Sunday, October 10, 2010

Letters to Juliet (2010)

Letters to Juliet

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Vanessa Redgrave

Director: Gary Winick

Writers: Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan

Release Date: May 14, 2010 

Running Time: 105 minutes

Synopsis: An American girl on vacation in Italy finds an unanswered "letter to Juliet" -- one of thousands of missives left at the fictional lover's Verona courtyard, which are typically answered by a the "secretaries of Juliet" -- and she goes on a quest to find the lovers referenced in the letter.

Flick Facts:

* Juliet's secretaries really do exist. They are called the Juliet Club and they volunteer to reply to letters left in Verona, as well as organize events in honor of Romeo and Juliet

* Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, playing starcrossed lovers in this film, are a real life couple.

* Hugh Dancy was originally cast as Victor but dropped out and was replaced by Gael Garcia Bernal.

* Ashley Lilley who played Patricia is Amanda Seyfried's best friend and also appeared with her in Mamma Mia! (2008). 

* In this film and in Mamma Mia! Amanda Seyfried plays characters named Sophie.

* Letters to Juliet was filmed in and around New York City (Bryant Park and Manhattan) and Italy (Siena, Tuscany, Verona, Veneto and Soave).

* The film's estimated cost was $30 million; its total domestic gross was $53,051,260 million.

She Said, He Said:

* "I'm sorry, I didn't know love had an expiration date." 

* "Charlie doesn't approve, which makes it all the more fun!"

* "What's so romantic about eating in the dirt?"

* "It's over!  We're done!  We've found Nemo!"

* "I would have grabbed her from that blasted balcony and been done with it."

* "Dear Claire, What and If are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don't know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it's never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn't it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don't know what a love like Juliet's feels like - love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I'd like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn't, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet."

Chic Chick Sounds:

The Letters to Juliet soundtrack takes you to the vineyards and marvelous landscapes of Italy, providing a wonderful listening experience.  Bella! 
"You Got Me"

Written by Colbie Caillat and John Shanks
Performed by Colbie Caillat

"Chianti Country"
Composed by Reg Tilsley

Written and Performed by Andy Georges

"Un Giorno Così"
Written by Massimo Pezzali
Performed by 883

"Per Avere Te"
Written by Romano Rizzati and Sergio Tocci
Performed by Franco Morselli

"Quando, Quando, Quando"
Written by Tony Renis and Alberto Testa
Performed by Laura Jane (as Lisa Jane) and Chris Mann

"Variations On A Theme By Mozart (Magic Flute) Op. 9"
Composed by Fernando Sor, Arranged by Jim Long

Written by Ferdinando Arnò and Luigi de Crescenzo
Performed by Malika Ayane and Pacifico

"Per Dimenticare"
Written by Matteo Maffucci, Thomas De Gasperi, Enrico Ciarallo, and Danilo Paoni
Performed by Zero Assoluto

"Sono Bugiarda (I'm A Believer)"
Written by Neil Diamond
Performed by Caterina Caselli

"Guarda Che Luna"
Written by Gualtiero Malgoni
Performed by Fred Buscaglione

"Love Story"
Written and Performed by Taylor Swift

"What If"
Written by Colbie Caillat, Rick Nowels and Jason Reeves
Performed by Colbie Caillat

I love Italy.  I have not yet gotten there but it is on my bucket list and until my feet are actually on Italian soil, I love movies that take place in Italy or have an Italian connection.  Letters to Juliet fit that bill perfectly.  The scenery was beyond luscious, an absolute virtual postcard - - just to die for.  If nothing else, the landscaping and stunning photography makes the movie worthwhile. 

Romance lovers will delight in this story, particularly ones who have a Shakespeare affinity.  The idea behind Juliet's Secretaries is lovely and the story Rivera and Sullivan dreamt up using it as inspiration is rich and inspiring.  Sophie and Charlie make a classically mismatched-on-the-surface pair and both are young, earnest and incredibly attractive.  Claire and Lorenzo cover the over-twentysomething set with a mature and enduring love story that will move the most impossibly passive moviegoer. 

Best Parts of Letters to Juliet: Italy, Italy, Italy.  The locale and photography is so scrumptious if you can't book the next flight to Verona, you will at least be hankering for your favorite pasta dish and a glass of wine. 
Worst Parts of Letters to Juliet: The obstacles keeping Sophie and Charlie apart are stereotypically cliche and can give Letters to Juliet a formula feel.

Spawns and Sequels:  Letters to Juliet has spawned no sequels (nor should it) but it does have a connection to one of the greatest love stories put to paper, Romeo and Juliet.  

Other Italy-based love stories include Roman Holiday, Only You, A Room With a View and The English Patient.

The Final Word:  I went to see Letters to Juliet in the theater, expecting some nice, enjoyable entertainment.  I got that, plus a renewed itch to visit Italy and a beautiful respect for Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, who basically steal this film away from the younger Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan.   How wonderful to have a love story that focuses on a couple in their sixties/seventies who are still vibrant, active and very much in love!  I thrilled on the story of a 50 year old letter that was finally answered, and two hearts that were still aching for the other.   I saw this movie with a girlfriend over 40 and we were both delighted.  I rewatched it on DVD with my niece who is 14 and she was just as pleased with it.  A strong, satisfying romance for teens, young adults and 30+, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Letters to Juliet and it's definitely good for repeat viewings. 

