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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Joe Hill Heats Things Up

Written by Jon Williams

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA CC BY-SA 2.0

When you see a photo of writer Joe Hill, it’s easy to note the resemblance he bears to another novelist famous in the horror genre. It’s no secret now that Stephen King is Joe’s father, but that wasn’t always the case. When he was starting out, Joe wanted to make sure any success he achieved was on the merits of his work rather than as a result of a famous name, particularly as he knew his work would be in a similar orbit, genre-wise. Therefore, he dropped the last name of “King” and shortened his middle name (Hillstrom) to create his pseudonym.

A fact like that can only remain a secret for so long, though (a fact King learned himself with his own pen name, Richard Bachman). The news of Hill’s parentage broke around the same time his first novel was published in 2007. That novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is a seriously creepy story of aging rock star Judas Coyne, who buys a dead man’s suit—and the ghost that comes with it—over the Internet. The novel won both the Locus and Bram Stoker Awards for Best First Novel, proving definitively that Hill’s work was capable of standing on its own under any name he chose.

His second novel came three years later, in 2010. Horns is a haunting, tragic love story of a young man accused of his girlfriend’s murder, and the bizarre transformation his rage brings upon him. It has since been adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe as the man in question, Ignatius Perrish. Hill’s third novel, and most widely acclaimed so far, NOS4A2 (a vanity plate spelling of Nosferatu) came out in 2013, about a woman desperate to save her son from the clutches of a soul vampire.

While these gaps between books may seem abnormally long for a popular novelist, the multitalented Hill is far from idle during those times. Starting in 2008, he teamed up with artist Gabriel Rodriguez for Locke & Key, a dark fantasy comics series revolving around an old house and the mysterious, powerful keys that open the doors there. The last issue was published in 2013, and in 2015, it was adapted into a full-cast audio drama, and recently it was announced that a second attempt will be made to develop it into a television series as well. In 2013-14, Hill wrote the comics miniseries Wraith, which ties into NOS4A2 but also works as a standalone.  Additionally, his short story “The Cape” was adapted into a comic by Jason Ciaramella.

And now comes Hill’s fourth novel, The Fireman, published earlier this week. In it, the world has been decimated by a spore that causes people’s skin to break out in markings known as Dragonscale…until they eventually spontaneously combust. Into this world steps a man known as the Fireman, who has learned not only to manage the condition, but to use it. With this novel, Hill fully embraces his heritage, calling to mind the post-apocalyptic world his dad brought to the page in The Stand. Of course, that’s not to suggest that he’s rejected that heritage before—the two of them have fun with it, and have actually collaborated. Throttle is a tribute to classic horror writer Richard Matheson, while In the Tall Grass is an original novella the two wrote together.

The Fireman has drawn rave reviews, and will no doubt be one of the hits of the summer. Make sure you have plenty of copies for your patrons, as well as his past work for those who have yet to discover this relatively new talent.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Guide to the MCU

Written by Jon Williams

Captain America: Civil War landed in theatres last Friday and dominated the box office, and it looks to do the same this weekend. It tells the story of an ideological rift in the superhero team that leads to conflict between Captain America and Iron Man, as well as their various allies. It’s the latest installment in Marvel’s cinematic universe that dates back to 2008. In the eight years since, there have been a number of films and TV shows that have contributed to this universe, with plenty more on the horizon, and it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s out here. With that in mind, here’s a look at what you need to know about this ultra-popular series.

The whole shebang began in 2008 with Iron Man, in which Robert Downey Jr. plays billionaire playboy and technological genius Tony Stark, who fashions a powered armor suit for himself after being abducted by terrorists. Shortly thereafter came The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton in the role of Dr. Bruce Banner and his rage-fueled alter ego. Iron Man 2 was the first sequel in 2010. Then, in 2011, two new superheroes were introduced: Thor starred Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, and Captain America: The First Avenger told the WWII-era origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and brought him into the modern day. In 2012, Marvel brought Phase One of their cinematic universe to a close by assembling all these heroes (plus a couple of others, and replacing Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk) into an unstoppable fighting force known as The Avengers.

Phase Two began with movies featuring three of the individual avengers: Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014. That year also saw the introduction of a new team, more aliens and misfits than superheroes: Guardians of the Galaxy was popular almost as much for its classic rock soundtrack as for its fun and action-packed plot. In 2015, the Avengers came together once again for Age of Ultron; then, for the first time in Phase Two, another individual superhero made his entrance in the form of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man.

Captain America: Civil War, which is the first film in Phase Three, actually seems much more like an Avengers movie. While the Hulk and Thor are absent, the other members of the team, including War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), all play prominent roles. In addition, it also provides an origin for a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who will be rebooted into this Marvel universe with Homecoming in 2017, and introduces Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who gets an individual movie in 2018. Next on Marvel’s docket is Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which releases in November; other films to look forward to include a second Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and a two-part Avengers Infinity War (2018 and 2019).

And of course, those are just the movies; the MCU has spread to the small screen as well. It started in 2013 with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs its two-hour Season 3 finale next Tuesday. Starring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, it deals with the government agency tasked with countering enemies like Hydra that pose monumental threats to humanity. In early 2015, it was joined on the airwaves by Agent Carter, in which Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a secret agent in the 1940s who works often with Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father) and played a large role in Captain America’s back story. Daredevil (starring Charlie Cox as a blind crime-fighter) and Jessica Jones (starring Krysten Ritter as a traumatized former superhero who now runs a detective agency) both debuted in 2015 as well. All those shows are ongoing (with the exception of Agent Carter, which will not continue past its second season), and Marvel has plenty more in the offing. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) will premiere at the end of September, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is filming now. A bit further down the line, once those two series have begun, the TV superheroes will get their own team-up in the form of The Defenders, currently slated for sometime in 2017.

(Please note: Daredevil and Jessica Jones are not yet available in a physical format. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (beyond the first season) and Agent Carter are currently unavailable to us, but are expected to become available at some point. We’ll keep you posted.)

The box office numbers for Captain America: Civil War show that the popularity of Marvel and its characters and stories continues unabated. As their universe grows, make sure you have these movies and shows on your shelves for fans who want to relive them and for new converts who want to catch up.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

In Memoriam: Prince

Written by Jon Williams

I was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes astray.

Last week we received yet another stark reminder that 2016 has been a terrible year in terms of losing beloved entertainers far too soon. When news started coming through on Thursday that Prince had died at age 57, it seemed like it had to be a hoax; when that news was confirmed not long after, it seemed like a bad dream.

Born in 1958 in his beloved Minneapolis as the son of two musicians, Prince showed an early aptitude for music. He parlayed that into a recording contract with Warner Bros., and his first album, For You, was released two months before his 20th birthday. Displaying the full range of his talent, he wrote all the songs on the album, played all the instruments, and even produced it himself. It was with his second album, 1979’s Prince, that he started to garner the type of attention that would follow him for the rest of his life. It was his first platinum album. The albums Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981) landed him his first appearance on Saturday Night Live and an opening spot for the Rolling Stones, as well as his own first headlining tour.

Then came the period that transformed Prince from a talented and popular musician into a legend. The album 1999, released in late in 1982, contained the party anthem title track, as well as the hit “Little Red Corvette,” and achieved multi-platinum sales status. Then, in 1984, Prince starred in the semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain. The film itself was only a minor hit; the resulting soundtrack, on the other hand, became one of best albums of the decade and, perhaps, of all time. Mixing pop and rock sensibilities, it contained the classics “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” in addition to the title track. He would go on to release four more albums in the ‘80s, as well as the soundtrack to the blockbuster Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.

Because of his immense success during this period, Prince will always be associated primarily with the music of the 1980s, but he wasn’t done with movies, either. In 1986 he made his directorial debut with Under the Cherry Moon, and in 1987 he put out a concert film to accompany his album Sign o’ the Times. His final film role was in 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, a sequel to Purple Rain. And of course, he continued to put out thought-provoking, envelope-pushing music. He released twelve albums in the ‘90s, including nine after he changed his name to a symbol and could only be referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” He went back to being Prince in 2000, and followed that up with twelve more albums from 2001-2010. There was a break in album releases after that point, which came to an end with two albums released simultaneously in 2014: Plectrumelectrum, with the backing band 3rdeyegirl, and the solo effort Art Official Age. Then last year came HITnRUN Phase One; the follow-up, HITnRUN Phase Two, is available on CD starting tomorrow.

Obviously, an artist as dynamic and prolific as Prince can’t be adequately summarized in a post like this. The best thing for patrons who aren’t familiar with his music, or just know the hits, would be to check it out for themselves, to discover his talent and why he had so much influence on a generation of musicians. See our website to put his CDs and movies (as well as a biography) on your shelves. If your library is like most, there’s probably quite a high demand for his music right now, with a long list of holds for his albums. Be sure to let your patrons know, if you participate in hoopla, that many of his albums and compilations are available there. hoopla is one of the only services to offer his music for streaming, and it’s available to patrons immediately, with no holds.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Harrison Ford Returning for Indy 5

Written by Jon Williams

Rumours have been swirling for quite some time, but the news finally became official earlier this week. Harrison Ford will once again don the fedora and brandish the whip as Indiana Jones for the fifth film in the series, set to hit theatres in 2019. Steven Spielberg is back to direct, but George Lucas, who shaped the stories of the first four installments, will not be involved.

