Secretariat

Secretariat (2011) PG
The whole family will enjoy this inspiring story about Secretariat, perhaps the greatest racehorse ever, and the woman, Penny Chenery Tweety (Diane Lane) who had faith in him. When Penny’s father, a horse breeder, became ill and died, Penny took over the decision making.

After Big Red’s (Secretariat) birth, she stood up to her many detractors to keep, train, and race him. She hired flamboyant trainer Lucien Laurin (played excellently by John Malkovich) and a jockey who ran a horse so hard that his heart burst. Those who cared so much about him – the owner, the trainer, the groom, and the jockey – went beyond what anyone thought was possible, and Secretariat did something incredible that no one thought was conceivable.

Take time to watch one of the special features, Heart of a Champion, which shows actual footage of Secretariat, Penny, and some of the other people who surrounded him.

To learn more about Secretariat, check out the books The Horse God Built: the untold story of Secretariat, the world’s greatest racehorse by Lawrence Scanlan (2007), Secretariat’s Meadow: the land, the family, the legend by Kate Chenery Tweedy (2010), plus And the Crowd Goes Wild: relive the most celebrated sporting events ever broadcast by Joe Garner (1999).

Other movies you might want to watch include Seabiscuit (2003) and Dreamer (2005).

Pan Flutes by the Ocean by Ken Davis

Pan Flutes by the Ocean by Ken Davis (1992)
Relax to the music of pan flutes, strings, and synthesized piano combined with ocean sounds. It lulled me to sleep at bedtime.

Also check out other new age CDs at the library.
Tags:

Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths

Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths (2010)
Delight in the photographs of breathtaking landscapes, intriguing people, everyday settings, amazing wildlife, and exotic locales. The 250 photos were selected from National Geographic’s massive image collection. The book is separated into chapters by the basic elements that make a photograph beautiful: light, composition, moment, time, palette, and wonder. Quotes (such as “Beauty comes as much from the mind as from the eye” by Greg Livingston) are interspersed throughout. I especially liked Raymond Gehman’s colorful photo of blue light illuminating Reed Flute Cave in China, and Phil Pummell’s photo of an albino peacock.

To learn more about the author and her work check out her website.

Home Alone

Home Alone (1990) PG
This funny family movie is great to watch during the Christmas season or anytime. The family of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) leaves for France for a Christmas vacation and accidentally forgets him.

The eight year old who everyone thinks is helpless defends his home against bungling burglars by outsmarting them with inventive booby traps. Culkin is endearing as Kevin, and Joe Pesci is great as one of the burglars. The late John Candy makes an appearance as the Polka King of the Midwest. Sequels were made but are not as good as the original.

Some local trivia: the nativity set used in the film is currently owned by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Darien, Illinois, and is displayed at Christmastime. Another piece of trivia: the house in Winnetka where the movie was filmed is now for sale.

Tags:

Hairspray

Hairspray (2007) PG
Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), an overweight and goodhearted teenager, is able to live her dream and become a regular member of her favorite TV dance program, The Corney Collins Show,which seems to be Baltimore’s version of American Bandstand.

This lively musical is set in 1962 when segregation was prominent. The issues of prejudice and integration are dealt with in an upbeat manner. See John Travolta transformed into Tracy’s plus sized mother. I finished my viewing with a smile on my face and songs in my head, especially “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” (sang by Queen Latifah).

Also costarring Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Allison Janney, James Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, and Christopher Walken.

Hairspray was based on John Waters’ cult film Hairspray (1988) which spawned a Broadway musical and this movie version. Check out the music with the CD Hairspray: original Broadway cast recording.

The Great Buck Howard

The Great Buck Howard (2008) PG
The versatile John Malkovich plays the Great Buck Howard, a mentalist who is trying to make a comeback. Told from the viewpoint of his new personal assistant, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), a law school dropout and would be writer, the story keeps viewers guessing as to what’s real and what’s not. While dealing with Buck’s eccentricities, Troy learns valuable life lessons.

You will be intrigued as the story unfolds. Reporters label Buck as a has-been and his act cheesy, but his audiences still love the old-fashioned stage show, including guessing numbers and finding the fee for his performance hidden in the audience. He makes the impossible seem possible. Will he succeed at his next big act of large scale hypnotism and cement his legacy?

The story is inspired by the Amazing Kreskin who was featured on the Johnny Carson Show 61 times. Watch the special feature, “The Amazing Kreskin.”
Tags:

Babies

Babies (2010) PG
This fascinating, charming documentary shows the growth of four babies living in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco from swollen bellies to one year olds. With minimal words, no translation is needed. I really enjoyed the background music.

