based on a book, classic, film, must see

Movie Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

On this day 58 years ago a novel came out that changed American literature forever; even winning a Pulitzer Prize for the author Harper Lee. Two years later the film adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird came out on Christmas Day, and much like the novel was a huge success. This is actually my mother’s favorite book and for a very long time did her best to convince me to watch the film. I eventually did, and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film here is the spoiler alert. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Over the course of three years during the 1930’s Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout (Mary Badham, nominated for an Oscar for her part) and her brother Jeremy Atticus Finch aka “Jem” (Phillip Alford) discover their (fictional) town of Maycomb, AL is not as good as it appears to be. They spend their days playing outside with their friend Dill (John Megna) and spying on their neighbor Arthur Radley aka “Boo” (Robert Duvall) who has not stepped out of his house in years; the town has multiple horrible stories on why that is. Scout and Jem live with their widowed father (whom they call by his first name by his request) Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck who won an Oscar for his part), the town lawyer who believes people should be treated fairly regardless of their background. Atticus defends many people in town and if they have little money takes in produce instead. Atticus is assigned a case where he defends Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) a black man accused of raping and beating Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox) a white woman. Atticus does what he can to protect Tom; including sleeping outside his cell to stop a mob from lynching him which Scout inadvertently stops when she recognizes one of the men Atticus takes produce from. However Scout and Jem face problems in school because of their father’s actions. When the trial (which Scout and Jem watch from the rafters) begins Atticus sets out to prove Tom couldn’t have committed the rape; among the evidence is Tom’s left arm is crippled, but Mayella claimed he used his left hand to chock her out. Atticus points out that Mayella’s father Bob (James Anderson) is left handed and she never went to a doctor to confirm her story of rape. Unfortunately, despite Atticus’s best efforts (including an incredible closing argument Peck shot in one take) the verdict seemed to be in before the trail began. This is about as far as I should go without spoiling the rest of the movie.

To call this an absolute classic would be an understatement. Everything from the acting, writing (which the movie follows close if not exactly like the book), cinematography and even shooting the film in black and white was nothing less than phenomenal. Peck was, and is still considered to be, one of the finest actors to ever grace the big screen and this is arguably his best known role. Atticus is often listed as one of the best fictional characters ever created, and it would be very hard to argue otherwise. Mary Badham’s performance as Scout is remarkable as she grows up; at first not understanding what is happening (often escalating to fighting or talking to Atticus), but eventually comes to terms with it. Phillip Alford is fantastic as big brother Jem as he explains what is happening to Scout as well as protecting her. Brock Peters is great as Tom Robinson and the rest of the cast is wonderful; interesting fact this was Robert Duvall’s first credited film role. The film won three Oscars: Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Art Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay, while it was nominated for Best Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Supporting Role, Score and Picture. It has also been on multiple American Film Institute 100 lists: Atticus Finch as the #1 hero, #17 of film scores, #2 on 100 Cheers, top 10 Courtroom Drama films at #1 #34 on the 100 movies list and finally moving up to #25 on the 10th Anniversary 100 Movies list.

I would call To Kill a Mockingbird a must watch especially if you are reading the book for school; although do not use it for a book report your teacher will know. Even if you are not, or have not, read the book the film is still an amazing work and a big recommendation from me.

based on a book, based on true story, film

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

If you read my post about the best films to watch on the Fourth of July you would have seen this 2016 film among the list. I don’t want to call this film a surprise hit because it was very good, but I admit I did not expect the film to succeed as much as it did. Nonetheless Hidden Figures, based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells the remarkable true stories about three brilliant women and their contributions during the Space Race. As always spoilers will be ahead. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Beginning in 1961 Katherine Globe (Taraji P. Henson), a brilliant mathematician (and single mom of three girls) works at Langley Research Center as a human computer along with her friends Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who wants to be an engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this part) a supervisor albeit unofficial. Despite all three women being incredibly smart and gifted, they are segregated because of their skin color and gender.

