Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Juxtaposition?

 Certain similarities, however random, are inevitable.

I invite you to draw your own conclusions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday film screenings in the Chicagoland area

I'm sure more film screenings will be scheduled soon, but here is what I was able to compile for now:

◊◊◊ Free Holiday Matinees at the Glen Art Theatre (540 Crescent Blvd, Glen Ellyn):
The Santa Clause (Saturday, November 27 at 10:30 AM)
The Polar Express (Saturday, December 4 at 10:30 AM)
Home Alone (Saturday, December 11 at 10:30 AM)
Elf (Saturday, December 18 at 10:30 AM)

◊◊◊ Holiday Movies in the Park at Pritzer Park (corner of State and Van Buren Streets)
Lights (December 1 at 5 PM)
It's a Wonderful Life (December 1 at 5:30 PM)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (December 8 at 5:30 PM)
A Christmas Story (December 15 at 5:30 PM)

◊◊◊ It's A Wonderful Life at the Tivoli Theatre (5021 Highland Avenue, Downers Grove)
◊ Christmas Benefit Show ($5 donation to Sharing Connection Furniture Bank)
◊ December 4 and 5 at 1:30 PM

◊◊◊ It's A Wonderful Life with special guest host Karolyn Grimes ("ZuZu Bailey") at the Hollywood Palms Cinema (352 S. Rt 59, Naperville) and Hollywood Blvd Cinema (1001 W. 75th St, Woodridge)
◊ December 17 & 19 at the Hollywood Palms (check showtimes and ticket information)
◊ December 18 at Hollywood Blvd (check showtimes and ticket information)

◊◊◊ 27th Annual Music Box Christmas Show at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave, Chicago)
◊ December 17-24
◊ Double feature of White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life, plus Christmas carols accompanied by the live organ (with Santa!)
◊ Advance tickets cost $17 for the double feature ($15 for children under 13)and $12 for a single feature ($10 for children under 13). For schedule information or to buy tickets visit the Music Box Theatre.

◊◊◊ 2010 Holiday Classic Film Festival at the Tivoli Theatre
◊ All shows are $4 admission
The Tivoli Theatre is located in downtown Downers Grove and has been open since Christmas Day 1928.
The Bishop's Wife (Sunday, December 12 at 7 and 9:30 PM)
Meet John Doe (Monday, December 13 at 7 and 9:30 PM)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Tuesday, December 14 at 7 and 9:30 PM)
White Christmas (Wednesday, December 15 at 1:30, 4, 7, and 9:30 PM)
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Thursday, December 16 at 7 and 9:30 PM).

I've been dying to visit the Tivoli for quite some time, so I hope to make one of the screenings in their 2010 Holiday Classic Film Festival!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guilty Pleasure Pick: Holiday Movies, part 2: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989).

As a start to the Holiday Season, I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation pretty much every year around Thanksgiving time.  The film does a nice job of showing the chaos and family tensions that arise over the holidays.  Set in the Chicagoland (but filmed primarily in California),  Christmas Vacation follows Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family as they attempt to host the extended family for the Holidays.  The movie moves like a pinball from one disaster to another, but it really doesn’t burden itself too much with a plot.  There are a fair amount laughs, especially if you enjoy Chevy Chase’s bumbling, klutzy shtick.  This is probably the last great performance from him until his recent work on Community.  Christmas Vacation also features before they were famous performances by Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory, Roseanne) as Griswold’s spawn-- Audrey and Russ.  Below are my top five reasons to make Christmas Vacation part of your holiday tradition:

1).  Cousin Eddie’s killer wardrobe.  Whether he’s wearing a short robe and a trapper hat to empty his trailer’s sewer in style, a t-shirt tucked into a leopard speedo for swimming or dressed formally for Christmas dinner in a powder blue leisure suit, Cousin Eddie has a unique vintage style.  His most memorable outfit for me is the see-through white sweater and green turtleneck dickey combo he wears while drinking eggnog from a moose shaped glass (a reference to Wally of Wallyworld from the first Vacation).  Fashion gold!

2).  “We needed a coffin, err... a tree”.  One of the guests at the Griswold Family Christmas is Clark’s Uncle Lewis (William Hickey).  Uncle Lewis is nearing his last Christmas, but has a mean, sarcastic attitude and a penchant for cigars.  When Lewis tries to sneak a stogy in the living room, he accidentally lights up the Christmas tree which is destroyed in a brilliant flash.  Clark flips out, but his grouchy father-in-law, Art, only replies, “It was an ugly tree anyways.”  My favorite part is the lone remaining ornament (a singed retro Santa) falling from the burnt crisp of a tree.  The toasted tree leads Clark to go on a rampage with a chainsaw a chop down a replacement evergreen from his yuppie neighbors’ lawn.

3).  Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold.  Juliette Lewis gives a wonderful performance as Clark’s perpetually mortified and sarcastic daughter Audrey.  She’s not afraid to complain about her father’s silliness in driving out to the middle of nowhere to get a Christmas tree, or the injustice of having to share a bunk bed with a her brother (“I have nightmares about what he does when I’m NOT lying next to him.”); but she’s also the first to come to Clark’s defense when her relatives are being a little too harsh.  Juliette Lewis has a flat, sarcastic delivery that rivals Daria.  She’s definitely the most memorable Audrey from the Vacation series.

4).  The Squirrel Sequence.  One flaw in getting a tree from a neighbor’s lawn is that sometimes you get more than you expected.  In this case, a squirrel happens to be inside and interrupts the Griswolds’ Christmas Eve party. Clark's dad hilariously screams, "Squirrel" every time the critter is spotted. But things get really chaotic when Cousin Eddie’s dog Snots starts chasing the thing around.  My favorite part of this sequence is when incensed yuppie neighbor Margot (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) marches over to give Griswold a piece of her mind and gets a lot more than she bargained for when he opens the door.

5).  Clark’s passive aggressive comments. Clark Griswold is definitely not the coolest guy in the world.  He puts so many holiday lights on his home that it literally blinds the neighbors.  He wears Santa Claus ties and he even drinks out of a Tasmanian Devil shaped coffee mug.  So it makes it makes it that much funnier when he passive aggressively mocks other people.  Cousin Eddie is probably the biggest butt of his jokes.  For instance, Eddie asks whether Clark is surprised about his visit, Clark responds, "Oh Eddie...if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be anymore surprised than I am now." Another time he asks Eddie, "Can I refill your eggnog for you?  Get you something to eat?  Drive you out to the desert and leave you for dead?"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Roundup: Best Tracks of 2010

 Song rankings are determined by the following (highly scientific) factors:
  • Essential awesomeness
  • Personal zealotry
  • Number of repeat playings
  • Perceived technical difficulty
1). Dance Yrself Clean- LCD Soundsystem
Found on: This is Happening (Find it in the catalog!
Comments:  Throw your little hands up!

2).  Bloodbuzz Ohio- The National
Found on:  High Violet (Find it in the catalog!

3).  O.N.E.- Yeasayer
Found on: Odd Blood (Find it in the catalog!

4). Everlasting Light- Black Keys
Found on: Brothers (Find it in the catalog!)
Comments: Dan Auerbach proves that he is finally man enough to sing like a girl .  

5).  Closet Astrologer- Ruby Suns
Found on: Fight Softly (Find it in the catalog!

6).  Wanderin’- Justin Townes Earle
Found on: Harlem River Blues (Find it in the catalog!)

7).  Dancing on My Own- Robyn
Found on: Body Talk, Part 1 (Find it in the catalog!

8). Take it Easy-Surfer Blood
Found on: Astro Coast (Find it in the catalog! 

9).  Core of Nature- Midlake
Found on: Courage of Others (Find it in the catalog!

10).  Boyfriend- Best Coast
Found on: Crazy for You (Find it in the catalog!

Runners Up (unranked): 

Norway- Beach House
Found on: Teen Dream (Find it in the catalog!

F*** You- Cee-Lo 
Found on: The Lady Killer (Find it in the catalog!) 

Lark- Josh Ritter 
Found on: So Runs Away the World (Find it in the catalog!
Comment:  Best Paul Simon song not done by Paul Simon. 

Laughing Hieroglyphics- Avey Tare
Found on:  Down There (Find it in the catalog!)
Comment:  Recent discovery, otherwise would probably be in top 10.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oscar watch: Winter's Bone

One of the first movies of the year to gain attention (it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January) was Winter's Bone. Starring more-or-less newcomer, Jennifer Lawrence (left), as Ree Dolly. Ree is a tough 17- year-old who must cross literal and emotional terrain as she bucks the unspoken system to find information on her missing criminal father. If he doesn't show up for his court appearance the family will lose their house. Meanwhile, she is responsible for the her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother.

The movie rests on the shoulders of Lawrence and she does a brilliant job. John Hawkes (right) plays her uncle Teardrop and Garret Dillahunt plays the sheriff (mini Deadwood reunion!). Hawkes' role is larger and as usual, he delivers on his performance. Teardrop is a hardened man, who is mysterious, frightening, and aggressive in the beginning and then protective towards the end. But you're never quite sure where his loyalty lies.

It was fascinating to watch a family and region (Missouri Ozarks) so tightly knit and impenetrable, but it was also frustrating, as a viewer so outside of that realm, to understand why it all had to be that way. A chilling insight into a sub-culture of the American landscape.

Oscar predictions: Lawrence will be nominated for Best Lead Actress, Winter's Bone will be nominated for Best Picture. John Hawkes, though, will be left out in the proverbial cold.

Find it in the catalog!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Recipes and baked goods inspired by pop culture

I stumbled across the blog Diamonds for Dessert as I was researching potential recipes for our Harry Potter Movie Release Party. After checking out the Harry Potter recipes I looked at other posts and discovered some of the coolest, most creative baking ideas I've found in recent memory. College student Susan S. runs the blog, where she shares photos and recipes of recent baking/cooking projects (all of them do not deal with pop culture, but everything looks delicious) .

Anyway, if you are like me and enjoy both baking and pop culture, you will definitely find some fun ideas on the Diamonds for Dessert blog. I'm including a few highlights below-- be sure to click on the links to read the posts in full!

Glee Cookies
Too cool for words and perfect to serve at a Glee Viewing Party! We just need to add Brittany, Santana, Sam, Mike Chang, and Blaine cookies to the group!

Eat Me cookies from the 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland

Sorting Hat Bread from the Harry Potter Party menu

View the full menu from Harry Potter party here. The Butterbeer recipe looks very easy to make and serve; I wish I had used that recipe for last Saturday's party instead of my rushed concoction of ice cream, butterscotch syrup, and vanilla cream soda.

All photo screen captures were taken from Diamonds for Dessert blog and were used with permission.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Music Roundup: My Top 10 Albums of 2010

Interestingly, almost none of the artists from my 2009 Music Roundup appear on this year's list. In fact, few of them released albums this year at all. MF Doom's out-of-nowhere live album is a notable exception, but it's Dan Auerbach who makes the list for the second consecutive year. Auerbach's 2009 solo album, Keep it Hid, was a definite favorite of mine, and this year he's back with an outstanding Black Keys album. As is always the case with my subjective "best of" lists, these titles are not ranked. This is just an opportunity for me to share some of my favorite musical experiences, in the hope that you might enjoy them as much as I have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gulity Pleasure Pick: Holiday Movies, part 1: Love Actually

Love Actually (2003).
 Find it in the catalog!

Holiday movies for me are like pizza; not something you'd serve to someone you want to impress and certainly not the best thing you've ever ingested, but perfect for the end of the week when you are too lazy and brain dead to cook.

Love Actually is an amalgamation of several different cinematic dealbreakers for me: it's a holiday movie, a romantic comedy, and it interweaves several different stories with similar themes Crash-style.  Yet, I still watch it practically every holiday season.  It does have a great cast: Bill Nighy, Laura Linney,  Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Chiewetel Ejiofor, Martin Freeman and so on.  Basically the who's who of British cinema minus James McAvoy and Martin Sheen.  Some of the plot line are tracing paper thin and downright depressing, but thankfully, you never stick to one story too long.  The film is set primarily in London and it has dry, ironic Brit humor going for it.  Below are my top 5 favorite things about Love Actually

1).  Bill Nighy as Billy Mack:  Bill Nighy's performance as a washed up former rock star is by far the most entertaining part of the film.  Most likely modeled after Keith Richards, Mack struggled for years with substance abuse and pretty much says whatever enters his brain. However, Mack reminds me more of a mild-aged Russell Brand, as he revels in being randy and inappropriate and he only wears tight leather clothing.

2).  Prime Minister Hugh Grant's dance:  This is probably the most iconic moment for the film.  Joyful about all the positive press he is getting for telling off the Bill Clinton-esque American president (Billy Bob Thorton), after the president hits on Grant's pretty assistant, he does a happy dance to the Pointer Sisters' "Jump."  Like Sam Rockwell, Hugh Grant knows how to dance in a way that both skilled and hilarious.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy (belated) birthday, Leonardo DiCaprio!

