News Home RSS Feed

Friday, August 30, 2013

In Memoriam: Julie Harris

Written by Kyle Slagley

On August 23, both Hollywood and Broadway lost an actress who was, quite simply, a legend. Julie Harris passed away at the age of 87 after a career that even the best of today’s actresses can only dream of mimicking.

Born in Michigan in 1925, she made her career choices very early in life, once declaring to a high school drama teacher, “acting is my life.” Her first professional acting gig came in 1945, where she played a basic ensemble role in the stage production It’s a Gift in Atlanta.

The New York Times published a rather extensive story on Harris last Saturday that gives some insight into her life and career beyond just her roles on the stage and screen. What really interested me, though, isn’t just the mile-long list of credits she has between the stage and the screen – her IMDB page lists 99 film and TV roles, and her Broadway Database page lists 33 stage roles – but rather it was the nature of the roles she chose over her long career.

Harris really was the actor’s actor. Her film credits include notable roles in The Bell Jar, Hamlet, A Doll’s House, and of course East of Eden. Her stage credits include roles as one of the witches in Macbeth, Mary Todd Lincoln, Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and the entire Dickinson family (among other characters) in her one-woman show The Belle of Amherst.

After winning six Tony Awards, becoming a Kennedy Center Honouree, and fighting back after having a stroke in 2001, Harris continued to ice a stellar career almost until she passed last week at her home in Massachusetts. SmartBrowse Julie Harris on our website and share her work with your patrons. If they appreciate good acting like I do, they’ll certainly thank you for it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elton John Still Going Strong

Written by Jon Williams

On September 24, Elton John will release The Diving Board. The veteran entertainer teamed up once again with his longtime collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin, for his 30th solo album. John also brought in another notable name to work on this release: producer T Bone Burnett.

Burnett, a musician who has toured as a guitarist with Bob Dylan, began his music production career in earnest in the 1980s. He has worked with legendary artists such as Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, and Kris Kristofferson. More recently, he came to prominence when he produced the soundtrack to the 2000 Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a dark and folksy collection of songs that were used as a major component of the movie. It won the 2002 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Since then, Burnett has worked with a diverse array of artists, often imbuing their albums with a sparse and haunting quality that has become part of his signature sound. Among his most celebrated releases was Raising Sand, the unlikely pairing of rock legend Robert Plant and country/bluegrass star Alison Krauss, which won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2009. Recently he has worked on such compilations as the Hunger Games soundtrack and Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the theatrical collaboration between John Mellencamp and Stephen King.

He’s also worked with Elton John once before, on the 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union. When brought on board for the new album, Burnett suggested that John go back to basics. As a result, music on The Diving Board will consist mainly of piano, drum, and bass, much like the output from early in Sir Elton’s career.

His first album, Empty Sky, came out in 1969, when John was just 22. His breakthrough came with his 1970 self-titled second album, which kicked off with the hit “Your Song.” After that album went gold, he followed it up later that same year with Tumbleweed Connection, which went platinum. Throughout the years, he has continued to release albums at a steady pace. Prior to The Diving Board, his last solo release was The Captain & the Kid (an echo of his 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy) in 2006, which led to The Union in 2010.

In addition, John’s career has been filled with duets and collaborations featuring a wide range of musicians. Perhaps the best known is the hit single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Kiki Dee, which was not included on any of his albums but can be found on Rocket Man, a compilation of his number one hits. He performed with John Lennon on Lennon’s 1974 single “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” (from Walls and Bridges), and joined George Michael onstage in 1991 to perform “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (Love Songs). Pop star Nelly Furtado joined him on “Crocodile Rock” on the soundtrack for the 2011 animated film Gnomeo & Juliet; the film also features a duet between John and Lady Gaga, although that version of “Hello Hello” does not appear on the soundtrack.

Pre-order The Diving Board to have it on your shelves for patrons on its September 24 release date, and be sure to SmartBrowse Elton John on our homepage for a full list of albums, compilations, and soundtracks from this legendary musician, plus concert films, audiobook biographies, and more.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Affleck Named New Caped Crusader

Written by Jon Williams

We reported early in July that Christian Bale would not return as Batman after three acclaimed starring turns as the superhero in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. While we knew then who would not be playing Batman, what we didn’t know was who would be playing the iconic role.

Now that question has been answered. The Internet, particularly social media, was aflame Thursday night with news that Ben Affleck has been tabbed to follow Bale as the next actor to wear the cowl and cape. Affleck will join Man of Steel actor Henry Cavill in director Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, set to debut in theatres in 2015.

