Thursday, December 18, 2014

Watch This: Love Actually

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

Love Actually (2003)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis

If one were to list the film genres most frequently plagued by triteness and an overabundance of schmaltz, the romantic comedy and the Christmas movie would both certainly be near the top of that list.  Combining the two would seem like a surefire way to produce a stale, cloying, overly sentimental mess.  It may be somewhat surprising, then, that a film like Love Actually, a big-budget, sprawling ensemble romantic comedy with an all-star cast, essentially a rom-com/Christmas hybrid on steroids, should be such a delight to watch.

Much of the credit for this goes to screenwriter and first-time director Richard Curtis, whose career as the writer of the Black Adder and Mr. Bean television series, as well as the smash hit romantic comedy films Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), have made him a leading figure in British comedy.  The script is smart and genuinely funny, and the game cast members ensure that the sentiment rarely feels forced.  Unlike more recent holiday-themed ensemble romantic comedies like Valentine's Day (2010) and New Year's Eve (2011), which feel like engineered, lab-created paycheck vehicles for their star-studded casts, Love Actually feels fresh, engaging, and sincere, even in its grandest, that-only-happens-in-the-movies romantic moments.

The film depicts the love lives of a number of Londoners in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as their respective paths cross in a series of loosely interconnected stories.  Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock star, hoping to make a comeback with a Christmas-themed cover of a classic love song.  He makes no effort to hide his disdain for the blatantly commercial song, much to the chagrin of his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher).  John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) both work as body doubles in the movies, but their conversational ease on set, even during setups for nude scenes, does not lead easily to an expression of their romantic feelings.  Mark (Andrew Lincoln, looking far younger and less grizzled than in his role as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead) is secretly in love with his best friend's new bride, Juliet (Keira Knightley), masking his longing with feigned contempt.  Awkward catering employee Colin (Kris Marshall), fed up with rebuffs from English women, decides to try his luck in the United States, where he believes his accent will make him instantly desirable to American women.  Recently cuckolded writer Jamie (Colin Firth) has come to rural France to work on a new book, and promptly falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia (Lucia Moniz).  Their mutual attraction grows despite their lack of a shared language (of course, that doesn't really matter because they speak the international language).  Daniel (Liam Neeson) is recently widowed, and struggles to connect with his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster, whose elfin adorableness is so acute, it may actually cause physical pain).  They manage to forge a bond as Daniel helps Sam to woo a popular girl from school.  Daniel's friend Karen (Emma Thompson) is married to Harry (Alan Rickman), who is being tempted toward infidelity by the advances of his administrative assistant, Mia (Heike Makatsch).  Harry's employee Sarah (Laura Linney) is in love with co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), but her attempts at romance are hampered by her constant cell phone conversations with a mystery caller, who turns out to be her mentally ill brother.  Last but not least, there is the newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant), whose attraction to his slightly plump catering manager, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), is hindered by a misunderstood incident involving the visiting U.S. president (Billy Bob Thornton).

Despite this myriad of intersecting stories (did I mention that the Prime Minister is Karen's brother?), the narrative moves effortlessly back and forth among the numerous plot lines.  The bevy of characters and stories also means that the film makes for a breezy viewing experience.  With a running time of well over two hours, the film is far longer than average, yet nothing in the story feels like filler, and there are even a couple of storylines that feel underdeveloped (the Mark-Juliet strand in particular seems resolved too briefly and neatly).  Richard Curtis, never one to shy away from somber plot points (after all, a funeral does figure prominently in his best-known film script), wisely introduces some more serious story elements that, in less talented hands, might undermine the film's overall cheerfulness.  Instead, the film manages a sober and affecting treatment of infidelity and mental illness that never derails the overall mood.

The film's expansive cast is a joy to watch.  Hugh Grant, reuniting with the writer that gave him his breakout role in Four Weddings and a Funeral, is charming as usual as the Prime Minister.  Emma Thompson also gives a terrific performance, particularly in the heartbreaking scene where she discovers her husband's possible infidelity.  The film's real standout, however, is Bill Nighy as middle-aged rocker Billy Mack, whose mischievous forthrightness provides some of the film's biggest laughs.

While the film's opening and closing voiceover sequences feel a tad heavy-handed, the sincerity of the filmmakers, Richard Curtis in particular, shines through, making this a perfect romantic holiday film to watch cuddled up next to the one you love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas hours

You made it through another semester! Merry Christmas!

