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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Comic-Con Roundup

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, the annual event that is Comic-Con International took place in San Diego, California. The four-day extravaganza allows fans, celebrities, and creators to come together in a celebration that generally centres on science fiction and fantasy but branches out to encompass all aspects of pop culture. As happens each year, there was plenty of news and buzz to come out of the many panels and presentations that made up this year’s convention.

Marvel is the biggest name in movies right now, and coming off the success of the blockbusters Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far from Home, there wasn’t much of a blueprint for where the franchise would go for “Phase Four” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is no longer the case, as Marvel used Comic-Con as a platform to announce its slate for 2020 – 2021. In theatres, first up is the previously announced Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson along with David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. Then fans can look forward to The Eternals, a superhero ensemble that will include stars such as Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Richard Madden, in 2020. The following year will kick off with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, featuring a martial arts hero that has been a part of Marvel Comics since 1973 but has not yet made it onto the screen. Then comes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role from the 2017 film in what is being teased as Marvel’s first horror movie. Finally, there will be Thor: Love and Thunder, directed by Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi and with Natalie Portman returning to the franchise to become the goddess of thunder. And for television, there’s even more Marvel news. Familiar Avengers characters will come to the small screen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan), WandaVision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), while What If…? will be an animated series that featuring Jeffrey Wright and a number of familiar voices as it explores alternate realities.

Marvel wasn’t the only beloved franchise to make waves at Comic-Con. Patrick Stewart’s return as the beloved character Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation was announced last year, but a new trailer provided the first extended look at the new series (simply titled Picard). The trailer contained some surprises, such as the return of other fan-favourite characters Data (played by Brent Spiner) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), while the panel revealed that Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis would also be appearing in the show in their familiar roles from The Next Generation. While that was the biggest news, the panel also covered the upcoming third season of the acclaimed Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the upcoming series Lower Decks. Expected to premiere in 2020, the show will focus on lower-ranking officers on a non-vital starship, and will be the first Star Trek in animated form since The Animated Series furthered the adventures of the original crew from 1973 – 1975.

Horror had quite a presence at this year’s SDCC. The biggest release was probably the new trailer for It: Chapter 2, which comes to theatres on September 6. It’s the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster that became the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, and it picks up (more or less) 27 years after the first film left off. Both movies are based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, which is frequently cited as one of his best. Staying in the King family, it was announced that the show NOS4A2 (based on a novel by Joe Hill, King’s son) had been renewed for a second season. Hill also discussed the upcoming shows Locke & Key, adapted from a series of comics he created with artist Gabriel Rodriguez, and Creepshow, which is based on the 1982 movie written by King and directed by George Romero. That show will be produced by Greg Nicotero, who is most famous for The Walking Dead, which offered plenty of details for the original show and the spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, as well as a new show yet to come. There was also an interactive exhibit promoting the new season of American Horror Story and a trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

And still there’s more. Tom Cruise showed up to surprise the crowd with a trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to the high-flying 1986 hit. There was also a trailer for Cats, the upcoming movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webster musical that will star Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, and Judi Dench, to name just a few. There was also a look at Terminator: Dark Fate, which will welcome James Cameron and Edward Furlong back to the franchise and pick up following Terminator 2, with the intervening installments being considered part of a different timeline. For TV, there was plenty of info on new shows The Dark Crystal, His Dark Materials, and Snowpiercer, as well as new seasons of Westworld, The Expanse, Rick and Morty, Preacher, and more.

Those are just the highlights of the shows, movies, and more that presented at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, and you can bet your patrons will be looking for all of these titles and their related media. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, and stay tuned to Midwest Tape for news on these and other exciting releases as they approach.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Big Franchises Wind Down in 2019

Written by Jon Williams

There are certain media franchises that become so popular that they transcend just the world of entertainment and become cultural touchstones. For three such franchises, 2019 is they year in which they will come to an end—or at least wind down their current iterations. Let’s take a look at them.

