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Friday, August 31, 2012

Remembering Princess Diana

Today marks fifteen years since the passing of Diana, Princess of Wales. The beloved royal was killed in an automobile accident in Paris. She was 36.

Diana married Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, in 1981. The ceremony, which took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, reached a global television audience of approximately 750 million. Over the course of her time as princess, she became involved with a great number of charities and causes both domestic and international. In fact, she was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 due to her effort to help ban the use of landmines worldwide.

Her marriage to Charles, which began on such a glorious note, was eventually fraught with a number of highly publicized problems. The two divorced in 1996. However, Diana remained close to the couple’s two sons, Princes William (born 1982) and Harry (1984). When William was engaged to Catherine Middleton in 2010, the ring he presented her was his mother’s own engagement ring from Charles.

In 2011, Prince William married Catherine (who was then named Duchess of Cambridge) in a ceremony that was once again seen by millions around the world via television and the Internet. They carried on Diana’s charitable bent, establishing a fund to which celebrants could donate in lieu of wedding gifts.

Nor is that the only way in which William and Catherine honor Diana’s memory. In September, the couple will visit Southeast Asia as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration. While in Singapore, they will attend an orchid-naming ceremony in which a flower will be named for Princess Diana.

Fifteen years later, there is still a great deal of interest in Diana, her sons, and the British Royal Family. Here are some titles that may be of interest to your patrons.

The Princess Diana Collection
Princess Diana (Conspiracy?)
Diana – An Intimate Portrait
Prince William & Kate: The Royal Romance
William & Kate – Planning a Royal Wedding
The Royal Wedding – William & Catherine

The Diana Chronicles
The Real Diana
Prince William
William and Harry
William & Kate: The Love Story
The Making of a Royal Romance
Elizabeth the Queen
Her Majesty

A Musical Tribute to Diana

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Romy and Michele, 15 Years Later

Written by Kirk Baird

Perhaps because this summer marks my own 25th high school reunion, I have a fondness for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a Blu-ray release. The film stars Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe on Friends) as two best friends from high school whose fashion sense and other peculiarities made them objects of derision by the cool girls in school. A decade later and Romy (Sorvino) and Michelle (Kudrow) have left Tucson and their classmates behind and moved to Los Angeles. The best friends are roommates, virtually inseparable, and quite content with their lives, but the 10-year high school reunion causes them to take inventory of their accomplishments. Romy is a window clerk at a car dealership, and Michelle is unemployed. They have dreams of being fashion mavens, but that’s never panned out. So when they decide to attend the reunion, they concoct a plan to reinvent themselves as successful businesswomen – they fabricate a story that they invented the post-it notes, or, at least, the adhesive glue on the back of the paper – to impress those who once made fun of them. Naturally, things don’t go as planned.

Sorvino and Kudrow partner so well together and have such great chemistry as best friends on screen, you wonder if perhaps it didn’t spill over into real life. It’s a shame they never worked together on another major project. The cast also features a wickedly comedic performance by Janeane Garofalo as a high school outcast with an acerbic personality who is determined to prove her worth to those who rejected her. Alan Cumming plays the nerdy classmate who overtly pines for Michelle – though she politely declines his advances. And Julia Campbell plays the most-popular girl in school who plots to make Romy and Michele’s life hell in high school, and a decade later at the reunion.

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion was written by Robin Schiff, who also wrote the play on which it’s based. (Schiff also wrote and directed the 2005 prequel Romy and Michele: The Beginning, a TV movie with Katherine Heigl (Romy) and Alexandra Breckenridge (Michele) in the leads.) The script’s dialogue retains the feel of a stage presentation, but the sly humor and observations survive the transition to the big screen intact. Schiff clearly has an affinity for her protagonists, and she never lets them devolve into caricatures, as is the case with a lot of films about ditzy or eccentric blondes. These are warm, friendly souls we can’t help cheering for.

Director David Mirkin, who has long-served as a producer on The Simpsons, employs a mostly subtle approach to the film’s humor, allowing the characters and their motivations to supply the laughs rather than inventing obstacles for them to overcome. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion may not be gut-busting funny, but it doesn’t try to be: it’s a pleasant comedy with characters you genuinely care about. For those of us with high school reunions on the brain, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is worth another visit, even 15 years later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More on Jaws

Written by Kirk Baird

Following up yesterday's post about Jaws on Blu-ray...

Jaws is arguably the most effective film of all time. Consider that more than 35 years after the release of the first true summer blockbuster, how many of us still suffer an almost irrational fear of sharks?

The film’s legacy of fright was hardly surprising to its co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who recalls in a documentary included in the new Blu-ray release of Jaws that he recognized the lasting impression it would have with audiences when production began on the movie.

