The Happy Past

Forrest Gump

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If anyone asks me how is the IMAX experience of Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” I will not hesitate to say: “I don’t care if I have to watch it on a Black-and-White television set or a portable DVD player. I care about how big of a miracle the movie is.”

“Forrest Gump” may be the best movie Robert Zemeckis has ever made, even better than “Back to the Future” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This movie introduces us to a character we will always cherish. That character is none other than Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks plays that character in many indescribable ways, including two memorable quotes: “My mama always said: “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” and “My mama always said: “Stupid is as stupid does.” These two quotes are exceedingly inspiring.

The movie starts off in 1982 with Gump, a mentally disabled man, waiting at the bus stop, telling many strangers about his life story. How he fell in love with Jenny (Robin Wright), how he took his mother’s (Sally Field) lessons in life, how he fought in the Vietnam War, how he met the US Presidents (with the miracle of special effects), how he became the greatest runner and ping-pong player, and how he created “Bubba Gump Shrimp,” which has become the famous chain restaurant we know and love.

We are also introduced to Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson), who decides to go in the “Bubba Gump Shrimp” business with Gump, before he gets killed in the Vietnam War. And also, there’s Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), who would have died with honor in the war if Gump hadn’t saved him. With Bubba dead, he ends up joining Gump on the famous shrimp journey.

“Forrest Gump,” based on the novel by Winston Groom, is a movie makes me smile, makes me sad, and then makes me smile again. It is a movie in which I find a difficult time believing that anyone could be critical of this movie. Lots of credit goes to Hanks, Wright, Williamson, Sinise, Field, Groom, Eric Roth (who wrote screenplay), and Zemeckis. All of these people are part of a landmark of a movie, a movie that deserves to be seen by everyone, young and old.

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Memento

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I’ve originally watched Christopher Nolan’s 2001 thriller “Memento” as part of a college course at Brookdale Community College in 2011. At that time, I wasn’t as excited about it, because of how backwards the movie went. Meaning: the ending was at the beginning. But on their Best of 2001 list, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper both explained how that idea works, and the more I’ve aged, the more anticipated I was to watch it again.

The movie is based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Christopher’s brother Jonathan Nolan. Since it goes backwards, I can’t really tell you how it starts, because I’d be giving awayΒ the story. But I can tell you this: Leonard (Guy Pearce) has a condition, which prevents him from making new memories, and the last thing he remembers is his wife (Jorja Fox) getting raped and murdered. Ever since, he is out to find her killer, and in order to keep his puzzle in tact, he must take pictures with written notes on them, andΒ havingΒ tattoos all over his body.

What a cast! We have Carrie Ann Moss as a bartender, who helps Leonard find his killer, if he drives a man named Dodd out of town; Joe Pantoliano as a sleazy cop, whom Leonard shouldn’t believe (photo of him says: “Teddy. Don’t Believe His Lies”); and Stephen Tobolowsky as another anterograde amnesiac, whose wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) ponders on whether or not he is faking his condition. Leonard recalls him in the black and white segments, which move forward.

“Memento” is a thriller so unique, it deserves to be seen more than once. Before “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Interstellar,”Β Christopher Nolan has outdone himself by explaining the plot in reverse order, while making sure we grasp the movie’s concept. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is great with or without colors, David Julyan’s music is memorable, and Dody Dorn’s editing brings it all together.

Pearce gives his best performance as man investigating the people around him, and forgetting what he did the previous moment/day, depending on how long the memory lasts. Moss is fantastic, especially the scene when, out of anger, she insults his dead wife, knowing he would just forget what she said in an instant. And Pantoliano is perfectly cast Β as the sleazeball, Leonard knows or doesn’t truly know. I’m glad to give this movie another go, and doing so, I have seen the light.

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The Shawshank Redemption

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It is time for me to come clean. The first time I became familiar with the premise of “The Shawshank Redemption” was when Peter Griffin and Cleveland Brown spoofed Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman’s characters on a “Family Guy” episode.

Then on television, I saw the actual movie with my mother, and it is phenomenal with a capital “P.” The film is directed by Frank Darabont (“The Green Mile”), and is based on Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”

Set in 1947, the movie focuses on Andy Dufresne (Robbins), who is convicted of murdering his wife (Renee Blaine) and her lover (Scott Mann). He is sentenced to 2 consecutive life sentences at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he befriends an Irish African American prisoner named Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Freeman), who plays the film’s narrator.

Dufresne makes a few enemies, including the vicious Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), who he agrees to help him with his tax situation in exchange for beer for his co-workers; Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), who begins to loathe him; and a group of “bull queer” men known as the “Sisters” (lead by Mark Rolston), who constantly attack Dufresne.

Other than Red, he makes a few companions like Brooks Hatlin (James Whitmore), an elderly convict who runs the prison library, and Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows), who is convicted for stealing television sets at a J.C. Penny. Dufresne and Red both fantasize about their freedom, and how they dealt with things in life and prison.

“The Shawshank Redemption” has a powerful script and memorable performances from Robbins, Freeman, Gunton, Brown, Bellows, and Whitmore. This film is on par with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which had realistic performances, a demonic villain, and the right potential. In addition, the last half hour will leave you gasping for breathe, and you would pretty surprised by it.

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The Graduate

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“The Graduate” from 1967 is one of the most risquΓ© and innovating coming-of-age movies I have ever seen. It is something to behold, something to process, and something to talk about. It’s the kind of movie I’d like to call plain and simple. If most movies nowadays could be like “The Graduate” without all those cliches, then that would be swell, but apparently most of them can’t.

Dustin Hoffman, in one of his first movie roles, is beyond words as Benjamin Braddock, a 20-going-on-21 grad student, who has just got his Bachelor’s Degree at Williams College, but has no idea what he plans to do in the future. Then, one night, he reluctantly takes his father’s law partner’s wife Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) home, and being in an unhappy marriage, begins to seduce him.

They even start to spend time together in a hotel, until her daughter Eliane (Katharine Ross) comes home from Berkeley. She tells Benjamin not to see her daughter, but he reluctantly goes on a date with her, and he starts to fall for her. Get ready for the last half of the film, which must be seen to be believed.

Directed by Mike Nicholas and based on the book by Charles Webb, “The Graduate” doesn’t go too far like most sappy love stories are these days. It breaks form, by making dramatic situations both comical and easy. For example, when Eliane screams at Benjamin, the sound of her scream is quite funny. Never once does it get irritating. Not only that, but the music of Simon & Garfunkel help liven the scenes up or keep them on a mellow pace. The best songs to represent those scenes are “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Sounds of Silence,” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.”

I love the ways Hoffman struggles to adapt to his situation, and in the end, is able to overcome it. He is fantastic in the role. Bancroft is also stern and sinister as Mrs. Robinson, who likes Benjamin as her lover, and not a suitor for her daughter. And Ross is flat-out amazing. No matter what happens, it never condescends in the coming-of-age genre, and goes to great lengths to keep the audience involved. Long after the movie was over, I was smiling.

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North by Northwest

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Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” is something that most romantic thrillers these days can’t seem to grasp on. It involves mistaken identity, murder, femme fatales, and mystery. If you try to remake this movie, then it will probably end up like Guy Ritchie’s “Swept Away” or Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho,” and I saw none of those dreadful remakes.

From what I am told, this movie is based on true events. British Intelligence created a fake agent in order make the Germans run around in circles, during WWII. And that’s how the following premise came into effect.

Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornbill, a NY advertising executive, who is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan by two men, and taken to an estate, where he is interrogated by Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). He wants to know what he knows, but he tries to tell him they got the wrong man. Then they drug him, leaving him being charged for DWI. And when he finds the man he thought he was interrogated by (Philip Ober), he now ends up wrongfully accused of murder.

Now, Roger must head to Chicago to find this so called George, and on the train, he meets a seductive young woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who may or may not be involved with this whole game.

“North by Northwest” isn’t irritating or stressful, unlike most thrillers these days. Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman both add the kind of mystery, thrills, and humor to keep you entertained from start to finish. The crop duster plane chase, the Mount Rushmore dodging, and the blank guns; all of these keep you at bay, and are great to look at and feel, too.

You couldn’t ask for finer acting from Grant with the right intentions, Saint with the radiant passion, or Mason with the fresh kind go villainy. I can’t forget Leo G. Carroll’s charming supporting role of the head of the government agency, who knows that this George character is fake. And I hope you can find Martin Landau as Vandamm’s main henchman, because he is both riveting and scary. If today’s generation hasn’t seen “North by Northwest” yet, then please do so.

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Rebel Without a Cause

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From 1955, comes “Rebel Without a Cause,” the kind of adolescent movie, which works wonders, unlike most teen movies these days. It features a troubled kid, who wants to do better, but always places himself in predicaments. This movie came out a month right after the star Jimmy Dean died in a car accident, but he does things you wouldn’t believe in “Rebel Without a Cause.” This movie is unbelievable in every way possible.

The movie features three main characters with family problems of their own. Jim Stark (Dean) comes from a bickering family, his dream girl Judy (Natalie Wood) feels her father doesn’t show her the love he gave to her as a little girl, and his friend Plato (Sal Mineo) has absent parents.

Jim ends up dealing with tough guy Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen), who calls him “chicken,” a word he hates to called upon, and challenges him to a chicken run, in which they drive two cars off a cliff. Whoever gets out of their car first is a chicken. Of course, Jim gets out, but Buzz ends up meeting his demise, and Jim feels guilty.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is the kind of teen drama that I often fail to find these days. This one features a screw-up, yet well-meaning figure, and Dean gives an outstanding performance as that screw-up. Wood is delightful and open-minded, and this movie features her in the right place, a place I wish “The Edge of Seventeen” could have complied on. And Mineo is a natural as Plato, and his final conclusion is promising. Written and directed by Nicholas Ray, there is nothing condescending or boring about this movie.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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I’ve decided to travel back in time to see Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And I have to tell you: this ranks with some of the absolute best Sci-Fi pictures the American cinema has ever crafted.

In Muncie, Indiana, toys and TV sets automatically turn on, blackouts occur, and mailboxes and refrigerators go on the fritz. Why? Because alien ships decide to pass by. And it’s not just in Indiana. A cargo ship is found in the Gobi Desert, and the people of India are chanting the ship’s musical signal. In fact, the government is buzzing over it.

Richard Dreyfus plays an electrical lineman named Roy, who comes across the flying saucers, and his wife (Teri Garr) thinks he’s crazy, especially when he begins attacking her garden in order to build a symbol he just encountered. It’s not just him. There’s also a single mother named Jillian (Melinda Dillion), whose three-year-old boy Barry (Cary Guffey) gets abducted by the aliens. They must team up to get answers, and Roy ends up being interrogated by a French scientist (the late Francois Truffaut) and his American interpreter (Bob Balaban), especially since the military crafts up a false gas leak in order to prevent witnesses. “Witnesses of what?,” you may ask. Witnesses of their communication to the aliens.

Most Sci-Fi movies these days, like “Independence Day” or “Jupiter Ascending” (ugh), relay on wall-to-wall CGI effects and tasteless characters to tell a story. But “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” comes from a time when alien pictures were closely studied, and craft visionary images. Spielberg is the man who mostly knows his stuff, past and present. And I can’t tell you how much I love those sounds-sounds of the alien ships, and the people who study them. Dreyfus, Dillion, Guffey, Truffaut, and Balaban are all uniformly fine, and the special effects are dazzling. Again, unlike “Independence Day,” this is no generic Sci-Fi picture. This is a work of art, and when you see its remarkable conclusion, your jaw will drop.

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Platoon

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Oliver Stone won the Oscar for directing β€œPlatoon,” a Vietnam War drama based on his experience in Vietnam. After the war he wrote a screenplay about his parents and fears in the war, and eventually, his experiences became the basis for this movie. Ergo, this became the first war movie to be directed by a Vietnam vet.

Set in 1967, Charlie Sheen (way before we grew to disown him) plays a young PFC volunteer named Chris Taylor, who reflects on his early experiences at the Cambodian border. He narrates himself about how he chose enter the war, the friends he makes (including Willem Dafoe as Sergeant Ellis), the temptation of his hardened sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), and the fear and anger he possesses, when it comes to man and war.

β€œPlatoon” also won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Editing. You’ll be amazed at the craftsmanship down by Oliver Stone, as he captures the horrors and temptation of the war. The images are breathtaking, the thrills are riveting, Stone’s experiences ease the tensions of it all.

A new generation of movie-goers will be fascinated at the cast, we know and love today. They include Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, Keith David, John C.McGinley, and Kevin Dillion. When you read the credits, you’ll be surprised (β€œCool, Johnny Depp’s in it?”). But many thanks go to Sheen, Berenger, and Dafoe, who all portray fascinating and gripping characters.

This is one of the best and most important war movies.

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American Graffiti

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Before “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” there was “American Graffiti,” a coming-of-age comedy from director George Lucas, and producer Francis Ford Coppola. Watching this movie for the first time, it was really sort of exciting seeing the 1962 LA town setting, Richard Dreyfus and Ron Howard (called Ronny Howard at the time) in their youth, and listening to Wolfman Jack’s crazy good DJ announcements. So put alway your lightsabers and hats people; we’re talking about something different, something that happens once a decade.

