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Monday, April 30, 2012

Hot This Week: April 30

The latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise jumps onto the DVD listings in a big way. In music, Lionel Richie's latest stays strong at the top of the charts, while Jason Mraz and Train make solid debuts. David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, Stuart Woods, and Iris Johansen storm onto the fiction list, while Rachel Maddow keeps her place atop the non-fiction bestseller list.

  1. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  2. We Bought a Zoo
  3. The Darkest Hour
  4. War Horse
  5. The Sitter
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  7. The Descendants
  8. The Iron Lady
  9. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
  10. Immortals
  1. Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
  2. Jason Mraz, Love Is a Four Letter Word
  3. Adele, 21
  4. Train, California 37
  5. One Direction, Up All Night
  6. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
  7. Gotye, Making Mirrors
  8. Future, Pluto
  9. Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
  10. Luke Bryan, Tailgates & Tanlines
Fiction Books
  1. The Innocent, David Baldacci
  2. The Witness, Nora Roberts
  3. Calico Joe, John Grisham
  4. Unnatural Acts, Stuart Woods
  5. Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis
  6. The Lost Years, Mary Higgins Clark
  7. What Doesn't Kill You, Iris Johansen
  8. Come Home, Lisa Scottoline
  9. Sacre Bleu, Christopher Moore
  10. The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani
Non-Fiction Books
  1. Drift, Rachel Maddow
  2. Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson
  3. Imagine, Jonah Lehrer
  4. The Presidents Club, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
  5. The Big Miss, Hank Haney
  6. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  7. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
  8. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  9. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  10. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Friday, April 27, 2012

Top Superhero Movies

Written by Kirk Baird

The Avengers kicks off this summer's film season and is one of three hotly anticipated superhero films releasing in the next three months along with The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man. But it’s not all skin-tight suits and masks to be a good superhero film—for every Dark Knight there’s a Batman and Robin. Here are some of the best from the genre:

Superman (1979): At the time of its 1978 release this was the biggest superhero movie of all time. The film with the slogan “You will believe a man can fly” was also the first superhero movie that got it right. Richard Donner’s film strikes the perfect balance between reverence for the Man of Steel and lighthearted fun, and newcomer Christopher Reeve embodied the look and spirit of Superman as none before or since. But Superman isn’t just Reeve’s movie; a marvelously hammy turn—some might say a bit too campy—by Gene Hackman as Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luther, and scene stealer Ned Beatty as Luthor’s dimwitted assistant Otis are just a few of the “other” highlight performances. Superman 2, while it doesn’t soar quite as high as the original, remains a worthy sequel as well.

The Dark Knight (2008): Batman has at three separate moments redefined the superhero film. In the 1960s on TV and with a feature film, Adam West introduced Batman as celeb-happy campy fun for kids and adults. That cartoony image and “bat-tastic” lingo stuck around for years—until Frank Miller’s groundbreaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 redefined the hero as a grim force of violence and vengeance. 

Batman as a sociopathic hero inspired the look and feel of Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. Burton amped up the dark and brooding and pondered what would compel a billionaire playboy to hide behind a black mask and cape and fight crime. Then Christopher Nolan made the darkest superhero film yet, The Dark Knight, including an iconic, Oscar-winning performance by Heath Ledger as the immoral and catalyst-for-chaos Joker. Can Nolan possibly top his 2008 classic? We have only until late July to find out.

X-Men (2000) and X-2 (2003): Filmmaker Bryan Singer’s two X-Men movies, like the comics about the mutant heroes that spawned them, are all allegory. But the films combine said allegory with impressive effects, clever stories, and fine acting by most of the cast—James Marsden as Cyclops never really fits the role—that make the first two X-Men movies so entertaining. 

Just as superhero movies were devolving into campy treatments again, Singer resurrected the idea of real-world superheroes by treating their comic-book world seriously on film. If Superman made you believe a man could fly, the first two X-Men movies made you believe that mutants with incredible powers walked among us. Unfortunately for the series, Singer left before completing his trilogy and director Brett Ratner took over in 2006 with his mutant version of the movies, X-Men: The Last Stand. The 2011 X-Men prequel, X-Men: First Class, however, got the series on track again, with Singer back on board as producer. 

