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Scrooged (1988) PG-13

scroogedScrooged loosely follows the storyline of the classic Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray’s comic sarcasm and a romance between Frank Cross (the Scrooge character played by Murray) and old flame Claire (played by Karen Allen) expand on the original theme.

The four ghosts are not lost amongst the modern tale of a selfish, greedy TV executive who learns his lesson the hard way during the holiday season. It was interesting watching this movie from a twenty first century perspective, as Christmas 1988 is already Christmas Past for us.

The Flowers of War (2011) R

flowersofwarSet in 1937 Nanjing, China, as the Japanese invade and pillage the city during the Sino-Japanese War, The Flowers of War is a heart wrenching but very emotional story of the evils and atrocities of war. Thrown together as a means of survival, Christian Bale, an American mortician, a group of young Chinese school girls, and a band of courtesans hide in an old Nanjing church. With nothing in common, the three groups learn to pull together as death and destruction surrounds them.

Bravery, romance, and wonderful acting from the entire cast make this Golden Globe nominated movie one not to miss.

Even though this movie is listed as a foreign film, it is primarily in English, with small portions in Mandarin.
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Philomena (2013) PG-13

philomenaIn the Oscar-nominated Philomena, the audience follows the true story of a teenage girl forced to give her child away, now searching for him after 50 years. Judi Dench gives a heartwarming performance as she teams with a recently unemployed journalist (Steve Coogan) to find her son. These two highly mismatched characters will make you laugh, cry, and truly care about this beautifully written human interest story.
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A Christmas Carol (2009) PG

christmascaroldI love the classic story of A Christmas Carol and never tire of reading and viewing variations on Dickens’ theme. Disney’s A Christmas Carol, a 2009 version starring Jim Carrey as the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge, is good holiday entertainment. Scrooge is older and frailer than I have ever seen him, yet he flies through the skies at breakneck speeds, tumbles down snow covered hills, and seems none the worse for the wear.

Robert Zemeckis once again proves his skill at transforming classic Christmas stories into computer animated classics in their own right. As with The Polar Express, this film is not just for the kids. In fact, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence is among the creepiest renditions. Disney’s 1983 version, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, might be more suited to younger viewers…although there is no completely kid friendly way to lay the message on the line. Scrooge must repent now or else!

Check back next month for another movie based on Dickens’ classic story.
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Two Weeks (2006) R

220px-Two_weeksA beautifully given performance by Sally Field as the dying mother of four young adults who return home to be at her bedside to witness her death that stretches out to a two week agony. Two Weeks is not an easy film to watch, but the message of family coming together at one of the most difficult times in their lives is powerful. I enjoyed the treatment of things like hospice care, calls to the funeral home, sorting of possessions, final goodbyes – all those acts that need to be completed at such an emotional time. Part of life, part of death, something we all as humans will deal with.
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Captain Phillips (2013) PG-13

FFA_G3V8_Captain_Phillips_PosterBased on a true story, Captain Phillips is a great movie. It’s very well directed (by Paul Greengrass) and kept me on the edge of my seat until the end!

For the story behind the film, check out the memoir by Richard Phillips: A Captain’s Duty: Somali pirates, Navy SEALs, and dangerous days at sea.
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Agnes Browne (1999) R

220px-Agnes_Browne_FilmPosterAfter the sudden death of her husband, Agnes Browne’s life is set in turmoil and she tries to survive with her seven children in 1960s central Dublin. With an Irish gleam in her eye, perseverance, and support from her children and a few good friends, Agnes sets her sights on attending a Tom Jones concert and going out with a handsome French baker. Anjelica Huston shines as strong willed Agnes and also directs this warm, funny story, beautifully set in the streets of Dublin’s close knit neighborhoods.
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Parenthood, Seasons 1-4 (2010-2013)

parenthoodFollow the Braverman family through life’s ups and downs. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) head up the clan revolving around four grown children and grandchildren. Both the funny and the heartbreaking moments make me look forward to the next episode. It is well acted and has engrossing story lines. I enjoyed the real life issues, such as Asperger's syndrome, single parenting, romance, illness, new babies, dealing with young adults, and career decisions.

Parenthood is currently in its 5th season on NBC. After hearing what a good show it was, I started watching it in the middle. Luckily the library carries the earlier seasons on DVD, so I was able to catch up.

You might want to check out a similar series, Brothers and Sisters.
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Veronica Mars Season 1 (2004-2005)

Veronica_Mars_season_1_DVDAfter hearing about this cult classic and the groundswell of fan support to make a movie, I finally watched season 1 of Veronica Mars. I can see the appeal. The title character (portrayed by Kristen Bell) is a likable yet troubled high school student in Neptune, California.

After her best friend Lilly (Amanda Seyfried) is killed and her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) loses his job as sheriff over the handling of the murder investigation, Veronica uses her PI skills to discover the truth behind Lilly’s death. This arc lasts the entire 22 episodes, as does Veronica’s quest to discover what happened to her at a party last year. In the meantime, she’s solving mysteries big and small for classmates and community members, plus dealing with the typical high school angst. A smart, addictive show.

