Best of 2016: DVDs & Music

We conclued the Best of 2016 staff picks list with our DVD and music selections. So many titles so little time. If you want to take a look at the full list of staff picks, check out the Library Newsletter.

DVDs

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The Nice Guys
In 1970s Los Angeles, a mismatched pair of private eyes investigate a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star.

Director Shane “Lethal Weapon” Black uses action genre as background for brutally funny and incredibly twisting and twisted story performed with brio by Crowe as the brutal private eye and Gosling as his incompetent sidekick. Pure fun. -Alan’s pick

Zootopia
Zootopia city is a melting pot where animals from every environment live together. But when optimistic Officer Judy Hopps arrives, she discovers some are turning vicious.

A terrific film for old and young alike, Zootopia says as much about racism and bigotry as it does in believing in yourself. And it’s masterfully done. And funny. Good for 8+ -Alan’s pick

Where to Invade Next
Presents the theory that the American dream, all but abandoned in the United States, has been adopted successfully in other countries, including Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Tunisia, and Iceland.

Love him or hate him, agree with him or not, Moore is a brave filmmaker who knows how to craft a compelling film filled with evidence and lots of style and humor. -Alan’s pick

Legend
The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy. This crime thriller takes viewers into the secret history of the 60s and the events that secured the infamy of the Kray twins.

Tom Hardy continues to be the best actor of his generation, and he has so much to work with here: one brother is conflicted, complex, genteel, the other savage. Beyond this acting showcase, this is the best gangster film since Goodfellas. See it. -Alan’s pick

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Deadpool
The origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool.

As a longtime fan of snark and a new fan of comic books, I was excited to see this on Valentine’s Day with my husband (my idea–it’s totally a love story!). I loved every second; it has the best opening credits sequence EVER! -Carol’s pick

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1
A successful, driven, and possibly crazy young woman impulsively gives up her partnership at a prestigious law firm and her upscale apartment in Manhattan in a desperate attempt to find love and happiness in suburban West Covina, California.

Hilarious, heartwarming, and utterly frustrating at times (Rebecca Bunch, what are you thinking?), this musical comedy is unlike any TV show I’ve ever seen. Season 2 just started, so now’s the time to catch up with this award-winning show! -Carol’s pick

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A defiant and troubled orphan finds himself on the run with his grizzled and very reluctant foster father in the wild New Zealand bush. With the two at the center of a national manhunt, they are forced to work together to survive.

This unaffected, emotional story has everything–drama, action and comedy! This mismatched-buddy pursuit movie was directed by Taika Waititi, who directed/wrote/starred in one of my fave films from 2014. What We Do in the Shadows. This film is PG-13. -Joyce’s pick

The Fits
Director Anna Rose Holmer’s gripping feature debut is a psychological portrait of 11-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower), a tomboy assimilating to a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati.

The dreamy, beautifully syncopated movie—a coming-of-age tale—is extraordinarily watchable, made more so thanks to the thrillingly kinetic, fierce dancing. -Joyce’s pick

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Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood) hits it out of the park with this story of a freshman’s move from constant adult supervision to a new exciting life with his skirt-chasing, rabblerousing college baseball teammates in 1980s Texas.

The title (and movie poster) seemingly indicate dumbed-down, predictable shenanigans, but as author and director, Linklater has a bewitching touch which makes this comedy worth watching. –Joyce’s pick

Dark Matter Season 1
Awoken from stasis with their memories erased, the crew of the spaceship Raza has to find out who they are and why everyone hates them so much as they rampage through the galaxy.

This TV series is classic over the top Sci Fi complete with a universe ruled by evil corporations, a sentient AI, self-repairing nanotechnology and, of course, space zombies (kind of). -Richard’s pick

Music

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Good Times! by The Monkees

The Monkees reunite to create an album that sounds like the best of their 1960’s output due mainly to excellent guest songwriters from Ben Gibbard to Andy Partridge.

Tuneful, hook-laden, and loaded with perfect pop songs, what’s not to like? Plus, you get to hear the voices of the dearly departed Harry Nilsson and Davy Jones on 13 new songs. Much better than their last, dreadful 80’s reunion. -Alan’s pick

Blackstar by David Bowie
David Bowie’s heavy, difficult, yet meditative industrial art-rock masterpiece recorded as he was dying from liver cancer.

