Best of 2017: Videos and Music

We finish up our list of the Best of 2017 with our recommendations from the audiovisual world. Enjoy these video and music titles that tickled our fancy in 2017. And remember to check out the full listing of the Best of 2017 on the Library Newsletter.

Video

Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie

Two overly imaginative pranksters, George and Harold, hypnotize their principal so that he thinks he’s a ridiculously enthusiastic, incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants.

Tra-la-laaa! The funniest of kids’ book series leaps to the screen! The adaptation is visually and thematically faithful, and quite hilarious. If naively crude humor is your thing, this is your movie.  –Alan

Paterson

Paterson is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. His daily routine: driving his route, observing the city and overhearing fragments of conversation; writing poetry in a notebook; drinking one beer at his bar. And he loves his wife.

Paterson is a celebration of life. The creative impulses of the title character and his wife rest in us all. Jarmusch’s style delights in the minutiae as well. A love story of man, his wife, art, city, and humanity in general. Utterly satisfying.  –Alan

Moana

A young girl sails across the ocean to return the Heart of Te Fiti and save her island.

I loved Moana because it showed that girls do not have to wait around for someone to rescue them. The musical numbers were amazing and heart-wrenching. Moana also told the story of a young girl following her heart.  –Feylin

Moonlight

A young black man struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

This surprise best picture winner at the Academy Awards deserves all accolades and more. With sensitivity and sumptuous style, director Barry Jenkins explores issues of race, gender, class, and the difficult business of maturing.  –-Alan

La La Land

A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. This original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing dreams.

Ignore the haters, La La Land‘s blend of hyper expressive routines (for when emotion becomes too big for mere words) and follow-your-dream plotline is not only a perfect merging of form and content, but also absolutely exhilarating.  –Alan

Gimme Danger

An in-depth look at the legendary punk band, The Stooges.

Jim Jarmusch doesn’t usually make documentaries, and there’s never been a good film on the band that started punk. So while this is not a perfect film, it’s a long-overdue tribute to one of the greats, by a master filmmaker.  –Alan

The Eagle Huntress

A 13yr old Mongolian girl becomes the first female Golden Eagle huntress following 12 generations of male relatives before her.

A truly amazing and gorgeous documentary of the strong and brave Aisholpan, the 13yr old daughter in a family who have hunted small mammals using golden eagles for many generations. She is remarkable as the first female to become a huntress among her people.  –Margaret

Chasing Shadows

Follow professional photographer Geoff Sims as he tracks and photographs solar eclipses.

I can’t say it compares to the “real deal” like many experienced this past summer, but for those of us who missed it or didn’t snag a photo, this film could be the next best thing.  –Zac

Fire at Sea

Set on the once peaceful Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean youthful innocence is portrayed through the life of an average 12 year old boy, while just off its coast African refugee’s in overcrowded boats float under a scorching sun awaiting their fate.

This documentary’s stark contrast was thought provoking and gave me a greater empathy for the refugee crisis.  –Margo

Music

Last Place by Grandaddy

Lo-fi analog synth-fuzz space group returns after a ten year hiatus with gorgeous tunes of protest and despair.

Jason Lytle plays and produces the entirety of Last Place, and alongside his plaintive vocals, creates such sonic beauty and complexity that lines like “I just moved here, and / I don’t want to live here anymore” go down easy.  –Alan 

Lifer by MercyMe

Lifer, by MercyMe, is a variety of upbeat songs, like “Lifer” and “Happy Dance” mixed with hauntingly beautiful songs such as “Hello Beautiful” and “Ghost,” and the hit song “Even If.”

The tempo, harmonies, and affirming lyrics had me playing this CD over and over.  –Margo

Sleep Well Beast by The National

This is The National’s seventh album and it is one of their best. The songs touch on the challenges of existence in our daily lives and how we endure.

