based on true story, classic, film, must see

TV Movie Review: Brian’s Song

If you were to ask any critic what is the greatest television movie of all time is, there is a good chance they will say Brian’s Song. Premiering on ABC in their Movie of the Week specials in 1971, this true story film received widespread acclaim by critics and viewers alike, calling it not only a fantastic TV film, but one of the best sports movies of all time. I finally watched it about a year ago, and despite knowing what was going to happen I still shed tears. Spoilers ahead as always (and only because it is unavoidable.) I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

The new Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) arrives to team practice and quickly gets into a friendly rivalry with a fellow player and running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan). The two become roommates, which back then was unheard of, and eventually become friends. Sayers helps Piccolo with his game when he struggles and when Sayers goes down with an injury Piccolo helps him out with a weight machine. The two soon become more like brothers than friends as they play football and have families. However when Piccolo becomes a fullback and his performance on the field begins to falter, it is obvious that something is wrong. It is soon revealed by Coach George Halas (Jack Warden) that Brian has terminal cancer, specifically embryonal cell carcinoma. Sayers does what he can to make Brian feel better, but sadly Brian passes away at the age of 26. Sayers encourages their teammates and families to remember Brian not for how he died, but for how he lived.

Ok I know I gave away the ending, but don’t say I did not warn you in the beginning. Watching the friendship between Gale and Brian is still beautiful to watch. The two started off as rivals, it wasn’t forced that the two would become brothers by outside parties and even in the end Gale kept Brian alive in his heart. Billy Dee Williams and James Caan were perfect together, as was the rest of the cast, writing, cinematography and direction of the film. I can honestly say watching the scene were Gale first hears about Brian’s diagnosis as well as the speech is absolutely heartbreaking, I had seen that scene before I watched the movie and the look on Gale’s face gets me every time. The final moments of the film where we watch what may have been Gale’s final moments with Brian, as well as the narrator telling the audience what happened after Brian’s death, are some of the finest moments in an already amazing film. Brian’s Song won four out of the eight Emmys it was nominated for, including best supporting actor for Warden, single program, cinematography and the writing while Caan and Williams were nominated for their parts, as well as a nomination for best miniseries or television film at the Golden Globes. It was remade in 2001 with Sean Maher and Mekhi Phiffer as Brian and Sayers, but that is for another day (a very long wait on Netflix DVD so I’m hoping I can catch this stream wise soon). If you can find the original Brian;s song, whether it is DVD, streaming or on TV, I HIGHLY recommend watching it. Be prepared to have your heart broken, tears flowing and a ox or two of tissues gone by the end of the film.

classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Dirty Dancing

If you were to look up summer romance in a movie dictionary it would probably show a poster of this movie. Released in 1987 Dirty Dancing was as big of a hit back then as it is now being the first movie to sell a million copies when it was released on home video. With a matching hit soundtrack (while not considered a musical) Dirty Dancing is widely regarded as a must watch for young adults and I would not argue with it. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Taking place the summer of 1963 the Houseman family, Dr. Jake (Jerry Orbach), Marjorie (Kelly Bishop), Lisa (Jane Brucker) and Francis aka Baby (Jennifer Grey) are spending their vacation at Kellerman’s, a beautiful resort up in the Catskill Mountains. Baby wants to study economics in underdeveloped countries and go into the Peace Corps when she graduates high school while her parents want her to enjoy her summer like her sister who has already developed feelings for Robbie Gould (Max Cantor) a womanizing waiter. Meanwhile Baby develops a fascination for the dancing instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and soon a mutual attraction forms. When Johnny’s partner Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes) becomes pregnant by Robbie and he refuses to help her “take care of it”, Baby agrees to become Johnny’s partner for a dance routine. The two soon fall in love, but when they come back Penny is in deep trouble. Baby gets her father and he manages to save Penny; however he forbids Baby from seeing Johnny again, forcing the two young lovers to hide their relationship. About as far as I should go, but the ending is very famous.

