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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Main Cast Announced for Star Wars Episode VII

Written by Jon Williams

Over the years, May 4 has become a day each year for Star Wars fans to celebrate the saga. This year, in advance of Star Wars Day’s approach, a plethora of news has been coming out of Disney and Lucasfilm in regards to what comes next for the beloved galaxy far, far away.

The first bit of news came down last week when it was announced that the existing “Expanded Universe,” consisting of novels, comics, video games, and anything else that wasn’t part of the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, or the Clone Wars cartoon series, would be undergoing a reboot. Those previous installments will still be available under the new “Legends” banner, while new stories going forward will be part of the “official” timeline being created. The first novel to be part of this new timeline will be A New Dawn, written by John Jackson Miller, author of Kenobi, now part of the Legends timeline.  A New Dawn will be published on September 2 and will lead into the new animated series Star Wars Rebels, which will air this fall on the Disney Channel and Disney XD.

That news, big as it was for longtime fans, paled in comparison to what came out yesterday, which is the main cast list for the first installment of the new trilogy of films, which is scheduled to open in theatres worldwide on December 18, 2015. First, to no one’s surprise but everyone’s delight, the primary cast from the original trilogy is returning to reprise their familiar roles. This includes Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and Kenny Baker as R2-D2. This seems to leave out Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian; but, as he didn’t show up until the second film of the original trilogy, perhaps that’s the case this time around as well.

Along with these familiar faces, a number of newcomers were announced as part of the cast as well. The biggest name is veteran Max von Sydow, the legendary Swedish actor whose career dates back to 1949 and who has appeared in such legendary films as The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist, to name just two. He will be joined by Andy Serkis, the motion-capture expert responsible for Gollum and King Kong. The rest are relative newcomers: Adam Driver from Girls, John Boyega from Attack the Block, Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis, Domhnall Gleeson from About Time, and unknown actress Daisy Ridley, with just a handful of bit parts to her name, including one episode in the second season of Mr. Selfridge.

And this may not be the end of Star Wars casting news for Episode VII. Rumour has it that director J.J. Abrams is looking to fill one more female part. One name that has been mentioned in connection with that part is another unknown: British actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers. Another name getting a lot of buzz is Lupita Nyong’o, this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave.

Whether or not those last two names play out, time will tell. The others, though, have now been officially confirmed, and legions of Star Wars fans will want to check out the work of all these actors new to the universe. Make sure you have these titles on your shelves, and SmartBrowse each actor’s name on our website for more.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Be on the Lookout for New Prince Tunes

Written by Jon Williams

On July 27, 1984, the movie Purple Rain was released into theatres. Starring Prince in his feature film debut, it follows a talented young musician as he struggles to discover what it takes to succeed in the music business, and has since become a cult classic. Even more significant than the film itself, of course, is the soundtrack, which came out about a month before the movie. The album added a rock vibe to Prince’s previous R&B sound, to great effect. It spawned a number of his best-known singles, including “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” in addition to the sprawling title track, and is consistently mentioned as one of the best albums of the ‘80s, if not all time.

Last week, in anticipation of Purple Rain’s upcoming 30th anniversary, Prince released a statement announcing a new record deal with Warner Bros. that heralds new music on the horizon. One project that is certain is a remastered deluxe edition of the Purple Rain soundtrack, as well as a new original album. He even offered a teaser, releasing last weekend a new single, “The Breakdown,” which is available for streaming through a number of entertainment websites.

Prince has had a long and storied career with plenty of ups and downs, not to mention its share of controversy, including the period when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and was referred to as “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” One thing that has remained constant throughout, though, is the high quality music he produces, as well as music lovers’ demand for it. As more information comes out on new releases from Prince, be they new or reissues of past classics, we’ll have it for you. In the meantime, SmartBrowse “Prince” on our website to see all we currently offer from this gifted musician.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday to the Bard!

Written by Jon Williams

On this day 450 years ago, William Shakespeare was born. And on this day 398 years ago, he died. In between, in his exactly 52 years of life, he created many of the finest works of literature and drama in the English language.

Being so long ago, the chronology of Shakespeare’s work is difficult to nail down with any accuracy. However, it is widely believed that the historical plays Richard III and Henry VI are his earliest works, likely written in the early 1590s. Shortly thereafter, the mid-1590s saw Shakespeare writing a number of his great comedies, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. These are balanced, of course, by fantastic tragedies like Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth—not to mention Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, two of the best-loved and most-performed plays of all time.

Of course, reading or hearing Shakespeare’s plays read is just one way to savour the Bard’s genius. Seeing them performed onstage is yet another. For the truly dedicated and ambitious, the BBC offers a 37-volume DVD set comprising recorded performances of all of Shakespeare’s plays. For the less ambitious, each of those volumes is available individually as well, as are many different versions of both his most famous and his lesser-known works.

In addition to staged performances, Shakespeare has provided plenty of inspiration for Hollywood over the years. One of the most recent instances is Joss Whedon’s acclaimed 2012 production of Much Ado about Nothing, filmed at his own house. Other notable examples include two versions of Hamlet— the essential 1948 version starring Sir Laurence Olivier as the Danish prince, and the 1990 version starring Mel Gibson—and Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. And there are a number of films that take the premises of Shakespeare’s stories and repurpose them, like Kiss Me, Kate and 10 Things I Hate About You, both based on The Taming of the Shrew, and any number from Romeo and Juliet—among them West Side Story and the 2013 zomromcom Warm Bodies.

And all this is just scratching the surface of the sheer wealth of material by, about, and adapted from Shakespeare and his works (after all, we haven’t even mentioned his sonnets). For plenty more, be sure to SmartBrowse ‘Shakespeare’ on our website. And be sure to let your Bard-loving patrons know that a number of his plays are available in audiobook form on hoopla, as well as some other materials they may find interesting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Pulitzers Announced

Written by Jon Williams

On Monday, the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes were awarded by Columbia University. While most closely associated with journalism (being named after newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer), Prizes are also awarded in several literary categories, in addition to one for music.

This year’s fiction and non-fiction awards went to a pair of incredibly deserving books. The Goldfinch, released in October, was Donna Tartt’s first novel in eleven years, following up 2002’s The Little Friend (currently out of print). The Goldfinch opens with the main character, teenaged Theo, surviving a terrorist bombing (which claims the life of his mother) at an art museum, and follows as the repercussions of that day reverberate throughout his life. Tartt is an interesting figure in the literary world, shunning interviews and fame and producing new books only rarely; The Goldfinch is just her third novel, with the first being published in 1992.

In the non-fiction category, this year’s Prize went to Dan Fagin for his book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. Toms River, New Jersey, is a town renowned for its propensity for sending youngsters to play in the Little League World Series. It has another history, though, as home to a cancer cluster that in 2001 was legally linked to a pattern of toxic dumping. Fagin brings to light the story of how that judgment came about, including the deception of those who kept the dumping going on for so long and the struggles of those who had to live with the consequences of their actions.

With their wins, these authors have etched their names in history alongside a number of well-known books both classic and contemporary. In just the past ten years, Pulitzer Prizes for fiction have gone to such books as A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011), Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2009), and The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2007), just to name a few. Since the award was first given in 1918, winners have included The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1928), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1940), The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1952), The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961), A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1981), Beloved by Toni Morrison (1988), and The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1999).

Again, this is just a small sampling of the many wonderful and beloved books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction over the years. Still more have won for non-fiction, in the general category as well as for history and biography. For a full selection of Pulitzer Prize winners available from CVS Midwest Tape, SmartBrowse ‘Pulitzer Prize’ on our homepage.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Finally! A TV Show about Librarians (Sort Of)

Written by Jon Williams

Now here's something we all can enjoy. Coming to the TNT network later this year, a new TV series called The Librarians will continue the story of the highly successful movie trilogy whose installments have aired on the network in 2004, 2006, and 2008, respectively.

The movies starred Noah Wyle (of ER fame) as scholar Flynn Carsen, who’s hired for a post at the Metropolitan Library. Once ensconced in this new job, he must undertake an action-packed Da Vinci Code-type quest to solve cryptic clues to retrieve and then protect a collection of powerful objects and artifacts. He is joined in all three films by Jane Curtin and Bob Newhart, who serve as his mentors in his role as the Librarian.

In the first film, Quest for the Spear, Carsen first takes the job as Librarian and discovers what his new role entails. Soon, a piece of the Spear of Destiny is stolen by Edward Wilde (Kyle MacLachlan), the previous Librarian, and Wyle’s character must recover it and track down the remaining two pieces to keep them out of the hands of evil. The second installment, Return to King Solomon’s Mines, features an amulet that is key to the discovery of the Book of Solomon, which in turn gives its possessor the power to control space and time. Finally, in The Curse of the Judas Chalice, Carsen must try and keep the fabled chalice from a powerful, ancient vampire.

The Librarians will pick up where the last movie left off. While Wyle will appear in his role as Flynn Carsen, he’ll be joined by four new recruits brought in to assist in a role that is growing far too unwieldy for just one person to handle. Chief among the newcomers will be Eve Baird, played by Rebecca Romijn. While both Curtin and Newhart will also be returning, the new ringleader for this group of librarians will be played by veteran actor John Larroquette. This group will be opposed by the Serpent Brotherhood that was led by Kyle MacLachlan in the first film, now headed by a mysterious figure named Dulaque, played by Matt Frewer.

While these characters’ jobs may be slightly out of line from what’s typically expected of a librarian, we say that anything to draw attention to public libraries is a good thing. While no premiere date has been set, look for the first of the series’ ten episodes to air before the end of 2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Get Ready to Sing Your Face Off

Written by Jon Williams

Speaking of TV singing competitions, here comes one with a twist.