We meet four young men: Curt (Dreyfus), Steve (Howard), The Toad (Charles Martin Smith), and John (Paul Le Mat), all of whom respectively end up in one situation after another. Curt is unsure about whether to begin college, and he ends up going on a quest to find a beautiful blonde (Suzanne Somers). Steve is having relationship issues with Curt’s sister Laurie (Cindy Williams), who is afraid of losing him. The Toad is given Steve’s 1958 Chevrolet Impala to borrow, and he picks up a beautiful walker (Candy Clark). And John is suckered into driving around a 14-year-old girl named Carol (Mackenzie Phillips).

You’ll also find Harrison Ford as a racer, who often challenges boys at the traffic lights, and has his way of picking up girls. That leads up to a race between him and John, which ends up going off track, literally. And Wolfman Jack makes an appearance by telling Curt he isn’t him, and “Wolfman Jack is everywhere.” He agrees to help him find the girl of his dreams.

This generation should see “American Graffiti” for what it is. A very funny, stylish, and entertaining coming-of-age movie that never condescends in anyway possible. Even though this came first, I enjoyed it more than “Dazed and Confused” and “Everybody Wants Some,” and they were good movies. This one, however, keeps you riding.

Dreyfus, Howard, Smith, and Le Mat are all wonderful, and their episodes are all brilliant. Sometimes they clash, and other times, they go their separate ways; but whatever the reason, they just have choices to make, and the movie allows them to make them choose. Lucas and Coppola have outdone themselves with this movie.

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Spotlight

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I’ve come across a journalism movie that I think everyone should see. “Spotlight” takes place at the Boston Globe, where the Spotlight team has been struggling to seek the truth about the Catholic priests, who have molested a number of children. Lawyers, priests, and friends refuse to give out the exact truth, but the Globe has been able to get a few things.

The Spotlight team consists of an all-star cast of Mark Ruffalo as writer Michael Rezendes, Michael Keaton as editor Walter V. Robinson, Rachel McAdams as writer Sacha Pfeiffer, Liev Schreiber as newbie editor Martin Baron, John Slattery as writer Ben Bradlee Jr, and Brian d’Arcy James as writer Matt Carroll. They are all excellent in the ways they struggle for information, the fight to get the article published, and how they react to the number of priests (6% of the Boston Catholic Churches=90 priests).

The lawyers and surviving victims are also tremendous in regards to the truth. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup are the main lawyers, while Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton, and Jimmy LeBlanc play the few main victims. And the lawyer who represents the church is Jim Sulivan (Jamey Sheridan), whom Robinson knows. They all contain knockout scenes so emotional, I’d rather not spoil the surprises.

“Spotlight” was written and directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by Josh Singer, and together, they represent the Pulitzer Prize winning report with the right actors and real pain. It’s a challenging movie, and from what I hear, it was a very challenging case.

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Singin’ in the Rain

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Now here is a dancing musical with some of the moves and songs from the late great Gene Kelly. “Singing’ in the Rain” is a classic that reminds us of why musicals and movies were meant to be spliced together. You want old fashioned musicals? Well, you’ve got one!

Kelly is absolutely perfect as silent film legend Don Lockwood, who has starred in so many movies with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) that the papers say they are engaged. Don knows he ain’t, but Lina believes they are. He falls for a young would-be Broadway actress named Kathy Seldes (Debbie Reynolds), who barely goes to the movies (“If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”), but ends up joining the movie industry.

The movie also satirizes the turn from silent films to talking pictures, by crafting comical situations in which voice recording and dubbing was quite challenging in those days. Don and Lina’s next project ends up becoming a mess, because the dialogue is out of sync, and Lina’s voice is terrible. So with 6 weeks until its release, Don, his good partner Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), and Kathy all decide to turn it into a musical with Kathy’s radiant voice dubbing Lina’s.

I attended a special screening of “Singin’ in the Rain,” and I was all lovey dovey throughout. It truly is a masterpiece with many danceable numbers (all directed by Gene Kelly), fascinating characters, and a love story that is often difficult to find these days. You can’t find anybody better than Kelly, Reynolds, and O’Connor as the dancers they create. They’re all perfect, and the movie is perfect in every way possible.

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

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As I was watching “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” I was reminded of the 2001 comedy “Rat Race,” and how its set-up inspired that film. Both these films involve big bucks, and both of them feature zany characters who race to collect or split their shares. And both these movies are outrageously funny in every sense of the word.

As the movie opens, a robber by the name of Smiley (Jimmy Durante) drives his car off the road, and before he kicks the bucket, tells a group of people about a briefcase containing $350,000 located at Santa Rosita State Park, under a big W. That “W” could be anything, but for now, they must race to get the cash.

The drivers presented here consist of dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) and his wife Monica (Edie Adams); two buddies en route to Las Vegas (Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett); mover Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters); and entrepreneur J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle) and his wife (Dorothy Provine) and overbearing mother-in-law (Ethel Merman). All of them end up taking faulty planes, tow trucks, jets, and taxis in order to get there, and each of their misadventures offers an extra character or two. They include Englishman J. Algeron Hawthorne (Terry Thomas) and greedy motorist Otto Meyers (Phil Silver).

Spencer Tracey plays Captain T.G. Culpeper, who has been on the case for a while and is preparing to retire. So, he takes advantage of the race and order his men to keep these drivers on surveilance. Who will get there first and who may be going to jail?

“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” also contains an all-star cast of cameos, including Don Knotts, Sterling Holloway, the Three Stooges, Peter Falk, Arnold Stang, and Carl Reiner. Even in my generation, I still ate up whoever I could find, and the major characters are undeniably funny. Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, the movie tries things that certain would-be comedies these days think they are doing. This movie is original, wildly entertaining, and fun.

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Saturday Night Fever

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Watching “Saturday Night Fever” for the first time is something to behold. It has a number of great music, mostly from the Bee Gees, outrageous humor, and such a fantastic performance from John Travolta. When I attended the 40th anniversary screening of it, there were claps and cheers in the audience. Every dance sequence, I was dancing in my seat.

Travolta’s performance ranks with “Grease” and “Pulp Fiction” as Tony, a young man in Brooklyn, who works at a hardware store in order to help support his family, and every Saturday night, he hits the local disco club 2001 Odyssey. He’s got all the moves at that club, and he ends up entering a dance contest with Annette (Donna Pescow), a girl who has a crush on him. He ends up dumping her, when he falls for a beautiful dancer named Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), whom he shows his moves to.

There are a few other subplots that work well. One is Tony’s pastor brother Frank, Jr. (Martin Shakar), who decides to quit his job, and ends up being questioned by one of Tony’s friends Bobby C (Barry Miller) about whether or not the Pope will allow his girlfriend to have an abortion . And when another one one of his friends Gus (Bruce Ornstein) is attacked by a gang, and ends up being hospitalized. Tony and his boys end up attacking the wrong gang, because Gus said: “Probably.” What a goof.

Based on a New York Magazine article called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” “Saturday Night Fever” keeps you dancing, laughing, gasping, and amazed at the ingenuity of the writing by Norman Wexler and direction by John Badham. The movie shows us a young dancer, who is labeled the black sheep of his family, and yet, manage to be the best dancer at 2001 Odyssey. It’s a wise, mellow, and colorful portrait. You love to see Travolta’s moves, and you love the ways he gets with Gorney, and she is also amazing. This is one of the greatest dance movies of all time.

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Inside Out

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The Best Animated Film and the Best Film of 2015

Pixar’s latest animated feature “Inside Out” is a film that has Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. I mean it in both literal and metaphorical terms, because all of them are emotions, who control their humans in they ways they think and feel. There have been other ideas of emotional characters, but still, we have Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), and Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) to thank.

Joy is the leader of the emotions, and she is determined to make her human Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) the happiest girl on Earth.Β Of course, Joy has to deal with Sadness, who thinks the funniest movie was “when the dog dies.” They end up in Riley’s long term memory, and before things grow dark for Riley, they have to make their way home.

Inside Riley’s mind is one wondrous scene after another, but I can only say a few. One would be Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind), Riley’s old imaginary friend-made of cotton candy, and is part elephant (the trunk), part cat (the tail), and part dolphin (the noise). He joins Joy and Sadness on their way home to Riley’s mind. Kind has voiced in other Pixar films like “A Bug’s Life,” Β “Cars,” and “Toy Story 3,” and his voice brings Bing Bong to life.

And another example would be Abstract Thought, in which Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong go through it, and become condensed from their Pixar style to two-dimensional. They are presented as coming apart, piece by piece in different shapes and styles. I love this scene, and during a Q&A, director Pete Docter (“Monsters Inc.,” “Up”) explains that it “takes an audience to a place they were familiar with but never seen before.”

“Inside Out” is absolutely the very best Pixar film since “Toy Story 3.” It is so emotional (no really it is), that even if I was feeling sad, and there are some sad scenes, I was happy. I love the characters, the voice actors, the screenplay, and the pure imagination this movie has to offer.

Director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera’s last Pixar movie was “Up,” and they honor their art and storytelling to “Inside Out.” After seeing this movie at a New York screening, I told the two of them: this is on my Top 10 list of the year’s best films. ButΒ I wonder: who is really saying all these things? Me or Joy? I think the answer is both.

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Interstellar

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The Best Film I’ve Seen in 2014

Christopher Nolan’s latest project “Interstellar” has been considered to be, by attribute, the next “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and it is my job, as the critic, to help determine that. According to what I have seen, I completely agree with that opinion, because it’s much more than just a Sci-Fi movie. It’s a movie that takes your breath away.

The movie takes place in a distant future, when dust storms threaten to wipe out the human race. How? The more dust, the less plants, and the less plants, the less oxygen. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, ex-NASA test pilot and widowed father, who ends up on a secret NASA base, run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine). His team announces to Cooper about a wormhole being discovered, and in that wormhole, they could travel to a parallel universe to find a new home. It’s either that or Plan B: fertilize eggs to repopulate the new planet.

Cooper embarks on the mission, along with other astronauts, consisting of Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley). But I can’t forget TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin), the film’s walking HAL 9000. Of course, time does more slowly in the wormhole than it does on Earth, so these heroes are running out of time and patience.

But the film gives an equal amount of the screen time to Cooper’s daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), whose name means “Whatever can happen will happen.” She is devastated beyond words to find out about Cooper leaving Earth to save it. Later, Jessica Chastain plays the adult Murph, as she tries to finish what Professor Brand had started, and finally, Ellen Burstyn in her elderly age. All these actresses are profound at playing her, and I give a massive amount of gratitude towards them.

The storyline in “Interstellar” shocks you in countless ways. People on Earth are suffering, the astronauts are suffering; Hell, everyone is suffering. The drama and emotional depth represents this script with such intensity, that I was surprised I would like the movie even more than I anticipated.

McConaughey is worried about losing his children, and I felt horrible for the character. Hathaway gives one of her best performances I’ve seen in a long while. I don’t need to keep mentioning how much I love Chastain, Foy, and Burstyn’s portrayals of Murph. And Caine is as intelligent as usual. The movie also features supporting roles from John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, and Matt Damon, all of whom leap off the screen.

What about “2001: A Space Odyssey?” How can I relate to it? Both these films are memorably radiant. The space special effects are the best since “Gravity’s.” As the astronauts make it to space, I was worried I would run out of oxygen. And I cannot resist looking at TARS, and the way he moves. This is pure magic. Hans Zimmer’s score sometimes plays opera, sometimes plays quiet, and most of the time plays explosively. Everything in “Interstellar”Β is magic.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Best Film I’ve Seen in 2013

Martin Scorsese’s 3 hour feature “The Wolf of Wall Street” is one of the best times I have had at the movies. Originally going to be rated NC-17, the film was abled to be edited for an R-rating, and you see an endless parade of brokers snorting cocaine, having sex, and using curse words in almost every sentence. This is just a tip for those who cannot stand that kind of stuff, but IΒ didn’t love it for those things. I loved it for satirizing those things.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) has gone from middle class to high class, as he grows up to be one of the most successful stock brokers to have ever hit the slammer. His humble beginnings start as he meets Mr. Hannah (Matthew McConaughey), who offers him a tip: “Move the money out of the client’s pocket to your pocket.”

When he finally becomes a licensed broker, Belfort opens up an investment center called “Stratton Oakmond” at a closed auto shop, and a children’s furniture employee named Danny Azoff (Jonah Hill) becomes his business partner. He is so charismatic with his customers that their investments make him and his partners among the richest human beings on Earth. However, an FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) is trying to find dirt on Stratton Oakmond.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is explosively entertaining. So explosive that I never found one boring scene in the whole 3 hours of the film’s reel. The movie really wants people to know that stock brokers don’t care about their investors. They care about money, sex, and drugs; and thus, the film loves being selfish.

DiCaprio explodes in every way possible with the kind of narrative Ray Liotta offered in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Hill is tough as nails with his fake teeth and mature “Superbad” attitude. McConaughey may have a small role, but he and DiCaprio fly right off the screen, especially when they do the money chant. The other stars I enjoyed in this movie include Jon Bernthal as Stratton’s strongest broker, Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, Rob Reiner as Belfort’s angry father Mad Max, and Oscar winner Jean Dujardenas Swedish banker Jean-Jacques Saurel. Scorsese is using the same sparks he used in “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and “The Departed,” and he is giving Wall Street a partying look.

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Moonrise Kingdom

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The Best Film I’ve Seen in 2012

There’s young love in “Moonrise Kingdom,” which doesn’t often happen in the movies, but it sweet and generous in every way possible. Wes Anderson first PG-13 entryΒ is, in fact, one of hisΒ best films, period. There’s no doubt about it.
Set in 1965, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) are two kids who fall for each other at a church play and decide to run away. The search party consists of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and a group of scouts who get badly injured by the lovebirds.

