Once again, a small film that DESERVES TO BE SEEN gets tossed into a few theaters for a measly weekend in NYC and LA (just so it can say it’s a “theatrical release”) and then sent on its merry way to obscurity as a seemingly “direct to DVD” title. Sadly, this has little to do with caliber of acting and/or even the box-office draw potential of the cast (though I doubt Brad Pitt still has a few years to wait for this to happen to him): this film stars Kate Beckinsale, who after her Underworld films, not to mention other action films, is a pretty big star. It has, rather, to do with money…which, as usual, is what everything, especially in Hollywood, comes down to. So, this great film with great performances by a strong cast gets lost in the DVD shuffle. But, please…seek this one out! Loosely based on the true tale of a Washington political reporter, the script perfectly captures the right tone…not going too overboard to the weepy or the harpy, which could have easily been done here. And the cast takes that intensity from the page and adds power and subtlety and depth. Inspired by the case of real reporter Judith Miller who went to prison in 2005 to protect the identity of a source, the movie could have become one of those “it’s in the news so Hollywood must capitalize” flicks that are mainly seen as made-for-TV films. But, Nothing But the Truth is much more than that. I would say that this film far surpasses most intense dramas and thrillers you find in your local multiplex. Beckinsale plays the reporter who finds herself caught in this tangle of excitement and confusion after a story she wrote and championed found its way into the inner-workings of the D.C. elite. Every tactic possible is used to get her to reveal her source and the saga finally leads her to jail and away from not only her job, but also her family. Beckinsale, not someone I would call a “deep” actress, is highly emotive and rich here. She is calm and fearless when necessary, but at other times, she is raw and unabashingly open. Vera Farmiga, again not someone I’ve seen give a truly meaningful performance in the past, is tense and controlled…but just the right amount. Alan Alda also shines as a high-powered attorney who takes on Beckinsale’s case, against all odds. The supporting cast, including Angela Bassett, Matt Dillon, and David Schwimmer, is strong as well, making this a stellar effort by all involved and an all-around excellent film.

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A fun, lighthearted film that really, really, really made me want to eat. Not cook, mind you. Some would want to copy the co-main character, Julie Powell, on her quest to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking classic cookbook. I just wanted to eat my way through the movie. Aside from this film encouraging my foodie-ness, it is highly entertaining, though I must admit, I enjoyed Meryl Streep playing early Julia Child on an odyssey to to get a French cooking cookbook published in English MUCH more than the odyssey of Powell and her recipe crusade. Amy Adams as Powell is appealing, as Adams always is, but I had little interest in Powell’s saga. She cooks and blogs about cooking and talks about cooking and fights with her husband about cooking. It gets a little tiresome. The Julia Child parts, mostly set in Paris after WWII, are full of life and passion…just like Child herself. It is impossible to take your eyes off of Streep’s Child…not only is the characterization by Streep spot-on, but the storyline is also more vibrant and lively. We take a vested interest in Child and her cookbook quest, whereas with Powell, we honestly don’t care by the end. Fortunately, the Julia Child pieces of the film are so overwhelmingly funny and sweet, they make the film worth watching. And, it’s not that you will HATE the Powell storyline…you just won’t want to be best friends with her. With Child, you want to be her pal…to help her along with her cookbook…to talk with her…and especially, to EAT with her. And, I’m sure this has to do with both Child’s gregarious personality and also with Streep’s vivacious performance. All in all, an engaging, entertaining film that you most definitely should not watch on an empty stomach!

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A charming film that is something I would normally term as “sappy.” I usually stay far away from my self-proclaimed “sappy” films but I was drawn to this one because I always had a soft-spot for Kevin Costner. Needless to say, I fell in love with Message in a Bottle (and Mr. Costner, all over again). This is not to say it is not sappy. It is sappy with a capital S, please, don’t get me wrong. But, I just have to admit this is one time I like the sap. Set in Chicago and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a Tribune reporter heads South to the beach on vacation where she meets a rugged, loner who happens to be handsome. They have some awkward moments at first but mostly, it’s pure chemistry. She goes back home to Chicago and he braves the wilds of the city to come and visit her. Your basic sap…but, this one is just high quality sap…I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but it’s a good love story, trust me. I don’t think Mr. Costner is the ONLY reason I fell for this one. I really have more standards than that, don’t I? Well, you will just have to watch this one and see!

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This film set the stage for early romantic comedies and also gave the brilliant career of director Frank Capra a boost. While running away from the demands of her strict, wealthy father, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) meets struggling newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) on a bus going from Florida to New York City. They cannot be more different: he likes to drink more than work and she is spoiled and prudish about everything. What should be just a two-night ride turns into a much-longer trip filled with stops and mishaps, all of which bring the two closer together, despite their differences. This movie’s sharp, witty dialogue inspired a new form of film comedy, where the characters’ initial love/hate relationship inevitably turns to romance. This comedy style was used later for films such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, also from 1940. Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to make this comedy, but after they were both honored with Academy Awards for their work, they were probably glad they did. It Happened One Night also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars.

