Great Cinema: 19 family picks for the best movie ever

great-cinimaMarch 6, 2017 — Ask your family to pick their favorite movie of all time, and if they can do it, you’re bound to get a variety of selections from several different genres. At a recent family get together, I posed that exact question, and although none of us chose the same movie, there are definite patterns that emerged, including movies from the David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino film libraries.

It’s not easy to narrow your favorite movie down to ONE, so I thank my family for participating. It’s also a lot more difficult than picking the worst movie of all time, which we did back in September.

Casablanca. My Dad’s choice for favorite shows up on many “best” lists. Casablanca, released in November 1942, tells the story of an American bar owner (Humphrey Bogart) in Morocco during the early days of World War II, and the woman who broke his heart (Ingrid Bergman). The Bogie/Bergman classic is one of my faves, too, and has given us some of the best quotable lines ever: “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you kid,” “Round up the usual suspects”, and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” That’s just a few quotable mentions, which is impressive for a 75-year-old film.

My Fair Lady. My Mom passed away two years ago, but I can safely say her favorite was the musical classic from the 1960s My Fair Lady. She loved the music and the story, and of course, Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle. Her favorite scene by far was when Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, takes Eliza to a horse race to test her newly acquired language skills. All is well at first as he glows with pride, but it soon turns to embarrassment when Eliza slips back into Cockney while cheering on the horse. Sure, Mom thought it the language was “fresh”, but she laughed just the same.

Moonstruck. My sister, Linda’s favorite is the charming Moonstruck from 1987. The romantic comedy stars Cher and Nicholas Cage in the lead roles, as the couple that fall in love while the widow Loretta (Cher) waits for her fiancé (Danny Aiello), to come back from Sicily, where he is visiting his dying mother. It’s an enchanting, but funny story that uses an incredibly gorgeous moon as the backdrop. Nominated for six Academy Awards, it won three of them, including Best Actress and Supporting Actress for Cher and Olympia Dukakis, along with Best Screenplay.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My brother-in-law, Roland’s pick is the great American western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s hard to get behind criminals in a movie, but Director George Roy Hill made these train robbers delightful enough to cheer for. Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Butch Cassidy (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) on the run from the sheriff and his posse, trying to escape the country with Sundance’s love interest (Katherine Ross). It was the top grossing movie of the year in 1969, and is the 34th top-grossing movie of all time.

Notorious. Alfred Hitchcock’s spine tingling Notorious is tops my list. Cary Grant stars opposite a very creepy Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman (their second mention on the list). Bergman plays the woman the FBI hires to get the goods on Nazis who they believe is planning something big in South America right after WWII. Grant falls in love with Bergman’s character, the girl with the tainted past, and he is often as cruel and he is romantic with her. There are so many thrillingly tense scenes and fine performances in this movie, it’s easily one of the cleverest scripts ever written.

The Matrix. Alas, the first one on the list that I haven’t seen all the way through is my brother-in-law, Rex’s pick, The Matrix. Obviously, Rex, doesn’t share my problem with understanding technology or sci-fi films. The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves, who lives in dystopian future where reality is simulated and known as “the Matrix”. Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer, who is also a hacker known as “Neo”. After he discovers the truth about “the Matrix”, he rebels, of course. The movie has been called one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and I apologize that I can’t give it the credit it likely deserves.

Gone with the Wind. My sister, Patti’s pick is Gone With the Wind, which is on my top ten favorites list. There’s no greater heroine than Scarlett O’Hara. She may have been a spoiled young woman, but she also maneuvered her way through the challenges of the Civil War with brilliance. She was definitely the mentally strongest in her family and in the story. Despite its four-hour length, Patti can be swept in this saga every time it’s on television. I share her genes, so we’re a lot alike in that regard. I even traveled to see it at the theater on the big screen.

Saving Private Ryan. The World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, is my cousin David’s favorite pick. The 1998 film directed by Stephen Spielberg tells the story four brothers in the Ryan family, all in Europe fighting the war. Three of the four brothers are killed in action, and the fourth is missing in action when a squad sets out to find him and send him home to his grieving family. The movie opens the morning of June 6, 1944, during the Normandy invasion, and said to be the most intense and realistic 27 minutes on film, which makes it difficult to watch. It’s also been deemed by the Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

Gladiator. The 2000 epic historical drama Gladiator is my brother David’s pick for best movie ever. Starring Russell Crowe, who plays a Roman general named Maximus. Maximus is betrayed when the Emperor murders his father to seize the thrown and all hell breaks loose. David considers this not only the best movie ever, but also the most entertaining, as well. And I’d have to agree it would be on my top fifteen list, at least. Crowe picked up a Best Actor Oscar for his efforts, and the film also won Best Picture and several other category awards that year. Gladiator has also been credited with sparking interest in other films and stories centered on the ancient Greek and Roman culture.

