In an Over-Communicated, Intrusive World, Simple is Better
Ed

Clason’s “The Richest Man in Babylon” Part 2 – The 7 Cures for a Lean Wallet and The 5 Laws of Money

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

Part 1 of this 2 Part series ends the synopsis of George Clason’s book “The Richest Man in Babylon,” but Clason raises an important question: Why should
so few men be able to acquire so much gold?

The answer is because they know how.

One may not condemn a man for succeeding because he knows how. Neither may one with justice take away from a man what he has fairly earned, to give to men of less ability.

And so it was that the good king of Babylon sought out the richest man in Babylon to teach to others in his kingdom the secrets of his success.

This is a synopsis of what the richest man taught to the people
of Babylon:

The Seven Cures for a Lean Wallet

1) Start your wallet to fattening. Save one-tenth of all you earn. Remember that a part
of all I earn is mine to keep. Do this faithfully. Do not let the simplicity of this escape you.

When I ceased to pay out more than nine-tenths of my earnings,
I got along just as well.
I was not shorter than before, and, money came to me more easily than before.

2) Control your expenses. How is it that all do not earn the same yet all have lean wallets? Here is the truth: That which each of us calls our “necessary expenses” will always grow to equal our incomes unless we protest to
the contrary.

Confuse not necessary expenses with desires. We all have more desires than our earnings can gratify. Examine which of the accepted expenses of living can be reduced or eliminated. Let your motto be 100% of appreciated value demanded for every dollar spent.

Budget your expenses so that your actual necessities are met without spending more than nine-tenths of your earnings.

3) Make your money multiply. Protect your growing treasure by putting it to labor and increasing. Money in your wallet earns nothing. Money that we earn from our money is but a start; it is the earnings generating earnings that builds fortunes.

When the richest man in Babylon loaned money to the shield maker to buy bronze, he said this: “Each time I loaned money to the shield maker, I loaned back also the rental he had paid me. Therefore not only did my capital increase, but its earnings likewise increased.”

4) Guard your money from loss. Everyone has an idea of how to make quick money; few, however, have the evidence of making money to justify their idea, scheme or offer of quick riches. The first sound principle of investment is security for your principal.

Before you loan your money to any man assure yourself of his ability to repay your loan, and of his reputation to do so. Make no one a present of your hard-earned treasure.

Consult the wisdom of those experienced in handling money for profit. Such advice is often freely given for
the asking, and may possess more value than the amount you
are about to invest.

5) Make your home a profitable investment. When you can set aside only nine-tenths of what you earn to live, and can use a part of that nine-tenths to improve the investment in your housing, do it; owning your own home is also an investment that grows with your wealth.

Your family deserves a home they can enjoy and call their own. It builds a sense of stability and well-being.

6) Ensure a future income. Build income-producing assets that do not require you to work forever. We will all grow old and die.

You should prepare a suitable income for the days to come when you are no longer younger and cannot work as hard, and to make preparations for your family should you no longer be with them to comfort and support them. Provide in advance for the needs of your growing age, and the protection of your family.

7) Increase your
ability to earn.
Desire precedes accomplishment, and the desire must be strong and definite. When you have backed your desire for saving $1,000 with the strength and purpose to secure it, you can then save $2,000.

Desires must be simple and definite. Desires defeat their own purpose when they are too many, too confusing, or too difficult to accomplish. Cultivate your own powers to study and become wiser, more skillful, and more productive.

Here is more sage advice from Clason’s masterpiece on financial matters:

The 5 Laws of Money

If you had to choose, would you choose tons of money or wisdom? Most men would take the money, ignore the wisdom, and waste the money. Here is the wisdom:

1) Money comes gladly and in increasing quantities to any man who will put aside not less than one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and the future of his family.

2) Money labors diligently and contently for the wise owner who finds for it profitable employment, multiplying unto itself in infinity if kept working diligently. Money multiplies itself in surprising fashion.

3) Money clings to
the protection of the cautious owner who invests it with the advice of men wise
in its handling.

4) Money slips away from the man who invests it in businesses or purposes that he is not familiar with, or which are not approved by those skilled in its keep. The inexperienced handler of money who trusts his own judgment, and puts his money in investments which he is not familiar, always pays with his money for his experience.

5) Money flees the man who would force it to impossible earnings, or who follows the alluring advice of tricksters and schemers, or who
trusts it to his own inexperience and romantic desires in investment.

Here is the hard lesson of the 5 Laws of Money: You cannot measure the value of wisdom in bags of money. Without wisdom, those who have it quickly lose money, but with wisdom, money can be secured by those who have it not.

This ends the condensation.

Movie Reviews

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

If you were celebrating Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2008) with a candlelight dinner for two at home and settled in to watch a movie, “Sleepless in Seattle” would be a great choice because it provides a pleasant experience and is already becoming a romantic comedy classic.

Your parents or grandparents experienced a similar story line in the now classic “An Affair to Remember” that was released in 1957 and paired Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Their characters fall in love and agree to meet in 6 months at the Empire State Building in New York.

Sleepless in Seattle, released 36 years later in 1993, pairs Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin and Meg Ryan as Annie Reed. Sam is the recently widowed father of 8-year-old Jonah Baldwin (Ross Malinger), who calls a nationally-broadcast radio talk show, attempting to find his lonely father a partner.

A somewhat reluctant Sam talks to host Marcia Fieldstone and thousands of single women across America are suddenly drawn into Sam’s sense of love for his former wife, each wishing she could be as cherished as Sam’s next special person. To wit:

Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?

Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together . . .and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home . . . only to no home I’d ever known . . .I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like . . . magic.

If that dialog does not melt every woman’s heart she would need to go straight to “The Wizard of Oz” and receive a new transplant. Soon Sam is getting thousands of letters from wannabe partners, all of which are read by his son Jonah, who decides that “Annie” is the best choice.

Annie is engaged to marry Walter (Bill Pullman). Should she do so she would be making the first great mistake of her life. Walter is a decent enough chap, but Annie is missing any sparks in their relationship because Walter has the personality of an ashtray.

Annie goes to great lengths to meet Sam, flying from New York to Seattle only to discover Sam with another woman, whom she mistakes for a love interest. She never mails a letter she has written to Sam, but her friend does. In it she proposes to meet Sam on top of the Empire State Building.
Sam is not interested in going, but his son Jonah is, so, with the help of his new friend whose parents own a travel agency, he is able to book a flight to the Big Apple and ends up on the observation deck of the Empire State Building looking for Annie. Sam, in a panic, to find his son, follows him to New York. The rest you will have to see.

Hanks is very convincing as a forlorn widower and Ryan was at her peak of being cute and innocent. The chemistry between the two, who only share approximately 2 minutes of screen time together, is great.

The role of Annie was originally offered to Julia Roberts but she turned it town. Kim Basinger, who was also offered the part, turned it down because she thought the premise was ridiculous. Just recently in the news, a youngster in Jonah’s peer group did exactly what Jonah did, managed to book flight on a major airline and fly undetected. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.
The screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle was written in part by Nora Ephron, who also wrote “When Harry Met Sally” (another great romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal). Ephron directed the film.

Ephron, David S. Ward and Jeff Arch (who did write the story) were nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and the film received another nomination for Best Original Song (“A Wink and a Smile”). Sleepless in Seattle also got Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Actress (Meg Ryan).
Sleepless in Seattle cost $21 million to film and grossed $227 million worldwide at the box office, adding another $65+ million in rentals.

Tom Hanks is the gold standard in acting. He has been nominated for 5 Best Actor Oscars (“Big”, “Philadelphi”a, “Forrest Gump”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Cast Away”) and won twice for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Hanks also has won 4 Best Actor Golden Globes for Big, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

His films have grossed more than $3.3 billion. He remains only 1 of 3 actors to have 7 consecutive $100 million domestic blockbusters; the other two are Tom Cruise and Will Smith.

Sleepless in Seattle is viewed by many guys as a “chick flick” but not by me. I consider it an outstanding relationship film with a great story line that proves to be a pleasant viewing experience every time I see it again. If a guy has ever been in love and felt the magic, he will appreciate this film a lot more.

(Note: Celeste Champagne is my New York Editor, a cat lover, a classic movie buff, and has been a close friend of mine for 37 years (same as family). Celeste will be occasionally reviewing classic films for publication on my web site, and I am excited to welcome her as one of my select contributing writers. Here is her first contribution. –Ed Bagley)

Copyright © 2009 Celeste Champagne

Alfred Hitchcock is a personal favorite of mine so seeing “Shadow of Doubt” again for the first time on a full-sized screen in a theater was a real thrill. This 1943 film was also a personal favorite of Hitchcock’s as well, and blends humor and suspense with realism, horror and romance.

Shadow of a Doubt was filmed in Santa Rosa, California, and evokes the film noir feeling of the post-World War II era. With the screenplay by Thornton Wilder, it is slow moving but builds perfectly on the distinct fear-factor that showcases Alfred Hitchcock’s creative genius.

Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie Oakley) is the romantic uncle come to visit after a long absence (but really to elude two detectives trailing him). His sister, Emma Newton, played by Patricia Collinge, is enamored of her brother as is her daughter, “Charlie”, played by Teresa Wright and named for him. His arrival stirs the household and this sleepy town.

Several locals were cast in the film, the best of whom was Edna May Wonacott who plays the Newton’s younger daughter, Ann.

The weaving of the father’s (Joseph Newton, played by Henry Travers) interest in mysteries and the games he plays with his neighbor, played masterfully by Hume Cronyn as Herbie Hawkins, further enhances the sinister subtext.

A visit to the Newton home by two detectives investigating the “Merry Widow Murders” sets off a flurry of activity. The lead detective played by Macdonald Carey (long associated with the TV soap opera “Days of Our Lives”) creates the platform on which the suspicions about her uncle play out in Charlie’s mind.

After a visit to the library she discovers the paper she saw Uncle Charlie tear up contained stories of the killer of rich widows whom she slowly (and sadly) comes to suspect is her uncle. Macdonald Carey, as Jack Graham, further convinces her that her uncle is the man they are seeking.

Word comes that another suspect in the murders was accidentally killed in the East thus narrowing the “persons of interest” list.

With all this said, we are still sympathetic to the charm of Charles Oakley and feel compelled to root for him. His deeds are reprehensible, but his smooth-talking manners almost overshadow them. When he realizes that his niece is on to him and he must kill her, he tries to do so three times—all without success.

The last attempt comes as he boards the train to take him back East. As he tries to push her off the platform, he himself slips and is crushed to death by a passing train. At the funeral that follows, only “Charlie” and the detective, with whom she has developed a romantic relationship, know the truth about her uncle.

Shadow of a Doubt’s realism comes from the town it was filmed in and the people who live there. The thrills which take place at the end are all part of the mood created by the tight psychological atmosphere. It is a movie which holds up today with its costumes by Adrian and musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin.

There are no actors today in the realm of a Joseph Cotten, one of Welles’ original Mercury Players. Cotten died in 1994 of complications from throat cancer at the age of 88, never having received a major award for his tremendous body of work.

Teresa Wright, perhaps better known for her role of Peggy Stephenson in “The Best Years of Our Lives”, lived to age 86 and died of a heart attack at Yale New Haven Hospital on March 6, 2005. Her second husband was the playwright, Robert Anderson, from whom she was divorced but maintained a cordial relationship until her death.

If suspense draws you in, there is no doubt that Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock gem you should experience, preferably on the big screen when possible.

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

“Radio”—the true story of high school football coach Harold Jones and a mentally-challenged young man named James Robert “Radio” Kennedy—might well be one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated movies in film history.

James Kennedy was nicknamed “Radio” by the townspeople of Anderson, South Carolina because he was always listening to discarded radios. As a youth he would push or ride a grocery cart down the street, talking to no one. It was 1976 and Radio did not attend school because he was mentally challenged, and an easy target for kids more fortunate.

After some football players on coach Harold Jones’ T. L. Hanna High School team harass, intimidate and scare the living daylights out of Radio (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), Jones befriends and protects Radio by slowly winning his trust and inviting him to the team’s football practices.

Coach Jones (played magnificently by veteran actor Ed Harris) eventually has Radio helping as a “coach” and sitting on the bench during the games. When Radio’s new-found acceptance leads to his self-image and self-confidence rising, his enthusiasm creates a distraction for the team at a critical moment, and some boosters (like the father of a star player) want Radio gone.

Fortunately for Radio, his unpretentious love and loyalty to the coach and players resonates as Radio is allowed to remain part of both the team and the school. At this point in time, Radio is attending school, not as a student, but as a positive influence on the students and a welcome school-helper.

All of this is reminiscent of the biblical admonition “if you hear His voice today, harden not your heart.” Radio is about love, acceptance, approval, understanding, compassion, kindness, loyalty and finding peace in our time.

Radio the movie was inspired by Gary Smith’s 1996 article titled “Someone to Lean On” that first appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine. The film benefits greatly from the script by Mike Rich and direction by Mike Tollin, also one of the producers with Herb Gains and Brian O’keefe. Radio managed to generate $52+ million at the box office but received mixed positive (of which I am one) and negative reviews by the critics.

