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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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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An excellent Charles Dickens adaptation, given the full BBC treatment in mini-series form. Well acted, well shot and well written, this comes close to, if not surpasses, the wonderful Bleak House adaptation BBC did in 2005. The set designers, art directors, and costumers did such a good job that I really did feel as if I was transported to 1800s London. The story revolves around a young girl, nicknamed “Little” Dorrit since she is her family’s youngest, who holds the key to her family’s hidden potential. Nominated for a plethora of awards (Emmys, Golden Globes, etc.), this adaptation lives up to the long standard the BBC has set in filming famed classics for the small screen. A must!

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Both of these films are masterpieces in historical dramas. Even though produced by BBC both films play as well…over even better…than most historical dramas put on the big screen. Starring Judi Dench as the main matriarchal member of a small Cheshire, England market town that has been slow (if at all) to progress with the times. Dench’s Matty is a spinster who lives with her sister and they, with their friends, control the town more than any mayor or politician could do. What they want, goes. What they say, goes. Over the course of these two great series, the ladies…especially Matty…change. Some die, some get ill, some suffer, some alter their believes about progress. But, all in all, the town of Cranford would not continue to survive and thrive without the ladies of Cranford.

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Now, this is not one of my favorite films ever, but, for a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s very strong…mostly because of its performance by Christoph Waltz as Nazi officer Colonel Landa. It’s a long film, and like Tarantino’s other works, it’s very stylized and very violent. But, it features performances that make it worth seeing and Waltz’s performance, in particular, propels this film from standard-violent-war-movie to an excellent work of cinema. Waltz steals every moment he is on screen…unlike most Nazi characters portrayed in movies (I’m especially thinking of Ralph Fiennes’ cold-blooded killing machine in Schindler’s List), Waltz plays Landa with a sincerity and seeming likeability. We think “what is he after,” since we never know what to expect with this quietly deranged character; his light demeanor constantly keeps us off guard. And Tarantino really does capitalize off of this stellar performance. Landa’s scenes are visually elegant and the cast in scenes with Waltz seem to be pulling out all of the stops to give their best performance to match Landa’s maniacal, yet pleasant chill. As for the movie on a whole, it is a new twist on the WWII years in Europe…told with a strong film and filmmaking element. For movie buffs (like myself), I did enjoy the dialogue between the characters about the movie industry and 1930s directors and actors, etc. And, whether you like that “Hollywood” angle or not, it is something that really has not been touched on in a major way before. The style is unique, as usual for Tarantino, and his brash, bold techniques add to the power and intensity of the film. If you can tolerate the violence, check this one out! It’s a far cry from Pulp Fiction, but it’s a strong film on its own…highlighted by exceptional performances.

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Meet the Amlingmeyers. A pair of brothers riding the range from one grub stake to the next. Are they just obsessed cowpokes thinking about food, smokes, horses, women and more food? Nope. Old Red (Gustav) and Big Red (Otto) have other things on their mind. Like detecting. Just like that Sherlock fellow. Welcome to the world of Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith.

Old Red’s obsession with all things Holmes – read to him by his brother from Harper’s Magazine – leads them to adventure. The slightly shady outfit they have signed up with – the Bar VR – ends up having two deaths on the premises. And the foreman really does not seem to care since everyone is supposed to be preparing for the arrival of the foreign owners of the ranch. Just who is lying to whom? And just what is going on with the ranch finances and stock? And those fancy English folks might have a hand in this mess too.
Hockensmith’s characters are great fun. The story is told in Big Red’s voice and he is a perfect doubting Thomas about his brother’s detection skills. But he will stand by him as a loyal “Watson” and family member should. Old Red sometimes doubts himself – he is just an average uneducated cowboy – but he has studied his hero Holmes’ methods.
With wonderful characters and a twisty plot, this series is off to a great start. I’m eager to read the rest. A very fun read!
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To be honest, I’m not a Dickens fan. His stories are too dark and his characters get weighed down with a lot of murky dialogue and subplots. So, when I heard about all of the attention the 2005 BBC version of Bleak House was getting, I was apprehensive. After it was nominated for a slew of Emmys, I decided to give it a try. And, I sure was surprised…pleasantly so. At over seven hours total (each of the three discs contains five, half-hour (or so) episodes), I started out being daunted by the time commitment alone. But, the episodes flew by as I became more and more entrenched in the world Dickens’ created in 19th Century England. In this case, though, Mr. Dickens probably deserves only a share (a large one) of the credit. The filmmakers of this production do a superlative job of keeping the storylines straight and making sure we know all of the characters, from their dispositions to their importance in the story, right from the start. It’s also shot so we can spot a place where “bad” things are destined to happen…places filled with little light and black, gray backgrounds are filled with evil characters doing evil deeds. For example, the law offices of Mr. Tulkinghorn are shown often during the day but there is a somber, grayish tint, matching the dastardly ways of the man who works there. The story is pretty simple (though that is usual for a Dickens novel)…two “wards” from a family which has been long embroiled in a messy, complicated court battle head to the country house of their guardian, along with a companion. Ok, there is more to it than just this case, but everything in the story…every character, every revelation, every death…stems from the this lawsuit. Trust me, once you start watching, you will be riveted and feel compelled to give Dickens (his novels, that is) another try. Don’t blame me when you do!

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I’m only vaguely interested in history, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get into this one. I’m on season two and boy, am I hooked. It is riveting TV, even though much of the plot is known already. Henry is played with charm, charisma and a touch of evilness that makes it impossible to love him completely, but also impossible to turn away. His quest for power is addictive and the men (and women) around him seem to feed off of his need for world domination. Sexy and biting, this show is much more than just history. Now, whether it’s accurate in its historical tellings, that is something I will leave to the experts.

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A crusty police detective who is close to retirement age relocates to a small North England town from London, where he still continues to work as a police inspector and gets a new partner instead of retiring. One of the reasons he cannot retire is that he is continually haunted by the brutal murder of his wife…back when he was living in London. Set in the 1960s, the George Gently character seems, at first, like all of the other grumpy, old British police detectives and this will be like all of the other British police series…ala Frost, Morse, etc. But, Gently has an edge that carries through all of the episodes and makes this one stand out among the crowd.

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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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