Being Flynn, on DVD

In Being Flynn, Robert DeNiro and Paul Dano wonderfully portray Jonathan and Nick Flynn, father and son, both writers. Nick hasn’t seen his father in 18 years, then he calls one day seeking help. Nick is resistant, but intrigued and follows through. He finds that his father is still a difficult person to know, for many reasons. In his 20s, Nick is in a transitional phase of his life and finds work in a local homeless shelter. All is going well with his new job and new friends… until Jonathan walks into the shelter one night looking for a bed. Nick battles addiction, a failing new relationship, and trying to have a relationship with his stubborn con-man of a father who creates tension in his workplace. Behind it all, the two share the talent of writing.

The film is an interesting portrait of the complicated relationship and bond that can exist between parent and child. Not a light story, but this limited release film is a worthy viewing. It is based on author Nick Flynn’s award-winning memoir, also available at AADL.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on DVD

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows seven retirees who decide to chance their retirement to spending time in a less expensive resort community in India. They arrive expecting lavish amenities, but find that the Marigold Hotel is not quite up to par, and the young, energetic owner does what he can to keep his first guests happy and at the hotel. Many of the guests make the most of it and try to enjoy the life in India, while others yearn to get back home.

The film features an all-star British cast of actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, as the adventurous group whose lives are forever changed after their visit to India. It's full of laughter, warmth, and touching moments as the characters evolve and grow into new lives. While the film’s goal is to entertain, not necessarily to inspire or awe, it does go to show that life can begin at any age. To quote the young hotel owner, “Everything will be all right in the end and if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end.”

Tiny Furniture on DVD

Lena Dunham is the director, writer and star of Tiny Furniture, an independent dramatic feature film released by The Criterion Collection. The film centers around Aura, who has recently graduated from college and returns home to New York to her mother’s house and now has the task of figuring out her life. She struggles with employment, and with her relationships with love interests, as well as her friends and family.

As is the trend of recent low-budget indie films, it is dialog heavy and features a young protagonist finding her way. Aura is deep in the dilemma of being young and aimless, but is also at the point where she knows responsibility should be taken; she just doesn’t know which direction to turn. The film also subtly focuses around her relationship with her mother, who is a grounded and successful artist. Interestingly, Aura’s mother and sister in the film are portrayed by Dunham’s real-life mother and sister, so there’s extra chemistry among the actors.

In addition to sharp dialog, Dunham also blesses viewers with great composition and visually appealing images on the screen. It’s a charming little film, and even though the subject matter is slow and heavy, it’s filled with witty dialog that keeps you amused, and it has a touching ending. As a bonus, The Criterion Collection DVD release also features Dunham’s first feature film, "Creative Nonfiction," and four of her short films.

Talking Books Narrator Roy Avers

Listen to a fascinating interview with acclaimed talking books narrator Roy Avers at 8pm, Wed. Sept. 26, on Books and Beyond. Avers, 63, has made his living as a businessman, sings bass in the Louisville Opera, and he has also narrated more than 300 books of many genres for the National Library Service. I know one Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled patron who will listen only to books narrated by Roy! As long as she hears his voice, no matter what the book is about, it will be greatly enjoyed. So tune in to learn what makes Roy Avers so unique. Just visit the Books and Beyond Room and enter your first and last names on the sign-in screen, or contact Marcia Moses at 734-495-1496, mgmoses@comcast.net.

We Bought A Zoo, on DVD

A comedy-drama, We Bought A Zoo is a true story based on Benjamin Mee’s 2008 memoir of the same name. In the film, Matt Damon portrays Mee, who has recently lost his wife, and is struggling with moving on, as well as helping his two children cope with the loss of their mother. Set in Southern California, the adventurous Mee decides the family is in need of a change and buys a house in the country that also happens to be a no-longer-running zoo. A stipulation of buying the house is getting the zoo back up and running, which means Mee has to learn how to run a zoo and care for animals, which leaves for some definite animal-human hijinx as he learns the tricks of the trade.

Mee’s young daughter is more than thrilled at living at a zoo, but his teenage son is not. Mee works them through it and also deals with the zoo’s staff that comes along with the property, including the head zoo keeper played by head-turner Scarlett Johansson. While adjusting to all the changes, everyone’s goal is to get the zoo back in order and ready for inspection in order to open for the summer season.

It’s a feel good film, and a great one for the family. It definitely pulled at my heart strings. One thing I took away from the film is Mee’s idea of 20 seconds of insane courage. If you give yourself just 20 seconds to be courageous, think of what you could do. I mean, why not?

Powerful Teen Novel: Personal Effects

Personal Effects is a well-written, highly engaging, debut novel by E.M. Kokie, an attorney in Madison, Wisconsin, who has long been drawn to teen literature. Readers will find humor, compassion, excitement, and a memorable coming-of-age story in these pages.

The story opens as 17-year-old Matt Foster is trying to recover from the death of his older brother, T.J., in Iraq. Matt is failing classes at school, fighting with classmates, and trying to tune out his father's command that he follow T.J.'s steps to the military after high school. When T.J.'s stuff -- some of the “personal effects” in the title -- are shipped home, Matt thinks sneaking to go through them will help put closure on his grief. Instead, he unearths letters and secrets about his brother's identity, strength, honor, and bravery that show him that he did not know T.J. as well as he thought he did.

As Matt comes to terms with his brother’s life and death, he begins to better stand his ground with his dad and to become the hero of his own unfolding young-adult life. Matt’s high-school girlfriend, Shauna, is an intriguing and charming character who contributes much to the page-turning magnetism of the narrative. I hope Ms. Kokie is writing more books!

Grief Breeds Drama in The Invisible Ones

Stef Penney, bestselling author of her debut novel The Tenderness of Wolves, continues her repertoire with her second novel, The Invisible Ones. Both novels contain suspense-filled stories weaved with strands of mystery and shrouded in intrigue. Penney’s first novel was set among trappers in 19th century Canada. The Invisible Ones delves into the more recent past, focusing on the Gypsy/Romany community of 1980s England.

Private investigator Ray Lovell is not surprised when Leon Wood will only accept his help in discovering what happened to his daughter, Rose Janko, after her disappearance six years ago. Mr. Wood, a member of the Romany community in England, refuses to go to the police, but he is willing to trust Ray because of his Romany heritage. The mystery begins in the present with Ray in the hospital hovering between states of delirium as paralysis grips his body. The story continues to alternate between present and past, including insights into the investigation and viewpoints from Rose's nephew, JJ. Not surprisingly, the Janko family is hard to crack. Not only can the story be difficult to put down from the nagging questions that need to be answered, but Penney's book takes a close look at the culture of Romany families today, including their customs and traditions.

Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie might take a bit of effort as far as realism is concerned, but Irish novelist Binchy creates a heartwarming story of family ties (both traditional and not so traditional) that bring a community together.

In Binchy’s 2011 novel, we meet Noel, an alcoholic stuck in a dead end job, who learns that not only is one of his exes on her deathbed, but she is pregnant with his child and desperate to find a family to care for her. Noel pulls his life together with much needed support from family and friends. His greatest supporter is his American cousin Emily, who is on an extended visit to Dublin. Emily not only rescues Noel, but she manages to quietly bring order to the lives of nearly everyone in this little circle of friends and even helps a few outsiders.

Minding Frankie is another touching story from Binchy, a writer and storyteller who will be sorely missed by her fans. The bestselling writer died on July 30 at the age of 72. Some other favorite titles from Binchy are Heart and Soul, Scarlet Feather, “The Glass Lake,” and “Firefly Summer.” Two of her novels, Circle of Friends and Tara Road (also an Oprah Book Club pick), were made into films.

Purple Rose Theatre: On Golden Pond

If you're looking for a satisfying summer theatrical experience, consider that Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea is showing On Golden Pond through Sept. 1. The play by Ernest Thompson spotlights the Thayer family at their summer home on Golden Pond, where they are moved to renew their bonds of love and to overcome long standing generational divisions. The production is directed by Michelle Mountain. Ticket information is here.

What's Happening in Ann Arbor This Summer?

If you've lived in Ann Arbor for at least one summer, then you're probably aware of the annual Summer Festival that starts on Friday, June 15, as well as the Art Fair that starts July 18. Additionally, Ann Arbor is host to dozens of other festivals and events throughout the summer, including the stacked lineup of events at the AADL. Here are some other highlights around Ann Arbor.

Shakespeare in the Arb is presented by the U-M Residential College and Matthaei-Nichols, performing an outdoor production of Shakespeare's comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor that moves through various settings in the Arb. Show dates: June 10, 14, 15, 16, 17; June 21, 22, 23, 24.

At Minifest, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival presents concerts featuring internationally known artists and new chamber ensembles at the Kerrytown Concert House. Concert dates: June 15, 22, 24, 30.

The Rolling Sculpture Car Show features more than 400 antique, classic, and concept cars on display downtown for one day only, July 13, 2012.

Join the fun on Huron River Day, with river exhibits, discounted canoe and kayak rentals, 1-mile run, a 5K walk and run, live music, food vendors, and a children's activity tent on July 15, 2012.

One more gem, the Riverfolk Jam Camp takes place in Manchester from August 1-3, but its finale is in Ann Arbor, at The Ark on August 4.

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