Radio was a terrific movie with a genuine message of value. Radio gets a positive answer to my most searching question as a movie reviewer: Am I a better person for having seen this film? You better believe it.

I am incensed that Radio was absolutely snubbed at major awards time. It is not like Ed Harris is a nobody. Before Radio was made, Ed Harris had been nominated for 3 Oscars as Best Supporting Actor (“The Hours”, “The Truman Show” and “Apollo”) and been nominated for Best Actor in “Pollock”. Add to those honors 4 nominations by the Golden Globes and a Best Actor Golden Globe for The Truman Show.

Cuba Gooding Jr. had won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in “Jerry Maguire” (remember his famous line “Show me the money”) and was nominated for a Golden Globe for the same award.

The good news about Radio is that Radio is still helping coach the Hanna High School team and bringing his presence to the school. He remains a story that continues to grow and radiate with positive vibes.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

“Pretty Woman” was originally scripted as a dark drama about prostitution in Los Angeles, but thankfully movie producer Laura Ziskin said “No” and what started out as a very brooding, negative film turned into one of the most popular and financially successful romantic comedies of all time. Find out why.

With a production cost of $14 million and a worldwide gross of $464 million, Laura Ziskin had to be smiling all of the way to the bank.

Pretty Woman’s title character, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), is a down-on-her-luck prostitute who is hired by Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a wealthy businessman and corporate raider, as arm candy for several business functions.

The arrangement works well but begins to get complicated when Edward discovers Vivian is not just a hooker from Hollywood Boulevard but also a woman of substance, and Vivian finds herself falling in love in a situation that essentially has no future.

There is nothing positive about the common perception of a hooker, but Vivian smashes through the normal perceptions by quickly getting viewers past her obvious good looks and revealing her inner beauty, transparent feelings and uncompromising commitment by not settling for a comfortable, Edward-financed lifestyle as arm candy and companion.

Her willingness to walk away from the fee arrangement for her gig ultimately gets Edward’s attention, and a Hollywood story line takes over. Vivian becomes so likeable we want to cheer for her as she stands her ground and forces Edward to decide about his feelings for her. Both Vivian and Edward experience some serious personal growth that moviegoers can relate to and appreciate.

The story line reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which became the basis for the Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl who morphs into a beautiful princess. The character of Vivian also reminds me of Audrey Hepburn’s role as Holly Golightly, another lady of the night in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Director Garry Marshall completely avoids negatives in this film by wisely handling Vivian’s role, and playing the characters around her like a concert master fine tuning an orchestra. His work went a long way in helping Pretty Woman win a Golden Globe for Best Picture. Richard Gere picked up a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and Hector Elizondo won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe as the hotel manager Barney Thompson.

The shining star in Pretty Woman was Julia Roberts. She was a relative unknown at the time, and walked away with a Golden Globe as Best Actress and an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.

Pretty Woman, released in 1990, was notable for the number of leading ladies who turned down the role of Vivian, including Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daryl Hannah. Julia Roberts really won the role by default, but she made the most of her opportunity and the movie quickly made her Hollywood’s newest sweetheart, a role she held for nearly 15 years.

Al Pacino also turned down the role of Edward Lewis, leaving the door open for Richard Gere.

Here is some key trivia in the movie:

1) The opera in San Francisco that Edward flies Vivian to in a private jet is “La Traviata”, the tale of a Parisian courtesan who falls in love with a wealthy young man.

2) Richard Gere actually plays the piano himself in a late night scene, he even composed the music that he plays.

3) The sports car Edward borrows at the beginning of the movie is a Lotus Esprit. Ferrari and Porsche turned down the advertising opportunity because they did not want to be associated with soliciting prostitutes. Lotus won big time as its Esprit sales tripled during the next year.

The film also benefited from its title and association to “Oh, Pretty Woman”, Roy Orbison’s worldwide hit recorded 26 years earlier.

I really liked Pretty Woman and not just because of Julia Roberts’ jump-off-the-screen attractiveness, especially after Edward escorts Vivian to Rodeo Drive for a shopping spree, proving that clothes can complete even a very attractive woman. Even more important is her courage, determination, substance and dignity under stress.

If you like relationship movies and romantic comedies, Pretty Woman is a must see.

Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley

The release of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 2004 was such an exciting event, bringing this great play to film so millions could see the excellence of this masterpiece, which garnered only 3 nominations and no Oscars at the Academy Awards. No matter. Perhaps the earlier success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical composition of The Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, was too successful to give the movie version much acclaim.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical opened in London in 1986 and in New York in 1988 and still runs today as the longest running Broadway musical of all time. It has become the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time, selling 80 million tickets and generating a worldwide gross of $3.3 billion, topping the best-grossing film of all time—”Gone eith the Wind”—by $2 billion.

This Phantom of the Opera movie has it all: a story line, plot, great writing, great presentation, and even better music and lyrics.

A cast of unknowns was used; there is no headliner, but the female lead (Emmy Rossum as Christine) is attractive and, much more important, an opera singer who can sing without having her voice dubbed in.

Some reviewers panned this movie because the bad guy (Gerard Butler as The Phantom who lives under the opera house) is not ugly enough. With this mentality, the actress who wins the next Oscar for female lead will have to have a perfect body and perfect face to win. Sometimes, common sense prevails, otherwise, Meryl Streep would never have garnered 12 nominations and two Oscars.

This Phantom is not perfect, but it is very well done, and the music could not be better. There are so many great songs (as it is with all great musicals); and I loved the voice of Emmy Rossum. See this film when you can, you will be better for the experience.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

Bless yourself by renting “Nanny McPhee” and sharing it with your children at home, not in the movie theater. Do this because this film is all about home and your children might relate better in the comfort of their own home. Nanny McPhee is an excellent film with a wonderful message for all children to recognize and understand.

In an entertainment world full of trashy and violent video games with movies to match that dwell on murder, rape, sex, drugs, alcohol, filthy language, broken relationships and crummy morals, Nanny McPhee is everything good about movies for children. You and your children can watch this film without fear of unpleasant and unwanted garbage rooted in sensationalism for ratings and greed.

When finished watching, you can thank the uncompromising excellence of British actress Emma Thompson and British director Kirk Jones for the incredible excellence of Nanny McPhee. I watched this film and went to bed wondering if it was as good as I thought it was. I watched it again the next night and did not wonder again.

Thompson—who has won 2 Academy Awards for Best Actress (Howards End in 1992) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sense and Sensibility in 1995), and 2 BAFTAs for Best Actress (Howards End and Sense and Sensibility)—wrote the screenplay for Nanny McPhee. BAFTA is the equivalent of the American Oscars, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Kirk Jones (not to be confused with the American rapper and actor Kirk Jones) is a gifted writer and director with great work that has not been properly recognized. Combine Emma Thompson with Kirk Jones and you have the formula for a winning production.

In 1998 Jones wrote and directed his first feature film “Waking Ned Devine” with a budget of $3 million that grossed $90 million worldwide. I believe Jones should have two Oscars and probably would if it were not for the fact that Hollywood’s voters are too busy pawing each other and posing for pictures to correct their near-sightedness.

Until a comedy is made that is better than Waking Ned Devine it shall remain my favorite comedy of all time.
If it sounds like I am gushing over Nanny McPhee, I am. There are so many good lines in this script I would not dare to recount them here. Watch the movie and enjoy the experience of listening carefully.

Nanny McPhee the movie is named for a governess (Emma Thompson) who uses magic to rein in the behavior of 7 out-of-control children of recently widowed Mr. Brown (Colin Firth).

Mr. Brown must answer to his Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) who has been financing his family’s livelihood and now commands him to marry within the month or she will cut off his sustenance. His bratty children have a genuine fear of losing their father should he marry the widowed Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie).

The children, who collectively have driven away 17 consecutive nannies, are led by their older brother Simon (Thomas Sangster). All 6 of the younger children—Tora (Eliza Bennett), Lily (Jennifer Rae Daykin), Eric (Raphael Coleman), Sebastian (Samuel Honywood), Christianna (Holly Gibbs) and Baby Agatha (Hebe Barnes and Zinnia Barnes)—face the same fate as Simon.
Enter Nanny McPhee with her magic and old-fashioned discipline that makes the children aware of their behavior, and soon the children become models of what to do and when to do it.

Beyond the obvious endearments, what makes this film excellent is two huge but subtle elements.

One is the guts of the writer and actress Emma Thompson who creates a character for herself that is repugnant upon first sight. She has two huge warts on her face and an enormous tooth cascading down over her lower lip. Nanny McPhee will repel you upon first look. Thompson’s acting skills allow her to be perfectly relaxed and confident despite her appearance. Her make-up was done by designer Peter King.

The other element is the discovery by the children that when they learn a major lesson, one of the warts disappears, and eventually through model behavior by the children, Nanny McPhee becomes better and better looking.
In many such films as this—the “Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews comes to mind—the nanny only influences the children. In Nanny McPhee, the children also become powerful agents for positive change, empowering them in the process. Never underestimate the insight and brilliance of Emma Thompson, the writer or actress.

A tip of the hat to Angela Lansbury in her role as well. Lansbury is a living legend who never goes out of character as Aunt Adelaide. From Broadway to Hollywood to television and back, Angela Lansbury is a British national treasure.

Nanny McPhee is based on the “Nurse Matilda” books by Christianna Brand. Emma Thompson said it took her 9 years to write the screenplay; it took her 5 years to write her Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility.
Trust me when I say that Nanny McPhee was worth the wait and then some. Watch Nanny McPhee and learn with your children some important lessons in human nature.

Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley

After watching so many pay-for-view, big time, hyped fights on the tube and being totally disappointed, watching “Million Dollar Baby” was refreshing because I really got my money’s worth.

Million Dollar Baby is the story of Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank), a 31-year-old woman who wants to achieve her idea of the American Dream: to become a professional boxer. She finds her way to Frankie Dunn’s (Clint Eastwood) gym only to get the cold shoulder.

Dunn, who barely stays afloat as a boxing trainer in a run-down gym, has never tasted real fame and fortune. Some of his fighters moved on to more aggressive managers and have earned more fame and fortune.

“Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) acts as a go-between to bring Frankie and Maggie together. Dupris realizes Maggie is dead serious, a devout trainee and stubborn in her quest. The word “no” is not in Maggie’s vocabulary. Frankie eventually agrees to take her on, and she fights her way to a title shot.

Her quest to be a champion takes a heart-wrenching turn when she becomes 100% paralyzed during the title fight. Her opponent throws a cheap-shot punch after the bell ending a round, and Maggie collapses to the mat, hitting her head on the corner stool with neck-shattering force.

It is here that the drama really begins in earnest as Frankie must now deal with his fighter whose career abruptly ends.

The bond between Frankie and Maggie becomes a “family” issue as Maggie cannot deal with her misfortune; she attempts suicide but fails, and then enlists the help of Frankie to end her misery.

How Frankie, a Catholic who attends Mass almost every day, deals with Maggie’s request brings to light the controversial topic of euthanasia.

You must see this film to understand how emotional Frankie’s decision becomes. The issue of euthanasia is dealt with very sensitively and in a balanced way; it is worth the price of admission alone.

This is a good film that has the hardware to prove it. When the 2005 Academy Awards presentation ended, Million Dollar Baby, nominated for 7 Oscars, won 4, including Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Actress (Hillary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman as Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris).

Eastwood was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar but did not win in his role as Frankie Dunn.

Paul Haggis who wrote the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. Million Dollar Baby is based on short stories by F. X. Toole, the pen name of fight manager and “cut man” Jerry Boyd.

Some critics wore out their keyboard pads yipping about what was wrong with this film, but the award givers were far more generous. In addition to the 7 nominations and 4 Oscars, Million Dollar Baby also picked up a ton of awards (another 44 wins and 29 nominations).

I believe a lot of folks are just plain upset with Clint Eastwood for winning another two Oscars with Million Dollar Baby as a Director and Producer (Best Picture). Eastwood was not known as a great actor. His “spaghetti Westerns”—on  my personal favorites list– were not exactly Oscar material), but he has become a Director of note.

Eastwood also won two Oscars for “Unforgiven” (Best Director and Best Picture) as well as being nominated for Best Actor which he did not win. He was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for “Mystic River” but did not win.

Some people are just bummed out because he was considered a so-so actor and now has become a Director and Producer to be reckoned with.

Million Dollar Baby is a standout compared to much of the trash Hollywood is producing today. And Eastwood? I just like him. If I had to go to war or fight in an alley, I would want Clint Eastwood on my team and in my corner, anything less and you would not qualify as a red-blooded American male.

Ghost is everything that is right about a really scary movie. There are clearly good guys and bad guys, there is uncertainty about whether all of the good guys will be standing at the end of the movie, there is romance, there is sacrifice, there is redemption, there is the surreal to deal with, there is trying to stay grounded in reality, there is good and evil, and there is the eternal question of whether good will triumph in the end.

