Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Top 10 on American Idol; or, Lee DeWyze Leaves Everyone in the Dust

Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze made last week's cut on American Idol, which means he will be going on tour with the other members of the Top 10 this summer. He gave a strong performance of "The Letter" by the Box Tops, forgoing his guitar and instead riffing a little with the back-up singers.

This week's theme was R&B/Soul music, and singer Usher acted as mentor to the contestants. He thought Lee had a great voice but needed to get rid of his nerves and "own the moment." Before taking the stage Lee talked with host Ryan Seacrest about having that Moment the judges have been waiting all season to see. Watching the show, I immediately thought, "No! Don't talk about what you need to do to have a Moment!" I was thinking of past seasons where contestants who had a Moment did so because it was unexpected and just happened (think Fantasia Barrino's "Summertime," David Cook's "Always Be My Baby," Blake Lewis' "You Give Love a Bad Name," Elliott Yamin's "Song For You," Melinda Dolittle's "My Funny Valentine," Adam Lambert's "Mad World," or Kris Allen's "Heartless" to name a few).

Performing "Treat Her Like a Lady" on his guitar, Lee attacked the song and injected the lyrics with his distinctive rock growl. I love how the song built to a crescendo as the band kicked in to join Lee and his guitar. He completely made the song his own and appeared much more comfortable on stage than in past weeks. The performance was the best of the night, and will most likely be remembered as one of the stand-out performances from season 9. Judge Ellen Degeneres was correct when she said that "the night starts now." Judge Simon Cowell told Lee that if he watches the performance back he will be able to see the night his life changed.

The only other contestant who I thought came close to Lee was Andrew Garcia. I have continued to root for him even though he has struggled in recent weeks. I loved his take on the Chris Brown song "Forever." I am guessing that the bottom three contestants will include Didi Benami and Tim Urban. I'm hoping it's Tim that goes home, but I've wanted that to happen since week one of the semifinals rounds.

What did you think of the show last night?

The Twilight Saga: New Moon on DVD

"Half of the time, I'm just overjoyed to be a part of this. The other half I'm nervous that I'm going to be hunted down and killed by a pack of teenage girls."
- New Moon director Chris Weitz
The second installment in the Twilight series just arrived on DVD this month. Vampire heartthrob Edward (Robert Pattinson) thinks that his mortal teenage girlfriend Bella (Kristen Stewart) is safer without him so he breaks up with her, vowing he will never see her again. Bella's good friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) helps lift her out of her depression. But even though being with Jacob helps ease her heartbreak, Bella still will not let go of Edward. After discovering she is able to see an apparition of Edward whenever she participates in risky activities, Bella engages in dangerous behaviors such as riding on a stranger's motorcycle and cliff jumping. When Edward believes Bella to be dead he goes to Italy because he wants the Volturri (law-upholding vampires) to kill him. Bella then rushes to Italy, hoping she can stop this from occurring.

This is a two-DVD set, and the six-part documentary is worth a view. All sorts of details about the making of the movie are discussed, including how new director Weitz works (Catherine Hardwicke directed the first film). At one point actor Michael Sheen (Aro) describes Weitz as a cross between a vampire and a werewolf. The documentary allows you to stand on the sidelines during the first day of shooting, while stunts are being shot with stand-ins, on location in Italy, and even in the editing room. I thought it was interesting to watch how they shot the scene where Jacob turns into a wolf. To the surprise of the stunt crew Taylor Launter insisted on doing his own stunts and did them just as well as a stunt person. Another part of the documentary reveals how the production designers wanted to have an "emotional texture" to the look of the film. We also get to see how the special effects team got Robert Pattinson's skin to sparkle like diamonds and how they created the wolves.

Even if you've seen New Moon already, I recommend checking out the special features on this DVD.
Find it in the catalog! 

How many days until the midnight opening of Eclipse on June 30?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The African Queen

"What an absurd idea! What an absurd idea! Lady, I may be a born fool, but you got ten absurd ideas to my one, an' don't you forget it! "
- Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) to Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), The African Queen

As long as DVDs have been the dominant home video format, movie-lovers have lamented the fact that so many classic films had yet to make the transition. There have been numerous lists compiled of noteworthy films that, for one reason or another, have never made it to Region-1 DVD. High at the top of any such list is the 1951 John Huston adventure The African Queen. One of the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies," The African Queen stars two of Hollywood's most beloved actors, and features the sole Oscar-winning performance of Humphrey Bogart's legendary career. And yet, no DVD? On March 23rd, Paramount Home Entertainment rectified the situation.

The African Queen
Find it in the catalog!

For further reading on the behind-the-scenes adventure of
The African Queen, check out Katharine Hepburn's memoir: The Making of the African Queen, Or, How I Went To Africa With Bogart, Bacall, And Huston And Almost Lost My Mind.