I have seen this movie listed not only as one of the movies you have to watch before you die, but as one of the most popular films of all time, regardless of the decade. If people did not know who Jennifer Grey or Patrick Swayze were prior to this movie they were very well known after. It was hard after the movie for both of them to escape the Dirty Dancing spotlight. Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop were already huge Broadway stars and thankfully this film helped launch more mainstream careers. The rest of the cast does a remarkable job as well. The writing is very spot on (who hasn’t said “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”) as is the choreography by the legendary Kenny Ortega. Of course I cannot forget about the amazing soundtrack, featuring many hits from the 60’s as well as a few originals including “She’s Like The Wind” by Patrick Swayze, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen and finally the most famous of them all, the Golden Globe, Oscar and Grammy winning song “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” which I’m positive has put a lot of people in the hospital for trying to recreate that scene. This is one of my favorite films I have seen over the past few years and before someone asks no I did not watch the live ABC version last year nor was I even tempted to. There are certain movies I felt should not ever be remade and this was one of them; thankfully it seemed I made the right decision. If you have yet to watch Dirty Dancing, I implore you to watch the original version. While it may or may not be the time of your life (not sorry I did that), it is definitely a classic must watch.

classic, film, musical, must see

Classic Movie Review: West Side Story

Haven’t done a classic film review in some time and this one definitely fits the bill. Based on the 1957 musical and inspired by the famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, this 1961 musical is one of the most successful not just musicals but movies of all time; it still holds the record for most Academy Awards wins for a musical. If for some reason you haven’t watched West Side Story a spoiler alert is being issued. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

In 1957 Manhattan two gangs run the streets, the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The Jets leader Riff Lorton (Russ Tamblyn with Tucker Smith providing the singing voice for two songs) decides to challenge the Sharks leader Bernardo Nunez (George Chakiris who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this part) to a rumble at the upcoming dance. Riff insists his best friend Tony Wyzek (Richard Beymer with Jimmy Bryant as the singing voice) who left the Jets and has an honest job at a drug store join the Jets at the dance. Tony doesn’t want to, but after he says he feels something important will happen to him agrees to go. Meanwhile on the Sharks side Bernardo’s little sister Maria Nunez (Natalie Wood with Marni Nixon as the singing voice) talks with her best friend and the girlfriend of Bernardo Anita Palacio (Rita Moreno who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this part) that she does not like the man Bernardo brought to America for her to marry Chino (Jose DeVega). At the dance the gangs refuse to dance with the other. Tony and Maria look at each other from across the dance floor and instantly fall in love. Bernardo warns Tony to stay away from his sister as he agrees to a rumble with Riff. Tony and Maria plan to run away together, but their respective gangs may tear the new couple apart. I probably shouldn’t say any more but considering the material this was inspired by I’m sure it is not hard to figure out.

This is without a doubt one amazing musical is many ways. From the acting, writing, cinematography, songs; OK basically all. Don’t believe me, check out this fact. West Side Story was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10. Two of them were for acting as already stated, the other eight were for best cinematography, sound, music, film editing, costume, art direction, director and of course the biggest of them all Best Picture (it was nominated for best adapted screenplay and I can’t argue with the one that won). While Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were not nominated they were absolutely fantastic as the star crossed pair of Tony and Maria; they are often listed as one of the best couples of 1960 movies and musicals which shows how much chemistry they had as well as the incredible writing. George Chakiris and Rita Moreno are also adorable as Bernardo and Anita but they definitely earned their Oscars for their parts. The rest of the cast is just as good, but there is so much more than just the acting and writing. West Side Story has also been listed on five of the American Film Institute 100 Years lists: 100 movies, and the revived list, three songs on the 100 songs, 100 Passions and finally Greatest Movie Musicals.

The songs in West Side Story have gone down as not only some of the best Steven Sondheim numbers, but some of the best songs in musicals (film or Broadway). Here are some standouts: “Something’s Coming” by Tony before he goes to the dance, “Maria” by Tony shortly after he has met and fallen for Maria, “Tonight” by Maria and Tony confessing their love, and then later on a quintet with the Jets, Sharks, Anita, Maria and Tony as they get ready for the rumble, “America” by Anita, Bernardo and other members of the Sharks talking about the good and bad things about living in America for them, “I Feel Pretty” Maria’s number where she is happy to run off with Tony, “Somewhere” Tony and Maria’s somber duet planning to find their place where they can be together, “Cool” the Jets song after the rumble where talks of revenge begin to form and finally “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” Maria and Anita’s number after Anita catches Maria with Tony. There are more songs, but these are the ones any musical fan knows.

