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Friday, December 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye in 2016

Written by Jon Williams

It was a cruel and heartbreaking year in the entertainment industry, with the passing of so many larger-than-life figures, so many of them in unexpected fashion. And unfortunately, 2016 ended much the same way it began. Our first blog post of the year reflected on the passing of David Bowie, and it was followed up a week later with one memorializing Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey. It got no easier from there; some of the notable names we lost in 2016 include Abe Vigoda, Harper Lee, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Doris Roberts, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Elie Wiesel, Garry Marshall, Juan Gabriel, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Seeing those names all listed together, it’s a pretty stark list of so many talented people. And sadly, even the holiday season offered no respite. On December 24 we lost Richard Adams, author of the classic Watership Down (which George R.R. Martin called “one of the three great fantasy novels of the twentieth century”) as well as several other well-received novels. Then, the next day, came the passing of pop superstar George Michael, a groundbreaking figure in popular culture who won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his debut solo album, 1987’s Faith.

On Monday of this week, Carrie Fisher passed away. Fisher, of course, will forever be most associated with her role playing Princess Leia in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, and then later in The Force Awakens, but there was much more to her than just that one role, iconic as it may be. In addition to her acting career, she was also an acclaimed writer, responsible for the semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge, as well as the screenplay for the film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Her one-woman show Wishful Drinking was turned into a successful book, and her most recent memoir, The Princess Diarist, was released earlier this year. What many fans don’t know is that she put her writing talent to good use during her Hollywood career, serving as an uncredited “script doctor” to punch up dialogue for such films as the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Scream 3, and The Wedding Singer, among others.

What makes the story even sadder is that Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away just one day later. An actress, singer, and dancer, Reynolds earned a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 18 for Most Promising Newcomer, and her breakout came when she starred opposite Gene Kelly in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. She followed that up with roles in films like The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Bundle of Joy, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. More recent performances included a recurring role on Will & Grace and as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra. She even did some voice acting, starting with Charlotte’s Web in 1973 and continuing through The Penguins of Madagascar. The relationship between Reynolds and Fisher is explored in the documentary Bright Lights, which will air on HBO next month.

As we get set to watch the ball drop on 2016 this weekend, we can only hope that the coming year will be a kinder one. In the meantime, libraries can help keep the memories of all these wonderful performers alive by sharing with patrons the incredible work they left behind.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Force Is Strong with Rogue One

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story rolled into theatres, thrilling fans eagerly anticipating the franchise’s first standalone movie. It has dominated the box office since then, earning more than $350 million worldwide with another big weekend coming up. While the movie won’t be available on DVD and Blu-ray for a while, fans can relive the excitement with the novelization (also available for younger listeners). With such popularity, patrons are sure to be interested in exploring not just the story surrounding the movie, but other movies from the new cast as well.

The first place to start is with James Luceno’s novel Catalyst, which ties directly into Rogue One. It tells the story of brilliant scientist Galen Erso and how he is pulled into the Death Star project by Director Orson Krennic. In 2014, Luceno also wrote the novel Tarkin, detailing the early career of another character who figures prominently in Rogue One, as well as the original Star Wars movie, 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope.

One “new” character introduced in Rogue One is Saw Gerrera, the leader of a Rebel extremist group. “New” is in quotation marks, of course, because the character isn’t actually new at all. He first appeared four years ago in the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated series that bridged the gap between Episodes II and III, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. At that time, he was a young militant being trained by the likes of Anakin Skywalker; his older, more experienced self will soon be joining this season of Star Wars: Rebels, voiced by acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker, who portrays him in Rogue One.

Gerrera’s function in the movie is to bring together the band of rebels who will attempt to steal the Death Star plans. He can serve this function because he was once a mentor to young Jyn Erso, daughter of the aforementioned Galen Erso, who helped design the Death Star’s weapons system. Jyn is played by Felicity Jones, who won an Academy Award for her performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything and has also appeared in such films as Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Bringing Jyn into the Rebellion and leading the mission to help her find her father is Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Acting from a young age, Luna is an acting staple to Mexican audiences. He was in the acclaimed film Y Tu Mama Tambien as well as the sci-fi film Elysium, among others. Andor in the film is accompanied by a droid sidekick, K-2SO, played in a motion-capture performance by Alan Tudyk. This was not his first robot portrayal, as he also played Sonny in I, Robot. A prolific comic actor, Tudyk starred as one of the title pair in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and also as Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.

