Category Archives: movies, books, and other forms of cheap entertainment

How are things in Glouca Mora? Finian’s Rainbow

So my other Irish film isn’t really Irish either. Hmm! Finian’s Rainbow was Fred Astaire’s last full-length musical and while it’s a bit long, it has some charming moments, great music, and shamrock musical notes 2interesting characters.






Don Francks plays the love interest wonderfully, and Tommy Steele, is a goofy, dancing, singing, crazy-in-love, full-sized leprechaun. Petula Clarke, a British pop singer in the 60’s, has an amazing voice and gives a truly charming performance as Finian’s daughter, Sharon.

The story is an odd mixture of romance, racism, humor, and whimsy. And the director? A very young and inexperienced Frances Ford Coppola. It’s not the best musical ever made or the best film Coppola ever made, but certainly the music is wonderful and the film is fun, entertaining and a good pick for St. Patrick’s Day. How are things in Glouca Mora? 1968, rated G, 141 minutes.


Film pick for St. Patty’s Day: Far and Away

Okay, so it’s not really an Irish film and it doesn’t use Irish actors in the leads, and it didn’t win an Oscar; or even receive a nomination. People seem to either love it or hate it and it doesn’t have a particularly high rating. Ignore all of that, the film is still fun and entertaining and at least some of it was filmed in Ireland, which should count for something.

It’s a romance-adventure that begins in Ireland and then immigrates to Boston and the Old West. It has humor, romance, great cinematography, and an exciting, unusual action sequence involving 800 extras, 400 horses, and 200 wagons. And it looks like a pretty authentic and lively portrayal of the 1893 Great Land Run in the Oklahoma Territory. (shown below)

land run of 1893Nichole Kidman and Tom Cruise play the leads and while some thought the pair had no chemistry together, others thought they sizzled, perhaps because Nichole and Tom actually had an off-camera romance going at the time. The film was directed by Ron Howard, who not coincidentally, had three great-grandparents ride in the Great Land Run. The film is fun, entertaining and if not authentically Irish, has a nice Irish flavor and lovely Irish scenery.

1992, rated PG-13, 140 minutes.

Under the Tuscan Sun: a film for those without a romantic partner on Valentines Day

Don’t have a romantic partner pink and lavender heart cascadeto share Stupid Cupid Day?
Then this is the movie for you. It could be sub-titled: be careful what you wish for… The film begins with an unexpected and painful divorce by a cheating spouse that leaves Frances, writer, critic, and literature professor, literally flat on the floor. When she is offered a free vacation tour of Tuscany with a gay couples group she accepts, and no, she’s not gay. While there, she sees and impulsively buys a centuries-old, decaying Tuscan villa. As cleaning, repairs, and renovations begin, Frances expresses her life’s desires: a wedding, a family, and someone to cook for (she’s an amazing cook, the damn movie makes me hungry every time I watch it). Her wishes are all
fulfilled but in unexpected and unforeseen ways. That’s what makes the story so fabulous. The only thing that would make it even better is if she didn’t end up at the very end, also finding romance. Hollywood strikes again, trying to give the story a “happy ending”. Didn’t they realize, Frances had already found her happiness, her romantic partner was just icing on an already tasty, and enormously satisfying cake.

Diane Lane is terrific as Frances and so is Sandra Oh, as her gay, pregnant, and recently-dumped best friend. In fact the entire cast is terrific including Lindsay Duncan, Italian stud-muffins cannoli’s Vincent Riotta and Raoul Bova, and damn he’s cute, Pawel Szajda. 2003, rated PG-13, 113 minutes.

A little music with your romance? Movies for Valentine’s Day

heart notes

If you prefer a little music with your romance try:

Shall We Dance

This is not a typical “boy meets girl and falls in love” kind of movie. In this film the boy already has the girl and they’ve been married for twenty years. Life is good and the marriage is strong but something is still missing. The restless hero, attorney John Clark, played by Richard Gere, impulsively signs up for ballroom dance lessons, prompted by a glimpse of the brooding and beautiful face of a dance instructor played by Jennifer Lopez. Oh, no; another film about a middle-aged husband and his infidelities. Not so! Never happens! Whatever his original motivation for signing up, John falls in love…with ballroom dancing. Watching the actors playing the characters who are learning to dance is just too much fun. This is a wonderful cast and includes Susan Sarandon as John’s wife, Beverly, Anita Gillette as the dance school owner, and Bobby Cannavale, and Omar Benson Miller as John’s fellow dance students. My favorites though have to be Lisa Ann Walter as Bobby, a brassy, sometimes obnoxious but funny advance student, and the great Stanley Tucci as Link, fellow attorney and lover of dance. I mean, a straight man who likes to dance around in sequins walks a very lonely road…” Stanley Tucci has no fear and brings amazing energy and humor to the role. You go, guy!