 Ghost begins innocently enough as Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) have a romance heading toward marriage when he is killed by a thug during a mugging. Upon death Sam experiences an out-of-body awareness that he has not left this world, he can see as if he is here, but no one can see or hear him.

Sam’s out-of-body experience in Ghost works because Sam is not only an observer of what is happening, but he is a participant in the story line of the existing action.

Sam does not realize that Carl (Tony Goldwyn), his co-worker at the bank, has hired Willie (Rick Aviles) the mugger to relieve Sam of his wallet, which contains the passwords to the bank accounts of well-heeled customers. Carl needs the passwords because he is tied to a drug money laundering operation and will be killed if he does not accomplish the transaction on time.

Only later does Sam hear his friend Carl scold Willie for bungling the job by not getting the passwords and killing Sam in the process.

Sam then realizes that Molly is Carl and Willie’s next target because they think the passwords remain in Molly’s apartment. Sam is temporarily able to keep Molly out of harm’s way but must find a way to communicate to her the danger that lurks ahead.

His answer lies in the discovery of Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a scam spiritualist who, much to her surprise and distress, can hear Sam but not see him. So it is up to Oda Mae, through Sam’s knowledge and credibility, to convince Molly that her life is in danger.

Oda Mae goes a little crazy with her new newfound ability, but eventually, with Sam’s help, warns Molly of her imminent danger. Carl wants the passwords and will kill Molly to get them, especially after Sam and Oda Mae thwart his ability to move money through the bank.

The ending to Ghost is simply too good and too surprising to share here, the suspense is spellbinding and the result is worth the trauma. Ghost is a romantic movie set as a drama with danger. Ghost also gets better as it goes along, so you need to hang in there to appreciate what happens.

Ghost is a movie we want to believe. We buy into it because of Sam and Molly’s relationship, we grab it and hold on when tragedy strikes, then we want to let go when danger sets in, and Ghost will not let us go, we are doomed to ride with the eventual fate of the story. The ending proves this is a great movie that is worth our attention, hence our fervent and subtle imagination is satisfied and at rest when the curtain closes.

Whoopi Goldberg manages to turn her performance into an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, and the screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, also won an Oscar. This is one of the best screenplays I have seen, and Rubin certainly deserved to take home the hardware.

I almost gave Ghost a 4, my highest rating, but kept it at 3, reserving the right to raise its rating at a later date, something that is certain to happen should I have any out-of-body experiences in my future.

A classic tale of a Jewish family’s values, tradition and culture. The old world clashes with the new when Tevye’s three daughters all refuse arranged marriages as love leads them to choose their own partners in life, breaking with tradition and paternal obedience.

Their disobedience proves to be the least of this Jewish family’s problems and its community’s impending fate as the Czar forces the Jews out of Russian to a new land and a new life. Just one of many unforgettable lines from this excellent movie is when the Rabbi is asked if there is a prayer for the Czar, and he answers “God bless the Czar, and keep him far away from us.”

Excellent musical score, great acting and an even greater story line. Films about relationships and living life—with its struggle, moments of joy and unwanted challenges—have a special place in our hearts, as our ability to relate touches our heart and mind and soul.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

Let me get to the most important thing first: Director Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for “The Departed”. Scorsese, one of the most accomplished directors of our era, has been nominated for 7 Oscars—5 for Best Director and 2 for Best Screenplay—before winning with The Departed. He had also received 7 Golden Globe nominations—6 for Best Director and 1 for Best Screenplay—and won for “Gangs of New York” before winning again for The Departed this year (2007).

The Departed is simply the best mob film since Mario Puzo’s original “Godfather” in 1972. Besides Scorsese, The Departed won for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (William Monahan) and Best Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), giving The Departed 4 Oscar wins to The Godfather’s 3 (Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola). Mark Wahlberg was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Sgt. Sean Dignam.

The Departed also picked up 45 more wins and another 45 nominations, including another win for Scorsese (Best Director) and nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg) at the Golden Globes.

In short, The Departed brought home more hardware than a Home Depot shopping spree. The icing on the cake for Scorsese was his best box-office opening ever ($26 million), his highest grossing film ever with $132 million nationally and $288 million worldwide through March 2007, and $48 million more in VHS rentals. The film’s budget was $90 million.

The all-star cast of DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Sgt. Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Wahlberg (Sgt. Sean Dignam), Martin Sheen (Capt. Oliver Queenan) and Alec Baldwin (Capt. George Ellerby) did not hurt a lick.

The story takes place in Boston where Irish Mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) embeds Colin Sullivan (Damon) as an informant with the Massachusetts State Police. Simultaneously, the State Police assign Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s crew. When both sides figure out the situation, it is left to Sullivan and Costigan to discover each other’s identity.

Along the way, 22 people get whacked (this is a Mob flick), the “f” word is used 237 times (about 235 times too many), and we get a study in relationship psychology as the only real love interest—Madolyn Madden—is a criminal psychiatrist who is wooed by both rivals. The Departed kept my attention riveted for 151 minutes.

The three main characters (Costello, Sullivan and Costigan) all show their anguish in balancing survival, winning and conquering the moment. There are apparently two versions of this film. I saw the longer version that is rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, and some strong sexual content and drug material.

This film is not for children or young adults, not that young adults do not hear the same “f” word dozens a time a day at high schools all over the country, but who needs the “f” word 237 times in 2.5 hours? Nobody. I managed to tune out the cussing and concentrate on the story, acting and presentation that were excellent for an action flick with Mob presence.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

Let me get right to it: The musical “Chicago” is absolutely everything it was cracked up to be.

Imagine a chanteuse named Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who kills both her husband and her sister when she finds them in bed together.

Imagine a bored wife named Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) who has an affair with a man she thinks can make her a star only to find out she has been had and is so mad she kills him.

Imagine them both in jail awaiting trial for murder with the eventual prospect of death row. Their only out is to create enough of a stir in the press to become famous and desired by an insatiable public in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties with its booze, nightclubs and all that jazz.

Now you have a musical prescription for Chicago.

Add in Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) who rules the jail with an iron hand that can only be greased with money, and Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), an attractive, slick attorney who always gets his client acquitted while making them into even bigger stars in jail than on the stage, and you have the ingredients for a fantastic story.

A superb cast of singers and dancers under the direction of Rob Marshall brought Chicago together in a super professional, entertaining romp that generated 13 Oscar nominations and won 6 in addition to 30 wins and 52 nominations from other award groups.

Winning Oscars at the Academy Awards were Catherine Zeta-Jones for Best Supporting Actress, Chicago for Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.

Oscar nominations went to Renee Zellweger for Best Actress, John C. Reilly (as Roxie’s husband Amos) for Best Supporting Actor, Queen Latifah as Best Supporting Actress, Rob Marshall as Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song “I Move On” and Best Writing.

 Watching Chicago made me realize how good Catherine Zeta-Jones is as a signer and dancer. Zeta-Jones is such a classic beauty that it is easy to get stuck just looking at her.

While I have never been a big fan of Renee Zellweger, perhaps because of her prior roles, I am now.

While Zeta-Jones had prior experience Zellweger apparently had no singing and dancing training prior to this film. Even Richard Gere surprised me. I have never thought of Gere as much of an actor, never mind a singer or dancer. He took tap dance lessons for three months to prepare for the part, and apparently won the role almost by default after John Travolta was offered the part several times.

After Chicago became Miramax’s highest grossing film generating $171 million at the domestic box office, Travolta apparently deeply regretted declining the part.

I still asked myself how Chicago could have been so good. A little research revealed that Chicago could have been famous for the people who did not get key parts as those who did. In addition to Travolta, Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Hugh Jackman were considered for the part.

Auditioning for Catherine Zeta-Jones’ part as Velma Kelly were none other than Angelina Jolie and Madonna. Auditioning for Renee Zellweger’s role as Roxie Hart and some other parts in the film were Goldie Hawn, Kathy Bates, Rosie O’Donnell, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristin Chenoweth, Cameron Diaz, Whoopi Goldberg and Britney Spears.

Director Rob Marshall wanted Catherine Zeta-Jones to wear her natural long hair in the movie, but she insisted on the short bob, explaining that she did not want her hair to fall over her face and give people a reason to doubt that she did all of the dancing herself.

Apparently Zeta-Jones was originally approached to play the role of Roxie Hart but would not as she knew the character of Velma Kelly sang “All That Jazz” and she wanted to play that role so she could sing that song.

Charlize Theron was initially selected to play the role of Roxie Hart when another director was involved but lost out when Rob Marshall took over as director. The casting of Renee Zellweger proved to be a very wise choice.

Chicago is based on the book by Bob Fosse, the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and the screenplay by Bill Condon.

Much of the dialog in the film is good, and funny. Here are some exhibits from the courtroom, and when the women on death row are retelling their misfortune:

Velma Kelly: Yes, it is.

Assistant District Attorney Martin Harrison: I submit this as Exhibit X – Roxie Hart’s diary!

Billy Flynn: I object! My client has never held a diary! And even if she did, this would be . . . invasion of privacy, and violation of the fourth amendment, and . . . and illegal search without a warrant!

Roxie Hart: Yeah, AND she broke the lock!

Billy Flynn: Miss Kelly, did you make a deal with Assistant D. A. Harrison to drop all charges against you in exchange for your testimony?

Velma Kelly: Why, sure. I’m not a complete idiot.

Liz: You know how some people have those habits that get you down? Like Bernie. Bernie liked to chew gum. No, not chew. POP. So I come home from work one night and I’m real irritated, and I’m looking for a little sympathy. And there’s Bernie, lying on the couch, drinking a beer and chewin’. No, not chewin’, POPPIN’. So I said “If you pop that gum one more time . . .” And he did. So I took the shotgun off the wall and fired two warning shots . . . into his head.

June: I’m standin’ in the kitchen, carving up a chicken for dinner, minding my own business, when in storms my husband, Wilbur, in a jealous rage. “You’ve been screwing the milkman,” he said. He was crazy, and he kept on screaming, “You’ve been screwing the milkman.” And then he ran into my knife . . . he ran into my knife ten times. There is nothing not to like about Chicago. If you love musicals, you will love Chicago.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

As a former record-setting championship runner, it is normal and natural for me to proclaim “Chariots of Fire” as simply the greatest running movie ever made. What is strange is famed movie critic Roger Ebert’s reaction to this film classic.

“I have no interest in running and am not a partisan in the British class system,” says Ebert. “Then why should I have been so deeply moved by ‘Chariots of Fire’, a British film that has running and class as its subjects? Like many great films, Chariots of Fire takes its nominal subjects as occasions for much larger statements about human nature.”

Ebert is drawn to Chariots of Fire like a bee to honey. He cannot resist the powerful presentation of this true story about two men of principles and integrity that use running as a magnet to attract followers to their cause.

One is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a British man to the core and a Jew whose father is an immigrant and financier from Lithuania. The other is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a Scot who is the son of missionaries in China. Both have the God-given gift of speed and seek to bring home medals from the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Abrahams feels the sting of discrimination because of his Jewish heritage and runs for the glory of Britain and the acceptance that he believes will make him whole; there is no question he is worthy. Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) is his close friend and confidant.

“You, Aubrey, are my most complete man,” says Abrahams. “You’re brave, compassionate, kind: a content man. That is your secret, contentment. I am 24 and I’ve never known it. I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”

Abrahams is driven by his quest for a gold medal in the 100-meter dash. He will let nothing come between him and his goal, even the love of his life Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige). He enters Cambridge University and quickly becomes a campus standout by becoming the first person to successfully run around the Trinity Great Court from the first toll until the clock strikes 12. His competition is Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers) who pushes him to glory.

Abrahams tells his friend Aubrey Montague that he has never been beaten in competition. When he faces Eric Liddell for the first time he loses, and his immaturity surfaces when he declares to Sybil Gordon that “If I can’t win, I won’t run!” Sybil replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

Fortunately, the famous trainer Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm) is at the race and tells Abrahams he is over striding and points out that over striding is the kiss of death for a sprinter. He reluctantly agrees to coach Abrahams so he can beat Liddell in the 100 meters.

Sam Mussabini tells Abrahams that Liddell is a fast gut runner who digs deep, but reminds him that a short sprint is run on nerves, and then adds that it’s tailor-made for neurotics.

Eric Liddell is more than fast, he is one of the fastest runners anywhere, a fact that is about to be demonstrated to the world in the Olympic games. Liddell is self-assured and confident and unlike, Abrahams, runs for the greater glory of God.

When his missionary sister Jennie Liddell (Cheryl Campbell) fears his focus will be lost on running, Eric replies that “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

In the Olympic games, both Abrahams and Liddell will clash with two very fast Americans, Charles Paddock—the world record holder in the 100 meters—and Jackson Scholz—a 200-meter sprinter.

When Eric Liddell learns that the preliminaries for the 100-meter dash will be run on Sunday, he refuses to compete. When confronted by the British Olympic Committee and Lord Cadogan reprimands him for his impertinence, Liddell replies that “The impertinence lies, sir, with those who seek to influence a man to deny his beliefs!”

