Seaborn Hall, 8/20/20
(in no particular order)
Lady Jane, 1986
Starring Helena Bonham Carter in an early role, this is the true story of a young Christian woman, Lady Jane Grey, who with her husband, ruled England, and was Queen for only nine days. Crowned as a Protestant in the shadow of the Reformation and the Catholic-Protestant struggle in England, Jane and her husband attempt to Institute Christian reforms too quickly and upset even the Protestant power brokers of their kingdom. Soon Jane and her husband must face trumped up charges against them and Jane must make a decision about what a reformative faith really means in the face of inequities and injustice in her kingdom that now threaten her own life. Warning: brief nudity
This is one of my favorite films about and set in Los Angeles. Other top films about the city – Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Heat, and Mulholland Drive are not as under-rated. Tom Cruise plays the bad guy here, a sociopathic assassin in town for the night to kill multiple star witnesses about to testify against some corrupt power broker. The taxi driver’s car he wanders into late into the night is driven by Jamie Foxx, a perennial Los Angeline with a dream he’s never put into action. The assassin is about to become the catalyst that prevents Foxx from rationalizing his life away – if he can survive until morning and save the life of the girl he meets earlier in the night. Michael Mann directs and captures the perfect illusion and lure of Los Angeles, where ‘someone could die on the train and no one would even notice.’
Sally Fields, Kevin Kline, and Elizabeth Shue star in a crazy comedy about fame, ambition, and dysfunctional family relationships. Years ago, KIine’s character was booted off a famous soap opera due to a failed relationship with the drama’s main star, Field. Now aging and in the sights of younger actresses and rising stars Field tries to hold on to fame as her ‘niece’ and former boyfriend are added to the fledging drama to boost ratings. Alliances gunning to bring Field down will themselves be surprised at the revelations and drama about to unfold. The craziest ‘soap opera’ drama on film since ‘Tootsie.’ Whoopi Goldberg plays Field’s best friend.
Some of my friends don’t like this film because of the bittersweet scenes and ending – and possibly because of Brad Pitt’s one-dimensional performance – but its always been one of my favorite historical action films. The sword fight between Pitt’s Achilles and Eric Bana’s Hector is one of the best on film. Diane Kruger’s Helen of Troy is right on point, understated and genuine. Orlando Bloom and Peter O’Toole give solid performances. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson and featuring some of the most realistic ancient historical battle scenes on film. A great film about legendary characters and the timeless story of the battle for Troy and the Trojan Horse – all of it sparked, of course, by the love for a woman. Warning: brief nudity, sexual scenes.
The Apartment, 1960
Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray, and Shirley MacLaine in a Billy Wilder film. You hardly need to say more, but we will. Lemmon, probably one of the greatest actors in the history of film, and MacLaine both shine. MacMurray plays against type as the womanizing, rationalizing corrupt boss. Lemmon rises through the ranks of corporate players by loaning out the key to his New York City apartment to key executives who want to cheat on their wives. Unknown to him, the elevator girl he’s got an eye for is one of the top executive’s victims. In today’s film nomenclature this would be called a dramedy. Warning: includes scenes of suicide.
Michael Douglas has a career with many breakthrough roles and films – this was one of them, reversing the sexual harassment role to tell the story of a powerful woman, perfectly played by Demi Moore, who harasses her married male employee – and former boyfriend – and then tries to turn the tables and blame him. Will Douglas be able to save his marriage, his job, and his career from a mistake he made in the distant past? This story pounds its way to a thrilling climax. Part romance, part relationship study, part thriller, part mystery it delivers on all levels. Like at least three other Douglas produced films – The China Syndrome, Fatal Attraction, and Basic Instinct – Disclosure was prescient and ahead of its time. Warning: sexual content.
Teacher’s Pet, 1958
Clark Gable and Doris Day in a romantic comedy towards the end of Gable’s career. Gable plays an aging Newspaper editor who is sent back to school by his publisher only to find that his stunning professor, Day, scathingly criticizes him and his paper without realizing that he is one of her students. As Gable’s uneducated editor pursues his professor, her over-educated and high achieving boyfriend gets in the way. What will happen when the professor finds out who her student is? Some of the best dialogue and repertoire of any film of that era.
The Case For Christ, 2017
This film might seem out of place here to many who might be skeptical that a film with this title could be involved, dramatic viewing – but it is. The true story of Lee Strobel, a Chicago Tribune journalist and his journey from atheist to agnostic to passionate believer. Every person who has ever struggled to believe in God will find some of their story here as Strobel struggles against any inclination to accept his wife’s conversion as genuine and the historical story of Jesus and His resurrection as fact. As Strobel seeks to prove to his readers, his editors, and himself that the Resurrection of Jesus was a fraud he must confront his own building cognitive dissonance and the fears of what the realization of it will provoke in his life. The perfect film for any one who wants to challenge their world view with an emotionally stirring and rationally persuasive story of one man who finds the truth in spite of himself.
The Mask Of Zorro, 1998
This is another of my personal favorites, not only because Zorro was one of my heroes when I was a kid, but because this reboot of the famous legend is well-written, directed and cast with Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Some will say the action scenes are pushed a little too far for believability, but for my money the director goes right up to the edge without going off, as in, say, The Lone Ranger, where the horse had to be a supernatural animal to do the things that it did. I taught this movie to screenwriting students at Biola University during a short stint substituting for the teacher there years ago – note that even the character and sequence names have meaning: Zorro’s quest against Captain Love will bring the two love interests together and the circle of learning is complete when young Zorro fights in a circle of chaos for the first time. Such subtleties, which you can also find in the Die Hard series, or the Tobey MaGuire Spider Man series, make for good writing and good story and, in the end, a great film. Unfortunately, the sequels to ‘Mask’ are not as good.
Roman Holiday, 1953
A bored and sheltered English princess played by Audrey Hepburn escapes her guardians and the trappings of her posh surroundings in Rome and falls in love with an American reporter, played by Gregory Peck, pretending not to know who she is and out for the story and photos of his career. Not typically ranked in Peck’s top ten films, but deserves to be higher. Rated her #1 film by many of Hepburn’s fans. Eddie Albert as the photographer and Peck’s best friend. Directed by William Wyler