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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Get Lost in Space

Written by Jon Williams

I’m admittedly late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to watching Gravity recently. I wanted to see it in theatres, and now I’m even more irritated with myself that I didn’t. In HD on a big-screen television, the film looked utterly incredible…I can only imagine how breathtaking and immersive it was on a giant silver screen. All the technical awards and accolades the film won for its production and presentation were well-deserved.

Of course, humanity facing adversity in the course of space exploration is a plot device that has been explored time and time again (with Interstellar being the most recent example). The movie Gravity most reminded me of in that regard was Apollo 13, the dramatisation of the ill-fated 1970 NASA mission to the moon. Although Apollo 13 was based on a true story, boiled down, both films have similar plots: a group of astronauts go into space on a mission that is soon marred by catastrophe and they have to attempt to return to Earth under increasingly harrowing circumstances. Interestingly, both films feature Ed Harris (voice only in Gravity), who also stars in another acclaimed movie about astronauts, 1983’s The Right Stuff.

Another film along somewhat similar lines is on the horizon. The Martian, starring Matt Damon, is slated for a November 25 release into theatres. Based on the popular novel of the same name by Andy Weir, it’s not about an alien from the Red Planet, but rather about an astronaut abandoned there after an accident leads the rest of his crew to assume he is dead. Actually only mildly injured, he must then use what few supplies he has available in an attempt to survive long enough for a rescue mission to be mounted from Earth. This brings to mind, to a certain extent, the sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, about a human born on Mars coming to Earth for the first time (although I suppose that’s actually the exact opposite of space exploration).

Some movies play on our fears of finding hostile (or at the very least dangerous) alien life on our forays into space. The successful Alien franchise has been built on this premise, and a new Alien film by District 9’s Neill Blomkamp is in the works. Then there’s Apollo 18, a found-footage film that posits one more crewed moon landing after the Apollo 17 mission, one that found a very good reason why no one has landed on the moon since. Another in this vein is Europa Report, in which a crew is sent to explore the possibility of water and life on one of Jupiter’s moons.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface when it comes to tales of humans venturing into space. There’s much more to explore, including the wide range of Star Trek shows and movies, Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, and, of course, 2001 and 2010. So tell us about some of your favourites, or what’s popular with your patrons, in the comments section below.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Looks to Be Banner Year for Movies

Written by Jon Williams

You’ve heard about it, and it’s finally here. Today, Fifty Shades of Grey opens in theatres, following months of anticipation and controversy. Based on the first of author E.L. James’s trilogy of novels, the film (itself the first of a trilogy) is expected to win the weekend’s box office handily, even against strong competition from Kingsman, another new release, plus holdovers SpongeBob and American Sniper.

Fifty Shades is the first really highly anticipated movie to open in 2015, but by no means is it the last. Looking at what’s in store for the year should have moviegoers feeling pretty excited. First up is a number of reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, including a live-action version of Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, hitting the screen one month from today. This summer, you can look for an update of the horror classic Poltergeist, as well as a new version of Fantastic Four, with Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell as the titular superhero quartet. For Christmas, you can look forward to a remake of Point Break that features extreme sports in place of surfing in the original. And finally, if iconic characters are your thing, you won’t want to miss Mr. Holmes, which stars Sir Ian McKellan as the world’s most famous detective in his elder days and dealing with a failing memory. No North American release date has yet been announced, but it is expected to be out sometime this year.

If your favourite franchise isn’t getting a reboot, then chances are good that it’s getting a sequel, as there are a ton of those on tap for 2015. First on the docket is Insurgent, coming March 20, the second in the Divergent series based on the young adult novels by Veronica Ross. Staying in the dystopian future genre, this year will see the conclusion to the Hunger Games series, as Mockingjay Part 2 debuts in November. The summer a number of blockbusters will have viewers flocking to theatres for new installments of The Avengers (Age of Ultron), Jurassic Park (Jurassic World), and Terminator (Genisys). Daniel Craig takes another turn as super-spy James Bond in Spectre, the follow-up to Skyfall. There will also be new installments for The Fast and the Furious, Pitch Perfect, Ted, and Magic Mike as the year goes on. And in December, there’s that new Star Wars movie that has everyone all abuzz.

Of course, if original fare is more your cup of tea, there’s plenty to look forward to on that score as well. Later this month, Serena comes to the screen, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and based on the novel by Ron Rash. March 6 will see the release of Chappie, the story of a robot who gains intelligence and emotions, directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, known for District 9 and Elysium. Child 44, in theatres in April, tells a story of murder and intrigue in the Soviet Union, based on the bestselling novel by Tom Rob Smith. In May, look for Tomorrowland, the sci-fi fantasy from Disney starring George Clooney. Another Marvel movie, Ant-Man, comes out in July, with Paul Rudd playing the tiny superhero. And November looks pretty awesome, with releases including Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, and the adaptation of Andy Weir’s acclaimed novel The Martian, starring Matt Damon.

Naturally, this is just scratching the surface of all the amazing films coming our way this year. As always, look to CVS Midwest Tape for these films as they come available on DVD and Blu-ray, and let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing.

Friday, January 30, 2015

“The Raven” Turns 170

Written by Jon Williams

Yesterday marked the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven,” for my money one of the finest examples of poesy in the English language. The long narrative poem tells the tale of a man lamenting for his lost love to a raven that he has inadvertently let into his home. Appearing first in the New York Evening Mirror on January 20, 1845, the poem is a delight in print, but for the musicality of the language, it must be heard aloud for the full effect. One such performance can be found on Select Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, narrated by Chris Lutkin.

That audiobook also features eleven other classics from Poe, the others being pieces of his short fiction rather than poetry. Several of them are classic examples of the style that has led to Poe being known as the “Master of Macabre,” like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” As much as he is associated with the horror genre, though, that was by no means the only trick in his bag. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” contains some grisly details, but it’s most notable for being the first modern detective story. So although this sometimes gets lost, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle owes as much to Poe as does someone like, say, Stephen King (who, in truth, is another writer associated with the horror genre that writes in a number of styles).

Classic literature never goes out of style or favour, of course, but merely sits on the shelf and patiently waits to be discovered by new generations of readers and/or listeners. And that’s why Dreamscape Media, publishers of the aforementioned Poe title, is producing a line of classic titles on audiobook with new recordings that will appeal to longtime literature lovers and first-time listeners alike. This includes such beloved favourites as A Christmas Carol and other Christmas stories from Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a number of other Oz stories from L. Frank Baum, to name just a few.

And that’s not all. Along similar lines, Dreamscape is also putting together narrations of historical texts. These include Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee as well as Letters from Lee’s Army, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (plus another edition that also includes the Gettysburg Address).

Needless to say, titles like these can add a great deal of value to your audiobook collection while enriching the lives of your patrons. SmartBrowse ‘Dreamscape Classics’ on our website for more new recordings of literature’s canon, or search for any other must-have titles you need for your collection.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Collection Takes Aim at Bullying

Written by Jon Williams

It’s one of the hottest topics of today, a conundrum that unfortunately has no easy solutions and isn’t even easy to discuss. The topic is bullying, and it’s a situation that occurs far too often. Teachers, school administrators, parents, and students themselves often deal with it on a daily basis. That was the case for Carrie Goldman, for whom the bullying of her daughter led her to write a book that lays out ways to help deal with bullying situations, hopefully before they start. That book is Bullied, and it’s an essential guide for anyone who deal with children on a day-to-day basis.

The one bright spot is that there are any number of resources, both fiction and non-fiction, that deal with bullying. The fiction titles can help students—and adults—think about bullying from different perspectives and perhaps come to terms with its causes and effects. The non-fiction titles offer anyone who might find themselves dealing with a bullying situation (from any angle) with practical advice on how to get through it as peacefully as possible and prevent it from happening again.

To that end, Midwest Tape has put together a collection of these audiobook resources that libraries can put on their shelves for those who need them. Kids & Bullying: Audiobooks for Conversation can be found via a panel on our homepage. In the coming weeks, you can look for a number of audiobook collections like this on a variety of topics. We hope you find them useful, and that they expose you to some great titles you may have missed. You can let us know what you think here in the comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Golden Globes Reflect Changing Face of Television

Written by Jon Williams

If you watched the Golden Globe awards ceremony on Sunday night—or even if you just perused the list of winners on Monday morning—you may have noticed something a little odd on the television side. Despite garnering a fair number of nominations, the major over-the-air networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) did not take home a single award. Instead, the shows celebrated for their excellence were all from non-traditional, premium cable, or streaming services.

Non-network stations did quite well for themselves. In fact, the CW, jointly operated by CBS and Time Warner, was the closest thing to a major network to come away with the win. The channel, which is generally aimed at a young adult audience, earned its first major award nomination and win, with Gina Rodriguez taking home Best Actress in a TV Comedy for her portrayal of the title character on Jane the Virgin (which is not yet available on DVD/Blu-ray). Also winning awards were Downton Abbey (Best Supporting Actress Joanne Froggatt) and The Honourable Woman (Best Actress in a Miniseries Maggie Gyllenhaal); both were produced for British television and aired on this side of the pond via PBS and SundanceTV, respectively. Finally, FX’s television reboot of Fargo won two awards: Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries Billy Bob Thornton.

The streaming services also won big on the night. Kevin Spacey, star of Netflix’s powerhouse political show House of Cards, won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Actor just ahead of the release of Season 3 on February 27. Following in Netflix’s footsteps of developing original programming, Amazon had a winner on its hands this year with Transparent (not yet available), which took two awards: Best TV Comedy and Best Actor Jeffrey Tambor. The show’s full first season was made available to users in September, and it was recently renewed for a second season that will be released later this year.