The Incredibles (2004): Brad Bird didn’t have much box-office luck with his debut animation film in 1999, the painfully overlooked The Iron Giant. So he joined the Pixar brain trust and with his first feature at the animation studio made a film about a nuclear family of four superheroes burdened with some of life’s most mundane problems: having a job you hate, being invisible to others, the stresses of raising a family. In place of too many wink-nod moments to the audience, there was considerable heart and fun, along with some splendid animation and battle sequences. The Incredibles is the Fantastic Four movie everyone wishes had been made—including Marvel. 

Unbreakable (2000): At the time of Unbreakable’s release, its director M. Night Shyamalan was at the peak of his career with the unexpected 1999 blockbuster The Sixth Sense. Unbreakable showcased a more mature filmmaker who delivered a tense thriller full of surprises, including his signature twist ending. The film explores the origins of an ordinary man played by Bruce Willis who discovers he has unique powers. Samuel L. Jackson has a blast as the would-be hero’s mysterious purple-clad adviser. It’s a shame there was no sequel, though given Shyamalan’s track record lately with The Lady in the Water, The Happening, and TheLast Airbender, maybe that’s for the best.

Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004): Technology and Sam Raimi made the Spider-Man movies something special. Special effects created a convincing Web crawler-slinger, and the filmmaker delivered movies that were more than summer-event releases as he deftly weaved drama and character arcs throughout the action-packed spectacle. Unlike many superhero films, the antagonists never get in the way of the protagonist, but only add to his story of triumph over adversity in super villain form. A sturdy cast that buys into the make-believe world also helped audiences buy into the movie. Unfortunately, everyone stuck around for one film too many with 2007’s Spider-Man 3, an excessive, more-is-worse anticlimax to the first two films that’s in a rush to get to the ending.

Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010): Has there ever been an actor born to play a superhero more than Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man? The smart, witty actor brings those same traits to the role, delivering an acerbic, bright, and petulant billionaire playboy found of booze, women, and wearing a one-of-a-kind armor suit tricked out with rockets, lasers, and enough gadgets to make Batman jealous. The films’ Achilles’ heel is its villains: neither Jeff Bridges in the original nor Mickey Rourke in the sequel were particularly memorable opponents for the man of iron. But Downey is having such a blast in the role—and is such a blast to watch—none of it really matters. Look for Downey as Iron Man in the upcoming The Avengers.     

What do you think? What's the best superhero flick?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Meet Our New Blogger

You may have noticed several new posts written by one Kirk Baird. He's Midwest Tape's newest blogger!

A member of the Detroit Film Critics Society and a film critic for a daily newspaper, TV station, and now Midwest Tape, Kirk Baird spends a sizable portion of his week watching and then dissecting movies: classic and obscure, arty and blockbuster, foreign and direct from Hollywood.

Look for his commentaries on movie-industry trends and DVD-Blu-ray reviews here on News & Views. Also check out his film and filmmaker spotlights in Midwest Tape’s monthly catalog. Any and all feedback is welcomed. Drop him a line at

This Week's New DVD Releases: Midwest Tape Recommends

Every week film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member, Kirk Baird, recommends new DVD releases for your library.

Camelot on Blu-ray
The 1967 classic musical Camelot makes its Blu-ray debut this week in a splendid-looking version that receives a fresh digital scrubbing. Written by Alan Jay Lerner and based on the successful 1960 stage musical he wrote with Frederick Loewe, Camelot is the story of good King Arthur (Richard Harris), whose noble dream of a land ruled by law and protected by a special band of knights (“might for right”) is sullied by his wife Lady Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave) and his most-trusted knight Sir Lancelot du Lac (Franco Nero) and their affair for the ages. It’s a stellar, beautiful cast blessed with the acting and vocal chops to pull off the dramatic scenes and regal musical numbers.

The transfer of the 45-year-old film to high-definition is reliably stunning. The gorgeous, Oscar-winning set designs by John Brown and the Oscar-nominated cinematography by Richard Kline, making his feature-film debut as director of photography, have never looked this vibrant, though there are the occasional lapses when the film goes grainy for a few moments. The Blu-ray, at three hours in length, is also the original theatrical release and includes the restoration of deleted scenes, dialogue, and musical numbers. It also includes a soundtrack sampler from Rhino, featuring four of the Lerner-Loewe songs. This is the definitive version of the musical, and it's the best way to celebrate “that … one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot!”

Also Out This Week

Marvel Anime: X-Men & Marvel Anime: Ironman
X-Men and Ironman go anime in two new Japanese series from Marvel-Sony. The idea was to introduce the American comic-book icons to an Asian audience, with a more adult look to the superheroes to go along with more mature stories written by veteran comic-book scribe Warren Ellis (Red). This isn’t your bland Saturday morning cartoon series. Rather, it’s an engaging and engrossing movie-ready plot sold to audiences via stylish animation that makes these familiar characters fresh again. And naturally, both series feature Japan heavily in their stories. The DVDs even include a choice of Japanese or English audio as well as subtitles. If you’re a fan of superheroes in film and TV, both Marvel Anime sets are worth a look.

Cinema Verite is a star-studded HBO film from 2011 that’s a behind-the-scenes account of the 1973 PBS documentary, An American Family, one of the first American reality TV showcases. The cast includes Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, James Gandolfini, Kathleen Quinlan, Patrick Fugit, and Lolita Davidovich.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Midwest Tape at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction took place on Saturday April 14, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. This year’s inductees included Guns ‘N Roses (minus Axl Rose whose absent was covered highly by the media), the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Donovan, and Laura Nyro.

The sold out room of fans got to see not only the inductees but also their very famous presenters, some of whom performed. Green Day took the stage to introduce Guns ‘N Roses. John Mellencamp introduced Donovan by raising a copy of Donovan’s “Fairy Tale” album that he bought 47 years ago as a child. LL Cool J introduced the Beastie Boys and told the audience he first thought of them as “punks,” a comment which filled the room of 6,000 fans with laughter. Comedian Chris Rock had the privilege of introducing the Red Hot Chili Peppers with a hilarious monologue that will all air on HBO Saturday May 5th.

Sadly, not everyone was present. Bette Middler choked up when she introduced the late song writer Laura Nyro. Middler told audience members that Nyro was one of her favorite artists. Laura Nyro, who was famous for her songwriting for Peter, Paul & Mary and Carole King, passed away in 1997 at the age of 49.

The Chili Peppers closed the night performing "By the Way" and "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.”

Midwest Tape’s own music guru Lisa Bettinger, who is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, went on Sunday for her annual inductee visit to the museum. Lisa became a member of to the Hall of Fame museum after she found herself traveling to Cleveland two to three times a year to visit.

“It was exciting to see all of the renovations completed,” said Lisa. “They had started off with the new Beatles exhibit. Of course, the Beatles are one of my favorites so that part was a highlight. The museum also expanded their ‘Timeline of Rock’ exhibit to include such styles as heavy metal and early blues.”

In addition to the new inductees, it was also the opening of the new Grateful Dead exhibit. Lisa said there were quite a few Deadheads walking around reminiscing about the Dead’s long, strange trip. Definitely an exciting time to be in Cleveland!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hot This Week: April 23

Matt Damon and Joey the War Horse remain first on the DVD chart. Meanwhile, Lionel Richie beats out many pop divas as well as a British boy band for the top spot on CD. John Grisham's new baseball book debuts at number one in Fiction, and for the first time in an impressive 29 weeks, Bill O'Reilly falls out of Nonfiction's top ten.

  1. We Bought a Zoo
  2. War Horse
  3. The Darkest Hour
  4. The Sitter
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  6. Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
  7. The Iron Lady
  8. The Descendants
  9. Immortals
  10. Hop
  1. Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
  2. Adele, 21  
  3. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
  4. Monica, New Life
  5. One Direction, Up All Night
  6. Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
  7. Gotye, Making Mirrors
  8. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
  9. Rascal Flatts, Changed 
  10. Hoodie Allen, All American (EP) (Digital Only)
Fiction Books
  1. Calico Joe, John Grisham
  2. Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis
  3. The Lost Years, Mary Higgins Clark
  4. Come Home, Lisa Scottoline
  5. The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani
  6. Sacré  Bleu, Christopher Moore
  7. Betrayal, Danielle Steel
  8. Stay Close, Harlan Coben
  9. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Alexander McCall Smith
  10. Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
Nonfiction Books
  1. Drift, Rachel Maddow
  2. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
  3. The Big Miss, Hank Haney
  4. Imagine, Jonah Lehrer
  5. Trickle Down Tyranny, Michael Savage
  6. A Natural Woman, Carole King
  7. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg  
  8. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  9. American Sniper, Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
  10. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

American Idol Recap: The Week They Played the Save

Last week on American Idol our remaining contests sang songs from this decade. Surprisingly, we didn't hear any Adele! Disappointed? Turn on your radio! There she is! Akon showed up to mentor, and Tommy Hilfiger attempted to give fashion advice again.

