The Jane Austen Book Club

Chick flick alert! Of course this is a Chick Flick...what else did you expect?! With that in mind, the cast includes women we can relate to, not too gorgeous, but believable and attractive, and men we wouldn't mind spending a cozy evening with...reading Jane Austen, naturally!

First of all, they have assembled a terrific cast: Maria Bello ("A History of Violence," "Thank You for Smoking" and "Flicka") plays Jocelyn, who is concerned about her good friend's looming separation and divorce. The friend, Sylvia, played by Amy Brennaman (primarily TV work) has been dumped by her husband Daniel, played by Jimmy Smits (mostly TV series). The many-times-divorced Bernadette, played by Kathy Baker ("13 Going on 30" and "Cold Mountain") talks them into having a book club, particularly focused on the books of Jane Austen. Prudie, a frustrated schoolteacher, played by Emily Blunt ("Gideon's Daughter" and "The Devil Wears Prada") is pulled into the mix. By the time they recruit their sixth member, the only male, they start to wade into each book. The aforementioned male, Grigg, played by up-and-coming British hunk Hugh Dancy ("Ella Enchanted" and "Elizabeth I"), is willing to hang out with a gang of women because he was raised with a bunch of sisters in an all-women household.

In my opinion, something this contrived should have delivered more oomph. There were many things to recommend it, but all in all, I found it somewhat of a letdown. Watch Masterpiece Theatre's "Pride and Prejudice" with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth if you want oomph!


What a surprise!

This movie had waaay more going for it than the trailers led me to believe. The story was written by a first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody who, as I recall, used some semi-autobiographical information to create Juno MacGuff, played by Ellen Page ("Hard Candy" and "X-Men"). Juno is wryly witty, loves to wisecrack--almost to a fault--but is blessed with an unexpectedly mature and caring father and stepmother. In fact, if every teenage girl could have a stepmother like Allison Janney ("Strangers With Candy" and "The Hours"), the world would be a better place! The audience actually applauded when she sprang to Juno's defense and put the medical technician in her place!

Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking" and "Uncle Sam") wisely balances an acid wit teenager with loving and sensible adults. This movie really does not trash anyone although I give Jason Bateman ("The Kingdom" and "Arrested Development") extra credit for tackling the most conflicted adult role.

If you've seen the trailers you already know that Juno, after an abandoned effort to have an abortion, decides to give up her baby. She replies to an ad in a paper and discovers a successful couple who live in an extremely comfortable house an hour's drive from her home. Jennifer Garner ("Catch and Release" and "Thirteen Going on Thirty") is the wife who clearly yearns for a baby. Jason Bateman is the husband.

Juno is actually a grounded kid. She apologizes to her parents for her "shenanigans" and talks to the baby's father, Paulie Bleeker, played by Michael Cera ("Superbad" and "Arrested Development") before agreeing to put the baby up for adoption. She shows consideration and wisdom in her responses to her predicament, even though it was immaturity that got her into it.

The author and screenwriter, Diablo Cody has a life that should make an excellent movie on its own! She was a part-time stripper, living with her boyfriend until she got a promotion at her "real" job with an ad agency. Once she got a taste of main stream success, she realized it wasn't what she wanted and went to full-time stripping followed by a stint as a phone sex operator. Now she lives in the burbs ("where no one strips unless he or she is taking a bubble bath.") with that same boyfriend who is now her husband. They are raising his daughter, which might explain why the stepmother is so fully realized in the movie.

This is a great story, a great script, great actors and a memorable film. I recommend it. (And I got a bright orange t-shirt at the preview!)

American Gangster

No doubt you have already heard plenty about this film. I suspect you are going to hear even more as end of the year wrap-ups begin.

What a pleasure to watch two amazing professionals like Denzel Washington ("Man on Fire," "Philadelphia" and "Inside Man") and Russell Crowe ("3:10 to Yuma," "Cinderella Man," "The Insider" and "Master and Commander") directed by Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner"). The production values are top notch and everyone in the supporting cast is also outstanding.

The story, based on two real-life opponents, is riveting. Washington's character, a fellow named Frank Lucas, is an ultra smart importer of drugs, direct from Vietnam...no middleman, no cutting of purity, no side issues. As a matter of fact, his troubles don't really begin until he agrees to include the Mob in part of his business. Armand Assante plays the capo who eventually engineers the deal. You'll love the reference to dairy farmers...so did Lucas!

Lucas is American to the core; he is a businessman, a capitalist and highly competitive. He takes great pride in his impeccable dress, his low-key public persona and his assertive actions when he deems them necessary. He protects his brand name and doesn't want people to doubt the quality of his product. He will kill without compunction, which establishes his power in Harlem in such a way that no one dares challenge him. He becomes so successful he moves his entire family up from the South where he establishes them in businesses that will provide covers for his profitable enterprise. He installs his mother (Ruby Dee) in a palatial home and takes her to church each and every Sunday, without fail.

On the other hand, Crowe's character Richey Roberts is a scruffy but honest cop who is almost drummed out of the corps because he turned in nearly a million dollars confiscated in a drug bust. Most of the police force was on the take, so this caused an almost fatal rift when he needed backup in an early violent scene and no one would go to his aid. Roberts' life is in the toilet because his soon-to-be-ex wife (Carla Gugino) objects to his hours, his friends and his honesty, which, from her perspective, doesn't seem to be buying him much. He has passed the bar exam, but has problems with public speaking...

This movie makes no bones about the devastation caused by Lucas's business. There are many scenes of drug use: tragic, chaotic and repugnant. Frank's personal code of behavior is slippery. He is consistent in his elegant dress, his fastidious nature and his affection for his mother, but will kill without hesitation and makes millions from the very drugs that are causing such tragedy in Harlem. I LOVED it when Washington, late in the movie, takes an unconscious subtle swipe at a coffee ring left by a take-out cup on a crumby table... Little things....

Josh Brolin has a more prominent spot as one of the crooked cops. Much has been said about this being an Oscar-winning role, but it certainly escaped me. After you see it, be sure to tell me what I overlooked.

The Kite Runner

Even though the movie starts in present-day Los Angeles, the actual story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1978. It is a story of a friendship between two little boys, one is the son of Baba, a well-to-do business- man and intellectual, the other is the son of Ali, the house servant. Despite the disparity of their social levels, the boys are close friends.

Because kite flying is a competitive sport in many countries (each flyer attempts to cut the string of his opponents), and these two boys excel at the sport, they are subjected to harassment by older boys. Hassam, the son of the servant, is by far the braver of the two and springs to the defense of his larger, slightly older and wealthier chum, Amir, whenever the need arises. One day, however, Hassam is cornered by himself and raped by the bullies, with Amir cowering in a nearby hiding place. Naturally Amir becomes overwhelmed by guilt; that means he MUST get Hassan out of his sight so he isn't reminded constantly of his own cowardice. After trying in vain to uncover the basis of the schism between the two boys, Ali reluctantly takes his son and moves away, over the strident protests of Baba, who naturally has no idea the underlying cause of the problem.

Baba is played by an actor named Homayoun Ershadi, who has, beyond a doubt, the most noble eyes, profile and demeanor of any actor I have viewed recently. He is absolutely wonderful.

I found the locations to be endlessly fascinating: Kabul, prior to the Russians, prior to the Taliban, and prior to the Americans. The mountains and high terrain of Afghanistan, first seen in "Babel" but not seen since. The contrast with Los Angeles is stunning. We are treated to a sampling of these folks' lives after they are transplanted to the United States, still speaking Dari...sort of an offshoot of Farsi and Persian, and holding on to their old ways, traditional wedding ceremonies, etc., but working in mini-marts, swap meets, etc.

