Get Shorty, Now!

It’s 9th grade English and we are reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoy the book tremendously and soon the crafty Ms. Franklin tells us that we’re going to watch the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. I like watching movies in class as much as the next guy so I eagerly await this golden opportunity. And… I am sorely disappointed. The book is so very much better. To an older and wiser person this is no surprise, but to an impressionable teen… well, it was a surprise. And so I became interested in the relationship between books and movies based on books.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is unusual in that the 1990 book spawned a 1995 movie and a 2017 TV series. Let us look at these gems in the same order in which I discovered them.

Movie

The movie version of Get Shorty is one of my all-time favorites. Featuring a cast of John Travolta, Gene Hackman (who at that time was in every movie made), Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, as well as a funky soundtrack by John Lurie, this fast-paced glance into the world of organized crime and Hollywood phonies is simply brilliant. Travolta plays a Florida thug with mob connections who, while on a job in L.A., decides to become a movie producer. The rest of the plot is too complex to explain with any clarity, but there are twists and turns galore, surprises and shocks, scream queens and egg-white omelets.

Book

Some years later I decided to read the book to see how the movie compared to it. 9th grade English all over again! But this time both book and movie were excellent. Never having read Leonard before, I wasn’t sure if I would like his prose, but his words were like butter to my soul. There seems to be this school of writers who focus on kooky capers in Florida (Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Tim Dorsey), and Leonard is, if not their king, at least their vice-chancellor. And having seen the movie first, there was the added bonus of hearing the soundtrack in my head while reading.

TV

When the television version of Get Shorty arrived I was highly suspicious. Although the cast of Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano is solid, it seemed that a “remake” of the movie could do nothing but fall short of the mark. The first episode did nothing to dispel my suspicion. See, the movie has such a specific feel created by the soundtrack, pacing, editing and acting. To my mind, the story and this feel are one and the same. The TV version could have chosen to imitate the movie’s feel, but it does not. And as much as I love Chris O’Dowd, I was disappointed.

Eventually I moved on to episode 2 and I felt that there might be hope. Trudging on, I began to respect and enjoy the show, its soundtrack and pacing, its somewhat different telling of the story. And by the time I finished season one I was loving it.

So here we have a rarity, a book that became a movie that became a television series, and all three versions are fabulous yet distinctive. I recommend checking out each version of this story, in whatever order you like. Just jump in your Cadillac minivan and drive on down to the library. Tell ‘em Chili Palmer sent you.

Hidden Comedy

I am a lover of comedies. Sure, dramas can be dramatic and westerns might feature exciting horse brawls, but comedies speak to my soul like an impoverished artist panhandling for paint money in the Ben Franklin parking lot. But I digress.

While it’s easy enough to be aware of mainstream comedies, many films fall through the grapevine cracks (or gracks) and spend their golden years on the shelves of your local public library, waiting for some kindhearted chappie to take them home, give them a spin, perhaps entertain guests…

But let us remain on point. Many spectacular comedies you might not have heard of await you at Everett Public Library. And here are six of them.

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The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) starring Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn
There is a certain type of comedy set in 19th century Europe that’s filled with costumes and frolicking and chaos. This is one of those. Here we find Professor Moriarity attempting to steal vitally important documents, Sigerson Holmes trying to stop him, and various people singing, dancing, and acting in myriad screwball ways.

The Big Picture (1989) starring Kevin Bacon and Teri Hatcher
From time immemorial artists have struggled with the dilemma of making art vs. making a living. The Big Picture tells the story of a young film student who wins a competition, is wooed by studios, tries to maintain his artistic integrity and eventually sells his soul. This depiction of Hollywood is hilarious yet sadly accurate.

Mystery Men (1999) starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and Janeane Garofalo
Not all superheroes are created equal. Some can melt matter with their eyes, others emit foul odors or lob bowling balls at the bad guys. The Mystery Men fall into the latter category, featuring the Blue Raja who throws cutlery at people and the Shoveler who wears a hard hat and fights with a shovel. When Captain Amazing is kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein, the Mystery Men set out to save him. And much hilarity follows.

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The Big Year (2011) starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson
Some people like to count birds. Sometimes these people spend an entire calendar year keeping track of the number of species they see. This is called a big year. Our movie finds three strangers who each secretly set out to break the record for most birds counted in a year. The film is rather quiet, slow and charming, delving into the lives of the birders as well as documenting their searches for rare birds.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) starring Tina Fey and Martin Freeman
Based on a true story, Tina Fey plays a journalist who goes to Afghanistan to cover the war. Initially unhappy with this assignment, she gradually finds herself feeling more and more at home. Not a typical comedy, somewhat slow-paced, this film transports its audience to a lifestyle that few have experienced.