At the 11th hour and 59th minute, Lord Andrew Lindsey intervenes with a solution: Since he has already won a bronze medal in the 200-meter race, let Liddell replace him in the 400-meter dash.

Liddell is then seen at church delivering a guest sermon and quotes the Bible prophetically from Isaiah, Chapter 40, Verse 31: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (King James Version).

Chariots of Fire has an unknown cast with spectacular photography and music as well as many running scenes.

Roger Ebert keys in on the musical score, calling it “one of the most remarkable sound tracks of any film” with music by the Greek composer Vangelis. “His compositions . . . are as evocative, and as suited to the material, as the different but also perfectly matched scores (as) ‘Zorba the Greek’.”

Vangelis’ use of an electronic score may have been ill-suited to a period piece like Chariots of Fire, but it worked beyond anyone’s expectations, creating a new style in film scoring. He played all of the instruments, including synthesizers, acoustic piano, battery and percussion.

Against this nostalgic backdrop the movie opens with Lord Andrew Lindsey delivering the eulogy for Harold Abrahams funeral:

“Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honored in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honor the legend. Now there are just two of us—young Aubrey Montague and myself—who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.”

From this incredible opening follows the flashback and the narration that recounts the challenges and glory of Great Britain’s athletes at the 1924 Olympic Games. The next scene is the athletes running along the beach to what has become known as the Chariots of Fire theme that would later be released as a single in 1982 and top the charts in the United States.

In the end, Harold Abrahams would win the 100-meter dash, and would also win a silver medal as the opening leg (runner) on the 4×100 relay team. Eric Liddell—the Flying Scotsman—would win the 400-meter dash in an Olympic record 47.6 seconds, and also picked up a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash, won by Jackson Scholz with Charles Paddock second.

Among many poignant moments in Chariots of Fire is Eric Liddell at the starting line of the 400-meter dash and Jackson Scholz, who was not competing in the race, hands him a written note of text from the Bible. The quotation was from 1st Samuel, 2nd Chapter. Verse 30, “Those who honor me I will honor.” Liddell ran the 400 meters with the note in his hand and set an Olympic record.

Abrahams would marry his sweetheart and become the elder statesman of track and field in Britain. Liddell would return to China as a missionary with his physician brother Rob and ultimately be imprisoned during the Chinese-Japanese War in 1942.

Winston Churchill arranged for a prisoner exchange to get Liddell out of the camp (his family had left China before the hostilities started) but Liddell—ever faithful to the end in serving others—gave up his place to a pregnant mother. He died of a brain tumor in 1945, 5 months before the camp was liberated. Even today, 64 years later, he is honored as Scotland’s greatest athlete.

If you have a shred of integrity, principles, ethics, morals, honor, sensitivity or patriotism, you will love Chariots of Fire and be moved by its message.

If you do not, I cannot do anything for you but let you know that Chariots of Fire is more than the greatest running movie ever made, it is also one of the greatest films ever made.

Chariots of Fire, released in 1981, was a British film written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson. It would draw moviegoers everywhere by winning 4 Oscars at the Academy Awards for Best Picture (Producer David Puttman), Best Original Screenplay (Colin Welland), Best Original Music Score (Vangelis) and Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero).

Chariots of Fire was also nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini), Best Director (Hugh Hudson) and Best Film Editing (Terry Rawlings). It also had 12 other wins and 15 more nominations, including Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards.

Chariots of Fire remains among my list of the Top 10 films ever made. It passes my most stringent test of asking myself after seeing a film: Am I a better person for having seen this film? The answer is yes, a thousand times yes!

Even today, 26 years after seeing Chariots of Fire for the first time, I get goose bumps whenever I see it again.

Every time I see it I pull down my Cambridge Factfinder from my library shelf and stare at the 1924 Paris Olympic results. There I see three gold medal winners—Harold Abrahams of Great Britain in the 100-Meter Dash (10.6), Eric Liddell of Great Britain in the 400-Meter Dash (an Olympic record 47.6) and Douglas Lowe of Great Britain in the 800-Meter Run (1:52.4). Lowe was not in Colin Welland’s script.

I think of that glorious time when some few ran with hope in their hearts and wings on their heels.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

Was there ever an actress who combined these four timeless qualities—beauty, fashion, grace and humility—better than Audrey Hepburn? I think not, especially when I see her again in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Even an actress who could come close (and I can think of none) would in no way match the humility of Audrey Hepburn. We shall not see another like her in our lifetime and by then the film industry may be on the way out when some newer, better technology unknown to us today arrives.

All the more reason to purchase her five most memorable movies in DVD now while they are still available.

First would be her Oscar winning Best Actress performance in Roman Holiday opposite Gregory Peck, which was also her first starring role in an American film.

The next four would be her Best Actress Oscar nominations for “Sabrina”, “The Nun’s Story”, “Wait Until Dark” (one of the two scariest movies I have ever seen) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the Oscar went to Sophia Loren for “Two Women”).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s had two great assets, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, the young New York socialite (we say socialite because this movie was released in 1961, 45 years ago), and Director Blake Edwards, whose deft, sensitive handling of Hepburn’s character (a high-priced prostitute) could not have been done better.

Holly Golightly’s beauty, sense of fashion and pure innocence prohibit me from thinking of her as a woman of the night. She is so inherently stylish. God has not made a woman that could wear clothes better than Audrey Hepburn.

She has Holly Golightly floating around in Givenchy gowns with matchless grace and glamour.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on Truman Capote’s novel with the screenplay by George Axelrod, who also garnered an Oscar nomination.

Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) teamed up to win an Oscar for the Original Song “Moon River” while Mancini earned another Oscar as well as a Grammy for Best Musical Score.

The story line has the two romantic interests dependent upon others for financial support, Holly as a lady of the night and Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a wannabe writer who is kept by the married and wealthy Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal). Eventually Holly and Paul experience some personal growth and find love together.

There are matchless moments in this film that find places forever in your heart. One is Hepburn sitting on the fire escape plaintively singing “Moon River,” especially when you remember that the theme of your high school senior prom was Moon River, and that you were with the girl you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. It is a rare opportunity to hear Hepburn sing in the movie.

She recorded singing vocals for her role as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” only to discover that professional “singing double” Marni Nixon had overdubbed all of her songs.

Hepburn was not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in this film, but her love interest Rex Harrison won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Professor Henry Higgins.

The “little black dress” worn by Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was designed by Givenchy and sold at Christie’s auction this year (2006) for $920,000 with the proceeds going to aid underprivileged children in India. It was not the one worn by Hepburn in the movie.

The only two dresses she wore are now in the Givenchy archives and the Museum of Costume in Madrid, Spain.

In Audrey Hepburn’s performance there are times when we are delighted by sweet innocence in a woman. You cannot imagine how difficult this is to find in today’s world.

Audrey Hepburn became a beauty and fashion icon, and although she did enjoy fashion, she placed little importance on it, preferring casual and comfortable clothes away from the bright lights and cameras.

I do want to give Breakfast at Tiffany’s an Excellent rating but cannot because of too many flaws in the film. I can easily give Audrey Hepburn an Excellent rating for her performance as Holly Golightly.

After 15 years as a highly successful actress Audrey Hepburn chose to lead a quieter life far away from Hollywood. She was married twice, first to actor Mel Ferrer and then to Italian doctor Andrea Dotti and had a son with each.

Hepburn was Belgian by birth and would grow up with her mother in The Netherlands, nearly starving to death during the Nazi occupation in World War II when the Dutch food and fuel supplies were cut off. Tragically, she suffered through watching her uncle and cousin being shot to death for being part of the Resistance movement.

She rose from the horrific atrocities of her youth to find fame and fortune in America and in the last four years of her life (1988 to 1992) became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund).

Only four months before her death from abdominal cancer she went on a mission to Somalia and was devastated to see the nightmare of famine and carnage.

Audrey Hepburn was the picture of beauty, fashion and grace but never for a minute let her success go to her head, and most certainly never led a Hollywood lifestyle of overblown debauchery so much in evidence in moviemaking and Tinseltown today.

See Breakfast at Tiffany’s because Audrey Hepburn became an important contributor to our time and culture. She not only represented the best in professional growth but made her life a legacy with her personal growth. She was a model of grace and humility in a world with little of either.

Pardon Me, I Am Gushing Again About Hollywood’s Incomparable Actress: Audrey Hepburn

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

Like a lot of shoppers at supermarkets, I look at the magazine displays while waiting in line to check out. Recently I was thrilled to see a recent edition to LIFE’s Great Photographers Series: Remembering Audrey 15 Years Later with photographs by Bob Willoughby.

In my review of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” I posed this question: Was there ever an actress who combined these four timeless qualities—beauty, fashion, grace and humility—better than Audrey Hepburn? My answer was simply, I think not.

You better believe I bought a copy of Remembering Audrey faster than a single heartbeat and remain a better person for having done so.

Willoughby was born in Los Angeles—the city of the stars—and began taking pictures when he was 12. He was good, very good, and best described as a prodigy. In 1953, when he was 26, he would be assigned to photograph an upcoming soon to be actress, Audrey Hepburn. The result of their meeting would produce one of his most positive relationships, both as a photographer and a friend.

Willoughby pioneered the role of the “special” photographer to take formal publicity shots and candids of the stars Hollywood’s publicity departments wanted to promote. He was credited by Popular Photography magazine as the man “who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion-picture still.”

The images that you remember of James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn among dozens of others were mostly the work of Bob Willoughby. All the major magazines of the day—LIFE, Look, Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Bazaar—published his work

Willoughby’s creations grace the exhibits in more than 500 museums in more than 50 countries around the world.

When first meeting Audrey, Willoughby said, “She took my hand and dazzled me with a smile that God designed to melt mortal men’s hearts.

“The amazing instant contact she always made was a remarkable gift, and I know from talking to others that it was felt by all who met her.”

Audrey had made a big impression with the studio brass in the 1953 William Wyler film “Roman Holiday”. She won an Oscar for Best Actress as Princess Ann in her film debut playing opposite Gregory Peck.

In the next 15 years, she would be nominated for 4 Best Actress Oscars for her work as Sabrina Fairchild in “Sabrina” (1954), Sister Luke in “The Nun’s Story” (1959), Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), and Susy Hendrix in “Wait Until Dark” (1967).

She also won a Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress in Roman Holiday and had an additional 6 Golden Globe nominations as Best Actress. Lesser known is the fact that Audrey was one of the few entertainers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony Award as well as an Oscar.

Bob Willoughby’s formal and candid photographs of Audrey Hepburn will stand the test of time as some of the greatest ever taken of a woman and an actress. He said that Audrey never took a bad photograph, or even a mediocre one.

“She could sit next to an old ladder on the set and look terrific,” said Willoughby. With designs by Hubert de Givenchy, the world’s most smashing woman wore the world’s most smashing fashions.

She became the most charming, disarming, altogether friendly and charismatic superstar ever to grace a Hollywood production. According to Willoughby, everyone liked Audrey and remained loyal to her. The best directors and the world’s greatest designers sought to work with her.

It was said that all her leading men fell in love with her, including Gregory Peck, William Holden, Anthony Perkins, Rex Harrison and Albert Finney.

When making My Fair Lady Audrey would not be recognized for her role as Eliza Doolittle. She had been promised that she could sing her songs in the film, but Marni Nixon was ultimately contracted to perform Eliza’s vocals.

Julie Andrews had played the role of Eliza in the stage production of the Lerner and Loewe musical, but she lost the role to Audrey in the film. It was perhaps no accident that the Best Actress Oscar that year went to Julie Andrews for her role as Mary Poppins.

My Fair Lady cost $17 million to make in 1964, an astounding investment in its day. It became Warner Brothers highest-grossing film at the time and would go on to earn 12 Oscar nominations and win 8 Oscars. Many film historians consider My Fair Lady to be the last great musical of Hollywood’s studio era.

Audrey would marry twice and have a son by both Mel Ferrer, the actor/director, and Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist. She suffered 4 miscarriages during her 13-year marriage to Mel Ferrer.

In her early life, Audrey’s parents would divorce and her mother took her and her two stepbrothers to London and then to the Netherlands, where her mother was a bona fide Dutch baroness. In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and the horror of war would surround her.

She danced in clandestine locations to raise money for the Dutch Resistance. One of her stepbrothers was sent to a German labor camp, and her uncle and one of her mother’s cousins were shot and killed for participating in the Resistance.

The Germans seized food and fuel when the Netherlands was already suffering a winter famine. Audrey would suffer malnutrition, anemia and frequent bouts of depression. She was 10 years old when World War II started and remained fragile her entire life as a result of her wartime experience.

Some believe her final act in life was her best when she was named UNICEF’s International Goodwill Ambassador in 1988. Audrey would travel around the world on 50+ missions to bring attention to the world’s suffering children. The sight of children dying from hunger in distant lands was devastating; she had once been one of those children and survived.

