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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two Classic Albums Reissued

Written by Jon Williams

Classic rock fans are in for a treat—or, more accurately, two treats—over the course of the next two New Music Fridays. Two rock legends are releasing remastered and expanded versions of albums that came out in the 1980s.

First up, available tomorrow, is Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt. Originally released in 1989, it was McCartney’s eighth solo album (or fifteenth, if you include his Wings outings) after the dissolution of the Beatles. Ever the collaborator, Sir Paul enlisted the help of Elvis Costello for this album, and together the two co-wrote four tracks. The special edition reissue features a second disc comprising nine demos, five of which are songs that were not originally included.

This is also the tenth installment of the McCartney Archive Collection, which are classic album reissues supervised by Sir Paul himself. It follows the Wings classic Band on the Run, the solo albums McCartney, McCartney II, Ram, the live album Wings Over America, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Tug of War, and Pipes of Peace. Each of these contains a treasure trove of extra songs not found on the original release. The first release in the collection came out in 2010, and McCartney has continued to put them out while also maintaining a full worldwide touring schedule and releasing two new albums: Kisses on the Bottom, a collection of covers with two original songs, and NEW, containing all-new material.

Next week offers a similar treat when Fleetwood Mac reissues their 1987 album Tango in the Night in honour of its 30th anniversary. The standard edition is a remaster of the original album, while the expanded edition will include a second disc that offers a number of outtakes and rarities from the recording sessions. The album is notable for being the last to feature Fleetwood Mac’s “classic” lineup of Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and John and Christine McVie. It also experienced a resurgence in 2014 after the song “Seven Wonders” was featured in the season finale of American Horror Story: Coven, a season in which Stevie Nicks appeared as herself on the show.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of their iconic album Rumours, which was released in February of 1977. One of the bestselling albums of all time, it received the reissue treatment in 2013, an expanded three-disc edition that includes live tracks as well as early takes of the album’s songs. The band’s other albums to feature their most well-known lineup are Fleetwood Mac (1975), Tusk (1979), and Mirage (1982). Although Tango in the Night was their last album together, they do still perform live.

Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac are stellar artists who have been making outstanding rock music for decades. These new reissues of classic albums are the perfect opportunity to share their work with your music-loving patrons.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Lot to Look Forward to in 2017

Written by Jon Williams

The new year is upon us. We noted before 2016 ended that it was, in many ways, a difficult year in pop culture. With the beginning of 2017, however, we have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to rinse out whatever bad taste might be lingering in our mouths, and get a fresh start. With that in mind, here are just a few of the cool pop culture projects on the horizon for this year.

For your patrons who like superheroes, there’s a lot to be excited about. It starts in March with Logan, which will be star Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as Wolverine. In May, the second volume of Guardians of the Galaxy will follow up the 2014 blockbuster detailing the first adventure of the galactic team of misfits. Then in June, Spider-Man: Homecoming gives a solo adventure to Tom Holland as the webslinger, following his scene-stealing appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. Later in the year, Thor: Ragnarok sees Chris Hemsworth return as the god of thunder for his first standalone since The Dark World. For those who prefer DC to Marvel, fear not: Wonder Woman gets her own movie in June, as Gal Gadot builds upon her small role in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. In November, the DC heroes come together for Justice League, much like Marvel’s The Avengers.

Quite a few popular films and series have sequels or new installments coming to theatres in 2017. Keanu Reeves is back for a second action-packed round of John Wick in February. The Fast and the Furious gang is back in April for the highly anticipated The Fate of the Furious. May’s Alien: Covenant brings Ridley Scott back to the director’s chair for a movie that bridges the gap between Prometheus and Alien. The popular rebooted Planet of the Apes series continues in July with War for the Planet of the Apes. October’s still-fairly-mysterious God Particle is the third installment of the Cloverfield series. In December, the Barden Bellas return for a third Pitch Perfect movie. And one of the most anticipated movies of the year also opens that month: the as-yet-untitled Star Wars: Episode VIII, which will pick up where The Force Awakens left off.

The Force Awakens itself, of course, is a series continuation, coming after—depending on your point of view—1983’s Return of the Jedi or 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. Either way, it was a long time for fans to wait. The same can be said for a pair of long-awaited sequels finally coming in 2017. First up is T2 Trainspotting, which sees Ewan McGregor and the rest of the cast from the beloved 1996 original return and reunite. Then, in October, Harrison Ford resurrects yet another of his iconic characters for Blade Runner 2049, which comes 35 years after its sci-fi masterpiece predecessor.

There are also some intriguing book adaptations on the way. Coming later this month is A Dog’s Purpose, and who’s not a sucker for a good dog story? That’s followed next month by Fifty Shades Darker, the second installment in the publishing (and now film) phenomenon by EL James. Christian audiences can look forward to The Shack in March, based on William Paul Young’s 2007 bestseller. The hit young adult novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio comes to theatres in April, starring Room’s Jacob Tremblay. In October, Jo Nesbo’s bestseller The Snowman becomes a big-screen adventure. And there is also a pair of highly anticipated Stephen King adaptations on the way. First up, at the end of July, is The Dark Tower, based on his multi-book magnum opus. In September, there’s It, one of his most popular books, which was previous made into a TV miniseries in 1990.

But that’s not all! In addition to movies, television (including streaming services) has become a hot place for book adaptations to land. Available today on Netflix is A Series of Unfortunate Events, from the popular kids’ fantasy series. Rationing out those eight episodes will help pass the time until April, which is a big month. On April 26, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale comes to Hulu. On the 30th, NBC will premiere Midnight, Texas, based on a series by Charlaine Harris, who also wrote the books that HBO’s True Blood was based on. Also that month, Neil Gaiman’s fantasy epic American Gods will debut on Starz. Then, at some point later this year, HBO will have Cormoran Strike, a limited 7-hour series adapted from Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s mystery novels The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil.

So that’s just a scratch of the surface of what’s coming in 2017, and that’s without venturing into music or audiobooks. Please let us know what you and your patrons are most looking forward to in the comments section below.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye in 2016

Written by Jon Williams

It was a cruel and heartbreaking year in the entertainment industry, with the passing of so many larger-than-life figures, so many of them in unexpected fashion. And unfortunately, 2016 ended much the same way it began. Our first blog post of the year reflected on the passing of David Bowie, and it was followed up a week later with one memorializing Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey. It got no easier from there; some of the notable names we lost in 2016 include Abe Vigoda, Harper Lee, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Doris Roberts, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Elie Wiesel, Garry Marshall, Juan Gabriel, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Seeing those names all listed together, it’s a pretty stark list of so many talented people. And sadly, even the holiday season offered no respite. On December 24 we lost Richard Adams, author of the classic Watership Down (which George R.R. Martin called “one of the three great fantasy novels of the twentieth century”) as well as several other well-received novels. Then, the next day, came the passing of pop superstar George Michael, a groundbreaking figure in popular culture who won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his debut solo album, 1987’s Faith.

On Monday of this week, Carrie Fisher passed away. Fisher, of course, will forever be most associated with her role playing Princess Leia in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, and then later in The Force Awakens, but there was much more to her than just that one role, iconic as it may be. In addition to her acting career, she was also an acclaimed writer, responsible for the semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge, as well as the screenplay for the film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Her one-woman show Wishful Drinking was turned into a successful book, and her most recent memoir, The Princess Diarist, was released earlier this year. What many fans don’t know is that she put her writing talent to good use during her Hollywood career, serving as an uncredited “script doctor” to punch up dialogue for such films as the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Scream 3, and The Wedding Singer, among others.

What makes the story even sadder is that Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away just one day later. An actress, singer, and dancer, Reynolds earned a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 18 for Most Promising Newcomer, and her breakout came when she starred opposite Gene Kelly in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. She followed that up with roles in films like The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Bundle of Joy, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. More recent performances included a recurring role on Will & Grace and as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra. She even did some voice acting, starting with Charlotte’s Web in 1973 and continuing through The Penguins of Madagascar. The relationship between Reynolds and Fisher is explored in the documentary Bright Lights, which will air on HBO next month.

