Precious directed by Lee Daniels

Bibliographic Information: Daniels, L. (director). 2009. Precious, Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (DVD). Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate.  ASIN: B002VECM4A.  110 minutes, Movie Rating: R.

Plot Summary: Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, illiterate and living a life of unimaginable horror and suffering.  The physical and emotional abuse, that Precious endures at the hands of her mother is so brutally and meanly inflicted, that most viewers will wonder how a person could be so incredibly cruel.  Precious lives with her mother. Her father only appears every so often, and his visits resulted in the rape and impregnation of his daughter Precious.  The depths of abuse and cruelty leveled at  Precious might make another person crumble, but she pushes forward. She keeps trying to make a life for herself, dreaming, in beautifully filmed fantasy sequences, of being a much adored star.  When she is kicked out of her high school for being pregnant, Precious attends an alternative school. There, Precious has a teacher who believes in her students, often when they do not even believe in themselves. At her new school, Precious finally learns to read and write and she literally and figuratively finds her voice.

Critical Evaluation: This film is intense.  I expect that people familiar with the type of abuse and suffering Precious is subjected to, could experience some level of post traumatic stress.  Others, who have been fortunate enough not to have experience with this level of cruelty and brutality will likely find themselves in disbelief.  But, there is something about the acting and directing and scenery and dialogue that forces us to look at Precious’s life and recognize that there are people who suffer in similar ways.  Even those viewers who do not want to believe will be hard pressed not to, given the gritty realism of the film.  There is sadness and such devastating circumstances that viewers could become overwhelmed by emotion, but there is a tempering force.  Precious is strong, sometimes witty and often triumphant, and these moments, make worthwhile the viewer’s endurance of the suffering in the movie.

Critics loudly applauded this film; it received numerous awards and nominations, fifty film organizations nominated Precious for a variety of awards, the film won several of these.  Here are some highlights:

  • The 2010 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique (Won); Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Best Picture, Precious (Nominated); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Nominated); Best Actress, Gabourey Sidibe (Nominated); Best Film Editing, Joe Klotz (Nominated)
  • The 2010 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Precious (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama, Gabourey Sidbie (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won)
  • Independent Spirit Awards: Best Feature, Precious (Won); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Won); Best Female Lead, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Best Supporting Female, Mo’Nique (Won); Best First Screenplay, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won)
  • NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won); Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television), Lee Daniels (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mariah Carey (Nominated) and Paula Patton (Nominated); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Lenny Kravitz (Nominated)

An extensive list of awards and nominations for the film can be found here.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Abused and ignored Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, and illiterate.  When she gets kicked out of school for being pregnant, she starts attending an alternative school, with a teacher who believes in her, and her journey toward a life of her own begins.

Information about the Author/Director: In addition to being a director, Lee Daniels is an actor and a film producer.  Notably, he produced the highly acclaimed film Monster’s Ball for which Halle Berry won the Best Actress Academy Award and which won the Best Screenplay Academy Award as well (Lee Daniels, n.d.).

Genres: Drama

Curriculum Ties: Discussions of poverty, abuse, acceptance, self-respect, self-esteem

Reading/Viewing Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to adult

Challenge Issues: Violence; Emotional Sexual, and Physical Abuse; Mature Language.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? While this movie is difficult to watch and painful at times, it also sends a message of hope and the strength of the human spirit.  It is feels frightening real and provides a voice to Precious, and other young women, who deserve to have their voices heard.

References:

Lee Daniels. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Daniels

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Bibliographic Information: Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York, NY: Speak.  ISBN: 014038572X.  188 pages.

Plot Summary: In Ponyboy Curtis’s world (yes, that’s his real name), there are two things you can be: a greaser or a Soc, short for Social.  Greasers, like Ponyboy and his brothers and all their friends, live on the east side.  They are poor, they slick back their hair and are often considered “hoods” or JD’s, juvenile delinquents, by non-greasers.  Socs, on the other hand, live on the west side, are wealthy, and are not considered to be hoods, but often behave like JD’s toward the greasers.  It seems that when Socs get bored, they beat up greasers for entertainment.  One night 14-year-old Ponyboy and his friend Johnny get jumped, not the first time either of them has been attacked by Socs, but this night things go terribly wrong.  What will happen to Johnny and Ponyboy, who will help them, and how will they survive?