Good Will Hunting (1997) R

good-will-hunting-movie-dvdplanetstorepkWill Hunting (Matt Damon) is a rough around the edges South Boston youth who is a mathematical genius, but he is dealing with a lot of internal issues and he seems destined for a life spent in and out of prison. When his talents are discovered by a local MIT professor, Will is required to meet with a psychologist (Robin Williams) who finally starts to get through to him. Will’s transformation is subtle but inspiring.

Williams won Best Supporting Actor for his role, and Damon and Ben Affleck, who also stars in Good Will Hunting, won for Best Original Screenplay.
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Short Term 12 (2013) R

Actress Brie Larson was robbed when she wasn't nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Short Term 12.

Larson is Grace, one of the supervisors at a foster care facility for troubled teens. The film explores the day to day life of the teens at the facility and Grace's own background and home life--which includes her boyfriend and co-worker Mason. As expected, the movie is at times raw and intense, but it's also compassionate and has some humorous moments. If you like movies that explore characters and their emotional lives, this is not to be missed.

Check out a review on RogerEbert.com from contributor Christy Lemire; panelists recently discussed the film after a showing at Ebertfest.
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The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

Wide-eyed American Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) arrives in Shanghai to marry her missionary fiance. But China is in the grip of civil war and warring warlords. In an effort to rescue girls from a missionary school, Megan is caught in the maelstrom of a street uprising. When she awakens from a blow, she finds herself the "guest" of warlord General Yen (played by Swedish actor Nils Asther).

What follows is a strange dreamlike story as Megan fights her growing attraction to General Yen and realizes her American values and experiences make her completely unprepared for the realities of China. The Bitter Tea of General Yen was directed by Frank Capra before he became known for comedies such as It Happened One Night.

Homicide: Life on the Street. Seasons 1-7 (1993-1999)

A Baltimore squad room in the 1990s was the setting for this gritty urban crime drama. City and police politics and the seen-better-days streets and docks of the city make an involving backdrop for the ongoing cases and personal lives of the homicide detectives.

Passing through the squad room over the seven seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street were Ned Beatty, Daniel Baldwin, Melissa Leo, Andre Braugher, Richard Belzer (in a role he carried over onto Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), and Jon Seda. The bad guys are sometimes caught, sometimes not; all the murders in the city documented on the squad room’s white board: names in black if their murder is solved, in red if not. Always involving, sometimes unsettling, don’t miss it if you appreciate fine writing and character development in your television viewing.
Before there was The Wire, there was Homicide: Life on the Street. Baltimore native director Barry Levinson produced Homicide based on the writings of Baltimore Sun writer David Simon. Simon wrote for Homicide and then went on to write and produce The Wire.

Spotlight: Robert Duvall

I watched Tender Mercies (1983) again, recently. It’s one of my favorite “little” movies. I realized as I watched it that Robert Duvall is one of those actors who make you forget you are watching someone performing a role. He has that special ability to make his characters real. His performances as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Jackson Fentry in Tomorrow (1972), Tom Hagen in the first two Godfather movies, Frank Hackett in Network (1976), Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979), Bull Meechum in The Great Santini (1979), Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies, Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove (1989), and Sonny Dewey in The Apostle (1997) rank as some of the finest acting ever put on film. It is an impressive body of work.

He has had several Oscar nominations including one for his performance as a military man and father in The Great Santini and he earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor in Tender Mercies.

Pick one to watch and see if you don’t agree that he is one of the best. Some of his most acclaimed films are To Kill A Mockingbird, M*A*S*H (1970), Lonesome Dove, The Godfather I and II, True Grit (1969), Apocalypse Now, and the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove.

The Man with a Cloak (1951)

An idealistic young French girl Madeline Minot (Leslie Caron) travels to New York City in 1848 to obtain financial assistance from her fiancée’s wealthy grandfather (Louis Calhern) to further the cause of the French Republic. When she arrives, she finds that the old man is destroying himself with drink and being assisted in his demise by the old man’s sinister paramour (Barbara Stanwyck), his butler (Joe De Santis), and his very cynical maid (Margaret Wycherly). The wicked trio plan to inherit the old man’s money.

Madeline Minot meets Dupin (Joseph Cotton), the mysterious man with a cloak who, feeling sorry for the young girl, offers his assistance.

I like this film for the fine performances, the witty dialogue, the almost noirish feel of the film, the mystery aspects, and the setting in 1848 New York. I have no hard data but I suspect that 95% or more of films about 19th century America are westerns, Civil War films or a combination of the two. Even though I am especially fond of westerns, it is a real pleasure to see a film set in the East.

Students of American literature will appreciate this film as well.

I saw The Man with a Cloak for the first time a few years ago and I have seen it three more times since.  It has become one of my favorites and perhaps it will be yours as well.