Shall We Dance is not your typical romantic love story but it is a love story and not about the love of dancing. The romance between John and Beverly survives the kids, the jobs, and the mundane day-to-day un-romances of daily living. One of my favorite movie quotes is from Beverly who comments on why people marry:

“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

People who have no witness will understand how profoundly moving that statement is.

I won’t lie, Shall We Dance is not highly rated, which truly puzzles me. The characters, the humor, the dancing, and the music are upbeat and fun to watch. It’s a come-out-of-the-theater-humming kind of movie. Watch it for yourself and see if you agree. 2004, rated PG-13, 106 minutes.

 Dirty Dancing

Ahh, young love! And young love with a great soundtrack, wonderful dancing, and a strong cast. You can’t go wrong. Hard to believe the movie is over 25 years old, but then again, it’s timeless and will doubtless be watched and appreciated by countless generations to come. And there is no higher tribute to Patrick Swayze who played the yummy Johnny Castle. Released in 1887 and also starring Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, and Cynthia Rhodes this is a movie that can be watched over and over again. After the last memorable dance of the film, I’ll bet Baby never got put in a corner again. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.  

Family films for Valentine’s Day: True Love

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For a family film that any age can enjoy, try:


A love story between a green ogre and a red-headed princess, Shrek is fun and entertaining and not just for the kids. With the voices of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow, the 2001 film is computer-generated animation filled with story-book, fairy-tale characters. Eddie Murphy is at his best as the annoying, funny, cute, never-stops-talking Donkey. The film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. And did you know, Shrek has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Rated PG for mild language and occasional crude humor, 90 minutes.


The Princess Bride

Rob Reiner, “Meathead” from All in the Family, went on to become a director as well as an actor, directing such memorable films as Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, The Bucket List, and the Princess Bride. Based on the novel by William Goldman, Princess Bride is charming, a love story within a story. The cast is great and includes Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Peter Falk, and drum roll…..Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as Miracle Max and Valerie. The movie has romance, humor, a kidnapping, intrigue, sword-fights, chases, rescues, poisoned goblets, a giant, thieves, pirates, a beautiful Princess, a not-so charming Prince, super-big rodents, deadly fire-swamps, torture, true love, miracles, and a hero who answers his true love’s every request with “as you wish”. Sigh! Rated PG, 98 minutes

Classic Love Stories for Valentine’s Day: the books and their films

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Wuthering Heights

This is not a feel-good, leaves you smiling and sighing kind of love story. Wuthering Heights is a dark and wintry tale, a story of betrayal, revenge, and misdirected passions. Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only published novel; she died a year later at the age of 30. 

There have been several screen adaptations of Emily Bronte’s classic love story, but this is by far, my favorite. No…that’s not stating it strongly enough…this is actually one of my favorite all-time films!  Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Heathcliff is heart-wrenching and unforgettable. The cast, music, and cinematography are remarkable! T’is a dark and wintry tale…well told.  

 1992, rated PG, 105 minutes

Director-Peter Kosminsky 
Juliette Binoche                      Cathy/ Catherine
Ralph Fiennes                          Heathcliff
Janet McTear                            Ellen Dean
Sophie Ward                             Isabella Linton
Simon Shepherd                      Edgar Linton
Jeremy Northam                     Hindley Earnshaw
Jason Riddington                    Hareton Earnshaw
Simon Ward                              Mr. Linton
John Woodvine                       Thomas Earnshaw


Pride and Prejudice

For a lighter, more humorous read, try Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, published in 1813. It has been one of the great romance classics for over two hundred years and never seems to lose momentum. The characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are timeless and their witty interactions just plain fun. And you can always count on Austen for a happy ending!

There have been so many film versions it’s hard to count them all but the most lavish production is undoubtedly the 1995 mini-series. At 5 1/2 hours it’s probably best to watch it over several evenings. Jennifer Ehle’s performance may become the definitive Elizabeth Bennet; no one does it better.

