J. Edgar (2011) R

J. Edgar is a character study of J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and director of the FBI for over 50 years. Leonardo DiCaprio gets under the skin of this enigmatic man. The most outstanding feature of this movie is the overall view of J. Edgar. His secret life; his strange, strong attachment to his mother; his intimate relationship with another man; his lust for admiration are balanced by his achievements. He raised the bar of crime solving, using innovative scientific procedures like universal file for fingerprinting.

Often misguided and ruthless, J. Edgar was more than the sum of his parts. This movie made me want to read more about him. Incidentally, the supporting cast is outstanding and the makeup is pure artistry.

Monkeewrench by P. J. Tracy (2003)

This thriller mystery jumps right through cyberspace. A killer begins murdering victims on a computer game. By duplicating each murder exactly, the police department of Minneapolis must try to outwit and out think a psychopathic genius. The story is easy to follow and sure fun to read. Get started with Monkeewrench then read the rest of the series by P. J. Tracy.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos (2009)

Sing Them Home is an imaginative novel that covers familiar themes of loss, grief, and family; a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived with unresolved grief since their mother’s death in the tornado of 1978. When they’re summoned home to Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, after their father’s death, each is forced to revisit the childhood tragedy that has defined their lives.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos is a wonderful story – told with a touch of magical realism – of lives connected and undone by tragedy who find redemption by returning home.
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Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1999)

In Stardust young Tristran Thorn grows up in the Village of Wall which lies on the edge of Fairie land. The villagers only enter the land beyond their walled town once every nine years when they mix with magical folk at a temporary market. Following his heart, Tristran embarks on a journey into Fairie which reveals his gifts and subjects him to great challenges. Gaiman's fantasy is entertaining, at times amusing, and very engrossing.

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough (2012)

In the early thirties, Rex Stout created the eccentric private detective Nero Wolfe who lived in a New York brownstone, raised orchids, ate gourmet dinners, drank beer, and solved crimes from the comfort of his chair, aided by the leg work of Archie Goodwin. In this prequel by Goldsborough, we see how this famous partnership started.

Fresh in Depression-era New York from Ohio, Archie is willing and ready. He gets a job with another private eye, solves some cases, and then when the son of a wealthy Long Island millionaire goes missing gets his chance to work with the great man. Archie has all the ironic humor and wry eye we know from the classic series. Check out Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough today.

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

In this witty journey film, filmmaker John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make a serious social statement in his upcoming film. The only problem is he knows nothing of hardship and so sets out into Depression-era America to experience life as a hobo.

This film is a classic with a little bit of everything: romance, drama, action, comedy …and a look at life as it was for many during the Depression.

Writer/Director Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels satirizes Hollywood with all its pretension and excess. His sophisticated dialogue and fast-paced slapstick make this mix of comedy and drama a perfect blend. It may very well be the best film about Hollywood and filmmaking.

Find out additional background information on the film at TCM.com.

Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton (2012)

Kati Marton is an award-winning author, a successful news correspondent, and a woman with a past worth writing about.  In her memoir Paris: A Love Story, Paris symbolizes an environment of love, adventure, and finally of healing.

Married twice to men, prominent on the world stage, Kati writes candidly of her glamorous life, magically without offending anyone.  Now a widow, she looks over shoulder to a life, filled with passion, service, and possibly integrity.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)

Ben Fountain’s novel effectively captures the disconnect between soldiers on the ground in Iraq and the civilian perspective of the war. Billy, a 19-year-old solider, has just returned to America for a two week “Victory Tour” following a successful firefight in Iraq. Along with soldiers of Bravo Company, Billy has traveled cross country on a morale-boosting media circuit. Written in a stream of conscious, the young war hero narrates the final day at the Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving. Throughout the course of one day the reader witnesses Billy’s struggle with his newfound fame, the effect of war, family, and brotherhood. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a moving and satirical portrayal of America over the last ten years.
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Homeland. Season 1 (2011)

After hearing the nonstop buzz about Homeland, I watched the first season and I was not disappointed. The plot centers on CIA agent Carrie Mathison, who was warned by an Iraqi source that an American prisoner of war had been turned by Al-Qaeda. When Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a U.S. Marine Sergeant, is rescued after being held captive by Al-Qaeda for nearly eight years, Carrie is suspicious. Claire Danes does a tremendous job playing the role of Carrie, who is determined, almost to a fault, to prevent another terrorist attack. This heart-pounding, suspenseful drama will keep you questioning who is really telling the truth.

