Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Recommendations -- February 2015

It's the shortest month of the year, a few less days for all you book addicts to spend reading, but that's no excuse not to peruse some of the tomes published this month. Here's what you should consider adding to your shelves or downloading on your e-reader.

The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song by Ben Yagoda
Here's an engaging chronicle about the development of American popular music.

The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935 by James Layton and David Pierce
It's been one hundred years since the birth of color film.  This book explores the early experimentations right before it finally went mainstream.

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford
If you think print is dead, here's an example to make you believe otherwise. These richly detailed black-and-white line drawings practically beg to be colored, and you can't do that on a Kindle.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown
The gripping science fiction tale started with Red Rising continues in magnificent fashion.

Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale by David Duchovny
The actor best known for The X-Files writes a fairy tale that will leave you entertained.

Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life by Edward Burns
Go behind the scenes with the writer/director/actor from his start in The Brothers McMullen to his roles in Saving Private Ryan and Entourage.

The Just City by Jo Walton
If the only time travel story you know involving Socrates is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, I recommend you read this book!

Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague
If this book is half as funny and endearing as Novak's YouTube videos, we're all in for a treat.

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz
Even death can't stop Odd Thomas.

Saturday Night Live: The Book by Alison Castle
On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, this book celebrates everything about SNL.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
From the author of Understanding Comics comes a brand new graphic novel.

Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison and Scott Tipton
Here's your chance to see what has been called the best episode of the original Star Trek series the way the writer had intended.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Any collection of Gaiman's tales and essays is always a pleasure to read.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz
If you're a fan of the movie, you'll want to pick up this companion volume.

Wrestling for My Life: The Legend. the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar by Shawn Michaels
Take a look at the pro wrestling career of "The Heartbreak Kid."

Do you have any recommendations or advance review copies you'd like me to consider?  Let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Guest Post: The Best Terry Gilliam Films and What They Meant for Science Fiction

Thank you to Maria Ramos for writing today's post.

The Best Terry Gilliam Films and What They Meant For Science Fiction
by Maria Ramos

From crude stop-motion animation  to perplexing dystopian sci fi narratives, Terry Gilliam is a pretty interesting filmmaker, to say the least. And with one of his properties providing fodder for a new TV show, it could be that Gilliam is ultimately best remembered for his contributions to the sci-fi genre.
The Syfy channel recently took on the challenge of turning Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys into a television series – and it looks like it has potential. In light of this reboot, let’s take a look at how the original film fits within Terry Gilliam's “Dystopian Trilogy.”

Brazil (1985)
Brazil is set in a dystopian fictional world where obedience is demanded by an authoritarian government. A common government employee, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), frequently daydreams of saving a woman in a cage. When he actually meets this woman, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), Sam attempts to be transferred to her department. Later, they both end up arrested by the government (Layton for previous accusations of working with a terrorist) and Layton is detained. Like his science-fiction films that followed, the film creates ambiguous frictions between “reality” and “memory.” Daydreams, nightmares, and the questioning of sanity all became major dystopian tropes in Gilliam’s films, and you can see the origins of many of these tropes in Brazil. Although the film may be hard to follow, it’s story definitely appeals more to the mind than to the senses. Gilliam himself considers this a career-defining film. Fans might consider taking a look at the Blu-Ray release, which comes replete with bonus material, including original storyboard art.

12 Monkeys (1995)
If you go around telling people that you’re a time traveler sent from the future to uncover the secrets behind the disease that annihilated the human race, people are bound to look at you funny. This is what happened to James Cole (played by Bruce Willis), when he traveled back to the year 1990 to gather information about the upcoming apocalypse in 1996. It is believed that a terrorist organization known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys created this virus and Cole was sent into the past to obtain a sample of the original virus. When he arrives, he gets sent to a mental institution (for assaulting police officers and stating he was from the future), where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Goines plays an important role later on in the film when he is suspected to be the ring leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.

The science fiction genre isn’t celebrated for uplifting endings, and 12 Monkeys hardly leaves off on a chipper note. Although the television show follows the general plotline of the film, It appears that the show will attempt flesh out some of the story elements that were purposefully kept mysterious in the film — especially with the “future” and with the background/motivations of the Cole character. You can check out the new series on Syfy through their website or on demand (info here) and you can stream the original film through sites like Amazon.

The Zero Theorem (2013)

Computer genius Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is given a special task by his corporate managers: solve a mysterious mathematical formula called the “Zero Theorem.” As he stays at home, working on the program, he begins to suffer from horrifying nightmares about black holes. We learn, throughout the course of the film, that the theorem has sinister implications for the whole of humanity.

