Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is timeless movie magic and a visual delight. Burton created this stop-motion animation film in which Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of dreary Halloweentown, finds a secret passageway to Christmastown. He likes what he finds so he decides to better himself by taking over for Santa! This ghoulish fairy tale is in no way mean-spirited. It is more playful than nasty so go ahead and add it to your Christmas movie list!
With Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe (the brilliant detective) and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin (his leg man), this A&E television series is one of the best. The TV series is based on the original stories by Rex Stout written between 1934 and 1958. It is beautifully shot with set design and costuming that reflects the time period of each story. All of the episodes of Nero Wolfe include a climactic meeting of the suspects in Wolfe's office at his luxurious brownstone as he discloses the identity of the murderer, a classic mystery story devise; however in this series, it becomes a scene full of color, wit, and charm. An unusual aspect of these Nero Wolfe shows is its reuse of supporting actors and actresses for different roles in the tradition of a repertory theater.
The Princess Bride was adapted by William Goldman from his novel, which he says was inspired by a book he read as a child, but its transformation by his wicked adult imagination has made the story witty and irreverent. And the film adaptation has remained popular since its original release in 1987. It is story within a story with Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a fairy tale to his reluctant grandson. This clever romantic comedy-fantasy-adventure film can be enjoyed by every member of the family. And if you can’t get enough of The Princess Bride, check out Cary Elwes’ (Westley) recent book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.
I will watch any movie starring Johnny Depp, so although this one wasn’t well received, I watched it. In The Lone Ranger, Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into the legendary Lone Ranger. In this telling, Tonto is no sidekick, but rather a full character equal to the Lone Ranger. In a lot of ways I wasn’t disappointed. It is action-packed! And the special effects are spectacular! However, it does tend to be gruesome and violent. While this aspect is integral to the story, I doubt that it was necessary to have a villain who cut out human hearts and ate them.
I watched Tender Mercies (1983) again, recently. It’s one of my favorite “little” movies. I realized as I watched it that Robert Duvall is one of those actors who make you forget you are watching someone performing a role. He has that special ability to make his characters real. His performances as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Jackson Fentry in Tomorrow (1972), Tom Hagen in the first two Godfather movies, Frank Hackett in Network (1976), Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979), Bull Meechum in The Great Santini (1979), Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies, Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove (1989), and Sonny Dewey in The Apostle (1997) rank as some of the finest acting ever put on film. It is an impressive body of work. He has had several Oscar nominations including one for his performance as a military man and father in The Great Santini and he earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor in Tender Mercies. Pick one to watch and see if you don’t agree that he is one of the best. Some of his most acclaimed films are To Kill A Mockingbird, M*A*S*H (1970), Lonesome Dove, The Godfather I and II, True Grit (1969), Apocalypse Now, and the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove.
Benedict Cumberbatch is the star of Sherlock, a BBC Masterpiece Mystery! and he has nailed it. The grouchy and steadfast Watson is deftly played by Martin Freeman. This series is Holmes in a non-Victorian setting, but it stays true to the character’s heritage of arrogance and braininess. Although the show is more typical of the contemporary crime drama, the stories are taken from the original Arthur Conan Doyle novels. The writers have entirely modernized them and given them new depth using the wonders of the digital age and a very contemporary London.
Who is Ben Affleck anyway? After an early start at the age of eight, starring in the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi, Ben Affleck didn’t make his big introduction into feature films until 1993 when he was cast in Dazed and Confused. After that, he did mostly independent films like Kevin Smith's Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997). Interestingly, in the same year he made Mimi, Affleck made the acquaintance of Matt Damon, a boy two years his senior who lived down the street. The two became best friends and, of course, eventual collaborators. In his early years in Hollywood, tired of being turned down for the big roles in films and the forgettable supporting ones he did play, he decided to write his own script. Matt Damon was having the same trouble and together they produced a script with the kind of roles they wanted to play! Good Will Hunting (1997) was the result and it went on to win two Academy Awards (nominated for nine). Career ups and downs followed with much media attention to romance and rehab. After many flops, he seems to have re-invented himself as a director. He's has earned critical acclaim for directing films including The Town and Argo so perhaps Affleck's greatest talent lies behind the camera where reviews of his films call him ”a sensitive, thoughtful and collaborative” director. Here are my choices from a long list of his films:
In this witty journey film, filmmaker John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make a serious social statement in his upcoming film. The only problem is he knows nothing of hardship and so sets out into Depression-era America to experience life as a hobo. This film is a classic with a little bit of everything: romance, drama, action, comedy …and a look at life as it was for many during the Depression. Writer/Director Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels satirizes Hollywood with all its pretension and excess. His sophisticated dialogue and fast-paced slapstick make this mix of comedy and drama a perfect blend. It may very well be the best film about Hollywood and filmmaking. Find out additional background information on the film at TCM.com.
Basically we humans want life to be simple, but for Matt King (George Clooney) it has become anything but! With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, his two daughters in need of his attention, and the responsibility of a family land trust, he finds himself in the most difficult of situations. The Descendants, with the atmosphere of its Hawaiian setting (including the native music), was surprising, moving, and frequently very funny, but the best part is how well it all works.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives an inspired performance in I've Loved You So Long, a French language film about a woman’s release from prison. The story of why she was in prison unfolds rather slowly throughout the film as she resumes her life and her relationship with her sister. The film is a modest, subtle character study and the value of most of it is in Thomas’ handling of the role. Just a side note: I wondered about the title…it didn’t seem to fit. And found that the phrase doesn't translate very well (original title = Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) but is a line of a French folk song that two sisters played as a piano duet. In French with English subtitles.