The director, Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Stranger than Fiction," "Stay" and "Monster's Ball") has done a brilliant job of eliciting amazing work from the children. In addition, he pulls no punches in his depiction of the Russians, the mullahs and the Taliban. Naturally the Taliban has banned the movie and the parents of the little boy who plays Hassam, have tried to get the rape scene removed from the film, as it may be jeopardizing the child's life. Ah, religion...

This movie addresses courage. Who has it? When is it appropriate? What does it accomplish? Even if you haven't read the bestseller on which this movie is based, you will find the storytelling great and the movie extremely well done.

A Good Year

Hey! Russell Crowe fans! I'll bet you caught this one when it was in the multiplex. I missed it, but am making up for it now...

In this 2006 outing, Russell Crowe ("Cinderella Man" and "The Insider") teams up once again with Producer Ridley Scott ("American Gangster" and "Gladiator") to coast through this light-weight frolic. Crowe plays Max, a ruthless London businessman who inherits a vineyard from his uncle Henry, played by Albert Finney ("Erin Brockovich" and "Amazing Grace"). Uncle Henry had provided many a summer respite for young Max, played by Freddie Highmore ("August Rush" and "Finding Neverland") during his chaotic childhood. Despite the affection he held for his uncle, Max hasn't been in touch with Henry for the past ten years. He contacts his real estate agent Charlie, played by Tom Hollander ("Elizabeth, The Golden Years" and "Pride and Prejudice" - 2005) because he intends to sell the property immediately.

He goes to France to check on its condition and things start to unravel...

There were a number of clever and diverting things that happen to him: A hitherto unknown relative shows up claiming to be Henry's daughter. In addition, a fetching waitress in a nearby village catches his eye because she clearly dislikes him on sight. (He had run her bicycle off the road while retrieving his cell phone from the floor of the car, and drove on blithely unaware of his blunder.) I enjoyed seeing Max scooting around in his rental "Smart Car," invariably starting off in the wrong direction, only to wheel around and zip off in another. I liked the Jack Russell terrier that did NOT like Max and showed no compunction in demonstrating his hostility. I enjoyed the tennis game and the swimming pool. Gemma, his lovely and efficient personal assistant in London, was played by Archie Panjabi. Don't be mislead by the name, she was actually born in England.

The fetching waitress is played by Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose" and "Big Fish") who will shock you with how tall she actually is (she was minuscule as Edith Piaf!) and what a winning smile she has. We will hear lots more from this one, mark my words...

This is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. With Russell Crowe in the lead and Ridley Scott at the helm, you know you are in good hands... and the French countryside is photogenic, too.



The first thing that tipped me off was the trailers that preceded this movie: Computer Generated Images, violence, fantastical monsters, etc., etc., etc. Because I wanted to save the extra $2.00 surcharge for 3D glasses, I opted for the "plain" version. After all, what could possibly top Vincent Price in "House of Wax?" He was the best!

This Scandinavian epic has been related for centuries, and I suppose this interpretation is as good as some of the others, although this version certainly takes more than one major detour. This movie uses a much-improved "motion capture" technique that we first saw with "Polar Express." Suffice it to say, the faces and expressions are very real, despite being computer generated.

You will hear the voices of Ray Winstone as Beowolf, John Malkovich as Unferth, Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar, Crispin Glover as Grendel, and Angelina Jolie as Grendal's mother. Because of the integrity of motion capture, the faces ARE the faces of the actors, even though you are usually aware you are seeing CGI. Using this technique, the filmmakers are free to create otherworldly settings with wildly inventive dragons, beautifully sculpted anatomies but a few surprisingly bad horses (some are okay). Of course, keeping in mind their target audience, the monster oozes disgustingly slimy stuff, corpses are decapitated, and when the monster bites the head off one victim, it crunches in a very satisfying way as he chews it... Aarghhh!

Have you heard enough? I don't think ponying up the extra $2.00 for 3-D glasses will increase your enjoyment...