Letters to Juliet is available for purchase at major retailers, including Amazon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let's Vote!

What do you think is the most romantic movie of all time?  Do you agree with my assessment of Somewhere in Time or do you think I've lost it? 

Check out my poll on the sidebar and vote for your favorite - - the one that makes your heart sing, the one that makes you cry, the one that you think captures the essence of what a romance film should be. 

Don't agree with the choices?  Simple.  Select "none of the above" and leave me a comment here and let me know what movie should have been included. 

And please feel free to leave me comments about your choice if included in the poll.  I'd like to know why that particular movie is your choice and I love comments! 

Happy Friday all!  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Somewhere in Time 

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer

Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Writer: Richard Matheson (novel and screenplay)

Release Date: October 3, 1980 

Running Time: 103 minutes

Synopsis: A Chicago playwright uses self-hypnosis to find the actress whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand hotel and sacrifices his life in the present to find happiness with her in the past.  

Flick Facts:

* Dustin Hoffman was initially considered for the role of Richard Collier but it was determined that Hoffman, while a great actor, was not attractive enough to inspire love at first sight.  

* Jane Seymour was cast in the role of Elise McKenna after being the only actress to answer in the negative after being asked if she had ever been in love. 

*  The moment when Richard first sees the portrait of Elise in the film was also the first time Christopher Reeve saw the portrait. The director's objective was to get a genuine reaction from him, so it was kept hidden from Reeve until the moment Richard first turns and sees it.

*  The professor in the movie is named "Finney" in tribute to the science fiction writer Jack Finney.

* Hotel del Coronado, the main setting of the novel, was found unsuitable due to many of the modern changes, such as a modern tennis court, antennas on the roof and aluminum windows and the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, Michigan was selected as its replacement.

*  Automobiles are not allowed on Mackinac Island and so the use of cars for the movie required special permission from the town. Although cars were allowed for filming, the cast and crew weren't allowed to drive them outside of actual filming for the movie.

*  This was the first film for both William H. Macy (billed as W.H. Macy), playing a critic, and George Wendt, playing a student. 

*  Christopher Reeve's biggest concern about the film was its ending (watch it and see!)

*  The film's estimated cost was $5.1 million; its total domestic gross was just over $9.7 million.

She Said, He Said:

* "Come back to me."

* "Is it you?"

* "Excess within control."
* "I  am an actress, Mr. Robinson, not a doormat. Do not attempt to wipe your boots on me."

*  "There is so much to say... I cannot find the words. Except for these: 'I love you.' "

*  "That watch was very precious to her. She never left it out of her possession."

Chic Chick Sounds:

The Somewhere in Time soundtrack captures the romance and emotion of the movie perfectly.  Be prepared for your heartstrings to be tugged while listening. 
Somewhere in Time - John Barry 

The Old Woman - John Barry 

The Journey Back in Time - John Barry 

A Day Together - John Barry

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Chet Swiakowski

Is He The One - John Barry 

The Man of My Dreams - John Barry 

Return to the Present - John Barry 

Theme from Somewhere in Time - Roger Williams 

Somewhere in Time has been coined "The Most Romantic Love Story Ever Filmed" and I certainly will not argue with that accolade.  Christopher Reeve, coming off his huge Superman success, took this "small" role so as not to be typecast in action roles and brings to the role of Richard an earnestness, a wholesomeness and a beauty that no other actor of the time could ever have showcased.  He and Jane Seymour are so beautiful together and their chemistry so palpable that it makes your heart ache just watching them.

The time travel aspect of the story will appeal to any sci fi fan, as well as those intent on piecing the puzzle together (such as "where did the watch come from?").  Viewers who enjoy vintage clothing and costumes will have a field day with Somewhere in Time, as well as classical music lovers.  But the real draw is in the romance.  Romance fans who haven't seen this movie don't have the right to call themselves that, as this film set the standard for what romance should be. 

Somewhere in Time has no special effects, no action scenes, no car chases, no profanity and no nudity.  It relies on the solid script, strong direction, its two leads and incredible story to win you over.  And that it does.

It is unfortunate that during the movie's initial release there was an Actor's Strike going on, preventing the stars from attending the film's premiere, and due to the minimal or outright lack of marketing and promotion, the film only spent 3 weeks in theaters before quickly disappearing.  Thanks to cable, VHS and DVD rentals and sales, the film has gotten the appreciation and love it deserves.  The film is officially 30 years old next month and as breathtaking today as it was when first released. 

Best Parts of Somewhere in Time: Everything is phenomenal, from the utterly gorgeous sets, costumes, breathtaking music, stunning Grand Hotel locale, to the storyline and actors.  The chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour cannot be topped. 

Worst Parts of Somwhere in Time: Nothing.  The film is flawless. 

Spawns and Sequels: There has never been a sequel to Somewhere in Time, nor a remake.  However, the devout following of film appreciators led to the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts (INSITE), as well as an annual weekend each October at the Grand Hotel celebrating this beautiful film.  There has also been a sequel of sorts written, based on Elise's life between 1912 and 1972. 

