post-season play right now is mighty hard to swallow.

So, what’s a fan to do? Cheer for your favorite former Phillie, of course. You’ll find them in six of the eight teams in contention for the top prize, and they are really making a difference in the outcome of the games.

In the National League, fan favorite Hunter Pence, now a San Francisco Giant, is playing the Cincinnati Reds, the team of former Phillie Scott Rolen. My heart is with Pence in this series. I haven’t been a fan of Rolen’s since he left Philadelphia with a bad attitude several years ago. Ironically, Rolen wanted out of Philly because he accused them of not wanting to win, which they started to do when he left. Since then, Rolen has had trouble with other teams along the way, but it’s always them and not him. His error cost the Reds the game on Tuesday night when they could have advanced to the National League Champion series. The Giants went on to win the next two, which sends them on to the next round instead. The Reds were eliminated when Rolen struck out in the bottom of the 9th yesterday, ending their playoff run.

In the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals series, former Phillies Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez are pitted against former Phillie Kyle Lohse. This one is a little tougher for me since Werth followed Rolen’s path and departed Philly with accusations against Philadelphia fans and his former teammates, and Lohse was not actually a Phillie long enough to form an attachment. I’m leaning toward the Cardinals simply because Washington is a division rival. The outcome will be decided tonight after a dramatic walk off home run by Werth yesterday saved the Nationals for at least one more day.

Over in the American League, the Orioles featuring two-time Phillie Jim Thome, who is forever loved in these parts, are facing the New York Yankees and another huge fan favorite , Raul Ibanez. It was great to see Ibanez single-handedly win Wednesday’s game with two home runs, proving he was worth signing. I adore both Thome and Ibanez, so this is a tough call, too. I’ll have to side with the Orioles on this one since they are the underdogs against the big, bad Yankees. It would be nice, however, if Thome or Ibanez, who are both gentlemen of the highest class, finally get a World Series ring. Tied with two games each, the deciding game will be played tonight.

Only the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s are battling it out without the help of former Phillies, so I don’t care what the outcome is. 🙂 When I posted this story, however, Detroit was winning 6-0 in the deciding game so it looks like they will advance.

If the Phillies as a team cannot be there, it’s nice that much of the drama is coming from players who used to play for the team. That makes this post season “A Tale of the Former Phillies”. It is the best of times (because several former Phillies are still playing) and the worst of times (because the core unit of the Phillies is not).

My reasoning may not be perfect, but it is enough to get me through to next spring when all the drama begins again.

Killer designs or killer shoes?

October 10, 2012 – How do women walk in those extreme high heels and platforms that are all the rage?

I understand why they try to do it. They believe it looks attractive, and want to look fashionable and trendy when they go out on a Saturday night. Appearing taller than you are is often a good thing, and having legs that look a mile long is sexy. That makes sense. But I don’t understand how they think they can walk in this frightening footwear.

I turned to the Internet for help and here’s what I found:

How to Walk in High Heels
Learn How to Walk in High Heels

Thankfully, I’m not serious about learning how to walk in those monster shoes since neither one of those sources answered my question. Even I could walk in heels the size they feature in these “How To’s”.

So, what set me off on all of this shoe nonsense? While sitting at an outside café at 2nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia Saturday night, an interesting and busy intersection that’s perfect for my favorite pastime – people watching – I must have witnessed a hundred or more young women walk by in shoes with platforms so high and spiked heels even higher, it made my head spin.

Still, none of these lovely women could walk gracefully in them, and I’m not sure anyone could. They may look fashionable while they are standing still – and even that’s debatable – but once they moved, they appeared clumsy, lumbering and awkward. I have to wonder why they spent their hard-earned money on these torture devices.

At the table next to us we had another shoe drama unfolding. A young couple sat; she wearing the highest heels I’d ever seen, the tears streaming down her face because of a bleeding toe, and he soothing her with his words of comfort, “Babe, what the hell did you do?” While he cleaned the wound with a shot of tequila, and she continued to sob, it didn’t take a genius to realize that her shoes were probably the cause. Not to mention, it wasn’t the most appetizing sight when you’re trying to enjoy dinner.

Most women have a thing for shoes, and I sort of fall into that category. I get it. I watched “Sex and the City” and believe in a “woman’s right to shoes”. I simply prefer footwear with sensible high heels that look better on women who want to do more than stand still all evening, and who want walk gracefully cross a room without the fear of falling from such a high distance should her ankle wobble over.

As I watched the parade of killer shoes pass by, I kept thinking that even though those who wore them may be younger and more fashionable, I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in their shoes.