Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas library hours

Merry Christmas!

We'll be open Monday - Friday 8:00 - 4:50, closed on the weekends, and will be closed along with the rest of the University from December 23rd through January 3rd.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Watch This: Singin' in the Rain

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

Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

The 21st century has seen a resurgence in the popularity of the live-action musical, with films like Moulin Rouge! (2001), Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), Hairspray (2007), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Les Miserables (2012), and Into the Woods (2014) achieving commercial and critical success.  Most of these films were based on existing hit stage musicals, and nearly all of them feature darker tones and storylines than the musicals from Hollywood's golden age, the 1930s-1950s.  One would think that with advances in filmmaking techniques and a much larger catalog of source material, today's musicals would far surpass those produced over half a century ago. And yet, not one of these modern musicals can hold a candle to Singin' in the Rain (1952), which even six decades after its release, remains the film musical against which all other film musicals are judged.  No other film from that genre can match its energy, humor, visual splendor, and incomparable song-and-dance performances, and few other films, period, are as much fun to watch.

Singin' in the Rain is set in Hollywood in 1927, at the end of the silent film era.  Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are one of Hollywood's most popular on-screen couples, and although there are persistent rumors about an off-screen romance, in reality Don cannot stand his shallow, self-centered co-star.  On his way to a party after the premiere of his latest film, Don is forced to escape from a horde of overzealous fans, and by chance ends up in the passenger seat of a convertible driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), an aspiring young actress.  Don is put off when Kathy makes disparaging remarks about film acting, which she feels is a lesser art form when compared with stage acting, but Don is pleased to discover later that, despite her earlier airs, Kathy only works as a chorus girl at a local night club.  Although he is bothered by Kathy's comments, Don feels an undeniable attraction to her, and after the two of them make up, they begin to fall in love.

After the first sound film (or "talkie") becomes a huge hit, the head of Don and Lina's studio, R. F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), makes the decision to convert their next film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie.  The conversion process faces a number of problems, not the least of which is Lina's grating, high-pitched voice, which elicits a great deal of jeering laughter at a disastrous test screening.  Kathy suggests that they play up Don's talents as a singer and dancer by turning The Dueling Cavalier into a musical, and Don's longtime best friend and fellow entertainer, Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), has the idea to dub Lina's voice with Kathy's because, as Cosmo says, Lina "can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance.  A triple threat."  This idea infuriates Lina, whose extreme jealousy leads her to try and undermine the budding romance between Don and Kathy, and to blackmail Simpson into keeping Kathy's name out of the film's credits, a move that would nip Kathy's on-screen career in the bud.  The story reaches its climax at The Dueling Cavalier's premiere, where a surprise turn of events sees each of the key characters get what they deserve.

Hollywood loves to hold a mirror up to itself, and Singin' in the Rain is one of the most entertaining movies ever made about moviemaking.  Many of the problems that plague the cast and crew of the fictional The Dueling Cavalier were the same problems that confronted real-life Hollywood filmmakers during the transition to sound.  In addition to Lina's unflattering voice, there are technical difficulties such as the need to hide the cumbersome microphones behind furniture or underneath clothing accessories, and projection glitches resulting in a lack of synchronization between the picture and sound (this latter problem results in one of the film's funniest moments during the premiere for The Dueling Cavalier).  We also see the camera being housed in a soundproof booth on set, in order to prevent the sound of the working camera from being picked up by the microphones.

There are a number of factors that set Singin' in the Rain apart from its fellow film musicals.  Unlike most of its genre successors, Singin' in the Rain was not based on a hit stage musical or an existing literary work.  Rather, the film's writers, Betty Comdon and Adolph Green, were tasked by MGM with creating a film around a group of songs the studio already owned (only one song was written specifically for the film, "Moses Supposes").  The result is a refreshingly original and surprisingly consistent cinematic work, with a riotously funny script that perfectly incorporates each of the songs, and keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.

Another characteristic that distinguishes Singin' in the Rain from most other musicals is its infectious energy, which is the primary reason that the film feels so fresh even to modern audiences.  Part of this can be attributed to the film's vivid color scheme, lighthearted storyline, and lively songs.  However, most of the credit should go to the film's cast, whose exuberant performances grant the film an almost palpable, pulsating energy.  This stands in stark contrast to a film like Moulin Rouge!, which gets its dazzling energy from the film's fast-paced editing and glittery, visual bombast.

Gene Kelly, who also co-directed and acted as the choreographer for the film's dance sequences, is magnetic as Don, showing off his leading-man charisma and his incredible range in the film's various dance numbers and scenes of rapid-fire dialogue.  Kelly, with his broad-shouldered, football player's build, shatters the stereotype of male dancers as being feminine or dainty, moving with exceptional grace and elegance without ever surrendering a bit of his undeniable masculinity.  Debbie Reynolds is equally enchanting as the bright-eyed Kathy, more than holding her own next to Kelly and O'Connor.  Prior to Singin' in the Rain, Reynolds had played only bit parts in a handful of films, and her breakout performance can be seen as a parallel to that of her character, Kathy.  Jean Hagen also does superb work as the hilariously dim-witted Lina ("I make more money than Calvin Coolidge!  Put together!").  The real standout, however, is Donald O'Connor, whose "Make 'Em Laugh" scene is perhaps the best dance sequence ever captured on film (although a case could be made for Kelly's performance of the title song, with its iconic image of him hanging off the side of a lamppost, umbrella in hand).  O'Connor rivals the great silent film comedians like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin with his gifts for physical comedy, throwing his body around like a rag doll, contorting his face, performing backflips, and even crashing through a wall.  The scene is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Singin' in the Rain is proof that a musical film need not have an epic scope or a darker, adult-oriented storyline.  It's a breezy, cheerful film with a very simple, endearing love story, and for sheer entertainment value, it's hard to beat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December DVD Spotlight: Science Fiction Films

With the recent box office success of The Martian and the forthcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a good time to highlight the many science fiction films that are part of the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection.  From indisputable masterworks like Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to B-movie gems like Invaders From Mars (1953) and The Crawling Eye (1958), our selection is out of this world.  Other featured titles include:

Akira (1988)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Blade Runner (1982)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Minority Report (2002)
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
RoboCop (1987)
Silent Running (1972)
The Terminator (1984)
They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968)

Check one out today!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Finals hours

Image courtesy of

It's hard to believe, but finals are almost upon us! Good luck, everyone-- we're cheering for you!


