Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eclipse premiere at the Pickwick Theatre: Celebrities, screams, and madness

Last night/this morning I attended the midnight showing of the latest film in the Twilight franchise, Eclipse, at the Pickwick Theatre in downtown Park Ridge. Before the film's midnight showing two of the actors, Gil Birmingham (Billy Black) and Justin Chon (Eric Yorkie) appeared for an autograph session with fans and then gave a Q&A. I attended the Q&A, which started out as a mini-concert given by Birmingham on acoustic guitar. He sang an Elvis cover, John Mayer's "No Such Thing," "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, a few other songs, and a couple original compositions. During the Q&A session we learned that Chon dyed his black hair blonde both to anger his management and for a movie role (earlier, while waiting on the sidewalk outside the Pickwick box office, Chon walked right by me and I didn't realize it was him with blonde hair until he walked through the door to go inside!). He said he just wanted to be his own person and not listen to what people were always telling him what to do. When asked which actors they admire, Chon talked about the craziness of Crispin Glover and Birmingham said he liked Johnny Depp. And, weirdly of all, Chon overshared some information that was just so bizarre I couldn't help but crack up laughing, but I won't repeat the specifics here.

The turnout for the Q&A was disappointingly small, especially taking into consideration how many fans were waiting in line outside to watch the movie. At the Q&A's conclusion at 11:30 PM the waiting fans streamed into the Pickwick's main theater, which very quickly became packed to capacity. The crowd mostly consisted of teenage girls, junior high up to high school, with various small groupings of teenage boys thrown into the mix and some accompanying parents; I definitely felt old standing next to the teens and wondered where the other twenty-somethings like me were hiding (I saw plenty of them at last year's New Moon premiere at my local AMC!). Five minutes before the movie started Birmingham and Chon walked back out on stage with their cameras, and madness erupted. We then only had to sit through one preview before the start of Eclipse.

In Eclipse, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is at the end of her senior year in high school. She wants her boyfriend, the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), to change her into a vampire after graduation, which he only agrees to do if she marries him. Bella's friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a werewolf, is in love with Bella and is angered by the thought of her choosing to be a vampire over living a human life, especially if that life could be shared with him. Additionally, the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) is still at large and looking for revenge for the death of her mate, James, at the hands of Edward, which occurred in the first Twilight movie. To have her revenge Victoria manipulates a newborn vampire, Riley (Xaiver Samuel), to build an army of newborn vampires. Newborn vampires are very strong because they still have some human blood left in their bodies and are difficult to control because all they can think about is drinking blood. In spite of the animosity between the two groups, the Cullens and the Quileute werewolves join together to fight the newborn army. Because Alice (Ashley Greene) saw them coming in her visions of the future, they have time to prepare; Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) teaches the vampires and werewolves on techniques to use to kill newborns. I think the action sequences featuring the vampires and werewolves were a highlight of the movie.

I continue to root for the character of Jacob, even though I know his fate in the books (Stephenie Meyer, Jacob doesn't deserve that! Twilight fans, you know what I'm referring to!). Lautner and Pattinson share some scenes that are entertaining to watch as each guy barely contains his hatred for the other. Eclipse also includes several flashbacks to the vampires' pasts. Jasper especially has a larger role in this film; the vampire who created him did so because she wanted Jasper, a major in the Confederate Army, to train armies of newborn vampires. Unfortunately, aside from Jacob, the members of the Wolf Pack (Sam, Paul, Jared, Quil, Embry, Seth, and Leah) are mostly seen in werewolf, and not human, form. Paul (Alex Meraz) fans like me will be disappointed in that.

For the most part the movie follows the plot of Stephenie Meyer's book of the same name. Unfortunately, that means that the 18-year-old Bella is intent on getting married and remaining a teenager forever so she can be with her love, Edward. I just don't believe that a girl that young would know exactly what she wanted to do with her life. As Jessica (Anna Kendrick) says in her commencement speech, they are at the point in their lives where they can make mistakes and experience all sorts of things in life. I just want to tell Bella to go off on her own somewhere to college, away from Edward and Jacob, and just experience being independent. A huge reason why I think the character of Sookie Stackhouse is so well-written in Charlaine Harris' southern vampires novels is that the twenty-something Sookie doesn't need a boyfriend to have happiness in her life. She has her job, friends, and hobbies like reading books from the library. Sookie knows who she is and can stand up for herself. Although she hangs with (and sometimes dates) vampires and werewolves, Sookie has her own life. End of Sookie rant!

