Mary and Max

When I read the news of Philp Seymour Hoffman’s passing I did a quick mental inventory of the movies I’ve seen that he is in, there are so many. The one that sticks out the most, and that I think he got the least amount of credit for, is the animated film Mary and Max. The film takes place from 1976 to 1998 and tells the story of the unlikely pen-pal friendship that lasts for 22 years between Mary (Toni Collette), a lonely 8-year-old girl who lives in Australia, and Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 44-year-old, severely obese, secular Jew atheist with Asperger syndrome who lives in New York City. The central focus of the movie is the letters shared between Mary and Max and the stories behind their life and the lives of people around them. This dark comedy deals with very mature themes, such as death/suicide, mental health, and dark depictions of childhood innocence. It also deals with the themes of love, friendship and forgivness is a way that will leave you thinking about it long past the 92 minutes it will take to watch it.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #450 - For All Ages

Here is something extraordinarily fun and quirky and I hope, unexpectedly moving as well.

"If Roald Dahl had rewritten The Picture of Dorian Gray to include a gang of 24 bandits and a giant balloon, the result might have been Gianni Rodari's wonderfully improbable novel that, for all its humor, is loosely based upon the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Italian politician Aldo Moro" and that! would be Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto.

When we first meet 93-year-old millionaire Baron Lamberto, he has been diagnosed with 24 life-threatening ailments, one for each of the 24 banks he owns. But when he takes the advice of an Egyptian mystic and hires servants to chant his name over and over again, he seems to not only get better, but younger, to the chagrin of his ne'er-do-well nephew who is impatient to inherit.

When a terrorist group lays siege to his island villa, his team of bank managers has to be bussed in to help with the ransom negotiations, and a media spectacle breaks out . . .

Gianni Rodari (October 23, 1920 -April 14, 1980) was an Italian writer and journalist, most famous for his books for children. The recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1970, Rodari is a household name in Italy among educators and parents, not to mention children. Influenced by French surrealism and linguistics, Rodari advocated poetry and language play as a way to recover the rhythm and sound of oral tradition and nursery rhymes. One of Italy's most beloved fables, Lamberto is only now translated into English. Much of the charm lies with Maggioni's ink drawings in this edition.

A Hilarious Pirate Adventure – With Magic!

I am so excited about this new pirate adventure, Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson. Two years ago, I had the chance to hear an excerpt read from the pre-published manuscript and have been looking forward to its release ever since. After reading it, all I can say is this book completely lived up to my expectations. I loved it!

Hilary Westfield wants nothing more than to be a pirate, but when she submits an application to the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, things don’t go quite as planned. After discovering that Hilary is a girl, the league decides to forward her application to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. Soon Hilary and her pet gargoyle are packed off to finishing school, but you can bet it isn’t long before they escape to the high seas and join in the hunt for a magical treasure.

Fans of Diana Wynne Jones or Patricia C. Wrede will definitely want to check out this first book in a planned trilogy.

You can find out more about this debut author by visiting her website: http://carolinecarlsonbooks.com/

Wild Swan Theater: Under the African Sky

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 1 pm, when Wild Swan Theater presents Under the African Sky in Towsley Auditorium. The other three performances already are sold out. The play is a humorous collection of well- known African tales including Why the Sky is Far Away, The Talking Vegetables and Tug-of-Vine. Performers will use acting, storytelling, and drumming, with instruments including a balaphone, a djembe, and a talking drum. The show is for children age 4 to third grade and there will be plenty of chances for audience participation.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Sunday, January 26 1-3pm DTN

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid program this Sunday will surely be hours of family fun. Although the event description says it's for grades 4-7, everyone is welcome!

Express your inner-cartoonist by writing silly "Zoo-Wee-Mama!" jokes, decorate a sugar cookie to look like Greg Heffley's face, and play a fun game of bean bag Cheese Touch Toss!

There may even be a special surprise for the parents (hint: it involves music)!

We hope to see you there!

Before Bridgegate, Before SNL, Gilda Radner Was an Ann Arbor Star

Before becoming a founding member of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner was making her name as a performer with the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. Radner was a student at the University of Michigan and already showing her gift for broad comedy.

This week Radner, who died in 1989, was back in the news, in the guise of her most famous comic alter ego Roseanne Roseannadanna. On SNL's Weekend Update, Roseanne would respond to the complaints of a Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, N.J. This week the New York Times writer Matt Flegenheimer wondered what Richard Leder would think about the controversy over the closing of the George Washington Bridge that connects Fort Lee with Manhattan. The closings have ensnared New Jersey governor and presidential hopeful Chris Christie in a scandal.

Mr. Feder is a real person, the brother-in-law of an SNL staff writer. He never wrote letters to Roseanne, but mock complaining letters in his name and Roseanne's withering replies became famous. In one skit quoted in the Times Mr. Feder complained about his attempts to stop smoking, "I gained weight, my face broke out. I'm nauseous, I'm constipated, my feet swell, my sinuses are clogged, I got heartburn, I'm cranky and I have gas. What should I do."

"Mr. Feder, you sound like a real attractive guy," Ms. Roseannadanna said. "You belong in New Jersey."

As it happens, Mr. Feder was caught in the massive traffic jam around the bridge. Radner's brilliance at creating wild and yet endearing characters first came to life here in Ann Arbor.

Fun Comedy/Detective Hybrid from Carl Hiaasen

"Bad Monkey," by Carl Hiaasen, is nothing short of morbidly hilarious. An ex-detective named Yancy is determined to win his job back on the Monroe County police force by proving he can solve one of the most gruesome and puzzling murder cases the beach town has ever seen. Yancy suspects foul play and will do anything to see that the truth comes to light.

Hiaasen's private eye style mirrors the darkness of "The Big Sleep" while incorporating ridiculous characters more reflective of "The Big Lebowski," with many characters that offer a slightly offensive vocabulary. Readers will laugh to tears over their uproariously selfish acts, such as when an enormous spec home diminishes natural wildlife and blocks the beautiful Florida sunsets and Yancy subjects the builder to constant pranks to destroy his business prospects. The novel also features an incredibly detailed setting complete with side stories that only augment the main plot line.

In addition to being the author of numerous novels, Hiaasen is also a regular columnist for The Miami Herald and the author of the children's book "Hoot."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #445 - Dead man scheming

You really ought to start with Dead Anyway * * * (2012), the first in the Arthur Cathcart series by Chris Knopf. The BOCD was perfect for a recent family road trip. Don't let that scary-looking cover fool you.

A hit man shows up at the Cathcarts' Stamford, Conn. home and shoot them both in the head after he forces Florencia, owner of an insurance-brokerage firm to sign a piece of paper. His wife is dead but Arthur Cathcart survives, barely. With the help of his physician sister, he is declared dead. A crackerjack market researcher skilled with electronics, Arthur is able to create a series of new identities to stay out of sight while he plots and schemes to track down the "who" and the "why".

"Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages,... (he) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. "

"(R)eminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank", the Arthur Cathcart caper continues with Cries of the Lost * * (2013).

Readers who enjoy their mystery mixed with comedy would want to check out the author's "reflective, quietly loopy" Hamptons-based series featuring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews

In A World… on DVD & Blu-ray

In a world... where you can check out DVDs at the library... comes an original film that will make you laugh. In In A World... A struggling vocal coach looks to make it big in the world of male dominated movie trailer voiceovers. She uses her talent and takes on her father, who is the reigning top voiceover performer, and his competitive protégé.

The film is hilarious and Lake Bell’s performance is endearing. Critically acclaimed, it won Best Screenplay at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and is one of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Independent Films of 2013. I got a huge kick out of listening to the voiceovers from the various characters and I was surprised that I enjoyed the film so much.

For the Child Learning to Write: Little Red Writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is a fun, witty picture book about Little Red, a brave little red pencil who sets out to write a story using what she knows about grammar and writing. First, however, she must face the hungry pencil sharpener, the Wolf 3000. Here is a sample of the cleverness of this book: ". . . she found herself writing a sentence that would not end but just kept going and going and running on and on although it had no purpose yet it would not get out of her story or say anything important . . . " School Library Journal named this one of the Best Picture Books of 2013.

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