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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A decent action movie with solid action throughout. Sure, the action and the plot are not all realistic, but this IS an action flick. And at least George Clooney is convincing as the Army officer sent in to help Nicole Kidman’s scientist track down some stolen nuclear weapons. The car scene in Vienna is really top notch and the chase in Manhattan (near the UN) is also one of the best in recent years. If you’re an action fan, you really cannot go wrong with this one. If you like fine art, you might want to find something a little more plausible.

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For those of us who have fallen in love with Danny Ocean and his crew through the first installment, 2001′s Ocean’s Eleven and with the harder-to-love second in the series, Ocean’s Twelve (2004), this film is a must! Where Ocean’s Eleven was glitzy and stylish and Ocean’s Twelve was more convoluted and mysterious, this one is a mesh of the two. Admittedly, even the cast and crew says that Twelve did not live up to the high entertainment standards set by Eleven. I’m not sure if I totally believe that, but I can say that Eleven and Twelve do seem like completely separate movies…both with different agendas. Thirteen was their way of rectifying the public dismay with Twelve so when it came to glitz and glamour and entertainment, they held absolutely nothing back. The plot (does plot really matter in these films?) revolves around Vegas developer Willie Bank (played with lots of zip by Al Pacino) who fleeces Reuben (Elliot Gould as one of the “eleven”) out of his share in Bank’s new casino. Enter the rest of the “eleven” to right Reuben’s wrong and get even with Bank. The plot, though, is overshadowed by good looking people, good looking sets, and snappy, witty dialogue that Eleven did with perfection. Apparently, this will be the last in the series, but who knows since, at the end of this one, there seemed to be the perfect entree for a number 14.

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Where the first one was slick, this one is stylized. Where the first one was clever, this one is intellectual. Where the first one is glitz, this one is glamour. Basically, Ocean’s Twelve is for adults…not only for action movie-crazed adults but for adults who need more plot, structure, and development. The look of this film is almost a night and day difference from the first, mostly because there is no “Vegas” in the second film. (I use Vegas here as a noun because in the first film, Las Vegas became an entity onto itself by contributing highly to the slickness and glitziness of the first film.) Amsterdam, Rome, Naples…where the second film is set…lend to more of an old world sophistication that Vegas can’t touch. Vegas is a playground and looks the part. Europe is cultural and classic and looks that part. Director Steven Soderbergh does many of his same tricks with the camera here to try and pump up the pace and plot. But, again, taking Vegas out of the equation brings the movie out of the realm of the fantastic and into the world of the real. Concerning the plot in this second film…well even that seems to lack some of the “Vegas” feel to it. The first one seemed faster and filled with more vigor. Tricks happened right until the every end and the audience enjoyed the ride. The characters looked good and moved quick to keep up with the Vegas scene. In Europe, there seems to be a more laid-back feel to the characters. The film starts off with Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict character (who was the victim – if you can call him that – in the first film) giving each of Ocean’s men two weeks to return his money. Two weeks!!! They should all be running around frantic. But, they are not. They act like they have all the time in the world. Does the European setting have that much to do with the pace? Maybe or maybe Soderbergh just wanted to make a film that was more intellectual than eye candy. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE eye candy. But, I also like a good movie. Both of these are good films in their own unique ways, but keep in mind that one is more the kid in you and one is for your adult side trying to break through.

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Bruges, Belgium is not a city that has gotten a lot of attention over the years. To be honest, I hardly had ever heard of Bruges before this movie. Now, after seeing this film, not only have I heard of it, but I want to go there. BADLY! The PLOT of the movie is not what made me crave to travel to Bruges. Actually, the plot would be a hindrance. (I’m sure Bruges is not too happy having the image that people rampantly are getting shot throughout their town — that’s not really what a city wants on their tourism brochures.) In the beginning of the film, it’s like a travelogue…the city becomes one of the characters in the film. We go along with the two hit men as they spend the first part of the film sightseeing in Bruges. We wish we were there with them…tasting the beer and smelling the chocolates and sailing on the canals. Then, as the movie takes its turn toward the bloody and violent, we begin to forget about the chocolate and canals and the beer. We focus, rather, on how sorry we feel for all of these flawed, troubled and doomed characters. Sure, they are all bad men. But, in strange ways, all are likeable. Really! Hit men with hearts of gold…I know – mighty corny. But, it’s true. So, what have we learned here? Bruges is a beautiful, picturesque city. And not all hit men are bad people. Two excellent life lessons that I know will help me plenty in years to come. I’ll send you a postcard from Bruges and let you know if I’ve put my life lessons to use yet.
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