Created by author Henning Mankell, Kurt Wallander is not your typical police detective. He’s dirty, he smells, he’s a bad family man, he’s practically suicidal at times…and he looks awful all the time. But, he is good at what he does…it is by far what he does best…solve crimes. The crimes nag at him, infest his person, enter his soul and will not leave until they are solved. To say he takes things personally is a true understatement. Sure, Frost and Morse are both grumpy, unkempt at times and lacking in social skills, but compared to Wallander, Morse/Frost would be your favorite cuddly grandpa. And, these BBC/PBS productions are so skillfully done, they really get into the mind of Wallander. We can almost feel his pain and his angst. We are right along with this daughter as she pleads with him to eat and sleep. Branagh is perfectly cast as Wallander…he is not afraid, here, to let anything show…he is completely exposed. Most actors wouldn’t be able to do this…even if they could. The stories are your average crime fare. What makes the series as great as it is is the character Wallander and Branagh’s portrayal.

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Right off the top, let me just say I know little to nothing about math. And even though the main characters in this film are math geniuses, my lack of knowledge did not hinder me from liking this film. Math is only the background…the basis of this film, not the plot. In a nutshell, it’s a story of a daughter who just lost her father. Add to that the father was a math genius…but also insane (later in life). Add that the daughter is also a math prodigy and fears following her father’s footsteps down the path of mental illness. Yes, it’s a heavy subject but the film moves along pretty quickly through all of it…no, it’s not a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat film but what film about math geniuses is? Based on a successful stage play, this is a drama…a dark drama about family relationships and personal soul-searching. The stand out thing about Proof is Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance. To me, this is by far her best acting work. She is emotional without being too over the top and she’s sorrowful without being too sappy. There are several scenes where there are intense close-ups of her face…and just through the look in her eyes and her facial expression, she tells the audience everything we need to know about her character’s state of mind at that very second. A very powerful performance to top off a strong and meaningful film.

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Who knew that lighting two cigarettes at a time would be so romantic? I guess Paul Henreid knew, since he did that for Bette Davis in this film. That scene is just one of many tributes to their characters’ love and affection for each other. Davis plays frumpy and wealthy Charlotte Vale, whose mother has a hold over her so strong that Charlotte has a nervous breakdown. While recovering, she also undergoes a physical transformation that takes her from an awkward gal into an elegant, sophisticated woman of the world. Yes, it’s a little cliché and “convenient but Davis makes her character’s sudden transformation work. Charlotte’s relationship with unhappily married Henreid soon becomes the focus of the film and even once Henreid is out of the picture, Charlotte is never able to put him out of her mind. A tour-de-force by Davis, who did many good films, but few as moving and sentimental as this one.

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To be honest, I am not a Ben Affleck fan. And I have seen many of Kevin Smith’s films and am not crazy about him either. So, I went into watching this movie with no expectations whatsoever. I chose to watch the movie, on an airplane, only because I had seen all of the other selections. After saying that, I find it all the more surprising that I loved this movie. Even Ben Affleck didn’t bother me as I became entranced in the story and with the characters. Affleck plays an entertainment publicist who, right at the beginning of the film, falls in love, marries, and prepares for fatherhood. After his wife dies in childbirth, he has to find a way to combine a tough business persona with that of a loving, compassionate father. It is a heartwarming film that does not have as many of the predictable elements most films of similar themes have. It has characters you fall in love with, who can melt your heart just by giving the right kind of look. It’s not the best film ever made, but it is one of the best of its kind made in recent years.

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The Heiress is a magnificent film that defies 1940s Hollywood logic…the woman and man do not walk into the sunset hand-in-hand. Actually, what is even more defiant for a film of this era is a woman having power over a man. Yes, 1940s were the days of the powerful woman in Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. But, the films those women were in were mostly about tough ladies who needed the love of a good man to set them straight. The Heiress is nothing like that. The film begins by setting the stage that shy, naïve Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy daughter of a stern New England doctor, played beautifully by Sir Ralph Richardson, will probably never marry. Catherine is plain, timid, and lacks what, as her father claims, men look for in future wives…aside, of course, from her money. Enter Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, who takes a liking to Catherine but her father disapproves and believes Townsend is just an opportunist. By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “powerful” woman enters the picture. Well, Catherine learns quite a few life lessons over the course of the film and in the end she is a strong, confident woman who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t want. Even though George Cukor was known in Hollywood circles as being the best “ladies director,” I feel that director William Wyler gives Cukor tough competition here and with some of his other movies (Roman Holiday, Mrs. Miniver, Jezebel, Funny Girl , etc.). This film is a tour de force for de Havilland (she won the Oscar), but Wyler’s brave direction increases both the power of Catherine and the tone of the whole film.

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Based on true events, this sure tearjerker tells the story of an Irish father in the 1950s who loses his kids through circumstances beyond his control and fights to get them back. The subject matter itself makes this story a tough one to film…too much sappiness might drive the audience away and too little sappiness makes the story fall short of its emotional mark. With the help of Pierce Brosnan (who plays the father) and the rest of the cast, Evelyn succeeds in not being too overly syrupy while still retaining enough tenderness to give the audience both tears in their eyes or lumps in their throats (or both). A charming, feel-good film that the entire family can watch and enjoy together.

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A fabulously vivid and enticing film from Mexico that combines food and sensuality. The story, based on the acclaimed novel by Laura Esquivel, revolves around a family who has three daughters…the oldest one is a rebel, the middle one is the “good” girl, and the youngest is doomed to a live of misery and loneliness since she will be the one to take care of her aging mother and can never marry. The youngest falls in love with a man, but the middle daughter is the one the mother assigns him to marry instead. Filled with rage and hatred for her mother and her situation, the youngest takes her anger out in her cooking. Beautifully filmed, this is a wonderfully colorful and lush film that will make you both hungry and excited. What more can you ask for than that?

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A fabulous, sweet romantic comedy that deal with father-daughter issues, aging issues, and later-in-life love issues. Emma Thompson shines as a woman in the middle of her life…dealing with a possessive mother and friends who continually try and set her up with Mr. Right. She meets Dustin Hoffman, a man in the midst of life crisis, and they befriend each other. When the idea of the friendship becoming something more surfaces, both characters insecurities get in the way, at first. A sentimental and pure story of love and relationships and how even though something might not be perfect, it still might work.

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If you read my annotation on The Birds, you know Tippi Hedren is not my favorite actress. But, compared to her lackluster performance in The Birds, she shines here. It’s the script in Marnie that I have trouble with. When this one came out in 1964, it didn’t do as well as expected and was not raved by the critics. As with Vertigo, both the public opinion but mostly the critical opinion, time has been kind with Marnie. Some critics now hail it as one (with Vertigo) of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. I would not go that far. Yes, Hedren is better, but she’s still not good enough to carry a film. The plus here is that unlike The Birds’ Rod Taylor (who is just so-so), Sean Connery provides a stronger counterpart for Hedren’s weak-ish acting. But, a masterpiece? Have these critics seen Notorious or Shadow of a Doubt? As I said, Marnie’s biggest issue, in my humble opinion, is the script. The screenplay here is lagging considerably, especially in the middle. The film starts off well and moves along at a good pace. Then, somewhere around the time Connery begins helping Hedren with her many problems, the story almost comes to a halt. Hitchcock saves it with a tense ending, but I admit I do expect more from The Master than just a good beginning and ending. So, you might be asking, why do I keep writing reviews for films that I’m not in love with? Well, first of all, I like them. They are great movies. They are just not up to Hitchcock’s usual HIGH standards.

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