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A fun, entertaining holiday movie with star of stars, Barbara Stanwyck. The premise seems a bit silly, but trust me, it works. Stanwyck plays a food/homemaking columnist (remember — this is the 1940s) who cannot do anything domestic herself…just write about it. But, low and behold, she is forced to become the domestic goddess when her editor makes her practice what she preaches. Stanwyck excelled in comedies like this…low key and very smart. She’s always excellent but in scatterbrained roles like this one, she’s priceless. Not just a holiday movie either — good all year around!

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Writing this on June 3, 2005, the whole world now knows the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Having that newly revealed information does not diminish the impact of this film. Neither does knowing the outcome of the story. People flocked to see Titanic even though that outcome was also infamously known. The ending…or resolve…of All the President’s Men really is not the reason to watch it. Watch it for everything that leads up to the finale of Nixon as president—the detailed investigative reporting, the danger, the deadlines, the fear of incomplete information…or inaccurate information…the threat of losing jobs and even lives while covering this story. All of those pieces make this film about a very well-known time in American history a taut, fast-paced thriller. Yes…thriller. A movie about Nixon and Watergate and reporters and reporting is a thriller…all with an ending that is not a surprise to viewers? Hard to believe, I know, but nonetheless true. From start to finish, this film is packed with tense, exciting moments…all while making investigative journalism look like the coolest profession outside of taste tester for Ben and Jerry’s. The famous book that this film is based on, by then-Washington Post up-and-coming journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (who is now an editor at the Post), is dryer and more dense. The movie takes all of the many facts and details of the book and lays them out in a complex, tight structure that makes us sit on the edge of our seats.

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Paul Newman stars in this journalism tangle that keeps you guessing the entire time. Akin to films like All the President’s Men, this one wraps you up in secrets so tight, you won’t be able to breath. Also starring Sally Field, who is good here as a naive reporter. Not one of my favorite actresses, Field’s homey qualities lend the right light on her earthy journalist character. The audience really can sympathize with her, which they might not be able to do if a more glamorous actress took this role. Newman does what he does best here — play the underdog who really no one should like but who sways us to like him with his charm and rugged demeanor. Trust me, you will want to go to journalism school after watching this one…especially if Mr. Newman can be your first big story!

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Based on a true story, The Soloist is a strong film about two heroic characters and their unlikely friendship.

Set in Los Angeles, Robert Downey Jr. plays a fledgling Los Angeles Times columnist, desperate for that ONE story that will revitalize his career. He meets Jamie Foxx’s character, who is a homeless man playing a two-stringed violin. When Downey does some research, he finds Foxx was a young cello genius before mental illness forced him into the depths of homelessness and playing music on street corners for change.

I’m not a big Downey fan, but he is good here. Very much akin to the Tom Cruise role in Rainman, Downey has the so-called “easier” job of playing a “normal” guy. But, that is where the misconception comes in…for sometimes normalcy can require more skills than behavior that is perceived as “abnormal.” And, Downey is great in that “normal” role…you can feel his pain as he travels the rocky road with Foxx.

But, Foxx really does deservedly steal the show here. Once again, Foxx proves he is a highly talented actor who is capable of playing pretty much any type of role. We buy completely into Foxx as a homeless cello prodigy. We feel for him, understand him, cry for him, and long for him to be mentally stable. This could not have been an easy role for Foxx…it is quite obvious he is actually playing the cello. It’s also the kind of role that can really flop quite spectacularly if done wrong. Thankfully, that is not the case here.

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Since I wrote a post on the 2003 version, here’s my post for the 2009:
As I wrote in my post for the 2003 BBC TV production of this tale, it is a well-done, intense political thriller…that is a must see. This one is about 4 hours shorter than the British TV production, but it is just as taut and gripping as the first…maybe even better since it does that same job in a feature film length. Keeping most of the story in tact, this version has a congressman caught in a sex scandal with a murdered young researcher from his office. The congressman’s former roommate is a reporter who is on the story and trying his best to keep both his loyalties to his congressman friend and his newspaper job. Like All the President’s Men, this film really takes you inside the inner workings of a Washington D.C.’s newspaper office…keeping the nightmare pace and the cutthroat-ness in tact. I’m sure the newspaper biz is hectic and frantic in most of the country, but add in the turmoil of political and you get a hellish frenzy. Excellent performances by all make this movie a fabulous political and journalistic thriller. Watch both versions and compare for yourself!

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I know the point of this blog is to highlight films on DVD — and the 2009 version of State of Play is still in theaters, as of today (May 6, 2009). But, the 2003 BBC production of this story is on DVD — and Niles owns it. So, in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the 2009 version to hit Niles’ shelves on DVD, do yourself a favor and check out the 2003 version. I’m not saying it’s better than the new version — it’s just different. More intense and more gripping — mostly because it’s 6 hours — compared the the new version’s 2 hour running time.

A well-done, intense political thriller that delves deep into the heart of British politics and journalism. Two friends…one a writer at a major London newspaper and the other a member of Parliament…get entwined in a series of twists and turns that do not let up until the very end. Extremely well-acted, this series will keep you guessing until the final scene…literally. In addition to the great performances, the writing is top-notch…fast and intense — the fast-paced script crackles with wit and is chocked filled with details about politics and insights on the “rag” trade. For anyone who likes thrillers, this one is a must see!

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