Mary

Invictus

Invictus (2010) PG-13
An inspiring film set in the early days of post-apartheid South Africa. Newly elected President Mandela confronts the deep distrust that resides within the country. Mandela uses an unlikely focus to unite the country-- the South African rugby team. Though the whites and Afrikaners love the team, they are loathed by the blacks as a lingering symbol of apartheid. Mandela skillfully uses the team's unlikely bid for the World Cup to unite the country and inspire the team. Wonderful acting makes this a must-see uplifting movie!
Mary

Strip Poker by Nancy Bartholomew

Strip Poker by Nancy Bartholomew (2001)
Stephanie Plum
make room for Sierra Lavotini! Sierra is a Phillie transplant who works as an exotic dancer in Panama City, Florida. Somehow she always seems to wind up near a murder which brings her closer to the attractive homicide detective John Nailor.

Learn more about the author and preview the book.
Mary

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds (2008)
Spice up your presentations and avoid the pitfalls of the deadly, dull bullet point PowerPoint presentation. The author introduces ways to rethink your PowerPoint approach so that you create a visually appealing presentation that supplements your lecture. Learn creative ways to stimulate your audience so that they listen to what you say and don't end up merely reading bullet points.  Recommended for anyone who uses PowerPoint.
For more ideas on how to spice up presentations, visit the Presentation Zen website.
Mary

Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood (2004)
If you haven’t discovered this engaging series set in 1920s Australia, then you are in for a treat. Upper-crust Phryne Fisher is classy, sexy, intelligent, and just enough over the top to keep readers interested in her sleuthing, romance, and fashion!

Go to BookBrowse.com to read an excerpt and be sure to visit Phyrne's website!
Mary

Casablanca

Casablanca (1942) PG
I like to spend New Year’s Eve watching my favorite movie: Casablanca. The film has all the ingredients for a terrific story-- romance, intrigue, and heroism. Ingrid Bergman’s luminous presence along with a top notch cast including Bogie, Claude Rains, Peter Lorrie and Paul Henreid make this movie a classic. And don’t forget the song “As Time Goes By” which Arthur “Dooley” Wilson immortalized as Sam, the popular piano player of Rick’s American Café. Casablanca as escape for refugees and a haven for spies exudes its own corrupt and exotic ambience. Even if you’re not a fan of classic movies, Casablanca is worth watching just to understand the cultural references that it inspired including a great Bugs Bunny parody Carrotblanca that I remember watching as a kid!

Visit Amazon.com for a trailer, clips from the film, plus interviews with the stars' children.
Mary

Inside Man

Inside Man (2006) R
Spike Lee directs and Denzel Washington dazzles in this fast-paced crime movie about a bank robbery that turns into a hostage situation. The plot’s unexpected twists elevate this above the typical bank heist story.

Also starring Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, and Jodie Foster.

Check out reviews from Roger Ebert and About.com.
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Mary

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) PG-13
Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, the film tells the story of Benjamin, who lives his life in reverse. Born physically old but with the mind of a child, Benjamin continues to grow physically younger as he matures. Although not fast paced, this character driven story captured my attention and raised interesting questions about the importance of the people we meet in our life. Visually it is a beautiful film which begins in 1918 in New Orleans and moves forward to the fateful Hurricane Katrina. Brad Pitt (Benjamin) and Cate Blanchett (Daisy) bring star power to the story.
Mary

Prime

Prime (2005) PG-13
Rafi, a 37-year-old recently divorced woman (Uma Thurman) meets weekly to discuss her “intimacy” issues with her longstanding psychotherapist Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep). Rafi finds her soul mate in David Bloomberg, a 23-year-old artist (Bryan Greenberg) who is living with his grandparents. Lisa is delighted that Rafi has found romance and dismisses the substantive age difference between Rafi and David—until she realizes that Rafi is involved with her son!