The lyrics, the sounds and the voice of lead singer Matt Berninger draw me to this album again and again.  –Serena

Northern Passages by The Sadies

Recorded in a home basement in Toronto over the winter of 2015, the familiar surroundings and lack of distractions resulted in an album with a consistent feel from the Sadies. Kurt Vile also makes an appearance.

The Good brothers have been cranking out Byrds-tinged garage alt-country rock for over 20 years in backing Neko Case, Jon Langford, and others, but this solo recording is the pure magic of their live performance captured. True lightning in a bottle!  –Alan

Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn Hitchcock

Masterful psychedelic pop/rock gems from the master himself.

Infectious, clever, catchy and amusing.  –Ron

Dreamcar by Dreamcar

80s New Wave synth pop from the present!

It’s nice to see synth pop making a comeback.  –Ron

Life Is Good by Flogging Molly

Celtic punk at its best.

Nice combination of aggressive and catchy music.  –Ron

An Atlas of….

I’ve always been fascinated by atlases. So much so that if a book has the phrase ‘atlas of’ somewhere in the title my interest is instantly piqued. ‘The History of Paperclips’ sounds like a snooze fest. ‘An Atlas of Paperclips’ on the other hand just might be the ticket. If you haven’t looked at an atlas since high school and perhaps think of them as antiquated and stodgy, now is a great time to get back in the atlas game. You see long gone are the days when atlases simply depicted the geography of countries and continents. They have now branched out to cover a diverse number of really interesting topics. Still skeptical? Take a look at these new and on order titles here at the library and prepare to expand your definition of the atlas.

An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist
In addition to having one of the greatest titles for an atlas that I’ve ever come across, this book is practically a work of art. Each map is die-cut out of the page and beautifully illustrated making this work more akin to an adult picture book than an atlas. Fascinating information about the history and claims to statehood of each country is included, however, making this work no fairy tale.

National Geographic Atlas of Beer
This is definitely an atlas with a singular theme and that theme is beer. Breaking down beers by country and region is the order of the day with graphs, charts and lots of detailed definitions that beer lovers are sure to appreciate. In addition, each geographical entry has a Beer Guide which points you to the best places to sample the suds of your dreams in each area.

Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities
Officially conceived as an aid to genealogical research, this atlas turns out to be much more. Maps for sixteen major American cities are produced in different historical periods so you can see how the cities changed over time and get a sense of the physical space the residents lived in. Though heavily east coast centric, with only San Francisco and Los Angeles representing the west, it is still a fascinating walk back through time.

The World Atlas of Street Fashion
Miles away from the world of haute couture, this atlas documents the clothes worn by everyday people trying to make a statement. Divided by continent, country and city you can learn about diverse clothing movements such as Modern Primitive, Normcore, Goth, Italo-Disco, K-Pop and many more. Particularly interesting is the way you can trace a style across continents, such as Punk, and see how it is interpreted by many different cultures.

Cinemaps: An Atlas of Great Movies
This unique and beautifully illustrated atlas creatively represents the plot lines and characters of key scenes in 35 beloved films. While a classic film or two is represented, including Metropolis and North by Northwest, most are thankfully on the popular side with maps for the likes of The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, several Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations, and even Shaun of the Dead. Each map is quite detailed so it is a help to have essays from film critic A.D. Jameson to help refresh your memory.

Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this atlas sets out to list the best places around the world for outdoor adventure. ‘Adventure’ can mean relatively benign activities such as hiking and biking, but also includes the rather terrifying, to this old man, activities of gorge scrambling, freeriding and skyrunning. With over 150 countries listed there is clearly plenty to do. Just be careful man.

So I hope this brief tour of new atlases has piqued your interest and shown you just how cool they can be. If not, I’m still fine with the label of atlas nerd. Though atlas aficionado does sound classier.

Keep Watching the Skies!

