Monday, March 30, 2015

Easter Break Hours

Easter Break Library Hours

Wednesday, April 1                   8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 2                      8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Good Friday-Easter Sunday      CLOSED
Monday, April 6                        8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Watch This: A Fish Called Wanda

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Directed by Charles Crichton

The crime comedy can be a tricky genre to pull off.  For every Fargo (1996), Ocean's Eleven (2001), or The Ladykillers (1955), there's a Gigli (2003), Tower Heist (2011), or The Ladykillers (2004).  One of the best, and certainly one of the funniest, entries in this genre is British director Charles Crichton's farcical tale of double-crossing jewel thieves, A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

The film, penned by co-star and Monty Python alum John Cleese, follows a small group of criminals caught up in a web of unending betrayal following a London diamond heist, as they each attempt to swindle their accomplices and keep the loot for themselves.  English gangster George (Tom Georgeson) and his stuttering, animal-loving right-hand man Ken (Michael Palin, another former Monty Python member) have planned the robbery, and are joined by Americans Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) in executing the plan.  Wanda and Otto are lovers, but pose as brother and sister so that Wanda can charm and manipulate George and Ken.  After the robbery, Wanda and Otto rat George out to the police, but realize afterward that he has stashed the diamonds in a secret location.  Wanda then plots to seduce George's lawyer, Archie Leach (Cleese), hoping to learn the whereabouts of the diamonds.  Archie, stuck in an unhappy marriage, falls prey immediately to Wanda's flattery and vivacity, but their attempts to consummate their relationship are repeatedly undermined by Otto's jealousy and unfortunate timing (in what is perhaps the film's funniest scene, Archie is caught in the buff during a tryst with Wanda at a friend's flat when new tenants arrive unexpectedly).

Meanwhile, George has assigned Ken the task of knocking off an elderly woman who was the only eyewitness to the robbery, but he accidentally kills her three Yorkshire terriers in the process, much to his chagrin.  Further plotting on the part of Wanda and Otto, as well as a misstep during George's trial, lead to career and marital ruin for Archie, who then decides to steal the loot himself.  What ensues is a hilarious series of reversals and double-crosses, including Otto's unorthodox but effective torture of Ken, and a climactic showdown at Heathrow Airport.

A Fish Called Wanda stands apart from most other crime comedies for a variety of reasons.  For starters, with its madcap duplicities and unexpected twists, the film features tighter plotting than most standard crime films.  Secondly, its criminal protagonists are by no means bumbling or inept, as is often the case; the diamond heist itself goes off without a hitch.  Wanda also manages a different comedic tone than most of its genre counterparts.  The film's betrayal-heavy plot, profanity, and mean-spirited humor differentiate it from the breeziness of Ocean's Eleven, but its broader, slapstickey qualities make it feel much lighter than darker comedies like Fargo.

The film's strongest asset is its game cast, all of whom turn in excellent comedic performances.  Cleese wisely plays Archie with more subtlety than he is sometimes known for, making his character's transition from brow-beaten repression to risk-taking exuberance all the more believable.  Palin is hilarious as the hapless Ken, whose accidental offing of the witness's terriers provides some of the film's most riotously funny moments.  Curtis is a revelation in what was really only her second comedic film role (after 1983's Trading Places), bringing an irresistible vibrance to the role of the femme fatale, Wanda.

The film's real standout, however, is Kevin Kline, whose performance as the violent, jealous, insulting, and obliviously dim-witted Otto mines every facet of the character to its fullest potential.  Otto thinks of himself as an intellectual (he reads and mis-quotes Nietzsche) and hates to be called stupid, even though he clearly is.  He likes to speak Italian while being amorous with Wanda, but most of the words he knows are foods like "parmigiana" and "mozzarella," so his romantic chatter sounds like a jumbled Olive Garden menu.  He is also vehemently Anglophobic, showing his disdain for all things English with constant use of the term "Limey" to denigrate everything from Englishmen to wet cement.  He also takes great joy in tormenting Ken for both his stutter and his love of animals.  Otto is an utterly unlikeable person, but Kline brings great charisma to the role and balances all of Otto's quirks perfectly, and the result is a character who is repellent but undeniably watchable.  The Academy Awards are notorious for their slighting of performances in comedic roles, so it is a testament to Kline's work that he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in A Fish Called Wanda.

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Jerome, Libraries, and Lions

Things were a bit slower than usual last week, as the campus emptied for spring break. I had a few spare minutes to investigate an "I wonder" that had crossed my mind-- the story of the patron saint of librarians. Or patron saints, rather; we have a few. But the most popular one here in the U.S. is St. Jerome, who turns out to have quite the interesting tale.

