Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

The movie opens up with Tom Hanks, playing US Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, sitting in a hot tub, with naked women, in Las Vegas, drinking.  While this hedonism is going on he still finds time to allow the news that is on the TV behind to draw his attention.   Charlie flies under the radar being a congressman that doesn’t create any waves, votes the way he is asked (or who is willing to slip him some incentives) and in return, his office staffed near exclusively with young beautiful women, drinking and the occasional drug taking doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  Charlie is someone everyone knows and has a number of favours uncashed around town.

Based on a true story, it evolves around the Afghanistan conflict and how the Russians are walking all over the local people with their superior fire power.  There doesn’t seem to be a huge appetite from the US to do anything more than pay lip service with a very under whelming budget.

Charlie Wilson: You mean to tell me that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to have the Afghans keep walking into machine gun fire ‘til the Russians run out of bullets?
Gust Avrakotos: That’s Harold Holt’s strategy, it’s not U.S. strategy.
Charlie Wilson: What is U.S. strategy?
Gust Avrakotos: Well, strictly speaking, we don’t have one. But we’re working hard on that.
Charlie Wilson: Who’s ‘we’?
Gust Avrakotos: Me and three other guys.

Texas socialite and fundamentalist Christian Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) who is a close (very) friend to Charlie is not happy with the Afghan situation and persuades to Charlie to use his influence to help.

Charlie starts to go through the official channels and the CIA are just not that interested.  Knowing they simply can’t ignore a congressman, they pacify him by sending a grumpy and frustrated agent, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has no time for Charlie’s antics and does not take him seriously.

We are reminded just how great an actor Hoffman was, as he plays to perfection this cantankerous CIA agent that is wanting to do something instead of toeing the company line.

Keep an eye out for the scene when Charlie and Gust meet for the first time at Charlie’s office and the bottle of whisky brought as a warming present.  Both Hanks and Hoffman at the top of their game with this fast paced moving interplay.

Charlie Wilson: You’re no James Bond.
Gust Avrakotos: You’re no Thomas Jefferson, either. Let’s call it even.

Charlie see’s for himself the real suffering that is going on in

Afghanistan and then throws himself at the problem, working every angle possible, brokering deals and flying all over the middle east in an official unofficial capacity.

The movie moves along at a wonderful pace allowing Tom Hanks to do that thing he does – makes you believe completely he is the character he is playing and forget every other character he has ever played.   For me, Julia Roberts didn’t work as the power behind the men.  She didn’t look right.  Though there is a small irony here of course, as the real life Joanne Herring did indeed look like this!

A highly enjoyable evening that gives you an insight into a story that is remarkable close to the truth (if the Wikipedia page on Charlie Wilson is to be trusted).


Viewing Date
Monday, 14th September 2015


IMDB YouTubeTrailer

Bottle Shock (2008)

I stumbled upon this little gem of a comedy a number of years ago, and every so often, I will throw it on in the background.   The dialogue is top notch, the pace is just right and the soundtrack is extremely catchy.

The movie retells the story of when Californian wine broke through to the international scene in the mid 1970′s when it won against a blind tasting contest in France, arranged by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier.

Steven Spurrier, played by the excellent Alan Rickman is a wine snob, with a shop in Paris, who is on a mission to teach the world on the wonders of the fermented grape.  Next door, he has an American friend, Maurice, who runs a sight seeing taxi firm, played by Dennis Farina in a suit that can only be worn in the 1970s.  Maurice plants the idea into Spurrier’s ear that American wine is ready to break through and he could be the one that introduces it to the world.

Great wine is great art, my friend. I am, in effect, a shepherd… whose mission is to offer the public another form of great art and to guide its appreciation thereof.

No offense, but I don’t foresee the imminent cultivation of the Chicago vine.

Not convinced, he trots off to California’s Napa Valley to choose a number of wines to represent the American’s in the wine tasting contest.


There we see the story of one of the vine yards,

Chateau Montelena, run by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his son Bo (Chris Pine).  Throw in a very sexy Australian intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor), and Gustavo a young Mexican who is living a dream of making his own wine played by

Freddy Rodríguez.

Jim Barrett is 3 loans in to the bank, a begrudged loan from his ex-wife and on the brink of losing everything.  He needs this year’s crop to work and sell.  As you would expect, doesn’t quite go to plan, but I am not going to spoil the story here by detailing what.

The term bottle shock is explained beautifully within the movie, when Spurrier attempts to fly back 26 bottles of wine.  It refers to a condition when the wine is shaken too much, it can actually change the flavour of the wine, most likely to its detriment.

Bottle Shock post dates that other excellent wine themed movie, Sideways from 2004.  Though, the difference here is that you don’t feel inundated with lots of facts about wine making that may get in the way of a great story.

The music is good, the scenery stunning, the wit and dialogue spot on.  Rickman truly steals the show with his slow English snobbery drawl.

If you want a good movie that escaped its deserved place in the mainstream then you will not go wrong taking Bottle Shock out for a run.


Viewing Date
Monday, 31st August 2015


IMDB YouTubeTrailer

True Story (2015)

As the title suggests, this movie is based on a true story, in fact, the book of the same name True Story.  Michael Finkel was a New York Times journalist who was fired after fabricating a story on African child slavery.  Disgraced and excommunicated from the writing community he is struggling to find a writing gig.

While he struggles, he discovers there is a mass-family murderer, Christian Longo, has taken his identity while on the run in Mexico.  Longo is captured and once in prison, Finkel writes him a letter asking why took his identity.

Longo responds and before you know it, Finkel gets interested in his case and begins a life long (which continues to this day) relationship visiting him at least once a month.

So you would think this is a classic story of wrong man convicted, with the plucky down on his luck journalist out to prove his innocence.  Well it isn’t.  It may have been interesting had it been like this.

Longo is guilty pure and simple, with some rather powerful cinema showing how he put his little girl into a suitcase and drops her into the river from a bridge.

James Franco plays the charismatic Longo who tries to present the murderer in a twisty-turny way, but fails completely.  He attempts to create tension, intrigue and mystique but it never quite makes it.

Jonah Hill takes on the role of Finkel who does a rather convincing role of a rather questionable journalist who is attempting to find that big comeback story.  This is a very serious role for him and while he is known for his comedic roles, this does not get in the way when he puts on the serious.   Very impressive, while no Robin Williams (someone that can do both serious and comedic), he puts in the effort.  A small nod to the beautiful, 

Felicity Jones, who plays Finkel’s wife.  Completely underused but nice addition.

The story is rather simple but it is not a story that requires 99 minutes to tell.  This would make a wonderful short-story, but cinema isn’t very forgiving for a movie that would only last 30 minutes.

While a thriller, this is a movie you can happily put on in the background, dip in and out and not actually miss out on any major plot movement. 


Viewing Date
Sunday, 30th August 2015


IMDB YouTubeTrailer