I have yet to see all of the 1959 film with Shelley Winters of the same title, based on the same diary, so I cannot compare the two. But, I can say, that this 2009 BBC production is heartfelt and striking. Anne here, played by Ellie Kendrick, is a robust girl (in personality, not in physicality). She’s no nonsense and has to be reeled in from trouble by her ever-attentive father and her nervous mother. And, trouble is not wise for a teenage girl living in an attic above her father’s former place of business…hiding ever-so-delicately from the Nazis in early 1940s Amsterdam. Trouble here could get her killed. And her entire family and the other family living with them killed. Trouble here is not just usual adolescent rebellion, as it is with most teenagers. Trouble, here, is strictly taboo. So, trying her best to stay out of trouble, Anne has to experience her coming of age without privacy, friends, or any of the outside world. She’s worse off than those around her since they are not restricted as much as she is. Anne is restricted from both the world and also from the natural process of growing up. Kendrick does a superb job of capturing the right amount of adolescent frustration and mixing it with anger at the entire situation. And, the other actors are all top-notch also, especially British TV regular Nicholas Farrell, who plays Albert Dussel, the only non-family member (from both families) in the attic. Dussel and Anne share a small room together and he does his best to deal with his own pain while Anne is acting out. Yes, we all know the ending here, but unlike most movies where the ending is inevitable, the filmmakers do an especially good job of focusing on the characters and not the plot. But, this also adds to the sorrow of the story: the characters, especially Anne, are fleshed out so vividly that when their sad fate comes to a close, it’s all the more poignant and heart-wrenching.

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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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Albert Finney plays pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a tee in this historical drama done by HBO. Disliked by many of his Parliament cohorts and thought as a buffoon by others, Churchill, in the 1930s, thought he was on his way out…or at least down…of British politics. Enter Hitler and his pesky little brand of Arians who started taking their rampage through Europe…Churchill saw and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped before most other of his counterparts in Parliament. This desire to defeat Hitler before anymore damage was done is what eventually brought Churchill back into the fray of power in Parliament and eventually to THE position of British power, Prime Minister. But, this film, rightfully so, stops before Churchill comes into power. Rightfully so, since this film is more about the MAN…and the marriage between him and Clemmie than about Parliament and politics and war. Excellent performances by both Finney (who really becomes Churchill in every way) and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie.

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Are the hills alive? Well, if they weren’t before this movie, they sure are now. Take the premise from Maria von Trapp’s life story and add songs and dancing and what do you have—magic! That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein must have discovered when they began adapting this story for the stage. And, shortly after its success on Broadway, Hollywood came calling and Rodgers and Hammerstein answered, taking director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman along for the ride. If you don’t like musicals, you might be advised to be especially leery of this one. The Sound of Music takes the sappiness and melodrama you normally find (in small amounts) in musicals to new heights. But, in this film with this story and with these characters, it just seems to work and I love it. Julie Andrews (never better) plays Maria, a young, fledging novice nun who just can’t seem to make her convent life work with her rebellious and free-spirited personality. Christopher Plummer plays stern and ill-tempered Captain von Trapp, the head of a family for whom she governesses. Since I already said it was sappy, you can assume that a love story between these two unlikely people develops. Now seen as more of a children’s film, this movie is very much for everyone. Sure, children like the singing and the fact that there are six kids in the cast. But, adults should also appreciate that this film, though a bit overdone, is one of the best examples of the Hollywood musical ever produced.

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The story of Hitler’s last days in the bunker, told through the eyes of his 24 year old secretary, Traudi Junge. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Hitler is absolutely chilling…it never degenerates into kitschy. As a historical drama, it’s accurate, very compelling and well-made. Yes, it’s long, but somehow, the suspense and the pacing keeps everything moving. Another film where you know the outcome (i.e. Titanic, All the President’s Men), but you don’t care — you’re just riveted.

