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Miss Congeniality 2002

When a threat is issued against the Miss United States beauty pageant an FBI agent must be recruited to go undercover. Enter Sandra Bullock. The only problem is that she is more gutsy than glamorous, more confrontational than charming and most definitely not delicate. She must undergo a transformation to prepare her to enter the surreal world of beauty contests. The makeover artist is played by the always enjoyable and highly versatile Michael Caine, and the banter between the two is wonderful. Benjamin Bratt plays the love interest. There is also a 2005 sequel, but this one is the better of the two offerings.

The Incredibles 2004

This is one of two choices from Pixar that I am featuring this week. The CGI (computer generated imagery) is excellent, but it's the story that really steals the show. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are living a quiet suburban existence after being forced into retirement by a series of lawsuits launched by the ungrateful public they were trying to help. Bored to distraction, Mr. Incredible is lured by the promise of one last super hero adventure. His wife and three children enter into the fray when he runs into trouble. Great fun.

Galaxy Quest 1999

If you are at all a fan of Star Trek (and I might as well confess right now, that I am a diehard Trekkie) you'll get lots of laughs at the not so subtle references to characters such as Kirk and Spock. And if you are not, there are still plenty of laughs to be had. Eighteen years after their popular show has been cancelled, the cast of 'Galaxy Quest' are still appearing at conventions. Whether trying to relive or live down the experience the group is having difficulty getting on with their lives. When they are presented with an opportunity to actually save a race of aliens they must rally together one last time. With the exception of Tim Allen most of the cast is better known for more serious, dramatic or even villainous roles and they put in some very funny performances. Sigourney Weaver, usually the quintessential alpha female does a great job playing against type. Alan Rickman is a lot of fun to watch and Sam Rockwell (often cast as a miscreant) is wonderful as the whiny and nervous 'unnamed crewman # 6'. This movie is not so much spoof, as homage.

Monsters Inc2001.

I recently rewatched this, my second Pixar pick, and I was instantly reminded why it is one of my faves. In a parallel world, monsters harness energy from the screams of frightened children to power their city. The two main characters (voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal) work hard at being the #1 scream team; but when a little girl follows them back into their world, all goes very wrong. As with "The Incredibles", the CGI is amazing -- you won't believe how Sulley's fur flows when he walks. And the little girl, Boo, is absolutely adorable. This might be a little intense for younger children, because it does have to do with fear of the monsters in our closet, but it resolves happily and really is worth watching as a family.

The Princess Bride 1988

Missed this one of the many times it's been on television? Take it home with you now and settle in for a very enjoyable movie. There is something for everyone in this offering from Rob Reiner. It has criminal masterminds, gentle giants and dread pirates. There are damsels in distress, dashing heroes and dastardly villains. There is a really outstanding sword fight, and of course, true love.

A Grand Movie

by Melanie Kolbeins - 0 Comment(s)

I took Grand Hotel home, not knowing that this is the film in which Greta Garbo utters her famous line "I vant to be alone!" Grand Hotel is one of the early "talkies," and it is interesting to watch silent film actors working with sound. They are suddenly able to explore a range of emotions without exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, but it is as if the actors are still working through the transition. According to, Grand Hotel won Best Picture in 1932. One copy of Vicky Baum's 1930 novel of the same name is available at Castell Central.

Grand Hotel follows the struggles of various characters staying in a deco Berlin hotel in the time between the wars: an unhappy dancer played by Garbo, a stenographer fighting off male attention, played by Joan Crawford, a criminal (Lionel Barrymore) who tries to rob the dancer, but finds himself falling in love with her, and a dying man who seems to bring the unlikely assortment of hotel guests together.

The charms of this one are subtle. Just watch it!

Christmas at CPL

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Well, that most wonderful time of the year (and also the most hectic) is almost upon us and while there will certainly be no shortage of offerings on television, why not watch movies according to your schedule, and commercial free?

A quick keyword search of- dvd christmas - yields over 140 titles, with new selections arriving almost daily. We have all the perennial favorites like White Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn and Miracle on 34th Street (both the 1947and 1994version). Almost all the children's favorite characters appear in their own Christmas shows --Diego, Max & Ruby, Hannah Montana, Baby Einstein, Garfield, Alvin, Arthur, Dragon, and Franklin, to name a few. As well over the years many series such as Little House, Avonlea, Vicar of Dibley and Doctor Quinn aired their own specials. There's even a Hercule Poirot's Christmas.

And how could the season be complete without Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol? There have been many incarnations of this beloved tale, with everyone from Bill Murray to Patrick Stewart donning the black chapeau and the sour face.