Despite my problems with the Twilight-series plot as a whole, I enjoyed Eclipse more than the previous installments; I had a blast seeing the movie at its midnight showing at the Pickwick. The audience loudly reacted to the plot developments but stayed quiet during the sections with dialogue. The audience screamed the most for Jacob; Edward only got screams when he locked lips with Bella. My favorite audience comment had to be near the end of the movie, way after the character of Riley had been established-- he appeared on screen in the woods and a teenage boy shouted, "Who's that guy?"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DVDs out June 29th

The Crazies: A remake of George A. Romero's 1973 horror thriller, The Crazies stars Timothy Olyphant as a sheriff sent to investigate madness and mayhem in a small town. Co-starring: Radha Mitchell (Melinda and Melinda).
Find it in the catalog!

Hot Tub Time Machine: Rob Corddry, John Cusack, Clark Duke, and Craig Robinson star as reunited friends who travel back to the halcyon days of 1986, thanks to the titular hot-tub's magical properties. No, I am not making this up.
Find it in the catalog!

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief: The big screen adaptation of Rick Riordan's hugely successful young adult novel. Percy Jackson is a teen, living in New York and struggling with ADHD. As it turns out, he's also the child of a Greek god. Directed by Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two installments of the Harry Potter series. Co-starring: Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, and Uma Thurman.
Find it in the catalog!

The White Ribbon: Austrian director Michael Haneke is known for exploring the coldest regions of the human heart. In his latest film, he casts his eye on the nascent fascism of a rural German village at the onset of WWI. The film is as visually beautiful as it is morally unsettling. The White Ribbon was awarded the 2009 Palme d'Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, and you can expect it to be a serious contender for Best Foreign Film this Oscar season.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mad Men marathons in July

Counting down the days until the 9 PM season 4 premiere of Mad Men on Sunday, July 25? In the next few weeks you can get your fix of Don, Betty, Pete, Peggy, Roger, and Joan when AMC airs their Mad Men marathons featuring episodes from seasons 1-3 that were selected by fans. Read more about which episodes will be airing here.

Season 1 marathon: Monday, July 5 at 7 PM
Season 2 marathon: Monday, July 12 at 7 PM
Season 3 marathon: Monday, July 19 at 7 PM

Don't have the cable channel AMC? No problem. You can catch up, or introduce yourself to this amazing show, on DVD. The library owns seasons 1-3 on DVD-- just click the link to place yourself on hold for a copy!
Season 1: Find it in the catalog!
Season 2: Find it in the catalog!
Season 3: Find it in the catalog!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nerdy and Amazing Men of Rock

Celebrating rock's most unlikely heroes:

Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal.  Barnes is a true indie rock diva.  He has his own glam rock alter-ego, Georgie Fruit, and usually will switch outfits multiple times per performance, occasionally opting to go without any clothes.  However, he also references French literature, Wong Kar-wai films, and Greek Mythology in his lyrics.
David Byrne, Talking Heads/ Various and Sundry.  Byrne is a music icon, cycling advocate, artist and author. Early on in his career, Byrne stood out for his quirky vocals and wiry, spastic energy. It's hard not to be impressed by Byrne's weirdness and seemingly boundless energy during his performance in the concert film Stop Making Sense.  Nearly 30 years later, Byrne is still making interesting and enjoyable music. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Movies I Love: Brand Upon the Brain!

"One memory leads to the next..."
Experimental filmmaker Guy Maddin clearly has a fondness for crossing genres, styles, and media: Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2002) combines Expressionistic horror with a feature-length dance performance by the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet; Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) is both a gorgeously photographed film noir and a loving tribute to Canadian hockey; The Saddest Music in the World (2003) is a morose melodrama, a screwball comedy, and a musical featuring multi-ethnic performers. His 2006 film Brand Upon the Brain! is a hybrid of several equally unlikely art-forms: silent film, teen detective mystery, mad-scientist horror pastiche, and imagined autobiography. It is also, and most affectingly, a profound meditation on childhood memory. Narrated by Isabella Rossellini, whose beautifully expressive voice adds poignancy to what is already highly poetic narrative.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy 109th birthday, Edward Cullen!