During the search, Sharp learns from Social Services (Tilda Swinton) that when Sam is found, he will be sent to a juvenile refugee. Therefore, it is up to the scouts to help Sam, even if it means that he has to walk down the aisle with Suzy. Throughout this movie, Bob Balaban teaches audiences about different locations and the events that occur at those places.

Co-starring Jason Schwartzman, and Harvey Keitel, “Moonrise Kingdom” is phenomenal and compelling. The movie has memorable scenes. One of my favorite images is when Sam and Suzy are dancing to Francoise Hardy’s song “Le temps de l’amour” on a beach during a cloudy day. The whole movie was like a work of art. There areΒ very funny scenes, beautiful scenery, and knock-out performances from Willis, Norton, Gilman, and Hayward. I was smiling from start to finish.

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Midnight in Paris

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The Best Film I’ve Seen in 2011

Once you sit through Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” not only will you find it to be one of hisΒ best work, but you’ll also find pure magic from beginning to end.

This beautifully told love story is about Gill (Owen Wilson), a writer, who has traveled to Paris with his fiancΓ© (Rachel McAdams) for business. One night while she is out with friends (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda), Gill takes a stroll around the streets, and is picked up by a car.

At first, I thought this was just an exasperation, but Gill ends up in the 1920s.Β He meets Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adiren Brody,) the Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston and Allison Pill), and a beautiful woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who admires his writing. Each night, he sneaks out to have fun with Adriana and the celebrities. Believe me, mixing 2010 with 1920s is hilariously clever.

With an exceptional cast also including Carla Bruni, Kurt Fuller, and Lea Seydoux, I found it to be beautiful on all accounts. It is like a dream come true for those looking for the right girl. Wilson and Cotillard have an amazing chemistry. Woody Allen has done it again. He is a director full of witty and charming movies. I am glad this film had to be released in the summer, because I get a vibe for great vacation films released in the summer. In fact, it’s is one of my favorite vacations of 2011.

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The Social Network

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The Best Film I’ve Seen in 2010

Would Facebook you poke Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and JustinΒ Timberlake inΒ β€œThe SocialΒ Network?” Director DavidΒ Fincher shows us his adaptation of the slightlyΒ exaggerated story of how the Facebook phenomenon came to life and the corruption it involved. As a Facebook fan, Β I would totally confirm these three friends.

Based on the book β€œThe Accidental Billionaires,” this movie focuses on Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), a Harvard student, who starts to create a website that allows male college students to pick which female college student is more beautiful. After he gets in trouble with the Administrative Review Board, he talks to his friend Eduardo (Garfield) about aΒ new idea, called Facebook, which allows people to see other people’s pictures and profiles, and interact with them.

However, when the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claim that Mark stole their idea, they decide to sue him. This shows Mark that he is in a dangerous world full of betrayal even within his circle of friends. Even Eduardo wants an even bigger cut of the piece.

Co-starring Rashida Jones, Β Rooney Mara, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, and Dakota Johnson, β€œThe Social Network” is by far David Fincher’s best film. Its true colors represents the film’s mood, and it levels is narrative of who owns Facebook and why it was created. The casting is spectacular and the movie is full of humor and pure invention. Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake areΒ all at their best. Nothing was wrong with this film.

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The Ten Commandments

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One of the best movies set in Egypt is Cecile B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” which took four years to make, and cost $13 million to make. This movie is about four hours long, including an overture and intermission, but it holds a certain kind of magic “Exodus: Gods & Kings” couldn’t bring.

Charleton Heston is phenomenal as Moses, a Hebrew, who was placed in a floating basket as a baby, so he wouldn’t get killed. He ends up in the care of Bithiah (Nina Foch), the Pharaoh’s daughter. When he grows up, he finds out his true heritage, and ends up dealing with the consequences of being Hebrew. Instead of death, he banished in the deserts, where he walks until he finds sanctuary in Midian. There, he receives a message from God that he must lead his people to freedom.

Yul Brenner is absolutely provocative as Rameses, the Pharaoh’s son and successor to the throne. Moses warns him to “let his people go,” so he and God will bestow a plague upon Egypt-blood in water, hail storms, and the deaths of every first born son. When Rameses’ young son dies from the plague, he frees all the slaves, and they begin their long walk. When Rameses vow revenge, Moses must conjure up a path in the Red Sea.

“The Ten Commandments” is real to the biblical tale and the characters it crafts. We have an amazing set of actors, including Heston and Brenner, and even in the 1950s, the special effects and set decor are astonishing. This comes from a time when they weren’t wall-to-wall, and when they don’t rush into things, and once more, this movie took four years to make. This is the kind of biblical movie that I admire, and most of them today don’t take the time to think things through.

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The Godfather

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The best performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” comes from Marlon Brando. He plays Vito Corleone (“The Don”), a mafia boss, who must keep the family business in tact. His accent, make-up, and character development makes him a first-rate character, and the movie itself is first-rate.

Among his children, the youngest is Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who ends up in Sicily, when he kills his father’s assassin, a heroin dealer (Al Lettieri). Back home, he reunites with his old flame (Diane Keaton), who has grown tired of waiting for him to contact her. Pacino is excellent in the film in countless ways. He also has to help his father finish what he has started.

Another one of Vito’s kids is Sonny (James Caan), who serves as the acting mafia boss, because of Vito’s condition. He gets killed after attempting to attack his brother-in-law (Gianni Russo) for abusing his sister (Talia Shire). Caan couldn’t be even more perfect.

And he’s adopted, but is still promising. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is a lawyer, who tries to convince a Hollywood producer (John Marley) to let Vito’s godson (Al Martino) have a part in a movie. When the director refuses, Tom is forced to haunt him, by placing the head of his prized horse in his bed. That is my favorite scene regarding Hagen, and Duvall plays him very well.

“The Godfather,” based on Mario Puzo’s novel, is a movie so beautiful, so pulsating, and so violent, for a new generation of movie-goers, you have to see it to believe it. The performances from Brando, Pacino, Caan, Duvall, and Keaton are undeniably perfect, and can do no wrong.

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This is the End

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In 2007, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel starred in a short film called “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” which has them trapped in a house after doomsday has begun. “This is the End,” the directorial debut of Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is a remake of that film. It features actors (Rogen, Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Channing Tatum, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Martin Starr, David Krumholtz, Michael Cera, and Emma Watson), comedians (Kevin Hart and Aziz Ansari), and musicians (Rihanna and Backstreet Boys) portraying fictionalized versions of themselves while facing the apocalypse.

Jay Baruchel travels to Los Angeles to meet Seth Rogen for the best weekend ever (complete with a 3D TV, weed, and all of Jay’s favorite things). Much to his dismay, Jay goes with Seth to James Franco’s house party, where we see Michael Cera as a cocaine junkie, who tries to hit on Rihanna and blows coke in Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s face.

Their party ends as raptures, earthquakes, and sinkholes attack the city. Seth, Jay, James, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson are all forced to stay at James’ house. Mayhem ensues as Danny McBride wakes up in the house with his potty mouth running, Emma Watson steals their beverage supply, and all Hell literally breaks loose.

“This is the End” is the funniest and most entertaining Seth Rogen comedy since “Pineapple Express.” Not only that, but it is much better than “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which sadly told the story of Steve Carell finding his high school sweetheart before an asteroid hits the Earth. This comedy shows the zany side of how funny actors deal with their own problems while dealing with their impending doom. One of the best skits is when they film the sequel “Pineapple Express 2: Blood Red,” where Dale (Seth) and Saul (James) have to deal with the now drug lord Red (Danny), who wants Woody Harrelson (Jonah) dead. I honestly though that was an April Fool’s Day prank until now. Audiences will definitely get a kick out of this movie.

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Finding Nemo

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“Finding Nemo” was such a wonderful Pixar animated film from 2003, I was it twice, and then a third time with its 3D re-release. Not matter what format, I see it in, I just love it for its wonder, heart, sweetness, and humor. It is one of my favorite animated movies, period.

It starts off as an expecting clownfish father named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) is left with one fish egg, after the death of his wife (voiced by Elizabeth Perkins). His son, Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), becomes excited about his first day of school, despite Marlin being too overprotective. When he disobeys his father’s orders of not going near a boat, Nemo is taken away to a fish tank in a dentist’s office in Sydney, Australia.

Marlin is forced to risk his life in the dangerous ocean to find Nemo with the help of a new friend named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), who suffers from short-term memory loss.

Meanwhile, Nemo makes friends with the other fish in the fish tank, including the Moorish Idol Gill (voiced by Willem Dafoe), who has a plan to get him and everyone out of the tank.

This was the first movie that introduced me to the wonderful talents of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, both whom I give my praise to for their voice acting. But it’s not just the voice acting; it’s the heart the movie offers. It has father-son relationship so touching, it’s impossible to resist.

The animation here is just beautiful. You feel like you’re swimming in the ocean, thanks to miracle of art and animation. I loved this movie in every way possible.

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Roman Holiday

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I reviewed Bryan Cranston’s brilliant portrayal of communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo,” without seeing any of his movies. At that time, “Roman Holiday,” was among his screenplays to which his name had to be discreet, and therefore, credit had to go to Ian McLellan Hunter.

“Roman Holiday” also made Audrey Hepburn a household name, by making it her first major role, to which she won the Oscar for. She plays Princess Ann, who travels in Rome for a press conference, and escapes her room to mingle with the normal people.

Before hand, her doctor gives her medication to calm, her nerves, and that’s why she begins to act all loopy at first in front of American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). He happens to be in Rome to interview the princess, and at first he doesn’t realize she is royal, until her family tells the papers about her fake illness to avoid problems. That’s when he learns he may have a story to publish.

Taking pictures Β is Irving (Eddie Albert), who forms a running gag in which whenever he is about to spill the beans about the secret interview, Joe must knock him down. But don’t worry, Joe explains things to him in private.

The thing that makes “Roman Holiday” such a delightful film is how the characters have their goals and how they plan to achieve them. The princess wants to be free, and the journalist wants a successful article. They may not work out as they would like it, but they respectively realize it is what it is. Peck and Hepburn are perfect and funny in every way, and watching them together was such a treat. And Albert is a real charmer as the photographer, whose camera is disguised as a lighter.

Most romantic comedies these days rely on the most obvious endings, whereas this one makes you question on how it goes on or whether or not it goes on. Producer/director William Wyler has done a fabulous job adapting Dalton Trumbo’s work on the screen with the black and white scenery, the radiant views of Rome, and the storytelling the film offers.

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Pulp Fiction

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“Pulp Fiction” is one of Quentin Tarantino’s most groundbreaking motion pictures of our time. The film won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, whichΒ consists of a couple of stories that become so mixed up, that the plot is not in order. Either way, you’re able to enjoy the ride. In fact, the more you watch it, the more fascinated you become.

The film begins with Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer playing a couple who begin to rob a diner. The rest of that scene ends up at the near end of the film. It’s their perspective in the opening that really gets you going, and when you see the conclusion, get ready for some shouting.

The film focuses on Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) who both hold a secret suitcase. Vincent ends up taking his boss Marcellus Wallace’s (Ving Rhames) young wife (Uma Thurman) for a night out. When she does heroin, she ODs, and Vincent knows a guy (Eric Stolz), who has an adrenaline needle to save her. This has some of the best and most memorable dialogue I had ever had the pleasure of memorizing.

Another memorable moment involving Vincent and Jules is when Vincent accidentally shoots a man (Phil LaMarr) to death in a car. He didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident, and now they turn to a cleaner (Harvey Keitel) to help clean up this bloodbath.

Bruce Willis plays Butch, a boxer, who is on the run from Wallace after betraying him during a boxing bet. He also does his best to take care of his father’s POW camp watch, and when his girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros) forgets to bring it to him his watch, Butch ends up having to deal with Wallace.

“Pulp Fiction” is a hilarious, smart, dazzling, and awesome Quentin Tarantino movie. Travolta, Jackson, Thurman, Stoltz, and Rosanna Arquette are outrageously funny; Rhames and Willis have great scenes together; and Roth and Plummer are vulgarly violent. What a cast we have here. The film has great locations, a hot soundtrack, amazing images, and one of the best cinematographies ever made. The shoot-outs, car crashes, and heroin overdose; all wonderfully shot and wonderfully acted.

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Rocky

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“Rocky” features Sylvester Stallone in his most extraordinary performance as Rocky Balboa (The Italian Stallion), the southpaw fighter from Philadelphia, who enters the ring. According to what I have seen, this movie deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director (John G. Avildsen), and Best Film Editing.

In his humble beginnings, he boxed bums, and collected debts for a loan shark (Joe Spinell). Then, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to take on a nobody and make him into a somebody. And that nobody-to-somebody happens to be Rocky. So, Rocky begins his training, and has a tough-as-nails trainer (Burgess Meredith), his meat-packing friend Paulie (Burt Young), and Paulie’s shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire) all at his side.

Stallone writes this film with such integrity and emotions, it’s impossible to resist such a screenplay. He is writes himself tremendously well, making him the best character of his career. Director John G. Avildsen guides this movie in the right direction with its beautifully shot images and intense look of the ring. We also get great performances from Weathers, Young, Shire, and Meredith, all of whom portray their characters with real emotions, and depth. So, small or big, these roles are well-cast, and Stallone leads them all to greatness.