At this time pressures to send Americans into space continues to grow. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) assigns Katherine to a space task group headed by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) to make it possible. Katherine faces a lot of discrimination from her teammates, particularly Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), but when she solves a seemingly impossible problem Harrison includes her in on meetings and even removes the bathroom sign saying whites only after discovering she has to walk to another building to use the bathroom; also at this time Katherine falls in love and marries Lt. Col Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali). Dorothy is denied the position of supervisor, despite basically holding the job without the pay. She soon discovers IBM electronic computers are being installed and may soon replace human computers (putting many out of work). Not going to let that stand Dorothy teaches herself, and her co-workers, how the computers work and earns her place as a supervisor. Mary begins working on the space capsule heat shield and notices an immediate flaw. With the encouragement of her supervisor and her husband Levi (Aldis Hodge) she submits a request for an official engineering position and begins to work on getting her engineering degree; however the only school to make that possible is an all-white school which she must go to court for. The women also meet the astronaut that will go up into space John Glenn (Glen Powell). About as far I should go without giving away the rest of the movie.

When I first saw the trailers for Hidden figures I thought “this looks good, I hope this does well.” Boy did it exceed my expectations. Henson, Spencer and Monáe are absolutely fabulous as the trio of women who are not going to anything or anyone get in their way; not gonna lie and say I wasn’t cheering for them when I was watching the movie in theaters by silently clapping and whispering “you go girl” a lot. I was also very impressed with Costner and Ali’s performances in this film. Dunst and Parsons were as well great as they eventually released how ignorant they were being towards the woman; which probably wasn’t easy for them to admit. The writing and cinematography was excellent, but my favorite part was at the end when it is revealed just what an impact Katherine Johnson had on NASA for years after the first mission. Now the film, like others based on true stories, is not 100 percent accurate; which is why I recommend reading the book before watching the film. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Spencer, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, nominated for two Golden Globes (Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Score and winning the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for its outstanding cast (Spencer was also nominated for her role.) While I might not call this a must see right this minute, Hidden Figures is a fantastic historical drama movie and I would highly recommend watching it whenever you can.

based on a book, classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Forrest Gump

On this day in 1994 the world was introduced to one of the most beloved characters in film. Based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump has become an absolute phenomenon; no matter how young or old you are this will always be a favorite of any generation. If for some reason you haven’t watched Forrest Gump, here is the spoiler alert. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks who won an Oscar for the part with Michael Connor Humphreys as the younger version) is waiting for a bus in 1981 and tells sttangers how he got to this point. He talks about his first day of school in 1951, his mother (Sally Field) was very adamant about his education despite others pointing out his leg braces and very low intelligence; Mrs. Gump tells Forrest that he is the same as everybody else and to not let anyone say otherwise. The other students make fun of Forrest, except for one; Jenny Curran (Robin Wright and Hanna R. Hall as a child). Forrest immediately loves Jenny and throughout hid life never stops. His mother opens their home as a boarding house and Forrest inadvertently inspires a truck driver with his hip thrusting attempts at dancing (yep, Elvis Presley). Forrest eventually breaks his leg brace and becomes very fast, which helps when he outruns bullies; with Jenny telling him “Run Forrest, run.” He becomes a big football star at the University of Alabama because of his running; even meeting President John F. Kennedy. Forrest would then enlist in the army and befriends a man named Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). They plan to open up a shrimping company when they get discharged. Forrest and Bubba get shipped off to Vietnam where they meet Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise nominated for an Oscar for this part). During an ambush Forrest gets shot in the butt but saves the members of his platoon; Dan loses his legs and is depressed for a majority of the film (Forrest does later pull him out of his funk) while Bubba is killed. Forrest kerps his promise to Bubba; he opens a shrimping company along with Dan. Forrest reunites with Jenny many times in the movie, but because of her issues has trouble committing to Forrest despite loving him as much as he loves her. Probably as far as I should go without spoiling the rest of the film.

What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? It is a true cinematic masterpiece. Tom Hanks is one of the best actors to ever grace a camera and, this probably goes without saying, Forrest Gump is one of his most iconic roles. Forrest is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his heart more than makes up for it. Robin Wright shines as Jenny, the woman with a bad past but always had Forrest’s heart. Admittedly Forrest and Jenny’s love story feels a little one-sided, but it’s still lovely to watch. Sally Field is fabulous as Mrs. Gump; she’s caring, tough and, if I may be so bold, probably one of the best mothers on film or television. Gary Sinise is so good as Lt. Dan (he was nominated for an Oscar for the part). Iloved Williamson as Bubba; I can listen to him talk about shrimp all day.

The casting isn’t the only part I loved about Forrest Gump. I’m absolutely positive everyone enjoyed the pop culture references throughout the movie (John Lennon, Watergate, Apple and so much more.) The writing, cinematography and even the visual effects placing Forrest with the famous people is great. Forrest Gump won six Oscars including Best Actor for Hanks, Director, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Writing for an Adapted Screenplay and the biggest of them all Best Picture; it was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Sinise, art direction, cinematography, make-up and hair, score, sound and sound editing. The movie was also included on multiple American Film Institute top lists: Top 100 Quotes at #40 “Mama always said ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”, 100 Cheers at #37, Top 100 movies at #71 and finally the 10th Anniversary edition at #76. To call this a must watch would be a big understatement. Grab your own box of chocolates, sit down and watch this classic Tom Hanks film.

based on true story, film, musical, must see

Movie Review: Walk The Line

I was re-watching the teaser trailer for the upcoming Freddie Mercury film, Bohemian Rhapsody, with a friend the other day. I said how much I was looking forward to watching it and before we knew it the conversation shifted to other musical biographical films we loved. The one film we both agreed on was this 2005 award winning movie about one of the greatest country singers of all time, and the woman that changed his life. As always a spoiler alert is being issued. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix, nominated for an Oscar for his part) had a tough life growing up after the death of his brother Jack. He would enlist in the Air Force in 1950 and be stationed in West Germany. Having always loved singing Johnny would purchase a guitar in 1952 and begin writing songs just to find solace; one of the songs being “Folsom Prison Blues”. Johnny would later marry his girlfriend Vivian Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin) and had four children with her while working as a door to door salesman. Music still kept calling Johnny and, after organizing a band, would perform and earn a contract for Sun Records, owned by Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts). While touring, Johnny meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon who won an Oscar for her part). The two develop a close bond; with Johnny quickly falling in love for her. Despite feeling the same way (and divorcing two husbands with one child each throughout the course of the movie), June refuses to be with Johnny; even after they have a passionate night together. In addition to the rejection Johnny begins abusing drugs and alcohol and his performance begins to become affected. Johnny would later be arrested for purchasing drugs and, in addition to noticing how close Johnny and June are, Vivian divorces him. June, after pleas from his mother, helps Johnny get back on his feet and the two finally begin a relationship; it inspires June to write perhaps Cash’s most famous song “Ring of Fire”. Johnny discovers most of his fans are prisoners and decides to record a live concert album inside one of the prisons; specifically Folsom Prison despite the protests from the record producers. The album would become a huge success and Johnny and June would later marry; the film concludes with him famously proposing on stage and her accepting.

I know I probably gave away a lot of the film, but everything is a part of music history. Johnny Cash is one of the most successful country artists of all time and, if I may say, one of the most unique voices I’ve heard. His story is something to watch on screen. I thought then as I do now that Joaquin Phoenix was perfect as Cash; while I think he looked more like Elvis rather than Cash his performance made up for it. The true standout of the film is Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. While I think her role as Elle Woods will go down as her most iconic part, when it comes to acting I think Walk the Line has been Reese’s best role to date; winning multiple awards including the Golden Globe and Oscar. The chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is infectious as was the real love between Johnny and June (of course there was a lot of drama getting to that happy ending.) Walk The Line was also nominated for four other Oscars including Best Actor, Costume, Film Editing and Sound. Being a musical there has to be a great soundtrack to go with it; and this Grammy winning album did not disappoint. Phoenix and Witherspoon provided their own singing and I have to admit I was surprised to hear how good they were; while they did not sound exactly like Johnny and June it came pretty close. While I am not certain how accurate the film is I would say Walk the Line is one heck of a drama/musical biographical movie. If you enjoy those movies put this on the must watch list.