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A fabulously done Austrian film about a skilled counterfeiter who gets put in the counterfeiting section of a concentration camp during World War II. Him and a few select others are chosen to help the Nazis attempt to counterfeit both the British pound and the American dollar. The rapport among the men in the counterfeiting section is what intrigued me. Some were so sickened by helping the Nazis they came close to self-destruction. Some saw this “duty” as easy work…a way out of hard labor and even out of being killed. The performances are all spot-on and each of the characters is unique and very well-constructed…and even with the dark, grizzly subject matter, we keep watching because we have to find out how all of these characters end up. Any Holocaust film is tough to watch…and hard to say you really “like.” I mean, can you “like” a film about death and atrocity? So, avoiding that, I will say this film is well-done and extremely powerful.

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I honestly didn’t know what to expect here, other than Kate Winslet falls for a young boy. And that is just the tip of this one. For me, this film stayed with me for days…it lingered and I kept thinking about certain issues from the film that the main character, Michael Berg, has to contemplate. It is a movie that gets not only the brain going but it makes the audience wonder, what would I do? I kept wondering even days after seeing the film, did the character make the right decision. What would have happened if he had done this…or that? It is not a perfect film and I found parts of it a little too slow, but for the most part, The Reader is a fascinating exploration into the psyche.

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A comedy about a prisoner of war camp in Germany? With Nazis we can laugh at? Is this possible? Well, since nothing was impossible for director Billy Wilder, he (and co-writer Edwin Blum) took this stage play (by Donald Bevin and Edmund Trzcinski) and adapted it with comic brilliance for the screen. William Holden plays Sefton, one of the screen’s best love-to-hate-‘um/hate-to-love-‘um characters. Why does the audience feel this way about him? Well, Sefton is a curmudgeon and crook. He makes friends with the Nazis in order to get special perks. He has a foot locker filled with contra-band items that the other men would kill for. He basically is a guy who uses his time in the Army and in the prison to hone his schmoozing skills to get what he wants or needs. But, he’s funny. He’s like the class clown that you find yourself laughing with even though you think he’s distasteful and inappropriate. I like Holden and have seen most of his films. This is, in my opinion, the role Holden was born to play. He becomes Sefton…you forget that you’re watching an actor and you get caught up with the shady deals and craftiness. When the other men of Sefton’s barracks believe he is the “stooge” (or snitch) who is telling the Nazis about the escape plots, we feel sorry for him even though we are not quite sure whether we believe he’s innocent. He has proven he deals with the Nazis so maybe he is the snitch…or maybe not? Wilder’s filmmaking (along with Holden’s performance) seals this film as one of the best war films of its kind—or of any kind. Look for film director Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach, who steals the few scenes he is in.

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The second film Hitchcock made in America was really his attempt to help the WWII effort in England (it was made before America entered the war). Joel McCrea plays a naïve, inexperienced journalist who somehow gets caught in a spy ring. By far, the best part of this one is the ending, among the windmills of (what is supposed to be) Holland. Unfortunately, Hitchcock never worked McCrea again…they made a good team. McCrea seemed comfortable with the material and Hitchcock used his character well. Not one of the major Hitchcock films, but a must-see regardless.

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Over the course of his career, Hitchcock followed his trademark “thriller” genre fairly closely. He made one totally non-suspenseful work early in his career (Mr. and Mrs. Smith from 1941 is a screwball, romantic comedy) and some of his works had more intense thrills than others did. On the whole, though, Hitchcock’s films made his audience sit on the edge of their seats and Notorious (1946) is no exception. Yet, it is somewhat unique since it is the closest Hitchcock ever came to making an outright dramatic love story. Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (both of whom had worked with Hitchcock prior to this film), Notorious is a masterpiece on every front. It works perfectly as a thriller and passionately as a love story and it features both supreme directing and stellar acting performances. Bergman plays the daughter of a former Nazi who is convicted for his wartime crimes. Her father’s connections place Bergman in a perfect position to play spy for the U.S. government, which she does under the watchful eye of governmental agent Grant. A love affair between Bergman and Grant cools off after her assignment involves her becoming more than just an acquaintance with one of her father’s friends. Hitchcock’s sense of style is unmatched in this film. The camera movements add to both the intensity of the romance (following Grant and Bergman from room to room as they continue their embrace) and the drama of the suspense (following a key in Bergman’s hand).

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