Army of Shadows = L’Armee des Ombres

Army of Shadows = L’Armee des Ombres (1969)
Produced in France in 1969, Director Jean-Pierre Melville’s film was not available in the U.S. until 2007. The “army of shadows” is a group of French Resistance fighters who must use their wits and courage to survive in the Vichy France as they spy on the Nazis and instigate acts of sabotage.

This is not your typical action-packed war drama; instead, Melville focuses on the fighters’ states of mind. In doing so, he captures the moral difficulties the Resistance encountered as they fight a brutal enemy and protect themselves and comrades whose arrests or mistakes placed them in danger.

In French with English subtitles.

For more on the film, visit the Criterion Collection website, plus Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert.

Fair Game

Fair Game (2010) PG-13
Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Fair Game relates the true story of CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts). When Plame’s husband ex-Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) publishes a New York Times opinion piece disputing the Bush administration’s claim that Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq, the White House retaliates and leaks Plame’s name to the press. The leak endangers Plame and her international contacts. A disturbing fact-based political thriller.

Check out the Plame's memoir of the same name. Also, read an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for Plame's reaction to the film.

To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief (1955)
What’s not to like about this Hitchcock film? John Robie (Cary Grant) is a reformed jewel thief living in seclusion on the French Riviera. A rash of robberies along the Rivera’s upscale resorts has all fingers pointing to Robie, aka “the cat.”

To prove his innocence, Robie decides to uncover the thief. As part of his plan he becomes involved with a wealthy widow and Francie (Grace Kelly), her beautiful daughter. Suspense, scenes of the French Riviera, Grace Kelly in Edith Head designer outfits, and the debonair Cary Grant make this a classic movie.

Visit AMC's for more about the movie.

Good People by Marcus Sakey

Good People by Marcus Sakey (2008)
Tom and Anna Reed are good people who are emotionally and financially strained from several failed in vitro treatments. When their reclusive tenant dies, the Reeds discover a stash of bills –$400,000 in cash – that no one except the tenant and they know about. The Reeds keep the money and soon find their lives turned upside down. This is a page-turning crime novel with the added plus of a Chicago setting.

The Lives of Others = Das Leben der Anderen

The Lives of Others = Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
A gripping portrayal of East Berlin, The Lives of Others reveals what happens to a society when its citizens are under constant surveillance. Hauptmann, a playwright, has escaped the pervasive spying that’s afflicted most of his friends. This changes when his girlfriend (a famous actress) draws the attention of a party big shot. Hauptmann can no longer remain detached from the events unfolding around him. The agent assigned to conduct the surveillance also finds himself questioning his loyalty to the state.

The film won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, plus many other awards. Check out reviews from Roger Ebert and The New York Times for more information.

In German with English subtitles.


In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson

In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (2011)
Larson once again skillfully brings history alive. This time Larson tackles Berlin in 1933 as Hitler and the Nazis begin their frightening ascent to power. He uses the American ambassador William E. Dodd and his family—especially his daughter’s—experiences as the lens for viewing Hitler’s Berlin. For those who wonder how the world remained so indifferent to the plight of the German Jews and blind to the Nazis resurgence of Germany’s military power, Larson provides some troubling insights.

For more about the book check out these articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post

Rear Window

Rear Window (1954) PG
A classic Oscar winning Alfred Hitchcock film which pairs James Stewart and Grace Kelly. A broken leg has newspaper photographer L.B. Jeffries stuck in a chair in his apartment during the heat of a New York summer. Out of sheer boredom, he finds himself watching the comings and goings of his fellow apartment dwellers. His interest in the neighbors disturbs his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and his socialite girlfriend Lisa who think he is spying a bit too much on the private lives of his neighbors. When Jeffries sees what he suspects is a murder, the film’s creepiness and suspense ratchet up.

Hitchcock gives viewers a sense of the disconnection of urban living along with some nail biting scenes. And the lovely Grace Kelly as Lisa parades a bevy of Edith Head dresses that make the film worth the price of admission.

