Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2009-02-09

Coraline

Coraline is based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The movie theatre I saw it in was only 2-D, not 3-D; I'm hoping to be able to watch and enjoy the 3-D version.

The movie is animated stop action, and it's a thing of beauty. Great colors, wonderful scenery, it's just an amazing work of art. The OtherMother is deliciously creepy, especially when she's imitating a child's version of what a Perfect Mother would be.

I'm usually quite easy about books that have been turned into movies. No, really. I understand that what works well in a book doesn't work well in a movie; and that to tell a story visually requires change. I also understand the need to cut (or expand) a story to make it fit a movie format.

That said, ultimately, I was disappointed by how the story was adapted into film.

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!

The movie introduced a friend for Coraline called Wybie; and while this lessened Coraline's isolation (an important part of the book), it did give Coraline someone to talk to and interact with. The book has long stretches where it is just Coraline and her thoughts; having a person there, instead of just Coraline, makes sense. So I understand why Wybie was added.

What doesn't make sense is that Coraline, while spunky, is dumbed down. And part of that dumbing down shows at the end, when Wybie (the boy) rescues Coraline. Coraline's well-plotted defeat of Other Mother gets turned into a spur of the moment event that requires The Boy to help save the day.

OtherMother and her OtherWorld are wonderfully realized; but it's exaggerated a bit too much, such as putting the retired actresses (Miss Spink and Miss Forcible) into stripperesque costumes.

This is a don't-miss visual experience; but in terms of story-telling, the book remains far superior and has a much more appealing Coraline.

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2008-09-12

Fun Friday: Trailer Park

My husband Marcus & I are mad for movie trailers, so much so that we sometimes decide to forgo an evening out in favor of queuing up 90 minutes or so of trailers at Apple. We started this little habit of gorging ourselves on 90-second mini-movies back when we couldn't afford to go out, and we just never gave it up, because it was so much fun. Turns out, it's also a handy & super-cheap way to keep up to date with what's coming to the multiplex & local arthouse cinema.

Here are some of my most recent favorites, with contextual notes for fun, reader's & viewer's advisory, and displays!

Cthulhu -- I am not a fan of horror by any means, but I have a soft spot for Cthulhu. Maybe it's because I fell in love with Michael Chabon's Lovecraftian ghost, August van Zorn, in Wonder Boys (another very fine film adaptation). Maybe it's the exuberant, extravagant creepiness of putting a cephalopodic head on a quasi-human body. Whatever, it's awesome. Plus, this film co-stars Tori Spelling, which...well, that's just classic, isn't it? Teen soap queen-turned-low-rent reality star & sometime horror princess. Bust out the Lovecraft for all those Darren Shan fans who have torn through every book in his Cirque du Freak and Demonata series!

The Duchess -- Let me tell you, Britney? Paris? Lindsay & Samantha? Ladies, you have nothing, nothing! on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Great-great-supergreat ancestor of Princess Diana (Georgiana's maiden name was Spencer -- she grew up at Althorp, too), the Duchess was the It Girl of the 18th century, a fashion icon, political heavyweight, and object of endless gossipy scrutiny. I kind of hate that they've rebranded her as The Duchess (what, like there are no other duchesses?), because that reminds me of the willful mis-speller Fergie, and I just don't want those streams crossed in my mind. I hate it even more that Amanda Forman's thoroughly engrossing biography, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, has also been rebranded with Keira Knightley's lovely, if too svelte for the 1700s, face on the cover. I'm kind of surprised at how grouchy I am over this, but you know I'll be seeing that movie as soon as it comes out. Hello, fabulous period costumes! Forbidden romance! Intrigue! This is a no-brainer for your Gossip Girl fans.

A Quantum of Solace -- When I first heard Daniel Craig would be replacing the ultra-suave Pierce Brosnan as Bond, I made my face of ultimate skepticism. I am very happy to admit how wrong I was. Having never been saddled with the "pretty" label, he's developed his chops as a character actor, and he brings an emotional depth to Bond that I think we've never seen before. He's also far scrappier, physically -- he's got more in common with Matt Damon's Jason Bourne than any previous Bond, who has never seemed like an action hero who ever actually got his clothes mussed while fighting off five thugs at once. Craig rules, basically, and I love the new, emotionally tortured Bond. Cross-market with the Bourne franchise, and for those readers too young to see a potentially R-rated film, the new Young Bond series by Charlie Higson.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
-- Of course! Quirky, music-loving teens find true love in one crazy night in New York. There's not much in this world better than that.