The Final Word:  This is my absolute favorite movie of all time.  I fell in love with it on first viewing, when I was 12 years old, watching a 10 a.m. show on HBO on summer vacation.  So obsessed with it that I watched a repeat viewing the same night at 6 p.m.  I have owned the VHS tape, the DVD, the original soundtrack, the revised soundtrack, the novel the movie was based on, the "making of" book, a "sequel" written by a fan and composed music to go along with reading the sequel, and a framed replica of the original movie theater poster, in addition to playing the stunningly gorgeous theme music for my last piano recital and at my wedding.  I have seen this movie a minimum of 50 times and quite likely nearly 100 and I still yearn, pine, hope and cry as if each viewing is the first.  (So be warned:  have a box of tissues handy).  This movie bred in me the fascination with time travel that continues to this day so I can honestly say that Somewhere in Time changed my life.  It is, without a doubt, the most romantic and emotional movie ever put on film.

Somewhere in Time is available for purchase at major retailers, including Amazon.  (What are you waiting for?  Go, go, GO get this movie!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sliding Doors (1998)

Sliding Doors
Starring:  Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Director: Peter Howitt
Writer: Peter Howitt

Release Date: April 24, 1998 

Running Time: 99 minutes

Synopsis: Helen Quilley is a young Londoner who, after getting sacked at work one morning, dashes to catch the tube and just misses it as the sliding doors close on her.  We then see how Helen's life turns out, having missed the tube, and what her life would have been like had she made the journey home.  

Flick Facts:

* The role of Helen was initially offered to Minnie Driver before Gwyneth Paltrow signed.  

* The book Helen spills tea on in the beginning of the film and is reading later is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

* Anna's address in the film, per her instruction to the cab driver, is 9 Menlove Avenue, the childhood home of John Lennon. 

* Rowers were specifically cast to be John Hannah's rowing buddies so that Hannah appeared tall and athletic.

* Writer/director Peter Howitt was on a drinking spree in a London pub when Sydney Pollack called from Hollywood to offer financing.  Howitt was wisely sobered up before speaking to Pollack. 

She Said, He Said:

* "Everybody's born knowing all the Beatles lyrics instinctively. They're passed into the fetus subconsciously along with all the amniotic stuff. Fact, they should be called "The Fetals".

* "Haircut suits you, by the way. . .  No, it does, it does! No gag. 'Never make a joke about a woman's hair, clothes or menstrual cycles' - page one."

*  "Gerry, I'm a woman! We don't say what we WANT! But we reserve the right to get pissed off if we don't get it. That's what makes us so fascinating! And not a little bit scary."
*  "Come on! If you don't drink your fatty drinks, you'll never really achieve quality cellulite."
*  "I must say, being friends with you certainly makes the wait for the next episode of "Seinfeld" much easier to bear."
*  "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Chic Chick Sounds:

The Sliding Door soundtrack has an absolutely wonderful, eclectic mix of mid to late 90s music, everything from Dido to Aimee Mann to Elton John.  The tracks include:   

Have Fun, Go Mad - Blair
Drug Soup - Space Monkeys
Turn Back Time - Aqua
Good Enough - Dodgy
Thank You - Dido
Use The Force - Jamiroquai
Miracle - Olive
On My Own - Peach Union
Amateur - Aimee Mann
Honky Cat - Elton John
Don't Feel Like Cryin' - Abra Moore
Call Me A Fool - Those Magnificent Men
More Love - Brand New Heavies

Sliding Doors was released the same year that Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for her part in Shakespeare in Love and its the latter film that gets the recognition for Paltrow's efforts that year.  And a shame too because I think Sliding Doors is the superior film. 

Paltrow always excelled at British accents, and she's no exception here.  Her Helen is a delightful character, witty and relatable. Despite proving to be somewhat irresponsible in the beginning (where she filches vodka from the PR firm she works for to bring home for her birthday party - - the act that leads to her dismissal) I liked her and I wanted things to work out for her. 

Paltrow's chemistry with co-star John Hannah was a delight and it was the banter and warmth between these two that really made the movie for me.  Sure, maybe their relationship moved a bit more speedily than it would in the real world but this is a chick flick.  Hannah was just strong enough as a leading man to compliment Paltrow and I'm sorry that these two actors have not co-starred as of this date in another film.

I loved the alternate parallels going on in the film - - which was made easier for us by having the alternate Paltrow (the one that catches the tube) cut her hair.  Completely shallow but I think it was a darling style on her.  Seeing how many times Helen and James nearly crossed paths in their parallel worlds and "near misses" there were was an interesting commentary on fate. 

Best Parts of Sliding Doors:   The wonderful scenes (all of them) between Paltrow and Hannah.  Watch the film yourself and tell me you don't pine away for a James Hamilton yourself.  

Worst Parts of Sliding Doors:  The scene where Helen walks in on a cheating Gerry.  Nothing wrong with the scene itself but . . . OUCH.  

Spawns and Sequels: No sequel to Sliding Doors.  Watch the film and I think you will agree that the ending is a marvelous one that leaves you on a  happy, high note.  Certainly, the theme of "what if" has been done many times in different formats but it's done to a wonderful perfection here, showing that there is such a thing is destiny and things happen for a reason.  And yes, things work out for the best in the end. 

The Final Word: I love this movie.  Passionately.  If you are a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, you won't be disappointed.  If you don't care for her, you may find that you actually enjoy her in this film.  And I truly love that the alternate Paltrow, finding her cheating boyfriend en flagrente, dumps his sorry ass and goes on not only to find love with Hannah but finds professional success as well.  And the soundtrack seriously rocks.