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen (2008)
Despite being 34th in line to the throne of England, Lady Georgiana cleans houses surreptitiously to make ends meet. She is in quite a quandary when Queen Mary asks her to entertain Princess Hannelore of Bavaria. (The Queen hopes that young Princess will cure her son’s infatuation with Wallis Simpson.) Ever resourceful, Lady Georgie finds a way (Rannochs always do) to entertain her guest properly. Princess Hanni, however, is hard to manage—she only wants to attend parties and meet young men. And there’s the problem of several deaths that occur while Princess Hanni is present. For mystery lovers who enjoy a light touch and humor.

Here is a complete list of all the books in the Royal Spyness Mystery Series

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
The film recounts the dramatic story of two brothers and their comrades who join the Irish freedom fighters struggle to win Ireland’s independence from Great Britain in the early 20th century. The British treaty with the Irish is a short-lived victory as the freedom fighters’ disagreement over the terms of the treaty splits the new found country into civil war. Nominated for several British Independent Film Awards, the film provides an understanding view of what drove some Irish to continue the fight as members of the IRA.

The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace (2010)
You can judge this book by its cover—the writing is as lovely as the book jacket. Young Carolina spends a solitary childhood discovering the mysteries and beauties of the woods and small lake on her father’s property. Turri, an eccentric married neighbor, also delights in the gifts of the lake. When Carolina begins to suspect she is losing her eyesight, she informs her aristocratic fiancé Pietro and her parents. Only Turri believes that she is not joking, but is truly going blind. As the blindness overtakes her, Turri teaches her to see in her dreams. When Carolina receives Turri’s latest invention--a typing machine to help her communicate--her friendship for Turri evolves into a love affair.

Click here to read a interview with the author about her work on this novel.

Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love (2010) PG-13
Julia Roberts stars in the movie based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say how true the film is to the book. I can tell you that the scenes of Italy, India, and Bali make the film fun to watch.

After a divorce and another failed relationship, Gilbert walks away from her life to explore the sensual pleasures of Italian food. Her next stop is an ashram in India where she develops her spirituality. She ends her travels in Bali to reconnect with a healer she had met in New York.

Gilbert’s real life journey comes with a Hollywood ending. Lots of good messages along with a happy ending.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell (2005)
Bored and slightly desperate, Julie Powell decides to bring meaning into her life by cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1. At her husband’s suggestion she creates the Julie/Julia Project blog to document her experiment and thus succeeds in not only mastering the art of French cooking but also in getting her first book published.

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria (2009) PG
An Oscar winning biography of the early years of Queen Victoria's reign and her courtship with her German cousin Albert (Rupert Friend). Under the influence of self seeking Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the young Victoria (Emily Blunt) makes some serious missteps that lead to a constitutional crisis. Albert’s guidance and love provide the direction Victoria needs to become one of Great Britain's most influential monarchs. The costume and setting are worth the price of admission.

Check out this interview with Emily Blunt.


Murder Ahoy

Murder Ahoy (1964)
Margaret Rutherford is my all time favorite "Miss Marple." Although she does not fit the physical description of Agatha Christie's character, Rutherford brings a delightful touch to the character. The movie blends intrigue with humor and is family friendly. The film's black and white might be off putting to younger audiences.

You can see Rutherford as Miss Marple in other films at the library.

Death of A Dreamer by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Dreamer by M. C. Beaton (2005)
This is the 22nd title in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series. Hamish Macbeth is the constable of the small Highland village of Lochdubh. Despite his success at solving crimes, Hamish has no desire to become a detective; he relishes his village life shared with his cat and dog. Nonetheless, crime and love seem to worm their way into Hamish’s well-planned, tidy life.

M. C. Beaton is also known for the popular Agatha Raisin mystery series. Both series are considered “cozies” which make them well-suited for readers who are in the mood for a fun, light read that offers a twist with endearing characters.

Read another review or find more books by this author.