I have heard that Steven Spielberg is doing a remake of the movie and it is supposedly open casting. I won’t lie and say when I heard about this I was a little worried as I love this story (both the movie and the musical which I saw in 2009). However I know Spielberg has way more hits than misses so my concern is not as big, I just hope we have a great cast and writing; I do not know if it will be as good as this one, but I cannot wait to see it. Regardless if you are a musical fan, if you love great movies West Side Story has to be on your must watch list; I promise you will fall in love just as fast as Tony and Maria with West Side Story.

based on a book, classic, film

Movie Review: The Graduate

I have often told you guys, and I’m sure other people in your life have said “Oh you have got to watch this movie asap”, or “You haven’t seen this movie, why not it’s great?” No movie have I heard this more than this 1967 classic, based on the 1963 book by Charles Webb. Now don’t get me wrong I get why people like or even love The Graduate, but for me I did not like it as much as I thought I was going to. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has no idea what he is going to do in life. His parents share his accolades and at his graduation party many try to offer him advice, although it is obvious he is uncomfortable. Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) insist Benjamin drive her home after the party as her husband, Benjamin’s dad’s partner at his law firm, neglects her again. She invites Benjamin in for a drink and he soon realizes she is trying to seduce him. He tries to calmly reject her, but after his parents continue to pressure him he gives in to Mrs. Robinson’s advances. Benjamin’s parents and Mr. Robinson encourage him to spend time with Elaine (Katharine Ross), Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, but Mrs. Robinson tells Benjamin not too. However after discovering he has more in common with Elaine rather than Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin becomes conflicted between the woman he loves and the woman he is sleeping with. About as far as I should go, but the ending is kinda famous.

I finally DVR’d this movie about a year or two ago because many adults I know were pestering me to watch the movie. As I stated before I get why people like the movie. The writing, acting, directing (as it won the Oscar) and cinematography are fantastic and I do not deny that for a second, but maybe it is because I already knew what was gonna happen or the story bothered me when I first heard about it; either way I did not like this movie as much as thought (or others thought) I would. Without a doubt this might be the best roles or at least the roles most identified with the careers of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft as well as the start of a set of films where not a lot was left to the imagination. Many people who have watched the movie told me this was the start of more “sexy” movies. While I am positive there were real life stories not in the public eye, this might have been the star of the older women with younger men becoming more obvious, but don’t take my word for that. The Graduate has become an iconic film, it has been placed on the American Film Institution’s lists multiple times as best films, love stories, songs and at least two quotes on the best quotes of all time: “Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me” and “Plastics”. While I did not like the film too much if you were to ask me would I recommend The Graduate; while not must see without question yes.

classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Sunset Boulevard

While not quite a horror movie it is pretty scary and has gone down as a classic. Released in 1950 Sunset Boulevard is regarded as one of the best films of all time, as well as a very successful Broadway musical (well at least successful after Andrew Lloyd Webber got his hands on it). Spoilers ahead as always. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Joe Gillis (William Holden, nominated for an Oscar) is a screenwriter that is having strings of bad lucks after trying to sell his script to Paramount producer Sheldrake (Fred Clark) only to get rejected and criticized by script reader Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson, nominated for an Oscar). While avoiding guys trying to reposes his car Joe drives into what he thinks is an abandoned mansion. Joe hears a woman calling for him to come in to the house, mistaking him for someone else. He meets the woman and recognizes her: Nora Desmond (Gloria Swanson, nominated for an Oscar) a silent movie star who is basically forgotten about, although she doesn’t know it. Learning Joe is a writer Nora asks him to look at a script she has written for her return to film about Salome. Joe finds it horrible, but seeing an opportunity convinces Nora to hire him as a script doctor. Nora has Joe move in so she can keep an eye on him while her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim nominated for an Oscar) explains to Joe that Nora has basically refused the fact that her spotlight has faded, and any attempts to tell her has forced her to attempt suicide. Joe works with Norma on her script, but soon becomes uncomfortable with her constant need for attention; however any attempts he makes to get away she pulls him back in. About as far as I can go without spoiling the rest of the movie, but I will say this ends about as well as you think it is going to.