The Gals
Skylar and Jessica both took risks last week, performing songs that weren't exactly mainstream and also challenging. 

Skylar performed a Kellie Pickler song. If we didn't know the tune, we would've thought it was a Skylar original! While she picked country, it didn't bother us this week. She sounded phenomenal, played the guitar well, and really packed some emotion into her performance. Skylar is definitely the show's dark horse. If Colton and Phillip weren't thundering down the race track of every teenage girl's lusty heart, I'd say she was the top pony.

Jessica's performance of "Stuttering" was incredible. We'd never heard the song, but the judges knew it and praised Jessica for her ability to tackle a difficult song with such control, poise, and technique. It, too, sounded like an original recording. 

Elise took on Lady Gaga. She put her own style on "You and I" instead of trying to imitate the great Gaga, which was probably smart. However, she didn't do the song any justice. In fact, it was kind of bad. As Simon would've once said: "very karaoke." Haley Reinhart sang the stuff out of this song last season before it was even a Lady Gaga radio hit.

Poor, sweet Hollie. She dressed up like a pink feather duster and decided to do a sweet and slow version of Pink's "Perfect." Although her performance was better than the previous week, it wasn't at the caliber of Skylar and Jessica. Not even by a long shot. Also, her song choice spoke volumes about her insecurities. Her absolute lack of stage presence didn't help, either. 

The judges only made things worse. "You look really pretty tonight" was all J. Lo said, and Steven Tyler said "not your best, but you look great." The audience didn't boo in response to their critiques. Just silence. Awkward, much? Must have been because Randy made a comment, making things more awkward..

The Guys
Joshua Ledet was a true entertainer this week. He went all Bruno Mars, even with his dancing and getup. He blew everyone away and got a standing ovation. 

Then there was Colton and Phillip. Shall we compare? Jimmy Iovine likes to, so why not us? Colton says he wants to win and "doesn't want to be compared to anyone...especially Phillip." Ooo, we got a rivalry a-brewing. How does Phillip respond? "Oh I don't care about being compared. Colton is a cool guy." Way to put the kibosh on the rivalry before it even took flight, Phillip. Aren't you just too cool for school. Do you even really want to win this? Or were you just looking for some exposure so you could buy some more gray thermal shirts?

In our eyes, Colton is better than Phillip. There really isn't any comparing, though. Two totally different sounds, styles, and skill sets. Colton is improving, showing us something different every week. We've seen his rocking moments, tender moments behind the piano, leader-of-the-band attempts, and he's done well at all of them. 

As for Phillip, he's fading into the shadows of the stage. He's not an entertainer. He's a Dave Matthews-wannabe. We already have a Dave Matthews and he's way better. Stop holding your guitar like him, growling like him, and awkwardly dancing like him. 

Phillip may think he's getting far in this competition because of his talent and his "I'm all about the music, man" attitude, but really it is his easy smile and blue eyes. Young girls are voting for you because you're purtty, Phillip. Maybe we're being harsh, but Phil didn't know the Gotye song and that warrants us to make a lot of judgmental comments about appearance. Hot Girl Problems, Phil. Hot. Girl. Problems.

Egad! The Save!
Performance night had a couple stand outs and one flop (Hollie). For some reason, though, the bottom three were Joshua Ledet, Elise Testone, and Jessica Sanchez. Elisa, we can understand, but Jessica and Joshua?! Really, America? Maybe it's Vote for the Worst or the fan bases in the south or that folks just thought that she would be safe, but the lights of doom fell on Jessica Sanchez.

She began to sing for her life on the verge of tears. Not too far in, though, the judges flooded the stage, grabbed her mic, and told her she was safe. For once we agreed completely with the judges and Jimmy Iovine in using the save. Jessica deserves to be in this competition. And golf clap for Randy Jackson who scolded America, saying "This is one of the best singers ever! [Exaggerate much, Randy?] This is a singing competition! You got to vote for the best!" 

