Right off the bat I will say it: NOT MY KIND OF MOVIE. But, oh well, it has a great cast so I though I would give it a whirl. And, when it began, I almost said “I told you so” to myself. But, then the plot really kicked in and the characters all came to life right on the screen…and boom, before I knew it, I was hooked. Not by the music (most of which is pretty much the kind of music I like), not by the 60s culture, but by the characters. You REALLY get involved and attached to the characters…all of them. They all have their own quirks that really give each of them panache…and then all of them together give the movie a special touch that resonates with audiences…because they will all know characters like this. In a cast lead by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (the token American), other British actors including Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost and even Oscar-winner and icon Emma Thompson all lend their own spice to add color and vibe to the film that already rock with 1960s British pop. The story is based in reality – in the 1960s, Britain had bans on rock radio stations. So, to get around the law, tons of “pirate” stations popped up all over, most on the waters surrounding the small island. Not that the politicians couldn’t find them, but the bureaucracy just had no grounds to shut these little stations down…until now. But, being a character-driven story, this film is less about WHAT happens and much more about WHO it happens to. Mostly told from the point-of-view of “Young” Carl, a young man who’s been sequestered off on this ship in the middle of the North Sea by his mother in order to learn a lesson, all of the characters become equally dear to us…we love some, we hate some, we empathize with some, with are jealous of some. Make sure you check out this little gem of a film that is part romance, part drama, part comedy, part historical, ALL FUN!

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An Education is a charming, intelligent film filled with excellent performances, especially from Carey Mulligan, who shines as the curious ingénue. Mulligan’s character, Jenny, is bookish school girl from suburban London who meets an older, sophisticated attractive man, David (played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard), who drives a sports car and who sweeps her off her feet. David even convinces her strict, driven parents with his “respectable” act. Jenny is hooked completely…so much so even school is no longer important. When David’s true colors surface, she seems left with nothing, but is she? Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, An Education was adapted for the screen by British novelist and humorist Nick Hornby, who uses his satiric, dry wit to bring the characters, especially Jenny and her family, to life. Though this film is mostly a serious drama, Hornby’s knack for writing vibrant and vivid characters comes across in this touching and heartwarming story. Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Actress (Mulligan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Hornby) and Best Picture), this film is one of the best of the year.

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The Black Balloon is a touching, engaging Australian drama about a family with two teenage sons, one of whom is autistic. At the start of the film, the mother is pregnant again, trying her best to manage the two boys she already has, plus a husband and a household. The autistic son, Charlie, naturally takes up a great deal of both parents’ time as well as the time and attention of the other son, Thomas. When Thomas brings a girlfriend home for dinner, things do not go exactly as planned, as with most things when the ever-unpredictable but sweet Charlie is around. All of the performances in this film are stellar, especially the two boys. I even had to watch the DVD special features to find out if the actor who pays Charlie was autistic or not (he is not). Sometimes, acting performances of characters with special needs go too over the top or are too unrealistic. Here, Charlie is a non-verbal, highly inquisitive young man who likes structure and regiment, but is not seen as a victim or a character in need of sympathy from the audience. He is just a teenage boy. He is happy in his own world with his own games. And the relationship between the two brothers is also not sugarcoated at all. There even is a very emotional scene when the brothers fight; it’s tough to watch since they are so close. The strong performances and convincing script are what make us so attached to these characters. No cardboard characters here!

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Adam is a strong film that is tough to watch. I continuously felt sorry for the main character, Adam, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. But, feeling sorry for Adam is part of the story…the script is written so that we do feel bad for him. The film opens with his father passing away and he now lives alone, which is new territory for Adam. Asperger’s, which is a form of autism, prevents him from living a so-called normal life…he has few, if any, friends and he lives his life through habits he knows. When he meets a new neighbor, Beth, his insulated world threatens to either unravel or expand to include her. A touching, sweet film, Adam is part love story and part drama, but no matter which part you prefer, you will admire the strong performances here by both Hugh Dancy, who plays Adam and Rose Byrne as Beth. Dancy’s Adam has more of an edge than other mentally challenged characters of late (Sean Penn in I Am Sam and Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio). Adam is a hard person to get to know, be involved with, and especially to love and I feel Dancy conveys that difficulty to the audience through his stellar performance. Over-all, it is worth all of the uncomfortability for this one…it’s a great film.