The Little Hours (2017) starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and John C. Reilly
Loosely based on stories from The Decameron, this medieval comedy is set at a convent filled with nuns and novitiates who talk like sailors, enjoy sex and, in one case, worship the devil. The juxtaposition of stereotypical millennials with a 14th century setting creates a unique and entertaining viewing experience.

You Are an Obsession

Nowadays, openly proclaiming your obsessive allegiance to a beloved pop culture item is not only considered normal but celebrated. Be it a book, movie, TV show, graphic novel, album or almost anything, you can feel safe in declaring your intense admiration for it. As someone who in his youth had to hide his love of Star Trek (definitely team Spock), The Thing (the John Carpenter version thank you very much) and tactical board games (care for a game of Midway?) from the ‘norms,’ this is a welcome change.

But even today, some might argue that certain individuals take it a bit too far. While it is definitely subjective, since one person’s beloved hobby can be another person’s time wasting succubus, it is hard to deny that there is a line between really liking something and being obsessively, perhaps destructively, devoted to it. Here at the library, we have several newer books that examine both the objects of hyper devotion and the people who love them, and let you decide. Read on to learn more.

Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom by George Dohrmann

We’ve all seen them. In the panning shot of the spectators at a sporting event there is always at least one person in full body paint and no shirt screaming their support for the team. While many love the home team, some really, really, really love them. George Dohrmann sets out to discover what motivates a person to become a ‘superfan’ and how it affects their lives and the lives of those around them. While there definitely is a lot that is bizarre and funny here, the author does not exploit his subjects. Rather he genuinely tries to understand what motivates obsessive sports fans and conveys their humanity to the reader.

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why by Benjamin Errett

Rather than focusing on one object of pop culture desire, this work tries to create a framework for understanding why we like certain things so passionately. The author cleverly equates our cultural likes to the sense of taste, breaking our passions down into Sweet (ex. Cozy Murder Mysteries), Sour (ex. Mad Magazine), Salty (ex. True Detective), Bitter (ex. Tim and Eric) and Indescribable (ex. Gilmore Girls). While this might sound highly regimented, it is actually quite fluid and a fun way to look at the cultural artifacts we so adore.

Furry Nation: the True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture by Joe Strike

This is not a critical examination of ‘furry fandom’, a fascination with anthropomorphic animal characters, but a celebration of the culture itself. The author is a longtime participant and well placed to report on its history and the many forms it takes: from well-known cartoon characters and sports mascots to individuals creating their own works. He also argues that the desire to emulate animals, and see them as equals, can be seen in the human species from early on in the form of cave paintings and ancient rituals.

Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

The interesting premise of this book is simple but effective: a person’s true devotion comes out when threatened. Steven Hyden demonstrates this by exploring nineteen musical rivalries that prompt fans to defend ‘their band’ to the bitter end. All the classics, and some you may not know about, are here: David Lee Roth vs. the Van Halen brothers, Oasis vs. Blur, Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West, Dr. Dre vs. Eazy-E and many more. Hyden does not try to declare any winners, however.  He is more interested in the choices fans make and what that says about ourselves and what we choose to love.

People Like Us: the Cult of the Rocky Horror Picture Show by Lauren Everett

Perhaps one of the first groups that could be considered superfans, as well as cosplayers, devotees of the Rocky Horror Picture Show get the lovingly crafted photo-essay book that they deserve here. This work is a celebration of those who like to dress up as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, Brad, Janet and, who could forget, Magenta as well as other characters and attend midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show all while shouting back at the screen. While primarily made up of photographs of the participants, this work also touches on why people choose to participate and what they get out of it.

Not only will you get an appreciation for other people’s passions after reading these books, you just might feel better about embracing your own.  Don’t dream it, be it, as they say.

Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

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Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

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Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

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Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

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Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.

Sail in and Saddle up!

If one of your goals this year is to join a book club or simply get out of your comfort zone and try something new, then look no further!

Everett Public Library’s Evergreen Branch Southside Book Club commences its first book discussion of 2018 on Tuesday, February 13th at 6:30. We will be talking about Before the Wind by Jim Lynch and you can expect a welcome atmosphere, light refreshments, and an enjoyable exchange of insights and comments. Consider yourself invited.

If you are participating in the 2018 Reading Challenge at the Everett Public Library, Before the Wind is the perfect match for the month of January. This book is a classic Northwest story by a local author. It is set on the inland waters of Puget Sound where boating in all its forms is a way of life for many. The story follows the Johannssen family. A family that is a portrait of dysfunction bound together by their love of sailing.

