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Murder on the Orient Express (2017) PG-13

murder_on_the_orient_express_teaser_poster5 out of 5 stars for me. Not knowing the story kept me engaged and absorbed. The ending took me by surprise--a very good surprise--and totally unexpected. The actors were top notch, intense and mysterious, but still believable. The scenery was spectacular. The photography, especially the close-ups of the characters' faces, helped the mystery develop.

Check out the most recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express. Looking for a review of the book? Check out Jennifer’s take on Current Picks from December.

Signs (2002) PG-13

220px-the_signs_movieGraham—formerly Reverend Hess—is a grieving husband, who has lost not only his wife but his faith too. He hasn’t by any means fallen apart, though, or stopped caring about the people around him. Graham is a good dad to his two young kids, and the people in his small town can’t help still calling him “Father.” When crop circles appear on his farm and then around the world, Graham reasons that there must be a logical explanation, and he struggles to hold on to this—even as his kids and his younger brother, who lives with them, jump on the alien-theory bandwagon.

Signs is one of those quiet films that rings true to life, often feeling more like a family drama than a supernatural thriller. And yet true to form, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan injects just enough oddity and suspense into the film to make you feel that things are not quite right—and that there’s something creepy lurking just around the corner.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

225px-my_man_godfreyIn this farce masterpiece, William Powell plays Godfrey, the enigmatic butler whose sophistication and commanding presence hint at his true identity. Godfrey is discovered living in the city dump, and recruited to work for the Bullocks—a family described by one of their longtime staffers as being more “nutty” than “exacting.” The cast of characters includes the shrill-voiced Mrs. Bullock, usually hung over and in a pixie-seeing haze in the morning; Cornelia, Godfrey’s nemesis; and her sister Irene, hopelessly in love with Godfrey from the start. Then there’s poor Mr. Bullock, the sole voice of reason in the family. Oh and Carlo, Mrs. Bullock’s “protégé,” really a freeloading artist who becomes melodramatically upset as soon as Mr. Bullock starts talking belt-tightening.

It is hard to believe that in the midst of all this chaos and frivolity, My Man Godfrey has a deeper aim than to make the audience laugh. But at the heart of the story is Godfrey—the butler who’s really a high-minded aristocrat—and who really makes the audience think.

A Ghost Story (2017) R

ghoststoryA recently deceased husband (Casey Affleck) returns as a ghost in a white sheet to haunt his suburban home and be close to his widowed wife (Rooney Mara). When she decides to move, the ghost loses all track of time and spirals into history where he is able to see all previous and future owners of his home.

Despite its title, A Ghost Story isn’t a movie that invokes fear or horror. A very slow, quiet, and artistic movie, it takes its time to deliver its message and make the audience feel the sense of loss and longing of the characters. This movie is as beautiful as it is solemn, with well thought out camera shots and very haunting imagery. A Ghost Story may be the very first cosmic ghost story—not only does it explore themes of love and loss, it tackles the very idea of existence and time itself.

Spotlight: Lady Gaga

lady_gaga_-_joanne_official_album_coverOnce you’ve listened to Lady Gaga’s album Joanne, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll listen to it during your morning shower, in the car on your way to and from work, and before it’s time to sleep at night. Joanne may be a clear departure from the usual Gaga style of her previous albums, but it’s no less powerful. Songs such as the titular “Joanne” and “Come to Mama” will keep you coming back again and again.

The stylistic change also especially makes far more sense and has far more meaning after watching the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. Experience a year in the life of not Lady Gaga, but Stefani Germonatta. It follows the year in which she was releasing Joanne up until her performance at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show. You will live, love, laugh, and cry with her up until the very end. Don't have a Netflix subscription? Watch for free using our roku.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Adults and children alike will delight in this charming classic Christmas movie about a man named Kris Kringle who is recruited at the last minute to play Santa Claus in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and in the store during the Christmas season. Can he convince Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), Macy’s special events coordinator, and her fairytale-deprived daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), that he is the real Santa?