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2008-07-20

The Real Life League of Real Superhero Stories

It took 70 years, but it seems that pop culture has finally finished digesting the Superhero and begun to regurgitate the idea in the form of stories about how weird the idea is. With this past week's progressive sample release of Dr. Horrible, the Whedon's Supervillian Mad Scientist Musical Laundromat Love Story, the release of Hancock featuring Will Smith as a drunk, disillusioned superhero, and the momentous unveiling of the first trailer for the hotly anticipated film version of breakthrough graphic novel Watchmen, stories that essentially ask "what if superheroes were, like REAL or something?" are bigger than ever.

Watchmen, which follows cataclysmic events in the life of a second generation of superheroes, some of whom inherited their characters from their parents, is very heavy stuff; in addition to giving graphic novels a much needed shot of legitimacy that has yet to wear off, it singlehandedly broke open the world of superheroes by actually exploring how the world might react if people actually dressed up in spandex and fought crime. Now, some people actually do dress up in spandex and fight crime, but we'll get to that later. The idea of Superheroes in a real world, or at least acting something like regular people without all the stilted superfriends-speak and unironic catchprases, keeps coming up again and again, from my favorite show Venture Brothers (which owes much to Ben Edlund's Tick) about the weak, self-absorbed but super-scientist grown son of a seemingly superhuman titan of achievement, to Disney's surprisingly unawful tween-targeted Sky High, about the freshman year (at a floating superhero high school that might as well be called 'Superwarts') of the son of the world's mightiest superheroes, who also happen to be high-powered real estate agents; and of course, The Incredibles, which could somewhat fairly be described as Watchmen recast as a sitcom. All these projects break one of the cardinal laws of Superheroes: no attachments other than a single love interest, and for darn sure NO OFFSPRING. Just crossing the family dynamic with the superhero tropes provides so much wonderful friction that it's certain there are superhero family dramas (and superhero family sitcoms) in development. Seriously, how long can it be before someone decides to remake The Greatest American Hero?

However, as the Incredibles explored a bit, there is enormous potential in the ridiculousness in the world of Superheroes, or, as Warren Ellis and boingboing have redubbed them as a result of DC and Marvel attempting to enforce their recently-renewed 1979 'Superhero' trademark, Underwear Perverts. One of the most inspiring films in this area is the underappreciated Mystery Men, based loosely on a spinoff of misunderstood genius Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics. There's a scene in Mystery Men where the main characters are auditioning potential new members of the team; and the parade of goofballs and their elevator pitches about their superpowers (The Waffler carries Truth Syrup, which is Low Fat) looks to me like a really fun idea for a library program. Have a panel of superhero judges to see superhero auditions, or give kids time to make their own costumes and form their own super squad and shoot a commercial for their services, with awards for awesomeness, ridiculousness, and outlandishness. With the right group, that could be an absolute blast. Maybe you could even get a real costumed hero to come inspire the audience.

Because there are real-life superheroes, of course. You may well have heard of Angle Grinder Man, who freed the booted cars of London, or heard Terrifica on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a woman who protects the drunk girls of the bars of NYC (and has an arch-nemesis, Fantastico). Mexico has Superbarrio, protector of the weak and organizer of labor rallies, and here in Michigan we have FoxFire (not a web browser), who helps those in need as part of a shadowy organization known only as the "Nameless Few". Some of these people are bringing attention to their cause, others are tongue-in-cheek but not entirely kidding, some are sweetly earnest, and others are downright serious. If you can stand a bit of a web time warp (and a well-intentioned but not very comprehensive resource), you may wish to check out the World Superhero Registry to see if a caped crusader is available in your area.

Regardless of intent, the superhero is here to stay, and these ideas have left their Marvel & DC cradles and made the leap into the real world. They're even spilling out of their rightful place on the Graphic Novel shelf and storming Dewey's fortress of Solitude. In addition to numerous scholarly works about superheroes, a new book coming this october explores the plausibility of Becoming Batman and what it would realistically take to reach Batman's level of martial arts and technological prowess. Next up is a book about parenting twins, and how to activate their wonder twin powers.

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2008-07-15

Pop Culture Things I am Addicted to Right Now

AKA, the kind of post Sophie is writing right now because she is taking two summer courses (never again, gentle readers. Never. Again.) and is doing lots of busy behind-the-scenes book stuff with Liz. Big fancy reveal coming soon. Also, I've been meaning to work these links seamlessly into posts on other topics, but that kind of sophisticated stuff is just not happening these days.

**Edited to Add**: How could ever forget Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? This might get me kicked out of the Whedonverse Fan Club. Mea maxima culpa, Joss! Watch now, thank me later. Seriously, watch now -- Act 1 went live yesterday, Act 2 goes live on the 17th, Act 3 goes live on the 19th, and after the 20th they're gone (until they come out on DVD).

Cute With Chris -- hilarious weekly video podcast (subscribe with YouTube or iTunes, or just view at Chris's site) that is both about cuteness and utterly satirizes & skewers cuteness.

Guillermo del Toro -- Genius. Of course, my favorite movie critic of all time, Mr. A.O. Scott, can make anyone seem like a genius if he likes them enough, but really, del Toro rocks in a very old fashioned, deeply odd way. We just watched Pan's Labyrinth this weekend and although it made me cry like a baby at the end, I found the creatures fascinating (apparently the ones in Hellboy 2 are very similar) and I just couldn't wait to see what happened next. I am placing holds on his other films at my local library, and putting the other ones in my Netflix Queue.

Band on the Diaper Run
-- on days when I wonder to myself what the heck I think I'm doing working full-time when I have a toddler, I read this blog and get a grip. I applaud Jason & Kori for making their family life mesh so seamlessly with their work life, and I realize that no matter how vexed or frazzled I may feel, my life is way less complicated than theirs. (I'm also glad they make it work, b/c I love their music.)

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2007-07-26

Pop Cult Round-Up

Well, we're working on a Pop review of HP7. In the meantime, please entertain & edify yourselves with the following:

  • Emmy nominations: yeah, we're about a week late with these. Display & DVD selection time! Also, set your TiVos and/or plan an Emmy party for Sunday, September 16th.
  • Interesting retrospective critical analysis of the American romantic comedy, from the New Yorker's David Denby. Those libraries with film view & discuss groups, take note!
  • Rolling Stone's 40 Essential Albums of 1967. If you're looking to flesh out your Seminal Classic Rock CD collection, this is a great place to start. The entire issue is full of fascinating articles covering the many scenes during 1967 -- Memphis, London, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles all get their due.

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2007-07-17

Potter, Potter everywhere

Welcome to a joint post from Carlie, Liz, and Melissa! We've all recently seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and we're dying to write about it.

Carlie:

Before I write my thoughts on OotP, I want to blatantly self-promote an editorial I wrote that appears in the July 15, 2007 Bergen Record: We're all still wild about Harry. As a Potter fan since 1999 I jumped at the chance to write about Harry, his literary tradition, and why he's drawn so many fans. It was a delight to write and I hope you enjoy reading it. (And of course, comments to the editor of the op-ed page telling him how much you enjoyed the editorial will not go unappreciated.)

Now, on to the movie.

OotP is my favorite book, so I was especially excited, or maybe the better term is nervous, to see how the movie would come out. One of the problems the previous Potter movies have is that they feel like 700-page books squished into 3-hour movies. I don't really blame anyone for this; it's sort of the nature of the fantastic beast. I knew there was no way David Yates, regardless of his talent, could fit that much text into a movie, so I was pleased to see that what he did with it was make not so much a book adaptation as a movie that could stand on its own while hitting all the important points of the book. There are a fair number of deviations from canon, and parts left out, but despite this I thought the storyline was fairly linear and the major themes of the book: betrayal, loneliness (essential to the hero's journey story, of course!), love, and corruption were all treated well.

A quick run-down of some things I loved:

  • Luna Lovegood. Evanna Lynch's portrayal was sensitive but also pretty "out there," the epitome of all things Luna. I confess to being one of a few people who would much rather have seen Harry fall in love with Luna than with Ginny in HBP. I think Luna knows things about Harry, spiritually speaking, than he knows about himself.
  • Imelda Staunton should have paid them to play Dolores Umbridge. That woman (Umbridge, not Staunton, who I'm sure is a perfectly lovely person) is pure evil. The viewer can see her spiral out of control both personally and professionally.
  • The fight in the Ministry atrium between Voldemort and Dumbledore, done entirely in earth, air, water, and fire. We haven't seen magical battle this spectacular yet, which makes sense considering these are two of the most powerful wizards in the world.
  • Helena Bonham Carter. Helena Bonham Carter. And also? Helena Bonham Carter. After seeing GoF I figured, "Eh, I'll see OotP eventually, maybe a few weeks after it comes out, no rush." Then I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be playing everyone's favorite insane Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange, and said, "I MUST see this movie on opening weekend." They could not have cast anyone more perfect for the role. I'm upset that they deleted the exchange in the book between Bellatrix and Harry regarding what it takes to cast an Unforgivable Curse, but that's more because I personally have a fascination with the Unforgivable Curses and that part of the book was really earth-shattering for me.
  • Cutting out the sound so there was silence in the scene where Remus is holding Harry back from going after Sirius when he falls through the arch. The silence, rather than Harry's screams, was extremely powerful and really made the viewer concentrate on what was on the screen. It reminded me of the scene where Boromir is killed in The Fellowship of the Ring. (Or was that when Gandalf fell? Or both?) During the fight in the atrium I think there was a second of silence where Voldemort is gathering his power to cast the fire spell, which then explodes from him, and that reminded me of what happens as Minas Morgul comes to life in The Return of the King.
  • Finally, Ron gets his due as a friend rather than the comic relief. Harry, Hermione, and Ron function respectively as body, mind, and soul, and while we've had plenty of body and mind in the past four movies we've never seen so much of Ron doing what he does best, which is being their comforter and their heart (despite the teaspoon jab from Hermione).
And what I missed/would like to have seen more of/thought "This is so not canon."