Ford’s portrayal of the adventurous archaeologist dates back to 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which he must prevent the Nazis from seizing and using the Ark of the Covenant to achieve world domination. It was followed in 1984 by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was actually set before the first film, and the level of violence contributed to the creation of the PG13 rating in the U.S. by the MPAA that same year. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, came in 1989, and featured the addition of Sean Connery to the cast as Indy’s father.

After The Last Crusade, there was a nineteen-year break before the fourth film. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull moves the series ahead from the 1930s to 1957 and replaces the Nazis with the Soviets as antagonists. It seemed as though that movie was a chance for Ford and Jones to pass the torch to Shia LaBeouf and continue the series with a younger lead, but apparently that was not the case. LaBeouf is unlikely to return for the new film, although it is a possibility.

Of course, fans who were “jonesing” for more Indy didn’t have to wait out that whole nineteen-year period without a fix. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was a television series that ran for two seasons starting in 1992, and then was revived for four TV movies from 1994-1996. (Please note: for the DVD release, the movies were edited into episodes, and the episodes from both seasons and the movies appear chronologically by when they were set, rather than in the order they originally aired.)

By the time the next film releases in 2009, that will be an eleven-year gap between movies, and Ford will be 77 years old. Of course, he’s certainly no stranger to reprising iconic roles after many years away. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, starred Ford in a central role as Han Solo, a character he hadn’t played since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Also, coming in 2018, Ford will appear as replicant/hunter Rick Deckard in the sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and based on a novel by Philip K. Dick.

Ford has been a big name in Hollywood ever since his first starring role in the original Star Wars in 1977. Over the course of his long career he’s put together a very impressive filmography. So, are there any other characters you’d like to see him resurrect? A return to Jack Ryan, perhaps? Let us know in the comments section below, or tell us about favourite Ford movies or fun Indy memories.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Leo Finally Takes Home an Oscar

Written by Jon Williams

The Academy Awards, honouring the year’s best movies and performances, were handed out last Sunday night. As the ceremony wound toward its conclusion and the most high-profile awards started being given away, you could feel the anticipation building. Would this finally be the year that Leonardo diCaprio, widely considered one of the biggest talents in cinema today, finally walked away with a coveted acting award with this, his fifth nomination?

It was. When Julianne Moore read out his name as the year’s Best Actor, a wave of jubilation swept through the actor’s fans all across the country and around the world. He won for his role in The Revenant, a gritty portrayal of a man left for dead in the wilderness of the American frontier. The film itself was up for a whopping total of twelve Academy Awards, winning three—aside from Best Actor, it also won for Best Cinematography and Best Director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu (who won the same award last year for Birdman). The film is based on a historical novel of the same name by Michael Punke, whose position within the U.S. government prevents him from even talking about his book.

DiCaprio has been in the acting game for a long time. He got his start in 1990 at the age of 15 in the short-lived TV series Parenthood, based on the Steve Martin movie of the year before. He also appeared in an episode of Roseanne, and had a recurring role on Growing Pains. He was working his way into film around the same time, getting his break in 1993’s This Boy’s Life (which was also the film debut of Tobey Maguire). Then, later that year, he played the role of Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, earning his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (losing out to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive).

His star would only rise from there as he would go on to participate in a number of high-profile projects. In 1996 he headlined (alongside Claire Danes) Baz Luhrmann’s modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. The following year came perhaps his best-known role, as Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic. The tale of doomed romance between DiCaprio and Kate Winslet propelled Titanic to a new all-time box office record at the time. From there he went on to work with such famous names as Woody Allen (Celebrity), Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York), and Steven Spielberg (Catch Me if You Can).

In 2005, eleven years after his first nomination, DiCaprio finally scored a second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor, for another Scorsese-helmed feature: The Aviator, a biopic of the eccentric genius Howard Hughes. This time he lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray. He wouldn’t have to wait as long for the next one, as he was nominated again in 2007 for Blood Diamond—that award went to Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. He wasn’t nominated again until 2014, when he was recognized for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the award went to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

And all this is to say nothing of the incredible roles he played that weren’t nominated by the Academy. Leonardo DiCaprio has had quite a varied and interesting acting career, and at just 41, it’s safe to say that moviegoers still have quite a lot to look forward to. SmartBrowse his name on our website for more of his movies, and while you’re there, don’t miss our collection of all this year’s other Academy Award winners.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hollywood Vampires Revive Classic Rock

Written by Jon Williams

The Grammy Awards ceremony on Monday night produced some incredible musical moments. From Taylor Swift’s opening number to Kendrick Lamar’s fiery performance (literally), the taste of Broadway’s Hamilton, Little Big Town’s haunting rendition of their hit “Girl Crush,” and more, there was something for fans all across the spectrum to enjoy. And then there were the tributes—the Eagles taking the stage with Jackson Browne to perform “Take It Easy” in honour of Glenn Frey, and Lady Gaga’s medley of David Bowie hits.