The show ended in chaos so we have no idea if two contestants will go home tomorrow night. Either way, it's time to get ready for "Songs from Now and Then"? Huh? Here's hoping they mean songs from the film Now and Then and not just a combination of "Songs from the Year You Were Born" and "Songs from this Decade." Get more creative, Idol.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today's New DVD Releases: Midwest Tape Recommends

Every Tuesday film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member, Kirk Baird, recommends new DVD releases for your library.

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
The Mission: Impossible movies have been a game of one-upmanship among the four different directors in the series. But it’s Brad Bird, a filmmaker best known for the animated features The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, who tops them all with the biggest, boldest, and most audacious Ethan Hunt adventure yet.

Hunt (Cruise, in a return to action-hero form), as usual, is on the wrong side of the U.S. government, and he and his team of spy operatives are blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin. The film’s plot is about restoring their names and, of course, saving the world in the process.

Jeremy Renner is a great addition to the cast as a former field agent, and the film’s impossible-to-believe stunt on Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai—the world’s tallest building—is not for those with a fear of heights. Ghost Protocol was the best-loved film in the series by audiences (nearly $700 million worldwide) and critics (93 percent “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) for a reason: This is the best mission yet.

Michael Fassbender appeared in four films last year. His best role among the quadrumvirate was also his riskiest: a New York City sex addict whose controlled life disintegrates after his sister (Carey Mulligan, also terrific) moves in.

Fassbender is creepy and pathetic, a damaged character difficult to like, and the script by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) doesn’t give us reason to, either. Shame is rated NC-17, and there is a considerable amount of nudity, but an honest film about sexual addiction wouldn’t have worked without it.

Old School Flick Now on DVD
Tom Selleck was originally cast as Indiana Jones, but his TV commitment to Magnum, P.I. kept him from the role. If you’re curious about how Selleck would have fared as an action-adventurer, check out 1983’s High Road to China, co-starring Bess Armstrong.

Real Life John le Carré
Filmmaker Carl Colby examines the life of his super-secretive father in the acclaimed documentary The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hot This Week: April 16

Two films about animals top the DVD chart. Rachel Maddow stays on top of Nonfiction, and Mary Higgins Clark's new release tops Fiction. Nicki Minaj's new album, after a release date delay, has finally hit shelves and the number one spot.

  1. We Bought a Zoo
  2. War Horse
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  4. The Sitter
  5. Hop
  6. The Descendants
  7. Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
  8. Immortals
  9. Jack and Jill
  10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  1. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
  2. Adele, 21 
  3. Rascal Flatts, Changed 
  4. Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
  5. One Direction, Up All Night
  6. Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal
  7. The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond
  8. Madonna, MDNA
  9. Marvin Sapp, I Win
  10. Shinedown, Amaryllis
Fiction Books
  1. The Lost Years, Mary Higgins Clark
  2. Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis
  3. Sacré  Bleu, Christopher Moore
  4. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Alexander McCall Smith
  5. The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani
  6. Betrayal, Danielle Steel
  7. Stay Close, Harlan Coben
  8. The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler
  9. Lover Reborn, J.R. Ward
  10. Beastly Things, Donna Leon
Nonfiction Books
  1. Drift, Rachel Maddow
  2. The Big Miss, Hank Haney
  3. Trickle Down Tyranny, Michael Savage
  4. Imagine, Jonah Lehrer
  5. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
  6. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  7. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard 
  8. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg  
  9. American Sniper, Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
  10. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ridley Scott Returns to Sci-Fi (and Alien franchise?) with Prometheus

Written by Kirk Baird, film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member
Ridley Scott defined our future. At least, as we see it in film. He did this first in 1979 with Alien and again in 1982 with Blade Runner, which is why most people—at least film fanatics—associate the visionary director with science fiction.

And yet Scott hasn’t made a science-fiction film in more than a quarter century. Instead, he’s gone on to make critical and audience favorites: the hard-hitting drama Thelma & Louise (1991); the sword-and-sandal epic Gladiator (2000), which won Best Picture; the politically charged war movie Black Hawk Down (2001); and an only-in-America true crime story American Gangster (2007).

The 74-year-old British filmmaker has kept himself busy through the years. But in almost all of his time away from the sci-fi genre there’s been one persistent question asked of him: When is he going to make another Alien movie? Actually, James Cameron beat him to it in 1987 with Aliens, a highly successful action-horror film that redefined the franchise and made Sigourney Weaver a huge star and her Ripley character a cinematic icon.

