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Friday, November 30, 2012

Random House Teases "Surprise" Release

Written by Jon Williams

Something big is coming. Random House sent a notice this week to alert distributors about a major new title to be released on December 6. They're keeping a tight lid on exactly what it is, though: referred to only as Untitled, even Random House employees are being kept in the dark about the project's nature. It is being called, however, a "major media event."

What could this top secret title be? Your guess is as good as ours. All we know is that it’s billed as a “wonderful surprise” that’s “bound to become a classic.” Feel free to post your speculation in the comments section below.

CVS Midwest Tape will bring you the details on this intriguing new title as they become available. Keep an eye on our blog and our company homepage for up-to-the-minute information.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lawrence of Arabia Even More Stunning on Blu-ray

Written by Kirk Baird

Lawrence of Arabia sets the new standard for Blu-ray releases, as this miraculous 4K high-definition transfer brings stunning life to one of the truly great and influential works of cinema. An epic in every sense of the word, the sprawling desert landscapes of Lawrence of Arabia is why theatres exist, while this is undeniably the definitive version for the home, with a polished print so clean it’s doubtful the film has ever looked this beautiful.

Based on the autobiography of T.E. Lawrence with a script by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia is the tale of an extraordinary British man (an impossibly handsome Peter O’Toole, whose blond hair and blue eyes brighten the screen as never before) who fights ancient allegiances, armies, and himself in an effort to unite Arabia under one rule during World War I.

Director David Lean’s triumph took seven Oscars in 1963, including Best Picture, though the Academy failed to reward O’Toole for what is essentially his stunning debut film performance. Considering his competition that year — Jack Lemmon for Days of Wine and Roses, Burt Lancaster for Birdman of Alcatraz, Marcello Mastroianni for Divorce Italian Style, and winner Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird — such an oversight is forgivable, though no less tragic.

The magnificent cast includes Alec Guinness as a prince sheik (it’s a testament to his acting that his performance is so commanding, despite a fake black beard and tan makeup), Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, and Jose Ferrer. The film also picked up Oscars for Freddie Young’s gorgeous cinematography and the lush score by Maurice Jarre – who was the fourth choice to compose the soundtrack and who had only six weeks to write it and record it once hired by Lean.

The nearly four-hour movie takes up one Blu-ray, with several extras packed on a second Blu-ray disc, including a delightful recent interview with O’Toole as he reminisces about the film and his colleagues on the set.

Lawerence of Arabia is an enduring classic, universally praised as one of the greatest films of all time. And on Blu-ray, it finds a release worthy of its fame.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Science TV Provides Drama and Knowledge

Written by Kyle Slagley

Science and drama have long been partners in mainstream television. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy hire consultants to advise on the medical aspects and shows like Homeland hire military consultants, all for the sake of being more realistic and believable. Sometimes the advice is taken; other times the consultants are ignored because, hey, is the audience really going to know if the intern doctor breaks sterile while trapped in the elevator with a dying patient?

Recently my girlfriend discovered the series Lie to Me, a show that ran on Fox from 2009-2011. In the show, lead character Dr. Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) is a leading expert in deception and lie detection. Lightman and his three co-stars work run the Lightman Group, which is contracted to help with crimes from missing persons to national security by – you guessed it – discovering when people are lying.

Lightman does all this by detecting what are called ‘micro-expressions’: instinctive flashes of emotion that appear on your face when you’re lying before you have a chance to hide them. The micro-expression method is grounded in scientific fact, and thanks to this show my girlfriend has decided that she is now an expert in lie detection and, well, let’s just say it’s led to an interesting discussion or two.

Even though I do find Lie to Me entertaining, I tend to prefer my science straight up and take my drama separately. Luckily, there are quite a few series out there that are almost purely science. Here are a few of my favourites.

How It’s Made – Since 2001, this series has been showing viewers how manufacturers make everything from stuffed olives (yes, they’re stuffed by hand) to golf balls. Each of the 250 episodes shows the process for making three or four different items. You can’t get any more real than this.

Top Shot – Your standard competition-elimination reality show, this series takes highly skilled experts in all manner of weapons and pits them against each other in contests that are based in legend (like severing a burning fuse with an old-western six shooter) or fact (a 1,000-yard shot with a .50 caliber sniper rifle).

Man vs. Wild – Adrenaline junkie and former British Special Forces Operative Bear Grylls takes on some of the most treacherous locations and life-threatening situations on Earth. The circumstances of his feats are by no means realistic, but as an outdoorsman with rudimentary survival knowledge myself, I can tell you his tips and advice are great if you can remember them.

Survivorman – If Bear Grylls is a superstar adventurer, Les Stroud is his everyman counterpart. In my not-so-humble opinion, Stroud is more awesome than Grylls because he adventures completely on his own. There are no camera crews, no medical team, no “take two,” and no lush hotel at the end of a hard day of filming. He plunks down by himself in extreme locations for five days at a time, films every shot himself, and only activates his SOS beacon in extreme emergency.

Doing Da Vinci – A disappointingly short series, this show tasks two teams with the creation of full-size, working prototypes of some of Da Vinci’s more ambitious inventions out of only materials that would have been available in the inventor’s time. Throw a few conflicting personalities into the mix for flavour and you’ve got six episodes that are a must for any history buff.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

AC/DC Comes to iTunes

Written by Jon Williams

It’s been a while since we made note of artists whose music isn’t available via iTunes. Since then, a number of heavyweights have decided to get on board with digital distribution. The biggest of these, of course, was the Beatles, who came to iTunes with much fanfare in November of 2010. Others have joined with less notice, such as Eagles member Glenn Frey, who released most of his solo catalog digitally along with his latest solo album, After Hours, in May of this year. Then there are artists like Kid Rock, whose latest offering, Rebel Soul, is available through the digital distributor, but not his back catalog (although rumour has it that it may be coming soon).

And then there’s AC/DC. Perhaps the biggest remaining holdout has finally reversed course, making their entire catalog available digitally as of November 20. The classic hard rock band was reluctant to offer their music as individual tracks as opposed to complete albums; however, the continued, expanding popularity of iTunes (it may account for up to 29% of U.S. music sales) was too strong to continue their resistance.

That said, here are a few remaining iTunes holdouts:

Def Leppard: Like Kid Rock, their latest release, Mirror Ball, is available on iTunes, but not their back catalog. Unlike Kid Rock, it seems unlikely that the situation is going to change anytime soon.

Bob Seger: Seger released two live albums with his Silver Bullet Band to iTunes in 2011, as well as a greatest hits compilation. Fans looking for more than that, however, will be disappointed.

Black Sabbath: Yes, there actually are quite a few Sabbath albums on iTunes. None of them, however, features Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Those albums, essential to classic heavy metal fans, are nowhere to be found.

King Crimson: Exactly one King Crimson track (“The Court of the Crimson King”) is available on iTunes, and you can’t get it individually. You have to purchase the entire Children of Men soundtrack to get it.

Tool: Unlike the artists above, absolutely no music from Tool is available from iTunes. Like AC/DC did, they prefer their music to be available in album form only.

Garth Brooks: Taking over for AC/DC as probably the biggest remaining holdout, the country star also takes issue with selling songs as individual tracks, as well as iTunes’ pricing structure.

Make sure your patrons have access to the music they crave by stocking albums by these artists on your library shelves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Watchmen Better at Home Than in Theatres

Written by Kirk Baird

Given his box-office success with the graphic novel-turned film 300, Zack Snyder was a wise choice to shepherd the long-in-development Watchmen to the big screen as well. One of the most influential graphic novels of all time, Watchmen offers an alternate universe where men and women dressed as superheroes rise up to maintain order in society, and that’s not a good thing. The heroes have changed the course of our history, and by 1985 are used as offensive agents by the U.S. government, vilified by the police and the media, and feared more than respected by the general population.

It got so bad that the federal government outlawed the masked vigilantes in 1977, which effectively ended the reign of Watchmen, the best-known and most powerful group of heroes. Years later, as they have tried to return to a semblance of a normal life with varying degrees of success, an unknown, powerful assailant is tracking down the older heroes and killing them, giving the Watchmen cause to reunite – if they can stand each other long enough.

There are other problems in the world besides masked heroes being offed. Richard Nixon, now in his fifth term as U.S. president, has the United States on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, a hostility fueled in part by the government using the godlike Doctor Manhattan as a weapon of fear. The graphic novel, written by Alan Moore, is rich in subtext, scope, and depth, and when released in the mid-1980s, almost immediately helped change the possibilities of comic books to come. There’s also a lot going on within its hundreds of pages, which is why many filmmakers struggled with bringing Watchmen to the big screen, and many, many more fans hoped that they wouldn’t.

Snyder essentially places himself in the proverbial no-win situation with his adaptation, co-written by David Hayter and Alex Tse. Moore scoffed at the film even as it was in production, and the notion of successfully porting the graphic novel into anything less than a miniseries frustrated fans, who felt too much of Watchmen would be sacrificed in a film – even at two hours and 42 minutes in length. They were right. Watchmen as released to theatres in March, 2009, was incredibly ambitious and just as shallow, an attractive movie with fantastic parts that never amounted to much as a whole – certainly not when held to the high standards set by Moore’s work. The film also was nearly unintelligible to anyone who went into the theatre having never read the graphic novel.

But the Collector’s Edition, with its three-hours-and-35-minutes cut, helps resolve that issue. Known now as the Ultimate Cut, this new Blu-ray set is Snyder’s director’s cut version along with Watchmen’s Tales of the Black Freighter sub-comic now incorporated into the main narrative, instead of a separate DVD as it was originally released. This should please Watchmen fans, who missed having the separate features packaged as one entity, as in the graphic novel. This Ultimate Cut release and its animated segments also effectively break up the real-world story into chapters, and provide jarring subtext and allegory to the Watchmen storyline. Warning: These animated segments are as graphic as the hyper violence in the main feature, including a raft made of the decaying bodies of dead sailors.

While the Ultimate Cut resurrects quasi-important character – and narrative – development moments originally left in the editing room, it also benefits substantially from the less-heightened expectations of seeing the film at home, rather than on the big screen, which magnifies a film’s weaknesses. In other words, Watchmen simply works better at home, which gives further credence to the fanboys who thought the graphic novel should have been a miniseries all along.

The Ultimate Cut also features two commentaries by Snyder and graphic novel co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons, and on separate Blu-rays 11 video journals and four featurettes, a Watchmen motion comic, featuring the entire graphic novel in 12 chapters of limited motion, voice, and sound, and the original theatrical cut on DVD. The set also features DC Comics’ first-ever hardcover edition of Watchmen, featuring the recoloured pages found in Watchmen: The Absolute Edition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skyfall the Best Bond Film Yet?

Written by Kirk Baird

The critical and box-office success of Skyfall has many asking the question: Is this the best Bond ever? Perhaps. But it has some steep challengers. Here are some other classic Bond movies, in no particular order.

Goldfinger (1964): The third film in the series has 007 tangling with one of the great Bond villains, Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Casino Royale (2006): Daniel Craig in his first movie as James Bond makes us forget about the decades of pretenders to the throne of Best. Super Agent. Ever.

From Russia with Love (1963): Sean Connery as Bond and Robert Shaw as the villain Red Grant trade fists on a train in one of the great fights in movie history.

Live and Let Die (1973): Best remembered for Paul McCartney’s pulse-pounding theme song, it’s also Roger Moore’s entry into the Bond franchise.

Dr. No (1962): This first 007 outing in the movies set the template for 50 years to come of Ian Fleming’s dashing British super agent.

Die Another Day (2002): Pierce Brosnan wraps up his four-film run as 007 with his best Bond film yet, not to mention Halle Berry in a bikini.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jiro Dreams Not Just About Sushi

Written by Kirk Baird

Perhaps the greatest compliment one can offer the enchanting documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is that one needn’t be a sushi aficionado to appreciate it. Directed by David Gelb in his first documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a lovely appreciation of an 85-year-old artist named Jiro Ono who has devoted his life to the culinary art of sushi.

Jiro owns a small Tokyo restaurant that serves a sushi-of-the-day menu in a nondescript location near a subway. There are no bathrooms in Sukiyabashi Jiro. It seats only 10 customers at a time, who will pay roughly $300 in U.S. currency, minimum. And yet there is at least a month-long waiting list for either lunch or dinner in Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was awarded a highly coveted 3-star rating in Michelin Guide. Customers flock worldwide for the opportunity to taste what one Japanese food critic proclaims as the best sushi in the world.

Waiting in the wings to take over the restaurant is Jiro’s oldest son, Yoshikazu, while the younger son, Takashi, left and opened his own sushi restaurant, the literal mirror image of Sukiyabashi Jiro, with his father’s blessings. Jiro Dreams of Sushi explores Jiro’s abandonment by his parents as a young boy, and how much of his life is informed by this. Yet he was an absentee father to his own sons—a necessary requirement, he suggests, to achieve his artistic purpose of culinary perfection—and would leave for work daily at 5 a.m. and return home by 10 p.m. His being home while his children were awake was such a rarity that on one particular Sunday as Jiro slept in, one of his sons remarked to his mother, who is this stranger sleeping on the couch?

But there are no lingering bad feelings from Jiro’s sons, who were pushed, they insist, out of love. It’s also apparent that Jiro directed them to take up the family cause as a method of father-son bonding, as well as the opportunity to spend considerably more time together.

Gelb blends the family dynamics well in this extraordinary documentary, along with some gorgeous shots of the preparation of the food itself. This isn’t a film just for sushi fanatics and foodies. This is a documentary with much to say about art itself, and the sacrifices it demands of those who aspire to greatness.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird Adaptation Turns 50

Written by Kyle Slagley

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the film adaptation of the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and is a staple of nearly every high school curriculum in the country.

We all know the story of Scout, Atticus, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson and probably have since 10th grade. When producer Alan Pakula was asked by Paramount Studios what story he intended to tell with the screenplay, he responded, “Have you read the book? That’s the story.” The story needed no embellishment and no artistic license.

Harper Lee herself sat in on the first three weeks of filming before realizing that “everything would be fine without her.” Lee was correct and the film went on to win three Academy Awards out of its eight nominations. Lee was so impressed with Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch that she gave him a pocket watch that belonged to her father, who was the basis for the character. Peck would have the watch with him the night he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, a newly restored version of the film is playing today only in select theatres. No participating theatres in your area? You can still pick up the DVD or Blu-ray of the newly restored version on our website, as well as the unabridged audiobook.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Philip Roth Retires from Writing

In an interview with French magazine Les Inrocks last month, American author Philip Roth announced that he is done writing. His last novel was Nemesis, published in 2010.

Roth came onto the scene in 1959 when his book Goodbye, Columbus was published, containing the eponymous novella and five short stories. It won the 1960 National Book Award for Fiction. Roth would win the award again in 1975 for My Life as a Man. His 1997 novel American Pastoral won a Pulitzer Prize, his fourth work to be nominated. Even with all these accolades, Roth is perhaps best known for Portnoy’s Complaint, his 1969 novel that was a target for controversy due to its explicit sexual nature.

Roth’s fiction is often semi-autobiographical, with the author himself (or at least a character bearing his name) occasionally appearing in his work. He often writes about American life from a Jewish perspective in the wake of World War II, usually with pointed satire and social commentary. He even dabbled in alternative history with The Plot Against America, a 2004 novel that begins with Charles Lindbergh defeating FDR in the 1940 presidential election.

In recent years, Roth expressed pessimism about the future of reading in America, particularly given the rise of digital books and e-readers. While that may have factored into the 79-year-old author’s decision to retire, however, it was not the primary reason. He stressed that he was simply done writing, saying in the interview, “This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had. And after that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I do not want to read, to write more. I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough!”

Click here for all of Philip Roth’s novels available on audio.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Campaign Effectively Spoofs Election Politics

Written by Kirk Baird

Now that the U.S. election is over, it’s time to laugh at the political process. The Campaign is a fairly dependable comedy that never quite reaches the level of truly great political satire.

Jay Roach delivered caustic political commentary earlier this year with HBO's Game Change, an intelligent drama about the McCain-Palin ticket. He also directed 2008's effective political mouthpiece Recount, about the 2000 U.S. presidential election and the recount in Florida. The filmmaker is familiar with Hollywood as political op-ed and so is Will Ferrell, who honed his George W. Bush impersonation to perfection for years on Saturday Night Live, and briefly resurrected the character for a well-received one-man Broadway show.

It's not much of a stretch, either, to see bits of Ferrell's Bush impersonation in his role as North Carolina congressman Cam Brady.

Brady is a five-term Democrat so entrenched in his district that Republicans aren't bothering to run against him this election, until the billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide they need fresh political meat in Washington.

With the plan of opening Chinese factories in North Carolina powered by cheap labour imported from China, what they call "insourcing," the Motches create and fund their own candidate, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an effeminate small-town tour guide and pug owner with aspirations of making a difference in his community.

Brady and his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) initially laugh off the no-name challenger, until Huggins's own aggressive campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) mounts an effective political counterattack that has the incumbent on the ropes and trailing in the polls.

Ferrell excels at characters who are bigheaded and clueless (Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby), and Brady successfully sticks to the formula, while Galifianakis plays the doe-eyed innocent corrupted by the political system to good effect.

Sarah Baker as Mitzi, Huggins's June Cleaver spouse, and Katherine LaNasa as Rose, Brady's politically opportunistic wife, generate laughs on their own, while McDermott steals almost every scene he's in with some great lines and impressive comic timing. Roach does his best to keep the film rolling along with no dead zones to deflate the fun.

The Campaign's humour is best when edgy and dark, especially as the grueling election blitz turns nastier and more personal between the candidates, who wage a cold war of dirty tactics. It's only when The Campaign goes off topic for a rather conventional feel-good third-act finale that the laughs dry up, as jokes are replaced by moralisms about the problems in our government and the importance of politicians telling "the truth."

Oddly enough, it's honesty in politics that proves to be the least funny gag of them all.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fill the Void for Hockey Fans

Written by Kirk Baird

The NHL strike continues. Here are five hockey films to keep your patrons going until the puck tips again.

Mystery, Alaska (1999): Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) directs Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, and Burt Reynolds in this comedy-drama about a small-town hockey team given the opportunity to play a NHL squad.

The Mighty Ducks (1992): Emilio Estevez stars in this Bad News Bears on ice comedy about a ragtag boys’ hockey team and the lawyer turned coach who helps them go from chumps to champs, and thus a franchise was born.

Goon (2011): In this overlooked comedy, Seann William Scott plays a good-natured though none-too-bright enforcer for a struggling minor league hockey team whose physical play helps turn their fortunes around.

Slap Shot (1977): Paul Newman shows off his comic chops in this wickedly funny and biting comedy about a coach for a struggling minor league hockey team who turns to three goons to generate local interest in the team.

Miracle (2004): The riveting true story of the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s impossible victory over the heavily favoured Soviets, with Kurt Russell as the man, coach Herb Brooks, who inspired them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

007 - Not Just for the Big Screen

Written by Kyle Slagley

Some boys can recite the entire comic book saga of Batman or Superman at age nine. Other boys might easily rattle off the history between Master Splinter and Shredder of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There aren’t too many schoolboys whose hero was a martini-swilling, womanizing, narcissistic arm of the government.

I always was a little different.

Yes, Bond—James Bond—was the staple (almost super) hero in our house when I was growing up. My dad watched the movie marathons religiously, and that’s probably the reason my 007 collection has its very own shelf in my house.

I discovered the original Ian Fleming novels when I was in my early teens. I’d already been watching Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton for a while, so naturally I had some preconceived notions about the “true Bond.” What I found easily cemented my affection for the franchise. The Bond of the books is a deeply flawed man who can easily be as expensive to the British government as the Six Million Dollar Man but as self-centered and indulgent as Lord Henry Byron. Maybe another way to put it is that he’s as messed up as some of the bad guys he guns down, but you can’t help cheering for him anyway.

Ian Fleming died in 1964 after penning 14 James Bond novels, the last of which would be published posthumously in 1966. Following his death, five other authors have taken up the mantle, each putting his own spin on the legendary spy. Here’s a rundown of how 007 has spent the last 50 years.