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Usually I do not celebrate the birthdays of fictional characters, but I am making an exception for the vampire Edward Cullen. Edward, who physically never ages past 17 years old, was born Edward Anthony Masen on  June 20, 1901. He became a vampire when Carlisle Cullen (adoptive father to vampires Edward, Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper, and Alice) changed him in Chicago in 1918 during the Spanish influenza epidemic.

To celebrate the June 30th release of Eclipse, the next film in the Twilight series, we are having an Eclipse Movie Release Party at the library this Friday at 2 PM. You can register online (just click the link) or call the Information Desk at 847-428-3661 x 308 to register. We will play Twilight Trivia, listen to music from the soundtracks, and enjoy Twilight character cupcakes. At the Release Party we'll also belatedly celebrate Edward's 109th birthday. Team Jacob fans, that means you, too!

Also, if you are looking for fun ways of watching the midnight showing of Eclipse next week, you can see all three of the Twilight films at movie chains like AMC, which is holding The Twilight Experience, or you can even meet actors Justin Chon (Eric) and Gil Birmingham (Billy Black) at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DVDs out June 22nd

Green Zone: Matt Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller in this thriller, set during the United States occupation of Baghdad. Based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93).
Find it in the catalog!

The Last Station: Christopher Plummer stars as Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, the literary titan who authored Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Co-starring: Anne-Marie Duff, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy, and Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoy.
Find it in the catalog!

Remember Me: This romantic drama stars Edward Cullen, I mean, Robert Pattinson and Lost's Emilie de Ravin. Critics and viewers alike were baffled by the film's denouement, but the actors involved might make this project worth watching. Co-starring: Pierce Brosnan, the always amazing Chris Cooper, and Lena Olin.
Find it in the catalog!

She's Out of My League: Apatow alumnus Jay Baruchel takes the lead in this romantic comedy. He plays an "average" guy who attracts a "stunning" woman. The mismatch premise has been done a thousand times, but Baruchel is a charmer and the film is surprisingly good natured.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, June 21, 2010

That's a deal breaker: Less is More: Double Albums

I have an aversion to double albums.  Time wise, a double album is quite an investment. Blame it on a short attention span, but for me the ideal album length is between 40-45 minutes and no more than 13 songs.  Certainly there are exceptions to this rule, like Blonde on Blonde or London Calling, but an album would have to pretty fabulous to keep my attention much past the 50 minute mark. I'd much rather long to listen to an album again than wonder when it will be over.

Also, the more songs, the more chances are that at least one of them will be dreadful and usually it's more than that.  Many albums suffer from a smorgasbord effect, artists take on too many different styles and none all that successfully.  Or they let the drummer put his song on the album. Between the length and the somewhat hodgepodge quality, double albums feel less like fun and more like a homework assignment.

Exceptions to the Rule include:

The Beatles- White Album (1968).  I have a love hate relationship with this album, as in I love pretty much everything that John Lennon does on the album and hate pretty much everything else (especially everything by Ringo and "Savoy Truffle" and "Long, Long, Long"), though this is more-or-less my attitude towards everything done by the Beatles. Still the Beatles are at their experimental peak and it's hard to write off any album that has "Dear Prudence" and "Sexy Sadie" on it.
Find it in the Catalog!

Husker Dü- Zen Arcade (1984).
Find it in the Catalog!  

LCD Soundsystem-LCD Soundsystem (2005).
Find it in the Catalog!  

Magnetic Fields-69 Love Songs (1999).  The Magnetic Fields are a gateway drug to art rock, concept heavy with a nice, catchy pop sound.  I don't really love every moment out of the album's near 3 hours, but it's hard not to admire Stephin Merrit's songwriting.  The album spans several different genres and a variety of love relationships. Useless Magnetic Fields trivia, their accordionist/ keyboardist is Daniel Handler aka. Lemony Snicket.
Find it in the Catalog!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What we're listening to: Jason Castro

Two years ago Jason Castro was a contestant on American Idol during Season 7 and was the first person to play an instrument on the AI stage. After Blake Lewis in season 6, AI viewers saw the contestants on the show shift from singers with booming vocals to artists who performed their own creative interpretations of songs. Season 7 found Castro, Brooke White, Carly Smithson, David Cook, and others changing up countless songs. Castro stood out with his interpretations of  "What a Day for a Daydream," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and Mariah Carey's "I Don't Wanna Cry." He is one of my favorite singers to come off American Idol, not only because of his unique performances but because of his laid-back, non-Hollywood personality.

