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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
Let me just say up front that I loved Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. It is probably my favorite nonfiction book. Well, I think, she’s done it again with Unbroken, the biography of an extraordinary U.S. Army Air Force officer, Louie Zamperini, who was shot down over the Pacific. Laura Hillenbrand has presented a remarkable story of human endurance. Zamperini’s story, like Seabiscuit’s, is eternal and inspirational.

On a mission over the South Pacific, Zamperini was the bombardier on a B-24. When the plane crashes, he finds himself floating on a raft with little provision for survival. After more than a month on the raft, starving, thirsty and chased by sharks, the ordeal ends with the survivors being captured by the Japanese and imprisoned in a hellish Japanese POW camp.

Hillenbrand is an historian and biographer who places herself at the service of her subjects; this makes her books a rare combination of writer and story. Though her prose is short and straightforward, her books are written with a rich and vivid narrative voice that keeps you involved through even the worst of Zamperini’s ordeal.

Read an excerpt of the book here.

Jubal

Jubal (1956)
Rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) saves drifter Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) from freezing to death and takes him to his ranch. Shep is a big happy puppy dog of a man who takes an instant liking to Jubal and hires him on as a ranch hand. Jubal, who has had a troubled past, forms a friendship with Shep and later reveals the only man he ever previously trusted was his father. Eventually Shep promotes Jubal to ranch foreman.

Jubal's immediate future looks good but there are two significant obstacles to his future happiness. One of them is Shep's wife Mae (Valerie French), who has been unfaithful in the past and now sets her sights on Jubal. His other problem is "Pinky" Pinkum (Rod Steiger) a malicious ranch hand who hates everyone (himself included).

Jubal has much to recommend it. The musical score is hauntingly beautiful. The cinematography is gorgeous. And Rod Steiger gives a compelling performance. I was somewhat surprised to discover that this film did not receive any academy award nominations.

I strongly recommend this film. Check back on Friday for our spotlight on other films released in 1956.

Megamind

Megamind (2010) PG
Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill provide the voices in the latest animated film from DreamWorks. When the (sort of) evil Megamind destroys his nemesis, the perfect Metro Man, he takes over Metropolis. But without someone to battle, Megamind gets bored and creates a new superhero Tighten.

When Tighten fails to work for the good of the city, Megamind finds himself in the unlikely position of potential hero. With reporter Roxanne Ritchie as his moral compass, Megamind fights to save Metropolis.

A laugh out loud adventure for the whole family.

Red

Red (2010) PG-13
When retired CIA agents become the target of assassination attempts, they fight back. This action comedy proves that some things do get better with age.

The old black ops team of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich is joined by newcomer Mary-Louise Parker. Together they must elude top level assassins and discover who’s trying to kill them and why.

I especially enjoyed seeing a different side of Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman.

Star Trek

Star Trek (2008) PG-13
I’ve never seen the original Star Trek series. You don’t have to know anything about Star Trek to enjoy this film; I’m proof of that.

Occurring in an alternate reality to avoid continuity issues with the original series, Star Trek follows a young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they learn to coexist to battle the evil Nero (Eric Bana). The film exhibits smart dialogue, witty humor, engaging friendships, and explosive special effects.

If you want to escape for a couple hours, I recommend discovering the new generation of Star Trek – and then you’ll be ready when the sequel comes out in 2012!

Inception

Inception (2010) PG-13
This futuristic thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio operates on the premise that your mind can be hijacked while you are sleeping and your thoughts can be both stolen or changed by dream invasion. This film earned almost $300 million at the box office to prove how worthy it is, but the film falls flat for me (check out Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics think). Although the special effects are dramatic (and Oscar worthy), the plot is confusing and character development is ignored.

Director Christopher Nolan’s talents are much better displayed in the Batman film The Dark Knight (2008) starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger or in his groundbreaking film Memento (2000) which is told from a backwards point of view.

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler (2009)
I’ve read many of his books and they’re all such nonstop action that I find myself listening to one of his books on CD in the car during long road trips. I hate to turn off the car in the middle of a chapter!

Detective Isaac Bell makes his second appearance (after The Chase) in this historical thriller. Preview the book--take care you may get hooked!

The Dam Busters

The Dam Busters (1954)
British command during WWII is desperate to disrupt German production in the Ruhr Valley. Toward that end, they devise a clever and complicated plan to blow up crucial dams on the Ruhr River. Eccentric genius B. N. Wallis, played by Michael Redgrave, has devised a bomb that will bounce across the surface of the water and explode as it reaches the exact optimum depth. The only trouble is that the bomb must be dropped at a very precise height from a plane going a very precise speed at a very precise distance.