Library hours for the coming weeks:

Saturday, December 13: 9:00-4:50
Sunday, December 14: CLOSED

December 15 (Monday) - 19 (Friday): 8:00-4:50
(NOTE: We will close from noon until 2:00 PM on Tuesday the 16th for the annual SHU Employee Christmas Luncheon)

December 20 & 21: CLOSED
December 22 & 23: 8:00-4:50

December 24 - January 2: CLOSED

Friday, December 5, 2014

Watch This: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Directed by Mike Nichols

Last month, American cinema lost one of its most celebrated directors in Mike Nichols, who passed away at the age of 83.  Nichols started out as a performer, first as part of the group that founded Chicago's famed Second City improv company, and later as part of the comedy duo Nichols and May, alongside the great comedienne and screenwriter Elaine May.  He then found his true calling as a director in the theatre, and would go on to win eight Tony awards for his direction over the course of his career, the last for a 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman.  Not surprisingly, when he became a filmmaker, his directorial debut was an adaptation of a stage play, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

And what a remarkable debut it is.  Nichols could be forgiven for helming a stagy, dry adaptation, but instead delivers an intense, captivating, and distinctly cinematic piece of filmmaking that establishes many of the hallmarks of his work: a confident, polished visual style that is rarely showy; a sophisticated treatment of adult themes; and great performances from his cast members.

The film centers on middle-aged married couple George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor), whose relationship is defined by alcohol-fueled bouts of insult and verbal abuse.  George is a History professor at a small New England college where Martha's father is the president, and late one night after a faculty party, they host young Biology professor Nick (George Segal) and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) at their home for cocktails.  George and Martha, already drunk when the film begins, have been at each other before the younger couple arrives, with George criticizing his wife for her hard drinking and lewd behavior, and Martha taunting her husband and attacking him for his lack of ambition.  As the night progresses, they draw Nick and Honey further and further into their web of manipulation and invective, and we see cracks in the younger couple's marriage as well.  There is recurring mention of George and Martha's son, a topic that leads to especially heated exchanges between the two of them.  All of this leads to a shocking final revelation at the film's conclusion.

When it was originally released in 1966, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was groundbreaking in its use of profanity and its frank treatment of sexuality.  Nearly fifty years later, it still feels edgy, and it remains a more devastating portrait of marital discord than recent films like Revolutionary Road (2008) and Blue Valentine (2010).  Much of this can be credited to Nichols and screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who wisely decided against a tame adaptation of Albee's play.  However, the film's success is due primarily to the work of the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, both of whom give career-best performances.  The ferocity of their portrayals can probably be attributed in part to their famously tempestuous off-screen marriage, but their commitment to their respective roles (Taylor reportedly gained thirty pounds for the part) is clear, and these are undeniably brilliant performances, with the quiet, subdued moments shining just as brightly as the intense verbal sparring.

Nichols would follow up his debut by directing the generational touchstone The Graduate in 1967, and would go on to direct gems like Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), Silkwood (1983), Working Girl (1988), The Birdcage (1996), and Closer (2004).  Over the course of his career, he would direct his cast members to an impressive seventeen Oscar nominations, a testament to his ability to work with actors.  Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? showcases two of the best performances from his oeuvre, and is rightly regarded as one of the most auspicious directorial debuts in all of American cinema.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December DVD Spotlight: Directorial Debuts

Every film director gets his or her start somewhere, whether it's working in television, directing music videos or short films, working as an actor or screenwriter, or starting off by making a feature-length film.  With this month's spotlight DVD collection, we are highlighting auspicious feature debuts from some of the greatest directors of all time, alongside recent first features that (hopefully) herald a long and celebrated career in the director's chair. Our featured titles include:

12 Angry Men (1957), directed by Sidney Lumet
Blood Simple (1984), directed by the Coen brothers
Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
Eraserhead (1977), directed by David Lynch
Hard Eight (1996), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
I Shot Jesse James (1949), directed by Sam Fuller
The Maltese Falcon (1941), directed by John Huston
The Shawshank Redemption (1994), directed by Frank Darabont
Thief (1981), directed by Michael Mann
Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), directed by Martin Scorsese

Stop by the Learning Commons and check one out today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving break hours

Thankgiving Break  
November 25 8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.
November 26 8:00 a.m. - 3:50 p.m.
November 27 - 30 Closed

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christmas story time!

It's time for our annual Christmas story time event! All children and their accompanying adults are invited to the Learning Commons main level on Friday, December 5th, from 6:00-7:00 PM. 

The library will provide seasonal snacks, and favorite holiday books will be read aloud.

For more information (or to volunteer as a reader!), email Kelly Clever at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Citation help drop-ins at the Writing Center

One of our Learning Commons roommate departments, the Writing Center, is hosting citation help drop-in sessions this week!

The Writing Center is offering several hours over the next few weeks for students to drop-in (no appointment necessary!) to ask questions about citations. This week, stop by Reeves 111 between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm on Thursday, November 20th, for citation assistance. Another drop-in hour will be offered right after break: Monday, December 1st, from 10:15 am to 11:15 am. We can help you finish up those research papers!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Watch This: Port of Shadows

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

Port of Shadows (1938)
Directed by Marcel Carné

A truck moves through the foggy night along a tree-lined road outside of Le Havre, France.  The driver peers ahead through the misty darkness.  Suddenly, a lone figure materializes out of the gray fog, a man in a soldier's uniform raising his hand to hail the driver.  The truck comes to a halt, the soldier climbs in, and the truck continues on to Le Havre.  The driver asks the soldier if he's on leave.  The soldier makes no reply.  Further down the road, a dog darts in front of the truck, and the soldier jerks the steering wheel to prevent the truck from running it over.  The driver is enraged at this, and the two men nearly come to blows.