“I said that we have the chance to make a movie that’s going to do for the ocean what the shower scene did for Psycho in terms of affecting a generation with kind of a fear of water. And to this day when people come up to me and know that I’ve worked on the screenplay for Jaws and talked to me about it, inevitably one of the first things they say is, ‘You know, that whole summer I didn’t go swimming,’ or ‘I’ve been afraid of the water ever since that movie’ or ‘I’m still afraid of sharks.’” The film remains a monster of merchandising as well, with legions of fans collecting authentic movie props, along with vintage and new toys, games, posters, magazines, books, puzzles, towels, T-shirts, Halloween costumes and everything else with a Jaws logo or name slapped on it.

Jaws was Hollywood’s first modern-day blockbuster, a film that changed the landscape of the industry upon its release in the summer of 1975, as just as Star Wars did two years later.

But did you know…

Jaws was the first film to break the $100 million mark — it took only a three-month span to do it — on its way to becoming the biggest film of all time. It now has a lifetime gross of $260 million domestically, according to, which is good enough for No. 60 on the biggest films list. Adjust for inflation, though, and Jaws leaps back to No. 7, with a gross of $1.027 billion, behind Gone with the Wind ($1.620 billion), Star Wars ($1.428 billion), The Sound of Music ($1.142 billion), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial ($1.137 billion), Titanic ($1.087 billion), and The Ten Commandments ($1.050 billion).

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss will forever be linked in their iconic roles as Chief of Police Brody, shark hunter Quint, and marine biologist Hooper, but Scheider and Shaw were not the original choices. Sterling Hayden and Lee Marvin were initially offered the role of Quint, and Robert Duvall was the first choice for Brody; he turned it down for fear the film would make him famous. Dreyfuss also politely declined the role of Hooper, but fear of a flagging movie career after seeing his performance in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz convinced him he should take the offer while it was still there.

In the novel Jaws, written by Peter Benchley, and in the version of the film’s script he turned in, the massive great white shark dies from a combination of exhaustion from towing three floating barrels attached to it, as well as wounds from a harpoon. Director Steven Spielberg, who was only 27 at the time and making only his second theatrical release, felt the shark’s death was anticlimactic and opted for a more visceral and dramatic ending, with Jaws being blown up by a scuba tank detonated by a bullet. Benchley hated the ending but after seeing the film, he agreed with Spielberg that the director’s ending worked much better.

Jaws was first shown to a test audience in a Dallas theater. The filmmakers knew they had a hit from the first collective scream from the moviegoers when the shark first attacks. But Spielberg thought there was one scene – when Hooper discovers the head of Ben Gardner in a wrecked hull – that didn’t elicit enough surprise and fear from the audience, so he reshot the sequence in a swimming pool and paid for it himself. It worked: the next screening, audiences screamed louder at that “scare” than anything else in the film.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jaws Blu-ray: Worth the Wait

Written by Kirk Baird

Arguably the greatest man vs. nature film, Jaws is an enduring masterpiece, a gripping thrill ride of scares and exhilaration that marries popcorn entertainment with intelligent writing, effective casting, and the determined vision of a young director about to become a filmmaking force.

As most everyone knows, the film is about a 25-foot great white shark that terrorizes a small island resort on the East Coast one summer by dining on several swimmers, a colorful fisherman, a young marine biologist, and a police chief with a fear of the water determined to kill the beast.

The blockbuster has been on every home video format there is, with the exception of Blu-ray…until now. And was it worth the wait.

The video quality of Jaws on Blu-ray, released as part of Universal Studio’s centennial celebration, might be reason alone to upgrade to high-definition, if you haven’t already.

I compared the Blu-ray to the 25th anniversary DVD release of the film, itself remastered, and found the difference in colors, lack of artifacts on the film, and the overall clarity of the image to be remarkable. Jaws may be 37 years old, but it has never looked this good. As director Steven Spielberg noted in a 10-minute feature on the digital remastering of Jaws, his film looks better now on Blu-ray than when it was released to theaters in June, 1975.

The sound has been upgraded as well from simple two-channel stereo as originally shown to 7.1, meaning the dialogue, music, and sound effects have been expanded to play through up to seven speakers plus a subwoofer.

If that’s not enough to convince you to upgrade, consider the Blu-ray’s extensive extras to sink your teeth into: roughly six hours plus of features, including two separate documentaries that delve deep into the notoriously lengthy and problem-plagued film production, as well as hundreds of on-set photos, original storyboards, and deleted scenes and outtakes. Some of this has been available on DVD before, but never in one package. Even better, it all fits on a single Blu-ray disc.