Fargo. If you’re picking the best pictures, you’re bound to have a film show up on the list by Joel and Ethan Coen. My nephew Rick’s choice for best picture ever is Fargo. The 1996 dark comedy crime film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where the brothers won the Best Director award. The story focuses on a supposed true crime, but I’m not sure if that has ever been proven. There is a lot of fact vs. fiction surrounding this film. The entire cast is incredible, but it’s Coen Brothers’ regular Frances McDormand who steals the show. She also won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the quirky Police Chief with the perfect North Dakota accent.

Magnolia. My niece Lauren selected another film on the list I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing…yet. The ensemble drama Magnolia is her choice for best movie ever. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who has quite an impressive resume, the story is described as “a mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness and meaning.” Magnolia may have struggled at the box office, but received plenty of critical acclaim. Many people who have experienced it say that there is no other film in history that has made them think, feel or question a film like Magnolia.

Anything in the David Lynch Library. My nephew, Ryan doesn’t profess to be the world’s biggest movie fan, and it take a lot to make him notice. However, he does give special mention to anything in the David Lynch collection. From Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to The Elephant Man and everything in between, including the television show, Twin Peaks, David Lynch is able to make Ryan stop, look and listen.

2001: A Space Odyssey. My son, Charlie’s pick is the third film on the list I didn’t see and the second I didn’t understand. It’s a 1968 sci-fi film epic written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, also one of his favorites. When released in ’68, the film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who didn’t know what to make of its space imagery, classical music and little dialogue. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and has a cult following. Like The Matrix, I tried to enjoy it, but the plot was completely over my head. I still question if there really was a plot at all. Honestly, I’ve never gotten through the entire movie; the music, which is fantastic, always lulls me to sleep.

Blue Velvet. David Lynch’s sophomore effort gets the favorite picture vote from my niece, Leigh. Unfortunately, it’s another movie I didn’t see in its entirety because I don’t understand it, and therefore can’t do it justice. The 1986 mystery film had Lynch blending psychological horror with film noir, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Like most of his films, however, it seemed to gain more attention and a cult following as time passed. Blue Velvet starred Kyle McLaughlin and Isabella Rossellini, and in 2008, the American Film Institute named it one of the greatest American mystery films ever made.

Old School. Finally, a flat out comedy on the list, chosen by my nephew, Adam. The 1993 comedy starring the usual suspects Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson focuses on three middle-aged college friends who attempt to recapture the glory days by opening up a fraternity house near their “old school”. You get the rest. I’d be willing to bet that Adam’s choice has the widest viewership out of any other movie on this list. As the tagline suggests, the film is “all of the fun of college, but none of the education.” Ain’t that the truth.

Pulp Fiction. Like Coen Brothers, I’d be surprised to put together a list like this without Quentin Tarantino. My nephew, Macey’s pick, is the first mention of a Tarantino film, and he chose Pulp Fiction. This movie was my first taste of Tarantino, and I’d left the theater thinking it was one of the most interesting cinematic experiences ever. With so many odd characters like Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, and so many crazy stories intertwined, the 1994 black comedy, crime film was a breath of fresh air. It also revitalized the career of John Travolta.

Whiplash. The movie from 2014 is latest movie on the list and the choice of best movie ever from my niece, Carly. Interesting choice, for sure, and extremely intense. Whiplash tells the story of an ambitious jazz student and his abusive instructor at a music conservatory school in New York. It stars J.K. Simmons (the instructor) and Miles Teller (the student), and was the opening film at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It earned Simmons a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and plenty of critical acclaim. Prior, he had been known, at least to me, as that Farmer’s Insurance guy.

A Dark Knight. Did you think we’d get through the entire list without a superhero crime thriller? A Dark Knight is my nephew, David’s choice for best movie ever. The 2008 movie was written and directed by Christopher Nolan and stared Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as The Joker. Right after filming Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose, and that may have garnered a lot of attention for the film, as well. Ledger was also posthumously awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work a year later. It’s the darkest of the Batman movies for sure, and quite an interesting adaptation of the comic book hero.

