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Niagara

Niagara (1953)
Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten star in this dark story about love and murder set at Niagara Falls. Though not the best film ever made, Niagara helped cement Monroe's status as a box office draw. It afforded her the chance to play a cold-blooded and conniving role. Joseph Cotten turns in another of his intense, dark and disturbed portrayals.

There is an interesting noir feeling to this Technicolor film with the stalking sequence in the clock tower and the finale. The film makes great use of the falls themselves, both in a "travelogue" sense and in terms of using the location to create and maintain atmosphere. Released in 1953, it's still good to watch again!

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (1972)
Perfect stories from the life of a young veterinary doctor. The best book about people and animals that I have read in the last five years.  Herriot continues his story of life as an English country vet in All Things Bright and Beautiful and All Things Wise and Wonderful. These real life stories were made into an excellent BBC series.

James Herriot was the pen name for James Alfred Wight. Visit the James Herriot website to learn more about this veterinary/author. You may also read an excerpt from the book and find reviews at Amazon.com.

Milk

Milk (2008) R
A great story of how a gay person in the 1970s gets elected to political office in San Francisco, and the hard times gays endured to get their voices heard.

Sean Penn won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his title role as Harvey Milk. Also starring Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and James Franco.
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Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (2006)
Amy Winehouse’s Grammy award-winning album is great to listen to. Her persona doesn’t match her voice; she sounds like ‘60s Motown. The different style has a lot to do with the production. She wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album.

Read the Washington Post review of the album. Check out her website to listen to the CD,  watch exclusive footage, and get more information on the artist.
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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (2006)
Humorous, laugh-out-loud story of Bill Bryson's childhood growing up in the 1950s. If you want to read a true version of how life was growing up in the 1950s in Iowa, this is it. If you want to recall how life was in the 1950s, this is it.

Check out the reviews at Amazon.com, preview the book before visiting the library, and watch a video of Bryson discussing his book.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (2008)
Twelve year old Ren has no memory of his life before he came to the Catholic orphanage in mid-19th century New England. Then, one day, the mysterious Benjamin Nap comes to the orphanage and claims Ren as his long lost brother. Soon Ren is off with Nab, who turns out to be a con man of great charm. This is a delightful old-fashioned story with an appealing young hero you can't help but root for. It includes grave robbing, breathtaking chase scenes, and even a long lost evil relative.

Visit the author's website, preview the book and read a New York Times review of the book.

Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins (1998)
Michael O’ Sullivan is a soldier who served in the U.S. Army during WWI. During Prohibition, O’Sullivan provides for his family by working as a ruthless but honorable enforcer for the Looney crime family. His nickname is “The Angel of Death.” When O' Sullivan's oldest boy, Michael, witnesses a murder committed by the crime boss and his son, the Looney family kills O’Sullivan’s wife and other son. But Sr. and Jr. O' Sullivan escape, hitting the road to Perdition, Kansas, where the boy's aunt and uncle live. Along the way, “The Angel of Death” exacts his revenge on the Looneys.

The graphic novel is stylishly drawn by the English artist Richard Piers Rayner in black and white Noir style, which suits the O’Sullivans’ travels through the Depression-era Midwest. The graphic novel was made into a movie by the same name. There is more going on than just the usual violence; it is a story about fathers and sons, a familiar story of family, loss and revenge.

Check out the reviews at Amazon.com and read a Time magazine article about the graphic novel.

Bread & Tulips = Pane e tulipani

Bread & Tulips = Pane e tulipani (2000) PG-13
Bread & Tulips is a charming and quirky Italian film about an overlooked housewife who impulsively vacations to Venice and, with the help of a wonderful cast of supporting characters, finds herself. Part comedy, part romance, part fairy tale, this colorful film will leave you smiling!

In Italian with English subtitles.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson (2009)
Amy Dickinson, the successor to Ann Landers and writer of the syndicated "Dear Amy" advice column in the Chicago Tribune, has written this warm and funny memoir of her life after her husband leaves her and her young baby for a young Russian woman he's met. Amy's story is about picking herself up after this devastating blow and returning to her small hometown in upper New York. Nurtured by the "Queens," the Freeville women in her family, she does survive and becomes the insightful, wise woman we read in the advice column. This book is a quick, humorous read and Amy's story makes us proud that we, too, can make it and flourish in the face of most anything.

Check out the book's website and read reviews of the book at Amazon.com.

Picture Snatcher

Picture Snatcher (1933)
This fast paced precode comedy/drama stars James Cagney as an ex-con who "goes straight" with a job as a photographer for a two bit tabloid. Taking pictures of poor people at their lowest moments, Cagney hits the big time when he sneaks a photo of a murderess at the moment of her execution (a real life event fictionalized in this movie).

Visit TCM.com to watch a trailer. For a similar precode movie about a ruthless columnist who dishes dirt on anyone--until the love of a good woman turns him around (sort of), see Blessed Event.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2006)
I read this for my young adult literature class. It was fast paced and has a very important (and different) narrator. The book talks about Nazi Germany but also about the growth of a young girl. And what book lover doesn’t want to know more about the book thief?

Watch the video to see the author discuss The Book Thief, read the reviews at BookBrowse.com and listen to NPR's interview with the author.

Australia

Australia (2008) PG-13
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in this epic movie that’s also a love story. Baz Luhrmann directs this tale set in the Northern Territory of Australia during World War II.

My husband had traveled to Australia, and he loved the scenery portrayed in the movie. He was in the area where it was filmed.

Check out a LA Times interview with Nicole Kidman where she discusses the film and the region. Also visit Amazon.com for a behind the scenes video clip featuring Hugh Jackman. If you want to preview the movie, IMDb.com has several featurettes and trailers.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (1997)
There are many good books about this painful time in human history but there are some books that have a profound impact on us because they present the real toll of the Holocaust. This is one of those books. The Reader is a work of psychological complexity; an exploration of the painful and difficult process of guilt and atonement. It is also a love story. The story is told in three parts by the main character, Michael Berg. Each part takes place in a different time period in the past.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she disappears without explanation. When he sees her again, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a terrible crime. As he watches her refuse to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder. The final part the book is about truth and reconciliation.

Read an excerpt from this Oprah's book club selection and view the reading group guide.

Hobson’s Choice

Hobson’s Choice (1954)
Charles Laughton is the irascible Henry Hobson who owns a boot shop in 1890s England. Hobson dominates his three daughters, blustering and threatening them about their marriage prospects. His oldest daughter, though, takes matters into her own hands when she uses her own considerable willpower to marry her father's lowly and mild-mannered bootmaker Willie Mossop, played beautifully by John Mills.

A quiet movie in many ways, but with many delightful moments. Watching the transformation of Mossop from meek bootmaker to proud husband and owner of his own shop is reward in itself. Watch for Prunella Scales of Fawlty Towers fame as youngest daughter Vicky.

For more on the movie (including a video clip), visit the Criterion Collection website.

Livability by Jon Raymond

Livability by Jon Raymond (2009)
This short story collection is set in and around Portland, Oregon, and follows characters at transition points in life. Two of the nine stories have been adapted into independent feature films directed by Kelly Reichardt.

Listen to the author read from Livability and check out the Amazon.com reviews.