On April 26, Avengers: Endgame was released into theatres in North America. It debuted with a bang, taking in the largest opening-weekend box office gross of all time with more than $350 million. It has steadily added to that total and now stands as the second on the list of highest-grossing films of all time. While it seems unlikely to take over the top spot, it’s still in theatres and will definitely add to its total, currently over $825 million. Endgame is the culmination of 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that started with Iron Man in 2008. While this movie may have brought the story of the Avengers to a close, the same certainly can’t be said for the MCU as a whole. On the immediate horizon is Spider-Man: Far from Home, the sequel to 2017’s Homecoming, with Tom Holland starring as the titular webslinger. This will mark the formal end to “Phase Three” of the MCU, but future plans include a Black Widow movie featuring Scarlett Johansson’s character, a Black Panther sequel, a third Guardians of the Galaxy installment, and plenty more on screens both big and small. There is definitely plenty to look forward to from Marvel in the future, although whether it continues to work together toward one cohesive story remains to be seen.

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones premiered before that, on April 14, and came to its conclusion on May 19. Before the season began, we examined the likelihood of broken ratings records, particularly for the series finale. Those predictions came true, as the season’s sixth episode, the show’s last, drew more than 19.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched series finale in history for a show on cable. While the final season drew mixed reviews from fans and critics, viewership numbers remained strong throughout, and hunger for related content has kept author George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, a tale that begins centuries before the events of the show, on the bestseller list since its publication last November. With the show in the rearview mirror, fans will have to be content with Fire & Blood to hold them over for now, but there are more stories to come. For one thing, Martin still has two books left in his Song of Ice & Fire, the novel series that inspired the show. It has been eight years since the last, A Dance with Dragons, was published, and while no date has yet been announced for the arrival of the next, The Winds of Winter, recent updates from Martin have fans optimistic that it will be finished in the not-too-distant future. HBO also has plans for a number of companion shows, with at least one currently going forward with Naomi Watts set to star.

Then, later this year, the Star Wars sequel trilogy will come to a close when Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker comes out on December 20. Of course, this echoes 1983, when Return of the Jedi concluded the original trilogy, and 2005, when Revenge of the Sith did the same for the prequel trilogy; however, it’s actually a culmination of all three, as The Rise of Skywalker will drop the curtain on the saga of Anakin Skywalker and his offspring. The current trilogy began in 2015 with The Force Awakens, the one film that Avengers: Endgame trails on the all-time box office list, and continued with The Last Jedi in 2017. After this film there will be a short hiatus for Star Wars on the big screen, but it definitely will be back—a new film series, set in a different era from the Skywalker films, is set to begin in December 2022 with Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at the helm. In the meantime, Pedro Pascal will star in the upcoming TV show The Mandalorian, to premiere November 12 of this year, and Diego Luna will reprise his role from the standalone blockbuster Rogue One in another, as-yet-unnamed TV series.

So while these beloved franchises may be coming to a close, each in its own way, fans can take comfort in the fact that there are still plenty of stories to come in the respective universes. And patrons will always be eager to revisit these favourites or immerse themselves for the first time. Use the links above to put these great movies and TV shows on your shelves, and SmartBrowse on our website for a plethora of related content.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Springsteen Returning with Western Stars

Written by Jon Williams

Many performers approaching 70 years of age and nearly 50 years into their career would be slowing down and coasting on their past success. Many performers, but not Bruce Springsteen. The recent announcement of his upcoming solo album Western Stars, releasing June 14, came just a short time after the conclusion of Springsteen on Broadway, his intimate performance show that was originally planned to run for eight weeks and instead ran for well over a year. On top of that, Springsteen has also said that he’s written enough material for a new album with the E Street Band, so fans can be on the lookout for that (plus new tour dates) as well.

Springsteen’s passion for music began at a young age, and he started playing for audiences when he was in his teens. He performed with a number of different musicians over the next several years until signing his first record deal in 1972. That led to his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973. That was followed later that same year by The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. These albums were well received by critics but did not sell especially well, so Springsteen spent nearly a year and a half and recruited the help of his friend Steven Van Zandt as he threw everything he had into his next album.

These efforts paid off when Born to Run was released in August of 1975. On the strength of his incredible live performances, the album went to #3 on the Billboard 200 and a star was born. He built on that success with Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978, The River in 1980, and Nebraska in 1982, three albums that helped to polish Springsteen’s image of a smart, soulful songwriter with their unflinching looks at working-class life and American politics.

Then in June of 1984 came the album Born in the USA. The iconic title track, along with smash singles like “Dancing in the Dark” and “Glory Days,” made Bruce Springsteen a household name and, over time, a rock n’ roll legend. Since its release it has sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the bestselling albums of all time. Shortly thereafter, he played a prominent part of the star-studded charity hit “We Are the World,” further cementing his place in the music and pop culture pantheon of the 1980s. He then showed a more subdued side of his musical personality with the 1987 album Tunnel of Love.

The five-year break in albums following Tunnel of Love was Springsteen’s longest to date. He made up for it by releasing two albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, on the same day in 1992. He would release just one more album in the ‘90s, 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad (currently unavailable), but the decade was notable for other reasons, among them an Academy Award and a slew of Grammy Awards for the song “Streets of Philadelphia” and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. In the aftermath of 9/11, he made a triumphant return with the 2002 album The Rising.

Since then, Bruce has been as prolific as ever, releasing six albums with no more than three years in between up through 2014. That year’s High Hopes was his most recent leading up to the release of Western Stars, but as noted above, he has been far from idle. The year of 2016 was particularly busy, seeing the release of Chapter and Verse, an 18-track career retrospective in conjunction with his autobiography, Born to Run—the audiobook, which he narrated, won the Audie Award for Best Memoir. That year he was also presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour for a civilian in the United States, by President Barack Obama.

Bruce Springsteen is a music icon and a rock n’ roll legend, and he’ll be in the forefront of pop culture for the foreseeable future. In addition to the release of Western Stars, he’s also promising a documentary on the making of the album, as well as a new album and tour with the E Street Band. With his popularity high and holding steady, now is a great time to make sure your library’s shelves are stocked with plenty of material relating to the Boss. SmartBrowse his name on our website to find his discography of studio and live albums, concert films, and much, much more from his acclaimed career.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Avengers: Endgame Crushes Box Office Records

Written by Jon Williams

Eleven years and twenty-two movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is stronger than ever. In its first weekend of release, the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame set a record with over $356 million made at the box office. That’s nearly $100 million more than the previous record holder for opening weekend box office gross—last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which this movie follows on from. And with the entire weekend box office totaling $392 million, Endgame enjoyed a staggering 90% market share.1 (It’s also worth noting that the weekend’s second place movie was also from Marvel—Captain Marvel, adding $8 million to its current $414 million total in its eighth weekend of release.)

The numbers are even more astounding on a global scale. Endgame brought in over $1.2 billion around the globe. Fewer than 40 movies have made over a billion dollars in the entirety of their theatrical runs, and Endgame did it in just one weekend.2 Infinity War was the previous record holder in this regard as well; it took 11 days to cross the billion dollar-mark.3

Ticket sales for Endgame are likely to remain strong for the foreseeable future, as those who weren’t able to secure tickets for opening weekend look to see it for the first time and as die-hard Marvel fans return for repeat viewings. With that being the case, more box office records are sure to fall, with all-time marks in its sights. Topping the $937 million domestic record of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the $2.8 billion global record of Avatar will be a tall order, but both are certainly within the realm of possibility.

These films are popular with library patrons as well as moviegoers. Use the links above to pre-order Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel and get them on your shelves as soon as they are available, and SmartBrowse on our website to find other entries in the ever-popular MCU.


Friday, April 26, 2019

New Music on the Horizon from Taylor Swift

Written by Jon Williams

Taylor Swift has had social media buzzing lately. Starting on April 13, each day she posted a cryptic photo to her Twitter and Instagram accounts with the caption “4.26.” It culminated on Thursday with the unveiling of a butterfly mural by artist Kelsey Montague at Nashville’s famed Gulch neighbourhood, and the wait ended at midnight with the release of her new video and single, “Me!” Full details on her forthcoming seventh album haven’t yet been announced, but she has assured fans that it will be releasing soon.

Swift is hardly a stranger to buzz, as she’s been a sensation for most of her life. Developing a passion for music at a young age, she signed her first record deal when she was just fourteen years old. After developing her songwriting voice and her musical chops, she burst onto the country music scene in 2006 with her self-titled debut album at the age of sixteen. While it never made to the top of the album charts (it peaked at #5), its staying power made it the longest-charting album of the 2000s, and it has been certified 7X platinum. She followed that up in 2008 with Fearless, a diamond-selling monster hit that won two Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year) and made her a bona fide star. Then two years later, in 2010, came Speak Now, which sold more than a million copies in its first week alone and has since gone platinum six times over.

Through her first three albums, Swift’s sound was primarily country, with more and more pop sensibility being added on each disc. That pop sound came even more into the forefront on 2012’s Red, another multiplatinum-selling success. She left the country sound behind altogether on her fifth album, 1989, and was rewarded with a 9X platinum smash hit that gave her a second Album of the Year Grammy and which was covered in its entirety by Ryan Adams. She gave her pop sound a darker edge on 2017’s Reputation, which is her most recent album release leading into her much-anticipated seventh. If the candy-coloured video and bright tones of “Me!” are any indication, the tone of her upcoming album will be a 180-degree departure from Reputation.

As if her stellar music career weren’t enough, Swift has also dabbled in the acting side of the entertainment industry. She started with a role in a 2009 episode of CSI, and made her feature film debut as part of the ensemble cast of 2010’s Valentine’s Day. In 2012 she voiced the character of Audrey in the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. She returned to TV for an episode of New Girl in 2013, and appeared in the 2014 adaptation of the beloved YA novel The Giver. She has taken a break since then, but will be starring alongside such names as Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, and Ian McKellen in the upcoming movie version of Cats, coming to theatres this December.

Taylor Swift’s new album will be one of the biggest music releases of the year. Your patrons will be looking for it as soon as it is released, and her back catalog will be in demand as well. Stay tuned for more information on the album as it becomes available, and SmartBrowse her name on our website for live albums, karaoke and lullaby discs, bio videos, and more. Also, make sure to let your patrons know that her music and plenty of other content is available for checkout from hoopla digital, all with no waiting or late fees!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Game of Thrones Finale Set for Record Ratings

Written by Jon Williams

This Sunday begins the long-awaited and highly anticipated eighth season of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. The abbreviated final season will consist of just six episodes (although four of those will run around 80 minutes, 20 more than the typical episode) and will culminate in the series finale on May 19. Over the course of the show’s seven seasons to date, its ratings have continued to climb, making it one of the most-watched cable series. With nearly two years of hype building up since the Season 7 finale that aired on August 27, 2017, plus the anticipation of who—if anyone—will survive to take the Iron Throne, the eighth season’s viewership numbers are sure to set new records, and the series finale will likely go down as one of the most watched of all time.

On network television, of course, those numbers are untouchable. The series finale of M*A*S*H on February 28, 1983, drew upwards of 105 million viewers, making it the most-watched television episode ever. The only other broadcasts that garner that type of viewership are the American Super Bowl each year. The closest any show has come since was ten years later, with the series finale of the hit sitcom Cheers, which came in at 84 million on May 20, 1993. Before M*A*S*H, the record was held by the wrap-up of The Fugitive on August 29, 1967, watched by 78 million people. Rounding out the top five most-watched series finales are two more sitcoms: Seinfeld (May 14, 1998) with 76 million and Friends (May 16, 2004) with 52 million. In the realm of science fiction and fantasy, the record is held by Star Trek: The Next Generation, which came to an end on May 23, 1994, with an audience of 31 million.

Network broadcasts, though, have always had the advantage of being available to anyone with a television set, without the necessity of additional equipment or subscription fees. That’s why ratings for shows airing on cable networks are measured in a category of their own. For cable series, the top two most-watched series finales belong to HBO, the same network that airs Game of Thrones. First up is the mob drama The Sopranos, whose controversial blackout ending aired June 10, 2007, to 11.9 viewers. Coming in second, and holding the top spot until The Sopranos came along, is Sex and the City, which bowed to an audience of 10.6 million on February 22, 2004. Those numbers are especially impressive considering HBO is a premium network which has traditionally required an additional subscription fee on top of a cable package. Then in third place is the acclaimed AMC drama Breaking Bad, which, like Game of Thrones, started off to relatively modest ratings and then steadily built over time. That show finished up on September 29, 2013, with 10.3 million viewers.

So how will the Game of Thrones finale fare? Obviously it won’t approach the numbers of network shows like M*A*S*H or even Friends, but it has an excellent chance of setting a new record for cable shows. Season 7 averaged upwards of 10 million viewers, and the season finale drew over 12 million. With anticipation at an all-time high, the numbers for Season 8 should leave those behind easily. And with two more novels to come in George R.R. Martin’s novel series and a spinoff series in production from HBO, the fever is sure to last for years to come.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Super Bowl LIII Musical Performers

Written by Jon Williams

This coming weekend, the biggest American sporting event of the year will take place. Super Bowl LIII will determine the year’s NFL championship in a matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. Beyond its implications for the sport, the Super Bowl has become a huge cultural event, with over a hundred million people likely to watch in North America. Even people who normally don’t follow football tune in—for the camaraderie of sharing the event with friends, for the innovative commercials that air during the broadcast, and, of course, for the halftime musical entertainment.

With such a wide audience, it’s no wonder that the halftime show is such a coveted slot for musicians. The featured performer this year will be multiplatinum rock band Maroon 5. They’ve been a fixture in the music scene since 2004, when singles like “This Love” and “Sunday Morning” propelled their debut album, Songs About Jane, to multiplatinum status. They’ve released five more studio albums since then, all of them selling over a million copies. Their most recent, Red Pill Blues, was released in 2017, driven by singles like “What Lovers Do” (featuring SZA) and “Girls Like You” (featuring Cardi B). Singer Adam Levine has also helped to keep the band in the spotlight by serving as a judge on the hit musical talent show The Voice since its inception in 2011.

Traditionally the Super Bowl halftime show is a collaborative affair, and this year is no different. One musician joining Maroon 5 for the festivities will be rapper Travis Scott. After several EPs and mixtapes, his debut album Rodeo was released in 2015 and went platinum on the strength of singles “3500” and Antidote, as well as guest appearances from stars like Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and the Weekend, to name just a few. He followed that up in 2016 with Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, another platinum outing. His newest album, Astroworld, was released in August of last year and is still a staple near the top of the Billboard albums chart. Scott is nominated for three awards at this year’s Grammys, which will take place a week after the Super Bowl.

Another musician joining Maroon 5 and Travis Scott onstage will be Big Boi, who hails from the Super Bowl’s host city of Atlanta. Along with Andre 3000 as the multiplatinum hip-hop duo Outkast, Big Boi came into the spotlight in the mid-1990s. The duo has released six albums together and won six Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album and Album of the Year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003. Since their last album together in 2006, Big Boi has focused on his solo career. His debut, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, came out in 2010. He’s followed it up with two more albums, the most recent of which, Boomiverse, came out in 2017.

While the halftime show is the musical focal point of the Super Bowl, it’s also an enormous honour for a musician to get the opportunity to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the game kicks off. This year that honour goes to another Atlanta native, Gladys Knight. With a career dating back to the early 1960s, she is a true R&B/soul music legend, both with her band the Pips and on her own. Known for her early work, she has continued to record, with her most recent album, Where My Heart Belongs, coming in 2014.

With so many people watching the Super Bowl and its musical performances, patrons will no doubt be interested in hearing more from these incredible artists. Make sure to have plenty of their CDs on your shelves, and if your library is a hoopla Digital customer, don’t forget to direct your patrons there as well—they’ll find these artists and more, available with no holds, no waiting, and no late fees.
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