The ubiquitous Streep does a wonderful job as she struggles to balance her maternal instincts with her desire to do right by her client. The film has plenty of funny scenes which overlay the deeper issue of the consequences of this May-December romance.
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Mary

The List by Rosanne Cash

The List by Rosanne Cash (2009)
When Rosanne was eighteen, her dad, Johnny Cash, was saddened that his daughter had never heard of so many classic American songs that he felt were an essential part of their musical heritage. So the Man in Black wrote a list of 100 songs that he felt she should know. This CD features twelve of those songs, including “Girl from the North Country,” “500 Miles,” and "Heartaches by the Number." Cash does a wonderful rendition of these classics and on some pieces is accompanied by other artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. I am not a country music fan, but this CD of wonderful traditional country folk songs is beautiful and highly recommended.

Listen to an NPR interview and check out a review at AllMusic.com.
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Mary

The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane

The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (2009)
This unique novel may appeal to lovers of hard-boiled detective novels and satire. Set in the Kennels outside of Kathattan, Detective Max “Crusher” McNash is assigned to track down a serial killer. Crusher is a hard-nosed bull terrier, and he is less than pleased when the urbane and brilliant Feline Bureau of Investigation agent Cassius Lap, a Siamese cat is assigned to the case. The author has the noir genre down pat, and has filled the book with puns that made me laugh out aloud. He also threads some social commentary that lends some real depth to this clever novel.

Discover more about the author and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Mary

Gran Torino

Gran Torino (2008) R
Recently widowed Walt Kowalski is a tough, bad tempered retired autoworker who is estranged from just about everyone in his life. Other than his deceased wife Dorothy, Walt’s only other source of affection is his 1972 Gran Torino.

Despite Walt’s stubborn efforts, his old neighborhood is in decline and under siege by a group of young Hmong thugs. A failed attempt by his neighbor Thao to steal the Gran Torino unwittingly brings Thao and Walt together. Led by his articulate and bright sister Sue, Thao must make amends by working for Walt. This leads somewhat predictably to a friendship. It is, however, the consequences of that friendship that creates the tension and drama of the movie. Clint Eastwood stars and directs this stirring film.
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Mary

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)
Author of My Own Country, Verghese’s first fiction book is an intriguing novel about Shiva and Marion Stone, identical twins born in 1954 at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When their mother dies in childbirth and their father Dr. Thomas Stone flees in despair, the parents’ Indian colleagues Hema and Ghosh raise the twins. Verghese is a physician and his novel is peppered with descriptions of medicine, surgery and Ethiopia that offers readers a glimpse into an unfamiliar world. The novel is at its best when Verghese is writing about his homeland, Ethiopia.

Check out the author's website, read the New York Times review, and view a promo for the book.

Mary

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
When my teenage reluctant-reader niece raved about this book, I just had to see what the buzz was about this hot bestseller. Although I am not much of a romance reader, I found this book a fun read with interesting characters and enough suspense to keep me reading into the wee hours.

Listen to the author speak about Twilight, visit her website, and check out the Twilight guide website.

Mary

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1996) R
I could not finish Peter Hoeg’s bestselling book upon which this movie is based, but I thoroughly enjoyed this atmospheric and suspenseful film. When six-year-old Esajas falls to his death from the roof of his Copenhagen apartment building, Smilla immediately questions the police ruling that boy’s death was accidental. A Greenlander who is part Inuit, Smilla intimately knows how to read her friend Esjaas’ tracks in the snow—and those tracks indicate he was running from someone. Moreover, Smilla knew the child feared heights, so he would not willingly play on the roof. As Smilla’s investigation brings her closer to the truth, her life is threatened.
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Mary

The Pope’s Toliet = El Bano del Papa

The Pope’s Toliet = El Bano del Papa (2007)
A poignant film about the poverty ridden residents of Melo, Uruguay, who spend what little they have to capitalize on the thousands of tourists they believe will swarm Melo to see Pope John Paul II. Beto is the film’s principal character. He makes his living bicycling into Brazil to smuggle goods back to Melo shopkeepers. Beto hatches the most grandiose money making scheme of all—to build an indoor toilet for the anticipated crowds. Using his wife’s pin money for their daughter’s education, Beto builds his toilet. The crowds never arrive, and the residents of Melo are left poorer than before. The film is based on Pope John Paul II’s 1988 visit to Melo in which only three hundred visitors arrived out of the predicted thousands.

In Spanish with English subtitles.