Jack Reacher (2012) PG-13

Based on Lee Child’s book One Shot, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) travels across the USA and always runs into some very dangerous people who have killed innocent people and are planning to do more until Reacher stops them. In the movie as well as the book, James Barr is accused of killing five random people and the evidence against him will likely produce a guilty verdict. The suspect doesn’t want an attorney, he won’t confess even though the police and the DA have advised him that if he elects to be tried, the DA will do his best to get him executed. The suspect wants only one thing: to see Jack Reacher.

Jack Reacher has plenty of action, but it will give the viewer plenty to think about as well. Rosamund Pike gives a fine performance as Barr’s defense attorney Helen, as does Werner Herzog who plays the chief villain. Robert Duvall stars as Cash, and he gives a fine performance as well.

I have already seen this movie three times and I don’t usually see newer films this many times within such a short period (the last 7 months). I recommend it.

 

Majestic Hollywood: the greatest films of 1939 by Mark A. Vieira (2013)

A few years ago on Shows ’n Tunes, I wrote about movies released in 1939. Majestic Hollywood provides short articles on fifty great movies that were released that year. Each article provides small bits of information about each film, such as stories about the stars in the picture; stories about the directors, producers, and writers; short movie reviews written by some of the critics at the time the film was released; and other miscellaneous information. There are also beautiful black and white photographs for each film of either the stars or scenes from the movies.

I recommend this book by Mark Vieira for anyone who enjoys movies from the golden era, students of cinema, and anyone who loves well made movies. Also, there are some movies discussed in the book that I have never scene and I plan to see them soon.

 
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How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

After hearing rave reviews of Louise Penny’s mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, I decided to try her latest one, How the Light Gets In. The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Ralph Cosham, who captures the quaint essence of the village of Three Pines perfectly. This is the ninth book in the series and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is investigating the murder of the last remaining Ouellet quintuplet, Constance Pinot. Gamache is surrounded by a rich cast of characters from the little village that includes an eccentric poet with a duck for a pet.

Despite not having read any of the previous books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I would like to go back and start at the beginning. A great novel with a cozy winter setting that draws you in.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2013)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has written this romantic suspense novel as a young woman’s search for her parentage and consequently her identity. The heroine Korobi is both infuriating and endearing as her story unfolds with all of its complexity, crisis, and obstacle. Oleander Girl is rich with descriptions of the Indian culture. Divakaruni writes about India in a way that gives the reader an insight into traditional Indian culture.

Man of Steel (2013) PG-13

This 2013 retelling of the origin of Superman is superb. Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill as Superman and Clark Kent, and he is outstanding. Amy Adams gives a fine performance as Lois Lane.

If you are looking for action, there is plenty of it. And the special effects should get at least an Oscar nomination if not a win.

The chief villain is General Zod (Michael Shannon), and he is a great nemesis. The battles between General Zod and Superman are titanic. Kal-El’s father Jor-El is played by Russell Crowe, and he gives a very solid performance. For those of you who’ve forgotten, Kal-El is Superman’s Kryptonian name.

The movie, although a little dark at times, is a lot of fun.

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt (2013)

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt is full of sharp insights about life in the modern South along with plenty of dysfunctional family drama, civil war rehashing, bourbon drinking, and the ongoing struggle to keep up appearances.

We follow a different member of the Johnston family each chapter as they interact with each other during doomed holiday dinners and on their own, usually unfortunate, tangents. Matriarch Jerene manages to hold the family together by wielding a formidable array of threats and lies, all while impeccable groomed, until events progress beyond even her extreme damage control skills.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler (2006)

Two families wait at the airport for two precious bundles, Korean orphans. This coincidental meeting ties these two very different families together as they every year celebrate together this anniversary. This happy situation is threatened when the widowed grandfather of one of the orphans becomes close to the widowed grandmother of the other.

Check out a copy of Digging to America, or find other books by Anne Tyler.

Homicide: Life on the Street. Seasons 1-7 (1993-1999)

A Baltimore squad room in the 1990s was the setting for this gritty urban crime drama. City and police politics and the seen-better-days streets and docks of the city make an involving backdrop for the ongoing cases and personal lives of the homicide detectives.

Passing through the squad room over the seven seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street were Ned Beatty, Daniel Baldwin, Melissa Leo, Andre Braugher, Richard Belzer (in a role he carried over onto Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), and Jon Seda. The bad guys are sometimes caught, sometimes not; all the murders in the city documented on the squad room’s white board: names in black if their murder is solved, in red if not. Always involving, sometimes unsettling, don’t miss it if you appreciate fine writing and character development in your television viewing.
Before there was The Wire, there was Homicide: Life on the Street. Baltimore native director Barry Levinson produced Homicide based on the writings of Baltimore Sun writer David Simon. Simon wrote for Homicide and then went on to write and produce The Wire.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (2003)

This is a story about a woman recalling what her life was like in the 1950s. The story she tells is all about her family, romance, and what it was like to have a career, which most women at that time did not have.

