five-memorial

I should start this review by expressing some bias on my part. I am personally connected to the events in this book since my uncle was one of the patients in Memorial during Katrina. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones who got out shortly after the flooding began. As I was reading this story, it was all the more captivating and heart-wrenching since I kept thinking what would have happened had my uncle not been as lucky.

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Can Winston Churchill be exciting? In this second installment of HBO’s film on Churchill (the first being The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney playing Churchill), the old English Bulldog is pretty darn exciting. Maybe I should preface that by saying the ERA that this film takes place in is much more exhilarating than the timeframe of the Finney film (pre-WWII). Churchill during WWII was a force to be reckoned with. He and FDR formed a powerful, menacing alliance that took the world and Hitler by storm. In The Gathering Storm, Finney did a fabulous job of embodying the Prime Minister, but there was always something a little too “regal” about him. I mean after all, it was Albert Finney under all of that make-up and the years of classical acting seemed to hinder the rough, brash Churchill exterior from coming all the way through. Here, in this film, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson does not have any problem being a true, unadulterated curmudgeon. Gleeson’s performance is truly phenomenal…he’s all fire and brimstone when he needs to be but in the scenes with Churchill and his wife Clemmie, Gleeson shine’s as he lets slivers of Churchill’s soft side peek out. All around, an excellent film about a traumatic time in history…and about the man who made sure Great Britain got though that trauma mostly unscathed.

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I have yet to see all of the 1959 film with Shelley Winters of the same title, based on the same diary, so I cannot compare the two. But, I can say, that this 2009 BBC production is heartfelt and striking. Anne here, played by Ellie Kendrick, is a robust girl (in personality, not in physicality). She’s no nonsense and has to be reeled in from trouble by her ever-attentive father and her nervous mother. And, trouble is not wise for a teenage girl living in an attic above her father’s former place of business…hiding ever-so-delicately from the Nazis in early 1940s Amsterdam. Trouble here could get her killed. And her entire family and the other family living with them killed. Trouble here is not just usual adolescent rebellion, as it is with most teenagers. Trouble, here, is strictly taboo. So, trying her best to stay out of trouble, Anne has to experience her coming of age without privacy, friends, or any of the outside world. She’s worse off than those around her since they are not restricted as much as she is. Anne is restricted from both the world and also from the natural process of growing up. Kendrick does a superb job of capturing the right amount of adolescent frustration and mixing it with anger at the entire situation. And, the other actors are all top-notch also, especially British TV regular Nicholas Farrell, who plays Albert Dussel, the only non-family member (from both families) in the attic. Dussel and Anne share a small room together and he does his best to deal with his own pain while Anne is acting out. Yes, we all know the ending here, but unlike most movies where the ending is inevitable, the filmmakers do an especially good job of focusing on the characters and not the plot. But, this also adds to the sorrow of the story: the characters, especially Anne, are fleshed out so vividly that when their sad fate comes to a close, it’s all the more poignant and heart-wrenching.

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Right off the bat I will say it: NOT MY KIND OF MOVIE. But, oh well, it has a great cast so I though I would give it a whirl. And, when it began, I almost said “I told you so” to myself. But, then the plot really kicked in and the characters all came to life right on the screen…and boom, before I knew it, I was hooked. Not by the music (most of which is pretty much the kind of music I like), not by the 60s culture, but by the characters. You REALLY get involved and attached to the characters…all of them. They all have their own quirks that really give each of them panache…and then all of them together give the movie a special touch that resonates with audiences…because they will all know characters like this. In a cast lead by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (the token American), other British actors including Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost and even Oscar-winner and icon Emma Thompson all lend their own spice to add color and vibe to the film that already rock with 1960s British pop. The story is based in reality – in the 1960s, Britain had bans on rock radio stations. So, to get around the law, tons of “pirate” stations popped up all over, most on the waters surrounding the small island. Not that the politicians couldn’t find them, but the bureaucracy just had no grounds to shut these little stations down…until now. But, being a character-driven story, this film is less about WHAT happens and much more about WHO it happens to. Mostly told from the point-of-view of “Young” Carl, a young man who’s been sequestered off on this ship in the middle of the North Sea by his mother in order to learn a lesson, all of the characters become equally dear to us…we love some, we hate some, we empathize with some, with are jealous of some. Make sure you check out this little gem of a film that is part romance, part drama, part comedy, part historical, ALL FUN!

