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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Family Guy Bids Adieu to…

Written by Jon Williams

Normally we’re not in the habit of discussing major plot points like character deaths in ongoing television shows—partially because we’d hate to give away spoilers, and partially because we’d have to dedicate this space to Game of Thrones on a regular basis. However, if you’ve been on the Internet at all this week, it’s been impossible to avoid the news that the animated series Family Guy has killed off one of its most beloved original characters: the Griffin family’s intelligent talking dog, Brian.

Brian was voiced by the show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane voices several characters in the show, but Brian spoke with his actual speaking voice. The show debuted on Fox after the Super Bowl in 1999 and originally ran for three seasons before being cancelled by the network. However, a number of factors, including strong DVD sales and high ratings for reruns, led to the show being brought back for a fourth season in 2005. The show has been in production ever since and is currently in its twelfth season.

Family Guy has turned into quite a success in its own right, but it also served as a launching pad for the career of the multitalented MacFarlane. He has developed further animated shows with American Dad! and The Cleveland Show (a Family Guy spinoff which has recently been cancelled after four seasons). He currently serves as executive producer for the live-action sitcom Dads (starring Family Guy voice actor Seth Green), which is in its first season, and is co-producing an update of Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking 1980 science/astronomy series Cosmos. He has also made the jump from the small screen to the big screen, writing, directing, and starring (via voice, of course) in the comedy Ted, about a boy who wishes his teddy bear to life and grows into adulthood with the bear as his best friend. He is also an accomplished singer, and provided an opening number for another animated hit, the Futurama movie Into the Wild Green Yonder.

Still, even with all these other projects, MacFarlane is still most closely associated with Family Guy, which now must go forward without Brian Griffin. While this may not quite rank with the death of Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H, it still has some longtime fans up in arms. Hopes are high that the series will find a way to bring him back at some point, but only time will tell.

SmartBrowse Family Guy on our homepage for the complete collection of episodes on DVD (plus the hilarious Star Wars spoofs), and SmartBrowse Seth MacFarlane for a wide variety of titles from this multifaceted entertainer.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Monty Python Not Dead Yet

Written by Kyle Slagley

I was rather an unusual child. While my peers were referencing shows like Beavis & Butthead, I was prattling on about dead parrots, African v. European Swallows, lumberjacks, and knights who say “Ni!” For folks out there that understand all (or any) of those references, the following announcement will be very welcome news. *Nudge nudge wink wink* Know what I mean?

On Wednesday, the five surviving members of British comedy troupe Monty Python announced that they are indeed reuniting in the summer of 2014 for one night only. The show will take place at the London O2 Arena on July 1st of next year, and according to Eric Idle will include “comedy, pathos, music and a tiny piece of ancient sex.”

Sounds about right from the group who achieved legendary status on a mixture of dry wit, absurd slapstick, and sexual innuendo. The July 2014 performance is a monumental event for the five members, who haven’t performed together since 1980.

The members of Monty Python (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman [1941-1989]) all worked on various British TV shows during the 1960s prior to the kickoff of their breakthrough series Monty Python’s Flying Circus in October 1969. Between 1964 and 1969, the six men collaborated in various combinations and eventually ITV offered Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin a series together, while at the same time BBC offered Chapman and Cleese a show. Cleese would then invite Palin to join the BBC show, the other three would follow, and Flying Circus would be the hilarious result.

Flying Circus ran on BBC from 1969 through 1974. The series was introduced in Canada in 1970 on CBC, but was pulled after Christmas that year. It would be another four years before the show made its way to U.S. audiences on PBS in 1974, after the series had finished for good on BBC.

Between seasons three and four, the group filmed their first fully original movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Having left Flying Circus following the third season, Cleese returned to film the movie. As I’m sure you know, the film is a farce on the Arthurian legend and is full of bits that are still staples in pop-culture. Holy Grail was the group’s second feature film, their first being And Now For Something Completely Different, which was composed of reshot footage from the first two season of Flying Circus.