My two favorite renditions are the 1951 black and white version with Alastair Sim,and from 1993, A Muppet Christmas Carol. I've always been a huge Muppet fan, and this one with Michael Caine as Scrooge is great fun. Caine strikes just the right chord and of course, all those wonderfully insane Muppets add great value.

A new favorite of mine is Elfstarring Will Ferrell. Ferrell has done some pretty off the wall stuff, and I was prepared not to like this but it was really enjoyable. He plays an oversized elf that leaves the North Pole to travel to New York City in search of his birth father. Parents can watch this without being bored and the kids, and even teens, will find this light hearted and fun.

We have both versions of How the Grinch stole Christmas- the wonderfully animated 1966,as well as the Jim Carrey version from 2001. I am used to my Grinch being the slippery, sly, and sneaky character that I grew up with, so at times I found Jim Carrey's manic portrayal--well, a little manic.

But Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the Grinch.

Along the same vein is The Original Television Christmas Classics with 4 well-loved favorites--Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman and Little Drummer Boy. Also worth a look is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and a Child's Christmas in Wales.

One of my fellow bloggers introduced me to A Christmas Story from 1983-- it had managed to escape my attention all these years and I am glad I now know about it--lots of laughs. Another good bet for your money is any of the The Santa Clause (with Tim Allen).

If another cartoon, Scrooge, or sentimental story isn't your cup of hot chocolate, try out some of these titles: for the armchair traveler, Rick Steve's European Christmas; for those who are looking for baking/cooking ideas,Jacques Pepin's Christmas Celebration, or Two Fat Ladies;and for you opera lovers, try Christmas with Kiri Te Kanawa.

Mel's Desert Island Classics

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Movies I want on the island with me-Nov 19th 2008

Everyone should watch Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samuraiat some point. Set in feudal Japan, the film follows a group of farmers struggling to protect their village from bands of brigands. With their crops and families at risk, they set out to the city to hire samurai to protect them, but they don't have any money to pay the warriors. The gathering of the samurai is my favorite part of the film. Kurosawa's usual leading man Toshiro Mifune is terrific as the trickster tag-a-long who wants to become a samurai. Others may enjoy the big battle scene in the rain (everyone getting soaked being a common scenario in Kurosawa's films--beautifully shot). All the emotions are covered. Seven Samurai is said to have inspired Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven. See the Britannica Encyclopedia in CPL's E-library for biographies and history.

If you want to learn about Kurosawa in more detail, check out these books: Waiting on the Weather, The Emperor and the Wolf, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Perspectives on Akira Kurosawa. Other Kurosawa films in the library's collection include Rashomon, a tale told from multiple points of view, The Hidden Fortressand High and Low.

Sensational Series at CPL

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Many fans of CPL who were using the dvd collection are familiar with the variety of television, film and mini- series that were available early on when dvds were a new technology. Many of these were PBS or BBC productions that continue to be popular: mysteries such as Poirot, sitcoms such as As Time Goes By, and costume dramas and dramatizations such as I, Claudius, Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. We still have these, but CPL has really expanded its collection of dvds. If you don't have cable or can't stand commercials, CPL's dvd series are for you.

If you don't already know, CPL has added more British, Canadian and American popular television series to the collection. We have tv "classics" like Columbo, Magnum P.I., Hill Street Blues, The Waltons, Rockford Files, and Get Smart...

We also have newer HBO, Bravo, History Channel and Showcase mini-series such as Deadwood, Six Feet Under, and Rome. These are great if you are a season or two behind, like me, but still want to discuss the shows with friends. You could catch up on season one of The Tudors, for instance.

We are currently watching The Wire. Just when I thought I couldn't watch another crime show, I come across this series set in Baltimore. The Wire follows several detectives infiltrating a narcotics syndicate in the hopes of prosecuting their previously unknown leader. We see the officers human flaws and the systemic problems and limited technology that inhibit their investigation. The Wire also follows the workings and struggles of the drug dealers and addicts. So far, Season One has been free of many of the cliches one would expect in a police show. Because it focuses on the challenges of the individuals on both sides of the law, it is less graphically violent than many current crime series.

Foyle's Waris another great crime series that recently aired on tv. Anglophiles and Michael Kitchen fans will enjoy him as mild-mannered but determined DCS Foyle who solves crimes during World War II in and around Hastings, England. All of the crimes are connected with war-time life, and the series deals with some of the moral ambiguities that arose at the time. This series is divided into sets and series of discs, so for a useful chronology of the episodes, see the fan website:

Don't forget our non-fiction (numbered) series, featuring a range of topics. This is where you'll find National Film Board animation classics such as "Blackfly" and Rodney Yee's yoga series for Gaiam. You will also find many travel series highlighting countries or cities for airmchair or actual travel. Opera buffs will find many choices also. How about Hockey: A People's History? or The Red Green Show?

