Archive for the “DVDs” Category

panel of Calvin and Hobbes cartoonOn November 18, 1985, people across the country opened their newspapers (this was back when most people read newspapers) and met a sandy-haired six-year old named Calvin and his stuffed (but sentient) tiger Hobbes.  Calvin was every babysitter’s nightmare, the bane of his teachers, Dennis the Menace on speed (but with a much better vocabulary and a more interesting mind). He was a source of nonstop stress for his parents and a constant torment to his neighbor Susie.

Of course readers fell in love.  During its 10-year run, Calvin and Hobbes was ultimately carried by 2400  newspapers around the world and translated into calvinchineseapproximately 40 languages. Then on New Year’s Eve 1995, surprised readers saw the strip’s abrupt end as our boy and his tiger rode a sled into a snowscape of possibility.

Unlike many cultural artifacts of the late eighties and early nineties, Calvin and Hobbes are still with us and still loved.

220px-Dear_Mr._WattersonHow beloved? Last month when rumors of a new Calvin and Hobbes book got out, the barrage of hits crashed the publisher’s website, and  the hardcover collection The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is currently sold out at Amazon.

If you’re a Calvin and Hobbes fan, come join us at the Central Library, 79 Highland Ave., on April 8 at 7 pm for a screening of Dear Mr. Watterson a documentary exploration of the genius of Calvin and Hobbes, their creator, Sam Watterson, and the love that readers have for them to this day.

This critically acclaimed documentary is a love letter to the last great comic strip.


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Are you an avid reader and a movie buff? Do you watch film adaptions of books you’ve read and make mental notes about plot changes and casting choices? Perhaps you should join the library’s Books into Movies discussion group.

It meets the third Monday of every month at the Central Library, 7:30 to 8:30. On June 16 the group will discuss Jim Thompson’s The Grifters and the film  of the same name starring John Cusack and Anjelic Huston, as well as the Robert Redford/Paul Newman film The Sting, based on David Maurer’s The Big Con. You’re welcome to come regardless of whether you’ve recently read the books or seen the movies.

Next month the group meets July 22 to discuss The Bridge over the River Kwai (book by Pierre Boulle; movie directed by David Lean).


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oswaldThe assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963  still haunts our collective imagination, and rightly so.  It was the moment when the entire nation was forced to confront the violence endemic to American life, when people sitting in their own homes watched murder happen. Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 was one of the popular books of 2011. Twenty-five years after nomination for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s Libra still  provokes reflection.

References both serious and comic to the murder abound in popular culture. One of the most talked-about episodes of Mad Men tried to recapture the horrified bewilderment of Nov. 22 and its aftermath. The assassination crops up everywhere, from lyrics by They Might Be Giants (“I remember the book depository where they crowned the king of Cuba”) to The Seinfeld episode “The Boyfriend,” to The X-Files’ “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man.”

There are myriad retellings, explorations and evocations of that day. I recommend the books Six Seconds in Dallas, Case ClosedMrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy and the American Experience documentary Oswald’s Ghost.

People are still trying to make sense of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. One way they do that is to believe in conspiracy theories: It was the CIA, or Castro, or LBJ.  Author Fred Kaplan explains why all of those theories are nonsense.

Two years ago, Errol Morris presented the solution to one of the most persistent mysteries surrounding the grassy knoll, who was umbrella man?  

The John  F. Kennedy Library and Museum will hold a tribute to JFK this afternoon. Details are here.

If you’re more interested in Kennedy’s life and career than in how it ended, take advantage of the library’s pass to the museum and visit in the near future.



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wagnerLast weekend a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time stopped me on the street and asked me what the library was doing to commemorate the 200th birth year of Richard Wagner.  The library has too many programs for me to keep track of, so I said, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

There is no question that Wagner is a towering figure in Western culture. He influenced  later composers such as Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler.  And  his cultural impact extended beyond music: the works of the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and writers ranging from Charles Baudelaire to D.H. Lawrence all owe something to Wagner.

But Wagner’s a controversial figure, to put it mildly. Like many Europeans of his day, Wagner was anti-semitic. And the Nazis loved him, seeing in his musical explorations of pagan myth the expression of a pure Germanic ethos. Some critics even argue that anti-semitic motifs are present in his operas, and Wagner’s own grandson thinks his music should be banned.  Nevertheless his operas are among the high points of Western classical music. SPL has many of his operas on DVD, including Tristan und Isolde (one of the great love stories of Arthurian legend) and the incomparable Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. You can also read about Wagner and his family in the critically acclaimed Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family.

