Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scary Movies

With Halloween almost here, it started making me think about all of the scary horror films so many people seem to love. To be honest, I am not a fan of the slasher films. Maybe when Halloween first hit the cinemas back in 1978, it was original -- but now they all just seem like variations on the same theme to me. I much prefer a story that leaves more to my imagination. That's a much scarier place! 

So here, in no particular order, are some of the films that I have found frightening.

Psycho (1960)
Norman Bates is a troubled son who believes "a boy's best friend is his mother." Marion Crane is an ill-fated traveler who checks into the eerie Bates Motel wanting only a hot shower and a warm bed. Her journey ends sooner than she planned in the shocking scene that has haunted generations of movie-watchers. The tension and horror mount when a private detective and Marian's sister search for her, and for the true identity of the mysterious Psycho.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)
FBI agent Clarice Starling is assigned to help find a missing woman and save her from a psychopathic serial killer who skins his victims. Attempting to gain a better insight into the twisted mind of the killer, Clarice is sent to talk to another psychopath -- Hannibal Lecter.

Alien (1979)
"In space, no one can hear you scream." 
A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers some strange creatures and investigate.

The Omen (1976)
A chilling suspense mystery, this riveting tale of the supernatural explores the Biblical prophecy of the warning which will foretell the coming of Armageddon. The final confrontation between the forces of good and evil will begin with the birth of the son of Satan, in human form.

The Changeling (1980)
Scott stars as Dr. John Russell, a composer living in New York City, who moves cross-country to Washington state following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation in upstate New York. In suburban Seattle, Russell rents a large, old, and eerie Victorian-era mansion and begins piecing his life back together. However, Dr. Russell soon discovers that he has unexpected company in his new home — the ghost of a murdered child. It shatters windows, abruptly opens and shuts doors, and manifests itself during a séance. Russell investigates and finds that the mystery is linked to a powerful local family, the heir of which is a wealthy United States senator.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
"I see dead people." The film tells the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to the dead, and an equally troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who tries to help him.

-- Post by Tracy

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

About the Classics

This weekend saw the release of the movie The Three Musketeers -- the latest offering in over twenty film adaptations of the classic Dumas tale. Since the early days of motion pictures, Dumas's classic stories of the adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan have graced the silver screen in a variety of interpretations and incarnations.

The interpretations are as varied as the filmmakers behind them. There's the silent Douglas Fairbanks version, the classic two-parter with Oliver Reed and Raquel Welch, the fluffy but fun modernized Disney take. (This newest version does appear to be the first adaptation in 3-D. To be fair.)

Dumas joins a cadre of fellow authors -- like Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Shakespeare -- whose classic works are often adapted for the big (and small) screen. But for every version of A Christmas Carol or Sherlock Holmes that appears -- as adaptations become farther and farther removed from their source material -- it's interesting to go back and look at the original stories ... and their authors.

Read on for a handful of little-known facts about the authors behind some of the biggest-known stories in history (with a particular look at Mr. Dumas himself):

-- Alexandre Dumas suffered from insomnia.

-- It's important to have a hobby: Charles Dickens was interested in hypnotism and conjuring. Lewis Carroll was an amateur photographer; Jane Austen did embroidery.

-- Number of books Dumas wrote in his lifetime: 272.

-- Master of Mystery Agatha Christie went missing for several days in December 1926, shortly after discovering her husband was having an affair. She was found at a health resort in Yorkshire ten days later. (There have been rumors of suicide attempts and amnesia, although the time-travelling science fiction show Doctor Who has the most unique explanation for her disappearance.)

-- Meanwhile, the Master of the Macabre -- Edgar Allan Poe -- is reported to have never started to write until he had completely mapped out his story, setting, and characters. He is also said to have paced back and forth across the room to get revved up before beginning to work.

-- Dumas wasn't just an author; during the 1830 French revolution, he operated as a secret agent, helping to place the Duc d'Orleans on the French throne.

-- It is rumored that Victor Hugo considered calling The Hunchback of Notre Dame "What there is in a bottle of ink" because he penned the last line of the novel with the last drop of ink in the bottle.