Bowie recorded Blackstar to say goodbye. No one, including the musicians, knew this. They may have been distracted by this inspired genius incorporating hip-hop, jazz, folk, etc., into a stunning, sad, and beautifully dark album. Best of the year. -Alan’s pick

Everybody Wants by The Struts
Rock music with toe-tapping melodies, clever lyrics, and attitude.

ROCK IS NOT DEAD. Anyone who has told you that needs this CD. Lead singer Luke Spiller has an amazing vocal range, guitarist Adam Slack has some hot licks, and the whole band is covered in glitter and yelling at me– and I love it. -Carol’s pick

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Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs by Laurie Berkner Band
Laurie Berkner presents a treasure trove of well-loved traditional children’s songs plus six of her most popular originals.

This is classic kid’s music at its best!  From “Alouette” to “Zodiac,” these songs have great arrangements and delivery. Not just kiddie music, you’ll love it too. Fantastic! -Leslie’s pick

Puberty 2 by Mitski
Gritty but lovely indie rock.

Mitski Miyawaki explores love, loss, anxiety, and depression in this emotionally-raw album. -Lisa’s pick

Habib Galbi by A-Wa
Three sisters with a love for electronic music, reggae, and Yemenite women’s chants.

It’s a really fun, upbeat, dancy album. -Lisa’s pick

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Awo by uKanDanz
This group considers their style “Ethiopian Crunch Music,” which is a wonderful combination of world music styles.

It’s a thoroughly-satisfying mashup of metal and hard rock guitar riffs and power chords; a blues and jazz horn section; and amazing vocals that expressively wail, croon, and keen. -Lisa’s pick

LateNightTales by Ólafur Arnalds
Down-tempo dreamscapes with some trip hop beats interspersed.

Fans of Bjork, Prefuse 73, and Sigur Rós would probably be into it. ‘Icelandic’ would be the best adjective to describe this album. -Lisa’s pick

No Manchester by Mexrrissey
A bit mariachi, a little bit rock and roll – all Morrissey.

I love the variety of artists and styles used to cover some very well-known Morrissey hits. Dedicated fans and those only slightly familiar with his work will find something to enjoy. -Lisa’s pick

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Buenaventura by La Santa Cecilia
A fusion of Latin jazz, rock, Mexican folk music, rockabilly, and more.

Toe-tapping tracks are full of guitars, horns, accordion, and gusty bluesy vocals in Spanish and English. -Lisa’s pick

The Impossible Kid by Aesop Rock
This is the kind of hip-hop album that you’ll listen to a hundred times and probably notice something different each time.

Intricate, powerful rhymes do acrobatics with the English language, making the listener sit up and take notice. -Lisa’s pick

Adore Life by Savages
Adore Life is a solid rock album that brings to mind the likes of Joan Jett, The Pixies, and Fugazi.

I really appreciated the progression of the album; it has the ability to rip things apart and then slow everything down with a lyrical and melodious groove. -Lisa’s pick

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Outskirts of Love by Shemekia Copeland
A fiery, driving mix of blues, rock, and soul.

It’s the type of album you want to listen to on repeat. -Lisa’s pick

Tower Music by Joseph Bertolozzi
A hard album to define! This album was made by using the Eiffel Tower as a percussion instrument.

The music is somehow lively and minimal at the same time. It really is impressive how intricate each track is, and the range of sounds the artist was able to create using the iconic landmark. -Lisa’s pick

Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka
First and foremost a soul album, but with hints of rock, blues, gospel, and even a kind of classic rock feel at times.

It’s very beautiful, grand, and political. -Lisa’s pick

A Constant Need

I think I may have discovered another universal constant. Along with gravity and the speed of light there is the constant need for my family unit (consisting of my wife, me and a very grumpy dog) to be watching a science fiction television series of some kind. If we don’t get a weekly dose of a show with at least some type of science fiction hook, we tend to get listless and feel that something is missing in our lives (O.K. the dog probably doesn’t care, but we anthropomorphize big time). Luckily the library has a great selection of DVDs that allow us to feed our addiction. Here are four recent(ish) series that just might be of interest if you suffer from the same malady or just like interesting television that actually has a narrative.