When it comes to monsters in the movies I’ve got a rule for being able to suspend my disbelief and actually believe in the creature, if only for an hour or two. If said monster is a product of the supernatural realm I just can’t buy into it. Ghosts just aren’t scary to me and I would be the guy denying that demons exist, just as Damien makes my head explode. If you give me the thinnest shred of ‘scientific’ evidence, however, I am down with it. Giant ants produced by atomic testing in the Nevada desert? You bet. An ancient alien discovered frozen in the ice in Antarctica that can shape shift? It could happen man.

I first discovered this rule in my precocious youth on the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up late on a weekend night and watch a locally hosted TV show, TJ and the Ant, which played what were then considered ‘horror’ films. These films were rarely frightening, unless you were terrified of men in foam rubber monster suits, and consisted primarily of Science Fiction films from the 50s and 60s. That didn’t stop me from loving them though. It also made it impossible for me to resist ordering Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (The Twenty First Century Edition) by Bill Warren for the collection.

This two volume (yes, two whole volumes) set is a lovingly crafted examination of nearly 300 science fiction films from 1950 to 1962. Each entry is an extended essay on each film touching on the plot, cast, production values, critical reception and much more for each title. An extensive collection of movie posters and film stills is also included. Even the appendices are fun with listings of films that didn’t make the cut and why, titles that have been remade and science fiction serials among others. All the classics of the genre are here including titles such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The real fun comes in with the films of, shall we say, dubious quality. I mean how can you resist learning about movies titled The Astounding She-Monster, The Brain from Planet Arous, Monster on the Campus, and, of course, Plan 9 From Outer Space?

Speaking of bad movies might I humbly suggest that you view some of these lovable but, let’s admit it, at times god awful films with the aid of professional comedians? You can do so by sampling the many excellent examples of riffing produced by the folks from Mystery Science Theater 3000. While there are now several different ways to experience MST3K (the original show on DVD, the excellent online service Rifftrax, and now a new reboot of the show on Netflix) they all have the same concept at their core: snarky commentary while watching bad movies. Also, they are freaking hilarious. I seriously can’t imagine trying to get through some of the films from Keep Watching the Skies (Eeegah, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Cat Women of the Moon and Reptilicus to name a few) without the comedic assistance of MST3K. The library has three volumes of the original show for you to cut your teeth on. But be warned, once started they are very addictive.

So remember to keep watching the skies. Also watch out for snakes.

Did You Know? (Woodpecker Edition)

That a woodpecker’s ‘tongue’ wraps around its brain to act as a shock absorber when it pecks on trees?

I found this information on page 16 in the book Woodpeckers of the World by Gerard Gorman. Technically, it is the cartilage and bones inside the tongue called the hyoid and an inwardly curved maxilla (an overhang of spongy tissue) that functions as a shock absorber. Their skulls can experience shocks of 1200 G (force of gravity), whereas a human is typically concussed at 100 G or below! This book shows all the species of woodpeckers and their habitats. There are a great many species located here in the Northwest.

Imperial Dreams by Tim Gallagher and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose are about the Imperial and the Ivory Billed woodpeckers which are both endangered and/or presumed already extinct. There have been rumors of sightings, but nothing has been documented. You could join the birdwatchers trying to catch a glimpse of these giant birds…. and be famous if you got a photo!

We have The Russian Woodpecker on DVD. It’s a film by Chad Gracia who follows eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich. Alexandrovich reveals to the world an enormous secret weapon, suspected to be for mind control, that stands in the shadow of Chernobyl and makes a woodpecker type noise on a specific radio frequency heard all over the world…. After going on for years, the noise had stopped right after the Chernobyl accident, but is now back on the air! Fedor’s conspiracy theory is that the reactor was deliberately destroyed as a grand cover up because the ‘woodpecker’ was supposed to be inspected by the Russian government the next month, and it would have failed.

Finally, growing up, we always looked forward to watching cartoons. Woody Woodpecker was always one of my personal favorites. We have Woody Woodpecker and Friends Holiday Favorites on DVD so you can remember just what a character he was and introduce him to your family.