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10 Things I Hate About You
American President, An
Away We Go
Best Man, The
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Brown Sugar
Bull Durham
Chasing Liberty
Chocolat (2000)
Continental Divide
Daddy’s Little Girls
Dave
Definitely, Maybe
Doc Hollywood
Down with Love
Failure to Launch
Family Man, The
Fever Pitch (2005)
Four Weddings and a Funeral
French Kiss
Good Year, A
Groundhog Day
Hitch
Holiday, The (2006)
Honeymoon in Vegas
How to Deal
How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
Intolerable Cruelty
It Could Happen to You
Jerry Maguire
Jersey Girl
Just Like Heaven
Just Married
Kate and Leopold
Keeping the Faith
Kissing Jessica Stein
Laws of Attraction
Leap Year
License to Wed
Little Black Book
Lot Like Love, A
Love Actually
Made of Honor
Maid in Manhattan
Mickey Blue Eyes
Moonstruck
Music and Lyrics
My Best Friend’s Wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Mystic Pizza
Never Been Kissed
New in Town
No Reservations
Notting Hill
One Fine Day
Only the Lonely
Phat Girlz
Pretty Woman
Proposal, The
Return to Me
Roxanne
Runaway Bride, The
Serendipity
Shakespeare in Love
Sleepless in Seattle
Someone Like You
Something New
Something’s Gotta Give
Sweet Home Alabama
There’s Something About Mary
Tin Cup
Two Weeks Notice
Valentine’s Day
Wedding Date, The
Wedding Planner, The
Wedding Singer, The
What Women Want
When Harry Met Sally
When in Rome
While You Were Sleeping
Wimbledon
Working Girl
You’ve Got Mail

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(500) Days of Summer
Against All Odds
Age of Innocence, The
All the Pretty Horses
As Good as it Gets
At First Sight
Atonement
Autumn in New York
Bed of Roses
Before Sunrise
Before the Rains
Bridges of Madison County, The
Brokeback Mountain
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Cold Mountain
Crossing Delency
Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The
Days of Heaven
Dead Again
Dear John
Dirty Dancing
English Patient, The
Ever After
Falling in Love
Far from Heaven
Frankie and Johnny
French Lieutenant’s Woman, The
Frida
Ghost
Hope Floats
Legends of the Fall
Message in a Bottle
Mirror has Two Faces, The
Nights in Rodanthe
Notebook, The
Officer and a Gentleman, An
Possession
Remains of the Day, The
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Save the Last Dance
Say Anything
Slumdog Millionaire
Somewhere in Time
Sweet November
Titanic (1997)
Walk in the Clouds, A
Walk to Remember, A
Witness

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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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Once you start watching, chances are you won’t be able to stop! I mean, this show is truly addictive. Basically, it revolves around four gay friends in Pittsburgh… “friends” being the key word since, aside from the occasional experiment, they remain platonic. I would say the main character of the three is Brian Kinney, the self-obsessed ad exec who comes across as narcissistic but really will go to any lengths to help his friends. Aside from Brian, there is Michael—the most middle-of-the-road, Emmett—the most flamboyant, Ted—the most uptight, and Justin—the most innocent. They all go in and out of relationships together, talk about one-night-stands together, go through life crises together, drink together, workout together, etc. Also mixed in are Debbie, Michael’s wild and outspoken mother, and Mel and Linz, two lesbians who have a child fathered by Brian (and another one later on fathered by Michael). Debbie adds quite a lot of spice to the show, with her opinions on everything. But, the show is definitely spicy on its own with its graphic content. Leave it to cable (Showtime) to come up with something this controversial and ultra-contemporary.

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Another Newman/Richard Russo collaboration stems, this time, from Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying Maine town and its sad, depressed townspeople. Set in a former mill town, once the mill closed, the people of Empire Falls had nothing to do but be unemployed and desperate. Ed Harris plays main character Miles Roby, who is one of the stronger citizens of Empire Falls, considering he runs the local Empire Grill. But, this life is far from idyllic. Filled, like the novel, with an array of fun, colorful characters, this mini-series is not from one of Russo’s best works, in my opinion, but it still is a strong story that lends itself flawlessly to the screen.

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