“I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering,” said Audrey. Despite being terribly ill herself, she continued to go on missions. She would die of colon cancer in 1993, four months before her 64th birthday. When she died, the world lost a great human being.

Bob Willoughby said it best: “She left those who came into contact with her better for having known her. I miss her to this day.” Amen, Bob, amen.

Will Ferrell as a self-absorbed nightly news anchor who falls from grace. This movie is worse than bad, it is terrible beyond belief. There are a couple of laughs in it, but it is the absolute pit to watch. Farrell will never make it as an actor of note with these kinds of roles. The female lead is Christina Applegate (yes, that Christina—Kelly Bundy—of Married With Children), who is now grown and pretty darn attractive in spite of appearing in this awful choice of a movie. We will pray that both Ferrell and Applegate get better roles, although it looks like Ferrell is making a career out of stupid, crummy roles. He certainly has more talent than this movie shows. I would date Applegate, at least once, to see if she had more going for her than just looks; you certainly could not tell by her choice of movie roles.

This 1957 film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and has become one of the classic “romantic” films of all time, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as two shipboard passengers falling in love as both are “engaged” and headed for marriage.

Female movie buffs gravitate to this film like bees to honey, remembering the scene where the two smitten lovers agree—for their relationship to continue— to meet again in 6 months at the top of the Empire State Building. An accident prevents their fateful meeting, and their relationship appears all but over with no communication.

Every woman in America who has seen this film knows if they ever get back together (this is a romance story, right?), but guys will have to check it out to see. An Affair to Remember was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Music, but none of the nominations were in the 6 major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director).

The big winner in 1957 was The Bridge on the River Kwai, with 8 nominations and 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. Reviews of An Affair to Remember in 1957 ranged from an ideal romance to sensitive to silly.  In viewing this film, remember that it was made in 1957, and does not benefit from the technology and production techniques we enjoy today. Also, the word lovers had a totally different meaning in 1957 than it does today.

In An Affair to Remember, Cary and Deborah did not really even enjoy a single passionate kiss on film, much less make it into the sack. 

The film is quite refreshing from the sex standpoint, as today the “stars” involved in too many films cannot spend enough time groping and pawing each other in sweaty excitement, with virtually no emotional commitment but plenty of raw physical lust without consequence.

Evidence of just how popular this film is with women especially is the fact that 2 million DVD copies of An Affair to Remember were sold after Sleepless in Seattle was released in 1993, 36 years after the release of An Affair to Remember, that is called staying power (no pun intended).  Sleepless in Seattle was a remake of An Affair to Remember (if only for the rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building), which was in turn a remake of the original Love Affair from 1939.

Not to be outdone, Love Affair (the third version) surfaced again in 1994 with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening; unfortunately for Beatty and Bening, the third and latest version did not enjoy nearly the same success as An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

After enjoying unexpected commercial success with “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More”, Italian Director Sergio Leone ends his trilogy of “Spaghetti Westerns” with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

Amazingly, even at this point in his masterful direction of western movies made in Spain, Leone would not enjoy a nickel’s worth of adulation from the critics as only the Laurel Awards would give a single award to Clint Eastwood for Action Performance, and that was as runner-up.

Hollywood and its stars ignored Sergio Leone just as they have Johnny Depp. They refuse to recognize that even westerns or pirate pictures can be artfully done and have unique acting performances. Clint Eastwood is The Man with No Name, and Johnny Depp is the perfect pirate as Captain Jack Sparrow. There will never be another equal of either in these roles

At least one film director, screenwriter and actor—Quentin Tarantino—has identified Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as “the best-directed film of all time.” It was Tarantino who gave moviegoers “Reservoir Dogs”. “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill (Vol. 1 and Vol.2)” among others.

But back to Leone, who helped write the screenplay with mostly Luciano Vincenzoni. It was Vincenzoni who came up with the premise for the film—three rogues looking for some treasure at the time of the America’s Civil War—and its title.

The triangle of rogues included The Good (Clint Eastwood, a professional gunfighter referred to as “Blondie” in this film who would become The Man With No Name in subsequent western films spun off of his character), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, a self-centered hit man referred to as “Angel Eyes”) and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, a self-centered outlaw referred to as “Tuco”).

Long story short, the plot involves first establishing the three rogues as bona fide killers. Blondie then becomes a pseudo bounty hunter in partnership with Tuco, turning him in for the bounty, rescuing him before he is hanged, and repeating the process until Blondie leaves Tuco in the desert to die. Tuco survives, and lives to find Blondie and return the favor.

As Blondie is about to die while being forced to walk across the desert by Tuco, they are interrupted by an out-of-control, driverless carriage loaded with dead bodies. Except one body, Bill Carson, lives long enough to tell Tuco where $200,000 in gold is buried in exchange for water. While Tuco goes for water, Carson tells Blondie the exact grave in a cemetery where the gold can be found. Suddenly they have a compelling reason to become partners again

Dressed in the Confederate uniforms of the dead men, Tuco takes Blondie, who is near death, to a local Catholic mission run by Tuco’s brother, a priest. Blondie’s recovery goes well, but Tuco’s reconciliation with his brother does not.

Blondie and Tuco leave the mission and end up being captured by Union soldiers and taken to a prison camp where Angel Eyes (now a Union sergeant) takes personal charge of torturing the captives. Angle Eyes is aware of the gold, has his enforcer beat Tuco senseless, and learns the name of the cemetery. He then turns Tuco in for the bounty, frees Blondie (who knows the exact location) and he and his gang of 5 thugs head for the cemetery with Blondie.

Tuco manages to escape on the way to his hanging, turns up in a town the Union forces have bombed silly, and runs smack into Blondie, Angel Eyes and his band of 5. Blondie and Tuco manage to kill all 5 thugs as Angel Eyes escapes, and now all three are headed for the cemetery.

On their way to the cemetery, Blondie and Tuco run into a full-blown Civil War battle over a bridge crossing a river to the cemetery. They witness the continual carnage, blow up the bridge, and then the soldiers from both sides—as well as Blondie and Tuco—move on.

Once in the cemetery, it is inevitable that the three rogues face off in one of the greatest western showdowns ever filmed. The confrontation is full of Leone’s masterful panoramic shots, extreme close-ups and clever sequence of final events. If you have not seen this film, you must, it may be the greatest western film ever made. If you have seen it, you should see it again to better appreciate Sergio Leone’s masterful direction.

There are many great moments in this film. Two of my favorites involved Tuco. In the first, while Tuco is in the bombed-out town, he manages to find a bathtub and take a bath. While doing so, a bounty hunter (remember than Tuco still has a price on his head) confronts him buck naked in the tub.

At the start of the film, the bounty hunter is one of three gunmen who confront Tuco and Tuco shoots all three. The one that confronts Tuco lost his right arm but lived and now shoots with his left arm. He reminds Tuco of his distress and, while doing so, Tuco kills him with his gun that is hidden beneath the bubble bath water. Tuco then utters this memorable line: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

The other scene I love is when Tuco walks miles and miles out of the desert and into a town with a gun shop in front of him. After dousing himself in a water trough, he confronts the proprietor, remakes a pistol out of parts from three other pistols, and then steps outside to test the weapon.

He hits three standing figures downrange, turning them sideways, and then fires three shots to cut each in half. Two figures fall immediately and the third remains standing. Tuco takes a mouthful of whiskey, and then jumps and as he lands, the third target falls. This is a guy film, and you really need to be a guy to fully appreciate what I am sharing here. Tuco’s role in this scene helped invent the word cool.

Moviegoers watching this film at the time were not aware that Eli Wallach (Tuco) was nearly killed three times while playing his part.

He was almost poisoned on the set after drinking acid used to burn the bags filled with gold coin so they would rip open easier when struck with a spade. A film technician had poured the acid into a lemon soda bottle and Wallach didn’t know it. He drank a lot of milk and finished the scene with a mouth full of sores.

In another scene where Wallach was about to be hanged while on a horse, the rope was severed by a pistol shot but the frightened horse galloped for almost a mile with Wallach’s hands tied behind him and the noose still taut around his neck.

In a third scene, in order to cut off his handcuffs from his captor, Wallach places his captor on the railroad tracks and waits for a train to come by and break the chain attached to the cuffs. He was within a foot of track and ducks his head to the ground as the train rolls by. The entire film crew and Wallach were unaware that heavy iron steps jutted out from each box car and any of the numerous box cars with iron steps would have decapitated Wallach had he lifted his head.

Wallach would later acknowledge and complain in his autobiography that safety on the set was not one of Leone’s primary concerns in directing the picture.

For the record, Tuco’s full name in the film script was Tuco Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez

Because Sergio Leone spoke barely any English and Eli Wallach spoke barely any Italian, the two communicated in French. Because an international cast was employed, only Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach spoke in English, and were dubbed in Italian for the debut release in Rome. All other international cast members spoke mostly French or Spanish and were dubbed later. This accounts for the fact that none of the dialogue in the film was completely in sync.

Here are three interesting facts from the film for guys:

1) The cache of gold in the film was $200,000, which does not seem like a lot of money today. However, gold was $20+ an ounce in 1862 and was $628 an ounce in 2006, so the gold was worth more than $6 million in today’s money.

2) In the film, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) used a Colt 1851 cartridge conversion revolver with silver snake grips, and a Winchester 1866 “yellow boy” with ladder elevated sights. Angle Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) used a Remington 1858 Army percussion revolver. Tuco (Eli Wallach) used a Colt 1851 Navy percussion revolver with a lanyard. The soldiers used Gatling guns with drum magazines and Howitzer cannons.

3) Clint Eastwood wore the same poncho without replacement or cleaning during all three of Leone’s spaghetti westerns. In the second film (For a Few Dollars More) you can visibly see that his poncho was mended after being pierced by 7 bullet holes from Ramon’s Winchester in A Fistful of Dollars. The mended area, originally on the left breast, is worn over Eastwood’s right shoulder blade in For a Few Dollars More.

From virtually no acclaim at the time, Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is now regarded as a classic by many critics. It was part of Time’s “100 Greatest Movies” of the last century, and it is one of the few films which enjoy a 100% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com). The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is currently ranked no less than 5th among the Internet Movie Database Top 250, all of which is not too shabby for an Italian guy directing an American Western.

Even master movie critic Roger Ebert gives Leone his just due as an excellent director, and acknowledges two other Sergio Leone films as unquestioned masterpieces—”Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984).

Sergio Leone was born into the cinema. His father was Roberto Roberti (aka Vincenzo Leone), one of Italy’s cinema pioneers, and his mother was actress Bice Valerian. Sergio Leone was born in Rome in 1929 and died in Rome in 1989 from a heart attack. He remains one of the great directors in film history.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

After the unexpected, smashing success of Sergio Leone’s direction in “A Fistful of Dollars” with the newly-found presence of Clint Eastwood as the gunfighter who would become The Man With No Name, Leone ‘s direction in “For a Few Dollars More” was even more successful, artistically and financially.

Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars became the first spaghetti western to receive a major international release, and American males were ready for The Man with No Name, a new, no-nonsense hero that took care of business the old-fashioned way.

In the second of Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy, Clint Eastwood’s role as the loner with a purpose became even better defined as a bounty hunter. Even the prelude to the film declares that “Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.” The Man With No Name hunted down and killed wanted criminals for money.

Eastwood’s character in the film would be joined by another equally ambitious bounty hunter, Colonel Douglas Mortimer (played by Lee Van Cleef). They will clash and then eventually become partners in their chase to catch El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte who played Ramon Rojo in A Fistful of Dollars). El Indio is a ruthless, intelligent gang leader given to laughing when torturing his victims, and then smoking marijuana (cannabis) to relieve this stress afterward.

El Indio is one bad dude. He is being sought by The Man with No Name for the $10,000 bounty on his head. He is being sought by Colonel Mortimer—an apparent Confederate military officer in the Civil War and the best shooter in the Carolinas—for raping his sister after killing her husband in cold blood. His sister takes El Indio’s gun and commit suicide while he is raping her.

El Indio has his gang on target to relieve the impregnable Bank of El Paso of its “special” safe containing $1 million, and does so despite the trap that The Man with No Name, who has become an insider in Indio’s gang, and Colonel Mortimer have set for Indio. You must see and learn about the special safe, it is too good to give away here.

There are many great moments in this film, but two of them are at the beginning and the end of the film. This first occurs when Colonel Mortimer goes after an outlaw with a price on his head. He interrupts the bad guy while he is in the tub with a prostitute. After sliding a “Wanted” sign under the door of the room, the outlaw dashes to the balcony of the hotel and jumps from the first floor to his horse to make a getaway.

Mortimer crashes the door, assesses the situation, coolly walks downstairs and out the front door, hits a release on the side of his horse which appears to be a blanket but really holds several rifles, picks an appropriate weapon, and calmly shoots the outlaw off of his horse. The outlaw is wounded but stands upright, only to receive a second bullet in his forehead. Male moviegoers thrive on this kind of controlled violence.