Reservoir Dogs. My nephew Jack’s pick is the second mention of Quentin Tarantino on the list, the crime thriller Reservoir Dogs. The epitome of the classic cult film, the 1992 movie was named the greatest independent film of all time by Empire Film Magazine. The story and film has even been ripped off by Bollywood and remade as Kaante, in 2002. It’s violent and bloody, with an interesting 70s soundtrack piped in. Let’s just say that these days, I can’t hear the song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” without picturing a horrendous torture scene along with it.


Movie review: A Long Way Down

a_long_way_downJuly 23, 2014 – I never met a Nick Hornby novel turned film that I did not like.

From “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch”, the two Americanized adaptations of his work with John Cusack and Jimmy Fallon respectively, to “About a Boy”, with Hugh Grant, and “An Education” with Carey Mulligan, both of which stayed true to their British roots, I have enjoyed them all.

“A Long Way Down,” is the latest Hornby novel adapted to film, which also remains true to its British origin. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogene Poots, and Aaron Paul as four lost souls who accidentally meet on New Year’s Eve atop of a high-rise building in London to attempt suicide. Instead of making good on their goal — they want privacy for the big leap — they make a pact to meet again on Valentine’s Day at the same spot to give it another go. It’s only another six weeks, after all, and during that time they form sort of a surrogate family, and the story unfolds.

Suicide is a difficult subject matter for a comedy, no matter how dark you label it. Screenwriter Jack Thorne pulls it off with a good scene now and then, but more often the story falls flat and is predictable.

Even the characters seem cliché, which is a rarity for Hornby. Brosnan plays a former TV journalist who was imprisoned because of a sexual encounter with an underage girl (he believed she was 25). Collette’s character, a single mother of a handicapped son, wants to escape her lonely and routine life, and Poots’ character wants to make the jump because her boyfriend just dumped her. Rounding off the four, Paul, who plays an American musician, wants to escape his brain cancer diagnosis. As the story goes on, we learn that these problems only scratch the surface of each of their situations.

I did not hate the film – there were some nice moments especially between the characters played by Poots and Paul – but I did not like it as much as I expected. It is easily falls last on my list of adaptations from the Hornby collection. I thought perhaps that the story played out better in novel form, as so many do, but while the film has its share of critics who panned it, so does the novel.

Another theory for my dislike may be that I was affected by other film reviews. Dan the Man’s review may have affected me the most since his first line grabbed me and remained in my brain while I watched. He wrote, “If I ever have to be stuck in the same room as these people, remind me to just kill myself right then and there.”

While I liked the film a little more than Dan, due to the talented cast and a few scenes that saved it for me, I generally agree with his assessment.

The cast, believable in their roles, breathed all they could into them, yet they could not save the film completely. Brosnan, as the disgraced journalist, delivered his performance with the right amount of sarcasm, Poots was the ideal depressed young girl who self medicates with alcohol, pills, and her sharp tongue, and Paul, of “Breaking Bad” fame could not have played the role better. It was Collette’s role as the single mom that left me scratching my head. She gave a quality performance as usual, but as a mom, I did not understand how she could consider killing herself, knowing it would leave her dependent son with no one to care for him. Thankfully, they addressed that issue towards the end of the film and I stopped screaming in my head.

I recommend you take a chance on this one, when it is available on Netflix or cable and you don’t have to pay extra for it. You may find some redeeming qualities. Still, the movie to beat this summer clearly remains “A Hard Day’s Night”, which definitely gives you more laughs and entertainment for your buck.

Hornby’s next novel to make it to the big screen is “Wild”, which stars Reese Witherspoon, and is scheduled for release early next year. Let’s hope for redemption.

Orange is the New Black: Torturing myself one episode at a time

orange_is_the_new_black_musicJune 18, 2014 – Any fans of “Orange is the New Black” out there?

I am more than half way through the second season and I am still not sure if I like the show. I’m leaning towards no, I don’t care for it, but something keeps me watching.

I felt the same during the first season, and pushed through to the end anyway, certain that I wouldn’t waste my time with the second season. Yet, when Netflix released it in early June, I gave in a few days after its debut, telling myself I’ll just watch one episode to see what happened after the cliffhanger. Just like M&Ms (I don’t particularly care for them either), one led to another, and then another, and so on.