The Expanse

theexpanseBased on a series of novels by James Corey, The Expanse is set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system but is still plagued by the all too familiar problems of corporate greed, governments on the verge of war and religious fanaticism. The Expanse is a true space opera, in the best sense of the term, with multiple story lines and characters that all converge in the end. The three main plotlines involve a police detective tracking down a lead in the asteroid belt, a ship’s officer and crew trying to find out who destroyed their vessel and a Machiavellian United Nations executive trying to make sure that Earth’s interests come first. The mystery at the center of it all is slowly revealed and appropriately ominous and menacing. The show’s great strength is in how it presents a fully realized future universe that is fun to get lost in.

Humans

humansFor fans of stories dealing with artificial intelligence, the setup for this series will sound familiar. In the near future synths, my favorite name for androids, are an integral part of human society. They do most of the jobs, from gardening to telemarketing, and are designed to be essentially mindless labor. One inventor, however, has created a small family of synths that are sentient and self-aware. When the inventor dies, under mysterious circumstances of course, these ‘human’ synths are forced to split up and go underground to try to survive. What follows, over eight episodes, is a fascinating examination of some of the classic questions arising out of the development of artificial intelligence: What does it mean to be conscious? What happens when humans create a sentient being? Are these creations simple machines or are they individuals? If they are individuals, will they continue to serve us or simply rebel?  Oh and, of course, there are sexbots.

Ascension

ascensionAt first this mini-series seems a bit like Mad Men in space. In 1963, a secret program was set up to send a set of colonists to the nearest star to preserve humanity. Fifty-one years later their descendants are halfway through the journey. The early 1960s culture aboard the ship, complete with beach parties and three martini lunches, is suddenly disturbed by the murder of a young woman. Since this is the first murder of the trip no one is sure quite how to handle it. An investigation is launched and the viewer begins to find out that the society on board is far from ideal with all sorts of nefarious power struggles and a rigid caste system. There is a major plot twist early on that sends the story in a very different direction, but if you roll with it, it makes the story even more compelling.

Wayward Pines

waywardpinesThis is another show based on a series of novels, this time by Blake Crouch, and is produced by M. Night Shyamalan so you know things are going to get a little weird. While investigating the disappearance of two of his fellow U.S. Secret Service agents, Ethan Burke gets into a car accident and wakes up in the seemingly idyllic town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. As the series progresses he is introduced to the, shall we say, quirky residents and quickly finds out that something is really amiss. First of all, it is impossible to leave the place. Also, there is strict set of rules that everyone must follow and repeated violations result in a ‘reckoning’ which isn’t pretty. While the setup is definitely more Twin Peaks than Star Trek, as the series progress you definitely get to more familiar Science Fiction territory. Admittedly, you do have to suspend your disbelief big time to enjoy this one, but as they said on MST3K: ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax.’

Great New Films

oscarsWhile on a long plane flight home last week, I watched every single film trailer to get the scoop on the latest movies for you. Oscar season is upon us and there are a lot of excellent titles that you can borrow from your library. For your benefit, I have also researched reviews of these films and have listed them in order of popularity with the critics and the public alike. Here goes!

index (1)Iris is about fashion icon Iris Apfel: the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven with an out-sized presence on the New York & Palm Beach fashion scenes. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, Iris continues to embrace the values and work ethic established in her middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression. If you are a fan of documentaries, art, fashion, individuality or life-long love, borrow this brilliant film!  Great quote:  “My mother worshiped at the altar of accessories!”

 

index (2)Do you like Hitchcock? The Gift is a smart  thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. In fact, it was just too scary for my husband so we had to turn it off.  Simon and Robyn are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. This is not a story about one individual following a family; it’s about the past following you. “You think you’re done with the past, but the past is not done with you.”

 

index (4)Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as the American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War in this historical drama. Everyone likes this movie and it’s going to be shown at Everett Public Library (February 27th at noon at the Evergreen Branch) as part of Oscar Fest 2016! It is directed by Steven Spielberg and has been nominated for Best Picture. You don’t want to miss this one!

