Category Archives: Mary S.

Now You See Me (2013) PG-13

This entertaining, fast paced movie centers around four magicians, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco, who are mysteriously brought together to perform a lavish act with amazing feats including pulling off elaborate heists. Are these thefts real or illusions?

Early on Eisenberg’s character says, “The more you think you see the easier it will be to fool you.” “The Four Horsemen” stay one step ahead of the FBI and Interpol in Now You See Me. Director Louis Leterrier also directed the action movie The Transporter.

Winter’s Bone (2010) R

In this moving story, seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) determinedly tries to find her father in order to save the family home in the Missouri backwoods. For her exceptional, riveting performance, Lawrence received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Because her mother is incapacitated, Ree has been raising her younger sister and brother. Her father, a meth cooker, has just been released from prison and is missing. If he does not appear in court, the bail bondsman will take their home and timberland. Ree persistently talks to closed-mouthed relatives and neighbors, putting her in peril, to track down her father.

Winter’s Bone won the best picture and best screenplay awards at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie is based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel. After this film, Jennifer Lawrence went on to star in The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. For her performance in the leading role of Silver Linings Playbook, she won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

Big Miracle (2012) PG

I loved Big Miracle, which tells the inspiring, heartwarming story about a family of whales trapped in the ice in Alaska in 1988 and the effort that was undertaken to try to save them. The world becomes aware of the whales’ plight when Adam (John Krasinski), a TV reporter in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, broadcasts the story for the local station. NBC has one minute forty seconds to fill and uses his story. Rachel (Drew Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, was one of the first to arrive on the scene and really spearheaded the effort to rescue the whales. The native whale hunters, an oil company owner (Ted Danson), journalists, and state and U.S. government have to put aside their differences to try to rescue the whales.

Take time to watch the special feature, Truth is Stranger than Fiction, which features Cindy Lowry, the real-life Rachel, and some of the other people involved in the crisis. The movie is based on a book by Tom Rose.

For other animal films at the library, browse our list Movies Featuring the Animal Kingdom.

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge (2012)

On November 22, 1981, the Rolling Stones were in Chicago for a concert and stopped into Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge to hear Muddy Waters and get back to their blues roots. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Ian Stewart joined in. It was incredible watching a young Mick Jagger singing and interacting with the father of modern Chicago blues and Keith Richards jamming on the guitar. Buddy Guy, Lefty Dizz, and Junior Wells are also featured. Bootleg copies existed, but this is the first official film recording of the historic night. The Rolling Stones were named after the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.”

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones reminded me of the historic night at Sun Records in 1956 when Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley had an impromptu jam session. No film footage exists, but most of the sound was recorded and released as The Million Dollar Quartet. This event spawned the musical, Million Dollar Quartet.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) PG-13

I thoroughly enjoyed this charming movie about a group of retirees who are enticed to spend their golden years at a supposedly luxury resort in India.  The exotic, colorful, and bustling locale enchants them and forces them out of their comfort zones.  Some adapt to and embrace their new situation better than others.

I enjoyed both the comic and poignant moments of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The enthusiastic young manager’s favorite words are “In India we have a saying, everything will be all right in the end so if it is not all right it is not yet the end.”  The movie features British veteran actors Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach.

Conviction (2010) R

Conviction is the moving story of Betty Anne Waters who was so devoted to her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) and believed so strongly that he was innocent of a murder that she persisted for years in trying to overturn his conviction. Academy Award winner* Hilary Swank is excellent in the role of Betty Anne.

When her brother was sentenced to life in prison, Betty Anne got her GED, went to college and then law school in her fight to free him. Academy Award winner** Melissa Leo plays the role of the primary policewoman who arrested Kenny. Toward the end of her fight, Betty Anne was aided by the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

For more on Kenny Waters’ case, check out this feature on the Innocence Project website. And to learn more about the real Betty Anne Waters, read this New York Times article.

Other materials about false imprisonment are After Innocence (2005) and Surviving Justice: America’s wrongfully convicted and exonerated (2005).

* Best Actress for Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
** Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter (2010)

Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

The crooner, Bing Crosby, plays Father O’Malley in Going My Way, winner of seven Academy Awards, and its sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s. In the timeless classic, Going My Way, the young priest is assigned to a financially ailing New York Irish parish church with the mission of turning it around unbeknown to Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), the founding pastor. Along the way, he befriends the parish hoodlums and tries to turn them into choirboys. The singing by Crosby, the boys, and an opera singer enhances the film.

In the sentimental movie, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Father O’Malley is sent to a parish with a school that is overcrowded and in need of major repairs. He butts heads with the sister superior, Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), especially when he starts his first day by giving the students the day off. A businessman wants them to sell the school to him and turn it into a parking lot. The nuns are praying for a miracle. This is my favorite of the two movies.

Check out Turner Classic Movies for notes on Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.

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).

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.