Last week Leonardo DiCaprio celebrated his 36th birthday on November 11. I have been a fan of his for a long time, ever since I watched What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) on HBO and subsequently became infatuated with both the film itself and DiCaprio's performance. The movie remains one of my favorite films ever. DiCaprio played Arnie, a mentally challenged teenager living in the small town of Endora with his older brother Gilbert (Johnny Depp), sisters, and obese mother who never left the house. DiCaprio received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor but lost to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive. After What's Eating Gilbert Grape DiCaprio acted alongside Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman in The Quick in the Dead (1995) and took on the role of poet Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995), which dealt with Carroll's addiction to drugs as a teenager in New York. His performance as Romeo alongside Claire Danes' Juliet in the Baz Luhrman-directed William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1996) further cemented his status as a Hollywood heartthrob and in demand up-and-coming young actor. Luhrman set the film in present day and retained Shakespeare's dialogue. Both the film and its accompanying soundtrack were very big at my junior high and I'm sure the movie helped many students studying the play understand the action better. Arguably the biggest film of DiCaprio's career was his role as Jack Dawson in James Cameron's Titanic (1997). The movie won 11 of the 14 Academy Award categories it was nominated for. The love story between Jack and Rose (Kate Winslet) helped the movie dominate the box office in late 1997 and the first part of 1998 and pushed DiCaprio-fandom over the top, as Titanic and DiCaprio-related merchandise was everywhere.

Since the world-wide explosion of Titanic, DiCaprio has picked roles where he continues to grow as an actor. He acted alongside Tom Hanks in the Steven Spielberg-directed Catch Me if You Can (2002), received a Best Actor nomination for Blood Diamond (2006), co-starred with Russell Crowe in the Ridley Scott-directed Body of Lies, and reteamed with Titanic co-star Winslet in the very depressing Revolutionary Road (2008). DiCaprio has also teamed with director Martin Scorsese for the films Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), and Shutter Island (2010).

I think that DiCaprio's performances in Shutter Island and Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010, out on DVD December 7) were among my favorites from any actor in film this year. I look forward to his future projects, Hoover (in which he plays J. Edgar Hoover) and The Devil in the White City (in which he plays Dr. Henry Howard).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Time Capsule Cinema: The Sound of Music

Originally premiered in New York City on March 2, 1965.

Growing up, I wore out our VHS recorded copy; I watched it repeatedly on the weekends. I know all the words to all the songs and I can recite dialogue. To this day, I adore Julie Andrews and think it a shame she can no longer sing. So, all of this may be trite, but I was reminded why I love this movie so much after seeing the recent Oprah episode with the reunited cast. It hits a nerve for many people.

Based on a true story, Julie Andrews plays Maria, a young woman unsure of her commitment to become a nun. The Mother Superior directs her to become the governess for a motherless local family. The father, Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), is a Captain in the Austrian navy. Naturally, the two do not see eye-to-eye initially. The children are skeptical of Maria as well. Once she begins teaching them to sing, the tides turn. And, eventually a romance develops between Maria and the Captain, but it's not happily ever after yet-- the government begins to put pressure on the Captain to serve the Nazi agenda.

It has everything one could possibly want in a movie: romance, comedy, suspense, a little bit of action, and good music. I would also argue that the plot is deeper than most musicals; defying oppressive governments and leaving your home is not the stuff of most family entertainment.

If you've never seen this movie, or just want to be nostalgic, take a look at The Sound of Music.
Find it in the catalog!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Song obessions of the moment

Playing a track over and over again isn't that strange of a behavior for me.  Below are five tracks that I just can't seem to get enough of lately:

Katy Song" by the Red House Painters.  Found on: Retrospective (1999) and Lost Verses Live (2009).   I generally prefer to listen to Sun Kil Moon albums than to the Red House Painters, because I like my Mark Kozelek less angsty and more chill.  This song is definitely on the grim side of the spectrum, sample lyrics "glass on the pavement under my shoe/ without you, is all my life amounts to."  Still, I can't resist a good break-up song.  Plus the guitar vaguely reminds of the Smiths and I love the catchy closing melody.

"Mama's Eyes" by Justin Townes Earle.  Found on: Midnight at the Movies (2009).
I don't normally listen to country music, but I checked out Earle's most recent album Harlem River Blues (2010) and I enjoyed it.  So I decided to check out his earlier work too.  As a whole, I prefer Harlem River Blues, but Midnight at the Movies has more stand out tracks.  "Mama's Eyes" will ring true for anyone who has a somewhat complicated relationship with a parent, which is to say almost everyone.


 "Dance Yrself Clean" by LCD Soundsystem.  Found on: This is Happening (2010).  Recently, I saw LCD Soundsystem in concert.  Since then, I've been revisiting their albums. This song is a lengthy nine minutes, but it doesn't stop me from playing it at least twice every time I listen to that album.  This track would make a nice addition to any party mix, as it's hard not to dance along to- even while driving.