Throwing in on the mission as well are the one-two punch of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Îmwe is a blind devotee of the Force who nonetheless is a valuable fighter. He’s played by Donnie Yen, a martial arts master who has starred in such films as Hero and the Ip Man trilogy. Malbus is his gun-toting companion who serves as his protector on the rare occasions when he needs one. Jiang Wen is an acclaimed Chinese actor and filmmaker; Rogue One is his first film produced primarily for an English-speaking audience.

The last member of the team, getting them from place to place, is the defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed. Ahmed was seen most recently in the hit HBO series The Night Of, and he also starred opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. He also features as a rapper (under the name Riz MC) on the Hamilton Mixtape. Needless to say, the past couple of weeks have been phenomenal for his career.

Opposing the Rebels in their efforts is Imperial officer Orson Krennic, overseer of the Death Star construction project. He’s played by Ben Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who has won an Emmy Award for his performance in Netflix’s Bloodline. He also appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, and will star as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the upcoming Robin Hood. And of course, a Star Wars movie dealing with the Rebellion against the Empire will be haunted by the specter of Darth Vader. The Dark Lord of the Sith does appear briefly in Rogue One, with his familiar forbidding voice being provided once again by James Earl Jones.

Fans who loved Rogue One will have all this to explore, and there’s always plenty to enjoy from the ever-expanding galaxy far, far away. SmartBrowse Star Wars on our website to find all the movies and TV series, not to mention soundtracks and audiobooks. In addition, patrons can head over to hoopla digital for a collection of eBooks and comics that they can enjoy right away on their smartphones or tablets.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Star Trek Turns 50

Written by Jon Williams

The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Its five-year mission:
To explore strange new worlds.
To seek out new life and new civilizations.
To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Those now-familiar words were first heard on September 6, 1956, when the very first episode of the original Star Trek television show made its debut. In the fifty years since, Star Trek has become a true touchstone, with phrases like “live long and prosper” and “beam me up, Scotty” making their way into the cultural lexicon. The show made stars of its primary cast members (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig), and has spawned numerous spinoffs, a movie franchise (including a reboot), and much more.

It seems hard to believe now, but that first Star Trek show ran for just three seasons, as it didn’t become a true hit until it was syndicated and shown in reruns. At that point, the original 79 episodes just weren’t quite enough, so, in 1973, the show was revived for an animated series that brought back all the original actors to voice their roles. Although it was also short-lived (spanning 22 episodes), it was well-received, even winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Series.

As the animated series wound down, Star Trek was at something of a crossroads. There was a demand for more, but it was unclear exactly what form it would take. Plans went into motion for a new television series, to be titled Phase II, but numerous problems eventually forced those plans to be scrapped. Instead, encouraged by the success that science fiction films were finding at the box office, Star Trek producers instead revived earlier plans to bring the Enterprise crew to the big screen. Those efforts paid off with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, again reuniting all the original cast members in their familiar roles.

The success of that movie spawned a franchise that would run for five more films featuring the beloved original cast. They were: The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home (1986), The Final Frontier (1989), and The Undiscovered Country (1991). It was with this last movie that Captain Kirk’s iconic line of “where no man has gone before” was updated to “where no one has gone before,” eliminating the gender-biased and (in a galaxy filled with aliens) species-biased language in keeping with the franchise’s ideals of equality.

That was when Captain Kirk first spoke those words, but it was not the first time Star Trek fans had heard them that way. In September of 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on television, set 100 years after the adventures of the original series and bringing a new cast (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, and Wil Wheaton) to the bridge of the Enterprise. Highly popular, this series ran for seven seasons and made its own eventual jump to the big screen. 1994’s Generations bridged the gap, starring the entire Next Generation cast and featuring several members of the original cast as well, in a story that saw Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard team up with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. The Next Generation cast then stayed in theatres for three more movies on their own: First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002).