Since season 7 ended we have already seen CDs put out by Castro's fellow contestants Brooke White, Michael Johns, David Archuleta, and David Cook (winner of that season). Well, Castro's pop-folk debut was worth the wait.  "Let's Just Fall in Love Again" is a fun, upbeat pop song to play again and again (and again). Hand claps, whistling, and even some ooohs... without a doubt, pop music at its best. Castro sings that he wants to fall in love again, "fall disgustingly fast / and we'll stop hanging out with friends / they'll be so offended." "This Heart of Mine" is another song you'll be singing along to in no time. On "It Matters to Me" Castro sings about wanting to hear about everything he missed while he was apart from his significant other: "Tell me all the things I couldn't see / Cause it matters to me." The Texas native even displays his country side on "You Can Always Come Home" with Serena Ryder, where he sings to a woman who's back with someone who's hurt her in the past and tells her he "miss[es] what we might of had."

Castro co-wrote all but three of the songs, and the CD also includes his cover of "Hallelujah." Even you are not an American Idol fan, I recommend checking out this CD for some undeniably catchy pop songs that feel bright as sunshine.
Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kings of Convenience at Metro, 6/10/10

Norwegian folk duo the Kings of Convenience played at Chicago's Metro theater last Thursday. The concert was originally scheduled for last February, but had to be postponed because band member Eirik Glambek Bøe came down with swine flu.  The show was definitely worth the wait.

I'm a moderate fan of the Kings of Convenience.  I was first introduced to the band because band member Erlend Øye toured a couple years ago with my Scandinavian indie rock crush, Jens Lekman.  Erlend's awkward charisma and awesomely bad dancing intrigued me.  I am a fan of the Kings' two older albums, Riot in an Empty Street and Quiet is the New Loud.  They have a quiet, peaceful, melancholy sound that is really nice when you're in the right mood.  I also enjoyed Erlend Øye's techno side projects including the Whitest Boy Alive and his solo album Unrest.  However, I haven't really gotten around to listening to the Kings' new album, Declaration of Independence, even though it's their first record in five years and has been out for almost a year. Which is to say that I wasn't the biggest fan there or the most familiar with the material, but I was interested to see how Erlend's charms held up with material that was darker and less danceable than his solo efforts.

A Californian band called Franklin for Short opened for the group. I had not heard of them before, but they were very impressively bearded.  I half-expected them to sound like Leonard Skynyrd, but they had more of a conventional indie pop rock sound mixed with some alt-country twang.  The band is sort of a blend of twee indie (they have a song named after everyone's least favorite gift, "Electric Blanket") and neo-hippie (hence the beards).  I started out tolerating them, but their general affability, good lead guitar work, and use of the theremin won me over enough.

The audience for the show was different than I envisioned.  Somehow I didn't think that a semi-obscure, Scandinavian folk duo that sounds vaguely like Simon and Garfunkel would have a mostly male, mostly preppy fan base (polo shirts abounded).  Especially not one that loudly shouted and wooed like they were attending a sporting event.  There were times, several in fact, that the audience was louder than the band.

The Kings took the stage a little bit before 8:30 and played for over an hour and half.  Musically, the show was a little less than perfect.  Metro is a larger concert venue and was packed full of rowdy super fans; the King's delicate sound wasn't quite big enough to fill the room.  They also had some technical problems, including Øye's guitar making an irritating feedback noise.  Still, that wasn't really my draw to this show.  Bøe and Øye have known each other since they were fifteen (both are in their mid-30s now), so they had a lived-in onstage chemistry and peppered their performance with humorous stories about each other.  Gangly and bespectacled, Erlend Øye looks like one of the least likely rock stars in the world.  However, he is probably one of the most charismatic performers in indie rock.  Øye's persona definitely emphasizes his awkwardness.  However, he was able to captivate the audience with his off kilter comments and nerdy enthusiasm. At one point, he made the comment, "You are a very strange audience," prompting an audience member to yell back, "You are very strange too!"  Erlend could only nod his head in agreement.

The band played a variety of songs from their different albums, but material from their most popular album, Riot on an Empty Street, was best received by the audience.  Later during the show, Franklin for Short joined the Kings to play back up and finally gave them enough sound to fill up the room.  Additionally, it allowed Erlend to showcase some of his awkward dancing skills.  The highlight of the evening was the closer, a cover of Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al."  During which, Erlend encourage the audience to form a dancing circle which he jumped off stage to join.  Along side with Dan Deacon and Greg Gillis (aka. Girl Talk), Øye is one of the few indie rockers with enough pizazz and lunacy to be a genuine rock star.