The premium cable outlets also came away with three awards. With fifteen nominations, it seemed like something of an upset for HBO to end the evening with just one win, but that’s the way it went down. Their award was for Matt Bomer’s Best Supporting Actor turn in The Normal Heart. Also in something of a surprise, the award for Best TV Drama went to Showtime’s The Affair (not yet available), which also featured the night’s Best Drama Actress, Ruth Wilson.

This shift in where the best shows call home is indicative of a shift in the way viewers watch television. Fading are the days of being in front of a television at a certain time on a certain day to catch the latest episode of a favourite show. More and more, it seems that viewers prefer the freedom of watching episodes at their leisure, or being able to watch multiple episodes at once, as soon as the season “starts,” and these non-network outlets are capitalizing on that. Along those lines, this column on the Huffington Post has an interesting (if non-scientific) note on most-recommended series for binge watching, including a breakdown along gender lines (which, apparently, do not diverge as much as you might expect).

The takeaway? It’s true: non-network shows are the hottest right now. In addition to this year’s crop of Golden Globe winners, make sure you’re stocking seasons of shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange Is the New Black, and The Wire for your patrons who just can’t get enough, as well as for those who don’t have access to those channels or services.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

LibraryReads Recommends Great Books

Written by Jon Williams

Working as a partnership between public libraries and a group of major publishers, LibraryReads is a program designed to promote librarians’ favourite novels to adult readers each month. Beginning in September of 2013, each month they produce a list of ten newly published titles nominated and voted on by librarians across the U.S. That very first list was a winner right off the bat, containing, among others, the very popular Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Since the beginning, 160 novels have been selected by LibraryReads for recommendation to patrons, with a fresh batch ready to go for the first month of the new year. With December being somewhat slow for the publication of new titles, instead of producing a new list, LibraryReads instead came out with their “Favorite of Favorites,” the very best of previously selected titles. It’s a list of great books that showcases the great taste librarians have for literature. The previously mentioned Fangirl made the list, as did another novel by Rowell, Landline. The list also includes Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and National Book Award finalist All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book selected as the overall favourite, though, was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, originally selected for the April 2014 list. The story of a grumpy bookseller and collector who undergoes a gradual transformation when a young girl comes into his life, it is Zevin’s eighth novel. Her first, Elsewhere, published in 2005, was a YA novel dealing with the afterlife. Since then, she has written for both teens and adults, with Storied Life being her most acclaimed work to date.

The full list of LibraryReads Favorite of Favorites can be found in our January audiobook buyer’s guide, or on our website. And for January, it’s back to the usual list of ten brand new novels for patrons to check out. This first list is headlined by such titles as As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the new Flavia de Luce title from Alan Bradley, and The Rosie Effect, follow-up to The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simison. It also includes The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, and Full Throttle by Julie Ann Walker.

Interested in LibraryReads for your library? No problem! Check out the program’s website for materials you can use to promote each month’s titles to your patrons. While you’re there, you can find out how to nominate books for the list and participate in selection, if you don’t already. Help bring your love of books—and audiobooks!—to patrons who might otherwise miss these great reads.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Newsroom Fades to Black

Written by Jon Williams

The third and final season of The Newsroom concluded this past season, bringing an end to HBO’s series about the perils and challenges of trying to do serious TV journalism in an era of reality TV and the endless quest for ratings. The lead role of passionate newsman Will McAvoy was ably handled by Jeff Daniels (in quite a departure from his other recent appearance as Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber To), heading an ensemble cast that also included Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Emily Mortimer, and Olivia Munn, among others.

The Newsroom was created by Aaron Sorkin, who also served as the primary writer for all 25 episodes. Sorkin started his career as a playwright, and got his start in Hollywood by writing the play A Few Good Men, adapting it himself for the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. With its famous “You can’t handle the truth!” line thundered by Nicholson’s character, Sorkin’s reputation as a writer of smart, snappy dialogue was born. He would then go on to write the films Malice (currently unavailable) and The American President.

From there, Sorkin would make his first foray into the television world—in more ways than one. His first series, Sports Night (also unavailable), was, like The Newsroom, a show about doing television. Inspired by ESPN’s SportsCenter, the show focused on a group of people putting together a nightly sports show. The comedy was well received by critics but scored low ratings (perhaps inspiring one of the conflicts at the heart of The Newsroom) and was only on for two seasons. It led, however, directly into The West Wing, the breakthrough drama starring Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet and focusing on his staff and administration.

The West Wing ran for seven seasons, ending in 2006, which saw the debut of Sorkin’s next series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. With it, he returned to the world of television production, this time looking at a sketch comedy series. However, it garnered much the same reaction as Sports Night, and only lasted one season. At that point, Sorkin returned to working for the big screen, adapting books into screenplays for the hit movies Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network (for which he won an Academy Award), and Moneyball.

With The Newsroom heading into the sunset, one of the projects on Sorkin’s horizon is another adaptation for the silver screen, this time of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. He has said recently that he is unlikely to write again for television; if that’s true, he’s certainly left viewers with some great shows and memorable moments. Make sure you have his acclaimed work on your shelves for patrons to explore and enjoy.
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