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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Guardians of the Galaxy – Who Are They?

Written by Jon Williams

It’s one of the most-hyped movies of the summer. Finally, after months of excitement and lead-up, Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters everywhere on Friday. The powers-that-be behind the film are so confident in its success, a sequel has already been announced—with an expected release date of July 28, 2017. And as anyone who has seen the trailers and TV spots will tell you, it’s for good reason. The movie looks to be a pure fun, action-packed summer blockbuster.

Of course, this isn’t Marvel/Disney’s first go-around with bringing a high-powered superhero ensemble to the big screen. In 2012, The Avengers took the box office by storm, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Of course, that movie dealt with a group of well-known superheroes; each of the principals (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk) had at least one standalone movie prior to their big-screen team-up. The Guardians, on the other hand, are relatively unknown outside of the comics world. So who are they?

The Guardians are led by Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt. Quill finds himself in possession of a powerful object that sets him in the way of the evil Ronan, an alien warlord played by Lee Pace. In order to protect the galaxy from the chaos planned by Ronan, Quill teams up with a ragtag group of misfits—the Guardians of the Galaxy.

One of the most interesting members of the group is Rocket, a wisecracking, genetically engineered mercenary…raccoon. He provides some comic relief, but is an essential member of the team as their weapons and tactics expert. He’s voiced by Bradley Cooper. Rocket’s sidekick in an anthropomorphic tree named Groot, a powerful warrior who is nonetheless the most unabashedly good-natured character on the team. Groot’s voice is provided by Vin Diesel.

Another warrior Guardian is Drax the Destroyer. Not a mercenary, Drax joins the team as a way to seek revenge against Ronan, who was responsible for the death of his family. This scarred hulk is played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista. And rounding out the team is Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, familiar to sci-fi fans for her roles in Avatar and the Star Trek reboots. She plays an assassin trained by Thanos, the shadowy villain mastermind behind Ronan’s shenanigans.

Of course, Thanos and Ronan have a team of henchmen as well, made up of characters played by Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, and Karen Gillan (best known as Amy Pond, companion to Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor). Other well-known actors in the star-studded film include Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Nathan Fillion, Peter Serafinowicz, and the voices of Josh Brolin and Rob Zombie.

With a cast like that, and all the fun the film is sure to bring, it’s no wonder that Disney feels good enough to already be thinking ahead to the sequel. The Guardians of the Galaxy are sure to be the talk of the summer from this point forward. The soundtrack is available now, and be sure to have plenty of other superhero films on your shelves for fans who just can’t get enough.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hot This Week: July 28

Three new titles grace this week's DVD listing, with The LEGO Movie leading the way at #3. In music, Weird Al and Jason Mraz staged a fierce battle for the top spot, with Al taking those honors for the first time in his long and storied career. Two new titles top this week's fiction list, with four newcomers overall, while the non-fiction list remains largely the same from last week.

DVD
  1. Non-Stop
  2. Lone Survivor
  3. The LEGO Movie
  4. Robocop
  5. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  6. Grand Budapest Hotel
  7. Ride Along
  8. 3 Days to Kill
  9. The Monuments Men
  10. Under the Skin 
CD
  1. Weird Al Yankovic, Mandatory Fun
  2. Jason Mraz, Yes!
  3. Rise Against, The Black Market
  4. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 26
  5. Frozen Soundtrack
  6. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
  7. Ed Sheeran, X
  8. NOW That's What I Call Music 50
  9. Trey Songz, Trigga
  10. Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story...
Fiction
  1. The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness
  2. The Heist, Daniel Silva
  3. Act of War, Brad Thor
  4. Cut and Thrust, Stuart Woods
  5. Invisible, James Patterson and David Ellis
  6. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  7. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
  8. Top Secret Twenty-One, Janet Evanovich
  9. Wayfaring Stranger, James Lee Burke
  10. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
Non-Fiction
  1. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  2. America, Dinesh D'Souza
  3. Blood Feud, Edward Klein
  4. Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton
  5. One Nation, Ben and Candy Carson
  6. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
  7. Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  8. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  9. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  10. Lean In, Sharl Sandberg and Nell Scovell 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Oz Continues to Inspire

Written by Jon Williams

It all began in 1900. That year saw the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a novel intended as a fairy tale for children. Little did he know then that it would in fact capture the imaginations of adults and children alike, keeping the Land of Oz and its inhabitants and visitors alive and growing well over a century later.

Baum himself was able to capitalize on the success of the novel. Although he did not originally intend for a series, he wrote the first sequel in 1904. He hoped The Marvelous Land of Oz would quell the clamor; it did not. When he wrote The Emerald City of Oz in 1911 (the fifth sequel), he tried to cry off by claiming that he had lost his ties to Oz and therefore could no longer learn the stories from there. That didn’t work either. He followed it with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, and continued to publish a new Oz story each year after that.

Baum passed away in 1919, but as we all know, the story didn’t end there. The movie adaptation produced in 1939 has come to be even more famous than the novel that spawned it. Its bold use of new Technicolor technology brought to stunning life Baum’s fantastic world of Yellow Brick Roads and an Emerald City; paired with Judy Garland’s singing and performance as Dorothy, it remains a wonder to behold. The film was so beloved that it inspired adaptations of its own, such as 1978’s The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and 2005’s whimsical version starring the Muppets. And in 1985, there was a sequel called Return to Oz that mined some of Baum’s further adventures, and has since become a cult hit.