The second occurs when El Indio has Colonel Mortimer outfoxed and ready to kill him when The Man with No Name makes their standoff a 3-man face-off by allowing Mortimer to have an equal draw against Indio. Mortimer easily kills Indio and retrieves the watch Indio had taken and held, which showcased a picture of his sister. Mortimer had a watch to match the one Indio had stolen.

Lee Van Cleef (Colonel Mortimer) claimed to be faster on the draw than Clint Eastwood, and in fact he was. Film shows that Lee Van Cleef took exactly 3 frames (one eighth of a second) to draw, cock and fire his weapon.

Director Sergio Leone had originally wanted Lee Marvin for the role of Colonel Douglas Mortimer, but I believe that Lee Van Cleef proved to be an excellent choice for the part.

The final scene is spectacular in its presentation. It is a huge circular area and Leone’s brilliant direction captures the moment with extreme close-up views of the participants, building upon the emotions of fear and the satisfaction of vigilante justice in the process.

Leone’s taciturn characters, precise filming, extreme close-ups and the haunting music of Ennio Morricone all add to making For a Few Dollars More a legend, and one of the classic westerns ever made.

For a Few Dollars More gained even more steam in the United States as it was double-billed with A Fistful of Dollars. For a Few Dollars More was released in 1965, one year after the release of A Fistful of Dollars.

Despite becoming what is now recognized as one of the greatest westerns ever filmed, For a Few Dollars More could not collect a single award. It does not really matter, as Leone’ second spaghetti western keeps being replayed while other award-winners now sit in the can on a shelf.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

Is it possible for an excellent, groundbreaking film in a specific genre to be overlooked at award ceremonies? Absolutely, and a perfect example is “A Fistful of Dollars” that gave rise to what we commonly identify today as “the spaghetti Western”.

A Fistful of Dollars was the first of Director Sergio Leone’s masterpiece trilogy that would be followed by “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. It was Leone who realized that the American-made Westerns of the 1950s had become nothing more or less than housing developments designed with a cookie-cutter pattern of staleness.

Leone’s answer was to shoot the film as if he was orchestrating an opera. The result would become the model for many Westerns to come, featuring his trademark taciturn characters, precise framing, extreme close-ups and the haunting music of Ennio Morricone.

All of this would give rise to “The Man With No Name” (Clint Eastwood), who was originally referred to as “Joe” in A Fistful of Dollars, but became The Man With No Name in the sequels.

I am very boffo on this film and for good reason. The combination of Leone’s direction is excellent given Morricone’s music, the cinematography by Massimo Dallamano and Federico Larraya, film editing by Roberto Cinquini and Alfonso Santacana, and sound by Elio Pacella. A Fistful of Dollars was shot in the Spanish province of Almeria.

Despite its credentials, A Fistful of Dollars would win only one award—the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists’ Silver Ribbon for the Best Score by Ennio Morricone. You could see this film for the musical score alone and come away very impressed.

Released in 1964, A Fistful of Dollars would not make its American debut until 1967. The film’s arrival here was delayed when “Yojimbo” screenwriters Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima sued for breach of copyright and won, receiving 15% of the film’s worldwide gross and exclusive distribution rights for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Kurosawa said later he made more money off this project than he did on Yojimbo, which was released 3 years earlier. The screenplay was written by A. Bonzzoni, Victor Andres Catena and Sergio Leone.

The story is about a gunfighter (Clint Eastwood) who comes to a small border town and offers his services to two rival gangs—the Rojos and the Baxters.

The Rojos include the dangerous Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte), Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) and Don Benito (Antonio Prieto), Ramon’s girlfriend Marisol (Marianne Koch), Rubio (Benito Stefanelli) and Chico (Mario Brega). The Baxters include John (Wolfgang Lukschy), his wife Consuelo (Margarita Lozano) and a bevy of additional lesser-light banditos on both sides.

The bell-ringer in the film, Juan De Dios (Raf Baldassarre) warns the gunfighter, “you’ll get rich here, or you’ll be killed.” The gunfighter later acknowledges that the “crazy bell-ringer was right, there’s money to be made in a place like this.”

Neither gang is aware of The Man With No Name’s ploy to play one against the other, each thinking they are using him against their rival, but the gunfighter will outwit them both.

Along the way he will personally kill at least 14 of them, get the Rojos to completely obliterate the rest of the Baxter gang, rescue the kidnapped wife and return her to her family so they can safely escape, rescue the innkeeper Silvanito (Jose Calvo), and eliminate Ramon Rojo in a classic showdown worthy of any Western movie every made and too good to share here.

Another actor to watch in this film is Piripero the undertaker (Joseph Egger), who provides the avenue for The Man With No Name’s escape when he is incapable of doing so on his own.

The genius of Sergio Leone is seen in one of the film’s earliest scenes. As the gunfighter rides slowly into town, 3 Baxter gang members fire shots to scare the mule he is riding. After some food and whiskey, the gunfighter confronts his tormentors with this dialog:

“I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughing at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it.”

Properly incensed and challenged, 4 key Baxter gang members draw to fire and are cut down in a blink of an eye by The Man With No Name.
While the dialog and action in this scene are excellent, Leone’s direction is even more so and here is why: In American films, when a cowboy was shot, one camera was ALWAYS focused on the shooter and a split second later, another camera cut to the victim. Leone captured the scene with the camera over Eastwood’s shoulder, so the moviegoer could vicariously witness the shooting as if he was doing the shooting.

Leone’s genius was as powerful today—44 years later—as an interactive web site on the Internet, both of which did not exist in 1964. No wonder it is so easy for moviegoers today to experience his genius.

A Fistful of Dollars is too good not to experience. Like so many films that are expected to be nothing and become classics in movie history, the role of The Man With No Name is littered with big names who did not play the role when an unknown like Clint Eastwood did.

This list includes Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Richard Harrison. Harrison would later acknowledge that “maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing A Fistful of Dollars and recommending Clint for the part.”

Eastwood had been in the television series “Rawhide” prior to being tapped for the role. He helped build the character of The Man With No Name by buying black jeans form a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevard, buying the hat he wore from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm, and buying his trademark black cigars from a Beverly Hills store. He cut the cigars into thirds to give them a more distinctive look.

Leone was reportedly taken with Eastwood’s distinctive style, commenting in Italian that “I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it.”

Like another tremendously successful actor Tom Hanks, Eastwood knew how to instinctively exude enormous charisma that was never evident in his low-key style. Any real man in America would be proud to strap on The Man With No Name’s gun belt and pistol. Is A Fistful of Dollars a guy film? Certainly.

Leone did not direct the first spaghetti western ever made, but his was the first one to receive a major international release, not to mention the fact that it launched Clint Eastwood on an incredibly successful career as one of Hollywood’s most popular, profitable and bankable actors and directors ever.

 A Christmas Story – 4 Stars (Excellent)

A Christmas Story is arguably the best Christmas movie ever.

There is no doubt that the 1984 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge is a worthy contender for the honor. Since I have not seen Fanny & Alexander (1983), I remain a huge fan of A Christmas Story.

Can there be anything greater than Santa coming to your house on Christmas Eve with the perfect gift of your choice? I think not, especially if it is a genuine Red Ryder 200-Shot, Carbine-Action BB Gun for a 9-year-old named Ralphie living in Northern Indiana in the 1940s.

Imagine Ralphie’s dismay when his mother, his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School and ultimately even Santa Claus at Higby’s Department Store tell him “you’ll shoot your eye out.”

A Christmas Story is about much more than whether Ralphie gets the Red Ryder BB Gun he covets. It is about a Midwest family with two boys, Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and Randy (Ian Petrella), who encounter the normal struggles of growing up.

Ralphie and his friend Schwartz (R. D. Robb) badger their friend Flick (Scott Schwartz, not to be confused with R. D. Robb who plays the role of Schwartz) into pressing his tongue against a steel post to see if it will stick.

Flick, who realizes that he might be wrong in saying his tongue will not stick, is left with no alternative when Schwartz whips a “triple dog dare” on him. To save face, Flick learns a very hard lesson and this film gets some great footage in the process.

Both the boys and the girls watching this drama unfold are horrified at the result and the boys have no problem abandoning Flick when the school bell rings. Flick is left frozen to the post. When their teacher Mrs. Shields (Tedde Moore) confronts them about who is responsible for Flick’s condition, they clam up, realizing “it’s always better not to get caught.”

All of the boys also must deal with the terrifying Scut Farcas (Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Yano Anaya), the schoolyard bullies. They get pummeled on a daily basis and act like cowards until Ralphie sees Santa at Higby’s and gets another dose of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

Ralphie is so agitated with rejection over his Christmas wish that when he is next confronted by the bullies he flies into a fit of genuine rage, charging the much larger Scut knocking him down and pounding him repeatedly in the face. Scut ends up with a bloody face and 100 times the embarrassment of being beat up. This event would forever after be known as the Scut Farcas Affair.

I love A Christmas Story because the exact same thing happened to me growing up in the Midwest. I was small for my age and was constantly picked on by bullies until I learned how to fight back no matter what the odds.

When the Parker family goes out to buy their Christmas tree they encounter a flat tire on the way home. Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon) encourages Ralphie to help his father (Darren McGavin) fix the flat.

Ralphie manages to lose the lug nuts during the tire change, and, in fit of fright, utters the dreaded F-word to the shock of his parents. Mrs. Parker demands to know where he learned the word and Ralphie, desperate to come up with an acceptable choice shoots out a name of a friend.

Ralphie, of course, has heard his father cuss time and again, quoting that his father could “weave a tapestry of obscenities that is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” When their furnace in the basement acts up, Ralphie says “my father dabbled in profanities like an artist dabbles in oils.”

This cussing incident so resonates with me because I grew up in the same kind of environment. I often believed my stepfather had a 200-word vocabulary and at least 50 of those words were cuss words. I probably heard the F-word 10,000 times before I graduated from high school. I used to tell my friends I could speak 5 foreign languages if I got mad enough.

A Christmas Story is loaded with other real life events, including Ralphie’s day-dream about being blind from having to suck on soap for cussing, his father winning a prize lamp shaped like a woman’s leg that he displays in their living room window for all to see, and the secret decoder Ralphie gets by eating Ovaltine for breakfast.

There is also Aunt Clara’s gift of a pink bunny costume that Ralphie is forced to model on Christmas morning, the neighbor’s dogs getting into the house and eating their Christmas turkey, and the surprise on Christmas morning after all of the gifts are opened.

A Christmas Story is based on Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd does a superb job of narrating this film about his childhood. The film is so well done, so authentic to its 1940s time period, so believable and likeable that it gets my excellent rating without qualification.

Director Bob Clark is uncanny in his ability to orchestrate this timeless story. Peter Billingsley is a 13-year-old actor playing the role of 9-year-old Ralphie and does so with incredible facial expressions. Young Billingsley is in the moment and totally professional.

A Christmas Story, a low budget film that was not expected to do well, was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983. By Christmas the film had been pulled from theaters because it was thought to have been “played out.” It was only because of complaints from moviegoers that it was brought back to life.

The film celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2003 with release of a two-disc special edition. There are fans all over the world that treasure A Christmas Story and will not let it die, and I am one of them. I have lived so many parts of A Christmas Story that I feel it could also have been the story of thousands of other young boys growing up in the Midwest.

A Christmas Story is on my personal Top 10 all-time list of favorite movies because it exemplifies family values and the joy of living those few precious moments that define us for the rest of our lives.

A Christmas Story is an amazing film that teaches some of life’s great lessons, including determination, courage, patience, struggle, victory, self-esteem, love, acceptance and belonging. This is truly a classic movie that only those who have lived these experiences will appreciate the most. I am blessed to be one of those people.

Little Big Man – 3 Stars (Good)

You know that “Little Big Man” has the makings of a good film when an historian visits Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a forgotten, 100-plus-year-old centenarian in an assisted living facility, to ask about how Native Americans lived in the Old West. It is said that Crabb lived among the Cheyenne, and indeed he did.

Both young Crabb and his sister Caroline were the sole survivors among their family during an Indian attack while heading West and are rescued by a Cheyenne and taken to their leader, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George), who raises young Jack as a son after Caroline escapes back to civilization.

Jack finds life as a Cheyenne to be good, and becomes important by saving the life of Younger Bear. He is named “Little Big Man” by Old Lodge Skins because while small in size, he has a big heart.

From this improbable start, Jack recounts his walk through life with some amazing characters, including a preacher’s wife with an appetite for illicit sex, a snake-oil salesman, a Swedish woman who becomes his wife, a Cheyenne woman who becomes his wife and mother to his son, General George Armstrong Custer and Wild Bill Hickok.

He becomes a huckster of phony products, a gunslinger named the Soda Pop Kid, a friend of Will Bill Hickok, a general store owner, a drunk, a “mule skinner” and scout for General Custer, a trapper and a hermit.

It is General Custer who orders his troops to attack Jack’s Cheyenne family without cause and Jack’s Cheyenne wife and son are killed in the slaughter. Ultimately, it is Jack who leads Custer into the trap at Little Big Horn and becomes the “sole white survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn.”