Sliding Doors is available for purchase at major retailers, including Amazon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

They All Kissed the Bride (1942)

They All Kissed the Bride

Starring:  Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas, Roland Young, Billie Burke
Director: Alexander Hall

Writers: Andrew Solt, Gina Kaus, P.J. Wolfson, and Henry Altimus

Release Date: June 11, 1942

Running Time:  86 minutes

Synopsis: Margaret J. ("M.J.") Drew is a tough as nails career woman, running the Drew Trucking Company with an iron fist and achieving a less than pleasant reputation from her employees.  While she has time to arrange for her overly emotional younger sister to marry the right kind of man, she has no time for a personal life of her own, especially in the romance department.  Until she meets Mike, who not only sweeps her off her feet but brings out the softer side of M.J.

Flick Facts:

* The role of M. J. Drew was originally slated for Carole Lombard, who was killed in a January 1942 plane crash after filming had already begun.  Joan Crawford stepped into the role and donated her entire salary ($128,000) to the Red Cross in Lombard's name.  
* When Crawford's agent took his usual 10% commission for this movie, instead of donating it as she had done, Crawford promptly fired him. 
*  At the time, Crawford was contracted to MGM.  As this was a Columbia Pictures production, the film's end credits state: "Miss Crawford appears through the courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer."
* Billie Burke, who played Crawford's mother in this film, is perhaps best known as Glinda The Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz
* Originally a dancer prior to being signed by MGM, Crawford does a little bit of dancing (and slight singing) as M.J.  Her dancing, in fact, is the jitterbug, a throwback to the dancing she did in the 20s.
* Cinematographer Joseph Walker reportedly used a special lavender lighting technique on Crawford to enhance the brilliance of her eyes.
* This was the fourth and final film pairing of Joan Crawford and Melvyn Douglas (the previous three being The Gorgeous Hussy in 1936, The Shining Hour in 1938 and A Woman's Face in 1941).
* The original print ads for They All Kissed the Bride had taglines of A TENDER WARMLY HUMAN ROMANCE! and There's Never Anything Wrong with a Woman That a Man's Lips Won't Cure.
*  The working title was originally He Kissed the Bride.
*  "The title was silly, but the picture had a nice flair, and it came off better than anyone expected." - Joan Crawford

She Said, He Said:

* "Do forgive me, Margaret says I have no control."

* "Are you sure when Margaret was born they didn't make a mistake at the hospital and give you the wrong brat?"

Chic Chick Sounds:

No soundtrack for obvious reasons for this movie classic but Joan does sing "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"  (Johnny Mercer/Harry Warren). 

Joan Crawford wasn't known for comedy and she only acted in two screwball-type comedies during her long career, which is an absolute shame for us viewers.  While I do like Susan and God (her other screwball role), it's They All Kissed the Bride that really holds my affection. 

Crawford excelled in her women's roles (just check out Mildred Pierce, A Woman's Face or Possessed if you have any doubts) but under the right direction and with the right co-star, she obviously could pull her weight in comedies as well and it's nowhere more apparent than with her portrayal of M.J. Drew. 

Crawford had a truly phenomenal chemistry with Melvyn Douglas, her leading man here and in other films, and that was no easy feat as Crawford possessed a strong and almost overwhelming screen presence.  Many a leading man was nearly devoured by her on screen but perhaps Douglas worked so well due to his polar opposite laid back and humorous personality?  Regardless, these two made their portrayals of M.J. and Mike a delight and a joy. 

And to be utterly and completely shallow . . . Crawford was absolutely stunning in this picture.  She was at the height of her beauty, before Warner Bros. made her severe and angular.  She wears her hair longer and fluffier and she looks downright radiant.  Her face is appealingly soft when she realizes she has fallen for Mike.  Awwww. . .

 Best Parts of They All Kissed the Bride:  Any scene with Joan Crawford and/or Melvyn Douglas.  Their chemistry was real and although the two were never involved off camera, they appeared to genuinely like one another and enjoy working together (or they at least used some incredible acting prowess!).  Second to that, the dance contest scenes are a real joy.

Worst Parts of They All Kissed the Bride:   None, really. 

Spawns and Sequels:   The overall theme of They All Kissed the Bride has likely been remade throughout the decades but, sadly, this would be Crawford's last zany type of comedy, as well as her last film appearance with Melvyn Douglas.  She would return to Columbia Pictures for Sudden Fear in 1952.

The Final Word:   Any fan, existing or new, of Joan Crawford absolutely must view They All Kissed the Bride, not only to see how lovely Joan looked at the time but also to see her portray a strong businesswoman who is tough and yet tender and who doesn't lose her strength by gaining the love of a man.   Despite being made in 1942, the overall theme of  They All Kissed the Bride hasn't dated and the movie has been remade in many different incarnations over the decades, with professional women finding love. 