This is a boxing drama that you really want to see before you see “Creed,” which portrays Apollo Creed’s son. But even without that film, you should see it, and admire it what it achieves-a breathtaking and dedicated sports drama.

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Blazing Saddles

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Mel Brooks pokes fun at the old West in “Blazing Saddles,” a 1974 comedy that balances racism and gunplay. It’s an example of how vintage spoofs don’t rely on wall-to-wall idiotic jokes like today’s spoofs do (“Meet the Spartans,” “Epic Movie,” etc.). No, it’s a smart and humorous movie.

The coniving prosecutor Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) decides to build a railroad across a western town, and hires a group of thieves to attack it. He and the governor (Brooks) appoint a new sheriff, who turns out to be an African-American railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little). It’s at that time when the people are appalled at the color of his skin, so at that time, racial slurs are wall-to-wall. Even so, Bart’s the best bet they have.

Bart befriends a drunken gunslinger (Gene Wilder), formally known as “The Waco Kid,” who can shoot his enemies in less than a second. He’s fast. When he plays Bugs Bunny on one of the bad guys, Lamarr hires a German femme fatale (Madeline Kahn) to seduce Bart. And when that also fails, he has to hire every bad guy in the West.

“Blazing Saddles” ends with a Hollywood fight and we find Dom Deluise as a director, interrupted by the fighting Cowboys. I guess it’s Mel Brooks’ way of breaking the fourth wall. Little and Wilder make a great team; Kahn is seductive and zany at the same time; Korman is sly and villainous; and Brooks balances his job as the director and co-star. Why can’t spoof movies be like the ones we had back then? Those films become brainless and worthy of being rented on I-Tunes, whereas “Blazing Saddles” is a rootin’ tootin’ good time.

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Gone With the Wind

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What kind of a critic would I be if I never saw “Gone With the Wind?” I finally found the opportunity to watch it, and I also found that there is more than meets the eye. By “eye,” I mean what is on the poster.Β Based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With the Wind” was directed by Victor Fleming, produced by David O. Selznik, and its screenplay was done by Sidney Howard. Together, they made a movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Vivian Leigh won the Oscar for her performance of Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern Belle, who wants to marry the engaged Ashley (Ashley Howard). She admits her love for him countless times, but he turns her down. And she suffers through much turmoil during and after the Civil War. Leigh is quite compelling playing a woman with fear and independence.

Captain Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is the “Visitor from Charleston,” who admits his love for Scarlett, but he isn’t a marrying man, and she isn’t attracted to him. They have their differences, and they have their similarities. He is rich and charismatic, and she is strong-willed and weary; and during the film’s second half, they decide to marry.

“Gone With the Wind” is filled with enough drama and acting to hold everyone’s attention for generations. Besides Gable and Leigh, we also have to appreciate the supporting roles from Howard as Ashley and the first African American Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel as Scarlett’s caring house keeper. These two stars work wonders with Leigh, and they way they play their characters.

We should also admire the look and feel of the movie. The costumes, the production design, the music by Max Steiner, and the cinematography by Ernest Haller. It is nice to know that in 1939, director Victor Fleming has made two great movies: “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind.”

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The Sound of Music

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“The Sound of Music” has it all-comedy, drama, romance, suspense, and most importantly of all-music. This wonderful movie for all ages is adapted from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway play, as well as the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

Julie Andrews gives one of her most extraordinary performances as Maria, a young nun, who can’t help but sing to her heart’s content. She is sent to be the governess of the seven children of retired navel officer Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). He runs his house as if he was still in the navy, and that’s why his children are given stern discipline. Maria still sees them as children, so she is able to show them the joys of life, with the help of songs (“My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi”) of course.

The romance side of “The Sound of Music” is how Maria loves the Captain, but he is with another woman-the Baroness (Eleanor Parker). They decide they aren’t right for each other, so the Captain and Maria admit their love for each other.

And the suspenseful side is when WWII hits Austria, and Captain von Trapp refuses to be apart of the Holocaust. He even has to tear the Swastika clothe on his house. He, Maria, and their children have to make their escape, but first they must perform in Austria, as the von Trapp Family Singers.

I love “The Sound of Music” for all the wonderful things it possesses. The story is perfect, the music makes me want to dance, and the chemistry between Andrews and Plummer are robust. My family loves this movie, too, and I am more than happy to share my opinion of this movie.

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Boyhood

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As far as I am concerned, the youngsters think everything movie is long. In a recent example, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” my top 1 pick of 2013, had people praising the film, but criticizing the length. I hate to break it to them, but even the great American classics nearly took 3-4 hours-long. However, recently, despite the 3 hour length and it’s R-rating, I know a movie that is right up everyone’s alley.

The film I am referring to is “Boyhood.” It is not just any movie. It is a film that writer/director Richard Linklater took 12 years to make. He chose actors to play the same characters over the course of history. Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter), Ellar Coltrane, and Ethan Hawke have all been playing the same characters for over a decade. They are covered in no make-up; they’re really aging.

Why am I recommending it to people of all age groups (minus the kiddies)? This movie focuses on Mason, Jr. (Coltrane), who has been through a lot during his childhood and young adulthood. His divorced mother Olivia (Arquette) constantly moves him and his sister Samantha (Linklater), because of her finishing college, her teaching job, and the many relationships she has been in. He also has a connection with his father (Hawke), who picks up his kids for some fun, but also some pointers in life.

Among the life experiences Mason, Jr. faces, one of Olivia’s ex’s (Marco Perella) is an alcoholic professor who abuses her family, and they are forced to flee. Another is Mason, Jr. experiencing romance with the lovely and free-spirited Sheena (Zoe Graham). And where will Mason, Jr. embark to for the rest of his life? That is up to the movie.

“Boyhood” is one of the most exhilarating motion pictures. The very idea of filming the same movie for 12 years sounds impossible, but don’t worry, it only lasts for about 3 hours. The cast is breathtaking in countless ways I can’t even describe to you. There are characters you love to admire and characters you love to hate. The fact the film began in 2002 makes me think I have traveled back in time, because of the features we originally had. I know I am being off-topic, but if we don’t know our past, we won’t know our future. Richard Linklater has outdone himself.

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Frozen

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The Best Animated Film of 2013

I have been examining the look of “Frozen,” director Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee’s (“Wreck-it Ralph”) Disney adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” and it follows on the tradition of the Disney Renaissance. How? It has fun and beautiful songs (all written by Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez, who both also wrote the songs in “Winnie the Pooh”), charming characters, and a script so interesting and so surprising, it deserves to be seen by people of all age groups.

“Frozen” begins with an animated Black and White Mickey Mouse short called “Get a Horse.” This cartoon is animated as it was back in the 1930s, with Mickey Mouse, Minnie, and Clarabelle Cow all getting a hay wagon ride from Horace Horsecollar. That is until Peg-leg Pete, driving a car, kidnaps Minnie, and kicks Mickey out of the screen and into the colored CGI theater. As you can see, this short combines the two types of animation very well, and it feels like you are going on a Disneyland ride. Another thing is, the characters are given archival voices from their original voice actors (Walt Disney as Mickey, Marcellite Garner as Minnie, and Billy Bletcher as Peg-leg Pete). This is how the creators want to live up to their class shorts.

Now on to “Frozen.” The story is set in the kingdom of Arendelle, based on the animators’ studies of Norway. It focuses on the Princess Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), who, since childhood, has the power to turn everything into ice and snow. When her powers nearly kills her sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), the kingdom is forced to be put into isolation, as well as the relationship between Elsa and Anna. The day Elsa becomes Queen of Arendelle, her powers get exposed to the kingdom, and not only does she banish herself to the mountains, but she accidentally turns the country into an eternal winter. Anna is forced to set things straight, and a few characters join her on her trek, including an iceman named Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a snowman named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad).

“Frozen” is just magical. Magical in the way “Beauty and the Beast” is. Magical in the way it deserves to have a Broadway adaptation. And magical in the way the animation is presented. Just look at the snow. It looks real.

Bell almost got the role of Rapunzel in “Tangled,” but I think she is better as the voice of Anna. Β She can sing, she can be herself, and she is just charming. The thing is she is crazy to marry the Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana) the day they met. That is Kristoff’s problem with her, and I like how that is expressed. I also appreciate how he provides the voice-overs for Sven. Elsa is just a radiant character, and Menzel provides both her speaking and singing voice very well. Olaf is among the best supporting Disney animated characters (Cogsworth, Genie, Timon & Pumba, etc.), because he dreams of being the first snowman to withstand the heat, he is able to detach himself and reattach himself, and Gad helps bring the character to life. Not only is this the best animated feature I have seen all year long, but it is one of the best films of 2013.

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The Lego Movie

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The Best Animated Film of 2014

“The Lego Movie” is unlike any animated film you have ever seen. Combining CGI with stop motion animation, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have both created a world made entirely out of legos. They make both kids and adults believe that these figurines can come to life the way mechanical figures move in such films as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “ParaNorman.” It leaves your mouth opened, even in the film’s dramatic points.

The zero-to-hero of the film is Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), who lives his day according to instructions (1: Breathe, 2. Say “Good Morning,” Β etc.). He is considered to be the hero the world has been waiting for, as he contains a piece called “The Piece of Resistance,” which captures the attention of two villains: the dictating President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who plans to glue the entire lego universe, and a cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who has both a good side and a bad side (Good Cop/Bad Cop). Emmet meets a few colorful characters, including the tough-as-nails Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) and a blind wizard named Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), who must teach him how to become a Master Builder, one who can build anything out of anything. Of course, he has no good ideas at all.

“The Lego Movies” literally and metaphorically creates anything in its path. The characters are able to build things like cars, motorcycles, and submarines, I mean, after all, they are legos. The jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, so both kids and their parents can relate to them.

Pratt’s Emmet reminded me of Bill Hader’s Flint Lockwood in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” which Lord and Miller directed, because he follows the rules of everyday society, and he is not presented stereotypically. Banks’ Wyldstyle is a much better character than I expected her to be, and Emmet likes her, despite Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) being her boyfriend. Speaking of which, Batman is among the Master Builders, along with Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (voiced by Cobie Smulders), all of whom help provide the film’s jokes. Coming on the heels of “The Dark Knight” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” Freeman is trying a new territory: voicing a lego figurine. The Good Cop Bad Cop character is also a ruthless character, and unlike his raccoon character in “The Nut Job,” Neeson actually brings his voice to life. And Ferrell loans his evil voice to President Business very exquisitely. In other words, we are given a star-studded voice cast (also with Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, and Charlie Day).

The film also offers a lot of heart, and Lord and Miller are both among the best directors, who never miss a simple element to filmmaking.

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Life Itself

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Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, both deceased, are my most favorite film critics, who inspire me to try to look at movies in new ways. They have taught me new words like “convoluted” and “marginal.”Β  I watch their videos on Siskel & Ebert.org, and find memorable moments like how they both hated Rob Reiner’s “North” (“A movie that makes me cringe even when I’m sitting here thinking about it,” says Ebert), and how they disagreed on “Cop and a Half” (Ebert voted thumbs up and Siskel voted thumbs down).

While they were both often hilarious, they were both often serious. How they look at movies, and how they are convinced by actor’s performances. Therefore, they are both film geniuses. I owe a lot to these two critics, and if they were alive today, maybe they could give me a few pointers about film criticism.

The documentary, “Life Itself,” focuses on the life of Roger Ebert before his tragic passing in 2013. The film was directed by Steve James,” best known for “Hoop Dreams,” a documentary which Siskel and Ebert voted as the best movie of 1994, but were ticked at how it never got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. He finally got the opportunity to get to know Ebert, who was suffering with thyroid cancer, which now made use an SDG.

Ebert began writing for The Daily Illini, not as a film critic, but as an editor. When he got offered a film critic job for the Chicago Sun Times, he became the youngest film critic. He is also a recovering alcoholic, a writer for the X-rated movie “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” and a Pulitzer Prize winner. During a conflict between the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, Siskel & Ebert started off as enemies and ended up as friends.

“Life Itself” is also produced by Martin Scorsese, who serves as an interviewee, along with Richard Corliss (Time), A.O. Scott (The New York Times), Werner Herzog, and Marlene Iglitzen (Siskel’s wife). Even as a great director, he nearly fell apart with cocaine in the 80’s, but it was Siskel & Ebert who saved his skin. So, he made the right decision to join director Steve James, who has done a colossal job with this movie.

I loved this movie for educating me the life and times of Roger Ebert, who will always be remembered, along with Gene Siskel. It is just sad to know that they have passed away, and the film takes the time to show empathy for that. I also loved it for exploring the love life with Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, as well as allowing Iglitzen to add the story of her husband. The film is also supported by not only archival footage and bloopers of “Siskel & Ebert,” but also footage of their life events, such as Ebert’s wedding. James has shown me what I needed to see about my most favorite film critics. “Life Itself” is a motion picture experience.

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2001: A Space Odyssey

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With Christopher Nolan’s latest Sci-Fi drama, “Interstellar,” approaching soon, I’ve decided to check out Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which is based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel.” Using classical music and dazzling special effects, I called it “Opera in Space.”

Let’s begin with “The Dawn of Man.”Β A herd of apes discover the famous giant rectangle, known as the “monolith,” and one of them uses a bone as the very first weapon. These apes are more convincing than the ones from “Planet of the Apes,” and the “Also sprach Zarathustra” theme music is one of the most memorable scores in film history.

