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Saving Mr. Banks (2013) PG-13

savingmrbanksSaving Mr. Banks is an engaging drama about Walt Disney's quest to win the movie rights to the classic children's fantasy Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Inspired by his daughters' love of the series and motivated by his determined personality, Disney will not relent. Travers (portrayed by Emma Thompson), just as stubborn as Disney, refuses to let her masterpiece succumb to the big screen and most of all, transform into a musical with animated figures. She ignores her grim financial outlook and the encouragement of her agent and remains in seclusion for years.

Finally, she agrees to a short trip to the Disney studio offices in California. Once there, Walt Disney tries everything in his business arsenal to win her over, including a trip to Disneyland. It is finally a very personal insight into both characters that seals the deal. Tom Hanks does an excellent job portraying the many sides of American icon Walt Disney.

Story of G. I. Joe (1945)

storygijoeBased on the columns of popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), Story of G. I. Joe was released in 1945 at the very end of WWII. The movie follows “C” Company of the 18th Infantry as it fights across North Africa and up through Italy, focusing on a handful of ordinary soldiers and the well-liked Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum). Actual veterans of the Italian campaign, waiting on the west coast for deployment to the Pacific, played extras in the movie.

Check out our spotlight of director William Wellman for reviews of his other war movies. You’ll notice his war films avoid unrealistic heroics in favor of poignant stories of ordinary men under hellish circumstances.

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The Book Thief (2013) PG-13

bookthiefA wonderful story of a young girl living in Germany during World War II. The Book Thief is a story of how her adoptive family teaches her to read and also teaches her the meaning of what is truly important in life.

Also check out the Markus Zusak novel of the same name, which provided the basis for the movie.

And if you enjoy movies set during WWII, we’ve got you covered: find foreign films, the home front, spy movies, and more.

 
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Whiplash (2014) R

whiplashIn Whiplash, an intense drama, promising young drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), newly accepted into the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City, is determined to rise to the top of the jazz world. He soon finds himself working under the Conservatory's notoriously tough instructor, Mr. Fletcher. Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) is a dedicated teacher and musician, but is openly abusive towards his students. Andrew must decide the price he is willing to pay to succeed at Shaffer Conservatory and break into the music industry.
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Run & Jump (2013)

runjumpConor Casey, a 38-year-old designer and carpenter, has a stroke that leaves him mentally challenged and much changed. When he is sent home after a stay in the hospital and rehab, an American doctor accompanies him to document his recovery and unfolding family interactions. Dr. Fielding’s grant funds provide a source of income to the family Conor is now unable to support.

Vanetia, his wife, struggles with having to live with the doctor’s filming their lives and her now childlike husband. But she soon values the doctor’s calming influence on her family and his friendship.

I love the way they use humor to handle a sad situation and love the Irish flavor of their lives. Run & Jump is an interesting look at family dynamics, genuine emotions, and what family means to these individuals.
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Being John Malkovich (1999) R

MV5BMTUyMjI4OTE3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzMxMTUxMQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Being John Malkovich is one of those quirky, funny movies that you just can’t miss. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a puppeteer who discovers…well, let’s just come out and say it…he discovers a portal directly into the brain of John Malkovich. Anyone who walks through the door will actually see what John Malkovich sees for about 15 minutes.

Look back at what Roger Ebert had to say.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

scarletblackGregory Peck plays an Irish Monsignor, who, during WWII, rallies an unlikely group of people to shelter Allied soldiers and Jews in Nazi-occupied Rome. The events in The Scarlet and the Black are inspired by true events, and the character of Monsignor O’Flaherty, inspired by a real Vatican priest. Gregory Peck is brilliant here as the lively and cunning O’Flaherty who goes up against Coronel Herbert Kappler, the head of Nazi operatives in Rome. Kappler, in turn, is deftly played by Christopher Plummer. While cold and ambitious, the colonel is also a dedicated family man—certainly not a one-dimensional character.

Plummer and Peck don’t share too much time on-screen, but when they do it’s a delight. Shot on location in Rome, this beautiful film features great acting and a well-placed plot. A must-see in my book.
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The Sixth Sense (1999) PG-13

sixthsenseThis film has an eerie feel to it from start to finish, and when you finally figure out what’s happening, you will be blown away. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense follows child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) as he tries to redeem himself after his last patient committed suicide. He is now trying to help young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who has an ominous secret. Cole’s mom is beside herself with worry over Cole, whose numerous phobias make life frightening and unbearable. Can Dr. Crowe figure out the secret?

Gotham. Season 1 (2014-2015)

gothamIn Gotham City, everyone is used to Batman being the absolute main character. However, in the show Gotham, Batman doesn’t exist yet. There is only Bruce Wayne: a young boy overwhelmed by the trauma of witnessing the cold-blooded murder of his parents.

Instead, the show revolves around the adventures of Jim Gordon, a young detective that recently joined the Gotham City PD, who struggles to catch bad guys while dealing with the rampant corruption in the city. His first case? Solve the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Begin Again (2013) R

beginagainDan (Mark Ruffalo) is a down and out music executive who has hit a new low. While trying to recover from being fired from the record label he founded, he stops in a bar and listens to Gretta (Keira Knightley) sing. She too has suffered a big disappointment. What he hears and sees makes him think she has written a hit, although no one is applauding. Their journey to get this and other recordings made will tell you a lot about the music industry and how you can overcome disappointments.

Begin Again is a wonderfully sweet film about life and how it can change because someone believes in you. Adam Levine and James Corden play interesting but minor roles.
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Pride (2014) R

prideThis British LGBT historical comedy drama is based on a true story. Lesbian and gay activists raised money to help the striking British miners in 1984. The National Union of Mine Workers was reluctant to accept the group’s support because of publicity worries of being associated with a gay group. So the activists took their hefty donations directly to the small mining village of Onllwyn, Wales. What results is a wonderful story of the unlikely alliance between the two communities. It is told with love, dignity, and comedy.

I found that Pride kept its political correctness while providing good entertainment with a cast of wonderful actors like Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, and more.

For another take on Pride, read Jez's review here.

Wind at My Back. The Complete Series (1996-2001)

This Canadian series ran for five seasons from 1996-2001. Set during the Great Depression in small town Ontario, Wind at My Back could be described as the Canadian version of The Waltons.

The Bailey family owns and controls the local mine in New Bedford, Ontario, and May Bailey, the family matriarch, controls the Bailey family. When her estranged son moves back home with his wife and children, May does all she can to control them, too. As the years pass, May can never quite lose her controlling ways, but daughter Grace and grandsons Hub and Fat each manages to find their own way. This is a delightful family story, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and full of wonderful characters.

Cake (2014) R

cakeI think the most interesting part of Cake is the amazing performance of Jennifer Aniston as Claire Simmons. She is a well-off L.A. divorcee who is a chronic pain sufferer due to the fact she was in a car accident that killed her son and left her with physical and emotional scars.

Claire is cranky, bitter, lies, steals to get what she wants, usually Percocet and the like. Even the people who are paid to be nice to her can’t stand her. She gets kicked out of her support group for expressing her admiration for a member who had leaped off the freeway overpass to her death.

Thank goodness the relationship between Claire and her Mexican housekeeper provide her saving grace. Claire still is rude to Silvana but comes to her rescue in one scene which gives the viewer a hint that there is some kindness under that horrible behavior.

As the movie progresses you wonder: will she ever clean up her act or have the ultimate meltdown?
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ER. Season 1 (1994-1995)

ers1I recently revisited the medical drama that started it all. Set in Chicago, ER follows the personal and professional lives of the doctors, nurses, and interns working in the emergency room of County General Hospital. While much of the technology has changed, the fast-paced electrifying show still grabs your attention for the 44 minute episodes. Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) created the show based on his own time as a resident in a busy urban hospital.

Season 1 garnered 8 Emmy wins, including Julianna Marguiles for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Check out the Variety review of the pilot. And revisit the early days of ER to get a look at a young George Clooney (as playboy pediatrician Doug Ross), a baby-faced Noah Wyle (as trauma surgery intern John Carter), plus try to spot famous guest stars including Rosemary Clooney, William H. Macy, and Ming-Na Wen. Episode “Love’s Labor Lost” nabbed 5 Emmys, features a major turning point for Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), and includes a guest appearance by Bradley Whitford.

Can’t wait to reacquaint myself with season 2!
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Beginners (2010) R

beginnersThis romantic comedy/drama tells the story of Oliver, reflecting on the life and death of his father Hal, and his new romantic relationship with Anna who is dealing with her own father issues.

Christopher Plummer won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance of Hal, the father. Shortly after his wife’s death, Hal came out as a gay man. He becomes active in the gay community, becomes more honest with himself and thus grows closer to his son. Shortly after Hal dies, his son Oliver meets Anna at a party and decides to pursue a romance with her.

Beginners is a personal story, a touching story. Described as a quirky comedy, the viewer watches a man in late bloom and his the effect it had on his son’s life.