They All Kissed the Bride is available for purchase at Amazon through the following link:

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Divorcee (1930)

The Divorcee 
Director:  Robert Z. Leonard

Writers:  Nick Grinde, Zelda Sears and John Meehan; based on the novel "Ex Wife" by Ursula Parrott

Release Date:   April 19, 1930

Synopsis:  Jerry and Ted, members of the New York social elite, fall in love and marry after a somewhat raunchy party.  Things appear to be going swimmingly for three years until on the night of their third anniversary, Jerry finds out that Ted had a brief affair with Janice, who has been unknowingly brought along by their friends for the anniversary celebration.  Jerry is crushed, Ted makes excuses about how sex doesn't mean anything without love and Jerry decides to "balance their accounts" while Ted is away on a business trip, resulting in Ted refusing to forgive Jerry and the two deciding to divorce.   Jerry then becomes a footloose and fancy free divorcee.

Flick Facts:

*     Robert Z. Leonard is listed as "producer" and not "director" of this film.  At that time, MGM often listed directors' names as "A _______ Production" on the same card as the film title.   Leonard was solely a director though and not a producer. 

*     Norma Shearer was married to Irving Thalberg at the time The Divorcee was filmed and released.  Archrival Joan Crawford complained that Shearer got roles like those of Jerry in The Divorcee because she slept with the boss.

*     Prior to this film, Norma Shearer had played primarily "proper" ladies.  Wanting to change her image to a sexier one, she campaigned for the role of Jerry by posing for provacative photos clad in lingerie for notable photographer George Hurrell.  Husband Thalberg agreed to give her the role. 

*     The character of Helen was played by actress Florence Eldridge - - better known around town as Mrs. Frederic March.  

*     Shooting wrapped in only 22 days, with no retakes necessary.  

*     Shearer won the only Oscar of her career for this film.

*     The Divorcee cost $340,691 to produce in 1930, with a healthy return of $1,218,000.

She Said, He Said

* "I've heard of platonic love but I didn't know there was such a thing as platonic jewellery. "

* "From now on, you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to."

* "A man should be willing to lay down more than one wife for his country."

* "The truth?  The last thing any man wants to hear from any woman!"

* "All men are fair game from now on!"

Chic Chick Sounds:

Being as how The Divorcee was filmed and released in 1930, there is no soundtrack per se.    However, a catchy rag tune (1918's "Tiger Rag") plays during a nightclub scene, "Happy Days are Here Again" plays during a wedding scene and "Singin' in the Rain" is played from a radio. 



The Women was the first film I saw with Norma Shearer but it was The Divorcee that cemented my cinematic crush on her.   Sure, there are shades of Mary Haines in Jerry Martin but where Mary is prim and proper and takes the so-called high road, Jerry is more fiery, passionate and decides that what's good for the goose is most certainly good for the gander. 

While certainly not news today, a philandering husband and a wife that paid him back in kind was big news in 1930. This movie was considered scandalous in its day and Miss Shearer was rewarded for her lovely, genuine performance with an Oscar, the only one of her too-short career. Chester Morris plays the cheating husband to perfection, with the usual chauvinistic excuses of the other woman meaning nothing and then expresses outrage when his wife decides to play along, to see if a casual encounter really means nothing.   Robert Montgomery (future father of Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery) is in one of his first film roles, a friend that thinks perhaps too highly of Jerry.

All in all, The Divorcee is a fantastic movie that hasn't been as horribly dated as one would think and it perfectly demonstrates why Miss Shearer was considered Queen of MGM at the start of the 1930s.  Because she makes what would have been a routine, cookie cutter film of the early 1930s a little gem worth repeated viewings.  Be prepared to fall in love with Miss Shearer. 

Best Parts of The Divorcee:  Norma Shearer, Norma Shearer, Norma Shearer.  Honestly, I'm not sure any of the other leading ladies of the time could have given Jerry the sweetness, the naturalness and the sexiness that Miss Shearer did. 

Worst Parts of The Divorcee:  The makeup on Chester Morris.  Really.  Even while bearing in mind that both actors and actressess sported some hideous off-camera makeup that showed well in the black and white films, Mr. Morris' liberal makeup can be distracting.  And just between you and me, I thought Jerry was far too good for Ted.

Spawns and Sequels:  Following the the success of The Divorcee, Norma starred in Let Us Be Gay, an essential remake of The Divorcee, this time with her playing wronged wife Kitty Brown who leaves her cheating husband and becomes the female embodiment of the cad, teasing men from coast to coast.  She also starred in Strangers May Kiss as the "modern" (for the times) Lisbeth, who claims to be just happy with sleeping with her boyfriend without benefit of a wedding ring.  The Divorcee, with its adult subject matter, discourse on sex and sexuality and overall success, also most certainly paved the way for Jean Harlow's Pre-Code classic Red Headed Woman, where Jean played a sultry and sensual girl who sleeps with her married boss (Chester Morris once again!) to get ahead.  

The Final WordThe Divorcee is required viewing for serious connoisseurs of classic movies.  Norma is lovely, the script and story are engaging, Robert Montgomery looks so darn young and charming and it's amazing to think that movies had only been "talkies" for a mere two years.  There are certain aspects of the film that are dated to today's viewer (this was on the tail end of the flapper era) but the movie pushes equality and sexual equality, even though in 1930 audiences were expected to find Jerry's actions somewhat unforgivable (Ted, after all, was just being a man).  In fact, Jerry could be partly to blame as she is a professional, a working woman in an era where women stayed home and cared for the house and family.   To the 1930s audience, Jerry didn't put her marriage first and fight for it -- a realization that Jerry cinematically comes to, even if this modern viewer doesn't.  In the end, regardless of her choices, Jerry is represented as a strong, self-serving woman.