Did You Know? (Lobster Edition)

That in 1880s Massachusetts servants went on strike so they wouldn’t have to eat lobster more than 3 times a week?

I found this information on page 215 in the book Good Eats, the Early Years by Alton Brown. This book is based on his TV series that explains the science of different foods, with lots of tidbits and trivia facts. Alton also gives very good instructions for preparing and cutting up a lobster, as well as a recipe for Stuffed Lobster.

The New York Times Seafood Cookbook edited by Florence Fabricant has many lobster recipes. I actually can’t wait to try my hand at making the Lobster Thermidor or risotto. For those of you who don’t have the opportunity to get or use fresh lobster, 200 Best Canned Fish & Seafood Recipes by Susan Sampson has recipes for Lobster Newberg, Lobster in Américaine Sauce and Shortcut Lobster Thermidor.

We mainly think of lobsters as an expensive delicacy but, back in the day, they were plentiful and cheap. As yummy as any one food can be, too much of a good thing can be very tiresome. Craving: Why We Can’t Seem To get Enough by Omar Manejwala, M.D. explains the science of why we crave certain things. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with neurotransmitters, serotonin, enkephalins, and norepinephrine. The author has lots of advice on how to break the cycles of addiction and craving.

Lobsters are crustaceans that belong to the larger family of arthropods. There are more than a million species of animals, and 3/4 of them are arthropods. Lobsters and other Crustaceans is a good book from the World Book’s ‘Animals of the World’ series. This children’s book explains all about lobsters being decapods (10 legs), their exoskeletons, molting, breeding and almost everything else you ever wanted to know about them! Animals Without Backbones by Ralph Buchsbaum gives even more details about these fascinating creatures.

And lastly, The Lobster is a funny movie about finding love… The story centers on David, as he searches for love at an exclusive resort. But, there’s a catch: you have 45 days to find love or you will be turned into an animal of your choosing!

D-M-U-B, Everyone’s Accusing Me!

Let’s talk about the Ramones, shall we?

Few American bands have made a bigger impact than this group of leather-clad mutants. As early as 1974 their proto-punk cum beach-pop refrains filled the hippest clubs of New York City, poised to influence the next wave of bands. In a way, their music was a return to early rock & roll, simple and short three-chord songs, but with a bit of a buzzsaw edge grafted on for the kids.

RockNRollHighSchoolI don’t know exactly when I first heard the Ramones, but I do know that seeing the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instantly made them one of my favorite groups. They came across as a bad-boy version of the Monkees, riding around in a red 1959 Cadillac with the license plate GABBA-GABBA-HEY. Unlike your typical lead singer, Joey Ramone was a tall, skinny, shall we say less-than-comely example of a man. Leather jackets, long hair, no attempt to be pretty teen idols, low-slung guitars, blisteringly short songs… In short, they created the punk sensibility.

 

Pinhead lyrics

GreatestHitsAs one can see, it doesn’t take much in the way of lyrics to create a Ramones song. Pinhead, from the 1977 album Leave Home, clocks in at 2:42, but the excerpt above contains all of its lyrics except for one sentence. The first line comes from the 1932 movie Freaks, where it’s a phrase used by the sideshow performers. This perhaps is a nutshell view of the Ramones’ appeal to teen me: catchy songs about unusual or disturbing topics. You can find this song at Everett Public Library on a CD that’s an outstanding introduction to the Ramones, Greatest Hits: Hey Ho Let’s Go.

 

Sedated lyrics

RoadToRuinI Wanna Be Sedated, off of 1978’s Road to Ruin, is another strange little pop gem. Apparently focused on an anxiety attack or some other mental issue, beach pop once again melds with a hard and dark edge to create an unholy mixture of proto-punk. I can picture Joey now, unflattering haircut, ugly glasses, ripped jeans, all somehow adding up to charisma and charm. Prepare yourself for 2:29 of leather-clad heaven.