Even now, Oz maintains its grip on the imaginations of a new generation of writers and filmmakers who continue to tell stories of the magical realm. Witness the popularity of Gregory Maguire’s 2005 novel Wicked, which explored the origins and motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of Baum’s novel. That itself spun off into three sequel novels and a wildly popular Broadway show.

The high level of interest in all things Wicked is one factor in the recent Oz revival that has continued to expand the story of the land and characters created by L. Frank Baum at the dawn of the 20th century. Last year’s box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful tells the tale of how the Wizard himself, played by James Franco, came to the Land of Oz. This year, the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return brought the tale forward from Dorothy’s original visit to the Wizard, bringing her back to face a new threat to the Emerald City. And a recent novel from Danielle Paige, Dorothy Must Die, plays with a similar theme: that Dorothy has become a malevolent ruler over Oz, and must herself be defeated.

Needless to say, Oz devotees will find no shortage of titles to hold their attention. Search on our website to find more, and help transport your patrons over the rainbow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weird Al Owns the Internet

Written by Jon Williams

In case you’ve missed it—and I’m not sure that’s possible—musical comedian Weird Al Yankovic has been absolutely killing it over the past week since the release of his latest album, Mandatory Fun. To promote it, he released eight music videos in eight days via various pop-culture-centric websites, beginning with last Monday’s “Tacky” (a parody of the Pharrell hit “Happy”) and finishing off with today’s corporate-buzzword-skewering “Mission Statement” (not a straight parody, but heavily influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”).

In between those videos were the grammar lovers’ dream “Word Crimes” (from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), the twisted ode to aluminum “Foil” (from Lorde’s “Royals”), the contractor’s commercial “Handy” (from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), the honest college fight song “Sports Song,” a lamentation of “First World Problems,” and a name-dropping “Lame Claim to Fame.” All eight songs, plus four others (including the staple polka medley), can be found on the new album. (You can view all these videos at weirdal.com if you missed any of them.)

Yankovic’s career start came courtesy of the Dr. Demento radio show, which played his Knack parody “My Balogna” and then had Al on as a guest to record “Another One Rides the Bus” in 1980. Both songs appeared on his self-titled debut album, released in 1983. His real break came with his second album, Weird Al Yankovic in 3D, which featured “Eat It,” a parody of the skyrocketing Michael Jackson. Pairing his sharp-witted lyrical stylings with clever music videos gave him a leg up in MTV’s ‘80s heyday, as did support from Jackson, whom Weird Al parodied again with 1988’s “Fat” (on the album Even Worse, both a play on MJ’s Bad).

In a career that now spans more than thirty years, Yankovic has had to evolve, as he did with 1992’s Off the Deep End, with both the lead single (“Smells Like Nirvana”) and the album cover playing on Nirvana and the breakout of grunge music. He gave the songs on that album more of a satirical edge, which has carried through to his music today. Mandatory Fun is Al’s fourteenth album…and probably his last, although he’s not retiring. With the prominence of video sharing sites like YouTube and the rise of digital music, he plans to do future distribution via those means, so as to be more even timelier with his work.

And that’s not all from the world of Weird Al. Yesterday also marked the 25th anniversary of his film UHF, in which his character takes over a defunct TV station and creates zany programming that makes it wildly popular. Although neither the film nor its soundtrack is currently available, Al said in a recent Newsweek interview that there are commemoration plans he’s “not at liberty to talk about right now” for later in the year. Will it be a Blu-ray release? Maybe a sequel announcement? We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Weird Al’s popularity has risen to all-time heights—there’s a good chance Mandatory Fun will top Billboard’s chart this week, which would be a first in Al’s career, his previous best being 2011’s Alpocalypse, which made it to #9. So make sure you have the new album on your shelf, and SmartBrowse ‘Weird Al Yankovic’ on our website for even more by this hilarious (and Grammy-winning!) artist.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hot This Week: July 21

Lone Survivor hangs onto the top DVD spot this week, as most of the popular titles stick around. In music, the Frozen soundtrack makes a run back toward the top of the chart, but is thwarted by newcomer Sia. Three new titles top this week's fiction list (and four overall), including the Stephen Colbert-endorsed California. In non-fiction, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken jumps back to the top following the passing of Louis Zamperini, whose fascinating story is chronicled in the book.

DVD
  1. Lone Survivor 
  2. Non-Stop
  3. Robocop
  4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  5. 3 Days to Kill
  6. Ride Along
  7. The Monuments Men
  8. Endless Love 
  9. Son of God
  10. Her
CD
  1. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear
  2. Frozen Soundtrack
  3. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
  4. Trey Songz, Trigga
  5. Ed Sheeran, X
  6. Judas Priest, Redeemer of Souls
  7. NOW That's What I Call Music 50
  8. Dirty Heads, Sound of Change
  9. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
  10. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
Fiction
  1. Act of War, Brad Thor
  2. Power Play, Catherine Coulter
  3. California, Edan Lepucki
  4. Invisible, James Patterson and David Ellis
  5. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
  6. Top Secret Twenty-One, Janet Evanovich
  7. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  8. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
  9. Written in My Own Heart's Blood, Diana Gabaldon
  10. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
Non-Fiction
  1. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  2. America, Dinesh D'Souza
  3. Blood Feud, Edward Klein
  4. Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton
  5. One Nation, Ben and Candy Carson
  6. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
  7. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  8. Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  9. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  10. Flash Boys, Michael Lewis