Music & Movies Newsletter for December

Sorry to disappoint you folks, but this month’s picks has nary a Christmas themed CD or movie in sight. No doubt there’ll be plenty of festive suggestions appearing on our blog/twitter/Facebook in the coming week or two.

What we do have is a couple of literary classics adapted for DVD – Sebastian Faulks’ “Birdsong” and Henning Mankell’s “Wallander; New Zealand’s own Anna Paquin appears in the underrated and decidedly non-vampiric “Margaret” ; also, books that take you behind the scenes of Game of Thrones and Doctor Who along with the best of the rest of in music & movies for December.

Library News

DVDs

Cover imageBirdsong.
“Busy screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady) adapts Sebastian Faulks’s 1993 bestseller…Costume-drama veteran Eddie Redmayne (The Pillars of the Earth) plays Stephen Wraysford, a British textile man based in Amiens in 1910. While staying with Isabelle (Clémence Poésy, In Bruges) and her controlling husband, Stephen falls in love with his hostess, but her marriage and stepchildren stand in the way. The story continues to proceed along two tracks: Stephen’s time with Isabelle and her sympathetic sister, Jeanne (Marie-Josée Croze), and his time as an imperiled lieutenant in the trenches of World War I…as memories of Amiens spur him on. Flashbacks reveal that Isabelle eventually returned his affection, except the course of their relationship did not run smoothly. By the end, he’s lost most of the things he once desired, but an alternative path lies ahead. In this sense, Birdsong bears some comparison with Atonement and Downton Abbey, though the downbeat nature of the material won’t be to all tastes…” (Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imageMargaret.
“A film whose initial release was held up for five years, thanks to a series of legal wrangles, the eventual cinematic debut of Margaret was, perhaps inevitably, strangely muted. Margaret is an ensemble drama, the catalyst for which is a bus crash. The crash is witnessed by Anna Paquin’s Lisa, and it forces her to question whether it was really an accident. Things spiral from there, affecting more than just Lisa herself, and drawing the film’s large cast together. Margaret is an involving, intelligent and absorbing piece of cinema, that if anything feels a little bit short. Running to well over two hours, there’s nonetheless still a sense that one or two of the story fragments are missing. But still, there’s plenty here to feast on. Furthermore, there are interesting themes that Lonergan’s film isn’t shy about exploring, and there’s a good deal to dissect once the credits roll. Don’t be put off by the relatively low-key DVD release, then. Margaret is a gem, the kind of film that’ll be discovered for some time to come…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)

Cover imageWallander. 3.
“The British television series Wallander boasts eerily beautiful scenery, intricate plotting, and, above all, Branagh, who delivers a masterpiece of interior acting. The less he lets slip, the more fascinating the character somehow becomes. Based on Henning Mankell’s novels, the series follows the downbeat adventures of Kurt Wallander, a world-weary police detective who operates in the Swedish town of Ystad. An Event in Autumn, the first installment in this third collection, finds Wallander attempting to construct something like a normal life, moving in to a cottage in the country with his girlfriend and her son. Fate soon comes knocking, however, as a gruesome discovery in his garden leads to the uncovering of a murderous legacy. Based on the second novel in Mankell’s series, The Dogs of Riga finds the inspector traveling to Latvia, after a murder at sea entraps him in a deadly case of police corruption on unfamiliar ground…This collection finishes up in fine style with Before the Frost, an exploration of belief and religious mania that ranks among the top episodes in the entire series…(Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imageTouch. The complete first season.
“At the story’s centre is Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland), a widower and single father, haunted by an inability to connect to his emotionally challenged 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz). Caring, intelligent and thoughtful, Martin has tried everything to reach his son. But Jake never speaks, shows little emotion and never allows himself to be touched by anyone, including Martin. Jake is obsessed with numbers–writing long strings of them in his ever-present notebooks–and with discarded cell phones. Social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) believes that Jake’s needs are too serious for Martin to handle…However, everything changes after Martin meets Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), a professor and an expert on children who possess special gifts when it comes to numbers. Martin learns that Jake possesses an extraordinary gift–the ability to perceive the seemingly hidden patterns that connect every life on the planet…As he puts the pieces together, he helps people across the world connect as their lives intersect according to the patterns Jake has foreseen…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)