The final season of The Next Generation aired in 1994, but that was far from the end of Star Trek on television. Before it ended, in 1993, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured an ensemble cast as the crew of a space station in a contested region. Then, beginning in 1995, came Star Trek: Voyager, which followed a new ship and crew helmed by Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway, trying to make their way home to Earth after being stranded on the other side of the galaxy. Like The Next Generation, both of these series ran for seven seasons. In 2001, after Voyager’s conclusion, Star Trek: Enterprise made its debut, starring Scott Bakula as the captain of the very first Federation starship to be named Enterprise, in a prequel to everything that had some before.

And of course there is the new movie series. In 2009, after a 7-year absence from theatres following Nemesis, Star Trek returned to the big screen in a reboot from J.J. Abrams starring a new cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, and the late Anton Yelchin) in the roles of the original crew, with Leonard Nimoy appearing as an older Spock in a nod to the alternate timelines the different casts now occupy. That was followed up in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness, and earlier this year with Star Trek Beyond.

All of this, and still Star Trek fans have plenty to look forward to. In addition to a fourth film with the new cast, there is also a new TV series in the works. Slated to debut in January, Star Trek: Discovery will detail the adventures of a new ship and crew in the ten years previous to the events of the original series. And of course, the TV series and movies are just a part of what the Star Trek franchise has to offer. SmartBrowse on our website for music scores and audiobooks, and you can also direct patrons to hoopla digital for Star Trek comics, audiobooks, and other novelties. Also, keep an eye out for a special Star Trek 50th anniversary flyer along with our September catalog mailing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Olympic Games Always Fascinate

Written by Jon Williams

The eyes of the world will turn to Brazil tonight as the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games take place there. There has already been plenty of talk leading up to this year’s games due to the less than ideal conditions in Rio, but for the next two weeks, the drama will hopefully be confined to the exploits of the athletes and teams as they compete for the gold in a myriad of events.

With all the excitement they generate, it’s no surprise that the Olympic Games are a much-explored subject in popular culture, with tales both true and fictional. On the true side, perhaps the most famous is Chariots of Fire, the 1981 film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, telling the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The iconic, inspirational musical score by Vangelis is nearly as well known as the movie itself. Running is actually one of the most frequent Olympic topics; in the late ‘90s, two different movies (Prefontaine and Without Limits) explore the distance running career and tragically short life of 1972 Olympian Steve Prefontaine.

More recently, the movie Race depicts the struggles Jesse Owens faced in his quest to become a track and field legend, particularly with the 1936 Olympics being held in Germany under the rule of Hitler. Some footage of Owens is on display in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, a groundbreaking documentary of those same Games by a problematic figure. The 1936 Olympics are also the topic of the 2013 bestseller by Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, a rousing story of that year’s U.S. rowing team. Likewise, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (made into a 2014 movie) tells the tale of 1936 Olympian Louis Zamperini and his incredible later exploits during World War II.

As much as the Olympics are about triumph, too often they are also marred by tragedy. One Day in September (currently unavailable) won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Documentary for its look at the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games. The aftermath of that event was portrayed in 2005’s Munich, in which Eric Bana plays a Mossad agent assigned with tracking down the perpetrators. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are reportedly putting together a movie that centers on the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta (a Games that, on the flip side, also provided such uplifting moments as Muhammad Ali lighting the torch and Kerri Strug sticking the landing that won gold for the women’s gymnastics team).

Thankfully, the Olympics have far more often inspired lighter fare. Just released on DVD and Blu-ray, The Bronze follows a former bronze-winning Olympic gymnast as she reluctantly coaches an up-and-coming phenom. Strangely, though, for most Olympics-related comedies, you have to turn to the Winter Games, which has inspired such movies as The Cutting Edge , Blades of Glory, and the mother of them all, Cool Runnings, about the fabled Jamaican bobsled team. And of course, we can’t mention Winter Olympics-related movies without listing Miracle, the story of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that defeated the heavily favoured Soviet team en route to an unlikely gold medal.

