Can Winston Churchill be exciting? In this second installment of HBO’s film on Churchill (the first being The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney playing Churchill), the old English Bulldog is pretty darn exciting. Maybe I should preface that by saying the ERA that this film takes place in is much more exhilarating than the timeframe of the Finney film (pre-WWII). Churchill during WWII was a force to be reckoned with. He and FDR formed a powerful, menacing alliance that took the world and Hitler by storm. In The Gathering Storm, Finney did a fabulous job of embodying the Prime Minister, but there was always something a little too “regal” about him. I mean after all, it was Albert Finney under all of that make-up and the years of classical acting seemed to hinder the rough, brash Churchill exterior from coming all the way through. Here, in this film, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson does not have any problem being a true, unadulterated curmudgeon. Gleeson’s performance is truly phenomenal…he’s all fire and brimstone when he needs to be but in the scenes with Churchill and his wife Clemmie, Gleeson shine’s as he lets slivers of Churchill’s soft side peek out. All around, an excellent film about a traumatic time in history…and about the man who made sure Great Britain got though that trauma mostly unscathed.

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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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A fun, lighthearted film that really, really, really made me want to eat. Not cook, mind you. Some would want to copy the co-main character, Julie Powell, on her quest to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking classic cookbook. I just wanted to eat my way through the movie. Aside from this film encouraging my foodie-ness, it is highly entertaining, though I must admit, I enjoyed Meryl Streep playing early Julia Child on an odyssey to to get a French cooking cookbook published in English MUCH more than the odyssey of Powell and her recipe crusade. Amy Adams as Powell is appealing, as Adams always is, but I had little interest in Powell’s saga. She cooks and blogs about cooking and talks about cooking and fights with her husband about cooking. It gets a little tiresome. The Julia Child parts, mostly set in Paris after WWII, are full of life and passion…just like Child herself. It is impossible to take your eyes off of Streep’s Child…not only is the characterization by Streep spot-on, but the storyline is also more vibrant and lively. We take a vested interest in Child and her cookbook quest, whereas with Powell, we honestly don’t care by the end. Fortunately, the Julia Child pieces of the film are so overwhelmingly funny and sweet, they make the film worth watching. And, it’s not that you will HATE the Powell storyline…you just won’t want to be best friends with her. With Child, you want to be her pal…to help her along with her cookbook…to talk with her…and especially, to EAT with her. And, I’m sure this has to do with both Child’s gregarious personality and also with Streep’s vivacious performance. All in all, an engaging, entertaining film that you most definitely should not watch on an empty stomach!

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Not the best WWII film ever made, but all-in-all a good story and a strong ending make this film a above-average war picture. Directed by Spike Lee, all of the type around this one at the time was that this is the black WWII movie. Lee felt that war movies of recent times have claimed to be very realistic, though he never saw any black faces among the soldiers. Miracle at St. Anna was Lee’s way to rectify this. But, it is so much more than a “blacks in WWII” film. I felt that most of the story, set in Italy, has little to do with race. And that Italy part takes up most of the film…and should since it is the core of the tale. And, yes, this is a tale…it’s a fairy tale about a young boy and his “chocolate giant.” With all of the mindlessly violent and ruthless WWII movies out there, at least this one offers a little allegoric change of pace to the non-stop action of wartime. Check it out for yourself!

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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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