Premiering on Saturday, May 31, ABC’s Sing Your Face Off will not feature an unknown cast of varying talents vying for fame and recording contracts. Instead, it will feature a number of celebrities who will attempt to bring an iconic singer or pop star (such as Lady Gaga or Luciano Pavarotti) to life through individual performances. This is not limited to the choice of song, but will be judged also on criteria such as mannerisms and incorporation of signature dance movies, for instance. If the show stays true to its inspiration, the international hit Your Face Sounds Familiar, the performer each contestant must impersonate will be randomly selected each week.

The five people selected to complete on this show reflect a wide range of celebrity backgrounds. One contestant will be NBA star Landry Fields, who plays for the Toronto Raptors. His fellow performers come from more conventionally related fields in the entertainment industry. One is actress Lisa Rinna, best known for her roles on Days of Our Lives and Melrose Place. She’ll be joined by fellow actor and comedian Jon Lovitz, a Saturday Night Live alumnus who has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows in addition to voiceover work and Broadway shows. Combining the acting and music worlds is China Anne McClain, best known for starring in the Disney Channel series A.N.T. Farm and performing on the soundtrack. Rounding out the cast is rocker Sebastian Bach, who fronted the band Skid Row in their late-eighties/early-nineties heyday and his since embarked on a solo career.

Of course, as with any singing show, its success will depend as much on the judges as it does on the cast. Sing Your Face Off’s regular panel of judges will consist of two members. On the musical/singing side there’s Debbie Gibson, the ‘80s pop sensation who first hit #1 with her 1988 single “Foolish Beat.” Judging other aspects of the performances will be Darrell Hammond, another SNL alum known for his hilarious impressions of various well-known figures. The show is also scheduled to have a number of celebrity guest judges. And serving as host will be Scottish actor John Barrowman. In addition to a number of roles on Broadway, Barrowman’s face is familiar from his role as Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood.

With its varied array of talent and its far-out premise, this show promises to be a good time, and will likely garner quite a bit of attention when it airs. Make sure your patrons have access to the work of all the celebrities who will appear on the show so they can explore their previous work.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Voice Welcomes New Coach

Written by Jon Williams

The singing competition show The Voice began in 2011 as other networks looked to capitalize on the phenomenal popularity and ratings enjoyed by Fox’s American Idol. Knowing that Idol was brought to the U.S. from the U.K., NBC also looked abroad for inspiration, bringing The Voice stateside from its origins in Holland.

For those who haven’t seen it, the concept of The Voice begins, similar to Idol and other singing competitions, with a singer coming onstage and performing for a panel of judges. The twist is that, on this show, the judges are facing away from the performer and are able to make their appraisals only on the person’s voice and singing ability. When one (or more) of the judges hears something they like, pressing a button swings their chair around to face the performer, thereby “claiming” that performer. From that point on, the judge becomes a coach, helping the performer to achieve their fullest potential as the show progresses.

Currently midway through its sixth season, The Voice has proved to be quite a hit, scoring consistently high ratings and a number of awards and nominations. Winners of the first five seasons were Javier Colon, Jermaine Paul, Cassadee Pope, Danielle Bradbery, and Tessanne Chin, with other notable performers including Dia Frampton and Tony Lucca.

As much as the performers themselves, the show attracts attention due to its high-powered panel of celebrity judges/coaches. The original group consisted of rocker Adam Levine of Maroon 5, hip-hop and R&B star Cee Lo Green, pop diva Christina Aguilera, and country heartthrob Blake Shelton. That combination stayed together for three seasons. For the fourth season, Cee Lo and Christina Aguilera stepped away, and their seats were filled by Usher and Shakira. The original group reunited for season five, but the current season sees the season four group together again.

Recently, Cee Lo announced that he would not be returning to the show. Although the sixth season is still ongoing (the finale is set for Tuesday, May 20), a new judge for season seven has already be introduced. It will be none other than Pharrell Williams, riding the wave of success caused by his hit song “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, which also features on his recently released sophomore album, GIRL. This won’t be Pharrell’s first experience with The Voice; Usher brought him in to mentor his performers (and perform himself) during season four.

In 2013, Canada got its own version of The Voice, titled La Voix. Originating in Quebec, it is currently in its second season. The first season winner, Valerie Carpentier, released her debut album in November. She was coached by Ariane Moffatt; other first season coaches were Jean-Pierre Ferland, Marie-Mai, and Marc Dupre. Of that group, only Dupre is back for the second season, which premiered on January 19. He is joined this season by Eric Lapointe, Isabelle Boulay, and Louis-Jean Cormier.

Season seven of The Voice (U.S.) will air on NBC later this year. If the excitement over Pharrell’s involvement is any indication, it’s primed to be a bigger hit than ever. Make sure to have plenty of music by past performers and their coaches on your shelves for your patrons to explore and enjoy.