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I must admit, I had serious doubts about this one. I’m not much into music…especially 70s music. And I am not really interested in the 1970s in general. But, it’s directed by Ang Lee, so I gave it a chance and it turns out to be a very strong film. It’s part comedy/part drama and all heart. The story starts off with a dinky “resort” in upstate New York that has seen better days (or more likely…it never saw a good day). It’s run by a comical, loud Jewish family whose son, Jake, is the only normal member (the mother is maniacal and the father hardly ever speaks). Jake runs a yearly musical festival in the town…which most of the old-timers of the town love…it’s classical or jazzy music mostly…nothing too severe for the townspeople who are VERY set in their ways. When Jake reads that the Woodstock Festival has lost their location, he suggests his town. And, of course, plans work out. This is where the fun begins for Jake. He’s hated by much of the town for bringing these “hippies” in. He’s loved by others for bringing in more cash than they’ve ever seen in their lives. The actor who plays Jake (Henry Goodman) is spot-on as the befuddled, naïve young man. And director Lee sticks to Jake’s story…and point-of-view. Lee never really shows the Woodstock stage to the audience…since Jake never makes it to see the music. And Liev Schreiber is a MUST SEE as a philosophical drag-queen. Over-all, it’s a fun film…about a wild and carefree period in our history.

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What was Coco Chanel like before she became the name behind an empire? Was she always interested in fashion? Did she grow up wearing haute couture? Does she know how to sew or is she just the visionary behind the clothing empire? Well, all of these questions, plus many more, will be answered after watching this engaging movie. Coco, born Gabrielle, was abandoned at a young age by her father to an orphanage. From that rocky start, in adulthood, she found herself working as a cabaret dancer at a less-than-respectable bar. There, she meets a man who will change her life…taking her into his life and his home. But, even after her life switches from poverty to affluence, it is not an easy road. The major problem I had with this film is that it moves from her opening a modest but elegant millenary shop (Coco’s start was in making hats for herself and friends, one of whom was well-known stage actress) in Paris to models wearing her designs parading down the runaway. I know that the point of this film must have been her pre-success life, but how she went from hats to evening gowns still mystifies me. That aside, this is a wonderful film that really captures the early essence of this remarkable woman.

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Albert Finney plays pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a tee in this historical drama done by HBO. Disliked by many of his Parliament cohorts and thought as a buffoon by others, Churchill, in the 1930s, thought he was on his way out…or at least down…of British politics. Enter Hitler and his pesky little brand of Arians who started taking their rampage through Europe…Churchill saw and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped before most other of his counterparts in Parliament. This desire to defeat Hitler before anymore damage was done is what eventually brought Churchill back into the fray of power in Parliament and eventually to THE position of British power, Prime Minister. But, this film, rightfully so, stops before Churchill comes into power. Rightfully so, since this film is more about the MAN…and the marriage between him and Clemmie than about Parliament and politics and war. Excellent performances by both Finney (who really becomes Churchill in every way) and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie.

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Another slam-dunk performance by Malkovich! Here, he plays probably his most quirky, unusual yet…a combination of different characters…all pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. What???? Yes, you read me right. Malkovich’s character plays a man named Alan Conway…who is obsessed with being known as Stanley Kubrick. Well, in addition to Kubrick, Conway is also obsessed with NEVER PAYING FOR ANYTHING, which he is able to get away with MUCH easier as Kubrick, than as Conway. Set in London in the 1990s, the tag-line for this film is “a true-ish story.” And, that would be pretty accurate…since there WAS a man in London in the late 1990s pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. But, that I believe is where the truth ends. All of Malkovich’s characters I would say are originals. If the imposter really did do some of the things Alan Conway gets away with, I would want to shake that man’s hand. Because Conway does and gets away with the more ludicrous things…they have to have been conceived in the mind of the screenwriter, right? But, then again, the idea of someone posing as a famous film director is pretty much out there already.

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A charming tale about legal issues in the Edwardian Era of London…but also a fascinating look at the social graces of the day. How prim and proper everyone is…and restrained — it’s almost sinful (in a VERY reserved say, of course). Based on a true early 20th Century case in London, a young man gets accused of a small crime and consequently expelled from his private school for the alleged deed. Director David Mamet (normally more known for American crime dramas) takes the story (which was first turned into a play by author Terence Rattigan) and brings it and early 1900s London to life. Mamet uses some real locations that the actual case might have taken place in (the Horse Guards, House of Lords, and in Inns of Court) and fills the story with true passion and sincerity. There is tension, humor and romance, but all done with the appropriate levels of Edwardian propriety. Nigel Hawthorne is never better as the family patriarch, who puts everything into his son’s legal batter…even his health. Mamet’s real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon plays the Winslow sister and the always spot-on Jeremy Northam plays the lawyer who takes the case. Both of these performances are played on the right level…passionate about their causes but perfectly undemonstrative. Edwardians would be proud!

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