This is the opening scene of the classic French film Port of Shadows (the title sounds better in the original French, Le quai des brumes, but then again, doesn't everything sound better in French?).  The scene is also our introduction to Jean, an army deserter who has come to the busy port of Le Havre looking to find passage on a ship heading for foreign lands, somewhere he can find a new identity and a new life.  Jean is played in the film by the great French leading man Jean Gabin, a man so cool he made Humphrey Bogart seem comparatively square (try not to be impressed by the way Gabin smokes, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth as he speaks around it).  Gabin's unique brand of cool, a toughness of physique and demeanor that is tempered by world-weariness and sentiment, is exemplified in the opening scene in the truck: he cares enough about an unfamiliar dog to risk his own safety to avoid hitting it, but he will just as readily engage in a fistfight with the driver who rebukes him for it.

Jean arrives in town, where he ends up at a ramshackle bar along the waterfront.  There, in a back room, he meets a beautiful young woman with piercing eyes and sharp features.  This is Nelly (Michele Morgan), who seems to be hiding out just like Jean.  Jean says he likes her, and they talk about the difficulties of man-woman relationships.  Meanwhile, in a local nightclub, we see the gangster Lucien (Pierre Brasseur) pressuring shop owner Zabel (Michel Simon) to tell him the whereabouts of a local hood named Maurice.  Zabel, it turns out, is 17 year-old Nelly's legal guardian, and Maurice was her boyfriend.  Zabel knows Lucien is all bark and no bite, and says he doesn't know where Maurice is.  Later, after the sun has risen, Lucien spots Nelly and Jean talking together near the docks, and he stops and asks her about Maurice.  There is a confrontation between Jean and Lucien which results in the ineffectual Lucien being slapped repeatedly across the face.  Lucien, enraged and humiliated, leaves with his men, and Jean and Nelly part ways, agreeing to meet later.

Nelly returns to Zabel's shop, where Zabel makes physical advances toward her, shedding light on her reasons for hiding out.  After inquiring about departing ships at the docks, Jean finds his way by chance to Zabel's shop, looking to purchase a gift for Nelly.  Zabel invites him in, and quickly figures out that Jean is a deserter, although he hints that he will keep Jean's secret if Jean will get rid of Lucien for him.  Jean blows him off with an insult, comparing him to a bug.  Nelly goes to the cellar to get a bottle of cognac, where she discovers a familiar pair of cuff links on the floor beneath the stairs.  It is clear that they belonged to Maurice, and Nelly immediately suspects Zabel of foul play in his disappearance.

Things begin to look up for Jean.  Fortuitous circumstances bring him a set of civilian clothes and new identification papers, and he befriends the doctor on a ship setting sail for Venezuela the next day.  He meets Nelly at a small carnival by the docks later that evening, and their feelings for one another grow.  There is another altercation with Lucien at the bumper cars, and he is again humiliated, this time in front of his date.  Jean and Nelly spend the night together at a waterfront hotel, and the next morning she says that this is first time she has ever felt she could live a happy life.  Their bliss is interrupted by the news that Maurice's mutilated body has been found at the docks, and that a soldier is the main suspect (Jean's discarded army uniform was also found in the water).  Jean breaks the bad news, that he must leave that afternoon aboard the Venezuela-bound ship, although he is clearly reluctant to do so.  Whether he chooses to stay with Nelly or not, his plans are threatened by the machinations of the jealous Zabel and the vengeful Lucien.

Port of Shadows was one of the defining films of a movement known as "poetic realism," which dominated French cinema in the late 1930s.  One of the prime characteristics of the movement was its emphasis on fate, and from the fog-enshrouded opening images of Port of Shadows, there is the sense that everything that happens was destined to lead Jean and Nelly down a tragic path.  The sense of impending doom that hangs over the film is so compelling, it is hardly spoiling the plot to say that things don't end happily.

It is a beautiful and moving film, with a script by Jacques PrĂ©vert that infuses the tragic fatalism and criminal milieu with lyrical flourishes.  "With every sunrise," says Nelly, "we think something new is going to happen, something fresh.  Then the sun goes to bed, and so do we.  It's sad."  The film's use of music and sound is also noteworthy.  During Jean and Lucien's confrontation at the bumper cars, the cheerful carnival midway music acts as a counterpoint to the sudden tension and sense of impending violence.  In a later scene, another act of violence plays out to the sound of a choral hymn coming from a radio in the next room.  And always, in the background, there is the sound of the docks and of ships' whistles blowing, a constant reminder of Jean's imminent departure.

Monday, November 3, 2014

November DVD Spotlight: French Cinema

This month, come along on a cinematic journey to France, the land of wine, cheese, and some of the best films of all time.  If comedy is your thing, check out the playful visual humor of Jacques Tati in Playtime (1967).  If you enjoy gangster films, you'll like incomparable tough guy Jean Gabin in Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954).  Looking for a love story?  Everything sounds more romantic in French.