I prefer the original black and white version of Miracle on 34th Street, but there is a colorized version as well. We’ve got a list of other family Christmas movies.
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Alone in Berlin (2016) R

In Germany, a couple’s only child is killed during the early days of World War II. Otto (Brendan Gleeson) spends his days in a factory making coffins. Bereft at this loss of life, and wondering why, Otto feels like his family gave the ultimate sacrifice to the Fuhrer. Spurred into action, he disguises his handwriting and starts writing and distributing anti-Nazi propaganda around Berlin. When his wife Anna (Emma Thompson) discovers his efforts, she wants to help him despite the dangers. Both the police and army are seeking who is responsible.

Alone in Berlin is based on a true story. Read the NPR article for more details.
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The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) R

Mickey “Mick” Haller is a top defense lawyer in L A. He is slick and famous as an attorney who works out of his Lincoln Town Car. He takes on cases that might seem impossible or a long shot to win. The legal system is almost always stacked against his clients and you will get a look at how the system works. The wealthy young man he has agreed to defend is no prize and he sees his life and family threatened.

Fans of Michael Connelly will like that The Lincoln Lawyer is a good adaptation of his book and the cast is outstanding. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, and William H. Macy.

You’ll find The Lincoln Lawyer on our list of Lawyers in the Movies.
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Rick Steves’ European Christmas (2005)

Is there a better tour guide than the affable and erudite Rick Steves? I look forward to watching this PBS special every year, and I’m never disappointed with the vicarious tour of Christmas traditions across Europe. But you too can experience the history, music, and food of the season: there’s the Santa Lucia festival in Norway, traditional English carols sung in Bath Abbey, and in the French countryside, the Christmas Eve meal consists of foie gras, and waaaaait for it…filet of beef tenderloin in brioche with truffles. Need I say more? Check out Rick Steves' European Christmas this holiday season!

Gifted (2017) PG-13

After the death of her mother, Mary (McKenna Grace), a young mathematics prodigy, is put in the custody of her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Seeing how his sister's genius drove her to suicide, Frank wants to raise Mary as a regular child, but her grandmother wants her to embrace her gifts. The two adults engage into a custody battle—with Mary in the middle. Gifted proved to be a gentle, beautiful movie that will surely appeal to your heart.
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Lone Star (1996) R 

This is a powerful movie, and it is very relevant today. Texas law and immigration are two of the many themes played out by Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson in Lone Star. An unsolved murder in a Texas border town leads to a sheriff that once controlled a town and family secrets.

Writer and director John Sayles (Eight Men Out) gives us a story with flashbacks that are incredibly moving. Many will see a film noir movie with several plot twists that will haunt you.

Their Finest (2017) R

In the early part of World War II, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired as a scriptwriter to accurately portray women’s dialogue in propaganda films. The war office wants these films to strike the right balance of realism and optimism, boosting morale throughout Britain (oh, and inspiring the United States to join the war). In Their Finest, Catrin works closely with fellow writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and aging film star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) during the Blitz in London to contribute to the war effort.

Based on the novel of the same name by Lissa Evans. Discover other movies set on the home front during WWII.
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Table 19 (2017) PG-13

Experience a wedding reception through the eyes of the guests who probably should have RSVP’d “no” in Table 19. Eloise (Anna Kendrick), who was relieved of her maid of honor duties after being dumped by the best man, leads this heartwarming band of misfits. In this dramedy, unexpected friendships develop and life lessons are shared among this random assortment of people.

Spotlight: Women’s Pictures

Back in the day, moviegoers called chick flicks “women’s pictures.” Make sure you have a box of tissues handy as you watch these melodramatic tearjerkers. For an excellent discussion of the genre, visit AMC’s filmsite.org.

Some of my favorites include:

Legally Blonde (2001) PG-13

Whether you need a pick-me-up or are just in the mood for a solid escapist comedy, Legally Blonde is the movie for you. Sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is graduating college and anticipating a proposal from Warner; instead, he dumps her for not being “serious enough.” Elle hatches a plan to win back Warner—she heads to Harvard Law School and learns life lessons both in and out of the classroom. A feel-good movie about girl power, Legally Blonde has more substance than you might think.

Costarring Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Jennifer Coolidge, and Victor Garber.