Cover imageRizzoli & Isles. The complete first season.
“Angie Harmon has never been better, as the tough Boston detective Jane Rizzoli. Her partner in crime (solving) is the equally impressive Sasha Alexander as Dr. Maura Isles, the by-the-books medical examiner who always has Rizzoli’s back, but is often appalled at the cop’s hard-charging tough-Boston-girl approach. Rizzoli & Isles is based on the series of popular mysteries by Tess Gerritsen, and adapted faithfully and engagingly for TV viewers. One thing that sets Rizzoli & Isles apart from the average police procedural is its crisp direction and subtle writing; even the most die-hard cop-show viewer will be engaged and surprised by the plots’ twists and turns…The key in any double-starring series is chemistry, and Harmon and Alexander have it in spades–their sparring and intellectual one-upmanship are completely believable. The cases in season one are varied, though focus mostly on serial killers, with one particularly gripping case flashing back to the notorious Boston Strangler case…” (Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imagePerson of interest. The complete first season.
“Series creator Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) lays out the premise at a furious clip: an eccentric tech genius (Lost’s Michael Emerson) enlists a shadowy soldier-of-fortune (Jim Caviezel) to help with his pet project–a machine with seemingly endless surveillance capabilities. Utilizing the device’s ability to identify threats before they happen, they set out to right future wrongs, attracting the attention of a dogged New York cop (Taraji P. Henson) in the process. Were Person of Interest content to remain at the level of weekly procedural, it would be a very good one, with every installment boasting well-choreographed fight scenes, Emerson’s impeccably weird comedy timing, and a thorny morality that keeps the methods of the protagonists edging into the black…Thankfully, however, Nolan and co. also show an ability to play the long game, cannily inserting flashbacks that hint at a bigger mystery, introducing a strangely empathetic recurring supervillain, and laying out minor plot elements that pay off big further down the line…(Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imageFriends with kids.
“It’s a stroke of good fortune that Friends with Kids features a hefty portion of the same cast that made Bridesmaids such a hit. The stars of Friends with Kids are Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed) and Adam Scott as Julie and Jason, BFFs who are strictly platonic but decide to have a child together out of mutual need, convenience, and familiarity. Their married friends have all brought kids into the world with mixed results, and they feel a little left out. Neither wants the burden of marriage and both profess to have no romantic inclination toward the other.. Concurrently with their parenting, each one is also playing the same old dating game that ranges from simple hookups to what looks like true love when Julie meets Kurt (Edward Burns) and Jason meets Mary Jane (Megan Fox). That’s when the emotions start getting complicated and both realize that they may not have thought through their child-rearing plan or their honest feelings for each other thoroughly enough…(Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imageThe comeback. The complete first only season.
“How wickedly ironic–and delicious–that Lisa Kudrow’s single season of The Comeback provided the talented actress with enough meat for her to be nominated for an Emmy–after the show was canceled by HBO. Kudrow went for the Anti-Phoebe role after the demise of Friends, demonstrating her spectacular acting chops and range of comic abilities. The show centered on Kudrow’s playing an actress, once the ingénue of the moment, trying ever more desperately to get back into the limelight. The vehicle of choice: a reality “series” that follows Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish into scenarios with the deck more than stacked against her. Kudrow’s acid delivery and willingness to show Valerie’s raw pain, ambition, and obsequiousness make for engrossing and poignant, if squirm-inducing, viewing… The series, though short-lived demonstrates why Kudrow is one of our most talented actresses; here’s hoping for a succession of more Comebacks…” (From Amazon.com review)

Cover imageSyndetics book coverThe amazing Spider-man.
“The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero…” (Description from Amazon.com)

Cover imageSnow White & the huntsman.
“Definitely not your average retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark, action-fantasy film that’s based more on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale than the well-known Disney version of the story. It features intriguing concepts, impressive special effects, and some disappointingly lackluster acting. The essence of the “Snow White” story is preserved in this recounting: the queen’s beautiful daughter Snow White, who is heir to the throne, is displaced and persecuted by an evil stepmother after her mother dies. Here, the evil stepmother Ravenna possesses a disturbing power to maintain her own perpetual youth by stealing youthfulness from the hearts of the young and beautiful, but her magic mirror warns that Snow White’s innocence and purity as she comes of age will destroy Ravenna’s chance at immortality. When Snow White escapes from the castle prison, Ravenna hires a downtrodden Huntsman to bring her back so that Ravenna can steal her youth and achieve personal immortality…This film is full of fascinating imagery that’s brought to life through powerful special effects, great costuming, and captivating cinematography…” (From Amazon.co.uk)

Cover imageAttack the block.
“Full of gory practical effects and fluent pop-cultural references, Attack the Block–an alien invasion scenario squeezed into a single apartment building–belongs to the same species of British genre comedy as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Director Joe Cornish takes some clever routes around the limitations of his budget, filming on location in London’s Heygate Estate (itself a once utopian science-fiction experiment) and mining the freshness of his young cast’s authentic street slang. When the aliens arrive (they simply drop, during a frosty Bonfire Night, out of the shining pepper of the stars) ..the block’s defence is up to a group of teenage hoods, lead by the imposing Moses (John Boyega) and reluctantly helped by middle-class neighbour Sam (Jodie Whittaker). Armed with fireworks and mounted on muscle bikes, they launch an entertaining and Spielbergian resistance through the block’s labyrinth of corridors and walkways…More alien to each other than the beasts on their tail, the survival of these divided class members hangs on the recognition that they have a stake in each other…(From Amazon.co.uk)

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Film Books

From HBO’s Game of Thrones to the legendary film stars.

Syndetics book coverInside HBO’s Game of thrones / Bryan Cogman ; preface by George R. R. Martin ; foreword by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss.“HBO’s Game of Thrones reigns as cable’s highest-rated series. This official companion book gives fans new ways to enter this fictional world and discover more about the beloved (and reviled) characters and the electrifying plotlines. Hundreds of set photos, production and costume designs, storyboards, and insider stories reveal how the show’s creators translated George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series into the world of Westeros. Featuring interviews with key actors and crew members that capture the best scripted and unscripted moments from the first two seasons, as well as a preface by George R. R. Martin, this special volume, bound in a lavishly debossed padded cover, offers exclusive access to this unprecedented television series.”(Syndetics Summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Doctor’s monsters : meanings of the monstrous in Doctor Who / Graham Sleight.
“Doctor Who has been on global television screens for nearly fifty years, and many of its most memorable protagonists have been its monsters, The Daleks, Cybermen, Slitheen, the Sonterans, Ood, Wiirrn, and others. Entertainingly and provocatively written, and introduced by Who scriptwriter Paul Cornell, The Doctor’s Monsters takes a new look at these and many other creatures, and asks what inspired them and what lies behind them.”(Syndetics Summary)

Syndetics book coverThe science fiction universe– and beyond : Syfy Channel book of sci-fi / introduction by Thomas P Vitale ; text by Michael Mallory.“Travel where no man has gone before with this comprehensive journey through the universe of science fiction film and television! From the wildly imaginative European masterpieces of the silent era to compelling, character-based weekly television series like Twilight Zone, X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica, to the CGI-realized world of Avatar, science fiction film and television has pushed the boundaries of the visually and dramatically fantastic for more than a century. The Science Fiction Universe… and Beyond offers a breadth of knowledge, insight, and passion to the spellbinding and entertaining realm of close encounters, black holes, time travel, distant planets, impossible quests, alternate realities, futuristic technology, spaceships, extraordinary monsters, and incredibly imagined worlds” (adapted from Book Cover)

Syndetics book coverThe Top gear years / Jeremy Clarkson.
“We now know all about — the world according to Clarkson. In a series of bestselling books, Jeremy has revealed it to be a puzzling, frustrating place where all too often the lunatics seem to be running the asylum. But in The Top Gear Years, we get something rather different.” (Syndetics Summary)

Syndetics book coverThe rough guide to 21st century cinema / by Adam Smith.
“Celebrate the centurys’ finest movies in The Rough Guide to 21st Century Cinema, a lavishly illustrated homage to the world’s best movies of this new era of cinema. The best 101 films: a run down of the finest films of the millenium from Hollywood blockbusters to indie gems. The hottest stars: features on the up and coming actors and actresses who have made a mark. The winning genres: best-in-class features on drama, comedy, horror, sci-fi, animation, documentary, superhero movies and all the genre-mash ups in between. The unsung heroes: the finest talent behind the camera, including directors, cinematographers, set designers and special effects specialists. The Rough Guide to 21st Century Cinema is the essential companion to movies of the moment.” (Syndetics Summary)