Watch the babies bond and interact with parents, siblings and other children. See them as they explore their surroundings, crawling, and learning to talk. The documentary shows contrasts in the babies’ lives, from their environments (modern or primitive) to the animals they encounter (both farm and domestic). But no matter their circumstances, all of the babies seemed happy and well-adjusted.

Also check out the special feature that shows them at three years old.
Tags:

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003)
I couldn’t put down this eerie and unsettling fast-paced psychological thriller by the author of Mystic River. Two U.S. marshals are sent to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane on a small island off Massachusetts in the summer of 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient. They must relinquish their guns and have trouble getting cooperation from the staff, especially the director Dr. Cawley.

Teddy Daniels, the lead marshal, is having a hard time dealing with the death of his wife two years ago. He has an ulterior motive for wanting to be on the island. A hurricane hits the island preventing Teddy and his partner, Chuck Aule, from leaving, but it gives them time to find out what is really going on after the patient mysteriously reappears. What is happening in Unit C? What is real and what is imagined? It will keep you guessing until the end.

Shutter Island has been made into a motion picture (reserve your copy today!) directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Try the Playaway format for a convenient worthwhile audio experience.


Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper (2009)
This is an endearing book about an abandoned two-week-old kitten with a severe infection that took his sight. Gwen, the vet’s client, agrees to see the kitten, falls in love with him, and takes him home. Since Homer was named after the blind poet of the Greek epic, Odyssey, each chapter starts off with a quote from that poem. Gwen tells a humorous, touching story of life with Homer. Homer doesn’t let his “handicap” stop him. His senses of hearing and smell are enhanced. He is a bundle of energy, curious and affectionate. Find out how the two established female resident cats adjust to their new little brother. Read about how Homer enriches Gwen’s life and those who meet him (including her parents who were professed dog people). Gwen and Homer lived in New York on September 11, 2001. The book has an upbeat ending.

You might also enjoy these feline tales: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle by Nina Malkin.

Read an excerpt and visit the author's website.

I’ve Loved You So Long

I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) PG-13
This is a poignant tale about a woman, Juliette, (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is released from prison after fifteen years and goes to live with her younger sister, Léa, and her family.  In the beginning of the film, Juliette is guarded, stiff, and unemotional. People are uncomfortable around her when they learn about the crime she was convicted of.  Gradually the real Juliette emerges.

Thomas was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.  The English Patient was another excellent film she starred in.

In French with English subtitles or dubbed in English.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) PG-13
Come take a look behind the scenes of the fascinating world of haute couture and Valentino, the world-renowned fashion designer. This film focuses on two shows: a 2006 collection show in Paris and a 2007 retrospective show in Rome celebrating his 45 year career. The film crew follows Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, his longtime business partner and companion, through the lengthy process from design to show. It’s amazing how much preparation and work it takes.

The documentary is interspersed with film from Valentino’s earlier days where he was influenced by the silver screen. View a world of fashion few have access to, including the elaborate parties, glamorous gowns, celebrities, and elaborate sets. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of his five pugs. The film touches on the ownership of the company. A drawback is that most of the film is spoken in French and Italian with English subtitles.

One of the special features shows Valentino traveling between his homes in Paris, Rome, Gstaad, and New York and the perfectionism that goes into maintaining them.

Leatherheads

Leatherheads (2008) PG-13
Starring George Clooney (also the director), Renee Zellweger, and John Krasinski, Leatherheads is an old-fashioned movie about the early days of professional football when there were no rules and the public viewed it as beneath college football.

In the 1920s, to keep pro football alive (and financially afloat), Dodge Connelly (Clooney) recruits war hero and college superstar Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) to play for the Duluth Bulldogs. Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) is a Chicago Tribune reporter trying to discredit Rutherford’s war record. Lexie grows close to both men – but who’s she going to end up with in the end?

For more on the early days of professional football, check out What a Game They Played by Richard Whittingham (1984) and America’s Game by Michael MacCambridge (2004).

Enchanted April

Enchanted April (1992) PG
This is a feel good movie about two English women in the 1920s who agree to rent a castle in Italy for a month to get away from their dreary lives in London. To share costs, they recruit two other women. The sunny, colorful setting opens all their senses and helps them get a new perspective on their lives. This is one of my favorite movies. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim.
Tags: