For his final outing as the ever-clever MI-6 spy James Bond, Pierce Brosnan has a so-so script to work with but he does a great job, as usual, of keeping the lack-luster story alive. He is joined, this time, by a showy Halle Berry (who adds very little to the film) and some other less-than-exciting characters (with the exception of Rosamund Pike who plays a great friend then foe to Bond). So, even with the daunting challenge of keeping the movie entertaining despite obstacles, Brosnan comes through with a bang! He is really charged here as Bond, finally finding his 007 footing…he’s tough and charming and cynical, yet confident. It’s a shame that this was his last 007 film (though new Bond Daniel Craig is also good spy material, which he proves in 2006’s Casino Royale) but for four films, Brosnan brought life back into a fledgling series…just as he brings life to this fledgling movie.

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OK – I’m a James Bond fan. So, right off the bat I’ll say I was leery. Leery of a blonde Bond. Leery about a relatively unknown actor jumping into the timeless role. Leery of an actor who might be a little too “hard” looking to play the über spy. But, enough of my fears…since this film and Daniel Craig’s performance put them all to rest, I will no longer focus on my apprehensions. What I will focus on is that this is a strong film in a series that has been through some hard times in the past…especially concerning actor changes. I will also focus on the fact that Craig makes a strong, determined Bond…different than all the others but made for the 21st Century. Could Connery be Bond today? Probably not. He would slap the wrong woman’s bottom and she’d sue him. Would Roger Moore? Well, no, because his series of quips would also land him in court for one thing or another. Pierce Brosnan was the perfect end-of-the-20th-Century Bond…debonair, striking, yet with a soft side. In Casino Royale, the 21st installment of the official Bond films (not counting 1983’s Never Say Never Again and 1967’s Bond spoof also based and titled on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale), Craig holds onto Bond’s soft side right up to the very end. His Bond is raw and harsh and more “action” and less “sophistication” than his predecessors. The plot is pretty simple, which is another departure from most of the recent Bond films that get mulled down with convoluted stories. Here, Bond needs to win a high-stakes poker game so a terrorist does not win money to finance his crimes. This film also goes back to the beginning of 007’s career…right after he has been granted his license to kill by Her Majesty’s Secret Service (this makes sense since this is the novel Fleming used to introduce the world to Bond). And, granted, the film could use a little editing (it is close to 2 ½ hours long) especially around the card game. But, what the film doesn’t need is another Bond search. The right actor has been found! And we can only hope that he sticks around for a while.

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Based on the bestselling book by Helen Fielding, this story of the classic “singleton” hits both dramatic and comic highs and lows while entertaining throughout. Texan Renee Zellweger strikes the perfect British tone as Bridget, a single, frustrated Londoner who looks for love in all the wrong places. Hugh Grant steals most of his scenes as the devilish Daniel, who once again fits Bridget’s bill as the “wrong” guy. Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, on the other hand, might very well be the “right” guy, if Bridget would ever realize it before it’s too late. Well-adapted from its diary format, this movie runs the gamut of emotions while never seeming forced or fake, mostly due to Zellweger’s robust and daring performance as the ever-disappointed yet daffy Bridget.

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I wanted to LOVE this movie. After-all, I adored the first installment. So, naturally, I was VERY excited to see this one. And, I have to say, I was let-down some. Not because it’s not a cute, witty film (the first one was extremely witty), but because it’s not AS entertaining as the first. Sequels do have a lot to live up to and this one, like most, falls flat, in comparison to the first. But, looking at the film on it’s own, it is a sweet, funny romantic comedy that has a lot of problems (the jail scenes need to be MUCH shorter) but that basically is a cute, fun film. Starting from where the first film lets off (Bridget just snags Mark Darcy as her boyfriend and she’s no longer a “singleton”), Bridget once again is up to her old tricks. Now that she HAS Mark, she tries her best to “get rid of him” by letting her paranoia get the best of her. Bridget is a very appealing character. She’s like every woman. She’s nuts at time. She’s not bone thin. She makes a lot of mistakes. She’s VERY imperfect. Why Mark (a heck of a lot more perfect than Bridget) would be with her is a mystery but doesn’t every slightly chubby, less than gorgeous woman imagine Mr. Perfect on her arm. It’s a film about watching someone live out her fantasies…and I’m sorry but I wouldn’t mind doing that.

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Annette Bening is just plain classy…as a woman, as an actress, as a working mother, etc. Her role in Being Julia is about a classy stage actress in 1930s London. Does the character resemble the real life woman? Well, honestly I don’t know since I am not on personal terms with Ms. Bening. But, I’m assuming, just on the basis that both are famous, well-respected actresses, that there are some parallels. Bening plays Julia Lambert, a spoiled, middle-aged West End (London’s “Broadway”) goddess used to getting her way. She is in a sexless marriage with her husband, played by Jeremy Irons, who also is her stage producer. Their marriage is more of a matter of convenience and business than one of love. So, when she takes up with a younger man, the void of love in her life is filled. Or is it? I know—sounds boring and more like an installment of Masterpiece Theatre than a captivating film. But, boring is the last thing this film is. Trust me. And, that’s mostly due to Bening and her marvelous performance. She brings light and air into Julia…humor when necessary and a sense of doom when called for. In the film, Julia is questioned on whether she is being true to her emotions or if she is just “acting.” I, for one, never knew the answer to that and really didn’t care. Bening is so convincing as Julia that the lines become intertwined between “real life” and “the stage.”

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Incendiary examines how a London terrorist attack forever destroys the life of a working-class mom. Michelle Williams, who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, plays a London mother and wife…the opening scenes capture her closeness with her 4-year-old son and the distance with her husband. She meets Jasper Black, played by Ewan McGregor and sees her chance to escape some of the dullness of her marriage. When her son and husband head to a local soccer match, she sees her chance to get together with Black. While she’s with him, a terrorist bomb explodes at the soccer stadium and her son and husband are among the dead. She runs through the gambit of emotions…sadness, of course…relief, that her mundane marriage is over?…guilt, that she was betraying her husband at the very moment of his death?…hatred, for the terrorists responsible for the loss of her beloved son? She tries to find some understanding by befriending the suspected bomber’s son, but this just leaves her more disillusioned. Yes, Incendiary sounds like a bleak movie with little hope, and though at times it is, some optimism does manage to sneak in. Williams does a superb job of conveying all sorts of emotions. Her performance raises this movie from just another post-911 tale to a deeper, more powerful film on loss and redemption.

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A perfectly charming film about a young woman who sees the world through her own kind of rose-colored glasses. No matter what, Poppy is optimistic, smiling and happy about life. It sounds like it might be too corny but somehow, it is not…mostly attributed to the performance of Sally Hawkins, who brings Poppy to life in an innocent and believable way. A great film for all!

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One of the more delightful surprises in fiction in recent years, this Keyes book was a beach read that turned out to be a little more than that. I’ve read quite a few of Keyes books before but this one is probably my favorite of hers…it’s fresh and engaging and simply delightful. Told from the POV of three London ladies: 1. Gemma, who has a neurotic mother and is still mourning the loss of her stolen-out-from-under-her-by-her-best-friend boyfriend…2. Lily, who is the best friend who stole Gemma’s boyfriend…and 3. Jojo, a literary agent who ends up representing both Gemma and Lily. I loved the way Keyes weaved all three stories together…yet giving each of the 3 enough space for us to get to know them all. Even though each change of character is marked with the ladies’ name before the chapter, towards the end, we knew each of the three enough to know whose part we were reading. A great way to tell a fun, entertaining story!

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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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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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