This was a movie I had heard about for many years prior to watching it, mostly the two famous lines by Nora Desmond. If you know movie quotes these two lines may seem familiar: “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small” when Joe tells Nora she used to be a big star (and to be fair a clue of how nuts this woman is) and finally the last scene and final line by Nora “All right Mr. DeMille I’m ready for my close-up” when Nora’s sense of reality is gone. The writing and acting are some of the best I have seen in any movie, hence why it has so many accolades. Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning three for its writing, art/set direction and music. It is also one of very few films to have nominations for all four acting categories but not to win (and I would say it is a shame but I can’t argue with who won that year). If you have not watched Sunset Boulevard I would highly recommend it, but be prepared for crazy.

based on a book, classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

One of the most classic films of the 1960’s, and still stands the test of time today. Released in 1961 and based on Truman Capote’s novel, while the film is not perfect, and does have some controversy to it, Breakfast at Tiffany’s will probably go down as the most iconic role for Audrey Hepburn. Spoilers ahead as always. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn nominated for an Oscar for this part) is a bit of a socialite in New York; going on dates, having parties and wearing the most elegant clothes including a little black dress in the opening shot where the audience sees her eating a bun and drinking coffee looking into the windows at Tiffany’s. She tries to make a habit of not letting anyone get close to her, not even her cat whom she just calls cat. One day after evading a man she met on a bad date she meets her neighbor Paul Varjak (George Peppard) a writer. The two develop a bond over time (Holly even calls him Fred due the resemblance of her brother in the army) as Holly observes his relationship with one of their neighbors he calls 2E, Mrs. Emily Eustace Failenson (Patricia Neal) and Paul sees Holly’s relationship with men over money, as well as her agent O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam). However it is obvious Holly and Paul’s bond has become more than friendship. About as far as I can go without giving away the rest of the movie.

As I said before the film is not without controversy. Holly and Paul’s landlord is Mr. Yunioshi, who is supposed to be Japanese, but was played by Mickey Rooney with a prosthetic mouth piece and make-up. Back then and now this was a bad move and Rooney as well as producer Richard Shepherd have apologized repeatedly for it saying if they could have changed it they would, but director Blake Edward wanted to keep Rooney. Still a very bad decision.

Other that that I still enjoyed the movie. Hepburn was already a huge star prior to this film but I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s will forever go down as her best and most iconic role, I know Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part based on how Holly was described in the book and felt double crossed when Monroe turned the part down and Hepburn was cast, but I wonder what he thought of the results later. Hepburn and Peppard have great chemistry together and seeing them fall in love is very adorable. There are two things from the movie about Hepburn that stand out besides her performance; of course I am talking about her style and her song. The costumes in this movie are some of the finest I’ve seen, nearly every woman I know has that little black dress in their closet inspired in a way by Hepburn’s dress in the beginning. My final point is Hepburn’s song, and the song that won the Oscar for Best Original Song as well as the Grammy, “Moon River”. Hepburn performs the singing herself and when an executive wanted the song cut from the film she said, among other words “Over my dead body!” Thankfully the song was kept in and it became a humongous hit. There have been many covers of the song including Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin and Melissa Benoist on the Flash/Supergirl cross-over among many other great covers. I know there was a short lived Broadway musical as well as play, but neither lasted very long or were critically successful. If you have not watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s I would highly recommend watching this movie as soon as humanly possible.

classic, film, high school films, musical, must see

Movie Review: Grease

To call this one of the most successful musicals of all time would be a HUGE understatement. Released in 1978, Grease was a big Broadway musical for many years before it hit the big screen. After countless revivals, high school productions, a live TV special and so much more Grease proves after 40 years it is still the word. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