The human characters are next to pop up on screen. The first human we meet is Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester), who hosts a meeting in regard to an epidemic at the lunar outpost, and ends up investigating a missing artifact, the monolith.Β Then, we end up on going on a mission to Jupiter. The scientists on this voyage consist of Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea), both of whom are concerned about their HAL 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain). Is he defected or not? And if he is, they plan to disconnect him, but HAL 9000 is too smart for that.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” was released in 1968, a time when CGI has yet to exist. Sometimes people, today, complain that all movies have to relay on special effects to save the show. Us critics complain about that too, but only if they are wall-to-wall. However, Kubrick has brought a team of professionals to convince us that the characters are actually in space. The stars, the planets, the zero gravity, the hallucinating colors, and the space shuttles, all of which are part of a visual miracle. As a matter of fact, the movie won the Oscar for that. The art direction is pulsating, the casting is amazing, the music is sensational, and Douglas Rain gives one of the best computer voices I have ever heard.

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Zootopia

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To be honest with you, I had my doubts Disney’s “Zootopia” would be in the same league as “Big Hero 6” and the under-appreciated “Frozen.” But once I saw it, I knew I underwent a change of heart. This is one of the biggest surprises of 2016, and like “Inside Out,” there’s more than meets the eye in “Zootopia.”

The movie takes place in a world where animals have evolved into animals with human-like behavior. Rest assured, this does not copy the plot of “Planet of the Apes,” it is inspired by many Disney cartoons with anthropomorphic animals in clothes, like “Robin Hood” from 1973 (the one where Baloo played Little John). Nowadays, animals talk, text, and go about their daily lives. You find these animals at Tundratown, the Sahara Square, the Rainforest District, Bunnyburrow, Little Rodentia, and the Savana Central, all of which are just fascinating.

The characters the movie creates are memorable and colorful at best. There’s Zootopia’s first rabbit cop Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin); the con artist fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman); the no nonsense buffalo chief of police Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba); the Mayor Lionheart (voiced by JK Simmons); the mayor’s mistreated sheep assistant Bellwether (voiced by Jenny Slate); the naked yak Yax (voiced by Tommy Chong); the thieving weasel Duke Weasleton (voiced by Alan Tudyk), oddly named after the Duke of Weselton from “Frozen” (if you saw it, you’d get the reference); the Godfather arctic shrew Mr. Big (voiced by Maurice LaMarche); and the grieving otter Mrs. Otterton (voiced by Octavia Spencer).

The story goes much deeper than you expect, but to prevent myself from giving any spoiler alerts, I’ll give you the basics. Judy is determined to make it on the force, and ends up being a meter maid. Then, an otter goes missing, and much to Chief Bogo’s dismay, Judy is given 48 hours to crack the case. So, she has to team with up with Nick Wilde, who constantly insults her because of her species (and it is racist for other species to call rabbits “cute” BTW).

“Zootopia” isn’t just about animals in clothes texting, it’s also about segregation, size, outbreaks, political affairs, criminals, and how the characters deal with these outcomes. The movie was made by directors Bryon Howard (“Tangled”), Rich Moore (“Wreck-it Ralph”), and Jared Bush; and the writing team includes Phil Johnson (“Cedar Rapids”) and Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”); all of whom have the nerve to break form. They create fun characters, add beautiful locations, and tell a story more intriguing than you expect.

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On the Waterfront

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I’ve only been in Hoboken, New Jersey due to a clerical error, but “On the Waterfront” from 1954 represents the corruption and violence that takes place there. I was reminded of the pure drama of “The Drop,” and I should have seen this movie before that, so I can compare and contrast. Both these movies are dark and thrilling on the right level.

Marlon Brando gives one of his most memorable performances as Terry, an ex-fighter-now-turned dockworker, whose brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is the right-hand man of mobster John Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). He inadvertently leads dockworker Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner) into an attack, killing him in the process.

Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint in her remarkable feature debut) is devastated and is determined to find out who done it. He not only takes fancy to her, but he also is forced to testify against John Friendly. He is forced to make tough decisions on whether or not to spill the beans, but there are challenges, like how he will tell Edie about his involvement in her brother’s demise, and how his brother Charley will end up.

Karl Malden blew my mind as Father Barry, who is fed up with the corruption and violence brought upon by the NJ gangsters. A scene that really sticks out is when a dockworker gets killed on the job, and he gets hit with a few objects by the other dockworkers, while complaining about the mobsters. He wants them to stop being quiet, and take a stand for themselves. Malden’s performance is so fiery, it is impossible to resist him.

“On the Waterfront” won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), Best Supporting Actress (Saint), and Best Director (Elia Kazan). It was also suggested by New York Sun articles entitled: “Crime on the Waterfront.” Here is a black and white movie with all the motives and acting, as well as the drama and horrors a man must come to terms with.

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Alien
Here’s the deal: Ridley Scott’s 1979 Sci-Fi horror classic “Alien” has one thing you don’t want on your face. A face hugger is a spider-like creature that sticks to your head in order to drop a paralytic in your mouth. When it hatches, it breaks through your chest, and you die. You do not want those things sticking to your face.

In order to review Scott’s upcoming “Alien: Covenant,” I had to examine the original movie, which featured an all-star cast of Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, and Yaphet Kotto. They play a space crew, who are on their way back to Earth, but have to stop on a planet, when the ship receives a transmission from an unknown source.

On this planet, they find an alien ship, where Hurt’s character Kane gets attacked by a face hugger. Weaver’s character Ripley warns Holm’s character Ash not to bring him on board, as quarantine regulations, but he does anyway.Β They leave the planet, but the alien rips through Kane’s chest, and makes it way through the ship. Once the alien grows to full size, it begins killing the crew, one-by-one.

You must give the movie time for you to process its intentions, and once you do, you’d find it to be a thrilling movie. You get such a talented cast, dazzling special effects, great monster make-up, and a nice direction done by Ridley Scott. Even Jerry Goldsmith’s score helps represent the thrills and chills. Weaver, Holm, Hurt, and Stanton give great performances, and one of them turns out to be an android with white liquid coming out of their mouth. If you haven’t seen this movie before, find out who that person is. I didn’t always get with the movie, but it still promises itself, once the alien is born.

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Bonnie and Clyde

The 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” which stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the bank robbing couple during the Great Depression.Β These two knock it out of the park, and the film tells their story with the kind of style and motivation.

The movie shows us how they met. Clyde Barrow has just been released from prison for armed robbery, while Bonnie Parker is a diner waitress. He shows her the ropes of holding and shooting a gun. They end up getting a few accomplices, including Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman), his sister-in-law Blanche (Estelle Parsons, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), and a gas station employee named C.W. (Michael J. Pollard).

The movie also features some fresh supporting cameos. Denver Pyle (“The Dukes of Hazard”) plays a Texas Ranger, who ends up being humiliated by the robbers. Gene Wilder plays a wealthy man, whose car gets stolen by the robbers, and ends up being part of their joy ride. And last but not least, Dub Taylor plays C.W.’s father, who gets upset about his son working with the robbers.

Warren Beatty (also the producer) and Faye Dunaway are the stars of the show as Bonnie and Clyde. They transcend into the roles with the kind of acting and energy that I doubt many actors today would possess. Director Arthur Penn adds art, style, and thrills to this movie from the fresh opening to the exploding conclusion.

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The Neverending Story

Director Wolfgang Peterson’s take on the book: “The NeverEnding Story” comes from a time when special effects were done by hard work and dedication, not CGI. Why? Cause we ain’t had those fancy ass technology back then. There are actually puppets, props, sets and blue screens to bring it all to life. Now why can’t movies these days be more like this? Please don’t answer that.

“The NeverEnding Story” is the magical story of a young boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), who is too depressed to turn in his math homework on time or have the guts to stand up to the bullies at school. Then, he stumbles upon a library, where the owner (Thomas Hill) warns him that “The NeverEnding Story” book is far too risky to read. He takes the book, and locks himself in the school attic, where adventure awaits for him.

The story he reads takes place in Fantasia, a wondrous place, filled with racing snails, rock-eating-rock monsters, and mythical creatures, all drawn beautifully by the special effects of the early 80s. And one of the most beloved creatures is the dog-like dragon Falkor (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer), who is filled with so much good luck, he can get anywhere faster than anticipated. He looks and feels breathtaking.

The story involves an evil force, known as “The Nothing,” which threatens to erase the world, unless their empress can be cured. So it is up to a young warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to find the answer and save the world. And through it all, Bastian becomes part of the story, literally and figuratively.

“The NeverEnding Story” may frighten some smaller children, but nonetheless, it is fresh family entertainment, filled with the kind of magic we’d expect from “Star Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s beautiful, epic, and challenging on its own terms. This is the kind of children’s fantasy that most movies these days can barely follow.

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Ben-Hur

honestly doubt today’s generation would watch the original 1959 “Ben-Hur” before seeing the new one. I did. This film won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), and Best Director (William Wyler). This comes from a time when CGI has never existed, and yet, everything about it is a visual wonder.

Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) is a wealthy prince in Jerusalem, who was friends with the Roman tribune Messala (Stephen Boyd), and is determined to free his people. They now become enemies after a big disagreement regarding Rome and the Jewish slaves. In retaliation, Messala wrongfully imprisons Ben-Hur for almost killing the new governor, even though he knew it was an accident.

Now, he is engaged in death marches and ship rowings, but after a battle out at sea, Ben-Hur manages to escape and rescues a Roman warship commander named Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who makes him his adopted son. And then, he meets Sheik Ilderim (Griffith), who is fascinated by his chariot tales, and offers him his quadrigaΒ to battle Messala in the arena.

Ben-Hue’s mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) were also jailed for the accident, and he struggles to find them. Unfortunately, their prison years have led them to become lepers. Ben-Hur is now devastated at the life they are now forced to live.

“Ben-Hur” is a landmark film with real sets, sharp performances from Heston and Boyd, and beautifully shot chariot races. It doesn’t just focus on the races; it also focuses on the freedom, the faith of Jesus Christ, and the horrors of leprosy.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” follows the perfect plan for playing sick on a school day. You need to have cold hands, a dummy to cover for you in bed, convincing impressions in case of phone calls, and disguises to hide yourself from the authorities. Written and directed by John Hughes, who redefined the adolescents of the 1980s, this is the kind of teen comedy that most movies these days barely catch up on.

Matthew Broderick, 23 at the time, stars as Ferris Buller, who appears to be sick as a dog to his parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), and all according to plan, he is free from school for the day. He and his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) manage to pull his girlfriend Sloan (Mia Sara) out of school, and together, they hit the streets of Chicago for a day they’ll never forget.

The only people who don’t buy Bueller’s “illness” are Principal Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and Bueller’s sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey). Rooney has to humiliate himself by snooping around Bueller’s house, and getting mauled by his rottweiler. Jeannie is aggravated by the fact that the illness has brought the students together to support his “illness.”

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is very funny in the way Bueller knows the game on ditching school without getting caught. No matter what surprise pops up, he knows the doorbell, his voice recorder, and his friends, who can provide the impressions. Broderick is brilliant in that role in every way possible. And his support is given by Ruck and Sara.Β Other than some unnecessary things, this is the kind of teen comedy I am talking about.

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Silence of the Lambs

I attended a special screening of the 1991 horror classic “Silence of the Lambs” for the very first time, and I found it to be both scary, bloody, and gripping. I prefer to watch classic films on the big screen, so I don’t get distracted by the peer pressures of everyday life. That’s why you’ve never seen this review before.

Jodie Foster stars as an FBI student, who is called into action to interview an imprisoned cannibal named Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) about a skin cannibal named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). She is warned not to let Lector get in her mind, but she tells him about how she was orphaned at the age of 10, and how a sheep farm has traumatized her.

Hannibal Lector is filled with tricks. One in particular is an escape plan, in which he holds a pin, and when two guards give him his dinner, he gets an extra bite or two. These images are gruesome, which among the many reasons this film is rated R, and experiencing them for the first time is thrilling.

Buffalo Bob is planning to dress up as a woman with the women’s skin he peels off. So, we receive a beautifully shot scene of him getting into make-up with Q. Lazarus’ “Goodbye Horses” playing in the background. “It rubs the lotion on the skin,” says Buffalo Bill, so he forces his victims to rub lotion on their skin, even if eventually they try to scratch their fingernails off to get out of his well.

“Silence of the Lambs,” based on Thomas Harris’ novel, was directed by Jonathan Demme and its screenplay was done by Ted Tally. It’s intensity and performances from Foster, Hopkins, and Levine are what make the movie so threatening and insane. Only a few scenes lagged a bit, but I still ate up the horror, metaphorically speaking.

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The Maltese Falcon

“The Maltese Falcon” is noteworthy for its casting of Broadway sensation Sydney Greenstreet, who made his film debut at the age of 62. It was released in 1941, and I managed to catch a screening of it in honor of its 75th anniversary, and it is excellent.

As the movie opens, we meet private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner Miles (Jerome Cowan), both of whom are visited by a woman named Ruth (Mary Astor), who claims her sister has been taken. Later that night, Miles is found dead, and his wife Gladys George) believes Spade killed him so he could have her. Even the other detectives think so, but Spade never holds a gun. So you can turn his apartment upside down for all he cares.

