A tough film to sit through, Brothers is a powerful drama that stays with you long after it ends. My appreciation for this film only increased as I thought more and more about its messages and meaning. Based on a Danish film from 2004, Brødre, this intense story revolves around two brothers. At the beginning of the film, one son, Tommy, just is released from prison. He, naturally, is the black sheep of the family. The “favorite” son, Sam, is soon to be heading off to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. While in the Middle East, Sam is presumed dead in a helicopter accident. This family, naturally, makes do the best they can to pick up the pieces and Tommy really steps up and helps out Sam’s wife and daughters. The daughters, in particular, become very attached to Tommy. Sam’s wife, Grace, borders precariously on some romantic feelings for her brother-in-law, though nothing is ever shared between them but a kiss. So, director Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) melds these images of sadness and sorrow with Sam in Afghanistan, alive and taken prisoner. Then, Sam comes home. He comes home a different man entirely. He simply cannot “kick” the images and bloodshed from his head…he can not get past what he had to do to survive. His daughters are now afraid of the “new” Sam and want their Uncle Tommy. Even his wife sees her resurrected husband as a stranger. The climatic ending still causes a chill down my spine just thinking about it. Brothers is not only an underrated film that is a must see, but it also is filled with dynamite performances by all of the major players. An excellent, yet disturbing film.

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This movie got panned in the theatrical release reviews. But, it is a good film. Not the best about families and how family situations change as time goes by, but it’s a strong movie that’s worth while seeing…ESPECIALLY if you are a parent or have middle-aged to older parents. One of the reasons this film has a soft spot for me is that the De Niro character reminded me of my father. Approximately the same age, both my dad and the De Niro character are sorts of aimless, lost men. De Niro’s reasoning behind this aimlessness is that he is recently widowed. My father’s is just that he likes to be aimless (my mother is still very much alive). Now back to the movie…the De Niro character, after having all four of his grown children cop out on coming to visit him for a family reunion of sorts, he decides to go to them instead. What lies ahead of him is an odyssey he never anticipated. No, it’s not a GREAT movie. But, over-all, it’s a tender movie with lots of heart.

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As an Anglophile, I guess my most deep, dark fantasy (no, NOT that kind) is that I will find out that I was switched at birth…and that my real parents are British! Trust me…this is not an insult to my American parents. They would be MORE than happy to trade me to an unsuspecting couple across the pond. But, alas, my fantasy is just that…fiction. Well, in this novel, the first by stand-up comedienne/actress Alison Larkin, the main character, Pippa, is raised by British adoptive parents in England but finds out that her biological parents are truly American. This immediately makes sense to Pippa, since she’s always considered herself something of an American-phile but most importantly, she is NOTHING like most the British people around her. This information propels Pippa on a quest to find her true identity and the reasons for all of her non-British idiosyncrasies. Larkin, herself, is a biological American and adoptive Brit, so the story resonates very true. Larkin’s writing style is sharp and witty and Pippa is a truly engaging and highly enjoyable character. We want her to be happy…whether in America or England. For me, I will just keep searching for that one day when I find my true parents…and I’m able to go home where I belong…England! Sorry mom and dad.

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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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When a father tries to force early success on his musical prodigy child, he soon realizes what his child needs most is his love. On its own, the storyline provides meaningful and poignant scenes and makes a heartwarming film. Weave the use of music into the mix and the film becomes even more powerful and stunning. But, at the true heart of this film is the relationship between the old man and the child. This film proves that no matter how high of expectations we set for our children, we never stop loving them even if they don’t achieve all that is expected. A meaningful film for anyone who at one time was someone’s child—meaning a film for all.

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A charming, sweet film about a father who runs a bathhouse in Beijing and his two sons, one mentally handicapped and the other, Da, a stoic businessman. The movie revolves around Da’s coming to terms with his father’s ill health and his brother’s dependence on their father. Da had moved away years ago and not even bothered to introduce his father and brother to his new wife. His character’s transformation in this film is the highlight, even though it is a subtle, unassuming transition from detached to loving son. I’m not big on foreign films yet this film is so special that I watch it often. It’s a beautiful story of compassion, acceptance and emotion. It is a timeless tale about a man who comes of age a little later than most to open his heart to his family.

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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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Based on a novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Richard Russo, this film is a small, unsung gem…just like the book. Telling the story of Sully, an aged laborer rural New York State who, between his quirky friends and bad health, is not having an easy time of it at late. Russo excels in stories like this…about small towns and small heroes who don’t do the big, grandiose things to get noticed…they do the little things that usually do not come with any form of notoriety…or even appreciation. They are the fathers and sons of the Everyman…and Newman is always your perfect Everyman…even here, in the twilight of his years. Quirky and slow in parts, this film, like the novel and Russo’s other novels, unveils itself slowly and cautiously. But, the unveiling process is a great ride!

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I think right off the bat this film gets a bad rap since it’s unfortunately grouped with the recent films about the Iraq War. That’s unfair, in my opinion, since this is a strong, edgy thriller that deserves to be seen as a THRILLER and not necessarily as an anti-war statement. Tommy Lee Jones plays a father who, at the start of the film, finds out his son, recently back from the war in the Middle East, is missing. Yes, much of the film does deal with the war, since Jones has to find out what happened to his son while he was over there and if it is at all connected to his disappearance. But, most of the story just has Jones searching for the truth and finding bits and pieces of facts and fictions and putting them together to get some answers. Yes, the story has holes, but based how badly this film was received, it was MUCH better than I thought it would be. So, ignore the propaganda – and just enjoy the movie.

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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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