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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Why, oh why, did I keep watching this? Maybe because I had no choice – it’s addicting…in a “bad girl” kind of way. What do I mean? Well, the main character, Jackie, is UNLIKEABLE in a rebellious, mean-spirited, devious sort of way. She is a compulsive liar when it suits her, is a drug addict, and almost has two complete different personalities…NURSE Jackie who is nice ONLY when she has to be and MOM/WIFE Jackie who is A LITTLE softer. And its hard to like either of the two Jackies. She has this close-to-idyllic family life…a loyal, hardworking husband and sweet kids…but she has a steady boyfriend and sex partner at the hospital where her NURSE alter-ego works. She pops pills on a regular basis…right before or after scolding others for even thinking of doing the same. She’s a warped, unholy mess of a woman, but somehow, she’s highly watchable. Maybe because you want to see her get caught (which she “kind-of” does at the end of season one (her hospital boyfriend (who did not even know she had kids must less was married) catches her with her husband). Maybe because the SOFT side she shows all too infrequently (a good mom, a compassionate (at times) nurse) is likeable and we cheer for GOOD Jackie to come out more often. All I know is that I really couldn’t stop watching. I think much of this has to do with Edie Falco, who, has in the past, taken unlikeable characters and made them tolerable. Even when Jackie is being bad, there always is a little humor behind her demeanor, which Falco allows the audience to glimpse. And, because of Falco, Jackie and all of her flaws becomes a watchable, interesting character that we need to keep tabs on. Considering how unlikeable Jackie is, that’s a very impressive mountain to climb.

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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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First of all, I’m not a rough and outdoorsy type. I love (LOVE) to travel but the thought of heading to a place where the food consist of things I couldn’t even look at or the thought of being without modern (and sadly, essential) conveniences (like a coffee maker, laundry machine, etc.) or having to sleep outside among the dirt and animals and bugs (THE HORROR!) is just unthinkable to me. But, of course, my idea of travel is not the only one out there. Movie star Ewan McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman come up with a plan to drive motorcycles from London to New York eastbound, meaning the long way around. And, at over 20,000 miles, long is an understatement. In a trip that they estimated would take them three and a half months, they started several months before the departure getting financial backing for their worldwide quest. They accepted an offer to do an ongoing documentary for British TV, they organized a crew of producers and camera people who would be accompanying them (only one cameraperson rode with Ewan and Charley…the other crew members drove different routes in SUVs), they scouted out the best roads, they talked with officials of each of the countries, they exercised to get in shape, and on and on and on. The DVD set (two DVDs at approx. five hours) is the resulting documentary they produced and is simply fascinating to watch. There is a good hour of pre-trek information, but most of the documentary is spent with Ewan and Charley on the road….in Britain, France, Germany, Croatia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, and finally North America. Each country they go to and each minute they ride gets more and more captivating. It is a story of adventure, survival and most of all, friendship.

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The second installment of the McGregor/Boorman world trek via motorcycles was even more exciting than the first (Long Way Round). This time, most of the episodes were devoted to the trip…rather than all of the preliminary work. Sure, the first few episodes cover some of the pre-trip stuff, but it felt like it moved along faster this time. And, once they got on the road, it was pure enjoyment. Though parts of Europe and then the entire length of Africa, Charley and Ewan ride gravel roads, sand highways, and rocky passages, all while we follow along. Not the most action-packed fun you can have, but for travel buffs who can never get the wanderlust out of their systems, this is a great way to do some good armchair traveling.

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For a British detective show, this one is fun. Having LOVED Patricia Routledge in her acclaimed British comedy Keeping Up Appearances, I was at first hesitant to try this show. I mean, Routledge will always be Appearances’ Hyacinth Bucket to me and watching her play anything else would be silly and pointless, right? Well, Routledge’s acting skills are such that, shortly after I began the first season of Hetty, I soon forgot about Hyacinth and Appearances (at least for the time being). Routledge’s Hetty is a spunky, determined woman who is desperate to fight off senior citizenship for as long as she can. Her husband recently retires and he figures they will live a life of quiet, peaceful rest but Hetty is cagy and unfulfilled by the thought of lazing around in her Golden Years. Instead, she takes a job at a post office branch and while working, she begins to investigate some potential frauds. One thing leads to another and she is well on her way to solving crimes. She enlists the help of a young, wandering teenaged boy who becomes her “assistant” and eventually moves in with her and her husband. Unlike some detective shows where there is a strong “gimmick” factor…the gimmick here being a senior, former housewife detective…the crimes and plots are pretty strong and convincing. The cases she takes on are not fluff, but also in the same token, they are not so unbelievable that no one would ever be able to solve them…not to mention an inexperienced P.I.

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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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