"The Life Of Reilly" ****

January 27, 2008

The latest showing by the Cinema Sundays Club was an absolute winner! I went in to it with some trepidation wondering how good could an 87 minute one man show by Charles Nelson Reilly about Charles Nelson Reilly really be. Even though it is still getting 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I couldn't understand why-until I actually witnessed his oratory of his own life. What I came away with was that this dude was one talented actor who had more than his share of family dysfunction to deal with. Although the younger generations (if they even knew who he was) remember him only as a frequent guest on Johnny Carson or TV game shows, his journey was much more diverse that that, and he takes you along on a ride that is both humorous & poignant. You'll leave with a totally different impression of this consummate actor whose had more than his share of heartbreak along the way. He retained his dignity and talent to the end (he died in 2007). All of this is now on display for all the world to see on the silver screen. Charles performed "Save It For The Stage" over 400 times-and this final show was shot in 2004. Directors Frank Anderson & Barry Poltermann have put together a fascinating montage of images that, combined with Charles' dialogue, paints a wonderful portrait of a talent who never fully got his due. It is supposed to open at The Charles in Baltimore in a couple of weeks. Historically, documentaries/performance films don't have a long theatrical run so wherever you are don't wait to check it out if and when it opens near you!

"The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" *** 1/2

January 10, 2006

Off to The Charles to take in the Maryland Film Festival's special showing of this amazing French narrative based on the autobiography novel of the same title. Director Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat", "Before Night Falls") has crafted a stunning film that is truly one of a kind! It is shot mostly from the point of view of Jean-Dominique Bauby just after awakening from an extremely rare massive stroke in 1997 where the only body part he is able to move are his eyelids. As explained by the host, Dr. John McDonald, who directs the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and who worked with Christopher Reeves after his devasting accident, this condition results when the stroke occurs at the exact point where the brain stem meets the brain. Jean-Do was the fashion editor of "Elle" and despite the heaviness of the topic, it is amazingly effective in conveying the claustophobic feeling of living in this state of existence. Directing and technical winner at Cannes, as well as numerous other awards, this film will leave you literally breathless and moved me like no other film I've ever witnessed. Truly a starling filmic experience that makes you believe in hope and the human spirit when all appears lost.

"There Will Be Blood" ***

January 8, 2008

I took in the preview of the 5th film by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "Magnolia", Punch-Drunk Love"). He writes, produces, and directs this tale loosely based on the 1927 novel "Oil!" by Baltimore born Upton Sinclair. It's getting phenomenal reviews and, although I give it a thumbs up, it's not as way up as a lot of critics are giving it. I had problems with the overall length (2'40") and feel it needed some serious editing in sections that go on way too long. Depite that, it is worth every minute of that time to revel in Daniel Day-Lewis' absolutely mesmerizing performance that is so strong that I compare it favorably with the great Orson Wells in "Citizen Kane"! Based on that and the fabulous set production and score, I'm giving it a marginal 3 stars. Paul Dano (so good in last year's indie hit "Little Miss Sunshine") plays a young preacher whose father sells his family's oil rich land to Lewis-who is one greedy bastard. This good vs evil theme plays out over decades. We first follow Lewis' career that begins with prospecting for silver and ends with him a multi-millionaire who cares only about the fortune he can make and nothing for those he destroys along the way to fulfill that end. His descent into madness is so complete that his performance has stayed with me for days. Look for Oscar #2 for DD-L.

"The Orphanage" ***

Sunday January 6, 2008

It's off to The Charles Theater to take in the premier of the 41st series of the long-running Cinema Sunday At The Charles. This wonderful cinema club has been going strong since its inception by the late great George Udell in 1995 and this film was a nice way to kick off the series. First time director Juan Antonia Bayona, with an assist by producer Guillermo Del Toro (director of last year's masterpiece "Pan's Labyrinth") provides a chilling ghost/horror story that brings "The Others" to mind. Belen Rueda ("The Sea Inside") plays a mother who returns to live in the orphange of her past with her husband and adopted son. Soon thereafter, the child is playing with mysterious invisible playmates, and things begin to go bump in the night. Before you can say "GREAT CAESAR'S GHOST", the child has vanished and the mother is starting to see and experience otherworldly events herself. However, despite the requisite scares and sounds, the story packs a mystery that will have you engrossed to the end. Also, a nice cameo by Geraldine Chaplin who portrays a psychic/medium hired by the family to get to the root of the problem. Nice score and atmosphere contribute to this satisfying thinking man's ghost story. Extremely impressive directorial debut by Bayona.

"Atonement" ****

Wednesday January 1, 2008


This is the true beginning of my cinema diary. After navigating my past reviews to this blog the past month, it is now time to start writting about each of my cinematic activities-whether they are trips to the theater, catching up on films I might have missed during their initial runs, or expounding my general filmic thoughts.

So what better time to start "diarying" than the beginning of a new year. And, I couldn't think of a better time to celebrate than to take in a film that's been on my radar for most of the past month. Perhaps the start of my new year would have been better served with a more uplifting film, but I'd rather see a great downer movie than a worthless comedy any day. So "Atonement" was the film that gets my 2008 off to a roaring start! Some of the main "Pride & Prejudice" principals (namely Director Joe Wright, Star Keira Knightly, composer Dario Marianelli, and producers Tim Bevin, Eric Fellner, & Paul Webster) are back with this masterpiece based on Ian McEwan's novel about the bittersweet romance between well-to-do Keira Knightly and the housekeeper's son, played by James McAvoy (so wonderful in "The Last King Of Scotland"). This fable about how a simple lie can have such devastating results to so many people, is one that will stay with you for quite awhile. I was reminded of the great "The English Patient" while mesmerized as this romanced unfolded during both pre and post-WWII. The cinematography, sound editing, acting, score, and direction will certainly make it a leading Oscar contender in February (it has already received the most Golden Globe nominations). Masterful filmmaking!