But however much Wagner’s operas are performed around the world, however much works such as The Waste Land or Ulysses have been  influenced by the maestro, the real proof of the profundity of Wagner’s stamp on our culture  is in what animators and critics agree is one of the best cartoons of all time.  The team that created Bugs Bunny manages to riff on Tannhäuser, the Ring operas and The Flying Dutchman all in seven short minutes:












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Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard, author of such works as Glitz, City Primeval and Killshot, died at his home in Michigan. He was 87.

His works were populated by murderers, conmen and schemers, people living alongside us, but in a separate world with its own rules and risks and expectations.  Leonard wrote  about this world with an emotional depth and a gritty realism that endeared him even to critics prone to be dismissive of crime novels.

Readers curious about Leonard have two options for sampling his distinctive talent. A number of his books are available in the network. Second–and this is a more indirect way of trying his work–some of his writings were eminently suitable for adaption to film. Two of his short stories are the basis for the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T; another is the basis for the FX TV series Justified.

His novel Get Shorty was adapted into a great movie starring John Travolta, Renee Russo, and Danny Devito. Quentin Tarantino re-worked Rum Punch into Jackie Brown.

The man is gone, but his work remains. Enjoy it.



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“Dark fins appear, innocent/as if in fair warning”–Denise Levertov, “The Sharks.”

“You may rest assured that the British government is entirely opposed to sharks”–Winston Churchill in Parliament, Prime Minister’s Question Time, Feb. 20, 1945.

sharkWe’ve barely begun to recover from the heart-stopping excitement of Sharknado, and here we are in the middle of Shark  Week, the Discovery Channel’s annual celebration of all things squaline. And while I’m sure that most of the programming of SW 2013 is perfectly fine, it is my professional obligation to echo commentary currently on the Internet: Contrary to what you might have seen and heard last weekend, megaladons (the largest known shark ever) still do not exist.

Whether we love them or hate them, sharks fascinate us. But why?  Some people are enamored of their ability to sense bioelectric fields . Some people think they’re beautiful. Others are grateful for their contributions to the ecosystem.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter, shall we? Sharks are terrifying, and the terrifying has a perverse allure. As one person put it on Twitter: “They’re ancient, and one of the last things on earth that puts us lower on the food chain. Gotta respect that.”  Admittedly, sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them, but that’s small comfort if you’re swimming in the ocean and find yourself near one.  And the fear of sharks is a very old one. Most modern historians and biologists believe the “monsters” Herodotus described devouring shipwrecked Persian sailors were sharks.

If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, considering checking out the Nova documentary “Island of the Sharks” or the Secrets of the Deep episode “Great White.”  And the network has books galore about sharks, including the acclaimed nonfiction thriller Close to Shore, the compelling and respectful exploration The Shark Chronicles, and master storyteller Peter Benchley’s Shark Trouble: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea.

If you want to go online for your shark needs, check the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Portal, or National Geographic‘s shark website.

Here are some interesting facts about sharks for your edification. Joe Queenan holds forth on the dearth of good shark movies.  And the National Academy of American Poets has assembled a brief compilation of poems for Shark Week.



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I didn’t submit my suggestions in time to be included in the last post but I’ll throw a few out there now. I recently saw Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery [1993], which was a lot of fun. Woody re-teams with his erstwhile muse Diane Keaton, and the inspired addition of Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston makes the whole thing even better. Carol and Ted (Keaton and Alda) are sure that their elderly acquaintance Paul (Jerry Adler) has committed the perfect murder. Hard-boiled author Marcia Fox (Huston) jumps into their bumbling investigation with both feet, but Larry (Allen) thinks they’re all nuts. Extra: before they were famous fun! Look for Zach Braff (aka J. D. Dorian) and Aida Turturro (aka Janice Soprano) in blink-and-you-miss-them roles.

Some of the old sitcoms make me laugh too, and The Dick Van Dyke Show has to be one of the best. The show features great writing (much of it by Carl Reiner) and an incredibly talented cast. Check out this clip for some crazy 60’s dancing by Buddy, Sally, and the rest of the gang, including a 25 year old Mary Tyler Moore. As for Dick Van Dyke’s performance, I have no words, only a question – how does he do that?


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After last week, a lot of us could probably use a break from reality: a few minutes or a few hours of not thinking about the horrors of last week. I asked my colleagues what makes them laugh, cheers them up when they’re down, or just makes them forget their worries. Here are a few suggestions.

confederacyEast Branch Director Marilyn suggests A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  I have to second that: Confederacy is one of the craziest, best-written pieces of inspired lunacy that I have ever read. To get a sense of the book and what it means to so many readers, check out the foreword  by the writer who shepherded the manuscript of the novel to publication, Walker Percy.

Marilyn also recommends Cold Comfort Farm, a 1932 comic novel by English writer Stella Gibbons. She’s also partial to the 1995 film adaptation, starring Kate Beckinsale and Stephen Fry.