In 1958 Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olson (Olivia Newton-John) have had the ultimate sweet summer romance and both are sad when it ends, believing Sandy is going back to Australia. Fast forward to the first day of school at Rydell High Danny reunites with his friends, a greaser group called the T-Birds: Doody (Barry Pearl) the eccentric one, Sonny (Michael Tucci) the trouble maker and wannabe womanizer, “Putzie” (Kelly Ward) the one who doesn’t really know about girls and Kenickie (Jeff Conway) Danny’s best friend. Danny, after they persist him about it, tells them about the girl he “hooked up” with in the summer with some very juicy details. Meanwhile Sandy, whose parents decided to stay, transfers to Rydell and soon becomes friends with the girl group at the school, The Pink Ladies. The group consists of “Frenchy” (Didi Cohen) an aspiring beautician and the first one to be nice to Sandy, Marty (Dinah Manoff) who has many “boyfriends” and constantly draws attention, Jan (Jamie Donnelly) the very quirky member and finally Rizzo (Stockard Channing) who doesn’t like Sandy’s good girl persona. Sandy’s story about her summer romance is full of pureness and love. When Rizzo finds out it was Danny (who she has a history with) Sandy fell in love with, she makes sure they meet as soon as possible, and Danny is forced to act like a jerk to Sandy in front of his friends. Danny and Sandy must decide whether they are meant to be with Danny’s bad boy attitude and Sandy’s good girl ideals. Meanwhile other romances begin within the group: Rizzo and Kenickie have a very rocky relationship (both not willing to admit their relationship is more than just physical), Sonny tries to woo Marty, who is most definitely not interested, Putzie and Jan begin to bond as do Sonny and Frenchy. Outside of the love stories the T-Birds have to suit up Kenickie’s car “Greased Lightning” for a big race at Thunder road against their rivals the Scorpions.

If you have yet to experience Grease then you do not know what you are missing. Sandy and Danny’s love story is one of the most romantic brought on screen as well as stage. Both are willing to change who they are to be with the other, while not completely giving in to the society around them. They know who they are and even if they change a little along the way it is their choice. I know many say Sandy completely changed who she was at the end, but if you listen to the lyrics in the song she also demands Danny change as well. The other love stories are also cute to watch, it almost makes me wonder if these relationship did work out in the end (the nostalgia part of me hopes so but the realistic part of me says probably not). The story, characters and writing are some of the finest on screen, although you can clearly tell these actors are nowhere close to being in or fresh out of high school. John Travolta is amazing as Danny, his singing is way better than I give him credit for. Olivia Newton-John is so perfect as Sandy and her voice is angelic. While Stockard Channing was most definitely not close enough to be a high school student, her performance as Rizzo is solid, as is her singing. Jeff Conway is incredible as Kenickie, and is a very fine dancer. The rest of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are amazing as well, not to mention the teachers and fellow students at Rydell. Of course I can’t forget about Frankie Avalon as the Teen Angel Frenchy needed.

The soundtrack of Grease is among the best not just on screen but on stage. Several songs from the musical made its way to the movie, but there were some written just for the movie; regardless most of the songs have gone down as some fantastic and fabulous numbers. The opening number “Grease” is the animated opening sequence introducing many of the characters and the crew. “Summer Nights” is sung by Danny and Sandy about their summer love, but both are telling completely different stories. “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” is Rizzo’s song making fun of Sandy’s good girl attitude which makes Rizzo annoyed at her. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” is Sandy’s song as she laments over finding out who Danny is among his friends and if she should still care (this song was nominated for an Oscar). “Greased Lightning” is the big dance number with the T-Birds (can we get a round of applause for the choreography in this number?) “Sandy” is Danny lamenting about how miserable he is without Sandy. “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” is Rizzo’s song about how what she does could be worse, while also lamenting on what she feels for Kenickie. “You’re The One That I Want” is sung by Danny and Sandy as both declare their love for each other and how they have made each other for the better. The final number “We Go Together” is the T-Birds and Pink Ladies vowing to remain friends or more once they graduate high school.

This is one amazing musical that I strongly believe will last for very long time; it is one of my personal favorite films of all time. There was a sequel for Grease, but it doesn’t star most of the original cast and from what I’ve heard it is a do not watch. A LIVE TV special was aired a few years ago, but that might be a story for another day. As stated previously if you have not seen Grease mark it down as a must watch immediately.