Ruth is a liar, because her sister wasn’t kidnapped and her real name is Brigid. She said a man named Floyd Thursby may have kidnapped her sister, but really he could have been Miles’ murderer, and he, too, is dead.

And Spade has to deal with Joe Cairo (Peter Lorre) and his boss Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet), who is searching for a missing statue called “The Maltese Falcon,” which they are willing to pay a pretty price for it. Of course, Spade is smart enough to know their game.

“The Maltese Falcon” has a lot of twists and turns, which lead in positive directions. The movie deals with murder, bribery, and deception at the same time, and the characters follows those rules throughly. Bogart is undeniable, Aster is charming, and the Greenstreet and Lorre make brilliant, conniving villains. It’s one of those movies you would prefer to watch on the big screen, and I did. I attended a special screening of it, and experiencing it for the first time, I enjoyed it.

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Rocky

“Rocky” features Sylvester Stallone in his most extraordinary performance as Rocky Balboa (The Italian Stallion), the southpaw fighter from Philadelphia, who enters the ring. According to what I have seen, this movie deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director (John G. Avildsen), and Best Film Editing.

In his humble beginnings, he boxed bums, and collected debts for a loan shark (Joe Spinell). Then, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to take on a nobody and make him into a somebody. And that nobody-to-somebody happens to be Rocky. So, Rocky begins his training, and has a tough-as-nails trainer (Burgess Meredith), his meat-packing friend Paulie (Burt Young), and Paulie’s shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire) all at his side.

Stallone writes this film with such integrity and emotions, it’s impossible to resist such a screenplay. He is writes himself tremendously well, making him the best character of his career. Director John G. Avildsen guides this movie in the right direction with its beautifully shot images and intense look of the ring. We also get great performances from Weathers, Young, Shire, and Meredith, all of whom portray their characters with real emotions, and depth. So, small or big, these roles are well-cast, and Stallone leads them all to greatness.

This is a boxing drama that you really want to see before you see “Creed,” which portrays Apollo Creed’s son. But even without that film, you should see it, and admire it what it achieves-a breathtaking and dedicated sports drama.

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Aladdin

It is an absolute shame that the great Robin Williams took his own life last year. But on a positive note his animated Disney feature, “Aladdin,” has just been released from the Disney Vault on Blu-Ray for the first time, and it was a real treat for me to buy it and enjoy it.

I attended an AOL Build event, where some of the remaining voice actors Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), and Gilbert Gottfried (Iago) were discussing the joys they’ve had on making the film, as well as the enjoyment brought upon by the directors (John Musker and Ron Clements) and Williams. I asked each of them: “In the spirit of Aladdin, what is something each of you would wish for?” Freeman wants world peace, Gottfried wants Scarlett Johansson, and Larkin wants to reunite with the cast for the next event. That was a real treat.

As a young child, I was terrified of the Cave of Wonders, which is a giant computer graphic tiger head in the desert. That’s where the magic lamp is located, and Jafar and his parrot Iago want it. So they arrange for the street rat Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weigner of “Full House”) and his monkey Abu (voiced by Frank Welker) to enter the cave to take it. Unfortunately, thanks to Abu, they end up trapped in the cave, where Aladdin rubs the lamp, and out comes the Genie (voiced by Williams), who will grant him three wishes (“That’s it. Three. Uno, Dos Tres”).

The Genie is able to morph into countless caricatures of Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Nicholson, and many other things. Even though he never wanted his name in the promotions, I still think this is one of his very best performances. There is a touching side to him: the Genie is a prisoner in the lamp, so Aladdin promises to wish him free, as soon as he is done with the other two wishes.

“Aladdin” is an absolute delight for kids and adults, because of the animation, the voice-acting, the characters, the songs, and the style it contains. It might be intense for some small kids (and again I was terrified of the Cave of Wonders as a little kid), but it is fun for all.

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Minority Report

PreCrime is the special police force, which can see the future, and prevent crimes before they even happen. For example, a father (Ayre Gross) plans to kill his wife and her lover, but PreCrime manages to stop him. How else? They have humans, known as “Precogs,” to predict the future. That’s the general idea for Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” an entertaining Sci-Fi picture that’s filled with twists and turns.

Tom Cruise plays PreCrime’s leader John Anderton, who finds out about a prediction, which claims he will kill a man by the name of Leo Crowe (Mike Binder) within 36 hours. He has no idea who he is, but DOJ agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) renders him a fugitive from justice. Not just that, but also because Anderton uses drugs to calm his nerves, following the disappearance of his young son.

Anderton finds out from a PreCrime doctor (Lois Smith) that the company is flawed, and the only way to stop it is to find a minority report from one of the precogs. The most gifted is the female, and so, receiving a new pair of eyes, Anderton breaks into the lab, and takes Agatha (Samantha Morton). From that point, secrets will be revealed.

“Minority Report,” based on Phillip K. Dick’s short story, may have some complicated elements, but it’s still intelligent on its own level. Cruise usually manages to play characters, in which he studies their outcome, and even in the most hazardous situations, he is able to pull through. I probably said that in my “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” review, but I still believe in that notion.

I also enjoyed the co-stars (Farrell, Morton, and Max Von Sydow), and I appreciate the special effects used for the vehicles and the spider robots, which examine people’s eyes. Spielberg manages to bring it all together-the acting, the look, and the story.

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The Man With the Golden Arm

I was in Chicago last weekend, and my grandfather suggested that I watch “The Man with the Golden Arm,” which takes place in the same state. It may not live up to the great black and white movies, but it is still a fine piece of work. Based on the novel by Nelson Algren, the movie was also nominated 3 Oscars for Best Actor, Best Art Direction, and Best Music Score.

I love Frank Sinatra’s music and I love his performance in the movie. He plays Frankie Machine, a card dealer and heroin addict, who has just been released from prison, and promises to go straight. He decides to become a drummer, and begins searching for gigs. Things haven’t changed as Frankie resorts back to heroin and is forced to get back on the tables, after his con artist friend Sparrow (Arnold Stang) gets them both arrested.

His wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker) had a spine injury, and that’s why she is sitting in a wheel chair. However, it turns out that upon Frankie’s return, she is fully recovered. She also knows about his admiration for his former flame, a tramp named Molly (Kim Novak). Molly knows about his heroin addiction, and wants to help him get cleaned.

I didn’t always get involved with “The Man with the Golden Arm,” but I still think it was very good, and I liked how the movie stays on course without taking any U-turns. Sinatra is perfect in the lead role, and one of his best scenes is when he tells Molly to lock him in a room so he can over come his heroin addiction. He tells her no matter what he says or does, she will not open the door. Parker is beautiful and dramatic as the wife, who tries to talk to him, while keeping her lips sealed about her healthy legs. Novak is innocent as the tramp, who tries to help Frankie. And Stang is flexible as Sparrow, who steals dogs so he can collect the reward money. We have such fine talents in the 1950s, and I enjoy the film’s style and charisma.

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The Prince of Egypt
OSCAR WINNER FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG (“WHEN YOU BELIEVE”)
With “Minions” now in theaters, I am going to have to assume that many people will think it will be Sandra Bullock’s first animated feature. If you think that, you’re wrong, because that would be the 1998 biblical animated feature “The Prince of Egypt.”

But it’s not just Bullock we should be looking forward to in this film. “The Prince of Egypt” is more deep into the story of Moses (voiced by Val Kilmer) and Ramses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) than the recent “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” It may be shorter than that, but it still takes the matter very seriously, and as an animated feature, it works wonders.

Moses was born a Hebrew and raised into the kingdom of Seti (voiced by Patrick Stewart). He runs into two people (voiced by Sandra Bullock and Jeff Goldblum), who tell him where he really comes from. Now, he goes off into the desert, marries Zipporah (voiced by Michelle Pfeifer), and gets the word from God. He must head his people to freedom, but first he must use all of God’s might to persuade Ramses to let them go.

“The Prince of Egypt” is beautifully drawn, beautifully written, and beautifully voiced. As mentioned, Dreamworks Animation released this film was released in 1998, when we barely had CGI animated films. Sure, some CGI is used to represent certain scenes, but the drawing qualities of the people and locations are superb. The drama is also real in regard to Moses and Ramses, again more so than “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” I can’t really say this is a children’s film because of all the dark subjects, but I can say it is true to its religion, and anyone who believes in the story will love it.

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The Terminator

I admit when I watched “The Terminator” for the first time, I wasn’t too thrilled. But as I watched it a second time, in celebration of “Terminator Genesys,” I found it to be wildly entertaining.

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent from the future to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), and Kyle Resse (Michael Biehn) follows him back. Reese rescues Connor, and he tells her of how Skynet will take over the world, and how her unborn son John Connor will lead the resistance. And that’s why the Terminator will stop at nothing to eliminate her.

The Terminator is an incredible character, killing his victims in so many fascinating ways. He attacks at a gun shop, and a police station. His special effects are amazing, especially since he has to cut his arm and eye, both of which aren’t too gruesome since he is a robot. Schwarzenegger gives one of his very best performances as The Terminator.

Written and directed by James Cameron, the movie is entertaining in the way the humans have to dodge the Terminator and the special effects used to bring it all to life. Biehn and Hamilton are both emotional and unique as the humans on the run. The best scene with Biehn is when he has to dodge the 1984 police in a department store, while looking for clothes. And Hamilton is scared in the right sense, unlike Brit Robertson in “Tomorrowland.”

I also admire the score by Brad Fiedel, who makes every chase scene sound like techno 1980s music. Each scene is life threatening, and I am having a blast watching them. Not every scene grabs my attention, but the movie is still breathtaking.

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Mulan

I never saw the 1998 Disney animated film “Mulan” when I was a kid. But eventually, I watched this movie, and it is glorious. Not only that but this was also Eddie Murphy’s first animated movie before providing the voice of Donkey in the “Shrek” franchise.Β He lends his voice to a small dragon named Mushu, who must help the main heroine Mulan (voiced by Ming Na and Lea Salonga provides her singing voice) join the Chinese Army.

Based on the Chinese legend, Fa Mulan is a young woman, whose father (voiced by Soon-Tek Oh) is forced to enlist in the Chinese Army, when a villain named Shan Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrier) leads the Huns to takeover China. Of course, she refuses to let her father risk his life, so Fa Mulan disguises herself as man named “Ping” in order to join the army. She receives help from Mushu, trains with other recruits (voiced by Harvey Firestein, Gedde Watanabe, and Jerry Tondo), and forges a friendship with the captain (voiced by B.D. Wong, and Donny Osmond provides his singing voice).

Also featuring the voices of George Takei, James Hong, Pat Morita, Miriam Margolyes, and June Foray, “Mulan” is enjoyable from start to finish. The voice acting is memorable, and the two actors that stand out are Eddie Murphy and Harvey Fierstein. There are also hilarious jokes, like in the scene where we see the ghosts of Mulan’s ancestors, and two of them represent the farmer and his wife from the American Gothic portrait.

Like all Disney classics, the animation is superb. And finally, my favorite musical number in the movie is “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” which features the Chinese Army getting motivated to fight the Huns by dreaming of beautiful women. There are some irritating lines, but “Mulan” is still wonderful.

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Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)

Because of my admiration for the newly released “Far From the Madding Crowd,” I’ve decided to check out the 1967 version, which was nominated an Oscar for Richard Rodney Bennett’s score. I admit that now that I have seen the latest version, things were a little obvious in the second film version. However, I not only found different elements in both films, but I find them both to be entertaining.

Julie Christie plays Bathsheba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s farm, and while running it, she is given three suitors. The first is a shepherd named Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), whose dog leads his flock of sheep to their demise. He was the first to pop the question to Bathsheba, but she doesn’t love him the way he does towards her. Nonetheless, he still is supportive of her throughout the story.

The next suitor is William Boldwood (Peter Finch), a wealthy farmer, who wants to marry her, and gives her time to think it over. Again, she says “No,” but that doesn’t change his opinion towards her.

And the third suitor is a soldier named Frank Troy (Terence Stamp), who was originally set to wed the young Fanny Robin (Prunella Ransome), but leaves her after thinking she ditched him at the altar. He does fancy Bathsheba, and asks to marry her, but this time she says “Yes.”

As I enjoyed the recent version, it was absolutely a delight for me to see this vintage movie with familiar scenes and even some unfamiliar scenes. For example, when it looks as though Frank Troy is lost at sea, he really ends up at a circus. That never happened in the recent version, and thereby, it was a great view.

The performances in both version are so robust. Christie and Carey Mulligan are both fine as Bathsheba, playing her in different fascinating ways. Bates and Matthias Shoenaerts are both excellent as the brave and wise shepherd. Finch and Michael Sheen are both exceptional as the wealthy farmer. And Stamp and Tom Sturridge both give radiant and serous roles of the young Calvary officer. Director John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”) has done an outstanding job with his film, and although I was as thrilled as I was with the recent take, I enjoyed it enough.

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Brave

“Brave” is the Oscar-winning entry in the Disney-Pixar industry, which is also the first motion picture from director Mark Andrews (the short film “One Man Band”) and the second for director Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of Egypt”). The film maybe rated PG, and features rambunctious triplets, but “Brave” is for kids ages 7 and up.

Now on to “Brave.” Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) is a young princess with a skill in archery, who has had it with her mother’s (voiced by Emma Thompson) strict rules. Consider this: a powerful mother-daughter relationship with the kind of intelligence and determination.