With the competition getting into full swing first thing tomorrow morning, appetite for all things Games-related is sure to be high. The titles listed here just scratch the surface of all the great Olympics titles available, so be sure to check out the collection on our website for more. You can also point them toward our selections of movies and audiobooks on our digital platform, hoopla digital.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In Memoriam: Garry Marshall

Written by Jon Williams

We’ve noted before that 2016 has been a difficult year in the entertainment industry, having already lost a number of notable names. Sadly, that trend held true this week with the passing of Garry Marshall, the legendary writer, director, and producer of comedies for the screen both big and small. He was 81 years old.

Marshall actually studied for a career in journalism, but he soon found his footing as a comedy writer. The early to mid-1960s were quite a busy time for him. He started off writing sketches for The Tonight Show when Jack Paar was the host, which soon led to gigs writing for some of the most popular sitcoms of the era, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and Gomer Pyle, USMC. In 1970 he had another hit on his hands when he, along with partner Jerry Belson, adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple into the beloved TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

And that’s where Marshall’s TV career really skyrocketed. In 1974 he created the iconic show Happy Days, that idyllic look at American life in the 1950s and ‘60s through the eyes of the Cunningham family. Spinning off from that show in 1976 came Laverne & Shirley, which starred Marshall’s sister Penny. Then, in 1978, he scored a real coup when he discovered Robin Williams and cast him as the title alien in the show Mork & Mindy, thus changing the face of comedy forever.

If that were all the credits to Garry Marshall’s name, that would still be a pretty outstanding career. But that’s not all by any means. Having worked exclusively in television to that point, in 1982 he stepped into the director’s role for his first feature film, Young Doctors in Love (currently unavailable). One of the movie’s cast members was Hector Elizondo, who became one of Marshall’s closest friends and would go on to have at least a minor role in each of his movies to come. And what movies they were—Marshall’s directorial credits include such well-loved films as Beaches, Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. His final films were a trio of holiday-related ensemble comedies: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and this year’s Mother’s Day.

Garry Marshall had a stellar career in comedy, and by all accounts he was as fine a person as he was an entertainer. His voice will be sadly missed, but library patrons can continue to enjoy and explore his hilarious and timeless work. Make sure you have all the classics listed above on your shelves, and you can SmartBrowse his name on our website for more selections.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Two Classic Books Coming to Theatres

Written by Jon Williams

Theatregoers heading to the box office this weekend will be faced with a plethora of choices, as usual, but for many of them it will come down to one big one: will it be Independence Day: Resurgence, opening nearly twenty years after the original, or will it be Finding Dory, the charming animated sequel to Finding Nemo, now in its second week of release? Tough call. And it won’t get any easier next weekend, which sees the opening of two new adaptations of beloved classic books.

One of these is The BFG, which is based upon the 1982 novel by whimsical children’s author Roald Dahl. Brought to the screen by director Steven Spielberg (and with a soundtrack by John Williams), it tells the fantastical tale of an orphan named Sophie, who is kidnapped by what turns out to be a Big Friendly Giant (hence the title), an outcast who needs her help to stop a band of giants with the not-so-friendly tendency to eat other children. This is the first live-action version of The BFG to be produced; a made-for-TV animated version came out in 1989.

Of course, Dahl wrote many classic children’s books, and many well-known adaptations have been made from them. He is perhaps best known for his 1964 tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the two movies made from it: the 1971 version Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (for which Dahl wrote the screenplay) starring Gene Wilder, and the 2005 version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. Other well-known movies made from Dahl’s works include James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, and Matilda.

The other adaptation coming to theatres next week is The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgard as the fabled man raised in the jungle by apes after the death of his parents. The character originated in the 1914 novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and continued on through a number of sequels. Burroughs was a prolific writer in the sci-fi and fantasy genres; he also wrote the Barsoom series (beginning with A Princess of Mars) that eventually spawned the film John Carter.

Tarzan, though, is far and away Burroughs’s most famous creation; he is, in fact, one of the most well-known characters in fiction, due in part (or maybe even primarily) to the sheer number of movies and TV shows in which he has featured. The most pervasive of these is a series of films starring gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller in the title role. One of the most successful TV series starred Ron Ely and ran from 1966-1968. Not surprisingly, Disney made the most popular animated version in 1999, with a star-studded voice cast and a soundtrack by Phil Collins.

