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National Treasure

National Treasure (2004) PG
Share the adventures of a lifelong treasure hunter, his endearing assistant, and a tough archivist. Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) has been searching his whole life using the clues passed down through his family. When he finally breaks the first code, his partner Ian double-crosses him.

To preserve a precious piece of American history, Ben plots to steal the Declaration of Independence. Follow the clues as they take our heroes to historical landmarks with Ian and the FBI close behind.

The adventure continues in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer (2008) PG
Based on the animated TV series, Speed Racer may start out slow, but it soon becomes engrossing. Race car driver Speed Racer (Emilie Hirsch) loves driving – it’s in his blood (and it’s the family business). When he makes it to the big leagues, Speed learns about the dark side of the sport that took the life of his older brother.

Costarring Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox, Speed Racer is psychedelic fun for the whole family.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) PG
Another Ben Stiller winner. Everyone will enjoy watching the authentic Smithsonian Museums' artifacts come alive! The story tells interesting historical facts about Amelia Earhart and General Custer.

I went to Washington, D.C., two years ago; therefore, the movie impressed me in that it was based on facts like the largest sea monster caught being at the Smithsonian and the use of the Air and Space Museum for action. Of course, you'll love seeing Abe Lincoln come to life walking and talking...and having recently climbed all those stairs up the Lincoln Memorial, I was impressed that the movie used Abe to great advantage.

See this on DVD for lots of laughs. And don't forget to check out the original Night at the Museum.

Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009) RPublic Enemies with Johnny Depp is an entertaining historical account of John Dillinger's robberies in the 1930s. You'll recognize all the places in Indiana and Illinois (see the filming locations).

Great photography, acting, and storytelling. It is amazing to see the banks that were robbed and the number of robberies in a short period of time. Depp's human portrayal of Dillinger's personal life surprised me. I recommend this movie if you are used to gangster shootings in movies because it has violent/realistic action!

For more on Dillinger, visit the FBI's famous cases site; request the PBS documentary Public Enemy #1 and visit the companion website; or check out the WGN TV website for articles, videos, and more.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Scat by Carl Hiaasen (2009)Scat is a book in the teen section which parents and grandparents should read and recommend to their children. Carl Hiaasen writes in the same style as he does in his adult fiction, but without the profanity. Adults will find this Florida environmental issue of the black panther very informative. Hiaasen’s quest continues to make his readers aware of environmental issues using interesting topics, writing style and suspense.

Read an excerpt from the book and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond (2007) R
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond is set in Sierra Leone in 1999 amid the chaos of Africa in armed conflict. It is an action drama played against the backdrop of political turmoil. The movie is about the illegal trafficking of diamonds in Africa: diamonds are harvested in Sierra Leone, smuggled into Liberia, and from there, sold to the rest of the world. Although it is tricky to make a movie on a controversial issue that is neither do-gooder nor exploitative, in this case the effort is surprisingly successful.

Blood diamonds were so named in the 1990s to call attention to the fact that African diamonds were being smuggled out of countries at war specifically to buy more arms and kill more people.

Weaker moments in the story are overshadowed by the film's willingness to risk disturbing an audience's sense of the world and how it is run. Blood Diamond is very much aware that these are problems beyond an easy resolution, and making a film that understands that is quite an accomplishment.

It really is a good movie, well acted, with Africa playing a wonderful supporting role!

Taken

Taken (2008) PG-13
Fast-paced action thriller that touches on a topic that is frightening for any parent. Liam Neeson plays a former government agent whose teenage daughter is abducted while in Paris with a friend. He relies on his old skills to try to rescue his daughter and seek revenge on the criminals who kidnapped her.

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.

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella (2008)
To learn about the coffee trade in the 19th century world was interesting, plus having a very randy main character gives Anthony Capella's newest novel two reasons why it shouldn't be missed. Robert Wallis, an impoverished poet, is offered a job by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to compose a "vocabulary of coffee."

Wallis falls in love with the owner's daughter while writing and is sent to Africa for five years to establish a coffee plantation with the understanding he then can return and marry Emily, the daughter. His lustful urges change his life in Africa and his future as well. Robert returns to an England of women suffragettes and coffee barons and once again his fate has been altered. This is  delicious, sensual work of fiction. Don't miss it.

Visit the author's website, read a review and the reading group guide at  Bookreporter.com.

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.

Heroes: Season 1

Heroes: Season 1 (2006-2007)
Heroes tells the stories of ordinary individuals from around the world who inexplicably develop superhuman abilities, and their roles in preventing disasters (usually foreseen in painted images from precognitive painters). Season 1 shows how each character learns about their ability and eventually throughout the season, shows how they connect with each other. The interesting thing about Heroes is there isn’t a main character. The series tells a story about each individual, and of course some individuals play a larger role in the fate of the future.

You can catch Heroes on Mondays at 8:00 p.m. on NBC. Also check out the official website, where you can watch episodes, find out more about the cast, and get web exclusives.

Chuck. Season 1

Chuck. Season 1 (2007-2008)
When Chuck Bartowski opens an email from his college roommate, he unintentionally downloads all of the government’s secrets into his brain. What follows is an action-packed comedy adventure that has Chuck trying to balance his life as a computer consultant at Buy More Electronics with being a government “agent” catching assassins and terrorists.

Chuck features goofy humor and great characters. CIA Agent Sarah Walker and NSA Agent John Casey go undercover to protect Chuck. Sarah works at the nearby Wienerlicious hot dog shop, and Casey is a salesman at Buy More. The antics of the entire Buy More staff are hilarious. The action scenes showing Sarah, Casey, and Chuck battle the bad guys are entertaining. Because of the writer’s strike, season one is (sadly) only 13 episodes.

Rawhide: Season 2

Rawhide: Season 2 (1959-1960)
Somehow I missed this exciting western when it was on television in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I am glad that I did, since I now have a new western television series to watch.

This TV series is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Eric Fleming brought a lot to this series, as did his young costar Clint Eastwood, along with a very able supporting cast. Some of the stories are very fresh and creative, and even the more traditional plots are done very well. Season 2 (32 episodes) has a surprising number of stories dealing with the supernatural, with almost a Twilight Zone feel. Some of the villains are females and they are very good at being very bad.

Ladyhawke

Ladyhawke (1985) PG-13
Visually a work of art, this film is based on a 13th century European legend about a beautiful maiden (Michelle Pfeiffer), a stalwart knight (Rutger Hauer) and a pickpocket (Matthew Broderick). The knight and the lady were once lovers, but a curse by the jealous Bishop of Aquila has left them "always together, eternally apart." By day, she is a hawk; by night he is a wolf.  
          
This one has a great storyline and interesting characters. Philipe's (Broderick) conversations with God add a wonderful dimension to the film as does Leo McKern as the old monk. Check out the original trailer.

And Then You Die by Iris Johansen

And Then You Die by Iris Johansen (1998)
This thriller grabbed me immediately and kept me on the run with Bess Grady, a photojournalist who comes upon a horrifying site in a Mexican village. Would she, her sister, and a man she must trust against her better judgment escape each new dangerous situation? This page turner pulls plot ideas from headline events and shows some frightening possibilities that could come to pass.