Their mother-daughter relationship gets much worse when the sons of the three other leaders (voiced by Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and Kevin McKidd) come to take Merida’s hand in marriage. When she runs off crying, she discovers a witch (voiced by Julie Walters) who gives her a pastry that can solve all her problems. But that takes a turn for the worst when her mother is transformed into a bear that will eventually turn into something much more evil.
“Brave” is another terrific entry from Pixar Animation Studios. The script is well written, the voice actors are amazing, the animation is great, and the comedy is humorous. Since the film has a Scottish theme, I felt the same magic I felt when I saw “How to Train Your Dragon” in 2010. Like I said, this movie is for kids ages 7 and up, because it features moments with a demon bear that can frighten little kids. Overall, “Brave” is an absolute delight.

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Speed

“Speed” is the 1994 action thriller I should have seen before I saw that dreadful Ethan Hawke film “Getaway.” Unlike that film, this one has a premise so smart and so threatening, it is completely impossible to resist.

Keanu Reeves stars as Officer Jack Tavern, who manages to thwart a bomb threat brought upon by Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), who fakes his death during the threat. That same man wants $3.7 million, and he plants another bomb in a city bus which will detonate if it either goes below 50mph or if people try to get off. Tavern makes his way on to the bus, and has to deactivate the bomb, only to find it more complicated than usual.

Sandra Bullock plays a passenger, who got her license revoked for speeding. She is forced to take the wheel, when the driver accidentally gets shot, and a relationship develops between her and Tavern. Of course, there are gaps in the road, gas leakage, and car crashes, all of which make things difficult. Every action scene kept me at the edge of my seat.

“Speed” is start-to-finish fun with its action sequences, smartly written plot by Graham Yost, and performances from Reeves, Hopper, and Bullock. Does every scene in the movie attract me? No, but most of them kept me involved as I guess on what is the outcome. If you’re looking for a speeding movie, besides the recent success of “Furious 7,” then “Speed” is right up your alley.

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The Princess and the Frog

In 2009, “The Princess and the Frog” was the first hand-drawn Disney animated feature since “Home on the Range.” Not only that, but it is notable for featuring the first African American princess. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the two behind β€œThe Little Mermaid” and β€œAladdin,” have both made sure that the film has a jazzy look and superb animation.
The movie takes place in 1920s New Orleans, where a young woman named Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose from “Dreamgirls”) works her tail off in order to open up a restaurant that she and her late father (voiced by Terrence Howard) have been fantasizing, because of their extraordinary love of cooking. Another character is Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos), a broke prince, who turns to a street magician named Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) to make his dreams come true.

Their stars cross as Tiana meets the frog prince Naveen, and the kiss backfires as Tiana becomes a frog. They both end up in the bayou, where they begin a trek in order to find a voodoo priestess (voiced by Jenifer Lewis), who can break the spell.

Seeing “The Princess and the Frog” on the silver screen in 2009 was a miracle, because we should really appreciate how great hand-drawn Disney animated films are. Randy Newman wrote some danceable songs, and it is hard for me to decide which I enjoy the best. I think that Rose, Campos, David, Lewis, and Howard are all charming voice actors, even John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey, Michael-Leon Wooley, and Jim Cummings round it up very well. Not everything works out well, but still “The Princess and the Frog” is pure magic.

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Playing at Select AMC theaters locations

Apocalypse Now

There are such fascinating scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” which keep you entertained. War scenes include the opening shot with The Doors’ “The End” playing, and the Vietnam invasion with “The Ride of the Valkyries” playing. There are explosions and helicopters, all of which are covered in brilliant special effects.

Martin Sheen gives an explosive performance as Captain Willard, who, during the Vietnam War, who begins to feel weaker as we awaits for a new mission. He is called into action to assassinate Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a Special Forces officer, who went insane. He has travel on a Navy PBR, and en route, he constantly questions what will happen when he finds Kurtz, and how he will act when he does.

When we see Willard and Kurtz on screen together, we see some remarkable performances from Sheen and Brando. Sheen has a dark voice as he narrates his own events, and Brando is often seen in either shadow or make-up. These scenes keep you glued.

The drama presented in “Apocalypse Now” is very real and dark. The score and art direction both show the intensity of war, and it works on so many levels. There are also color smoke bombs, vulgar dialogue, flying bullets, classic 1960s music, and supporting roles from Dennis Hopper as an American photojournalist and Robert Duvall saying: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Other great scenes include the PBR being attacked by arrows, which appear as just sticks to Willard, until a spear kills the Chief (Albert Hall). Β Another is when a tiger nearly attacks Willard and Chef the Engineman (Frederick Forrest), while looking in the jungles. And there are scenes of Hopper praising Kurtz for the God he thinks he is.

The Playboy scene didn’t really grab my attention, but still “Apocalypse Now” is among the great war dramas. It’s dark, evil, dramatic, beautifully shot, and well-acted.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

When it comes to Christmas, there’s nothing like watching the Frank Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” My mother and I both appreciate the love and affection of a father, and the true meaning of friendship.

The movie begins with the closest friends and family of George Bailey (James Stewart) praying to God about looking out for him. The heavens know that Bailey will jump off the bridge, so they send his wingless guardian angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) to talk some sense into him.

First, Clarence has to get an education about George, about his hatred for the greedy Mr. Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), his marriage to Mary (Donna Reed), and his future career. On Christmas Eve, his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses an $8,000 loan which could close down his business and send George to jail. He ends up becoming a mess so big that he decides to jump off the bridge, only to be rescued by Clarence, who shows him what life would be like if he never existed.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a magical movie about a good man convinced that his life is meaningless, because of some recent turmoil. Stewart is perfect in that role, and he has delightful chemistry with both Reed and Travers. I have seen spoofs of this movie, and either way, I enjoy the concept. This is one of the great holiday classics, and I give this movie five smiley faces.

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Wreck-it Ralph

Like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which has cameos from 1930s-1940s cartoon characters (Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker, etc.), “Wreck-it Ralph” has cameos from video game characters (Sonic the Hedgehog and Q*bert). I have only played a few video games in my lifetime, but I am intrigued with how the characters resemble real video game characters with their movements and skills.

“Wreck-it Ralph” begins with the new black and white short film called “Paperman.” It tells a cute story about a man who falls for a woman at a train station, and turns his contracts into paper planes in order to grab her attention. It is humorous, but I think mature audiences will like it more than small kids will.

Now on to “Wreck-it Ralph.” The movie takes place at an arcade, where all the video games characters follow the same rules as the “Toy Story” characters- having fun when the lights are out. There is a policy, however: you die outside your own game, you don’t regenerate.

Wreck-it Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the main antagonist of the video game “Fix-it Felix Jr.,” who is tired of wrecking buildings without any appreciation. He decides to go AWOL in order to win a medal that will guarantee his respect. In the game, “Hero’s Duty,” Wreck-it Ralph wins his medal, but he ends up in the candy coated game “Sugar Rush,” where he must help a childish glitch named Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) become a racer, much to King Candy’s (voiced by Alan Tudyk) hatred.

Meanwhile, Fix-it-Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer) teams up with the hero of “Hero’s Duty,” Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), to not only track down Ralph, but also the cyborg he accidentally brought with him to Sugar Rush.

“Wreck-it Ralph” has the same magic as “Megamind,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and “Toy Story.” Β Unlike the trailer, the 3D works wonders with this animated feature. The voice cast is superb and they bring out the best of their characters. The movie also pays tribute to some candy jokes like Oreos chanting the “Winkie Chant” from “The Wizard of Oz ” or Laffy Taffy laughing their strings off. There are some depressing moments, but overall, “Wreck-it Ralph” is colorful, smart, and adorable.

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Sin City

Do I look like a comic book/graphic novel expert to you? No. But, I can tell that “Sin City” has the depth of both these elements. In fact, it is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, who serves as the co-director with Robert Rodriguez. The movie is shot in black and white, but from time-to-time, colors pop up on the screen, mostly blood , iris colors, cars, fire, and even a man known as “Yellow Bastard.” This is one of those movies that try things nobody has ever tried before, and this is what I call filmmaking.

Bruce Willis plays retiring cop John Hartigan, out to kill serial child-killer Roark Junior (Nick Stahl), the son of Senator Roark (Powers Booth), who is about to rape a young girl named Nancy Callahan. He is wrongfully convicted of being a child molester, but he finds the adult Nancy (Jessica Alba), who has grown up to be a striper. Mickey Rourke plays Marv, who is out to kill the people (Elijah Wood and Rutger Hauer) responsible for the death of his true love (Jamie King). The late Britney Murphy plays a woman trying to hide from her abusive ex (Benicio Del Toro), who comes face-to-face with her new boyfriend (Clive Owen) and a group of prostitutes (Rosario Dawson, Alexis Bledel, and Devon Aoki). And finally, Josh Hartnett makes a cameo in the opening and closing scenes as the Salesman, who confronts his target: a woman called the Customer (Marley Shelton).

“Sin City” is evil in ways indescribable. Out of all the stars in this film, the best is Rourke, who plays Marv with such blood-thirsty taste, that it is very difficult to resist him. His voice is demeaning, his hairstyle is undeniable, and his personality is just perfect. Willis is the second best, because he is full of relish, and thus, he is perfect for the role. And the best actresses in this film are Dawson, King, Murphy and Alba, who are both powerful and strong-willed. What we have here are great stars in a great movie.

The movie is also great-looking. They use vintage cars, as a classic comic book would have, and they look fantastic. There is a film-noir style, which is also affective, and it brings out the best of these characters. Quentin Tarantino directed a scene when Owen is pulled over by a motorcycle cop, and there is colorful lighting. That is another example of radiant this movie is. Miller and Rodriguez have both created masterpiece.

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When Harry Met Sally

With Rob Reiner’s latest comedy, “And So It Goes,” out in theaters, I decided to share with you readers my opinion of his 1988 comedy “When Harry Met Sally.”

The movie is set in 1977 at the University of Chicago, when Harry (Billy Crystal), a political consultant, and Sally (Meg Ryan), a journalist, weren’t dating, but they did share an argument about sex on their road trip to New York. They go their separate ways, but they reunite 5 years later, still not a couple. Sally has been dating Joe (Steven Ford, son of Gerald and Betty Ford) for a month, while, much to her astonishment, Harry is tying the knot.

5 more years later, Harry and Sally are now both single, but this time, they begin an unusual relationship. They weren’t dating per se, they were actually good friends. I apologize if I am confusing you, but love stories come in all shapes and sizes. If this is writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner’s idea of romance, than they are both geniuses.

I love the very idea of “When Harry Met Sally,” and I am astonished at how unorthodox of a romantic comedy this is. Credit doesn’t just go to Ephron and Reiner; it also goes to Crystal and Ryan in a charming chemistry, as well as Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher as their friends. The film is funny, smart, and charming, all together.

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Stand by Me

“Stand by Me” may be, without a doubt, my most favorite Rob Reiner movie growing up. In addition, this may be one of my favorite films adapted from a Stephen King novel (“The Body”), along with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Shining.” There is lots heart, lots of laughs, and lots of thrills. In fact, there’s lots of everything.

Narrated by Richard Dreyfus, the movie is set in 1959, as a group of young boys-Gordie LaChance (Will Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix, the late older brother of Joaquin), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell)-begin an odyssey in the wilderness to find a dead body, and maybe become famous.

“Stand by Me” has lots of great scenes. One in particular that scares you is when the boys have to dodge a train on a long bridge. They don’t have the schedule of when it is coming, so they walk on it, and then the running begins. Keifer Sutherland, at the age of 22, plays Ace, a local bully, who eventually comes across on their mission to retrieve the body. Again, another serious moment. The actors, Stephen King, and Rob Reiner have all outdone themselves.

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Planet of the Apes (1968)

With “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” approaching theaters soon, my mother asked me if I have seen the original “Planet of the Apes” with Charlton Heston. I decided to check it out, as an act of celebration. Based on the book by Pierre Boulle, this 1968 movie was co-written by Rod Sterling and Michael Wilson; and it was directed by Franklin J. Shaffner. Together, they made an ape-rising picture.

The movie features Heston as George Taylor, who leads his astronaut team (Robert Gunner and Jeff Burton) on a mission that has lasted 18 months for them and 2000 years for Earth. They crash-land on a distant planet, where apes have now ruled over mankind, making the humans animals and the apes humans. Taylor ends up being studied in the science labs, and eventually surprises the apes by saying: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” The few simians who believe him are animal psychologist Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), her fiancee Cornelius (Roddy MacDowell), and her nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner).

“Planet of the Apes” is a thrilling movie from start to finish.Β Charlton Heston is absolutely brilliant as George Taylor, playing him with the correct material.Β This film used no CGI like the recent movies have. Nobody is covered in computer graphics like Andy Serkis is. They placed people in such complete disguises, and they look amazing. In fact, the film was nominated an Oscar for best costume design. The apes who kept me hooked are Dr. Zira, Cornelius, Lucius and the antagonizing orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). The story is nicely thought-out, and its ending will surprise you. Only a few things didn’t energize me, but I still enjoyed this movie.

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Million Dollar Baby

At the same time, director Clint Eastwood has made a decent film version of “Jersey Boys” and screenplay writer Paul Haggis has made a nightmare called “Third Person.” What do they two filmmakers have in common? Well, they both made a 2004 movie called “Million Dollar Baby,” which won 4 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Hilary Swank), Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman), and Best Director.

