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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) R

The opening scenes set up a fuzzy, smoky atmosphere. The viewer wonders "what's really happening here?" And this questions persists as the plot develops, investing you in the outcome of the story.

The spy story grimly unwinds. There are a series of flashbacks that reveal hints and just add to the puzzle. This dying genre is brought to life with mystery and mastery. Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman as George Smiley just cannot be beat.

Based on the book by John Le Carre. Find Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on DVD.

Niagara (1953)

I saw Niagara on TCM recently and found out that producers first envisioned this as more of a standard film noir, but once Marilyn Monroe’s considerable charms became apparent, they built up her character considerably. This early breakout role showed that she could deliver a strong dramatic performance.

The camera obviously loves Monroe in this thriller about a cheating wife and her unstable husband (Joseph Cotten) vacationing in Niagara Falls. A likeable but unsuspecting couple on their honeymoon becomes involved in Monroe’s and Cotten’s tumultuous lives and the deadly events that take place in the spectacular setting of the Falls.

Niagara will air later this summer on TCM as part of their Battle of the Blondes series. Staff created lists of other noir films of the 1940s and 1950s -- check them out!

The Departed (2006) R

How I learned to tell Matt Damon from Leonardo DiCaprio:

As actors, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are as good as it gets. They both can carry a movie, display an impressive range, and have youth and beauty on their side. Somehow I am always confused as to which one is which, that is until I saw them together in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award winning movie The Departed.

The Departed is set in South Boston, where the Massachusetts State Police are waging war on organized crime. This is a tense film! It is a thriller, a cop procedural, a character drama, and all in one.

The story blurs the lines between the law and the lawless. Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is a young cop, Colin Sullivan (Damon) is a street-smart criminal, and Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is a crime boss … their lives become linked in a dangerous game and we end up watching a great movie.

For another thriller set in Boston, check out Barb's review of The Town (2010).

The Ides of March (2011) R

Ryan Gosling and George Clooney star in this thriller revolving around a fictitious Ohio Democratic presidential primary. Gosling plays a young, idealistic campaign worker who has pinned his hopes and dreams on the candidate, played by Clooney. As moral weaknesses on the part of Clooney’s character begin to surface, he finds himself caught up in a scandal.

Suspenseful, with a twist ending, the film features a great supporting cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood. Clooney directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay (with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon), which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Reserve a copy of The Ides of March from the library today!

Hollywoodland

Hollywoodland (2006) R
1959 was a very good year for me. I was 11 years old and the White Sox were winning their first pennant in 40 years. But one day in that year was terrible. On the morning of June 17, 1959, my mother had sent me to the corner store for a gallon of milk. While in the store, I looked down at the newspapers and there was a terrible headline and some sickening photos. George Reeves, the actor who had played Superman in the 1950s television show and a hero to millions of kids, had killed himself. I was horrified and sickened by the story, and I could not bring myself to believe it.

In 2006, Hollywoodland was produced starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Ben Affleck. The film takes an intriguing look at Reeves' death and considers three possible scenarios: 1) that Reeves was killed at the behest of his former mistress; 2) that he was killed accidentally by his then girlfriend; and 3) that he had deliberately taken his own life.  Brody does an excellent job playing the role of Louis Simo investigating the death at on behalf of Reeves' mother. Lane is superb playing Toni Mannix, Reeves' mistress. And Affleck is outstanding playing "the Man of Steel," George Reeves.

The movie can be depressing, but it is very thought provoking. After viewing the movie, I considered other possibilities besides murder or suicide. Neither the movie nor other reports I have read considered the possibility that Reeves may have accidentally killed himself. Both the official reports and the movie show that Reeves had been drinking heavily at the time of his death. Could he have shot himself with a gun that he thought was unloaded? If he had thought he had previously unloaded the gun, and forgotten that he had reloaded it, or if some other person had reloaded it, that would make it an accident, not suicide or murder. I doubt we will ever know, but for kindness sake, I choose to believe he did not realize the gun was loaded at the time of his death.

Ordinarily I don't like sad movies, but this one is excellent and it opened up a possibility that I had not considered.

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000)
Fact: in the late 1800s, Arthur Conan Doyle studies for his degree in medicine. One of his teachers, Dr. Bell, introduces Doyle to his singular style of crime detection.

At first a cynic and skeptic, Doyle is slowly drawn to Bell’s ability to solve high profile murders. Bell uses profound observation, inference, and deduction as his main tools. Subconsciously, Doyle absorbs Bell’s style and method. Later the idiosyncratic Bell will become the most famous sleuth of all, Sherlock Holmes.

However, several brutal murders near the college and surrounding areas catch Bell and Doyle in a cat and mouse game that challenges them to the max. Be aware there are many gruesome aspects to the chase.

The acting, direction, and storyline are top of the line. It’s riveting. I watched it alone and survived.

Hanna

Hanna (2011) PG-13
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement and The Lovely Bones) shines again in this gripping thriller. She plays the title character Hanna, a 16-year-old girl raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) in a remote area of Finland. Her entire childhood has been spent training to be the perfect assassin. When she decides she’s ready, Hanna makes her presence known to Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the agent who murdered her mother. In a cat-and-mouse game across Europe, Hanna is chased by Marissa who is followed by Erik. And things aren’t quite as they seem.

