You don’t have to like romance or comedy.  You don’t have to love the movies this woman sent forth into the world.  But you do have to acknowledge their place in our cultural landscape.

Comedy is hard.  Romantic comedy, more so.

This week we lost a romantic comedy legend when Nora Ephron died.  So we celebrate her by remembering her work; the drama, the truth and the romance.  Let’s face it.  It takes an amazing person to write something as powerful as Silkwood, follow it up with something as personal as Heartburn and as iconic as When Harry Met Sally…

But then she came from a strong writing background given that her parents, Phoebe and Henry Ephron, wrote a truly classic romantic comedy (and one of my personal favorites) – Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Maybe our society has moved past the syrupy sweet romance of Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail but in their time and place they were the fluffy bubblegum of choice.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Without further ado, here is this week’s film list:

1.  Silkwood (1983)
2.  When Harry Met Sally…(1989)
3.  Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Additional Films:

4.  Heartburn (1986)
5.  Michael (1996)
6.  Julie & Julia (2009)

Bonus Film:

Desk Set (1957)

Discussion Questions:

1.  What do you like about romantic comedies?
2.  What do you hate about romantic comedies?
3.  Do you think that writers who direct their own work do a better job that a separate writer and director or are they too close to the material to make difficult judgment calls for the betterment of the picture?


James Bond.  A name that immediately evokes a drink order “martini, shaken, not stirred” and the image of a beautiful but disposable woman.  A single spy that spans decades.  A library of books and a whole catalog of films.

Bond started as the brain child of Ian Fleming.  Fleming’s life is worthy of a novel or film.  Oh wait – they did make a movie out of it… Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming.  On top of all the crazy things that happened in his life AND being the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming wrote the novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Yes, it was a book first.

He wrote the first Bond book, Casino Royale, in 1953.  It was a sensation in England but not for any reason you would think of today.  In 1953, England was just coming out of the food rationing from World War II.  So to have a story where the hero traveled freely and ate an avocado pear… that was the end all be all in escapism.

All told there are about 13 books and a collection of short story.  The movies over took the books long ago.  There are 22, soon to be 23 official films with six men playing Bond.

It’s always been my feeling that the first man you see playing Bond will always typify Bond for you.  But the default is always Sean Connery.  That being said, Ian Fleming said that George Lazenby was the closest to the character he wrote in his novels.

One last note before we get to the movies.  The martini.  For the love of all that is holy do NOT order a martini shaken.  You stir a martini so as not to ‘bruise’ the alcohol.  The only reason you would want to shake a martini is if you were using very old school potato vodka that needed to be shaken so that the oils dispersed.  Since we don’t drink potato vodka anymore, there is no need to order your martini this way.

And now … this week’s film list:

1. Dr. No (1962) – Sean Connery
2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – George Lazenby
3. Live and Let Die (1973) – Roger Moore
4. License to Kill (1989) – Timothy Dalton
5. GoldenEye (1995) – Pierce Brosnan
6. Casino Royale (2006) – Daniel Craig

Additional Films:
Pick a Bond

Discussion Questions:
1. Who is your favorite Bond and why?
2. Given changes in world politics, is there still a place for James Bond at the table?  Why or why not?
3. This is a film series that has spanned 50 years.  How well do you think it has fared over all that time?

This week we will be exploring the work of Humphrey Bogart.

Bogie can be described with words like ICON and MOVIE STAR.  The real deal.

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For the vital statistics, read this: then get the rest of the story here

These movies will are so ingrained in our pop culture that if you haven’t seen them you still know a great deal about them.  I could spend a lot of time here talking about how the Maltese Falcon is a MacGuffin, or about the symbolism in the love story of Casablanca.  Or how even though he is not the love interest in Barefoot Contessa he still has an amazing rapport with Ava Gardner but in a father figure role.

But I won’t bother.  Just watch the movies.  You’ll get it.

This week’s film list:

1. Maltese Falcon (1941)
2. Casablanca (1942)
3. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
4. Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Bonus but Recommended Films:

1. The Big Sleep (1946)
2. Key Largo (1948)
3. African Queen (1951)

Discussion questions:

1 – If lines are written by a writer or writers, how much of the zeitgeist of a movie quote is owned by the actor who delivered it?
2 – How many actors do you think have been type-cast who may have had great talent that was never allowed to be showcased on screen?  Do you prefer to see actors stay in the same types of roles or do you like when they try new things?
3 – Do real couples do better on screen with one another than non-couples or do you think it matters as long as the actors are good?  How much does real chemistry play into a good film?

Week Seven: I Know This Story

Ever wonder why there are so many versions of Cinderella?  Why this summer saw back to back Snow White movies?

Well it all comes down to copyright.  These stories along with the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland entered the public domain and became fair game.  You can make a movie out of the story and not have to worry about who has the rights.  (NB – the books are no covered by copyright but the movies you think of when you hear those titles are so you have to be careful.)  These laws have been changed to the point that nothing seems to go out of copyright any more but the old stories are still up for grabs.  But when you have a ton of versions of the same story you get a bit tired.

Brace yourself for the next interpretation … next up is Sam Raimi’s Oz: the Great and Powerful due out in 2013

In the mean time let’s spend a little time with some fun and different movies based on old stories.