-- Dickens doubled as an actor. He is said to have gotten so excited performing his own work onstage that he'd sometimes pass out from overexcitement.

-- There are actually two authors by the name of Alexandre Dumas: Alexandre Dumas pere (father) and Alexandre Dumas fils (son). (The father was the one of Musketeer and Monte Cristo fame.)

-- Hugo wrote his first play when he was only 14.

-- Dumas was once asked to donate 25 francs towards the funeral expenses of a recently deceased bailiff. Not a fan of the office, Dumas apparently tossed over 50 francs and snapped, "There you are -- bury two of them!"

-- H.G. Wells always carried two pens with him, one large and one small. He claimed the big one was for the long words and the little one was for the small ones.

-- William Shakespeare had eleven different ways of spelling his name.

-- Dumas's supposed last words, referring to his unfinished book: "I shall never know how it all comes out now."

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Have I read this before?

If you read a lot of books, you have probably asked yourself this question many times as you stand in the library or the bookstore browsing for a new read: "Have I read this before?" Luckily, I'm usually able to figure out if I've read something before or not. But for some people, like my Mom, they can be halfway through a book before realizing that they have read it already. Thankfully, there are many ways to keep track of what you have read and what you would like to read.

The first way is a good old-fashioned written list. This can be as simple as writing down titles on a scrap of paper or buying a Book Journal. Some people will even try keeping a list on their computer using a spreadsheet. While this is a good option, there is always the problem that you could lose your file if your computer crashes.

The other option is keeping track of your books at an online "catalog" service. The big three are LibraryThing, Shelfari and Goodreads. These are a bit more safe because your titles are being saved somewhere other than your personal computer.


This site was created in 2005 as "an online service to help people catalog their books easily." A free account with LibraryThing lets you catalog up to 200 books. If you have more books than that, a personal account with no limit costs $10 a year or $25 for a lifetime. This site is most appropriate for readers who are most interested in keeping track of their personal library collection, more than just tracking what they have read. LT allows you to use Library of Congress or Dewey subject headings, or you can create your own tags. There is a social aspect to LT, but it is not the main function of this web site.


Shelfari began in October 2006 and is has been owned by Amazon since 2008. This is a social networking site for book lovers. Here you can create a virtual bookshelf of your books. Then you can rate, review, and tag your books. If you are so inclined, you can share this information with your friends. You invite friends and find friends in much the same way as you would on Facebook. In fact, if you have a Facebook account, you can allow Shelfari to access it and share your Shelfairi comments with your Facebook friends. There are also thousands of groups on Shelfari that are generally open to anyone to join.


Started in December 2006, it is the newest of the three sites, but equally as popular. The creators of Goodreads envisioned it as a place to not only keep track of what you've read, but also as a place for book recommendations from your friends. Like Shelfairi, Goodreads is a very social site, with virtual bookgroups available to join (or you can create your own). GoodReads also has sections for trivia, quizzes, and favorite novel and author quotes -- which are a lot of fun and very addictive, so be careful!

Overall, the three sites are quite similar, in that they give you a place to keep track of your reading. The biggest difference is that LibraryThing is restricted to only 250 books for free, while Shelfari and GoodReads are not. After that, which one you choose to use is based on personal taste.

And while they all provide a form of book recommendation, don't forget about your friendly librarians here at Monroeville Public Library. We are here to help you find your next book, DVD, or CD -- in person, by phone, or via email.

-- Post by Tracy

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The online world was shocked and saddened last week with the news that Steve Jobs -- the cofounder of the computer company Apple Inc. -- had passed away. Famous for his work with Apple computers, Job is credited as one of our great modern inventors and entrepreneurs, having been listed as either the primary inventor or co-inventor in over 300 US patents and patent applications.

If you've heard the name "Steve Jobs" before last week, changes are good that you knew him as "the Mac guy." What's not so well-known is that Apple Inc. is not the only company that Steve Jobs had a close connection to. There was NeXT Computer, an American computer company that never received the attention or recognition that Apple did, but which was notable for manufacturing powerful computer workstations for places of business and higher education. And then there's Pixar.

