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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Another great, fun story by Wolff, who is getting stronger and stronger as a storyteller. The writing is solid, but Wolff’s forte is forming bright, vivid female characters who face their troubles head on with passion. A British native, Wolff’s young career women all start off less than resilient but then end up conquering heroes. In this novel, Phoebe starts off by opening her new vintage fashion shop, fresh from a badly broken relationship and the death of her close friend. Through both events and a series of wonderful supporting characters, Phoebe comes into her own (her store being a success doesn’t hurt either!)! In addition to the story and characters, I also enjoyed leaning about vintage haute couture. A must read for chick lit-ters and those who enjoy light, breezy women’s fiction.

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A sensational thriller from Oscar-winner Roman Polanski who has filmed one of the best final shots I’ve ever seen on the screen. To me, it’s a simply perfect ending to an already great film. This one leaves you guessing all the way…and even once you think you know what’s going on, you’re usually wrong. Ewan McGregor stars as a ghost writer for a scandal-ridden British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). While writing the PM’s memoirs, the writer gets himself involved with the same political and sexual shenanigans as his subject. The McGregor character is teeming with intensity and confusion. He knows something is going on, but WHAT? Brosnan does a great job of capturing the scorned political figure who might not be guilty of all he is accused of but is guilty of enough. This is a film, especially that fantastic ending, that you will want to watch over and over again to pick up on all of the slight nuances of each of the characters…not to mention the plot twists! The film Polanski has made here competes with Woody Allen’s Match Point as one of the best thrillers of the 21st Century (so far). The Ghost Writer: Rated PG-13, 128 minutes, directed by Roman Polanski, starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, and Kim Cattrall. The Niles Public Library will have copies of this DVD when it is released on August 3.

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This tome is one of the best character studies in fiction I’ve read. All stemming from the elderly matriarch of a family of three children, Pilcher weaves a saga that is vivid, lush and wildly fascinating. The matriarch, Penelope, has just gotten out of the hospital at the beginning of the novel, for what she continually denies was a heart attack. Her children, all busy with their own lives, have trouble dealing with their headstrong mother. From this start, the novel traces the early periods of Penelope’s life…followed by the lives of her children and loved ones. All of the characters’ stories connect with Penelope in some way…she remains the focus of the story at all times. But, even with the vast amount of pages, I never once tired or grew bored of her or any of the other stories. This one takes a while to get through, but it is worth it!

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An excellent standalone thriller by Rankin, who really, I feel, ranks as one of the top thriller writers, in addition to being a top-notch mystery writer as well, of the Rebus detective series. Taking place mostly in California , but also moves to London and Scotland , the main character, Gordon, here is a former Special Forces soldier who’s brother has committed suicide. Once Gordon arrives in California to take his brother home to the UK , he finds out that, most likely, it was not suicide, but rather murder. Fast-paced and very well-written this one is a must for all thriller lovers and British mystery fans!

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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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An Education is a charming, intelligent film filled with excellent performances, especially from Carey Mulligan, who shines as the curious ingénue. Mulligan’s character, Jenny, is bookish school girl from suburban London who meets an older, sophisticated attractive man, David (played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard), who drives a sports car and who sweeps her off her feet. David even convinces her strict, driven parents with his “respectable” act. Jenny is hooked completely…so much so even school is no longer important. When David’s true colors surface, she seems left with nothing, but is she? Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, An Education was adapted for the screen by British novelist and humorist Nick Hornby, who uses his satiric, dry wit to bring the characters, especially Jenny and her family, to life. Though this film is mostly a serious drama, Hornby’s knack for writing vibrant and vivid characters comes across in this touching and heartwarming story. Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Actress (Mulligan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Hornby) and Best Picture), this film is one of the best of the year.

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I am an Anglophile, and I have studied a lot about England and its culture and habits. But, their sports (rugby, cricket, and football (or rather, soccer)) are a mystery to me. This film is about what WE (Americans) call soccer and what THEY (Brits) call football. OK – so I’ve heard of soccer and seen soccer played (well, in movies…) and I know that you cannot touch the ball with your hands – only with your feet. So, when I watched this film, I thought I was prepared for everything I would need to know. Well, I was wrong. The Damned United goes DEEP into the deep recesses of soccer to live and breath the sport. It is a good film. The story is strong. And, not having any idea about the inner-workings of British football did not hinder my enjoyment. The story is based on a real character in British football history…and a real period in their football’s legacy. Brian Clough works his way up the ranks from lowly football manager to a highly successful team manager, finally managing to lead what many in Britain in the 1970s would have considered the finest football team in the country…Leeds United. The problem is, though, that Leeds was always a rival of Brian’s former team…not exactly endearing the Leeds players to him. Can he win them over? Can he gain their trust? I’m assuming most of the population in the UK knew the answers to these questions well before they watched the film. I, on the other hand, did not. So I enjoyed thoroughly finding out what was going to happen next. Part drama, part thriller, all sports film, The Damned United is quite an entertaining flick, whether you’re British, American, a soccer fan, or just enjoy a good movie!

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A very entertaining read, for Du Maurier lovers and others as well…those who just like a good story and some good mystery. Challis takes the future authoress and fictionally creates her as an amateur sleuth, all the while allowing her to use her sleuthing for material for her novels, mostly Rebecca. Set in Cornwall, England (Du Maurier’s home county in England), Challis sets up a Rebecca-esque story here with all the trimmings…money, a large manor house, an austere housekeeper, a mysterious young woman of a questionable background, and, of course, the sea in the background, its waves crashing against the cliffs. Daphne as a young pre-novelist sleuth is very appealing. She’s innocent, yet worldly. She’s careful, yet adventurous. Rebecca is one of my favorite books and I’m always skeptical when someone tries to “improvise” on already-near-perfect work. Here, I think Du Maurier herself would be proud.

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