The overused word DYSFUNCTIONAL could have been coined about the Gregson family. The matriarch of this mess is Tara, who has several diverse and loony multiple personalities, including a teenage-like wild girl, a June Cleaver-esque housewife, and a MALE Vietnam Vet who smokes and drinks way too much. Her kids and husband are all very aware that this personality disorder is something their mother is afflicted with. Often, the personalities come out at the most inopportune times, causing havoc in the kids’ lives. Like I said, dysfunctional with a capital D! And, most times, I stay clear from families-in-crisis shows (like Married With Children, etc.) but this time, Tara and her antics make the show so appeal and fun. I also felt myself drawn to the kids’ plights and what their lives must be like with a mother like Tara . Their frequent frustration is believable and not overdone in anyway. But, I would have to say that Tara and her “alters” as she calls them is the reason to watch this one. Toni Collette has won raves and awards for her portrayal of Tara and I think she is key to the show’s appeal and quality. If Tara were not as believable as she is, the show would not hold together and the audience would lose interest fast. Collette’s strong acting and huge range allow this show to be a hit rather than a miss.

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Not being the biggest fan of multiple vignette movies, I didn’t have high expectations here. I find that usually, in vignette ensemble movies like this one, ala Short Cuts, Crash, I get so upset with one story that no matter what is happening in the others, I lose interest in the whole thing. But, this had such a great cast, how could I pass it up? And, thankfully, it’s MUCH sweeter and more enjoyable than I expected. The storylines are all pretty much what you would expect from a Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy. They are all about love in its various forms…broken love, falling in love, old love, love that’s not really love at all, friendship love, etc. The sweetest storyline would have to be the two friends who THINK that are having great fortune in the love department. Then, all of a sudden, one of the relationships crashes and the other soon does as well. The friends come together to find solace in each other and end up finding love as well. Also, the plotline with an older couple (played by Marshall rom com regular Hector Elizondo and the fabulous Shirley MacLaine) finding their way back together after a past betrayal is heartfelt and endearing. Basically, this film lives up to its goal…to make us all feel like going out and falling in love! If only it were that easy…

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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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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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Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.

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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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One of the best endings in film…not the best movie, per se…or even the best thriller. But, the ending makes the movie payoff. You really do not see it coming…at least I didn’t. Doris Day shines as the tortured wife of an overly hardworking businessman. She begins hearing voices and then starts getting crank calls. Is she making this up to get more attention from her husband? Is she really in danger? And if so, by whom? Being a huge Hitchcock fan, I?m always skeptical of thrillers that try to copy the image and style of the Master of Suspense. Thankfully, I feel this one is not something Alfred Hitchcock would have disappointed with.

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A poignant drama about a wife who cheats and a husband who finds out. This simple premise turns very dark and deadly, when the movie really takes off and sets the audience on an emotional roller coaster. Unfaithful shows what the pain of an affair can do to a couple…how both the betrayed and the betrayer feel toward each other and toward themselves. The performances of Richard Gere and Diane Lane as the seemingly happy husband and wife are stunning…nothing they say or do seems overly forced or too overdone. The scene on the train after Lane first has her extramarital encounter showcases what a brilliant and underrated actress she really is. The ending leaves everything up in the air, which I did not like at first but after more thought, I came to see that leaving things open is best. Emotions do not always have easy answers, so then why should a movie with so many emotions end neatly?

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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