Somewhere

Sofia Coppola, spawn of mega-talented director Francis Ford Coppola, has honed her own writing and directing talent over the years. The films she writes tend to be personal: with The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and now Somewhere, she has offered viewers her own view of the world. Her films are sparse in dialog and rich in analytical thought. She described Somewhere as the most low-stress, pleasant shoot she’s had.

In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff portrays Hollywood star Johnny Marco. He’s a hot, young actor, living in the star-studded Chateau Marmont in LA, and living the life, but not having much fun. After we get inside Johnny’s head we are introduced to his eleven-year-old daughter Cleo, played by Elle Fanning. The film focuses on the story of the two characters and their relationship, especially while living in the unique and lonely world of Hollywood and stardom. This surprise visit ultimately shakes Johnny and wakes him up. After Cleo leaves, he’s faced with the fact that he has to make a change, to go somewhere, he’s just not sure where.

Queen of the Falls Is Over the Top

Next time you’re confronted with riding a monster Cedar Point roller coaster, think of the Queen of the Falls and ease your racing heart. An aging charm school teacher in Bay City, Michigan, finds she must close her school because of dwindling student enrollment. Over the years she had traveled and taught but had not saved much money. Now in her sixties she needs a get-rich-quick plan.

Author and illustrator, Chris Van Allsburg sheds light on this surreal, true story of 63-year-old widow Annie Edson Taylor who hatches the idea of riding over Niagara Falls as a means of financially securing her retirement. In typical Van Allsburg style, he mysteriously unfolds the story of Annie as she persuades a local cooper to build a custom-sized barrel and how she “sells” a carnival worker to pitch her soon-to-be famous feat to newspaper folks in Niagara, NY. Van Allsburg uses his trademark sepia tones to transport the reader back in time and to cast a sense of unbelievability – features that so many of his books are known for.

As the pages turn, the tension builds. Will Annie succeed? If so, will she also win the hearts and dollars of thousands of fans? Open this book and hold onto your hat!

Benjamin Franklinstein LIVES!

Wherein is contained an Accounting of the Preparation, suspension, and eventual Reawakening of the Subject in Modern Day, and his Quest to discover the Great Emergency by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury

Meet Victor Godwin, a young scientific nerd who says things like “That’s not what the science fair is about. You’re just messing around… A potato battery is a stupid project. It won’t win, Scott …”

Victor wants to win the science fair, so it’s a mixed blessing when Benjamin Franklin, preserved in suspended animation in a secret laboratory in Victor’s basement, accidentally wakes up and needs help navigating 21st century Philadelphia. Ben smells like a cave and burps sparks. Together Ben and Victor keep Ben charged up—but not too charged up—while searching for the Prometheans whom Ben believes may face an emergency. When Ben and Victor show up at the science fair, the results are unanticipated and very funny.

There are many things to like about Benjamin Franklinstein LIVES, including the warmth and scientific adventurism between Victor and Ben; all the lighthearted humor; and the clever, mock-18th century, black-and-white illustrations. Written for grades 4-6, the novel just might spark interest in the special traveling exhibit at the Downtown Library, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, on display through July 8.

Moondogs

Benicio heads to the Philippines to reconnect with his estranged father, a rich American businessman working overseas, in Alex Yates’ debut novel, Moondogs. Little does he know that his father has been kidnapped by a group of inept criminals who hope to sell the man to Moro terrorists. Benicio enlists the help of Reynato Ocampo, a legendary Filipino cop who has had several blockbuster films based on his real-life exploits. Ocampo is also the leader of a secret squad of super-soldiers with paranormal powers. As Benicio follows the trail of his missing father, he begins to piece together an understanding of the man his father really is.

The fast pace of the story and the outrageous shoot-’em-up action cleverly disguise the true heart of Moondogs, which is the reconciliation of a father and his son. Alex Yates takes a jumble of characters and settings and expertly forms them into one cohesive whole. With a first novel as good as this, we have a lot to look forward to from Yates.

The Switch, Switches it up

If you enjoy watching romantic comedies, you may find yourself hoping that the next one you view will be a little different, a little more off the beaten path than what studios now produce. The Switch is just that. This romantic comedy is about a family coming together in an unconventional way. Wally (Jason Bateman) is introspective, so much so that he finds it difficult to date women more than a few times. His best friend, Kassie (Jennifer Aniston), upon her fortieth birthday, has decided to find a sperm donor so that she can finally have a child. After drinking excessively at her insemination party, Wally “trades Diane Sawyer to the Vikings” and “hijacks Kassie’s pregnancy” (switches the donor sample with his own), and drama ensues.

One of the excellent performances in this film is that of the young actor Thomas Robinson. As Kassie’s son Sebastian, Robinson is perfect as the introspective kid who would rather have his birthday party at a kill shelter than a rock climbing facility. Jeff Goldblum’s ramblings throughout the film as Bateman’s best friend are also entertaining. At times, some of the comedic effort falls flat; but overall, if you enjoy romantic comedies, this film is worth a view.

Hard Times in Detroit

If Chrysler’s recent commercial was about pride, HBO’s Hung is about perseverance. Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) is the hometown high-school coach whose all-American charm and charisma are no match for the rotten luck and economic woes that seem to come with—and represent—life in the Detroit area. Ray’s life is, both literally and figuratively, falling down around him like the city he calls home. In desperation, Ray decides to try to make ends meet by making use of what an inspirational speaker calls his “winning tool.”

The title of the series might be a reference to Ray’s winning tool, but it also refers to Ray’s Sisyphean plight. His new business is at least as harmed as it is helped by his diametrically-opposed pimps; his reputation as a local sports hero and stand-up guy is at constant risk; and his small clientele (when he has one at all) is made up of an unfortunate collection of characters who are...exceedingly real.

Although its methods are both novel and risque (Parents: this is HBO evening programming), Hung is essentially about how good-meaning people end up backed into corners by circumstances beyond their control, and how the means by which they fight their way out of those corners can be both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Machine of Death

If you could find out what the manner of your death will be, would you want to know? Keep in mind that it will be vaguely summarized in one or two words. You might be told your cause of death is “fishing” and then die of food poisoning from a tuna sandwich. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die is a collection of short stories describing the variety of human experiences in the wake of this knowledge.

The machine of death is accessible to all cultures. After the majority of people use it, the force of the global reaction begins to alter societies. Social groups define themselves by death, and it affects industries and the job market. The results of the machine can give clues about the future. Even the population count is affected as people lose interest in planning lives they know will end. Those who refuse to know how they will die are outcasts from a world newly-obsessed with death.

Each story in the collection is full of twists and turns to keep the reader involved and on alert. Because even when you know how a story will end, what happens before that point can constantly surprise you. Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bernardo, and David Malki, Machine of Death is a fast-moving, multi-faceted, fun exploration of how western society reacts to life and death.

A Long Walk to Water

Linda Sue Park's engaging story, A Long Walk to Water, is based on real-life experiences during two different decades in Southern Sudan. In 1985, young Salva is forced to flee from his village to escape civil war. He makes a dangerous trek to uncertain safety in Kenya, along the way facing hunger and violence from cruel soldiers. Other refugees have doubts that such a young boy is anything more than a burden. Salva’s perseverance over hardship and eventual travel to America as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan makes for inspirational reading.

The story of Nya, another Sudanese youngster, takes place in 2008 and is interwoven throughout Salva's story. Nya makes an eight-hour daily trip to and from a pond that is her family's only source of water. When the pond is found to be contaminated, the village begins the project of digging a well. Physical and financial obstacles, as well as the doubts of the villagers, must be overcome for the project to succeed.

Park's terse but beautiful prose and powerful socially-conscious message in A Long Walk to Water will resonate with both children and adults.

Cake is Back!

Seven years after their gold album, Pressure Chief, debuted, CAKE has released their long-awaited album, Showroom of Compassion. This album is the first release from their record label Upbeat Records and was recorded in a solar powered studio. CAKE has stayed consistent with their one-of-a-kind style featuring bass heavy tracks, poppy synths, a funky horn section, and plenty of sing-along worthy tracks. While the album has that definitive CAKE sound, Showroom of Compassion has a few standout tracks that ask us to question our preconceived notions of what CAKE is really all about.

"Sick of You" is the lead track and the first single off the album. It's guitar riffs and catchy hooks are sure to make it an instant classic. "The Winter" is a mournful song about how transitory life can be. But the star track of the record is "The Mustache Man," an upbeat, psychedelic, rock-inspired song, complete with horns, driving percussion, and hand claps.

CakeCake

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi, an established Science Fiction writer, took the 2010 Printz Award and the National Book Award for Ship Breaker.

Given for excellence in young adult literature, the Printz is quite an honor for Bacigalupi’s debut novel for young adults. An adventure set in a future world, where fossil fuels are used up and coastal cities are under water, seventeen-year-old Nailer scavenges for scrap metals in abandoned tankers. Nailer and his crew live in a world of leftover resources, doing work that is dirty and dangerous. He and his friend, Pima, come upon the wreck of a luxurious clipper ship and find a girl clinging to life. To save her would jeopardize Nailer with his violent, strung-out Dad, because finding this ship and it’s bounty would have be to kept secret. Can they trust this girl and her story of wealth and privilege? Ship Breaker is a thoughtful read about sustainable issues, as well as a gripping, action-packed thriller.

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