We've got contemporary classics and landmarks of the French New Wave, such as:

The 400 Blows (1959)
L'Atalante (1934)
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
The City of Lost Children (1995)
Diabolique (1955)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Jules and Jim (1962)
The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Check one out today.  Ce sont formidables!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Watch This: The War Room

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

The War Room (1993)
Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker

With midterm elections coming up next week, many Americans are no doubt looking forward to being able to fulfill their civic duty by casting their votes for the candidate of their choice.  For many, this will also mean a much anticipated slackening in the onslaught of personal attacks targeted at said candidates.  With the 24-hour news cycle and ubiquitous social media feeding these attack campaigns, and what seems like a growing gap between politicians and the citizens they are supposed to represent, it's difficult not to become overwhelmed by the negativity and cynicism, and to forget that there was a time when local and national elections brought with them a sense of hope for positive change.  One such instance was the presidential election of 1992, when Arkansas governor Bill Clinton emerged as the Democratic frontrunner in opposition to Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush.  Clinton was elected in a landslide victory as the first Democratic president in almost a generation, and much of his victory can be attributed to the work of his campaign staff, who helped Clinton overcome a sex scandal and galvanized record numbers of young voters.  This unconventional, game-changing campaign was chronicled by filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker in their revealing and entertaining behind-closed-doors documentary, The War Room.

When Hegedus and Pennebaker initially set out to document Clinton's campaign, they were denied access to the candidate himself.  Consequently, they turned their focus to Clinton's chief campaign strategists, Campaign Manager James Carville and Director of Communications George Stephanopoulos.  One could easily argue that the lack of access to Clinton was fortuitous, because the resulting film is a compelling, buddy comedy-like portrait of two opposites, brought together by their shared idealism and belief in their cause.  Carville, nicknamed the "Ragin' Cajun," emerges as the film's real star, a charismatic, passionate, inspiring, witty, and sometimes profane strategist whose incisive dissection of key issues ("The economy, stupid!") keeps the staff focused.  Stephanopoulos is equally passionate and brilliant, but his comparatively low-keyed manner makes him a natural foil to the outspoken Carville.

As the film opens in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Clinton is still one of many Democratic candidates, and we see the local campaign staff dealing with torn-down signs.  After Clinton has emerged as the frontrunner and added Al Gore as his Vice-Presidential candidate, we see the team debating about sign colors for the Democratic Convention.  Later, there is a heated discussion about the wording of a TV spot.  We see Carville bemoaning what he sees as the press's unbalanced coverage of the two candidates after Bush mentions Clinton's alleged draft-dodging.  "Every time somebody farts the word 'draft,' it's on the front page of the paper," says Carville, and he wants to know why there are so few stories about Bush's broken election year promise ("Read my lips: no new taxes").

Much of the footage seen in the latter half of the film was shot at Clinton's national campaign headquarters, nicknamed the "war room," and there is a sense for the viewer of eavesdropping on the campaign proceedings, a feeling that you are there in the room during these moments in history.  The film employs none of the direct interviews with participants and voice-over narratives that have come to dominate the mainstream documentary style over the past two decades.  Pennebaker and Hegedus, true to their roots in the "direct cinema" movement that began in the 1960s, sought to capture these events as they were happening, with no rehearsal or staging, and the result truly is a feeling of "being there."  This aesthetic lends the film an immediacy and tension that make it easy to forget that we know going in what the result of the election is.  Clinton wins, of course, but this film is not about the result, it's about the process that led to that result.

More than anything, what comes through in these captured moments is a feeling of optimism and pride from Clinton's campaign staff.  On the eve of the election, with Clinton a clear leader in the polls, Stephanopoulos is seen praising Carville and the rest of the team, stating that after the next day people will have better jobs, pay less for healthcare, get better healthcare, and their children will go to better schools.  He is later captured saying that this campaign is the best thing he ever did.  A choked-up Carville can also be seen talking about how they changed the way campaigns are run, and he makes it clear throughout the film how important it is for them to win, not just for Clinton, but for the impact his victory would have on the field of campaign strategy.  It is apparent from these scenes that these feelings are sincere, that it's not just a performance.  They truly believe that Clinton is the best man for the job.

The film is particularly interesting to watch from a contemporary perspective, as subsequent years have shed new light on the allegations of marital infidelity that threatened to derail the Clinton campaign even before the primaries.  Clinton is seen denying the affair with Gennifer Flowers to the press, and key members of his campaign team make it clear that they believe in his innocence regarding these matters.  Clinton, of course, later admitted to a sexual encounter with Flowers.  It's also fascinating to see that many of the key points in Clinton's campaign platform (ending the recession, job growth, universal healthcare, and education reform) are still key issues over twenty years later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What drips through the filter?

Many of us are aware that our Google searches are tailored to us to a certain extent; what I see when I  google "libraries" probably isn't exactly what you'd see. What we may not have thought about is the extent to which our web experiences are being personalized for us, and what implications that can have on how we understand and interact with the world.

