Friday, September 28, 2012

New movies and books

As of October 1st, the 2012 fiscal year is over.

Why mention that? Because it means that new orders are essentially on pause for a short time -- except for urgent items for faculty -- until we shake out what our plans are for 2013. I thought I’d offer a bit of an update.

All told, we ordered over 1,600 books, e-books, and films. It’s a respectable addition to the collection, I think! So I thought I’d quickly review some of the highlights of our recent film and book purchases. I’m focusing on my own purchases for this one; it’s just easier that way. I’ll do some legwork for the next one.

All Joss Whedon, all the time
Admittedly, I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon on general principle (even that one film with Sigourney Weaver) -- Buffy and Firefly are two of my top ten favorite shows of all time, while Dollhouse continues to intrigue, years after its cancellation. He’s moved back into movies, and I have to say you don’t need to be a fan of the man to know what he’s been doing. We just bought Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers (which is being processed as we speak).

Cabin in the Woods is pretty interesting! It starts off as a stereotypical coed horror flick, with a bunch of unrealistically attractive college students (and the requisite stoner in tow) heading off to … you guessed it, a cabin in the woods. But the story takes a strange turn early on, and just keeps getting stranger. Summing it up requires that you look at the old complaints about ridiculously-premised horror films in new ways; what if it’s all deliberate for reasons other than Hollywood’s love of proven tropes? It’s both an homage to, and a tweak on, the horror-movie formula, with an ending that breaks the mold in its boldness.

The Avengers, of course, is widely considered the best comic-book film of the year, if not the last few years, and a big part of that is the way Whedon wrote it. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of his trademark wit and unusual turns of phrases in the script, plus the fight scenes are brilliantly-choreographed. The actors are terrific, too -- Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner still makes me uneasy whenever I think of him, while I get goosebumps when the Hulk emerges.

Lovers, not fighters
We also got The Artist, another award-winner -- and for good reason. People looking for dialogue-heavy films probably should avoid this one. For all but the last five minutes, it’s actually a silent film, the subtitles registering only the type of music being played on the soundtrack. Once in a while you’ll see an intertitle with a summed-up version of the dialogue being mouthed on-screen, but if you’re a good lipreader, you’ll be amused at just how much they vary from what the actors are actually saying. It’s a lovely love story, covering a famous silent-film star at the end of his era and his very slowly-growing romance with an up-and-coming star of the new ‘talkies.’ It’s also worth it for the dog, which is ridiculously cute and extraordinarily well-trained. The entire film is shot in a very appealing black-and-white format that actually makes John Goodman look good.

Last (for this post; we actually purchased 64 films this year) is The Vow. I kept it last because it’s not my kind of film, but I know heartstring-tugging stuff tends to be popular. In this case, it’s the story of Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum (both veterans of Nicholas Sparks flicks) as they rebuild their lives and marriage after a car accident and subsequent coma robs her of her memory. It’s actually based on the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter.

Drop everything and read
First, I have to admit to being intrigued by Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books, and it appears I’m not alone. We got the most recent installments -- Aloha from Hell and Devil Said Bang -- and they continue in much the same vein as the first two in the series. James Stark, our resurrected antihero, exists in a Los Angeles where the supernatural abounds and the world is constantly under threat from a race of creatures that favor total destruction of both good and evil. Sort of like the Constantine comic books, except the protagonist of this series doesn’t bother with pretending to help people.

Then there’s Crackpot Palace, a collection of surreal short stories that explore a few different classical tropes ranging from army-as-well-oiled-machine to Dr. Moreau’s Island and the real story of what happened there. It’s hard to describe the way it’s written; the best I can think of is a combination of Harper Lee and Stephen King, with a little of Flannery O’Connor’s highly-calibrated sense of irony.

The fourth and last title I’d like to highlight is The Medieval Python. It’s a collection of essays about the work of Terry Jones, a member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python; it turns out he’s actually been a prolific historian and critic of medieval literature, especially the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporaries. Jones turned 70 this year, so a bunch of historians and literary critics wrote up essays about the work he’s done and presented the published version to him as sort of a birthday present. A comedian gets a history book as a birthday present; sounds like a joke, right?

I could go on (really, I could; see me in the Library if you don’t think this post was sufficient), but space and time are immutable constraints. Suffice it to say that we’ve all been making interesting -- and useful -- additions to the collection over the past year!

Next week, you can expect a vlog. See you then.

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