The Divorcee is available for purchase as part of a DVD collection through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sex and the City (2008)

Picture courtesy of

Sex and the City 

Director: Michael Patrick King

Writer: Michael Patrick King
    (based on Candace Bushnell's book)

Release Date: May 30, 2008

Synopsis: Sex and the City is coming to the big screen in a feature film adaptation of the hit HBO television series. The film will follow the continuing adventures of the series four main characters - Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda - as they live their lives in Manhattan four years after the series ended. Stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon are all on board to reprise their roles, while the film will be written and directed by Michael Patrick King, who executive produced the original television series.

Flick Facts:

* The film originally was slated for production shortly after the end of the TV series in 2004. But production was halted when Kim Cattrall pulled out of the film after being unable to reach a salary agreement with HBO. An agreement was finally reached in 2007 which included a series deal for Cattrall.

* Victoria Beckham was offered a cameo role but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts with Spice Girls tour rehearsals.

* Sex and the City was shot in a relatively quick 69 days.

* The flower ring that Smith buys for Samantha during the auction was reportedly worth a cool $50,000.

* We learned that Big's first name was John during the last episode of the series; here, we learn that his full name is John James Preston. 

* Filmed in Silvercup Studios in Queens - the same studio space as in the original HBO series.

* Took in $56,848,056 in its opening weekend in the US alone, nearly covering its estimated $65,000,000 cost.

She Said, She Said, She Said, She Said:

* "The good ones screw you, the bad ones screw you and the rest don't know how to screw you." 

* "The only two choices for women . . . witch and sexy kitten."

* "Marriage ruins everything."

 * "It's like trying to fit a cream puff through a keyhole."

* "Some love stories aren't epic novels, some are short stories.  But that doesn't make them any less filled with love." 

Chic Chick Sounds:

Sex and the City's soundtrack has everything from Fergie to Jennifer Hudson to Captain and Tenille (the latter's "Love Will Keep Us Together" plays during Carrie and Miranda's "date" on Valentine's Day).  And during that impromptu fashion show wehre Carrie is modeling her clothing while cleaning out her closet, Run DMC's "Walk This Way" keeps her to the beat.

Sex and the City was one film that I thought would never see the light of day.  Heck, the movie was being discussed before the final scenes of the series were filmed and there were already rumblings of professional discord between the leads.  When a year, then two and three passed, I figured it was a lost cause.

I am happy that I was wrong.  I am also happy that this movie exceeded my expectations and very surprisingly, left me liking Carrie.

Yes, because I was one of "those people" who never "got" Carrie during the run of the show.  I understand she was supposed to be Everywoman but I didn't get it.  She seemed flighty at times with her guys, she was utterly self-centered during her time with Big and flat out rude to her friends when all she wanted to discuss was her situation with Big, the others' lives be damned.  And let's face it, her so-called fashion looked as though a laundromat had puked on her. 

I think Carrie really irretrievably lost me when she panicked on Aidan and that relationship combusted.  The man could build things.  And cook.  And he was sensitive and understanding.  What the hell, Carrie? 

This movie redeemed Carrie for me though.  She seemed much more sedate and subdued and less about herself.  Her relationship with Big seemed healthy and mature.  Even the difficulties peppered throughout the movie (for Carrie and for Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte) seemed realistic and not just plot points.  And some weren't quickly corrected and wrapped up.  In fact, the movie takes place during the course of a year. 

Sex and the City left me wanting to hang out with the fabulous foursome (and even newbie Louise, who, played by the lovely Jennifer Hudson, provided Carrie with much needed professional and emotional support) . . . something I haven't felt a desire to do in a long while!

Best parts of Sex and the City: The friendship between Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.  It's as dependable as UPS (go brown!) and the true, consistent relationship that each gal has.  And the fact that I didn't want to rip Carrie's head off throughout the entire movie is made of win.

Worst parts of Sex and the City: Sigh.  During the run of the t.v. show, I always loved Samantha the best.  But I felt she was oddly flat and subdued during this flick.  For any other character she would have still be fun but for freespirited and overly sexual Samantha Jones, she was a letdown. 

Spawns and Sequels: Sex and the City 2 is due out May 2010.  This sequel could be nothing but our main girls sitting around at a New York restaurant gossiping and it would still put butts on theater seats.  Provided that the fashion is fabulous, of course.  

The Final Word: Rarely does a movie based on a television series not only do as well as the original series but satisfy the fan's appetites for further adventures and leave them asking for more.  Despite film leaks galore, along with nearly daily photos of the movie being shot in New York and critics' predictions of an epic sized turkey, Sex and the City recouped its costs during its opening weekend . . . quite an admirable feat.  The Powers That Be behind Sex and the City proved that their movie was more than four 30 minute episodes tacked together and more than Sarah Jessica Parker modeling good and horribly bad fashions.  The sequel is justified and well earned.

Sex and the City is available for DVD purchase at most stores, including Amazon

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Pretty in Pink

Director:  Howard Deutch
Writer: John Hughes
Release Date: February 28, 1986

Synopsis: Young Andie (Molly Ringwald) is one of the not-so-popular girls in high school. She usually hangs out with her friends Iona (Annie Potts) or Duckie (Jon Cryer). Duckie has always had a crush on her, but now she has met a new guy from school, Blane (Andrew McCarthy). He's one of the rich and popular guys but can the two worlds meet? 