 

index (5)Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation  stars the other Tom (Cruise). You’re hooked right from the start with a jaw-dropping opening sequence which looks completely free of computer generated imagery, and a great but sinister twist on the iconic mission briefing. From there, it’s a fun roller coaster ride and although there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing, it stays coherent. There were more than a few improbable moments and the bad guys suffer terribly from an inability to shoot straight, but if you’re ready to suspend your disbelief on occasion, it’s a fun movie. Get into the hold line for this popular action film.

 

index (6)Of course, The Martian is a wildly popular movie and deservedly so because the book was so great. After a bad storm blows across Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and left behind. Now stuck on a hostile planet he must find a way to signal to Earth and in the meantime, survive on limited supplies. Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny, The Martian offers a faithful adaptation of the book that brings out the best in leading man Matt Damon who has been nominated for Best Actor.

 

index (7)Straight Outta Compton is super violent and super profane, but also super popular. It is a very well-directed, provocative and comprehensive biopic that shines with exquisite camera movements and amazing performances to tell this compelling story of the five young men who popularized the gangsta rap movement that came up in the 1980’s. Using brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats, they put their frustration and anger about life into the most powerful weapon they had: their music. Up for Best Original Screenplay.

 

index (8)Trainwreck is super funny and a decent romantic comedy. It is a typical Judd Apatow movie with its heart in the right place, flawed characters, truthfulness with sharp humor, and hilarious work from Amy Schumer. Amy is a party girl who starts to wonder if there may be something to the monogamy thing when she starts to have feelings for the charming and successful doctor (Bill Hader) she is interviewing for an article. If you liked Bridesmaids, this one’s for you.

 

index (9)Ant Man stars Paul Rudd (Love him!) fully aware of the silliness of someone shrinking down to insect size while remaining a threat to human beings. The last Marvel film of phase 2 decides to just have fun with the concept. The showdown makes great use of the possibilities of people shrinking and growing back to size within seconds and makes for one of the smallest and funniest end fights in movie history.

 

11191454_oriEvergreen Branch Manager Alan loved Mistress America. This is a wonderful movie filled with excellent performances, some hilarious lines,a fantastic screenplay and sophisticated dialogue, wonderful score and such a big heart. Tracy is a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned. But then she is taken in by her soon to be stepsister, Brooke, and she is rescued from her disappointment. Heartwarming!

 

indexSVHM9DYNAloha stars Bradley Cooper as a celebrated military contractor returning to the site of his greatest career triumph, the U.S. space program in Honolulu, Hawaii. This romantic comedy has something for everyone: love, a space rocket story and a beautiful island setting. It didn’t get great reviews, but I liked it because of the Hawaiian setting and, hey, Bradley Cooper. It is at the bottom of this list, but still worth your time.

 

That’s all folks! Check out these films and others at the Everett Public Library.

The Best Under-seen Films of 2015

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

We’re knee-deep in awards season. The Oscar nominations have been announced. We will showcase 3 of those films at our Oscar Fest just one day before the big event. We love spectacle as much as the next library.

But we celebrate the underdog, the minor key, the off beat…those the big awards neglect. What follows are films that Oscar is not going to hip you to. In other words, great movies that have a bit of an independent feel — much like our Sunday Films we show at 2 p. m. at the Main Library every month. Or what we delve deep into the last Wednesday of every month at 1:30 p. m. in our Independent Spirits Film Series.

Drum roll, please: some of the best under-seen under-awarded films of 2015. All available from your library (suggested award category precedes title in bold):

Love & MercyBest Picture, Acting: Love & Mercy
In 1966, Brian Wilson broke away from the Beach Boys surfin’ image to create one of the true masterpieces of recorded music, the deeply-personal Pet Sounds. How this album came to be as well as Wilson’s struggles with mental illness are explored in perhaps the best film of the year. John Cusak’s work as the older recluse Wilson is every bit as compelling as Paul Dano’s portrayal of the sensitive genius in his youth. Paul Giamatti plays the hiss-worthy psychiatrist that tried to lock Wilson away while Elizabeth Banks plays his savior. All handled with sensitivity and class, you don’t see the Mansons, nor do you see Brian gutturally screaming as he hurls tape against the wall. One masterpiece deserves another. Love & Mercy is it. If you want to delve deeper, listen to my podcast on the subject.