This won’t be Affleck’s first time portraying a superhero on the silver screen. He played the title role in 2003’s Daredevil, a Marvel Comics character whose adaptation failed to live up to expectations. With a slew of highly regarded acting credits on his resume, though, including Dazed and Confused and Good Will Hunting early in his career and The Town and Argo more recently, hopes are high that Affleck has the grit and talent to bring tormented billionaire Bruce Wayne and his alter ego to life on the screen.

Although the role was just announced last night, it has already altered Affleck’s career path. He had to drop out of his plan to write and direct the upcoming adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Stand (already adapted once into a TV miniseries in 1994). That task now falls to Scott Cooper, best known for Crazy Heart, which starred Jeff Bridges as a fading country music star. Affleck will, however, continue work on his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Live by Night, as well as his starring turn in the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s hugely popular Gone Girl.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Memoriam: Elmore Leonard

Written by Jon Williams

American author Elmore Leonard, known as the “Dickens of Detroit,” passed away at his Michigan home on Tuesday morning following complications from a stroke. He was 87.

Leonard served in the U.S. Navy upon graduating high school and later graduated from the University of Detroit with an English degree. He got his start in professional writing as an advertising copy writer in the early 1950s, as he wrote fiction on the side. He had some early success in the western genre, garnering his first publishing credit in 1951 with the short story “Trail of the Apaches.” One of his earliest western stories, “Three-Ten to Yuma,” has twice been adapted for film: shortly after publication, in 1957, and again fifty years later, in 2007.

Eventually Leonard also found success in crime fiction, for which he has become primarily known. He was hailed for his distinctive writing style, which was highly realistic and fast paced, and particularly his penchant for writing fantastic dialogue. Stephen King called him “the great American writer.” The strenuous writing routine he established in his formative years stuck with him throughout his career, and age didn’t dim his love for crafting stories. His researcher Gregg Sutter confirmed that Mr. Leonard was working on his 46th novel when he suffered a stroke three weeks ago.

As well known as his fiction are the screen adaptations made from them, with 3:10 to Yuma being just one example. The 1995 film Get Shorty was one of the first to truly adhere to Leonard’s style of quick pace and snappy dialogue, and his work garnered even more attention in 1997 when his story “Rum Punch” was adapted by Quentin Tarantino into the movie Jackie Brown. The FX TV series Justified got its start in the short story “Fire in the Hole,” and Leonard got such a kick out of it that he wrote a new novel, Raylan, in 2012 to feature the main character, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. The newest adaptation, Life of Crime (based on the 1978 novel The Switch), stars Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Mos Def, and Isla Fisher, and will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

SmartBrowse Elmore Leonard on our homepage for a full list of his work offered by CVS Midwest Tape, in both audiobook and DVD format.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Day of Milestones

Written by Jon Williams

August 16 is a significant day across the entertainment industry.

Today is James Cameron’s 59th birthday. The legendary filmmaker has made some of the most successful movies in Hollywood history, including Titanic (for which he won three Academy Awards) and Avatar, the two highest-grossing films of all time worldwide. He also directed the blockbusters The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Aliens, the second film in the Alien franchise. Cameron certainly knows how to himself busy; it was recently announced that Avatar will have three sequels, to begin filming simultaneously in 2014, with the first installment slated for release in 2016, with the third and fourth films following each year thereafter.

Cameron isn’t the only well-known entertainer celebrating today, as it is also Madonna’s 55th birthday. The Material Girl burst onto the scene thirty years ago with her eponymous debut album, which included the hit singles “Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” and “Borderline.” The follow-up, Like a Virgin, which contained the track that provides her nickname, came in 1984. All these years later, she’s still a force to be reckoned with in the music world. Her most recent album (her twelfth), MDNA, was released in 2012. In addition to her musical career, she’s also carved out a successful role in front of the camera, starring in such films as Who’s That Girl, Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own, and Evita (as well as contributing to the soundtracks for those films).

On the other end of the spectrum, today also marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. He is the biggest-selling solo artist of all time, and was largely responsible for bringing rock n’ roll into the American mainstream consciousness. His debut album, Elvis Presley, released in 1956, when he was just 21 years old. Even now, his music is still in great demand, with many of his albums (including his ever-popular Christmas album) recently being certified at gold, platinum, or multiplatinum status. Like Madonna, he also had a significant film career, starring in 31 films, starting with Love Me Tender in 1956.

For more movies and music from these iconic personalities, be sure to SmartBrowse their names on our homepage.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Young Authors Create Lasting Work

Written by Jon Williams

Penguin Young Readers Group recently added a new author to their stable, one that you’d more likely expect to find in their target audience instead. Jake Marcionette is just thirteen years old, but his debut middle-grade novel Just Jake (written when he was twelve) will be released in February of 2014. It deals with a young protagonist’s struggle to make his way in a new school after his family moves from out of state. Plans are already in the works for more books in the series, with the second scheduled for the following February.

Authors so young are rare, but they aren’t unheard of. Here’s a look at a few other writers who have published works written in their teen years.

Alexandra Adornetto: Born in 1992 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents who were both English teachers, Alexandra discovered writing at thirteen when she needed something to occupy her time after her friends went to the beach and she wasn’t allowed to accompany them. That effort eventually became The Shadow Thief, which was published in 2007. The first in a trilogy, it was followed by The Lampo Circus (2008) and Von Gobstopper’s Arcade (2009). Now out of her teens and studying in the U.S., Alexandra’s most recent release is Heaven, the conclusion to a second trilogy of novels (which have been compared favourably to the Twilight series).

Christopher Paolini: Although Eragon wasn’t widely published until Paolini was nearly twenty, he started writing it years before, when he was fifteen (and had just graduated from high school). Originally self-published in 2002, it came to the attention of author Carl Hiaasen, who recommended it to Alfred A. Knopf. Eragon was then acquired by Random House and republished for a broader audience in 2003. It became a huge hit, spawning three sequels (Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance) and a major motion picture.

S.E. Hinton: The young adult classic The Outsiders was first conceived by Susan Hinton at 15 as a way to present the point of view of a marginalized high school subculture. Written mostly when she was sixteen, the book was published in 1967, when she was eighteen. She would go on to write a number of young adult novels, all loosely connected to The Outsiders. In 1983, the novel was adapted for film by Francis Ford Coppola, as was her later book Rumble Fish later that year. More recently, Hinton has ventured into literature more geared toward adults; her most recent novel, Hawkes Harbor, was published in 2004.

Mary Shelley: Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was just eighteen when she and Percy Shelley visited Lord Byron in Switzerland. Inspired by their conversations, their reading, and the dreary weather outside, Byron challenged them all to write original supernatural tales. Thus the seed of Frankenstein was sown. It began life as a short story and then grew into the classic novel we all know today, originally published in 1918, when Shelley was 21.

The most well-known teen writer off all time, of course, is Anne Frank, who kept a diary detailing the trials and tribulations of herself and the Frank family as they lived their life in hiding from the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands. Anne received the diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday in 1942, and she began writing in it two days later. Her last entry, made shortly before her family was discovered and arrested, was written August 1, 1944. Realizing the import of her situation, she wrote it as not just a diary, but as a document of the time, and it has survived as just that: a literary and historical staple read the world over. Another work, Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex, compiles Anne’s non-diary writings, comprising short stories and essays, and even the beginnings of a novel.

Fortunately, most writers—teen or otherwise—toil under circumstances far less harrowing.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Simple Bare Necessities – On Broadway!

Written by Kyle Slagley

Disney Theatrical Productions is at it again, this time in the jungles of India with Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo in tow. I read in Variety not too long ago that the 1967 animated film The Jungle Book has made its debut as a main-stage production this year.

Most folks are familiar with the Rudyard Kipling classic story of a boy raised by wolves in the jungle, the animated film having been a staple for parents for nearly 50 years. With classic songs like “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” it’s unsurprising that Disney Animation decided to transport the story from the screen to the stage.

According to Variety, the show is a partnership between Disney Theatrical Prods and two different theatres, Chicago’s Goodman Theater and Boston’s Huntington Theater. It premiered at the Goodman in June and has just extended its run for the third time; the Huntington responded by extending their run as well, even though the show doesn’t premiere until September 7.

Founded in 1993, Disney Theatrical Prods (like every other arm of the Mouse House) is no stranger to wildly successful shows, and since Disney has that annoying habit of sending movie favourites back into the Disney Vault, the stage shows are a great way to tide fans over between releases.

Beauty and the Beast – Premiering in 1993 in Houston, Texas, the Broadway production began previews in April of 1994. Based on the 1991 animated film (now “in the vault”), the show finally closed in 2007 after more than 5,400 performances. Touring productions have hit over 14 countries. Not bad for being the first stage show Disney ever produced.