Freeman as Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (an ex-fighter gone blind in one eye) narrates the film as a young waitress from Missouri named Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) asks boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) to give her a shot. He doesn’t train women, and he constantly tells her to back off, but when his prized prospect (Mike Colter) signs with another coach, he has no choice but to train her. Not only does Maggie become a hit in the ring, but she also earns the name “Mo cuishle.” The film even focuses on the tender relationship between Frankie and Maggie, especially since Frankie is an estranged father.

“Million Dollar Baby” continues Clint Eastwood’s greatness in many ways. One way is the acting. Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman all play their roles with enough iron to hold my attention. We, the audience, feel awful for the characters in their most dramatic situations. Haggis did a great job with the screenplay, which is actually based on short stories F.X. Toole wrote. In fact, you should rent this film, instead of struggling to find a theater where “Third Person” is playing at. Eastwood brings it all together with the seriousness and ambition he has always offered.

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Crash

With Paul Haggis’ latest project, “Third Person,” opening in select cities this Friday, I decided to review his Oscar-winning drama “Crash.” It won for Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay. It is all about crime, ethnic behaviors, and dirty cops.

Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito play two detectives on a shootout case between two drivers. Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Larenz Tate play two African-American characters, who carjack a couple (Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser as a district attorney) and accidentally run over a Chinese man.Β Matt Dillion plays a cop, worrying about his sick father (Bruce Kirby) andΒ pulling over an African-American couple (Terence Howard as a TV director and Thandie Newton). He molests Newton, but he rescues her from a car explosion. Ryan Philippe plays Dillion’s ex-partner, who reasons with Howard regarding his fight with Bridges. Shaun Toub plays a Persian shop owner, who buys a gun, finds out his shop has been robbed, and briefly blames it on his locksmith (Michael Pena).

Not every story in “Crash” worked for me, but I still found it to be a powerhouse movie with how they intertwine with one another. To begin, it has wonderful performances from Cheadle, Bridges, Dillion, Newton, Fraser, Bullock, Philippe, and Tate, all whom rip you apart limb from limb. I should have seen this movie before “A Madea Christmas,” so I can compare and contrast to this film’s serious portrayal of how African-Americans are sometimes treated in society, and Haggis shows the right intentions of giving out that message. This, too, happens for other ethnic groups. They feel discriminated, and others discriminate them, and that is beyond serious. In other words, “Crash” is a movie about racism at a Grade-A level.

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Thelma and Louise

Out of the 6 Oscar nominations, the 1991 road trip classic β€œThelma and Louise” won for Best Original Screenplay by Calllie Khouri, and according to what I saw, she deserved that Oscar.

Thelma (Geena Davis), an unhappily married woman, and Louise (Susan Sarandon), a diner waitress, hit the road for a 2-day trip with their ’66 Ford Thunderbird. En route, they stop for a few drinks at nightclub, where Thelma is nearly raped and Louise kills her rapist (Timothy Carhart). They flee for Oklahoma City in order to figure out their situation. Louise decides to head to Mexico, but she can’t travel through Texas because something happened to her there.

Among the star-studded cast, Christopher McDonald plays Thelma’s overbearing husband; Michael Madsen plays Louise’s boyfriend, who wires them the money for their freedom; Brad Pitt plays the young hitchhiker and thief, who takes their money; and Harvey Keitel plays the detective interrogating all these actors in order to find the two main fugitives.

“Thelma and Louise,” directed by Ridley Scott, is definitely something to see before “Tammy” comes out. This is a movie about bad people changing the behaviors of good people. If you provoke them, they start to revolt. Sarandon and Davis are absolutely wonderful as the type of women I am describing. They surprise you in countless ways, and you smile at how surprised you are. I also appreciate Keitel, Pitt, Madsen, and McDonald, who all play their characters with such taste that you fail to find any problems with their characters. I was a little uncomfortable when the two women force a state trooper in his trunk, but still, this is the perfect example of how chick flicks should be.

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Frankenstein

My grandfather recommended a 1931 horror film called “Frankenstein,” and he told me the monster make-up is phenomenal, and he is right. I told him I would review this movie to compare and contrast with “I, Frankenstein,” which opens this Friday.

The “Frankenstein” I am reviewing has Boris Karloff (the original voice of the Grinch from 1966) portraying the monster made out of body parts. Back then, Karloff was just credited as “?,” I guess as a way to horrify the audience, by convincing them that he is real.

He is created by Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his Igor named Fritz (Dwight Frye), who both dig up various body parts from a graveyard and steal a human brain from a medical school. And the final ingredient is lightning.

Henry’s fiance Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) is concerned about him working in complete secrecy. So, she, her friend Victor Moritz (John Boles), and Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) come at the wrong time to find out why he works in isolation. Henry proves to them that he is a brilliant scientist. “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!” Of course, the monster eventually becomes a monster problem for the village.

“Frankenstein” is based on Mary Shelley’s novel and Peggy Webling’s play. It is also produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., and directed by James Whale. Clive is mad as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, Karloff looks like a convincing monster with his impressive make-up, and Frye makes a charming Igor. As a matter of fact, I think the movie will be much better monster movie than the upcoming “I, Frankenstein,” which has Aaron Eckhart speaking English, while Karloff mumbles. I will just have to review it, and I will compare and contrast with this movie. One more thing: the monster hates fire.

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An American in Paris

Gene Kelly dances around so gayly, he is very colorful. In Vincente Minnelli’s Oscar-winning for Best Picture film, “An American in Paris,” Kelly appears to be having fun, while entertaining the audience. Some of my favorite numbers from him include “I Got Rhythm” and “Tra-la-la (This Time It’s Really Love).” George Gershwin wrote those lyrics very well.

Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) is a WWII veteran, who moves to Paris to become a painter. His friend Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) is a pianist, who is good friends with French singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary). What’s amazing about these three characters is that whenever a different person comes on screen when they are introducing themselves, they say “No, that’s not me. That’s me.”

Adam is dating a 19-year-old French girl named Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). Whenever Jerry tries to picture her, Adam keeps clarifying on what type a girl Lise is, and thus, we are given countless amounts of brilliantly choreographed dance sequences.Β Jerry meets a divorced heiress named Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), who buys some of his paintings, and offers him a sponsorship. He manages to get with Lise, despite her relationship with Adam.

“An American in Paris” allows the actors to sing and dance without anyone getting in their way. It appears that they are goofing around, but they really mean their songs. In fact, it reminded me of the poets screwing around and getting high in the recent Daniel Radcliffe movie “Kill Your Darlings.” Gene Kelly is very talented, and he tries to balance his relationship with Leslie Caron and Nina Foch, who are both delightful on camera. I also appreciate the dance sequence with Jerry’s sketches of Paris as the background. Vincente Minnelli directed a delightful movie, while George Gershwin wrote some danceable songs.

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Raging Bull

With Martin Scorsese’s latest feature “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Robert De Niro’s latest comedy “Grudge Match” both in theaters, I have taken the liberty of reviewing Scorsese/DeNiro’s black-and-white sports drama “Raging Bull.”

This movie won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (De Niro) and Best Film Editing. Educational fact: when it was released in 1980, it got a polarized reaction from the audience because of its violence; however, it became a classic with critics and audiences alike.

The movie takes place in New York City of 1941, when angry boxer Jake LaMotta (De Niro) has to get back on his feet after suffering a bitter loss against Jimmy Reeves. Even though he is unhappily married, he falls for a young blonde named Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) at the local pool, and eventually starts a family with her. His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) serves as his manager, and he always criticizes him for being too ambitious with his fights. While getting a shot at the title, Jake starts to worry that Vickie is being unfaithful to him.

“Raging Bull” is a much better choice than “Grudge Match,” because of De Niro’s fist-packing performance (which got him the Oscar), the film’s dazzling art direction, and the black-and-white cinematography. Pesci always has a great chemistry with De Niro, and this chemistry also works in “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Moriarty is absolutely lovely as Vickie, and she made her film debut very well. Only a mob talk scenes are hard for me to follow, but still “Raging Bull” is a knock out hit.

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Mary Poppins

With “Saving Mr. Banks” in theaters nationwide and the Blu-Ray release of “Mary Poppins,” why don’t I be a chap and review the 1964 classic? The movie that memorably starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The movie based on P.L. Travers’ novel. The movie with the perfect special effects. The movie with the phenomenal songs composed by the Sherman Brothers. And the movie is fun to all age groups. This is the movie I am reviewing.

Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael Banks (Matthew Garber), the children of George (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns), both require the perfect nanny. That is where Mary Poppins (Andrews) comes in, with her magic umbrella, of course. She has a tape measure that measures the personalities of the kids: Jane is giggly and Michael is suspicious.

The movie also features Bert (Dyke), a chimney sweep/one-man band/skilled artist, who takes Mary and the kids to his animated world, where we learn the famous word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The story also involves Mr. Banks, who finds Mary Poppins’ whimsical adventures to be ridiculous. He is a character who undertakes a change of heart.

“Mary Poppins” is an instant classic that has been treasured for years to come. I never read the P.L. Travers book, but this movie is first-rate. Andrews is absolutely delightful as Mary Poppins, Dyke is charming as Bert, and Ed Wynn (the voice of Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland”) packs in the laughs as Uncle Albert, who floats whenever he laughs. The special effects are magical in the way the characters can float, and the way they toys can put themselves away. The animation is nicely drawn, the songs are fun and beautiful, and the film’s tone is colorful for kids and adults alike.

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Fargo

Here is what the opening shot says in “Fargo,” a film by the Coen Brothers. “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of the respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” It is fictional, but the Coen brothers added true events to make one big story.

The movie starts off at a bar, where a man named Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) requires the help of two criminals, Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) in order to fix his financial problems. She and her father (Harve Presnell) are both well-off, so the father would have to pay a random fee of $80,000. Carl and Gaear manage kidnap Jean, but Gaesar has to kill a few witnesses, which draw the attention of a pregnant police chief named Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Carl becomes infuriated by this whole mess that he ends up threatening Jerry.

“Fargo” is more thrilling and more compelling than “No Country for Old Men.” McDormand gives one of the best performances in her film career. Buscemi and Stormare are pulsating villains with sly wit and devious intentions. Macy’s character has a smart reason for his wife’s kidnapping. And Rudrud is convincing as a scared kidnapped woman. The overcome of “Fargo” is so dark, it’s wonderful. The Coen Brothers have outdone themselves with this movie.

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The Big Lebowski

Oh my gosh. Is Jeff Bridges explosively entertaining in “The Big Lebowski” or what? He is phenomanally memorable as Jeffrey Lewbowski, or “The Dude” as he liked to be called.

In this classic Coen Brothers comedy, Sam Elliot tells the story of the Dude, an unemployed local LA bowler, who is mistaken for the millionaire Lebowski.Β The Dude’s real name is Jeffrey Lebowski, so that’s why there’s confusion.Β The thugs (Philip Moon and Mark Pellegrino), who demand money from the millionaire Lebowski, attack the Dude, and they urinate on his rug. He intends to meet the real Lebowski (David Huddleston) in order to get an apology for his rug being soiled, but he tells him to shove off.

However, Lebowski calls the Dude for help when his sexy wife (Tara Reid) is held at ransom. The thugs that kidnapped his wife, could be the same guys who soiled the rug. His angry spirited friend and bowling teammateΒ Walter (John Goodman) helps the Dude bring the ransom money, but they give the thugs a suitcase filled with dirty underwear instead. Things gets complicated when the Dude’s car, with the money in it, gets stolen.

“The Big Lebowski” is explosively entertaining and well-acted. Bridges blew my mind as the Dude, because he is a bum, but a serious bum. Goodman is positively angry, and his character takes out his problems on a lot of people with some comical results. The ensemble cast also includes Steve Buscemi as Donny, who is always told to shut up by Walter, Julianne Moore as Lebowski’s daughter Maude, who wants to have a child with the Dude, and John Turturro as Jesus, an ex-petafiler, who is the Dude, Walter, and Danny’s bowling opponent.

The casting is breathtakingly amazing. The art direction is able to place the Dude in dream sequences, and the special effects help make those sequences work like a charm. The Coen Brothers are professionals at making their comedies seem dark, but not too serious.

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Beauty and the Beast

“Beauty and the Beast,”directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise,Β Β is an extraordinary Disney animated movie with wonderful characters, gorgeous animation, and dazzling songs (written by Alan Menkin and the late Howard Ashman). Not only did this film win two Oscars for Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Best Original Score, but it also inspired the Broadway show. In fact, this is among my favorite Disney features.

The story involves a spoiled prince (voiced by Robby Benson), who has been transformed into a beast, and needs to learn the value of true love, in order to be a human again. Then, we meet Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), the prettiest girl in town, who dreams of something much more out of life. She ends up becoming his prisoner in his castle, where he meets his employees, Cogsworth (voiced by David Ogden Stiers), Lumiere (voiced by Jerry Orbach), and Mrs. Potts (voiced by Angela Lansbury), all of whom are dishes and furniture. It’s a work in progress, but a love story bonds between Belle and the Beast.

Of course, there’s a villain in the story. The bravest hunter Gaston (voiced by Richard White), who plans to marry Belle. But when he finds out about her love story with the Beast, he decides to take drastic measures.

“Beauty and the Beast” is full of love, humor, song, and a story that deserves to be told. It has so many wonderful songs (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” etc.) and so many wonderful characters, that only cold-hearted people could hate this movie. I didn’t. I Loved it on all accounts, and I am thankful that this has been added to the great Disney classics.

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