Syndetics book coverBritish crime film : subverting the social order / Barry Forshaw.“British Crime Film is a celebratory and comprehensive social history of this idiosyncratic genre. Barry Forshaw focuses on the strategies used to address more radical notions than those presented in mainstream product, exploring such themes as the treatment of sex and violence, corporate crime and the maverick criminal. Covering every major – and most minor – British crime films up to and including the twenty-first century, Forshaw contextualises the films within the crime fiction that inspired them. He explores new developments including British urban crime movies and the wave of new crime/horror hybrids such as Kill List, and predicts what the future holds for the genre.”(adapted from amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverAudrey : the 60s / David Wills and Stephen Schmidt.“Audrey Hepburn charmed cinema audiences in the 1950s as a new type of screen presence – gamine, doe-eyed and refreshingly casual. By the 1960s she had metamorphosed to become a trendsetting sophisticate, achieving unrivalled status as an actress, model, movie star and champion for underprivileged children worldwide. Curator and archivist David Wills has amassed one of the world’s largest private collections of original Audrey Hepburn photography. Now, in Audrey: The 60s, he has gathered a spectacular selection of work from her key photographers – much of it digitally restored from original negatives and transparencies – to create a truly breath-taking portfolio of images which pays homage to the most beloved and enduring style icon of the decade that changed everything.” (adapted from amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverElizabeth Taylor / Susan Smith.
“Elizabeth Taylor was one of the major film stars of the twentieth century, embodying all the glamour and allure of Hollywood stardom. Yet her achievements as an actress have often been overshadowed by her beauty
and tumultuous life off-screen. To redress this imbalance, Susan Smith offers an illuminating study of Elizabeth Taylor’s work in film, exploring her fascinating trajectory from child to adult star. Smith reveals the influence that Taylor’s early work exerted over her later career and the ways in which her on-screen identity is profoundly rooted in her association with animals and nature.” (adapted from amazon.co.uk summary)

Classical Music

You’ll find below our most recent classical music purchases for this month, enjoy!

Cover ImageThe Chopin album. (CD)
“World-renowned pianist Lang Lang turns to the composer who has accompanied him throughout his career on his latest recording, The Chopin Album. The record is entirely devoted to Chopin’s solo piano pieces and includes well known pieces such as “The Minute Waltz” and the “Grande Valse Brillante op. 18 in E-flat major”. The DVD features ‘My Life With Chopin’ which includes 50 minutes of exclusive footage showing Lang Lang’s career from age 12 to today”. (summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Cover ImageAs it is. (CD)
“A fresh approach to one of contemporary composition’s most iconoclastic and inventive figures, ‘As It Is’ is issued to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage. Early Cage is the subject here, strikingly original songs and piano pieces from the 1930s and 1940s. Songs in which Cage set words by writers whose vision was as independent as his own – James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and e e cummings. They are performed by the Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov – who championed Cage’s work in Russia and later had a close working relationship with him – and his compatriot, vocalist Natalia Pschenitschnikova.
As Paul Griffiths writes, “The music exists in singing that has a raw, living edge, and it exists in piano tone that can be utterly simple and utterly remarkable. There is also a third presence, that of the producer, bringing forward the extraordinary resonances that come from Lubimov’s piano, with preparation or without.” With Manfred Eicher producing, the recording was made in December 2011 in Zürich. Lubimov grasps both the playfulness of the music and its message of freedom.
Lubimov previously included Cage’s In a Landscape on his 2002 debut recording for ECM New Series, Der Bote, a disc of piano elegies. Among his other acclaimed recordings for the label are works by Scriabin, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, and Valentin Silvestrov. Earlier this summer his double album of Debussy’s Preludes and other pieces attracted huge praise and was BBC Music Magazine’s ‘Recording of the Month’ in July. Natalia Pschenitschnikova has appeared on two previous ECM discs of Giya Kancheli as a flautist.
Personnel: Alexei Lubimov (piano, prepared piano), Natalia Pschenitschnikova (voice)”. (summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Cover ImageGiovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Volume 1. (CD)
“2011 sees the first recording by The Sixteen devoted entirely to Palestrina. The disc marks the start of a new project which will result in a series of new recordings exploring a selection of the composer s vast output, and a Choral Pilgrimage tour. Palestrina was born in 1525 not far from Rome, in the town whose name he bore and from which we take the cover images for this new series of discs. Possibly the greatest composer of liturgical music of all time, Palestrina was a towering figure in Renaissance polyphony. Choral singers world-wide will know his Missa Papae Marcelli (recorded by The Sixteen on COR16014) as, without doubt, it is the most renowned of Palestrina s works and possibly the most famous mass of all time. On this new disc The Sixteen has recorded some of the sumptuous music he wrote for the Assumption including his Missa Assumpta est Maria and Salve Regina. Without doubt, Palestrina was the great master of all Papal composers and his spiritual craft and harmonic vitality fulfilled the needs of the Vatican. His Motet and Offertory for the Assumption also entitled Assumpta est Maria, are glorious examples of such work and can be heard in all their splendour on this recording. By his death in 1594, Palestrina had published a huge amount of music including over 100 Masses and over 350 motets.” (summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Cover ImageDuo (CD)
“An inspiring, enjoyable, powerhouse meeting between two award-winning highly-individualistic classical music superstars who consider their initial meeting as fateful, not coincidence. Hélène Grimaud (who is called “the earth” in their interview), one of the greatest interpretative classical pianists who experiences sound as colors, and star cello virtuoso Sol Gabetta (”the air”), famed for the nuanced, singing quality of her instrumental interpretations and her highly emotional playing, meld their ‘earth and air’ talents and personae into a marvelous musical duo. It began in 2011 in a joyful, fateful musical encounter that ‘clicked’ immediately. In a wide spectrum of musical tastes, they cover the duo compositions of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, and Dmitri Shostakovich, and this diverse program works wonderfully and has toured to great success…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk reviewer)