me-earl-dying-girlBest Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Editing: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Adapted from the book of the same name, this punchy, stylish film retains the humor of the book while wisely excising the self-deprecating “this book sucks” self-referentiality. A high school senior has learned to survive under the radar and get along with everyone by becoming friends with no one, aside from his “colleague” Earl, with whom he makes hilarious remakes of classic films…all until his mother tasks him with befriending a dying girl. The authenticity of the teen voice is dead-on. The soundtrack is carefully chosen and deployed (mostly Brian Eno’s 70’s work). The cinematography is breathtaking and expressive. The editing is sharp and fun. A thriller in a much different way than 7 Minutes is, this is the kind of movie that crackles with such energy that it reminds you what you like about the movies. And why you love them.

D TrainBest Original Screenplay: D Train
James Marsden and Jack Black star in this bizarro buddy comedy whose sweetness handily sets off its few disturbing scenes. Black plays a lovable loser in a quiet, frustrated life whose existence seems to hang on collecting RSVP’s at his high school reunion. If he can bag Marsden, the former class king….who is a comparative big-shot (in his eyes anyway) due to a Banana Boat ad, the rest of the class will be there. The lengths Black goes to do this are sad, sweet, and disturbing. All leading to believable, relatable character development, very human comedy, and an extremely satisfying ending.

mississippi_grindBest Acting: Mississippi Grind
In a very different buddy movie, Ryan Reynolds plays a young, charismatic gambler to Ben Mendelsohn’s desperate, haggard gambling addict. Both performances are surprisingly deep in an old-fashioned film (think 70’s buddy pictures) filled with as many twists and turns as the trip down the Mississippi River they take to try and change their luck.

 

End of the TourAdapted screenplay, acting: The End of the Tour
Yet another buddy movie, but a real meeting of the minds. Jason Segal deserves recognition as disturbed genius author David Foster Wallace. Jesse Eisenberg is very solid as the aspiring novelist interviewing him for Rolling Stone. Similar to The Clouds of Sils Maria, we see Eisenberg and Segal merge and separate in fascinating (and very believable) ways. The film offers few clichés and many genuine, tender, and troubling moments. James Ponsoldt is a director with a soft, evocative touch. And he’s one to watch; Ponsoldt also directed Smashed, a compelling film about alcoholism. And one of the best films of 2013, in The Spectacular Now.

7 minutesEditing, Visual Effects: 7 Minutes
Shot right here in Everett, featuring many local residents (including some police as themselves) and local sights — including the neighborhood around both library locations, civic pride is not the only reason to see this movie. Loaded with likable character actors, a creative flashback structure, and dripping with style, 7 Minutes is a tense, thrilling, heist-gone-bad film that will keep you guessing until the very end. For more on 7 Minutes, listen to my recent podcast.

Mistress AmericaScreenplay, Actress:     Mistress America
In 2005, Noah Baumbach won dozens of awards for his breakout film The Squid and the WhaleChecking in with him ten years later, Baumbach has been quietly and consistently making some of the most affecting portrayals of modern, young thinking people. Last year’s While We’re Young pondered that aging process via two couples at different ends of the spectrum. This year’s entry is just as warm and witty an adventure into the thoughts of striving, thinking people. Since Baumbach connected with screenwriter, actress, and muse Greta Gerwig (above left), he’s been cranking out stories like this sweetly sensitive coming-of-age tale centering around a young woman (above right) and her desire to become somebody…perhaps even the person to her right.

Call Me LuckyDocumentary: Call Me Lucky
A very compellingly crafted documentary about angry political stand-up comic Barry Crimmins carries a whiplash twist. We begin with great contemporary comics from David Cross to Margaret Cho lionizing Crimmins for not only his quality of material, but for also helping them get a start in the business. This amusing portrait of a great funny man then develops to the not-so-funny. Exploring Crimmins’ anger at the Catholic church, we also come to learn his impact on outlawing online child pornography. A funny, fascinating, disturbing portrait of a film, Call Me Lucky should be recognized widely, but won’t. But that’s what this list is all about, isn’t it?