DVDs out March 30th

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel: A squeaky sequel to the 2007 family film Alvin and the Chipmunks. Jason Lee reprises his role as Dave Seville. Actor/Comedian David Cross (likely to be the only reason an adult can sit through this movie) returns as well.
Find it in the catalog!

An Education: Carey Mulligan plays a London teenager who finds herself challenged by the adult world, prompted by a chance meeting with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber. The circa-1961 wardrobe and set-design are incredibly detailed. Nominated for three Academy Awards.
Find it in the catalog!

IMAX - Under the Sea: Narrated by Jim Carrey, Under the Sea is both an exotic undersea travelogue - South Australia, Great Barrier Reef, Milne Bay, New Britain, Indonesia - and a lesson in the importance of sustaining our ecosystem.
Find it in the catalog!

Sherlock Holmes: A stylish, and somewhat more muscular, update of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary sleuth. Robert Downey Jr. plays the title character, with Jude Law in the role of his companion Dr. Watson. Rachel McAdams provides an interesting counterpoint as Holmes' larcenous paramour. Directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch).
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, March 29, 2010

More Than A Game

On Saturday afternoon 15 people turned out to watch the library's free screening of More Than A Game, a documentary about a high school basketball team and their coach in Akron, Ohio. To borrow from the title, this movie is more than a sports documentary. This movie is about enduring friendships, perseverance and dedication to following dreams, leadership, and teamwork.

Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, Dru Joyce III, and LeBron James started playing basketball together when they were in fourth grade. Dru's father, Dru Joyce II, coached them on an AAU travel team called the Ohio Shooting Stars. The Fab Four then went on to play basketball at St. Mary-St. Vincent High School instead of the inner city school Butchel. Dru decided against attending Butchel because he did not feel he would be given a chance to play there because of his size. Unselfishly, the other three boys followed him to that school so they could all play together.

The tight bond shared by the boys translated onto the court in a big way. As freshmen at St. Mary-St. Vincent the team went 27-0. During their sophomore year Romeo Travis joined the team and at first distanced himself from the "always sharing, giggling" (his words) Fab Four. Dru Joyce III took over as head coach for the team during their junior year.

Each player faced his own set of challenges. Dru had to work extra hard to prove himself because of his smaller size, and the relationship with his father as coach had its problems. Sian did not want to repeat the problems of his father and wanted to go to college to make his family proud. LeBron was raised by a single mother; they moved around often when he was younger. Romeo also moved around a lot as a kid, and sometimes his family didn't have enough food to eat. As a boy Willie moved from Chicago in order to get away from the drugs and alcohol problems of his family. He was raised by his brother and his wife, who were recent college graduates when they took him in.

Dru Joyce II's first year as coach didn't end the way the team had hoped. The boys became complacent because of their winning record and did not want to listen to the coach. This was a wake-up call for Joyce as well, who realized his "job was not teaching the boys basketball but helping them become young men." During their senior year, Willie was pulled from his starting position and put on the bench, which he accepted as a sacrifice for the better of the team. This mature behavior did not go unnoticed; Romeo realized that he "wanted to be a part of something outside basketball" and opened himself up to having friendships with the guys. The Fab Four then became the Fab Five. During their senior year they were determined to not only win a State Championship but a National Championship.

The special features on this DVD are also worth watching. Director Kristopher Belman (also an Akron native) describes how he came to make the movie, which started out as a ten-minute project for an Introduction to Documentary college film class. Another interesting special feature talks about the More Than A Game soundtrack, which includes both hip-hop and rap songs in addition to a score played by an 80-piece orchestra (unusual for a documentary).

The main draw for some people in watching this movie may be NBA star LeBron James. In his junior year he became the focus (and later target) of sports and news media, drawing such immense crowds to the team's games that they had to be played at the University of Akron. But watching More Than A Game, you see that the movie is not a one-man show. Director Belman focuses on the importance of a team and coach working together. You see how a coach's leadership helps change young boys into mature men. The brotherly bonds and success of a team like this doesn't come around everyday. I highly recommend you watch this movie. Since More Than A Game was released on DVD I have watched it several times and have been moved each time I watched it.

Find it in the catalog!

If this is a subject of interest to you, LeBron also wrote a book about his basketball journey with his high school teammates called Shooting Stars: Find it in the catalog!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What we're listening to: Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

Dead and Gone is book 9 in the Southern Vampire series (also called the Sookie Stackhouse novels). This series, set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, follows main character Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid at Merlotte's Bar. Sookie is also a telepath, which means she is able to hear the thoughts of everyone around her (with the exception of vampires). Vampires have come out of the coffin to the world and have been living openly among humans for several years. After becoming friends with some vampires Sookie also comes to learn about the werewolf and shifter community. At the beginning of Dead and Gone the werewolves and shifters reveal their secret to the world on news programs and in various public areas. Sookie's boss Sam Merlotte, a shifter, changes into a collie right in front of his bar patrons; the reaction at the bar is mixed but most people appear okay with the revelation that he is a shifter.

