Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spring Break Hours

Learning Commons & Library Hours,
February 26-March 6

February 26 (Friday)                   8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.
February 27 & 28 (Sat & Sun)    CLOSED
February 29 - March 4                8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.
March 5 & 6 (Sat & Sun)            CLOSED

Have a safe and happy break!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Watch This: Hoop Dreams

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

Hoop Dreams (1994)
Co-written, co-produced, co-edited, and directed by Steve James

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy.  We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment ... But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.  The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations.  The new needs friends."
                                                                                              - Anton Ego, Ratatouille (2007)

The late Roger Ebert was inarguably the most popular film critic of the past half century.  His reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times and on his various syndicated television programs (in particular At the Movies, which he co-hosted with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel), as well as in his many books, brought film criticism into the mainstream in the United States, appealing to general audiences in a way that no other film critic's work had before.  Despite his impact on the world of film criticism, his most lasting legacy may have been his championing of new talent, bringing widespread attention to little-known independent films and helping to launch the careers of filmmakers like Ava DuVernay (2014's Selma), Ramin Bahrani (last year's 99 Homes), Justin Lin (the Fast & Furious franchise and the upcoming Star Trek Beyond), Patty Jenkins (2003's Monster and next year's Wonder Woman), and the Ross brothers (whose documentary 45365 won them a 2010 Independent Spirit Award sponsored by Ebert and his wife, Chaz).  Ebert was even one of the handful of major American critics to give a positive review to Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which has since been heralded as an influential classic.  However, no other filmmaker may owe as much to Ebert as Steve James, whose 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams was highlighted by Ebert on At the Movies even before it premiered at that year's Sundance Film Festival.  Ebert named it the best film of 1994 on his annual top ten list, and Hoop Dreams has since garnered a reputation as one of the best documentary films ever made.  James himself would go on to direct numerous acclaimed non-fiction and narrative films, including the moving, reverent 2014 documentary about Roger Ebert, Life Itself.

Hoop Dreams documents five years in the lives of two African-American high school students from inner-city Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they follow their dreams of becoming professional basketball players.  Both Gates and Agee were recruited by the coaches from St. Joseph's, the private, suburban high school with a perennial powerhouse basketball program that produced NBA legend Isiah Thomas.  The two boys were offered scholarships to cover most of the tuition, and we see them making the 90-minute commute to and from the school each day.  Gates shines immediately, starting on the varsity squad as a freshman and quickly improving from his initial fourth-grade reading level.  Agee, in contrast, struggles both athletically and academically, and when he is dropped from the squad, he loses his scholarship and enrolls at Marshall, a public school in Chicago.  As their high school years progress, we see somewhat of a reversal of fortune.  Gates is plagued by injuries, while Agee develops into a star at Marshall, leading his team to the state finals in his senior year.  Nevertheless, Gates is offered a four-year scholarship to play in the Division I program at Marquette University.  Agee, due to his poor grades, goes to a junior college in Missouri, where he hopes his grades will be good enough for him to transfer to a four-year school with a strong basketball program.

While the struggles of Gates and Agee on and off the court are fraught with drama, the story is made even more remarkable due to the great attention the filmmakers give to the boys' home lives.  Their immediate and extended families provide them with support in a variety of ways, and their mothers in particular are shown to have a devotion and fortitude that is truly inspiring.  Agee's mother, for example, is abandoned by her husband and loses her job, forcing her family to live on a few hundred dollars a month in welfare aid.  Their gas and electricity are turned off in the winter.  Nonetheless, she remains resourceful and encouraging, and even manages to graduate from a nursing assistant program with the best grades in her class.  There is also the sad story of Gates's older brother, Curtis, a former high school and playground standout whose once-promising career petered out before he could finish college.  It is difficult not to see the parallels between Curtis and his injury-stricken younger brother, and you hope that William's prospects will turn out better.

Steve James and his colleagues, co-writer/producer Frederick Marx and cinematographer/co-producer Peter Gilbert, initially conceived the film as a 30-minute documentary about Chicago streetball, focusing on a single playground court and its teenage players.  How fortuitous that they happened to discover Gates and Agee, whose teenage lives would provide the opportunity to tell a much broader story, a sprawling, three-hour examination of life in urban America that encompasses economics, race, social class, and education.  The financial and emotional hardships faced by Agee, Gates, and their families offer a revealing glimpse of the everyday struggles of America's marginalized populations.  Agee, for example, is unable to graduate from Marshall without transfer credits from St. Joseph's, but St. Joseph's will not release his transcripts until Agee's family pays the $1,300 in back tuition, money he would not owe to begin with had the school's recruiters not plucked him out of the city with regard only for his basketball skills.  For Agee and kids like him, the opportunity for a better education exists only as long as they can contribute on the court.  William Gates's remarks in the film's final scene are sadly emblematic: "When somebody say, 'When you get to the NBA, don't forget about me,' and all that stuff, I should say to them, 'Well, if I don't make it, watch you don't forget about me'."