So if history is any indication, both of these movies are sure to be quite popular, and patrons will be looking for related material (and, as always, you can search on our website for even more). Let us know which one you’ll be seeing when it’s released, and stay tuned in the coming months for DVD and Blu-ray release date information on these exciting new movies.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Joe Hill Heats Things Up

Written by Jon Williams

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA CC BY-SA 2.0

When you see a photo of writer Joe Hill, it’s easy to note the resemblance he bears to another novelist famous in the horror genre. It’s no secret now that Stephen King is Joe’s father, but that wasn’t always the case. When he was starting out, Joe wanted to make sure any success he achieved was on the merits of his work rather than as a result of a famous name, particularly as he knew his work would be in a similar orbit, genre-wise. Therefore, he dropped the last name of “King” and shortened his middle name (Hillstrom) to create his pseudonym.

A fact like that can only remain a secret for so long, though (a fact King learned himself with his own pen name, Richard Bachman). The news of Hill’s parentage broke around the same time his first novel was published in 2007. That novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is a seriously creepy story of aging rock star Judas Coyne, who buys a dead man’s suit—and the ghost that comes with it—over the Internet. The novel won both the Locus and Bram Stoker Awards for Best First Novel, proving definitively that Hill’s work was capable of standing on its own under any name he chose.

His second novel came three years later, in 2010. Horns is a haunting, tragic love story of a young man accused of his girlfriend’s murder, and the bizarre transformation his rage brings upon him. It has since been adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe as the man in question, Ignatius Perrish. Hill’s third novel, and most widely acclaimed so far, NOS4A2 (a vanity plate spelling of Nosferatu) came out in 2013, about a woman desperate to save her son from the clutches of a soul vampire.

While these gaps between books may seem abnormally long for a popular novelist, the multitalented Hill is far from idle during those times. Starting in 2008, he teamed up with artist Gabriel Rodriguez for Locke & Key, a dark fantasy comics series revolving around an old house and the mysterious, powerful keys that open the doors there. The last issue was published in 2013, and in 2015, it was adapted into a full-cast audio drama, and recently it was announced that a second attempt will be made to develop it into a television series as well. In 2013-14, Hill wrote the comics miniseries Wraith, which ties into NOS4A2 but also works as a standalone.  Additionally, his short story “The Cape” was adapted into a comic by Jason Ciaramella.

And now comes Hill’s fourth novel, The Fireman, published earlier this week. In it, the world has been decimated by a spore that causes people’s skin to break out in markings known as Dragonscale…until they eventually spontaneously combust. Into this world steps a man known as the Fireman, who has learned not only to manage the condition, but to use it. With this novel, Hill fully embraces his heritage, calling to mind the post-apocalyptic world his dad brought to the page in The Stand. Of course, that’s not to suggest that he’s rejected that heritage before—the two of them have fun with it, and have actually collaborated. Throttle is a tribute to classic horror writer Richard Matheson, while In the Tall Grass is an original novella the two wrote together.

The Fireman has drawn rave reviews, and will no doubt be one of the hits of the summer. Make sure you have plenty of copies for your patrons, as well as his past work for those who have yet to discover this relatively new talent.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Guide to the MCU

Written by Jon Williams

Captain America: Civil War landed in theatres last Friday and dominated the box office, and it looks to do the same this weekend. It tells the story of an ideological rift in the superhero team that leads to conflict between Captain America and Iron Man, as well as their various allies. It’s the latest installment in Marvel’s cinematic universe that dates back to 2008. In the eight years since, there have been a number of films and TV shows that have contributed to this universe, with plenty more on the horizon, and it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s out here. With that in mind, here’s a look at what you need to know about this ultra-popular series.