White Heat (1949)

White Heat is one of the best crime dramas you’ll ever see. James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a sadistic, vicious thug who meets the textbook definition of the phrase “criminally insane.” Cagney gives a performance that no other actor could duplicate let alone exceed. If you are wondering why he didn’t get the Oscar for this film, I didn’t understand either but I believe it was because Hollywood didn’t nominate “gangster films” for Oscars until perhaps The Godfather.

Virginia Mayo gives a fine performance as Cody’s girl, as does Edmund O’Brien as an undercover federal policeman. But the other special performance in this film is given by Margaret Wycherly, who portrays Cody’s mother. You can see in her character one of the main reasons Cody grew up to become the monster he was. Her role is such a contrast to the warm and steadfast mother she played in Sergeant York. Wycherly deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in White Heat in addition the one she received for Sergeant York.

White Heat was nominated for best writing; perhaps that was Hollywood’s discreet way of acknowledging Cagney and Wycherly’s performances and director Raoul Walsh.

I have seen this film many times and I am still amazed at how good it is.
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Tenth of December by George Saunders (2012)

I don’t usually read short stories, but Tenth of December by George Saunders got such excellent reviews, I had to see for myself. I was not disappointed – Saunders is a master with language, creating scenarios where authority figures of one kind or another seek to control, either overtly or covertly, the emotions and responses of various characters including high school students, a recently returned veteran, a dying man, and an ill-fated family.

Despite the often dark subjects that include mind control, abduction, objectification, and simmering violence, Saunders’ stories also contain elements of absurdist humor and love and he manages to suggest that there is hope for humanity despite it all.

 

Jumping the Broom (2011) PG-13

This comedy is just pure fun, something to chase away the blahs. Jumping the Broom is about traditional wedding customs in the rural south. It is often a time-honored custom in modern marriages as well. And so the fun begins, a modern bride with her own ideas and a future mother-in-law from hell, determined to keep her son from his unworthy bride. It's a bumpy ride to the altar. Enjoy the ride.

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro (2012)

A thriller without a trail of blood and gore and an author with expertise in the art world, B.A. Shapiro takes us underground to the history and methods of art forgery. When a struggling artist commits to do a reproduction of a famous painting by Degas, the action begins. The plot twists and turns between the past and the present, but I was never confused; rather, I was fascinated by Shapiro’s knowledge in the art world. The Art Forger races to an ending that left me hoping this author will write another book.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (2012)

In Some Kind of Fairy Tale a teenage girl disappears in the woods near her English home, then returns to her family 20 years later. She has barely aged and her explanation, hardly believable, is that she was abducted by fairies…as the story unfolds it reveals an increasing amount of tangible evidence to back up her explanation.

Joyce weaves elements of folklore and myth into this novel of magical realism; its well-drawn characters build a tale of family, life and contradicting realities.

I find this idea of an updated fairy tale very appealing and as a quote in the novel says:

A fairy tale...on the other hand, demands of the reader total surrender; so long as he is in its world, there must for him be no other.” – W. H. Auden

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially the Tudor period featuring King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, you may enjoy this richly detailed and complex winner of the UK’s 2009 Man Booker Prize. Wolf Hall is centered on the improbable rise of Thomas Cromwell, from an angry, violent, and abused blacksmith’s son, to the right-hand man of the king. The writing style takes a little getting used to, but once you become familiar with Mantel’s quirks, the tale is a spellbinding look into the highest levels of power and politics, as well as the mundane details of ordinary life in early 16th century England.

The second book of the planned trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies (2012), is currently available (and also won the prestigious Man Booker Prize).