Critical Evaluation: S. E. Hinton was 16 when she wrote this classic coming-of-age novel in the 1960’s.  The Outsiders contains universal themes relevant today.  Tweens and teens struggle with fitting and not fitting in, being labeled and pre-judged, going along with or against the crowd.  All of these challenges are presented in a compelling and engaging story, which is filled with narrator Ponyboy’s thoughtful reflections and raw emotions.  The honest real-life situations of The Outsiders set it apart from other books, for young adults, from the 1960’s.  Perhaps because she herself was a young adult, Hinton captured authentic voices and her readers responded with great delight.  This classic is still meaningful and alive and well today.

Reader’s Annotation: Ponyboy Curtis lives with his two brothers on what some would consider to be the wrong side of the tracks.  When a fateful event brings Ponyboy and his friend Johnny together with the rich socialites, their lives change forever.

Information about the Author: Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Tulsa, OK, in 1950.  She still calls Tulsa her home.  The Outsiders, which takes place in Oklahoma, was inspired by people and the social situations in her own Oklahoma high school.  Her first book was The Outsiders, but she has continued writing, with her most recent book, Some of Tim’s Stories, a book of short stories, being published in 2006. (Hinton, n.d.)

In 1988, Hinton was given the first ever Margaret A. Edwards Award.  She has written several novels for young adults, children and adults.  Several of her novels have been made into movies, including The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and released in 1983.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Issues: Social concerns: Gangs

Topics Covered: Social Status, Fitting In, Outsiders, Gangs, Violence, Love, Friendship, Family

Curriculum Ties: As The Outsiders is a classic, it could be read for an English class with lots to dissect and discuss,

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine being in trouble, the kind of trouble you have no idea how to get out of…

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 – 16

Challenge Issues: Profanity and violence.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, the book is considered by many to be a classic and was, and still is, highly praised by critics.

Why is this book included? As a young teen, I loved this book (and the movie) so much that I decided I would memorize the book.  I was a dreamer, to say the least.  It took me forever to learn the first two sentences and I lost interest in memorizing after that, but not in reading it and re-reading it and re-reading it again.  A classic in YA lit!

References:

Hinton, S. E. (n.d.) Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.sehinton.com/bio.html


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling

Bibliographic Information: Rowling, J.K. (2009). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.  ISBN: 0545139708.  784 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review may include information revealed in the Harry Potter books 1 through 6.

Plot Summary: In this, the last book of the wildly popular Harry Potter Series, Harry, now 17, must seek out the hidden objects that are sustaining life for the evil wizard Lord Voldemort.  Each of the books in the series has gotten more dark, Harry’s journeys more dangerous, and this one is no exception.  Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort is more harrowing and challenging than ever.  This book contains bravery and triumph, in addition to heartbreak, sorrow and devastating loss.  In the midst of trying to save the wizarding world from unimaginable evil and to keep himself alive, Harry is transitioning from Hogwarts school boy to a full-fledged wizard and a grown man.  This is one coming of age story readers will not want to miss, full of drama, danger, friendship and love. Harry’s last book will not disappoint his fans one bit.   The only problem is, it leaves us wanting just one more…

Critical Evaluation: In this nearly 800 page finale, Rowling, astoundingly, does it again.  The elaborate, magnificent fantasy world she created in the first Harry Potter book comes alive again, with enough of the familiar to satisfy and comfort and enough new elements to thrill and engage.  This is gripping reading at its finest.  The characters are charismatic, unique, and multidimensional.  The story is riveting and unpredictable.  The book mixes the fantastical with, realistic young adult story lines of friendship and love, family and loyalty.  This mix keeps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows grounded and believable, even as unbelievable as many of the elements are.  This is a great book for boys and girls, reluctant and eager readers alike, and, of course, fans of fantasy.