One feature of our online library resources, which we probably don't talk about as much as we should, is that they don't discriminate. If you and I type in exactly the same thing into exactly the same place, JSTOR should show both of us the same data, without trying to guess which articles one of us would "like." It's a more objective, and hopefully more comprehensive, presentation of options.

A good TED talk about the "filter bubble" and how it may be shrinking our world in a not-so-positive way:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Watch This: Hostel

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

Hostel (2006)
Written and directed by Eli Roth

The horror film has long been an unfairly maligned genre, despite its popularity among general audiences, and despite the fact that a number of the best films ever made (Nosferatu (1922), Psycho (1960), Dawn of the Dead (1978), to name just a few) fall within that genre.  The splatter film sub-genre, in which graphic displays of gore and violence take center stage, has especially been the target of widespread negativity, and its resurgence in the last decade has been no exception.  This recent wave of gore-centric horror films has been dubbed "torture porn" by critics, and while many of these films leave something to be desired (there is certainly some merit to the claim by the sub-genre's detractors that "gory" does not mean "scary"), one of the films that helped launch this trend, Eli Roth's Hostel, is far more creative, clever, and darkly funny than its subpar successors.  Roth infuses his film with the same combination of genuine dread, gruesome gore, sly commentary, and oddball dark humor that made his directorial debut Cabin Fever (2002) such a joy to watch.

Hostel follows American college students Josh (Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez) as they travel across Europe with their Icelandic friend Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson).  As the film opens, the three are in Amsterdam.  Paxton and Oli are eager to fulfill every hedonistic desire, but the more sensitive Josh, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, is clearly uncomfortable in this environment, and is reticent to engage in sexual activity, even though Paxton insists that he sleep with a "hot Euro chick" to help him get over his break-up.

They meet a young Eastern European man named Alex, who tells them about a hostel in Slovakia that is filled with beautiful women.  The three friends board a train for Slovakia.  They share a compartment with a Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasak, in a superbly discomfiting performance), who makes unsettling conversation and touches Josh's leg, leading to an outburst of protest from Josh.  They arrive at the hostel, where they are greeted by two beautiful young women, Natalya and Svetlana, who invite them to a spa and a disco.  At the disco, Josh has another encounter with the Dutch businessman, and their interaction opens up questions about Josh's sexual orientation.  Paxton and Josh end up spending the night with Natalya and Svetlana, but the next morning, Oli is gone, as is a Japanese girl who was also staying at the hostel.  A few scenes later, we see Oli's decapitated head on a table in a blood-spattered, dungeon-like room, and the Japanese girl strapped to a chair in a room down the hall.

Josh and Paxton decide to stay one more night, and at the disco, they are both drugged.  Josh wakes up strapped to a chair in the same type of dark, dirty room we saw earlier, where he is tortured and eventually killed by the Dutch businessman.  Paxton, who passed out in the disco's storage closet, makes his way back to the hostel, where he finds Josh is missing.  The local authorities are no help, and after Paxton tracks Natalya and Svetlana to a local pub, they tell him Josh and Oli are at an "art show."  Natalya agrees to take him there, and they arrive at a factory, where Paxton discovers the horrific sight of the Dutch businessman stitching up Josh's internal organs.  Paxton is dragged to another room and strapped to a chair.  Through a combination of luck and daring, Paxton manages to escape his torturer, and after a surreal encounter with a manic American businessman, who mistakes Paxton for a fellow paying customer (the organization responsible for arranging the gruesome killings calls itself "Elite Hunting"), he eventually makes his way out of the building.  Outside, he hears cries for help.  Will he choose to save himself, or will he go back and save the screaming victim?  And how will he make it out of town when so many local people seem to be involved in the conspiracy to lure potential victims to their demise?

While there is all the ample gore and nudity one often expects from this type of film, Hostel's clever narrative structure and formal playfulness make it clear that Roth had far more than just exploitation in mind when he made the film.  For example, Josh is positioned as the film's protagonist in the first half, with his sensitivity, his backstory of heartbreak, and the implication that he may be gay.  However, rather than exploring this dimension of the character, Roth kills him off halfway through, taking a page from the book of Alfred Hitchcock, who famously offed the protagonist of Psycho midway through the film.  The film's creative editing provides a good bit of morbid humor as well.  In one sequence, a close-up shot of a bolt cutter beginning to snip off a Japanese girl's toe cuts directly to another close-up shot of her friend clipping her toenail.  In a later scene at the factory, as Paxton hides on a cart of corpses being prepared for incineration, a butcher begins carving up bodies with a meat cleaver, and the scene is edited so that each cut between shots is matched to the sound of the cleaver cutting into flesh.