But Aliens wasn’t the same as Alien. The sequel was non-stop action of swarming, nightmarish creatures attacking military personnel. While the original was a more intimate scare, featuring one nearly invincible creature against a handful of undermanned and desperately frightened humans. It was a haunted house in deep space and it truly terrified audiences when it was released in theaters.

The Alien franchise has fallen on hard times since these films, a victim of low budgets (David Fincher’s Alien 3), half-baked stories (Alien: Resurrection), and an obvious attempt by 20th Century Fox to milk the movies (the Alien vs. Predator series). Thus, you can forgive fanboys for their excitement when word leaked that Scott was finally making another science-fiction film and that it would involve the world of Alien.

Scott has talked about making another Alien for a few years—one that explained what these creatures were and where they came from—but he walked away from the idea before it was fully developed; the studio balked at the budget he needed to make the film. So he moved onto another project, a film called Prometheus, and fans again knew they would have to wait.

Then word leaked from Scott that there were “strands of Alien’s DNA” in Prometheus, and the buzz began anew. There were other tidbits as well. But finally, the new trailer for Prometheus settles the question: Is it or isn’t it an Alien film?

Watch the two trailers and judge for yourself:



Prometheus hits theaters nationwide on June 8th.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fifty Shades Trilogy Now on Audio

By now, everyone has heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fan fiction turned legitimate erotica. Penned by E.L. James, a a West London TV executive and mother of two, the book follows 21-year-old Anastasia Steele who falls for Christian Grey, the fiendishly rich and handsome sexual fetishist who plays Dominant to Ana's Submissive.

The well-reviewed S&M-filled book has become a literary phenomenon, selling "more print and eBook copies combined on than the top selling romance book sold in all of 2011," says Media Bistro. Additionally, Universal Pictures has already bought the movie rights.

Most popular initially as an eBook download, Fifty Shades of Grey has since expanded into the paperback and—more recently—the audiobook market. Entertainment Weekly was the first to unveil an audio clip, explaining that now "there’s an even more discreet way to enjoy the salacious 'mommy porn' novel."

Read by Becca Battoe, the audio version is creating an entirely new Fifty Shades experience. Thus, we're extremely excited to announce that we now have the audiobooks and Playaways for all three entries in the Fifty Shades series. Now our auditory systems can join in on the naughty fun, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yellow Submarine Back and Better Than Ever

Written by Kirk Baird, film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member

The Beatles changed music. And in a small way they also helped change movie animation with Yellow Submarine.

Directed by George Dunning, a Canadian illustrator who had also worked on The Beatles’ Saturday morning cartoon series for ABC, Yellow Submarine presented film animation as arta mature expression of the popular children’s cartoons of the time, all grown-up and slightly surreal.

Its mix of acid-fueled psychedeliaa Peter Max stream-of-consciousness put to filmand Beatles songs made Yellow Submarine a critic and audience favorite when it released in 1968. After rights to the band’s music were cleared, Yellow Submarine came out on VHS nearly two decades later in 1987, but then went out of print. In 1999, Yellow Submarine made its DVD debut in a cleaned-up presentation that included the “Hey Bulldog” song segment from the European version of the film. The audio track was also remixed to Dolby 5.1, making it the best-sounding Yellow Submarine yet. The DVD then, too, went out of print.

With the rights to the movie having reverted to The Beatles and its Apple Corps label, Yellow Submarine now returns May 29 to DVD and for the first time on Blu-ray, looking and sounding better than ever before. The CD soundtrack is also reissuing on the same date.

As part of the restoration, Yellow Submarine was cleaned up by hand, frame by frame, for several months. A computer wasn’t used in the remastering process for fear it would alter the film’s rich and delicate hand-drawn art work. Additionally, the film was restored in 4K digital resolution, meaning it’s of the highest-quality resolution possibleeven better than a high-definition televisionfor now and for years to come.

When released, the new DVD and Blu-ray version of Yellow Submarine will be the definitive version of the film, and the best way to experience this ground-breaking and trippy aural and visual feast.

As the Beatles might say, “All you need is love…and our newly remastered Yellow Submarine.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great Scot! It's 80s Idol!

Last week's American Idol theme was music from the '80s. It was music only, though, with no one trying to capture the style of the decade. Way to not have fun, Idol contestants. Also, no one sang "(Don't You) Forget About Me." After the performances, though, we're actually glad no one attempted the classic tune.