Jaws is one of Hollywood’s great films, and now it’s one of the best Blu-ray offerings, with a digitally remastered and near-flawless presentation, and a treasure trove of facts, trivia, and behind-the-scenes accounts for fans of the film and those who love film period.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hot This Week: August 27

The Hunger Games makes it debut on DVD and Blu-ray and, to no one's surprise, jumps directly to the top of the charts. A number of newcomers make their way onto this week's CD list, led by 2 Chainz with Based on a T.R.U. Story. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl once again remains strong at the top of the fiction chart, followed by the latest from Debbie Macomber. On the heels of the U.S. women's soccer team's gold medal at the London Olympics, goalie Hope Solo's memoir cracks the top three in non-fiction.

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  3. Lockout
  4. American Reunion
  5. Silent House
  6. The Three Stooges
  7. 21 Jump Street
  8. Get the Gringo
  9. Friends with Kids
  10. Dexter: The Sixth Season
  1. 2 Chainz, Based on a T.R.U. Story
  2. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  3. Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
  4. Insane Clown Posse, Mighty Death Pop
  5. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  6. Justin Bieber, Believe
  7. One Direction, Up All Night
  8. Adele, 21
  9. Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
  10. Yellowcard, Southern Air
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. The Inn at Rose Harbor, Debbie Macomber
  3. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  4. The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory
  5. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  6. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  7. Odd Apocalypse, Dean Koontz
  8. Black List, Brad Thor
  9. The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silva
  10. Friends Forever, Danielle Steel
  1. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  2. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  3. Solo, Hope Solo and Ann Killion
  4. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  5. Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza
  6. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  7. Dearie, Bob Spitz
  8. Double Cross, Ben Macintyre
  9. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  10. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

Friday, August 24, 2012

Curiosity Boosts NASA’s Popularity

When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in the wee hours on August 6, it represented a high point in a project that began, tentatively, in 2004. Across the U.S. (including a huge gathering in Times Square), people watched breathlessly as the rover touched down on the surface of another planet. After launching on November 26, 2011, and traveling approximately 350 million miles through space, Curiosity landed less than 1.5 miles from the original target site. The actual landing site has been named Bradbury Landing in honor or Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles (among many other things).

Curiosity’s mission is to explore the climate and geology of Mars. Primarily, it will be looking for evidence of water, as well as organic material and chemicals necessary for life. This information will help determine the feasibility of a manned mission to the Red Planet.

With the success of the landing, interest in NASA and space exploration has skyrocketed. Curiosity even has its own Twitter account for those interested to follow the progress of its mission. Here are some titles to bolster your library’s space collection. For more titles, see our website.

The What’s Up, NASA? Series
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Box Set
NASA – The Complete Story
Apollo 11 – A Night to Remember
Magnificent Desolation – Walking on the Moon
Space Flight Collection
Mars – The Red Planet
Mars in 3D - Images from the Viking Mission
IMAX - Hubble

Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz
Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin
Too Far from Home by Chris Jones

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Expendables 2 in Theaters Now

Written by Kirk Baird

Expendables 2 is in theaters now and bringing with it a who’s-who of action-film stars from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s: Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sylvester Stallone, who co-wrote and directed the first Expendables and co-wrote the sequel.

Here are film highlights from each actor:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator, The Running Man, Total Recall, True Lies

Bruce Willis: 12 Monkeys, Armageddon, Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Fifth Element, Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable

Chuck Norris: Lone Wolf McQuade, Missing in Action, Silent Rage

Dolph Lundgren: Rocky IV, Universal Soldier, A View to a Kill

Jason Statham: The Bank Job, Crank, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, The Mechanic, Snatch

Jean-Claude Van Damme: Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Nowhere to Run, Universal Soldier

Jet Li: Fist of Legend, The Forbidden Kingdom, Unleashed, The Warlords

Sylvester Stallone: Cliffhanger, Cop Land, Death Race 2000 (Roger Corman’s original 1975 version), Lords of Flatbush, Nighthawks, First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Rocky, Rocky III

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Full Metal Jacket Turns 25

Written by Kirk Baird

Stanley Kubrick didn’t set out to make a great Vietnam movie; he wanted to make the definitive war film. More specifically, a film about what war does to men and women…and children. And just like with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now—the first in a wave of reactive and reflective Vietnam movies—Full Metal Jacket’s Vietnam setting is mostly incidental. In fact, Kubrick, notorious for not wanting to work much further than a short drive from his English home for his later projects, filmed Full Metal Jacket in and around London, with an abandoned gasworks outside the city doubling for a crumbling and bombed out Hue City, including imported palm trees planted all around. But really, the Vietnam setting is intentionally amorphous so that the burned-out buildings and rubble-strewn streets could be doubles for World War II or, more currently, the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.

Full Metal Jacket was just released in a deluxe Blu-ray 25th anniversary edition, which includes a half-hour retrospective by cast and crew and others, audio commentary, and the fascinating and illuminating hour-long documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, which sheds light on the increasingly reclusive director through personal notes, photos, and fan and hate mail. Kubrick died March 7, 1999, at the age of 70.

