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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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

In Memoriam: David Bowie

Written by Jon Williams

Waking up on Monday morning, the first thing I saw was news of David Bowie’s passing. It was a rather unpleasant way to start the week, to say the least. It would have been shocking enough by itself, but coming as it did on the heels of what seemed like such a jubilant Friday for the superstar—a new album release on his 69th birthday—made it particularly surreal.

That shock was felt throughout the entertainment industry, upon which Bowie had made an indelible mark over the course of his decades-long career. Born David Jones, he showed an early interest and aptitude for music, he formed his first band at fifteen. He took his stage name in 1967 to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees, and would then release his eponymous debut album later that year.

That album made few waves, but Bowie would make his big break two years later in 1969 when the single “Space Oddity” made its way onto the charts. The album on which it appeared was originally titled David Bowie, just like his debut, but was eventually renamed after the single. He capitalized on that success by following up with the albums The Man Who Sold the World in 1970 and Hunky Dory in 1971. However, the legend of David Bowie really began in 1972, with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Introducing his theatrical persona, the album features such classic hits as “Starman” and “Suffragette City,” as well as “Ziggy Stardust.” Bowie himself described his next album, Aladdin Sane, as “Ziggy goes to America.”

From there, Bowie would perform one of his musical reinventions, partially in an effort to distance himself from the Ziggy Stardust persona. This began with his 1974 album Diamond Dogs and continued through Young Americans (1975), which featured a contribution from John Lennon on “Fame.” Then, in 1976, a new persona, that of the Thin White Duke, emerged from Station to Station (related to the character he played in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth (currently unavailable on video), the character also inspired, much later, a fun Bowie origin story, “The Return of the Thin White Duke,” from Neil Gaiman). He then finished off the decade with a three-album cycle: Low, Heroes, and Lodger.

While the 1980s were less prolific for Bowie, he once again proved himself capable of changing up his style. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in 1980 built upon the sound of his late ‘70s albums, but the two that followed—Let’s Dance and Tonight (currently unavailable on CD)—were more in line with ‘80s dance/pop (with Bowie’s unique personality mixed in, of course) and served him well in the MTV-dominated music world of the time. It was around this time that I experienced my first real encounter with Bowie, starring as Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 fantasy movie Labyrinth. A year later, he returned to a more straight-ahead rock sound with Never Let Me Down (currently unavailable on CD).

From there, Bowie attempted to form a band with which to share the spotlight, with only limited success. It was, therefore, a six-year gap before his next solo album, Black Tie White Noise (currently unavailable on CD). He would release seven albums in a ten-year period, culminating with Reality in 2003, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. After 2003, however, health problems forced Bowie to slow down, and there were no new solo albums for ten years, leading to speculation that he had retired. However, he returned with a vengeance in 2013 with The Next Day, which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. Then, just last week came Blackstar, an immediately acclaimed album that Bowie planned as a parting gift to his fans.

While David Bowie’s death has sent ripples of sadness throughout the music world and beyond, there is no doubt that he leaves behind an incredible legacy and catalog. This post sums up his musical career, but cannot begin to describe the lasting impact created by his songs, style, and personality. For more on his life and work, check out the biography Bowie by Wendy Leigh, and SmartBrowse his name on our website for the rest of his discography, his movies, concert films, and more; patrons can also find a wide selection of his music on hoopla.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New Music Fridays – Starting in July!

Written by Jon Williams

For years, Monday was the standard day of the week for music album releases in North America. Because so much commerce is shut down on Sundays, however, many outlets received their shipments too late to offer new albums at the start of business on Monday. That’s why, in 1989, the music industry agreed to move their release day to Tuesday, which it has been ever since.

That has not been the case around the world, though, as various countries have their own release schedules that haven’t always coincided with those in North America. The U.K., for instance, held onto Monday for their releases, while Germany and Australia saw new music come out on Friday. This non-uniformity caused angst for fans (who were upset when listeners in other countries got new tunes before they did) and the industry (with piracy concerns) alike.

That angst is about to go by the wayside. The music industry and music retailers have agreed to a new release day that will be the same around the globe. Beginning on July 10, new music everywhere will drop as 12:01 a.m. local time on Friday. Fans all around the world will be able to get the music they crave at approximately the same time as everyone else.

For libraries, the only difference is that new albums can be made available to your patrons on Fridays instead of Tuesdays. The last Tuesday release date for new music will be June 30. The following week , there will be no music releases on Tuesday (July 7). The releases will instead be on Friday (July 10), which will then be the standard.

If you have any questions about New Music Fridays and what they mean for your library, please contact our Customer Service department at 1.866.698.2231 or You can also click here for a printable flyer to let your patrons know about the change.