Yes, as in Pixar Animation Studios. Known now as the Disney-partnering company that has produced such animated films as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and WALL-E, Pixar started off as a division of the company Lucasfilm, Ltd. -- the George Lucas company behind such movies as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series. Jobs purchased the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm from the company for $10 million, establishing it afresh under the new name "Pixar." About 44 people were employed by Pixar at the time, and in 1986 the company released its first animated short: Luxo Jr., starring the now-famous Pixar lamp. The short would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.

Interestingly enough, Jobs's original intention was not for Pixar to solely produce animated films (in the early 90s, Pixar Animation consisted of dozens of computer-animated commercials for various companies). Jobs actually envisioned Pixar as a high-end computer hardware company that would sell its Pixar Image Computer to agencies and corporations. One of those corporations would, however, be Disney studios, who in 1990 commissioned Pixar to animate three computer-generated films. The first of those would of course be "Toy Story," the first-ever film animated exclusively with CGI, or Computer-Generated Imagery. (Next time you pop "Toy Story" into the DVD player, watch the credits closely: Steve Jobs is listed as one of the film's executive producers.) The film would go on to gross over $360 million worldwide, ushering in an era of Pixar/Disney-partnered productions: A Bug's Life; Toy Story 2 (the first film in history to be entirely created, mastered, and exhibited digitally); Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and The Incredibles. To put it mildly, the films were a critical and commercial successes, smashing box office and DVD sales records while sweeping the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Annie awards.

In 2006, Disney acquired Pixar through an all-stock transaction of $7.4 billion -- a transaction that left Steve Jobs as the single largest shareholder of Disney stock. Under the Disney umbrella, Pixar would go on to create such films as Ratatouille, Up, and Toy Story 3, and continues to be one of the biggest animation studios -- both in terms of critical acclaim and box office success -- in the world.

A major Pixar fan myself, I can still remember sitting in the movie theater to see "Toy Story," the first-ever computer animated feature film. Nowadays, of course, CGI is the norm for animated films -- but back then, it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. The level of detail and realism to the movie's computer-wrought world was breathtaking, ushering in a whole new era of moviemaking and storytelling.

Steve Jobs will rightly be remembered as a master innovator and entrepreneur, without whom the technological world would not look the same. But we can also offer him our thanks for his hand in the creation of the worlds of Pixar. Film would not have been the same without him.

Pixar's Animated Short "Night and Day"

-- Post by Ms. B

Friday, October 7, 2011

Beyond the Horror

Last week I discussed my all-time favorite author: Stephen King. I mentioned how odd it was, in some respects, for me to be a fan of his -- primarily because I am absolutely not a horror fan. And yet there's something about Stephen King's writing style and thematic story elements that draw me to his writing regardless of that.

But another reason I can enjoy him so much is that he's not, strictly speaking, a "horror writer." Oh, he definitely writes horror -- make no mistake about that -- but many of his books can be classified as thrillers, or mysteries, or science fiction. And even his straight-up horror offerings have more to them just the scares (not that he doesn't write some pretty great scares).

So if you, like me, are not generally a fan of the horror genre, but find yourself wanting to give King a try, here are some alternate-genre reads of his that might be more up your alley.

Duma Key

Edgar Freemantle, owner of a construction company, hasn't sketched a picture in years -- until a construction site accident leaves him with an amputated right arm, memory and speech problems, and a flush of anger issues. Renting a beach home on the west coast of Florida to recover, Edgar takes up his old art hobby once again, only to discover two things: his paintings are better than they've ever been before, and the things he's painting are starting to come true. While many critics commented on the obvious parallels between Edgar's experiences and Stephen King's own near-death experience from several years previous, what I was more impressed by with this novel was the characters. The main characters are interesting and well-developed, and you come to genuinely care about them by the end of the novel.

"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" // "The Body"

"Different Seasons" collects four short novels by Stephen King, and two of those -- "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" and "The Body" -- are among his finest non-horror works ever.