The director’s film operates on two distinct levels, in much the same way as Private Joker (Matthew Modine), the closest thing we have to a protagonist in Full Metal Jacket, speaks of his own duality as killer soldier-peaceful civilian.

There is the harrowing marine indoctrination on Parris Island, with star-making turns by Vincent D’Onofrio as the simpleminded Private Pyle turned crazed killer, and R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine drill sergeant, who steals the film with his profanity-laced tirades as the taskmaster assigned to make soldiers out of teenagers. This act is about creating the perfect killing machine.

The second and third acts are about Vietnam, where the killing machine is loosed. More than just an hour of white-knuckle bloody combat, though, Full Metal Jacket dispassionately examines modern warfare through young marines, through innocence lost on both sides of the war, and through the media machine that tries to tell the story of war while avoiding the truth. There is commentary sprinkled throughout Full Metal Jacket, but it’s subtle—unlike the majority of Vietnam War-based films.

Consider the film’s ending, as the marines, after a grueling firefight with a sniper, retreat inward to a childish comfort and sing out the Mickey Mouse Club theme song as they leave the burning city. There’s nothing heavy-handed about the moment, but its visceral impact lingers.

Full Metal Jacket was released in June, 1987—nearly a year after Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Platoon, thus creating unnecessary comparison between the Vietnam films. But there really is no artistic comparison.

As D’Onofrio notes in the film’s audio commentary, “The narration in Oliver’s movie is fantastic because it’s Oliver’s deal and he went through it…you can’t beat it.…But [Full Metal Jacket] is Vietnam plus weirdness beyond belief. Full Metal Jacket is just an amazing piece of work, just the whole thing.”

Full Metal Jacket has all the ingredients of a classic Kubrick film: sharp, almost cold camera angles, an emotional detachment from the director—thereby allowing us, the audience, to create our own responses to the film—and meticulous detail in every shot that begs for repeated viewings with the finger on the pause button. Eyes Wide Shut may have been Kubrick’s last film, but Full Metal Jacket is his last extraordinary work. And this special box set gives the film its proper due. Kubrick was no stranger to war films. Also check out these two anti-war classics:

Paths of Glory

Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott

Written by Kirk Baird

Tony Scott may have been Hollywood’s most successful director who wasn’t a brand name.

His 16 films combined to earn nearly $1.1 billion at the domestic box office, and he helped pioneer a fast-paced editing technique that’s de rigueur in modern action cinema. Yet he was often derided by critics for that same style and worked in the shadow of more accomplished older brother Ridley.

Scott died Sunday at the age 68 after jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. An unnamed source told ABC news that the British-born filmmaker had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

He is survived by his wife Donna and two children.

Scott’s foray into filmmaking began while lensing commercials for his brother’s advertising agency in the 1970s. He made the leap to feature films in 1983 with the vampire tale The Hunger starring Susan Sarandon, Catherin Deneuve, and David Bowie. The film failed to attract large audiences, but Scott’s fortunes would change — literally — with his second film, Top Gun, in 1986, a box-office smash that turned Tom Cruise into a superstar and created such catchphrases as “I have the need, the need for speed.”

Top Gun was Scott’s first action film and showcased the kinetic style that would become his hallmark and influence a younger generation of action directors, perhaps most notably Michael Bay.

Scott teamed with Cruise again on Days of Thunder, and was in the planning stages of a Top Gun sequel. He also directed Denzel Washington five times in Crimson Tide, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Deja Vu, Man on Fire, and Unstoppable, his final film behind the camera.

Other films included Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, and Enemy of the State.

Along with Ridley and their production company, Scott also produced a number of projects, including 2008’s The Andromeda Strain TV miniseries, 2010’s big-screen adaption of the TV series A-Team, the acclaimed CBS series The Good Wife, and this summer’s Prometheus, which his brother also directed.

Unlike the work of many of his peers, a Scott film was consistent in its qualities: top-notch production values, a cast of big-name actors clearly enjoying their time on the set and in front of the camera, polished action sequences, and the sound cranked up to theater-rattling decibels.

Those characteristics helped define his work and made him a popular favorite among audiences, even if many moviegoers didn’t know his name — or perhaps confused him for Ridley.

Scott wasn’t a great director — certainly not by the critical acclaim and trophies by which filmmakers are judged. But he was good at what he did — at times very good. And that should be good enough.

Five Scott films to check out:

Top Gun: The Tom Cruise aerial adventure that helped define modern action movies.

Crimson Tide: A terrific thriller anchored by ferocious face-offs between a nuclear submarine captain played by Gene Hackman and his mutinous first officer played by Denzel Washington.

True Romance: Quentin Tarantino wrote this quirky and violent tale of two lovers on the lam from the mob.

Man on Fire: Washington plays a burnt-out ex-CIA operative-turned vengeful bodyguard.

Unstoppable: Washington and Chris Pine team up to stop a runaway locomotive loaded with dangerous cargo in this film inspired by a true story.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hot This Week: August 20

With summer vacation winding down and the kids getting ready to go back to school, it's no surprise that The Lorax ended up at the top of this week's DVD chart, while the latest volume in the NOW compilation series tops the CD list. Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed once again hold the top bestseller spots, with Gone Girl and Wild, respectively, and with a few newcomers slotting elsewhere on each list.

  1. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
  2. Lockout
  3. American Reunion
  4. Silent House
  5. The Three Stooges
  6. 21 Jump Street
  7. Get the Gringo
  8. Friends with Kids
  9. Wrath of the Titans
  10. Casa de Mi Padre
  1. NOW That's What I Call Music 43
  2. Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
  3. Frank Sinatra, Nothing But the Best
  4. Elle Varner, Perfectly Imperfect
  5. Colt Ford, Declaration of Independence
  6. Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
  7. Justin Bieber, Believe
  8. One Direction, Up All Night
  9. Adele, 21
  10. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 22
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. Sweet Talk, Julie Garwood
  3. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  4. Charon's Claw, R.A. Salvatore
  5. Odd Apocalypse, Dean Koontz
  6. The Spymasters, W.E.B. Griffin
  7. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  8. Time Untime, Sherrilyn Kenyon
  9. Black List, Brad Thor
  10. The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silve
  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  3. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  4. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  5. Double Cross, Ben Macintyre
  6. Dearie, Bob Spitz
  7. Why Does the World Exist?, Jim Holt
  8. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  9. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  10. The Dream Team, Jack McCallum

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two Cusack Films Debut on Blu-ray

Written by Kirk Baird

How to make a non-cloying, witty, and original romantic comedy that appeals to both sexes. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have a world of The Hottie and the Nottie. But John Cusack managed to pull it off in not one but two R-rated comedies: 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank and 2000’s High Fidelity, both of which recently made their Blu-ray debut.

In Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack plays professional killer Martin Blank, who is obsessed with former high school girlfriend Debi, and finally has the chance to reconnect with her at his 10-year high school reunion. In High Fidelity he plays Rob Gordon, the owner of a Chicago record store, whose obsession with music is equaled only by his inability to get over his ex-girlfriend, Laura.

Seeing a theme here? As different as the films are in narrative plot and in the central character’s occupation, Martin and Rob are very similar with their girl troubles and their fixation to mend that relationship. That’s a universal theme that connects us to Martin and Rob and allows us to bond with them in an otherwise alien environment. And few play the relatable outsider as well as Cusack, whose impeccable comic timing is less about delivering jokes than informing us of the character through smartly written dialogue. How Martin and Rob work to overcome their neuroses and other issues to win back their girl is charming and funny and inventive — in the best sense of an indie comedy masquerading as mainstream romantic.

Both films are also highlighted by stellar supporting casts. In Grosse Pointe Blank, Minnie Driver became a familiar face as Debi, who still harbors resentment after he disappeared for a decade the night of their prom, and Dan Aykroyd is hilarious as a rival assassin who wants to form a union for professional killers. Cusack and Aykroyd play off each other brilliantly in dialogue and the inability for their characters to trust each other — even at a diner.

High Fidelity features Catherine Zeta-Jones as one of Martin’s former flames, Lisa Bonet as a beautiful singer he falls for, and a wickedly effective cameo by Tim Robbins as the new boyfriend of Laura (Iben Hjejle). But the film is comically hijacked by Jack Black and Todd Louiso as a pair of hipster music snobs who work at Rob’s record store and look down on all the customers and even each other. Other than Cusack’s obsession with top 5 lists, it’s Black’s manic performance you’ll likely remember best about the film.

Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity look great in Blu-ray. While no extras save the trailer on the former, the latter does include on-set interviews with Cusack and director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) as well as 14 minutes of deleted scenes. Both films are highly recommended and play well in a back-to-back mini Cusack marathon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hatfields & McCoys Comes to DVD/Blu-ray

Written by Kirk Baird

“Never forgive. Never forget.” That’s the somber tagline for the History Channel’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, which set high marks in ratings for cable programming when it aired in late May.

The record number of viewers who tuned in to watch the miniseries is also a testament to not only the quality of the Hatfields & McCoys, but the enduring fascination we have with this bloody feud that consumed and ultimately decimated two Appalachian families in West Virginia and Kentucky. The roughly six-hour series recently made its debut on DVD/Blu-ray.

Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star as the rival patriarchs, “Devil” Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, respectively. The friends turned foes served together as Confederate soldiers, and looked after each other. But the mental toll of the Civil War is more than Hatfield can bear and so he deserts the army, something McCoy can never forget, especially when he returns from the war — the sole surviving member of his platoon and a former prisoner of war — to find his family scraping by while Hatfield’s family business prospers. McCoy’s animosity toward Hatfield spills over to the rest of his family, and the Hatfields grow equally intolerant. Their rift leads to a murder; add an unwelcomed love affair between Anse Hatfield’s oldest son and Randall McCoy’s daughter, and the feud is on.

The miniseries takes a few liberties with historical facts for drama’s sake. In reality, because of intermarriages between the two clans, the families were not as segregated as Hatfields & McCoys suggests, and their epic feud had more to do with professional jealousy — Randall McCoy’s bitterness over Anse Hatfield’s thriving lumber business — than personal spite.

But Hatfields & McCoys more than adequately captures the spirit of the irrational hatred, and how the subsequent violence consumed two families as well as friends and neighbors. The miniseries proves, if nothing else, there were no winners in this war of family honor, only an expanding cemetery full of fresh graves.

And speaking of long-standing feuds, it’s worth noting that Hatfields & McCoys was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who had a big news in Hollywood falling out with Costner twice while directing the actor: in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves over Costner’s screen time, and in the 1995 mega-flop Waterworld, in which Reynolds left the project, and Costner took over as uncredited director.

Reynold subsequently remarked to Entertainment Weekly, “In the future Costner should only appear in pictures he directs himself. That way he can always be working with his favorite actor and his favorite director.”

The pair obviously has patched up their relationship since then. In a half-hour making-of feature, Costner even remarks, “Kevin, for me, is just a very talented director. And I made no bones about it. I’ve supported him and supported his career and his talent for a long time.”

Thankfully, this is one feud that didn’t end in bloodshed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hot This Week: August 13

This week's DVD chart sees no newcomers at all, just some minor shuffling of spots. The CD list contains only two true newcomers, with Rick Ross at the top and Joss Stone at the bottom. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl retains its perch atop the fiction bestseller list, with Dean Koontz's latest Odd Thomas novel settling for #2. In non-fiction, the hottest addition is Ben Macintyre's tale of how double agents helped keep secret the Allied plans to invade Normandy during World War II.

  1. Lockout
  2. American Reunion
  3. The Three Stooges
  4. Silent House
  5. 21 Jump Street
  6. Friends with Kids
  7. Get the Gringo
  8. Wrath of the Titans
  9. Casa de Mi Padre
  10. Intruders
  1. Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
  2. Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
  3. Justin Bieber, Believe
  4. One Direction, Up All Night
  5. Bee Gees, Number Ones
  6. Nas, Life Is Good
  7. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 22
  8. Adele, 21
  9. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  10. Joss Stone, The Soul Sessions: Vol. 2
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. Odd Apocalypse, Dean Koontz
  3. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  4. Friends Forever, Danielle Steel
  5. Black List, Brad Thor
  6. The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silva
  7. The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
  8. I, Michael Bennett, James Patterson
  9. Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness
  10. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  3. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  4. Double Cross, Ben Macintyre
  5. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  6. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  7. The Dream Team, Jack McCallum
  8. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  9. Red Ink, David Wessel
  10. I Hate Everyone...Starting with Me, Joan Rivers

Friday, August 10, 2012

Toronto International Film Festival Preview

Written by Kirk Baird

The Toronto International Film festival kicks off September 6 and offers 10 days and nights filled with some of the best mainstream, avant-garde, and international movies. There will be nearly 140 feature-length films screened at the event. Here are some highlights, separated into four categories, along with write-ups from the Toronto Film Festival website. 


9.79: Filmmaker Daniel Gordon investigates the 1988 Olympic race that resulted in disgrace for Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, a gold medal for the USA’s Carl Lewis, and major controversy over drug testing.

The Central Park Five: The devastating new documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon on the infamous "Central Park Jogger" case details how a rush to judgment by police, media and an outraged public led to five black and Latino teenagers being convicted for a heinous crime that they did not commit.

How to Make Money Selling Drugs: This fascinating documentary offers an in-depth look at the high-stakes world of drug dealing and drug enforcement, featuring interviews with top-ranking government officials and such celebrities as Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon, The Wire creator David Simon and rappers Eminem, 50 Cent and Rick Ross.

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp: Director Jorge Hinojosa blends pulp fiction imagery with ambitious biographical digging to tell the story of legendary pimp/author Iceberg Slim, whose gritty and poetic books about ghetto life gave birth to Street Lit. Interviews include Chris Rock, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and Quincy Jones.

Men at Lunch: This remarkable new documentary explores the story behind one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century: the 1932 photograph of workmen taking their lunch while perched on a girder high above New York City.

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out: Marina Zenovich dives into the mysterious details of Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland in 2009, which came suspiciously soon after the release of her ground-breaking 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. In this follow-up investigation, Zenovich raises fresh questions about legal manipulation, media distortion and power politics.

Venus & Serena: An intimate documentary that takes us inside the lives of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, during a year when debilitating injuries and life-threatening illness threatened to take them out of the game once and for all.

Major Films:

Byzantium: A pair of female vampires (Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting English seaside community in this deliciously depraved supernatural drama from Academy Award winner Neil Jordan.

Cloud Atlas: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugo Weaving head a stellar international cast in this visionary, time-tripping science-fiction epic from directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix).

Looper: A mob hitman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is assigned to kill his own future self (Bruce Willis) in this mind-bending futuristic thriller.

Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lawrence star in this acerbic comedy-drama from David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter), about a former high-school teacher who returns to his family home after four years in a mental institution and begins to slowly rebuild his life.

Art House:

Frances Ha: Greta Gerwig stars as Frances, an apprentice in a dance company who wants so much more than she has but lives life with unaccountable joy and lightness. This modern fable from Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) explores youth, friendship, class, ambition, failure and redemption.

Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray and Laura Linney star in the true story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's relationship with his distant cousin and soon-to-be mistress Margaret Suckley, over a weekend at the president's country estate with the visiting King and Queen of England in 1939.

Jayne Mansfield’s Car: A top-notch cast — including Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon and John Hurt — star alongside writer-director Billy Bob Thornton in this drama set in 1969 Alabama, about the culture clash between two families — one American, one British-brought together by the death of a loved one.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: In this witty and affecting coming-of-age story (adapted by writer-director Stephen Chbosky from his own novel), a shy teenager (Logan Lerman) with a dark family secret is coaxed out of his shell by a sympathetic teacher (Paul Rudd) and two wild, carefree new friends (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller).

Thanks for Sharing: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins star in this comedy-drama about a group of people who are brought together when they join a support group to overcome their sex addictions.

To the Wonder: Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem and Olga Kurylenko star in the new film from Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), about a man who reconnects with a woman from his hometown after his marriage to a European woman falls apart.

Special Presentations:

The ABCs of Death: Over two dozen of the world's top horror directors bring you twenty-six alphabetically-inspired ways to die in this provocative, shocking and deadly funny compendium of carnage.

Dial M for Murder: Alfred Hitchcock’s devilish drawing-room thriller, about a retired tennis pro (Ray Milland) who plans the "perfect" murder of his adulterous wife (Grace Kelly), is revived in a new, eye-popping 3-D digital restoration.

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare's classic comedy gets a contemporary spin in Joss Whedon's stylized adaptation. Shot in just twelve days using the original text, the story of sparring lovers Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) offers a dark, sexy and occasionally absurd view of the intricate game that is love. 

Seven Psychopaths: An alcoholic screenwriter (Colin Farrell) struggling to write a serial-killer script gets more real-life inspiration than he can handle when a dognapping scheme gone awry brings a galaxy of crazies to his doorstep. A top-notch cult-movie cast — including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton — anchors this wacky, blood-spattered commentary on the psycho-killer thriller from the writer-director of In Bruges.

For a complete list of titles being screened, or for more information, check out:

What are you most looking forward to from the Toronto International Film Festival? Let us know in the comments section below.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hunger Games Notice

Recently Midwest Tape sent a notification regarding defective DVDs of The Hunger Games; we indicated that there was an issue with the hub on these discs. While this may have been the issue with some discs, it was not universal. Lionsgate was very responsive in working with us to replace this product.

At this time, if you or your patrons find that your Hunger Games DVDs from Midwest Tape have a defect, please contact Customer Service at 1-800-875-2785. Midwest Tape will continue to maintain our commitment to exceptional service and will replace any defective discs immediately at no cost to you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marathon TV Sessions on the Rise

Written by Kirk Baird

TV is continuing its comeback to relevancy, with cable channels leading the charge with movie-level quality shows that often break new ground or, at the very least, buck decades-long network programming trends. The Wire. The Sopranos. Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead. Dexter. Battlestar Galactica.

These are just a few examples of appointment TV, critically praised fare that have entered our cultural zeitgeist. And if you missed or are missing these popular shows, you often are left out in the all-important water cooler chat the next day at the office, or on Facebook with friends and family.

But an increasing trend is changing that — thanks to DVD/Blu-ray box sets and even DVRs: binge viewing, a marathon session of a season or seasons of a TV show consumed in hours, days, and sometimes a week or more.

Binge viewing, aka binge watching or simply bingeing, is a new term coined for a trend that has been happening for a while. A few years ago, for instance, I spent a weekend holed up watching back-to-back seasons of an obscure Japanese animated series, Star Blazers, while my wife was out of town. It was just me on the couch for hours and hours and hours staring at the TV and desperately reliving a part of my childhood.

Binge watching doesn’t have to be personal, either. I knew a TV critic who opted to review the first season of Fox’s action-thriller series 24 — conceived as a “real-time” show with every hour-long episode an hour in the plot’s 24-hour timeframe — by gorging on a single 19-hour-plus marathon of the show. If memory serves, he had snacks at the ready and only took the occasional break for the call of nature.
Neither of us knew it at the time, of course, but we were bingeing.