Cynthia, one of our teen librarians, told me her “go-to movies for comfort” are princessbridBeauty and the Beast, Knight and Day, The Princess Bride, and Whisper of the Heart.

Cynthia added, “I tend to re-read books over and over again, but some that always make me feel happy are Ella Enchanted, Chasing Redbird, and the Belgariad series.”

For my part, the funniest movies I’ve ever seen are Bowfinger and The Big Lebowski. As for books, it’s impossible for me to be in a bad mood when reading  Carl Hiaasen’s comic Florida thrillers or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels.

And there’s more comfort reading and viewing to come, so stay tuned…




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MLKToday we honor the memory of one of the greatest Americans ever, a man whose courage, wisdom, and determination changed this country forever. In the twelve years between his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Martin Luther King did more to advance racial justice than had been accomplished in the previous century since emancipation.

The finest work I know on King’s life and work is Taylor Branch’s three-volume America in the King Years. I particularly enjoyed the first volume, Parting the Waters, which is an absorbing account of King’s career up to the March on Washington as well as a fascinating examination of African-American society in the Jim Crow era.

If you’re not up to tackling Parting (it’s over a thousand pages), I highly recommend Harvard Sitkoff’s The Struggle for Black Equality. It’s fewer than 300 pages and compulsively readable. The chapter on the Montgomery Bus Boycott alone makes the book worth a trip to the library.

If you would rather watch than read, try Eyes on the Prize. This 1987 documentary on the Civil Rights Movement won a Peabody and 2 Emmys.


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Join us for a three-part film series showcasing the use of classical music in war movies. The series kicks off at the Central Library this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. with Gallipoli. Live musical accompaniment for some scenes will be provided by members of the Cambridge Symphony Chamber Players for all three films.

1981; Starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Harold Hopkins, Charles Yunipingli, & Ron Graham; Rated PG; 1 hour 52 minutes says, “An outstanding drama, Gallipoli resonates with sadness long after you have seen it. Set during World War I, this brutally honest antiwar movie was cowritten by director Peter Weir. Mark Lee and a sinfully handsome Mel Gibson are young, idealistic best friends who put aside their hopes and dreams when they join the war effort. This character study follows them as they enlist and are sent to Gallipoli to fight the Turks. The first half of the film is devoted to their lives and their strong friendship. The second half details the doomed war efforts of the Aussies, who are no match for the powerful and aggressive Turkish army. Because the script pulls us into their lives and forces us to care for these young men, we are devastated by their fate.”

The next two movies in this series are:

Scent of a Woman, on Saturday, November 17th at 10:00 a.m.
1998; Starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell; Rated R; 157 minutes says, “Hoo-ah! After seven Oscar nominations for his outstanding work in films such as The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, it’s ironic that Al Pacino finally won the Oscar for his grandstanding lead performance in this 1992 crowd pleaser. As the blind, blunt, and ultimately benevolent retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, Pacino is both hammy and compelling, simultaneously subtle and grandly over-the-top when defending his new assistant and prep school student Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) at a disciplinary hearing. While the subplot involving Charlie’s prep-school crisis plays like a sequel to Dead Poets Society, Pacino’s adventurous escapades in New York City provide comic relief, rich character development, and a memorable supporting role for Gabrielle Anwar as the young woman who accepts the colonel’s invitation to dance the tango. Scent of a Woman is a remake of the 1972 Italian film Profumo di donna. In addition to Pacino’s award, the picture garnered Oscar nominations for director Martin Brest and for screenwriter Bo Goldman.”

Platoon, on Saturday, December 1st at 10:00 a.m.
1986; Starring Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Johnny Depp; Rated R; 120 minutes says, “Platoon put writer-turned-director Oliver Stone on the Hollywood map; it is still his most acclaimed and effective film, probably because it is based on Stone’s firsthand experience as an American soldier in Vietnam. Chris (Charlie Sheen) is an infantryman whose loyalty is tested by two superior officers: Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a former hippie humanist who really cares about his men (this was a few years before he played Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ), and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a moody, macho soldier who may have gone over to the dark side. The personalities of the two sergeants correspond to their combat drugs of choice–pot for Elias and booze for Barnes. Stone has become known for his sledgehammer visual style, but in this film it seems perfectly appropriate. His violent and disorienting images have a terrifying immediacy, a you-are-there quality that gives you a sense of how things may have felt to an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam. Platoon won Oscars for best picture and director.”

The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra has worked with organizations that honor American veterans over 2012. The CSO has chosen these three war-themed films, and through an introduction with live chamber music, will spotlight how familiar classical music underscores the theme of war and its aftermath for veterans.

These programs are free and all are welcome. We hope you can join us!


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