Though Holy Grail is probably more widely known in the U.S., it was the group’s third film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian that is often considered the best of the troupe’s work, and also one of the best comedy films of all time. Funded by former Beatles band member George Harrison, the film was released in 1979 and follows a man whose life parallels that of Jesus Christ.

The troupe’s last film, Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, was made with a structure similar to that of their original Flying Circus days. A series of sketches loosely follows the timeline of man from birth through death. Some of the best musical numbers in the troupe’s repertoire came out of this film, most of which are available on their album Monty Python Sings. The group freely admits that by the time the project rolled around, their aim was to offend “absolutely everyone.”

In recent years, the musical Spamalot has been the most visible Monty Python work. Based on Holy Grail, Eric Idle wrote the book for the hit that would star some of the biggest names in Broadway theatre and ultimately be nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning three.

There is no word yet on whether the troupe’s one-off show in July will be recorded, but I would be shocked if it weren’t. There have been quite a few specials and shows over the years billed as “Monty Python Reunion” events, but none of them involved every surviving member as this one will. If and when Monty Python Live (mostly) is released on video, you can be sure we’ll let you know.

For a complete listing of all our available Monty Python titles and documentaries, click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Catching Fire Comes to Theatres on Friday

Written by Jon Williams

The biggest buzz in the worlds of entertainment and pop culture this week surrounds Catching Fire, the second film in the Hunger Games series. The first film was one of the biggest blockbusters of 2012, a year that was full of them, grossing over $400 million in North America. The second film is expected to bring in similar numbers at the box office.

If there’s still anyone out there who’s unfamiliar, the films are based on a trilogy of dystopian young adult novels by Suzanne Collins dealing with a futuristic society that keeps its citizens in line, in part, by requiring each District to submit two teenage contestants to an annual reality show-type competition in which the winner is the only survivor. The first novel and film follow protagonist Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers for the Hunger Games in place of her young sister, who is selected to participate. In Catching Fire, Katniss is thrust into competition once again when the Games draw contestants from past champions.

The films are complemented by soundtracks featuring an all-star lineup of names from popular music performing tracks that set a thrilling and atmospheric vibe that perfectly capture the mood. The soundtrack to the first film, Songs from District 12 and Beyond, was produced by T Bone Burnett (known for other soundtracks like O Brother Where Art Thou, Walk the Line, and Crazy Heart) and featured two tracks from Taylor Swift, along with notable names like Maroon 5, Miranda Lambert, and Arcade Fire, to name just a few.

The Catching Fire soundtrack (available in a standard version and a deluxe edition which includes three extra tracks), which came out on Tuesday this week, is just as impressive. The lead single “Atlas” comes from platinum-selling rock band Coldplay, accompanied by a song (“We Remain”) from pop songstress and The Voice judge Christina Aguilera. It also contains tracks from two recent favourites of mine: the National (who I discovered when they performed “The Rains of Castamere” for Game of Thrones and whose work I’ve been greedily consuming ever since) and teen sensation Lorde, who provides a haunting and propulsive cover of the Tears for Fears hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Interest in all things Hunger Games is sure to be at a fever pitch throughout Catching Fire’s theatrical run. Be sure to have the first film, the music, and the audiobooks on your shelves for patrons to enjoy, and visit our website to find more music from the outstanding artists featured on the soundtracks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tales from the Darkside Reboot on Tap

Written by Jon Williams

Fans of horror TV, rejoice! Although it’s too late for Halloween, word came down last night that a team has been assembled to reboot the classic macabre 1980s series Tales from the Darkside. The update will air on the CW network as a half-hour series beginning in the summer of 2014.

The original series was created by horror legend George A. Romero, who directed and co-wrote the seminal zombie film Night of the Living Dead in 1968. In 1982 he teamed up with Stephen King  for the film Creepshow, which was an anthology film made up of several horror stories. The success of that film led to the idea of a horror-themed TV series, which became Tales from the Darkside.

The show debuted in 1984 and ran for four seasons, with each episode telling a new story. With new characters each week, the show had quite a large cast, featuring such stars as Phyllis Diller, John Heard, Carol Kane, Darren McGavin, Jerry Stiller, Abe Vigoda, Seth Green, Marcia Cross, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Christian Slater, to name just a few. After its four-season run on television, the show spawned a feature film of its own in 1990, which starred Slater along with Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Debbie Harry.