December 7 - 9     8:00 a.m. - 12:50 a.m.
December 10        8:00 a.m. - 10:50 p.m.
December 11        8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
December 12        9:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.
December 13        CLOSED

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hours for Thanksgiving break

Tuesday, 11/24: 8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.

Wednesday, 11/25: 8:00 a.m. - 3:50 p.m.

Thursday, 11/26 - Sunday, 11/29: CLOSED

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

In memory of Max

It is with sadness that we announce the death of the library's beloved fish, our betta, Max.

Max watched over the comings and goings in the Learning Commons and soothed many with the smooth, hypnotic waving of his fins.

He will be missed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Watch This: Throne of Blood

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

Throne of Blood (1957)
Co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa

There is probably no other writer in the history of the English language whose works have been adapted for the silver screen as frequently, and in as many varied manifestations, as William Shakespeare.  These have included more traditional, straight adaptations by actor/directors like Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, and Kenneth Branagh, as well as contemporary stylized renditions like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus (2011), all of which have retained (at least, for the most part) Shakespeare's original words.  However, some of the most interesting adaptations have come in the form of re-tellings of Shakespeare's narratives, set in a different time and location.  Perhaps the most famous example of this type of film is the classic musical West Side Story (1961), which transposes the Bard's tragic tale of star-crossed young lovers, Romeo and Juliet, to modern-day New York City, where a turf war between rival gangs provides a potent backdrop for Shakespeare's story of doomed romance.

The best of these re-tellings, though, is undoubtedly Throne of Blood (1957), a masterful re-imagining of the Macbeth story set in medieval Japan, directed by the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.  Shakespeare's original work, one of his history plays dealing with actual historical figures and events, was set in 11th-century Scotland, at a time when rival local lords clashed constantly over royal succession.  Kurosawa saw a parallel to these events in the constant civil turmoil and clan warfare of 16th-century Japan, when violent warlords seized neighboring lands and proclaimed themselves lords, only to be murdered by their own treacherous underlings.  Although Throne of Blood follows the general plot of Shakespeare's play closely, the details of the film's story, its characterizations, and its setting are all intrinsically linked to Japanese history and culture, and it's remarkable how naturally the narrative fits into this historical backdrop.

The protagonist of Throne of Blood is Taketoki Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), a garrison commander serving a local lord who rules out of the fog-swept Spider's Web Castle.  After a victorious battle against the lord's enemies, Washizu and fellow garrison commander Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are making their way to the castle when they get lost in the adjacent maze-like forest.  They come upon a spirit in the form of an old woman, who foretells that both men will receive promotions, and that Washizu will one day rule Spider's Web Castle.  The spirit also foretells that Miki's son will someday become lord of the castle.  Upon arriving at the castle, the two men are rewarded with promotions, just as the spirit prophesied.

Once in place at his new post, Washizu tries to tell himself that he is content with his new position, but his scheming wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), convinces him to fulfill the second part of the prophecy by murdering the lord and taking his place in the castle.  Despite warnings from the slain lord's son and a rival commander named Noriyasu (Takashi Shimura), Miki remains loyal to Washizu, and is rewarded with a promise from the childless Washizu to name Miki's son as his heir.  However, Asaji's scheming once again undermines Washizu's plans, as she reveals that she is pregnant, and then later goes behind Washizu's back to have Miki murdered.  Plagued by hallucinatory visions of his victims' ghosts, and distraught over the impending battle with the forces of his growing cadre of enemies, Washizu rides off into the forest, hoping to confront the spirit about the truth of her prophecy.  In a powerful and eerie scene, the spirit proclaims that Washizu will not be defeated until the trees of the forest rise to attack him.  Bolstered by his faith in the unlikeliness of such an occurrence, Washizu returns to the castle and reveals the prophecy to his men, and they settle in as the enemy forces move into the forest.  The next morning, an astonishing turn of events leads the story toward its inevitable but nonetheless staggering conclusion.

Throne of Blood contains some of Kurosawa's most memorable and startling imagery.  The film is full of ghostly visions, as characters emerge from and disappear into the dense fog around the castle, which itself is often swallowed up by the eerie mists.  In one particularly striking shot, as Asaji prepares to poison the lord's guards in preparation for Washizu's first murderous act, she disappears into the blackness of an adjoining room as though the darkness has swallowed her up.  When she reappears moments later carrying the cask of poisoned sake, it is as if she materializes out of nothingness like an apparition.  And, of course, there is the iconic climactic scene, in which Washizu faces the consequences of his violent struggle for power (viewers who have watched the film, and may wonder how this remarkable scene was made, can watch this video).

There are numerous elements that make Throne of Blood stand out as more than just a simple Shakespeare adaptation, and many of these can be attributed to Kurosawa's integration of various aspects of traditional Japanese Noh theater.  The Noh influence is most apparent in the film's highly expressive performances, especially that of lead actor Toshiro Mifune, whose intense scowl, lively eyes, and dynamic physicality convey Washizu's constant desperation and agitation even in scenes with no dialogue.  The sharp downward angle of his mustache hair, in combination with his severe glower, even makes his face resemble a Noh mask.  The Noh influence can also be seen in the film's score, which makes extensive use of the flute.  The music, the film's vivid images of swirling mists, and its pervading supernatural elements, all cohere perfectly to make Throne of Blood one of Kurosawa's most atmospheric films.