Roth also makes a direct link between sex and murder, both of which are seen as the fulfillment of fleshly desires.  Outside of the Amsterdam brothel, Josh says, "Paying to go into a room to do whatever you want to someone isn't exactly a turn-on," but the film suggests that there are indeed many people who would pay good money to do just that, although not in the way that Josh meant.  This idea is further enhanced by the mirroring of the early brothel sequence, in which Josh walks down the hall peering at the silhouettes of people engaged in an array of sexual activity, with the later sequence in the factory, where Paxton passes room after room of bloody victims being sliced, diced, and beaten.  There is certainly an element of voyeurism as both the film's characters and the viewer peer into each room, and during these and other sequences, especially those involving gore and nudity, the camera often seems to mimic a human gaze.

Hostel is obviously not for the squeamish, but there is more going on than just the superficial nudity and gore.  The film is critical of its characters' blind devotion to hedonism, and there is an implicit disapproval of the Americans' blatant disregard for any local culture or customs.  It is a warning to those who pursue worldly pleasures ahead of all else.

The film also hints that the desire to kill is an inherent part of human nature.  As one Elite Hunting customer says about the factory, "Be careful ... You could spend all your money in there."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Watch This: Ugetsu

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

Ugetsu (1953)
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

The realm of Japanese cinema still rests in the shadow of its two best-known directors, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.  However, there are many who would rank the great Kenji Mizoguchi ahead of both Kurosawa and Ozu, and one could hardly fault them.  Mizoguchi's technical mastery earned him accolades from his filmmaking peers both in Japan and overseas, and his textured examinations of Japanese society, particularly its treatment of women, have led him to be regarded as one of the cinema's first feminist directors.  Mizoguchi, who died at the relatively young age of 58, directed nearly 100 hundred films over the course of his career, but his best work came in the last decade of his life.  He once said, "It was only when I passed 40 that I understood the human truths I want to express in my films," and the later years of his career are marked by a string of great films like Women of the Night (1948), The Life of Oharu (1952), Sansho the Bailiff (1954), and Street of Shame (1956).  His best film, and certainly one of the best films ever made, is Ugetsu (1953), a beautiful, fantastical, and haunting story of ambition and love set during the civil wars in sixteenth-century Japan.  It is also, perhaps appropriately for a post written in the month of October, a ghost story, although it is certainly a ghost story like no other.

The film follows two peasant brothers, the potter Genjuro and the farmer Tobei, both of whom are married and live in a rural village.  Both men are consumed by obsessive ambitions: Genjuro hopes to sell his pottery and become wealthy, while Tobei dreams of becoming a samurai.  Amid the threat of nearby fighting, they set off for the city.  Genjuro soon returns with a sack full of gold and new kimonos for his wife and child, but rather than staying home to enjoy this bit of prosperity with his family, he plans to make more pottery and set off again as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, Tobei tries to enlist in a samurai's army, but is turned away because he has no armor, and he returns home dejected and embarrassed.  Although their wives would gladly trade material wealth for lives of happiness and safety with their husbands, both brothers are eager to take advantage of wartime conditions and chase their dreams.

Soldiers raid their village, but Genjuro's pottery is unharmed, and again the two brothers set off for the city, this time with their wives accompanying them.  In one of the film's most visually striking scenes, they take a boat across a fog-blanketed lake, where an encounter with a passing boatman alerts them to further danger from pirates.  Genjuro's wife, Miyagi, is returned to the shore, but the other three continue on, undeterred by the danger.

In the city, Tobei becomes separated from his wife and brother.  Some time later, he kills a samurai and manages to fool a lord into giving him a house and men to follow him.  Tobei takes his men to a brothel, where he discovers that his wife has been working as a geisha since he abandoned her in the city.  Meanwhile, Genjuro's pottery sells quickly.  One of his customers is the mysterious noblewoman Lady Wakasa, who admires his work and invites him to her castle.  Even at first sight, Genjuro is entranced by her otherworldly beauty, and he is seduced soon after his arrival at her castle.  Genjuro soon realizes that Lady Wakasa is a ghost, and there is an unforgettable scene where Genjuro sees her castles as the charred ruin it truly is.

Toward the end of the film, both men have returned home, and both are forgiven by their wives for their foolish ambitions.  However, there is a surprise in store for both one of the brothers and the viewer, and unanticipated revelation about one of the characters that brings a haunting power to the film's conclusion.

While the film's protagonists are ostensibly the two brothers, it is really their two wives, Miyagi and Ohama, that give the film its emotional and thematic depth.  Genjuro and Tobei are blind to their wives' pleas for levelheadedness and domestic happiness, and the brothers' blind focus on foolish ambition is what leads the two women to their respective fates.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Ugetsu is Mizoguchi's seamless blending of realism and the otherworldly.  There is a seamless flow between the richly-detailed scenes of village and city life and the atmospheric, ethereal scenes involving Lady Wakasa.  This is a ghost story that is firmly entrenched in the reality of everyday Japanese life, a quality makes its impact that much greater.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Furniture Keeps Coming

We have received another shipment of furniture. Stop by and try it out.

And also, we are thankful to the SHGA for their donation of a stapler for the front desk.