The whole shebang began in 2008 with Iron Man, in which Robert Downey Jr. plays billionaire playboy and technological genius Tony Stark, who fashions a powered armor suit for himself after being abducted by terrorists. Shortly thereafter came The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton in the role of Dr. Bruce Banner and his rage-fueled alter ego. Iron Man 2 was the first sequel in 2010. Then, in 2011, two new superheroes were introduced: Thor starred Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, and Captain America: The First Avenger told the WWII-era origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and brought him into the modern day. In 2012, Marvel brought Phase One of their cinematic universe to a close by assembling all these heroes (plus a couple of others, and replacing Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk) into an unstoppable fighting force known as The Avengers.

Phase Two began with movies featuring three of the individual avengers: Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014. That year also saw the introduction of a new team, more aliens and misfits than superheroes: Guardians of the Galaxy was popular almost as much for its classic rock soundtrack as for its fun and action-packed plot. In 2015, the Avengers came together once again for Age of Ultron; then, for the first time in Phase Two, another individual superhero made his entrance in the form of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man.

Captain America: Civil War, which is the first film in Phase Three, actually seems much more like an Avengers movie. While the Hulk and Thor are absent, the other members of the team, including War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), all play prominent roles. In addition, it also provides an origin for a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who will be rebooted into this Marvel universe with Homecoming in 2017, and introduces Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who gets an individual movie in 2018. Next on Marvel’s docket is Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which releases in November; other films to look forward to include a second Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and a two-part Avengers Infinity War (2018 and 2019).

And of course, those are just the movies; the MCU has spread to the small screen as well. It started in 2013 with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs its two-hour Season 3 finale next Tuesday. Starring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, it deals with the government agency tasked with countering enemies like Hydra that pose monumental threats to humanity. In early 2015, it was joined on the airwaves by Agent Carter, in which Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a secret agent in the 1940s who works often with Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father) and played a large role in Captain America’s back story. Daredevil (starring Charlie Cox as a blind crime-fighter) and Jessica Jones (starring Krysten Ritter as a traumatized former superhero who now runs a detective agency) both debuted in 2015 as well. All those shows are ongoing (with the exception of Agent Carter, which will not continue past its second season), and Marvel has plenty more in the offing. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) will premiere at the end of September, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is filming now. A bit further down the line, once those two series have begun, the TV superheroes will get their own team-up in the form of The Defenders, currently slated for sometime in 2017.

(Please note: Daredevil and Jessica Jones are not yet available in a physical format. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (beyond the first season) and Agent Carter are currently unavailable to us, but are expected to become available at some point. We’ll keep you posted.)

The box office numbers for Captain America: Civil War show that the popularity of Marvel and its characters and stories continues unabated. As their universe grows, make sure you have these movies and shows on your shelves for fans who want to relive them and for new converts who want to catch up.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

In Memoriam: Prince

Written by Jon Williams

I was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes astray.

Last week we received yet another stark reminder that 2016 has been a terrible year in terms of losing beloved entertainers far too soon. When news started coming through on Thursday that Prince had died at age 57, it seemed like it had to be a hoax; when that news was confirmed not long after, it seemed like a bad dream.

Born in 1958 in his beloved Minneapolis as the son of two musicians, Prince showed an early aptitude for music. He parlayed that into a recording contract with Warner Bros., and his first album, For You, was released two months before his 20th birthday. Displaying the full range of his talent, he wrote all the songs on the album, played all the instruments, and even produced it himself. It was with his second album, 1979’s Prince, that he started to garner the type of attention that would follow him for the rest of his life. It was his first platinum album. The albums Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981) landed him his first appearance on Saturday Night Live and an opening spot for the Rolling Stones, as well as his own first headlining tour.

Then came the period that transformed Prince from a talented and popular musician into a legend. The album 1999, released in late in 1982, contained the party anthem title track, as well as the hit “Little Red Corvette,” and achieved multi-platinum sales status. Then, in 1984, Prince starred in the semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain. The film itself was only a minor hit; the resulting soundtrack, on the other hand, became one of best albums of the decade and, perhaps, of all time. Mixing pop and rock sensibilities, it contained the classics “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” in addition to the title track. He would go on to release four more albums in the ‘80s, as well as the soundtrack to the blockbuster Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.

Because of his immense success during this period, Prince will always be associated primarily with the music of the 1980s, but he wasn’t done with movies, either. In 1986 he made his directorial debut with Under the Cherry Moon, and in 1987 he put out a concert film to accompany his album Sign o’ the Times. His final film role was in 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, a sequel to Purple Rain. And of course, he continued to put out thought-provoking, envelope-pushing music. He released twelve albums in the ‘90s, including nine after he changed his name to a symbol and could only be referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” He went back to being Prince in 2000, and followed that up with twelve more albums from 2001-2010. There was a break in album releases after that point, which came to an end with two albums released simultaneously in 2014: Plectrumelectrum, with the backing band 3rdeyegirl, and the solo effort Art Official Age. Then last year came HITnRUN Phase One; the follow-up, HITnRUN Phase Two, is available on CD starting tomorrow.

Obviously, an artist as dynamic and prolific as Prince can’t be adequately summarized in a post like this. The best thing for patrons who aren’t familiar with his music, or just know the hits, would be to check it out for themselves, to discover his talent and why he had so much influence on a generation of musicians. See our website to put his CDs and movies (as well as a biography) on your shelves. If your library is like most, there’s probably quite a high demand for his music right now, with a long list of holds for his albums. Be sure to let your patrons know, if you participate in hoopla, that many of his albums and compilations are available there. hoopla is one of the only services to offer his music for streaming, and it’s available to patrons immediately, with no holds.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Harrison Ford Returning for Indy 5

Written by Jon Williams

Rumours have been swirling for quite some time, but the news finally became official earlier this week. Harrison Ford will once again don the fedora and brandish the whip as Indiana Jones for the fifth film in the series, set to hit theatres in 2019. Steven Spielberg is back to direct, but George Lucas, who shaped the stories of the first four installments, will not be involved.

Ford’s portrayal of the adventurous archaeologist dates back to 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which he must prevent the Nazis from seizing and using the Ark of the Covenant to achieve world domination. It was followed in 1984 by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was actually set before the first film, and the level of violence contributed to the creation of the PG13 rating in the U.S. by the MPAA that same year. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, came in 1989, and featured the addition of Sean Connery to the cast as Indy’s father.

After The Last Crusade, there was a nineteen-year break before the fourth film. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull moves the series ahead from the 1930s to 1957 and replaces the Nazis with the Soviets as antagonists. It seemed as though that movie was a chance for Ford and Jones to pass the torch to Shia LaBeouf and continue the series with a younger lead, but apparently that was not the case. LaBeouf is unlikely to return for the new film, although it is a possibility.

Of course, fans who were “jonesing” for more Indy didn’t have to wait out that whole nineteen-year period without a fix. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was a television series that ran for two seasons starting in 1992, and then was revived for four TV movies from 1994-1996. (Please note: for the DVD release, the movies were edited into episodes, and the episodes from both seasons and the movies appear chronologically by when they were set, rather than in the order they originally aired.)

By the time the next film releases in 2009, that will be an eleven-year gap between movies, and Ford will be 77 years old. Of course, he’s certainly no stranger to reprising iconic roles after many years away. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, starred Ford in a central role as Han Solo, a character he hadn’t played since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Also, coming in 2018, Ford will appear as replicant/hunter Rick Deckard in the sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and based on a novel by Philip K. Dick.

Ford has been a big name in Hollywood ever since his first starring role in the original Star Wars in 1977. Over the course of his long career he’s put together a very impressive filmography. So, are there any other characters you’d like to see him resurrect? A return to Jack Ryan, perhaps? Let us know in the comments section below, or tell us about favourite Ford movies or fun Indy memories.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Leo Finally Takes Home an Oscar

Written by Jon Williams

The Academy Awards, honouring the year’s best movies and performances, were handed out last Sunday night. As the ceremony wound toward its conclusion and the most high-profile awards started being given away, you could feel the anticipation building. Would this finally be the year that Leonardo diCaprio, widely considered one of the biggest talents in cinema today, finally walked away with a coveted acting award with this, his fifth nomination?

It was. When Julianne Moore read out his name as the year’s Best Actor, a wave of jubilation swept through the actor’s fans all across the country and around the world. He won for his role in The Revenant, a gritty portrayal of a man left for dead in the wilderness of the American frontier. The film itself was up for a whopping total of twelve Academy Awards, winning three—aside from Best Actor, it also won for Best Cinematography and Best Director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu (who won the same award last year for Birdman). The film is based on a historical novel of the same name by Michael Punke, whose position within the U.S. government prevents him from even talking about his book.

DiCaprio has been in the acting game for a long time. He got his start in 1990 at the age of 15 in the short-lived TV series Parenthood, based on the Steve Martin movie of the year before. He also appeared in an episode of Roseanne, and had a recurring role on Growing Pains. He was working his way into film around the same time, getting his break in 1993’s This Boy’s Life (which was also the film debut of Tobey Maguire). Then, later that year, he played the role of Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, earning his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (losing out to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive).

His star would only rise from there as he would go on to participate in a number of high-profile projects. In 1996 he headlined (alongside Claire Danes) Baz Luhrmann’s modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. The following year came perhaps his best-known role, as Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic. The tale of doomed romance between DiCaprio and Kate Winslet propelled Titanic to a new all-time box office record at the time. From there he went on to work with such famous names as Woody Allen (Celebrity), Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York), and Steven Spielberg (Catch Me if You Can).

In 2005, eleven years after his first nomination, DiCaprio finally scored a second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor, for another Scorsese-helmed feature: The Aviator, a biopic of the eccentric genius Howard Hughes. This time he lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray. He wouldn’t have to wait as long for the next one, as he was nominated again in 2007 for Blood Diamond—that award went to Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. He wasn’t nominated again until 2014, when he was recognized for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the award went to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

And all this is to say nothing of the incredible roles he played that weren’t nominated by the Academy. Leonardo DiCaprio has had quite a varied and interesting acting career, and at just 41, it’s safe to say that moviegoers still have quite a lot to look forward to. SmartBrowse his name on our website for more of his movies, and while you’re there, don’t miss our collection of all this year’s other Academy Award winners.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hollywood Vampires Revive Classic Rock

Written by Jon Williams

The Grammy Awards ceremony on Monday night produced some incredible musical moments. From Taylor Swift’s opening number to Kendrick Lamar’s fiery performance (literally), the taste of Broadway’s Hamilton, Little Big Town’s haunting rendition of their hit “Girl Crush,” and more, there was something for fans all across the spectrum to enjoy. And then there were the tributes—the Eagles taking the stage with Jackson Browne to perform “Take It Easy” in honour of Glenn Frey, and Lady Gaga’s medley of David Bowie hits.

One of the more unexpected moments came late in the show when Alice Cooper took the stage with a band of familiar faces. Introduced by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, they first played an original song, then faded it into a cover of “Ace of Spades” in tribute to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. They did so with a brand of straightforward rock sound that was absent from the rest of the show and, indeed, has seemingly gone missing from the music world’s consciousness as other forms of pop music have come to the forefront.

The band is called the Hollywood Vampires, and this wasn’t just a one-off performance. A tribute in themselves to Cooper’s famous drinking buddies of the ‘70s, they formed in 2015 with principal members Joe Perry and Johnny Depp joining the singer. Their debut album featured contributions from such luminaries as Grohl, Joe Walsh, Sir Paul McCartney, and the late Christopher Lee. And while not technically full members of the band, they’ve frequently been joined, as they were on Monday night, by Guns N’ Roses associates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum.

And of course, to score such an incredible list of collaborators, the supergroup’s actual members are pretty famous in their own right. Alice Cooper, of course, just finished up a supporting stint on Motley Crue’s final tour. He’s been at the forefront of the rock n’ roll business for decades. The same can be said of Joe Perry, lead guitarist for Aerosmith since 1970. The third member is something of a surprise, as Johnny Depp is known for his acting career, but it turns out he has some serious musical chops as well.

The Hollywood Vampires only have one album for now, but Cooper recently reported that he’s working on a follow-up, as well as perhaps a live album, as the band gets ready for its summer concert schedule. Make sure you have it on your shelves, as well as music from the band’s members, collaborators, and other similar acts to satisfy your rock-loving patrons as this style of music tries to regain its foothold in popular culture.