I really enjoyed Terry Jones' The Crusades. In spite of Jones' Monty Python affiliation, this is not a spoof. The two-part series outlines the political and material motivations behind the crusaders and profiles the recruits. It contrasts the crusaders' ideals versus the actual effects of the crusades. The dvds present great cinematographic views of Accra and other areas and a good biography of Saladin. This series really stands out from other "knights and armour" focussed accounts, not that the somewhat portly Jones doesn't try some armour on for size.

If you did already know about our great series...tell someone who doesn't!

Moe's Picks of the Week

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Mosquito Coast

Probably one of the lesser-known Harrison Ford roles, this 1986 movie is one of my favorites of his.

Based on the Paul Theroux novel of the same name, Mosquito Coast tells the story of the intellectually arrogant Allie Fox, his long suffering wife and their four confused children. Fox is a would be inventor fed up with the materialism and rampant consumerism he sees around him in America. He moves his family to Honduras to fashion his own society and live his utopian dream. He believes that he can find true happiness among the unspoiled natives and that his genius will finally be recognized. What follows is a well-crafted descent into utter chaos.

This is one of Ford's few outings as anything other than the hero and he plays it well. Watch for Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect, The Queen) as his care-worn and compliant wife. Also features River Phoenix (Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) who has no trouble holding his own against heavyweights Ford and Mirren.

Medici:-Godfathers of the RenaissanceNon fiction

This 2004 offering from PBS starts with Cosimo de 'Medici and follows the family as it becomes one of the most powerful, influential and wealthy dynasties of Italy. This four hour dvd offers a wonderful examination of the world over which they held sway-they would become political movers and shakers, international financiers, and occasionally one would even take the papacy.

Twilight ZoneSeries

This highly regarded series from creator Rod Serling is a collection of the thirty minute episodes that first aired in 1959. Serling himself wrote most of the episodes, but they also featured many of the pre-eminent sci-fi/horror/fantasy writers of the day. Incredibly popular, they spawned a 1983 Spielberg movie, and two more incarnations of the series. Although speculative and surreal in nature, they offered a view into man's constant struggle with morality. The old black and white format lends a certain gravitas to the episodes.

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Miracle Worker1962

This movie tells the story of Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, and young Annie Sullivan who is brought in with the aim of reaching into Helen's dark and silent world. The parent's expectations are low- hoping only for some peace from the animal like child that rules their lives. What ensues is a gigantic battle of wills- and one of the world's best-known stories of triumph over adversity. Anne Bancroft won an Academy Award for best actress and Patty Duke (aged 16) won best supporting actress. This win made Patty the youngest performer ever to receive an Oscar- a title that she held until 10 year old Tatum O'Neal's win for Paper Moon in 1973 (another very good movie, but definitely not embarrassment free).

Jurassic Park1993

If you missed this first time around or just want to revisit it, sit down with the family, make a big bowl of popcorn and grab a pillow to scream into, because there are lots of scary moments. But scary in a heart-thumping, squeeze your eyes shut and peek kind of way. The first in the franchise of three, this is my favorite, although the others are good as well. Director Steven Spielberg is in top form here, all the actors turn in good performances and you will not believe how real the dinosaurs look. The scene with the children trying to hide from the raptors in the kitchen is terrific. This was based on the book by Michael Crichton, considered one of the foremost writers of speculative/technological fiction. Crichton, who has just passed away at the time of this post, is well represented in several formats at CPL--print, audio and dvds. Look for him under author search for a full listing of titles.

Free Willy1993

This movie was a big hit when first released, spawning two sequels and a short lived animated tv series. It tells the story of a young street boy and the orca whale that he encounters while vandalizing a marina. As part of his rehabilitation the boy is sent to work at the marina and a friendship soon develops between the misfit boy and the displaced whale. When things take a turn for the worse for Willy, the boy decides to try and set him free. A very heart warming story-you'll be rooting for Willy and Jesse all the way.

The King and I1956

This wonderful musical features Yul Brynner as the king of Siam and Deborah Kerr as Anna, the governess imported from England to tutor the kings many children. Obviously there are culture clashes- some tender- some severe enough to cause real problems. With a wonderful score from Rodgers and Hammerstein, this old classic still stands the test of time. Now, I know that musicals are not for everyone, but I defy you to not come out with at least one of the songs stuck in your head. This was remade in 1999 with Jody Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, and although quite lavish, I prefer the musical.

Home Alone 1990

This perennial Christmas favorite from 1990 is still a good bet. Eight year old Kevin is accidentally left behind during his family's mad rush to start their holiday abroad. Alone in the house with only his wits, he must cope with his fears and also try to outsmart two bungling but determined burglars. His clever use of available resources brings to mind a young MacGyver.