So onto tonight's million dollar question: Were any of the remaining contestants even born in the 80s?

The Guys
Joshua Ledet commented that he'd never heard of his song, "If You Don't Know Me by Now". It's surprising that these contestants, who apparently LUV music and immerse themselves in it, don't know top hits from the past generation. Nonetheless, Joshua did an okay job. We're tiring of the soul man because everything is sounding the same—screechy and overly emotional.

Speaking of screeching, what about Phil? Phil's facial gestures indicate that it hurts to sing! Phil, when you slow it down and sing without growling painfully into the microphone, you seem lost. No one should be lost singing Genesis. Jimmy was quite critical of Phil last week, saying: "In my opinion, this was Phillip's worst performance of the entire show...It's difficult to push yourself when everyone's telling you you're so great." Ooo! You tell him, Jimmy!

While the comment probably bothered Phil, he tried to play it cool. However, his retort seemed to show his lack of appreciation for his fans rather than Jimmy: "I don't care about the hype or shakin' hands with the crowd, or dancing around stage. I'm just hear to sing and play music." Phil, listen. If you don't please your fans, you'll soon be singing in a garage to no one. 

As for the other guys, Colton put his emo spin on "Time After Time." The judges really liked it with Steven telling Colton that he could make a record right now. DeAndre did well, too, and his hair totally matched the theme. In all seriousness, we think he gave his best performance yet. He could be the next El DeBarge

The Girls
How did the girls fair? Well, poor Elise couldn't find a note in her rendition of "I Wanna Know What Love Is." Unfortunately, it was her worst performance yet. I don't know if she couldn't hear the band/melody or what, but she was flatter than a pancake. She deserved to be in the bottom three (again). 

Hollie followed Elisa dressed in an outfit from homecoming circa 2001 and singing "What a Feeling." She definitely did not perform well, but the judges were a bit critical of her pitch. Sure, the beginning was pitchy, but once she hit the chorus, she was on a roll. J'Lo gave her honest advice about letting go and just singing, which was spot on. Hollie shook her head in agreement, and Jimmy said she'd be there with DeAndre possibly going home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were Jessica and (for once) Skylar. After a series of predictable performances, Skyler wow'd us. She sang "Wind Beneath my Wings" fantastically. We finally got to hear her range without the unnecessary screaming of the entire song. Nice job, Skylar! 

Jessica's choice of "How Will I Know" came across well. It was her second successful Whitney Houston performance. She was entertaining—using the stage and dancing a bit. In her attempt at another upbeat song, she controlled her vibrato much better than when she sang Gloria Estefan.

The Results
So following 80s-cover night, the results show had DeAndre, Elise, and Hollie in the bottom three. We thought for sure Elise would go because of her awful performance, but no, the lights of dejection fell on DeAndre. He sang for his life, and Jimmy gave his two cents:

"No, Jennifer. No, Randy. No, Steven! DeAndre was not great," Jimmy said. "DeAndre needs to come out and grow at a much faster pace. If you look at the boys, Joshua is growing leaps and bounds; DeAndre is growing marginally. DeAndre was the weakest of [the] boys last night. He could be going home unless Jennifer, who's been supporting him this entire show, saves him. Jen?"

Alas, J'Lo couldn't convince Randy and Steven to save the young man and DeAndre was sent packing. Not that we would've saved DeAndre either, but we get the feeling the judges are holding onto their save for Colton or Phil, especially after last year's Pia-Casey debacle. Got news for you, though, judges. Those two will make it to the final four along with Skylar and Jessica. Can you even use the save that late in the game?

So that's the recap. Onward to this week's show where the contestants will undoubtedly butcher songs from...this decade? Like 2010-2012? Because we haven't heard these songs enough on the radio. Adele anyone?

DVD & Blu-rays Hitting Shelves Today

Written by Kirk Baird, film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member

The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep won her third Best Actress Oscar (out of 17 nominations) for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Streep’s towering performance is dead-on; it’s not so much an impersonation as it is a well-researched and nuanced interpretation of the steadfast conservative British Prime Minister, both on the job and in her less steely moments at home.

Some may quibble with director Phyllida Lloyd’s narrative structure: building a film around a present-day Thatcher whose dementia conjures imagined conversations with her dead husband (Jim Broadbent, who steps out of Streep’s considerable shadow), while casually rummaging through milestones in her life to share via flashback. Conventional filmmaking flaws be damned; this is Streep’s movie all the way. And the greatest actress of her generation delivers with a magnificent turn.

