Green Card movie poster

Australian director Peter Weir is recognized for many things. Comedy is not among them. 1990's Green Card, in fact, is Weir's only true comedy in a career that spans more than 40 years. But it's a highly satisfying one.

Benton illustration

One of the greatest artistic collaborations in Missouri history is on display right now at the Central Library. Our exhibit Mark Twain and Tom Benton: Pictures, Prose, and Song features illustrations Benton made for three limited edition Twain novels, along with lithographs by Benton, a record album, first edition Twain books, and portraits of both men.

Cliff Robertson at the Spider-Man premier (2002), Photo by Steve Granitz/Wireimage.com

Good looking, versatile and almost impossible to pigeon hole, Cliff Robertson was the kind of actor who left himself behind when he slipped into a role.

Some actors tell us what they are really like (or what they want us to think they are really like) with every performance.

Not Robertson, who died Sept. 10 at his home in Stony Brook, NY at age 88. This native of Los Angeles had a long career in movies and television, yet it was his ability to adapt, to assume the qualities each role required that made him stand apart.

He won the best actor Oscar in 1969 for Charly (he’d picked up an Emmy a couple of years earlier), but his years as a leading man were relatively short. For the last three decades Robertson had kept as busy as he wanted to be with character work, including a recurring role in the hugely popular Spider-Man franchise.

The Kansas City Public Library has on its shelves several noteworthy DVDs of films featuring Robertson. I’d recommend:

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth book cover

In The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, Alexandra Robbins recounts the lives of six high school students and one new teacher. It's hard to decide which one of the students I grew most fond of: Danielle, the loner; Noah, the band geek; Eli, the nerd; Joy, the new girl; Blue, the gamer; Whitney, the “popular bitch;” or Regan, the weird girl.

Each one, in his or her own way, is a smart and creative individual. With passion for their interests and strong inner feelings, these seven individuals have much to offer.

But in spite of, or maybe because of their talents and individualism, they exist in the “cafeteria fringe.” Even Whitney, who is part of the in-crowd, feels that she has to continually prove herself and fights daily to keep her spot in the party car.

At times I was shocked at the cruelty with which kids treat each other. For years, shy and quiet Danielle has yearned for friendship only to be continually rebuffed. Having just about given up, she is begged by several kids to join a club. Danielle is hesitant, but could not say no to what she thought was a gesture of friendship. Only after she joins is she informed that it's a "hate Danielle" club. She is duped into becoming a member of a club formed to hate her.

Avalon movie poster

Avalon is a movie about becoming an American.

It’s also about losing, little by little, the connections to their previous lives that informed the original generation of immigrants.

Synecdoche, New York screens free on the Rooftop Terrace, Friday, September 16, at 8:45 p.m.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a synecdoche as a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part...

Keep that in mind while watching Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008).

One of my favorite quotes is: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That statement from Faulkner’s 1951 novel, Requiem for a Nun, could be said of all of Faulkner’s writing, and for Absalom, Absalom! (1936) especially.

Nowadays it’s OK for movie stars to embrace the names their parents gave them. But back in Hollywood’s heyday actors were given a full makeover by the studio publicity departments, a process that often entailed replacing their unpronounceable or funny-sounding (or just boring) names with snazzy new movie-star monikers.

Oh, Tom Sawyer! Rascal, liar, ladies-boy, wicked heathen … be still my heart. I can still remember my very first encounter with Tom – from my much loved collection of Great Illustrated Classics (my first personal library, maybe?).

I can still picture the cover – Tom strolling regally down the road, barefooted, fishing pole in hand, behind the gingham-clad, blushing Becky Thatcher, steamboat in the background.

Nothing may have influenced my childhood more than the time spent poring over Tom’s adventures. It may even be the first chapter book I put my mind to. Well, that, or The Baby-sitters Club.

Still. Tom and Becky, Injun Joe, Amy Lawrence, Huck, Aunt Polly – from childhood, my conception of classic Americana owes a great debt to these characters. Every woman in a high collar and bun could be a Polly; every straw-hatted little boy becomes Tom. They inform my perception of everything from the idea of running away from home to roadside attractions (for who but a Tom-like character could conceive of charging $13.50 a carload to see giant cement busts of presidents?).

Goodbye Solo movie poster

In this era of anti-immigration rhetoric, it’s sometimes useful to consider what a newcomer to the U.S. brings to the table — namely a sense of enthusiasm and hope.

Dear Fellow Library Enthusiast,
It’s that time again. Fall is upon us, which means your Library is about to embark on another season of presenting, if I may be so bold, an extensive schedule of simply extraordinary public programs.

All of our programs are admission free, thanks to a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, plus additional support from like-minded donors and our increasing ability to obtain competitively-awarded grants.

If you’re one of our growing band of regulars, we look forward to seeing you, well, regularly. If you’re not, well, what are you waiting for? Your Library has become one of Kansas City’s leading venues for engaging presentations by leading authors as well as a forum for civic engagement and public dialogue. It’s the place to be, this fall more than ever.

Hanna movie poster

Among the higher profile DVD arrivals on the Library’s shelves this month is Hanna, the fourth movie by British director Joe Wright.

Wright, of course, wowed us with the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, followed it up with the multiple Oscar-nominated Atonement and then moved on to homelessness in LA with the criminally underappreciated The Soloist (how can a film with both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx be so under everybody’s radar?).

Having lived in the midwest for more than 10 years, I haven’t given much thought to our country’s borders or the people who reside near them. DiAnn Mills’ new suspense fiction, Sworn to Protect, gives an interesting look into the southernmost areas of the U.S. and the profession that works to keep the borders safe.

Set in McAllen, Texas, this page-turner opens with a dangerous operation that takes place near the Rio Grande, a river that serves as the Mexico-United States border. While on duty preventing illegal human and drug trafficking, U.S. Border Patrol agent Danika Morales recalls a dreadful event that happened two years ago: her husband, Toby, was murdered, and his body was left beside an obscure road. The crime went unresolved.

The unseen offender is now stalking her, aiming to end her life and destroy her family. As a single mother, Danika is concerned about her deaf little girl, Tiana, and Tiana’s nanny and family’s housekeeper, Sandra Rodriguez.

In his new book, Genius of Place, biographer Justin Martin says that Frederick Law Olmsted “may well be the most important American historical figure that the average person knows least about.”

If the average person, indeed, knows him at all, it’s most likely for Olmsted’s famous design of New York’s Central Park or possibly the U.S. Capitol Grounds. But as Martin, a former Kansas Citian, shows, there was a lot more to Olmsted than his green grounds.

“Fred-Law” (as his family sometimes called him) was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822 – a time when Missouri was the westernmost state and middle names were fairly uncommon. The first three decades of his life would take him through a series of wildly divergent and fascinating careers before he more or less fell into the role of America’s premier landscape architect.

This Wednesday, September 7, 2011, at the Central Library, Martin returns to Kansas City to discuss not only Olmsted’s impact on the urban American landscape (and, by extension, its psyche) but also Olmsted’s other lives – as sailor, farmer, journalist, abolitionist, Civil War medic in an early version of the Red Cross, environmentalist, and, above all, reformer. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. following a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP now.

Under the Same Moon movie poster

A hard-nosed critic can find plenty to pick apart in Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon (2007).

That is, if he can suppress his desperate need to blubber like a girly-man.

If the storytelling is sometimes manipulative, the film's execution is exemplary. Director Riggen (a native of Guadalajara, Mexico) aims for the emotionally true moment, which helps offset the film’s periodic forays into shameless sentimentality.

But, then, how are you not gonna get sentimental when your subject is a 9-year-old Mexican boy who journeys solo to the U.S. to find the mother he hasn’t seen for half his lifetime?

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