For the purposes of this blog I opted to binge watch the first season of AMC’s acclaimed zombie series The Walking Dead. Of course, there are only six hour-long episodes in that initial season, which made for an easier-to-manage marathon than a 20-season binge. But the concept was the same: get caught up on a popular TV show without taking a week off or more between episodes.

Comparing The Walking Dead mini-binge to the all-weekend gorge fest of Star Blazers, I found that bingeing, whether in small bundles of hours or in wholesale bulk of days, offers the same rewards. There’s no interruption in continuity. There’s quick payoff to plot twists. There’s almost no chance of losing your place and forgetting characters and major or minor story twists. And, perhaps best of all, there’s a profound since of self-satisfaction when you’re finished, a strange sense of accomplishment.

Binge watching is not for the faint of heart — or those with calendars filled with activities. It’s a major commitment (and investment) of your time, but the reward is cramming an acclaimed TV series you’ve heard about and watching it on you’re time. Consider it speed reading through a semester of Brit Lit.

If you’ve never tried bingeing, perhaps consider some of these shorter TV series to get started.

The Walking Dead, Season One. Again, only six episodes in this eerie drama about a world overrun by zombies.

The Office (the British version). This 10th Anniversary Edition features all 12 episodes and a two-part Christmas Special.

Breaking Bad, Season One. The new season is about to kick-off, and this six-hour first season, which chronicles the origins of a high school chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer, is a great way to test the waters of whether or not you’re ready to make the commitment for seasons two through four.

Dexter, Season One. Try this 12-episode season and see if you don’t get hooked on the hour-long drama about a serial killer who preys on other killers, and binge on seasons two through six.

And then move up to these shows.

The Wire, Complete Seasons One-Five: This tense drama about the Baltimore drug scene is arguably the finest TV show ever.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete TV series. Nearly 30 hours of classic sketch comedy, from the Dead Parrot and The Lumberjack to The Cheese Shop and The Argument Clinic. Try watching all the shows in a single weekend.

The West Wing, Seasons One through Seven. If you haven’t already, check out Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece of drama, political commentary, and sensational dialogue set in the White House.

Battlestar Galactica (the 2005 series). I was skeptical of the reboot of the TV series from the late 1970s. The two-part miniseries pilot didn’t win me over, either. Then the series began in earnest and the show’s writers used a science-fiction series about humans fleeing through space from their robotic oppressors as a platform for social and political commentary on our world now, and I changed my mind. Battlestar Galatica only got better through its remaining three seasons.

Lost. I have a friend who missed the show and recently decided to binge through the entire twisty (and sometimes painfully illogical) six-season series about survivors of a plane crash trapped on a strange island through the summer.

Binge watching doesn’t just have to be for TV shows. Also consider watching these movies series back-to-back-to-back.

The Star Wars saga: Episodes I through 6. I did just that with the Blu-ray release in September. The good news with this strategy is you get The Phantom Menace out of the way first.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson’s extended cut version of the movies, which piles on a hefty two hours of additional footage between the three films, was just released on Blu-ray. Watching the films alone is a nearly 12-hour commitment, and there’s several DVDs of bonus material to comb through as well.

The Harry Potter films. Watch the series get better and better – along with the acting – through the eight films, including the two-part finale.

For more seasons of the series listed, please see our website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hot This Week: August 6

The horror film Silent House and the Mel Gibson action flick Get the Gringo are the only newcomers to this week's DVD chart. Likewise, the Gaslight Anthem and Passion Pit make their debuts on the CD list. Gone Girl returns to the top of the fiction bestseller heap, while the non-fiction list reflects the election season with a number of new politics-related titles.

  1. Lockout
  2. American Reunion
  3. The Three Stooges
  4. 21 Jump Street
  5. Friends with Kids
  6. Silent House
  7. Get the Gringo
  8. Wrath of the Titans
  9. Casa de Mi Padre
  10. Intruders
  1. Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
  2. Nas, Life Is Good
  3. The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
  4. Passion Pit, Gossamer
  5. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 22
  6. Justin Bieber, Believe
  7. One Direction, Up All Night
  8. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
  9. Adele, 21
  10. Maroon 5, Overexposed
  1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  2. Where We Belong, Emily Giffin
  3. Friends Forever, Danielle Steel
  4. Black List, Brad Thor
  5. The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silva
  6. Broken Harbor, Tana French
  7. I, Michael Bennett, James Patterson
  8. Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness
  9. Creole Belle, James Lee Burke
  10. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  3. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  4. The Amateur, Edward Klein
  5. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  6. The Corruption Chronicles, Tom Fitton
  7. The Dream Team, Jack McCallum
  8. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
  9. Bailout, Neil Barofsky
  10. The Presidents Club, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy