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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.

National Treasure

National Treasure (2004) PG
Share the adventures of a lifelong treasure hunter, his endearing assistant, and a tough archivist. Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) has been searching his whole life using the clues passed down through his family. When he finally breaks the first code, his partner Ian double-crosses him.

To preserve a precious piece of American history, Ben plots to steal the Declaration of Independence. Follow the clues as they take our heroes to historical landmarks with Ian and the FBI close behind.

The adventure continues in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer (2008) PG
Based on the animated TV series, Speed Racer may start out slow, but it soon becomes engrossing. Race car driver Speed Racer (Emilie Hirsch) loves driving – it’s in his blood (and it’s the family business). When he makes it to the big leagues, Speed learns about the dark side of the sport that took the life of his older brother.

Costarring Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox, Speed Racer is psychedelic fun for the whole family.

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!

Taken

Taken (2008) PG-13
Fast-paced action thriller that touches on a topic that is frightening for any parent. Liam Neeson plays a former government agent whose teenage daughter is abducted while in Paris with a friend. He relies on his old skills to try to rescue his daughter and seek revenge on the criminals who kidnapped her.

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.

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella (2008)
To learn about the coffee trade in the 19th century world was interesting, plus having a very randy main character gives Anthony Capella's newest novel two reasons why it shouldn't be missed. Robert Wallis, an impoverished poet, is offered a job by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to compose a "vocabulary of coffee."

Wallis falls in love with the owner's daughter while writing and is sent to Africa for five years to establish a coffee plantation with the understanding he then can return and marry Emily, the daughter. His lustful urges change his life in Africa and his future as well. Robert returns to an England of women suffragettes and coffee barons and once again his fate has been altered. This is  delicious, sensual work of fiction. Don't miss it.

Visit the author's website, read a review and the reading group guide at  Bookreporter.com.

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.