Glory Road

For as long as I can remember, college and professional basketball has been integrated. Shows you how much I know! Evidently in 1965/66 an untried college basketball coach, frustrated by his inability to recruit potential players for his El Paso, Texas team, signed the best players he could find, and they were black...from Detroit and from the Bronx. His focus on defense and his determination to win, made his motley little assortment of guys into the 1966 NCAA champs!

This movie stars Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home, Alabama" and "An Unfinished Life") as future Hall-of-Fame coach Don Haskins. Derek Luke ("Antoine Fisher" and "Pieces of April") is appealing as the legendary Bobby Joe Hill, the slickest guy on the court.

This movie is notable for two reasons:

  1. It depicts the beginnings of integration in basketball...and how challenging and scary it really was!
  2. The editing of this movie is some of the best I've ever seen in a sports movie!

This is a feel-good movie in every sense of the word. Disney released it in 2006 and I am positive you can find it on your rental lists.



James Marsden is donning the mantle where Cary Elwes left it... You know...playing sort of dim bulbs, but incredibly good looking, just the same. In fact, "Enchanted" bears a passing resemblance to "The Princess Bride," in that we are watching an unapologetic fantasy, and the characters put everything they have into it. There is no irony, nor should there be.

Here you have Giselle, played by Amy Adams ("Talladega Nights" and "Junebug") a sweet cartoon soprano who sings with the birdies, bunnies, deer, chipmunks, mice, etc., in her enchanted forest, happily awaiting her Prince Charming. Sure enough, handsome, heroic Prince Edward, played by James Marsden ("The Notebook," "Superman Returns" and "Hairspray") hears her trills and comes galloping to her side. His mother, played by Susan Sarandon ("The Banger Sisters" and "Dead Man Walking") will have none of it and tricks Giselle into falling down a magic well.

If you've seen the trailers, you know Giselle exits the well via a manhole in Times Square, right in the middle of traffic! From then on, there is no animation and we are treated to live action and extraordinarily beautiful people. Patrick Dempsey ("Sweet Home, Alabama" and "Iron-Jawed Angels") plays Robert Philip, a divorced divorce attorney, a single parent, who is edging his way toward proposing to his five-year steady...although his six-year-old daughter isn't too thrilled about it.

Through one device or another, Giselle ends up staying with him and his daughter in his place near Central Park, because he can't figure out where to send her and she is utterly confused by "real life!" Naturally, her Prince Charming is hot on her trail and is determined to save her from the dangers he encounters from all sides!

This is a Disney movie in every sense of the word. The audience was charmed, amused and... dare I say... enchanted? I always view taking along a youngster as a good "hall pass" to justify attending these things. Find one.


The Lost Language of Cranes

First of all, the title is based on such a flimsy premise it would be better left off.

Other than that, have you seen this one? This is not for general consumption but I think you would really like it. It is a BBC adaptation of an American novel about a young man who "comes out" to his parents. We can clearly see that his father is also a homosexual. Good performances all around. I got it from the library, so I'm sure it's available in catalogs and for rental.


No Country For Old Men

First of all, let me admit that I am a HUGE fan of Javier Bardem ("Live Flesh," "Collateral" and "Boca a Boca"). I own a number of his Spanish-language films and have been extremely impressed with his range and his abilities for over ten years. Next, I also admit that I appreciate some of the Coen Brothers' work ("Blood Simple" and "Fargo"). But for my "Entertainment Dollar?" Not this one...sorry. It is extremely well done, but it is NOT entertaining!

"No Country for Old Men" is unremittingly grim, bloody, suspenseful and nihilistic. Josh Brolin ("American Gangster" and "Flirting With Disaster") is a resourceful Vietnam vet who is out in the wide open spaces of Texas, hunting antelope. After wounding one, he is in the process of tracking it when he happens upon a grisly cluster of dead men, a dead dog and abandoned pickups. After counting the corpses and the pickups, he ascertains that one man is missing, so he redirects his tracking skills and finds the last man, also dead by now, but in possession of a bag of money. Tommy Lee Jones ("Men in Black," "The Fugitive" and "Coal Miner's Daughter") is the weary sheriff of the Texas county where the slaughter took place. The scene tells him of a drug deal gone bad. He and the sheriff of El Paso County have one of those old-timer laments about what the world has come to.

Bardem's character is -- along with being in the drug trade -- a homicidal maniac. There is little or no logic to his actions, he kills with no remorse (sometimes by the flip of a coin) and is every bit as resourceful as Brolin's character.

Most of the killings are just off-screen (whew!) and some are merely alluded to (Bardem checking the bottoms of his shoes as he exits one house).

Woody Harrelson ("Ed TV" and "North Country") makes a brief appearance, and Tess Harper ("Tender Mercies" and "Broken Bridges"), looking as sweet as ever, is the patient wife of Tommy Lee's sheriff. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald ("Gosford Park" and "Finding Neverland"), this time out, turns in a convincing Texas accent as Brolin's skeptical wife.

This is high quality, high caliber (sorry) and high anxiety...and I didn't even see this one for FREE! Aarghhh!


Music Within

"Music Within" is one of those well-meaning projects that pretty much works. Ron Livingston ("Office Space," "Adaptation" and "The Cooler") plays Richard Pimentel, a Portland-based Army veteran who, as a result of injuries suffered in Vietnam, became profoundly hearing impaired. Livingston is also one of the producers of this film, which is based on the real-life man who eventually became the ramrod for the Americans With Disabilities Act, which changed the landscape of America and dozens of other Free-World countries, providing access for the handicapped, both to places of business and to employment.

The major kudos for acting, however, go to Michael Sheen who has enjoyed a mini-career portraying British Prime Minister Tony Blair ("The Queen" and "The Deal") but has proven his acting chops again and again in his award-winning roles on stage, screen and television. This time out, he is Art Honeyman, a genius level writer who suffers from a severe case of cerebral palsy. As young men, Pimentel and Honeyman establish a long-term working friendship which illustrates to Pimentel how rudely people treat folks who are "different."

Hector Elizondo ("Pretty Woman" and "Princess Diaries") plays a professor of speech at a Portland institution of higher learning. He "auditions" Pimentel but refuses him as a student because, as he says, Pimental is a brilliant speaker, but has no Point of View. Years later, as Pimentel finds his calling as a spokesman for the handicapped, he reconnects with Elizondo and they agree that now, he DOES have a Point of View!

Things I appreciated:
  • Livingston's aging is handled capably. His body seems to thicken and his gait reflects that of a mature man rather than the callow youth he plays earlier in the film.
  • His interaction with the other characters shows he has no idea what they are saying unless he is facing them and can see their lips. I could relate to his situation very, very well.
  • Mike Stolz as Yul Vazquez, a hair-triggered veteran who is working in Pimentel's job placement office.
  • Rebecca De Mornay (!) as Pimentel's mentally ill mother...We are a long ways from "Risky Business" here!
  • Melissa George ("Mulholland Drive" and "The Limey") is an appealing girlfriend/wife who feels the impact of Pimentel's success.
  • Shots of Portland.
  • I liked the "slow service" line with Honeyman and Pimentel at IHOP.

Things I didn't appreciate:

  • Early scenes in the movie are misleading. You almost think you will be watching a farce.
  • Some of Honeyman's scenes are too long and too icky (I know, I know...don't say it!)
  • I didn't need to watch Pimental as a kid, behead the chicken, although I will admit, it was done tastefully AND provides him with a topic for his first public appearance.
  • His surrender to the siren song of success. The rise and fall and rise again has been done before. I guess it must happen, huh? This is based on Pimentel's biography.
  • If I had seen more successes from his early efforts to find jobs for other veterans, the call from the Oregon Governor's Office wouldn't have seemed like such a surprise.
  • I never like scenes where people are smoking dope and bitching...even when I can understand why!