Little Big Man, based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger, was directed by Arthur Penn and released in 1970. The film is not historically accurate, and does treat the Native Americans favorably and the U. S. Cavalry less favorably.

The screen adaptation with the help of Calder Willingham makes Little Big Man a balanced blend between humor and drama. The narration by the character Jack Crabb makes this film likeable and then some. Little Big Man is really the story of Jack’s relationship with his adopted grandfather, Old Lodge Skins.

Chief Dan George received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations as the Best Supporting Actor in this film. He was outstanding in his role as Old Lodge Skins. When his people are attacked and killed for no good reason, he will not run, saying “today is a good day to die.”

Old Lodge Skins calls his Cheyenne people “human beings”, noting that there is “an endless supply of white men” and “a limited supply of human beings.” He sees and feels the injustice being done to Native Americans who are given their own land and then attacked and killed without cause.

There are too many funny, poignant and dramatic moments in this film to recount them here. One of my favorites is when, after escaping with Jack’s help from the last of the brutal attacks on his people, Old Lodge Skins goes to the top of the mountain to die. He prays, and then lays down to die but wakes up when it begins to rain, asking Jack if he is still in this world.

Jack answers yes, to which he replies, “I was afraid of that. Well, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it does not,” and proceeds back down the mountain with Jack to eat dinner.

Dustin Hoffman set a record for portraying the greatest span of a single character in Little Big Man, playing Jack Crabb from age 17 to 121.

The narration by Jack Crabb, his walk through life, his contact with important people and his poignant story remind me of Tom Hanks and his role in “Forest Gump”. Both of these films are well done, have a story to tell worth hearing, and leave us a better person for the experience.

It has been 41 years since Little Big Man hit the big screen. Not much has been made of it, but there is a certain group of moviegoers like myself who will not let this film die a slow death. It is too good to not be seen and enjoyed by others. I feel the same way about “A Christmas Story” and a lot of others do too.

If you have not seen Little Big Man do yourself a favor while you still can.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding – 4 Stars (Excellent)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is simply one of the best movies ever made about close families and their traditions.

This film is on par with Fiddler on the Roof (winner of 3 Oscars among 8 nominations) and A Christmas Story (winner of no major awards and no Oscar nominations), proving that the biggest award-winners are not the only great movies.

A Christmas Story and My Big Fat Greek Wedding were matched bookends in that both films were not thought to be worthy of financing by typical Hollywood backers and ended up as independent films with limited distribution before becoming huge successes.

A Christmas Story, a low budget film that was not expected to do well, was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983. By Christmas the film had been pulled from theaters because it was thought to have been “played out.” It was only because of complaints from moviegoers that it was brought back to life and has since developed a loyal following of fans that will not let it die.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was filmed because a gutsy Greek girl named Nia Vardalos believed in herself and in her one-woman stage show to keep performing until Rita Wilson saw the play. She persuaded her husband Tom Hanks to produce a movie version.

Wilson, like Vardalos, is Greek. Wilson’s reward as one of the producers with her husband and Gary Goetzman was to see the project completed. The PGA Golden Laurel Awards remembered Rita Wilson by giving her the Visionary Award in 2003. The three producers also won the Golden Laurel Award for Producer of the Year.

So we have in My Big Fat Greek Wedding a low budget, independent film that was about to make Hollywood history.

To show you how dumb the Hollywood financial backers were and how smart Tom Hanks was the estimated $5 million budget for My Big Fat Greek Wedding generated worldwide revenue of $368 million.

The Hollywood backers thought America filmgoers would not accept an ethnic film. I wonder how many of the same backers recognized that Fiddler on the Roof, produced 31 years earlier in 1971, was an ethnic film about a Jewish family which broke with the tradition of arranged marriages.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) became the highest-grossing independent film of all time, surpassing The Blair Witch Project (1999). It also became the highest grossing movie never to have hit number one at the box office, surpassing Dances of the Wolves (1990). Incredibly , the film was still running in several theaters even after its initial video release.

This film is essentially the story of Toula (Nia Vardalos), a 30-year-old Greek woman who falls in love with John (Ian Miller), a non-Greek man, and struggles to get her family to accept him while both of them come to terms with their heritage, cultural identity and mutual compatibility.

As Toula says, “Nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies, and feed everyone . . . until the day we die.”

Her father, Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine) says: “You better get married soon. You’re starting to look old!” Gus also says, “There are only two kinds of people, Greeks and people who wish they were Greek.” He believes any ailment can be cured with Windex.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the Greek community at its most accurate and best, all of the suffocating love, demanded tradition, motivation by guilt, male ego, female influence, pride of race, sibling ties, extended family, romance and sacrifice for those we love.

This film is not heavy and dripping with drama, this is a romantic comedy mixed with strong family traditions that proves Shakespeare’s sage observation that “all’s well that ends well.”

The cast is not star-studded and proves that you do not need to be a headliner to deliver a headliner’s performance and then some. Joining Nia Vardalos, Michael Constantine and Ian Miller with significant and meaningful contributions were Lainie Kazan as Toula’s mother Maria, Louis Mandylor as Toula’s brother Nick, Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula, and Gia Carides as Cousin Nikki.

Vardalos, Constantine, Mandylor and Carides were the only true Greeks in the cast.

There is a point in the film when Toula feels she is losing the battle and laments that “the man is the head of the house.” Her mother Maria tells her that “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.” Maria does so in a confrontation with her husband that should make women proud.

This film will warm you heart, entertain your soul and cause you to walk away a better person for having seen this superb effort in moviemaking. Toula’s personal growth as a young woman freeing herself from forced expectations against insufferable odds is so precious that you want to take her home and adopt her.

I once went to a Polish funeral and was amazed that when the funeral was over and the reception began, the whiskey flowed and all of the immediate family and friends had a heck of great party drinking, dancing and singing. I learned more about family traditions in different cultures at that Polish funeral. Some cultures celebrate the life of a loved one after the funeral.

Despite the complications presented in My Big Fat Greek Wedding you come away wanting to be Greek because you see the love and the fun that they have much more than any disagreements or disappointments.

The interaction between Toula and her brother Nick is really sweet, touching and funny.

At one point, Nick is impressed with Toula’s ability to break with tradition (he secretly wants to study art) and says, “Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become.” “Nick, that’s beautiful,” replies Toula, to which Nick adds, “Yeah, that dear Abby really knows what she’s talking about.”

Nia Vardalos wrote the script and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, was nominated for 6 other lesser screenwriting awards and won 2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is directed by Joel Zwick who won two minor awards for his effort. I feel he deserved more recognition.

The film garnered little attention among the big award givers but did appropriately win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy. Almost as an afterthought, My Big Fat Greek Wedding won the Best Independent Comedy Film Award from the U. S. Comedy Arts Festival. It would be my pleasure if some of the Comedy Film Award judges were Greek.

There is Greek love throughout this film, from Rita Wilson’s vision to the thousands of Greek Americans who said, hey, this is Greek, this is good. The Greek community really made the film become a box office record-setter while we non-Greeks came on board later and enjoyed the film just as much.

When I left the theater, I went looking for ouzo, the Greek anise-flavored liqueur so celebrated in the film at Greek gatherings. They would down a shot of ouzo and shout “oumpa.”

I married a girl from a very traditional Italian Catholic family. Every Christmas my wife makes Italian cookies with anise-flavored frosting, no wonder I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Anyone who wants a job watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding should be Greek, love ouzo and love having fun. Others need not apply unless, of course, they might want to be Greek, want to try ouzo, and have fun!

Apocalypto – 4 Stars (Excellent)

Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” shows the raw, violent face of the advanced Mayan civilization in its decline, with its rulers insisting that the key to continued prosperity is to build more temples and offer more human sacrifices to their Gods. The result is the story of innocent Mayans being viciously attacked and their communal way of life being destroyed to meet an insane desire. Killing your own has never been a good idea historically and is perhaps a lesson we need to take more seriously today.

The focal point of this film is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and his family. He is one of many sons of Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead), the leader of a small, isolated Mayan community in the tropical jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula just before the arrival of the Spanish in the New World.

Flint Sky and his progeny wish only to be left alone to pursue their destiny in a peaceful environment. Enter Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his raiding party looking for victims to sacrifice to the Gods. Jaguar Paw and pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and their son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Baez) escape the attack. Jaguar Paw quickly finds a hiding place to keep his family safe, and then he returns to help fight off the attackers.

Many in his village are killed and many more are captured. This story is about how the captured Jaguar Paw can possibly survive the enforced march to an untimely death and then return to save his family. In the end, he must choose to greet the oncoming Spanish as their ships roll into the harbor, or retreat to the jungle and continue to live a hidden life.

I promise you that when you see this film you will be glued to the edge of your seat. Apocalypto will hold your interest like very few films can. Some historians were falling all over themselves to criticize inaccuracies in the film, I suspect mainly to get some badly needed publicity which they obviously could not do on their own.

Gibson is a film producer in Apocalypto, not an historian. Good grief, if I want exact history, I will read history books. Gibson brings history to life and does what no one else in Hollywood dares or cares to do.

Gibson’s film is an excellent presentation of how we would like life not to be, and also a reminder that no matter how smart we think we are we can sow the seeds of our own destruction right here in the greatest nation Earth has ever hosted.

Apocalypto is produced by Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia and Bruce Davey, and written by Gibson and Safinia. It is worth the price of two tickets to see. I highly recommend it for adults. It is a not-so-subtle reminder of what civilization was and could be again. The fate of the Mayan civilization remains a mystery even today. We know that around 300 BC the Mayan calendar was invented in the Yucatan and was more exact than older calendars. We know the oldest Mayan temples in Central America were built around AD 200.

We know that the Classic period of Mayan civilization occurred between AD 250 to 900 with the development of hieroglyphic writing and advances in art, architecture and science. We know the Post-Classical period of Mayan civilization began in AD 900 and extended to 1519. The Mayan civilization was at its apex in the early 8th Century before eventually falling into decline and ultimately suffering abandonment.

We do not know why the civilization collapsed but can only speculate that its fall was from within, sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Apocalypto picked up nominations for Academy Awards in Makeup, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. I thought the cinematography was spectacular, the close up shots of Jaguar Paw running for his very life, the look of fear in the faces of those innocents who were violently executed by their attackers, and the jungle with its teeming flora and fauna.

Cinematographer Dean Semler used a Spydercam to shoot from atop the 170-foot waterfall when Jaguar Paw jumps to escape Zero Wolf and his killer squad. Semler filmed Apocalypto digitally, using the high-definition Panavision Genesis camera. Semler is an artist disguised as a cinematographer. The Central Ohio and Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Associations saw what I did in giving Apocalypto their Best Cinematography Awards.

Apocalypto should have garnered more awards, but Mel Gibson’s unfortunate drinking habit and run-in with a law enforcement officer did not endear him to the Hollywood community.

Gibson insisted on making the main sets based on actual buildings rather than computer-generated images. Three cheers for Gibson as I believe authenticity counts. I am so sick and tried of seeing stupid kung fu films showing actors jumping 150 feet straight up into the air and then fighting on a twig. I would like to see these wannabe clowns fighting Bruce Lee on his best day.

Was Apocalypto an epic? Absolutely. There was a main cast of 39 along with 700 extras. Ever wonder what a support cast is to a film? For Apocalypto there were 179 people in the Makeup Department, 67 in the Art Department, 50 in Sound, 36 in Special Effects, 153 in Visual Effects, 33 in Stunts, 80 in Camera and Electrical, 8 in Casting, 22 in Costume and Wardrobe, 18 in Editorial, 62 in Transportation and 100 more additional crew. Total support: 800+. Cost of the film: $40 million. Total box office and rental revenue figures: $72 million and counting.

Many of the speaking roles were by Mayan people who had never acted. The sick child who curses the hunting party as they lead the captives on a forced march to their death was played by a 7-year-old girl who lived in a dirt-floored hut in a village not unlike Jaguar Paw’s.

This was a haunting scene as the girl who was affected with the plague and untouchable upbraids the hunting party by saying “You fear me? So you should. All you who are vile. Would you like to know how you will die? The scared time is near. Beware the blackness of the day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar. Behold him reborn from mud and earth. For the one he takes you to will cancel the sky, and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out. And end your world. He’s with us now. Day will be like night. And the man jaguar will lead you to your end.”

Herein we learn how Jaguar Paw avoids being beheaded only to run the gauntlet of spears and arrows in his escape back into the jungle. This is a brutal and graphic film with beheadings like sound bites. There are too many gems in this film to list here. Suffice to say a village elder uses animals to tell a story about how man will never be satisfied despite using the Earth and everything in it for his own gain.

You will cringe when Jaguar Paw’s wife and young son face downing as she falls and must deliver her newborn facing certain death. In the end Jaguar Paw uses his wit and wisdom to claim the forest as his own. Get out and see Apocalypto. This is a film nearly everyone could benefit from seeing before they pass from this Earth. It will remind you of how fragile and perilous our life is.