Great cinematography, music, and scenery. But beware – there’s a lot of graphic violence. For a more in-depth look at the film, visit the Focus Features website.

Catfish

Catfish (2010)
I watched the documentary Catfish over the weekend and it was outstanding. It’s a “reality thriller”—you’ll never think about Facebook the same way again. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish!

Check out articles from CNET and the Los Angeles Times for more details.

Covert Affairs. Season 1

Covert Affairs. Season 1 (2010)
With a love of travel and penchant for languages, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) joins the CIA two years after being abandoned in Sri Lanka by her mysterious boyfriend. Suddenly that past experience is somehow embroiled in the present. Can she trust anyone in her division?

With more questions than answers, each episode brings a new case, a new adventure, and a new threat. Annie is a very likeable character; you see her grow and struggle and deal with the shades of gray her job brings. And she couldn’t survive her new job without Auggie (Christopher Gorham), a blind computer geek with a biting sense of humor.

Fans of Alias and Chuck should try Covert Affairs.

The Big Heat

The Big Heat (1953)
In this crime drama, Glenn Ford plays Detective Sergeant Dave Banion, an honest and tough cop in a city run by criminals. At the beginning of the film, a policeman commits suicide and leaves a letter for the district attorney detailing his involvement with high ranking criminals and dishonest public officials. His widow, Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan), finds the letter but instead of turning over to the DA, uses it to blackmail the highest ranking criminals in the city. When Banion investigates the suicide, he notices some inconsistencies in the widow's statements and decides to investigate further.

Eventually the trail leads him to Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) and his girlfriend Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame). Stone is one of the high ranking criminals, a vicious and sadistic thug who likes to torture women. Debby is in love with him, but hates it when he abuses her and other women. Debby takes an interest in Banion after he roughs up one of Stone's goons after Stone assaults a woman in a bar.

Ford gives his usual top notch performance. Grahame's performance is excellent as is Jeanette Nolan's as the shrewd and malicious Bertha Duncan. Marvin is also very good as the vicious and sadistic Vince Stone.

This is a fast paced movie and for those who like crime dramas, it is one of the best. For more about the film, check out TCM.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (1983) R
The Soviets beat us into space by launching Sputnik, but America is about to catch up. The Mercury astronauts are being trained to fly America’s spacecraft and they’re all hotshot pilots.

John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Gordo Cooper (Dennis Quaid) are some of the best pilots, but before them came Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shepard) – who broke the sound barrier. This is NASA’s effort to put a man into space and America in the 60s.

The film is based on Tom Wolfe’s great book The Right Stuff. I liked the movie because of the faithfulness to the book. It has drama, comedy, and suspense.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) R
I found this to be a fascinatingly complex tale of suspense, but then I didn’t read the book.

It is the story of a computer hacker with a troubled past and a crusading journalist who become the dynamic duo in this Swedish film version of Stieg Larsson’s first suspense novel. The two main characters, each intriguing in their own way, initially occupy separate story lines that converge only because she’s hired to spy on him. The well plotted story becomes a thriller as it takes its time unlocking one mystery only to uncover another.

Be aware that there are some disturbing scenes of violence which can be difficult to view. You have time to watch this film and compare it with the English version arriving in theaters in December.

The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) R
Debonair, self made millionaire Thomas Crown can’t help himself. He just has to have certain things of beauty such as important paintings and expensive vases. A Monet on the wall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls out to him, for instance. When the painting is stolen in a masterful caper, beautiful insurance investigator Catherine Banning focuses her attention on Crown, but soon finds her interest aroused by more than the idea of recovering the painting, but by the man himself. Pierce Brosnan as Thomas Crown is charming and intriguing and Rene Russo as Banning is his match.

Don’t follow the plot too closely: you could drive a Mack truck through the holes in it. But the two performers are so appealing and amusing and some of the plot twists so witty that the movie is just out and out fun to watch. I found it much more enjoyable than the over-stylized self-consciously artsy original with Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen.

The Tailor of Panama

The Tailor of Panama (2001) R
Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) is the tailor to the elite in Panama. He hides his low class and ex-con beginnings with a well-rehearsed story about having learned his craft on Saville Row. Sleazy British diplomat/spy Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) has been sent to the Panamanian back water because he slept with the wrong woman on his last assignment. Now he needs to find some big intelligence coup to get himself back to the high life he’s used to in Europe. Harry, who is married to an American (Jamie Lee Curtis) who works for the Panama Canal Company, is being pushed for information by Osnard—who really doesn’t care how accurate the information is—as long as it sounds convincing. Feeling more and more threatened, Harry tells Osnard a really great story—it just isn’t true.

This is an intricate character study of the desperate Harry and Osnard, a man without scruples, both trying to keep or get back the life they have created for themselves.

Spotlight: Stieg Larsson Films

Spotlight: Stieg Larsson FilmsGet your money's worth with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. These must-see foreign movies capture the essence of Stieg Larsson’s “best of the bestselling books.” After thoroughly enjoying the Millennium Trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed the movies. If you have read the books, the subtitles highlight the dialogue making it easier to follow. My only regret is there will not be another book/movie in this series.

Did you know? An American version of the film is in the works starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.