Not to Miss Documentaries
German filmmaker Werner Herzog released two great documentaries in 2011: Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the AbyssThe latter, which releases today, is the better of the two. It's a politically balanced examination of capital punishment, focusing on two convicted murderers—one serving a life sentence, the other a death-row inmate only days before his execution—and the lives they affected.

Inspiration for Hugo
It’s wonderful to see tributes to pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies—first with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and now with the limited edition Blu-ray of A Trip to the Moon Restored. You could make a movie about how Melies’ short film A Trip to the Moon, the first science-fiction movie, was painstakingly restored beginning in 1999 from a lost, hand-colored print discovered nearly two decades ago. And in fact, the filmmakers did just that, including a documentary detailing the restoration process, The Extraordinary Voyage, in this two-disc Blu-ray set.

Celebrate 1970s TV
Season 3 of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery offered some of the best frights on TV and provided work for a young director named Steven Spielberg. Another new release, Logan’s Run: The Complete Series, takes the premise of the Michael York-Jenny Agutter 1976 film of 23rd Century fugitives from a doomed and dystopian city and (pun intended) runs with it.

Also, to get you primed for Dark Shadows’ big-screen treatment in May, the cult TV soap opera of the same name is being released in several DVD packages, including 25 collections as well as several best-of sets.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Greek Mythology on Film

Written by Kirk Baird, film critic and Detroit Film Critics Society member

With the Wrath of the Titans hitting theaters last week, patrons' interest in Greek mythology may pique. Be sure to display these other great DVDs based on Greek mythology in your library.

  • Ulysses (1954): Based on Homer’s The Odyssey, Ulysses stars Kirk Douglas as the unlucky king and his doomed voyage as he tries to return home to his wife after the decade-long Trojan war. 
  • Helen of Troy (1955): Famed filmmaker Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music) directed this loose adaptation of Homer’s first epic, The Iliad. While the 1955 film is out of print, check out the 2003 miniseries of the same name
  • Jason and the Argonauts (1963): Jason (Todd Armstrong) leads a perilous quest to find the legendary Golden Fleece, but the real star of the film is the special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. 
  • Clash of the Titans (1981): Harryhausen co-produced this stop-motion effects extravaganza based on Greek hero Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and his battles with Medusa and other mythological creatures to save the girl, Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker), from the giant Kraken. The film was remade in 2010
  • Hercules (1997): Disney left the medieval world of castles and princesses in distress for this animated ancient Greece romp that focuses on a young Hercules as a god-turned-mortal looking for a heroic deed to restore his immortal powers. Features the voices of Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, and James Woods. 
  • Troy (2004): Brad Pitt is legendary warrior Achilles and Eric Bana his rival Hector in Wolfgang Peterson’s (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) more flesh-and-blood take on the Trojan War—one that omits the gods and instead leaves mortals to their own fate.
Any we missed? What's your favorite Greek mythology tale?

Hot This Week: April 9

Several new releases debut in the top spots of the Fiction and Nonfiction lists. Meanwhile, Madonna and Lionel Richie top the CD chart, forcing us all to wonder if we've tumbled back into the 80s.

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  2. The Sitter
  3. Hop
  4. The Descendants
  5. Immortals
  6. Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
  7. Jack and Jill
  8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  9. Tower Heist
  10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  1. Madonna, MDNA
  2. Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
  3. Adele, 21 
  4. Shinedown, Amaryllis 
  5. The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond
  6. One Direction, Up All Night
  7. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream
  8. The Used, Vulnerable
  9. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
  10. Now 41 
Fiction Books
  1. Lover Reborn, J.R. Ward
  2. Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis
  3. Betrayal, Danielle Steel
  4. Stay Close, Harlan Coben
  5. Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspear
  6. Lone Wolf, Jodi Picoult 
  7. Kill Shot, Vince Flynn  
  8. The Thief, Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
  9. Private Games, James Patterson and Mark Sullivan  
  10. Defending Jacob, William Landay  
Nonfiction Books
  1. Drift, Rachel Maddow
  2. The Big Miss, Hank Haney
  3. Imagine, Jonah Lehrer
  4. The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg  
  5. American Sniper, Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
  6. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard 
  7. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  8. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson  
  9. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand  
  10. Quiet, Susan Cain