When Sam must return home to deal with an emergency Sookie is put in charge of Merlotte's. During her time in charge she receives a call about a woman who was crucified behind Merlotte's in the parking lot. In addition to the mystery of the murder, Sookie has other worries on her mind. A couple of FBI agents hope to take advantage of her telepathic ability. Niall, Sookie's great-grandfather, also warns her about trouble. And, probably to the delight of many fans, Sookie becomes closer to Eric, partly through his own manipulations.

I am addicted to these books and think that Harris does a great job of writing characters, especially Sookie, who is a very independent-minded, funny, and down-to-earth woman.

Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DVDs out March 23rd

The Blind Side: This audience favorite chronicles the young life of future NFL offensive-tackle Michael Oher and the affluent family that took him into their home. Sandra Bullock earned an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Based on Michael Lewis' best-selling nonfiction book.
Find it in the catalog!

Brothers: Tobey Maguire stars as a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, as a domestic drama plays out between his ex-con brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Natalie Portman). Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America).
Find it in the catalog!

The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) adapted this film from the popular children's book by Roald Dahl. Utilizing stop-motion animation, the filmmakers have created a charmingly nostalgic world of make-believe. As in any Wes Anderson film, the soundtrack is eclectic and thoughtfully selected.
Find it in the catalog!

The Men Who Stare at Goats: A comedy based on the strange-but-true story of the U.S. Army's attempt at employing psychic phenomena as a military tool. Ewan McGregor stars as a reporter investigating these experiments. Among the targets of his exposé, a Special Forces operative (George Clooney) who can apparently subdue goats...with the power of his mind! Co-starring: Jeff Bridges, Stephen Root, Kevin Spacey.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ponyo and other films by Hayao Miyazaki

On Saturday afternoon 72 people attended the library's free screening of the movie Ponyo. Hayao Miyazaki, the film's writer and director, is known for his imaginative style of animation. The stories in his films feature fantastical elements and young protagonists who, when faced with daunting challenges, must find the courage within themselves to succeed.

Some audience member comments:
"It was awesome!"
~ Breanna D., East Dundee
While refilling his drink at the beverage counter, a boy shared his feelings with me about the movie (hearing his comment, a girl jumped in with her thoughts):
Boy: This movie is really strange.
Girl: And funny.
Boy: It's really strange.
Girl: ...and funny!
I simply nodded my head in agreement with both statements. The movie is about a goldfish, Ponyo, who becomes human and develops a strong friendship with Sosuke. If you haven't been able to see it yet, you can put yourself on hold for a copy from the library:
Find it in the catalog!

Other Miyazaki films we have at the library:

Howl's Moving Castle
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Find it in the catalog!

My Neighbor Totoro
Find it in the catalog!

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Find it in the catalog!

Spirited Away
Won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Find it in the catalog!

Kiki's Delivery Service
Find it in the catalog!

Princess Mononoke
Find it in the catalog!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hoosiers movie night recap

"Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team -- no one more important that the other."
~ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)
On Wednesday night an audience of 18 people attended the library's free screening of the basketball film Hoosiers. Starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, this movie is about a small Indiana high school basketball team that makes it to the Indiana State championship. I am a fan of sports movies and thought that the basketball sequences were authentic and very entertaining to watch.

Comments from one audience member:
"It was a good movie because it does not matter about the size but about... love... patience... courage and team."
~ Tomas M., Carpentersville

If you did not get a chance to come see the movie at the library you can request a copy to check out and watch at home:
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton: 1950 - 2010

American musician Alex Chilton, founding member of the influential 1970s power-pop band Big Star, passed away yesterday at age 59. Chilton penned such now-classic pop songs as "September Gurls" and, with fellow song-writer Chris Bell, the tender ballad "Thirteen." Chilton began his career as leader of the late-60s rock band The Box Tops. For an introduction to this seminal musician, I highly recommend the career-spanning box-set Keep an Eye on the Sky.

Legendary '80s indie band The Replacements (perhaps Big Star's primary acolytes) paid tribute with their 1987 song "Alex Chilton.". The lyrics serve as a fitting epitaph for this gifted songwriter and performer.

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round

They sing, "I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What we're listening to: The Courage of Others by Midlake

The Courage of Others is the third album by this folk rock quintet from Denton, TX. Their second album, the Trials of Van Occupanther (2006), was one of my favorites from the 00's. It had a sound that was a mixture of seventies folk rock (think: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young) and Radiohead (lead singer Tim Smith has a Thom Yorke-esque voice).

With their newest album, the band takes on more of an English folk from the sixties sound (think: Fairport Convention). There is also a definite prog rock/ metal influence on the album, especially in the guitar work. The opening of "The Horn" even has hints of Blue Oyster Cult. Flutes make the music sound vaguely medieval, though they stop short of Renaissance Faire.