Annie – 4 Stars (Excellent)

“Annie” is certainly one of the most uplifting, harrowing and positive Broadway musicals in movie history.

Even if you did not see Annie as a moviegoer, you would recognize the key words to its award-winning signature song “Tomorrow”: “The sun’ll come out Tomorrow, so you gotta hang on till Tomorrow. Come what may. Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I love ya, Tomorrow. You’re only a day away”.

Based on Thomas Meehan’s musical score of the enormously successful stage play, and Carol Sobieski’s screenplay, Annie was directed by John Houston in his first and last effort directing a movie musical. None of their talent was wasted.

A tip of the hat to Carol Sobieski’s effort with the screenplay, as I believe her feminine touch had much to do with the finished product. Annie is reminiscent of Harold Gray’s comic strip Annie, but there was nothing from the original comic strip that could have been used in the musical. Sobieski also wrote “Fried Green Tomatoes”.

Set in the depths of The Great Depression of the 1930s, Annie’s life among orphans in miserable conditions changes dramatically when she is selected to spend a week in the mansion of Oliver Warbucks, a wealthy munitions industrialist driven only by making money and intent on polishing his capitalist image.

Annie (played superbly by Aileen Quinn) becomes an immediate attention-getter and an irresistible force by being simple and unassuming in a situation of opulence, power and influence dominated by Daddy Warbucks (Albert Finney is at his best in this role). She wins the hearts of everyone in the house plus Grace Farrell (Ann Reinking), Warbucks’ right-hand assistant.

Despite everyone’s growing affection for Annie’s childlike simplicity, Daddy Warbucks’ move to adopt Annie encounters a trauma as Annie is only concerned about eventually finding her parents so she can be part of a real family.

Enter the severe, unkind orphanage proprietor Miss Hannigan (an excellent character-acting performance by the one and only Carol Burnett), her brother and bad guy Rooster Hannigan (Tim Curry) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Bernadette Peters). They conspire to kidnap Annie and Rooster tries to kill her. After some tense moments during great filmmaking, Daddy Warbucks’ capable enforcer Punjab (Geoffrey Holder) comes to the rescue.

Do not miss the role of fellow orphan Molly (played by Toni Ann Gisondi), the helicopter Daddy Warbucks flies around in, and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. Both Carol Burnett and Aileen Quinn were nominated for Best Actress Golden Globe Awards.

The original stage play Annie premiered in 1977, won the Tony Award for the Best Musical the same year, and closed in 1983 after 2,377 performances. Annie hit the big screen in 1982, and remains a classic among Broadway’s musicals. The rights to Annie were sold in 1978 for $9.5 million ($30+ million in today’s dollars), a record that still stands.

Annie is everything that is good and right about a Broadway musical that becomes a movie. Annie teaches the adults around her about the importance of love, family, thoughtfulness, kindness, gratitude, understanding, optimism and hope, everything that was absent in her life as an orphan.

About Schmidt – 1 Star (Terrible)

Jack Nicholson is Warren Schmidt in this movie, an actuary whose angry, miserable life is interrupted by retirement and the sudden death of his wife when he discovers his life has no real meaning, and he has no real relationships to comfort him.

Nicholson (as Schmidt) stays in character in this effort, but the 2 hour 5 minute movie is really about 2 hours and 3 minutes of being angry, miserable and negative, and then a moment of redemption at the end that comes from a 6-year-old boy in Tanzania he has sponsored.

This does not get my 2-star rating as even average because it is so unredeeming. Just watching this angry, negative, miserable movie for 2 hours and 3 minutes put me in a foul mood, despite the pathetic try at redemption in the end. Who wants to watch a two-hour movie and feel miserable when you are done?

This film has to be the worst film I have even seen Jack Nicholson in, and did absolutely nothing to enhance Nicholson’s image as one of the great actors of our time. Unfortunately for Nicholson, he gets involved in this film which lacks a good story line, a good script and good direction (one might say, he struck out). None of this has any affect whatsoever on Hollywood as Nicholson was tapped for a Best Actor nomination (this is Jack, right?) and Kathy Bates for a Best Actress in a Supporting Role nomination; neither won an Oscar. Small justice for a lousy film.

Almost Heroes – 1 Star (Terrible)

Chris Farley in Lewis & Clark’s Time – Really Bad Flick, as bad as Austin Powers. I like Chris Farley as a comedian; some of his sketches on Saturday Night Live are classics. I am saddened that this film did nothing to showcase his real talent, and contribution to American comedy.

The Anchorman – 1 Star (Terrible)

Will Ferrell as a self-absorbed nightly news anchor who falls from grace. This movie is worse than bad, it is terrible beyond belief. There are a couple of laughs in it, but it is the absolute pit to watch. Farrell will never make it as an actor of note with these kinds of roles.

The female lead is Christina Applegate (yes, that Christina—Kelly Bundy—of Married With Children), who is now grown and pretty darn attractive in spite of appearing in this awful choice of a movie.

We will pray that both Ferrell and Applegate get better roles, although it looks like Ferrell is making a career out of stupid, crummy roles. He certainly has more talent than this movie shows. I would date Applegate, at least once, to see if she had more going for her than just looks; you certainly could not tell by her choice of movie roles.

Before Sunset – 1 Star (Terrible)

“Before Sunset” is the story of a young couple who reunite 10 years later in Paris after an original fling. There is no story line in this movie, apparently they forgot to write one. Before Sunset follows the male and female leads walking around Paris and talking until they come back together.

The production in this movie not really well done (despite being in Paris), and I was not always able to hear the audio. It is filled with what are supposed to be cute lines that get very tired after awhile. If this was meant to be a movie about relationships, it failed miserably.

Charlie’s Angels – 1 Star (Terrible)

Lousy.  Made for 11-year-old girls, for which it achieved its most noble purpose, lining the pockets of the movie producers. A real piece of artificial crap masquerading as something worth watching.

Cocktail – 1 Star (Terrible)

An early (1988) movie with Tom Cruise as an Irish performance bartender in Manhattan involved in booze, broads and beefcake with a smile. After watching this movie I tried to determine which was more compelling: this movie effort or an ant walking across the sidewalk.

Unable to determine which, I concluded this film was the victim of a poor script, terrible acting, lack of an interesting story line, and any meaningful message. I guess I was looking for more than just mindless entertainment. I would see this film again. Others might see it again if they are just sappy about Tom Cruise and cannot get enough of a bad movie.

Chocolat – 4 Stars (Excellent)

It is rare when you can say that a movie is so warm and wonderful that it can even overcome a manipulative, vindictive authority figure and a husband guilty of spousal abuse, but “Chocolat” manages to do so with some great acting, writing and directing.

Chocolat is everything that is right about moviemaking—a romantic comedy with some drama and important lessons to be learned about rejection, love, compassion, kindness, friendship, acceptance and helping people at their point of need.

Like many great movies that earn Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Chocolat has a storyteller that weaves a tale fantastic fueled by the current of the north winds.

It is the north winds that bring Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), a single mother, and her 6-year-old daughter Anouk (Victorie Thivisol) to a small, rural village in France, where Vianne immediately opens a chocolate shop—with Sunday hours—across the street from a Catholic church during Lenten season.

Many of the village’s 350 residents are skeptical of Vianne’s arrival, and especially because she has opened her business when many of them have given up eating candy during Lent as a sacrifice to their maker.

Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the mayor, is beyond incensed that anyone would do such a thing in his village. The mayor is a manipulative, control freak who demands that the villagers live up to his code of conduct—basically doing what he says, when he says it, on cue. You are expected to conform to the mayor’s rules, or face being ostracized, and being told to leave.

It is clear that the mayor and the town’s new chocolatier will lock horns. What is not clear is how Vianne’s chocolates will affect those who dare to eat them.

One by one she begins to win over the villagers by helping them at their point of need. Vianne befriends Armande Voizin (Judi Dench), her landlord, whose daughter Caroline Clairmont (Carrie-Anne Moss) refuses to let her mother see her grandson Luc Clairmont (Aurelien Parent-Koenig). Armande is a diabetic who will not take proper care of herself, choosing to live out the rest of her life as she pleases.

Vianne also befriends Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), who finds refuge at Vianne’s rental above the chocolate shop when she leaves her alcoholic, abusive husband Serge Muscat (Peter Stormare). Violence erupts when Serge storms the apartment to recover his wife; he is as smart as a rock and treats his wife like a punching bag.

Vianne also manages to enliven a couple’s married life with a chocolate aphrodisiac, and encourages an elderly man’s secret love of a widow who has been in mourning for more than 40 years.

Things really begin to spin out of control when a band of river gypsies led by Roux (Johnny Depp) camp on the river near the village, and Vianne takes up with the Irish wanderer Roux. A near death incident leads to some serious consequences for the culprit involved, and the instigator as well. See the movie to find out how it all ends. Hint: You will know it ends with the north wind.

Chocolat (French for chocolate) gets some great acting performances from Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Lena Olin and Alfred Molina among others. Johnny Depp plays guitar in the movie in three different scenes, and does two songs on the soundtrack.

The film has a star-studded, international cast. Prior to filming Chocolat, French actress Juliette Binoche had won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The English Patient”, British actress Judi Dench had won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in “Shakespeare in Love”, and Swedish actress Lena Olin had earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress in “Enemies: A Love Story”.

Chocolat was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whose wife is Lena Olin. The film is based on the novel by Joanne Harris with the screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs.

Appreciative voters did not ignore the excellence of this film. The Academy Awards nominated Binoche for Best Actress, Dench for Best Supporting Actress, Jacobs for Best Screenplay, Rachel Portman for Best Original Music, and Chocolat for Best Picture. Binoche, Dench, Portman and Chocolat were also nominated for Golden Globe Awards in the same categories. Chocolat also garnered 8 BAFTA nominations.

The box office numbers were good for Chocolat too. The production budget was $25 million and it pulled in $152 million in revenue worldwide. Chocolat also ranked among the Top 5 films ever to generate the most revenue without hitting the No. 1 rank.

In preparation for the film, Binoche went to a chocolate shop in Paris to learn how to make chocolates. One recipient of chocolates in the film had this to say, “And it melts, God forgive me, it melts ever so slowly on your tongue, and tortures you with pleasure.”

No wonder the villages were won over by Vianne’s creations.

However great the chocolates were in Chocolat, the real sweetness in this film is Juliette Binoche; I fell in love with her all over again. See Chocolat, it is not only tasteful, but delightful and delicious. May God bless the cast and crew for bringing us such a marvelous presentation.

Sid Miller Wants to Know: What are you voting for?

 

That moment when someone says, “I can’t believe you would vote for Trump”

I simply reply “I’m not voting for Trump.”

I’m voting for the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech.

I’m voting for the Second Amendment and my right to defend my life and my family.

I’m voting for the next Supreme Court Justice(s) to protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I’m voting for the continued growth of my retirement investments and the stock market.

I’m voting for an end to America’s involvement in foreign conflicts.

I’m voting for the Electoral College & the Republic we live in.

I’m voting for the Police to be respected once again and to ensure Law & Order.

I’m voting for the continued appointment of Federal Judges who respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I’m voting for our jobs to remain in America and not be outsourced all over again to China, Mexico and other foreign countries.

I’m voting for secure borders and legal immigration.

I’m voting for the Military & the Veterans who fought for this Country to give the American people their freedoms.

I’m voting for the unborn babies that have a right to live.

I’m voting for continued peace progress in the Middle East.

I’m voting to fight against human/child trafficking.

I’m voting for Freedom of Religion.

I’m voting for the American Flag that is disrespected by the “mob.”

I’m voting for the right to speak my opinion & not be censored.

I’m not just voting for one person, I’m voting for the future of my Country.

I’m voting for my children and my grandchildren to ensure their freedoms and their future.

What are you voting for?

About the Source: Sid Miller is the Commissioner of Agriculture in the Great State of Texas.

(Ed’s Note: The current 2020 Presidential Election has been reduced to a choice between our “constitutional republic” form of government and creeping into a “socialist” form of government in America. We should not allow any political party in America to bring advancing socialism—example: The Green New Deal—under the guise of improving our constitutional republic. Every form of socialism as a government in history has failed to advance the welfare of the citizens therein. Smart people know that socialism does not secure our rights as citizens but rather reduces our personal rights to the point where we have none and ultimately end up as a dictatorship.)

Financial Thoughts
on Investing
by Warren Buffett

(Ed’s Note: The following condensation is from The Tao of Warren Buffett, written by Mary Buffett and David Clark and available for sale at Amazon and bookstores nationwide. I am always impressed by what Warren Buffett has to say and am doing this condensation to help promote their book.)

On Investing: Never be afraid to ask too much when selling offer too little when buying.
(Ed’s Note: How much you get from a sale or how much you have to pay when making a purchase determines whether you make or lose money and how rich you ultimately become.)

(Ed’s Note: For more of Warren Buffett’s advice go to the menu bar above and click on Financial Thoughts.)