 

Lobotomy
RocketToRussiaThe song that might have forever endeared the Ramones to me is Teenage Lobotomy, featuring the rhyme, “Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em, that I got no cerebellum.” And the opening chant of, “Lobotomy! Lobotomy!”? You simply don’t find this kinda lyric in your typical punk rock song. From Rocket to Russia, which was released in 1977, Teenage Lobotomy is one of the Ramones’ most popular songs, and this amuses me highly.

Their long-range influence can be seen in punk bands from the 90s that imitated the Ramones’ sound, and in some cases covered entire Ramones’ albums. Check out the band Screeching Weasel on Physical Fatness: Fat Music Volume III and early Green Day on their 1992 release Kerplunk!.

The Ramones broke up in 1996 after 22 years of practically non-stop touring. In a relatively short time Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004) died, leaving a gaping hole in the rock and roll world. But fear not! Their music lives on, and you can even see a female Ramones tribute band, The Dee Dees, playing at clubs in Seattle. In the meantime, settle back in a comfy chair, grab a slice of pizza and crank up Teenage Lobotomy. In the immortal words of Johnny Ramone in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school.”

Great Danes

If you haven’t noticed lately, Denmark has been taking the publishing industry by storm:  Specifically, the Danes ability to create a ‘quality of coziness’, hygge in Danish, is being lauded and held up as the path to an ideal and happy life. There are several new titles on the topic including How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World and The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids to name but a few. So are the Danes, and their Nordic cousins, the happiest people on earth? For the pro argument, definitely take a look at the titles mentioned above. There are other works by and about the Danes that suggest a more nuanced view however. Here are a few I’ve read and watched that might be of interest.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

Michael Booth has lived and worked in Denmark for many years, even marrying and starting a family there, but he can’t quite let go of his very British wit and outlook. This gives him a unique perspective as he examines the culture of not only Denmark but also the other Nordic countries he travels to including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. He finds much to admire (a strong sense of community and egalitarianism) but also sees some contradictions (a distrust of exceptionalism and pressure to fit in). None of his musings are mean-spirited, he clearly loves his adopted culture, but he does enjoying taking a few hilarious jibes at their foibles (Swedes seem incapable of addressing each other, let alone forming a proper queue). This work is a great place to start if you want to examine the Nordic cultures with a more critical eye.

Karate Chop & So Much for that Winter by Dorthe Nors

Nors is an outstanding Danish writer who specializes in brief tales that seem to hover on the surface of things but ultimately expose a deeper and often darker meaning underneath. She likes to experiment with form as well, with her subject often being contemporary culture and an individual’s place in it. Karate Chop is a collection of brief short stories, many just a page or two in length, that exposes the weirdness lurking underneath the seemingly mundane actions of everyday life. Each word is selected with care and to a devastating and darkly humorous effect. So Much for that Winter is more playful and experimental. It consists of two novellas, one told in a series of lists and the other in a series of headlines, which charts the inner lives of two very 21st century women grappling with all that life sends their way.

Unit One & Borgen

Watching popular television shows are another great way to try to understand the Danes. The police procedural series Unit One is a good example. A bit like the Law and Order franchise, Unit One follows the members of an elite mobile task force that travels to different locations in Denmark to help the local police solve crimes. While definitely fiction, it is an interesting way to compare and contrast different cultural attitudes towards crime and punishment. It is also fun to watch Mads Mikkelsen, of Hannibal fame, in a very early and very different role. Borgen is another series that is helpful for trying to understand the Danes, this time in the political arena. Borgen is the fictional story of Birgitte Nyborg, the first female prime minister of Denmark, who has to learn the art of wielding power in a way that will benefit the greater good while, hopefully, doing the least harm. This series is also concerned with the press and how the news gets reported and spun to suit various interests. Even if you aren’t a big fan of political drama, there are plenty of personal and family machinations to keep you hooked.

So are the Danes the happiest people on earth? As with all interesting questions the answer is a bit complicated. Best to come to your own conclusion after checking out all of the great material here at the library.