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Friday, August 26, 2016

Star Trek Turns 50

Written by Jon Williams

Space.
The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Its five-year mission:
To explore strange new worlds.
To seek out new life and new civilizations.
To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Those now-familiar words were first heard on September 6, 1956, when the very first episode of the original Star Trek television show made its debut. In the fifty years since, Star Trek has become a true touchstone, with phrases like “live long and prosper” and “beam me up, Scotty” making their way into the cultural lexicon. The show made stars of its primary cast members (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig), and has spawned numerous spinoffs, a movie franchise (including a reboot), and much more.

It seems hard to believe now, but that first Star Trek show ran for just three seasons, as it didn’t become a true hit until it was syndicated and shown in reruns. At that point, the original 79 episodes just weren’t quite enough, so, in 1973, the show was revived for an animated series that brought back all the original actors to voice their roles. Although it was also short-lived (spanning 22 episodes), it was well-received, even winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Series.

As the animated series wound down, Star Trek was at something of a crossroads. There was a demand for more, but it was unclear exactly what form it would take. Plans went into motion for a new television series, to be titled Phase II, but numerous problems eventually forced those plans to be scrapped. Instead, encouraged by the success that science fiction films were finding at the box office, Star Trek producers instead revived earlier plans to bring the Enterprise crew to the big screen. Those efforts paid off with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, again reuniting all the original cast members in their familiar roles.

The success of that movie spawned a franchise that would run for five more films featuring the beloved original cast. They were: The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home (1986), The Final Frontier (1989), and The Undiscovered Country (1991). It was with this last movie that Captain Kirk’s iconic line of “where no man has gone before” was updated to “where no one has gone before,” eliminating the gender-biased and (in a galaxy filled with aliens) species-biased language in keeping with the franchise’s ideals of equality.

That was when Captain Kirk first spoke those words, but it was not the first time Star Trek fans had heard them that way. In September of 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on television, set 100 years after the adventures of the original series and bringing a new cast (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, and Wil Wheaton) to the bridge of the Enterprise. Highly popular, this series ran for seven seasons and made its own eventual jump to the big screen. 1994’s Generations bridged the gap, starring the entire Next Generation cast and featuring several members of the original cast as well, in a story that saw Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard team up with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. The Next Generation cast then stayed in theatres for three more movies on their own: First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002).

The final season of The Next Generation aired in 1994, but that was far from the end of Star Trek on television. Before it ended, in 1993, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured an ensemble cast as the crew of a space station in a contested region. Then, beginning in 1995, came Star Trek: Voyager, which followed a new ship and crew helmed by Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway, trying to make their way home to Earth after being stranded on the other side of the galaxy. Like The Next Generation, both of these series ran for seven seasons. In 2001, after Voyager’s conclusion, Star Trek: Enterprise made its debut, starring Scott Bakula as the captain of the very first Federation starship to be named Enterprise, in a prequel to everything that had some before.

And of course there is the new movie series. In 2009, after a 7-year absence from theatres following Nemesis, Star Trek returned to the big screen in a reboot from J.J. Abrams starring a new cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, and the late Anton Yelchin) in the roles of the original crew, with Leonard Nimoy appearing as an older Spock in a nod to the alternate timelines the different casts now occupy. That was followed up in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness, and earlier this year with Star Trek Beyond.

All of this, and still Star Trek fans have plenty to look forward to. In addition to a fourth film with the new cast, there is also a new TV series in the works. Slated to debut in January, Star Trek: Discovery will detail the adventures of a new ship and crew in the ten years previous to the events of the original series. And of course, the TV series and movies are just a part of what the Star Trek franchise has to offer. SmartBrowse on our website for music scores and audiobooks, and you can also direct patrons to hoopla digital for Star Trek comics, audiobooks, and other novelties. Also, keep an eye out for a special Star Trek 50th anniversary flyer along with our September catalog mailing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Olympic Games Always Fascinate

Written by Jon Williams

The eyes of the world will turn to Brazil tonight as the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games take place there. There has already been plenty of talk leading up to this year’s games due to the less than ideal conditions in Rio, but for the next two weeks, the drama will hopefully be confined to the exploits of the athletes and teams as they compete for the gold in a myriad of events.

With all the excitement they generate, it’s no surprise that the Olympic Games are a much-explored subject in popular culture, with tales both true and fictional. On the true side, perhaps the most famous is Chariots of Fire, the 1981 film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, telling the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The iconic, inspirational musical score by Vangelis is nearly as well known as the movie itself. Running is actually one of the most frequent Olympic topics; in the late ‘90s, two different movies (Prefontaine and Without Limits) explore the distance running career and tragically short life of 1972 Olympian Steve Prefontaine.

More recently, the movie Race depicts the struggles Jesse Owens faced in his quest to become a track and field legend, particularly with the 1936 Olympics being held in Germany under the rule of Hitler. Some footage of Owens is on display in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, a groundbreaking documentary of those same Games by a problematic figure. The 1936 Olympics are also the topic of the 2013 bestseller by Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, a rousing story of that year’s U.S. rowing team. Likewise, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (made into a 2014 movie) tells the tale of 1936 Olympian Louis Zamperini and his incredible later exploits during World War II.

As much as the Olympics are about triumph, too often they are also marred by tragedy. One Day in September (currently unavailable) won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Documentary for its look at the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games. The aftermath of that event was portrayed in 2005’s Munich, in which Eric Bana plays a Mossad agent assigned with tracking down the perpetrators. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are reportedly putting together a movie that centers on the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta (a Games that, on the flip side, also provided such uplifting moments as Muhammad Ali lighting the torch and Kerri Strug sticking the landing that won gold for the women’s gymnastics team).

Thankfully, the Olympics have far more often inspired lighter fare. Just released on DVD and Blu-ray, The Bronze follows a former bronze-winning Olympic gymnast as she reluctantly coaches an up-and-coming phenom. Strangely, though, for most Olympics-related comedies, you have to turn to the Winter Games, which has inspired such movies as The Cutting Edge , Blades of Glory, and the mother of them all, Cool Runnings, about the fabled Jamaican bobsled team. And of course, we can’t mention Winter Olympics-related movies without listing Miracle, the story of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that defeated the heavily favoured Soviet team en route to an unlikely gold medal.

With the competition getting into full swing first thing tomorrow morning, appetite for all things Games-related is sure to be high. The titles listed here just scratch the surface of all the great Olympics titles available, so be sure to check out the collection on our website for more. You can also point them toward our selections of movies and audiobooks on our digital platform, hoopla digital.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In Memoriam: Garry Marshall

Written by Jon Williams

We’ve noted before that 2016 has been a difficult year in the entertainment industry, having already lost a number of notable names. Sadly, that trend held true this week with the passing of Garry Marshall, the legendary writer, director, and producer of comedies for the screen both big and small. He was 81 years old.

Marshall actually studied for a career in journalism, but he soon found his footing as a comedy writer. The early to mid-1960s were quite a busy time for him. He started off writing sketches for The Tonight Show when Jack Paar was the host, which soon led to gigs writing for some of the most popular sitcoms of the era, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and Gomer Pyle, USMC. In 1970 he had another hit on his hands when he, along with partner Jerry Belson, adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple into the beloved TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

And that’s where Marshall’s TV career really skyrocketed. In 1974 he created the iconic show Happy Days, that idyllic look at American life in the 1950s and ‘60s through the eyes of the Cunningham family. Spinning off from that show in 1976 came Laverne & Shirley, which starred Marshall’s sister Penny. Then, in 1978, he scored a real coup when he discovered Robin Williams and cast him as the title alien in the show Mork & Mindy, thus changing the face of comedy forever.

If that were all the credits to Garry Marshall’s name, that would still be a pretty outstanding career. But that’s not all by any means. Having worked exclusively in television to that point, in 1982 he stepped into the director’s role for his first feature film, Young Doctors in Love (currently unavailable). One of the movie’s cast members was Hector Elizondo, who became one of Marshall’s closest friends and would go on to have at least a minor role in each of his movies to come. And what movies they were—Marshall’s directorial credits include such well-loved films as Beaches, Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. His final films were a trio of holiday-related ensemble comedies: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and this year’s Mother’s Day.

Garry Marshall had a stellar career in comedy, and by all accounts he was as fine a person as he was an entertainer. His voice will be sadly missed, but library patrons can continue to enjoy and explore his hilarious and timeless work. Make sure you have all the classics listed above on your shelves, and you can SmartBrowse his name on our website for more selections.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Two Classic Books Coming to Theatres

Written by Jon Williams

Theatregoers heading to the box office this weekend will be faced with a plethora of choices, as usual, but for many of them it will come down to one big one: will it be Independence Day: Resurgence, opening nearly twenty years after the original, or will it be Finding Dory, the charming animated sequel to Finding Nemo, now in its second week of release? Tough call. And it won’t get any easier next weekend, which sees the opening of two new adaptations of beloved classic books.

One of these is The BFG, which is based upon the 1982 novel by whimsical children’s author Roald Dahl. Brought to the screen by director Steven Spielberg (and with a soundtrack by John Williams), it tells the fantastical tale of an orphan named Sophie, who is kidnapped by what turns out to be a Big Friendly Giant (hence the title), an outcast who needs her help to stop a band of giants with the not-so-friendly tendency to eat other children. This is the first live-action version of The BFG to be produced; a made-for-TV animated version came out in 1989.

Of course, Dahl wrote many classic children’s books, and many well-known adaptations have been made from them. He is perhaps best known for his 1964 tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the two movies made from it: the 1971 version Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (for which Dahl wrote the screenplay) starring Gene Wilder, and the 2005 version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. Other well-known movies made from Dahl’s works include James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, and Matilda.

The other adaptation coming to theatres next week is The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgard as the fabled man raised in the jungle by apes after the death of his parents. The character originated in the 1914 novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and continued on through a number of sequels. Burroughs was a prolific writer in the sci-fi and fantasy genres; he also wrote the Barsoom series (beginning with A Princess of Mars) that eventually spawned the film John Carter.

Tarzan, though, is far and away Burroughs’s most famous creation; he is, in fact, one of the most well-known characters in fiction, due in part (or maybe even primarily) to the sheer number of movies and TV shows in which he has featured. The most pervasive of these is a series of films starring gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller in the title role. One of the most successful TV series starred Ron Ely and ran from 1966-1968. Not surprisingly, Disney made the most popular animated version in 1999, with a star-studded voice cast and a soundtrack by Phil Collins.

So if history is any indication, both of these movies are sure to be quite popular, and patrons will be looking for related material (and, as always, you can search on our website for even more). Let us know which one you’ll be seeing when it’s released, and stay tuned in the coming months for DVD and Blu-ray release date information on these exciting new movies.

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.
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