Tv mini-series, 327 minutes, 1995

Jennifer Ehle                            Elizabeth Bennet
Colin Firth                                  Mr. Darcy
Susannah Harker                    Jane Bennet
Crispin Bonham-Carter        Mr. Bingley
Adrian Lukis                              Wickham
David Bamber                           Mr. Collins
Lucy Scott                                   Charlotte Lucas


Sense and Sensibility

The first novel published by Jane Austen (1811) it is also one of her best. Marianne Dashwood is especially fascinating, because like so many ladies today, she seems to have a thing for bad boys. And Austen does bad boys rather well.

The 1995 production was nominated for 7 Oscars and 6 Golden Globes including best picture nominations. The film has humor and romance and great performances by a great cast. My favorite is Alan Rickman as the steadfast Colonel Brandon. Tell me where I can order one. And behind the cameras there was Real romance (must have something to do with Austen). Emma Thompson met and later married fellow actor, Greg Wise, who played her sister’s suitor, Willoughby, in the film.

1995, rated PG, 131 min

Ang Lee director-also directed Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi
Emma Thompson                         Elinor Dashwood
Kate Winslet                                   Marianne Dashwood
Gemma Jones                                 Mrs. Dashwood
Hugh Grant                                      Edward Ferrars
Emilie Francois                              Margaret Dashwood
Elizabeth Spriggs                          Mrs. Jennings
Robert Hardy                                  Sir John Middleton
Alan Rickman                                  Colonel Brandon
Greg Wise                                          John Willoughby


Actors Emma Thompson, Gemma Jones, Robert Hardy, Alan Rickman, and Imelda Staunton from the Sense and Sensibility cast, all appeared in the Harry Potter films.


Published by Jane Austen in 1815, Jane warns readers at the beginning of the book of a heroine “whom no one but myself will much like”. And it’s true that Emma is not as likeable as Elizabeth, Jane, Elinor, or Marianne, however by the end of the story she’s catching up (growing up more like) and of course, there’s always the yummy Mr. Knightley. Austen is good at bad boys and good men.

The 1996 version, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, won an Oscar for best music and was nominated for best costume design. It’s interesting to watch Tone Collette (the mom in the Sixth Sense) as a 19th century fair maid; I almost didn’t recognize her. It’s a light-hearted romance, maybe not quite as good as some of the other Austen films, but still fun to watch.

1996, rated PG, 121 minutes

Gwyneth Paltrow                                  Emma Woodhouse
Jeremy Northam                                  Mr. Knightley
James Cosmo                                         Mr. Weston
Greta Scacchi                                         Mrs. Weston
Denys Hawthorne                                Mr. Woodhouse
Toni Collette                                           Harriet Smith
Edward Woodall                                   Robert Martin
Phyllida Law*                                          Mrs. Bates
Sophie Thompson*                               Miss Bates


*Phyllidia Law is the mother of sisters Sophie Thompson and Emma Thompson

Best Romantic Films: The Notebook

heart wreathe  3The Notebook, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, tells the stories of a young couple courting in the South in 1940 and an older couple in the present, living in a nursing home. I won’t say more for fear of giving away the plot except to say you may want to do the handy-hankie thing. Even though the film was made eleven years ago and has mixed reviews, it seems to be gaining in popularity and is becoming a must-see film for all the romantics of the world.

After seeing Ryan Gosling’s performance as Noah (cute doesn’t cut it, try…hot damn) I became a definite fan. Yow! Sign me up. I have no idea who Ryan Gosling is but his portrayal of the character, Noah Calhoun, is the most attractive male persona I’ve seen on the screen in years. And James Garner is wonderful! Good cast, good performances, good story, good movie. “The romantics would call this a love story, the cynics would call it a tragedy. In my mind it’s a little bit of both”, Noah Calhoun from the novel.

The film is directed by Nick Cassavates and if the name sounds familiar it’s probably because he is the son of actor/director John Cassavetes who directed Rosemary’s Baby and the Dirty Dozen. And did I mention Nick’s mother is Gena Rowlands, who plays Allie Calhoun in the film. Talent obviously runs in the family.

Rated PG 13, 123 minutes, 2004

James Garner                         Duke
Gena Rowlands                      Allie Calhoun, mother of director
Ryan Gosling                           Noah Calhoun
Rachel McAdams                   Allie Hamilton
Sam Shepard                           Frank Calhoun
Joan Allen                                Anne Hamilton