Flick Facts:  
Pretty in Pink was filmed at the same L.A. high school that 1978's Grease was filmed at (although it was allegedly in Illinois, following Hughes' filmatic precedents)
*  The original ending of the film had Duckie getting his girl . . . until test audiences stated they would prefer for Andie to end up with Blane.  So the original ending was scratched and reshot, with Andie and Blane getting together
*  Anthony Michael Hall (the infamous geeky Ted from Sixteen Candles) turned down the role of Duckie, and Robert Downey, Jr. almost had the part but it ended up going to Jon Cryer
* Other notables considered for the lead roles?  Charlie Sheen (Blane), Jodie Foster, Tatum O'Neal, Diane Lane, Lori Loughlin, Sarah Jessica Parker and Brooke Shields (Andie)
* This was the last cinematic collaboration between John Hughes and Molly Ringwald (Hughes reportedly wanted her to star in 1987's Some Kind of Wonderful but she turned him down and he severed their professional relationship)
*  This is Molly Ringwald's favorite among her own films

She Said, He Said:
*   "May I admire you again today?"
*   "His name is Blane?  That's a major appliance, that's not a name!"
*   "Drinking and driving don't mix, that's why I ride a bike."
*   "Listen, it's after 7.  Don't waste good lip gloss."
*   "This is an incredibly romantic moment and you're ruining it for me."
*   "I know I"m old enough to be his mother but when the Duck laid that kiss on me last night, I swear my thighs just went up in flames!  He must practice on melons or something."

Chic Chick Sounds:

Pretty in Pink's soundtrack is a delicious smorgasboard of what was then alternative new wave '80s punk.  Everything from OMD to Michael Hutchens to Nik Kershaw graced the soundtrack - - even Otis Redding makes an appearance!  Despite The Psychedelic Furs' cover track ("Pretty in Pink"), the biggest hit from the movie would be OMD's "If You Leave" which was played as the movie ended. 

Pretty in Pink completed Molly Ringwald's trifecta of stellar and commercially explosive (read: cha-ching!) John Hughes teen angst films.  This was the first film, however, that she played a "from the wrong side of the tracks" girl.  

The storyline itself is a retelling of Romeo & Juliet, but set at an Illinois high school.   Ringwald excels as she normally does, playing your Everyday Teen Girl in Love.  Who didn't want to be her friend back in the '80s?  Certainly this girl did.  Annie Potts is a hoot as Andie's boss and friend, Iona, James Spader is appropriately douchey as the self-centered and spoiled Steff and Andrew McCarthey is servicable as sweet but incredibly bland Blane.  The real standout is Jon Cryer as Duckie, in a role written for him (or so it seems). 

What makes this Romeo & Juliet retelling such a chick flick classic is that you want to root for the underdog.  Sure, we all know that Andie will end up with Blane (it is Hollywood, after all) but don't we all secretly want Andie to tell Blane they will always be friends but her heart is with Duckie?  If Pretty in Pink was set in college or beyond, we all know that Andie would choose Duckie.  Doubt me?  Check out Bridget Jones' Diary - - if Bridget was Andie, Daniel would be Blane and Mark Darcy and his jacked up reindeer jumpers would be Duckie.

Best parts of Pretty in PinkThe interaction between Andie and Duckie.  These two are best friends in every sense of the word, even if there are no romantic feelings on Andie's end. 

Worst parts of Pretty in PinkOkay, I have to say it.  I know it's a movie and I know movies sometimes have to be cliche, but the stereotyping of rich kids versus poor kids.  If Andie and her classmates were high school freshmen, I could see the severe cliques and teasing but high school seniors doing that?  Really? 

Spawns and Sequels:   Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) was essentially a remake of Pretty in Pink, set in an L.A. suburb, with the Andie character now being Keith, the Blane character now Amanda and the Duckie character now a female drummer named Watts.  Reportedly unhappy with the storybook ending of Pretty in Pink, John Hughes had the poor boy and poor girl end up together and the "richie" standing on her own.  Some Kind of Wonderful was significantly less successful than Pretty in Pink (and lacking the then super powers of Molly Ringwald) and faded out of theaters relatively quickly but has gained more perspective through cable showings and DVD release.

The Final Word:  While The Breakfast Club was essentially a bigger hit than Pink (grossing over $45 million versus $40 million in 1986 dollars), Pretty in Pink is the film that I would love to see a sequel to.  What would The Breakfast Club show us twenty plus years down the road?  John Bender on parole, Andrew Clark as Shermer High's gym teacher, Brian Johnson as a wildly successful Bill Gates type, Claire Standish unhappily married to the guy who knocked her up in college and Allison Reynolds as the crazy art teacher, possibly headed for rehab.  I would much rather see where Duckie is today, if Andie is still with Blane, and what a lowlife Steff is and how many wives he's gone through. 

Pretty in Pink just pulls the 80s together for me, in fashion and in music.  And Molly Ringwald proves that redheads can, indeed, wear pink.

Pretty in Pink  is available for purchase at major movie sellers, including Amazon.