Tales from the Darkside certainly wasn’t the first or only show of its type. It owed a debt of gratitude to The Twilight Zone, the pioneering show of strange tales which originally ran from 1959 to 1964. The format became quite popular in the ‘80s, with Tales from the Darkside being joined by Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and a Twilight Zone revival in 1985, and then followed by HBO’s Tales from the Crypt in 1989.

Set to write the scripts for the new series is acclaimed author Joe Hill—son of Romero collaborator and original Darkside contributor Stephen King (who had his own horror anthology show with 2006’s Nightmares & Dreamscapes). This isn’t the only film work Hill has on tap—his novel Horns has been adapted into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple (which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will release theatrically in 2014), and his comic series Locke & Key is being adapted into a film as well.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Celebrating Hendrix

Written by Jon Williams

Earlier this week, PBS aired a new documentary on Jimi Hendrix as part of its American Masters series. Hear My Train a Comin’ explores the legendary guitar wizard’s life and career in his own words, intermixed with previously unseen concert footage and conversations with friends, family, and contemporaries. Its showing winds down a year-long celebration of Hendrix that commenced on what would have been his 70th birthday, 27 November 2012. The documentary is already available on both DVD for classic rock-loving patrons who may have missed its original airing, or who just want to see it again.

Although Hendrix’s life and career were brief (he died at age 27 after only 4 years of musical success), both are worth exploring. The incandescent performer’s confident and flamboyant stage persona was a front for a quiet, shy personality away from it. After working early on as a sideman to such entertainers as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, his career began in earnest in 1966 when his manager began recruiting musicians to join a band designed to highlight Hendrix’s talent, and thus the Jimi Hendrix Experience was born. Their first album, Are You Experienced? (currently out of print), contained such staples as “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” and “Foxy Lady.”

Despite such a powerhouse track listing and a strong start in Great Britain (where it was kept from #1 only by the seminal Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Hendrix’s career got off to a lukewarm start in North America. The Experience’s first single, “Hey Joe,” failed to chart upon its release. While the music fell short, Hendrix finally managed to capture everyone’s attention with his stage antics. On the recommendation of Paul McCartney, who saw Hendrix perform a blistering version of “Sgt. Pepper” just three days after its release, the Experience was invited to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in California in June of 1967. At the end of their performance, Hendrix famously lit his guitar on fire, making a name for himself and cementing his place in rock n’ roll lore. This performance (and more from the festival) can be seen on The Complete Monterey Pop Festival DVD and Blu-ray available from the Criterion Collection.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience followed up Are You Experienced? with just two more studio albums during Jimi’s lifetime. Axis: Bold as Love was released later in 1967 to capitalize on the success of the first album, and the first side of the original album had to be hurriedly remixed after Hendrix left the master tapes in a taxi. The double album Electric Ladyland (also out of print), released late in 1968, featured two songs greater than 13 minutes in length, plus a cover of the Bob Dylan song “All Along the Watchtower,” which has become one of Hendrix’s signature songs.

Hendrix’s tragic death in September of 1970 at the age of 27 was a major blow to the music world, which earlier that year had already experienced the breakup of the Beatles. However, he left behind a treasure trove of unreleased materials, resulting in a number of posthumous releases that continue to this day. Valleys of Neptune, released in 2010, contained a number of previously unreleased tracks Hendrix had been working on in preparation for a fourth album; another such album, People, Hell and Angels, was released earlier this year. Audio engineer Eddie Kramer, who worked extensively with Hendrix during his lifetime, says this 2013 album has exhausted the supply of unreleased Hendrix studio tracks, but that other live albums may eventually be made available.

Although Hendrix’s career was cut short, his influence on rock music was undeniable, and interest in his music remains very strong. SmartBrowse his name on our website to see the wide range of CDs, concert and documentary DVDs, and other materials we have available from and about this amazingly talented and transcendent musician.