This week’s film list – pick any 3 of the following:

1. Company of Wolves (1984)
2. Freeway (1996)
3. Cinderfella (1960)
4. Alice (2009) Syfy mini-series
5. Return to Oz (1985)

Discussion questions:

1 – Do you like reinterpretations of “classics” or do you wish someone would come up with a new story idea?
2 – Do you have a favorite fairytale or classic children’s story that you wish would be made into a film now?
3 – What demographic factors do you think come into play when using fairy tales as the basis for a movie?

Week Six: A Hero – Pure and Simple

Ellen Ripley is a bad-ass.  She was a bad-ass in 1979.  She was even more of a bad-ass in 1986.  In the world of Epic Bad-Asses…. Ellen Ripley is QUEEN!

“In 2011, Total Film ranked her first of their top of the 100 Greatest Female Characters. Ripley has been selected as the eighth greatest hero in American cinema history by the American Film Institute, as 5th coolest hero in pop culture by Entertainment Weekly, the 9th greatest movie character ever by Empire (the highest-placing female of the list), and the eighth best movie character of all time by Premiere, In 2011,
John Scalzi called her “Clearly the Best Female Character in Scifi Film”.

On June 8th, Prometheus opens.  Considering that it is a movie built with Alien‘s DNA, it just makes sense to catch up before this summer block buster comes out.

The last box set calls it the “Alien Anthology”.  Alien (directed by Ridley Scott) in 1979, Aliens (directed by James Cameron) in 1986, Alien 3 (directed by David Fincher) in 1992, and Alien Resurrection (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeune) in 1997.  I’m sorry but I am not counting AVP (Alien Vs Predator directed by Paul W.S. Anderson) because… I just can’t.

You can call it Horror, you can call it Sci-Fi, you can call it Thriller.. it really doesn’t matter.  It’s good storytelling.  It’s good film making.  It’s good acting, directing, set design… hell it’s good gaffing.  These are good films.  Genre films, sure, but at their core they are simply good films.

Nota Bene:  Alien co-starred Ian Holmes and John Hurt.  Sir Ian’s career spans 44 years; Sir John’s 50.  And the more I look at these gentlemen’s work, the more I think… yeah if they are in a film, I should probably watch it.

This week’s film list:

1. Alien (1979)
2. Aliens (1986)
3. Alien 3 (1992)
4. Alien Resurrection (1997)

Discussion questions:

1 – After Ellen Ripley, who do you think is the greatest film heroine?
2 – Do film series improve or degenerate with the loss of the original director?  (give arguments for and against)
3 – What genre do you classify each of the Alien films?

Week Five: The Work of Dame Helen Mirren

She is an amazing actress.  Her record speaks for itself.  She has won an Academy Award for Best Actress, four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards.  On top of that there is this picture from 2008…. She’s 63 years old here.  Beat that with a stick.

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This is how you age… with grace and dignity served up with a side of fierce.

Side note of vague importance… It’s better to be a Dame than a Lady.  A Lady gets her title from her marriage.  A Dame earned it on her own.

This week’s film list:

1. Age of Consent (1969)
2. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
3. Gosford Park (2001)
4. The Queen (2006)

Bonus films:

5. Excalibur (1981)
6. Painted Lady (1997)
7. The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999)
8. National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

Discussion questions:

1 – Do you think that Dame Helen would have the same long and illustrious career if she were American instead of British.  If not, why?
2 – Does growing older mean that an actor or actress should trend towards more sedate roles or should they have as much fun as they can?
3 – In a knockdown drag-out fight, who would you put your money on… Helen Mirren or Judi Dench?

Week Four: The Boys or How to correctly use testosterone to create a classic!

There are notable and successful films with large female ensemble casts (Cukor’s The Women and Steel Magnolias come immediately to mind).  But in the 1960s there were a series of action films made with exceptional / star studded male casts.

Magnificent Seven is now seen as a classic but it was not originally received as such.  The film from which it was adapted (Seven Samurai) was a huge success becoming Japan’s highest grossing movie at the time.  Despite its mixed reception the following years delivered a few more action films crammed with talent actors.

Action / Western, Action / War…  It all starts with the action.  And the cast.

There are a great many ensemble comedies (Airplane, The Player, American Graffiti, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, etc)  but fewer ensemble action films.  This is most likely due to the fact that comedies by and large cost less to make than action films and therefore can earn back more money.  That being said these are some of the best or at least the most well known male ensemble films.

You’ll see familiar faces in each of the first three films.  Hollywood has always liked to keep its stars working.

Side note – I don’t think a single film on this lists passes the Bechdel Test ( )

That doesn’t make them bad or wrong but it is an interesting thing to note.

And now for this week’s film list.

1. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
2. The Great Escape (1963)
3. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Bonus films
5. Seven Samurai (1954)
6. Silverado (1985)
7. The Expendables (2010)

Discussion Questions –

1 – Are you more or less inclined to watch a movie with an all male cast?  Would it make a difference if it were an all female cast?
2 – These films do not have explicitly happy endings.  Do you think that has more to do with the gender influence or the genre influence.  Is it possible to separate the gender influence from the genre?
3 – Do you think these are message films or just escapist fluff?