And the obligatory it-was-new-to-me / very close to 2015 / they had me fooled, in ascending silliness of award order: Production Design, Kids’ Movie Adults Could Enjoy: Paddington, Acting, Extreme Twisty-ness: The Guest, Screenplay, Utter Creepiness: Ex Machina, Acting, Perhaps Creepier: Prisoners, Local: Laggies, Best use of James Franco: True Story, Peerless Brilliance: Mr. Turner, Best use of Bill Murray: St. Vincent

Your turn: what are some of your recent favorites?

Best of 2015: Film & Music

We wrap up our Best of 2015 list today with the world of film and music. So many choices, so little viewing/listening time.

Film:

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While We’re Young

Cornelia and Josh get their lives turned upside down when a young couple enters their lives.

On the surface, it’s a comedy about the difference between youth and age. Looked at properly, it’s a deep examination of the road not travelled and what it takes to be an artist. A great film works on many levels; While We’re Young is a great film. -Alan’s pick

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

The innovative HBO documentary miniseries unearthed damning information about three murders long connected to Robert Durst, the American real estate heir.

Interviewed by the show for over 20 hours, Durst  was arrested one day before the finale. This gripping show, now on DVD, gave me the goose bumps. Binge watched it in a day.-Joyce’s pick

The Wolfpack

This true story follows six brothers who grow up locked in a Manhattan housing project.

With little access to the real world but lots of access to film, they pass time acting out revered movies (Reservoir Dogs) using elaborate props they create. It was fascinating, puzzling, and kind of strange–I loved it! -Joyce’s pick

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Life Itself

This review is for the DVD — I would *not* recommend the audiobook.

The fascinating life of film critic Roger Ebert is affectionately presented in this compelling film, an adaptation of Ebert’s autobiography. An excellent journalistic writer, Ebert, endured a painful year-long journey with cancer. -Kate’s pick

What We Do In the Shadows

A mock documentary about vampires and all the horrors involved in being one.

This film is packed with sight gags and comedic situations that will keep you laughing for almost all 85 minutes. Have you ever considered what would happen to your teeth if you lived 700 years? How you would get dressed without a mirror? -Kate’s pick

Antarctica: A year on ice

This fascinating documentary captures a snapshot of life in one of the most remote places on the planet, home to an international community of scientists and workers.

I was intrigued and spellbound as residents shared their frustrations and the attraction that led them to the rugged beauty that characterizes Antarctica. Highly recommended. -Margo’s pick

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Nightcrawler

A low-level con artist in L.A. falls into the “big time” in the freelance video news business.

Simply put, this movie gives me the creeps (for me, this is a desirable feature in a film). In retrospect, the plot is a bit over the top, but Gyllenhaal’s performance kept my belief thoroughly suspended for the full 1 hour and 58 minutes. -Zac’s pick

The Flash: Season One

A CSI lab worker gets struck by lightning and obtains super powers. This incarnation of the Flash is molded after Geoff Johns’ New 52 DC Comic series.

This series falls somewhere between awesome and awesomely bad. Wentworth Miller, of Prison Break fame, also brings a lot to the series playing the hilariously evil villain Captain Cold. There’re even Arrow Season 3 crossover episodes to boot! -Zac’s pick

Mad Max: Fury Road

This film delivers a long-awaited update to the Mad Max franchise.

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic anything, but this film will appeal to anyone that enjoys a good action movie (and a lot of people that don’t go for either genre). The movie’s evil Immortan Joe and the War Boys are glorious. -Zac’s pick

Music:

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Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Raw, acerbic, personal, yet intellectual garage/folk rock from a young Australian.

Barnett’s smarts and energy come through on her fun, wry, and accessible debut LP, a sample lyric: “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey / I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.” -Alan’s pick

Choose your Weapon by Hiatus Kaiyote

From start to finish this album is a joyride of blended styles: RnB, Soul, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Funk, Jazz, and much more. It’s really impossible to sum up.

A great album to throw on while you’re working in the kitchen or entertaining guests, it’s just a feel-good listen that provides a little of everything. -Lisa’s pick

Ratchet by Shamir

A dancy, fun, sassy, intelligent electronic album with a sense of humor.

For pop listeners interested in expanding their horizons into electronic music, this might be a nice crossover album. -Lisa’s pick

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Cheers to the Fall by Andra Day

Day may incorporate some vintage vibes, but she possesses the vision and creativity to avoid being pigeon-holed as a throwback artist.