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, 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, 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 were 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 box or two of tissues gone by the end of the film.


Movie Review: Beyond The Lights

A not very well known film, which I find sad; it has some pretty good performances. Released in 2014, Beyond the Lights shows that even when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulder, a little bit of love can go a very long way. Spoilers ahead as always.

Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the newest and hottest pop star in the music business, having been pushed into super-stardom by her ambitious mother Macy (Minnie Driver). Despite her success before she has even dropped an album, Noni is feeling the pressure to succeed and it is consuming her. One night she heads to a balcony ready to end her life, until she is saved by police officer, who has his own ambitions, Kaz Nicoli (Nate Parker). The two are immediately drawn to each other and begin a relationship. However the two young lovers may be torn apart because of their families (specifically her mother and his father and police captain David Nocli (Danny Glover)), ambitions and the public. About as far as I should go without giving away the rest of the movie, but keep an eye out for Machine Gun Kelly as well.

Now this is not the best romantic drama movie I’ve seen, but it is an interesting story. Imagine having everything in the world like Noni has, but it is too much for her, and then her guardian angel in Kaz arrives (and looking very fine in uniform if I may say so.) Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a true shining star and I have loved her in every movie I’ve seen her in; she has something in her performance that I just enjoy. Nate Parker is amazing as Kaz; he and Raw have such great chemistry together. Driver and Glover are great as the overprotective parents as are the rest of the characters in the movie. The songs are pretty good, writing is decent (the performances make up for it) and the movie itself while not must see is a good watch. I think this was on Netflix streaming a while ago, not as of this date I think but that might just be in my area, but I know this airs on TV every now and then. I would definitely DVR when it is on, but in my opinion, there are a few other romantic drama films worth watching more than this.

classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Casablanca

You ask any film critic what is the greatest film of all time and I guarantee most if not all of them will say this 1942 film. From its wonderful script, once in a lifetime performances, beautiful cinematography to its beautiful story Casablanca is everything the critics say and more. As always spoilers will be ahead. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

During World War II many traveled to Casablanca in order to find transportation to the then neutral United States, however those who did not have papers saying so could be arrested or worse. A petty crook brags about killing two German officers in order to get letters of transport but gets it to bitter nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) before he is arrested and dies in protective custody under the command of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). Rick attempts to remain neutral despite his past in previous wars, but becomes involved after the reason for his bitterness is revealed. Years ago Rick fell in love with a woman believed to be a widow named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Berman) and the two have a passionate relationship. However she left without explanation one day and he’s been a bitter person since. Until now that Ilsa has returned along with her not so dead husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) trying to escape to America from German Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt). Despite being extremely bitter Rick agrees to help as he still loves Ilsa, and she still loves him. About as far as I should go without spoiling the rest of the film, but the ending is very famous.

What can I say about Casablanca that has not already been said by basically everyone that has watched the movie? It is one of the best movies of all time (if not the absolute best); Bogart and Berman are amazing as the leads. Rains and Henreid are fantastic supporting actors along with the rest of the cast. The writing, cinematography, location; all the little tiny details are spot on perfect, which should not surprise you when I say this won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay while nominated for Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing and Music. In fact the film is listed on multiple American Film Institute top 100 lists: 100 movies at #2 and in the 10th Anniversary at #3, Thrills at #37, Passions at #1, Cheers at #32, Heroes for Rick at #4, Songs for “As Time Goes By” at #2 and finally SIX quotes more than any other film on the lists in Best Movie Quotes: #67 “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”, #43 We’ll always have Paris”, #32 “Round up the usual suspects”, #28 “Play it Sam, Play “As Time Goes By””, #20 “Louie I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and #5 “Here’s looking at you kid” (which Bogart improvised a lot). What are you still reading this for? Go watch Casablanca now!