One of the more unexpected moments came late in the show when Alice Cooper took the stage with a band of familiar faces. Introduced by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, they first played an original song, then faded it into a cover of “Ace of Spades” in tribute to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. They did so with a brand of straightforward rock sound that was absent from the rest of the show and, indeed, has seemingly gone missing from the music world’s consciousness as other forms of pop music have come to the forefront.

The band is called the Hollywood Vampires, and this wasn’t just a one-off performance. A tribute in themselves to Cooper’s famous drinking buddies of the ‘70s, they formed in 2015 with principal members Joe Perry and Johnny Depp joining the singer. Their debut album featured contributions from such luminaries as Grohl, Joe Walsh, Sir Paul McCartney, and the late Christopher Lee. And while not technically full members of the band, they’ve frequently been joined, as they were on Monday night, by Guns N’ Roses associates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum.

And of course, to score such an incredible list of collaborators, the supergroup’s actual members are pretty famous in their own right. Alice Cooper, of course, just finished up a supporting stint on Motley Crue’s final tour. He’s been at the forefront of the rock n’ roll business for decades. The same can be said of Joe Perry, lead guitarist for Aerosmith since 1970. The third member is something of a surprise, as Johnny Depp is known for his acting career, but it turns out he has some serious musical chops as well.

The Hollywood Vampires only have one album for now, but Cooper recently reported that he’s working on a follow-up, as well as perhaps a live album, as the band gets ready for its summer concert schedule. Make sure you have it on your shelves, as well as music from the band’s members, collaborators, and other similar acts to satisfy your rock-loving patrons as this style of music tries to regain its foothold in popular culture.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Memoriam: Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey

Written by Jon Williams

The year 2016 has kicked off on a melancholy note for the entertainment industry, particularly over the past couple of weeks. On the heels of David Bowie’s passing last week came the news about actor Alan Rickman. Then, earlier this week, we lost Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey. Both of these men were giants in their particular fields, and will be sorely missed.

Alan Rickman gained his acting stature relatively late in life. He was primarily a stage actor with just a few small TV parts to his name when he landed the role of Hans Gruber in the action movie staple Die Hard. Released in 1988, Rickman was 42 when it came out, and he received acclaim for his portrayal, becoming known as one of the best “bad guys” of all time. With his deep voice and theatrical manner, he became known for playing villainous (or quasi-villainous), authoritarian characters, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, and Judge Turpin in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd.

However, these were by no means the only types of roles he played. He could do comedic roles, such as in Galaxy Quest, and as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He was also quite adept in more complex, emotional roles, such as heart surgeon Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made, and as part of a dynamite ensemble cast in the much-loved Love Actually.

Glenn Frey, on the other hand, began tasting success at a fairly early age. He was just 19 when he backed up Bob Seger on the single “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not long after, he was hired for Linda Ronstadt’s backing band, along with a drummer from Texas named Don Henley. In 1971, Henley and Frey (along with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner) formed the Eagles; their debut album, recorded and released in 1972, included the hit “Take It Easy,” which Frey wrote with Jackson Browne. They would record and release (with some lineup changes) six albums in the 1970s before their breakup in 1980 (their volatility can be seen in the documentary History of the Eagles). Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 would be the top-selling album of the 20th century in the United States.

After the Eagles, Frey would put together a solid solo catalog in the ‘80s, helped along by soundtrack contributions. The songs “The Heat Is On” and “You Belong to the City” (compiled on his Solo Collection) appeared in Beverly Hills Cop and Miami Vice, respectively. Then, in 1994, the Eagles got back together for an MTV special, which resulted in the mostly live Hell Freezes Over album and tour. In 2007, they released the two-disc album Long Road Out of Eden, which would be their last. Frey’s last solo album, After Hours, was released in 2012, was a collection of covers.

Both of these men had outstanding careers, each worthy of greater exploration on their own; we just had the great misfortune to lose both of them within days of each other. For more, SmartBrowse their names on our website, and share their wonderful movies and music with your patrons for years to come.
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