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Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

Cyrano de Bergerac is one of those great movies that combines adventure with excellent dialogue. Cyrano is a soldier in the French army in 1640 and is both feared and respected for his skill as a swordsman. Despite his military prowess and clever tongue, he is unable to win over his true love because of his misgivings about his extraordinarily long nose. Instead, he helps a young, handsome cadet woo the love of his life in his place.

The movie is at times funny, exciting, suspenseful, and ultimately tragic. It features the brilliant acting of Jose Ferrer, with his deep booming voice, who won the Academy Award for best actor for his role. The movie Roxanne (1987) with Steve Martin is a modern day remake of this classic.

Watch the original trailer (courtesy of TCM).

Spotlight: Ben Affleck

Who is Ben Affleck anyway?

After an early start at the age of eight, starring in the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi, Ben Affleck didn’t make his big introduction into feature films until 1993 when he was cast in Dazed and Confused. After that, he did mostly independent films like Kevin Smith's Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997).

Interestingly, in the same year he made Mimi, Affleck made the acquaintance of Matt Damon, a boy two years his senior who lived down the street. The two became best friends and, of course, eventual collaborators.

In his early years in Hollywood, tired of being turned down for the big roles in films and the forgettable supporting ones he did play, he decided to write his own script. Matt Damon was having the same trouble and together they produced a script with the kind of roles they wanted to play! Good Will Hunting (1997) was the result and it went on to win two Academy Awards (nominated for nine).

Career ups and downs followed with much media attention to romance and rehab. After many flops, he seems to have re-invented himself as a director.

He's has earned critical acclaim for directing films including The Town and Argo so perhaps Affleck's greatest talent lies behind the camera where reviews of his films call him ”a sensitive, thoughtful and collaborative” director.
Here are my choices from a long list of his films:

Friday Night Lights. Seasons 1-5 (2006-2011)

For five brief seasons, this emotionally rewarding television series gave us the trials and triumphs of high school football coach Eric Taylor. Set in a mid-sized town in Texas for which the high school football team’s success is everything, we get to know all the regulars, the coach’s high school guidance counselor wife, the head of the boosters, the football player stars and hopefuls, and the girls that date them. For many of these players, success on the football field means a scholarship and the hope for something more than life in Dixon, Texas.

One of my favorites is Tyra, who is from a family of women who live by finding a man to take care of them but who wants to go to college and make a change. Sweet Matt gets thrust into the role of QB1. Not the most talented athlete, he uses his brains to take his team to the state finals. And of course Tim Riggins, the bad boy we all had crushes on in high school, a well-intentioned and noble character from the wrong family. And Coach Taylor and his happy marriage to Tami hold the whole series together.

Enjoy all five seasons of Friday Night Lights.

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.

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.

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.

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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Argo (2012) R

Yes, sir. There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one.
You don't have a better bad idea than this?
This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.
I loved Argo so much that I’ve seen it twice in the past month. The film tells the story of the rescue of six Americans in Tehran who escaped the embassy at the start of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. Despite knowing the end of the tale, you’ll be on the edge of your seat throughout this engaging thriller. Quick-witted, snarky dialogue balances tense situations.

And if you're wondering how true to real life the Hollywood version is, check out this NPR review from a former White House aide.

If you haven’t seen the Best Picture winner yet (or just want to watch Argo again), join us on Friday, March 15. We’ll start the movie at 7pm and follow with an optional discussion. Sign up here. It’s part two of our Movies & More series featuring Academy Award-nominated films (March 29 is Skyfall).

The Good Wife. Seasons 1-3 (2009-2012)

The Good Wife is a fascinating legal drama that centers on Alicia Florrick’s (Julianna Margulies) return to her former profession as a litigator after 12 years spent at home raising her children. Her husband is the disgraced Cook County attorney, who is currently incarcerated due to a very public sex and corruption scandal.

The show chronicles Alicia’s struggles as she deals with a new job, her conflicted feelings toward her husband, and the pressure of raising her two children. It is such a smart and well-acted television show and definitely one of my favorites.

 
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Trouble with the Curve (2012) PG-13

I loved Trouble with the Curve, a baseball journey featuring an all-star cast. Clint Eastwood is Gus, a stubborn, ailing scout with a job in jeopardy. Amy Adams plays Mickey, his estranged daughter on the fast track of a big law firm. The two embark on a road trip to find the next great baseball star and along the way, meet Johnny (Justin Timberlake) – a former ballplayer, a rival scout, and a love interest for Mickey.

I appreciated seeing another side of the baseball game, plus enjoyed the interaction between the actors (the three mentioned above as well as John Goodman). I’ll definitely watch this one again!

For other baseball movies at Indian Prairie, check out our list. And Spring Training is underway. Are you ready for another season of Chicago baseball?
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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (2010)

The HBO series opens on New Year’s Eve, 1920, the moment Prohibition becomes the law of the land. Local politician Nucky Thompson runs Atlantic City and wants to control all of the liquor coming in off the shore and distributed across the country. The likes of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and other real-life gangsters appear in Boardwalk Empire.

The sets, the costumes, and most particularly the soundtrack transport you to the early days of 1920s Atlantic City, where the magnetic Nucky Thompson pulls all the strings. Because the series was first shown on premium cable and portrays gangsters and prostitutes as many of the characters, this show does have graphic violence and nudity.

Want other gangster movies and TV shows? Check out our list.

The Descendants (2011) R

Basically we humans want life to be simple, but for Matt King (George Clooney) it has become anything but! With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, his two daughters in need of his attention, and the responsibility of a family land trust, he finds himself in the most difficult of situations.

The Descendants, with the atmosphere of its Hawaiian setting (including the native music), was surprising, moving, and frequently very funny, but the best part is how well it all works.
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True Blood. Seasons 1 and 2 (2008-2009)

Vampires have always existed in the shadows of Bon Temps, Louisiana, but with the invention of the artificial blood product “True Blood,” vampires have come out into the open. Some residents welcome them, like heroine Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), but others need a little persuading.

As so often happens when vampires are around, other supernatural creatures make appearances as well. Be prepared for great characters, violence, gratuitous nudity, goofy humor, and a touching love story in seasons 1 and 2 of True Blood. Seasons 3 and 4 are also available on DVD. Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris.

Spotlight: Edward Norton

One actor whose films I’m always anxious to watch is Edward Norton. He is so gifted and versatile. The characters he plays are often intense and/or troubled, and always captivating and true-to-life. My favorite films are American History X (1998) and Primal Fear (1996), although I’ve also enjoyed many others. Here’s a selection of some of his movies that are available at IPPL: