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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Williams to Return to Star Wars for Episode VII

Written by Jon Williams

It’s been nearly six months since we’ve checked in with news on the upcoming Star Wars films. In that post, one of the items we speculated on was who would write the score for the new trilogy. This past weekend, at the Star Wars Celebration event held in Essen, Germany, that question was put to rest. Fans will be able to breathe easy with the news that John Williams, who has scored all six Star Wars films to this point, will return, at least for the first installment (Episode VII).

Williams, 81, is perhaps the best-known composer of classical music today, due primarily to his work in film. He began his career as a Hollywood orchestrator and musician under other composers. His first credit for a score he composed himself was on 1960’s Because They’re Young. He composed music for a number of television shows throughout the ‘60s, including Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. He also continued to work on feature films, such as Valley of the Dolls (1967) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), which earned him his first two Academy Award nominations. He won his first Academy Award in 1971 with his score for Fiddler on the Roof.

In 1974, Williams scored The Sugarland Express, the debut film of a young director named Steven Spielberg. This would turn out to be a profitable partnership. The next year he scored his second Academy Award for Spielberg’s second film, Jaws, with its unmistakably ominous theme. Spielberg, of course, has gone on to a career as one of the most successful directors in Hollywood history, and Williams has scored all but two of his films. This includes such memorable movies (and scores) as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones series, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List.

This collaboration paid off in other ways as well. It was Spielberg that recommended Williams to George Lucas, who put him to work on the score for his space opera Star Wars. Williams delivered with one of the most recognizable movie themes of all time, and followed it up with the equally recognizable “Imperial March” (Darth Vader’s theme) on the score for The Empire Strikes Back. His work on the saga has been the high point of an epic career. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a Star Wars film without his iconic sound; other Star Wars-related spinoffs (the Clone Wars animated TV show and the Shadows of the Empire project) have leaned heavily on Williams’s themes for their music.

Williams has won a total of five Academy Awards for his film scores, to go along with four Golden Globes and 21 Grammy Awards. He is certainly best known for his work in movies, but that is by no means the whole of his career. For a full selection of titles composed or conducted by John Williams, SmartBrowse his name on our website.

Friday, July 26, 2013

There’s “Money” in Being a Writer

Written by Kyle Slagley

Folks in the United States are accustomed to seeing dead presidents and other political figures on banknotes. Folks in Canada branch out a little bit to include more than just dead Prime Ministers, but with only one or two exceptions, most of the faces on Canadian bills are political figures as well.

The money is clearly a bit stuffy and stodgy here in North America.

Europe, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more open-minded with their funds. The other day I heard on the radio that the Bank of England recently released the proof for the new Jane Austen ten-pound note, which will go into circulation sometime around 2017, according to BBC News. Austen will replace famed naturalist and author Sir Charles Darwin.

Obviously on this side of the pond, we are unaccustomed to seeing authors and writers on the cash lining (or not lining, as the case may be) our wallets, but after my curiosity got the better of me, I found there are a surprising number of writers who graced various currencies at one time or another.

A couple of the more unsurprising faces are Benjamin Franklin and Nelson Mandela, who also happen to be famous for much more than just their writing. Franklin’s image currently graces the U.S. one hundred dollar bill, and also was pictured on the two-dollar note, which is now out of print. South Africa’s currency, known as the rand, issued five new notes in 2012 – all of which feature Mandela on the front.

From there we delve into writers who were primarily just writers and only delved into political satire on the side. Probably the most satirical of the bunch would be Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, who was pictured on the Irish ten-pound note issued in 1976. Swift was replaced in 1993 by Ulysses author James Joyce.

Though the Bank of England is the central bank for the United Kingdom, the crown permits eight different banks to issue legal currency. Scotland is home to three of those banks, and each of them has issued notes featuring a different writer. In 1994, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a one-pound commemorative note picturing Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island. In 1998, Clydesdale Bank issued a five-pound note picturing Robert Burns, author of the poem “A Red, Red Rose.” Finally, in 2007, the Bank of Scotland released four notes featuring Ivanhoe author Sir Walter Scott – the bank had previously released one note in 1999 featuring Scott.

To wrap up, lets venture outside the realm of English-speaking nations to Denmark and Germany. From 1952 to 1975, Denmark, whose currency is the krone, circulated a ten-krone note picturing Hans Christian Andersen – author of such fairy tales as “The Ugly Duckling,” “Puss in Boots,” and other characters you would now find in Shrek films.

Finally, from 1992 until they joined the EU in 2002, Germany circulated two 1,000-mark notes featuring the Brothers Grimm, one of Jacob and one of Wilhelm. The Brothers Grimm are of course responsible for “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rumplestiltsken,” and the other half of the Shrek cast of characters.

If you’re as curious as I was, check out this Wikipedia page to see who is pictured on the currencies of nations across the world.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Russian Lit Yields Masterpieces

Written by Jon Williams

Earlier this month, Entertainment Weekly magazine published an issue containing their lists of the Top 100 movies, TV shows, albums, and novels of all time, respectively. While one can debate the order of these lists, and in some instances even their content (that’s what they’re for, after all), there’s no doubt that they’re a great starting point for anyone hoping to sample some of the best that pop culture has to offer.

For their #1 novel of all time, EW chose Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. They’re hardly alone in their praise; William Faulker said the novel was “the best ever written.” This tragic romance between the protagonist and the dashing Count Vronsky has captivated readers since it was first published in complete form (it originated as a serial tale) in 1878. It’s been adapted for film a number of times, most recently starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law in 2012.

Of course, while Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s greatest masterpiece, it is by no means his only renowned work. He is also the author of War and Peace (#28 on EW’s list), The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and a number of other novels, short stories, and plays. More to the point, he is just one well-known writer of Russian literature that has provided a treasure trove of novels and stories over the years.

One of Tolstoy’s contemporaries was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, himself an icon of world literature. Dostoyevsky is known for such works as Crime and Punishment (#14 on EW’s list), Notes from Underground, and The Brothers Karamazov (#23), among others. He and Tolstoy were at the heart of 19th century Russia’s “Golden Age” of literature, which also included Ivan Turgenev, poet Alexander Pushkin, and playwright Alexander Ostrovsky.

Coming slightly later, and influenced heavily by both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, was Anton Chekhov. A doctor by trade, he once said of himself, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.” He wrote a number of classic plays, and his roster of short stories is among the finest ever written. Chekhov then led into Vladimir Nabokov, author of a number of modern masterpieces, both in Russian and in English. His best-known, Lolita, clocks in at #19 for Entertainment Weekly; it was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. Nabokov never won the National Book Award, but was a finalist seven times in all.

As outstanding as the history of Russian literature has been, it’s likely that none of it would have come to be without the influence of Nikolai Gogol. Gogol was the author of Dead Souls, a novel (although Gogol himself referred to it as a poem) that paints a broad portrait of life in the Russian countryside in the early 19th century. He envisioned it as the first in a trilogy; however, he suffered from writer’s block and then died young, burning what he had written of the second book before he did so. Nevertheless, the one volume he did write paved the way for the rich tapestry of Russian literature to come.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Alan Jackson Going Bluegrass

Written by Kyle Slagley

Just a couple days ago, I had a mild “geek-out” moment – or, at least, as much as a man will admit to geeking out over country music. This, however, is no ordinary country music – no sir, this is the very first bluegrass album by country music legend Alan Jackson.

The album is simply and appropriately titled The Bluegrass Album and includes eight original songs written specifically for the project. Also included are covers of three bluegrass staples: “There Is a Time,” “Wild and Blue,” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

As an unabashed fan of good bluegrass music, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I am about hearing this album. Combining one of the greatest country music artists of the generation with arguably the most quintessentially American music genre promises to deliver some exceptional music. The album doesn’t drop until September 24, so until then, here are my favourite bluegrass artists to keep you going.

Nickel Creek – This group is my absolute favourite in the genre, hands down. Made up of guitarist Sean Watkins, his sister Sara Watkins on fiddle, and Chris Thile on mandolin and banjo, this group has all but perfected the art of storytelling through song. To get the full picture of their skill, check out their greatest hits album titled Reasons Why.

Though the band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2006, all three have gone on to either solo careers or other projects. Sara Watkins and Chris Thile both went on to find success in solo careers. Getting away from pure bluegrass, Sean Watkins joined with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman to form Fiction Family – a band officially billed as alt rock, but with a definite folk influence. Finally, after his successful solo album, Chris Thile stuck to his bluegrass-mandolin roots and formed the Punch Brothers.

Alison Krauss – Whether she’s performing solo, with the band Union Station, or partnering with a whole slew of fellow artists, Krauss has been a power in the music industry since she cut her first album in the 1987 at age 16. When she made it big in the mid ‘90s, she was almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing the bluegrass genre to an entirely new audience. I would begin with her breakout album Now That I’ve Found You, and then move on to the Live album.

The Wailin’ Jennys – These Canadian ladies dance the line between bluegrass and traditional folk with voices that will take you to a cabin in the holler. In a single album you’ll hear original tunes, a sea shanty, a traditional drinking song, and a Celtic ballad. They are regulars on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, and their live album showcases just how beautiful and hauntingly their voices blend.

Did I miss an artist or band? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Polaris Prize Short List Announced

Written by Stephanie Narciso

The Polaris Music Prize is an award given to the best Canadian album each year. The prize is based solely on artistic merit, with factors such as genre and sales figures playing no role. Honourees are selected by a jury made up of Canadian music journalists, broadcasters, and bloggers from across the country. On Tuesday, the 2013 short list was announced, ten diverse albums from which the ultimate winner will be selected.

Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Every Opposite by Zaki Ibrahim
Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara
Metz by Metz
Nation II Nation by A Tribe Called Red
Shrines by Purity Ring
Synthetica by Metric
Ultramarine by Young Galaxy

The winner will be announced at the Polaris Gala on September 23 at the Carlu in Toronto. Past short list honourees Kathleen Edwards and Shad will host the event.

The Polaris Music Prize has been given each year since 2006. Past winners are:

He Poos Clouds by Final Fantasy (2006)
Close to Paradise by Patrick Watson (2007)
Andorra by Caribou (2008)
The Chemistry of Common Life by F**ked Up (2009)
Les Chemins de Verre by Karkwa (2010)
The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (2011)
Metals by Feist (2012)

These albums represent the best of the best that Canadian music has to offer. Make sure you have them all available for your patrons to check out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rowling Makes Under-the-Radar Return

Written by Jon Williams

The literary world was abuzz this weekend with the news that the book The Cuckoo’s Calling, ostensibly written by debut author “Robert Galbraith,” was in fact written by none other than Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.

Rowling made her own debut in 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That was the beginning of a seven-book series detailing the exploits of the boy wizard and his friends as they fought the evil Voldemort in his quest for power and immortality. The books were both a critical and commercial success; Forbes magazine declared Rowling the first person to become a billionaire by writing books. The books also spawned eight film adaptations.

The final Harry Potter book was published in 2007, leaving a question of where Rowling’s writing career would go from there. That question was answered in 2012 with the release of The Casual Vacancy, her first novel aimed at adults. It focuses on the fictional English town of Pagford, which is thrown into chaos by the death of one of its council members. The novel is set to be adapted into a television series for the BBC, to begin airing in 2014.

After the success of Harry Potter, the hype for The Casual Vacancy was enormous. It sold well, but responses were mixed, with critics noting the complete thematic departure from her children’s series—Potter focused on friendship and love, whereas The Casual Vacancy portrayed situations that were dire and bleak. Many felt there was no way Rowling could publish anything without it being compared to the cultural phenomenon that was Harry Potter.

It was partially for that reason that Rowling took on a pseudonym to publish her latest work, which was published in April. She had previously expressed a desire to write a crime novel, and leaving her own name off of it allowed it to stand on its own. The plan worked, with the book drawing strong reviews from such sources as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. The publisher has since announced that a second book in the series will be published next summer, and that Rowling will continue to write them as Robert Galbraith.

Since it was confirmed on Sunday that Rowling is indeed the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, sales of the book have exploded, and demand is sure to remain strong. Be sure to have plenty of copies on your shelves for patrons when the audio version comes available in September.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Message in a Bottle

Written by Kyle Slagley

Every so often, you come across a story in the news that sounds just like a Lifetime movie or a novel by Nicholas Sparks, and this week I read just such a story. The story began in 2002 when an eight-year-old girl named Sidonie threw a glass bottle into the water off Long Island with a note inside it that said, “Be excellent to yourself, dude!” along with the family phone number.

Fast forward to December 2012; the bottle was found by a cleanup crew pulling debris from Hurricane Sandy out of the Atlantic near Patchogue, New York. A crewmember excitedly called the phone number, only to discover that Sidonie had died in 2010. In the end, the cleanup crew returned the note and bottle to Sidonie’s grieving mother, Mimi, who managed to find some closure from the incident.

The message is, of course, (almost) a quote from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and is quite the mantra for a young girl of eight. It also got me thinking about movies in which letters are crucial to the plot. The first of which would be Message in a Bottle, in which Robin Wright finds a letter tossed into the sea and tracks down the author, a widower shipbuilder played by Kevin Costner.

The next film that came to mind was You’ve Got Mail, in which rival bookstore owners Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan unknowingly fall in love via email. This film is also a nostalgic throwback to the days when you logged on to AOL via the dial-up modem and hoped to hear the cheerful little voice announcing the arrival of email.

In The Lake House, the typical pen-pal love story gets a little bit of a shakeup in that Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock both occupy the same house, albeit at different points in time. Because they live about a year apart, they have to get creative if they want to meet in person.

The last title I’ll mention is Letters to Juliet, in which Amanda Seyfried plays an American tourist in Italy who goes on a hunt for the lovers mentioned in a letter written to the fictional Juliet Capulet from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Interestingly enough, though the film is fictional, the thousands of letters written to Juliet each year are entirely real, as are the ‘Secretaries of Juliet’ who answer each and every one.

Do you have a favourite movie about letter-writing that isn’t on this list? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jay-Z Returns with Magna Carta Holy Grail

Written by Jon Williams

Earlier this week saw the release of the latest album from rap legend Jay-Z. Magna Carta Holy Grail, the first release from Jay-Z since 2009’s The Blueprint 3, features guest appearances from a number of hip-hop and R&B superstars, including his wife Beyonce, plus Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean, and more. The album had been rumoured since 2010, but the actual announcement didn’t come until a commercial during Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 16.

Of course, Jay-Z hasn’t been idle in the four years since his last album. In 2010 he collaborated with Kanye West on the acclaimed Watch the Throne album, which the pair is reportedly planning to follow up. Then, earlier this year, he served as musical director for the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and served as producer for the soundtrack, which features a variety of musical styles.

Jay got his start in 1995 with the release of Reasonable Doubt. This followed years of toil and effort to make a name for himself, which culminated with the formation of his own record label, Roc-A-Fella. The album was well received, eventually being listed at #248 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. He followed that up with In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 in 1997, and Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (currently out of print) catapulted him to superstardom, winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.

Five more albums followed between 1998 and 2003, the last of which was The Black Album. After a “Fade to Black” concert in November of 2003, Jay-Z announced that he was retired. It soon became apparent, though, that it would be an active retirement, as a number of side projects soon commenced, including Unfinished Business, a second album of collaborations with R. Kelly.

In any case, the retirement only lasted until 2006, when Jay-Z returned with Kingdom Come. He had lost little of his game in the meantime, with his comeback album being certified multiplatinum and earning a Grammy nomination. In 2007 he released American Gangster, a concept album inspired by the film of the same name directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.

Now it looks like Jay-Z is back to stay, which is great news for rap fans everywhere. For a full list of Jay-Z albums available from CVS Midwest Tape, SmartBrowse ‘Jay-Z’ on our homepage.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New Batman Waiting in the Wings

Written by Jon Williams

The makers of the upcoming Justice League movie have announced that Christian Bale will not star as Batman. His run will come to an end after three ultra-successful films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. The latter two are #4 and #8, respectively, on the list of highest-grossing films.

Of course, #3 on that list is Marvel’s The Avengers, which is about a team of superheroes including Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Justice League, currently scheduled for a 2015 release, is DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s team, with their super lineup said to include Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, in addition to Batman. It’s unknown if Henry Cavill will reprise his role from Man of Steel, or Ryan Reynolds from Green Lantern, although both seem likely.

Whoever dons Batman’s cape and utility belt for Justice League will be stepping into a rich tradition. The superhero was first portrayed by the little-known actor Lewis Wilson in 1943’s Batman serial. That was followed up with another serial, Batman and Robin, in 1949, which starred Robert Lowrey. In 1966, Adam West took over in a Batman TV series that led to a theatrical film after the first season.

When that series went off the air in 1968, that was it for Batman for twenty years. Then Tim Burton brought him back in a big way in a 1988 film starring Michael Keaton, who would also return for the 1992 sequel. After Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney played Batman once each before Bale took over in 2005. And of course, the character has also had any number of animated adventures in addition to these live-action versions.

SmartBrowse ‘Batman’ on our website for a complete listing of what CVS Midwest Tape has to offer relating to the Caped Crusader, including film scores and even audiobooks in addition to DVDs and Blu-rays. In the meantime, feel free to use the comments section to let us know who you think would make a great Batman.