"Ghirlandaio, Domenico: Saint Jerome in His Study". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
St. Jerome was well-read and well-educated, with a solid grounding in the liberal arts. He spoke a lot of languages and liked the secular classics so much that he eventually felt convicted about it and decided that he had to focus on Christian materials, instead. Jerome did a lot of translation work, notably the translation of the Christian Scriptures from their original languages into the Latin Vulgate.

Jerome was not a very affable monk. He had a low tolerance for wickedness and errors, and he wasn't shy about pointing them out in his writing. This tendency did not win him many friends. At one point he headed out to the desert for a few years (he took his books with him). He also spent some time as Pope Damascus' secretary. Later, he founded a monastery near Bethlehem.

My favorite story about St. Jerome is of dubious authenticity, but I like it, so I'm going to tell it, anyway. According to the legend, St. Jerome was translating in his library one day when a lion limped into the workroom. The other monks reacted much as most of us would-- they tore out of the room as quickly as possible. Jerome was unfazed. As the lion approached him, he noticed a thorn in its paw. Jerome pulled out the thorn, winning him the undying loyalty of the lion, which protected him and his monastery thereafter. One story even claimed that the reason so many libraries have lion statues out front is that they are in memory of St. Jerome's lion.

I don't know if St. Jerome and his lion really have anything to do with Patience and Fortitude sitting outside of the NYPL, but I like the idea. I've told Dr. Stanley that Reeves really needs to get a lion or two.

In the meantime, my desk could benefit from this in case anyone is looking for a birthday present for me come August:

Sources and further reading:

Saint Jerome in Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 

Saint of the Day, St. Jerome from American Catholic

St. Jerome at Catholic Online

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New trial resource!

The library has a trial of an exciting new resource, and we encourage you to give it a test-drive. The Browzine app for the iPad should make it much easier and more intuitive to access our digital journal collections. You can search for a specific title or discipline, or browse by subject area. (For a quick video demonstration, visit the developer's website.)

Each journal title shows the issues we have available and makes it easy to jump straight to the issue selected.

Viewing and using the PDF files is also easy and intuitive. You can email, download, or save your favorite articles.

Best of all, you can add your favorite journal titles to your own bookshelf so you receive unobtrusive notifications whenever there are new articles published, making it easy to stay abreast of the crucial work being done in your field. 

If you go to the App Store and search for Browzine, you can download it and then say that you're affiliated with Seton Hill. Your login info is the same as for Griffin's Lair.

Our trial is for about a month; after the trial period, the app will still let you access lots of open-source journals, just not our subscription content. But please do try this out and let us know if you like it-- we think you will!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spring Break Hours

Are you heading off to somewhere sunny, fabulous, and warm for spring break? If not, pop in and visit us during our break hours:

Library Hours, Spring Break

Saturday & Sunday, March 7 - 8        Closed
Monday - Friday, March 9 - 13       8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, March 14 - 15       Closed

Monday, March 2, 2015

March DVD Spotlight: Caper Films

From bank robbers to jewel thieves to con men, the movies are full of stories about criminals trying for that big score.  All through the month of March, we're highlighting films from our collection that represent this undeniably entertaining sub-genre of the crime film.  We've got the granddaddy of them all, the heist film that set the template, John Huston's 1950 classic The Asphalt Jungle.  We've got Spike Lee's stylish, slick bank robbery film, Inside Man (2006).  From twisty, tense thrillers like Nine Queens (2000) and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), to comedic capers like A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and The Ladykillers (2004), there's something for everyone.

Other titles in this month's spotlight include:

The Aura (2005)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
The Good Thief (2002)
The Killing (1956)
Thief (1981)
Three Kings (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1995)

Check one out today!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Watch This: Adaptation

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Adaptation (2002)
Written by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman
Directed by Spike Jonze

Is there anyone responsible for bringing more dizzyingly original storytelling to the big screen over the past two decades than screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman?  He burst onto the scene in 1999 with the Spike Jonze-directed comedy Being John Malkovich, and followed it up with equally ambitious scripts for Human Nature (2001), Adaptation (2002), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney's underrated 2002 directorial debut), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and his own directorial debut, 2008's Synecdoche, New York.  Kaufman's oeuvre is a wholly original body of work, a group of films that are as dazzlingly inventive as they are insightful in their examination of themes like unhappiness, lovesickness, and artistic struggle.  While all of these films are absolutely worth checking out (and all are available in the Reeves Memorial Library collection), we've been highlighting Oscar winners this month, so this post will focus on Adaptation, which took home a gold statuette for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the work of cast member Chris Cooper.

