Shirley

Spotlight: Women’s Pictures

Back in the day, moviegoers called chick flicks “women’s pictures.” Make sure you have a box of tissues handy as you watch these melodramatic tearjerkers. For an excellent discussion of the genre, visit AMC’s filmsite.org.

Some of my favorites include:
Shirley

French Kiss (1995) PG-13

Scenes in this Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline romantic comedy had me laughing out loud. Terrified of flying, Kate musters her courage and flies to Paris after her fiancé falls for a French woman. On the plane, she meets charming petty thief Luc, who sees in her a way he can smuggle a necklace in to the country. He soon becomes involved in her love life. The leads have great comedy timing and chemistry. French Kiss is delightful, clever, and fun.
Shirley

The Big Heat (1953)

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star as an honest police detective who goes after the gangsters who killed his wife and the gangster’s girlfriend who switches her allegiance. Police corruption and a conspiracy drive the plot. I consider The Big Heat to be one of the best noir movies of the 1950s. If you like classic film noir, add this tense, dark, and gritty film to your must-see list.

Check out our list of other 1950s Noir films.
Shirley

Summer Stock (1950)

summerstockSummer Stock is a feel-good, corny (pun intended), let’s-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn musical starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. His unforgettable dance with a newspaper and creaky floorboards, and Garland’s show stopping “Get Happy” highlight this cheerful, old-fashioned film.

Check out Turner Classic Movies’ article on Summer Stock, then watch the film.
Shirley

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) PG-13

mirrorThis romantic comedy stars Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges. They both teach at Columbia University. Good looking but stiff and awkward, Gregory (Bridges) has had his share of troubles with the gorgeous but none-too-stimulating women he dates as well as with engaging his students. Rose (Streisand), an intelligent, popular teacher with limited dating options, struggles to find her self-worth and confidence in relationships. Gregory advertises for an intellectual companion, “physical appearance unimportant,” and unbeknownst to Rose, her beautiful sister (Mimi Rogers) responds to the ad for her. This sets the stage for a meeting and subsequent relationship between Rose and Gregory. Respect and friendship vs. attraction and desire result in a witty, enjoyable film. Lauren Bacall and Pierce Brosnan have fun secondary roles in The Mirror Has Two Faces.
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Shirley

Spotlight: Johnny Depp

johnnydeppI have a theory that Johnny Depp does some of his best work in films with titles that include the names of people. This extraordinary actor has done wonderful work in such movies as Benny and Joon (goofy), Edward Scissorhands (heartbreaking), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (sensitive), Don Juan DeMarco (playful), Ed Wood (endearing), Donnie Brasco (subtle and gritty).

Even if you don’t care for the movie, you can appreciate the performance. Whether funny, animated, chewing the scenery, or quietly effective, he rarely disappoints. Take a look at his full filmography.
Shirley

Double Indemnity by James Cain (1936)

doubleindemnityI love the film noir Double Indemnity, one of the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Films. This taut and sparely written novella differs in a few ways but retains the power of the classic film. Greed and lust in 1930s Los Angeles, depicted by insurance agent Walter Neff and femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, result in a memorable denouement.

Check out James Cain’s novella Double Indemnity today.
Shirley

Spotlight: Melody Gardot

melodygardotI just discovered Melody Gardot while searching for singers similar to Diana Krall. I recommend her music for vocal jazz enthusiasts who enjoy a little pop and blues. Gardot has an intriguing backstory that may well have informed her style. Lovely orchestration accents the romantic, lyrically wonderful albums.

Some of my favorite songs: “Impossible Love” evokes a French café ambiance, “Goodbye” demonstrates her sensuous chanteuse quality, “Your Heart is as Black as the Night” has a sultry, bluesy vibe, and the vocal style of “So We Meet Again My Heartache” just gives me goosebumps. Don’t miss her delightful version of “Over the Rainbow.”