Day possesses a beautiful, powerful voice that fills up the room with neo-soul melodies. Her style has hints of doo-wop, soul, and Motown, with a timeless sound similar to Nikki Jean, Amy Winehouse, and Adele. -Lisa’s pick

This is The Sonics by The Sonics

The godfathers of garage rock show that 50 years later they are still the kings of garage rock.

Strong singing and playing, fast tempos, rocking songs. As good as it gets. -Ron’s pick

Before the World was Big by Girlpool

Simple, quiet, sometimes out-of-tune, charming.

This post-punk-in-spirit band surprised me with their childlike simplicity and sparse music. Excellent listen. -Ron’s pick

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So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

Blues, swamp rock, music that mountain men wish they were tough enough to listen to.

Hard-edged yet filled with fun, leaves me expecting a jug solo at any moment. -Ron’s pick

All Hands by Doomtree

Doomtree is a Minneapolis indie hip-hop super group.

Nerdy lyrical references and the high-tempo sound drew me in to this album. Those aspects made it worth listening to, but it was Doomtree’s effective use of multiple MCs that pushed me to give it repeat listening.

Spies Like Them

It’s a new year, time for a clean start and all of that. 2014 was my year of the hard-boiled detective. And so I wonder what 2015 will bring.

One book I’m currently reading is The Saint and The Fiction Makers by Leslie Charteris. The Saint is a spy, sort of in the mold of James Bond, excepting that he predates Bond by some decades, which would actually make Bond a spy in the mold of The Saint. At any rate, Charteris introduced Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, in 1928 and thereafter wrote a series of books featuring his indestructible hero. In the 1960s a TV show based on the character (starring a soon-to-be-Bond Roger Moore) ran, and a variety of authors novelized some of the teleplays. Altogether there are nearly 100 books featuring this dynamic savior of the free world.

The Saint and The Fiction Makers is difficult to describe without giving a bit of the surprise away. It begins as a typical spy story: Super-villain attempting to kill Heroic Spy with ingenious killing devices, Spy narrowly escaping attempt after attempt, Scantily-Clad-Woman adding sex appeal. As events continue to unfold we discover that Simon Templar is actually watching this spy movie, seated next to the actress who was somewhat clothed in the movie. Thus begins a post-modern romp through the spy genre.

Further into the story, a crazy man takes on the persona of the movie’s super-villain and re-creates his hideout and gadgetry in exquisite detail. Then, thinking that Templar is the author who created this fictional genius, he kidnaps The Saint and his “assistant”, the woman who is the real author. What a convoluted and fantastical plot!

While EPL does not (yet) boast any of The Saint catalogue, we do provide ample opportunities to enter the undercover secret world of spies.

39 StepsThe 39 Steps by John Buchan
This book is an early spy story, written in 1915 and centered on The Great War. An “ordinary” person is caught up in an effort to thwart a plot against the British war machine. Alfred Hitchcock made a classic movie based on this book in 1935.

 

North by NorthwestNorth by Northwest
Speaking of Hitchcock and unwitting heroes, in North by Northwest, one of my favorite movies, Cary Grant becomes a pawn of uncaring government spies who sacrifice him in order to bring their plans to fruition. Oh, and there’s a beautiful woman and people climbing Mt. Rushmore’s presidential faces, as well as human crop dusting, so all bases are covered.

Secret AdversawryThe Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Tommy and Tuppence, two of Christie’s lesser known heroes, first see the light of day in The Secret Adversary (written in 1922), where the pair accidentally become entangled with post-WWI spies who are still looking to rearrange the European balance of power. In their second book, Partners in Crime, our heroes have married and now run a detective agency. So they see both sides of the coin, spy and detective.

George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade
One topic that has intrigued me since hearing about it in a documentary is the spy ring that George Washington put together during the Revolutionary War. Now I gotta say, when we learned history in high school they left out the good parts like this tidbit. I would’ve been all over a spy ring! These spies were very important to the war effort, and this book is firmly planted on my to-read shelf.

Harriet the SpyHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Finally, so as not to leave out the kids, we have Harriet. She is perhaps a different kind of spy, not in the overthrowing nations mold, but rather in spying on her friends and writing down what she observes. Here’s a lesson kids, which is a good one in this day and age of computers, cell phones and abacuses: Don’t write down stuff you don’t want other people to see. Harriet’s notebook falls into the wrong hands and her friends read what she has written about them. It’s then up to Harriet to repair the damage and rebuild her friendships.