"Rita Heyworth" -- considered to be one of King's all-time masterpieces -- tells the story of two prison inmates: Red, a "lifer" who has just been denied parole; and Andy, one of the more unusual inmates to serve time at Shawshank. What follows is a story that is equal parts hope and redemption; to give away any more of the plot would be a disservice to the story.


"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. ... does anyone?"
"The Body" details the summer adventure of four pre-teen boys in 1960s Maine. While the object of their quest -- another boy who went missing and is now presumed dead -- is macabre, the story itself is not. It is, as the saying goes, about the journey, not the destination, and it's more about the stories of these four boys than it is anything else. King captures the voices of four youthful characters with his usual precision -- the kids are buoyant, silly, crude, and above all optimistic, giving a portrayal of childhood that is far from idealistic but still, in its way, fondly remembered.

(Both of these novellas happen to have been made into truly excellent film adaptations: The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and Stand By Me, starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, and Richard Dreyfuss.)

The Eyes of the Dragon

As I mentioned last week, this was my first Stephen King novel, given to me by my mother when I was in high school. George R.R. Martin meets Grimm fairy tale, it's a high fantasy adventure about two royal brothers -- one of whom is Crown Prince, while the other becomes a witness to a murder of their father and King. Simply and straightforwardly told, it's something most fantasy fans should enjoy -- while also being a pleasant change of pace from the usual Tolkien derivative fare.

The Dead Zone

This one's a science fiction read that doubles as a thriller: if you could see the future, how far would you go to prevent it? Johnny Smith is injured in a car accident and put in a five-year coma; when he awakens, he finds himself with five years of his life gone, his parents stressed to the breaking point, and his former girlfriend now married to someone else. That in itself could have made for an interesting story, but King takes it a step further: the accident has left Johnny with psychic abilities. By touching an object, he has visions about the person that the item belongs to -- including visions of the future. And one vision in particular is cause for alarm, detailing the cataclysmic fate that awaits the world if presidential hopeful Greg Stiltson is elected to office. As sci-fi thrillers go, you can't ask for much better than this. (And yes, this book resulted in both a motion picture adaptation, as well as a six season TV series.)

The Green Mile

King is well-known to his fans for being unafraid to try different formats for his work: Riding the Bullet was originally released exclusively online, Ur is only available to read on the Kindle, and his new short stories are still routinely released in magazines. With "The Green Mile," King tried his hand at the serial novel -- the book being released in six parts that were issued monthly in low-priced paperback format. (The book has since been collected into one large novel.)

Another prison novel, this one differs from "Shawshank Redemption" in its supernatural twist. Told from the perspective of Paul Edgecombe, the block supervisor of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row, it details the story of inmate John Coffey, a man on death row for a crime he may or may not have committed. Another story about redemption and innocence, with a decidedly different twist from "Shawshank," this story comes to focus on Coffey and the question of his innocence or guilt -- not to mention his mysterious healing powers. This book, too, has been made into a well-known film, starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland is hiking with her mother and brother when she falls off the trail for a few minutes to get away from her family's bickering. A nightmare follows when a wrong turn finds her lost in the woods with nothing but a backpack of snacks, a Walkman, and her Tom Gordon baseball cap. The plot is simplistic in set-up, but the story it tells -- about courage, determination, family, and the power of faith (in both God and baseball) -- is anything but. I read this book for the first time over a decade ago, and it still remains my favorite King read.

The Dark Tower series

"Go, then -- there are other worlds than these." Stephen King's masterpiece is also his hardest work to describe. Science fiction? High fantasy? Epic? "Epic," at least, is certainly a word to describe this seven-book series that was nearly 20 years in the making, and which also serves to tie together many of the characters, settings, and stories of the rest of King's novels. And yet, it's not a horror series, reading more like a Spaghetti Western tribute crossed with post-apocalyptic fantasy ... and that's just the first book. Whether you like fantasy, science fiction, Westerns, or Epics, there's probably something in this book for you. (There's even a Harry Potter reference for the particularly sharp-eyed!)

-- Post by Ms. B