Kingsley Amis wrote the first James Bond novel following Fleming’s death, Colonel Sun, using the pen name Robert Markham. Colonel Sun was published in 1968 and in it Bond heads to Greece to rescue M, who has been kidnapped. Colonel Sun Liang-tan of China is found to be at the heart of the plot and Bond must team up with a Greek agent in order to rescue his boss. Having been published immediately following Fleming’s novels, it’s no surprise that Amis’s rendition has much of the same tone and many of the same character traits as the original set.

James Bond took a nap during the 1970s and didn’t emerge again until 1981 under author John Gardner. Sixteen novels would be published under the Gardner name, two of which were novelizations of the films Licence to Kill and GoldenEye. Of his 14 original novels, however, none would make it to the big screen. Gardner published his last 007 novel in 1996.

The next six years were huge for Bond and his faithful fans. Raymond Benson kept the franchise pedal firmly on the floor with novelizations for the films Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day, as well as six novels and three short stories of his own. The Man with the Red Tattoo happens to be one of my favourite post-Fleming Bond novels because Benson did a wonderful job of tying West Nile Virus into the storyline at a time when the worldwide concern about global pandemic was at the highest levels since the AIDS crisis began.

Bond hasn’t really found a stable backing in recent years. Devil May Care was published by Sebastian Faulks on May 28, 2008—Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday—and just last year Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver hit the shelves. Both novels continue to bring Bond into the modern age, tying the villains’ evil schemes in with the global concerns of the day.

Although the traditional Bond novels seem to have hit a lull, the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson has taken off fairly well. It began with Silverfin and follows a much less suave James through the halls of Eton College. James is still daring and fiercely intelligent but without the martinis, the string of women, the swagger and pretentious confidence of the adult with a license to kill. Young Bond is a fantastic series for boys that dread reading requirements but love all the action and mystery of “Dad’s 007.”

With Daniel Craig signed on for another two films, it’s clear that as long as there are audiences waiting for another gun battle in which Bond has a girl in one hand and his Walther in the other, the film franchise isn’t going to die. For those of us that enjoy the depth of a novel, let’s hope that there’s an author out there that can write a good story to go with my martini.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Video Games a Popular Movie Subject

Written by Kirk Baird

Wreck-It Ralph is the story of a video game villain’s quest to be good. Given the success of Wreck-It Ralph in its first weekend – nearly $50 million, a record opening for a Disney animated film -- here are a few other movies with video game-centered plots.

WarGames (1983): A high school computer hacker (Matthew Broderick) nearly starts World War III after gaining access to a military super computer while trying to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War in this John Badham drama.

Tron (1982): Ground-breaking effects highlight this video game-inspired movie starring Jeff Bridges as a brilliant game designer named Flynn who gets sucked into a computer world where he must join forces with user programs to defeat the evil Master Control.

Tron: Legacy (2010): In this sequel to Tron, Flynn has been missing for more than a decade, and his son Sam goes looking for him, only to get sucked into the same video game world of Tron. There he finds his father trapped by a sinister new program of Flynn’s own making.

The Last Starfighter (1984): An alien named Centauri (Robert Preston in one of his last roles) recruits a teenage video game ace to man the weapons of a special spacecraft created to defeat an evil invading force and save the galaxy.

The Wizard (1989): Fred Savage of TV’s The Wonder Years stars as the older brother of an autistic boy who happens to be a wizard at playing video games. The two boys, with the help of a young girl, make their way cross country to compete in a national video game championship.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007): In this funny and occasionally stirring documentary by Seth Gordon, pereinal second-place finisher Steve Wiebe sets out to be the greatest Donkey Kong player in the world, but must contend with the current champion and rival Billy Mitchell.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Star Wars Episode VII: Who Will Direct?

Written by Kirk Baird

The sudden and surprising news of George Lucas selling his Lucasfilm studio and its properties to Disney sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Just as big, though, was Disney’s announcement that it would be continuing the Star Wars series with Episode VII due in 2015, with Lucas serving only as an advisor. The man who created the franchise, wrote and directed four of the six films, and produced all of them is stepping away from his franchise to now let someone else carry on the space saga. And so let the rumours and speculating begin about who will carry the torch as director.

Here are some of the sure to be top candidates, with reasons why they will or won’t be attached to Star Wars: Episode VII.