The series, about a seemingly normal woman in her early thirties from an upper middle class background, who is sentenced to a year and a half in a federal prison for a drug-related crime she committed almost ten years prior, is praised by many. The series writer, Jenji Kohan, is the same writer who created “Weeds” for Showtime, and the premise is compelling. What’s not to like?

Still, I despise the feeling of dread I have at the end of each episode. I watch slowly because binging would throw me over the edge, and affect my dreams. I need time to forget what I experienced before I move on to the next episode.

That doesn’t sound like something you want to watch on television, does it? My harsh opinion has nothing to do with the acting. These characters have fine actors playing them. It doesn’t have anything to do with the writing, either. Kohan is a solid writer, and I enjoy her other work. My biggest gripe, besides finding it depressing, is that it’s difficult for me to watch women aggressively attack each other like they were … gasp! … men.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t seem as bad when male characters act violently on television and in the movies. Could it be it’s what we expect from them? I’m all for equal opportunity, even in prison. I suppose anyone who is locked up like an animal may act the same way, male or female. It says a lot about human nature, but I expect more from women.

I’ve never spent time in prison, yet the show is believable (and racist) depicting white women having heir own “neighborhood” in the big house, and the same for Hispanic women, and black women, who’s area is known as “the ghetto”. There’s plenty of interaction between races, but when it comes to sleeping, bathing, and eating, each race stays with their own. The prison guards are also portrayed poorly, as is the assistant warden, who is as corrupt as they come, accepting government funds to upgrade the prison, yet spending the money on her own needs so she can live in luxury. I’m sure it can happen. It is, however, cliché, and seems to be written like that only to make the female criminals look less guilty, and create a conundrum about who really belongs in prison.

Bottom line, it’s simply not entertaining to watch women act like barbarians. At least not to me. If anyone who reads this enjoys the show, please comment and tell me why. I’m curious.

So, why do I continue to watch? I’m not sure. It is a question I’ll have to tackle on another day. I’m pretty sure that after this season though, I won’t watch it again. Well, maybe just one episode if there is a cliffhanger.

The scene that saved “Mad Men”

elle-01-don-sally-h-lgnApril 23, 2014 – Word on the street is that television is more popular than movies these days. The buzz is all about “Game of Thrones”, “Downton Abbey”, “House of Cards”, and even the return of “Mad Men”, a show that has lost some momentum in the last few seasons, yet was once the darling of the Emmys and Golden Globes.

Despite the decrease in viewership, and Don never learning from his mistakes or owning up to them, I vowed to stick with it. After a lackluster season five, my hopes were saved in the last 15 minutes of the final episode. It began when Don told Hershey executives, “The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns’ pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she’d buy me a Hershey’s bar. And I would eat it alone… in my room with great ceremony… feeling like a normal kid. And it said “sweet” on the back. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”

Sad yes, but this was a huge turning point for a man who hides every aspect of his life from his family and co-workers, and assumed the identity of another man to disassociate from his childhood.

Don’s confession did not stop there. In the last scene, he stood with his kids in front of the dilapidated brothel as he showed them where their father once lived. I applauded his efforts, especially with his daughter Sally, who had earlier caught him in an uncompromising position that no child should have to witness, especially when the activity in question didn’t happen with his wife. It was the best season finale scene I could imagine, which gave me hope for the future.

When “Mad Men” began its sixth and final season on April 13, I waited anxiously to see what became of Don’s and Sally’s relationship. Instead, we saw Don, still on leave from his job, but back to his old ways, trying to pick up a woman on a plane. Were the writers going to ignore last year’s spectacular ending? Did Don learn nothing from losing his job, his daughter, and his wife?

If I had been patient one more week, I would see that he had indeed learned. The process was slow, but it was happening. The scenes between Don and Sally in Sunday’s episode were superb, and possibly the best this series ever offered. When the two venture out on a road trip back to Sally’s boarding school, Don does his best to talk to his daughter, who remains stubbornly silent. Don does not give up though, and aside from telling her she is like her mother when she is angry – I did not care for that – he handles the situation correctly, acts like the adult, and continues trying to reach her. Not only was the writing terrific, the acting was top-notch, and those scenes should already be in the hands of the Emmy nomination committee.

Cheers to Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka for making me believe again. Even though I would have stuck with “Mad Men” to its final episode, these two have renewed my faith in the show, and will make it a pleasure to watch until the end.



Movie review: We’re the Millers

thCAPQRKWIAugust 12, 2013 – It has been a dismal season for movies.