The legacy of Hoop Dreams has even extended beyond the film itself.  Hoop Dreams failed to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature, an oversight that brought so much backlash against the Academy that the flawed documentary nomination process was subsequently revised.  The snub remains one of the most egregious in Academy Awards history, although recent years' nominations have certainly revealed that the problem still persists, in particular for minority filmmakers and performers.  Ebert himself was one of the strongest voices calling out the Academy for its glaring mistake, and as James's glowing tribute Life Itself attests, Ebert's support is never forgotten.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Watch This: In the Mood for Love

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

In the Mood for Love (2000)
Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai

Wong Kar-wai has been called "the world's most romantic filmmaker."  This is hardly an inaccurate description, but it may prove a bit of a head-scratcher to those who are encountering Wong's films for the first time, and who may be expecting something closer to the traditional romantic storylines of Hollywood cinema.  Eschewing the expected outcomes of most films about romantic love (i.e. characters who end up together, and consummation in one form or another), Wong often focuses instead on the melancholy aspects of human attraction, such as unfulfilled longing, and unrequited or lost love.  This is certainly true of his lush and moody masterpiece In the Mood for Love, and yet it is undoubtedly one of the most romantic films ever made, a film in which even a single shared moment between the film's two main characters carries more emotional weight than most films contain in their entirety.

The film is set in Hong Kong in 1962.  Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) is a journalist who moves into a new residential building with his wife.  On the same day, secretary Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) moves into the same building with her executive husband, Mr. Chan.  Both Chow and Su find themselves frequently alone as their spouses work long hours or travel out of town (in fact, we never see the faces of their spouses, a subtle touch which serves to enhance the two lead characters' respective isolation), and their paths cross repeatedly in the busy hallways of their building and on their way to and from the nearby noodle shop.  One day, they realize that their spouses are having an affair with one another, and their discussion of the affair leads them to imagine the details of the infidelity, details which they re-enact as a sort of game between themselves.  It becomes clear to both Chow and Su that there is a strong romantic attraction between them, but they remain determined not to degrade themselves the way their spouses have, and their relationship remains platonic.  Knowing of Su's interest in martial arts stories, Chow invites her to help him write a martial arts serial for the newspaper.  To avoid attracting the attention of their neighbors, Chow rents a hotel room where they can work on the serial, and their feelings for one another grow as they spend more and more time there, working on the story and rehearsing their spouses' infidelity.  Finally, Chow asks Su to leave with him to Singapore when he takes a new job there, but she fails to arrive at their hotel room in time, the first of several missed connections and lost opportunities that keep them apart.

This may not sound like the stuff of great romance, but this film is proof that a story about repressed desires can be far more sensual and affecting than a story in which desires are fulfilled.  Much of this can be attributed to Wong Kar-wai's distinctive emphasis on mood and style, rather than plotting.  A frequent criticism of Wong's work is that he favors style over story, but this narrow view misses the point of his work, which is to evoke particular moods and emotions.  There are numerous scenes in In the Mood for Love in which the camera lingers on fleeting moments and small details, like Su's slow-motion walk to the noodle shop, or Chow smoking a cigarette.

A great deal of credit for the film's incredibly evocative visual style should be given to the film's cinematographers, Lee Ping-bin and frequent Wong Kar-wai collaborator Christopher Doyle.  In the Mood for Love is, quite simply, one of the most gorgeous color films ever made.  Doyle and Lee lend the film a ravishing beauty, both in the film's interiors and its street scenes, and their work does much to highlight the beautiful period costume work, in particular Su's many floral-printed, high-collar dresses.  The film's luxuriant mood can also be attributed in part to the film's superb soundtrack and original score, which feature both traditional Chinese music and popular music from the fifties and sixties, as well as the lush, recurring theme composed by Shigeru Umebayashi.

Wong Kar-wai has long been a critical darling and favorite among his fellow filmmakers, and In the Mood for Love is one of the most acclaimed films of the past thirty years.  In the 2012 critics poll by the illustrious cinema magazine Sight & Sound, it was one of only two films from the 2000s to be listed in the top 50 films of all time.  This makes it easy to dismiss Wong Kar-wai as a filmmaker who would only appeal to viewers with an arthouse sensibility.  However, In the Mood for Love is such an evocative and intoxicating film, it should appeal to any viewer who is in the mood for romance.

Note: Wong Kar-wai followed up this film with a sequel of sorts, 2046, which follows Chow as he holes up in his hotel room, writing science fiction stories and recovering from his heartbreak over Su. 2046 is also available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection, along with most of Wong's other films.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Undergraduate Research Award accepting applications!

The Reeves Memorial Library Undergraduate Research Award (yes, it's a very long name) is accepting applications!
Research Award Flyer

If you (or one of your students) have created a really impressive research project in the Spring 2015, Fall 2015, or Spring 2016 semester, we want to see it! 

The project can be a podcast, a website, a video, a traditional research paper, or whatever other format you can think of, as long as it has a "collection research" component to it (i.e., case studies and lab work don't count, but literature reviews you did as background for them would). 

For more information, application instructions, or to volunteer as a faculty evaluator, visit

Monday, February 1, 2016

February DVD Spotlight: Romantic Films

Valentine's Day is only two weeks away, and that means it's time to highlight some of the many romantic films in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection.  All through the month of February, we're featuring classic and contemporary love stories from the silver screen.  We've got romantic comedies to tickle your funny bone, like Annie Hall (1977) and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), and tearjerkers to make you cry, like Brief Encounter (1945) and Titanic (1997).  You can re-watch an old favorite like Casablanca (1942) or The Princess Bride (1987), or discover a new favorite like Before Sunrise (1995) or Sweet Land (2005).  Other featured titles include:

Bull Durham (1988)
The English Patient (1996)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
A Walk on the Moon (1999)
West Side Story (1961)

Check one out today!