by Jay Bobbin

(NOTICE: Ratings for each film begin with a 'star' rating - one star meaning 'poor,' four meaning 'excellent' - followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)

STARTING THIS WEEK: "THE WORDS": With all the plagiarism controversies of recent times, you'd think the creatively blocked author (played by Bradley Cooper) at the heart of this story would know better ... but then, you might not have this somewhat intriguing movie. While visiting Paris, he just happens to run across another writer's manuscript, which he gets published under his own name and has great success with. Inevitably, though, he pays a big price for claiming someone else's credit. The impressive cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde. DVD extras: two "making-of" documentaries. *** (PG-13 and unrated versions: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and Movies on Demand)

"THE WELL-DIGGER'S DAUGHTER": Celebrated French actor Daniel Auteuil ("Jean de Florette," "Manon of the Spring") also serves as director and screenwriter in this take on the Marcel Pagnol screen classic, in which Auteuil casts himself as a widower struggling to furnish good lives for his six daughters. His plan goes off course when the eldest of the siblings (Astrid Berges- Frisbey) becomes pregnant by a pilot (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who soon goes off to serve in World War I, first dividing and later uniting the two families. *** (Not rated: AS) (Also on Blu-ray)

"IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE": With the week of Christmas a light one for new releases, it's appropriate to include several seasonal staples, such as this Frank Capra-directed 1946 classic. James Stewart makes the perfect George Bailey, the hapless Bedford Falls citizen whose experience of seeing how life would be without him has been echoed by countless TV series episodes. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and (as wingearning angel Clarence) Henry Travers lend great support. DVD extras ("Collector's Set"): theatrical trailer; "making-of" documentary; Capra tribute. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)

"WHITE CHRISTMAS": As comfortable as an active fireplace on a cold winter's night, this tuneful 1954 retooling of the 12-years-earlier "Holiday Inn" makes great use of its Irving Berlin score. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye make an ideal team as military veterans who become successful entertainment partners, then use their talents to help their former commander (Dean Jagger) re-energize his failing resort. Rosemary Clooney - aunt of George - and Vera-Ellen are charmers as the siblings who distract the guys. DVD extras ("Anniversary Edition"): two theatrical trailers; audio commentary by Clooney; seven "making-of" documentaries. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)

"A CHRISTMAS STORY": There's never a doubt this holiday favorite will come back around, thanks to its annual 24-hour marathon on television. Anyone who ever desired that one special holiday gift can empathize with Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), author-narrator Jean Shepherd's young alias who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun - the one his mother (Melinda Dillon) warns will "shoot your eye out." Always deserving of citing is Darren McGavin as the gruff dad who never actually curses, though it sure sounds like it. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; three "making- of" documentaries; audio commentary by Billingsley and director and co-writer Bob Clark. *** (PG: P) (Also on Blu-ray)

"LOVE ACTUALLY": From the outset, writer-director Richard Curtis' fabulous 2003 comedydrama is all about the countdown to a British Christmas ... and also about a lot more, thanks to a labyrinth of characters with involving stories. Among the best: the new prime minister's (Hugh Grant) attraction to an aide (Martine McCutcheon); an art gallery manager's (Andrew Lincoln, "The Walking Dead") secret passion for his best friend's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new bride (Keira Knightley); and a faded music star's (Bill Nighy) bid for a comeback with a seasonally refitted pop tune. DVD extras: deleted scenes; music video. *** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray)

COMING SOON: "LOOPER" (Dec. 31): A veteran assassin (Bruce Willis) is sent back into the past, where he becomes the target of his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). (R: AS, P, V)

"DREDD" (Jan. 8): Karl Urban plays the futuristic law enforcer, who tries to stop the suppliers of a dangerous drug. Olivia Thirlby co-stars as the rookie assigned to him. (R: AS, P, GV)

"HIT & RUN" (Jan. 8): A protected witness (Dax Shepard, also the writer and co-director here) emerges from hiding to drive his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) to a job interview. (R: AS, N, P, V)

"HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET" (Jan. 8): A divorcee and her daughter (Elisabeth Shue, Jennifer Lawrence) move to a neighborhood where a dual murder occurred years before. (PG-13: AS, P, V)

"TAKEN 2" (Jan. 15): CIA veteran Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) falls into the hands of a relative of one of the kidnappers he previously saved his daughter (Maggie Grace) from. (PG-13 and unrated versions: AS, V)

'This Is 40' scarily real

by Jase Howell

"This is 40" is a comedy/drama about marriage and family that can be characterized by may adjectives, but conventional is certainly not one of them.

If you're looking for that cute, warm and fuzzy film, go watch "Parental Guidance." If you want brutal honesty mixed with some outlandish dialogue, writer/director Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" is closer to your style. This honesty, however, may even be a bit much for those with tendencies toward this brand of humor.

The film is billed as a "sort-of sequel" to the smash hit "Knocked Up," although the leads of that film (Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl) not only do not appear here, but are never even mentioned. Apatow has explained that even an invitation of those characters would distract from the tale he wanted to tell of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the couple that did feature very prominently as supporting characters in "Knocked Up."

Here we find Pete and Debbie both celebrating their 40th birthdays during the same week. We also find that after 10-plus years of marriage and two kids, the couple is battling life on all fronts - parenting, each other, age, finances and just about everything else a married couple grapples with. You may think you've seen this too many times, but believe me, you have not seen it played Apatow's way. Pete and Debbie have the usual arguments, but with Apatow's eye they are rendered much funnier. Take for instance the film's opening argument, which stops the couple from showering together and leads to a huge debate about Viagra. This material is very frank, but in Apatow's hands is extremely funny.

Pete and Debbie are both new business owners struggling to survive. Pete has moved on from Sony Records to open his own label that is floundering and hanging all its hopes on a comeback by Pete's geriatric idol, Graham Nash (who features all too prominently). Debbie, meanwhile, has a fashion boutique that is doing quite well, with the exception of the fact that one of her two trusted employees, Jodi (Charlyne Yi) or Desi (Megan Fox), has embezelled $12,000 from her.

This film also has some daddy issues, as Pete's father (Albert Brooks) is constantly asking for handouts from him, much to Debbies consternation. Then again, she has her own problems in trying to connect with her dad (John Lithgow), an absentee for her whole life. Both fathers have started new families and have kids the same age as Pete's and Debbie's kids, Sadie, the 13-year old acting like a rebelling 13-year old girl, and the precocious Charlotte. Both children are Apatow's own children, Maude and Iris, respectively (Mann is his wife in real life).

All of this adds an almost voyeuristic quality to the film as the tensions rise and the arguments grow more and more vicious and vitriolic. A writer/ director attempting to encompass the difficulties of raising a family while directing his wife and two children, with Rudd we guess as his face for the film. Then again, as funny as much of this is even in at its nastiest points (and it does get nasty for virtually every cast member) you could take away the actual family connections and this film would still be a rare breed.

If I'm uplaying the rough nature and realness of the film, don't be completely mistaken. Apatow's crackling wit filled with coarse but side-splitting one-liners is as evident, as it has been in some of his classics "The Forty-Year old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." It's just that toward the end of the film the characters are spitting the brilliant material in some very venomous rage as they are trying capture some true-to-life knock-down, drag-out fights. This a gutsy film, the things we may have found funny early in the film are almost blanched later by the frighteningly real nature of the conflicts' escalations. What was once lewd but funny is now just mean and hurtful.

But like a car wreck we can't look away from it and imagining ourselves in the same situation. "This Is 40" is raw at times, but real life is often raw. This is very ambitious project and a great success of a film from a guy some people consider merely a raunchy comedy director.

Top Country Albums

  1. Red, Taylor Swift, Big Machine Records
  2. Here's to the Good Times, Florida Georgia Line, Universal Republic
  3. On This Winter's Night, Lady Antebellum, Capitol
  4. Cheers, It's Christmas, Blake Shelton, Warner Bros.
  5. Night Train, Jason Aldean, Broken Bow
  6. Christmas with Scotty McCreery, Scotty McCreery, Mercury Nashville/19 Recordings/ Interscope
  7. Tornado, Little Big Town, Capitol
  8. Tailgates & Tanlines, Luke Bryan, Capitol
  9. Blown Away, Carrie Underwood, Sony Nashville/ Arista
  10. Hunter Hayes, Hunter Hayes, Atlantic

Basketry classes at Log Cabin

Basketry student Michelle Burns makes a huge basket for her home’s entryway at The Log Cabin Center for the Arts, 12700 Southwest Highway in Palos Park.

The Log Cabin will offer basketry workshops on six Thursdays, beginning March 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Under the guidance of instructor Jane Dwyer, new basketry students make a wood-bottomed basket, with a choice of colored trim, and then choose one or two more basket styles to complete during the six week session. Returning basket-makers choose their own styles, sizes and colors of baskets.

Basket classes cost $78 per six-week session, plus a $25 materials fee. Registration is required. Call The Center at 361-3650.

Submitted photo.

Broaden Your Horizons

Cabaret singer

  An afternoon of music will be featured at a luncheon program on Tuesday, March 12, from noon to 2 p.m., at The Center, 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park.
  Professional cabaret singer Kim Frankovelgia will present a program of American standards and Broadway music. Frankovelgia’s repertoire of musical genres spans several generations and enables her to entertain audiences of all ages. The luncheon begins at noon, costs $16 and requires reservations. Call The Center at 361-3650.

Spirituality book club

  The Center’s spirituality book club is meeting on Monday, March 11, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park.
  Led by Pastoral Director Chris Hopkins, the group will discuss “The Rabbi Rami Guide to forgiveness.”
  Registration is requested. Call 361-3650.

Joliet and
Marquette journey

  “Joliet and Marquette’s Epic 1673 Journey,” a free, all-age program, will be given on Wednesday, March 13, at 7 p.m., at Isle a la Cache Museum, in Romeoville. Registration is required.
  Mark Walczynski, foundation historian for the Starved Rock Foundation, combines his previous work as a conservation officer with his historical research to present a lecture on the Joliet-Marquette expedition, one of the most important missions in the annals of American history. Walczynski will chronicle the expedition and the role of these two intrepid explorers.
  This program will take indoors the accessible Museum.
  For information and registration, call (815) 886-1467.
  Isle a la Cache Museum is located at 501 E. Romeo Road (135th Street), ½-mile east of Route 53 in Romeoville.

The Bridge Teen Center

  • Style For Less — 4:15-6 p.m. March 12, will be held at The Bridge Teen Center, 15555 S. 71st Court, Orland Park. Plato’s Closet, participants will learn how to shop for staple pieces from second hand shops without spending a fortune for the latest styles.
  • Handyman Series — 4:30-6 p.m. March 14, teaches how to fix basic problems around the house. Participants will learn the basics of laying tile and how to tackle a do-it-yourself project.
  • Friday Night Live — 7:30-10:30 p.m. March 15, Game Night with music from The G Brothers sponsored by Standard Bank.
  All three free event are for teens in 7th through 12th grade with a completed student membership application on file. For more information call 532-0500, or visit

Family art

  A family art workshop is offered Sunday, March 17, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at The Center, 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park.
  Instructor Shari Wenzel invites families with children of all ages to enjoy dyeing eggs for Easter and creating handmade paper embedded with seeds that can be buried and planted in the garden.
  Registration is required. The workshop fee is $6 per person, for instruction and all materials. Call 361-3650.

Knitting classes

  The Log Cabin Center for the Arts, 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park, will offer six-week knitting classes on Mondays, beginning March 25, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and on Fridays, beginning March 15, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
  Master knitter Georgann Ring welcomes both beginners and experienced knitters to her classes. Beginners will learn to use the knit and purl stitches, to cast on and bind off, to manage simple increases and decreases, and to read a simple pattern while competing their first two knitting projects, a dishcloth and then a scarf. Ring will help those with experience to choose individual projects and to learn more advanced knitting skills.
  The class fee is $84. Beginning students should bring a fall of Sugar n’ Cream yarn in a light solid color and a pair of No. 10, preferably aluminum, knitting needles to the first class. After the first project, students will purchase yarns and patterns after consultation with the instructor.
  Registration is required. Call 361-3650.

Gourd workshop

  The Log Cabin Center for the Arts, 12700 Southwest Highway in Palos Park, will offer a gourd workshop on Monday, March 18, from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
  Professional gourdcrafter Karen Caldwell will help each student to create an Easter basket, bowl, or birdhouse from a dried gourd, using acrylic paints, pigment inks and protective coatings.
  Class fee is $18 plus $15 for materials. Early registration is required in order for the gourds to be prepared. (361-3650)

Design perennial
garden at McCord

  With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plan and design your garden with the help of expert MaryAnn Nowak, Thursday, March 14, 10 a.m. to noon, at the McCord Gallery and Cultural Center.
  Bring a photo and measurements of your outdoor space, and prepare your garden for years to come. Learn how to create a garden that needs the amount of maintenance that you prefer with floral displays throughout the growing season.
  Instructor Nowak is a Chicagoland native with training in horticulture and photography. As an artist and teacher, she attempts to convey her love of life, people, and learning in her work. With more than 40 years of living in the southwest suburbs, she brings expert knowledge of local soil and flora.
  The McCord Gallery and Cultural Center is at 9602 W. Creek Road (129th Street and La Grange Road), Palos Park. For more information, call 671-0648 or visit