I liked this movie, but probably more as a rental. Don't dash out to your nearest multiplex... although I really LIKE to support well-meaning projects.


So what does it take for a movie to earn over $200 million? John Hughes used to do teeny bopper movies, usually starring Brat Packers or Molly Ringwald, and even with them, it would be tough.

This year, they took a young fellow who had done some television work, plus a Disney movie ("Holes"), a couple of ensemble pieces ("Bobby" and "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"), a huge "blowie uppie" spectacular ("Transformers") and put him in this whiz-bang movie that is a combination horny-teenager comedy, genuine suspense and flat-out horror. Shia LaBeouf threatens to be the juvenile lead du jour these days. He will be in the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie and has a couple more already in the can.

Despite his incident at WalMart in November, 2007, I am still hoping he can keep his nose clean and come out the other end a professional actor instead of a has-been by age 25 (he's 21 now).

"Disturbia" opens with an idyllic scene of him fishing with his father. On the drive home, they have a horrific accident and his father dies. When we pick up the story a year later, he is acting out in school, trouble at home and generally a miserable pain in the neck for his mother, played by Carrie Anne Moss ("The Matrix" and "Memento"). Under the circumstances, neither the school nor the judge wants to incarcerate him, so he is fitted with an ankle monitor and sentenced to three months home supervision.

His mother quickly sees that cable TV, electronic games and wireless devices all make his sentence a farce, so she cuts him off from everything so he will actually experience some punishment.

As a consequence, his boredom converts him into a voyeur, monitoring the comings and goings of all his neighbors, both by actual sight and using binoculars. Naturally, he watches his delectable teenage neighbor in her bedroom, he sees the pre-pubescent boys next door visiting porn sites while their mother sits, oblivious, elsewhere in the house, and wonders about a mature single fellow who keeps his yard immaculately mowed and seems to date occasionally.

There have been reports of a serial killer in the city and a Mustang car was identified as somehow involved. Yup, you guessed it, that single fellow...

Suffice it to say, plenty of the scenes are nail-biters, lots of the dialog is excellent and there really IS a classic "Don't-Go-In-The-Basement" scene.

It's too late to add to the ticket sales, but the DVD rentals are still accruing, so if you want to have the pee-waddling damn scared out of you, rent the DVD and turn down the lights.


The Savages

In the social sciences, I think they call a family like this "toxic." The two main characters, a brother and a sister, flawlessly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote" and "State and Main") and Laura Linney ("P.S." and "Mystic River"), are the offspring of a selfish, domineering, hateful old widower, whose girlfriend dies at the very beginning of the film. It seems that the couple had their own version of a "Pre-nup" at her Sun City home, so he is evicted before her corpse has cooled. Her children quickly put her house on the market and his children must rush to Arizona to try to evaluate what needs to be done.

In very short order, they discover that he is bellicose and mentally failing, thus is unwelcome at most facilities that care for the elderly. Hoffmann's character sees things pretty clearly and is prepared to take the necessary practical steps. Linney's, on the other hand, is horrified to think they are going to institutionalize their father and is neither happy nor very cooperative about it.

This is NOT a pleasant film. It is, however, brilliantly written, directed and acted. One actor in particular who is worthy of note, other than the aforementioned Hoffman and Linney, is Philip Bosco who plays their father, Lenny Savage. This guy is one of those familiar faces you have seen in dozens of secondary roles all the way back to 1961. In this one, his pivotal role is amazingly well acted. His explosive temper, his frustrations and his failings all contribute to his children's dilemma. His children, on the other hand, are Boomers to the core. Both have an artistic bent, both are writers who have enjoyed varied levels of success, both love to sample any and all available pharmaceuticals and seem to be the perfect out-picturing of the crippling effects of dysfunctional parenting.

This film is due to be released at Christmas. I'm glad I saw it; you'll have to make up your own mind.

Gideon's Daughter

Okay, I admit it. I have become a real fan of Director Stephen Poliakoff, thanks to my friend Carl, sitting over there in Sweden, pulling the strings.... This is the third film of Poliakoff's that I find myself recommending, the first two being "Friends and Crocodiles" and "The Lost Prince." His films, which he generally both writes and directs, are unlike any others. He tends to focus on a period in history, then plop someone down in the middle of it and "humanize" it for his audience.

"Friends and Crocodiles" leads up to, through and then past, the Dot Com bust. "The Lost Prince" focuses on a decade just prior to World War II. This latest one starts about where "Friends and Crocodiles" leaves off; in fact, one of the characters from "F & C" is the narrator of "Gideon's Daughter" and we focus on the period just before, during and immediately after, Princess Di's car crash in Paris.

Poliakoff writes for the stage, television and the cinema. He never lacks for subject matter because he walks around London and sees stories behind every building, every construction site, every object, every event and every character he encounters. According to the interview with Robert Lindsey ("Friends and Crocodiles" and "Extras"), who plays the narrator of this film, Poliakoff is decisive, rude, opinionated and everyone would kill to work with him. His crew has been with him for decades despite his abrasiveness. This film won two Golden Globes.

Bill Nighy ("Girl in a Café" and "Love, Actually") is Gideon. His estranged wife died years ago and he has raised their daughter to college age. The daughter, played by Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada" and "The Jane Austen Book Club"), wants to experience a traditional "Gap Year" in which she will go to Columbia, South America, to help the people there. Gideon is horrified, as it is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world, so he wants her to go directly to Edinburgh and start college. He is understandably afraid for her safety, but she sees his attitude as unwarranted and interfering. She has resented his absence at the moment of her mother's death years ago and has never forgiven him.

He is a political and business consultant, inordinately successful, but he is losing his focus through his worry for his daughter. He encounters a woman who is working her way through an extended period of grief because her young son was killed on his bicycle a couple of years ago. Stella, played by Miranda Richardson ("The Hours" and "The Lost Prince") works nights in a mini-mart because she doesn't sleep very well and just wants to stay busy.

The less Gideon listens to the concerns of his staff and his clients, the more successful he becomes. Princess Di's automobile crash is woven seamlessly into this piece. I won't tell you how it ends, but I WILL say that Princess Diana dies... Hope that's not too much of a spoiler...

This is a well-crafted, well-acted, well-funded and marvelously cast movie.


Almost Strangers

British writer/director Stephen Poliakoff did it again! In 2001 he created a television mini-series about a family reunion. It's hard to identify which actor is the "star" because so many of the characters figure so heavily in the 237 minutes of this highly involving dramedy. "Almost Strangers" is also called "Perfect Strangers," so be careful when you look for it in your library or on your rental lists. The captions were activated by my DVD remote, not from my TV.

Michael Gambon ("Gosford Park," "The Lost Prince," "Layer Cake" and Dumbledore in "Harry Potter") plays one of the central characters. His son is played by Matthew Macfadyen ("Pride and Prejudice" - 2005 and "Death at a Funeral"). They are invited to a huge family reunion despite living some distance north of London and being considered sort of the black sheep of the family flock. One lovely aunt is played by Lindsay Duncan ("Mansfield Park" and "The Queen of Sheba's Pearls") who portrays an elegant, gracious and capable woman caught in a wrenching dilemma.

Macfadyen meets two cousins of a similar age and the three of them hit it off together. The male cousin is played by one of my favorites, Maggie Smith's son, Toby Stevens ("Tenant of Wildfell Hall," "Twelfth Night" and "Possession"). As we encounter various members of this extended family, we are treated with flashbacks which provide the back stories for them. There are long-kept secrets, long-held grudges, long-hidden love affairs, long-forgotten photographs and long-cherished marriages. We can wonder at the inseparable trio of elderly women, gape at the beautiful estates where the various functions take place and wince at the drunken dinner speech.

This mini-series is involving, entertaining and highly satisfying.

I recommend it.