  • I stood up and cheered when Neville fought alongside his friends in the Department of Mysteries at the end of the book. It was so great to see him stand up for his friends, his parents, and most importantly, himself. Too much of that was missing from the movie.
  • Percy's break from the Weasley family, one of my favorite moments in OotP because I saw it coming eight miles away, wasn't there. Again, this is probably a personal prejudice. Although I don't necessarily like Percy I do feel very strong sympathy as well as empathy for him. His break from the Weasleys was one of the first moments of the books where we got dimension from a Gryffindor. But maybe that works better in the book.
  • The way Harry saw Snape's memory of being tormented by James. In the book, Harry steals his view of Snape's memory by falling into Snape's Pensieve. In the book, Snape makes an outright effort to hide that memory for Harry. My brilliant friend Andrea had this to say (paraphrased), about Snape's removing of the memory and putting it in a Pensieve prior to the Occlumency traning sessions: My theater teacher always told me that when in doubt, go for the heart. Snape could have two reasons for hiding that memory. 1: He really didn't want Harry to see his underwear. 2: He really, really didn't want Harry to see what a prat James was. The first answer is the obvious one, but doesn't the second give Snape more dimension, thereby going for the heart?
I've taken up my fair share of space on this topic, I think, so on to Liz and Melissa!

Melissa:

Unlike Carlie, OotP is probably my least-favorite HP. While I can appreciate what Harry's going through, and how he spent the whole year feeling left in the dark, it's a bit wearying to read that for pages and pages and pages. So, I hadn't really been all jazzed up about the movie version.

Happily, I walked out of the movie thinking, "This is the best one yet!" What I loved was that it felt like a movie, not a movie adaptation of a book. It really stood on its own merits, and as such, I think it works better than all the past movies. Kudos to the director and the screenwriter for that!

What I liked:

  • The visual style. The camera work, the lighting, they all made the different places and scenes have life. I loved the odd angles, the overhead shots, everything.
  • The flashbacks! It was so great to see, in Harry's dreams and during the Occlumency sessions, moments from the past four movies. I mean, that scene with Harry and the Mirror of Erised, and then Snape stands between his parents--how cool was that? And it works so perfectly for that moment.
  • Seeing Fred & George leave Hogwarts. It wasn't as flashy as what was in the book, but it was a great sendoff for the twins.
  • Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Man, if pink and kittens weren't evil before, they sure are now.
  • The way the three 'kids' are really starting to act onscreen. Now that they're all getting older, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are actually being expected to act, and for the most part, they're doing the job. I particularly loved all the little sideways glances that were going on, between Ron and Harry, between Ron and Hermione, between Hermione and Harry.
  • The duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore. Man oh man, that was cool. It's so funny to think back to the duelling scene in Chamber of Secrets, and realize how fake that was, compared to what happened in OotP.
What I didn't love:

  • Um, nothing? Seriously, I can't think of anything that annoyed me or pulled me out of the movie. From the first moment, I was sucked in, and that's what I ask for from movies. So OotP has become my favorite movie adaptation, and I know that I'm going to find some time this week to give the book a re-read, something I haven't ever done, because now I'm curious to compare the book to the movie. And really, how often does that happen?

Liz's turn!

A third "thumbs up" from the crew at Pop.

Why I loved it: while I liked the book, and understood why Harry was going thru what he was, I felt that the movie's version of "sulky Harry" was tighter. From the door slamming in Harry's face when he first goes to Sirius's house to Dumbledore not even looking at him, we get into Harry's skin, feel his exclusion and aloneness. In the movie (perhaps because they cut out so much of the housekeeping?) it also seemed that Harry responded to his friends much faster, which worked very well.

From a film making POV, I respect that the film makers picked children who are now the perfect teens for their parts. Neville, particularly – even tho he's gotten taller, he has such a Neville-ish aspect to him. Imagine, picking the right child to fill the shoes of a character five years in the future!

And the adult actors…. Wow, wow, wow.

I also over-read the film. Given this is one of the few film franchises where the moviemakers respect and listen to the author, and the author speaks up, I think what is and is not included are key as to what JKR sees as important to the overall HP story, not just this book. So, Percy and his choices aren't important enough? Yet, James being a bit of a bully is important; but, Lily being nice to Snape isn't. HHmmm…. What does that mean, for the final book?

Finally, the battle. Yes, it's exciting on the page, but in reality, a bunch of people pointing sticks at each other and shouting. The editing, the special effects, the acting, made this as exciting, and as deadly, as a battle with guns.


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