A longtime student of western literature, Kurosawa would later re-tell another of Shakespeare's narratives, King Lear, in creating his last great masterpiece, the 1985 film Ran.  He also adapted two of the great works of Russian literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot and Maxim Gorky's play The Lower Depths, both of which he set in Japan.  Like Throne of Blood, which can be seen as Kurosawa's reflection on humanity's unceasing penchant for ruthless ambition and destruction, as exhibited during World War II, both The Idiot (1951) and The Lower Depths (1957) use the narratives and themes of the original literary works as jumping-off points for Kurosawa's examination of Japanese society and history.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Springer All Americas access issues

We are having some problems with access to Springer All Americas Collection, both on and off campus. The first thing to try whenever you have a problem connecting to a database or online collection is to try a different browser. However, if there is a service disruption and you are on campus you may use the following link which is I.P. authenticated: 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November DVD Spotlight: Shakespeare on Film

This month, we're featuring some of the many manifestations of the Bard on the big screen.  We've got the classic adaptations by the great actor/director Laurence Olivier (his Richard III (1955) is particularly noteworthy), as well as the innovative modern versions by actor/director Kenneth Branagh, including his rousing and atmospheric Henry V (1989).  Interested in a re-telling of one of Shakespeare's plays in a new setting?  Check out the classic musical West Side Story (1961), based on Romeo and Juliet, or Akira Kurosawa's samurai saga Throne of Blood (1957), based on Macbeth.

Other featured titles include:

Chimes at Midnight (1965)
Hamlet (1948)
Hamlet (1996)
Macbeth (1948)
Othello (1952)
Tempest (1982)

Check one out today, before thou art too late.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Watch This: The Brood

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

The Brood (1979)
Written and directed by David Cronenberg

When I was a child, maybe even as young as elementary school age, I saw part of a movie on television that gave me recurring nightmares.  I don't recall the circumstances in which I watched it, but I'm certain that I should not have been watching it at such a young age, even in a tamer edited-for-television version.  Even as an adult, there were images from the film that remained vividly etched into my memory.  There was the depiction of two child-sized monsters with deformed faces, clad in brightly-colored hooded snowsuits, brutally attacking a schoolteacher in her classroom.  There was the shot of a young blonde girl riding in the passenger seat of a car at night, her cheeks stained with tears, with a gradual move into a foreboding close-up of two small bumps that had formed on her forearm.  The film's nightmare-inducing effect was so powerful that, even to this day, I can't see a child in a monochrome hooded snowsuit without thinking of the film's deformed monsters.  It was only years later that I realized the film was The Brood, an unsettling work of psychological terror from the great Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg.

As the film begins, Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) has come to the remote Somafree Institute to pick up his young daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds), who has spent the weekend there with her mother, Nola (Samantha Eggar), who is a patient at the institute.  Frank and Nola are divorced, and Nola is being treated for rage issues by Somafree's director, Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), who uses an unorthodox and controversial method known as "psychoplasmics" to help his patients expel their anger.  Raglan's techniques cause his patients' intense emotions to manifest themselves physically in the form of welts and boils on their bodies, with the implication that these physical manifestations will then be removed.  Frank has always been skeptical of Raglan's methods, but he becomes especially concerned after he discovers bruises and cuts on Candy's back after her weekend visit with her mother, who he assumes caused the wounds.  He confronts Raglan, who insists that Candy's visits are vital to Nola's treatment, and threatens legal action if Candy's visits cease.  We later find out that Raglan is himself the target of a lawsuit by a former patient, a man named Jan Hartog (Robert Silverman), who has an enormous cancerous growth on his neck that he claims is the result of Raglan's methods.

The situation becomes even more dire one evening when Candy is staying with Nola's mother, who is brutally murdered in her kitchen by what appears to be a child in a red hooded snowsuit.  Later, when Nola's father has come to town for his ex-wife's funeral, and is spending the night at her house, he too is bludgeoned to death by the child-like creature, who had been hiding under the bed.  Frank arrives just minutes later, only to be attacked by the creature before it dies suddenly and inexplicably.  A police autopsy reveals that the creature has no navel, meaning it was never really born, "at least not the way human beings are born."  What the viewer knows, but Frank does not, is that these slayings have coincided with therapy sessions between Nola and Dr. Raglan, in which Raglan was acting out the parts of Nola's parents.  There is seemingly a link between Nola's anger and the targets of these attacks, but what is it?  When Candy's teacher is murdered by two more of the snowsuit-clad monsters and Candy disappears from the school, Frank becomes desperate.  A clue from another former patient leads him back to the Somafree Institute, where he confronts Raglan and discovers the truth about the terrifying connection between Nola and the titular "brood" of childlike creatures.

Writer-director David Cronenberg is perhaps the best-known practitioner in the sub-genre known as "body horror," in which a fear of the mutation, transformation, and infection of the human body is the major thematic preoccupation.  This motif is especially apparent in the first part of Cronenberg's career, when films like Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), and The Fly (1986) featured gruesome depictions of biological transformation, often the result of scientific and medical experimentation.  However, even more prominent in Cronenberg's filmography is a preoccupation with human psychology, and The Brood marked the first time that his interests in the psychological and the physical, and in the link between the two, were explored in such depth in a single film.  The film's climactic sequence, in which the psycho-phyiscal connection between Nola and the monsters is finally revealed, includes one of the most squirm-inducing moments in all of Cronenberg's filmography (high marks should be given to actress Samantha Eggar for her commitment in filming the scene).

In addition to its grotesquerie and implicit criticism of the pseudoscience behind techniques like the fictional "psychoplasmics," The Brood offers a bleak portrait of failed marriages and their detrimental effects on children.  Nola's parents were divorced, and it is clear that their poor relations contributed to Nola's psychological problems.  The viewer cannot help but feel sad for little Candy, whose traumatic experiences with both her parents' marital strife and the horrific acts of the monstrous brood have caused immense psychological damage by the end of the film.  Cronenberg has stated that The Brood was inspired by his experiences during the break-up of his first marriage, and has called the film his own version of Kramer vs. Kramer, the Oscar-winning divorce drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep that was coincidentally released the same year.  I can't say which of the two films offers the more accurate depiction of divorce, but it's clear that Cronenberg's is decidedly less optimistic.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Annual Homecoming book sale!

Our annual Homecoming book sale is back this year after a post-remodel hiatus in 2014.

This year's sale includes an interesting mix of business titles, fiction, and computer and social sciences titles. Our pricing structure will once again be $1.00 per stacked inch!

The sale will take place Friday-Monday of Homecoming Weekend (October 23-26), or as long as the supply of books holds out, on the main level of the Learning Commons during regular operating hours.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Watch This: Children of Men

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

Children of Men (2006)
Co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón

The past decade has seen an increasing number of dystopian visions of mankind's future make their way to the silver screen.  Some of these have arrived in the form of film adaptations of young adult science fiction novels like the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and the Maze Runner series, while others have been directly targeted at an adult audience.  Despite this sub-genre's potential for trenchant social commentary, imaginative plots, and remarkable visuals, only a handful of these films have really stood out (recent entries such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) come to mind).  However, no recent dystopian film has been as powerful and affecting as Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 masterpiece Children of Men, a gritty, visually-stunning portrait of humanity in decline.

Adapted from a novel by the acclaimed English mystery novelist P. D. James, Children of Men is set in Britain in the year 2027, at a time when nearly two decades of total worldwide infertility have resulted in global chaos and widespread despair.  Great Britain has avoided many of the atrocities that have plagued the rest of the world, but a strict, military-enforced ban on all immigrants has led to violence in the streets and a precarious social and political situation.  As the film opens, the world's youngest person, an 18 year-old South American youth still known as "Baby Diego," has just been murdered by one of his fans after refusing to give an autograph.  We learn of this from a news broadcast in a London coffee shop where the film's protagonist, government bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen), stops for his morning coffee on his way to work.  Just after Theo leaves, the shop is demolished by a bomb explosion, and a shaken Theo decides to take the day off and visit his old friend Jasper (Michael Caine), a former political cartoonist and activist who now spends his days growing marijuana in his small, well-hidden country house, where he lives with his catatonic wife, Janice.  Theo, it turns out, was an activist in his younger days, but became disillusioned after the death of his son during a flu pandemic and the subsequent break-up of his marriage to fellow activist Julian (Julianne Moore), whom he has not seen in nearly twenty years.  Theo makes his pessimism clear in his conversation with Jasper, stating that even if a cure for infertility is discovered, it's too late to save humanity, which was already a mess even before the infertility.

The following morning, Theo is kidnapped by an underground insurgent group called the Fishes, who are dedicated to fighting for the rights of immigrants.  Theo's ex-wife, Julian, is revealed to be the group's leader, and she asks him to use his government contacts to obtain transit papers for a young immigrant woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who must reach the coast.  Theo succeeds in acquiring the papers, but they state that Theo must accompany her, so he sets off in a car with Julian, her Fishes comrade Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Kee, and Kee's caretaker, Miriam (Pam Ferris).  On a remote stretch of forest road, the car is suddenly attacked by a large gang, and Julian is killed.  It is only after they have narrowly escaped and made their way to a safe house that Theo discovers Kee's secret: she is eight months pregnant.  As the selfish and lethal motives of the new Fishes leadership become clear to Theo, he decides to escape with Kee and Miriam and find a way to get them to the seaside refugee camp of Bexhill, where they can meet a ship belonging to the Human Project, a group of scientists working to cure infertility.

Children of Men offers a frightening depiction of a society on the brink of collapse, as the aging population faces its impending final years.  Immigrants are rounded up and kept in cages along the streets, awaiting their transfer to a refugee camp and their return to the atrocities in their homelands.  A product called Quietus, which promises a painless death by suicide, is made available to the populace with government approval.  The streets are strewn with trash and rubble from numerous past bombings.  There seems to be a gray pallor over everything, as though the gradual disappearance of children from the world was accompanied by the leeching of bright colors and sunshine from the landscape.

In such a setting, Theo's early pessimism is understandable, especially after we learn about the death of his son.  In a scene midway through the film, we hear Jasper talking to Kee and Miriam about the relationship between faith and chance, and how Theo lost his faith in the world and his own future after his son died of the flu (a chance event).  However, Theo's outlook begins to change after Julian's death and the revelation of Kee's pregnancy, and Kee's trust in him galvanizes him into action and restores his sense of purpose and hope.  It is this story arc, Theo's gradual progression from dispassionate pessimism to renewed faith and resolve, that underlies all of the film's harrowing drama and high-stakes action, creating a far more moving hero's journey than one usually finds in cinema.

Everyone involved with the film, both in front of the camera and behind, is working at the top of their game.  The script is brisk and intelligent, allowing the circumstances of the film's setting to be revealed organically rather than via heavy-handed exposition from title screens, narration, or superfluous dialogue.  The cast is uniformly superb.  Clive Owen suppresses some of his natural charisma to make Theo a more relatable everyman hero, and Michael Caine shines as Jasper, whose pull-my-finger gags and stork jokes grant the film a welcome dose of levity.  Alfonso Cuarón's assured direction keeps all the filmmaking elements, from the technically dazzling visuals to the top-notch acting, in perfect balance, and it feels impossible to find fault with any of his choices as director, co-writer, and co-editor.

But what really elevates the film, more than any other element, is the outstanding work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.  The film's washed-out color scheme contributes immeasurably to the film's bleak tone, and the frequent use of a handheld camera from a slightly low angle places the viewer right in the middle of the action.  Many of the film's key scenes (the coffee shop bombing in the opening scene, Julian's shocking death during the forest ambush, the birth scene, and the extended gunfights between insurgents and military forces in the Bexhill refugee camp) are shot using single takes, and this decision pays off not only in added intensity for these scenes, but also in feelings of awe on the part of viewers, who might wonder how these shots were achieved.  The forest ambush scene, which consists of a single shot taken from inside the car, forcing the viewer to share the passengers' panic, stands out in particular as a remarkable example of Lubezki's immersive visual style.  Throughout his career, Lubezki has proven himself adept at working in just about any visual aesthetic, from the sumptuously-photographed period look of A Little Princess (1995) and A Walk in the Clouds (1995), to the edgier handheld style of Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Children of Men, to the dreamy visual poetry of director Terrence Malick's The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011).  His work has become even more recognizable over the past two years, after back-to-back Oscars for his virtuosic work on Gravity (2013) and Birdman (2014), and if the immersive visual aesthetic on display in the trailer for his soon-to-be-released film The Revenant (2015) is any indication, he may well be on his way to a third consecutive Academy Award.  Lubezki is quite simply the best cinematographer working today, and Children of Men may be his finest hour.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Watch This: Good Morning

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

Good Morning (1959)
Co-written and directed by Yasujiro Ozu

With the probable exception of the great Akira Kurosawa, no other filmmaker looms larger over the world of Japanese cinema than Yasujiro Ozu.  He is justly considered one of the greatest film directors of all time, and his stylistic influence can still be felt today, more than five decades after his death.  Ozu's poetic depictions of generational relations and familial life in masterpieces such as The Only Son (1936), Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953), and Floating Weeds (1959), reveal a keen eye for the nuances of human interaction and an astonishing depth of sentiment.  The later years of his career were devoted to making sober, often heartbreaking portrayals of parent-child relationships, in particular a series of films about aging parents sacrificing their own needs in order to marry off their dutiful daughters.  However, in the midst of all these somber domestic dramas came Good Morning (1959), a light-hearted depiction of suburban Japanese life and postwar modernization that stands not only as an oddity in Ozu's filmography, but also as a welcome reminder of his deep-rooted sense of humor.  Good Morning is that rarity among the works of the great cinematic masters, a film that reveals the director's predominant narrative themes and common stylistic motifs, but also contains a running fart gag.

Good Morning portrays the day-to-day lives of the residents in a small, suburban, middle-class Japanese neighborhood.  The film offers a delightful portrait of the interactions between neighbors, in a setting where one can slide open one's door and seem almost face-to-face with those living next-door.  At the center of the story is the Hayashi family, made up of the father Keitaro (Chishu Ryu), the mother Tamiko (Kuniko Miyake), and the two sons, Minoru and Isamu (Koji Shitara and Masahiko Shimazu, respectively).  The boys have been spending more and more time at the home of their pajama-clad, Bohemian neighbors, watching sumo wrestling on TV with their friends.  They beg their father to get a set for the Hayashi home, but he refuses, proclaiming that television will create a society of idiots.  In protest, the brothers begin a silence strike, refusing to speak at home or at school until their parents buy a set.

Meanwhile, Tamiko is dealing with the problem of missing club dues for their local women's association.  There are suspicions that the money was taken by the local group head, Mrs. Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), who has just purchased a new washing machine.  The money is later found, and it is revealed that the washer was purchased on an installment plan, but the suspicions linger.  The theft rumors can be traced to Mrs. Okubo (Toyo Takahashi) and Mrs. Tomizawa (Teruko Nagaoka), both of whom seem to relish every chance to spread a new piece of gossip.  There is also an amusing, subtly developed romantic plot line involving the Hayashi boys' aunt Setsuko (Yoshiko Kuga) and their English tutor Mr. Fukui (Keiji Sada), whose obvious mutual attraction cannot seem to move beyond basic pleasantries and chit-chat about the weather.  One of the film's well-observed preoccupations is the way in which we pass so much of our lives in idle conversation.

Good Morning provides a fascinating glimpse of society in postwar Japan, in particular the effects of westernization and modernization that became apparent as the country began to rebuild.  The influence of western culture and innovation can be seen throughout the film.  Modern apartment buildings border the characters' small neighborhood, where the homes are surrounded by white picket fences.  French and American movie posters can be seen in the home of the young Bohemian couple.  The purchase of a new appliance such as a television or washing machine symbolizes not just a family's economic stability, but also their embrace of modernity.

More than almost any other Ozu film, Good Morning focuses on the perspectives of its child characters.  In most of his work, the protagonists are aging parents struggling with generational tensions as their grown children begin lives of their own, but in Good Morning, there is a sympathy with the neighborhood boys.  Their daily rituals and preoccupations, and even their growing obsession with television at the expense of their schoolwork, are presented with great affection.  The boys have a recurring joke, a sort of variation on the classic "pull my finger" gag, where one boy presses on a second boy's forehead, and the second boy passes gas.  However, the unfortunate Haraguchi boy cannot seem to master the skill, and always pushes too hard, soiling himself on an almost daily basis.  Ozu seems to share the boys' amusement with these activities.

Yasujiro Ozu has been called the "most Japanese" of Japan's great film directors, and it's undeniable that his films are very specific to their Japanese setting.  Indeed, due to the perceived difficulty of marketing his films overseas, Ozu remained relatively unknown outside of his native country during his career.  This was true even after the growth in popularity of foreign films among English-speaking audiences in the 1950s, when Ozu's fellow Japanese director Akira Kurosawa gained widespread international fame with films like Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954).  And yet, one reason that Ozu's films have stood the test of time, and have remained so beloved by cinephiles around the globe, is that they are so immensely relatable.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Ozu's body of work is that his films are so intrinsically Japanese, and yet simultaneously so universal.

October DVD Spotlight: Horror Films

October is upon us, and that means Halloween is just around the corner.  Reeves Memorial Library will be celebrating all month long by featuring scary movies from our DVD collection.  We've got something to make everyone's skin crawl, whether it's vampires, demons, zombies, or giant mutant animals.  Featured titles include:

Audition (1999)
The Brood (1979)
The Crawling Eye (1958)
The Exorcist (1973)
Hostel (2005)
Nosferatu (1922)
Psycho (1960)
Saw (2004)
The Shining (1980)

Check one out today ... if you dare.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Watch This: Bull Durham

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

Bull Durham (1988)
Written and directed by Ron Shelton

It's mid-September, which for many Americans means the waning days of the baseball season have given way to the rush of excitement that marks the beginning of football season.  It's a fine time to be a sports fan, and it's a fine time to look back at one of the most beloved sports films ever made, the 1988 baseball comedy Bull Durham.

The film follows three central characters over the course of a single baseball season, and their relationships with one another form the basis of the film's narrative.  There is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a devoted fan of the local Durham Bulls minor league baseball team, who chooses a single Bulls player each year with whom she will "hook up" for the length of the season.  More than just a physical relationship, this liaison also allows her to impart "life wisdom" and help the player improve his skills on the field.  This season, her two leading candidates are rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), whose sheer natural talent is offset by his stupidity and lack of control ("He's got a million-dollar arm, but a five-cent head," says the Bulls pitching coach), and veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), who has been sent down by the organization to help Nuke mature in preparation for a big-league career.  Crash is unhappy with the assignment, and takes every opportunity to disparage Nuke (who he refers to derogatorily as "Meat") because of his lack of respect for the game and for his incredible physical gifts.  Crash is also put off by the idea of having to "try out" for Annie, and so she is forced to choose Nuke, although it is clear from the beginning that she and Crash are attracted to one another.  As the season progresses, Crash's advice and Annie's unorthodox methods (a strange amalgam of sex, poetry, and Aztec folklore) begin to show results, and the combination of Nuke's dominant pitching and Crash's skill at the plate lead the team to a rare winning streak.  The team's success means that Nuke is eventually called up to the majors, and the remainder of the film is devoted to revealing the effects this sudden development has on both Crash's career and the relationship between Crash and Annie.

Much of the film's success can be attributed to Shelton's terrific, Oscar-nominated screenplay, which perfectly balances the love triangle storyline, Crash and Nuke's evolving mentor/mentee relationship, and the story of the Bulls team and their 142-game season.  Shelton's endlessly quotable script is both literate and vulgar, with strings of profanity fitting comfortably alongside Walt Whitman quotations and musings on metaphysics.  Many of the best lines belong to Crash, including his hilarious pitching advice to Nuke:

"Don't try to strike everybody out.  Strikeouts are boring.  Besides that, they're fascist.  Throw some ground balls, it's more democratic."

There is also a wonderful scene where Crash reminisces to his awestruck teammates about the three weeks he spent in the big leagues, where "other people carry your luggage," "the ballparks are like cathedrals," and "the women all have long legs and brains."

Credit should also be given to the three lead cast members for their pitch-perfect performances.  Robbins plays Nuke as a cocky doofus without ever veering into caricature, and Costner's easy charm and innate athletic ability make him ideal for the role of Crash.  It is Susan Sarandon, however, who is the real standout, bringing a natural vivacity and intelligence to Annie that makes you wonder how anyone else could ever have played the role.

One factor that makes Bull Durham such a revered sports film is its authenticity.  Ron Shelton spent several years in the Baltimore Orioles minor league organization in the late 60s and early 70s, so he knows the subject matter intimately.  His firsthand knowledge manifests itself onscreen in the sights and sounds of the local ballpark crowds, the cadence and profanity of the dugout chatter, the players' superstitious behaviors during the Bulls' winning streak, and the Costner voiceover that reveals Crash's thought process during each pitch of an early at-bat.  Shelton's focus on the relationships between the players and their everyday milieu, rather than a build-up toward a championship or game-winning play, sets the film apart from most other sports films, and lends the story greater credibility.  This authenticity is a likely reason for Bull Durham's placement at the very top of the 2003 Sports Illustrated list of the best sports movies of all time.  The list was compiled by the magazine's editors, a group that would be likely to recognize the accuracy of the film's depiction.

Shelton has always excelled in writing films about the relationships between men.  Nearly all of his films, including the criminally underrated White Men Can't Jump (1992), focus on a competitive relationship, friendship, or partnership between two men, and most of these characters are athletes or cops.  In Bull Durham, Crash and Nuke's antagonistic relationship is portrayed without triteness or cliché, and as they move gradually toward a mutual respect, that respect feels earned and sincere.

Given Shelton's career-long preoccupation with male characters and male-dominated settings, the character of Annie Savoy stands out even more clearly as the film's highlight.  Annie, especially as portrayed by Sarandon, is a fully fleshed-out character who exists on an equal footing with the two male protagonists, which is almost unheard of among films set in the world of professional sports.  She is smart, funny, sexy, and cultured, and she maintains the power in her relationships with men by choosing for herself which player she wants to be with, yet she also reveals a vulnerability in her need to be seen as "exotic" and "mysterious."  Although Bull Durham is about baseball, and the relationship between Crash and Nuke is central to the narrative, the film is really told from Annie's point of view, and it is Annie's relationships with Nuke and Crash that provide the film's overarching story.  It would be easy to credit Bull Durham's general popularity, especially among female viewers, to the film's romantic plot elements.  Certainly, the film works well as a romantic comedy, and there is chemistry to spare between both Sarandon and Costner and Sarandon and Robbins.  However, it is the subtly progressive character of Annie that really lends the film its enduring appeal.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Watch This: Once Upon a Time in the West

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

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Directed by Sergio Leone

Three gunmen in brown duster overcoats await the arrival of a train at an isolated station in the middle of the desert.  They are nasty-looking customers, grizzled, cold-eyed, and full of malice.  After locking up the stationmaster, they have spread themselves out around the station, holding themselves in cool readiness for the train's arrival.  Each passes the time in his own way.  The trio's leader (Jack Elam) sits in a shaded rocking chair outside the station house, where he proceeds to try, with as little effort as possible, to shoo away a bothersome fly that has landed on his face.  Another of the gunmen, played by Woody Strode, takes his place beneath the water tank at one end of the platform, where he remains steady and unflinching as the leaking tank drips water first on his bare head, and then on the brim of his cowboy hat.  Finally, the whistle of the approaching train sounds, and the three men converge on the platform, weapons ready.  The train stops, but no one gets off, and just as the three gunmen turn to leave, there comes the sound of a harmonica playing.  The train pulls away to reveal the source of the music, the expected passenger (Charles Bronson) standing on the smaller platform across the tracks.

"Did you bring a horse for me?" asks Harmonica, noting that there only three horses tied up behind the platform. His question is met by smiles and laughter from the three gunmen.

"Looks like we're shy one horse," replies the leader, still amused.

Harmonica shakes his head.  "You brought two too many," he says.  The three gunmen are no longer amused, their smiles fading quickly at the implication of this remark.  Not surprisingly, a shootout soon follows.

This opening scene, inarguably one of the very best in all of cinema, is pretty much perfect, and sets the tone for one of the greatest western films ever made.  It is the first of many long set pieces in the film, and the deliberate pacing, the superb framing of the shots, the subtle humor, and the expertly-staged action of this first scene are all present throughout the remainder of the film.  The opening scene lasts about fourteen minutes, and although the film features a superlative musical score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone, there is no music and almost no dialogue as the opening scene unfolds.  There are only the sounds naturally heard at the railroad station: the incessant squeaking of the windmill, the sound of footsteps on the wooden platform, the ticking of a telegraph machine in the station house, the creaking of the rocking chair, the fly's buzzing, etc.

As the story continues, we see a man named McBain and his children brutally gunned down as they prepare for a celebration at their remote desert home.  The killers are led by the steely-eyed Frank (Henry Fonda, whose casting was intended to shock audiences unaccustomed to seeing him play villains).  The celebration, as it turns out, was meant to welcome McBain's new wife, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), who has just arrived on the train from New Orleans.  Jill crosses paths with Harmonica (we never learn his real name), who has come looking for Frank in order to avenge a past misdeed, and the outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards), whose duster-clad gang has been framed for the recent killings.   Both men agree to help her discover a motive for the family's murder and to defend her against further attacks by Frank and his men, who we learn are working for the railroad magnate Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti).  McBain, it turns out, was smarter than anyone thought, anticipating the path of the coming railroad through his property, a development that makes his land invaluable, and thus the target of Morton's greed.  As allegiances shift and Cheyenne's men work to build a station ahead of the approaching railroad workers, the events of the narrative lead to a final showdown and the revelation of Harmonica's revenge motive.

Once Upon a Time in the West was co-written and directed by the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, whose famous "Man with No Name" trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)) launched the wave of Italian-made genre entries known as "spaghetti westerns," not to mention the career of the trilogy's leading man, Clint Eastwood.  Aside from being the spaghetti western sub-genre's progenitor, Leone was also its indisputable master (although some might argue that the title belongs to Sergio Corbucci, whose influential Django (1966) and The Great Silence (1968) are also genre masterpieces).  Leone's films have often been compared to operas, and Once Upon a Time in the West is without a doubt his most operatic.  The film exhibits the narrative tendencies of Italian opera, with its unhurried pacing and emphasis on themes of revenge and betrayal, and score composer Ennio Morricone's use of a recurring musical theme for each of the four main characters (the soaring, wordless female vocals that accompany Jill's scenes are particularly memorable) recalls the use of operatic leitmotifs.

The "Once Upon a Time ..." that begins the film's title suggests a legend or fairy tale, and the film's sweeping grandeur and scope do indeed grant the story an almost mythic quality.  Like another great western masterpiece of the late 1960s, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), Once Upon a Time in the West depicts the social change that took place in the western United States in the late nineteenth century.  The coming of the railroad and "civilized" society created an environment in which men like Harmonica, Cheyenne, and Frank, men whose lives are defined by violence and lawlessness, would be out of place.  Leone's film is an elegy to that bygone era, and it recognizes the inevitability of society's civilizing influence, even though it may bring the corruption that is characteristic of men like Morton.

Many consider Once Upon a Time in the West to be the first entry in an informal "Once Upon a Time" trilogy directed by Leone, along with the western Duck, You Sucker (1971), which was alternately titled Once Upon a Time ... the Revolution, and the Jewish gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984).  Both Duck, You Sucker and Once Upon a Time in America are also available in the Reeves Memorial Library collection.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

September DVD Spotlight: Sports Films

From popular crowd-pleasers like Rocky (1976) and Rudy (1993), to artistic masterworks like Raging Bull (1980), it's undeniable that the sports film genre has given us countless cinematic classics.  All through the month of September, Reeves Library is featuring sports titles from our DVD collection.

Looking for a laugh?  Check out the baseball comedy A League of Their Own (1992), or the silent film classic The Freshman (1925), starring the great Harold Lloyd as an aspiring football player.  Or, if you're looking to be inspired, try true stories like Glory Road (2006) and The Express (2008), both of which tell the stories of athletes who broke racial barriers in college sports.  If documentary's your thing, we've got Hoop Dreams (1994), along with an extensive collection of ESPN's "30 for 30" films.

Other featured titles include:

Ali (2001)
Battling Butler (1926)
Bull Durham (1988)
Coach Carter (2005)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
The Set-Up (1949)
The Wrestler (2008)

With such a wide variety of choices, everyone's a winner!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The fate of "Happy Birthday" hangs in the balance

Here at the library, we have been following the legal status of the "Happy Birthday" song with great interest.

Those less-enmeshed in copyright foibles than we are may not be aware that the "world's most popular song" has actually been at the center of a lot of controversy. There's a reason that the servers at so many restaurants can't sing the old standby anymore-- their employers are afraid of being slapped with a copyright violation lawsuit from Warner/Chappell.

Now, it seems, thanks to a couple of dogged attorneys and our neighbors over at the University of Pittsburgh libraries, you may soon be able to sing at your niece's birthday without fear of litigation. More information over at Hollywood Reporter:

The story contains a possible coverup of evidence, no less. Happy pre-Friday!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How journals got so darn expensive

Wired recently published an interview with a library science researcher in which they asked about the current state of scientific literature (hard and social sciences), how we got here, and why that is a problem for researchers, students, librarians, and everyone else.

It's very readable and worth a couple of minutes.

People will often ask us why we don't have a subscription to X journal. Most libraries would love to have a subscription to everything, but for the vast majority of us, it's just not feasible. As the cost of the "must-have" titles ratchets ever skyward, libraries around the world are forced to either expand their budgets drastically or to make difficult decisions regarding their "nice-to-have" subscriptions.

The balancing act for scholarly publishing today is in finding a model that rewards good researchers with the credit they deserve while weeding out the poorly-done papers. Then, access costs need to be affordable enough for institutions and individuals to actually see that good research and give it the wider audience it deserves.

Hopefully open-access publishing will continue to grow, improve, and gain prestige. Trailblazing journals like PLOS ONE are demonstrating that "free to read" can also be "high-quality" and "impressive on a CV."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If it's too good to be true...

Have you heard that eating chocolate can accelerate your weight-loss program? I have. The finding has been widely reported in all sorts of well-known publications, ranging from Prevention and Shape magazines to Huffington Post and Daily Mail Australia. This was discovered by a team of German researchers who conducted a study and found that those who followed a low-carb diet including a small daily chocolate bar lost weight faster than those following a low-carb diet alone.

The only problem?

It was all a setup.

The lead researcher, Dr. Johannes Bohannon, is actually Dr. John Bohannon. He's a journalist, and his Ph.D. is in the molecular biology of bacteria, not human nutrition. He'll tell you more about how and why he pulled off this huge "gotcha" here:

NPR does a good rundown of the whole story and some of the lessons we can take away from it, but let's look at a few factors that even a non-scientist like me could catch if we had looked into the claims a little bit:

  • How many people participated in the study? Only 15 people actually completed this study. As Bohannon points out in his "confession," most scientists will look with suspicion on any study without at least 30 subjects. 
  • How long was the study? This one only lasted three weeks. Has your weight fluctuated a bit in the last three weeks? Mine has. Things like how much you've been sweating recently, how much water you've been drinking, and what point you're at in your menstrual cycle can all affect weight in the short-run.
  • Did the researchers control for age, activity level, gender, or, well, anything? It doesn't seem so.

So, right away, this is a poorly-designed study. Also, there's the small matter of the lead researcher, Dr. Johannes Bohannon, not seeming to have any Google presence at all prior to the publication of this study. That's odd.

So, without knowing very much science at all, and without having even heard of "p-hacking," we could have easily found enough that we COULD understand to be skeptical of these claims.

The problem is that so many busy reporters latched onto the press release without bringing any critical thinking to bear on the study itself. This is one of the reasons that we stress the importance of evaluating sources when we talk about information and research skills. Even a publication with "journal" or "archives" in the title isn't necessarily reliable. And certainly, it seems, we can't rely on frazzled journalists to do our evaluation for us.

Now I want a Hershey bar...

Public domain images from

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What do we do all summer?

Summer is project time for the library staff! The whole campus slows down and gives those of us who remain behind a chance to tackle some of our more detail-oriented or extensive projects.

You'll find Mrs. Koveleskie attending a lot of webinars about configuring and launching a new search tool that we hope to unveil in August (stay tuned!).

I'm reviewing and polishing LibGuides and lesson plans, evaluating how we crunch instruction statistics, and drafting new videos to help explain some thorny information concepts.

One BIG part of the summer rhythm at the library is the annual inventory of our print collection.

If you've been down to the O'Hara Room recently, you may have seen these signs or heard the beeps of the scanner. 

Each book on the shelf is scanned and checked against a computer list of which books are supposed to be where. This is how we locate those pesky mis-shelved things and get them back to their rightful locations. It also gives us a chance to catch books that are in poor physical condition and make sure they get a trip to the book hospital (Mrs. Ciarochi's desk). 

Making sure that the books on the shelf will match the catalog you see on your iPad screen is still a vital part of running the library!

We'll eventually work our way back to the stacks behind The Reading Room, making O'Hara the quieter space, but it'll take a while for us to get there. We still have thousands upon thousands of books in print!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Library Hours

MAY 16 – AUGUST 24, 2015

Monday—Friday                                                              8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Saturday                                                                            CLOSED
Sunday                                                                              CLOSED


Monday—Thursday                                                        8:00 a.m.  -  5:50 p.m.
Friday                                                                              8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Saturday                                                                          9:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Sunday                                                                              CLOSED


May 23                        Saturday                                        CLOSED
May 25                        Monday                                         CLOSED
                  July 3                           Friday                                           CLOSED
July 4                           Saturday                                        CLOSED
                  July 31                         Friday                                           8:00 a.m.  -  Noon     
                  August 17                    Monday                                        CLOSED
                  August 18 –21             Tuesday—Friday                         8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.