Cover ImageAdam’s lament (CD)
“Marshalling orchestral and choral forces under the direction of Tonu Kaljuste, this new Arvo Pärt album, produced by Manfred Eicher and realized, like all Pärt’s ECM discs, with the composer’s participation, is a major event. Sacred music predominates, by turns monumentally powerful and tenderly fragile. Adam’s Lament is the main work, but all eight pieces are either premiere recordings or first recordings of new versions reworked by the composer.
The other compositions are: Beatus Petronius for two choirs, eight woodwind instruments, tubular bells and strings; Salve Regina for choir, celesta and string orchestra; Statuit ei Dominus for two choirs, woodwinds and strings; Alleluia-Tropus for choir and string orchestra; L’Abbé Agathon for soprano, baritone, female choir and string orchestra. The album concludes with two beautiful lullabies – Estonian Lullaby and Christmas Lullaby – for female choir and string orchestra.” (summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverRobert Schumann : the life and work of a romantic composer / Martin Geck ; translated by Stewart Spencer.
“Robert Schumann (1810-56) is one of the most important and representative composers of the Romantic era. Born in Zwickau, Germany, Schumann began piano instruction at age seven and immediately developed a passion for music. When a permanent injury to his hand prevented him from pursuing a career as a touring concert pianist, he turned his energies and talents to composing, writing hundreds of works for piano and voice, as well as four symphonies and two ballets. Here acclaimed biographer Martin Geck tells the fascinating story of this multifaceted genius, set in the context of the political and social revolutions of his time. The image of Schumann, the man and the artist, that emerges in Geck’s book is complex. Geck shows Schumann to be not only a major composer and music critic-he cofounded and wrote articles for the controversial Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik-but also a political activist, the father of eight children, and an addict of mind-altering drugs. Through hard work and determination bordering on the obsessive, Schumann was able to control his demons and channel the tensions that seethed within him into music that mixes the popular and esoteric, resulting in compositions that require the creative engagement of reader and listener. The more we know about a composer, the more we hear his personality in his music, even if it is above all on the strength of his work that we love and admire him. Martin Geck’s book on Schumann is not just another rehashing of Schumann’s life and works, but an intelligent, personal interpretation of the composer as a musical, literary, and cultural personality.” (summary from Amazon.co.uk)

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