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.

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

dvd1

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

dvd2

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

dvd3

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

m1

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

m2

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

m3

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

m4

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

m5

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.’