"Falling Down" by Tom Waits.  Found on: Big Time (1988) and Glitter and Doom Live (2009). I'm more of a casual Waits listener than some of the Media Corner staff (cough, cough).  However, my iTunes Shuffle cannot get enough of Waits; especially if I'm in a bad mood and skipping lots of songs, so this track fits perfectly.  Waits's distinctive, gravelly sounding, whiskey-aged voice improves with time, so I highly recommend the Glitter and Doom-version.

"Cry When You Get Older" by Robyn.  Found on:  Body Talk, Part 1 (2010).  I've been a fan of both the all ready released parts of the Body Talk series by Swedish pop star Robyn.  However, this anthem is my pick for best of song from the series so far.  It's rare for a heartbreak song to also be catchy, upbeat and fun to singalong to (though not for Robyn).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November events for film fans at the Dundee Library

Harry Potter Movie Release Party
Saturday, November 13 at 2:30 PM
Muggles of all ages, be sure to arrive at Platform 9 3/4 (The Meeting Room) promptly at 2:30 PM as we celebrate the release of the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Test your Harry Potter knowledge by playing trivia games and win cool prizes! We'll even eat and drink foods and beverages that are mentioned in the books. Best of all, hang out with fellow HP fans less than a week before the movie comes to theaters! Spaces are filling up, so be sure to register. You can call 847-428-3661 x 308 or click on the link above.

The Shawshank Redemption
Thursday, November 18 at 6 PM
Rated R
Last installment of Catch a Classic at the Library: Stephen King Adaptations

How to Train Your Dragon
Saturday, November 20 at 2 PM
Rated PG
Arrive early to get your popcorn and drinks before the movie starts!

Robin Hood (2010)
Rated PG-13
Tuesday, November 23 at 6 PM

I'll also have information on upcoming movies we are showing in December, January, and February. No tickets or reservations are required for the movies, but the audience capacity is limited to 80 people. Saturday screenings tend to be filled near capacity, so it is recommended you arrive 10-15 minutes early for those showtimes. The door to the Meeting Room opens 30 minutes prior to the start of the movie. Free popcorn and refreshments are served at each movie. Children under the age of 9 must be accompanied by an adult.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What We Are Watching: Terriers

When to Watch: Wednesdays at 9 PM on FX.

The FX series Terriers has a misleading name, as it is not about dogs and it doesn't have any major canine sidekicks.  The title instead refers to show's two rough and tumble leading men- ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and his partner, ex-thief Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James).  The two run a small, unlicensed private investigation business in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego.  The sunny, coastal vibe permeates the show right down to the catchy surf rock-inspired theme song, but the show definitely portrays a grittier side to life in Maritime California than say the O.C. (don't call it that!).  

Terriers is often compared to one of my all-time-favorite California-based detective shows, Veronica Mars.  Like VM, Terriers doesn't shy away from depicting class conflicts, especially between the very blue collar Hank and Britt and some of their more white collar clients like Robert Lindus (Christopher Cousins).  Much of the show's dark humor comes form the fast, witty banter between characters.  Hank and Britt are the two biggest culprits, but other characters like the duo's foul-mouth lawyer Maggie, or Hank's socially awkward and sarcastic sister Stephanie, get their share of laughs too.  VM and Terriers also have a noir-ish tone and mixture of stand-alone and multi-episode mysteries.

Though Terriers is essentially a male buddy show, it definitely has its share of interesting and complex female characters.  This includes Britt's girlfriend, Katie, who is studying to be a vet and seemingly the responsible one in the relationship.  But Katie also has a self-destructive side and she's attracted to Britt's darker impulses.  Hank's sister Stephanie is another example.  She is incredibly smart (graduating summa cum laude from M.I.T.), but she also suffers from a debilitating case of schizophrenia.

Another highlight of the show is the performances by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.  Both actors are primarily known for supporting roles on bigger shows; Logue played Chuck Martin on ER and Raymond-James played Rene Lenier on everyone's favorite vampire show, True Blood .  Here they are really given a chance to shine.  About half of the lines are only funny because of Logue or Raymond-James's pitch-perfect delivery.  Both actors have really good chemistry together.  Logue's whip-smart and garrulous take on Hank Dolworth is nicely balanced by Raymond-James's laid-back and maundering performance as Britt.  On their own, Hank would be insufferable and Britt would be a bore, but together, they make an adorable pair.

I've been a fan of the show since the pilot episode, but the series seems to get more enjoyable with every episode.  Like so many good TV shows, Terriers has low ratings.  So check it out now and you can have bragging rights over all your friends who'll discover the show on DVD. 

Recommended for Fans OfVeronica Mars, The Big Lebowski, anything on the USA Network.