The film focuses on that cryptic and frightening space where theoretical physics and philosophy overlap. Qohen Leth is glued to his computer screen, trying to find answers and ends up becoming directly connected to his computer through an AI suit, which he can also use to interact with people through virtual reality. Is technology itself just a coping mechanism that people use to shield themselves against life’s pointlessness? Are all intellectual pursuits ultimately futile, when you consider that death is an inevitability? Check out the Blu-Ray, and watch as Leth desperately tries to solve this mystery.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SNL Exhibition

If you've enjoyed Saturday Night Live, which is celebrating 40 years of laughs on late night television, then you might want to experience "Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition" at Premiere on 5th this Spring at 417 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

It will feature a Wardrobe Gallery with some of the outfits worn by the cast in their memorable roles throughout the decades.  The exhibit will take visitors through the process of creating the popular show, from the Writer's Room to the final live broadcast.  From the musical performances to the satirical skits, highlights from the past to the present are on display, celebrating what began with those "Not Ready for Primetime Players" and is still chugging along, bringing a dose of much-needed humor to Saturday night television.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Whom Can We Trust?

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has been caught in some blatant lies. His on-air apology didn't seem to be enough. More examples of truth-stretching and mis-remembering are coming out, leading to him canceling appearances and taking a leave of absence until all this negative chatter dies down.

(UPDATE: NBC has suspended Brian Williams for six months.)

Even though we live in an age when the public already looks at media professionals through the lens of cynicism, it is a stab in the heart of the journalistic ideal when a prominent broadcaster is caught stretching the truth. Okay, "stretching the truth" is being too kind -- Williams flagrantly misrepresented what happened, deceiving the public to elevate himself at the expense of truth, placing himself at the center of the stories he was telling instead of being objective and honest. He outright lied, shattering the public trust.

I know that many journalists have already lost their credibility, acting more like pretty but empty faces, talking heads whose only talent is reading a teleprompter. We live in a time when we don't trust our politicians, we don't believe in the achievements of our athletes, we don't blink an eye when countless celebrities fall from their pedestals in scandal after scandal.

Yet we need the press to hold on to standards of integrity and credibility. That seems like a laughable statement when so many media outlets are more concerned with delivering fluff and increasing ratings than they are with uncovering truth and disseminating knowledge. It must remain the ideal, however, no matter how jaded we've all become.

When the fourth estate is shattered, the core of our democracy is fractured with it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Director Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has had an impressive career as an actor (the "Spaghetti Westerns," the Dirty Harry series, the Every Which Way comedies, Escape from Alcatraz, and one of my personal favorites In the Line of Fire), but even more outstanding has been the body of work he's delivered (and continues to create) behind the camera lens as a director.

From beginning to end, his filmography is loaded with quality cinema.

Play Misty for Me (1971)

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Breezy (1973)

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

The Gauntlet (1977)

Bronco Billy (1980)

Firefox (1982)

Honkytonk Man (1982)

Sudden Impact (1983)

Pale Rider (1985)

Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

Bird (1988)

White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

The Rookie (1990)

Unforgiven (1992)

A Perfect World (1993)

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Absolute Power (1997)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

True Crime (1999)

Space Cowboys (2000)

Blood Work (2002)

Mystic River (2003)

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Changeling (2008)

Gran Torino (2008)

Invictus (2009)

Hereafter (2010)

J. Edgar (2011)

Jersey Boys (2014)

American Sniper (2014)

How does he keep doing it?  Hopefully he has even more brilliant movies ahead of him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Michael Keaton and Others in Latest TimesTalks Series

The latest batch of TimesTalk interviews looks to be fantastic.

A Conversation with Actor Michael Keaton
February 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan
The Birdman star and Oscar nominee will be interviewed by New York Times culture reporter and "Carpetbagger" blogger Cara Buckley. This event is already sold out.

Director Alex Gibney, Writer Lawrence Wright, and Director/Producer Paul Haggis
March 2, 6:30 p.m. at the TimesCenter in Manhattan
The trio discuss the controversial upcoming HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on Wright's bestseller.

A Conversation with Opera Singer Renee Fleming
March 9, 7 p.m. at the TimesCenter in Manhattan
New York Times reporter Patrick Healy chats with the opera star, who will be making her Broadway debut in Living on Love, along with director Kathleen Marshall and playwright Joe DiPierto.

This series is always wonderful, affordable, and worth attending.