Of note, is that this book and the entire Harry Potter series are excellent choices for audio books.  The audio books are unabridged, so they take many hours to listen to, but the reader, Jim Dale is himself magical in his ability to act out each role as if a different person were performing.  Highly recommended.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was named the best book of 2007, by Newsweek‘s Malcolm Jones, was on Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2007 list, and was on the 2008 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list, among many other honors and awards.

Reader’s Annotation: Harry Potter, now 17, must take a dangerous and circuitous journey to seek out the hidden objects that are sustaining life for the evil wizard Lord Voldemort.

Information about the Author:  J. K. Rowling started writing stories as a young child.  The idea for Harry Potter came to her while she was on a train.  She did not have a pen, so she spent the four-hour train ride just dreaming up Harry and his magical world.  She says “I think that perhaps if I had had to slow down the ideas so that I could capture them on paper I might have stifled some of them.” (Rowling, 2011).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the final book in a seven-book series, books one through six are: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre/Theme: Fantasy: Magic

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would it feel to be the only person who can save your world from evil and destruction?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 9 – 18

Challenge Issues: There are those who claim the books promote the occult and witchcraft.  In fact, the Harry Potter series is number one on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, some are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? The great popularity of the Harry Potter series makes it a natural choice for a young adult collection.  Also, I really enjoyed the audio books of books one through six, so I was thrilled to get to listen to number seven.

References:

Rowling, J.K. (2011). Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.jkrowling.com/en/


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Bibliographic Information: Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Forney, E. (Illus.). New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0316013692.  288 pages.

Plot Summary: “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.” Fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., called Junior by his friends and family, lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His best, and only, friend Rowdy protects him from kids on the “rez,” who use Junior as a punching bag. He is teased and picked on because he’s skinny, he wears glasses, he lisps, and, according to him, “Everyone on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day.” But, Junior is smart and thoughtful, he’s an aspiring cartoonist, and he has managed to eke out a small amount of hope for his future. He makes the life-changing decision to leave the rez school to attend Reardon, a school 22 miles from the reservation, with only white students in a wealthy, all-white town. Students at Reardon are high achievers, both academically and in athletics. Will Junior’s Indian community feel betrayed by his decision? Will the kids at his new school open their hearts to him? Readers will root for this unassuming, honest, witty and smart protagonist, as he makes his way through the murky waters of growing up and self-discovery.

Critical Evaluation: Alexie’s honest, authentic writing tells Junior’s story with intimacy and feeling.  And while this book reads like a memoir, it is fiction, but heavily based on Alexie’s own life.  Readers get the opportunity to be present for day-to-day life as well as some of the more dramatic moments of Junior’s life, and through it all Alexie’s dry wit and social commentary are meaningful and not at all didactic. The complex issues of race and class intersect, intertwine, and give readers plenty to think about.  Part devastatingly sad, part funny, and part hopeful, this coming of age story provides pause for thought about life’s complexities, as well as some of its most simple, and basic, pleasures.  Alexie’s is an important voice in young adult literature, as there are very few books depicting contemporary Indian Reservation life.  Though Junior is fourteen, the novel’s content is mature enough to keep older teens engaged.  In fact, the many levels of this book would likely be best understood by teens older than the main character.  While the content is often heavy, the writing is accessible for a wide range of reading levels; this book, with its many cartoon illustrations, is enjoyable to read, and could be a great choice for reluctant readers.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award

Reader’s Annotation: Junior’s life takes a dramatic turn when he decides to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation school for an all-white school in an affluent town 22 miles away from his reservation home.

Information about the Author: Sherman Alexie is an author, a poet, and a filmmaker.  He has written 22 books, and has received numerous honors for his creative works.  Alexie has a strong voice and does not shy away from controversy (see “Challenge Issues” below). He is a frequent public speaker and an advocate for Native American Youth.

Genre: Issue, Realistic Fiction

Category: Issue: Social Concerns: Racism; Issue: Life is Hard: Multiple and Unique Issues, Outsiders

Topics Covered: Growing up, American Indian, Indian reservation, racism, poverty, discrimination, Bullying

Curriculum Ties: This book would provide plenty to talk about for a high school English or social studies class

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “I think Rowdy might be the most important person in my life. Maybe more important than my family. Can your best friend be more important than your family?” (p. 123)

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 19

Challenge Issues: This book contains a lot of cursing and references to sexuality.  It also exposes readers to poverty, racism, hatred, sadness and grief, things that some adults feel they need to protect young people from.  Alexie’s own experience of hearing from teens that this book speaks to them and they appreciate its honesty is discussed in his Wall Street Journal Blog piece, entitled Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written in Blood.  More information about censorship of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can be found in the Blog of The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

Why is this book included? This book is included for several reasons.  1) Authentic American Indian voices are underrepresented in American literature in general, and in young adult literature in particular, so it is important that Alexie’s voice is heard and available for young people to read. 2) It is a great book, funny, poignant, and gives us all a lot to think about.  I enjoyed it a lot and think you will too.  3) Related to #2, it won the National Book Award among other honors and was highly critically acclaimed.

References:

Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.


Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

Bibliographic Information: Perkins, L.R. (2005). Criss Cross. New York, NY: Green Willow Books.  ISBN: 0060092726.  337 pages.

Plot Summary: “She wished something would happen.  Something good.  To her.  Looking at the bright fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that.  Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one.  Hoping it wasn’t too late, she thought the word SOON.”  Young teen Debbie, keeps hoping something will happen.  Hector, Debbie’s childhood friend “felt unfinished, still in process.”  Debbie, Hector, and a group of their childhood friends are all going through the complex and circuitous journey of growing up.  Periodically, throughout the book, the friends gather on Saturdays to listen to Criss Cross, “the kind of radio show you would like if you liked Mad Magazine.  Which they all did, or had, a few years ago.”  Also, running throughout the book is the story of a necklace, that Debbie loses, that gets passed from one character to the next in a series of interesting coincidences.  Will the teens find the clarity that they are searching for?  Will they become who they think they will be? Who will they become, and how will they get there?

Critical Evaluation: Eclectic and creative, the writing in Criss Cross is mostly from Debbie’s or Hector’s perspective.  Told in a series of interrelated vignettes, poetry, questions and answers, with illustrations and a few photographs, this book is clever, witty and provides an honest portrayal of the inner thoughts and feelings of its characters.  Criss Cross is a coming of age story uniquely presented and rendered, and, though it takes place in the 1970’s, the issues and feelings that arise for the teens in the novel are fully relevant for today’s teens.  As the main characters are young teens, the book is probably best suited for the younger end of teens, ages 14-16.  The compelling story, accessible writing, and interesting presentation make the book a good choice for reluctant readers or teens reading a bit below grade level.  Poetic and charming, Criss Cross ponders some of life’s most common questions with grace, insight and wit.  Criss Cross won the 2006 Newberry Medal and is on the 2006 ALA Best Books for Young Adults list.

Reader’s Annotation: Debbie, Hector and their friends are at a crossroads.  They are growing up, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, and searching, always searching.

Information about the Author: Author and artist Lynne Rae Perkins has written and illustrated several picture books and young adult novels.  I did not know this when I read it, but Criss Cross is the second novel that Perkins has written with the character of Debbie in it.  The first novel is called All Alone in the Universe and is about Debbie when she is thirteen years old.

In addition to words, Perkins uses art to express herself, thus, she adds a unique element to her novels.  A quote from Perkins’ website made me smile: “’Books are ideas with meat on their bones.’  I have that written down but I don’t know who said it.  It might have been me, but probably not” (Perkins, n.d.)

Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Category: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties:  A twist on the classic coming of age novel, this novel could be compared to other more traditional coming of age novels.  Perkins also provides a few ideas for teachers interested in teaching the book here.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Do you ever wish something, anything would happen?
  • Do you think we are ever finished?  Complete?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 16

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? It won the Newberry Medal and was on YALSA’s 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list. 

References:

Perkins, L.R. (n.d.) Activities for All Alone in the Universe. Retrieved from http://www.lynneraeperkins.com/all_alone_in_the_universe_activities.htm


Teen Voices

Bibliographic Information: Teen Voices (magazine). Boston, MA. ISSN: 10747974.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Voices is not your average teen magazine.  It is a print and online magazine for teen girls, BY teen girls.  The mission: “Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media.”  Teen Voices is not just a magazine but a non-profit organization that supports teens’ development in creating the magazine and mentors teens through the process.  Teen Voices also supports teen girls’ leadership development and social justice awareness and activism.

Articles in Teen Voices cover a wide breadth of topics, like arts and music, book reviews and author interviews, diversity and equality, food, health, the media, careers, teen activism, relationships, social networking.  The magazine also includes fiction and poetry written by teen girls.  Recent articles include:

  • Recent Events in Egypt from a Girl’s Eye View
  • Girl’s Hurt by Gang Violence
  • Got the Knowledge to Go to College? Teen Voices Helps You on Your Way!
  • When Relationships Get Tough, Can They Be Too Rough?
  • Got the Facebook Blues?

Critical Evaluation: The content of Teen Voices, like the voices it represents, is diverse and intelligent.  Since teens are creating content, the magazine is highly relevant and authentic.  Articles cover real-life issues and, while there is always room for fun, the magazine addresses young women as competent, intelligent people with the ability to think and analyze and question the status quo.  Other teen magazines, with their emphasis on appearance and social status, do not compare to the depth and strength of the content in Teen VoicesTeen Voices and its staff have received awards and honors, that acknowledge the important and life-changing work that the organization does.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young women deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has won awards and has a positive review in School Library Journal.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.


Juno directed by Jason Reitman

Bibliographic Information: Reitman, J. (director). 2008. Juno (DVD). Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.  ASIN: B000YABYLA.  96 minutes. Movie Rating: PG-13.

Plot Summary: Sixteen and pregnant, Juno MacGuff, has a lot to figure out.  First, she must tell her dad and stepmom the news; they are supportive.  She knows she is not ready to be a mother, so she has some decisions to make.  She discovers that she does not want to have an abortion.  The option she chooses?  Adoption.  She then sets out to find the perfect parents for her as yet unborn child.  She finds what she deems to be the ideal couple in Mark and Vanessa Loring and she begins to establish a somewhat awkward but honest relationship with them.  She is also not quite sure how she feels about the boy who fathered her baby, Paulie, who has been her close friend for years and has had a crush on her for a long time as well.  While she remains somewhat coolly distant from him, Paulie and many viewers suspect she feels more than she is willing to admit.

Critical Evaluation: Juno is a charming movie.  The dialog is witty, straightforward, and intelligent and the characters possess a truthfulness not always found in movies.  The storyline and the characters are compelling, making viewers care about what happens to the young protagonist and her friends and family.  The movie demonstrates that  a person does not have to be a grown up to become pregnant, but becoming pregnant, as least for Juno, can make a person grow up.  Her obvious caring about the life of her soon to be born child and her decisions around that demonstrate that her pregnancy forced her to grow up fast.  Her teen angst and insecurities demonstrate that she is not all grown up yet.  With its humor and warmth, to some extent, this movie romanticizes teen pregnancy, but the honesty and integrity of the movie as well as the fact that it is highly entertaining make it worth a watch.  “The film received four 2008 Academy Awards nominations: Best Original Screenplay, which Diablo Cody won, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ellen Page” (Juno, Wikipedia).

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: When sixteen year old Juno MacGuff discovers she is pregnant she realizes she is not ready to be a mother, so she goes in search of the perfect parents for her as yet unborn baby.

Information about the Author/Director: When asked in an interview about his first reading of Diablo Cody’s Juno script, director Jason Reitman stated, “Page One and I was just like, it was instantaneous. I was like “Oh my god, this girl can write.” Then it just becomes a question of, “Well she can write, but is there a story here?” then about halfway through, by the time we got to the ultrasound scene, I was pretty confident that if I didn’t direct this movie I would regret it for the rest of my life [emphasis mine].” (Douglas, 2007).

Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Premarital sex, teen sex, sexuality, teen pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? It is a great movie, and with its humor and honesty, I believe  it is destined to be a teen classic.

References:

Juno (film).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_%28film%29

Douglas, E. (2007). Jason Reitman Tackles Teen Pregnancy in Juno. ComingSoon.net. Retrieved from http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=39765