With the exception of “The Girl Most Likely”, which I enjoyed, “The Way Way Back”, my pick for the best movie so far this year, and a few possible redeeming films coming later in August, such as Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”, little else has lured me to the theater.

In need of a fix, I ventured out to see “We’re the Millers” despite all of the critical condemnation it has received. I imagined it as a big screen version of the Showtime series “Weeds”, only with Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston instead of Mary Louise Parker. What I didn’t realize is that it plays out like the “Weeds” of later seasons, when the show ran off track and lost the spark and imagination of its earlier episodes. Still, that didn’t stop the movie from borrowing from its story lines.

My low expectations were right on. Director Marshall Rawson Thurber’s film — the same director who gave us “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” — is unnecessarily crude and predictable, and the crudeness is what passes for laughs. I’ll give him that it is shocking, but it isn’t funny.

The premise of the story is simple. After being robbed by a group of teenage thugs, David Burke (Sudeikis), a pot dealer who won’t deal to kids, (“Weeds” plot line #1) and whose clients include business people and soccer moms, (“Weeds” plot line #2) is in major debt to his supplier (Ed Helms in a rather creepy role). To make up for his loss he is forced to bring a huge shipment of pot across the Mexican border. He devises a plan for his own safety, which involves a fake wife (Aniston), two kids, and a family RV. The Millers take off for a weekend vacation to Mexico, and as you may have guessed, nothing goes as planned. They run into trouble with Mexican drug lords and accidentally befriend another RV family with a connection to the DEA (“Weeds” plot line #3), among other mishaps.

Sudeikis and Helms are always funny in those over the top comedic roles. In this movie, however, their characters weren’t at all likeable. Aniston, who may have been trying to reach outside of her comfort zone with this role, appeared wooded as she dropped f-bombs galore playing the stripper who signs on to be the wife/mother of the group. The actress with the most successful movie career out of all of the “Friends” co-stars may want to stick with the girl next door love interest in movies, because when she tries to play the bad girl or even a bad girl with a good heart, it turns out exactly that — bad. I didn’t buy it in the movie “Derailed” and I don’t buy it in “We’re the Millers”.

Rating: 1.5 – Skip this one and go see “The Way Way Back” still in theaters instead. If you must see it wait for Netflix or the Red Box price and you won’t feel too bad about wasting the money.

Rating System
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

TV review: The Jenny McCarthy Show

mailFebruary 15, 2013 – Have you seen Jenny McCarthy’s new late-night talk show that debuted on VH-1 last Friday night?

If anything, it just proves my theory that I am one step closer to having a talk show of my own, because eventually everyone seems to get one. It also proves that like MTV these days, VH-1 is about anything but music, and that is just sad.

I’m not very familiar with McCarthy, but I know she’s a comedienne and an outspoken activist against vaccines for babies because she believes they may be a leading cause of autism. I also know she used to be a playboy playmate and she used to date Jim Carrey.

After watching the first episode, my first thought was she is stealing Chelsea Handler’s shtick (or perhaps that of Andy Cohen of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live”, although I will admit I love him) with her outrageous no-filter mouth and lots of booze flowing throughout the show. And I should mention the saucy language that annoyingly causes about every third word to be beeped out. Now, after just one episode, I know more about McCarthy than I ever cared to know.

According to McCarthy, she believes her talk show is different than the norm because, “We don’t have pre-interviews, so I make it really candid for the celebs to come on and just hang out for a half hour.”

McCarthy also claims that her interviews are really more conversations than a question and answer routine. Her favorite part of the show is the man-on-the ground interviews where she and the guest literally lay on the carpet, suck lollipops and have a conversation. She believes celebrities open up more when they are not sitting in an interview-type setting.

The half-hour show airs every Friday night at 10:30 p.m. EST. Its purpose, it seems is to make you believe you’re viewing a party between McCarthy and her friends, but who wants to watch that? Maybe it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re there, too, but if so, it was lost on me. It’s been reported that she turned down an opportunity to host a talk show on OWN, Oprah’s network, but chose to go over to VH-1 instead. Even though OWN is not doing well, it’s difficult to believe that she would choose VH-1 instead – then again, maybe not considering the type of show she chooses to do.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who find this format humorous; I’m just not one of them. Even so, I can’t believe this one will last long, folks, so if you want to see it for yourself, catch it quick. Better  yet, just skip it.