DVDs out June 15th

The Book of Eli: A post-apocalyptic action film, directed by brothers Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell). Denzel Washington stars as a grim loner on a quest to preserve the future of mankind. Co-starring: Jennifer Beals, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman.
Find it in the catalog!

When in Rome: Kristen Bell stars as a museum curator whose cynical theft of several coins from a wishing well makes her the recipient of lots of unwanted attention. Will this plot-device ruin her chances with hunky  reporter Josh Duhamel? Perhaps this will answer your question: "From the studio that brought you The Proposal." Co-starring: Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, and Dax Shepard.
Find it in the catalog!

Youth in Revolt: The perpetually awkward Michael Cera stars as Nick Twist, a teenager whose sublimated lust becomes a mustachioed alter-ego named, wait for it, Francois Dillinger. Based on the popular teen novel by C.D. Payne.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dads Behaving Badly: A Look at Cinema's Worst Fathers

Looking for something to watch this Father's Day?  It's probably best to avoid any of these movies:

 Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), The Godfather Trilogy (1972-1990). Air guitar enthusiast and mob boss Don has a twisted take on family values.
The Godfather (1972).
The Godfather. Part II (1974).
The Godfather. Part III(1990).  

Noah Cross (John Huston), China Town (1974). He impregnates his own daughter and then makes her give up the kid while making the whole situation seem like her fault.  Nice guy. 
Find it in the Catalog!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What we're listening to: American Idol Season 9

This CD features major highlights from this past season of American Idol and is worth a listen. Season 9 winner and Illinois native Lee DeWyze's gritty-rock cover of "Treat Her Like a Lady" kicks off the album. His performance of this song during R&B week was one of my favorite performances all season long because of how he changed the song to fit his own style. Andrew Garcia's cover of "Forever" sounds closer to Chris Brown's single version; Andrew performed an acoustic, stripped down version of the song on the show, which is why I loved that version so much. Because I really enjoy the smooth soulful sound of his voice I like the studio version too. Siobhan Magnus' voice is absolutely gorgeous on "Paint it Black" from the Rolling Stones; she starts the song in her lower register and then starts to really rock out, eventually hitting one of the huge notes she became known for on the show. Crystal Bowersox takes control of Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," singing a bunch of fun and playful riffs. I think Casey James' best performance on the show was his cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," and the studio version is just as good. Michael Lynche proved to be a versatile performer on the stage, singing both pop and R&B and playing guitar. I love his version of India.Arie's "Ready for Love," which he performed on acoustic guitar during R&B week. I wish the song included from Aaron Kelly was "Angie" or "You've Got a Way" by Shania Twain instead of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." During Rolling Stones week Aaron totally won me over with his tender interpretation of "Angie," so I am disappointed his version is not included on the Season 9 compilation. Ignoring the fact that "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is a song that's been covered by several previous Idol contestants, I just can't stand the song after hearing it on the radio endlessly during the summer of 1998 when the movie Armageddon was out in theaters. Curiously, the entry from Tim Urban is "Under My Thumb." His laid-back reggae version of this song didn't go over well on the show, but I do find myself liking his version a bit more on the CD. I don't think the judges gave Didi Benami enough credit after her performances. Listening to her do "Play with Fire," you would think the song was hers and not the Rolling Stones'. I like the tone of her voice and how she emotionally connects to the lyrics in the stripped down arrangement. Katie Stevens closes the album with her version of "Let it Be," which was one of her better performances during the season.
Find it in the catalog!

The Top 10 contestants from season 9 will perform at the United Center on Monday, August 30!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

That's a deal breaker: Hidden Tracks and Endless Fuzz

From Urban Dictionary:

Usually used in a romantic context, here I am talking deal breakers of the musical variety.  Hidden tracks make me roll my eyes and push the fast forward button.  I'm sure that artists think they are giving their most loyal fans a special surprise by hiding songs after 20 minutes of silence (or worse yet, noise).  However, like after-the-credits movie scenes or tardy dates, hidden tracks are usually not worth waiting for.  Worse yet are when a band ends an album with several minutes of fuzz only to leave you hanging.  It's the album equivalent of standing you up. 

Not everyone is as crabby as me about hidden tracks.  The International Mixed Tape Project has an article about the art behind hidden tracks. So while I might grumble and moan when artists hide tracks or have extended silence, there are people out there who think that's really cool. Those people are just wrong... 

Here are some albums with hidden tracks and/or long bouts of silence, most are pretty good in spite of this: 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

DVDs out June 8th

From Paris With Love: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (The Tudors) plays an inexperienced CIA agent, partnered with a way-over-the-top hothead played by John Travolta. Expect considerable gun-play, "buddy cop" humor, and gratuitous closeups of Travolta's goatee.
Find it in the catalog!

Shutter Island: A brilliant psychological thriller from director Martin Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a Federal Marshall investigating the disappearance of an inmate from a heavily protected asylum, located on the eponymous island. Co-Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley, and Michelle Williams. The cast is uniformly excellent, but Emily Mortimer gives a particularly strong performance. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. My full review can be found here.
Find it in the catalog!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Awesome(ly bad) dance scenes on film and TV

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I compiled a list of funny dance scenes from movies and TV that stood out to me after watching the scene in Date Night in which Tina Fey and Steve Carrell attempt to pose as exotic dancers. The only criteria I really used in making my selections were that the scenes were memorable and were not part of a proper "dance" film or show; these are scenes that surprise you with original dance moves when you were least expecting them.

You can look at the examples I compiled as being either 1) awesome or 2) awesomely bad. I'm not going to lie: I classify all of the included dance scenes as AWESOME. Click below to see the list (arranged in random order), and please add your favorite awesome(ly bad) dance scenes in the Comments section.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cinematographer, William A. Fraker: 1923 - 2010

William A. Fraker lensed some of the most critically and commercially successful films of the 1960s and '70s. Considered a giant of his profession, he was the man behind the camera on Rosemary's Baby (1968), Bullitt (1968), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Heaven Can Wait (1978). MovieMaker magazine referred to him as "a kind of Yoda of cinema­tography" in a 2004 profile. Fraker was nominated five times for the Best Cinematography Oscar, and served as president of the American Society of Cinematographers (A.S.C.). In 2000, the A.S.C. honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His L.A. Times obituary states that he passed away Friday, at the age of 86. He is survived by his wife and step-son.

Fraker's work on Bullitt is a model of the cinematographer's dedication. While the film's climactic car chase is justifiably legendary, there's more to the story than what you see on screen. Steve McQueen and several accomplished stunt drivers maneuvered the vehicles through the streets of San Francisco, at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. William A. Fraker and his camera were strapped to one of those vehicles, suspended just six inches from the ground. Watch this clip, and I think you'll agree that it was worth the ride.

Bullitt (1968)
Find it in the catalog!

Friday, June 4, 2010

What's on TV this summer

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Back in the days of yore all we got on TV during the summer was rerun after rerun. Although we do still find reruns for many network shows, many channels show original programming during the summer. I'm most looking forward to season three of True Blood, Top Chef in Washington D.C., the fourth season of Mad Men, and the so-crazy-it's-hilarious Man v. Food. I've already gotten back into Friday Night Lights, where Coach Taylor is now at East Dillon High coaching the Lions, and So You Think You Can Dance, which is changing its format this year by having a Top 10 instead of a Top 20, and pairing the newcomers with all-stars from previous seasons. Since I tried to be as inclusive as possible with the shows airing original programming, my TV schedule chart is quite long, which means you'll have to click below to see the list. If there isn't a date listed next to the show title then it is already airing new episodes. And, of course, dates may change.
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Wire: Truth Be Told

A recently published book, The Wire: Truth Be Told, offers a terrific overview of television's crowning achievement. HBO had already revolutionized television with The Sopranos (1999-2007), a pitch-black comedy that invited a New Jersey organized crime family to your Thanksgiving dinner. On June 2, 2002, a new drama was added to HBO's Sunday night lineup. In what must be considered one of the great cold openings in TV history, The Wire began with Detective Jimmy McNulty questioning a possible witness to a homicide, that of a neighborhood regular named Snot Boogie. The detective and the witness sit side by side on a Baltimore street corner, discussing the victim's ignominious demise. The homicide being discussed in this opening sequence has no relation to the show's subsequent - and labyrinthine - investigations, but serves as an incredibly concise preview of the show's ambition: "The Law" and "The Street" working side by side and at cross-purposes.

The show's executive producer, David Simon, brought all his past work to bear on this hugely ambitious project. Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999) was a network television adaptation of Simon's award-winning book, a study of a year spent with the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit. In 1997 Simon authored a second book, this time in collaboration with former Baltimore police officer Ed Burns. This book was the basis for the HBO mini-series, The Corner (2000). Both of these series can be seen as precursors to The Wire.

Over the course of five seasons, The Wire dealt seriously and thoughtfully with the plight of urban police, the drug trade, the declining blue-collar workforce, the school system, corruption in local and state politics, and finally the media's failure to accurately portray these conditions. And yet, The Wire is not in any way polemical. These weighty topics and themes are examined with novelistic insight into the lives of individual characters. To this end, Simon drafted novelists Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), George Pelecanos (The D.C. Quartet), and Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland). These three celebrated writers helped chart the course of what is now almost unanimously cited as one of the greatest television programs of all time.

The Wire: Truth Be Told is a goldmine for fans of the show. It features complete episode breakdowns, in-depth profiles of every major character in the series, hundreds of photographs, essays, and interviews with various actors, writers and producers. I particularly enjoyed Laura Lippman's essay "The Women of The Wire (No, Seriously)". If this isn't enough to sate your thirst, I highly recommend Vice Magazine's insightful 2009 interview with David Simon.

Follow the jump for links to the Library catalog.

What We're Listening To: High Violet by the National

The National are a quintet of displaced Ohioans currently residing in Brooklyn.  They have an intimate, moody, tense sound, but they don't descend into lugubriousness.  Singer Matt Berninger's deep baritone has been compared to everyone from Leonard Cohen to Ian Curtis.  They have a little bit of a post-punk, Joy Division revival sound that was very cool in New York around the turn of the Millennium.  However, the National have a classic and refined approach to that sound.  They also know how to rock a good string arrangement.

I've been a big fan of the band since the their third album, Alligator, and their fourth album, Boxer, is one of my all time favorites.  Which is to say, that my expectations for this album were fairly high.  Because of their somewhat reserved rock sound, appreciation for their albums tend to build with repeated listenings.  I enjoyed High Violet the first time I listened to it, especially the single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and catchy opener "Terrible Love."  But I liked the back half of the album more than the slower, restrained first half.  Songs like "Sorrow," Berninger's love song to the emotion, grow on you slowly.  That being said, High Violet has a bigger and more immediately accessible sound than Boxer, which is full of tension and mood with few hooks. 

Matt Berninger is an interesting lyricist.  Many of his songs tend to be about banal subjects: relationship tension, work troubles, money problems, etc.  He has a stream-of-consciousness flow which makes his lyrics sometimes very specific but also difficult to pinpoint exactly what he's talking about.  While Alligator and Boxer seemed more self-deprecating and inwardly focused, High Violet looks to the outside world more.   "Bloodbuzz Ohio" address the economy, "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ The floors are failing out from everybody I know."  Meanwhile, "Afraid of Everyone" appears to be about the increased polarization in politics, "Venom radio and venom televison/ I'm afraid of everybody, I'm afraid of everybody/ They're the young blue bodies/ With the old red bodies."  Berninger then goes on to describe how this increased political tension influences his role as a parent, "With my kid on my shoulders I try/ Not to hurt anybody I like/ But I don't have the drugs to sort/ I don't have the drugs to sort it out."  Throughout the album, Berninger plays with apocalyptic imagery including floods ("Little Faith"), swarms of bees ("Bloodbuzz Ohio"), and zombies (well, brain eating anyway, "Conversation 16"). 

High Violet is full of tense, anxious and somber moments, but it is not a drag. While talking about the track "Sorrow" in an interview with the Onion's A.V. Club, Berninger said, "Sadness is not always the worst feeling.  Sometimes it's a really pleasurable thing to be overwhelmed with sadness."  This statement could easily be about the album.  It's an enjoyable, catchy, and beautiful album filled with serious and dark moments.  You'll know if you're the kind of mopey person who likes this stuff.

Stand-out tracks:  I'm still head-over-heels for "Bloodbuzz Ohio."  Berninger is great at writing biting love songs, "Terrible Love" and "Sorrow" are certainly two good examples of that.  "Lemon World" oozes with middle class complacency and boredom.  Closing track "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" proves to be as awesome as the name and has beautiful orchestral work in it.

 Recommended for fans of: Midlake, Interpol, Joy Division, Tom Waits, Wilco, and Tindersticks.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What we're listening to: Here Lies Love by David Byrne & Fatboy Slim

What I knew: album collaboration between David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, featuring various female vocalists (and two males: Steve Earle and Bryne himself). I'm on board!

What I didn't know: it was a two-disc song cycle about Imelda Marcos and her nanny with a disco/pop influence. Huh?

Two aspects bother me: 1)I'm not a fan of disco, which is thankfully cordoned off onto the first disc and 2)The focus is on the chronological storytelling, more than the overall sound the record presents; it's ultimately disjointed which could be attributed to the differing vocal styles of the guest singers. The very thing that makes the record interesting makes it odd to listen to. Alas, the lineup of singers (Florence Welch, Candie Payne, Tori Amos, Martha Wainwright, Nellie McKay, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Allison Moorer, Charmaine Clamor, Roisin Murphy, Camille, Theresa Andersson, Sharon Jones, Alice Russell, Kate Pierson, Sia, Santigold, David Bryne, Nicole Atkins, Natalie Merchant, and Shara Worden) was impressive on paper.

Though I like it, don't be fooled by the single track "American Troglodyte" (Byrne on vocals)-- it doesn't represent the album well. It is the most modern and influenced by Fatboy Slim of the bunch. Unfortunately, there are tracks on disc one that I don't like ("Walk Like a Woman" with Charmaine Clamor being one. I'm not fond of the pop arrangement and the ridiculous lyrics). Although, to be fair, the first disc does have a couple decent tracks: Nellie McKay's "How Are You?" and Roisin Murphy's "Don't You Agree." I like them as artists apart from this project, so that may have influenced me.

The second disc is downright infectious though, especially the one-two-three punch of Kate Pierson on the B52's sound-alike "The Whole Man," Sia on "Never So Big", and Santigold on "Please Don't." "Never So Big" features a cavaquinho, which sounds similar to a ukulele, so the song has a island-party feel-- good for summer listening. Similarly, "Please Don't" breaks out the shakers and congas for a tropical vibe. Also interesting on disc two is the track "Seven Years" which features an operatic vocal by Shara Worden.

On a philosophical note, I always appreciate when someone takes a chance. I actually like that Byrne took an obscure-ish figure and shined a very bright light for a unnecessarily long time. I found that after I read the extensive liner notes, I was more motivated to really pay attention to the tracks.

I applaud Bryne for doing something different, but personally, I'd stick to disc two.

Here Lies Love
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First Annual Beardys: For Excellence in Facial Hair in Rock Music

It seems that every rock band these days must have at least one bearded member.  I'm not sure what's behind this surge in hirsute rockers, but let's celebrate the best of the bewhiskered anyway.

Best Beard, Group Performance: Midlake.
Their touring band has seven bearded/ mustachioed members, giving them a sizable win over the Seattle's hairiest band, the Fleet Foxes (who have a mere four beards in their band).

Best Beard, Individual Performance: Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

DVDs out June 1st: Unusually U.K.-Centric

Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll's enduring novels get the Tim Burton treatment. Burton regular Johnny Depp gives an appropriately deranged performance as the Mad Hatter, but the real highlight is Helena Bonham Carter as the psychotic - and possibly hydrocephalic - Red Queen. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska plays the title role.
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The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Vol. 2: Hollywood siren Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity, Sorry, Wrong Number) hosted her own television anthology series on NBC from 1960-1961. The show featured a host of notable actors and actresses as guest performers, including: Dana Andrews, Joan Blondell, Joseph Cotten, Lee Marvin, Anna May Wong, and Hollywood newcomers Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.

Foyle's War: Set 6: The sixth season of the popular British detective series. Michael Kitchen anchors the show as Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, a man who "fights his own battle on the home-front."

Life: A 10-episode nature documentary, created by the BBC as a highlight of its Darwin Season 2009. Narrated by Richard Attenborough for the BBC and Oprah Winfrey for Discovery Channel.
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Midsomer Murders: Set 15: If you're a fan of British detective dramas, this is a banner week for you. In addition to the aforementioned Foyle's War box-set, the fifteenth Midsomer Murders collection also comes to DVD. The set includes four complete episodes, all set in the fictional county of Midsomer.
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The Wolfman: An effects-heavy remake of the 1941 Universal Pictures classic, starring Benicio del Toro as the lycanthrope. Co-starring: the genuinely British thespians Emily Blunt Anthony Hopkins.
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