The mood of the album is bleak and somber. Seemingly about the sometimes difficult relationship between humans and nature, the Courage of Others makes a compelling argument for retreating into the woods.  Though their sound and natural themes are similar to indie darlings like the Fleet Foxes or the Animal Collective, Midlake is a not trendy band.  Their lyrics are earnest and their retro influences aren't particularly hip.  This is music made by bearded, cape-wearing men after all. 

Initially, I was disappointed that this album didn't have as many stand-out tracks as Trials of Van Occupanther, which had the instantly catchy songs "Roscoe" and "Head Home." Though not love at first listen, I find my enjoyment of the record grows each time I listen to it. My favorite tracks include "Core of Nature," "Fortune," and "Rulers, Ruling All Things."

Recommended for fans of : Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper's song "Furr," Jose Gonzalez, Kings of Convenience, Nick Drake, King Crimson.

The Courage of Others (2010):
Find it in the Catalog.

The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006):
Find it in the Catalog.

Top 12 on American Idol

During last Thursday's results show on American Idol we saw the surprising eliminations of contestants Katelyn Epperly, Lilly Scott, Todrick Hall, and Alex Lambert. I didn't think anyone in that group deserved to go home. Katelyn and Lilly both received positive comments from the judges in past weeks; Lilly especially was considered a strong contender this year due to her indie rock vibe and style. Todrick was quite creative with his song arrangements, and although Alex fought his nerves I think he would have improved with more time on the Idol stage.

After his rock interpretation last Wednesday night of Owl City's "Fireflies," Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze remains one of the stronger contestants on the show this year and is my favorite this season. Performing "Fireflies" on his guitar, he gave the song a rock edge. My second favorite singer is Siobhan Magnus, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Last Tuesday Siobhan sang "House of the Rising Sun." She began singing the song a capella; her voice has a unique quality that you can't help but be drawn to.

Last night the Top 12 contestants performed songs by the Rolling Stones. Michael Lynche sang "Miss You." It wasn't one of the best performances of the night, but I think he has plenty of fans behind him because he is a lovable guy with a big personality. Katie Stevens performed "Wild Horses," which was miles better than her semifinal showings, but she still doesn't stand out to me so that I would want to pick up the phone for her. Paige Miles was fighting laryngitis and still hit the big notes on "Honky Tonk Women." Casey James performed "It's All Over Now" on the electric guitar and put a country-blues spin on the song. I think Andrew Garcia's performance of "Gimme Shelter" was very strong compared to what he's done in previous weeks. I haven't felt connected with any of Aaron Kelly's past performances and actually thought he should have gone home on Thursday, and then he performed "Angie" and won me over. I also enjoyed Didi Benami's interpretation of "Play with Fire" and Lacey Brown's "Ruby Tuesday." I know they may have stumbled a bit during the songs but I thought they both conveyed their emotions while they were on the stage. Singing "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Crystal Bowersox gave another confident and strong performance. Siobhan Magnus's "Paint it Black" was the stand-out performance for the judges. I agree with the judges--when she belts out the notes she is reminiscent of last season's runner-up Adam Lambert. Lee DeWyze sang "Beast of Burden," which the judges thought was a safe choice; Simon is still waiting for Lee to have a "moment" on the stage. While I agree he may not have the personality of other contestants, I thought the combination of Lee's gravelly voice and his interpretation of the song on guitar made "Beast of Burden" sound like it was his song. I picked up the phone to vote for Lee and I hope he makes it through to next week!

Tim Urban is the contestant I think should go home tonight. His re-imagining of "Under My Thumb" just was not pleasant to watch or listen to. He seems like a nice enough guy but I am not a fan of his music. Which contestant did you vote for? Who do you want to see go home?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

She's Out of My League

She's Out of My League is a hilarious comedy about a nice, somewhat dorky guy named Kirk who, to the surprise and befuddlement of his friends and family, is dating a beautiful and successful woman named Molly. Kirk (Jay Baruchel) has been broken up with Marnie (Lindsey Sloane) for two years and is unsuccessful at getting her back. Because his family has practically adopted her as one of their own he must endure seeing Marnie and her boyfriend Ron hanging out at his house. Kirk works at the Pittsburgh airport along with his friends Stainer (T.J. Miller), Devon (Nate Torrence), and Jack (Mike Vogel). One day a beautiful woman, Molly (Alice Eve), goes through security and leaves behind her cell phone. Kirk finds the phone and later returns it to her at a party she organized. As Kirk is leaving the party, Molly invites him and a friend to a Penguins hockey game. Kirk assumes Molly is just being nice but finds out from Molly's friend Patty (Krysten Ritter) that she is truly interested in him. As a result, Kirk becomes nervous about dating her; he assumed he didn't stand a chance with her. His friends assert that he only rates as a 5 while Molly is "a hard 10," and those comments augment Kirk's lingering feelings that he can't be with someone like Molly.

The big draw for me in seeing this movie was Jay Baruchel. I have been a fan of his work since he starred in the short-lived TV series about life in college, Undeclared. Baruchel has also appeared in supporting roles in Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up, and Tropic Thunder. In She's Out of My League, Baruchel communicates Kirk's hesitation and nerves around Molly through awkward facial expressions and the occasional uncoordinated flailing of limbs. I really enjoyed watching this movie not only because of Baruchel's winning performance but because the cast members work so well together and share great chemistry. T.J. Miller is a riot as Stainer; he is not afraid to voice his disdain for Patty or remind everyone he is in a Hall and Oates cover band called Adult Education (and yes, they do perform!). Nate Torrence practically jumps out of his skin with joy because he is so happy to see Kirk going out with Molly; he enjoys comparing their relationship to Disney movies like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. And while Mike Vogel's character, Jack, is not the most vocal of the guys, he does have a stand-out scene in which he demonstrates necessary physical preparations Kirk can make to impress Molly. Adding to the hilarity is Kirk's brother Dylan (Kyle Bornheimer). He is still super competitive and immature even though he is a grown man with a fiance and baby on the way; he goes into a frenzy quoting Chris Tucker and gets worked up over basement hockey.

Because the movie is centered on an underdog, She's Out of My League has drawn comparisons to Judd Apatow movies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. I think these are valid and worthy comparisons, as the movie has a combination of somewhat crude humor, awkward situations, and honest moments. As in other Apatow movies, the comadarie of the actors is genuine and not forced, which makes She's Out of My League a fun comedy not to be missed.

In addition to She's Out of My League, Baruchel also provides the voice to the main character Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon (out March 26) and stars alongside Nicholas Cage in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (out in July); as a longtime fan I am happy to proclaim 2010 to be the Year of Jay Baruchel.
  • Now playing in theaters everywhere
  • Rated R; 1 hour and 45 minutes

Monday, March 15, 2010

DVDs out March 16th

Armored: Action and intrigue involving an armored car heist. Starring: Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, Columbus Short, Skeet Ulrich.
Find it in the catalog!

Astro Boy: This animated family adventure is an update of the 1950s Japanese manga character. Voice talent: Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Donald Sutherland.
Find it in the catalog!

Bandslam: A battle-of-the-bands competition is the setting for this teen coming-of-age story. Vanessa Anne Hudgens (High School Musical) stars with Aly Michalka, Gaelan Connell and Lisa Kudrow.
Find it in the catalog!

Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season: The critically-acclaimed AMC series that isn't Mad Men. Discover why Bryan Cranston's chemistry-teacher/methamphetamine manufacturer has become one of television's most complex anti-heroes. Season Three premiers March, 21st.
Find it in the catalog!

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: The directorial debut of John Krasinski (NBC's The Office). Julianne Nicholson stars as a graduate student who copes with a recent breakup by quizzing various men about their most ungentlemanly behavior. Based on the novel by David Foster Wallace.
Find it in the catalog!

Broken Embraces: Director Pedro Almodovar continues his collaboration with actress Penelope Cruz, following 2006's Volver. This noir-inspired melodrama focuses on a former filmmaker and his long-buried secrets.
Find it in the catalog!

Did You Hear About The Morgans?: Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker star as a recently separated couple forced into the witness protection program. Life in rural Wyoming proves unsatisfying for these New Yorkers.
Find it in the catalog!

Monk: Season Eight: Mr. Monk's obsessive-compulsive adventures have come to an end. 9.4 million viewers tuned in for the season finale.
Find it in the catalog!

The Fourth Kind: Alien abductions in Nome, Alaska. Based on a "true story." Milla Jovovich stars as a psychologist who documents a disturbing pattern of behavior among her patients.
Find it in the catalog!

The Princess and the Frog
: Disney's latest feature-length animated film is the story of a young girl's dreams in a magical New Orleans. Boasts an outstanding jazz-influenced soundtrack by Randy Newman.
Find it in the catalog!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daniel Day-Lewis

As I was compiling a list of Irish movies to enjoy (you know, St. Patrick's Day and all), it became increasingly evident (thanks to my colleague Heather) that what I should really do is compile a list of Daniel Day-Lewis' movies. After all, he is one of the greatest living actors, Irish or not, and there are some not-to-be-missed DDL performances to prove it. Er, Happy St. Patrick's Day!

There Will Be Blood (2007)
He won a well-deserved Oscar for his role as Daniel Plainview, an obsessive oil man. I think that this might be the best performance by an actor I have ever seen-- you only need to watch the first fifteen minutes or so to see why. But watch the whole thing anyway and if you only watch one movie from this list, make it this one.
Widescreen 2-disc collector's edition Find it in the catalog!
Widescreen Find it in the catalog!

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

Find it in the catalog

Gangs of New York
A look at resentment building against Irish immigrants in mid-1800's New York. If the title wasn't indication enough of the probable violence, know that Martin Scorsese directed and DDL plays Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz.
Find it in the catalog!

The Boxer (1997)
Find it in the catalog!

The Crucible (1996)
Find it in the catalog!

The Age of Innocence (1993)
Forbidden romance in 18th century society between DDL and Michelle Pfeiffer's characters. Based on the book by Edith Wharton.
Find it in the catalog!

In the Name of the Father (1993)
Find it in the catalog!

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
DDL provides a very intense performance as a Mohican reluctant to get invovled in the British and French battle for control of the American colonies. Not only does he become involved with the war, but also with a British Colonel's daughter (Madeleine Stowe).
Find it in the catalog!

My Left Foot (1989)
Biopic of Christy Brown (DDL) who was born with cerebral palsy and learns to write and paint with his left foot. DDL and Brenda Fricker both won Oscars for their performances.
Find it in the catalog!

A Room With a View (1985)
Based on the book by E.M. Forster, DDL plays a supporting and not the most like-able of characters, but this is a beautifully shot film.
Find it in the catalog!

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Find it in the catalog!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New and returning TV shows in the spring

The arrival of spring doesn't only mean warm weather; it also means the arrival of new shows and the return of old ones:

Wednesday, March 10: America's Next Top Model (new season on The CW at 7 PM)

Sunday, March 14: Celebrity Apprentice (new season on NBC at 8 PM), The Pacific (new show on HBO at 8 PM), Sons of Tucson (new show on FOX at 8:30 PM)

Monday, March 15: The Price of Beauty (new show on VH1 at 9 PM)

Wednesday, March 17: Destination Truth (new season on Syfy at 9 PM)

Thursday, March 18: FlashForward (second half of season begins on ABC at 7 PM)

Sunday, March 21: Breaking Bad (new season on AMC at 9 PM), Life (new show on Discovery at 7 PM)

Monday, March 22: Dancing with the Stars (new season on ABC at 7 PM), Nurse Jackie (new season on Showtime at 9 PM), United States of Tara (new season on Showtime at 9:30 PM)

Monday, March 29: 10 Things I Hate About You (second half of season begins on ABC Family at 7 PM)

Tuesday, March 30: V (second half of season begins on ABC at 9 PM)

Friday, April 2: Miami Medical (new show on CBS at 9 PM)

Wednesday, April 7: Top Chef Masters (new season on Bravo at 10 PM)

Sunday, April 11: Army Wives (new season on Lifetime at 9 PM), The Tudors (new season on Showtime at 8 PM)

Tuesday, April 13: Glee (second half of season begins on FOX at 8 PM), Tiny & Toya (new season on BET)

April 28: Happy Town (new show on ABC at 9 PM)

April 30: Friday Night Lights (new season on NBC at 7 PM)

I have been dying to watch the new season of Friday Night Lights. I also look forward to the new seasons of Top Chef Masters, Dancing with the Stars (Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, from Naperville, is one of the celebrities competing this season), and The Tudors. New shows that look interesting are Sons of Tucson and The Pacific. In Sons of Tucson three boys, whose father is in jail, hire slacker Ron Snuffkin (played by Tyler Labine) to pose as their dad so they are not sent to foster care. I think Tyler Labine is a talented comedic actor; he previously was on the CW show Reaper. The Pacific is a miniseries that follows three Marines during World War II.

Which shows are you happy to see return? Are there any new shows you are considering checking out?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie screenings at the Dundee Township Public Library in March

Visit the library in March and catch a free movie on the big screen! If you are a basketball fan and get swept up in March Madness, then Hoosiers and More Than A Game are right up your alley. Hoosiers (1986), starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, is our Classic Movie Night selection. More Than A Game is a documentary about a high school basketball team in Akron, Ohio. LeBron James, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, Dru Joyce III, and Romeo Travis are the Fab Five on St. Vincent-St. Mary's Fighting Irish team. The movie is a touching portrait of friendship, hard work, and leadership. The third movie we will show during March is from Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, who also made Spirited Away (2001). Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Little Mermaid, this animated film is about a boy named Sosuke and his friendship with a goldfish named Ponyo. Come join us! All movies are shown in the downstairs Meeting Room. No tickets or reservations are required, but audience space is limited to 80 people.

Wednesday, March 17 at 6 PM
Rated PG; 1 hour 55 minutes
Doors open at 5:30 PM for free popcorn and refreshments.

Saturday, March 20 at 2 PM
Rated G; 1 hour 41 minutes
Doors open at 1:30 PM for free popcorn and refreshments.

More Than A Game
Saturday, March 27 at 2 PM
Rated PG; 1 hour 42 minutes
Doors open at 1:30 PM for free popcorn and refreshments.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Laughing Policeman: Matthau Without Laughter

you ever thought of having your own radio talk-show?"

- Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) to Jake Martin (Walter Matthau), The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman
is a 1973 police-procedural, based on the Swedish crime novel by husband and wife writing partners Maj Sjöwal and Per Wahlöö. Director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Drowning Pool) transplanted the action to gritty 1970s San Francisco.

A gunman opens fire on a city bus and vanishes without a trace. Detective Jake Martin (Walter Matthau) arrives at the crime scene, and discovers that one of the eight murder victims is his own partner. Martin is subsequently partnered with smarmy, mustachioed Inspector Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern). Larsen's arrogance and lack of street-sense have made him unpopular with his fellow officers, and Martin is not at all pleased with this pairing. The two detectives form a wary alliance in their
search for the elusive shooter.

Matthau's gruff, hang-dog persona is a perfect fit for the role of Detective Jake Martin. A man estranged from his family, isolated from the men he works with, and seemingly at odds with the society he's protecting. In one scene we witness Martin physically assault a man in the hopes of obtaining information on one of the victims. When he comes up short and begins to walk away, an onlooker calls him a "pig." Martin pauses, for just a moment, then continues walking. One senses that he has paused just long enough to internalize the epithet.

In some ways, the film can be seen as an inversion of the revered 1968 thriller Bullitt: hunched, acerbic Walter Matthau in place of sober, virile Steve McQueen. (Real-life San Francisco homicide detective Dave Toschi, an inspiration for Bullitt, is quoted in the book Zodiac Unmasked as saying, "Walter Matthau was wonderful, Bruce Dern terrific in that film.") Hollywood produced a number of outstanding crime dramas in the 1970s, notable for their realism and reliance on character actors, and The Laughing Policeman is a superb example.

Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

DVDs out March 9th

Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: A sequel to the 1999 cult favorite The Boondock Saints. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus return as the MacManus brothers; heavily armed vigilantes on a holy mission to battle organized crime.
Find it in the catalog!

Capitalism: A Love Story: The latest feature-length documentary from director/provocateur Michael Moore. Focusing on the ongoing Financial Crisis and and resultant Recovery Stimulus, Moore also poses questions about the morality of capitalism itself.
Find it in the catalog!

Old Dogs: A family comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Williams as friends and business partners who find themselves responsible for twin seven-year-olds. Think: Three Men and a Baby with a gorilla. Co-Starring: Matt Dillon, Seth Green, Lori Loughlin, Bernie Mac, and Kelly Preston.
Find it in the catalog!

Planet 51: An animated family film concerning an American astronaut who lands on the mysterious Planet 51, and soon learns that he himself is the alien. Voice actors: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jessica Biel, John Cleese, and Gary Oldman.
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Precious: An acclaimed drama, based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Gabourey Sidibe stars as the film's heroine, Precious Jones. Actress/comedienne Mo'Nique was awarded an Oscar for her portrayal of Precious' brutal mother.
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Up In The Air: Nominated for six Academy Awards, this outstanding film focuses on a human resource administrator (George Clooney) forced to reevaluate his life and work. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn. Standout performances by Jason Bateman, Vera Farmiga, and serial scene-stealer Danny McBride. Terrific soundtrack.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, March 8, 2010

American Idol recap: 16 singers remain

Jermaine Sellers and John Park, two singers from Illinois, were sent home with the lowest votes out of the male contestants on American Idol Thursday night. I know the judges accused him of pushing too hard while he was singing, but I wanted to see Jermaine perform another week. He has a good voice and I love his geek chic; without a doubt Jermaine is a more interesting contestant that Tim Urban, who somehow remains on the show. Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze, who performs again with the guys on Wednesday night, has received positive feedback for his last two semifinal performances of Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" and Hinder's "Lips of an Angel." In addition to having a rich growl to his voice, DeWyze also has unique song choices. I don't even care much about the pitch problems noted by the judges because he actually feels the lyrics of the songs when he sings. I was especially impressed by his acoustic guitar interpretation of "Chasing Cars." As a viewer I can't stand when contestants choose to sing songs that have already been covered on the show in previous seasons.

A unique song choice and heartfelt interpretation of that song definitely makes a contestant stand out. I admit that because we didn't see much of Siobhan Magnus during auditions and Hollywood Week I was not interested in her when the judges announced their Top 24 picks. However, after Siobhan sang Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" in week 1 of the semifinals I was hooked. What an awesome song choice! Her powerful voice and quirky, unpredictable sound bites in her interviews have made her a fan favorite very quickly. As for my other favorites, I'm still sticking with Andrew Garcia and Didi Benami, even though they have had trouble living up to previous performances. Despite being hospitalized last Tuesday, Crystal Bowersox returned Wednesday night and gave one of the night's best performances. And although the boy is so nervous he doesn't have hardly any stage presence, I find myself rooting for Alex Lambert. I really enjoy the natural soul he has to his voice and it is refreshing to see a contestant who is without Hollywood-airs and still rough around the edges. I just love an underdog.

Tomorrow night the Top 8 girls perform, and the Top 8 guys perform Wednesday night. On Thursday we'll finally be down to the Top 12.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The moviemaking team of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp

The creative movie partnership of director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp that began with Edward Scissorhands has endured for twenty years. Burton once again teams up with Depp in Alice in Wonderland, which opened in theaters on Friday (in both 2-D and 3-D). You can check out their previous collaborations on DVD, available through the library:

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Find it in the catalog!

Ed Wood (1994)
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
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Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
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Friday, March 5, 2010

25th Film Independent's Spirit Awards

The 25th annual Film Independent's Spirit Awards ceremony airs tonight, March 5th, 2010.
Live on the Independent Film Channel, 10:00 pm. Hosted by actor/comedian Eddie Izzard.

Nominees in the "Best Feature" category:

(500) Days of Summer

Find it in the catalog!


Find it in the catalog!

The Last Station

(Not yet released on DVD)


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Sin Nombre

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Other independent films in competition:

50 Dead Men Walking
Find it in the catalog!

Find it in the catalog!

Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
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Big Fan

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Cold Souls
Find it in the catalog!

Food, Inc.
Find it in the catalog!

Find it in the catalog!

More Than A Game
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Paranormal Activity
Find it in the catalog!

A Serious Man
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Two Lovers
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For the full list of categories and nominees visit: Spirit Awards.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What we're listening to: The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga

Filled with catchy dance hooks also found on Lady Gaga's debut of The Fame,  the songs from The Fame Monster have themes that lean toward the dark side. On the single "Bad Romance" Gaga passionately sings about the desire to stay in a potentially harmful relationship: "I want your ugly / I want your disease." "Monster" compares members of the opposite sex to inhumans: "He's a wolf in disguise / But I can't stop staring in those evil eyes." In another song, Gaga names several specific monsters she doesn't want to be involved with, like "Alejandro," Fernando, and Roberto. My favorite, "Teeth," is about being involved with a vampire. With an intense, southern-influenced beat this song always makes me think of the images in the opening credit sequence from the Louisiana-set TV show True Blood. I think all of the songs on the album are strong and worth multiple listens, including "Telephone," which features Beyonce. The one ballad included on The Fame Monster is the piano-driven "Speechless" where Lady Gaga opens up about the pain caused by an ended relationship. I feel that the songs on this album share the idea that despite the pain and darkness that sometimes accompany relationships we still crave to have a partner in our lives.

I must note that the album's lyrics are censored. I did not realize this until I opened my personal copy and listened to the songs. I am very disappointed that the record company did not allow fans to pick whether or not they wanted the censored versions of the songs. As far as I can tell an uncensored version is not available in CD form; the uncensored album is available as an MP3 download on Amazon or iTunes (let me know if I'm wrong!).

Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DVDs out March 2nd

2012: An effects-heavy "Doomsday" movie. John Cusack stars as a Los Angeles limo-driver caught up in the tumultuous disasters that go along with the world ending.
Find it in the catalog!

Ponyo: A beautifully animated family film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle). The title character is a goldfish who befriends a human boy and wishes to be human herself. Roger Ebert has called Miyazaki "The greatest of all animators."
Find it in the catalog!

Where The Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book is adapted for the screen by indie auter Spike Jonze. The original story - a slender 38 pages in its book form - underwent significant alteration, becoming something like a domestic melodrama about a commune of monsters. An engaging film, but unlikely to interest younger viewers. Voices of the Wild Things: James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, and Paul Dano. The soundtrack, by Karen O and The Kids, is wonderfully suited to the the film's energetic mood swings.
Find it in the catalog!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's latest feature is the psychological thriller Shutter Island, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Set in 1954, the story focuses on Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Ashecliffe is a secretive and heavily protected institution, located on the Boston Harbor land-mass of Shutter Island. His partner for this assignment is fellow U.S. Marshall Chuck Aule. What the two detectives encounter on this mission is a locked-room mystery, and what may be a much larger conspiracy.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a detective haunted by the death of his wife and prone to nightmares of his traumatic WWII service. His rookie partner is played by Mark Ruffalo. The two actors ably portray the strained camaraderie of these characters. Sir Ben Kingsley is perfectly cast as the Hospital's chief psychiatrist. The most surprising performance for me was that of English actress Emily Mortimer, who goes toe-to-toe with DiCaprio in a key scene.

Shutter Island is an unsettling film, and not solely because of its preoccupations with Cold War paranoia and shifting identities. The scenes in Ashecliffe's Ward C are akin to a descent into hell; ghoulish faces behind the bars, groans and cries in the darkness. The Hospital interiors are darkly beautiful, and the filmmakers make good use of Boston Harbor's turbulent weather system. (The art direction is flawlessly handled by Dante Ferretti, as is always the case in a Scorsese picture.)

Author Dennis Lehane worked as a writer on the superb television drama The Wire (along with fellow novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price). In 2003, his novel Mystic River was adapted for the big screen by Clint Eastwood. The film was critically lauded, garnering Oscar wins for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Lehane is in the enviable position of having had his work adapted by two of the world's preeminent directors: Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. Lehane's latest work is The Given Day, a sprawling historical novel that would make a remarkable film.