Adaptation is a fascinating blend of truth and fiction, and it is not always clear which is which.  It is, in part, a film about its own creation.  In the film (and, we assume, in real life) Kaufman has been hired to adapt New Yorker writer Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, which tells the story of eccentric, obsessive Florida orchid poacher John Laroche.  The book is full of beautiful prose and detailed descriptions of flowers, and although Laroche's story is compelling, Kaufman cannot find enough material for a feature-length film.  He is adamant that the film should avoid the usual Hollywood tropes, like "sex or guns or car chases ... or characters, you know, learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end."  And so, eventually, he writes himself into the script, and the film Adaptation not only tells the more straightforward stories of Orlean and Laroche, it also follows Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) as he writes the film Adaptation, fails in his varied attempts at romance, and deals with his mooching identical twin brother, Donald (a fictional character, also played by Cage).  Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) is a sophisticated New Yorker, a member of the Big Apple's intellectual elite, but she is fascinated by the scruffy, down-to-earth Laroche (Chris Cooper), whose beguiling mix of intelligence, passion, and vanity stirs a strange attraction in Orlean, who realizes she herself has never really been passionate about anything in the way that Laroche is.

Charlie's running voice-over narration reveals a man crippled by agonizing insecurities about both his abilities as a writer and his own attractiveness ("I'm starting to sweat.  Stop sweating.  I've got to stop sweating.  Can she see it dripping down my forehead?  She looked at my hair line.  She thinks I'm bald").  His lack of confidence stands in marked contrast to his brother Donald, whose own carefree demeanor and improbably successful attempt at a screenwriting career only serve to heighten Charlie's frustrations.  Charlie even goes so far as to attend a seminar given by writing teacher Robert McKee (Brian Cox), whose teachings seemed to work so well for Donald.

I will refrain from revealing any further plot points, as one of the joys of watching Adaptation is to see the wholly unpredictable directions the story takes.  Suffice it to say that, despite Kaufman's early insistence that his adaptation will not contain any of the usual movie tropes, it deftly manages to include many of them in the most delightfully surprising ways.

Despite its skyscraper-high concept and extremely self-referential nature, the film is never confusing, nor does it ever feel simply like a gimmick.  Much of the credit for this can certainly go to director Spike Jonze, who has demonstrated an impressive ability for bringing such singular stories to the screen, but it really all comes down to Kaufman's script.  His writing is supremely clever and funny (Charlie's constant voice-over is at one point interrupted by McKee's stern warning to his seminar students, "God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends"), but also reveals a profound depth of insight and feeling in its look at obsession, beauty, self-discovery, and the creative process.  There is a wonderful scene between Laroche and Orlean in which he discusses the relationship between flowers and the insects that pollinate them, and his beautiful description not only reveals a romantic idealism and passion that attracts Orlean, but also provides one of the loveliest bits of dialogue in recent cinema:

"By simply doing what they're designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live - how the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can't let anything get in your way."

The cast of Adaptation is uniformly terrific.  Chris Cooper's Oscar-winning turn as John Laroche, missing front teeth and all, makes him instantly likable, despite his condescending behavior and off-putting vanity (he refers to himself as the smartest guy he knows).  Streep is a pleasure to watch in a role that lets her have far more fun than most of her films up to that time (more recent films like A Prairie Home Companion (2006), Mamma Mia! (2008), and It's Complicated (2009) have also allowed her to show off her lighter side).  The real treat, however, is watching Nicolas Cage in the dual roles of twin brothers Charlie and Donald (who, despite being entirely fictional, was credited as co-writer of the film's screenplay, and even nominated for an Oscar alongside the real-life Charlie).  Cage is an absolute revelation.  Despite the fact that there is no noticeable difference in hair or makeup between the two brothers, we can always tell them apart due to differences in Cage's body language, posture, and facial expressions.  Cage's career has become somewhat of a punchline in recent years, but Adaptation serves as a reminder of his incredible range and talent.

The film works on multiple levels, and even its title has a double meaning: it not only refers to the biological concept of adaptation, but also to the process of adapting Orlean's book that is the subject of the film.  Clearly Orlean's writing posed a great challenge as source material, but it is a testament to Kaufman's talent that a film about the near impossibility of adapting The Orchid Thief is in fact such a wildly brilliant and successful adaptation of The Orchid Thief.