The Women (1939)

The Women
Director:  Geoge Cukor
Writer(s):  Clare Booth Luce (play)
                 Anita Loos (screenplay)
Release Date:  September 1, 1939

Synopsis:  Be careful what you say in private. It could become a movie. Some gossip overheard by Clare Boothe Luce in a nightclub powder room inspired her Broadway hit that's wittily adapted for the screen in The Women. George Cukor directs an all-female cast in this catty tale of battling and bonding that paints its claws Jungle Red and shreds the excesses of pampered Park Avenue princesses. Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland and Paulette Goddard are among the array of husband snatchers, snitches and lovelorn ladies.

Flick Facts:  
*     There are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. 
*     Phyllis Povah, Marjorie Main, Mary Cecil and Marjorie Wood originated their roles in the play, which opened on 7 September 1937 and had 666 performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York.
*     In addition to its all-female cast, every animal that was used in the film (the many dogs and horses) was female as well. In addition, none of the works of art seen in the backgrounds were representative of the male form.
*     Myrna Loy and Greta Garbo were the only top-tier female stars at MGM who did not star in this film, although Loy was considered for the role of Crystal Allen.
*     Although uncredited, F. Scott Fitzgerald contributed to the writing of the screenplay.
*     The film debut of actress Butterfly McQueen (best known as Gone With thte Wind's Prissy)
*     Director George Cukor was fired as director of Gone With the Wind a month prior to the scheduled start of filming of The Women.

She Said, She Said:

*       "Don't confide in your girlfriends.  If you let them advise you, they'll see to it in the name of friendship that you lose your husband and your home."
*     "You know, the first man that can think up a good explanation how he can be in love with his wife and another woman is going to win that prize they are always giving out in Sweden." 
*     "There's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society . . . outside a kennel." 

While The Women can, and should be, a cringe-inducing nightmare for feminists, for those of us who appreciate sharp wit and classic old movies, The Women is a precious gem of a film, released in that cinematically overabundant year of 1939.  The mere fact that absolutely no males appear in the film at all, including the animals (and it's rumored that even books appearing on a bookshelf are those written by female authors only) qualifies this as a chick flick.  But what truly cements The Women its place in chick flick heaven is that this is a movie about men.  Nothing but men.  But from the female perspective. 

In a nutshell, Mary Haines has been happily married to Stephen for ten years.  She lives in the country (that would likely be Connecticut, since "the city" is New York) in  her lovely country home with ten year old daughter Mary (it was 1939, people), some horses, a dog named Sheba, a cook and a maid.  Yep, life looked pretty good for Mary.  Until her gossipy friend Sylvia (Mrs. Howard) Fowler overhears from chatty manicurist Olga that Stephen is stepping out on Mary.  Worse, Stephen is doing his cheating with perfume salesgal Crystal Allen.  In short order, Mary throws Stephen out, Stephen goes running to Crystal, Mary gets a divorce in Reno, Stephen marries Crystal, both Mary and Stephen realize they are miserable and end up together in the end.

Sounds incredibly elementary when it's broken down like that but this movie is chock full of witty cracks, barbs and stupendous supporting and character actresses.  Is it dated?  Sure.  How many of us can imagine staying at home, with a chef, a maid, a gardener and our most taxing event of the day getting a nail appointment?  Watching this movie, though, you can imagine!

Best parts of The Women:  The dialogue and the actresses.  I've already commented on how sharp the dialogue is - - this was when the censorship code was in effect so both Clare Booth Luce and Anita Loos made incredible use of the double entendre and hidden meanings.  The actresses, with support from director George Cukor, did a first rate job of pulling them off.   Rosalind Russell, as Sylvia, absolutely ran away with the show.  Not an easy feat when you've got Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and Marjorie Main, among others, up there with you.   Oh, and let's not forget about the Technicolor fashion show halfway through.  Definitely worth popping the popcorn on its own.

Worst parts of The Women:  Two, and for completely different reasons.  First, the character of Peggy O'Day.    She might have been true to her times but she came across as weak and a bit sniveling.  She's going to leave her husband because he won't let her have a job?  But then when she decides to go back, she's going "to do everything John says"?  Yuck.  Second, Norma Shearer.  Not that Ms. Shearer's portrayal wasn't good - - it was.  Unfortunately for her, this is the performance she's primarily remembered for . . . playing the wronged, almost saintly wife.  (Which also plays into her critic's rebukes that Shearer only became a star due to being Mrs. Irving Thalberg and the roles he bought her).  It's certainly not her best performance and a far cry from the amazing roles she had in the late '20s and early '30s but Shearer was well suited for the role.

Spawns and SequelsThe Opposite Sex (1956) was a musical remake with June Allyson taking over the Mary Haines part and Joan Collins stepping into Joan Crawford's heels.  Not even adding male actors to the film could save this stinker.
The Women (2008) went back to the tried and true formula -- no music and no men and some big names in the key roles. However, as cute as she's been in the past, Meg Ryan (herself a frequent chick flick flyer) just couldn't pull off Mary Haines and the whole film came across like a deflated balloon.

The Final WordThe Women  is one of my absolute favorite films of all time.  I have seen this movie so many times I have actually worn out a VHS tape of it.  No matter how many times you watch it, it still retains its freshness and humor.  And boy do I wish I could have been in that theater in 1939 when it premiered. 

The Women  may be purchased at major movie sellers, as well as at Amazon, at the following links.

The 2008 remake of The Women may be purchased at major movie sellers, as well as at Amazon, at the following links:

The Opposite Sex may be purchased at Amazon, at the following link: