Joel and Ethan Coen might be the two finest filmmakers working in America today. There are few directors who have captured more entertaining, accurate, or varied instances of the American experience.
Nearly all of their films center around some sort of crime or illicit behavior. Sometimes the protagonist is the perpetrator. Other times he is a victim or an unwitting bystander sucked into the chaos. Almost always though, the protagonist is a fool.
Jon Ronson sees insanity all around him. Partially that is because as a journalist he is drawn to write stories in which people engage in erratic behavior. It is also because he has learned The Psychopath Test, and he cannot stop administering the 20-point checklist to everyone around him.
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Item 4: Pathological lying
And, so on. From a rude concierge at a hotel to the CEO of a giant corporation, no matter where Ronson looks, everything's coming up psycho.
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train follows a feisty female trying to be on her best behavior. Ms. Kutter runs the town general store, but she was always most at her element when committing train robberies and other such deeds.
She may be trying to be a good girl at the beginning of the story, but we all know that old habits die hard. When she's asked to come out of retirement to rob one last locomotive, the offer sounds too good to be true.
In That is Not a Good Idea! Mo Willems takes the art of silent films and applies it to picture books. A dapper fox has spied a beautiful goose walking the city streets. Each image is devoid of text, we only see what they are saying on black pages in between the action.
"Excuse me. Would you care to go for a stroll?" inquires the fox as he tips his hat. Suddenly, the film is interrupted. "That is NOT a good idea!" exclaims a baby goose.
Ragtime, by E. L. Doctorow, swirls through 1906 America with a breakneck stream-of-consciousness pace more frenetic than most historical fiction. A densely-constructed ensemble piece that alternates between fictional and real life figures of the age, the thoroughly modern novel amazed critics and readers alike upon its publication in 1975.
Never has a feline been as terrifying as Mr. Wuffles. In truth, he really is just a curious housecat with a ton of playthings. The one toy that he is most interested in was not bought at the pet store. That is because it is not a toy at all.
David Wiesner is the master of wordless picture books. His photo-realistic artwork combines with clear-cut tales of adventure and whimsy, and his latest title once again proves his mastery of the art of picture books.
Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant is like the funny pages for literature and history majors. Each strip is an exploration of a famous writer, characters from his works, or a notable person from history. Rather than treating these figures with reverence, Beaton usually takes them down a peg or two.
Battling Boy has twelve t-shirts, each with a different creature emblazoned on the front. Apparently, they give him his powers, but he does not quite know how to use them yet. You see, Battling Boy is in training to be a superhero.
This fact does not offer much solace to the people of the planet Arcopolis. Their children are routinely being kidnapped by a wretched gang of monsters, led by a mummyish kingpin named Sadisto. They used to not have to worry about this sort of thing as much, back when Haggard West was their planet's superhero. Too bad Haggard West is now dead.
The gray of winter is dismal enough to turn even the cheeriest of smiles upside down. Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, is a much needed pick-me-up during these dreariest of times.
Annabelle finds a box of multicolored yarn in the snow. When she takes it home to knit a sweater, she finds that she still has more. So Annabelle makes a sweater for her dog, too. No matter how much she knits, the box always has extra yarn in it.
The first time I ever saw 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die sitting on a shelf in a now defunct bookstore, I immediately seized it, plopped down on the the floor and began...counting. Yes, yes, I'm a tad obsessed. Still, to find out that there are so many worthy movies out there waiting to be viewed is so exciting. I saw the mighty tome as a map leading to vast amounts of buried treasure.