The first two-thirds of the movie explores the ingenious ways in which these problems are solved and the last third is the exciting mission itself. For those who liked The Man Who Never Was (1956), a movie about another British and American plan to mislead the Germans.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993) PG-13Jurassic Park is a classic that gives you a look at what a dinosaur would look like, how it would move, and how it would sound. Some scientists are invited to a remote island theme park with living, breathing dinosaurs. The theme park erupts into chaos and turns deadly.

The dinosaurs are loose because the power goes out and it’s up to these scientists to survive the battle. Adventure awaits in every corner.

The movie is based on the book by Michael Crichton. Two thumbs up!

If you enjoyed this film, you may also like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jaws.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) PG-13
Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno and Superbad) plays bass guitar in a Toronto garage band. He’s dating a high school girl, but meets his dream girl, Ramona Flowers, a punky American girl closer to his own age. The story is told as an allegory of life as a video game, complete with extra lives and the need to out-fight one’s enemies. Scott soon finds out he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes before they can date. Not just another teen movie, the movie appeals to a much wider range of fans. Watch for an uncredited appearance by Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as one of the Vegan Police.

One of the writers of this film (Edgar Wright) also co-wrote the clever zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004). Bryan Lee O'Malley wrote the graphic novels the movie was based on.

The A-Team

The A-Team (2010) PG-13
Don’t take this movie too seriously. This remake of the '80s TV show provides a very entertaining two hours. The A-Team is comprised of Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Sharlto Copley. After they’re framed for an op gone bad, the quartet must break out of military prison to clear their name and finish the mission.

Check out a video interview with Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. Also read an interview with director Joe Carnahan.

Night Passage

Night Passage (1957)Night Passage is an action packed western about former railroad troubleshooter Grant MacLaine (Jimmy Stewart), who lost his job after letting his outlaw brother, the Utica Kid (Audie Murphy), escape. After spending five years wandering the west and earning his living playing the accordion, he is given a second chance by his former boss. The train has been robbed several times by Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea), the Utica Kid and their gang.

This film is like a wonderful meal that is full of both contrasts and surprises. There’s the obvious contrast between MacLaine and the Utica Kid of good vs. bad and older vs. younger. In addition, Whitey is nervous and constantly on edge while the Kid is calm and collected. MacLaine's former loves are also a contrast. Verna, a blonde, chose an older and wealthier man over MacLaine preferring security to romance, and Charlotte, a brunette, has chosen the younger and wilder Utica Kid over MacLaine.

There is one unintended contrast in the film. Two TV dads have small roles in the film: Hugh Beamont, the Beaver's dad in Leave it to Beaver and Herbert Anderson, Dennis' dad in Dennis the Menace. Both men play railroad employees but one of them is honest while the other is not.

Among the surprises, the film features two wonderful songs, a beautiful romantic ballad "Follow the River" and a lively jig "You can't get far without a railroad." Stewart plays the accordion and sings the latter song. Besides Duryea, the film also features character actors Robert Wilke and Jack Elam. All three of these actors made careers out of playing sadistic killers. And the photography is gorgeous.

There is a lot to like in the film. So check it out, get some popcorn and sit back and enjoy.

Up

Up (2009) PGUp begins with Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting the love of his life, Ellie, and shows them dreaming about traveling to the mysterious Paradise Falls in South America. The movie fast forwards through scenes of their beautiful life together, all the while their dream of traveling eludes them. When Ellie dies, and Carl is about to be ordered by the court into the Shady Oaks retirement home, he escapes by tying thousands of balloons to his house and floating to South America. Now that Ellie is gone, Carl just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately, Russell, a local scout trying to earn a merit badge for helping the elderly, is pulled into the adventure, too.

They head for Paradise Falls and end up battling the famous explorer Charles Muntz who is trying to capture a rare bird assisted by his band of dogs who can talk with the help of special collars. After a shaky start, Russell and Carl become close friends who look forward to spending time together. Up is a wonderful story about chasing one’s dreams, but more importantly, it is about making new dreams and never giving up on life.

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October (1998) PG
Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin star in this adaptation of Tom Clancy’s bestselling book and they get it right. Many movies based on a book do not succeed. The suspense and tension of the book are intact in this movie. The underwater shots of the giant submarine, the confusion of whom to trust, and more all lead to a blistering but satisfying conclusion. Perk up your summer with a little underwater excitement.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) R
I was initially drawn to this movie for several reasons. First, I like both Denzel Washington and John Travolta as actors. Second, I love films of suspense. It was indeed fast-paced and suspenseful, and both actors were great. Travolta was a very believable, demented criminal who hijacks a New York City subway train. I did not see the original film of the same title, released in 1974, but I definitely want to see that too.