Between Two Worlds

Posted on March 11, 2011 at 8:30 am

Between Two Worlds, released in 1944, is the story of a mysterious voyage from London to America. As they sail, each of them guesses or is told that they are dead and on their way to where they will be judged and sent to either heaven or hell. We learn each of their stories and we see how they respond to the news and to the opportunity to think about their lives, their choices, their regrets, and their future. The passengers include a cocky American journalist always seeking an edge (John Garfield), a wealthy snob (Isobel Elsom) and her quiet husband (Gilbert Emery), a gold-digging actress (Faye Emerson), a thuggish businessman who thinks he can buy his way out of anything, a minister, and a humble woman who has devoted her life to caring for others and dreams of a quiet cottage with a garden (the luminous Sara Allgood). When the examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) arrives to talk with them about how they will be treated in the afterlife, there are a number of confrontations, realizations, surprises, and lessons learned.

This is a neglected gem with quiet power, well worth watching and discussing.

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‘Stairway to Heaven’ on Hulu

Posted on February 18, 2011 at 8:00 am

I was delighted to find the neglected gem “Stairway to Heaven” (sometimes known as “A Matter of Life and Death”) available on Hulu. Fans of classic movies and spiritual themes should be sure to take a look.

It is a 1946 British film starring David Niven about a WWII pilot who saves his crew and then, realizing that his plane cannot make it back, and with his parachute destroyed, leaps from theplane, preferring to die by falling than in flames. But because his “guide” from the other world does not pick him up, he is caught between this world and the next.

The story works on two levels; you can see it as a literal struggle between heaven and earth or you can see it as a metaphor for what is going on internally as he struggles to recover from a head injury. On both levels, the strongest tie he has to life is the connection he made in a brief conversation with an American military radio operator (Kim Hunter) just before jumping.

This is a beautiful and deeply moving film and very resonant with the themes of “The Adjustment Bureau,” opening next month, inspired by a story by Philp K. Dick.

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Nora Ephron’s Valentine Movie List

Posted on February 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Nora Ephron (“You’ve Got Mail,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Julie & Julia”) made a list of her top 11 romantic Valentine’s Day movies to the Daily Beast. You can see the inspiration for her witty, sophisticated love stories in the classics she picks, all of which are high on my list, too.
Once you’ve seen all those, check out Matt Zoller Seitz’s “Great Declarations of Love” movie list on Salon. All wonderful.
And one more from me — it’s not a perfect movie by any means but the most deliriously silly bedroom scene I know is in “The Tall Guy,” with Jeff Goldbloom and Emma Thompson — and some singing underpants.

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Cactus Flower

Posted on February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, characters get tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Suicide attempt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1969
Date Released to DVD: April 23, 202 ASIN: B0000633R9

This week’s release of Adam Sandler’s remake of “Cactus Flower” is a good reason to check out the 1969 original with Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and, in her Oscar-winning screen debut, Goldie Hawn.

It began as a French play, adapted into a smash success on Broadway, and then this movie version, brightly directed by Gene Saks. Matthau plays Julian, a dentist who tells the girls he dates that he is married to avoid any long-term romantic entanglements. But when his much-younger girlfriend Toni (Hawn) attempts suicide he realizes how much he loves her and tells her he wants to get married. She is worried about being a home wrecker and insists on meeting his wife to be sure that she wants a divorce. Rather than tell Toni the truth, Julian persuades his starchy nurse (Bergman) to pretend to be his wife. Various romantic complications are all straightened out by the happy ending.

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Twelve More Great Christmas Movies Without Santa, Tiny Tim, or A Message from Ovaltine

Posted on December 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I love the classics, but if you’ve seen them all and want to try something new, take a look at these holiday gems:

Desk Set Before smart phones and Google, there were people like the character played by Katherine Hepburn in this romantic comedy, her first color film with her favorite on- and off-screen co-star, Spencer Tracy. She is old school as a researcher for a television network who relies on her reference books and prodigious memory to answer all questions. He’s the tech guy who is installing a computer (the size of a small house). Sparks of all kinds result. (Ages 10-Adult)

Die Hard One of the greatest action films of all time has Bruce Willis as a cop visiting his estranged wife at her office on Christmas eve, just as a group of super-genius bad guys (led by the magnificently malevolent Alan Rickman) take over the building. (Very strong language and explicit and graphic violence — Ages 15-Adult)

It Happened on 5th Avenue A homeless man moves into a mansion while the owner is away for the holidays and soon finds himself hosting some WWII vets and their families. The owner’s daughter comes home and finds herself pretending to be another squatter. (Ages 8-Adult)

An Affair to Remember (1957) poster 2.jpg

An Affair To Remember Get out your handkerchiefs. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr play a couple who meet on a ship as they are returning home to get married to wealthy, upper-class types who can support them in the manner to which they would like to be accustomed. When they fall deeply in love, they realize they must earn their right to be together. And when tragedy strikes, it will take all the magic of Christmas to bring them a happy ending. (10-Adult) Note: the original version, “Love Affair,” with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, is also a wonderful film, but skip the third version with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

The Shop Around the Corner Before You’ve Got Mail and the musical version In the Good Old Summertime was this charming black-and-white romance with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as warring co-workers in a department store who do not realize that they are in love with each other via a secret pen pal letter exchange. There is also a stage musical version called In the Good Old Summertime. (10-Adult)

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas The Jim Carrey live action version is all right, but this animated film from Chuck Jones is the real Grinch movie, with the deliciously sinister voice of Boris Karloff. (All ages)

“Period of Adjustment” The only way to see this one is in its annual broadcast on Turner Classic Movies as it is not available on DVD. So set your TIVO for this story of newlyweds (Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton) who have something to learn about communication. He brings her to visit his old war buddy who is having some marital problems of his own. This is the only comedy from legendary playwright Tennessee Williams and it is a heart-warming gem.


The Gathering Ed Asner plays a tough, type-A businessman who neglected his family to pursue his career. He asks his estranged wife (the superb Maureen Stapleton) to bring together his grown children and their families for Christmas, and we and they later discover why it is so important to him to make peace with them at last.

Joyeux Noel On Christmas eve 1914, as officers prepared their troops for battle, the soldiers on opposing sides reached out to each other for a spontaneous celebration of Christmas, exchanging chocolates and playing soccer. The famous “Christmas truce” becomes an affecting and inspiring movie. For a similar story, see A Midnight Clear, based on the autobiographical novel by William Wharton.

Little Women “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” begins one of the most beloved of American novels, the autobiographical story of four sisters from Louisa May Alcott. All three filmed versions are fine, but I especially love this one, with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, and Gabriel Byrne.

This Christmas A superb cast including Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short, and Regina King, and Chris Brown nicely captures the rhythm and volatility of adult sibling interactions, a mash-up of in-jokes, old and new and often-shifting alliances, the need for acceptance and approval, and affectionate teasing that sometimes flares up to reveal or aggravate old wounds. Director Preston A. Whitmore has a sure hand in balancing half a dozen different storylines and multiple switches of tone from light-hearted romance to lacerating confrontations and gritty drama. The plots may be predicable but the individual cast members are all superb and completely believable as family, the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And Chris Brown sings “Try a Little Tenderness” and the title song.

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