October DVD Spotlight: Horror Films

It's October, and that means 'tis the season for scary movies!  Reeves Memorial Library will be celebrating Halloween all month long by featuring a select group of horror films from our DVD collection.  Included are classics and campy cult favorites from the silent era up to the present:

Audition (1999)
The Crawling Eye (1958)
The Exorcist (1973)
Hostel (2005)
Nosferatu (1922)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Psycho (1960)
Saw (2004)
The Shining (1980)

Come to the library and check these out ... if you dare.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Reserve a Study Room

In MySHU, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "Reserve a Room" link in the "Facilities" list.

STEP 1: View the schedule to assure the room you choose is available. (Click "View the Schedule," then "Calendars," and then "Scheduling Grids.")

Top left to select the date---Top right limit to Reeves Study Rooms. Confirm that the room you want is available on the date and time that you need.

STEP 2: Go back to the request page. Select "All Other Rooms" and fill in the appropriate information.

STEP 3: Receive an email room confirmation.

Room requests are not final until a Room Confirmation is received. Requests sent late in the day (after 3:15) will not be processed until the next business day. Any rooms that have not been confirmed are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Watch This: Jurassic Park

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

Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Last month saw the passing of the great British actor/director Richard Attenborough, whose career in front of and behind the camera spanned an astounding 65 years.  Attenborough directed the Oscar-winning epic Gandhi (1982), and is well-remembered for his classic portrayal of vicious hoodlum Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1947), but his most lasting cinematic legacy may be his turn as billionaire theme park owner John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's hugely entertaining blockbuster Jurassic Park.  The film was adapted from the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton, whose Hammond was cold and greedy.  The Hammond of the movie, in contrast, is kind and benevolent, though no less hubristic, and Attenborough imbues him with an almost childlike sense of excitement about his newest theme park attractions.

The film follows a small group of visitors (scientists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, mathematician Ian Malcolm, lawyer Donald Gennaro, and Hammond's two grandchildren, Tim and Lex) as they take a preview tour of Hammond's new theme park, located on an island off the coast of South America.  Hammond's team has found a way to extract dinosaur DNA from blood found in mosquitoes frozen in amber millions of years ago, and to use the DNA to clone living dinosaurs.  Despite warnings from Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm that these creatures cannot be controlled, Hammond is determined to move forward with the opening of the park.  Of course, the tour does not go as planned, and a power outage resulting from the unscrupulous behavior of a park employee leads to a breakdown of the park's security systems.  With the dinosaurs loose on the island, the remaining visitors and park employees must fight for their survival.

Although the film features a talented ensemble cast, they're not given much in the way of character development (Attenborough's Hammond and Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm are both certainly memorable performances, as is Samuel L. Jackson's supporting turn as chief engineer Ray Arnold).  But it's easy to overlook this fault, because the real stars of the film are the dinosaurs, rendered through a combination of animatronics and computer-generated effects that still feel more realistic than many effects found in today's films.

In the 21 years since its original theatrical release, Jurassic Park has lost none of the magic that made it such a worldwide phenomenon.  There is an almost palpable sense of wonder that pervades the film itself (some credit must go to composer John Williams for his superb musical score), and it's easy to see why it captured the imaginations of moviegoers around the globe.  Spielberg has always been a master of grand-scale spectacle, and even with repeat viewings, the film's most thrilling sequences still amaze: the T-rex attack on the tour vehicles (beginning with the iconic moment featuring the cups of vibrating water), the gallimimus stampede, and Tim and Lex's game of cat-and-mouse with the velociraptors in the kitchen.

As was the case with the previous Watch This post about Titanic (1997), I feel like this is another instance in which most readers will have already seen the film at least once.  However, Jurassic Park is absolutely worth another visit, and should certainly prove a wonderful cinematic experience for first-time viewers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Naxos Music Library

We are excited to announce our new streaming music resource, Naxos Music Library, which is now available via the "Databases" page on the library's website.  Naxos has partnered with hundreds of music labels to digitize their CD catalogs, and over 1.4 million tracks are currently available, with more being added every week.  Whether you're a casual listener or a hardcore music aficionado, Naxos has something to meet your listening needs, with a wide range of genres from composers and artists all over the world.  Although the bulk of the database is classical music, you can also find jazz, folk music, opera, world music, gospel, musical theater, pop/rock (including country music), relaxation music, and even spoken word recordings.

You can search or browse by composer or artist, browse by genre, and access the database's extensive text-based information, which includes liner notes, composer/artist biographies, and libretti and synopses for hundreds of operas.  You can also listen to pre-created playlists, or create your own!  Naxos even offers a mobile app, so you can listen to the music on your smartphone anytime, anywhere.

We hope you'll enjoy this wonderful new resource as much as us, so check it out today!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Training for active shooter situations on Friday-- be aware!

The Greensburg City Police Department will be on campus on Friday afternoon (9/19) from 1:00-3:30 PM, conducting ALICE training for employees in Reeves Theater. This training is to prepare campus employees to respond to emergency situations.

As part of the training, MULTIPLE BLANK GUNSHOTS WILL BE FIRED inside and outside of the training room.

Please spread the word that this will be taking place so no one is alarmed. We will also be posting notices throughout the Learning Commons. If the sounds of the blank gunshots will be distressing to you, you may wish to meet and study elsewhere on campus during this 2.5 hour period.

Friday, September 5, 2014

More furniture!

More of the furniture arrived for the Learning Commons today!

Study tables in the O'Hara Room-- quiet study space downstairs 
(go down the front stairs and make a right when you reach the coffee lounge area)

The Reading Room got some of its tables and chairs, too! Also quiet study space
(formerly Harlan Gallery; you can use the off-street entrance near the theater)

More of The Reading Room! Most of our spaces have a mix of tables and comfy furniture. Here's a nook for deep reading... or for browsing the fiction collection in those wooden shelves. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September DVD Spotlight: American Independent Films

Starting this month, Reeves Memorial Library will be featuring a different set of titles from our DVD collection each month.  As we begin the month of September and the new academic year, we're celebrating the independent spirit with a group of American films made outside of the Hollywood studio system.  Included are many influential and important independent films, such as:

Shadows (1959), directed by John Cassavetes
Stranger Than Paradise (1984), directed by Jim Jarmusch
Pulp Fiction (1994), directed by Quentin Tarantino
Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), directed by Martin Scorsese
Eraserhead (1977), directed by David Lynch
Carnival of Souls (1962), directed by Herk Harvey

Be sure to stop by and check these out!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First class in the Learning Commons!

Dr. Stanley had the opportunity to teach in one of the new Learning Studios this morning. As the focus on the class was the history of printmaking, it was more hands-on with ancient technology than oriented around the new, but it still provided a perfect venue.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fall Hours!

We begin fall hours on Monday! We keep slightly shorter hours for the first week of classes, but the academic year is definitely here. Have a wonderful and safe weekend.

                                   REGULAR LIBRARY HOURS
                              AUGUST 25, 2014—January 1, 2015

Monday – Thursday                                                         8:00 a.m.  -  11:50 p.m.
Friday                                                                                8:00 a.m.  -    4:50 p.m.
Saturday                                                                            9:00 a.m.  -    4:50 p.m.
Sunday                                                                              1:00 p.m. -   11:50 p.m.

                                  EXCEPTION DATES FALL 2014
                  August 25 – August 28                                                     8:00a.m.  -  8:50p.m.                    
                  August 31 – September 1                                                 CLOSED

                  EXTENDED WEEKEND
October 12                                                                        CLOSED
                  October 13 – October 14                                                 8:00 a.m. –  4:50 p.m.

THANKSGIVING BREAK                         
November 25                                                                    8:00 a.m. – 4:50 p.m.
November 26                                                                    8:00 a.m. – 3:50 p.m.
                  November 27 – November 30                                         CLOSED

December 8 – 10                                                              8:00 a.m. – 12:50 a.m.
                  December 11                                                                    8:00 a.m. – 10:50 p.m.
                  December 12                                                                    8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

December 14                                                                   CLOSED
December 15 – December 19                                         8:00 a.m. – 4:50 p.m.
                  December 20 – December 21                                         CLOSED                    
                  December 22 – December 23                                         8:00 a.m. – 4:50 p.m.
                  December 24 – January1                                                CLOSED


Thursday, August 21, 2014

State of the Learning Commons

We're just a little crazy around here!

As student athletes, musicians, guides, and new students start trickling onto campus, Reeves Hall is unfortunately still in some disarray. The good news is that the staff of the various departments are still reachable by phone and/or email, and we are even more or less moved into the Learning Commons space!

The Solution Center is up and running on the upper level of Reeves, and the Career & Professional Development Center, the Writing Center, and the Center for Innovative Teaching are partially moved in.
The Solution Center is ready to go...

The Career & Professional Development Center looks pretty together, too!

The library staff (except for Dr. Stanley, who has already been moved upstairs-- pop into his new office and say hi!) will be moving next week, but at the moment are still located in The Reading Room. 

There are even comfortable chairs for you to sit in when you visit Dr. Stanley on the main level!

Almost all of the library materials are available; the books and print periodicals are in their permanent locations and are no trouble to access. DVDs are a little tougher, but we can make it happen if you ask! The children's room items are still in storage, but we hope to have them moved in shortly (we're just waiting on shelves).

Furniture is trickling in-- I'm watching a few pieces for the O'Hara room come in as I type! It's an exciting, if chaotic, time, and we're excited to share these new learning spaces with you!

The O'Hara room is becoming a more amenable place to study...

I think I speak for all of the library staff when I say that we can't wait for our furniture to arrive so we can move back upstairs to our permanent office location!

As a side note, we had originally planned to be closed this Saturday, as we have been throughout the summer, but will instead be open 9:00-1:00, along with the Solution Center. We'll be starting our fall operating schedule next week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Before and After

As we get closer to the finished product here are a few before and after shots.

Main Area

Main Area

Children's Room

Writing Center

Circulation Area and Offices

Circulation Area and Offices

Library Office

Library Office

Main Study Area

Main Study Area With CIT