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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Season 3

Xena, Warrior Princess: Season 3 (1997-1998)
Join Xena and Gabrielle (Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor) in this action-packed comedy adventure. Set in Ancient Greece, Xena decides to reform her outlaw ways by wandering the country to fight evil. Learn a bit about Greek mythology. Watch Xena come up with clever solutions by the end of each show.

During season 3, Gabrielle gives birth to a daughter, who ages quickly and soon becomes a source of contention. Follow the drama throughout the season. Also check out the musical episode in season 5 – it's hilarious.

If you like this, you’d also like Buffy – same action packed comedy adventure, but with a vampire slant (and high school kids).

The Hunting Party

The Hunting Party (2007) R
A fascinating story based on true incidents that follows a war correspondent, a cameraman and a young journalist as they search for the no. 1 war criminal in Bosnia.

Richard Gere plays Simon Hunt, a burnt-out, discredited war journalist who sees this mission as a way to redeem himself plus claim a multi-million dollar reward. In 2000, he convinces his ex-cameraman to join him, and the son of a network VP tags along as they go on a dangerous and crazy adventure. The cast of characters they meet are amazing. A dark comedy with episodes of violence but also witty dialogue and empathetic heroes.

Happy 20th Birthday, Indian Prairie! Join us as we celebrate all day long. The festivities conclude with a Neverly Brothers concert tonight at 7:00.

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven (2005)

Coming of age in rural 1930s America with unusual skills like X-ray vision and the power to stop bullets, Clark Kent takes us along on his coming-of-age journey of self-discovery. Covering years (May 1935 through February 1938), the story takes him from Smallville to New York (Metropolis). A Young Clark Kent, newly hired "Daily Planet" reporter; Lois Lane; and evil criminal mastermind Alexander "Lex" Luthor come to life in It's Superman! This is a fascinating idea. The story is as inventive and thrilling as it is touching and wise.

See what Powell's and the New York Times said about the novel. Other books by Tom De Haven include Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies (1996), Dugan Under Ground (2001), Funny Papers (2002), and the graphic novel Green Candles (1997).

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (1987) PG
The Princess Bride has action, comedy and romance all wrapped up in the ultimate adventure fairy tale. Adults and children will enjoy this classic film that features sword fighting, revenge, an evil prince, a giant, mythical beasts, and, of course, true love. Actors include Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant.