Review: Swing Time (1936)

Every Thursday night I host a classic film series where I play Robert Osbourne for the evening and talk about the greatest movies ever made. This week’s film was Swing Time.

Swing Time is perhaps the finest of all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaborations. It is the story of Lucky,a vaudeville performer, played by Astaire, who is tricked into missing his wedding and in order to marry his fiancee he must make $25, 000. To earn the money, he ventures off to New York. Here he meets, Penny, a dance instuctor, played by Ginger Rogers. Lucky and Penny end up as dance partners and love interests. But of course their happiness together never really begins because both of their fiances come back to haunt them.

Swing Time is a fun dance musical (much more dance than musical) that really shares the talents of Astaire and Rogers. It combines witty humor and lovely songs to create a wonderful movie. (The song, “The Way You Look Tonight” won an Oscar in 1937 for Best Song and is ranked #43 on AFI’s Greatest Songs List.)

Take it from someone who never truly enjoys musicals, any opportunity to watch the two of them dance is worth it. Sometimes, I’ll even fastfoward through the dialogue just to watch them dance. It is as though you are swept out onto the dance floor with them.

Updated October 6, 2010

Review: Two Women (1961)

Two Women or La Ciociara is a touching story of a mother, Rosetta (Sophia Loren) trying to raise her barely 13-year old daughter, Cesira, during the Second World War.

Rosetta is a woman broken by her loveless marriage and the war. She and her daughter leave Rome to escape from the daily air raids day and to seek a quieter existence in the Italian countryside. This is part of Rosetta’s desperate attempt to preserve Cesira’s innocence. They only discover that the countryside is not as peaceful. The final 30 minutes of Two Women are utterly heartbreaking. Rosetta experiences every possible emotional state imaginable.

This was my first Sophia Loren movie and I was blown away by her performance. I never really knew much about her before other than she is considered to be one of the most beautiful women ever. I’ll admit that at first I thought at the start of this film, when you are as gorgeous as Sophia Loren is, you don’t deserve to be that talented. Yet it is those final moments, when her character experiences the pain of being violated by men again and losing a loved one, of seeing her daughter hurt and seeing the war steal what was left of Cesira’s innocence that convinced me otherwise.  It is incredible to say the least.

Two Women is also very significant in film history. For her role of Rosetta, Sophia Loren received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This was the first Oscar ever given for a performance in foreign-language film. That has only happened two times. Roberto Benigni won in 1999 for Life is Beautiful; his award was presented by Sophia Loren.

All in all, Two Women is a film that is not only war and its disastrous affects, but the lasting bond between a mother and daughter that is heartbreaking and an overall rewarding movie watching experience.

Updated: April 29, 2011

Review: The Graduate (1967)

Last night, I watched The Graduate for what seems like the 101st time and like the first 100 times, it was amazing.

This movie is an essential for every person in the world no matter what movie genre is your favorite. The Graduate has something that speaks to everyone because we’ve been there or felt the way Benjamin feels throughout the film.

The plot: Benjamin (played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college and he’s completely lost. He’s not sre what he wants to do with his life or where he is going. He is also very awkward, and goofy. This is where Mrs Robinson enters the film.

Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is the dominating female presence throughout the movie and she and Benjamin have an affair. What happens next is strange, wrong, and hilarious on so many levels. Benjamin ends up falling in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). And…. well you’ll have to see it to find out what lengths Benjamin will go to win Elaine’s heart.

Dustin Hoffman. If the only movie you know Dustin Hoffman from is Meet the Fockers, then you are horribly deprived. The Graduate is the movie that made Dustin Hoffman the star and legend he has become. The role of Benjamin was offered to different actors who were already big names – Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson – to name a few. This is the movie that created Dustin Hoffman.

Anne Bancroft is the other star of this film. She plays one of the greatest characters in cinema history; a woman so dominating that she is actually weak.

One last thing. Simon and Garfunkel music is the entire soundtrack of this movie. The three songs represent the different stages Benjamin is in during the movie. The use of Simon and Garfunkel music is what created the idea of the movie soundtrack.

So if you are looking for great humor, characters, music and an amazing movie, then The Graduate is just right for you. And remember, plastics!

Review: Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)

Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia; Doctor Zhivago) stars as Monsieur Ibrahim, the owner of a small Paris grocery store. He adopts a local Jewish boy, Momo(Pierre Boulanger) as his own and the movie follows their unique friendship as it takes them on the journey of lifetime.

This the first foreign film in while that I really enjoyed. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for these types of movies. You know, when the older wiser man takes in the boy with no direction and becomes a father figure to him. But Monsieur Ibrahim added a little something extra that separates it from the pack.

This film explores to very different cultures. The one of the aging Muslim, connected to his religion and tells Momo that he only” knows what is in his Koran”. The young Jew, however, knows little of his faith. Set during the 1960’s in a working class Paris, it adds in splices of American influence with clearly American music. It is the music that connects the different cultures presented in the film.

Most of all, this film is funny, charismatic, full of life and rich with culture. Monsieur Ibrahim is an emotional journey that if you choose to take, you will find rewarding.

Review: Alfie (1966)

I finally saw the original Alfie and I’m glad I did. Until now the only other Michael Caine film I have seen is Hannah and Her Sisters. And that has been a serious lapse in judgement.

Michael Caine plays the title character who is the ultimate ladies man. He is “successful” with women and he rarely gets involved. But throughout the movie, Alfie has a series of eye-opening experiences. He has a child who is adopted by another man, gets a married women pregnant, and has a personal health crisis. Poor Alfie, because when he finally decides to settle down, he is rejected for a younger man.

As viewers, we are constantly reminded that Alfie is a womanizing dog but surprisingly that doesn’t stop you from liking him and even feeling sorry for him. Caine delivers a heart warming portrayal of Alfie and you can’t help but like him.

What was intriguing to me was how this movie examined the 1960’s. It dealt so heavily with the issue of abortion that several well-known actors (including Laurence Harvey of The Manchurian Candidate) turned down the part that ended up being Michael Caine’s breakthrough film.