Will it be a year of spies? I hate to speculate, but I think I can safely say they will at the very least turn up in my reading every now and again. Perhaps one is sitting next to me at this very moment, looking through the eyeholes cut in that newspaper, poisonous lipstick, bedazzling pouty lips, a sultry dress encasing curves in just the right places … Yes, a year of spies.

Best of 2014: Audiovisual

We end our Best of 2014 list with all things vision and sound. Enjoy our staff selected list of the best in film and music for the year.

Film & Television

F1

Cutie and the Boxer
Artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara have been in a challenging marriage for 40 years. For starters, Noriko states she is not Ushio’s assistant, while Ushio claims she is.

It’s fascinating to watch these artists create. The scenes of Ushio boxing his canvases with dripping gloves contrast nicely with Noriko’s careful drawing style. -Elizabeth

Guardians of the Galaxy
Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe.

Even if you know nothing about the comic books (I certainly didn’t) you’ll be cheering on our anti-hero outlaws as they band together to save the universe. Almost stealing the show from our actors: the retro soundtrack (aka Awesome Mix Vol. 1) -Carol

In a World
An unsuccessful vocal coach competes against her arrogant father in the movie trailer voice-over business.

Starring in and directing her first movie, Lake Bell delivers a quirky, sophisticated, personal, and compulsively watchable comedy that champions the underdog. It’s also nice that funnymen Demetri Martin and Ken Marino are given a chance to act. -Alan

F2

The Spectacular Now
While Aimee dreams of the future, Sutter lives in the now, and yet somehow, they’re drawn together. What starts as an unlikely romance becomes a sharp-eyed, straight-up snapshot of the heady confusion and haunting passion of youth.

An authentic portrait of teen life and family relationships tempered with humor, relatable characters, and a nice edge. A smart, wise film that made me want to seek out the director’s “Smashed.” -Alan

The White Queen
Love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder in one of the most turbulent times in English history highlight Philippa Gregory novels set in 1464 and adapted for TV…all through 3 women who scheme and seduce their way to the throne.

For fans of Game of Thrones and British period pieces and those wonderful costumes. It’s also thrilling to witness the deceptions, plot twists and treacheries all to get and keep the throne. -Linda

Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Season One.
Jake Peralta is a Brooklyn detective with a gift for closing cases and little respect for authority. When no-nonsense commanding officer Raymond Holt joins the 99th precinct with something to prove, the two go head-to-head.

Starring both comedians and serious actors, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is guaranteed to make you laugh. Seriously: I bet a friend she’d laugh and she did! I’ve discovered I think like Rosa and dress like Gina, but follow the rules like Amy and speak like Jake! -Carol

Music

M1Indie Cindy | The Pixies
Although not as blisteringly sonically dense as the Pixies of old, Indie Cindy brings about a new chapter for the band. They’re still not in a happy, friendly, hug-filled place, just perhaps 3 inches closer.

Not many bands can create delight out of pain. -Ron

Kudos to You! | Presidents of the United States of America
Quirky rockers return with more songs of everyday life. Energetic as always, distinctive yet fresh, rocking, clever, silly. Perfect.

There ain’t nobody like them. Such simple ideas but never tiresome. Most of all, fun! -Ron

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music | Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore album. While the album’s sound feels like it was made in 2014, it has more in common with Merle Haggard than Florida Georgia Line.

I wouldn’t classify myself a “country music” listener (especially if you include anything produced after the 1970s), but this album stands out from almost everything else I’ve heard this year. -Zac

M2

Rockabilly Riot! : All Original | Brian Setzer
35 years later, Setzer is still cranking out authentic, exciting rockabilly, songs destined to be the classics of the future.

Virtuoso guitar, classic riffs, outstanding originals. How can he do so much with so few chords? -Ron

Tribal | Imelda May
Imelda May is rockabilly’s premier female singer,and her latest album has been eagerly anticipated. It is more contemplative than earlier stuff, slower paced, but still features Imelda’s knockout voice.

Imelda Imelda Imelda. -Ron