As we get set to watch the ball drop on 2016 this weekend, we can only hope that the coming year will be a kinder one. In the meantime, libraries can help keep the memories of all these wonderful performers alive by sharing with patrons the incredible work they left behind.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Force Is Strong with Rogue One

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story rolled into theatres, thrilling fans eagerly anticipating the franchise’s first standalone movie. It has dominated the box office since then, earning more than $350 million worldwide with another big weekend coming up. While the movie won’t be available on DVD and Blu-ray for a while, fans can relive the excitement with the novelization (also available for younger listeners). With such popularity, patrons are sure to be interested in exploring not just the story surrounding the movie, but other movies from the new cast as well.

The first place to start is with James Luceno’s novel Catalyst, which ties directly into Rogue One. It tells the story of brilliant scientist Galen Erso and how he is pulled into the Death Star project by Director Orson Krennic. In 2014, Luceno also wrote the novel Tarkin, detailing the early career of another character who figures prominently in Rogue One, as well as the original Star Wars movie, 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope.

One “new” character introduced in Rogue One is Saw Gerrera, the leader of a Rebel extremist group. “New” is in quotation marks, of course, because the character isn’t actually new at all. He first appeared four years ago in the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated series that bridged the gap between Episodes II and III, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. At that time, he was a young militant being trained by the likes of Anakin Skywalker; his older, more experienced self will soon be joining this season of Star Wars: Rebels, voiced by acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker, who portrays him in Rogue One.

Gerrera’s function in the movie is to bring together the band of rebels who will attempt to steal the Death Star plans. He can serve this function because he was once a mentor to young Jyn Erso, daughter of the aforementioned Galen Erso, who helped design the Death Star’s weapons system. Jyn is played by Felicity Jones, who won an Academy Award for her performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything and has also appeared in such films as Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Bringing Jyn into the Rebellion and leading the mission to help her find her father is Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Acting from a young age, Luna is an acting staple to Mexican audiences. He was in the acclaimed film Y Tu Mama Tambien as well as the sci-fi film Elysium, among others. Andor in the film is accompanied by a droid sidekick, K-2SO, played in a motion-capture performance by Alan Tudyk. This was not his first robot portrayal, as he also played Sonny in I, Robot. A prolific comic actor, Tudyk starred as one of the title pair in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and also as Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.

Throwing in on the mission as well are the one-two punch of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Îmwe is a blind devotee of the Force who nonetheless is a valuable fighter. He’s played by Donnie Yen, a martial arts master who has starred in such films as Hero and the Ip Man trilogy. Malbus is his gun-toting companion who serves as his protector on the rare occasions when he needs one. Jiang Wen is an acclaimed Chinese actor and filmmaker; Rogue One is his first film produced primarily for an English-speaking audience.

The last member of the team, getting them from place to place, is the defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed. Ahmed was seen most recently in the hit HBO series The Night Of, and he also starred opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. He also features as a rapper (under the name Riz MC) on the Hamilton Mixtape. Needless to say, the past couple of weeks have been phenomenal for his career.

Opposing the Rebels in their efforts is Imperial officer Orson Krennic, overseer of the Death Star construction project. He’s played by Ben Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who has won an Emmy Award for his performance in Netflix’s Bloodline. He also appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, and will star as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the upcoming Robin Hood. And of course, a Star Wars movie dealing with the Rebellion against the Empire will be haunted by the specter of Darth Vader. The Dark Lord of the Sith does appear briefly in Rogue One, with his familiar forbidding voice being provided once again by James Earl Jones.

Fans who loved Rogue One will have all this to explore, and there’s always plenty to enjoy from the ever-expanding galaxy far, far away. SmartBrowse Star Wars on our website to find all the movies and TV series, not to mention soundtracks and audiobooks. In addition, patrons can head over to hoopla digital for a collection of eBooks and comics that they can enjoy right away on their smartphones or tablets.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Star Trek Turns 50

Written by Jon Williams

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.