Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale (1980)

catchmeThis true life adventure is almost too over the top to be believed. The movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio pales in comparison to the book. At a very young age, Frank Abagnale set out on a life of crime that took him all over the world as he impersonated a Pan Am pilot, masqueraded as a supervising resident of a hospital, and practiced law without a license. He cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks and was known by the police of 26 foreign countries and all fifty states as "The Skywayman." His descriptions of narrowly escaping capture will make your jaw drop. When he is ultimately captured, he pays a heavy price. Catch Me If You Can is an exciting real story which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Forrest Gump (1994) PG-13

forrestgumpForrest Gump is told from the point of view of Forrest, played by Tom Hanks, and has a tall tale feel to it that will keep a satisfied smirk on your face throughout the movie. Forrest is born in Alabama, and he is not very bright, but despite this, or maybe even because of it, he throws himself into everything he does.

With extraordinary luck, he manages to appear at the scene of many pivotal moments in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and the movie superimposes him into actual footage of these events—it’s a lot of fun. His one desire is to woo the girl he grew up with, the love of his life, Jenny. Though the movie is funny, it also deals with a lot of heavy topics, and the ending is bittersweet. Forrest has so much heart that you will cheer for him until the end.
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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

micemenJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a powerful story about two day laborers during the Great Depression who dream of owning an acre of land. George is small, but smart, and he worries over and tries to protect his friend Lennie, who is big and strong, but has the mind of a child. Their prospects look promising until a flirtatious woman enters the picture, and George must act quickly to do what he feels is best for his friend. You won’t be able to put this book down.

For other classics that make great choices for reading and discussing, check out our book list.
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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

Better Off Dead (1985) PG

betteroffdeadStarring John Cusack, Better Off Dead is a cult, coming-of-age classic from the 80s which has catch phrases a plenty, quirky characters, and ONE LANE MEYER. Lane, a high school student, is having a bad year what with his girlfriend dumping him among other family crises. So, he decides to kill himself. But don’t worry, he isn’t very good at it, and in the end, he learns the language of love and has a renewed interest in living. This is a great movie and very funny, which you will want to watch again and again.
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The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012)

dogstarsAfter a pandemic flu has wiped out all but a few people, a pilot named Hig finds himself teamed up, for better or for worse, with Bangley, who is armed to the teeth and would rather shoot first and ask questions later. They have staked out a valley with a small suburban airport, with Hig warning people from the air that they should stay away. While Bangley is ruthless, Hig has a gentle nature, so they keep to themselves with Hig’s dog Jasper being his only real friend. It is a lonely and violent existence. When Hig hears a radio transmission from his plane, he must decide whether or not to risk everything to see if there is still some civilization out there.

Fans of dystopian literature will enjoy Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It is not nearly as bleak as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but still has plenty of desperate, exciting moments and ultimately conveys a message of hope. Check out other tales of dystopia here.
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Good Will Hunting (1997) R

good-will-hunting-movie-dvdplanetstorepkWill Hunting (Matt Damon) is a rough around the edges South Boston youth who is a mathematical genius, but he is dealing with a lot of internal issues and he seems destined for a life spent in and out of prison. When his talents are discovered by a local MIT professor, Will is required to meet with a psychologist (Robin Williams) who finally starts to get through to him. Will’s transformation is subtle but inspiring.

Williams won Best Supporting Actor for his role, and Damon and Ben Affleck, who also stars in Good Will Hunting, won for Best Original Screenplay.
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Despicable Me (2010) PG

Despicable Me is a laugh out loud movie that you can watch even if you don’t have kids. Steve Carrell is perfect as the voice of Gru, a super villain scheming to steal the moon. What he doesn’t bargain on are three orphan girls who steal his heart. This is a very funny movie.

And the fun continues with Minion Madness and Despicable Me 2.
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Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (2001)

This young adult title will make you cry both tears of joy and anguish as it explores the themes of racism, child abuse, and high school bullying. T. J. Jones, an adopted high school senior of mixed race, takes it upon himself to stop the quarterback of the football team from bullying a mentally challenged student. His plan, which involves creating a new sports team full of misfits, has wonderful highs and stunning lows. It is edgy, but rewarding.

I listened to Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk on CD (read by Brian Corrigan).
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The Simpsons Movie (2007) PG-13

Okay, if you like The Simpsons television show at all, you will laugh out loud at the movie more or less all the way to the end. It’s basically a supersized version of the TV show, and it even has moments that touch your heart (in a Simpsons’ sort of way).

In The Simpsons Movie, Homer has polluted Lake Springfield, which prompts the evil head of the EPA, voiced by Albert Brooks, to have a giant dome placed over the entire city. Meanwhile, the Simpson family goes on the lam to Alaska only to return to try to save their hometown which has been slated to be nuked. There is the typical Simpson family dysfunction, there is the entire Simpson cast of characters, and most importantly, there is Spider Pig. This is a fun movie!
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Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde (2009)

Shades of Grey is science fiction, suspense, and comedy rolled into one. It is set in a dystopian future in which everyone is color blind and one’s class status is determined by the amount of color that he or she can see, with the greys toiling at the bottom, the purples at the top, and several other hues in constant conflict.

Jasper Fforde has a vivid imagination, an eye for detail, and a gift for writing. I especially enjoy the clever dialogue, and each comically absurd scene outdoes the last. John Lee is excellent as the narrator of the book on CD. I would highly recommend listening to this book.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013)

Daniel James Brown captures the essence not only of this story but also of the sport of crew—the physical strength of the rowers, the strategy of the coxswain, the design of the boat. The author’s eye for detail is reminiscent of the writing of Laura Hillenbrand.
The Boys in the Boat focuses on the life of Joe Rantz, who, like his teammates, grows up during the Depression and struggles just to survive. These eight young, powerful rowers guided by a brilliant coxswain rose from humble beginning to win the gold at the 1936 Olympics. You will be cheering them on all the way to the finish.

Speed (1994) R

Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, is an “on the edge of your seat” thriller from beginning to end. An evil villain (Dennis Hopper) has planted a bomb on a city bus that will explode if the bus does not continue going over 50 miles per hour.

What else do you need to say? There are plenty of near misses to ramp up the tension, and Reeves and Bullock are great together. Speed will take you on a fun ride.

http://youtu.be/7nhBoOC-44Q

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)

Percy is a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who doesn’t fit in, his mother lives with an abusive stepfather, and he has just been expelled from his sixth school in six years. Life is frustrating, and the future seems bleak, when he suddenly learns the truth: his father is one of the Greek Gods! This, of course, means that Percy is half a God, and it opens up a whole new world full of danger, but also hope. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan’s young adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it will make you wish you paid attention more in high school when you were studying mythology. This is a fun book with a Herculean quest, prophecies, and plenty of action.

The Big Strike at Siwash by George Fitch (1909)

This short story is one of my favorites. Written in the style of a tall tale, it follows the football team at Siwash College and the daring exploits of star player Ole Skjarsen, a lad built of sturdy Scandinavian stock. He could dismantle most teams single-handedly, until the day he decided not to play anymore, leaving the entire university in turmoil. Find out how the fans cope with this great calamity. The Big Strike at Siwash by George Fitch is free at books.google.com.
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