Locals will recognize landmarks and your knowledge, or lack thereof, of sailing will not affect your enjoyment of this book. Lynch captures the nuances of Northwest living (for example “rain becomes your roommate”) and he appreciates the mystical love affair men and women have with their craft, be they seaworthy or not. My colleague Leslie blogged on this very same book two years ago, sharing first hand her families own experience.

If book club or sailing isn’t your thing, saddle up and come out for an evening with author Craig Johnson, best known for the award-winning Longmire mystery book and TV series. Johnson will be speaking at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 10th at 7 pm followed by a chance to meet and socialize with the author. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Everett Public Library and, appropriately enough, Rainier Beer: Walt’s favorite drink.

The series is about sheriff Longmire and is set in Wyoming. Local law enforcement and a nearby Native American population are the perfect mix for solving crime and creating the Wild West tension of lawlessness. My husband and I just started watching the TV series and are hooked by the credible characters and adventure. Both the books and DVDs are available at the library.

Kanopy for the Holidays

Logging into Kanopy is like going to the coolest video store on the planet. You remember those, right? You’d walk in and the place was curated with a cineaste’s top picks. You were absolutely guaranteed a serendipitous encounter with the sublime, strange, or some combination therein. Kanopy allows anyone to catch anything: from contemporary hits & classics to documentaries, including The Great Courses (there are 3,124 courses from Learning Spanish to Music as a Mirror of History), to world cinema including classics by the likes of Fellini & Bergman, to obscure & wonderful Films Noir like Lured and Sudden Fear, to utter schlock that may shock…

But just in time for the holidays, Kanopy has something for you. And it’s all free!

From contemporary classics like We Need to Talk about Kevin to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Kanopy stocks a wonderful collection of new movies. But last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is really very special. The film is as wild as the title may suggest. From New Zealand and the director of the also-recommended vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, Wilderpeople is the story of perpetual foster child Ricky Baker. Ricky has finally found his dream family…or the family that has the patience and kindness to handle this violent, clumsy, arson-prone problem child with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, his foster-mother quickly dies. Her husband, played by the great Sam Neill, goes walkabout to grieve her. Ricky runs away, but bumps into him in the process. They become fugitives, which is even crazier…and funnier than it sounds. Critics called it: “Deeply delightful,” “Infectiously entertaining adventure,” and “a deliciously good time.” If this sounds like what you’re hunting for, hunt no further than New Zealand’s biggest hit film of all time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Echoes of Moonrise Kingdom and great buddy pictures abound. Watch it.

And I also mentioned Film Noir, everyone’s favorite Classical Hollywood genre (really a style) of film, so named by the French when our films flooded their country post-World War II. Because, well, they were really dark or black (as you’d imagine, noir is the French word for that). The cycle of films (roughly 1941-1959) are paranoid and filled with beautiful shadows, tough, fast-talking characters, and some of the wildest angles and deepest meaning of any American films you’ll see. The director of Lured, Douglas Sirk, is renowned for incredibly rich and evocative 50’s melodramas like Imitation of Life, but in 1947 he directed a young Lucille Ball as a dance hall girl in danger of falling prey to a serial killer on the foggy London streets. If Ball wasn’t enough, we also are treated to the suave George Sanders and the inimitable Boris Karloff as a crazed fashion designer. This lovely film is restored so you can enjoy what Entertainment Weekly calls “an atmospheric sensual pleasure.” And you can’t find it in any local library’s DVD collection…only on Kanopy!

If you’re dreaming of a…weird Christmas, you will want to check out our Christmas in Connecticut or Remember the Night DVD’s. Both are bizarre: they’re timely treats that are salty, yet sweet. But, why wait? Sidle over to Kanopy where you can stream the darkest, and perhaps strangest, of Christmas films. Alongside Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas is notorious as the first modern slasher film. It stands alone as the first “seasonal slasher,” arriving in 1974, four years before John Carpenter’s Halloween. But what I really like about the film is its inventive cinematography that helps to convey its utter creepiness. This psychological horror, rather than visceral  terror (meaning: not much of a body count), is conveyed by the use of a special harness Bob Clark (who would later direct Christmas Story) devised and attached to the killer. We experience much of the film from the killer’s point of view, implicating us in his spine-chilling misdeeds. And don’t miss out on the killer performances! A young Margot Kidder is the cynical sister in this sorority alongside former Juliet (of 1968’s Romeo and Juliet fame) Olivia Hussey’s sweetly sentimental side. SCTV personality Andrea Martin and John Saxon also make appearances.

So, get over to Kanopy to experience the finest in streaming video content. All free! All you need is your library card!! What? Don’t have one of those? Just sign up at epls.org and start streaming great content right away!

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.

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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