Lucia, Lucia made me laugh and cry. It touched upon both the humorous and the challenges of life. I love all of Adriana Trigiani’s books, including the Big Stone Gap series.

Have Gun Will Travel. Seasons 1-6 (1957-1963)

Have Gun Will TravelThis TV western ran six seasons from 1957 to 1963 and starred Richard Boone as Paladin and Kam Tong as Hey Boy. During its six year run, it was ranked 3 or 4 during its first four seasons. It was during the time that westerns were occupying more than half of the spots in the top ten and top twenty ratings.

But Have Gun Will Travel was different from other westerns. Paladin was a hired gun with an education. He was a sophisticated man who knew his Shakespeare, loved poetry, opera, classical music, art, the theater, history, spoke several languages, seemed to know about all cultures, was well traveled, knew chemistry and physics indeed an Everyman or Renaissance Man.

Although he charged huge sums for his services, he occasionally charged little or even donated his services for a worthy cause. When not working he lived in a posh hotel in San Francisco where he dated beautiful women, drank the finest wines, liquors, and whiskeys and hence he need to charge large fees for his services.

When he was working, he dressed all in black. Although his gun was for hire, he refused jobs that required him to commit murder. He was an expert with his gun, with a rifle, knife or sword, and his fists as well.

He treated people of different cultures, races, or religions with respect and admiration. Although Hey Boy’s name is dismissive and his job as bellboy is humble, Paladin always treats him with the greatest of respect.Have Gun Will Travel
Many of the guest stars who appeared on the show went on to big screen careers: Charles Bronson, Warren Oates, James Coburn, and Lee Van Cleef to name a few. Other more established actors such as Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, Jeanette Nolan, Lon Chaney Jr., Vincent Price, and John Carradine also appeared on the show. The show featured many actors who would have leading roles and/or major supporting roles in major television shows: Denver Pyle, Ken Curtis, June Lockhart, Harry Morgan, Angie Dickinson, and Jack Lord. Finally, the show featured dozens of character actors who had lengthy careers in film and television: Robert Wilke, Hank Patterson, Strother Martin, Leo Gordon, Jack Elam, Anthony Caruso, Ralph Moody, Royal Dano, Dabbs Greer, Joanne Linville, Bob Steele, Claude Akins, John Dehner, Elinor Donahue, and dozens of others.

The episodes are wonderfully written and are unique and yet some episodes are transposed from classic works of literature. Some of the episodes were written by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame.

Even the closing theme the Ballad of Paladin is wonderful and was appropriately written by a man named Johnny Western.

It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010) PG-13

It's Kind of a Funny StoryIn this quirky tale, teenager Craig (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into the psych ward after experiencing suicidal thoughts. There, he meets a crazy mentor (Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (Emma Roberts), a young girl his age.

This set of unlikely characters help Craig begin anew and learn more about himself in one week than he ever expected. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a coming of age tale that makes you appreciate how lucky you are and appreciate the good things in life.
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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)

Donna Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch is a remarkably fast read, despite its size. The title refers to the tiny painting of a pet bird in captivity by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius from 1654. The Goldfinch becomes central in Theo’s life after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother one rainy day. Tragedy strikes at the museum and Theo is left practically an orphan. Over the next ten years, Theo struggles with the loss of his mother and the post-traumatic stress of incident. This is a beautifully written story that captures the essence of New York, the pain of loss, and power of objects.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (2013)

The title character is a 7-year-old girl whose mother died giving birth to her, “so her birthday was also a day of death,” a day to visit the cemetery every year. Claire goes missing in the first chapter and stays missing until the very last pages, but the novel goes on to portray characters whose lives intersect with Claire and her father Nozias.

Through this fictitious Haitian village, we are brought to an understanding of life on this island nation with its extremes of poverty and excesses of wealth.

Moving back and forth through time but returning at the end to the night of Claire’s birthday, Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light has a fable like quality and is beautifully written…but it is ultimately about loss so not an easy read.

L.A. Confidential (1997) R

L.A. ConfidentialL.A. Confidential captures the feel of a classic film noir without being just a copy. The feeling for 1950s Southern California drips from the screen, the music perfectly captures the mood of each scene, and the acting is terrific.

Three L.A. cops become enemies when they are involved in a scandal later dubbed "Bloody Christmas." When seemingly disparate events seem to be all pointing in one direction, the three must put behind their previous disdain for each other and work together to solve several murders, find the power behind a pornography and prostitution ring, and track down some missing heroin. The movie is cleverly written, smart, and makes good use of irony in its setting, use of music, and dialogue.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones (2012)

This novel which at first appears to be an elegant comedy of manners takes a turn for the better to become a ghost story. The story takes place in a manor house somewhere near Manchester, England, in April 1912 on the eve of Emerald Torrington's 20th birthday. Preparations are being made, guests invited, and but for The Great Central Railway everything would have gone on as planned. A dreadful accident throws the household into confusion and misbehavior.

The combination of rich with period detail, well-imagined characters and a pleasing resolution makes The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones worth picking up for a quick read.