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Hanna

Hanna (2011) PG-13
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement and The Lovely Bones) shines again in this gripping thriller. She plays the title character Hanna, a 16-year-old girl raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) in a remote area of Finland. Her entire childhood has been spent training to be the perfect assassin. When she decides she’s ready, Hanna makes her presence known to Marissa (Cate Blanchett), the agent who murdered her mother. In a cat-and-mouse game across Europe, Hanna is chased by Marissa who is followed by Erik. And things aren’t quite as they seem.

Great cinematography, music, and scenery. But beware – there’s a lot of graphic violence. For a more in-depth look at the film, visit the Focus Features website.

Romancing the Stone

Romancing the Stone (1984) PG
A shy, retiring romance novelist is caught up in a real-life adventure when her sister is kidnapped. I recently discovered this comedic adventure that traverses the jungles of Columbia. There’s also a sequel – The Jewel of the Nile (though I admit I haven’t seen it yet).

Starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (with support from Danny DeVito), Romancing the Stone is for fans of the Indiana Jones series and The African Queen.


Check out Roger Ebert’s original review.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)
From page one, this story of a big pharmaceutical company plunging into the Amazon to investigate the development of drugs and, incidentally, the death of one of its doctors intrigued me. The story gathers momentum as the scene moves from Minnesota to the jungles of the Amazon. The characters are often flawed but so human. For a real thriller offering so much to think about, try Ann Patchett.

To read an expert from the book check this article from NPR here.

Wild Target

Wild Target (2010) PG-13
Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, the best hitman in the business. The only trouble is that Victor has no friends and no life beyond his profession. When outrageous thief and conman Rose (Emily Blunt) becomes his next target, Victor just cannot manage to get the job done. Soon Victor, Rose and hapless man-in-the-wrong-place-at the wrong-time Tony (Rupert Grint, Ronald Weasley of Harry Potter fame) are all hiding out from the new hitmen hired to wipe them all out.

If you like black comedy, this movie is laugh out loud funny, right up to the last frame. For another sympathetic hitman, see Pierce Brosnan in The Matador (2005).

Covert Affairs. Season 1

Covert Affairs. Season 1 (2010)
With a love of travel and penchant for languages, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) joins the CIA two years after being abandoned in Sri Lanka by her mysterious boyfriend. Suddenly that past experience is somehow embroiled in the present. Can she trust anyone in her division?

With more questions than answers, each episode brings a new case, a new adventure, and a new threat. Annie is a very likeable character; you see her grow and struggle and deal with the shades of gray her job brings. And she couldn’t survive her new job without Auggie (Christopher Gorham), a blind computer geek with a biting sense of humor.

Fans of Alias and Chuck should try Covert Affairs.

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.