The Lion King – Following the huge success of the 1994 animated film (in the vault), the musical debuted in Minneapolis in July of 1997; three months later, in October, it was a smash success on Broadway. Expanding on the music of the film, and putting some of the most majestic costumes ever seen on stage (and in the audience!) have ensured that even now, more than fifteen years later, the show is still running and consistently one of the highest grossing shows on Broadway. If you consider yourself a theatre fan and haven’t seen this show, shame on you.

Mary Poppins – The infamous British nanny, immortalized by Julie Andrews on the silver screen in the 1964 film (in the vault), made her debut on the Great White Way in 2006 after finding success in the UK. The first of the Disney Live Action films to be adapted to the stage, it ran until March of this year when it closed after 2,619 performances. This story makes it back to the movie theatres this fall in “Saving Mr. Banks,” a biopic starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson about Walt Disney and P. L. Travers, author of the original book.

Newsies – One of the hottest new musicals on Broadway right now, the show was supposed to have a limited run beginning in late March of 2012. After being extended to mid-August, Disney announced on May 16 that the show will continue indefinitely. Based on the 1992 film starring Christian Bale, which chronicles the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, the show was written by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein. It was reported in May that producers are trying to find a theatre in London’s West-End to host a production for the spring of 2014.

Aladdin – Having already premiered in Seattle in 2011, the show bounced to St. Louis in 2012, and will land on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theater (home of Mary Poppins before it closed) sometime in 2014. Residents and visitors to Toronto will have a short window from November 13 to January 12 to catch a performance at the Ed Mirvish Theater before it lands for good in New York.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Civil Wars on Hiatus, Release Album Anyway

Written by Jon Williams

On Tuesday, the Civil Wars released their sophomore album, the self-titled The Civil Wars, despite the duo being on indefinite hiatus.

Singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White were both working on solo careers when they met at a writing session in 2008 and decided to pair up. After two digital EPs were released online, their full-length album debut Barton Hollow came out in February of 2011. The album was given a boost by the single “Poison and Wine,” which appeared on the hit TV show Grey’s Anatomy, and yet another boost when country superstar Taylor Swift announced her love for their music. Riding this wave of support, the album won two Grammy Awards, for Best Folk Album and Best Performance by a Country Duo/Group.

Williams and White struck up a friendship with Swift, and the three of them recorded a single, “Safe and Sound,” that appeared on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games, along with another Civil Wars tune. With a great deal of critical and commercial success, the duo seemed to be on top of the music world. In November of 2012, though, they announced their hiatus. It was during the period leading up to this announcement that they recorded their second album.

While undoubtedly difficult, it’s not exactly uncommon for bands to record together during times of internal turmoil. The stories are legendary, for instance, of the discord among the members of the Beatles as they recorded such work as the White Album and Abbey Road, some of their finest work. Here are a few other bands nearly as famous for their internal strife as they are for their music.

The Beach Boys: Primary members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine have been feuding off and on (mostly on) for decades. In 2012 they got together for a reunion tour and a new album, That’s Why God Made the Radio; the future of the legendary band is up in the air.

Guns N’ Roses: To an outsider, it would appear as though lead singer Axl Rose isn’t exactly the easiest guy in the world to get along with. After the tension between Rose and guitarist Slash finally dissolved the band’s most well-known version, it would take fifteen years and a number of lineup changes before Chinese Democracy was finally unleashed on the world in 2008.

Van Halen: The band was named after brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, the band’s guitarist and drummer, but in the beginning most of the attention was focused on flashy frontman David Lee Roth. This caused friction that led to Roth being replaced with Sammy Hagar in 1985. After Hagar quit/was fired in 1996, the band went through singer turmoil for years before eventually reuniting with Roth for A Different Kind of Truth in 2012. In the meantime, they also picked up another Van Halen, firing original bassist Michael Anthony and replacing him with Eddie’s son Wolfgang.

Oasis: Unlike Van Halen, in which a pair of brothers stood united as they formed and reformed the rest of the band around them, the conflict in Oasis was between a pair of brothers. Singer Liam Gallagher and guitarist Noel Gallagher had a history of being unable to get along, sometimes to the point of violence. It reached a head in 2009, when Noel left the band and formed Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, while Liam and the rest of the band stayed together under the moniker Beady Eye.