Christopher Nolan: He reinvented the superhero movie with his billion-dollar-plus Batman franchise. He also made one of the smartest summer blockbusters not involving a pop culture icon, Inception. He even helped develop the story for the upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel, and currently has nothing else in the works.

Why he wouldn’t do it: Nolan would be a fanboy’s dream as director for the next Star Wars installment, but after tackling Batman he may want to go easy on the major studio franchises for a while. Or maybe not.

Peter Jackson: He specializes in bringing beloved stories to the big screen in threes. His Lord of the Rings trilogy was a triumph with audiences and critics and earned him several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Next up is his film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s first work, The Hobbit, beginning Dec. 14 with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Why he won’t do it: Jackson’s wrapped up in The Hobbit series — recently announced as a trilogy — through July, 2014, which wouldn’t give him the chance to begin production a new Star Wars film until well after it should have started. Plus, he’s already committed to directing the next The Adventures of TinTin film, with Steven Spielberg producing. And after six Tolkien movies, would he really want to tackle another fanboy obsession such as Star Wars?

Brad Bird: Bird made his reputation directing animated films: the overlooked The Iron Giant in 1999, and two successful Pixar movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But what really got everyone’s attention was his work behind the camera for last year’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, arguably Tom Cruise’s finest action film.

Why he won’t do it: Next up for Bird is his long-in-development live-action film 1906, about the Great San Francisco Earthquake. IF this movie ever gets made — and that’s a big if considering the concerns over the film’s $200 million budget and its epic script — it’s likely to consume Bird for a while. But if 1906 gets placed on the backburner again, Bird may emerge as the frontrunner. Plus, how could he turn down Star Wars?

Zack Snyder: Snyder scored big with 300 in 2006, but he’s struggled since then with his ambitious adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, which no one thought could be made anyway, and the flops Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch. Next up is Man of Steel.

Why he won’t do it: It’s really not a question of if Snyder won’t do it, rather if he’ll have the opportunity. A Man of Steel box-office and critical success will certainly aid his cause, but if Superman flops again, as with Superman Returns, then consider Snyder out of the running.

Bryan Singer: And speaking of Superman Returns…Singer is still smarting over his attempted reboot of the classic superhero in 2006. But his resume is impressive with X-Men and X2: X-Men United, and producing X-Men: First Class. Next up for his directing work are Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Why he won’t do it: Singer has a full plate through much of 2014, which wouldn’t give him much time to devote to launching a new Star Wars trilogy. Plus, his biggest successes have been mutant superheroes, which is a different kind of genre film than a space fantasy.

J.J. Abrams: He made his homage to Spielberg with last year’s Super 8. He also successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise with a younger cast, which is, presumably, what it will take with the new Star Wars trilogy, which again focuses on Luke, Leia, and Han.

Why he won’t do it: Tackling one beloved space franchise should be enough for anyone. And would he want to suffer through a fresh set of fanboy angst and nitpicking for another film series?

Jon Favreau: He changed the fortunes of Marvel films with Iron Man in 2008, a superhero movie that set the template for all the comic book maker’s films to follow. And then there was Cowboys & Aliens in summer 2011, an ambitious adaptation of a comic book series that bombed with critics and audiences.

Why he won’t do it: The failure of Cowboys & Aliens will hurt his chances, though how much of it was his fault versus a story that simply didn’t lend itself well to a two-hour movie. He is also attached to direct the Jersey Boys adaptation, which is in pre-production.

Joss Whedon: Whedon was already a familiar name to some for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but 2012 has put him on a new level of success: first as co-screenwriter of the horror genre-bending Cabin in the Woods, and with The Avengers, the year’s biggest hit (so far), which he wrote and directed. Up next is The Avengers 2 for 2015, which is he again writing and directing.

Why he won’t do it: The Avengers 2. Making a sequel that comes close to duplicating the critical and box-office success of The Avengers is going to take a lot of work, focus, and dedication. So who has time to juggle two major franchises?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Read the Movie

Written by Kyle Slagley

A few days ago a friend of mine commented to me on Facebook about a class we took in college called Shakespeare and Film. The class covered exactly that, Shakespeare’s plays and their various film adaptations, some of which I enjoyed and some of which I did not.

That a successful book will be made into a movie is almost an assumed fact these days. I can’t help but think that filmmakers consider this both a blessing and a curse because as the success of the book increases, the room for creative license and interpretation decreases – particularly when a film adaptation is made almost immediately following the publishing of the book a la Fifty Shades.

As we approach the final Twilight movie release I started thinking again about the book-to-film process. You could create a program for your library that focuses solely on book-to-film titles; in fact you may already have a club like that. If you don’t, allow me to make a few recommendations to get you started.

For adults:
The Firm – This John Grisham novel is about a young man fresh out of Harvard Law School who accepts a position at a very powerful firm in Memphis. Like most Grisham novels, the book is a thrilling read. The film starring Tom Cruise is just as thrilling as the book and is a faithful interpretation until about halfway through, where it veers off to an ending that makes Cruise’s character look much better than in the novel.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – I broke the cardinal rule with this one and saw the movie before I read the book. I was genuinely surprised to find that I enjoyed the film just as much as the book despite the pounding it took from critics. This title will make for great discussion on how the concept of time travel works on the screen, particularly when it jumps all over the place.

There Will Be Blood – Daniel Day-Lewis was simply fantastic as Daniel Plainview in the film adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! and earned himself a hoard of Best Actor awards for the role. The film is only loosely based on Sinclair’s novel, with differences in both plot and character names but the loose adaptation leaves plenty of room for discussion. With 80 years between the publishing of the novel and the release of the movie, this is a good opportunity to discuss creative license as it relates to timing of the film release.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – I know it sounds ridiculous to plug this title for a book club, but I know a lot of people that didn’t realize this movie was based on a book. The book reads like a biography; the movie is, well, the movie. If nothing else, it’s good for a few laughs!

For young adults:
Stardust – Neil Gaiman did a fantastic job with this relatively short novel. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, and boy discovers girl is actually a fallen star. Simple enough, right? The novel is a dark and haunting fairytale for adults whereas the film is a lighter, cheerful movie geared more toward children. Because the novel ventures into more adult topics, this book would be better for teens than young children.

Inkheart – I was unaware that this film was based on a novel until recently, so I saw the movie before I read the book for this one too. This is a typical case of “the book is better than the movie” even though I thought Brendan Fraser did a decent job playing Mo and Paul Bettany was as good as ever in the role of Dustfinger. The ending to the movie is completely different from the book, but even still, I didn’t think the film was nearly as bad as the critics said it was.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – This title is perfect for a book-to-film club because there are two films based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s book. The film starring Gene Wilder from 1971 will always be one of my favourites, as I suspect is the case for millions in their 20s and 30s, but deviates from the book quite a bit. The 2005 film starring Johnny Depp is faithful to the book and was a box office success, but failed to claim a devoted following like its predecessor.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Political Movies for U.S. Election Night

Written by Kirk Baird

The 2012 U.S. presidential election is Tuesday. To get in the spirit of democracy in action, here are a just few politically themed movies.

The Candidate (1972): A young, inexperienced candidate for senator (Robert Redford in a brilliant performance) learns the inside-outs of big-stage politics, and the price it takes to win.

Election (1999): Reese Witherspoon is the annoying high school overachiever determined to be class president. Matthew Broderick is the high school history teacher determined to stop her. Alexander Payne’s debut comedy is dark and spot-on.

All the President’s Men (1976): When celebrating the election of a president, here’s a thrilling account of what brought one down. Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein helped inspire a new generation of journalists.

Bulworth (1998): Warren Beatty plays liberal politician Jay Bulworth whose ideals of making a difference were long-ago trounced by the realities of Washington. But then something snaps in his soul, and Bulworth fights back against the system.

Primary Colors (1998): Don’t kid yourself: John Travolta is Clinton in this thinly disguised behind-the-scenes look at a presidential campaign race. As an addendum, check out the fascinating documentary The War Room (1993), a real-life account of Clinton’s 1992 campaign and those who ran it.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Jimmy Stewart is the U.S. senator everyone wishes they had in Frank Capra’s stirring classic of an incorruptible new voice in D.C.

The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney directed, cowrote, and costars in this campaign thriller about a progressive presidential candidate and his young campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling), who must inevitably choose between his boss and his soul.