Check out her albums today: The Absence (2012) and My One and Only Thrill (2009).
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Shirley

Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh (2013)

tellingthebeesAlbert Honing, a beekeeper in his eighties, lives a quiet life until he discovers his two elderly neighbors, also beekeepers, murdered. Narrator Albert slowly and deliberately tells this tale of relationships and family secrets and loss. Bittersweet and wonderfully written, this tale vibrates with a mesmerizing rhythm. Albert’s bee lore regularly takes center stage and factors heavily in the story; readers will learn the poignant meaning of its title.  I listened to Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh’s first novel, and recommend it for those who can patiently allow Albert his story’s due.
Shirley

3 Days of the Condor (1975) R

3 Days of the CondorThis exciting vehicle for Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway has him as a CIA researcher on the run after narrowly escaping a horrific event and her as his unwilling accomplice. What can he do and whom should he trust? He finds no easy answers in this taut, well-executed thriller. 3 Days of the Condor is based on the James Grady novel Six Days of the Condor.
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Shirley

Murphy's Romance (1985) PG-13

James Garner and Sally Field star in Murphy's Romance, a satisfying, intelligent romantic comedy about two very likeable people and their increasing affection for each other. Emma, a 30ish divorced mother of a teen, comes to a small town in hopes of starting a horse boarding business and meets Murphy, an older, widowed pharmacist. Their relationship slowly and believably grows. The stars have great chemistry. Stay tuned for the dance scene; I laughed out loud.

Consider watching this charmer for Valentine’s Day. Want more romantic comedies? Check out the movie lists under Romance & Love Stories.
Shirley

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren (2012)

I haven’t become so invested in characters in a long while. This subtle, evocative novel interweaves multiple stories and characters during the course of one August day in the small western Canadian town of Juliet.

I discovered many lovely moments in this wonderful piece of storytelling, including some of almost indescribable lyricism; I especially loved the story of twenty-something Lee Torgesen, who alone runs the family ranch after the passing of his adoptive parents, as well as Willard and Miriam’s tender relationship. I almost crawled inside their heads and breathed with the characters in Juliet, even the ones for whom I cared less. The everyday-ness resonates.

I listened to the audio version; the narrator’s understated rendering hit the right notes. She keeps character differentiation to a minimum, but adds the right level of emotion.

Listen to Juliet in August by Dianne Warren.
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Shirley

Stagecoach (1939)

You know the Western clichés— outlaw looking for revenge, doctor done in by “the drink,” prostitute with the heart of gold, smooth gambler, Monument Valley locale. This fine film set the standard. Stagecoach carries a motley group of characters en route to their destinies in Apache territory. John Wayne impresses as the outlaw; he, along with the others, boards a stagecoach into that dangerous land and circumstances that will test them all.

I thoroughly enjoyed John Ford’s direction, the framing of scenes, the panoramic longshots and personality defining close-ups. --And then you have Yakima Canutt’s oft-imitated stunt work. Watch for the wordless moments that make the stage passengers unforgettable.

Check out a TCM article on Stagecoach for a behind-the-scenes look at the film, plus the partnership between John Wayne and John Ford.

For other movies from 1939, check out Bill's spotlight on the most celebrated year in American film history. And for other classic westerns starring John Wayne, check out our list of movies.
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Shirley

Niagara (1953)

I saw Niagara on TCM recently and found out that producers first envisioned this as more of a standard film noir, but once Marilyn Monroe’s considerable charms became apparent, they built up her character considerably. This early breakout role showed that she could deliver a strong dramatic performance.

The camera obviously loves Monroe in this thriller about a cheating wife and her unstable husband (Joseph Cotten) vacationing in Niagara Falls. A likeable but unsuspecting couple on their honeymoon becomes involved in Monroe’s and Cotten’s tumultuous lives and the deadly events that take place in the spectacular setting of the Falls.

Niagara will air later this summer on TCM as part of their Battle of the Blondes series. Staff created lists of other noir films of the 1940s and 1950s -- check them out!
Shirley

The Heiress

The Heiress (1949)
Olivia de Havilland, ever luminous even in this role as a plain, shy, and somewhat socially inept heiress in mid-1800s New York, experiences romance with handsome and cultured Montgomery Clift. This wonderful actress shows us a personality shift--most noticeable to me in her voice--as she grows in realization of the painful forces at work in her relationships. The emotional punch of this 1949 film becomes most fully realized in the unforgettable final scene. The top notch cast also includes Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins. Read the 1881 book by Henry James, Washington Square.

For more on the film, check out the 1949 review from The New York Times and a film article on the Turner Classic Movie website.